President Donald Trump is obsessed with the media. There’s no other way to put it.

Your Wednesday Poynter Report

May 20, 2020
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President Trump’s obsession with the media

President Donald Trump is obsessed with the media.

There’s no other way to put it. He talks about the media. He fights with reporters. And the tweets. Oh does he tweet. He tweets about the media constantly.

He lashes out at TV coverage he doesn’t like in real time, which proves that he is actually tuning in at that moment. Happens all the time.

Take this week.

First, he claimed to be taking hydroxychloroquine. Fox News’ Neil Cavuto said that could be dangerous. Then came a bizarre tweet and retweet feud in which Trump laid into Fox News. He even retweeted a tweet that called Cavuto an expletive. (Yes, that’s what it has come to, the president of the United States retweeting a very nasty word.)

Then Trump tweeted: “.@FoxNews is no longer the same. We miss the great Roger Ailes. You have more anti-Trump people, by far, than ever before. Looking for a new outlet!”

Maybe remembering Ailes fondly is not the best call. Ailes, who died in 2017, resigned as Fox News CEO in disgrace in 2016 after numerous accusations of sexual harassment. But, besides that, for Trump to suggest that he needs a new outlet is laughable. Is there a major news outlet more favorable to Trump than Fox News? (And don’t say OANN because that’s not a legitimate or major outlet.)

Then again, Trump is not totally down on Fox News. On Tuesday, he tweeted: “.@foxandfriends trounces Morning Psycho (MSDNC) in the Ratings!”

Look, it’s Trump’s Twitter feed. He can tweet whatever he wants, whenever he wants. But you would think (hope?) that during a time of a pandemic that has now killed more than 91,000 in the United States and an unemployment rate that skyrocketed past 14% that the president would have better things to do than tweet about the media.

Facing the challenge

CBS “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan, left, interviews former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb in March. (Courtesy: CBS News)

Various news outlets have really shined during the coronavirus coverage. Near the top of that list is CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Check out my story on Poynter.org about how the show has adjusted and delivered a must-see program each and every Sunday.

I spoke with moderator Margaret Brennan and executive producer Mary Hager as they discussed the challenges of producing a show at this moment and the controversial decision to get rid of, for now, a Sunday morning show staple: the panel.

This wasn’t in my piece for Poynter, but I also asked Brennan, who took over as moderator in February 2018, if she has changed as a moderator over the past couple of months while covering this pandemic.

“I’m sure I have,” Brennan said. “I feel like we’re in it and in this moment right now and someday you always think you’re going to have that moment to take that deep breath and make sense of it all. But, yeah, I’m sure I have. I feel like it’s a great mission on Sundays, and to feel like you have this purpose and to feel like you’re providing some kind of service, which we are — through the information that we’re seeking to get, the facts that we’re trying to pull out for the public. That is rewarding, and I felt that that has given me a sense of purpose in that position even more so.”

For the 2019-20 TV season, which ended last week, “Face the Nation” delivered an average of 3.46 million viewers — its best audience in three years and a 6% jump from last season. During the coronavirus coverage — basically March 16 through May 17 — “Face the Nation” had its best audience since the 1987-88 TV season.

Off the air

Technical issues at CBS’s control room in Washington, D.C., knocked the “CBS Evening News” off the air Tuesday. The 6:30 p.m. Eastern broadcast did not air at all. The network was forced to run a feed from CBSN — the network’s news streaming service.

In an Instagram video, anchor Norah O’Donnell called it a “major technical issue” in Washington, where the network’s evening news originates.

There is never a good time for something like this to happen, but this was a particularly bad time. May is sweeps month for television and Tuesday’s “CBS Evening News” had been touting an interview with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

In a statement, the network said, “CBS News experienced technical difficulties tonight that prevented the CBS Evening News from airing at 6:30 pm, ET on the CBS Television Network. The issue is being resolved, and the Mountain and West Coast versions of the CBS Evening News will air during the regular time slots at 5:30 PM/6:30 PM, MT/PT. In place of the CBS Evening News on the East Coast, the network aired coverage from CBSN, CBS News’ streaming news service.”

