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The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Hot takes abound after Tuesday’s debate Good Thursday morning. Before we get to the rest of the newsletter, here are some leftover thoughts from Tuesday night’s Democratic debate. First off, nice comeback for the Dems in terms of […]
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Last night, at Drake University in Iowa, CNN became the first network to have hosted (or co-hosted) three debates this election cycle. (MSNBC has been involved with two, and will get a third next month. Fox News is still blacklisted by the Democratic National Committee.) CNN mixed its moderators up, putting Wolf Blitzer and Abby Phillip in the limelight. With the Iowa caucuses three weeks away, it had a new hosting partner, too—the Des Moines Register, which was represented by its top politics reporter, Brianne Pfannenstiel. All the cable news channels rile people up, but CNN has a special place in the craw of progressives and conservatives alike, especially at election time. Predictably, as the debate unfolded, Twitter did not hold back. At one point, #CNNIsTrash started trending in America.
After CNN’s first debate of the cycle, last July, its critics, on Twitter and elsewhere, argued that the network seemed desperate to stoke conflict between candidates who didn’t seem to want to take the bait. (Aside from John Delaney, who is still in the race, if you were wondering.) Later in the year, a CJR analysis appeared to bear that out: across the first six debates of the cycle, CNN was responsible for more than half of the questions that asked one candidate to comment on another. (The first six Republican debates ahead of 2016 saw a similar trend.) At the start of last night’s debate, the network took a similar tack, around rising tensions with Iran. Blitzer asked Bernie Sanders about his criticisms of Joe Biden’s vote for the war in Iraq, then asked Amy Klobuchar about her criticisms of Pete Buttigieg’s inexperience.
After the foreign-policy discussion, the moderators turned to the conflict Everyone Came To See: Sanders v. Elizabeth Warren. Surprisingly (and laudably) it was stoked first in the context of trade policy. Pfannenstiel asked Sanders about his opposition to the new trade deal between the US, Canada, and Mexico, then asked Warren why she thinks Sanders is wrong. (Sanders says the deal, known as USMCA, will cost jobs; Warren says it will give “some relief” to farmers and workers. She plans to vote for it in the Senate, then campaign for something better.)
It wasn’t long, however, before attention turned to the “sizzling feud” (CNN’s words) that dominated coverage in the run-up to the debate: the claim—reported by CNN, then made by Warren herself—that Sanders privately told Warren that a woman can’t win the White House in 2020. Sanders denied having said such a thing. Phillip asked Sanders to reiterate his denial, but rather than asking Warren to respond to it, proceeded as if the denial hadn’t happened: “Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?” Sanders laughed. Online, his supporters were not amused. Warren and the only other woman on stage, Klobuchar, were at least given time to rebut the idea that a woman can’t beat Trump, but the final word went to Biden, who—not two weeks ago—said publicly that the sexism that hamstrung Hillary Clinton in 2016 is “not going to happen with me.” CNN didn’t bring that up. The Warren-Sanders feud dominated much post-debate chatter, fueled, in no small part, by Warren’s apparent refusal to shake Sanders’s hand at the end. As of this morning, CNN was running a GIF of the moment at the top of its homepage.
Fundamentally, the reason we have debates—and not just interviews and town halls—is to tease out candidates’ contrasting policy positions in a dynamic setting. Conflict, in other words, can be a useful thing. Problems come when it’s contrived, and when it’s prioritized at the expense of other meaningful dynamics—for example, the need to emphasize the linkages between different policy topics, rather than keeping them in silos. The 2020 debates have often failed on the latter score, and last night’s was no exception. When Sanders cited climate change in his opposition to USMCA, he was told, by Pfannenstiel, “We’re going to get to climate change but I’d like to stay on trade.” (Sanders replied that they’re the same thing, but his time was up.) Climate questions only came much later, as did the night’s only question on race, which was really a question about the electability of Buttigieg. On Twitter, Astead W. Herndon, of the New York Times, pointed out that the people on stage—all of whom were white—could have made any of the night’s questions about race; that they didn’t, he wrote, reflects “a failure of candidate imagination.” It’s also a moderator’s job to tease out such failures, and interrogate them.
