Debunking a Rich conspiracy theory, plus Poynter’s honorees

Your Wednesday news roundup

July 10, 2019
Category: Newsletters

This is the Poynter Institute’s daily newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here.

July 10, 2019

Good morning. Poynter has a big announcement today. You’ll see that below, but we start with a podcast that is partly about a murder, but partly about the media, too.

Podcast: That’s a Rich conspiracy theory

Yahoo News is out with a new investigative look at the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.

Yahoo News has launched a podcast about the unsolved murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who died three years ago. But it does more than delve into the murder. It slams Fox News, questioning the network’s credibility and detailing how it fueled damaging and politically biased conspiracy theories.

They are charges Fox News still has not answered.

“Conspiracyland” is a six-part series based on a year-long investigation. The first two episodes are available and the other parts will be released weekly starting Tuesday. Yahoo News’ chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff is the host.

The series, which includes new details and exclusive interviews, looks into murder of Rich, whom police believe was the victim of a botched robbery. But the podcast also looks into how unfounded conspiracy theories that Rich was assassinated in retaliation for leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks were used for financial gain, publicity and political purposes.

In a story for Yahoo News, Isikoff recalls that Fox News’ website posted a story in May of 2017 that claimed an FBI forensic report had discovered evidence on Rich’s laptop that he had been in communication with WikiLeaks before his death. Fox News’ Sean Hannity went on his show and called the report “explosive” and said it “might expose the single biggest fraud, lies, perpetrated on the American people by the media and the Democrats in our history.”

But Deborah Sines, the former assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Rich case before she retired, told Yahoo News that the Fox News story was a “complete fabrication,” saying there was no link between Rich and WikiLeaks. In fact, Fox News retracted the story a week after it was posted and said in a statement that it “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.”

Fox News executives had doubts that one of the sources for the story, an anonymous “federal investigator,” was who he said he was, Yahoo News reported. Actually, according to Yahoo News, Fox News wasn’t sure the source even existed.

According to Yahoo News, Fox News announced it was conducting an internal investigation on how the story ended up on its website, but the results of that investigation have never been disclosed.

Fox News has declined comment, saying it can’t because of ongoing litigation with the Rich family.

Poynter’s Bowtie Ball honorees announced

Katie Couric in May in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Former “Today” show co-host and “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric will receive the 2019 Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism at the Poynter Institute’s annual Bowtie Ball on Nov. 2 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The award honors those whose journalism careers have made a significant impact on democracy and its institutions. Past recipients include Lester Holt, Judy Woodruff, Tom Brokaw and Bob Schieffer.

Norman Pearlstine, executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, will receive Poynter’s other high honor in 2019: the Distinguished Service to Journalism Award. This award is given to the individual who has championed the goals and craft of journalism through actionable efforts or meritorious service.

Tickets to the event will go on sale soon.

Pew research shows circulation still falling

Here is more grim news for newspapers. The Pew Research Center’s latest analysis finds that in 2018, estimated U.S. daily newspaper circulation (including both print and digital combined) was 28.6 million for weekdays and 30.8 million for Sundays. Those numbers are down 8% and 9%, respectively, from 2017.

In addition, total estimated advertising revenue for the newspaper industry in 2018 was $14.3 billion, which was down 13% from 2017. Circulation revenue was down to $11 billion in 2018, compared to $11.2 billion in 2017.

Bad information, bad words

Kawhi Leonard during last month’s NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Earlier this week, I wrote that several media members, including Fox Sports 1’s Chris Broussard, were completely off in their reports of where NBA star Kawhi Leonard was going to sign. Jay Onrait of TSN (Canada’s version of ESPN) said something similar on Tuesday — but much meaner and way more R-rated. On the “Jay and Dan Podcast” with colleague Dan O’Toole, Onrait said:

“What good would it do them to feed them misinformation, right? Kawhi’s so secretive, everyone knows he’s secretive, no one’s expecting any information to come out from him. So I just have to assume that everyone was (expletive) lying! Everyone knew nothing, nothing! And they were saying that they knew everything! …They knew nothing! It’s all (expletive)!”

If you want to read more of what Onrait said, including the exact curse words he used, check out the story from Andrew Bucholtz on Awful Announcing.

No falling sky here

Two weeks ago, The Vindicator — the daily newspaper in Youngstown, Ohio — announced it will close at the end of next month. Could this be a sign of things to come for other mid-sized papers? Maybe, but Poynter’s media business analyst Rick Edmonds writes “the Youngstown story may be an extreme and atypical case.”

Edmonds wrote, “Drastic downsizing or a sale upstream remains far more common than going out of business. I would look for a few more Vindicators over the next year but not a cascade.”

Non-profit to invest in Virginia news

Axios’ Sara Fischer reports that over the next two years, ACRONYM, a non-profit, will invest more than $1 million in The Dogwood, which is described as a “hyper-local digital news site that caters to residents of Virginia.”

Fischer also writes that ACRONYM could expand this kind of project to other states in the coming months, including Arizona, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

In a statement, Tara McGowan, the CEO and founder of ACRONYM, said, “The steady decline of local news around the country, paired with the rise of  misinformation being spread online, has been alarming. It is our hope that digital newspapers like The Dogwood that deliver factual information and stories to people where they get their news can help fill that void and counter misinformation reaching them online.”

Hot type

Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, discusses the upcoming live-action film “The Lion King.” (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

Upcoming Poynter training:

Want to get this briefing in your inbox? Sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.