October 20, 2020

The election can’t get here soon enough. The latest reason for feeling that way? Bob Hope was trending on Twitter on Monday.

Hey, nothing wrong with Bob Hope, but he hasn’t been alive since 2003. He was bouncing all over social media on Monday because President Donald Trump invoked his name while ramping up his disdain for Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Trump tweeted on Monday, “Dr.Tony Fauci says we don’t allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope. All I ask of Tony is that he make better decisions. He said ‘no masks & let China in’. Also, Bad arm!”

The last reference was about Fauci’s awful ceremonial pitch at a Washington Nationals game.

But this is where we are. Exactly two weeks from the election and Trump went on what feels like a whirlwind tour of insults and grievances as he desperately tries to change the momentum of a presidential race that polls say he is trailing.

At the center of his attacks Monday was Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist. During a call with campaign staff that reporters listened in on, Trump called Fauci a “disaster” and seemed to suggest he would fire Fauci if it wouldn’t be a public relations nightmare.

“People are tired of COVID,” Trump said on the call. “I have the biggest rallies I’ve ever had. And we have COVID. People are saying, ‘Whatever. Just leave us alone.’ They’re tired of it. … People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong.”

He said Fauci was a “nice” guy, but “he’s been here for 500 years. Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. This guy’s a disaster.”

Trump’s latest issues with Fauci could stem from Fauci’s appearance on Sunday’s “60 Minutes.” Fauci told “60 Minutes’” Dr. Jon LaPook that he wasn’t surprised Trump contracted COVID-19, especially after seeing the scene of Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination announcement at the White House.

“I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask,” Fauci said. “When I saw that on TV, I said, ‘Oh my goodness. Nothing good can come out of that, that’s got to be a problem.’ And then sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event.”

“60 Minutes” also reported that the White House has restricted Fauci’s TV appearances, which led to Trump’s line about Bob Hope.

‘You’re a criminal’

Trump also continues to falsely beat the drum about his opponent, Joe Biden, being a criminal. And he said Biden isn’t the only criminal. During a brief Q&A with reporters outside of Air Force One in Phoenix on Monday, Trump called Biden a criminal and then told Reuters’ Jeff Mason, “You know who is a criminal? You’re a criminal for not reporting it.”

And then he repeated it, and added that “the media” is a criminal, too, for not reporting on Biden.

So what about all this?

Hunter’s emails. Sounds familiar, right? Replace “Hunter” with “Hillary” and we’re back in 2016 again. Perhaps that is Trump’s plan as we head into the home stretch of the election.

While the media might have been complicit in the “Hillary’s emails” story back in 2016, is there a danger of that happening again in 2020? Is it already happening?

Not as much.

Hardly any media outlets, except for conservative ones, are giving the story any credence at all. In fact, the biggest story to come out since the New York Post’s supposed “bombshell” on Hunter Biden was Katie Robertson’s New York Times piece that pretty much obliterated the Post story by showing that even writers at the Post didn’t want their names associated with it.

But should the media even mention the Hunter Biden story? Or what Trump says about Fauci? Or rigged elections? Or the debate moderators?

Should it even go down the rabbit hole of chasing any Trump-generated stories that are meant to distract us all from actual legitimate issues?

The argument to be made is that anything a president says is newsworthy and the media is simply reporting on what the president says. Then again, the counter-argument — and one that deserves weight — is that covering Trump as if he is a normal president is dangerous because there is very little that is normal about the Trump presidency. To normalize Trump because of his job title, perhaps, does a disservice to news consumers.

In a really smart essay on his “Reliable Sources” show, CNN’s Brian Stelter talked about how Trump can suck the oxygen out of any news cycle. Isn’t this what Trump wants? To be the center of attention, the main headline in the newspapers and the top story on the evening news — even if it’s for saying something controversial and really not all that newsworthy?

But Stelter asks, “Is all the attention, is all the air time for Trump — is it working for him this time around? Or is it now working against him?”