Last night saw other very typical framing problems. Moderators entered the healthcare discussion through the prism of cost, but did not bring that up in the discussion of war. (Jamelle Bouie, of the Times, tweeted: “If it helps people, it costs money. If it murders them, it’s free. Those are the rules.”) A host of pressing issues—the earthquakes in Puerto Rico, for instance—were ignored completely; in their closing statements, Warren and Sanders both complained about important topics they hadn’t been able to talk about. Afterward, we saw the usual cavalcade of empty headlines about “Democrats sparring,” lists of winners and losers, etc., etc., etc. Alongside his list, CNN’s Chris Cillizza offered a self-congratulatory “honorable mention: Policy is also a winner tonight.” If you say so, Chris.
Given all the chatter, ahead of time, about the elevated stakes of the Democratic race as Iowa approaches, it’s striking just how similar this debate was to those that came before. Sure, some have been more substantive than others. In general, however, they’ve all operated within the same format—rattling through roughly the same issues, framed in roughly the same way, with occasional changes to the running order. Feuds, when they’ve sparked, have dominated the aftermath—but with minimal hindsight, most of them have started to look small fry. (Do you remember Biden and Julián Castro appearing not to shake hands? In a few weeks, will you remember Warren and Sanders not doing so?)
Politicians must share the blame for this repetitiveness. The Democratic National Committee has declined to authorize single-issue debates that would allow topics like climate change to be explored in finer detail; the candidates themselves, needless to say, need no invitation to hammer home their sculpted talking points. But we encourage them anyway. As the debates have gone on, critics have accused the networks—not least CNN—of treating them as entertainment. But at least entertainment—good entertainment, anyway—has some kind of compelling narrative arc. The current format seems much more nihilistic than that.
Below, more on the debate and the campaign:
- Anti-Bernie bias?: Progressive commentators and outlets including The Nation and The Intercept say CNN treated Sanders unfairly last night. The Intercept’s Ryan Grim, Aída Chávez, and Akela Lacy see a comparison with the Fox News debate, in 2016, ahead of which Megyn Kelly was ostensibly told to go hard on Trump. This time, “it was CNN moderators who brought out the bat and swung it hard at Sanders.”
- Counterprogramming: As he often does when attention is turned elsewhere, Trump held a rally last night, in Wisconsin. Democratic candidates who didn’t make the debate stage were out and about, too. Michael Bloomberg went on Colbert, and had his campaign send out dad jokes for the duration of the debate. (“Remember, tonight’s winner goes on to face defending champion Ken Jennings.”) And Andrew Yang unveiled an endorsement from Dave Chappelle. “I’m Yang Gang!” Chappelle said.
- Who we’re not reaching: For Vanity Fair, Peter Hamby writes that Trump has a huge advantage with low-information voters. “The political media blob tumbles forward every day on the assumption that people are aware of these story lines and characters, that voters are tuning in, when many probably can’t tell you what channel this thing is on.”
- “No one wins”: For New York’s The Cut, Bridget Read took aim, prior to the debate, at coverage of Warren and Sanders. “Nothing has made me more frustrated in this election so far than reading the words, ‘a woman can’t win,’ over and over again as this story traveled,” she wrote. “Simply repeating, without context or interrogation of the issue, that you’re afraid a woman can’t win makes it harder to imagine a future in which… she can.”
Other notable stories:
- Yesterday, Democrats in the House released documents handed to them by Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, that cast new light on Trumpworld’s maneuvers in Ukraine. In a letter to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, Giuliani said he was acting with Trump’s “knowledge and consent.” Today, the House will finally vote to name its impeachment managers and send the process to the Senate, which is expected to take it up on Tuesday. The trial is already being called “made for TV.” (The president, Politico reports, “sees a PR advantage” to the format, but questions remain as to the TV chops of Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel who will lead Trump’s defense.) It may not be made for reporters, however—amid tightened security, Roll Call reports, the Capitol press corps is facing an “unprecedented crackdown” on its access to senators.
