January 6, 2020

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The Poynter Report is back. Good morning. Great to talk to you again after a long holiday break. Welcome to 2020 and a new year of giving you the latest media news and analysis in your inbox every weekday morning.

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OK, on to today’s report.

Wanted: Responsible journalism

We’re less than a week into 2020 and already it is shaping up to be one of the most chaotic, pivotal and eventful years that this country has ever seen. That’s not hyperbole.

Between impeachment, a presidential election and, now, escalating tensions that could lead to war in the Middle East, the future of this country is in the balance.

Coverage of these events has never been more important. Responsible journalism has never been more required. More than ever, Americans need to turn to facts provided by objective reporters as opposed to relying on the opinions of biased pundits, particularly as we try to fully understand the consequences of last week’s events involving the death of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani.

And more than ever, journalists need to be diligent, skeptical and demanding when it comes to reporting on decisions made by American leaders. History shows that our leaders often are deceptive when it comes to conflicts with other nations. From the Pentagon Papers to the George W. Bush administration’s claims of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, we have seen instances where the government has tried to mislead the public. Only the media stands between the truth and the government’s deception.

Viewing and reading habits, of course, are not going to change. Those who watch their favorite cable news outlet — whether it’s Fox News, MSNBC or CNN — will continue to do so; the same with various publications. But at a moment this crucial, one hopes that the public seeks out information that they need to hear, as opposed to seeking out the spin they want to hear. And more importantly, we can only hope that unbiased information is available to the public.

Here’s who to trust

The news is moving fast following Soleimani’s death. During such times, news consumers look to trusted sources for information. And while many news outlets have and will continue to produce insightful and reliable reports, there is one who stands out.

If you’re looking for especially penetrating, smart and dependable coverage, you might want to pay attention to the reporting of The New York Times’ Farnaz Fassihi, who used to run The Wall Street Journal’s Baghdad bureau. Her updates on Twitter have been particularly productive, as well as compelling. Her live tweets from Soleimani’s funeral early this morning were nothing short of ominous.

Oh, one other good follow if you already aren’t following her: NPR international correspondent Jane Arraf.

The view from Fox News

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Fox News’ pundits continue to support and praise President Donald Trump following the attack on Iran. Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs said that Trump has set a standard “for presidents that most mortals won’t be able to meet.”

Sean Hannity, who was taking time off, called into his show last week to say, “I will say the big headline is this is a huge victory for American intelligence, a huge victory for our military. A huge victory for the State Department and a huge victory and total leadership by the president.”

However, in a rare break from the president and his policies, Tucker Carlson questioned the attacks.

“Is Iran really the greatest threat we face?” Carlson said on his show. “And who’s actually benefiting from this? And why are we continuing to ignore the decline of our own country in favor of jumping into another quagmire from which there is no obvious exit? By the way, if we’re still in Afghanistan, 19 years, sad years, later, what makes us think there’s a quick way out of Iran?”

It also should be noted that frequent Fox News contributor Geraldo Rivera had a testy exchange with “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade on Friday morning. Rivera told Kilmeade, “Don’t for a minute start cheering this on, what we have done, what we have unleashed.”

Kilmeade responded with, “I will cheer it on. I am elated.”

To which Rivera snapped, “Then you, like Lindsey Graham, have never met a war you didn’t like.”

That angered Kilmeade, who said, “That is not true. Don’t even say that.”

Later Friday on Kilmeade’s radio show, Rivera apologized, saying, “I didn’t mean anything personally. You know I’m your biggest fan in this building and in this town. I think you really have a total grasp on issues that is profoundly securing, reaffirming, reassuring for us. I just disagree on this issue of killing Soleimani.”

