The corporate press has long ignored any nuance about COVID, and the new "shot" coverage is no exception
October 3, 2023
Dateline: The week the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce mega-merger became the dominant sports culture story in the country…
Watching this week…
— COVID shot coverage bypasses the nuance
— Anderson Cooper starts reading the press
— Cassidy Hutchinson’s path to media acceptability
— Trump in court as 2024 chaos heats up
— Great Moments in Fashion Insurrection Journalism
Media failed the public at the height of the COVID pandemic — years later, problems persist
The new COVID booster, which has been rebranded as a “COVID shot” to better align with the “flu shot,” signaling it’s meant to be taken as a yearly excersie rather than the one-and-two-then-three-and-done framing it originally was pitched as, is available now. The CDC is recommending it for all Americans over the age of 6-months-old. This, despite the fact that “some advisers to the C.D.C. [said] that they were unsure about recommending the new Covid vaccines to younger adults, or had misgivings about potential side effects, especially in children and young males,” reported the New York Times, and that “others worried that endorsing the vaccines for all Americans might undermine messaging about the greater need among those who are at highest risk from Covid, including older adults.”
This, also, despite the fact that less than 20% of Americans got the bivalent COVID booster this time last year, with the same messaging being used — ensuring even fewer people adhere to the CDC recommendations this time around. No matter — Taylor Swift’s new boyfriend, NFL star Travis Kelce, is busy urging you to get your COVID and flu shot at the same time, in a new ad for Pfizer.
The silver lining here for fans of rational, logical thought is that Americans are smart, and can see through the consensus pusher nonsense, particularly on COVID — after years of being spun in extreme, convoluted, and harmful ways. The scientific establishment, the pharma industry — we can expect this spin to continue. But what about the corporate press?
A few weeks ago, Dr. Ashish Jha — who went from media darling to Biden administration political operative back to media darling — was on the Today show to answer some questions from the NBC panel about the new COVID booster. “I don’t call it a booster because it’s just your annual shot at this point,” he said. “And most people should go out and get your annual COVID shot the way you get your annual flu shot.”
“Get ‘em together, it makes the fall, the winter, the holidays just much safer, much better for everybody,” Jha said.
Savannah Guthrie asked if everyone really needs to get it —especially if you’ve already had COVID a few times, and you’re healthy. “You’re less likely to spread it to others,” if you’re vaccinated, said Jha. Plus “Long COVID…gets reduced a lot” by having your annual COVID shot.
(Click the screenshot to watch the segment.)
Is any of this actually true? In a three minute segment on NBC’s morning show, it’s not shocking we didn’t get into the meat of the issue. But that’s unfortunate, because COVID in 2023 is no longer a topic that can be cavalierly discussed on the air without considering the serious consequences of putting false information out into the world.
Dr. Vinay Prasad, who has done excellent work as a rational voice on COVID for years now, did the service of fact-checking this segment. “No one has ever established for any dose of the vaccine that there is a benefit to third parties,” reports Prasad. “He’s making that up.”
Also there has never been any actual study about Long COVID and vaccines, Prasad says, and the one that he might be citing was only related to the original version of the vaccines and not this or any other booster. And that’s just the beginning — there are several other comments in that very short clip that Prasad proves are false.
(I should note that I don’t support censorship of COVID misinformation, or punishment for COVID misinformation, like it appears the Today show put out. That would be hypocritical. But I do believe NBC should be held to a high standard, and called out for getting it wrong — and urged to correct the record on behalf of its own audience.)
But this is what we have as an Acela Media, in October 2023, more than three-and-a-half years since the beginning of the pandemic: truly no more curious, or introspective, or skeptical. Making the same mistakes, over and over again. And it’s not just about COVID boosters — sorry, “shots.” Prasad has a great article about the New York Times COVID reporter who has consistently gotten facts wrong about COVID, and continues to do so to this day. David Zweig over at his excellent Substack shows how the New York Times got COVID information wrong last month related to U.K. policies.
And I could go on. But the truth is, we’re at the point in the pandemic where most people have enough self-confidence about their own COVID decision-making that none of this really matters. That’s a sad reflection on our institutions, including the fourth estate and our media, but it’s a fact. For me, I always prefer the nuance, and I don’t think “vaccine” discussions are black and white either. Nate Silver recently put out a rational article showing the original vaccines did appear to help reduce the number of dead from COVID (the original vs. booster distinction is important, which he didn’t hit hard enough). His follow-up after receiving some pushback makes me think the latest shots still could be beneficial for the elderly and immunocompromised as everyone considers costs and benefits.
