December 9, 2021

Just this past Sunday, a 50-foot tall Christmas tree outside the Fox News headquarters in New York City was ceremoniously lit. Two days later, it was lit again. This time, on fire.

The fire was set a little after midnight on Wednesday morning. No one was injured, but the tree was engulfed in flames. Police arrested Craig Tamanaha, 49, and charged him with seven counts including criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and arson.

Certainly a disgusting act.

The folks of “Fox & Friends” were fired up — no pun intended — about what had happened, including co-host Ainsley Earhardt, who said, “It’s a tree that unites us. It brings us together. It’s about the Christmas spirit. It is about the holiday season. It’s about Jesus. It’s about Hanukkah. It is about everything that we stand for as a country.”


Anyway, some on Fox News wanted to make this an anti-Fox News, anti-Christmas, anti-America thing. (Earhardt also said, “Someone did this to spoil our Christmas” and called the tree an “American icon.”) But the truth is, the reason why the fire was set wasn’t immediately known. The New York Times’ Mike Ives reported that police believe Tamanaha is homeless and were investigating if drugs or mental illness played a factor. He was arrested in March for smoking K2, a synthetic drug.

In a memo to staff, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said, “We will not let this deliberate and brazen act of cowardice deter us. We are in the process of rebuilding and installing a new tree as a message that there can be peace, light and joy even during a dark moment like this. We are currently planning on a lighting ceremony for the new tree and will send those details once we have them.”

Then, Wednesday evening, Scott sent out another memo saying a new tree would be put up this afternoon and its lights will be turned on again during the 5 p.m. Eastern airing of “The Five.”

Scott wrote that new tree is a “sign of resilience and hope in the face of a horrible act.”

Scott also wrote that Fox News Media and Fox Corp. have made a $100,000 donation to Answer the Call, which provides financial assistance to the families of fallen service members of the FDNY and NYPD — two agencies that responded quickly to the fire.

The wrong man

Turns out, the man detained in France this week and thought to be involved in the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was not that man after all.

Saudi officials said all along that it was a case of mistaken identity, and French officials have determined that as well. The man arrested was thought to have been Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi, who is accused of being a part of the team that murdered Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. French officials admitted from the start that they were unsure if the man detained was Otaibi, but held him while they investigated further.

The man was freed after “thorough checks” determined that he was not the Otaibi wanted in connection with Khashoggi’s murder.

Moving on?

Is longtime journalist Gene Weingarten out at The Washington Post? On Wednesday, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner in feature writing tweeted out his story from Nov. 8 and wrote, “This turns out to have been my last story for the Wapo. We couldn’t come to terms on a new contract. I have dramatic & spectacular thoughts about this but after 30 years with talented people & an institution I revere, that’s what they’ll remain: Thoughts.”

Weingarten discontinued his regular column in September, but was still occasionally writing for The Washington Post Magazine. In August, Weingarten was criticized for writing a column in which he made fun of Indian food. He later apologized for the column.

Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” tweeted, “You may know Gene as the curmudgeon on Twitter who complains bitterly about the NYTimes Spelling Bee puzzle and slanders national cuisines. Frankly, I do not know why he does these things, because he has been and is so much more! He is one of the greatest feature writers in America, who not only possesses astonishing levels of empathy but has a knack for finding stories where other people don’t think to look. His first Pulitzer, for this story about a stunt, was well deserved. But we Weingarten aficionados believe he should have won it for this one, a profile of a person who would not normally get a profile in a major paper.”

Sagal then linked to Weingarten’s 2006 story called “The Peekaboo Paradox. The strange secrets of humor, fear and a guy who makes big money making little people laugh.”

Sagal then added, “His second Pulitzer was for one of the most wrenching, difficult and ultimately moving long form articles I have ever read, one I never intend to read again but everybody must read once.”

Sagal linked to a 2009 story: “Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?”

CNN’s Daniel Dale tweeted that Weingarten’s second Pulitzer was “one of the best pieces of American newspaper journalism ever.”

Fauci’s take

MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci. (Courtesy: NBC News)

If you’re sifting through all the latest information about the omicron variant of COVID-19 in search of some good news, here’s some. Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that lab tests suggest three shots of their coronavirus vaccine offer significant protection against the omicron variant. And while there is a drop off in protection with only two doses, the two doses still offer protection against severe illness, early tests show.

But what about Moderna? Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed that on Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC.

“(I) would really be very surprised if we did not see the same sort of an effect with Moderna as is now being reported with Pfizer,” Fauci said. “Virtually everything we said about effectiveness of the Pfizer can be applied to Moderna. They’re really quite comparable.”

