November 19, 2020

I woke up Wednesday morning to this headline in my hometown newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times: “With No Restriction, Florida Prognosis Grim.”

Other headlines around the country on Wednesday also painted a nightmarish picture.

  • St. Paul Pioneer Press: “Hospitals Feel Virus Strain.”
  • Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader: “Deadliest Day.”
  • The Des Moines Register: “2,028 DEATHS.”
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Ga. Faces Holiday Surge, Virus Task Force Warns.”
  • Albuquerque Journal: “A Shocking New Record — 28 Deaths in 1 Day.”
  • The Greensboro News & Record: “Cone Official: Infection Trend ‘Alarming.’”
  • Austin American-Statesman: “Texas Virus Cases Set Another Daily Record.”
  • Houston Chronicle: “Virus’ ‘Unrelenting’ Spread Raises Alarm.”
  • San Antonio Express-News: “COVID-19 Stats Get Even Grimmer.”
  • The Salt Lake Tribune: “COVID-19 Puts More Utahns in Hospital.”

Those were just Wednesday’s headlines. They could’ve been the headlines from almost anytime over the past six months. And it could be the headlines we see for the foreseeable future. The numbers are getting more grim by the day. The latest horrific number: 250,000. That’s how many Americans have now died of COVID-19.

As CNN’s Holly Yan and Daniel Wolfe point out, “In less than 10 months, Covid-19 has killed more people than strokes, suicides and car crashes typically do in a full year — combined.”

As Dr. Sanjay Gupta said on CNN’s “Situation Room,” “A quarter of a million people have died of a disease that did not exist a year ago.”

And there’s this: Lester Holt’s powerful segment that closed Wednesday night’s “NBC Nightly News.”

Holt introduced the segment with this: “As we cross the quarter-million mark of those we’ve lost to COVID in this country, we find ourselves going through a familiar ritual — a shake of the head, a deep sigh and a sense of helplessness. But after that, what is left? Maybe, anger.”

Then he started the piece with this voiceover: “Do 250,000 deaths give us permission to be mad over these superspreader moments? Surely, we know better by now. How about anger at those who refuse to wear masks? Or still cling to denial? In Michigan, it makes Keith Gambrell mad.”

Keith Gambrell: “My grandfather passed from it. My dad died from it. They both died six hours apart from one another. My mother had it. She almost died from it. I had it and both my little brothers all had it. Like, it’s very real. It’s not a joke.”

Holt voiceover: “But anger isn’t serving us well because Americans keep dying. We’re losing people and our collective stretch. When’s the last time you heard we’re all in this together?”

Emma Nohr, Nebraska Medicine: “I probably don’t feel as supported as a whole by the community than I did then and it’s been hard for everybody, but people knew that we were doing this for the greater good, you know. But, I feel like people have grown tired of that, we’ve let our guard down and this is not the time to let our guard down.”

The piece went on to talk to a woman who owns a restaurant, who is trying to keep her customers safe and her business afloat.

Finally, Holt, in a voiceover, said: “We are all clawing for equilibrium: our businesses, our schools and, above all, our very lives. Maybe it’s time to turn that mad into resolve, to beat this virus before it beats us.”

Then, Holt, before signing off said, “And by the way, we are still in this together.”

‘This is the worst rate of rise in cases that we have seen’

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir signaled just how bad the COVID-19 situation is in the United States.

“We are in an absolutely dangerous situation that we have to take with the utmost seriousness,” Giroir said. “This is not crying wolf. This is the worst rate of rise in cases that we have seen in the pandemic in the United States.”

Mitchell pressed Giroir on why government COVID-19 information has not been shared with President-elect Joe Biden. Giroir said, “I’m going to be as transparent with anyone in the Biden administration or in their task force as I am with you. We all know what the data shows. The data are absolutely concerning. I lose sleep at night over where we are in the pandemic right now.”

What’s the holdup?

General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy in 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Speaking of Biden getting information and the transition, a lot of focus has been placed on Emily Murphy.

And just who is Emily Murphy? She is the administrator of the General Services Administration. She is the government official who can sign the documents that will recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect and begin the transition. It provides money, access to government officials and agencies and other resources, and allows Biden to be briefed on national security.

But so far, 11 days after Biden has been called the winner by most major media outlets, Murphy hasn’t signed the documents. Why? Well, that still isn’t exactly clear, although it appears that Trump’s refusal to concede is a big factor.

CNN’s Kristen Holmes and Jeremy Herb have an excellent in-depth look at Murphy and what might be going on at the moment.

Holmes and Herb write that she is facing pressure from both sides, and has received death threats. A friend and former colleague of Murphy told CNN, “She absolutely feels like she’s in a hard place. She’s afraid on multiple levels. It’s a terrible situation. Emily is a consummate professional, a deeply moral person, but also a very scrupulous attorney who is in a very difficult position with an unclear law and precedence that is behind her stance. She’s doing what she believes is her honest duty as someone who has sworn true allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, and the laws that govern her position.”

