A misleading moment on ‘Meet the Press’ unfairly edited Attorney General Barr

Your Monday Poynter Report

May 11, 2020
Category: Newsletters

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here.

Shame on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Shady editing on Sunday made a point that simply wasn’t true and, worse, made Attorney General William Barr unfairly look bad. In a time when all media is fighting against charges of fake news, this inexcusable moment only lends credence to those who believe the press is out to get President Donald Trump and his administration.

During a panel discussion, “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd set up a question for Peggy Noonan (fast-forward to the 43:25 mark) by showing a clip of Barr appearing on “CBS This Morning” last week. Barr was asked how history will remember the decision to request that charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn be dropped.

On the CBS clip shown by “Meet the Press,” Barr said, “Well, history is written by the winners so it largely depends on who is writing the history.”

Then the clip cuts off. At that point, Todd said, “I was struck, Peggy, by the cynicism of the answer. It’s a correct answer, but he’s the attorney general. He didn’t make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this is a political job.”

If you watch the “CBS This Morning” interview (fast-forward to the 2:30 mark) you see that, yes, Barr makes the remark about history being written by the winner, but then he adds, “I think a fair history would say it was a good decision because it upheld the rule of law. It upheld the standards of the Department of Justice. And it undid what was an injustice.”

In other words, Barr said the exact thing that Todd claimed Barr did not say.

At the very least, it was sloppy. At most, it was deceitful and the kind of out-of-context editing that makes a strong case for detractors who like to yell “fake news.” Either way, it was a bad moment for “Meet the Press.”

Claims made by Trump and his supporters of “fake news” most often involve news that they simply don’t like or news that, while true, makes them look bad. But, in this case, when media detractors say, “See the things the media does to make Trump and his administration look bad?” it’s hard to defend. Often, it only takes one thing — even if it was nothing more than a sloppy mistake — to put a dent into credibility. And try selling that “honest, sloppy mistake” excuse to those who already believe the media is biased against Trump.

After “Meet the Press,” a DOJ spokesperson took to Twitter to complain. “Meet the Press” tweeted a response that said:

“You’re correct. Earlier today, we inadvertently and inaccurately cut short a video clip of an interview with AG Barr before offering commentary and analysis. The remaining clip included important remarks from the attorney general that we missed, and we regret the error.”

Good to see “Meet the Press” own the error, but unfortunately, by that point, much damage had been done.

The Times of newspapers

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Last week, I wrote how The New York Times’ first-quarter report for 2020 was a mixed bag. Advertising, because of the coronavirus, could fall more than 50% in the coming months, but the Times now has more than 6 million subscribers. During an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Times president and CEO Mark Thompson tried looking at life during and after the coronavirus — not just for the Times, but all newspapers.

Thompson said that during what he called the “golden age of print,” advertising accounted for more than 80% of the Times’ revenue. Now, Thompson says, it accounts for less than a quarter. But, the Times is different from most local papers, which continue to rely heavily on advertising, especially print advertising.

“I think moments like this — this extraordinary and terrible experience in which this country and this world is going through — is a moment for news organizations and newspapers to find audiences and prove the value of trustworthy news,” Thompson said. “If papers have enough cash on hand to keep going through the crisis, I think they can build audiences and build loyalty and build recognition.”

Thompson said he also believes it’s a great time to innovate, and that the Times is continuing to add to the newsroom. But that seems impossible at most local news outlets, which are doing just the opposite by laying off or furloughing journalists. Thompson said he believes, no matter what, advertising is a risky way to support a business model in journalism, even after the coronavirus crisis passes.

“So I would say to newspapers and news organizations of all sizes,” Thompson said, “I think it’s a good time to start looking to the future and trying to develop and implement a future now so that when we come out of this terrible virus, you’ll be ready for the future. I do accept, particularly for local newspapers, that’s a very, very big ask.”

Everything that Thompson said is right, including the “big ask” part. Now is the time to look to the future, but it’s much easier at a place like The New York Times — with its millions of subscribers — than it is for local papers just trying to keep afloat.

Serious allegations

During an appearance on Fox News’ “Media Buzz” Sunday, political analyst and journalist Emily Miller said she was sexually harassed when she worked at NBC in the 1990s. Miller — who also has worked at ABC and One America News Network and has been a Fox News commentator, among other places — was appearing on “Media Buzz” to talk about Andy Lack, who announced last week he was leaving as chairman of NBC News and MSNBC.

Lack’s upcoming departure ends a tumultuous era at NBC News, punctuated by controversy involving the Matt Lauer sexual harassment scandal and, somewhat related, the network’s coverage of the Harvey Weinstein case. Variety’s Elizabeth Wagmeister reported New York’s attorney general launched an investigation late last year into allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation and gender discrimination at NBC News.

After talking about Lack and NBC, Miller was then asked by “Media Buzz” host Howard Kurtz if she had ever experienced sexual harassment at NBC. Miller, who is now 49, said she was sexually harassed when she worked at NBC in her early 20s by “older men … men in power.”

“They made it very clear of some of the exchanges that would have to happen in order for me to be promoted there,” Miller said.

When asked by Kurtz if any of the interactions were physical, Miller said, “Yes. One was.”

Kurtz said he wouldn’t ask her for any names, but he did ask if they still worked at NBC News and Miller said, “Yes, they all do. … I’m just not in a position and not interested in being public and getting into a public debate over this.” (Kurtz should’ve asked for names and let Miller determine whether she wanted to give them or not.)

Miller said she has “evidence” of her claims, but offered no other details. In 2017, she tweeted that she had been “attacked” by ABC News’ Mark Halperin when she worked there. Halperin was fired as a commentator for NBC, MSNBC and Showtime in 2017 after nine women accused him of unwanted touching, sexual comments and physical assault when he worked at ABC News from 1994 to 2006.

