Dr. Anthony Fauci moves forward — even if the White House doesn’t want him to

Your Thursday Poynter Report

July 16, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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In the media business, there are sources known as “go-to” sources. They are the experts reporters have on speed dial whenever a certain story breaks. They are “go-to” because of their expertise and their ability to produce easy-to-digest quotes. Reporters like talking to them and audiences like hearing from them.

They are knowledgeable. They are dependable.

When it comes to the coronavirus, is there any question that the go-to source is Dr. Anthony Fauci? For the majority of folks, Fauci is the most trusted voice when it comes to COVID-19. He’s the one person most of us stop and listen to whenever we catch him on our TVs.

But that happens less and less these days.

Oddly, the very White House that has put him on their coronavirus task force is limiting his TV appearances and, according to some reports, running an oppo campaign meant to discredit him. Just this week, Peter Navarro, an assistant to the president and director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, wrote an opinion piece in which he said, “Dr. Anthony Fauci has a good bedside manner with the public, but he has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”

The White House denies there’s any rift between Fauci and President Donald Trump, but clearly something is up.

While Fauci might not be the regular he once was on major networks and cable news shows, he hasn’t completely disappeared. He still shows up here and there — on podcasts and in interviews with newspapers and digital outlets. So, you might ask: If the White House is going to mute his voice or run him down, why not just quit?

Ain’t happening, according to what Fauci told The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas and Ed Yong. But even Fauci called the attacks on him “bizarre.”

“Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that,” Fauci said he told White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. “When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president.”

And Navarro? “I can’t explain Peter Navarro,” Fauci said. “He’s in a world by himself.”

In an interview with CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell published Wednesday in InStyle magazine, Fauci said his relationship with Trump is “complicated.” He added, “I don’t like the conflict. I’m an apolitical person. I don’t like to be pitted against the president. It’s pretty tough walking a tightrope while trying to get your message out and people are trying to pit you against the president. It’s very stressful.”

Fauci told The Atlantic that he’s “running a bit on fumes,” but he’s plowing ahead, talking to any platform he can. As CNN’s Brian Stelter points out, Fauci is hitting the webcasts hard. He did something with Stanford University on Monday, Georgetown University on Tuesday and is scheduled to go on Facebook today around 5 p.m. Eastern with Mark Zuckerberg. In the meantime, he’ll try to ignore the complaints and criticism he is getting, especially from the White House.

“I wish we didn’t have a lot of those distractions, which I think are noise that gets in the way,” Fauci said. “But I put that aside, try not to let it bother me, and just move ahead.”

More Bari Weiss reaction

(AP Photo)

A day after opinion writer Bari Weiss resigned from The New York Times with a bombshell of a resignation letter, reaction continued to boil Wednesday — including those seemingly giddy to pounce on the Times as being a mouthpiece for liberals and leading the so-called “cancel culture.”

USA Today opinion columnist Glenn Harlan Reynolds wrote, “The Times now looks more like a middle school run by the ‘Mean Girls’ crowd while the administration cowers in its offices.”

Fox News contributor Michael Goodwin said this was all “devastating” to the Times.

But Moira Donegan, the U.S. columnist for The Guardian, wasn’t buying Weiss and other conservative commentators as victims of “cancel culture” in her wickedly brilliant column.

Donegan wrote, “First, in framing sometimes rude online reaction to their opinions as a First Amendment issue, they confuse for a violation of their civic right to free speech a personal discomfort with the tone of those who talk back. And second, while they are correct in noting that platforms such as Twitter, where many of these aggrieved public figures seem to spend a great deal of their time, can be rancorous, they are wrong in assigning the cause of this indecorousness in the public conversation to a censorious nature in the left ideologies they oppose. Weiss and her compatriots believe that public discourse has become less decorous because it has moved to the left. But really, it’s because it has moved online.”

There does seem to be a bit of thin-skinned reaction by Weiss and some of her media supporters, which is ironic considering they make a living offering strong opinions that often make people uncomfortable.

Donegan wrote, “Are the professionally canceled pundits naive about the way social media platforms incentivize crudeness, or are they merely playing dumb? I suspect the latter. The canceled pundits are right that social media can be asinine. But they are not victims of this dynamic: they seem to be savvy manipulators of it. Signatories of the open letter, including Weiss but also many others, have built careers and their own notoriety by seeming to solicit and revel in online anger.”

Even more to that point, New York Daily News’ Ross Rosenfeld, in a piece that called Weiss’ letter a “fine whine,” wrote, “… it amazes me that Weiss is unable to perceive her own privilege and the massive logical fallacy that allows her to believe that she should be able to speak openly and have her writing shared far and wide, but that others should not be able to condemn her views.”

