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Industry Guest Column: Dan Rather, Poppy Harlow, and The ‘Evolution’ of Journalism

There was once a time in America when journalists were respected as truth-tellers and reliable sources of information. That was before so-called “advocacy” reporting reared its ugly head…

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Tom Tradup is Vice President of News & Talk Programming for Dallas-based Salem Radio Network. He has written extensively on media for TOWNHALL.com and the Jerusalem news site All Israel News.

Two recent media stories—about the news industry—caught my eye over the weekend because, in their combined messaging, they say a lot about the sorry state of American journalism in 2024.

The first was a blaring headline in The Hollywood Reporter trumpeting: “DAN RATHER RETURNING TO CBS NEWS FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE BITTER EXIT 18 YEARS AGO.

Rather—the native Texan who annoyed us for decades covering Election Night returns with hokey phrases like “Ronald Reagan is cutting through the middle of America like a hot knife through butter” and “The Senator’s tongue is wagging like a blind dog’s tail in a meat market,” eventually rose to become CBS’s White House correspondent and rudely confronting President Richard Nixon throughout the Watergate scandal.

(After Nixon addressed the American Newspaper Publishers Convention, Dan arose to announce he was “Dan Rather, CBS News” at which point the room erupted in thunderous applause. Nixon asked “Are you running for something, Mr. Rather?” to which the response was “No sir, Mr. President…are you?”)

That rude confrontation with a President of the United States (decades later honed to perfection by CNN’s Jim Acosta sparring with Donald J. Trump) was enough to propel Rather into the anchor seat on the CBS Evening News, along with the title “Managing Editor.” But under Rather’s “management,” the once-dominant network newscast slipped into third place in the national news ratings.  

In 1986, Dan Rather was allegedly attacked on the streets of New York City by two thugs who reportedly asked “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” as they punched him out. Then in September 1987, Dan got peeved that CBS Sports coverage of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament ran past the start of his news broadcast, so he just yanked off his microphone and left the studio; CBS News affiliates around the nation were fed a black screen and dead air for six minutes.

The hits just kept on coming, and in 1993, CBS tried a ratings stunt by pairing Rather with Connie Chung as his co-anchor in a bid to turn around the former crown jewel of its news division. Viewers voted thumbs-down by tuning to other channels. And finally, in 2004, Rather and CBS News—at the height of President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign—ran a questionable story about Bush having gone AWOL while serving in the Texas National Guard.

(An independent investigation concluded that “fundamental journalistic principles” had been ignored by a CBS News producer and her “Managing Editor.” Rather departed CBS two years later.)

A photo of Dan Rather and Tom Tradup at the 2016 Republican National Convention (Photo: Tom Tradup)
A photo of Dan Rather and Tom Tradup at the 2016 Republican National Convention Photo Tom Tradup

All this came rushing back to me as I read that Hollywood Reporter headline that Dan Rather was “returning to CBS News.” But, alas, like local TV newscasters teasing  a cat stuck in a tree coming up after the weather, it turns out 92-year-old Dan wasn’t actually suiting up for the anchor desk again: he was just the subject of a puff piece on Jane Pauley’s CBS Sunday Morning program, recapping his career and hyping a new Netflix documentary about the guy who ended each CBS Evening News broadcast by staring into the camera and uttering the maudlin word “Courage.”

A second headline this weekend was the news that Poppy Harlow—co-captain of the cable TV version of White Star Lines Titanic when she set sail on the ill-fated CNN This Morning with Yeoman Purser Don Lemon and ship’s activity director Kaitlin Collins—will be departing CNN this week. (Full disclosure:  Having tried dozens of times over the years with mixed success, I concede it is hard to “create chemistry” in broadcast teams. This one was doomed to be shipwrecked like the S.S. Minow as ratings continually sank and tempers and egos were on full display…but without the entertainment and class of professional wrestling.)

In a farewell e-mail to colleagues at CNN (later “leaked” to the media), Poppy Harlow disclosed that her immediate plans are to walk her children to school and pick them up each day. Oh, and “to support the evolution of journalism in every way I can, while preserving the humanity in it.” (Italics mine.)

What exactly would the “humanity” in today’s journalism be? Would it be folks like the insipid Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC—an alleged “news” network—introducing literally every story relating to Donald J. Trump by saying here’s the latest news “about-the-twice-impeached, four-times-indicted, found-liable-for-sexual- assault-and-facing-91-felony-counts-disgraced-former-President”?

