Camera-shy Supreme Court gets a brief reality show
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The prime-time premiere of "Celebrity Jurist" was drenched in irony, given the emcee’s own desperate craving for constant attention.
"Was that a surprise? Was it?" said Donald Trump, as if back in that TV boardroom, surrounded by all those Hollywood celebrities seeking professional resuscitation.
As John Podhoretz, editor of conservative Commentary magazine, put it, "In some ways, in terms of democratic norms and the dignity of our Republic, this ceremony for the Supreme Court is the worst Trump move yet."
The choreography was missing only balloons and Ryan Seacrest in what some found a "well-orchestrated television production" in the White House East Room.
But if confirmed, Neil Gorsuch joins our most influential team of media Luddites, who ferociously protect themselves from anything vaguely electronic or digital.
Do you realize how rarely you see the images or hear the voices of Supreme Court justices? Leave your cameras, iPhones and tape recorders at the front steps since this private club won't let them in.
With punditry in overdrive last evening, I discussed the court's refusal to let cameras in with Tony Mauro, a great longtime Supreme Court reporter, now plying his trade at The National Law Journal.
When it comes to televising either oral arguments or announcements of decisions, "There is no justice who is avidly in favor of it, so it's unlikely to happen unless Congress passes a law requiring it, which Congress is too timid to do."
OK, fine, no TV. But did you realize even the dearth of audio? Audio is only posted on the court's website on the Friday after an argument occurs. And, if you didn't know, for the precious few months a year they work, these guys only hear arguments on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
So, as Mauro notes, this guarantees "that the news value of the audio has dissipated." Yes, at times, and very rarely, the court will actually release audio on the same day as an oral argument. They did that for a big same-sex marriage case in 2015 — but not since.
Then there's the matter of last night's pundit predictions: How much will Gorsuch drift to the left or right when and if he sits on the court? How much of that will the public be privy to?
Tom Goldstein, a Washington attorney and founder of SCOTUSblog, the best on the Supreme Court, says, "In the past, you couldn’t confidently say much about where a nominee would end up ideologically. But now presidents — particularly Republican presidents — are much more careful."
"So this nominee is very, very likely to be a solid conservative like (Samuel) Alito and (Chief Justice John) Roberts. But being on the Supreme Court is freeing. You aren’t nearly as bound by prior precedent. So there is a real potential for some drift — whether to the right or left."
And, as Mauro puts it, "It is a gamble to assign a strict 'conservative' or 'liberal' label to a new justice, because justices do evolve over time — or at least, some do."
"Clarence Thomas famously said, 'I ain't evolving,' and he has kept that promise. Alito has also been a consistent and predictable conservative since the day he joined the court in 2006. Because of them, Republican presidents have earned a reputation for appointing justices who don't drift from their basic tenets."
But Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, angered conservatives by twice rescuing Obamacare (albeit doing it more for institutional than ideological reasons). Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, is now the perennial swing vote and a champion for gay rights.
"And then there is David Souter," Mauro added. He was the George H.W. Bush appointee who showed his liberal stripes fairly quickly. "That is why William Pryor (who was in consideration for this spot) said at a Federalist Society meeting at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, 'Please God, no more Souters.'"
Well, one thing is assured. If confirmed, Gorsuch will join a private club that mostly labors in exactly the sort of inattention that Trump himself can't tolerate. We were reminded during last night's judicial awards show.
As Simon & Garfunkel put it in a different context, no one dares disturb the sounds of silence.
Chris Matthews predicts Gorsuch doesn't make it
The MSNBC host was surprising last evening by predicting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will stand by tradition and agree to a 60-vote threshold to get the nomination through.
That means McConnell wouldn't ditch current rules about ending a potential filibuster, as he could, and force it through with a simple 51-vote majority. That's not the conventional wisdom.
"I think it's 52 votes maximum," he said about Gorsuch support. He bases his take on a belief that McConnell is forced to choose between "something he deeply believes in," the 60-vote tradition to cut off any filibuster, or giving that up to hand Trump a big early victory.
