March 17, 2022

For 16 gripping minutes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking from somewhere inside a country being bombarded by Russia, addressed the United States Congress on Wednesday morning

He showed haunting images of what Ukraine used to look like when it was vibrant and what it looks like now after three weeks of being pummeled by bombs and tanks. The images included buildings being destroyed, explosions, crying children and dead bodies. Words appeared on the video: “This is a murder.”

He cited the type of assaults Americans can understand: Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and said this is what his country is experiencing … every day.

“In your great history,” he said, “you have pages that would allow you to understand the Ukrainian history. Understand us now.”

He quoted the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

He asked the United States for more help in protecting his country and ending the war. He asked for NATO to invoke a no-fly zone.

And, as he closed, he had a plea for one person in particular.

“And this is my main mission as the leader of my people, brave Ukrainians, and as the leader of my nation, I’m addressing the President Biden,” Zelensky said. “You are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”

Then he closed the compelling address by saying, “Thank you. Slava Ukrayini,” which means, “Glory to Ukraine.”

Immediately and in unison, the U.S. Congress rose to their feet to give Zelensky a standing ovation for his powerful speech and fearless leadership.

CNN contributor David Axelrod tweeted that Zelesnky’s speech was “brilliant.” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump tweeted that it was “powerful.”

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, a combat veteran, told reporters, “It makes me want to throw on my uniform and go help.”

CNN’s Stephen Collinson wrote, “His masterful political conceit, on display in his address to the US Congress on Wednesday, is designed to frame the war not as a confusing and far-off dispute bound up in the confusing history of greater Russia but as everybody’s war.”

Collinson added, “He is effectively putting those leaders on personal notice that his fate, those of his people and the continued existence of Ukraine will live on their conscience — and depends on their willingness to defend the principles for which they speak and on which their democracies rest.”

And Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin might have said it best when she wrote, “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s virtual address to a joint gathering of Congress provided the sort of passion, drama and heartbreaking pleas we have come to expect from the unlikely international symbol of democracy.”

This wasn’t Zelensky’s first time addressing leaders from other countries. He has made similar speeches to the European Parliament, Britain’s House of Commons and the Canadian Parliament.

The Los Angeles Times’ Laura King wrote, “Much is made of Zelensky’s former career as a comedian and an actor — playing a president on TV, no less — but these wartime weeks have showcased a leader who appears remarkably skilled, even from a distance of thousands of miles, at reading the room. He has an everyman’s earnestness and a charisma that pops; he is beleaguered but not bowed.”

King added, “The president’s wartime speeches are notable for their displays of raw emotion, but at the same time, he is capable of evoking piteous scenes without asking for pity.”

Biden’s response

President Joe Biden signs a delegation of authority in Washington on Wednesday. From left, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Biden, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

While Zelensky’s stirring speech drew praise and respect — including from U.S. lawmakers and President Joe Biden — Zelensky’s request for a no-fly zone has, so far, been resisted.

However, Biden announced just hours after Zelesnky’s speech that he will activate $800 million more in security assistance, as well as laying out new military help, which is to include anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems, weapons and drones to fight off Russian attacks.

Biden said, “We’re going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom and democracy.”

Later, Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.” Biden told reporters, “We saw reports that Russian forces were holding hundreds of doctors and patients hostage in the largest hospital in Mariupol. These are atrocities. They’re an outrage to the world. And the world is united in our support for Ukraine and our determination to make Putin pay a very heavy price.”

Holt interviews Zelensky

Following his speech to Congress, Zelensky was interviewed virtually by “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt. He was asked if he understood Biden’s concern that if the U.S. made a misstep in dealing with Russia, it could trigger World War III.

“Nobody knows whether it may have already started and what is the possibility of this war if Ukraine will fall, in case Ukraine will fall,” Zelensky said. “It’s very hard to say and we’ve seen this 80 years ago, when the second World War had started. … And there were similar tragedies in the history and nobody would be able to predict when the full-scale war would start, how it will end, who will put an end to that. In this case, we have the whole civilization at stake.”

