Is Clarence Thomas retiring? The media said yes, his wife said no.
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Rumor reporting in overdrive
If a tree falls in a forest and nobody's around to hear it, does it make a sound? If Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decides to retire, would anybody know? Better put, how would we know? After all, in February he broke a 10-year silence during oral arguments before the court in a criminal justice matter. (CNN) Ten years without saying a word!
But yesterday brought retirement rumors in the media — and at minimum a reminder from the press of just how big a deal any Supreme Court vacancy is on matters of public and social policy. The post-Scalia, temporarily eight-member court "left in place gun control laws in New York and Connecticut that ban military-style assault weapons like the one used in last week's massacre at an Orlando nightclub, rejecting a legal challenge by gun rights advocates." (Reuters)
The media echo chamber was in action with word that "Justice Clarence Thomas, a reliable conservative vote on the Supreme Court, is mulling retirement after the presidential election, according to court watchers." (The Washington Examiner) Ginni Thomas, the justice's wife, abruptly dismissed the notion in a Facebook post that went right after reporter Paul Bedard, a former U.S. News & World Report stalwart. "IT. IS. BOGUS! Paul Bedard needs to find a phone in his life and unnamed sources are worth as much as their transparency is." (Facebook)
This was picked up, without independent confirmation, by a slew of media outlets, including Capitol Hill publications, political blogs, serious legal outlets, California TV stations and "Fox & Friends" this morning.
Among the factors contributing to the hoopla: The real action on an issue like gun control likely rests not with Congress but with the Supreme Court. (Vox) Writing before last night's U.S. Senate vote to block a series of post-Orlando gun control proposals, Vox's Libby Nelson noted that the fate of the matter largely depends "on the outcome of the presidential election." Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would pick dramatically different justices.
So what's the bottom line of the Thomas tale? Or lines? I asked Bedard, who reported The Washington Examiner tale. As for the serious stuff, "I respect my sources as well as Ginni and Justice Thomas. Just the thought of him leaving has put the court's direction on the political front burner and conservatives are telling me today that they hope Ginni is right." As for the business about his phone, ah, well. "The funny thing is, like many reporters, I've switched more to email, but that tip came in a phone conversation. Weird, right?"
So much for this app
Here's an odd one: An app that claimed to help rescue refugees at sea was yanked from Apple's App Store after reports that, well, it didn't work as claimed. The app, called I Sea, got a lot of media attention for its "crowdsourced" modus operandi to help rescue refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. In theory, it would let you use satellite images to spot boats in peril. It was created by the Grey Digital ad agency with the Malta-based NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station. (Mashable)
Convulsed by mechanics
The canning of Donald Trump's "divisive" campaign manager in a coup overseen by Trump's kids dominated much of the morning talk on the gabfests. Political journalists love the mechanics of politics, including fundraising and internal personnel changes, and is now in hand-wringing overdrive. Everybody was gabbing about Hillary Clinton big financial lead right now and the size of her paid staff (685) versus Trump's (69). His campaign is "effectively broke," asserted John Heilemann on "Morning Joe." CNN heralded a new poll showing a Clinton lead against Trump, and a chyron blared, "CLINTON CLOBBERS TRUMP IN FUNDRAISING." And Chris Cuomo of "New Day" cautioned that the problem remains how to change Trump. "This is not about the kids," he said, even as CNN politics colleague Mark Preston intoned, "Ivanka Trump is the big winner."
Fox didn't dismiss Trump's mess, but "Fox & Friends" was big on terror and Orlando, an alleged assassination plot against Trump over the weekend, lazy government workers, the "P.C. police" going after certain dolls and an Italian ice truck parked in front on the first full day of summer. One offered Trump a warning amid the usual Clinton bashing. "If they go on this way they're going right into oblivion," said Brian Kilmeade, who also indicated he'd be having Italian ice for the first time.
Take a deep breath. As Mark Halperin cautioned on MSNBC, it's early. George H.W. Bush was way further behind much later in the campaign and won. Find a good vice presidential candidate, have a good convention and first debate against an unpopular Clinton and, well, you're back in the game.
