July 27, 2020

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Maybe the outrage worked. For now.

Last week, word leaked — thanks to a report by Media Matters — that local TV stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group were set to run an absolutely ridiculous conspiracy theory: that Dr. Anthony Fauci was responsible for the creation of the coronavirus. It was supposed to be a segment during “America This Week,” a show hosted by former Fox News personality Eric Bolling.

The segment featured an interview with Judy Mikovits, who was previously part of a controversial video that attacked Fauci and was banned by Twitter and Facebook. During the planned “America This Week” segment, Mikovits said that Fauci had “manufactured” the virus and then shipped it to Wuhan, China. The banner on the screen read, “Did Dr. Fauci Create COVID-19?”

Just think how absurd that charge is. Just think how ludicrous such a question on the bottom of the screen is. Yet, we can’t just dismiss it as crazy talk because Fauci recently said on a podcast that he and his family have been the target of death threats because of his findings and advice on the coronavirus. Fauci told CNN commentator David Axelrod, “I mean, really, is this the United States of America?”

Pushback in media circles and beyond was so loud and vast that Sinclair pulled the segment for this past weekend. However, the segment has not been killed entirely. The Associated Press’ David Bauder writes, “Sinclair hopes to add context and other viewpoints and still air the controversial segment on next week’s edition of ‘America This Week.’”

Bolling told CNN’s Oliver Darcy in a text exchange that he invited Mikovits on his show to “question and challenge her beliefs.” He told Darcy that he does not control on-air graphics and that he did challenge Mikovits, saying he called her claim “hefty.”

Hefty? How about calling it an outright preposterous lie? Bolling followed up his segment with Mikovits by interviewing Fox News contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier, who said Fauci was “in no way, shape or form” involved in the manufacture of the coronavirus.

“Frankly, I was shocked when (Mikovits) made the accusation,” Bolling told Darcy. “I asked our producers to add Saphier to the show for the express purpose of debunking the conspiracy theory. I believe viewers see that I did not and do not endorse her theory.”

How about instead of adding a person to debunk an obviously ridiculous theory, you don’t air the ridiculous theory to begin with?

Sinclair owns stations in 81 markets and is widely considered to have a right-leaning philosophy. To run a conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact or reality isn’t a matter of free speech, it’s irresponsible journalism. If Mikovits wants to shout from her rooftop, she can. But Sinclair shouldn’t be handing her a megaphone.

He said what?

QAnon is a group of pro-Trump, far-right conspiracy theorists who promote things so wacky and dangerous that the FBI has labeled them a domestic terrorist threat. Last week, Twitter permanently banned thousands associated with QAnon.

And yet that same group was defended by a Fox News host over the weekend. Jesse Watters, a co-host on “The Five,” went on his own show — “Watters’ World” — on Saturday and complimented QAnon during an interview with Eric Trump. Watters was asking about Twitter’s ban of QAnon and whether it was interfering in the election by banning a group that, as The Daily Beast’s Allison Quinn writes, “claim(s) Democrats, Trump critics, and many influential figures are Satanic child sex traffickers and cannibals.”

Watters said, “Q can do some crazy stuff, with the pizza stuff, and the Wayfair stuff, but they’ve also uncovered a lot of great stuff when it comes to (Jeffrey) Epstein and it comes to the deep state. I never saw Q as dangerous as antifa.”

First off, “the pizza stuff?” It was more than “stuff.” Lives of pizza parlor workers in Washington, D.C., were threatened and a man shot up that parlor because he believed Hillary Clinton and Democrats were running a child sex trafficking ring out of the parlor’s basement. That’s hardly the only controversy QAnon has been associated with.

And what about all this “great stuff” that it has uncovered about Epstein?  What in the world is he talking about?

Julie K. Brown, the Miami Herald reporter who has won awards for her coverage of the Epstein story and has done as much work on that story as anyone, tweeted, “I know of nothing that QAnon Has ‘uncovered’ about Jeffrey Epstein.”

Late Sunday night, New York magazine and HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali tweeted a statement from Watters in which Watters said: “While discussing the double standard of big tech censorship, I mentioned the conspiracy group QAnon, which I don’t support or believe in. My comments should not be mistaken for giving credence to this fringe platform.”

It’s easy to mistake Watters for giving credence because that’s actually what he did. He gave it credit for doing a lot of “great stuff.” Even Fox News’s Emily DeCiccio has written QAnon centers on beliefs that are “baseless.” Watters’ comments were irresponsible. Let’s see if Fox News does anything about it.

