What a great reporter craves to know about the Rio Olympics
If she had a crystal ball...
USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who's also a regular on CNN and ABC, knows the Olympics as well as anyone. Since the opening ceremony for the Summer Games in Rio is tonight, what does an expert like her want to know? This is, after all, her 17th consecutive Olympics, starting with Los Angeles in 1984.
- "I'd love to know if Rio is really going to be able to pull this off. As everyone knows, there has been a laundry list of problems heading into Rio: Zika, water pollution, crime, political turmoil, an economic recession and terrible infrastructure problems. Is this just another of our quadrennial false alarms, or will Rio be the city that finally gets consumed by the Olympic Games?"
- "What's going to happen with the Russians? The International Olympic Committee should have kicked them out as a lifetime achievement award for running the most diabolical state-sponsored doping machine this side of East Germany. But 70 percent of Russia's team was allowed into the Games — 271 Russians out of an original team of 387 — casting a shroud of doubt over every event they enter, especially those in which they win a medal. Can you imagine what the fourth-place finisher will think when that happens? And it will happen, over and over again."
- "Who will win more gold medals, Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt?"
- "Who will win more gold medals, Simone Biles or Katie Ledecky?"
- "Who will win more gold medals, the U.S. women or 95 percent of the countries in the world?"
"I'll answer that one: the U.S. women. It's Team Title IX again for the United States, with the most women ever in a single delegation at the Olympic Games (292 out of a total of 555). In London in 2012, the first time there were more women than men on the U.S. team, the U.S. women won more than 60 percent of the American medals. They're likely to do it again here in Rio."
The Bloomberg D.C. exodus continues
There's much movement in the journalism business these days for a slew of reasons. Taken by itself, the exit of two reporters from any one place doesn't mean a ton. But the departures to The Wall Street Journal from Bloomberg's D.C. bureau this week of Michael Bender, a top politics reporter, and Tim Higgins, a young talent handling money and politics, is part of a significant exodus from the bureau's politics operation in the last few years.
Reporters Julianna Goldman went to CBS News, Jonathan Salant to The Star-Ledger, Julie Davis to The New York Times, Lisa Lerer and Julie Bykowicz to The Associated Press, Heidi Przybyla to USA Today and Phil Mattingly to CNN. Top-flight editors, including Jeanne Cummings, who is helping run political coverage at The Wall Street Journal, and Mark Silva, who is writing for a politics blog, added to the exodus. Hans Nichols, who had been posted in Berlin, left for a job with NBC rather than return to the capital operation.
It's an all-star team. The de facto centralization of much of the politics operation in New York, and the huge investment in reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, obscures a notable brain drain from a capital operation that some have suggested is somewhat adrift.
A coming out (of sorts) in Vogue
Elena Delle Donne, a 26-year-old pro basketball star who's in Rio with the U.S. national team, says there was nothing premeditated about it. Vogue spent time at her home several months ago for an Olympics-related piece, and it was natural to discuss her fiancé, Amanda Clifton. Now that the new issue is out, the world knows she's gay, something known to teammates and others in her immediate universe. (Vogue)
But there's absolutely no sense of being unusual, says Delle Donne, who grew up on a large Delaware estate with a sister born blind, deaf and with cerebral palsy. She communicates with a few signs, with others relying on touch and smell. She and their mom have "worn the same Chanel perfume all of Lizzie’s life" so that she'll know when they're around. It's a lovely tale in a somewhat unexpected place.
Going national by going local
House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered his critique of the Trump campaign — his first big public comments in a week and certainly the first since Trump stupidly said he'd withhold his endorsement of Ryan's own re-election campaign. He had it both ways, chiding Trump but reaffirming his support, on WTAQ Radio in Green Bay (WTAQ) and Wisconsin Public Radio in advance of a Trump evening Friday in Green Bay. (WPR)
An MSNBC fact-check
You can raise questions about the priorities, even sanity, of those, including friends, watching cable news in the middle of a summer afternoon. But thanks to Robert Schlesinger of U.S. News & World Report for watching MSNBC at 3:32 p.m. yesterday as it incorporated a fact-check into a chyron during a Trump campaign appearance in Portland, Maine: "Trump says he watched (non-existent) video of Iran receiving cash." (@rschles)
As Rachel Maddow would note hours later, "The evidence suggests...it's not just him. There is something wrong with the effort to elect him," meaning his campaign. "Somebody made the decision today to send him to freakin' Maine where Donald Trump has the same chance of winning that state as I have the chance of winning Miss Teen USA." Well, Trump has wound up conceding he didn't see that "nonexistent" video. (Politico) Wonders never cease, so maybe there's hope for Maddow at the next Miss Teen USA contest. I pass along the entry information. (Miss Teen USA)
Those many Trump-campaign-is-crashing stories
So what does an academic who studies presidential campaigns think of the flood of media tales about a self-immolating Trump campaign? Says David Karol of the University of Maryland, "On the one hand, yes, it's early August. As (former British Prime Minister) Harold Wilson supposedly said, 'A week is a long time in politics.' On the other hand...HRC is the favorite."
