By:
January 29, 2021

What in the world is going on?

Some of the top news organizations in the country suddenly are looking for new leaders.

Last month, Norman Pearlstine stepped down as executive editor of the Los Angeles Times. On Wednesday, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron announced he will retire next month.

Then, Thursday, James Goldston announced he is leaving his job as president of ABC News. He has been with ABC News for 17 years and has been president for the past seven.

In a note to staff, Goldston said, “It’s a really tough decision. I’ve loved every day of my 17 years at ABC News, but in recent times I’ve always assumed that after this extraordinary election cycle, which we’ve covered at a full sprint for four years, it would be time for a change. After a great deal of reflection over the last few months, I’m ready for a new adventure.”

In a separate statement, Peter Rice (chairman, general entertainment content, The Walt Disney Company) said, “I am incredibly grateful to James for his leadership. This past year redefined the 24-hour news cycle, and he led the team with an unrelenting commitment to facts and in-depth, insightful reporting. Maintaining journalistic excellence and integrity amidst a pandemic upheaval, social injustice reckoning, political divide and historic election is an exceptional accomplishment and I commend James for guiding the team through it with distinction.”

Rice said he is establishing an Office of the President until a new president is appointed. It will be made up of what Rice called “James and five seasoned ABC News executives” who will oversee the network news — from business operations to breaking news to other editorial groups.

Rice wrote, “The Office of the President will be a temporary construct installed to allow me to consult with a broader group of leaders and will disband when we name a new president.”

Goldston has had a heck of a run at ABC. He oversaw “World News Tonight,” which has taken over as the undisputed ratings leader among the evening news broadcasts. In fact, there have been times over the past year when the newscast has drawn more than 10 million viewers and been the most-watched show on all of TV that particular week.

That’s not all. As CNN’s Brian Stelter noted, Goldston added “The View” to the network’s news division and added a third hour to “Good Morning America.”

But there was controversy, too. Last year, Barbara Fedida, one of ABC News’ top executives, left the company after an investigation confirmed allegations that she had made racist remarks in the workplace.

Journalist Yashar Ali, who broke the story on Fedida, tweeted Thursday, “I was told that Goldston would be gone by the spring when I published my investigation on former ABC News executive Barbara Fedida. This has long been in the works.”

However, the memos to staff from Goldston and Rice make it seem as if it was Goldston’s decision to step away at this time, and he will help in the transition to a new president.

As I mentioned, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post are looking for new leaders. In addition, Goldston is just the latest big TV executive to move on or consider their options.

Phil Griffin is leaving as MSNBC’s president next week. Rashida Jones already has been named as his replacement. Meanwhile, NBC News’ chairman Andrew Lack stepped down last year after a rocky tenure, and was replaced by Telemundo chairman Cesar Conde.

Meanwhile, rumors have been swirling about for a while that Jeff Zucker is going to walk away from his job running CNN.

Speaking his mind

Chris Stirewalt is speaking out. The former Fox News politics editor was one of nearly 20 digital news staffers let go earlier this month. You might remember he was one of the network’s on-air analysts who explained and defended the network calling the state of Arizona for Joe Biden in the presidential election. Fox News was one of the first news outlets to call Arizona for Biden, a decision that outraged Donald Trump and many of his supporters.

In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Stirewalt talks about the now-famous call — which turned out to be correct — as well as his thoughts on the reaction to that call and the election in general.

And he blasted the news by writing, “Having worked in cable news for more than a decade after a wonderfully misspent youth in newspapers, I can tell you the result: a nation of news consumers both overfed and malnourished. Americans gorge themselves daily on empty informational calories, indulging their sugar fixes of self-affirming half-truths and even outright lies.”

As far as Fox News’ call, Stirewalt wrote, “When I defended the call for Biden in the Arizona election, I became a target of murderous rage from consumers who were furious at not having their views confirmed.”

He added, seemingly taking a shot at his former network, as well as other Trump-friendly news outlets, “The lie that Trump won the 2020 election wasn’t nearly as much aimed at the opposing party as it was at the news outlets that stated the obvious, incontrovertible fact.”

Read the full op-ed for more of Stirewalt’s thoughts.

