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How do you write about traumatic situations without retraumatizing those involved? Read this new guide for journalists, for starters
Monica Richardson had an epiphany early in her career. While covering education at The Florida Times-Union, Richardson wanted to sit with the copy desk and learn different aspects of how the paper worked. “And they said to me, ‘We’re not ready for you to do that yet.’ I remember thinking, it’s not what you’re ready […]
Yesterday, during the women’s gymnastics team final at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Simone Biles, of the USA, lost her bearings while performing a vault, and stumbled as she landed. Soon after, she left the venue, accompanied by a medical official; when she returned, it was only to watch her teammates. All this happened early in the morning, US time. NBC, which holds the rights to the Olympics, was broadcasting the event live on Peacock, its streaming service, but not on linear TV. The Today show picked up the story of Biles’s exit—speaking from inside the venue, Hoda Kotb, an anchor, described it as “a really, really big deal” that sent “this ripple, this wave, through this arena.” Later, we learned that Biles had pulled out of the event because she wasn’t in “the right head space” to continue. Yesterday evening, Mike Tirico, an NBC anchor, addressed Biles’s withdrawal as he introduced the prime-time rebroadcast of the event. At the end of the broadcast, Tirico said, “whether or not we see the great Simone Biles compete again, hopefully the next stop on her journey is joy.” Early today, Biles withdrew from tomorrow’s all-around competition. It’s unclear if she will participate in events next week.
Tirico’s commentary, which won praise from many journalists and viewers, echoed the tone of much mainstream coverage of Biles’s exit—many news articles framed it sensitively, while prominent essays praised her “champion mindset” and “radical courage.” Journalists highlighted the enormous pressure on Biles’s shoulders, and US gymnastics officials’ role in exacerbating it. A number of commentators pointed out that the media, too, has been complicit in that pressure. Biles has been central to NBC’s promotion of the Olympics—so much so, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Ann Killion argued, that she came to personify its “multibillion-dollar investment in these Games and one of the primary reasons that there was no way in hell the network was going to allow” them to be canceled. Tony Reali, of ESPN, noted that media judgment—and even media praise—are “stressors” that can affect a top athlete’s performance; Biles’s GOAT, or Greatest Of All Time, status is well deserved, Reali added, but “comes with a weight that gets compounded in a particle accelerator at such ungodly speed by we in the media.” Jeremy Littau, a journalism professor at Lehigh University, cited Daniel Boorstin’s work, from the 1960s, on the celebrification of the media, which even then was getting out of hand. “In media culture, the hero journeys to celebrity, and then they fall,” Littau wrote, summarizing Boorstin’s argument. “That is, media and consumers create celebrities so we can destroy them.”
Littau also linked to a new article by Brian Moritz, a journalism academic who writes about sports media, and who argued yesterday that Biles’s withdrawal “is one of those news stories that will have a long-lasting impact on how we view athletes and sports” because it runs directly counter to the “sport ethic.” This theory holds that elite athletes share the belief that sport necessarily entails sacrifice, athletes should play through pain, quitting is bad, and winning matters. Moritz argues that sports media has played a key role in perpetuating the sports ethic, in no small part because it relies on athletes as sources and pundits—and yet “the reaction to Biles’s withdrawal has not been universal condemnation, as we might expect.” This reaction, Moritz writes, could be an outlier, reflecting Biles’s established greatness and huge popularity. Nonetheless, it does seem that “how we view athletes is evolving.”
The Biles conversation yesterday was able to build on a high-profile recent precedent: the decision of the tennis star Naomi Osaka to withdraw from the French Open, in May, after she skipped press conferences on mental-health grounds and was fined for doing so. Osaka’s withdrawal, like Biles’s, inspired many supportive media takes at the time—but it also (given the centrality of journalists to the story) occasioned much journalistic handwringing about players’ obligations to availability and transparency. Osaka has since reengaged with the press, but on her terms; she guest-edited a tennis magazine and contributed an essay to Time, writing in the latter that “the majority of tennis writers” believe the traditional press conference to be “sacred,” and have resisted her ideas about refreshing the format. “Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions,” Osaka wrote. “I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms—frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me.”
Much of yesterday’s coverage of Biles felt informed by the broader debate about mental health in sports that Osaka amplified. Osaka was present in Olympics coverage in a more immediate sense, too: she lost in the third round of the women’s tennis tournament, ending her hopes of earning a medal at these Games. Like Biles, Osaka was under enormous pressure to perform at the Games; she represents Japan, and lit the Olympic cauldron on behalf of the host nation at the opening ceremony on Friday. Osaka’s defeat inevitably intensified the media scrutiny on her, both domestically and globally. A reporter asked her if she had, in the end, found the pressure too hard to handle. “I mean, yes and no,” Osaka replied. “I should be used to it by now.” Though much coverage linked Biles and Osaka, some that I saw of Osaka’s defeat felt tonally blunter than that of Biles’s exit—perhaps because losing happens all the time in sports, whereas it’s rare for an athlete to choose to withdraw on mental-health grounds.
In general, the mainstream media’s awareness of, and sensitivity around, mental wellbeing seems to have improved in recent times, and not just in sports: see also Britney Spears and Meghan Markle. (There will always be those who will pour scorn on Meghan or call Biles a loser; usually, it will be Piers Morgan.) Still, even well-intentioned journalists have work to do. If Biles had suffered a physical injury yesterday, it would still have been a big story, but it wouldn’t have been seen as abnormal. And no amount of supportive commentary will fix the root problem when it comes to the pressure we put on elite athletes, which, arguably, is a function less of tone and framing than of the sheer amount of coverage we produce. As The Guardian’s Barney Ronay puts it, modern sports stars exist, unlike their forebears, in a “twenty-four-hour rolling hell,” a place of “unceasing noise, reverence, poison, expectation.” Ronay recommends that we all sit back and listen. The media industry often feels more comfortable making the noise.
Below, more on the Olympics and gymnastics:
- Bile: After Biles exited the competition yesterday, the US women’s gymnastics team achieved a silver medal. Russia took the gold. Outlets in that country hailed its team’s achievement; one, Championat.com, took a pop at Biles, suggesting that it’s “odd that she didn’t show leader’s qualities: she left her peers in the middle of the fierce fight. And this is a celebrated American champion?” Slate’s Yana Pashaeva has more. Meanwhile, the Daily Beast’s Julia Davis reports that Russian state media attacked Biles as part of a broader “rampage” against Black and LGBTQ+ athletes that has been “shocking even by the Kremlin’s standards.” Pundits have called the Games “a cesspool of degradation, debauchery, and ‘impurity,’” and suggested they should be segregated.
- Misgendering: Openly trans athletes are competing in an Olympics for the first time, which is a big deal—and yet, as Britni de la Cretaz reports for Vice, some broadcasters have misgendered them. “It’s common for broadcasters to practice saying unfamiliar names before they go on air, making sure they can say it right. It’s a sign of respect,” de la Cretaz writes. “Similarly, they can practice unfamiliar pronouns before a broadcast, and if they slip up, they can issue a correction in the moment. It’s not really that hard.”
- Ratings: Stephen Battaglio writes, for the LA Times, that while “ratings for NBC’s telecasts of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo are down significantly from 2016,” they are “still among the most-watched TV events of the year,” with streaming also performing strongly. The viewership picture “shows the Olympics facing the same downward pressure experienced by other major TV events that reliably attracted massive audiences for decades,” Battaglio writes, “as online streaming provides more choices and competition for viewers’ attention.”
- Gymnastics: In 2018, CJR’s Alexandria Neason assessed why journalists were slow to the story of Larry Nassar, the team doctor who abused US gymnasts, including Biles. “There is no easy explanation,” Neason wrote. “Women’s gymnastics is unlike any other sport, in that its top athletes are so often children. It’s organized both on the individual level and in teams; there is no local franchise for kids to buy jerseys in support of, no mascot, no mainstream, year-round spectator culture. Sports like basketball and football attract beat writers in a way that wouldn’t work as easily for gymnastics, which has, historically, been left absent a critical press.”
- A broader lens: For more insightful reading on gymnastics, Dvora Meyers is out with a new essay, for FiveThirtyEight, making the case that it’s time to end the era of the teen gymnast. “There’s no evidence that girls in gymnastics need to specialize quite so young,” Meyers writes. “And there are pressing reasons to rethink the entire early developmental timeline of female gymnasts.”
Other notable stories:
- Yesterday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised fully vaccinated people to start wearing masks again; the guidance applies in indoor public spaces in areas with high rates of COVID-19, in schools everywhere, and to people who are medically vulnerable and/or live with someone who is unvaccinated. The White House quickly instructed staff to mask up, and the White House Correspondents’ Association followed suit, telling reporters to wear masks in the briefing room. Meanwhile, public and private entities continue to impose vaccine mandates: yesterday, the Post told staffers that it will soon require them to be fully vaccinated as a “condition of employment.”
- Also yesterday, the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol held its first televised session, hearing testimony from four police officers about their harrowing experiences that day. The testimony was extremely powerful by all accounts (except those of right-wing media); naturally, many senior Republicans said that they were too busy to watch it. Recently, a coalition of major news organizations has been suing to obtain video footage presented in court cases involving alleged insurrectionists. Yesterday morning, ProPublica began putting that footage online.
