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In this edition: Fox News massages an interview.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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June 10, 2024


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome back to Semafor Media, where we’re always looking for the right conspiracy theory.

The heart of last week’s mess at the Washington Post was the question of journalists’ independence from their bosses.

You can find excellent, rather extensive coverage of the skirmish in The New York Times. But the deeper question is whether the people who own newspapers are ready for more conflict. In Donald Trump’s first term, the Post’s reporting drew presidential attacks on Amazon — which then claimed Trump steered billions of government dollars to a competitor. As former editor Marty Baron wrote in his memoir, owner Jeff Bezos wasn’t cowed. But years later, in a different moment in Bezos’ life, does the billionaire still have an appetite for adversarial Washington journalism?

That’s the thing about publishers: Very few of them get into the business of news because they seek confrontations with power. It’s hard to know how they’ll act until the time comes. The Trump years saw TV moguls reportedly waver under direct pressure. Katharine Graham, an underestimated heiress, stood up to President Richard Nixon. Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s founder, backed his unlikely newsroom when I was there against everyone from Trump to Uber to Hollywood stars.

The Post’s current turmoil is a bellwether for the next round.

Also this week: Fox News massages an interview, Hollywood rediscovers sex, the FT’s Matt Garrahan reassures rattled Americans, and journalists everywhere lose an advocate. (Scoop count: 3)


Sex and the Cinema: When did big American movies go celibate? An Economist study found that the share of box office hits featuring sexual content has halved since 2000. Potential culprits include the Chinese market, the rise of streaming TV, and the #MeToo movement. Director Richard Linklater — whose new film, Hit Man, features old-fashioned, sexy movie stars — blames a generation of films aimed at kids, not adults, led by Marvel.

“When superheroes took over, it’s clear they don’t have genitalia at all. It precludes sex … if you don’t have the parts,” he said.

Listen to the whole interview on Mixed Signals from Semafor Media, wherever you get your podcasts.

Max Tani

How Fox News massaged a Trump interview


Fox News edited an interview with Donald Trump to remove a section in which he appeared to back off a promise to declassify federal files related to the late sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein because “you don’t want to affect people’s lives if it’s phony stuff in there.”

The former president was asked on Fox and Friends last Sunday whether, if elected again, he would declassify some federal government files related to 9/11, the JFK assassination, and “files” related to Epstein.

“Would you declassify the Epstein files?” host Rachel Campos-Duffy asked.

“Yeah, I would,” Trump said, as the television segment ended.

But Trump’s full answer appeared later on Will Cain’s Fox News radio show:

Campos-Duffy: Would you declassify the Epstein files?

Trump: Yeah, yeah, I would.

Campos-Duffy: All right.

Trump: I guess I would. I think that less so because, you don’t know, you don’t want to affect people’s lives if it’s phony stuff in there, because it’s a lot of phony stuff with that whole world. But I think I would, or at least—

Campos-Duffy: Do you think that would restore trust — help restore trust.

Trump: Yeah. I don’t know about Epstein so much as I do the others. Certainly about the way he died. It’d be interesting to find out what happened there, because that was a weird situation and the cameras didn’t happen to be working, etc., etc. But yeah, I’d go a long way toward that one.

Read on for Max's view of what this says about the Fox-Trump relationship. →

One Good Text

British executives have taken over CNN, The Wall Street Journal, the Daily Beast, Bloomberg, the Washington Post, and more. We asked a top British journalist who covered media in the US for more than a decade how scared we should be.


Ben and Max will be in Cannes next week to cover media and marketing’s biggest annual gathering, where many of the most powerful people in media come to make deals, rub shoulders, win awards, and sip Aperol spritzes on the Côte d’Azur.

Starting next Monday, we’ll deliver news, scoops, and insights on the year ahead in media — with all its deal-making, gossip, and pretentious grandeur, from one of the industry’s true epicenters.

Subscribe to our pop-up newsletter, Semafor Cannes.


⁛ News

Christophe Deloire in 2022.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

RIP: Christophe Deloire, the director general of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), died Saturday at 53 after a battle with cancer. He’d brought urgency and passion to the increasingly dire cause of advocating for journalists around the world. At RSF, he organized the daring escape of dissident Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova from Moscow in 2022. “You will always remain in my heart as the person who gave me freedom,” she wrote after his death.

The toll in Ukraine: “Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, 81 media workers have been killed. 10 while carrying out journalistic activities, while 71 journalists died as a result of Russian shelling,” Tim Mak writes in The Counteroffensive.

Vietnam crackdown: A top journalist criticized the government and was arrested for “abusing the rights of freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the State,” among other sins — a pretty blunt way to put it.

