By:
December 14, 2020

So apparently if you don’t deliver babies or wear a stethoscope or look down someone’s throat with the help of a tongue depressor, you can’t really call yourself a doctor.

That, essentially, was the ridiculous argument made by Joseph Epstein in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. More specifically, Epstein’s argument was that Dr. Jill Biden, the soon-to-be first lady, should not be called a doctor because she’s not a medical doctor. Dr. Biden holds an Ed.D. from the University of Delaware and is a community college professor.

Epstein — in an incredibly tone-deaf, sexist and condescending opening passage — said, “Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill — kiddo: a bit of advice on what might seem like a small but I think is not an unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr.’ before your name? ‘Dr. Jill Biden’ sounds and feels a touch fraudulent, not to mention comical.”

Kiddo? Really?

I can go line by line of why Epstein’s op-ed is ridiculous and, really, pointless. As Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse writes, “There’s no sport in hunting an animal that has already shot itself in the foot.”

But, Hesse adds, “I do doubt that Epstein would have written this column about, say, Dr. Henry Kissinger. I do believe Epstein wouldn’t have called him ‘kiddo.’ I do believe that Epstein saw this as a column about titles, but it was also about his innermost beliefs regarding what kinds of people he thinks deserve honorifics and what kind — he implies that Biden’s doctorate was easy — do not.”

Nevertheless, it’s easy to quickly dismiss the absurd and aimless ramblings of one misguided and envious curmudgeon, especially someone such as Epstein. The New York Times’ Michael Levenson describes Epstein, 83, as “an essayist, author and former editor of The American Scholar, (who) has been accused of advancing offensive views before.”

The real question is why in the world would The Wall Street Journal run such gibberish? What was the point? What were they hoping to accomplish?

It felt unnecessary. It felt controversial for controversy’s sake. It felt clickbaity.

And it certainly felt well below the standards of any respectable newspaper’s op-ed page, but especially The Wall Street Journal. Yes, the Journal’s editorial board can lean right, but running this piece came nowhere close to its normal standards.

Op-ed pieces are supposed to engage and inform readers and to spark discussion on timely and critical matters. They aren’t always popular opinions. They are meant to give everyone a voice.

And yet, just because someone has an opinion does not mean a reputable news outlet such as The Wall Street Journal has to hand them a megaphone. In fact, it’s reasonable to guess that the WSJ rejects way more op-eds than it runs.

So why run this one?

In this case, is Dr. Biden’s title really a timely matter? Is this at all critical or even newsworthy? Is this a topic on anyone’s mind?

And what’s the point of going after someone who went to school and actually earned the title of doctor? There’s nothing fraudulent or fishy or comical about Dr. Biden’s doctor title. She’s a doctor.

To repeat the central question: WHAT WAS THE POINT?

Sometimes, those who run op-ed pages get so wrapped up in the First Amendment and the right to free speech that they don’t see the irresponsibility or pointlessness of some opinions.

This appears to be one of those times.

How soon?

Moderator Chuck Todd and a shot of Sunday’s “Meet the Press” on NBC, which shows a counter of how many coronavirus cases there are in an hour. (Courtesy: NBC News)

CBS’s “Face the Nation” unveiled a CBS News report that says Operation Warp Speed, the government’s vaccine program, is instructing clinics administering the Pfizer vaccine to wait until later this month to inoculate elderly residents at long-term care facilities even though the vaccine will be available before then.

But when he appeared on Sunday’s “Face the Nation,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar denied that HHS is requesting a delayed start.

Moderator Margaret Brennan asked Azar, “I want to ask you specifically about something CVS revealed. They said they’re not going to start vaccinating even though they’re receiving it this month until Dec. 21 because the Trump administration told them to wait until that date. Why is the Trump administration asking nursing homes to wait?”

Azar said there was a misunderstanding that has since been straightened out with CVS and said, “We’re not actually asking the nursing homes to wait.”

Azar said vaccinations can start “really any day.”

Brennan added, “Certainly, given that 50,000 nursing home patients are getting infected a week, let’s watch and see when those begin.”

Jarring numbers

Sometimes there comes a point when all these coronavirus numbers pile up at such a dizzying pace that we actually lose the impact of it all. Every now and then we need to recalibrate and put these numbers into perspective, which is what Chuck Todd did on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” Here’s what he said during his opening comments:

“COVID is now responsible for six of the 10 deadliest days in U.S. history, including two days this past week. Pearl Harbor has already been knocked off the top 10 list and 9/11 will soon follow.”

Todd pointed out that the list doesn’t include numbers from Gettysburg or the 1918 pandemic because those daily numbers are not reliable. However, you do still get a sense of just how deadly COVID-19 has been.

Todd continued by saying, “Sadly, things are likely to get even worse. Over the past week there have been nearly 1.5 million newly confirmed cases of COVID — an average of almost 212,000 per day. Now, take a look at the counter at the bottom of your screen.”

On the bottom of the screen, a counter totaled up what 212,000 cases a day looks like over an hour — the length of time of “Meet the Press.”

