By:
October 13, 2020

Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett got underway Monday with opening remarks. They will continue today as senators begin asking questions of Barrett.

By now, we’re all familiar with the political ramifications. The Democrats wanted to wait until after the election to allow the next president to nominate a replacement for the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Republicans want to confirm Barrett before the election. With enough votes to do that, the Republicans are expected to get Barrett on the Supreme Court bench in near-record time.

And there’s more. We’re in the middle of a pandemic when we’re not even sure if it’s safe to gather indoors.

The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips noted that the “Republicans are on the defensive about holding this hearing in the first place.” As Phillips also notes, a Post-ABC poll shows Americans, by a slim margin, are opposed to having this hearing now. The national poll shows 52% believe the opening should be filled by the winner of the election.

This tug-of-war is just the latest example of the severe division in this country. It hasn’t always been this way. RBG was confirmed by a near-unanimous vote. Antonin Scalia was unanimous. So how in the world did we get here?

During Fox News’ coverage of Monday’s hearings, “Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace said it goes back to when Republicans refused to have a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, after Scalia’s death. That was 269 days before the 2016 election, and yet Republicans are willing to have a hearing on Barrett just 22 days before this election.

“Is it civics that the Republicans blocked the Merrick Garland nomination 269 days before an election and they are pushing this one through now 22 days, or is it pure politics?” Wallace said. “Look, I agree. The whole system is messed up and the politics is out of control. Having said that, it was Lindsey Graham who in 2018, in 2019 at a forum said, ‘Look, if there is a nomination in the final year after the primaries start in 2020 for Donald Trump, I will not bring it up before my committee.’ And he even said mark the tape and hold me to account on that, so he has flipped entirely. Here’s, I guess, my point: It’s all politics.”

There are several reasons why Republicans want Barrett immediately confirmed, with the first happening almost as soon as the election is over.

During NBC’s coverage, NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt said, “A week or so after the election, the Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the Affordable Care Act. It’s a lawsuit that would basically strike down that law. And Amy Coney Barrett, if confirmed, would be in a position to potentially rule on that.”

So back and forth we will go, but Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham pretty much nailed it when he said, “This is probably not about persuading each other unless something really dramatic happens. … All Republicans will vote yes. All Democrats will vote no.”

Know that going in, it would serve news networks well to discuss the ramifications of a Barrett confirmation as opposed to arguing over whether this hearing is legitimate. That ship, it appears, has already sailed.

Tragedy in Denver

There was a disturbing and tragic situation in Denver over the weekend. A local TV station hired a private guard to provide security for its journalists covering a story that involved both right-wing and left-wing demonstrators. That guard is now in custody after shooting and killing a demonstrator. Details are still sketchy, but here’s what appeared to have happened:

NBC affiliate 9NEWS contracted a man named Matthew Dolloff from Pinkerton security. During the dueling demonstrations, a verbal altercation broke out. A man is believed to have fired pepper spray and Dolloff returned with a gunshot that killed the demonstrator. The exchange was captured by Denver Post photojournalist Helen H. Richardson. (Warning: the images may be disturbing to some.)

Dolloff is being held while being investigated for first-degree murder.

In a statement, 9NEWS general manager Mark Cornetta said, “9NEWS is deeply saddened by this loss of life. We have and will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement.”

Obviously, the loss of life is horrifying, and it also raises the question of media companies hiring private security guards to protect their journalists who are covering stories where there is the potential of violence. This brings up all sorts of ethical questions, and I’m sure Poynter will have more on this, but only after learning more of the details of this incident.

Thanks but no thanks

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One for a campaign rally in Florida on Monday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump is traveling to several stops this week, but reporters from several news outlets have declined to assign reporters to travel with him.

The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum reports that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, among others, are not traveling with the president out of concerns that Trump and his aides are not following safety protocols to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Grynbaum writes, “The White House Correspondents’ Association, which coordinates the so-called pool of reporters who travel with the president to chronicle his movements and utterances, is now scrambling to find journalists willing to staff the president’s events.”

