By:
December 2, 2020

You know, I often roll my eyes when the cable news networks put up a banner that screams, “BREAKING NEWS” when the news isn’t all that breaking.

But on Tuesday, there was breaking news. Lots of it.

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr told The Associated Press that the Department of Justice has not found evidence of widespread voter fraud that would impact the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Barr told the AP, “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.”

This should not come as a surprise. The election has been over for quite some time and there has been no evidence of any fraud. But what made the news so “breaking” was that the comments came from someone seen as a Trump loyalist.

When asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about Barr’s comments on Tuesday, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the minority whip, said rather sarcastically, “Isn’t it interesting that it’s a news story when the attorney general is caught red-handed telling the truth?”

After a pause for effect, Durbin continued by saying, “I can’t understand why this has become such a novelty in Washington under the Trump administration, but it has. This attorney general, time and again, has been willing to say whatever this president wanted him to say. Today, he spoke the truth and it made the news.”

Durbin went on to say, “Maybe he’s trying to rehabilitate his resume. I don’t know his motive, but it’s refreshing to hear. Well, it’s not just refreshing, it’s startling to hear.”

There was other breaking news, too. President-elect Joe Biden introduced his economic team on Tuesday. CNN’s Katelyn Polantz broke a story late Tuesday about how the Justice Department is looking into a potential presidential pardon bribery scheme. And, of course, there is the story that never goes away: the coronavirus. Tuesday’s coronavirus news included a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group recommending that vaccines go to health care workers and nursing home residents first and a bipartisan group of senators introducing a $908 billion coronavirus aid proposal.

So of all this breaking news, which truly mattered the most?

The major networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — all led their national evening newscasts with the same story: the CDC’s recommendation of who should get the vaccines first.

And, ultimately, while the Barr news was, well, newsworthy, and the aid package is important, it was heartening to see the emphasis placed on coverage of the pandemic. Ultimately, this is the story that means the most right now.

Post runs controversial ad

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The Washington Post made the questionable decision on Tuesday to run a full-page ad from a private citizen who argued that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. The ad said it was paid for by Lawrence Gelman of McAllen, Texas.

One section of the ad reads, “That the incumbent should be more popular in the re-election bid than when first elected, as noted by receiving more votes in every single state but, nevertheless, fails in the bid for re-election is fantastically improbable. The likely explanation for this outcome is that the opposition, through manipulation of the electoral process, succeeded in garnering sufficient votes to win in selected states regardless of the number of votes necessary. A divergence from historical voting patterns of this magnitude raises the specter of fraud. When, for example has an incumbent lost a re-election bid despite receiving more votes in every single state than in the previous election?”

Why would the Post run an advertisement full of speculation questioning the legitimacy of the election when the paper’s own reporters have written fact-based stories that have shown no election fraud?

I reached out to the Post, which gave me this statement:

“We have long accepted individual advocacy ads from readers and they, like other advertisers, are given wide latitude to exercise their First Amendment rights and convey their opinions. This ad is clearly labeled as advertising and discloses who purchased the ad.”

I suppose it’s really no different than a letter to the editor — well, other than the Post actually got money for it. And the Post is correct in saying that it’s labeled as an advertisement with clear attribution. It’s also admirable that the Post gives “wide latitude” to those who want to exercise their First Amendment rights and “convey their opinions.”

Nevertheless, to allow a reader to simply buy his way into a powerful publication such as the Post to offer a theory that totally lacks proof and casts doubt on our democracy just doesn’t feel right. It feels irresponsible. Just because the Post encourages an exchange of thoughts doesn’t mean it HAS to accept theories that have no basis in fact.

It’s all debatable

As we look back on the 2020 presidential debates, what worked? And what didn’t? PolitiFact’s Louis Jacobson digs through that in a story that includes the first joint interview of the moderators and organizers of the debates. During a webinar last month sponsored by George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, second presidential debate moderator Kristen Welker of NBC said she was pleased that a candidate was muted at the start of each topic so the other candidate could speak uninterrupted.

“I don’t think there were any moments of a technical difficulty or where it threw the candidates off,” Welker said.

That mute feature was needed following the first hot mess of a debate when President Donald Trump constantly interrupted Joe Biden. Even as it was happening, moderator Chris Wallace knew it was getting out of control and a producer said in his earpiece, “Stop Trump from interrupting Biden.”

Wallace said he thought to himself, “What does he expect me to do, hit a trap door on the president of the United States? There’s not much you can do in that situation.”

Wallace said he thought that Trump’s strategy of overwhelming the debate with interruptions ultimately hurt Trump.

Be sure to check out Jacobson’s story for more behind-the-scenes of the debates.

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Tapper tapped to interview Biden and Harris

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

CNN’s Jake Tapper will interview President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday.

The interview will air in its entirety during a special at 9 p.m. Eastern on CNN. It will be simulcast on CNN International and in Spanish on CNN en Español. Portions of the interview will air during CNN’s  “The Lead” during the 4 p.m. Eastern hour and “The Situation Room” in the 5 and 6 p.m. Eastern hour.

