January 21, 2022

Call it MaskGate.

But also call it confusing. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this NPR-Supreme Court story.

If you’re not caught up, earlier this week, NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes, did not feel safe at work while sitting so close to people who were unmasked. So, Totenberg reported, Chief Justice John Roberts asked the other justices to wear a mask. And they all did, except Justice Neil Gorsuch. Sotomayor and Gorsuch typically sit next to one another.

Totenberg wrote, “His continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone.”

That led to Sotomayor and Gorsuch putting out a statement saying Sotomayor never asked Gorsuch to put on a mask. When it was noted that Totenberg’s story never said Sotomayor made the request, Roberts put out a statement saying he never asked Gorsuch or any justice to put on a mask.

Meanwhile, NPR stood behind Totenberg’s story, Gorsuch still isn’t wearing a mask and Sotomayor still is working remotely.

So what gives?

My Poynter colleague, Kelly McBride, wrote a column in her role as NPR’s public editor. McBride wrote, “Totenberg’s story merits a clarification, but not a correction. After talking to Totenberg and reading all justices’ statements, I believe her reporting was solid, but her word choice was misleading.”

Totenberg changed the wording in her original story, which said Roberts had “asked” the other justices to wear a mask. Totenberg wrote, “So Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that, in some form or other, suggested that the other justices mask up.”

McBride asked the natural followup question. What does “in some form or other” mean?

Totenberg told McBride she hedged: “If I knew exactly how he communicated this I would say it. Instead I said ‘in some form.’”

So that phrase — “in some form” — seems to be at the heart of all this. Did Roberts ask? Suggest? Hint? What exactly did he say?

McBride wrote, “Totenberg said she has multiple, solid sources familiar with the inner workings of the court who told her that Roberts conveyed something to his fellow justices about Sotomayor’s concerns in the face of the omicron wave. Totenberg said her NPR editors were aware of who those sources are and stood by the reporting.”

McBride added, “Totenberg and her editors should have chosen a word other than ‘asked.’ And she could have been clear about how she knew there was subtle pressure to wear masks (the nature or even exact number of her anonymous sources) and what she didn’t know (exactly how Roberts was communicating).”

McBride went on to write, “In the absence of a clarification, NPR risks losing credibility with audience members who see the plainly worded statement from Roberts and are forced to go back to NPR’s story and reconcile the nuances of the verb ‘asked’ when in fact, it’s not a nuanced word.”

McBride is right. NPR could have done a better job with word choice. But I also go back to something that Aaron Blake wrote in The Washington Post: “The easy way to nip this all in the bud would have been for Sotomayor to address why she has chosen to appear remotely, and for Gorsuch to address his decision not to wear a mask, even as every other justice has worn one. Even if there was no explicit request from Roberts, as he says — NPR’s report is unspecific on what form it took — you’d think Gorsuch would notice his status as the one unmasked justice, and one who no less sits next to Sotomayor, who was once the only masked justice.”

In other words, instead of Sotomayor and Gorsuch and Roberts saying what they haven’t done, they could be more clear about what they are doing — not wearing masks, working remotely, etc.

So, sure, NPR, as McBride suggested, could use a clarification. The Supreme Court would be wise to do a little clarifying itself.

RELATED TRAINING: Building an Ethical Newsroom, with Kelly McBride

More Hannity texts to the White House regarding Jan. 6

Fox News’ Sean Hannity. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Last month, we learned that Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity was texting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows during the Jan. 6 insurrection, imploring him to convince then-President Donald Trump to ask people to leave the Capitol. The House committee investigating Jan. 6 released texts from Hannity and his colleagues Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade — all of whom were also concerned about what was happening.

On Thursday, we learned there were more texts sent by Hannity. These went out to former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who is now at Fox News.

The House committee sent a letter to Ivanka Trump, asking her to cooperate with its investigation. The letter revealed texts sent from Hannity to McEnany on Jan. 7. It revealed Hannity’s “five-point approach” to Trump.

He wrote, “1 – No more stolen election talk.” And, “2 – Yes, impeachment and 25th amendment are real, and many people will quit.”

