Sarah Palin has lost to The New York Times.
Not once. But twice.
On Tuesday, a nine-person jury unanimously found that Palin did not prove the Times had defamed her in a 2017 editorial. And that came a day after the judge in the case said he was going to throw out the verdict no matter what the jury decided.
But it turns out, the jury saw the same thing that the judge did: Palin just couldn’t prove the Times acted with “actual malice” when it published a 2017 editorial that incorrectly linked the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords to a map circulated by Palin’s PAC that showed certain electoral districts under crosshairs.
As soon as the jury’s decision was announced on Tuesday, Judge Jed Rakoff told the jurors, “You decided the facts. I decided the law. It turns out they were both in agreement, in this case.”
So even though it would appear Tuesday’s verdict really didn’t matter — seeing as how the judge was going to toss it anyway — it actually kind of did.
As NPR’s David Folkenflik wrote, “Palin is believed likely to appeal. Rakoff wanted the verdict to be heard by the appellate court as well. And now, the jury’s verdict for the Times arrays even steeper odds against Palin’s success.”
That’s why many journalists and news outlets are breathing a sigh of relief today.
In a statement, Roy Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Speech, said, “The press needs room to function and publish and have the flexibility to make some mistakes without fearing that it can face civil judgments for simple, honest mistakes.”
Palin’s attorneys have already indicated they will appeal.
In a statement, Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said, “The New York Times welcomes today’s verdict. It is a reaffirmation of a fundamental tenet of American law: public figures should not be permitted to use libel suits to punish or intimidate news organizations that make, acknowledge and swiftly correct unintentional errors. It is gratifying that the jury and the judge understood the legal protections for the news media and our vital role in American society. We also want to thank the jurors for their careful deliberations in a difficult area of the law.”
The New York Times’ Jeremy W. Peters wrote, “Ms. Palin’s lawyers may get another chance to argue why those protections should be pared back on appeal. Legal experts said that one avenue for asking an appeals court to reconsider the case is to ask that the courts revisit the broad manner in which the law defines a public figure.”
At the heart of all this is the landmark 1964 case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan that set such a high bar for “actual malice” for prominent people.
As The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi and Sarah Ellison wrote, “At the Supreme Court, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch have both signaled an openness to reviewing the 1964 precedent, raising concerns that rulings unfavorable to media organizations could expose them to a wave of costly litigation.”
The trial turned out to be a bit of an embarrassment for the Times editorial section and former editorial page editor James Bennet. What they did was sloppy and shoddy and, at least until they corrected their mistake, irresponsible. But the trial wasn’t disastrous because the Times scored not one, but two victories. And that was good news for journalists, too.
After the judge’s ruling, but before the jury verdict, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote, “Through its process-heavy tedium, the trial brought into relief just the sort of journalism that deserves protection from crippling litigation. Here was a one-off claim in a hurried editorial that slimed a public figure. Granted, it perpetrated a gobsmacking falsehood for which the Times and Bennet are appropriately ashamed. But everyone who feeds off unsparing coverage of politicians and celebrities — a pretty healthy American plurality, we’d submit — should applaud the ruling. It’s a principle, after all, that props up your favorite media outlet, too.”
Allison Gollust resigns amid CNN controversy
Two weeks ago, Jeff Zucker stepped down as president of CNN after he failed to publicly reveal that he was in a relationship with one of his top executives — Allison Gollust, CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
On Tuesday night, Gollust resigned as the whole situation became much messier.
Jason Kilar, the CEO of WarnerMedia (CNN’s parent company), sent an email to staff that said, “Earlier today, Allison Gollust resigned from CNN following the conclusion of the company’s investigation into issues associated with Chris Cuomo and former Governor Andrew Cuomo. Based on interviews of more than 40 individuals and a review of over 100,000 texts and emails, the investigation found violations of Company policies, including CNN’s News Standards and Practices, by Jeff Zucker, Allison Gollust, and Chris Cuomo. We have the highest standards of journalistic integrity at CNN, and those rules must apply to everyone equally. Given the information provided to me in the investigation, I strongly believe we have taken the right actions and the right decisions have been made.”
