March 21, 2023

We’re used to seeing some contention in the White House press conferences. Contentious reporters asking pointed questions. Exasperated press secretaries rolling eyes. Awkward and angry exchanges between both.

It’s practically a White House press conference tradition.

But Monday’s press conference turned chaotic, heated and impassioned, with one reporter lashing out at press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, journalists scolding that reporter, Jean-Pierre threatening to shut the whole thing down, and another reporter apologizing to the American people for all that happened.

Whew, did you catch all that?

Oh, and throw in a little Ted Lasso, too.

That’s how it all started. The cast of the hit Apple TV+ series “Ted Lasso,” including Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham, was at the White House to meet with President Joe Biden for a summit on mental health. So they joined Jean-Pierre at the podium on Monday.

However, Simon Ateba of Today News Africa drove the presser off the rails when he complained (again) about not being called upon in press conferences. Jean-Pierre snapped, “No, no, we’re not doing this. We’re not doing this, we’re not doing this, we’re not doing this!”

But apparently they were doing this.

Ateba complained that “this is not China … this is not Russia” and that he hadn’t been called upon in seven months. Ateba has a history of run-ins in the press conference. The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona wrote that Ateba is a “notorious gadfly who claims he’s been removed from the White House Correspondents’ Association.”

Later, after the “Ted Lasso” cast had left, Ateba went back into a rant about not being called upon to ask a question. That’s when other reporters began to object to Ateba’s diatribe, including Reuters reporter Jeff Mason and Salon columnist Brian Karem — both of whom started lecturing Ateba.

Ateba told Mason, “You’re in the front row, and you’ve been comfy, and you get questions all the time. There are people in the back who don’t get any questions.”

That’s when Karem said, “Don’t make assumptions about what the rest of us do. Mind your manners when you’re in here, and if you have a problem, you bring it up afterwards. But you are impinging on everybody in here who are only trying to do their jobs.”

Jean-Pierre then called Ateba’s outburst “unacceptable,” especially in front of the guests from “Ted Lasso.”

She went on to say, “As you all know, this is the White House press briefing room, a historic room, a room that should have decorum, a room where folks should respect their colleagues, and respect the guests who are here. I understand there’s going to be a give-and-take. That’s the way the press briefing has gone for decades before me. And I will always respect that, but what I will not appreciate is disrespecting colleagues and disrespecting guests who were here to talk about an incredibly important issue, which is mental health.”

Later, another journalist apologized for the day’s events.

For more on Sudeikis’ comments, check out this story from The Washington Post’s John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro.

Oh, one more thing regarding Sudeikis. He will sit down with CNN anchor Jake Tapper for a “CNN Primetime” conversation Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern.

What’s next with Trump?

Former President Donald J. Trump waves as he arrives for the NCAA Wrestling Championships, Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

As we wait for what’s going to happen with former President Donald Trump — Will he be indicted? When will he be indicted? How will it all go down? — here are some pertinent thoughts about what could lie ahead this week.

Trump has gone on social media and encouraged his supporters to “protest” should he be arrested. But here’s a question about the media: By repeating Trump’s call to protest, is there a risk of galvanizing Trump supporters to protest? In other words, by continuing to talk about it, is the media actually prompting protests?

I asked that question of my colleague Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at Poynter and a former longtime news director.

Tompkins told me, “It is newsworthy and should be reported as a direct quote and because there is an echo of just prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection. When he says such things this time, there is no mistake that he would realize that such a call to action would make him culpable if there was violence.”

Tompkins pointed out that several notable GOP voices are urging against any protests. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said at a press conference in Orlando on Sunday, “I don’t think people should protest this, no. And I think President Trump, if you talk to him, he doesn’t believe that, either.”

McCarthy added, “Nobody should harm one another in this. … We want calmness out there. I do not believe there should be any violence (in response) to this.”

Georgia Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene also tweeted for no protests, although her tweet wasn’t exactly consolatory as she called Democrats “communists” and made references to corruption and voter fraud.

“Make no mistake that if the media didn’t report Trump’s plea to supporters, the supporters would still hear the message, but the rest of the public might not be aware he has called for a public protest,” Tompkins told me.

