April 17, 2020

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A little after 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump tweeted that he would lead a “major news conference” at 6 p.m. Eastern.

We already knew he was going to announce his plans on how to reopen the country. So my first thought was: Why 6 p.m.?

It seemed like an odd time, but one that has become fairly common. Trump and the White House daily coronavirus task force press conferences typically start sometime after 5 p.m. They then tend to last long enough that they conflict with local and national news on the major networks.

But instead of airing the Trump press conferences, most local network affiliates are sticking with local news. And the national networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — carry their evening newscasts. Those are the right calls because Americans should be getting the key information they need from their local affiliates and the national networks are doing an excellent job recapping the day’s events. Plus those who really want to watch the president have other options — C-SPAN, Fox News and, for the most part, CNN and MSNBC.

Thursday, however, was a little different. This time, the local affiliates in most of the country cut away from their local news to show a newsier-than-normal press conference. But just for a bit. They cut away after 20 or so minutes and then the networks went on with the regularly-scheduled national news.

So, it comes back to this: Why hold news conferences that often take up much of the 6-7 p.m. Eastern (5-6 p.m. Central) news hour? If the point is to reach as many Americans as possible about a deadly pandemic, why speak when none of the major networks are going to air your comments?

From Trump’s point of view, it just seems like a strange choice of timing. Perhaps it’s just happenstance, but it does seem calculated, especially when you remember that when Trump started holding these news conferences, they were starting earlier in the day.

What gives?

It’s not as if Trump is hurting national evening news broadcasts because, as I wrote Thursday, network news is showing a great resurgence. It’s not as if he doesn’t want to be seen, because he appears to be relishing these daily news conferences. And it’s not as if he is waiting for people to get home from work, because much of the country is staying home.

I wish I had an answer, or even a theory. Does he not want the evening news recapping his news conferences? Or, is he such a creature of cable news (especially Fox News) that believes that time is best for cable, while being the worst for the networks?

There are other theories, too, that if he holds it too early in the day, he’ll conflict with Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, and if he holds them at night, he’ll conflict with Fox News’ powerhouse lineup of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Some even theorize the timing is based on impacting (or not impacting) the stock market.

One former news radio programmer told me how past presidents, depending on their politics, often would hold briefings to either avoid or purposely conflict with Limbaugh’s noon to 3 p.m. Eastern radio show.

One other thought: After all the debate, would the networks show the press conferences if they were at another time anyway?

This isn’t the most pressing matter we are facing at the moment. And maybe it’s all coincidence. But there does seem to be a rhyme and reason to the timing of when Trump speaks. It would be interesting to know what that is.

The Wizard of Fox

Fox News has found a favorite guest during the time of coronavirus: Dr. Mehmet Oz, who plays a doctor on TV and happens to be a real one, too — a cardiothoracic surgeon. He has appeared on “Fox & Friends,” Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business show and on Sean Hannity’s most-watched cable news show.

The New York Times’ Frank Bruni wrote last week, “Oz is to medicine what Trump is to politics: someone who has bent the discipline to the dictates of entertainment in pursuit of ever more celebrity, ever more power, and has warped and cheapened it in the process.”

Oz has spent most of his appearances touting hydroxychloroquine as a possible coronavirus drug, but it was a comment that he made on Wednesday night’s Hannity show that caused an even bigger stir.

While talking about ways to reopen the country, Oz said, “We need our mojo back. Let’s start with things that are really critical to the nation where we think we might be able to open without getting into a lot of trouble. I tell you, schools are a very appetizing opportunity. I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing that the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3% in terms of total mortality. Any life is a life lost, but to get every child back into a school where they’re safely being educated, being fed and making the most out of their lives with the theoretical risk on the backside, might be a tradeoff some folks may consider.”

Now, some misconstrued what Oz was saying, implying that he was saying 2 to 3% of school kids might die — a number that would surpass a million. Actually, what the Lancet study said — and what Oz meant, I think — was that “school closures alone would prevent only 2-4% of deaths, much less than other social distancing interventions.”

Later, on Twitter, Oz said his comments confused and upset people and that was never his intention.

However Oz meant it, any plan in which you acknowledge going in that there will be more deaths, possibly including school children, seems like a bad plan. He also probably should’ve avoided the word “appetizing.”

Speaking of bad plans, Hannity’s show invited has-been comedian Dennis Miller on Wednesday to crack a few coronavirus and Joe Biden jokes. The former “Saturday Night Live” anchor of “Weekend Update” used to be a regular on Bill O’Reilly’s show, but said he hadn’t been on Fox News in three years. Has he been on TV anywhere the past three years?

Covering her own story

Detroit Free Press reporter Tresa Baldas spent late March covering the coronavirus, interviewing a family that had overcome the virus and doctors working on the front lines. Then she started running a fever of her own.

She had COVID-19.