- CJR’s Amanda Darrach spoke with Malachy Browne, who works on visual investigations for the Times, about his team’s work to obtain and verify footage of an Iranian strike that mistakenly took down a Ukrainian passenger jet last week. (Yesterday, Browne and his team confirmed, for the first time, that two missiles hit the plane, not one.) Having initially denied culpability, Iran owned up over the weekend. Since then, protests have roiled the country; per The Guardian, even news agencies close to the regime have covered the unrest. Two anchors quit their jobs with state TV in protest of the initial crash cover-up.
- The Trump administration may move to impose restrictions on news organizations’ advance access to economic data such as the jobs report, Bloomberg’s Katia Dmitrieva and Vince Golle report. Under the current, longstanding “lockup” system, reporters can prepare their stories ahead of time in secure rooms. Ending that practice could risk “an arms race among high-speed traders to get the numbers first and profit off the data.”
- Some local-news news: Sara Fischer reports for Axios that States Newsroom, a nonprofit that supports outlets in state capitals, will expand to at least 20 new states; it just launched new ventures in Minnesota and Iowa. Per Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, Randy Siegel is stepping down as CEO of Advance, the Newhouse-owned newspaper chain. And staffers at the Toledo Blade say its print run will be cut back to three days a week.
- And season four of Slate’s hit podcast Slow Burn will focus on white nationalism and the rise of David Duke, Hot Pod’s Nicholas Quah reports. The first and second seasons of the show revisited Watergate and the impeachment of Bill Clinton, respectively, but season three branched into pop culture, focusing on the feud between Biggie and Tupac.
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The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Debate’s biggest misfire: a media mistake It was a stunning moment. Stunning in its ineptness, and stunning in its unprofessionalism. And it left a stain — not a big one, but a stain nonetheless — on what otherwise […]
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And then there were 12. Yesterday, Cory Booker, the US senator from New Jersey, became the latest contender to drop out of the Democratic presidential primary. The field is still very big, but it has narrowed in one meaningful sense: it was once historically diverse, but with Booker out, just three candidates of color remain, only one of whom, the former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, is Black. Booker blamed the distraction of jury duty in President Trump’s impending Senate impeachment trial for his exit, as well as his winnowing finances, exacerbated by his failure to qualify for recent Democratic debates, including tonight’s. It will take place in Iowa, which is 91-percent white. Every single candidate on stage will be white, too.
As is ritual in campaign coverage, after Booker dropped out, reporters and pundits chewed over the reasons for his failure—among them, media obsessions with the campaign horse race (Booker never really cut through in the polls), and with shiny new objects (Exhibit A: Pete Buttigieg). “I think a big part of Booker’s problem, why he never had ‘a moment,’ was that he’d had so many moments before,” Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent at New York magazine, wrote on Twitter. “He’d been on magazine covers and the subject of glowing profiles since the mid-2000s. The political media was overly familiar with Booker and voters weren’t familiar enough.” Amid all the postmortems, we saw paeans to Booker’s personal decency and to his love-centered campaign rhetoric. On MSNBC, Booker emphasized that tone in a valedictory interview with one of his media admirers (and his old friend from Stanford), Rachel Maddow. “Uniting Americans to a larger purpose,” he said, is his “prayer” for the Democratic Party. (Elsewhere on TV, Booker’s exit got buried under Elizabeth Warren’s allegation that Bernie Sanders told her, in 2018, that a woman can’t win in 2020—a claim Sanders strongly denies. For all their avowed disapproval of division, political pundits often find fighting more interesting than peace and love.)
Yesterday’s Booker coverage also re-upped conversations about the structure of the Democratic primary, and its effect on voters and candidates of color. In recent weeks, Booker complained repeatedly that their perspectives have been excluded by the party’s current debate-qualification rules, which prioritize polling and fundraising. Yesterday, pundits reiterated that critique, and there was renewed discussion, too, of Iowa’s place at the top of the primary calendar, which earns the state disproportionate attention every four years. “The whiteness of [the] donor class and early states really matters,” Astead W. Herndon, a politics reporter for the New York Times, tweeted. “Their vision of electability impacts viability.”
