Colin Powell died Monday. He was the first Black U.S. secretary of state. He was the first Black national security adviser. He was a four-star general and the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His military and political career was both groundbreaking and hugely influential.
All of those things should be remembered and honored.
But in the immediate aftermath of his death, there was controversy about how he died — and how it was being reported. Powell was 84 and his family said he died of complications from COVID-19.
When someone with COVID-19 dies, the first question that pops into most minds is, “Were they vaccinated?”
Yes, Powell was vaccinated. And that’s how many news outlets originally announced his death. As my colleague, Al Tompkins, noted in a column for Poynter: “Why Colin Powell’s death should not be framed as the death of a vaccinated person.”
It must be pointed out that Powell also had multiple myeloma, which compromised his immune system. He had planned on getting a booster, but had not because he was ill.
In a story for USA Today, Jorge L. Ortiz, John Bacon and Celina Tebor wrote, “In reality, Powell’s passing at 84 actually underscores the importance of vaccination against the coronavirus.”
Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told USA Today, “I’m afraid people will say the vaccine didn’t help him. But the mortality rate for vaccinated people is 11 times less than unvaccinated. People still die from the disease, especially if you are 84 and have underlying health risks. He is one of the unfortunate ones, but he was very high risk.”
Yet, that didn’t stop Fox News’ John Roberts from tweeting, “The fact that Colin Powell died from a breakthrough COVID infection raises new concerns about how effective vaccines are long-term.”
It was a terribly irresponsible tweet. Roberts must have realized it, too, because after being slammed on social media, he deleted it. He later followed up with several tweets:
I deleted my tweet about the tragic death of Colin Powell because many people interpreted it as anti-vax. It was not. I was excited to get vaccinated, hoping it would help speed a return to ‘normal life’. I also did a PSA on Fox encouraging vaccination for those able …
As we all know, the FDA is now recommending boosters for certain people, and I personally know a number of people who have had breakthrough infections – some of them, quite troubling. Yes, Powell had myeloma, but I was still stunned to hear of his passing from COVID….
..we live in the same town, and we would occasionally run into each at the local sandwich shop. His death is a loss for our community and our country.
I plan to get a booster as soon as possible.
While Roberts’ follow-up tweets were a bit more responsible, we cannot ignore (and he cannot justify) his original tweet. While it might not have technically been “anti-vax,” it absolutely and carelessly implied skepticism in the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine.
Zac Petkanas, a former adviser to both Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, tweeted, “Gross but not surprising that a Fox ‘News’ reporter is spreading anti-vaxx disinformation. Powell was 84 and had multiple myeloma. Vaccinations bring down the overall amount of COVID circulating in a community to protect those with underlying conditions like Powell.”
Howard Kurtz, who hosts a media show on Fox News, tweeted, “Colin Powell, despite being vaxxed, had a weakened immune system from fighting cancer of the white blood cells. So at 84 he was unable to fight off the complications from a breakthrough infection. Let’s not read anything more into it.”
And most awkward of all, New York City physician Dr. Nicole Saphier said on Fox News while Roberts was on air at the same time, “It’s very upsetting to see people taking Colin Powell’s death and using it as ‘the vaccine didn’t work.’ This is a very specific situation. To use someone’s death to try and make a point that really doesn’t carry a lot of weight to it is very frustrating.”
There are several good pieces remembering the life and times of Colin Powell, including:
- The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt with “Colin Powell, Who Shaped U.S. National Security, Dies at 84.” Schmitt also wrote, “Powell said that backing the war in Iraq was a ‘blot’ on his record.”
- The Washington Post’s Missy Ryan with “Iraq War role was a stain on Powell’s record — one he openly said he regretted.”
- The Washington Post’s John Wagner and Eugene Scott with “Powell praised by U.S. politicians from both parties as trailblazer, trusted adviser to presidents.”
- Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and Andrew Murray with “Remembering Colin Powell upon his death: Former President Bush calls him ‘a great public servant.’”
- CNN’s Devan Cole with “Colin Powell, first Black US secretary of state, dies of Covid-19 complications amid cancer battle.”
- Jeff Zeleny, CNN’s chief national affairs correspondent, with “What Colin Powell’s surprise endorsement of Barack Obama revealed about his view of America’s future.”
- And there are these comments from Fox News contributor and former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer: “It was service and it was duty. But he did it with such an uplifting, affable style. A lot of generals, you look at them on TV and they’re rough and tough. Colin Powell could be rough and tough but Colin Powell was a sweetheart. He just had such an uplifting way about everything he did and he treated people with such kindness and respect everywhere he went. And he was just that kind of leader. That type of man that you were just privileged to say I rubbed shoulders with a guy like Colin Powell. I got to know him. He just had that way about him, he made you feel good about yourself because he made you feel good. He touched everybody that way.”
Top editor out at Axel Springer
On Sunday, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith wrote about one of the top editors of Axel Springer, the new owner of Politico. Smith wrote about Julian Reichelt, the editor of Bild — a tabloid owned by Axel Springer — and allegations that Reichelt behaved inappropriately with women at the publication.
On Monday, Smith and the Times’ Melissa Eddy reported that Reichelt has been removed from his duties. They wrote, “The company’s chairman and chief executive, Mathias Dopfner, praised Mr. Reichelt for his leadership but said retaining him had become impossible. He said his replacement, Johannes Boie, would combine ‘journalistic excellence with modern leadership.’”
