By:
January 6, 2021

Today’s a big day in the transition from current President Donald Trump to eventual President Joe Biden. We just never realized it was going to be a big day.

That’s because what’s happening today has never before been that big of a deal before.

Typically, the certification of the Electoral College vote is not a major news story, and it’s never controversial. Today, that changes.

It will be newsworthy. It will be controversial. And it will be covered like it has never been covered before.

Let’s start with this: What exactly is happening today? How does it all work?

I’ve read a ton of stories about today’s events, but none as comprehensive and detailed and informative as Louis Jacobson’s breakdown for PolitiFact. It’s an excellent rundown of what will — and just as important — what will not happen.

What will not happen? The election and Biden’s victory will not be overturned. On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence “has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” But news outlets quickly pointed out that simply is not true.

PolitiFact’s Jon Greenberg writes, “Based on the text of the Constitution, existing law and prevailing scholarship, we rate this claim False.”

The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips also covers this angle, and gives all of Pence’s options. “But,” she writes, “Pence doesn’t have the power to change the will of the voters, no matter what his boss said.”

Phillips writes, “Any attempt by him to assert more authority than simply reading vote tallies aloud would probably land him in court.”

So what’s the issue and where’s the controversy? Phillips adds, “But Trump is increasingly signaling that Pence playing by the rules will land him in hot water with the president.”

It all could make for fascinating TV and all the news networks are planning coverage. The session is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Eastern and could carry well into the evening.

Strong words

Longtime conservative columnist George Will had harsh criticism for Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and other GOP lawmakers who plan to contest the certification of the Electoral College results today. Writing for The Washington Post, Will wrote, “The members of the Hawley-Cruz cohort will violate the oath of office in which they swore to defend the Constitution from enemies ‘foreign and domestic.’ They are its most dangerous domestic enemies.”

Wow.

Will also took a personal jab at Hawley, Missouri’s freshman senator, by writing: “… has there ever been such a high ratio of ambition to accomplishment?”

What’s it all about?

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley (right) talks to “MTP Daily” moderator Chuck Todd on Tuesday. (Courtesy: NBC News)

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily,” Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley was asked by moderator Chuck Todd if he had talked to any GOP lawmakers in an effort to “talk them out” of objecting to the Electoral College results.

Merkley said, “I think they feel — and it’s reflected in a whole series of discussions — absolutely constrained by the Trump base, that they have a base that is so significant in their future elections that they cannot offend it. And that base is constantly seeing what Trump describes as the Trump media, the social media, the cable news networks, the emails, the talk radio stations, and that they cannot get out of sync with that base. And they’re struggling with how to square that with what they know is their proper role under the law and under the Constitution.”

Fox News falls in line

We do see some moments when Fox News pushes back on claims that the election was rigged and could be overturned. Bret Baier, for example, challenged Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s assertion that Donald Trump could still end up as president after Jan. 20.

But there still are many more moments when Fox News is showing its support and/or giving credence to the idea that Trump was wronged.

You expect such punditry and rhetoric on shows such as “Fox & Friends” and “The Five” and from Fox News’ primetime lineup (Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham). It’s disappointing, although less and less surprising, when you see it from Fox News’ so-called “straight news” people.

An example: During an interview with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Fox News anchor Sandra Smith asked why Raffensperger made his phone conversation with President Trump public and added, “Don’t you worry about the precedent that that sets?”

Raffensperger has said many times that he would not have released the conversation had Trump not tweeted (and mischaracterized) details of the conversation on Twitter. As Raffensperger explained this, Smith cut him off and said, “Why not let this play out in court? Why put into jeopardy, you know, our country by leaking a phone call of that nature and not just let your numbers and your facts play out in a court of law?”

Raffensperger delivered a drop-the-mic line by saying, “I don’t understand how the truth would ever jeopardize the country. We’re standing on the facts, we’re standing on the truth.”

And then there are these types of comments, as delivered by Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum — who, again, is touted by the network as one of its straight-news anchors:

“There is a lot of emotion. There (are) a lot of very disgruntled people out there in the Republican party. And we need to continue to recognize it. You can say maybe it’s unfounded, or not backed up by evidence, but the sentiment is there.”

Maybe unfounded?

This idea that the election was rigged is unfounded. It is not backed up by evidence. And to “recognize” that sentiment only emboldens that sentiment. It legitimizes that sentiment. It’s the same type of irresponsible excuse-making seen in this clip from “Fox & Friends.”

This is reckless journalism.

Big business

For this item, I turn it over to Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds.

It is not just Biden Democrats and left-tilting media trashing Trumpworld’s last-ditch effort to decertify the incoming president’s election. Add big business to that long list of critics.

Fortune CEO Alan Murray’s morning newsletter Tuesday rounds up unanimous and sharply worded statements from a who’s who of leading business associations — the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The Conference Board and the National Association of Manufacturers.

