September 16, 2021

Several well-known American gymnasts — including Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney — gave powerful testimony to a Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, saying that current and former FBI agents should be held accountable for how they mishandled the FBI’s investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Larry Nassar, the former doctor for Team USA.

Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison in 2018, after more than 150 women and girls said in court that he had sexually abused them.

“They allowed a child molester to go free for more than a year and this inaction directly allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue,” Maroney testified on Wednesday. “What is the point of reporting abuse if our own FBI agents are going to take it upon themselves to bury that report in a drawer?”

Biles testified, “It truly feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us and went out of its way to help protect (USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee).”

And Raisman said the agent investigating the case, “diminished the significance of my abuse. It made me feel my criminal case wasn’t worth pursuing.”

A Justice Department inspector general report from July said FBI officials “failed to respond to the Nassar allegations with the utmost seriousness and urgency that they deserved and required, made numerous and fundamental errors when they did respond to them, and violated multiple FBI policies.”

The report said Nassar continued his abuse while the FBI investigation sputtered along.

The New York Times’ Juliet Macur wrote, “In a remarkable turn, the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, acknowledged the agency’s mishandling of the case and apologized to the victims. He said the F.B.I. had fired an agent who was involved in the case early — the one who interviewed Maroney. It was the first time anyone at the agency had submitted to public questioning about the F.B.I.’s failure to properly investigate a sexual abuse case that shook the sports world to its core.”

(For more details on Wednesday’s hearing, check out Macur’s story or this story from CNN’s Tierney Sneed.)

The three big cable news networks — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — carried much of the testimony live. And ESPN did a lengthy piece near the top of its 6 p.m. Eastern “SportsCenter.” It was good to see this much attention given to this story.

On “CNN Newsroom,” anchor Alisyn Camerota interviewed Jessica Howard, another one of the gymnasts who was at Wednesday’s hearing.

Howard told Camerota, “We were told we don’t matter. We were told we were worthless. And then we tell somebody about this kind of abuse — to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to the highest level of law enforcement in the land — and then you’re still dismissed, and nothing happens. … It’s the deepest level of corruption I can think of.”

In a piece for The Washington Post, Candace Buckner wrote, “They publicly recalled the worst moments of their lives at the risk of triggering pain they may need months to recover from, as Raisman achingly pointed out, because they know accountability doesn’t happen until somebody brave enough steps forward and speaks up. Their stories should compel senators to take action. And as uncomfortable as it may be to hear such raw truth, they should compel all of us to listen.”

All of us includes the media, which needs to continue covering and amplifying this story.

A grim number

Here’s a number that is hard to wrap your head around: 1 in 500 Americans has died from COVID-19. Dan Keating and Akilah Johnson wrote about the grim milestone for The Washington Post.

They wrote, “The goal of testing, mask-wearing, keeping six feet apart and limiting gatherings was to slow the spread of the highly infectious virus until a vaccine could stamp it out. The vaccines came but not enough people have been immunized, and the triumph of science waned as mass death and disease remain. The result: As the nation’s covid death toll exceeded 663,000 this week, it meant roughly 1 in every 500 Americans had succumbed to the disease caused by the coronavirus.”

The Post piece delves into the numbers and breaks them down among age, race and state.

The Los Angeles Times’ last hope?

Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo has a story on new Los Angeles Times executive editor Kevin Merida. After serving as a senior vice president at ESPN, Merida was hired in June to replace Norman Pearlstine. Pompeo makes a fair point when talking about the Times under owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.

Pompeo writes, “But still, three years after the Soon-Shiong family’s nearly $500 million deal to acquire the Times, it’s not entirely clear whether the paper’s future looks brighter than its tortured past.” As far as Merida, Pompeo writes, “In the blink of an eye, Merida, 64, went from a relatively under-the-radar figure to one of the most talked about news executives around — a veteran Black journalist who, on the heels of a long-overdue reckoning around race, soared into the still overwhelmingly white stratosphere of the news business. Some might say he’s the L.A. Times’s last great hope, because if Merida can’t position the place for long-term success, who can?”

After taking the job, Merida told Pompeo, “I didn’t come here because I don’t think we can have success. Whatever happened before was before, and now we have a chance to start right now.”

Merida added, “We have a chance to reinvent the L.A. Times, to make it better. I would like to redefine what a modern newspaper is.”


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California decides

California Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses reporters after beating back the recall attempt that aimed to remove him from office. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In a vote that wasn’t even close, California Gov. Gavin Newsom survived a recall. The 30-point victory was praised by President Joe Biden, who said, “This vote is a resounding win for the approach that he and I share to beating the pandemic: strong vaccine requirements, strong steps to reopen schools safely, and strong plans to distribute real medicines — not fake treatments — to help those who get sick.”