Guild grumbles: On Thursday, Semafor wrote about internal tensions within the membership of the NewsGuild over the union’s political speech, criticism of members, and the cost of union dues. In a note to members, Reuters NewsGuild unit chair Tim McLaughlin wrote that members of the Guild had “effectively lost our voice, or any power, in our own union, the NewsGuild of New York,” saying, “the fiscally irresponsible and political activist arm of our union is now firmly in control of how our dues are spent.” In response, the Guild touted widespread support for the dues increase.

⁜ Tech

Aravind Srinivas, CEO of Perplexity, at Semafor's 2024 World Economy Summit.
Saul Loeb/AFP

Perplexed: The nifty AI-powered search engine Perplexity is sweeping up investigative journalism now, much to the frustration of the journalists. We asked our colleague Katyanna Quach for her take: “Copyright is dead. Technology has made it too easy to steal and reuse content, and it’s getting more difficult to fight against this type of theft. Publishers don’t have enough money to sue these companies, who just keep building products that chip away at journalism. Instead, many are jumping into bed with them to negotiate licensing deals. They are buying into the idea that everything is okay if AI cites their articles as sources and diverts traffic to their websites. But it’s not clear if this is really happening.” (Sign up for Semafor Tech for more of Katyanna’s dire warnings.)

Searching for traffic: In a memo first shared with Semafor, Business Insider CEO Barbara Peng laid out the ways in which the site’s traffic had been significantly impacted by changes that Google made to its search algorithm. She said that Business Insider was actively looking to “create mutually beneficial partnerships” with Google and other artificial intelligence companies because the company’s search traffic was becoming increasingly volatile.

“The way in which people find and access information is changing rapidly,” she wrote. “ChatGPT is starting to gain ground on Google’s long-standing dominance, reaching 180M users in a remarkably short amount of time. To its credit, Google is now trying to disrupt itself by experimenting with its own search generative experience (SGE), which will also accelerate the disruption happening on a macro level. But when our content is summarized and served in this way, we don’t make any money to support our journalism.”

Xeet away: “Political elite circles are on Twitter once again, only in a weirder fashion than before Elon Musk took over at the end of 2022,” Evan McMorris-Santoro and Alex Roarty write in Notus. “Users said Twitter is not what it was, but also it’s not as bad as it was in the most chaotic days after it became Musk’s to do with as he pleases.”

Google it, eh? Meta has responded to pressure from governments by getting out of the news business. But Google doesn’t have that luxury, and is implementing plans to give away $100 million a year to Canadian news companies.

Penguin Random House

Our Semaforum Q&A this week is with Edward Wong, who has a new book out, ”At The Edge of Empire: A Family’s Reckoning with China.” He spoke to our colleague Prashant Rao about challenges of covering DC after being a foreign correspondent:

Prashant: Journalism in China and journalism in DC are diametrically different. What you’re trying to accomplish is different when you’re a China correspondent versus a DC correspondent. How is committing an act of journalism different in a place like China versus a hypercompetitive place like DC?

Edward: It’s hugely different. And in fact, there was even a big difference between Iraq and China. There’s an interesting parallel or similarity between my reporting in Iraq during the height of the war and DC in that I was able to get in touch with government officials very easily, whether they were Iraqi officials in Iraq or American generals or officials in Iraq. And then here in DC, US officials, it’s very easy for me if I have their cell phone number or I have them on Signal or on email to get in touch with them. And they might not want to talk to you, but oftentimes they will want to talk to you because they’ll want to tell you their version of things. They also know that there’s value in speaking to the press because someone else out there’s putting out a competing narrative, whether it’s another government or a rival agency. So you use that to your advantage. It’s important for them to get their version of things out there.

I found that Iraqi officials were the same way. It was very easy to talk to them and there were often competing factions in Iraq.

Now, China was the exact opposite. China, it’s almost impossible to get officials to talk to you, especially within the central government. So a lot of the reporting I did was going out and talking to ordinary citizens and writing about how they were affected by policies, but it was very difficult to get insight into the policymaking process itself, which is a main part of my job here in DC. So in many ways the type of reporting I did in China, I found more rewarding, because you’re talking with ordinary people and finding out the impact of the policies on them and then you’re reporting from the ground up. It’s sort of like more grassroots reporting, whereas in Washington, you’re reporting on the top down, you’re trying to figure out who’s making policy and it’s other reporters — reporters in Sudan, or Israel and Gaza, or Ukraine — who are reporting on the effects of US policy on those regions.

Read more from our Q&A. →

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