By:
October 2, 2020

President Donald Trump often makes news on Twitter, but of all the tweets he has ever tweeted, none had the gravity of what he sent out Friday morning at 12:54 a.m.

Trump tweeted, “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!”

Immediately, all the TV networks jumped on the story. MSNBC’s Brian Williams called it a “colossal story.” White House correspondents, such as CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and ABC News’ Jonathan Karl (on the phone), started their reporting. Sean Hannity called into Fox News.

It was all hands on deck everywhere.

CNN’s coverage was exceptional, with, among others, host Don Lemon, Collins, media reporter Brian Stelter, Washington Post veteran Carl Bernstein and medical expert Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who said this should not be “entirely unexpected” given the lax attitudes in the West Wing of not wearing masks or practicing social distancing or other measures that help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

And, yet, during his appearance on ABC News’ coverage, Karl mentioned Trump’s phone interview earlier Thursday night with Sean Hannity. Karl said Trump seemed extremely concerned about the health of one of his aides, Hope Hicks, who had already tested positive for the virus. Karl said he could hear fear in Trump’s voice. Not long after that interview, Trump announced he had tested positive.

Again, the CNN coverage was superb. (That includes the network’s most visible on-air personality, Anderson Cooper, reporting for duty in the studio at 3 a.m.) CNN’s coverage was fact-based and not panic-inducing. It certainly covered all the angles: Trump’s health, who else might test positive, what this means for the campaign, the election and the scheduled debates. And while so much was not known, CNN walked the fine line of trying to predict some of the things that could be in store in the coming days and weeks and yet was not being irresponsible with rampant unfounded rumors or reckless conjecture.

“This is not a time to panic,” medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner said on CNN. “Very likely that the president and the first lady will recover from this. We’ve learned a lot over the first eight months of this pandemic about how to treat this disease and there are some things to do should the president become more ill or incapacitated over the next several days. Hopefully that’s not the case.”

Gupta, too, said odds are very much in Trump’s favor that he will recover.

Reiner mentioned how the president will be surrounded by the best medical care. And, he did soberly relay how the Constitution is set up to make sure the country has leadership in the event Trump cannot lead, even temporarily.

On the other hand, The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman didn’t hold back from plenty of conjecture in their news story when they wrote, “Even if Mr. Trump, 74, remains asymptomatic, he will have to withdraw from the campaign trail and stay isolated in the White House for an unknown period of time. If he becomes sick, it could raise questions about whether he should remain on the ballot at all. Even if he does not become seriously ill, the positive test could prove devastating to his political fortunes given his months of diminishing the seriousness of the pandemic even as the virus was still ravaging the country and killing about 1,000 more Americans every day.”

Most news organizations — well, not Fox News — did point out the White House downplaying the virus and the preventative measures many take to fight against the spread of the virus.

The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey and Colby Itkowitz wrote, “Even as the virus exploded around the nation, Trump has continued to hold large events featuring mostly maskless crowds of people who squeezed together to greet the president. Trump has regularly appeared in public and in private without a mask, and has mocked Biden for wearing one and for curbing his campaign events. Many of Trump’s aides also have eschewed masks, both in the West Wing presidential offices and on trips.”

That’s a theme that Associated Press White House reporter and MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Lemire hit on while on MSNBC early Friday morning.

“It completely upends everything the president has said on the virus,” Lemire said. “He has time and again denied the seriousness of the pandemic … suggested that the nation was rounding the corner and in its last legs battling this virus, flying in the face of science.”

And there’s this, too: On CNN, Collins said the White House will have to answer “serious questions” about something else. Collins reported that there were those in the White House who knew Thursday morning that Hicks was ill and had tested positive for the coronavirus. Even though Trump and other staff had been around Hicks, Trump still went to New Jersey later Thursday for an indoor fundraiser. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also had been around Hicks, and yet still held a White House press briefing and did not reveal any of that to reporters, thus potentially putting the media at the White House at risk. Stelter also pointed out that until Trump’s announcement, he was scheduled to travel to Florida to speak today.

But, for now, the more immediate concern is the health of the president and, it’s not too extreme to say, the future of the country.

“We shouldn’t assume the best or the worst either way,” Stelter said on CNN.

Lemon said, “There are still so many things that we don’t know.”

And now on what I thought was going to be all of today’s newsletter …

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had another bad day at the office

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany at the White House on Thursday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

For months, when Sarah Sanders and Stephanie Grisham were the White House press secretaries, many of us complained about how there were never any official White House press conferences.

Now the complaint? There are too many.

