By:
January 26, 2021

The media world is still buzzing over a New York Times editor who was let go after tweeting she had “chills” seeing Joe Biden’s plane land in Washington ahead of his inauguration.

Vanity Fair’s excellent media writer, Joe Pompeo, called it a “Category Five (expletive) storm.” I would argue it was more like a tropical storm, but it is raising questions (again) in newsrooms across the country.

A quick review: The editor, Lauren Wolfe, was terminated, and there was immediate outrage on social media by those who felt she was being canceled by conservatives complaining that her tweet showed bias — and that the Times overreacted.

But the story is a little more complicated than that.

I reached out to the Times over the weekend. A Times spokesperson told me in an email, “There’s a lot of inaccurate information circulating on Twitter. For privacy reasons we don’t get into the details of personnel matters but we can say that we didn’t end someone’s employment over a single tweet. Out of respect for the individuals involved we don’t plan to comment further.”

It should be noted that Wolfe was not a full-time employee, although the Times really wasn’t specific about her job arrangement.

Perhaps the Times is being respectful of Wolfe by not getting into details over this whole thing, but as Northeastern School of Journalism professor Dan Kennedy wrote, “Needless to say, that does Wolfe a disservice by leading all of us to speculate what dastardly deeds she committed to warrant having her gig terminated.”

But now we’re learning more.

Pompeo wrote that senior Times sources told him that Wolfe had previously been warned about her social media behavior. He added, “A manager gave her a warning months ago after staffers expressed discomfort with certain tweets she was told bordered on being political.”

Pompeo also confirmed that Wolfe’s status wasn’t full-time and she was part of something called a “flexible editing desk,” which is called upon during heavy news cycles. Pompeo wrote, “Whether her employment could or would become permanent was yet to be seen. According to someone with knowledge of the phone call in which Wolfe was let go, she was told that her name and the Times’ name were in headlines all over the place, and ‘we can’t have that.’”

This incident once again brings into question the social media presence of journalists. When a journalist tweets, do they represent just themselves or the organization they work for, as well? Can someone’s work be questioned over something they post on Facebook? Is a journalist always “on the clock,” even when they are tweeting personal thoughts?

It’s a complicated topic that I hope to explore further in the weeks to come. But I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Drop me a line at tjones@poynter.org.

Birx talks, Fauci reacts

Dr. Anthony Fauci during an interview on Monday’s “CBS This Morning.” (Courtesy: CBS News)

One day after Dr. Deborah Birx’s eyebrow-raising comments about the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci weighed in.

In an interview with “Face the Nation” and moderator Margaret Brennan, Birx said there were those in the White House who “definitely believed (COVID-19) was a hoax” and that “I know that someone — or someone out there or someone inside was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president.”

Those were just some of her critical comments about the Trump White House and its COVID-19 plan.

Fauci was asked about Birx during an appearance on Monday’s “CBS This Morning.” Fauci said, “I think the important point that she made that really is critical was the two opposing forces because she was trying to get information into the president on a regular basis, but the president was getting information from other sources. You know, friends on the outside who would call him up or people who would have input into it. And that gradually attenuated her influence to the point where she didn’t really see him very much anymore.”

In case you missed it, check out my Monday Poynter Report when I talked to Brennan about her interview with Birx.

Briefly speaking

Let’s see if it lasts, but you have to be impressed so far with the daily White House press briefings and Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki. In her Monday presser, Psaki announced the return of public health briefings to update the public on COVID-19. They will start on Wednesday and be held “regularly for the foreseeable future,” Psaki said.

Psaki said, “These will be science-led briefings featuring our public health officials and members of our COVID-19 response team.”

Psaki added that the briefing will typically be held three times a week. She said the briefings are a “reflection of our commitment to being transparent and honest with the public about the pandemic and the work our whole government team is doing everyday.”

Regular, science-led, transparent briefings about COVID-19 featuring public health officials? That’s already several steps up from what we saw the previous several months.

Sanders update

Sarah Huckabee Sanders in 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

I just mentioned the new White House press secretary, so what about one of the former ones? Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was the second of four White House press secretaries for Donald Trump, has announced she is running for governor of Arkansas. Rumors of her running for Arkansas governor popped up almost immediately after she stepped down as White House press secretary in June 2019. The election for Arkansas governor is November 2022.

And she’s already taking shots at the media. In her announcement, Sanders said, “I took on the media, the radical left and their ‘cancel culture,’ and I won. As governor, I will be your voice, and never let them silence you.”

Alrighty then.

Sanders’ father, Mike Huckabee, was the governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007. Sanders went to work for Trump after running her father’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 2016.

Her time as White House press secretary featured a confrontational relationship with many members of the media and instances of being dishonest. The most noted example was when she told reporters she had heard from “countless members of the FBI” that supported Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. Under oath for the Mueller report, she said those comments were a “slip of the tongue.”

What we learned

Slate has a new project out, looking back at the four years of the Trump administration. It’s called “What We Learned.”

