August 16, 2019

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Good Friday morning. There is some controversy in today’s newsletter — including a media fight, allegations of plagiarism and some questionable emails between Fox and the White House. Let’s start there.

FOIA findings: Fox News + White House = ❤

Not that we needed any more proof, but a slew of emails this week revealed more examples of the cozy relationship between Fox News and the Trump White House.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Democracy Forward obtained 270 pages of emails between the Trump administration, Fox News and the Fox Business Network. It then turned those emails over exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter.

One email from April of 2017 showed that Fox Business Network host David Asman gave advice to Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh on how the administration should achieve a major tax cut. That’s just the most glaring example of the many times the Trump administration seemed to working alongside Fox News and Fox Business.

This should not come as any great revelation. As Jane Mayer deftly chronicled in a New Yorker piece in March, Fox News’ ties to Trump run deep and wide, and it’s not unusual to see someone leave Fox News for a White House position and vice versa. When Trump wants to reveal his thoughts beyond Twitter, he often gives extended interviews on Fox News, where he is rarely challenged.

Reading Thursday’s story in The Hollywood Reporter proves the subhead of Mayer’s story is, once again, fair: “Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda?”

Maybe Fox News, and its viewers, simply don’t care about the optics of this. But when you have a news network and an administration trading information and using each other to get the same message across … isn’t that what propaganda is?

Hill doing smart work at The Atlantic

Jemele Hill in July. (Photo by Donald Traill/Invision/AP)

When Jemele Hill left ESPN last September, she was taking a big risk. Yes, her time at ESPN probably had run its course, especially after she started to become more public with her political opinions. But she’s a pro and she easily could have toned down political talk to keep making a comfortable living talking sports in a high-profile gig at ESPN. When she joined The Atlantic shortly after leaving ESPN, she was taking another leap of faith onto a platform outside her comfort zone.

It appears to be working out well for Hill. She is producing thoughtful essays and opinions at The Atlantic and has become a podcast star. “Jemele Hill Is Unbothered” has attracted big-time guests such as Spike Lee, Ice Cube, Charles Barkley, Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke. But Thursday is the perfect example of why we (the audience) should be happy about her move. Her piece about the partnership between Jay-Z and the NFL is something she never would have been able to do at ESPN because of ESPN’s aversion of talking politics.

Hill offers insightful reporting, strong analysis and sprinkles in just enough opinion in her Jay-Z/NFL piece to deliver the type of essay that makes the marriage of Hill and The Atlantic a perfect fit.

Writing about the messiness of Jay-Z partnering with the NFL at a time when many believe Colin Kaepernick has been black-balled for protesting against racism, Hill doesn’t hold back. Her best line:

“Now that the NFL has Jay-Z’s blessing, it’s conceivable that some of those entertainers who distanced themselves from the NFL might change their mind. Jay-Z has given the NFL exactly what it wanted: guilt-free access to black audiences, culture, entertainers, and influencers.”

The latest true-crime podcast fad: plagiarism

The creator and host of the No. 1 true-crime podcast has been accused of stealing the work of others without crediting them. Ashley Flowers, who hosts “Crime Junkie,” told Variety’s Todd Spangler, “We recently made the decision to pull down several episodes from our main feed when their source material could no longer be found or properly cited. Since then, we’ve worked to put additional controls in place to address any gaps moving forward.”

Flowers continued by saying, “Our work would not be possible absent the incredible efforts of countless individuals who investigate and report these stories originally, and they deserve to be credited as such.”

According to the Variety story, plagiarism charges were made by Cathy Frye, who wrote a four-part series in 2003 for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the murder of a teenager. Frye claimed a “Crime Junkie” episode relied entirely on her work without attribution. Frye claimed some of the podcast quoted her story “almost verbatim” and threatened legal action if the podcast wasn’t taken down.

Robin Warder, host of the true-crime podcast “The Trail Went Cold,” claimed Flowers stole information from a Reddit post Warder wrote about the mysterious death of a man in 2015. There also were other allegations of lifting material, including from a 2018 TV episode of “On the Case with Paula Zahn.”

Variety reported that Flowers “did not address specific allegations of plagiarism.” She did, however, in a statement to Variety, say, “Our research process is thorough, rigid, and exhaustive, and those familiar with ‘Crime Junkie’ are aware that we make clear references to the use of other sources and that comprehensive notes and links to all sources are made available on our show’s website.”

However, if the citations are not made on the show, especially when using exact material from another source, complaints of stealing material are legitimate. Simply directing people to go to another place to find citations, particularly when it could be easily done in the show, is not good enough.

Better than pay-per-view: Silver vs. NYTimes

FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver in 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

What’s the beef between FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver and his former employer, The New York Times? The two sides have been sniping at each other for quite a while. Silver has called his old paper “arrogant” and said it has “serious” problems, along with its many strengths. Some at the Times think Silver has a grudge against the paper and takes unnecessary jabs.

Politico’s Michael Calderone has a juicy deep dive into the feud, writing, “Silver’s persistent criticism of the Times, stretching back to the last presidential election, has long struck some inside the newsroom as less about methodology and more about personal grievances with the paper that was unable to meet his demands to expand FiveThirtyEight …”

Calderone added, “Frustrations have spilled out publicly, at times, with reporters suggesting on Twitter that Silver’s assessments of the paper’s journalism veered beyond respectful disagreement.”


‘But we must save news’

Two years ago, an editor at The State Hornet, the student-run news organization of Sacramento State University, asked a question: “Why are we still printing a newspaper?”

Surveys showed readers preferred digital to print by a 4-to-1 ratio. So the Publication Board made up of students, administrators and faculty was asked to vote on whether or not to continue printing the paper. The vote was unanimous: 8-0 to discontinue print in favor of a digital-only product by the end of the 2018-19 school year.

In April, the final edition of The State Hornet was printed. As a new school year gets ready to start, it will be a digital-only project. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see more school newspapers go the digital-only route.

In a column explaining the switch, The State Hornet faculty adviser Stu VanAirsdale wrote, “True, our largely student fee-funded budget will save $35,000 annually by no longer printing a weekly newspaper. And you never get used to the stinging complaints from alumni, peers and longtime readers who say that ending print sends a dangerous message that newspapers — and even journalism itself — are dying.”

But, VanAirsdale said he believes a digital-only product is good for the present and long-term future of The State Hornet. He wrote:

“The reality is that we won’t save newspapers, but we MUST save news.”

Notable job news

Here are a couple of job movements that should interest you.

Ian Urbina, a longtime reporter for The New York Times (he was involved in the team that won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News for covering the scandal involving then-New York governor Eliot Spitzer and prostitutes) is moving over to The Atlantic as a contributing editor. Urbina’s specialty these days is writing about oceans, including crime, piracy, global migration and climate change. His first piece — “A Visit to the World’s Tiniest Nation” — is an odd (in a fun way) story about Sealand, a tiny micro-nation on a metal platform off the coast of England.

In the meantime, Kim Castro was named the first female editor and chief content officer at U.S. News & World Report. She previously headed up the Consumer Advice team. She takes over for Brian Kelly, who takes on a new role as editorial director and executive vice president.

Hot type

A TSA worker at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago in 2018. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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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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