August 3, 2020

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The past week was not a good one for President Donald Trump.

The number of COVID-19 deaths passed 150,000. Nine states set one-day records for COVID-19 cases. Eleven set single-day records for deaths. Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain died of the coronavirus not long after attending a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

There was more.

Donald Trump Jr. was temporarily restricted on Twitter after posting a video — a video that Trump retweeted — of a doctor who said masks are unnecessary and that hydroxychloroquine is a cure and that diseases are caused by sex with demons. And the second-quarter economic report was awful. (All this laid out in an opening monologue by Chuck Todd on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”)

Normally, any one of those stories would be the headline of the week, if not the month. But all those stories happened in a span of days. One story bled into the next, a new controversy overshadowing the last one.

And yet none of them was the biggest Trump-related story of the week.

The major news story was Trump asking in a tweet if the election should be delayed because of problems with mail-in voting. Some say Trump was merely trolling the media. Others believe it was to distract Americans from all the horrible news mentioned above. Others think it was just another attempt to delegitimize the election. Or maybe he was actually serious.

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” host Brian Stelter compared Trump’s comments about the election to Trump driving a car.

“Either he wants to go off-roading, or he wants the car all to himself, or he doesn’t know where he’s going,” Stelter said. “Something’s going on with the driver. He’s trying to crash the car, but all of us are along for the ride.”

Whatever the reason behind the tweet, was it a smart strategy? No, according to much of the conversation on the Sunday shows.

Todd said, “President Trump made the most un-American and un-democratic of suggestions: proposing to delay the election, insisting again — without evidence — that mail-in voting will result in a fraudulent election. Mr. Trump’s delay-the-election gambit had the scent of a president who was seeking a distraction from the terrible economic news, a president whose desperation makes him even more unpredictable. … In short, a president who expects to lose. Ultimately, Mr. Trump increasingly looks like a man who believes that the more the virus spins out of control, the more his presidency does, too.”

And on ABC’s “This Week,” Axios Jonathan Swan called it a “puzzling effort” and “potentially self-defeating.”

Swan said, “Who do you think are the people who are going to be persuaded by the president saying mail-in voting is a fraud, it’s completely illegitimate? It’s not gonna be Democratic voters. They don’t listen to him.  They tune him out. They believe everything he says is false. It’s Republican voters.”

Swan added Republicans are noted for their “incredibly effective mail-in voting program.” Swan pointed out that many Republican voters — seniors, especially — rely on mail-in voting, and now Trump is telling them not to trust it.

Swan said, “The Republican party better hope for nice weather on election day or a diminished virus. They could see this really backfire.”

Swan added that based on his reporting, he believes Trump’s purpose is to say the election was stolen if he ends up losing in November. Swan warns that there could be a scenario in which Trump takes an early lead in the election because Republicans vote in-person but then his lead would slip away as mail-in votes are tabulated. At that point, Trump could claim, “See, I told you mail-in voting was rigged” and then fight the results in court.

“I think that’s where this is heading,” Swan said.

By the way, Swan’s much-anticipated interview with Trump is scheduled to air tonight on HBO at 11 p.m. Eastern. (Technically, 11:06 p.m.) Early word is Swan did a superb job.

Closed to the press?

Donald Trump introduces his wife Melania Trump during the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

So is the Republican National Convention going to be closed to the press? It looks that way. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Frank E. Lockwood originally broke the story, reporting that the events scheduled for Aug. 21-24 in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be closed to the media. A GOP spokesperson told Lockwood in a statement, “We are happy to let you know if this changes, but we are working within the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events.”

But then Republican National Convention communications director Michael Ahrens told CNN, “No final decision has been made and we are still working through logistics and press coverage options. We are working with the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines regarding the number of people who can attend events.”

If the press is banned, it would be the first time in the history of Republican National Conventions.

Is this a big deal?

Associated Press White House reporter Zeke Miller, who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, tweeted, “This is an ill-advised decision that the @GOP @GOPconvention should reconsider. The nomination of a major party presidential candidate is very much the business of the American people. @whca

On one hand, Trump is not expected to give a big acceptance speech in Charlotte. Reports are that he’ll merely go to thank delegates privately and make a big speech at a later time. In addition, many of the state delegations are expected to stay home because of the coronavirus. With no real pomp and circumstance and balloons, there really might not be anything much to cover. And a lot of news outlets likely wouldn’t send anyone anyway because of the coronavirus.

