August 19, 2021

Good morning. A quick update. There will be no Poynter Report on Friday. It will return on Monday. Have a great weekend, everyone. And now, on to today’s newsletter …

The week that was

After a 2020 that featured a worldwide pandemic, racial tensions throughout the country and, perhaps, the most divisive presidential election in our nation’s history, could you imagine 2021 getting any newsier?

But less than a week into the new year, we had an insurrection — a day that continues to have serious ramifications.

And then just look at the past week.

The U.S. controversially withdrew from Afghanistan, ending the longest war in our history. Cleanup and recovery continue in Haiti, where an earthquake killed nearly 2,000. And COVID-19 numbers are going back up again, prompting President Joe Biden to make several major announcements on Wednesday, including the recommendation that those vaccinated against the virus get a booster eight months after their second shot.

It has been a busy week for media coverage. And a good week, too.

While it’s impossible to list and even see all the news coverage that’s out there, much of what I’ve seen has been outstanding.

Some of the highlights:

Clarissa Ward’s brave work from Afghanistan, where she reported for CNN while gunshots rang out behind her. Richard Engel’s reporting from Afghanistan for NBC, again showing his expertise in international news. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, giving insightful and useful commentary on COVID-19, as he has done throughout the pandemic. CBS News’ Vladimir Duthiers and his coverage from Haiti.

The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have all done outstanding work, leaning on reporting over opinions. Having said that, those outlets have offered excellent analysis, as well.

Then Wednesday evening, we got the initial glimpses of George Stephanopoulos’ interview with Biden on ABC’s “World News Tonight.” It was Biden’s first interview since the recent events in Afghanistan — and Stephanopoulos did a good job questioning the president. He pressed Biden on the haunting images of desperate people running down the runway in Kabul and jumping onto the sides of a moving plane. He essentially asked if it could’ve been handled better.

Biden said, “No, I don’t think it could have been handled in a way that, we’re gonna go back in hindsight and look — but the idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens. I don’t know how that happened.”

And Stephanopoulos asked the most pressing question of all: “When you look at what’s happened over the last week, was it a failure of intelligence, planning, execution or judgment?”

Biden defended his decision, saying, “Look, it was a simple choice, George. When you had the government of Afghanistan, the leader of that government, get in a plane and taking off and going to another country; when you saw the significant collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained, up to 300,000 of them, just leaving their equipment and taking off — that was, you know, I’m not, that’s what happened. That’s simply what happened. And so the question was, in the beginning, the threshold question was, do we commit to leave within the timeframe we set, do we extend it to Sept. 1, or do we put significantly more troops in?”

And here’s more from Biden’s interview, where the president said U.S. troops will stay until all Americans are out of Afghanistan.

A fair criticism

Biden has made two major announcements this week, speaking on Monday about Afghanistan and then on Wednesday about COVID-19. He did not take questions after either. Yes, he sat down with Stephanopoulos and that’s good, but that’s not quite the same as answering questions from a variety of outlets.

Other representatives of the Biden White House have been available, including press secretary Jen Psaki, but Biden could have taken a few questions on topics this important.

More outstanding work about Afghanistan …

Jackie MacMullan. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

ESPN is losing a legend

There is no one on the planet I’d rather read or hear talk about basketball and the NBA than Jackie MacMullan. Jackie Mac has been reporting for 40 years — a legendary career at the Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated and, for the past 10 years, ESPN. In 2010, she received the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and her work has only gotten better since then.

But on Wednesday, she announced she is retiring from ESPN at the end of the month.

“I feel fortunate to have collaborated with so many incredibly talented people during my 10-plus years at ESPN,” MacMullan said in a statement. “Sometimes you just know when you’re ready to dial it back, and this is the right time for me. I’m grateful for the memories, but especially for the friends I’ve made along the way. Thank you to my ESPN colleagues for all of your support.”

ESPN senior deputy editor Cristina Daglas said, “Jackie is a trailblazer not because she was one of the first women covering sports or the NBA. Rather, Jackie is a trailblazer because people talked about her without mentioning sex or gender. It was about the work, an incredible catalogue of work, that has appeared on every ESPN platform. Simply put, Jackie is one of the greatest journalists ESPN has ever seen. And she did it all while providing mentorship to both editors and writers, ensuring whether she meant to or not, that pieces of her will remain here long after she exits.”

