On the air? Not lately for some of the nation’s top health experts

Your Friday Poynter Report

May 15, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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Where’s Dr. Deborah Birx? Dr. Anthony Fauci? And U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams?

As CNN’s Oliver Darcy points out, they (along with two other health members of the White House coronavirus task force) are appearing less and less on TV talk shows of late.

The last time Birx was on TV was a CNN town hall on May 7. Fauci gave a high-profile testimony before the Senate this week, but hasn’t done a TV interview since May 4. And Adams hasn’t been on TV in nearly a month, his last appearance being April 17 on “Fox & Friends.”

To be fair, some of the health experts have been interviewed by publications, but they aren’t on TV much after being on TV all the time, it seemed, earlier in the coronavirus crisis.

Darcy writes, “A White House official cautioned to CNN that the recent absences from television interviews doesn’t mean the American public won’t see health officials appear with an anchor in the future.”

These are the health experts specifically selected by the White House, which is in charge of their TV appearances. Hopefully, the White House isn’t purposely keeping those experts in the background out of fear that their health advice might contradict the goal of reopening the country.

‘Gross’

One of the more troubling trends in recent times is seeing members of the media attacked for doing their jobs — which is reporting the facts. The latest high-profile attack came when one of Joe Biden’s top campaign officials slammed a CBS reporter for doing her job.

CBS’s Catherine Herridge tweeted that she had a scoop along with photos of the list of people who received notification that Michael Flynn’s identity had been unmasked. Andrew Bates, the Biden campaign’s director of rapid response, rapidly gave an awful response. In a since-deleted tweet, Bates wrote, “SCOOP: Catherine Herridge is a partisan, rightwing hack who is a regular conduit for conservative manipulation plays because she agrees to publicize things before contacting the target to ask for comment.”

The backlash was immediate, including from CNN’s Jake Tapper, who called Bates’ attack “gross.” Tapper tweeted: “Gross. Personal attacks on journalists for sharing facts is obnoxious and indecent. @JoeBiden approves this message?”

Language matters

In her latest NPR public editor newsletter, my Poynter colleague, Kelly McBride, received a letter from an NPR listener criticizing NPR’s description of Ahmaud Arbery as an “unarmed black man.” Arbery was shot and killed by two white men in Brunswick, Georgia, in late February.

The listener wrote, “This implies to me that if he was armed, then the killing would be justified. It also implies to me, that you’re giving the public permission to have compassion for said black man.”

Twice this week, in writing about the Arbery shooting, I have used the phrase “unarmed black man.” The reason that phrase has been used, I believe, is to emphasize the outrageousness of the killing. And it is, one could argue, a newsworthy fact.

But, after thinking about the NPR listener, one can’t help but ask: Would the same description of “unarmed” be used if a white person was shot? Ultimately, the listener is right, and using the phrase “unarmed black man” conveys a message that suggests that the killing was wrong because he was unarmed.

The world has changed

A scene from an upcoming segment about coronavirus on Sunday’s “60 Minutes” on CBS. (Courtesy: CBS News)

What will the world look like after the coronavirus?

That’s the topic of a Jon Wertheim segment on Sunday night’s “60 Minutes” (7 p.m. Eastern on CBS). “60 Minutes” reports on what the future might look like by looking back to past plagues.

Frank Snowden, a professor emeritus of history at Yale and author of “Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present,” tells Wertheim, “They had quarantine. They had social distancing, lockdowns. Doctors actually wore PPE. And what they had was a mask. We know about that. Theirs was differently shaped. It had a long beak. And they put sweet-smelling herbs in it to keep the foul odors away.”

Past plagues led to big changes in society — things like sewer systems, toilets and many of today’s hygiene practices. The biggest change we might see moving forward is health care initiations to prepare for future viruses.

Arundhati Roy, a renowned Indian novelist who has written about COVID-19, says in the “60 Minutes” piece, “Right now it feels as though we have no present. We have a past. And we have a future. And right now we’re in some sort of transit lounge. We should not be trying to stitch them together without thinking about that rupture. I think the most profound thing is the rupture of the idea of touch, the idea of proximity. All these things will become so laden with risk and fear for a long, long time.”

It’s a fascinating segment, well worth your time.

Layoffs at Quartz

Each day, we try to find the good news in journalism — the good work that is making an impact, forcing necessary change, calling out the injustice and doing all the things that journalism is supposed to do.

Then we get hit with a frying pan to the face.

The latest grim journalism news keeps coming. Like this: Quartz, a business news site with offices around the world, is laying off 80. The New York Times’ Marc Tracy reports, “Quartz’s owner, the Japanese financial intelligence firm Uzabase, announced the layoffs in a public filing Thursday. The company said about 40 percent of Quartz staff members would lose their jobs, with the cuts focused on the advertising department. Quartz had 188 employees at the end of last year, Uzabase said.”

Tracy also reported Quartz will close offices in London, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Washington and reduce executive salaries between 25% and 50%.

The latest on The Athletic

Washington Post sports media columnist Ben Strauss sent out a noteworthy tweet on Thursday. He tweeted: “Per person on an Athletic staff-wide call just now, executives said the rate of new subscribers is down 25 percent since March and the company hasn’t hit 1 million subscribers yet. Also, when asked about future furloughs/layoffs execs were noncommittal.”

For those unfamiliar, The Athletic is an ad-free, subscriber-based sports news site that has collected some of the top sportswriters in the country and has made a significant impact on the sports media landscape. Unlike many news outlets, The Athletic doesn’t rely on advertising, so it hasn’t taken a hit there. And those currently subscribed likely are keeping their subscriptions.

But the worry must have been about the drop in new subscribers when no sports are being played. Strauss’ reporting seems to prove that to be true.

The Class of COVID-19

(Courtesy: NBC News)

MSNBC’s Alex Witt will host “The Class of COVID-19” on Saturday at 1 p.m. Eastern. It’s an hourlong town hall that will focus on the generation of Americans who grew up in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 2008 financial crisis. The panel of experts will include Dr. Jill Biden, former education secretary Arne Duncan, University of Michigan president Dr. Mark Schlissel, Florida A&M University president Dr. Larry Robinson and Education Week’s Evie Blad.

Lots of traffic

(Courtesy: Fox News)

April was a huge traffic month for Fox News Digital. It had double-digit increases over April 2019 in all key performance indicators, including multi-platform views (which is up 26%) and unique visitors (up 20%). The network put up huge numbers in multi-platform unique visitors (121.5 million), total multi-platform views (1.9 billion) and total multi-platform minutes (4.5 billion minutes). April was the second-highest month of multiplatform unique visitors, coming only behind the previous month of March.

Naturally, this is all because of coronavirus coverage. Citing data from SimilarWeb, FoxNews.com’s coronavirus landing page was the top category page on the site in terms of pageviews during April.

Media tidbits

  • Sports Business Journal first reported that NBC Sports announcers — including big names such as Al Michaels and Mike Tirico — are taking a voluntary 5-10% pay cut to help the company deal with lost revenue from the coronavirus. NBC Sports Group president Pete Bevacqua said in a statement, “It’s another reminder of the truly great team we have at NBC Sports and how we’re all working together to get through this immense challenge.”
  • He might have been booted out of the “Monday Night Football” booth by ESPN, but NFL analyst Booger McFarland tells New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand that he’s not leaving the network. “I have a couple of years left on my contract so I’m not going anywhere,” McFarland said, “so I’m assuming that we get through this pandemic and everything that is going on with that, we will figure it out.” The feeling is McFarland will end up with a prominent studio role at ESPN.

Hot type

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

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