Want answers from the big tech companies? Get someone to ask the right questions.

Every congressperson should give their time to Recode co-founder and New York Times opinion columnist Kara Swisher and let her ask the questions.

July 30, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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Good Thursday morning. Lots to get to, including a strong stance about Black Lives Matter made by the McClatchy newspaper chain. And President Donald Trump was busy on Wednesday, lashing out at what we thought was his favorite cable news station — Fox News. That and so much more, which I will get to in a moment.

But first, four big tech CEOs — Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai — had a contentious virtual sitdown with Congress on Wednesday.

And, predictably, each party has a different set of complaints.

Democrats complained about competition and worries that the big tech companies are too powerful. Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline called the CEOs “emperors.”

The Republicans zeroed in on anti-conservative bias.

Ohio Republican Jim Jordan put it bluntly: “I’ll just cut to the chase. Big Tech is out to get conservatives.”

The flaw in Jordan’s statement, however, is there is no proof that is true. For example, New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose tweeted that the top-performing Facebook link posts at one point Wednesday were: Ben Shapiro, Fox News, Dan Bongino, CNSNews, Ben Shapiro, Ben Shapiro, Fox News, CNN, Blue Lives Matter and Ben Shapiro. All but CNN and, arguably, Blue Lives Matter, are conservative.

Yet an alleged conservative bias remains a Republican talking point. Jordan even asked Pichai if Google was going to take steps to help Joe Biden defeat President Trump in November.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner badly bungled one of his early questions when he asked Zuckerberg about Donald Trump Jr.’s account being temporarily suspended by Facebook. It was, in fact, Twitter that briefly limited Trump Jr.’s account for spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.

Zuckerberg said, “Congressman, first to be clear, I think what you might be referring to happened on Twitter. So it’s hard for me to speak to that.”

There was WAY more, of course, to the several hours of discussion.

But two things were clear: Yes, the big techs absolutely need to be questioned about how they operate. And, no, Congress does not seem to be the ones best equipped to do that.

My advice? Every congressperson should give their time to Recode co-founder and New York Times opinion columnist Kara Swisher and let her ask the questions.

McClatchy journalists absolutely can show support for Black lives

Were McClatchy journalists in danger of losing their jobs if they showed public support for Black lives?

To be clear: no. Some, however, were afraid they would be fired. That’s why Kristin Roberts, McClatchy’s vice president of news, sent out this tweet on Wednesday:

“It has come to my attention that some @mcclatchy journalists believe they will be fired if they publicly state support for Black lives. So, I’ll start: Black lives matter. Now, if anyone is going to be fired, I can be first.”

She followed that up with another tweet:

“Expressing that Black lives matter is not a political statement. It is a fundamental truth. It is not a violation of social media policy to tell the world that Black lives matter.”

I reached out to Roberts via email right after the tweets just to clear up any misconceptions. She told me that McClatchy employees were not told they would be punished for supporting Black lives.

Roberts told me, “Some people expressed worry/fear that a personal expression around BLM would be seen by managers as political opinion and run afoul of our social media guidelines. When I learned this yesterday, I was deeply saddened and decided we needed to be crystal clear. Therefore, the tweet.”

I wrote more about this for Poynter, including details from an internal memo Roberts sent to staff that included some of the issues McClatchy journalists cannot comment on publicly, as well as future discussions about a topic that is going on in many newsrooms: whether or not journalists can participate in local protests and demonstrations.

Lashing out at Fox News

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One for a trip to Midland, Texas, on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Trump apparently wasn’t happy with Fox News on Wednesday. Here was his tweet right around noon Eastern time: “I am in @AirForceOne_HQ flying to the Great State of Texas. It is AMAZING in watching @FoxNews how different they are from four years ago. Not even watchable. They totally forgot who got them where they are!”

As CNN’s Brian Stelter noted, Trump gave three interviews to Fox News last week.

Axios interviews Trump

Axios’ Jonathan Swan interviewed President Trump on Tuesday. The entire interview is scheduled to air next Monday at 11 p.m. Eastern on HBO. Axios posted a clip Wednesday of Swan asking Trump about a recent phone call with Vladimir Putin and if Trump asked the Russian leader about reports that Russia paid the Taliban to kill U.S. troops.

