September 4, 2020

Good morning. There will be no Poynter Report on Monday as we are off for Labor Day. Enjoy your weekend, and I’ll see you again Tuesday. Now onto today’s newsy newsletter.

Voting early and often?

You’ve heard the old Chicago joke: “Vote early and often,” which playfully suggested that the elections in the Windy City back in the day weren’t always on the up-and-up.

But President Donald Trump basically has been saying the same thing, and he is not kidding. He continues to question the integrity of mail-in ballots, and he has now implied that North Carolinians should show up at their polling places and try to vote again even after casting a mail-in vote.

That’s disturbing, but it is somewhat encouraging that media outlets, as well as social media, immediately called out Trump’s ludicrous suggestion. After Trump posted his advice on Twitter and Facebook, the social media giants flagged what he said. Twitter said it “violated Twitter Rules about civic and election integrity.” Facebook said, “Voting by mail has a long history of trustworthiness in the U.S. and the same is predicted this year.”

In addition, news outlets did their best to assure Americans that the mail-in system is reliable and that Trump’s vote-twice suggestion is unnecessarily problematic — as well as potentially illegal.

Outlets such as The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and many, many others talked to voting experts and state officials to clarify how mail-in voting will work and why Trump was wrong to keep pushing his theory on this.

In addition, as the AP’s Christina A. Cassidy and Deb Riechmann write, “But information on whether a ballot has been counted is typically not available right away. In several states, absentee ballots aren’t even counted until after polls close. What can be checked is whether an absentee ballot has been received, and in some cases, whether it has passed a security review and will be submitted for counting.”

They added, “Election officials warned that a flood of voters showing up on Nov. 3 to check the status of their ballots would mean even more disruption during the coronavirus outbreak and lengthy waits. Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said it also could undermine public health efforts.”

It’s this kind of reporting — correcting falsehoods, stating the facts, passing along the pitfalls of listening to wrong information — that is invaluable and one of the most important aspects of journalism. So many news outlets rose to the occasion in the past day to fact-check, pretty much in real time, the president’s harmful claims, while restoring faith in our voting system and the integrity of the election.

For the record, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president has not told voters to try and vote twice. You can watch her exchange with a reporter during a Thursday press conference.

That’s debatable

I still believe choosing Fox News’ Chris Wallace to moderate the first presidential debate was a good choice by the debate commission. Wallace is tough, but fair, and has proven himself in the past to be a more than capable debate moderator.

But not everyone is a fan of the choice. CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy doesn’t like the selection, not because of Wallace, but because of where Wallace works.

During a segment on CNN on Thursday, Darcy said, “This is a lot bigger than Chris Wallace. You have to keep in mind that the network he works for has pushed propaganda, has pushed disinformation, has trafficked in lies. Their star hosts have made discrediting other news organizations and journalists a core tenant of their programs. You have hosts on the network who are literally advising the president.”

By choosing Wallace, Darcy said, “it’s really a slap in the face to some extent to the other news organizations, the other journalists who haven’t bent the knee for this White House.”

Reid’s regrettable remarks

MSNBC’s Joy Reid tripped all over herself and said something regrettable on her show this week. And her non-apology explanation left many unsatisfied. I’ve delayed writing about this because I wanted to see how it all played out, but this is a stumble for Reid just a few weeks into her new weeknight show.

It started with this question of a guest Monday night:

“When leaders, let’s say in the Muslim world, talk a lot of violent talk and encourage their supporters to be willing to commit violence, including on their own bodies, in order to win against whoever they decide is the enemy, we in the U.S. media describe that as, ‘They are radicalizing those people,’ particularly when they’re radicalizing young people. That’s how we talk about the way Muslims act. When you see what Donald Trump is doing, is that any different from what we describe as radicalizing people?”

As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted, “The parallel that Reid was seeking to draw — that there is a double standard vis-a-vis Islamic terrorism v. White terrorism — was a righteous one. The problem was that she stereotyped the Muslim world en route to her point.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted, “Honestly, this kinda of casual Islamophobia is hurtful and dangerous. We deserve better and an apology for the painful moment for so many Muslims around our country should be forthcoming.”

Reid said on her show Wednesday, “I guess the way that I framed it obviously did not work.”


The headline on Wemple’s column on Thursday called it a “super bizarro non-apology.” Wemple said Reid could have taken 30 seconds, said she was sorry and the whole thing would have passed. Instead, it has dragged on and helped temper some of the excitement around Reid’s new show.

Without evidence

My Poynter colleague Kelly McBride, who also is the public editor for NPR, has a terrific column about NPR’s use of the phrase “without evidence.” Part of the inspiration for the column was NPR reporting that President Trump said the 17-year-old who shot three and killed two during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, might have done so in self-defense. NPR said the president said that “without evidence.” It’s hardly the first time NPR has used such a phrase.

McBride writes, “While most of the time, ‘without evidence’ is a quick attempt at flagging a false statement, when it came to the president’s assessment of the Kenosha shooting, it was at best too vague and at worst actually unsupported.”

McBride’s column also looks at other instances when NPR came across statements that should have been fact-checked, and how NPR handled such instances.

NPR Gulf States

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

NPR has hired a managing editor to run a collaborative Gulf States newsroom for local affiliates in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. It is the fourth such effort to support stronger local reports at member stations, following similar initiatives in Texas, Ohio and California.

