Reporting on the NASCAR noose story really needs to continue

Your Friday Poynter Report

June 26, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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This NASCAR noose story is not going away — nor should it.

A quick recap: A noose was found in the garage that Black driver Bubba Wallace used last week at Talladega. NASCAR and the FBI investigated and learned that the noose was there (supposedly as a rope to pull down the garage door) as far back as last fall. With that information, many thought that would be the end of the story. Some (like Fox News) even, despicably, referred to it as a hoax.

Not so fast.

Here’s a photo. There’s no question it’s a noose. NASCAR absolutely did the right thing by taking it so seriously.

The fact that the noose was there well before anyone knew Wallace was going to use that garage could suggest that Wallace wasn’t the intended target.

However, there are reports that of the 1,684 garage stalls at 29 NASCAR tracks, there were only 11 pull-down ropes tied in a knot. And just one noose.

Wallace — the only Black driver on NASCAR’s top circuit — just happened to be assigned that one garage. Coincidence? That’s what NASCAR needs to figure out.

Even if Wallace wasn’t the intended target, it’s a noose!

So how is this a media story? There’s more to this. More for NASCAR to look into, and more for reporters to dig into. Unfortunately, for far too long, some media that covers NASCAR (and I’m mainly talking about the network TV partners) have had cozy relationships with the sport. It’ll be interesting to see how Fox, which has the next race this weekend from Pocono, handles this story.

Having said all that, there are plenty of top-notch reporters on the NASCAR beat, including ESPN’s Marty Smith and Ryan McGee. Speaking of McGee, here’s his latest recap of the story.

One more thing

Will Cain is more suited for Fox News than ESPN because of his often conservative viewpoints. Well isn’t this appropriate: Wednesday was his last day at ESPN as he now heads to, you guessed it, Fox News. But his last day will be remembered for him getting dismantled on the topic of race by ESPN’s Bomani Jones.

Jones called into Cain’s radio show after Cain’s TV appearance on ESPN’s “First Take,” where he criticized NASCAR’s “rush to judgment” over the noose incident and that it was “being less than truthful.”

Jones told Cain, “The problem I have is when you say that what happened with Bubba Wallace is going to be an impediment to race relations. Nah, man. Those people rolling on Speedway Boulevard before that race with those (Confederate) flags flying, those are an impediment to race relations. The person that had a thing (flying behind a plane) that said ‘Defund NASCAR’ on Sunday over the track, that’s the impediment to race relations. I found myself, actually, when the thing happened with the garage, not even really so much talking about that because the other things that were going on, those are far bigger impediments.”

You can listen to the entire 13-minute conversation here, but Jones made Cain’s last day at ESPN a memorable one. Or, for Cain, maybe one to try to forget.

Is this a story?

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

A media story getting lots of buzz this week involves a recent Washington Post article about a blackface incident that occurred at a Halloween party in 2018. At that party, hosted by the Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Tom Toles, a White woman wore blackface and joked that she was Megyn Kelly — who, at the time, had recently left NBC after saying she didn’t understand why wearing blackface at a Halloween party was racist.

That Halloween costume was absolutely inappropriate and offensive and racist. But was it worth a 3,000-word story in The Washington Post nearly two years later? After all, the woman isn’t a public figure and has no plans to be one. She has since been fired from her job as a graphic designer.

The Post is claiming it’s news because the incident happened in front of Toles and, possibly, other Post journalists who did nothing about it.

But in a thorough piece for New York magazine, Josh Barro and Olivia Nuzzi learned that even Post employees felt the Post should not have written the story because the person most impacted has nothing to do with the Post or public life. Barro and Nuzzi suggest that the Post ran the story simply because they didn’t want to be accused of not pursuing a story that involved a racial incident at a party thrown by one of their employees.

One Post feature writer told Barro and Nuzzi, “My reaction, like everybody else, was ‘What the hell? What is this a story?’ My second reaction was ‘Why is this a 3,000-word feature?’”

