February 17, 2020

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Once a journalist, always a journalist?

Sam Donaldson in 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Sam Donaldson retired from journalism seven years ago. He’s an American citizen. That gives him the right to express any opinion he wants, including endorsing whomever he pleases for president.

But it’s misguided to think someone who worked in journalism for more than 50 years — someone whose name is associated with tough but fair reporting — can now express a political opinion and not have it do serious damage to the credibility of those currently working in the media. Much of the public already believes the media is biased and Donaldson’s endorsement of Mike Bloomberg for president feeds into that belief. It especially lends credence to those who believe much of the media is out to get President Donald Trump.

Even Donaldson seemed to know that he might have been crossing a line in his endorsement of Bloomberg.

During his 52 years as a journalist, Donaldson wrote that he did his “best to report on both Democratic and Republican administrations honestly and fairly” and that he “vowed to be completely independent from the political process to preserve my integrity as a journalist.”

Donaldson said that included never registering with a political party, and that he expected to remain a “political observer” even in retirement. He said he is now speaking up because “there is too much at stake in the next election to remain silent.”

He concluded his endorsement on’s Opinion section by writing, “After a lifetime of reporting the news, now is the time for me to stand up as a private citizen and do everything in my power to help defeat Donald Trump and elect Mike Bloomberg the next President of the United States.”

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Donaldson called Trump a “sick, ignorant man.” He also said, “(Trump is) mean, he’s corrupt and if we don’t get this right, we may lose the things that have made this country the best place to live in the world and that shining city on the hill that Ronald Reagan used to talk about, which was the envy of the world.”

Donaldson is free to do as he pleases, but it’s disappointing and damaging that he felt his endorsement of a presidential candidate was more important than preserving the integrity of the institution that he served so well for most of his life. With all due respect to Donaldson, I’m not sure his endorsement helps Bloomberg as much it hurts journalism.

Hey, Kellyanne, what’s your game now?

Kellyanne Conway. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

I still don’t know why Sunday morning shows invite White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on to their airwaves, given her propensity to duck, dodge and lie her way through interviews to protect and support the president at all times. But at least Chris Wallace challenged her appropriately during “Fox News Sunday.”

At one point, he asked a question three different times and finally said, “Please answer my question.”

At another point, Wallace pressed Conway on why Trump now says Mike Bloomberg is a racist over New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy when Bloomberg was mayor, but during the 2016 debates, Trump said the policy had a “tremendous impact.”

Conway’s answers were, per usual, dodgy, but at least Wallace tried.

Speaking of Kellyanne …

Interesting piece in Sunday’s New York Times by Elizabeth Williamson about Kellyanne Conway and her husband, George Conway, the couple who couldn’t be more opposite politically. There might not be anyone who criticizes Trump and his supporters more harshly than George Conway and no one who defends Trump as vigorously as Kellyanne Conway. And if you think it’s all a schtick, you’re wrong, according to Williamson’s piece.

Williamson wrote, “The Conways agree politically on most things because Mr. Conway, for all his anti-Trump activities, remains deeply conservative. But the couple does not appear to be having much fun.”


What a brilliant and helpful idea by The New York Times: in its coverage of the coronavirus, the Times is now offering updates in Chinese. It’s a simple yet perceptive idea — a great public service, well-executed.

As the Poynter-owned International Fact-Checking Network wrote recently in its coronavirus coverage, facts are hard to come by from within China, where the government is in control of all news media.

As local dries up, the divide deepens

Just three days ago, McClatchy, a news chain with 30 newsrooms in 14 states, filed for bankruptcy. On Sunday, one of the biggest reporting stars within McClatchy  — the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown, best known for dogged reporting on the Jeffrey Epstein story — said now is not the time to give up on local papers. If you don’t already, Brown said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,”  you should subscribe to your local paper.

“Most people I would think pay $100 to $200 a month on their cable subscriptions,” Brown said. “Newspapers are a fraction of that. Digital subscriptions are $10 to $15 a month. It really isn’t a whole lot of money considering that you’re investing in your community and you’re investing in people at those newspapers who are there to hold your elected people, people who are in power, accountable.”

Fewer papers might mean the inability to hold those in power accountable, but it also might be doing something equally damaging.

“With these smaller newspapers drying up across the country, it is creating a collapse of local newspapers and local news and the kind of information (they provide) around the country,” Brown said. “Because there isn’t the number of voices and the number of local newspapers, (that) has contributed to the divisions that we’re experiencing around the country.”


A not-so-free press in Australia

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

This is disappointing and troubling. Last summer, police raided the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a journalist because of articles that relied on leaks from government whistleblowers. Now, the Federal Court of Australia has ruled the raids were legal.

This all stems from a 2017 investigative series that looked into whether the Australian military had committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Another reporter had her home raided over a story she wrote about the government’s attempt to spy on Australian citizens.

Crackdowns on the media appear to be more frequent under the current government, which is led by conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison. A professor in Australia told the BBC, “I’m not saying this is just about the current government, but we have seen an increasing authoritarian mood creeping into the way the media is handled by the government.”

It seems preposterous that any country that claims to be free would attack freedom of the press this way, but is it really so much of a stretch to see something like that happening in this country, given the constant chorus of phrases such as “fake news” and “enemy of the people?”

Here’s an idea: Hold off on endorsements

If you don’t know who to endorse, then maybe you don’t endorse anyone. Seems simple. Still, we saw just last month that The New York Times decided to endorse not one, but two candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In Florida, early mail ballots have been sent out ahead of the March 17 presidential primary. The Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board writes that voters should let “those ballots sit on the hall table or the kitchen counter for a bit.”

The point? It’s too early and no candidate has emerged worth endorsing just yet.

The editorial read, “The race is too fluid and the stakes are too high to recommend anyone now.”

Full disclosure: Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times. However, Poynter is separate from the Times, and especially separate from the editorial board of the Times. Still, this is smart, and if newspapers are going to endorse candidates, they shouldn’t do so until they have a clear decision as to which candidate to endorse. More publications should follow the Tampa Bay Times’ cue if they aren’t sure which candidate to endorse.

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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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  • Re Sam Donaldson:
    This is nonsense.
    You’re saying that becoming a reporter requires you to forever give up your rights as a citizen. By the same reasoning, a reporter could never become a political columnist or TV/digital media pundit, take a job with a political campaign, become a lobbyist or do anything after journalism that reveals a political leaning, right, left or center.
    Sam Donaldson can say anything he wants, and not be silenced by the (highly unlikely) possibility that he will “do serious damage to the credibility of those currently working in media.”
    Instead of fingering Donaldson, you might discuss the WORKING, supposedly “objective” reporters who freely opine on CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere. That’s where you might find some real damage to the credibility of media.