April 27, 2022

Elon speaks.

Well, I should say, Elon tweets.

A day after Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, struck an agreement to buy Twitter for $44 billion, reactions continue to range from giddiness (many conservatives) to concern (everyone else). The worry mostly stems from Musk’s constant talk of “free speech,” whatever that means.

Well, Musk sort of addressed that in a tweet Tuesday. First, he tweeted, “The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all.”

It does?

Musk then tweeted, “By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”

That didn’t exactly clear it up. Again, what “free speech” looks like in Musk-owned Twitter remains far from known. And it will be a major concern until it is known.

Shira Ovide, author of The New York Times’ On Tech newsletter, writes, “Soon, Mr. Musk will be the one confronting the gap between an idealized view of free speech and the zillion tough decisions that must be made to let everyone have a say.”

Ovide goes on to smartly note, “Mr. Musk is a relative dilettante on the topic and hasn’t yet tackled the difficult trade-offs in which giving one person a voice may silence the expression of others, and in which an almost-anything-goes space for expression might be overrun with spam, nudity, propaganda from autocrats, the bullying of children and violent incitements.”

She adds, “If Twitter wants to pull back from moderating speech on its site, will people be less willing to hang out where they might be harassed by those who disagree with them and swamped by pitches for cryptocurrency, fake Gucci handbags or pornography?”

Meanwhile, will this now mean Musk gets to decide who gets to say what?

The New York Times’ David Leonhardt, writing for his morning newsletter, writes, “The deal is the latest example of how extreme inequality is shaping American society. A small number of very wealthy people end up making decisions that affect millions of others. That has always been true, of course. But it is truer when inequality is so high.”

Leonhardt adds, “The deal will give Musk enormous influence over politicians, celebrities and the media, with the ability to platform and de-platform them at will.”

This story will continue to evolve over the next several weeks and months and, dare I say, years. But in the short term, there are others who have immediate concerns. And that’s those who work at Twitter right now — a number that totals more than 5,000.

The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin wrote a story with this headline: “Twitter workers face a reality they’ve long feared: Elon Musk as owner.”

One Twitter employee tweeted, “The news today is so crazy I literally forgot I have COVID.”

Dwoskin writes that at a town hall meeting after Monday’s announcement, “… leaders were vague in response to questions about future layoffs, changes to the company’s approach to free speech and safety, and whether the company will continue to make money from advertising.”

Here’s the cover of Time magazine with the Musk-Twitter news …

(Courtesy: Time)

Inside the CNN+ numbers

Axios’ Sara Fischer has this scoop: “The numbers behind CNN+.” Fischer writes, “New data from a March 2022 pitch deck shows CNN+ executives projected that within the next decade, CNN+ would be more profitable than the company’s cable arm today — which currently drives about $500 million in annual profit.”

When CNN+ was shut down last week it was, reportedly, because of low subscription numbers (around 150,000) and that the streaming service didn’t fit in with new owner Discovery’s vision of one giant streaming service that focused on entertainment.

There are lots of numbers and projections and graphics, so dig into it all by checking out Fischer’s story.

‘Disturbed and unhinged behavior’

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva points to a Los Angeles Times story during a news conference on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Here is the lede on a story this week written by Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian: “A Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander who was critical of efforts to cover up an incident in which a deputy kneeled on a handcuffed inmate’s head has filed legal papers accusing Sheriff Alex Villanueva of obstructing justice and retaliating against those who blew the whistle.”

This was a follow-up to Tchekmedyian’s story from last month: “Fearing bad publicity, LASD covered up case of deputy who knelt on inmate’s head.”

Then came Tuesday and a news conference held by Villanueva. He had a photo of Tchekmedyian on stage and said she was among those being investigated in connection with a leak of information.

You read that right. The reporter who wrote the story is being investigated by the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. The Los Angeles Times’ Harriet Ryan wrote, “In the wake of the reports on the commander’s claims, Villanueva summoned the media to the Hall of Justice downtown and revealed the criminal probe into how The Times obtained the video of the detention.”