Or is the “humanity” found in the Associated Press, which refused to cover the debut of This Week On The Hill, a weekly news program launched last month by Salem Media Group and featuring weekly appearances by Mike Johnson, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, because—in AP’s pathetically comic  response—”We do not normally write stories about news shows being launched by other organizations.”

As Executive Producer of TWOTH, I had to point out to AP executives that this isn’t like The Bachelor or a new season of Family Feud with Steve Harvey….it is a regularly scheduled news program with the man two heartbeats away from the presidency taking his agenda directly to the American people on radio without having it run through the deflavorizer of the AP, or MSNBC, and any other gatekeepers in what we laughingly refer to as journalism.

There was once a time in America when journalists were respected as truth-tellers and reliable sources of information. That was before so-called “advocacy” reporting reared its ugly head, and reporters were given the greenlight to inject their personal views into articles and broadcasts. Alas, no more “just the facts.”

Today it is open season on the truth. So now America’s strongest ally in the Middle East —Israel— is regularly portrayed in the media and in violent campus demonstrations as the aggressor taking on Hamas “freedom fighters.” (AKA the terrorists who rape hostages, behead teenagers, and burn babies alive.)

Hate to break it to Dan Rather and Poppy Harlow, but if playing fast and loose with the facts and sacrificing truth on the altar of political correctness is where the “evolution” of journalism is taking us, sorry. To quote Sam Walton, the dogs don’t like the food.

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After Nearly 3 Years Together, Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Are Hitting Their Stride

“When someone knows you from TV, they will come up and they’ll be like, ‘I like you on TV.’ When they are radio listeners, they want to shake your hand or hug you.”

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With almost three years together, nearly 500 radio stations, and millions of listeners across the country, Clay Travis and Buck Sexton are always working and prepping to get things right. The duo sat down with Barrett News Media after Travis traveled to their affiliate stations in Atlanta and Seattle.

“We love meeting our people,” Sexton said, “When someone knows you from TV, they will come up and they’ll look at you and they’ll be like, ‘I like you on TV.’ When they are radio listeners, they want to shake your hand or hug you, and it’s because they know you. You’re not some person that pops up on the screen when they’re at the gym, the airport, or at home. You’re someone that they spend real time with.”

Travis added, “We’ve been everywhere, and there is a huge component of this job that has nothing to do with what you say for three hours into a microphone. It’s the most important part, ultimately, because that’s the job itself. But it’s only a part of the job. And there’s a huge number of people around us, like our producer Ali, who help ensure that we have a good show on a day-to-day basis.”

A question they often get asked is “When do you prep?” The answer is always.

“What people wouldn’t understand is they think you sit down in front of a microphone, you talk for three hours, and the job’s over. We’re always prepping. Always preparing to be able to talk,” Travis said.

“I’m sending Clay the next day’s story ideas, clips, guest ideas, whatever it may be, sometimes at 3:05 PM. We finish at 3 PM Eastern.” Sexton went on to say, “I always tell people that prep is the thought you have while cooking lasagna at 7:00 PM and you realize, ‘Oh my gosh, who’d be a perfect guest for that?’”

Their prep is what leads them to do their best and get the facts right every day. “I would go to bat for our show in the three years it’s been on, even if we may not end up with the right opinions. I thought we were going to see a red wave in 2022. I was wrong. But our facts are all right. Everybody doesn’t have to agree on opinions. But I think there has to be a foundational agreement of what the facts are. And we get the facts right on the show.” Travis added, “If I get a fact wrong, we feel embarrassed and I feel like I’ve failed the audience. But opinions? Look, that we’re not going to be 100% right on everything.”

Buck Sexton seconded the comments even noting the pair sometimes have different opinions. “Clay and I disagree on a fair amount. So he’s wrong every time he disagrees with me. So there you go. But this is why we keep track of the bets; to keep each other honest on this stuff. It’s all recorded, but we have to write them down, too.”

A big bet they have is who will be President Trump’s running mate for the 2024 election. Sexton said, “I’ve thought that it was likely to be and still think it’s likely to be Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), whom I think would be very smart for Trump for a whole range of pretty obvious reasons. And, Clay has said, ‘Well, I’ll let him say it.”

