Is Brian Williams making his comeback?
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Brian Williams' personal reformation continues, and it's not hard to imagine he might return to higher-profile assignments sometime down the road.
He'd returned to action last December after his suspension for dishonest accounts of reporting in Iraq. There was much agonizing and anger within NBC News about a return of any sort. He'd burned some bridges and lost his perch as the star anchor at NBC News, replaced by Lester Holt.
So, the network opted for a very soft re-launch at the smaller-audience cable news partner, with Williams largely relegated to handling daytime breaking news. There was a bigger role during the political campaign, often co-hosting election nights with Rachel Maddow.
Now there's "The 11th Hour with Brian Williams." It's a half-hour show at 11 p.m. Eastern and reminiscent of "The News With Brian Williams," which in the early days of MSNBC was a fine one-hour newscast (not just because I was a regular) overseen by Steve Capus, future NBC News chief and now executive producer of "The CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley."
It's too facile to say this is a TV version of working one's way back up to the "Bigs" via Triple-A in baseball. But, internally, it's seen by some as a pragmatic counterpart of sorts; a way to use his skills without an intense spotlight of the bigger broadcast audience or being tethered to a teleprompter as mere news reader. And it could be a possible precursor to a higher-profile slot, perhaps after the presidential campaign is over and our appetite for 24/7 politics is exhausted.
Last night the show morphed from anchoring he was doing on the Charlotte, North Carolina protests. Throughout, Williams dispensed sharp if low-key observations of rancor that seemed to peter out by midnight but then later saw the police use so-called pepper balls on a few lingering protesters. He proceeded apace with solid interviews with colleagues there and guests in studios.
Williams spoke of local heroes, including a public defender straddling the space between protesters and police even as cops were doing a "snatch and grab" of protesters and further agitated those protesters. "You couldn't name two sides more diametrically opposed at the height of this," he said.
As he spoke over live video, he was the anchor version of a guy back riding a bicycle in heavy traffic but without much apparent sweat. He raised the prospect that video might be inconclusive about police or protester accountability. Then came the pepper balls. As the clock hit 1 a.m., he was interviewing Washington Post Pulitzer Prize-winner Wesley Lowery, an expert on police shootings, on civic polarization nationwide.
During an earlier chat with frequent protest pundit Phillip Atiba Goff of John Jay College, who works with police and communities to improve their relations, Goff had opened, "I wish I had better words than the last time that we were speaking about this..."
"There's a lot of that going around. Happens to me every day,' said Williams, whose replacement at "NBC Nightly News," not him, will moderate the first presidential debate Monday.
Of course, a loss of words doesn't really happen to him much. That was clear last night as hours passed by. A steady, un-showy return to the fray continued amid yet another urban conflict far from sleek and orderly Manhattan media workspaces.
Republican U.S. Rep. John (Jimmy) Duncan of Tennessee was on the House panel that derided Mylan CEO Heather Bresch over the price hikes of the EpiPen. Inadvertently, it was a reminder of the central role of the press for legislators.
At one point Duncan cited an NBC story about her $18 million in compensation and declared, "The greed is astounding." Somebody in the press might take note of how, every day, the same politicians who make hay by bashing the press hold up some story from the evil "mainstream media" to make a point. They bite that hand that feeds them, or at least allows them to grandstand at public hearings.
Journalists and trade
The media can occasionally handle the politics of trade but not the sum and substance. So thanks to Foreign Affairs magazine. "Trade policy is one of the hottest issues of the 2016 election, but throughout the campaign, the level of discussion about it has been abysmally low," writes editor Gideon Rose the introduction to a superior package of stories on the topic. (Foreign Affairs)
One bottom line: "The central political fact about trade is that its benefits are generally indirect and diffuse while its costs are often direct and concentrated. All told, the material gains outweigh the material costs, especially over time. But it is hard to realize those gains because the policies required to do so are often blocked by those who stand to lose. "
Telling the press to go screw
If John Denver were alive, we could have him sing "Rocky Mountain Low," a tale about the media trying to cover the U.S. Senate campaign in Colorado. It's not easy. Republican Darryl Glenn said he'll no longer talk to The Denver Post or participate in their debate because he's pissed over their bringing up a 1983 domestic violence allegation (about hitting his father) that he says he doesn't recall. (Durango Herald)
Meanwhile, Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet, "pulling a page from his Republican rival’s playbook, dismissed two requests for televised debates this week, leaving just one prime-time opportunity for voters to evaluate the candidates in the race." (The Denver Post) The Denver CBS affiliate said it's just the second time ever that a candidate declined to take part in its debate.
Hume on moderating debates
Brit Hume, who is back at Fox News as a temporary sub for departed Greta Van Susteren, beckoned Republican former White House flack Ari Fleischer to opine on modus operandi for debate moderators if a candidate starts lying. Fletcher took the position that the moderator need be a traditional neutral, only correcting an outright factual falsehood if it could be done quickly.
