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Ten days ago, with the coronavirus and the election continuing to dominate the media-industry conversation in the US, Ben Smith, media columnist at the New York Times, briefly steered attention overseas, publishing an interview with the French leader Emmanuel Macron under the bait-and-switch headline, “The President vs. the American Media.” Macron griped about English-language outlets’ coverage of a string of recent Islamist terrorist attacks in France, which, he said, “legitimized this violence” by deflecting blame away from the perpetrators and onto entrenched Islamophobia in French society. Macron and his allies had complained, specifically, about critical op-eds that appeared in the Financial Times and Politico Europe (both of which were removed from the internet following the backlash, the former amid claims of factual inaccuracy), as well as a range of news stories, analysis pieces, and tweets posted by outlets including the Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press.
Smith’s interview further fueled an existing debate about coverage of France, and also sparked irritation among reporters in that country from whom Macron has generally remained aloof. (“My message here is: If you have any question on France, call me,” Smith quoted Macron as saying, before pointing out that Macron has never granted an interview to his paper’s Paris bureau.) “Whaaat?!” Sonia Devillers, a media reporter on the radio station France Inter, said (in English). “Our head of state picks up his phone to talk to an American when we can never approach him?” In the end, Smith’s article, Devillers noted, was unflattering. “Perhaps Emmanuel Macron didn’t know who he was talking to,” she said, calling Smith “a superstar” and “an iconoclast.”
From the magazine: Apocalypse Then and Now
For context here, it’s necessary to go back at least as far as January 2015, when two jihadists stormed the then-offices of Charlie Hebdo—a satirical magazine that previously published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, a practice that Muslims consider to be idolatrous—and murdered twelve people, including Charlie’s top editor and seven other journalists. In early September of this year, alleged accomplices in the attack went on trial, and Charlie republished the cartoons, describing them as key “pieces of evidence”; a few weeks later, an assailant, who later told police that he’d been angered by the cartoons, stabbed two people outside Charlie’s former offices. (The victims, who survived and are recovering, work for Premières Lignes, an unrelated documentary company based in the same place; the location of Charlie’s current offices is a secret.) Since then, a terrorist killed three people at a church in Nice, and another beheaded Samuel Paty, a schoolteacher in the Paris suburbs, who had shown the Charlie cartoons to his students as part of a lesson about freedom of expression.
In the aftermath of Paty’s murder, the French government instituted a crackdown, detaining Muslim residents who had previously been flagged for signs of radicalization, but also raiding groups that received public funding for their work on integration; Macron, for his part, vigorously defended freedom of speech, and doubled down on pledges that were already on his agenda: to fight “Islamist separatism,” and to restructure his country’s relationship with Islam more broadly by forging an “Enlightenment Islam in France.” (In early October, before the Paty killing, Macron said in a speech that “Islam is a religion that is currently experiencing a crisis all over the world.”) The tenor of his remarks elicited a furious backlash in multiple Muslim-majority countries, not least Turkey, whose press-bashing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan advised Macron to get a “mental-health exam,” called for a boycott of French goods, and threatened “legal and diplomatic” action after Charlie published a front-page cartoon of Erdoğan leering at a Muslim woman’s nude backside. France, for its part, recalled its Turkish ambassador and pushed for European sanctions. (It should be noted that the two countries have recently clashed over a web of geopolitical issues, spanning from Libya to the Caucasus.)
In late October, Macron gave an interview to Al Jazeera Arabic and attempted to explain himself. “I understand the sentiments being expressed and I respect them,” he said, referring to outrage about his defense of the Mohammed cartoons. “But you must understand my role right now is to do two things: to promote calm and also to protect these rights. I will always defend in my country the freedom to speak, to write, to think, to draw.” Then came the Smith interview, in which Macron accused foreign media of failing to understand the principle of laïcité, a distinctively-French notion of secularism that has long been an organizing principle of the country’s public life (and is hard to pithily translate). It’s not just Macron. Other observers, including French columnists and academics have leveled similar charges, and no little Twitter sniping—between French journalists and American foreign correspondents in France, and, sometimes, between the latter group and their opinion-side colleagues back home—has ensued. Some observers have expressed fears that American campus culture is encroaching on France. (Try as one might to avoid them, the woke wars come for us all eventually.)
This isn’t the only speech debate rocking French media at the moment—another, arguably much more consequential, has sprung up around a security bill, put forward by Macron’s party, that would, among other provisions, criminalize the publication of images that identify police officers, including livestreams on social media. (Other provisions include authorizing the police to use drones to film citizens.) The bill contains language about motive—specifically, threats to officers’ “physical or mental integrity”—and officials insist that the bill isn’t intended to impede journalists, but reporters and press-freedom advocates nonetheless reacted with grave concern, calling the bill “liberticidal” and even taking to the streets to protest against it. On Monday, representatives of media unions walked out of talks with Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, accusing him of doing too little to address their concerns. Yesterday, lawmakers passed the bill, which will now be considered by the French Senate.