“I think it’s going to be Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). I would actually go with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) just because I think he’s by far the most accomplished governor in the country. I think he got almost everything right with COVID,” Clay Travis said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. But if you just ask me who is the most ready to be a really good president based on the executive job that [DeSantis has] already done. My dream ticket, so to speak, would be Trump, President, and DeSantis, VP.”

Travis noted his dream ticket is highly unlikely. “Buck agrees with me that he doesn’t think DeSantis would take it. There’s also complicating factors about them both being from the state of Florida constitutionally. But let’s play like fantasy politics drafting. Trump-DeSantis would be the ticket.”

Both Travis and Sexton agree with recent polls saying Trump might win in November but noted a lot can happen in the six months until election day. “As George W. Bush once said, ‘Fool me once, you can’t get fooled again,” Sexton said. “There’s a million different things across the country that can be done which can make a difference. The numbers right now can change.

“If you look back historically, there have been cases where Presidents or challengers have been way behind at this stage, and everyone woke up to a very different reality on Election Day. I do think it shows the general weakness of the Biden administration.”

Clay Travis noted, “I think Trump is going to win, but I was burned in 2022, so I’m somewhat apprehensive about what might happen over the next six months. I think right now you would have to say if the election were today, Trump would win. And I think he might win comfortably.”

“There aren’t actually that many people whose minds are changeable, so I tend to think we’re going to remain kind of fixed. But even right now, you’re talking about the election coming down to a few thousand people, potentially in the Milwaukee suburbs or in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, or in the Detroit suburbs. What did Axios say? I think it was 0.6% of the overall population is basically going to decide this election. So 99.4% of things are baked. What’s that point six going to do?”

Launching on June 21, 2021, The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show will soon mark their three-year anniversary. While their show is in Rush Limbaugh’s former time slot, they recognize they need each other to try and fill his shoes. Together they work tirelessly to honor his legacy.

Travis noted they were not just picked out of a hat for this position saying, “There’s a lot of dues to pay.” Hard work combined with being “almost egoless” is the key to success.

“When you show up in a parking lot at 4:45 in the morning and you’re trying to go in and do a show, and there’s no one there to let you in, and you have to start the show on your phone in the parking lot and nobody else is around. You kind of get the pecking order in a serious way.”

Sexton added, “We built our own audiences and did it from zero. From the ground up. I mean, I didn’t even start with a radio station. I started digitally online and then grew into getting radio stations over time. Clay and I make jokes about showing up at radio stations and no one even knows who we are. And we’re supposed to do a three-hour show, and you got to pay your dues at radio. And both of us for over a decade had been really showing up and slogging it out to the best of our abilities, and proved successful with audiences.”

For those looking to follow in their footsteps, Buck Sexton added, “I didn’t start off in media and I think that’s a huge advantage.” The former CIA Analyst added, “That is the first order of business: Figure out what you think is really interesting and where you can learn a lot and do something that’s worthwhile. And do that, especially in your 20s. I think that’s a pretty failsafe way to go. Then, as you start to get further along in that process, maybe get in your late 20s, start looking at 30. Think to yourself, ‘Alright. Well, how can I leverage this?’ And I would say ‘How could I begin a media career then.’”

Travis broke his advice into four parts, “I’ve got a 16, a 13, and a nine-year-old. What I try to get them to do is read as much as possible, because I think you have to be able to analyze a lot of information. And the earlier you get adept at being able to read rapidly and analyze voluminous amounts of information, the better you’re going to be able to handle all of the different complexities and challenges of an individual day.”

His second part of advice is for young adults looking to break into the media, “Don’t expect to make much money. If you want to go into media, you have to really fight your way and there isn’t some magic bullet or suddenly you make $100,000.”

Third, “Figure out a way to make income in multiple places, because I’ve been in a situation where you lose a job, it’s tough, and it can be of no fault of your own. The media industry’s very tough. And so if you can have income coming in from three or four different directions, that can make a tremendous difference.”

Lastly, “You don’t have to be perfect every day, but trying to be good matters when you’re live like we are. Every show is not going to be a home run. There are days we’re going to finish and be like, ‘Ah, that was okay,’ right? But it’s a willingness to get up and try to be good every day and understand that if you weren’t great yesterday, it’s over. You don’t get to rest on your laurels. If you were awful, you get the opportunity to be better the next day.”

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Industry Guest Column: Jack Spector Was More Than Just a ‘Good Guy’ to Steve Malzberg

From the first time I saw that red light go on, I knew I wanted to do what Jack Spector did.

