By:
September 22, 2020

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Six weeks from today. That’s Election Day.

With everything that has happened in 2020, it feels like the countdown to that day has been dragging on forever. I mean, can you even remember the impeachment hearing? How about the Democratic presidential debates? The Iowa caucuses?

It feels like time has been moving at a slug’s pace and yet here we are, a mere six weeks from election day.

And there’s still so much more to go. We will have three presidential debates and a vice presidential one, as well. TAnd the showdown about filling Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat will continue to rage on. The next six weeks might feel like six months.

So I start today’s newsletter with a few useful considerations to keep in mind over the next six weeks.

  • There is more than one story. Yes, the Supreme Court seat will be a major talking point and, for many, it will be THE issue to determine whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins the presidency. But let’s not lose track of the other major stories, especially the coronavirus. This pandemic is a story that reporters and media consumers must continue to follow vigorously. It literally is life and death. After all, we just passed 200,000 deaths in this country. Now is not the time to move on to the next item in the news cycle.
  • Let’s all be guided by facts, not emotion. We’ve already seen the divide in this country grow even wider as both conservatives and liberals dig in their heels on how to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by RBG’s death. There will be plenty of misinformation being floated in the next few weeks to persuade voters. Consider the source. If you’re listening to politicians or pundits with a horse in the race then you should be wary. Don’t be misinformed or fall victim to politics. Follow trusted news sources, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, the major networks and outlets such as PolitiFact. Their commitment is to the truth and to democracy, not partisanship.
  • Take a break now and then. It’s easy to get caught up in the news and be so stressed that it’s unhealthy. You can be a responsible and informed citizen and occasionally watch something mindless like “Below Deck” or “Dancing With The Stars” or tune into a ballgame just to reset your brain. Speaking of being stressed out by news consumption, check out this insightful and well-done piece by Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton.

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This is … stunning

Dr. Anthony Fauci. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

The most-jaw dropping story on Monday — and it takes a lot these days to call something jaw-dropping — was the explosive report by The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markey. If you haven’t seen it, hold onto something. An editor at the conservative website RedState who, under the pen name “streiff,” called Dr. Anthony Fauci a “mask nazi” and made what seemed like threats against government officials for how they’ve handed the pandemic goes has fulltime day job, too. He works in the public affairs department of Fauci’s agency!

Markey writes, “William B. Crews is, by day, a public affairs specialist for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But for years he has been writing for RedState under the streiff pseudonym. And in that capacity he has been contributing to the very same disinformation campaign that his superiors at the NIAID say is a major challenge to widespread efforts to control a pandemic that has claimed roughly 200,000 U.S. lives.”

See, I told you it was jaw-dropping. But there’s more.

Crews, under his pseudonym, called some of his colleagues a part of the left-wing, anti-Trump conspiracy, called Fauci “attention-grubbing and media-whoring,” and claimed social distancing and mask-wearing had no basis in science and were meant to damage Trump’s reelection campaign. He also wrote, “If there were justice, we’d send … a few dozen of these fascists to the gallows and gibbet their tarred bodies in chains until they fall apart.”

After Markay took the comments and quotes to the NIAID, he was told Crews was retiring. A spokesman for the NIAID told Lachlan, “NIAID first learned of this matter this morning. We have no further comments on this as it is a personnel matter.”

Check out Markay’s story for more of the things written by Crews, whose LinkedIn page said he has been a press officer at NIAID since 2007.

Trump goes on Fox News and slams … who?

In case you missed it, President Donald Trump went on Fox News on Sunday night and complained about … Fox News. Trump told Fox News’ Mark Levin, “Fox is good, but Fox is not what it was. I’ll be very honest with you. They’ve become politically correct. They think it’s wonderful. They have more Democrats practically than they have Republicans.”

Yeah, I’ll go ahead and call Pants on Fire on that claim. Oddly, Levin didn’t push back to defend his own colleagues.

Troubling Times

It has been a summer of turmoil at The Los Angeles Times with serious ethical, cultural and leadership problems and you can read all about it in a damning story written by — of all people — The Los Angeles Times.

Hey, good for the Times for doing such a story on itself, but special kudos to reporters Meg James and Daniel Hernandez for a no-holding-back and extremely well-reported chronicle of some deep-seated issues at the paper. There were especially problems involving the sports and food sections.

Arash Markazi, who has since resigned as sports columnist, had several incidents of questionable ethical practices. He eventually landed in trouble for failing to provide proper credit or citation for work he had copied into his own stories, but he also had uneasy relationships with various businesses that could be viewed as conflicts of interest.

The Food section is coming off a toxic environment created by editor Peter Meehan, who left after being accused of mean and tyrannical leadership.

These are just two examples that eventually led back to overall leadership, and some prominent editors have either left the paper or been reassigned. In addition, Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine has come under scrutiny. The Times story said Pearlstine has no plans to step down at this time, but he “hoped to accelerate succession planning with the paper’s owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.”

This is just the recap in a tight nutshell. For full impact, you really should read the Times’ piece.

It’s also another reminder that if there’s wrongdoing at a news organization, the journalists at that news organization might be in the best position to cover it.

Playing hardball

Chris Matthews in 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

We haven’t heard much from Chris Matthews since he abruptly quit his MSNBC “Hardball” show in early March after a history of making inappropriate remarks about women. He poked his head up Monday to make a comment about Trump and had it pretty much bitten off.

Matthews was complimenting Trump for his comments about the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Matthews tweeted, “Trump is right to show respect for RBG. True presidential behavior. Far too rare.”