These might look like conversations for the Democratic Party, but they’re important for the media, too. We could do much more to mitigate the distorting effects of imperfect democratic structures, and yet, too often, we reinforce and amplify them. Our preoccupation with “electability” is one such distortion. The concept is a hydra of conventional wisdom and internalized biases, and its predictive value is flimsy. (See: Trump, Donald.) And yet so many of our discussions about politics rest on it. If you’ve listened to campaign reporters this cycle, you’ll have heard ample evidence—albeit anecdotal, for the most part—that many Democratic electors intend to vote not for their favored candidate, but for the one they think stands the best chance of beating Trump.
The press is integral in molding such judgments. And yet, as Sawyer Hackett, a staffer on Julián Castro’s shuttered presidential campaign, told the Washington Post’s David Weigel last week, voters of color are underweighted in its calculus. “I have to believe that if newsrooms were more diverse we wouldn’t be stuck with this narrative that’s made voters think they’re choosing between their minds and hearts,” Hackett said.
It’s not the news media’s job to advocate for given candidates—but it is our job to challenge assumptions that unfairly benefit some at the expense of others. (Errin Haines, national writer on race and ethnicity at the Associated Press, put it best in a recent piece for Nieman Lab: “Election coverage is about choices—of who gets seen and heard in our democracy.”) Similarly, it’s not the media’s job to change the primary calendar—but it is our job to ensure that issues pertaining to race, and its intersection with every other issue of substance, continue to shape the conversation, regardless of the demographics of the state that gets to vote first.
As the Times acknowledged back in September, as media focus started to turn in earnest toward Iowa (five months before any actual voting), the state’s caucuses “disenfranchise huge blocs of voters,” and yet, “to a greater degree than in recent campaigns, this unrepresentative and idiosyncratic state is proving that it is the only electoral battleground that matters for Democrats.” We should be counterbalancing that logic, not eagerly indulging it. And yet, as in so many cycles past, the Iowa feeding frenzy is kicking in again, to the exclusion of other issues, and voices, that matter.
Despite its homogenous candidate line-up, tonight’s debate is an opportunity to be more inclusive. Its moderators will bear a greater responsibility than usual to channel the perspectives and concerns of communities that don’t look like most of Iowa—and not just in a one-off question halfway through the running order. Given all the noise around Sanders and Warren’s crumbling non-aggression pact, the temptation to center conflict, instead, will doubtless be strong.
Below, more on 2020:
- The race beat: For CJR’s recent print issue on disinformation, Haines explored how disinformation campaigns are seeking to suppress the Black vote. Haines also wrote for our Fall 2018 print issue, on race and journalism, about her life on the race beat. If you missed it at the time, you can find all our content from that issue here.
- Speaking of Sanders: The editorial board of the Times is bringing readers (and viewers) inside its 2020 presidential endorsement decision. (Its verdict is expected January 19.) Yesterday, it published the first of its in-depth candidate interviews, with Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Booker, since he dropped out. Sanders told Charlie Warzel, a tech columnist for the Times, that he doesn’t have any apps on his phone. (Questions remain as to his plan for big tech.)
- Is it happening again?: The Russian military has been busy hacking Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company at the heart of unevidenced GOP corruption claims against Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Rosenberg write for the Times that while the hack remains murky, its scale and timing “suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens” ahead of the election.
- FECless: Dave Levinthal, of the Center for Public Integrity, reports that Trump has so far declined to fill three vacant slots on the Federal Election Commission, rendering the regulator inquorate in an election year. Senate Republicans want Trump to take action, but as things stand, Levinthal writes, 2020 “will simply be staged without the FEC playing any meaningful law enforcement role.” (You can guess who stands to benefit.)
- The debate: The debate tonight will kick off at 9pm EST on CNN. Drake University in Des Moines will host, with Wolf Blitzer and Abby Phillip, of CNN, and Brianne Pfannenstiel, the top politics reporter at the Des Moines Register, moderating. (The Times has a useful profile of Pfannenstiel.)
Other notable stories:
- The Post’s Philip Rucker, John Hudson, Shane Harris, and Josh Dawsey trace Trump’s claim, first made on Fox News on Friday, that Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s top general, was plotting to attack four US embassies when the president ordered that he be killed. “Based on what is known so far,” the Post reports, the claim “was at best an unfounded theory and at worst a falsehood”—deepening the administration’s “credibility crisis.”
