October 12, 2020

We are now just three weeks away from the election. But this week is hardly the calm before the storm.

There won’t be a debate on Thursday as previously scheduled. That was scrapped because of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 and then Trump’s refusal to do a virtual debate. But there’s still plenty going on this week.

Senate hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination get underway today and should last all week. And, instead of a debate on Thursday, Democratic nominee Joe Biden will hold a town hall with ABC, while Trump tweeted he is headed to Florida tonight.

So lots to look forward to this week, and plenty of news from this past weekend. Onto today’s newsletter …

“Without my permission”

Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling out the Trump campaign for taking his words out of context in an ad that suggests he is endorsing Trump for president. The ad appears to show Fauci praising Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.

But in a statement to NBC News and CNN, Fauci said, “They did this without my permission and my comments were taken out of context.”

He added, “In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate. The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context from a broad statement I made months ago about the efforts of federal public health officials.”

The ad talks about Trump’s response and then shows Fauci in a Fox News interview saying, “I can’t imagine that … anybody could be doing more.”

But he was actually talking about the White House coronavirus task force team, not Trump. In a statement to HuffPost’s Nina Golgowski, Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump’s reelection campaign, said, “These are Dr. Fauci’s own words. The video is from a nationally broadcast television interview in which Dr. Fauci was praising the work of the Trump Administration. The words spoken are accurate, and directly from Dr. Fauci’s mouth.”

Trump tweeted, “They are indeed Dr. Fauci’s own words. We have done a ‘phenomenal’ job, according to certain governors. Many people agree…And now come the Vaccines & Cures, long ahead of projections!”

So who’s telling the truth? Well, it seems clear, but PolitiFact’s Bill McCarthy has the breakdown.

More Fauci controversy

Jonathan Karl, who was filling in as moderator on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, said the show wanted to have Fauci as a guest, but that Fauci was not given permission by the White House.

At the start of the show, Karl said, “We had hoped to talk to Dr. Fauci about both the outbreak at the White House and across the country. He was more than willing to join us, but the White House wouldn’t allow you to hear from the nation’s leading expert on coronavirus.”

Karl continued, “In fact, they wouldn’t allow any of the medical experts on the president’s own coronavirus task force to appear on this show.”

Karl tweeted, “The White House would not allow Dr. Fauci to speak this morning. In fact, the White House press office would not allow anyone on the President’s task force to be interviewed. Quite remarkable that they would muzzle the health experts in the middle of a pandemic.”

For the record, White House communications director Alyssa Farah retweeted Karl’s tweet and wrote, “Dr. Fauci has sure been on a lot of TV this week for someone being ‘muzzled’ by @WhiteHouse.” She then listed interviews Fauci gave last week, including to MSNBC, PBS, the Associated Press and two to CNN.

Now hear this

Judge Amy Coney Barrett. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, Pool)

Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing is set to begin today with opening remarks. Barrett already has released her opening remarks. She will talk about her family, her faith and the influence of late Justice Antonin Scalia. She was a law clerk for Scalia and said she believes in his philosophy to follow the law, saying, “A judge must apply the law as written, not as the judge wishes it were.”

She also wrote, “When I write an opinion resolving a case, I read every word from the perspective of the losing party. I ask myself how would I view the decision if one of my children was the party I was ruling against?”

An interesting scenario is setting up for Tuesday and Wednesday when Barrett will be questioned by senators, including Sen. Kamala Harris. Not only is Harris the Democratic vice presidential nominee, but a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. So in an opinion piece for The New York Times, legal affairs writer Cristian Farias writes, “Kamala Harris Should Grill Amy Coney Barrett.” But the New York Times’ Carl Hulse writes, “Supreme Court Hearing Presents a Big Stage, and Big Risks, for Harris.”

Hulse writes that almost as many eyes will be on Harris as Barrett. He adds, “Colleagues say that Ms. Harris’s capable turn at the debate last week against Vice President Mike Pence made it clear that she will have done her homework and be unafraid to challenge Judge Barrett, arguing that she poses a grave threat to the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights. But no one expects Ms. Harris to take any kind of confrontational risk that could backfire and alienate voters, especially given Mr. Biden’s steady lead in the polls over President Trump.”

