Madness of modern media plays out amid tragedy in Nice
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"We in this country can't think past Saturday night!" Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, vented to Megyn Kelly on Fox last night. He was badmouthing the Obama administration, which he served, when it comes to allegedly failing to deal with Muslim extremism. But his remarks were equally applicable to the media.
Thursday offered the latest window onto a hyperkinetic media age and the impossibility of maintaining public focus on any topic for much longer than 10 minutes. Consider how the press seamlessly segued from race and police conduct to Mike Pence and terrorism.
The Dallas cop shootings seemed a million miles away. President Obama's town hall on race, moderated by ABC's David Muir, held on this very day, became a parenthetical before it even aired. Indeed, for much of the day there was the matter of Donald Trump's selection of a running mate. (Poynter) Mike Pence or not Mike Pence? Within a few minutes, Roll Call and the Indianapolis Star declared it was Pence. For many hours, most everybody else hedged before a few others said it was Pence. Then, Trump cancelled the formal announcement scheduled for Friday, citing the terrorist attack in Nice, France that made him irrelevant for the moment.
The images of the white truck driving down a festive promenade and mowing people down were repeated endlessly. Even if you don't read French, check the quickie chronology and images posted by the local newspaper. (Nice Matin) Reporter Andrew Higgins happened to be there and recounts, "So numerous were the bodies that to protect their dignity, people had covered some of them with tablecloths snatched from the restaurants lining the Promenade des Anglais." (The New York Times)
On CNN, terrorism expert Peter Bergen opened with important caveats. "We obviously don't know if he's part of a network or not. But I think we can factually say that this is probably going to be the deadliest attack carried out by a lone terrorist ever. There is no evidence of anybody else being involved in this attack." That truly gave pause. As Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, Paris, Istanbul, Brussels, Dallas and, now, Nice blend together in our collective memories, here was seemingly a truly unprecedented act. But the tragedies are so unrelenting, one could wonder if there's not the very human peril of turning insensitive in some fashion. How much tragedy can even the empathetic individual deal with?
The assessments of underlying conditions and catalysts to these events blend together, too. Many smart folks reprised their roles last evening, including Bergen and NBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldin. They were typically informative, measured and nuanced (the latter with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell). And there was, as ever in mass shootings, New York congressman Peter King, a member of the Cable News Bookers Hall of Fame. He was in his hawkish soundbite cruise control.
The most vivid accounts included one from a restaurant owner who saw it all play outside his establishment. He told O'Donnell of how the driver ran over women and children and how, hours later, he was still staring at dozens of nearby bodies on the ground and awaiting inspection by forensic experts.
The French government urged citizens not to share rumors or information not from trustworthy sources via social media. (Poynter) Fat chance — the horse is out of that barn. But the night's topper was of a very different, unseemly sort and was presented back home by Newt Gingrich. No surprise, he was performing for his media courtesan, Fox's Sean Hannity, and called for "testing every person here (the U.S.) who is of a Muslim back and if they believe in Sharia (law), they should be deported." And we should make it a felony to visit ISIS or Al Qaeda websites. And then there was this:
"I fully expect that by tomorrow morning that President Obama will have rediscovered his left wing roots and will give a press conference in which he will explain that the problem is too many trucks." Hannity interjected, "Trucks, yeah." Gingrich, in what he apparently thought was searing political commentary, continued, "If only we had truck regulation, we wouldn't have problems like Nice because it is trucks that are dangerous."
Well, it did bring us back momentarily to the Pence story — to perhaps cross fingers that Trump's pick isn't the voluble and caustic Gingrich. The former Speaker hinted such is the case even as he claimed to have not received definitive word from The Donald. The presumptive Republican nominee was perhaps preoccupied, more than likely staring at cable news, like so many. The coverage of the latest bloody insanity might even briefly quiet him.
Megyn Kelly's qualms get personal
Kelly also had Peter King on last night when he broached the topic of surveillance of Muslims. Shot back Kelly: "My friend who is a yoga instructor, who is a Muslim, we're going to surveil her?" Later, with another guest, she said, "The surveilling of Muslims. You think in your head, 'OK, some guy who is radicalizing, go for it.' I think of my friend, the yoga instructor, who's got like three little girls, no, people don't want that. So where do we land this plane?" It's unclear. But maybe Pete King's or Newt Gingrich's backyards.
