July 14, 2021

It’s the season of Trump. Book season, that is.

Two books about Donald Trump came out Tuesday — Michael Bender’s “Frankly We Did Win This Election,” and Michael Wolff’s “Landslide.” Another — “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year” by The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker — comes out next week.

All three mostly concentrate on Trump’s final year in office, a year that included COVID-19, a national reckoning on race and the 2020 presidential election.

And what do these books tell us?

Well, here’s the headline on an opinion piece by CNN’s Chris Cillizza: “Yes, Donald Trump’s final days in office were even worse than we thought.”

Cillizza writes, “And all three (books) present what can only be described as a terrifying picture of a president consumed by personal hatred and unwilling to even consider the limits his predecessors had placed on themselves in office.”

Wolff’s book is the third he has written about Trump, following up “Fire and Fury” and “Siege.” In a review of the book for The New York Times, Nicholas Lemann writes, “Trump, in these pages, is self-obsessed, delusional and administratively incompetent. He has no interest in or understanding of the workings of government. He doesn’t read or listen to briefings. He spends vast amounts of time watching conservative television networks and chatting on the phone with cronies. The pandemic puts him at a special disadvantage; many of the people around him are either sick or afraid to come to work because that would entail complying with a regime of Covid noncompliance that Trump demands. If anybody tells him something he doesn’t want to hear, he marginalizes or fires that person and finds somebody else to listen to, who may or may not hold an official position. If Fox News becomes less than completely loyal, he’ll switch to Newsmax or One America News Network. He lives in a self-curated information environment that bears only a glancing relationship to reality.”

Meanwhile, Bender, a senior White House reporter for The Wall Street Journal, told CBS News that his biggest takeaway from Trump’s final year in the White House was “how dangerous the people around the president thought he was for the country.”

On Tuesday, The Washington Post ran an excerpt of the book written by its two reporters — Leonnig and Rucker. In it, we see how Trump dug in on the Big Lie, especially when it became apparent he was going to lose. The excerpt went into detail on last November’s election night.

One of the more bizarre moments was how Rudy Giuliani went around to some of Trump’s top advisers, suggesting they just declare Trump the winner in such states as Pennsylvania and Michigan. At one point, then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows raised his voice to say, “We can’t do that. We can’t.”

When Trump spoke at 2 a.m., he was angry that votes were still being counted and said, “As far as I’m concerned, we already have won it.”

In an interview, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Post reporters, “It was just a complete, total manifestation (of) insanity.”

And as we now know, it was only the beginning of Trump’s insistence that he had won the election. And that wasn’t the only head-shaking part of the excerpt. In fact, Mediaite’s Colby Hall has a piece called, “Just Say We Won’: 9 Most Bonkers Revelations from Trump Election Night Tell-All, ‘I Alone Can Fix It.’”

Why the title “Landslide?” Well, partly because Trump actually thought he was going to win the election in a landslide. The book reports Trump as telling allies, “I can’t lose to this (expletive) guy.”

The books appear to be a fascinating look into the final year and days of the Trump presidency, as well as what the future could hold. As Lemann wrote in his Times review of Wolff’s book: “Wolff doesn’t make a direct prediction. But he leaves us with the strong impression that Trump will be running for president again in 2024.”

Tuning in

This comes as no surprise: The Pew Research Center found that the average audience for the three major cable news channels (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC), as well as for network and local TV news, increased in 2020. It’s no surprise because 2020 was a busier-than-usual news year with COVID-19, the election and stories about race following the murder of George Floyd by police.

Pew found that Fox News’ average prime-time audience increased 61% in 2020 from the year before (3.08 million compared with 1.92 million in 2019). CNN went from 1.05 million to 1.80 million — a 72% increase. MSNBC’s audience jumped 28% from 1.3 million to 1.6 million — a 28% jump. Daytime viewership also was up for all three networks.

