By:
January 5, 2021

As the country tries to wrap its brain around the unfathomable realization that President Donald Trump called Georgia’s secretary of state and asked him to “find” enough votes to overturn his election loss there, a media debate sprung up.

Are Trump and his supporters staging a “coup?”

CNN’s Brian Stelter used that word on his “Reliable Sources” TV show, as well as in his media newsletter. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan alluded to “Trump’s ongoing attempted coup” in her latest column.

Appearing on CNN on Monday, legendary Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein said, “We’re listening in real time to the president propose that there be a conspiracy to steal the election for the presidency of the United States, a coup, whatever you want to call it.”

The New York Times’ Peter Baker wrote, “The president has denied attempting to subvert democracy, but his efforts ring familiar to many who have studied authoritarian regimes in countries around the world, like those run by President Vladimir V. Putin in Russia and Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary.”

The Atlantic contributing writer Peter Wehner called it a “de facto coup.”

These are just a few examples.

Is it actually a “coup?”

My Poynter colleague and director of the International Fact-Checking Network, Baybars Örsek, who is from Turkey, tweeted, “All coups are anti-democratic but not all anti-democratic bids/actions are a coup. This comes from someone from a country with a rich experience in both.”

You can go through the literal definition of coup (“a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government”) and then decide whether this qualifies.

But there are other questions I have and, honestly, I don’t have the answers. That’s not what columnists or media analysts are supposed to say. We’re supposed to have strong opinions. But I don’t when it comes to these questions:

Does it matter what we call what Trump is doing? And how much attention should we be paying attention to it?

First, let me be clear. What Trump is doing is disturbing.

But it’s not all that new and, frankly, none of this has been or will be successful in overturning the election.

Trump started spewing lies and baseless allegations about a rigged election months ago and has ramped up such false rhetoric since he lost. While he continues to throw Hail Mary passes, nothing has worked. Any last-ditch efforts to overturn an election are not going to succeed.

He lost the election. Joe Biden won. Biden will be inaugurated as the next president on Jan. 20. At that point, Biden will be the president.

And Trump will not be the president.

I’m not suggesting that the media ignores this story. It’s damaging our democracy, it’s causing harmful and potentially violent division among Americans and it could hurt Biden’s ability to govern if his presidency is not considered legitimate by many. It also gives Americans a look at which elected officials and/or future candidates support this kind of behavior.

That’s all important and newsworthy.

But it’s a shame that with so much going on — especially involving COVID-19 — that we’re spending time on efforts that are doomed to fail and a story that should go away in two weeks.

Big scoop of news

Let’s take just a moment and acknowledge, again, just what an extraordinary scoop The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner landed when she got the recorded phone conversation between Trump and Georgia’s secretary of state. It’s the scoop of the year. OK, so the year is only five days old. But that statement might hold up for the rest of 2021.

The COVID-19 vaccine — what’s next?

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams during his appearance on Monday’s “CBS This Morning.” (Courtesy: CBS News)

CBS News reports about 4.2 million Americans have been vaccinated for COVID-19, but that’s out of an estimated 13 million-plus available vaccine doses, and far short of the Trump administration’s goal of vaccinating 20 million by the end of December. During an appearance on Monday’s “CBS This Morning,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams was optimistic about the future.

“We have 15-20 million doses of vaccine available,” Adams said. “We should be hopeful about that while acknowledging we have got to do better and we are going to keep doing better. And I promise you, you will see in these next two weeks numbers increase substantially.”

And what about the idea of either halving the doses or delaying the second dose in order to reach more people?

“I think we need to let science lead the way,” Adams said. “Tony Fauci has said he does not think it is appropriate for us to eliminate the second dose or push it back at this point, but we are looking again at halving the dose.”

These are the types of critical interviews news networks need to do as Americans wait to find out what the next steps are — for the country and for themselves and their loved ones.

Capehart to replace Shields on PBS

Jonathan Capehart (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

“PBS NewsHour” has named a replacement for Mark Shields. It’s Jonathan Capehart, the Washington Post opinion writer and MSNBC host. Capehart will offer analysis alongside New York Times columnist David Brooks in a Friday segment that will be called “Brooks & Capehart” and moderated by “NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff. Capehart takes the seat of Shields, who was a PBS regular for 33 years before stepping down in December.

In a statement, Capehart said, “Following a giant like Mark Shields and becoming part of the ‘PBS NewsHour’ family is a double honor. And I can’t think of a better person with whom to hash out the future of our nation and our politics than David Brooks.”

Capehart was a part of the New York Daily News editorial board that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999. He recently took over one of the weekend spots left open when Joy Reid moved to weeknights on MSNBC. “The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart” debuted Dec. 13.

