By:
April 9, 2021

To wrap up this week, I wanted to take a few moments to look back at the “60 Minutes” story about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Florida. Several days after it aired, it’s still brimming with controversy because CBS News and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continue to go back and forth on the topic.

DeSantis is using this story to rip into “60 Minutes” and all media for being unfair, pushing an anti-conservative agenda and generally being purposefully biased and bad at their jobs. “60 Minutes” is standing by its story and is now hammering back on specific points DeSantis made in the piece and in his subsequent news conferences.

To review, last Sunday the venerable CBS news show did a segment that focused on COVID-19 vaccinations for seniors in Palm Beach County. “60 Minutes” reported that, in January, the Publix grocery store chain was the only pharmacy in Palm Beach County to have the vaccine available for seniors in the general population. The problem with that was that the mostly Black and Hispanic senior residents of the Glades would need to drive 25 miles or take a bus to get to the nearest Publix. In addition, many could not make online appointments because they don’t own or have access to a computer or smartphone.

In other words, the vaccine rollout prevented many people of color and those in more rural areas from easily getting the vaccine.

DeSantis has criticized the “60 Minutes” story for selectively editing his answers to their questions, as well as misrepresenting the situation.

Now, to be clear, I was highly critical of one specific aspect of the “60 Minutes” story. CBS suggested Publix was named the sole provider of vaccines in Palm Beach County because it had donated $100,000 to DeSantis’ reelection campaign — sort of a “pay-for-play” shady partnership. But at no point did “60 Minutes” have substantial evidence to prove that was the case.

However, my criticism of the story stops there. The rest is what continues to be a heated exchange between DeSantis and “60 Minutes.”

In a press conference this week, DeSantis presented a list of hospitals, health department sites, faith-based centers and pop-up sites as being vaccination sites for seniors in Palm Beach County. However, CBS News maintains those places were not available to most seniors in Palm Beach County in January and part of February and that the majority of seniors had to go to Publix if they wanted a vaccine. And while CVS and Walgreens, through federal programs, helped to vaccinate those in nursing homes, they did not have the vaccine in their pharmacies in the Glades until late February (CVS) or mid-March (Walgreens). The governor began distributing the vaccine to Publix on Jan. 21.

So while it appears DeSantis certainly has every right to complain about “60 Minutes’” suggestion that Publix essentially bribed him, he shouldn’t do a victory dance or spike the ball about the other parts of the story. “60 Minutes” might have muddied its report over the whole “pay-for-play” suggestion, but the rest of the story raises serious and important questions about the vaccination rollout in Palm Beach County. That part of the story appears solid.

The week in Tribune Publishing

Lots and lots going on with Tribune Publishing. So for the latest, I turn this item over to my colleague Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s media business analyst.

The fight for Tribune Publishing between hedge fund Alden Global Capital and would-be white knight buyers Stewart Bainum Jr. and Hansjörg Wyss barely pauses for a between-rounds breather.

Here are some developments and perspectives for this week.

Bainum and Wyss have bid $680 million for the company, compared to Alden’s $635 million. A source familiar with Alden’s thinking offered this analogy (my paraphrase): Suppose you have your house on the market for $635,000 and have found a firm buyer. Someone else comes along and says, “I love your house; I’ll pay $680,000. But I’ll need to get an inspector in to check out the roof and wiring. And I want another guy to see about siting a pool and how much that would cost to install. I can do that over the next few weeks.” Do you have a deal? Not really — and the next month will tell whether Bainum and Wyss, with their own financing in hand, decide to proceed to a final, legally binding offer.

A NewsGuild source accused me in an email of “naysaying” for raising this question along with whether interest-in-theory among wealthy potential buyers in Allentown, Orlando and other Tribune Publishing locations will translate into a sale. A month is a compressed time frame for individuals or local groups, rich or not, to assess what they are getting into by buying a paper out of a chain and taking on all elements of an independent operation.

To emphasize the positive — this effort has gotten way past what I thought possible at the end of 2020. At that point, Bainum had a tentative agreement to buy The Baltimore Sun for $65 million, but buyers for Tribune’s eight other metros were not on the horizon.

Remember that two investigative reporters (now former reporters) from the Chicago Tribune tramped around the city looking for a white knight to rescue the paper from Alden. They came up dry. Then early this year Swiss billionaire Wyss, who lives in Wyoming, contacted them. Now he is partnering with Bainum.

