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Share and share alike: A new tool from AP is helping New York’s local news outlets spread their stories more widely
In the last month, more than two dozen newsrooms in New York have shared work with each other through a new tool called AP StoryShare. That tool, supported by Google News Initiative, came from a conversation the AP had with customers in New York who worried about a decline in state news, said Noreen Gillespie, […]
The post The AP built a tool to help newsrooms in New York share news with each other appeared first on Poynter.
Over the weekend, a pair of big stories gripped neighboring European countries. On Friday, in France, Paris mayoral candidate Benjamin Griveaux—the former top spokesperson for the government of Emmanuel Macron—dropped out of the race, after a sexual video he sent to a woman who isn’t his wife circulated online. Then, on Saturday, in the UK, Caroline Flack—a TV personality who hosted the reality-dating show Love Island and won the British version of Dancing With the Stars, in 2014—was found dead at her London home. A lawyer for Flack’s family said she had killed herself. She was 40. Late last year, Flack ceased hosting Love Island after she was charged with assaulting her boyfriend; in the months since then, she’d faced a barrage of negative coverage from Britain’s notoriously voracious tabloids.
We shouldn’t presume to know the intimate details of Griveaux’s marriage. And, as is always the case when covering suicide, we should be careful not to speculate about Flack’s state of mind. Still, in their respective countries, both stories sparked urgent debates about privacy, its limits, the media’s role in policing them, and whether social media has ended the concept altogether.
The sexual video of Griveaux was first posted by Pyotr Pavlensky, a Russian political performance artist, on a website called “Pornopolitique.” In past “works,” Pavlensky sewed his lips shut in solidarity with Pussy Riot, the dissident punk group; nailed his scrotum to Red Square, in Moscow, as “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society”; and, after seeking asylum in France, set fire to its national bank. His partner, Alexandra de Taddeo, is believed to have been the initial recipient of the Griveaux video; today, both Pavlensky and de Taddeo were set to face a judge on charges that they violated France’s strict privacy laws, including one precluding the nonconsensual diffusion of sexual images. (According to Le Parisien, de Taddeo has said that she does not know how the video made it to the internet. Pavlensky also faces charges that he pulled a knife during a New Year’s party.)
France, it’s safe to say, is no stranger to political sex scandals. During a debate on France 24 about the Griveaux affair and “the right to a private life”, however, Pierre-Jérôme Henin, a PR professional who has worked as a journalist, noted that French politicians don’t tend to resign over consensual private conduct. After Griveaux did just that, figures from across the country’s political spectrum—from the far left to the far right, and including Anne Hidalgo, the moderate leftist who Griveaux was trying to displace as mayor of Paris—criticized the breach of his privacy. Several decried what they call the “Americanization” of French public life, and some journalists made a similar point. In a column, Philippe Val, the former director of the public broadcaster France Inter and the controversial satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, called the Griveaux video “an antidemocratic bomb.” The “opacity of private life,” Val wrote, is an essential part of the democratic condition—a necessary corollary for the transparency we demand in state affairs. As CNN’s Tara John, Martin Goillandeau, and Pierre Bairin put it, “The French do not care about the extramarital affairs of their politicians; but they do care about being told that they should.”
“Americanization,” in this context, could just as easily read “Britishization.” When it comes to the private lives of public figures, the Brits have always been more prurient than the French, with the country’s vibrant tabloid industry in the vanguard. Flack’s career has been a testament to that dynamic; as CNN’s Rob Picheta notes, it “was boosted, at least in part, by a media ecosystem that thrives on judgment and is quick to identify winners and losers.” Flack became very familiar with both sides of that equation—most recently, the darker one. As recently as Friday, The Sun published a mocking Valentine’s-themed story referencing her alleged assault of her boyfriend; on Saturday, as word of her death swelled, the Valentine’s story was removed. On her radio show Sunday, Laura Whitmore, who knew Flack and succeeded her as host of Love Island, called out Flack’s recent vilification by the press. “She lived every mistake publicly,” Whitmore said. “To the press, the newspapers—who create clickbait; who demonize and tear down success—we’ve had enough.” Online, a petition calling on the British government to end tabloid harassment of celebrities quickly accumulated hundreds of thousands of signatures—enough for it to be considered for debate in Parliament.
It’s unlikely any legislative action will be taken, though. And as The Guardian’s Jim Waterson writes, “For all the public’s anger at celebrity news outlets whom many are blaming for hounding a woman to her death, privately people are flocking to tabloid sites to read every possible detail about her.” The website of the Daily Mail, for example, has published tens of stories on Flack since her death, including video of her former fiancé “looking downcast,” and interior photos of the apartment where Flack killed herself, which, we were told, offers “character living space in a superb location.” Too often, it seems, we’re as happy for the beasts inside us to be fed as news organizations are to feed them.
