February 8, 2022

Good morning. There are two ongoing and ever-changing stories dominating the media landscape at the moment. There’s the CNN-Jeff Zucker story. And there’s the Joe Rogan-Spotify story. Plenty is going on with both, but let’s start with the latest involving CNN.

Clearly, CNN staffers are still struggling to deal with the “resignation” of network president Jeff Zucker. I put “resignation” in quotation marks because, as many have reported, Zucker had no choice. Jason Kilar — the CEO of WarnerMedia, which owns CNN — reportedly told Zucker that he could no longer stay on following the revelations that he was in a previously undisclosed relationship with a senior CNN executive.

While WarnerMedia is in the final stages of a merger with Discovery, Kilar is meeting with CNN staffers. On Monday, he met virtually with New York staff and, just like meetings last week with staffers in Washington and Atlanta, Kilar received plenty of pushback.

According to tweets from The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr, CNN staffers still are questioning whether Zucker’s penalty fits the crime. After all, they argue, both Zucker and his romantic partner, Allison Gollust, CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, are single and the relationship was consensual — not to mention that their relationship was an open secret. CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota said, “What we don’t understand is the death penalty aspect of this. It’s really bewildering.”

Many CNN staffers are worried about what’s next.

CNN’s Brian Stelter, according to Barr, said, “We have to move on, and I don’t understand why you, Jason, are not helping the 4,000 employees move on. … When are we going to move on? … I kind of think, Jason, you need to pick us off the mat and shake us off and get us back to work.”

Kilar reportedly told staffers, “If anyone thinks that this is easy, in terms of the process that I have followed and the decisions that have been a part of this, I can assure all of you it most certainly has not been.”

However, a lot of questions remain unanswered and that has CNN on edge, especially because Zucker was so well-liked at CNN. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Benjamin Mullin, CNN anchor Erin Burnett said on the call, “We’re grieving. Moving on will require answers to these questions.”

Before moving on to Rogan, some other CNN news …


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CNN’s interesting hires

CNN announced a bunch of new hires on Monday, most notably (at least as far as this newsletter is concerned) David Zurawik as a media analyst. Zurawik was the TV and media critic at The Baltimore Sun before retiring from the paper last year. He is currently a professor of communications and media studies at Goucher College. Zurawik also has been a frequent guest on CNN’s media show “Reliable Sources,” where he has never been bashful about sharing his strong opinions.

Another interesting hire announced Monday was that of Jonah Goldberg, a conservative who co-founded The Dispatch and was a longtime editor at National Review. Goldberg and fellow conservative scribe Stephen Hayes cut their ties as contributors to Fox News late last year because they said they didn’t like the tone of the opinion side of the network.

In a blog post, the two wrote, “Indeed, the news side of Fox routinely does what it is supposed to do: It reports the truth. But the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible.”

Fox News said at the time that it did not plan on renewing contracts for Goldberg and Hayes. (Hayes recently joined NBC News as a contributor and political analyst.)

Goldberg will be a political commentator for CNN based in Washington, D.C.

Other CNN hires announced Monday include:

  • Keisha Lance Bottoms as a CNN political commentator based in Atlanta, where she was the mayor from 2018 to 2022.
  • Republican strategist, pollster and author Kristen Soltis Anderson, who will be a political commentator based in Washington.
  • Loni Coombs as a CNN legal analyst based in Los Angeles. She is a former prosecutor for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.
  • Beth Sanner as a CNN national security analyst based in Washington. She spent 35 years in government and, during her career, briefed Presidents Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush and then-Vice President Biden.

And now onto the latest involving Joe Rogan …

Rogan is not going anywhere. Or is he?

Joe Rogan. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File)

I briefly mentioned in Monday’s newsletter that Spotify CEO Daniel Ek put out a statement to employees late Sunday night, addressing the controversies surrounding podcaster Joe Rogan.

First, rock legends Neil Young and Joni Mitchell asked that their music be pulled from Spotify because of misinformation about COVID-19 on Rogan’s podcasts. Rogan put out an Instagram video about that, saying he was “not trying to promote misinformation.”

Then singer-songwriter India.Arie announced she was pulling her music from Spotify while posting a video on Instagram stories that showed Rogan using the N-word more than 20 times on his podcast over a dozen years. Rogan then put out another Instagram explanation, saying the clips were “taken out of context.” But he also called it “the most regretful and shameful thing” he has ever had to address.

Then Ek put out his statement that said, in part, “I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope.”

During an appearance on “CNN Newsroom,” CNN media reporter Brian Stelter said, “That’s the wrong frame for this. It’s not about silencing. This isn’t about censoring him. Spotify has an exclusive deal with him. If he wanted to just put up his podcast on Spotify, just like I do, he can go right ahead and do that. But Spotify pays him tens of millions of dollars to be promoted exclusively on Spotify. This is really a media relationship between Spotify and Rogan that has gone sideways and that’s an issue.”