The two debates are linked. Journalists have accused Macron of a double standard; as Dov Alfon—the editor of Libération, a daily that, last week, protested the bill by running a front-page photo of Macron with his face blurred out—told James McAuley, of the Post, Macron “presents himself as the champion of press freedom in the Muslim world,” but at home, “allows his ministers to propose laws that resemble those of the countries he’s just criticized.” And the security bill comes wrapped up in language about the safety of public servants that cannot be divorced from the recent terrorist attacks; the father of a student in Paty’s class posted a video criticizing Paty prior to his murder, and his killer posted a photo of Paty’s corpse on Twitter.
The dance between free expression and security is an age-old one, of course, and journalists always get caught in the middle. In France, as in the US earlier this year, the consequences for reporters have already gone beyond the hypothetical. Last week, Tangi Kermarrec, a reporter with the TV station France 3, was arrested while covering protests against the security bill and spent the night in custody. (Afterward, Darmanin said he should have “approached the authorities” in advance, drawing further condemnation from press groups). And on Monday night, Rémy Buisine, of the website Brut, was roughed up three times by the same officer while covering a violent police operation to clear a migrant camp in Paris.
In his interview with Smith, Macron accused American news outlets of trying to impose their values on another country’s society. Good foreign correspondents and columnists (including some of the reporters Macron and his defenders have complained about) do, of course, understand cultural differences and try to communicate them in their copy—that’s fundamental to the work. They should, clearly, avoid factual errors and apologism for the obscene. But it’s a foreign correspondent’s job, too, to illustrate the blind spots in other countries’ myths of national exceptionalism. Some truths—racism, police brutality, the targeting of journalists for doing their job—are universal.
Below, more on France:
- The work of foreign correspondents: For the Times, Constant Méheut and Norimitsu Onishi (whose excellent coverage, earlier this year, of child sex abuse by a well-known writer forced a national reckoning in France) report that French authorities have investigated at least fourteen children over comments about Paty’s killing, and detained four of them, all ten years old, on the grounds that they “defended terrorism.” Noting Macron’s message, to Smith, that foreign reporters should feel free to call him and his team, Méheut and Onishi asked Jean-Michel Blanquer, the French education minister, for an interview about the investigations. He declined, “saying that he had already talked publicly about laïcité and considered the Times’s coverage biased.”
- Relecture: Last year, I reported for CJR on another media debate in France; it concerned la relecture, or the common practice of politicians and other public figures reviewing, and sometimes amending, their media interviews prior to publication. Ahead of elections to the European Parliament, two outlets, La Voix du Nord and Le Télégramme, refused a joint interview with Macron after his team attempted to impose such terms. Readers are “more and more distrustful of the press, exactly because of things like this,” Patrick Jankielewicz, the editor of La Voix du Nord, told me.
- Sarko: This week, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France, went on trial—the first former president to appear as a defendant in court. He stands accused of trying to bribe a judge for information about another legal case that he faces. According to Kim Willsher, of The Guardian, Sarkozy used a door away from the cameras to enter court, and police kept journalists away from him inside the building.
Other notable stories:
- For CJR’s new magazine on a transitional moment for journalism, Julian Brave NoiseCat explores the challenges of covering Indigenous communities. “Indigenous stories test the limits” of traditional journalistic practices—the idea that a reporter’s job is to go out, gather relevant facts, and sculpt them into a narrative or argument. Such stories “require journalists to draw upon centuries of history, elucidate structures of annihilation, and build trust with people who have learned to be wary of misrepresentation. The task feels almost ludicrous, like balancing a skyscraper atop a tiny plinth.”
- In the days after the election, Facebook tweaked its algorithm to emphasize what it calls “news ecosystem quality” in users’ feeds; the change boosted credible publishers, such as CNN and NPR, instead of partisan junk. According to Kevin Roose, Mike Isaac, and Sheera Frenkel, of the Times, some Facebook staffers lobbied for the tweak to be made permanent, but it was not. Also for the Times, Charlie Warzel reviewed what two older Americans saw on Facebook in the runup to the election. One of their feeds featured “a dizzying mix of mundane middle-class American life and high-octane propaganda.”
- Fox News settled a lawsuit brought by the family of Seth Rich, the murdered Democratic Party staffer, over the network’s conspiratorial coverage of Rich’s death; no details were made public, but Michael Isikoff, of Yahoo, reports that the network paid a seven-figure sum. Fox has still not offered the Rich family a public apology. In other Fox News news, staffers told the Daily Beast that bosses failed to inform them of their potential exposure after Todd Piro, an anchor on Fox & Friends First, tested positive for COVID-19. (Fox says that it did conduct contact tracing, and follows state and CDC protocols.)
