Should President Donald Trump’s tweet about delaying the election be taken seriously?

What Trump tweeted was not unusual for Trump. But what he tweeted was unusual for a U.S. president. When covering this, that should not be forgotten.

July 31, 2020
Category: Newsletters

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, click here.

By now, you’re probably already aware of the tweet that President Donald Trump sent out Thursday morning that asked if the election should be delayed because mail-in voting could not be trusted.

Here’s the exact tweet: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

Media reaction was swift, but all over the place.

There were those who immediately took Trump’s tweet seriously and as a threat that he actually might try to delay the election, even though the president does not have that power.

There were those who immediately dismissed it as Trump being Trump, although that is a troubling reaction when you realize a sitting U.S. president says so many outrageous things that we are quick to normalize or excuse a suggestion that otherwise would be received with outrage and astonishment.

Then there was another reaction, that Trump wasn’t actually lobbying for the election to be delayed, but had an ulterior motive: another clear attempt to delegitimize the November election and lay the groundwork to contest the results. And, in doing so, he was riling up his base with word that Democrats can’t be trusted and the Republicans need to get out and vote.

Or — and this might be the most disturbing thought — he was bored and wanted to send the Twitterverse and media into full freakout mode. In other words, create chaos like he is so fond to do.

Washington Post political writer Dave Weigel tweeted, “The Trump ‘delay the election???’ tweet is now pinned to the top of his account, which is typically what you do if you’re just joking to get a rise out of reporters and don’t mean it.”

To which New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted, “Didn’t we leave ‘it was a joke’ back in the last election? This is how the tweeting gets graded on a curve.”

Haberman is right. What often seems like a joke simply because we’ve never heard a president talk like this before often turns out to be a serious matter. And to treat it as a joke is journalistically negligent.

And while I fell victim to trying to figure out what Trump was doing by tweeting that I thought it was his attempt to delegitimize the election, perhaps the best plan for the media is to treat Trump’s words, actions and tweets seriously and not grade them on a Trump curve.

CNN White House correspondent John Harwood tweeted that Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said that Trump’s tweet was a joke “so all you guys in the press, your heads will explode and you’ll write about it.”

And, well, that sort of lines up with another Trump tweet later in the day: “Glad I was able to get the very dishonest LameStream Media to finally start talking about the RISKS to our Democracy from dangerous Universal Mail-In-Voting (not Absentee Voting, which I totally support!).”

During an afternoon press conference, Trump said, “Do I want to see a date change? No.” But he also said he doesn’t want to have to wait “for three months” to get results that he worries might not be legitimate. He also called for voter ID. He also made untrue claims about mail-in voting.

So, what was the whole thing about?

Maybe only Trump knows. This much is true: What Trump tweeted Thursday was not unusual for Trump. But this too is true: What Trump tweeted was unusual for the president of the United States. When covering this story, that should not be forgotten.

Sad news

Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and former presidential candidate on the GOP ticket, has died from the coronavirus. He was 74.

Cain tested positive on June 29 and was hospitalized on July 1. While it isn’t known how or when Cain contracted the virus, many were quick to point out Cain attended President Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski tweeted: “Just the facts – Herman Cain went to the @realDonaldTrump TULSA SUPERSPREADER rally -no mask. The campaign squashed people close so the crowd would look bigger. They cheered for their President for hours. Cain tested positive for COVID nine days later. Now Herman Cain is dead.”

Political commentator Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, who is often seen on CNN, Telemundo and “The View,” tweeted: “Herman Caín thought Covid was a hoax, scoffed at wearing a mask. Died of Covid. Bill Montgomery, co-founder of pro-Trump, Turning Point USA, scoffed at virus. Died of Covid. Rep. Gohmert refused to wear a mask. Has Covid. See a pattern? Covid doesn’t care about partisanship.”

MSNBC’s Joy Reid tweeted, “Herman Cain has died, weeks after attending Donald Trump’s Tulsa rally, not wearing a mask. Condolences to his family.”

Saying goodbye to John Lewis

(Courtesy: NBC News)

John Lewis was laid to rest Thursday, and all the networks did impressive work all week long remembering the civil rights leader. While I hate to single out just one network, I will point to some poignant moments on NBC, especially this excellent commentary from contributor Jon Meacham:

“John Lewis’ last earthly odyssey mirrored his earthly odyssey from Troy to Montgomery to Washington and now to Atlanta, where he served in the Congress for 33 years. … When you think about today, and you think about the Rotunda, imagine the princes and the potentates and the kings — all the powers of the Earth — are paying tribute to this young man who was born the great-grandson of a slave. There was an outhouse. There was no electricity in their house. His first memory was of his mother’s garden, a little garden on a tenant farm in Pike County, Alabama, in a segregated and as remote a place as you could find in the 20th century. And now, presidents and a president that he made possible … all of those people will be paying tribute to this singular figure, who was driven by the gospel, understood the tactics of Gandhi, and resolutely and consistently compelled us to face the truth about ourselves, and to embrace the possibilities of what we can be.”

