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

Tag: New York Times Page 1 of 40

Biden helped himself a little. So what happens next?

If President Biden had handled himself in the debate the way he did at his news conference Thursday night, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. He was OK — far better than in the debate and better, too, than he was in his interview with George Stephanopoulos.

He navigated the weeds on foreign policy, rambling on in a way that demonstrated his deep knowledge of the international scene. I don’t care that he mixed up a few names — he always has. But he faded toward the end and lost some of his earlier coherence. I think he helped himself a little. And that creates a dilemma. It’s one thing if he’s clearly unfit to run and to serve. It’s quite another if he comes across merely as low-energy and perhaps not up to the challenge of defeating the authoritarian menace that Donald Trump represents. What do you do then?

Writing on Threads, media observer Brian Stelter put it this way: “Millions of Democratic voters watched Biden’s press conference, and now some of them are wondering, ‘why are the chattering classes trying to force this man out of office?’”

If Biden had helped himself a lot, maybe we could exhale. If he’d melted down, well, the next steps would be obvious. But by helping himself a little, he left himself in a tenuous position, insisting he’s in the race to stay while much of the media and a rising tide of Democratic officials insist that the time has come for a new candidate.

Ah, yes, the media. They’ve been providing tough coverage of a story that’s of paramount importance — and they’ve been overdoing it, too. This has especially been true of The New York Times and CNN, which have been overloading us with stories about whether Biden is still fit to serve while playing down other news. Yes, that’s a hard accusation to make stick against the Times since it publishes so much about so many topics. But, day after day, its homepage has been dominated by upwards of a half-dozen stories about the latest on whether Biden might step aside. The Times is guilty of one serious misstep as well, botching a report that the president might be under evaluation for Parkinson’s disease.

So on we go. I suggest that we all calm down. If Biden needs to step aside, it doesn’t have to happen immediately. One option is to resign, making Vice President Kamala Harris the president. That’s the cleanest solution, presumably answering any questions about ballot access and campaign funds. A short sprint to Election Day might actually help her.

In any case, there was no reason to feel especially good or bad about what happened Thursday night.

Leave a comment | Read comments

CNN’s dicey reinvention plans: Layoffs, AI and another attempt at paid digital

Photo (cc) 2006 by Tinou Bao

You may have heard that CNN’s chief executive and president, Mark Thompson, has plans. As the network’s media reporter, Oliver Darcy, wrote on Wednesday, Thompson is laying off about 100 people, or 3% of the workforce; embracing artificial intelligence; and developing a paid subscription service.

Now, let me acknowledge that it would be incredibly easy to snark. I can’t imagine paying for CNN in addition to all the other stuff I pay for, and I’m getting sick of media executives blurting out “AI” as some sort of solution whenever they have a problem to solve. Moreover, if Thompson is serious about rebuilding CNN, how does another round of layoffs figure into that?

But Thompson is up against some serious challenges, and he may be the person to solve them. He is, after all, the executive who revitalized The New York Times’ business prospects by transforming it into a lifestyle brand as much as it is a news organization. The Times today has more than 10 million paying customers, and many of them signed up for access to games, recipes, consumer advice and other ancillary products.

Ubiquitous though CNN may be, it doesn’t have the brand power of the Times. But it faces the same need to do something dramatic: as more and more people flee cable and embrace internet streaming, cable channels are losing one of their most important sources of revenue. CNN, for instance, makes about $1 per subscriber. As Joshua Benton wrote for Nieman Lab:

The number of U.S. cable subscribers has fallen from 98.7 million in 2016 to 58 million in 2023, with projections — optimistic ones, arguably — putting that number at 40 million by 2028. That’s a lot of monthly $1 charges gone. Add in a steep ratings decline (and an accompanying ad collapse) and the future looks very fuzzy.

Of course, we’ve been down this road before. Thompson’s predecessor once removed, Jeff Zucker, tried a subscription service called CNN Plus, which was killed by new ownership almost as soon as it got off the ground. Thompson has not be especially clear about his own subscription plans, but I think that at a minimum he needs to offer a standalone streaming channel that features the same programming that’s on TV plus some extras. I wouldn’t be interested because I still have cable; if done right, though, such a service could prove to be compelling.

