October 24, 2019

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Good Thursday morning. Let’s jump right in with a question about the White House: What is it? (Yes, I know it’s where the president lives.)  Actually, the more appropriate question is: who is the White House?

Who is ‘the White House’?

A story about Ukraine and President Donald Trump appeared in Wednesday’s New York Times. The story used terms such as “White House officials suspected” and “sources both inside and outside the White House” and “the White House declined comment” … you get the picture.

Referring to “the White House” is common for news organizations. “The White House” traditionally has meant the official stance of the president, even if the words didn’t come from the president. But is that really the case any longer?

New York University journalism professor and media observer Jay Rosen on Wednesday tweeted:

“There is no White House. Not in the sense that journalists have always used that term. Now it’s just Trump … and people who work in the building. Those words, ‘the White House’ still appear in news reports, but no one knows what the referent is for them.”

It’s a thesis Rosen has been pushing for some time. When veteran journalist Soledad O’Brien tweeted that this IS the White House under Trump, Rosen tweeted:

“Journalists cannot keep talking about ‘the White House’ as if it’s still the institution Americans remember from previous presidencies. It is not. And they have to make that super clear.”

In the past, those who worked in the White House were an extension of the president. They could speak on his behalf. The voices might have been different, but the message was the same and consistent. Thus, it was accurate to personify “the White House.” But Trump has dismantled that familiar framework and is the only one who can accurately speak for himself.

A prime example of the Trump White House is the complete abolition of official White House press conferences. Current press secretary Stephanie Grisham has yet to hold one and she has been in that position for four months. The last White House press briefing was March 11. The last one before that was Jan. 28.

Those official press briefings are a way for reporters to get questions — and answers that represent the president — on the record. Without them, the media is left to get Trump’s message directly from Trump, either through his appearances or tweets.

Anything else probably does not accurately convey the president’s thoughts. In other words, no one speaks for the president except for the president. And that lends credence to the idea that “the White House” no longer exists in a way that the media is accustomed to seeing — and quoting.

Things may not be going so great at NBC

It has been a rough few weeks for NBC News as it’s come under attack, mostly from Ronan Farrow’s book “Catch and Kill,” for sitting on sexual assault allegations involving Harvey Weinstein and its own Matt Lauer. Many wondered if NBC News chairman Andy Lack and/or president Noah Oppenheim would lose their jobs over all of it.

Apparently, they will not. Word is that Oppenheim just had his contract renewed and that plans are still in place for him to replace Lack, who could retire after the 2020 election. NBC has not commented.

The New York Post’s Alexandra Steigrad quoted one “NBC insider” as saying, “We thought both he and Lack were about to be fired. No one has faith in them. They have made mistake after mistake, have told lies on top of lies. They have given the middle finger to journalism. Now one of them is rewarded with a multi-million dollar deal? It’s truly heartbreaking. Morale is at an all-time low.”

Pioneering civil rights reporter dies

In this file photo from the late 1970s, Kathryn Johnson works at The Associated Press’ bureau in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

Former Associated Press reporter Kathryn Johnson, who scored major scoops throughout her long journalism career, died Wednesday. She was 93. Among Johnson’s career highlights: she was the only journalist allowed in Martin Luther King Jr.’s home the day he was assassinated; she snuck into Gov. George Wallace’s confrontation with federal officials when he blocked black students from entering the University of Alabama; and she interviewed William L. Calley Jr. before he was convicted for his role in the My Lai massacre.

Johnson was hired as a secretary at the AP office in Georgia in 1947. Finally, after 12 years, she became a writer, covering the civil rights beat. She stayed at AP until 1979 before moving on to U.S. News & World Report and then CNN before retiring in 1999.

Ladies first. Er, fifth.

MSNBC has announced the moderators for next month’s fifth Democratic presidential debate, and all of them are women. The moderators will be MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, MSNBC and NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker and Washington Post White House reporter Ashley Parker.

