By:
March 4, 2021

So that’s it? COVID-19 is over? We can all go back to our lives? Everything is normal again?

Apparently so if you’re from Texas or Mississippi. Those states, perhaps believing we have beaten COVID-19 once and for all, are lifting their restrictions. Leave that mask behind. Go out to eat. Hit that happy hour. Check out a movie. Shop away.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said, “Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%.”

The restrictions in Texas will be lifted next week.

Certainly, we all feel for small business owners and the unemployed. And, yes, all of us can’t wait to go back to so-called “normal.” Yet many are criticizing Texas and Mississippi for hitting the fast-forward button, especially when it appears we aren’t that far away from having most Americans vaccinated.

President Joe Biden blasted the decisions made by Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves.

“I think it’s a big mistake,” Biden said on Wednesday. “Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms. The last thing — the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.”

During her press briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “This entire country has paid the price for political leaders who ignored the science when it comes to the pandemic. We need to remain vigilant.”

Meanwhile, the media is weighing in, too. The headline on Chris Cillizza’s column for CNN: “Greg Abbott’s head-scratching, anti-science decision to end the Texas mask mandate.”

Cillizza wrote, “Abbott’s move seems entirely motivated by politics rather than public health.”

He added, “So, Abbott is trying to protect his political right flank here. And keep up with the 2024 Joneses. Notice that I didn’t mention doing the right thing for his current constituents anywhere in those last two sentences.”

There also has been negative reaction inside the state. The editorial board of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote, “Why do this now? Why, when the news is so good on cases, hospitalizations and vaccine production, increase the danger? Why, with spring break and its associated travel and activity around the corner, send the message that we can let our guard down? There’s little to gain, unless the governor has been feeling heat on his right flank over COVID restrictions.”

An editorial in the Austin American-Statesman sarcastically said, “All that was missing was the Mission Accomplished banner.”

Chron.com’s Priscilla Aguirre compiled a list of those who heavily criticized Abbott’s decision, including San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who called the move “a national embarrassment.” The Texas Tribune’s Juan Pablo Garnham wrote, “Texas’ local officials blast Gov. Greg Abbott for ‘irresponsible action’ of lifting coronavirus restrictions.”

Then sports and news opinionist Keith Olbermann kicked over a hornet’s nest by tweeting, “Why are we wasting vaccinations on Texas if Texas has decided to join the side of the virus?”

That drew immediate pushback, even from those who agreed with Olbermann’s stance that Texas is making a mistake. He followed that tweet with another tweet that said, “What I wrote here was a question: if the authorities in Texas are clearly and belligerently siding with the virus against humanity, why are we sending the vaccines there now? Vaccinations cannot, by themselves, overcome a Governor advocating for mass suicide.”

Addressing the allegations

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference on Wednesday. (Office of the NY Governor via AP)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made his first public comments Wednesday since being accused by three women of improper behavior and sexual harassment.

He said, “I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it and frankly embarrassed by it and that’s not easy to say but that’s the truth.”

Cuomo claims he “never touched anyone inappropriately. … I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable. And I certainly never meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do.”

He said he will not resign.

One of his accusers, former aide Lindsey Boylan, tweeted, “How can New Yorkers trust you @NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you ‘don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?”

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake has an opinion piece called, “Parsing Andrew Cuomo’s apology.”

James Hohmann’s first column for The Washington Post is titled, “Andrew Cuomo was once the anti-Trump hero. Not anymore.” Hohmann wrote, “Cuomo was not their first false god. In a quest for anti-Trump heroes over the past four years, liberals embraced an array of other characters, vastly different in nature but none ideally suited to the task of serving as national savior from Trump.” He added, “This era of toppled statues and self-toppled leaders is full of reminders that people who are popular today might become toxic tomorrow. Even as we understand that these tragedies are common, we will continue to pine for heroic narratives.”