There do seem to be some signs of a Trump fatigue, even among his supporters. Even Fox News has stopped airing many of his rallies in their entirety. His recent town hall was watched by fewer people than watched Joe Biden’s town hall that aired at the same time.

You’re, obviously, going to still see plenty of Trump stories between now and election day. But this time around, it feels as if the media is much less complicit in Trump’s strategy — if he actually has a strategy — of holding up shiny objects for everyone to look at. Instead of amplifying his message, it feels as if the media, this time, is exposing it for what it is.

Hitting the mute button

After the first presidential debate was mired by interruptions from President Trump, there were calls for the debate commission to do something about it before the next debate. Couldn’t they just have a mute button?

Well, apparently the answer is yes, they can. The debate commission announced Monday that the microphones for Trump and Joe Biden will be muted for portions of Thursday’s debate. Each candidate will be able to speak for two minutes uninterrupted at the start of each segment.

The Trump campaign isn’t happy about the new wrinkle, but still plans to debate. Campaign manager Bill Stepien said, “President Trump is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate.”

Trouble for Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Vice’s Laura Wagner reports that The New Yorker has suspended reporter Jeffrey Toobin after, according to sources, he masturbated on camera during a Zoom call last week. The call was with members of The New Yorker and WNYC radio.

In a statement, Toobin said, “I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake, believing I was off-camera. I apologize to my wife, family, friends and co-workers. … I believed I was not visible on Zoom. I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me. I thought I had muted the Zoom video.”

A New Yorker spokesperson told Wagner that Toobin is suspended while it investigates the matter.

Meanwhile, Toobin often appears on CNN as chief legal analyst and even appeared over the weekend. But, in a statement, CNN said, “Jeff Toobin has asked for some time off while he deals with a personal issue, which we have granted.”

Wagner wrote that it happened during a Zoom meeting to simulate the election. Check her story for more of the details.


SciLine’s next media briefing, Covering Election Night: Uncertainty, Early Results, and Lessons from the Past, will occur on Thursday Oct. 22 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. Experts will discuss tips for reporting on election night, including how to navigate ballot-counting uncertainty, declining public confidence in election systems, exit polls, and misinformation.

Gannett update

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

As promised at a virtual town hall last week, Gannett offered all its employees Monday the option of applying for a voluntary buyout.

Potential takers must submit a first round of paperwork by next Tuesday.  The company will not necessarily accept each application. Instead it “will determine who is approved for participation based on a variety of business factors,” according to a memo from human resources chief Samantha Howland.

The decisions will come Friday, Nov. 6, with actual terminations coming Dec. 1. Employees also will have a brief window to reconsider if chosen. Most will receive a week of severance for every year worked.

Howland’s memo does not offer a target number for staff reductions or savings, saying only that the buyouts are “part of our ongoing integration and cost reduction efforts as we head into 2021.”

The company, formed by a merger a year ago of the GateHouse and Gannett chains, has targeted at least $300 million a year in cost-saving synergies. It also has interest and principal to pay down on debt used to finance the deal.

CEO Mike Reed told me in an email exchange last week that he would be happy if few, if any, newsroom employees took the buyout, hoping to realize the needed cuts in other parts of the operation.

Taking a much-needed break

Staff at The Daily Gamecock, the independent student newspaper at the University of South Carolina, need a mental health break. So they’re taking one. In an editorial on Monday, the paper wrote that they are not publishing any content for the next week.

After a trying semester with constant breaking news, the stress of COVID-19 and, let’s not forget, full-time school, the staffers at the paper realized it was time for a break. The publication wrote, “There was a general understanding that we were not well and that there was nothing we could do about it. We are choosing to disrupt that narrative.”

They went on to write that it was difficult to step away, but also wrote: “We haven’t been sleeping. We’ve forgotten to eat. We’ve been staring at screens for hours on end. Our negligence of our mental health has started to impact our physical health, and it’s also affected our ability to produce the highest-quality content possible. There was a tension in the newsroom, a feeling that everyone was close to their breaking point.”

