These two major investigations reveal the power dynamics in American media and politics

April 4, 2019
Category: Newsletters

Good morning, and welcome to the Poynter morning newsletter. We start this Thursday with two pieces of outstanding and exhaustive journalism that are as impactful as they are impressive — one by The New York Times and the other by more than 30 journalists and one impressive algorithm.

First, the Times.

Planet Murdoch

Six months. More than 150 interviews. Three continents.

The result: a must-read, three-part story about media mogul and Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, his family and how, the Times says, they “turned their media outlets into right-wing political influence machines that have destabilized democracy in North America, Europe and Australia.

Reporters Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg wrote a spectacular story that would make a great TV show. In fact, it looks like the HBO show “Succession,’’ which is eerily similar to the Murdoch family’s real-life drama. Among the incredible details in the Times’ story:

  • Murdoch nearly died from a fall a year ago, setting off a power struggle/feud between Murdoch’s four children, especially his two sons, Lachlan and James.
  • Lachlan and James have fought over the direction of Fox News, with Lachlan leaning far right and James, the more liberal of the two, wanting more balanced coverage.
  • Murdoch’s attempt to take over Sky News in England was blown up because of perceived nastiness on Fox News.

There are other stunners as well, such as how Murdoch helped orchestrate the rise of Donald Trump to president even though he referred to Trump as a “(expletive) idiot,” how Trump prefers Bill O’Reilly to Sean Hannity and how Hannity warned Trump attorney Michael Cohen to be on the lookout for Trump mistresses.

This just scratches the surface of an extraordinary look at one of the world’s most influential families and how their power has shaped politics and media in the United States, Europe and Australia.

A disturbing look at “model bills”

Who is writing our laws? You might not like the answer.

It’s supposed to be lawmakers. But in a disconcerting report published today by USA Today, laws are being introduced in states all across the country that were written by corporations, industry groups and think tanks for the purpose of advancing their own agendas.

This exhaustive two-year investigation was conducted by more than 30 reporters from USA Today, The Arizona Republic and The Center for Public Integrity. The heart of the investigation: examination of nearly 1 million bills using a computer algorithm developed to detect similarities in language. It found at least 10,000 bills in the past eight years that were nearly identical to more than 2,100 signed into law. In addition, tens of thousands of bills had identical phrases.

These so-called “model bills” or “copycat bills” have resulted in laws that have: made it harder for injured consumers to sue corporations, implemented taxes, limited access to abortion and restricted the rights of protestors.

The report, written by USA Today’s Rob O’Dell and Nick Penzenstadler, claim that these copycat bills “amount to the nation’s largest, unreported special-interest campaign, driving agendas in every statehouse and touching nearly every area of public policy.”

Covering The City

The City (cool name, by the way) — an independent, nonprofit, non-partisan news organization covering New York City — launched Wednesday with a team of 18 staffers. That includes reporters in all five New York boroughs, as well as the state capital of Albany. The outlet is banking on local news interest in the wake of recent major cuts at the New York Daily News, as well attracting readers who might not be satisfied by The New York Times’ metro coverage. Editor-in-chief Jere Hester is a former Daily News city editor.

“New York’s local news ecosystem needs additional high-quality, understandable daily coverage now more than ever,” Hester said. “Local news is the lifeblood of civic engagement. We are here to serve the city through journalism — producing people-and-data-driven high-impact stories, and helping keep New York from becoming a local news desert.”

The City claims it has raised nearly $10 million from donors and will receive additional financial support from foundations, endowments, corporate sponsors and a membership program that also launched Wednesday.

Also of note, on its first day, it published its diversity report.

The show must go on

So, wait, they’re still going to hold the Final Four without Zion Williamson and Duke? College basketball’s most exciting player in years was knocked out of the NCAA men’s tournament last weekend, but CBS president of sports Sean McManus says the network will carry on.

“It would be great to have him in Minneapolis,” McManus said in a conference call. “Having said that, I think the momentum that we have going with this tournament will carry right through the Final Four games on Saturday and the championship game, so at this point in my life I’ve learned not to worry about things that I can’t control. … I think we’ll do really good (TV) numbers.”

On the move

BuzzFeed executive editor Shani Hilton is headed to the Los Angeles Times to be deputy managing editor for news, according to a story first reported by The Hollywood Reporter. She had been at BuzzFeed since 2013.

“I’ve basically done everything that you can do here, essentially, at one point or another,’’ Hilton told THR. “I wasn’t looking to leave, actually, but I’m from California and I’m really psyched to be moving back. The job was too appealing, and it felt like a really big, needed role.”

It’s just the latest high-profile move for a paper looking to reassert itself as one of the world’s top news outlets.

In other on-the-move news, NBC News has hired Vicky Nguyen as an investigative and consumer correspondent. Nguyen comes from KNTV in San Jose, where she has won awards for reporting food safety violations and a story where her reporting helped changed the U.S. Postal Service’s former policy of not allowing employees to call 9-1-1.

One more big move

“CBS This Morning” co-host Bianna Golodryga is leaving the network. That’s not a surprise after reports surfaced that she was not returning to the morning show.

In a statement, CBS said, “Bianna Golodryga has decided to leave the network. We thank her for her many contributions during her time here at CBS News and wish her the very best in her future endeavors.”

Those endeavors will include appearing on CNN, where she already has been a contributor.

Check it out

Stephen A. Smith is about to become the richest talent in ESPN history, according to the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand.

How’s Apple News+ working out? Well, according to The New York Times, it had 200,000 subscribers in the first 48 hours.

BuzzFeed News’ Craig Silverman on how an aging population will reshape the internet.