One-size-fits-all approaches to privacy aren’t helpful; they neglect not only the nuances of individual cases, but legitimate legal and cultural differences in different parts of the world. Most American journalists probably wouldn’t hesitate to call Griveaux’s sex video and Flack’s alleged assault newsworthy—both stories, after all, involve powerful people in their respective public spheres. But prurience, however it’s motivated, can have a personal cost, and news organizations the world over should keep that front of mind, whatever they’re dealing with.
In Flack’s case, lines clearly have been crossed. In the wake of her death, Tim Jonze, a culture editor at The Guardian, asked readers to remember some of the last, haunting words she ever posted on social media: “In a world where we can be anything, be kind.” Such advice isn’t often given to journalists; if anything, we’re told we need to be the opposite. But scrutiny and kindness can coexist. Flack’s death—in all its tragic complexity—makes it urgent that we think on how.
Below, more media news from the UK and France:
- Taking license: I noted in yesterday’s newsletter that according to the Sunday Times, Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, is keen to abolish the “license fee” mechanism by which the public funds the BBC, and replace it with a Netflix-style subscription arrangement. Yesterday, it emerged that Johnson might not be so keen on such a move after all; according to The Times, it’s his top adviser, Dominic Cummings, who wants the license fee gone, with Johnson instead favoring “reform rather than revolution.”
- “Weirdos and misfits”: Last month, Cummings appealed publicly for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to apply to work in government. Over the weekend, one of his hires, Andrew Sabisky, attracted scrutiny for past remarks, including about “very real racial differences in intelligence.” (During a media briefing, a spokesperson was asked 32 times whether Johnson agrees with this view, but declined to answer yes or no.) Yesterday, Sabisky was ousted. On Twitter, he took aim at “media hysteria,” and said he’d been the victim of a “character assassination.”
- All talk: TalkRadio, a British property owned by Rupert Murdoch, has been fined after George Galloway, a controversial former lawmaker who hosts a show on the station, breached impartiality rules. According to Waterson, of The Guardian, talkRadio had tried to avoid the fine “by arguing it had very few listeners, very few advertisers, and would face financial pressures if [sic] had to pay a substantial financial penalty.”
- A controversy in the UK: The BBC cut ties with Craig Ramage, a local soccer pundit, after he said on air that “young Black lads” playing for the soccer club Derby County needed “bringing down a peg or two.” Ramage apologized.
- A controversy in France: Critics accused Sept à huit, a show on the French TV channel TF1, of using blackface to obscure the identity of an interviewee, rather than pixellating her face. The interviewee in question was a rape survivor and former sex worker; Harry Roselmack, the show’s presenter, said yesterday that the show was trying to protect her interests, Le Monde reports.
Other notable stories:
- Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and the Washington Post, has pledged $10 billion to the fight against climate change. Yesterday, after Bezos made the announcement on Instagram, journalists, including at the Post, pointed out that Amazon has a huge carbon footprint, and has threatened to fire employees who speak out about it. (Amazon says it will run purely on renewable energy by 2030.) In other climate-journalism news, Chris May writes, for HEATED, about a confusingly labeled partnership between CNN and BP.
- Last month, amid a State Department crackdown on NPR, President Trump questioned the broadcaster’s existence in a tweet. Since then, the New York Times’s Rachel Abrams reports, donations to many NPR affiliates have spiked. Southern California Public Radio has seen a 250-percent increase, while contributions to KMUW in Wichita, Kansas—where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used to be the Congressman—jumped 90 percent.
- Recently, after Tribune offered buyouts to long-serving reporters at its titles, Joshua McKerrow—who, as a photojournalist at the Capital Gazette, which Tribune owns, had to cover the shooting in his own newsroom, in 2018—decided to take one. “There are no words to describe the last two years,” he writes for Vox. “You give and you give, and the traumas add up, and eventually, I wondered if I owed this business any more of myself.”
- Susan Fowler, a former software engineer at Uber who blew the whistle on the firm’s mistreatment of women, has a book out about her experience. “I could never have predicted the positive impact my story had in Silicon Valley and throughout the world, nor could I have predicted the backlash and terror that my loved ones and I faced because of it,” she writes for Time. “Being a whistleblower is not easy. It is not glamorous or fun.”
- Ahana Datta, head of cybersecurity at the Financial Times, writes for CJR that states have ramped up their spying on reporters. “There’s a danger that journalists will develop a sense of complacency born of hopelessness: They’re listening to me anyway, so why bother,” Datta says. “It has never been more important that we not give in to that feeling.”
