September 15, 2022

Here’s something you rarely see: a writer telling people not to read his book. But that’s what noted author Jeff Pearlman did this week.

Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated writer (a very good one, I might add) and the author of 10 books that have appeared on The New York Times bestseller list. That includes his 2014 book, “Showtime,” about the Los Angeles Lakers that is the basis of the HBO series “Winning Time.” It also includes his 2016 book, “Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre.”

Favre is the Hall of Fame quarterback who spent most of his career with the Green Bay Packers. He also had controversies off the field, including sending lewd messages in 2008 to a woman named Jenn Sterger when she was a reporter covering the New York Jets.

Then this week, Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe reported that former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant helped Favre obtain state welfare funds to help build a new volleyball center at the University of Southern Mississippi — the school where Favre went and where his daughter played volleyball. Texts from 2017 between Favre and Mississippi nonprofit executive Nancy New seemed to suggest Favre knew he was getting money that might not be on the up and up. (Check out Wolfe’s story for all the details.)

Now back to Pearlman. Shortly after the story broke, Pearlman tweeted this:

On the day of extended Favre revelations, I wanna share something: I wrote a biography of the man that was largely glowing. Football heroics, overcoming obstacles, practical joker, etc. Yes, it included his grossness, addictions, treatment of women. But it was fairly positive

And, looking at it now, if I’m being brutally honest—I’d advise people not to read it. He’s a bad guy. He doesn’t deserve the icon treatment. He doesn’t deserve acclaim. Image rehabilitation. Warm stories of grid glory. His treatment of @jennifersterger was … inexcusable.

And now—taking money that was designated to help poor people in HIS STATE, and funneling it to build (checks notes) A (EXPLETIVE) VOLLEYBALL ARENA (!?!?!?) is so grotesque, so monstrous. I don’t know how someone like that looks in the mirror. I just don’t.

So, sincerely, don’t buy the book, don’t take it out from the library. Leave it. There are sooooo many better people worthy of your reading hours. Of your time. I prefer crumbs like Brett Favre shuffle off into the abyss, shamed by greed and selfishness.

Sure, the book is now several years old, probably doesn’t sell a bunch of copies anymore and all indications are Pearlman is doing just fine. But this is beyond commendable. Not only is Pearlman saying don’t buy or read the book, but he’s admitting his work might have helped Favre scrub his image, and such an admission is just not something authors typically do.

Journalist and podcaster Jemele Hill tweeted, “Not many writers would do this. Trust me.”

One more thing about Pearlman that I wanted to mention. Aside from his terrific work as a writer, he also hosts one of the more interesting podcasts out there called “Two Writers Slinging Yang,” in which Pearlman interviews writers about the craft of writing. The majority of his guests come from the world of sports, but not all of them. Because of Pearlman’s excellent questions that allow his guest to be the star of each episode, it makes for a superb podcast.

Oh, and to put a wrap on this story. Give Sterger — the woman whose life was turned upside down by Favre — credit for the tweet of the day.

She tweeted, “Oh.. NOWWWWW he gets in trouble for inappropriate texts.”

Happy 40th birthday, USA Today

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

USA Today published its first edition Sept. 15, 1982. For startups of that vintage, reaching 40 can be considered robust middle age. Remember Manhattan Inc. and Smart Money?

From early on, USA Today was influential for its generous use of color, a national weather map and story lengths that ranged from short to really short. A news summary with at least one brief item from each state endures. It was positioned as a traveler’s newspaper, widely available for free in hotels.

It took many years for USA Today to shed the image of being frothy and unserious even as it conducted strong investigations. It did not share in a Pulitzer win until 2018 for reporting on President Donald Trump’s border wall, overseen by current editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, then at The Arizona Republic.

I have questioned how the print edition can stay profitable as reading habits pivot to mobile devices and business travel ebbs. Publisher Maribel Perez Wadsworth assured me in a May interview that the print version still makes money and will continue, along with digital, indefinitely.

The USA Today launch and the Gannett expansions of the last quarter of the 20th century bore the mark of flamboyant CEO Al Neuharth. He thought big and spent big, later on with the overambitious Newseum. Among the oft-repeated anecdotes about him: When asked how to pronounce Gannett, Neuharth would reply, “The emphasis is on the net.”

Isn’t it ironic

Fox News’ Sean Hannity speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas last month. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

If I called out every outrageous thing said during Fox News prime time, it’s all I would write about in this newsletter. So much of what is said there is ignored here. But sometimes you just have to call it out.

