July 23, 2019

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July 23, 2019

Good morning. The Sacramento Bee did something smart, but first, there’s more fallout from an ESPN host’s decision to talk politics — and it could have future repercussions. I wrote about this yesterday, and immediately heard from ESPN.

ESPN stands by its policy

Fallout continues over Dan Le Batard’s political talk as the popular host skips his Monday radio show.

ESPN wasn’t pleased with an item I wrote in Monday’s newsletter regarding radio/TV host Dan Le Batard criticizing President Donald Trump, then taking ESPN to task for not wanting to discuss politics. I wrote the company’s “idea that sports, culture, race and politics never intersect and such topics should be avoided is an ignorant one.” An ESPN spokesperson told me my premise was unfair because the network has not pulled back on covering the intersection of sports and culture/race/politics. He also said it does cover political issues when there’s a sports connection, such as when U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe discussed Trump.

However, ESPN’s murky, arbitrary and private policy of when commentators can talk about politics continues to cause confusion. The part that seems to have upset ESPN about Le Batard’s comments were that they were strictly about politics with no direct ties to sports.

But just because Le Batard’s criticisms regarding chants of “send her back” at a Trump rally last week didn’t directly involve athletes, athletes who play in this country but might not be from the United States are impacted. You would think that makes Le Batard’s comments about those chants completely fair game. Yet this issue is still one ESPN is grappling with.

Sports Business Daily’s John Olurand reported that Le Batard was in contact with ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro over the weekend and that Pitaro would not waver from his “policy of no pure-play politics.” Olurand said Le Batard told Pitaro that he was “not in the right frame of mind to do his radio show Monday.” Le Batard did appear on his TV show on ESPN Monday afternoon and is expected to be back on the radio today.

There’s an easy fix to all this. ESPN should simply let its commentators talk about whatever they want. The network insists viewers have told it that they don’t want political talk, but ESPN should trust its personalities to be responsible with their opinions, and to not oversaturate their programs with non-sports topics. That way, there won’t be days like this when everyone, including on-air talent, is trying to figure out what’s allowed and what is not.

What’s next?

Le Batard seems to have painted himself into a corner. He spoke out against Trump and the network. Then he sat out Monday’s show after, reportedly, he and Pitaro couldn’t see eye to eye.

Now what? If he returns, it’s under ESPN’s policy of not talking politics unless they relate to sports — a policy Le Batard already labelled as cowardly. Or he could leave, which could be a career-killer. As The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand wrote in a smart column, Le Batard has warned colleagues in the past about leaving ESPN, saying, “You leave, you’re going to get lost. You’re going to do it for the money and no one’s going to know where to find you.”

Marchand wrote that Le Batard, because of his immense talent and popularity, remains in a good spot, but “now he is faced with a decision: Either be a good cast member or go full out against the brand, standing up for what he thinks is right and backing up his statements to speak out.”

My gut feeling? Because of his convictions, this is the first step in Le Batard’s path toward eventually moving on from ESPN.

Wall Street Journal argues for Acosta

Former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in July. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Miami Herald’s dogged pursuit in the Jeffrey Epstein case has earned praise across the country. The Herald’s reporting has led to Epstein facing new charges of sex trafficking and to Alex Acosta stepping down as Secretary of Labor. Acosta came under fire because he was the U.S. attorney who cut what many saw as a “sweetheart deal” for Epstein, who served just 13 months a decade ago for serious charges.

But the praise of the Herald is not unanimous. The Wall Street Journal’s Holman W. Jenkins Jr. wrote a column that suggested Acosta was taken down because of “bad reporting.” The column is behind a paywall, but to review, Jenkins wrote that Acosta, for a variety of reasons including unreliable witnesses, likely got the best deal he could to ensure Epstein at least did some time behind bars.

Jenkins wrote, “However disappointing, inadequate or even weak-kneed the punishment may look in retrospect, nothing in the record even slightly suggests prosecutors were anything but hostile to Mr. Epstein and eager to extract the strongest realistic sanction. The Herald itself only began metronomically referring to the outcome as a corrupt ‘sweetheart deal’ in 2017 when Mr. Acosta became associated with the Trump administration.”

