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Late last week, we learned that Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, is weighing a late entry into the 2020 Democratic primary. Some took the news very seriously—the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, for instance, encouraged Bloomberg to jump into the race (“The Water’s Fine, Mr. Bloomberg”)—others, less so. President Trump gave Bloomberg a derisory nickname. (Okay, that may be evidence that Trump takes him seriously.) When a Des Moines Register journalist asked Bernie Sanders about reports that Jeff Bezos entreatied Bloomberg to run, Sanders laughed uncontrollably, then quipped about the billionaires’ “strong grassroots movement.” And at least two journalists punned Bloomberg’s name into the viral “OK, boomer” meme. (If you still don’t know what that is, don’t feel the need to look it up.)
Whatever its tone, speculation that Bloomberg—who previously ruled himself out because he was “clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning”—might stand after all drove media discussion throughout the weekend. Very rich people flirting with the White House always drives interest: earlier this year, the (non-)candidacy of Howard Schultz attracted coverage—including CNN’s second town-hall event of the entire campaign season—that was wholly disproportionate to its policy heft and popular backing. In all, Bloomberg’s intentions are a much weightier matter than Schultz’s: he has actual policies (around guns and climate change, for instance); his record of public service merits scrutiny (liberal commentators already laid into his expansion of New York’s stop-and-frisk program); and (on the face of it, at least) his interest in running offers insight into the shape of the Democratic primary. Nonetheless, there are similarities here. As with Schultz, the Bloomberg chatter is still hypothetical. His support looks anemic: a Morning Consult poll out yesterday has Bloomberg well outside the top tier of Democratic candidates, with the highest unfavorable rating in the entire field. As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver tweeted, Bloomberg’s possible entry is “not exactly the ‘seismic disruption’ that some predicted.”
And clearly, great wealth is always a coverage booster. Last week, ahead of the Bloomberg story, very rich people’s objections to Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax—and the state of the Democratic primary generally—drove a mini news cycle. On CNBC, Leon Cooperman, a billionaire hedge-fund manager and vocal Warren critic, teared up during a discussion of the election. (Cooperman since endorsed Bloomberg.) Steven Rattner, who manages the investment of Bloomberg’s personal and philanthropic assets, wrote an op-ed for the Times calling a Warren presidency “a terrifying prospect.” At the Times’s DealBook Conference, Bill Gates also took aim at Warren: “When you say I should pay $100 billion, OK, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over,” he said, driving a round of headlines. (Gates said he was “kidding”; on her campaign site, Warren kidded back, posting a tax calculator for “confused” billionaires.)
None of this is to say that costly, transformative policies should not be scrutinized, costed, or disputed. Rather, as Matthew Yglesias, of Vox, put it, “The fact that each random billionaire’s thoughts on Elizabeth Warren [are] a news story is itself a powerful demonstration of the disproportionate political influence of the very rich.” When billionaires’ interests are hypothetically threatened, they have a reliably outsized platform from which to fight back; vulnerable people do not, even though their interests are actively threatened by the status quo. Bloomberg’s possible candidacy, and the ample coverage of it, can be seen, at least in part, as a manifestation of this trend—his reported electoral concerns about Warren and Sanders may be genuine, but either way, he certainly, viscerally opposes their economic policies. Most voters can’t fund a presidential campaign to get their views across. Most voters don’t own a news organization, either.
On the Sunday shows, progressive commentators echoed Sanders’s warning that Bloomberg won’t be able to buy the nomination. That may be true, but great wealth, it seems, can buy media coverage, if only by proxy. We should bear this in mind when covering Bloomberg’s movements. On ABC’s This Week, Martha Raddatz asked Jonathan Swan, of Axios, “Who are the people out there—no matter how much money is spent—who are saying, Yes! Michael Bloomberg is finally getting in the race?”; Swan replied: “It’s really the donors.” Voters’ preferences aren’t necessarily the best barometer of what matters. But donors’ certainly aren’t.
