February 27, 2020

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Was Wright even wrong?

ABC News has suspended one of its veteran reporters, a solid journalist who regularly appears on such broadcasts as “Nightline,” “World News Tonight” and “Good Morning America.”

Was the suspension justified, or is he being punished for simply telling the truth about broadcast journalism?

The answer is not so simple.

Here’s what happened. Journalist David Wright, who has been at ABC for nearly 20 years, was at a hotel bar in New Hampshire during the primary there last week. That’s when he was caught on video by Project Veritas, a conservative group that records undercover footage of journalists in an effort to show media bias. In this case, Project Veritas released obviously undercover video of Wright complaining about network political coverage. At one point, Wright says, “I don’t think we’re terribly interested in voters.”

In talking about President Donald Trump, Wright said, “We don’t hold him to account. We also don’t give him credit for what things he does do.” He also uses a couple of expletives to describe the president. Wright also blasted Disney-owned ABC, saying, “Like now you can’t watch ‘Good Morning America’ without there being a Disney princess or a Marvel Avenger appearing. It’s all self-promotional.”

At one point, after Wright is asked if he considers himself a “Democratic socialist,” he says, “I consider myself a socialist.”

In a statement, ABC News said, “Any action that damages our reputation for fairness and impartiality or gives the appearance of compromising it harms ABC News and the individuals involved. David Wright has been suspended, and to avoid any possible appearance of bias, he will be reassigned away from political coverage when he returns.”

OK, we can stop here for a moment. Wright is absolutely correct when he says “Good Morning America” is often about self-promotion, just like NBC’s “Today” show and “CBS This Morning.” In fact, sifting through the video, I’m having a hard time finding something that Wright said that was worthy of any kind of punishment beyond, “Hey, watch what you say from now on.” His complaints were more directed at network news coverage than anything or anyone else.

The Columbia Journalism Review’s Matthew Ingram tweeted, “As far as I can tell, ABC News has suspended one of its senior correspondents for saying totally unsurprising and completely non-controversial things in one of those ridiculous ‘Project Veritas’ sting operations.”

The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer tweeted, “ABC’s suspension of David Wright looks ridiculous now that the @JamesOKeefeIII video he got suspended for is out. Wright makes the same critiques of the broadcast news business that you’d hear in any journalism class.”

My Poynter colleague Al Tompkins — in a thought-provoking column that you should read — writes, “There is not a journalist among us who has not privately criticized some news decision or corporate mandate within our company. But when we take that complaint out of the confines of the newsroom — where it is appropriate to examine what we do and how we do it — and air our personal opinions in front of bystanders, we deserve the trouble that is heading our way.”

True, airing dirty laundry in public is often a precursor to packing boxes. And while Wright used poor judgment speaking so candidly to someone he didn’t know, shouldn’t ABC News be standing behind a journalist who has served it so well over the years? It feels as if the network is caving into the pressure of a gotcha outfit that really isn’t the least bit interested in fairness. Shouldn’t ABC News base its decisions on Wright’s actual work instead of what he says to some Joe Schmoe at a bar?

I mean, what would happen if ABC News had said, “Who cares what Project Veritas says? We believe in our guy.”

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote a story about this and tweeted, “In suspending David Wright, ABC News has handed Project Veritas a scalp; exposed its ignorance regarding journalism ethics; screwed a longtime correspondent; and botched the distinction between opinion and bias.”

The network should reconsider the suspension.

As Tompkins writes, “We all understand why that would make a network sore at him. I hope the network, and all of us really, will also take a few moments away from tongue-clucking about saying that stuff to a stranger to contemplate whether he has a point or two worth considering.”


Trump campaign sues NYT over op-ed

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

We already know that President Donald Trump is no fan of The New York Times. Now he’s taking the Times to court. On Wednesday, the Trump reelection campaign sued the Times for libel, saying that the Times knowingly published false information about Trump in an op-ed last year.

The March 2019 op-ed was written by Max Frankel, who was the Times’ executive editor from 1986 to 1994. In the piece, Frankel wrote about Trump’s ties to Russia during the election. Frankel wrote, “There was no need for detailed electoral collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s oligarchy because they had an overarching deal: the quid of help in the campaign against Hillary Clinton for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy, starting with relief from the Obama administration’s burdensome economic sanctions. The Trumpites knew about the quid and held out the prospect of the quo.”

