Mike Pence’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal takes aim at two enemies: coronavirus and ‘the media’

Your Wednesday Poynter Report

June 17, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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A new forecast is out: 200,000 people will die in the U.S. from the coronavirus by Oct. 1.

CBS News reports that 20 states are seeing increases in the average number of new infections each day. In nearly half of those states, there are more patients being treated in hospitals than there were at the start of June. The New York Times wrote, “… as of Saturday, the daily number of new coronavirus cases was climbing in 22 states, shifting course from what had been downward trajectories in many of those places.”

Texas has seen hospitalizations rise more than 50% since Memorial Day. Florida is setting records with daily cases. A spokesperson at Jackson Health, one of Florida’s largest health systems, said it is seeing a “spike” in COVID-19 cases.

These are real numbers based on official data.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said Tuesday, “We may be done with the pandemic, but the pandemic is not done with us.”

And yet, in an op-ed published Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, Vice President Mike Pence suggested the idea of a second wave of the coronavirus is one big media hoax.

Pence wrote, “In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown. Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”

Pence mentioned “cable news coverage,” though he never named a specific network. He touted the Trump administration’s work against the coronavirus, pointing out where he feels they have had success, as well as praising the “resilience of the American people.”

He closed by taking another shot at the media.

“The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way, and these grim predictions of a second wave are no different,” Pence wrote. “The truth is, whatever the media says, our whole-of-America approach has been a success. We’ve slowed the spread, we’ve cared for the most vulnerable, we’ve saved lives, and we’ve created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future. That’s a cause for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering.”

Maybe Pence is right in that this isn’t the “second wave.” After all, there’s reason to believe we’re still very much in the first wave, with a second wave still to come, as Poynter’s Al Tompkins wrote Tuesday. But Pence’s point seemed to be that we are well on our way to getting back to normal when, in fact, we don’t know that to be the case.

Especially troubling is Pence’s assertion that the media was practicing “fear mongering” and that its intention was to “scare the American people every step of the way.”

Let me repeat what Pence claims. The media has been trying to scare Americans every step of the way, as if a virus that is projected to kill 200,000 by October isn’t frightening enough.

Maybe Pence should realize “the media” was simply reporting facts, while trying to warn the American people of the very real danger the coronavirus has been and continues to be.

In terms of wanting to see the country reopen, the economy bounce back and for life to return to whatever normal will be, the media has as much at stake as most industries. As a whole, news media have gone through devastating economic times because of the coronavirus, forcing massive layoffs, pay cuts and many news organizations to shut down. Just check out this incredibly depressing list compiled by Poynter’s Kristen Hare.

To suggest that the media wants to scare people is irresponsible of the vice president. And all this comes a day after Pence, in a conference call, told U.S. governors to stick to the Trump company line that testing was the reason behind all these new coronavirus outbreaks, even though those claims are misleading.

While not filled with the type of misleading and false statements seen in Sen. Tom Cotton’s op-ed in The New York Times that caused such a ruckus, Pence’s op-ed most definitely could’ve used a heavier editing hand from The Wall Street Journal. Pence blamed the media, yet never offered specific examples of how the media acted irresponsibly. He didn’t even mention one single news outlet by name. The Journal should not have let him get away with such accusations.

If Pence wanted to tout the administration’s successes, calm the fears of Americans and paint an optimistic picture by pointing out positive numbers and moments, that’s fine. If he wanted to brag on his president and tell the American people to keep the faith, that’s fine, too. If he wanted it to be a campaign rally in print, that also would have been fine.

But an op-ed that essentially started with yet another version of this administration’s favorite phrase — fake news — should not have been allowed by The Wall Street Journal, especially if Pence couldn’t back up such claims.

What’s your shirt say?

Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy, at a game last season. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Could wearing a T-shirt of a cable news network cause a college football coach to lose his job? Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy went fishing recently and a tweet showed him wearing a T-shirt from OAN — the controversial conservative news network that’s a favorite of President Donald Trump, and one which frequently amplifies and creates unverified conspiracy theories and recently had a host who called Black Lives Matter a “farce.”

One of Gundy’s top players, running back Chuba Hubbard, tweeted, “I will not stand for this. This is completely insensitive to everything going on in society, and it’s unacceptable. I will not be doing anything with Oklahoma State until things CHANGE.”

Several of Hubbard’s teammates showed support for Hubbard, and eventually Hubbard and Gundy put out a joint video saying they would work on improving the culture at Oklahoma State.