He added, “I realize this news is troubling, disappointing, and frankly, painful to read. These are valid feelings many of you have.”
Chris Cuomo was fired in December for helping his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, battle multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Chris Cuomo is fighting to get what money was left on his contract, which led to a CNN investigation.
Which is now leading to plenty of questions about all the relationships involving Zucker, Gollust and the Cuomo brothers.
In a statement to CNN’s Brian Stelter, Gollust said, “WarnerMedia’s statement tonight is an attempt to retaliate against me and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks. It is deeply disappointing that after spending the past nine years defending and upholding CNN’s highest standards of journalistic integrity, I would be treated this way as I leave. But I do so with my head held high, knowing that I gave my heart and soul to working with the finest journalists in the world.”
This has become a CNN nightmare. Even before Gollust resigned, The New York Times had a detailed investigation from Emily Steel, Jodi Kantor, Michael M. Grynbaum, James B. Stewart and John Koblin. The story revealed even more details about problems at CNN. In it, the Times wrote, “More than 30 people familiar with the recent tumult … described the events and ethical violations that led to a leadership collapse at ‘the most trusted name in news.’”
Zucker had claimed that Chris Cuomo was fired because he had realized the extent to which Cuomo was helping his brother.
But The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin tweeted Tuesday night that Chris Cuomo’s camp put out a statement that said, “It is clear this was never about an undisclosed relationship. As Mr. Cuomo has stated previously, Mr. Zucker and Ms. Gollust were not only entirely aware but fully supportive of what he was doing to help his brother. The still open question is when Warner Media is going to release the results of its investigation and explain its supposed basis for terminating Mr. Cuomo.”
Clearly, this story is long from being over.
A powerful project in Philadelphia
On July 4, 2021, The Philadelphia Inquirer launched “A More Perfect Union.” Led by journalist Errin Haines, the founding editor at large for The 19th, the project sets out to examine the roots of systemic racism in America through institutions founded in Philadelphia.
On Tuesday, the first chapter of the Inquirer’s project was published online — a 6,400-word report that took on a major Philly institution: The Philadelphia Inquirer.
That’s right. The Inquirer started with itself.
And the writer was not someone from the Inquirer, but Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Wesley Lowery, formerly The Washington Post.
In “Black City. White Paper.” Lowery writes, “The years since (George) Floyd’s death have forced the newspaper to face the reality that it, much like the democracy born in this city, has failed to fulfill the ideals of its founding. Rather than being an ‘inquirer for all,’ as its motto proudly claims, the paper has for the whole of its history been written largely for and by white Philadelphians, and largely at the expense of the Black residents who currently constitute a plurality of the city.”
Lowery interviewed more than 75 people for the deeply reported and critically important story. And Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote about the project in “The Philadelphia Inquirer set out to become an ‘anti-racist’ newspaper. That meant taking a tough look at its history.”
Read all of it when you get the chance.
AP launches standalone desk to expand climate change coverage
For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Angela Fu.
The Associated Press announced Tuesday that it will hire roughly 20 journalists in the United States, Brazil, India and Africa to staff a new desk devoted to climate coverage.
Those journalists will join current AP reporters who are already covering the climate to help the news agency expand its environmental reporting. The desk will also include a collaborations editor who will coordinate projects with local newsrooms and a climate data team.
“Together the team will transform how AP covers the climate story, including focusing on the profound and varied impacts of climate change on society in areas such as food, agriculture, migration, housing and urban planning, disaster response, the economy and culture,” the AP said in a press release.
The news comes as other major outlets ramp up their coverage of the climate crisis. Last week, the Washington Post announced it would create more than 20 new positions to augment its climate and extreme weather reporting, and last year, CNN launched its own climate desk.
