December 7, 2020

The spread of COVID-19 is bad right now in the United States. Really bad.

And it’s about to get worse.

Thanksgiving gatherings almost assuredly will lead to more spikes in cases and deaths in the weeks to come. We could see the beginnings of this horrific surge starting this week.

And Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, also knows who is else to blame for the dramatic increase in those contracting and dying from COVID-19.

During an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Birx told moderator Chuck Todd, “Right now, across the Sunbelt, we have governors and mayors who have cases equivalent to what they had in the summertime, yet aren’t putting in the same policies and mitigations that they put in the summer that they know changed the course of this pandemic. This is the worst event that this country will face not just from a public health side, yet we know what behaviors spread the virus and we know how to change those behaviors to stop spreading the virus.”

Todd, astutely, tried to get Birx to call out which governors and officials specifically she was talking about and which states need to immediately do better. But Birx wouldn’t name names.

“Every state across this country needs to increase their mitigation and every state needs to be critically informing their state population that the gatherings we saw on Thanksgiving will lead to a surge — it will happen this week and next week,” Birx said. “We cannot go into the holiday season — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza — with the same kind of attitude that: ‘Those gatherings don’t apply to me.’ They apply to everyone, if you don’t want to lose your grandparents, your aunt.”

As Trump’s administration comes to a close, might we start seeing more appearances and more forthcoming interviews from the likes of Birx like we saw on Sunday? It would have been good, though, to see Birx answer Todd’s question about naming names. Perhaps calling them out publicly would push them to make immediate changes.

Nevertheless, Todd concluded his interview with Birx by taking a bit of a shot at President Donald Trump by saying, “I appreciate you coming on and sharing these dire warnings. I hope your boss also hears the same dire warnings that you’re telling the rest of us. Thank you for coming on.”

Best correction

Fox News’ Chris Wallace. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP, File)

Kudos to Fox News’ Chris Wallace for correcting Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar three times after Azar called Joe Biden the “vice president.”

During an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Azar referred to Biden as, “Vice President Biden.” Wallace quickly jumped in and said, “He’s the president-elect, sir. He’s the president-elect.” Azar kept talking, but after he was done with his answer, Wallace once again said, “First of all, it’s the President-Elect Joe Biden, Secretary Azar.”

Good for Wallace.

Wallace correcting Azar on Biden’s title wasn’t the only pushback Azar got during the interview. Wallace questioned Azar about what he called Trump’s “massive failure” in dealing with the coronavirus and, later, he asked Azar, “If President Trump had worn a mask then and urged everyone to wear a mask then, back in April, the way Joe Biden is right now, wouldn’t we be in much better shape?”

Other Sunday morning moderators push back, too

Wallace wasn’t the only Sunday morning show moderator to criticize Trump — from COVID-19 failures to reckless allegations of voter fraud

CBS “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan said, “Obsessed with his alternative reality of so-called voting irregularities, the president refuses to deal with what his health advisers warn could be a surge on top of a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths facing the U.S. in the next few months.”

While interviewing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), NBC “Meet the Press”  moderator Chuck Todd said, “The frustration is, why is it that we can’t have even Washington unified, why can’t even you guys in the United States Senate come together and everybody say, ‘Hey, let’s wear a mask?’ It does seem absurd how polarized we’ve gotten over this and it does seem to emanate from one individual — the president.”

Best questioning

On his “This Week” show on ABC, moderator George Stephanopoulos grilled Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind) by saying, “There have been more than 55 lawsuits brought forward by the president and his allies, 38 have been dismissed by judges. There have been investigations directed by the Justice Department, by the attorney general. The attorney general came back and said there’s no evidence of widespread fraud. So the process has played out, hasn’t it? And there’s no evidence of widespread fraud. Why can’t you accept the results?”

Braun started to answer by saying, “I think it’s easy to say it’s played out because that might be the most convenient thing to say” and then he brought up a debunked video about alleged fraud in Georgia.

Stephanopoulos was having none of it.

“Well, I have to stop you right there,” Stephanopoulos said. “That was exactly the proper process for counting the ballots. There wasn’t anything wrong shown in that video at all. So you’re just throwing out a claim out there that doesn’t prove what you’re saying.”

It was an embarrassing moment for Braun, but a rather strong one for Stephanopoulos.