The Nov. 20 event in Georgia is being hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post.

Remembering Nixon’s subscription policy

President Richard Nixon meets with foreign affairs adviser Henry Kissinger in 1973.(AP Photo/Jim Palmer)

In Wednesday’s newsletter I mentioned that President Donald Trump reportedly is not going to renew subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Poynter Report reader James Devitt from New York University points out what Richard Nixon said in his famous speech after losing the 1962 race for governor of California:

“You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because gentlemen, this is my last press conference, and it will be one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you. I have always respected you. I have sometimes disagreed with you. But unlike some people, I’ve never cancelled a subscription to a paper, and also I never will.”

It should be remembered that on several occasions after he became president, Nixon did call the media “the enemy.” He once told national security adviser Henry Kissinger, “The press is the enemy. … Write that on the blackboard 100 times.”

In addition, Nixon was recorded on White House tapes telling press secretary Ron Ziegler after the Watergate story broke that no reporter from The Washington Post should be let into the White House ever again. However, Nixon did add this line: “… except for press conferences.”

Mental health special works to end stigma

“CBS This Morning” co-hosts (from left) Anthony Mason, Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil discuss mental health before a live studio audience Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

“CBS This Morning” went before a live studio audience Wednesday to discuss a special topic. “Stop the Stigma” was a deep dive into mental health and featured comments from well-known figures who have battled mental health issues, including CBS’s Jane Pauley, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2001.

Pauley said, “When the doctor finally recognized ‘Oh I know what’s going on here. This is bad.’ He called my husband and said, ‘Your wife is very sick.’ And Gary was almost relieved because he knew, ‘Well, maybe someone can help get my wife back.’”

The Boss and King, together

Gayle King interviews Bruce Springsteen today and Friday on “CBS This Morning.” (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Speaking of “CBS This Morning,” co-host Gayle King has a two-part interview with Bruce Springsteen starting today. Part two will run Friday. King talks to Springsteen about his new film “Western Stars,” his marriage and, of course, his long music career.

“There is no other job in the world where the same people you worked with at 18 — at 16, in some cases, you are working with when you’re 70,” Springsteen told King. “There’s no other line of work that I can think of — where that holds true. It’s a pretty nice experience, you know? It’s something that there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s very blessed.”

More on the Astros-SI controversy

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal weighed in on the Houston Astros-Sports Illustrated controversy. As I wrote in Wednesday’s newsletter,  Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman allegedly mocked three female journalists over an Astros player once accused of domestic violence. Since then, the Astros have bungled their defense and explanation of the incident. Rosenthal, one of the best baseball journalists in the business, wrote:

“Some will blame the media for daring to point out Taubman’s indiscretions. Some always blame the media when confronted with uncomfortable truths. Well, this is a matter of simple decency and standard policy. And baseball should find all the evidence it needs to determine that Taubman and the Astros violated the club-media regulations outlined in the collective bargaining agreement and/or league rules regarding harassment.

“If baseball had a policy on lying, the Astros might be in trouble for that, too.”

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, appearing on Houston radio station SportsTalk 790 on Wednesday, apologized for Taubman’s behavior, but said, “What we really don’t know is the intent behind the inappropriate comments he made. We may never know that because the person who said them and the people who heard them, at least up to this point, have different perspectives.”

Hot type

  • In New York City, immigrants — maybe tens of thousands — from all over the world cram into illegal basement dwellings in Queens, often with strangers and sleeping in shifts in between their labor jobs. But it’s their sanctuary — a cheap, safe place where they are surrounded by people like themselves. This sensational piece by The New York Times’ Nikita Stewart, Ryan Christopher Jones, Sergio Peçanha, Jeffrey Furticella and Josh Williams takes you inside this world. Be sure to check out the story behind the story.
  • NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has a marathon interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast, including the time he searched for proof of extraterrestrial aliens, chemtrails and other conspiracy theories.

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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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