By:
May 27, 2021

Veteran journalist Andrea Mitchell joined NBC News in 1978 and, throughout her storied career, has established herself as a trusted source on foreign policy and world politics. Her reporting has taken her across the globe, including places such as North Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo and Cuba.

But her most notable foreign coverage, dating back to the 1990s, has come from the Middle East. She has been there countless times to report on summits, the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the funeral of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; to interview Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and to travel with U.S. dignitaries on trips overseas.

And now Mitchell is back there again, reporting on the latest from Jerusalem as Secretary of State Antony Blinken takes his first trip to the region amid the latest rising tensions. She appeared on her MSNBC show “Andrea Mitchell Reports” from Ramallah on Tuesday and from Jerusalem on Wednesday, and has given regular reports for the “Today” show and the “NBC Nightly News.”

I had a chance to exchange emails with her to talk about her coverage of this critical story. Here’s our brief Q&A.

You’ve been covering this story for much of your career. Is there anything different about this story right now than what we’ve seen in the past and, if so, what is different?

I think what’s different now is the political vacuum on both sides: Israel has a caretaker government after Prime Minister Netanyahu failed in four previous attempts over the last two years to form a new government, and the Palestinian Authority representing Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is weaker than ever, giving the Hamas militants in Gaza more power than before. The other big difference is that the internal divide between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews is more pronounced than ever and they even came to blows in towns and cities across the country during the 11-day military operation.

Is there anything over the history of this conflict that we can learn from to help understand what might happen going forward?

It’s hard to safely predict events here, but words and actions by politicians do have a big effect on the ground. The national law in Israel permitting the expansion of Jewish settlements into historically Palestinian areas is creating deep resentment across generations and potential sparks that could reignite the conflict. It was always difficult to come up with solutions during the past 70 years, and both sides turned to military power and terrorism. But that’s proven fatal to compromise and political solutions, and made the problem more intractable than ever.

Can you explain what it’s like to cover this story objectively and your approach to this very divisive story?

As with all stories, both at home and overseas, the fundamentals are always to dig deep, talk to many people on both sides, present the facts as honestly as possible, provide the context of my decades of experience covering this region in particular, and also in this case (and many others around the world) seeing how powerfully U.S. politics affects the outcomes thousands of miles from home.

My thanks to Andrea Mitchell for her time. Now onto the rest of today’s newsletter …

Japan’s second-largest paper calls for the Olympics to be canceled

People wearing masks this week in Tokyo to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus near a banner to promote the Tokyo Olympic Games Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Asahi Shimbun, the second-largest newspaper in Japan, is calling for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics to be canceled because of concerns about COVID-19. The games, already delayed a year, are set to open July 23.

The paper’s editorial said, “We cannot think it’s rational to host the Olympics in the city this summer. We demand (Prime Minister Yoshihide) Suga decide cancellation. … Distrust and backlash against the reckless national government, Tokyo government and stakeholders in the Olympics are nothing but escalating. We demand Prime Minister Suga to calmly evaluate the circumstances and decide the cancellation of the summer event.”

Just this week, the U.S. Department of State issued a Level 4 travel advisory for Japan, meaning “do not travel,” because of COVID-19 concerns.

The New York Times’ Andrew Keh wrote, “Widely documented polling in Japan continues to show that most of the country’s population is wary, wanting the Olympics to either be postponed again or canceled outright.”

However, there is no indication that Olympic organizers in Japan or the International Olympic Committee are considering postponing or canceling the games. In a press conference Wednesday, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said, “Nobody has explicitly mentioned a view that we should postpone or cancel.”

As far as the editorial in Asahi Shimbun, Muto said, “… different press organizations have different views, different perspectives on matters.”

Here in the U.S., an Olympic cancellation would be dreadful for NBC, which has the TV rights to the games. Back in March, NBC Sports Group said it had set a new Olympic record by surpassing the $1.25 billion mark in national advertising for the games. At the time, Comcast (which owns NBC) CEO Brian Roberts said the network was protected against losses by insurance in the event the games are canceled.

“But,” Deadline’s Ted Johnson wrote, “the network would miss out on advertising revenue and a valuable promotional platform.”

More from the AP’s controversial firing

Vanity Fair media writer Joe Pompeo has weighed in on The Associated Press’ firing of reporter Emily Wilder for what the AP said was a violation of social media rules. Pompeo wrote that, depending on who you ask, “the firing was either a ham-fisted enforcement of social media policy, or a rash acquiescence to a conservative mob, which aimed its pitchforks at Emily Wilder over her college-era pro-Palestinian activism.”

Pompeo did more digging on what happened. Sources told him that not long after Wilder started, Peter Prengaman (the Western U.S. news director for AP and, thus, the boss of the Phoenix-based Wilder) had a one-on-one session to coach Wilder on avoiding opinion/bias on Twitter. They also went over previous tweets from Wilder that could be considered problematic.

Then, over the next couple of weeks as tensions in Gaza grew, conservatives brought up Wilder’s college activism and the AP looked closer at Wilder’s social media use. Pompeo writes, “They saw a number of new tweets related to Palestine, including the tweet about the media’s word choices, that they felt did not comport with the guidelines Prengaman had recently gone over with Wilder, and the decision was made to let her go.”

