October 04, 2020

🥞 Good Sunday morning. Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,281 words ... 5 minutes.

🚨Post-debate, Joe Biden's lead over President Trump grew to 14 points in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, up from 8 last month. (WSJ)

  • ❗Biden now leads Trump by 27 points among seniors (62% to 35%) — a group Trump won by 7 points in 2016.

Situational awareness: Nick Luna, who runs Oval Office operations and is President Trump's personal aide, has tested positive for coronavirus, Bloomberg reports.

1 big thing: The media’s 2020 moment 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany briefs Thursday. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

It's easy to dog the media. But stop for a second and reflect on everything we know thanks to the media — and often the media alone, Sara Fischer and Jim VandeHei write:

It was the media that gave light to the negligence of White House officials in containing the coronavirus.

  • It was Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs who revealed Hope Hicks' positive test, with President Trump disclosing five hours later that he and the first lady had COVID.

It was the media that exposed that the president and top White House officials knowingly downplayed the danger of COVID.

  • It was Bob Woodward's recordings for "Rage" that capture Trump admitting he knew the coronavirus was deadlier than he publicly portrayed.

It was the media that exposed the president's fundamental misunderstanding of the facts around the coronavirus.

  • It was Jonathan Swan's "Axios on HBO" interview in which Trump said about the loss of American lives: "It is what it is."

It was the media that exposed the murkiness surrounding the president's finances and private business dealings. 

  • It was the N.Y. Times' Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire who finally exposed Trump’s tax data, showing he only paid $750 in federal income tax the year he entered the White House.

It was the media that amplified the warning of scientists and medical professionals to wear masks, wash hands and social distance, leading to widespread adoption of all three. 

  • The Houston Chronicle has for months been investigating the true numbers of coronavirus cases and warning signs, while local governments kept numbers and details about the virus obscure.

It was often the media that spotted misinformation on social platforms and forced quick corrections. 

  • It's NBC's Ben Collins who led investigations into the woeful failure of tech platforms to police misinformation that fueled the rise of QAnon.

It was the media that uncovered dozens of examples of gross abuses of power by leaders in business and government all year. 

  • It was ProPublica that investigated how New York City’s emergency ventilator stockpile ended up being auctioned off.

The bottom line: All of this came amid economic strife for the industry.

  • In the first six months of 2020, more than 11,000 newsroom jobs were lost.

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2. Trump appears on video as aide warns of peril

In this image released by the White House yesterday, President Trump works in the Presidential Suite at Walter Reed. Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House via AP

Here's the White House's credibility problem in a nutshell:

  • Chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters in the White House driveway on Friday morning: "The president does have mild symptoms."
  • Last night, the same Mark Meadows told Judge Jeanine Pirro on Fox News: "[H]e's made unbelievable improvements from yesterday morning, when I know a number of us, the doctor and I, were very concerned. ... He had a fever and a blood oxygen level that dropped rapidly."
In this image released by the White House yesterday, President Trump works in his conference room at Walter Reed. Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian/The White House via AP

President Trump tweeted a four-minute video last evening in which he looked pale but sounded good, with no apparent breathing issues:

  • "I feel much better now. We're working hard to get me all the way back. ... [W]e still have to make America great again. We've done an awfully good job of that. But we still have steps to go. ... I think I'll be back soon."
  • "I look forward to finishing up the campaign ... We're gonna beat this coronavirus, or whatever you wanna call it. ... I'm starting to feel good."
  • Watch the video.

How it's playing:

3. SurveyMonkey poll: Trump faces little GOP fallout

Screenshot from Twitter video posted from Walter Reed last night.

Nine in 10 Republicans say President Trump handled his COVID diagnosis responsibly (did everything you're supposed to do when you think you might have the virus), Margaret Talev writes from a SurveyMonkey snap poll for Axios.

  • 73% of Democrats and 58% of independents say Trump handled his diagnosis irresponsibly, while 88% of Republicans say he acted responsibly, in the national survey of 1,448 U.S. adults, conducted Oct. 2-3.