- A judge sentenced Daniel Hale, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, to nearly four years in prison after he pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents about America’s drone program to Jeremy Scahill, a reporter at The Intercept. The judge said that Hale had not been prosecuted for speaking out, and could have done so without taking documents; Hale asked for forgiveness for “taking papers instead of human lives.” (For more on Hale, read Kerry Howley’s devastating recent profile for New York magazine.)
- Louise Story, who oversaw strategy and technology at the Wall Street Journal, is leaving the paper. Earlier this year, Edmund Lee, of the Times, reported that Story had become “entangled in a power struggle” between Matt Murray, the Journal’s top editor, and Almar Latour, its publisher; she oversaw a sweeping audit that advised the paper to appeal to younger and more diverse readers, but its recommendations were never fully adopted.
- Lee and Lauren Hirsch report, for the Times, on the trajectory of digital publishers including BuzzFeed, Vox Media, and Vice Media, as investors lose “some of their enthusiasm for ad-supported sites filled with free content.” BuzzFeed recently announced plans to go public through a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC; per Lee and Hirsch, Vox and Vice are now considering going public as well.
- Last week, CNN said it would hire nearly five hundred people as part of an aggressive push into streaming. According to Sara Fischer, of Axios, NBCUniversal’s News Group also has big hiring plans linked to streaming; the company is looking to add more than two hundred staffers to work on its NBC News NOW platform and across NBC’s news websites and Today franchise. NBC News NOW will soon add hours of programming.
- A coalition of press organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Writers Union, have written to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to request that government agencies allow their scientists and officials to communicate directly with reporters, without first having to seek permission. Currently, the coalition writes, government rules are “intentionally hindering” journalists’ work.
- The government of Afghanistan arrested four journalists and accused them of spreading propaganda on behalf of the Taliban. The reporters—three of whom work for a radio station, the other of whom is a cameraman for the Chinese state news agency Xinhua—traveled to interview Taliban commanders in an area that its militants recently captured as US troops pull out of the country. The AP’s Rahim Faiez has more.
- And in a new book, Leana Wen, the former president of Planned Parenthood, claims that her colleagues there told her to talk about abortion in all of her interviews with the news media—clashing with Wen’s view that Planned Parenthood should present itself as a nonpartisan healthcare provider. The group’s board ousted Wen eight months into her tenure. She says she learned of her departure via a push notification from the Times.
We watched the horrific acts live as they happened on Jan. 6 when insurrectionists stormed the Capitol. In the months since, we’ve seen more videos and photos and listened to firsthand accounts of what happened on one of the darkest days of our democracy. And yet, on Tuesday, when we saw those videos again, and […]
The post ‘This is how I’m going to die’ — police officers recount the terrifying riot of Jan. 6 appeared first on Poynter.
Below is an excerpt from The Collective, Poynter’s newsletter by journalists of color for journalists of color and our allies. Subscribe here to get it in your inbox the last Wednesday of every month. Rule No. 1: It’s not what you make but what you save. That’s what my parents always told me as a kid. My […]
The post You can save for retirement — even as a young journalist making $18,500 appeared first on Poynter.
Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. Many of the most high-profile breakthrough cases involving Olympic athletes, vaccinated Texas lawmakers and vaccinated New York […]
The post Should we even be COVID testing people who are asymptomatic? appeared first on Poynter.
A spoof video shared on a comedian’s Twitter page has journeyed from joke to scandal as some people sharing and seeing it online appear to believe it’s authentic. It’s not. But here’s the premise: an NBC producer is caught on a hot mic saying: “We just spoke to a chief medical examiner. They said 60% […]
The post An Olympics hot mic video allegedly of an NBC producer isn’t real — it’s a joke appeared first on Poynter.
During the pandemic, more than 70 newsrooms in the U.S. closed, leaving the communities they served with merged newsrooms based in other cities or no local newspapers at all. But a new piece examines the fate of local newsrooms that are moving in a different direction — back into local hands. Mark Jacob wrote about […]
The post Gannett has sold 24 publications back to local owners appeared first on Poynter.
Journalists share the stories behind their stories with virtual storytelling collective Local Live(s)
In January, María Ramírez Uribe reported a story for Charlotte-based public radio station WFAE about a local woman named Martha who was struggling to send remittances to family in her native Honduras. For migrants in the U.S., sending money to loved ones in their homeland is a common practice, but the coronavirus pandemic caused Martha’s […]
The post Journalists share the stories behind their stories with virtual storytelling collective Local Live(s) appeared first on Poynter.
Three months before Cox Media Group sold The Palm Beach Post to GateHouse Media, I knew I wanted a new challenge, aka a new job. (I’d been at the same paper for almost four years.) And two years after that sale, I was ready to start looking. For me, though, looking and applying were two […]
In June, the World Health Organization recommended continued mask-wearing as a defense against the spread of COVID-19, even among people who are fully vaccinated—advice that differed from that of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said in May that fully vaccinated people could ditch their masks in most settings. In the US, the clashing guidance caused some confusion that rippled through media coverage; on the whole, though, the WHO story got lost in the broader COVID news cycle, which alternated between tentative optimism about the end of the pandemic and tentative concern about the Delta variant, often emphasizing sharp distinctions between those who were already vaccinated (Nothing to worry about!) and those who weren’t (Get vaccinated!). As I wrote at the time, the tenor of this coverage (as reflected in a slew of Independence Day analogies) was often introspective and distinctively American—a reflection of relatively low case rates and high vaccine availability in the US, as coverage in countries lacking one or both of those benefits, like the United Kingdom, continued to focus on collective risk and protections, including masks. The US still has a lot of vaccine, but cases are now rising nationally again. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the mask debate is back. The CDC’s guidance hasn’t changed, but many experts think it should, and some areas have reimposed mandates.
Much COVID coverage has continued to underscore the divide between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. The focus on vaccine hesitancy has only grown in urgency. “It’s almost like we need two kinds of newscasts, or two versions of the weather report,” Brian Stelter, CNN’s chief media correspondent, said on Sunday. “The forecast is pretty sunny for the vaccinated, but it’s quite bleak in some states for the unvaccinated.” As Stelter also noted, however, the pandemic is still a story of risk calculations, and “those nuances don’t always come through in the media coverage.” The vaccinated are inevitably affected by such calculations, especially when, as with mask mandates, they are collective. And, in recent weeks, there has increasingly been media chatter about “breakthrough infections” that have occurred in fully vaccinated people, especially when those people have been famous. A COVID outbreak among vaccinated New York Yankees players generated a welter of news stories, as did a case at the White House. Reporters peppered Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, with questions about the latter, and asked if she would commit to full transparency should there be more such cases in the future.
As coverage of breakthrough infections has increased, some commentators have argued, with ample justification, that it ought to decrease again. Such infections are neither common nor unexpected, and they almost always involve mild or asymptomatic illness; by hyping isolated cases, the argument goes, the press risks inducing undue worry among the vaccinated and undue skepticism among the unvaccinated. A big part of the problem here is that data on breakthroughs is lacking, making it harder for reporters to properly contextualize anecdotal examples. The CDC once tracked all such infections, but in May, it narrowed its focus to breakthroughs that precede hospitalization or death—a move that the agency said would “help maximize the quality of the data collected on cases of greatest clinical and public health importance,” but which has also, undoubtedly, exacerbated uncertainty as to the scope of the problem, depriving the public of a centralized data source and leaving reporters and experts to instead pick over leaked CDC estimates and local tallies that aren’t standardized. As Apoorva Mandavilli, a science reporter at the New York Times, pointed out yesterday on the paper’s Daily podcast, while most breakthrough infections are not individually serious, they can play a role in overall viral spread. Which brings the story right back ’round to the unvaccinated.
Breakthrough infections aren’t our only data blind spot at the moment. Recently, a number of states, including Nebraska and Florida, stopped reporting daily tallies of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and moved to weekly reporting instead. (As the AP’s Josh Funk writes, Nebraska briefly stopped all of its data reporting after the governor declared an end to the state’s health emergency, only to backtrack.) “Doing this weekly report just leaves you completely in the dark about what’s going on,” Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times. “And then on Friday, all of a sudden, like, boom, you get this surprise number.” Nationally, daily COVID testing rates—which were arguably never high enough to provide a truly accurate picture of the state of the pandemic in the US—have declined substantially from their peak. Data collection and reporting can be labor-intensive, and it’s legitimate, of course, to debate where stretched health bureaucracies should direct their resources for maximum benefit in this new phase of the pandemic—but as I’ve written before, from a journalist’s point of view, the more data we have, the more reliable the picture of the world that we can build.
Meanwhile, there’s still a lot we don’t fully understand about the science of the virus, with new variants, in particular, proving confounding. “It’s a bit maddening, because it felt like we got to a point where we got to know this virus a little bit,” Mandavilli said yesterday on The Daily. “Delta has really changed that entire calculation. There are just so many more questions than I think we expected to have at this point. And it feels a little bit like an inflection point—another one—where the country could go in either direction.” I agree. In fact, I’d make the case that this stage of the pandemic is the most complicated and uncertain that America has yet faced—not the worst, by any means, but perhaps the hardest for people, and the media, to get their heads around. The problems that bedeviled our early coverage of the pandemic—a lack of scientific certainty and consensus; inadequate data flows—are still problems, in ways new and infuriatingly unchanged. And the mitigation measures we had to cover back then—while never the beneficiaries of political consensus—were relatively blunt compared to the more subjective and situational risk calculations of this moment, which still very much apply, even as cases rise again. The vaccines are magnificent, but we still don’t know everything about them. The situation differs substantially by place, and it can be hard to easily compare them. And it’s arguably more urgent than ever that Americans look out on the world, large swathes of which are desperately struggling right now.