- In the world of publishing, Bloomberg reports that ViacomCBS is nearing a deal to sell Simon & Schuster to Bertelsmann, a German media group that already owns Penguin Random House; if the deal goes through, Bertelsmann would oversee about a third of all US book sales. Elsewhere, Crown, an imprint of Penguin Random House, announced that it sold more than 1.7 million copies of Barack Obama’s memoir in its first week, matching the first-week sales of his two presidential predecessors’ memoirs combined.
- Sara Fischer, of Axios, reports that the Post now has nearly three-million digital subscribers—a fifty-percent increase year-over-year, but still less than half of the Times’s total. Where the Times has been on a big-name hiring spree to boost its brand, the Post has instead focused on building “editorial teams in topic areas that drive lots of user interest” and software tools “that can help it accrue and retain subscribers long-term.”
- In other media-business news, Foreign Policy promoted Ravi Agrawal, its managing editor, to editor in chief, replacing Jonathan Tepperman, who becomes editor at large. Elsewhere, Vanity Fair named Miriam Elder, formerly of BuzzFeed, as executive editor of The Hive. And HuffPost, which BuzzFeed is acquiring, shuttered its editions in India and Brazil. Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s CEO, said his company cannot legally acquire them.
- According to openDemocracy, the British government has centralized control over Freedom of Information requests within a secretive “Clearing House” team that has also collated personal information about journalists—even though such requests are supposed to be processed without regard to the identity of the applicant. In a report, openDemocracy found that officials are rejecting more such requests than ever before.
- Drazen Jorgic and Ismael López, of Reuters, investigated how family, friends, and allies of Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, consolidated control over the country’s media and crowded out independent outlets. Ortega allies “have gained ownership or managerial control of at least a dozen TV channels, radio stations, and news sites.”
- And Beth Teitell, of the Boston Globe, asked a hostage negotiator, an animal control officer, a preschool owner, a behavioral economist, and a dog trainer for tips on how to extract Trump from the Whiten House if he refuses to leave. “Dogs like to play,” the trainer said, “so sometimes you can get them out of the crate if you show them a ball.”
Before you go, an announcement and a programming note: Next Wednesday, December 2, at 12pm Eastern, Covering Climate Now, an initiative led by CJR and The Nation, will hold a “Talking Shop” webinar with Neela Banerjee, of NPR; Matthew Green, of Reuters; and Justin Worland, of Time, to discuss the lessons of the election, and what’s next for climate reporting. You have to be a journalist to attend, but you don’t have to be a current Covering Climate Now partner; for more details and to RSVP, click here.
And the programming note: this newsletter will be off for the next two days for Thanksgiving. We’re thankful to you all for reading. Stay safe, eat well, and we’ll see you on Monday.
Like many professors, I follow journalism graduates on Facebook to keep up with their achievements, and recently came upon a disturbing post that inspired this column. An alumna received a signed message from a reader who called her “a f—— idiot” and told her to “go and f— yourself, b—-.” Jessie Opoien, opinion editor for […]
The post It’s time to hold editors accountable for harassed news workers appeared first on Poynter.
Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The National Press Photographers Association filed a request with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory […]
The post Will journalists be considered front-line workers for COVID-19 vaccines? appeared first on Poynter.
Yesterday, media eyes turned to Michigan, where a canvassing board met to certify Joe Biden’s clear presidential victory in the state. CNN’s Dianne Gallagher, broadcasting live from Lansing, tried to explain to viewers that the process is typically “mundane,” but was drowned out by Trump supporters’ chants of “CNN sucks”; online, reporters and curious observers, from Michigan and further afield, watched the meeting on a livestream that, at times, had more than thirty-thousand viewers. The reason for all the interest was the prospect that the board’s two Republican members—in particular, a man named Norm Shinkle—might vote against certification, despite having no good reason to do so. (Shinkle’s wife previously filed an affidavit, in support of a Trump-campaign lawsuit, alleging that poll workers in Detroit were “extremely rude” to her.) NPR’s Linda Holmes printed a t-shirt with a message that just about summed up the situation: “I never wanted to learn this much about the Michigan Board of State Canvassers.”
After several hours, the canvassing board did its job: Shinkle abstained, but his Republican colleague, Aaron Van Langevelde, voted to certify, as did the board’s two Democratic members. The vote was just the latest in a series of procedural dramas that we’ve witnessed since the election—formalities that have passed without media mention in prior years, but become stories in light of President Trump’s refusal to concede defeat and rancid efforts to pressure Republican functionaries to go along with the con. As I’ve written here before, coverage of Trump’s push to overturn the election results has often been head-spinning—it has lurched between discordant notes, from ridicule to alarm, that feel contradictory but actually aren’t, and channeled starkly different assessments of how worried we should be, sometimes within the same hour of TV programming. Last Thursday, for instance, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes advised his viewers not to get “a knot in your stomach” about the outcome since Trump’s assault on democracy “is not gonna work,” then interviewed The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman, who, having covered the assault extensively, was less sure. “You’re probably right that he’s not gonna get away with it,” Gellman told Hayes, “but I wish I could believe that it’s completely out of the question, and I don’t.” The resulting whiplash has been perfectly understandable—Trump has dragged us, once again, into territory that is uncharted and should have remained so—but it’s been disorienting all the same.