Big court win for social media firms
It surely was lost in the fray: "Microsoft Corp. won a major legal battle with the U.S. Justice Department Thursday when a federal appeals court ruled that the government can’t force the company to turn over emails or other personal data stored on computers overseas." (The Wall Street Journal) That dispute, "closely watched by Silicon Valley, comes amid tensions between Europe and the U.S. over government access to data that resides on the computers of social-media and other internet companies."
Tim Tebow's pump fake
"Speakers at Donald Trump’s Convention: Tim Tebow, Peter Thiel, but No Sarah Palin?" (The New York Times) "Devout Christian and former Heisman Trophy-winner Tim Tebow spearheads a list of sports celebrities to speak at next week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland." (Breitbart) "Tim Tebow’s Role at the Republican Convention Fires Up Fans and Detractors." (The New York Times)
Oops. "Former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow will not speak at next week’s Republican National Convention, he clarified on Instagram Thursday." (Sports Illustrated)
Aniston's world fertility record
Even the most adroit fertility doctor would be impressed: Jennifer Aniston has been pregnant at least 35 times. As Fusion explains, "35 times Jennifer Aniston has been totally, definitely pregnant, according to tabloid covers." This is a follow-up to Anniston's cri de coeur in The Huffington Post, where she wrote, "For the record, I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up. I’m fed up with the sport-like scrutiny and body shaming that occurs daily under the guise of 'journalism,' the 'First Amendment' and 'celebrity news.'" (Huffington Post) Fusion reporter Molly Fitzpatrick offers us at least 35 tab magazine covers that have proclaimed the actress pregnant. (Fusion)
A rare moment of rancorous spontaneity
Darren Sands of BuzzFeed drew pool duty for the White House correspondents as the reporter covering (with distinct limitations) President Obama taping a town hall on race moderated by ABC's David Muir. One of his early reports brought a dash of BuzzFeedean aplomb as he indicated, "Pool spotted a spectacularly-coiffed Muir, wearing a dark suit and dark tie, descend the stairs in the room here where we're holding." But that didn't come close to the nearly hair-raising moments after the taping, as the pool of reporters was led into the theater, saw Obama greeting some attendees but also "a clearly and very agitated Erica Garner yelling about her lack of participation in the program. She said she'd been offered a chance by ABC News to ask the president a question but did not get to do so. 'I was railroaded! I was railroaded by ABC on the two-year anniversary of my father's death!'"
She's the daughter of Eric Garner, the unarmed Staten Island man killed by officers using a chokehold after accused of selling untaxed cigarettes on July 17, 2014. "'That's what I have to do? A black person has to yell to be heard?'" she shouted, as Sands relayed."In a chaotic moment, Garner could be heard asking to speak to the president, he looked up, seeming to want to notice where the commotion was coming from." Garner was led by an aide inside the theater to speak with Obama. When the aide touched her arm, "she recoiled, saying 'Don't touch me.'" The reporting pool soon had to leave but was later informed that she'd spoken to Obama.
Facebook, Thiel and Trump
What's the opposite of "star-studded?" The lineup for primetime speeches at the Republican National Convention seems a bit anemic at the moment. But it's not without its ancillary frictions, as personified by tech billionaire Peter Thiel, the fellow who's bankrolled Hulk Hogan so-far successful litigation against Gawker Media. "Facebook said that the upcoming speech by board member and investor Peter Thiel at the GOP convention is 'personal.'" (Recode) "'Peter Thiel is attending and speaking at the RNC in his personal capacity. He is not attending on behalf of Facebook or to represent our views,' said Facebook in a statement."
Yahoo's inexorable spiral downward
"The gavel is finally poised to drop in the drawn-out auction for Yahoo’s core internet business. Final bids for the services, which include Yahoo’s search, email, advertising and media operations, are due Monday, with the board set to make a decision soon afterward, according to people briefed on the process who asked for anonymity because the bidding was confidential." (The New York Times)
Slow day on Capitol Hill
Amid frenzied speculation on Trump's decision on a running mate and the understanding he'd be calling the contestants, Politico congressional reporter Seung Min Kim tweeted out a photo of Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, down a hallway in the Senate, smartphone cupped to ear. "Here is @SenatorSessions taking a phone call right now." (@seungminkim)
And keeping track of those Pokemon Go stories
Not even vice presidential selections or terrorism in France can divert the press from cranking out Pokemon Go sagas. Yesterday included this: "Hillary Clinton Enslaves Helpless Pokémon In Desperate Attempt To Seize Presidency." (Gizmodo) If you can, have a good Pokemon-less summer weekend.