October 12, 2021

When Noah Shachtman left The Daily Beast to take over as editor-in-chief of Rolling Stone, he promised to bring his nose for news with him. He told The New York Times’ Marc Tracy, “It’s got to be faster, louder, harder. We’ve got to be out getting scoops, taking people backstage, showing them parts of the world they don’t get to see every day.”

Shachtman is keeping his word. Rolling Stone just dropped a major story this week, taking on one of rock’s legends. David Browne writes, “Eric Clapton Isn’t Just Spouting Vaccine Nonsense — He’s Bankrolling It.”

The 76-year-old Clapton has been on record fighting against COVID-19 vaccines and mask mandates. Browne’s story reports that Clapton has helped bankroll an anti-vax British band, Jam For Freedom, by donating more than $1,300 through a GoFundMe set up to help pay legal fees for breaching COVID-19 regulations at a show. Clapton also is believed to have lent the band a van so it could travel to gigs and later gave them money to buy a van.

That’s just a portion of the story. There’s a lot more to digest.

Shachtman tweeted, “EXCLUSIVE: Eric Clapton isn’t just spouting vaccine nonsense. He’s bankrolling anti-vaxx protesters. One of a bunch of WTF moments in @RollingStone’s investigation into Clapton’s long journey on the fringe, including some shockingly racist episodes.”

He then tweeted, “Welcome to the new @RollingStone. We’re going to call out bad actors — no matter how big they are, and no matter how many times they may have been on our cover before.”

Post digs into Bezos business

Ever since Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, cynics wondered if the Post would treat Bezos like every other powerful figure, turning its investigative eye on him like it would anyone else.

Well, there has been no sign that the Post has laid off when it comes to Bezos and on Monday, it reported a story that calls out Blue Origin, the Bezos-owned space venture. The Post’s Christian Davenport and Rachel Lerman write, “Inside Blue Origin: Employees say toxic, dysfunctional ‘bro culture’ led to mistrust, low morale and delays at Jeff Bezos’s space venture.”

They started the story by writing, “In 2019, a mid-level employee at Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin had grown fed up with the company, and as he left, he wrote a long memo that he sent to Bezos, chief executive Bob Smith and other senior leaders: ‘Our current culture is toxic to our success and many can see it spreading throughout the company.’ The problems at the spaceflight company were ‘systemic,’ according to the memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post and verified by two former employees familiar with the matter, and ‘the loss of trust in Blue’s leadership is common.’”

The Post reporters dug deep, talking to more than 20 current and former Blue Origin employees and industry officials with “close ties to the firm.”

One former executive told the Post, “It’s bad. I think it’s a complete lack of trust. Leadership has not engendered any trust in the employee base.”

Bezos declined to comment to the Post, as did Shailesh Prakash, The Post’s chief information officer who also sits on Blue Origin’s advisory board.

The story is another example of how the Post isn’t afraid to report on Bezos. Post media reporter Paul Farhi tweeted, “Tough story by Bezos-owned newspaper about Bezos-owned business. One of many.”

Gruden out over emails

Big breaking news Monday night as Jon Gruden resigned as head coach of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders because of numerous offensive emails he sent while working as an analyst for ESPN. In a statement, Gruden said, “I have resigned as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. I love the Raiders and do not want to be a distraction. Thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, and fans of Raider Nation. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt anyone.”

This story started last week when The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Beaton reported that Gruden had used a racist description of NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith in an email to Bruce Allen, the former president of the Washington Football Team. (Gruden and Allen also worked together with the Tampa Bay Bucs in the mid-2000s.) Then, Monday night, The New York Times’ Ken Belson and Katherine Rosman blew the story wide open by reporting about numerous emails over a seven-year period ending in 2018.

Belson and Rosman wrote, “He denounced the emergence of women as referees, the drafting of a gay player and the tolerance of players protesting during the playing of the national anthem, according to emails reviewed by The Times.” The Times story reports, in detail, the homophobic and misogynistic language Gruden used, as well reporting about emails that included “photos of women wearing only bikini bottoms, including one photo of two Washington team cheerleaders.”

Not long after the Times story broke Monday evening, Gruden resigned.

ESPN announced Gruden’s resignation during its coverage of “Monday Night Football.” In a statement, ESPN said, “The comments are clearly repugnant under any circumstance.”

There will be much more about this in the coming days and weeks because the Gruden emails are just a part of this story. The NFL is investigating workplace conduct with the Washington Football Team. Gruden’s emails are just some of the 650,000 emails the NFL is reported to be looking at.