"I don't think they will get the 60 votes," said Matthews.
Bill O'Reilly demurs, saying it's 10-1 that Gorsuch makes it. Well, if you're taking the day off, here's about three hours of media reactions via SCOTUSblog, including NPR, Fox News, The New York Times, Politico, Associated Press, Forbes Law.com, ABA Journal, BuzzFeed and USA Today, among many others.
Facebook coming to your TV set?
"Facebook Inc. might be coming to a bigger small screen. The social network is developing a video-centric app for television set-top boxes, including Apple Inc.’s Apple TV, people familiar with the matter said, giving it a home for video content, as well as a new vehicle for video advertising." (The Wall Street Journal)
Consider how Facebook and Google are already dominating the digital ad market, wiping up most competitors in their midst, including newspapers. What happens if this works?
Pretty good Buffett counsel
"I can buy anything I want. I can't buy time," Warren Buffett told Charlie Rose in a session with Bill Gates. He was explaining why he's got so few meetings and other events scheduled each week, spending a lot of time just thinking. Rose thumbed through Buffett's actual pocket schedule to confirm the space-filled reality.
Buffett also said that, just like so many of us (not), he's bought $12 billion in stock since the election. (Charlie Rose)
Breitbart already chagrined with Super Bowl ad
"Budweiser Super Bowl ad: Ugly Americans harass hero immigrant." (Breitbart)
Meanwhile, Breitbart briefly ditched its aggressive populism to exult in Trump's selection of Gorsuch. It heralded his "gilded pedigree," mentioning his Columbia University, Harvard Law School and Oxford University degrees. "He would be the first Supreme Court justice in decades to hold a doctoral degree."
Who might be this unidentified source?
"If there was any question about who is largely in charge of national security behind the scenes at the White House, the answer is becoming increasingly clear: Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, a far-right media outlet, and now White House advisor." (Foreign Policy)
"Even before he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principals committee” this weekend by President Donald Trump, Bannon was calling the shots and doing so with little to no input from the National Security Council staff, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution."
It would be interesting, of course, to know the identify of this source and whether they know what they claim.
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" was so giddy about the Supreme Court pick, it opened with the Rascals' "It's a Beautiful Morning" and praised Trump's "genius" revealing it all in prime time. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt assured "the left is still losing it over the executive order on refugees."
CNN's "New Day" was immersed in the rich politics that beckon, with the claim that the Democratic "base" insists on its Senate representatives opposing Gorsuch. David Gregory, an admitted close friend of Merrick Garland, the screwed-over Obama court pick, said the White House relishes that ideological fight (with the consensus that the Republicans win).
"Morning Joe" on MSNBC underscored how this "wasn't a Breitbart pick," as Mark Halperin put it, with even Trump whisperer Joe Scarborough conceding his own surprise that Trump didn't go with a more combative conservative, notably appeals judge William Pryor. There wasn't unanimity on whether Chuck Schumer, the key Senate Democrat, will now prove to be an obstructionist. Filibuster? Can he hold members from red states?
Harvard and a "post-truth era"
There was a good Harvard symposium yesterday on journalism in a "post-truth" era, with opening remarks on the relevance of facts from Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and participation from a group including Bill Kristol, Wall Street Journal Editor Gerard Baker, Huffington Post Editor Lydia Polgreen, Nieman Foundation Curator Ann Marie Lipinski and "Reliable Sources" host Brian Stelter, among others. (YouTube)
Among the many musings: Kristol warning not to get nostalgic about the "good old days" and suggesting the conservative media machine has aided Republicans less than many assume; Polgreen warning about a "collapse in empathy in journalism"; Baker's frustration over the increasing inability to get people to agree on the facts of a situation; and Lipinski on "everything up for grabs" rhetorically with phrases like "fake news."
Polgreen even evoked the memory of Mike Royko, the late Chicago columnist who was arguably the best ever (imagine how the guy wrote five, even six columns a week and had a far higher batting average than those making big bucks to write two, a max of three). As a former friend, I wondered how many in the audience, or in the newsrooms of Vox, BuzzFeed or Vice, even know the name these days.
