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August 14, 2020

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Good morning, everyone.

I wanted to start today’s newsletter with something a little different. For the past several months, the world has talked so much about the coronavirus that it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of truly what we’re dealing with.

Yes, we see the death totals piling up and we see the numbers and we hear about testing and vaccines and things such as social distancing and mask wearing. Every day we — all of us — are living through these surreal times.

And yet, sometimes it all runs together and we become numb to the pain and suffering that can come with COVID-19.

So I direct you to a column by the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke, assuredly on the list of top sports columnists in the country. He wrote an absolutely chilling account of his battle with COVID-19. He’s OK now and self-quarantining, but it sounds like his ordeal was beyond scary.

He wrote, “My temperature hovered in the upper reaches of 102. It felt like my head was on fire. One night I sweated through five shirts. I shook so much from the chills I thought I chipped a tooth. My chest felt like LeBron James was sitting on it. My fatigue made it feel as if I was dressed in the chains of Jacob Marley’s ghost. I coughed so hard it felt like I broke a rib.”

He added, “I would fall asleep in a chair and wake up terrified from a hallucinatory dream where I was chased through a playground by old women with giant heads. During phone calls I would get confused and just stop talking. I would begin crying for no reason. I lost my sense of taste, smell, and five pounds in the first four days.”

And Plaschke, 61, is one of the lucky ones. He has survived.

The rest of the column is an absolute must read.

I asked Plaschke how the powerful column has been received by readers and he told me in an email, “I’ve been humbly overwhelmed by readers thanking me for writing about real-life implications of the virus. I felt very vulnerable and even uncomfortable writing it but I’m now glad I did.”

If you haven’t had COVID, it’s a scared-straight PSA for mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing. And it’s a reminder of what we’re dealing with.

As Plaschke wrote, “The novel coronavirus is not a statistic. It’s not an agenda. It’s not a debate. COVID-19 is real enough to rise up and beat me senseless. We need to stop giving it license to do the same to others.”

A forgettable interview

President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference on Thursday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

I hesitate to rip into Fox News or Fox Business every single time someone says something outlandish or lobs up a bunch of softballs to President Donald Trump. If one wanted, they could write something about Fox every day and, in fact, there are websites and media writers who pretty much have made careers out of it.

It’s certainly no surprise when one of Fox News’ primetime stars — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham — pushes Trump’s agenda, and it’s also no surprise when others such as Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs or most of the folks on “The Five” and “Fox & Friends” carry Trump’s water.

But it is notable when one of the on-air personalities that Fox likes to tout as a legitimate and responsible journalist falls in line with the Trump agenda. That happened Thursday when Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo embarrassed herself in her interview with Trump. Not only did Bartiromo serve up a bunch of soft questions, she didn’t push back on many of the claims that needed pushing back. CNN’s Chris Cillizza detailed 42 — let me repeat that: 42! — of the most shocking things Trump said during his interview.

It included statements such as the coronavirus is going away, that he built the greatest economy in history, that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a “poor student,” and many claims about Barack Obama and the U.S. Post Office. Those are just a few examples.

Bartiromo not only let Trump run wild, at one point she said, “There was a coup against you!” She also said that “even in the face of all this, you’ve gotten so much done.”

Trump told Bartiromo, “I do love your show and I think you’re fantastic.”

Why wouldn’t he when he can treat an interview on her show like it’s a campaign speech that isn’t vetted or fact-checked?

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Who’s that?

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Rodney Ho to promote his new book “Live Free or Die,” Fox News primetime star Sean Hannity said he has no idea what QAnon is. (And if you don’t know, it’s a far-right group that subscribes to many wild conspiracy theories.)

“I have no earthly idea what it’s about at all,” Hannity said. “One person tried to explain to me. It’s what? Who’s that?”

As far as President Trump and the upcoming election, well at least Hannity wasn’t pretending to be a neutral observer or unbiased journalist. He called it “a tipping point election” that requires four more years of Trump, adding, “This is a five-alarm fire in my heart, solar plexus and soul.”

