I wish I had a dime for every time I was told by a reader to “stick to sports” when I worked as a sports columnist. I’d have, well, a lot of dimes.
To suggest now that any athlete, sports team, news organization or sports journalist should “stick to sports” is a ridiculous notion. It’s like asking them not to eat. The world has changed. The country, for sure, continues to change. As The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell recently wrote after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, “Until this week, 2020 was the year sports seemed to matter least. Now it may become the year sports matter most.”
On Aug. 26, CNN’s excellent media writer Kerry Flynn tweeted, “Remember when ESPN was like ~ our fans don’t want us to cover politics ~ and G/O Media was like Deadspin should ~ stick to sports ~ Good times …” Well, Flynn turned that tweet into a story: “ESPN and Competitors Ditch Their ‘Stick to Sports’ Mantra. Politics Is Now Fair Game.”
Flynn writes, “The network has gone all in on its coverage of athletes who have joined protests and spoken out about the death of Black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.”
ESPN insists that it always was willing to cover the intersection of sports, society and politics, yet there’s no question that many of its viewers did not want ESPN to dip into politics. There’s also no question ESPN was, at least, more comfortable when on-air personalities such as Jemele Hill stuck to sports, including on Twitter. When I was a sports columnist at the Tampa Bay Times and wrote about things such as Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling or the former racist nickname of the Washington football team, I would get angry emails telling me to “stick to sports.” The letters would say, “Sports are my escape and I don’t want politics with my sports.”
My belief? Viewers and readers are OK with politics mixing with sports as long they agree with the politics. They only become upset when they are on the opposite side of a writer or athlete’s political stance.
Flynn notes that when appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” former ESPNer Cari Champion, who now hosts a Vice TV show with Jemele Hill, said, “Those who tell you to stick to sports are uncomfortable with our take on what we’re seeing in the world and how it relates to sports.”
And, often, it’s politicians who drag sports into their conversations, such as when President Donald Trump talks about the NFL or NBA protests or gets involved in whether or not college football should be played.
But here’s the bottom line: It’s ridiculous in this time in history to expect athletes to “shut up and dribble” as Fox News’ Laura Ingraham once said. Everything is interrelated and athletes have as much a right as anyone to speak out. Media companies and columnists have that right, too. If someone doesn’t want to watch or read that, that too is their right. They can grab the remote, go to another website, throw away their newspaper.
But to tell anyone to not express an opinion is downright un-American.
Sports controversy over not sticking to sports
Speaking of sticking to sports, the Miami Herald is in the middle of a controversy. It started when sports columnist Armando Salguero took to Twitter to criticize NFL quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who said in a video that the United States was founded on racist ideas. Salguero then lashed out at “America-bashing people who have never lived and would never live anywhere else.” (Salguero has written about escaping from Cuba as a child with his mother.) Salguero also posted a link to a video that talked about the Three-Fifths Compromise and how it was actually “anti-slavery.”
Herald publisher and executive editor Mindy Marques told the Miami New Times’ Joshua Ceballos that Salguero’s opinions do not reflect those of the Herald, but added, “The right to free expression and a free press are foundational to our democracy. Armando Salguero is a Miami Herald sports columnist and unlike reporters, columnists have broad latitude to express their opinions.”
Salguero posted a statement on Twitter, saying racism, in all forms, is “disgusting.” He also wrote, “So if anyone who sincerely interpreted my comments to suggest otherwise, I assure you that is not what I’m about and it was not my intent to cause anyone pain.”
But it didn’t end there. Now comes word that another Miami Herald sportswriter, Greg Cote, talked about the controversy on his Herald podcast, but that the Herald cut out those six minutes of commentary. Cote tweeted the Herald “chose censorship over transparency.”
