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Imagine polygraphs at the daily White House briefing or just outside the Oval Office.
It's gotten to the point where even Sean Spicer's Wednesday announcement that Donald Trump would not scrap the Easter Egg Roll might prompt a skeptic to wonder, "Is he being truthful?"
There's a budding change in the underlying tenor of the briefing compared to years past: The reporters' traditional questioning of hypocrisy on this issue or that now morphs into a daily exploration into the possibility of outright deceit.
Whether it's the mechanics of healthcare legislation, accusing a predecessor of wiretapping him or perhaps not apologizing for untruths about detainees released from Guantanamo, there is now both the explicit and implicit questioning of White House integrity.
Spicer's painfully contorted responses Wednesday to questions about the investigation into the administration's Russian contacts preceded a startling "CBS Evening News" segment in which Scott Pelley interviewed Leon Panetta.
He opened with Panetta's gold-plated resume plastered on the screen (former congressman, Budget Committee chairman, CIA director, Secretary of Defense, White House chief of staff, etc.) and then asked a man of true achievement and political sophistication, "Is it appropriate to ask whether the president is having difficulty with rationality?"
Panetta then essentially responded (in understatedly damning fashion) that Trump is either a liar or bonkers. He either knows some of the crap he's spouted is untrue — or he actually believes the stuff, such as being wiretapped.
That same unease and suspicion can be discerned among a White House press corps becoming more decorous, with some attendees so clearly seeking the approval of (and greater access to) "Sean" — apparently unlike Pelley. It's a clubby atmosphere that's crossed administrations and ideologies, and exists even amid media fragmentation and arrival on the scene of many new non-mainstream outlets.
For sure, there is no dramatic turn against Trump by his base due to the mountain of harsh, even damning reporting on Trump. But the president might fret that there is no evidence of his expanding beyond his many apparently hear-no-evil-see-no-evil true believers.
The unceasing suspicions of White House untruthfulness is there. So I was fortunate to stumble post-briefing into the tackier-than-Trump syndicated fare of "Maury."
There was a woman, her daughter and the woman's boyfriend. Was he cheating on her? Was he even carrying on with the daughter? The woman's fury aside, Povich's climactic disclosure of polygraph results cleared the boyfriend. Man and woman embraced (though the daughter appeared rather more ambiguous).
Now imagine going beyond the now de rigeur fact-checking and instituting Maury-like polygraphs for Spicer and his boss! Hire some similarly apt showman — Pat Sajak, Ryan Seacrest, maybe hyperbolic David Muir of ABC News — to end the briefing with quasi-scientific claims of its candor.
"Sean, you said the president has full faith in FBI Director Comey. That is a lie! (Kellyanne Conway slouches in seat) You said there will be an Easter Egg Roll. Correct! (Omarosa Manigault high-fives nearby intern) You say you didn't badmouth the Congressional Budget Office's intellectual integrity, but that's a whopper! (cutaway to Trump cursing Reince Priebus in Oval Office)."
Jon Maas, a Hollywood writer-producer, thought the polygraph notion needed refinement. His fictional vision is that Trump, enraged by Spicer not defending him vigorously enough, would have him hooked to electrodes meant to keep him in line.
"Every time he comes close to telling the truth or fails at lying strongly enough, Trump pounds the zapper, shooting bolts of pain into him. Kind of Trump shock therapy. It’s the only way to last working for him. You have to be immune from truth."
That's a "Saturday Night Live"-like reverie, for sure. But the reasons to question the White House seem alarmingly ample, as Pelley underscored in his set-up for his Panetta query. Several old pro White House reporters said last evening they thought my dissection of their doubt-filled environ is accurate.
And it's just six weeks into this odyssey.
Another Fox News settlement
The annals of the Ailes era persist and, at minimum, provide a cottage industry for lawyers and unseemly reminders of a corporate culture run amok.
The New York Times reports, "In late February, 21st Century Fox reached a settlement worth more than $2.5 million with a former Fox News contributor who reported that she was sexually assaulted by an executive at company headquarters two years ago, according to people briefed on the agreement."
