November 10, 2020

Let’s now get back to the most important story in the country:


While President Donald Trump and those close to him continue to chase wild conspiracies about the election, there was significant news Monday about COVID-19.

First, there’s hopeful news. The drug company Pfizer announced that early analysis shows its COVID-19 vaccine trial found it to be more than 90% effective in preventing the disease among those who had no evidence of ever having the infection.

Even Dr. Anthony Fauci himself said, “The results are really quite good, I mean extraordinary.”

But this is where the media comes in by explaining what it all really means.

Among the best pieces I saw Monday was one from Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik, who wrote, “Yet it’s still much too early to declare the battle against COVID-19 won. Many details about the Pfizer trial are still unknown, and even the data the company released Monday have not been peer-reviewed. As more information becomes available, the initial euphoria may dissipate. Moreover, even if the vaccine fully lives up to these preliminary results, challenges in manufacturing and distributing the product loom large.”

Hiltzik goes on to write, “The vaccine requires two doses per person for full effectiveness. That means that there won’t be enough to go around for high-priority recipients such as first-responders and seniors until sometime next year, and for wider global distribution until 2022 at the earliest.”

There are, obviously, hopeful signs, starting with the fact that there might actually be a vaccine that will work. That hasn’t been a given.

I encourage you to read Hiltzik’s column, which is the kind of explanatory journalism we need on this topic. There are plenty of stories out there on Pfizer’s possible breakthrough, but Hiltzik’s column is a good place to start.

Meanwhile, there was other big coronavirus news on Monday as President-elect Joe Biden urged Americans to wear masks, saying “a mask is not a political statement,” while also reiterating that defeating COVID-19 is his top priority when he becomes president. He is already getting started. On Monday, he named his Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. CNN’s Eric Levenson has a solid roundup of who is on the board.

Also worth mentioning, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson tested positive for coronavirus on Monday. In addition, CNN reported that David Bossie, who is overseeing Trump’s legal challenges of the election, also has tested positive for COVID-19. At least five others in Trump’s circle, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

MSNBC contributor helps with Biden speeches

Jon Meacham speaks during the Democratic National Convention in August. (Democratic National Convention via AP)

Presidential historian and biographer Jon Meacham, who often appears on MSNBC and NBC News as a paid contributor, has been helping to craft speeches for Joe Biden, including Biden’s Saturday night acceptance speech. The New York Times’ Annie Karni and John Koblin wrote, “Mr. Biden’s speech-writing process is run by Mike Donilon, the president-elect’s longtime adviser. But behind the scenes, Mr. Meacham has been playing a larger role than was previously known, both writing drafts of speeches and offering edits on many of Mr. Biden’s big addresses, including one he gave at Gettysburg last month and his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in August.”

Karni and Koblin also wrote, “A Biden official added that Mr. Meacham was involved in discussions about the themes in the victory speech.”

Meacham’s support of Biden was not hidden. He wrote an op-ed last March in The Washington Post endorsing Biden. He also spoke at this year’s Democratic National Convention. Still, Meacham working with the Biden team during the campaign while also talking about the campaign and election on TV is something that should have been revealed. It’s not the worst journalistic crime ever, given Meacham’s previous endorsement, but it’s not a great look either.

I’ve written several times about Meacham and what I felt was excellent commentary over the past few weeks, including comments Meacham made about President Trump contracting the coronavirus, as well as his comments last week about the divide in this country.

I’ve always found his commentary to be insightful and reasoned. However, the Times reports that Meacham will no longer be paid by NBC and MSNBC for his contributions. He will, the Times reports, be welcomed back as a guest. In future appearances on MSNBC and NBC, Meacham’s relationship with the Biden campaign should be disclosed.

In a somewhat related category, The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr reports that Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel will no longer be an NBC News contributor after being named to Biden’s Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board on Monday.


Looking for an expert source? Find and connect with academics from top universities on the Coursera | Expert Network, a new, free tool for journalists. Discover a diverse set of subject matter experts who can speak to this week’s trending news stories at today.

Trump and Fox News

The Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison and Josh Dawsey published a story Monday: “The Long Love Affair Between Fox News and Trump May Be Over. Here’s How It Ended Last Week.”

In it, Ellison and Dawsey write about how Trump criticized the network during an Election Day telephone interview on “Fox and Friends.”

Ellison and Dawsey wrote, “It was the last day of a campaign Fox had done so much to support, but it was a preview of the war — now one week old but months in the making — that may have permanently ruptured the bond between Trump and his once-favorite television channel. As he faces expulsion from the White House, Trump has vowed revenge on the network that propelled his political career, according to close White House aides — perhaps by publicly attacking Fox or undermining its business model by endorsing a competitor.”

Ellison and Dawsey said their story was based on interviews with 11 current and former Fox News and Trump officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity. They wrote, “It is almost impossible to overstate the closeness of the relationship between Fox News and the Trump White House.”

However, in recent months, Trump has started publicly attacking Fox News. The Post said Trump took it personally whenever Fox News questioned or criticized him. He was especially upset that Fox News called the state of Arizona before most other news outlets and was upset overall with Fox News’ election coverage, which clearly was being run by the Fox News team and not Trump’s primetime buddies.

