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President Joe Biden last week complained of The New York Times’ decision to run too fast with Hamas’͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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October 30, 2023


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Ben Smith
Ben Smith

Welcome to Semafor Media, where everyone’s a media critic.

Joe Biden was enraged last week at the New York Times, Liz Hoffman and Max Tani scoop below. The president complained privately last week of the paper’s decision to run too fast with Hamas’s claims about a Gaza hospital explosion, which the paper initially attributed to an Israeli airstrike and whose cause is now in dispute.

Media types continue to debate what happened there, amid this foggy media moment’s own fog of war. My friend (and Semafor investor) Jessica Lessin suggested the other day that Times’s problem was that it was “trying to be BuzzFeed,” chasing the digital values of speed and traffic. (No offense taken by this former BuzzFeed editor-in-chief, though we were in fact quite good at live news.)

But the Times’s real fault was that it was trying to be CNN. With a new emphasis on rolling — yet authoritative — live blogs, the paper has slid into broadcast journalism, without fully taking in all the care, experience, rules and infrastructure that great broadcasters like the U.S. networks and the BBC bring to breaking coverage. Jeff Zucker used to warn that CNN needed to become the New York Times before the Times “becomes us.” Maybe the Times will continue down that road. Or maybe in those TV moments, it makes more sense to rely on what sometimes seem like over-cautious, experienced broadcast hands, who maddeningly refuse to repeat on air the thing you just saw on social media.

Also today: Inside the Artforum firing, Kate Lee’s ever-interesting career has a new chapter, Iowa’s iconic Dave Price has a new gig, how Ben McKenzie gets a good seat at the SBF trial, where the moguls stay in Manhattan, and more. (Scoop count: 7)

Alexander Onukwue wrote this week in Semafor Africa about a new project to digitize Nigerian newspaper history. You can sign up below for Semafor Africa, a blend of business and politics, culture and, yes, media. Sign up here.

Assignment Desk

Who’s winning the splinternet? A new Washington Post story clearly documents Twitter’s declining reach with news consumers — but also demonstrates its popularity with the U.S. political right. Threads is clearly gaining some traction. Artifact and Flipboard, SmartNews, Samsung, and others are competing with Apple News and Google News for the front page. There’s no clear scoreboard, and it’s too soon to say where the information, and the conversation, will go. I’m somehow back on RSS. But publishers and consumers alike are anxiously looking for signals.

Max Tani and Liz Hoffman

Biden blasted Times’s Gaza coverage

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein


President Joe Biden raged against The New York Times in a private White House meeting early last week, after the Times amplified a Hamas claim that an Israeli airstrike was behind the Oct. 17 bombing of a Gaza hospital.

The news of the deadly explosion scuttled a planned presidential trip to Jordan, but the White House now believes a stray Palestinian rocket, not Israel, was to blame. (A more recent Times report has also called that assessment into question, and independent analysts continue to debate the evidence.)

The president told a small group of Wall Street executives in the White House’s Roosevelt Room early last week that he thought the headline was irresponsible and could have triggered military escalation in the Middle East, two people briefed on the conversation told Semafor. He fumed in particular that the headline had appeared “in an American newspaper.”


Read on for Max’s reporting on Biden’s relationship with the Times, and Liz’s view on why he’s eager to talk Israel with Wall Street. →


One Good Text

Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel and I texted Saturday after arguing with Instagram chief Adam Mosseri on Threads about tech platforms’ promotion of “creators” over other media producers.


⁛ News

No apology: Artforum’s top editor, David Velasco, was fired Thursday after refusing to apologize or publicly clarify the rationale behind his decision to sign and republish a letter on the war in Gaza that supported Palestinian liberation and called for a ceasefire – a letter that didn’t initially mention the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Two people with knowledge of the situation told Semafor that earlier this week, Penske Media higher-ups and Artforum’s publishers privately implored the top editor to issue a public apology for publishing the letter on Artforum’s website.

One Penske source said that the group was hoping Velasco would say publicly what he had acknowledged to them privately: that most Artforum staffers were unaware of the letter, and it hadn’t been vetted to the outlet’s standards before publication. Velasco refused and was subsequently fired. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the affair, but told the Times he was “disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure.”