- In November, Alden Global Capital, the private-equity firm notorious for cost-slashing at its media properties, became Tribune Publishing’s biggest shareholder. Yesterday, Tribune said it would offer buyouts to staffers who have eight or more years of experience. Tim Knight, its president and CEO, cited “industry-wide revenue challenges.” Peter Nickeas, a Chicago Tribune reporter, told CNN that the news is “disheartening.”
- Abby Huntsman is quitting The View. She plans to join the campaign of her father, Jon Huntsman, Jr., a Republican who is running to reclaim his old job as governor of Utah. (Jon Huntsman’s brother Paul Huntsman owns the Salt Lake Tribune, which he recently steered into nonprofit status. As a result, the paper can no longer make endorsements.) Per CNN, Abby Huntsman had also complained of a toxic environment at The View.
- Natalie Edwards, an official with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, pleaded guilty to leaking financial reports to BuzzFeed, including information concerning Paul Manafort, Trump’s jailed former campaign chair; his associate Rick Gates; and the Russian embassy. Politico’s Erin Durkin has more.
- Yesterday, Major League Baseball hammered the Houston Astros, imposing major penalties related to a cheating scandal. Among other measures, MLB banned Brandon Taubman, the Astros’ former assistant general manager, until the end of 2020 for screaming at female reporters in praise of a player accused of domestic violence.
- For The Nation, Tony Wood explores the journalistic output of the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez. Throughout his career, fiction and reportage were “constantly interwoven,” Wood writes. “Oral traditions, legends, and popular memories and the evidence of his eyes and ears work[ed] to nourish and creatively enrich each other.”
- In Slovakia, a trial tied to the murders of Ján Kuciak, an investigative journalist, and Martina Kušnírová, his fiancée, opened yesterday. One of the four suspected killers pleaded guilty to murder; Marián Kočner, the oligarch charged with masterminding the killing, did not. (Last year, I looked at the ramifications of the case in an article for CJR.)
- In Britain, declassified documents revealed that the government made secret payments to Reuters during the Cold War. The money—which was earmarked by a propaganda agency within Britain’s foreign ministry, then funneled through the BBC—was intended to expand Reuters’s coverage of the Middle East and Latin America. The BBC has more.
- And for WBUR’s Only A Game, Martin Kessler spoke with Anthony Federico, a web editor at ESPN who was fired after his headline about basketball star Jeremy Lin went viral due to its racist connotations. Federico is now a priest. Per Kessler, he “believes his experience facing social media outrage and death threats will shape his work.”
In open letter, former White House officials call for press briefings » Abby Huntsman leaving ‘The View’ » The scoop behind the Astros’ firings
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Former press secretaries unite There are two big news stories on tap. The House is expected to send impeachment articles to the Senate this week, maybe even today. And tonight, the Democrats will hold another presidential debate. Oh, and […]
Misinformation in WhatsApp seems like a black hole, especially in Africa, where health issues make falsehoods even scarier. Since June 2019, when the International Fact-Checking Network awarded a $50,000 grant to Africa Check to develop “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?,” a voice note show specially designed to be shared on the private message app, about 1,600 […]
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Foundation grants have strings attached, and nonprofit journalists sometimes don’t like being told what to do by them
The post A gamble in Arkansas: Can a tablet and a print replica rescue local news? appeared first on Poynter.
It must be Oscar time, because suddenly Hollywood’s credibility is in question. Again. This is an old refrain in the final months leading up to the Academy Awards, which are annually inundated with biopics and historical epics, all vying for statuettes. This year’s favorite accuracy arguments concern popes and the press. Clint Eastwood was pilloried […]
The post Oscars remind us that films ‘based on a true story’ are more entertainment than fact appeared first on Poynter.
Last Wednesday—amid mounting skepticism of the Trump administration’s claim that it decided to kill Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s top general, to avert an “imminent” attack on US interests—US officials finally briefed members of Congress on the intelligence that led to the strike. At least, they were supposed to. According to one lawmaker who was present, the intel the administration shared “was no more secret than what could be found on Wikipedia”; Mike Lee, a Republican senator for Utah (and close ally of Trump), called the briefing “insulting and demeaning” and “probably the worst” he’s seen on a military matter. Rand Paul, also a Republican senator, said he didn’t learn anything “that I hadn’t seen in a newspaper already.”
