ESPN's new 16-part podcast is almost too incredible to believe
NBC's got the Olympics, but ESPN has its own epic.
It's just unveiled a 16-part podcast, "Pin Kings," which will also have print, digital and TV components. (ESPN) Could you possibly even make up this storyline? Two Miami high school chums, co-captains of a hotshot wrestling team, with one winding up a drug kingpin and the other a DEA agent out to get him.
The drug lord, Alex DeCubas, had "a heart of gold" and once craved to be an Olympic wrestler. He was strongly opposed to drugs while a terrific athlete. But he wound up running a giant cocaine trafficking operation generating many hundreds of millions of dollars after smuggling tons of cocaine into the country via coastal freighters.
His buddy, Kevin Pedersen, went to West Point and ended up the highly-decorated DEA agent. Dom Gorie, a classmate who wound up being commander of the Space Shuttle Discovery, says, "They had this bond. And they had a similar drive, a need for success, a demand for success."
The story is the handiwork of Brett Forrest, an ESPN The Magazine writer, and Jon Fish, an ESPN producer. Forrest was reporting in the Middle East last year when a South Florida source tracked him down "and started telling me this incredible story." He called Fish in Los Angeles at 4 a.m. Soon, they were both in Miami.
The opening 25-minute podcast is terrific. (ESPN) It's the start of a tale of "the greatest drug trafficker you've never heard of." Pedersen is retired. But where's DeCubas now? How did things wind up? Oh, and what happened when the two first ran into one another at a bar after many years? This saga of a hero and an anti-hero lays it out. It's a bit more complicated and ethically rich than some of those gauzy, up-close-and-personal NBC Olympics profiles.
Is the U.S. safer?
Fifteen years after 9/11, journalist-media entrepreneur Steve Brill uncorks a meticulously reported assessment for The Atlantic on what $1 trillion spent on homeland security has brought. (The Atlantic)
"Are We Any Safer?" was the originally planned cover headline, but Brill was not a happy camper when that was changed yesterday, to "America Will Never Be Safe," when it initially went online. For him, "It is fear-mongering and unfair to the men and women who work in homeland security and is not what I wrote." Brill stood his ground, the magazine saw his point, apologized and now it's, "Is America Any Safer?"
That's more suitable for a multi-faceted investigation that includes many dozens of interviews, including with President Obama and FBI Director James Comey, and deserves to be read in full (I had a chance to inspect a draft a while back). For example, what do you know about an entirely new federal agency called FirstNet? Ignorance might be bliss given the outrageous wastefulness it represents.
Ultimately, Brill sees the way we've dealt with the exaggerated threat of dirty bombs as a microcosm of how we've dealt with terror in general: We've improved on prevention but still fallen woefully short, including in securing radioactive material in hospitals and elsewhere. In addition, Obama hasn't really leveled with the public in a fashion that decreases terrorists' ability to create hysteria.
But the politics of doing what Brill knows needs to be done are admittedly tricky and given to demagoguery by the likes of Donald Trump. Check it out.
John Oliver kicks up a storm
John Oliver's Sunday night HBO essay on journalism and the rank stupidity of newspaper executives didn't sit well with publishers. Or at least their association. No surprise, the head of the Newspaper Association of America trade group did what he gets paid to do, namely support his members by going after Oliver. Even realizing that's the guy's job, it was a weak effort. (Poynter) Washington Post Editor Marty Baron put it succinctly in a tweet: "clueless." (@PostBaron) When I tracked him down (he was out of town), he elaborated:
"John Oliver talked about how television was dependent on the work of newspapers. He acknowledged that his own show relied heavily on newspapers for its research. He championed local newspapers in particular. He celebrated investigative journalism. And then he ended with a call for people to actually pay for newspapers so that they could continue their important work. Yes, he took some sharp jabs at some in the industry. So what? He’s a comedian! His show was hilarious — and it was a gift to journalism and newspapers.
How did the NAA respond? It criticized him. It’s hard to imagine a more inappropriate reaction. They should have written him a thank-you note." If you missed Oliver's handiwork, here it is. (Poynter) Sadly, it's right on the mark.
His "big" economic speech in Detroit yesterday? "Fox & Friends" loved it this morning. "It's a great plan for small businesses," gushed co-host Ainsley Earhardt. MSNBC was rather more dubious. So is this the plan he now sticks with, wondered Willie Geist on "Morning Joe." His frequent sidekick, Steve Rattner, the ethically challenged private equity mogul who was involved in pension fund kickback schemes, called it a "wish mash" that will "make deficits great again."