Trump told Swan, “I have never discussed it with him.”

Swan asked Trump why he didn’t bring up the topic with Putin.

“That was a phone call to discuss other things,” Trump said, “and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news.”

Giving up in Michigan?

Trump’s polling numbers in Michigan are so “dismal” that his campaign is no longer running TV or radio ads in the state — a sign that it sees the race there, for now, as unwinnable. That’s what McClatchy’s national political correspondent David Catanese writes. Catanese notes that the campaign continues to run ads in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but stopped running ads in Michigan last week.

One GOP source told Catanese, “The numbers are dismal. Hard to see how it remains competitive.”

Another Trump administration official said, “The numbers speak for themselves and the advertising dollars speak for themselves. The campaign thinks they have a better shot in Pennsylvania and that’s why they are matching Biden on advertising there.”

However, some insiders tell Catanese that the Trump campaign is saving up for the final weeks before the election when it will make a big push in Michigan. Trump took Michigan and its 16 electoral votes in 2016, but recent polls show most registered voters (58%) think he has done a “bad job” when it comes to the coronavirus.

Looking for help

Broadway’s Billy Porter, right, being interviewed on Wednesday’s “Morning Joe” by Mika Brzezinski. (Courtesy: MSNBC and “Morning Joe.”)

One group greatly impacted by the coronavirus are those who work in the arts — musicians, actors, artists and so forth. Most have seen their gigs dry up because there are no concerts or plays or shows or any public gatherings. Thousands upon thousands — and I’m not talking about famous artists, musicians and actors, but those who live paycheck to paycheck — have seen their paychecks disappear. During an interview on Wednesday’s “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, Broadway’s Billy Porter stood up for those workers.

“It is the government’s responsibility to take care of its people and that’s not happening,” said Porter, who urged the Senate to pass a package for emergency arts relief.

“The arts and culture are the second-largest economic driver in the nation,” Porter said. “This is language that the GOP understands because this is about money. … We are important to the culture and need to be taken care of just like everyone else. This is unacceptable and Congress needs to act.”

My favorite quote from Wednesday

ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

ESPN had a conference call Wednesday with some of the broadcasters who will be calling next week’s PGA Championship. Lead announcer Scott Van Pelt was asked about the long days put in by a broadcaster on golf events, and this is what he said:

“Well, let’s start with being honest. I’m sitting in a booth talking about someone hitting a golf ball. I’ve said this often and through the years. My father worked as a plumber. He wore boots to work, and they put makeup on me. It’s hard work relative to what you do in terms of a broadcast day.”

Still, Van Pelt and his colleagues will be working 16-hour days, which is just fine with him.

“Listen,” Van Pelt said, “after 16 weeks of doing ‘SportsCenter’ with no sports, I’m thrilled to work 16 hours talking nonstop about actual sports and the best in the world.”

Mike on Mike

Mike Golic’s 22-year-run on morning radio will end Friday. ESPN is going with a new show starting next month and Golic will return to being a college football analyst. Most of Golic’s radio show was with Mike Greenberg, as the two formed “Mike & Mike” from 2000 until Greenberg left in 2017 to host the ESPN TV show “Get Up.”

There was plenty of buzz in Greenberg’s final days on “Mike & Mike” that the relationship between Golic and Greenberg had soured. Greenberg finally addressed the end of Golic’s radio run on Wednesday’s “Get Up” and gave a very nice tribute.

Greenberg complimented Golic for being a family man and said he became a better father because of Golic. Then Greenberg mentioned something that few people talk about, which is Golic’s was a groundbreaker on radio. Most famous sports talk radio hosts — Mike Francesa, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Jim Rome and Dan Patrick, to name a few — were broadcasters. But Golic was the first athlete who made a significant impact on national sports talk radio. Greenberg said, “He didn’t just open a door for others, he built one. There was no door before he came along.”

You can watch Greenberg’s full tribute here.

Media tidbits

  • Defector, the new website started by former Deadspin staffers, said in a tweet that they’ve had 10,000 subscribers in the first 24 hours of announcing their new website.
  • If you missed it, PBS’s “Frontline” had a terrific episode on how conspiracy theories have gone from the fringes to inside the White House. “The United States of Conspiracy” can now be watched online.

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

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