- On Sunday, Aziz Memon, a journalist in Pakistan, was found in a ditch having been strangled to death, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports. Several months ago, Memon had warned, in a video, that officials in Sindh province, where he worked, had threatened him in response to his reporting.
- Yesterday, outlets including Deutsche Welle and CNN reported on a fresh leak of documents out of Xinjiang, where China is cracking down on its Muslim population. Per DW, the leak shows that “every face, every family and every movement” is being tracked. “People have been arrested for growing beards and having ‘too many’ children.”
- And Aaron Ellis—an assignment editor at WAVE TV in Louisville, Kentucky—saw Natalia Martinez, a reporter at the station, talking to a man in a parked car, grew suspicious, and asked a police contact to check the license plate. The man, it turned out, was a secret police source of Martinez’s. Ellis was fired for outing him. The Courier-Journal has more.
How Bloomberg the candidate impacts Bloomberg the publication » Fear and loving at Amazon » Local journalist calls out national paper
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Mr. Bloomberg, build up this wall! If you went to the Bloomberg News website Monday afternoon and clicked on the politics page, you would have seen the following stories prominently on display: Pete Buttigieg talking about how he won’t […]
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On Thursday, McClatchy—the publicly-traded owner of 30 local newspapers, including the Miami Herald, the Charlotte Observer, and the Kansas City Star—filed for bankruptcy. The company will continue to operate, but is seeking relief from debt and pension obligations; if that goes to plan, it’ll pass into the control of Chatham Asset Management, a hedge fund which is already McClatchy’s top creditor, and which also owns the Canadian publishing giant Postmedia and the parent company of the National Enquirer. On Friday, McClatchy’s DC bureau reported that a federal pensions agency has concerns about a 2018 transaction between McClatchy and Chatham that could put the brakes on the bankruptcy process. Still, McClatchy—which has been family-controlled since the aftermath of the California Gold Rush—looks likely to end up in the hands of the 21st-century prospectors who increasingly own the local-news business.
Local-news-watchers have traced McClatchy’s present plight to its decision, in 2006, to buy Knight Ridder, then America’s second-biggest newspaper company, in a deal worth $4.5 billion. (Yes, with a “b.”) The deal burdened McClatchy with debt, and since it was struck, ad revenue and print-circulation figures have cratered. A recent hike in digital subscriptions has offered some respite; still, between the Knight Ridder acquisition and the middle of last year, McClatchy cut nearly 60 percent of its operating expenses and more than 80 percent of its full-time staff, according to Jonathan O’Connell of the Washington Post. (A year ago, CJR’s Amanda Darrach reported that Craig Forman, McClatchy’s CEO, had signed a lucrative new contract, including a monthly stipend of $35,000—up from $5,000—for housing and other expenses. The following week, his company offered buyouts to 450 staffers. Forman told Darrach that his pay was set by his board of directors with input from public consultants, and was “comparable.”)
What will the bankruptcy—and the prospect of hedge fund control—mean for McClatchy going forward? Ken Doctor, an industry analyst who writes regularly for Nieman Lab, reckons the company could be entering “a brief moment of relief.” McClatchy, Doctor notes, still brings in a fair whack of cash; it recently announced a quarterly earnings increase for the first time in eight years, despite its other travails. Private ownership, Doctor writes, could give its leadership more latitude to execute a digital transformation away from shareholders’ impatient gaze, and Chatham has said publicly that it is “committed to preserving independent journalism and newsroom jobs.” But actions, of course, speak much louder than words. And private ownership can be a double-edged sword; “Being shielded from the markets can let you do important but difficult things,” Doctor writes. “Or it can let you get away with stripping civic assets to the bare wiring.” In an industry that’s seen far too much of the latter, it’s hard not to be skeptical.
Last year was tumultuous for local news—a product, as Doctor has written previously, of dual processes of financialization and consolidation. McClatchy’s bankruptcy raises both specters again; Doctor reckons that Chatham might find merging McClatchy with another big publisher to be an attractive proposition. One possible partner, Tribune, has itself seen plenty of turmoil since Alden Global Capital—a hedge fund notorious for taking a slash-and-burn approach to its news assets—became its biggest shareholder in November. Since the turn of the year, Tribune has overhauled its executive ranks and bought experienced journalists out of their contracts. As has been the case at other Alden-owned papers, reporters have started speaking out against management. Gary Marx and David Jackson, investigative journalists at the Chicago Tribune, which Tribune owns, penned an op-ed for the New York Times in which they called Alden an “urgent threat,” and have literally gone door-to-door in Chicago to try and woo a wealthy savior for their paper. There’s been upheaval, too, at newspapers—including the Omaha World-Herald, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and the Buffalo News—owned by Warren Buffett, which recently were offloaded to Lee Enterprises; as part of the deal, Buffett agreed to refinance Lee’s debts, and lend it nearly $600 million. In the past, Buffett has called the newspaper business “toast.” Last week, Charlie Munger, his longtime business partner, said the industry is “dying.”