Again, the state of the pandemic in the US right now is not uniformly bleak; it is, rather, a mishmash of good news, bad news, and uncertainty. The situation is better than many imaginable alternatives. But that doesn’t make it any easier for the press to cover. Perhaps more than at any other point in the pandemic, reporters are having to strike an increasingly fine tonal balance between the good and the bad, and communicate an increasingly nuanced and diverse set of truths—exploring uncertainties around the vaccines, for example, without blunting the central, basic truth of their effectiveness and desirability—in an informational climate that is both murky and infested with bad actors. COVID hasn’t stopped challenging us yet.
Below, more on the pandemic:
- A different type of mandate: As cases have risen among unvaccinated people, experts and commentators have increasingly debated the appropriateness of imposing vaccine mandates in certain settings. Yesterday proved to be something of a watershed in that regard: New York City announced that select municipal workers must be vaccinated by September or else face weekly testing, California announced similar rules for all state employees and public and private healthcare workers, and the Department of Veterans Affairs demanded vaccination of over a hundred thousand frontline healthcare staff. The Biden administration has, up to now, resisted the notion of federal mandates; Psaki said yesterday that the administration hasn’t yet decided whether to issue further situation-specific vaccine mandates, and acknowledged that Biden “recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated.”
- More Psaki: The White House press secretary also spoke yesterday with Peter Hamby, on Snapchat. At one point, Hamby asked Psaki about the Biden administration’s attitude toward Fox News. (The president has publicly called out Facebook for helping spread vaccine misinformation, but has not similarly castigated Fox for its role, which some commentators see as a mistake.) “Our view at this moment is we don’t have to approve everything they do editorially or everything their personalities say and do, but it is still a platform for us to communicate with the public,” Psaki said. “The other piece of it is getting in a fight with Fox News at this point in time for the administration isn’t particularly constructive coming off of an administration that completely destroyed trust in media.”
- A change of perspective: In December, Phil Valentine, a sixty-one-year-old conservative radio host in Tennessee, said that while he wasn’t an anti-vaxxer, he had concerns about getting the shot: he described his odds of getting COVID as “pretty low,” and his odds of dying from it at “way less than one percent.” Valentine is now critically ill with COVID pneumonia. Last week, he put out a statement, through his station, urging his listeners to get vaccinated. “Phil would like for his listeners to know that while he has never been an ‘anti-vaxer’ he regrets not being more vehemently ‘pro-vaccine,’” the statement said, adding that Valentine “looks forward to being able to more vigorously advocate that position as soon as he is back on the air, which we all hope will be soon.”
- Long COVID: The Biden administration also announced that it is working to ensure that sufferers of long COVID have appropriate access to “rights and resources” under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law thirty one years ago yesterday. Morgan Stephens, a production assistant at CNN, is among the many people to have suffered from the condition. More than eight months after she was diagnosed with COVID, “the breakdown of my own physical and mental health has given me front-row access to the long COVID-19 crisis in a way I never imagined,” Stephens writes. “The waves of illness have not let up. I’m not alone.”
Other notable stories:
- According to Steven Perlberg, of Insider, the opinion section at the Times has hired Jay Caspian Kang, a writer at large for the Times Magazine, and Peter Coy, an economics journalist at Bloomberg Businessweek, to work on a newsletter project that the paper is planning as a rival to Substack. The Times also named David Halbfinger, the paper’s former Jerusalem bureau chief, as politics editor, with Manny Fernandez as his deputy.
- Following the appointments, last week, of Maria Reeve and Katrice Hardy to lead the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News, respectively, Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton reviewed the mastheads of the twenty largest US newspapers by daily circulation, and found that twelve of them are led by a woman, a person of color, or both—up from seven a year ago. Benton found less diversity further down these papers’ mastheads, however.
- Recently, Current, a nonprofit that covers public media in the US, surveyed readers who work in that sector about their salaries, and received nearly two thousand responses. The survey found age and gender gaps in public-media pay—older staffers tend to earn more than younger ones, and the median man earns about ten percent more than the median woman, a gap that increases to sixteen percent at the executive level.
- Writing for The Grade, Ray Salazar, a teacher in Chicago, criticizes COVID-era education coverage. Stories about the “catastrophe” of learning loss, he writes, are often “grounded in whiteness,” portraying “low-income Black and Brown students as a uniform group victimized by the pandemic rather than as complex humans whose experiences hold insights into how our educational systems and worldviews must change.”
- On Saturday, Alice Su, of the LA Times, and Mathias Boelinger, of Deutsche Welle, were covering the aftermath of severe flooding in Zhengzhou, China, when a nationalist mob confronted them and accused them of “smearing China.” Boelinger believes that the crowd mistook him for Robin Brant, of the BBC, which has recently been the subject of a harassment campaign in China. The Guardian’s Helen Davidson has more details.
- Amid public-health, economic, and constitutional crises in Tunisia—where, on Sunday, Kais Saied, the president, suspended Parliament and sacked the prime minister—police raided Al Jazeera’s bureau in Tunis, the capital, and expelled the broadcaster’s staff. Tunisia emerged from the Arab Spring as a relative success story, including in terms of press freedom—but warning signs lingered and Saied’s actions pose a sharp new threat.
- Authorities in Russia blocked access to numerous websites linked to Alexei Navalny, the poisoned-then-jailed opposition leader, including that of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which Navalny has used to publish explosive, journalistic investigations targeting top officials. Elsewhere, journalists at a municipal newspaper in the town of Uglegorsk said that local officials shuttered the outlet after its reporting upset a major coal producer.
- Prospect, a monthly magazine in the UK, pulled off a major coup by naming Alan Rusbridger, the celebrated former editor in chief of The Guardian, as its next editor; he will replace Tom Clark, who has held the post since 2016. “Prospect is a cradle of ideas, good writing and thoughtful debate,” Rusbridger said. “As the pace of journalism speeds up—mirroring life in general—Prospect works to a different, more thoughtful, rhythm.”
- And The New Yorker launched Name Drop, a new online trivia game that asks players to identify a famous person based on a series of clues. “Name Drop’s subjects hail from a variety of disciplines,” Liz Maynes-Aminzade, the magazine’s puzzles and games editor, writes. “Many of them have been profiled or interviewed by The New Yorker, so—fair warning—loyal readers may have an advantage. Bragging is encouraged.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted right-wing media and politicians, including several by name, because he believes they have spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. He said it both in a press conference Monday and during an appearance on MSNBC. According to The Sacramento Bee’s Andrew Sheeler, Newsom said in his Monday press conference, “We are exhausted, respectfully, […]
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I know how to tell you the truth in a sentence so dense and complicated and filled with jargon that you will not be able to comprehend. I also know — using my clearest and most engaging prose — how to tell you a vicious lie. This dual reality — that seemingly virtuous plainness can […]
Small steps, but: Most big American newspaper newsrooms are now led by someone other than a white man
In late May, over the Memorial Day weekend, the top story on NBC’s Meet the Press was a recent vote by Republican senators to kill the prospect of an independent, fully bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. (Six Republicans backed the commission, but their votes weren’t enough to overcome their colleagues’ filibuster.) At the top of the show, Chuck Todd, the host, correctly noted that it was Republicans who blocked the commission. Then, however, he called the vote “a stress test for our democracy” that “our democracy failed, and failed big time.” He said that top Republicans had plainly torpedoed the commission for reasons of electoral self-interest, then said that “this Congress” had voted it down. He interviewed Barbara Comstock, a former Republican Congresswoman who supported the commission, about the reasons for her party’s opposition, then asked Jason Crow, a Democratic Congressman, whether his party’s leadership in the House would voluntarily retain the commission’s proposed bipartisan structure in any replacement investigation it may constitute, in order to ensure its “credibility.” Todd also asked, “On this Memorial Day weekend, if Congress can’t even agree on an independent January 6 commission, what can it agree on?”
Todd’s framing reflected the variety of motifs found in other media coverage of the January 6 investigation, and of Washington politics more broadly: there was some moral and factual clarity, but it was muddied, both by impersonal language that obscured lines of accountability, and the twin implications that bipartisanship is desirable, and that Democrats bear responsibility for upholding it—even in the face of explicit Republican obstructionism. As the story has developed—with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi establishing a select committee to investigate January 6 in lieu of a commission—these motifs have persisted; last week, they crescendoed, as Pelosi blocked two Republican Congressmen—Jim Banks and Jim Jordan—from appointment to the panel, leading Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, to pull all five of his picks.
Banks had been overtly hostile to the prospect of the committee and Jordan may be a material witness to Donald Trump’s complicity in the insurrection; both men voted to reverse Trump’s defeat in key states, abetting the Big Lie that incited the insurrection in the first place. Pelosi’s decision not to seat them thus looked like a move to shore up the credibility of the committee’s investigation against inevitable bad-faith attacks from within. And yet a number of journalists and commentators reached very different conclusions. Rachael Bade, of Politico, said that Pelosi had given a “gift” to McCarthy: “He wanted this panel to look partisan and political. Now it’s definitely going to look partisan and political.” Politico’s DC Playbook team, of which Bade is a member, wrote that, while it had called out Republican “cowardice” in rejecting the idea of a commission, Pelosi’s decision “will make the investigation even easier to dismiss for people who aren’t die-hard members of Team Blue,” arming the GOP with a “legitimate grievance.” Chris Cillizza, of CNN, told anyone still harboring hopes that the committee might deepen public understanding of January 6 to “give up on those hopes now,” because Pelosi had just “doomed” them. (Confusingly, Cillizza then went on TV and pinned most of the blame on McConnell.) The Hill wrote that Pelosi had helped Banks burnish his “brand.” And so on.
