August 28, 2019

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Must be the dog days of August. Folks are fired up today. Good Wednesday to you. Some are upset with a New York Times writer, while a New York Times columnist is upset about bedbugs. We have nasty insults, tattletale emails and apologies in today’s newsletter. The cool weather of fall can’t get here soon enough.

This president is all talk. No, really!

The White House doesn’t hold official press briefings. No one can remember the last time President Donald Trump took questions from behind a podium inside the White House. And no president — ever — has complained more openly and often about the media than Trump.

Yet, there’s an argument to be made that no president is more available to the press than Trump. That’s the point dropped in near the bottom of a story written by The New York Times’ chief White House correspondent Peter Baker.

In an article on Tuesday about Trump’s contradictory statements about trade, Baker wrote, “In part, Mr. Trump’s various contradictions owe to the fact that he is far more open and far less guarded with the news media than any of his modern predecessors. For all of his antipathy toward ‘fake news,’ he talks with reporters almost constantly, creating many opportunities for off-script remarks. On Monday alone, he took questions from reporters in free-flowing sessions four different times.”

What’s interesting is that when New York University journalism professor and media observer Jay Rosen tweeted that section of Baker’s story, the reaction was mostly critical of Baker. It included a number to cancel the Times among other insults directed at Baker (and Trump).

What Baker wrote wasn’t wrong. Trump is never far from a camera, microphone or notebook. He’s always talking. He seems to feed off it, and those who cover him say he craves the attention of the media. The issue, of course, is what Trump is saying, not how often he is saying it. If he is evading questions, answering every inquiry with dismissive chants of “fake news,” and outright lying then the frequency of his press scrums is meaningless.

Or is it?

Getting Trump to talk is the critical part of covering him — even if what he says isn’t always true. Getting him on the record is what is important. We can’t complain that the White House press secretary (once Sarah Sanders and now Stephanie Grisham) never has official White House briefings and then roll our eyes when Trump talks too much.

The media, and the American people, should relish each time Trump speaks. It’s better than the alternative.

You’re not supposed to let the bedbugs bite

Columnists at major newspapers are used to being called names. Nasty, inappropriate names, along with other insults. I once had a reader say he hoped I would get cancer and die just because I picked the Boston Bruins to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Stanley Cup playoff series. No big deal. Columnists have thick skins.

Apparently, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens does not. He got bent out of shape when Dave Karpf, an associate professor at George Washington University, took what seemed like a relatively mild shot on Twitter by calling him a bedbug. Stephens was so riled up that he fired off an email to Karpf and even CC’d Karpf’s boss in order to — what, get Karpf in trouble at work?

Karpf told The Washington Post, “He not only thinks I should be ashamed of what I wrote, he thinks that I should also get in trouble for it. That’s an abuse of his power.”

Stephens told the Post that his email speaks for itself. In an almost laughable appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday, Stephens said being called a bedbug was “dehumanizing and totally unacceptable.”

As someone who has been the target of insults from readers, I certainly don’t condone Karpf calling Stephens a bedbug. And it’s common for people to say things on Twitter, Facebook and in email that they would never say to a person’s face. But, come one, this insult was so mild that it’s surprising Stephens would even notice, let alone overreact the way he did. Based on some of Stephens work, it seems impossible that he hasn’t been called much worse. It’s also ironic that someone who writes strong opinions for a living and should be a defender of free speech would be so touchy.

By the way, Stephens announced he was getting off Twitter. Probably a smart move.

Winning at ‘Who’ll play you in the movie?’

Television journalist Gretchen Carlson in June in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Appearing on BuzzFeed News’ “AM2DM” show on Tuesday, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson says she no longer watches Fox News.

“It’s been really educational to be able to not be in the news business right now, for the last three years,” Carlson said. “Not be labeled as a part of the whole fake news crew. I think that that has been very good to be on the outside, so to speak. I mean, I have a lot of respect for all of my colleagues who are in the journalism field because I’ve had a chance to watch all of them now. But I’ll just leave it with that I don’t watch Fox News.”

In 2016, Carlson sued Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, saying she was fired after a decade at the network because she rejected his sexual advances. Ailes denied the charges, but Fox News later settled a lawsuit with Carlson for reportedly $20 million. Ailes eventually resigned after more women came forward with harassment allegations. He died in 2017.

The recent Showtime miniseries “The Loudest Voice” was based in part on Carlson’s story. She was played by Naomi Watts. Another movie, called “Bombshell,” is based on the same story with Carlson being played by Nicole Kidman and Megyn Kelly portrayed by Charlize Theron. It’s due to be released at Christmas.

Carlson’s settlement means she can’t get into details, but she said, “Let’s face it, the fact that either of these two women even know who Gretchen is, is unreal, so I’m so honored that they’re playing my role. But since I can’t take part, it’s also like, I hope it’s just as accurate as possible because this was such an emotional time in my life.”