"Who is the Mike Royko of today?" Polgreen asked, meaning who's out there with a real blue-collar sensibility. Well, thanks to Jeff Bezos, you can go right to Amazon and purchase the best Royko compilation, "One More Time," from the University of Chicago Press. (Royko).
See what you're missing almost everywhere. There's nobody qualitatively comparable plying the trade these days.
About that "Muslim-majority" comment
Baker caused a kerfuffle in his newsroom in a memo seemingly declaring that "Muslim majority country" was not to be used in writing about Trump's immigration moves. (Poynter)
Asked by Lipinski at Harvard later Tuesday, he said that he meant that it was not to be the "only" reference to a country.
Three ink-stained cheers for Lebron James
Charles Barkley took some gratuitous shots at LeBron James, and the Cleveland superstar has had enough. "I'm not going to let him disrespect my legacy like that. I'm not the one who threw somebody through a window. I never spit on a kid. I never had unpaid debt in Las Vegas. I never said, 'I'm not a role model.' I never showed up to All-Star Weekend on Sunday because I was in Vegas all weekend partying." (ESPN)
"All I've done for my entire career is represent the NBA the right way. Fourteen years, never got in trouble. Respected the game. Print that."
Catch that? "Print that." Newspaper and magazine editors, send thank you notes. As Chicago sport radio host Dan Bernstein noted last night, "He's old enough to still default to the ink and literal press. He didn't say 'write that!' or 'post that!'"
Michael Moore on a Trump "coup"
"The U.S. is in the middle of a coup and hasn't realized, according to Michael Moore." (The Independent)
Moore was smarter than most on the left in foreseeing a possible Trump win and now is among a cadre talking coup, coup, coup. It's a bit overwrought. "If you're still trying to convince yourself that a 21st century coup is not underway, please, please snap out of it."
Note to TV folks: make sure security out front is pretty good. From Gaza City comes this:
"Dozens of relatives of Palestinians killed during the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip broke into the office of Palestine TV on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Committee of slain Palestinians’ families, Alaa al-Birawi, told Ma’an that the family members entered the building in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City, demanding to be given an opportunity to appear live on Palestine TV and discuss their demands to the Palestinian Authority." (MA'AN News Agency)
No friend of Uber
CityLab from The Atlantic has a good interview with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on why he joined immigration protests versus Trump over the weekend, why he's pissed at Uber for not attacking Trump and the challenges of being a so-called sanctuary city. (CityLab)
As for Uber allegedly undermining a taxi strike at New York's JFK International Airport and cozying up to Trump, he says:
"I sent their CEO a very stern text on Saturday night and I expressed my great disappointment not only on behalf of the city of Pittsburgh, but for every city on earth. It was more than a slap in the face. It was a complete disregard for the people who helped Uber climb the ladder, including their own tech workers, their drivers — many of whom are immigrants — and their clientele."
Yesterday Uber belatedly criticized Trump's move. (Recode)
Smart move by an Uber rival
DNAInfo in Chicago is one of the local digital news startups owned by Joe Ricketts, the paterfamilias of the Omaha-based Ricketts clan. He founded TD Ameritrade, while his kids' holdings include the Chicago Cubs and a suburban bicycle shop, along with running Nebraska (Pete is governor).
The Chicago version has a smart new sponsored entertainment feature. It allows you to pick a variety of neighborhood clubs, juke joints and concert venues, find out what's going on there and, yes, simultaneously order a Lyft to get you there. (DNAInfo)
A bridge too far for Trump
The new administration's ditching of climate change pages from websites is piddling compared to this under-reported outrage:
"Saying the measure would greatly aid efforts to combat the rise of anti-American sentiment online, the FBI announced Tuesday that it had shut down a prominent new ISIS recruitment website, www.WhiteHouse.gov."
Yes, now WhiteHouse.gov is gone.
At least, according to The Onion.