And there’s more to MacMullan than being a first-rate journalist. She’s a class act, too. When I was a sports columnist, I once reached out to her for some perspective on a column I was writing about New England fans. Even though we didn’t know one another, she got back ASAP and gave me all the time I needed.

MacMullan is only 60, she continues to be plugged into the NBA, she’s on top of her game, and her announcement didn’t say she was retiring from the business. It only said she was retiring from ESPN. Perhaps that means she has something else coming. She often joins Bill Simmons’ podcast on The Ringer, so maybe something there?

Her final appearance on ESPN is scheduled to be Aug. 31 on “Around The Horn.”

An awful moment

On the topic of sports, Detroit Tigers broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Jack Morris has been suspended indefinitely after using an offensive accent while talking about Angels star Shohei Ohtani, who is Japanese.

On Tuesday night, Morris was the analyst on the Tigers broadcast when play-by-play announcer Matt Shepard asked Morris what the strategy should be against Ohtani, one of the best hitters and players in the game.

Using an insensitive accent used to mock Asians, Morris said, “Be very, very careful.”

Morris’ comment came in the sixth inning. Before the ninth inning, he addressed the matter by saying, “Well folks, Shohei Ohtani is coming to the plate and it’s been brought to my attention, and I sincerely apologize if I offended anybody, especially anybody in the Asian community for what I said about pitching and being careful to Shohei Ohtani. I did not intend for any offensive thing and I apologize if I did. I certainly respect and have the utmost respect for this guy and don’t blame a pitcher for walking him.”

(Here’s a clip of what he said and then his so-called apology.)

By Wednesday afternoon, Bally Sports Detroit, which airs Tigers games, suspended Morris. In a statement, it said, “Bally Sports Detroit is extremely disappointed with the remarks analyst Jack Morris made during last night’s Tigers game. Jack has been suspended indefinitely from Tigers broadcasts and will be undergoing bias training to educate him on the impact of his comments and how he can be a positive influence in a diverse community. We have a zero-tolerance policy for bias or discrimination and deeply apologize for his insensitive remark.”

Morris spent 14 of his 18 big-league seasons pitching for the Tigers. The Tigers also released a statement, saying, “The Detroit Tigers take immense pride in honoring the diverse cultures that make up our players, coaching staff, front office, fan base and community. We are deeply disappointed by the comments made by Jack Morris during the broadcast last night. We fully support Bally Sports Detroit’s decision and their on-going commitment to ensure that all personnel are held to the highest standards of personal conduct.”

According to Tony Paul’s story in the Detroit News, The Asian American Journalists Association’s Sports Task Force called Morris’ use of an accent to be “insensitive and ignorant.” It also said, it “is disappointed and disturbed by Morris’ attempt to provide analysis on a live broadcast in this manner, especially at a time when Asians in the United States are experiencing a sharp increase in anti-Asian hate, which is resulting in harassment and attacks. In his analysis, would Morris have used an accent for an African-American player? A Hispanic or Latin player? An Irish or Italian player? Morris, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, should be held to a higher standard while serving a regional and national audience.”

A new editor in chief at The Daily Beast

Tracy Connor has been named the editor in chief of The Daily Beast. She replaces Noah Shachtman, who recently left to become editor in chief at Rolling Stone.

Connor has been the executive editor at The Daily Beast since 2018. Her impressive resume also includes the New York Post, New York Daily News and NBC News.

Connor told The New York Times’ Katie Robertson, “I really want to double down on investigations and impact. … What we want to do is find the scandal before the scandal breaks.”

She also envisions making The Daily Beast’s opinion section more prominent, telling Robertson, “We’re definitely known for our sharp political columns. I’d like to expand that ‘voiciness’ into more columns on a broader array of topics, whether it’s culture and entertainment and lifestyle topics, and then also more columns that are pivoting right off national news that is happening outside of D.C.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (Photo by zz/DJ/AAD/STAR MAX)

What’s the number?

“CBS This Morning” will air an interview today that co-host Gayle King did with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The main topic: misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines on his site. In the interview, Zuckerberg says Facebook has removed 18 million posts that contained COVID-19 misinformation. But he could not or would not say how many people actually viewed those posts.

He told King, “The number that I have off the top of my head that I can share is the number of pieces of misinformation that we’ve taken action against.”

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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…
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