In the wake of all this bad news, Emily Bell, director of Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism (and regular CJR contributor), went on Brian Stelter’s CNN podcast to talk it through. For all but a handful of national media giants, she said, the advertising model has “completely collapsed,” and Buffett was “our last roll of the dice” on finding a benefactor willing to save local news at scale. Increasingly, it seems, that task will require thinking outside of those traditional boxes. Some publishers have found success with a nonprofit model; late last year, the Salt Lake Tribune became the first legacy daily to transition into nonprofit status, after the Internal Revenue Service greenlit its application with a surprising minimum of fuss. Bell and others see potential, too, in a “civic ownership” model, whereby the state would support local journalism via tax dollars, regulatory perks, or other mechanisms. Over the weekend, Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at the Washington Post, agreed that it’s time to take such ideas seriously. Still, as Sullivan notes, the notion of increased government involvement in media—even if hands-off—has traditionally been “radioactive” in the US. Other countries lack such hang-ups, but in America, it’s a fair bet that they’ll prove hard to shake.
We’ve seen no shortage of ideas and initiatives aimed at a sustainable, scalable future for local news, but as Doctor told Stelter yesterday, “all of this has not added up to replacements for what’s been lost.” Time is against us, and the bankers are only tightening their grip on major local-news chains. Stelter also spoke yesterday with Julie K. Brown, a journalist at the McClatchy-owned Miami Herald whose stellar recent reporting on Jeffrey Epstein is as clear an example as any of the vital work local outlets do. When Stelter asked Brown what might be done to preserve such work, Brown called on viewers to subscribe to their local paper. “Most people pay, I would think, $100-200 a month on their cable subscriptions. Newspapers are a fraction of that,” she said. “It really isn’t a whole lot of money considering you’re investing in your community.”
Below, more on the news business:
- Duopoly money: Facebook and Google, of course, have played a crucial role in undercutting news organizations in the online-ad market. Last year, Facebook pledged to pay select outlets to link to their content. On Friday, Benjamin Mullin, of the Wall Street Journal, reported that Google, too, is in talks with publishers about a similar paid arrangement. The talks are at an early stage, and mostly involve news companies outside the US, Mullin writes.
- Six sells: For Esquire, Kate Storey asks how, amid a collapsing media business, Page Six, the New York Post’s gossip column, still exists. “Page Six—a column in a newspaper that is printed on paper—has managed to grow. Yes, it has a website and a Twitter feed, and there was even a TV show. But mostly, it’s still something you flip to rather than something you click on,” Storey writes. “To the people who run the world, or certain parts of it, Page Six still matters.”
- Public risks, part I: The Trump administration has repeatedly proposed cutting funding from NPR and PBS, public media outputs that the US does have. Cuts were proposed again in last week’s budget, as was a cut to the federal subsidy of Stars and Stripes, an editorially-independent military newspaper owned by the Pentagon; for CJR, I looked at the First Amendment issues at stake in the latter proposal. Congress, of course, is yet to have its say.
- Public risks, part II: Boris Johnson’s war on the BBC, Britain’s public broadcaster, continues. Over the weekend, a government source told the Sunday Times that Johnson wants to scrap the license fee, the mechanism through which the public funds the BBC, and replace it with a Netflix-style subscription system. If it goes ahead, the government’s plan would significantly scale back the BBC’s current output, but senior lawmakers in Johnson’s Conservative Party are already speaking out against the idea; one said it would amount to “cultural vandalism.”
Other notable stories:
- Last week, Benjamin Dixon, a progressive podcast host, dug up footage, from 2015, of Michael Bloomberg defending his expansion of stop-and-frisk policies as mayor of New York; “We put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods,” Bloomberg said, “because that’s where all the crime is.” Dixon wrote for The Guardian that Bloomberg “is avoiding all scrutiny.” In the days since, that, belatedly has started to change; among other stories, GQ and the Post detailed historic allegations of sexism against Bloomberg, and the Times tracked how he used his billions to build “an empire of influence.” Elsewhere, after Bloomberg flooded Instagram with bizarre memes, the platform’s owner, Facebook, announced that it will no longer ban politicians from posting “branded content,” Politico reports. Facebook will not flag sponsored posts in the same way it flags political ads, but the former, unlike the latter, will be eligible to be fact-checked. And Bloomberg scored an eyebrow-raising endorsement—from the legendary ABC journalist Sam Donaldson.