Rosenfeld’s advice to Weiss: “If you don’t like what people say about you on Twitter, here’s a crazy idea: Don’t use Twitter!” He added, “A columnist complaining that people disagree with her views and criticize her too much is akin to a firefighter complaining that her job involves fighting fires.”

A former Times executive editor weighs in

Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, also weighed in on the Weiss resignation. Not only did she dispute the narrative that the Times muffles conservative views, but suggested that Weiss is being too thin-skinned.

In an appearance on Fox News’ “Outnumbered Overtime,” Abramson, who served as top editor at the Times from 2011 to 2014, told host Harris Faulkner, “… before my departure, I spent an awful lot of my time as executive editor — when I would speak publicly — defending the Times from charges that it was a big supporter of the Iraq war and was carrying water for George W. Bush’s administration. So, that was a ridiculous charge now. And, the idea that The New York Times is edited by a cabal of left-wing journalists is just not true at all.”

About Weiss, Abramson said there is no place for bullying in the workplace.

“I’m sorry if she had a rough time,” Abramson said. “But, you know, Bari Weiss is someone — she has thousands of Twitter followers herself. She has been in there, on Twitter, throwing some punches herself at people she disagrees with. I’m not saying she is a bully, but if you are going to dish it out, you’ve got to be ready to take it. I learned that a long time ago.”

Speaking of Harris Faulkner

Fox News’ Harris Faulkner (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)

Faulkner will host a one-hour special Sunday on Fox News called “Harris Faulkner Presents: The Fight for America.” It will center on race in America and include guests such as Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), former NFL star Herschel Walker, Fraternal Order of Police vice president Joe Gamaldi and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. The show also is expected to have Fox News host Sean Hannity, as well as Fox News contributors Dr. Alveda King and Gianno Caldwell.

The guest list does raise eyebrows. I mean, Hannity? And Walker, a noted Trump supporter? In April, Walker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chip Towers that he won’t stand for anyone calling Trump a racist.

“I hear the word racism associated with him a lot, and it’s insulting,” Walker said. “I’m, like, ‘Do you even know what racism is?’ It’s sad when you hear that because people use it so lightly. Racism is a lot deeper than that. Just because you disagree with somebody today, whether it’s the president of the United States or somebody else, the first thing people say is ‘racism,’ and that’s what’s sad.”

Faulkner’s show is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Sunday.

Making the rounds

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan continues to make the media rounds to promote her new book out this week on local news called “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy.”

Her latest interview was back at her old stomping grounds of The New York Times, where she used to be the public editor. That position no longer exists at the Times — a fact that rankles many media observers even though there are dozens upon dozens of media reporters who critique the Times often.

She told the Times’ Marc Tracy that she thought it was a “privilege” to serve as the paper’s public editor, but it was tough to “come into the building every day and feel part of a great institution, but also know that your role was to critique and, to some extent, to find fault. But I tried to keep in mind that the people I was really working for were the readers of The Times, so that it wasn’t about making people within the institution happy.”

When asked about news outlets doing away with public editors or ombudsman, Sullivan said, “Some places are. I think for very large, influential media organizations, it is a service to the readership to have someone in that role. I see it as unfortunate, but not a tragedy, that these roles have been discontinued.”

An explosive report

Word is — and it’s just speculation at this point — that The Washington Post will have a major story today on the Washington NFL team. Earlier this week, the team, bowing to outside pressure, finally dropped the racist nickname it has had for nearly 90 years.

But rumblings began Tuesday night that another big story was coming, and that it could be ugly for the organization. Just before 7 p.m. Tuesday, CBS NFL reporter Jason La Canfora tweeted, “The warped and toxic culture of the Washington Football Team is about to be exposed in a sickening fashion … Again.”

In addition, several local TV reporters in D.C. tweeted that big news is coming and that it’s not going to be good.

Perhaps it’s just coincidence that Larry Michael, the team’s radio play-by-play announcer, retired on Wednesday after 16 years. However, according to the story by The Washington Post’s Les Carpenter, the team declined to comment on the retirement.

Talking with the president

Chris Wallace will interview President Trump on Sunday’s “Fox News Sunday.” The interview will take place at the White House and Wallace hopes to cover several topics, including the coronavirus, the Republican National Convention, the upcoming election and the “civil unrest across the country” — I put that in quotation marks because those are Fox News’ words, not mine. Encore presentations will be shown on Fox News later in the day Sunday at 2 p.m., 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. Monday. (All times are Eastern.)