And, Tompkins added, “Keep in mind this is a former U.S. president who is calling for a public protest. It is not a grassroots-level organizer. It is a figure on the world stage. Imagine if this was a former leader of a major foreign power on the eve of his possible arrest calling on a public protest. Of course we would see it as newsworthy. It must be stunning to people around the world that a former government leader could have the freedom to say such things and challenge the authority of the government that replaced him.”

Here are a few notable pieces and thoughts for a better perspective of the Trump situation:

  • Back to my colleague Al Tompkins, who told me, “If Trump is indicted and arrested, he will, without a doubt, make a thousand false claims about how he is the victim of a corrupt system. Journalists should be careful to not hand him airtime to say whatever he wishes unchallenged. If journalists give him airtime to make claims, they should wrap true statements around the false statements. If he says he paid Stormy Daniels to be quiet but denies a sexual affair, then point out he once denied paying her at all. Trump is already claiming that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is guilty of ‘interference in a presidential election.’ He also said President Joe Biden is guilty of having ‘stuffed’ the New York office and claimed Bragg, an elected official, is ‘taking his orders from D.C.’ There is no proof of any such directive from President Biden. None. If journalists print, publish, air such allegations they should precede and tag such allegations with the fact that there is no proof to back up Trump’s claim.”
  • Tompkins has more with his piece, “How to cover a former president who says he is about to be arrested.”
  • This is a superb and really insightful column from Politico’s Alexander Burns: “Stop Overthinking It: An Indictment Would Be Bad For Trump.” Burns argues that the ones likely most to be herded and motivated by Trump’s arrest already are diehard supporters of Trump. Burns wrote, “His base of support is too small, his political imagination too depleted and his instinct for self-absorption too overwhelming for him to marshal a broad, lasting backlash. His determination to look inward and backward has been a problem for his campaign even without the indictment. It will be a bigger one if and when he’s indicted.”
  • From the Associated Press’ Alanna Durkin Richer and Meg Kinnard: “Trump indictment would be unprecedented moment in US history.”
  • Late Monday afternoon, Ben Collins of NBC News took a photo in New York City and tweeted, “I’m at the pro-Trump protest put on by the NY Young Republicans Club. Not a joke, there are more reporters here than Trump supporters. This was supposed to be the big one.”

Layoffs looming at ESPN

Layoffs are about to hit ESPN and there will be “no sacred cows” — meaning anyone’s name could be on the cut list. That’s what New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand is reporting. Then again, there do appear to be a few names that are untouchable.

Marchand wrote, “The most vulnerable on-air folks, according to sources, are the ones that make near or more than seven figures and are not considered needle movers. (Stephen A.) Smith, late-night ‘SportsCenter’ anchor Scott Van Pelt and the ‘Monday Night Football’ booth are considered the type of ‘talent’ that are untouchable.”

The “Monday Night Football” booth is Troy Aikman and Joe Buck, who are making a combined $33 million per year.

And there are some other big names that fit into a larger puzzle.

Marchand reports that ESPN could be interested in signing Pat McAfee, who apparently is thinking about walking away from his four-year, $120 million-plus endorsement deal with FanDuel in order to join a network. McAfee is in the second year of his FanDuel deal.

Marchand wrote, “But any McAfee-ESPN deal would have to make financial sense for the network. ESPN is a possibility for McAfee, but probably not the favorite right now. Meanwhile, the ESPN belt-tightening is already being felt in negotiations with college football national championship game-caller Chris Fowler. Fowler, who reportedly makes around $3 million per year, and ESPN have been far apart in negotiations, according to sources.”

But ESPN needs to find cuts somewhere. A little more than a month ago, Bob Iger — the CEO of Disney, which owns ESPN — said Disney was looking to slash about 7,000 jobs companywide. Cuts at ESPN could come in the next four-to-six weeks.

This would not be the first round of layoffs ESPN has had in recent years. It also had significant cuts in 2015, 2017 and 2020.

Speaking of layoffs …

Last month, NPR announced it was going to lay off about 10% of its staff — or about 100 people. Those layoffs are expected to come down this week.

