Season two of the Trump coronavirus show has a toned-down Trump. But how long will that last?

It seemed that Trump was trying to stay on script. But before the media goes gaga over Trump’s toned-down tone, note that we’ve seen this before.

July 22, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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President Donald Trump held a White House coronavirus press conference Tuesday. It was the first since April. MSNBC’s Joy Reid jokingly referred to it as “season two.”

And the first episode, so to speak, was unlike the first season.

Tuesday’s press conference was shorter than normal — just under a half-hour. It wasn’t as combative as we’ve seen in the past. Trump seemed more reserved, more on point. He advocated the use of masks. Yet, he continued to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic in the United States while bragging about his response. But he also admitted that all is not perfect, that things likely will get worse before they get better and that certain pockets of the country are struggling.

Of course, there were a few, “wait, what?” moments.

The most bizarre Trump statement came after the one off-topic question of the press conference when Trump was asked about Ghislaine Maxwell, who was arrested earlier this month and charged with helping Jeffrey Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse underage girls.

Incredibly, Trump said, “I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach, but I wish her well.”

Wish her well?

Unfortunately, there were more reporter questions about Maxwell than more pressing matters, such as when or how schools might reopen. Perhaps the media was caught off guard that Trump ended his press conference as early as he did, but many pertinent questions about testing and vaccines went unasked. But those questions might get to be asked if Trump continues to hold regular coronavirus press conferences again.

One question about testing, however, did reveal a major difference between something Trump said and something White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said earlier in the day.

McEnany told reporters that Trump is tested daily and “multiple” times a day. But Trump told reporters he is usually tested every two or three days.

“I don’t know of any time I took two tests in one day,” Trump said.

CNN’s Jim Acosta said, “That calls into question some of the information we’ve been getting from the press secretary.”

You can bet McEnany will be asked about that the next time she appears before the media.

Meanwhile, other than once again calling the coronavirus the “China virus,” there was a sense that Trump was trying to stay on script. That led to a Trump we don’t normally see. At least for 27 minutes.

Veteran journalist Jeff Greenfield tweeted, “There was a definite change of tone and message from Trump today (masks are good; things will probably get worse before they get better). Not sure that wishing Ghislaine Maxwell well was part of the White House messaging strategy.”

The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker: “Watching this news conference, it seems clear there is nothing Trump enjoys less than staying on message — and delivering administration talking points — about the pandemic.”

Now, before the media goes all gaga over Trump’s toned-down tone, it should be noted that we’ve seen this before. New York Times James Poniewozik tweeted the headline from a CNN story that read, “What Drove Trump’s Newfound Somber Tone on Coronavirus.” The date of that story? March 17.

Tuesday was one day. Let’s see what happens the next time he is asked about polling numbers or coronavirus deaths or anything asked by PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins or any other reporter he typically battles.

That’s your opinion

Over the past year in this newsletter, I’ve written several times about how newspapers have a problem when it comes to their opinion sections. Readers often don’t understand that there’s a difference between the opinion (or editorial) section and the news side of the newspaper. They are totally independent of one another, but it’s more the fault of the papers — not the readers — that the readers don’t know that.

Readers often see it all lumped together as one big newspaper. So, as an example, when The New York Times endorses a candidate for president, readers don’t make the distinction between editorial and the news department. They simply see it as “The New York Times endorsed so-and-so.”

That leads to readers believing that newspapers are biased because the editorial department endorses candidates and writes strong opinions.

To combat this narrative, a group of journalists at The Wall Street Journal (and other Dow Jones staffers) sent a letter to the paper’s new publisher asking for a clearer differentiation between the content found in the opinion section and that in news stories. Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg wrote about the letter for The Wall Street Journal. (Note: The story is behind a paywall.)

But there was another, deeper reason for the letter. The authors took particular aim at the opinion section, saying, “Opinion’s lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources.”

The letter says opinion pieces need to be more prominently labeled and that, “WSJ journalists should not be reprimanded for writing about errors published in Opinion, whether we make those observations in our articles, on social media, or elsewhere.”

Defending Tucker Carlson’s right to be “obnoxious”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) has been on the receiving end of some harsh attacks by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson after Duckworth said a discussion was to be had when it came to Confederate monuments. Carlson called her a “coward” and a “fraud” and said she despises the country even though Duckworth was the first female soldier to lose both her legs in the Iraq War and was the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office.

But guess who is standing up for Carlson’s right to express those opinions: Duckworth, herself.