From the magazine: New Money
Another theater of unlikely procedural drama has been the federal government’s General Services Administration, whose leader, Emily Murphy, refused for weeks to “ascertain” Biden’s likely victory—a legal box that must be checked before a presidential transition can begin. Murphy, too, has become a character in the national news cycle, perhaps too much so—last week, several stories sought to humanize her by quoting friends who characterized her as a diligent public servant caught in an impossible bind, and drew the ire of various media critics and commentators. (“No. She is not doing her honest duty,” The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum, a prolific chronicler of complicity, wrote in response to CNN’s profile of Murphy. “The only explanation for her behavior is the most obvious one: She has bought the ideology; she has become a true believer; she has accepted the lies.”) It’s a journalist’s job, of course, to portray newsworthy figures with nuance, but that becomes complicated when, as with Murphy, the figure is only in the news because of their refusal to perform a basic task—one that, again, is not commonly worthy of comment—in the public interest. Last night, following the Michigan certification, Murphy finally ascertained Biden’s win. Trump tweeted confirmation that the transition would begin, but he did not concede defeat, and his legal challenges look set to continue. (According to the Daily Beast, Christina Bobb, a trained lawyer and host on the Trump-sycophant One America News Network, is now helping with Trump’s election litigation.)
The phenomenon of paying close attention to typically-mundane processes isn’t unique to the election story—it also applies to the pandemic story, which has disrupted the basic, unremarked mechanics of everyday human life, and trained unusually intense public scrutiny on scientific advances. As I’ve noted here before, and my colleague Shinhee Kang explored in depth last week, this is especially true of the vaccine-development story, where incremental advances have been “magnified as news alerts”; routine setbacks have been amplified in “major headlines, inciting alarm”; and the competition between drug companies has been a dominant theme. As Ellen Ruppel Shell, a professor of science journalism at Boston University, told Kang, “a lot of the coverage is almost done as if it’s a sports match: ‘Who’s going to be the winner?’”
We saw more evidence of that yesterday, as AstraZeneca announced, based on an interim analysis of trial data, that a vaccine it has been developing with researchers at Oxford University, in the UK, is on average seventy-percent effective, a figure that declined to sixty-two percent when two full doses were administered, but rose to around ninety percent when a half dose followed by a full dose was administered. Responding to that complexity, different outlets emphasized different findings—a push notification sent out by Bloomberg, for instance, cited the seventy-percent average and noted that the vaccine had fallen “short of the bar” set by competitors developed by Pfizer and Moderna, whereas a New York Times notification cited the “up to ninety percent” figure and called AstraZeneca “the third drugmaker to announce promising results.” Some experts, meanwhile, cautioned that coverage shouldn’t focus on effectiveness alone: Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor at Baylor and regular guest on CNN, tweeted that we should also assess vaccine candidates’ durability, long-term safety, and ease of delivery. On the latter score, the AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to store than other leading candidates.
Journalists have always had to cover procedure, of course, but the recent raising of the stakes, across numerous beats, has been a challenge. Sometimes, we’ve failed to translate the nuts and bolts into clear, consistent coverage, but we have also seen excellent, diligent reporting on the minutiae, especially on the local level, in Michigan and elsewhere. We should not shy away from detail. But we should be careful—especially when it comes to the vaccine story—not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. And we should ensure—especially when it comes to the election story—that we retain a sense of proportion, and not expend undue resources on hapless chicanery.
More broadly, we should be wary of a contradiction here: we’re diving deeper into the weeds at a time when our information ecosystem incentivizes the opposite—oversimplification, at best, and disinformation, at worst, all with a dollop of outrage. A greater focus on routine processes—especially when they seem to be working as designed—ought, perhaps, to help restore public trust, but bad actors have instead turned them into grist for conspiracies. The supposed corruption of procedure is a key tenet of vaccine denialism, and of Trump’s election denialism, too. His erosion of trust in formalities that the average news consumer did not, until this year, know about will have long-term consequences, even if the air seems to have gone out of his immediate threats. As MSNBC’s Hayes said last night, referring to the belated initiation of the Trump-Biden transition, it “seems like a big deal, and also a tragedy that it had to be a big deal.”
Below, more on the coronavirus and the election:
- Boosterism: Amid concerning levels of vaccine skepticism among the American public, a marketing push aimed at persuading people to get vaccinated is underway—led not by the federal government, but by the Ad Council, a nonprofit group. The group “led a similar effort in the 1950s, when it urged Americans to get vaccinated against polio,” Tiffany Hsu writes for the Times. Its coronavirus vaccination push “will be one of the largest public education crusades in history,” with public service announcements set to roll out “across airwaves, publications and social media next year.”
