By:
June 22, 2021

The latest from New York Times media columnist Ben Smith is quite a doozy.

And, wow, the first two graphs are really something.

The column is about Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Smith writes about the “open secret,” which is, “Mr. Carlson, a proud traitor to the elite political class, spends his time when he’s not denouncing the liberal media trading gossip with them. He’s the go-to guy for sometimes-unflattering stories about Donald J. Trump and for coverage of the internal politics of Fox News (not to mention stories about Mr. Carlson himself).”

Smith said he wouldn’t share any off-the-record conversations he may have had with Carlson, but said he spoke with 16 other journalists (none from the Times) who told Smith on background that Carlson is a great source.

Wait, Carlson dishes to the media folks he regularly slams on his prime-time show? Uh, yeah, that’s kind of the point of Smith’s column.

Smith references an upcoming book by The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender, who describes an exchange that Carlson and Donald Trump had after the first presidential debate with Joe Biden when Trump constantly interrupted Biden and moderator Chris Wallace. In the exchange, Trump tells Carlson that everyone told him he did a great job. To which Carlson said, “I don’t know who told you that was good. It was not good.”

Bender wouldn’t comment to Smith, but, of course, the natural question is how did Bender get such verbatim details on a conversation between Carlson and Trump?

There’s plenty more to the Smith column, as well as reaction to the column, as Colby Hall wrote about for Mediaite.

A couple of quick thoughts.

First, the lead art on Smith’s column by Brandon Celi — Carlson laying on a bed, twirling the phone cord while, presumably, sharing juicy gossip — is absolutely brilliant.

And my other thought: Smith’s weekly “Media Equation” column is always a talker. And I mean that in a good way. Smith’s topics, his reporting, his writing style and the buzz he creates almost never misses. Each week, I look forward to what Smith is writing next.

When Times executive editor Dean Baquet lured Smith away from running BuzzFeed News in early 2020, he surely envisioned a bold next chapter of the “Media Equation” column. The legendary David Carr pioneered the platform at the Times and turned “Media Equation” into an industry must-read. After Carr died in 2015, Jim Rutenberg brought his own style of deeply-reported columns and analysis, along with strong opinions, which were especially effective with Donald Trump vs. the media as a backdrop.

Smith now brings his own edgy style that sometimes has a gossipy feel to it and, again, that’s not a criticism, but a compliment. Smith’s columns are usually interesting, often important, and always fun for the reader.

McCain slams Biden

“The View’s” Meghan McCain went after President Joe Biden on the air Monday, attacking Biden’s support of pro-choice legislation.

McCain noted Biden has said he doesn’t personally support abortion, but doesn’t believe he has the right to impose his personal views on the country.

“It doesn’t register with me,” McCain said. “I don’t get it. So it’s ultimately up to the church, but he’s walking a very fine line here, and ultimately, all of these issues are life and death for Catholics, for devout Christians.”

McCain added, “And he’s going to have to ultimately talk to his creator when the time comes, as we all do, and reconcile his politics with his personal faith. And I believe that he’s doing grave spiritual harm to himself and harm to this country.”

No commentary to add. Just passing along what McCain said.

The Nikole Hannah-Jones and UNC story

Nikole Hannah-Jones. (Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik wrote about the Nikole Hannah-Jones controversy at the University of North Carolina in “UNC Journalism School Tried To Give Nikole Hannah-Jones Tenure. A Top Donor Objected.”

Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist and driving force behind the Times’ “1619 Project,” was hired by the journalism school at UNC, but was not given tenure.

Folkenflik talked to both Hannah-Jones and Walter Hussman, whose name is on UNC’s journalism school because of his $25 million donation. Hussman is the publisher of The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and is opposed to Hannah-Jones’ appointment to the school. (Folkenflik talked to Hannah-Jones and Hussman separately, and Hannah-Jones did not talk specifically about the tenure issue.)

Folkenflik wrote, “For Hussman, reporters must avoid any form of bias, a practice given a shorthand name of ‘impartiality’ or ‘neutrality.’ For journalists to earn credibility, they must eschew any form of personal belief or partisanship, he argues.”

Hussman told Folkenflik, “I worry that we’re moving away from those time-tested principles of journalism that we had in the 20th century that were so effective at engendering tremendous trust in the media.”

Hannah-Jones told Folkenflik, “Most mainstream newspapers reflect power. They don’t actually reflect the experiences of large segments of these populations, and that’s why many of these populations don’t trust them. So when I hear that, I think he’s speaking to a different audience.”

Folkenflik’s piece allows both Hannah-Jones and Hussman to say what they believe — and they say a lot. Check out his story.

