By:
May 3, 2021

The Washington Post, The New York Times and NBC News all issued corrections over the weekend after reporting that Rudy Giuliani had been directly warned by the FBI that he was the target of a Russian disinformation campaign. The stories ran in the aftermath of Giuliani’s Manhattan home and office being raided by the Justice Department last week.

The Post was the first outlet to report the story and now has this correction on its story:

An earlier version of this story, published Thursday, incorrectly reported that One America News was warned by the FBI that it was the target of a Russian influence operation. That version also said the FBI had provided a similar warning to Rudolph W. Giuliani, which he has since disputed. This version has been corrected to remove assertions that OAN and Giuliani received the warnings.

The Times wrote that it had confirmed the Post story then offered this correction:

An earlier version of this article misstated whether Rudolph W. Giuliani received a formal warning from the F.B.I. about Russian disinformation. Mr. Giuliani did not receive such a so-called defensive briefing.

NBC News also issued a rather lengthy online correction on its story, writing:

An earlier version of this article included an incorrect report that Rudolph Giuliani had received a defensive briefing from the FBI in 2019 warning him that he was being targeted by a Russian influence operation. The report was based on a source familiar with the matter, but a second source now says the briefing was only prepared for Giuliani and not delivered to him, in part over concerns it might complicate the criminal investigation of Giuliani. As a result, the premise and headline of the article below have been changed to reflect the corrected information.

All three news outlets partly based their stories on anonymous sources. There’s no question that this is a troubling look for all three, particularly in a political climate when conservatives — such as those who are likely to be Giuliani and Donald Trump supporters — believe the media has it out for them and cannot be trusted.

Over the weekend, Giuliani tweeted the Post and Times “must reveal their sources who lied.”

Of course, the Post and Times are not going to reveal those sources, but you would like to think there are (or have been) serious conversations going on inside the newsrooms of the Post and Times with high-level editors to talk about those sources and how this all went down.

CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote, “The corrections are black eyes to the newsrooms which have aggressively reported on Giuliani’s contacts with Ukrainians in his attempts to dig up dirt on then-presidential candidate Joe Biden.”

The errors made were not good, obviously, but at least all three outlets took responsibility and issued corrections.

Now, I can already hear critics of the media thinking I’m giving the Post, Times and NBC News a pass here. No, but I will say that I believe the Post, Times and NBC News are legitimate and reputable news outlets that are constantly striving to get it right. They likely are as upset about these corrections as anyone. After all, it’s their reputations that will take a hit over this.

From presidents to the ponies

Is there anything that NBC political analyst Steve Kornacki can’t do? NBC Sports threw Kornacki on its Kentucky Derby coverage and it turns out that Kornacki knows horses as well as he does the big board election maps.

Before the race, Kornacki picked Medina Spirit, who went off at 12-1 odds, to win. Which horse won? Medina Spirit. Of course!

In all, 10 NBC horse racing analysts made on-air predictions. Kornacki was the only one to pick the winner. And, he threw $100 on Medina Spirit, so he took home some extra dough, too.

As far as ratings for the Kentucky Derby, NBC Sports put out a statement Sunday that said preliminary numbers show the coverage will average about 15 million viewers. (Final numbers will come out Tuesday.)

The 15 million, NBC Sports notes, topped all award shows for the first time ever and was the most-watched show on NBC since the NFL playoffs back in January.

What’s in a name change?

CNN’s Brian Stelter interviewed New York Times editorial page editor Kathleen Kingsbury on Sunday and asked if changing the name of “op-eds” to “guest essays” had anything to do with some of the controversies involving the Times’ Opinion section last year, such as the editor James Bennet stepping down or Sen. Tom Cotton’s op-ed that drew intense pushback from staff or columnist Bari Weiss resigning from the section.

Kingsbury said no, that the change in name was long overdue.

Meanwhile, what is the role of an Opinion section these days?

Kingsbury told Stelter, “What we are trying to do every day — our news pages are showing the world as it is. Our opinion pages are really trying to tell our readers how the world can and, perhaps, should be.”

