Saturday, May 31, 2014


I had a great interview with Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones this week about his new book on the Koch brothers, Sons of Wichita.

Check it out HERE and give the book a read.


If you don't think foreign correspondents have the toughest job in news, just see this example of what they face.

Monday, May 19, 2014


It's been less than a week since Jill Abramson was surprisingly fired as New York Times executive editor and the fallout from this mishandled departure continues to grow.

It is still unclear if her firing was due to reported complaints about her salary, her retaining a lawyer to help with that issue, or her alleged poor management.

Then there is the continued claims about sexism. Is she being unfairly described as "pushy" or "bossy" as some have reported in the past?

And should the Times have known that firing its first female executive editor in such a blunt way with little initial explanation would not go over so well?

Yes, this has turned into a P.R. nightmare for the paper.

P.R. is usually only an image thing and there is little chance that this affects the quality of the paper as Dean Baquet, a supremely qualified and respected journalist, takes over.

Still, the many issues this raises about newspaper management, women in editorship roles, and coverage of a newsrooms inner problems make it hard to ignore.

It could be argued that Abramson has been unfairly painted as something unusual in the editor world. If she is pushy or bossy or any other description that means tough or demanding of quality, she is far from unusual among newspaper editors. 

I have worked at four newspapers and one magazine and most of my editors were pushy, bossy or both. And that is as much a compliment as an observation. In today's news world, editors need to be tough on reporters and make sure the work is of the highest quality.

Apparently a woman showing these traits is given more criticism. Not a fair view.

But, as is often the case, there is probably more to this than we see and the truth usually falls somewhere in the middle.

Did Abramson rub some people the wrong way? Possibly. 

Former Times scribe Brian Stelter, now host of CNN's Reliable Sources, brought together a good group to review the matter on Sunday's show, and said of his own dealings with Abramson that she made leaving easier when he joined CNN last year.

David Carr, the Times media columnist, penned a great look at the inside and outside of this issue today, stating, "It is one thing to gossip or complain about your boss, but quite another to watch her head get chopped off in the cold light of day. The lack of decorum was stunning."

In my few dealings with Abramson, she was professional and responsive, whether by email or phone. During an interview with me in 2011 just weeks after she took the top job, Abramson said of her approach: "I think everybody who worked with me as managing editor knows that the kind of stories I love are the story behind the story, full of narrative detail ... I will push for our coverage always to get behind the curtain."

The last time I spoke with her in person was at the 2013 American Society of News Editors conference in Washington, D.C. where she was honored along with former Oregonian Editor Sandra Mims Rowe. 

That event came just days after she had been roughed up by a Politico story that claimed she was disliked by the newsroom, a story many have pointed to this past week when looking at the steps that may have led to her firing.

As for Abramson, she had stayed quiet on the issue until today, speaking at the Wake Forest University commencement, where she said, "leaving a job you love hurts," and "we human beings are a lot more resilient than we realize."

She also praised the work of the Times and said she does not know what comes next.

It is clear that Abramson will likely land on her feet and put her great experience and skills to work somewhere. Interestingly, the man who replaced her, Dean Baquet, was himself let go years ago from the top editor job at the Los Angeles Times. He soon after signed on with the New York Times, first as Washington bureau chief, then managing editor before getting the executive editor job last week.

But for the Times, and newspapers in general, the reduction in women editors at top papers should be of concern. As I noted last week, Abramson's departure means none of the top 10 daily newspapers by circulation have a woman editor. This is concerning given the fact that half of them have had women editors in the past, but failed to replace them.

Further, among the top 25 newspapers, only two have females at the helm.

The Times, meanwhile, has to do some quick work to help its image, and reality, when it comes to treatment of women seeking to rise to higher positions. It is likely we have not seen the last of this issue. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Today's surprise announcement that New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson was departing was not completely out of the blue.

There had been some past reports of disagreement in the newsroom over her work.

Interestingly, she had made clear she had already given much of the day-to-day oversight to managing editor Dean Baquet, who will replace her. 

She told me in 2011:

"I've given him broad authority over the daily news report," Abramson said of Baquet, former Times Washington bureau chief and past editor of the Los Angeles Times. "I don't go to the front page meeting in the afternoon. I think I'm the first executive editor who hasn't.