Holt also asked Zelensky if he would ever step down as a part of negotiations with Russia. Zelensky pointed to his five-year “term of service” and said, “There will be an elections and free democratic people of Ukraine and absolutely open, they will select or elect a president for themselves. There is no other provisions that would be providing the stepping down of the president of Ukraine.”

Harsh realities

This might be the most chilling lede to a story that we’ve seen since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s written by the Associated Press’ Mstyslav Chernov, Evgeniy Maloletka and Lori Hinnant for a story with the headline, “‘Why? Why? Why?’ Ukraine’s Mariupol descends into despair.”

Here’s the lede:

The bodies of the children all lie here, dumped into this narrow trench hastily dug into the frozen earth of Mariupol to the constant drumbeat of shelling.

There’s 18-month-old Kirill, whose shrapnel wound to the head proved too much for his little toddler’s body. There’s 16-year-old Iliya, whose legs were blown up in an explosion during a soccer game at a school field. There’s the girl no older than 6 who wore the pajamas with cartoon unicorns, among the first of Mariupol’s children to die from a Russian shell.

They are stacked together with dozens of others in this mass grave on the outskirts of the city. A man covered in a bright blue tarp, weighed down by stones at the crumbling curb. A woman wrapped in a red and gold bedsheet, her legs neatly bound at the ankles with a scrap of white fabric. Workers toss the bodies in as fast as they can, because the less time they spend in the open, the better their own chances of survival.

The photos are just as gut-wrenching. But please read this story. It’s difficult, yes, but too important to not read.

Some good news

Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall, who was injured in an attack that killed a Fox News cameraman and a Ukrainian reporter earlier this week, has been evacuated out of Kyiv after spending time in a hospital there.

Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott told staff in a memo, “Ben is alert and in good spirits. He is being treated with the best possible care in the world and we are in close contact with his wife and family. Please continue to keep him in your prayers.”

Hall, cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and journalist/fixer Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova were reporting just outside Kyiv when their vehicle came under fire from Russian troops. Hall was badly injured. Zakrzewski, 55, and Kuvshynova, 24, were killed.

There have been varying reports on the extent of Hall’s injuries, but there has been nothing official from Hall or Fox News. On air, Fox News’ Martha MacCallum said, “We hope for more good news to come in the days ahead.”

Fox News and journalists around the world are still mourning the deaths of Zakrzewski and Kuvshynova. On air, Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin, who covers national security, started to break down while saying, “The loss and pain we feel is enormous. But if ever there were a time that the world needed journalists, reporters, risking their lives to tell these stories, to tell the truth, it’s now. Without a free press, the autocrats win. We will redouble our efforts to honor these colleagues and all reporters in harm’s way tonight.”

Answer of the day

Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing champion and now the mayor of Kyiv, needed only an R-rated word when asked by an Austrian TV reporter about Putin’s claims that Russia was targeting only military targets in Ukraine. Here’s the clip.

Notable journalism regarding Russia-Ukraine

Chris Cuomo vs. CNN

Former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo in 2014. (zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx)

The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr reported Wednesday that fired CNN prime-time anchor Chris Cuomo has filed an arbitration claim seeking $125 million. Cuomo was fired last December after CNN determined he had crossed journalistic lines in helping his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, fight off multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

Cuomo’s lawyer claims Cuomo was “wrongfully terminated” and is being made a “scapegoat” at CNN, where CNN president Jeff Zucker and one of his top lieutenants, Allison Gollust, were forced out because they did not publicly reveal they were in a relationship.

Cuomo’s position has been that CNN leadership knew of his involvement in helping his brother.

In the filing, not only is Cuomo asking for the $15 million that was remaining on his contract, but future earnings which he will now lose because, the claim states, “​​CNN’s calculated efforts to tar and feather him” left him “untouchable in the world of broadcast journalism.”