Good interview

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., delivers the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress last week. (Senate Television via AP)

Good hustle by CBS’s “Face the Nation” to book Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina for Sunday morning’s show. Scott gave the Republican response to President Biden’s speech to Congress last week. One of the more publicized comments from Scott’s rebuttal was saying he didn’t believe America was a racist country.

“America is not a racist country,” Scott told CBS News’ John Dickerson. “The question is — is there a lingering effect after a couple of centuries of racism and discrimination in this nation? The answer is absolutely. The question we should be debating and fighting over is — how do we resolve those issues going forward? One side says I’m going to take from some to give to others. Fighting bigotry with bigotry is hypocrisy. It just doesn’t work. The second — our side, what I’ve suggested — is let’s expand opportunity and make sure that we are fully equipped for the challenges of the future. One of the reasons why we have fought for and won the highest level of funding for historically Black colleges, Republicans leading that fight, is because I understand that if I can level the playing field in education, we will actually see human flourishing like we’ve never seen before.”

Dickerson also asked Scott about numbers that say 70% of Republicans think Biden is “illegitimate because the election was stolen.” So, Dickerson asked, how can there be common ground to govern effectively?

Scott said, “Well, by moving on. The election is over. Joe Biden is the president of the United States.”

Dickerson asked, “The legitimate president?”

To which Scott said, “Of course, he is.”

Speaking of that …

Yes, despite no proof, many Republicans still believe that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. The headline on a piece in The Washington Post from Ashley Parker and Marianna Sotomayor: “For Republicans, fealty to Trump’s election falsehood becomes defining loyalty test.”

Parker and Sotomayor write, “Nearly six months after Trump lost to Biden, rejection of the 2020 election results — dubbed the ‘Big Lie’ by many Democrats — has increasingly become an unofficial litmus test for acceptance in the Republican Party. In January, 147 GOP lawmakers — eight senators and 139 House members — voted in support of objections to the election results, and since then, Republicans from Congress to statehouses to local party organizations have fervently embraced the falsehood.”

And what does it all mean? Parker and Sotomayor point out: “The issue also could reverberate through the 2022 midterms and the 2024 election, with Trump already slamming Republicans who did not resist the election results. For Republicans, fealty to the falsehood could pull the party further to the right during the primaries, providing challenges during the general election when wooing more moderate voters is crucial. And for Democrats, the continued existence of the claim threatens to undermine Biden’s agenda.”

Along that same topic, CNN’s Maeve Reston writes, “GOP leaders who defy Trump feel the heat from his base.”

City or state?

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP)

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was asked by moderator Jake Tapper about legislation to make the District of Columbia a state.

Collins said, “Washington, D.C., is a city. It’s not a state. Now, there is a way to ensure that the residents of D.C. have voting representation in Congress, and that is for D.C. to become part of Maryland, just as parts of D.C. became parts of Virginia many years ago. That would give the residents of D.C. a new House member, and they would be represented in the Senate by Maryland senators. So, I think that’s a good way for us to approach this issue. There are also constitutional issues to be dealt with.”

Collins also talked about Trump, saying, “We are not a party that is led by just one person. There are many prominent, upcoming younger men and women in our party who hold great promise for leading us. And I think that all of us who abide by those principles should remember Ronald Reagan’s admonition to Republicans that the person who agrees with you 70 or 80% of the time is your friend, not your enemy.”

Collins also told Tapper that she was “appalled” to see Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney booed at the Utah Republican Party organizing convention.

Paying it forward

My colleague Barbara Allen, Poynter’s Director of College Programming, wrote a story last week about the impressive work being done by students at the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. The program is run by David Barstow, the former New York Times reporter and winner of four Pulitzer Prizes.

In her latest “Alma Matters” newsletter, Allen asked Barstow what it was like to go from star reporter at the Times to working behind the scenes with students.

Barstow told Allen, “It was always a thrill when you heard the magic words, ‘Your story is going to be on Page One tomorrow.’ But I will also tell you that I have never felt more of a thrill than when Marc Lacey, the national editor at The New York Times, told me last year that two of my students were gonna get on Page One of The New York Times. … Nothing’s ever made me as excited as that.”

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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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