Sports media predictions

The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch reached out to nearly three dozen in sports media to get their 2021 sports media predictions. The column is behind a paywall, but well worth the read if you have an Athletic subscription (and you should if you are a sports fan because it’s a top-notch site.) There were plenty of intriguing predictions, but two stood out to me.

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said, “When we ‘get back to normal’ in 2021, sports media will have established a new normal. On a grand scale, calling games from remote will be the norm, and calling games from courtside, in person, will be the exception.”

And ESPN’s Sarah Spain said, “Teams will continue to offer a Zoom option for post-game podium pressers even after reporters are allowed back into facilities and some outlets will elect to save money by continuing to have reporters cover games from home.”

Bilas and Spain touched on similar thoughts — that news outlets might decide to have reporters cover games off televisions from their homes as opposed to going on the road. Nothing cuts into a news organization’s sports budget like traveling to games.

As a former sportswriter, I can tell you that for years, sports journalists have detested the thought of covering games off TV. And because sports journalism will always be in my blood, I urge that news outlets resist the temptation to stop traveling to games when life returns to so-called normal.

While journalists might be talented enough to adequately cover games off TV, it’s not nearly the same as covering a game in person. So much happens that isn’t seen on TV, and astute reporters pick up such off-camera details.

As far as interviews? Well, for now, Zoom press conferences and phone calls are pretty much the only way to interview athletes. But if the day does come that reporters can get back into sports facilities and have face-to-face interactions with players and coaches, there’s no question that the interviews and information and stories will be better. One-on-one interviews that aren’t restricted by time garner far more information than detached Zoom interviews with dozens of other reporters.

Having said all that, I don’t disagree with Bilas and Spain. Their predictions likely are correct, especially if the teams push for keeping reporters out of locker rooms. The teams could argue that it’s out of everyone’s safety, but really, it could be just an excuse to limit and control media coverage.

Rinaldi’s goodbye/hello

Tom Rinaldi, the longtime ESPN reporter who left to join Fox Sports, makes his debut with Fox this weekend as part of the A-team calling the NFL playoff game between the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Fox Sports PR put out a tweet Monday featuring Rinaldi making the announcement. Rinaldi joins play-by-play announcer Joe Buck, analyst Troy Aikman and reporter Erin Andrews.

After 19 years, Rinaldi made his final ESPN appearance over the weekend. The “College GameDay” crew gave him a warm sendoff, and Rinaldi penned his own farewell.

The right call

Former college coach and current Fox Sports analyst Urban Meyer. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Former college football coach Urban Meyer is now a college football analyst for Fox Sports. The hot rumor is he is going to be the next head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. On Monday, he was scheduled to join Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd on Cowherd’s radio/TV show, presumably to talk about college football and next week’s national championship game.

However, Cowherd said the interview was canceled because Meyer felt uncomfortable answering questions about his potential move to the NFL and Cowherd said he felt uncomfortable having Meyer on and not asking about Meyer’s NFL possibilities.

Cowherd said on air that he has one rule when interviewing a guest: no questions or topics are off-limits. He said he had no issue with Meyer not coming on, and said he thinks (and hopes) he and Meyer are still “good” with each other.

Good for Cowherd. With rumors that Meyer is headed to the NFL, to have Meyer on and not ask him about it would be journalistically irresponsible.

Media tidbits

  • The two Georgia Senate runoffs will be held today with the balance of power in the Senate at stake. If Democrats take both seats, each party will have 50 seats and the power would shift to the Democrats. That’s because any tied votes would be broken by soon-to-be Vice President Kamala Harris. For all the details of the runoff, check out this solid explainer from The Associated Press’ Kate Brumback. CNN is scheduled to have daylong coverage, while the shows on Fox News and MSNBC will have up-to-date results and analysis.
  • Vice’s Lauren Kaori Gurley reports, “Google workers have publicly launched a unionization effort — a critical step in an industry where labor has become increasingly organized. Crucially, the union will be open to all of the more than 120,000 employees who work for Google and its parent company, Alphabet.” As Gurley notes, “workers have not yet asked Google for formal recognition of their union or indicated that they will hold a union election — meaning Google technically does not have to recognize the union. In order for Google workers to formally unionize, Google will need to voluntarily recognize a union or more than 50% of eligible union members will need to vote to unionize.” Kate Conger also wrote about this for The New York Times.
  • Lindsay Peoples Wagner is leaving her spot as the editor of Teen Vogue to take over as editor-in-chief of The Cut, the New York Media style and culture website. The New York Times’ Katie Robertson has the details. Peoples Wagner returns to The Cut after two years at Teen Vogue. She was previously a fashion market editor for The Cut. She replaces Stella Bugbee, who is now an editor-at-large for New York Magazine.
  • Punchbowl News, the website run by Politico alum Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer and John Bresnahan, is up and running as of Sunday night/Monday. Here’s a look at its homepage.

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…
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