Cote told Ceballos that upper management cut that part of the podcast because it was a sensitive topic and they didn’t want to fan the flames. The union at the Herald — One Herald Guild — tweeted, “One Herald Guild condemns this act of censorship by our employer. The silencing of an important conversation on this issue comes as this union prepares a proposal bolstering our newsroom’s anti-racism policies. This act inhibits the discourse.” It added, “By censoring this podcast episode, Miami Herald management is deliberately thwarting productive conversations about how we build an anti-racist workplace.”
Check out Ceballos’ story for more details, including the reaction of other Herald reporters and columnists.
A call to defund NPR might have the opposite effect
NPR was trending on Twitter for a while Tuesday. Actually, it was “Defund NPR” that was trending. Haters were fired up because the NPR Politics Twitter account sent out a tweet saying, “President Trump declined to condemn the 17-year-old accused of killing 2 protesters and shooting another in Kenosha last week, instead defending him and claiming, without evidence, that it appeared the gunman was acting in self-defense.”
There was nothing incorrect about that tweet, and it merely repeated something that many outlets and journalists have already stated. Yet there were enough people angry at NPR that the reaction trended on Twitter.
Ironically, however, those lashing out to “defund NPR” might end up causing the opposite effect. Many on Twitter started lobbying to pledge money to public radio.
MSNBC commentator Claire McCaskill, the former Democratic senator from Missouri, tweeted: “Trumpists are screaming about NPR reporting the facts. Wanting to #DefundNPR. Heads up idiots, NPR is funded by listener contributions. (Federal grants are 2% of their funding) if you appreciate their fact based reporting you can help at …” And then she linked to NPR’s website.
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Too stupid to fact check?
President Trump says a lot of preposterous things, but a comment made during an interview on Laura Ingraham’s show this week was among his most preposterous. Well, this week anyway. He said Joe Biden’s campaign is being run by people you’ve never heard of from the “dark shadows” who are “controlling the streets.” Even Ingraham asked what that meant, saying it sounded like a conspiracy theory.
“It’s almost too stupid to fact check,” CNN’s Daniel Dale said on air. “I mean, when you have Fox’s Laura Ingraham telling you it sounds like a conspiracy theory, it’s probably a conspiracy theory. … This is another dishonest attempt by Trump to try to foment fear about a candidate who has been in the public eye for many years.”
Dale added, “This president is a conspiracy theorist.”
Ingraham’s disgusting remark
Following her interview with President Trump, Laura Ingraham seemingly defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with shooting three protesters and killing two in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last week. Mediaite notes that while speaking on Brian Kilmeade’s radio show after her Trump interview, Ingraham said Rittenhouse was defending himself and exercising his Second Amendment rights.
She said, “I am gonna say we can’t arrive at a place in our country where law-abiding Americans who are trying to protect themselves and their property are made into villains. If that’s the case, we are going to be in for a really, really long and protracted period of complete chaos and destruction which I don’t think the American people want.”
Law-abiding citizen? Rittenhouse drove from Illinois to Wisconsin and went into the protests carrying a military-style semi-automatic weapon and then shot three people.
Ingraham’s defense came only hours after Trump seemed to suggest Rittenhouse was defending himself and days after Fox News’ Tucker Carlson also appeared to condone Rittenhouse’s actions by saying, “Are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder? How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”
Larry Flynt’s final farewell to the Falwells
For those not familiar, there was a landmark First Amendment case in the early 1980s involving Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and pastor Jerry Falwell Sr., head of the Moral Majority — a political organization associated with the Republican Party and the Christian right. Falwell sued Flynt over a parody advertisement that satirized Falwell. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Flynt prevailed in a unanimous decision. This story was a major part of the 1996 film, “The People vs. Larry Flynt” starring Woody Harrelson as Flynt.
What’s not known by many is that Flynt and Falwell went on to become friends. That is something Flynt revealed in an article published Tuesday by The Daily Beast. While Flynt grew to become friends and respectful of Falwell Sr., he does not have the same affection for Jerry Falwell Jr., who recently resigned as president of Liberty University following accusations about his wife’s relationship with a pool boy.
