By:
October 11, 2021

Despite all the scientific evidence, despite all the incredibly grim numbers regarding COVID-19 deaths, despite all the data, there are those in the media still questioning vaccines.

Many don’t come right out and say, “Don’t get the vaccine.” It’s not that overt.

But their agenda is certainly clear. They say things like “it’s a personal choice” and “make your own decision” and “don’t let anyone tell you what to do.” They preach personal freedom over health concerns. They push wild conspiracy theories.

It was with that backdrop that recently retired Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik, now professor of media studies at Goucher College, went on quite the rant Sunday morning during an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

The show first showed these actual chyrons that Fox News ran on air:

“Vaccine mandates are hurting the country.”

“The authoritarianism of vaccine mandates.”

Host Brian Stelter said, “They are not saying literally, ‘Don’t take the vaccine.’ But they make fun of liberals who promote vaccines. … The tone every single day is to be anti-Biden on this.”

That’s when Zurawik went off.

“It’s not real to them,” Zurawik said. “It’s like it’s a game. They’re playing for viewership, OK? They’ve got a core that will listen to this and wants to hear this, apparently. But how do you live with yourself when you know what you’re doing in the media can cause deaths for people? How do you live with yourself? I don’t understand that. I do not understand that.”

Zuwarik was far from finished.

“There’s a lot of sins we have and I’ll confess to some of them as a journalist,” he said, “but I don’t know how people in right-wing media, with the science that we have out there and with all the videos and all the personal tragedies we’ve witnessed of people dying … you go and do anti-vax stuff on television. It’s not a game! You walk out on the street, you’re part of the community, you’re part of this country, you’re part of the global community. And you’re contributing to killing people. That’s unconscionable. There is no forgiveness. There is no forgiveness for these people.”

The message hinted at by some Fox News personalities does not necessarily match what is going on inside Fox News. Some of Fox News’ on-air talent — Harris Faulkner, Steve Doocy, Dana Perino and John Roberts — have done PSAs encouraging viewers to get the shot. Fox News has run a vaccine-finder on its website. And Fox News itself has a strong COVID-19 policy.

As Vanity Fair’s Caleb Ecarma writes, “Fox News’ Anti-Vax Mandate Messaging Is Out of Step With Its Own Strict Policies.” According to Ecarma’s story, “90% of Fox’s full-time employees were vaccinated as of last month, with daily testing for those who are not.”

And Chris Hayes, who works for Fox News rival MSNBC, called out some of the Fox News folks while pointing out the hypocrisy of it all. Hayes said, “The irony here, again, is that none of these people — Clay Travis, Brian Kilmeade to Tucker Carlson — have shown that same bravery to call out their own network and their own employer. The Fox News vaccine requirement is stricter than the one proposed by President Joe Biden and described as tyranny and creeping communism.”

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake recently wrote, “Carlson has run many conspiratorial segments on coronavirus vaccines that defy logic and gloss over or ignore actual scientific concepts.”

Fox News is not the only outlet that has some personalities leaning into questioning the vaccine. There are others. It’s all the same to Zurawik.

“Go cash your checks now,” Zurawik said of those kinds of media. “You’re helping to kill people. Think of that.”

Trump on the stump

People gather ahead of an appearance by former President Donald Trump at a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Saturday. (AP Photo/Thomas Beaumont)

Former President Donald Trump held another rally over the weekend, this one in Iowa. Politico’s Meridith McGraw was there and filed this story: “Trump holds fast to his election lies as the GOP establishment hugs him tighter.”

McGraw reports that Trump remains defiant as ever that he won the 2020 election and his supporters were fully behind him, chanting, “Trump won! Trump won! Trump won!”

McGraw wrote, “But the notable elements were not what was said by Trump, but who was there with him. Appearing alongside the former president was a who’s who of influential Republicans in the Hawkeye state, including Sen. Chuck Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann. Trump has held rallies since leaving the White House. But never have elected Republicans of such tenure and stature appeared with him. And the presence of Grassley in particular signified that whatever qualms the GOP may have had with Trump are now faded memories; whatever questions they had about the direction of the party have been resolved.”

