July 23, 2020

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Joe Biden? You’re up.

That’s the message from Fox News’ Chris Wallace in the days after getting universal praise for his no-holding-back interview with President Donald Trump on Sunday. Now, he told colleague Bret Baier earlier this week, it’s time for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to face the same tough interview.

Wallace said, “The fact is, the president is out there. He’s out there in this broiling heat with me for an hour, he took all the questions. You can like his answers or dislike them but he had answers and Joe Biden hasn’t faced that kind of scrutiny, hasn’t faced that kind of exposure.”

Wallace said Biden needs to “come out of his basement” and face difficult interviews, not only from him, but others.

As far as Trump, Wallace said the main thing he took away from his interview with the president is that Trump “doesn’t seem to have a handle on the best way to handle” the coronavirus.

“He seems to be at loggerheads with some of his own top public health officials,” Wallace said. “I’m not sure that’s a winning strategy in terms of dealing with the coronavirus.”

It’ll be curious to see how the two candidates handle the media in the months ahead, especially if neither can campaign much because of the coronavirus. There will be some version of party conventions, as well as (likely) three debates.

Other than that?

Trump is a regular on Fox News. However, there was already a buzz following Sunday’s interview that Trump’s future Fox News interviews would be with more friendly allies than Wallace. Still, it seems as if he will need to venture outside that comfort zone and sit down with other networks if he wants to reach beyond his base. It’s unlikely you would ever see him on CNN or MSNBC, but he might agree (and, frankly, needs) to go on PBS, NBC, ABC and/or CBS.

Similarly, Biden isn’t going to be seen on Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson or any of the Fox News shows, but he also needs to get outside his comfort zone and go beyond MSNBC and even CNN.

While TV appearances during the campaign have always been pivotal, they take on extra significance this cycle with TV interviews and taped messages replacing the usual cross-country stump speeches.

Honestly, in these divisive times, it’s hard to imagine there are any undecided voters at this point. But one disastrous or especially impressive TV interview might inspire thousands to get out and vote. And, depending on where those thousands are, it could make the difference.

A toxic culture at Hearst?

The New York Times’ Katie Robertson and Ben Smith report that employees of Hearst Magazines say the media company’s president, Troy Young, has made sexually offensive remarks in the past that led to a toxic culture. Hearst outlets include Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Harper’s Bazaar, Town & Country and Cosmopolitan.

Robertson and Smith write that Young “has drawn complaints from people who said he had made lewd, sexist remarks at work. And in recent weeks, inspired by the civil rights movement, current and former employees at Cosmopolitan and another Hearst women’s title, Marie Claire, have spoken out on social media and during staff meetings on what they describe as a toxic environment.”

The story, quoting current and former employees, goes into detail about several incidents when Young said inappropriate things. Young has been with Hearst since 2013.

In a statement to the Times, Young said, “Specific allegations raised by my detractors are either untrue, greatly exaggerated or taken out of context. The pace of evolving our business and the strength of my commitment is ambitious, and I sincerely regret the toll it has taken on some in our organization.”

The Times they are a-changin’

For this item, I turned it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

No surprise to New York Times watchers, chief operating officer Meredith Kopit Levien was named CEO of the New York Times Co. Wednesday, as Mark Thompson retires after eight years in the position. The Thompson/Kopit Levien team has presided over the steady growth of digital-only paid subscribers to 5 million (with roughly a million more getting paid crossword and food sections). Its newsroom has grown to 1,700.

The company also acquired Wirecutter, a leading product review site, whose revenue comes from a commission on sales of recommended products.

New York Times stock has risen steadily in value as that of several other public newspaper companies like Gannett and McClatchy fell off a cliff. By my calculation, Times shares rose by roughly 25% in 2019 and by another third so far this year.

Kopit Levien, 49, joined the company as a top advertising executive in 2013, later took control of subscription revenue as well and became chief operating officer (and Thompson’s heir apparent) in 2017. She is not the first woman CEO at the company. Thompson’s predecessor was advertising specialist Janet Robinson.

ESPN controversy

ESPN’s Sage Steele. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Last month, ESPN had a special on race and athletes’ experiences of injustice. It featured many of its on-air personalities. SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele, whose mother is white and father is Black, was not on the special. This week, The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint reported that Steele believed she was excluded because some of her Black colleagues believed she wouldn’t be a welcome voice by the Black community. Specifically, a finger was directed at ESPN’s Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan.

