May 7, 2021

Fair or foul?

That’s a question that seems to come up frequently when talking about Fox News.

There was another controversy on Thursday.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed new voting legislation into law — a law that restricts voting by mail and at drop boxes. Critics insist it will suppress votes.

Plenty of media showed up to cover the DeSantis signing event. But only one news outlet was permitted in the room: Fox News. In fact, DeSantis gave an exclusive interview to “Fox & Friends” as he signed the bill.

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote, “For DeSantis, then, it made perfect sense to restrict his bill-signing to just the media outlet that had indirectly championed it.”

When confronted by reporters outside the West Palm Beach hotel where he signed the bill, DeSantis said, “It was on national TV, it wasn’t secret.”

But the way it was set up meant DeSantis didn’t have to answer tough questions. He certainly didn’t get any from “Fox & Friends.”

Bump wrote, “A Republican being interviewed by ‘Fox & Friends’ tends to have all of the probing tension of a grandmother asking her grandson what he wants for Christmas. DeSantis had a few questions about how well Florida had managed the pandemic placed on a tee in front of him, and he landed each one squarely on the fairway. I mean this sincerely: His team couldn’t have asked for a better landing for the bill. A controversial legislative act became a nationally televised campaign event.”

Now, to be clear, Fox News told the Tampa Bay Times’ Steve Contorno that they didn’t ask for an exclusive to the bill signing, only that they booked DeSantis for Thursday morning to be interviewed.

This is mostly on DeSantis and his office, and it’s a bad look that they excluded other media outlets. That made the signing seem shady — like they wanted no part of journalists who might have grilled the governor about the new laws.

However, some in the business would argue that for known events such as Thursday’s, news outlets should band together. They should insist that if one reputable outlet is excluded then, as a sign of unity, all should refuse coverage. Should Fox News have seen to it that other outlets were included? That’s a gray area. It’s a cable news network in a very competitive cable news environment. You can understand the desire for an exclusive.

Plus, the counterargument to just Fox News being there is that it’s better for at least one outlet to bear witness as opposed to no outlets at all.

Here’s the bottom line, however: It’s disturbing — although not at all surprising — to see such a cozy relationship between DeSantis and Fox News. Obviously, DeSantis felt comfortable turning to Fox News for what turned out to be, as Bump wrote for the Post, the equivalent of a campaign event.

And Fox News played right along.

Strong comments

NBC News’ Chuck Todd on “MTP Daily” on Thursday. (Photo: courtesy of NBC News.)

Wow. This was the opening line from NBC News political director Chuck Todd on Thursday’s “MTP Daily” on MSNBC:

“None of this we say lightly. Today appears to be the day that you can mark in your calendars as the day that represents the Republican Party’s complete and total surrender to Donald Trump.”

Todd mentioned the Republican’s rebuke of one of their own (Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney), new voting laws passed in red states Florida and Texas, and baseless accusations of election fraud that have led to a bizarre audit in Arizona.

“The Republican Party has surrendered to a lie as it surrenders to Trump,” Todd said. “Let’s not mince words. It means the American democracy is in really big trouble, more so today than it was yesterday.”

I encourage you to watch Todd’s entire passionate opening commentary, which ran more than four minutes.

The latest on Marty Baron’s replacement

The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani, Lachlan Cartwright and Lloyd Grove have a new piece out called “Inside the Hunt for the Washington Post’s Next Top Editor.”

The story claims that Post national editor Steve Ginsberg has emerged as the strongest internal candidate to replace Marty Baron, who retired last month. Meanwhile, New York Times assistant managing editor Marc Lacey is the strongest external candidate.

Back in March, someone familiar with the situation told Poynter that both Ginsberg and Lacey were on the short list of potential candidates to replace Baron, a list that also included Rebecca Blumenstein and Carolyn Ryan, both of The New York Times; National Geographic editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg; Star Tribune editor and senior vice president Rene Sanchez; and Cameron Barr, also from the Post.

The Daily Beast reports there are potential drawbacks to both Ginsberg and Lacey, and that many Post employees are frustrated that the Post didn’t make a harder run at ESPN’s Kevin Merida, who was named top editor at the Los Angeles Times earlier this week.

The Daily Beast article also has a couple of other interesting tidbits, including that the search for a new editor is being run pretty much by one person, publisher Fred Ryan, and that Baron has not been involved at all.

The Athletic and the … New York Times?

The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin reports that The Athletic — the subscription-based, ad-free sports site — is no longer in merger talks with Axios. But, Mullin reports, they have another major news outlet in mind for a possible merger: The New York Times.

Mullin writes, “Such a deal would bring the Athletic’s more than one million paying subscribers to the Times, which has seen digital-news subscriptions slow since former President Donald Trump left office.”

The Journal reported earlier this year that The Athletic approached Axios about a merger. But that deal appears dead.

Mullin wrote, “The companies jointly explored a tie-up that could involve a deal with a special-purpose acquisition company — also known as a blank-check company — but those discussions haven’t moved forward, people familiar with the situation said.”

As far as The Athletic and The New York Times? There’s still a lot that isn’t known, including just how seriously (if at all) the two sides have spoken. A sale of The Athletic to the Times seems more likely than some kind of merger, although both seem like a long shot — for now anyway.

Awful Announcing’s Joe Lucia has a good breakdown on why such a deal has plenty of hurdles.

Turner’s excellent choice for a hockey announcer

Turner Sports, which acquired the secondary TV rights in the United States for the National Hockey League starting next year, has picked its lead hockey announcer. It could not have made a better choice. It’s Kenny Albert, the current lead hockey announcer for NBC Sports, which is losing the hockey rights after this season. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand broke the story. With Doc Emrick retired, Albert (in my opinion) has become the best national hockey announcer in the business.