But he also pressed the notion that it's up to the other candidate to essentially correct their opponent. Hume said that while he's more the traditionalist, that other candidate might not want to take to waste precious time by doing same. He thus suggested that the moderator had best be prepared to be set the record straight.
An important story but scant attention
Some stories just fall through the cracks. This in The New York Times might be one: "The police in northeastern China have announced a criminal investigation into a Chinese conglomerate that does extensive trade with North Korea, which researchers in South Korea and the United States say included materials that can be used in the production of nuclear weapons." (The New York Times)
Union vote impacts MSNBC
Writers-producers at Peacock Productions, the reality-nonfiction TV production subsidiary of Comcast-NBCUniversal, voted to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East. About 60 percent of the 100-person unit, which creates one-hour episodes for clients including MSNBC and The Weather Channel, voted to do so in a vote unsealed after a legal dispute decided by The National Labor Relations Board. Now both sides will try to bargain a first contract.
The outrage of some budget cuts
The Marshall Project, a journalism nonprofit that covers the justice system, knocks it out of the park with a profile of Rhonda Covington, the only public defender left in Louisiana's 20th Judicial District.
"As the only public defender for the 20th Judicial District of Louisiana, she could be investigating cases, calling witnesses, scouring through evidence, taking photos at crime scenes (with her own camera), meeting with her clients’ families, writing motions, typing up pleadings, making appointments, answering the phones, answering the door, getting the mail at the post office, filling in timesheets, filing monthly reports, doing the accounting, paying the rent and utilities, cleaning the bathroom, dusting the furniture, sweeping and mopping the floors, taking out the trash, trimming the bushes, unclogging the plumbing, buying the toilet paper, or meeting with everyone arrested in a thousand-square-mile area just north of Baton Rouge, within 72 hours of their arrest." (The Marshall Project)
Clinton's media outrage team
The New York Times profiles an epicenter of the Clinton "outrage machine," namely a small New York operation overseen by zealot David Brock, a onetime Clinton basher, which gins up faux online "grassroots" responses on her behalf. Unhappy that the press paid so much attention her "basket of deplorable" remarks, it counterattacked by bashing reporters and news outlets via 1,819 supposedly independent individuals on social media. "In the sprawling Clinton body politic, Shareblue is the finger that wags at the mainstream news media ('R.I.P. Political Journalism (1440-2016)') or pokes at individual reporters. It is a minor appendage, but in an increasingly close race for the presidency, it plays its part." (The New York Times) It's now priming for Monday's debate.
Rare solace for Mets fans
The Sept. 26 New Yorker has an image of a New York Mets pitcher on the cover from illustrator Mark Ulriksen. Rare? Yes. But, "We have published many about the Yankees over the years," writes Françoise Mouly, the longtime art editor. (The New Yorker) It offers an online slide show of covers that have "rejoiced in America's pastime — regardless of the team."
Those wild and crazy Janet Yellen beat reporters
You haven't lived — or died — until you've sat through a Federal Reserve Board press conference. Janet Yellen's was one hour Wednesday. It's not like a Trump or Obama press conference. The reporters, many of them dressed like bankers, sit at tables and ask rather specialized queries. Yellen is very, very dry, though I'm very inclined to like her after sitting at the next table at a Washington restaurant a couple of years ago and watching the Fed chief and her husband take home the rest of their entrees in doggie bags.
From Erik Schatzker at Bloomberg Television: "I have a question about the rate trajectory the Fed outlined in the dot plot. While there is clearly a wide range, the expectation is for the Fed funds target to rise by a half percentage point in 2017, three quarters of point in 2018 and a further three quarters of a point in 2019....At the same time the median forecast for GDP growth is two percent for the next two years and 1.8 percent thereafter....So if economic growth is going to be that slow for that long, where will the inflationary forces emerge that require a tightening of 250 basis points from where we are now?"
Got it? Oh, "dot plot": I've now learned through a Google search that it shows where each of the 17 central bank big cheeses and regional bank presidents project interest rates going.
Eradicating malaria wouldn't be good?
There's a solid bit of science journalism in Popular Mechanics with a hard-to-avoid headline: "We Can Completely Eliminate Malaria, But Should We? — We can genetically alter mosquitoes to prevent them from carrying malaria, but there are risks. Is it worth it?" In sum, "There may be hidden side effects that we don't know about." (Popular Mechanics)
Trump turning a buck
This morning brought lots of speculative cable TV chatter on the presidential politics of the urban violence. Meanwhile, Trump is quietly making money running for office, which is far from unprecedented. Writes Politico this morning, "Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has paid his family's businesses more than $8.2 million, according to a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance filings, which reveals an integrated business and political operation without precedent in national politics." It includes paying his businesses for rent ($1.3 million) and food and facilities for events and meetings ($544,000). (Politico)