Also of note among cable viewing, Pew reported Newsmax had an average primetime audience of 115,000 in 2020. Pew also reported Newsmax made $26 million in revenue in 2020, virtually all from advertising.

Meanwhile, network news also saw growth, according to Pew. ABC’s “World News Tonight” had an average audience of 7.6 million (16% increase); the “NBC Nightly News”’ had 6.5 million (8% increase); and the “CBS Evening News” had about 5 million — a 7% increase.

As far as local TV news, Pew found viewership increased in two key time slots — evenings (4 to 7 p.m.) and late night (11 p.m. to 2 a.m.). That viewership was each up 4%. Midday news (11 a.m. to 2 pm.) increased 10%. However, the morning news time slot (6 to 9 a.m.) saw a 4% decrease.

Stephen A. Smith apologizes on air for comments

Baseball star Shohei Ohtani at Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby this week. (AP Photo/Gabriel Christus)

One day after making offensive remarks about Major League Baseball star Shohei Ohtani, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith apologized again on his show “First Take.”

On Monday, Smith suggested on air that Ohtani wasn’t good for baseball and couldn’t be the face of baseball because he uses a translator and rarely speaks English in public.

Smith had previously apologized on Twitter, but started Tuesday’s “First Take” by addressing the topic and, again, apologizing.

“It’s necessary,” Smith said.

He continued, “Let me be the first to stand up and say that I want to express my sincere apologies to the Asian community and Asian American community.”

Smith then told the audience that he is a Black man who often comments on minorities being marginalized in the United States. He said that there were many in the Asian community who were offended by his comments on Monday.

“I was wrong, period,” Smith said. “There is no excuse. This is not ESPN. This is not Disney. … This was me. I said it. And the reality is I was completely clueless as to the kind of impact on this Asian and Asian American community.”

He added, “The second that I was informed about how hurt a group of people in this nation was off of what I said, that’s all that matters to me. Because I don’t intend to hurt people like that.”

He also apologized directly to Ohtani.

Smith’s colleague, Max Kellerman, said that not only is Smith not racist, but he is anti-racist.

Then ESPN did the smart thing. They had guests come on to talk about the topic and Smith listened as those guests clearly pushed back against Smith’s original comments.

ESPN baseball reporter Jeff Passan joined the program and told Ohtani’s story — about leaving his home, family and culture at the age of 23 to pursue his dream of playing Major League Baseball.

Then Passan, clearly alluding to Smith’s comments, said, “He is the sort of person who this show and who this network and who this country should embrace. We are not the ones who should be trafficking in ignorance. We are not the ones who should be perpetuating false ideas that unfortunately far too many out there believe. We should look at Shohei Ohtani as a bastion of what this country and this sports world is about.”

Joon Lee, an ESPN staff writer from Seoul, South Korea, came on the show to explain the reaction of the AAPI community to Smith’s comments, and how it perpetuated the stereotype of foreign-born people in America.

“It furthers this idea that regardless of what we do and what we accomplish in this country that we will never be American,” Lee said.

Smith created a mess for ESPN with his comments, but give credit to the network for handling the aftermath. Smith apologized. And, more importantly, the guests gave excellent insight and feedback into what was wrong with what Smith said.

Richard Deitsch, sports media writer for The Athletic, tweeted, “Just my take: Norby Williamson and ESPN senior management really owe a big debt to Joon Lee, Jeff Passan, Nicole Briscoe and some others at ESPN who were very thoughtful publicly on SAS’s comments and made their company look good amid this (expletive).”

Williamson is ESPN’s executive vice president for event and studio production and executive editor.

Megyn Kelly’s ridiculous claim

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Apparently the events of Jan. 6 weren’t as bad as the media is making it out to be. That’s according to former Fox News and NBC personality Megyn Kelly.

