Marital question sparks Kellyanne Conway and Wolf Blitzer fireworks | An explainer on using anonymous sources

November 15, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Wolf wears sheep’s clothing with Kellyanne

Let’s be honest —we’re all fascinated by the marriage of George and Kellyanne Conway. She is one of President Donald Trump’s most trusted advisers and defenders, while her husband is one of Trump’s fiercest critics. We can’t help but wonder how that works, just as we used to be fascinated by the relationship of Democratic strategist James Carville and his wife, Mary Matalin, a former Republican consultant. (She’s now a Libertarian.)

On CNN Thursday, anchor Wolf Blitzer wanted to get Kellyanne’s reaction to a comment by George but bungled the question, which set off a nasty confrontation.

Blitzer said, “It’s a political question, it’s a substantive question and I don’t want to talk about your marriage because I know that there are issues there.”

Wait, what? Issues?

Naturally, Kellyanne fired back at Blitzer.

“What did you say?” an incredulous Kellyanne asked. “You don’t want to talk about my marriage but there are issues there? Why would you say that?”

It’s as if Blitzer didn’t even realize what he said, or perhaps by “issues” he meant that the Conways are on opposite sides when it comes to Trump. Either way, it came out as if the Conway’s marriage was on the rocks.

“I don’t want to talk about your marriage,’’ Blitzer scrambled to say. “I want to talk about a substantive point that your husband, George Conway, made. He was on television all day yesterday during the first day of the impeachment hearings.”

But Kellyanne wasn’t ready to let it go. Nor should she have. Blitzer made the point that George is a legal scholar and has commented on impeachment before pitching to a clip of George on MSNBC. But Kellyanne saw right through what Blitzer was trying to do. After defending Trump and calling George’s Trump criticism his “opinion,” Kellyanne circled back to Blitzer.

“What you just quoted is said every single day by other voices,” Conway said. “But you wanted to put it in my husband’s voice because you think somehow that will help your ratings or that you’re really sticking it to Kellyanne Conway. And let me make it very clear, you didn’t stick it to Kellyanne Conway. I think you embarrassed yourself and I’m embarrassed for you.”

You know what? She has a point. CNN didn’t need to quote George to question Kellyanne about Trump. It’s hard to argue that CNN didn’t pull that quote specifically because it was Kellyanne’s husband.

Instead of trying to tiptoe into the question (he even called it a “sensitive” question in the setup) involving Kellyanne’s husband and being so overly careful that he actually stepped in it and made it worse, Blitzer would have been better off simply saying, “Kellyanne, your husband said something Wednesday and I wanted to get your reaction to it.”

Heck, it would have even been better and more respectful if Blitzer had just come out and said, “Kellyanne, we’re all captivated that you and your husband are on such opposite ends of the political spectrum in such a public way. How is it you guys see Trump so differently?’’

Then he could have played the clip and asked for a reaction.

Blitzer is a solid journalist and it might have been a mere fumbling of words. But it did feel like he tried to have it both ways: He wanted to ask Kellyanne about her husband while acting as if George was not her husband. Either go all in or get out.

Who’s watching what


The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, left, and career Foreign Service officer George Kent arrive to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

A little more than 13 million people watched the first day of the public hearings in the impeachment inquiry against Trump, according to Ben Mullin of The Wall Street Journal. Mullin reports that Fox News drew the most total viewers with 2.9 million, followed by MSNBC (2.7 million), ABC and CBS (2 million each) and CNN (1.9 million). NBC had about 1.7 million. Many more might have watched on C-SPAN or online.

Interesting that the two most-watched networks are considered the two most politically biased networks: Fox News and MSNBC.

The hearings also helped the primetime cable news network shows. The Hollywood Reporter’s Rick Porter writes that Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, as well as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon all had higher viewership than their third-quarter averages. Hannity topped all shows with 4.43 million viewers, followed by Carlson (3.97 million) and Maddow (3.63 million).

Merger approved but bad news looms

The Gannett-GateHouse merger has been approved. As expected, shareholders for Gannett and GateHouse’s parent company, New Media Investment Group, approved the deal Thursday. Now we wait for the bad news. Poynter business analyst Rick Edmonds writes:

Big layoffs are looming as the combined company (to be called Gannett) attempts during the next several years to deliver a promised $275 million to $300 million in cost-saving synergies.

The larger challenge, though, may be to engineer a full transformation to digital news at its 266 daily outlets and create a widened digital revenue base.

Edmonds reports that some cuts could come as early as the first week of December with another round expected early next year.

The right press is right, says media writer

“The Press Should Name the Whistleblower.” That’s the headline on the latest piece from Politico senior media writer Jack Shafer, who writes that the whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry into Trump should be named by the media. Shafer’s argument:

“… the whistleblower’s identity has become a political issue, and all this press coyness — giving this much information and no more — puts the country’s top publications at risk of losing the trust of their readers.”

The major argument against naming the whistleblower is to avoid putting the whistleblower’s safety at risk. Shafer wrote:

“But journalists would be unwise to award an assassin’s veto to people who might read their stories and then decide to run amok. I’m not dismissive of threats to the whistleblower’s well-being, but that way lies a slick, treacherous slope.”

Shafer’s main point is that while many media outlets are not naming the alleged whistleblower, many right-leaning outlets are. That means the right-leaning media is reporting a more full story. Shafter concludes with:

“I never expected an establishment press that so prides itself of reporting the news without fear or favor would so willingly surrender the role of independent investigators to its right-wing compatriots. But it has.”

Hello, presidential race! Goodbye, CBS


Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, appearing on “CBS This Morning” on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick had been a political contributor for CBS News. Not anymore. Why? He’s running for president. Patrick announced Thursday that he will go to New Hampshire and join the 17 other Democratic candidates already in the race. He made the announcement, of course, on “CBS This Morning.”

CBS’s Anthony Mason said, “But in light of his decision, of course, we’re discontinuing that relationship.”

Patrick told Mason, “You can’t know if you can break through if you don’t get out there and try… I’ve been waiting for a moment like this my whole life … a moment when the appetite for big ideas is big enough for the size of the challenges we face in America.”

Anonymous sources: We don’t ❤️ ’em, either

John Cutter, director of content for operations and standards at the Orlando Sentinel, has a column worth your time about the use of anonymous sources. As Cutter points out, Trump recently tweeted: “When you see ‘anonymous source,’ stop reading the story, it is fiction!”

For starters, news outlets would prefer to not use anonymous sources. Cutter quotes Julie Anderson, the editor in chief at the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun Sentinel, who said, “We set a high bar for granting a source anonymity and do everything we can to persuade sources to go on the record. The source has to have rock-solid credibility for us to even consider it. We also judge the importance of the information itself and whether it is verified independently by at least one other source. We don’t do it lightly.”

Another important element that Cutter points out: While the source is anonymous to the reader, he or she is not anonymous to the news outlet. The reporter, and most likely at least one editor, know who the source is. At the heart of the issue: The audience has to trust the news outlet’s trust of the anonymous source. That often can be asking a lot.

Cutter’s column, the first of a two-parter about anonymous sources, is a good explainer to readers about how it all works.

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

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