By:
June 10, 2021

Here we are again, back to the place where we’ve been so many times before: Dr. Anthony Fauci being attacked by the right because of his work on COVID-19.

On Wednesday’s “MTP Daily,” Fauci fired back at his critics in an interview with moderator Chuck Todd.

“It’s very dangerous,” Fauci said, “because a lot of what you’re seeing as attacks on me, quite frankly, are attacks on science, because all of the things that I have spoken about consistently from the very beginning have been fundamentally based on science. And anybody that looks at what’s going on clearly sees that. You have to be asleep not to see that. That is what’s going on. Science and the truth are being attacked.”

Todd asked Fauci about Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who tweeted, “While Americans suffered, Fauci wrote a book.” Blackburn also put out a 50-second video with a headline that said, “Here are the facts on Fauci that big tech doesn’t want you to know.” She talked about Fauci’s emails, among other things.

Fauci told Todd, “I don’t have a clue what she just said. I don’t have a clue of what she’s talking about. I don’t want to be pejorative against a United States senator, but I have no idea what she’s talking about. And, you know, if you go through each and every one of the points, which are so ridiculous, just painfully ridiculous, but, nonetheless, if you go through each and every one of them, you can explain and debunk it immediately, I mean, every single one.”

Meanwhile, Fauci also talked about an interview he recently did with Katie Sanders, managing editor of Poynter’s PolitiFact, about the origins of COVID-19.

Fauci told Todd, “They asked me the question, are you absolutely certain that this was not a lab leak? And I said, well, of course I’m not absolutely certain. No one is. That made big news that I sort of changed my mind. I didn’t change anything. I still feel the same way. You want to keep an open mind. It’s a possibility. I believe it’s a highly unlikely possibility. And I believe that the most important one that you look at what scientists feel is very likely that it was a natural origin, but, again, always keeping an open mind. And let’s investigate it.”

Fauci added, “Well, why would the Chinese want to make a virus that equally kills them as kills other people? So, that’s the reason why, when you talk about — that’s really way out there and, like, off the wall, off the chart. The other one is, were they there working with something in which they made somehow manipulating the virus and then it leaked out? Certainly, that’s a possibility.”

Take a meeting

Attorney General Merrick Garland. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)

Attorney General Merrick Garland has scheduled a meeting with top executives from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN for next Monday after it was discovered that the Department of Justice sought emails and phone records for journalists who work at those news outlets.

It’s a practice that started under the Trump administration but has continued under the Biden administration. President Joe Biden’s DOJ says it will no longer seize reporters’ records for leak investigations. Just last week, in an opinion piece for his paper, Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan requested a meeting with Garland.

On Wednesday, CNN’s lead attorney revealed the Trump administration fought with CNN for half a year to obtain email records of a reporter and insisted it be done under a gag order of the network’s lawyers and president Jeff Zucker. Something similar happened involving The New York Times.

In a stunning piece for CNN.com, CNN’s lawyer, David Vigilante, detailed the gag order and the case, writing, “I was told in no uncertain terms (multiple times) that I was forbidden from communicating about any aspect of the order or these proceedings to the journalist whose interests I am duty-bound to protect, Barbara Starr. And I was further informed that if I violated the order, I was subject to charges of contempt and even criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice.”

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez reported Wednesday, “The pursuit —  which started in July 2020 under then-Attorney General William Barr with a demand for two months’ of CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr’s 2017 email logs — continued even after a federal judge told the Justice Department its argument for access to Starr’s internal emails was ‘speculative’ and ‘unanchored in any facts.’”

Polantz and Perez also wrote, “It’s not uncommon for a media organization to receive a subpoena from the Justice Department for reporter records and to negotiate protections for its journalists. What stands apart is the total secrecy that surrounded the order, the months-long court proceedings and the Trump administration’s unwillingness to negotiate.”

Jameel Jaffer — executive director, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University — said in a statement, “Government efforts to access journalists’ records always raise serious press freedom concerns, but the gag order makes this case unusual and particularly disturbing. The courts have made clear in other contexts that these kinds of gag orders are rarely consistent with the First Amendment. Gag orders impede public scrutiny that’s important to ensuring that government agents aren’t abusing their powers.”

Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House was unaware of a gag order involving the records of a New York Times reporter. She added, “the issuing of subpoenas for the records of reporters in leak investigations is not consistent with the president’s policy direction to the department.”

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote, “Well, great. But it’s still not nearly enough.”

Sullivan wrote, “Given this history, it’s hard to be satisfied with Biden’s own words that such intrusions are ‘simply, simply wrong.’ And it’s hard to take seriously any Justice Department promises of better behavior in the future. Those promises have already proved empty.”

Sullivan added that there is hope that Garland will be more in tune with press rights than some of his predecessors, especially Trump’s attorney general, William Barr.

“But,” Sullivan wrote, “as we’ve found out in recent weeks, hope isn’t nearly enough.”

