July 22, 2022

At 10:32 a.m. Thursday, NBC News broke into programming. ABC News and CBS News soon followed. And for the next couple hours, the cable news focused on one story:

President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19.

Yes, understandably, it is a big story. He’s the president. He’s 79 years old. Even CNN, which has been trying to be more responsible about not overhyping stories, dusted off its “BREAKING NEWS” banner. And it truly was “breaking news.”

But the cable networks also had a difficult time balancing urgency — again, we’re talking about the president and a 79-year-old — with what appeared to be a story that really didn’t feel that urgent. Biden, who is fully boosted and taking the antiviral drug Paxlovid, appeared to be suffering only mild symptoms and was continuing to work after testing positive.

At 12:18 p.m. Eastern, Biden’s Twitter account tweeted a photo of the president sitting behind his desk and said, “Folks, I’m doing great. Thanks for your concern. Just called Senator Casey, Congressman Cartwright, and Mayor Cognetti (and my Scranton cousins!) to send my regrets for missing our event today. Keeping busy!”

Then, just after 2 p.m. Eastern, Biden put out another tweet with a video of him telling viewers that he is “doing well” and “getting a lot of work done.”

News outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal also featured the story prominently on their websites. Although, to the credit of all of them, they also emphasized that Biden’s symptoms were mild — which was the responsible thing to do.

In the end, the story had to be reported on, but news outlets did handle it well. And to be fair, the news outlets didn’t ignore other stories. The Biden news didn’t monopolize the afternoon’s newscasts.

But regarding the Biden story, the big takeaway — and something that CNN, in particular, did a really good job of emphasizing — was how COVID-19 is still very much in our lives. And, it also revealed what appears to be the best way to combat the virus.

CNN and its team of experts stressed how vaccines, boosters and drugs such as Paxlovid all appear to be helpful for most people fighting COVID-19, particularly this new variant. It also reminded viewers that being diligent about wearing masks and washing your hands remains critical.

For the most part, media outlets took Thursday’s breaking news about Biden and treated it properly — with context and responsibility.

A bad answer

There was one awkward moment during Thursday’s White House press briefing when White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre seemed to get a touch testy when a reporter asked if it was known where Biden might have gotten COVID-19.

Jean-Pierre said, “I don’t think that matters, right. I think what matters is we prepared for this moment.” She then went on to finish that answer by talking about vaccinations and booster shots.

Later in the press conference, Jean-Pierre was asked about her “I don’t think it matters” response — as she should have been.

Jean-Pierre said, “I think what I was trying to say is what’s important now is that he has mild symptoms, is that he is working from the (White House) residence on behalf of the American people, that’s our focus. Look, we knew this was going to happen.”

That’s a far different answer than “I don’t think it matters” and still didn’t answer the question of where and when Biden might have contracted COVID-19. Now, it’s impossible to know exactly when and where, but it’s still important to track Biden’s movements and contacts over the past couple of weeks. It was absolutely a reasonable question and it was not a good answer.

Oh, and since we’re talking White House press secretaries, former press secretary and soon-to-be MSNBC host Jen Psaki appeared on the network Thursday and, according to Politico’s Eugene Daniels and Garrett Ross, said, “What they need to do over the next couple of days is show him working and show him still active and serving as president, and I’m certain they’ll likely do that.”

Jan. 6 hearings

The House select committee’s hearing into the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, continued in prime time on Thursday night. There was plenty of new information revealed — including portions of outtakes from remarks former President Donald Trump delivered the day after the attack.

The reaction to the hearing will continue to pour in over the next day or two, so I’ll have some of the most interesting takes and commentary in Monday’s newsletter.

Meanwhile, check out this worthwhile piece in The New York Times from Peter Baker: “Liz Cheney, Front and Center in the Jan. 6 Hearings, Pursues a Mission.”

Cuomo speaks

Former CNN anchor Chris Cuomo in 2019. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Earlier this week, news broke that Chris Cuomo would give his first TV interview since being fired by CNN last December. NewsNation’s Dan Abrams interviewed Cuomo for an interview that will air next Tuesday night.

But on Thursday, Cuomo debuted “The Chris Cuomo Project” on YouTube — a nearly two-hour video that included interviews with actor Sean Penn and Andrii Yermak, head of the presidential administration of Ukraine. Cuomo, you surely remember, was fired because the network claims he was too heavily involved in trying to help his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, fight off allegations of sexual misconduct.

Almost immediately on his YouTube program, which will have new episodes each Tuesday and Thursday, he said, “Now for me, the past is the past and there is no benefit to you if I relitigate what was said and done involving my brother.”

Actually, it would benefit a lot of us to hear about it, don’t you think? Cuomo, however, added that there were some legal issues that he had to respect, and therefore could not get into details.

“But let me be clear,” Cuomo said, “I really do regret how everything ended. But I will never regret helping my family.”

Cuomo still came off as a bit defiant and really didn’t acknowledge that he did anything wrong. Hopefully, Abrams will push him about what went down regarding his brother and CNN during the interview that airs next week.

Addressing CNN, Cuomo said, “I’ll never be a hater.”

‘I was wrong’

If you’re an opinion writer for one of the biggest news organizations in the world, you’re going to have some strong takes. And, occasionally, you’re going to be wrong.

Rarely do you see an opinion writer or columnist write pieces where they admit they were wrong.

But that’s exactly what eight opinion writers at The New York Times have done in “New York Times Columnists on What They Got Wrong.”