Jenkins is not arguing on behalf of Epstein, but on behalf of Acosta. One can certainly debate Acosta’s performance in the Epstein case and whether or not he should still be labor secretary. But what’s not debatable is that the Epstein case needed to be reviewed, and to label any of the reporting as “bad” seems misguided. The Herald’s work was outstanding, and critical.

How newspapers should Bee

These are difficult times for newspapers. Circulation is down. Layoffs are rampant. The paper in Youngstown, Ohio, will close next month. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, with a metro area of 2.36 million, soon will publish a print product just three days a week.

That’s not all. Public trust in newspapers is an issue. Readers are divided politically and many see papers as having an agenda when it comes to national politics.

So what can papers do? They can continue watching subscribers disappear or they can do something about it. The Sacramento Bee is trying to do something about it. It’s pointing out to readers that Sacramento is getting bigger and the Bee is there to cover the successes, document the problems and hold the leaders responsible.

In a column, Bee assistant managing editor Ryan Lillis asks readers to support local journalism and lays out examples of new and continuing local work being done by the Bee.

Lillis wrote, “Why are we doing this? To earn your loyalty and to honor your investment in local news and a stronger city. It takes people and resources to produce investigative journalism …”

This is a tactic more newspapers need to try. Tell readers why their product is critical. Give them examples of how local journalism makes a community better.

Most newspapers don’t focus on Trump’s tweets or the Democratic race for the presidential nomination. Most papers are covering school board meetings and city council hearings and the mayor. They are accounting for tax dollars and keeping track of the cops and making sure local hospitals are safe.

Reader habits are changing, but newspapers have a responsibility to let their audiences know what they do and why it’s important. Bravo to the Sacramento Bee for taking on that responsibility.

The final chapter

Capital Gazette journalist Rachael Pacella, left, stands with Andrea Chamblee, widow of Capital Gazette journalist John McNamara, at a rededication of the Newseum’s Journalists Memorial in Washington, D.C.,  in June. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Sportswriter John McNamara was nearly done with a book he had been working on for 10 years when he went to work on the morning of June 28, 2018. He never came home. McNamara was one of five people killed by a gunman inside the newsroom of the Annapolis Capital Gazette.

His wife made sure the non-fiction book was completed. In a feature for The Washington Post, Reis Thebault tells the story of Andrea Chamblee and her quest to make her late husband’s book become a reality.

“If John could ask me to do anything, I know he’d ask me to finish this,” Chamblee told The Post. “I already feel like I promised him. It’s a love letter to John, and it’s a promise I want to keep.”

David Elfin, a longtime sportswriter in Washington, D.C., and a friend of McNamara, helped Chamblee read and edit what McNamara had already written. He then helped finish the final chapter. The book, called “The Capital of Basketball,” covers 100 years of high school basketball in the D.C. area. It’s due out in November.

Knight, in shining armor

The Knight Foundation announced Monday that it is making a $50 million investment to develop a new field of research around technology’s impact on democracy. The investment will be spread out among 10 universities, as well as the Data & Society Research Institute in New York.

Among the recipients is George Washington University, which is receiving $5 million to form the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics. It will work with Poynter and PolitiFact to “collaborate on fact-checking research and to conduct trainings for journalists and policymakers to better understand the misinformation landscape of the 2020 elections and how to effectively correct false information with fact-checking journalism.”

Hot type

Former Sen. Al Franken in 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

  • “The Case of Al Franken.” The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer takes a close (and long) look at the allegations against the former senator.
  • Want to get banned from Disney World for life? Do this, writes the Orlando Sentinel’s Gabrielle Russon.
  • How’s this for a headline? “He Wasn’t Seeking to Kill a Mob Boss. He Was Trying to Help Trump, His Lawyer Says.” The New York Times’ Ali Watkins has the story of Anthony Comello and his obsession with far-right QAnon conspiracy theories.
  • A heat wave is gripping much of the country, which is why The New York Times’ interactive “Summer’s Hottest Takes” is such a cool idea — such as, what makes 99 percent of all men look like “jumbo dingdongs”?

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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