By:
April 19, 2021

This likely will be a big week in Minneapolis. And in this country.

Closing arguments begin today in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. Then the jurors will begin their deliberations.

When will we have a verdict? It’s anyone’s guess.

The judge in this case, Peter Cahill, told the jury to “plan for long and hope for short.” Jurors will be sequestered until they reach a verdict.

As far as what they will decide? Well, that’s anyone’s guess, too.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, ABC News’ chief legal analyst Dan Abrams told moderator Martha Raddatz, “I think it’s highly unlikely you’re going to see an acquittal here. … I think those of us who have been watching this case closely, who have been watching all the expert testimony, watched the video, watched the opening statement, et cetera, would be stunned if there was an all-out acquittal where you find 12 jurors who say that he was not guilty.”

CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Kay Jones and Eric Fiegel reported that Minneapolis and other U.S. cities already are preparing for potential unrest depending on the verdict. My Poynter colleague Al Tompkins tweeted out his guide for journalists covering such protests and civil unrest.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday, “The NBA has instructed teams to be vigilant about the impact of a potential verdict this week in the Derek Chauvin trial for the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, including the possibility of game postponements.”

The New York Times’ John Eligon and Shawn Hubler report that since testimony in the trial began on March 29, more than three people a day have died at the hands of law enforcement.

Eligon and Hubler write, “Since testimony began on March 29, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement nationwide, with Black and Latino people representing more than half of the dead.”

They add, “The deaths, culled by The New York Times from gun violence databases, news media accounts and law enforcement releases, offer a snapshot of policing in America in this moment. They testify not only to the danger and desperation that police officers confront daily, but also to the split-second choices and missteps by members of law enforcement that can escalate workaday arrests into fatalities.”

To that end, Benjamin Crump, the civil rights attorney representing the families of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, told ABC News’ “This Week” what a guilty verdict in this Chauvin trial might mean.

“The outcome that we pray for and Derek Chauvin is for him to be held criminally liable for killing George Floyd, because we believe that could be a precedent,” Crump said. “Finally making America live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all. That means all of us — Black people, Hispanic people, Native people — all of us.”

Check your facts

Perhaps the biggest news story in Houston at the moment has to do with Deshaun Watson, the quarterback of the NFL’s Houston Texans. In the past month, more than 20 women, most of them massage therapists, have accused Watson of sexual assault, harassment and inappropriate behavior. Some 23 lawsuits have been filed against Watson and, as of now, 22 are scheduled to go to trial.

However, these cases are already being tried in the court of public opinion and the Houston Chronicle’s Alex Stuckey has discovered that both sides have made errors in the rush to sway the public. For example, Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin released the statements of 18 women who are massage therapists. They defended Watson and said he never acted inappropriately with them.

Stuckey wrote, “But a Houston Chronicle analysis of the names and licenses of the 18 women presented to the public by Hardin as character witnesses found the list was littered with errors. Names were spelled incorrectly. Licenses couldn’t be found for some. At least one woman’s massage therapy license has been expired since before Watson graduated from college. Giving a massage without a license is a misdemeanor in Georgia, where this woman works. The inaccuracies extended to the other side of the case. The lawyer who represents Watson’s accusers, Tony Buzbee, misspelled a name and the Chronicle could not find a license for one of his clients.”

The big lesson for the media here? Check everything. Vet everything. Don’t just run press releases blindly. That’s what happened here. Several media outlets, including the Chronicle, published the press release from Watson’s attorney without vetting it.

As Stuckey wrote, “Legal experts say the mistakes illustrate the problems associated with high-profile cases that play out in the media as lawyers duel with each other to curry the public’s favor even before the civil cases begin — and victim advocates worry that the women behind the lawsuits are being lost in the shuffle.”

ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio, who also is an attorney, wrote, “These issues most likely will have no relevance to the merits of the cases or Watson’s defense in court. As the jurors in the court of public opinion continue to process information and to reach conclusions, however, little things like these could become a factor.”

And outside of court, it’s a valuable lesson for journalists.

Tribune Publishing update

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

Hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr.’s effort to buy Tribune Publishing suffered a major setback over the weekend when his partner, Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, pulled out of the deal.

Wyss lost interest, The New York Times’ Katie Robertson reported Saturday, when he and his representatives looked at the books and no longer had confidence that they could transform the Chicago Tribune, his primary interest, into a strong national newspaper.

For now, that means a bid from hedge fund Alden Global Capital to buy shares it does not already own in a transaction valued at $630 million is the only offer on the table. A special committee of Tribune Publishing has recommended that shareholders vote to take the deal.

However, a source familiar with Bainum’s thinking said that he has already begun speaking with other potential investors and hopes to submit a new offer within a week to 10 days. The special committee said in securities filings that the $680 million Bainum and Wyss had proposed to pay appeared to be a “superior” offer that should be considered if financing was in place and it became firm rather than tentative.

Bainum lives in Maryland and has primarily been interested in acquiring The Baltimore Sun. Last fall he reached a tentative agreement with Alden to buy just the Sun for $65 million, but that came apart in a disagreement over fees for centralized services Alden would continue to provide.

Resurrecting that deal remains a possibility, the source said, but Bainum’s present focus is on finding new investors to acquire the whole company or to buy individual papers in their home communities.

Besides the Sun and the flagship Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing owns papers in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Allentown, Norfolk/Newport News and New York City.