Villanueva said, “This is stolen property that was removed illegally from people who had some intent — criminal intent — and it’ll be subject to investigation.” When asked if Tchekmedyian was under investigation, Villanueva said, “All parties to the act are subjects of the investigation.”

In a statement, Los Angeles Times executive editor Kevin Merida said, “Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s attack on Alene Tchekmedyian’s First Amendment rights for doing newsworthy reporting on a video that showed a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate’s head is outrageous. His attempt to criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law. We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian’s and the Los Angeles Times’ rights in any proceeding in any investigation brought by authorities.”

Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA, tweeted, “This is disturbed and unhinged behavior by LA County’s sheriff. @AleneTchek is a talented reporter and does not deserve to be bullied by @LACoSheriff.”

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted, “Have never seen something like this, no matter how many times officials have tried to drag and/or demonize reporters.”

Katie Townsend, deputy executive director and legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, put out a statement that said, “​​The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s announcement that it has launched a criminal investigation into a journalist because of her reporting is appalling. This blatantly retaliatory conduct aimed at the Los Angeles Times and its reporter Alene Tchekmedyian is beyond the pale, and violates the First Amendment. Publishing newsworthy information about an alleged law enforcement cover up that sought to block an investigation into the use of excessive force is constitutionally protected activity, and is clearly in the public interest. We condemn the Department’s actions in the strongest terms, and urge it to immediately drop this purported investigation.”

And Steven Rich, database editor for investigations at The Washington Post, put it well when he tweeted, “when you’re more worried about a leak than the bad thing leaked, it says a lot.”

He also added something that, perhaps the L.A. sheriff hadn’t considered: “i didn’t see this story but now i definitely have.”

Notable journalism from Russia-Ukraine

Still upset

Last week, Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz created quite the buzz with her superb story: “Meet the woman behind Libs of TikTok, secretly fueling the right’s outrage machine.”

Many on the right were outraged that Lorenz revealed who was behind the account that has become a makeshift wire service for some conservative shows and has incited wrath and repercussions against those in the LBGTQ+ community. I wrote about Lorenz’s reporting and why her story was most definitely news last week in this newsletter.

I can only imagine the blowback Lorenz is getting because I’ve had my fair share of nasty emails for just defending her. She surely is getting it 100 times worse.

And Lorenz is still under attack, this time from YouTuber Tim Pool and The Daily Caller.

Lorenz tweeted Tuesday, “Tim Pool and the CEO of the Daily Wire took out a giant billboard in Times Square today in an attempt to discredit my reporting on Libs of TikTok.” She included a photo of the billboard that said, “Taylor Lorenz doxxed LibsofTikTok.”

That set off a Twitter exchange between Pool and Lorenz.

Pool tweeted, “Im not discrediting your reporting, I’ve repeatedly said it was justified and ‘publishing a name we can argue the merits’. I’m calling you out for lying when you and WaPo denied linking to private details. You published Libs’ private address … just own it -”

The Post had claimed that they never published the address of Chaya Raichik, the woman behind the account. But as Mediaite’s Zachary Leeman noted, the original story did link to Raichik’s real estate license, which did have personal information. (The license, by the way, was publicly available on the internet.) In a statement to The Spectator, a Post spokesperson said, “We linked to publicly available professional information and ultimately deemed it unnecessary.”

Pool added, “Im glad to hear youre not upset and your friends and fans are also happy. Its the way it should be. You make a statement, I contest it we all made our points heard, you on CNN, mine in Times Sq. Now we move on.”

Lorenz responded, “My family and friends are not happy. They have been subject to a non stop stream of hateful attacks, doxxing, and violent attacks driven by this baseless campaign. Happy to hear you’re moving on.”

