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Six months ago, I quit my dream job.
I was a sports columnist at a great major daily newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. I traveled the world covering the Olympics and Super Bowls and the Stanley Cup playoffs. You know what’s better than going to sporting events and getting paid for it? Nothing.
Then my dream changed. With the media under attack and journalism at a crossroads, I felt a calling to join the Poynter Institute. I quickly found something more rewarding and more important to me than covering sports.
I began covering the media and writing Poynter’s morning newsletter. Each day brought something new and exciting — conversing with Lester Holt about the dangers of being a journalist; analyzing a showdown between a teenager wearing a MAGA hat and a Native American elder; calling out Fox News and MSNBC for biased coverage; talking to a Dallas Morning News photographer who came face to face with an active shooter; listening to a reporter who quit her job to raise a family.
One day, I would celebrate an incredible piece of work being done at The New York Times or Houston Chronicle or Politico. The next, I would lament massive layoffs at tiny papers and big websites throughout the country. I started hearing from you, my readers, about what you watch and what you read.
Over these six months, I’ve discovered similarities in covering sports and covering the media. We wake up each day not knowing exactly what we’re going to see. Maybe it will be an exceptional performance. Or maybe a poor one. There will be controversy. We might see something that inspires us, or makes us mad as hell. It’s exciting and humbling to be reminded each day just how passionately everybody cares.
On the media beat, each day requires our exploration. We must decipher what is news and what is opinion, what is real and what is fake, what is meant for the common good and what is politically driven.
That’s where The Poynter Report comes in. This is the new-name, new-look weekday newsletter that highlights outstanding journalism and tries to help make sense of the deluge of information constantly coming at us. My goal is to take you behind the scenes by talking to reporters, editors and news leaders across the country and all around the world. And along the way, I’ll give you my two cents.
The Poynter Report aims to make you smarter about the news, to give you perspective, analysis and context in an easy-to-consume fashion. And it’s for everyone, not just journalists. We all consume news. We all want to be in the know.
So thank you for reading and if you’re not signed up, please do so here. Tell others to sign up as well. I’m also eager to hear what you think. If you have a tip or a great piece of journalism that I should share, or if you just want to vent or give me your opinion, let me know. Send me an email at email@example.com or find me on Twitter: @TomWJones. I look forward to talking to you each weekday morning.
So let’s get started.
Stepping over the ‘lines’?
The story of the weekend: No question it was President Donald Trump’s tweets criticizing Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Baltimore. Trump called Cummings’ district, which is about 55% black, a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and said “no human being” would want to live there. Johns Hopkins University and the national headquarters of the NAACP are within its boundaries.
That led CNN anchor Victor Blackwell, who is from Baltimore, to give an impassioned and emotional report to point out the times the president uses the word “infested.”
Blackwell said, “Donald Trump has tweeted more than 43,000 times. He has insulted thousands of people, many different types of people. But when he tweets about infestation, it’s about black and brown people.”
Trump doubled down on his tweets throughout the weekend, while denying there was a racial element to his comments. But even Fox News wasn’t buying that. In a tense interview with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace called it the “worst type of racial stereotyping.” Mulvaney defended Trump, saying the president’s comments have “absolutely zero to do with race.”
Wallace, too, jumped on the word “infested” and Mulvaney said, “You’re spending too much time reading between the lines.”
To which Wallace said, “I’m not reading between the lines. I’m reading the lines.”
Baltimore Sun to Trump: You’re a rat
These are not normal times, or else you’d never see such an editorial as the one that ran in The Baltimore Sun over the weekend. This wasn’t some anti-Trump publication, or some outlet formed to specifically push a liberal agenda. This wasn’t even some look-at-me columnist who loves to stoke the flames. This came from the editorial board of one of the most respected daily metro newspapers in America. And it calls the president of the United States the “most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office,” who doesn’t have even a “scintilla of integrity.”
Then it calls the president a rat.