McEnany’s tryout

The latest from Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple: “Kayleigh McEnany’s Shameful Tryout for Fox News.” As I wrote about earlier this week, Fox News confirms they are open to hiring Trump’s former White House press secretary. (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reports it’s a done deal.)

A revolving door between Fox News and the Trump White House was common. In fact, a revolving door between Washington politics and cable news — regardless of political leanings — is not unusual.

But as far as McEnany, Wemple cited Media Matters, which reported McEnany has appeared on Fox News weekday programming at least 325 times since August 2017. Since becoming White House press secretary last April, she appeared on Fox News at least 93 times. And since Trump lost the election, she has appeared on “Hannity” at least 23 times.

Wemple wrote, “None of this is illegal. Press secretaries may speak to whatever outlets they please, just like presidents. That’s their First Amendment right. Steering your misleading TV appearances to a single outlet, while neglecting your obligations to the rest of the press corps and negotiating an eventual paid gig — that’s an abdication of duty to the public.”

Pearl’s killer released

Faisal Siddiqi, a lawyer for the family of Daniel Pearl, talks to journalists after an appeal hearing in Pakistan this week. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)

The man convicted of kidnapping and murdering Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is set to be released from jail after a 2-1 ruling by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Three of his alleged accomplices also are to be freed. Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, and beheaded five months after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Through their attorney, the Pearl family called the ruling “a complete travesty of justice.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the ruling an “affront to terror victims everywhere.”

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-born Pakistani, was sentenced to death for Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. But the case was reopened after Saeed’s attorneys argued a lack of evidence. Last April, his murder conviction was overturned and his kidnapping charge was lowered to a lesser charge. The court ruled that his sentence for that had long been served. The Pearl family fought that ruling, but the Supreme Court ruled Thursday to release Saeed, offering no comment on its decision. Just this week, after years of denials, Saeed admitted to having a “minor” role in Pearl’s death.

One of the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, confessed to Pearl’s murder while at Guantanamo Bay in 2007, but prosecutors never charged him, believing his confession would not hold up in court because he might have been coerced, possibly through torture.

According to The Washington Post’s Shaiq Hussain, Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Matt Murray said, “This is an infuriating and unjust decision. We’ll continue to support efforts to hold to account those responsible for the brutal murder of Danny.”

In their statement, the Pearl family also said, “The release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan. We urge the US government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice. We also hope that the Pakistani authorities will take all necessary steps to rectify this travesty of justice. No amount of injustice will defeat our resolve to fight for justice for Daniel Pearl.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah and CNN’s Sophia Saifi have more on the story.

Stephen A’s world

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP)

ESPN has no bigger personality than Stephen A. Smith. He’s best known for his strong opinions on the debate show “First Take,” but is liable to show up almost anytime on the network. His latest endeavor, “Stephen A’s World,” airs four times a week on ESPN+. Smith not only hosts, he is also the executive producer. It combines sports, entertainment and more.

In an insightful Q&A with USA Today’s Chris Bumbaca, Smith said, “My aspiration is to ultimately do late-night one day. … I think there’s a hole in late-night that I could help fill. So when I think about Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon and those guys — I can’t forget Trevor Noah, who I think does a phenomenal job on Comedy Central — it’s something that I aspire to do as well.”

In the Q&A with Bumbaca, Smith talks about his media influences, his new show, whether his TV work is an “act,” his relationship with “First Take” co-host Max Kellerman, and much more.

Just my two cents: I’m a fan of Smith. I admire his passion, his dedication and the way he makes you think — even if you don’t always agree with him.

Media tidbits

  • The lineup for tonight’s “Washington Week”: Amna Nawaz from “PBS NewsHour” is guest moderator, with panelists Garrett Haake (NBC News), Weijia Jiang (CBS News), Sarah Kliff (New York Times), and Anita Kumar (Politico). It airs at 8 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations.
  • For the past two days, I’ve had newsletter items about Marty Baron announcing his retirement as executive editor of The Washington Post. And it’s always fun to speculate who might take over when a big job like that comes open. The latest to weigh in is Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon with: “Some of the Names in the Rumor Mill for Washington Post Editor — And Some of the Factors that Might Decide Who Gets the Job.” It’s a good read, so check it out.

Clip of the day

A meteorologist is giving her report (from home because of COVID-19) and then she suddenly has help from an “assistant.” Check out the must-see clip.

Hot type

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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