Lorenz also tweeted, “This billboard is undeniably so idiotic it’s hilarious, but don’t forget that these campaigns have a much darker and more violent side. I’m grateful to be at a newsroom that recognizes these bad faith, politically motivated attacks and has a strong security team.”

Pool kept it going with other tweets, which, if you care what he has to say, you can find on Twitter.

Baquet’s next move

Dean Baquet might be stepping down as executive editor of The New York Times, but he’s not totally leaving the Times and he’s definitely not leaving journalism.

Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger announced Tuesday that Baquet will lead a new local investigative journalism fellowship at the Times.

In his announcement, Sulzberger wrote, “The year-long fellowship will produce investigative projects focused on the state and local level, where deeply reported accountability journalism is most needed. It will offer a rare opportunity for up-and-coming journalists, especially those with backgrounds that are underrepresented in newsrooms and investigative reporting. It will give them the time and space to focus on ambitious, resource-intensive projects and the chance to learn investigative reporting skills from the very best in the business — Dean and a group of veteran investigative editors whom he’ll handpick.”

Sulzberger went on to write, “The decline of local investigative reporting is a national tragedy. It means that fewer and fewer people across the country have access to essential information about their communities — too often there is no one to track school board meetings; comb through court dockets; or reveal the significance of everyday developments in towns, cities and states. No watchdog to keep local governments honest. No one to pursue a tip or unearth hidden information. As a result, it’s almost certain that corruption, injustice and wrongdoing go unnoticed. It’s our hope that this fellowship can play a small role in addressing this dangerous and growing societal gap.”

Baquet has extensive local journalism experience. He started as a reporter for The States-Item and The Times-Picayune in his hometown of New Orleans. He later won a Pulitzer Prize at The Chicago Tribune for an investigation that revealed extensive corruption in city council committee spending. And his first job at The New York Times was as an investigative reporter for the metro desk.

In the announcement, Baquet said, “I care deeply about investigative reporting. And I fear a future where there’s less of it as more and more news organizations have to cut back. I would love to have the chance to help train a new generation of investigators.”

From the basketball court to the highest court

Jerry West, left, talking with Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George last September. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

HBO’s “Winning Time” — a fictionalized version of the real-life Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s — has plenty of fans. Jerry West, who was a Lakers executive at the time, is not one of them. The NBA legend — his silhouette is used in the official NBA logo — isn’t happy with how he is portrayed in the series. And for good reason.

As Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke wrote, “While every character in the series is an outlandish caricature of themselves and many scenes are distant versions of the truth — chill out, people, it’s Hollywood — producer Adam McKay wrongly picked the most venerable Showtime icon to turn into the ugliest of cartoons.”

Played by actor Jason Clarke, West comes off like an out-of-control rage-aholic, prone to temper tantrums where he throws the trophies through windows, breaks golf clubs and curls up in the fetal position (in his underwear, no less) when he gets upset.

“That is not Jerry West,” Plaschke wrote, “West is a passionately tortured and often profane competitor, but, in my dealings with him over the last 30 years, he has never been the raging lunatic that the series depicts. … West is one of the most admired figures in the history of Los Angeles sports, one of the most revered personalities in the history of the NBA, a gentleman icon who does not deserve fictionalized reproach or ridicule.”

Now West is fighting back. Through his attorney, West sent a letter to HBO that said, in part, “You replaced the real Jerry West — a consummate professional — with his polar opposite, then portrayed this lie to the public as genuine. You thereby violated the law. … To mitigate the harm you have caused, we request the issuance of a retraction of Winning Time’s false depiction of Jerry West no later than two weeks from the date of this letter. You also owe Mr. West an apology for your hurtful misrepresentation of his work and legacy, plus damages for the harm you caused to his well-earned and stellar reputation.”

Several former Lakers players — including Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — have publicly defended West.

West told former Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Dwyre, “The series made us all look like cartoon characters. They belittled something good. If I have to, I will take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”

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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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