February 17, 2022

Good Thursday morning. First, some housekeeping. Unless there is big news today, there will not be a Poynter Report on Friday, as I catch up on some other work. I’ll be back on Monday.

Having said that, there likely will be a bunch of news today. How do I know that? Because that’s where we are at the moment with media news. Just look at the past week.

Whenever you think things might calm down to a light simmer, the pot boils over with major news.

We had the Sarah Palin-New York Times trial this week, and even more drama involving CNN (with, apparently, plenty more to come). There have been plenty of stories, many of them ugly, coming out of the Winter Olympics. And this on top of a thrilling Super Bowl that once again produced humongous TV numbers.

Meanwhile, news outlets continue to look closely at the latest with COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine situation, and you can always find a headline with the word “Trump” in it.

But, today, I want to draw your attention to two stories that came out earlier this week, and really deserve your attention. I’ve already mentioned them in the newsletter, but if you missed them or just glazed over them, you need to take some time to catch up.

First, news broke Tuesday night that Allison Gollust, CNN’s chief marketing officer, was resigning. It was her relationship with Jeff Zucker and the failure to disclose that relationship that was used as the excuse for Zucker to step down as CNN president two weeks ago. In announcing Gollust’s resignation to staff, Jason Kilar, CEO for CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia, wrote, “Based on interviews of more than 40 individuals and a review of over 100,000 texts and emails, the investigation found violations of Company policies, including CNN’s News Standards and Practices, by Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo. We have the highest standards of journalistic integrity at CNN, and those rules must apply to everyone equally. Given the information provided to me in the investigation, I strongly believe we have taken the right actions and the right decisions have been made.”

Gollust fired back, saying in part, “WarnerMedia’s statement tonight is an attempt to retaliate against me and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks.”

As all this was going down Tuesday, The New York Times was publishing a major story that featured five bylines: Emily Steel, Jodi Kantor, Michael M. Grynbaum, James B. Stewart and John Koblin. Ben Smith, who doesn’t even work at the Times anymore, was given a contribution credit. The story was as provocative as the headline: “How a Secret Assault Allegation Against an Anchor Upended CNN and Jeff Zucker.”

The detailed piece goes over Chris Cuomo’s sketchy journalism ethics for advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, against multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. And it gets into some serious allegations involving Chris Cuomo that influenced Zucker’s decision to fire him. As Puck’s Dylan Byers wrote, it was an “investigation that laid out the now-familiar timeline of events and added one critical new dimension to the story: in the heat of the #MeToo uprising, Chris Cuomo had used the CNN platform to try to placate a would-be accuser.”

There’s so much to the story that it would be an injustice to try to describe in just a few sentences here. It should be read in full.

So that’s the first story I encourage you to read.

The second is another story I featured earlier this week. It’s Wesley Lowery’s story about The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Black City. White Paper.” It’s the first chapter in a series called “A More Perfect Union,” which sets out to examine the roots of systemic racism in America through institutions founded in Philadelphia.

I received plenty of feedback from readers (in particular, journalists) about Lowery’s story and how they would like to see other papers across the country take an honest look at their histories and workplaces.

The Inquirer’s Patricia Madej wrote, “Four takeaways from Wesley Lowery’s report on The Inquirer, ‘Black City. White Paper.’”

They were:

  • The Inquirer’s founding mission has yet to be fulfilled.
  • It took generations to begin diversifying.
  • Powerful anecdotes from inside the newsroom.
  • Progress has been made, but there’s still a ways to go.

Credit the Inquirer for this first step — a strong self-examination written by someone who has nothing to do with the Inquirer.

So, check out the Times’ investigative piece on CNN and Lowery’s story in the Inquirer. It will be time well spent.

RELATED TRAINING: Enroll in Building an Ethical Newsroom with Kelly McBride by March 1, 2022.

A matter of time

Well, we should’ve seen this coming.

On Monday, the judge presiding over Sarah Palin’s libel trial against The New York Times announced he was going to toss out the jury’s verdict because Palin had not proven her case that the Times acted with “actual malice.” But Judge Jed Rakoff announced that decision while the jury was still deliberating, and he allowed it to continue to work its way toward a verdict. He even acknowledged at the time that he was going to let the jury continue with its deliberations.

“I certainly considered the possibility that I should wait until after the jury had rendered its verdict in this case,” Rakoff said on Monday, “but the more I thought about it over the weekend, the more I thought that was unfair to both sides. We’ve had a very full argument on this; I know where I’m coming out.”

Rakoff said he wanted potential appeals courts to hear what a jury said in this case, as well as his ruling.

