His brother, Chris, might work for CNN (and that’s a whole other issue), but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on the receiving end of some well-deserved criticism from CNN after a controversial remark he made at a press conference last Friday. Speaking to reporters about the latest COVID-19 news, Cuomo said, “When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts. Because I don’t. Because I don’t.”
On Monday, during a conversation with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Jake Tapper didn’t hold back.
“That seems like a wildly irresponsible thing for a leader to say during a pandemic,” Tapper said. “We need the public to believe the experts. Do you have any concerns?”
Gupta said, “I’m really quite stunned that’s what he said.”
Gupta praised the work of “experts” for helping New York deal with the coronavirus. About Cuomo’s comments, Gupta added, “I think it’s irresponsible. There (are) enough people out there who are already hesitant. They don’t believe the virus. They don’t believe in getting a vaccine. They don’t understand the value of testing. If you start to take away some of the credence of these experts, I think that’s really, really harmful, especially now.”
The New York Times’ J. David Goodman, Joseph Goldstein and Jesse McKinley reported that nine top New York health officials have quit, and the main reason is Cuomo. The Times wrote, “Even as the pandemic continues to rage and New York struggles to vaccinate a large and anxious population, Mr. Cuomo has all but declared war on his own public health bureaucracy. The departures have underscored the extent to which pandemic policy has been set by the governor, who with his aides crafted a vaccination program beset by early delays.”
Meanwhile, one of CNN’s biggest primetime stars, Chris Cuomo, is, of course, Gov. Cuomo’s brother. And just for the sake of journalistic standards, especially as questions about Cuomo ramp up, Chris Cuomo’s show would be best served to not address the situation in New York and let the other CNN shows handle that.
A false allegation
On the topic of New York and COVID-19, a “Fox & Friends” guest made a serious allegation against NBC and “Nightly News’” anchor Lester Holt. But the claims don’t appear to be true.
Dawn Best, whose mother died in a nursing home, told “Fox & Friends” that NBC News instructed her to change her words for a piece it was doing on COVID-19. Best claims NBC wanted her to say “New York” instead of “Gov. Cuomo.” But Mediaite obtained the full interview and, according to Mediaite’s Marisa Sarnoff, Best’s claims don’t match the video.
First, let’s address what Best said on “Fox & Friends.” Best said that many media outlets have told her to not criticize Cuomo directly. She said, “Lester Holt’s show wasn’t the only one to do it. So what happened specifically on that show was I was telling them that Gov. Cuomo failed us, his book should be named — not ‘Lessons in Leadership,’ it should be ‘Lessons in Failure.’ She (the NBC reporter) stopped me and she said to me, can you say that a different way without Gov. Cuomo’s name and just say New York failed you? So I had no choice. I had to say New York failed me.”
But Mediaite reviewed the full video of the interview and reports that Best talked about Cuomo with reporter Kristen Dahlgren and it was Best, not NBC or Dahlgren, who asked to change her answer. Best told Dahlgren, according to Mediaite, “I didn’t say that as well as I could. If you want to ask me in a different way I could.”
Dahlgren then asked, “Did New York state fail your mother?” And Best said, “New York State failed my mother and failed thousands of people’s mothers and fathers and I know many of these people, and I watched their suffering every day.”
She then continued talking about New York.
As Mediaite points out, the NBC piece was critical of Cuomo and ran footage of a person holding up a sign that said, “Cuomo killed my mother.”
In fact, in the NBC piece, Best said, “A third-grader would know not to put COVID patients in with the most vulnerable,” and NBC said in the story that Cuomo did not comment on the story. Later, Best tweeted, “Very happy to be responsible for that quote. Thank you for helping us fight for justice for our families. Sadly, Governor Cuomo killed my Mother.”
While it’s awful that Best lost her mother, it would appear she owes Holt, Dahlgren and “NBC Nightly News” an apology for falsely accusing them of making her change her quote.