"The contributor, Tamara N. Holder, has said that the network executive tried to force her to perform oral sex on him in February 2015 when the two were alone in his office, according to interviews with four people briefed on her account, and documents that detail her claims. Ms. Holder did not immediately report the episode to the company or the police, fearing that doing so would ruin her career, interviews and documents show."
Joe Ricketts buys Gothamist
DNAinfo, the local news company owned by Obama-bashing and Trump-loving Joe Ricketts, is buying Gothamist, a network of websites in cities including New York, Washington and Los Angeles. (Politico)
Why would the Omaha-based founder of TD Ameritrade buy Gothamist? Chicago media observer Scott Smith (a former Gothamist editor) says this:
"First, this solves DNA’s need for more audience and Chicagoist’s need for content. DNAInfo New York has 2.5 million uniques, 108K newsletter subscribers, and a combined social audience of about 160K though some of all of those numbers are duplicative, obviously." (Our Man In Chicago)
"But I think Chicago is the key to this sale. DNAInfo Chicago has about 1.8 million uniques, 168K newsletter subscribers and a combined social audience of 200K. Again, some duplication there. Chicago is DNA’s only other city site and has a larger email and social audience than NYC."
Katy Tur's, ah, stumble
Tur will go down in the medical literature as first victim of Trump Reporter Harassment Syndrome (TRHS) as a result of her rhetorical abuse at the hands of the then-presidential candidate while valiantly reporting on him. It's earned her an afternoon MSNBC anchor gig, where a certain lack of Robo-Anchor polish is refreshing.
On Thursday, her post-White House briefing panel included Bill Kristol, whom she mistakenly introduced as with The New York Times rather than The Weekly Standard. She later apologized. "Sorry, I had a momentary brain fart."
Like many, I've endured a year in which most of my predictions were errant. But I did suspect that Kristol, an old friend, had not quite encountered such a vivid and humorous confession of inaccuracy while appearing on national television.
"Yes," he said, that was correct.
The Syrians in Moose Jaw
If you were a sporadic online reader from afar of the Moose Jaw Times Herald in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, you could wonder why managing editor Lisa Goudy doesn't do more stories on the 260 Syrian refugees who have come to a city of just 36,000.
The reason is pretty simple: People in town don't consider it much of a saga. There's no conflict or protests and whispering about terrorism. Their reflex has been to help these people get on with their lives after enduring true horror. Food, clothing, jobs, daycare, driver's licenses, all the usual stuff of life.
I talked to the last two mayors — one liberal, the current conservative — and then Goudy. (U.S. News & World Report) It's the same from all three. As Goudy says, "It's just a totally different feel for us here." It's not much of a story.
The morning babble
It was an Obamacare morning as two Republican-led House committees worked through the night, with one finishing at 5 a.m. "Obamacare All-Nighter" was the chyron on "Fox & Friends," which groused (accurately) both about Democratic delaying tactics and the possibility there aren't enough GOP votes.
"It's in trouble," said Fox's Steve Doocy, who wondered where House Speaker would come up with needed 218 votes. On CNN's "New Day," there was a belief that Trump himself could personally intervene and procure enough votes. Pundit Patrick Healy felt that Trump could travel lots of places, and exploit his celebrity allure and still fall short.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough said the potency of opponents like the AARP, Heritage Foundation and American Medical Association means it's a loser. And, with American history again revolving around his own past, he said "Every time I voted against a bill, even my own party's bill, and went back to my district and said it wasn't conservative enough, my numbers went up. And I did that in the middle of a Republican tidal wave."
Key to unhappy Republicans, he said, was how important was Trump in your being elected to Congress? But even it passes by a single vote in the House, he said it may be doomed in the Senate, even in states Trump won like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, where Medicaid contraction will be a political loser.
Public records lawsuit in New Mexico
As journalist Dan Libit notes, The University of New Mexico Foundation's slogan is, “Where generosity meets excellence.” Alas, "Left unstated, however, is that the Foundation is also where generosity meets secrecy."
