March 9, 2022

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent an ominous message to any journalists in Russia. Report “false information” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and you could be punished with up to 15 years in prison.

Of course, we know that “false information,” as described by Putin and his government, isn’t “false.” Putin wants to assure that the real truth of what is happening — that an unprovoked Russia has attacked a peaceful country and has targeted civilians — is not reported.

Most, if not all, independent Russian media outlets have already been shut down. And now the rest of the world’s independent media has made the decision to either suspend or greatly alter their reporting, or to pull out of Russia altogether.

The latest is the mighty New York Times, which is removing its journalists from Russia — at least for now.

In a statement, Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said, “Russia’s new legislation seeks to criminalize independent, accurate news reporting about the war against Ukraine. For the safety and security of our editorial staff working in the region, we are moving them out of the country for now. We look forward to them returning as soon as possible while we monitor the application of the new law. We will continue our live, robust coverage of the war and our rigorous reporting on Russia’s offensive in Ukraine and these attempts to stifle independent journalism.”

As I mentioned, the Times is just the latest news organization to either pull out of Russia or suspend reporting from inside the country. The Washington Post still has staffers in Russia, but the paper is removing bylines and datelines from stories to protect their journalists. On Tuesday, CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy quoted a CNN spokesperson as saying, “We are not shutting down our Moscow bureau but we have ceased reporting from there until we have assessed the impact of this new law.”

But the Times leaving Russia is a stunning move, although certainly understandable considering the stakes.

New York Times deputy managing editor Cliff Levy tweeted, “As a former Moscow bureau chief for @nytimes, I am saddened to report that we are pulling our journalists from Russia.”

Levy then shared a note to staff from New York Times assistant managing editor Michael Slackman, who said, in part, “We have been working with legal counsel, security teams, and our team of highly experienced journalists in the region to understand the potential ramifications of this latest maneuver. In order to protect the safety and security of our editorial staff, we are moving them out of the country for now. We look forward to returning them as soon as possible while we monitor the situation more closely.”

Slackman went on to praise the Times journalists in Ukraine, writing, “They are supported by others in our bureaus worldwide and all of you. I am grateful for the bravery, grit, and incredible work of our team on the ground, as they uphold our essential mission of reporting on this war without fear or favor.”

What does coverage look like in Russia?

So as independent journalists are silenced in Russia, what does coverage of Russia’s war with Ukraine look like there?

The New York Times Neil MacFarquhar wrote, “To spend several days watching news broadcasts on the main state channels, as well as surveying state-controlled newspapers, is to witness the extent of the Kremlin’s efforts to sanitize its war with the Orwellian term ‘special military operation’ — and to make all news coverage align with that message.”

On Russian state media, where most older Russians get their news, the message is that Putin wants to “de-Nazify” and demilitarize Ukraine. It’s described not for what it is (“war”) but as a peacekeeping mission to help the Ukrainian people. It’s referred to as “special operations.”

MacFarquhar wrote that one popular show in Russia “accused the Ukrainian military of preventing civilians from leaving so they could be used as human shields. The tens of thousands of refugees fleeing west away from the Russian forces in caravans of fear and misery were not shown.”

MacFarquhar has many examples of this kind of reporting over two days spent watching Russian TV.

Which leads to the next item …

How Russians feel

It appears that Putin’s plan to control the media and alter the real message is working inside Russia. A telephone survey was conducted by a group of independent survey research organizations.

The results were that 58% of Russians approved of the invasion of Ukraine, while 23% were opposed. Now, make of that what you will. One could ask if respondents are going to be completely honest when contacted over the phone inside Russia.

Gary Langer, a U.S.-based polling expert who runs a research firm, obtained the results and shared them with The Washington Post.

As far as a breakdown, the poll showed 46% firmly supported the invasion and 13% somewhat supported it. About 23% opposed, while 13% had no opinion or declined to answer. Around 6% said they were on the fence.