Pompeo’s take was there was a disconnect between what AP told Wilder in the social media training and what she took from it. In other words, Wilder thought she didn’t do anything wrong, while AP thought she had crossed the line.

If that is the case, AP’s decision to fire Wilder struck many as being too rash. Perhaps she could have been warned or placed on probation so that what happened could be used as a teachable moment.

An AP spokesperson told Pompeo, “We understand that other news organizations may not have made the same decision. … Because we’re a global news organization, we recognize that expressing opinion in one part of the world can compromise our ability to report a story in another. It can limit our access to sources and information. In some cases it could endanger our journalists on the ground. So we do our best to protect against even the perception of bias.”

Check out Pompeo’s excellent story for more details, including why outgoing AP executive editor Sally Buzbee was not involved in the decision to fire Wilder.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s always-interesting media writer Erik Wemple offered his thoughts in “How the AP wronged Emily Wilder.”

And then later on Wednesday, The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr reported AP executives admitted they made mistakes in how they handled the firing and “took a much more apologetic tack in a town hall with employees.” Yet they stood behind the firing.

According to Barr, Julie Pace, the AP’s Washington bureau chief and assistant managing editor, told staff, “We failed to initially see this as more than an HR issue. We thought this was the type of internal, personnel issue that AP is used to dealing with. What we failed to see is how this impacted our staff broadly in so many ways. … We saw it primarily as an issue of social media standards. We failed to see that it is much deeper than that.”

Interview of the day

Yikes. Check out this interview on CNN with reporter Kyung Lah and Karen Fann, the Republican Arizona State Senate president. Throughout, Fann tries to defend the “audit” of the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona. Lah coolly and calmly points out that Fann is undermining democracy by continuing to question election results that have proven to be legitimate.

The best part, however, was when Fann asserted the process was transparent because it has been livestreamed. To which Lah says, “By OAN,” referring to the pro-Trump One America News Network.

Fann said, “Are you saying that OAN is not a credible news source?”

“Yes,” Lah said.

“OK, I’ll remember this,” Fan said. “CNN is saying OAN is not a credible one.”

To which Lah shook her head and repeated, “Yes!”

When it was over, CNN’s Brianna Keilar said the Arizona State Senate president was “like a walking infomercial for conspiracy theory news.”

CNN’s John Berman added, “First of all, Kyung Lah for president. … That was a terrific interview.”

History at the White House

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A significant moment at the White House on Wednesday: Deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre became just the second Black woman ever to hold a daily press briefing, and the first in 30 years. The last, and only other, was Judy Smith in 1991. Smith was a deputy press secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

“It’s a real honor to be standing here today,” Jean-Pierre said. “I appreciate the historic nature. I really do. But I believe that … being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building is not about one person. It’s about what we do on behalf of the American people.”

The New York Times’ Katie Rogers had an informative piece about Jean-Pierre on Wednesday, pointing out that she has held press briefings on Air Force One in her role as deputy press secretary. Rogers added that Jean-Pierre is almost always in the White House briefing room when press secretary Jen Psaki delivers her press briefings.

Earlier this year, Psaki said she expected to stay in her role as press secretary for only a year or so. Might Jean-Pierre be her replacement eventually?

Rogers wrote, “She is not the heir apparent to replace Ms. Psaki — other names put forth in the internal parlor game include Symone Sanders, the vice president’s press secretary, and Ned Price, the State Department spokesman — but Ms. Jean-Pierre has had frequent contact with the White House press corps in recent months.”

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Juan Williams is leaving ‘The Five’

Fox News’ Juan Williams. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Juan Williams, longtime co-host of Fox News’ “The Five,” said on air Wednesday that he is leaving the show. However, he is not leaving Fox News entirely. He will remain a senior political analyst for the network.

Williams joined the program in 2011 as an occasional co-host and then became a regular over the past seven years. He has always been one of the show’s more liberal voices, and quite often the only one.

On the show Wednesday, Williams said, “This is my last day hosting ‘The Five.’ COVID taught me a lot of lessons. As the show goes back to the New York studio, I will be staying in D.C. I will be working for Fox out of Washington. My work as a Fox News political analyst will continue.”

The show is expected to move from Washington to New York City on June 1.

Variety’s Brian Steinberg tweeted, “I am told that The Five will fill Juan Williams’ seat with a rotation of liberal commentators, and that his permanent replacement will bring a liberal perspective to the show.”

Buyouts offered already

And so it begins. Just two days after hedge fund Alden Capital acquired Tribune Publishing in a $633 million deal, employees are being offered voluntary buyouts.

According to the Chicago Tribune’s Robert Channick, “The offer includes 12 weeks of pay for eligible employees with three or more years of continuous service, plus an additional week of pay for every year with the company. Eligible employees with less than three years of service would receive eight weeks of pay under the plan.”

Earlier this week, Alden wrapped up a deal to take over Tribune Publishing, which includes dailies such as the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News. The fear from the onset was that Alden would institute deep cuts, as they have at many of the papers in their MediaNews Group chain, which includes The Denver Post, The (San Jose) Mercury News and the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.

Channick’s story covers all the details of the voluntary buyout offer.

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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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