By:
December 4, 2020

Good Friday morning. The election is over, we’re in the holiday season, but things are still busy in the media world. Plenty to digest in today’s newsletter, including news involving Dr. Anthony Fauci, ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, Megyn Kelly and her thoughts on Fox News, Time magazine’s first “Kid of the Year,” football announcer Cris Collinsworth’s apology for a dumb comment and so much more. But let’s dive in with some news from the White House.

Leaving the White House

White House communications director Alyssa Farah resigned Thursday after three-and-a-half years in the Trump administration. She started off as Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary then joined the Department of Defense as a press secretary. She became the White House communications director in April.

The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker wrote, “Farah’s departure, with little over a month remaining in President Trump’s administration, amounts to a tacit acknowledgment that — despite his baseless and dangerous claims to the contrary — Trump lost the 2020 election, and much of his team is now pondering their post-White House future.”

In other words, the White House is scrambling to find new jobs. Parker reported that Farah’s last day is today and Farah “plans to start a consulting firm focusing on the corporate, political and defense realms.”

Le Batard leaving ESPN

In the not-surprising-but-still-disappointing-news department, ESPN and Dan Le Batard announced Thursday that Le Batard will be leaving the network. His final ESPN radio show and his last episode of his “Highly Questionable” TV show will both be Jan. 4 of next year. In a statement, ESPN said Le Batard is leaving to “pursue a new opportunity.”

ESPN executive vice president and executive editor Norby Williamson said, “It was mutually agreed that it was best for both sides to move on to new opportunities and we worked together closely to make that possible. We thank Dan for his many years and contributions to ESPN and wish him all the best going forward.”

In the same statement, Le Batard thanked many and finished by saying, “In short, thank you, Disney and ESPN, for a quarter century of absurd blessings. To our loyal army of concerned fans, and to everyone who walked along and played an instrument in our Marching Band to Nowhere, know that it is a very exciting time for us, not a sad one. And that you’ll be hearing our laughter again soon enough.”

Le Batard leaving ESPN is not exactly a shocker. He and ESPN have had an uncomfortable and awkward relationship for years, often because Le Batard speaks his mind, including criticisms of ESPN. However, both the network and Le Batard seemed to respect one another enough for the relationship to survive as long as it has. The last straws might have come recently when ESPN cut Le Batard’s national radio show from three hours to two and then laid off one of Le Batard’s radio producers without consulting Le Batard. About the layoff, Le Batard called it “the greatest disrespect of my professional career.” Le Batard eventually hired the producer back and paid the producer’s salary out of his own pocket. But even without those incidents, the Le Batard-ESPN relationship seemed headed for a divorce eventually.

No word yet on what’s next for Le Batard, but he’ll be fine. He is extremely talented and has a lot of fans who are sure to follow him wherever he goes. ESPN will move along, too, although it is letting an immense and unique talent get away and its daytime TV and radio lineup will be weaker without Le Batard.

Mike Greenberg, who already hosts the morning TV show “Get Up,” will see his radio show “Greeny” move to Le Batard’s 10 a.m. to noon Eastern time slot.

Kelly’s thoughts on Fox News

Megyn Kelly. (DVT/STAR MAX/IPx)

During an interview on SiriusXM with Dan Abrams, former longtime Fox News on-air personality Megyn Kelly said it is “smart as a business decision” for Newsmax and OAN to cater their programming to Trump diehard supporters.

As far as Fox News, Kelly addressed how she thinks the late Roger Ailes, the one-time Fox News chairman and CEO, would have handled the 2020 election. She first said Fox News’ current coverage — with some on-air personalities vigorously clinging to baseless allegations that the election is not over and others reporting the fact that it is — has left viewers confused.

Kelly said, “If Roger were there, he’d be saying, ‘At least get one pundit on in all of these shows to at least make the president’s case.’ And I think they missed an opportunity by not doing that.”

Abrams asked Kelly that if Ailes were still at Fox News, would the network call Joe Biden the president-elect?

“I think they wouldn’t,” Kelly said, adding, “Roger was much more conspiratorial than people really knew. I mean, if you could have heard what he said behind closed doors about any given conspiracy of the day, like ‘Is Obama a Muslim?’ you would have been pretty surprised.”

Actually, I don’t know that anyone would have been that surprised, given what was on Fox News back in the day and what we now know about Ailes. And, honestly, Kelly’s comments reveal a troubling mindset that remains with some at Fox News.