They added, “We hope this decision will set an example for other organizations and students in general: It is OK to not be OK.”

The best ever

NBC hockey broadcaster Mike Emrick. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The best play-by-play sports announcer who has ever lived announced his retirement on Monday. Mike “Doc” Emrick, who has been calling professional hockey games for 47 years, is stepping down. And, yes, you heard me: the best play-by-play sports announcer ever. Obviously, that’s just my opinion, but there’s this, too: He has won eight Emmys for best play-by-play announcer  — the most of all time.

There are plenty of extraordinary numbers to associate with Emrick’s remarkable career, such as he has called more than 3,750 professional and Olympic hockey games. And 22 Stanley Cup finals, 14 NHL All-Star Games, and that he has been inducted into seven halls of fame. He has spent the past 15 years as the voice of the NHL for NBC Sports. And, I might add, he hasn’t lost a step.

And there’s this number, too: several hundred. That’s how many verbs he has used over the years to describe the puck moving from one part of the ice to the other — as he has the uncanny ability to use just the perfect word on the fly, such as “pitchforked,” “nudged,” “shuffle-boarded” and “slithered.” Somebody counted and found he once used 153 different verbs in one game.

But those numbers don’t relay that Emrick, 74, is one of the kindest and classiest gentlemen you could ever meet. I had the privilege of knowing Emrick from my many years of covering the NHL, and I wrote a column about him for the Tampa Bay Times in 2015.

And this is cool: Emrick even narrated his own retirement announcement video, which is (as you would expect) outstanding.

There is no official word just yet on who will replace Emrick as NBC’s lead voice of the NHL, but it has to be Kenny Albert — son of legendary broadcaster Marv Albert and more than talented enough to follow a legend.

No ordinary Joe

Fox Sports’ Joe Buck. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

On the topic of sports, the World Series starts tonight and, once again, Fox Sports’ Joe Buck will be on the call as the play-by-play announcer. This will be his 23rd World Series call. And he’s in the middle of a hellacious schedule: seven sporting events in seven days, as pointed out by USA Today Network’s Art Stapleton.

He called Sunday’s Tampa Bay Bucs-Green Bay Packers game in Tampa. Then on Monday, he traveled to Buffalo to call the Chiefs-Bills game. Then it’s over to Dallas on Tuesday and Wednesday for Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. On Thursday, he goes to Philadelphia for the Giants-Eagles NFL game. Then it’s back to Dallas for Games 3 and 4 of the World Series. And Buck’s schedule run could continue if the World Series between the Rays and Dodgers extends past four games.

And just one more thought on Buck: He’s outstanding. He, wrongly, gets criticized by fans who constantly think he hates their team. He does not. He’s there to call a game — and he does it as well as anyone out there.

Media tidbits

  • I will be hosting a special virtual event tonight — a conversation with “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd. We’ll discuss how “Meet the Press” is put together each week, what we can expect in the final stretch leading up to the election and what we might see happen post-election. Should be a fun conversation. Go here to find out how you can watch and support journalism at the same time.
  • Another endorsement for Joe Biden. This one from Rolling Stone, which writes, “We’ve lived for the past four years under a man categorically unfit to be president. Fortunately for America, Joe Biden is Donald Trump’s opposite in nearly every category: The Democratic presidential nominee evinces competence, compassion, steadiness, integrity, and restraint. Perhaps most important in this moment, Biden holds a profound respect for the institutions of American democracy, as well as a deep knowledge about how our government — and our system of checks and balances — is meant to work; he aspires to lead the nation as its president, not its dictator.
  • The Hartford Courant has announced that it will outsource the printing of its newspaper, moving it from Hartford to Springfield. The Hartford Courant’s Kenneth R. Gosselin writes that the Springfield Republican newspaper will take over printing the Courant by the end of the year, ending more than two centuries of publication in Hartford. Gosselin wrote an “undisclosed number of jobs will be eliminated.”

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

Correction: This article has been corrected to say that Joe Buck called Monday’s football game in Buffalo, not Kansas City.

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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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