- The transition: Yesterday, we learned the identities of Biden’s first cabinet nominees—he’s tapping Anthony Blinken for secretary of state, Alejandro Mayorkas for homeland security secretary, Avril Haines for director of national intelligence, Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador, John Kerry as a special presidential envoy for climate, and Janet Yellen, the former chair of Federal Reserve, for treasury secretary. Many liberal commentators hailed the picks as boring, in a good way. “If you wonder how these people will govern, just close your eyes and imagine yourself back to 2016, before you developed that nervous tic that causes you to rip out your hair by its roots whenever your phone buzzes with a news alert,” The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood wrote. “What a luxury to see the Cabinet gradually populated with low-key operators who do not view manic stimulation of the electorate as a sign of a job well done.”
- “Make schmoozing great again”: Roxanne Roberts, of the Post, reports that the DC establishment hopes that the Biden administration will restore the city’s previously-cozy social scene. “Without Trump, the White House correspondents’ dinner—typically a night of mutual good will between the administration and the press that covers it—became an awkward defense of the First Amendment,” Roberts writes. Under Biden, events like “the Honors, the Alfalfa dinner, the Gridiron, Ford’s Theatre gala and the correspondents’ dinner” will “likely return to their former glory.”
- Turkey, I: Yesterday, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, received the International Emmys’ Founders Award, for his “effective use” of televised press briefings during the pandemic; according to Josefa Velásquez, of The City, his press conference yesterday was delayed by his acceptance speech. Also yesterday, Cuomo said, in a radio interview, that he’d invited his daughters and elderly mother to join him for Thanksgiving—after spending days urging New Yorkers to reconsider their holiday plans. He later reversed course.
- Turkey, II: Trump will lead the traditional White House turkey pardon today, with two birds called “Concede” and “The Election.” (Just kidding, they’re called “Corn” and “Cob”—though in 2018, Trump really did pardon a turkey named “Carrots” who, in the president’s telling, lost a “fair and open election” but “refused to concede and demanded a recount.” Trump told Carrots that he was sorry, but “the result did not change.”) The ceremony will be Trump’s first public appearance since Murphy ascertained Biden’s win. As Mark Leibovich, of the Times, put it, today “might be the single most awaited presidential turkey pardoning, ever.”
Other notable stories:
- For CJR’s new magazine on this transitional moment for journalism, Maya Binyam asks whether media unions can make newsrooms inclusive where management has failed. “Nearly every union organizer I spoke with expressed some variation on the belief that their managers genuinely wanted to possess diversity. At the bargaining table, most bosses even tout it as a common cause,” Binyam writes. “But when presented with language that would bind the company to concrete obligations, these same managers fall back on noncommittal rhetoric or vacate the conversation altogether.”
- Lauren Kaori Gurley, of Motherboard, obtained reports from Amazon’s security division showing that the company closely monitors its staffers’ union-organizing efforts in Europe, and has even hired Pinkerton operatives to gather intelligence on its warehouse workers. The reports, Gurley writes, offer an “unprecedented look” at the security practices of a company “that has vigorously attempted to tamp down employee dissent and has previously been caught smearing employees who attempted to organize.” (Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s owner, also owns the Post, which Hamilton Nolan covers for CJR.)
- Last month, the union representing staff at the Sacramento Bee complained that McClatchy, the paper’s owner, was planning to tie journalists’ pay and performance reviews to the number of clicks their stories attract. Yesterday, the union said that McClatchy dropped the proposal; a tentative contract between the union and the company, which was agreed to last week, will acknowledge that pageviews “play a role in newsroom decision-making,” but will not “force make-or-break targets on reporters.”
- Early next year, The Atlantic and WNYC will launch The Experiment, a weekly podcast about “the myths and ideas at the heart of the American Experiment and the way powerful forces of history collide with our everyday lives.” The podcast will be hosted by Julia Longoria, who previously worked as a producer on the Times’s podcasts Rabbit Hole and The Daily. CNN’s Kerry Flynn has more details.
- Also for CJR’s new magazine, Savannah Jacobson assessed who is investing in what as the media industry’s business model changes. “While most news outlets are slashing budgets, an emerging class of philanthropists and streaming services—plus the country’s largest newspaper, the New York Times—are spending ambitiously,” Jacobson writes, “transforming the way Americans tell and consume nonfiction stories.”
- Poynter’s Rick Edmonds writes that Thanksgiving newspapers will be thinner than usual this year, as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the advertising market. Dean Ridings, CEO of America’s Newspapers, told Edmonds that advertisers’ revenue is down, and that retailers are aware of the health risks of stoking a Black Friday sales rush. “On the digital side, prospects are not much brighter,” Edmonds reports, though an analyst told him small businesses were expected to spend more on digital than in previous years. “Their biggest interest currently is ‘being found’ on the internet and ‘interacting,’” Edmonds writes.