Duckworth was asked about Carlson during an appearance on CNN Tuesday. She said, “Well, when you love the Constitution and you love this country as much as I do, so much so that you’re willing to lay down your life to protect and defend her, then you must agree to defend the rights of the likes of Tucker Carlson to lie about you. I truly believe in freedom of speech.”

She did call Carlson “obnoxious,” but added, “If you truly love America, and you truly love the Constitution, then you have to stand up for people’s right to express their opinions, even loathsome ones that are lies that you don’t agree with.”

She added, “If they want to call me back up, I’ll put my uniform back on, throw my rucksack back on my shoulder, and I’ll go back to combat to defend his right to be odious.”

Carlson vs. The New York Times

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Speaking of Carlson, there is a feud going between Carlson and The New York Times. Carlson claimed on his Fox News show Monday night that the Times is working on a story that would reveal where he lives, thus putting his family in danger.

The Times put out a statement that said, “While we do not confirm what may or may not publish in future editions, the Times has not and does not plan to expose any residence of Tucker Carlson’s, which Carlson was aware of before tonight’s broadcast.”

Carlson said on his show, “They hate my politics. They want this show off the air. If one of my children gets hurt because of a story they wrote, they won’t consider it collateral damage. They know it’s the whole point of the exercise: to inflict pain on our family, to terrorize us, to control what we say. That’s the kind of people they are.”

Carlson even revealed the reporter and photographer of a story that … has not run anywhere. Yet, he lit the match that had many conservatives all fired up.

And, again, it was over something that HAS NOT HAPPENED.

More issues at the Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times continues to deal with issues of diversity and inclusion. On Tuesday, nearly 80 Latino staffers of the Times sent a letter to owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and top editors Norman Pearlstine, Kimi Yoshino and Scott Kraft asking that the paper reflect the community it covers.

The letter says, “Today The Times continues to fail, in its staffing and coverage, to reflect a region where nearly one of every two residents is Latino. In doing so it has neglected to serve what should be its largest audience. For decades, we’ve asked management to hire more of us, promote us and make us editors. But those calls have largely gone unanswered. Today, only 13% of The Times newsroom is Latino. Of 109 editors and managers, only 11% of them are Latino. The Times has only ever had three Latino masthead editors.”

The letter included 14 demands, including building a newsroom more reflective of the community; an apology for “fomenting episodes of anti-Latino hysteria in California and the United States;” correcting pay disparities for Latinos, journalists of color and women; creating a path so Latinos can grow into more influential positions such as columnists, critics, editors and managers; and committing to adding more Latinos to the business side of the Times.

Those are just a few of the demands. Read the letter for the full list.

Trying to do better

Two weeks after dropping their racist nickname and a week after an explosive Washington Post story alleged a toxic workplace environment of sexual harassment, the Washington NFL team was back in the news Tuesday. This time for a more positive reason.

They have named Julie Donaldson, a former NBC Sports Washington anchor and reporter, to be its vice president of media and one of its game-day radio voices. The Post reports that Donaldson is believed to be the first full-time female member of an NFL team’s radio booth. She is expected to be one of the analysts.

Donaldson takes over the organization’s broadcasting operations from Larry Michael, who abruptly resigned last week, a day before the Post story was published. Michael, who also served as the team’s play-by-play voice, was one of the employees accused of harassment.

Good start

Joy Reid, left, interviews Joe Biden on Monday on her new MSNBC show. (Courtesy: MSNBC)

The new Joy Reid show on MSNBC is off to a good start with first-night guests on Monday being Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. Biden would not commit to a running mate, but did say there were four Black women on his list of candidates. Biden told Reid, “We were thinking of you as vice president, but then you took this job.”

Tuesday’s show had Sen. Kamala Harris, a possible VP selection.

Obviously, it’s just two days in, but the show has great energy and is engaging.

Media tidbits

  • ESPN reached a multi-year extension with radio host Freddie Coleman. While ESPN Radio’s day parts get the bulk of attention in media circles, the “Freddie and Fitzsimmons” show — which Coleman co-hosts with Ian Fitzsimmons and airs from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern — actually has become an ESPN Radio staple. It has now been on for four years and shows no signs of slowing down.
  • The most ridiculous statement of the day Tuesday was turned in by Fox News’ “The Five” co-host Greg Gutfeld, who said, “The one thing we learned about COVID is that the only entity that made it worse is the media.”
  • For the seventh straight week, ABC’s “World News Tonight” was the No. 1 television newscast in all of America, drawing an average viewership of 8.858 million viewers.
  • “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell will interview Bill Gates today. You can watch the interview live at 3 p.m. on CBSNews.com. Some of the interview will air during tonight’s “CBS Evening News.”

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

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