By:
December 1, 2020

Fox News might have called the election for Joe Biden, but let’s be clear: Much of the network is still firmly in Donald Trump’s corner as the outgoing president holds his breath and stomps his feet about a rigged election. Millions of people in this country believe it was a fraudulent election and Fox News is among those to be blamed for that line of false thinking. It’s dangerous. It’s irresponsible. It’s reckless.

Did you see Maria Bartiromo’s ridiculous “interview” with Trump on Sunday? Or have you caught any of the network’s primetime shows or “Fox & Friends” or “The Five?”

On Monday, former ESPN personality-turned-full-blown-Fox-News-conspiracy- theorist Will Cain, filling in on “Fox & Friends,” continued to cast doubts on the election (in addition to saying he wouldn’t wear a mask around family members).  “The Five’s” Jesse Watters went on a rant, questioning the election results.

So, again, to be clear, much of Fox News remains a pro-Trump outlet.

In wake of the Bartiromo interview, the big question is why? Why would a once-respected journalist such as Bartiromo ruin her reputation by buying into Trump’s irresponsible and dangerous claims? Why would Cain, who isn’t well known outside of sports circles, want to start off his Fox News career by drawing this line in the sand?

Well, perhaps for the same reason Rudy Giuliani has gone rogue. It’s a chance to be relevant, a chance to be in the news, a chance to trend on Twitter.

But what about Fox News? What is Fox News’ excuse for allowing such conversation on its airways? Maybe it’s because the network fears Trump and is worried that he could drive viewers away from Fox News and to places such as OAN and his latest favorite new toy, Newsmax. There are already indications that Newsmax is picking up some viewers and that, for the first time in a long time, CNN is gaining on Fox News in the ratings.

Which then leads us to ask what is going to become of Fox News once Trump leaves the White House? In her latest piece, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan has advice for Fox News.

Sullivan wrote, “ … keep appealing to a right-leaning audience — but commit to doing it within the realm of the truth.”

That means, Sullivan writes, no more interviews like the one Bartiromo did with Trump on Sunday and no more playing down the coronavirus to make Trump look good. Instead, maybe Fox News can beef up the news division, although many — me among them — believe that a shift from strong opinions to more hard news would alienate diehard Fox News viewers.

Sullivan also brings up another point that I hear all the time when I criticize Fox News for its bias: How is it any different from the left-leaning coverage that is seen on MSNBC and, occasionally, CNN, which rarely gets criticized?

Sullivan wrote, “Those networks — and many others in the nonconservative media sphere, like NPR or the New York Times, for instance — certainly have their worldviews. But they also adhere to basic journalistic practices. They have formal standards departments that cover both news and opinion offerings, where editors (and sometimes lawyers) review material for factuality. They publicly correct their errors. Far too often, Fox News strays far afield from such basic practices. And that’s been a deeply corrupting influence on our culture and our politics. Now, things are changing and there’s a chance for improvement.”

Fox News can still be right-leaning and successful if, Sullivan writes, it places an emphasis on reporting and truth.

Bartiromo’s flop

The media world is still buzzing about Bartiromo’s interview with Trump on Monday. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple started his latest column like this:

“Dear Maria Bartiromo: The election’s over. And it has been over for weeks.”

In describing the interview in which Bartiromo let Trump run wild, while doing more agreeing than pushing back, Wemple wrote it “be remembered as one of the Trump era’s foremost abdications of professional duty.”

Be sure to check out PolitiFact’s Bill McCarthy and Amy Sherman with “Fact-Checking President Trump’s Whopper-Laden Interview with Maria Bartiromo.”

By the way, Bartiromo gave an interview to The Daily Caller in mid-November in which she actually said this without the slightest bit of self-awareness or irony:

“When you look at what has taken place at The New York Times and so many others — CNN is a great example — it’s just not news. They’ve taken a side. They are mouthpieces for the Democrat Party, and they are trying hard to affect elections. I think it is election interference.”

Let me repeat, that quote came from a Fox News/Fox Business employee — one who conducted one of the most embarrassing interviews of the Trump administration. And, it should be noted, it wasn’t her first softball interview with the president this year.

Speaking of Newsmax

New York Times media columnist Ben Smith’s latest column is about Newsmax with this enticing headline, “The King of Trump TV Thinks You’re Dumb Enough to Buy It.”

Smith talks to Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, who told Smith, “In this day and age, people want something that tends to affirm their views and opinions.”

Ruddy clearly sees pro-Trump programming as his ticket.

Smith writes, “But nobody I’ve ever covered treats an audience with the blithe disdain of Mr. Ruddy. He has them watching a great story — a thriller, a whodunit — about a stolen election. He thinks they’re stupid enough to fall for it, dumb enough to keep watching even after the fantasy inevitably dissolves, buying the supplements and the books and, crucially, tuning in to channel 1115 in large enough numbers that, eventually, the cable companies will pay him. Perhaps he actually thinks his viewers are that dumb. Or maybe he just needs them to stick around long enough for him to find someone just as cynical, but with more cash on hand, to buy him out.”

Word of the year

Dictionary.com has named its word of the year. It’s the right choice. But it’s also a reminder of just how awful 2020 has been. The word of the year?

Pandemic.