Weigh the pros and cons. Determine if it’s for you. Those are the kinds of conversations we would get from a medical establishment that doesn’t have massive disdain for the public. As Prasad noted last week, America is basically alone in recommending COVID shots still for kids — it’s simply not happening elsewhere.
Why? A simple question that could have been beneficial last month for the Today show hosts to ask Dr. Jha, as they enabled the spread of misinformation, in the service of the patronizing scientific elite, and to the detriment of the audience.
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Anderson Cooper’s attempt at rewriting history shows he’s no longer above media pettiness
Anderson Cooper is one of the few consistencies in the corporate media world, having been at CNN for 22 years, hosted “Anderson Cooper 360” for 20 of those years, and doing so at the 8pm primetime kickoff hour for 12 years straight. He also, for a long time, had remained consistently “above the fray” when it came to the inside sniping of the press — displaying a general aloofness that’s rare among the egotistical anchors I encountered on, and off, TV.
That changed a bit during the Trump years, but with less severity than others at the network. But there’s something happening now with an effort to rewrite history in what feels like a reputation-boosting signal that shows something has changed with how Cooper sees the media media — and his place in it.
The night after the CNN town hall with Trump in May, Cooper started his show with a bunch of Resistance bait, and told his audience they had “every right” to be angry at CNN and never watch it again. But then he asked: “Do you think staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with is going to make that person go away? If we all only listen to those we agree with, it may actually do the opposite.” Click the screenshot to watch the full video:
And of course, he was right, on the substance — putting aside the ridiculous performance of repentance that went along with it.
Fast forward a few months, and Cooper is changing his tune on everything from that post-town hall moment to the entire Chris Licht era. “I would have probably ridden it out” instead of commenting on it, he says in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. And later, despite saying we can’t “pretend” Trump isn’t leading in the polls, “I wasn’t saying the town hall was a great idea.”
This was similar to his sentiment in a lengthy interview with the New York Times last month. “I don’t know what Chris Licht’s analysis was. I don’t have much confidence that I actually know what he was thinking…I mean, I read things in the paper, but I’m not sure what the point of it all was,” he said, although he admitted there wasn’t much for he and Chris to discuss since “I’m not an opinion host. I’m talking to people from different sides and trying to be straight down the middle and represent things fairly and accurately.”
So, in other words, he did understand what Licht was thinking. And perhaps, if anything, Licht needed to reinvigorate the Anderson Cooper of old for his vision of CNN to truly succeed. Cooper went from being seen by the average American as a liberal who was pretty fair to a partisan who fails to mask his disdain for half the country behind a veil of objectivity. It’s not surprising he didn’t get what Chris Licht was trying to fix. And his attempt at rewriting recent history, to, what appears, better ingratiate himself with the same insidery media he claims to ignore, is obvious.
Cassidy Hutchinson’s media tour is a case study in our modern reputational resilience
Cassidy Hutchinson is 27-years-old, which makes her a very young millennial, according to whatever the rules are on subjective generational categorization. For some reason that makes sense. She has her whole life and career ahead of her, which she could devote to public service or the private sector in politics or communications.
Either way, a big roadblock is going to be that whole association with the Trump administration, and her recent media tour tied to her new book shows the clear way she’s trying to divorce her past from her present and future. “I think that Donald Trump is the most grave threat we will face to our democracy in our lifetime, and potentially in American history,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper last week in that Very Serious Tone such a comment would surely demand. And, as the story notes, she would know, because she had a “front row seat” to the administration as a top aide to Mark Meadows.
But the thing about Hutchinson is we actually know a lot more about her than this new persona leads us to believe. In a Federalist exclusive published last year, we know that Hutchinson sounded very different about all these topics — and long after January 6, if we’re playing the pivot point game. She called the January 6 committee “bs” and “phony” in text messages, and mocked “THE REPUBLICAN MARTYRS” Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for having “egos” that are “too fucking big.” She joked about leading an “insurrection” at her friend’s apartment, and joked about calling herself an insurrectionist to annoy a liberal she encountered.
At one point, months after January 6, she wrote, “I would rather shoot myself dead into the Potomac than see marine one flying around this city without 45 again.”
