March 23, 2021

Former President Donald Trump used to say he was the best thing that ever happened to the media.

Remember this quote from 2017? “Newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there,” Trump said, “because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes.”

Was he right?

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi writes that, yeah, maybe he was. Farhi wrote, “Barely two months into the post-Trump era, news outlets are indeed losing much of the audience and readership they gained during his chaotic presidency. In other words, journalism’s Trump bump may be giving way to a slump.”

Farhi crunched the numbers and came up with some data to back his argument.

The nation’s top mainstream news sites — including the Post and The New York Times — saw traffic drop dramatically in February after setting records in January. This year’s February was worse than last year’s February. Farhi also accurately pointed out that cable news ratings are down. CNN’s primetime audience is down 45% the past five weeks. MSNBC is down 26%. Even Fox News has dropped 6%.

So how do you explain it? Is it a “Trump slump?” Perhaps. Does it have anything to do with COVID-19? Could be. The news about COVID-19 is more positive and, arguably, less urgent now than a year ago at this time. And, let’s not forget that a year ago, we were coming off a Trump impeachment, which led to one of the most divisive and bitterly-contested presidential elections in our nation’s history.

All of this was a perfect news storm. Now, things are … quieter, more normal, even boring. After four years of the Trump Show, maybe boring is a welcome feeling for media consumers. Maybe it’s a good thing to go a day or two or three not knowing exactly what the president said or did that day. Maybe after four years of stress, some people are taking a break from the news.

Echoing something that CNN’s Brian Stelter recently said on Jimmy Traina’s “Sports Illustrated Media Podcast,” I find myself with several options for the lead of my newsletter each day, as opposed to it likely being about Trump’s latest controversy. In fact, today is one of the rare days since the election that the lead and a few other items of the newsletter have been about Trump.

There is still major news to cover. COVID-19 certainly hasn’t gone away. There are critical stories at the border. And we continue to address important issues regarding race.

So, yes, maybe there is a Trump slump. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There were times when what Trump said or did or tweeted could not be ignored, but much of the news generated by Trump used to be low-hanging fruit for news outlets.

Now, for the most part, Trump can be ignored. Which means stories that really matter can be covered. Maybe it won’t draw the audience we’ve seen in the past, but it will be important. News organizations, hopefully, can focus on journalism and trust that the audiences will ultimately return to consume what’s good about their coverage — not just what is bad and ugly.

Another shooting

In an all-too-familiar nightmare, there was another mass shooting in the United States on Monday. A grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, was the scene of this latest shooting. According to authorities, a gunman opened fire inside a King Soopers grocery store, killing 10, including a police officer.

News of the shooting broke Monday afternoon and, in terms of media coverage, this is when CNN was the go-to news source. On-the-scene reporting, interviews with witnesses, analysis from special guests such as national security analyst Juliette Kayyem and former Washington, D.C., police chief Charles Ramsey, and deft anchoring from Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper and others put CNN above the rest.

Take the 8 p.m. Eastern hour. CNN was in wall-to-wall coverage, while MSNBC also provided solid and extensive coverage of the shooting. Fox News, meanwhile, stuck with Tucker Carlson, who was on his usual anti-liberal schtick, as well as more conversation about COVID-19 vaccines. CNN and MSNBC aired the first news conference from the scene live. Fox News did not, opting to stick with Carlson and Sean Hannity. CNN and MSNBC also aired the second news conference of the night from Boulder, while Fox News aired Laura Ingraham.

This is why, on stories such as this, CNN should be viewers’ first choice.

What was especially notable was CNN’s responsible coverage, given the lack of information in terms of the number of casualties and injuries and the shooter’s motivation. At no point did CNN speculate on these key aspects, and thus didn’t put out any misinformation.

There will be much more coverage of this in the days to come. As Kayyem sadly but accurately said, “It’s an American story.”

A sloppy mistake

Fox News had an awful moment Monday. While talking on the phone with Donald Trump, Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner reported that Alejandro Mayorkas had resigned as director of Homeland Security. One problem: Mayorkas had not resigned.

Faulkner originally said he had while talking to Trump, who said, “Well, I’m not surprised, good. That’s a big victory for our country.”

Almost immediately, Faulkner — who appeared to be listening to someone talking into her earpiece — said, “Hold on. Let me stop. Let me stop. Let me listen to my team one more time. Forgive me. Forgive me. That has not happened. And I apologize — listening to the team and you.”

In a statement, a Fox News spokesperson said, “The error stemmed from an audio issue in a virtual working environment. We corrected the mistake and continued on with the interview.”