Officially, Dictionary.com defines pandemic as “a disease prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world.” But it evoked more thoughts and emotions than ever.

In a blog post explaining the selection, Dictionary.com wrote, “With over 60 million confirmed cases, the pandemic has claimed over one million lives across the globe and is still rising to new peaks. The pandemic has wreaked social and economic disruption on a historic scale and scope, globally impacting every sector of society — not to mention its emotional and psychological toll. All other events for most of 2020, from the protests for racial justice to a heated presidential election, were shaped by the pandemic. Despite its hardships, the pandemic inspired the best of our humanity: resilience and resourcefulness in the face of struggle.”

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A pointless lie

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden made news over the weekend when he picked his communications team. As The Washington Post’s Annie Linskey and 

Jeff Stein reported, it is the “first time all of the top aides tasked with speaking on behalf of an administration and shaping its message will be female.”

Current White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany retweeted the Post headline and wrote, “President @realDonaldTrump already has an ALL FEMALE Senior White House Press Team. … So does @VP …

So does @FLOTUS … So does @SecondLady … The completely DISCREDITED @washingtonpost once again reveals their blinding propagandist Fake News proclivities.”

Many quickly called out McEnany for failing to mention that two deputy press secretaries in the White House, as well as Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, are men. George Conway, the husband of Kellyanne Conway, tweeted, “This is just such a weird and pointless thing to lie about.”

Then again …

Does it even matter that Biden’s communications team is all-female? New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi tweeted, “The most important thing about the new administration’s communications team isn’t the gender of the staff, but whether the staff is accessible to and transparent with the press. As we’ve seen repeatedly in the briefing room in the last four years, women in government lie, too.”

What will future White House press conferences look like?

As I mentioned in Monday’s newsletter, Biden’s communications team — led by communications director Kate Bedingfield and press secretary Jen Psaki — have a chance to reset White House communications after four years of the Trump administration. The White House communications team under Trump often went months without an official White House press briefing, and recent press conferences with the overmatched and underwhelming Kayleigh McEnany were littered with lies and attacks on the media.

So the bar for the Biden White House press shop is pretty low. But expectations should be high, certainly much higher than just holding regular press conferences and not lying. Press Watch’s Dan Froomkin wrote, “Simply returning to pre-Trump standards isn’t nearly enough.”

Froomkin added, “Biden has already said he’ll restore the daily press briefing, and that’s a great start. But the press should also get him to commit to regular press conferences and to a minimum number of sit-down interviews — and not just with friendly journalists. Press conferences are overrated; it’s the sit-down interviews where reporters have a chance to really explore the issues and, if necessary, pierce the bubble.”

As far as the new White House press secretary, Froomkin wrote, “Rather than serving as a roadblock, the press secretary would ideally be an advocate for the press — and for transparency — within the White House.”

They’ve got style

Dolly Parton on the cover of The New York Times’ T Magazine. (Courtesy: The New York Times)

The holiday issue of T: The New York Times Style Magazine has three covers — featuring Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton and Patti LaBelle. And it includes three fun interviews with the singing legends.

For example, about the Biden presidency, Streisand said, “I’m exhilarated. …  (He) will bring back dignity, honesty, intelligence and compassion to the Oval Office. I look forward to that.”

About writing the song, “I Will Always Love You,” Parton said, “Any dummy could have written that.”

That’s not true. And not any dummy could have made an impact against the coronavirus by donating money the way Parton did.

“I just wanted to do really good work, and I wanted it to make a really big difference in the world … to uplift mankind and glorify God,” Parton said.

The hard copy issue comes out next Sunday.

About the issue, editor Hanya Yanagihara wrote, “ … these women are a welcome reminder of what this country can produce: people who, against the odds, open their mouths, and still the world with their voice.”

Wingo’s next move

Trey Wingo, one of ESPN’s classiest on-air talents, has left the network. His contract was not renewed after being with the network since 1997. He was best known for his stints as the host of “NFL Live,” the network’s NFL Draft coverage and for replacing morning radio’s Mike Greenberg on “Mike & Mike” and teaming up with Mike Golic to form “Golic & Wingo.”

“Golic & Wingo” came to an end over the summer and with ESPN looking to slash payroll (it already announced it is laying off 300 and not replacing 200 more), it has been known for a while that Wingo probably would not stay with the network. Still, when he left quietly last week, it was a somber occasion. He is a first-rate broadcaster and, having crossed paths with him a few times during my days as a sportswriter, I can tell you he is a first-class gentleman, too. NJ.com’s Mike Rosenstein has a nice recap of some of the well wishes Wingo has received.

What’s next for Wingo? A new podcast called “Half-Forgotten History.” The Spun’s Chris Rosvoglou talked to Wingo, who described the podcast like this: “During my 30-plus years in the media, I’ve had some great conversations with some of the biggest names in NFL history. But something that always bothered me is that the best conversations with those folks will be lost in time because they usually happened in private, late at night with a certain favorite beverage in hand. Those games never happened in front of a microphone, but that changes now.

“‘Half-Forgotten History’ is my chance to have all those conversations with you in the room. We’ll invite a legend or two, grab our favorite cocktail, and chat about some of the most epic stories, rumors and postgame celebrations in NFL history. We’ll go beyond hot takes and headlines, just people chopping it up.”

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

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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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