Super Bowl ratings a big win for NBC
No surprise. The Super Bowl ratings were through the roof.
One of the greatest postseasons in NFL history concluded with the Los Angeles Rams’ dramatic 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. If you add up all the platforms (NBC, Telemundo, Peacock, NBC Sports Digital, NFL Digital platforms and Yahoo Sports mobile properties), the game delivered an average audience of 112.3 million viewers. That’s the most-watched Super Bowl in five years — when 113.7 million watched Super Bowl LI in February 2017 when Fox Sports had the game. That year featured New England’s come-from-behind, overtime victory against Atlanta.
As far as just the viewership on NBC alone, the Super Bowl peaked at 104.4 million from 7:45 to 8 p.m. Eastern. The game on NBC averaged 99.2 million viewers. The halftime show featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent averaged 103.4 million viewers.
Cincinnati led all U.S. markets in the ratings. Cincinnati had a 46.1 rating with an 84 share. That means 46.1% of households in Cincinnati with TVs and 84% of households with TVs actually on at the time were tuned into the game.
Cincinnati was followed by Detroit (45.9/79), Pittsburgh (45.6/74), Columbus ( 45.4/80), Kansas City ( 44.6/76), Milwaukee (44.0/75), Cleveland (44.0/78), Boston (42.6/74), Philadelphia (42.3/71) and Jacksonville (41.3/73)
Host city Los Angeles delivered a 36.7/77.
Doing just fine
Speaking of the NFL, just last week a poll from The Los Angeles Times and SurveyMonkey showed that Republicans are losing interest in the NFL. The Times wrote, “Nearly half of those who identified themselves as Republicans or independents who lean to the GOP said their interest as fans had declined over the last five years. By comparison, only one-quarter of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic said that.
Republicans were also significantly more likely to express disapproval of the league’s efforts to show respect to Black players and to promote Black and other minority candidates for coaching jobs.”
But monster TV ratings this season, including the Super Bowl, show the NFL remains extremely popular.
Going to the gold in viewership
One more Super Bowl note. NBC Sports is also carrying the Winter Olympics and, as expected, the Super Bowl was a heck of a lead-in for its Olympics coverage.
Sunday night’s prime-time Olympic coverage after the Super Bowl had an average viewership of 24 million viewers. That’s the largest NBC Olympics prime-time audience since the opening Sunday of the 2018 Winter Games — a span of 41 Olympic nights.
No holding back
On the topic of the Olympics, the biggest controversy (well, besides the fact that Beijing is even hosting these Winter Games) involves Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who is at the center of a doping scandal.
As The New York Times’ Alexandra E. Petri pointed out, NBC Sports’ normally bubbly analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir didn’t hold back in their criticism.
During Valieva’s single short program on Tuesday, the two — who are normally quite chatty — barely spoke. After it was over, Weir said, “All I feel like I can say is that was the short program of Kamila Valieva at the Olympics.”
But in saying so little, Weir said so much.
Lipinski chimed in with, “We should not have seen this skate.”
Valieva has tested positive for a banned heart medication. (She claimed it was a mistake.) The test was from a urine sample last December, but Russian officials claim they only learned of the results last week. A panel of arbitrators cleared Valieva to skate. Olympic officials have said they will withhold any medals to any skater in any event where Valieva places among the top three. In such cases, they will wait until her doping case is resolved, and that could take months.
That has set off a storm of controversy.
The headline in Christine Brennan’s column for USA Today called the decision a “slap in the face” for athletes who haven’t been busted for cheating.
Weir said something similar on the broadcast: “The Olympics were everything that I ever dreamed about, everything that kept me going on the day-to-day and to have that experience and that feeling … diminished because of a positive drug test on one of your competitors when everyone else adheres to the rules … it’s a slap in the face to every other skater.”