To introduce the package, Slate writes, “The past four years were a blur. A nonstop barrage of push alerts, 2 a.m. tweets, boundaries pushed and norms broken that eventually it became hard to remember what life was like before. There were moments of clarity — Charlottesville, the first 100,000 dead from COVID-19 — but for many, a lot of living through the Trump years just felt like going from outrage to outrage. Which is why, now that Trump is finally out of office, we wanted to take a moment to figure out what, exactly, we learned from it all — and to ask others, from Trump voters to political reporters, what they learned too. No, the Trump era isn’t over; there are no clean breaks, and a full accounting will take years. But Trump’s presidency is no longer the center of our lives. Not a bad time to reflect.”

The project features writers such as Tom Scocca  (“We Had No Idea How Much Suffering We Could Ignore”), Julia Craven (“What the Trump Era Showed White Americans About Whiteness”), Aymann Ismail (“Five Years on the Trump Beat”), and many others.

Gimme a break

This is not an original thought (hat tip to Mediaite for noticing), but isn’t it ironic that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) wrote a column in the New York Post complaining about the right being muzzled?

Hawley is a sitting U.S. senator who soon has a book coming out and he wrote a column for one of the bigger newspapers in the country. Can he not see the ridiculousness of his complaint?

It’s sort of like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) wearing a mask that said “censored” while giving a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives in a session that was being covered on national television.

Murdoch’s comments

On the topic of muzzling and “cancel culture” and all that, Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire includes Fox News, lashed out over the weekend while receiving a lifetime achievement award.

The New York Times’ Katie Robertson noted that, during his speech, Murdoch said, “For those of us in media, there’s a real challenge to confront: a wave of censorship that seeks to silence conversation, to stifle debate, to ultimately stop individuals and societies from realizing their potential. … This rigidly enforced conformity, aided and abetted by so-called social media, is a straitjacket on sensibility. Too many people have fought too hard in too many places for freedom of speech to be suppressed by this awful woke orthodoxy.”

This is coming from a man who owns a slew of news outlets, including Fox News, New York Post, The Wall Street Journal and many, many more, including influential outlets in Europe and Australia.

Murdoch, 89, also said, “I’m far from done.”

Sullivan’s view

While we’re on the topic of Fox News and Murdoch, the latest piece from Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan is “Fox News is a Hazard to Our Democracy. It’s Time to Take the Fight to the Murdochs. Here’s How.”

Sullivan notes how the new 7 p.m. Eastern opinion show on Fox News will have guest hosts that include Maria Bartiromo, who helped President Trump amplify his baseless claims of election fraud. In addition, Sullivan writes, “Sean Hannity, who likes to blast Biden as ‘cognitively struggling,’ and Tucker Carlson, who tries to sow doubt about the prevalence of white supremacy, have become even more outlandish as they try to gin up anti-Biden rage within their audiences.”

There has been talk about Fox News being regulated by the government or thrown off cable providers. Sullivan doesn’t agree with that, and neither do I. We cannot get into a game of censoring language or content simply because we don’t agree with it.

Sullivan’s advice? Hit Murdoch where it hurts most: the bank.

She writes, “Corporations that advertise on Fox News should walk away, and citizens who care about the truth should demand that they do so (in addition to trying to steer their friends and relatives away from the network).”

There’s plenty more to Sullivan’s take, so check it out.

Media tidbits

A scene from tonight’s “Frontline” on PBS. (Courtesy: PBS)

  • Tonight’s “Frontline” on PBS (check your local listings) is “Trump’s American Carnage” PBS describes it as “ the inside story of how Trump’s presidency laid the groundwork for bitter division, violence and insurrection — and why many lawmakers went along with him in what one conservative commentator in the film calls a ‘Faustian bargain.’”
  • BuzzFeed News has a new visual investigation. “The Road To The Capitol Insurrection Was Paved With MAGA Disinformation” — by Craig Silverman, Jane Lytvynenko and Pranav Dixit — looks at how the pro-Trump group, Women for America First, helped lay the groundwork for the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
  • 2020 was a big year for Fox News Digital as it set records for average monthly multiplatform unique visitors, total multiplatform views, and total multiplatform minutes. According to Fox News, it “averaged more than 115 million unique visitors, a 13 percent increase versus 2019, while the digital network earned 24 billion multiplatform views for the year, up 23 percent from 2019. In time spent, Fox News Digital saw 54 billion total multiplatform minutes, up 15 percent versus the prior year.”

Celebrating books

This year The New York Times celebrates the 125th anniversary of The New York Times Book Review. The first issue, called the Saturday Review of Book and Art, was eight pages and published on Oct. 10, 1896. To celebrate the occasion, the Times announced plans for a yearlong celebration.

In a note to staff, Pamela Paul, editor of the Book Review, and Tina Jordan, deputy editor of the Book Review, said the celebration will culminate in a live October event and the publication of a book by Jordan that looks at the Book Review’s history. Through the year, the Book Review will highlight past stories to go along with current literary authors. It starts with a piece highlighting 25 great writers who have contributed to the Book Review, including H.G. Wells, Tennessee Williams, Shirley Jackson, Langston Hughes and Toni Morrison.

In addition, the note says the Book Review will “resurface some of the best, worst, funniest, strangest and most influential coverage from our pages in our digital report and on the back page of the Book Review.”

Read the note for full coverage details.

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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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  • Interesting read and outcome with the use of social media away from the workplace for journalists. With most wanting to ‘release’ in a social post, there are obvious consequences. This may be commonplace in 2021.