By:
August 4, 2020

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News outlets all over the world have done remarkable work covering the once-in-a-hundred-year story of the coronavirus.

But one journalist has stood out above all. The Atlantic’s Ed Yong has been a rock star — an absolute must-read throughout this pandemic. And his latest story for The Atlantic is nothing short of elite. His richly-reported analysis — “How the Pandemic Has Defeated America” — elicits every negative emotion, from sadness to frustration to helplessness to outright seeing-red anger.

Yong has talked to more than 100 experts throughout this crisis.

“I’ve learned that almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable,” Yong wrote.

Numbers don’t lie. The United States makes up 4% of the world’s population, but has accounted for a quarter of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. Just about every country in the world — by far — has dealt with the coronavirus better than the United States

“Despite ample warning,” Yong wrote, “the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus.”

Yong’s detailed work looks at all phases of what has happened in this country over the past several months, from the coronavirus to racial injustice to a falling economy. All have created a perfect storm that has overwhelmed an ill-prepared government, according to Yong’s piece.

And Yong pointed a finger squarely at President Donald Trump with this jaw-dropping paragraph:

“No one should be shocked that a liar who has made almost 20,000 false or misleading claims during his presidency would lie about whether the U.S. had the pandemic under control; that a racist who gave birth to birtherism would do little to stop a virus that was disproportionately killing Black people; that a xenophobe who presided over the creation of new immigrant-detention centers would order meatpacking plants with a substantial immigrant workforce to remain open; that a cruel man devoid of empathy would fail to calm fearful citizens; that a narcissist who cannot stand to be upstaged would refuse to tap the deep well of experts at his disposal; that a scion of nepotism would hand control of a shadow coronavirus task force to his unqualified son-in-law; that an armchair polymath would claim to have a ‘natural ability’ at medicine and display it by wondering out loud about the curative potential of injecting disinfectant; that an egotist incapable of admitting failure would try to distract from his greatest one by blaming China, defunding the WHO, and promoting miracle drugs; or that a president who has been shielded by his party from any shred of accountability would say, when asked about the lack of testing, ‘I don’t take any responsibility at all.’”

This is just the latest example of Yong’s extraordinary work, which has included 13 articles about the coronavirus for The Atlantic. In an excellent Q&A with CNN’s Kerry Flynn, Yong goes over how he has become journalism’s go-to voice on this story.

He told Flynn that The Atlantic’s mission isn’t to give people the news, but to help them learn how to think about the news. He said, “I think of the information around the pandemic as rapids, really fast flowing torrential water. It’s so easy to be swept up in it and feel like you’re being carried along, feeling like you’re drowning in it. What I think really good journalism can do is to act as a rock in the middle of that fast flow to give people stable ground where they can stand and observe what is moving past them without being carried along by it.”

It really is remarkable work being done by The Atlantic and Yong. His latest story is required reading.

Conservative media’s role

Clearly, Americans have not handled the coronavirus well. The numbers prove that. In the Q&A with Yong, CNN’s Flynn smartly asked what role conservative media has played in the spread of dangerous disinformation.

“In a crisis like this, it is so important for people to get clear, evidence-based, consistent messaging,” Yong said. “You could argue about successes and failures to do that across the board. But I think the fact that we have media channels with massive audiences that are consistently saying the wrong things is inevitably a huge problem. Initially, it contributes to laxity. The fact that a lot of those outlets were severely downplaying the threat of the pandemic, even at a point when it was clear that this was going to be a disaster, helps to fuel reticence of action at a time when people really needed to be acting. It sows division. It sows distrust in expertise.”

Though no one actually said the name, it seems clear Yong was talking about Fox News.

Launching The 19th*

Last November, Emily Ramshaw and Amanda Zamora rocked the journalism world when they announced they were leaving The Texas Tribune to start a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom reporting on the intersection of gender, politics and policy. In fact, it’s a site that Ramshaw has been thinking about ever since she was on maternity leave four years ago.

That new much-anticipated site, The 19th*, launched on Sunday. The name says it all, right down to the asterisk. The 19th part comes from the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which made voting a right regardless of gender. The asterisk shows the work left to be done.

I talked to both Ramshaw and The 19th* editor in chief Andrea Valdez, the former editor-in-chief of The Texas Observer, in my story for Poynter.

Ramshaw told me, “There are a lot of terrific news organizations out there doing extraordinary work in and around the gender sphere. But a lot of it is siloed. A lot of it is created as a side dish and not the main course. We really want to create a community, a place where we are giving women and people who care about them the tools and information and engagement they need to be more deeply involved in their democracy.”

Ch-ch-changes

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)

MSNBC is shuffling its weekday schedule. In news first broken by Variety’s Brian Steinberg, Chuck Todd and “Meet the Press Daily” are moving from 5 p.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern. That will open up more time for Nicolle Wallace’s “Deadline: White House.” That show will expand to two hours, airing from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern.

The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr tweeted, “This has been a long time coming. Wallace is very popular internally and Chuck Todd’s 5 p.m. show has been performing poorly in the ratings.” (That’s true, as Fox News’ “The Five” has been winning that time slot among cable stations.)

Andrea Mitchell (noon to 1 p.m.) and Katy Tur (2 to 3 p.m.) will continue in their time slots on MSNBC. Ayman Mohyeldin will move from early mornings to 3 p.m.

All the changes will start in September. In addition, Todd will launch a weekly political program on NBC News Now (NBC’s livestreaming outlet) and NBCUniversal Peacock.

Not watching worth mentioning

Former President Barack Obama at the funeral for the late John Lewis. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool)

CNN’s Brian Stelter points out that Fox News’ viewership dropped significantly when the network aired John Lewis’ funeral last week. Nearly 1.9 million were tuned into Fox in the 9 a.m. Eastern hour, but that number dropped once the funeral began. Fox News had 825,000 viewers in the 11 a.m. hour and only 540,000 in the 1 p.m. hour. CNN and MSNBC gained audience during that time.

When the funeral was over, Fox News’ viewership went up again, going over a million in the 3 p.m. hour and 1.4 million an hour after that.

Facebook’s failure

Another doctored video that made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look drunk has gone viral. And even though Facebook slapped a “partly false” disclaimer on it, it has refused to take down the video. A Facebook official said, “… when a video is determined false, its distribution is dramatically reduced and people who see it, try to share it, or have already shared it, see warnings alerting them that it’s false.”

But why not outright remove it if you are convinced (and it has been proven) that the video is altered to make Pelosi look bad? Facebook’s decision in this case is beyond baffling, as well as irresponsible.

A similar video that attempted to make Pelosi look drunk went viral last year. This latest video was already shared more than 80,000 times on Facebook.

Out of office

Well, this is depressing. Daily Beast media reporter Max Tani tweeted that Insider/Business Insider will not require employees to return to the office until July of 2021.

2021!

Seems like when the coronavirus first started gaining traction earlier this year, most of us thought we would be out of the office until July of 2020.

A special event

Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo. (Courtesy: Fox Business Channel.)

Twenty-five years ago, Maria Bartiromo made history when she became the first person to report live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. To celebrate that momentous occasion, she will ring the opening bell today — this time virtually. It can be seen this morning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern on both Fox Business and Fox News.

Speaking of Fox Business, Lou Dobbs will interview President Trump on his show live today at 5 p.m. Eastern. And Dana Perino will interview Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Joe Biden, at 2 p.m. Eastern on Fox News.

Hot type

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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