By:
October 19, 2021

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.”

Remembering Powell

There are several good pieces remembering the life and times of Colin Powell, including:

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’s problems

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (zz/DJ/AAD/STAR MAX/IPx)

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’s Dick Vitale. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

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.”

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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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