Not on their minds
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked Monday about Donald Trump and whether his absence from social media platforms, particularly Twitter, have made President Joe Biden’s job easier while negotiating with Republicans on COVID-19 relief.
Psaki said, “This may be hard to believe: We don’t spend a lot of time talking about or thinking about President Trump here — former President Trump to be very clear. … I can’t say we miss him on Twitter.”
She said the question about Trump’s pressure on Republican lawmakers is probably best directed toward Republican lawmakers. But about Trump and whether Biden supports Twitter’s ban on Trump, Psaki said, “That’s a decision made by Twitter. (Biden) has certainly spoken to the need for our social media platforms to continue to take steps to reduce hate speech, but we don’t have more for you on that.”
Speaking of Twitter, Psaki also took a bit of a shot at conservatives on Monday. She said, “I often note, ‘I’m going to circle back’ — I hate to disappoint conservative Twitter, but I’m going to circle back on a number of things.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer announced today that it will remove reader comments from most stories on Inquirer.com.
The big reason?
“Commenting on Inquirer.com was long ago hijacked by a small group of trolls who traffic in racism, misogyny, and homophobia,” the paper wrote. “This group comprises a tiny fraction of the Inquirer.com audience. But its impact is disproportionate and enduring.”
The Inquirer claims only 2% of Inquirer.com visitors read the comments and even fewer post comments. After more than a decade of trying to monitor and improve the comments section, the Inquirer has decided to scrap the comments, except for sports stories and Inquirer Live events.
Readers will still be able to converse with the Inquirer through letters to the editor and social media. The Inquirer says it is “working on building new two-way connections with our existing audience and with new audiences we hope to reach.”
The Inquirer said it required 24-hour vigilance to stay on top of the comments, adding, “We’d rather invest in vital local journalism than an endless and expensive game of comment whack-a-mole.”
And the Inquirer said this isn’t just an effort to shut down criticism or violate anyone’s First Amendment rights.
It wrote, “The Inquirer embraces diverse points of view, relevant criticism of our work, and robust debate. Some comment threads include those elements. Most do not. The First Amendment limits the government’s ability to regulate speech. It does not require news organizations to treat all speech as equal, or to provide an open forum for comments. Rather, the First Amendment ensures The Inquirer’s right to publish what The Inquirer chooses to publish.”
The Inquirer isn’t the first news outlet to eliminate the comments section. Others include NPR, The Atlantic and NJ.com.
Interestingly, the Inquirer announced it was closing comments in a story that was posted at 5:15 a.m. on Monday. By Monday evening, the story had more than 1,100 comments.
Anchoring the weekends
ABC News president James Goldston has made one more big move on his way out the door. Goldston — who announced last week that he is leaving ABC News after 17 years, including seven as president — named Whit Johnson and Linsey Davis as the new anchors on the weekend editions of “World News Tonight.” Johnson will anchor Saturdays and Davis will anchor Sundays. Both have filled in for “World News Tonight” lead anchor David Muir.
Johnson has been one of ABC News’ lead reporters on COVID-19 and reported from Arizona during the presidential election. He also has anchored special coverage events on ABC, as well as ABC’s streaming service, ABC News Live.
Davis, meanwhile, has been the anchor on ABC News Live’s primetime newscasts, and she was a moderator during one of the Democratic presidential debates. She will continue to anchor the ABC News Live newscasts Monday through Thursday.
A push for nonprofit status in New Jersey
For this item, I turned it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.
The trend of converting for-profit newspapers to nonprofit status has picked up steam in northern New Jersey. New Jersey Hills Media Group, a 65-year-old family chain of 14 weeklies, is cooperating with a new nonprofit to try to raise $500,000 from philanthropists and readers for the transition.
The plan was announced Monday by newspaper brokerage Grimes, McGovern & Associates. The papers in prosperous exurban communities in Somerset, Morris and Essex Counties have a combined circulation of about 50,000 with added free distribution.
A sidelight to the effort is that the nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media was formed by rival Democrat and Republican township candidates in a 2019 election who came away strong advocates for civil discourse.
