By:
February 3, 2021

Smart or shady? Being prepared or causing trouble? Opening up dialogue or putting up a roadblock?

Well, this didn’t take long, but we already have a matter of contention involving the White House press corps and the White House communications team.

But is it really a problem or much ado about nothing?

It starts with grumblings among some reporters who cover the White House. The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani reports that the new White House communications staff “probed reporters to see what questions they plan on asking new White House press secretary Jen Psaki when called upon during briefings.”

So, if true, what does it all mean?

Is it merely a communications team trying to get a handle on what questions could be asked so that Psaki is prepared during her press conferences? Or is it a sign that the communications team is trying to avoid certain questions or, even more sinister, working in conjunction with the media?

Ultimately, this is true: Psaki appears to call on all reporters during press conferences and reporters are free to ask whatever questions they like. That should be pretty much the end of the story, right?

Tani reported that the issue was brought up during a White House Correspondents’ Association Zoom call last week. One unnamed White House correspondent told Tani, “While it’s a relief to see briefings return, particularly with a commitment to factual information, the press can’t really do its job in the briefing room if the White House is picking and choosing the questions they want. That’s not really a free press at all.”

However, again, there is no indication that the White House communications team is avoiding reporters because of potential questions they might ask.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, the White House press team didn’t deny it has talked to reporters ahead of news conferences. It said, “Our goal is to make the daily briefing as useful and informative as possible for both reporters and the public. Part of meeting that objective means regularly engaging with the reporters who will be in the briefing room to understand how the White House can be most helpful in getting them the information they need. That two-way conversation is an important part of keeping the American people updated about how government is serving them.”

While some are getting fired up over this story, this feels like no problem at all. As long as Psaki is not avoiding calling on certain reporters, knowing what topics might come up during a press conference actually is smart and productive.

Eric Schultz, the deputy press secretary for the Obama White House, told Tani, “This is textbook communications work. The briefing becomes meaningless if the press secretary has to repeatedly punt questions, instead of coming equipped to discuss what journalists are reporting on.”

In fact, Schultz said, if it wasn’t for COVID-19, a White House communications team might get a sense of the topics of the day through face-to-face conversations with reporters throughout the day.

‘I’m worn out’

This week, Owen Canfield III wrote his final editorial for The Oklahoman. After 17-and-a-half-years of writing editorials, Canfield is done.

“Simply put,” Canfield wrote, “I’m worn out.”

On the day Joe Biden was sworn in as president, Canfield received a note from a reader. That day, before the inauguration, The Oklahoman wrote a story that referred to “President Trump” and “President-elect Biden. Someone wrote Canfield and said, “It’s President Biden you piece of (expletive).”

Canfield wrote in his final editorial, “Who needs that? Not I. Not anymore.”

Canfield was the last person left in the editorial department and was writing two full editorials three times a week — six in all. In addition, he was writing shorter editorials, collecting syndicated columns and editorial cartoons to run, as well as handling the letters to the editor. He said he reached the point of needing to “get out of the fray and do something else.” He has been worn down by the tenor of the times.

He wrote, “We have reached a place where respectful disagreement is rare. It has become easier to scream that someone with an opposing view is the enemy or an idiot or a bigot or a choose-your-derisive-adjective than it is to engage in constructive dialogue. The intolerance and shaming and cancel culture are corrosive, and tiresome.”

I reached out to Canfield on Tuesday and asked him, through email, what the reaction was to his final editorial.

“The reaction from readers has been gratifying, even humbling,” he told me. “Most every person who emailed or called said they were grateful for my time at the paper and disappointed by the news, but understood my decision. My former Oklahoman colleagues were also very kind.”

Will he ever work in journalism again?

“Perhaps,” he told me. “But at this point, after 19 years with AP and then 17 at the paper, I am more interested in something different. I wrestled for a long time before making the decision. I am comfortable with it, although I will admit to a fair bit of anxiety as I wonder what, if anything, lies ahead.”

Bezos’ big move

Jeff Bezos (Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced he would step down as the company’s chief executive on Tuesday. He will transition to executive chair in the third quarter of this year and turn the company over to Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy.

So what does this mean for The Washington Post, which Bezos bought in 2013?

Apparently, it will have little — if any — impact on the Post. If anything, Bezos might get a little more involved in the business of the Post. In transitioning out of the Amazon CEO role, Bezos said he will have more time to focus on the Post, Bezos Earth Fund, the Bezos Day One Fund and his Blue Origin spaceship company. And, naturally, he expects to stay involved in important Amazon projects.

