Tucker Carlson’s reputation and future could depend on what he has to say tonight

Your Monday Poynter Report

July 13, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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Good morning, everyone. Tom Jones here — back from a week’s vacation and ready to jump back into the latest media news and analysis. Thanks to the Poynter team, especially managing editor Ren LaForme, for taking over the Poynter Report last week.

A year ago this month, we renamed and rebranded the morning newsletter. At that time, I wrote that the goal of the Poynter Report was to highlight outstanding journalism and help make sense of the deluge of information constantly coming at us. “My goal,” I wrote, “is to take you behind the scenes by talking to reporters, editors and news leaders across the country and all around the world. And along the way, I’ll give you my two cents.”

That mission has not changed, particularly the “two cents” part. This newsletter is rooted in fact and news, but it is also very much a daily column about the media. That is, it’s a newsletter with opinions about the news and news about the news. You might not always agree with my takes. My colleagues at Poynter don’t always agree with my stances. But, hopefully, like any good column, it will make you think and stir a healthy and respectful conversation.

As always, your thoughts are welcome. Feel free to reach out to me at tjones@poynter.org. I look forward to hearing what you think about the Poynter Report — what you like, what you don’t like, your tips, your suggestions and your two cents.

Thanks for reading. Now onto today’s report.

Last week had several major media stories. So here’s a look back at what happened, and what might happen next.

Stunning, but not surprising

Stop and really consider the stunning news broken by CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy on Friday: The head writer of Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show resigned after Darcy reported he had been using a pseudonym to post racist, sexist and incredibly bigoted remarks online.

Think about it: This is the head writer of cable news’ most-watched TV show in history. The host of that show has credited this writer for helping to shape the opinions and monologues of that show — opinions and monologues that are paid attention to and often echoed by the president of the United States.

The writer, Blake Neff, was once quoted as saying that he wrote the first draft of anything Carlson reads off the teleprompter. Yet, as recently as last week, Neff was posting vulgar comments online.

Darcy’s well-reported story details some of the dreadful things Neff wrote under his pseudonym. They go way beyond even the usual political rhetoric. They include racist attacks on Blacks (including commenting on posts that used the N-word), personal attacks on the dating habits of an Asian woman, as well as vulgar attacks on George Floyd and congresswomen known as “The Squad:” Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. The examples are truly stunning in their bigotry.

In a memo to employees also shared with the media, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace condemned Neff’s “horrific racist, misogynistic and homophobic behavior.” They also wrote, “Neff’s abhorrent conduct on this forum was never divulged to the show or the network until Friday, at which point we swiftly accepted his resignation. Make no mistake, actions such as his cannot and will not be tolerated at any time in any part of our workforce.”

Obviously, none of Neff’s horrific slurs made it to air. But it’s troubling to know the message behind many of Neff’s online rants were the foundation of Carlson’s on-air commentary. Which leads me to …

What did Carlson know?

Scott and Wallace wrote that Carlson will address the Neff story on his show tonight. But why didn’t he fully address it on Friday?

Darcy’s story broke before Carlson went to air on Friday, certainly enough time for Carlson to put together a full statement and explanation. He sort of alluded to it, but then went on to gripe about “cancel culture” and even mentioned CNN by name.

Because Carlson mostly ducked the issue on his show Friday — as well as not making any public statements over the weekend — he now leaves himself open to questions about whether his comments tonight are truly his or a directive from the big bosses at Fox News.

You wonder if Carlson knows or even cares just how crucial tonight’s show is for him. Anything short of a full-throated condemnation and show of disgust toward Neff and everything he wrote will forever taint Carlson. In addition, Carlson needs to convince audiences that the words he speaks tonight truly reflect his own feelings.

There are those who already question Carlson’s true feelings on race and society and, perhaps, there is nothing he will say tonight that will change those opinions. He already has lost advertisers because of on-air commentaries, including recent comments about Black Lives Matter.

It’s doubtful many minds will be changed regardless of what Carlson says. But any credibility he does have is on the line with tonight’s show. If he doesn’t completely distance himself from Neff and confirm that he had no idea about Neff’s secret online double life, how can Fox News possibly keep him on the air?

Ignoring the story

It was disappointing, although probably shouldn’t be all that surprising, how little Howard Kurtz’s weekly media show on Fox News spent on the Tucker Carlson story. Sunday morning’s “MediaBuzz” spent all of one minute and 16 seconds on the story and most of that was Kurtz reading the internal memo from Fox News executives.

Kurtz hosts one of the very few TV shows dedicated to covering the media. To spend barely a minute covering one of the most stunning headlines about the most-watched show in cable news television history and to do it without conversation or commentary was not only negligent, it was embarrassing.

Yes, Kurtz would have been talking about a show that appears on his own network, but Kurtz has no issues critiquing and criticizing other networks and news outlets. If you’re going to hammer other networks, you have to be willing to put a spotlight on your own. To not truly weigh in on the Carlson controversy — as well as the connection between Carlson and the White House — shows that Kurtz’s show falls short of honest and full media coverage. It’s a shame, really, because Kurtz has shown in the past that he is better than that.

Hedging our bets

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey hedge fund, has won the auction to buy McClatchy, the famed newspaper chain that owns such papers as the Miami Herald, The Charlotte Observer, The Kansas City Star and The Sacramento Bee. Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds has the details.

