April 10, 2020

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We started this week with dire warnings from experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams that this was going to be a really bad week. Adams called it our Pearl Harbor and 9/11 moment.

Sadly, they were right. This was a rough week. And while there are glimmers of hope, there still is a long way to go before life returns to normal — or whatever normal will eventually look like.

For the past few weeks, coverage of the coronavirus has overtaken this newsletter. From good news to bad, from superb journalism to shoddy, and everything in between, I’ve tried to highlight the most important aspects of the media and its coverage through this pandemic. Today is no different, as I will continue looking at the good, the bad and the ugly news.

But, first, we need a break.

As we head into the weekend — a weekend devoid once again of watching live sports, sitting down in a restaurant or going out to a play or movie — what can we do to escape the somber news for just a bit?

Well, here are some thoughts.

Almost one year ago to the day, I put out my list of the best 25 movies about journalism. If you haven’t read it, check it out. Most have seen the ones at the top of the list — “All the President’s Men,” “Broadcast News” and “Spotlight” — so tried to find one that maybe you haven’t seen. I recommend “His Girl Friday,” on Amazon Prime, or “Kill the Messenger” on Netflix. “Kill the Messenger” is based on San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb and his series about CIA involvement in Contra cocaine trafficking.

If you do have Netflix, how about a documentary? USA Today’s Nate Scott has his list of the 28 best documentaries out right now on Netflix. You could go light (“Bill Murray Stories” from 2018) or inspirational (“Crip Camp,” about a summer camp developed for kids with disabilities) or serious (“LA 92,” about the L.A. riots) or just plain out there (“Jim & Andy” about Jim Carrey portraying Andy Kaufman). If you have Disney+, go right now and watch the phenomenal “Free Solo,” about the truly unbelievable and frightening attempt by Alex Honnold to scale Yosemite’s El Capitan (a 900-meter vertical rock face) without the aid of any climbing equipment. It is breathtaking.

Or, if you’re looking for a podcast escape while you’re doing chores this weekend, here are a few recommendations, including some from Poynter Report readers.

First, those who read this newsletter regularly know I’m a big Bill Simmons fan. His Ringer network has a slew of podcasts, but the original — “The Bill Simmons Podcast” — is a sports/pop culture podcast that is top-notch. A special recent episode featured Simmons interviewing Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament. Simmons and The Ringer’s podcast network also include pods on the media (“The Press Box”), TV and video (“Binge Mode”) and the most entertaining deep dive on older movies called “The Rewatchables.” (Check out the ones on “The Breakfast Club,” “Fatal Attraction” and any of the ones where Simmons is joined by special guest, director Quentin Tarantino.)

I’m also a regular listener of “WTF with Marc Maron,” where the comedian and actor has offbeat interviews with celebrities. For fans of the late John Prine, Maron reposted his 2016 interview with Prine.

Finally, here are some fun and light suggestions from readers.

“That Week in SNL,” which looks back at old episodes of “Saturday Night Live.” A comedy podcast called “Riggle’s Picks with Rob Riggle and Sarah Tiana.” “How Did This Get Made?” a hilarious pod about movies so bad that they’re almost good. And, if you’re a fan of all things 1980s, check out Steve Spears’ “Stuck in the 80s.”

And, finally, my new favorite podcast: “Everything is Alive,” an unscripted interview show in which, get this, all the subjects are inanimate objects. Wickedly smart and funny.

Want music? Roots’ drummer Questlove hosts a weekly pod called “Questlove Supreme,” which is a mixture of interviews, pop culture and, of course, music. You also might like NPR’s “Sound Opinions”  — a recent episode on Joni Mitchell’s album “Blue” is outstanding.

Just as a warning, some of the podcasts above have R-rated language.

Anyway, hope that helps you get through the weekend. Stay safe out there.

Now on (and back) to today’s media world …

Talk about quid pro quo

CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported that the office of Vice President Mike Pence had kept the health experts from the White House coronavirus task force from appearing on CNN in an attempt to get CNN to carry the White House daily press briefings in their entirety. CNN, and pretty much every other network except Fox News and C-SPAN, often cuts away during portions of the daily press conferences. Only after Darcy wrote about it did the White House reverse course later in the day Thursday.

That meant that three of the nation’s leading experts — Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and Surgeon General Jerome Adams — were kept off CNN for more than a week. Darcy reported that a spokesperson for Pence — the vice president is technically in charge of the coronavirus task force — said, “When you guys cover the briefings with the health officials then you can expect them back on your air.”

But it might have been that the White House had it in for CNN. After all, Fauci, Birx and Adams have continued to appear on the major networks, even though the major networks have either carried portions of the news conferences or not aired them at all.

Darcy wrote, “After Trump leaves the podium, CNN frequently cuts out of the White House briefing to discuss and fact-check what the President had said. A CNN executive said that the network usually returns to such programming because of the extensive length of the full briefing that includes Pence, which can run in excess of two hours.”