- In other 2020 news, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer failed to identify the president of Mexico when asked to do so during interviews with Telemundo. BuzzFeed’s Jane Lytvynenko and Slate’s Ashley Feinberg debunked a viral rumor that Lis Smith, a communications aide to Pete Buttigieg, was pretending to be a Nigerian Buttigieg fan on Twitter. And Michael Avenatti—the once-ubiquitous, Trump-antagonizing lawyer who was touted as a possible Democratic presidential candidate—was convicted of trying to extort Nike. On CNN, Stelter asked whether he and others had been “stupid” to take Avenatti seriously.
- CNN’s Oliver Darcy reports on “a climate of nonstop workplace terror and bullying” at the Washington Examiner, a conservative outlet whose managing editor, Toby Harnden, was recently ousted. According to Darcy, Harnden had “made highly inappropriate comments, including sexist and homophobic remarks, about staffers.”
- For CJR, Zainab Sultan profiles Manuel Duran Ortega, a journalist from El Salvador who was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Memphis in 2018. Ortega remains in immigration limbo—his case won’t be heard until March 2022. “I fear returning to El Salvador,” Ortega tells Sultan. “I believe that if I return I will be killed.”
- For Air Mail, Lee Siegel writes that the case of Tessa Majors, a Barnard College student who was murdered in Morningside Park in December, has gone cold, “at least in the media.” “Simple, discoverable facts” about the murder “remain hidden and unrevealed,” Siegel writes. It “has been exploited with far more zeal than it has been investigated.”
- In France, Benjamin Griveaux, President Emmanuel Macron’s former top spokesperson, pulled out of the race to be mayor of Paris after featuring in an explicit video that spread online. The video was first posted by Pyotr Pavlensky—a Russian political performance artist living in France—on his site “PornoPolitique.” Figures from across the political spectrum called the ensuing scandal a regrettable “Americanization of political life.”
- Also in France, the news network France 24 is facing scrutiny for failing to mask the identity of Sadou Yehia, a farmer in Mali who was interviewed for a report on local militants, and subsequently kidnapped and executed. France 24 has denied any ethical lapse; the notion that anonymizing the farmer might have saved him, it said, is “illusory.”
- And in the UK, Caroline Flack, the former host of Love Island and other TV shows, killed herself on Saturday. Her death has sparked a reckoning for Britain’s tabloid press, which hounded Flack after she allegedly assaulted her boyfriend last year. On Friday, The Sun ran a mocking Valentine’s story about Flack; by Saturday evening, it had been deleted.
Should retired journalists voice their opinions? » Kellyanne and George Conway are still at it » NYT in Chinese
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Once a journalist, always a journalist? Sam Donaldson in 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Sam Donaldson retired from journalism seven years ago. He’s an American citizen. That gives him the right to express any opinion he wants, including […]
News organizations just want to get readers hooked, whether their habit’s news, podcasts, or puzzles
Last week, as Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine, prepared to acquit President Trump in his impeachment trial, she told CBS News that he had learned “a pretty big lesson.” Surely he would start behaving better. Fast forward ten days, and it’s clear that impeachment did teach Trump a lesson: that he can break the rules with impunity.
After firing officials who testified against him in the impeachment hearings, Trump intervened in the sentencing of Roger Stone, his consigliere. Stone faces jail time for crimes exposed during Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation—including obstruction, making false statements, and telling a potential witness against him to “prepare to die.” On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that Stone’s proposed sentence—seven to nine years—was “horrible and very unfair”; afterward, we learned that the Justice Department overruled its prosecutors by requesting a more lenient punishment. The department insisted that it reached its decision before Trump tweeted. Still, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that justice had been politicized and undermined. Four career prosecutors quit Stone’s case. One resigned from the Justice Department altogether.
William Barr, who runs the Justice Department, found himself in the eye of the storm. Yesterday, he tried to squirm out of it. In an interview with Pierre Thomas, of ABC News, Barr said that the Stone decision was made in good faith and accused Trump of unhelpfully confusing matters. “To have public statements and tweets made about the department, about our people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job,” Barr said. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody,” he added. “Whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the president—I’m going to do what I think is right. I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.” Last night, his words spun through the news cycle.
As the New York Times noted, Barr’s language echoed the independent tone he’d struck in his confirmation hearing, and he mentioned the hearing to Thomas on at least five occasions. (The Senate confirmed Barr as attorney general a year ago to the day.) During that hearing, Barr insisted that he would never shill for Trump. The press, noting his old establishment ties and perhaps wanting to believe him, echoed that message, credulously, across coverage. Barr, we were told, was a stalwart, a straight-shooter, a “principled institutionalist.” On CNN, Chris Cuomo said that, on balance, the hearing had been “bad for Trump” because Barr had communicated “a rigid sense of independence.” Since then, however, Barr’s reputation has gone rapidly downhill. That’s been due, in no small part, to his handling of the Mueller report. Barr briefed its topline findings weeks before he made it publicly available; when the report circulated, it became clear that Barr’s summary had been misleading. In the press, Barr, the independent lawman, was gone. Now he was Barr, the “toadying” suck-up who may as well be Trump’s personal lawyer.