Younger people tended to oppose the war. In the group of 18-to-24-year-olds, 39% opposed the war compared to 29% for it. The strongest supporters of the invasion were among those 66 or older. Of that group, 75% supported it.

More notable work regarding Russia-Ukraine

A new Ed Yong piece on COVID-19

Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk along Broadway in the SoHo district of New York last Friday. Mayor Eric Adams announced that day that the city will be scaling back of COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

This shouldn’t be breaking news, but COVID-19 has not gone away. While the world has focused on the horrific details of what is happening in Ukraine, the fact remains that COVID-19 hasn’t disappeared.

The numbers regarding COVID-19 have improved. But Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Yong has another must-read article in The Atlantic: “How Did This Many Deaths Become Normal?”

Yong’s story comes as the United States approaches 1 million COVID-19 deaths. Yong also pointed out startling facts, such as more people died last Friday from COVID-19 than died in Hurricane Katrina. And if you took any two recent weekdays, you would have more COVID-19 deaths than those who died on 9/11.

In his story, Yong wrote, “Many countries have been pummeled by the coronavirus, but few have fared as poorly as the U.S. Its death rate surpassed that of any other large, wealthy nation — especially during the recent Omicron surge. The Biden administration placed all its bets on a vaccine-focused strategy, rather than the multilayered protections that many experts called for, even as America lagged behind other wealthy countries in vaccinating (and boosting) its citizens — especially elderly people, who are most vulnerable to the virus.”

Yong also added this heartbreaking fact: “Every American who died of COVID left an average of nine close relatives bereaved. Roughly 9 million people — 3 percent of the population — now have a permanent hole in their world that was once filled by a parent, child, sibling, spouse, or grandparent. An estimated 149,000 children have lost a parent or caregiver. Many people were denied the familiar rituals of mourning — bedside goodbyes, in-person funerals. Others are grieving raw and recent losses, their grief trampled amid the stampede toward normal.”

In a long Twitter thread about his story, Yong had this tweet: “America is accepting not only a threshold of death but also a *gradient* of death. Older, sicker, poorer, Blacker or browner — the people disproportionately killed by COVID are being treated as marginally in death as they were in life.”

He then closed with this grim tweet: “There is still time. Two years into this, I’m not especially optimistic about our chances of learning from our mistakes or honoring our dead. But fatalism is a luxury that we can’t afford it, now, or when dealing with the variants and viruses to come.”

I encourage you to read Yong’s important article.

Puck to podcast

Puck, the subscription newsletter company, is getting into the podcast game. Axios’ Sara Fischer reports that Puck will start with two podcasts, including one that will be co-created with The Ringer’s Bill Simmons.

“The Town” will focus on breaking news in show business and will be hosted by Puck founding partner Matt Belloni. It will air two to three times a week and will feature Simmons, as well.

“The Powers That Be” will be hosted by Puck founding partner and Snapchat host Peter Hamby. It will be a daily show, running 15-20 minutes, and will feature Puck reporters talking about scoops and news of the day.

Speaking of podcasts

Audio journalist Sam Sanders will develop and host a flagship podcast for Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture and entertainment site. Sanders joins Vulture and the Vox Media Podcast Network from NPR, where he hosted the podcast and radio show “It’s Been a Minute” for the past five years.

New York Magazine editor-in-chief David Haskell said in a statement, “Sam is simply the perfect person to develop and host a Vulture show. He built something extraordinary at NPR, a thrilling and curious and often moving show about culture, and I cannot wait to see what happens when his omnivorous, curious intellect joins up with the powerhouse culture editors at Vulture and New York.”

Sanders said, “I have been incredibly jealous of Vulture for years. They’re always writing the pieces I wish I’d thought of first, and covering the culture in ways that aren’t just new and fresh, but also game-changing and conversation-shifting. Getting the chance to showcase and work alongside the journalists I’ve been trying to keep up with for so long is more than just a dream come true; it’s a match made in heaven.”

Sanders will start his new role in April and the show will launch later in the spring.