Actually, it’s not the quantity of the White House press briefings that are the problem. It’s the quality of them. They’ve devolved into combative exchanges, mostly because White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany would rather take juvenile and baseless potshots and criticize the media instead of answering their legitimate questions.

Thursday was another example.

There are still questions surrounding President Donald Trump’s comments about white supremacists during Tuesday’s debate, centering on the line he said about the hate group Proud Boys when he told them to “stand back and stand by.” Since then, the president, those in his campaign and other Republicans have been asked about those comments, and have asked if the president has gone far enough in condemning white supremacy.

During Thursday’s White House press conference, McEnany clashed with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins over whether Trump actually denounced the Proud Boys and McEnany ignored Collins’ point that Trump said the Proud Boys should “stand by.” By the way, that’s a phrase now being trumpeted by the Proud Boys themselves.

Meanwhile, it was Fox News’ John Roberts who most pressed the press secretary, asking McEnany, “I would like to ask you for a definitive and declarative statement without ambiguity or deflection. As the person who speaks for the president, does the president denounce white supremacy and groups that espouse it in all their forms?”

McEnany responded by saying, “This has been answered. Yesterday, by the president himself. The day before by the president himself on the debate stage. The president was asked this. He said, ‘sure,’ three times. Yesterday, he was asked point blank, ‘Do you denounce white supremacy?’ and he said, ‘I have always denounced any form of that.’”

(As Fox Business’ Lisa Kennedy Montgomery, best known simply as Kennedy, noted, “sure” is not exactly a strong rebuke.)

Anyway, Roberts continued during Thursday’s White House and then showed his frustration after the press conference during an on-air report with Fox News’ Melissa Francis.

“The press secretary would not, in a definitive and unambiguous and nondeflecting way, say that the president condemns white supremacism in all its forms and any group that espouses it,” Roberts said.

Then he turned his attention to those criticizing him on Twitter.

“I don’t care,” he said. “Because it’s a question that needs to be asked and clearly the president’s Republican colleagues a mile away from here are looking for an answer for it, too. So stop deflecting. Stop blaming the media. I’m tired of it!”

There’s more

McEnany being pushed on Trump’s white supremacy comments were not the only testy exchanges in Thursday’s White House press conference. McEnany also was asked about Trump’s claims during the debate that “they found ballots in a river.” Fox News Radio’s Jon Decker asked McEnany the most basic questions of all: Who are “they” and what river?

After the two went back and forth, McEnany said she didn’t understand the “lack of journalistic curiosity.” To which Decker perfectly responded, “I’m asking you where the river is and you can’t give me an answer.”

My bad

Finally, McEnany also had another embarrassing misstep when she claimed that Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett was a “Rhodes Scholar.” There’s no question that Barrett is well-schooled and her law degree from Notre Dame proves that. But she is not a Rhodes Scholar.

“That’s what I have written here,” McEnany said as she flipped through her large binder of notes. Then she discovered, just as she was told by a reporter, that Barrett actually attended Rhodes College. That, of course, doesn’t make you a Rhodes Scholar.

McEnany said, “My bad.”

The take on McEnany

I’ve written this before and will repeat it now: McEnany is overmatched in her job as press secretary. She often fails to answer the most basic questions from the media and, after ducking and dancing and spinning and pivoting, she eventually turns the press conferences into a series of insults and finger-wagging. It frequently ends with her criticizing someone and then walking off abruptly.

Thursday was another example of a press conference that went off the rails. McEnany couldn’t answer direct questions about statements made by the president. If the White House press secretary can’t do the most basic of tasks by communicating to the press (and, in effect, the country) what the president said, meant and does, then what’s the point?

While McEnany ultimately is doing the job that Trump wants her to do, what she might not realize is that she is, in many ways, failing the president and, in more ways, failing the American people. When she insults the press, she is insulting the people that the press represents. That’s me and you and every other American.

McEnany seems more intent on lobbing accusations and criticism than doing her job. Maybe that’s because she isn’t capable of doing it well.

Todd’s take

Speaking of Trump and white supremacy, NBC News’ Chuck Todd said this Thursday: “So far the Republicans’ response to the president’s comments has been an awkward dance of rebuke, embrace and silence.”

For the record, during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday night, Trump said, “I’ve said it many times. Let me be clear again. I condemn the KKK, I condemn all white supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys.” Trump then said that Joe Biden should condemn antifa.

During that same interview, Trump criticized Hannity’s colleague John Roberts, saying he “screamed” at and “abused” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and added that “Fox is a much different place than it used to be.”

More debates? Yes, please

President Trump during Tuesday’s debate. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Tuesday night’s presidential debate was such a mess that you might think most people would never want to see another one. Not true. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, voters surveyed said there should be more debates by a 55% to 29% margin.

