By:
March 18, 2021

The news was horrific. A 21-year-old white man went on a rampage Tuesday in and around Atlanta, shooting and killing eight people, many of them women of Asian descent.

Most news organizations tried to walk a fine line in their reporting even though details were still cloudy more than 24 hours after the shootings. The most complicated part of this story was the shooter’s motivation.

The New York Times responsibly covered this topic by writing, “The brazen shootings, which took the lives of six women of Asian descent, stirred considerable outrage and fear in the Asian-American community. Investigators said they had not ruled out bias as a motivating factor even as the suspect denied such racial animus once in custody.”

We likely will learn more in the coming days and weeks, but an important conversation arose from this nightmare: the fear that Asian Americans continue to feel.

The headline on Nicole Chavez’s story for CNN was “Asian Americans were already living in fear. The Atlanta-area spa killings feel like a terrifying escalation for them.”

Chavez wrote, “The shootings in the Atlanta area left the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community across the country in mourning and feeling that it was a devastating escalation to the violence that has become increasingly familiar for them.”

The Washington Post’s Andrea Salcedo, Paulina Firozi and Antonio Olivo wrote, “For months, Asian Americans in Georgia, like in many areas across the country, have faced escalating verbal abuse and harassment, local advocates said. The already on-guard community reacted with shock and fear as it mourned the deaths of six Asian American women and two others fatally shot Tuesday at Atlanta-area spas.”

They added, “the shootings came amid a national surge of racist attacks and threats against Asian Americans, advocates reacted with alarm and police from Seattle to New York ramped up security in Asian American neighborhoods.”

In fact, The 19th*’s Errin Haines reports that a Georgia official addressed the Georgia Senate about anti-Asian violence — two days before the shootings.

In a powerful interview with Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House,” actress Olivia Munn said, “We are being targeted, we are living in a country that is attacking us simply just for being us. And we really don’t know what we have to do to get help. We need more people to care about us. We need people to help us amplify this. We need the media to cover it. We need people on social media to denounce this kind of stuff that is happening against us. It’s so important that we are heard because we have been so invisible for so long.”

While racism against Asians has long been a serious problem, data shows verbal and physical attacks on Asian Americans have increased with irresponsible and dangerous rhetoric about COVID-19. President Joe Biden, in a national address last week, denounced the “vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans, who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.” Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris also commented again Wednesday, showing support for Asian Americans.

Rep. Judy Chu of California tweeted, “As we wait for more details to emerge, I ask everyone to remember that hurtful words and rhetoric have real life consequences. Please stand up, condemn this violence, and help us #StopAsianHate.”

For example, former President Donald Trump often referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus” and “kung flu.”

Meanwhile, in his story for Fox News’s website, Brian Flood went after  “liberals” for suggesting that racism might have been a motivation for the shooting. Flood wrote, “Liberals were quick to blame former-President Trump, Republicans and anti-Asian racism for the string of Tuesday night shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlors, despite not knowing what motivated the killer. The horrific shooting left eight people dead and another person injured, and a suspect in custody has taken ‘full responsibility,’ according to law enforcement. Police said two of the victims were White, while the other six victims were Asian-Americans. Racism is not currently believed to be a motive.”

That last sentence — racism is not currently believed to be a motive — is flawed simply because it is entirely based on the suspect’s statements, according to police, as if the suspect’s word should be treated as undisputed fact.

Poynter’s Doris Truong brought up some of the issues about covering this story in her piece, “The rush to report on Atlanta-area shootings amplified bias in news coverage.” Truong wrote, “The tragedy in metro Atlanta is made worse by the rush to be first without consideration of the biases we might amplify. Journalists have the power to shape public perception, so it’s our job to dig deeper into the suspect’s motives, to let our audience know more about the victims and their lives, to talk to other people who were affected — including witnesses and victims’ families.”

Meanwhile, in an excellent explainer, The Associated Press’ Christine Fernando and Terry Tang wrote, “Why Georgia attack spurs fears in Asian Americans.”

They wrote, “Recent attacks, including the killing of an 84-year-old San Francisco man in February, have raised concerns about worsening hostilities toward Asian Americans. Nearly 3,800 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for Asian American Pacific Islanders, and its partner advocacy groups, since March 2020.”

