March 30, 2022

Here are a couple of headlines that could be found at the exact same time on Tuesday.

First, from The Washington Post: “Ukraine-Russia talks stir optimism.”

Then, from CNN: “Pentagon says don’t be fooled by Russia’s troop claim.”

So maybe there’s hope that we are moving closer to peace in Ukraine? But maybe not. The theme in Tuesday’s coverage was one that could either be described as cautious optimism or wait-and-see skepticism.

And while audiences are searching for hopeful signs, and while intelligent analysis and predictions can be worthwhile, news outlets are doing the responsible thing — which is reporting what is factual, what is known, what is happening.

So here’s what is known.

The Associated Press’ Nebi Qena and Yuras Karnamau wrote, “Russia announced Tuesday it will significantly scale back military operations near Ukraine’s capital and a northern city, as the outlines of a possible deal to end the grinding war came into view at the latest round of talks. Ukraine’s delegation at the conference, held in Istanbul, laid out a framework under which the country would declare itself neutral and its security would be guaranteed by an array of other nations.”

That sounds hopeful.

“But,” The Washington Post’s Kareem Fahim, David L. Stern and Dan Lamothe wrote, “U.S. and other Western leaders were skeptical, saying they would judge Russia by its actions and not its words. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said there were continued strikes Tuesday on Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.”

The AP story also stressed the skepticism being shown by the U.S. and Western leaders.

CNN military analyst retired Col. Cedric Leighton had an insightful analysis of Russian troop movements and said, “Color me skeptical” when talking about Russia’s “major strategy shift.”

The New York Times’ Carlotta Gall wrote, “On Tuesday, in negotiations in Istanbul aimed at ending the war, the Russians said they would ease their bombardment of Chernihiv, but their positions around it are already so fortified, and the city itself so battered, that the offer hardly amounted to a concession at all.”

Sources told The Washington Post’s Steven Erlanger that Russia isn’t so much de-escalating as it is retreating in certain areas, mostly because it isn’t having the success it anticipated. Erlanger wrote, “But retreat is hardly surrender, and some cautioned that the progress doesn’t mean Russia is ready for serious negotiations on ending the war. That would require a better outcome for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to sell at home as a victory.”

The news outlets are parroting (and there is nothing wrong with that) what U.S. leaders are saying.

Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, said Tuesday, “We need to see what the Russians actually do before we trust solely what they’ve said.” She added, “No one should be fooled. … The world should be prepared for a major offensive against other areas of Ukraine.”

This is the kind of strong coverage needed — facts over wishful thinking.

Or put it this way, when it comes to optimism, pessimism or skepticism, news outlets have chosen something even better: realism.

Here is more of the latest notable journalism involving Russia-Ukraine

Hello? Can you hear me now?

Former President Donald Trump in September 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

Well, this is just a stunning opening paragraph to a story written by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and CBS News’ Robert Costa:

“Internal White House records from the day of the attack on the U.S. Capitol that were turned over to the House select committee show a gap in President Donald Trump’s phone logs of seven hours and 37 minutes, including the period when the building was being violently assaulted, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.”

What does this mean? Woodward and Costa write, “The lack of an official White House notation of any calls placed to or by Trump for 457 minutes on Jan. 6, 2021 – from 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m. – means the committee has no record of his phone conversations as his supporters descended on the Capitol, battled overwhelmed police and forcibly entered the building, prompting lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence to flee for safety.”

Of course, it’s absurd to think Trump was not on the phone with anybody during that time. In fact, reporting from various news outlets has shown he was in contact with various people, including GOP lawmakers.

Woodward and Costa wrote, “The House panel is now investigating whether Trump communicated that day through backchannels, phones of aides or personal disposable phones, known as ‘burner phones,’ according to two people with knowledge of the probe, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. The committee is also scrutinizing whether it received the full logs from that day.”

The Woodward-Costa story is full of details, and a gap that big certainly suggests some sort of coverup. It also is reminiscent of the 18-and-a-half-minute gap in the Richard Nixon tapes during Watergate — a story that, remarkably all this time later, Woodward knows a thing or two about.

CNN+ launches

The long-anticipated launch of CNN+ — the cable news network’s streaming service — finally arrived Tuesday. While the streaming service does feature live news and interactive tools, it also has plenty of original programming.

It includes a daily version of Brian Stelter’s media show “Reliable Sources”; former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace hosting an interview show; Jake Tapper talking books; a show for parents hosted by Anderson Cooper, who also will host a biweekly show interviewing a variety of guests; and much more.

The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr writes, “The shows are meant to be thought-provoking and enjoyable, but the stakes are serious for a network that — like its rivals Fox News and MSNBC — is concerned about the waning number of cable subscribers and corporate advertisers that prop up the cable-news business model.”

This all comes at a precarious time for CNN. It’s in the final stages of an ownership change with parent company WarnerMedia being taken over by Discovery. A new president, Chris Licht, has just taken over for Jeff Zucker, who was popular among staff but forced out over controversy after not revealing his relationship with a top lieutenant and the whole Chris and Andrew Cuomo mess. And it also comes at a time when people are already paying for streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu and so forth. Will they be willing to pay for news-type programming?

It also should be noted that CNN is a little behind its news rivals in getting into the streaming game.

Chris Balfe, a veteran of both cable news and streaming media, told Barr that a good first year for CNN+ would be between 500,000 and 1 million subscribers. He said, “CNN Plus might be a little late to the game, but the playing field is so unsettled and changing so quickly that I don’t think it will be a major detriment. I think audiences are still in a phase of actively evaluating all of the various options.”

CNN+ costs $5.99 a month, but those who subscribe within the first four weeks receive a permanent 50% discount until they stop subscribing.


