By:
February 23, 2021

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would order flags in his state to be lowered to half-staff when the body of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was laid to rest.

Although Limbaugh had a residence in Palm Beach, Florida, honoring him in such a way seemed unusual. It’s an honor usually reserved for political figures, law enforcement, military members and other public servants. DeSantis’ decision — clearly a nod to his fellow Republicans — also seemed out of line considering Limbaugh’s history of racist, bigoted, sexist and other insulting and degrading remarks.

DeSantis’ announcement was met with immediate pushback and criticism

Then came Monday.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said she will direct state offices under her supervision to ignore DeSantis’ order. She said, “Lowering to half-staff the flag of the United States of America is a sacred honor that pays respect to fallen heroes and patriots. It is not a partisan political tool. Therefore, I will notify all state offices under my direction to disregard the Governor’s forthcoming order to lower flags for Mr. Limbaugh — because we will not celebrate hate speech, bigotry and division. Lowering the flag should always reflect unity, not division, and raising our standards, not lowering them. Our flags will remain flying high to celebrate the American values of diversity, inclusion and respect for all.”

Not long after that, Rick Kriseman, the mayor of St. Petersburg, tweeted, “Not lowering flags for Rush. In St. Pete we don’t honor hatred, racism, bigotry, homophobia, or anything else he has spewed over the years. We are, however, honoring the life of Deputy Michael Magli of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.”

While on duty last week, Magli was hit and killed by a suspected drunk driver.

500,000

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, bow their heads during a ceremony to honor the 500,000 Americans that died from COVID-19. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

As I mentioned in Monday’s newsletter, the U.S. has now reached 500,000 COVID-19 deaths. That became official Monday. President Joe Biden tweeted, “500,000 lives lost to COVID-19. It’s an unfathomable number, but each one represents a family that will never again be whole. To those who have lost loved ones: I know no words can numb the pain, but I hope you find some solace in knowing the nation grieves with you.”

Biden also addressed the nation Monday evening regarding this horrific number. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had a moment of silence during a candlelight ceremony on the steps of the White House.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins tweeted, “Regarding the death toll, CDC Director (Rochelle) Walensky said earlier, ‘I think that when history writes this, we will understand that the mortality related to this pandemic is far greater than the number that we’ve been counting for numerous reasons.’”

Writing for USA Today, opinion columnist Jason Sattler wrote a column titled: “A just monument to the Trump presidency: Bury the 500,000 COVID dead at Mar-a-Lago.”

And another story to read: The Washington Post’s Peter Jamison with “In a virus-ravaged city, nearly 400 million vaccine doses are being made — and shipped elsewhere.”

So sue me

The MyPillow Guy is now the GettingSued Guy. Dominion Voting Systems, the election technology company, is suing MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell over Lindell’s repeated claims that Dominion rigged its machines to tip the 2020 election in favor of Joe Biden. Dominion is seeking about $1.3 billion in damages. Besides repeated appearances on TV and social media posts, Lindell also made such claims that Dominion rigged the election in a two-hour film that aired on OAN. The suit said the film and Lindell’s claims are filled with falsehoods.

In a statement, Dominion CEO John Poulos said, “Despite repeated warnings and efforts to share the facts with him, Mr. Lindell has continued to maliciously spread false claims about Dominion, each time giving empty assurances that he would come forward with overwhelming proof.”

This is not Dominion’s only lawsuit over unsubstantiated claims that they fixed the election. It also has sued Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and lawyer Sidney Powell — for about the same amount.

Lindell keeps promising to produce proof — a claim he has made without delivering for some time now. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Alexa Corse, Lindell said, “I have all the evidence on them. Now this will get disclosed faster, all the machine fraud and the attack on our country.”

Promoting the big lie

Speaking of the false and baseless claims of a rigged election, I mentioned in Monday’s newsletter how ABC “This Week” moderator Jonathan Karl interviewed Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Sunday. Karl asked Scalise several times if he believed the 2020 presidential election was fair and square. Scalise, who has pushed the election lie in the past and voted against certifying Biden’s Electoral College victory, danced around the answer. He admitted Biden is president, but then talked about how a “few states did not follow their state laws.”

Karl, who was filling in for regular moderator George Stephanopoulos, is taking lots of heat for that interview. My gripe is why even have Scalise on the show and why even ask about the election? In other words, why are we still talking about this? Karl didn’t help the matter by not pushing back more.

In a piece titled “Why are mainstream news outlets giving a platform to Republicans who lie about the 2020 election?” Vox’s Aaron Rupar writes, “Tactics aside, the broader question of whether TV news shows should continue to book Republicans who spread lies about the election is a complex one. But ABC’s handling of Scalise represented a worst of all worlds scenario where they’re not only invited on the air but allowed to lie with impunity.”

Rupar’s point includes that it’s important for interviewers to be tough on their guests should they push lies.

Rupar smartly wrote, “Conducting tough interviews like that makes it less likely that people like Scalise … will accept an invitation to come on your show next time. But at a time when Republicans are using lies about election fraud not only to delegitimize President Biden but also to push for changes to state laws that will make it harder for people to vote, there are more important things than achieving nominal partisan balance.”

Also, check out Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein with “Networks Booking Election-Deniers Helps Keep Trump’s Big Lie Alive.”

Deal or no deal?

Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

So is the Los Angeles Times for sale or not?