Tapper will interview Biden and Harris from Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

A new competition

Axios’ Sara Fischer broke the news Tuesday that three of Politico’s biggest reporting stars are launching a newsletter that will compete against the very Politico Playbook franchise they helped create. Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer and John Bresnahan will launch a daily newsletter in 2021 as a stand-alone company, sources told Fischer. The newsletter will focus on Capitol Hill, but, Fischer adds, “it’s not designed to be a carbon copy of Politico’s flagship newsletter Playbook.”

Sherman told Fischer, “We’re still finalizing our next steps — 2021 is a long way away. We’ll have more to say on our plans after the new year. Anna and I have absolutely loved our careers at Politico.”

Salesforce set to buy Slack

Big news in the tech world Tuesday as Salesforce said it would buy the software company Slack for $27.7 billion in cash and stock.

As The New York Times’ Erin Griffith and Lauren Hirsch note, “Demand for Slack’s products, which allow people to communicate and collaborate with one another, has increased as people work from home during the pandemic.”

In a statement, Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff said, “This is a match made in heaven. Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world.”

For more details, check out the Times story, or this one from TechCrunch’s Ron Miller and Alex Wilhelm.

Kornacki’s khakis

MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki is known for two things. His masterful work on the big board electoral map and the khaki pants he is always sporting. Well, in recognition of Giving Tuesday, Kornacki revealed Gap will donate 500 pairs of khaki pants to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Workforce Readiness program. Here’s the video of the announcement.

The Post’s new department

The Washington Post is starting a new department dedicated to data journalism and has hired Meghan Hoyer, the data editor of The Associated Press, to lead it. In a statement, the Post said that Hoyer will “lead data projects and act as a consulting editor on data-driven stories, graphics and visualizations across the newsroom. Seven data journalists will report to her and remain embedded in their current departments — Graphics, Investigative, Metro and National. This new data journalism department will allow The Post to vet sourcing and analysis with added rigor and consistency and provide journalists in every department with a hub of expertise on data.”

Hoyer had been at The Associated Press since 2015, where she helped guide the AP data team on two Pulitzer Prize-finalist packages, including the AP’s coverage on family separation. Before joining the AP, Hoyer worked at USA Today, The Virginian-Pilot, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal and The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette.

Turkey and football

A scene from the Thanksgiving NFL game between Washington and Dallas. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

Because of the coronavirus, this has been a strange year in sports. And the NFL is still trying to navigate it. For example, because of COVID-19, the Denver Broncos played a game last Sunday without a real quarterback and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens had their Thanksgiving night game moved to last Sunday and then to Tuesday. It’s now scheduled to be played this afternoon — just the second Wednesday NFL game in the past 72 years.

But the sport remains wildly popular. And one thing never changes: football and Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving Day game between Dallas and Washington on Fox drew 30.33 million viewers, making it the most-watched NFL game this season even though both teams had a record of 3-7 going into the game. Meanwhile, the other Thanksgiving Day game between Houston (4-7 at the time) and Detroit (4-6 at the time) drew a respectable 23.38 million viewers.

Best question and answer

Barack Obama appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and Colbert asked him the question all of America has been wondering:

“How does Dolly Parton not have a Presidential Medal of Freedom?” Colbert asked.

And Obama said, “That’s a mistake. I’m shocked. That was a screw-up. I’m surprised. I think I assumed that she had already got one, and that was incorrect. … I’ll call Biden.”

Media thoughts that popped into my head

  • Fox News chose not to carry President-elect Joe Biden’s announcement of his economic team. Seems like a strange choice, seeing as how it was a significant and newsworthy event. Yet the network doesn’t hesitate to carry baseless voter fraud stories, including off-the-rails press conferences from the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis.
  • How Fox can let Lou Dobbs continue to go on the air (on Fox Business) and say the things he says about the election is beyond comprehension. Dobbs is saying these outlandish things, but the Murdochs are allowing it. And speaking of Dobbs, The Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr notes that Dobbs invited attorney Sidney Powell on his show this week to talk about election fraud. Dobbs told her, “Let me start by just saying: This time is yours. Right now, this audience, most of America, wants to know: Where are we in this fight for the White House?” Why ask Powell that question and why even have her on? After all, more than a week ago, the Trump legal team said she was no longer associated with their efforts. Powell also appeared on Sean Hannity’s show this week, although Hannity did note Powell is no longer officially on the Trump legal team.
  • “Jeopardy” announced it will begin airing shows without the late Alex Trebek on Jan. 11, 2021. It will not name a permanent host right away, but instead have several guest hosts, starting with legendary “Jeopardy” champion Ken Jennings. And if we have to pick a permanent replacement now, it would be Jennings, right? Who else is more associated with the show than him?

Clarification

In Tuesday’s newsletter, I referred to Will Cain as an “ESPN personality-turned-full-blown-Fox-News-conspiracy-theorist.” Just to be clear, Cain is no longer at ESPN. He left ESPN to join Fox News earlier this year.

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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