October 6, 2021

Stephanie Grisham’s scorched earth tour continues.

In interviews promoting her new book, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now,” the former White House press secretary for Donald Trump has let loose with no-holds-barred commentary. She has mostly blasted her former boss, saying he encouraged an environment of lying, bowed down to dictators and bullied staff. She has said she is “terrified” of Trump running again in 2024 because he can be “delusional” and “erratic.”

On Tuesday, she appeared on CNN’s “New Day” and made remarks about Fox News that no news network would ever want to hear. While not at all surprising, Grisham said she liked being on Fox News because she knew the network would help push the Trump agenda.

“That’s just where we went to get what we wanted out,” Grisham said.

Grisham said she looked forward to going on Lou Dobbs’ program because Dobbs would say everything was great and all she had to do was nod and say yes.

“By and large, (Fox News) didn’t get tough with us,” Grisham said. “They just took what we were saying and disseminated it.”

Grisham said Fox News disseminated what Trump was pushing to people who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She said she feels “horribly guilty” about the role she played in the Trump administration, adding “because I was on Fox a lot.”

CNN’s Brianna Keilar asked Grisham if Fox News was like state-run TV.

“You know, a bit,” Grisham said. “I think there are some legitimate journalists at Fox News who would ask some tough questions. So I don’t want to, as a whole, paint them. But certainly, in the evening, yes it was.”

She clearly was referencing Fox News prime-time hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.

Grisham also brought up One America News, saying, “That’s like state-run media.”

Again, nothing Grisham said is a surprise. And, to be clear, Grisham is selling a book and a rival cable news network (CNN) was lobbing up softballs about Fox News.

But if you’re a network with the word “news” in your name, and someone from the White House says they pick you to get their message out and that you’re not usually tough on them, that is a really bad look. And it hamstrings you when you try to tell people that you’re fair and balanced.

Grisham’s op-ed in the Post

Grisham had a powerful opinion piece for The Washington Post on Tuesday: “I told the Trumps my relationship with a White House staffer had turned abusive. They didn’t seem to care.”

Grisham had broken up with a White House staffer and told both Donald and Melania Trump that her ex-boyfriend had been abusive.

Grisham told Melania Trump that she didn’t go to the police because she didn’t want a scandal hanging over the White House close to the 2020 presidential election.

Grisham wrote, “I felt that Mrs. Trump believed my story. I suspected the president, long invested in the view that women usually make up allegations of assault, didn’t want to believe it.”

Facebook’s whistleblower testifies

Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Tuesday. (Drew Angerer/Pool via AP)

If you watched the “60 Minutes” interview with Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen on Sunday, or read The Wall Street Journal’s “The Facebook Files, you had a pretty good preview of what Haugen was going to say when she testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday.

“I am here today because I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy,” Haugen said in her opening remarks. “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer but won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their astronomical profits before people. Congressional action is needed. They won’t solve this crisis without your help.”

She called out CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, and said, “Until the incentives change, Facebook will not change. Left alone, Facebook will continue to make choices that go against the common good, our common good.” (Disclosure: Facebook provides funding to Poynter to support content and training to strengthen media literacy.)

As I said, these are some of the things Haugen said in her “60 Minutes” interview and the Journal wrote about it in its explosive project based on tens of thousands of Facebook documents provided by Haugen. Yet it was still powerful testimony in front of receptive and united senators from both parties.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said, “I think the time has come for action, and I think you are the catalyst for that action.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said, “I have rarely if ever seen or heard as credible or compelling a witness on an issue so difficult or challenging. Francis Haugen wants to fix Facebook, not burn it to the ground.”

Facebook put out a statement that tried to dismiss Haugen as a nobody at the company, saying, “Today, a Senate Commerce subcommittee held a hearing with a former product manager at Facebook who worked for the company for less than two years, had no direct reports, never attended a decision-point meeting with C-level executives — and testified more than six times to not working on the subject matter in question.”

Then Tuesday night, Zuckerberg himself posted a letter on Facebook that he had sent to his staff. He said many of Haugen’s claims “don’t make sense.” He said, “If we didn’t care about fighting harmful content, then why would we employ so many more people dedicated to this than any other company in our space — even ones larger than us?”

He also wrote that the idea that Facebook prioritizes profit over safety and well-being is “just not true.”

The letter is quite lengthy, so check it out if you want to see his full comments.

The New York Times’ Kara Swisher, who has reported on Facebook extensively, tweeted, “What Facebook top execs do not get at this important moment is that @FrancesHaugen of Facebook is @susanthesquark of @Uber — and we know how that went down.”

Swisher was referring to Susan Fowler, who in 2017 wrote a blog post about sexual harassment at Uber. That post and subsequent reporting led to major changes at Uber, including the resignation of its CEO.

Haugen’s testimony appeared to make an impact with the lawmakers, and likely many who watched.

Blumenthal said, “Mark Zuckerberg may be one of the richest people in the history of the world. But today Frances Haugen showed that one person can stand up to that kind of power and make a difference.”