Prospects are falling in line in other cities, too, so the dream of saving Tribune Publishing from Alden’s clutches no longer looks implausible. Also Bainum and Wyss have the means, should they choose, to take the plunge without having certain buyers for other papers, gambling that deals come through later or running some of the orphan papers themselves.

NewsGuild chapters at Tribune titles held a virtual forum and rally Wednesday evening, aiming to make their case. The organizer of the meeting, Jen Sheehan, a food writer at The Morning Call in Allentown and Guild chapter vice-chair, said that she particularly wanted to emphasize a point that came up in her local conversations. People, including prospective investors, know the industry is having financial problems, she told me, “but we’re still making money. Alden wants our money — that’s why they want to buy.” Skittish investors need reassurance that an owner who will settle for a low profit margin or no margin can make a go of it.

The forum included two members of Congress from Illinois, which raises a question of whether the fate of Tribune Publishing could kick helpful government action into gear. Several bills are already on the table to help the industry, including a potential subsidy for subscriptions.

Also, the prolific Steven Waldman tackled the question of how the government can help in a white paper last fall. He advocates “replanting” chain newspapers as independent and community-owned and proposes a series of tax breaks and investment structuring options that could make it happen.

That’s it for this week, but be prepared, as Sheehan put it, for another Sunday surprise. A higher bid from Alden? Or an added player for the Bainum-Wyss team? Or something else?

A Richard Engel special

(Courtesy: MSNBC)

This Sunday, Richard Engel has a special episode of his MSNBC show “On Assignment.” In the episode called “Our House,” Engel, in collaboration with the investigative group Bellingcat, examines never-seen-before images and videos of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. It zeroes in on key figures by tracking their movements, their affiliations and their actions leading up to the insurrection. The show airs Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern.

At the beginning of the episode, Engel says, “On Jan. 6, 2021, the world’s most powerful nation lost control of its seat of government. For more than four hours the mob ruled. Fanatical supporters of President Trump roamed the U.S. Capitol hunting for legislators they accused of treason. Witnesses tell the FBI some would have killed anyone they got their hands on. It was the biggest threat to American democracy since the Civil War.”

Politico pod

Politico Playbook, Politico’s Washington and politics newsletter, will launch a new weekly podcast called “Playbook Deep Dive” on April 23. A new episode will come out every Friday. The trailer is due out today.

Each episode will run 25-30 minutes and will do what Playbook does best: pull back the curtain on the most significant storylines impacting Washington.

More details: every episode will begin with an introduction from one of Playbook’s authors — Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza and Tara Palmeri. What makes this podcast different from the “Playbook Daily Audio Briefing” is it will lean more into long-form storytelling to provide perspective and analysis.

Pompeo to Fox News

Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The revolving door from the Donald Trump White House to Fox News continues to turn. Fox News Media announced Thursday that it has hired former secretary of state Mike Pompeo as a contributor. He will make his first appearance on today’s “Fox & Friends.”

Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott said in a statement, “Mike Pompeo is one of America’s most recognized and respected voices on foreign policy and national security issues. I look forward to his contributions across our range of platforms to share his distinct perspective with our millions of viewers.”

Pompeo joins former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, former economic adviser Larry Kudlow and Trump daughter-in-law Lara Trump as those who have landed gigs with Fox News since leaving the White House.

Media tidbits

  • Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, will be the guest moderator of tonight’s “Washington Week” (8 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations). Panelists include Errin Haines (The 19th*), Eamon Javers (CNBC) and Jane Mayer (The New Yorker). Topics include the corporate world’s reaction to Georgia’s voting law and the latest news around H.R. 1, including Mayer’s reporting about the right’s campaign against the bill.
  • In a story first broken by The Hollywood Reporter’s Lacey Rose, Jon Stewart will debut a current affairs series in the fall on Apple TV. It will be called “The Problem with Jon Stewart.” Each episode will feature one topic.
  • The latest thought-provoking column from The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin is titled, “So much GOP racism hiding in plain sight.” Rubin writes this powerful passage: “Republicans will protest that not all of them are racists. But it is fair to say that the large majority of Republicans continues to support the former president, and at least tolerate outward expressions of racism — and refuse to accept the results of elections from a multiracial electorate.”

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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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