How Pete Souza turned into a national safety valve in the conflict-ridden Age of Trump
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His Obama book is a surprise blockbuster
There are many high-profile vehicles for opposition in the early Age of Trump: Bernie Sanders, Paul Krugman, Stephen Colbert, CNN/MSNBC hosts galore, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, you name it. The most unlikely may be Pete Souza.
"I needed something to smile about," Cathy Stix, a Chicago mom seated next to me, said Wednesday evening as she listened admiringly to Souza as he packed yet another hall with a presentation of "Obama: An Intimate Portrait," his blockbuster, high-end book of 300 photos taken while chief photographer during the Obama presidency. "It's just been so dark and dismal," she said.
The folks at Fox News, Breitbart and the White House might roll their eyes. But Souza is a two-legged vehicle for frustration and instant Obama nostalgia among enough people to place his finely constructed book high on the Amazon list and shortly to be No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. He's the author as safety valve, as Obama acolytes seek some way to vent frustration with no polling places until next year.
He is an intense and meticulous professional with a creativity that belies an often expressionless, even dour mien. I know since he worked for me in The Chicago Tribune Washington bureau and won our trust and admiration despite his lapdog loyalty to the Boston Red Sox (I am a high-minded Yankees diehard and rarely magnanimous toward New England's team).
He labored mightily for Obama, taking 1.9 million photos over eight years (in all, his operation produced 4 million photos, all with separate captions, that are now housed in the digitally challenged National Archives). His access was perhaps unprecedented, be it in national security meetings, vacations, private family moments, you name it. He's labored hard on a multifaceted, obviously sympathetic portrayal that reflects a great eye for the poignant, the historic and the familial. There's a meticulous attention to detail that had him spend three weeks in Italy during the summer as he oversaw initial production at a publishing house that specializes in fine art and coffee table books.
It's already in a fourth printing and, safe to say, the Italians should be collecting overtime due to unexpected demand for a book whose sales reflect our current politics but also his strategic use of social media. He's got more than one million Instagram followers, largely as a result of adroit trolling of Trump meant to underscore how Obama is (for him and followers) mostly everything that Trump is not.
He can exhibit acidic subtlety, with even his one and only shot of Trump in the book. It's not the almost pro forma traditional shot of the two men face to face in the Oval Office after the election. No, it's one merely displaying the back of Trump's head as he peered inside a room during his post-election White House meeting ("That's all I'm going to say," Souza said, letting the image tell you all about his minimal respect for Trump).
It's an eclectic presentation that's about the photos, not Souza, which he clearly knows even if he does have a healthy ego, like so many great professionals. My personal favorites from his presentation before the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics were as atmospherically divergent as one could find, even in eight years traveling the world and getting a commitment up front that he could go virtually anywhere, be anywhere to document a presidency (it's quite amazing).
There was a montage of images from the Situation Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. He explained how the most famous shot was taken during a 10-minute period where there was no video link since the Navy SEALS were in the compound. He explained how there were three hours of meetings of the key national security and West Wing officials before the raid, and six hours of them after (and how what's known as the Situation Room, singular, is actually three separate conference rooms).
He was arresting as he paused on the most famous shot — remember the wide-eyed intensity and anxiety on the face of Hillary Clinton? — and noted how it was ultimately about the most powerful people in the most powerful government on Earth being powerless. Remember, too, about the dramatic helicopter crash that preceded the raid. This mission was no done deal, he noted to a crowd that included Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama's mom, who entered alone and was sitting by herself in the front row until a friend plunked herself down.
As for the polar opposite, there was Obama happily thrust into being substitute coach for Sasha's middle school basketball team when the regular coach couldn't make a Saturday game. They'd been undefeated but now were losing, prompting a fiercely competitive dad to call a time out, Souza said, and talk to the team as if this were Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Vladimir Putin, the economy, the Middle East, auto bailouts didn't matter in the slightest at this very moment.
Elizabeth Taylor, co-editor of The National Book Review, says the answer is simple about the book's huge success: "Author with a platform and a beautifully produced book that strikes a chord of nostalgia."
"Even the best books don’t sell themselves, so why did Pete Souza’s book pop — especially when so many beautiful books of photography head to the remainder table? It’s the photogenic Obama family made iconic at spontaneous moments, and he caught President Obama from an unexpected perspective at occasions."
"These photographs tap into that Camelot vein so deeply embedded into the American mind. And it feels special — not a product, but an exquisitely produced book ... the distinctive font — Gill Sans – with the book printed on art paper in Italy by a company called Veronalibri."
"Pete may have built his reputation by being on the sidelines, out of the spotlight, but his adept use of social media — Instagram, particularly — has won him a huge cult following. And that’s a great platform for selling books!"