Meanwhile, Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine interview Sen. Chuck Schumer and write, “How Democrats Hope to Defeat Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination.”

Tapping in

CNN’s Jake Tapper had a strong Sunday on his “State of the Union” show, grilling both White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow and Joe Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield.

First, Kudlow. At one point, Kudlow said, “We are learning to deal with the virus in a targeted, safe, preventative way.”

Tapper actually laughed out loud when Kudlow said that and said, “No, we’re not. We are not learning to live with the virus, Larry. We had four days in a row of 50,000 infections and the death rate is the highest in the world.”

Meanwhile, Tapper pressed Bedingfield over the Supreme Court — about Trump wanting to get Barrett confirmed before the election and Joe Biden being evasive about court packing. Tapper showed Bedingfield a clip of Biden saying what the Republicans were doing as “not constitutional.” So Tapper asked Bedingfield what, exactly, was “not constitutional” about it?

“His point is that the people have an opportunity to weigh in on this constitutional process through their vote,” Bedingfield said. “And we are now in the midst of the election. Millions of people have already cast their votes. And you see that the vast majority of people say that they want the person who wins the election on Nov. 3 to nominate the justice to take this seat.”

Tapper correctly pressed forward: “That’s a poll. That’s not the Constitution.”

Bedingfield kept repeating how votes have already been cast and, according to her, polls show that voters think whoever wins the election should nominate the next Supreme Court justice, but Tapper appropriately wouldn’t let Bedingfield off the hook.

“Again, Kate, that’s a poll,” Tapper said. “That’s not what the word constitutional means. Constitutional doesn’t mean, I like it or I don’t like it. It means it’s according to the U.S. Constitution. There’s nothing unconstitutional about what the U.S. Senate is doing.”


Looking for an expert source? Find and connect with academics from top universities on the Coursera | Expert Network, a new, free tool for journalists. Discover a diverse set of subject matter experts who can speak to this week’s trending news stories at today.

Election night fear

One of the fears on election night, as I’ve written about before, is this scenario: President Trump will see early returns with him leading and then declare victory on Twitter. Then, as more votes come in (especially mail-in votes) and are tabulated, Joe Biden surges ahead. Then Trump will declare that the election was rigged and stolen from him. Trump already has been spreading that theory well before now.

That’s why it was good to see CNN “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter ask Brandon Borrman, Twitter’s vice president of global communications, about it.

“Regardless of who you are, you cannot use Twitter to declare victory if the race has not been called and if you do, we’re going to put a warning that covers the entire tweet,” Borrman said.

Borrman said Twitter will then provide an update on that warning and the status of the race and then link out to a trusted third party.

Controversial Times

(John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx)

There’s another controversy at The New York Times. Opinion columnist Bret Stephens blasted last year’s Times’ “1619” project that recognized the start of slavery in this country and the lasting impact it has had. In his piece, Stephens talked about how ambitious the project was.

“But ambition can be double-edged,” Stephens wrote. “Journalists are, most often, in the business of writing the first rough draft of history, not trying to have the last word on it. We are best when we try to tell truths with a lowercase t, following evidence in directions unseen, not the capital-T truth of a pre-established narrative in which inconvenient facts get discarded. And we’re supposed to report and comment on the political and cultural issues of the day, not become the issue itself. As fresh concerns make clear, on these points — and for all of its virtues, buzz, spinoffs and a Pulitzer Prize — the 1619 Project has failed.”

At the heart of this issue is a passage in the original publication of the project that many believed suggested that 1619, and not 1776, be recognized as the true birth of our nation.

The original introduction to “1619” said. “What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country’s true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619?”

It was later changed to “What if, however, we were to tell you that the moment that the country’s defining contradictions first came into the world was in late August of 1619?”

The project’s main creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, has said the thinking of 1619 as America’s true birth year was “always a metaphoric argument.”

But Stephens’ talking points echo many critics, including someone who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., who believe all history books are going to be torn up to remove 1776 as the U.S.’s birth year — instead of realizing how we need to include 1619’s significance and lasting effects on our nation.

