Sifting through the second-guessing and the doubling down on President Trump’s rally in Tulsa

Your Tuesday Poynter Report

June 23, 2020
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More than 48 hours later and there’s still plenty of fallout from President Donald Trump’s rally Saturday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which came nowhere close to meeting expectations in terms of crowds and, possibly, enthusiasm.

On Monday, there was plenty of, well, Monday morning quarterbacking.  Yet, at least publicly, the Trump folks tried to put out a positive spin despite numbers that fell well below expectations.

Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs — who generally has been in Trump’s corner — wondered aloud on the air if heads were going to roll, calling it “a mess.”

But White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany put on an “all is well” front — telling both the White House press corps and “Fox & Friends” that Trump was pleased with Saturday night.

Really?

There were several reports that Trump was furious that fewer than 7,000 people showed up for his rally. It’s not that 7,000 is a bad number, but he bragged last week how he has never had a rally with an empty seat and that there wouldn’t be an empty seat in Oklahoma. Turns out, he didn’t have a single empty seat. He had more than 12,000 empty seats.

Yet, appearing on Monday morning’s “Fox & Friends,” McEnany said the president wasn’t furious. Quite the contrary. According to her, he was energized by the event.

“Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy wasn’t buying it. He said, “Kayleigh, you’re saying he was not furious? Because we’ve known Donald Trump — he was on this show every Monday for years. That guy, who used to be on our show, would have been furious that something went haywire.”

McEnany repeated she didn’t think Trump was upset, but good for Doocy calling out something that seems rather hard to fathom.

That wasn’t the only comment Doocy made about the Trump rally. He also said, “I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to put 20,000 people in a room with masks optional.”

“Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade said the coronavirus is going to change how the rest of the campaigns of both Trump and Joe Biden are going to play out. He’s probably right. You could make a reasonable argument that the numbers in Tulsa were low because folks might still be wary of gathering indoors for fear of catching a potentially deadly virus.

Kilmeade said, “They have to think about how they want to do it from here. Let’s be honest, as experienced as anyone is, no one has ever been through a campaign with a pandemic and civil unrest, two things out of control of Democrats and Republicans.”

Word choices

Another point of contention regarding Trump’s rally was Trump referring to the coronavirus as the “kung flu.” CNN’s Brianna Keilar asked Trump 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh about that choice of words Monday.

After sparring with Murtaugh about how the Trump campaign badly miscalculated the number of people who had requested tickets, how many were going to attend and whether it was wise to even gather at all, Keilar then played a clip of Trump calling the virus the “kung flu” and said, “You, Tim, are in charge of communications for this campaign. Do you want it defined by racist comments?”

“Look, the president has been pretty clear and insistent that he was responding to China’s accusation that the United States military somehow had something to do with their initial outbreak,” Murtaugh said. “And so, he has been consistent all along in trying to make sure that people understand … ”

Keilar interrupted and the two began talking over one another as Murtaugh repeated the claim that it’s “just another version of trying to make sure that people understand that the origination of the coronavirus was the Wuhan Province of China. And I know that it’s not very popular in the liberal elite media to be able to pinpoint the location of it. It would — they would — they would rather ignore where it came from, but the president is not going to let that happen.”

Keilar let it go after that, but the point was already made: “Kung flu” is racist, and yet it’s defended by the Trump campaign on national television.

Another tense moment

Keilar and Murtaugh also had an uncomfortable exchange when Keilar pressed Murtaugh on Trump’s claims that he wants to slow down coronavirus testing. Murtaugh, repeating a line we’ve heard since Saturday night, said Trump was kidding and that it was said “tongue-in-cheek.”

“I understand there’s not much of a sense of humor at CNN center,” Murtaugh said. “But the president was joking. He tried to illustrate the point that when you expand testing, you will naturally expand the number of positive cases that you detect.”

Keilar said she didn’t think that 120,000 dead Americans was a joking matter. “I do not think that is funny,” she said. “Do you think that is funny?”

Murtaugh stumbled his way through an answer, only to have Keilar repeat the question which Murtaugh never answered.

Good TV numbers for Trump

The in-person attendance for the Trump rally in Tulsa might have been a dud, but TV numbers were outstanding. At its height, about 8.2 million were tuned into the rally on Fox News, according to Nielsen. That was around 9 p.m. when Trump was in the middle of his nearly two-hour speech. The average viewership of 6.7 million on Fox News made it the highest-rated Saturday primetime in the network’s nearly 24-year history.

Together again

The “Fox & Friends” crew was back in the studio together on Monday, the first time in 100 days since the coronavirus forced everyone to work remotely. The “CBS This Morning” team, minus co-anchor Tony Dokoupil, also returned to the studio Monday. Co-host Gayle King said she could barely sleep Sunday night, adding, “I can’t even tell you how great I feel today.”

The “Today” show’s Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker will reunite today and anchor the show from Hudson, New York.

For the most part, “Good Morning America” has had anchors in the studio throughout the coronavirus.

The day after in Tennessee

A day after an anti-Muslim ad ran in The Tennessean newspaper, an advertising manager at the paper was fired. The controversy blew up Sunday when the paper published an ad that said “Islam” was going to detonate a nuclear device in Nashville, as well as other end-of-the-world preaching. An internal investigation revealed that three members of the advertising staff had the opportunity to review the ad before it was published.

The paper reported that Kathy Jack-Romero — the president of local sales for Gannett, which owns The Tennessean — said, “The sales and design teams did not fully read the context of the ad content in its entirety and subsequently approved it.”