Journalist Melissa Chan tweeted, “What does it say about German confidence that it took American judgment to bring down Julian Reichelt, and not German media’s own outrage that’s been going on for quite some time. The stuff about Reichelt is mostly not new.”
Facebook is under fire. Whistleblower Frances Haugen has testified before a Senate subcommittee about the damage it has done and The Wall Street Journal has produced a series of stories based on internal documents.
In her latest “Sway” podcast for The New York Times, Kara Swisher talks with veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg, who isn’t surprised by Facebook’s problems. Mossberg tells Swisher, “I think the company is fundamentally unethical.” And, he adds, “In my encounters with Mark Zuckerberg, I’ve never been able to discover any principles.”
It’s another must-listen “Sway.”
Meanwhile, check out this story from BBC News specialist disinformation reporter Marianna Spring: “I get abuse and threats online — why can’t it be stopped?”
Spring wrote, “It’s not just me — from politicians around the world and ‘Love Island’ stars to frontline doctors, I’ve been hearing from women subjected to the same kind of hate. New research, shared with the BBC, suggests women are more likely to receive this sort of abuse than men, it’s getting worse — and it’s often combined with racism and homophobia.”
Spring added, “New research … by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, shows how 97% of 330 accounts sending misogynistic abuse on Twitter and Instagram remained on the site after being reported.”
It’s a thoroughly reported piece that deserves your attention.
Sinclair stations disrupted
Sinclair Broadcast Group, which runs TV stations across the country, said that some of its servers were encrypted with ransomware and that data was stolen from the network.
In a statement, Sinclair said, “Promptly upon detection of the security event, senior management was notified, and the Company implemented its incident response plan, took measures to contain the incident, and launched an investigation. Legal counsel, a cybersecurity forensic firm, and other incident response professionals were engaged. The Company also notified law enforcement and other governmental agencies. The forensic investigation remains ongoing.”
Sinclair did not say how many of its stations were impacted. The Associated Press’ Michelle Chapman and Alan Suderman reported that WNWO in Toledo, Ohio appeared to be off the air on Monday afternoon and that WZTV in Nashville put out a notice on its website Monday about “serious technical issues.”
Chapman and Suderman wrote, “Ransomware attacks, in which cyber criminals encrypt an organization’s data and then demand payment to unscramble it, are a growing scourge in the United States. The Biden administration has pledged to disrupt and prosecute criminal networks like the one that attacked a major U.S. pipeline company in May. The attack on Colonial Pipeline, which led to gas shortages along the East Coast, was attributed to a Russia-based gang of cybercriminals.”
Dick Vitale reveals cancer diagnosis
ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale announced Monday that he has been diagnosed with lymphoma. This comes after several surgeries to remove melanoma, which Vitale said is unrelated to his lymphoma.
In his statement, Vitale, 82, wrote, “The plan is to treat my lymphoma with steroids and six months of chemotherapy. The medical experts tell me it has a 90-percent cure rate. They say I can continue to work so I will have to manage my work schedule around my chemo schedule as they will monitor my test results along the way.”
Vitale has raised tens of millions over the years for pediatric cancer through his annual gala and the V Foundation. He said he will fight so he can continue that cause.
Jimmy Pitaro — chairman of ESPN and sports content and fellow V Foundation board member — said, “Dick Vitale is a one-of-a-kind treasure as a broadcaster and human being. His love for family and tireless passion to help people in need, especially children, truly define his greatness. He is beloved by his ESPN family and has our full support.”
- President Joe Biden will participate in a CNN town hall on Thursday from Baltimore. Anderson Cooper will moderate. It will air for 90 minutes beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern.
- Northeastern University professor Dan Kennedy with some interesting thoughts on Eric Clapton and whether we can separate art from the artist.
- And, speaking of Clapton, Margaret Sullivan’s latest media column for The Washington Post: “‘More immediate, more visceral’ and a lot tougher on Eric Clapton: A plan for reviving Rolling Stone.”
- The New York Times’ Katherine Rosman and Elizabeth A. Harris with “Succession at Scholastic Seemed to Be a Shock, Even to the New Chairwoman.”
- Interesting Twitter thread from the Fort Worth NewsGuild which starts by saying, “Our Fort Worth NewsGuild members are working from home this week in solidarity with the growing number of employees who can not work from the office due to the rising cost of parking in downtown Fort Worth. Our parking options run between $146 and $275 a month.” Check out the rest of the thread.
- The New Yorker’s Sheelah Kolhatkar with “How An Adoption Broker Cashed In On Prospective Parents’ Dreams.”
- The Undefeated’s Dwayne Bray said, “Victim No. 79: America’s homicide crisis claimed my childhood friend.”
- This is interesting writing to more than just the people of Texas, and other journalism outfits can do this kind of thing in their area. Fun stuff from Texas Monthly: “The Top 50 Texas BBQ Joints.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at email@example.com.
More resources for journalists
- Subscribe to Alma Matters – Poynter’s new newsletter for college journalism educators
- Join us for the world’s largest fact-checking summit — Global Fact 8, Oct. 20-23. Register to attend.
- Join us at our virtual Celebration of Journalism honoring Lesley Stahl on Nov. 10 — Tickets.
- Table Stakes: Poynter’s Local News Innovation Program — Jan. 5-Nov. 30, 2022, Apply by Oct. 31, 2021.
The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.