One of the most ridiculous shortcomings of CNN Plus was that CNN-TV was missing, which was no doubt a concession to the cable industry. That’s less important than it was a couple of years ago.

I like to say that friends don’t let friends watch cable news. But CNN, more so than MSNBC’s opinion-heavy lineup and much more so than Fox News’ right-wing propaganda, has its roots in journalism, and they’ve been trying to get back to those roots under Thompson. It hasn’t paid off in ratings; I just hope that Thompson’s corporate masters are allowing him to play a long game.

Leave a comment | Read comments

A few Biden updates

With the prospects of President Biden’s remaining in office still uncertain despite his insistence that he’s not going anywhere, here are three updates:

• The Wall Street Journal posted a five-byline story Monday night headlined “How Biden’s Inner Circle Worked to Keep Signs of Aging Under Wraps.” It’s a well-reported reprise of a piece that the Journal published a month ago that was widely dismissed at the time because of its reliance on partisan Republican sources. Now that earlier article looks prescient (free links).

• What you might call a mini-feeding frenzy broke out Monday afternoon when The New York Times, CNN and others reported that a specialist in Parkinson’s disease had visited the White House eight times over the past eight months. Hours later, the story looked like a cautionary tale in not getting ahead of the story, as we learned that the doctor had almost certainly been called in to see other patients, and that his service at the White House goes back a dozen years.

• Josh Marshall is always worth reading when you’re trying to make sense of complicated political stories. On Monday he wrote that he’s less sure than he was a week ago that Biden would step aside, mainly because, well, he hasn’t stepped aside. “By the end of the weekend,” he wrote, “I was back to near total uncertainty about where any of this was going.”

Leave a comment | Read comments

Kudos to The Philly Inquirer for a brilliant piece of performance art

The Inquirer editorial is reminiscent of this famous Boston Globe parody

On Saturday afternoon, The Philadelphia Inquirer published an editorial headlined “To serve his country, Donald Trump should leave the race.” It was intended as a rebuke to The New York Times’ editorial board, which on Friday posted a piece using the same headline, the only difference being that it was aimed at President Biden rather than Trump.

The Inquirer’s editorial was brilliant and inspired. It’s attracted a lot of well-deserved attention, and I hope it results in an upsurge of subscriptions. It begins:

President Joe Biden’s debate performance was a disaster. His disjointed responses and dazed look sparked calls for him to drop out of the presidential race.

But lost in the hand wringing was Donald Trump’s usual bombastic litany of lies, hyperbole, bigotry, ignorance, and fear mongering. His performance demonstrated once again that he is a danger to democracy and unfit for office.

In fact, the debate about the debate is misplaced. The only person who should withdraw from the race is Trump.

It reminded me of The Boston Globe’s fake front page from April 2016, imagining what a Trump residency would be like if he somehow were elected president, which of course we all knew would never happen. The page, dated a year into the future, led with the prescient headline “Deportations to Begin.”

Ultimately, though, the Inquirer’s editorial, like the Globe’s fake front, is performance art. Pro-Biden social media exploded in outrage at the Times’ editorial as well as the insistence of many pundits that Biden should step aside following his disastrous debate performance Thursday night. Why, critics asked, isn’t the Times demanding that Trump drop out given that he’s a lying, felonious insurrectionist?

The answer, of course, is that the Times wants Biden to end his campaign because they’re terrified that Trump will beat him — as am I. It’s ludicrous to believe that there’s anything anyone could do to persuade Trump to drop out. He needs to be defeated — and, while we’re at it, to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and imprisoned if found guilty of crimes that warrant such punishment.

The Inquirer’s editorial is a great thought experiment, and I’m glad it’s grabbed so much attention. The Times’ editorial, on the other hand, is a serious plea for Democrats to do whatever it takes to keep Trump from being elected to a second term and ushering in an era of right-wing authoritarianism. Apologists for Biden’s frighteningly awful debate performance should stop pretending otherwise.

