By:
July 21, 2021

This commentary has been getting quite the attention the past couple of days:

“Please take COVID seriously. I can’t say it enough. Enough people have died. We don’t need any more death. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination.”

Who said that? President Joe Biden? Dr. Anthony Fauci? Nope.

Actually, it was Fox News prime-time star Sean Hannity. And he said it in prime-time on Fox News, a network that hasn’t been universally proactive in advocating for the vaccine. In fact, some of its on-air personalities have raised skepticism about the vaccine.

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote, “While it’s tricky to determine whether Fox’s coverage is reflecting or driving its viewership, there’s clearly a correlation between viewership and skepticism. And since the vaccine rollout began in earnest, the default position of the network’s heavily watched prime-time shows has been to sow doubt.”

As Bump pointed out, “Those who watched from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m. would have been left with little question about the message they were meant to take away: Maybe the vaccines do some good, but you should question how effective they are and you should think that government experts are lying to you about them. An endorsement drowned under a deluge of howevers is not an endorsement at all.”

Now, to be fair, Hannity’s COVID-19 vaccine comments are not new. He has encouraged mask-wearing in the past, and talked about personally getting the vaccine and believing in the science of it. But to also be accurate, Hannity didn’t go all-in Monday night. He said, “You make the decision, in conjunction with your doctor, research on your own, that is best for you.”

There also have been others at Fox News — most notably “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy — who have been pro-vaccine.

But because of Hannity’s remarks, as well as the comments from others on the network, many wondered aloud Tuesday if Fox News had a purposeful shift and was making a concerted new effort to be more pro-vaccination.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Brian Stelter at first reported that there have been “regular, high-level conversations between the White House and Fox News regarding their coverage of the pandemic and vaccine.” But the White House and Fox News both disputed those claims.

During Tuesday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “We’ve been in touch with every network and many, many media outlets about coverage of COVID-19 to make sure people have accurate information, to voice concerns when we have them.”

Psaki went on to say, “And I think you all know we’re never shy when we have an issue with a story. So that’s really the frame we’re looking at here. So, we understand, also, the importance of reaching Fox’s audience about the COVID-19 vaccines and their benefits, and like we are with all of you here today we, of course, are in regular contact. And we also make efforts to have officials out on a range of networks to talk about COVID-19. We don’t see it as a partisan issue. We don’t see vaccines as a political issue. It’s an issue about keeping Americans safe.”

In a statement, however, a Fox News spokesperson said, “CNN’s reporting is inaccurate. There have been no high level conversations between FOX News Media and the White House regarding our coverage. We had one routine briefing with the White House in early May on vaccination rates and our DC bureau personnel are regularly in touch with them on a variety of issues, as is the case with every other network.”

Later, CNN’s Collins tweeted, “I previously described the levels of contact between the White House & Fox News on pandemic coverage as high level’ but both sides have subsequently disputed the discussions were. The WH held a network-specific briefing between Fox News and officials to discuss coverage in May.”

Anyway, Hannity’s comments were a decent step, although even the headline of Bump’s column accurately called it a “limited endorsement.” Hannity opened his show Tuesday by slamming Dr. Anthony Fauci and interviewing Sen. Rand Paul, who had a heated exchange with Fauci during a Senate hearing on Tuesday. So let’s see if some at Fox News continue the vaccine endorsement, as lukewarm as it might be, among those who continue to be skeptical.

Bezos goes to space

From left to right, Oliver Daemen; Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and space tourism company Blue Origin; Wally Funk and Bezos’ brother Mark pose for photos in front of the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The richest person on the planet — Jeff Bezos — left the planet on Tuesday. The Amazon founder, along with three others, rocketed 65 miles into the air on the Blue Origin spacecraft.

“Best day ever,” Bezos said.

Upon his return, Bezos told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, “We have to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future … when you get up and there you see it, you see how tiny it is and how fragile it is. We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry and move it into space, and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is. That’s going to take decades and decades but you have to start.”

Bezos told CBS News senior national correspondent Mark Strassmann, “You look at this thing and you see how small you are. The world is big, the atmosphere is small. You see there are no boundaries, no lines … This world is full of not enough unifiers and too many vilifiers.”

