By:
May 6, 2020

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Donna Reed was trending on Twitter on Tuesday. Yes, Donna Reed, the actress who passed away in 1986 and is best known for the 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life” and her sitcom from 60 years ago. She was trending because President Donald Trump was complaining about the way CBS correspondents Paula Reid and Weijia Jiang ask questions in White House press conferences.

President Trump told the New York Post, “It wasn’t Donna Reed, I can tell you that. Paula Reid, she’s sitting there and I say, ‘How angry. I mean, what’s the purpose?’ They’re not even tough questions, but you see the attitude of these people, it’s like incredible.”

Aside from the misogyny of comparing two proven journalists to what Trump considers a stereotypical 1950s housewife character, the reference is extremely dated. As The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin tweeted, “Donna Reed was born 99 years ago. Would be akin to JFK making a pop culture reference to someone born around the time of Ft Sumter.” Besides, wasn’t Donna Reed a strong, stand-up-for-herself type?

Trump’s interview with the Post revealed much about his thinking about the controversial White House press conferences, which are often littered with off-topic tangents, misleading statements and outright lies, as well as frequent battles with the press.

After holding daily briefings for weeks, there have been fewer of late. Reports have said it’s because Trump was taking a political hit.

“I was told that some people didn’t like the combative attitude so much,” Trump told the Post. “And I can a little bit understand that. But I would say from the standpoint of watching it and wanting to watch, that would be more interesting than having boring questions asked. And you know, at the same time, they shouldn’t be asking the same question every press conference just trying to get a rise, you know.”

But Trump also said he believes “people” like to watch him mixing it up with the press, and admitted that he likes it, too.

“Yeah, I do, I’m OK with it,” Trump said. “I’d rather have a normal, you know, normal — a more normal situation, but I do. And they like it. Some people don’t like it. I have a feeling everybody likes it because, you know, it’s more exciting than sitting there falling asleep.”

Trump says the White House press conferences will continue, but not every day. In addition, he might not be at every one, instead allowing new press secretary Kayleigh McEnany to run them from time to time.

While The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and CNN are both reporting that the White House coronavirus task force will wind down in the coming weeks, the press conferences with coronavirus updates will remain.

An exclusive one-on-one

ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir, left, interviews President Trump in Arizona on Tuesday. (Courtesy: ABC News)

Last week, I suggested that President Trump do a one-on-one interview with someone other than Fox News. On Tuesday, Trump did just that, sitting down with ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir.

Muir’s questions were tough but fair and not contentious. A lot of that can be attributed to Muir’s professional demeanor, which wasn’t antagonistic. Muir’s time, you would assume given the format, was limited and didn’t allow for multiple follow-ups and real-time fact-checking. Still, Muir managed to plow through many topics and call out many of Trump’s past missteps.

Ultimately, it was a more productive interview than what we often see in the White House press conferences.

The interview also is scheduled to be shown on today’s “Good Morning America.” (Here’s an ABC News story on the interview.)

Taking over the news

Before the 2016 presidential election, when polls showed that Trump was unlikely to beat Hillary Clinton, there were rumors that Trump’s endgame was to own his own news network. Could those rumors be true, albeit four years later than we thought?

Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman notes that an investor group aligned with Donald Trump Jr. and the Dallas-based Hicks family is working on a deal to acquire a major stake in One America News Network — most often referred to as OANN — the conservative news outlet known for pushing conspiracy theories and being a favorite of President Trump. A spokesperson for Trump Jr. acknowledged Trump Jr.’s friendship with the Hicks family, but denied he is a part of any group trying to acquire OANN.

“For Trump, the network serves as both a tactical weapon in the 2020 campaign and a strategic hedge in case he needs a new platform after November,” Sherman writes. “One source told me that if Trump loses, he could use OANN as his post-presidential television platform to host shows.”

A source also told Sherman that Trump once thought about buying The Weather Channel and changing it to Trump TV, but the $450 million price tag was more than Trump wanted to pay.

“Trump’s big thing was always to own a network and be a multibillionaire,” the source told Sherman. “If Trump loses, he can be on OANN all the time. And before he leaves office, he has months to pump it up.”

Thou doth protest too much

Supporters of President Trump watch Air Force One land at Sky Harbor International Airport outside the Honeywell factory on Tuesday, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

While covering President Trump’s visit to Arizona on Tuesday, journalists faced a few angry Trump supporters who lashed out at them. In a troubling Twitter thread, Arizona Republic reporter BrieAnna J. Frank reported and posted videos of people mocking reporters for wearing masks and saying such things as “You’re on the wrong side of history. … You’re on the wrong side of patriotism — you’re like communists.”

In an email, Frank told me, “It was disturbing to see so many people be so visibly angered by my (and others’) personal decision to wear a mask. Clearly, wearing a mask is interpreted in some circles as being attached to a political ideology. To be clear, I am completely understanding of folks who question the media or want to engage in good-faith conversations, but I am not tolerant of bullying and harassment, and that is what myself and my colleagues endured today.”

The irony of it all? Trump was in Arizona to thank a Honeywell plant that had retooled its operations to make N95 masks. So while Trump supporters were outside criticizing journalists for wearing masks, Trump was inside thanking workers for making masks.

For more details and comments from Frank on what happened in Phoenix on Tuesday, check out my story on Poynter.org.