Sunday morning stars

If you review the above couple of items here in the newsletter, you will see strong moments by all the network Sunday morning moderators: NBC’s Chuck Todd, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, CBS’s Margaret Brennan and Fox’s Chris Wallace.

All four do well each and every week, but it was a particularly strong Sunday for all of them.


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.

Giuliani has COVID-19

Rudy Giuliani. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, file)

President Trump broke the news on Twitter on Sunday that his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has tested positive for COVID-19. MSNBC senior national correspondent and anchor Chris Jansing tweeted:

“Rudy Giuliani is the 53rd Administration member, campaign official or contact testing positive for coronavirus since Hope Hicks, the President, First Lady and Barron Trump all tested positive for Covid Oct 1-2 —   confirmed by @NBCNews”

The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reported late Sunday afternoon that Giuliani went to Georgetown University Medical Center. Giuliani, who has been Trump’s main lawyer in fighting baseless claims of voter fraud, appeared on Maria Bartiromo’s Fox News show Sunday morning. He appeared via satellite.

Giuliani’s son, Andrew, tweeted Sunday evening:

“My Dad @RudyGiuliani is resting, getting great care and feeling well. Thank you to all the friends who have reached out concerned about his well being.”

Important work

In 2012, someone broke into the home of Regina Martínez, a reporter for the investigative weekly Proceso in Mexico. That person broke Martínez’s jaw with brass knuckles and then strangled her to death. She was 48, and she likely was killed because of her work reporting on two governors in Veracruz. Those governors were believed to have stolen from the government and allowed cartels to operate freely. Martínez hoped her reporting would prove that traffickers and others and executed hundreds.

Now, eight years later, a team of reporters from The Washington Post, Mexico and Europe are picking up Martínez’s work. Details are provided in the first story, published Sunday in The Washington Post, called “The Cartel Project.” The project involved 60 journalists from 25 media outlets and is also being published by Forbidden Stories and all of its partners.

The Post wrote, “The team continued her investigations of the two state governors — Fidel Herrera and Javier Duarte — and examined her homicide inquiry. Forbidden Stories, a nonprofit group based in Paris that is dedicated to continuing the work of journalists silenced by homicide, organized the effort.”

This is elite-level journalism that you should check out.

A special episode

Perhaps the most entertaining TV network ever invented — the NFL RedZone, which shows seven hours of commercial-free NFL football every Sunday, flipping from game to game — celebrated a special episode on Sunday. It was episode No. 200. Here are some of the stats for the NFL RedZone: They have shown more than 10,000 touchdowns, more than 1,300 hours of football over 12 seasons and host Scott Hanson has taken one bathroom break. That one bathroom break might be the most impressive number of all.

Earlier this year, he told the Zach Gelb radio show, “I get into the zone. I eat a big breakfast in the morning on Sunday morning and then I cut off my liquids about three hours before the show.”

When he took that break, in December 2017, he tweeted about it. And, according to this story, ended up in the emergency room.

Visual of the day

Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff speaks during a debate for U.S. Senate in Georgia on Sunday. Sen. David Perdue declined to attend the debate. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, Pool)

In Georgia, GOP Sen. David Perdue skipped the first of two runoff debates on Sunday. Check out this visually stunning video, which, after Democrat Jon Ossoff was introduced, showed an empty podium to represent Perdue.

Ossoff had harsh words for Perdue, saying, “My message for the people of our state, at this moment of crisis, is your senator feels entitled to your vote, your senator is refusing to answer questions and debate his opponent because he believes he shouldn’t have to. He believes this senate seat belongs to him. The senate seat belongs to the people.”

Pirro = Bartiromo

During her Fox News’ show Saturday, Judge Jeanine Pirro ripped into Attorney General Bill Barr, saying, “Mr. Barr, you are so deep in the swamp, you can’t see beyond your fellow reptiles.” Pirro was upset that Barr said last week there was no evidence of voter fraud that would overturn the election.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani was a guest on Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo’s “Sunday Morning Futures” show, spewing more bogus election fraud claims. At one point, Bartiromo said, “How come the media does not report you have this evidence?”

Who would’ve thought there would be a day when you could not tell the difference between Jeanine Pirro and Maria Bartiromo?

The right call

Excellent decision by CNN and Fox News to show Sunday night’s Georgia Senate debate between Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rev. Raphael Warnock. It’s unusual for cable networks to air a senatorial debate, but considering the implications involved with this one, it was heartening to see two of the big cable networks dedicated to showing it.

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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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