December 17, 2019

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The relevancy of impeachment editorials

The New York Times has done it. So has The Washington PostUSA Today, as well.

And the list is growing to include big and small newspapers from all over the United States, a list of papers that say:

President Donald Trump should be impeached.

Editorial boards from Boston to Honolulu, from Los Angeles to Florida, from Philadelphia to San Francisco are calling for Trump to be impeached.

“We’ve seen enough,” the Los Angeles Times wrote.

“Congress now has a duty to future generations to impeach him,” The Boston Globe wrote.

“Trump has brought impeachment upon himself,” said the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Tampa Bay Times, “with reluctance,” called for the president’s impeachment.

But what’s the point? All indications are that the Senate will not vote to remove Trump from office. So why write an editorial saying he should be impeached when it’s so unlikely that he will be removed from office?

“Because President Trump’s actions — in this instance and in the past — demand it,” the Orlando Sentinel wrote. “Time and again he has shown himself to be uniquely unsuited for the office. His temperament, his vanity, his self-interest at the expense of the nation demonstrate on a near daily basis the danger he poses to this republic.”

The Tampa Bay Times wrote, “ … we hope the impeachment process and a trial in the Senate will give voters a more complete picture of Trump’s conduct, because they will deliver the ultimate judgment on his performance in November.”

To be clear, writing such editorials isn’t easy.

“Some people seemed to believe we relished the chance to call for a president’s removal,” Mike Lafferty, who oversees the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board, told me. “We didn’t. And we didn’t take lightly the responsibility of weighing in. I’d much rather keep the focus of our editorials on state and local issues. But this is the type of event where we couldn’t just sit on the sidelines. By the way, the editorial board was not unanimous in taking this position.”

Similar discussions were going on at all newspapers — including the Tampa Bay Times, which is owned by Poynter. (To be clear, however, editorial boards are separate from the newsrooms at all these papers.)

“We have been thinking about this moment for some time, and we had a thoughtful discussion about it at last Tuesday’s editorial board meeting before we wrote it — particularly about the tone of the editorial,” said Tim Nickens, editor of editorials for the Tampa Bay Times. “I am under no illusion that we changed many minds, as polls show people remain divided and have reached their own conclusions about this president. That’s fine. But we thought it was important that our institutional voice take a clear position on this historic question and that the Tampa Bay Times be on record about its judgment of this president’s behavior and the importance of our constitutional checks and balances to hold presidents accountable.”

Readers do care. Nickens said the editorial’s readership online ran twice the readership of a typical Times’ editorial. The Orlando Sentinel reported that it had 17 subscription cancellations as a result of its editorial. Sentinel Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson told me in an email, “We’ve seen more letters and calls against the editorial’s call for impeachment than in favor of it.”

Why do it if you’re going to anger many of your readers?

“I don’t expect we changed many minds,” Lafferty said. “Polls on impeachment show people are dug in and aren’t moving much. But history is going to account for where institutions like newspapers were on impeachment, and who stayed silent. The latter didn’t seem like much of a choice for us.”

Now before claiming this is liberal media bias and a partisan act of collusion by editorial boards across the country, consider this note from Politico’s Michael Calderone: more than 115 newspaper boards called for President Bill Clinton’s resignation after Ken Starr’s report in 1998. That was two months before Congress drew up impeachment articles.

Some papers have stopped short of calling for Trump’s removal from office. The Chicago Tribune, for example, called for the censure, saying, “President Trump’s Ukraine misdeeds do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal came out against impeachment, writing,“That’s it? That’s all there is?”

Phil Boas, editorial director of the Arizona Republic, told Calderone, “The Democratic Congress will impeach. The Republican Senate will acquit. And then we’ll have an election. The rest is all posturing. The American people will be judge and jury. Given the sharp divisions and real anger in the country, that’s the best way forward.”

Whether newspapers vote for or against impeachment and/or Trump’s removal might not be as important as writing about it one way or the other.

“While we focus primarily on state and local issues in our editorials, I think it is important that editorial boards from around the country to be heard on this issue and not defer to the national voices such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal,” Nickens said. “This is an important moment for the nation, and we all should be engaged.”

It’s a whopper

Courtesy of PolitiFact.

Poynter’s PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning website that fact-checks the accuracy of claims made by elected officials and others, made its annual big announcement Monday: Lie of the Year.

And it goes to … President Donald Trump’s claim that the whistleblower got his phone call with the president of Ukraine “almost completely wrong.”

PolitiFact Managing Editor Katie Sanders, who wrote this year’s story, told me the process started in mid-November with up to 15 or so “finalists.”

“These are usually all Pants on Fire or False rulings from politicians and pundits of both parties,” Sanders said. “We whittle those down to 10 that we submit for Readers’ Choice. From there, the editors take turns making the case for our favorite until we all can more or less agree on one.”

There were plenty to choose from, so why did this one end up as the Lie of the Year?

“Relevance and repetition of the claim are really important for this hard choice,” said Sanders, who said that it’s the only time all year that PolitiFact uses the word “lie.”

“Here,” Sanders continued, “the underlying topic carried significant, historic consequence. The whistleblower got it ‘almost completely’ right. What the whistleblower wrote about clearly isn’t ‘total fiction’ or ‘sooo wrong,’ as Trump said.”

Sanders also noted that, “Trump repeated this claim in some way more than 80 times over the past three months, in speeches, rallies, interviews, tweets and events with foreign leaders. It was a core part of the messaging, and it was obviously wrong — he is disproven by his own White House reconstruction of the Zelensky phone call.”

‘Please stop talking now!’

“The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean the panel on “The View” is feeling the holiday spirit. Monday’s show produced another viral moment when Whoopi Goldberg essentially told Meghan McCain to shut up.

During a discussion about impeachment, things got heated when Goldberg tried to send the show to commercial while McCain kept talking over the panel. McCain then complained that the show didn’t want “a conservative perspective on this show ever.”

That set off Goldberg, who snapped, “Girl, please stop talking! Please stop talking now!”

McCain fired back with the tried-and-true 10-year-old response of, “No problem. I won’t talk the rest of the show.” To which Goldberg said, “I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. If you are going to behave like this.”

Worth mentioning …

  • Pretty cool that Monday’s “The Daily” podcast from The New York Times revolved around a story that was actually broken by The Washington Post. It was about The Afghanistan Papers, the U.S. government documents about the war there. “The Daily” gave the Times’ take on the story, but credited its rival for this important work.

  • HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” wraps up its 2019 season with its year-in-review special. The show debuts tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern. Speaking of year-in-review, look for my year in media in Friday’s Poynter Report.

  • ESPN’s “College GameDay” reports that it had its most-watched season since 2015. The college football pregame show, which is among the best studio shows in any sport, averaged 1.956 million viewers per show, and reached nearly 36 million fans for the season, according to ESPN. Impressive numbers, especially with a new rival in Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” show, which turned out to be an entertaining and informative show that could rival “GameDay” for viewership numbers sooner than anticipated. (Oh, here’s a little feud between the two, which makes things fun and interesting.)

  • Another ESPN item. Watch this video. It will be the coolest thing you see all day. And it should get you fired up to watch “The Legend of Spitfire” tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN’s “E:60.”

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Editor’s note: The Poynter Report will take a brief pause starting Dec. 20 and will resume publication Jan. 6. Thank you for reading and enjoy the holidays!

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…
Tom Jones

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