January 14, 2020

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

Former press secretaries unite

There are two big news stories on tap.

The House is expected to send impeachment articles to the Senate this week, maybe even today. And tonight, the Democrats will hold another presidential debate.

Oh, and one more thing: continuing tensions with the United States and Iran.

So once again, the question is asked: Where is the White House press secretary?

There are a group of people out there who believe it’s wrong that Stephanie Grisham hasn’t held an official White House press briefing since she became the White House press secretary in June. They also think it’s wrong that we’re now at 309 days without an official press briefing.

These people said that regular press briefings under previous presidents were good for the American people, good for past administrations and “critical for governing our great country.”

“In any great democracy,” these people said, “an informed public strengthens the nation. The public has a right to know what its government is doing, and the government has a duty to explain what it is doing.”

So who are these people? Those who have actually done the job.

In an open letter, 13 former White House press secretaries, foreign service and military officials called for the return of White House press briefings. The 13, including seven former White House press secretaries, served under either Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush.

The letter concluded with, “We respectfully urge the resumption of regular press briefings across our government, especially in the places where Americans want the truth, our allies in the world want information, and where all of us, hopefully, want to see American values reflected.”

How did the White House respond to the letter? White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told The New York Times that the letter writers were, “D.C. establishment swamp creatures.”


On the other hand …

An argument could be made that maybe Grisham shouldn’t speak anyway, not after her remarks Monday on Fox News — where, by the way, she regularly appears. When asked about President Trump retweeting a badly photoshopped image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in front of an Iranian flag while wearing Muslim garb, Grisham said, “I think the president is making clear that the Democrats have been parroting Iranian talking points and almost taking the side of terrorists and those who are out to kill Americans. I think the president was making a point that the Democrats hate him so much that they are willing to be on the side of countries and leadership of countries who want to kill Americans.”

Regardless of your politics, for a While House press secretary to suggest that members of the U.S. House and Senate are siding with terrorists to kill Americans is outlandish. Almost as disappointing was Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner allowing Grisham to make such a stunning statement without pushing back. I mean, if you’re Faulkner, don’t you say, “Whoa! Hold on a second, Ms. Grisham. Are you saying the president of the United States believes that two of the highest-ranking members of our government are siding with terrorists? Really?!”

Unfortunately, Faulkner didn’t say anything close to that.

Abby Huntsman leaving ‘The View’

Big news at “The View.” Abby Huntsman announced Monday she is leaving the show to help her father, Jon Huntsman Jr., run for governor of Utah. Well, that’s the official story, anyway.

Actually, it might be a toxic work environment that led to Huntsman’s sudden departure. Last week, Page Six’s Carlos Greer wrote that there were problems between Huntsman and panelist Meghan McCain.

“They aren’t speaking to each other,” a source told Greer. “It’s been about a month. None of the ladies talk to Meghan now. Abby was the last woman standing. It’s bad. Meghan’s so rude. Abby tolerates Meghan, but she doesn’t genuinely like her. Their friendship has soured.”

On Monday, more confirmation of that. Based on a half-dozen sources, CNN’s Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy wrote that “The View” had a “toxic work environment, including a soured relationship between Huntsman and McCain. The dispute with McCain was just one factor in Huntsman’s feeling that she should leave.”

One source told CNN, “Abby was sick of being berated by Meghan for perceived slights. She ultimately decided she didn’t need this job and it wasn’t worth it.”

Huntsman and McCain have not commented, although McCain wished Huntsman luck on Monday’s show and there did not appear to be any tension.

No replacement for Huntsman has been named and it’s possible “The View” will rotate a few panelists through before settling on a permanent replacement.

Or the show could go with Ana Navarro, who is an occasional guest host. But that might not go over well with McCain. (Remember McCain stormed off the set last year after a dustup with Navarro?) Last year, the Daily Mail reported that McCain told executives of the show that she would quit if Navarro was hired full time to replace Sara Haines in 2018. The show hired Huntsman instead, and Navarro was named occasional co-host.

As far as Huntsman, she now joins the campaign of her father, who was the governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009 before moving on to become ambassador to China and then Russia.

“It’s not often in life that you get these moments to go fight for something that you are so passionate about,” Huntsman said.

Advance Local’s CEO to step down

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

Randy Siegel, longtime CEO of the Newhouse family’s Advance Local, announced Monday that he will be stepping down at the end of March. Siegel has been at the helm for conversion of Advance’s 25 properties, including The Oregonian and Cleveland Plain Dealer, to a digital focus with reduced print home delivery, or no print edition at all, some days of the week.

The pivot was carefully planned over several years then piloted at the Ann Arbor (Michigan) News in 2009. The reorientation sparked intense reaction when introduced in New Orleans in 2012, attracting a well-financed competitor (The Advocate), which ended up buying Advance’s Times-Picayune and site last year.

A successor to Siegel was not immediately named, so it is unclear whether changes are in the works. As more papers have started to drop some print days, it remains debatable whether Advance was ahead of the curve or hooked on a strategy that looked good in the C-suite back in New York but didn’t play to the local communities served.


Sportswriters’ scoop leads to Astros firings

A.J. Hinch was suspended by Major League Baseball and then fired as manager of the Houston Astros on Monday because his team illegally stole signs from opponents in 2017. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

One of the biggest scandals in baseball history came to a stunning conclusion Monday. Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for a year — and then fired by the Astros — after Major League Baseball determined the Astros illegally used technology to pick up catchers’ signs and alert their hitters to what kinds of pitches were coming in 2017 when the Astros won the World Series. In addition, the team was fined $5 million and will lose first- and second-round draft picks the next two years.

Some are complaining that the punishment isn’t severe enough, but the Astros’ lone World Series championship will forever come with an asterisk.

The whole reason this became a scandal is because of a scoop by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich. They are the ones who broke the story that the Astros used cameras to steal signs.

OK, this isn’t Watergate or the Pentagon Papers, but it’s still dogged reporting that uncovered a day that will live in baseball and Houston sports infamy.


The debates’ rising star: an Iowa reporter

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, one of the moderators for tonight’s Democratic presidential debate. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Tonight’s Democratic presidential debate will be on CNN, CNN en Espanol, CNN International, and online at and The debate will be moderated by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Abby Phillip and Des Moines Register chief politics reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel.

You are familiar with Blitzer and probably Phillip. But what about Pfannenstiel? The New York Times’ Marc Tracy writes that the 31-year-old describes herself as a one-time “weird kid” who grew up in Kansas and always wanted to be a journalist. After graduating from the University of Kansas and working at The Kansas City Star, Pfannenstiel joined the Register in 2015. Since then, she has quickly moved up to the coveted role of top politics correspondent at a paper that values political writing.

“This opened up a lot faster than I anticipated,” Pfannenstiel told Tracy. “This is probably true of a lot of women — a lot of people. You kind of have impostor syndrome and say: ‘Am I ready for this? There’s this long history, and can I live up to that?’”

By the way, tonight’s debate will have just six presidential hopefuls: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren.

Cory Booker will not be there. The senator from New Jersey suspended his campaign Monday, and is expected to be on today’s “CBS This Morning.”


Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

Upcoming Poynter training:

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

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
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

More News

Back to News