October 30, 2019

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Good Wednesday morning. If you read the Poynter Report on Tuesday, you knew there was trouble headed to Deadspin. Sure enough, trouble has arrived. But, first, CNN’s controversial hire turns out to be — who would’ve guessed it — controversial.

If Duffy seems daffy, blame CNN

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A network hires someone who says controversial things. Then everyone is shocked when that someone says controversial things.

CNN’s new analyst Sean Duffy has been at the network for a little more than a week, but he’s already rocking boats and generating headlines. On his first day, appearing last week on “State of the Union,” the former Republican congressman from Wisconsin (and MTV reality star) said that the hacking of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election was conducted by Ukraine, not Russia.

Even conservative Amanda Carpenter said, “This is a disputed, absurd conspiracy theory that you’re talking about right now.”

Duffy doubled down the next day before being cut off by “New Day” anchor Alisyn Camerota.

On Tuesday, Duffy went on CNN and attacked the character of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Duffy said the fact that Vindman was born in Ukraine might have played a role in Vindman reporting concerns about President Donald Trump’s telephone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Those talking points were similar to what Fox News’ Laura Ingraham said on her show Monday when she suggested Vindman was a double-agent.

CNN anchor John Berman seemed incredulous over Duffy’s comments, saying, “Are you suggesting that you would put Irish defense over U.S. defense? Is that what you’re saying?”

Later Tuesday, CNN’s Brianna Keilar obliterated Duffy, saying on air:

“That’s some anti-immigrant bigotry and it’s odd questioning of patriotism coming from a guy who spent his 20s on MTV’s ‘The Real World’ and ‘The Real World/Road Rules Challenge’ … while Alexander Vindman spent his on foreign deployments.”

CNN anchors can protest, ridicule and confront Duffy all they want, but if they want to get upset at anyone, they should be upset with their bosses who are paying Duffy to say such things on the air. After all, CNN knew what it was getting. In its effort to practice both-sides journalism, CNN has brought in someone who says outrageous things, perhaps for the mere sake of being outrageous. Not only should CNN not be surprised, it should expect it.

Alex Shephard, writing for The New Republic, noted some of Duffy’s past comments:

“Appearing on the network in February of 2017, Duffy defended Trump’s Muslim ban by saying Middle Eastern terrorists are a more significant threat than white domestic terrorists because the latter commit ‘one-off’ attacks. In the same interview he cited the ‘good things’ that stemmed from Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. He has also suggested that George Soros was rigging elections, that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin has “ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” and that the Democratic Party’s pro-choice policies intentionally targeted black communities and amounted to ‘infanticide.’”

CNN vice president Rebecca Kutler defended CNN’s hiring of Duffy to Politico’s Michael Calderone, saying the network “is out there reporting from all over the country and from all points of view” and that “having people who support the president’s policies is part of that.”

There’s nothing wrong with different political views engaging in intelligent discussion. But the goal for networks needs to be hiring smart people with smart ideas that lead to those smart conversations.

If you’re going to just bring in someone to politically balance the panel, especially if that person offers up unsubstantiated theories, hurtful rumors and blind support for one side, then intelligent discussions will devolve into pointless arguing and divisiveness. Simply bringing in a different point of view so you can brag to viewers that you’re representing all sides is not a good enough reason to put someone on TV.

Don’t blame Duffy for the things he says on CNN. Blame CNN.

Well, I swear!

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

CNN anchors weren’t the only ones criticizing those who questioned Vindman. On MSNBC, anchor Nicolle Wallace blasted Ingraham and her Fox News guests John Yoo and Alan Dershowitz. After playing a clip from Ingraham’s show where Yoo said “some people” might call Vindman’s work “espionage,” Wallace said, “Except those people aren’t chicken(expletive) like the three of you. And they know he passed a background check that the president’s daughter and son-in-law didn’t.”

While it’s fair for Wallace to call out the ridiculous claims being made, I’m not sure cursing is the best way to do it. Her language was jarring, but there’s a pretty good chance her message was lost because her swearing made her comments personal, thus more divisive than anything else.

Deadspin feels like it’s reeling

As I predicted in Tuesday’s newsletter, Deadspin is in the midst of mutiny after writers there were told to stick to sports in a memo on Monday. And this could be the beginning of the end of Deadspin, or at least the Deadspin we all know. Paul Maidment — editorial director of G/O Media, which owns Deadspin — sent out a memo Monday telling Deadspin writers to stay away from topics such as politics and pop culture unless they intersect with sports.

On Tuesday, Deadspin deputy editor Barry Petchesky sent out a tweet that simply said:

“Hi! I’ve just been fired from Deadspin for not sticking to sports.”