Granite State snub: Dean Phillips’ longshot campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination relies heavily on winning New Hampshire, where Biden won’t be on the primary ballot. But the Democratic congressman has already prompted grumbling among some New Hampshire journalists. While the candidate has sat down with a number of national media outlets, he hasn’t agreed to an interview with the state’s largest paper, the Union Leader.

On-air in Iowa: The longtime face of Iowa political media, Dave Price, is going back on-air, leaving Des Moines NBC affiliate WHO after 22 years. He’ll be Iowa political director and an analyst for Gray TV’s 8 stations in the state, and host a weekly political show.

The Iowa caucuses in January are seen by Trump-skeptic Republicans as their last, best chance to stop Donald Trump from clinching the presidential nomination, and they’ll be taking place in a weakened local news environment. But Price says he’ll make the presidential campaign a center of coverage. He said in an email he’s “excited for this new role since it will allow me to have a statewide focus and do some deeper dive work on policies, issues and challenges impacting Iowa.”

Expense report: It’s getting more expensive to cover Biden. In an email to members of the White House Correspondents Association on Friday, WHCA President Kelly O’Donnell said the White House Travel Office has been slower than previous administrations to bill for trips. The slowdown has forced a White House-contracted travel vendor to raise the prices it charges to media outlets that travel with the president. The hike has prompted grumbling from members of the press organization, who have criticized the White House in a series of private meetings.

“We have again outlined in detail the travel office issues to senior staff members at the White House, in both a memo and in an in-person meeting,” O’Donnell said in a note to members. “They have acknowledged improvement is needed to resolve these issues, and pledged follow-up meetings to continue to address them.”

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried testifies in his fraud trial, in this courtroom sketch.
REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Hot seat: The daily competition for a seat at the Sam Bankman-Fried trial in Manhattan is getting fierce. Some reporters covering the trial have arrived as early as 2 a.m. to secure a seat in the press section of the courtroom, while others have pulled strings to secure a spot. SBF chronicler Michael Lewis secured a seat in the friends and family section of the courtroom. Even former O.C. star-turned-crypto reporter Ben McKenzie has had to wait most days – though according to one source familiar, a security guard who was a fan of McKenzie’s later acting work on police procedurals, including Gotham and Southland, helped secure him a seat on one occasion.

“Sometimes I’ve been in the overflow rooms and sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to get in the courtroom,” McKenzie told Semafor. “No comment as to my methods, other than to say it helps to have played a cop on TV on occasion.”


✰ Hollywood

Power breakfasts: We thought we were the only ones being dragged up to the Whitby on West 56th Street, apparently the current media mogul haven, for breakfasts with power players visiting from LA (and Miami). But well into our 7 a.m. eggs with a verified mogul the other day, we spotted a rumpled Ben Mullin waiting at the door for an NBC executive. Apparently it’s the spot!

Sum of its parts: BuzzFeed is reportedly in talks to sell Complex for $140 million — more than BuzzFeed’s own current value.

‘Humbling’: Lucas Shaw talks to Ari Emanuel about taking his company, talent agency Endeavor, private, after the long road to a 2021 public offering. “For the street, our Endeavor story was a little confusing,” Emanuel now says.


⁜ Tech

Newsletter news: Tech and artificial intelligence media startup Every has hired Kate Lee as the editor-in-chief and GM of its newsletters. Lee, whose career in books and digital media includes stints at Medium and Stripe Press, will expand the publication’s sources of revenue, including growing its advertising and courses business. Since launching in 2020, the company has published a daily newsletter with long-form essays at the intersection of tech, AI and productivity, and makes money through paid subscriptions, ads and software development.

In a brief interview with Semafor, Lee said Every had also been encouraged by its successful incubation of the AI-enhanced writing app Lex, which spun out as its own company, and she would work with Every’s founders to develop other potential tech business ideas.

“For the past couple years I’ve been eager to get back into early stage startup work, being back in that building phase,” she said. “As I saw what the business was and how it was evolving, I really wanted to get more involved.”

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