- And Hallmark? Try Hall-Mark Levin. Fox Nation, Fox’s streaming service, has produced an original holiday movie, Christmas in the Rockies, about a woman who wants to move to New York but takes over her family’s lumber business instead. (Talk about wooden acting.) Steve Doocy and Ainsley Earhardt, of Fox & Friends, have cameos—channeling the all-American “Doociness” that Mark Oppenheimer recently wrote about for CJR.
In 2018 and 2019, Hadley Barndollar covered a Thanksgiving charitable event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She calls it the highlight of her year. The features/investigative reporter for The Portsmouth Herald and Seacoastonline.com follows a local social service agency and hundreds of volunteers as they prepare Thanksgiving meal baskets for families in public housing and individuals […]
The post How local journalists are covering a Thanksgiving drastically impacted by COVID-19 appeared first on Poynter.
Journalists pushed for progress, stood up to bullies and made sense of a pandemic. Here’s what we’re thankful for this year.
Good morning everyone, and happy Thanksgiving. The Poynter Report will return next Monday, but before going off to celebrate the holiday, I asked some of my Poynter colleagues to pass along what they are thankful for in the media world this year. Here’s what they said. And, below that, I offer up what I’m thankful […]
November 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of one of the most famous and influential poems of the 20th century. It is titled “The Second Coming.” It was written in 1919 by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. To understand the enduring power of “The Second Coming,” it helps to know the historical […]
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Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. ProPublica explores the important question of why schools around the country have wildly different rules about whether […]
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On Thursday night—in the hours after President Trump’s lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell convened a press conference and laundered spectacularly-deranged voter-fraud conspiracy theories involving Hugo Chávez, George Soros, and the Clintons—Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, said on air that he’d asked Powell for evidence, and that she hadn’t been able to provide any. “When we kept pressing she got angry and told us to stop contacting her,” Carlson said, affecting the air of the dogged reporter. “We’re telling you this because it’s true, and in the end, that’s all that matters.” His words were quickly clipped and circulated online, where some mainstream journalists and observers hailed them as a damning, unexpected rebuke of Trump’s election lies, and many right-wingers excoriated his supposed treachery.
Neither response was really justified: Carlson’s monologue cleared only an exceedingly low bar of reality acceptance, and the language he used to couch his call for evidence veered between the credulous (“We took Sidney Powell seriously, with no intention of fighting with her”; “We invited Sidney Powell on the show… we would have given her the entire week, actually, and listened quietly the whole time at rapt attention”) and the downright bizarre. (“The louder the Yale political science department and the staff of The Atlantic magazine scream ‘conspiracy theory,’ the more interested we tend to be”; “We literally do UFO segments—not because we’re crazy or even interested in the subject, but because there is evidence that UFOs are real and everyone lies about it.”) Still, both responses were reflective of a broader post-election trend when it comes to Fox’s coverage. Trump and his supporters have treated even the slightest deviations from the president’s agenda as heresy. And a narrative has formed, among some media-watchers, that Trump and Fox are at war, or at least litigating a messy divorce. “It’s time to grab the popcorn and enjoy the Trump vs. Fox show,” Dean Obeidallah wrote in a column for CNN last week. “After four years of Trump, his opponents have earned this moment of joy.”
New from CJR: Setting our expectations for the COVID vaccine
As with the Carlson clip, various supposed instances of Fox turning on Trump—the anchor Neil Cavuto cutting away from a lie-fest fronted by Kayleigh McEnany, the (sometime) White House press secretary; the hosts of Fox & Friends referring to Joe Biden as the “president-elect”; Fox journalists dismissing Trump’s election claims as unevidenced and litigation as “lawsuits schmawsuits”—have spun around social media and been written up by media reporters. (During election week, Fox’s early call of Arizona for Biden was wrongly held up in a similar vein, even though it came from the network’s number-crunchers, who, like their counterparts at other outlets, work independently of on-air talent and are guided by math, not punditry.) Yet elsewhere on Fox, Trump’s lies have continued to be given a platform. Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, calculated that between November 7, the day that outlets including Fox called the election for Biden, and November 16, Fox personalities and guests cast doubt on, or pushed conspiracies about, Biden’s win hundreds of times. Sometimes, opinion hosts including Carlson and Sean Hannity have attempted to hide behind the facade of just asking questions; other times, they’ve been overt. (“Let’s be very direct,” Lou Dobbs, a host on Fox Business, said two days after the Biden call, “many are trying to steal this election from President Trump.”) Fox News even cut such commentary into a commercial, with the rubric “the voices America trusts.” On Thursday, the network aired the Giuliani-Powell conspiracy marathon in its entirety; the next day, Maria Bartiromo, of Fox Business, had Powell on her show, and Giuliani and Powell were reportedly booked for Jeanine Pirro’s show on Saturday, but bailed. (Last night, Trump’s legal team cut Powell loose after she implicated Republican officials in the fraud conspiracy.)
