February 5, 2020

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The opposite of a slow news week

The crazy busy week in news continues.

The Iowa caucuses not only were Monday, but, as it turned out, Tuesday as well. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union was Tuesday night. The Senate is expected to acquit Trump in a vote today, ending the impeachment trial. Then we have CNN town halls tonight and tomorrow with the Democratic presidential hopefuls. And, finally, those hopefuls will have another debate Friday night in New Hampshire.

But let’s start with the freshest news: the State of the Union. More like the state of disunion.

“I thought the whole evening with a few exceptions was pretty partisan on both sides,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said in a statement that pretty much summed up the night.

NBC’s Kasie Hunt described it like this: “It’s remarkable. The tenor and tone and mood in this room, more campaign-like and partisan than any I’ve covered in the last decade of covering these types of speeches inside the chamber, State of the Unions, joint addresses.”

The perfect example of that partisanship could be seen in two moments involving the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Trump appeared to have snubbed Pelosi’s attempt to shake his hand before his speech and then Pelosi was seen tearing up the advanced copy of Trump’s speech in a clearly symbolic act afterward.


During CBS’s coverage, John Dickerson said, “Not only did the president not shake the speaker’s hand, she did not say the traditional words, ‘It’s my high privilege and distinct honor to introduce the president.’ You saw there it was an absolutely split evening. The division in America was out there for all to see.”

About the partisanship, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash said, “It really was astonishing when you think about it. State of the Unions usually are when people are on their best behavior. … And that was out the window.”

When asked by a Fox News producer why she tore up Trump’s speech, Pelosi said, “It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternative.” Hunt said it was an “exclamation point on what was the end of an extraordinarily political State of the Union address.”

Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum anchored Fox News’ State of the Union post-speech coverage. They, too, addressed the clashes between Trump and Pelosi.

As far as the missed handshake, Baier said maybe Trump didn’t see her extend her hand. But Fox News did criticize Pelosi’s act as one of divisiveness.

“It seems clear that (Trump) and the Speaker of the House just hate each other,” Fox News contributor Byron York said.

A demonstration of the divide

Rush Limbaugh at the State of the Union address. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who announced on his show Monday that he has advanced lung cancer, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union. The Republicans in the room gave him a rousing ovation. The Democrats? NBC’s Kasie Hunt said, “The Democratic side of the room remained seated. They were not clapping as this moment unfolded. They were watching, somewhat uncomfortably.”

Limbaugh certainly is no fan of the Democrats, and vice versa.

NBC’s Chuck Todd said, “It was the president trolling the Democrats. … It was finger in the eye of Pelosi. It was a finger in the eye of Democrats.”


Follow Britain’s lead, why don’t you?

I mentioned in Tuesday’s newsletter how journalists in the U.K. boycotted a briefing at 10 Downing Street when Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top communications adviser banned reporters from several news outlets.

The kind of solidarity wasn’t shown Tuesday when CNN was excluded from the White House’s annual off-the-record briefing with TV journalists prior to the State of the Union address. The other networks attended, and that rankled veteran TV newsman Dan Rather.

According to the Associated Press’ David Bauder, Rather said, “There’s value in solidarity and not allowing this or any other president to pick off journalists or news organizations one at a time.”

A perfect storm of imperfections

Precinct captain Carl Voss of Des Moines displays the Iowa Democratic Party caucus reporting app. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Two days later and we’re still sorting out the mess that was Monday night’s Iowa caucuses. For a good explainer as to what went wrong, check out the superb piece by Shane Goldmacher and Nick Corasaniti in The New York Times titled “How the Iowa Caucuses Melted Down.”

It was a perfect storm that created an imperfect night. A failed app, missed phone calls and an inexplicable failure to adapt to it all created this embarrassment. Goldmacher and Corasaniti wrote, “With no actual results, the only clear loser was Iowa and its increasingly precarious caucuses.”

Also, check out Dan Balz’s analysis in The Washington Post. Balz wrote, “Even in Iowa, there are questions about the prominence the state plays, given its demographics and small size. Now there is a bigger problem, and there is little doubt that it will bring more pressure than ever before on Iowa’s leaders to justify the system they have built.”