Meanwhile, The Atlantic’s David A. Graham wrote, “America’s Andrew Cuomo Problem.” Graham writes, “If the reckoning over Cuomo’s behavior is here, it’s almost certainly a sign that many other reckonings are equally overdue.”

In case you missed my Wednesday newsletter, I wrote CNN has a Cuomo problem involving Andrew and his brother, Chris, the host of a CNN primetime show. Meanwhile, The Daily Beast’s editor-at-large Molly Jong-Fast wrote, “My Cuomo ‘Crush’ Turned Out to Be Stockholm Syndrome.”

One more thing about Cuomo …

As Blake mentioned in his piece for the Post, here’s an astute tweet from New York Times investigative reporter Susanne Craig: “NY Governor Andrew Cuomo says his usual custom is to kiss and hug. Not so much, found this story.”

Craig then links to a 2014 story in the Times from Thomas Kaplan with the headline, “Handshakes and Hugs, Hallmarks of the Stump, Are Rare With Cuomo.”

Facebook switches back

Well, here we go again.

Facebook announced Wednesday that it is lifting its ban on political advertising. Critics claim Facebook’s political ads help spread misinformation and falsehoods. The ban started right after the 2020 presidential election last November and has been in place except to allow ads during the Georgia Senate runoffs in January. Facebook insists that “the work is not over” in preventing false and misleading ads.

Politico’s Elena Schneider reports that Facebook sent an email to its top political advertisers and clients that said, “For the past several years, we invested heavily to fight misinformation, voter suppression and election interference, and remain committed to removing and reducing this type of content while connecting people with reliable information across our apps. As a result, we plan to use the coming months to take a closer look at how these ads work on our service to see where further changes may be merited.”

The New York Times’ Mike Isaac reported “advertisers must complete a series of identity checks before being authorized to place the ads.”

Axios’ Sara Fischer notes, “Google and Facebook are the two biggest digital platforms for political ads. Their bans over the past few months have meant that more advertisers have shifted dollars to other digital platforms, like smart TVs, that don’t offer the same level of transparency.”

Speaking of Facebook, CNN’s Brian Fung has this story: “Right-wing misinformation on Facebook is more engaging than its left-wing counterpart, research finds.”

Stop the hate

ABC News Live — the streaming video news channel — will have a special at 8 p.m. Eastern tonight called “Stop the Hate: The Rise in Violence Against Asian Americans. It will be anchored by ABC News’ Juju Chang and Eva Pilgrim, and include reporting from correspondent Zohreen Shah, San Francisco ABC 7’s Dion Lim, CeFaan Kim from WABC-TV in New York and Nydia Han from Philadelphia’s WPVI-TV. It also will include interviews with actors Olivia Munn and Daniel Dae Kim and Congresswoman Grace Meng. The one-hour special will look at what has led to anti-Asian violence, as well as telling the stories of victims and what is involved in prosecuting hate crimes.

It’s heartening to see more coverage of this topic. Just last week, Poynter’s Joie Chen led a Poynter discussion with Juju Chang and CBS News’ Weijia Jiang called, “Race in America: Where Is the Coverage of Anti-Asian Harassment and Violence?”

Cesar Conde speaks

NBCU News Group Chairman Cesar Conde. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

NBCU News Group Chairman Cesar Conde tends to keep a pretty low profile, but he was the keynote speaker this week at the Knight Media Forum.

Here are a few of the highlights:

On the status of NBCU News Group’s 50% diverse workforce initiative since launching, Conde said, “This was born of communication and conversations. Very difficult and uncomfortable conversations in many cases, with many members of our teams we had multiple conversations. … We’re not where we want to be. And that’s OK. We took the first step by acknowledging that we have taken words and put them into action. And now we have to hold ourselves accountable, and continue pushing forward … This is not something that will happen in a short amount of time. It takes time to make systemic and sustainable change and doing it the right way.”