Peter Jensen, who wrote the editorial after consulting with the rest of the Sun’s board, told The Washington Post, “We regularly mock some of the things (Trump) does, but I think to call the president of the United States a rat or a vermin … that’s a new place to go. But my gut instinct as I was writing the editorial was that that was the inescapable conclusion.”
You certainly can understand why the Sun went after Trump. The city of Baltimore was attacked by the president. Plus, it’s not out of the norm for newspapers to use an editorial to speak out against politicians and even presidents.
Stop for a moment and think about what we are witnessing. Could you have ever fathomed a metro newspaper using those words to describe any president? Could you ever have imagined a newspaper such as the Orlando Sentinel writing that a president’s “successful assault on truth is the great casualty of this presidency, followed closely by his war on decency?”
The final sentence in the Sun’s editorial: “Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”
The journalists’ dilemma: How to cover Trump
President Donald Trump at the White House on Friday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last month, The Washington Post reported that Trump has lied more than 10,000 times since taking office. That’s so many that news outlets clearly have struggled with how to handle them. They can’t possibly call him out every single time he says something untrue or misleading. But they also can’t let the president get away with lying. So what’s the media to do? And what has it done?
On his CNN show “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, host Brian Stelter said, “There are two kinds of people in America today: People who reject all of the presidential lying that’s going on, and people that just accept it and make excuses for it or look the other way. Well, news outlets that look the other way are part of the problem. Because if they don’t track, document and debunk the lies that our political leaders tell then who is going to? How is the public supposed to know they are being hoodwinked?”
Sunday morning coming down
CBS “Face The Nation” host Margaret Brennan in 2016. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
The Sunday morning news shows remain a critical part of political television because they’re still the one place where politicians regularly appear to answer questions. While those politicians are certainly there to push their agenda, they know they will face tough but fair non-partisan questions and, if the hosts are doing their jobs well, pertinent follow-ups.
As Margaret Brennan of CBS’s “Face The Nation” says, there’s a place for hot takes and fights, but her show is not that place. Ideally, she speaks for the other morning shows, such as ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet The Press.” Those shows can be credited for having civil discussions where leaders are held accountable, while putting forth credible ideas worthy of consideration.
Brennan and “Face The Nation” are the subject of an outstanding piece in Variety by Brian Steinberg. Brennan told Steinberg that the Sunday morning shows are “one of the few places you can turn to and see members of the administration or lawmakers engaged and be asked follow-up questions.”
What’s disappointing is Sunday morning viewership is down, and many viewers prefer the shouting, cheerleading and vitriol of weeknight primetime cable shows more than the more intelligent conversations seen on Sunday mornings.
The views are left but the data is center
Do you know what former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly calls the country’s “most dangerous organization?” A website called Media Matters for America. There’s no secret to what kind of website Media Matters is. The Washington, D.C.,-based, left-leaning site was launched in 2004 and calls itself a “progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing and correcting conservative misinformation.”
A story by Brian Hiatt in Rolling Stone asks: Is Media Matters a gathering spot just for liberals who hate conservative outlets or does it have more of an impact than that?
Hiatt writes, “All of this data collection and scolding may add up to more than preaching to the converted. Never-Trump Republicans who spent years bashing Media Matters now admit to finding it useful. And once in a while, an unexpected source will use Media Matters info in culture-shaking ways, as when podcaster Joe Rogan cited its data to pin down Alex Jones on his Sandy Hook denialism. ‘You might disagree with our point of view,’ (director Lis) Power says, ‘but you can’t disagree with our data.’”
President Donald Trump in front of an altered presidential seal last week. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
- There was a crazy story last week about a fake presidential seal — featuring an eagle holding a set of golf clubs! — at a Trump speaking engagement before conservative teenagers. The Washington Post wrote how it happened and found the man who designed it.
- It has been five years since Ferguson. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks back at the faces and voices — from “protesters to police, business owners to activists, clergy to lawyers.”
- The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd stirred up some folks with this column.
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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