March 2, 2020

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No gaslighting on the air, please

A frequent argument often raised about interview news shows — particularly the Sunday morning shows — is that guests are often allowed to say whatever they want with little pushback or fact-checking. I’d argue that the shows have gotten much better at it, and a good example of that was an exchange Sunday morning between “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd and Vice President Mike Pence.

The topic was coronavirus, which is now under Pence’s watch. Todd acknowledged that Pence has “made every effort” to keep the virus and its impact from being politicized, but he then played video of specific examples of conservatives — namely Rush Limbaugh, Ronna McDaniel and Donald Trump Jr. — making arguments that Democrats are politicizing the virus. For example, Trump Jr. said, “For them to try to take a pandemic and seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people so that they could end Donald Trump’s streak of winning is a new level of sickness.”

“None of this seems to match the facts,” Todd said. “What facts are there that Democrats are doing this? … Seems like people are asking questions, and they’re concerned about the virus. This implies some sort of political motivation, which is kind of gross.”

Pence said, “Well, I will tell you, there’s been a lot of irresponsible rhetoric among Democrats and commentators …”

And that’s when Todd did his job, interrupting and asking Pence to not just throw out generalities, but name names.

“Because this is just — it just feels like gas-lighting,” Todd said. “Please name some names … we’re all big people here. Name some names.”

Pence weakly offered up an unnamed column in The New York Times. The two continued back and forth until Todd asked Pence if what Limbaugh said (that the Dems are using the coronavirus to bring down President Trump) could be backed by evidence.

Pence, however, would not condemn Limbaugh’s words, instead saying, “Well, look. I have great respect for Rush Limbaugh, and he’s a strong conservative commentator.”

It was an excellent interview by Todd even if Pence side-stepped Todd’s questions about some of the conservative rhetoric.

Speaking of rhetoric

President Donald Trump used two of his favorites media attacks in one tweet Sunday evening. He tweeted:

“People are disgusted and embarrassed by the Fake News Media, as headed by the @nytimes, @washingtonpost, @comcast & MSDNC, @ABC, @CBSNews and more. They no longer believe what they see and read, and for good reason. Fake News is, indeed, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

Bloomberg on Bloomberg

Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg, left, talking with Scott Pelley on Sunday night’s “60 Minutes.” (Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg was the subject of a “60 Minutes” profile Sunday, talking with correspondent Scott Pelley about coronavirus, his shaky first debate performance, his upbringing, his wealth and his plans for if he becomes president. He also was asked about allegations of sexual harassment in his past. Here was the exchange:

Pelley: “Did you say these things?”

Bloomberg: “I don’t remember saying it. I can tell you that years ago on the trading room floors, things were different. I apologize for that, I’m sorry if somebody was hurt.”

Pelley: “You don’t remember.”

Bloomberg: “If I annoyed somebody or hurt somebody, I apologize. I can’t go rewrite history. I can only tell you now it is a different world.”

Pelley: “It’s a different world, but the question is: Is it a different man?”

Bloomberg: “Oh, I think, for sure. You evolve with time. We’re all a product of the world we live in. Shame on you if you don’t learn and try to be better.”

More Bloomberg

Fox News will have a town hall tonight with Democratic presidential nominee Mike Bloomberg. The town hall, hosted by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, will air from 6:30-7:30 p.m. from Manassas, Virginia.

Last Thursday’s Fox News town hall with Amy Klobuchar averaged 1.75 million viewers, making it the most-watched cable news program in the 6:30-7:30 p.m. time slot.


‘Axios on HBO’ back with exclusive interview

Roger Stone. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

One of the very best news shows on TV — “Axios on HBO” — returned Sunday night with the first on-camera interview with Trump associate Roger Stone since he was sentenced to 40 months for obstructing a congressional investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

In the interview, Stone said he fears nothing except “not being right with God.” Stone said it’s all about where you stand with God today.

“I think Trump has been forgiven for anything he did wrong,” Stone said. “I think we all have. And I think he’s a different person. I think he is steadfast in his faith. I don’t think he could do this job if he was not.”


NBC’s coronavirus coverage is one to watch

NBC is ramping up its coronavirus coverage. A newly launched 24/7 live blog has extensive video and the latest updates from the network’s medical, business, political and investigative reporters with dispatches on known cases, locations and circumstances of new infections.

Starting today, a dedicated morning newsletter — Morning Rundown Special Edition: Coronavirus Crisis — will have the latest from NBC News and MSNBC medical correspondent Dr. John Torres.

The “Today” show will have correspondent Vicky Nguyen this morning to answer frequently asked questions from viewers. “NBC Nightly News” and “Today” will have reporting from the network’s international and medical correspondents each day.

There’s more. NBC News’ social team will post updates around the clock on all social platforms, including daily Q&A sessions with Dr. Torres. Plus, there’s a dedicated Facebook group focused solely on sharing information and insights about the coronavirus, along with updates on NBC News NOW.

New NYT media critic’s first target? The NYT

Ben Smith, the founding editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, made his debut Sunday in a new job as a media writer for The New York Times. In his first “The Media Equation” column, Smith took on … The New York Times. Under the headline, “Why the Success of The New York Times May Be Bad News for Journalism,” Smith argues that the Times has become like Facebook or Google — a digital giant crowding out the competition.

Smith points out, “The gulf between The Times and the rest of the industry is vast and keeps growing: The company now has more digital subscribers than The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the 250 local Gannett papers combined, according to the most recent data. And The Times employs 1,700 journalists — a huge number in an industry where total employment nationally has fallen to somewhere between 20,000 and 38,000.”

The Times, Smith writes, not only is dominating traditional print media, but now has expanded into areas such as audio, with the “The Daily” podcast, and new media.

Smith writes, “And The Times has swallowed so much of what was once called new media that the paper can read as an uneasy competition of dueling traditions: The Style section is a more polished Gawker, while the opinion pages reflect the best and worst of The Atlantic’s provocations. The magazine publishes bold arguments about race and American history, and the campaign coverage channels Politico’s scoopy aggression.”

Oh, one more sign that the Times is swallowing up everything: the founding editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News is now the Times’ media columnist.

The weekend’s best read

The best story, by far, I came across over the weekend was an explosive report in the Tampa Bay Times. “Moving Millions, Leaving Mayhem” is an incredibly well-reported and disturbing story by Bethany Barnes (with analysis by Connie Humburg and design by Eli Zhang, Martin Frobisher and Tara McCarty) that investigates GardaWorld — an armored truck company whose dubious safety record has left many dead or seriously injured.

Barnes writes, “At least 19 people have been killed in Garda crashes since 2008, three in the past year alone.

Twelve died because of a Garda truck’s mechanical failure or a mistake by a Garda driver, the Times found. Most were unsuspecting motorists or pedestrians going about their daily lives.

An internal company database shows that crashes and injuries have been commonplace. From February 2014 to July 2016, the company’s trucks averaged nearly 100 collisions a month, according to the crash database. More than 320 people were injured — a rate of one about every three days.”

It’s a long piece but well worth your time, and an example of elite national journalism done on the local level.

Hot type

Pete Buttigieg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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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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