This genre of coverage—and Playbook’s analysis, in particular—attracted some intense criticism online, with numerous media-watchers characterizing it as the latest iteration of a familiar journalistic problem: bothsidesism. The New Republic’s Alex Shephard wrote, in an article headlined “Both Sides Journalism Will Never Die,” that many political journalists treated Pelosi’s decision as “just another sigh-inducing instance of partisanship in Washington”—a position Shephard paraphrased with the question: “Why can’t both parties just stop messing around and get things done? If only Nancy Pelosi would stop playing politics and allow people who tried to overturn a legitimate presidential election to serve on a committee investigating a violent attempt to overturn a legitimate presidential election!” Salon’s Amanda Marcotte agreed: everyone knows that the GOP wants to derail the January 6 investigation, she wrote, “and yet, because the slow decline of our democracy is like a horror movie where the scantily clad young woman is ignoring audience pleas not to go down that dark hallway, the mainstream media is framing this as a ‘both sides’ problem.” Speaking on Pod Save America, NBC’s Mehdi Hasan said that the insurrection led to hope that journalists might abandon the both-sides approach—and yet, six months on, “the ‘legitimate grievance’ is the pro-insurrection party complaining that they don’t get to be on the insurrection investigation.”
This is, indeed, bothsidesism as we’ve come to understand the term, insofar as it bent over backward to find Democratic culpability in a problem that Republicans created. But this understanding arguably reflects a slippage from a clear-cut understanding of the term that, to my mind, was once more prevalent in gripes about political coverage, especially early on in the Trump era: namely, the idea of false equivalence, or treating two things that aren’t the same as if they are. Much of the coverage of Pelosi’s decision fit this classic frame—casting it as part of a “partisan brawl,” or juxtaposing soundbites from Pelosi and McCarthy without adding much context. The most objectionable coverage, however, committed far graver sins; arguably, the worst of it was so bothsidesy that it approached onesideism, scolding Democrats while letting Republicans off the hook. This is itself a much broader problem than mere false equivalence, reflecting—as Brian Beutler, of Crooked Media, and others have put it—the commonplace journalistic assumption that “Republican bad faith… is just a feature of the landscape,” whereas a given Democrat is “an actor with agency, and subject to scrutiny.” This problem, as Hasan noted, has an analytical cousin: in the eyes of many pundits, a given political development is often framed as being Bad News for Democrats, but not for Republicans.
In addition to its cravenness, much political analysis of Pelosi’s decision, taken on its own terms, got lost down a series of empirical and logical dead ends. Numerous outlets claimed, for example, that Pelosi set a precedent, in terms of committee-appointment practices, that Republicans will likely wield against Democrats the next time they have control of the House. But Republicans have shown time and again that they are more than happy to themselves blitz precedent in service of a political objective, be it a Supreme Court justice or Trump back in the White House. The idea they need the cover of Democrats doing it first is absurd.
Much of the conversation around the “credibility” of the January 6 investigation has been absurd, too—yoking the definition of the term to actors who have explicitly stated their intent to delegitimize the investigation. Similar is true of the claims that Pelosi blew up the bipartisan nature of the committee, which often elided the fact that Liz Cheney, a prominent Republican, will still serve on it. Such an analysis implies that, to satisfy the demands of bipartisanship, Republicans aren’t Republican enough if they take seriously the thing the committee was created to take seriously. This, clearly, is circular, and self-defeating.
Last week, Greg Sargent, a columnist at the Washington Post, suggested that those covering the investigation should ask themselves a question: “What sort of inquiry into January 6 would Republicans declare to be a legitimate one?” If the answer is blatantly antithetical to the purposes of any actual inquiry, Sargent reasoned, then it must follow that Republicans, not Democrats, are to blame for the absence of bipartisanship. I’d propose a second question that should guide coverage—one that doesn’t just look back at the events of January 6, but forward to the prospect that Republicans will try to subvert an election again, perhaps with more success. Journalists should ask themselves whether, in such an eventuality, they will be able to look back on their present coverage of Republican democracy subversion and defend it; if not, they should correct course now, substituting clarity for complacency before it’s too late. This act of imagination doesn’t require any certainty of prediction. It merely requires a recognition of plausibility, and the acknowledgement that chattering about the electoral consequences of this move by Pelosi, or that move by McCarthy, is pointless if elections aren’t played on a level field.
Below, more on the January 6 investigation:
- What’s next: The committee is scheduled to hear its first testimony tomorrow, with four police officers—two from the Capitol’s protection arm and two from DC police—expected to address their experiences on January 6. Their testimony is unlikely to break new factual ground, but will serve instead, in the words of Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, as a “moral center of gravity of the whole investigation.” The Post has a preview. Since McCarthy pulled his picks, the political makeup of the committee is still not entirely clear—though we know now that Cheney will not be the only Republican present. Yesterday, Pelosi tapped Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who has become a vocal critic of Trump and his election lies, to serve on the panel.
- Subpoena power: For Just Security, Justin Hendrix, of Tech Policy Press, assesses the ways in which the committee is expected to consider the actions of social-media companies on and around January 6, and the key pieces of information that lawmakers ought to subpoena from those companies. The list includes “any documents produced internally reflecting on, analyzing, summarizing or warning about Stop the Steal, false voter fraud claims, QAnon, domestic extremism and the January 6 insurrection itself”; “any communications or warnings provided by the social media companies to DHS, FBI or any other law enforcement agencies regarding potential threats related to January 6”; and “any record of communications on the subject of Donald Trump’s access to accounts with any federal government official, member of Congress or their staff.”
- An actual controversy: Jenna McLaughlin, of Yahoo News, reports that the committee’s staff will include David Buckley, a former CIA inspector general who was previously accused of retaliating against a whistleblower. According to a 2019 report compiled by the Department of Homeland Security’s watchdog office, “investigators urged the CIA to take action against Buckley for his alleged retaliation against a whistleblower,” McLaughlin writes, “a conclusion that would likely be troubling to potential witnesses who might testify in the Jan. 6 inquiry.” (Buckley has denied retaliation.)
Other notable stories:
- Michelle Boorstein, Marisa Iati, and Elahe Izadi, of the Washington Post, profile The Pillar, a Catholic newsletter on Substack that used commercially-available cell-phone data to out Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, a senior priest, as a user of the LGBT+ hookup app Grindr. In some ways, The Pillar’s story “feels almost like a throwback: Conservative Catholics who point to the 1960s and liberalizing sexual mores for society’s troubles,” Boorstein, Iati, and Izadi write. In other ways, it “punctuates how America’s religious and journalistic landscapes have changed,” as “scrappy start-ups” upend old hierarchies.
- Tanzina Vega is stepping down as host of The Takeaway, on WNYC. “I’m very proud of the work I did transforming the show into a national success that explored the societal gaps of wealth, empathy, and truth in our daily lives,” she said. Vega had reportedly been the subject of an HR probe at WNYC, following complaints that she berated her staff. She has recently been on medical leave from the show. Melissa Harris-Perry, who has hosted episodes in Vega’s absence, will continue to do so on an interim basis.
- Robin Abcarian, a columnist at the LA Times, sat down with Alex Villanueva, the sheriff of LA County, after Villanueva publicly denounced an article by Abcarian that criticized his treatment of unhoused people. In a long interview, Villanueva expressed his “deep frustration with the way he is covered by the LA Times”—accusing the paper of ignoring good news out of his department and of double standards in its coverage of Latinos.
- For CJR and the Tow Center’s Journalism Crisis Project, Lauren Harris spoke with McArdle Hankin and Lauren Peace, who founded the Local Live(s) project to help newsrooms host live online events in which reporters talk about their work. “These events have gotten people who weren’t news readers to engage with journalists,” Peace said. (You can subscribe to Harris’s weekly Journalism Crisis Project newsletter here.)
- The Guardian’s Sian Cain spoke with Simon Akam, a journalist who says that Penguin Random House demanded that he submit a manuscript of his book—a critical account of the British military’s conduct in Afghanistan and Iraq—to his sources and to Britain’s defense ministry for pre-publication review. PRH canceled the book after Akam rejected these demands. (PRH said Akam’s “due diligence” did not meet its editorial standards.)
- The government of Russia tagged The Insider—an investigative news site that is registered in Latvia and has worked with Bellingcat to document the poisoning of Kremlin critics—as a “foreign agent,” a designation that officials have used to impose onerous legal restrictions on numerous other outlets this year. Also in Russia, hackers crashed the website of Vedomosti, a newspaper, after it published an op-ed by a jailed journalist.
- In the Philippines, unidentified gunmen shot and killed Rey Cortes, a radio journalist, outside the offices of dyRB, a station in Cebu City where Cortes hosted a politics show. According to Rappler, officials noted that Cortes’s commentary often led to disputes with political figures, and are investigating possible links between his work and his murder. A dyRB staffer said two people had recently made inquiries about Cortes’s schedule.