Veteran journalist Soledad O’Brien, who never has a problem lashing out at media types, tweeted, “Lol. Whew these journalists are so desperate to declare ‘presidential behavior.’ Go away, Mr. Matthews.”

“The View” co-host Joy Behar tweeted, “Oh big deal.”

And, in what might have been the most amusing tweet, Keith Olbermann, Matthews’ former MSNBC colleague, wrote, “Every day. Every day, I had to go through this.”

In other words, many weren’t buying Trump’s glowing comments about Ginsburg. They pointed to Trump’s comments on Monday’s “Fox & Friends,” where he said he didn’t believe she actually said her dying wish was that her replacement wouldn’t be named until after the presidential election.

Trump said, “I don’t know that she said that, or was that written out by Adam Schiff or (Nancy) Pelosi? I would be more inclined to the second, OK – you know, that came out of the wind. That sounds so beautiful, but that sounds like a (Chuck) Schumer deal, or maybe Pelosi or for Shifty Schiff. So that came out of the wind, let’s say. I mean, maybe she did, and maybe she didn’t.”

He said something similar to reporters outside the White House later in the day.

Schiff responded in a tweet, saying, “Mr. President, this is low. Even for you. No, I didn’t write Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish to a nation she served so well, and spent her whole life making a more perfect union. But I am going to fight like hell to make it come true. No confirmation before inauguration.”

Changes at Quibi?

Could Quibi be put up for sale? In a scoop by The Wall Street Journal’s Amol Sharma, Benjamin Mullin and Cara Lombardo, the streaming service founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg and launched in April, is exploring “strategic options” for the company, including a potential sale.

There were high hopes for Quibi out of the gate after it raised about $1.75 billion from studios and investors. The short-form scripted and unscripted content geared toward mobile users seemed like it was coming along at the right time for on-the-go audiences. Turns out, it could not have picked a worse time to launch: just as a world-wide pandemic was hitting. Almost immediately, there were signs that Quibi was struggling to turn early free trials into full paid subscribers. So not only has Quibi failed to gain a foothold in the market, but might be unattractive for a sale at this point.

Quibi didn’t confirm or deny the WSJ story, but a company spokesperson told the Journal, “Quibi has successfully launched a new business and pioneered a new form of storytelling and state-of-the-art platform.” The spokesman added that Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman are “committed to continuing to build the business in the way that gives the greatest experience for customers, greatest value for shareholders and greatest opportunity for employees.”

 

Media tidbits

Photo courtesy of ESPN.

  • The trailer for ESPN’s new 30 for 30 series about Oscar Pistorius is out and it looks compelling. Pistorius was the South African Paralympic sprinter who shot and killed his girlfriend in what some called a murder, but what he said was an accident. The four-part documentary — “The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius” — debuts on ESPN+ on Sept. 27. ESPN+ is the network’s subscription streaming service, and it’s notable that ESPN is choosing that platform for this much-anticipated documentary.
  • On this morning’s “Today” show, NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell will interview Olivia Troye, the former White House Task Force member and ex-aide to Vice President Mike Pence. It will be Troye’s first time on TV since speaking out against the president and the decisions made during her time with the task force.
  • The Washington Post announced it has a new podcast coming out Oct. 1 called “Canary: The Washington Post Investigates.” The seven-part series will be hosted by investigative reporter Amy Brittain. The Post describes it this way: “After a sexual assault case in the District of Columbia, one woman’s public warning ricochets all the way to Birmingham, Ala., where another woman gives voice to a devastating allegation.” Click here for more details and the trailer.
  • Chioma Nnadi has been named the new editor of Vogue.com. Nnadi, who was the fashion news director, replaces Stuart Emmrich, who stepped down in July. Nnadi will oversee all digital content on Vogue.com. In a statement, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour said, “Above all we know her as someone who intuitively understands fashion and brings to it a genuine love of discovery. She looks in unexpected places and all over the world to find out who is doing the best work and who we should be celebrating now. I absolutely rely on her eye and her cosmopolitanism and her taste. Even better, she is forward looking and understands that Vogue needs to reach new audiences and do so in new ways.”
  • Tonight is the premier of the “Frontline” special, “The Choice 2020: Trump vs. Biden.” Here’s the trailer. It airs at 9 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations and YouTube.

Plan your vote

Photo courtesy of NBC News.

NBC News’ latest PSA campaign for “Plan Your Vote” kicks off this morning. More than 60 celebrities and NBC personalities — including Kelly Clarkson, Andy Cohen, Cris Collinsworth, Jose Diaz-Balart, John Legend, Amber Ruffin, Christian Slater, Porsha Williams — are helping voters learn all there is to know about voting in the upcoming election, including details on mail-in voting. The campaign has a state-by-state guide to help citizens wherever they live. Here’s a look at the latest trailer.

Hot type

This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most successful TV shows of all-time: “Monday Night Football.” The New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro looks back at that first game on Sept. 21, 1970.

In the opening monologue of her 18th season, Ellen DeGeneres addresses accusations of a toxic workplace environment on her show.

Finally, really good work by The San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilner that exposes a really bad look for the Pac-12 sports conference. Wilner learned that the conference’s commissioner and many managers received bonuses earlier than expected — and about a month before the Pac-12 laid off or furloughed 94 of its 196 employees. Oregonian columnist John Canzano also weighs in with “Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott Could Have Been a Hero — But Nope.”

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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