Mistakes happen, but this was pretty sloppy by Faulkner. That kind of news needs 100% confirmation before announcing it on the air. This was embarrassing for her and the network.

In fact, the whole interview was a mess.

Trump also pushed lies about the border and even said, “We won the election as far as I’m concerned” with zero pushback from Faulkner.

At one point, Faulkner said, “Before I let you go, most ex-presidents don’t weigh in at this level. Why did you feel like you needed to on this issue?”

Trump said, “Well you called me, I didn’t call you in all fairness.”

This interview won’t be going on Faulkner’s highlight reel.

Trump’s new project?

What do you do when you’re craving to post on social media, but the big social media companies have booted you from their platforms? Apparently you start your own social media company. That’s what former President Donald Trump has in store, according to longtime Trump adviser Jason Miller.

Appearing on Fox News’ “MediaBuzz” over the weekend, Miller said Trump will be “returning to social media in probably about two or three months.” Miller added that Trump will be coming back on his “own platform” and that it will attract “tens of millions” and “completely redefine the game.” Miller also said, “This is something that I think will be the hottest ticket in social media.”

Call me skeptical. Certainly Trump still has a large following, and if he actually is able to get a social media platform off the ground, it likely would attract millions. But aside from the technical logistics, it sounds like it would be an echo chamber, which is not the foundation for completely redefining the game.


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Another epic rant from Oliver

HBO’s John Oliver (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

One week after destroying Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in a 25-minute takedown, HBO “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver fired off another epic rant about hate crimes against Asians. Along the way, he called out “The View” host Meghan McCain. Oliver was talking about how Donald Trump and others used phrases like “China virus” to describe COVID-19. He then showed a March 2020 clip of McCain saying, “If the left wants to focus on P.C. labeling, this virus is a great way to get Trump reelected. I don’t have a problem with people calling it whatever they want. It is a deadly virus that did originate in Wuhan. I don’t have a problem with it.”

Oliver said, “Oh good! Meghan McCain doesn’t have a problem with it. Listen not to the scores of Asian Americans telling everyone that the term is dangerous and offensive. Instead, gather around and take the word of a wealthy white woman who’s dressed like she’s about to lay off 47 people over Zoom.”

McCain did tweet “Stop Asian Hate” after last week’s shootings in Atlanta, but Oliver pointed back to McCain’s past comments, saying, “The minimization of racist rhetoric plays into the harmful stereotype of Asian Americans as a model minority pitting them against other minority groups and pressuring them to swallow their experiences with racism, without making a stink because that’s how you earn white acceptance, and that is something that takes its toll.”

In wake of Oliver’s commentary, McCain tweeted, “I condemn the reprehensible violence and vitriol that has been targeted towards the Asian-American community. There is no doubt Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric fueled many of these attacks and I apologize for any past comments that aided that agenda.”

A cut above

(Courtesy: New York Magazine/The Cut)

The March cover story of New York Magazine’s The Cut is a conversation between CNN’s Abby Phillip and CBS News’ Gayle King, which was moderated by The Cut’s editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner. This is Peoples Wagner’s first digital cover as editor-in-chief.

In describing why Phillip is on the cover, Peoples Wagner wrote, “Much of my time has been spent analyzing how I can make our point of view more inclusive; and questioning who we give this platform to, how do we decide equitably who is ‘cool’ or ‘worthy’ or ‘important’ to feature on a cover. I know firsthand how much representation means to marginalized communities, and how it can change your life. … In light of being a year into this pandemic, and with social-justice movements like Black Lives Matter to Stop Asian Hate finally given the respect they deserve, I wanted to put someone on my first Cut cover that brought these issues to the forefront, and gave people comfort in times when it felt like there was no hope.”

In the conversation, Phillip tells King, “The lesson of 2020 has been that more people need to be involved. We can encourage and empower other people to speak confidently and knowledgeably about race in this country. It’s often said that Black people have a Ph.D. in race in America, but I think the time has come for the rest of America to get their education in these issues as well, so that they can share the burden of moving this country forward.”

Caption issues

The Asbury Park Press in New Jersey published a caption Saturday on a photo that was as jaw-dropping as it was offensive. It was misogynistic, it was racist and it included an expletive. I won’t repeat it here, but if you’re truly interested, you can click on this story from the New York Post’s Keith J. Kelly.

In a statement to Kelly, Asbury Park Press executive editor Paul D’Ambrosio said the caption was fixed on Sunday as soon as editors heard about it. He said, “The words in the caption were totally unacceptable and in no way reflect the principles and practices of the staff of the Press and Gannett. The Press and Gannett have a long history of fighting for inclusiveness, diversity and women’s rights. We took immediate and significant action once we became aware of the issue, and we changed our online procedures to ensure such an event never happens again.”

