The New York Times publisher’s revealing op-ed, a reporter searches for Michael Vick’s dogs, and Fox News apologizes

September 24, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good Tuesday morning. This morning’s Poynter Report takes you behind the scenes of a superb piece of journalism in The Washington Post about what happened to the dogs rescued from Michael Vick’s dog-fighting ring. I had intended to lead today’s newsletter with that story, but then late Monday night, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger delivered a jaw-dropping speech at Brown University, which was then turned into a must-read op-ed in The Times. So I’ll start there, but please keep reading to learn more about the amazing work in The Post about the dogs who survived Michael Vick.

‘Time … for us to fight for those ideals again’

In a stunning op-ed Monday evening, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger revealed a never-before-told story. Sulzberger said that two years ago, the paper was warned that a Times reporter based in Egypt named Declan Walsh was about to be arrested. That wasn’t unusual as journalists often are under the threat of arrest in foreign countries.

But Sulzberger said the warning “took a surprising and distressing turn.”

Sulzberger said, “We learned the official was passing along this warning without the knowledge or permission of the Trump administration. Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out. The official feared being punished for even alerting us to the danger.”

Sulzberger said the Times turned to Walsh’s native Ireland for help and within an hour, Irish diplomats safely escorted Walsh to the airport before Egyptian forces could detain him.

There’s more. Sulzberger wrote that 18 months later, another Times reporter was detained and deported after he wrote something that was embarrassing to the Egyptian government. When the Times protested the move, a senior official at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo said, “What did you expect would happen to him? His reporting made the government look bad.”

Sulzberger’s op-ed was originally delivered as a speech Monday night at Brown University. His remarks reveal not only the dangers of international reporting, but the increased stress caused by a president who constantly attacks the media. Sulzberger pointed to Trump’s use of phrases such as “fake news” and “enemy of the people.” He cited examples of other world leaders using such rhetoric to suppress the media.

Sulzberger wrote, “… in attacking American media, President Trump has done more than undermine his own citizens’ faith in the news organizations attempting to hold him accountable. He has effectively given foreign leaders permission to do the same with their countries’ journalists, and even given them the vocabulary with which to do it.”

Sulzberger concluded the powerful speech by saying, “The true power of a free press is an informed, engaged citizenry. I believe in independent journalism and want it to thrive. I believe in this country and its values, and I want us to live up to them and offer them as a model for a freer and more just world. The United States has done more than any other country to popularize the idea of free expression and to champion the rights of the free press. The time has come for us to fight for those ideals again.”

Dogged reporting


In this photo taken in 2011, Ellen gets a hug from Dogtown caregiver Michelle Logan in Kanab, Utah. Ellen was one of 13 pit bulls who recovered at the Best Friends Animal Society in the wilderness of Utah, a world away from where their lives began, chained in basements and forced into dog-fighting rings as part of the business bankrolled by football player Michael Vick. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

When Emily Giambalvo was in middle school, she loved animals. Her favorite book was a giant animal encyclopedia. She would read it almost every night before bed. She had a pet tree frog. Then a guinea pig. And after begging for years, she finally got a dog.

Around that time, she remembers seeing a National Geographic documentary about the Michael Vick dog-fighting story. The story stuck with her.

“Not because the person it involved,” she told me in an email interview, “but because of the dogs themselves.”

A little more than a year ago, when she was a senior at the University of Georgia, she wrote down a list of story ideas she wanted to do if she ever landed a job in journalism. Then in May, the now-Washington Post sportswriter mentioned an idea to Post sports editor Matt Vita: Whatever happened to the dogs rescued from Vick’s dog-fighting ring? Vita was immediately sold.

The result is a superb piece of work.

Giambalvo, 23, dug through public court records and discovered 47 dogs had been rescued — now to find out what happened to them. The identification numbers of the dogs gave Giambalvo the names of many rescue shelters where the dogs were sent. But some shelters had closed. Others had merged. Shelter workers had moved on to other jobs. It was literally like trying to find a lost dog. Or 47 of them.

Giambalvo ended up doing some good old-fashioned reporting — chasing leads, hitting dead ends, chasing more leads. Some dogs were quickly found. Others were not. Some adopters were wary of cooperating. All in all, Giambalvo worked on the story for four months while continuing her normal beat of covering University of Maryland sports.

