By:
December 3, 2020

The tweet of the day Wednesday might have been this one from Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery:

“Every day newsrooms wrestle with the ‘should we report this insane disinformation the president is spouting to millions or does any notice — even scathing notice — of it amplify, or does not debunking it make the disinfo more likely to spread …’”

That was sent out not long after President Donald Trump posted a 46-minute Facebook video that was essentially the greatest hits of Trump’s lies about the election. Trump started off by saying, “This may be the most important speech I’ve ever made.”

He then went on a rant that can be described as delusional. He posted a short clip of the speech on Twitter, which almost immediately labeled it with “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”

It was reported that Trump actually taped the speech last week. The New York Times’ Michael D. Shear wrote the video was “the in-person embodiment of Mr. Trump’s staccato tweets during the past three weeks: one falsehood after another about voting irregularities in swing states, Democratic conspiracies, attacks on state officials and signature verifications.”

Glenn Kessler, editor/chief writer of The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, tweeted, “Lie after lie. All claims that have laughed out of court across the country.”

He also tweeted, “Every politician in the United States should be ashamed of Trump’s 45-minute rant calling into question the very essence of US democracy.”

That brings us back to the struggle that newsrooms go through on stories such as this. On one hand, it’s more Trump lies about the election. It’s nothing new. It’s false. Why report on it?

Then again, it’s the sitting president saying things that millions will watch and believe — that our elections cannot be trusted. That charge does damage to our democracy and should not be ignored.

So what do you do?

Newsrooms try to straddle the line between reporting the news and not pumping oxygen into Trump’s baseless allegations. They mention it, but don’t dwell on it. For example, The New York Times did write about it, but you had to scroll down the homepage to find it.

It’s not an easy answer. Most responsible outlets seemed to do the right thing. Acknowledge it, but don’t spend a lot of energy on it. And spend most of that energy debunking it.

In other words, pay attention to it, but not enough to give it unnecessary credibility.

Where’s your mask?

A photo from October shows White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany with her husband Sean Gilmartin and daughter Blake. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Apparently, Wednesday was Bring Your Spouse to Work Day at the White House. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s husband Sean Gilmartin, a free agent baseball pitcher who was most recently in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, attended McEnany’s press conference and was involved in a controversy.

According to White House pool reporter Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, after McEnany finished the conference, someone in attendance yelled out, “You crushed it, Kayleigh.” (Originally, it was thought that Gilmartin said it, but Johnson later said it was someone else.)

At that point, New York Times photographer Doug Mills saw Gilmartin and reminded him of the rules about wearing a mask in press areas. A White House staffer said incredulously, “Kayleigh’s husband?” As the staffer and Gilmartin exited together, Mills said it doesn’t matter who Gilmartin is, he is required to wear a mask.

Another embarrassing and unprofessional moment for the White House press secretary.

Cheap shot

MSNBC’s Brian Williams closed his show Tuesday night by airing a “Fox & Friends” clip in which co-host Steve Doocy quoted statistics that showed that counties in Kansas that enforced mask-wearing requirements did a better job at controlling the spread of COVID-19 than counties that didn’t enforce mask rules. Doocy then said, “Apparently, masks work.”

Williams then mockingly repeated Doocy’s comment, saying, “Apparently, masks work.” Then he added, “A breathtaking moment of situational awareness on live television this morning — 10 months, 270,000 lives into this.”

Williams later said, “It’s important to never forget who the deniers were because those 270,000 mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives — they ain’t coming back. So it’s incumbent upon all of us to honor their memory.”

Yes, we can go over all the times those on Fox News were irresponsible in their COVID-19 coverage by downplaying or dismissing the coronavirus. I’m not here to defend Fox News’s coronavirus coverage. But Williams’ holier-than-thou moment — punctuated by pulling on emotional strings by talking about sisters and brothers and so forth — came off as petulant and a bit of a cheap shot. Doocy was making the point that masks work. There is never a bad time to make that point.

Williams using his platform this way should be beneath him, especially because his show competes with Fox News and, in this case, Doocy and Fox News were sending out the right message.

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Another controversial ad

In Wednesday’s newsletter, I mentioned The Washington Post ran an ad from a private citizen who claimed, without actual proof, that the presidential election was rigged. A Poynter Report reader then passed along to me the story about another Washington paper that ran an ad questioning the result of the election.