Dodging trouble

If you missed it, wow, quite the story from Poynter business analyst Rick Edmonds over the weekend about McClatchy being sold to hedge fund Chatham Asset Management. We’ll see how this all plays out under Chatham, but it looks like McClatchy is lucky that it wasn’t sold to Alden Global Capital. Edmonds reports that, according to a filing, Alden would have cut roughly 1,000 of 2,800 jobs.

Edmonds wrote, “Chatham has pledged to keep open all 30 papers, which include the Miami Herald and The Sacramento Bee. It will offer the existing workforce continued employment at their current base salaries, while also honoring collective bargaining contracts. Alden was not guaranteeing any of that, according to McClatchy’s filing.”

Anthem controversy

Minnesota Lynx players lock arms during a moment of silence in honor of Breonna Taylor before a WNBA basketball game on Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The official ESPN Twitter account sent out a tweet Saturday that showed WNBA players walking off the court. It happened, according to the tweet,  “as the national anthem was being played.” The tweet went viral.

One problem: The description wasn’t accurate. ESPN’s Holly Rowe, who was actually in the building, tweeted: “This is not accurate. The teams decided to respectfully stay in the locker room for the anthem. This is not an accurate representation of what happened. As you can hear the anthem was NOT playing.”

ESPN later tweeted out a correction, but that came more than 11 hours after the original tweet.

Now, you might say what’s the difference? The players chose to protest while the anthem played. But there clearly is a difference between staying in the locker room while the anthem is being played and walking away while the anthem is being played.

Woj speaks

Speaking of ESPN, NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski is back on the job after serving a two-week suspension for a NSFW two-word email he sent to Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo). The reporter known as “Woj” was responding to a letter Hawley sent to NBA commissioner Adam Silver questioning the NBA’s relationship with China.

I still think it was kind of weak for Hawley to go public with Wojnarowski’s email. And I think it would have been great if ESPN stood behind their guy despite his use of vulgar language. For me, this fell under the category of “What’s the big deal?”

For his part, Wojnarowski told the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand, “I regretted sending that email. I have not made a habit of doing that, but I sent that one and I regret it.”

He added he understood why he was suspended, saying, “I left them no choice. You can’t do what I did and not expect there to be consequences.”

The Post settles lawsuit with family of Kentucky teenager

Remember last year’s controversy of a Kentucky teenager in a Make America Great Again hat and a Native American elder in a confrontation in Washington D.C.? The family of the teenager filed lawsuits against several media outlets claiming their coverage was defamatory. Among those outlets sued were CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Gannett, Rolling Stone, ABC and CBS. CNN settled with the family in January. Now, the Post has settled, although as part of the settlement, the paper admitted no wrongdoing. Neither side, according to the Post’s Paul Farhi, divulged the terms of the settlement.

The controversy centered on reports that the teenager, Nicholas Sandmann, who was 16 at the time, blocked the path of the Native American elder. But Sandmann said he meant no disrespect and denied blocking the elder’s path.

The family’s suit said the Post “targeted and bullied” Sandmann because he was white and wearing a MAGA hat and that the paper wanted to embarrass President Donald Trump. The Post denied those allegations and has maintained its coverage was fair and accurate.

John Lewis’ trip

The casket of Rep. John Lewis moves over the Edmund Pettus Bridge by horse-drawn carriage during a memorial service for Lewis on Sunday. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Sunday was a special day as the late John Lewis took his final trip over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the final time — more than 55 years after his march there to protest for voting rights resulted in him being beaten by state and local police.

On Sunday’s “Face the Nation” on CBS, longtime journalist Bob Schieffer recalled walking across the bridge with Lewis in 2015 to remember the 50th anniversary of what was known as Bloody Sunday. Schieffer said, “It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in all my years at CBS.”

On Fox News, contributor Donna Brazile said, “He was humble, grateful, and when I went up to work on Capitol Hill, Mr. Lewis always invited us over to the Cannon Building, he would always have those Georgia peanuts, of course, a Coca-Cola, and he was just one of the best. … He will be remembered for never, ever leaving the call of justice. He will be remembered for fighting for freedom for voting rights for all. He will be remembered as a kind soul, a man who just believed in God and had the faith of his people and of his country to turn a corner toward justice, and so thank you, John Lewis, thank you for your service, thank you for your sacrifice.”

More coverage will continue today, including on NBC. “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt and Andrea Mitchell will anchor a special report beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern as Lewis arrives in Washington, D.C. The procession is expected to pass by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Black Lives Matter Plaza. Craig Melvin will anchor special coverage on MSNBC at 11 a.m.

Over at Fox News, Harris Faulkner and Chris Wallace will anchor special coverage, also beginning at 11 a.m.

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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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