Still a story

Condé Nast chief content officer Anna Wintour in 2019. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

There’s still a bit of a media buzz about Alexi McCammond — who was supposed to take over as editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, but left the job before she even started because of backlash from anti-Asian tweets she posted a decade ago when she was a teenager.

Condé Nast, owner of Teen Vogue, was not blindsided by the tweets. They were aware of at least some of them before hiring her. McCammond had acknowledged, deleted and apologized for the tweets in 2019, but they resurfaced again when she was recently named editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. She issued two public apologies and met with Teen Vogue staff, but announced last week that she was stepping away. Some staffers at Teen Vogue voiced their displeasure over McCammond’s hiring and at least two advertisers put their campaigns with Teen Vogue on hold.

On Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN, host Brian Stelter dedicated a segment to the topic. Stelter talked about how offensive the tweets were, but said, “Ultimately, Condé Nast failed her. But they didn’t open a door about tolerance and second chances.”

That’s really what so much of this story is about — acknowledging the harm of the racist tweets, but also asking if McCammond should be forgiven at some point. And should the fact that she was a teenager at the time of the tweets matter at all?

David French, senior editor at The Dispatch and a columnist at Time, told Stelter, “A society that defines people by their worst moments as a teenager is going to be a pretty miserable society.”

On Monday’s “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, co-host Joe Scarborough said, “ I say all the time if Twitter had been around when we were teenagers, well, you wouldn’t know who we are.”

On “Morning Joe,” journalist Kurt Bardella called Condé Nast’s actions a “remarkable act of cowardice,” also pointing out that McCammond’s tweets were from when she was young.

The headline on Graeme Wood’s piece for The Atlantic was “America Has Forgotten How to Forgive.” Wood, too, pointed out that teenage years are the time when people “make and correct the most mortifying errors of your life.”

Wood wrote, “If Teen Vogue, even in its current woke incarnation, does not exist to celebrate this period of still-expungeable error, then it may as well be calling for the abolition of the teenage years altogether. Its staff, as well as many of its advertisers, evidently think its readers deserve no bonfire, no sin jubilee, and should be hounded eternally for their dumbest and most bigoted utterances. This suggests an intriguing editorial mix of beauty tips, celebrity news, and vengeance.”

And on her Substack, Elizabeth Spiers wrote that McCammond was fired because Condé Nast chief content officer Anna Wintour could not be fired.

Spiers wrote, “McCammond should never have been hired as the editor in chief of Teen Vogue because she had no managerial experience, no experience editing, and no domain expertise in fashion, which is still the primary topic of the magazine. It is still Teen Vogue, not Teen Bon Appetit, or Teen New Yorker or Teen Car & Driver. And it says something about Wintour’s disregard for the publication that she thinks someone with no experience can run it. McCammond was an inappropriate hire and not because McCammond is an inappropriate hire for any position, but because she is an inappropriate hire for the editor in chief position at a large national magazine. Who’s to blame for that? Anna Wintour, not Alexi McCammond.”

Spiers goes more in depth on the whole ordeal, and it’s worth a read.

Media tidbits

  • Poynter is launching a new newsletter called The Collective. It features content for journalists of color by journalists of color. My colleague, Doris Truong, who is heading up the project has more of the details here.
  • Meredith Bennett-Smith has been named managing editor of MSNBC Digital. Bennett-Smith had been the senior editor of THINK, the NBC News digital opinion section. In a note to staff, MSNBC president Rashida Jones and Catherine Kim, senior vice president of Global Digital News, wrote, “Digital is a big priority for MSNBC this year as we expand our footprint, extend our voice and truly connect our platforms to bring the next generation of MSNBC fans into the family.”
  • Kara Swisher’s latest “Sway” podcast for The New York Times is an interview with graphic designer Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple.
  • The latest episode of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” which debuts tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern on HBO, includes a Gumbel feature on the state of college amateurism. Gumbel is joined by Sen. Cory Booker and former NCAA investigator Tim Nevius.
  • Eric Spinato, the head booker and senior story editor for the Fox Business Network, died over the weekend from COVID-19, according to his brother. His age has not been listed in any of the reports. Spinato worked at Fox for nearly 20 years, and also spent time at CNN and MSNBC. He mostly worked at Fox Business with Maria Bartiromo, but booked guests over the years for Fox News and Fox Business. Here’s the clip about Spinato from Fox Business.

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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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