By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Kimberly Atkins Stohr

NBC News’ hiring of Ronna McDaniel sets off a crisis she may not survive

I did not watch Ronna McDaniel’s appearance on “Meet the Press” Sunday. Brian Stelter has a detailed summary on Threads, and that’s plenty for me. It sounds like host Kristen Welker found her voice and really went after McDaniel, who in her previous job as chair of the Republican National Committee regularly lied and engaged in election denialism on behalf of Donald Trump.

What I did see was former “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd’s remarkable takedown of NBC News executives for hiring McDaniel in the first place. Neither Welker nor Todd has a reputation for tough questioning; quite the opposite. But Welker really went after McDaniel, and Todd took the network to task, telling Welker that they “owe you an apology” and that it was impossible to “know what to believe” given McDaniel’s previous lies.

Good for both of them. A previous announcement that McDaniel would also pop up on MSNBC has been rescinded, so it’s hard to see what value she can provide to NBC News given the limited amount of time that it commands the network’s airwaves.

My instinct, as I wrote the other day, is to rip the presence of any partisan players on television news shows, whether Democrat or Republican. Clearly, though, the hiring of McDaniel has resonated in a way that, say, the hiring of Jen Psaki or Mick Mulvaney did not. Tom Jones of Poynter Online put it this way:

There’s no issue with NBC News hiring McDaniel as a contributor based on her politics alone…. However, the problem isn’t McDaniel’s views on, say, the economy or immigration or crime or abortion. The problem is McDaniel has a serious credibility problem. And her actions, most notably around the 2020 election, put the country and our very democracy at risk.

Similarly, Jon Allsop of the Columbia Journalism Review said that “the glaring problem with her hiring is not that she was (or is) a partisan hack or anything to do with her policy positions, but her deep complicity in Trump’s election denialism.” But he also offered some optimism, adding:

Perhaps ironically, this desperate episode has given rise to what I see as a very hopeful one: the performances on air yesterday of Todd and, especially, Welker. In the past, I’ve criticized “Meet the Press” (and the Sunday show format as a whole) for letting lying politicians off the hook, but Welker’s interview with McDaniel yesterday was one of the best I’ve seen on any such show in years: it was tenacious, devastatingly so, without being performatively confrontational or rude.

It’s pretty obvious that McDaniel’s hiring has set off a crisis at NBC News, one that may end only with the cancellation of her contract. For instance, Ryan Lizza reports in Politico that Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski spoke out against the hiring on air earlier today. I’m not entirely sure what I think about this. As I’ve said, I would lock the revolving door and not hire any of these folks, going right back to George Stephanopoulos, who years ago jumped from the Clinton White House into a cushy job at ABC News. A pox on all of them.

But McDaniel, as Jones and Allsop write, is different. We almost lost the country on Jan. 6, 2021 — and she brazenly told Welker that she saw it as her role to “take one for the team” rather than speak out. As Todd said, if she admits she wasn’t telling the truth then, how can we know that she’s telling the truth now?

More: I want to add that joining Todd on the panel were Boston Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr and Stephen Hayes, editor of The Dispatch, a Never Trump conservative website. They were both excellent as well, with Atkins Stohr pointing out that McDaniel worked with Trump in an attempt to toss out 2020 ballots cast by Black voters in her hometown of Detroit. The entire panel discussion about McDaniel can be seen here.

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Emily Rooney talks about local TV news, ‘Beat the Press’ and holding the media to account

Emily Rooney. Photo via the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

On our latest “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Emily Rooney, the longtime host of “Beat the Press,” an award-winning program on WGBH-TV (Channel 2). I was a panelist on the show, a weekly roundtable that offered local and national media criticism. It had a 22-year run but was canceled in 2021. You can watch the 20th-anniversary episode here. The show, which is much missed by many former viewers, had a brief second life as a podcast.

Emily has got serious television news cred. She arrived at WGBH from the Fox Network in New York, where she oversaw political coverage, including the 1996 presidential primaries, national conventions, and presidential election. Before that, she was executive producer of ABC’s “World News Tonight” with Peter Jennings. She also worked at WCVB-TV in Boston for 15 years, from 1979–’93, as news director and as assistant news director — a time when WCVB was regularly hailed as the home of the best local newscast in the U.S.

“Beat the Press” may be no more, but there’s a revival of interest in responsible media criticism from inside the newsroom. Boston Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr recently wrote an op-ed calling for the restoration of a public editor position at The New York Times, The Boston Globe and other news outlets.

In our Quick Takes, I’ve got an update on one of our favorite topics — pink slime. Wired has a wild story out of rural Iowa involving a Linux server in Germany, a Polish website and a Chinese operation called “the Propaganda Department of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

Ellen recounts a legal saga in Southeastern Minnesota involving the sale of a newspaper group and allegations of intellectual property theft. It’s all about a single used computer and its role in creating a media startup.”

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

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Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr calls for the return of the public editor

Boston Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr calls for the return of the ombudsperson, sometimes known as the public editor — an in-house journalist who holds their own news organization to account. As she observes, at one time such positions were common at large media outlets such as The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

They were eliminated, for the most part, when financial pressures made such a position seem like an unaffordable luxury. But as Stohr argues, with the Times and the Globe once again profitable and growing, “They can easily bring them back as a signal that they value public trust.” (Note: Stohr interviewed me.)

I suggested the Globe bring back its ombudsperson last spring after the paper published an extensive correction about a story involving top executives at the MBTA who were reportedly working from distant locales. Instead, the Globe fired the lead reporter, Andrea Estes, and has never really offered an explanation as to what went wrong. Estes, a respected investigative journalist, is now working at the Plymouth Independent, a new nonprofit edited by Mark Pothier, himself a former top Globe editor.

As far as I know, the only major news organization that still has a public editor is NPR, where those duties are carried out by Kelly McBride, who’s also senior vice president at the Poynter Institute. Meanwhile, as Stohr writes, the Times is increasingly under fire on social media from liberal critics who complain that the paper normalizes Donald Trump by treating him like a typical presidential candidate rather than as someone facing 91 criminal charges who attempted to foment an insurrection. I largely share that critique, although I think some of it is overblown.

The presence of a public editor, Stohr writes, “can help journalists be more self-aware while not placing the burden of public criticism on individual reporters, who are usually not in a position to make the sort of organization-wide changes that are often necessary to restore public confidence.”

The public editor was not a perfect institution by any means. Partly it depends on the skill of the person doing it. The Times’ next-to-last public editor, Margaret Sullivan, was the best I can think of, and Stohr quotes a post Sullivan wrote on Twitter/X arguing that the Times needs to bring that position back. Partly it depends on how willing top editors are to provide access. (Sullivan, who still writes media criticism for The Guardian and her own newsletter, is now executive director at the Craig Newmark Center on Journalism Ethics & Security at the Columbia School of Journalism.)

But there are certain things an in-house critic can do that an outside commentator can’t. A public editor has the time to dig deeply and, if they have the cooperation and support of the top leadership, can make a real contribution in helping the public understand why certain decisions are made. And, sometimes, what the story was behind mistakes and misjudgments.

More: There is still an Organization of News Ombudsmen, though I don’t know how active it is. If you look at the U.S. members, you’ll see that most of them hold titles like “managing editor for standards.” I should have noted that PBS has a public editor, Ric Sandoval-Palos.

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