How fact-checkers stay on top of the news, plus Jamal Khashoggi’s 1-year murder anniversary and the Miami Herald considers unionization

October 3, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good Thursday to you and, after a day’s respite, we’re back to impeachment talk. But there’s other media news, too, including a famous murder, journalists at a major newspaper trying to unionize and some semi-controversial comments from ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser. But first …

It’s a busy time to be a fact-checker


President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference Wednesday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Angie Holan, editor of Poynter-owned PolitiFact, told me she has “never seen anything like this in my professional career.”

Every day, there’s something new to report about President Donald Trump and the impeachment inquiry. Check that. More like every hour.

“I think we news junkies are pretty riveted by the live news conferences and the meaty news coverage,” Holan said.

On Wednesday, the major story was Trump and a news conference in the Oval Office alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. In a mere 17 minutes, Trump blasted Democrats, the whistleblower and the media during a question-and-answer session that looked more like something out of a movie than real life. He concluded by calling the media “corrupt” and saying it “truly is the enemy of the people.”

PolitiFact watched the news conference and went to work.

“We’re looking for the most important statements that are inaccurate or give the wrong impression,” Holan said. “We listen in real time and figure it out as we go, but it is very challenging when there are many questionable statements in a short time period.”

PolitiFact wrote about nine instances when the president was either wrong or misleading, including comments about the so-called transcript of the conversation with Ukraine’s president, what the whistleblower knew about the call and what Rep. Adam Schiff,  chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said about the call.

In addition, PolitiFact’s Louis Jacobson takes a closer look at Trump’s accusations about Hunter Biden and a payoff to China. Also, Daniel Funke and Miriam Valverde have the inaccurate or unproven things Rudy Giuliani said about Ukraine on ABC’s “This Week.” And another: PunditFact’s Bill McCarthy answers the question: Could Trump run for a third term if an impeachment trial fails?

The stories seem never-ending.

“This story is so challenging,” Holan said, “and there are so many aspects to it that I ask myself over and over, what information do regular people — not news junkies — need to know right now?”

What now?

With impeachment looming, how should the media proceed? Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan says the media needs to grow a spine. Sullivan writes that public opinion is an important factor and, because of that, journalists need to be prepared and ready to push back when conducting interviews. She gave recent examples of such work by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” and CNN’s Jake Tapper during recent contentious interviews with pro-Trump guests.

“Good to see,” Sullivan wrote. “And not nearly enough.”

Sullivan said she is not suggesting reporters should advocate for a particular outcome, but, “they must carry out their mission: to get to the truth so citizens can make wise decisions and not be bamboozled by lies and distractions.”

‘I said whatever they wanted to hear’


Attorney Laura Nirider talking with Anthony Mason of “CBS This Morning.”

Remember Brendan Dassey? He was one of the convicted killers featured in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer.” When he was 16, Dassey confessed to helping his uncle kill photographer Teresa Halbach. He’s now 29 and has spent more than 12 years in prison. But all along, his lawyers have claimed he was coerced into a false confession.

Now he is down to his last option, his attorney, Laura Nirider, explained on “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday.

“We’re filing a petition for executive clemency with Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin,” she said. “This is his best shot, and the moment is now. The moment is now for Brendan to come home.”

In the latest episode of the podcast “Wrongful Conviction,” Dassey gave his first interview since going to prison, telling host Jason Flom, “I just wanted it all over with, so I said whatever they wanted to hear, you know?”

Khashoggi remembered, one year later


Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, left, talks to Hatice Cengiz, center, the fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, during a ceremony near the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, marking the one-year anniversary of his death. Washington Post CEO Fred Ryan is on the right. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

One year ago Wednesday, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Consulate of Saudi Arabia and was brutally murdered. On Wednesday, Post owner Jeff Bezos and publisher and CEO Fred Ryan delivered remarks at a memorial service in Istanbul hosted by Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and several other organizations.

Bezos addressed Khashoggi’s fiance, Hatice Cengiz, telling her, “No one should ever have to endure what you have. Right here where you are today, you paced that street. For hours. Pacing. And waiting. And he never came out. It is unimaginable. You need to know, you are in our hearts. We are here. You are not alone.”

Miami Herald moves toward unionization

The editorial employees of the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Miami.com took a major step toward forming a union Wednesday. Reporters, photographers, copy editors, page designers, producers, translators and growth editors from all Herald publications signed cards stating their wish to be represented by One Herald Guild.

Julie K. Brown, the Herald investigative reporter best known for her work on the Jeffrey Epstein story, said in a statement, “Local journalism is stronger when journalists feel secure in their work and their jobs.”

The publications are owned by McClatchy. In a statement, One Herald Guild said:

“Over the past decade, under the direction of the McClatchy Corporation, the newsroom of Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Miami.com has removed hundreds of people from its payroll, cutting costs by shrinking staff through buyouts, layoffs and consolidation. These changes have had a direct impact on the ability of journalists to do their jobs, but they were often made with no input and little warning. The union intends to change this approach.”

The Miami New Times reports that Miami Herald publisher and executive editor Mindy Marques Gonzalez, in a note to staff, said the proposed union’s mission statement was “inaccurate and misleading.” The New Times also reported she would not voluntarily recognize the union. She said organizers would be forced to hold a vote with the National Labor Relations Board.

It’s the Mystics vs … the Nats?


Washington Mystics center Emma Meesseman shoots in Game 2 of basketball’s WNBA Finals on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Here’s the kind of insider newspaper discussions that journalists love.

On Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals won a crazy wild-card playoff game to advance to the next round of the MLB playoffs. At the same time, the Washington Mystics were losing Game 2 of the best-of-five WNBA Finals, which are now tied 1-1.

This is always a challenge for a sports section: How do you play two important stories on the same page? The Post stripped the Mystics game across the top and made the baseball game the centerpiece — which is the big story in the middle and generally considered THE story of the day.

But Tony Kornheiser, a former Washington Post sports columnist who is now co-host on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” had issues with how the Post sports section played the stories, saying, “It’s insane that The Washington Post stripped that (Mystics) game across the top. The Nats got the bigger play, but you’ve got to be kidding me. I mean, you’ve GOT to be kidding me.”

(You can see the page in this tweet from Dan Steinberg, the Post’s sports editor. Kornheiser made the comment about 40 minutes into his podcast.)

Kornheiser seemed to be suggesting that the Post overplayed the Mystics game, but it feels as if the Post played this exactly the way it should have been played. It’s hard to grasp the point Kornheiser was trying to make.

The Post’s TikTok secret? 👇 This guy.

Dave Jorgenson runs The Washington Post’s TikTok account. (Courtesy)

For this next item, I turn it over to Alex Mahadevan, a senior multimedia reporter at MediaWise.

When I first heard about TikTok this summer, I noticed something even more bizarre than the videos on the app: The Washington Post had a big audience, while most other publishers didn’t even have an account.

Other media watchers scrambled to report on the Post’s TikTok, which now has more than 147,200 fans, but I was intrigued by the tall, goofy, bearded star of the videos: Dave Jorgenson. How did he convince his bosses to let him go buckwild on this new platform? What did Marty Baron think when he saw Jorgenson stalking the newsroom in a cockroach costume? How did he convince Bob Woodward to star in a TikTok?

Jorgenson recently racked up more than 3 million views on a video in which he eats pumpkin spice flavored Spam with his bare hand. In between loaves of the gelatinous fall treat, he spoke with me about his time as an Eagle Scout, working in Jared Leto’s basement and the seven-page document he presented to get clearance to launch the Post’s TikTok.

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

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