In a gripping story for the Free Press, Baldas, 52, detailed her scary and difficult battle. She said she stopped looking at the news and Facebook because it was too frightening to read about all that death, especially as she was getting sicker and sicker.

“For four days, I couldn’t get off the couch,” Baldas wrote. “My legs ached and I battled a fatigue I had never before experienced. My head pounded, my jaws hurt, and I had nausea galore. It felt like a sinus infection. My doctor wrote me an antibiotic prescription for a Z-Pak, which helped my sinuses. But the illness didn’t go away. I stayed weak and tired for days. I had no appetite and lost my sense of taste. Then came the cold sweats. Day after day, I would wake up soaked head to toe. My hair sopping wet. My comforter drenched. And when I took deep breaths, a cold ache filled my esophagus.”

Baldas’ husband, Free Press reporter M.L. Elrick, ended up getting it, too. Baldas lived in the basement for two weeks. Elrick stayed two floors above her. Their college-age daughters stayed in-between and did all the cooking.

Eventually, Baldas and Elrick recovered, but she has been profoundly changed by the ordeal, as you can read about in her excellent piece.

Coronavirus news for kids

(Courtesy: NBC News)

NBC News has started an “NBC Nightly News” edition for kids, focusing on the coronavirus. The episodes are relatively short. The first one, which you can watch here, was just under nine minutes. They will air at least twice a week, with potentially more frequency depending on the news.

The newscasts are for kids between the ages of 6 and 16. They will include features, as well as questions asked by kids and answered by NBC News experts.

The newscasts will be anchored by “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt, who told Variety’s Brian Steinberg, “Kids are no different than the rest of us. They’re a little scared and they want answers. But they also want to be empowered and so we wanted to put together a broadcast that would inform and also provide inspiring stories of what other young people are doing around the country.”

Capturing the moment

Protests against stay-at-home orders are starting to break out around the U.S. People want to reopen the country. They are angry, and that anger can be felt in a photo that you’ve probably seen in recent days on social media. The photo is of a group of protesters yelling into the Ohio Statehouse. It was taken from inside the building by Columbus Dispatch photographer Joshua Bickel.

Bickel told the Dispatch’s Michelle Everhart that he didn’t realize the photo would get so much attention.

“I remember thinking the composition was interesting and the people were emotional, but not much beyond that,” said Bickel, who added that the photo wasn’t his first choice of the images he shot that day. It was Dispatch picture editor Craig Holman who chose it to run with the original story.

“I should note that this image really isn’t my style, meaning I don’t cover a lot of breaking news, and I don’t think I’m particularly good at it,” Bickel told Everhart. “I like making images that take more patience, more access and more trust between myself and the people I photograph. Trust is really important to me when I’m telling someone’s story and I always try to be honest with the images I make. This image is the total opposite of that: it happened quickly, I was in a position where I couldn’t talk with these people and I had other things I was responsible for that day. That this image is getting all this attention is not something I expected or set out to achieve.”

Cuts in California

The Los Angeles Times made more significant cost-cutting moves Thursday by shutting down three community papers it owns: the Burbank Leader, the Glendale News-Press and the La Cañada Valley Sun. All the employees of those publications, 14 people in total, have been laid off.

This news comes just days after the Times announced furloughs for about 40 business-side employees. The furloughs could be up to 16 weeks, and there’s a chance the employees will be laid off at the end of that time.

A memo to staff from Chris Argentieri — president of the California Times, which owns the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune — said the cuts earlier this week were because the Times has lost more than a third of its advertising revenue since the coronavirus crisis and expects to lose more than half of its advertising revenue in the coming months. In addition, senior leadership in business and editorial are taking pay cuts, perhaps as much as 15% for three months.

Recommendation for the weekend

ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” about Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98, begins its 10-part series run Sunday night at 9 p.m. Eastern. An unedited version complete with R-rated language will air on ESPN. An edited, bleeped-out version will run on ESPN2.

Jordan appeared on Thursday’s “Good Morning America,” where he was interviewed by ABC’s Robin Roberts.

“You’re gonna see a lot of things that people forgot life was that way,” Jordan said, mentioning there was no Instagram or Twitter. “The thing that people are going to learn, and my kids laugh about it when they see it, but we used postage stamps back in those days, you know. Where I had to ask my mom to send my postage stamps. … You had to live life as it came, you know, and each day you learned the education aspect, spending time with friends and family, it wasn’t via the phone, you know, it was actually in presence and you wrote letters.”

The rabbit hole

(Courtesy: The New York Times)

The New York Times has launched a new podcast called “Rabbit Hole.” Hosted by technology columnist Kevin Roose, the pod looks at the internet and what it’s doing to society. A new episode will be released every Thursday and is available on, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or pretty much anywhere you get your podcasts.

You can check out the first episode here.

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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…
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