Part of this can be blamed on the coronavirus. The CBS Broadcast Center in New York has been closed since early March and, because of that, the network has not had a backup control room for the past two months. A skeleton staff has been producing the news in Washington. There had been no incidents until Tuesday.

Listen to this big deal

Spotify just landed another big fish. Joe Rogan, host of one of the most popular podcasts in the business — “The Joe Rogan Experience” — will be exclusive to Spotify by year’s end. But, actually, this deal is a little different than some of Spotify’s other big deals in recent years. According to Recode’s Peter Kafka, Rogan has signed a multiyear licensing deal, meaning Rogan still owns the show.

Kafka writes, “But it may be the most significant podcasting move Spotify has made to date: Unlike previous deals, this one is taking an existing, popular show and making it exclusive to Spotify.”

In recent years, Spotify has struck deals with other popular podcasters, most notably Bill Simmons and his The Ringer podcast network. While some of The Ringer podcasts occasionally dip their toes into controversial political topics, Rogan’s show dives headfirst, at times, into politics, although it’s not a political show. It’s best known for its wide array of guests, from celebrities to sports stars to comedians and more. It certainly is popular and occasionally controversial. Apple Podcasts lists it second in the U.S. in the number of listeners.

The podcast will be heard on Spotify starting in September and be exclusive sometime after that. The question now will be if Rogan’s fans who listen to him on other podcast platforms make the jump over to Spotify. There’s no reason to believe they won’t.

A surprise and unwelcome appearance

Former NBC “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer. (Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX)

Just when you think the Ben Smith-Ronan Farrow media dustup couldn’t get any more strange, here comes a surprise guest: Matt Lauer.

To recap, Smith, The New York Times’ media columnist, wrote a scathing column questioning Farrow’s journalism. The headline was “Is Ronan Farrow Too Good to Be True?” On Tuesday, the website Mediaite ran a Lauer column with the headline: “Why Ronan Farrow is Indeed Too Good to Be True.”

Oh boy, where to even begin?

Farrow’s highly publicized 2019 book, “Catch and Kill,” quotes a former NBC staffer saying she was raped by Lauer. In a rather lengthy column for Mediaite, Lauer goes point-by-point through Farrow’s reporting on that topic and tries to dispel it. It’s apparently an updated piece that was originally written last November. If you want to read Lauer’s defense of the allegations and his criticisms of Farrow, feel free to click on the link above. I’m not going to amplify his remarks.

And that leads to me to ask: Why is anyone amplifying his remarks? Why is Mediaite giving him free rein? Mediaite says its editors independently fact-checked the accounts of four witnesses/subjects that Lauer spoke with for his column. It also added a disclaimer that said, “As with all Mediaite opinion pieces, the views expressed in this article are those of the author.”

Matt Lauer’s name trended on Twitter for a while, with most comments scorching Mediaite for giving Lauer a platform. The decision was a strange one, and I do wonder if any other outlets turned down Lauer’s offer to write a column before Mediaite agreed to run it.

Should Lauer never be given a chance to defend the allegations against him? I would not go that far, but I also don’t think I would give him a keyboard and blank computer screen.

If I led Poynter and Lauer offered to write the column for Poynter’s website that he did for Mediaite, I’m fairly certain of two things. One, our website would see huge numbers and, two, we’ll never know because I wouldn’t run it.

Now, I’d certainly interview Lauer. I’d challenge him, but I also would quote his answers. And I also would reach out to others in this story — including his accuser, Farrow and NBC executives.

But giving Lauer freedom to write whatever he wants and think it’s all OK by merely slapping an opinion label on it? It’s not something I would sign off on.

For the record, Farrow answered Lauer’s column by tweeting: “All I’ll say on this is that Matt Lauer is just wrong. Catch and Kill was thoroughly reported and fact-checked, including with Matt Lauer himself.”

