By:
August 17, 2020

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Good morning, and welcome to the first of two big weeks in the political world as the conventions get underway. The Democrats hold their national convention this week with the Republicans having theirs next week.

The Poynter Report will be keeping a close eye on the media coverage with daily updates of the latest news and developments in what will be two very unconventional conventions. Instead of speeches before thousands in a big hall, much of it will be on TVs and computers on Zoom as the conventions go mostly virtual. In the coming days, I’ll be talking to those covering the conventions to see how different their coverage is and if it changes as the week progresses.

I’ll get into the conventions later in this newsletter, but first I wanted to address a story that dominated news coverage in recent days — a story that needs to go away and will if the media would simply move on from it.

The controversial story started when Newsweek irresponsibly and inexplicably ran an opinion piece from conservative attorney John Eastman, who questioned Kamala Harris’ citizenship and eligibility to run for vice president. To be clear, Harris was born in the United States and she is absolutely eligible to be vice president.

After first defending the op-ed, Newsweek offered a weak apology in an editor’s note that said, “This op-ed is being used by some as a tool to perpetuate racism and xenophobia. We apologize. We entirely failed to anticipate the ways in which the essay would be interpreted, distorted and weaponized.”

It’s unclear how Newsweek “failed to anticipate” the problems of this op-ed, but the whole thing got messier when President Donald Trump was asked about it in a press conference. Trump said, “I have no idea if that’s right. I would have thought, I would have assumed, that the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president.”

So now here’s what is happening. Trump and some close to him are saying Trump has no plans to pursue this topic any further, but they also haven’t fully shot down the false claim. And many are suggesting that it’s not Trump making this a story, but the media.

The White House appeared to have gone out Sunday morning with a united message to not out-and-out shoot down the theory, but to also say that Trump “would not pursue” the topic. The same phrase — “would not pursue” — was used by both chief of staff Mark Meadows on CNN’s “State of the Union” and by Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes on “Fox News Sunday.”

In fact, “Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace kept pushing Cortes to explain why Trump just doesn’t “strike down the claim.” Wallace compared it to the false birther claims against Barack Obama. Cortes, again, would not completely dismiss it, even after Wallace said, “It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m not going to pursue it.’ It’s a different thing to say, ‘It’s flat wrong, she’s eligible to be the vice president.’”

Cortes never would go as far as Wallace was asking.

Speaking on Fox News’ “MediaBuzz,” the Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio said, “The media brought up the question of whether Harris was a citizen or not. The president didn’t bring it up. The president was answering a reporter’s question. Obviously you can criticize the way he answered that question. The media brought it up. They baited him on this.”

Ferrechio has a fair point. Trump can be questioned and even criticized for his response, but why even ask the president about a media-created op-ed piece that is baseless, ignorant and flat-out wrong?

Now it’s time for the media to drop the whole matter. Trump and his Sunday spokespeople are on the record. They are not going to totally shoot down this wrong opinion. By continuing to bring it up, some in the media might think they are exposing Trump as a conspiracy theorist and maybe even a racist. But, in reality, all they are doing is perpetuating a story that should’ve died before it was even published.

We have conventions starting this week. There is controversy involving mail-in balloting and the United States Post Office. We continue to address the issue of race. School is about to start. The economy is a mess.

And, oh yeah, there’s a once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic that shows no signs of going away. Maybe we should keep our eyes on stories that are real, not ones that are not.

Best interview

President Donald Trump’s White House senior adviser Jared Kushner. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Kudos to CBS’s “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan for her interview with Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. The interview turned a tad uncomfortable when Kushner seemed bothered when asked several questions about the coronavirus.

After those several questions, Kushner said, “But, Margaret, look, I came on today to talk about the historic breakthrough that the president achieved for peace in the Middle East. It’s the first peace agreement in 26 years. And I will say that this has been a strategy we’ve been working on for the last three and a half years …”

Brennan continued her line of questioning about the coronavirus. Then Brennan asked about mail-in ballots and the U.S. Postal Service.

Kushner said, “I hope we’ll get to talk about Middle East peace in a minute, but I’ll give you a quick answer on that.”

To his credit, Kushner answered all of Brennan’s questions. Still, it was unreasonable for Kushner to go on a Sunday morning news show and think he was not going to be asked about the pertinent topics of the moment, and right now, two of the biggest political stories involve the government’s reaction to the coronavirus and questions about mail-in balloting.

Brennan did end the interview with several Middle East questions that covered the final three minutes of the 10-minute interview.

Trump lashed out at Fox News

Once again, President Trump kicked around Fox News, while talking up a little-watched network that is “news” in name only. On Sunday, the president tweeted, “.@FoxNews is not watchable during weekend afternoons. It is worse than Fake News @CNN. I strongly suggest turning your dial to @OANN. They do a really ‘Fair & Balanced’ job!”