If Hannity did send parts three, four and five, they were not included in the House committee’s letter. According to the letter, McEnany responded with “Love that. Thank you. That is the playbook. I will help reinforce.”

Hannity also asked McEnany to keep Trump away from people giving him misinformation. He texted, “Key now. No more crazy people.”

McEnany replied, “Yes 100%.”

It’s clear that Hannity and even McEnany knew what a mess Jan. 6 was in private. But is that their stance now when they appear on Fox News?

The dangers of reporting in the field

Did you see the wild video of the reporter doing a standup and getting sideswiped by a car? If you haven’t, here it is. It’s OK. She’s fine, thankfully.

Tori Yorgey is a correspondent for WSAZ News in Dunbar, West Virginia. She was doing a live report about the weather when she was clipped hard by a car. Yorgey was knocked down, as was her camera and its stand. Yorgey immediately said she had been hit by a car, and while obviously shaken, she showed what a pro she is by continuing to report. She picked her camera back up and said, “I am so glad I’m OK.” She even comforted the woman who hit her.

“I thought I was in a safe spot,” Yorgey said on air. “My whole life just flashed before my eyes.”

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Hassan wrote, “While many on social media applauded Yorgey’s ability to keep calm and carry on with her broadcast, the incident highlights the risks that reporters can face while doing their jobs — and raises questions about how newsrooms and television stations can ensure the safety of their staffers.”

Hassan pointed out that The New York Times’ Sopan Deb tweeted, “this is a really harrowing clip. and it’s a good opportunity to remind people that in most markets, TV reporters are solo, shooting, editing, lighting and doing everything else themselves, while being paid little to do it. it’s a safety hazard.”


Don’t miss the Jan. 31 deadline to enter this year’s Collier Prize for State Government Accountability. The $25,000 annual prize honors the year’s best investigative and political reporting of state government. The award is available to any news organization on any platform. Click here to enter.

This seems unfair

The A.V. Club is a pop-culture website based in Chicago and published by G/O Media. This week, G/O Media gave those who work in the Chicago offices a less-than-ideal choice: Either move to new offices in Los Angeles or be fired.

The seven top editorial team members in Chicago — including the managing editor, TV editor and film editor — came up with another option. They quit.

Managing editor Erik Adams told the Chicago Tribune’s Robert Channick, “It really was a decision based on our commitment to Chicago and to the Midwestern roots of the A.V. Club, and how that informs what we value in this work and what we believe to be the guiding principles of the website.”

The A.V. Club, a sister publication of the satirical site The Onion, started in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1993. It moved to Chicago offices in 2004, and has shared office space with The Onion, which moved from New York in 2012. Now G/O Media wants A.V. Club to be in Los Angeles and closer to the industry it writes about. The A.V. Club has 18 total employees between offices in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

The Onion Union, which represents the A.V. Club employees, told The New York Times’ Katie Robertson, “In a time when employers have become increasingly flexible about where their employees live and work, G/O Media forcing workers to relocate to one of the most expensive cities in the world without proper compensation — and during one of the pandemic’s worst surges — is mind-boggling at best. At worst, it is shortsighted and cruel.”

In an email to Robertson, G/O Media spokesperson Mark Neschis said, “We are sorry that these Chicago staffers will not be making the move with The A.V. Club to Los Angeles. … We do regular compensation audits and we feel The A.V. Club’s pay scales are very competitive with the rest of the industry, and look forward to attracting top candidates to join the site.”

Channick wrote, “In addition to Adams, the Chicago staffers leaving the A.V. Club include Film Editor A.A. Dowd; TV Editor Danette Chavez; and Associate Editor Laura Adamczyk. Four of the employees including Adams have agreed to stay on until May 1, while three will stay through March 1 as the editorial locus shifts westward, Neschis said. All of the exiting Chicago employees will receive severance packages per the A.V. Club’s labor agreement with G/O Media, union spokesman Jason Gordon said.”

Big move

Being a former sportswriter, I compare this move to a big free agent signing in sports. Robert Costa, the top-notch national political reporter for The Washington Post, is going to CBS News as the chief election and campaign correspondent.