And before his diagnosis: Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans doubt he took the threat seriously, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll out today. (ABC)

The SurveyMonkey poll finds Democrats and independents want the remaining debates and campaign events for both candidates to go virtual or be scrapped altogether, while most Republicans want them to go ahead in person.

4. Pausing for perspective

Photo: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

The moon rises behind the Statue of Liberty, as seen last night from Jersey City.

5. PBS turns 50 today

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Getty Images

While PBS is best known for shows like "Sesame Street" and "Downton Abbey," its legacy also includes innovations in technology, like creating closed captioning to make TV accessible to the deaf, and pioneering diversity in television, Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer writes.

Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon, Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Getty Images
Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon, Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Getty Images

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6. How the brain handles the unknown

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uncertainty drives anxiety — an emotion neuroscientists are trying to understand better, and psychologists are trying to treat better, managing editor Alison Snyder writes.

New research suggests an overlap in the brain circuitry for anxiety and fear — separate emotions long thought to activate different regions in the brain.

  • Fear is typically a reaction to a certain, immediate threat. Anxiety is a prolonged state of worrying about and anticipating an uncertain harm.

How to cope: Lucy McBride, who practices medicine in D.C., tells her patients that "anxiety is part of the human condition and the survival mechanisms we have," and stresses the importance of sleep, therapy and minimizing stimulants.

  • Humans are resilient and, as Arthur C. Brooks recently wrote in The Atlantic, difficulty and uncertainty can be "an opportunity for improvement and personal growth."

Go deeper. ... Sign up for Alison Snyder's weekly newsletter, Axios Science.

7. Germ of a superspreader

Photo: Alex Brandon/AP. Graphic: Javier Zarracina/USA Today. Used by kind permission

This stunning USA Today graphic shows the people at last weekend's Rose Garden event for Judge Amy Coney Barrett who weren't wearing masks.

  • These seven attendees have since announced positive COVID tests (unknown where they got the virus): President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, Chris Christie, Kellyanne Conway, Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Thom Tillis and Notre Dame President John Jenkins.

Explore the timeline.

8. Flashback: Presidential health replete with secrecy

FDR speaks on radio from the White House in 1944. Photo: Eugene Abbott/AP

Presidents have lied about their health throughout American history, AP's Deb Riechmann writes:

President Woodrow Wilson got sick during a pandemic, and his White House tried to keep it secret. He was at talks in Paris on ending World War I when he fell ill in April 1919. His symptoms surfaced so suddenly that his personal physician, Cary Grayson, thought he had been poisoned.

  • "The Wilson administration ... completely downplayed the pandemic," said John Barry, an adjunct professor in public health at Tulane University whose book "The Great Influenza" chronicles the 1918-19 pandemic.

In 1893, President Grover Cleveland, fearing poor health would be a political weakness, underwent secret oral surgery late at night on a private yacht in Long Island Sound. (See the yacht, courtesy Michael Beschloss.)

After leading the nation through a decade of war and depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt was diagnosed early in 1944 as suffering from high blood pressure, hypertensive heart disease, cardiac failure and acute bronchitis.

  • "The stories that he's in bad health are understandable enough around election time, but they are not true," his doctor told a reporter.
  • Roosevelt won re-election. Five months later, in 1945, he died of a stroke.

President John F. Kennedy took as many as eight medications a day, including painkillers, stimulants, sleeping pills and hormones.

  • Kennedy was known for having a bad back. Biographers have pieced together details of other illnesses, including digestive problems and Addison's disease, a life-threatening lack of adrenal function. Kennedy went to great lengths to conceal his ailments, even denying that he had Addison's disease.

9. "Saturday Night Live" returns

Photo: Will Heath/NBC

Jim Carrey, as Joe Biden, arrived on the debate stage in the cold open of the first in-studio "Saturday Night Live" since March, whipped out a tape measure, and moved his podium a little further from Alec Baldwin, playing President Trump.

  • "Biden" walked out in shades, flashing finger guns.

13-minute YouTube.

Photo: Will Heath/NBC

Maya Rudolph as Sen. Kamala Harris.

Photo: Will Heath/NBC

Beck Bennett as Chris Wallace.

10. 1 smile to go

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Spotted yesterday at Mr. Jack O'Lanterns Pumpkin Patch in L.A.

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