“60 Minutes” takes on Epstein death

On Sunday, CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired never-before-seen photos from the cell where Jeffrey Epstein was found dead. (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Did sex offender Jeffrey Epstein kill himself or was he murdered? “60 Minutes” delved into that topic Sunday night and aired never-seen-before medical examiner’s photos from inside Epstein’s cell and his autopsy. Some of the photos, according to forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, suggest Epstein might not have died from suicidal hanging. Baden pointed to a photo and report in which Epstein suffered three fractures in his neck.

“I have never seen three fractures like this in a suicidal hanging,” Baden told “60 Minutes” correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi. “Going over a thousand jail hangings, suicides in the New York City state prisons over the past 40-50 years, no one had three fractures.”

Baden also pointed to other examples that raised questions in his mind that Epstein’s death was from a suicide.

The Rush is on

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has signed a contract extension with Premiere Networks. Who first broke the story? Well, technically, it was President Trump. During the “Evangelicals for Trump” rally in Florida last week, Trump was praising some of his favorite media types and blurted out, “Rush just signed another four-year contract.”

No deal had been officially announced, so kudos to CNN’s Brian Stelter for checking into it. Sure enough, Premiere (part of iHeartMedia) confirmed that Limbaugh signed a “long-term deal.” Limbaugh has hosted a nationally syndicated radio show for more than three decades.

Catching up on great work

The Rolling Stones perform on stage during a free rock concert at Altamont Speedway near Livermore, California, in 1969. (AP Photo)

Over the holidays, I had a chance to catch up on some long reads and podcasts that I had been meaning to get to. I have two strong recommendations.

First, “Altamont” — a two-part episode from The Washington Post’s “All Told” podcast. “Altamont,” excellently hosted and reported by Post national arts reporter Geoff Edgers, looks back at the infamous 1969 Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway in California. The feel-good vibes of Woodstock earlier that year were nowhere to be found at a hastily planned concert that turned deadly. Combining original reporting with archival audio, including that from the concert film “Gimme Shelter,” Edgers transports listeners back to the concert, and you can actually feel the unsettling atmosphere of that night and the foreboding danger. Even if you are familiar with Altamont, as I was, you will be mesmerized and educated by this well-produced pod. It also includes a rare interview with a Rolling Stones star about that fateful concert.

The other big recommendation is Skip Hollandsworth’s “The Doctor, the Dentist and the Killer” in Texas Monthly. It’s a chilling story of jealousy and stalking that turned murderous.

Low class move of the weekend

Frequent ESPN contributor Pat McAfee.(AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” announcers Joe Tessitore and analyst Booger McFarland are frequent targets of criticism, especially in the Twitterverse. The duo — which, granted, isn’t nearly as accomplished as the top announcing teams at Fox, CBS or NBC — were blasted even more following a so-so performance calling Saturday’s Texans-Bills playoff game. The criticism was no surprise. But what was unexpected was seemingly getting shade from one of their colleagues. Pat McAfee, who often appears on ESPN and called college games for the network this season, tweeted after Saturday’s game that he was available on Mondays even though, as of now, there is no job to be had on “Monday Night Football.”

“Getting a lot of tweets right now … to answer. My Monday night’s have been WIDE open for the past 3 years. I do believe there is nothing on the schedule for next fall as well.”

Nearly two hours later, perhaps realizing he (purposefully or inadvertently) made McFarland look bad, McAfee tweeted, “3rd man in the booth obviously*” — suggesting he would not replace, but instead join McFarland. New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand called out McAfee, tweeting, “This is uncool to tweet about a colleague’s job.”

This isn’t the first time McAfee has gone after a spot in the Monday night booth. He started a campaign on Twitter in May and then put out a seven-tweet statement after he didn’t get the job.

Hot type

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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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  • As you know, Tom, the sports-viewing pubic seems to target individual announcers or teams, one at a time, and pile on the criticism. It has tired of ripping the outstanding Joe Buck and turned its attention to the quite good MNF duo. These guys suffer by following the incomparable Michaels/Collinsworth pair by one night. But, except for occasionally getting caught up in deep analysis after a play without noticing or explaining a flag, they are solid.