Leave a comment | Read comments

The three national newspapers say that Biden should pull out or at least consider it

President Biden in May 2023

The editorial pages of the three national newspapers are calling on President Biden to end his re-election campaign or to strongly consider it. The most forthright of the three is the liberal New York Times, which argues that Biden’s disastrous debate performance on Thursday shows that he’s no longer the strongest candidate to stop the threat (free link) that Donald Trump poses to democracy should Trump win election this November:

As it stands, the president is engaged in a reckless gamble. There are Democratic leaders better equipped to present clear, compelling and energetic alternatives to a second Trump presidency. There is no reason for the party to risk the stability and security of the country by forcing voters to choose between Mr. Trump’s deficiencies and those of Mr. Biden. It’s too big a bet to simply hope Americans will overlook or discount Mr. Biden’s age and infirmity that they see with their own eyes.

The Times does say that it will endorse Biden if he persists with his candidacy: “If the race comes down to a choice between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, the sitting president would be this board’s unequivocal pick.”

The Washington Post, more centrist than the Times but just as anti-Trump, begins its editorial (free link):

If President Biden had weekend plans, he should cancel them in favor of some soul-searching. His calamitous debate performance on Thursday raises legitimate questions about whether he’s up for another four years in the world’s toughest job. It’s incumbent on this incumbent to determine, in conversation with family and aides, whether continuing to seek reelection is in the best interests of the country.

Unlike the Times and the Post, the right-wing editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is more concerned that an enfeebled Biden might actually win (free link) and prove that he’s not up to a second term:

Well, that was painful — for the United States. President Biden’s halting, stumbling debate performance Thursday night showed all too clearly that he isn’t up to serving four more years in office. For the good of the country, more even than their party, Democrats have some hard thinking to do about whether they need to replace him at the top of their ticket.

Closer to home, The Boston Globe has not weighed in. But three of its columnists have. Adrian Walker, Scot Lehigh and Brian McGrory all write that the time has come for Biden to step aside in favor of a Democrat who might stand a better chance of beating Trump. Walker has the line of the day in describing the president’s excruciating debate performance: “Biden was not merely bad. He was bad in a way people running for president are never bad.”

Biden could have pulled out a year or two ago but chose not to. The argument in favor of his staying in the race is that the chaos that would be unleashed by throwing the nomination to an open Democratic convention would be a greater risk than keeping him at the head of the ticket. Now it seems likely that the greater risk is to stick with Biden, a good and decent man and a successful president who just may not be up to the task of stopping the authoritarian menace that looms this fall.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Jack Shafer, a vital voice of media criticism, is on the move

People are always trying to leave Politico. Still, it was stunning to see that Jack Shafer, one of the great voices in media criticism, has had enough. Max Tani reports for Semafor that Shafer and two other top Politico staffers, Alex Ward and Lara Seligman, are leaving. Shafer told Tani:

I had a really good run with a long leash at Politico and appreciate all the great people I worked with. But the job has changed in recent months and I think it’s best for me to hit the ground dancing someplace else where media criticism is important to the mix.

I’ve been reading Shafer since he was at Slate and, later, at Reuters. His work is original and idiosyncratic, of a libertarian bent but with a real love for the craft. I hope he lands somewhere worthy of his talents. Isn’t that New York Times slot for a media columnist still open?

Leave a comment | Read comments

Margaret Sullivan on The Washington Post and the demise of the public editor

Good conversation this week with Margaret Sullivan on the Editor & Publisher vodcast. She and host Mike Blinder talk about the turmoil at The Washington Post, where she used to be a media columnist, and the disappearance of the public editor — a reader representative who holds the institution to account, a position she once held at The New York Times. Sullivan now writes a column for The Guardian and a newsletter at Substack, and holds a top position at the Columbia Journalism School. Listen in (or watch).

Leave a comment | Read comments

The Washington Post looks to local as a way of reviving its sagging fortunes

Photo (cc) 2016 by Dan Kennedy

I was intrigued to learn that embattled Washington Post publisher Will Lewis is thinking about expanding the Post’s local coverage as he seeks a way to turn around the paper’s declining fortunes. It’s an idea I’ve suggested a couple of times (here and here), so I’m heartened to see that the Post might actually move in that direction.