Jack-Romero said the sales manager agreed to run the ad even after it was flagged by another sales member. That manager was fired Monday. A similar ad with end-of-the-world talk ran last Wednesday, according to The Tennessean, but that ad did not mention Islam.

According to The Tennessean, money from the ad sale is being refunded to the group that took out the ad — an Arkansas nonprofit called “Future for America.” The paper also reported the group plans to advertise on billboards in Nashville as well as mail letters to thousands of Nashville residents.

Meanwhile, Gannett said it will donate the $14,000 from the ad to the American Muslim Advisory Council, which is based in Nashville. It also will give the council $50,000 in advertising credit.

For more, check out Adam Tamburin’s story in The Tennessean.

Bolton’s book tour

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton kicked off his book tour with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz on Sunday night. (Courtesy: ABC News)

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton is on his book tour with this week’s release of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir” — an explosive book that questions Donald Trump’s ability to lead the country because he is, among other things, according to Bolton, “erratic” and “stunningly uninformed.”

Bolton did a sit down for an ABC primetime show Sunday night. He also did a weekend interview with USA Today, where he told Washington bureau chief Susan Page that, if he had been a senator, he would have voted to impeach Trump. He said Trump’s White House was like “living in a pinball machine.” Bolton said he voted for Trump in 2016, but won’t in 2020.

During an interview with George Stephanopoulos on Monday’s “Good Morning America,” Bolton was asked about Trump being reelected.

Bolton said, “The biggest fear I have is that his policymaking is so incoherent, so unfocused, so unstructured, so wrapped around his own personal political fortunes, that mistakes are being made that will have grave consequences for the national security of the United States.”

Look for Bolton pretty much everywhere this week, including “PBS NewsHour” on Thursday. And, today, he will be interviewed by The Washington Post’s Robert Costa for a Post Live conversation. You can watch the livestream today at 1 p.m. here.

TV star of the day

Surrounded by fellow drivers, driver Bubba Wallace, left, is overcome with emotion as team owner Richard Petty, comforts him as he arrives at his car in the pits of the Talladega Superspeedway prior to the start of a NASCAR race on Monday. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The most compelling person on television the past two days was ESPN’s Marty Smith, who was reporting from the NASCAR race at Talladega. On Sunday, a noose was found hanging in the racetrack garage of Bubba Wallace — the only Black driver on NASCAR’s top circuit. Wallace has been a vocal advocate of Black Lives Matter and led the effort at NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at races.

After the noose was found in his garage, Smith, who has been covering NASCAR since 1998, went off on ESPN’s “SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt” late Sunday night

Smith said, “This sport is moving forward. This sport is in a progressive mode. This sport is in a moment where this crap, this despicable crap is not only not acceptable, but there’s just no place for it. … Whomever that is, I hope that you are so ashamed of yourself. I hope you realize that is someone’s dignity, and that is someone’s positioning in this sport who has earned his place by talent and by hard work. And he stood up for something he believed, and he asked for help from other people who believed similarly.”

Smith said he had “felt like a fool” for touting that NASCAR had come a long way. He then said, “You’re not just hurting one or two people, whomever you are. You’re hurting a whole lot of people who have made the decision that it’s damn sure time to go be better. And it pisses me the hell off. And it pisses everybody else in this sport off who cares. Who cares not only for Bubba, but for every single person that he is standing up for.”

On Monday, dozens of drivers and pit crew members showed their support by pushing Wallace’s car at Talladega. After that, Smith said on the air, “I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I would describe it as beautiful, unified, undeterred, undaunted, courageous, committed and faithful to one another. I thought it was absolutely amazing to see every one of those drivers stand up and be unified in supporting Bubba Wallace and in continuing to be completely fearless in ensuring that the world knows that this is not any sort of one-day effort. That this is an ongoing effort.”

They were powerful words and outstanding work by Smith, both after the horrendous incident with the noose and then the NASCAR teams’ attempts to show solidarity.

By the way, check out this powerful selfie by Wallace.

Layoffs at Golf Channel

Another media company is taking a major hit. The Golf Channel told most of its Orlando-based staff that they would be laid off at the end of August and then be allowed to reapply for a small pool of jobs. Golfweek’s Jason Lusk and Adam Schupak reported that the NBC-owned Golf Channel had announced in February that it was moving its offices from Orlando to Stamford, Connecticut.

Lusk and Schupak write, “It was unclear what percentage of the staff will be let go, but only a small fraction of existing jobs are expected to be made available for relocation to Stamford. Most production jobs are expected to be filled by people already employed there.”

Special coverage

A man wearing an I Can’t Breathe shirt pays his respects to Rayshard Brooks during his public viewing at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Monday. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)

NBC News is offering local affiliates special coverage of today’s funeral of Rayshard Brooks, the Black man killed by Atlanta police last week. The coverage will be anchored by Craig Melvin with correspondents Rehema Ellis and Blayne Alexander, as well as MSNBC contributors Yamiche Alcindor, Paul Butler and Eugene Robinson. NBC News NOW will also stream the special coverage. The funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern.

Getting all the facts

Global Fact 7, hosted by Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network and occurring virtually because of COVID-19, kicked off Monday. It features more than 150 speakers from more than 40 countries and is the largest worldwide gathering of fact-checkers ever.

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel Monday with four of the top fact-checkers in journalism: PolitiFact editor-in-chief Angie Drobnic Holan, The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, Factcheck.org director Eugene Kiely and Associated Press deputy editor Karen Mahabir.

We talked about fact-checking the president, as well as stories involving the two major news events of 2020: the coronavirus and the protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. You can watch our conversation here.

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

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