By:
July 28, 2020

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For the past several months, President Donald Trump has painted a rosy picture about the coronavirus — that it will just disappear, that it’s not as bad as the numbers really indicate, that we’re close on treatments and vaccines. And, while pushing for the country to reopen, he promises life will soon return to normal.

He says all this even though none of it appears true.

So why does he say it? It seems to be his strategy to get reelected. If you believe the polling numbers, however, Trump’s glass-half-full strategy is not working.

Which raises the question: Instead of talking a good game, burying his head in the sand and trying to convince people that the facts aren’t real, why does President Trump not do the one thing that is most likely to get him reelected? Why does he not treat the coronavirus as if it was actually a crisis? Or at least act like he’s trying to solve the problem?

Those are the questions that are perplexing Trump allies and opponents alike, according to an insightful story in The Washington Post from Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker.

This is what Parker and Rucker wrote:

“People close to Trump, many speaking anonymously to share candid discussions and impressions, say the president’s inability to wholly address the crisis is due to his almost pathological unwillingness to admit error; a positive feedback loop of overly rosy assessments and data from advisers and Fox News; and a penchant for magical thinking that prevented him from fully engaging with the pandemic.”

Parker and Rucker write that, in recent weeks, the message might finally be getting through to Trump. But there’s also a thought that he continues to make missteps of denial because he is influenced by conservative media, especially Fox News.

Parker and Rucker wrote, “Another self-imposed hurdle for Trump has been his reliance on a positive feedback loop. Rather than sit for briefings by infectious-disease director Anthony S. Fauci and other medical experts, the president consumes much of his information about the virus from Fox News Channel and other conservative media sources, where his on-air boosters put a positive spin on developments.”

As Washington Post opinion columnist Greg Sargent writes: Wouldn’t it be ironic if the network that helped him get elected in 2016 ends up being a big reason why he is not reelected in 2020?

Sargent writes, “It persuades Trump that he’s succeeding, which provides an effective reality distortion field against outside criticism.”

Sargent also points out that Trump also seems to be influenced by Fox News when it comes to issues of race and how to deal with protests. Sargent writes, “Books will be written about Fox News’s role in exacerbating the national catastrophe that is this presidency. But, in persuading Trump that he is actually winning our great arguments about both those crises, Fox News may also be hastening its end.”

Are sports in trouble?

A worker sprays the dugout rail to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus before a Miami Marlins practice earlier this month. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

We shouldn’t be at all surprised by this news: Less than a week into its return, Major League Baseball suffered a depressing setback when more than a dozen members of the Miami Marlins, including 11 players and two coaches, tested positive for COVID-19. The Marlins-Orioles game scheduled for Monday was postponed. Also postponed was the Yankees-Phillies game in Philadelphia because the Marlins spent the weekend playing in Philadelphia and there is concern about how safe the visitors’ clubhouse is.

We’ll now wait to see whether this is just a blip or the beginning of widespread cases throughout baseball that could eventually shut down the league. Major League Baseball, like all major sports, had a plan for how to open its season. But does it have a plan for how to finish it?

As boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Well, Major League Baseball just got punched in the mouth. How will it respond?

There is optimism that the NBA and NHL can get through their seasons. The NBA is going to play in a full bubble in Orlando, Florida, while the NHL will play mostly (but not entirely) in bubbles in two Canadian cities. Baseball, however, was playing in the various major-league cities across the country, albeit in front of no fans.

So now you can’t help but ask: If a non-contact sport such as baseball can’t get through a week without a problem, how are contact sports such as football going to pull it off? Can there really be an NFL and college football season?

Appearing on Paul Finebaum’s ESPN radio show, Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde said that when it comes to college football, “Any hope there’s going to be a dramatic reversal of overall virus numbers in the country seems hopeless. So now what you’re looking at, as one commissioner put it to me, is ‘What is the appetite for risk?’”

Those questions led to some media beef on Twitter on Monday. As many in sports media began questioning whether or not football should or could be played come fall, NFL Network morning-show co-host Kyle Brandt tweeted:

“There’s a segment of the NFL media that seems to be almost rooting for COVID to affect the season. They want it. They see the Marlins news and say, ‘Yep! Lots of luck, football!’ These are people who make their livings off football. I don’t get it.”

That’s a ridiculously bad take by Brandt. Media members are not “almost rooting” for football to be shut down. It’s the media’s job to report the facts and question the wisdom of trying to play a sport during a deadly pandemic. That doesn’t mean those who cover the sport want it to shut down.

One can simultaneously want sports to be played and think it’s a bad idea — or at least raise the possibility of it being a bad idea.

Brandt found a few supporters online, mostly non-media Twitter users. Those who cover sports for a living fought back.

Big-time NFL writer Peter King tweeted to Brandt, “Oh stop.”

Jeff Schultz, a columnist for The Athletic in Atlanta, tweeted, “Your entire Tweet should’ve been your last line: ‘I don’t get it.’”

