The Morning Jolt


Combatting the ‘Drive-By Media’ Impulse

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Have you ever noticed that sometimes a story dominates the news cycle for a few days, raises some serious allegation that never quite get confirmed or resolved, and then more or less disappears? Rush Limbaugh used to refer to the “drive-by media” — coverage of a story or topic that would be sudden, intense, frantic, and emotional, and then just as suddenly end and move on to the next big story. Today is a special Morning Jolt, as I went back to check on ten big stories from spring 2019 that were never quite resolved. But first, two astounding bits of news: that the risk of teachers catching SARS-CoV-2 from students is almost nil and that Chinese propagandists are trying to undermine faith in the U.S. coronavirus vaccines. And let’s wrap up this week with some of the worst “dad jokes” you’ve ever heard.

‘No Instances of Child-to-Adult Transmission Were Reported Within Schools’

An eye-popping peer-reviewed study from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Over nine weeks, 11 participating school districts had more than 90,000 students and staff attend school in-person; of these, there were 773 community-acquired SARS-CoV-2 infections documented by molecular testing. Through contact tracing, North Carolina health department staff determined an additional 32 infections were acquired within schools. No instances of child-to adult transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were reported within schools.

That Paranoid Anti-Vaccine Message You Saw May Have Come from China

Over in Tablet magazine, Lee Smith has an exhaustively researched, thought-provoking essay about how most U.S. financial, political, and cultural elites have bound their fates to a continued good relationship with the Chinese government. Now that their fortunes are dependent upon access to the Chinese market, these elites cannot let anything — not the Uyghurs, not Hong Kong, and not the Chinese government’s recklessness in the early days of the pandemic — get in the way of that.

Meanwhile, PBS Frontline reports that a “pro-Chinese digital propaganda network is attempting to discredit COVID-19 vaccines distributed in the United States.” Just what does it take for our leaders to accept that this regime is an enemy?

An Update on the ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ of the News Cycle

Two years ago today, this newsletter listed a series of news stories that seemed to get an enormous amount of attention and then disappear from the news cycle without resolving their explosive allegations. So put on your trench coat and join me with a gruff, Robert-Stack-like voice as we emerge from fog to see if we can find answers to some . . . unsolved mysteries.

One: Whatever happened to that January 2019 BuzzFeed story claiming that President Trump “directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow”?

UPDATE: Mystery solved. In May 2019, Ben Smith of BuzzFeed wrote:

With the release of the Mueller report, we know which characterization [Robert Mueller’s spokesman, Peter] Carr was disputing: Specifically, that the series of interactions between Trump, Cohen, and their lawyers did not, in the prosecutors’ view, amount to Trump “directing” Cohen to lie.

As Mueller’s team wrote in the report: “While there is evidence . . . that the president knew Cohen provided false testimony to Congress . . . the evidence to us does not establish the president directed or aided Cohen’s false testimony.”

As a matter of what constitutes a crime, Mueller has the last word, and his characterization has the force of law.

In other words, the story wasn’t accurate.

Two: Whatever happened to that McClatchy wire-service story that the Justice Department special counsel had evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign?

UPDATE: Mystery solved. The Mueller report dispelled the claim, but in an all-time “just take the L already” champion, McClatchy somehow still insists their reporting is accurate.

Mueller’s report emerged earlier this year, however, it didn’t cite the evidence asserted by McClatchy. It merely stated that “Cohen had never traveled to Prague,” an assertion attributed to an interview with Cohen.

How did McClatchy handle these unwelcome developments? With an editor’s note: “Robert S. Mueller III’s report to the attorney general states that Mr. Cohen was not in Prague. It is silent on whether the investigation received evidence that Mr. Cohen’s phone pinged in or near Prague, as McClatchy reported.” (Boldface in the original.)

That is a sure-fire first-ballot candidate for the Lame Excuse Hall of Fame. The McClatchy story wasn’t that somebody stole Cohen’s phone and took it to Prague. The story began, “The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.” No, they did not!

Three: How’s the Chicago police department investigation into the alleged attack on Jessie Smollett coming?

UPDATE: Since that Jolt two years ago, Jussie Smollett has been indicted, had the charges dropped, been re-indicted on felony charges of lying to police, and last summer had his argument of double jeopardy rejected by a Cook County judge. He is expected back in court in March.

Four: Did Joy Reid ever catch that hacker who she claimed had hacked into the archives of her defunct blog and inserted homophobic statements?

UPDATE: Not only did Reid never catch the hacker, subsequent reporting suggested other portions of Reid’s response were untruthful. “An attorney for Reid similarly said in 2018 that the FBI was investigating, but that claim was never corroborated. NBC refused to confirm that a report was submitted to law enforcement. Subsequent statements from the network failed to mention the bureau.”

