Where does The New York Times go from here?

The Times is about to enter a provocative time in its history and the most consequential moment since A.G. Sulzberger took over as publisher.

June 15, 2020
Category: Newsletters

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here.

It’s hard to believe that it was only just a week ago that James Bennet resigned as the editorial page editor of The New York Times following a controversial op-ed by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Perhaps it feels longer than that because so much has been discussed since then.

Was Bennet overthrown by a staff that simply didn’t like Cotton’s viewpoint? Is the Times really at a crossroads, caught between leadership’s traditional journalism values of fairness and objectivity and a newer generation’s call for advocacy journalism? Will editorial page editors shy away from any touchy topics in the future for fear that it could lead to them losing their jobs if enough people don’t like it?

All questions with no clear answers.

But what is clear is the Times is about to enter a provocative time in its history and the most consequential moment since A.G. Sulzberger took over as publisher on Jan. 1, 2018.

Sulzberger still is bothered by Bennet leaving the paper.

He told The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove, “I really lament the loss of a talent that I respect and admire more than you could know. But at the end of the day, the most important thing, when you have these crises, is: Can you show up on Monday morning and lead the team out of it? I really regret that the answer we all got (for Bennet) was ‘no.’”

Now the question shifts to whether Sulzberger can lead the Times out of this.

Here’s what it really comes down to: Did the Times ultimately back away from Cotton’s op-ed (and force Bennet out) because the op-ed was full of misleading statements and inaccurate claims and didn’t go through a proper editing process? Or did the Times buckle from pressure — both inside and outside the paper — from those who didn’t agree with Cotton’s opinion?

I would like to believe it’s the former. If it’s the latter then that’s problematic and lends credibility to what Times opinion columnist Bari Weiss called a “civil war” inside the Times. And it will be up to Sulzberger to mend.

One “prominent journalist” told Grove, “I was shocked that A.G. didn’t accept any responsibility himself for the circumstances that surrounded this particular controversy. The editorial pages and the op-ed pages traditionally report to the publisher. … The publisher is supposed to be shaping the strategy of the editorial and opinion pages. That’s always been the fun of owning a newspaper.”

But right now, there is no fun for Sulzberger and The New York Times.

Talking over one another

CNN’s Brian Stelter (Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX)

Did you happen to catch Brian Stelter’s dizzying CNN interview with Trump campaign senior legal advisor Jenna Ellis on Sundays’ “Reliable Sources?” I say dizzying because it was 14 minutes of interruptions, patronizing insults and the two talking over one another to the point that neither could be fully understood. All that was missing was famed boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer introducing the segment by saying, “L-L-L-Let’s get ready to rumble!”

The main topic of conversation was supposed to be about the Trump campaign threatening to sue CNN over a CNN poll that showed the president trailing Joe Biden. Stelter attempted to fact-check Ellis while she was speaking.

At one point, she said, “Are you just going to interrupt me this whole time?” To which Stelter said, “It’s important to interrupt when you share fake information. … You’re wasting my time.”

It was a waste of everyone’s time. Near the end of the interview, Ellis pulled out the tired cliche of “fake news,” and Stelter responded with, “You understand that, like, some day you’re going to regret this, right? Some day you’re going to regret this, when your kids and your grandkids look back at this time, and you use slurs and smear us as ‘fake news’ to hurt news outlets.”

Ellis came out looking the worst, but I question why CNN even bothered having her on. Yes, the network could argue that it was being sued by President Donald Trump’s campaign and, to show fairness, it was giving the Trump campaign a platform on its own network to air its grievances.

But the lawsuit was frivolous and ridiculous to begin with, and not at all worthy of a discussion as if the suit had merit. To invite Ellis on and think there actually was going to a sensible conversation was CNN’s mistake.

Ellis, by the way, then went on a Twitter-spree after her just-under-15-minutes of fame on “Reliable Sources.”

A lowest of lows

This is bad. Really bad.

Fox News’ website published digitally altered photos that made it seem as if a demonstration in Seattle was violent and dangerous, when in fact, it was nothing of the sort. In an editor’s note, Fox News apologized — sort of — but the damage had already been done.

It started when Fox News’ website ran a photo that was supposedly from Seattle with the headline “Crazy Town.” That photo — a man running in front of a burning building — was actually from St. Paul, Minnesota. Another photo of a man holding an assault rifle was digitally added.

There’s no other way to put this: These are fireable offenses. They are inexcusable. This is no different than completely making up a story — which many (me, included) consider to be the worst offense in journalism.

And Fox News’ website might have gotten away with this reprehensible behavior had it not been caught by The Seattle Times. Fox News only removed the images after being called out by the paper.

In an emailed statement to The Seattle Times, a Fox News spokesperson said: “We have replaced our photo illustration with the clearly delineated images of a gunman and a shattered storefront, both of which were taken this week in Seattle’s autonomous zone.”

But The Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner wrote, “That statement is inaccurate, as the gunman photo was taken June 10, while storefront images it was melded with were datelined May 30 by Getty Images.”

SPONSORED POST

QuickNews — the news aggregator using the latest and greatest advances in artificial intelligence to serve you a personalized news feed in real time. Free of political bias, containing only top-notch sources, and able to learn your interests on the fly, it’s used by thousands of users across five continents. Available on both iOS and Android.

Trouble at ABC News

(Courtesy: ABC News)

In 2018, Barbara Fedida, a senior ABC News executive in charge of talent, was in a meeting with colleagues discussing difficult contract negotiations with ABC “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts. A source in the room reported that Fedida said it wasn’t as if the network was asking Roberts, who is Black, to “pick cotton.”