Finally, while ESPN’s “Around the Horn” is a debate show about sports, one of the panelists, Pablo Torre, had a powerful commentary to close Wednesday’s show.

“This is a story that is just the latest step in a horrifying year that has been defined for Asian Americans by hate crimes and racist abuse and bigotry,” Torre said. “And the upshot in all of this is a lot of Asian Americans feel unsafe. Oftentimes we’re afraid to say that. We’re afraid to butt into the conversation because we often feel like maybe it’s not our place. But this is our place. It is our time to be heard, to have a seat at the table. And if you’re not Asian American and you’re listening to this and processing this, please take the time to listen and take what we’re saying seriously because Asian lives do matter. And so does the conversation that we’re finally having around people who hopefully can get more that they deserve.”

Biden interview on ‘GMA’

President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In a wide-ranging and informative interview on Wednesday’s “Good Morning America,” President Joe Biden talked about Russian President Vladimir Putin, the COVID-19 vaccines and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The president did not hold back.

He agreed that Putin was a “killer” and would “pay a price” for meddling in American elections. He blasted those who won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine. And he said Cuomo should resign if allegations of sexual misconduct are true.

Much of the credit for all the newsworthy headlines to come from the interview should go to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, who asked all the right questions.

About the vaccination, Biden seemed surprised that it’s a politically divisive issue.

“I honest to God thought we had it out,” Biden said. “I honest to God thought that, once we guaranteed we had enough vaccines for everybody, things would start to calm down. Well, they have calmed down a great deal. But I don’t quite understand … this sort of macho thing about, ‘I’m not gonna get the vaccine. I have a right as an American, my freedom to not do it.’ Well, why don’t you be a patriot? Protect other people.”

As far as Cuomo, Stephanopoulos asked, “If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?”

“Yes,” Biden said. “I think he’ll probably end up being prosecuted, too.”

Biden also talked about issues at the border, tax hikes, pulling troops from Afghanistan and why the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wasn’t personally punished for approving the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In a less than satisfactory answer for many media observers who followed the Khashoggi case, Biden said, “I made it clear to the king — the king, his father — that things were gonna change. And I insisted on several things. No. 1, we held accountable all the people in that organization …”

But Stephanopoulos, rightly, interrupted to say, “But not the crown prince.”

Biden said, “Not the crown prince because we have never, that I’m aware of, when we have an alliance with a country, gone to the acting head of state and punished that person. And ostracized him.”

There also was a light moment when Stephanopoulos asked Biden about his dog, Major. Reports were that Major caused a “minor injury” to someone at the White House, but Biden said Major did not bite anyone or break skin.

Biden said Major is getting some training and is a sweet dog. “Eighty-five percent of the people there love him. All he does is lick them and wag his tail.”

Wait … 85%? Huh?

A new home

An artist’s rendering of what the First Amendment tablet will look like at The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. (Courtesy: Elia Architecture & Interiors)

This is cool. Remember the First Amendment tablet that used to be on the side of the building at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.? The one that is being removed?

Well, it has found a new home.

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia announced early this morning that it would house the 50-ton marble tablet with the 45 words of the First Amendment. The photo above is an artist’s rendering of what it will look like.

The Newseum was the tablet’s home, but things changed when the building was sold to Johns Hopkins University after the Newseum closed in 2019. The tablet remained the property of the Freedom Forum.

“We are thrilled to bring this heroic marble tablet of the First Amendment to the National Constitution Center, to inspire visitors from across America and around the world for generations to come,” National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement. “It’s so meaningful to bring the text of the First Amendment to Philadelphia, in a majestic space overlooking Independence Hall, where the original Constitution was drafted, as a permanent monument to the five freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition.”

Jan Neuharth, chair and CEO of the Freedom Forum, who recently joined the National Constitution Center Board of Trustees, said, “It was important to us to find a location for the tablet where it could be on public display, and where millions of Americans could continue to expand their understanding of and appreciation for our First Amendment freedoms.”

Mixing up stories

Credit to Mediaite’s Aidan McLaughlin for picking up on this story. During Wednesday’s “Outnumbered” show on Fox News, the hosts discussed whether The Washington Post story on Donald Trump’s phone call to a Georgia elections official — a story that the Post had to correct because it misquoted Trump — impacted the runoff elections in Georgia. Those runoffs tipped the balance of power in the Senate.

