July 19, 2021

Here are some numbers — disturbing numbers — from Johns Hopkins University. COVID-19 vaccination rates are dropping across the nation. At the same time, new cases are rising in 46 states — as much as 10% week over week.

In other words, fewer people are getting vaccinated and more people are getting COVID-19. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out what’s going on.

At the center of why people aren’t getting vaccinated has a lot to do with their political view and where they are getting their information — or, I should say, misinformation.

During an appearance on CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Jim Acosta, “We probably would still have polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that’s being spread now. … If we had that back decades ago, I would be certain that we’d still have polio in this country.”

Unfortunately, vaccination misinformation has taken hold. Last week, President Joe Biden was asked about social media companies such as Facebook and he said, “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that — and they’re killing people.”

During her Friday press conference, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “Why don’t we all participate in a process that will help provide accurate information out there?”

In a harsh response, Facebook vice president of integrity Guy Rosen wrote that the Biden administration must stop the “finger-pointing.” Rosen wrote, “At a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in America, the Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies. While social media plays an important role in society, it is clear that we need a whole of society approach to end this pandemic. And facts — not allegations — should help inform that effort. The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the U.S. has increased.”

Still, the fact is people in large numbers are not getting vaccinated, and politics are playing a role in that decision.

In an opinion piece for NBC News’ THINK, Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in western Michigan and executive director of the Committee to Protect Health Care, wrote about the patients who refused to get the vaccine.

“I don’t blame my patients for their refusal,” Davidson wrote. “What breaks my heart, as someone who took an oath to prevent harm, is that my patients choose to abandon the science and evidence that can save their lives. I do blame Fox News and other right-wing media outlets for poisoning the minds of millions of Americans with the deceptive propaganda they spray into living rooms 24/7.”

Davidson added, “One predictor of vaccine refusal is Fox News viewership, which is heavily Republican and conservative. Indeed, Fox News is lurching increasingly to the right to win back the Trump voters it has lost to upstart right-wing outlets like Newsmax and One America News Network. Fox hosts’ current line on Covid-19 and vaccines includes wrongly equating vaccine outreach efforts with forced vaccinations and accusing community campaigns — also wrongly — of harvesting private medical information.”

Meanwhile, in an opinion piece for Canada’s Globe and Mail, John Doyle writes, “For a guy who often bellows ‘Why can’t we ask these questions?’ Tucker Carlson of Fox News is curiously hesitant to answer one specific question. He refuses to say whether he’s been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Doyle adds, “In the current version of the battle of the all-news channels in the United States, Fox News has staked a claim to supporting vaccine-hesitation. It sees this position as populist, anti-regulation and a ratings winner. As CNN, MSNBC and some individuals see it, Fox News has blood on its hands.”

And, oh, here’s another notable piece that might interest you: Politico’s Jack Shafer with “What the White House Doesn’t Get About Disinformation.”

An Olympic-sized problem

A protester is surrounded by police during a rally against the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mayuko Ono)

The Olympics open on Friday in Tokyo amid continuing concerns about COVID-19.

American tennis star Coco Gauff tweeted Sunday that she won’t be going to Tokyo because she tested positive. She wrote, “I am so disappointed to share the news that I have tested positive for COVID and won’t be able to play in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future.”

Meanwhile, two soccer players and a video analyst from South Africa have tested positive for COVID-19. All three were already at the Olympic Village in Japan, raising nerves even more for the Olympic organizers.

The New York Times’ John Branch writes, “The Summer Olympics are happening, amid a spiking pandemic and in mostly empty venues. The opening ceremony on Friday will bring curiosity and a question that might be aimed not just at the Tokyo Games, but at the entire Olympic movement:

Just what in the world are we doing here?”

Meanwhile, from a media standpoint, The Associated Press’ David Bauder has an insightful piece, “Plenty at stake for NBC as COVID Olympics opening looms.”

Bauder wisely points out, “The Olympics arrive dripping in bad vibes, amid a COVID-19 state of emergency in Japan. The majority of Japanese citizens are unvaccinated against the virus and most wish the Olympics weren’t taking place this summer. Most events will occur in near-empty venues.”

Nevertheless, it remains critical for NBC Universal, which has the American TV rights. Andy Billings, director of the sports communications program at the University of Alabama, told Bauder, “If they break even, that is a great success. If you can simply not lose money and have a massive number of new subscriptions for Peacock, from people checking that out, that’s an incredible promotion for what they probably see as the future of television.”

Meanwhile, NBC might be dealing with some obstacles. One is a possible so-so appetite for the games among viewers, considering there will be no spectators in attendance and an uneasy feeling about whether these Olympics should even be held. In addition, and maybe more of an issue, is the time difference, something that often can be a problem for American TV viewers. As Bauder writes, “The time difference — Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the Eastern United States, 16 hours ahead of the West — means limited opportunity for live coverage in the evening.”

Wolff and Stelter’s exchange on CNN

The Sunday morning TV segment getting lots of buzz is the exchange between Trump book author Michael Wolff and CNN “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter.

In his new book, “Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency,” Wolff claimed that Fox founder and boss Rupert Murdoch signed off on Fox News calling Arizona for Joe Biden during the election. Fox News has denied that assertion and Stelter, who wrote a book about Fox News, recently tweeted, “There’s simply no evidence that the Murdochs had anything to do with it, and ample evidence to the contrary.”

