September 15, 2021

Good morning, everyone. I’m back from vacation.

First off, I want to say thanks to my Poynter colleagues for picking up the newsletter the past couple of days. Because of them, I was able to get a breather.

Speaking of which, right before starting my break two weeks ago, I was worn out by the news. Do you ever get that way? Watching the evening news or flipping over to cable news becomes a chore. You put on TV news and then look between the cracks of your fingers. You click on your favorite news website and, while it’s loading, you hold your breath, unsure of what tragedy is going to splash onto your screen.

Between COVID-19 and Afghanistan and weather disasters and all the political divisiveness created by the cable news channels — one in particular — the news can simply beat you down. The news is important, of course, but wearisome just the same.

For nearly two weeks, I unplugged. I took walks in the woods and sat on the beach and the only time I turned on the TV was to watch sports or Sebastian Maniscalco stand-up specials on Netflix. And I avoided Twitter, meaning I couldn’t see the worst of what Twitter has to offer.

It was great.

When it was time to start getting ready for work and I was able to plug back in, the first thing I saw was a chyron on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show that read “Nicki Minaj: Cousin’s testicles became swollen.”


For the record, Fox News got it wrong. It wasn’t her cousin. It was her cousin’s friend. But you get the point. Supposedly it’s why Minaj is dubious of the COVID-19 vaccine and Carlson said Minaj’s advice to pray on it and not get bullied into getting the vaccine “seems sensible.”

I’m not making any of this up. This was really what was being discussed on cable news’ most-watched prime-time show. Because it’s so absurd, it’s easy to dismiss.

But you can’t dismiss all the news all the time. And you shouldn’t.

Tuesday’s news included another hurricane making U.S. landfall, a governor’s recall vote in California, troubling reports involving former President Donald Trump (more on that below), and the latest on COVID-19. In other words, news that is important to see and follow. And after a short break, diving back into the news is bearable.

So my point for today: It’s good to take a break now and then, especially in this never-ending and stressful news cycle. Now onto that news …

Fauci reacts to Minaj

Nicki Minaj’s wacky tweet certainly created lots of buzz, and for that reason, it’s good that Jake Tapper asked Dr. Anthony Fauci about it on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

Fauci basically told Minaj to stick to music. He told Tapper, “I’m not, you know, blaming her for anything — but she should be thinking twice about propagating information that really has no basis except a one-off anecdote, and that’s not what science is all about.”

Troubling Trump news

Former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The latest book about the Trump presidency is about to come out and this one, like the others, has some troubling new revelations. “Peril” — written by Washington Post associate editor and famed journalist Bob Woodward and Post national political reporter Robert Costa — has more examples of how those close to the president were fearful of Trump’s mental state and what he might do.

The book reports that the country’s top military officer — Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — was worried Trump could start a war with China.

In a story about the book, The Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker writes that Milley “assured his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, that the United States would not strike.”

Milley wrote, “In the book’s account, Milley went so far as to pledge he would alert his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, stressing the rapport they’d established through a backchannel. ‘General Li, you and I have known each other now for five years. If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.’ … In the second call, placed to address Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 6, Li wasn’t as easily assuaged, even after Milley promised him, ‘We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.’”

CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart also received an early copy of the book and, in their story, relay an excerpt which said that Milley “was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies.”

Milley told senior staff, “You never know what a president’s trigger point is” and that he was fearful that Trump could go “rogue.”

This is the third book about Trump’s presidency that Woodward has written or co-written. It’s based on more than 200 interviews and, as CNN writes, “it paints a chilling picture of Trump’s final days in office” and “recounts behind-the-scenes moments of a commander in chief unhinged and explosive, yelling at senior advisers and aides as he desperately sought to cling to power.”

In another excerpt, the book’s authors report on a conversation between Milley and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Milley tried to reassure Pelosi that the country’s nuclear weapons were safe, but Pelosi told Milley, “What I’m saying to you is that if they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge at the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this? … You know he’s crazy. He’s been crazy for a long time.”

According to the book, Milley said, “Madam Speaker, I agree with you on everything.”

There’s much more, so check out the stories from the Post and CNN. And the Post’s Philip Bump writes, “All of this to keep Trump from getting upset.”

“Peril” is due out next week.


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Death of a comedy legend

Comedian Norm MacDonald in 2017. (Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Terribly sad news on Tuesday. Comedian and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and “Weekend Update” host Norm MacDonald died after what was described as a “long and private battle with cancer.” He was 61.

The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey put it well when he tweeted, “There is no more satisfying YouTube rabbit hole than the ‘Norm MacDonald talk show’ dive. Truly one of the funniest people who has ever lived.”

For instance, I watch this appearance on David Letterman once every few weeks. And I watch this clip with Jerry Seinfeld more often than that. Esquire’s Justin Kirkland has a story titled, “Remembering Norm MacDonald’s Late Night Genius.”