Below, more on Michael Bloomberg and 2020:
- Bad stories: Late last year, the last time Bloomberg was mulling a bid, he told Radio Iowa that should he run, he might end his eponymous news outlet’s political coverage: “Quite honestly,” he said, “I don’t want all the reporters I’m paying to write a bad story about me.” After that interview, The Daily Beast asked dozens of Bloomberg News employees if their boss should run; only one said yes. And Kathy Kiely—who resigned as a politics editor at Bloomberg News in 2016, after she was banned from covering chatter about her boss’s prospects—wrote for the Washington Post that Michael Bloomberg “still doesn’t seem to understand how journalism works,” and should “give the terrific journalists who work for you what they deserve… Set them free.”
- Media matters: Is Bloomberg ready for the media madness of a presidential campaign? Maggie Haberman, of the Times, is skeptical. Like other New York politicians, she tweeted, “Bloomberg has long thought he understood tough media coverage because of the city’s tabloids. But he is wholly unfamiliar with the national media climate that Trump has thrown accelerant on.”
- Quid pro quo: If Bloomberg were to get in, he wouldn’t be the only billionaire in the Democratic primary: Tom Steyer is there already. Last night, Steyer became the latest candidate to get the CNN town-hall treatment; during it, he criticized Bloomberg for rejecting the idea of a wealth tax. Late last week, Steyer’s campaign received some unwanted scrutiny: the AP’s Alexandra Jaffe reported that Pat Murphy, a top aide in Iowa, offered campaign contributions to local politicians in exchange for their support. There’s no evidence the overtures came to anything; nonetheless, Murphy resigned.
- Less than a year to go: On CJR’s podcast, The Kicker, Gabriel Snyder, Ana Marie Cox, Maria Bustillos, and Emily Tamkin—our public editors for the Times, the Post, MSNBC, and CNN, respectively—discussed the state of those outlets’ political coverage.
Other notable stories:
- In impeachment testimony released on Friday, Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council, took aim at John Solomon—a journalist, formerly with The Hill, whose stories on Democrats’ supposed wrongdoing in Ukraine were influential in Trumpworld. Vindman called one article by Solomon a “false narrative”; when a Republican Congressman asked whether Vindman thought everything in the piece was false, Vindman replied, “his grammar might have been right.” This week, the impeachment inquiry moves into its TV phase. Top diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent will appear at public hearings on Wednesday; Marie Yovanovitch, the ousted US ambassador to Ukraine, will follow on Friday. Ahead of the hearings, the Post’s Margaret Sullivan offered some advice for the reporters covering them.
- Nikki Haley has a book out; in it, she claims that John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff, and Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of State, tried to recruit her to “save the country” by resisting Trump’s demands. Haley’s book precedes the release of A Warning, in which the anonymous official who authored a 2018 Times op-ed about saving the country from Trump’s demands will expand on that theme; in her review for the Times, Jennifer Szalai writes that the book’s ideal reader “would seem to be an undecided voter who has lived in a cave for the past three years, and is irresistibly moved by quotations from Teddy Roosevelt and solemn invocations of Cicero.” John Bolton, the ex-national security adviser, is also set to get in on the Trump-book action.
- During an interview with Axios on HBO, Dara Khosrowshahi, the CEO of Uber, called Saudi Arabia’s murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi “a mistake.” (The country is among Uber’s biggest investors, and is represented on its board.) “We’ve made mistakes, too, right? With self-driving [cars],” Khosrowshahi said. “People make mistakes. It doesn’t mean they can never be forgiven.” Later, Khosrowshahi walked that back: the murder “was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused,” he said.
- For the Times, Michael H. Keller and Gabriel J.X. Dance report that tech companies are not doing everything they can to remove imagery depicting child sexual abuse from their platforms. In the course of its reporting, “The Times wrote a computer program that used an invisible browser to check search engines for child sexual abuse material,” Keller and Dance write. “It scanned for images without downloading or displaying them.”
- Over the weekend, protesters in Bolivia occupied the offices of two state media outlets, forcing employees to leave the premises—part of a wave of tensions following disputed recent elections in the country. Yesterday, Evo Morales, Bolivia’s long-serving left-wing president, and his deputy resigned, calling themselves the victims of a coup. Police officers started to turn on Morales on Friday; yesterday, military leaders did likewise.
