August 11, 2022

One of the real giants in media — especially media coverage — is adding another new chapter to her impressive career. Unfortunately, it’s sad news for those of us who read her.

Margaret Sullivan, who has been a media columnist for the past six-plus years at The Washington Post, is leaving to take a position at Duke University. Her last day at the Post will be Aug. 24.

In addition to Duke, Sullivan also plans on book projects. Her latest book — “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) From an Ink-Stained Life” — is due out in October.

In a memo to staff, Post editors said, “For six and a half years, Margaret’s media column has been a destination read for her tough-minded and engaging perspective at the intersection of journalism, free speech and national politics. More than a star columnist, she has been a mentor, sounding board and role model for our media team and the newsroom at large.”

Sullivan said in the memo, “Working at the legendary Washington Post has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. I’m so grateful to my editors and my colleagues, not just in Style but throughout the newsroom. They have inspired me every day.”

Just a personal note here. I don’t know Sullivan beyond trading emails with her every now and then. But I, like others who cover the media, find her to be an absolute must-read. You can tell from her writing that she has a passion for local news, as well as the importance of media and media coverage and how it all relates to our democracy. Her voice is respected and relevant and will be greatly missed.

In an email to Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein, Sullivan wrote, “I’ve tried to choose column topics, both at the Post and the (New York) Times, that not only interest me but have sort of public-interest value. At its best, journalism is crucial to the way our democracy and our society function — not only in its watchdog role but in fairly and accurately digging out and chronicling what’s going on, especially in government coverage. So I have pointed out the all-too-ingrained practices that obstruct that common good: the horse race politics coverage; the way we too often treat unequal things as if they were equal, often from a defensive position; the too-frequent anonymity given to sources with highly politicized motives.”

The Post is just the most recent part of Sullivan’s career. She was previously editor at her hometown paper, The Buffalo News. And she was the next-to-last public editor at The New York Times — a position the Times no longer employs. Any one of those jobs would be the highlight of a journalist’s career and Sullivan has done all three. And very well, I might add.

Speaking of the Times …

With Sullivan leaving the Post, that makes two major newspapers who have had their star media columnist depart. Ben Smith left his job at The New York Times as the “Media Equation” columnist at the start of this year to help lead a global media startup.

The Times still hasn’t replaced him. I checked in with the Times on Wednesday and there’s still nothing new publicly on where they are in the process of finding a new “Media Equation” columnist.

These are important positions and filling them would be replacing important and much-needed voices in the media environment.

Pleading the Fifth

Former President Donald Trump gestures as he departs Trump Tower on Wednesday on his way to the New York attorney general’s office for a deposition in a civil investigation. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

A video was making the rounds on social media Wednesday. It was a mashed-up series of times when former President Donald Trump mocked others for pleading the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In the video, Trump called pleading the Fifth “disgraceful” and “horrible” and said, “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”

That clip went viral because what did Trump do Wednesday when questioned by the New York attorney general in the civil probe of his business dealings? He invoked the Fifth.

To be clear, it is absolutely Trump’s right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, but you can’t help but scratch your head at the hypocrisy.

Trump put out a statement Wednesday, saying, “I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question. When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated Witch Hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors, and the Fake News Media, you have no choice. Accordingly, under the advice of my counsel and for all of the above reasons, I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution.”

Politico’s Janaki Chadha, Anna Gronewold and Georgia Rosenberg have a story out with the headline: “What Trump’s pleading the Fifth means for New York AG Tish James.” And CNN’s Kara Scannell has a good roundup of the story.

More Trump

As far as the other big Trump story — the search of his residence in Mar-a-Lago earlier this week — more analysis and news continues to come in.

Still so much is unknown — specifically, what the FBI was looking for and what it is that they found.

CNN’s Stephen Collinson wrote, “And because government prosecutors don’t typically talk about ongoing investigations unless they reach a decision to charge someone — to ensure the integrity of the probe and the privacy of those under investigation — it is unlikely there will be clarity on the situation anytime soon.”

The New York Times’ Michael D. Shear wrote, “A number of historians said that the search, though extraordinary, seemed appropriate for a president who flagrantly flouted the law, refuses to concede defeat and helped orchestrate an effort to overturn the 2020 election.”

But, because still little is known about the search, there are questions. CNN’s justice correspondent Evan Perez writes, “Some Justice Department officials chafe at silence on Mar-a-Lago search.”

Meanwhile, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal weighed in on Wednesday, calling it a “dangerous search.” You can read the editorial for yourself, but it felt somewhat premature because we still do not have enough information about what the FBI was looking for or found. It also called what the FBI did a “raid.” Other news outlets have used the word, too.

Maybe it’s all just semantics and I’m being nit-picky, but when I think of a “raid,” I think of a surprise attack, kicking in doors and brandishing weapons. There are no reports of any of that happening at Mar-a-Lago. A “search” feels like a more appropriate word for what the FBI did.

The next GOP leader?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference last week announcing the suspension of State Attorney Andrew Warren for what DeSantis called a “neglect of duty.” (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

While controversy surrounds Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis might be the next leader of the GOP. He’s running for re-election this November and might run for a much bigger office — one located inside an oval-shaped office inside a house painted white in Washington, D.C. — in 2024.

This is all to set up a good piece from a good journalist. It’s my former Tampa Bay Times colleague Steve Contorno, who is now with CNN and writes, “Ron DeSantis, unconstrained by constitutional checks, is flexing his power in Florida ahead of 2024 decision.”

Contorno writes, “As he seeks a second term in November, and weighs a potential bid for president in 2024, the full weight of this amassed power is also beginning to crystalize. If reelected — and with a nine-figure fundraising advantage, the odds are heavily in his favor — there appears to be little to stop him from pushing through an agenda that would further transform Florida for an audience of future GOP primary voters.”

For those of you not from Florida or familiar with our local politics, read Contorno’s detailed story — an example of good explainer journalism.

Disturbing tweet of the day

Be warned. This tweet from California Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell is disturbing and contains extreme profanity. Swalwell tweeted out a phone message left for him and wrote, “LISTEN to this death threat against my children. Since the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump, McCarthy, and MAGA Republicans are stoking violent rhetoric against lawmakers and law enforcement. Someone is going to get killed.”

It’s too profane to even quote a little bit. But you should hear it, no matter how ugly it is.

CEO Mike Reed loads up on Gannett stock

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

A sharp-eyed Gannett watcher has pointed out to me that Gannett CEO Mike Reed bought 500,000 share options for the company’s stock Monday, worth $1,220,000. The information was contained in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, required when insiders — officers or directors — buy or sell a large block of shares.

Sometimes the buyers or sellers are simply rebalancing their investment portfolios. However the timing suggests otherwise. As I reported a week ago, Gannett shares, already soft this year, lost a quarter of their value after a bleak second quarter financial report.

Reed seems to be showing confidence that the stock will head back up — sooner or later. Pardon the cliche here: Time will tell if his bet is right.

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

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the number of share options Gannett CEO Mike Reed purchased, and how much they were worth.

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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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