Jenna Ellis, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, said in a statement, “The statements were and are 100 percent false and defamatory. The complaint alleges The Times was aware of the falsity at the time it published them, but did so for the intentional purpose of hurting the campaign, while misleading its own readers in the process.”

In a statement, the Times said, “The Trump campaign has turned to the courts to try to punish an opinion writer for having an opinion they find unacceptable. Fortunately, the law protects the right of Americans to express their judgments and conclusions, especially about events of public importance. We look forward to vindicating that right in this case.”

The Trump campaign’s suit isn’t expected to get very far, according to legal experts who see this as an open-and-shut case of First Amendment rights.

More debate take-aways

The Democratic presidential candidates at Tuesday’s debate in South Carolina.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

CBS drew solid viewership numbers for Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate. About 15.3 million watched on CBS and another half million watched on BET. Then again, all those viewers saw what was considered a subpar night by the CBS panel that moderated the debate.

I wrote that CBS’s moderators had a “lousy night” and “Chaos was the theme. There was yelling, there were insults, talking over one another and constant interruptions. In short, it was a mess. The candidates, certainly, played a big role in the disorder, but the moderators did little to stop it. At times, they enabled it.”

The New York Times’ James Poniewozik wrote, “A debate does not lose control of itself. It’s a team effort, and the dubious MVPs of this one were the CBS moderators, led by Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King, who got flat-out mugged.”

And “The View”’s Meghan McCain had the best line of all when she tweeted:

“These moderators need to get this under control. This is way worse than any bad day @TheView hot topics table. At least Whoopi has the bell… #DemDebate2020.”

One other thing. Certainly the candidates — with their constant shouting, overtalking and ignoring of time limits — played their role in Tuesday’s food fight of a debate. So what could be done?

In her latest piece, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan suggests two extreme measures: cutting off microphones or putting time sanctions on the candidates who break the rules.


More industry trouble

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

wrote yesterday about three unionization drives announced just this last week at Florida newspapers. And earlier this month, McClatchy, whose 30 regional titles include the Miami Herald, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

There was another sign Wednesday of the industry’s financial distress as the Tampa Bay Times told its full-time staffers that their pay will be reduced by 10% for the next three months. A memo from five top executives also said that further staff reductions are likely coming.

Affected staffers are being given five days off. The five executives said that they will be reducing their own pay by 15% for the three months.

The emergency cuts were needed, according to the note, because advertising in the first weeks of the year was down much more than anticipated.

“Any observer will quickly see,” the note continued, “how challenging and volatile our industry has become. We remain committed to the critical changes that will put the Tampa Bay Times back on a path of growth, and we are seeing some pockets of success, both in the industry and at the Times.”

The Times is owned by nonprofit Poyner but operates separately as a for-profit business. The note was provided to Poynter, but spokesperson Sherri Day declined additional comment. (Here’s the Times’ story about the developments.)

Media tidbits

  • Today’s “The Daily” podcast from The New York Times is about how bad the coronavirus might get. Meanwhile, the Times has started a coronavirus newsletter.

  • Odd that President Trump’s news conference about the coronavirus on Wednesday was held at the exact same time of the national network news broadcasts. None of the major networks — ABC, CBS, NBC — carried Trump’s news conference live and, instead, stayed with their news broadcasts, which included a major shooting in Milwaukee.

  • WNYC Studios and “The Takeaway” are launching a new podcast called “How to Vote in America.” Hosted by veteran political reporter Amy Walter, each episode explores an aspect of the election process in short five- to 10-minutes formats.

  • Fox News will have a town hall with Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar tonight from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Eastern. Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum will host.

  • Finalists for the Scripps Howard Awards, recognizing excellence in journalism in 2019, were announced Wednesday. Judging was held here at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, last week. Winners will be announced March 3 at 2 p.m. Eastern during a live stream on YouTube and Facebook.

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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…
Tom Jones

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Comments are closed.

  • Thank you for your comments about ABC and David Wright. We should not play into the campaign of Project Veritas, which is only interested in destroying the mainstream press.
    They were also behind an attempt to peddle a false story to WaPo [Boburg, Nov 27, 2017] and did major damage to the non-profit ACORN, with more shady tactics. [The record was subsequently correctly by several investigations, including one by GAO].