Covering the impeachment » The Hillary Clinton / Howard Stern interview » A tale of trouble at Sports Illustrated

Your Thursday Poynter Report

December 5, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Why we should be proud of American media

Sometimes things become so chaotic and loud that it’s easy to lose sight of what’s actually happening. That’s why it’s important to stop and remind ourselves:

We are witnessing one of the biggest moments in American history.

There’s an impeachment inquiry involving the president of the United States. And it is being covered like never before: 24-hour cable news networks, websites, social media, podcasts and just about every form of mass communication you can think of.

Less than 50 years ago, when President Richard Nixon faced impeachment, you had just a handful of TV stations, newspapers, a dozen or so news/political magazines, radio and … that’s about it. Even the Clinton impeachment in the ’90s didn’t have this kind of media frenzy. Past impeachments might have had less coverage than today, but there also was less punditry and less noise.

Was that better or worse?

That’s for you to decide. Is more information and perspective better?

The seriousness with which the media is covering this story is inspiring. They are dedicating time, resources and thought. And while that’s absolutely what the media should be doing because of the importance of this story, we also must acknowledge that this is a story that could create fatigue among audiences. That’s not a criticism, just the reality.

Impeachment is a meticulous process that takes time. There is no running scoreboard for a public that craves an immediate result.

Meanwhile, many are understandably wrapped up in their day-to-day lives of work and family, while others will take the attitude of “Let me know what happens when it’s over.”

Look at the numbers. Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that more than 70 million watched some portion of the impeachment inquiry. That’s out of a country of roughly 330 million people. More than 98 million watched the last Super Bowl.

Yet we should be impressed with the media’s continuing commitment to make sure this story is fully covered.

Take Wednesday. Now, I don’t write this to show any favoritism to NBC — it’s just that I happened to watch NBC’s coverage of the hearings that featured constitutional law professors testifying about impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

NBC’s coverage, which ran from 10 a.m. to 1:26 p.m., was led by “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt and included eight of NBC News’ top journalists, including Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell and Hallie Jackson. Those journalists were in New York, Washington, London, at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

They broke down testimony, explained details and put into perspective exactly what we were hearing.

“They went through what happened at the Constitutional Conventions,” Mitchell said on air. “It was a fascinating history lesson for those of us who love history, but are not lawyers.”

And, according to Todd, Wednesday’s hearing might have served another point.

“The goal is to, I think, get all of us in the press corps to write about the process, write about the disruptions and sort of, I think, to try to dismiss what you’re hearing,” Todd said during the coverage. “Look, I found the first witness very compelling. I’m a history junkie anyway, but I think he (Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman) did a good job telling an oral history of sorts and explaining the debate about whether to put impeachment in the Constitution or not.”

Again, I watched NBC by happenstance. Similar analysis and coverage was going on at the other networks. These are critical times in our country, and the media is treating it as such.

That’s heartening.

This interview with Hillary doesn’t disappoint


Hillary Clinton. (Photo: Star Shooter/MediaPunch /IPX)

Howard Stern once had a reputation of a shock-jock who pushed the bounds of humor and taste. Now he has a reputation as one of the best interviewers in the business. Wednesday, he interviewed the person he said he wanted to interview before the last presidential election but never did: former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The interview did not disappoint.

During the wide-ranging conversation on Stern’s SiriusXM show, Clinton hit on the important topics — the 2016 election, her thoughts on Bernie Sanders (“He hurt me,” she said. “There’s no doubt about it, he hurt me.”), Sen. Lindsey Graham (“It’s like he had a brain snatch, you know?”) and, of course, Donald Trump.

But it also included moments you expect from a Stern interview, such as when Clinton, without being prompted, addressed rumors that she is a lesbian.

“Well, contrary to what you may hear, I actually like men,” Clinton said. When Stern asked if she ever had a lesbian affair, Clinton said, “Never, never, never! Never even been tempted, thank you very much.”

Rolling Stone and CNN have excerpts of the interview.

