By:
August 6, 2020

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The headline to describe Pete Hamill in the New York Daily News — the paper where Hamill worked for so many years — was impeccable. They called him a “legendary journalist and author.”

Using “legendary” to describe anyone can be tired and lazy — a cliche. But in this case, the description fits. It’s not hyperbole. It’s just right. Hamill was a legend. Truly.

In another time and place, the proper way to really show your respect would be to call him by another word:

Newspaperman — said with all the reverence that word can mean.

The legendary journalist, author and newspaperman died Wednesday, four days after a fall that broke his hip. He was 85.

Where do you even start? In New York, that’s where.

Hamill was pure New York, born in Brooklyn. A high-school dropout, he would go on to be the voice of New York, writing for FIVE New York papers: the New York Post, the New York Herald Tribune, the Daily News, Newsday and The Village Voice. He served as an editor at the Post and Daily News. He wrote 21 novels and more than 100 short stories. He also wrote for The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone and New York Magazine.

And he wrote about everything.

The Daily News’ Larry McShane wrote that Hamill was a constant witness to history: “As a kid watching Jackie Robinson break the baseball color barrier in Ebbets Field. Walking decades later with Robert F. Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel when an assassin opened fire. And again on 9/11 in the shadows of the Twin Towers. … He went south to cover Martin Luther King, and stayed home for the last interview with fellow New Yorker John Lennon. He reported on ‘The Troubles’ in his ancestral homeland, and covered wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua and Lebanon. Hamill stood in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, with paper and pen in hand as the World Trade Center’s 110 stories came tumbling down.”

Trying to capture Hamill’s career here in the confines of this newsletter is impossible, but his life and career need to be celebrated and remembered. If you get a chance, watch “Deadline Artists” — last year’s HBO documentary that chronicled the careers of Hamill and his longtime newspaper rival/friend Jimmy Breslin.

In the meantime, for more on Hamill, might I direct you to:

Another McShane piece in the Daily News in which colleagues, friends and fans remember Hamill. The Daily News’ Mike Lupica called him New York City’s poet laureate. The New York Times’ Robert D. McFadden called him the “quintessential New York journalist.” The New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo called him a “tabloid journalism hero.”

Many of Hamill’s columns can be found on the internet, but as we say goodbye to Hamill, I want to leave you with this:

Hamill’s interview with John Lennon for Rolling Stone in 1975. Oh my gosh, this is terrific. Lennon is only 34. The Beatles had broken up only five years earlier. They talk about Elton John and Bowie and Elvis and Dylan. And all of them are still so young. Absolutely terrific.

Say what?

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump had another off-the-rails interview on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday. He called Black Lives Matter a “Marxist group” and that it was wrong it has gained any “respectability.” He continued to rip athletes who kneel or protest during the national anthem.

He also repeated that schools should open despite concerns about the coronavirus, saying “children are almost immune from this disease” and, once again, repeating a line that he said months ago which has made him the target of ridicule: “This thing is going away. It will go away like all things go away.” He also said there will be a vaccine “long before the end of the year.”

And, about the election, he said it could take “months or years” to get results.

On one hand, you wish the “Fox & Friends” hosts had been able to push back on all the outlandish things Trump said. But, that being said, trying to corral Trump over the telephone while he is on that kind of roll is like herding cats. You can’t get to every single one. (Not that the “Fox & Friends” hosts were going to suddenly turn into Chris Wallace or Jonathan Swan.)

However, one final note: It needs to be acknowledged that “Fox & Friends’” Brian Kilmeade did press Trump on the delays in getting the results of coronavirus tests. You can see the exchange here.

Taking the low road

Trump lashed out at two of his favorite targets Wednesday: CNN and reporter Jim Acosta. Trump apparently was upset with a CNN report by Acosta and Maegan Vazquez with the headline “Trump Still Not Grasping the Severity of the Pandemic, Source Tells CNN.”

The story says an unnamed source said, “He still doesn’t get it. He does not get it.” The source went to say that when staff and advisers try to talk to the president about how dire the situation is, he changes the subject.

In response, Trump tweeted, “.@CNN has no sources on the Task Force. Their ‘sources’ are made up, pure fiction! Jim Acosta is a Fake reporter!”

The CNN Communications Twitter account fired back with “False. @Acosta is a Real reporter with Real sources who talks to members of your Task Force much more often than you do.”

I get that CNN would be insulted by Trump’s remarks and they certainly have the right to back their reporter and stand by their story. But saying Acosta talks to members of the task force more than Trump does feels like an unnecessary cheap shot. CNN stooped to Trump’s childish level and it turned out to be an ugly look not only for Trump, but for CNN. They should be above that.

