July 26, 2021

COVID-19 is on the attack once again in this country.

As The New York Times’ Apoorva Mandavilli notes, the U.S. is up to 51,000 cases per day — four times what we saw a month ago.

What’s happening?

Mandavilli writes, “The more contagious Delta variant may be getting the blame, but fueling its rise is an older, more familiar foe: vaccine hesitancy and refusal, long pervasive in the United States. Were a wider swath of the population vaccinated, there would be no resurgence — of the Delta variant, or Alpha variant, or any other version of the coronavirus.”

There’s also this maddening paragraph from Mandavilli’s story: “America is one of the few countries with enough vaccines at its disposal to protect every resident — and yet it has the highest rates of vaccine hesitance or refusal of any nation except Russia.”

This refusal by so many Americans to get vaccinated has allowed COVID-19 to evolve.

Appearing on MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “If you allow the virus to freely circulate because so many people are unvaccinated, you give it yet again another opportunity to mutate even more.”

There is some good news. So far, as Fauci said on MSNBC, vaccines seem to work against the delta variant. The delta variant is highly transmissible, but if you’re vaccinated, you likely are protected against being hospitalized or dying.

​​”But you let the virus circulate,” Fauci said, “you may get a variant that’s even worse.”

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Fauci was even more pessimistic, saying, “We’re going in the wrong direction. If you look at the inflection of the curve of new cases and … since we have 50% of the country is not fully vaccinated, that’s a problem, particularly when you have a variant like delta, which has this extraordinary characteristic of being able to spread very efficiently and very easily from person to person. And we know we have many, many, many vulnerable people in this country who are unvaccinated. And that’s the reason why, as I have said so many times, we have the tools to blunt that and make that model wrong. But if we don’t vaccinate people, the model is going to predict that we’re going to be in trouble as we continue to get more and more cases.”

Even if you’re vaccinated, it doesn’t mean you are 100% immune to testing positive for COVID-19. There have been breakthrough cases. Yet, as The Washington Post’s Ben Guarino reports, “The rash of such cases might suggest the coronavirus is regularly blasting by vaccinated people’s immune barriers. But these breakthrough infections are not surprising, nor do they suggest vaccines are widely failing.”

In fact, it’s just the opposite. It shows the vaccines do work.

Guarino writes, “Far more certain, based on clinical trials and real-world data, is that the three vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration broadly protect people from the coronavirus’s harmful effects. The vaccines do this so well that doctors refer to them in almost rapturous terms.”

Robert B. Darnell, a physician and biochemist at Rockefeller University in New York, told Guarino, “The vaccines are extraordinarily powerful and potent in working to prevent disease. They’re incredibly good.”

The politics of COVID

Sarah Huckabee Sanders in October of last year. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara). (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running for governor of Arkansas, wrote a guest column for The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette titled “The reasoning behind getting vaccinated.”

For much of the column, Sanders touts the work of her former boss, Donald Trump, while complaining that the current administration and those who support Joe Biden haven’t given Trump enough credit in the fight against COVID-19. She takes jabs at Dr. Anthony Fauci and the so-called “because science says so” crowds, which includes what Sanders calls “arrogant, condescending politicians and bureaucrats.” After making sure that she made all that clear, she finally gets around to writing, “Based on the advice of my doctor, I determined that the benefits of getting vaccinated outweighed any potential risks.”

She then goes on to talk about how important the “Trump vaccine” is for those in the state of Arkansas, and the benefits of being vaccinated.

On one hand, the overwhelming theme that runs through Sanders’ column is political. On the other hand, anything that encourages someone to get the vaccine could be viewed as positive.

Right through to the end, however, Sanders clearly is worried about the politics and offending anyone. Her final paragraph: “So to anyone still considering the merits of vaccination, I leave you with this encouragement: Pray about it, discuss it with your family and your doctor. Filter out the noise and fear-mongering and condescension, and make the best, most informed decision you can that helps your family, community, and our great state be its very best.”

Arkansas, like many other states, is struggling against with COVID-19. The current governor, Asa Hutchinson, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and said, “This is a pivotal moment in our race against the COVID virus. We have school coming up. We have a lot of sports activities that people are expecting and anxious about. And it’s important for normalcy. And what’s holding us back is a low vaccination rate. We’re doing all that we can. And I made the decision that it’s really not what the government can tell you to do, but it is the community and their engagement and citizens talking to other citizens and trusted advisers, whether it’s the medical community or whether it’s employers. Those are key.”

