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The American press is as stunned and fatigued as George Foreman in Zaire just before he finally went down against Muhammad Ali in 1974's epic "Rumble in the Jungle."
It's verging on being a "rope-a-dope" victim, just like Foreman, who punched himself out as he sought to demonstrate his superiority.
There's exhaustion among reporters covering President Trump with a combo of investigations, fact-checking and unceasing feeding-the-beast digital realities. It's now even now called an "enemy" by Trump, which is only a minor semantic leap by someone who's long positioned the press as an opposition party.
Throughout journalism there is a rising cry of "What shall we do?" There's talk of somehow setting Americans straight on journalism's role in democracy. The press is acting like, well, an opposition party backed into a corner, as opposed to the inevitably maligned countervailing force it is and should be.
"In this corner, the American Press; in the opposite corner, the American President," writes the National Review's Joe Williamson. "The time has come for choosing sides — or so do many of our friends on the left and in the media (there is some crossover in that group) insist, as do more than a few of our friends on the right." (National Review)
He's right. And he adds this: "It is possible, if you are not mentally crippled, to hold in your mind two non-exclusive ideas: Donald J. Trump stinks, and the press stinks." That's where Williamson finds himself.
It's possible to think Trump is abhorrent and still see many media failings, be it arrogance, imprecision, failing business models that diminish newsrooms and hastening the rise of infotainment.
But is the answer some new push for "media literacy," a greater ability to understand the news process and its products? That's akin to pushes for other sorts of "literacy" desired by various interest groups, like the financial services sector that shafted the poor for decades and now pushes for those same people to learn "financial literacy" just like the Ivy-and Big Ten-educated boys and girls on Wall Street.
"Media literacy" sounds nice. But it would be nicer to improve all too many big-city elementary schools where kindergarteners know neither numbers nor colors. And then there are the supposedly educated adults who need to be informed about critical thinking and basic civics rather than specialty courses in how to read the news (who, for example, may say they're worried about global warming but are against genetically modified organisms even if evidence is scant that GMOs harm the environment or food).
Remember, lower-educated Americans read papers and watched the news for many years. The news was more connected to reality, and consumers had greater trust in institutions. Maybe their mistrust now has less to do with a lack of "media literacy" than with the lack of the news' relevance to their lives, the never-ending torrent of clickbait, "breaking news" cable TV hyperbole and claims of how everything around them allegedly causes cancer.
Before we inculcate folks with the First Amendment — and remember, when we discuss "the press," many love their local media and differentiate between them and "the press" overall — we might focus on a disastrous achievement gap that can doom many kids by the ages of five or six.
Maybe then we'd have more confidence in their being able to think and converse smartly and find a way through high school and college. Teach them the same habits of mind that facilitate fair-minded inquiry into the truth — and are at the heart of journalism.
They are the same habits that make those journalists an enemy of those in power and those seeking it at every level, in every country.
What can the press do? It's not complicated. Do what Mike Royko did, which I was reminded of Monday in a South Side Chicago coffeehouse after delivering a new pet gecko to a second grade classroom not far from Barack Obama's house. For the second time in a week, I saw a 20-something reading "Boss," Royko's 1971 epic on the late boss Richard J. Daley and American politics.
Royko? He one of the two or three greatest newspaper columnists. Though he died nearly 20 years ago, new Huffington Post editorial chief Lydia Polgreen broached his legacy at a recent Harvard panel discussion, asking "Who is the Mike Royko of today?" alluding to his blue-collar sensibilities. (Poynter)
Royko was in many hundreds of newspapers despite a lack of a TV profile. He let his work speak for itself regardless of how many people he pissed off or how many in the political establishment came after him.
The lesson? Do your job and, perhaps, just keep your mouth zipped. Ignore the venom tweeted your way. Maybe don't be tweeting back your two cents 24/7 (egged on by bosses who think you're "engaging" readers). And don't define yourself or debate yourself on somebody else's terms. Keep to yours, stay positive, and let the chips fall where they may.
Maybe, just maybe, you'll be left standing while the guy you're reporting on is himself left an exhausted hulk — perhaps smack in the middle of the dining room at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
Annals of right-wing martyrdom (Part 1)
Publishers Weekly broke the news in a tweet: "Simon & Schuster is canceling the publication of 'Dangerous' by Milo Yiannopoulos 'After careful consideration.'"
This will give conservatives a lot to decry at their big conference in Washington, where Yiannopoulos, Mike Pence and Ted Cruzare among the speakers.
Perhaps somebody can ask what the esteemed publishing house knows now that it didn't before. This leopard, or author, hasn't changed his spots.
Annals of martyrdom (Part 2)
"A senior editor at the right-wing publication tells Washingtonian that 'at least a half-dozen' employees are prepared to leave the company if Milo Yiannopoulos is not promptly fired. A second Breitbart source confirms this estimate." (Washingtoninan)
A golf scoop
The Trump White House even dissembles about whom he plays golf with. It was the same this weekend, until the No Laying Up golf blog broke the news about his playing with superstar Rory McIlroy (despite the fact he's been injured and had not planned on playing at all over the weekend).
"I received an anonymous tip and texted Rory to confirm," Chris Solomon told me. "He then gave me the details, and I limited what was included to just the facts."
What is No Laying Up? It's the handiwork of four sports-happy guys, mostly scattered in different time zones and with different day jobs. The core trio were students together at Miami University in Ohio and have 72,000 Twitter followers.
