By:
May 8, 2020

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Tara Reade is a former staffer of a man running to be president of the United States. She has accused that man — presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden — of sexually assaulting her in 1993.

Did it happen? She says yes. He says no.

But the allegations have been reported at length in The New York Times, The Washington Post and pretty much every major news outlet. Reade did an interview with the Associated Press. The Times ran an opinion piece just this week from a writer who said she believes Tara Reade.

Because of the seriousness of the allegations, the fact that they have become a major topic in this presidential race and the potential ramifications, you would think Reade’s first TV interview would be with “60 Minutes,” or that she would sit down with CNN’s Anderson Cooper or CBS’s Norah O’Donnell. Or maybe the “Today” show’s Savannah Guthrie.

Instead, her first TV interview really wasn’t on TV at all. It was with Megyn Kelly — a former TV reporter who now posts her work on social media. (Reade, it should be noted, did have interviews recorded by The Hill and Democracy Now.)

“His campaign is taking this position that they want all women to be able to speak safely. I have not experienced that,” Reade told Kelly.

Kelly asked Reade what she would want to tell Biden if he was watching.

Reade answered: “I want to say, ‘You and I were there, Joe Biden, please step forward and be held accountable. You should not be running on character for the president of the United States.’”

When asked if she wanted him to withdraw, Reade said, “I wish he would, but he won’t.”

Reviews of Kelly’s job as an interviewer and Reade’s credibility as an accuser, ultimately, might depend on your politics. Watch the interview for yourself.

But the question I have is how did Reade end up doing this first big on-air interview with Kelly? Why wasn’t it with “60 Minutes” or “Today” or Cooper or O’Donnell?

Turns out, according to what Kelly told The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove, it was Reade who approached Kelly. Grove writes that Reade canceled interviews last weekend with CNN’s Don Lemon and Fox News’ Chris Wallace. She recently told New York Times media columnist Ben Smith that she wanted to be interviewed by “someone in the middle.” That is why, she said, she turned down Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News.

“I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a progressive, I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a Trump supporter,” Reade told Smith.

Who knows how hard the networks tried to get Reade. Or why Reade walked away from Fox News and CNN. Or why she didn’t end up on a major network or do a show like “60 Minutes.” (I reached out to “60 Minutes” to ask if they tried for Reade, but did not hear back.)

Then came Thursday’s interview with Kelly, who doesn’t work for a network at all.

Kelly told Grove, “I had no plans on going and doing an interview, but we got to talking and she said she’d been trying to reach me, trying to find ways to get in touch with me, and asked me if I would interview her. So I said yes.”

Kelly became a star at Fox News and then disastrously flamed out just halfway through a three-year deal with NBC. With apparently no networks knocking on her door, Kelly is carving out her own niche, hustling to stay relevant by rounding up her own newsworthy interviews, although this one appears to have come to her. Still, for Kelly, an interview with Reade is a great get.

And if Reade wants to talk to Kelly, that’s her right. Kelly said Reade told her that she knew Kelly was “trauma-informed.” That appears to be a reference to Kelly’s charges of sexual harassment from Roger Ailes, the late CEO of Fox News.

Perhaps that’s the reason she wanted to talk to Kelly. Or maybe she thought Kelly had credibility, but wouldn’t push as hard as, say, Lemon or a “60 Minutes” correspondent.

Whatever the case, a lot of network news executives should be asking this morning why Reade didn’t end up on their networks and instead appeared on Kelly’s Twitter feed.

And now that she has been interviewed by Kelly, it will be interesting to see if Reade ends up going on any of the networks after all.

Summer reading

CNN’s Brian Stelter (John Nacion/STAR MAX)

For months, there has been lots of buzz about an upcoming book that CNN media reporter Brian Stelter is writing about Fox News. Now we have more details. The book — “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth” — is due out Aug. 25.

The book was originally slated to look at Fox News’ overall coverage and the network’s close ties with President Trump. Now, however, the book will shift to zero in on the network’s coronavirus coverage. Still, it will cover broader topics such as Sean Hannity’s role and Shep Smith’s abrupt departure in October 2019.

In a description of the book, publisher Simon & Schuster said the book includes a quote from a Fox producer who said, “We don’t really believe all this stuff. We just tell other people to believe it.”

This book is surely going to cause a stir and ramp up the feud between Fox News and CNN. Based on various public and over-the-air comments, it’s plain to see Stelter has little respect for a lot of what Fox News does. And certain Fox News personalities strongly dislike Stelter and personally attack him. There could be a real firestorm in the media world.

We haven’t seen the book, so we don’t know all that is in it, but a quick point about Stelter. While it might be true that he doesn’t think highly of much of what goes on at Fox News (and makes that clear on his “Reliable Sources” program and newsletter), it should be noted he is considered a solid and ethically-sound reporter. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of his reporting.