Olympic concerns

Fireworks explode during the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The Olympics are underway in Tokyo. Now media observers turn to see how the TV ratings will be for NBCUniversal.

So far, not so great.

NBC drew about 17 million viewers for its live and tape-delayed coverage of Friday’s opening ceremony, according to Nielsen’s early fast national ratings. Again, these are early numbers based on the biggest markets to give an early indication of viewers. So look for that number to go up when all the final numbers are added. But they still will be way behind the 2016 Rio Games (26.5 million) and could end up being the lowest ever in 33 years.

Now, if NBC is looking at the glass half-filled, streaming and online numbers are up significantly. That’s good news for NBC, which is pushing its streaming service, Peacock.

Still, NBC has to be a bit nervous that these odd Olympics — a year delayed and being played in front of almost no spectators because of COVID-19, as well as a half-a-day time difference — will be a ratings disaster.

Appearing on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Insider’s Claire Atkinson said the TV numbers matter because advertisers use that information when determining how much money to spend. In other words, they want a bang for their buck.

Atkinson said she texted an advertiser who said the TV numbers were “not good.”

“I’m sure if (the poor numbers) continued,” Atkinson said, “Madison Avenue will be baying for blood.”

Important to remember: It’s only just one weekend, and the numbers are just now starting to come in. Plus, many of the Olympics’ biggest events and stars in gymnastics, swimming and track and field haven’t even competed yet or are just starting.

Speaking of big Olympic stars, kudos to NBC Sports for its excellent profile Sunday night on American gymnast Simone Biles.

Remembering Harry Rosenfeld

In the legendary journalism movie, “All the President’s Men,” there’s a scene about which Washington Post reporters should be put on the developing Watergate story and whether it should be Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. That’s when an editor played by Jack Warden tells Post editor Ben Bradlee, “They’re hungry. You remember when you were hungry?”

That editor, the one played by Warden, was Harry M. Rosenfeld, who died earlier this month from complications of COVID-19. He was 91.

In their book about Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein described Rosenfeld as a football coach. They wrote, “He prods his players, pleading, yelling, cajoling.” The late Post publisher, Katharine Graham, once wrote that Rosenfeld was a “real hero of Watergate for us.”

Bob Levey, a former Post columnist, has a splendid obit of Rosenfeld in The Washington Post. It includes how Rosenfeld barely escaped the Holocaust as a child.

Levey wrote, “In the office, Mr. Rosenfeld favored bow ties and thick-framed glasses. He would often eat meals at his desk in less than five minutes so he could make better use of the work day. He made it a habit to roam the aisles where Metro reporters sat, clapping his hands and shouting encouragement.”

Rosenfeld spent more than 50 years as a journalist. He also spent time at the New York Herald Tribune and as editor of the two newspapers in Albany, New York.

Media tidbits

  • Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson was confronted in person and called the “worst human being known to man” by a man in an outdoors shop in Montana. The man, Dan Bailey, accused Carlson of killing people with vaccine misinformation and “extreme racism.” Bailey put the exchange on Instagram. In a statement, Fox News said, “Ambushing Tucker Carlson while he is in a store with his family is totally inexcusable — no public figure should be accosted regardless of their political persuasion or beliefs simply due to the intolerance of another point of view.”
  • Fan favorite LeVar Burton’s two-week stint as guest host of “Jeopardy” begins tonight. As Brian Stelter pointed out on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” taping for next season is expected to get underway in August, so you would think the show needs to pick a permanent replacement for the late Alex Trebek very soon. Again, I float the idea of not naming a permanent host and, instead, continue having rotating guest hosts. But it’s probably a heavy lift for the showrunners to continually break in unfamiliar hosts. One permanent host is likely preferable for consistency’s sake.
  • NBC News has a new marketing campaign that brands “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt as “The Anchor for America.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Alex Weprin has the details.
  • Writing for Washington Monthly, Steven Waldman, president and co-founder of Report for America, with “Local News Is Our Best Weapon Against Covid Misinformation.”
  • From WYNC’s “On The Media”: “How a Manifesto Against  ‘Objectivity’ Transformed One Journalist’s Career.”
  • ESPN’s Adam Schefter with an interesting tweet on Sunday: “Andy Benoit — who has worked for Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and CBS Sports — has been hired as the assistant to Rams’ head coach Sean McVay/Special Projects. Benoit now will be a regular sounding board and researcher for McVay.”

Hot type

Civil rights activist Bob Moses in 2014. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

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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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