News that’s good for you?

Interesting story from Variety’s Brian Steinberg: “‘Nutrition Labels’ for TV News? Some Advertisers Might Review News Grades in Spring.”

Steinberg writes, “Magna, the large media-buying firm owned by Interpublic Group, has enlisted NewsGuard, a company that examines the veracity of news content and the ways in which it is produced, to grade news programming on TV for the parent company’s media clients, which include Johnson & Johnson, Grubhub and Merck, among others. NewsGuard, which enlists journalists to determine whether a news outlet is accurate and transparent about the information it provides, will devise ‘nutrition labels’ for more than 20 networks and more than 100 programs, says Allie Kalish, executive vice president and managing director of strategic investment and accountability at Magna.”

Kalish told Steinberg, “I think this is holding the networks to a new level. It will get our news partners to start really thinking about the information they are pushing out to the world.”

Check out Steinberg’s story on how all this could and would work.

Officially on board

ESPN announces the signing of announcers Joe Buck, left, and Troy Aikman. (Courtesy: ESPN)

We’ve known for a week or so now that the NFL announcing team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman was leaving Fox Sports for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” But it was officially announced by ESPN on Wednesday.

And what a check ESPN is writing to add some pizzazz to their signature broadcast by signing, arguably, the best announcing team in sports. As New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand notes, ESPN is paying $165 million for the duo. Aikman has signed a five-year deal worth $90 million, while Buck has signed a five-year deal worth $75 million.

Marchand wrote, “This all leads to the question of: Why? It is about the games, right? No one watches for the announcers, correct? Internally, ESPN believes it will sell more and greater advertising, while externally, it has finally satisfied the NFL, which has been disappointed with ESPN’s crews from Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland to Steve Levy, Louis Riddick Jr. and Brian Griese.”

Buck and Aikman certainly give the game more juice, and just having them will make the broadcast feel like a big game. Whether that results in bigger ratings is hard to say. As always, it likely will come down to the matchups.

Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and sports content, said in a statement, “When you have the opportunity to bring in the iconic, longest-running NFL broadcasting duo, you take it, especially at a time when we are on the cusp of a new era in our expanding relationship with the NFL. The NFL continues to ascend, and we now have more games than ever before, providing additional opportunities for Joe, Troy and our deep roster of commentators.”

Buck put out a video on social media talking about how he can’t wait to get started and how he used to sit in the “Monday Night Football” radio booth as a kid while his dad, the legendary Jack Buck, used to do play-by-play.

Aikman talked about continuing the tradition of “Monday Night Football,” which used to be the NFL broadcast of the week back in the 1970s and 1980s when Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith were in the booth.

Meanwhile, it’s a good time to be a top NFL announcer as The Washington Post’s Ben Strauss writes in, “Joe Buck and Troy Aikman cash in at ESPN as the NFL broadcaster arms race continues.”

More ESPN news

Here’s good stuff: Legendary ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale, who has had to rest his vocal cords for eight weeks after surgery, has been cleared to use his voice again. This comes just a couple weeks after he received word that he has overcome another health scare and that he is now cancer-free.

Vitale told ESPN’s Front Row, “A few weeks ago, I was able to reach my Final Four when I was informed that my cancer is in remission. Today, I won my personal March Madness National Championship. After a follow-up scope and an intense evaluation of my vocal cords, Dr. Steven Zeitels is allowing me to cut down the nets. For two months, I wrote everything down I wanted to communicate, but now I can officially begin using my voice.”

Here’s Vitale from his appointment with Dr. Zeitels.

Media tidbits


In an item in Wednesday’s newsletter about the new global media startup being launched by Ben Smith and Justin Smith, I wrongly named who Gina Chua, the company’s news executive editor, will report to. She will report to Ben Smith. I listed another name.

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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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