- Alexandra Glorioso, a healthcare reporter with Politico, reflects on having cancer: “If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that nothing—not even being a health care reporter, not even having a scientist as a father and a doctor as a sister—can prepare you for the immense number of complicated, sometimes life-or-death decisions the disease and the system force you to make about your own treatment, all on your own.”
- Jill Geisler, who writes a newsroom-management column for CJR, discussed newsroom unionization campaigns with Kyle Pope, our editor and publisher. “Some companies see union certification efforts as declarations of war and expect all managers to suit up for the fight,” Geisler argues. “Wise leaders let their frontline managers be Switzerland.”
- And Roger Sollenberger writes for Salon that Rudy Giuliani texted him what appeared to be a password. Giuliani—who has form when it comes to inadvertent contacts with reporters—runs a cybersecurity firm.
Impeachment hearings begin on TV | Megyn Kelly launches on Instagram | Uber CEO’s Axios interview gaffe
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Good Monday morning. It’s a big week: impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives will be televised beginning on Wednesday. Let’s start there. Impeachment proceedings: Must-see TV? Will the open impeachment inquiry be must-see TV? Maybe. It’s true […]
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Newsonomics: Nikkei’s Tsuneo Kita: “Without the FT, it wouldn’t have been possible for us to transform ourselves as we have”
In recent weeks, as the term “quid pro quo” has rattled around the news cycle, journalists have sought to explain what it means. Not long after the Ukraine scandal broke, Merrill Perlman, CJR’s language expert, laid out the “shady roots” of quid pro quo, which entered English in the 1500s and meant the substitution of one drug for another at an apothecary. A couple weeks later, NPR’s Rachel Martin dissected the term, too. “The whole idea of a ‘quid pro quo’ is so fundamental to the human experience,” she said. “We’ve got all kinds of ways to say it: ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’; ‘one hand washes the other’; or… ‘I-O-U.’”
Is “quid pro quo” adequate to describe Trump’s apparent misconduct in the Ukraine case? A president threatening to withhold military aid to a country unless it offers dirt on a domestic political rival, as Trump did, is not merely trading favors. This week, more people have pointed that out. On Tuesday, John Garamendi, a Democratic Congressman from California, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the accurate words here are “bribery and extortion. Those are criminal charges.” On Fox, Eric Swalwell, also a California Democrat, made a similar argument. On Wednesday, on Chris Hayes’s MSNBC show, Melissa Murray, a constitutional law professor at NYU, used the word “shakedown” to refer to Trump’s actions: “A quid pro quo generally means exchanging something for something,” she said, “and it seems like the Ukrainians wanted no part of this.” Hayes concurred. “I’ve covered Chicago politics; you can have consensual bribery,” he said. “That’s not the picture that’s painted here.” The same night, on CNN, Chris Cuomo told Chris Ruddy, the Trump-friendly CEO of Newsmax, that “this is arguably an attempt to bribe the president of Ukraine”; when Ruddy disputed that characterization and referred instead to a quid pro quo, Cuomo snapped back, dismissively, that “quid pro quo is Latin.” In the past 24 hours, the Washington Post, CNN, and Talking Points Memo all published op-eds urging Democrats—and the press, too—to drop “quid pro quo.”
Interview transcripts published throughout the week by impeachment investigators confirm that a deal—whatever you want to call it—was offered. (Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, previously admitted this, then tried to walk it back.) The same transcripts suggest that Ukraine was extremely reluctant to take the deal. Yesterday, Andrew E. Kramer, of the New York Times, filled in more details: Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, understood that meddling in US politics could be ruinous for him. As a candidate, he had pledged to end politically-motivated investigations. In the end, he agreed to the probes Trump wanted, but only because of his country’s desperation for military aid. (Ukraine is still fighting a hot war against Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.) Zelensky was all set to announce the investigation on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show, on September 13, when, as Kramer puts it, he got “a stroke of luck”—news of the aid became public in the US, forcing the White House to release the money without political strings attached.