ESPN/ABC will be the primary national carrier for the NHL in the U.S. and has yet to name their NHL announcing crew.

Albert is likely to call this year’s Stanley Cup finals for NBC and then is expected to call the finals for the years Turner has the rights.

Gupta blasts Carlson

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images for Tavistock)

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson says so many outrageous things that it’s probably better off to ignore much of it. If I wanted, I could probably write a Carlson item every day.

But this week, Carlson said something so irresponsible that even the normally measured Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN blasted him. This week, Carlson started his primetime show saying, “How many Americans have died after taking the COVID vaccines?”

Then he went on to twist some data into making it seem like the vaccine might be dangerous. Of course, he did it in his typical way of, Hey, I’m just asking questions here.

The data Carlson leaned on was from the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Just this week, Gabrielle Settles from Poynter’s PolitiFact had a story with the headline, “Federal VAERS database is a critical tool for researchers, but a breeding ground for misinformation.”

Carlson certainly proved that. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote the picture Carlson painted was a “highly misleading and cherry-picked one.”

CNN’s “New Day” blasted away at Carlson. Host John Berman asked, “Does he want his viewers to live? … If you watched it, you were left with the impression this guy with no medical degree was suggesting that vaccines are killing thousands of people.”

Gupta, who has become a go-to voice on COVID-19 analysis, said, “It’s so reckless. It’s so dangerous what he’s doing.”

Gupta was just warming up.

“It’s absolutely 100% false,” Gupta said. “The problem is that it continues to stir up this vaccine hesitanc or outright vaccine reluctance. It is so frustrating because we’ve been stutter-starting our way through reporting on this pandemic for a year because, instead of continuing to build a knowledge tree, we’ve had to continuously fact-check and correct misinformation. It’s been so frustrating as a scientific reporter and it’s still happening. In the midst of what is arguably one of the greatest scientific achievements that we’ve had maybe ever, these vaccines, we are still stutter-stopping our way through what is happening here.”

He then added, “We could be in a much better position if it were not for people like Tucker Carlson who continue to embolden this vaccine hesitance. It’s really very irritating.”

There was even more. Check out the Gupta clip here in this Brian Stelter story for CNN.

Stelter also pointed out that some of Carlson’s Fox News colleagues seemed to disapprove of Carlson’s comments by expressing pro-vaccine sentiments.

In one of the more clever responses, Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg mocked Carlson by tweeting, “FACT: Every single person who ever died blinked before they died. The vast majority — like 99% — blinked mere seconds before death. And yet, no one talks about this silent killer.”

Boo, Alden

For this item, I turned it over to Poynter business analyst Rick Edmonds.

With its deal to buy Tribune Publishing looking likelier and likelier, hedge fund Alden Global Capital continues to get a relentless trashing — including in Tribune Publishing’s own newspapers.

On Tuesday, Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke unloaded in a piece headlined: “Dear rich person: Please save the Chicago Tribune. You will be a hero. And I will mow your lawn.”

New York Daily News reporter Larry McShane followed Wednesday with, “Please buy this newspaper: A Daily News reporter begs a local owner to rescue the tabloid from Alden Global Capital.”

Earlier, the Orlando Sentinel editorialized against the sale.

All are hoping to whip up interest from a local buyer or buyers. Maryland investor Stewart Bainum Jr. is trying to cobble together a last-minute bid to create a group that will divvy up the nine metros Tribune Publishing owns. Otherwise the best offer on the table for the company is Alden’s $630 million, scheduled to be voted on at a special shareholders meeting May 21.

Former Obama special adviser David Axelrod, a Chicago Tribune reporter earlier in his career, joined the chorus Wednesday night at a rally of Tribune journalists and supporters. “We know what Alden is. They are SCAVENGERS,” Axelrod said. “I can’t imagine a great city like Chicago won’t have a great newspaper.”

The NewsGuild, which has been orchestrating the public relations campaign against Alden, also has a documentary film up its sleeve. It debuts next week for its members. The film focuses on a journalists’ revolt against Alden several years back at The Denver Post that led to the founding of The Colorado Sun.

Big night for ‘Washington Week’

Yamiche Alcindor on the set of “Washington Week.” (Photo: Scott Suchman, courtesy of PBS)

As I wrote about earlier this week, Yamiche Alcindor has been named the new moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week.” Although she has guest hosted before, tonight (8 p.m. on most PBS stations) is her first show as the permanent moderator.

Her guests will be Dan Balz (The Washington Post), Errin Haines (The 19th*), Weijia Jiang (CBS News) and Jake Sherman (Punchbowl News). Scheduled topics include the showdown between Republican leaders Liz Cheney and Kevin McCarthy, the new voting legislation signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the latest on President Joe Biden’s new vaccination goals.

Media tidbits

  • Former First Lady Michelle Obama will join Gayle King on “CBS This Morning” to discuss issues facing America and her effort to fight food insecurity. There will be a preview on this morning’s show and more on Monday’s “CBS This Morning.”
  • On the latest episode of Mediaite’s “The Interview,” Mediaite editor-in-chief Aidan McLaughlin talks to New York Times media columnist Ben Smith.
  • Speaking of podcasts, The New York Times’ Kara Swisher talks to veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz for the latest episode of her “Sway” podcast. They discuss, among other things, Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and predictions for Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney

Next week

Thanks for reading the newsletter. I wanted to let you all know that I’ll be on vacation next week and return on May 17. But no worries, The Poynter Report will carry on thanks to my Poynter colleagues. If you have any questions or tips, reach out to Poynter managing editor Ren LaForme. He can be reached at

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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