February 23, 2022

Good Wednesday morning.

We all continue to monitor the situation in Ukraine, but the crisis remains fluid and changes by the minute. For the latest, keep checking live updates provided by The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN. Certainly, these aren’t the only outlets doing excellent work covering this critical story, but they’re good places to start.

And now on to the rest of today’s newsletter …

NBC’s rough Olympics

The Beijing Winter Olympic Games didn’t exactly produce gold-medal TV numbers in the United States. In fact, it was nowhere close to that.

An average of 10.7 million watched the games in prime time on NBC. If you throw in streaming and digital platforms, the number was 11.4 million. In the end, it goes down as the smallest prime-time audience for any Winter Olympics on record.

Lillian Rizzo of The Wall Street Journal quoted NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua as saying, “This was probably the most difficult Olympics of all time.”

Did COVID-19 have something to do with it? Probably. Certainly, little to no crowds in the stands at the games made for a less enjoyable viewing experience. In addition, NBC announcers called the games from studios in Stamford, Connecticut.

Bevacqua said, “We had 1,600 people in Stamford and 600 people in Beijing. Normally that would be flipped for us.”

There were other factors besides COVID-19. There was the time difference between the U.S. and China, negative feelings about China hosting the games because of its human rights reputation and other gloomy storylines, including a doping scandal in the women’s figure skating competition and the disappointing performance of American skier Mikaela Shiffrin. Plus, these games seemed devoid of elite star power.

Most of all, Olympic viewership and popularity have been declining in recent years.

If there is a silver lining for NBCUniversal, it’s that the streaming numbers and attention drawn to NBC’s Peacock were solid. And, while numbers were down compared to past Olympics, the broadcasts still beat the competition each night for the nearly three weeks of games.

Per Rizzo’s story: “NBC said the Olympics were the most-watched prime-time series since last summer’s Tokyo Games, excluding the NFL, according to data from the network and Nielsen”.

NBC, by the way, has Olympic TV rights in the U.S. through 2032.

Meanwhile, it’s never too early to start looking ahead. The New York Times staff has “Seven Winter Olympians to Watch in 2026.”

Off script

President Joe Biden at his record-long press conference on Jan. 19. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Remember President Joe Biden’s two-hour press conference last month? Press secretary Jen Psaki said the presser was supposed to last only an hour, but turned into a record-long formal press conference for a president.

During an interview on actor Rob Lowe’s podcast, Psaki said that Biden went on past an hour and decided to take more questions.

Psaki told Lowe, “I mean, I’m a pretty chill person. I think people who work with me would say. But I think when some of the questions started to be off and cuckoo for cocoa puffs land there, I was thinking, ‘Oh my, what? Where are we going here with this?’ And that’s obviously not on the president. I mean, he’s (calling) on anyone in the room, right? Yeah. But then the truth is, after a few of those, it kind of came back to yes, some of it was repetitive, but there were also questions that hadn’t been asked, and they were about a range of topics. And he bantered around with lots of the reporters.”

Psaki continued by talking about Biden being criticized for not doing formal news conferences, “(It’s like a) Washington-thing obsession with him doing a formal press conference. … But he also has taken questions multiple times a day since he started the presidency from the reporters. So in a funny way, it was kind of people seeing what he does nearly every day, but in a less formal setting. But yes, there was a moment there where I was thinking, “Where is this going and where? What, who else is going to be called on in this room?’”

(Hat tip to Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher for highlighting Psaki’s appearance on “Literally! With Rob Lowe.”)

Today at USA Today

Rex Huppke, a syndicated humor columnist, has left the Chicago Tribune for USA Today. He said on social media two weeks ago, “I leave the Tribune on fantastic terms and deeply indebted for the opportunities I’ve had and the people I’ve been so fortunate to work alongside. It’s a newsroom filled with talent, and a Chicago institution of immeasurable value and importance.”

This week, he wrote his first column for USA Today: “The ‘People’s Convoy,’ America’s anti-COVID-mandate truckers, should join Wordle truthers.”

Meanwhile, good news for USA Today subscribers. They can now read 200+ e-editions from the USA Today-network newspapers nationwide with their USA Today subscription.

In her “The Backstory” newsletter, USA Today editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll wrote, “One of the most frequent questions readers ask: ‘If I subscribe to USA TODAY, can I see other USA TODAY Network newspapers?’ Now the answer is yes. You can now read more than 200 USA TODAY Network e-edition, or replica, newspapers spanning the nation, from The Arizona Republic to The Cincinnati Enquirer to The Palm Beach Post.”

A major contributor

Maria Ressa of the Philippines gestures as she speaks during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo City Hall, Norway last December. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Maria Ressa, the co-founder and CEO of Rappler and a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, is joining The Atlantic as a contributing writer. Ressa will write about democracy, press freedom and the social web.

In a note to staff, editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, executive editor Adrienne LaFrance, and editorial director Denise Wills wrote that Ressa “is regarded around the world as a great champion of the free press, and she has fought valiantly in the Philippines for the right to speak her mind. She has suffered greatly in her struggle, enduring arrests and imprisonment, and ceaseless harassment and threats. She is a role model for so many journalists across the globe, including us.”

