February 10, 2020

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‘Face the Nation’ is can’t-miss journalism

The most underrated yet consistently excellent Sunday morning news show is CBS’s “Face the Nation.” A big reason for that is how Margaret Brennan has settled in as a confident and accomplished moderator.

She is coming up on just her second anniversary, yet she has long found her footing of asking tough questions and keeping the interview on point without being impolite. The result often is an almost detective-like Q&A where guests are painted into a corner and end up saying things they maybe didn’t mean to reveal.

A good example was her quick-on-her-feet interview Sunday morning with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who revealed that the Justice Department is looking into information that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani came up with regarding Hunter Biden’s association with a Ukraine energy company.

Graham told Brennan that attorney general William Barr told him the DOJ has “created a process that Rudy could give information and they would see if it’s verified.”

Graham said, “If Rudy Giuliani has any information coming out of the Ukraine, he needs to turn it over to the Department of Justice, because it could be Russian propaganda.”

Brennan was especially sharp, starting the interview by reading a tweet that President Donald Trump wrote about Graham’s appearance on “Face the Nation.” (Trump called it “DeFace the Nation.”)

Brennan said, “I’m not exactly sure quite what that means, but it sounds like he’s giving you marching orders.”

Later, Brennan asked, “This sounds a lot like this is in some ways a taxpayer funded oppo research operation against Joe Biden. Isn’t this exactly what was at the heart of the impeachment probe to begin with?”

Graham mostly danced around Brennan’s questions, but did add at one point, “To every American politician, you should be very cautious about receiving information coming out of the Ukraine and other countries that may be backed by Russian information.”

Graham also told Brennan, “Any documents coming out of the Ukraine against any American, Republican or Democrat, need to be looked at by the intelligence services who have expertise that I don’t because Russia is playing us all like a fiddle.”

And that led to this excellent line of questioning by Brennan, who asked, “Have you ever said to the president when he repeats things like the idea that there’s the DNC server hidden in Ukraine, that this is Russian propaganda that he is repeating and apparently believing?”

Graham said, “Well, I’ll …”

Brennan: “Have you ever said that directly to him?”

Graham: “Well, I don’t have any information about the server being in the Ukraine.”

Excellent work, as always, by Brennan.

Sunday morning coming down

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Speaking of the Sunday shows, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Friday night that the White House was shut out from appearing on any of the Sunday morning shows, including Fox News. Grisham said, “I have got to tell you there is not going to be one White House official on any of the Sunday shows this weekend. Only Fox Business is taking a White House official to talk about what an amazing week this president has had, and I do find that timing very, very suspect.”

Actually, Fox Business doesn’t even have a Sunday morning news show. And for the record, CBS’s “Face the Nation” and CNN’s “State of the Union” put out statements to the Washington Examiner refuting Grisham’s claim that they turned down White House officials.


A master class in interviewing

Defense attorney Donna Rotunno arrives for the Harvey Weinstein rape trial in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

If you haven’t already heard it, listen to Friday’s “The Daily” podcast when New York Times reporter Megan Twohey interviewed Harvey Weinstein defense attorney Donna Rotunno. Twohey, who along with Times’ colleague Jodi Kantor broke the Weinstein sexual assault allegations story, interviewed Rotunno for just more than 20 minutes. And in those 20 minutes, Twohey showed why she is such a great reporter. She grilled Rotunno, but did so without emotion or prejudice.

The interview was over. Twohey thanked Rotunno. Then Twohey asked one more question. And it produced a stunning answer. Twohey asked Rotunno if she had ever been sexually assaulted.

Rotunno said. “I have not. (Pause) Because I would never put myself in that position.”

At that point, the interview was NOT over. Twohey started back up again, asking Rotunno to clarify her comments. Go back and listen to Twohey’s excellent interviewing skills and Rotunno’s controversial answers that came off as victim blaming.

Gayle King’s defenders speak up

Gayle King. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Several celebrities and media types are coming to the defense of “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Gayle King following last week’s controversy involving Kobe Bryant. As I wrote last week, King was interviewing WNBA legend Lisa Leslie about Bryant’s legacy and asked some questions about Bryant being accused of sexual assault in 2003. When CBS News posted just that portion of the interview online, King was blasted by many, including an especially vicious Snoop Dogg. (Snoop has since backed away from his aggressive comments, saying he is “non-violent.”) King’s close friend, Oprah Winfrey, told the “Today” show that King had received death threats.

As I also wrote, King had nothing to apologize for — she is a journalist and asked questions any responsible journalist would. King also put out a video statement saying she was mortified, embarrassed and “very angry” that CBS posted only that clip and that it was out of context, although I felt her statement was unnecessary. Bottom line: King nor CBS did nothing wrong.

Those defending King included journalists Willie Geist and Mika Brzezinski, and former national security adviser Susan Rice. CBS News President Susan Zirinsky also defended King, telling Variety’s Brian Steinberg in a statement, “We are a country where differences of opinion are welcome — but hateful and dangerous threats are completely unacceptable. … We fully support Gayle King and her integrity as a journalist. We find the threats against her or any journalist doing their job reprehensible.”

Poynter’s Kelly McBride also weighed in, noting that King is just the latest female journalist to experience internet blowback when asking where the criminal case fits in Bryant’s legacy. Still, she said, “Lisa Leslie is right. Those who celebrated Bryant’s genius had 16 years between his public apology and his tragic death to tell a fuller story.

King missed Friday’s show because of a previous engagement. She was expected back on air today.

Avoiding the conflict

ESPN baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Here’s an update to something I recently wrote. ESPN baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza has resigned from her position as an adviser to the New York Mets, finally ending an obvious conflict of interest. How in the world ESPN allowed someone who is supposed to be an objective analyst to take a paycheck from one of the teams she supposedly covers is beyond me.

But that conflict is now over as Mendoza resigned from the Mets on Friday. Why she resigned is not known, but her situation at ESPN has become a little odd. She has been removed as an analyst on “Sunday Night Baseball” — the network’s marquee game of the week. That would seem like a demotion, yet ESPN is painting it as an expanded role because she has been given a contract extension and will call games during the week, becoming the first female to serve as a lone analyst on nationally televised MLB games. (She shared analyst duties with Alex Rodriquez on “Sunday Night Baseball.”)

Meanwhile, there is still a conflict out there as TBS’s Pedro Martinez is a paid adviser to the Boston Red Sox, something even baseball commissioner Rob Manfred calls an uncomfortable situation.

‘Covering … from a cultural perspective’

The Black News Channel, a 24-hour news network targeting black viewers, is launching today. The network is founded by former Republican U.S. representative and college football star J.C. Watts and veteran television manager Bob Brillante. Jacksonville Jaguars billionaire owner Shahid “Shad” Khan is a majority investor in the network.

Last year when announcing plans for the network, Watts said, “We’re not looking to be Republican or Democrat. Obviously, there will be current affairs, but we are culturally specific to the African American community. MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, they may have African American faces on their news shows, but they are not necessarily covering the community from a cultural perspective. We’re not looking to be left or right.”

Tweet of the weekend

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla). (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Check out this tweet by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla):

“I will be occasionally posting definitions of words & phrases used by political media in a series entitled  #MediaWordOfTheDay

Our first word is: ‘prin·​ci·​pled’: exhibiting, based on, or characterized by agreement with the views of the political left and/or their media enablers.”

Based on Twitter comments, including this one from MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, Rubio’s new hobby isn’t going over so well.

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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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