Now that we know more about what happened, it seems clear that “quid pro quo” is inadequate. There is no transactional idea of “this for that” when “this” is conspiratorial political intrigue and “that” is a matter of life and death. Quid pro quo can imply wrongdoing, or a power imbalance—but it doesn’t necessarily do that. Isn’t the aim of journalism to tell a true story as clearly as possible?
It’s never easy for the press to ditch a common term. We’re downstream of politicians: if bureaucrats and partisans continue to say something, it makes it hard for journalists not to. But this is more than pedantry; the stakes could hardly be higher. More and more, Republicans are making it a central talking point that there’s nothing wrong with quid pro quos—that they are the lingua franca of foreign policy. The disingenuousness of that argument becomes much easier to explain when you swap out “quid pro quo” for “bribery” or “extortion.” To be sure, those words require their own scrutiny as legal concepts, and their application here is messy. The goal should be to use language that’s as precise as possible. That means not letting “quid pro quo” dominate impeachment coverage at the expense of the real story.
Below, more on quid pro quos, and the Ukraine scandal:
- Wishy-washiness: Eugene Robinson, of the Post, is among those calling for the demise of quid pro quo, which he calls “a namby-pamby, wishy-washy way” to describe what Trump did with Ukraine. “One thing Trump understands is the value of simplicity and repetition in getting a message across. Those seeking to hold him accountable through impeachment,” Robinson writes, “must heed that same lesson.”
- The whistleblower: In recent days, the supposed name of the whistleblower whose complaint kickstarted the impeachment process has circulated in right-wing media. Major outlets have steered clear of repeating it, including Fox News. But yesterday, Lars Larson, a conservative radio host, dropped the name during a guest appearance on Fox. Others at Fox maintain that they haven’t confirmed the whistleblower’s identity—but Larson told the Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr that network bosses “didn’t say a thing” to him after he used the name.
- Low Barr: On Wednesday night, the Post reported that Trump wanted William Barr, the attorney general, to say, at a news conference, that the president’s call with Zelensky broke no laws. (Barr has not done so.) Yesterday, Trump attacked the authors of the story—Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, and Carol Leonnig—by name, calling them “lowlife reporters.” (So much for canceling his Post subscription.)
- Quid pro quinoa: Defending Trump against the impeachment push on Fox, Matt Gaetz, the Republican Congressman from Florida, accused reporters of “a worldview where you eat nothing but kale and quinoa, where those of us who to cling to our bibles, and our guns, and our fried foods in real America are looked down upon.”
Other notable stories:
- For CJR, Lucy Schiller profiles Eric Sorensen, a meteorologist with WQAD News 8, in Iowa. “One gets the sense, spending time with Sorensen, that he’s interested in matters of scale,” Schiller writes. “In how to present, as a broadcast meteorologist beloved in this corner of the river, the global climate crisis in ways that make sense to his community and, inversely, in how to translate local weather events into larger climate patterns.” CJR and The Nation are leading Covering Climate Now, an initiative to improve coverage of the climate crisis. We have a progress report out this morning.
- Michael Bloomberg is running for president. Maybe. Yesterday, the Times reported that Bloomberg is set to file paperwork in Alabama, where the deadline to enter the Democratic primary is today, though he may not follow through. If Bloomberg does run, it’s unclear what will become of his eponymous news site; he mused last year that he might cut its political coverage because “quite honestly, I don’t want all the reporters I’m paying to write a bad story about me.” Bloomberg’s putative bid comes amid rising panic—stoked by the super-rich and amplified by the press—about the candidacy of Elizabeth Warren. John F. Harris, the former editor in chief of Politico, says coverage of Warren is shaped by “a centrist bias,” and that its assumptions might all be wrong.
- In May, ahead of elections in India, Aatish Taseer, a British-Indian journalist, wrote a cover story for Time magazine on Narendra Modi, India’s divisive Hindu-nationalist prime minister. Yesterday, the country revoked Taseer’s overseas citizenship (which effectively counts as dual nationality). “I had expected a reprisal, but not a severing,” Taseer writes. “It is hard not to feel, given the timing, that I was being punished for what I had written.”