The crew included Bezos’ brother, Mark, as well as 18-year-old Oliver Daemen. About Daemen, “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King said, “He’s going into space before he goes into college. Think about that for just a minute.” King will have an extended interview with Bezos on today’s “CBS This Morning.”

Bezos’ space trip comes just days after another billionaire, Richard Branson, also went into space. Elon Musk is eventually headed there, too. These trips have left many asking: Is this important stuff or just a bunch of rich guys playing with their expensive toys?

On one hand, as The Washington Post’s Roxanne Roberts pointed out, “Famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is supportive of anything that gets people excited about the cosmos.”

But Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote earlier this month, “The competition to be the first billionaire in space should mark a milestone in the towering vanity of the wealthy. Let’s promptly dispense with the notion that any of these flights will add anything to our scientific knowledge, unless it’s the establishment of a new metric for how long it takes for money to burn a hole in your pocket when you have more than you could possibly need.”

I tend to lean toward the thinking that it’s these billionaires’ money and if they want to spend it that way, that’s their business. If we can get excited again about space travel and learn a few things along the way, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Naomi Osaka for the block

In an apparent and somewhat pathetic effort to stay relevant, former Fox News and NBC personality Megyn Kelly tried to go after tennis star Naomi Osaka, who is taking a break from the sport to improve her mental health. You might remember Osaka pulled out of the French Open and Wimbledon after talking about how anxious and uncomfortable she felt during press conferences.

Osaka will appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and other magazines, and apparently that is rankling Kelly and conservative troll Clay Travis, who showed his lack of understanding about mental health by tweeting, “Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue.”

Kelly then retweeted Travis’ bad take and added, “Let’s not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!”

Osaka fired back at Kelly with a since-deleted tweet that said, “​​Seeing as you’re a journalist I would’ve assumed you would take the time to research what the lead times are for magazines, if you did that you would’ve found out I shot all of my covers last year. Instead your first reaction is to hop on here and spew negativity, do better Megan.”

Osaka then blocked Kelly on Twitter — a move that clearly got under Kelly’s skin. Kelly tweeted, “Poor @naomiosaka blocked me while taking a shot at me (guess she’s only tough on the courts). She is apparently arguing that she shot her many covers b/4 publicly claiming she was too socially anxious to deal w/press. Truth is she just doesn’t like Qs she can’t control. Admit it.”

Writing for Deadspin, the always-perceptive Jane McManus wrote, “Kelly once claimed to be a journalist, but that tweet shows she has become just another bully. The mocking use of ‘poor’ as an adjective, suggesting she isn’t ‘tough,’ and refusing to believe Osaka’s description of how she experiences anxiety. Kelly even rejects a factual timeline that disproves her assumptions, something a journalist doesn’t do.”

McManus added, “Osaka doesn’t owe Kelly a thing. And the critics don’t get to put Osaka in a penalty box for discussing anxiety, or play gotcha with their meager understanding of mental health issues. She gets to choose how she engages, how she makes money, what tournaments she plays.”

The Pegasus Project continues

The Washington Post and its media partners continued to publish powerful stories in The Pegasus Project. The project looks at military-grade spyware that was leased by an Israeli firm to governments. The spyware was meant for tracking terrorists and criminals but was also used to hack smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and two women who were close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Tuesday’s latest stories include:

Tweet of the day

This, from CNN commentator and Republican S.E. Cupp: “I’m just sad for the folks who think ‘selling out’ means sticking by your guns, when the rest of the party changes everything they ever believed in just to support one guy, who lost it all for them, and is leading them into a wasteland of conspiracies and oblivion.”

Brady trolls Trump

President Joe Biden, surrounded by members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, listens as Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady speaks during a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were guests of President Joe Biden and the White House on Tuesday in honor of their victory in February’s Super Bowl 55. Speaking at the event, Brady said, “Not a lot of people think we could’ve won. In fact, I think about 40% of the people still don’t think we won.”

Biden chimed in with, “I understand that.”

Brady was referring to polls that show 40% of Republican voters believing Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.

Brady also made a crack about a game this year when he lost track of what down it was. He said people called him “Sleepy Tom” — a joke referring to Trump often calling Biden “Sleepy Joe.”

Media tidbits

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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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