Todd then hit the other big story of the moment with this powerful comment:

“Late Friday the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by 18 Republican state attorneys general and supported by more than 120 Republican members of Congress, to overturn the legitimate results of the presidential election. That President Trump would support such an anti, small-d democratic move is no longer a surprise. More alarming is the willingness of so many Republicans to debase themselves and the democracy they’ve sworn to serve for fear of losing a primary to a more Trumpian candidate. The courts have preserved our democracy … for now. Hopefully now we can all focus our efforts on the health front, where the progress on vaccines offers hope for relief in the midst of what is likely to be a very tough winter.”

Enabling the president

President Donald Trump keeps spewing baseless and dangerous conspiracy theories about the election and Fox News is right there alongside to enable him. The latest example is a Saturday interview with the president from the Army-Navy football game that “Fox & Friends” ran on Sunday morning.

Speaking with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, Trump continued to say things like “rigged election” and again insisted that it’s “not over” and, “We keep going and we’re going to continue to go forward. We have numerous local cases.”

Trump told Kilmeade, “They didn’t run a good race. They cheated. They dropped hundreds of thousands of ballots. They did things that nobody’s ever seen. And we caught ‘em.”

None of that is true.

Kilmeade lightly pushed back — so lightly that it really wasn’t pushback — by saying, “But your guys have been unable to prove it as of now.”

This is the same Kilmeade who said in mid-November that Trump should start coordinating with Biden on COVID-19 and national security. Yet as Trump lied time and time again to Kilmeade during their exchange, Kilmeade did little to stop him.

You could make a claim that Fox News should not even have run the interview. There was nothing new in Trump’s baseless claims. The excuse of, “Well, he’s the president, so we’re going to run it and let the American people decide,” is reckless journalism. But when it comes to dealing with Trump, this is common for Fox News.

Why else would Fox News allow My Pillow guy Mike Lindell on its airways Saturday to point up at Marine One and say, “There’s our president for four more years?” (By the way, that clip is from Fox News’ website, which shows more of its enabling.)

There are polls that show the majority of Republicans believe the election was stolen from Trump even though that has no basis in reality.

“You have to wonder where they are getting that from,” CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp said on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.” “And they’re getting that from their favorite news outlet — Fox News, OAN, Newsmax — where that lie is being perpetuated over and over and over again. They are either saying that ‘It is true, that the president won,’ or they’re saying, ‘It’s possible.’ Both are problematic. Both are bad. And neither are journalism. And when you purport to be a journalism outfit, your obligation is to tell facts as they exist even if they are not what your viewers want to hear.”

Two new shows at MSNBC

MSNBC’s Tiffany Cross. (Courtesy: MSNBC)

MSNBC debuted the two weekend shows that are replacing Joy Reid’s “A.M. Joy.”

“The Cross Connection with Tiffany Cross” debuted Saturday as Cross opened her show talking about her 20-year journey: “I attended an HBCU, Clark Atlanta University, where I learned to find a way or make one, and that’s exactly what I did.”

Cross’ first show featured Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), president and CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies Madalene Mielke; chef José Andrés and actor Jay Ellis. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) also joined to discuss COVID-19 economic relief.

The end of the show also featured several offering Cross best wishes on her new show, including Reid, MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson, “The View’s” Sunny Hostin and actress Yvette Nicole Brown.

Meanwhile, “The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart” made its debut on Sunday as Capehart welcomed guests including former Attorney General Eric Holder; former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele; Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.); and Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Judy Chu (D-Calif).

Capehart also got well wishes from Reid, Rachel Maddow and Dan Rather.

Line of the weekend

During an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” Marc Elias, a Democratic voting rights attorney, was asked what it was like to be a target of conversation by many pro-Trump advocates who believe he helped steal the election. Stelter showed a clip from Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs asking Trump adviser Stephen Miller, “Why don’t you guys put together a half-a-billion dollars and go hire him?”

Elias told Stelter, “The half-a-billion offer never really came through.”

Media tidbits

  • Mike Wilson, who stepped down as editor of The Dallas Morning News in September after nearly six years, has an intriguing new gig with The New York Times sports department. He will be deputy editor for enterprise. The Times said, “Mike will help drive and oversee enterprise across the report, from ambitious narratives to deeply reported investigative stories to quick turnaround pieces on news and events.” Wilson’s impressive resume also includes stints at the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and FiveThirtyEight, where he was the founding managing editor. Wilson will start in the new year.
  • There’s controversy involving the New York Jets football beat and a reporter from the New York Daily News. For the details, check out this well-reported story by Washington Post sports media reporter Ben Strauss with “A Divisive Jets Reporter, Accused of Bullying, Loses His Place on the Beat.”
  • The Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board wrote an editorial apologizing to readers for endorsing Michael Waltz in the 2020 general election for Congress. It wrote, “We had no idea, had no way of knowing at the time, that Waltz was not committed to democracy.” Walz is one of 10 Florida Republican members of Congress who signed up to support a lawsuit brought by Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court that attempted to throw out the election results in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The editorial said, “Everyone who supported Michael Waltz for Congress should feel a deep sense of remorse and regret. We do.”

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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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