February 22, 2021

The number is staggering, unimaginable and, most of all, heartbreaking.

Half a million.

The United States is now on the brink of 500,000 COVID deaths — more than any other country.

As The Washington Post put it, it’s “a number almost too large to grasp.”

The Post’s Artur Galocha and Bonnie Berkowitz wrote, “It can be hard to grasp the enormity — almost half a million people, gone. What if we imagined them traveling as one group? Or killed in action? Or all buried together?”

So The Post did just that. It tried to put it into perspective so we could fathom this astonishing number. It tried to help us comprehend the incomprehensible.

For example: What if your standard city bus held 51 people? To carry 500,000 passengers, that would require 9,804 buses that would stretch nearly 95 miles. That’s like lining up buses from New York City to Philadelphia. Now imagine all of the passengers dead.

The Post also tried to imagine what COVID deaths would look like compared to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall or if 500,000 were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Even then, it’s nearly impossible to wrap your head around it all.

Sunday’s front page of The New York Times had a dot for every life lost — creating a horrific graphic that, at some parts, looked like solid black blocks.

Just consider this: About one in every 670 Americans have died from COVID.

The Times’ Julie Bosman wrote, “Each death has left untold numbers of mourners, a ripple effect of loss that has swept over towns and cities. Each death has left an empty space in communities across America: a bar stool where a regular used to sit, one side of a bed unslept in, a home kitchen without its cook. The living find themselves amid vacant places once occupied by their spouses, parents, neighbors and friends — the nearly 500,000 coronavirus dead.”

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “It’s stunning, horrible. … It is historic. We haven’t seen anything even close to this for well over a hundred years since the 1918 pandemic. … It’s almost unbelievable, but it’s true. People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now.”

A reckoning in Texas

Someday — and it will be sooner rather than later — there is going to be a reckoning in Texas. News organizations and citizens are going to go to demand answers for this prevailing question:

How in the world could this have happened?

“This” being millions going days without power, without clean running water, and without many of the other essentials needed to survive — all because of a flawed power grid.

To review, here’s CNN’s Christina Maxouris with “Here’s how a week of frigid weather and catastrophe unfolded in Texas.”

Here are some other stories you should check out:

It gets even worse

Rudy Giuliani. (Photo by Mark Reinstein/MediaPunch/IPX)

Just when you think the reputation of former New York City mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has hit rock bottom, Giuliani pulls out a pickaxe and a shovel and digs even deeper.

Last week during an appearance on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, Giuliani told a story about the time he played golf with radio host Rush Limbaugh and professional golfer Michelle Wie. When Limbaugh complained about all the “paparazzi” trailing the group, Giuliani said they were there to follow Wie.

Giuliani said, “On the green is Michelle Wie, and she is getting ready to putt. … Now Michelle Wie is gorgeous. She’s 6 feet. And she has a strange putting stance. She bends all the way over. And her panties show. And the press was going crazy. … I said ‘(Rush), it’s not me, it’s not you.’”

The story was so wildly inappropriate that even Bannon looked uncomfortable. Giuliani finished by saying, “Is it OK to tell that joke?”

Joke? That’s what Giuliani thought it was? A joke?

Awkwardly, Bannon said, “We already told it, so I don’t know.”

Wie, without using Giuliani’s name, blasted the former NYC mayor in a devastating tweet on Friday:

“It’s unsettling to hear of this highly inappropriate story shared on a podcast by a public figure referencing my ‘panties’ whilst playing at a charity pro-am. What this person should have remembered from that day was the fact that I shot 64 and beat every male golfer in the field leading our team to victory. I shudder thinking that he was smiling to my face and complimenting me on my game while objectifying me and referencing my ‘panties’ behind my back all day.

What should be discussed is the elite skill level that women play at, not what we wear or look like.

My putting stance six years ago was designed to improve my putting stats (I ended up winning the US Open that year), NOT as an invitation to look up my skirt!

Nike makes skirts with SHORTS built in underneath for this exact reason … so that women can feel CONFIDENT and COMFORTABLE playing a game that we love.”

Many came to Wie’s defense and criticized Giuliani.

The United States Golf Association tweeted, “Sexism has no place in golf or life. We are always in your corner, @MichelleWieWest”

CBS golf reporter Amanda Balionis tweeted, “Amazing to me that this person feels THIS entitled to say something that wasn’t even a joke and -more importantly- showcases that there is still a very real group of powerful men who think of women as simply things to look at & objectify. Shoot 64? Win a major? Nope, panties.”

A rush to honor

When countries, states or communities lower flags to half-staff, it’s usually to honor politicians or community leaders and heroes — such as law enforcement, military members and other public servants.

But a radio personality?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week that flags in Florida will be lowered when Rush Limbaugh’s body is laid to rest. Limbaugh, the conservative nationally-syndicated radio host, died last week from lung cancer.