Flynt not only calls out the hypocrisy of Falwell Jr., but blames Falwell Jr. for helping Trump get “over the hump” in 2016 by calming the fears of many conservative Christians who might have otherwise been uncomfortable with Trump. It’s a really well written and entertaining column.
Flynt writes, “It’s possible Jerry Falwell Jr. will find forgiveness from his flock, but even if he doesn’t, the $10 million severance payout from Liberty University will surely ease his pain. As for the rest of the country, I repeat the sentiment that has guided me for decades: If there were ever to be a Second Coming of Jesus Christ, I have no doubt that his first order of business would be picking up a whip and banishing forever all the hucksters and false prophets who have perverted his message.”
For this item, I turned it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.
The transfer of McClatchy and its 30 papers to new owner hedge fund Chatham Asset Management is scheduled for Friday. For the occasion, both board chairman Kevin McClatchy and CEO Craig Forman published farewell columns Sunday in the company’s flagship Sacramento Bee and others.
McClatchy’s revisits family lore dating back to the gold rush days when Irish immigrant James McClatchy, who had worked for a New York newspaper, made his way west and launched the company. Forman’s is more an analysis of the state of the industry pegged to his four years running the company — with editorial successes and a shift to digital balanced against great financial strain.
Neither treats except in passing what drove McClatchy to seek federal bankruptcy reorganization early this year (heavy debt and an inability to make a required pension plan payment for 2020). However, Forman makes the point that once relieved of those debts, the company’s papers and sites can operate profitably on a cash basis and invest more in business model development.
Whether Chatham will pursue that strategy — or institute big cuts — remains to be seen. Like other hedge funds, it is close-mouthed about most everything. Look for some hints of where McClatchy goes next as soon as Friday or in the weeks and months ahead.
The rating game
Two major TV ratings notes to point out today. In August, Fox News was the most-watched TV network in all of primetime. Not just cable news, mind you, but all of television. The primetime lineup of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham averaged 3.63 million total viewers.
Meanwhile, CNN had its most-watched August in 40 years, averaging 1.020 million viewers in total day programming. It also had its most-watched August primetime viewership with 1.712 average viewers.
Now, I feel as if I need to write this every time I write about cable news ratings. Fox News and its viewers like to point out how they crush the competition, but it should be pointed out that if you add up viewership of CNN and MSNBC, it’s about equal to that of Fox News.
For example, in August, if you add up CNN (1.71 million) and MSNBC (2.19 million) primetime total viewers, you get 3.9 million viewers, compared to Fox News’ 3.63 million.
- Look for the moderators for the presidential and vice presidential debates to be announced this week. Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate on Sept. 29, Oct. 15 and Oct. 22. Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris are scheduled to debate on Oct. 7.
- NBC News is reviving MSNBC films in an effort to bolster documentary filmmaking. Variety’s Brian Steinberg has the details.
- New York Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt has a new book out — “Donald Trump V. The United States. (Inside the Struggle to Stop a President).” It’s already causing a lot of commotion, including a report that Vice President Pence was on standby when Trump made an unexpected visit to Walter Reed hospital last November. New York Magazine’s Gabriel Debenedetti, this time writing for the Times, has a review of Schmidt’s book.
- The New York Times’ Marc Tracy with “Journalist Quits Kenosha Paper in Protest of Its Jacob Blake Rally Coverage.”
- And, by the way, that journalist? The Wisconsin Examiner’s Ruth Conniff reports that the reporter has launched a GoFundMe account to continue his reporting.
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at email@example.com.
More resources for journalists
- Covering COVID-19 with Al Tompkins (daily briefing). — Poynter
- Poverty and Inequality 2020 — Sept. 2 at 12 p.m. Eastern, National Press Foundation
- Reporting in the Age of Social Justice (Online Group Seminar) Sept. 10-Oct.15, Poynter
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