- MBC, a broadcaster in South Korea, has apologized after using stereotypical—and sometimes offensive—imagery to represent various countries as their delegations entered the opening ceremony of the Olympics on Friday. MBC displayed a picture of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to illustrate Ukraine’s entry, and associated Haiti with a photo of protests and an explosion. Romania, meanwhile, got the Dracula treatment.
- And Dan Bailey, a fly-fishing guide, saw Tucker Carlson, of Fox, in a sporting-goods store in Montana and called him, to his face, “the worst human being known to mankind.” In a post on Instagram, Bailey wrote that Carlson is a “fascist” who has killed people by spreading vaccine misinformation. “It’s not everyday you get to tell someone they are the worst person in the world and really mean it!” Bailey wrote. “What an asshole!”
The Olympic Games officially open today. Thousands of people, including journalists, have faced a gauntlet of health restrictions to gain access to Tokyo, where COVID-19 cases recently spiked. Before leaving their home countries, reporters were asked to record two negative tests and log health data into numerous apps, which often didn’t work. Upon arrival, visitors have been held, in some cases for hours, at the airport, where they’ve been asked to download more apps and take another test by spitting into a plastic tube—an exercise, David Wharton writes for the LA Times, that is “a lot harder than it might sound” after “eleven dehydrating hours” on a plane. (Officials “have taped up snapshots of citrus fruit, with the suggestion that you ‘imagine,’ to help generate the necessary bodily fluids.”) Next: three days of quarantine in a hotel. With nowhere else to go, journalists have written and spoken about the weirdness—and tedium—of the experience. “For two days, I sat here and just watched this dolphin swim back and forth,” Tony Florkowski, a producer at ESPN, said, referring to a tank visible from his window. “He’s kept me engaged.”
Some journalists—a team from the BBC, for instance—are being held in quarantine for as long as fourteen days, after being deemed to have been in close contact with an infected person somewhere along their journey. For the rest of the press, once the three days are up, they’re allowed out, but only to travel in approved vehicles to approved venues within the Olympic “bubble.” This week, a group of reporters was escorted outside the bubble for what they thought would be an opportunity to report, but which turned out to be a brief tour of empty tourist sites. There’s been plenty of grumbling that many of these rules feel arbitrary—athletes exposed to COVID have not been asked to isolate, and there is no flexibility for reporters who are fully vaccinated. Worse, some journalists say that the rules feel ineffective and out of step with the latest science about the virus. “Reporters are packed onto buses shoulder-to-shoulder but are forbidden from sharing a taxi. We can loiter on the sidewalk outside our hotels for only 15 minutes, but we can linger together in clumps indoors,” Michael Rosenberg writes, for Sports Illustrated. “The operating principle seems to be that as long as protocols are time-consuming or voluminous, they must work.” As of early this week, at least seven media workers in Tokyo for the Olympics had tested positive.
Throughout the Games, these restrictions will sharply limit reporters’ access to events and athletes: members of the press must apply in advance for the former, owing to space restrictions, and can only conduct interviews in authorized zones. “One of the joys of reporting on the Olympics is the randomness, the serendipity that comes from being at an event with representatives from two hundred countries,” Ken Belson, of the New York Times, said—something that will be much harder to document this year. ESPN’s Florkowski, who is covering his fourteenth Games, described these Olympics as “the biggest challenge of my long career. Normally at an Olympics we don’t have a lot of access because we’re not NBC. So that’s hard. Now you put it into a pandemic and it just ramps it up everywhere.” Not that NBC (which holds the rights to the Olympics in the US) is finding things a whole lot easier—according to the Hollywood Reporter, a handful of NBC correspondents have served enough time in quarantine that they can leave the Olympic bubble, but other staffers will have to work and broadcast from their hotel. “We think of the Olympics as this idea of welcoming the world,” Lester Holt told THR. “In this case it is just the opposite in the face of the pandemic.”
The Olympics are a big deal financially for NBC, which has sold advertising worth more than a billion dollars and counting. The disastrous run-up to the Games—which, at one point, looked like they might not go ahead, given the rise in cases and widespread public opposition in Japan—threatened to jeopardize the network’s plans; even now, advertisers have concerns about associating their brands with the event. (Toyota pulled its Olympics ads from Japanese TV, citing a lack of public support for the Games, though the company will continue to run ads in the US.) Ratings, even if they’re solid, are expected to be down from past Olympics. The absence of spectators at most events poses a paradox of sorts for NBC’s coverage: empty arenas, as CNN’s Oliver Darcy notes, mean that “by definition” the Olympics will be a “made-for-TV event,” and yet, as Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand put it recently, the definition of a good made-for-TV event—in the US, at least—involves “fans, and cheering, and noise, and cutaway shots.” To compensate, NBC plans to highlight sound that viewers might not otherwise hear, from “thrashing and splashing in the pool to those intimate conversations between competitors and coaches”; the coverage will also incorporate US-based watch parties. Still, per Ourand, the absence of fans will likely be “jarring” for TV viewers, who have grown accustomed to seeing full stadiums on their screens again.
Jeff Shell, the CEO of NBCUniversal, has sounded sanguine about the success of the Games: ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, he said, “everybody was worried about the traffic”; in 2016, in Rio, there was pre-Games fear about the Zika virus. “Once the Opening Ceremony happens, everybody forgets all that and enjoys the seventeen days,” Shell said. “And I think this is going to be the same thing.” As well as being insensitive, that seems like wishful thinking—it’s not unusual for non-sports stories to gain traction in the run-up to an Olympics, but COVID is of an entirely different magnitude and won’t exit the stage. In some coverage, the build-up to Tokyo has been framed not as an outlier, but as a tipping point—a perfect illustration of the Games as Rapacious Multinational Business, riding roughshod over the interests of its host countries, the world’s poor, and the climate. Some commentators have suggested that, going forward, the Olympics ought to be hosted in a single central location. (As Dave Zirin, of The Nation, pointed out this week, that would likely upset journalists, who love an opportunity to travel on the company dime as much as anyone else.)
The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch has noted that NBC is casting the Olympics as “the communal experience the world needs right now” and that it’s been pushing that theme in its coverage of the opening ceremony, which began around an hour and a half ago. (Seeking a communal experience in the US, NBC will repackage the ceremony with a special pre-show and broadcast it again tonight, when everyone will be awake.) For all the athletes filing in, however, the stadium—and consequently the footage—feels eerily empty. The more consequential gathering may be one that is happening outside the stadium, where anti-Olympics protesters have convened. Their shouts can be heard inside. There’s your atmosphere.
Below, more on the Olympics:
- A challenge: Last month, Andrew Keh, a sports reporter at the Times, joined Kyle Pope, CJR’s editor and publisher, on our podcast, The Kicker, to discuss the Games, the likely limits to reporting, and the broader erosion of spontaneous access to sports stars. You can listen here. This week, Keh told John Otis, a Times colleague, that, perversely, the restrictions might make the Games “a great situation for a reporter.” In Otis’s words, “the challenge of working in strange, obstructing circumstances should produce interesting journalism. There has never been an Olympics like this.”
- Peacock: In addition to NBC, Olympics coverage will be shown on eight other channels owned by Comcast—including CNBC, USA, and Telemundo—as well as on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, which was launched last year to coincide with the Olympics that were pushed back by the pandemic. Matt Bonesteel writes, for the Washington Post, that Peacock’s live Olympics coverage will be pretty limited, offering only gymnastics, track and field, and Team USA men’s basketball events that take place early in the morning. (Peacock will also offer Olympics news and highlights shows.) Per Bonesteel, the “limited menu of the Olympics’ most popular sports is part of NBC’s plan to increase the subscriber and digital advertiser base for Peacock.”
- Sexism: According to EFE, a Spanish news agency, the United Nations’ gender-equity body and the International Olympic Committee have co-produced a guide that aims to help news organizations avoid sexist coverage of women’s sports. In the past, coverage has mentioned “aspects outside of the realm of sports,” Lisa Solmirano, an official involved with the guide, told EFE. “There are comments related to their sexual orientation or physical appearance. They are treated like children and described as ‘the girls.’”
- Cardboard beds: Ahead of the Games, a mini-news cycle sprang up around the presence of cardboard beds in the Olympic village. Numerous news organizations reported that the beds were designed to prevent athletes from having sex (and thus risking the spread of COVID), but that isn’t true. “These beds were designed long before Covid, and the aim was not to prevent athletes from having sex but to promote eco-consciousness as they are 100% recyclable,” Joshua Hunt, a former Japan correspondent, tweeted. “I’ll never understand why western media are so obsessed with projecting weird sex narratives on Japan.” (An Irish gymnast also demonstrated that the claim is “fake news”—by filming himself jumping up and down on his bed to test it.)
Other notable stories:
- Felicia Sonmez, a reporter at the Washington Post, is suing the paper, several of its top editors, and Marty Baron, its former executive editor, for retaliation. Post management had banned Sonmez from covering stories about sexual violence because she’d been outspoken about her experience of sexual assault. The Post rescinded the ban this year, but Sonmez says in her lawsuit that the experience has caused lasting damage, including to her mental health. The suit also alleges that the Post did not impose similar rules on an unnamed male journalist who was accused of sexual misconduct.