And, a short time after that, Brooke Nevils, the woman who accused Lauer of rape, tweeted: “DARVO: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender”

Jay-talking

Longtime sports columnist and commentator Jay Mariotti is not everyone’s cup of tea and he has had issues away from work. After being one of the most well-known sports columnists in the country (the Chicago Sun-Times was his most notable stop) and frequent guest on ESPN shows such as “Around the Horn,” Mariotti spends these days hosting a podcast called “Unmuted.”

Why do I bring him up now? Like him or not, he had some strong comments about sports media in a piece on Barrett Sports Media. He was recently asked, “What would you tell a young person who wants to get into sports media?”

Mariotti didn’t hold back.

“Sports media is a wilted flower, a pot-holed wheeze down a one-way back road in a rusted jalopy, a relic exposed as the antithesis of essential during the COVID-19 catastrophe,” Mariotti wrote. He added, “Even if Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL and college football return without spectators, one might have a more secure future as a drive-thru cashier at Taco Bell.”

And there’s more.

“But the hard-hitting columnists who keep the sports owners and power brokers honest are dwindling to dust, either too pricey for the payroll or too hot to handle for sites such as The Athletic, which lacks edge and somehow is trying to cover AND appease the Big Sports mechanism,”

Mariotti wrote, “And the days of ESPN hammering the NFL over concussions and player conduct cases are long past, replaced by a corporate need to butter up commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners and help the network land a spot in the Super Bowl broadcast rotation. As for local media operations, which once exposed Barry Bonds’ steroids sham and some of sport’s biggest scandals, most gave up on investigative reporting long ago, realizing the professional and college machines have enough financial and political clout to flick them aside, probably with one call from a team executive or coach to a stadium-suite-leasing media boss.”

Look, I realize becoming a sportswriter might be risky these days for a 21-year-old. As a former sports columnist at a major paper (Tampa Bay Times) in a major sports town, I’ll acknowledge sports media and coverage has shifted and fans are getting more and more information from team-run or team-friendly sites.

But Mariotti’s column also leans a little too into the attitudes of an old guy telling the kids to get off his lawn while lamenting the days when milk didn’t cost so much.

Maybe sports media isn’t exactly the way it was in the so-called “good old days” when columnists, like Mariotti, ruled the sports world. But there is still plenty of good work being done the way it always has: by smart columnists, hard-charging investigative reporters and beat writers who know everything — good and bad — about the teams they cover, and report it. And I’m not sure I buy Mariotti’s criticism about The Athletic, which has many sharp-edged voices.

Perhaps I could be accused of living in the past with those sentiments, but maybe sportswriting is somewhere between where I think it is and where Mariotti does.

A Guild survey shows dim views at Tribune

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

NewsGuild chapters at Tribune Publishing newspapers are hoping that shareholders will reject the reappointment of two directors representing Alden Global Capital at the company’s annual meeting Thursday.

It seems a long shot, given that Tribune Publishing previously agreed to give the hedge fund two seats on the board, expanding it from six members to eight. Also, after a series of stock purchases Alden controls about a third of the voting shares.

A Guild survey of newsrooms found that wide majorities of editorial employees think news coverage has decreased under pressure from Alden. It cites as examples that the Norfolk “Virginian-Pilot no longer has a reporter dedicated to covering the military, and the Baltimore Sun no longer has a dedicated health reporter in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Also this week, on Friday, Tribune is scheduled to report earnings. Alden is in a “standstill agreement” not to purchase additional Tribune stock but that expires at the end of the second quarter.

Media tidbits

  • Here’s another media squabble: New York Times food columnist Alison Roman is on “temporary leave” after she gave an interview that criticized certain celebrities, including model and TV personality Chrissy Teigen. The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani has more.
  • CNN and MSNBC are teaming up with Fox News in a lawsuit that involves the First Amendment and coronavirus coverage. For more, check out Brian Steinberg’s story in Variety and Ted Johnson’s story on Deadline.
  • On the heels of its highly successful and critically acclaimed 10-part documentary “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan, ESPN will air tonight a never-before-seen cinematic production of Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals — Jordan’s last game with the Bulls. The two-and-a-half-hour film starts at 9 p.m. Eastern.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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