By:
August 18, 2021

Tensions are obviously high in Afghanistan. What does the Taliban’s takeover following the U.S. withdrawal mean for the citizens of Afghanistan? In particular, what does it mean for women?

And what does it mean for those who aided America over the past 20 years, especially those working closely with journalists?

Earlier this week, the publishers of The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal wrote to President Joe Biden, asking for his administration’s assistance in finding safe passage for their colleagues and families whose lives now might be in danger. Post publisher Fred Ryan sent another note to national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday, talking about those “currently in danger” and needing help getting out of Afghanistan.

It’s so scary.

But there was some optimistic news on Tuesday.

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi reported that a group of Post employees, which included Afghan journalists and their families, were able to safely get out of Kabul.

Farhi wrote, “The employees, along with their families, began gathering at Kabul’s airport beginning on Sunday amid growing uncertainty as Taliban fighters swept unopposed into the capital city, the last remaining sector under government control. In all, some 13 people, including an American correspondent, were able to board a U.S. military transport for a flight to safe haven in Doha, Qatar. (The Post is withholding the names of the evacuees for security reasons.)”

As Farhi noted, the Post group is just a fraction of the 204 people who have worked in Afghanistan for the Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. As of Tuesday, the fate and whereabouts of the rest of the group was not known publicly.

On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced that the airport in Kabul was open not only to military flights, but civilian flights as well. But just opening the airports didn’t solve the problem. Getting into the airport was an issue for many.

The Wall Street Journal put out a statement that said, “We appreciate the efforts of the US government to reopen Hamid Karzai International Airport. While some journalists have been able to leave, the situation on the ground remains extremely perilous. We continue to request immediate assistance in facilitating safe transport for remaining Afghan colleagues from our own and other organizations into the airport, where access continues to be limited by Taliban checkpoints.”

It’s absolutely imperative that the U.S. government does everything in its power to make sure those who worked with American media closely over the past 20 years are safe. We are obligated to them for their courageous and invaluable work, and to abandon them would be a complete moral and ethical failure. Not only do we need to get them out of Afghanistan, but into the United States, where they should be welcome to stay for however long they want.

It’s still a scary time. In a statement, Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee said, “We are thankful that many of our journalists, support staff and their families were able to safely leave Kabul on Tuesday. There are still a great number of journalists who remain, and we are committed to supporting our colleagues as they work to get their staff to safety.”

Ted Cruz’s ridiculous tweet

As I wrote about in Tuesday’s newsletter, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz tried to criticize CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward’s report about what she was seeing in Kabul and got dunked on by CNN’s communications team, which reminded Cruz that Ward is bravely doing her job instead of running off to Cancun when times get tough.

Erik Wemple wrote about it, as well, in The Washington Post. Cruz was not the only one to attack Ward on Twitter. Wemple wrote, “The attacks on Ward are more than just a one-off Twitter frenzy; they reflect, rather, an ignorance about what it takes for a news outlet to bring real-time international reporting to American audiences.”

Wemple added, “And now for the irony: People like Cruz are wise to watch CNN’s well-funded, on-the-ground coverage of crises such as the one now unfolding in Kabul. It helps them sharpen their critiques of President Biden. They might consider how informed they would be if people like Ward weren’t risking their hides for the story. But they won’t.”

Other Afghanistan stories of note

Here are some more notable pieces from the Afghanistan coverage:

Naomi Osaka breaks down in a press conference

Tennis star Naomi Osaka at this summer’s Olympics. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Tennis star Naomi Osaka returned to a news conference Monday, three months after dropping out of the French Open because she wanted to avoid the stress and negative thoughts associated with doing press conferences.

And her return at a tournament in Cincinnati was not without incident. Osaka briefly left a virtual press conference in tears before returning and apologizing for leaving. But afterward, her agent called a local columnist a “bully” for his tone with Osaka and claiming that he tried to intimidate her.

Here’s what happened. Osaka had answered three questions before Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty asked, “You are not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this format. Yet you have a lot of outside interests that are served by having a media platform. I guess my question is, how do you balance the two?”