Don’t go after the media

Meanwhile, if protesters are going to complain about the media in Ohio, they’re going to have to go through Republican Gov. Mike DeWine first. If you have a problem with stay-at-home orders, he said, don’t blame the media.

“The buck stops with me,” DeWine said. “I’m the elected official. I’m the one who ran for office. I’m the one who makes the policy decisions. … So when you don’t like the policy, you can demonstrate against me.”

DeWine said protesters had a right to protest, but they did not need to be “obnoxious” to reporters or health officials. After all, DeWine said, journalists are “doing nothing more than following that First Amendment, informing the public — and just remember, they’re informing the public about what you think. But if you treat them with disrespect, to not observe social distancing with them, to be just obnoxious, I just find that very, very sad. So come after me. I’m fair game. They’re not.”

One for the little guys

One of the feel-good Pulitzer Prize stories was Jeffery Gerritt, from the tiny Palestine Herald-Press in East Texas, winning the prize for editorial writing. In a story in the Herald-Press, Gerritt said he was out running errands during the Pulitzer announcements and found out about his win from publisher Jake Mienk in the paper’s parking lot.

“I just broke down and fell to the ground,” Gerritt said.

Gerritt said he worked for nearly two decades at the Detroit Free Press.

“I couldn’t win the Pulitzer in nearly 20 years of winning everything else there. I never thought I’d do it at a small paper in East Texas.”

Gerritt won for a series of editorials about the medical neglect of jail inmates, leading to deaths in some cases, at various county jails across Texas.

Gerritt told his paper, “I’m glad I could do it with a project that involved jails or prisons because advocating for people caught up in the criminal justice system, and other forgotten people, has always been my signature.”

Just days prior, Mienk announced that the Herald-Press was cutting the print edition of its paper from five days to three: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Mienk wrote, “The unexpected coronavirus crisis has had a significant impact on the Palestine Herald-Press: Most of our revenue comes from advertising by local businesses, which also are suffering at this difficult time. Reducing publication days will allow us to focus our resources on printing more local news, sports, and advertising content on the remaining three days.”

Daring to be great

Former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

You have to love this story about The (Louisville, Kentucky) Courier-Journal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning breaking news coverage of the more than 600 pardons and commutations that former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin issued during his final weeks in office last year.

As many Courier-Journal staffers were working on the story, Bevin reached out to Courier-Journal reporter Joe Sonka with a mocking challenge:

“If you truly care about the truth of that story … stay with it, stay on it, ask a lot of questions,” Bevin reportedly told Sonka. “You’ll find a lot of people both inside and outside of Kentucky are very aware of that case.”

Then he added, “‘If it’s done, right, I’m telling you, you could win a Pulitzer Prize. … I don’t know if you write well enough or do research well enough to do it, but if somebody had that ability …”

Courier-Journal editor Richard Green said, “So we did, and … we won a Pulitzer Prize.”

Sadly, however, there was this tweet by Sonka on Monday:

“I won a Pulitzer Prize today, and I’m on my second week of unpaid furlough starting next Monday. Please subscribe to the @courierjournal to support our work.”

New contracts, new roles

New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reports that despite their ESPN show, “High Noon,” being canceled, Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre have been re-signed to new contracts by the network. Their show isn’t returning, but Marchand said they have a variety of roles, including appearing on shows such as “Highly Questionable,” “Around the Horn,” “Pardon the Interruption” and “SportsCenter.”

Speaking of ESPN, the network has begun showing games from South Korea’s Korean Baseball Organization. The KBO is playing games without fans. Players and coaches go through fever screening. Umpires and coaches wear masks during the games.

Media tidbits

  • Mark Schoofs has been named the new editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News. Schoofs is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who formerly headed up BuzzFeed News’ investigative unit. He also has worked at The Wall Street Journal, ProPublica and the Village Voice. He is currently a professor at USC’s journalism school — and will remain on the faculty there. Schoofs replaces Ben Smith, who left BuzzFeed News to become a media columnist for The New York Times.
  • NFL announcer Charles Davis has flipped networks, going from Fox to CBS.
  • Fox News Media is partnering up with Spotify to distribute its podcasts. All of Fox News’ podcasts, as well as three nationally-syndicated talk shows hosted by Brian Kilmeade, Jimmy Failla and Guy Benson, will be available on the Spotify app. Starting Tuesday, Fox News Radio debuted two new podcasts: “The Proud American Podcast Series” hosted combat veteran Johnny Joey Jones, and “The Trey Gowdy Podcast” with four-term congressman Trey Gowdy.
  • Folio Weekly — the alt-weekly in Jacksonville, Florida since 1987 — is folding. Publisher Sam Taylor wrote, “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live. Folio Weekly has experienced the economic freefall of this outbreak, and I have picked this moment to retire and conclude our business operations.”

Hot type

  • In The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan writes about what it’s like to have Stage IV cancer in the time of coronavirus. She writes, “I’m one of the people all of this social distancing is helping to stay alive, so far. I belong to the group of people — the infirm, the weak — who certain conservatives have said should offer themselves up to the coronavirus.”
  • The Daily Beast’s Olivia Messer with “Texans Brace for a COVID-19 ‘Explosion’ Just Days After Reopening.”
  • In Slate’s daily podcast, “What’s Next,” host Mary Harris talks to Lucy Flores, who has accused Joe Biden of acting inappropriately with her in 2014.
  • And one final piece, also from Slate: President Trump claims he was a really good high school baseball player. Was he? Leander Schaerlaeckens looks into it.

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

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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