Good morning. Here's our morning roundup of all the media news you need to know. Want to get this briefing in your inbox every morning? Subscribe here.
The TV press knows the personality and the dynamic. It's that of the tempestuous "showrunner," or combo executive producer-writer of a show.
"Huddled alone at night in his mansion, he obsesses over the coverage his project is getting and takes to social media to deny that any of the negative blowback is getting to him," writes Maureen Ryan, TV critic for Variety. "He’s winning, he’s doing great, everyone loves his ideas." (Variety)
She's talking only about a showrunner, right?
"No matter that most respected publications have derided almost every aspect of what he’s cobbled together; reporters, columnists, and critics have, for the most part, consistently dismissed his endeavor as a pile of poorly executed dreck, a haphazard hybrid of tired stereotypes and repugnant ideas that have been thoroughly rejected by the majority of the public."
Then, as Ryan notes, that person storms off to talk to his publicity team, to produce another press release about how great things are. It's all fueled by a sense of grievance and inequity.
"Sound familiar?" Ryan writes. "Except it’s not happening in executive suites or in writers’ rooms: It’s coming from the Oval Office. And even though the Trump administration is new, everything emanating from it, at least for many of us in the entertainment press, feels very familiar."
As she informs, "Donald Trump, a.k.a., the showrunner who doesn’t like what critics have to say, is an industry type that we know all too well. Those of us who’ve been at this for a while have gotten that 2 a.m. email, that tense phone call, that blistering DM on Twitter."
So what's the difference?
"The difference between Trump and a disgruntled showrunner is that, for the TV type, cooler heads usually prevail in the morning. Even entry-level PR staffers know that for an executive or high-level producer to screech about a bad review just makes everybody involved look a little bit, well, 'sad!'”
Sean Spicer's lousy Melissa McCarthy imitation
Or was that still McCarthy impersonating Spicer during the Tuesday press briefing at the White House? (Poynter)
As a friend who was sitting near the front put it, "The whole briefing event has become a one-man, one-act play put on for television. Ensemble cast. OAN, Fox Business, Fox News, Newsmax, La Opinion, Korean news, Talk Media News, etc."
But my friend also noted that "Spicer has set up a system in which reporters put their names on a list kept by an aide in advance, to be called on by him. He doesn’t know the questions, just the outlets on his list. And then he chooses a few raised hands. It’s nutty."
How long will it be before one can put out of mind the McCarthy spoof, as well as the "SNL" cast playing reporters? Would one be surprised if, say, today one saw Kenan Thompson or Cecily Strong (daughter of a former Associated Press reporter) asking a goofy question?
Or the real Spicer throwing the real lectern at somebody in a fit of what can seem reflexive petulance?
The morning bubble
Well, you got your money's worth out of some of your senators as Democrats spent the entire night delaying a vote on Jeff Sessions for attorney general.
And C-SPAN2 was there. At 6 a.m. you had a monotone Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut on the Senate floor, talking about Republican "bullying" by the GOP sanctioning Sen. Elizabeth Warren for "impugning" the character of Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions.
CNN's "New Day" discussed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's utilizing rules in the cozy club against "impugning" the character of another senator. The pundit consensus seemed to be that the Democrats' obstructionist tactics have limited utility.
"The End of Civility in the Senate?" was the MSNBC "Morning Joe" chyron, which was clearly sympathetic to Warren. Indeed, if you've covered it, the Senate is redolent with civility and its definition of un-civil is comically broad. And co-host Joe Scarborough was in speculative overdrive, suggesting without any evidence that McConnell was somehow "pushed" by Sessions or the White House to shut up Warren.
"Fox & Friends" had reporter Griff Jenkins rehashing last evening's appeals court oral arguments by phone over an element of Trump's immigration order. Is it a Muslim ban? Does the president have the power to do it under national security claims? Substantively, it seems a close call.
On CNN, Harvard's Alan Dershowitz predicted the limited current issue of a temporary stay of the Trump order will continue. But the ultimate ruling on the underlying issue of presidential authority could go the White House's way.
Oh, "Fox & Friends" also spent time juxtaposing images the new Miss Universe and their own reporter-show host Abby Huntsman to show how much they look alike. However, Huntsman's French isn't as good. "Thank you, Miss Universe," Steve Doocy said to Huntsman.
The Undefeated commemorates Black History Month
It's doing a nice job each day. Wednesday, it looked at just some of the things that happened on Feb. 7. The opening of Alcorn University. Cassius Clay converted to Islam. Chris Rock was born. Harry Truman appointed Irwin Mollison the first black judge to the U.S. Customs Court. (The Undefeated)
The Dissent Channel
No, it's not a cable TV channel sponsored by the Sierra Club or Glenn Greenwald's The Intercept. It's a long-standing internal means of State Department personnel voicing their opinions on policy.
It's gotten a lot of publicity of late, given chagrin over Trump's immigration order. But most everybody is a bit off on its origins. That's been flatly stated in various news stories.
And the other day came former Defense and State Department honcho Paul Wolfowitz to opine in a New York Times op-ed, "the State Department created its dissent channel in 1971 as a response to concerns that contrary opinions were suppressed or ignored during the Vietnam War."
Not exactly. The real origins were detailed yesterday in a National Archives blog posting by David Langbart, an archivist at their terrific operation in College Park, Maryland.