Conspiracy theories

Speaking of QAnon and other conspiracy theories, Grist’s Kate Yoder has an interesting article titled “Why COVID Deniers and Climate Skeptics Paint Scientists As Alarmist.” What’s especially thoughtful about this story is the look at language and where words like “alarmist” and “hysteria” come from and how they are used today.

Women of the Century

Courtesy: USA Today

USA Today is out with a cool project today: “100 Women of the Century.” It recognizes the accomplishments of American women to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. (Here’s a teaser video of the project.) USA Today picked 100 influential women for the national list and recognized more than 500 across other states, the District of Columbia and inhabited U.S. territories.

After a public call for nominations in January, the women were selected by a panel of judges because of their achievements in the arts, literature, business, civil rights, education, entertainment, law, media, nonprofits philanthropy, politics, science, medicine and sports.

In a statement, USA Today editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll said, “We purposely use the words ‘recognize’ and ‘commemorate,’ instead of ‘celebrate,’ when talking about the 19th. We recognize that while the 19th Amendment was an incredible accomplishment, in practice many women, most of them women of color, were left on the sidelines.”

A new morning routine

Keyshawn Johnson. (John Salangsang/Invision/AP)

ESPN’s new morning radio show debuts on Monday. The new show — featuring Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti — replaces a morning show that had featured Mike Golic since 2000. Golic was with Mike Greenberg on “Mike and Mike” from 2000 to 2017 and then on “Golic and Wingo” with Trey Wingo from 2017 until last month.

The new show is going to face heavy scrutiny. While the shows featuring Golic might not have been top-level radio (and TV, since the show is simulcast on television), but when a show is on for two decades, it becomes a habit. New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand once described it perfectly as radio’s version of Applebee’s. Marchand was quick to point out that was a compliment.

“You didn’t need to hear what they said, but if you did, it was comfortable and easy,” Marchand wrote. “For what ESPN wanted to be for so long, they were ideal for a 20-minute commute from suburbia.”

Now come the new guys, who might not be liked or accepted simply because people will miss the old guys. In an interview with Barrett Sports Media’s Brandon Contes, Johnson said, “Everybody has their own opinions. If you’ve been listening to ‘Mike and Mike’ or ‘Golic and Wingo’ for years, you’re going to form your own opinions about what’s next. A lot of people are misinformed, I think they thought ESPN was just putting together a group of guys that never did radio or media.”

That is not true. Johnson, a former NFL player, has been doing morning radio in Los Angeles for the past four years in addition to extensive TV work. Williams, a former college basketball star and NBA player, has had plenty of reps on ESPN, as has Mehenti, who joined ESPN as an anchor in 2011.

As far as replacing Golic, Johnson told Marchand in a story for the Post, “I think it is different than what has typically been on the air. It is a different audience that we are going to be reaching. Our goal is to maintain some of the past audience but those people may not necessarily enjoy our voices and they’ll go someplace else, but they’ll be back.”

Media tidbits

  • Good panel for tonight’s “Washington Week,” which airs at 8 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations. PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, The Washington Post’s Mary Jordan, The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe join moderator Robert Costa to discuss Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate, a potential new economic stimulus package and the president’s executive order on unemployment benefits.
  • Vox and Omidyar Network have a new project out. “The Great Rebuild” launched Thursday with a four-part series on “The Ezra Klein Show.” It’s described as a series that “imagines how we could marshal the power of the federal government and its citizens to fight back against the catastrophic effects of COVID-19, and in the process create a system steeped in fairness, inclusion and sustainability.” In the first episode, Klein talks to HuffPost writer Zach Carter, author of the book “The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy and the Life of John Maynard Keynes.” They discuss what Keynes, a renowned 20th-century economist, can teach us about rebuilding the U.S. economy.
  • Deadline’s Dino-Ray Ramos reports that Vice has hired and promoted 20 people to “strengthen its ever-expanding global news and audio operation.” The big name is Arielle Duhaime-Ross, who is going to return to Vice News as an on-air correspondent and host of a new podcast called “Vice News Reports,” which will partner with iHeart Radio and debut this fall. Duhaime-Ross was at “Vice News Tonight” before joining Vox.com in September 2019.

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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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