Clinton will not run for president

Hillary Clinton, right, appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday with co-host Mika Brzezinski. (Courtesy: MSNBC)

Not that anyone other than a few in the right-wing media actually thought Hillary Clinton would run for president, but Clinton ended any speculation  during an appearance on Tuesday morning’s “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.

Clinton told ​​co-host Mika Brzezinski, “No, but I am certainly going to be active in supporting women running for office and other candidates who I think should be reelected or elected, both women and men, because I think there’s a big debate going on, as you know so well, Mika, in our country, but in other countries as well, about the future of democracy, of economic opportunity, of climate change, of health and other important issues. So, I will stay active in all of those doings.”

Clinton also talked about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying, “It’s so heartbreaking to me that Putin is acting out his own insecurities, his own resentments and grievances against the people of Ukraine, waging a war against a smaller state that is totally unprovoked, as we have seen, really tells us everything we need to know about Putin. I’m delighted and relieved that up until now the world has really stood with Ukraine. The imposition of sanctions, the provision of assistance to the Ukrainian people, both to defend themselves, but also to receive humanitarian aid in the face of these vicious and brutal onslaughts by the Russian military.”

Clinton added, “The level of defense and determination that the Ukrainian people are showing, starting with their president, President Zelensky, going all the way down to, you know, grandmothers and young women taking up arms for the first time to defend their families and their communities is tragic but inspiring. I hope that the world will stay with Ukraine while they try to protect their homeland and all that they hold dear, including freedom and democracy.”

Judge won’t dismiss lawsuit against Fox News

Election systems company Smartmatic is suing Fox News and others for $2.7 billion, claiming that they falsely said Smartmatic helped rig the 2020 presidential election.

On Tuesday, a New York judge denied Fox News’ request to dismiss the lawsuit.

In addition, Judge David Cohen also declined to dismiss claims against Fox News host Maria Bartiromo and former host Lou Dobbs. He did toss out claims against Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro and attorney Sidney Powell. And he also threw out some of the claims against Rudy Giuliani.

In a 61-page opinion, Cohen wrote, “Even assuming that Fox News did not intentionally allow this false narrative to be broadcasted, there is a substantial basis for plaintiffs’ claim that, at a minimum, Fox News turned a blind eye to a litany of outrageous claims about plaintiffs, unprecedented in the history of American elections, so inherently improbable that it evinced a reckless disregard for the truth.”

In a statement, a Fox News spokesperson said, “While we are gratified that Judge Cohen dismissed Smartmatic’s claims against Jeanine Pirro at this early stage, we still plan to appeal the ruling immediately. We will also continue to litigate these baseless claims by filing a counterclaim for fees and costs under New York’s anti-SLAPP statute to prevent the full-blown assault on the First Amendment which stands in stark contrast to the highest tradition of American journalism.”

Brushback pitch

ESPN Major League Baseball writer Jeff Passan caused a bit of a stir during a March 3 appearance on the “ESPN Daily” podcast. He was talking about the Major League Baseball lockout and negotiations between the owners and players when he told host Pablo Torre, “I looked at the offer the next morning and I texted a few players, and I texted a few agents, and I said to all of them, ‘Are you really going to take this (expletive) sandwich?’”

Not long after, Passan suddenly disappeared from Twitter for more than three days — which seems odd considering Passan is one of ESPN’s lead baseball writers and there’s so much reporting to be done on the lockout. That led to speculation that he was suspended, but Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy tweeted that Passan was not suspended.

In a statement through an ESPN spokesperson to the New York Post’s Ryan Glasspiegel, Passan said, “On a podcast recently, I took the phrasing of a source and mistakenly did not make clear they were his words, not mine. ESPN and fans rightfully expect me to be objective, and my record shows I’m extremely committed to representing all sides of a story. In this instance, I fell short of that standard.”

ESPN told Glasspiegel, “We’ve addressed the situation with Jeff directly and as you can see from his statement, he understands his mistake. We fully trust that going forward he will cover this important and sensitive topic in a fair manner.”

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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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