Meanwhile, TV's self-appointed campaign tacticians proclaimed ad nauseam how Trump needs "message discipline," as put by born-again Trump critic Joe Scarborough. Well, that wasn't on display during his first big post-Lewandowski interview with Bill O'Reilly last night as he bashed Muslims, didn't back off his proposed ban and seemed to reiterate that President Obama is a shill for terrorists. (YouTube)
Cheers for Thiel, jeers for Gawker at Facebook confab
"Facebook shareholders (at least the ones not named Mark Zuckerberg) didn’t have a say in Peter Thiel’s reelection to Facebook’s board Monday, but it didn’t seem to matter. At Facebook’s annual stockholders meeting, shareholders applauded Zuckerberg’s move to reelect the controversial board member. Some even cheered Thiel on in his campaign to destroy Gawker." (BuzzFeed)
A defense, sort of, of Gawker
A former Gawker writer recalls how "in the decade since I left Gawker I haven’t always been proud to list it on my resume, but I respected the place it held in the media ecology." (Playboy) And if it were to go down the tubes, partly as a result of the Hulk Hogan case, should anybody shed crocodile tears? "Whatever happens to Gawker next, it’s hard to imagine that whoever buys it (Ziff Davis, publisher of PC Magazine has been floated as a buyer) will allow its writers to be so unbound and unvarnished — or address those writers’ lapses in judgment so unselfconsciously." There's a line, of course, between candor and recklessness.
A precedent for Trump biases
Maybe the way Trump derided American Indian tribes 20 years ago was a not-so-dry run for his anti-Muslim attacks these days. "The billionaire businessman was accused of smearing American Indian tribes as he fought to keep them from opening gambling halls north of New Jersey that he believed would threaten his three Atlantic City gambling halls, as well as one he planned to build in Connecticut." (N.J.com)
Early, resounding thumbs-down
The first official day of a corporate rebranding for Tribune Publishing — yes, Tronc Inc. — was greeted with sweeping derision, including a report from NPR's David Folkenflik, who interviewed six senior executives at different media companies (three "old" media, three "new") and couldn't find anybody with a nice thing to say about the name change or strategic shift. (NPR)
Then there were branding videos and a Monday video touting the new era to Tribune, ah, Tronc employees. That prompted a tech site's headline, "We’re still not convinced these Tronc branding videos aren’t Adult Swim parodies." (Recode) It's not good when serious folks think your video message to employees might actually be satire. Michael Ferro, the Chicago businessman who's inspired the changes (and derision), may well be more committed, not less, by a sense that he will now prove the universe wrong. The bar may be set pretty high for him and his strategic damage, ah, communications team.
A plea for different debates
Since 2006, Intelligence Squared U.S. has run about 120 debates, selling out some theaters in New York, Boston and Chicago with Oxford-style debates on big topics with really smart participants. Now it's urging the independent panel that oversees presidential debates to try that style. "Unable to rely solely on personal attacks and personality, an Oxford-style debate would force the candidates to respond to intense questions, marshal relevant facts and expose weaknesses in their opponents’ arguments." (Intelligence Squared)
Silent treatment for Trump
As of this morning, The Forward, a paper on Jewish culture in America founded in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily, won't mention him at all for 24 hours. (Poynter) It's unhappy with the venom he's unleashed toward journalists, including Jewish ones. Editor Jane Eisner told me, "We are committed to this moratorium for only a day because we do take seriously our responsibility to cover the presidential campaign from a Jewish perspective, and that means writing about Donald Trump, and the other candidates." And it's a 24-hour statement of values, "not a boycott." (The Forward)
Smart take on guns
There are a few gun control advocates who believe "focusing on an assault weapons ban is the wrong battle — both in terms of convincing everyday gun owners to support reform and in terms of the number of lives a ban might save." (The Guardian) In the start of a series on guns in America, it notes that the distinction is one "that few Democratic politicians are making — at least not explicitly." And this: "What journalists call the gun debate is not actually a debate: it’s an endless pageant of dubious statistics, performed before adjudicators who have already decided how to vote."
Droids enter the real world
Disney’s Lucasfilm and its ILMxLAB R&D unit cut a deal with Magic Leap, an augmented-reality startup that has raised nearly $1.4 billion in funding. Under the pact, the companies are forming a joint research lab at Lucasfilm’s San Francisco campus to work on storytelling. “The future of mixed reality and immersive entertainment holds incredible promise, and we are honored to work with Magic Leap to shape that future,” said Lucasfilm's boss. (Variety)
Poverty in New York City
No big city has shown a drop in poverty like New York. Now, two onetime members of Michael Bloomberg's former mayoral administration commence a four-part series in Washington Monthly on poverty by offering their explanation: Bloomberg's innovative, “data-driven” war on poverty. "Today, low-wage workers are getting extra cash in their pockets at tax time to help support their kids. New programs are helping more workers earn their associates’ degrees to boost their wages. Better access to financial education and financial services is helping families manage their budgets and even to save." (Washington Monthly)
The limits of data
Here's one of the number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight after the Cleveland Cavaliers' comeback victory over the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title: "Teams with recent championship experience tend to be money in the playoffs, and this Warriors squad seemed not to be affected much by the strength of their opponents — both of which should have made the team bigger favorites than even our models suggested. So when the winningest team in NBA history needed to win only two of five (and then one of three) games against a team it had beaten all four times they played this season — by an average of 22 points — I felt pretty good about my position. I was wrong." (FiveThirtyEight)