But the story had absolutely nothing to do with impacting the runoffs. Why? The runoffs were Jan. 5. The Post story was published Jan. 9.

As McLaughlin noted, the topic likely came up because it was something Trump said during a phone interview with Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on Tuesday night. It appears Bartiromo and Trump confused the Post story that needed the correction with the Jan. 3 story in which Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” more votes to allow him to beat Joe Biden in Georgia. That Post story was completely accurate.

Bartiromo gave a brief correction on Wednesday night’s “Fox News Primetime,” saying she “misspoke,” and McLaughlin reported that Fox News said “Outnumbered” will correct its error on today’s show.

Bill McCarthy wrote about this for Poynter’s PolitiFact.

Talk about The Talk

Sharon Osbourne might not be doing herself any favors as controversy continues to surround “The Talk,” the CBS show she co-hosts. The show has been off the air this week as CBS looks into an incident that happened on the air last week. Osbourne and co-host Sheryl Underwood got into a testy exchange over Osbourne’s defense of her friend, Piers Morgan, who left his job on “Good Morning Britain” after his controversial criticisms of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

In an interview with “Entertainment Tonight,” Osbourne played the victim, saying she was blindsided by the conversation with Underwood.

Osbourne told “ET,” “Sheryl turns around and asks me this question and … she was reading it off a card. It wasn’t on my cards. And then (another co-host) Elaine (Welteroth) is reading her questions and I’m like, ‘I’ve been set up. They’re setting me up.’ My anger was like, ‘I cannot believe this, I’m your sacrificial lamb.’”

Osbourne claimed the show’s co-hosts have a long-standing pact of not talking about anything that they all haven’t prepped for. Osbourne said a showrunner told her the Morgan topic might come up and that “maybe one of (the co-hosts)” didn’t agree with Osbourne’s take on Morgan.

Osbourne said she apologized to Underwood for their heated exchange and that she’s more upset with CBS than her fellow co-hosts. She told “ET,” “I am not a racist and if you can’t have a go at your friend who happens to be Black, does that make me racist because I said certain things to my friend, but I said them on camera? I will keep on apologizing to Sheryl, even if I decide not to go back, I will still keep apologizing to Sheryl.”

The interview with “ET” appears to have been taped before journalist Yashar Ali published a story Tuesday night alleging that Osbourne used anti-Asian language in referring to former “The Talk” co-host Julie Chen and anti-gay phrases in referring to former “The Talk” co-host Sara Gilbert. Ali’s story cited multiple unnamed sources, but also quoted Leah Remini, another former co-host of the show who did talk on the record.

According to People, Osbourne called the claims in Ali’s story “crap, crap, crap.” A spokesperson for Osbourne said the claims were “lies” and suggested that Remini was a “disgruntled former employee.”

CBS continues to investigate and Osbourne says she isn’t sure if she will return when the show does next week. It’s not clear if she meant she doesn’t want to return or won’t be allowed to return.

ESPN makes commitment

(AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

ESPN has signed reporter John Barr to a multi-year extension. This is a big deal because Barr is one of ESPN’s top enterprise reporters. He has done outstanding work on such stories as the Larry Nassar sexual assault case and the rise of bare-knuckle boxing. Barr also reported one of the best sports documentaries on TV last year: an “E60” special on the late Major League all-star pitcher Roy Halladay, who had an addiction to painkillers stemming from his playing days. Halladay was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed in 2017 off the west coast of Florida.

Simply put, Barr is one of the most in-depth reporters at ESPN, and it’s good to see ESPN making a commitment to him.

Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president for event and studio production and executive editor, said, “We look forward to seeing more of his work in the years to come as we remain committed to producing journalism of the highest quality.”

Rush’s replacement?

Cumulus and Westwood One announced Wednesday that Dan Bongino will move into the noon to 3 p.m. time slot. That was Rush Limbaugh’s spot. Limbaugh, the conservative radio host, died earlier this year.

Bongino is a former NYPD officer and Secret Service agent who is now a staunch conservative radio host and podcaster, as well as frequent TV contributor. He is a big supporter of Donald Trump, and was quoted in 2018 as saying, “My entire life right now is about owning the libs.”

Bongino’s show will launch May 24.

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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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