That sense explains why he just filed what he believes is the first open records lawsuit against the foundation. Certainly, it must be the first that involves a pizza chain's naming rights.
This involves a naming-rights deal for the University of New Mexico’s basketball arena, previously known as “The Pit.” It was struck in 2014 with WisePies, a local (struggling) Albuquerque pizza chain. There were doubts among some who wondered if the chain could make the $5 million payment. (Sporting News)
Though based in Chicago, Libit started a website that exclusively covers the University of New Mexico Athletics Department. It's an experiment in college sports journalism as he focuses on the program at his hometown university. He's doing it, he explains, "as if I were covering any other public institution. This is all I’ve done since the election."
The law firm representing him has done work for Guantanamo detainees and Chelsea Manning. Libit has worked for CNBC.com, National Journal and Politico.
Seeking access in Massachusetts
On Monday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists filed a so-called amicus brief with the Supreme Court in Weaver v. Massachusetts. It's worth a mention.
At first blush, this involves a murder defendant's assertion of ineffective counsel in a case prompted by the 2003 fatal shooting of Germaine Rucker, 15. The defendant 16 at the time, was later convicted of first-degree murder, failed in an appeal, then got a new lawyer.
But the reporters group is focusing on public access to jury selection. During the trial, overcrowding prompted the judge to close the so-called voir dire as a result.
"While the defendant has a right under the Sixth Amendment to an open jury selection process, RCFP and SPJ urge the Supreme Court to consider the public’s independent but related First Amendment right in resolving this case." (RCFP)
A billionaire freelancer's take on immigration
"Fix immigration without sacrificing innocent children" is the Bloomberg op-ed by struggling freelancer Michael R. Bloomberg. Oh, no, this is the one who owns the joint.
"Whoever said there are no bad ideas never spent any time in Washington," writes Bloomberg. "Many never get off the ground, thankfully, but one of the worst I can remember hearing is now under serious consideration by the Department of Homeland Security: forcibly separating children from their parents when families are apprehended crossing the U.S. border." (Bloomberg)
In search of Pulitzers and, now, Beyonce
Tronc, the former Tribune Publishing, is apparently on the verge of buying Wenner Media's Us Weekly for somewhere in the realm of $100 million. Michael Ferro, a Chicago tech entrepreneur, loves celebrities. When he took over The Chicago Sun-Times, he quickly signed up literary visionaries Jenny McCarthy and Jim Belushi as columnists, and no sooner had he commandeered Tribune then he requested the Los Angeles Times' Oscars tickets.
But, "Putting aside the cultural issues that might arise from pairing up Pulitzer-prize winning journalistic institutions with a publication fueled by the latest celebrity gossip, the deal isn’t without theoretical merits." (Bloomberg)
Google says it's filling some gaping holes
"Google says Android and Chrome are now strong enough to defend against at least some of the vulnerabilities that the CIA may have exploited to carry out covert surveillance programs." (Recode)
This comes up amid the latest WikiLeaks disclosures, which include how the CIA went after Google's Android smartphone operating system.
Says an executive overseeing information security and privacy, "As we’ve reviewed the documents, we're confident that security updates and protections in both Chrome and Android already shield users from many of these alleged vulnerabilities. Our analysis is ongoing and we will implement any further necessary protections. We've always made security a top priority and we continue to invest in our defenses."
"Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a top conservative in the U.S. Senate, unloaded on House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Obamacare 2.0 replacement plan — that does not repeal Obamacare — in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with Breitbart News."
Meanwhile, given how he gravitates to journalists, is the notion of Paul and an "exclusive" interview an oxymoron? (Breitbart)
Winners, losers with Republican plan
Here's a keeper: a U.S. map based on Kaiser Family Foundation estimates of how the Republican healthcare bill's impacts every county based on varying subsidies. There are huge differences.
Concludes The New York Times based on that data, "The biggest losers under the change would be older Americans with low incomes who live in high-cost areas. Those are the people who benefited most from Obamacare."
The theatrics and easy ridicule of Congress aside, it's a reminder of the underlying seriousness of intent and underlying substance at play.