Lipinski had more reaction, saying, “I strongly disagree with this decision. … Clean sport is the only thing that matters at an Olympic Games. What we love about an Olympic Games is that we get to marvel at humans pushing athletic limits and doing the impossible, with one caveat: to do it fairly and cleanly.”
However, it should be noted that Lipinski did have empathy for Valieva, who is only 15 years old. Lipinski tweeted, “One more thought. I’ve said this before, she’s just 15. Please keep that in mind. This is a lot for a young person to deal with. I hope that whichever adults faulted her are held ACCOUNTABLE. This is heartbreaking.”
The headline on the column by The Washington Post’s Jerry Brewer: “Even if Kamila Valieva wins, she will be defined by what she has lost.”
Finally, this story from The New York Times’ James C. McKinley Jr.: “Sha’Carri Richardson, who missed the Tokyo Games, asks why a Russian skater can compete after failing a doping test.”
When the whole Joe Rogan controversy was going down in recent weeks, I heard from several readers who basically asked: Why should care about what some podcaster is saying?
Well, besides the fact that Rogan gets something like 11 million downloads per episode, here’s a good reason: Pew Research Center has found that nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) get news from podcasts.
Only 7% say they “often” get their news from podcasts and about 16% say they “sometimes” get their news from podcasts. More than half of Americans (56%) say they never do. But, still, 23% is a decent number. As Pew’s Mason Walker notes, that suggests “there is still quite a lot of growth potential for this nascent industry.”
- Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds with “Alden Global Capital loses lawsuit to nominate its slate of candidates for Lee Enterprises’ board.”
- The New York Times has named Michael LaForgia the new investigations editor for Metro. LaForgia has been a reporter at the Times since 2017. Before that, LaForgia worked at the Tampa Bay Times, where he was a part of two Pulitzer Prizes.
- Jerusalem Demsas will join The Atlantic as a staff writer. Demsas is currently at Vox, where she has written about America’s housing crisis and co-hosts “The Weeds” podcast. She will join The Atlantic next month. Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief, said, “Jerusalem is a force. She is extremely smart, creative, curious, and naturally drawn to counterintuitive ideas and arguments.”
- Brent Lang has been promoted to executive editor of Variety. Variety’s William Earl has more details.
- CBC News’ Elise Stolte with “Behind the story: Why and how CBC decided to focus on family caregiving.”
- ABC’s “Good Morning America” revealed that the 2022 Oscars will be hosted by Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes. Here’s their announcement.
- Here’s a juicy tidbit from Axios’ Sara Fischer. She talked with former NFL star Eli Manning about the ManningCast broadcast he does with his brother Peyton on some “Monday Night Football” games. There have been rumors that Peyton might be looking to do other things. But Eli told Fischer that the Mannings are committed for the next three years, adding, “… that shows that we are enjoying this; we’re committed to it; and hopefully, we’ll continue to do it for a while.”
- Interesting story — and one that should trouble MSNBC if Rachel Maddow someday leaves her primetime show — from Mediaite’s Alex Griffing: “Rachel Maddow’s Time Slot Loses Nearly a Quarter of its Viewers After Top-Rated Host Goes on Hiatus.”
- ViacomCBS has renamed itself Paramount Global. Variety’s Cynthia Littleton has more.
- The New York Times’ Neil Genzlinger with “P.J. O’Rourke, Conservative Political Satirist, Dies at 74.”
- For ProPublica, Karim Doumar with “If the Kids Had Been White, Would Any of This Have Happened?”
- The Ringer’s Jodi Walker with “The Pop Culture Winners and Losers of Super Bowl LVI.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More resources for journalists
- Covering COVID-19 with Al Tompkins (Daily briefing) — Poynter
- Hiring? Post jobs on The Media Job Board — Powered by Poynter, Editor & Publisher and America’s Newspapers.
- Follow the Money: American Rescue Plan (Live online workshop) — Apply by March 15
- Teachapalooza: Front-Edge Teaching Tools for College Educators (In-person or Online Seminar) —June 10-12, Apply now
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.