So why the narrative that Fox is at war with Trump? It may just reflect the typical journalistic impulse to seek out stories of conflict—an impulse Trump has buttressed with his anti-Fox rhetoric, even if Fox hasn’t reciprocated. It likely also reflects the growing relevance of right-wing outlets that are prepared to be even more craven in their fealty to the president. (As the never-Trump conservative Charlie Sykes wrote over the weekend, it turns out that “Fox News was only the first circle of right-wing media hell.”) Foremost in this conversation have been One America News Network, long a Trump favorite, and Newsmax, which is owned by Trump’s pal Christopher Ruddy. (Newsmax did have Powell on on Saturday, prior to her dumping. “Georgia’s probably going to be the first state I’m gonna blow up,” she said. “It will be biblical.”) Ruddy has openly been wooing Trump, telling seemingly anyone who will listen that the president is increasingly appreciative of Newsmax.
As is usually the case with right-wing media (and much media in general), ratings—and money—are central to the story here: since the election, Newsmax has been growing its viewership (it drew its biggest ever audience on Thursday, topping one million viewers in the 7pm hour), whereas Fox’s ratings are down on their pre-election levels. While Fox remains comfortably ahead of Newsmax, Michael M. Grynbaum and John Koblin, of the New York Times, reported yesterday that the loss of viewers “has set off alarm bells” inside Fox. Hanging over the dynamic is uncertainty as to what Trump will do next, amid rampant speculation that he intends, variously, to start his own TV network or digital media property or lend his brand to an existing one. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the former approach is now looking less likely; sources close to the president noted that starting a new outlet from scratch would be “an arduous undertaking without guaranteed success.” If that bears out, can we expect to see Trump on Newsmax going forward? Will he forgive Fox and take on a show—or regular call-in berth—there? Or will he do something else entirely?
An interesting media-business story is unfolding here, and we don’t yet know how it will work out. (I, personally, am skeptical of both “Trump TV” and a pronounced, long-term Newsmax bounce, and the Murdochs have wriggled out of much tighter spots than this in the past; whatever happens, I’ll chronicle it here.) In the meantime, we should be careful that useful reporting on the maneuvers of Fox, Newsmax, and others doesn’t spill into rationalization, and an attendant lowering of expectations; on-air personalities and executives at Fox, in particular, do not deserve any credit for stating basic facts, and deserve to be called out each and every time they give a platform to lies and empty doubt—regardless of motive. Right-wing outlets bear immense long-term responsibility for the conspiracy-rich media ecosystem that is now facilitating Trump’s attack on democracy. That ecosystem is often discussed in terms of silos and “competing realities.” That language gets at a real problem, but risks eliding the fact that we all have to live in the one, true reality and deal with the actions of those who would warp it, whether we consume their product or not. There is only one standard for election denialism: zero tolerance.
Below, more on Trump and right-wing media:
- What the reality-based press can do: Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at the Washington Post, outlines three ways that the reality-based press might counter the disinformation ecosystem: mainstream outlets should “be bolder and more direct than ever in telling it like it is,” and avoid “pussyfooting or punch-pulling”; should “unapologetically stand for something”; and should get much more involved in media-literacy programs. Sullivan writes that she has “serious doubts” as to whether these things will happen or would even work, but also believes that “we have to try.”
- The coup stage: On Friday, Masha Gessen, of the New Yorker, explored whether Trump is trying to execute a coup or a con or both. “Across a reassuringly wide political spectrum, observers hold that Trump’s refusal to concede the election results is not tantamount to a coup attempt,” Gessen wrote. “They are probably right. Then again, we in the media don’t have a great record for recognizing coups when they are staring us in the face.” (Gessen recently discussed Trumpian autocracy on our podcast, The Kicker.)
- Bannon wagon: Amy Qin, Vivian Wang, and Danny Hakim, of the Times, explore how Steve Bannon and Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese billionaire (on whose yacht Bannon was arrested in August), have worked together to inject unsubstantiated claims about the origins of the pandemic into the right-wing media ecosystem. Their efforts form part of a wider “collaboration between two separate but increasingly allied groups that peddle misinformation: a small but active corner of the Chinese diaspora and the highly influential far right in the US,” both of which want to attack China’s government.
- ‘American Gnosticism’: On WNYC’s On the Media, Bob Garfield and Jeff Sharlet, a journalist and English professor at Dartmouth, discussed the parallels between Gnosticism, an ancient religious heresy emphasizing spiritual knowledge as a counterpoint to expertise, and Trumpian conspiracy theories. Within Trump’s version of Gnosticism, members of the press are seen as “laboring in the veil of delusion,” Sharlet said, “both promulgating the conspiracy but also sort of trapped in the conspiracy.”
