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Sean Hannity is so unabashedly in the tank for Donald Trump, he need not write a check to Trump's campaign. The free air time he gives Trump is valuable enough.

But does shilling for Trump by the press somehow constitute an illegal campaign contribution?

The subject of media support arises in a complaint filed at the Federal Election Commission by a Chicago Democrat. He argues that a newspaper controlled by a conservative radio talk host violates the law in backing a Republican candidate because the paper's owned by the host's PAC and takes money from Illinois' wealthy GOP governor.

The host is a Sean Hannity type, Chicago's Dan Proft, and the complaint involves one of a string of pseudo local weeklies he started mailing with, as one review puts it, "articles about state government and politics that emphasize the points of view of certain Republican candidates running for seats in Springfield." (Daily Herald)

Proft says his papers are superior to traditional media since they're unabashed about their opinions. "If another candidate doesn't like our newspaper, they can start their own," Proft said. He derides the FEC complaint and says the papers are now owned by Local Government Information, a private firm incorporated in August. (Crain's)

He'll probably win this legal fight, though it's pretty bogus to create a "newspaper" so patently advocating for GOP candidates — and then running campaign ads touting their endorsement of a candidate. The relevant FEC advisory opinion, which came in April, says the key is whether the media entity is "owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate."

The FEC looks to see whether "the entity is acting as a true press entity in conducting the activity at issue (i.e., whether the entity is acting in its legitimate press function). In applying this standard, the Commission considers whether the entity's materials are available to the general public and whether they are comparable in form to those ordinarily issued by the entity." (FEC)

Support, of a sort, for Proft comes from an unlikely but very knowledgable source.

"I think it's a dangerous precedent for the FEC to start deciding what is or isn't a newspaper," says Michael Dorf, a Chicago attorney and election law expert who's served as President Obama's election law adviser.

"I suppose there might be some analogous reasoning in some of the challenges to journalist shield laws. And I've been involved in campaigns where the editorial board might as well have been a part of the campaign."

Good point.

Trump demands a retraction

His lawyer's latest threat was mailed to New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet after its article "Two Women Say Donald Trump Touched Them Inappropriately." (Poynter)

One woman says he lifted an armrest on a flight to New York three decades ago and touched her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt. On CNN last night, Trump advocate Katrina Pierson defended Trump on the basis of what can be termed as the McDonnell Douglas Defense, namely arguing that the likely plane on that route probably had fixed armrests! (CNN) Really. She said it.

Meanwhile, Frank Rich of New York magazine, the former New York Times theater critic and columnist, tweeted "a guy known for stiffing creditors will not be able to hire a lawyer of higher wattage than the numbskull who wrote that DOA letter to NYT." (@frankrichny) Well, maybe the numbskull was distracted, investigating where DC-10s had fixed armrests 30 years ago.

"This is war"

"Fox & Friends" was predictably Trump sympathetic on The Times story, or what the Trump camp calls "the greatest coordinated attack in U.S. history." But co-host Brian Kilmeade summoned his inner Rachel Maddow and wondered bluntly, "Is there anything more destructive that he could do to the Republican Party than continue to go after Paul Ryan? I mean, it's the stupidest thing he could be doing right now."

CNN's "New Day" discussed the media ethics of accusations of unwanted Trump advances. Co-host Chris Cuomo wondered, "he's had a fairly sordid past. What's true, what isn't, we're going to have to figure it out. But now this election, now we're all in a mess here, Alex (Burns of The New York Times). Because what do you do?"

Burns asserted it was all pretty straightforward, namely questions of sexual assault and thus more significant than, say, covering Gary Hart splitting for the weekend with Donna Rice. On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Joe Scarborough said all the charges amount to a "heat-seeking missile: deadly in the suburbs, deadly among women, and women of all political stripes, even conservative Republicans who say, 'I can't vote for a man with all these charges against him.'"

