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So what's the Vegas over-under on how long new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus remain employed at the White House? Three months? Four?
To President Trump's detriment, Scaramucci is a potty-mouthed Harry Caul in pinstripes, with a Long Island accent. Caul is the private security expert played by Gene Hackman in 1974's "The Conversation," a guy unhinged by the notion that somebody is spying on him as he's trying to spy on a San Francisco couple.
His own apartment, it turns out, is bugged by the very people who are employing him. He tears it apart looking for the device. It's a rampage that resembles Scaramucci on cable TV, going after White House leaks — or calling New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza.
The new White House communications boss called Lizza after he'd tweeted that a "senior White House official" told him Scaramucci was dining with President Trump, the First Lady, pro bono Trump communications adviser Sean Hannity (his other job is at Fox), and a former Fox executive.
“Who leaked that to you?” Scaramucci demand to know, then threatening to fire the White House communications staff. “What I’m going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over.” That was the G-rated portion.
It was unhinged, as was a CNN performance Thursday morning, and suggested he's playing well out of his league. Ditto Priebus.
"Mooch" should read a piece in U.S News & World Report by Jean Card, a writer and communications consultant who's worked as a speechwriter for the secretaries of Labor and Treasury, as well as the attorney general, all in Republican administrations. She was a deputy, too, in the Small Business Administration communications operation.
"While clearly a very smart, zesty and articulate fellow, Mr. Scaramucci has never worked in a government communications office before. He – and presumably his boss, President Donald Trump – are actually making the same mistake countless other power-drunk bureaucrats in Washington have made before by assuming the public affairs staff must be the source of the leaks because, you know, they are the people who talk to reporters!"
It's a smart piece, prompting my asking her about this mess. Her first point:
"Scaramucci appears to operate on the ceiling, at DEFCON 1 all the time — that’s perilous when you’re a newsmaker. My experience is that the best public affairs professionals know how to stay calm, never losing their heads while those about them lose theirs. They know how to take a deep breath, be thoughtful, and verify to the point of certainty everything they ever tell a reporter (from the media relations bible: never lie to a reporter). "
As for leaking, "Leaking is professional death in media relations because we operate in a position of trust on both sides — our principles and policy colleagues on one side, reporters on the other. A leak is an act of deception; deceivers can’t be trusted by either party in the long run. I will add that leaking is also a selfish act of ego, and communications staffers are usually pretty damned modest, considering what they do and their importance to the mission in which they are involved."
When it comes to the biggest general misunderstanding amid the White House obsession with leaks — which is in no way peculiar to Trump & Co. — "The biggest misconception is that the staff in public affairs are leakers."
So is the answer dumping that entire press shop other than Sarah ("I've answered that before, next question") Sanders? If you're smart, Tony, baby, fuggedaboutit.
The morning babble
The 1:30 a.m. Senate rejection of a "skinny repeal" of Obamacare predictably dominated cable news this morning. "Trump & Friends'" co-host Brian Kilmeade wondered, "Now what?" as they showed Sen. Elizabeth Warren triumphantly taking selfies with supporters in the dark outside the Capitol. Message: blame the Democrats.
CNN's "New Day" found John McCain's decisive thumbs down "breathtaking," since it was assumed that Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were perhaps the GOP's lone "no" votes and that it would pass. Ryan Lizza, Scaramucci's telephone friend, noted how McCain was truly bothered about the lack of traditional process (like hearings) before he delivered the "death knell" for perhaps Trump's entire legislative agenda for the year, not just healthcare.
Kasie Hunt on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" contrasted the pre-dawn debacle with the slim victory President Obama originally achieved and how even conservative senators whose states voted for Trump were unsettled by his bumbling and the legislation's weaknesses.
Oh, Fox quickly pivoted to bashing Democrats, Hillary Clinton and that IT staffer for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida who tried to flee the country and was arrested for bank fraud. Ah, yes, the evil mainstream media was again keeping the important stuff from us.
Crossing another bridge
So to all those editors, or maybe a few high school English teachers, who seek stylistic counsel from The New York Times, be advised it left nothing to the imagination with Scaramucci's tirade with Ryan Lizza:
"Mr. Scaramucci made clear in his conversation with The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza that he is trying to push Mr. Priebus out. 'Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,' he said."
Peggy Noonan's Trump takedown
Referring to both the president and his supporters in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan writes, "But at some point baseline political competence is going to become part of the story. If the president continues to show he doesn’t have the toolbox for this job, he’s going to go from not gaining support, which is where he is now, to losing support. He’s not magic and they’re not stupid."
Second thoughts on Steve Ballmer
Hong Kong-based Ben Thompson's Stratechery newsletter had chided defenders of former Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer in giving him too much credit for the success of Microsoft Azure and Office 365 but has quickly conceded he "deserves more credit than I gave him."
Meg Whitman to Uber?
There are different analyses of whether she's in serious consideration, especially after stepping down as HP Inc.'s Chairwoman. The Verge's Andrew Hawkins gave the arguments, pro and con, during a Cheddar chat.
Chasing video, not Facebook
"Facebook really, really wants native videos — which is to say, videos viewed on the Facebook platform — to take off. And publishers know an edict when they hear one. According to Parse.ly, a web metrics company, Facebook is the source for over 40 percent of referral traffic to publications’ websites. In fact, between Google and Facebook, over 80 percent of referral traffic to purveyors of digital news is spoken for. And Facebook’s share keeps growing."