And to pick up on Stelter’s point, this isn’t about silencing Rogan, but making sure what he and his guest do say is accurate, factual or, to put it more bluntly, not dangerous and harmful.

Meanwhile, during a taped interview aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” India.Arie said, “I am in no position to tell Spotify not to have Joe Rogan. I don’t believe in cancel culture. I didn’t even call Joe Rogan a racist. What I said was, I don’t like it, take me off. But mostly this is a conversation about me standing up for my dignity. Because how far can somebody go before it’s like ‘OK, I’m tired now’?”

A new home for Rogan?

Speaking of Rogan, the CEO of Rumble, a social media site popular among those who lean right politically, posted an open letter inviting Rogan to bring his podcast there for $100 million.

Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski wrote, “Dear Joe, we stand with you, your guests and your legion of fans in desire for real conversation. So we’d like to offer you 100 million reasons to make the world a better place. How about you bring all your shows to Rumble, both old and new, with no censorship, for $100 million bucks over four years? This is our chance to save the world. And yes, this is totally legit.”

It has been reported that Spotify already has a deal that could be worth up to $100 million with Rogan.

Hill’s reaction

Another popular podcaster on Spotify is Jemele Hill, who hosts “Jemele Hill Is Unbothered.” Hill gave her thoughts about the Rogan controversy in her latest episode, which dropped on Monday.

Hill started the podcast by calling Rogan’s past COVID-19 comments “dangerous” and “irresponsible.” She said, “Joe Rogan capitalizes off of ignorance. It’s one of the many ways he has built his empire. … Joe Rogan is an embarrassment. But since he reaches 11 million people per episode, that makes him not just an embarrassment, but a tremendous danger to public health.”

Hill then went on to say she supported any musician who decided to pull their music from Spotify. She talked about Rogan’s use of the N-word, as well as his problematic comments about other topics over the years.

Hill said she also considered putting her podcast on pause and, “I did wonder if maybe maintaining a relationship with Spotify was worth my cultural credibility.”

But she said after some “serious thought,” she decided to take another course of action. She said she is going to use this time to “challenge” Spotify. Hill mentioned how she and Spotify are developing a podcast network of Black women. She said she wants Spotify to show a financial commitment and dedication to seek and develop Black content creators.

This is just a quick recap of what Hill said, so I encourage you to listen to her opening remarks, which last about 10 minutes.

Neil Young weighs in again

Rock star Neil Young, who got this whole ball rolling when he asked his music be pulled from Spotify, wrote on his Neil Young Archives site on Monday that Spotify workers should leave that company.

Young wrote, “Get out of the place before it eats up your soul.”

The new Ruhle

MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle announced on her morning show Monday that this Friday will be her last as anchor of “Stephanie Ruhle Reports.” She is leaving so she can begin preparing for her new role replacing Brian Williams on “The 11th Hour.” Her debut as host of the 11 p.m. Eastern show will be Wednesday, March 2.

On her show Monday, Ruhle said, “… over these years, our goal in this hour is to help all of us get a little smarter and a little better every single day. I want to announce that this Friday will be my last time in this anchor chair at this hour and I can tell you we have loved starting our day together at 9 a.m., what I consider to be a really critical hour of news, but I’m not leaving you entirely.”

She went on to add, “Soon, you will find me at ‘The 11th Hour’ to end your busy day and hopefully help make sense of the most important current events and news that really impacts our lives. We’re going to continue our goal to try to make you better and smarter from the morning to night.”

Love letters?

Donald Trump meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

This story was getting lots of buzz on Monday. It was The Washington Post’s Jacqueline Alemany, Josh Dawsey, Tom Hamburger and Ashley Parker with “National Archives had to retrieve Trump White House records from Mar-a-Lago.”

The key paragraph: “The recovery of the boxes from Trump’s Florida resort raises new concerns about his adherence to the Presidential Records Act, which requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties.”

The story also includes this passage: “Trump advisers deny any nefarious intent and said the boxes contained mementos, gifts, letters from world leaders and other correspondence. The items included correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which Trump once described as ‘love letters,’ as well as a letter left for his successor by President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the contents.”

Love letters? From a dictator? Alrighty then.

The Post also wrote, “The recovery of documents from Trump’s Florida estate is just the latest example of what records personnel described as chronic difficulties in preserving records in the Trump era — the most challenging since Richard Nixon sought to block disclosure of official records, including White House tapes.”

From Meta to Trump

Peter Thiel, one of the longest-serving members of Meta (the parent company of Facebook), is stepping down. He has been on the board since 2005.