Fauci also talked about the three-dose regimen, saying, “I mean, right now, the official definition for regulatory and requirement purposes still is a two-dose Moderna, Pfizer, and a one-dose J&J. But when you’re talking about optimal protection, there’s no doubt now from the data we have that, to be optimally protected, you have to get a third shot of an mRNA and a second shot of a J&J. The discussion of whether or not the definition of fully vaccinated should include that third shot boost is certainly ongoing and it is certainly on the table. I would not be surprised at all if, within a reasonable period of time, that changes. But, right now, we’re sticking with the original definition of fully vaccinated.”

What she would have said

Hillary Clinton, in June of this year. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Five years after losing the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton is giving her … acceptance speech. In a MasterClass episode scheduled for today, Clinton shares what she would have said in her speech had she defeated Donald Trump.

In a preview from “Sunday TODAY with Willie Geist” that was released on Wednesday, Clinton said, “I’ve never shared this with anybody. I’ve never read it out loud. But it helps to encapsulate who I am, what I believe in and what my hopes were for the kind of country that I want for my grandchildren and that I want for the world, that I believe in, is America at its best.”

She then read from her speech, which began:

“My fellow Americans, today you’ve sent a message to the whole world. Our values endure, our democracy stands strong and our motto remains ‘E pluribus unum.’ Out of many, one. We will not be defined only by our differences. We will not be an us vs. them country. The American dream is big enough for everyone.”

She went on to talk about the hard campaign and the differences in politics in this country.

Clinton added, “Today with your children on your shoulders, neighbors at your side, friends old and new standing as one, you renewed our democracy. And because of the honor you have given me, you changed its face forever. I’ve met women who were born before women had the right to vote. They’ve been waiting 100 years for tonight. I’ve met little boys and girls who didn’t understand why a woman has never been president before. Now they know, and the world knows, that in America every boy and every girl can grow up to be whatever they dream, even president of the United States. This is a victory for all Americans, men and women, boys and girls, because as our country has proven once again, when there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”

Clinton does get emotional as she reads this fascinating moment in history that never actually happened.

Sad news

Claudia Levy, a former Washington Post journalist and union activist, died on Dec. 3 from complications of cervical spine surgery. She was 77.

The Washington Post’s Adam Bernstein wrote, “Her intolerance for political jabberwocky and inflated ego was equaled by her seemingly boundless personal generosity, which often led her to help strangers in need. Once, her sister said, Ms. Levy was assigned to write a story about a homeless shelter. She brought a family she met there into her home for a year and helped support one of the children through college.”

Levy started at the Post as a “copy boy” in 1968 and moved her way up to reporter. She covered some stories related to Watergate and went on to become editor of the Maryland Weekly section, as well as assistant financial editor and real estate editor.

She was heavily involved in the union. Her sister, Andrea Polk, told Bernstein, “Her efforts to get women equal pay back in the day — that was like career suicide, and she didn’t care. She did it anyway.”

Impactful journalism

Last month, led by senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge, CBS News spoke with current and former soldiers injured in the Iranian missile strike on the al-Asad airbase in January 2020 who have been denied one of the nation’s most sacred awards, the Purple Heart, as well as the benefits that come with it. CBS found nearly 40 soldiers whose injuries appear to qualify them for the Purple Heart nearly two years after their base was hit by the Iranian missile strike.

Well, on Wednesday, the Army announced it will award the Purple Heart to 39 additional soldiers who were injured in the attack.

For CBS News, Herridge and Michael Kaplan wrote, “After CBS News brought these cases to the Pentagon’s attention, a spokesman said the Army’s Human Resources Command would review the soldiers’ Purple Heart submissions. And more than two dozen members of Congress led by Representative Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, asked the Secretary of the Army to ‘expeditiously’ award the Purple Heart to soldiers injured in the missile attack, citing the CBS News investigation.”

They also pointed out: “The award carries lifetime benefits, including priority medical care at Veterans Affairs hospitals, home loan benefits, and preferences for federal hiring. Some states offer Purple Heart recipients tuition waivers for undergraduate and postgraduate university programs.”

One of those awarded the Purple Heart includes Mike Pridgeon, who said he has suffered from constant headaches, memory loss and vision issues. He told CBS News, “It’s not something you ever want to earn. But it’s something that my son can see as to why I am the way I am, why I changed.”

Searching for answers

“Mittens,” thanks to Bernie Sanders at the inauguration. “How to find a job,” thanks to the economy. “How to maintain mental health,” thanks to nearly two years of grim news.

Those are just a few of the things people searched on Google in 2021.

Globally, words such as “race” and “climate” and “healthcare” were among the top searches.

But not everything was so serious. As I mentioned, Sanders’ cool mittens at Joe Biden’s inauguration had people searching for mittens. In addition, spelling bee winners, “road trips” and “skateboard parks” were of interest, too.

Check out the link above to see what else people looked up.

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