Last week, The Wall Street Journal’s Lukas I. Alpert, quoting “people familiar with the matter,” reported that owner Patrick Soon-Shiong is exploring a sale of the Times. But a spokesperson for the Times said Soon-Shiong and Times ownership will “continue to invest in and plan for the future of the Los Angeles Times, and do not plan to sell.” Soon-Shiong tweeted: “WSJ article inaccurate. We are committed to the @LATimes.” The Journal responded by standing by its story.

Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds weighed in with a piece for Poynter, writing, “Which side had it right? I will put my money on the Journal story holding up.”

Check out Edmonds’ column for why he thinks that.

Lessons learned

Here is an outstanding piece from FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr. called “Nine Lessons I Learned About Political Reporting While Covering Trump.” In the piece, Bacon writes that prior to the 2016 Republican primary, he was confident Donald Trump would not win the nomination. Bacon writes, “Over the next five-plus years, I learned a lot about covering national politics. Some lessons came the hard way: By being really wrong. So now that we’re about a month into a new presidential administration, I’m trying to keep those lessons front and center.”

Bacon goes into detail about those lessons, which include items such as listening to more Black people, mixing up his media diet, moving on from both sides-ism and embracing uncertainty. It’s a real thought-provoking piece from Bacon, who writes, “I’m already pretty nervous about bungling things. I just wrote a long essay about the lessons I learned covering Trump. But Joe Biden is president now. Some of those lessons might not apply — and surely there will be new lessons from the Biden years. But no matter what, you heard it here first, in 2024, Biden will … I have no idea. I will stay humble and you should stay tuned.”

Tick … tick … tick … tick

Just catching up on Sunday night’s outstanding episode of “60 Minutes.” If you missed it, you can catch up here. All three segments were superb.

Bill Whitaker reported on “Attacks on the Judiciary” as threats against federal judges have risen 400% over the past five years, including an attack that ended with the death of a U.S. District judge’s son.

Scott Pelley reported that a prosecutor said there is strong evidence to convict Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of war crimes. But will the dictator ever go to trial?

And, Lesley Stahl reported on QAnon.

Who is up next?

Answer: Mike Richards. The question: Who is the next guest host of “Jeopardy?”

USA Today’s Gary Levin broke the news Monday that Richards, the executive producer of “Jeopardy,” will guest host the show this week and next. He takes over for the game show’s record winner, Ken Jennings, who hosted the show for six weeks following the death of Alex Trebek.

Richards did a Q&A with Levin and also did an interview that is up on YouTube.

Following Richards, upcoming guest hosts will include journalists Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, Savannah Guthrie and Bill Whitaker, neurosurgeon and CNN medical adviser Dr. Sanjay Gupta, NFL star Aaron Rodgers and actress Mayim Bialik.

No permanent replacement for Trebek has been picked, but as a regular “Jeopardy” viewer, I can tell you that Jennings was outstanding and I would love to see him get the permanent gig.

Richards said Jennings is being considered for the permanent hosting role, and he told USA Today, “Ken did an amazing job; that’s why we picked him to do it. He did better than I thought, and my expectations were incredibly high. I think he was the perfect person to come onto the stage after Alex. Our fans, our staff and crew are all familiar with him. He came out, said the right things, was humbled by the situation, addressed the elephant in the room right away and said no one’s going to replace Alex, and they’re not. It’s a fool’s errand.”

Looking at a scandal

George Clooney. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The Hollywood Reporter’s Rick Porter reports that George Clooney’s production company, Smokehouse Pictures, is going to partner up with Sports Illustrated Studios and 101 Studios to produce a docuseries about the “decades-long abuse scandal in the athletic department at Ohio State University.”

The series will be based on a 2020 story written by Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim, who will also serve as one of the executive producers. Wertheim’s story detailed allegations against former Ohio State athletic doctor Richard Strauss and the university’s failure to respond.

Porter writes, “Wertheim’s story includes an account from former Ohio State wrestler (and UFC champion) Mark Coleman about Strauss’ alleged sexual abuse and administration of steroids to athletes. Coleman also alleges that Jim Jordan, then an Ohio State assistant wrestling coach and now a congressman, knowingly ignored Strauss’ abuse.”

In a statement, Wertheim wrote, “This article uncovers the most widespread sexual abuse scandal in the history of American higher education. It is a story about power, abuse, enabling and the hierarchy of college sports that had been concealed for far too long.”

No word yet on which outlet might broadcast the docuseries.

Media tidbits

  • As a part of NBC’s month-long coverage commemorating Black history, NBC News is producing a deeper dive across several platforms that examines how the country has “grappled with inequality and whether there has been any change following the reckoning over racial injustice.” Reports are airing all week on shows such as “Today” and “NBC Nightly News” as well as MSNBC, NBCNews.com and NBC News NOW.
  • On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected former President Donald Trump’s attempt to shield his financial records, meaning Trump must now turn over his tax records and other financial details to prosecutors in New York. Now what? The New York Times’ William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Benjamin Weiser have the details in “Here’s What’s Next in the Trump Taxes Investigation.”
  • New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reports that Rich Gannon is out as a NFL analyst at CBS after calling games for 16 years.
  • Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen have launched a new podcast on Spotify called, “Renegades: Born in the USA.” It’s scheduled to be an eight-episode series. The first two episodes are now live. In a statement, Spotify said, “It is a personal, in-depth discussion between two friends exploring their pasts, their beliefs, and the country that they love — as it was, as it is, and as it ought to be going forward.”

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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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