In his announcement on Twitter, Costa said his reporting “will focus on the 2022 midterms, the 2024 election, and American democracy. Stay tuned for in-depth stories, scoops, investigations, and on-the-road reports.”

Costa added, “While I will now be working full-time at CBS News, it’s important to me to keep a bond with The Post. CBS News, me, and The Post plan to collaborate on occasional special projects and investigations. I look forward to those joint efforts.”

Costa has been with the Post since 2014. Before that, he worked at the National Review. He recently co-authored the book, “Peril,” with Bob Woodward about the final days of the Donald Trump administration.

Costa told The Associated Press’ David Bauder, “I really wanted to grow as a journalist and find new ways to tell the story of our political times. To me, there’s no place better than CBS News with its legacy and integrity to do that.”

Staying home

Earlier this week, USA Today’s Christine Brennan broke the news that NBC Sports will not send announcers to China for the upcoming Winter Olympics because of COVID-19 concerns. Announcers will call the events remotely from the U.S.

Then Thursday, ESPN announced it will not send any of its reporters to China to cover the Games.

Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president for event and studio production and executive editor, said in a statement, “The safety of our employees is of utmost importance to us. With the pandemic continuing to be a global threat, and with the COVID-related on-site restrictions in place for the Olympics that would make coverage very challenging, we felt that keeping our people home was the best decision for us.”

ESPN had planned on sending four reporters to China. While those reporters will no longer go, ESPN said in its statement that it “will instead focus on covering the Games remotely with a robust plan that will roll out prior to the beginning of competition next month.”

A long drive away

CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, file)

Jim Nantz is CBS’s lead announcer on the NFL and the main anchor of the network’s golf coverage. So what happens next weekend when CBS kicks off golf coverage from San Diego on the same weekend Nantz is supposed to call the AFC Championship game in either Tennessee, Kansas City or Buffalo?

Well, that’s what remote work is all about. Awful Announcing’s Phillip Bupp writes, “Jim Nantz to call golf tournament from the site of the AFC Championship Game.”

It just goes to show how some of the lessons learned out of necessity because of COVID-19 have changed the way things are covered. These days, many broadcasters, especially those who call NBA and NHL games, are not traveling. They are calling the games from monitors back in their home cities.

Or, for instance, whenever someone from another city was a guest on a news program, they would have to go to a studio close to their home. Now, they can do it over their laptops. Turns out, the technology is good enough to make all this possible.

Some things are lost by announcers calling games remotely or guests not being in the same room with interviewers. But the money being saved in such instances might be preferable to media companies.

Media tidbits

White House press secretary Jen Psaki. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki appeared on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Thursday. Mediaite’s Colby Hall wrote, “It’s not a stretch to say that the press secretary’s appearance was a win for both the Biden administration and Fox News.” Hall added, “Psaki showed off her charm and messaging mastery to an audience that doesn’t often see it, and (Fox News hosts Bill) Hemmer and (Dana) Perino asked tough but fair questions and were completely respectful of President Joe Biden’s press secretary. The mutual respect on view in this political dialog — particularly in the context of the hyper-partisan divide in which the nation finds itself — was like a breath of fresh air.”
  • Meanwhile, Psaki also appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper and was asked about President Biden and what seemed to be an accusation in his Wednesday press conference that the 2022 elections would not be legitimate if voting rights bills aren’t passed. Here’s what she said.
  • And, “Today” show co-host Savannah Guthrie interviewed Vice President Kamala Harris and there were a couple of testy moments. Here’s the interview.
  • Longtime Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sportswriter Tom Haudricourt, who has covered the Brewers and Major League Baseball for 36 years, announced his retirement on Twitter on Thursday.
  • David Firestone, executive editor of NBC News Digital, is retiring after more than 45 years in journalism, including the past five with NBC News. He also spent more than 20 years working for The New York Times.
  • With Jeanine Pirro and Jesse Watters getting new weekday assignments, Fox News Channel is making some changes to its Saturday night lineup. Starting Jan. 29, Brian Kilmeade will host a show at 8 p.m. Eastern. Dan Bongino’s show will move to 9 p.m. And Lawrence Jones will debut a new show at 10 p.m.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

More resources for journalists

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
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…
Tom Jones

More News

Back to News