- Earlier this year, Meg James, of the LA Times, reported a series of stories detailing allegations of a toxic workplace culture at local TV stations belonging to CBS. In response, CBS commissioned an investigation. In April, the company ousted Peter Dunn, who oversaw the stations, along with one of his top deputies; yesterday, it parted ways with Jay Howell and Derek Dalton, who ran CBS stations in LA and Chicago, respectively. The investigation is now complete; James has more details.
- Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ben Ray Luján introduced legislation that would remove social-media companies’ protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—which holds that platforms aren’t legally liable for users’ posts—in cases where platforms amplify misinformation during a public-health crisis. As The Verge points out, however, it’s unclear how the bill would work, since misinformation is not illegal.
- For the Global Investigative Journalism Network, Sarah Karacs explores how COVID “compounded journalism’s mental health crisis.” As Esther Perel, the psychologist, put it recently, journalists have been especially vulnerable to the pandemic’s “psychosocial disaster” and newsrooms are “in a state of collective trauma.” Journalists are exhausted, she added: “They are participants of the very story they are reporting.”
- For the New York Review of Books, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad indicts Western media for abandoning Syria as its people continue to suffer. Recent lack of attention has allowed the regime to commit atrocities with impunity, Ahmad writes; it has also enabled the government of Denmark to start repatriating refugees on the false premise that Syria is now safe. (Sam Sweeney also recently assessed Syria coverage, for CJR.)
- Steve Inskeep, of NPR, spoke with Najib Sharifi, of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, about new threats to the press in Afghanistan as US troops withdraw and the Taliban gains ground. Recently, Sharifi said, at least five independent radio stations have fallen into the hands of the Taliban, which has used them to spread propaganda.
- Yesterday, tax inspectors in India raided at least four offices belonging to Dainik Bhaskar, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, and seized equipment, including staffers’ cellphones. Journalists and press-freedom advocates denounced the raids as retaliation for the paper’s coverage of the Indian government’s pandemic response.
- This week, the government of Belarus moved to shut down the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a group that has pushed back on the regime’s efforts to silence independent media. Officials cited irregularities in office-lease documents—charges that the BAJ cannot disprove because police have sealed the office where the paperwork is kept.
- And the websites of the Washington Post, HuffPost, New York, and other news outlets displayed hardcore pornography after an adult-content provider purchased the domain of Vidme, a now-defunct video-hosting site. Motherboard’s Matthew Gault and Jason Koebler have more details.
Last Thursday, with confirmed cases of COVID-19 again rising across the US, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, issued his first advisory since the Biden administration took office: health mis- and disinformation, he said, has prolonged the pandemic, not least by exposing Americans to anti-vax propaganda, and social-media companies should do more to stamp it out. On Friday, Biden himself put a finer point on things. Asked by an NBC reporter for his message to platforms, particularly Facebook, Biden replied, “They’re killing people,” then added, “The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated.” His bluntness drove a media frenzy and infuriated Facebook, which hit back—claiming that it is actually “helping save lives, period,” by putting good vaccine information in front of billions of users, and accusing Biden of making the company a “scapegoat” for his administration’s missed vaccination targets. On Monday, Biden was asked about his remark, and said this time that Facebook “isn’t killing people”; rather, a small but prolific number of users are. Some news outlets reported that Biden had “clarified” his earlier comment. Others saw a “softening,” a “walk back,” even a “U-turn.”
Biden’s intervention—along with rising cases and plummeting vaccination rates—have reignited urgent media conversations about vaccine hesitancy, whose fault it is, and to what extent. Facebook has been central to this conversation, with observers debating the proper balance between the good messaging it has instigated and the bad messaging it has allowed on its platform. Right-wing media outlets—and, given its huge reach, Fox News, in particular—have also been central, with some commentators arguing that they deserve a greater share of the blame for sowing mistrust of the vaccines and Biden’s efforts to distribute them. (“Who’s winning the war between Biden and Facebook?” a headline in Wired asked. “Fox News.”) On Sunday, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Murthy whether Fox is also “killing people”; Murthy replied that the general cost of misinformation “can be measured in lives lost,” but declined to be more specific. Oliver Darcy, a CNN media reporter, called this a “dodge” that reflected poorly on the administration’s priorities: “misinformation on Fox is distributed intentionally, while Facebook is at least putting some effort to combatting it.” Yesterday, Darcy’s colleagues Kaitlan Collins and Brian Stelter reported, citing anonymous official sources, that the White House has sought to engage Fox, via regular, “high level” discussions about its coverage. The White House, however, disputed the “high level” characterization, and Fox dismissed CNN’s reporting. (“We had one routine briefing with the White House in early May on vaccination rates,” the network said, “and our DC bureau personnel are regularly in touch with them on a variety of issues.”)
Talks or none, many media observers have this week noticed an apparent shift in Fox’s coverage of COVID vaccines. On Monday, the network ran on-screen banners advertising official vaccine resources, and Sean Hannity urged his viewers to take the pandemic seriously; on Tuesday, Steve Doocy, of Fox & Friends, said that the vaccine “will save your life.” These efforts have met, in more liberal quarters, with relief, and even some praise. It’s not clear, however, that they really represent any sea change. Hannity and Doocy have both endorsed vaccines before; in February, the latter appeared, alongside several other Fox hosts, in a vaccine PSA. And, more pertinently, hosts who have consistently cast doubt on the vaccines have continued to do so: following Hannity on Monday, for instance, Laura Ingraham accused Democrats of trying to cancel “inconvenient opinions regarding their Covid response,” and brought on a guest who called the idea that there is a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” a “lie.” Some of this week’s Fox-has-changed commentary reminded me of the post-election period, when supposed instances of hosts turning on Trump belied a more sordid reality. With vaccines, as with Trump’s election lies, low expectations can dilute our standards of accountability.
Many commentators have sought, in recent days, to push the conversation about vaccine hesitancy beyond easy narratives of discrete blame. Renée DiResta, a researcher at Stanford’s Internet Observatory, noted on MSNBC last night that “it’s really difficult to differentiate between media and social media at this point,” since major outlets all now use social platforms to reach audiences. “We’re kind of perpetuating this idea that the two ecosystems are wholly different,” DiResta said. “That’s not exactly right.” Others have widened the frame still further, beyond these ecosystems: Dr. Peter Hotez, a virology expert at Baylor, wrote for the Daily Beast that Biden’s focus on social media is insufficient, and that he must instead fight the misinformation Ghidorah (a three-headed dragon, apparently) of anti-vax media and political punditry, anti-science NGOs, and malicious state actors; many experts have also noted the range of socioeconomic factors that drive different types of vaccine hesitancy. Amid all this, some columnists have pushed back, specifically, on Biden’s claim that Facebook is “killing people.” Farhad Manjoo, of the New York Times, accused Biden of “rhetorical shoddiness” that reduced “the complex scourge of runaway vaccine hesitancy into a cartoonishly simple matter of product design: If only Facebook would hit its Quit Killing People button, America would be healed again.” Charlie Warzel wrote in his newsletter that Biden teed up “an unproductive, false binary of a conversation on a complex topic that deserves far more nuance.”
There’s a lot to agree with here: vaccine hesitancy has a variety of causes, and our information ecosystem is a messy place where the lines blur between individual bad actors and their poison pools. Importantly, though, none of this diminishes the moral responsibility of individual bad actors—and zero tolerance for their individually bad actions remains the proper standard. Biden’s “killing people” remark captured our attention because it sounded so inflammatory; indeed, it sounds like the worst thing you can accuse someone of doing. But, in the context of a global pandemic, the meaning of such a remark has changed: the whole world is now itself a messy ecosystem of cause and effect, where everyone’s routine decisions, passive or active, can put others at potentially mortal risk. This isn’t to drain Biden’s words of their moral weight; it’s to recognize that, as well as being a sharp rebuke, it is literally true to say that anything that contributes to vaccine hesitancy is “killing people.” Biden must have known how his words would land; it seems possible, to me, that he wanted to center Facebook in a weekend media storm, then assert some plausible deniability. But his “killing people” remark was not inherently lacking in nuance—it was entirely compatible with it. And sections of the media bear responsibility for hyping the political attack without teasing those nuances out.
Nor did Biden really do a “U-turn” on Facebook, as much coverage suggested. Facebook both is and isn’t killing people—for the reasons I outlined above, but also because we can define “Facebook” in different ways: it’s both a corporate entity run by people and a universe within which misinformation thrives, with the former responsible for the latter. Similar is true of Fox: it’s run by people who say they support vaccines, and yet it lets vaccine doubt pollute its airwaves. The proportionalities of blame within and between such organizations are harder to calculate. These are important, because the media should be mindful of relative power. But analyzing them needn’t and shouldn’t serve to dull sharp moral statements like Biden’s. Every pointillist painting is built of tiny dots. Focusing on the dots can feel hopelessly small, and won’t in itself get shots in arms. But neither will losing them in the bigger picture.
Below, more on vaccines and misinformation:
- Vaccine passports: Top Fox hosts haven’t just spread doubt about the vaccines; they have also taken aim at the idea of “vaccine passports” that might regulate access to public settings. (Tucker Carlson recently called them the medical equivalent of Jim Crow.) Ryan Grim reported on Hill TV this week, however, that despite this on-air rhetoric, Fox’s parent company has implemented something that looks very much like a vaccine passport at its offices. The company’s system “allows for employees to self-report to Fox the dates their shots were administered and which vaccines were used,” CNN’s Darcy wrote in a follow-up story. “Employees who report their status are allowed to bypass the otherwise required daily health screening.” (The system is voluntary for Fox staffers.)
