Billionaire businessman Joe Ricketts launching news outlet

By Helen Coster

(Reuters) – Billionaire businessman and founder of TD Ameritrade Joe Ricketts is launching a new national outlet to deliver news “without opinion or bias,” a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

The news of the venture was first reported by the Omaha World-Herald, which describes Joe Ricketts as a leading funder of national conservative causes. The Center for Responsive Politics has listed him as a Republican megadonor.

The news outlet, called Straight Arrow News, will be based in Omaha, Nebraska, and is expected to launch this year, according to the spokesperson.

“The name speaks to the company’s mission of being a trustworthy source of news and information – a straight arrow that hits the bullseye,” Joe Ricketts said through a spokesperson.

News of the launch comes as President Donald Trump has lost access to key media platforms, prompting speculation that he could launch his own media company or strike a deal or partnership with an existing player. Trump has been without a media platform since Twitter, Facebook and other tech companies banned him following the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.

The outgoing president has been critical of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corp -owned Fox News cable channel and has promoted the two cable outlets to the right of Fox – Newsmax and One America News Network (OAN) – helping them grow.

Investment firm Hicks Equity Partners had plans to pitch Todd Ricketts, Joe Ricketts’ son and the Republican National Committee finance chairman, to join its venture to acquire OAN from its current owners, according to a Wall Street Journal January 2020 report that cited a person familiar with the matter.

The elder Ricketts has previous experience in media. He was the founder and chief executive officer of DNAinfo, a news website focused on local news in New York City and Chicago. He eventually shut down the venture when employees voted to form a union.

In an earlier blog post, Joe Ricketts had written that: “It is my observation that unions exert efforts that tend to destroy the Free Enterprise system.”

In an Oct. 23, 2020 post Joe Ricketts congratulated his son Todd after The New Yorker magazine profiled him and his work for Trump. “Todd joins other conservative leaders who The New Yorker has attacked because they promote different values than the magazine or support political candidates the magazine doesn’t like,” Ricketts wrote.

(Reporting by Helen Coster; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

Government health experts warn U.S. cities of ‘trouble ahead’

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House health experts are warning of an uptick in the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in U.S. cities including Boston, Chicago and Washington, urging local leaders to maintain health safety measures to avoid a surge.

“This is a predictor of trouble ahead,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Thursday.

Fauci was asked on CNN about comments made by his White House coronavirus task force colleague, Dr. Deborah Birx, identifying new areas of concern in major cities, even as authorities see encouraging signs across the South.

Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a “very high level,” as well as Kansas City, Portland, Omaha and California’s Central Valley, Birx told state and local officials in a telephone call Wednesday. A recording of the call was obtained by the journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.

White House data shows small increases in the percentage of positive COVID-10 tests in Chicago, Boston and Detroit and those places need to “get on top of it”, Birx said.

Even in cities and states where most people are doing things right, Fauci said, a segment of people not wearing masks or following social distancing remains vulnerable to infection and can keep the virus smoldering in U.S. communities.

“Unless everybody pulls together, and gets the level way down over baseline, we’re going to continue to see these kind of increases that Dr. Birx was talking about in several of those cities,” Fauci said.

White House coronavirus experts have in recent days sent regular warnings to cities and states not to relax anti-coronavirus measures too much before the virus is under sufficient control.

On average, 1,000 people are dying each day nationwide from COVID-19. The U.S. death toll is now over 157,000, with 4.8 million known cases.

President Donald Trump, in contrast, has played down the staying power of the virus, saying on Wednesday “it will go away like things go away” as he urged U.S. schools to reopen on time for face-to-face lessons.

Trump also said children are “almost immune” from COVID-19, prompting Facebook Inc on Wednesday to take down a post by the Republican president containing a Fox News video clip in which he made the statement. Facebook said it violated its rules against sharing misinformation about the virus.

Chicago’s mayor said on Wednesday that school would be online-only in September, after the teachers’ union and many parents in the city objected to a plan to allow students the option of attending class twice a week in pods of 15.

Chicago is the third-largest school district in the United States behind New York and Los Angeles, with 350,000 students.

Los Angeles has already announced that students will be kept home, while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he expects to have children attend classes part of the time.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Philippa Fletcher)