Does this ‘interview’ take things too far?; Irish journalist killed; Supreme Court hears FOIA case

April 23, 2019
Category: Newsletters

It might be the best line from the 2017 movie “The Post.”

Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, tells an intern to sniff around the The New York Times and find out what its star reporter is working on. The intern asks if that’s legal. Bradlee flashes an incredulous smile and says, “What is it you think we do here for a living, kid?”

I thought of that quote Sunday when freelance reporter Mike Viqueira, on MSNBC, tried to interview Robert Mueller as he went to his car following Easter services. Reaction to Viqueira questioning Mueller has been mixed.

Some viewed it as a disrespectful ambush of a man simply trying to celebrate the holiest Christian day of the year. Others saw it as a dogged reporter trying to score a big interview with someone who spent the past two years investigating the President of the United States.

I fall on the side of a reporter doing his job, but a lot of smart people, including my Poynter colleague Al Tompkins, questioned MSNBC. In a piece for Poynter.org, Tompkins wrote:

“My take on this is that MSNBC did not have a justifiable reason to stake out and confront Mueller as he left church. Mueller has not avoided responsibility. Mueller is doing exactly what he should have done. He has conducted a grand jury investigation, which is by statute, secret. He issued a 400-page report on his findings and didn’t try the case in the media. He has not spoken with Congress yet, but may do that soon. If, in the future, he refuses to testify before Congress, if he avoids any further clarification about why he ruled as he did in his investigation, then journalists have more justification to press for answers.”

For his piece, Tompkins talked with Viqueira, who said, “Whether it is Easter Sunday or Wednesday outside an office building, if a newsmaker is in our sight, we ask them questions.”

Whichever side you fall on, it’s a stimulating debate with lots of compelling questions that Tompkins addresses in his report for Poynter.

Remembering Lyra McKee

Lyra McKee (via Facebook).

Tributes continue to pour in for Lyra McKee, the 29-year-old journalist who was shot and killed during what police are calling a “terrorist incident” Thursday in Northern Ireland. McKee was covering a riot when a gunman is believed to have fired recklessly into a crowd, hitting her. Police are asking the public for help in finding out who might have shot McKee. Already, witnesses have stepped forward.

McKee, who had extensively covered unrest in Northern Ireland, was an editor at Mediagazer and had written for various publications, including the Atlantic and BuzzFeed. 

Sorry, you’re not on the list

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

How’s this for irony: A high school student newspaper was shut out of an “open press” roundtable discussion featuring Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Students from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky, tried to enter the event at a community college in Lexington, but were denied entrance because they didn’t receive an invitation to the event.

So the student paper wrote an editorial that slammed DeVos and Kentucky governor Matt Bevin for having a discussion about student education while excluding students from the discussion. They also criticized why there would be such a discussion at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday when most students and educators are in school.

The Lexington Herald-Leader picked up the story and a spokesperson for DeVos said:

“No one from the Secretary’s staff was made aware that student journalists were attempting to attend the roundtable. We welcome student journalists and would  have been happy for them to be in attendance. We are looking into what, if any, miscommunication might have happened between other staff on site for the event.”

A spokesperson for the community college said its security was working off instructions from DeVos’ team.

This goes all the way to the top

Back in 2010, the Argus Leader in South Dakota was doing a story about food stamp fraud and requested data from the U.S. government. The government sent back some material, but withheld key information about how much certain stores received from the program. The paper, however, kept pushing and on Monday, its case was heard by the Supreme Court.

Megan Luther, one of the reporters on the story who has since moved to InvestigateTV, says there’s more to this fight than a story about food stamps. She told the Associated Press it’s about transparency and that taxpayers “have the right to know where their money is going.”

When the case was heard Monday, the justices seemed to wrestle with the word “confidential” and whether food stamps payments are considered public records. A ruling is expected later this spring.

The Argus Leader is the biggest paper in the state and is owned by Gannett.

A timely retrospective

This week is the 20th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School in suburban Denver. On April 20, 1999, two students murdered 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves. The Denver Post continues its impressive coverage with a series of stories, videos, photos and a podcast about one of the most famous school shootings in history.

Some of the stories include catching up with survivors, how other schools have reacted to the tragedy, gun control and the stress that students, teachers and staff still deal with. Its three-part podcast series on Columbine and the news media is called “Bearing Witness.”

News vs. opinion

Sean Hannity. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Now that we’ve sorted through the big stuff of the Mueller report, there are little interesting nuggets that keep coming to light. Here’s another: According to the report, Fox News’ Sean Hannity knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting more than a week before The New York Times “broke” the news. That led CNN’s Brian Stelter to ask why didn’t Hannity report what would have been a big scoop for him and Fox News? It’s hard to argue with Stelter’s assertion that Hannity sat on the story because of his close relationship to Trump.

Stelter said on CNN, “This is the stark difference between news and opinion.”

Peyton’s passing game

Peyton Manning in 2012. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Former NFL superstar Peyton Manning will not join Monday Night Football as an announcer, at least not this year, according to The Sporting News’ Michael McCarthy.

When announcer Jason Witten left the MNF booth after one season to return to playing, ESPN had a pie-in-the-sky hope of landing one of the most sought-after personalities in the game to step into the booth. But McCarthy said ESPN sensed Manning’s disinterest and never even offered him the job.

The feeling is Manning, a two-time Super Bowl champ who retired after the 2015 season, is more interested in being involved in ownership or the front office than broadcasting full-time.

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

Upcoming Poynter training:

Want to get this briefing in your inbox? Sign up here.
Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.