Tribune Publishing pushes back

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

From the outside looking in, it has appeared that Tribune Publishing had been accepting the growing influence of its largest shareholder, hedge fund Alden Global Capital. However a Securities and Exchange Commission filing and press release this week indicated it has now adopted a traditional defense to an unwelcome takeover attempt.

Hold on, though. It is less than clear whether the move defends Alden’s 32% stake against a bid by someone else, or whether the “poison pill” making a takeover much more expensive could also be triggered if Alden or 25% holder Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong increased their stake by another 10% (or tried to sell).

A Tribune spokesman declined to amplify on the wording of the release. Even in the arcane world of takeovers and mergers, it is rare to encounter an announcement so confusing as to be nearly unintelligible.

The company is offering a so-called “rights agreement” that gives shareholders a right to buy stock at a discount or be paid a two-to-one premium if a holder assembles stock for a takeover bid.

Tribune’s board of directors would be the judge of what is a friendly or unfriendly bid. It is split three-three between holdover Tribune representatives and newer Alden-affiliated ones — with CEO Terry Jimenez the seventh vote.

The company — whose papers include the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and South Florida Sun Sentinel — used a similar tactic in successfully fending off a takeover offer from Gannett several years ago.

Meanwhile, bankruptcy court approval of McClatchy’s acquisition by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management is currently scheduled for next Thursday. This week’s court motions yielded only minor objections to the deal.

Jack tweets

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was not a part of the congressional hearing on Wednesday about Big Tech that featured CEOs from Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon. However, in a lengthy thread on — where else? — Twitter, Dorsey seemed to push back on the idea that the tech companies have too much control or power.

He tweeted: “The most incredible aspect of the internet is that no one person or organization controls it: the people make it what it is every day. That ideal is constantly under threat, especially today. We commit as a company to fighting for an #OpenInternet.”

He went on to add:

“The power of the internet is only as good as the power it gives to individual people. The more we do to advance that, the stronger it becomes. This underlies all else. But there are two emergent and growing threats. The first is a number of large organizations effectively building walled-garden alternative internets, sustained by favorable regulation, and thus killing competing ideas and organizations that could be better for society. The second is for the outcomes of content moderation to be a reductive and binary ‘leave up’ or ‘take down.’ This distracts from a more important focus on amplification, reach, and connecting disparate information to provide richer context.”

He concluded with: “Ensuring competition on a level playing field for all on the internet, and truly understanding the fundamental dynamics that underlie internet speech, will strengthen what the internet can be for everyone around the world. Finally, we aren’t just advocating for an open internet, we’re doing our part to make it more open. Putting our resources behind an open and decentralized standard for social media, @bluesky

Saying goodbye

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this newsletter, today is Mike Golic’s final radio show on ESPN Radio. His run of more than 20 years — mostly with Mike Greenberg and, of late, with Trey Wingo — comes to an end with this morning’s show. And not by his choice. He has made it clear that he wanted to continue doing radio. Greenberg left the show because he wanted to do other things, and he was named host of the TV show “Get Up.” Wingo, reports say, didn’t like the lifestyle of doing morning radio, which requires getting up really early.

Appearing on Sarah Spain’s podcast, Golic talked about the end — at least for now — of his radio career at ESPN. (Hat tip to Awful Announcing’s Ian Casselberry for sifting through the Spain podcast and finding these Golic quotes.)

Golic said he wished Greenberg was more upfront about wanting to leave and had talked to Golic about his plans. He said he didn’t want to speak for Wingo. But, most of all, Golic didn’t like how he found out about his time coming to an end.

“Unfortunately, the tough thing this time around is I basically heard it was ending through the media, which, to me, isn’t the best way to find something out,” Golic said. “I don’t think that’s the right way. But they didn’t ask me what I thought was the right way. At the end of the day, it’s business. I’ve always said this about football or doing anything, you gotta be careful at taking things too personally.”

Golic’s gripes took up only a small portion of the interview with Spain, and the only reason it came up was because Spain asked. In fact, when Golic does air any grievances, it’s usually because he is honestly answering questions by reporters.

However, Golic might have a heck of a book in him if he chooses.

“I have never been a locker room-talking guy,” Golic said. “Someday, I will tell the full stories of everything but now is not the time.”

Cover story

(Courtesy: Oprah Magazine)

CNN’s Kerry Flynn points out that for the first time in the 20-year history of O Magazine, founder Oprah Winfrey will not be on the cover. The September issue cover will feature Breonna Taylor, the Black woman killed by Louisville police while in her home in March.

In a statement on Twitter, Winfrey said, “We can’t be silent. We have to use whatever megaphone we have to cry for justice. And that is why Breonna Taylor is on the cover of O magazine. The September issue honors her life and the life of every other Black woman whose life has been taken too soon.”

Media tidbits

  • Bari Weiss, who recently left The New York Times editorial board with a scathing resignation letter, will be a guest on tonight’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO at 10 p.m. Eastern.
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette appears to be moving toward a strike. Here are more details from Ryan Deto at Pittsburgh City Paper.
  • Is there some funny business going on between the Pac-12 sports conference and the Los Angeles Times involving advertising and coverage? The Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano looks into the matter.

Hot type

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

More resources for journalists

Want to get this briefing in your inbox? Sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.