October 22, 2019

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Something interesting happened Monday at the Poynter Institute, and it has to do with the Church of Scientology. I’ll get to that in the moment, but I start with Megyn Kelly’s future.

Don’t call it a comeback — yet

What’s next for Megyn Kelly? The former Fox News-turned-NBC personality looks as if she is gearing up for a TV comeback. But where?

Not Fox News. Page Six reports she will not return despite appearing there last week on Tucker Carlson’s show in what Fox News described as a “one-time occurrence.”

Forget NBC, too. She was never going to return there anyway, but you can slam that door shut after she ripped the network over its handling of the Matt Lauer sexual assault allegations. She told Carlson that NBC was “more interested in protecting their star anchor than they were in protecting the women of the company.”

Kelly is reportedly going to launch her own video podcast. Page Six also reported she hopes to “get her teeth back into the news business ahead of the 2020 election.”

That leads us back to the original question: Where?

She still might be too toxic for any network or major cable outlet following her messy stint at NBC, which ended with a controversy over blackface-costume comments and so-so ratings. Her best hope, at least for now, might be if the rumors are true that media mogul Shari Redstone is going to launch a conservative news outlet to rival Fox News. Either that, or the obvious landing spot: Fox News, despite reports to the contrary.

Scientology’s special delivery

The sign on the Church of Scientology’s Clearwater Building. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

At work on Monday at Poynter in St. Petersburg, Florida, I learned there was a magazine addressed to me at the front desk. It was Freedom magazine, which is published by the Church of Scientology International.

Know who else received a copy? Every single one of my Poynter colleagues. The magazines were personally hand-delivered by two men and addressed to everyone with name and job title included. Here’s the interesting part: The special delivery came one day after the Tampa Bay Times published an exceptional report by Tracey McManus detailing how the Church of Scientology has bought up big chunks of land in downtown Clearwater, about 25 miles from our offices.

In case you didn’t know, Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times. As it turns out, not only did every employee of Poynter receive a copy of Freedom magazine, but so did every journalist at the Tampa Bay Times as well as Poynter-owned PolitiFact. The cover story of the magazine was headlined “I AM A CITIZEN OF CLEARWATER. I AM A SCIENTOLOGIST.”

In another story, the magazine writes about its downtown Clearwater plans and the Times’ past coverage of those plans. The subhead to the story reads, “More interested in their own agenda than the future of Clearwater, the Tampa Bay Times has worked to sabotage the recommendation of the Urban Land Institute.”

In the story, the church said the Times has “maintained a rabidly prejudiced editorial policy — completely ignoring the Church’s positive contributions.”

Tampa Bay Times executive editor Mark Katches told me in an email, “The church’s article in its magazine criticizing the Times, and our reporter Tracey McManus, is utterly baseless. For decades, the Tampa Bay Times has been a leader in providing revelatory coverage of Scientology’s dealings in Clearwater and beyond. And Tracey’s reporting has been diligent and dogged. We have gone where the facts have taken us. And we will continue to do so.”

Fox News viewers stand by their man

(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

new poll was released Monday by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute. Among the results, something that should really come as no surprise: 93% of Republicans are opposed to impeaching President Donald Trump.

As Emma Green wrote in The Atlantic: “Trump famously once said that he wouldn’t lose support even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City. As his presidency enters its most dramatic phase yet, just one year ahead of the 2020 election, he might be right.”

There are some interesting numbers regarding support among white evangelical Christians, but for this newsletter, here’s a number that stands out: Among Republicans who cited Fox News as their primary news source, 55% said there was virtually nothing Trump could do to lose their approval.

More damning accusations for NBC News

It’s an old story, but it’s back in the news. NBC News is facing more criticism that it sat on a story involving rape allegations against powerful men. In a piece for The Daily Beast, Sil Lai Abrams repeats a claim NBC News squashed a story involving rape allegations against Russell Simmons and former “Extra” co-host A.J. Calloway. Abrams alleges she was raped by Russell in 1994 and sexually assaulted by Calloway in 2006. Abrams said she was working with MSNBC’s Joy Reid about publishing a story in early 2018. But the story never ran.

In her Daily Beast piece, Abrams lists her exchanges with Reid and her account of why her story never made it to air. The reason this story is back in the news is because Ronan Farrow’s new book “Catch and Kill” alleges that NBC sat on his Harvey Weinstein story, which he then took to The New Yorker and won a Pulitzer Prize. NBC has denied Farrow’s claims.

Abrams wrote, “I am one of the many survivors that NBC silenced, and bore witness to how it treated one of their top talents for trying to break a story on sexual predators. Given what has been exposed thus far by Farrow and others, it’s clear that NBC thinks it can spin their way out of this — again. What it fails to recognize is that this is a much bigger issue than their cover-ups, payoffs, and excuses. The media is supposed to be a watchdog for abuses of power. Reporting on the behavior of alleged serial predators is more than news. It’s an act of social good.”

An MSNBC spokesperson put out a statement last year and referred to that statement on Monday:

“When MSNBC pursues any investigative story our mission is always to be as thorough as we can, to scrutinize sources and corroborate information before we report. Anything else falls short of our journalistic standards.”

Connecticut public TV gets investigative

A sequential combination of images from police dash camera video released in May by the Hartford State’s Attorney. (Hartford State’s Attorney via AP)

On April 20 of this year, 18-year-old Anthony Jose “Chulo” Vega Cruz was pulled over in what appeared to be a routine traffic stop just outside of Hartford, Connecticut. He ended up being shot and killed by police.

“Collision Course,” a documentary that examines the events that led to Vega Cruz being shot by Officer Layau Eulizier Jr., kicks off Connecticut Public Television’s news investigative journalism project. In collaboration with Hartford filmmaker Pedro Bermudez, this half-hour documentary features interviews with those who provide insight into Vega Cruz’s mindset leading up to the incident, as well as reporting after Vega Cruz’s death, including the community’s response.

It’s powerful stuff, and impressive journalism from a local market. It’s also proof that small shops can deliver on big ambitions.

Lester Holt questions the face of Facebook

NBC News’ Lester Holt, left, interviews Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (Photo courtesy of NBC News)

The most interesting question that NBC News’ Lester Holt asked of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was whether he takes some responsibility for the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The answer, however, might not satisfy some.

“I certainly feel responsible for how our platforms are used,” Zuckerberg said. “They’re used in a lot of different ways. That’s going to be studied by academics and historians for a long time to come, what the overall effect is. … There are a lot of effects. Obviously, one of the bad ones is nation-states trying to interfere in our democracy. And that’s one that we need to push back on.”

Holt interviewed Zuckerberg from Facebook headquarters in California in segments that ran on Monday’s “Today” show, as well as the “NBC Nightly News.”

“I get that a lot of people are angry at us,” Zuckerberg said. “Part of growing up for me has just been realizing that it is more important to be understood than it is to be liked, and I believe it very strongly. And I do think that people can make up their own minds about me or the work that we’re doing, but this is who I am.”

‘We’re just getting started’

“CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

The New York Post’s Alexandra Steigrad writes: “CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell’s ratings in freefall.” Steigrad reports that ratings for “CBS Evening News” plunged 17% last week to 5.1 million viewers.

When asked about the ratings, CBS sent the Post a statement from CBS News president Susan Zirinsky, who said the network was “extremely pleased with how quickly the ‘CBS Evening News’ with Norah O’Donnell has established itself as a must-see destination for exclusive reporting and investigative journalism. We’re just getting started — ratings are not the sole measure at this time.”

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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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