The insurrection came up while Kelly was on a podcast with comedian Chrissie Mayr. Downplaying what happened first started with Mayr, who said, “I was there and anybody who was there on the 6th is, like, blown away by how, like, inaccurate the media coverage is. At this point, it’s like I don’t want to listen to anybody’s thoughts on the 6th unless they were like there, like physically there, because it was so, like, not a big deal.”

She also called it “extremely peaceful and chill.”

Perhaps Mayr was a different part of the insurrection? You know, the part that didn’t include breaking into the Capitol, killing a police officer and fighting other law enforcement officials?

But then Kelly said, “There is no question the media represented it as so much worse than it actually was.”

No question? I’m curious. Kelly, Mayr and others who are downplaying that day: They do realize this is all on video, right?

Meanwhile, it was announced last week that Kelly is getting a show on SiriusXM starting in September. “The Megyn Kelly” show will air weekdays from noon to 2 p.m. Eastern on the Triumph channel 111.

As far as Jan. 6, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake writes, “Yes, it was an insurrection.”

Another bizarre statement

I mentioned in Tuesday’s newsletter that Rob Schmitt, a host on the conservative TV network Newsmax, said on air: “I feel like a vaccination in a weird way is just generally kind of going against nature. Like, I mean, if there is some disease out there — maybe there’s just an ebb and flow to life where something’s supposed to wipe out a certain amount of people, and that’s just kind of the way evolution goes. Vaccines kind of stand in the way of that.”

Washington Post media writer Jeremy Barr reached out to Newsmax to see what it thought about an on-air host saying such a thing.

A spokesperson for the network told Barr, “Newsmax as a network strongly supports President Biden’s efforts to widely distribute the COVID vaccine. It is important for the safety of all and especially those at high risk, such as the elderly. Medical professionals who have appeared on Newsmax have strongly encouraged Americans to get the vaccine. From time to time, a guest or host may not be as supportive of these efforts. However, they do not reflect the position of Newsmax.”

Covering the media

Axios’ Sara Fischer is one of the must-read media reporters out there and this appeared at the top of her “Media Trends” column on Tuesday:

“We’re considering an Axios Media Trends subscription product, in addition to what we offer for free, and are asking for feedback on what types of exclusive information and insights would be most valuable to you.” There’s also a survey for feedback.

Hmm, interesting.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Snyder, who used to be at The New Republic, The Atlantic and Gawker, is starting a new daily media newsletter that will cover New York City media. It will be called “Off the Record.” Snyder is charging $75 annually for a subscription.

Snyder writes, “There’s now a lot that happens inside New York newsrooms and board rooms that doesn’t get much, if any, reporting beyond a press release and a tweetstorm. While that’s bad for media gossip fiends, it’s also bad for the community of people who work in New York media. It’s time to bolster the bonds between people who actually care about what gets published each day and, of course, the politics and machinations behind the scenes that went into it.”

New York Times’ media reporter Edmund Lee wrote in a tweet, “That this perhaps needs to exist is noteworthy.”

Media tidbits

  • The Daily Beast’s Diana Falzone and Lloyd Grove with “Bill O’Reilly’s Accuser Finally Breaks Her Silence.”
  • This arrived in my inbox on Tuesday: “The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Faculty Council will hold an emergency virtual meeting (today) at 3 p.m. to ‘discuss University administration and governance.’” One would assume this has to do with the recent situation involving Nikole Hannah-Jones not originally being granted tenure at UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and then announcing she was taking a job at Howard University after she was given tenure at UNC. The (Raleigh) News & Observer’s Kate Murphy writes, “UNC faculty chair calls emergency meeting over potential efforts to remove chancellor.”
  • Sunday’s UEFA EURO 2020 soccer final between England and Italy drew 6.48 million viewers on ESPN, making it the most-viewed Euro match ever in the U.S. It was a 43% increase over the 2016 final.
  • The Arizona Republic has a new report out today — a six-month investigation asking why the administration of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, tried to get state officials to give away $100 million in tax refunds to clients of a mega GOP donor? Check the Republic’s website for more.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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