Fauci vs. Jordan

Dr. Anthony Fauci being interviewed by MSNBC’s Joy Reid last week. (Courtesy: MSNBC)

Did you see Dr. Anthony Fauci and Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan scrapping last week? Jordan once again was complaining about COVID-19 and things such as mask-wearing, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. Jordan wants life to return to normal and seems to want to blame Fauci that it has not.

Fauci appeared on last Friday’s “The ReidOut” on MSNBC and told host Joy Reid, “I totally understand where he wants to be, but when you have a substantial proportion of people who refuse to get vaccinated it makes it that much more difficult. If we get a substantial proportion of people who don’t get vaccinated, then we will not get to the point that people want to get to.”

Then, during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Fauci told host Dana Bash that he doesn’t enjoy those kinds of confrontations.

“But it was very, very clear that he was talking about liberties that were being restricted,” Fauci said. “This has nothing to do with liberties, Dana.

“We’re talking about the fact that 560,000 people in our country have died. We’re talking about … 70,000 new infections per day. That’s the issue. This is a public health issue. It’s not a civil liberties issue.”

One more thing from Fauci

Fauci also appeared on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” to talk about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which is on pause after a possible link to a handful of cases of rare blood clots.

Fauci told moderator Chuck Todd, “My estimate is that we will continue to use it in some form. I doubt very seriously if they just cancel it. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I do think that there will likely be some sort of warning or restriction or risk assessment. I don’t think it’s just going to go back and say, ‘OK, everything’s fine. Go right back.’ I think it’ll likely say, ‘OK, we’re going to use it, but be careful under these certain circumstances.’”

Fauci told CBS “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan, “I would be very surprised … if we don’t have a resumption in some form by Friday.”

Trump TV

One American News Network is still all-in on former President Donald Trump, as noted by The New York Times’ Rachel Abrams.

As recently as late March 28, OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp said on air, “There’s still serious doubts about who’s actually president.”

However, not everyone is on board at OAN. Abrams interviewed 18 current and former OAN newsroom employees, and 16 said the channel had broadcast reports that they considered “misleading, inaccurate or untrue.”

Abrams wrote, “To go by much of OAN’s reporting, it is almost as if a transfer of power had never taken place. The channel did not broadcast live coverage of Mr. Biden’s swearing-in ceremony and Inaugural Address. Into April, news articles on the OAN website consistently referred to Donald J. Trump as ‘President Trump’ and to President Biden as just ‘Joe Biden’ or ‘Biden.’ That practice is not followed by other news organizations, including the OAN competitor Newsmax, a conservative cable channel and news site.”

Just as troubling is how OAN has described those at the Jan. 6 insurrection as left-wing agitators, as well as “antifa” and “anti-Trump extremists.”

Does it matter? I mean, is anyone even watching OAN? Well, Nielsen doesn’t track OAN’s ratings, but as Abrams writes, “In a survey last month, Pew Research reported that 7 percent of Americans, including 14 percent of Republicans, had gotten political news from OAN. By contrast, 43 percent of Americans and 62 percent of Republicans had gotten political news from Fox News, the survey found.”

So it’s not Fox News, but 7% of Americans and 14% of Republicans is not nothing either.

Journalism as a defense?

Speaking of the insurrection, some who were arrested after documenting their participation on social media now say they weren’t there to cause any problems. They’re saying when they recorded what happened that day, they were acting as journalists.

The Associated Press’ Michael Kunzelman and Jacques Billeaud reported, “It’s unlikely that any of the self-proclaimed journalists can mount a viable defense on the First Amendment’s free speech grounds, experts say. They face long odds if video captured them acting more like rioters than impartial observers. But as the internet has broadened and blurred the definition of a journalist, some appear intent on trying.”

So far, according to the AP story, at least eight defendants in the nearly 400 federal cases are calling themselves journalists or documentary filmmakers. Even if they can prove they were journalists, which is unlikely, that doesn’t mean they can’t be prosecuted if they break the law. Even journalists who do something illegal while working are subject to arrest and prosecution. As Jane Kirtley, who teaches media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, told AP: “It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

NBC’s special climate coverage

(Courtesy: NBC News)

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt will anchor tonight’s newscast from Houston to kick off NBC News’ weeklong special coverage of the climate, called the “Climate Challenge” series. Holt will interview Houston mayor Sylvester Turner just two months after storms and freezing temperatures pounded the state of Texas. Holt also will speak with a local family that had their home destroyed by Hurricane Harvey and were impacted by the winter storms in February.

NBC News’ “Climate Challenge” series will be seen in coverage across many of NBC’s shows and platforms, including the “Today” show, “Meet the Press,” MSNBC, NBCNews.com and NBC News NOW. On this morning’s “Today” show, Al Roker will sit down with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan in Regan’s first interview since taking that position. Roker also travels to Michigan for an exclusive look at General Motors’ new all-electric vehicle assembly plant.

Who is next?

NFL star Aaron Rodgers wrapped up his impressive two weeks of guest hosting “Jeopardy” last Friday. Next up, starting today, is CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. Future guest hosts include CBS News’ Bill Whitaker, actor and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik, NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie and CNN contributor Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported that another name will be added to the list: Fox Sports’ broadcaster Joe Buck.

You know, this guest-hosting thing is going well enough that you have to wonder if “Jeopardy” should not name a permanent replacement for the late Alex Trebek and just continue with guest hosts from now on?

Media tidbits

Hot type

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

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of New York Times reporter Rachel Abrams.

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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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