A sample from the NAM: “In every election, many Americans are disappointed by the results. But disappointment does not justify harming our democracy or undermining faith in our elections based on unproven charges and conspiracy theories.”

Though the wording is different, you might say that the business community deems Trump and his fellow election deniers “deplorables.”

Scully to return to C-SPAN

C-SPAN is not going to fire anchor Steve Scully. The network announced Tuesday that Scully will return after being placed on administrative leave back in October for lying that his Twitter account was hacked.

To refresh your memory as to what happened, when Scully was announced as a moderator for one of the presidential debates, Trump criticized Scully as a “never Trumper.” Scully then had a Twitter exchange with former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci, asking Scaramucci if he should respond to Trump. Scaramucci wrote back, “Ignore. He is having a hard enough time. Some more bad stuff about to go down.”

The exchange drew criticism from Trump supporters, and Scully originally said his Twitter feed was hacked and C-SPAN stood behind his claim. However, Scully then admitted his account was not hacked. C-SPAN put him on administrative leave.

On Tuesday in a statement, C-SPAN said, “We view October’s events as a singular episode in an otherwise successful 30-year C-SPAN career. And while it was appropriate in October for Steve to be immediately relieved of his duties leading our 2020 election coverage, we reiterate our belief that now, having completed a three-month administrative leave, he can continue to contribute to C-SPAN’s mission.”

As it turned out, the debate Scully was supposed to moderate ended up being canceled after Trump contracted COVID-19 and the debate schedule was altered.

No date has been set for Scully’s on-air return. The Hollywood Reporter’s Alex Weprin reported, “Scully will initially return in an off-air capacity. C-SPAN says that Scully will return to work this week, producing for its television programming and hosting ‘Washington Today’ and ‘The Weekly for C-SPAN Radio.’”

A special ‘Dateline’

The families of George Floyd, Jacob Blake Jr. and Eric Garner talk to NBC’s “Dateline.” (Courtesy: NBC News)

For the first time on TV, the families of George Floyd, Jacob Blake Jr. and Eric Garner will come together to talk about police violence and the deaths of their loved ones in a NBC “Dateline” special called “Journey for Justice.” It will air Thursday night at 10 p.m. Eastern.

NBC News’ Craig Melvin will talk with the family members about their pain, anger and their commitment to advocacy. In the special, Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, says, “Until I can get that satisfaction of understanding and knowing that I matter, my life matters here, it’ll never be the same for me. I will have to keep protesting.”

The special also includes interviews with lawmakers and other experts on police brutality and reform.

Media tidbits

  • CBS News executive Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews has been named executive vice president and CBS News Washington bureau chief. She has been the acting Washington bureau chief since July. Ciprian-Matthews has extensive news experience, serving in several executive roles at CBS, She also has been the network’s foreign editor, a broadcast producer for the “CBS Evening News” and deputy bureau chief of the network’s London news bureau. Before joining CBS, Ciprian-Matthews was the managing editor of CNN’s New York bureau.
  • Veteran political reporter Olivier Knox has been hired to anchor The Washington Post’s “The Daily 202” — the Post’s politics newsletter that covers the inner workings of Washington politics. Knox joins the Post from SiriusXM. Before that, he worked at Yahoo News and Agence France-Presse. He also served as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association from July 2018 to July 2019. Knox will take over the newsletter shortly after the inauguration.
  • Colleen McCain Nelson has been named executive editor of The Sacramento Bee. She also will be McClatchy’s regional editor for California. Nelson is currently the national opinion editor for McClatchy, as well as vice president and opinion editor for The Kansas City Star. She was part of a three-person team at The Dallas Morning News that won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2010. Nelson replaces Lauren Gustus, who left the Bee last November to take over as editor at The Salt Lake Tribune.
  • After multiple incidents of female journalists being approached with creepy nonexistent job opportunities, the Association for Women in Sports Media put out a warning to its members to be extra vigilant. AWSM wrote, “We unfortunately have seen a spike among members targeted via social media by people posing as potential hiring managers seeking pictures, video and contact info that clearly isn’t for professional purposes.” The Big Lead’s Kyle Koster has more of the details.
  • Poynter’s Rick Edmonds writes, “Less than a week after hedge fund Alden Global Capital offered to buy Tribune Publishing in a $520 million deal, the NewsGuild has signaled it will legally challenge the takeover.” Check out Edmonds’ post for the rest of the story.
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter M.L. Elrick has his sights on a new job after accepting a buyout from the Detroit Free Press. He’s going to run for Detroit City Council. Elrick made the announcement on his podcast, saying, “For 28 years now I’ve been a reporter trying to hold public officials accountable, and I’ve been kind of a lone gunman. I moved back to Detroit more than 20 years ago because I wanted to be a part of its comeback. It was important for me to be here for family and to help the city I’ve always loved.” For more details, check out the story from Detroit Metro Times’ Steve Neavling.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

Correction: This newsletter has been updated to show that LaTosha Brown is the co-founder of Black Voters Matter. Another organization was originally listed.

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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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