- Useful breakthroughs?: Amid concerns about rising case rates driven by the more contagious Delta variant, Axios reports that many lawmakers, staffers, and journalists working in Congress have started wearing masks again, and Congressional leaders are considering reintroducing some COVID rules, despite high vaccination rates on the Hill. Axios also reported yesterday that a vaccinated White House staffer and aide to Nancy Pelosi have tested positive for COVID; neither Biden nor Pelosi is known to have been exposed, and the staffers’ cases are mild, but questions about them still ate up a large part of yesterday’s White House briefing. Some observers argue that cases among vaccinated people should not be treated as news stories in and of themselves. “The Every! Breakthrough! Infection! Is! Big! News! news cycle is getting pretty annoying,” Nate Silver tweeted yesterday, “and is probably going to give vaccinated people a lot of unnecessary anxiety about Delta while also providing kindling to anti-vaxxers.”
- Mistrust: Sara Fischer reports, also for Axios, on a new study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which found that people who follow conservative news outlets are less likely to have confidence in public health institutions and experts, such as the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci, and more likely to believe vaccine misinformation. “When you begin to reduce trust in experts and agencies telling you that vaccines are safe, you’re creating all kinds of susceptibilities that can be exploited for partisan gain,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the APPC’s director, said.
- Delayed response: On Monday, YouTube—which, as Warzel and others have noted, often attracts less scrutiny than Facebook—pledged to do more to combat health misinformation on its platform; it plans to label more videos containing junk, and highlight more authoritative information, including “information panels” with sources approved by the National Academy of Medicine. As CNBC’s Jennifer Elias writes, however, “the tool’s effectiveness will be based on the viewers’ willingness to click on it,” and “experts have repeatedly doubted similar tools the company added to election videos last year.”
Other notable stories:
- Yesterday, Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, traveled to the edge of space in a rocket owned by Blue Origin, his space company. Ahead of liftoff, Blue Origin offered rare substantial access to journalists, and Bezos himself gave interviews; on Monday, he even served a dinner of arroz con pollo to reporters, and joked about whether it would be his “last meal.” Much of the coverage of the flight was awestruck and fawning—mirroring coverage of Richard Branson’s (sort of) space flight ten days ago. After the flight, Bezos thanked Amazon customers and staff for making him rich enough to pull it off. He also gave “courage and civility awards” of a hundred million dollars each to the celebrity chef José Andrés and the CNN pundit Van Jones, to donate to charities of their choice.
- A coalition of major news organizations—including the Times, the Post, and the New Yorker—wrote to the Biden administration and Congress requesting protections, including a visa program, for Afghan journalists and support staff who have helped American outlets cover the war in their country, and now fear reprisals from the Taliban as US troops withdraw. Relatedly, Spencer Ackerman, a longtime national-security correspondent, is launching Forever Wars, a Substack newsletter that will cover the “continuities, mutations, and departures” of the 9/11 era that will outlive the Afghan troop pullout. Sam Thielman, formerly of CJR, will edit the newsletter; Vanity Fair has more.
- Michael Vuolo and Matthew Schwartz, two former public-radio staffers, are launching Booksmart Studios, a podcast network, with funding from Substack; its first hosts will include John McWhorter and Bob Garfield, who was recently fired by WNYC following allegations of bullying (which he denies). In other media-jobs news, the Houston Chronicle promoted Maria Reeve to executive editor, making her the first journalist of color to lead the paper. And Robyn Tomlin, the top editor at the Raleigh News & Observer, will be vice president of local news at McClatchy, the paper’s parent company.
- Julie K. Brown, the Miami Herald journalist whose reporting was a major factor in the arrest of the pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is out with Perversion of Justice, a new book based on her work. Michelle Goldberg, of the Times, writes that the book is “a gripping journalistic procedural, sort of Spotlight meets Erin Brockovich,” that, as well as detailing Epstein’s crimes, is “also about the slow strangulation of local and regional newspapers”: Brown had to juggle her investigation with other work, and often paid expenses herself.
- For CJR, Bob Norman explores how Florida became the right-wing media capital of America. “We tend to crave a poetic, Florida Man-esque explanation for exactly why the Sunshine State has become the undisputed capital of MAGAstan,” Norman writes. “But local Republican activist Bob Sutton posits a much more mundane explanation: ‘It’s the good weather and low taxes.’” (And, of course, Donald Trump is there, too.)
- Investigations Law Group—a Denver firm that is investigating anonymous allegations of sexual assault against Tay Anderson, a local school board member—asked Westword, Denver’s alt-weekly, to hand over information about its sources for a recent story. Patty Calhoun, Westword’s editor, says that her publication declined the request. Anderson has denied wrongdoing; Corey Hutchins has more in his Colorado media newsletter.
- This week, a court in Morocco sentenced Omar Radi, a journalist, to six years in jail on charges of rape and espionage; his supporters have called the charges political and the trial unfair. Radi is one of several Moroccan journalists to have had Pegasus spyware planted on their phone. Yesterday, the Pegasus Project reported that Morocco may have selected Emmanuel Macron, the French president, as another target for surveillance.
- On Monday, authorities in Belarus raided the offices of the Regionalnaya Gazeta newspaper and detained its editor, Alyaksandr Mantsevich, as well as two of its reporters; according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, thirty-two journalists are currently in detention in the country. Also Monday, officials froze the bank accounts of the Belarusian PEN Center, a group led by the exiled writer Svetlana Alexievich.
- And The Guardian ran an op-ed by Duncan Campbell and Duncan Campbell—two British journalists who not only share a name but also crossed paths at Time Out, in the seventies, when one of them was arrested under secrecy laws in connection with their reporting. Such laws subsequently lost their potency against the press—but Britain’s current government, Campbell and Campbell warn, may be about to change that.
Last week, Guto Harri, an anchor on GB News, in the United Kingdom, addressed a pressing news story: the racist abuse that Black English players faced following the final of the European soccer championships, which England lost, and the broader debate around the players’ practice of taking a knee before games. Some fans have booed the anti-racist gesture, and many more Brits see it as evidence of an insidious liberal agenda: Boris Johnson, the prime minister, initially refused to condemn the booing; one lawmaker from Johnson’s Conservative Party boycotted England’s games altogether. Harri—who, in a past life, was an adviser to Johnson when he was mayor of London—had himself previously questioned the gesture, but he said on GB News that his perspective had changed. “I may have underestimated how close to the surface the racism still was,” he said. “I actually now get it—so much so that I think we should all take the knee. In fact, why not take the knee now?” With that, he got up off a couch, and kneeled on the studio floor. “It’s a gesture,” he said, “but it’s an important gesture.”
On its face, this was a surprising thing to witness on GB News. Ahead of its launch, last month, the network promised to broadcast serious journalism from around the country, but also to prioritize protecting free speech against the dual threats of “cancel culture” and “wokeness”—so much so that the network was quickly dubbed “the British Fox News.” (This was never really accurate, but more on that later.) On launch night, GB News scored strong ratings, but things quickly went downhill from there. The channel’s early days were beset by amateurish technical faults—glitchy audio, shoddy camerawork, typos in chyrons, banging noises off camera—in studios so dark that viewers compared them, variously, to a wartime bunker and a scene from Silence of the Lambs; anchors read out messages from pranksters with lewd names that even Moe Szyslak might not have fallen for, and weird clips went viral online. (“Pedophile is a medical term… Jeffrey Epstein was an ephebophile.”) Advertisers started to pull out, and ratings quickly slid. Just two weeks in, Andrew Neil—a former BBC journalist who had been a driving force in founding GB News, as well as its most high-profile anchor—announced that his show was going on hiatus. He said he was taking his annual leave, but he didn’t set a return date.
New from CJR: The right-wing media capital of America
Then, Harri took a knee, and everything that was left to go wrong at GB News went wrong. Furious viewers accused him of pandering to the wokes, and declared a boycott of GB News; at times last week, the network’s viewership fell so low that one ratings agency measured it as zero. Some of Harri’s colleagues defended his taking of the knee as consistent with GB News’s free-speech bona fides, but management clearly did not agree: the network suspended Harri, and publicly denounced his gesture as an “unacceptable breach” of its editorial standards. Harri has now resigned from GB News; on his way out, he wrote in a newspaper column that the network had become an “absurd parody” of itself, replicating cancel culture “on the far right” rather than confronting it. According to The Guardian’s Jim Waterson, senior off-air figures with backgrounds at credible outlets quit, too, reportedly following pressure to dial back the journalism and dial up the culture wars. In a metaphor so excruciatingly on-the-nose that you couldn’t write it, Alastair Stewart, another heavyweight anchor on the network, was forced to take a break from hosting after a horse he was leading to stables bolted, breaking Stewart’s hip. On Friday night, Neil weighed in via Twitter. “Start ups are fraught and fractious,” he wrote. He insisted, however, that GB News “is finding its feet and has a great future. Watch this space.”