Hutchinson of course wasn’t asked about what may have been behind this massive 180 and change of heart in any of her recent media hits. Because it no longer mattered — her reputation was back intact, as the latest “brave truthteller” to emerge from the Trump administration and report on its sins, as the dutiful press ate it up.
Trump back in court, corporate media salivating… and a promise of objectivity
I talked to NewsNation this morning about the PR strategy of former President Donald Trump to make a PR event of his court cases — and why, as crazy as it sounds, it’s actually smart, strategically. The public largely sees these prosecutions, both civil and criminal, as political. And he’s re-upping his playbook laid out way back in 1987 in his best-selling book “The Art of the Deal” about how to play the press to great effect (which I wrote about back in January 2016 when he ran for president the first time).
Which leads me to a recent “Rabbit Hole” deep dive column I wrote here, about my own objectivity in covering the political craziness ahead over the next year, and my own personal opinions on the matter — and why I “don’t care” who wins.
It’s not that I don’t have political preferences — and I can see how certain outcomes will be better, not just for me but for the country. But as I lay out, there are four specific reasons why I don’t “care” — why I won’t get emotionally invested in the outcome. And the big one is because I trust you, and my neighbors, and my community far more than any single politician of any single party. Check it out:
WATCH IT… A series of interviewer-interviewee links… First up, whatever you think of Bill O’Reilly and Tucker Carlson, watching the two former cable news titans talk shop — and get really in the weeds about not just Fox News but the industry in general — is really interesting. It closes with a fascinating rant from O’Reilly about how talent is “afraid” in today’s legacy media environment.
HEAR IT… Kara Swisher battled it out with her friend Walter Isaacson on a recent “On” episode, about Isaacson’s new book on Elon Musk. There was a lot of respect between the two, but Swisher’s Elon Derangement Syndrome is so prevalent now that when Isaacson makes rational arguments throughout the interview she can’t bring herself to admit the truth.
READ IT… And then there’s David Marchese’s fascinating New York Times interview of Jann Wenner, the former longtime Rolling Stone editor, on his new book about “Masters” of music, which focuses solely on white guys. Marchese has a way of getting into thorny issues without it coming across as combative, and so he ends up getting some answers out of Wenner that led him to dig himself into a deeper hole than perhaps he thought at the outset.
A must-read Coleman Hughes Free Press deep dive on what happened when his TED Talk on “color-blindness” got a ton of internal pushback at the organization.
Dana Perino got the New York Times Jeremy Peters profile treatment ahead of her serving as a moderator of the GOP debate last week.
Chris Wallace’s interview show “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace” has been booted from the linear CNN channel and will now live exclusively on Max.
The Free Beacon’s Drew Holden has a good summary of the hyperbolic coverage CNN gave Rupert Murdoch’s retirement.
A good Bloomberg look at the state of the podcast industry at a clear inflection point, through the eyes of one of the top podcast agents.
Good rule of journalism: Always read Eli Saslow, who is out with a powerful new New York Times piece on the drug crisis in America.
⏪ REWIND // FAST FORWARD: Never Tweet Edition ⏩
⏪ New York Times columnist David Brooks thought he stumbled on something profound recently when he tweeted about the economy based on his $78 airport meal he was eating, which consisted of a normal-priced burger and fries and a giant expensive bourbon.
⏩ After getting ratio’ed into oblivion, Brooks addressed the controversy on PBS, and admitted that he “screwed up,” but also “I probably should not write any tweets.” Hopefully he and other journalists don’t take this advice so Fourth Watch can continue to exist…
Elon Musk was tooting his own horn over on the platform formerly known as Twitter recently. “For those considering putting their work on the X platform, consider that Tucker Carlson’s show when he was on TV, had single digit million viewers,” he wrote. “Views for his episodes on X now exceed the population of the United States.” You’d think the cognitive dissonance in this tweet might catch Elon and make him think twice, but perhaps putting rational thoughts out into the world about the true scope and scale of X is not the goal here. I’ll dig more into the truth about the stats — on X, on “TV,” and beyond — in a future newsletter.
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
Sure, John Fetterman’s clothing choices are a fashion insurrection, but you know, not as bad as a real insurrection… or something, right, Politico?
Thanks for reading. Back soon with a new podcast with the NFL on Fox’s Curt Menefee later this week…