- Following the closure of Splinter and the hollowing out of Deadspin, the New Republic’s Alex Pareene laments the death of the rude press. “The defining quality of rude media is skepticism about power,” he writes. “In the elite press—on cable news, in newspaper opinion sections—you can say the most monstrous things imaginable, as long your language is polite. What you can’t do is rudely express a desire for a more just world.”
- Yesterday, Bustle cut eight staffers and some of its freelancers. One of those affected told CNN’s Kerry Flynn that the news came “out of the blue”; in a statement to CNN, Bustle didn’t even acknowledge the layoffs, instead touting recent hires and an impending “site relaunch.” (ICYMI, Lyz Lenz profiled Bryan Goldberg, owner of Bustle, for CJR.)
- In Canada, unidentified assailants burned down the offices of the Turtle Island News, an indigenous newspaper serving the Six Nations Territory in Ontario. The attack took place last week; according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, no one was hurt, but the fire caused more than $100,000 in damage, including to the publication’s photo archive.
- In Brazil, Augusto Nunes, a far-right journalist, physically attacked Glenn Greenwald, of The Intercept, during the live taping of a radio show; Greenwald had confronted Nunes over an accusation that Nunes had once made that Greenwald neglects his kids. BuzzFeed has more. In August, Adriana Carranca wrote for CJR about other threats Greenwald has faced in Brazil.
- And research by the University of Minnesota, the News Media Alliance, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune found that people who pay for Netflix, Spotify, and other entertainment services are more likely than others to have a digital news subscription.
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Nothing to see here on ‘The View’ with Trump Jr. | ’60 Minutes’ profiles Maria Ressler’s ‘hell’ | New Jamal Khashoggi fellow chosen
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Good Friday morning. All week, I was looking forward to Thursday’s “The View.” So what happened? Trump Jr. and ‘The View’ disappoint viewers Donald Trump Jr. appeared on “The View” on Thursday and it went down pretty much like you would […]
The Washington Post’s union finds that women and people of color in the newsroom make less than white men
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The challenges for fact-checkers working across different countries include time zones and translations
Fact-checking across borders, in different time zones and in disparate languages at the same time is a daily routine for a handful of fact-checking organizations. On the last day of Facebook’s global Fact-Checking Partner Summit, some of those fact-checkers took the stage in Menlo Park, California, and shared with an audience of more than 100 […]
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Fox News on-air personalities — don’t name whistleblower | Washington Post Guild: salaries aren’t fair | Donald Trump Jr. to appear on ‘The View’
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Good Thursday morning. I can hardly wait for today’s episode of “The View.” Read below to find out why. In the meantime, a surprising directive from Fox News. Fox News edict: Don’t name whistleblower CNN’s Brian Stelter and […]
The Internet in Venezuela comes as fast as it goes. There are no reliable public databases available. And people are getting quite used to days without electricity. But against all odds, a generation of young fact-checkers is flourishing in Caracas. Espaja.com premiered on the web in the second week of October this year. It is […]
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Newsonomics: Four years in to their surprise marriage, what has the FT done for Nikkei, and vice versa?
Death threats. Corruption. Kidnappings. Censorship by big money. Judicial harassment. Physical assaults. Sexual violence. Assassination. The attacks struck journalists in Colombia like rolling waves during the South American country’s more than half-century civil war between its military, guerrillas, paramilitaries and armed actors. It cultivated a culture of terror in the Colombian press that brought with […]
The post Investigative journalists combat Colombia’s muzzled press with The League Against Silence appeared first on Poynter.
Over 100 fact-checkers are in Menlo Park for Facebook’s Fact-Checking Partner Summit. So how did it start?
More than 100 fact-checkers from around the world landed in Menlo Park, California, this week to participate in Facebook’s Fact-Checking Partner Summit. The event gathers third-party fact-checking partners and is being considered a chance for both parties to exchange experiences and feedback. The meeting started with Facebook sharing with fact-checkers the three tracks it has […]
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Hot mic: Amy Robach’s Jeffrey Epstein allegation | Will media reveal the whistleblower? | NYT library controversy
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here. Good morning. The most interesting TV news clip from Tuesday technically never made it on air. That’s where we start today. Hot mic moment leads to bombshell Did ABC sit on a blockbuster Jeffrey Epstein story three years ago? […]