May 5, 2022

The big news story of the week continues to be Politico’s blockbuster scoop of a Supreme Court draft opinion that could overturn Roe v. Wade and, effectively, ban abortions in parts of the country.

There’s no question that the most significant part of this story is the potential ramifications this could have on abortion. Let me repeat that part: What this means for abortion in this country remains the dominant story here.

But not the only story.

There is another part of this story, and that’s how the drafted opinion was leaked to the media, and the damage it could do — and already has done — to the highest court in the land.

It’s possible that both can be written about, talked about and cared about at the same time. Maybe not equally. Maybe not as passionately. But one doesn’t have to care about one part of the story at the complete exclusion of the other. Having said that, yes, it is misguided to be worried just about the leak. As many on the right are. As if that was the only part of this story that matters.

And, from a media standpoint, this either/or framing continues to be, well, news.

The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr and Elahe Izadi have a story with the headline: “The ruling or the leak? A battle to shape the media narrative on abortion.”

Barr and Izadi write, “Across conservative media, there was strikingly little emphasis on what new restrictions on abortion might entail, should the ruling become official, or even whether it has the potential to create a backlash for the Republican politicians who long pushed for it.”

This likely is not only a conscious decision, but a strategic one. Historian Nicole Hemmer told the Post, “Talking constantly about Roe actually being overturned could be damaging for the Republican Party in this year’s midterms.”

And Charlie Sykes, a conservative former radio host and founder of The Bulwark, told the Post, “A huge part of the art of spinning is deciding what to talk about and what to ignore.”

When it comes to the leak, we still don’t know where the leak came from. Until we do, look for the same saber-rattling and overreaction from many conservatives who care more about who leaked the drafted opinion than the real story, which is what was in the drafted opinion.

More reaction regarding the Roe v. Wade discussion

A grim number

The U.S., incredibly and sadly, reached a grim number on Wednesday: one million deaths from COVID-19.

One million. And counting.

It still seems unfathomable.

To recognize that number, here’s what “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt said on air Wednesday evening:

A few words about the news that broke shortly before we came on the air tonight. An NBC News count showing the country has now reached more than one million COVID deaths. Today’s soul-crushing milestone comes just as we begin to peek out from behind our masks, lower our guard, willing the pandemic to be over. But the slowly rising tally of the dead won’t let it be and forces us to confront tough questions, like how many of those one million deaths might have been prevented?

We counted on the tools, the vaccines, the masks, the distancing. But we forgot about the unpredictability of free will, mistrust in science and simple human behavior. It was hard enough to process 750,000 deaths, 500,000, a quarter-million before that. Each milepost leaving us as unsure as the next as to what such a moment called for.

Maybe because the pandemic changed our rituals of death and grief. Tearful goodbyes between families and dying loved ones not at bedsides but via iPad. Funerals delayed or bypassed altogether. At the moments we most needed the comfort of others, we were forced to be apart. How could it not have changed us?

One million dead sounds like an ending to a horrible story, not a chapter. But that’s what it is. A number that shakes our consciousness, demands our attention, forces us to pause and consider who and what we have lost. You have to believe there are better days ahead.

Unparalleled irresponsibility

I almost never mention Newsmax in this newsletter because it cannot be taken seriously as a media outlet. The junk on that so-called cable news network is often so outlandish and inflammatory that repeating it only gives it oxygen, which is probably what Newsmax wants, but is the last thing the rest of us need.

But, every now and then, they should be called out for their irresponsibility. On Tuesday, host Grant Stinchfield said newly-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson “would be my first suspect when it comes to the leak” of the draft opinion obtained by Politico.

Mind you that Stinchfield has zero evidence and, oh yeah, Jackson isn’t even on the Supreme Court yet and won’t be for months. Yet, Stinchfield said that because he considers Jackson a “radical, left-wing activist,” she is “capable of undermining the court this way.”

Look, partisan politics clearly have taken over much of cable news. It’s not surprising to see pundits and prime-time hosts argue for or against hot-button issues such as abortion. But the kind of thing Stinchfield said is grossly wrong. And, sadly, you can’t help but wonder if there are viewers who actually believe what Stinchfield said. If they’re watching Newsmax to begin with, they probably do.

The business of the Times

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The New York Times’ first-quarter report came out on Wednesday. Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds wrote about it. Edmonds wrote, “The number of its digital subscribers continues to surge; print and digital subscriptions now total 9.1 million. Digital news subscriptions grew by 312,000 from the last quarter of 2021. CEO Meredith Kopit Levien attributed that result largely to interest in Times coverage of the Ukraine invasion along with improvements in new subscription sales and retention.”

