By:
March 5, 2021

Who knew that one word would cause such an uproar?

When President Joe Biden was asked earlier this week about Texas and Mississippi lifting COVID-19 restrictions, he said he thought it was a “big mistake.” Then he added, “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.”

When Biden said “Neanderthal,” many people lost their minds.

Appearing on CNBC, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said, “It’s not the type of word a president should be using.”

On “Fox &  Friends,” Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley said, “What a uniter Joe Biden is. You know, this is Mr. Unity, and yet, if you disagree with him, you’re a Neanderthal.”

Appearing on “Fox & Friends,” new Fox News contributor Kayleigh McEnany compared Biden’s use of the word “Neanderthal” to when Hillary Clinton used the phrase “basket of deplorables” to describe some Donald Trump supporters. McEnany said, “Simply giving freedoms causes Joe Biden — the great uniter — to call us Neanderthals among other words that his predecessor Hillary Clinton did as well.”

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also said he was reminded of Clinton’s “deplorable” comment.

The story was the lead on the Fox News’ website for much of Thursday — well over 24 hours after Biden made the comment. Fox News’ “The Five” led its Thursday show talking about it. Again, more than 24 hours after Biden said what he said.

The topic also came up during Thursday’s press briefing with White House press secretary Jen Psaki. She was asked if Biden had any “second thoughts” about using that word and, “How does comparing someone to a Neanderthal help convince them to change course and get on board with your public health message?”

Psaki quickly pointed out that Biden wasn’t calling anyone a Neanderthal.

“The behavior of a Neanderthal, just to be very clear: the behavior of,” Psaki said.

Psaki added that Biden’s reaction was a “reflection of his frustration and exasperation” that states are lifting restrictions while COVID-19 still is an issue and when we seem to be, because of increased vaccinations, moving closer to normality.

This is an example of when some in the media are too easily distracted by things that do not matter. “Fox & Friends” and “The Five” spending time talking about the use of the word “Neanderthal” is a waste of time. Politicians choosing to take Biden’s word about behavior and assign it to people in order to play the victim solves nothing.

And for some media to amplify the complaints of those who are offended over something they shouldn’t be offended by is just lazy. It’s an easy way to fill a few minutes on TV, rile up viewers and create fake outrage just to get people to watch.

Look, there are important issues to be talking about right now. There’s the stimulus bill. There are stories about vaccination distribution to be done. Even the topic that started this whole “Neanderthal” mess — whether or not states can safely start to reopen — is a worthwhile subject to debate.

But it appears as if some would rather give their audiences cake instead of vegetables? The cake isn’t good for anyone, but it’s easy to serve and you know many will eat it up.

‘I have to get out of this room’

CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell, left, interviews Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Courtesy: CBS News)

CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell got the first TV interview with Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who has accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. Bennett told O’Donnell that Cuomo made her “deeply uncomfortable.”

Part of the interview aired on Thursday night’s “CBS Evening News” and more will air on Friday’s “CBS This Morning.”

Bennett was asked what she was thinking during one particular conversation with Cuomo.

“I thought he’s trying to sleep with me,” Bennett said. “The governor’s trying to sleep with me. And I’m deeply uncomfortable and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.”

O’Donnell asked what made her think Cuomo was trying to sleep with her and Bennett said, “Without explicitly saying it, he implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely.”

Here are more details from the interview.

The opposition network

We’ve always known that Fox News leans right and speaks mostly to conservatives and Republicans. We’ve also always known they are the opposition to liberals and Democrats. Now they are flat-out admitting it.

While speaking to investors at a conference arranged by Morgan Stanley, Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said he expects Fox News to once again rise to the top of cable news now that Joe Biden is in the White House.

“The main beneficiary of the Trump administration from a ratings point of view was MSNBC,” said Murdoch, who referred to MSNBC as a “loyal opposition.” Now Murdoch is suggesting Fox News will be that loyal opposition, saying, “That’s what our job is now with the Biden administration, and you’ll see our ratings really improve from here.”

CNN has had strong ratings since the election, but now Murdoch claims CNN’s ratings are “coming back down to earth.”

Fox News has done some lineup shuffling in recent weeks. The network added a few new personalities and switched its 7 p.m. show from news to opinion. One school of thought is the moves — as well as the strategy to oppose Biden’s administration while reassuring viewers they are the network of conservatives — are in response to right-wing networks such as One America News and NewsMax gaining some traction.

About that, Murdoch said, “We welcome the competition. But that’s different from saying that we have to change our programming or change our direction because of that.”

Disturbing report

QAnon believer Jacob Chansley, in a photo from last November. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

Here are two videos that are seriously disturbing, yet still important to watch because they reveal just how extremists think and feel.

The first includes portions of an interview that Laurie Segall did with Jacob Chansley, also known as the “QAnon Shaman.” He was part of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and now faces up to 20 years behind bars. The interview was for “60 Minutes +” — which can be streamed on the brand new streaming service Paramount +.

The second clip is from Segall’s interview with Chansley’s mother, Martha Chansley, who defends her son’s actions that day.

Segall does a solid job probing both about what happened and eventually drawing out answers that will trouble and maybe even stun viewers.