So when that topic came up on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” Wolff told Stelter, “It is an interesting thing that week after week all you do is question Fox, question its veracity, question its honor, question et cetera et cetera, but suddenly now you think that they might be honest to a fault.”

Stelter responded with “I’ve never questioned the decision desk, the professionals who made the call.”

The two then continued a back-and-forth about Murdoch’s role on election night and another Wolff book assertion — that Fox News’ anchor Bill Hemmer called Trump adviser Jason Miller to give the Trump campaign a heads up on the network’s Arizona call. That also was denied by Fox News, but Miller later said that did happen.

After a few questions about Murdoch, Fox News and Trump, Wolff then sounded off on the media, including Stelter.

“I think the media has done a terrible job on this,” Wolff said. “I think you, yourself — you’re a nice guy — you’re full of sanctimony. You have become one of the parts of the problem of the media. You come on here and you have a monopoly on truth, so you know exactly how things are supposed to be done. You are one of the reasons people can’t stand the media. Sorry. It’s your fault.”

Stelter laughed and then asked Wolff what he should do differently.

Wolff said, “Don’t talk so much. Listen more. You know people have genuine problems with the media. The media doesn’t get the story right. The media exists in its own bubble.”

Up until then, Wolff was doing OK, offering up criticism of all media, but then he swerved off the road, talking about how the media is the flip side of Trump and that it’s “virtuous news.”

After one more shot at Stelter, Wolff was (smartly) asked by Stelter, “Then why did you bother coming on CNN a few times this week?”

Wolff paused and said, “You know, I’m a book salesman.”

There were some interesting reactions to the interview, including:

MSNBC’s Joy Reid, who tweeted, “1. Rupert Murdoch hates Trump but he loves money, and that’s why @FoxNews is all-in on Trump despite Murdoch (not caring) about him. 2.Trump is a ‘crazy man who became president’ and the media has no bloody idea how to handle that.”

And The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, who tweeted, “Wolff actually makes some salient points here before it goes off into a different place.”

Kasie Hunt leaves NBC News for CNN

Kasie Hunt. (Colin Young-Wolff/Invision/AP)

In a surprising announcement on Friday, Kasie Hunt told viewers of her early morning show on MSNBC that it was her last show. She said she would reveal her new “adventure” in the next few weeks. But it was revealed almost immediately. Hunt is joining CNN and, according to Variety’s Brian Steinberg, will “focus largely on content that is produced for streaming viewers.”

Steinberg wrote, “CNN is trying to hire dozens of people to help fuel its move into the streaming arena, and one person familiar with the matter said Hunt was offered an annual salary of between $1 million and $1.5 million that NBC News felt it simply could not match. This person suggested that Hunt could play a pivotal role in CNN’s streaming efforts, appearing online at moments of great national importance, such as during presidential elections.”

This is a big deal. Hunt has been with NBC News since 2013. In addition to hosting MSNBC’s “Way Too Early,” she was one of the network’s star reporters and often appeared on “Meet the Press” and the “NBC Nightly News.” And it’s a sign of CNN’s commitment to streaming.

A troubling report

Wow. Check out the headline on this story by The Washington Post’s Dana Priest, Craig Timberg and Souad Mekhennet (and 16 media partners with The Pegasus Project): “Private Israeli spyware used to hack cellphones of journalists, activists worldwide.”

The investigation said, “Military-grade spyware licensed by an Israeli firm to governments for tracking terrorists and criminals was used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and two women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

It went on to say, “Among the journalists whose numbers appear on the list, which dates to 2016, are reporters working overseas for several leading news organizations, including a small number from CNN, the Associated Press, Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Le Monde in France, the Financial Times in London and Al Jazeera in Qatar.”

As the investigation notes, “The targeting of the 37 smartphones would appear to conflict with the stated purpose of NSO’s licensing of the Pegasus spyware, which the company says is intended only for use in surveilling terrorists and major criminals. The evidence extracted from these smartphones, revealed here for the first time, calls into question pledges by the Israeli company to police its clients for human rights abuses.”

The project also has this piece: “Jamal Khashoggi’s wife targeted with spyware before his death.”

Media tidbits

  • Jeff Bezos will be interviewed on all three network morning shows this morning ahead of Tuesday’s expected spaceflight launching of his Blue Origin. Michael Strahan will interview him for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Gayle King will interview him for “CBS This Morning” and Hoda Kotb will interview him for NBC’s “Today” show.
  • Fox News’ Neil Cavuto also will interview Bezos today on both Fox Business Network’s “CAVUTO: Coast to Coast” (12 to 2 p.m. Eastern) and Fox News Channel’s “Your World” (4 to 5 p.m. Eastern). And, finally, Bezos also is scheduled for CNN’s “New Day.”
  • ABC/ESPN broadcaster Jay Williams said Friday he has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the remainder of the NBA Finals. He was not part of the network’s coverage of the Finals on Saturday night. Game 6 between Milwaukee and Phoenix is Tuesday night. Williams said he is fully vaccinated. He said his family have been “over-diligent” and “hypersensitive” regarding COVID-19 because his 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter is immunosuppressed. “And this has still occurred.” He said he will quarantine in his hotel room for 10 days.
  • Speaking of the NBA Finals and broadcasters, what’s the latest with pregame host Maria Taylor? The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reports that Taylor, whose contract with ABC/ESPN is set to expire, will finish up the NBA Finals, but then could be off to NBC.
  • For Quartz, Anne Quito with “The Anthony Bourdain audio deepfake is forcing a debate about AI in journalism.”

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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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