Lessons from the past year

Joe Fryer and Savannah Sellers, anchors on NBC’s Morning News NOW. (Courtesy: NBC News)

One year ago today, “Morning News NOW” — the morning program on NBC News’ 24/7 streaming network NBC News NOW — made its debut. In the middle of a pandemic no less.

I had a chance to catch up with hosts Savannah Sellers and Joe Fryer to ask about their year on the air, beginning with what it was like to start a show while COVID-19 was raging.

“It’s been an honor to launch this streaming morning news show at a time when we’re constantly covering such an important story, but like many things in COVID, it’s also been a challenge,” Sellers told me in an email. “Perhaps the most bizarre COVID twist has been that the whole team has never been together and many of us have never met face to face. But we’ve been making it work!”

COVID-19 continues to be a major story, but much has changed in the past year.

“Since launch, the pacing of the show has changed as well as the topics we cover,” Sellers said. “We have a unique mandate from our bosses to ‘try anything!’ It means we can play with segment lengths, live guests and formatting.”

Fryer said, “When you ask us what has changed since our launch, my first answer is an obvious one: Savannah and I used to sit six feet apart. Now we’re much closer.”

Fryer continued, “Despite that distance, no two people on our staff were probably closer to each other — physically — than Savannah and me. Nearly everyone on our team has been working remotely since the show’s launch, learning to do seamless work as if we were all under the same roof. We finally met some of our team in person for the first time a few months ago, and there are some we still haven’t met. ‘Work from home’ has taught us that we can have producers from all around the globe, which just makes our show that much smarter. And we’ve learned that if we can launch a two-hour daily morning show in these conditions, quite honestly, there’s probably nothing we can’t do.”

The first year also taught them what their audience wants.

“They don’t want opinion or spin,” Fryer said. “They want to tune in and hear the strong, well-sourced reporting that comes from NBC News journalists and our contributors. And we know we’re just starting to scratch the surface as we begin our second year.”

NBC News’ 24/7 streaming network averages 60 million monthly views and more than 20 million hours watched each month.

An international mystery

(Courtesy: NBC News)

NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell will sit down with three of the original Havana Syndrome victims, who are now speaking out publicly for the first time. The interviews will air Wednesday on the “NBC Nightly News” and Thursday on the “Today” show and MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

For those unfamiliar with Havana Syndrome, The Washington Post’s Miriam Berger recently wrote, “The mysterious illness now known as ‘Havana Syndrome’ first began afflicting U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers in Cuba’s capital, Havana, in late 2016. Victims reported the sudden onset of a range of symptoms such as headaches, nausea, memory loss and other cognitive difficulties. The initial cluster of cases confounded medical experts. Now, nearly five years later, as many as 200 incidents have been reported among U.S. personnel in a list of countries that includes everywhere from Russia to China to Colombia to Uzbekistan and even the United States itself.”

One of the victims told NBC News, “I want viewers to understand that this is actually happening. We’re not making this up, this happened to real people, people who live among you, you see us at the grocery store … this is happening.”

Another told Mitchell, “It just seems important to humanize this for America to help all my fellow Americans … understand that as much skepticism as still seems to surround this, it’s very real.”

A new Twitter tool

Now Twitter users can remove a follower without blocking them. Unveiled on Monday, here’s how it works, according to Twitter: Go to your profile and click “Followers”, then click the three-dot icon and select “Remove this follower.”

The ex-follower gets no notification that they’ve been removed. They’ll just no longer see your tweets. They can follow you again once they realize they’ve been removed.

Writing for The Daily Mail, Dan Avery has more.

Back on the ice

The National Hockey League returns to ESPN tonight for the first time since 2004. ESPN, along with Turner Sports, begins a seven-year TV deal with the NHL. Tonight’s ESPN schedule includes the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins and the expansion Seattle Kraken playing its first-ever game against the Vegas Golden Knights.

ESPN announced several new broadcast plans for this season, including on-ice cameras for shootouts and coming out of breaks, pregame interviews with players mic’d up for warmups and locker room access so viewers can listen in on pregame speeches from coaches.

Those are just a few of the things ESPN will try, as well as state-of-the-art cameras, audio equipment and other bells and whistles.

Mark Gross, ESPN’s senior vice president for production and remote events, said in a statement, “We want to showcase the unique combination of speed, strength, skill and dexterity of the NHL’s athletes, while getting existing fans closer to the action and strategy and enticing new fans to experience the game. We’ve worked closely with the (NHL) to add some fresh approaches and will smartly deploy great technology that will do just that.”

TNT’s NHL coverage begins with a doubleheader on Wednesday.

Media tidbits

Hot type

An all New York Times Hot Type today …

Correction: This column has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of New York Times sportswriter Billy Witz. 

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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