About NBC News’ TikTok, Conde said, “We’re finding TikTok can be a fast and effective way to report the news in the smallest of bites. And we’re already reaching more than 1 million users a day on TikTok. For example, on Jan. 6, the 10 videos we posted on TikTok about the riots at the Capitol had nearly 10 and a half million views.”

About the risks of journalism, Conde said, “Our colleagues are putting themselves in harm’s way just in the course of doing the jobs, but when I started in my role, I never could have imagined that a colleague of mine would risk her life doing her job on Capitol Hill. And that has reinforced for me, not only the courage of those journalists who have covered one dangerous breaking news story after another over this last year, but also their resourcefulness, ingenuity and the commitment to inform our audience.”

Good work could lead to change

Catching up on an important piece of journalism that I should’ve mentioned earlier this week. Last weekend, “CBS Sunday Morning” did a story that included allegations from female employees at McDonald’s who said they have been discriminated against and faced sexual harassment from male employees.

According to the story, dozens of women “from across the country (had) remarkably similar accounts of workplace abuse and harassment.”

The story immediately drew the attention of McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski, who put out a lengthy statement that, in part, said, “Let me say plainly: every single person working under the Arches must have a safe and respectful work environment. Sexual harassment in the workplace is an affront to everything we stand for as a system.”

He also wrote, “As CEO, I assure you that we take these allegations very seriously. We, as a System, must ensure that every allegation is fully and thoroughly investigated.”

This is an excellent example of important journalism that calls attention to a serious issue and, hopefully, leads to meaningful change.

Cowherd’s change of perspective

Sports-talk radio and TV host Colin Cowherd opened up more about his recent scare with a blood clot to New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand. The night before the Super Bowl, Cowherd was having dinner with this wife when he felt like someone stabbed him in his right lung. He told Marchand it was an “unprovoked pulmonary embolism.”

He was hospitalized and missed two days of work. He is fine now, but the event changed him.

He told Marchand, “All of a sudden, you are like, ‘I have to appreciate the moment more.’ I’ve never been very good at that. I always have some vision I want to do or something I want to accomplish. My wife always says that, ‘I think I need to enjoy the moment more.’ You look at things a little differently. As you age, you get more thoughtful. I would say I think about things just a little differently. I know this sounds dramatic — you do kind of. I know people have gone through situations that are far worse.”

Media tidbits

“Inside the NBA” host Ernie Johnson Jr., left, and analysts Kenny Smith, center, and Charles Barkley. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)

  • TNT’s “Inside the NBA” might just be the best sports studio show on TV. TNT is putting out a four-part special about the show called “The Inside Story.” (Here’s the trailer.) It debuts tonight following the Heat-Pelicans game (so probably around 11 p.m. Eastern) and runs nightly through the weekend. (Click here for the home page and schedule.) Awful Announcing’s Ian Casselberry writes about the special, as does The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch (story behind paywall.)
  • ESPN college basketball announcer Dan Dakich recently got into a Twitter spat with some college professors and was accused of misogynistic speech. ESPN looked into the matter and decided to, essentially, give Dakich a good talking-to. He will keep his job. An ESPN spokesperson told The Indianapolis Star’s Dana Hunsinger Benbow, “We have addressed the situation directly with Dan and made our concerns very clear to him. We are going to stay consistent with past practices and keep those conversations private.” Check out Benbow’s story for more details.
  • Gambling on journalism? Literally? The Toronto Star’s Jacob Lorinc with “Toronto Star Owner Torstar to Launch Online Casino in 2021.”
  • In his first interview since stepping away from “The Bachelor” for defending a contestant for posting a picture many saw as racist, Chris Harrison told “Good Morning America” co-host Michael Strahan that he made a “mistake.” He said, “I am an imperfect man. I made a mistake. And I own that.” The interview will air this morning on “GMA.” Carson Blackwelder and Hayley FitzPatrick from “GMA” have more on the story.

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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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