By:
January 4, 2021

Happy New Year.

Then again, what’s so happy about it?

Not to start 2021 off in a depressing fashion, but there’s really not a whole lot to smile about at the moment.

While there are hopeful signs that there is light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the coronavirus, the virus continues to rage out of control, with cases and deaths continuing to pile up at a scary rate.

Nearly as depressing: Our nation remains bitterly divided.

Two contentious Senate runoffs in Georgia could tip the balance of power in the Senate.

On Wednesday, what was expected to be a perfunctory, rubber-stamp, nothing-to-see-here Congressional certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory is likely to devolve into a made-for-TV circus that will make a lot of noise, cast doubt and damage our democracy, but ultimately not change the outcome of the election.

There’s more. In an extraordinary story uncovered Sunday by The Washington Post, the president of the United States tried to get Georgia’s secretary of state to use whatever means necessary to overturn what has already been determined to be a fair and legal and accurate election.

And with President Donald Trump riling up supporters, there are fears that a rally this week in Washington could turn ugly.

See what I mean? We thought things couldn’t get any worse than 2020, but just days into 2021, dark clouds continue to gather.

Let’s start with the blockbuster story in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Story of the weekend

President Trump pressured, threatened, pleaded, flattered and essentially begged Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes in Georgia to help in his efforts to overturn his defeat there.

This story is nothing short of flabbergasting. What the president attempted to do cannot be overstated. Even for a president known for lies and unethical behavior, this final death rattle of his presidency might be an all-time low.

The Washington Post acquired a copy of Trump’s hourlong phone call from Saturday. The Post’s Amy Gardner wrote, “The Washington Post obtained a recording of the conversation in which Trump alternately berated Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the secretary of state refused to pursue his false claims, at one point warning that Raffensperger was taking ‘a big risk.’”

Yet, throughout the call, Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel shot down Trump and assured the president that the election was fair. At one point, Trump said, “There’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”

Later, Trump said, “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

Trump insisted he won the state, repeating, “There’s no way I lost Georgia.”

On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted, “I spoke to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger yesterday about Fulton County and voter fraud in Georgia. He was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the ‘ballots under table’ scam, ballot destruction, out of state ‘voters’, dead voters, and more. He has no clue!”

But Raffensperger wasn’t having it. He tweeted back to the president, “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true. The truth will come out”

Let’s be clear. Joe Biden won the state of Georgia, as well as the 2020 presidential election. He will be inaugurated on Jan. 20 and will be president of the United States at that point. But it’s good when publications such as the Post update and include a story such as this one to run alongside stories of Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.

And it’s good when you see sentences such as this one written by The New York Times’ Luke Broadwater in a story over the weekend about some GOP lawmakers looking to overturn the election: “Every state in the country has certified the election results after verifying their accuracy, many following postelection audits or hand counts. Judges across the country, and a Supreme Court with a conservative majority, have rejected nearly 60 attempts by Mr. Trump and his allies to challenge the results.”

What’s troubling is such stories and sentences need to continue being written.

Tweet and retweet

Interesting exchange of tweets in the wake of Trump’s unconscionable call to Georgia’s secretary of state. Presidential historian and contributor to both NBC and PBS Michael Beschloss tweeted, “Can you imagine how many calls like this he might have made over the past four years that we don’t yet know about?”

Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig retweeted Beschloss and tweeted, “As reporters, we have documented many similar ‘orders’ Trump has handed down…instructing John Kelly to give Jared Kushner a security clearance, demanding Don McGahn help him shut down the Russia probe, etc. @BeschlossDC is right: What about all the ones we *don’t* know about?”

And New York Times White House reporter Maggie Haberman retweeted Leonnig and tweeted, “.@nytmike and I were criticized by Trump supporters and the WH when we broke those stories. Indeed, the amazing WaPo scoop here on the tape is notable in part because others almost certainly have had similar discussions with him.”

Wednesday’s certification is a circus waiting to happen

NBC “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd interviewing Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson on Sunday. (Screenshot)

It’s critical for the media to call out this attempt by some Republicans to overturn the election for what it is: a futile bid to void the election based on baseless allegations. During his “Reliable Sources” TV show on Sunday morning, host Brian Stelter asked if it was fair to say, “A cult is attempting a coup in America. In the home of the free and the land of the brave, the biggest story right now is about cowards feeling captive to a lame-duck president, pretending he won an election that he lost.”

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan blasted his fellow Republicans who are attempting to challenge Biden’s victory. In a rare public comment, Ryan said in his Sunday statement, “Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden’s victory strike at the foundation of our republic. It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans. The fact that this effort will fail does not mean it will not do significant damage to American democracy.”

Washington Post contributing columnist Edward B. Foley wrote, “Nonetheless, the fact that a dozen senators and senators-elect, along with apparently more than 100 House members, want to disrupt congressional ratification of the electoral college result is one more horrendous sign of the severity of the disease afflicting the United States’ democratic system. It will make it even harder for Biden to heal this pathology of partisan polarization, as he has promised to do.”

So how does the media handle all this? Does it cover this story, pointing out the absurdity and recklessness of these GOP lawmakers? Or does covering it somehow add credibility to what they’re claiming? Gee, that basically sounds like the dilemma that the media has faced when covering the president for the past four years.