Other notable stories:
- CJR’s Shinhee Kang spoke with science writers including Roxanne Khamsi, Stat’s Helen Branswell, and The Atlantic’s Sarah Zhang about coverage of the coronavirus vaccine race. “There’s tremendous competition to get that story out,” Ellen Ruppel Shell, a professor of science journalism at Boston University, told Kang. “And a lot of the coverage is almost done as if it’s a sports match: ‘Who’s going to be the winner?’” On The Kicker, Kyle Pope, our editor and publisher, went deeper on the topic with Zhang.
- Lauren Williams and Ezra Klein are quitting Vox, where they served as editor in chief and editor at large, respectively; Williams will launch Capital B, a new nonprofit outlet serving Black audiences, while Klein is heading to the Times’s opinion section, where he’ll anchor a column and a podcast. Vox also recently lost Matthew Yglesias—who, like Klein, was a founder of the site—to Substack, and Jane Coaston, also to the Times.
- For the Marshall Project and NBC, Carroll Bogert and LynNell Hancock explore how the media spread the “superpredator” myth, which first appeared in the Weekly Standard twenty-five years ago this month. The term, “besides being a racist trope, was not borne out in crime statistics,” they write. “But as fodder for editorials, columns and magazine features, [it] was a tragic success—with an enormous, and lasting, human toll.”
- For Poynter, Samir Husni asks whether a recent increase in Black representation on magazine covers represents a performative act of hypocrisy or genuine change. The answer, he writes, might be both. Husni reports having “encouraging and hopeful” conversations with many industry leaders, but others refused to talk on the record—a “reason to believe that all is not as rosy as it seems” when it comes to inclusion.
- On Friday, a federal judge ruled that Michael Pack, the Trump-installed CEO of the US Agency for Global Media, violated the First Amendment when he initiated investigations into agency journalists’ supposed anti-Trump “bias.” Justice Department lawyers argued that the journalists aren’t protected by the First Amendment since their coverage is “government speech,” but the judge disagreed. NPR’s David Folkenflik has more.
- For CJR, Clair MacDougall reports from Burkina Faso, where the press has been muzzled amid an ongoing war. “Few Burkinabés have access to timely and accurate information about the devastation that is unfolding in their country,” MacDougall writes. Reporters told her of “a culture of intimidation in which informants are afraid to speak and in which gendarmerie and military press journalists to name their sources.”
- On Saturday, the Nigerian military admitted, for the first time, that soldiers were armed with live bullets at Lekki toll gate, in Lagos, last month—corroborating part of a recent CNN investigation that confirmed that law enforcement opened fire on protesters at the site. Nigeria’s information minister previously said that CNN should be “sanctioned” for spreading “fake news.” (ICYMI, Ivie Ani recently wrote about the protests for CJR.)
- Last week, Angelo Becciu—a Vatican cardinal who was ousted by Pope Francis amid a corruption scandal—sued L’Espresso, a newsmagazine affiliated with the Italian daily la Repubblica. According to the AP’s Nicole Winfield, Becciu, who denies wrongdoing, alleges that L’Espresso and the pope coordinated on a “hit job” that has denied Becciu the opportunity to one day become pope himself. L’Espresso stands by its reporting.
- And the Times is suing Time, alleging that the magazine’s “TIME100 Talks” events series infringes the trademark of the Times’s own “Times Talks.” Time says it is “flattered” by the Times’s concern, but finds the paper’s lawsuit to be “baseless and somewhat bewildering.” Stephen Rex Brown has a timely dispatch for the New York Daily News.
Once a civic monument, The Kansas City Star’s $200 million presses and ‘pavilion’ have been sold and abandoned
When The Kansas City Star unveiled new presses in 2006, it was an event with only a bit less pomp than cracking a champagne bottle on a ship’s hull. Four years in the making, the four-press unit, new and state-of-the-art, was enclosed in an eight-story glass “pavilion” covering two downtown city blocks with office space […]
When local print subscribers get their Thanksgiving newspaper, it will be the biggest weekday edition of the year. But even in a generally disappointing year for advertising, a drastic shrinking of the traditionally bulky package of ads, surrounding news copy and preprinted inserts has publishers alarmed. “The pandemic has taken a toll on many newspaper […]
The post Where are the Black Friday ads? Why Thanksgiving newspapers will look lighter this year. appeared first on Poynter.
An intriguing media story that has sprung up since the election has been the modest rise of Newsmax — a conservative, very pro-Trump outlet that smells blood in the water that it can overtake Fox News as the go-to outlet for right-leaning viewers. The network has become a favorite of President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed […]
The post Should Fox News be worried about Trump supporters turning to Newsmax? appeared first on Poynter.
Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. I want to give you two dates to put on your calendar. Dec. 12 is the possible […]
The post The possible first day of COVID-19 vaccinations is Dec. 12 appeared first on Poynter.