By:
March 8, 2021

One of the most anticipated interviews in recent memory aired Sunday night on CBS when Oprah Winfrey interviewed Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

And somehow, the interview far exceeded expectations.

This was not a two-hour chat filled with puff and a few interesting nuggets involving the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It was an interview packed with jaw-dropping revelations and stunning accusations, as well as being a disturbing indictment of the royal family that could have serious repercussions for the royals moving forward.

Simply put: It was a fascinating two hours of TV. Harry and Meghan both opened up with so many shocking accounts that it’s hard to know which was the most remarkable.

Meghan admitted there was a time when she “just didn’t want to be alive anymore.” Meghan and Harry both recounted that there were concerns and conversations inside the family about their first child and “how dark his skin might be.” Harry said his father, Prince Charles, stopped taking his phone calls when Harry was considering a step back from royal life and went on to talk about the fractured relationship he now has with his father.

Harry and Meghan also talked about how their security detail and then all financial ties were cut off after they left England and moved to Canada last year. Both talked about the role of the British tabloids, which you would expect to go absolutely bonkers with this story in the coming days.

But the central theme throughout the interview was one of race — how a biracial woman married into one of the most famous families in the history of the world and was treated so horribly that she considered taking her own life.

It’s not overstating it to say this interview felt historic.

While Harry and Meghan seemed poised and well prepared to tell their story, it’s hard to imagine anyone drawing them out the way Winfrey did. As if we once again needed reminding, Winfrey again brought her A-game and showed why she is one of the most talented interviewers in the business. She gave a masterclass in interviewing.

She started off by revealing — and confirming to Meghan — that there were no restrictions on the interview. No topics were off the table. Meghan and Harry had no idea what she was going to ask, and they were not paid for the interview. The interview started with Winfrey talking just to Meghan. Harry joined about halfway through.

Winfrey’s conversational and nonaggressive style comes off less like an interview and more like two people just shooting the breeze. Yet, that style allows Winfrey to ask tough questions without putting her subjects on the defensive. In fact, it does just the opposite. It gets them to open up even more.

Winfrey’s knack for knowing when to interrupt, when to shut up, when to follow up, when to let something go in order to follow up later is brilliant. All of those skills were on display Sunday night.

At one point, when Meghan revealed there were conversations about how dark her baby’s skin was going to be, Winfrey simply looked at Meghan and said, incredulously, “Whaaaat??!!”

It’s the same thing every viewer at home was saying. Winfrey let her shock settle over the interview, and it led to Meghan opening up more.

Later, when Harry joined the interview, Winfrey started by talking about Meghan being pregnant and whether they were having a boy or a girl. Again, it was a smart move by Winfrey as you could see Harry physically relax. That then allowed Winfrey to start asking more difficult and awkward questions.

At another point, Winfrey dropped the subject about Harry’s relationship with his father and brother, and it felt like a mistake. But, Winfrey, perhaps sensing it was the wrong timing, clearly knew what she was doing. She came back to it a few minutes later and Harry went into more detail about those strained relationships.

In the end, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for Harry and Meghan for all they’ve been through, as well as having immense respect for the decisions they’ve made to live a happy life.

But as much as this night was about Harry and Meghan, it was about Winfrey as well. She reminded us, once again, why she remains royalty when it comes to American media.

Why Oprah?

How did Oprah Winfrey manage to land the big interview with Meghan and Harry? Well, simply put: She’s Oprah.

The New York Times’ Caity Weaver and Elizabeth Paton wrote how Winfrey got the big scoop: “The same way she overcame childhood poverty in rural Mississippi to become the world’s first Black female billionaire: time, effort and a surfeit of natural charisma.”

Winfrey first proposed an interview as far back as two years ago. Since then, Meghan and Harry have moved out of England and now live in California, rather close to another celebrity:

Oprah Winfrey!

Winfrey, by the way, will appear on today’s “CBS This Morning,” which will air parts of the interview that didn’t air Sunday night.

When will President Joe Biden hold a press conference?

President Joe Biden waves as he arrives at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington on Saturday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Today is Joe Biden’s 47th full day as president, and he has yet to hold a solo press conference.

This is becoming a big deal in some circles.

Biden has made announcements, answered a few questions from reporters here and there at events, sat for several one-on-one interviews and did a CNN town hall. But no solo press conferences.

And the complaints are growing louder.

The Associated Press’ Zeke Miller, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, told AP reporters Jonathan Lemire and Alexandra Jaffe, “Press conferences are critical to informing the American people and holding an administration accountable to the public. As it has with prior presidents, the WHCA continues to call on President Biden to hold formal press conferences with regularity.”

In the past four decades, no president has gone this far into his administration without holding a formal Q&A session with the White House media.

The Washington Post editorial board wrote Sunday, “Avoiding news conferences must not become a regular habit for Mr. Biden. He is the president, and Americans have every right to expect that he will regularly submit himself to substantial questioning.”

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple called a Biden press conference “long overdue.” Wemple also wrote, “The people who elected him might also appreciate seeing him defend his policies in the crucible of a formal press event. These are generally revealing affairs, big moments for which journalists hone their inquiries and their follow-ups.”

And, naturally, there are those like Fox News contributor Kayleigh McEnany who are throwing out baseless conspiracy theories like the White House is afraid to let Biden speak.

There’s enough going on, especially regarding COVID-19 (vaccinations, the stimulus package, mask restrictions, etc.) that it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for Biden to hold a press conference. It also might help set the tone for Biden’s relationship with the White House media. For the record, the White House claims Biden will hold a press conference by the end of March.

Speaking on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, CNN’s Oliver Darcy said, “Reporters do have the responsibility to pressure this administration to be transparent.”