Politico’s Tim Alberta was the harshest of all in his column “The Death of Iowa.” Alberta wrote, “There can be no doubting it now, not after so many years spent in the crosshairs, not after active presidential candidates began challenging its privileged position atop the nominating calendar, and certainly not after Monday night’s debacle that left seven candidates and millions of viewers waiting for results that never came: Iowa’s reign is over.”

Who was watching … and where

Fox News’ set for the Iowa caucuses. (Photo courtesy Fox News)

The Iowa caucuses were almost entirely about the Democrats, and yet the big TV winner Monday night was Fox News. From 6 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Eastern, Fox News delivered 3.369 million viewers (MSNBC had 2.5 million viewers and CNN had 1.7 million). The coveted demo of adults 25 to 54 was a little tighter with Fox News having 656,000, CNN having 591,000 and MSNBC having 506,000.

Fox News had Iowa caucuses coverage led by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum from 6-8 p.m., but in primetime (8-11 p.m.), it went to two-thirds of its usual powerhouse lineup. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity each hosted their shows. Then Fox News went back to Baier and MacCallum from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. before giving way to Fox News @Night live from Iowa.

So, yes, viewers were watching Fox News for Iowa caucuses coverage, but Carlson and Hannity appear to have had their usual viewership.

If you missed Tuesday’s Poynter Report, I recapped Monday night’s Iowa TV coverage. It wasn’t perfect, but all the cable news networks — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — as well as PBS had coverage that was commendable. It would have been easy to be cynical about the coverage, but it actually turned out to be a strong night for cable news.

‘This story picked me’

Imagine sharing your name with someone who might be a terrorist and one-time adviser to Osama bin Laden. That’s the jumping off point of what looks to be a terrific new podcast.

WNYC Studio’s Radiolab debuted its first-ever serialized story Tuesday, called “The Other Latif.” It’s a six-part mystery series about Detainee 244 at Guantanamo Bay. The story is told by Radiolab’s director of research, Latif Nasser, who shares the same name as a man who has been held inside one of the world’s most notorious prison for the past 17 years. Once believed to be a part of bin Laden’s inner circle, the other Nasser remains at Guantanamo Bay even though he has been cleared for release by six U.S. government agencies.

In a statement, Radiolab’s Nasser said, “Usually I pick the stories I cover, but this story picked me. Once I discovered a Gitmo detainee with my name, I became obsessed with telling his story, wherever it might lead. Every crumb of evidence I found forced me to reassess: Was he the worst of the worst? Or was he just at the wrong place at the wrong time? Over the last three years of parsing through this story, I changed my mind about him so many times, and I think listening to this series, listeners will, too.”

I listened to episode one Tuesday night and it’s fantastic.

An editor for the ages

Alice Mayhew, the woman who edited the classic book “All the President’s Men” about the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday at the age of 87. But Mayhew was known for more than just working with Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on their book that was turned into a movie and inspired generations of journalists.

She was the former vice president and editorial director for Simon & Schuster and she also worked on books with President Jimmy Carter, the Supreme Court’s Ruth Bader Ginsberg and former Nixon adviser John Dean. She edited Kitty Kelley’s biography of Nancy Reagan, as well as Walter Isaacson’s definitive profile of Steve Jobs and books by noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Less than two years ago, she edited Woodward’s blockbuster book on the Donald Trump White House, “Fear.”

Anita Gates of The New York Times reported, “In 2014, when Simon & Schuster celebrated its 90th anniversary by having staff members vote for their 90 favorite titles over those years, almost one-third of the books (29) had been edited by Ms. Mayhew.”

Besides Gates’ obit, be sure to check out Harrison Smith’s obit of Mayhew in The Washington Post.

Tightening its grip

Tribune Publishing announced Monday that CEO Tim Knight is leaving the company. Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds writes that it’s “a signal that Alden Global Capital is moving quickly to take control of the company.”

Alden purchased a 32% stake in the company in November, enough to signal takeover intent.


In Tuesday’s newsletter, I referenced the shuttering of the Montgomery Sentinel. The 165-year-old newspaper was actually located in Montgomery County, Maryland, not Alabama.

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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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