With Biden/Ukraine storyline, is the media falling for a new ‘But her emails’ narrative?

Your Thursday Poynter Report

February 6, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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Is Biden/Ukraine the next ‘But her emails’?

Now what?

It’s hard to remember the last time the media has NOT been talking about the impeachment of President Donald Trump. And now it’s just suddenly … over.

In just 22 minutes, Trump was acquitted by the Senate on Wednesday. We’ll likely have a few days of reactions. And reactions to reactions. Otherwise, stories about witnesses and evidence and possible wrongdoing and a phone call and a summary of a phone call should come to an end.

But will they?

The national media has plenty to focus on in the coming days, weeks and months — most notably the Democrats’ search for a presidential candidate and the subsequent 2020 presidential election. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the entire impeachment story will disappear. Look for some to now turn their attention to the Joe Biden storyline that has been at the center of this impeachment.

In other words, we could be looking at another “Yeah, but her emails!”

I’m referring, of course, to 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s emails became a major story leading up to the election.

  

Last month in New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait wrote, “The email scandal was not just a Fox News narrative. It dominated mainstream news coverage of Clinton’s campaign, because it was a real issue, albeit a small one. Mainstream reporters made a historic blunder by devoting far more attention to the email issue than it deserved, but this is an inevitable result of the incentive system in the mainstream press, which prioritizes critical coverage over passive transmission of a candidate’s chosen message.”

Could that now happen again even though there is no evidence of any wrongdoing involving Biden and Ukraine? Perhaps emboldened by an impeachment acquittal, Trump and his supporters could renew their efforts to make a connection between the Bidens and Ukraine and reset that narrative. Just this week, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told NPR, “I would have no problem with him doing it. In fact, I’d have a problem with him not doing it. I think he would be saying that Joe Biden can get away with selling out the United States, making us a fool in the Ukraine.”

Is this a valid story the media should chase or is it a distraction that the media should discount to report on other stories that matter? So far, the media is still chasing. It became a moment of contention on Monday’s “Today” show. Joe Biden snapped at co-host Savannah Guthrie for pushing Biden on his son’s connection with a Ukraine energy company. After Biden told Guthrie that no one found anything wrong with his son’s behavior, Guthrie asked if it was a “bad image?”

Biden said, “Yeah, and my son said that.”

Guthrie then asked, “Do you think it was wrong for him to take that position, knowing it was really because that company wanted access to you?”

Biden then fired back: “Well, that’s not true. You are saying things … you do not know what you’re talking about. No one said that. Who said that? Who said that?”

You could argue that it was fair game for Guthrie to ask Biden on Monday — on the cusp of the Iowa caucuses — and just before the impeachment vote. But now the impeachment trial is over, Biden has been asked and has answered the questions and, again, there is no credible evidence that there was any wrongdoing.

As long as Biden remains in contention, it feels as if the Ukraine storyline will not fade — not completely and at least not among some of the more conservative news outlets.

For the rest of the media, however, unless something unforeseen happens, this should not turn into this cycle’s “Yeah, but her emails.”

The State of the Union, by the numbers

No surprise as to which network was the big winner for Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. Fox News crushed the competition with 11.5 million total viewers. The next closest was NBC with 4.8 million, followed by CBS with 4.6 million and ABC with 4.1 million. Fox News also won the adults 25-54 demo with 2.6 million viewers. NBC was next with 1.6 million.

Overall, 37.2 million watched the address — the lowest since Barack Obama’s State of the Union in 2016.

This sounds like a good deal so far


Bill Simmons, founder of The Ringer. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Two of the most influential podcasting companies are coming together. The Ringer, the sports and pop culture media company started by Bill Simmons, is being sold to Spotify. There were rumors for weeks that this was going to happen, and the two sides officially announced it on Wednesday. Terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed, although Spotify is a publicly-traded company so we’ll find out eventually. The final sale is expected by the end of the first quarter.

So what does it mean? Simmons insists nothing changes for The Ringer. In a tweet, Simmons said “The Ringer will remain The Ringer in every respect.”

There is concern among The Ringer staff that Spotify will concentrate only the podcast aspect and, perhaps, ignore or dismantle a large portion of staff that strictly writes for the website. However, Recode’s Peter Kafka reports, “Spotify intends to hire Simmons and all of his approximately 90 employees. Most of those employees work on The Ringer’s website, which covers sports and culture, and Spotify intends to keep the site up and running.”

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek told Kafka, “With the Ringer, we’re basically getting the new ESPN. What (Simmons) has accomplished in just a few short years, it’s nothing short of extraordinary. … It’s not just his own podcast, but his whole network that’s doing really well. He’s a talent magnet.”

You have to admire what Simmons, 50, has done in his career. He took a fan-centric sports blog and turned into a high-profile gig at ESPN. While there, he created Grantland — a sports/pop culture site that featured long-form journalism. He also helped create the incredibly successful and respected “30 for 30” documentary series for ESPN.

After a falling out with ESPN in 2015, Simmons left for a new deal at HBO and then started The Ringer in 2016. While bringing many of the writing elements of Grantland, Simmons added an impressive stable of more than 30 podcasts, including his own “Bill Simmons Podcast.” Has anyone figured out the podcasting game better than Simmons?

Meanwhile, it’s another bold step for Spotify. The Ringer becomes the fourth podcast company Spotify has acquired in the past year. For more on the deal, check out Nicholas Quah’s story for Nieman Lab.

We did the research on a new CMS for you

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter’s Kristen Hare.

You don’t have to be a veteran in this business to know that moving to a new publishing platform is rough. You have to learn a whole new system. It often includes a lot more steps. And things get broken along the way. But as we learned in this new project with News Catalyst, it matters.

Your CMS impacts storytelling, workflow, culture, customer experience and revenue. As the University of Missouri’s Damon Kiesow put it, “CMS is destiny.” Check out this guide on what you need to know before making the move to a new CMS; see our in-depth look at five CMSs; sign up for demo days to see what’s out there; and send us your questions.

If you’re in a nonprofit newsroom, or one that covers underserved communities, check out this grant opportunity from the Knight Foundation and News Revenue Hub. They’re funding up to $20,000 each to help 25 newsrooms get a new CMS.

I can’t even … %^&$@#! … 😳 😤 😡

Ever been so mad at someone that you can’t even speak? Well, that’s kind of how many Americans are feeling these days. The Pew Research Center’s latest survey of 12,043 U.S. adults shows that 45% have stopped talking about political or election news with someone as a result of something that person said either in person or online. About 54% have not stopped.

Pew also reports that 60% of liberal Democrats polled say they have stopped talking politics with someone because of something they said, while 45% of conservative Republicans said the same thing.

Another debate, another moderator lineup


(Photo courtesy of NBC News)

NBC has named its moderators for the Feb. 19 Democratic presidential debate in Nevada. They will be NBC’s Lester Holt, Hallie Jackson and Chuck Todd, Noticias Telemundo’s Vanessa Hauc and The Nevada Independent editor Jon Ralston.

More NYT ‘The truth is worth it’ ads coming


A scene from the latest New York Times commercial featuring actor/singer Janelle Monae about their “1619 Project.” (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

The New York Times has certainly stepped up its television advertising over the past year. Now look for its impressive “1619 Project” to be the centerpiece of its latest round of “The truth is worth it” ads. The project was published in August on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in what would become the United States.

A new 30-second commercial will air Sunday night during the Oscars. It will feature singer and actor Janelle Monae and place viewers at the water’s horizon off the coast of Hampton, Virginia, where the first enslaved Africans were recorded to have landed. It’s the same spot that inspired the cover of the “The 1619 Project.”

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

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