A retroactive scoop, a master class in digital engagement and calling out Trump falsehoods live

September 26, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good Thursday morning. Veteran journalist Dan Rather had my favorite tweet on Wednesday. He wrote: “This story is moving faster than a hummingbird’s wings.”

You know what story he’s talking about. And Rather is right. The story is moving fast. Yet it still has a long way to go. As Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton tweeted: “Shoutout to all the DC reporters doing very important and very frantic work today (and tonight, and tomorrow, ad infinitum).”

Next up? The release of the whistleblower complaint. But let’s go back to the beginning of this Donald Trump-Ukraine story. And we are going to go back further than you might realize.

Suddenly, a retroactive scoop

Read this:

“… we’re reliably told that the president … is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”

This passage appeared in a Washington Post editorial. Now here’s the kicker: it ran three weeks ago on Sept. 5 — well before the Wall Street Journal blew the lid off this story by saying pretty much the same thing in an article Sept. 20.

Politico’s Michael Calderone has a compelling look at how this blockbuster news was broken in the Post editorial — and how it went relatively unnoticed. It didn’t gain traction even after Jackson Diehl, the Post’s deputy editorial page editor, tweeted Sept. 5:

“Our Washpost editorial looks at what could be our next election scandal: Trump’s attempt to extort Ukraine’s new government into investigating Joe Biden.”

The next day, Sept. 6, The Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt linked to the editorial and tweeted:

“I shouldn’t be astonished, but this is astonishing: The Trump administration withholding military aid from an important ally–apparently for one reason only: to corruptly pressure it to interfere in the 2020 election”

Diehl told Calderone that he is the one who wrote the seven-paragraph editorial with the news that we now know could lead to Trump being impeached. At the time, it caught everyone by surprise, including the news department of the Post, which didn’t know it was coming. And, as we know now, it was so under-the-radar that it, well, it stayed under the radar for the most part.

Calderone makes another good point: The use of the phrase “we’re reliably told” in the editorial might not fly in a news story. Perhaps the editorial got a piece of information published that the news side wouldn’t have been able to — at least without more reporting — although Hiatt told Calderone “the editorial board is as rigorous as the news side.”

Afternoon newsletter is perfectly Times’ed

If you’re a subscriber to the The New York Times morning newsletter, you received a special bonus edition early Wednesday afternoon (around 1:30 p.m. Eastern) with the latest news in the Trump impeachment inquiry. It was titled “What We Learned Today.”

It included a summary of the phone call between Trump and the Ukraine president that was released by the White House; the Times’ breakdown of what was in the summary; what’s going to happen next; what Republicans are saying; and a link where readers could ask questions.

This is really smart stuff. Smart because it’s useful, tight and easy-to-digest information for readers. Total reading time: less than 5 minutes. But also smart because the Times is coming to the reader with pertinent information, as opposed to having the reader search out the Times. This is how you stay relevant in a digital world, as well as letting your readers know how much you value them.

‘We hate to do this, really …’


MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

Trump held a press conference Wednesday at the U.N. Most cable news stations carried his speech without interruption. Not MSNBC.

During Trump’s remarks, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace was shown on a split screen and she said, “We hate to do this, really, but the president isn’t telling the truth.”

She then told viewers that allegations against Joe Biden and Hunter Biden have been investigated by the Ukrainians and no wrongdoing had been found.

“What’s amazing,” Wallace said, “is that what Trump appears to be trying to do is to turn his own impeachment into a big deflection.”

(Editor’s note: Wallace and MSNBC aren’t alone in fact-checking speakers at the U.N. The Poynter-owned International Fact-Checking Network coordinated a coalition to fact-check leaders’ speeches this week. Which world leaders are most honest, and most dishonest? Here’s the latest update.)

Highlights from Bill O’Reilly’s new Trump book


Trump and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who has a new book on Trump. (AP Photo)

Bill O’Reilly is back in the news. His new book, “The United States of Trump,” is out this week. The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr read it and listed some of the more interesting revelations.

O’Reilly writes that when he interviewed Trump once, Trump was often distracted by TV sets showing Fox News, especially when the network was talking about Trump.

O’Reilly wanted to moderate a 2016 debate, but then-Fox News head Roger Ailes told him no “because we’d like to host another debate sometime this century.”

In other Trump comments, O’Reilly called Trump a “loner, with few close friends.” O’Reilly said Donald Trump Jr. told him that he never heard his father admit a mistake, adding, “What he will do when he is wrong, and he knows it, he’ll make small talk, and he’s not a small talk kind of guy. And I’m like, ‘It’s okay, you can say you’re sorry.’ And he’ll say, ‘What are you talking about?’”

O’Reilly said Trump spends his evenings watching cable news (we already knew that, didn’t we?) and that he will never change. O’Reilly writes: “He will not modify his behavior, stop tweeting, or begin wearing jeans. He will stay the way he is until the grave.”

Barr has other worthwhile tidbits, so check out his piece.

Remember that thing about glass houses?

Here’s a follow-up to an item I had Wednesday about a 24-year-old Iowa man named Carson King who held up a sign asking for beer money on ESPN’s “College GameDay.” Viewers started sending him money and now, with matching donations from Venmo and Anheuser-Busch, he has raised a million dollars, which he is donating to a children’s hospital.

The Des Moines Register did a story on King and discovered that he had written a couple of racist tweets when he was 16. King held a press conference and apologized for his tweets. In a column for the Register, Executive Editor Carol Hunter wrote why the paper included the information about the racist tweets in the story, adding, “But rest assured such decisions are not made lightly and are rooted in what we perceive as the public good.”

The Register has been criticized for digging so deep into King’s past and coming up with the tweets. The critics argued that this didn’t come up during a routine Google search, but that the reporter really had to go looking for the remarks.

On the other hand, King did write the tweets. Even though he was young and regrets what he wrote, perhaps the public should have the right to know before donating money to his cause.

Here’s where the story took a bizarre twist. The reporter, Aaron Calvin, who dug up King’s offensive tweets, apparently had written a few offensive tweets of his own several years ago.

The Washington Post reported that Calvin began deleting old tweets, and then locked his account early Wednesday. He also issued this apology:

“Hey just wanted to say that I have deleted previous tweets that have been inappropriate or insensitive. I apologize for not holding myself to the same high standard as the Register holds others.”

Hyphen-loving journalists, rejoice!

The AP Stylebook came to its senses and reversed course on the use of hyphens, according to Poynter’s Kristen Hare.

“Thanks to input from our users, we are reversing our decision to delete the hyphen from ‘first-quarter touchdown’ and ‘third-quarter earnings,’” AP Stylebook Editor Paula Froke told Hare in an email. “We agree that, for instance, ‘first-half run’ should be hyphenated. So to conform, we are returning the hyphen to the ‘-quarter’ phrases.”

ProPublica journalist wins major award


Reporter Ginger Thompson interviewing a family in El Salvador that had been separated due to the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy. (Photo by Hector Emanuel.)

Ginger Thompson, an investigative reporter for ProPublica, has been awarded the 2019 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism. Thompson is best known for obtaining the secretly recorded audio of sobbing immigrant children who had been separated from their parents at the Mexico-U.S. border.

Thompson will receive the award, along with a $50,000 honorarium, in New York on Nov. 13. (Here she is in a Poynter video, talking more about how that recording made its way to her.)

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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