On Friday, Trump updated his rationale for the strike. He did so via the media, not to Congress. In a sit-down interview hosted (of course) by Fox News, Laura Ingraham asked the president if the American people didn’t have a right to know what infrastructure Suleimani had been planning to target; Trump said they didn’t, but continued that “probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad.” Pressed again by Ingraham, he then dropped what sounded like a bombshell: “I can reveal that I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies.”
Trump’s answer demanded so many follow-up questions. (Chief among them: Is this actually true? and If so, why can you tell Fox but not Congress?) Ingraham didn’t ask them, but as the weekend progressed, other journalists did. Yesterday, Mark Esper, the defense secretary, and Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser, shared the job of defending Trump’s “four embassies” claim on the Sunday shows. As was the case with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s five-show tour last weekend, Esper and O’Brien’s answers were repetitive, and repeatedly unsatisfactory. On Jake Tapper’s CNN show, Esper was slippery—Trump “said he believed that they probably, that they could have been targeting the embassies in the region; I believe that as well,” Esper said. On Margaret Brennan’s CBS show, he appeared to slip up. “The president didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence,” Esper said. “Are you saying there wasn’t one?” Brennan asked; “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies,” Esper replied. He continued that he shared the president’s “expectation” about a threat to embassies; still, his remark drove a critical news cycle yesterday, at one point topping the homepages of both the Times and the Post. (In print this morning, the Times says: “NARRATIVE SHIFTS AGAIN.”)
Trump’s interview with Ingraham was a shot in the arm for the Iran news cycle; it otherwise may have started to stall over the weekend amid an apparent de-escalation of tensions between DC and Tehran. The threat of conflagration remains very high, and there are still pressing strands of this story to unspool—not least Iran’s belated admission, on Saturday, that its military accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, and the reaction to that news inside the country. Still, barring some sudden madness, we can probably expect Iran to slip down the news cycle this week. The Iowa caucuses are looming, as is Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. (As I wrote last week, the Iran and impeachment stories are intimately linked, but in the Trump era, thoughtful synthesis doesn’t always seem to be a top priority for the press.)
Before all that happens, it’s worth reflecting on the arc the Iran story has traced since the US killed Suleimani 10 days ago. Across that period, deep-rooted problems with our coverage of Iran, in particular, and war, in general, have come to the fore again. As Margaret Sullivan wrote for the Post last week, TV news still prioritizes bellicose voices over anti-war ones; as Andrew Lee Butters wrote for CJR, Iran coverage, on the whole, is still loaded with tropes that ignore the country’s complicated history, and elide the full extent of American meddling in it. (Interestingly, Tapper asked Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer yesterday whether Steyer traces the current conflict with Iran to the CIA-backed coup that deposed Iran’s then prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953. Sadly, the exchange didn’t really lead anywhere.) A big part of the problem is the relative lack of Iranian voices in our coverage. As H.A. Hellyer wrote for Foreign Policy, US media should look beyond just serving audiences at home. “The consequences of narrow Western thinking,” he wrote, are stark. “Like it or not, the West in general, and the United States in particular, has far more power in the Arab world than vice versa.”
Nonetheless, within the boundaries of such ossified assumptions about the US and Iran, coverage of recent tensions does seem to have exhibited a healthier skepticism than we’ve sometimes seen in the past. The specter of the media cheerleading that marked the march to war with Iraq has loomed large, often explicitly. Hard questions have been asked of US policymakers and their shifting rationale for killing Suleimani, not least this past weekend. And our sense of alarm, on the whole, has felt necessary. Yes, there was much uninformed Twitter panic, especially in the immediate, uncertain aftermath of the Suleimani strike. But this looked, for several days, like the sort of dangerous escalation we long feared we’d see under Trump. Taking it seriously—and challenging his administration’s dire informational record in the process—was a bare minimum.
A big challenge, going forward, will be to apply at least this level of attention and skepticism to future administrations when lives are in the balance. The Trump administration’s routine dishonesty has put many in the media on high alert. But governments of all stripes routinely lie about war, as the Post’s Afghanistan Papers project very recently reminded us. The Trump era has taught us a number of useful lessons about our coverage. Those lessons need to endure.