What else did those polled think about the debate? They thought, by a 50-34 margin, that Joe Biden outperformed Donald Trump; 52% said they didn’t enjoy the debate; 86% thought the candidates were “interruptive”; and 71% thought Trump was the more guilty party of interrupting, compared to 18% who thought Biden was more interruptive.

As far as moderator Chris Wallace, 57% thought Wallace did not favor either candidate and two-thirds thought he did an excellent, good or fair job.

The poll included 1,856 registered voters.

Google news

Google will pay publishers more than $1 billion over the next three years to create and curate high-quality content for something called Google News Showcase. Google said it will “benefit both publishers and readers.”

As CNN’s Kerry Flynn notes, “Google, along with Facebook, controls a large share of the advertising dollars that once went to publishers in the news industry. Shrinking ad revenue has led to smaller newsrooms and diminishing resources for telling local stories. The billion dollar spend on licensing news is Google’s way of showing publishers it is committed to paying for high quality journalism and sustaining a struggling industry.”

Axios’ Sara Fischer writes, “The Google News Showcase, launching first in Brazil and Germany, includes a new set of features that Google hopes will help guide readers to higher-quality information and boost traffic to participating publishers’ websites. The biggest feature in the Showcase is ‘panels,’ which will allow publishers to package stories with greater context than they can provide now when their stories appear on Google. Publishers can include elements like timelines, bullets and related articles within one story panel. Eventually, they’ll be able to embed video, audio and daily briefings.”

Greene leaving NPR

David Greene, longtime host of the NPR’s “Morning Edition,” is leaving NPR at the end of the year. He called it “the hardest decision of my career.” He said he wants to focus on other projects. Greene has been hosting “Morning Edition” for eight years. Before that, his jobs at NPR included covering the White House and serving as the correspondent in Moscow.

NPR reports that in a note to staff, “Morning Edition” executive producer Kenya Young and vice president for news programming Sarah Gilbert wrote, “People always ascribe ‘mixed emotions’ to moments like these, but for us, this is one of those times when the cliché rings true: Because we’ll miss David and the boundless joy he brings to the work every day — and because we’re as pleased and excited as he is to see him embark on a new chapter in life.”

NPR said it will conduct a national search to find Greene’s replacement.

Most impressive graphics of the day

Remarkable work here by The Washington Post’s Heather Long, Andrew Van Dam, Alyssa Fowers and Leslie Shapiro with “The Covid-19 Recession is the Most Unequal in Modern U.S. History.” The graphics are super impressive and the story is really important.

A-Rod is all right

ESPN broadcaster Alex Rodriguez. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Here’s just something that popped into my head while watching the Major League Baseball playoffs. I was never a fan of former major-leaguer Alex Rodriguez because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs. But as much as I’ve tried to dislike him and as much as I used to criticize ESPN for hiring someone who cheated the game, I have to admit that A-Rod is a really good broadcaster.

His insight is superb, his knowledge of the game is vast and he drops in just the right amount of “when I was playing” analysis to lend perspective without being obnoxious. Even more impressive, these days he’s calling multiple games a day from a remote location because of the coronavirus and you hardly notice he is not at the stadium.

Media tidbits

  • Strong lineup set for tonight’s “Washington Week” on most PBS stations at 8 p.m. Eastern. Moderator Robert Costa will be joined by The New York Times’ Peter Baker, ABC News’ Rachel Scott and NBC News’ Stephanie Ruhle. Think anything happened this week that they can talk about?
  • Just a reminder of something I mentioned in a previous newsletter: The Washington Post’s “Canary: The Washington Post Investigates” podcast is now out. Hosted by investigative reporter Amy Brittain, the seven-part pod “follows the intertwining stories of two women who came together after one of them publicly shared her story of sexual assault.”
  • Changes at “On Point,” the WBUR and nationally syndicated NPR show hosted by Meghna Chakrabarti. No longer a live call-in show, starting next Monday it will invest more time in enterprise reporting and storytelling. The show airs weekdays at 10 a.m. Eastern on most NPR stations. Chakrabarti said, “Listeners today expect great audio journalism, and one of the ways we’re doing that is by bringing together high-touch storytelling and live conversation. You’ll hear fresh takes and new voices, lending first-person urgency and humanity to the program. We’re broadening our view of what expertise means.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that six in 10 have “not very much” or “none at all” trust in the media. Only four in 10 say they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust and confidence in the media to report the news “fully, accurately, and fairly.” Gallup’s Megan Brenan has the details.

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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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  • where was CBS News on the President’s covid-19 news? they were asleep, and CBSNews.com was on reruns