By:
September 24, 2020

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Reactions to the Breonna Taylor grand jury decision

This isn’t a political statement. These are facts. A young Black woman was asleep in her bed when Louisville police smashed their way into her apartment. They then shot and killed her.

And no one is going to be held accountable for that. According to the law, no one is to be blamed for the death of Breonna Taylor.

Therefore you can understand the outrage many felt Wednesday when a grand jury found that the only indictment will be against a former Louisville police officer for wanton endangerment. Even he isn’t being blamed for her death. His wanton endangerment appears to be for shots he fired into another apartment.

The news networks immediately sifted through all the legal talk and got straight to the point. And the outrage.

The banner on CNN immediately following the Breonna Taylor grand jury decision: “No Officers Charged Directly With Breonna Taylor’s Death.” Over on Fox News, it was similar: “No Officers Charged in Death of Breonna Taylor.” And that was the exact same banner on MSNBC.

The networks couldn’t hide their anger — not that they should have.

Shortly after Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s press conference, CNN legal analyst Areva Martin called out Cameron’s role in the proceedings.

“Even though the attorney general got emotional at times, and he was kind of preaching to people about staying focused on the facts, understanding what the role of the attorney general is and police investigations and grand juries are,” Martin said, “it’s not going to be lost on people that was an attorney general that appeared at the Republican National Convention and spoke on behalf of Donald Trump. And knowing that his office was investigating a case of this magnitude that would take on the kind of grand magnitude that it does in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement — to have him associated with that convention and (promote) Trump’s message about mobs and law and order and riots and all the pejorative terms that he has attached to people who have peacefully protested, I just think it left something to be desired and probably undermined his credibility to a certain extent.”

Over on MSNBC, Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said, “His words rang hollow and the outcome is incredibly disappointing. It fully disregards the life, the dignity, the humanity of Breonna Taylor — a Black woman who should be alive today.”

And then Clarke addressed why people protest and why the Black Lives Matter movement exists.

“It exists because of moments like this, when the system fails us as Black people,” Clarke said. “I expect that in the months that the demonstrations and protests will continue, that we will still press our demand for reform of the criminal justice system.”

Meanwhile, also on MSNBC, evening host Joy Reid joined Ari Melber’s afternoon show and said, “This was a Black lives don’t matter ruling because they said that her life was irrelevant, that the life of her boyfriend — who was in the apartment with her — didn’t matter. … You don’t have the right to defend yourself, don’t have the right to survive, you don’t have the right to have medical attention applied to you. These officers don’t even have to try to save you. They can just shoot you.”

Astonishing comments

In the few hours immediately following the announcement of the grand jury decision, the protests in Louisville appeared to be peaceful. CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz, who was right in the middle of the protests, said exactly that. Problems only started once the police showed up in riot gear and appeared to be confrontational.

CNN’s Jake Tapper addressed this point with Cheryl Dorsey, a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant. Tapper asked Dorsey if there was a way for police to monitor protests without provoking protestors. Dorsey said, of course, and then said something that we all should find disturbing.

“Understand that there is a segment of police officers out there who live for protests,” Dorsey said. “They want to engage. They want to get involved in what I’ve heard referred to in the LAPD as ‘stick time’ because there is no use-of-force report that you have to create once you engage a protestor in that way.”

About the decision in the Taylor case, Dorsey said, “I’m not surprised. I’m a realist.”

Primetime coverage

The major three cable news networks — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — all concentrated on Louisville during primetime on Wednesday, although a quick check on Sean Hannity during the 9 p.m. hour showed an interview with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) to talk about … Hunter Biden? They did have a split screen with protests on one side, but this felt like a night to concentrate solely on the news at hand, not Biden.

Hannity then followed by interviewing Donald Trump. Jr., and the conversation about Hunter Biden continued. Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show also looked into the Johnson report on Biden. CNN stuck pretty much with Louisville and Breonna Taylor coverage, although did report on the coronavirus, too.