There seems to be no debate on how most news outlets are approaching this. They are covering it, with most pointing out how the GOP efforts are both dangerous and yet fruitless. The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Los Angeles Times and on and on are keeping an eye on the story.

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” on NBC, moderator Chuck Todd interviewed one of those pushing this election conspiracy. Actually, interviewed is a polite word. Todd clobbered Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

You can check out the interview, but here was Todd’s harshest attack:

“You and your colleagues have created this controversy. So, right now we are locked into a destructive vicious circle and in some ways — as you kind of outlined, except, which is — you made an allegation that there was widespread fraud, you have failed to offer specific evidence of that widespread fraud but you’re demanding an investigation on the grounds that there are allegations of widespread fraud. So, essentially, you’re the arsonist here. President Trump is the arsonist here. You’ve started this fire and now you’re saying, ‘Oh, look at this, oh, my God, all these people believe what we told them,’ because you didn’t have the guts to tell the truth that this election was fair.”

According to Slate’s Daniel Politi, only two of the 11 GOP senators who are talking about not certifying the electoral college results appeared on any of the Sunday morning news shows. Besides Johnson, Ted Cruz appeared on Fox News with Trump fan Maria Bartiromo.

CNN’s Jake Tapper said all the senators were invited on his Sunday morning program, but all declined or did not respond.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board on Sunday put out an editorial with the subhead: “The GOP stunt over the Electoral College will hurt the country and the party.”

Fauci fights back

Dr. Anthony Fauci. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

When he wasn’t tweeting out baseless election claims over the weekend, Trump took aim at Dr. Anthony Fauci, tweeting, “Something how Dr. Fauci is revered by the LameStream Media as such a great professional, having done, they say, such an incredible job, yet he works for me and the Trump Administration, and I am in no way given any credit for my work. Gee, could this just be more Fake News?”

That tweet went out Sunday morning, not long after Fauci appeared on ABC’s “This Week.” Fauci was asked about Trump’s tweet that claimed COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. were being “exaggerated” and “Fake News!”

Fauci told “This Week’s” Martha Raddatz, “The deaths are real deaths. … All you need to do is to go out into the trenches. Go to the hospitals, see what the health care workers are dealing with. They are under very stressed situations.”

Wait, whose fault was it?

A failed congressional candidate and his fiance go to a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago. It’s mostly maskless. He posts photos on Instagram and Twitter. The New York Times’ Michael Crowley writes about the party in a story headlined: “Without Trump, or Masks, Mar-a-Lago Partied On.” The story linked to Santos’ Instagram page.

And now that failed congressional candidate is blaming the Times for his fiance being fired from his job as a pharmacist.

George Santos, who lost to incumbent Democrat Rep. Tom Suozzi in New York’s 3rd Congressional district in the 2020 election, tweeted, “My fiance & I had to leave our home this evening with our 4 dogs thanks to the @nytimes publishing of my Instagram showing me attending the #MarALago New Year’s Eve party. My fiance, a pharmacist who worked 12h/7days shifts for 9 months, was fired! The violence against us is real.”

If Santos and his fiance were harassed and threatened with violence, that’s horrible and wrong. But to blame the Times for linking to photos that Santos himself posted online is ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous, want a sample of what the party looked like? Check out this video, which includes Vanilla Ice performing “Ice Ice Baby.”

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump were supposed to attend the party, but did not. As CNN’s Kevin Liptak wrote, “With Trump a no-show, Mar-a-Lago guests left to party maskless with Rudy Giuliani and Vanilla Ice.”

Disturbing and sad

Lenny Pozner’s 6-year-old son Noah was the youngest child murdered by a gunman in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. Before appearing on Sunday night’s “60 MInutes,” Pozner was given a “Hollywood-style disguise,” according to a tweet by the program.

Why? Because Pozner has been threatened by conspiracy theorists who claim the shooting never happened — that it was all a hoax in an effort to ban guns in the United States. Can you imagine? One woman went to federal prison for threatening Pozner, who says he and his family have moved a half-dozen times since their son, 19 other schoolchildren and six staffers were murdered.

Pozner has started the HONR Network, which helps victims of misinformation campaigns and fights against websites that post such theories. Sunday’s segment on “60 Minutes” looked at this topic.

End of an era

Mike Golic, left, in 2013, with his former radio partner Mike Greenberg — the duo that made up the highly successful “Mike & Mike” radio show. (Photo: Diane Bondareff/Invision for Subway Restaurants/AP Images)

Mike Golic’s 25-year run with ESPN came to an end on Saturday when he called the Fiesta Bowl college football game.

Golic’s daughter, Sydney, tweeted a photo of her dad eating the cake and said, “Never a doubt he’d go out like this on national television.” Golic was given the cake after ESPN put together a brief video of his time at the network. What’s sad, however, is ESPN couldn’t find a way to keep one of the most valuable personalities it has ever had.

Golic’s 22-year run on ESPN morning radio ended last summer, and Golic spent the fall as a college football game analyst.

Richard Deitsch, the fine sports media columnist at The Athletic, tweeted, “I’ve written this many times. I’ll write it here again: That ESPN management did not find a regular place on ESPN Radio for Mike Golic — the most known commodity in the history of ESPN Radio and someone its audience is clearly fond of — is a massive failure of management.”

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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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