As far as the coverage, CNN media writer Brian Stelter had this Twitter take about the pro-Trump, pro-conservative, but little-watched cable news outlet One America News:

Stelter pointed out that OAN’s channel position on many cable outlets is right next to the big guys — Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. Stelter also pointed out that 10 hours after the polls closed — and when it was clearly evident that Newsom would remain governor — OAN talked a lot about the recall, but did not report the results.

Stelter wrote, “OAN keeps rerunning a generic news package that describe why the recall happened and, followed by recaps of Kevin Faulconer and Larry Elder’s concession speeches, without explaining that they lost! Leaving viewers with the impression that… ?!?!?”

Stelter added, “Elder is even quoted saying ‘we may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war.’ The on-screen tab says ‘RECALL NEWSOM;’ the banner says ‘ELDER: WE’VE GOT A STATE TO SAVE.’ It’s just strange — OAN is not alleging fraud but is totally ignoring the news.”

Finally, two hours after Stelter’s tweets — and 12 hours after newsrooms projected Newsom’s victory, OAN reported the outcome and then went back to old Elder soundbites.

As far as Newsom’s victory, you might be interested in Thad Kousser’s opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times: “Newsom survived recall by getting back to his bold self.”

Holmes on trial

Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, arrives at the federal courthouse in San Jose, California, earlier this week. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

The fascinating trial of Elizabeth Holmes is underway in California. Holmes is the former head of the blood-testing company Theranos and is charged with defrauding investors and patients about the effectiveness of the company’s technology. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

If you’re interested in this trial, here are a few reporters to follow.

CNN’s Sara Ashley O’Brien, who wrote the good “The rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes: A timeline” to catch you up on the case.

Erin Griffith is covering the trial for The New York Times. The Verge’s deputy editor Elizabeth Lopatto has excellent coverage, including this piece: “Theranos’ greatest invention was Elizabeth Holmes.” And Sara Randazzo is covering the trial for The Wall Street Journal.

And be sure to check out this piece about an odd character who showed up early in the trial. He said he was just a “concerned citizen,” but he turned out to be much more than that. NPR’s Bobby Allyn with “‘Concerned Citizen’ At Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes’ Trial Turns Out To Be Family.”

Inside an Afghan prison

Fox News’ Trey Yingst, left, reporting from Afghanistan. (Courtesy: Fox News)

Interesting report from Fox News’ Trey Yingst as he visited a prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, that used to hold thousands of Taliban fighters. From the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul, Yingst reminded viewers that when the Taliban entered the capital city last month, it freed thousands of prisoners. Niaz Mohammed Halim is now a top Taliban intelligence official who served a four-year sentence inside the prison. Halim told Yingst, “People to top-level officials, everyone obeys the rule of the Taliban emirate. There is no infighting. What we order here in Kabul is implemented in all provinces. That is propaganda of the enemy.”

About his report, Yingst said on air, “It’s extremely interesting to talk to them. Like any other interview, you sit and talk before you get started and try to learn more about your subjects: who they are, where they came from and what their life story is. And you have these conversations with many of these Taliban fighters and suddenly they will talk about how they killed a number of American troops, eight or nine years ago.”

He added that it was “stunning” to hear that the Taliban’s value of life is “far lower” than many in the rest of the world. Yingst added, “(The) Taliban fighters, they’re very focused on maintaining security. But human rights and equality is very low on the list for this group.”

New York Times’ new initiative

Describing it as “deepening our commitment to standards,” The New York Times introduced a new team Wednesday that will “take on the challenge of developing innovative ways of deepening our audience’s trust in our mission and in the credibility of our journalism, no matter where it is encountered.”

The team will be led by editor Paul Volpe, who returns to the Times after a stint at Politico. Volpe previously spent six years at the Times as deputy Washington bureau chief and a deputy politics editor. He also has worked at The Washington Post and Congressional Quarterly.

The new Times team also will include Times media reporter Edmund Lee and Times Culture editor Susanna Timmons.

In the announcement, Times editors Cliff Levy and Matt Ericson, along with Times product executives Alex Hardiman and Emily Withrow, wrote, “This cross-functional initiative will help the company’s leadership establish a vision for how The Times’s report can continue to evolve to convey our values. That includes highlighting our independent, original reporting from around the world, the deep expertise of our journalists and the measures that we take to ensure accuracy.”

Here’s the full announcement.

A historic hire

The NBA-champion Milwaukee Bucks have named Lisa Byington as its TV play-by-play announcer, making Byington the first female full-time play-by-play announcer for an NBA team.

In a statement, Byington said, “I understand the groundbreaking nature of this hire, and I appreciate the fact that during this process that aspect was addressed, but never made a primary focus. In fact, I applaud the Bucks for taking the first steps toward making hires like this more of the norm in the NBA. Because it’s time.”

Byington replaces Jim Paschke, who retired after calling Bucks’ games for 35 years. Byington has tons of broadcasting experience, having called games in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, soccer at the Olympics and WNBA games.

Remembering Norm MacDonald

Here are a few more tributes and remembrances to comedian Norm MacDonald, who died of cancer this week.

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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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