Brit Hume’s bold tweets

(Courtesy: Fox News)

Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume sent out a strange tweet Thursday. He tweeted: “Remember the Asian flu pandemic of 1957-58, which caused an estimated 70,000 to 116,000 U.S. deaths? Remember how we closed down our economy then? Neither do I.”

What made it strange was the obvious differences in closing down a country for a coronavirus pandemic that, as of Thursday, has already killed more than 75,800 and doing nothing during a flu outbreak in the 1950s. The two cannot be reasonably compared, yet Hume did so anyway to make a political statement.

It’s not the first time that Hume has taken strong political stances in recent days, criticizing the left and supporting the right. Or going after the media.

Such as this tweet: “So will Andrew Cuomo, with much to answer for because of his disastrous nursing home policy, now be held to account for this? One thing is certain, if the spread from NY could be blamed on POTUS, it would be.”

And this one in which he linked to a New York Post story criticizing Cuomo for nursing home deaths in New York: “I wonder if this disaster will make him less of a media darling.”

He also called out what appeared to be a fairly straight tweet from a Tampa Bay Times reporter as being “idiotic.” He retweeted a Fox News segment in which he criticized The New York Times’ editorial board. And that was on top of another tweet in which he mocked the same Times’ editorial as being in the “annals of editorial absurdity.”

These are just just a few examples from the past few days. There are plenty more where Hume makes strong political comments.

Hume is certainly allowed to make whatever commentary he wants. He is not the first person on a TV news channel to have voiced a political opinion. But he should know that he has typically been seen as one of the more objective reporters on Fox News. These comments severely damage that reputation.

Again, this isn’t to say he can’t have an opinion. He can. But those opinions also mean he can no longer really be seen as an unbiased and objective reporter, particularly because his commentary skews in the same political direction.

Gannett’s quarterly report

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

Gannett delivered a mixed financial report Thursday for the first quarter. No big surprises — and for a company that took on huge debt last fall to finance a merger creating a chain of 260 dailies, that’s a good thing.

Total revenues on a same-property basis were down 10% year-to-year. Print advertising was off 21.2%. Preliminary results suggest April revenues will be down about 30%, CEO Mike Reed said, a likely result for the whole second quarter. But cost reductions are keeping up with the revenue slide, Reed said. With $50 million in real estate sales expected in the first half of the year, the company will be able to stay current on its loan obligations, he added.

On a positive note, digital subscriptions have grown 29% year to year to 863,000. Even with most coronavirus news available for free on USA Today and local sites, paid digital subscription starts have increased by more than 100% over the last six weeks.

There was little direct discussion of furloughs and layoffs. With each employee required to take one week of furlough a month, Gannett newsrooms operate at three-quarters strength. That staff reduction is on top of ongoing rounds of layoffs — though the company has declined to say how many have lost their jobs so far in 2020.

As for the rest of the year, Reed said, “We just don’t know” how long the health crisis and stall of advertising will last. Gannett will make deeper cost cuts if needed, he said.

“1A’s” new host

Jenn White will step into some very large shoes as the next host of “1A,” the daily nationally-syndicated NPR program that boasts of more than 4 million listeners across 375 NPR member stations.

Joshua Johnson, the original host of “1A,” left the program in December after nearly three years for a job at MSNBC. Guest hosts have been filling in since then.

Who is White? A veteran journalist who comes from WBEZ in Chicago, where she hosts a midday talk program. She also has hosted podcasts including “Making Oprah” and “Making Obama.” Her first day as “1A” host will be July 6.

“I am excited to build on my love of the news by joining ‘1A’ as host, to moderate conversations around the most important issues of our time,” White said in a statement. “‘1A’ is a show by, and for our listeners, and I can’t wait to talk to them about the most salient topics facing our country, to find solutions and hold those in power accountable.”

Check it out

(Courtesy: CNN)

CNN’s Jake Tapper will host a special program Sunday night at 10 p.m. Eastern called, “The Pandemic & The President.”

Some of the topics to be discussed: Did China lie to the world? Did the World Health Organization do enough? How has the U.S. done under President Trump? How have the governors done?

And check this out

Melinda Gates will appear on this morning’s “Today” show on NBC to talk about the country’s response to the coronavirus. Her husband, Bill, had warned about a pandemic five years ago. She tells co-host Savannah Guthrie, “I’m both surprised we weren’t better prepared but quite honestly, I’m surprised we’ve wasted so much time. That we haven’t had leadership at the national level to get out tests in the right way, protective gear in the right way, contact tracing in the right way. You know, with lack of leadership, there are 50 homegrown state solutions.”

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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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