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Christi Parsons was the first and the last. Of those jamming the White House briefing room Thursday for President Obama's last press conference, the first to have asked him a question was Parsons while she covered the Illinois legislature for the Chicago Tribune. She thinks it was 1997 or 1998.
On Wednesday, she was the last.
She knew she'd be called on. Obama has a distinct sense of history. Long ago, they'd first spoken about criminal justice issues in Springfield, the state capital. There weren't many reporters who really cared about the South Side legislator, who spent lots of time on racial profiling and the death penalty.
"He was a goldmine of a source on those issues," Parsons recalls.
For five recent days, she mulled what she'd ask. She sought counsel from old friends and colleagues, myself included. Whether we enlightened or merely confused, she came up with a list of eight questions.
And why eight when she'd only get to ask one?
Her notion was that the appropriate nature of each would depend on when he acknowledged her. At the top of the press conference? Somewhere in the middle? Or perhaps at the end.
One of her eight involved his predecessor, George W. Bush. In fact, she thought as the press conference went on that she'd go with that: How had his assessment of Bush changed over the past eight years?
But then, he threw her for a bit of a loop by not just giving her the final question but doing so in a personal way.
"Christi Parsons. And Christi, you are going to get the last question. Christi is — I’ve been knowing her since Springfield, Illinois. When I was a state senator, she listened to what I had to say. So the least I can do is give her the last question as President of the United States. Go on."
Parson quipped, "217 numbers still work," referring to the Springfield area code. But she also opted at that moment for a more personal question than what she'd planned about Bush.
"When he came to me with a personal introduction, I thought maybe he might slow down and think about the more personal question. I've learned how to read him over the past few years, I guess ... It's a hard-won skill that I will set on a shelf now, I guess."
The question: "The First Lady put the stakes of the 2016 election in very personal terms in a speech that resonated across the country, and she really spoke the concerns of a lot of women, LGBT folks, people of color, many others. And so I wonder now how you and the First Lady are talking to your daughters about the meaning of this election and how you interpret it for yourself and for them."
Perfect. Smart, potentially revealing and not asked 50 times already in his many farewell addresses.
No surprise, he displayed the sort of heartfelt intellectual dexterity that is not possessed by his successor.
"... We've tried to teach them hope, and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world. And so you get knocked down, you get up, brush yourself off, and you get back to work."
He did seem surprised, concedes Parsons, "which is why it was even more surprising that he went on and entertained the question. He doesn't usually like to do that, especially when it's a very personal question. But he has been in a different place lately, giving that unusually personal interview to David Axelrod, for example. You got the sense that his daughters inspired him, and he finally felt it was appropriate to share something private about them on this way."
And, now, getting back to work. It will be the case, in different ways, for Parsons and Obama. But it was a lovely close to the most eventful chapter of a mutually respectful and rewarding professional relationship of journalist and historic elected official.
"Netflix added nearly 2 million new subscribers domestically and around 5 million subscribers internationally in the fourth quarter this year, the company said today. Wall Street's expectations for the fourth quarter fell far below that, coming in at 1.38 million and 3.78 million respectively." (TechCrunch)
In the market for a $250 million home?
Real estate journalism you can use: "The new mansion that developer Bruce Makowsky is selling for $250 million comes with 150 pieces of original artwork, $30 million worth of classic cars (his estimate), a dozen high-performance motorcycles, and a deactivated helicopter." (Bloomberg)
"Bad day for the writers"
Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were elected to the baseball Hall of Fame yesterday in the annual vote of sportswriters who are members of their association. "It's a good day for the Hall, but it's not a great day for the writers," said reporter Jon Heyman during the MLB Network announcement. "I think of the six best players in baseball, in terms of achievement, one of them got in."
He meant Rodriguez. Those whom he felt were stiffed were Rogers Clemens, Barry Bonds, Vladimir Guerrero, Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez. But the consensus seems to be that even those tainted by allegations of using performance enhancing drugs will benefit from diminishing notoriety as the years go by.
"Twilight of the Narratives"
Writing in Commentary, Matthew Continetti argues that social media, notably Facebook, has undermined what he deems frequently liberal "narratives" in the press about important events. He cites a Washington Post blogger on the recent awful video of a disabled White man being tortured by four Black teenagers and claims that, were it not for social media, the story might have been repressed. The Post piece argued that, in fact, the incident wrongly played into "the worldview of many Trump voters."
That particular Post posting "was both asinine and revealing of the postmodern sensibility of our engaged, liberal, adversarial, over-schooled and undereducated press. For this class of people, the word 'narrative' has come to mean not “story” or 'tale' but 'propaganda.' A story is judged not by its truth or even commercial value but by how well it serves the narrative. Does it confirm the prejudices of its authors and further their ideological and partisan agenda? Or does it subvert those priorities and reveal inconvenient facts?" (Commentary)
Headline of day
"Why Innovators Should Study the Rise and Fall of the Venetian Empire" (Harvard Business Review)
Facebook's hunt for quality video
Facebook is realizing that quality live video is to tough to do well, and it might be better off in paying big-time premium firms to do TV-show quality stuff. But will it continue paying little guys for live video? Perhaps not, says Recode's Kurt Warner.
Creating real entertainment content may be the way to go via licensing quality from big firms who already create episodic content. Mid- and lower-tier publishers making a few bucks off Facebook Live now may be in long-term trouble. (Cheddar)
Raising doubts about impact of fake news
Stanford economist Matthew Gentzkow was at the University of Chicago when he won the 2014 John Bates Clark Medal for the top economist under ago 40. While there, he and colleague Jesse Shapiro (now at Brown University) combined on work raising doubts about how much ideologically driven news Americans actually consume. (The New York Times)
Now, he and New York University's Hunt Allcott argue in "Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election" that their impact was very much overstated. This relies party on post-election survey work they did but also analysts that concludes that television remain far more potent than social media. (Poynter)
News from a favorite Hemingway town
Think you've had a bad winter? Try three feet of snow in five days. That's three feet in Ketchum, Idaho, where the lead story is pretty obvious. "With winter in full swing, the city of Ketchum has spent about half of the $172,000 it has budgeted for snow removal this year." (Idaho Mountain Express)
The Vladimir Putin-Brian Lamb connection
Darn. I had so hoped that the Russian hacking scandal was going to include confirmation that Vladimir Putin had gone after C-SPAN and was the cause of a recent interruption during which one briefly got the transmission of RT rather than a confirmation hearing for a Trump cabinet nominee.
"C-SPAN has concluded its investigation and as we had anticipated last Thursday, the interruption of our C-SPAN.org livestream on Jan. 12 was caused by an internal routing error. C-SPAN.org was not hacked. We have determined that during testing for inaugural coverage, RT's signal was mistakenly routed onto the primary encoder feeding C-SPAN1's signal to the internet, rather than to an unused backup."
But if Putin could hack into C-SPAN, do you figure he goes for a House Agriculture Committee hearing on subsidies? A Book TV tape of the author of a Harry Truman biography in a near empty public library or, maybe, a repeat of a special on Dolley Madison?
He certainly wouldn't sabotage the live feed from the Trump Tower lobby.
A sense of illegitimacy
Michael D'Antonio, an author-journalist who was part of a Pulitzer Prize team at Newsday, is a longtime Trump watcher and a Trump biographer. During a Politico panel on Trump, he opined: "...He has this deep fear that he is himself not a legitimate president, and I think that’s why he goes to such great lengths to delegitimize even the intelligence community, which is the president’s key resource in security, and he’s going to do this demeaning and delegitimizing behavior rather than accept what they have to tell him." (Politico)
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" and "CNN's "New Day" showed off their Inauguration Day sets as the former opened its morning with a rhetorical volley at Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer ("He is the swamp!" intoned co-host and self-appointed anthropologist Ainsley Earhardt), and later bragged about a Pew Research survey showing Fox was the single biggest news source for election voters. (Pew).
CNN, which did a nice job on White House final days in a special last night (largely focusing on three top aides), zeroed in on confirmation hearing stumblings by Trump Cabinet nominees. It checked in on a building collapse in Tehran and an avalanche in Italy. And one had conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in studio to disagree with fellow party members boycotting tomorrow's festivities and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on tape demurring on commuting Chelsea Manning's sentence.
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" took up the unavoidable uncertainty of the transition, then pivoted to the hospitalization of former President George H.W. Bush, along with Barbara Bush. And then there was today's confirmation hearing for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Did he know what the job entailed? Mika Brzezinski said no, clearly buying into reports of same. Meanwhile, Joe Scarborough said yes. Lucky Rick, America probably won't care on the Inauguration eve.
Football Zebras exclusive!
"Football Zebras exclusive: Carl Cheffers will be the referee heading the Super Bowl LI officiating staff on Feb. 5 in Houston. This was widely suspected, and the assignments were officially given to the crew today. This will be Cheffers’ first Super Bowl assignment." (Football Zebras)
Nuanced lede of the day
"Foxborough – So, why do so many people seem to think the Patriots are a bunch of a—-holes?" (New York Daily News)
How Joe Biden spent Wednesday
While the president held his final press conference, a lackadaisical White House press corps blew the notable whereabouts of the vice president."Urging staffers to keep their eyes peeled for a 'scaly little f---er without any legs,' Vice President Joe Biden reportedly searched the White House one last time Wednesday for his missing 12-year-old pet coral snake, Fruit Loop. 'Look, I just found a discarded skin on a chair in the Roosevelt Room, so I know he’s still slithering around here someplace,' said Biden, who sources confirmed rummaged through the drawers of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office and crawled around on his hands and knees peering underneath furniture for the 3-foot-long snake."
Oh, that was The Onion. Never mind.