The story came to the Post when two women who were at the party reached out in search of the identity of the woman who wore the blackface. There may have been thought that she worked for the Post. One of the women told New York magazine that she was surprised the Post story focused so much on the woman who wore blackface as opposed to the others at the party. She said, “I can understand people being curious: ‘Why did they write a piece so focused on a private citizen?’ But Tom (Toles) is a public citizen. To me, it’s about a larger problem, where people go to marches and then drink and dance with people in blackface.”

Barro and Nuzzi, in their story, write that the Post’s editorial standards have the line that “fairness includes relevance.” They add, “The non-recent, non-criminal bad acts of non-public figures are not ordinarily considered news.”

Barro and Nuzzi conclude: “As is so often the case, if the Post had simply followed its own published editorial guidance that ‘fairness includes relevance,’ it would have made the right decision and passed on this story. Asked repeatedly to define that phrase, newsroom leadership didn’t respond to New York.”

Watch what you watch

Has conservative media played a role in the severity of the coronavirus here in the United States? Yes, according to new research in a story by The Washington Post data writer Christopher Ingraham.

Ingraham writes, “In recent weeks, three studies have focused on conservative media’s role in fostering confusion about the seriousness of the coronavirus. Taken together, they paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others.”

One study found that infection and mortality rates are higher in places where Fox News’ Sean Hannity has some of his highest viewership numbers. Another study found that those who rely on conservative sources, such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, also are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and unfounded rumors.

A Fox News spokesperson defended Hannity’s coverage to Ingraham and said any study that suggests Hannity hasn’t taken the coronavirus seriously is “a reckless disregard for the truth.”

Irene Pasquetto — chief editor of the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, which published one of the studies — told the Post, “Given all the data we have seen, and all the studies we are reviewing, we can say that empirical evidence clearly shows that this social group (those who routinely watch, read, and follow far-right media and social media) tended to take the disease less seriously and delayed their own response to the virus.”

PM Joy

MSNBC’s Joy Reid in 2018. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Word is Joy Reid will take over the 7 p.m. Eastern weeknight spot on MSNBC — the spot that hadn’t been permanently filled since Chris Matthews abruptly resigned in March. The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint broke the story that the host of the weekend “AM Joy” will be the new lead-in to MSNBC’s primetime lineup featuring Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell.

No word yet on what Reid’s show might be called, or what might happen to “AM Joy.”

Flint notes that Reid frequently filled in for Matthews — and often serves as host during the 7 p.m. hour — and “is seen as combative and inquisitive and not afraid to challenge guests.” Flint also wrote, “Already the most prominent Black anchor on MSNBC, Ms. Reid would have a potentially bigger platform to attract viewers than her current weekend morning show offered.”

A picture is worth these words

Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride is out with her latest NPR public editor column. In this one, she looks at an NPR story about extremists ramming their cars into protesters. In a photo that ran with that NPR story, it appeared protesters had actually provoked a confrontation with a car.

McBride wrote, “While the details of how this happened matter, the mistake itself was inexcusable and demonstrates how credibility erodes when attention to detail falters.” She goes on, in detail, to explain what happened. It’s worth the read.

Many in NPR’s audience were so upset that they began a hashtag of #defundNPR.

McBride closed her newsletter by writing:

As we sign off, we want to be clear that we feel it’s disproportionate and intellectually dishonest to suggest that the public should stop supporting NPR because of a mistake. It’s also unnerving to note how frequently a campaign of criticism is unfairly focused on a journalist of color. We suspect the readers of this newsletter already know that.

But if you find yourself in a conversation with one the many people out there who are visibly upset by the editing mistake on the photo, here’s a suggested response if you want to justify your continued support of NPR: ‘You can judge NPR not just by its good work, but by its response when it messes up. In this case, the editors quickly, openly and freely admitted their mistake and corrected it.’ If you get a chance to try this out, let us know how effective it was.

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

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