By:
March 31, 2021

In case you hadn’t heard, COVID-19 is not over.

Yes, with millions getting vaccinated, it does feel as if we could see more of a “normal” life sometime in 2021.

But we’re not in the clear. Not yet. And it’s a message that the media has continued and must continue to drive home in the days, weeks and maybe even months ahead.

COVID-19 cases are up 13% across the country this week compared to last week. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said earlier this week, “Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth, and I have to hope and trust you will listen. I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom … We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared.”

Relaxing COVID-19 protocols and a rise in cases among young people have some fearing a fourth wave. The Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham, Marisa Iati and Reis Thebault wrote, “The nation appeared poised for a fourth wave of illness even as vaccine eligibility is expanding in many states.”

The Hill’s Reid Wilson wrote, “But while millions of Americans are receiving vaccinations, progress toward herd immunity has not kept pace with the new spike.

During an appearance on last Sunday’s “Face the Nation,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “What we’re likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you’ve seen now.”

However, Walensky believes the U.S. “can change this trajectory.”

She said it requires being diligent about what most have done over the past year: wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing, avoiding crowds and just being smart. President Joe Biden is imploring states to reinstate mask mandates and remain focused against COVID-19.

This is where the media comes in. While it’s fine to report the successes of the vaccines, it’s also important to not act as if we are at the finish line.

The Sunday morning news shows, the cable news primetime hosts, go-to national sources such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and The Atlantic must continue to talk to the experts.

And most of all, local news outlets — newspapers, TV stations, radio — must continue to closely monitor local numbers, which clearly show in most places that now is not the time to ease off the gas pedal.

Good examples of such local stories are this one from Buffalo TV station WKBW and this one from The Berkshire Eagle in Massachusetts and this one from Sinclair-run TV station WCHS in Charleston, West Virginia, and this one from The Los Angeles Times. All of them quoted local officials warning how the pandemic is not over, the current grim statistics and what must be done to climb out of danger.

In addition, we need stories like this one from The New York Times’ Tara Haelle — “What Can You Do Once You’re Vaccinated?” — which shows that just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean you can return to life as if it was 2019.

Perhaps we’re closer to the end of the pandemic than the beginning, but the media needs to remind its audiences that the end is not here yet.

Holt’s remarks

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In his speech Tuesday night accepting the Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt talked about COVID-19 and sitting down with his news team about a year ago.

“And I told them,” Holt said. “I had seen a lot in my 40-year news career, but that we were all about to face what really would be the ‘story of a lifetime,’ that this would define them and be the story they would tell for ages to come. Every day is a new chapter, and every other story that has occurred since has been amplified by the pandemic, kind of fueling this collective distress. This sense of the wheels are coming off the bus. In those 40 years, I have never felt prouder to be working in this business than I am right now. The country has relied on our work to understand and navigate this unprecedented threat. It’s the role that brought many of us into journalism.”

However, Holt added, journalism in America still faces its challenges.

“I was thinking the other day, wow we have vaccines,” Holt said. “Three of them for COVID-19. But we’re going to need more than that to defend the principles of a free and independent press, one of the pillars of a functioning and healthy democracy.”

Holt added that the media has been damaged by four years of being labeled the “enemy of the people” by the “world’s biggest megaphone.” That led to a toxic relationship between the press and the executive branch. Many labeled the press as biased for simply separating fact from fiction.

Holt said, “Remember this: fact-checking is not a vendetta or attack.”

He added, “News literacy is extremely important. We must help our audiences understand what our role is in a healthy democracy. Because if we’re not asking the right questions, who is? Imagine, if you would, what the pandemic would look like without the media holding leaders to account for vaccine rollouts or countering harmful misinformation or why some communities are being left behind. Regard for truth must regain a foothold in our society so that we can weather the storms of tomorrow’s calamities, tomorrow’s pandemics.”

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Throwing her a lifeline

Kayleigh McEnany (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

For my money, Kayleigh McEnany was the most overwhelmed and ineffective White House press secretary in recent memory, and perhaps ever. She was more interested in sparring with and insulting the press than actually doing her job of providing information to the American people. (Just watch current White House press secretary Jen Psaki to see how it’s supposed to be done.)

McEnany was so bitter, combative and inept — not to mention complicit in pushing the many lies of her boss — that it was hard to imagine her landing a decent gig when her days in the White House were over. Her credibility seemed that shot.

But here comes Fox News to the rescue.