"We have a morning meeting at 10 where we pick likely stories for the front page. And that meeting is more focused on what's leading our home page and when certain stories are coming in. It's a good meeting for me, it gives me the lay of the land in terms of what the most important news events of the day are and what our best enterprise journalism is. But I let Dean lead. ... Dean is the most senior editor in charge."

As for Baquet, this marks his second stint as top editor of a major newspaper. He led the Los Angeles Times before being dismissed in 2006 shortly after a critical speech at the Associated Press Managing Editors conference in his hometown of New Orleans.

I detailed that departure in a 2006 profile of Baquet and his brother, Terry, a veteran editor at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

Interesting that Abramson was the first woman executive editor of the Times and Baquet becomes the first African-American executive editor of the grey lady. He also served as the first such editor at the Los Angeles Times.

Whatever the newsroom management issues at play here, it is certainly a tough time for anyone to run a major daily paper, especially the Times, which many consider the best in the country. Still, it cannot be what it used to be with cutbacks, revenue problems and the same financial hits ever paper is taking.

Stay tuned to see why this happened and what it means for the paper's future.

Monday, May 5, 2014


Two interesting things to note today about 60 Minutes, which has had a tough time with its image in recent months.

Of course, a big part of their problem was the flawed report last fall that included claims from a former security contractor about events surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. 

It turned out the contractor, Dylan Davies, had lied about most of what he claimed and had actually given different accounts to government investigators.  

Media Matters did a lot on the story at the time and named CBS News our "Misinformer of the Year" for 2013.

New York magazine is out with a big story on that issue today, which also asks if correspondent Lara Logan will ever return to 60 Minutes. It also has a lot of internal views of the situation.

This follows another strange 60 Minutes piece last night, a story on BP complaining about how it is supposedly being treated unfairly in the settlement agreements it made after its deadly explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico four years ago. 

The piece does little to really show how BP's complaints, which have included many full-page New York Times ads whining about having to pay up, hurt BP's image or appear petty. It also does little to show that such fraud is not unusual in these cases, or say anything about the 11 people who died in the disaster.

Friday, May 2, 2014


It's that time of year again, yet another White House Correspondents Association dinner about to take place tomorrow night. But this year seems to be getting less attention than in the past, and an apparent focus away from the celebrity guests.

WHCA President Steve Thomma, the veteran McClatchy scribe, says there is an effort to focus on news people and said there will be some tributes based on the fact it's the 100th anniversary of the WHCA. 

The dinner's opening video will focus on the reporters' relationship with the president, along with a tribute to the first African-American reporter to cover a presidential press conference, Harry S. McAlpin, who broke the color barrier 70 years ago.

There is some great history on the organization and nostalgic photos at the group's website HERE.

I was lucky to attend two such dinners, in 2006 and 2007, when Stephen Colbert and Rich Little hosted, respectively. The 2006 dinner also had the great George W. Bush surprise double address when impersonator Steve Bridges joined Bush on the stage.

One of the funniest addresses was not by a president or a comedian, but by Laura Bush, who brought down the house in 2005 when she took the mic and ripped into him with good humor.

This year, a name you may not know well, Joel McHale, is the comedic voice. Curious how he rolls? Check him out HERE.

Of course the real event is often not the dinner, but the before and after parties where I rubbed shoulders with the likes of George Clooney, Michael Strahan, Laurence Fishburn and Tommy Lasorda. Will be interesting to see who shows up this year and if in fact there is less of a celebrity presence.

One interesting incident I observed firsthand was in 2007 when Karl Rove got into a heated match with singer Sheryl Crowe after Crowe and her pal, Laurie David (wife of TV funnyman Larry David) urged him to rethink his stand on global warming.  

After the dust settled, I asked Rove how he was doing, he said he was enjoying it all "if I can get to my meal." Oddly, he was seated at The New York Times table. The Times does not even attend the dinner any more, finding it creates a conflict of interest.

The truth is the real meaning of the night, often forgotten, is the raising of money for journalism scholarships, something more important than who attends or who they are wearing.