Osaka paused and then said, “When you say I’m not crazy about dealing with you guys, what does that refer to?”

Daugherty said, “Well, you’ve said you don’t especially like the news conference format, yet that seems to be obviously the most widely used means of communicating to the media and through the media to the public.”

Osaka started to answer and paused and then was given the chance to skip the question by the moderator of the press conference. But she asked Daugherty to repeat his question.

Then she said, “In the first place, I’m a tennis player, that’s why a lot of people are interested in me. I would say in that regard I’m quite different to a lot of people and I can’t really help there are some things that I tweet or some things that I say that kind of create a lot of news articles and things like that. And I know that it’s because I’ve won a couple Grand Slams and I’ve gotten to do a lot of press conferences that these things happen, but I would also say I’m not really sure how to balance the two. I’m figuring it out at the same time you are.”

As the next question was being asked by another reporter, Osaka started to tear up. She left the press conference for about five minutes and then returned.

Her agent, Stuart Duguid, told The New York Times in a text: “The bully at The Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player/media relations are so fraught right now. Everyone on that Zoom will agree that his tone was all wrong, and his sole purpose was to intimidate.”

Actually, I’m not sure everyone would agree with that. I found Daugherty’s question to be a pertinent one for Osaka’s return to tennis press conferences. It didn’t feel disrespectful or intimidating or out of line. And, frankly, Osaka’s answer seemed poised and insightful.

In his column (which was well done, by the way), Daugherty wrote, “Honest, thoughtful … and unlike any answer I’ve ever gotten in 34 years covering sports in Cincinnati.”

On ESPN’s “Around the Horn,” panelist Sarah Spain said that the point of  Daugherty’s question was a “fine one,” but that, perhaps, it unintentionally leaned into the criticism Osaka has gotten for not wanting to do press conferences, but promoting her brand (as is her right) through other forms of media.

Panelist Clinton Yates thought the question was “unnecessary.” But isn’t her first press conference back a fair time — in fact, the appropriate time — to ask how she is learning to balance dealing with the media while also communicating with the world to promote her causes and interests?

Panelist Frank Isola said he understood the agent was trying to protect his player, but that he didn’t believe the question was out of line at all, particularly since it was her first press conference since the French Open.

“He’s giving her a chance to address it,” Isola said. “I thought it was asked in a respectful manner. Excuse me that not everyone is asking a softball question.”

And, again, as Isola reminded us: Osaka answered the question and answered it well.

Then again, all this obviously still impacts Osaka, which led ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan to say on the air, “When I watch her and I see that emotion, I get worried for her. I get concerned for someone who has been talking about stepping away to improve her mental health, which I support 100%. … My initial response to this is take care of yourself. Don’t worry about the questions. Don’t worry about tennis right now. Do what you need to do.”

Like the other panelists, MacMullan did not think Daugherty was a bully and she even recommended everyone read Daugherty’s column, which she described as “very, very thoughtful.”

I would recommend it, too.

It’s all about the law

This is a cool story. Poppy Harlow, the superb CNN anchor, is taking a hiatus from the network to study law at Yale. But she intends to continue her journalism career.

“I’m here to stay for good as a journalist, but I wanted to learn more about the law,” Harlow told Variety’s Brian Steinberg, who broke the story. “I really felt that over the last year and a half. This is a dream that has been delayed but it doesn’t have to disappear.”

Harlow’s late father was an attorney. Harlow isn’t planning to become a lawyer, at least not now. She will study at Yale Law School’s Master of Studies in Law. It’s a program for people who want to become more familiar with the law.

And it’s good to see that CNN president Jeff Zucker has signed off on it all. He told Steinberg, “This is such a terrific opportunity for Poppy and I ‎am so proud of her for committing to it. ‎She will have a ton on her plate — but I know she will manage it flawlessly and come back enriched and so much ‎better for it. We could not be more supportive and‎ we all wish her the best of luck, and not too many all-nighters. I can’t wait to have her back full time in the anchor chair.”

Steinberg wrote, “​​Harlow intends to transfer what she learns at Yale — she hopes to focus particularly on constitutional law — to her on-air job. Supreme Court decisions often come down while she is on the air at 10 a.m.”