Besides covering various news stories of shared interest, the three-state newsroom will have an emphasis on health care, criminal justice and economic justice, according to an NPR press release, and represents “a multi-platform push to reach new, diverse groups.” NPR has been criticized for serving a demographic that is mostly old and white.

The new managing editor, Priska Neely, has done a variety of public radio work and, most recently, reported and produced long-form stories for Reveal, a publication of the Center for Investigative Reporting in California.

Funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and from private donors will support the project. As I reported in a lengthy story last November, NPR’s top editor, Nancy Barnes, sees these collaborations as key to continuing to develop a bigger news role for local stations at a time when newspapers and some other legacy outlets are contracting.

Neely wrote a personal essay published by Poynter in July, titled “I am not your Black unicorn.”

No news?

Kumail Nanjiani. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Actor, writer and comedian Kumail Nanjiani took plenty of pushback — and deservedly so — for a careless tweet he sent out this week about the coronavirus. Nanjiani tweeted, “Back in May, coronavirus coverage largely left the news. For no reason at all, there was a sense we’d beaten it. There was a massive spike in June. We are in a coronavirus coverage lull now. Theaters & schools reopening, ppl getting lax. I’m afraid we’re heading to another surge.”

To be clear, at no point in May or any other time in the past seven months has news coverage slowed on the coronavirus. Nanjiani’s tweet was immediately rebuked by journalists and media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times.

Within a day, Nanjiani must have realized his irresponsible tweet, because he sent out this on Twitter: “A lot of journalists are upset at my characterization of the news and saying they never stopped covering. I guess I meant the conversation around it seemed to have died down. But I apologize for the mischaracterization, and thank you for doing the work. I am grateful.”

Nanjiani said, “I’ve been frustrated with our response to the pandemic particularly because my wife is in a high risk group and this thing is very scary for us. But I shouldn’t have placed the blame on news coverage. Willing to admit when I’m wrong.”

Credit Nanjiani for apologizing, but it is an example of media consumers assuming “the media” isn’t covering something because, perhaps, they don’t see it on Facebook or their friends aren’t talking about it.

Mike on the mic

New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reports that Mike Tirico likely will call three to five “Sunday Night Football” games on NBC in order to give breaks to regular lead announcer Al Michaels.

That’s all OK with Michaels, who texted Marchand, “This is a great schedule for me. A lot of West Coast games and a couple of byes during the season to cut down on some travel, which is welcome for me. I was part of formulating the plan. I’m all in.”

Tirico is generally considered the eventual replacement for Michaels, who turns 76 in November.

Must-read journalism

Check out the first two paragraphs of this expertly reported story in the Tampa Bay Times:

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco took office in 2011 with a bold plan: to create a cutting-edge intelligence program that could stop crime before it happened.

What he actually built was a system to continuously monitor and harass Pasco County residents, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

Reporters Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi and photographer Douglas Clifford have put together a project that recounts how a sheriff’s department just outside of Tampa, Florida, put together lists of people they considered most likely to break the law. Then they would find those people and interrogate them without probable cause or evidence of any crime. That included going to houses in the middle of the night and embarrassing them in front of neighbors.

One former deputy told the Times that the point was: “Make their lives miserable until they move or sue.”

This is just the start of a superb piece of journalism that deserves your attention.

NBC week of elections

(Courtesy: NBC News)

Starting Sunday, NBC News and MSNBC will dedicate a full week of coverage to election security and voting, including misinformation and disinformation, the role of social media, exploring new voting machine technologies, election procedures, voting irregularities and access. The week will be called “Vote Watch” and will start with a special edition of “Meet the Press” and continue on such shows as “Today,” “NBC Nightly News” and various shows on MSNBC, and NBC News Now.

Road to recovery

(Courtesy: MSNBC)

MSNBC will air a special Sunday night called “Road to Recovery: America at a Crossroads.” NBC News correspondent Cal Perry traveled 7,000 miles across more than 20 cities over 10 weeks during one of the most tumultuous summers in our nation’s history. The special will air Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC and on NBC News Now at 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern.

Controversial cartoon

Controversy in Salt Lake City. Law enforcement groups are furious over an editorial cartoon by The Salt Lake Tribune’s Pat Bagley. In the cartoon, a doctor is standing next to a man wearing a law enforcement uniform and they are looking at an X-ray. The doctor is saying “Well, there’s your problem …” as the X-ray shows a skeleton with a rib cage connected to someone appearing to wear a Ku Klux Klan hood. (Click here to see the cartoon.)

The Deseret News’ Pat Reavy wrote that on social media, Bagley had said, “White supremacists have made a point of infiltrating law enforcement. That’s a fact. That’s a problem.”

The Utah Sheriffs’ Association demanded an apology and wrote a letter that said, “This is not the time for such a prejudicial piece of journalism. This is not the time to fan the flames as law enforcement leaders and community leaders meet and discuss ways we can all do better when it comes to fair and equal treatment for all, with the goal of finding a peaceful path forward. And this is not the time for a cheap shot.”

Reavy wrote, “Tribune editorial page editor George Pyle said in a statement Thursday the cartoon does not imply that every police officer is a white supremacist, but that racism in law enforcement is an issue.”

Hot type

Baseball legend Tom Seaver in 1976. (AP Photo)

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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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