A Washington Post freelancer questions its legendary leadership; Fox News CEO interview; cuts in Cleveland

Your Wednesday news roundup

April 3, 2019
Category: Newsletters

Some serious allegations

Did the Washington Post purposefully kill parts of what would have been a blockbuster story because it didn’t want to ruin the career of then-“60 Minutes” boss Jeff Fager? That’s what author Irin Carmon asks in a piece for New York magazine.

Carmon was a Post freelancer last year working alongside staff writer Amy Brittain on a story about sexual harassment at CBS. She had helped report the allegations that put CBS’s Charlie Rose out of work. While working on a follow-up story, she and Brittain were told by numerous though anonymous sources that Fager had acted inappropriately and created a hostile work environment.

But Carmon said Post editors, led by executive editor Marty Baron, wanted more reporting on the story and, ultimately, removed all references to Fager before the story ran. Not long after in the New Yorker, Ronan Farrow broke a story accusing Fager of touching employees in a way that “made them uncomfortable.” Fager eventually was fired last September for sending inappropriate text messages to CBS News reporter Jericka Duncan.

The headline on Carmon’s New York story (What Was The Washington Post Afraid Of?) is certainly incendiary, and Carmon details the behind-the-scenes struggles to get the story published. Carmon wrote that the Post had a working relationship with “60 Minutes” (the two had just partnered on an investigative piece about the opioid crisis), but said that she didn’t think backing off Fager was “some kind corrupt arrangement related to the partnership.”

She did write, “… it was easier for even the most well-meaning editor to empathize with a newsroom leader, a fellow boss with potentially discontented underlings. It’s easier for a lot of us to believe that a man’s career matters more than the hypothetical losses of the women he might have harmed.”

Or, perhaps, the reporting simply wasn’t solid enough for an editor (Baron) and a paper (The Post) not known for pulling punches. Baron was the editor at the Boston Globe during that paper’s investigation on sexual abuse in the Catholic church — the basis for the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight” — and the Post has dozens of Pulitzer Prizes to its credit.

In the end, Carmon does not say for certain why parts of the story were edited out, but closed with this:

“I don’t believe there is just one reason the Post rejected the Fager story. I think it was a little of everything. The legal squeeze. The close relationship between the paper and ‘60 Minutes.’ The easy identification with a powerful executive in our industry as opposed to the people complaining about him. #MeToo fatigue, a growing sense in journalistic circles that the movement might be going too far. I doubt I’ll ever really know.”

In a statement to Poynter, Post spokesperson Kris Coratti Kelly said, “The New York Magazine piece is an incomplete story of The Post’s investigation of sexual harassment allegations at CBS, and it sidesteps an essential truth: certain aspects of that reporting did not meet our standards for publication. The suggestion that The Post’s decision-making — made in agreement by five senior editors — was influenced by anything other than established journalistic standards is baseless and reprehensible.”

Scott speaks

Suzanne Scott, Fox News CEO. (Courtesy Fox News)

In a rare interview, new Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott told Variety’s Brian Steinberg, “We became No. 1 under President Bush. We stayed No. 1 under President Obama. We are still No. 1. My focus is on business.”

Scott dismissed the idea that Fox News is a mouthpiece for President Donald Trump. Scott said, “If you’re a real consumer of Fox News, you know that’s not the case.”

However, she said criticism of her network from the left doesn’t mean Fox News will change its approach, saying, “Our audience is deeply connected to our primetime shows. We are the only ones with conservative talent in primetime. We believe in free speech. We fully support our primetime talent, and we’re not going to let the voices of the few impact our business.”

By the way, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was the big winner in the most recent TV ratings, according to Mediaite.

Layoffs in Cleveland

The front page of the April 3, 2019, Cleveland Plain Dealer. (Courtesy the Newseum)

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that 14 newsroom employees were laid off this week. According to the paper, all 14 were union members and accounted for a third of the unionized news-gathering staff. The guild went on to claim that The Plain Dealer had a unionized staff of 340 journalists two decades ago and that number will soon be 33.

“We share a sense of loss,” Plain Dealer president and editor George Rodrigue said in a statement. “The essence of any layoff is that good people lose their jobs. We regret that, and we wish our colleagues well.

Baldwin on Trump

Alec Baldwin attends the premiere of "Drunk Parents" at the Roxy Cinema on Monday, March 4, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

President Donald Trump is not a fan of Alec Baldwin’s imitation of him on “Saturday Night Live.” Not that Baldwin cares. In an interview with IndieWire, Baldwin said, “I made him as two-dimensional as I believe he deserves to be made. And we’ve certainly vulgarized it from time to time, beyond certain limitations. But it’s essentially us repeating back what he says, and just holding up a mirror to what he says and does.”

Don’t be surprised, however, if Baldwin doesn’t do the imitation much longer. By his own estimation, he already has cut back from doing it nearly every show two years ago to just once a month this season.

“I think people are, uh, they want a little bit less of that,” Baldwin said. “And whether I do it much longer remains to be seen. Interestingly enough, the same thing applies there, as everywhere else: if the writing is good.”

Water works

Poynter’s Kristen Hare checks in with this item:

The Las Vegas Review-Journal published a 10-part interactive series last month on a pretty big question: How much longer can Las Vegas grow before the water runs out? The series shows what happens when you bring veterans and newcomers together to tackle a complex topic.

Check it out

Newsday’s Laura Albanese on the harassment and sexism longtime New York Yankees announcer Suzyn Waldman (one of the classiest pros in the business, I might add) has faced over the years — and still faces.

Writing for Vanity Fair, Joe Pompeo takes us behind the scenes on Apple+ and its unsuccessful attempt to woo The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The Washington Post released a documentary Tuesday chronicling the events surrounding the murder of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The 24-minute film is titled “The Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.”

From Syracuse.com: Syracuse University journalism school dean Lorraine Branham died after a battle with cancer. She was 66.

Why women are primed to pioneer zero-waste journalism. That’s the lead topic in the latest newsletter from The Cohort.

Speaking of Poynter newsletters, Ren LaForme’s latest Try This! newsletter looks at The Marshall Project’s publication for people in prisons and jails.

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

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