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Steve Malzberg is a longtime news/talk radio host, airing on stations like 77 WABC, 710 WOR, among others. He also hosted The Steve Malzberg Show on Newsmax.

A little over 30 years ago, New York radio lost a legend. Jack Spector passed away on March 8, 1994, at the age of 65, while doing what he loved — being on the radio. He suffered a heart attack after playing a record on WHLI Radio on Long Island, NY. When the music ended, there was nothing but silence over the air, and staff found Spector’s body on the floor of the studio.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I knew Jack first as a WMCA “Good Guy”, and then as just a really great guy who ignited my dreams of being on the radio.

The WMCA Good Guys hit the airwaves in 1961 spinning top 40 hits. It was in the late 60’s that I found 570 on my AM dial and became aware of “Big Jake” and the rest of the crew. But in September of 1970, WMCA switched to talk, and “Good Guy” Jack became the host of Sports-Talk on the station. For me, a die-hard Yankees fan, who went to sleep with my transistor radio under my pillow when the Yanks were on the West Coast, it was heaven.

In September 1970, I was in the 6th grade at P.S. 215. One of my classmates was Cheri Spector. Yes, Jack’s daughter. One of three, along with the twins, Nancy and Laurie. Cheri and I and quite a large group of kids, were classmates from first grade through sixth grade, and many of us, including Cheri and I, were in many of the same classes at David A. Boody Jr. High School as well, where we skipped the 8th grade because we were all so smart, I guess! Cheri was my first crush, and yes, legend has it that The Four Seasons named their mega hit song Sheri, after Cheri Spector, even though they spelled it with an ‘S’.

I was aware that my classmate’s dad was on the radio for several years, but it wasn’t until that switch to Sports-Talk host that I found out first-hand what kind of man Jack Spector was.

Jack would get some of the biggest names in New York sports and beyond as guests on his show. And he would get most of them in-studio, which I didn’t realize at the time, was not all that easy to accomplish. But here’s the thing, Jack knew that a bunch of the guys in Mr. Wolf’s 6th grade class were rabid sports fans.

So, on several occasions, Jack would send Cheri to school with autographs of the guest he had on his show the previous night. And not just one or two autographs. She would arrive with five or six from the same guest, to hand out to us starstruck sixth graders, making sure none of us was left out. Thurman Munson, Yogi Berra, Bill White, Ralph Kiner, Roy White, Lee MacPhail and Gale Sayers just to name a few. Each one was signed on WMCA notepad paper, over the symbol of a microphone. Just imagine asking these guys to sign not one or two times, but a half dozen times. That’s who Jack was. And there’s more, much more.

Jack and his wife Marilyn knew how much I loved his radio show, so I was invited up, not once, but twice, to the studios of WMCA Radio, to sit in the control room and studio and watch the show. They took me and brought me home. That’s who Jack Spector (and his wife) was. From the first time I saw that red light go on, I knew I wanted to do what Jack Spector did.

Ironically enough, I wound up with a newsroom internship at the same WMCA studios 8 years later, although it had nothing to do with Jack, and went on to produce Bob Grant’s morning show, AM-57, and Art Rust Jr.’s Saturday Sports Talk, and from there, Art took me to WABC Radio in 1981 where I remained for the next 23 years or so. I haven’t spoken or communicated with Cheri at all since Jr. High School, but I do keep in touch with her sister Nancy via Facebook.

I wanted to finally tell this story so that everyone can learn who Jack Spector was. Much more than just a “Good Guy”, who left us way too soon.

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KFI AM-640 Afternoon Host John Kobylt Has Adjusted to Life Without Ken Chiampou

“The structure of my workday is a lot different, somewhat more stressful than anything on the air. But off air, Ken used to do a lot of work. He was like the super producer on the show.”

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A photo of John Kobylt and the KFI logo
(Photo: John Kobylt)

Over 30 years on KFI, Los Angeles, the John and Ken Show became as iconic to Southern Californians as the Hollywood Sign and the Dodgers. When Ken Chiampou announced his radio retirement this past November you couldn’t help but wonder what would become of his career-long partner, John Kobylt.

John announced he’d fly solo but to some of us that sounded like bravado. You don’t replace half of a superstar talk team with the remaining half and expect the same audience chemistry and response.

But that’s exactly what he did.