The tweet went crazy, with tens of thousands of likes and retweets within a few hours. Other Deadspin writers weighed in, including Laura Wagner who tweeted that the G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller is “a real piece of (expletive).” Almost immediately, Deadspin’s homepage started running old stories that had nothing to do with sports. (A few hours later, those stories had disappeared from the home page, but no new stories were posted.)

Just after apparently firing Petchesky, Maidment put out a statement:

“Yesterday, I sent a memo to Deadspin staff stating that our sports site should be focused on sports coverage. As I made clear in that note, sports touches on nearly every aspect of life — from politics to business to pop culture and more. We believe Deadspin reporters and editors should go after every conceivable story as long as it has something to do with sports. We are sorry that some on the Deadspin staff don’t agree with that editorial direction, and refuse to work with that incredibly broad mandate.”

I’m still trying to sort out why Maidment told his staff to stick to sports. For starters, most of Deadspin’s posts are about sports, so it’s not like the site was overrun with other topics. But even when Deadspin writers tackled other topics, they did so with the snark, irreverence and acumen that Deadspin readers appreciate and enjoy.

In other words, it’s hard to imagine the typical Deadspin reader telling Deadspin to stick to sports. So why should management?

Sports Illustrated’s surprising new hire

Here’s news from another well-known sports outlet.

Just a couple weeks after a significant layoffs by new owners TheMaven, Sports Illustrated made a significant hire, luring Pat Forde away from Yahoo. Sports Illustrated’s announcement said Forde will be a senior writer and “contribute stories across the sports landscape on all SI’s digital, print, video and audio platforms.” Forde, who also has worked at ESPN and the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, is more than capable of writing about anything, but specializes in college sports.

Forde is a top-notch talent, and his hire goes against the grain of where Sports Illustrated seemed to be heading after recent cuts. In a statement, SI co-editor-in-chief Ryan Hunt said, “As we shape the present and future of Sports Illustrated, our goal is to have the pre-eminent journalists in each sport. We want the best of the best. And no one embodies our new direction and vision as well as Pat.”

NBC News adding 70 new jobs

NBC News Digital is adding 70 new roles, mainly to beef up NBC News Now, its streaming news product. It will offer 24-hour news starting in the spring.

It also will create a “news programming team,” expand its video operations group and invest in its strategic content team. However, it will phase out NBC Left Field, a video journalism division. That impacts about a dozen journalists, according to Axios’ Sara Fischer. Those laid off can apply for one of the new jobs.

In a memo to staff, Chris Berend, executive vice president of digital at NBC News, said, “This growth comes with a need to focus what we offer audiences. With a greater emphasis on daily news and custom content, our original news video efforts will center squarely on high-impact storytelling, seamlessly integrated with our feature reporting.”

‘Dateline’: The secret to 27 successful years

NBC “Dateline” correspondents Josh Mankiewicz, Andrea Canning, Keith Morrison and Dennis Murphy at the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame on Tuesday night. (Photo courtesy of NBC News)

NBC’s “Dateline” was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame on Tuesday night. Correspondent Dennis Murphy accepted on behalf of NBC’s longest-running (27 years) primetime show.

“Our stories, for the most part, aren’t police procedurals with all the gory details,” Murphy said. “I became known around the shop, I suppose, for saying early on, ‘It’s not about the murder, it’s about the marriage.’ And those are the stories we tell week in and week out. Stories of people, their dreams, their disappointments, their loves, their losses.”

Hot type

  • McClatchy DC’s national military and veterans reporter Tara Copp has a compelling multimedia investigation that finds significant increases in cancer rates among veterans treated at the Department of Veteran Affairs health care system.
  • Grist’s Naveena Sadasivam and The Texas Tribune’s Kiah Collier joined forces to publish a year-long investigation about some shady doings in the coal-mining industry in Texas.
  • Washington Post pop culture writer Elahe Izadi with a fun read of the 20 defining comedy sketches of the past 20 years. Props to Izadi for including “The Amanda Show” and “Portlandia.”
  • Speaking of fun lists, CBS News claims to have the favorite Halloween candy of every state. (I never knew Hot Tamales were so popular.)

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones 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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  • ” that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin has ‘ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,’ and that the Democratic Party’s pro-choice policies intentionally targeted black communities and amounted to ‘infanticide.’ ”
    Is Poynter claiming those are not accurate statements? Huma’s family connections to the Muslim Brotherhood are well-documented.

    The ‘infanticide’ is one of those truths YOU choose to dismiss, like you avoided Bill Ayers and Obama connection back when it counted.

    On abortion as smart infanticide, I heard it myself from deep Democratic Party operatives, speaking plainly & privately back in the 90s, that access to abortion helps contain births by those who will not advance society’s interest, and will help keep the American IQ up. Sobering to hear Progressive activist true believers on this in their most honest moments, interesting you would choose to outright deny such realities.