By:
May 6, 2021

Well, that was a bit of a curveball, wasn’t it?

The Facebook Oversight Board made a decision on what to do with Donald Trump on Wednesday.

Sort of.

The board upheld Trump’s suspension from Facebook for now — but then threw the final decision back to Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The board said the “infinite” suspension was “not appropriate” and gave Zuckerberg and Facebook six months to clarify the company’s rules and come to a final determination on Trump’s status.

The guess is Zuckerberg is as distressed as he is surprised that he is now holding the hot potato and will ultimately have to decide what to do about Trump. In the process, his pivotal decision could have a profound impact on the future of his company.

My take? Why does Facebook need six more months to figure out that Trump’s long history of lies and dangerous rhetoric should have him permanently banned from Facebook? (You can read my full column here.) After all, we’re not talking about some crackpot conspiracy theorist like Alex Jones or even some regular Joe Schmoe who lives down the street. We’re talking about the former president of the United States who has millions of devoted followers.

He talks. People listen. People react. We’ve seen it.

The fact that Trump’s words are reckless and have consequences should be all the criteria that Facebook needs to keep him off their site.

But, unfortunately, we’re going to spend the next six months wringing our hands and sitting on the end of our seats as Zuckerberg and the rest of Facebook leadership figure out what to do with Trump while trying not to tick off one half of the country or the other.

Trump, naturally, reacted as you would expect, saying the decision was “a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our country. Free speech has been taken away from the president of the United States because the radical left lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before.”

Here are some other takes from Wednesday.

The New York Times’ Kara Swisher wrote, “Mr. Trump should be seen as an outlier — a lone, longtime rule breaker who was coddled and protected on social media platforms until he wandered into seditious territory. He’s an unrepentant gamer of Facebook’s badly enforced rules who will never change. He got away with it for years and spread myriad self-serving lies far and wide. So why should Mr. Trump stop now?”

Swisher also added this smart line: “It also shines a spotlight on the actual problem: Facebook has grown too powerful and the only fix is to get government legislators to come up with a way to allow more competition and to take impossible decisions out of the hands of too few people.”

Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen wrote, “Facebook and other social media giants are private companies that control access to widespread public speech. Zuckerberg should grab the baton the board has handed him and unambiguously commit his private power to a standard that promotes vigorous public discourse.”

While one might argue that the Facebook Oversight Board merely passed the buck to avoid making the decision itself, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan looked at it this way: “… by choosing to hand the decision back to Facebook, it put Zuckerberg’s powerful role in overseeing public discourse in the United States in the spotlight, along with the arbitrary nature of how Facebook moderates its platform. Forcing Facebook to make the decision was in itself an exercise of the board’s power and independence.”

O’Sullivan added, “The decision was in many ways not just about Trump. It may ultimately be more important for parts that were really only secondarily about him. The ruling was a shot across Facebook’s bow, warning the company that it has to get its house in order and can no longer make world-altering decisions on the fly.”

A few other pieces of note about the Facebook-Trump decision:

Op-ed of the day

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Embattled Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post with this strong headline: “The GOP is at a turning point. History is watching us.”

In it, Cheney pushes back on Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. She writes, “Trump repeats these words now with full knowledge that exactly this type of language provoked violence on Jan. 6. And, as the Justice Department and multiple federal judges have suggested, there is good reason to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again. Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.”

She adds, “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

It’s a powerful op-ed from one of the few voices in the Republican Party who has spoken out against Trump. It likely will cost Cheney her leadership position within the party and could, ultimately, cost her her political career.

“History is watching,” she wrote. “Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”

Fox acquires Outkick

Outkick is a mostly sports website. Yet it was no surprise that it was bought by the Fox Corporation in an announcement made Wednesday by Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch during a call with investors. I say no surprise because Outkick was founded and is run by Clay Travis, whose politics are well right of center. (This also explains how Outkick has been getting some recent exclusives lately from Fox, including an interview with Tucker Carlson.)

Travis wrote about the transaction for his site. After ripping into Facebook’s decision to ban Trump, Travis went on to praise Fox, writing it is “the American leader in sports, politics, news and opinion. And the media company, I believe, best positioned to win in the world of sports gambling in the future as well.”

Travis wrote he will remain president of Outkick and does not expect the content to change.

I’m not a fan of Travis because I think he likes to stir the pot just to stir the pot. He also had this horrible take a year ago when he said “coronavirus is overrated” But, no doubt, he has a big following.

The New York Times’ Edmund Lee has more from Fox’s first quarter.

The latest at The New York Times

The New York Times added 301,000 digital customers during the first quarter of 2021. Most news outlets would be thrilled at such a huge number. But, that was the lowest gain for the Times since the third quarter of 2019.

Still, according to the Times’ quarterly report, the slight increase put the Times’ total subscribers at 7.8 million for print and digital, with 6.9 million coming for online news or its Cooking and Game apps.

The New York Times’ Edmund Lee writes, “The Times is still on a path to reach its goal of 10 million subscribers by 2025, and it has improved its profit margins as its digital business — which costs less than print — continues to rise.”

Lee added, “The company reported adjusted operating profit of $68 million, a 54 percent jump from last year, as it generated more dollars from each subscriber, partly because of the expiration of promotional rates as the new year rolled over. Total revenue rose modestly, about 6.6 percent, to $473 million. Online subscriptions and digital advertising together rose 32 percent, to $239 million, and the print business continued its steady decline.”

The quarterly call also revealed that subscription sales rose 15% to $329 million and digital subscriptions went up 38% to $179.6 million. Advertising, however, fell 8.5% to $97 million. According to Lee, the company had expected “double that decline.” Digital advertising as revenue was $59.5 million — an increase of more than 16%.

What’s up with ‘Jeopardy?’

Ken Jennings (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

Of all the guest hosts of “Jeopardy” so far, CNN’s Anderson Cooper has had the lowest viewership ratings — at least through the first week of his two-week stint. (Ratings for the second week will come out soon.)

There could be a reason for this. The verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial came down during Cooper’s first week and viewers could have been tuned into news coverage instead of the game show.

Whatever the reason, Cooper’s ratings for the week were 5.1 — a drop from the 5.5 rating NFL star Aaron Rodgers had the previous week.

The highest ratings so far have belonged to Ken Jennings, who scored a 6.2 during his first week. Then again, that was the first week of the season and the first week without the late Alex Trebek.

On a recent Wall Street Journal podcast, “Jeopardy” executive producer Mike Richards said he expects a permanent host to be named sometime this summer. It’s likely the replacement will come from one of the guest hosts. Jennings is considered the front-runner, although fans are looking forward to LeVar Burton’s upcoming stint as guest host.

And while Rodgers had good ratings, performed well and said he wants the job, he also is likely to continue playing football. Rodgers believes he could do both jobs, but it appears “Jeopardy” wants a host who considers the job full-time, just like Trebek did.

On the Journal podcast, Richards said, “I feel like it worked out pretty well for Alex as one job. It’s not a side hustle to me, and we’ve been clear about that.”

Correction

Slate has started a new advice column called “Pay Dirt,” which focuses on personal finance and the social aspects of money issues. In Wednesday’s newsletter, I incorrectly wrote that it was a podcast.

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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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