Alden keeps up its Lee board battle

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

Alden Global Capital filed a fresh lawsuit Tuesday against Lee Enterprises seeking to derail its reelection of several directors at an annual meeting in two weeks. An affiliate of the hedge fund, which is attempting a hostile takeover of the chain and its 77 daily newspapers, argues that Delaware Chancery Court should order that the meeting be postponed.

Alden already lost a case trying to get its nominees for two seats on the board affirmed after Lee had rejected them as submitted past deadline. After that, Alden pivoted to soliciting “no” votes on Lee’s unopposed slate, which includes senior directors Mary Junck and Herbert Moloney. Now it wants the court to mandate that the election be decided by a majority rather than a plurality of votes cast.

A Lee statement countered, “Alden continues to pursue increasingly desperate measures in an attempt to destabilize Lee and advance its grossly undervalued hostile proposal to purchase the Company.”

How about this guy?

Check out The Associated Press’ Philip Crowther in this clip giving reports from Kyiv … in six languages.

End of an era

Wendy Williams in 2019. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

“The Wendy Williams Show” is coming to an end after 13 years because of Williams’ continuing health problems.

Williams has been out for the past several months while dealing with a breakthrough case of COVID-19 and ongoing issues with Graves’ disease. A rotation of guest hosts — including Leah Remini, Whitney Cummings and Sherri Shepherd — had been filling in.

And, it was announced that Shepherd will essentially replace Williams as host of her own show in the fall called “Sherri.”

Williams’ rep Howard Bragman told CNN’s Don Lemon and Chloe Melas that this has been a “trying time” for Williams, adding, “She, more than anyone, understands the reality of syndicated television -— you can’t go to the marketplace and sell a show that’s the ‘Maybe Wendy Show’. She understands why this decision was made from a business point of view, and she has been assured by (syndicator) Debmar-Mercury that should her health get to a point where she can host again and should her desire be that she hosts again that she would be back on TV at that time.”

Debmar-Mercury co-presidents Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein wished Williams the best and said they would like to work with her in the future.

Shepherd, who was on “The View” for eight years, told “The Wendy Williams Show” audience, “No one can replace the queen. Nobody! And trust me, I am not trying to at all.”

Big sale

Big news in local TV as Tegna, which owns 64 local TV stations in 51 markets and is the largest independent owner of NBC affiliates, has been sold to private owner Standard General for $5.4 billion ($24 per share) plus the assumption of debt, which makes the total value of the sale around $8.6 billion.

My colleague, Al Tompkins, has all the details in this story.

Journalist disputes golfer Phil Mickelson’s claim about off the record

Last November, golf writer Alan Shipnuck interviewed golfer Phil Mickelson for a book about Mickelson. Then, last week, a quote from Mickelson about a proposed Saudi-golf league became public. Mickelson said, in part, that the Saudi government was “scary (expletives).” He added, “They killed (Washington Post columnist Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay.”

But he added that he was still considering the Saudi league because “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

Mickelson’s comments were widely slammed, including from many PGA players.

Rory McIlroy said, “I don’t want to kick someone while he’s down, obviously, but I thought they were naive, selfish, egotistical, ignorant. It was just very surprising and disappointing. Sad. I’m sure he’s sitting at home sort of rethinking his position and where he goes from here.”

Justin Thomas called what Mickelson said a “pretty egotistical statement.”

On Tuesday, Mickelson put out a lengthy 550-word statement, which included this:

“Although it doesn’t look this way now given my recent comments, my actions throughout this process have always been with the best interest of golf, my peers, sponsors, and fans. There is the problem of off record comments being shared out of context and without my consent, but the bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended people, and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words. I’m beyond disappointed and will make every effort to self-reflect and learn from this.”

He went on to talk about his career and continued to apologize for his comments. Then he closed with, “The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritize the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”

Not long after, his longtime sponsor KPMG announced that they and Mickelson had “mutually agreed” to end the sponsorship.

But back to this part where Mickelson called his comments “off the record” and “out of context” and shared without his consent. Shipnuck, the writer, wasted no time slamming back at those charges.

Shipnuck answered questions on “The FirePit Collective” from readers. He was asked if he had heard from Mickelson.

Shipnuck said, “He sent me a text on the morning the excerpt dropped. He was less than thrilled. Just as in the statement he released on Tuesday afternoon, Mickelson made a half-hearted attempt at revisionist history, trying to say ours had been a private conversation, but I shut that down real quick. He knew I was working on a book about him and asked to speak, saying he wanted to discuss media rights and his grievances with the Tour, both of which inevitably lead back to Saudi Arabia. If the subject of a biography phones the author, the content of that conversation is always going to inform the book, unless it is expressly agreed otherwise. Not once in our texts or when we got on the phone did Mickelson request to go off-the-record and I never consented to it; if he had asked, I would have pushed back hard, as this was obviously material I wanted for the book. Mickelson simply called me up and opened a vein. To claim now that the comments were off-the-record is false and duplicitous.”

Shipnuck answers several more intriguing questions, so check it out if this topic interests you.

Media tidbits

Hot type

Film director Spike Lee. (Courtesy: The Washington Post)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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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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