That anecdote is how Yashar Ali started an explosive piece on Fedida for HuffPost. Sources told Ali that it was just one in a long pattern of insensitive and racist comments made by Fedida, who allegedly has been the subject of more than a dozen human resources complaints and was the subject of a human resources investigation. As a result, Fedida is now on administrative leave as ABC News investigates.

A spokesperson for ABC News said, “There are deeply disturbing allegations in this story that we need to investigate, and we have placed Barbara Fedida on administrative leave while we conduct a thorough and complete investigation. These allegations do not represent the values and culture of ABC News, where we strive to make everyone feel respected in a thriving, diverse and inclusive workplace.”

Ali also reported that ABC has spent “millions of dollars in confidential settlements with former talent and staff, including at least one settlement related to allegations of racial discrimination.”

One source told Ali, “To say that she’s an abusive figure is an understatement.”

Fedida, through her attorney, told Ali that she has always been a champion of increased diversity in network news and that she is proud of her support and promotion of people of color. She called the claims against her “heartbreaking and incredibly misleading.”

The topic came up on Sunday’s edition of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and co-anchor Dan Harris, sitting alongside co-anchors Eva Pilgrim and Whit Johnson, said, “We here at the desk also want to make something clear, which is that we express our respect and our affection for our friend and colleague Robin Roberts.”

Harris Faulkner calls out the president

Fox News’ Harris Faulkner (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Fox News’ Harris Faulkner interviewed President Trump late last week and deserves credit for calling Trump out on a few things, including his assertion that he has done more than any president for the Black community. He tried to exclude Abraham Lincoln from that list, but made a bizarre claim that Lincoln’s efforts were “always questionable.” (Go to the 14:00 mark of the full interview.)

Trump said, “I think I’ve done more for the Black community than any other president. And, let’s take a pass on Abraham Lincoln because he did good, although, it’s always questionable, you know, in other words, the end result.”

That’s when Faulkner appropriately responded with, “Well, we are free, Mr. President. So, he did pretty well.”

Faulkner also pushed back on the president a few other times, asking Trump, “You look at me, and I’m Harris on TV, but I’m a Black woman. I’m a mom. You’ve talked about it, but we haven’t seen you come out and be that consoler in this instance. … And the tweets, ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts.’ Why those words?”

When Trump misidentified where those words came from (he said the Philadelphia mayor said that when it was, in fact, the Miami police chief in the late 1960s), Faulkner interrupted and corrected him.

Faulkner could’ve been a tad more diligent on holding the president accountable on some of his answers, but overall, she did a respectable job — way better than anything you would see on “Fox & Friends” or on Fox primetime.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalist walks out

If you follow media news, and this newsletter, you’re familiar with what has been going on with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Black journalist, Alexis Johnson, was pulled off a protest story because she tweeted a joke about garbage left behind at an old Kenny Chesney concert. The Post-Gazette thought it compromised her ability to cover protests fairly. When journalists at the P-G retweeted Johnson’s tweet, they too were removed from protest stories. Among those pulled from protest coverage was Michael M. Santiago, a Black photojournalist at the P-G.

Over the weekend, Santiago decided to leave the paper. He accepted a buyout that had been offered to employees in May. On Twitter, Santiago wrote, “how can I work for someone who doesn’t love me?” He said he hated departing under these circumstances, but that it was necessary.

Post-Gazette reporter Michael Fuoco, who is the president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, tweeted, “On so many levels I am so sorry to see @msantiagophotos depart the @PittsburghPG but I totally understand why he is doing so. Neither he nor @alexisjreports nor any fellow member of the @PGNewsGuild deserved the abominable treatment they’ve received.”

There have been calls from news guilds for P-G executive editor Keith Burris and managing editor Karen Kane to resign. But employees are asking readers to not boycott the P-G. The way they see it, a boycott would not hurt owners as much as it could ultimately damage the employees of the Post-Gazette.

The return of sports

Despite spikes of coronavirus cases in many parts of the U.S., professional sports do appear to be on track to return over the next couple of months. It might be without fans, depending on the sport, but there does seem to be some momentum that all of our favorite sports could be back in action by the end of summer.

So, ESPN will hold a SportsCenter special tonight: “The Return of Sports.” Host Mike Greenberg will speak with the commissioners from six North American’ pro leagues: Gary Bettman (National Hockey League), Cathy Engelbert (Women’s National Basketball Association), Don Garber (Major League Soccer), Roger Goodell (National Football League), Rob Manfred (Major League Baseball) and Adam Silver (National Basketball Association). Topics will include the health and safety of players, the economic impacts, games without fans and various broadcasting innovations.

On his recent sports media podcast, The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch spoke with Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand about what could be a very crowded sports calendar come fall. We conceivably could have all of the above sports leagues playing simultaneously, along with college football, Triple Crown horse races and major golf tournaments, plus tennis and NASCAR. How networks will juggle such a packed schedule while keeping league partners happy — not to mention how advertising will work — will have a huge impact on the return, and future, of sports.

Check it out

New Jersey begins phase two of reopening today. The “Today” show’s Savannah Guthrie will be live from the Jersey Shore and interview New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

Hot type

(Courtesy: The New Yorker)

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

More resources for journalists

Want to get this briefing in your inbox? Sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Correction: A previous version of this article attributed the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” to a former Miami mayor. It was actually a former Miami police chief.