The New York Times’ Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac wrote Thiel “wants to focus on influencing November’s midterm elections, said a person with knowledge of Mr. Thiel’s thinking who declined to be identified. Mr. Thiel sees the midterms as crucial to changing the direction of the country, this person said, and he is backing candidates who support the agenda of former president Donald J. Trump.”

Forbes has reported Thiel has an estimated worth of $2.6 billion and the Times writes he has become one of the Republican Party’s largest donors, adding, “Mr. Thiel’s departure means Meta loses its board’s most prominent conservative voice.”

In a statement, Thiel said, “It has been a privilege to work with one of the great entrepreneurs of our time. Mark Zuckerberg’s intelligence, energy, and conscientiousness are tremendous. His talents will serve Meta well as he leads the company into a new era.”

Zuckerberg said, in part, “Peter has been a valuable member of our board and I’m deeply grateful for everything he has done for our company — from believing in us when few others would, to teaching me so many lessons about business, economics, and the world.”

Alden/Lee in court

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

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital and media company Lee Enterprises had their day in court Monday on whether or not an Alden affiliate legally nominated two candidates for Lee’s eight-member board of directors. Lee rejected the nominations as improperly made. The judge, Lori W. Will of Delaware Chancery Court, did not rule, but said that she will soon since Lee’s annual meeting is coming March 10.

The arguments in a nutshell: Alden’s lawyer said that Lee tilted its own rules to drive away “someone (they) really hate — that’s their mindset.” He offered as evidence internal Lee communications circulating The Atlantic’s cover story on the fund with an illustration of a vulture perched on a stack of newspapers.

Be that as it may, Lee’s attorney countered, Alden is a sophisticated investor that has had its eye on Lee for some time and simply missed the deadline for getting its candidates on the ballot.

While Alden’s lawsuit turns on bylaw minutiae, the results will matter. If Alden’s side loses, they would likely need to wait as long as a year to try again to gain seats and influence on Lee’s board. Alden’s takeover bid of $24 a share from November is well below Lee’s current trading value.


Several readers reached out to me and I just wanted to take a moment to clean up a quote from Monday’s newsletter. I was writing about viewers maybe feeling guilty for enjoying the Winter Olympics because of China’s human rights record. And I quoted veteran sports journalist J.A. Adande during an appearance on ESPN’s “Around The Horn.”

I quoted Adande as saying, “I think it’s standard in sports right now. You have to have a cognitive dissidence. You need to compartmentalize.”

But, in going back and watching the video, I see and hear that he clearly said that you have to have a “cognitive dissonance.” That, of course, makes sense. My apologies to Adande for misquoting him.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC News)

  • The photo above is from New York City’s Times Square as NBC News promoted its streaming service NBC News NOW. Look for more of this kind of thing in the future as NBC goes on a big push with NBC News NOW.
  • ABC News announced that Almin Karamehmedovic has been promoted to senior executive producer of “World News Tonight with David Muir.” Karamehmedovic has been executive producer of the newscast since 2014. His new role will also include news content development on streaming and broadcast.
  • Alex Wagner, who used to anchor a daily show on MSNBC from 2011 to 2015, is returning to the network as a senior political analyst and guest anchor. Since leaving MSNBC, Wagner has worked at  Saturday’s “CBS This Morning” and has been a contributing writer for The Atlantic. Variety’s Brian Steinberg has more details.
  • The Washington Post’s Will Oremus with “Kids are flocking to Facebook’s ‘metaverse.’ Experts worry predators will follow.”
  • Actor, writer and comedian Nick Offerman has launched a new Substack called Donkey Thoughts that is one part advice column, one part community discussion forum. Offerman says, “Donkey Thoughts is a revolutionary new idea-delivery format I have concocted, in which I will dispense ‘advice’ in a ‘word-stack’, or sort of ‘column’ for my readers. I endeavor to always maintain the attitude of a student, ever questioning my flawed human self, and to thereby share the fruits of these mulish labors with others. If we do this right, I feel like a middle-aged white guy pontificating online should fix everything. One way to find out.”
  • This looks good: There’s a new trailer out for the upcoming Hulu series called “The Dropout” about Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos scandal. The series stars Amanda Seyfried as Holmes.  The first three episodes of “The Dropout” will be available to stream on Thursday, March 3, and new episodes will air weekly after that.
  • I should’ve linked to this last week. The New York Times’ Christopher Lehmann-Haupt with an obit: “Jason Epstein, Editor and Publishing Innovator, Is Dead at 93.”
  • GolfWeek’s Adam Woodard with “SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio fires Mark Lye after host says he’d rather shoot himself than watch the WNBA.”

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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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