The story of GameStop

If you don’t listen to the “Sway” podcast hosted by The New York Times’ Kara Swisher, you’re missing out. It’s terrific. In the latest episode, Swisher talks with Reddit CEO Steve Huffman about the GameStop frenzy. They talk about what was behind the online movement, whether Reddit was used for market manipulation and what’s going to happen when GameStop’s stock eventually crashes.

If you want to get caught up on all that happened before listening to the “Sway” episode with Swisher, The New York Times “The Daily” podcast had an excellent episode explaining what happened in the GameStop story.

A big hire

Leon Carter, longtime sports editor of the New York Daily News who has been at ESPN for the past decade, is joining The Athletic as Editorial Director, Talent and Development. The Athletic says that in this role, Carter “will be responsible for overseeing and implementing talent development programs, working closely with The Athletic’s People team on strategic initiatives, and working with the company’s editorial leadership across a broad range of projects.”

Carter was the sports editor at the Daily News from 1999 to 2010. He then moved to ESPN, where he helped launch ESPN New York, oversaw multiple ESPN local sites and helped in the early development of The Undefeated, ESPN’s website that explores the intersections of race, sports and culture.

Excellent reporting from The Athletic

Speaking of The Athletic, impressive reporting — again — by The Athletic’s Katie Strang. Along with Brittany Ghiroli, Strang reports that former New York Mets manager and current (for now) Los Angeles Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway is accused by at least five women of lewd and inappropriate behavior. (You need an Athletic subscription to read the story.)

The women, who work in sports media, accused Callaway of pursuing them, sending inappropriate photographs and asking one of them to send him a nude photo. One said, “He was completely unrelenting.”

The women spoke out on the condition they not be identified.

In an email statement to The Athletic, Callaway, who has been suspended by the Angels pending an investigation, said, “Rather than rush to respond to these general allegations of which I have just been made aware, I look forward to an opportunity to provide more specific responses. Any relationship in which I was engaged has been consensual, and my conduct was in no way intended to be disrespectful to any women involved. I am married and my wife has been made aware of these general allegations.”

The Athletic story goes into disturbing detail about the women’s allegations.

Strang has done superb investigative work in her time at The Athletic. Some of her stories include domestic violence allegations against former baseball star Omar Vizquel, a hockey coach accused of sexual assault by his former players, and a figure skater who nearly died and went to prison before becoming a criminal justice reporter.

An institution

Andrea Mitchell speaks with NBC News’ colleague Lester Holt during a break at a 2016 Democratic presidential debate. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Glamour’s Mattie Kahn profiles NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell in “Andrea Mitchell Is Washington’s Most Resilient Institution.”

Kahn writes, “American institutions are weaker than ever. Norms are in tatters … at least one bedrock has survived the tumult intact. Her name is Andrea Mitchell.”

It’s a solid profile of one of America’s iconic journalists, who is still going strong after more than four decades at NBC. She reports regularly from Washington for NBC News and hosts “Andrea Mitchell Reports” each weekday on MSNBC.

Mitchell talks about her career in journalism, including what the past four years have been like with Donald Trump in the White House.

She told Kahn, “We have had lies told from the briefing room podium in the White House, from the State Department, from other institutions. There’s always been political spin but, in my experience going back 50 years of reporting and more than 40 years in Washington, officials in most cases don’t lie. They try to present the facts as favorably as they can for their principles, but they don’t lie flat out and just twist reality. And what has happened in the last four years has completely destroyed that.”

Selling the plant

Poynter’s Kristen Hare reports: “The Philadelphia Inquirer announced Tuesday that its Schuylkill Printing Plant has been sold to developer J. Brian O’Neill for $37 million, according to reporting by the Inquirer’s Jacob Adelman. The Inquirer announced its intent to sell the plant, which will result in the loss of 500 jobs, in October.”

The Inquirer will outsource its printing to a Gannett plant in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

As Hare notes, “The Inquirer is the latest of many newsrooms to stop printing newspapers and outsource that work out of town. In 2020, at least 1,500 jobs were lost to printing plant shutdowns, including at Gannett’s Palm Springs Desert Sun, Tribune’s Hartford Courant and the Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns. In our list of how newsrooms have been affected by the pandemic, we’ve tracked 13 plant closures so far.”

Hot type

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

Clarification: The item about Oklahoman editor writer Owen Canfield lll was updated to correctly and fully explain his weekly workload.

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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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