Sarah Sanders joins Fox News, while NAHJ brushes them off, and Verlander throws a brushback

Your Friday Poynter Report

August 23, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Happy Friday. Shocking news to start the day. That’s sarcasm. There’s nothing shocking about the big media news to close out the week.

This will come as news to no one —
kind of like the White House briefing room

Who saw this coming? I mean, besides everyone. Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is joining Fox News as a contributor. Her first appearance will be Sept. 6 on “Fox & Friends.”

Actually, a better question might be: What took her so long? The shuttle between the White House and Fox News must have been in the shop because it’s been two months since Sanders left her job at the White House.

As The New York Times noted, Sanders is among the nearly two dozen who have held jobs at both Fox News and in Trump’s administration. That list includes some major players: Bill Shine, who was the former deputy White House chief of staff and former co-president of Fox News; Hope Hicks, who is now the chief communications officer at Fox Corp. after serving as Trump’s communications director; and Heather Nauert, who served as both a Fox News anchor and Under Secretary of State.

Just last month, former White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah became a senior vice president at Fox Corp.

It’s certainly not unusual for someone to bounce back and forth from being in politics to covering politics. ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos used to work in the Bill Clinton White House. Veteran journalist Diane Sawyer worked for President Richard Nixon. The late Tim Russert worked in politics for years before hosting “Meet The Press.” President Barack Obama had press secretaries who went on to work for networks. I could fill this whole newsletter with nothing but such names.

And it’s not a bad idea. Who else can speak to what goes on inside a White House better than those who have actually been in the White House? It’s like a network hiring an ex-athlete or coach to analyze games. The difference, however, is that good sports analysts don’t have a rooting interest in the outcome of games.

The pipeline between the two shows just how hand-in-hand the White House and Fox News are. Viewers should not trust such a cozy relationship, yet it’s doubtful that those who watch Fox News are at all bothered.

So you might ask, what’s the problem if Sanders is merely preaching to the choir while those who don’t like the president aren’t watching Fox News anyway? The danger is acting as if it’s completely normal, and therefore acceptable, to have a major cable news network supporting the president to the degree that it can fairly be compared to state-run TV.

As far as Sanders, she has little to no credibility with many because of her time as Trump’s press secretary. After Trump himself, no one has been more of an obstruction to a free and open press than Sanders.

She stopped the long-standing tradition of official White House briefings, which was just as well in some minds because she often spent those briefings either ducking critical questions, misleading the press or outright lying to them.

The fact that she can now go on the nation’s most-watched cable news network, say whatever she wants and get no pushback whatsoever might be more dangerous than when she press secretary. Sanders also becomes, arguably, the most visible former Trump staffer to move over to TV. Depending on how Fox News users her, Sanders can become one of the most influential voices on that network, and therefore, one of the Republicans’ most powerful people.

Sanders going to Fox News is not surprising. Then again, CNN’s Brian Stelter said, “It should still be surprising that somebody who misled the public and defended a man who calls the press the enemy would land (this kind of job).”

This makes consecutive days that a former Trump press secretary landed a very public job. On Wednesday, Sean Spicer was named a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars.” But there’s a big difference between dancing on a, essentially, a game show and going on television and trying to influence millions with an agenda that’s in lockstep with the president.

Setting the record straight

NBC News’ Peter Alexander. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

In Thursday’s newsletter, I wrote about President Donald Trump’s nasty exchange with NBC News’ Peter Alexander. Trump questioned Alexander’s fairness when Alexander asked Trump about his repeatedly calling out Joe Biden’s gaffes when Trump, for example, recently said a mass shooting happened in Toledo, Ohio, instead of where it really happened — Dayton.

I pointed out that Trump’s time with reporters on the White House lawn might be better served asking questions about policies as opposed to his trolling of Biden. I also called Alexander’s question “not great.”

However, a little more context. A reader of The Poynter Report who was well-versed in Trump’s question-and-answer session on Wednesday pointed out that Trump had answered at least 24 other questions before the Biden question came up, and that Alexander had asked several of the previous 24 questions. I still don’t know if Alexander’s question served the overall good, but to be fair, it was not Alexander’s first question of the president on Wednesday.

Speaking to People magazine’s Rachel DeSantis, Alexander said, “The president’s regular attacks on me and my journalist colleagues are intended to undermine the work we do and to throw us off our game. I’ve been brushed off, ignored or attacked more times than I can count. But that’s doing your job. Being a journalist doesn’t mean being popular; it means asking tough questions no matter who’s in power.”

NAHJ to Fox News: Thanks, but no thanks

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists announced Thursday that it was rescinding an invitation to Fox News as a sponsor for an Excellence in Journalism conference in San Antonio next month. Along with that announcement, the NAHJ said it has returned a $16,666 sponsorship check to Fox News.