But is it fair to say Biden’s administration isn’t being transparent?

White House press secretary Jen Psaki is holding a press conference pretty much every weekday. She has had nearly 30 — and every single one has been more civil, more respectful and, best of all, more informative than any of the press conferences held by the likes of Trump White House press secretaries Kayleigh McEnany and Sarah Sanders. (Not that what happened during the Trump administration should be the bar for Biden and his staff.) And for all the hand wringing and head scratching about the lack of a Biden presser, it appears that Biden’s policies and plans are transparent and clear.

“But,” USA Today’s Matthew Brown wrote, “walking the public through his policy agenda, and then receiving feedback, is a process that also occurs through a presidential press conference.”

Still, it feels as if the complaints are simply on principle rather than the need for specific information. Many want Biden to talk just because, well, they want him to talk.

Although, as “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter said, “At the same time, it is a symbol of transparency and there are a lot of questions reporters do want to ask the new president. So it’s a legitimate story and question out there.”

Wear a mask

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves took plenty of heat last week when he announced his state would be rolling back COVID-19 restrictions. But during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Reeves told host Jake Tapper that he still recommends those in Mississippi wear masks.

“I don’t only recommend it, I encourage it,” Reeves said. “If you have not received the vaccination, and you are going into a large crowd, or if you’re going out to dinner, I strongly encourage Mississippians and people across the country to wear a mask, because I believe that it does, in fact, reduce the ability of individuals to spread the virus. No question about that, Jake.”

But Reeves couldn’t get out of the interview without controversy. Tapper asked Reeves if he believed Joe Biden was legitimately elected and Reeves said, “President Biden is the president of the United States.”

But Tapper followed up and asked if Reeves believed Biden was “legitimately and lawfully elected?” Reeves said, “In our state, we do not allow mail-in voting. And the reason we don’t allow mail-in voting is because we don’t think that it — we think that it allows for lots of opportunities for fraud and other things. And I don’t think mail-in voting should be allowed in other states around the nation. But President Biden is the duly elected president. And we’re going to do everything we can to work with him to help the citizens of Mississippi.”

Tapper continued to press Reeves on the topic and Reeves would only go as far as to say Biden was “the duly elected president.”

“But,” Reeves said, “that doesn’t mean that we don’t have bad laws on the books in other states. It’s just a fact.”

At some point, the Sunday anchors need to stop asking Republicans if they believe the election was fair. It only allows them to perpetuate the false and baseless claims that the election was rigged, or that mail-in balloting cannot be trusted.

Reporter on trial

Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri goes on trial today for an incident that happened while she was covering a Black Lives Matter protest last May. She has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts. She could be fined and go to jail for up to 30 days.

It’s a case that has drawn plenty of attention, including from Amnesty International, which said in a statement, “This is outrageous. Reporting at a protest scene as a working member of the media is not a crime. It is a right that must be protected.”

The Des Moines Register wrote an editorial that said, in part, “That this trial is happening at all is a violation of free press rights and a miscarriage of justice. … When reporters are arrested, assaulted or otherwise prevented from doing their jobs, it’s not an attack on just a single journalist or a media company. It’s an attack on everyone’s rights to be informed and to hold those in power accountable for their actions.”

The Associated Press’ Ryan J. Foley writes that the Des Moines police and County Attorney John Sarcone’s office are arguing that Sahouri wasn’t wearing a press credential and appeared to be a participant in the protest.

But Sahouri claims she was covering the protest live on Twitter. Her then-boyfriend was along with her for safety. The two were running from tear gas set off by police when her boyfriend was hit with a projectile. She stopped to check on him and, shortly after, a police officer shot pepper spray in her face and restrained her with zip ties. She said she identified herself as a reporter, but the officer claimed he wasn’t aware she was a journalist until he was detaining her and her boyfriend tried to pull her away. The officer did not activate his body camera.

Trouble at ‘NewsNation’

“NewsNation” was supposed to be the next big thing in cable news. It was a three-hour primetime newscast launched last year on cable channel WGN America, which is based in Chicago but is available in 75 million homes across the country. The plan was to offer viewers straightforward, nonpartisan news — something they might not be getting on the other cable news networks. It was going to be run by Sean Compton — a top executive at Nexstar Media Group, which owns WGN America. The plan also was to take advantage of resources from all the local Nexstar stations around the United States.

Good plan, right?

But already, there are signs of trouble. Check out this whopper of a paragraph from Katie Robertson in her story about “NewsNation” for The New York Times:

“Eager journalists from across the country signed on, some of them moving with their families from far away. But now, six months after its debut, ‘NewsNation’ has abysmal ratings and disaffected staff members who say it has not lived up to Mr. Compton’s billing. In recent weeks, the news director and managing editor have resigned. Six people at the network, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions, said ‘NewsNation’ has increasingly become a venue for right-wing views.”

Yikes.

Check out Robertson’s story for more details.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: NBC News)

  • In honor of International Women’s Day today, NBC’s “Today” show will host its first-ever Women Are Essential Live Event, led by co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb. The show will look into why working women and moms have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. In addition, NBC’s Jenna Bush Hager, Sheinelle Jones and Natalie Morales will host their own “Zoom Room,” where they will address various women’s concerns and questions.
  • And speaking of International Women’s Day, Stephanie Ruhle will anchor a special edition of “MSNBC Live” at 9 a.m. to recognize the day. Her guests will include “PBS NewsHour’s” Yamiche Alcindor, philanthropist Melinda Gates, Cindy McCain, Dr. Kavita Patel, U.S Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
  • New York Times columnist David Brooks has resigned from a nonprofit think tank because of a conflict of interest. BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac, who broke the original story, have more of the details.

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

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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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