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May 28, 2020

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100,000.

We’ve known for a while now that the United States was going to reach this devastating and somber number, but now it’s official. On Wednesday, four months after the government confirmed its first known case, the United States surpassed 100,000 coronavirus deaths. It’s greater, by far, than any country in the world.

As The New York Times notes, the death toll exceeds the number of U.S military combat fatalities in every conflict since the Korean War and is on pace to be the country’s deadliest public health disaster since the 1918 flu pandemic that killed about 675,000 Americans. More than 1.6 million in this country have been infected.

But that number: 100,000. What does it really mean? How do you even wrap your brain around it?

As the Associated Press’ Ted Anthony writes, about 100,000 people visit the Statue of Liberty every 10 days. It’s about how many people live in South Bend, Indiana. It’s about as many people that can fill up one of the biggest football stadiums in the country: Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.

“It’s really hard for people to grasp statistics when it comes to numbers after a certain scale,” Lorenzo Servitje, an assistant professor of literature and medicine at Lehigh University, told Anthony. “Can you picture 30,000 people. Or 50,000 people? And when you get into the millions, what do you even do with that? It’s so outside of our everyday life that it’s hard to grasp meaning from them.”

So that’s why the number has to be more than just a number. After The New York Times’ haunting Sunday front page helped put a face and memory behind the names of those who have passed, USA Today published an impactful and heartbreaking interactive graphic that went well beyond the numbers to look at the human toll. The project — called “100,000 Lives” — mourned just some of the real lives lost in this pandemic with photos and personal stories. It also broke down the numbers week by week, showing just how quickly this virus did its damage.

Writing for USA Today, longtime Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom wrote, “A war of the Everyman. We are all potential victims. And all potential killers. We forget the latter faster than the former, but it’s the truth, no matter how brightly the sun is shining, no matter how desperately we want to get to an open restaurant. We pass this disease to one another.”

Albom lives in Michigan, which has seen high-profile protests wanting the country to open up again. Albom writes, “Let’s face it. It’s easy to whine about not getting your haircut when you haven’t lost a child to coronavirus. It’s easy to insist on getting back to your favorite bar when you haven’t watched your father die alone in a hospital bed on a cellphone held up by a nurse.”

Sadly, the deaths will not stop at 100,000. As Albom reminds us, the disease remains dangerous. For now, there is no vaccine. Many of us might have the virus, not know it and pass it on. Only our behavior can help limit the spread.

“‘Acceptable loss’ is not something man was meant to broker, not when human lives are the currency,” Albom wrote. “On this Memorial Day week, we mourn those we have lost in war, but we should think hard about the war we are waging on ourselves and our most vulnerable. We have seen the enemy. We are carrying it.”

Trump and Twitter

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This controversy involving President Donald Trump and Twitter reveals several things, but two stand out.

One, Trump is clearly going to keep pushing the limits, testing to see just how much bite Twitter has behind its bark.

And, two, Twitter doesn’t have much bite.

A day after Twitter put a fact-check label on two of Trump’s tweets about mail-in ballots, Trump lashed out at Twitter … on Twitter. Ironic, eh? Trump tweeted:

“Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016. We can’t let a more sophisticated version of that …

“ … happen again. Just like we can’t let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!”

He basically repeated the conspiracy that earned him the first Twitter “fact-check” label and wasn’t fact-checked for those new tweets. This was after Trump tweeted that Twitter was interfering in the 2020 election and that Twitter was “stifling free speech.”

Then, later Wednesday, Trump tweeted, “Twitter has now shown that everything we have been saying about them (and their other compatriots) is correct. Big action to follow!”

What that “big action” could possibly be is unknown. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that Trump is going to sign an executive order about social media and internet companies. CNN’s Brian Fung looked at Trump’s possible options (legislation, lawsuits, etc.), but Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano pretty much shot down that Trump can do anything to Twitter.

He told “America’s Newsroom’s” Sandra Smith, “The First Amendment, which guarantees the freedom of speech and of the press since it only regulates the government, does not regulate Twitter. Twitter can take down, modify or correct any user it wants, including the president of the United States.”

Besides, Trump is practically daring Twitter to censor him, as he not only repeated claims about mail-in votes, but also repeated conspiracy theories about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. Trump has repeated baseless claims that Scarborough had something to do with the death of a staffer in 2001. Even the widower of that staffer has begged Twitter to remove Trump’s tweets, but Twitter seems paralyzed to take any action.

By constantly piling on Twitter, Trump and other conservatives have backed Twitter into a corner. Twitter seems helpless to fight back out of fear that taking any aggressive action only would prove conservatives right that Twitter is trying to censor them.

As CNN’s Chris Cillizza writes, “The point here is that Twitter, for a lot of reasons — some of which are its fault and some of which aren’t — has no chance in a fight over facts and truth with Trump. Unless they are willing to use the nuclear option of suspending him from the site, which brings its own massive set of complicated questions — and is not a sure-fire solution anyway.”

About those fact checks

As far as Twitter having no bite, here’s another aspect: Twitter’s so-called “fact-check” of Trump is a far cry from alerting viewers that what Trump tweeted simply wasn’t true. It’s a weak finger-wag that might go unnoticed if you didn’t know what to look for. The “fact-check” merely links to other stories under the label, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots.”