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Disgraceful comments

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaking at the Republican National Convention. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

This happened Tuesday night, but needs to be pointed out because it was shameful. On Fox News, both Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro and Fox News guest Pam Bondi defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who traveled from Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, for protests and is accused of shooting three and killing two protestors.

Bondi told Hannity that Rittenhouse was out there “trying to protect his state” even though he is not from Wisconsin. Then she called him a “little boy.”

She said, “This kid was out there trying to help people. Were people killed? Absolutely. But again, we don’t know yet. You’ve got a little boy out there trying to protect his community. Should he have been out there with a gun? No. But should he have been charged with murder? We just don’t know yet.”

Pirro, meanwhile, said, “Kyle Rittenhouse has been villainized here, and he’s been demonized, and I think it should be just the opposite. This one kid is an innocent man, he’s looking to help, he’s all-American, and he’s trying to just make sure his town is safe.”

Again, Kenosha is not “his town.” He’s not from Kenosha.

Pirro’s comments — all-American?! — seem over the line, but it appears as if there is nothing she can say that gets her in real trouble at Fox News.

Defending Biden

Was Joe Biden using a teleprompter during a recent interview with Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart? Absolutely not, says Diaz-Balart. The controversy started when President Donald Trump’s son, Eric, tweeted out a clip that showed Biden appearing to shift around during his interview with Diaz-Balart and, apparently, looking at a monitor. But Diaz-Balart told Politico’s Quint Forgey that Biden was not using a teleprompter.

“Of course not,” said Diaz-Balart, who said questions were coming from audience members on a monitor.

“He would answer the monitor,” Diaz-Balart said. “In one moment the monitor went to black (and Biden said), ‘I lost the lady.’ I told him he could answer looking at me and that was that.”

A spokesperson for Noticias Telemundo said, “Noticias Telemundo has never allowed someone who is being interviewed on its news programs to read answers from a teleprompter which would be a clear violation of its editorial policies and standards.”

What were they thinking?

Employees of Tribune Publishing are furious, and rightfully so, over something that happened Wednesday. After seeing Tribune Publishing slash jobs in recent years, employees received an email Wednesday that they were getting raises. So why were they angry? Because it wasn’t true. It was merely a test to see if the company was vulnerable to a phishing scam.

The email to employees mentioned bonuses between $5,000 and $10,000 because of money the company had been saving. It went on to say, “We want to thank you for your ongoing commitment to excellence at Tribune Publishing, and to congratulate you on your outstanding performance.”

Employees then were asked to log in and that was the test.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton tweeted, “After slashing our staff, closing newsrooms, furloughing reporters and cutting pay during a pandemic, @tribpub thought a neat lil way to test our susceptibility to phishing was to send a spoof email announcing large bonuses. Fire everyone involved.”

The Hartford Courant’s Shawn McFarland tweeted, “Love to get a phishing email test from MY OWN COMPANY in which they offer targeted bonuses due to ‘success created by the ongoing efforts to cut our costs.’ It’s not like we’re already underpaid, overworked and *incredibly* understaffed. Very classy move to dangle fake bonuses.”

Several Tribune employees reached to me and were just as angry. They asked to not be named, but they said things like the company showed “outrageous disrespect” and about how “tone-deaf” this was, especially in the middle of the coronavirus and an uncertain economy.

Later in the day, employees received an email from Sarp Uzkan, the vice president of information technology for Tribune Publishing. In it, Uzkan wrote what the purpose of the email was and added, “The company had no intention of offending any of its employees. In retrospect, the topic of the email was misleading and insensitive, and the company apologizes for its use.”

Debate topics

Chris Wallace will moderate the first presidential debate next Tuesday and the Commission on Presidential Debates has announced the main topics for conversation. They include the records of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities and the integrity of the election.

Wow. That’s a lot — and pretty much every issue of 2020. Is there going to be enough time to cover that? The format is set up so that each topic will be discussed in a 15-minute segment.

This will be the first of three debates between Trump and Biden.