Barr’s ABC interview, it seems, was an effort to wind back the clock. Did it work? News stories in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal credited him, respectively, with a “remarkable rebuke” and “striking criticism” of the president. Barr, the Times added, had “publicly challenged Mr. Trump in a way that no sitting cabinet member has.” Elsewhere, however, skepticism of Barr’s motives abounded. On CNN, Cuomo—who changed his tune on Barr during the Mueller episode—said the interview was “a slap right in Trump’s piehole” but that he suspected it was a ploy to “distract the media with the drama while ignoring the fact” of the Stone case. (Cuomo and others suggested that Trump may have authorized Barr’s criticisms—Trump’s response to them, that they didn’t bother him, was suspicious, they said, since Trump isn’t typically sanguine about expressions of disloyalty. Reporting in the Times and the Post seems to contradict this theory.) In a tweet, Ari Melber, chief legal correspondent at MSNBC, offered a pithy rewording of what Barr said: “I stand by intervening to help a convicted Trump adviser, but I wish Trump did not admit what we are doing on Twitter.”
Given Barr’s record as attorney general, skepticism is healthy. But the framing of Barr as Trump’s lapdog risks obscuring a much more important fact. Barr is probably being truthful when he says he’s doing what he thinks is right—because, on available evidence, the subservience of the Justice Department to the will and power of the president is what he thinks is right. Barr believes in the centralization of presidential power—just to the point, critics say, where the president is effectively above the law. Barr reached that view independently of Trump.
A year ago, when the Senate voted to confirm Barr, his views were hardly a secret; we just chose not to emphasize them. Since then, a succession of magazine articles—in the New Yorker, New York magazine, Vanity Fair, and elsewhere—have elucidated his troubling judicial philosophy. (In a provocative essay for the New York Review of Books, Tamsin Shaw compared Barr to Carl Schmitt, the “Crown Jurist” of Nazi Germany.) But day-to-day reporting still tends to overlook it, or to mention it only in passing. That’s regrettable, since Barr’s conception of the presidency will likely have consequences that outlast Trump. “If those views take hold, we will have lost what was won in the Revolution—we will have a chief executive who is more powerful than the king,” Laurence Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, told the New Yorker. “That will be a disaster for the survival of the Republic.”
Below, more on the Trump administration and justice:
- Investigating the investigators: Last year, Barr authorized an investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe. Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, already concluded a similar review, and found that Mueller’s efforts were legitimate; it’s hard to see how a fair-minded assessment would disagree. Barr, however, has publicly criticized Horowitz’s work. Yesterday, the Times reported that Barr’s investigators “appear to be hunting for a basis to accuse Obama-era intelligence officials of hiding evidence or manipulating analysis” of Russian election meddling.
- Where there’s a shill, there’s a way: On Wednesday, Tucker Carlson argued, on his Fox News show, that Trump should pardon Stone. In the Post, Erik Wemple accused Carlson of “shilling” for Stone, with whom he has personal ties. Watching the segment, Wemple wrote, it was “difficult to avoid the sense that he’s just trying to get a friend out of a bind.”
- In other abuse-of-power news: Yesterday, a federal judge ordered a halt to a cloud-computing contract tendered by the Pentagon in order to allow Amazon to challenge it in court. The government had awarded the contract to Microsoft; Amazon alleges that Trump’s hatred of its owner, Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Post, factored into that decision.
- Restoring Hope: Hope Hicks is returning to the White House, two years after leaving and taking an executive role at Fox. Hicks, who previously served as Trump’s communications director, will not be involved on the media side; instead, she’ll work as an aide to Jared Kushner.
Other notable stories:
- The NYPD is cracking down on leaks to the media, the New York Post reports. Last year, the department subpoenaed the Twitter account of Tina Moore, a reporter at the Post who received and published photos of a crime scene, and invoked the Patriot Act as justification. On Wednesday, the subpoena was withdrawn. Also this week, the NYPD suspended two officers for sharing footage of a shootout in a police station in the Bronx. And Amr Alfiky, a photojournalist, was arrested while filming the arrest of a man in Chinatown.