NAHJ president Hugo Balta, who is a senior producer at MSNBC, questioned Fox News’ fairness in his lengthy letter explaining the NAHJ’s decision. He also pointed specifically to comments recently made by Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes, who likened migrants to Nazis.

Balta wrote, “Starnes’ brazen language is symptomatic of a culture that provides a megaphone for disinformation by those in power with agendas, including the Trump administration, at the cost of the most vulnerable — immigrant communities. While alarming, the situation with Starnes is not an isolated incident and follows years of ongoing NAHJ conversations with Fox News and recent meetings with management.”

Balta wrote that he asked the other conference partners — the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association — to return their $16,666 share of the $50,000 Fox News sponsorship. But, Balta wrote, they refused, “opting instead to give Fox News a larger platform to discuss what they label as a ‘teachable moment.’”

In a statement, the Society of Professional Journalists said it also condemns Fox News’ anti-immigrant commentary, but would not rescind the invitation to Fox News.

“We condemn the unacceptable comments by the Fox contributor, however, as a press freedom organization, we must defend the spirit of free speech inherent in the First Amendment,” said J. Alex Tarquinio, SPJ national president. “Although it is unfortunate when the principle of free speech collides with the basic moral standards of civil debate, we will not exclude any media organization from the Excellence in Journalism conference based on their commentators’ points of view.”

In a statement, Fox News’ VP of Diversity and Inclusion Marsheila Hayes said, ““It is unfortunate the country’s main organization for Hispanic journalists has chosen to exclude FOX News from their upcoming convention. As the leading news network in the country, we are committed to fostering a diverse and collaborative workplace environment, and have been recognized in the industry for our advancement in this area, most notably with our multimedia reporter program. We are proud of our inclusive team and their achievements in journalism.”

Verlander throws brushback pitch at reporter

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Houston Astros blocked a Detroit Free Press reporter from attending the post-game news conference for Astros all-star pitcher Justin Verlander on Wednesday night. The writer, Anthony Fenech, was denied entrance on a request from Verlander, who used to pitch in Detroit for the Tigers. An Astros spokesman said Verlander was “adamant” that he would not speak to any media if Fenech was present.

In the Free Press, the paper’s executive editor Peter Bhatia said, “Blocking a working reporter from doing his job is unprofessional, disappointing and intolerable. We will be protesting to MLB and the Astros.”

In two tweets on Thursday, Verlander wrote:

“I declined to speak with the @freep rep last night because of his unethical behavior in the past. I reached out to the @freep multiple times before the game to notify them why and to give them an opportunity to have someone else there. Ironically they didn’t answer.

Although I tried to avoid this situation altogether, I’ve still reached out to@freep multiple times today with no response. They’re still not interested in my side of the story.”

Publicly, no one is sure what the beef is about, but it wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. The Free Press reported that Verander also refused to speak to the media the day before — on Tuesday — because Fenech was present. Fenech started covering the Tigers in 2015, so he would have covered Verlander in Detroit from 2015 until 2017 when Verlander was traded to Houston. Verlander is not known for being particularly surly with the media.

As a former sportswriter, I can tell you that it’s not unheard of for an athlete to have an issue with a sports reporter, and to not want to answer questions from that reporter. But it is rare for a sportswriter to be banned from a group media session. The Astros banning Fenech violates MLB policy. Major League Baseball released a statement saying the reporter should not have been banned from the Verlander news conference, and that it has communicated that to the Astros.

In a rather lengthy statement, the Astros said Fenech was banned after the Astros had taken into consideration “the past history between Fenech” and Verlander. It also said, “We believe that our course of action in this isolated case was appropriate.”

Hot type

  • MSNBC will premier a new episode of “Breaking Hate” on Sunday night at 9 Eastern. “Breaking Hate” is an ongoing series of documentary specials following former white supremacist Christian Picciolini. In this episode, Picciolini meets with the former leader of the largest neo-Nazi organization in the United States. You can watch a preview here.
  • Stay with me on this one: The Seattle Times messes up an email alert to readers. It inspires a local musician to write a parody of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” Wait till you see the musician’s name! And also credit The Seattle Times (and writer Christine Clarridge) for writing about it.
  • USA Today launched a new series on Thursday: 1619: Searching for Answers. The detailed piece by writers Deborah Barfield Berry and Kelley Benham French uncovers how slavery has impacted America, but through the personal story of a Virginia woman who traveled to Angola to uncover her family’s history with slavery. The project also includes an interactive augmented reality experience about the journey of enslaved Africans.

This story has been updated to include a comment from Fox News in the item about the NAHJ.

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