Rush to judgment

Dr. Anthony Fauci. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

During an interview with CBS News’ Major Garrett on the podcast “The Takeout,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said the United Kingdom rushed the approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. However, Fauci later walked back those comments.

Originally, Fauci told Garrett, “You know, in all fairness to so many of my U.K. friends … they kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile. I think that would be a good metaphor for it because they really rushed through that approval. The FDA, the United States of America Food and Drug Administration, is the gold standard of regulation. They’re doing it in a very careful way, appropriately, because if we did anything that was cutting corners and rushing, we have enough problem with people being skeptical about taking a vaccine anyway. If we had jumped over the hurdle here quickly and inappropriately to gain an extra week or a week and a half, I think that the credibility of our regulatory process would have been damaged.”

Fauci said the U.K. has “good scientists,” but added, “they just took the data from the Pfizer company and instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully, they said, ‘OK, let’s approve it. That’s it.’ And they went with it. In fact, they were even rather severely criticized by their European Union counterparts who were saying, you know, ‘That was kind of a hot dog play.’”

I bring this up for three reasons. One, it’s really interesting. Two, you should check out Garrett’s podcast, because it’s good. And, three, don’t you love how accessible Fauci is and how honest he is whenever he is interviewed? But that honesty and willingness to speak sometimes gets him a bit of trouble. After his comments on the Garrett podcast started to make the round, Fauci walked them back in an interview with the BBC.

Fauci said, “I have a great deal of confidence in what the UK does both scientifically and from a regulator standpoint.” He added, “Our process is one that takes more time than it takes in the UK. And that’s just the reality. I did not mean to imply any sloppiness even though it came out that way.”

Speaking of Fauci …

HuffPost’s Jeffrey Young has a new piece out: “A Day in the Life of Dr. Anthony Fauci.” It literally goes through Fauci’s entire day, starting with when he gets up at 5:10 a.m. He said every day is different, and it’s like “drinking out of a firehose trying to keep ahead of everything that’s going on.”

And, sadly, that life has serious drawbacks. Fauci told Young, “I have federal agents that protect me. So they drive me to work, they stay here, they make sure that nobody tries to break in (to my home) and, as Steve Bannon would like, have somebody behead me. I don’t socialize. It’s my wife and I and the federal agents. We’ve sort of become like a new family unit.”

Fauci’s days won’t slow down anytime soon. Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he has asked Fauci to stick around as “chief medical adviser.”

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Collinsworth apologizes

NBC Sports’ Cris Collinsworth. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

NBC’s Cris Collinsworth is a superb football analyst, one of the very best in the business. But he said something really dumb during Wednesday’s Steelers-Ravens game and had to apologize for it.

Talking about just how knowledgeable Pittsburgh football fans are, Collinsworth said, “Everybody’s a fan. In particular, the ladies that I met. They have really specific questions about the game, and I’m like, ‘Wow,’ you’re just blown away by how strong the fans are here in this town.”

As soon as he said it, Collinsworth started getting crushed on social media, and rightfully so. Late Wednesday night, he posted an apology on Twitter, saying, “Today on our broadcast I made reference to a couple of women I met in Pittsburgh who so impressed me with their football knowledge that I wanted to tell their story on the air. I know the way I phrased it insulted many. I’m so sorry. What I intended as a compliment to the fans of Pittsburgh, became an insult. I’m sick about insulting any fan, but especially female fans and journalists. I know first hand how much harder they have to work than any of us in this industry. I was wrong and deeply apologize.”

It was a dumb thing to say, but Collinsworth’s track record is solid and his apology seemed sincere.

A look at Parler

Parler is the social media platform many people (mostly conservatives, it seems) are turning to because of their frustrations with Twitter and Facebook. Check out this excellent CNN piece from Donie O’Sullivan (with video from Gabe Ramirez) about Parler. O’Sullivan does a superb job explaining what Parler is and his man-on-the-street interviews with conservatives reveal what users like about it.

What seems to be most appealing to its users is the freedom to say pretty much anything they want — things, for example, that would get them suspended by Twitter or Facebook.

In an interview with O’Sullivan, Ben Decker, an online radicalization expert, used this analogy: Say you go to a sporting event and say things that were disturbing to fans around you. You would likely get kicked out of the stadium. So then you might be able to go to a dive bar next to the stadium — “where,” Decker said, “the behavior standards are lax and it’s OK to share opinions that aren’t OK to share around others.” Parler, in Becker’s analogy, is the dive bar.