Mossberg wonders why Siri is so dumb

Writes tech savant Walt Mossberg: "Siri is the point of the spear for Apple in the coming tech war, just getting started, to make artificial intelligence a natural, conversational part of your world — at home, on your phone, in your car, everywhere. And Apple had a big head start with Siri."

"So why does Siri seem so dumb? Why are its talents so limited? Why does it stumble so often? When was the last time Siri delighted you with a satisfying and surprising answer or action?" (The Verge)

Sarajevo and Aleppo

Newsweek and Vanity Fair correspondent Janine DiGiovanni, who's covered the civil war in Syria, also covered the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s and recalls how nearly four years into it, "It was gruesome, but by then the population was so psychologically weary that my Bosnian friend, Gordana, looked up from a sandwich (the bread of which was largely sawdust) and said, in the flattest of tones: 'That dog. Has a hand. In its mouth.'” (The Atlantic)

DiGiovanni will receive a Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women's Media Foundation, which will hold ceremonies in Los Angeles on Oct. 20 and in New York on Oct. 26.

Topics for the final debate

Chris Wallace of Fox News has chosen six topics for the final debate he'll moderate on Oct. 19 in Las Vegas: the national debt, immigration, fitness to be president, the economy, the Supreme Court and foreign policy, according to the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Keilar-Conway dustup

"CNN host Brianna Keilar confronted Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager, in a marathon interview lasting almost a half an hour on Wednesday." (Business Insider)

True: "The anchor clashed repeatedly with Conway over Trump's response to newly revealed lewd comments, conduct toward women, and the billionaire's ongoing tensions with House Speaker Paul Ryan." Keilar got the better of the exchange.

The Los Angeles Times' outlier poll

The U.S.C. Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll "has emerged as the biggest polling outlier of the presidential campaign" (The New York Times).

The problem? Its methodology, which weighs heavily tiny groups and previous votes (inherently shaky, given individuals' poor memories). It also means that a 19-year-old black male in Illinois winds up with disproportionate influence in the L.A Times polling because he's on the panel of respondents and can be "weighted as much as 30 times more than the average respondent, and as much as 300 times more than the least-weighted respondent."

If you fail once, twice, three times

Chicago journalist-human rights activist Jamie Kalven has beaten the pants off mainstream media with reporting on police travails in Chicago. His reporting won him the George Polk Award for Local Reporting this year.

His latest effort is an epic four-part, 20,000-word piece on systemic corruption in the police department. It's the saga of two police officers who went undercover courageously, then got screwed by the department and FBI. He pitched it to the Center for Investigative Reporting but it had trouble with the sourcing. He then went to Slate, which had run one award-winning piece of his previously, and The Guardian, but pulled it from each amid differences about the opus.

It's now found in The Intercept, which spent months going over it with him. We sat down and chatted about the inherent tensions the piece underscores in the traditional sourcing norms of the media. What do you do when you know a whistleblower is telling the truth but everybody else is lying and you can't independently corroborate many of the protagonist's claims? (Poynter)

Donna Brazile, leaker?

"A new email obtained by POLITICO is shedding more light on the mystery of whether and how interim DNC chair Donna Brazile might have obtained the text of a proposed question from a town hall between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in advance, and possibly shared it with the Clinton campaign." (Politico)

"And now CNN, which co-hosted the town hall with cable network TV One, is pointing the finger at its media partner for what appears to be a breach of the traditional secrecy surrounding the questions for such events."

Presidential historians may miss this one

George Condon, a veteran Washington reporter who's now with National Journal, drew local pool duty yesterday and caught this moment:

"The president exited the Oval at 11:11, made it as far as the playground equipment and spun on his heels and returned to his office. Thirty seconds later, he emerged again, this time holding aloft his cellphone, proving that even the Leader of the Free World can leave home without his phone. He waved several times as he made his way to Marine One. He was followed by Valerie Jarrett, Eric Schultz and personal aide Joe Paulsen."

One assumes that if he ever misplaces it, he can call Vladimir Putin about its whereabouts.

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