In addition to her MSNBC work, Reid will teach a journalism course entitled “Covering Race, Gender & Politics in the Digital Age” at Howard University this spring.

Five: Did Kavanaugh accuser Julie Swetnick — who described weekly parties of drugging and assaulting women going on for three years in the Washington, D.C., area involving dozens of individuals — ever name anyone else at those parties?

UPDATE: To say Julie Swetnick has disappeared from public life is an understatement. The Associated Press has not mentioned Swetnick since 2018, nor has Politico. In some ways, it seems Swetnick has been airbrushed out of history; a 2019 Los Angeles Times profile of Michael Avenatti did not mention her at all.

Six: Did Al Sharpton ever pay back the $4.5 million in back taxes he and his companies owed? Is the Internal Revenue Service comfortable with the nonprofit National Action Network paying Sharpton for $531,000 for his “life story rights for a 10-year period”? Is the IRS okay with a nonprofit spending such a sum to purchase the life story of its own president?

UPDATE: In September 2020, USA Today reported that Sharpton has paid back a hefty portion of the taxes he owes, but far from all of the considerable sums:

The IRS established over $2.8 million in liens against Sharpton from 1995-2010, according to the New York City Office of the City Register. The records indicate Sharpton has paid off over $2.1 million.

USA TODAY confirmed two tax warrants for $492,612.41 and $103,156.06 filed for Alfred Sharpton were satisfied on May 9, 2018, and June 5, 2019, respectively, according to the Tax Warrant Notice System for the State of New York.

Seven: Did anyone ever ID the guy who allegedly threatened Stormy Daniels?

UPDATE: Despite many jokes that the perpetrator will be starting as quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl on Sunday, no perpetrator was ever identified.

Eight: What did Roy Moore do with the money donated to his post-election “Election Integrity Fund” that was supposed to pay for a recount? 

UPDATE: Moore never raised anywhere near the $1 million or more needed for the recount. His Senate website is no longer online. The most recent item on Moore’s personal website is from April 2020. A month earlier, LifeSite News declared that Moore is not like “normal, weak men” and suggested that conservative groups had blacklisted Moore because they feared how honest he was:

Unlike with Kavanaugh, the Republican Party threw Roy Moore under the bus. And even the major pro-family groups, including one that had raised money on Roy Moore by having him at their national conference just weeks earlier, turned their back on him. Why? Because of their fear of his acting or speaking honestly on those issues — which ordinary Americans are faced with every day. (Even now, a major conservative political site declined to carry this article.)

“Even now” a major conservative political site declined to carry an article gushing over Roy Moore? I cannot imagine why!

Nine: The Washington Post learned, after Jamal Khashoggi’s death, that their star foreign-affairs columnist had collaborated with Qatar Foundation International and been in talks with the Saudi government to establish a pro-Saudi think tank, and not disclosed either of those relationships with his editors. While these actions by no means justify Khashoggi’s brutal murder, they do complicate the established narrative of a noble reformer using his pen to fight brutality within the Saudi state. In that light, out of all the slain reporters the Post could have spotlighted . . . why was Jamal Khashoggi included in the newspaper’s Super Bowl ad?

UPDATE: Khashoggi’s relationships with the QFI and the think tank garnered almost no attention beyond that brief mention in a Post story two years ago. A new documentary about Khashoggi by Oscar-winning director Bryan Fogel is making the rounds; it won rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival but had a hard time finding a distributor, an indicator of how Hollywood may not be comfortable antagonizing the Saudi royal family.

Ten: After producing one of the most highly discussed, praised, and hated commercials in recent years, Procter & Gamble said Gillette sales remained the same after the airing of the ad. The company declared the ad a success. Is the goal of advertising campaigns to keep sales at the same level?

UPDATE: In August 2019, Procter and Gamble announced that Gillette had declined in value by $8 billion over 14 years. “They blamed currency fluctuations and competition from upstarts, not to mention all the bearded millennials who are simply burning through fewer blades.” Over in the United Kingdom, consumer research data indicated the negative response to the ad hurt the company’s reputation:

According to YouGov BrandIndex, Gillette’s buzz score — which is a balance of the positive and negative things people have heard about a brand — has fallen by 5.8 points over the past week to -3.4. That shows more people have been hearing negative things about the brand than positive and takes it from seventh in a list of 45 health and beauty brands to bottom.

ADDENDUM: It looks like the Morning Jolt is a huge hit in Micronesia, getting cited in the Marianas Variety newspaper.

Warning, serious dad jokes ahead

I found that column from Marianas quite . . . trenchant.

Yes, I know that joke had you groaning, but it’s pretty deep.


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