"Obviously that's even more true today, but assume that the downward trend in polls ends and he even makes some gains. He's still losing. He said he was going to put new states in play. So far it looks like Arizona is now in play — for the Democrats. There are more stories about Republican officials who say they will not vote for Trump- Reps. Kinzinger and Dent are recent cases. We aren't seeing similar stories about Democrats who won't vote for HRC. That's significant."
The daily Trump dump
There were lots of polls for cable news channels to herald this morning. An NBC-Wall Street Journal effort shows Hillary Clinton up nine points nationally, and a McClatchy-Marist polls shows her up 15 points. That's all national sentiment and doesn't say much about the race to win individual states.
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" featured Donny Deutsch, an ad executive who proposed an economic argument to bring Trump to his senses. "What I would say to Trump is 'Hey, buddy, you say you're worth $10 billion. Guess what? Your multi-million dollar properties in New York and Chicago, it's not your base renting and buying those, it's educated White people, it's educated Black people. Your net worth is dropping, buddy.' That's how you get this guy to turn."
Really? That's the same facile argument that suggests Trump is in this to boost his brand and that his dream is to lose by a sliver, then spend the rest of his life claiming he was shafted since he really doesn't want such a messy, complicated job. It's wishful thinking.
Oh, that transfer to the Iranians of the $400 million owed them from the late 1970s due to a never-concluded arms deal with the U.S.? It was an unavoidable subject, with CNN's substitute "New Day" co-host John Berman leading a smart dialogue on the matter. Over at "Fox & Friends" there was, no surprise, the alternate take, namely the transfer as a more nefarious act tied to a prisoner exchange.
Have politics undermined Trump's businesses?
It turns out the data is fairly clear, if you're a firm that dissects commercial data in a way that the press isn't equipped to do, including assessing foot traffic: "Since Donald Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, foot traffic to Trump-branded hotels, casinos and golf courses in the U.S. has been down. Since spring, it’s fallen more. In July, Trump properties’ share of visits fell 14% year over year, for instance." (Foursquare Direct)
Great story, unlikely locale
Here's a knockout sports story: An explanation in Popular Mechanics of how Justin Gatlin, a renowned geezer (34) sprinter for the U.S., could beat the seemingly untouchable Usain Bolt in the 100 meters in Rio if he can cut two 10,000ths of a second off each stride. It explores how a biomechanical genius has helped him train.
It captures Gatlin practicing by sprinting and then coming over to the guy's table at the side of the track. There, the fellow rewinds a video "and superimposes a stick figure composed of lines in different fluorescent hues directly over Gatlin's tattooed, muscular frame on the screens. The positions of the stick figure represent Gatlin's 'ideal' body positions, a perfection of angles and form optimized at each point in time and space for efficiency of motion.
"If Gatlin can match each click of the figure's movement, if sprinter and stick figure can run in lockstep on that screen, Gatlin won't just put Bolt away, he'll shatter world records." (Popular Mechanics)
A nice gesture for a fine reporter
President Obama ended his Pentagon press conference Thursday by calling on NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, who's retiring after 30 years. He asked Obama two characteristically solid questions on our failures in dealing with ISIS, then one on dealing with the Russians over Syria. (@NBCNightlyNews)
We've never met, but he was a key player in a very odd cable TV moment during the mid-1990s war in Bosnia. I was scheduled as the first guest one night in the Washington bureau on John Hockenberry's then-MSNBC show. Hockenberry was in an Albanian refugee camp but, with 30 seconds to go before the start, the satellite transmission was lost, and I was told instantly by a very composed producer in Secaucus, New Jersey (where MSNBC was based at the time) that "Jim, we've lost the bird," and I was to go from being guest to emergency host.
30 seconds, 25 seconds...She told me quickly to just introduce myself, apologize for the satellite snafu and then "introduce the package by Mik," as he's known at NBC. 10 seconds, five seconds...with no time to freak out, I asked, "What's the piece about?!" She told me, we went live, I smiled, joked about my unexpected host status and then said we were going to the Pentagon for a report from Miklaszewski.
Ultimately, nobody was any worse off since his piece on how much this would all cost the Defense Department was polished and informative, as usual (after a commercial, the satellite came back with Hockenberry). He's the sort of context-laden pro whom one can't have enough of at any important beat, whatever town you're trying to cover. Have a great weekend.