Poynter’s Angela Fu has this story: “Condé Nast workers at Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ and other brands unionize.”

Fu writes, “More than 500 editorial, video and production workers at Condé Nast announced Tuesday they are unionizing with the NewsGuild of New York to form the Condé Nast Union. Included in the union are workers from Condé Nast Entertainment, Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Bon Appétit, Allure, Architectural Digest, Condé Nast Traveler, Epicurious, Glamour, Self, Them and Teen Vogue. Together, they are seeking voluntary recognition of their union, which has already received support from nearly 80% of eligible members.”

Fu also notes, “Four of Condé Nast’s brands — The New Yorker, Ars Technica, Pitchfork and Wired — are already unionized, and each has its own separate unit.”

Lara Logan’s latest claims

Lara Logan in 2017. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Journalist Lara Logan continues to make bizarre claims about, well, seemingly anything. Her latest? She went on a podcast called “And We Know” and suggested that Charles Darwin was paid by a wealthy Jewish family to invent the theory of evolution.

She said, “Does anyone know who employed Darwin? Where does Darwinism come from? Look it up. The Rothschilds. I’m just saying Darwin was hired by someone to come up with a theory based on evidence.” She then said that evolution is a chicken or egg debate and cannot be answered scientifically.

The Jerusalem Post’s Ariella Marsden writes, “The Rothschilds were a prominent wealthy Jewish family who gained their wealth in the late 18th century. Due to its great wealth, the family has featured heavily in antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jews taking over the world based partly on stereotypes of Jews’ relationship with money.”

This is not the first time Logan has floated antisemitic conspiracy theories or made insensitive comments. Just last November, Logan compared Dr. Anthony Fauci to the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele during a segment on Fox News.

Logan was once a well-respected journalist, working as a correspondent for the highly regarded “60 Minutes.” Until recently, she hosted a show on Fox Nation, which is Fox News’ streaming service. But she was sidelined after making her comments comparing Fauci to Mengele.

Media Matters for America’s Eric Hananoki wrote last week, “In recent weeks, Logan has invoked Pizzagate, claimed that the January 6 insurrection was ‘orchestrated just like Charlottesville was orchestrated,’ and called President Volodymyr Zelensky a ‘moron’ and a ‘puppet that was installed by the CIA.’ In complaining about the state of the country, she has twice claimed that she and others are ‘sitting at the gates of Auschwitz.’”

Hananoki also wrote that Logan has complained about not being on Fox and claimed that “lots of people” at Fox News want her back, but there are “bad people there who have power.”

Hananoki added, “She has even dipped into the paranormal, twice citing people’s belief in astral projection — the idea that people can leave their bodies to travel to another location — to conclude that humans are better than ‘aliens’ because ‘humor’ has ‘never been identified in’ aliens.”

More thoughts on the Will Smith-Chris Rock story

Typically, this newsletter focuses on some of the biggest and most important stories of the moment. Of late, that has been Ukraine and COVID-19 and Jan. 6 and names such as Joe Biden and Donald Trump When it comes to media, news organizations such as The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC are frequently mentioned for their good (and, occasionally, not-so-good) coverage.

But on Tuesday, the lead item in the newsletter was about Will Smith’s now infamous slap of Chris Rock during Sunday night’s Academy Awards show. And I received about four times as many emails as I do on a day when I write about Ukraine or COVID-19.

That suggests a couple of things. One, there were a lot of opinions about the Smith-Rock incident. But another is that it just might suggest that readers craved something other than Ukraine coverage, at least for a day. One does wonder if fatigue has settled in, mostly because the news of Ukraine on most days is just so disheartening.

If so, news organizations have to continue walking a fine line of telling stories that must be told and, at the same, keep the news fresh so that audiences don’t become desensitized and check out.

I’ve written several times that this story is simply too important for news outlets to ease up on — not that any are showing any signs of that. But news organizations also must realize that audiences simply can’t consume this 24/7. They do take breaks — maybe for a few hours, maybe even for a few days.

But back to the Smith-Rock story. Here are a few more leftover thoughts about what happened:

Media tidbits

  • CBS News has hired former Trump administration official Mick Mulvaney as a political analyst. And, as Mediaite’s Aidan McLaughlin writes, the hire isn’t going over well with some. Many were reminded of Mulvaney’s infamous comment that Trump would “concede gracefully” if he lost the 2020 presidential election.
  • Poynter’s media business analyst Rick Edmonds with “Reeling in a federal boost for local journalism remains elusive.”
  • The New Yorker is adding two staff writers: Molly Fischer and Rivka Galchen. Fischer is moving over from New York Magazine, where she has written about a variety of topics, including chronic Lyme disease, the millennial aesthetic and J.K. Rowling. Galchen has been a New Yorker contributor since 2008, writing both fiction and nonfiction. She has an M.D. from the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine and writes often about science and medicine. Galchen also has been a contributor to the London Review of Books, Harper’s and The New York Times Magazine.
  • From the Los Angeles Times: Laurie Ochoa has been named general manager of food and Daniel Hernandez will be editor of food. Ochoa is currently a deputy editor in entertainment and arts. Hernandez has served as deputy food editor since last September.
  • I mentioned earlier this week that The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch had an excellent interview with Isabelle Khurshudyan, a Washington Post reporter who went from covering hockey to being a foreign correspondent based in Moscow and now covering the war from Odesa, Ukraine. If you don’t have a subscription to The Athletic, you can listen to the interview on Deitsch’s podcast. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the war is covered.
  • HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” the long-running series that gets total access to an NFL during training camp, has picked a team for this summer: the Detroit Lions. Here’s the release from the Lions.

Hot type

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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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