Neither Trump nor Clinton, he conceded after the topic was broached by dour Mark Halperin, is talking about entitlement reform. On CNN, amid a flurry of polls that show Clinton doing well, Errol Louis called it singing "from a standard Republican playbook." Editorially, The Wall Street Journal finds, "Progress on regulation and taxes but his trade policy is a jobs killer." (WSJ) And, no surprise, Bloomberg was nonplussed. (Bloomberg)
Anatomy of a joke
Ezra Klein of Vox does a smart interview with Trevor Noah of "The Daily Show." It includes Noah's citing an example of taking a big news story and trying to turn it into humor. (Vox)
"One was when we were talking about the shootings that were happening — Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — and it was around the notion that these cops’ body cameras at the moment of the altercation both became dislodged. 'Oh, they both became dislodged in the scuffle.'"
"I had said during the morning meeting, 'I call bullshit on that, because I’ve seen White people cameras and they never come off.' And then we just played a trailer of those GoPro ads, where people are falling down mountainsides and snowboarding and crashing through waves and mountain biking, and in every video they come out on the other side and the camera is perfectly intact and people are cheering and screaming." For him, it was injecting comedy "The right way," taking a poke at an issue while not undermining the seriousness of his argument.
An Olympic screw-up
"NBC announcer Al Trautwig said Monday he regrets tweeting that the adoptive mother and father of American gymnastics star Simone Biles were not her parents, a declaration that angered advocates for adoption." (The Associated Press)
"Ron Biles, her maternal grandfather, and his wife Nellie adopted Simone and her sister Adria in 2000 after they spent time in foster care. NBC ordered Trautwig to delete his tweet."
New York in the 1800s
Impressive. Enterprising coder Dan Vanderkam has collaborated with the New York Public Library to create a Google Street View map for the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s. "The project, called OldNYC, lets you browse 19th-century New York as easily as you would click around on Google Maps. The collection contains over 80,000 original photographs." (Tech Insider) You can check out the results very easily. (OldNYC)
Those TV ratings
"The first weekend of the 2016 Rio Olympics is over and, with final results in, we’re now getting a (clearer) broadcast picture of where these Games are headed. It ain’t London, to put it mildly, but it may be online. Also, looking over the opening weekend, Rio is way behind 2012 and 2008 and even 1992 in total primetime viewers – something that ad buyers on NBC can’t be feeling Gold medal winning about." (Deadline)
And there could even be some ad money exchanges hands: "While it's far too premature to project how the remaining 15 nights of coverage will fare, the early linear data suggests that if the ratings don't pick up soon, NBC may have to make good on a good deal of ADUs (industry argot for 'audience deficiency units')." (Ad Age)
The score on Bleacher Report
Bleacher Report, the sports site, "has continued to build its audience after a $175 million to $200 million sale to Turner in 2012, and recently snagged a promised $100 million cash infusion from its parent company. It has also tried to push beyond its early image as a 'bunch of bloggers.'" (Business Insider)
Celebration of a great life
They packed an auditorium in Chicago at a memorial service for Abner Mikva, a longtime prominent liberal politician who also wound up a respected federal judge and White House legal counsel during turbulent Clinton years. His legion of adoring family, co-workers and former mentees was there. Speakers included Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court justice; Merrick Garland, the federal judge whose nomination to the Supreme Court by President Obama is being thwarted by congressional Republicans; David Axelrod, the analyst and former Obama political strategist; and Mikva's seven grandchildren (who stole the show, each arguing why they were the favorite grandchild).
And there was his lifelong chum Newton Minow, 90, a prominent attorney and former Federal Communications Commission boss during the Kennedy presidency. They were each the child of Ukrainian immigrants and born in the same Milwaukee hospital four days apart in 1926.
Minow recalled their competing to be editor of the high school paper in Milwaukee. Mikva won out. But, "showing his political instincts," recalled Minow, Mikva named Minow sports editor "and convinced me it was a better job." Take that to heart (maybe), ambitious sports editors. But Minow did one day get to be a a real editor in chief, of the law review at Northwestern University. Alas, he noted, his beloved rival Mikva had the very same job at the University of Chicago.