She told Steinberg, “It’s been a really rich part of our coverage. I’m not looking to prove anything. I’m looking to dive a little bit deeper into something.”

Tweet tells the story

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

This tweet from CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla is actually a screengrab of two tweets involving Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The first was a Houston Chronicle story that said: “No mask, no social distancing, no problem for Gov. Greg Abbott: ‘Another standing room only event.’”

Then, on the other side, another screengrab of a tweet later in the day from KVUE’s Tony Plohetski that read, “BREAKING: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has tested positive for COVID-19.”

According to Abbott’s office, Abbott has been vaccinated for COVID-19. He reportedly is feeling well with no symptoms. He is tested daily, according to his office, which is how it was discovered.

Maria Taylor’s replacements?

So how is ESPN going to replace Maria Taylor? To catch you up quick, Taylor left ESPN for NBC Sports earlier this summer. Before that, The New York Times broke the story that Taylor’s colleague, Rachel Nichols, was caught on tape suggesting that Taylor, who is Black, was given the job as host of “NBA Countdown” because ESPN was trying to make up for its “crappy longtime record on diversity.” (Those were Nichols’ words.)

After the NBA Finals and contract negotiations that ended without a deal, Taylor bolted for NBC Sports. There’s still no word on what ESPN is going to do with the “NBA Countdown” opening. But Taylor also worked on ESPN’s “College GameDay” as a features reporter. Now Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy reports “GameDay” is not planning to replace Taylor.

“Instead,” McCarthy wrote, “ESPN will look for opportunities to use different personalities from its talent bench to appear on the popular college football pregame show, said sources. Jen Lada and Gene Wojciechowski will continue to contribute feature stories and in-depth storytelling to ‘College GameDay.’”

Happy birthday

Happy birthday to Sports Illustrated. It was 67 years ago this week — Aug. 16, 1954 — that the magazine was published for the first time. The first cover featured a great action shot of baseball star Eddie Mathews of the then-Milwaukee Braves taking a swing at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Of course, much has changed with the magazine since then, including ownership. For several decades, sports fans raced to the mailbox on Thursdays to get the latest issue and read features from the likes of Frank Deford, Dan Jenkins, Leigh Montville, William Nack and, my personal favorites, Gary Smith, Franz Lidz and Michael Farber.

These days, the actual printed magazine has taken a backseat to its online presence and prints less than 20 times a year. But I’m still old-school enough (and SI still has enough talent) that I get excited when the latest issue arrives in my mailbox.

And you might even get a surprise. One of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “About A Boy”), has a new piece in SI about European soccer: “How the Failed Super League Exacerbated the Fan-Owner Dynamic.”

Media tidbits

  • Superb work by CNN’s Kerry Flynn on an important topic: “Newsroom leadership has never been this diverse, but that’s not enough.”
  • The Radio Television Digital News Association has named its national winners of the 2021 Edward R. Murrow Awards. More than 100 outlets were recognized for their outstanding work in digital, radio and television journalism. Here’s the complete list of winners.
  • The Daily Tar Heel’s Praveena Somasundaram with “Hussman School Dean Susan King says this is her last year in the position.”
  • New York Magazine made a few high-profile hires on Tuesday. Joanna Nikas will join The Cut as deputy style editor. Melissa León is joining Vulture as movies editor. And Shawn McCreesh will work for  Intelligencer and New York Magazine as features writer. Nikas was a staff editor at The New York Times who edited and assigned stories for the fashion and style sections. León was entertainment editor at The Daily Beast. McCreesh has written for New York in the past, as well as other publications. He was most recently editorial assistant for New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd.
  • The Daily Beast’s ​​Justin Baragona with “OAN Loses Appeal Against Maddow, Must Pay MSNBC at Least $250,000.”
  • Shirley Qiu is joining The Washington Post as news analytics editor. Qiu joins the Post from the American Press Institute. Before that, Qiu was a features producer at The Seattle Times.

Hot type

Just one item today because it’s so long. From Harper’s Magazine, it’s Joseph Bernstein with “Bad News. Selling the story of disinformation.”

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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