I don’t have enough space in this newsletter to list all the dangerous and irresponsible misinformation that is peddled by OANN. (If you need to read more, check out this story by The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum.)

It’s not clear what set off Trump, but “America’s News Headquarters” was airing at the time of Trump’s tweet, which was at 1:31 p.m. Eastern.

A story that needs more attention

A toy sits on a log as a woman moves branches from a fallen tree to the curb in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The storm that struck last week left tens of thousands of Iowans without power. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

One of the dangers of getting sucked into the news vacuum of Washington, D.C., and President Trump is that other important stories often get undercovered or unnoticed. One example was last week when a devastating storm swept across Iowa. Hurricane-force gusts reaching more than 100 mph leveled buildings, tore up crops and ripped roofs off buildings and destroyed entire farms and businesses. It’s reported that four people (three in Iowa, one in Indiana) were killed.

The headline on a perspective piece in The Washington Post by Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Lyz Lenz read, “An inland hurricane tore through Iowa. You probably didn’t hear about it.”

Lenz wrote, “While the storm did garner some coverage, mostly via wire stories, its impact remains underreported days later. The dispatches, focused on crop damage and electrical outages, have been shouted down by the coverage of the veepstakes and the fate of college football. Conservatives’ consternation over the new Cardi B single has gotten more attention than the Iowans left without power or food for what may be weeks. And all this, as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc throughout the state.”

The impact is still being felt, and will be for quite some time, as reported by NPR’s Christianna Silva.

For more coverage, check out Will Wright in The New York Times, Erin Jordan in The Cedar Rapids Gazette and Li Cohen from CBS News.

Poll of the day

An NBC poll revealed on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” showed that Americans are not cavalier about the upcoming election. Check out these surprising numbers. Of all voters, 79% say they are “very interested” in the election. That includes 85% of Republican voters and 83% of Democratic voters.

PBS’s plans

As I mentioned at the start of this newsletter, the Democratic National Convention starts tonight. The RNC will be next week. We’re used to seeing wall-to-wall coverage, but with speakers and events spread out and coming to us all virtually, the coverage will be different than what we’re used to.

I wrote last week about the convention plans for the major networks and cable news stations (you can see it here and here).

PBS also will be covering the conventions. Here is its schedule:

Most PBS stations will have special coverage from 8 to 11 p.m. Eastern. “PBS NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff will anchor convention coverage from PBS’s studio in Arlington, Virginia. Coverage also will include reports and commentary from senior national correspondent Amna Nawaz, correspondent Lisa Desjardins and White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

Guests will include “Cook Political Report” national editor Amy Walter, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post national political reporter and moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week” Robert Costa, “American Greatness” editor Chris Buskirk, and former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter.

Trump’s plans

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Democrats will be in the spotlight this week with the convention, but word is that President Trump will try to elbow his way into the news spotlight, too. Trump has a speech planned hours before Joe Biden’s scheduled acceptance speech on Thursday. And, according to The New York Times’ Nick Corasaniti and Maggie Haberman, the Trump campaign is “launching an aggressive four-day digital advertising campaign that will take over some of the internet’s most conspicuous real estate during the three marquee days of the Democratic National Convention, which most viewers will watch online.”

The campaign will take over the banner on YouTube for 96 hours starting on Tuesday. You’ll also see ads on the home pages of The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Fox News. The Times also reports, “Even non-D.N.C. programming will be inundated with Trump ads, as the campaign has bought premium, or ‘unskippable,’ ads on sites like Hulu.”

How much is the Trump campaign spending on these ads? “High seven figures” was what the Times was told.

Media tidbits

  • Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have chosen to do their first joint network interview with ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir, as well as “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts. The interviews will air in a one-hour special on Sunday, Aug. 23 from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern on ABC. This Friday’s “World News Tonight” will have a first look at the interviews.
  • A reporter from MLive.com was arrested while covering an alt-right rally in Kalamazoo, Michigan, over the weekend, but will not be charged for “impeding traffic.” In addition, Kalamazoo public safety chief Karianne Thomas apologized to reporter Sam Robinson, saying, “I personally want to apologize for that event. The reporter was wearing a visible credential and should not have been arrested. I apologize for the trauma that it caused this young man.”
  • Boston Bruins announcer Jack Edwards, known for being a homer and occasionally saying ill-advised things, had another awful take Saturday when Carolina Hurricanes player Andrei Svechnikov suffered a leg injury after jostling with Boston’s Zdeno Chara. Edwards tweeted, “What NBC hasn’t shown yet, regarding the unfortunate injury to Svechnikov: the Carolina wing playing hobby-horse, riding Chara on the back apron of the goal. You poke the bear, you take your chances. No one wanted to see Svechnikov hurt, but he bit off more than he could chew.” What a horrible thing to suggest a player had that kind of injury coming to him. The Hurricanes’ official Twitter account responded with, “This one should’ve stayed in the drafts, Jack.” Amen.

Hot type

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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