A first-rate apology for third-world comment

ESPN’s Paul Finebaum before the SEC Championship last December in Atlanta. (Ric Tapia via AP)

If you work in radio long enough you’re going to say something stupid. That’s not an excuse. That’s just a fact. Radio hosts are supposed to be provocative, interesting and entertaining. To be all of those things, sometimes they step over the line that separates clever from inappropriate.

ESPN’s Paul Finebaum learned that this week. While talking Monday about the Florida Gators’ band director being attacked by University of Miami fans, Finebaum called Miami a “third-world program.”

That prompted ESPN colleague Dan Le Batard, whose TV/radio show is based in Miami, to ask Finebaum to clarify his comments. During his show Tuesday, Finebaum admitted he said some “incredibly unfortunate things.” He made no excuses.

“What I said yesterday was very hurtful to a number of people,” Finebaum said. “For that, I sincerely apologize to all Miami fans and the University of Miami. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. All I can do is apologize and work very hard to avoid similar mistakes in the future.”

That’s how you apologize. You don’t blame others for being offended. You don’t say you were misunderstood. You don’t defend it. You own it. That’s only part of what makes Finebaum one of the best in the business.


Judge to rule on giving reporter a pass

Radio host Sebastian Gorka, right, speaks with Playboy’s Brian Karem, left, in July in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

After a hearing Tuesday, a federal  judge will rule later this week or early next week on whether or not to block the White House from suspending Playboy correspondent and CNN political analyst Brian Karem’s hard pass. His pass was suspended Aug. 16 for one month because of a confrontation in the Rose Garden with radio host Sebastian Gorka, a noted Trump supporter. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Sam Fossum have a good roundup of the events of this case so far.

It’s concerning any time the White House tries to limit a media member from doing his or her job, but this case has some gray area. Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple called Karem (and Gorka) a “loudmouth.” About the incident, Wemple wrote that Karem “couldn’t keep his mouth shut and came off more as a fellow looking to settle scores than report the news.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, Karem’s attorney, Ted Boutrous, said this is much bigger than one incident, and just another example of a Trump White House that regularly criticizes the press as the enemy of the people.


Freeing up some of the Athletic

The Athletic — the ad-free, subscription-based sports website — will experiment with putting some of its content in front of the paywall, according to a scoop by Axios’ Sara Fischer. Axios reported that The Athletic will offer one audio episode a week of its podcasts for free, with another episode behind the paywall for subscribers.

Axios also reports that the free episodes will include some advertising. The Athletic announced Tuesday that it is doubling the number of podcasts it produces to 80 and hopes to have around 120 by the end of the year.


Pack a lunch — and maybe dinner, too

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), shown here at the Democratic presidential debate in June, will participate in CNN’s town hall about climate. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The good news: CNN will gather 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls for an unprecedented town hall on a subject that desperately needs to be talked about — the climate. The bad news: it’s going to last seven hours.

Who is going to hunker down to watch seven consecutive hours about climate?

The event will be in New York City next Wednesday. The 10 candidates will go one by one, starting with Julian Castro at 5 p.m. Eastern and ending with Cory Booker, who will go on at 11:20 p.m.

The town hall would be way more effective if it was broken up over several nights. Asking viewers to dedicate seven straight hours to anything — especially in the middle of a work week — is asking too much.


The nuclear option isn’t really an option

A satellite photo of Hurricane Katia in 2011. (AP/Weather Underground)

I live in Florida. There’s a hurricane in the Atlantic trying to work its way toward Florida. Are we absolutely, positively sure we can’t nuke that thing?

Did Trump really suggest dropping nuclear bombs on hurricanes? Axios sayshe did. Trump says that’s “fake news.” And, yes, we all know the idea is silly. But if you’ve ever been in full panic mode because a hurricane is heading in your direction, no idea seems too out there.

So just to make triple-sure, nuking a hurricane won’t work, right? Amy Sherman from Poynter’s PolitiFact looked into it. Bottom line: hurricanes are too big and powerful, even for a nuclear bomb.

Kerry Emanual, an MIT meteorologist and climate scientist, told Sherman, “Probably what you would end up with is a radioactive hurricane.”



Hot type

  • His boyhood home was used to film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” He went to high school with Snoop Dog. Then he went on to be the judge in a huge opioid case. CNN’s Wayne Drash with the profile of one judge’s “wild ride into history.”
  • I love this map by Jason Kottke: It’s a distorted U.S. map based on how presidential candidates campaigned in 2016. It’s also a pretty good guess as to how they will campaign in 2020.
  • Breitbart reporter claims he was kicked out of a Beto O’Rourke speech Tuesday. If the account is true, this is flat-out wrong and a really bad look for the Democratic hopeful’s campaign.
  • Finally, a good way to start your day: a short CBS feature on an 8-year-old child who saw a classmate with autism crying on the first day of school.

Correction: This version was update to correct the spelling of Stephanie Grisham’s name.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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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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