It’s Trump vs. everyone, plus Sean Spicer dancing onto ABC and Jill Abramson’s praise

Your Thursday Poynter Report

August 22, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Another day, another attack on the press by President Donald Trump. Good Thursday to you. Lots of cover today, and we start with a confrontation outside the White House.

Trump v. NBC … and CNN …  and NYT …

President Donald Trump blasted the media again on Wednesday after he was set off by a question from NBC News’ Peter Alexander. On the White House lawn, Alexander asked Trump about Trump’s criticisms of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden. Here’s the exchange:

Alexander: “Sir, Joe Biden’s gaffes. You like to attack Joe Biden for his gaffes. … You said that the mass shooting happened in Toledo when it happened in Dayton. So is that fair game?”

Trump: “This guy is the most biased reporter. NBC. You know I made a lot of money for NBC with ‘The Apprentice’ and I used to like them but they are the most biased. Peter is such a biased … you should be able to ask a question, same question, in a better way. You are so obviously biased and that’s why the public has no confidence in the media.

Trump wasn’t done. Later, he said, “Let me tell you, in six years, or maybe 10 or maybe 14, right? In six years, when I’m not here, The New York Times goes out of business very quickly. And you know who else goes out? Like NBC News. NBC News has less credibility in my opinion with guys like you than CNN. I think CNN has more credibility than NBC News. Did you hear what I said? I said you have more credibility than this guy. Go ahead. And that’s not saying much ‘cause I don’t think you have, you know what, you know why, ‘cause I don’t think you have very much credibility, but I will tell you this, NBC I think has less credibility than CNN. That’s not saying much but that’s the way I feel.”

What should we make of this exchange?

For starters, it was not a great question by Alexander. You would think (or at least hope) that the American people are more interested in hearing about policies and news updates than about Trump’s trolling of Biden. And it’s not as if Alexander’s question is going to get Trump to admit his verbal jabs on a potential presidential opponent are out of bounds. However, Alexander is an excellent journalist who doesn’t deserve to have his credibility questioned the way Trump did on Wednesday.

In addition, Trump’s attacks against the media continue to be problematic. He does it so much that many have become numb to it. But such attacks should not be brushed aside as if they don’t matter.

The President of the United States should not be predicting or wishing that a free press organization goes out of business, even if that president occasionally gets a less-than-great question.

He used to dance around questions, so …

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer in April. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

What in the world is ABC thinking? The network announced Wednesday that former White House press secretary Sean Spicer will be a guest on this season’s “Dancing With The Stars.”

This is same Spicer who misled, deceived and flat-out lied to the press and American people during his brief stint as White House spokesman. No, ABC is not bringing him on to be a political commentator. “Dancing With The Stars” is just a TV show that has nothing to do with politics. But there are hard-working people at ABC in the news division whose jobs were made difficult specifically because of Spicer. So all is now just forgiven and forgotten? ABC is now going to be a part of rehabilitating Spicer’s image and pay him, too? Is there literally no one else that ABC could bring in to do the cha-cha and a waltz besides someone who perpetuated the narrative that the media is the enemy of the people, who are to be lied to?

As New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik wrote, “Letting Sean Spicer tango onto prime time this fall is not the largest disgrace of all time. But it’s still a disgrace. Period.”

Not even “Dancing With The Stars”’ host Tom Bergeron was on board with Spicer’s selection. In a lengthy Twitter post, Bergeron wrote, in part, that it was his hope to have a “joyful respite from our exhausting political climate and free of inevitably divisive bookings from ANY party affiliations.”

He thought everyone was on the same page until he learned that Spicer would be on the show. Bergeron wrote, “It is the prerogative of the producers, in partnership with the network, to make whatever decisions they feel are in the best long term interests of the franchise. We can agree to disagree, as we do now, but it’s ultimately their call.”

If you think Bergeron is perturbed, imagine how the “Good Morning America” folks are going to feel when they have to promote the show.

Passing the torch, then passing some praise

Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, waves as she speaks at the commencement ceremony at Wake Forest University in 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

We haven’t heard much from former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson since she was accused in February of plagiarizing and not properly attributing source material in her book “Merchants of Truth.” But appearing on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Wednesday, Abramson defended her former paper as well as the executive editor who replaced her, Dean Baquet. She praised Baquet’s recent staff meeting with Times’ newsroom employees.