In other words, if you didn’t know what Twitter was saying, you … wouldn’t know what Twitter is saying. It’s a slap on the wrist that doesn’t even hit the wrist. It’s practically meaningless because it doesn’t remove the tweet or even really point out the problem with the tweet.

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More piling on

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks to reporters about the coronavirus, at the White House, Monday, April 20, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway blasted away at Twitter on Wednesday, encouraging Fox News viewers to follow (and presumably bombard) Yoel Roth, Twitter’s integrity chief. During her appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Conway said, “He’s the head of integrity and his name is Yoel Roth, he’s @yoyoel. Somebody in San Francisco, go wake him up and tell him he’s about to get a lot more followers.”

In a statement to The Hill, a Twitter spokesperson said, “No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions, and it’s unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions.”

Brit Hume tweet of the day

This is becoming a regular feature: What dumb or tone-deaf thing did Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume tweet today? On Wednesday he linked to a Forbes.com story and tweeted the headline: “The Most Important COVID-19 Statistic: 43% Of U.S. Deaths Are From 0.6% Of The Population.”

I think you could make a pretty good case that it’s not THE MOST IMPORTANT COVID-19 statistic.

Taking the safe approach

Jeff Zucker. (John Nacion/STAR MAX)

Most of CNN’s employees will not return to their offices this year. That’s according to a memo to employees from CNN boss Jeff Zucker. In the memo, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr, Zucker said some employees might be able to return around the “end of the summer.”

Late last month, Zucker told employees that most of them would be out until at least early September. But now he has shifted that timeline back.

“We expect that the majority of you will not be able to return to our offices this calendar year,” Zucker’s memo said. “What happens after that is still a question mark, as well. No doubt the world, and our understanding of the way COVID-19 continues to shape our lives and our work, will change countless times between now and then. But I know it is important as you all make decisions for your own lives and your families that you are equipped with the most honest and transparent information we can give you.”

Right now, about 15% of CNN’s employees are working from the office and a few more could return in the next couple of weeks. Zucker said, “When you consider physical distancing requirements, we simply cannot put the same number of people back into our workspaces that were there before the pandemic. So we need to make some tough decisions.”

Seems like the smart move. After all, CNN (like most news organizations) continues to produce an excellent product even with most staff working from home.

Two hosts go at it

CNBC’s “Squawk Box” certainly lived up to its name Wednesday as two of its hosts got into a shouting match over the economy and the coronavirus. In a segment that was simultaneously must-see TV and uncomfortable to watch, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Joe Kernen lobbed accusations at one another, with the most damning coming from Sorkin, who accused Kernen of carrying water for President Trump while 100,000 died.

The discussion started toasty as the two talked about a recent rise in the stock market. Then it quickly exploded. The two began yelling then started to calm down before Kernen said, “You panicked about the market, panicked about COVID, panicked about the ventilators, panicked about PPE, panicked about ever going out again.”

Sorkin shot back, “Joseph, you didn’t panic about anything! Joseph, 100,000 people died!”

Just for a moment, that seemed to slow Kernan, who said, “I understand that.”

Sorkin kept going, “100,000 died, Joe, and all you did was try to help your friend, the president. That’s what you did. Every single morning on this show. You used and abused your position, Joe!”

Kernen fought back by saying, “That’s totally unfair! I’m trying to help investors keep their cool! Keep their heads! And as it turned out, that’s what they should’ve done!”

The two kept at it until Sorkin asked and even begged Kernen to just do the news.

“I wasn’t arguing to go sell your stocks, Joseph!” Sorkin said. “I was arguing about people’s lives! … Do the news, Joseph! I’m begging you! Do the news!”

A victory for Fox News and the First Amendment

A Seattle judge said that an advocacy group’s intention behind a lawsuit to stop Fox News from spreading misinformation about the coronavirus was “laudable,” but that judge dismissed the suit because it “runs afoul of the protections of the First Amendment.”

A group called the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics — better known as WASHLITE — filed suit in April because, it claimed, some Fox News hosts questioned the seriousness of the coronavirus and it wanted the network to stop “publishing further and false and deceptive content.”

But even some of Fox News’ TV rivals came to the network’s defense. The Internet and Television Association, a trade organization that represents CNN and MSNBC, claimed Fox News was protected by First Amendment rights. Washington Superior Court Judge Brian McDonald agreed.

In a statement, Fox News said, “Using a false portrayal of FOX News Channel’s commentary, WASHLITE attempted to silence a national news organization to settle a partisan grievance. This was not only wrong, but contemptuous of the foundation of free speech and we are both pleased the court dismissed this frivolous case and grateful to the First Amendment community that rallied to our side.”

CBS News layoffs

Layoffs at CBS on Wednesday include the newsroom. The number of CBS News employees let go is not publicly known, but in a note to staff, CBS News president Susan Zirinsky said, “Working with reduced budgets, we have had to make some extremely difficult decisions. I’m sad to report today that some of our colleagues and good friends will be leaving the company. These decisions are particularly painful for our entire organization, which has performed at the highest level during the COVID-19 pandemic, overcoming so many obstacles. But this restructuring is necessary to ensure CBS News remains strong long into the future.”

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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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