By the end of that day — again, this was Monday — the jury had not reached a verdict and Rakoff let them go home for the day.

Now here’s the part we should’ve seen coming: Despite the judge telling them to avoid coverage of the trial, members of the jury did find out that Rakoff was planning on throwing out the verdict.

Rakoff wrote in a two-page order on Wednesday, “These jurors reported that although they had been assiduously adhering to the Court’s instruction to avoid media coverage of the trial, they had involuntarily received ‘push notifications’ on their smartphones that contained the bottom-line of the ruling.”

Rakoff said the jurors, who returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the Times on Tuesday, assured him they were not impacted by Rakoff’s decision.

Is that true? Was the jury unaffected by the judge’s ruling? It’s impossible to say, although it should be noted that the jury did continue to deliberate for part of the day Tuesday before coming to a final verdict.

But this could come up when Palin’s team appeals this case, as they have already indicated that they will do.

What’s next for Palin?

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

So what will Palin do next? Will she appeal? All indications are that she will. But, under New York law, Palin can’t challenge the jury’s unanimous verdict.

NBC News’ Corky Siemaszko wrote, “So, Palin would have to try her luck with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, perhaps arguing that the jury instructions misstated the law, the experts said.”

Media lawyer Ryan Cummings told Reuters’ Jan Wolfe that that court has historically been reluctant to second-guess determinations reached by jurors.

Might this ever end up before the Supreme Court?

George Freeman, who heads the Media Law Resource Center in Manhattan, told Siemaszko, “She can try but it’s extremely unlikely they would take her case. They have bigger fish to fry, such as likely overturning established law in Roe versus Wade, so I think the court would be loath to upset long-standing precedent in a second area.”

That second area Freeman is talking about is the landmark The New York Times v. Sullivan case that established a high standard of actual malice. It should be noted that two Supreme Court Justices — Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas — have suggested they would like to revisit that case.

Would other justices be interested in messing with something as sacred as freedom of speech? That’s less clear.

Then again, there’s also this: Andrew Koppelman, the John Paul Stevens professor of law at Northwestern University, told Siemaszko, “(Palin has) already publicized a narrative that the Times was sloppy with facts, and maybe that’s all she wanted.”

Put in charge

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday that Nick Clegg has been named the company’s president of global affairs. In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg wrote, “Nick will now lead our company on all our policy matters, including how we interact with governments as they consider adopting new policies and regulations, as well as how we make the case publicly for our products and our work.”

Clegg, who joined Facebook in 2018, was already running Meta’s global policy organization, but this will give him more power. He had been reporting to chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, but he now will report directly to Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg wrote, “As Nick takes on this new leadership role, it will enable me to focus more of my energy on leading the company as we build new products for the future, and it will support Sheryl as she continues to focus on the success of our business.”

In her own post, Sandberg said, “The next few years will be a crucial time for our company and our industry as new rules for the internet are written all over the world, and as we set out on our journey to help build the metaverse. Nick’s calm and principled leadership will continue to be an asset for Meta in the months and years to come.”

Bloomberg’s Kurt Wagner wrote, “Clegg’s promotion may also help Zuckerberg avoid making public statements on day-to-day policy issues, which haven’t done much to improve Facebook’s trust with the public. As CEO, he’s still likely to be the one called before U.S. Congress when lawmakers seek a top executive to testify.”

Wagner added, “Meta is once again preparing for high-stake elections with the 2022 midterms in November. It will be the first major vote in the U.S. since Trump refused to accept his 2020 loss and pushed other Republicans to question the integrity of the results. Meta and other social media companies will have to make tough calls about what content to take action against and what to leave alone in an election when all 435 seats in the House are up for grabs, as well as 34 of the 100 Senate seats.”

Clegg, himself, is a former politician. He was deputy prime minister in the U.K. from 2010 to 2015.

Phang’s new show

MSNBC’s Katie Phang (Courtesy: MSNBC)

Katie Phang, who has been a legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC since 2017, is getting her own show. She has been named host of an MSNBC show that will air Saturdays and Sundays from 7 to 8 a.m. Eastern starting April 9.

Phang, who is an attorney, also will have a live show on Peacock’s “The Choice from MSNBC” on Thursdays and Fridays from 2 to 3 p.m. Eastern starting on April 14.

NBCUniversal said the program will “leverage Phang’s expertise and unique perspective to help audiences break down the headlines driving the day in Washington and around the country. Her show will explore the intersections of race, law, politics, culture and more, and will feature interviews with the nation’s top newsmakers.”

Phang tweeted, “I am grateful for this opportunity to continue to work with some of the very best in the business, and even more importantly, to be able to spend more time with all of YOU!”

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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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