The space, it turned out, would quickly be filled by a familiar figure. Over the weekend, GB News announced that it was handing a weeknight prime-time slot to a show hosted by Nigel Farage, the right-wing British politician who was a key architect of Brexit, and may be best known to American viewers for his campaign cameos at Donald Trump’s side. The show debuted last night. The bunker aesthetic was gone, bleached by the harsh lighting of a late-nineties teen-pop video. In his opening monologue, Farage assailed media criticism of the network’s faltering first month, excoriated Harri, and reiterated the GB News mission. “There is, for all the talk of diversity, almost no diversity in British broadcast media. They pretty much take the same center-left, liberal, woke, pro-cancel culture view on virtually everything,” Farage said. “Outside of metropolitan London, there is a very large population of people who have an entirely different view. And yet they’re looked down upon—despised, virtually—by so many in politics and media in this country.” If GB News is British Fox, here, at last, was its Tucker Carlson.
Farage promised strong opinions, as well as a commitment to open debate. In the hour that followed there was little of the latter and a lot of the former. Farage started by excoriating the British government’s pandemic policies, stopping only to (falsely) suggest that its successful vaccine rollout wouldn’t have been possible without Brexit. He then rolled “exclusive footage” of a group of migrants who had arrived in Britain by boat earlier in the day, all of whom appeared to be young men. “I’m not so sure that desperate people have brand new Nike trainers, smart iPhones, or—when they arrive—high five each other, or punch the air,” Farage said. “If it’s so awful where they’ve come from, why on earth have they deserted the women and children there?” Later, he debuted a segment, called “Every Pub is a Parliament,” in which he interviewed a Conservative lawmaker over a pint of beer. (“That should get some puritans screaming before we even begin,” Farage said, as he sipped his pint. Neither man finished his drink.) Then, Farage cut to an anti-lockdown protest outside the prime minister’s residence, only to have to cut away after a protester called a GB News correspondent a “Nazi fucking wanker,” among other insults. Farage apologized for the profanity. Free speech, again, had met its limits.
The farcical particulars of GB News’s early struggles may be surprising, but the fact of the struggles is not. Launching a new media company is hard—especially on British TV, where channels must abide by a range of impartiality and other rules. GB News pledged to stand up for “marginalized” voices—but conservative outlets are, in reality, already plentiful in the UK, in print and online if not on traditional broadcast TV. In the face of such competition, GB News could nonetheless have stood out by leaning decisively into US-style culture-war content. Yet its approach has always seemed conceptually muddled: in the US, the point of such content is that it opposes traditional journalism, rather than aspiring to appear alongside it. The result has been a network that, so far, has been neither sensible enough to appeal to the sensible, nor quite outrageous enough to appeal to the outraged. Harri’s taking of the knee was a case in point.
The unleashing of Farage, in addition to the reported high-level off-air staffing changes, suggests that GB News now plans to attack the culture wars with a more singular focus. Assessing whether that might work brings us back round to the “British Fox” comparison; Fox, to my mind, is rooted in specifically American grievance politics that one can’t simply replant in a different context without first checking the fertility of the soil. (The Farage-Carlson comparison perhaps has more merit.) As I’ve written before, I’m unconvinced that the culture war is as aflame in the UK as it is in the US. That’s not to say that there is no audience for it, and that GB News should now be written off completely—but if the network is to stabilize, it will likely be as one of many minor players within the UK’s media ecosystem, and not as a transformational upstart. Its decision to call on Farage feels, already, like a final throw of the dice. Then again, maybe not. There’s always Piers Morgan.
Below, more on Britain and Britons:
- Freedom! I won’t let you down?: Yesterday, Johnson’s government removed almost all remaining public-health restrictions in the UK, even though cases in the country have risen sharply in recent weeks; people who have come into close contact with a COVID carrier are still expected to self-isolate, leading Farage to declare “Freedom Day” a “FREEDOM FARCE” on his show. Given the high rates of viral transmission, the isolation rules have disrupted many British businesses and public services: on Sunday, the BBC was forced to scrap its local-news bulletin for London and instead show a bulletin for the South-East region after COVID impacted a local production team.
- Jess Brammar: Recently, the Financial Times reported that Robbie Gibb—a former government communications adviser who now serves on the BBC’s board—intervened to try to stop the broadcaster from appointing Jess Brammar, the former editor of HuffPost UK, to a senior role, on the grounds that her appointment would fray the BBC’s relations with the government. Liberals have since criticized Gibb for infringing on the BBC’s editorial independence; conservatives, meanwhile, have scoured Brammar’s social-media history for evidence of supposed liberal bias. They found some pretty innocuous tweets (that Brammar has since deleted) and have made a very big deal of them indeed.
- Prince Harry: Yesterday, Penguin Random House announced that Prince Harry—who “Megxited” Britain’s royal family last year, and now lives in the US—will publish a memoir in 2022; Harry’s book promises to be “wholly true,” and to lay out “the definitive account of the experiences, adventures, losses, and life lessons that have helped shape him.” The proceeds will go to charity. According to Page Six, Harry is working on the memoir with J.R. Moehringer, a “power ghostwriter” who has previously worked with the tennis star Andre Agassi and Phil Knight, of Nike, as well as writing his own autobiography.
- Katie Hopkins: Recently, the Australian edition of Big Brother announced that Katie Hopkins—a British far-right troll whose tweets occasionally wormed their way into Trump’s feed, before she was banned from the platform—would appear in a forthcoming season. After arriving in Australia, however, Hopkins posted videos to social media in which she bragged about breaking the country’s quarantine rules and her plans to expose herself to hotel workers; Big Brother subsequently booted Hopkins from its lineup, and the Australian government has now deported her. The reality-TV star Caitlyn Jenner will still appear in the show—while also running for governor of California.
- Dawn Foster: Last week, Dawn Foster, a British journalist and commentator, died. She was thirty-three years old. “We bonded over a mutual compulsion to place the experiences of working-class individuals in their proper context, in a media landscape that talks over and about working-class people,” Lynsey Hanley writes for Jacobin, the US-based socialist magazine for which Foster wrote. “We were both sick to death of seeing reporting on politics and social affairs that was as dangerous as it was careless, written by people comfortable enough to assume that indignation is the same thing as anger.”
Other notable stories:
- Earlier this year, reporters at the Post, the Times, and CNN learned that Trump’s Justice Department seized their phone records in the course of leak investigations. Biden’s Justice Department initially defended the practice, but Biden himself subsequently described it as “simply wrong,” and Merrick Garland, the attorney general, pledged to issue new rules protecting reporters against surveillance. Yesterday, Garland did just that: going forward, reporters’ records may only be sought outside the scope of their newsgathering work, or if they are suspected of working as an agent of a foreign power, or in cases of imminent physical threat. The Post’s Devlin Barrett has more details.
- Yesterday, CNN announced that it will launch CNN+, a streaming service, early next year as a complement to its cable offering. The service will offer subscribers eight to twelve hours of live programming each day; the lineup of shows has yet to be announced, but it is expected to be anchored by a combination of CNN stars and new recruits, with some shows already at the pilot stage. The network plans to hire nearly five hundred people to work on CNN+. Andrew Morse, the executive overseeing the effort, described it as “the most important launch for CNN since Ted Turner launched the network in June of 1980.”
- In media-jobs news, MIT Technology Review named Mat Honan, a top editor at BuzzFeed, as its new editor in chief. Elsewhere, the Center for Public Integrity named Paul Cheung, a journalist who most recently worked in a media-innovation role at the Knight Foundation, as its new CEO. Andrea González-Ramírez, formerly of GEN, will be a senior writer at New York’s The Cut, with a focus on systems of power. And La Política Online, a news site based in Argentina, is staffing up a bureau in Washington, DC.
- The Tiny News Collective—a new project that’s aiming to help launch five hundred local newsrooms in three years—announced its first six beneficiaries. The new outlets will, respectively, cover and/or serve working-class Filipinos in Los Angeles; education in Seal Beach, California; economic uncertainty in Harvey, Illinois; Latinx news and culture in Austin, Texas; Black residents of Princeton, West Virginia; and the city of Newark, New Jersey.
- For CJR, Bill Grueskin reports on a defamation suit that Francesca Viola, a former journalism professor at Temple University, filed against Joshua Benton, of Nieman Lab. In 2018, Benton used his access to the back end of Nieman Lab’s (publicly anonymous) commenting platform to out Viola as the author of noxious right-wing comments across a range of sites, one of which she denied writing. She lost her job at Temple a year later.
- The American Association for Public Opinion Research, a leading group of pollsters, has confirmed that 2020 was the least accurate year for election polls in decades, but hasn’t yet pinpointed the reasons why. Post-2016, pollsters attributed errors to specific factors, like a failure to weight for education; post-2020, a “prime suspect” is that key electoral groups simply aren’t participating in polls, but that’s hard to prove. Politico has more.
- In 2019, Britt McHenry, of Fox, sued the network and Tyrus, then her co-host on Fox’s streaming service, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. Now her lawyers have voluntarily dismissed the suit; per the Daily Beast, McHenry has settled with Fox and will leave the network, though she will stay on as an analyst at a Fox affiliate in DC. Both Fox and Tyrus, who has continued to appear on Fox shows, deny McHenry’s claims.
- The tennis star Naomi Osaka has become the first Black female athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition; this year’s cover also features Leyna Bloom, who becomes the first trans woman to appear, and Megan Thee Stallion, the first female rapper on a cover. “If there’s one thing that our cover models have in common,” MJ Day, the issue’s editor, said, “it’s that they don’t have one thing in common.”
- And last week, on Bastille Day, officials in France awarded a légion d’honneur, the country’s highest order of merit, to Roger Cohen, the Times’s chief correspondent in Paris. The citation noted Cohen’s “forty-two years of service.”
ICYMI: The danger on our devices