This is clearly DeSantis pandering to conservatives.

While there’s no doubting Limbaugh’s popularity and influence on the Republican Party, there’s also plenty of evidence of Limbaugh saying racist, sexist, bigoted and other insulting things.

After Limbaugh’s death, DeSantis said, “Rush busted through a media landscape in which a handful of media outlets served up pre-cooked, liberal narratives.”

DeSantis’ decision was immediately slammed by many, including Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who tweeted, “Rush Limbaugh weaponized his platform to spread racism, xenophobia and homophobia across the nation. His constant hateful rhetoric caused untold damage to our political landscape. DeSantis’ decision to honor him is an embarrassment to Florida.”

Limbaugh had a residence in Palm Beach, Florida.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Kirby Wilson wrote, “According to the governor’s office’s Flag Protocol, the state flags are to be lowered on certain holidays honoring veterans; if a present or former governor of Florida dies; if an active service member from Florida dies; if a prominent state official dies or if a law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty. A constituent may formally request that flags be lowered for another reason, but it’s unclear if that happened in this case. A DeSantis spokeswoman did not address this question in an emailed response.”

Wilson noted that DeSantis ordered flags in Florida be lowered to half-staff following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in September and for police victims of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

To Trump or not to Trump

Donald Trump during his last day as president. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

After nearly a month of laying low, former president Donald Trump is now waking from his brief hibernation. He did TV interviews last week on Fox News, OAN and Newsmax to talk about the death of Rush Limbaugh. This weekend, he is expected to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando.

But how much should the media pay attention to him?

On one hand, he’s no longer the president. On the other hand, he still wields a great deal of influence over the Republican Party.

Appearing on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, Washington Post national investigative reporter Carol Leonnig told host Brian Stelter, “(Trump) is not going anywhere. We’re going to hear from him again. And the important thing is his relevance. He wants to be center stage, but the issue becomes the coverage is determined by whether or not he is the force he thinks he is. He’s got a huge following. If he’s still the guy controlling the levers of a huge portion of the Republican Party, if he’s still the guy making people in Congress make decisions based on his wishes, if he’s still instilling fear (among Republicans lawmakers) … if he’s still that force then he’s still relevant to all of us in the news business.”

Also on “Reliable Sources,” my Poynter colleague Angie Drobnic Holan, the editor-in-chief of PolitiFact, was asked how much Trump will still be fact-checked. Without Trump in the White House, Holan said, PolitiFact can turn its focus to other important news stories. For example, much of PolitiFact’s work last week was centered around the power outages in Texas with the winter storm.

“We will still fact-check former president Donald Trump at PolitiFact,” Holan said. “But the fact of the matter is when you’re not the president anymore you get less scrutiny. Now I think we’re going to see a very unusual post-presidency from Donald Trump. He’s said he intends to stay active in Republican politics. And when he says something that is provocative and sounds wrong in a high profile setting, PolitiFact will fact-check him. But that’s not going to be the case all the time. … We’re going to be judicious about our choices.”

Speaking of Trump

This is a heck of a lead in USA Today by Susan Page and Sarah Elbeshbishi: “If there’s a civil war in the Republican Party, the voters who backed Donald Trump in November’s election are ready to choose sides.

Behind Trump.”

Their story , “Defeated and impeached, Trump still commands the loyalty of the GOP’s voters”, is based on a Suffolk University/USA Today poll that “finds Trump’s support largely unshaken after his second impeachment trial in the Senate.” According to the poll, those surveyed said, by a 46% to 27% margin, that they would abandon the Republican Party and join a Trump party if Trump decided to create one. The others were undecided.

In addition, Page and Elbeshbishi wrote, “Half of those polled say the GOP should become ‘more loyal to Trump,’ even at the cost of losing support among establishment Republicans. One in five, 19%, say the party should become less loyal to Trump and more aligned with establishment Republicans.”

Media tidbits

  • As expected, “Saturday Night Live” skewered Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for going on a Mexican beach vacation while his home state was suffering from one of the worst winter storms in the state’s history. Here’s the YouTube clip. Weekend Update also blasted Cruz, as you can see here. “SNL” also took some jabs at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
  • On Sunday’s “This Week” on ABC, moderator Jonathan Karl asked Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) whether he believed Joe Biden won the election fairly and was the legitimate president. Scalise danced around the answer, but the whole time, I was thinking, “Are we still talking about this?”
  • CNN’s Brian Stelter announced on the end of his “Reliable Sources” show Sunday that his book “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth” will be published in paperback in June. But there’s more. The paperback version will be significantly updated. According to the Associated Press’ David Bauder, Stelter is adding about 20,000 words to the 95,000-word hardcover edition. Stelter told Bauder, “I hope this is now the complete story of Trump and Fox. But who knows? Maybe Trump will join Fox.”

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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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