February 13, 2020

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

Is the media not feeling the Bern?

Here’s a quick anecdote for you. In my newsletter Wednesday, I led with a brief recap of the New Hampshire primary — very brief, just 27 words. I wrote how it was a surprisingly good night for Pete Buttigieg and a disappointing one for Elizabeth Warren. And that was pretty much it.

The original newsletter lead photo was that of Buttigieg. (When we posted the newsletter to, as we do every day, we switched to a photo of the University of Oklahoma journalism building — the site of a controversy I wrote about as well.) Nowhere in my newsletter did I mention Bernie Sanders, who actually won the primary.

That wasn’t on purpose. I wasn’t consciously talking up Buttigieg or playing down Sanders. To take you behind the curtain, the photo was selected while the New Hampshire primary was still too close to call and, since I mentioned Buttigieg’s surprise performance and not Sanders’ not-so-surprising good performance, I went with a photo of Buttigieg.

Wednesday morning, I received an email from a regular Poynter Report reader who is in journalism — and she asked about the decision to run a photo of Buttigieg instead of Sanders. Just a short time later, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan published a column with the headline: “The media keep falling in love — with anybody but Bernie Sanders.”

Sullivan wrote, “On a sentence-by-sentence basis, straight news coverage may not have reflected an anti-Sanders bias, but the framing of that coverage — choices made on headlines and emphasis — sometimes did.”


Even headlines that did mention Sanders may have come off as a little anti-Sanders, according to Sullivan. For example, The New York Times, for a while, had an online headline that said Sanders “tightens grip” — which, Sullivan wrote, “sounds more threatening than victorious.”

Sullivan then pointed to other examples of either purposeful or inadvertent anti-Sanders bias.

Not all papers did this. The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune (just to name a few) all had headlines and photos in their print editions Wednesday morning that featured Sanders prominently and positively. So did The New York Times’ print edition.

But Sullivan did point to enough examples of media who seem to be sour on Sanders, or at least wary of him. Why is that? Is it because they don’t like him? Or is it because they don’t believe he can beat Donald Trump in November? (If it’s the latter, that’s a whole other messy ball of questions about fairness and biases when it comes to presidential politics.)

Sanders and his supporters certainly think the media is out to get him. One voter in New Hampshire said she voted for Sanders because of MSNBC’s negative coverage of him.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote last month that Sanders’ prospects against Trump would be “far from hopeless,” but also wrote that Sanders was “an extremely, perhaps uniquely, risky nominee. … To nominate Sanders would be insane.”

Let’s not forget that The New York Times endorsed not one, but TWO candidates for the Democratic nomination, and neither was Sanders. After Sanders won in New Hampshire, the headline on a column by Times’ opinion columnist Frank Bruni read, “Bernie Sanders Prevails. Cue the Party Panic.”

Now I’m not suggesting that Chait or Bruni have it in for Sanders. In fact, earlier this week, Chait wrote a column titled “Here’s What I Do Like About Bernie Sanders.”

However, the next couple of weeks will be interesting.

Sanders is the flavor of the moment after doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s a front-runner — as much as one can be a front-runner in February. Like Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren in recent months (and Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke before that), now Sanders will become the target of his fellow presidential hopefuls who see him as a  threat. They’ll knock him on the campaign trail and go after him in debates.

The question now becomes: Will the media become an accomplice — willing or otherwise — in the other candidates’ efforts to take down Sanders?

An update on that journalism professor

The University of Oklahoma journalism professor who used the n-word during a class on Tuesday apologized to students in an email. In the email, which was obtained by the OU Daily school newspaper, professor Peter Gade said, “I realize the word was hurtful and infuses the racial divisions of our country, past and present. Use of the word is inappropriate in any — especially educational — settings. I offer my deepest and most sincere apologies. In the coming weeks, I will strive to show you that I am an instructor and teacher who is trustworthy and respectful of all. Please give me that opportunity.”

During a class on Tuesday, a student told Gade that journalists need to keep up with younger generations. Gade said that was like saying, “OK, Boomer.” Then Gade added, “Calling someone a boomer is like calling someone a (n-word).” Gade actually used the word.

As of late Wednesday, the university was continuing to figure out next steps in the matter.

A real kick in the credibility

(AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

The Miami Herald had a major screw-up on Wednesday. It reported that mixed martial arts fighter Nate Diaz had been arrested in Miami for domestic violence. Turns out, Diaz was in California, according to his representation. The Herald put out a statement saying, “In an initial version of this story, the Miami Herald incorrectly reported that mixed martial arts superstar Nate Diaz had been arrested in a domestic-violence case. The Herald apologizes for the error.”

The Herald said the original story was based on information provided by a law enforcement source. Diaz is one of MMA’s biggest stars. It was another MMA fighter who had been arrested.

ESPN’s Ariel Helwani quoted Diaz’s representative Zach Rosenfield as saying, “The story printed by the Miami Herald is 100% false, inaccurate, baseless, irresponsible and utter nonsense. Miami Herald has since pulled down the story. We demand an apology and have already … begun exploring legal action.”


Legendary Canadian journalist dies

Christie Blatchford in 2008. (AP Photo/Paul Chiasson,CP)

One of the legendary Canadian newspaper journalists has died. Christie Blatchford died Wednesday morning from complications of cancer. She was 68.

Blatchford worked for every major newspaper in Toronto — The National Post, The Toronto Sun, the Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail — and covered everything from crime and courts to wars to profiles to sports. In fact, in the mid 1970s, Blatchford became one of the few female sportswriters in Canada at the time, rising all the way to columnist at The Globe and Mail, just 18 months after being hired out of school.

But Blatchford was best known for her war correspondence and crime coverage. She was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame in November 2019.

The Toronto Sun’s Liz Braun wrote, “Christie Blatchford was a newshound — she ate, slept and inhaled those breaking stories — and a woman of very strong opinions. People either loved or hated her, but even her enemies seemed to respect her.”

The National Post’s Kelly McParland called Blatchford, “the best reporter in Canada for decades.”

McParland wrote, “Once, when a group of lesser reporters grumbled to the editor-in-chief, asking why Blatchford always got the best story, she replied matter-of-factly that it was because she knew Christie Blatchford would never, ever mess up a good story, that she could be relied on 100 percent of the time.”

During my days as a hockey writer, I crossed paths a few times with Blatchford. I didn’t know her personally, but I quickly learned she was a polarizing figure who had as many detractors as fans. But every Canadian journalist I knew and respected had nothing but respect for Blatchford’s work ethic and commitment to journalism.

Having trust issues

Americans have media trust issues. And it’s not just one side or the other. It’s both sides, according to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center.

After interviewing 12,000 U.S. adults, Pew found that 82% of those who consider themselves as Democrats or Democratic-leaning are very or somewhat concerned about made-up news influencing the presidential election. The number is almost the same (84%) for those who consider themselves Republican or Republican-leaning.

Also interesting is that the majority of Democrats and Republicans in the survey believe the made-up news is intended to hurt their party. About 51% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans think the made-up news is designed to hurt them. Only 4% of Democrats and 4% of Republicans think made-up news is intended to hurt the other party.

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