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Fantasy island

Just how dysfunctional was the Trump administration during COVID-19? A new book by Washington Post journalists Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta detail some of the hard-to-believe responses as COVID-19 was just starting to gain a foothold in the U.S. The title of the book says a lot: “Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History.”

The book includes this incomprehensible story in the early days of the crisis. As White House officials tried to figure out how to bring infected Americans back into the country from abroad, Trump reportedly asked staff, “Don’t we have an island that we own? What about Guantánamo?”

Trump also was furious about testing. In a March 2020 phone call, Trump reportedly told Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, “Testing is killing me! I’m going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?”

Azar reminded Trump that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner had vowed to take over a national testing strategy.

For more details on the book, check out Dan Diamond’s story in The Washington Post.

Fauci on ‘Sway’

Dr. Anthony Fauci. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP)

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the latest guest on Kara Swisher’s “Sway” podcast for The New York Times. Fauci defended himself against critics, especially those from the right.

He said he puts little weight into “the craziness of condemning” him, but added, “… the thing that bothers you most of all is the impact it has on your family. I mean, getting death threats and getting your daughters and your wife threatened with obscene notes and threatening notes is not fun. So I can’t say that doesn’t bother me. I mean, the more extreme they get, the more obvious how political it is. ‘Fauci is like Hitler. Fauci has blood on his hands.’ Are you kidding me? I mean, anybody who is just thinking about this in a dispassionate way has got to say, what the heck are those people talking about? Here’s a guy whose entire life has been devoted to saving lives, and now you’re telling me he’s like Hitler? Come on, folks. Get real.”

Fauci and Swisher talk about COVID-19’s origins, the release of his emails, and his social media presence, or lack of it.

“You’re talking to the wrong person when it comes to social media,” Fauci told Swisher.

And as far as misinformation on places such as Facebook, Fauci said, “I will get criticized if I make recommendations for things outside of my area of expertise. I’ll stick to the science. I’ll stick to the public health. I don’t know how to correct misinformation on social media. I wouldn’t know how to do that?

We interrupt this story …

Another local reporter interrupted a report to say they were going to go to Project Veritas to expose their parent company.

You might remember last week that a reporter from a TV station in Houston started her report on hot weather by saying she was being muzzled by Fox Corp. and that she would release private conversations on Project Veritas’ website. That reporter, Ivory Hecker, was ultimately fired. Hecker claimed the station steered her away from certain stories, such as cryptocurrency and hydroxychloroquine.

Now this story: April Moss, a meteorologist at CBS 62 in Detroit, started off a weather report as normal, but then shifted, saying, “And speaking of a brand new week, I will be sitting down this week with Project Veritas to discuss the discrimidation that CBS is enforcing upon its employees. Tune into Project Veritas for my full story.”

Moss then went back to her weather report.

Feeling ‘Blue’

Joni Mitchell, pictured here in 2015. (Photo: John Shearer/Invision/AP, File)

One of my favorite all-time albums, Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” turns 50 today. The New York Times’ talked to 25 musicians — including James Taylor, Rosanne Cash, Graham Nash, Renee Fleming, Chaka Khan, Mustafa and Corinne Bailey Rae — to come up with a list of 50 things to love about “Blue.”

And there’s more.

Mitchell gives a rare interview, talking to Cameron Crowe about “Blue” in a piece for The Los Angeles Times.

Also in The Los Angeles Times, “‘Better than the Beatles’: James Taylor, Elton John, Haim and more break down Joni’s ‘Blue.’”

Writing for NPR, Ann Powers with “Her Kind Of ‘Blue’: Joni Mitchell’s Masterpiece At 50.”

Legislators reintroduce bill to provide tax incentives to support local journalism

For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Angela Fu.

Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) and Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) reintroduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act last week. The bill offers three tax credits targeting subscribers, local newspapers and small businesses to support the journalism industry.

The first gives individuals a tax credit for subscribing to local newspapers. The second is a five-year refundable credit for papers that hire journalists, and the third is a five-year nonrefundable credit to businesses that advertise with local media, including local radio and TV stations.

So far Kirkpatrick and Newhouse are the only co-sponsors of the bill. However, a version of the bill that was introduced last year garnered 78 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. Multiple journalism organizations including the Rebuild Local News Coalition and America’s Newspapers have already praised the new bill, which they say will give struggling news publishers much-needed financial assistance.

The bill is one of three key pieces of legislation that aim to support an industry that has seen total employment drop by roughly a quarter in the last decade. The other two bills, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act and the Future of Local News Act, were reintroduced earlier this year. The first seeks to allow news publishers to collectively negotiate with tech companies for online advertising dollars while the latter aims to find new solutions to the local news crisis.

Journalism advocates say there is increasing momentum behind all three bills. Legislators from both parties are seeing first-hand the effects of their local news sources closing up and may finally be compelled to act, advocates say.

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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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