Journalists and online harassment

Last month, The Associated Press came under scrutiny for firing a young reporter over what it said was a violation of their social media policy. AP claims Emily Wilder was fired after just a couple of weeks on the job because Wilder’s social media commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict violated the company’s policy against offering opinions on contentious or controversial issues.

Associated Press media writer David Bauder now looks at another aspect of this story in his latest piece, “Journalists demanding more action against online harassment.”

Bauder writes, “During internal meetings after the Arizona-based reporter, Emily Wilder, was let go, several journalists expressed concern over whether the AP would have the backs of employees under attack from the outside.”

For example, AP auto racing writer Jenna Fryer said she received online abuse for her coverage about a noose found in the garage stall used by NASCAR’s only full-time Black driver. Fryer told Bauder that the only time she heard from AP about the harassment she was getting was when a manager said Fryer had gotten a lot of harassment.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re on a total island,” Fryer told Bauder.

Bauder also relayed the story of veteran AP sportswriter Anne M. Peterson, who said she has been sent lewd photos and received a threat from someone who attached a Google image of her house.

These are just two examples of a problem that exists in most newsrooms. Journalists are under constant attacks and most are left to deal with it on their own. Check out Bauder’s excellent story for more.

Watermelons on what?

Time to give credit where credit is due. In Wednesday’s newsletter, I mentioned how The New York Times briefly ran then deleted a story about watermelons being on Mars. It actually wasn’t a real story. The Times, apparently, was testing its system and accidentally published a clearly fake story to its website. But only for a few moments.

It was long enough, however, that it was discovered by Futurism’s Jon Christian. He should get the credit for spotting this fun, albeit made-up story. Here’s Christian’s story.

One more follow up from Wednesday

Also in Wednesday’s newsletter, I wrote about MSNBC and Brian Williams running an ad from the liberal political action group MeidasTouch that blamed GOP lawmakers for not doing enough to get answers as to what exactly happened at the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Back in April, Rolling Stone’s Seth Hettena profiled MeidasTouch in a piece called, “The Trouble With MeidasTouch.” The subhead read, “The brothers behind the breakout anti-Trump PAC are the golden boys of the #Resistance, but when ‘Rolling Stone’ took a look beneath the surface, their response turned Trumpian.”

It’s worth a look.

Sports Emmys

From left to right, broadcasters Ernie Johnson Jr., Charles Barkley, and Shaquille O’Neal of “Inside the NBA.” (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

TNT, thanks to its “Inside the NBA” show, was the big winner at Tuesday night’s Sports Emmys. TNT won seven Emmys, the most of any outlet. ESPN won six. Here is the complete list of winners.

Some of the notable winners included:

  • Outstanding studio show (weekly): TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”
  • Outstanding studio show (daily): ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
  • Top studio host: Ernie Johnson (“Inside the NBA”).
  • Top studio analyst: Nate Burleson (CBS/NFL Network).
  • Top play-by-play announcer: Fox’s Joe Buck.
  • Outstanding game analyst: John Smoltz (Fox, FS1 and MLB Network).

Poynter’s personal news

Be sure to catch up on the Poynter series “Some Personal News.” Led by Poynter’s Kristen Hare, it’s a series about people who were laid off from their journalism jobs or left the news during the pandemic.

In the latest installments, Hare writes about former Baltimore Sun reporter Sameer Rao in “Baltimore Sun furloughs gave him time to rethink everything, including his job.” Also, Poynter’s Amaris Castillo writes, “When CNN eliminated her job, she was devastated. Now she’s on a new path.” And my colleague Angela Fu with “This editor couldn’t afford to stay in journalism.”

Media tidbits

  • After 15 years, Joel Simon is stepping down as executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists at the end of the year. The New York Times’ Katie Robertson has the story.
  • Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s head of global sales, is leaving the company after more than a decade. The Verge’s Alex Heath tweeted that Everson was “well-liked internally, and was a key spokesperson during stressful times like the advertiser boycott last year.” Nicola Mendelsohn — head of the Europe, Middle East and Africa region of Facebook’s Global Business Group — will replace Everson for the interim.
  • Stella Bugbee has been named the new editor of The New York Times’ Style section. Bugbee moves over from New York magazine, where she has been an editor-at-large. Before that, she was president and editor in chief of The Cut.
  • Former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes, now with NHL Network, will join ESPN’s NHL coverage next season as a game and studio analyst, according to the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand.
  • Also from Marchand: Charles Woodson will become a member of “Fox NFL Sunday.”
  • Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reports Fox Sports NASCAR analyst Jeff Gordon could leave the booth after this season to take on a larger role with Hendrick Motorsports.
  • The New York Financial Writers’ Association had named Andy Serwer, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance, the 2020 recipient of the Elliott V. Bell Award, which honors journalists who have made a significant contribution to the field of financial journalism.

Hot type

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…
Tom Jones

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