- For the Times, Neil MacFarquhar reports that Radio Sputnik, a Russian propaganda channel, is creeping across the airwaves in Kansas City, Missouri—and sharing a frequency with a jazz station. “Sputnik covers the political spectrum from right to left, but the constant backbeat is that America is damaged goods,” he writes. Its hosts “find much to dislike in America… and they play on internal divisions as well.”
- On Wednesday, Charlie Munger, a veteran business partner of Warren Buffett, told a meeting of Daily Journal Corp, a newspaper company he chairs, that America’s daily newspapers are “all dying.” Two weeks ago, Buffett—who has expressed similar sentiments—sold his newspaper business to Lee Enterprises. Reuters has more.
- Last year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists partnered with outlets, including the Times, to dig into documents detailing China’s suppression of Muslims. A week before the collaboration was due to be published, the Times ran its own, separate investigation on the same topic. Top editors at the Times called that an “oversight,” and apologized to ICIJ and other partners. The Washington Post’s Wemple has more.
- On CJR’s podcast, The Kicker, Kyle Pope, our editor and publisher, spoke with Han Zhang, of the New Yorker, on the information ecosystem surrounding the coronavirus outbreak in China. The World Health Organization has declared the virus an “infodemic.” For the MIT Technology Review, Karen Hao and Tanya Basu explain what that means.
- A new report commissioned by the British and Canadian governments and authored by Amal Clooney recommends that states use targeted sanctions to punish people who threaten journalists and press freedom. Few states have targeted-sanctions laws and those that exist, Clooney writes, “have rarely been used to protect journalists.”
- For CJR, Maria Bustillos spoke with Fahad Shah, editor of the Kashmir Walla, about the challenges Kashmir’s press has faced since the Indian government revoked the region’s autonomous status and blocked its internet last year. “It really takes a toll on your mental health,” Shah says. “Kashmir today is such that you can’t get away from stress.”
- And Taylor Lorenz, of the Times, reports that Michael Bloomberg “has contracted some of the biggest meme-makers on the internet” to produce sponsored Instagram posts for his presidential campaign. Bloomberg has tasked the CEO of Jerry Media—a “powerful force in the influencer economy”—with rebranding him as “a self-aware ironic character.”
McClatchy’s bankruptcy is another body blow to the journalism industry » Next up on the Geraldo Rivera ‘Roadkill’ podcast: An interview with President Trump
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. A rough day at McClatchy It’s not as if we should be surprised by Thursday’s news that McClatchy filed for bankruptcy. Poynter business analyst Rick Edmonds and others have seen warning signs about McClatchy for a while. Edmonds […]
On the eve of the Trump administration presenting its budget proposals to Congress, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon plans to cut back its funding of Stars and Stripes, a government-owned—yet editorially independent—newspaper covering military matters.
That was news to the paper’s top management, which wasn’t officially informed of the planned cut until Monday morning. Initially, the extent of the cut wasn’t totally clear, though Terry Leonard, the paper’s editorial director, told NPR that it could amount to more than a third of the paper’s budget. On Wednesday, the Pentagon confirmed that it wants to cut the subsidy in its entirety. Like any newspaper, Stars and Stripes draws revenue from subscriptions, sales, and advertising—but, it says, it also “depends on the Defense Department subsidy to cover the expensive and sometimes dangerous task of overseas reporting and distribution.”
Why is the Pentagon targeting Stars and Stripes now? Officially, the decision stems from a wide-ranging review ordered by Mark Esper, the defense secretary, in a bid to free up extra funds. But Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon’s acting comptroller, also said the department had decided that in “the modern age,” running a newspaper “is probably not the best way we communicate.” That remark elicited pushback. Barbara Starr, Pentagon correspondent for CNN, noted that the print edition of Stars and Stripes serves troops overseas who can’t use their phones for security reasons. Leonard pointed out, on NPR, that Stars and Stripes isn’t just a dead-tree product, but has a digital presence, including a podcast. And Ernie Gates, the paper’s ombudsman, took issue with McCusker’s use of the word “communicate.” “Stars and Stripes’s mission is not to communicate the DOD or command message,” he tweeted. “So ‘we communicate’ misses the mission.”
Instead, Gates wrote, Stars and Stripes is “an independent, First Amendment publication.” I asked him what that looks like in practice, given the operational and financial involvement of the federal government. He told me, in an email, that the arrangement does entail some limitations. Stars and Stripes journalists are Pentagon employees, and are barred from revealing classified information and running editorials (though they can publish secrets revealed by other outlets, as well as outside opinions). Nonetheless, Gates said, “Stripes is part of a free press—free of censorship, free of command interference, free of prior restraint or prior review.” Its reporting on the military, he added, “is analogous to the freedom a commercial news organization should have to report on its business side or ownership.”