Check out the Post story for more details, but the closing paragraph is intriguing:

“Trump’s advisors had long discussed the possibility that when he left office, he’d support a news network to compete with Fox or start his own. ‘This,’ said one of his close advisors, ‘only exacerbates that desire.’”

By the way, speaking of Fox News and the election …

‘Whoa, whoa, whoa!’

Well done by Fox News on Monday afternoon to cut away from a press conference being held by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany as soon as McEnany started spreading baseless rumors about the legitimacy of the election.

While McEnany was talking, Fox News cut out and host Neil Cavuto said:

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! I just think we have to be very clear. She is charging that the other side is welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting and unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this. … That’s an explosive charge to make.”

This is the kind of thing that needs to happen on all Fox News shows. That and the refusal to promote any more conspiracy theories or have on guests who promote such baseless theories.

What’s the Rush?

There was a minute or two last week when Twitter was abuzz with the news that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh had conceded that Joe Biden had won the presidential election. Moments later, I turned on Limbaugh, who was denying that he conceded anything and was talking about how he didn’t trust voting in such places as Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee and Atlanta — cities that overwhelmingly supported Biden.

On Monday, as CNN’s Oliver Darcy noted, Limbaugh still wasn’t giving in.

“So, there’s Joe Biden, who thinks he’s been elected president and he hasn’t been yet,” Limbaugh said. “He has not been elected president.”

You might ask, who cares what some radio host is saying? Well, like some of Fox News’ primetime personalities, Limbaugh has a huge following and audiences are influenced by his words and opinions.

Interesting comment

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was fired on Monday. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

This from CNN’s excellent White House reporter Kaitlan Collins on Monday, moments after President Trump announced on Twitter that he was firing defense secretary Mark Esper:

“Donald Trump does not like to not be in the headlines. That’s something that aides have said he’s going to struggle with since it has been declared that Joe Biden is the winner. But, also, he doesn’t like not being in charge, and not feeling like things are in his control. This is a president who thinks he can will things into happening. … This is something he can control. He can control who is in his cabinet.”

New Quartz, old Quartz

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

Quartz, an all-digital business magazine less than a decade old, has been sold — again. The transaction, first reported Sunday night by The Wall Street Journal, is to a management group, headed by co-founder and CEO Zach Seward.

The seller is the Japanese company Uzabase, which had paid $86 million in mid-2018. Revenues had stalled since then and have fallen more with the pandemic advertising recession, so losses have mounted. Uzabase shifted from a free to paid subscription model and counted 21,000 subscribers.

Quartz focuses on a target group of global special topics rather than a full range of business reporting and has presentations heavy on aggregation, tech coverage and charts. It was a spinoff of Atlantic Media, affiliated but run independently.

The sale price was not revealed though Uzabase is a public company and will likely report it later. Uzabase CEO Yusuke Umeda, the Journal reported, is making a personal loan to help the management group finance the purchase.

The human cost of the ESPN layoffs

If you’re interested in sports media, you should be listening to the fantastic “Sports Media with Richard Deitsch” podcast. Deitsch is now at The Athletic after years with Sports Illustrated. His latest podcast episode is with James Andrew Miller, the acclaimed author of terrific books about ESPN, “Saturday Night Live” and CAA. Deitsch and Miller discuss last week’s massive layoffs at ESPN.

Miller and Deitsch have terrific insight into why the layoffs happened and what’s next for ESPN. However, it was a comment from Miller that showed the human impact these layoffs had.

He told Deitsch, “When I was writing the book, I realized that most people don’t date ESPN, they marry it. Because you’ve got to go to the middle of Connecticut, you buy a house there, you put your kids in school there. ESPN is a commitment. It’s a lifestyle. It is for many people a place they stay for 20 to 30 years. One of the things that I painfully remember from other rounds is it is not only torturous for people who are laid off and are losing their job, but the people who escaped the layoffs are really sad because their best friends and colleagues for 10, 15, 20 years are gone. It has all these ripples. All you can do is hope these valuable people get jobs someplace else and ESPN figures things out in a way going forward where this becomes much less the exception to the rule than the new normal.”

Other media thoughts

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Trump, speaks during a news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia. (John Minchillo, AP)

  • Regardless of your political leanings, you have to admit that Rudy Giuliani leading a Trump team press conference about voter fraud at Four Seasons Total Landscaping (and not the actual swanky Four Seasons hotel) in Philadelphia was hilarious. The Cut’s Claire Lampen has an amusing piece called “I Can’t Stop Thinking About Four Seasons Total Landscaping.” And I just have to include this video. Watch it and I challenge you to not start laughing.
  • Steve Kornacki, MSNBC’s big board guru, hasn’t gone into hibernation. He’s still working like a madman. He was on MSNBC on Monday, still going over the votes that continue to come in, while analyzing the votes that already have. His segment on “Deadline White House” on Monday afternoon did an excellent job breaking down how and where Biden did so much better than Hillary Clinton in 2016 and why Biden flipped so many places that Trump won in 2016. Kornacki, the big winner of the 2020 election coverage, is just running up the score now.
  • Here’s something that just sounds weird: It’s Masters week. The most famous golf tournament in the world, normally held in April, has been moved to this week because of the coronavirus. CBS will carry the tournament for the 65th consecutive year. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan writes about what Augusta National looks like in November.

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