For more details, check out The Washington Post story from Cat Zakrzewski, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Cristiano Lima and Will Oremus.

Takeaways from the testimony

The New York Times’ Sheera Frenkel wrote “Key takeaways from Facebook’s whistle-blower hearing.” Frenkel listed three things:

  • Republican and Democratic lawmakers are united in taking action to stop the harms caused to teenagers on Facebook.
  • Lawmakers have gotten smarter about tech.
  • Facebook is sitting on an even larger mountain of internal research.

The one that really stood out to me was how lawmakers have become smarter about tech. In the past, we’ve seen instances where lawmakers asked pointless or embarrassing questions — as if they were asking checkers questions about chess.

But as Frenkel wrote, “Lawmakers in the hearing explored the role that Facebook’s algorithms play in amplifying problematic content, and the way in which the company consistently tweaks its algorithm to choose one type of content over another. That’s far more sophisticated than the kinds of questions lawmakers have previously asked about Facebook.”

More Facebook thoughts

Margaret Sullivan’s latest media column for The Washington Post: “Facebook is harming our society. Here’s a radical solution for reining it in.”

Sullivan wrote, “A problem that threatens the underpinnings of our civil society calls for a radical solution: A new federal agency focused on the digital economy.”

She added, “Something has to change. And that doesn’t mean a little tinkering around the edges of what already exists. The digital revolution requires a revolutionary change in restraining out-of-control practitioners.”

Pence blames media coverage of Jan. 6

On Jan. 6, Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, trying to stop the certification of Joe Biden as president. Much of the anger was directed at then-Vice President Mike Pence, who wasn’t going to overturn the results. Some insurrectionists even chanted “Hang Mike Pence.”

But during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show this week, Pence somehow blamed the media. He told Hannity, “I know the media wants to distract from the Biden administration’s failed agenda by focusing on one day in January. They want to use that one day to try and demean the character and intentions of 74 million Americans who believed we could be strong again and prosperous again and supported our administration in 2016 and 2020.”

Wow. OK, on to the next item …

Sage Steele sidelined at ESPN

ESPN’s Sage Steele in January 2020. (Jeff Lewis/AP Images for The Players Tailgate)

ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Sage Steele stirred up some controversy this week when she made comments about former President Barack Obama’s racial identity and ESPN’s COVID-19 vaccination policy.

Talking on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s podcast, Sage called out Disney, which owns ESPN, for requiring employees to be vaccinated. She said she is vaccinated, but “​​to mandate it is sick and it’s scary to me in many ways.”

Steele identifies as biracial. She was talking about how she was criticized on a TV show for not choosing Black or white. As an example, one of the TV show’s hosts said Obama was biracial, but identified as Black.

Steele told Cutler, “I’m like, ‘Well, congratulations to the president. That’s his thing.’”

Then Steele continued on about Obama, telling Culter, “I think that’s fascinating considering his Black dad was nowhere to be found, but his white mom and grandma raised him, but hey, you do you. I’m going to do me.”

In a statement Tuesday, Steele said, “I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize. We are in the midst of an extremely challenging time that impacts all of us, and it’s more critical than ever that we communicate constructively and thoughtfully.”

Steele will be off the air temporarily, perhaps a week, although it should be noted that Variety’s Brian Steinberg reported that Steele recently tested positive for COVID-19.

In a statement, ESPN said, “At ESPN, we embrace different points of view — dialogue and discussion makes this place great. That said, we expect that those points of view be expressed respectfully, in a manner consistent with our values, and in line with our internal policies. We are having direct conversations with Sage, and those conversations will remain private.”

ESPN’s ho-hum choice

ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” show has been a pit of controversy for the network over the past year. The New York Times’ Kevin Draper wrote the blockbuster story in which ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, who is white, was caught on tape complaining about colleague Maria Taylor, who is Black, getting to host “Countdown” because ESPN was worried about its, as Nichols called it, “crappy longtime record on diversity.”

Taylor eventually left the network when she couldn’t reach a contract extension and Nichols was stripped of her show, “The Jump,” and likely will not be on the air while she finishes out whatever is left on her contract.

That left an opening for the host of “NBA Countdown” and New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reports the new host is going to be Mike Greenberg.

Really? Mike Greenberg? That guy doesn’t already have enough to do at ESPN? He also hosts the morning show, “Get Up” and an afternoon show that airs on ESPN Radio and simulcasts on ESPN+. According to Marchand, Greenberg will be joined by Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon, Jalen Rose and Magic Johnson for the biggest games, including the NBA Finals.

Greenberg is certainly the safe choice, and perhaps ESPN is looking for safe after all the controversy.

Then again, it is curious that all this controversy and conversation was stirred up over a pregame show. And, actually, “Countdown”  doesn’t measure up to TNT’s much more watchable “Inside the NBA” anyway.

Marchand wrote, “In its latest reinvention of its NBA coverage, ESPN is turning to what it views as some of its more reliable performers, as Greenberg, Smith, Wilbon and Rose all have daily TV programs. Meanwhile, it hopes, Johnson can add some more star power in his second tour with the network.”

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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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