Contradicting pieces tell a bigger story at SI


Southern California head football coach Clay Helton. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Sports Illustrated reported last week that the University of Southern California was going to fire its football coach, Clay Helton. But another report said that the first report wasn’t true. Where did the second report come from? Sports Illustrated.

As a long time sportswriter, I can tell you nothing causes the frenzy of contradictory reports quite like the firing and hiring of coaches. Rumors run rampant and the story changes daily, if not hourly. And it’s not unprecedented for two reporters from the same outlet to report different things. However, this particular incident points out the new (and not necessarily better) world at Sports Illustrated, as noted in a good piece by The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage.

Here’s what’s happening: SI’s new owners, Maven, are hiring team reporters or “insiders” to cover the daily happenings of various teams. But Sports Illustrated still has national writers, as it has in the past. For the USC story, the firing prediction was written by an “insider,” while nationally recognized veteran reporter Pat Forde wrote it wasn’t happening.

Either way, it’s a bad look for Sports Illustrated. Former New York Times sportswriter and retired ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte (one of the most respected voices in sports journalism) told Bogage, “Maybe what we’re seeing here is the last whip of the dragon’s tail in the struggle between legacy journalism and content journalism at SI. And this content journalism isn’t worth much. It’s speculative, it’s not thoroughly reported, but it keeps the fire going.”

You hate to ask: Maybe keeping the fire burning is Maven’s objective?

(By the way, USC’s athletic director, Mike Bohn, tweeted Wednesday that Helton would continue as USC’s coach.)

Didn’t realize how much this would cost ’em


(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Who knew a commercial for a stationary exercise bike would create such a buzz? Yet the holiday ad for Peloton, in which a woman gets the exercise bike from her partner, has been criticized for being misogynistic, sexist and just plain weird. To paraphrase Variety’s Brian Steinberg, who says people don’t watch TV commercials?

Just check out these stories from the New York PostWashington PostNew York TimesVice and USA Today. The New York Post also is trying to answer one of the internet’s most burning questions: Who is the actress in the ad?

All this talk has been good and bad for Peloton. The good is the old argument that any publicity is good publicity. The bad? Business Insider reports that Peloton’s stock has dropped 9%.

Look, there’s lots going on at the moment for the media to cover: impeachment, debates, corruption everywhere, climate and so forth. But sometimes, it’s great to see the media digging into a story everyone is talking about — even if that story is a bizarre commercial about an exercise bike.

Come together, right now — over here


Photo courtesy of USA Today.

What’s the one thing Americans can agree on? That they’re tired of disagreeing with one another. Those are the findings of a USA Today/Public Agenda Poll. It also found that those surveyed believe our leaders and social media have made the divisiveness worse. So USA Today, along with Ipsos Public Affairs, launched the Hidden Common Ground initiative this morning. It will “explore areas of agreement on major issues facing the nation and also spotlight how communities have worked across divisions to solve problems.”

Check it out.

Hot type

  • T Magazine, The New York Times’ Style Magazine, is out with its holiday cover, which is about how today’s queer artists are revising history.
  • The Miami Herald’s I-Team continues its top-notch work of investigating corruption, sexual abuse and medical neglect inside the largest women’s prison in the nation. Powerful stuff.
  • Poynter’s Kristen Hare is on assignment this week, so her Local Edition newsletter was taken over by Sara Baranowski, who has a terrific piece about how the detour in her career path actually turned out to be a good thing.
  • Finally, something fun: Rush bassist Geddy Lee tells Rolling Stone’s Andy Greene his five favorite songs for the bass.

Editor’s note: We’ve made a few changes to our newsletter template to better serve those of you reading on certain devices and through the browser. Can you tell? Are the changes helpful? Let us hear from you — about this issue or any other! — at news@poynter.org. And as always, thanks for reading! — Barbara Allen, poynter.org managing editor

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  • The far greater shame on Clay Helton is repeated mentions in stories throughout the season and in myriad outlets that his firing ranges from highly likely to certain. In every case, there was not a scintilla of reporting to back it up. It was ongoing sports reporting at its worst. At least the Maven guy wrote an “I was wrong” piece. Will the line of journos wrapped around the building who built up false expectations based strictly on assumptions ‘fess up?