The best thing about them was a paper for a Georgetown University journalism class. (No Laying Up). But, now that they've broken the Trump story, consider Solomon & Co. as part of "the enemy," potentially liable for Justice Department prosecution for disclosing this national security secret.
Feeding the enemy
On the flight back to Washington from Europe, "Pence and his wife — bearing a silver tray of mini cookies — came back and chatted off the record with your pool for about 20 minutes," according to the pool report from The Washington Post's Ashley Parker.
The tech future and the 800-pound gorilla
You got a half hour? If you're really interested in the tech/media future, and are generally beholden to cliches like "unbundling" and "cord-cutting," watch a presentation by and interview of Ben Thompson, who operates Stratechery, an apparently very profitable Taiwan-based one-man publication. (Recode)
Folks pay $120 a year for his four-times-a-week take on the business of tech. But in a rare public interview with Recode's Peter Kafka at a conference, he lays out lots of fascinating stuff: how text industries were changed by technology; why the music business has stabilized after being creamed and left for dead; why The New York Times is one of the smartest of the old guard; and how Netflix has "commoditized time."
Why Amazon rules the world and The New York Times is kicking butt
What seems like the daily Amazon Prime package arrived Monday with an Instant Pot, a combo electric pressure cooker, slow cooker and rice cook. After arriving home from an evening soccer practice, I found myself watching a New York Times food video explaining the gizmo's glories.
There was the paper's Melissa Clark showing how to use it to save many, many hours in making a classic barbecue pork with a spicy Korean sauce. It was engrossing. It was certainly more compelling than last night's sagas of Trump's new national security adviser or his pissing off the entire nation of Sweden. (The New York Times)
"When Max Karlsson found out that he was going to be in charge of Sweden’s official Twitter account this week, he was looking forward to sharing some of his photography or riffing about music and technology — nothing too different from how hundreds of others have used the handle since Sweden opened it up to ordinary users in 2011." (The Verge)
Local angle (sort of)!
"U.S. Women's National Team legend Abby Wambach has announced her engagement to Christian blogger Glennon Doyle Melton." (The Oregonian)
And why exactly do we care up in the Pacific Northwest?
"The 36-year-old, who had owned a house in Portland, left Oregon and put her house on the market last November."
Joining the staff in Stowe
New staffers should all get such effusive treatment: "Lovell Beaulieu, a veteran newspaper journalist from New Orleans, is the newest member of the news staff of the Waterbury Record, Stowe Reporter and the News & Citizen." (Stowe Reporter)
This announcement includes a response to this apparently inevitable query: "Contrary to questions he’s been asked about leaving his native city of New Orleans and the cuisine and culture of the city, Beaulieu said he doesn’t look back."
“'I’m eating rather healthy in Vermont, and the summer and fall are conducive to exercising and biking. I’m going to be just fine.'”
The morning babble
It was fitting that a fire broke out a few blocks from the set of "Fox & Friends," which one assumes the president was watching, since it was in overdrive in bashing the "liberal press," calling out NBC News, MSNBC's Katy Tur, CNN's Jake Tapper and even The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan. The fire apparatus over their shoulders must have been some liberal's fault.
CNN "New Day" panel speculated as to how much autonomy the new national security adviser will have (early line: likely sufficient, with more initial respect than Michael Flynn). There was talk about Trump and Jews, with co-host Chris Cuomo surprised Trump doesn't underscore his ties more strongly. And co-host Alisyn Camerota did what others should do routinely: Get out of the studio and talk to folks (in Ohio).
"Morning Joe" on MSNBC wondered why Trump hires A-list folks for his foreign policy team and minor leaguers inside the White House. "It's one of the great mysteries," says Joe Scarborough. Mika Brzezinski posited that Trump is "confident domestically to manipulate people," but for national security "he's afraid and knows what he doesn't know, which is good."
The new gig for a recent Fox pundit alum
About that "fair and balanced" mantra at "Fox & Friends," check The Wall Street Journal’s profile of Sebastian Gorka, one of the channel's recent national security regulars: "Conservative pundit Sebastian Gorka brings 'Global Jihadist Movement' theory into White House — critics say policy addressing terrorism primarily as a religious problem reinforces notion that U.S. is at war with Islam." (The Wall Street Journal)
Tragedy nearly strikes on the court
Those covering the West Virginia-Texas basketball game in Morgantown, West Virginia watched as famous West Virginia coach Bob Huggins crumpled to the ground:
"Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins collapsed to the floor and gestured to his chest late in the first half and silenced a Coliseum crowd that had been roaring and enjoying what their team was doing to the Longhorns. Huggins, who had a heart attack in September 2002, feared for his life that day as he was hurried to the hospital and lives with an internal defibrillator, was apparently well enough to coach the second half as WVU only barely flirted with its persistent problem of closing out games." (Charleston Gazette-Mail)
There was apparently a problem with his heart medication. He stayed in the game.
A reporter's paradise
It's shooting fish in a barrel at the White House. For example:
"Fully mindful of the privilege he enjoyed, Trump administration staffer Greg Potreski told reporters Friday that he was grateful to be working with so many individuals he could turn over to the FBI in exchange for immunity."
"'It’s such an honor to be surrounded by almost countless people who, if it ever came down to it, I could hand over to the authorities in order to escape prosecution,' said Potreski, adding that he never imagined he’d find himself in a workplace that was staffed wall-to-wall with professionals whose comparatively more serious crimes he could expose to save himself."
He's right. But, alas, he's in The Onion.