JK: Things have been going remarkably well. We (Ken and I) had a good last three months and it continued through the first four months of this year. Fortunately, it didn’t skip a beat. The audience stuck with us.

Earlier this week, Kobylt told me outside of missing Ken’s company on and off the air the big difference is the added show prep work.

JK: The structure of my workday, all the stuff off the air, is a lot different, somewhat more stressful than anything on the air. But off air, Ken used to do a lot of work. He was like the super producer on the show. Ray Lopez is our producer, but Ken would get up early in the morning, 6 a.m., and gather up a couple of dozen headlines and send it to Ray and me. He originally did that because I had three little boys aged five and under.

So he said, look, you are really tired in the morning. I’m awake, so why don’t I get things started? And it was true. I had to make the guys’ breakfast and take them to school. By the time I got home, it was after nine o’clock and Ken had already been up three hours. So he got the first rundown sent to us and I could see what he found. And then I could go and do my own search.

He took a lot of what I would say is the obvious headlines of the day and I would look for the longer pieces, the more magazine-style pieces, editorials, or columns to see different ways of looking at issues because I did not want to do the same kind of show that everybody else does.

DW: And now you do it all.

JK: And now I’ve gotta do it all. You know, I get up at 5:30 in the morning and I’ve got to send out the first run of headlines, then I find the extra stuff that I really like to talk about. I guess the big difference is this is all what I’m interested in. You know, this is not through Ken’s lens.

DW: So, has your subject matter changed at all now that you’re doing more of the pre-producing?

JK: No. I mean, I’ve always looked at doing a talk show like, uh, did you ever work at a music station? Top 40 station?

DW: Oh, yeah.

JK: Well that that’s what we did too. And I always looked at it as you play the hit records. After all the time out here in LA, over 30 years, I know what the hit records are.  I know what ignites the KFI audience.

I explain it to people this way: there is a circle of things I’m interested in, there’s a circle of things the audience is interested in. Where we overlap is what I do on the show.  I don’t do stuff I don’t care about. There are a lot of issues that are beaten to death on other talk shows that I just don’t care about. And I’ll, I’ll say that on the air: ‘I’ve got a big story. I don’t care.’  And you know, there’s stuff that the audience doesn’t care about.

DW: How do you figure out what an entire audience cares about?

JK: Well, after all this time, you know, KFI has this audience for a reason. And since I’ve lived on the inside for over 30 years with it, you know… I hate the word family, but like, you know how your friends and family think, right? And they know how you think, the people closest to you in life.

DW: In LA there’s a lot of stuff going on locally, politically, statewide…

JK: Yeah, you know, (in California) we live under a communist system.

(We both laugh.)

JK: That’s what it is. I mean, you just quickly go through the issues. The homelessness is so out of control and it’s gross, disgusting. Homelessness. You know, these are not poor people down on their luck that just got evicted from the house.

No, these are lifelong drug addicts, criminals, and mental patients for the most part, the street people that you see. And they’re terrorizing everybody, absolutely terrorizing, everybody’s afraid.  So that’s a real big deal, you know, and gas here is two dollars more a gallon than it is in most other states. And people see that every day, you know, every few blocks. So it’s that kind of stuff we’re living within California that nobody is living within any other state.

There’s a set of circumstances here that are unique inside the borders of California. And people know I’m here going through exactly the same thing that they’re going through. And that’s a big part of the bond.

KFI Program Director Robin Bertolucci is effusive in her praise of John’s continuing solo success:

RB: Super proud of the great trajectory for The John Kobylt Show! John has a pep in his step and has been super engaged and excited about the show. That comes through loud and clear. The John Kobylt Show is live, local, and focused on the biggest issues impacting Southern California and it is working beautifully! Hats off to the whole team- John Kobylt, Captain of the ship, Producer Ray Lopez, board op extraordinaire and the show’s social media maven Eric Sklar, and news with Debra Mark!

The words fearless and honest are overused in our business. Some very good talk talents have walked into major market stations and crumbled from fear and insecurity. Ask me, I’ll tell you. We try to be what we think we’re supposed to be rather than who we are.

John Kobylt is a nice guy who can’t possibly relate. He’s as honest and fearless as they come.

——————————————

The John Kobylt Show can be heard on KFI live weekdays live from 1-4 pm Pacific Time. See my separate YouTube interviews with John and Ken, when their split was first announced in November 2023.

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