As Northeastern University’s Dan Kennedy writes, “Now, was anyone who read the original text somehow fooled into thinking that the United States was actually founded in 1619? Did anyone go running to Wikipedia to double-check on that 1776 thing? Of course not. It is ludicrous to think that the idea of 1619 as our country’s founding year is anything other than ‘a metaphoric argument,’ as (Hannah-Jones) argues.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times Guild didn’t think much of Stephens’ piece, tweeting, “It says a lot about an organization when it breaks its own rules and goes after one of its own. The act, like the article, reeks.”

And even more controversy

The latest from New York Times media columnist Ben Smith is “An Arrest in Canada Casts a Shadow on a New York Times Star, and The Times.”

It details how the Times is now reviewing the work of Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi on, among many reports, the audio series “Caliphate,” which looks at the Islamic State and terrorism.

Smith writes, “The Times has assigned a top editor, Dean Murphy, who heads the investigations reporting group, to review the reporting and editing process behind ‘Caliphate’ and some of Ms. Callimachi’s other stories.” Smith also writes that the Times has assigned an “investigative correspondent with deep experience in national security reporting, Mark Mazzetti,” to essentially determine the credibility of the main source for “Caliphate.”

To be clear, this isn’t the first we’re hearing of questions about Callimachi’s work. The Washington Post, The Daily Beast and The New Republic also have written about it. But Smith’s story takes us inside the Times.

He writes, “Ms. Callimachi’s approach to storytelling aligned with a more profound shift underway at The Times. The paper is in the midst of an evolution from the stodgy paper of record into a juicy collection of great narratives, on the web and streaming services. And Ms. Callimachi’s success has been due, in part, to her ability to turn distant conflicts in Africa and the Middle East into irresistibly accessible stories.”

But, he adds, “the terror beat lends itself particularly well to the seductions of narrative journalism. Reporters looking for a terrifying yarn will find terrorist sources eager to help terrify. And journalists often find themselves relying on murderous and untrustworthy sources in situations where the facts are ambiguous. If you get something wrong, you probably won’t get a call from the ISIS press office seeking a correction.”

And there’s much more, as Smith writes:

“What is clear is that The Times should have been alert to the possibility that, in its signature audio documentary, it was listening too hard for the story it wanted to hear — ‘rooting for the story,’ as The Post’s Erik Wemple put it on Friday. And while (executive editor Dean) Baquet emphasized in an interview last week that the internal review would examine whether The Times wasn’t keeping to its standards in the audio department, the troubling patterns surrounding Ms. Callimachi’s reporting were clear before ‘Caliphate.’”

There’s much more detail and nuance to Smith’s story, so I encourage you to read it.

And the winners are …

The Edward R. Murrow Awards, honoring outstanding achievements in electronic journalism, were announced over the weekend. Go here for the complete list of winners.

Some of the notable winners among broadcast journalism were: ABC News for overall excellence; “60 Minutes” for investigative reporting; and “CBS Evening News” for newscast. In the Large Digital News Organization, The Washington Post was recognized for overall excellence. In the Small Digital News Organization, The Marshall Project was honored for overall excellence.

“Florida Florida Florida”

(Courtesy: NBC News.)

It was election night 2000. The late “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert held up his whiteboard with the words “Florida, Florida, Florida” on it and said, “All Al Gore needs is Florida. All George Bush needs is Florida.”

That kicked off one of the most controversial presidential elections ever and it all came down to one state: Florida.

Now “Meet the Press” and current moderator Chuck Todd have a five-part podcast series reexamining the historic 2000 presidential recount and its impacts on elections 20 years later. And the title is, naturally, “Florida Florida Florida.” The first episode is available now from The Chuck ToddCast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all major podcast platforms. The rest of the series will be released daily this week.

The series interviews dozens, including those who worked on both the Gore and Bush campaigns, as well as media that covered the story.

Best tweet of the weekend

The cold open on “Saturday Night Live” was the vice presidential debate with Maya Rudolph playing Kamala Harris, Beck Bennett playing Mike Pence, Jim Carrey playing Joe Biden and “The Fly.” And, oh, Kate McKinnon playing moderator Susan Page, who tweeted: “The good news: I was on #SNL! The bad news: My kids now telling friends that Kate McKinnon @updatedmckinnon is their ‘real’ mother.”

Oh, and just some trivia for you: “Saturday Night Live” made its debut exactly 45 years ago Sunday — Oct. 11, 1975. George Carlin was the first host. Billy Preston and Janis Ian were the musical guests.

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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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