Fox News announced Tuesday that McEnany has been named co-host of “Outnumbered,” which airs weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. McEnany joins Harris Faulkner, Emily Compagno and a series of rotating panelists.

In a statement, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott said, “Kayleigh’s unique background in politics and law coupled with her experiences confronting women’s health challenges and life as a new mom will add robust insight to ‘Outnumbered’ — we are delighted to welcome her back to Fox News where she began her media career.”

Make no mistake, Fox News is going all in on its agenda. Just look at some of the decisions they’ve made since Donald Trump left office. Trump is a frequent guest on the network. McEnany was quickly named a contributor and now is a full-time co-host on a high-profile show. And two other hires since the election: Larry Kudlow, Trump’s National Economic Council director, has his own show on Fox Business and the network announced this week that Lara Trump, who is married to former President Trump’s son Eric, will be a Fox News contributor.

Switching jobs?

Axios’ Alayna Treene had an intriguing media scoop on Tuesday. She reports that Trump wannabe and polarizing politician Matt Gaetz, a Republican Congressman from Florida, is telling those close to him that he’s considering not running for reelection and might, instead, take a job with Newsmax, the very conservative, pro-Trump TV network.

Gaetz has made plenty of noise during his time as a Florida representative with provocative tweets, controversial comments and once wearing a gas mask on the House floor while voting on a coronavirus response package.

It has been assumed that Gaetz has higher political aspirations. Making a move to media wouldn’t necessarily end those ambitions. In fact, it could give him an even higher profile, particularly nationally. One of Treene’s sources said Gaetz has had early conversations with the network about what a position could look like.

This still feels unlikely, but Gaetz is such a wild card that he might view becoming a national media figure as his best path to a more powerful office — kind of like following in the footsteps of his mentor.

But as New York Times’ media writer Michael M. Grynbaum tweeted, “Does Gaetz realize that if he goes to Newsmax, he’d be blackballed at Fox News? He’d end up with less influence than he has now.”

Grynbaum has a point. As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump pointed out in a column on Tuesday, “A review of Gaetz appearances on Fox News since taking office in 2017 shows that he’s appeared on the network for about 46 hours over the last three years.”

And Fox News has a far greater reach and viewership than Newsmax.

Then came this breaking news involving Gaetz later in the day on Tuesday: The New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt and Katie Benner reported that Gaetz is “being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him.”

Schmidt and Benner reported that investigators are examining whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws. They wrote, “a variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value.”

The Times reported the investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General Bill Barr.

Important coverage

(Courtesy: CBS News)

CBSN — CBS News’ streaming service — will present a special tonight at 6 p.m. Eastern called “Asian Americans: Battling Bias — Continuing Crisis.” It’s a one-hour special produced by the CBS News Race and Culture Unit, anchored by Elaine Quijano and produced and reported by a team of Asian American journalists at CBS News.

The special features a roundtable discussion that includes actors Olivia Munn and Daniel Dae Kim, activist Amanda Nguyen, professor Russell Jeung, and chef/TV personality Melissa King.

In addition, TV personality Cheryl Burke, journalist and activist Helen Zia, actors Tzi Ma and Jennifer Cheon Garcia and chef Eddie Huang will offer their perspectives.

CBS, it should be noted, has done exceptional work covering this issue, including the work of White House correspondent Weijia Jiang.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden tweeted, “We can’t be silent in the face of rising violence against Asian Americans. That’s why today I’m taking additional steps to respond — including establishing an initiative at the Department of Justice to address anti-Asian crimes. These attacks are wrong, un-American, and must stop.”

On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted, “A harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us. @POTUS and I will not be silent which is why our administration is taking steps to address the rise in violence against the Asian American community, including an initiative to combat anti-Asian violence.”

Gross and dangerous

A TV reporter for CBS affiliate WFMY in Greensboro, North Carolina, was yelled at and spit on as she prepared for a live report in downtown Greensboro on Monday night. Reporter Adaure Achumba and photojournalist Sean Higgins were getting ready to go live when a woman walked behind Achumba and yelled in her ear. Achumba asked what the woman was doing and that’s when the woman threatened her and then spat on her face shield. Higgins stepped in and the woman walked away. Police are now searching for the woman.

In a story on its website, WFMY wrote, “We share this story not only because it happened to one of our own, but because it shouldn’t happen to anyone in a public space. Everyone deserves the same level of respect, whether passing by on the street or simply doing their job in a public place.”

Media tidbits

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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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