Allegations of sexism at Golf Channel

Washington Post sports media columnist Ben Strauss talked to 16 former and two current employees at NBC-owned Golf Channel who describe sexism, misogyny and harassment of women at the network. Lisa Cornwell, a former anchor and reporter at Golf Channel, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2020. Golf Channel is disputing claims made in Cornwell’s complaint and NBC spokesperson Greg Hughes told the Post that the network is “vigorously defending this matter.”

Cornwell told Strauss, “I knew very simply the difference between right and wrong and what was happening was wrong and it kept happening. To me and to colleagues.”

Strauss detailed many of the specific allegations of harassment and sexism in his story.

Strauss wrote, “Presented with a list of allegations made by other women, Hughes disputed many of their claims and said ‘the vast majority’ had been investigated and that ‘appropriate action was taken.’ Others, he said, the network was only now hearing of and would investigate ‘promptly and thoroughly.’ The network declined to make any employees available for interviews.”

APSE awards

The Associated Press Sports Editors announced the results of its 2020 writing contests on Thursday. The APSE awards are generally considered to be the top awards for sportswriting. The awards are broken into four divisions depending on circulation size. Awards are given out in a variety of categories, including column writing, features, beat writing, investigative, explanatory, video and projects.

In the category with the largest circulation news outlets, the top 10 columnists were the San Francisco Chronicle’s Ann Killion, the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke, The Undefeated’s Jesse Washington, The New York Times’ Kurt Streeter, the Detroit Free Press’ Mitch Albom, The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger, Yahoo Sports’ Shalise Manza Young, and NJ Advance Media’s Steve Politi.

Click here for the complete list of winners.

Media tidbits

  • BuzzFeed News’ Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac look at a possible conflict of interest involving New York Times columnist David Brooks in “Facebook Helped Fund David Brooks’s Second Job. Nobody Told The Readers Of The New York Times.”
  • Another media-related story: The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi with “No one in the Philippines would air a documentary about press freedom. So Frontline is doing it itself.”
  • My Poynter colleague Rick Edmonds looks at the latest with the Los Angeles Times in this insightful piece: “As Patrick Soon-Shiong comes under increased financial pressure, deals to sell the Los Angeles Times and his Tribune Publishing stake look more and more likely.”
  • Averi Harper is going to the ABC News’ Political Unit as the new Deputy Political Director. Since joining ABC News in 2019, Harper has covered many of the presidential candidates during the Democratic primaries, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rep. Tim Ryan. Harper then went on to cover the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris campaign. She also has covered other big stories, such as the coronavirus and the funeral of George Floyd.
  • Tonight’s “Washington Week” (8 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations) will feature Amy Walter, the national editor of the Cook Political Report, as guest host and a panel of NBC News’ Sahil Kapur, The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and “PBS NewsHour’s” Amna Nawaz. They will discuss COVID-19, including how some states (Texas and Mississippi) are rolling back restrictions.
  • ESPN has named Mike Greenberg as the anchor for the first two days of the next month’s NFL Draft. He takes over the duties from Trey Wingo, whose contract with ESPN was not renewed last year. Meanwhile, Greenberg is approaching his 25th anniversary with ESPN and the network sees him as one of their biggest stars. He hosts the morning TV show “Get Up,” as well as his own afternoon radio show called “Greeny.” Rece Davis will host Days 1 and 2 of the NFL Draft on ABC.
  • CNN’s Oliver Darcy with the scoop: “Sinclair to lay off hundreds of employees, citing ‘profound impact’ pandemic has had on its business.”
  • As Facebook lifts its ban on political ads, Politico’s Mark Scott and Zach Montellaro with “Scores of political groups sidestepped Facebook’s ad ban.”
  • Lester Holt will anchor Saturday’s “Nightly News: Kids Edition,” which airs at 8:30 a.m. Eastern on most NBC stations. NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren will interview children taking part in the coronavirus vaccine trials and Dr. John Torres will answer kids’ questions about the pandemic. There also will be segments about Iceland and the new baby dolphin at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

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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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  • The few people thinking the threat of Covid-19 is over and America is encouraged to drop our medical defenses are the folks who take offense to President Joseph Biden’ reference to a regressive type of thinking. The President held his tongue. I do not believe our President went far enough in describing the depth of careless, thoughtless, ignorance and reckless outrageous dangerous counterproductive believing without evidence.
    As the virus circles the globe and America is approaching full eradication of the Covid-19 Virus forever along with a few of its elite offspring, just as Covid-19 is nearly extinct from the US, much like small pox, polio and a few other past pandemic illnesses. As the virus in nearly under control, someone suggests removing masks and opening business as usual is safe? You tell me…, who suggests such a course of action against a lethal enemy. We cannot ignore the virus away – that is magical thinking.
    So, rather than swearing and name-calling or suggesting someone has relied heavily on limbic thinking i will suggest there is a flawed logic at work here and suggest that the symptoms of Bi-Polar and Schizophrenia worsen with age if left untreated.
    Otherwise, if the individuals in question are fully cognizant of the medical facts associated with SARS-CoV-2 and their elite buddies and knowingly suggests lifting restrictions – NOW…, when we are so close to eradication and especially after loosing so many people to this virus and spending so much to overcome the virus and to get to where we are beginning to take full control of this virus – any who will tell a neighbor, friend or family it is time to end suggested restrictions and return to work as usual, what you are ordering is willful and reckless murder. You are encouraging murder.