The T-shirt alone isn’t enough to put Gundy’s job in jeopardy, but this is hardly his first controversy. He made ridiculous comments about the coronavirus that he had to immediately walk back, he has referred to it as the “Chinese virus,” criticized the media and has previously praised OAN as “refreshing.”

Noted football commentator Paul Finebaum of ESPN finally had enough. On Tuesday’s “Get Up!” Finebaum went off:

“What I can’t understand is why Mike Gundy has been allowed to continue at Oklahoma State. This is not his first rodeo. This is not the first time he has embarrassed if not humiliated that university. The sooner Oklahoma State gets rid of Mike Gundy, the better it’s going to be for that school and especially the players who go out there every Saturday and give their blood, sweat and tears.”

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The drama in Pittsburgh continues

Alexis Johnson, the Black journalist that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yanked off protest coverage because of a tweet, has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the Post-Gazette. The suit alleges that the Post-Gazette violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866 by barring her from protest coverage. Johnson tweeted photos of trash after an old Kenny Chesney concert and the P-G determined that made her biased.

Johnson’s suit shows other Post-Gazette writers who have spoken out on news events, including reporters who talked about discrimination and hate following the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shootings. Those reporters, the suit claims, were not barred from covering that story.

Nate Doughty has more details about the suit in Pittsburgh Business Times.

Meanwhile, Post-Gazette executive editor Keith Burris wrote about the situation last week in a story published by the P-G. But he had turned down media requests for interviews and comments, including several requests from Poynter. Until Monday night. That’s when he appeared on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News. Ingraham seemed nothing but sympathetic to Burris, saying the paper was being “smeared by the left as, you got it, racist.”

“You got it?” What is that supposed to mean?

Anyway, Burris told Ingraham, “I think it is the power of the big lie and the mob. The Twitter mob.”

First off, Burris should be reminded of the origins of the phrase “the big lie,” an anti-Semitic term that goes back to Hitler. If that wasn’t bad enough, Burris’ complaints and the show where he decided to air those gripes were incredibly tone-deaf. How could he not have known that going on Ingraham’s show and saying what he said would not play well with the P-G staff? I spoke with two Post-Gazette staffers on Tuesday who questioned Burris’ leadership, especially when it comes to this story, and there are calls for his resignation.

In addition, P-G reporter Michael Fuoco, who is president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, tweeted about the Post-Gazette and the lawsuit by saying, “And all they had to do was apologize for their actions.”

Cutting away

Law enforcement officials applaud after President Donald Trump signed an executive order on police reform on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order regarding police reform. Then, near the end of his 25-minute speech, Trump’s message shifted from police reform to other topics, including the stock market and the coronavirus. Among his comments were several misleading or false statements.

Instead of sticking with the speech, MSNBC cut away as Andrea Mitchell said, “He has now launched into what would be a campaign rally speech stating, inaccurately in fact, some facts about the pandemic, not acknowledging 116,000 deaths, but saying that without a vaccine that people are getting well.”

As far as the speech, CNN’s Van Jones said, “The speech, I don’t give it a high rating, but the executive order is a step in the right direction.”

Media tidbits

  • One of the all-time best sportswriters has passed away. William Gildea, who worked at The Washington Post for 40 years, died of complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to his wife, Mary Fran Gildea. He was 81. The Post’s Matt Schudel has an outstanding obit remember Gildea’s life, career and examples of his best work.
  • Axios, in partnership with Pushkin, will launch a new podcast on June 22. The pod, called “Axios Today,” will be a quick (10 minutes) bite of news, analysis and scoops. It will be hosted by Niala Boodhoo. Hot Pod’s Nicholas Quah has more details.
  • ABC News will host a primetime special — “Juneteenth: A Celebration of Overcoming” — this Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern. It’ll feature “ABC News Prime” anchor Linsey Davis, “Nightline” co-anchor Byron Pitts, correspondents Deborah Roberts, TJ Holmes, Steve Osunsami, Janai Norman, and “The View” moderator Whoopi Goldberg. It will have reporting from Tulsa, Oklahoma; Galveston, Texas; and other cities across the country observing the day.
  • Lots of layoffs — 28 in all — at Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Radio. Minnesota’s CityPages’ Jay Boller has the story.
  • I mentioned in Tuesday’s newsletter that there was supposed to be a social media push today in which Black Los Angeles Times alumni were going to talk about the racism they faced in the newsroom. But that effort — #BlackatLAT — likely will come out another day soon.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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