Steele told Flint, “I found it sad for all of us that any human beings should be allowed to define someone’s ‘Blackness.’ Growing up biracial in America with a Black father and a white mother, I have felt the inequities that many, if not all Black and biracial people have felt — being called a monkey, the ‘n’ word, having ape sounds made as I walked by — words and actions that all of us know sting forever. Most importantly, trying to define who is and isn’t Black enough goes against everything we are fighting for in this country, and only creates more of a divide.”

However, in a column for Deadspin, Carron J. Phillips writes it’s no wonder Steele wasn’t included given her past stances on various race-related topics.

Phillips writes, “What Steele refuses to understand is that she willfully makes the bed she continues to lie in. Because while Black people fight against the stereotype that we’re a monolithic race, she has, in fact, become a great example of that. However, while Black people can be conservative, Republican, or anything else that challenges the idea that we’re all the same, we also still want to see our people empowered and take issue when they’re being treated unfairly and unjust. That would be a hard argument for anyone to make on Steele’s behalf.”

Phillips goes into detail about some of Steele’s past stances. He also quoted former ESPN personality Jemele Hill, who talked about the Wall Street Journal story:

“The disappointing part for me seeing a story like this, is that as far as I know, that whenever Sage has been caught up in various controversies I don’t recall any of her Black colleagues going out of their way to amplify those controversies. It just seems to me that this was something that if there was an issue, it would be better settled inside the building of ESPN. So for her to insinuate that two people with the great reputations that Michael (Eaves) and Elle (Duncan) have of doing something like this, it’s just very unbecoming.”

Phillips also points out that Steele was not the only person of color to not be included in the show. Neither were two of ESPN’s strongest voices on race: Stephen A. Smith and Bomani Jones.

Phillips claims Steele has worn out her welcome at ESPN and it’s time to go. I don’t know that I would go that far, even if his overall take on Steele is accurate. But, Phillips writes, “Given everything we know about Sage Steele, and her unwillingness to ever address the important issues that matter to her people, it’s probably best that she wasn’t involved with ESPN’s recent programming on Black athletes’ experiences with race and injustices.”

A devastating column that hits the mark

Washington NFL owner Daniel Snyder. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)

The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins is the best sports columnist in the country, and she proved it again Wednesday with a column blasting away at the National Football League and Washington NFL franchise owner Daniel Snyder. This follows the Post’s explosive story last week that detailed a history of sexual harassment allegations under Snyder’s ownership.

I mention it here because this is exactly what a great sports column does: Using facts, it takes a strong stance against a powerful and popular organization and league.

In a column full of devastating takedowns, this was my favorite:

“The man runs an organization that flesh-peddled its own cheerleaders. Why does he still own an NFL brand? Because the other owners either lack the will to deal with him, or have their own skeletons, or think there are more important things to attend to than, you know, women. Thus, Snyder’s slime becomes theirs.”

Jenkins also writes, “(NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell and Snyder’s fellow owners know exactly who and what Snyder is from league meetings. He operates with a combination of panting twerpism, incurable nastiness, and wormy duplicity, throwing human shields and checkbooks in front of him to absorb the blast injuries caused by his behavior.”

I could keep quoting the entire column, but you really should read how it’s done from the best in the business.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: ABC News)

  • ABC News will air a primetime special investigation next Tuesday from 9 to 10 p.m. Eastern called “American Catastrophe: How Did We Get Here?” ABC describes the “20/20” special as a look “into why the United States was unprepared for COVID-19, how government and administration officials failed and missed the warning signs, and what the country needs to do next to reopen and return to normalcy after the pandemic has wreaked havoc on American families, communities and the economy.”
  • The latest edition of HBO’s “Real Sports” has a powerful piece from David Scott that examines the health and safety measures being taken by the NCAA as it looks to have college football in the fall. After watching, I’ll just say that if I had a son or daughter who was a part of a major college football program, I’d be petrified.
  • Big scoop from The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin: The New York Times has reached a deal to acquire Serial Productions, maker of the popular podcast Serial. This shows the Times’ continuing forward-thinking. As Mullin tweeted, “Podcasts are a relatively small but fast-growing portion of the NYT’s revenue base, and it has a lot of cash on its balance sheet. So, a deal like this makes sense. They can plug the NYT’s formidable resources into one of the most popular podcasts ever.”


In Wednesday’s newsletter, I linked to an excellent story by Vanity Fair’s Tom Kludt about what it’s like to be a media member in the NBA bubble. (You really should check it out.) I had a brain cramp and said he worked for another news outlet. My apologies to Tom and Vanity Fair.

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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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