She found that many of the dogs have since died. After all, the Vick story broke in 2007. But, in the end, she found out what happened to all 47 dogs — from their names to the details of their lives since the rescue.

The story, which also includes a look at how policies and perceptions about dog-fighting have changed over the years, appeared in the Post last week.

“I think with a story like this, you always start to worry it won’t resonate with readers as much as you had hoped,” Giambalvo said. “The response, though, has been overwhelming and far exceeded what I could have imagined. I certainly wasn’t expecting so many people to say they cried.”

Those who remember the Vick story can remember just how impactful it was. But why did this story resonate with readers all these years later?

“I do think there’s something powerful about giving a voice to things that can’t speak for themselves, along with preserving a story that could be forgotten otherwise,” Giambalvo said. “One comment from a few readers that stuck out was that I treated the dogs’ stories as if they were people, and that humans can and should listen and learn from them. I think that’s the type of empathy we should always strive to report with, regardless of the subject. The most rewarding part has been how other journalists — and some readers, too — have praised the depth of reporting, which to me is the greatest compliment.”

Carve out some time to read this extraordinary story.

About that Post story …

One more thought on the Giambalvo story. This is the kind of elite-level journalism that comes from three things: a smart idea, lots of hard work and support from editors. In this case, Giambalvo had been at the paper for less than a year and had an idea that had nothing to do with her beat. Instead of dismissing the idea or handing it off to someone else, Post sports editor Matt Vita encouraged Giambalvo to chase the story.

“He believe in the idea from the get-go,” Giambalvo told me.

This is fine.


White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham in July. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The last official White House press briefing was March 11. Don’t expect one anytime soon.

“Not right now,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told “Fox & Friends” on Monday.

Grisham added, “I mean, ultimately, if the president decides that it’s something we should do, we can do that, but right now he’s doing just fine.”

What Grisham said next was troubling: “And to be honest, the briefings have become a lot of theater. And I think that a lot of reporters were doing it to get famous. I mean, yeah, they’re writing books now. I mean, they’re all getting famous off of this presidency. And so, I think it’s great what we’re doing now.”

Or maybe they ask questions to get information important to the American people and hold the White House accountable?

White House press briefings became less and less frequent under previous White House press secretary Sarah Sanders until they stopped all together. Grisham has yet to hold one since taking over from Sanders in late June. Her “Fox & Friends” interview on Monday was a rare TV appearance for her.

Called out for bullying a teenage activist


Environmental activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden addresses the Climate Action Summit in the U.N. General Assembly on Monday. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Fox News released a statement Monday apologizing what it called a “disgraceful” comment made by one of its guests. Appearing on Fox News’ “The Story,” The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles criticized 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, calling her a “mentally ill Swedish child.”

Fellow guest Christopher Hahn fired back at Knowles, saying, “You’re a grown man and you’re attacking a child. Shame on you!”

On Monday evening, Fox News told The Daily Beast, “The comment made by Michael Knowles who was a guest on ‘The Story’ tonight was disgraceful — we apologize to Greta Thunberg and to our viewers.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr reported that Fox News told him it has no plans to book Knowles against as a guest.

A tale of two (very different) books


New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor, left, and Megan Twohey in April. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

The past month has seen two high-profile books written by New York Times reporters that involve sexual misconduct. One is “She Said,” written by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that centered on allegations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein. The other is “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh,” written by Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly.

BuzzFeed’s Miriam Elder read both. She had high praise for one, and criticism for the other.

Elder wrote, “‘She Said’ reads honest and clear — fascinating both for journalists and those who want an answer to the question: How did these two reporters help start a revolution?”

But, Elder wrote, the Kavanaugh book “could not have been more different.”

Elder wrote, “Is laying out the he said/she said and letting readers decide for themselves the right way to go? … In the end, ‘The Education of Brett Kavanaugh’ becomes a book not about this revolutionary and confusing moment, but, whether intentionally or not, about whether to believe the women who speak up.”

A spiritual leader for journalism?


Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

“Local news is no less important than national news.”

Who said that? None other than Pope Francis, to a group of Italian TV journalists, producers and technical staff. Pope Francis said local news is more genuine because it is the “voice of the people” and impacts all areas of life — including social, cultural and spiritual.

Hot type


Bruce Springsteen with wife, Patti Scialfa, in August. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

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

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