“Let’s face it, he is criticized all the time by you at Fox News and by conservatives for being way too hard on Trump and being biased against them. And yet it’s a readership which is quite liberal that wants a paper to be even tougher on President Trump,” Abramson said. “I thought he had it exactly right and was explaining to the staff that the job of The New York Times is first and foremost to be independent and to hold power accountable.”

(Note: a shout out to Mediaite’s Evan Rosenfield for posting the quote from Abramson’s interview.)

Add this to the growing list

Here’s another McClatchy paper that is eliminating the Saturday print version: the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia.

I’ve been writing a lot about McClatchy papers eliminating the Saturday print product in favor of beefed-up sections on Fridays and Sundays and a digital-only product on Saturday. The Ledger-Enquirer is at least the 11th paper in the McClatchy chain that will stop printing on Saturdays. The change will go into place in November. The challenge in Columbus, however, is giving readers the Friday night high school football coverage they crave without an actual Saturday newspaper.

Or maybe it won’t be that much of a challenge, as Tim Regan-Porter, McClatchy’s South Region editor who oversees the Ledger-Enquirer, explained to me in an email.

He wrote, “For the Ledger-Enquirer, the absence of the Saturday print edition will not impact readers looking for high school football coverage. Many, if not most, games are finished after our Saturday print deadlines. It’s been that way for some time. Consequently, scores and game coverage have been running online as soon as they are available and in print on Sunday. That will continue to be the case. Our focus is and will continue to be on providing valuable, high school sports coverage throughout the week and on the weekend — online and in print.”

Doing their debate prep

ABC News announced plans for the next round of Democratic presidential debates. They will be Sept. 12 and 13 if there are more than 10 eligible candidates. If there are only 10, the debate will be on just the 12th.

The moderators will be chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir, ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.

Behind the scenes of the 1619 Project

One of the most impressive pieces of journalism this year has been The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which marked the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved people arriving in what would become the United States.

Writing for the Times, Lovia Gyarkye explains how this impressive journalism all came together, from when Nikole Hannah-Jones pitched the ambitious idea in January to the project taking over last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, as well as a broadsheet special section.

Gyarkye wrote, “Those involved knew it was a big task, one that would require the expertise of those who have dedicated their entire lives and careers to studying the nuances of what it means to be a black person in America.”

Gyarkye added, “Of course, this is only the beginning. The 1619 Project is first and foremost an invitation to reframe how the country discusses the role and history of its black citizens.”

Hannah-Jones told Gyarkye, “As much as I hope white readers will read it and have their minds blown, I hope that black people will read it, and feel a sense of ownership over this country and a sense of pride in our resilience. I hope to reframe the way we see ourselves in America.’”

Show streak broken after 189 weeks

Michael Strahan, Robin Roberts and David Muir on “Good Morning America” in June. (CreditRW/MediaPunch /IPX)

For the week of Aug. 12, ABC’s “Good Morning America” averaged 1.07 million viewers in the coveted Nielsen demo of adults 25-54. During that same week, NBC’s “Today” show had 1.06 million among adults 25-54. And that was a very big deal.

It was the first time since the week of Dec. 28, 2015 — a span of 189 weeks — that the “Today” show didn’t finish first among the morning shows in that demographic.

A couple of things to note that may or may not have made a difference. One, it’s summer and TV viewing habits are not always consistent in the summer because people are on vacation. And two, “Today” show co-host Hoda Kotb has been on vacation for all of August.

Washington Post announces app changes

The new Washington Post “Discover” section of its app. (Photo courtesy of The Washington Post)

The Washington Post is adding a section called “Discover” to its app. It will feature what the Post describes as a “bold, highly visual presentation of the day’s most important and interesting stories, curated by Post editors.”

Leila Siddique, senior product manager at the Post, said in a statement, “The goal is to make it easy to stay informed, and also learn something new you may have missed among the big headlines.”

Users will be able to scroll visual headlines and then tap to read the articles. The app update will be available this month in the iTunes Store, Google Play Store and Amazon App Store. The visual headline view also is available on the Post’s Chrome browser extension.

Hot type

  • Media fight! A New York Times sportswriter takes to Twitter to smack-talk a writer from The Athletic. The Big Lead has the lowdown.
  • There was once a “Law & Order” episode like this, except this story — by The New York Times’ Jacqueline Mroz, of exactly whose sperm was used for artificial insemination — is real. And shocking.
  • In a thoughtful essay about language on NPR, Juliette Rocheleau looks at a word that used to be slur, but now has become acceptable. Or has it?

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

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