In Axios D.C., Cuneyt Dil reports that the product would be known as Local Plus and would be aimed at readers who are willing to pay a premium for newsletters and “exclusive experiences,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. If Lewis decides to head down that route, he’d be embracing the Post’s roots, harking back to a time when it had the highest penetration rate in the country and had more in common with large regional papers like The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer than with The New York Times.

Of course, Lewis doesn’t have to choose since digital distribution means that the Post can continue with the national and international mission that owner Jeff Bezos set for it a decade ago.

In my 2018 book “The Return of the Moguls,” I tracked the Bezos led-transformation. Under the Graham family, from whom Bezos bought the paper in 2013, the Post was barely profitable and was accomplishing that mainly through cuts. The Grahams’ final play was to double down on local, unveiling the slogan “Of Washington, For Washington.”

Even in the early Bezos years, Post executives understood the value of local. For several years they offered two different digital products — a colorful, low-cost magazine-like app that contained no local news and that was aimed at a national audience, and a more traditional app that cost more and included all of the Post’s journalism, including local and regional coverage.

The Post’s major Bezos-era challenge has come since Donald Trump left the White House and a post-Trump-bump malaise hit multiple news outlets. The New York Times has been a notable exception, zooming to more than 10 million paid subscribers on the strength of its lifestyle offerings, including recipes, consumer advice and games. The Post, meanwhile, slid from 3 million to 2.5 million paid subscribers as of a year ago, and may have slipped more since then.

If the Post is going to start growing again, it has to find areas where it’s not competing head-to-head with the Times. I assume that’s what Lewis’ “third newsroom” comprising social media and lifestyle journalism comes in, although he hasn’t even begun to define what that will look like.

Local news, too, would be a smart move, and charging a premium for it makes a lot of sense.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Mississippi Today fights a judge’s order to turn over internal documents

Former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. Photo (cc) 2016 by Tammy Anthony Baker.

The nonprofit news organization Mississippi Today has filed an appeal with that state’s Supreme Court rather than turn over internal documents sought by former Gov. Phil Bryant, who’s suing Today over its Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into a state welfare scandal.

It’s a high-stakes gamble: Mississippi recognizes only a very limited reporter’s privilege protecting journalists and news organizations from being ordered to identify anonymous sources and from producing documents. A lower court went along with Bryant, who argues that he is seeking evidence he needs in his attempt to prove that he was libeled by Today and its publisher, Mary Margaret White, a past guest on our “What Works” podcast. Today’s editor-in-chief, Adam Ganucheau, writes:

The Supreme Court could guarantee these critical rights for the first time in our state’s history, or it could establish a dangerous precedent for Mississippi journalists and the public at large by tossing aside an essential First Amendment protection.

As readers of Media Nation know, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 1972 Branzburg v. Hayes decision, ruled that the First Amendment does not provide for a reporter’s privilege. Nevertheless, 49 states offer some form of privilege either through a law or a ruling by state courts. The sole exceptions are Wyoming and the federal government itself. (The latest efforts to create a federal shield law are currently stalled in the Senate.)

The reporter’s privilege in Mississippi, though, is extremely limited — so much so that Ganucheau doesn’t regard his state as having any privilege at all. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press lumps Mississippi in with a group of states that have the lowest level of protection for journalism, including Idaho, Utah, Iowa, Missouri, Virginia and, sadly for us New Englanders, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

In RCFP’s guide to the reporter’s privilege, Mississippi lawyer Hale Gregory writes that “there are no reported decisions from Mississippi’s appellate courts regarding the reporters’ privilege, qualified or otherwise,” but that several court orders by the state’s trial courts have recognized “a qualified privilege.”

Mississippi Today has emerged as a vital source of accountability journalism in our poorest state. Currently it’s partnering with The New York Times on an investigation into a county sheriff’s department that has already led to prison sentences for six deputies who tortured two Black men in their custody, and that could lead to a federal civil-rights lawsuit.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Guilty x 34

Some notable front pages reporting Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records in order to cover up payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels — payments aimed at keeping their sexual encounter out of the headlines just before the 2016 election.

Leave a comment | Read comments

Page 1 of 40

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén