With Brangelina gone, who will rule the tabloids?
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Publishing a news staff's views on a given topic, such as great holiday gifts or undiscovered cultural gems around town, is a tried-and-true, if cut-rate, gambit by any editor.
But it's totally defensible when it comes to questions of major social magnitude — such as who'll replace Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as America's next power couple.
That's the question considered Tuesday by the staff of The Ringer, a website created by sports pundit Bill Simmons after his unceremonious exit from ESPN and lucrative embrace by HBO. No sooner had the big breakup (Jolie-Pitt, not Simmons-ESPN) gone public than the journalists went into mid-brow overdrive. (The Ringer)
Allison P. Davis goes for Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, or Kimye. "Even if Brad and Angie hadn’t completely imploded, there’s no way they could have efficiently and swiftly dismantled the Taylor Swift machine the way Kimye did. In fact, I’m not sure any couple could."
Katie Baker says no, it's Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn? Huh? Aren't they a bit long in the tooth? "There’s no need to anoint a new Hollywood power couple, because the true king and queen have walked among us for decades."
Colleague Claire McNear says it's got to be "Taylor Swift and anyone." Yes, "T-Swift’s beaus are one and the same, which is to say they are all Taylor Swift’s Boyfriends, and as such they are famous and glamorous and contentious and — from the moment they first appear until the 12- to 16-day mark at which a fully incubated Taylor Swift bursts out of their chests and skitters out the door — half of this planet’s greatest celebrity power couple of all."
And staffer Rob Harvilla makes the case for a platonic couple, namely comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. His argument? "...Tina Fey and Amy Poehler keep making movies together that aren’t very good only underscores how bulletproof and pure their real-world (or at least TV-world) bond is. Not even Hollywood magic can replicate it, and not even Hollywood rancor can destroy it."
Of course, not all the Ringer staff took part. My favorite writer, Bryan Curtis, took a pass. "Celebrity life remains mysterious to me," he said.
Comparing bombings in Boston and New York-New Jersey
Janet Reitman is a New York-based reporter-editor at Rolling Stone who did the superior and controversial 2013 profile of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who would later be convicted and sentenced to death for his role. I asked for a quick, early comparison. Here's one.
While Boston presented the "unbelievable spectacle of a crazy manhunt that seemed to just overwhelm the various law enforcement agencies involved," what's played out in New York and New Jersey is "the most low-stressed terrorist manhunt I have ever seen," Reitman says. "Unfortunately, it may speak to the experience we have in New York...We may have a highly effective counter-terrorism unit within the NYPD that has been in place since the early 2000s." (Poynter)
Getting under Trump's skin
The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold is dogged in reporting on Trump, notably his foundation. His latest disclosure: "Donald Trump spent more than a quarter-million dollars from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits that involved the billionaire’s for-profit businesses, according to interviews and a review of legal documents." (The Washington Post) Typically, Trump attacked him personally last night and claimed this was wasn't news, it was all in public documents, and represented a diversion from all of us dissecting the Clinton Foundation. Pretty tacky, per usual.
MSNBC's Brian Williams, hosting a solid new show on MSNBC at 11 p.m. Eastern ("The 11th Hour With Brian Williams"), beckoned Fahrenthold after displaying full disclosure by noting that parent NBCUniversal once made a half-million dollar donation to the Trump Foundation.
He let the reporter react to the Trump camp's reaction, with Fahrenthold underscoring that, yes, this was publicly disclosed but that it was also a "classic case of self-dealing in using $258,000 from his charity to settle legal problems." He repeated the thesis on CNN's "New Day" this morning, with that brief chat leading co-host Chris Cuomo to remind us about the larger issue of Trump's refusal to fork over tax returns.
Darkness may be approaching Sunlight
The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting transparency in government, soon will lay off five staffers of an already small staff and seek to merge with somebody else. (Poynter) Even while producing some solid work, it's been a personnel mess for several years and now the board can't come up with a new executive director.
Kathy Kiely, who was managing editor there before exiting and is a longtime A-list Washington journalist, told me, "Sunlight leaves a great legacy and also a great void: I can't think of a worse time to lose its tools for tracking the influence of money on politics."
Homage to a columnist
Mike Miner of the Chicago Reader, the alternative weekly, pays tribute to Chicago Tribune local columnist-blogger Eric Zorn as the 30th anniversary of his first column beckons. In particular he cites one of several crusades Zorn has launched, this involving a man stuck on death row for a crime he didn't commit.
"His relentlessness made people uncomfortable, other journalists included. Columnists were expected to sprinkle their sympathies liberally among life's woes, rather than focus on a single outrage and actually presume to undo it." (Chicago Reader)
His own paper's editorial page didn't champion Zorn's cause, Miner notes. But that man, and a co-defendant serving an 80-year term, were both ultimately exonerated and freed. "I can't think of Zorn without thinking of the saga I just outlined, and I can't think of Zorn without admiring him."
All Hillary, all the time
The Washington Post is assembling all of its longer, enterprise pieces on Hillary Clinton in one place. (The Washington Post) Prominent among those is a March 1992 profile by Lloyd Grove as Bill Clinton was running for president for the first time.
It's quite solicitous and even includes upbeat assessment of her honesty from Webster Hubbell, an Arkansas buddy of the Clintons who would serve early in the administration in the Justice Department — then wind up several years later with an 18-month prison sentence for bilking his former law partners in Little Rock.
Grove is now at The Daily Beast. When I told him about the new collection, and the prominence of his 24-year-old opus, he said, "I don't need archives to feel old." And, current Clinton campaign reporters, eat your hearts out as you get stiffed most days when it comes to getting near the candidate: "I spent 18 hours with her knee to knee in a tiny Lear jet hopscotching South Carolina before that primary." Admittedly, "And then I wrote a puff piece." But he's a bit hard on himself.
Death in Tulsa
Police shootings in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma briefly (only briefly) sidelined morning chatter on the campaign, the New York-New Jersey bombings and the "politics" of the shootings.
"Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade, not a paragon of understatement, conceded, "Not a good series of events when you talk about clashes with law enforcement." "Morning Joe's" Joe Scarborough detailed the encounter and how the man "does everything police would tell you to do. The window is closed and then they shoot him."
Ultimately, he said, it was "pathetic," while Willie Geist noted that the voice we hear in the police helicopter, which says the suspect "looks like a bad dude," appears to "confirm every suspicion Black Americans have in this country about the way police look at them."
"POLITICO today announced new POLITICO Pro Health Care expansion efforts and partnerships. Pro Health Care is hiring three new reporters in California, Boston and the southeast region who will be responsible for bringing state-level health care news to a national audience, joining our nine Washington-based reporters."
Why this subscriber-only offering? It seems pretty simple: Health is where ungodly sums of money are being spent (where would TV news be without those pharmaceutical ads?). And the government is overseeing critical policy decisions that flow from agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration. There's lots of innovation going on in the area and lots of elbowing others aside for access and influence. Getting "inside" information to them, especially of goings on in Washington, can be of real value.
A sports reporter's nightmare
John Fox, the coach of the Chicago Bears, is open about not trusting the press and worrying about his words being misinterpreted. He's apparently a very passionate, astute football guy in private. In public, he opts for cliches and other coach-speak. The team looks to be awful and is off to a 0-2 start.
After losing Monday night, he gave the league-mandated day-after press conference. After a tape was played yesterday on WSCR-AM, an all-sports station in Chicago, co-host Matt Spiegel declared, "His commitment to saying nothing is remarkable."
A CEO's dismal performance
Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf was pretty awful testifying before a Senate committee concerning the outrageous consumer fraud that resulted in a modest fine of $185 million. He apologized for underlings opening up 2 million accounts without consumers' authorization, but that was about it. (Bloomberg)
There was the usual grandstanding by senators, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren's disbelief that nobody was criminally indicted is well-founded. And there was Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, who explicitly noted how this whole mess was initially unearthed by the Los Angeles Times, which revealed how bank employees faced stiff quotas and created accounts without consumers realizing it, even forging signatures.
Mark Cuban on campaign coverage
You wouldn't think the press would get lectured by a regular on "Shark Tank" who can make a fool of himself in running an NBA team. But, says Cuban, "I want to be the outlet that asks the questions the other outlets don't. And the worst part is, they're all trying to, you know, keep things balanced. So they're going to have a Trump surrogate and a Clinton surrogate that are so well-practiced these days at deflecting because the media's just got to, you know, get to their next segment..." (Business Insider)
After an ample Pitt-Jolie divorce piece this morning narrated by CNN "New Day" co-host Alisyn Camerota, she turned to her colleague. "Your thoughts, Chris Cuomo?"
With a certain self-mocking world weariness, he responded, "We all know that my baseline on these is I don't care. I don't. I know they are culturally relevant, I get it. I get 'Brangelina.' But I just don't care about their marriage. I wish their kids well....There's too much other stuff to talk about it. Let their marriage go the way it goes."