By:
May 17, 2021

Good morning, everyone. I’m back from a week’s vacation. Thanks to my Poynter colleagues for taking over The Poynter Report while I was away. Now onto today’s newsletter.

On Saturday, an Israeli airstrike leveled a 12-story building in Gaza City. Israel claimed the building was home to military assets belonging to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group.

But there was more in that building. It also contained the offices of The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media outlets. And while advanced warning of the bombing allowed the journalists who worked there to evacuate with their lives, that’s pretty much all they escaped with. Valuable equipment and records were lost as the building was destroyed.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement. “We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza. This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life.”

But now the question is: Did the building really house Hamas?

In a compelling interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, Israel Defense Forces Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said, “Not only was Hamas in the building, it was actively using it to fight against Israel. … Out of consideration for human life and for the people who work there, we chose to forfeit additional military gains by surprise attacking. And instead, we did what of course is the right thing to do: advance warning and allowed everybody to clear, vacate the premises and made sure that everybody was out before the building was struck.”

But Stelter showed his excellent journalistic chops by pressing Conricus for proof that Hamas was in the building and, in effect, using the media and others as “human shields.”

“Can you show us the evidence?” Stelter asked. “Can you hold it up? Can you show us the pictures, the intelligence you have?”

Conricus said evidence would be shown in “due time,” but Stelter deftly cut him off and said, “Shouldn’t that have happened 24 hours ago?”

Stelter doggedly continued to press Conricus — who, to his credit, answered Stelter’s strong questions, although he did plenty of dodging, too.

While every conflict is nuanced and complicated, targeting a building where the media is based is disturbing, as Sally Buzbee — who is still AP’s executive editor until taking over The Washington Post next month — told Stelter. Then again, Time columnist and The Dispatch senior editor David French noted that the laws of war are clear: Whenever an army or military group takes over a building, it goes from being a civilian facility to a military facility.

French told Stelter, “And if it was being used by Hamas, it’s a legitimate military target, end of story. And Israel was right to warn people to minimize or to remove any civilian casualties.”

But the question then goes back to what Stelter asked — what evidence does Israel have that Hamas was using the building?

Buzbee said the AP does not take sides in any conflict, but added, “We are in favor, and what we do believe in is protecting the world’s right to know what’s going on in this conflict or any conflict. This is an important story and because of the actions (Saturday), the world is going to know less.”

Buzbee told Stelter that AP had never been warned before Saturday that Hamas was operating in the same building — a building where AP had been for 15 years. Buzbee said she would like to see an independent investigation into the matter.

There’s more …

There’s more controversy involving the media and the Israelis. On Friday, the Israeli military announced on Twitter, “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.”

That, along with confirmation from a spokesperson, led to many news organizations reporting that an Israeli invasion was underway.

The New York Times David M. Halbfinger wrote, “Within hours, those reports were all corrected: No invasion had taken place. Rather, ground troops had opened fire at targets in Gaza from inside Israeli territory, while fighters and drones were continuing to attack from the air. A top military spokesman took responsibility, blaming the fog of war.”

That military spokesman was Conricus. But was it simply a mistake, as Conricus reiterated on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources?”

In his story for the Times, Halbfinger wrote, “But by Friday evening, several leading Israeli news outlets were reporting that the incorrect announcement was no accident, but had actually been part of an elaborate deception. The intent, the media reports said, was to dupe Hamas fighters into thinking that an invasion had begun and to respond in ways that would expose far greater numbers of them to what was being called a devastatingly lethal Israeli attack.”

Certainly, it would be a troubling and inexcusable development for the media to be duped into essentially being accessories in a deadly conflict.

Daniel Estrin, a correspondent for NPR in Jerusalem, told Halbfinger, “If they used us, it’s unacceptable. And if not, then what’s the story — and why is the Israeli media widely reporting that we were duped?”

Meet the pushback

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) (Chip Somodevilla/Pool via AP)

The most volatile moment during the Sunday morning news shows came during Chuck Todd’s interview with Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Texas, during “Meet the Press.”

At one point, Crenshaw tried to slough off questions about former President Donald Trump by using terms like “you guys in the press” and then calling the press “largely liberal.”

Todd fired back, “No, no, no. Don’t start that. There’s nothing lazier than that excuse!”

Good for Todd because complaining about who is asking the questions instead of actually answering the questions is straight out of a politician’s playbook.

Crenshaw tried to move beyond the 2020 election results and Liz Cheney’s ouster from Republican leadership by saying it was “time to move on” and talk about things “that the American people care about.”

Todd, however, wasn’t letting Crenshaw off that easily and pressed him by saying, “But why should anybody believe a word you say if the Republican Party itself doesn’t have credibility?”

This is just a taste of a testy exchange. You can check it all out here.