The proposed funding cut to Stars and Stripes—and Gates’s invocation of the First Amendment—reminded me of a story I wrote in 2018 about the Bay Journal, a newspaper that covers environmental issues on the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay Journal grew out of the Clean Water Act, which included provisions to keep the public informed about efforts to clean up the Bay. The Journal has performed that function—first as a newsletter, then as a full-fledged newspaper.
Like Stars and Stripes, the Journal is editorially independent but receives significant state funding—in its case, from the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2017, the EPA moved to cut the Journal’s funding. Its official reasoning was vague, but internal emails clearly suggested that the decision was linked to the paper’s coverage. As a result, the Journal sued the government on First Amendment grounds, claiming that the cut amounted to discrimination based on viewpoint, and thus was unconsitutional. It also argued that it had been denied due process. In the end, the EPA backed down and restored the grant.
At the time, the Journal’s plight intrigued me: how could the government—which, after all, is elected to make funding decisions—be constitutionally bound to fund certain types of speech? Experts I spoke with differed on the merits of the Journal’s case. But broadly speaking, the question boils down to whether or not a state-backed outlet has been designed as a government mouthpiece. If a Republican administration, for example, created a newspaper explicitly to push anti-abortion views, a subsequent administration with different priorities would likely have a right to change course. When it comes to papers with independent journalistic mandates, however, that’s less clear-cut.
McCusker’s use of “communicate”—and Gates’s objection to it—thus goes beyond semantics. “I would argue that Stars and Stripes, as an editorially independent organization, is a designated public forum under the First Amendment,” Jonathan Peters, a professor at the University of Georgia and CJR’s press-freedom correspondent, told me in an email. “The First Amendment doesn’t require the government to subsidize expression, but if the government does, it may not then discriminate based on the viewpoints of the organization whose speech it’s subsidizing.”
At present, there is no clear indication that the Pentagon wants to cut Stars and Stripes’s funding for reasons relating to its reporting. There is some evidence, however, of tensions between the paper and military brass. Leonard told NPR this week that while the Pentagon hasn’t tried to interfere with its coverage, it has imposed restrictions elsewhere. “We’re finding that in the current atmosphere, access is getting tighter and tighter,” Leonard said. “You can’t help but see that there’s people that resent the fact that we’re not playing ball with the team.” (Leonard and a Pentagon spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.)
While Stars and Stripes stresses its First Amendment mission, the First Amendment does not, as things stand, look sufficient to protect it against cuts to its funding. But it may not need it. With Congress divided, the Trump administration’s budget, as a whole, is more a wish list than a viable legislative blueprint. The Stars and Stripes proposal could be ratified individually, but in the past, lawmakers—including Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee (one of whom, Martha McSally, is now a US senator)—have opposed cuts to its subsidy.
“Being zeroed out in the president’s budget is not the best starting point, but I’m sure Congress will have its own ideas,” Gates told me. “I wouldn’t try to predict the outcome, but I’m hopeful.”
The Bay Journal, for its part, has been left alone by the EPA since its legal fight, and continues to do what any independent newspaper should—scrutinize the government. On the Journal’s radar right now: Trump’s budget proposing, for the fourth year in a row, to decimate environmental protections for the Chesapeake Bay.
McClatchy files for bankruptcy protection to shed debt and reorganize. Key details remain to be negotiated.
McClatchy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday, seeking relief from an unmanageable debt burden. Its proposed reorganization plan allows all 30 of its regional papers to continue operating as proceedings unfold. The plan anticipates that control of the company will pass to Chatham Asset Management, a hedge fund that holds nearly all McClatchy’s debt. The […]
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McClatchy files for bankruptcy, likely ending 163 years of family control and setting up more consolidation in local news
McClatchy, the second largest chain of local newspapers in the United States, filed for bankruptcy Thursday. The company has struggled in recent years to meet pension demands, including $124 million in pension funding due in 2020. In November, McClatchy asked its creditors to restructure its debt, marked down the value of its chain of newspapers […]
Part of this piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe here. If you’re in the mood to spread some love to local news this week, here are a few easy ways to do so. Subscribe to newsletters […]
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These are false cures and fake preventative measures against coronavirus. Help fact-checkers spread the word
In the midst of a health crisis such as the one generated by the coronavirus 2019, those who have correct information on how to avoid contagion and how to take care of an eventual contamination are more protected. But in the world of false news, it’s getting increasingly difficult to be well-informed. Over the past […]
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Is there media bias around Bernie Sanders? » OU journalism professor apologizes » Miami Herald takes it on the chin with MMA mistake
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Is the media not feeling the Bern? Here’s a quick anecdote for you. In my newsletter Wednesday, I led with a brief recap of the New Hampshire primary — very brief, just 27 words. I wrote how it was […]