Remembering RBG

NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, on Thursday, covering remembrances of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Photo courtesy of NBC News)

Solid work by the news networks on their coverage of Ruth Bader Ginsburg arriving to lie in repose at the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday.

On NBC, Andrea Mitchell said, “To me, she was just such a decent and inspiring person especially through her struggles with her battles with cancer. … her tenacity, and surviving all odds, her professional career, her personal life and the fight against this terrible disease.”

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus told NBC that she remembered how important RBG’s nomination to the Supreme Court was 27 years ago, but “no one could have imagined back then that she would turn into this moniker that she really just reveled in, which was the ‘Notorious RBG.’ At that time, people were concerned that she would be too moderate of a justice and, in fact, some women’s groups she worked alongside with were concerned in particular about her view on abortion rights and how those were grounded.”

Another show for Chuck Todd

NBC News’ Chuck Todd. (Photo courtesy of NBC News)

Does Chuck Todd sleep? As if he wasn’t already busy enough with “Meet the Press” and all his other NBC News duties, he’s adding something else to his plate.

Starting tonight, Todd will host a weekly 30-minute program called “Meet the Press Reports.” It will be streamed on NBC News NOW and Peacock. The show, which airs at 8 p.m. Eastern, will focus on a single topic. In the first episode, Todd will explore how to win a presidential debate. He will be joined by those who have been involved in presidential debate prep over the past 30 years, including those who worked with Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, John McCain, Barack Obama, Al Gore, John Kerry and more.

Media tidbits

  • More Ginsburg coverage: PBS will air a special tonight remembering Ginsburg and what happens next on the Supreme Court. “RBG: Her Legacy & The Court’s Future, A PBS NewsHour Special” will premiere tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations. It will be anchored by Judy Woodruff with contributions from correspondents Amna Nawaz, Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, John Yang and Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal. Guests are expected to include Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.
  • Business news at The New York Times. Chair of the board Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. will retire at the end of the year. He will be replaced by his son, A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times. The elder Sulzberger has been chairman since 1997 and was publisher from 1992 to 2017, when he was replaced by his son.
  • One of the world’s luckiest winning streaks continues: Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy is reporting that Skip Bayless is close to signing a contract extension with Fox Sports 1 and that the “Undisputed” debate show co-host will get a raise on his $6 million a year salary. His current deal was set to expire at the end of the month and, apparently, Fox Sports 1 was worried he could slip away — possibly back to his old home at ESPN. Still, $6 million for a polarizing commentator on a so-so rated morning TV show who seems to say outrageous things just to get a rise of viewers? Like I said, one of the world’s luckiest winning streaks continues.
  • The anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was earlier this month and WNYC Studios continues to remember it with a podcast that is resonating with listeners. “Blindspot: The Road to 9/11” is a collaboration with the History channel and is hosted by WNYC reporter Jim O’Grady, who covered 9/11 and its aftermath for The New York Times. This eight-part series studies the events that led to that awful day. The fourth episode was released Wednesday and a special bonus episode will be out Friday. The series concludes Oct. 21.
  • The Washington Post has named Elite Truong as director of strategic initiatives. In a note to staff, Post Executive Editor Marty Baron said Truong “will lead our most cutting-edge digital experiments while serving as the newsroom’s liaison to the advertising department.” Truong replaces Jeremy Gilbert, who left in August to go to the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism as the Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy.
  • Correction: Earlier this week, I said former Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius was from South America. I meant to type South Africa. I apologize for the error.

Hot type

Wired’s Clive Thompson with “QAnon Is Like A Game — A Most Dangerous Game.”

PBS’s “Frontline” has a terrific episode out called “The Choice 2020: Trump vs. Biden.” Even more impressive is the episode was put together in the middle of pandemic. How did PBS do it? Philip Bennett with a revealing behind-the-scenes look answers that question.

In The Washington Post, Mary Beth Sheridan and Stephania Corpi with “Photographers Across Mexico Have Been Documenting The Challenges of Distance Learning.”

More resources for journalists

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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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