"While the issue of policy in Vietnam played a part in establishing the Dissent Channel, this special procedure for providing policy-makers with alternative views and recommendations outside the normal channels for the discussion of policies was a direct outgrowth of the management reform activities carried out in the Department in 1970 culminating in the report Diplomacy for the 70’s: A Program of Management Reform for the Department of State." (Archives)
A very local angle
"Hollywood reacts to Betsy DeVos' controversial confirmation as education secretary" (Hollywood Reporter)
Failing to avoid media scrutiny
"An Australian Senate committee has revealed that country's mail chief is the nation's highest paid public servant and made 5.6 million Australian ($4.3 million) last year. The disclosure came despite objections from Australian Post that making the salary information public could attract media attention and damage its brand." (AP)
That's 10 times more than the prime minister — oh, you know, the guy who had the phone conversation with Trump — and way more than his U.S. counterpart, Postal Service Chief Executive and Postmaster General Megan Brennan, who gets just over $280,000.
Netflix 'R Us
"The world’s largest paid video service is looking to hire an executive to oversee the licensing of shows for books, comics and toys, and forge partnerships with retailers, according to a job posting on the company’s website. Netflix has also asked partners for a share of consumer products made off of shows released by Netflix but owned by other TV studios, according to people familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified discussing private matters." (Bloomberg)
Tapper, Conway and terrorism (among others matters)
You might have been unsure what to lede with after CNN's Jake Tapper interview with the unshamable Kellyanne Conway. Among many nuggets was his eviscerating her notion that the press, including CNN, doesn't fully cover terrorism, prompting a response that even was notable to his ideological soulmates at Breitbart News. (Breitbart)
Tapper is evolving in our Gen X Ted Koppel (with greater pop culture fluency) and forced Conway to do a 180, conceding CNN's "amazing" coverage and then amended it all thus: "There seems to be some coverage these days, maybe not here, but definitely elsewhere that somehow terrorism is not a big problem, or somehow national security is all taken care of and that’s just not true. I think when you’re talking about extreme vetting, he is making the point that is in response to the threat of terrorism globally.”
Even as Conway also said CNN is not "fake news," this still largely amounted to unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, with BuzzFeed dispensing with understatement in capturing an essential image that went beyond the specifics of Conway's responses: "But what was even more noticeable to people, was his quietly miffed, are-you-fucking-kidding-me face as Conway spoke." (BuzzFeed)
And, no surprise, CNN unavoidably offered analysis and de-facto self-congratulation to itself during a morning discussion about Conway's vaguely (vaguely) contrite performance with Brian Stelter and Bill Carter.
A juggernaut with problems
"Walt Disney pressured by sagging ESPN performance." (The Wall Street Journal)
Did Melania Trump's lawyer blow it?
"Gawker-slaying lawyer Charles Harder appears to have torpedoed First Lady Melania Trump‘s claim that a news website killed her 'multi-million' chance to cash in on her White House fame." (Law Newz)
This involves a re-filed lawsuit against The Daily Mail. "But the First Lady’s attorney, Harder, perhaps in an effort to squash some bad PR, just admitted that his client had no concrete business plan to cash in on her White House fame."
“'The First Lady has no intention of using her position for profit and will not do so,' Harder told LawNewz.com on Tuesday. 'It is not a possibility. Any statements to the contrary are being misinterpreted.'”
Super Bowl ratings
"The first overtime in Super Bowl history wasn’t enough to jump-start this year’s Super Bowl ratings. An average of 111.3 million viewers watched Tom Brady lead the New England Patriots back from a 25-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, 34-28, according to Nielsen’s fast national ratings." (Adweek)
That number, which makes it the No. 5 most-watched Super Bowl of all time, falls short of last year’s game, which was televised on CBS and drew 111.9 viewers. The record-holder remains the 2015 Super Bowl on NBC, which was watched by an average of 114.4 million total viewers.
"Viacom Inc., long the poster child of the supersize cable TV bundle, is planning to narrow its strategic focus to six key channel brands as it seeks to reset its frayed relationships with distribution partners, according to people familiar with the matter." (The Wall Street Journal)
Bernie v. Ted health debate
Well, that was an interesting hour on CNN last night as Bernie Sanders faced off against Ted Cruz on Obamacare. Check out a solid blog by New York Times reporters, which tended to avoid the frequent Look-Ma-I'm-Being-Droll excesses of this group genre. (The New York Times) It was reassuring that one reporter had to split at one point to do actual reporting on a story.
Now imagine having more such prime time debates on policy ethical and legal issues such as a long-ago PBS stalwart, the "Fred Friendly Lectures." When done well, it was meaty and entertaining with all-star intellectual casts. Get a hotshot law professor to moderate a discussion on presidential power tied to the immigration order, or any of a host of topics, including privacy, euthanasia, free speech, drone strikes, parenting, you name it. (Fred Friendly)
The early DeVos aftermath
No sooner did we have that melodramatic 51-50 Betsy DeVos confirmation vote in the Senate than word leaked out of her initial policy plans:
"Relax unrealistically strict standards for Secretary of Education...Modify Title IX to allow invisible hand of the market to sort out any student rape cases that may arise...Identify at-risk students and do nothing whatsoever...Ensure that all students, regardless of background, receive the opportunity to bask in the shining light of Christ."
And, "Let low-income parents choose which one of their children gets to go to school."
How did CBS, The Washington Post and The Atlantic miss this? Apparently they weren't reading The Onion closely enough.