But I get the complaint: Any press restrictions are troubling, and this would set a potentially dangerous precedent if the press is banned from whatever festivities there are.

The Democrats are expected to hold their convention Aug. 17-20 in Milwaukee. Like the Republicans, it will be a much scaled-back event. For now, media will be allowed, however not as many inside the convention hall as there would be in normal times, according to the DNC website.


Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Joe Biden appears close to picking a vice-presidential nominee. An announcement could come as soon as this week. Most of the talk now seems to center around three candidates: California Sen. Kamala Harris, Obama national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and California Rep. Karen Bass.

But they are far from the only considerations. The New York Times lists as many as 13 possibilities. The Times’ Alexander Burns looks at all of them, including their pros and cons.

Bass is the latest name to gather momentum as a possible VP pick, although she is now being scrutinized for 2016 comments that seemed to praise Cuban dictator Fidel Castro at the time of his death. She walked back those comments in a pair of interviews Sunday morning.

She told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace that her perspective on Castro has “developed over time” and she now calls Castro’s government a “brutal regime.”

Bass told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd that she has always believed in bridging the gap between the U.S. and Cuba. She said she learned her lesson for referring to Castro as “comandante en jefe” and that she doesn’t consider herself to be a “Castro sympathizer.”

Another strong candidate — former Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams — appeared on Sunday’s “State of the Union” on CNN and was asked if she would be disappointed if Biden did not pick a Black woman as his running mate.

“I have said time and again I believe that Joe Biden is going to pick the right partner for himself, because he’s the only person who’s done this job,” Abrams said. “And while I believe that diversity is incredibly important, and I think it is an absolute good to see a continued changing of the face of what leadership looks like in America, I look to Joe Biden to pick the right partner for himself in the moment that we have before us, which is one of an economic crisis, a public health crisis, and a crisis of justice. And I think he’s the person who will not take anyone for granted. And I look forward to working with him to make sure he’s elected.”

Family intrigue at News Corp.

This looks like something right out of the HBO show “Succession”: James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, has resigned from News Corp. — the parent company of, among other publications, The Wall Street Journal and New York Post. In a very brief resignation letter, James Murdoch said he was resigning “due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions.”

There was a time when James was considered a possible successor to Rupert, but it has been known for a while now that he disagrees with the politics of his father and brother, Lachlan. He had already backed away from any ties to Fox News and has been highly critical of President Trump, so this is his final official move out of the family business. The New York Times’ Michael G. Grynbaum and Edmund Lee reported this latest move has been in the works since earlier this year.

In a statement, Rupert and Lachlan said, “We’re grateful to James for his many years of service to the company. We wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

For more, check out Vanessa Thorpe’s Guardian story: “How Departure of James Laid Bare The Murdoch Family Rifts.”

Are you ready for some football?

It appears ESPN is closing in on a new announcing team for “Monday Night Football.” Multiple reports say it will be play-by-play announcer Steve Levy with analysts Louis Riddick and Brian Griese. This is a solid group that will be fine, certainly an improvement on the previous crew of Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland. The headline of a column by New York Post sports columnist Andrew Marchand called it the “safe option.”

That’s a good way to put it. As Marchand wrote, “It is not a classic Monday night booth, but ESPN needed to at least find a team that won’t lose the game. This trio may be able to manage that.”

Of the three, I’m most excited to hear from Riddick, who has proven himself to be among the most thoughtful, honest and observant analysts at ESPN.

One other thing: If there is no college football season, there is talk that ESPN’s top college football team of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit would get the “MNF” gig, at least for a season. They are ESPN’s best announcing crew in any sport, but having them do “MNF” for a mere season seems short-sighted, unless ESPN’s plan is to just buy time in hopes that a better broadcasting team could emerge a year from now.

Media tidbits

(Courtesy: MSNBC)

  • With schools starting up — either virtually or in-person — MSNBC’s Craig Melvin is back with his weekly special called, “Pandemic: Back to School.” The show airs at 11 a.m. Eastern. Today’s show will look at the latest developments and questions surrounding the return to school. Guests include former U.S. Secretary of Education John King, Prairie View A&M president Ruth Simmons and Columbia University Medical Center emergency room physician Dr. Dara Kass.
  • The Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune has announced it will go from printing seven days a week to five starting later this month. Some of the reason appears to be a downturn in economics and advertising because of the coronavirus. In a statement to the paper, president Michelle Robinson said, “This is a shift many news organizations are making as more and more readers already consume their news online. With these changes we are going to where our customers are.”

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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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