It’s a remarkable development when you consider the election is three weeks from today. Grynbaum reports that at least seven news outlets have turned down an open seat on Trump’s plane. New York Times Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller said, “White House reporters had safety concerns and were not comfortable traveling with the president at this time.”

Grynbaum also reports that NBC is concerned about the risk to its employees if it was to host a town hall with Trump this week.

Town hall details

ABC News has announced details for its town hall Thursday night with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. It will air from 8 to 10 p.m. The first 90 minutes will be the town hall with most of the questions coming from voters. The final 30 minutes will feature analysis from ABC News’ political team. The event will be moderated by ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos. Trump’s NBC town hall, if it happens, could be that night as well.

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A long overdue stance by Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Monday that the social media giant will now ban posts that deny or distort the Holocaust.

Wait, that wasn’t already banned?

In his post, Zuckerberg wrote, “I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust.”

As Axios’ Sara Fischer points out, this is a reversal from what Zuckerberg said in a 2018 interview with Kara Swisher when he said he didn’t think Facebook should take down Holocaust denial content. He emailed Swisher afterward, saying, “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”

In his Monday statement, Zuckerberg said, “My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech. Drawing the right lines between what is and isn’t acceptable speech isn’t straightforward, but with the current state of the world, I believe this is the right balance.”

The Election Ad Decoder

Have you watched a political ad on TV and wondered, “Hey, who paid for this?” Well, the Miami Herald has a really cool feature for its readers.

It’s called the Election Ad Decoder and it tells voters not only who paid for the ad, but whether it contains false or misleading content, what data is being collected form voters and where contributions will go if voters give.

Readers can go to the interactive home page, type in the information seen on the ad and the Herald will decode it, if possible. There’s also a place to submit a tip to an investigative reporter.

Miami Herald executive editor Mindy Marques told me, “The right to vote is a foundational principle of our democracy. The Election Ad Decoder is one of several ways the Miami Herald aims to be an essential source for information on the elections for our community. We’re working hard to ensure our audience can be confident that their decisions are based on accurate information from legitimate sources they know and trust.”

A legend on the field and in the booth

Baseball and broadcasting legend Joe Morgan at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018. (George Napolitano /MediaPunch /IPX)

We have lost a number of Hall of Fame baseball players in the past couple of months, including Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford. Another one sadly passed: Joe Morgan, who died Monday after a series of health issues. He was 77. Not only was Morgan the driving force behind the mighty “Big Red Machine” Reds teams of the 1970s, but he was one of baseball’s highest-profile broadcasters.

Morgan was the first analyst of ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” and was in that role from 1990 to 2010. He worked alongside play-by-play announcer Jon Miller to form one of baseball’s longest-tenured and best-known partnerships. Morgan won two Emmys for his work on “Sunday Night Baseball.”

In a statement, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro said, “Joe Morgan added immediate credibility to our ‘Sunday Night Baseball ‘broadcasts. A Hall of Famer on the field, his knowledge of the game was unparalleled and he helped our viewers appreciate and understand the nuances of the game. We are grateful for all that Joe did for ESPN and for the game of baseball.”

Media tidbits

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during a break in the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Here’s a troubling tweet from PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor. It’s a video of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows stopping to meet with reporters in a hallway Capitol Hill. He is wearing a mask and pulls the microphone back to distance himself from reporters. When he removes his mask, a media member says, “No.” Meadows then says he is more than 10 feet away. Then, he says he wouldn’t talk, puts his mask back on and leaves.
  • Kat Downs Mulder has been named managing editor/digital for The Washington Post. Downs Mulder is currently the vice president of product and design, overseeing the Post’s product strategy. In a statement, she said, “I’m excited to return to the newsroom and look forward to leading this talented team of innovative journalists.”
  • The New York Times has told its employees that it would not require anyone to be in the office before July 6, 2021. And, of course, that date could be pushed back depending on the coronavirus.
  • NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker has deactivated her Twitter account just a little more than a week before she is to moderate the next scheduled presidential debate. She deactivated it last Friday after C-SPAN’s Steve Scully, who was supposed to moderate this week’s debate (which has been canceled), temporarily deactivated his Twitter account after alleging he was hacked. An NBC source told Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn that it was Welker’s decision to deactivate her account.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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