After her interview with Kurtz, Miller tweeted: “I’ve never kept secret with friend & family that older, powerful men at NBC News tried to sleep with me for promotions – and that’s why I left. I’m going public now to call on Comcast/NBC for external investigation.”

That was just one of several tweets by Miller about the topic following the interview. This is the first time Miller has publicly made claims about harassment at NBC that allegedly happened more than 20 years ago. The status of the New York attorney general investigation is unclear and NBC Universal has said it was not aware of any such investigation.

Someone had to say it

President Trump speaks during a Fox News virtual town hall from the Lincoln Memorial. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Did you catch last week when, during a virtual town hall on Fox News from the Lincoln Memorial, President Trump pointed to the statue of Lincoln and said, “I believe I am treated worse” than Lincoln was? When Fox News’ Howard Kurtz, on his show “Media Buzz,” said Lincoln’s presidency was greeted by secession and that he was “eviscerated” by the press, the Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio let out a quick laugh and said, “He was also assassinated. I think Lincoln was treated a lot worse.”

An unnecessary Mother’s Day moment

CNN typically airs the coronavirus press conferences of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo’s state — and specifically, New York City — is one of the epicenters for the coronavirus and Cuomo’s updates are newsworthy and of great interest to the public. However, Sunday’s coverage slipped off the rails momentarily. Cuomo spent nearly five minutes (it felt longer) with his mother on camera as he and his daughters wished her a Happy Mother’s Day.

First, that kind of thing should be done on his own time. The people of New York are not interested in Cuomo’s family celebrating Mother’s Day while he is supposed to be giving the latest critical information about a deadly pandemic.

But, CNN should have cut away — just like it usually does when President Trump starts bringing up various business leaders to speak unnecessarily during his coronavirus press conferences. To be fair, CNN probably didn’t realize Cuomo was going to spend nearly five minutes turning his press conference into a personal virtual Mother’s Day card. The network might have been caught off guard by the whole thing. But it was something viewers could have done without.

Live, sort of, from New York

“Saturday Night Live” wrapped up its 45th season with another at-home edition — its third since coronavirus shut down the show’s ability to do a live show. Saturday night’s episode included former cast member Kristen Wiig serving as host with special appearances by Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin (as President Trump) and musical guest Boyz ll Men.

It was not the best of the at-home “SNLs” and there were not many laugh-out-loud moments, but the show deserves immense credit for its effort and ambition. And this episode, as The Atlantic’s Shirley Li noted, was a bit darker and more pessimistic than the other at-home shows. Unlike the first at-home show that seemed to embrace a “we’ll-all-get-through-this-together” attitude, Saturday’s show felt a little more somber, as in “this stinks and we might be in this for a while.” But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it reflects the seesaw of emotions that we all seem to be going through — up and fine at one moment and down-and-out the next.

One skit criticized on social media was a parody song that suggested that parents let their young kids drink as a way to get through all this. My take? It’s a comedy show and it was a funny song. No one was actually suggesting that parents let their toddlers drink alcohol.

Monday Night Football changes

(AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

There have been rumors for quite some time that ESPN would switch up the “Monday Night Football” booth. The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch tweeted Saturday: “ESPN is going to have a new Monday Night Football booth. Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland will not return, via sources. The successors will be internal. No decision has been made yet. Both Tessitore and McFarland will remain in prominent roles at ESPN.”

In addition, New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reported Tessitore and McFarland have been notified that they are out.

ESPN reportedly made a hard pitch for former NFL star Peyton Manning after Tony Romo decided to re-sign with CBS earlier this year. ESPN has not officially announced any “MNF” changes, but if it did make a switch and kept it internal, the names being floated most often are Steve Levy to replace Tessitore as the play-by-play announcer and either Louis Riddick, Dan Orlovsky or Brian Griese replacing McFarland as analyst.

There also has been thought given to having the highly-acclaimed college football broadcasting team of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit move over to football. But those two are so closely associated with the college game — especially Herbstreit, who is an analyst on “College Football GameDay” — that it’s hard to imagine ESPN shifting them over to the NFL.

Best feature of the weekend

ESPN’s “SC Featured” had a delightful 10-minute piece on the real heroes of this Mother’s Day: the moms who work on the front lines as health care workers. They’re trying to balance the grueling, frightening and risky work of trying to save lives, while still being moms. The three women featured in the Tom Rinaldi story took inspiration from their sports heroes, who make special appearances to show their appreciation.

ESPN has not posted the full story online, but you can see clips here, here and here. Also look for it on “SportsCenter.” Powerful stuff.

Hot type

Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden wrote an op-ed published just this morning in The Washington Post about President Trump’s coronavirus response. Among his comments: “But instead of unifying the country to accelerate our public health response and get economic relief to those who need it, President Trump is reverting to a familiar strategy of deflecting blame and dividing Americans. His goal is as obvious as it is craven: He hopes to split the country into dueling camps, casting Democrats as doomsayers hoping to keep America grounded and Republicans as freedom fighters trying to liberate the economy.”
  • Five anchors at NY1 — the 24-hour news station in New York City — say they have been facing retaliation since suing for discrimination. Vice’s Diana Falzone has the story.
  • Little Richard died over the weekend and the age of 87. Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt talks to the E Street Band’s Little Steven Van Zandt about one of Van Zandt’s musical heroes.
  • The New Yorker’s Ben Taub, fresh off winning a Pulitzer Prize last week for feature writing, has a new piece out this morning as he reports on a team of deep-sea explorers as they journey around the world and to both poles to reach the bottom of all five oceans and break a record. It also includes excellent photos by Paolo Pellegrin.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

More resources for journalists

Want to get this briefing in your inbox? Sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.