That leads me to my next item …

More Stephanie Grisham fears

Stephanie Grisham continues to make the media rounds, promoting her new book, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now.” The former Trump White House press secretary has been highly critical of her former boss, and said she is “terrified” he will run again for president in 2024.

On Sunday morning’s “Meet the Press,” moderator Chuck Todd asked Grisham if Trump actually believes he lost the 2020 election.

“I do think he believes it,” Grisham said. “That’s been part of what’s been scaring me as I’ve been watching from afar. At first, I really thought he wouldn’t run again. I honestly thought this was a lot of his bluster, which he’s good at doing. He was doubling down, he’ll never admit to losing, etc. etc. I thought he was just kind of going to raise some money so he could pay off legal bills, etc. But I think now — because his base is reacting to him the way that it is and polls are showing that he is still very much the leader of the Republican Party and very, very few Republicans are refusing to speak up about his role in Jan. 6, but also this current attack on democracy with regard to election integrity — I think he is going to run again. That’s why I’m speaking out the way I am. I don’t want him to run again. I think people aren’t remembering that if he does run again in 2024, he’ll have no guardrails because he will never have to worry about re-election. So he will do whatever he wants. He will hire whomever he wants and I think that includes people of the Jan. 6 mind.”

Grisham also was interviewed by New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi for an article with this stunning headline: “‘I Was A Part of Something Unusually Evil.’ In Kansas with Stephanie Grisham, who does not believe she will be redeemed.”

Unusually evil?!

Grisham is speaking everywhere and anywhere these days.

Nuzzi told CNN’s Brian Stelter on “Reliable Sources,” “I think she’s aware that people are not going to be welcoming her with open arms in the liberal media after she spent six years working for someone who called us the enemy of the people and helping to craft statements that misled us or attacked us. So I think this is a smart move in some ways to get a chance at being understood by people that she has been working against for several years.”

Facebook on the defensive

Facebook is doing damage control following last week’s disastrous week. Whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee about the damage the social media network does to democracy and others, including young women.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. He talked about Instagram’s impact on young people, various parts of Haugen’s testimony (including that Facebook places profits above all else), and if he thinks Facebook’s algorithm amplified pro-insurrection voices ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Clegg said, “Given we have thousands of algorithms, and you have millions of people using this, I can’t give you a yes-or-no answer to the individual, personalized feeds that each person uses. We cooperate with law enforcement, of course, to give them content that might have showed up on our platform. But let’s be clear, of course, January the 6th, the responsibility for that is for the people who broke the law, who inflicted the violence, who aided and abetted them, who encouraged them, both in politics and in the media to take that …”

Host Dana Bash interrupted and continued to press Clegg. You can see the exchange here.

Bash also asked another interesting question about how much time people should spend on Facebook.

“I think it varies from person to person,” Clegg said. “I just, as like everything good in life, I would do it in moderation. I think everybody needs to decide, of course, for themselves. But it’s like everything that you enjoy. Do it in moderation, would be my personal suggestion, but that’s my general guide for many things in life.”

Speaking of Facebook, check out this story by The Associated Press’ Adam Geller and Matt O’Brien: “How one Facebook worker unfriended the giant social network.”

And this from Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology who has written nearly 500 articles and essays on development during the teenage years: “Does Instagram Harm Girls? No One Actually Knows.”

Marshall Project: Changing of the guard

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

Late last week, Neil Barsky, founder and chair of The Marshall Project, announced he is stepping down to an advisory role. A successor as chair is in place, philanthropist Liz Simons.

The 7-year-old nonprofit, focused on criminal justice issues, has made big waves with its aggressive investigative journalism. Most recently it won a second Pulitzer Prize, this one for national reporting in a collaboration with Al.com, The Indianapolis Star and Invisible Institute documenting the serious injuries caused by police dogs.

Barsky has had an unusual career. He started out as a journalist, then made a lot of money as a hedge fund manager, then pivoted to The Marshall Project launch. He told The New York Times that he has a new initiative in the works to support women and minorities as asset managers.

Susan Chira, formerly of the Times, remains as The Marshall Project’s editor-in-chief.

Media tidbits

The Empire State Building lit up to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Fox News. (Courtesy: Fox News)

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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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