Below, more on Trump and Iran:
- Alternative media: Ben Smith, editor of BuzzFeed News, argues that the centrality of Twitter in our present information ecosystem makes it harder for governments to lead America into war now than it was in the past. Ahead of the Iraq war, Smith writes, the only “quick anti-war counter-narrative came from the nascent liberal blogs that operated on the margins of the official conversation.” The rise of “alternative media” since then “is inseparable from the loss of faith that followed the invasion of Iraq.”
- Things Trump says: As usual, Trump was busy on Twitter over the weekend: among other missives, he wrote to Iranian citizens in Farsi, and urged the country’s government to “let reporters roam free!” (Many observers contrasted that demand to Trump’s attitude toward the press back home.) Elsewhere, Jonathan Swan, of Axios, noticed that Trump told Ingraham that he’s cooperating with a new book by Bob Woodward. Trump called Woodward a “very, very good reporter.” He’s previously called him “a liar” and “a joke.”
- A rare perspective: The front page of yesterday’s LA Times featured a story, by Melissa Etehad and Sarah Parvini, about dissent in Iran following the regime’s admission that it downed the Ukrainian passenger jet. Sharing the story on Twitter, Parvini called it “a testament to the importance of diversity in newsrooms… It’s not often you see two Iranian American women helming coverage of Iran in a US paper.”
- An expert on the shadow commander: On Friday, Dexter Filkins, who wrote a definitive profile of Suleimani for the New Yorker in 2013, spoke with Kyle Pope, CJR’s editor and publisher, on our podcast, The Kicker. You can listen here.
Other notable stories:
- Writing for CNN, 13 former press secretaries and public affairs officials from the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon called on the Trump administration to reinstate regular press briefings. “The press will report a story to the best of their ability whether they are briefed by the administration or not,” they wrote. “But regular briefings generally lead to better and more responsible reporting.” (Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesperson, called the signatories “establishment swamp creatures.”) Elsewhere, the Times assesses the low public profile of Stephanie Grisham, “Trump’s press secretary who doesn’t meet the press.” And the Post’s Sullivan argues that Grisham isn’t the worst press secretary ever—because she can’t be said to be doing the job at all.
- As apocalyptic wildfires have raged in Australia, US broadcast news segments on the crisis have mostly failed to link it to climate change, Media Matters for America found. “From September—when the first bushfire broke out—to early January, major morning, nightly, and weekend news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC aired 59 segments total on the Australian fires, and only nine of them (15.3 percent) mentioned climate change.”
- Samira Ahmed, a journalist at the BBC, has won an equal-pay case against the broadcaster; a tribunal ruled that Ahmed was paid less than a male colleague because of gender discrimination, and not, as the BBC claimed, because the man’s job required different skills, including “a glint in the eye.” Other BBC pay cases are ongoing; as The Guardian reports, the broadcaster could end up facing “an enormous legal bill.”
- Late last year, Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, pledged to resign amid a scandal tied to the assassination, in 2017, of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist. Today, Robert Abela will replace Muscat. During his party’s leadership race, Abela mostly steered clear of addressing Caruana Galizia’s murder. Civil society groups in Malta fear that he doesn’t represent sufficient change from the Muscat administration.
- On Friday, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the government’s indefinite shutdown of the internet in Kashmir—the longest such blackout ever imposed in a democracy—is illegal. The court demanded that the government immediately review the situation in Kashmir and publish its shutdown orders, allowing for independent scrutiny of their legal basis.
- Ignace Sossou, a journalist in Benin, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison; he was charged with “harassment” after he (accurately) tweeted a public prosecutor’s remarks. Sossou, who has worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, was previously handed a suspended sentence in a different matter.
- And Julie Satow, of the Times, revisited her obituary of Faith Hope Consolo, a colorful character from the world of New York real estate, after a childhood friend messaged Satow contradicting Consolo’s past accounts of her upbringing. The financial press, Satow found, had been taken in by elaborate lies about Consolo’s back story.
ICYMI: Megxit, pursued by the press