July 22, 2019

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July 22, 2019

Good Monday morning. Lots to get to as we start the week, beginning with controversy at ESPN.

Let them talk

ESPN’s policy forbidding political commentary ignores the very real intersection of sports, politics, race and culture.

There’s no place for politics at ESPN. The network is again telling its on-air personalities to tone down the political talk after radio and TV host Dan Le Batard criticized President Donald Trump last week. The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed ESPN employee, reported that ESPN is reminding staff to avoid talking politics.

Speaking on his radio show, Le Batard, the son of Cuban immigrants, said the chant of “send her back” during a Trump rally last week felt “un-American.” He then took issue with Trump, as well as ESPN for shying away from politics.

Among Le Batard’s comments: “There’s a racial division in this country that’s being instigated by the president and we here at ESPN haven’t had the stomach for that fight because Jemele (Hill) did some things on Twitter. And you saw what happened after that and then here, all of a sudden, nobody talks politics on anything unless they use one of these sports figures as a meat shield in the most cowardly possible way to discuss these subjects.”

Hill became a polarizing personality at ESPN for criticizing Trump, mostly on Twitter. She eventually left the company to join The Atlantic. ESPN has made a concerted effort to not talk politics ever since Jimmy Pitaro became president of the network early last year.

Not long after taking over, Pitaro told Variety’s Brian Steinberg, “We are not a political organization. We are a sports-media company. And our focus is on serving the sports fans.”

Now Pitaro’s directive is being tested by one of the company’s most valuable and conscientious assets. Le Batard, remained on the air and, unless he was fined, it appears he escaped punishment. (Neither ESPN not Le Batard has commented.) But Le Batard is right: ESPN doesn’t have the stomach for such fights.

ESPN wants to have it both ways. It put its policy in place (and is reminding everyone that it exists) to placate those who complain about the network’s alleged left-leaning agenda. Yet it won’t punish someone for ignoring that policy. It appears as if ESPN’s plan is to hope this all just goes away quietly.

In the end, ESPN would rather play it safe by sticking to sports than dipping into the political pool and risk offending anyone. That, of course, is ESPN’s right. It is in the business of making money and political talk threatens the bottom line. But the idea that sports, culture, race and politics never intersect and such topics should be avoided is an ignorant one.

Pitaro might be making advertisers and his board of directors happy, but he’s doing a disservice to his viewers, who should be mature and intelligent enough to be exposed to thoughtful commentary, even if that commentary is occasionally political in nature.

Fewer print days for Pittsburgh newspaper

The offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has taken another step to becoming a digital-only product. In August, it went from publishing a print product seven days a week to five. Last week it announced it will cut two more days of print. Starting Sept. 30, the Post-Gazette will print only on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

“We were saddened when we went down two days,” president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh Michael Fuoco told Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV. “But we learned to live with it. But to cut another two days and only publish three days a week, we are crestfallen by this.”

It has been a tumultuous year for the 233-year-old paper, with financial losses and labor strife. There also was that bizarre scene when publisher John Robinson Block went on a late-night tirade in the newsroom.

Joe Pass Sr., an attorney who represents many of the unions at the Post-Gazette, ripped into the Block family, which has owned the P-G since 1926. He told the Pittsburgh Current, “I’ve been doing this for a half-century and they are the worst ownership I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The Post-Gazette has not commented publicly, but has said in the past that it believes the future is digital and it remains committed to producing good journalism.

Readers share their own ‘go back’ stories

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) speaks as, from left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) listen during a news conference July 15. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The news has been dominated in the past week by President Donald Trump’s tweets to four congresswomen of color telling them to go back to where they came from. That phrase in particular has been used often by those who feel others, based on their ethnicity, do not belong in this country. How often?

When The New York Times asked its readers if they had been the target of “go back” comments, some 16,000 (!) flooded the Times’ website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. The Times published 67 of those responses.

It includes stories of black Americans being told to go back to Africa; Muslims being called terrorists and the sons of Osama bin Laden; and Chinese people being called communists. And the racism hasn’t been from just one area of the country, but from all over: big cities, small towns, up north, down south, everywhere.


Take a few minutes to read the comments and it’s not so difficult to understand why the phrase “go back” is so demeaning — and racist.

Buttigieg’s Nashville interview spiked

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Rochester, New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

A syndicated country music radio host did an interview with Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg last week. But his company, Cumulus Media, refused to air it, according to the HuffPost’s Hayley Miller. Blair Garner, who hosts a show called “Nash FM” that’s heard on more than 150 stations across the country, did a 20-minute in-studio interview with Buttigieg, who was campaigning in Nashville.

Buttigieg’s campaign manager Lis Smith told the HuffPost, “It’s important to Pete to reach voters everywhere. We’ve made it a point on this campaign to go outside the traditional political media bubble — that’s why we reached out to Blair about an interview. … He has a big audience. And it’s an audience that doesn’t typically hear directly from Democratic candidates for president.”

Garner hoped to air the interview today. He took to Twitter to announce he was denied permission to air the interview on his show, but could put it on SoundCloud. HuffPost obtained an email Garner sent to affiliates in which he said he has no intention of his show becoming political, but was proud that a candidate would ask to come on his show. He added that he would welcome any candidate, as well as President Donald Trump.

A spokesperson for Cumulus Media told HuffPost that the interview was not aired because of the “large number of political candidates currently in the race” and the company was concerned about the FCC’s Equal Time Rule. But, as Poynter’s Al Tompkins wrote in January, that is a complicated issue.

Highs and lows of high school, with a twist

The first thing you notice is that they are kids. Just kids. They play for the Thomas Jefferson High School boys soccer team in Dallas. They experience all the things most high school kids do: girlfriends, fast-food jobs, schoolwork, trying out for teams, joining clubs. But for some, there is more to this typical high school story.

The entire team is Hispanic. Some are U.S. citizens. Some crossed the border illegally but are hoping to stay through asylum, residency or other legal means.

They are the subject of a touching photo essay — “The Time We Have Here”— by Jeffrey McWorther, who has worked as a special contributor for the Dallas Morning News since 2012.

As McWorther wrote, “As unauthorized migrants continue to cross the southern border, we argue about caravans and detention centers, right wing and left wing, who wins politically and who loses. But for these guys, the issue is personal. Most are happy to see their former lives fade into the rearview mirror. Their gaze is on the future and the promise of what might be. But it’s a clouded gaze. The past doesn’t recede as easily as they’d like.”

Hot type

In this courtroom artist’s sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein appears during his arraignment in New York federal court July 8. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

  • How did Jeffrey Epstein rehabilitate his image after serving 13 months in jail in 2009? A media campaign that several reputable outlets fell for. Those stories have since been removed, but The New York Times’ Tiffany Hsu tells what happened.
  • A Family Dollar store had a broken air conditioner and a freezer full of rotten food. Employees complained to managers and nothing happened. Then the Arizona Republic got involved.
  • Here are some gritty photos from Rolling Stone: Theo Wenner’s photo essay of the Brooklyn homicide squad.
  • Cops are supposed to help victims of domestic violence. But what happens when every cop in town has been convicted of domestic violence? The Anchorage Daily News’ Kyle Hopkins, in conjunction with ProPublica Reporting Network, with this disturbing story.
  • Interesting analysis based on surprising real data from CNN’s Brian Stelter: Fox News talks way more about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar than MSNBC and CNN.

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

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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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