In a statement, Letterman said, “In every important way, in the world of stand-up, Norm was the best. An opinion shared by me and all peers. Always up to something, never certain, until his matter-of-fact delivery leveled you. I was always delighted by his bizarre mind and earnest gaze. (I’m trying to avoid using the phrase, ‘twinkle in his eyes’). He was a lifetime Cy Young winner in comedy. Gone, but impossible to forget.”

Longtime late-night host Conan O’Brien tweeted, “I am absolutely devastated about Norm MacDonald. Norm had the most unique comedic voice I have ever encountered and he was so relentlessly and uncompromisingly funny. I will never laugh that hard again. I’m so sad for all of us today.”

Here’s more from Deadline’s Greg Evans, and this from The Washington Post’s Sonia Rao.

Radio host dies of COVID-19

Another conservative radio host who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine has died of COVID-19. Bob Enyart was the pastor at Denver Bible Church in Colorado and a controversial radio host who once hosted a TV show in which he read off the obituaries of AIDS sufferers while playing the Queen song, “Another One Bites the Dust.” Enyart was 62.

Enyart and his wife refused to get the vaccine because of absurd abortion conspiracies. On his radio show’s website, Enyart ridiculously claimed that COVID-19 vaccines rely on “cells of aborted babies.” Enyart’s wife also has been hospitalized with COVID-19. The Denver Post’s Sam Tabachnik reported, “In October, Enyart successfully sued the state over mask mandates and capacity limits in churches, a rare legal victory against broad public health mandates instituted during the pandemic.”

Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi tweeted, “This is the fifth conservative radio host to die of covid in the past six weeks. All had spoken against vaccination, though several changed their minds in their final days.”

The Washington Post’s Timothy Bella wrote, “The Denver host’s comments are another example of talk radio being an often overlooked space for coronavirus misinformation. In the weeks and months leading up to their deaths, all five men had publicly shared their opposition to science-based health efforts when coronavirus infections were spiking.”

Joining a good cause

Look for this announcement this morning: New Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee and (relatively new) Los Angeles Times executive editor Kevin Merida will become the newest members of the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation’s board of advisers. The FJM Foundation supports the construction of America’s first memorial on federal land dedicated to press freedom and to the journalists who’ve given their lives in service to it. The Foundation is led by former U.S. Congressman David Dreier of California and former news executive and journalism professor Barbara Cochran.

In a statement, Cochran said, “​​We are thrilled to have Sally’s and Kevin’s expertise and support as we work to bring this vital project to life. It is more important than ever that we ensure the commitment to a free press and the sacrifices of journalists, photojournalists, editors and more are honored through a permanent memorial in our nation’s capital.”

Buzbee, who became the first female executive editor of the Post in June after serving as The Associated Press’ executive editor, said, “Throughout my career, I have seen firsthand the sacrifices journalists make to bring critical information to the public. I am proud to support the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation as it works to commemorate America’s commitment to a free press.”

Merida, who was a senior vice president at ESPN before being hired at the Los Angeles Times in May, said, “I am honored to work alongside such an esteemed group of journalists to create a place that celebrates the importance of press freedom and memorializes our colleagues who’ve died while doing their jobs. The freedom of the press, and its role in our democracy, is not something that we can take for granted. This memorial will also help educate current and future generations about the values our work defends.”

ESPN updates

Peyton and Eli Manning in 2018. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

  • Peyton and Eli Manning’s alternate “Monday Night Football” telecast for ESPN2 was pretty good after a shaky and frantic first few minutes. The two brothers settled down and then settled in. They offered a mix of insightful football analysis and humor that made for an entertaining broadcast. They added a few solid guests — including NBA analyst Charles Barkley, football Hall of Famer Ray Lewis and current NFL stars Russell Wilson and Travis Kelce — and it did feel like you were sitting around watching a game with your buddies. Except these buddies really know their football. It was smart to occasionally flip back to the main “MNF” broadcast now and then, but the Manning Brothers experiment looks like a good one, and you would assume it will only get better as the season goes along. They are scheduled to do nine more games this season.
  • While I was away, ESPN canceled “Highly Questionable” after 10 years on the air. But, really, this show stopped being interesting after Dan Le Batard and his father, Gonzalo “Papi” Le Batard, left in January, so its cancellation is neither surprising nor disappointing. In fact, the original name of the show was “Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable” and it was Papi who made the show highly watchable.
  • Replacing “Highly Questionable” is Max Kellerman’s new show “This Just In.” It debuted Tuesday and, while it’s unfair to judge after only one show, this came off as just another roundtable debate show — although this one was low-key with no yelling or theatrics or over-the-top laughing like you get on, say, “Get Up.” If you like Kellerman, and I do, then you’ll like this show. Kellerman was co-hosting “First Take” with Stephen A. Smith, but Smith wanted to debate a slew of celebrities and other ESPN personalities, so Kellerman was moved off the show. Aside from “This Just In,” Kellerman co-hosts ESPN Radio’s morning drive radio/TV show with Jay Williams and Keyshawn Johnson.
  • Former ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne, who left the network after turning down a new contract in which he would have had to take a 61% pay cut, has a new gig with Caesars Sportsbook. In true Mayne style, here’s his fun introduction video.

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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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