Diane Smith of the Record-Courier in Ohio wrote this week that The Washington Times ran an ad from a group called “We the People” that called for martial law and a new federal vote run by the military. Smith reports the “We the People” group is led by Tom Zawistowski, the head of the Portage County (Ohio) Tea Party. In a press release, Zawistowski said, “It is our exclusive right to elect our president and that sacred right has been infringed by the massive, planned, illegal election fraud conducted by corrupt Democrat/Socialist Party operatives across our nation to steal our vote.”

The Washington Times is a right-leaning publication, so we shouldn’t be shocked that it would run such an ad or that this group would turn to The Washington Times to submit such an ad. Still, a newspaper running an ad that calls for martial law and a new vote run by the military? That just seems reckless and irresponsible.

Resigned under pressure

Trump campaign lawyer Joseph diGenova has resigned under pressure from the Gridiron Club, an organization primarily for Washington journalists that was also known for an annual dinner featuring songs and skits. The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi wrote, “diGenova, who served as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia in the 1980s, had been a ‘limited’ member for more than 25 years, one of a handful of ‘ringers’ recruited for their impressive singing voices.”

But diGenova recently ran into controversy when he made a comment on a conservative talk show about Christopher Krebs, the federal cybersecurity official who was fired by Trump after saying the election was secure. On the “Howie Carr Show,” diGenova said, “Anybody who thinks the election went well, like that idiot Krebs … he should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.”

diGenova later said he was joking.

Gridiron Club president Craig Gilbert, the Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, told Izadi, “We were dismayed by his comments and we felt that they were, on top of everything else, just antithetical to what the club is about. It’s a social club — we’re all about fellowship and good will.”

diGenova told Izadi he had no ill will toward the club, adding, “I was happy to be a member. It’s their club, and we’re at a strange time in American history, and, I guess I was canceled.”

Remembering Walt Burrows

Walt Burrows was a sportswriting legend in South New Jersey at the Courier-Post newspaper. Former Courier-Post sports editor Phil Anastasia said in a Facebook post, “If you played high school football, basketball or baseball in South Jersey from 1950-2010, Walt Burrows was the narrator of that time of your life.”

Burrows died last week at the age of 93. He covered high school sports at the Courier-Post for more than six decades. The Courier-Post’s Tom McGurk has a good obit remembering Burrows and his work. Burrows also covered the Philadelphia Flyers during his career, but most enjoyed and was best known for covering high schools.

Anastasia added, “(Burrows) started writing for the Courier-Post in 1948. He made $1 an hour as a part-time sports writer in those days. He soon became the newspaper’s best example of its approach to local sports coverage — supportive, fair-minded, wide-ranging, tireless.”

Another remembrance

Longtime California journalist Tim Crews died last month. He was the founder, publisher and writer for the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice-weekly newspaper. He was 77. The Associated Press’ Janie Har wrote that Crews was known for relentlessly filing public records requests and once spent five days in jail for refusing to reveal an anonymous source.

Poynter’s Daniel Funke interviewed Crews in 2017. He told Funke, “You have to just stand up for yourself. If someone is messing with you, you have to fight back. It’s just the American way.”

Media tidbits

“NBC Nightly News” and “Dateline” anchor Lester Holt. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

  • NBC News’ Lester Holt will anchor a special “Dateline NBC” tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern called “Race for a Vaccine.” Holt talks to Dr. Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer; Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna; and Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson. NBC News said it will be “their first joint interview about the plans for vaccine distribution and efforts to overcome public mistrust.”
  • No surprise, but November turned out to be a huge month for the cable news networks, especially in primetime. In primetime, Fox News had 3.93 million viewers, a 41% increase from a year ago. CNN had 2.8 million viewers — a 180% jump. And MSNBC had 2.66 million, a 29% increase.
  • Before we all start writing off Fox News because Newsmax picked up a few viewers, here’s a reminder of Fox News’ health. November was the highest-rated November for Fox News with 1.9 million total day viewers. CNN also had its highest-rated month ever with a total average of 1.78 million viewers.
  • Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was the most-watched program on cable news with an average of 5.09 million viewers in November.

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

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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