Darcy also reported that Trump has turned down repeated requests by CNN to be interviewed during this pandemic. Trump has, however, appeared on Fox News for one-on-one interviews, including earlier this week when he called into Sean Hannity’s show.

But then things changed after Darcy’s original story ran on Darcy tweeted Thursday evening, “Pence’s office has now reversed their position. After this story was published, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield was booked for CNN’s Thursday night coronavirus town hall. Dr. Fauci was also booked for Friday on ‘New Day.’”

Those daily press conferences

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus at the White House earlier this week. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

So here we are again, talking about the controversy of the daily White House press conferences. They often turn combative and dreadfully long — usually more than an hour-and-a-half. One even went well over two hours.

On one hand, it feels wrong to complain about getting daily updates, but there does seem to be a sense that they are becoming less productive. Some days, it might be just preferable to have Trump sit out the briefing, and allow it to be run by Pence and/or a few of the health experts.

In fact, there was a while when The New York Times was running the news conferences on its website, but it has since stopped.

Elisabeth Bumiller, the Times’ Washington bureau chief, told Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, “We stopped doing that because they were like campaign rallies. The health experts often have interesting information, so we’re very interested in that, but the president himself often does not.”

It’s hard to see Trump taking a step back.

A Wall Street Journal editorial said, “The briefings began as a good idea to educate the public about the dangers of the virus. … But sometime in the last three weeks Mr. Trump seems to have concluded that the briefings could be a showcase for him.”

The editorial didn’t sit well with Trump, who tweeted: “The Wall Street Journal always ‘forgets’ to mention that the ratings for the White House Press Briefings are ‘through the roof” (Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale, according to @nytimes) & is only way for me to escape the Fake News & get my views across. WSJ is Fake News!”

How do you take your news?

A new Knight Foundation/Gallup poll shows, not surprisingly, how political persuasion and news consumption habits impact how Americans are viewing the coronavirus.

The poll shows that those with a conservative-news diet — Fox News, for example — are more likely to (wrongly) believe that coronavirus is less deadly at the seasonal flu. About 57% believe that. Those news consumers also believe the media is giving too much attention to the virus (71%) and that President Trump is doing a good job handling the coronavirus (94%).

Meanwhile, those who consume what is considered a liberal media diet — MSNBC and others — think the opposite: 28% believe the seasonal flu is more deadly than the coronavirus, 28% believe the media is paying too much attention to it and 11% think Trump is doing a good job.

On assignment

(Courtesy: NBC News)

MSNBC’s “On Assignment with Richard Engel” returns Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern with its second coronavirus-focused episode. Engel reports on the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and looks at hotspots such as Bergamo, Italy, and New York City. The show also includes an interview with Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Looking ahead

(Courtesy: The New York Times)

The opinion section of The New York Times is starting a new project called “The America We Need.” It’s a multi-month package that looks at how the United States can come out of the coronavirus crisis with more resiliency, as well as with a more just society. The opening essay by the Times’ editorial board writes that the U.S. has a history of becoming stronger out of some of our worst moments.

The entire project was in the works even before the coronavirus. Well, sort of. Times’ editorial page editor James Bennet explained in an introductory letter that the board planned to have a series on inequality.

“And then history lurched,” Bennet wrote. “The spread of the coronavirus scrambled our plans, along with those of the rest of the world. It cast a searing light on the ideas we were debating among ourselves. Yes, the pandemic reminded Americans that they were all still bound together. But it also began revealing, day by day, how dangerously far apart they’d become.”

Ultimately, Bennet wrote, the “Times Opinion will be arguing its way toward a set of proposals for how American society can eventually emerge from this crucible stronger, fairer and more free.”

The good stuff

NBA star Steph Curry. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

This is my favorite story of the day. Shelby Delaney is a nurse in an ICU in Oakland and draws strength from wearing, under her scrubs, the jersey of her favorite NBA player — Golden State’s Steph Curry. The star player learned about it and had an inspirational and heartfelt FaceTime conversation with Delaney and the rest of the ICU staff, thanking them for the work they are doing.

Hot type

  • A day after Kobe Bryant died, Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Mike Sielski got an email with a short video from Kobe’s first high school basketball game. But there also was something else in the video that led to a haunting memory and this terrific column by Sielski.
  • A tough read, but an important one. New York Times’ reporters Annie Correal and Andrew Jacobs with photographs by Ryan Christopher Jones: “A Tragedy is Unfolding: Inside New York’s Virus Epicenter.”
  • Southern California radio station KPCC reached out to a bunch of people, asking them to help spread the word about social distancing. Award-winning musician Randy Newman went above and beyond. He wrote a song. Poynter’s Kristen Hare has the details.
  • To start today’s newsletter, I included several fun podcasts to listen to. But I’ll end it with a serious one: NBC News’ “Into America,” in which host Trymaine Lee talks about the rapid rise of COVID-19 through the prison system and the fear and stress it is causing prisoners.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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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…
Tom Jones

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