December 2, 2019

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Good morning. The Poynter Report returns today after a Thanksgiving break. A big thank you to you — the readers — for helping us out last week by telling us what you are thankful for in the media world. Now let’s get right to it with a jaw-dropping interview from Sunday.

Calling out the nonsense

Two things jumped out at me while watching Republican Sen. John Kennedy’s bizarre interview on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” One: good for moderator Chuck Todd to call out Kennedy’s unfounded conspiracy theory that the former president of Ukraine was working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. The other is why invite Kennedy on to your program if he is going to say such things?

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with any Sunday morning news show inviting voices from all sides of the political spectrum. An argument can be made that an elected official — especially a high-ranking one like a U.S. senator — should be exposed if he or she is going to say outlandish things. But is furthering groundless Russian propaganda, regardless of who is spewing it, really what shows such as “Meet the Press” want to broadcast?

It’s not as if this is the first time Kennedy has done such a thing. Just a week ago, Kennedy told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that he believed the debunked theory that Ukraine tried to hack the Democratic National Committee’s computers in 2016. He had to walk that claim back the next day on CNN, and said he was “wrong” during his “Meet the Press” interview Sunday.

When Kennedy put forth that the former Ukraine president actively worked for Clinton, Todd almost jumped out of his chair.

“Actively worked for Secretary Clinton?!” Todd said. “My goodness, wait a minute, Senator Kennedy. You now have the president of Ukraine saying he worked for the Democratic nominee for president. C’mon. You realize the only other person selling this argument outside the United States is this man, Vladimir Putin!”

Todd then asked (smartly, I might add), “Are you at all concerned that you’ve been duped?”

Good for Todd to call out Kennedy’s drivel, but it would have been better if viewers never heard it at all.

Throwing down the gauntlet in D.C.

“CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell. (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Today’s the day. The “CBS Evening News” is relocating to Washington, D.C. When Norah O’Donnell was named anchor and managing editor in May, CBS said the broadcast would eventually move from New York City to Washington. It now hopes to jumpstart its ratings by becoming the lone network evening news based in the nation’s capital. (“PBS NewsHour” is broadcast from just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia.)

“Many stories across the country have a nexus to Washington, such as healthcare and taxes,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “We are going to continue CBS News’ tradition of original reporting and great storytelling. Our goal is to remain a trusted news leader. And this just expands our reach.”

At Bloomberg, ‘Everybody’s nightmare come true’

How does a media company cover its boss when that boss is running for president? That’s the challenge for Bloomberg as it covers its CEO and founder Michael Bloomberg. As soon as Bloomberg announced his candidacy for president last week, Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait put out a memo saying the news service would cover the 2020 campaign, but there was a caveat that seems to go against everything a journalism company should stand for.

Micklethwait wrote, “We will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike (and his family and foundation) and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries. We cannot treat Mike’s Democratic competitor differently from him.”

But they are treating President Donald Trump differently. The media company reports on the president, leading Fox News’ Howard Kurtz to say, “On what planet is that fair?” Kurtz is right.

The company’s stance is that Trump is an elected official and its policy on Bloomberg could change if he actually becomes the nominee.

CNN’s Brian Stelter interviewed Kathy Kiely, the former Washington news director for Bloomberg Politics who quit her job at the publication in 2016 when Michael Bloomberg took steps toward running for president. On Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” she said, “I felt that that wasn’t ethical and it was just an untenable situation for me as the assigning editor to be in. Unfortunately, they’ve had four years to think about this and they haven’t come up with a better solution. I’m really sorry to see this.”

One current Bloomberg reporter told Stelter that Bloomberg running for president is “everybody’s nightmare come true.”

Gayle King lands Zuckerberg/Chan interview

“CBS This Morning”’s Gayle King interviews Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

The first televised joint interview of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, will appear today and tomorrow on “CBS This Morning.” They were interviewed by Gayle King and talk about such topics as their home life and the latest with Facebook. The interview centers on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

King does ask Zuckerberg about Facebook’s controversial decision to not remove political ads that make false claims.

Zuckerberg told King, “What I believe is that in a democracy, it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments. And I don’t think a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”

More great behind-the-scenes work on ‘The Weekly’

A scene from The New York Times’ TV show “The Weekly” as reporters interview an anonymous source. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

Those who regularly read this newsletter know I’m a huge fan of The New York Times’ TV show “The Weekly.” But Sunday night’s episode on FX (streamed today on Hulu) might have been the most fascinating yet.

The story itself was interesting — a potential blackmailing scheme in the Jeffrey Epstein case that included a shadowy figure who claimed to have sex tapes involving powerful men. Even now, the true identity of this figure and what he really had access to remains a mystery.

But what made this episode especially good was the reporting and interviewing skills of the journalists who worked on the story. In particular, it was compelling to watch David Enrich and Jessica Silver-Greenberg interview famed attorney David Boies.

The episode also is an example of just how responsible journalists are when working a story. This could have been an explosive piece. It could have been a major scoop. Yet the Times reporters, showing the skeptical traits that all good journalists have, only went where the story took them — including poking obvious holes in the story of what started off as the perfect inside source.

Bravo to the reporters and bravo to this outstanding episode.

Report for America’s big announcement

Report for America announced this morning that 164 local news organizations in 46 states will welcome 250 journalists and emerging journalists in their newsrooms in 2020. Report for America is a national service program that places journalists and emerging journalists into local news outlets to report for one or two years on under-covered issues and communities.

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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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