The CNN piece looks at the career of Murphy, who was a Trump appointee in 2017. However, many aren’t feeling much sympathy for Murphy or the position she is in.

CNN’s Jill Filipovic, in a column titled, “Emily Murphy, Do Your Job,” wrote, “Murphy is refusing to do her job: doing nothing, technically, but making a clear choice to do harm by blocking a key part of the transition to the incoming government of Joe Biden. (Rudy) Giuliani is making an affirmative choice to undermine confidence in American democracy and our system of free and fair elections. This is how great institutions crumble: Not just by inertia and excuse-making for the decay, but because a small handful of people decide that doing maximum damage — whether actively or through inaction — is justifiable if it is to their immediate benefit.”


The WW Higher Education Media Fellowship supports U.S. journalists interested in learning more about and covering issues related to post-secondary career and technical education (CTE). The Fellowship is a six-month, non-residential reporting fellowship which includes $10,000 in funding. Applications are open through December 11.

Maybe the biggest political scandal ever

Strong comments from the “Meet the Press” First Read newsletter by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg.

They wrote, “Arguably the biggest political scandal we’ve ever seen in this country is playing right before our eyes: President Trump and his allies are trying to reverse the election results of a contest he lost.”

They point out that Trump’s “scheme” isn’t working, and that Biden will be the next president.

“But,” they write, “being unsuccessful doesn’t erase the magnitude of the scandal — or the fact that the president of the United States has cheered it on every step of the way.”

Hello Dolly

Dolly Parton in 2019. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Dolly Parton is a national treasure. We knew that well before today, but she continues to be our superhero. Her $1 million donation to Vanderbilt University for coronavirus research partially funded the experimental vaccine produced by Moderna, which announced this week its vaccine is nearly 95% effective.

The Washington Post’s Timothy Bella writes about how Parton became involved in all this. She was in a minor car accident in October 2013, but she was bruised enough that she wanted to get checked out at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. That’s where she met physician and professor of surgery Naji Abumrad. They became friends, and Parton has had many conversations with Abumrad about Vanderbilt’s research into COVID-19. She ended up making the donation in Abumrad’s name.

Abumrad told Bella, “Her work made it possible to expedite the science behind the testing. Without a doubt in my mind, her funding made the research toward the vaccine go 10 times faster than it would be without it.”

During an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Parton said, “I’m just happy that anything I do can help somebody else, and when I donated the money to the COVID fund, I just wanted it to do good. Evidently, it is. Let’s just hope we find a cure real soon.”

Some kind of heaven

The Villages is a retirement community in Florida. You’ve probably heard of it. It has 130,000 residents and, mostly, supports Donald Trump. In fact, Trump has campaigned there. (Although Biden had some support there, too.)

Well, The New York Times and Magnolia Pictures are coming out with a film about The Villages called “Some Kind of Heaven.” And the trailer, which is out today, is wild. You can view it here.

The film, directed by Lance Oppenheim in his feature debut and also produced by Darren Aronofsky, debuted at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It will be released in select theatres and on-demand on Jan. 15, 2021. Variety’s Dennis Harvey has a review, writing, “This highly entertaining documentary captures the near-surrealism of a prefab senior playground, while also finding some poignant human interest in focusing on a few personalities for whom the concept isn’t quite working. It should be an appealing item for niche programmers in various formats, from pubcasters to streaming services, with limited theatrical release possible.”

Talking with Obama

(Courtesy: MSNBC)

Barack Obama, who is promoting his new book “A Promised Land,” will join MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart tonight at 10 p.m. on MSNBC. The two will chat from The Lincoln Theatre in Washington. Obama will discuss the state of democracy, the current political polarization and divisiveness in this country and where we go from here.

Capehart also will moderate a roundtable discussion between Obama and members of My Brother’s Keeper.

Something fun

I saw a tweet on Wednesday that pointed out that the sun set in Utqiagvik, Alaska, (formerly Barrow, Alaska) at 1:29 p.m. local time on Wednesday. It will not be visible again there until it rises on Jan. 22. That’s 64 days.

When I shared it with colleagues, Poynter managing editor Ren LaForme shared with me a superb 2017 story about a town in Norway that uses giant mirrors to deflect the sun. Everything about this BBC story is excellent and the photos are amazing.

Media tidbits

  • Want to see a governor lose his cool and act totally inappropriately as reporters try to get answers to questions that millions want to know? Then watch this clip of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo acting like a bully.
  • The 30th anniversary of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Freedom Press Awards is tonight at 8 p.m. NBC News’ Lester Holt will host the virtual event that honors courageous journalists from around the world. You can watch the event online by clicking here. will stream it as well.
  • Fox News’ “The Five,” “Fox & Friends” and the primetime trio of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham continue to float baseless conspiracy theories and invite guests that float baseless allegations that continue to whack away at the integrity of our elections and our democracy. I’d link to examples, but I refuse to pump more oxygen into this junk. It’s dangerous and harmful and it’s troubling that Fox News leadership allows 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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