August 6, 2021

End of the week. We made it. But it’s been another anxious week, especially with new concerns about COVID-19. So, today, a little something different for The Poynter Report. Here are some random and yet hopefully relevant thoughts that popped into my head during this busy and stressful week.

CNN is just going to wait us all out

Looks like CNN is just going to take its lumps and hope the controversy involving prime-time anchor Chris Cuomo eventually just goes away. To catch you up in case you’ve totally missed it: Chris helped his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in strategy sessions on how to combat accusations from multiple women that the governor had sexually harassed them. And now, as Andrew faces possible impeachment and calls for his resignation, Chris has recused himself from the story.

To CNN’s credit, the rest of the network is not shying away from it. This week, as soon as Don Lemon took over after Chris’ show ended, he dove right into the controversy. But from 9 to 10 p.m. Eastern every night — prime real estate in television — CNN had to avoid one of the biggest stories in news.

Chris covering the story is no longer an option, but maybe the best option this week was for CNN to say, “Sorry, Chris Cuomo has an obvious conflict of interest about this story and because this story is too big not to cover, Chris will not be on this week.” And then they could’ve had a replacement host, or had Anderson Cooper or Lemon pick up an extra hour.

Viewers would understand, Chris would avoid the conflict. And CNN could still cover the story. Maybe something to think about if Andrew eventually resigns or faces impeachment.

Quick question

Who is going to get the first sit-down interview with Andrew Cuomo? Will he do one? Is he ever going to have a press conference with questions?

Speaking of Andrew Cuomo, here’s an interesting piece. The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner talks with Casey Seiler, the editor of the Times Union in Albany, New York, in “How Andrew Cuomo Holds On To Power.”

Steve Doocy’s good work

Fox News’ Steve Doocy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

There have been plenty of folks on Fox News whose messaging is “it’s your choice” when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. Or they say things such as “talk to your doctor, get information, find out what works for you.” And while that’s not the same as “don’t get the shot,” it also is not the same as “get the shot.” This wishy-washy approach does send a message that it’s OK if you don’t want to get the shot. Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade is one of those personalities. Others have cast doubts about the vaccine, such as Laura Ingraham.

Or take Sean Hannity, who said on air, “I do believe in science, and I believe in vaccinations.” But then he followed with, “Talk to your doctor.”

But Steve Doocy, one of the co-hosts of “Fox & Friends,” has consistently told viewers to get the vaccine, and he did so again on Thursday, saying, “… a lot of people have been tuning in to the show for 25 years to see what we think about different things. I think if you have the opportunity, get the shot.”

Not surprisingly, Kilmeade kept up the whole “talk to your doctor” message, making for an uncomfortable segment. Washington Post media writer Paul Farhi tweeted, “Kilmeade wasn’t quite as cautious last year in pushing Fauci to say hydroxychloroquine might be a good idea.” (And Farhi linked to this story.)

But credit Doocy for trying to send the right message to viewers. It should be noted, too, that Doocy and Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner have done a PSA encouraging people to get the vaccine, with Faulkner saying, “If you can, get the vaccine.”

Too bad more Fox News personalities aren’t like Doocy when it comes to vaccine messaging. And it can make a difference. A Morning Consult poll this week showed that the share of Fox News viewers who said they probably or definitely won’t get vaccinated fell to 27% this week, an all-time low in Morning Consult tracking.

Simply tragic

Here’s the kind of headline that is not surprising and yet still is incredibly tragic. From The Daily Beast’s Justin Rohrlich: “Texas GOP Official Mocked COVID Five Days Before He Died of Virus.”

You see a lot of these stories — people who refused to get the vaccine and/or wear a mask who then died from COVID. Or those who would not get the vaccine regretting that decision as they clung to life in an intensive care unit. Check out this difficult-to-watch piece from CNN.

Scary interview of the day

On Thursday’s “NBC Nightly News,” Moderna president Dr. Stephen Hoge had some pretty grim comments.

Hoge said, “I think we’re pretty worried now. If you look at the delta variant, it took a surprising step. I don’t think any of us, three or four months ago, were going to predict something that was this many times more infectious.”

As far as updating its vaccine, Hoge told NBC News’ Miguel Almaguer, “One of the most important things we need to do is actually bring the delta variant into the vaccine.”

Carlson’s trip to Hungary

You have to admit, Tucker Carlson hosting his Fox News show this week from Hungary was … odd. Not only is he doing his show there, but he has met with Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and will speak at a government-supported conference in Budapest on Saturday.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp writes, “Make no mistake: Fox’s marquee host is aligning himself with a ruler who has spent the past 11 years systematically dismantling Hungary’s free political system.”

Beauchamp adds, “Despite the increasingly clear evidence that Hungary has abandoned democracy, many conservative intellectuals in America have come to see the Orban regime as a model for America.”

Carlson is apparently among them. And that’s troubling.

In an opinion piece for CNN, Nicole Hemmer, author and associate research scholar at Columbia University with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project, writes, “As he opened his program in Budapest, Carlson told his audience that if they cared about democracy, they should watch what’s happening in Hungary. That’s true, though not the way he means it: if you care about democracy, the blueprint for its destruction is on display there, and right-wing propagandists like Carlson are taking careful notes.”

Olympics coming to a close

A water polo match between Spain and Croatia this week at the Tokyo Olympics. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The Tokyo Olympics wrap up Sunday with the closing ceremonies. Reviews for NBC’s coverage have been all over the map and I’ll write more about that next week. Ratings, at least as far as conventional TV, have been down, but streaming numbers are up. And, ultimately, an interesting number (if we ever get to see it) is how many subscribers NBC got for Peacock over the past two weeks.

Speaking of Peacock, NBC announced that the home opener for the Notre Dame football team against Toledo on Sept. 11 will be shown exclusively on Peacock. I have a feeling that’s not going to go over well with fans of the Fighting Irish, but it goes to show NBC’s commitment to driving up interest in Peacock.

Media tidbits

  • CNN has fired three employees who were going into the office unvaccinated. In a memo to staff obtained by The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum, CNN boss Jeff Zucker said, “Let me be clear — we have a zero-tolerance policy on this.” Zucker’s memo said that CNN has been working on the honor system, but that he was made aware of unvaccinated people working in the building. CNN had planned a full return to office by Sept. 7, but that date has been pushed back, for now, until at least mid-October.
  • Fox News has named Jacqui Heinrich as a White House correspondent. She will work alongside Fox News’ White House correspondent Peter Doocy. Heinrich had been a Fox News Congressional correspondent. Fox News also announced Aishah Hasnie has been promoted to Congressional correspondent, and that Alexandria Hoff will join FNC as a Washington-based general assignment reporter. Hoff joins Fox News from CBS affiliate KYW-TV in Philadelphia.
  • Sewell Chan — a most-respected journalist who has worked at the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post — has been named the new editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune. Chan is currently the editor of the editorial page at the Los Angeles Times. The announcement comes four months after editorial director Stacy-Marie Ishmael and chief product officer Millie Tran resigned in a joint announcement after one year on the job. Both cited how difficult the past year had been and the difficulty separating work and personal life, especially because of the pandemic. Chan, formerly a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board, will take over on Oct. 18.
  • For The Washington Post, Paul Farhi with, “Peter Doocy and Jen Psaki’s daily clashes have become a White House briefing room ritual.”

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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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