Longtime NFL writer in New York, Ralph Vacchiano, who now works at SportsNet New York, tweeted, “The reason you don’t get it is because you are completely wrong. No one in NFL media is rooting against a season when our livelihood depends on it. That’s an offensive and inaccurate take. The fact is, the Marlins news shows how tough an NFL season will be. It’s just true.”

People do want sports

There’s no question that Monday’s news about the Marlins was made even more grim by the fact that people seemed overjoyed about the return of sports. Huge TV numbers prove just how big the appetite was and is.

An average of 4 million people watched ESPN’s opening day game between the Yankees and defending-champion Nationals. That was the most-watched regular-season game since 2011. That same night, 2.7 million watched the Giants and Dodgers, making it ESPN’s most-watched late-night regular-season game ever.

In addition, WNBA numbers are up 20% over a year ago. Saturday’s game between the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury averaged 540,000 viewers, making it the most-watched WNBA opener since 2012. ESPN announced Monday it was adding 13 more WNBA games to its TV schedule, bringing the number of games it will air to 37. And that number does not include postseason games, which ESPN will air.

John Lewis arrives in Washington

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay appears on NBC’s coverage of “Remembering John Lewis.” (Courtesy: NBC News.)

All the major and cable news networks had special coverage Monday of the late Rep. John Lewis and his procession through Washington, D.C. My favorite quotes of the day came from filmmaker Ava DuVernay. First, on NBC, she said:

“He was truly one of the few people from that time who was still living, who was able to kind of rise to the full breadth of his possibility and capability. … So many of our great leaders from that time were killed, imprisoned, exiled. And so it makes the wonder of him living 80 years and being a lawmaker for all of those years and a leader all the more remarkable.”

DuVernay, who directed the movie “Selma,” told CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell that it was a “jaw-dropper” to watch Alabama state troopers salute Lewis’ casket when it crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday.

“To see that salute made me believe, in its most tangible sense, that nothing is impossible,” DuVerney said.

Sinclair drops Fauci piece

On Monday, I wrote how stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting were going to run a ridiculous conspiracy theory that Dr. Anthony Fauci was responsible for the creation of the coronavirus. It was supposed to be a segment during “America This Week,” a show hosted by former Fox News personality Eric Bolling. Well, Sinclair came to its senses and decided to kill the piece.

Originally, Sinclair said it would hold off running the segment until it could add context and pushback against the claims made in the piece by researcher Judy Mikovits.

In a statement to CNN’s Oliver Darcy, a spokesperson for Sinclair said, “Upon further review, we have decided not to air the interview with Dr. Mikovits. Although the segment did include an expert to dispute Dr. Mikovits, given the nature of the theories she presented we believe it is not appropriate to air the interview.”

The spokesperson also expressed admiration and support of Fauci and said he has a standing invitation to appear on Sinclair stations.

Times editorial board makes moves

The New York Times editorial board, which has seen its share of controversy in the past few weeks, made some moves on Monday. The biggest was that Jyoti Thottam was named deputy op-ed editor. Thottam has been at the Times for more than two years and was part of several high-profile multimedia projects, including “The America We Need” series.

In addition, the board added a new member Monday. Farah Stockman will cover foreign policy and national affairs. She spent the past four years on the news side, covering race and class and middle America. A former columnist and editorial board member at The Boston Globe, Stockman won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2016 for a series about busing in Boston.

Another interesting Times move

Caitlin Roper, a senior editor at The New York Times Magazine, has been named executive producer of scripted projects, doing exactly what her title says: helping the Times develop its reporting into scripted TV and film projects. Roper has already been doing this job, but her new title was announced Monday by Times assistant managing editor Sam Dolnick. She already has helped a partnership with the Times, Lionsgate, Oprah Winfrey and Nikole Hannah-Jones for the Times’ 1619 Project. Roper joined the Times in 2016 after working at Wired.

In a statement, Dolnick said, “To bring Times stories to the movie screen, Caitlin will work closely with reporters, editors, our Hollywood agents, and a collection of best-in-class screenwriters, producers and directors. Caitlin is a perfect bridge from the newsroom to Hollywood because of her boundless creativity, her razor-sharp taste, her superhuman ability to get things done and her infectious enthusiasm. She is also one of the most entrepreneurial and visual editors alive.”

Regis special

(Courtesy: ABC News)

ABC News will remember the life and legacy of TV legend Regis Philbin in a primetime special tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern. Philbin died last week at the age of 88. “Regis Philbin: The Morning Maestro — A Special Edition of 20/20” will feature an exclusive interview with Kelly Ripa, Philbin’s morning-show co-host for more than a decade, as well as interviews with Kathie Lee Gifford, Mary Hart and his childhood friends. The show will include some of his memorable clips and his final TV interview with Jimmy Kimmel last March.

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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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