The latest columns were:

In the introduction to the piece, the Times writes, “In our age of hyperpartisanship and polarization, when social media echo chambers incentivize digging in and doubling down, it’s not easy to admit you got something wrong. But here at Times Opinion, we still hold on to the idea that good-faith intellectual debate is possible, that we should all be able to rethink our positions on issues, from the most serious to the most trivial. It’s not necessarily easy for Times Opinion columnists to engage in public self-reproach, but we hope that in doing so, they can be models of how valuable it can be to admit when you get things wrong.”

I cannot express how much I like this idea for all the reasons the Times explained.

But, just for fun, you might go to Twitter and see the reaction to Stephens’ column regarding Trump voters.

The Atlantic’s business and tech workers announce union drive

For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Angela Fu.

A year after The Atlantic’s editorial staff unionized, the magazine’s business and technology workers launched their own union drive, which they announced Thursday. If successful, the new union will include 130 members and be a part of the NewsGuild of New York.

The proposed unit covers software engineers, product and project managers, designers, analysts, sales and marketing, data scientists and other staff working on The Atlantic’s technology and business teams. In their mission statement, the workers say they are seeking fair pay, more professional development opportunities and a greater say in which companies The Atlantic accepts advertisements from.

“Our union will act as a forum for collaboration, consensus, and action to ensure just compensation and support for all employees, particularly junior staff and those of marginalized identities,” the workers’ mission statement reads.

When The Atlantic’s nearly 100 editorial staff announced their union drive in June 2021, the company agreed to voluntarily recognize the unit that same day. Asked if the company would also recognize the business and technology union, a spokesperson referred to an email that CEO Nick Thompson sent staff Thursday.

“This morning I received a request to recognize a business-side union through the NewsGuild of New York. This is an extremely important request and one I, and everyone else in management, takes very seriously,” Thompson wrote. “Once we receive the full details of the request, we will review and consider it quickly over the coming days.”

The Atlantic workers’ union drive comes just a few months after The New York Times’ tech workers voted to unionize in March, forming the largest unit of tech workers with bargaining rights. Both the journalism and tech industries have seen record levels of organizing among workers in recent years.

So long OAN

This could be it for the ultra-right news network One America News. The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona reports that Verizon Fios will not renew its contract with the network. Verizon was its last major carrier. Baragona notes that it could be RIP for OAN.

In a statement, Verizon said, “Our negotiation with OAN has been a typical, business-as-usual carriage negotiation like those that routinely happen between content distributors and content providers. These negotiations were focused on economics, as they always are, but OAN failed to agree to fair terms. Since we were unable to reach an agreement, effective July 31, 2022, we will no longer have the rights to provide our customers with this programming, and it will be removed from the Fios TV lineup.”

Verizon added, “Our company has long advocated for providing customers with the ability to choose what content they want to watch, and our Fios TV platform offers a wide and diverse choice of programming options, including a la carte options, that strive to meet our millions of customers’ various content needs and preferences.”

In a statement, Angelo Carusone — president of Media Matters, a left-leaning outlet that tracks right-wing media — said, “OAN is a cauldron of conspiracy theories, extremism, and lies. Advertisers don’t want much to do with the network because of its content. It was able to exist all these years in its current form only because it was being subsidized by AT&T/DirecTV and Verizon. Verizon was the last major cable provider still funding OAN. Earlier this year, DirecTV finally recognized that it was both irresponsible and bad for business to continue to subsidize OAN. Almost immediately after DirecTV dropped the network, OAN began scaling back its programming. Losing Verizon is like the final nail in the coffin for OAN. No other cable company should throw them a life line by picking them up.”

Media tidbits

  • The Washington Post introduced the full lineup for its Democracy team on Thursday. It includes Matt Brown, Amy Gardner, Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman, Patrick Marley, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez. The team is led by editor Griff Witte and deputy editor Jenna Johnson. The team will especially focus on states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, as well as other key places. A note from senior editors said, “Members of the Democracy team are collaborating with journalists across the newsroom to provide our readers with incisive and revelatory stories about the people and forces working to erode that trust, as well as those fighting to restore it.”
  • NBC News also is making some changes, with justice correspondent Pete Williams set to retire at the end of the month. Ken Dilanian, who has been at NBC News for more than six years, will be elevated to the role of justice and intelligence correspondent. Julia Ainsley, who covers the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security, will serve as NBC News’ homeland security correspondent.
  • Foreign Policy columnist Lynne O’Donnell with “The Taliban Detained Me for Doing My Job. I Can Never Go Back.”
  • CNBC’s Jennifer Elias with “YouTube says it will crack down on abortion misinformation and remove videos with false claims.”
  • Check out The Ringer’s “The Big Picture” podcast, which looks at movies. The latest episode with Sean Fennessey and Chris Ryan discusses the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter’s remake of “The Thing.” And Carpenter joins the pod to talk about his cult classic.
  • And, speaking of Carpenter, The Los Angeles Times’ Christi Carras has “Is he the best horror director of all time? Jordan Peele says ‘Nope.’” When one fan suggested on Twitter that Peele might be the best horror director ever, Peele tweeted, “Sorry. I love your enthusiasm but, I will just not tolerate any John Carpenter slander!!!”
  • Variety’s Brian Steinberg with “ESPN Chief Says Traditional Cable Network Will Remain Despite Direct-to-Consumer Trend.”
  • New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand with “Charles Barkley pushes back on ‘blood money’ outrage with hope to do both TNT and LIV Golf.”
  • Tuesday night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Fox attracted 7.51 million viewers. The good news is that it was better than the NBA and NHL All-Star Games and the NFL’s Pro Bowl. But it was still an all-time low for an MLB All-Star Game and a 10% drop from 2021.

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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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