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Speaking of Cheney

Liz Cheney, just ousted from her leadership role inside the Republican party, continued to make the TV rounds Sunday to slam the reason she has lost her leadership position: standing up against former President Trump and his baseless lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.

During an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Cheney said, “We have to recognize what it means for the nation to have a former president who has not conceded and who continues to suggest that our electoral system cannot function. That kind of questioning about our process, frankly, it’s the same kinds of things that the Chinese Communist Party says about democracy: that it’s a failed system, that America is a failed nation.”

During an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” Cheney said, “Former President Trump continues to be a real danger. What he’s doing and what he’s saying, his claims, his refusal to accept decisions by the courts, his claims continued as recently as yesterday that somehow this election was stolen. Those millions of people that you mentioned who supported the president have been misled. They’ve been betrayed. And certainly as we see his continued action to attack our democracy, his continued refusal to accept the results of the last election, you see that ongoing danger.”

Ironman streak ends

Here’s another sign that the U.S. is starting to come out of the coronavirus pandemic. Sunday was the first “Face the Nation” show that didn’t feature Dr. Scott Gottlieb since March 1, 2020 — a streak of 66 weeks. Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, has been CBS’s go-to analyst when it comes to COVID-19. It’s believed his 66 weeks in a row is a record for a guest on “Face the Nation.”

That streak does come with an asterisk. There was one Sunday when moderator Margaret Brennan interviewed Gottlieb but the interview didn’t run on the show. It was, however, shared on social media and posted on CBSN.

Across America

NBC News’ Lester Holt (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt will travel across the country this week to report on how the country is reemerging from the pandemic. The series is called “Across America” and kicks off today from Orlando, Florida. Other stops this week include Louisville, Cleveland, Seattle and Los Angeles. A statement from NBC said, “Holt will speak to local communities about how their businesses, schools, culture and sports have adapted. He will also report on the escalating tensions between police and communities of color and the growing homelessness epidemic.”

The end of an era

A legendary sports announcer is hanging up his microphone. Marv Albert, who has been calling sports for nearly 60 years and is generally regarded as the greatest NBA announcer to ever live, will retire after this season’s playoffs. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand and Phil Mushnick broke the news. They report an official announcement will be made by Albert and TNT today.

Albert turns 80 next month and there have been some complaints this season that he is losing a step as an announcer. I haven’t noticed that, but I might be blinded a bit by my bias. I’m a huge Albert fan and consider him not only the best NBA announcer ever, but among the greatest sports play-by-play announcers of all time. He is known for his signature call of “yesss” on made baskets.

He started his career calling New York Knicks games and has gone on to call virtually all major sports — most notably football, hockey and boxing, besides his splendid career calling basketball. He also comes from a royal family of sports broadcasting. His brothers, Al and Steve Albert, are broadcasters, and his son Kenny calls NFL and MLB games for Fox and is NBC’s lead NHL announcer. Kenny will join TNT next season when TNT begins covering hockey.

About Marv, The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch wrote, “As a broadcaster, he was manically prepared, with a sardonic sense of humor and impeccable timing. If you hear ‘yes’ in an NBA game after a made basket, it is hard not to think of Albert and his legacy.”

While I was gone

Soon-to-be Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee (AP Photo/Chuck Zoeller)

The big media news while I was out last week was The Washington Post naming Sally Buzbee to replace Marty Baron as executive editor. In case you missed it, my colleague Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s media business analyst, wrote a thoughtful piece on why Buzbee was the right choice, and it includes comments from Buzbee.

The choice of Buzbee, the executive editor of The Associated Press, was a surprise. I cannot remember seeing her name in any of the rumor mills of potential candidates. But I also don’t know of anyone who doesn’t think this is a great hire. Her reputation inside the AP is pristine.

In her latest column, Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote, “And, although it’s now routine for women to hold high-ranking posts in journalism, it’s still significant. And, for me, at least, a thrill. Not because I expect Buzbee to bring some sort of cliched ‘woman’s sensibility’ to how she approaches the job, or to her news judgments, but because her appointment is such a symbol of all that’s changing in journalism — and an encouraging sign about all that still needs to change.”

There are some grumblings from those who wanted the Post to hire Kevin Merida, the former Post editor who moved on to ESPN and was hired earlier this month as executive editor of the Los Angeles Times. In addition, Politico’s Paul Volpe writes how the Post went outside the company to find a woman to run the newsroom.

Volpe wrote, “The Post’s executive leadership pipeline has long been so male dominated that, according to interviews with staffers and other press accounts, there were no women internally who were considered leading candidates to be the next executive editor.”

Volpe quoted a “former senior newsroom leader” as saying, “The excuse that there is no pipeline is no excuse. You have to create the pipeline.”

A former female senior editor told Volpe, “Every one of us wanted to move up, but there was no chance. There were these blazing stars who you thought were going to take off, and then they just disappeared.”

For more on Buzbee and her plans for the Post when she takes over next month, check out her interview on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN.

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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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