December 16, 2021

Like every day, there is news about COVID-19. Some of it is encouraging. Much of it is grim.

But, as always, journalists are doing good work explaining what’s going on.

Let’s start with Bloomberg’s Drew Armstrong (with data analysis and visualization by David Ingold and Paul Murray), who has a deeply disturbing story: “Unvaccinated Covid Patients Push Hospital Systems Past the Brink.”

In a Twitter thread, Armstrong wrote about what he witnessed while reporting from Kentucky hospitals: “One man was in a high-flow oxygen mask. He was lying in bed, making tiny, fast bites at the air, gasping. He looked like he was suffocating, like a dying fish washed up on the beach.”

He also wrote, “I saw other patients on ventilators. They’re pale and sedated. They look dead, until the ventilator pushes air into their lungs and their chest heaves upward. None of this looks natural, and it’s very, very upsetting to watch.”

Armstrong goes on to explain that most of the patients are alone, able to only see loved ones through Zoom or FaceTime.

Armstrong goes on to tweet that there is “horror inside the hospital,” but for those who don’t see it, many like to believe that we’ve “moved on” from COVID-19. Armstrong tweeted, “Almost every doctor and nurse I spoke to said they did not think anyone outside the hospital knew what things were like. Most of the public has no idea. But they have seen horror after horror.”

Read Armstrong’s thread, but especially read his story.

Meanwhile, CNBC’s Spencer Kimball, Nate Rattner and Annika Kim Constantino report, “Public health officials have warned for weeks that the U.S. would face another Covid wave due to delta this winter, as families gather for the holidays and people spend more time inside to escape the cold.”

They added, “As hospitals from the Great Lakes to the Northeast battle delta, infectious disease experts are worried about another enemy that has gained a foothold in the U.S. The heavily mutated omicron variant is now present in more than two dozen states.”

Federal health officials said this week we could see another massive wave of infections as soon as next month. Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that there is “no doubt” community spread is underway.

In the CNN coronavirus newsletter, Ivana Kottasová writes, “The omicron coronavirus variant is spreading at a rate not seen with previous variants, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned, adding that the tendency to dismiss it as mild is concerning.”

The Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun, Joel Achenbach, Laurie McGinley and Tyler Pager wrote, “The worst-case scenario has spooked top health officials, who fear that a fresh wave, layered on top of delta and influenza cases in what one described as ‘a triple whammy,’ could overwhelm health systems and devastate communities, particularly those with low vaccination rates.”

Several universities (George Washington, Princeton, Cornell and NYU, to name a few) have canceled events and moved exams online. The NFL and NHL are dealing with breakouts on several teams. The Calgary Flames hockey team will have at least four games canceled because its coach and 16 players are in COVID-19 protocol. And NHL players might be reconsidering whether or not they should participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The New York Times’ Michael Paulson reports that COVID-19 cases among cast and crew are canceling a slew of Broadway shows.

So is there any good news?

Well, Fauci does believe the current vaccines work against the omicron variant, and there’s no need for an omicron-specific booster. Writing for CNBC, Kimball writes, “Fauci said the primary two-dose vaccination series from Pfizer and BioNTech is significantly compromised by omicron, but still offers considerable protection against severe disease. Protection from the two-dose vaccine against infection dropped to 33% compared with 80% before the emergence of omicron. However, two doses are still 70% effective at preventing hospitalization in omicron patients in South Africa, Fauci said.”

Fauci repeated what he has been saying for a while now: “And so the message remains clear. If you are unvaccinated get vaccinated, and particularly in the arena of omicron if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot.”

And continue to stay informed from much of the excellent journalism out there, including the Covering COVID-19 daily newsletter from my Poynter colleague Al Tompkins.

A troubling experiment

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Washington Post national correspondent Philip Bump tried an interesting experiment this week. He took 10 minutes from the opening monologue of Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show and transcribed it. Then he added his own notes and corrections. The headline says it all: “Ten minutes of dishonest fury, presented to an audience of millions.”

Bump wrote, “As you read this, recognize two things. First, that articulating the flaws and gaps in Carlson’s rhetoric is categorically exceptional: 99 percent of the time his claims are uncontested. And, second, recognize that it’s like this five days a week, every week of the year.”

Trying to sum up Bump’s piece in a short space here would not do his analysis justice. But you should read it. Many of us can talk about how dangerous Carlson is — and I think the same could be said for his Fox News prime-time conspirators Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham — but Bump’s piece shows how Carlson does it. And Bump gives specific details.

As Bump pointed out again before wrapping up his story, “And it’s this every night. Every night. This cascade of accusations and world-ending conspiracies, of a democracy on the brink or already gone at the hands of the left. It’s unending and unchallenged. It’s unchallengeable, given how long it takes just to walk through those 10 minutes.”

Speaking of Fox News …

For the sixth consecutive year, Fox News is the most-watched basic cable network in total day and prime-time total viewers. And that means, of course, it was the most-watched cable news network in 2021.

According to Nielsen, Fox averaged 1.3 million in total day viewers for the year, compared to 919,000 for MSNBC and 787,000 for CNN. In prime time, Fox News averaged 2.35 million viewers, compared to 1.55 million for MSNBC and 1.1 million for CNN.

But cable news viewing was way down compared to the very newsy 2020 — a news year that included a contentious presidential campaign and election, a pandemic and protests. All three networks saw major declines in prime-time viewers. CNN was down 38% from 2020, Fox News was down 34% and MSNBC was down 27%. There were also steep declines in total day viewing for all three cable news channels.

While the numbers are the numbers, and Fox News had better numbers than its two biggest rivals, there’s one thing to consider. CNN and MSNBC likely share viewers because their prime-time programming is similar and, obviously, very different from Fox News. So if you were to add the viewership of CNN and MSNBC, it would be slightly larger than Fox News.

Tweeting about the news

The latest from Pew Research Center is “How Americans tweet about the news.” Pew’s polling showed five things:

  • Americans who tweeted about the news in 2021 focused mostly on three subject areas: entertainment, politics and sports.
  • Americans occasionally (17% of the time) mentioned the coronavirus pandemic in their news-related tweets in 2021.
  • ​​Americans included their personal opinions in 37% of their tweets about the news.
  • When tweeting about the news in 2021, Americans posted fewer original tweets — and more replies — than in 2015. (19% compared to 38%.)
  • In a change since 2015, very few of Americans’ news-related tweets included a hashtag in 2021. (34% in 2015 as compared to 2% in 2021.)

Check out the latest Pew finding from Elisa Shearer and Amy Mitchell.

Dispatches from Kentucky

My Poynter colleague Al Tompkins has been in Kentucky this week, reporting on the media’s coverage of the devastating tornadoes that hit the state last weekend. His latest: “How a local radio station is helping a tornado-battered Kentucky community put itself back together.”

And be sure to check out another story. I linked to it in Wednesday’s newsletter, but in case you missed it, you need to read this compelling piece: “Meet the local news meteorologist whose forecast saved lives in Kentucky.”

Media tidbits

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt covering the storm in Kentucky on Monday. (Courtesy: NBC News)

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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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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