The blast in Beirut

A drone picture shows the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Jarring video and astonishing photos continue to come out of Beirut following Tuesday’s devastating explosion. Check out this video of a bride posing for photos at the time of the blast. (Don’t worry, no one was injured in this video.) The Washington Post’s Siobhan O’Grady has compiled some of the other videos. And photojournalist Lorenzo Tugnoli has amazing photos in the Post.

The official numbers, as of Wednesday, are staggering. At least 135 dead and more than 5,000 injured. Others are missing so, tragically, those numbers are likely to go up. It’s believed that 300,000 people are now homeless.

Many journalists were in Lebanon on Tuesday during the explosion and recounted their experiences.

Nadia Al Faour was in the vet’s office with a sick dog and scrambled home to find heartbreak among her other pets, as she recounts for USA Today.

Vivian Yee, a correspondent for The New York Times, was at home during the explosion. Her piece — “I Was Bloodied and Dazed. Beirut Strangers Treated Me Like a Friend.” — is a powerful firsthand account of her experience.

Apologizing for T-shirts

Two years ago, when I was working for the Tampa Bay Times, there was a deadly shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. Five Gazette employees were killed. At that time, to show support for the Capital Gazette as well as just how important journalism is, Times journalists ordered T-shirts that said, “Journalism matters,” with the Tampa Bay Times logo.

Fast-forward to 2020 and Tampa Bay Times reporters were covering protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. The Times encouraged reporters to wear something to identify to protesters and law enforcement that they were journalists with the Times. However, when some reporters wore those “Journalism Matters” T-shirts, it was seen by protesters as tone-deaf and disrespectful — as was a since-deleted tweet from a Times staffer defending the shirts.

Times reporters no longer are wearing those shirts, and the Times has apologized to protest organizers for it. Nevertheless, at the suggestion of one of the protesters, the Times senior deputy editor/news Amy Hollyfield apologized publicly on Wednesday in a Twitter thread.

She tweeted:

“I want to apologize to protesters and the Tampa Bay community for T-shirts that @TB_Times journalists have worn to cover protests saying ‘Journalism Matters.’ We have encouraged reporters and photographers to wear Tampa Bay Times gear so we can be transparent about our role as media members. Hats, T-shirts, etc. We have ordered new gear this year. We made these T-shirts two years ago after the Capital-Gazette shooting in which five newsroom employees were killed. We made them in support of the journalism community. But wearing them now, in this extraordinary time of #BlackLivesMatter conversation about systemic racism and inherent bias, is not right. I am sorry.”

Guest editor means special edition

Ta-Nehisi Coates. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Vanity Fair announced Wednesday that Ta-Nehisi Coates will serve as guest editor for the September issue of Vanity Fair. The issue will be a special edition “exploring art, activism and power in 21st-century America.” Aside from being a renowned journalist and best-selling author, Coates also has authored editions of Marvel’s Black Panther and Captain America comics.

Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones, in a statement, said, “There’s no one better suited than Ta-Nehisi to illuminate this urgent moment in American history — to answer the question, why is this time different? We are honored to collaborate with him on this project, bringing together the writers, artists, and icons whose work pushes us toward a more just world.”

Vanity Fair said that Coates is helping to oversee “almost every aspect of the magazine’s production, including story assigning and editing, writer and photographer selection, art direction, design, display, and multimedia projects.”

The September issue, which hits newsstands Sept. 1, features more than 40 prominent writers, artists and photographers, including Bomani Jones, Ava DuVernay and Jesmyn Ward.

Media tidbits

  • Bad news, good news in The New York Times’ second quarter report. Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds has the details in his story for Poynter. Advertising revenue at the Times fell 43.6% compared to the same period last year. Digital advertising was down 32% and print was down 55%. These numbers aren’t shocking considering all that has happened with advertising during the coronavirus. The good news? The Times recorded its single best quarter of digital subscription growth, adding 669,000 subscribers — 493,000 for the main news product and 176,000 for other digital products such as cooking and crosswords.
  • Reporters in Michigan are upset with Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Journalists had to submit questions to the governor’s office before they were called upon in Whitmer’s Zoom press conference Wednesday. It’s unclear if this is a permanent thing, so it’s something to keep an eye on. For a government office to only answer questions they deem acceptable is unacceptable. Being transparent is absolutely essential all the time, but especially during a life-and-death health crisis. A spokesperson for the governor claims the questions were not being censored. The Detroit News’ Craig Mauger has more of the details.
  • CBS News has named Mark X. Lima as its West Coast bureau chief. Lima was most recently the vice president of news for Univision/Fusion. He also has been a senior producer for ABC’s “Nightline” and ABC News’ deputy bureau chief in Los Angeles.

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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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