August 10, 2021

Facts, not politics. Numbers, not opinions. Science, not guesses.

In these confusing times of COVID-19 misinformation, disingenuous politicians who care more about future elections than their constituents and people who would rather listen to friends than actual scientists, it’s important for news organizations to come hard with facts.

That’s why this tweet from CNN anchor and correspondent Ana Cabrera jumped out to me on Monday: “More than 99.99% of fully vaccinated people have not had a severe breakthrough case of Covid-19, according to a CNN analysis of CDC data as of August 2nd.”

Read that again — 99.99%.

Here’s more. CNN’s Deidre McPhillips writes, “As of Aug. 2, more than 164 million people in the United States were fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the CDC. Fewer than 0.001% of those individuals — 1,507 people — died and fewer than 0.005% — 7,101 people — were hospitalized with Covid-19. … About three-quarters (74%) of all reported breakthrough cases were among seniors age 65 or older. Of the roughly 1,500 people who died, one in five passed away from something other than Covid-19 even though they had a breakthrough case of the virus, according to the CDC.”

These are the kinds of fact-based stories that need to be publicized to show the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccinations. These are the kinds of numbers-based stories that news outlets need to publish to inform their audiences.

Give audiences the details and be sure to put them in proper context. Don’t just list the number of cases or hospitalizations or deaths. Include all the numbers, such as percentages, to see how Americans are being impacted, and how best to combat this pandemic.

This isn’t about painting rainbows or, conversely, seeing glasses as half-empty. This is about giving audiences facts, giving them numbers.

And here are more numbers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (via CNN):

Number of fully vaccinated: 50.2% of the total US population (all ages).

Not vaccinated: 31.2% of the eligible population (12+).

Current pace of vaccinations (7-day average): 486,332 people are initiating vaccination each day.

All these numbers help us trust the scientists and medical experts, as opposed to politicians and our high school buddies who rant and rave on Facebook. As Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told CNN, “It’s a medical and public health challenge, and politicians should really let the public health and physician leaders move forward on how to get this thing under control.”

Jha added, “For any other disease, you would not turn to your political leader for medical advice, right? If you had cancer or if you had a heart attack, you wouldn’t call up your congressman or woman and say, ‘What’s the right therapy I should get?’ You should be talking to your doctor. You should be talking to your healthcare provider.”

And media outlets should be relying on such sources for their stories.

Facts. Numbers. Medical experts. Science.

That’s what news organizations should be highlighting.

Must-read story of the day

I’ve been writing this newsletter for more than two and a half years and have recommended hundreds upon hundreds — maybe thousands — of stories for you to read/watch/listen to. I cannot think of many I would recommend more than a new piece in The Atlantic by Jennifer Senior.

The story — “WHAT BOBBY MCILVAINE LEFT BEHIND” — is an incredibly well-written, richly reported story about a young man killed in the 9/11 attacks and the lifelong impact it has had on his parents and the woman he had planned on marrying.

Senior not only beautifully and, at times, painfully tells the intimate story of grieving, but also reveals her deep personal questions that elicit exceptionally honest responses.

It’s a stunning piece of writing and story that will stay with you long after you’ve read it. Truly powerful. I would reveal more details about the story, but it’s best if you set aside some time in a quiet place and just start reading.

Here’s a Twitter thread from Senior about the story.

The Atlantic’s good year

Speaking of The Atlantic, its paid readership increased by more than 280,000 over the past year, according to the latest circulation statement filed with the Alliance for Audited Media. The Atlantic’s total circulation through the first half of 2021 is 833,410. This represents print and digital subscribers and newsstand sales.

In a note to staff, editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg and CEO Nicholas Thompson said, “Everyone at The Atlantic has played a role in building and growing our paying audience. We hope you feel great pride in the work we’ve accomplished together. Onward.”

Olympic numbers

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo waves the Olympic flag after receiving it from International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach during the closing ceremony in Tokyo on Sunday. (Dan Mullen/Pool Photo via AP)

NBCUniversal put out its TV numbers for the Tokyo Olympics. No surprise that viewership was down. The Total Audience Delivery was 15.5 million prime-time viewers. Compare that to the Rio Games (25.4 million) and London (31.1 million). But also as expected, streaming numbers were way up.

Overall, NBC said, 150 million Americans watched the network’s coverage. And while the numbers may be down overall, it still was the most-watched thing on TV the past two weeks and was great programming for prime time, shows such as the “Today” show, as well as Peacock — NBC’s streaming service. NBC said viewers streamed more than 5.5 billion minutes.

Fun fact: The Olympics have ranked No. 1 in prime time for 135 consecutive Summer Olympic nights.

In a statement, Pete Bevacqua, chairman of NBC Sports, said, “There is nothing more powerful in media than the 17 straight days of Olympics dominance. Despite being thrown a series of curveballs over the last 18 months, the power of the Olympics delivered to audiences across the various platforms of NBCU has proven itself unequaled. The pandemic fundamentally altered virtually every aspect of these Games, but our team pivoted, and reimagined, in the midst of showcasing history-making performances across 41 sports. Once again, we have seen the unparalleled power that these Games have on media and our culture.”

‘Scam alert’

In an opinion piece for The Hill, Juan Williams — a former panelist on Fox News’ “The Five” and still a political analyst for Fox News — blasted former President Donald Trump, saying he and his “disciples” are putting the “con” in modern conservatism.

Williams goes after Trump and his fundraising tactics, as well as Republican members of Congress such as Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Colorado’s Lauren Boebert and North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn.

Williams writes, “Trump’s grifting game is also being mimicked by powerful, well-funded conservative donor networks.” That game includes repeating baseless claims of election fraud.

To which Williams writes, “And when they fail to find any fraud, these dark-money organizations then tell donors they need more cash for more probes in search of fraud. They never find any and so they ask again. It is a never-ending pitch.”

A scary report

A Mexican TV news anchor has received a death threat over her coverage of a powerful drug cartel. In a video, masked men claiming to represent Ruben Oseguera Cervantes — aka “El Mencho,” leader of the Jalisco New Generation cartel — threatened Milenio Television and anchor Azucena Uresti for what they think is unfair coverage. The Associated Press has more on the story.

Unfortunately, threatening journalists is not uncommon in Mexico. As the AP notes, the Committee to Protect Journalists considers Mexico the deadliest country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists. Mexican presidential spokesperson Jesús Ramírez Cuevas tweeted the government will “take appropriate measures to protect threatened journalists and media. Democratic freedoms are guaranteed along with the right to information for citizens.”

Media tidbits

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks on the phone outside the New York state Executive Mansion on Saturday. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

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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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