Anytime you hear “hedge fund” and “newspaper chain” in the same sentence, it’s a reason to get jumpy. Traditionally, hedge funds are bad news for media organizations as they are more interested in money than journalism. If you’re looking for any sliver of optimism, it might be that Chatham won the auction instead of Alden Global Capital, which owns The Denver Post, the Boston Herald, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The Mercury News of San Jose, among others, and has made significant cuts at many of its newspaper properties.

Appearing on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, who just published a book about local news, said, “Alden Global would have been worse. So of the two lousy options, this almost certainly is a better one. Chatham has said that they believe in the mission and all that. I find that a little hard to believe because hedge funds have not been good local newspaper owners. But it’s not the worst option.”

By the way, in case you missed it, Edmonds reviewed Sullivan’s book for Poynter.

Read this

Speaking of Alden, check out this excellent Dan Barry piece in The New York Times. Barry chronicles Evan Brandt, who might be the last reporter left to cover Pottstown, Pennsylvania, for the local newspaper, The Mercury — which is owned by Alden.

End of an era

ESPN radio hosts Mike Greenberg, left, and Mike Golic throw out first pitches before a game in Cleveland in 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

ESPN made it official last week, announcing a new radio schedule that means Mike Golic will no longer co-host the morning drive show that he has been a part of for two decades. From 2000 to 2017, Golic partnered with Mike Greenberg for the famed “Mike & Mike” show. Then, for the past three years, Golic has been with Trey Wingo for “Golic & Wingo.” But, last week, ESPN announced that starting Aug. 17, the morning show, which is syndicated nationally and is simulcast on ESPN2, will feature Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti.

“Golic & Wingo’s” last show will be July 31, thus ending one of the great runs in sports radio history. Golic is still under contract and could reappear somewhere at some point, but as of now, he’s not a part of ESPN Radio’s new lineup. The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch reports ESPN could try to talk Golic into becoming a college football analyst.

Tributes from Golic’s current and former ESPN colleagues poured in, as compiled by Awful Announcing’s Ian Casselberry. By all accounts, Golic is a class act. The few times I’ve dealt with him, I can confirm that.

As far as his shows — both with Greenberg and Wingo — they were fine. Just fine. Not great. Not bad. Just fine. And that was kind of the point. For years, the joke was “Mike & Mike” should be called “Mickey & Mickey” — a Mickey Mouse reference meant to convey that nothing on the show was going to upset Disney, which owns ESPN, or its advertisers.

“Mike & Mike” and “Golic & Wingo” stuck mostly to sports, shied away from scalding hot, controversial takes and were safe to listen to with kids in the car. It was PG-rated sports radio. And that was … fine.

That doesn’t mean the new show suddenly will turn into the sports version of Howard Stern or shock-jock radio. After all, this is still ESPN and it is still owned by Disney. But, clearly, ESPN wanted to try something different for morning radio. I look forward to that something different, although it will be weird to not hear Golic and it will be a hard habit to break, even for those who thought the shows he was a part of were a tad boring at times.

A Woj F-bomb

Adrian Wojnarowski is one of the top sports reporters in the country. The ESPN reporter breaks more NBA news than anyone and whenever he breaks a big story, it’s known as a “Woj Bomb.”

He dropped another bomb last week: an F-bomb on U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). Hawley wrote a letter to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, questioning the NBA for allowing players to wear messages on their jerseys that promote social causes, but not allowing messages that support law enforcement or criticize China’s Communist Party. In a two-word email response to a press release about the letter from Hawley’s office, Wojnarowski wrote, “(Expletive) you.”

Hawley shared the email on social media. ESPN called Wojnarowski’s response, “unacceptable” and “inexcusable” and suspended Wojnarwoski for at least a week without pay, according to several reports.

Wojnarowski tweeted, “I was disrespectful and I made a regrettable mistake. I’m sorry for the way I handled myself and I am reaching out immediately to Senator Hawley to apologize directly.”

Was this a fireable offense? Nah. I’m not even sure it rises any higher than the “Hey, don’t do that again” level of punishment. But suspension probably quiets the critics.

New shows

The Poynter Report mentioned this during my absence, but I did want to add that it was good to see the news last week about Joy Reid and Shepard Smith.

Reid was named to replace Chris Matthews in the 7 p.m. Eastern slot on MSNBC. Reid told Associated Press’s David Bauder, “We are going to try to fire out of the gate with whatever is the most important thing that’s happening that night, and try to frame it and contextualize it. Hopefully, I have a very unique frame.”

Reid, whose show will debut July 20, is top-notch. So is Smith, who got tired of Fox News and quit last year. He, too, will be on at 7 p.m. Eastern over at CNBC. His show is expected to start in September.

Hot type

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

I’ve written several times how I believe Kayleigh McEnany is overmatched and bungling her job as White House press secretary. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, writes that McEnany isn’t fulfilling her responsibilities.

The Chicago Tribune’s Robert Channick writes about how the coronavirus pandemic has hurt and challenged Chicago media.

Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson has been fined by his team after posting anti-Semitic messages on Instagram, including a quote that he wrongly thought was attributed to Adolf Hitler. He has since apologized, but Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom writes why we should be enraged by Jackson and this story.

The White House appears to be keeping Dr. Anthony Fauci off major television despite repeated requests for him. Now NBC News’ Josh Lederman and Kelly O’Donnell report the White House is looking to discredit him.

Clarification: This story has been updated to note that Fox News writer Blake Neff commented on posts in which others used the N-word. Originally, it was said that Neff used that word.

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

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