But what I found really interesting about the report was news about the sports website, The Athletic, that the Times purchased earlier this year for $550 million. The Times added 387,000 net digital subscribers in the first quarter, but check this out:

New York Times media reporter Katie Robertson wrote, “While the jump gets The Times closer to its stated goal of 15 million subscribers by the end of 2027, The Athletic is eating into the company’s profits. The website, which The Times bought for $550 million in cash, lost $6.8 million over February and March. Overall, the company reported adjusted operating profit of $60.9 million for the quarter, a decrease from $68.1 million a year earlier, hurt by The Athletic’s operating losses.”

The Athletic lost nearly $7 million in two months? That’s a big chunk.

Edmonds wrote, “The sports site has been losing money and will continue to for at least two more years. Kopit Levien said the first strategies for improved performance will be bringing the Times’ ‘playbook’ to optimize circulation practices and ramp up advertising. Subscription bundles that include The Athletic, now a standalone product, will be offered soon.”

One other thing stood out, as Edmonds wrote, “The company has stopped reporting subscription results separately for its other products. But Kopit Levien said that the company’s acquisition of the popular Wordle game (currently free to play) has attracted ‘10s of millions of users.’ Enough of those sampled other Times games to drive the best quarter of paid subscription growth ever for that product line.”

Speaking of which …

As mentioned, the Times’ other big recent purchase — Wordle — certainly seems to be paying off. So what’s next for the word game? Anticipation is that, eventually, it’s going to be put behind a paywall.

The Verge’s David Pierce wrote, “The Times has intimated in the past that it might eventually make Wordle a subscriber-only game, but didn’t say anything about its plans on its earnings call. And if the game continues to bring that many people into its ecosystem, the Times might just decide it’s better outside the paywall.”

One more Times item

The New York Times announced Wednesday that Ben Calhoun, an editor at “This American Life,” is joining the Times as executive producer of the popular “The Daily” podcast. The Times announced Calhoun “will be the senior manager of ‘The Daily’s’ team of 50, running editorial operations, building ties with the core newsroom, helping to set long-term priorities and developing systems and structures to support the most ambitious work within a culture of collaboration, equity and transparency.”

Calhoun joined “This American Life” in 2010 before moving to become vice president of content and programming at WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station, in 2014. Three years later, in 2017, Calhoun moved back to “This American Life,” and served as an editor on a piece dedicated to U.S. immigration policy, which won the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for audio journalism.

In a statement, Calhoun said, “I’m so incredibly excited to join ‘The Daily.’ I come to the show as a listener, and I have such an enormous appreciation for what the founders and staff of the show have built. ‘The Daily’ is such a forceful expression of the journalistic values and spirit of creativity that made me want to be a journalist to begin with.”

Media tidbits

  • My Poynter colleague Kristen Hare is a guest on the “What Works” podcast, hosted by Dan Kennedy and Ellen Clegg for Northeastern University.
  • The Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Battaglio with “How this CBS journalist and organ-donating mom finds purpose in military vet reporting.”
  • The New York Press Club announced that the staff of The Times Union in Albany, New York, is the recipient of the 2022 Gabe Pressman Truth to Power Award, which “honors a journalist or news team whose body of work challenges the power establishment and/or defends journalists.” The Press Club wrote, “The Times Union published numerous stories involving the Cuomo administration lying to the public about COVID-19 practices at nursing homes, and sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2021. In other instances, the newspaper reported telephone calls from top Cuomo aides to editors seeking to spin coverage of the scandals. Throughout that time, the Times Union maintained a refusal to go ‘off-the-record’ with government officials and exposed attempts by officials to spread false information as well as their tirades and screaming at editors and reporters in phone calls.”
  • Here’s an example of excellent interview skills as Denver TV (9News) reporter Kyle Clark asks the right questions of a Colorado gubernatorial candidate who denies making a homophobic remark about his opponent. Check out this clip.
  • For Nieman Lab, Shraddha Chakradhar with “Women journalists see harassment as part of the job, a new study finds.”
  • CNN Audio is out with season two of “Margins of Error,” the podcast hosted by senior data reporter Harry Enten. This season explores what CNN calls “more wild and weird stories behind the stats that make up our world.” The first episode of season two — “Do I Sound Funny to You?” — is about accents.
  • The new season of Slate’s podcast “Slow Burn” will focus on Roe v. Wade. The seventh season will premiere June 1 — here’s the trailer. Hosted by Susan Matthews, Slate’s news director, this four-part series will tell forgotten stories from the years leading up to Roe.
  • I love the lede on this perspective piece by The Washington Post’s David Betancourt: “I was supposed to be a sports reporter. But then ‘Spider-Man’ happened.”
  • Really good stuff from ESPN analyst and former basketball star JJ Reddick talking about NBA player Draymond Green — and he takes a shot at Fox News.

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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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