Several metros, including Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times and the Lenfest Institute’s Philadelphia Inquirer, are owned by nonprofits. The Salt Lake Tribune simplified the permissible structure by obtaining a favorable Internal Revenue Service ruling in November 2019 that now allows nonprofits to directly run a news outlet. The advantage of nonprofit status is that it helps attract foundation and individual contributions, a growing revenue source.
A doctor documentary
National Geographic Documentary Films announced Monday plans for a new documentary about Dr. Anthony Fauci. Called, appropriately enough, “Fauci,” it will look at the life and career of one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts and leading voice in the fight against COVID-19. It is directed by Emmy winners John Hoffman and Janet Tobias.
Here’s the trailer, which says viewers will “Meet the expert … father … hero … husband … man — behind the numbers.”
In a statement, Hoffman and Tobias said, “There is only one Dr. Fauci, and it is an incredible privilege to bring his inspiring, lifelong quest to cure disease and prevent outbreaks, to viewers around the world. This film will be an unprecedented, intimate portrait of our nation’s greatest public servant, whose relentless pursuit of truth and devotion to science has never been more important.”
The trailer said the film is “coming soon.”
Back to baseball
Chelsea Janes covered the Washington Nationals baseball team for The Washington Post until January 2019, when she left the baseball beat to cover presidential politics for the Post.
Now she’s heading back to baseball. Janes announced on Twitter that she is returning to sports and baseball to become the national baseball writer at the Post. She tweeted, “Covering the 2020 presidential campaign was an incredible, unforgettable, humbling adventure and the honor of a lifetime.”
She also tweeted, “During two years spent chasing presidential candidates everywhere from snowy Iowa roads to crowded Vegas ballrooms, those roads always seemed to lead me back to baseball — whether it was arriving early to a Pete Buttigieg event last year so I could sneak over and watch the College of Southern Nevada play an early February game beforehand, accidentally analyzing Bernie’s launch angle at the Field of Dreams, or bursting into tears on a plane crowded with Kamala Harris staffers on a Columbus, Ohio tarmac when editors asked if I wanted to take a week to go cover the Nats in the 2019 World Series. And if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last two years, it’s that this world is so much more fragile than it seems and chances to chase joy are never guaranteed. So anyway, here we go.”
Fallout from a problem story
You might recall The Atlantic had a problem last October when it had to retract a story about college admissions and niche sports. The story was such a mess that The Atlantic first issued a 777-word editor’s note addressing many of the problems with the story, including one person who was completely made up. Then, in another editor’s note, it retracted the story altogether, saying, “We have decided to retract this article. We cannot attest to the trustworthiness and credibility of the author, and therefore we cannot attest to the veracity of the article.”
That author was Ruth Shalit Barrett, who had previously been accused of plagiarism in the 1990s.
Now there is more fallout. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, who was the first to uncover problems with The Atlantic story, reports that The Atlantic editor who worked on the story and “played a key role in introducing” Barrett to the magazine is no longer with The Atlantic. Laurie Abraham, the editor, is no longer on The Atlantic’s masthead, according to Wemple. The Atlantic would not comment on personnel matters, but Wemple said sources told him Abraham was no longer there.
- Writing for The New York Times, Jacqueline Mroz with “The Case of the Serial Sperm Donor.”
- Writing for CNN, Jessica Goudeau with “This Dad is Desperate to Save His Kids, But He Can’t Do It Alone.”
- Los Angeles Times’ sports columnist Bill Plaschke with “Felipe Ruiz Took the Ride of His Life as Tommy Lasorda’s Driver.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More resources for journalists
- Covering COVID-19 with Al Tompkins (daily briefing) — Poynter
- Hiring? Post jobs on The Media Job Board — Powered by Poynter, Editor & Publisher and America’s Newspapers.
- Poynter Producer Project (Online Seminar) — Apply by: Feb. 8.
- ACES In-Depth Editing (Online Seminar) — Feb. 12-March 12. Enroll today.
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