November 27, 2023

Here’s an example of irresponsible journalism that I used to hear about years ago. It’s a made-up story, but one that drives home a point.

Someone is running for public office and a reporter asks them, “Hey, is it true you kick puppies?”

The candidate answers, “Of course not.”

Then the headline the next day reads, “Candidate denies kicking puppies.”

Technically, it is true. There’s no actual lie there.

But it’s deceitful, misleading and completely unfair.

That brings us to another similar example. Except this one really happened.

On Sunday, Fox News correspondent Lucas Tomlinson tweeted, “While shopping in Nantucket, President Biden was asked by a reporter if he is too old to run for re-election. ‘That’s stupid,’ he replied.”

What Tomlinson didn’t say was that he was the reporter who asked that question.

The question and Biden’s response happened on Saturday. As Mediaite’s Caleb Howe noted, several Fox News shows mentioned this exchange and attributed the question to Tomlinson. That’s fair.

But on the biggest Fox News show of the week — “Fox News Sunday,” which appears on the Fox Network (as opposed to just Fox News) — Tomlinson filed a report and did not say it was his question. In fact, Tomlinson was even more shady, saying, “The oldest president in U.S. history also continues to face questions about his age, even here in Nantucket.”

The “continues to face questions” and “even here in Nantucket” lines were especially misleading.

White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates tweeted at Tomlinson, writing, “.@LucasFoxNews, are you able to speculate on whose voice that is shouting? It sounds familiar to me but I’m having difficulty placing it.”

And Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi tweeted, “It’s kind of a perpetual motion machine: 1. Report that X ‘continues to face questions;’ 2. Continue to ask those questions; 3. Report that the questions continue; 4. Repeat…”

There’s nothing wrong with the media questioning Biden’s age.

But this kind of reporting from Tomlinson and Fox is deceitful and disingenuous.

‘What the hell is wrong with these people?’

“CBS Sunday Morning” contributor Robert Costa talked with The Atlantic staff writer Tim Alberta for “Politics and the pulpit: How white evangelicals’ support of Trump is creating schisms in the church.”

Alberta, formerly a political correspondent for Politico before moving to The Atlantic, has a new book out called “The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism.” Alberta’s father, Richard Alberta, was a pastor and led Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Michigan. Alberta talked about how his father, before he died in 2019, told him to stay grounded and, “Don’t spend your whole career around these people. There are so many other stories.”

Alberta revealed disturbing accounts from his father’s funeral, saying, “A lot of folks right there at the viewing just wanted to argue about politics. They wanted to know if I was still a Christian. And my dad’s in a box, like, 100 feet away.”

In an additional clip for the web, Alberta said that after the eulogy and after his father was buried, he was handed a note from someone at the church. Alberta recounted what the note said.

“That I should be ashamed of myself,” Alberta said. “That I was part of the deep state. That I was trying to undermine God’s ordained leader of this country, Donald Trump. But that all hope was not lost for me because I could be forgiven. If I were to use my talents to expose the deep state. I handed this to my wife and she just threw it in the air and said, ‘What the hell is wrong with these people?’ And in a lot of ways, that’s the question I set out to answer.

An odd debate

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (AP Photo)

There’s an unusual debate this Thursday. On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida will debate Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California. What’s unusual is they aren’t running against one other, at least not yet. DeSantis is trying to win the Republican nomination for president in 2024, but trails heavily in the polls to Donald Trump. And Newsom has no plans to run for president at this time.

Who knows, maybe this is a preview of the 2028 presidential election.

What also is unusual is Newsom agreeing to debate a Republican on a network that is biased towards Republicans. And then there’s the right-leaning Hannity as moderator. But, apparently, we shouldn’t be surprised by that. The Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Battaglio writes that Hannity and Newsom have an “unlikely cable news bromance.”

Hannity told Battaglio, “From the first time we met we just hit it off and there was a certain relationship that developed that was like, ‘Oh, come on, you don’t believe all that.’ It was always friendly and never contentious. You can say anything to him. You can have fun with him.”

It makes sense for DeSantis to try anything to revive his stagnant campaign. But what about Newsom? While Newsom might get along with Hannity, shouldn’t Newsom worry about not only debating DeSantis, but debating Hannity, too?

Nathan Click, an adviser to Newsom, told Battaglio, “We are under no illusions. This is a two-on-one match with the refs in the tank for the home team. But Gov. Newsom has long believed that Democrats have to go on offense in enemy territory, and that’s exactly what he intends to do.”

For his part, Hannity said it will be a fair fight, adding, “If I have one goal going in, it’s that people walk away and say, ‘Wow that was a good, spirited, healthy, informative debate.’”

The debate will air Thursday at 9 p.m. on Fox News. It’s expected to run for about 90 minutes.

Careless comments

Saturday was the big college football game between undefeated powerhouses Michigan and Ohio State. This is perhaps the best rivalry in all of sports these days and this year’s game, in all likelihood, was for a spot in the four-team college football playoff.

So, naturally, college football’s premier pregame show, ESPN’s “College GameDay,” was live from Michigan for the showdown.

There’s also a side story here as Michigan’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh, was suspended because the program had been accused of stealing the hand signals of opposing teams. Among the leading reporters on this story has been ESPN’s Pete Thamel.

Thamel typically appears on “GameDay” among the sizable crowds, which gather to watch the show. But Thamel reportedly received threats from some Michigan fans because of his reporting on the sign-stealing scandal, so he was inside the stadium on Saturday instead.

Yet, “GameDay” analyst Desmond Howard, who played at Michigan, mocked Thamel over his location.

Howard said on air, “What are we, week 13 now? Something like that. So we’ve been doing this 12, 13 weeks. Pete’s always been in the crowd doing his reports. I’m like, ‘What the hell is Pete in the stadium for?’ That kind of just threw me off, like put your big boy pants on and do it in the crowd like you normally do it. I was surprised by that. I thought he would be out here.”

“GameDay” host Rece Davis stepped in and said that Thamel had received threats, saying, “Come on, man. He’s got, from the lunatic fringe, some threats, and we’re just taking care of him. That’s all.”

But Howard didn’t stop, saying, “We’ve got security. He’ll be OK. These guys are nice out here. They’re nice fans. They’re not going to do anything. He’ll be OK. Put your big boy pants on.”

To suggest a colleague was a coward in the face of what could have been legitimate threats is an awful and unprofessional look from Howard. He owes Thamel an on-air apology that was as strongly worded as his initial criticisms.

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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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