But this smart piece in Quartz underscores a giant tactical error being made by many publishers as they "pivot" to video, Facebook keeps tweaking its algorithms and forces new pivots, along the while keeping "their so-called partners in a set of golden handcuffs."
"As publishers sink ever-more resources into chasing fickle Facebook audiences, at the expense of finding other ways to reach their own audiences, they’ll enter a cycle of ever-greater dependence on Facebook traffic."
The right on Sessions
Right Richter, a look at right-wing media, notes how many have defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions, "who they see as a true believer in hardline immigration policy. More than any other key issue, immigration is the one that the far-right sees more moderate, often wealthy Republicans as willing to betray them on — so any threat to Sessions guarantees a riled-up pro-Trump media, even if the threat is coming from Trump himself."
A professor under fire
Tommy Curry, a Black philosopher at Texas A&M, thought bringing a discussion of race and violence into public view in a responsibly provocative manner would be a good idea. He was wrong. He totally underestimated the potency of right-wing media, as the Chronicle of Higher Education makes clear:
"Professors are being watched, followed, and confronted. They are being brought to account for things they said and things they did not say. Modern technology has turned campus politics into a circus, and audiences come to see the freaks: the professor who thinks white-marble statues are racist, the one who wants white genocide for Christmas, the one who wants to see President Trump hanged. Preening elites exposed as ugly brutes."
Curry's sin? "Tommy Curry was the angry Black one who said White people need to die. That was the caricature, anyway." But, as the piece underscores, this was way more nuanced and ultimately a tale of victimization.
"The drama that unfolded at Texas A&M is about a scholar who was welcomed by a public university because of his unusual perspective and who became estranged from it for the same reason. It is a story about what a university values, how it expresses those values under pressure, and how that pressure works. It is about freedom and control, reason and fear, good faith and bad."
Fact-checking Russia Today's fact-checking
Russia Today's FakeCheck, which was announced in the spring, is coming up short. (Poynter) "For one, the fact checks published by RT usually result in conclusions that align with Russia’s agenda. Russian meddling in foreign lands is debunked; the temper of Russian soccer fans is defended; the plight of Syrian civilians is discounted. And so on."
Story behind the photo
The photo of a seeming Oval Office stare down between Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci went viral. It happened during a Wednesday Wall Street Journal interview with Trump. Here's T. J. Kirkpatrick's tale of his five minutes inside the room and how that shot came to pass.
Bashing The Times, craving its imprimatur
"Trump & Friends," the president's favorite show, loves bashing the mainstream press but reveled in a full-page ad taken out by Fox in The New York Times. (Poynter) It included a quote from Times TV critic James Poniewozik that "it is the most powerful TV show in America," prompting its three co-hosts to each hold the ad aloft (and one of them to bitch that the paper still wasn't praise-worthy enough!).
A disclosure about ISIS
Robin Wright (the foreign policy maven, not the actress) sat down at the State Department with Brett McGurk, the American diplomat who is perhaps the central player in the 72-nation effort to vanquish ISIS. Perhaps the most telling exchange:
How many ISIS fighters are still active? And where?
"Our experts think the active cadre of ISIS fighters is down to twelve thousand total fighters, local and foreign. The Syrian Democratic Forces, the force we are working with, is incredibly brave. They are going into these high-rise buildings, room by room, floor by floor, to root these guys out." (The New Yorker)
"Down to 12,000" still means there are a lot of very bad dudes out there.
Twitter vs. Snapchat
"Twitter likely has about 157 million daily active users, less than Snapchat’s 166 million." (Recode)
Censorship in China
"An online essay titled, 'Beijing Has 20 Million People Pretending to Have a Life Here' (“北京,有2000万人假装在生活,” full English translation here) by Chinese writer and blogger Zhang Wumao (张五毛) became a viral hit on WeChat and Weibo after it was published on the author’s WeChat account on July 23." (Quartz)
"But on July 25, the full text was removed from all social media accounts and Chinese online news sites. Its hashtag on Weibo (#北京有2000万人假装在生活#) is now no longer accessible."
Michiko Kakutani was a literary legend, if far from flawless (there were some great writers for whom she wouldn't cut much slack), as a New York Times mainstay for more than 40 years. As she exits, Executive Editor Dean Baquet hit the right note in mentioning her rigor, tenderness and high standards.
"As much as I admire Parul Sehgal and think she's brilliant, I will miss Michiko Kakutani's reviews — they burst with thought bombs," says Elizabeth Taylor, co-editor of the National Book Review and past president of the National Book Critics Circle.
"I heard about Michi's brilliance way before she became a famous critic and a noun in the literary world," says Taylor. "She had left Time magazine a few years before I arrived, and she left a trail of admirers even early in her career."
So that's it for this Scaramucci-scarred week. Despite the Welles Park Junior Rockies being knocked out of the playoffs — again, I am not in the least bit bitter — Eliot Warren, 8, was picked for Saturday's 8 a.m. league All-Star game. I suspect I'll see the shortstop for the Reds who pulled a Derek Jeter and robbed him of a bases-loaded, game-winning hit and knocked out the Rockies. But I'm not bitter.