August 30, 2019

Good Friday morning. Enjoy the long Labor Day weekend. The Poynter Report will return Tuesday morning … assuming Hurricane Dorian doesn’t impact us here in St. Petersburg, Florida. On with today’s media news.

The dangers of sketchy journalistic practices

The problem with primetime cable news these days is that there’s such competition that, in order to elbow their way to the front of the line, hosts have fallen victim to hot takes and controversial stances. And that can lead to sketchy journalism.

Variety’s Brian Steinberg had an excellent piece on Lawrence O’Donnell’s embarrassing story retraction on his MSNBC show earlier this week. O’Donnell had to walk back an anonymous one-source story in which he reported Deutsche Bank gave President Donald Trump a loan that had been co-signed by Russian billionaires with ties to Vladimir Putin.

The issue, it would appear, was that O’Donnell was trying to stand out in the crowded primetime field. The problem, Steinberg accurately notes, is that these hosts are still working for news outlets — that is, networks that “try to maintain newsgathering standards and practices.”

Often, those standards and practices are in direct conflict with the hot take hosts are looking for to drum up interest in their shows.

Steinberg writes, “As O’Donnell illustrated Wednesday night, there’s still a good reason to stay close to the rules — no matter how much money and attention might be gained from bending them.”

The phrase O’Donnell kept using during his report — as well as when he teased it on Rachel Maddow’s show — was “if true.” Such as when O’Donnell said this on the air:

“That would explain, it seems to me, every kind word Donald Trump has ever said about Russia and Vladimir Putin, if true, and I stress the ‘if true’ part of this.”

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote that the key words were not, as O’Donnell kept saying, “if true.”

Wemple: “The key words of the opening discussion were the uncorroborated, wish-fulfillment garbage that O’Donnell presented to his viewers.”

Wemple closed his column with this question: “Is such a fellow fit to host an MSNBC program?”

What’s troubling is O’Donnell apparently didn’t run this report past Trump people for comment or reaction before going on air with it. And, oh yeah, the story wasn’t true. Also troubling: MSNBC has declined to answer any questions about this.

As I wrote in Thursday’s newsletter, this is a serious error. A mere apology from O’Donnell, a no comment from MSNBC and then moving on feels insufficient. It also feels like something that could stick to O’Donnell for a long time.

Trump: I’m not mad at ALL of Fox News …

Co-host Brian Kilmeade on the set of “Fox & Friends” in New York last year. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Trump repeated that he wasn’t happy with Fox News during a half-hour radio interview Thursday with Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade. The interview was mostly about policy and current events, such as Hurricane Dorian, China and the stock market, immigration, Iraq, and more.

When it came to the media, Trump repeated what he expressed on Twitter on Wednesday.

“I’m not happy with Fox,” Trump told Kilmeade, although he made sure to say his issues weren’t with primetime hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham, nor the “Fox & Friends” morning show crew, which includes Kilmeade.

Kilmeade asked Trump what “changed” to cause him to lash out at Fox News. Trump then went on a rant about CNN and MSNBC. He never circled back to Fox News and Kilmeade (perhaps purposefully) dropped the ball by not following up about it.

Trump said that CNN has been “begging” him for an interview, to which Kilmeade said, “I don’t think you should do an interview over there either.”

Trump said, “No, I think it would be very disloyal to people that are Trump fans and people that voted for me and people that are going to vote again.”

A better digital experience for Dallas

Good news for readers of The Dallas Morning News. The paper launched a new website Thursday, claiming it loads three times faster than the old one. It certainly looks sharp — dare I say like a real website as opposed to some of the drab sites often produced by newspapers.

Grant Moise, publisher and president of the DMN, said, “(Readers) have told us over the past year that our digital products have not matched the quality of our journalism.”

That can be said about a lot of newspapers — their digital acumen and capabilities have not measured up to their journalism skills. That’s in part because many papers have tried to fit square pegs into round holes by trying to turn journalists into website experts, as opposed to hiring tech-savvy people to innovate and run those websites.

While it feels as if simply getting readers to pay for journalism is the biggest obstacle facing newspapers, addressing reader experience of their digital products should also be a top priority.

Strangely Trump-free zones

The Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender tweeted out shocking news on Thursday: None of Thursday’s front pages for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times or The Washington Post had any stories about President Trump.

It’s a love story, baby

Noted “Dateline” fan Taylor Swift. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Everyone loves NBC’s “Dateline,” right? It’s not necessarily appointment TV, like “Game of Thrones” or my latest obsession, “Succession.” But it’s one of those shows that if you’re flipping around and you come across it, you get sucked in.

Now in its 27th season, “Dateline” is the longest-running show in NBC primetime history, and has become a cult favorite among, literally, millions across TV and social media. Among its biggest fans is Taylor Swift, who revealed to Us Weekly “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me:”

“I watch Dateline nonstop.”

Swift also met “Dateline” correspondent Dennis Murphy last year.

Murphy told Us Weekly, “I said, ‘Hi, Taylor, I’m Dennis,’ and she said with a big smile, ‘I know who you are!’ An out of body moment: she knows me?”

“Dateline” will air shows tonight and Saturday, as well as Monday. Monday’s show will be about a soldier, just back from Afghanistan, gunned down on the side of the road in Kentucky.

Seeing political stars in Texas

NBC News and The Texas Tribune are combining efforts for a full day of political conversation at the 2019 Texas Tribune Festival. The event — on Saturday, Sept. 28 and part of a three-day festival that goes from that Friday through Sunday in Austin, Texas — will feature Democratic presidential hopefuls Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennett and Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Those participating from NBC News include Chris Hayes, Lawrence O’Donnell, Stephanie Ruhle, Steve Kornacki, Katy Tur, Garrett Haake, Geoff Bennett and more.

Hot type

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) speaks during the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates in July. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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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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