In an email to staff last month, John Lansing, NPR’s chief executive, told staff, “At a time when we are doing some of our most ambitious and essential work, the global economy remains uncertain. As a result, the ad industry has weakened and we are grappling with a sharp decline in our revenues from corporate sponsors.”

The latest problem with Twitter

Since Elon Musk took over Twitter, antisemitic posts on the social media site have more than doubled. When asked for comment, Twitter’s press department auto-responded with a poop emoji.

According to The Washington Post’s Cristiano Lima and David DiMolfetta, which had an exclusive early look at the findings, the report was “conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a nonpartisan think tank, and CASM Technology, a start-up that researches disinformation and hate speech online.”

The Post wrote, “The analysis found an average of over 6,200 posts per week appearing to contain antisemitic language between June 1 and Oct. 27, the day Musk completed his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter. But that figure rose to over 12,700 through early February — a 105 percent increase.”

The research showed that right after Musk took over Twitter, there was a surge in new accounts that posted antisemitic content. The Post noted, “Researchers wrote that it represented a three-fold increase in the rate of ‘hateful account creation.’ But critically, the researchers behind the study said the uptick in hateful content extended well beyond that initial wave of new accounts.”

Media tidbits

Schoolteacher Abigail Zwerner, shown here in an interview that will air this morning on NBC’s “Today” show. (Courtesy: NBC News)

  • Abigail Zwerner, the teacher shot by a six-year-old student in  Newport News, Virginia, has given her first interview with the “Today” show’s Savannah Guthrie. The interview will air this morning. Zwerner told Guthrie, “I’ve been doing OK. It’s been challenging. I’ve gone through a lot of obstacles and challenges. Some days are not-so-good days, where I can’t get up out of bed. Some days are better than others, where I’m able to get out of bed and make it to my appointments. But for going through what I’ve gone through, I try to stay positive. You know, try to have a positive outlook on what’s happened and where my future’s heading.”
  • Former Republican governor of Ohio and presidential candidate John Kasich has joined MSNBC and NBC News as a contributor.
  • The Washington Post is shutting down its Coronavirus Updates twice-a-week newsletter this Friday. Newsletter writer McKenzie Beard wrote that coronavirus news, as well as other health care topics, can be found in The Health 202 newsletter written by Beard and Rachel Roubein.
  • The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin with the scoop: Washington Post chief revenue officer Joy Robbins is headed to The New York Times to be global chief advertising officer. Here’s Robbins’ note to the Post staff, and here’s the note from Times CEO Meredith Kopit Levien.
  • Margaret Sullivan’s latest column for the Guardian US: “With $1.6b at stake, Fox News is suddenly interested in freedom of the press.”
  • The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr with “Is Sean Hannity a journalist? Role of hosts is key in Fox News lawsuit.”
  • News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch is getting married again. The 92-year-old leader of the company that owns such properties as Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post announced his engagement to 66-year-old Ann Lesley Smith, a former San Francisco police chaplain and the widow of country music singer Chester Smith. The wedding is planned for late this summer. It will be Murdoch’s fifth marriage. The Post’s venerable gossip columnist Cindy Adams broke the story and has more details.
  • The Wall Street Journal’s Alexandra Bruell with “Labor Strife at New York Times Intensifies, Dividing Staff.”
  • Semafor’s Max Tani with “Shane Smith made more than $100 million from Vice.”
  • LIV Golf, the renegade golf tour backed by the Saudi government, has a slogan: Golf But Louder. Well, apparently no one is listening. Or watching. The most recent event in Tucson drew an overnight TV rating for Saturday of 0.14. As The Big Lead’s Ryan Phillips wrote, “That’s comically low. Last Saturday, ‘World’s Funniest Animals’ — also broadcast on CW — drew a 0.6 rating at 9:30 p.m. Yes, LIV and the golfers it handed billions to get lower ratings than an ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ knockoff.”
  • Slate is starting a new podcast called “Hear Me Out.” Hosted by veteran journalist Celeste Headlee, the weekly pod will include guests and will be “wide-ranging, and will touch everything from politics and policy to society and culture.”

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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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