John Matze, Parler’s CEO and founder, calls Parler a “town square.”

Kid of the year

I have a question: Why did it take until 2020 for Time magazine to come up with the brilliant idea of naming a “Kid of the Year?”

Well, better late than never. Time has chosen 15-year-old Gitanjali Rao from Lone Tree, Colorado, for her work using technology to address issues such as contaminated drinking water, opioid addiction and cyberbullying. Rao talked about all this in an interview with actor and Time contributing editor Angelina Jolie. Time also wrote how they came up with the idea of naming a “Kid of the Year” and how Rao was the selection.

As Time explained, it has been selecting a person of the year for 92 years. In 2019, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg was the youngest person of the year and the first under the age of 25 to be named.

New hosts

MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

MSNBC has finally settled on replacements for Joy Reid’s former “AM Joy” weekend show. Notice I used the plural “replacements” because two will replace Reid. Tiffany Cross will host the Saturday slot and Jonathan Capehart will host the Sunday show. The new shows, which will air from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern, will debut the weekend of Dec. 12 and 13. A new name for the show has not been announced. Reid is now hosting her own weeknight show — “The ReidOut” — on MSNBC. Cross and Capehart have been filling in as guest hosts since Reid left for her weeknight show in July.

Cross served as a 2020 resident fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics and was an on-air political analyst and longtime cable news veteran at BET. Capehart is an opinion columnist and editorial board member for The Washington Post. He was a key part of the New York Daily News team that won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1999.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a statement, “Jonathan Capehart has been a longtime member of the MSNBC family and his steadfast dedication to great journalism, along with Tiffany Cross’ fresh expert analysis, offer our MSNBC weekend morning audience the best of both worlds from two very different life and worldview experiences.”

In an interview with Variety’s Brian Steinberg, Cross said her show will include diverse voices to discuss the week’s news. “We are living in a country that is quickly becoming a space where people of color are the steak, not the potato,” she told Steinberg. “We should not be a separate part of the conversation. We should be woven into the main conversation, just like we have always been woven into the fabric of American society.”

Media tidbits

  • Joining moderator Robert Costa on tonight’s “Washington Week (8 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations) will be The Washington Post’s Annie Linskey, NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who will make his first-ever appearance on “Washington Week.” Topics include the Joe Biden transition, the upcoming Senate runoffs in Georgia and Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election.
  • Two new members have been elected to the Pulitzer Prize Board: Kelly Lytle Hernandez, a professor of history, African American studies and urban planning at UCLA, and Kevin Merida, a senior vice president at ESPN and editor-in-chief of The Undefeated.
  • Sharif Durhams has been named managing editor for the newsroom at the Raleigh News & Observer and the Durham Herald-Sun. Durhams went to middle and high school in Raleigh and he worked at The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina. His resume includes stops at CNN and The Washington Post. He replaces Jane Elizabeth, who stepped away from full-time work and is working as an independent media consultant.
  • Wired editor in chief Nicholas Thompson is leaving Wired to join The Atlantic as CEO. Thompson tweeted, “I’ve read and been inspired by The Atlantic my whole life — especially through the brilliant run they’ve had recently. This is an extraordinary opportunity to work to build, and expand, the business of one of the most important publications in America.” In a statement, The Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg said, “Nick is one of the great innovators in journalism, and I have enormous confidence that he will guide this company to a new era of subscription and reader growth, technological creativity, and business success.”
  • MSNBC big board election guru Steve Kornacki will be on NBC’s “Football Night in America” Sunday night at 7 p.m. Eastern to break down the NFL playoff picture. He also will appear at halftime of the Broncos-Chiefs “Sunday Night Football” game.
  • The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch interviews Trey Wingo, longtime “NFL Live” and ESPN radio host whose contract was not renewed, for his latest “Sports Media” podcast. And if you’re a subscriber of The Athletic, you can read Deitsch’s interview with Wingo here.

Hot type

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

Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter, based on a report in the Raleigh News & Observer, said Jane Elizabeth had retired as managing editor. She actually stepped away from full-time journalism, as she explained in a Twitter thread, and is now working as an independent media consultant.

Update: The item about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comments about the United Kingdom has been updated to include Fauci’s latest interview that walked back some of this comments about the country’s vaccine approval process.

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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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