Absence of Black editors and Gannett news

For these two items, I turn it over to Poynter business analyst Rick Edmonds.

  • The dearth of people of color in top editor jobs may be even worse abroad than in the United States. That’s the conclusion of a survey by the Reuters Institute at Oxford University. They looked at 10 legacy and 10 online publications in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil and South Africa (the latter two chosen for their high population of Black citizens and other people of color). Only 18% of 88 top editors were non-white compared to 41% of the general population in the five countries. Germany and the U.K. had none.
  • Meanwhile, Gannett informed staff Wednesday that it will not be making any matching 401(k) contributions this year or not be awarding any raises, according to a tweet by Hadley Barndollar, a reporter at the company’s Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Herald. An email request for confirmation from Gannett did not get a reply. As the third quarter begins, expect a variety of cost-cutting responses to the continuing pandemic crisis and ad recession.

Media tidbits

  • The Guardian is expected to cut up to 180 jobs with as many as 70 coming from the editorial department. Executives are blaming lost revenue because of the coronavirus. They say revenues are down about 25 million pounds, or about $31.5 million.
  • Meanwhile, 520 jobs are being cut at the BBC. This includes the 450 that were announced in January and were put on hold. It’s all part of a plan to save more than $100 million. One of the casualties is “The Andrew Neil Show.” Neil is considered a tenacious political interviewer. His show was already on hold because of the coronavirus, but now it officially will not return. For more information, read the BBC report.
  • The New York Times is relocating its Hong Kong-based news bureau to Seoul, South Korea. As the Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum notes, new national security laws in China “aimed at stymieing opposition and pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong … has unsettled news organizations and created uncertainty about the city’s prospects as a hub for journalism in Asia.”

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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  • Inevitably, as current news is more and more focused on race, racism, and racial matters in general, I find myself increasingly accepting a Marxist explanation for the existence of these very real problems confronting much of the world today.
    But, for the moment, let’s push the subject of race to a back burner. The core of these problems affecting much of the world, and especially its western portion, is material inequality. So long as any significant portion of human beings have inadequate housing, inadequate educational opportunities, inadequate medical care, inadequate nutrition and little or no access to the fruits of modern civilization, discrimination against that segment of society will continue to exist.
    It is a truism that any racial or ethnic group which is distinguishable from the majority can and frequently does become a handy target for hate, discrimination and persecution. A mandatory yellow Star of David, for example, helps when the despised ones aren’t sufficiently different in appearance. What is important, however, is having scapegoats. And the scapegoat can be regarded as the source of any or all wrongs that a given society is suffering from or believes it is suffering from.
    For those with more of the world’s benefits, it’s vital to clearly identify those who must be hated. And that identification also serves to redirect the hatred of those less favored toward the minority group which is even worse off than they, themselves.
    This is where race comes back into the picture. Discrimination, prejudice, scapegoating itself, whatever may be their origin, become self-fulfilling prophecies. Any group regarded to be criminal, is very likely to become increasingly so as a result. Blacks in America, being descendants from that race’s first individuals forcibly brought here four hundred years ago, were and are ideal scapegoats. As a consequence of that scapegoating, they become more likely than whites to be burglars, robbers, drug addicts, even murderers, and this behavior provides further reinforcement of the majority’s attitude. It inevitably follows that law enforcement figures (police, prosecuting attorneys, juries, judges, etc.) will accept the majority view, especially since poverty, or any significant deprivation, inevitably leads to more and more crime. The penalties for those crimes thus become harsher for Blacks.
    And the final stage inevitably happens. Black Americans, if merely suspected of crimes, can then readily become the objects of severe punishment, execution or even illegal killing, by those in law enforcement.
    Finally, simply being a Black American, innocent or not, is all that’s necessary for that treatment to occur.
    There is a simple solution to this glaring injustice, though it is not an easy one. In a democracy, the solution must come from our representatives who are willing to act for the general interest and not merely carrying out the wishes of those who control the overwhelming proportion of the national wealth. That national wealth must be devoted primarily to a wider distribution of its substance to those in need, to a vastly increased funding so that all will have truly equal opportunities for education, to greater emphasis upon rehabilitation and not to violent confrontation, to guaranteed universal medical care and, generally, to the enhancing of programs which will give equal opportunities to all members of our society.
    In that resulting society, while still not utopian, the presence of racism, indeed the need for any forms of scapegoating, will wither and disappear.

    John A. Broussard
    broupome@hawaii.rr.com