The background is that former Biden White House press secretary Jen Psaki made her MSNBC debut Tuesday night, talking about the upcoming midterms. Over on Fox News, prime-time host Sean Hannity teased a segment by saying, “Coming up. Circle-back Jen Psaki started her new job at MSDNC. Can you think of a better example of media collusion? We’re going to remind you of some of the lowlights in the White House from her previous job. Straight ahead.”

It’s perfectly fine for Hannity to question and criticize Psaki’s role as press secretary, and certainly anything Psaki says on air is fair game for Hannity’s commentary. But the whole “media collusion” thing?

Hannity was texting then-President Donald Trump’s chief of staff in the aftermath of the 2020 election, and clearly was a Trump confidant.

The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona then tweeted on Wednesday: “Fox News’s midafternoon panel show Outnumbered is currently being hosted by Trump’s former press secretary and daughter-in-law, both of whom are Fox News employees.”

Baragona had screengrabs of the show that showed former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Lara Trump, who is actually a Fox News contributor.

Again, if Fox News wants to blast away at Psaki’s commentary, that’s fine. But to criticize MSNBC and Psaki for “media collusion” while they are paying on-air talent directly tied to Trump seems … especially rich, doesn’t it?

Semafor’s moves

Semafor, the new global news startup from former New York Times media columnist Ben Smith and former Bloomberg CEO Justin Smith (the two are not related) announced a bunch of new hires on Wednesday. (CNN’s Oliver Darcy tweeted out a memo of the internal announcements.)

The most notable move, which had been rumored for a while, is the hiring of The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel. The Semafor memo called Weigel “perhaps America’s leading reporter covering campaigns and political movements.” Weigel was in the news earlier this year when he was suspended for a month by the Post after he retweeted a sexist joke.

Other notable hires included NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin, who will be Semafor’s Washington bureau chief; The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant, who will be a Washington reporter; and The Daily Caller’s Shelby Talcott, who will cover Donald Trump and national Republicans.

Thursday Night Football

NFL broadcaster Al Michaels in 2019. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

As I wrote in Wednesday’s newsletter, the National Football League is king when it comes to TV viewing. The numbers for the first weekend of regular season play were massive — some of the best numbers networks have seen in years. And the sport was already the most popular product on TV.

Now comes tonight and a first for the NFL. “Thursday Night Football” is going to be aired exclusively on Amazon Prime, making it the first streaming service to show games exclusively. Creatures of habit, particularly older NFL fans, almost certainly will be scrambling tonight looking for the game.

In the past, “Thursday Night Football” has performed relatively well for networks despite often having a less-than-stellar matchup. Last year’s Thursday night games averaged 16.4 million viewers across Fox and the NFL Network. That was a 16% increase from the year before.

Amazon has told advertisers to expect 12.5 million viewers, although many in the business are thinking more in the 7 or 8 million range.

But Amazon Prime does have two things going for it. One is an elite broadcasting crew of Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit. Michaels is, for my money (and I’m not alone), the best play-by-play announcer in NFL history, and he’s as good as ever at age 77. Herbstreit is the best analyst of college football, but should have no problems calling NFL games. And Fred Gaudelli, a long-respected TV veteran, will be executive producer.

Considering that Amazon paid $1 billion per season for the rights to exclusively air games, look for the production and broadcast to be top-notch.

I have little doubt that the broadcast will be every bit as good as what you see on Fox, CBS, NBC or ESPN.

Michaels told the Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Battaglio, “I think Amazon wanted to prove that we’re playing with the big boys. They want to make it classy. We have to have a comfort level for the fans who want to watch the game and not go astray.”

The other thing Amazon has in its favor is a slate of games that looks pretty good, starting with tonight’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.

For more, check out New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand with “TV sports world changing forever as Amazon’s NFL revolution begins.”

As far as viewership goes, Marchand wrote, “Whatever the final tally, it is likely going to be the biggest live-streaming event in history. Amazon has been testing and re-testing for months to avoid any self-inflicted snafus. They are confident, but this is the big question as the sports world moves more toward streaming. This isn’t 1939, when the first football game was televised nationally and reached 400 sets. This is 2022, and anything less than perfection will have those customer service hotlines ringing and social media buzzing.”

A new newsletter

The New York Times is introducing a new newsletter from Nate Cohn about elections and polling in the run-up to the November midterm elections — and beyond. It will be called “The Tilt,” and will publish at least twice a week.

Aside from the latest surveys and electoral trends, Cohn wrote the newsletter will also “visit wonkier subjects, like polling methodology. Yes, it’s arcane, but after the last decade of high-profile polling misfires, it’s worth a deeper exploration of what pollsters are doing right or wrong. We hope to write accessibly enough to lure the uninitiated.”

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: CNN)

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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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