As for Souza's finale, it was neither grand nor ineffective. It was Souza saying simply, "Here's my advice: vote. Because elections matter," whether for the White House or local school board. Then, just a few minutes later, he was signing copies for the more than 100 attendees who'd quickly lined up before returning to the chill outside.
Koch Brothers back bid to buy Time
The resumes may continue to fly from troubled Time Inc., which has stumbled mightily, seemingly botched previous sale overtures and recently disclosed an almost predictable downsizing in bodies and frequency of publication dates for signature magazines. The Koch Brothers are sniffing around, says Bloomberg:
"Charles and David Koch, the billionaire U.S. industrialist brothers, are backing publisher and broadcaster Meredith Corp.’s revived bid to purchase Time Inc., according to a person familiar with the matter."
"The Kochs have tentatively agreed to support Meredith’s offer with an equity injection of more than $500 million, the person said, confirming an earlier New York Times report. The person asked not to be identified because the matter is private."
"An email to the billionaire brothers’ business, Koch Industries Inc., wasn’t immediately answered. A Time representative declined to comment and an email to Meredith outside of business hours wasn’t immediately returned."
Roy and Kayla Moore's lawsuit threats
So not only did Roy Moore threaten a lawsuit or two, but his wife got into the act with a goofy Facebook posting that appeared outraged that Washington Post reporters had crossed state lines and were not just phoning citizens but were even emailing them (perhaps from afar) in the threatening act of journalism. Some legal stories have inherent complexity. This does not.
George Freeman, former longtime chief attorney at The New York Times, says, "This sounds like it’s from Trump’s go-to-the-mat playbook, but any decent lawyer will strongly advise Moore not to go forward with a lawsuit."
"After all, threats are easy to make: Weinstein threatened the Times with a libel suit in the first week (as Trump had threatened the Times during the campaign when incidents of his sexual shenanigans were reported) but there was no follow-through on either — other than that Weinstein’s lawyer resigned," said Freeman, who now runs the New York-based Media Law Resource Center.
Says Michael Dorf, a Chicago attorney and free speech specialist (he also handled President Obama's election law matters), "It would be great, though unlikely, if Moore actually decided to sue the Washington Post. If I were the Post's lawyers in that situation, I’d argue for skipping the filing of a motion to dismiss, which they’d win summarily, and instead let the case proceed. The news (and entertainment) value of putting Moore under oath in a deposition would be worth the cost of the litigation."
(Among those Roy Moore has threatened is Alabama Media Group, which is part of Advance Local, which in turn is part of Advance Publications, along with Condé Nast and American City Business Journals.)
How Moore's attorney stepped into it, bigtime
As The Hill (among an army of others) noted, "An attorney for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore seemed to suggest Wednesday that MSNBC host Ali Velshi's 'background' might help the journalist understand why the Republican nominee would date underage women."
You not need qualify with "seemed to suggest."
“'Culturally speaking there’s differences. I looked up Ali’s background, and wow, that’s awesome that you have got such a diverse background; it’s really cool to read through that,' attorney Trenton Garmon said when asked why Moore would need permission from girls' mothers to date them."
“'What does Ali Velshi’s background have to do with dating children, 14-year-old girls?' co-host Stephanie Ruhle interjected, and correctly so. Velshi was born in Kenya and raised in Canada.
“'In other countries, there’s arrangement through parents for what we would refer to as consensual marriage,' Garmon said."
National Book Awards
As a clearly "glitz"-conscious NPR reports, "At a glitzy gala in New York City on Wednesday night, four writers emerged with one of the world's most illustrious literary prizes, the National Book Award: Jesmyn Ward's 'Sing, Unburied, Sing,' won for fiction; Masha Gessen's 'The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,' for nonfiction; Frank Bidart's 'Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016,' for poetry; and Robin Benway's 'Far from the Tree,' for young people's literature.
Gessen is with The New Yorker, as is Evan Osnos, who won for nonfiction in 2014 for his "Age of Ambition," on China.
And, lest one think this is a politics-free event, National Review writes that this is "yet another prestigious American institution that has fallen prey to radical leftism, complete with a farcical judging process, all largely funded and overseen by America’s major publishers, who perhaps need to be reminded that conservatives buy a lot of books. It represents how the definition of merit itself has been twisted by our elite cultural institutions to undermine not only conservatives but anyone who does not share their radical political vision."
Martha MacCallum on sexual harassment at Fox
A few weeks back, the Los Angeles Times cartoonist-commentator David Horsey crafted an especially awful effort on men, women, Sarah Sanders and Fox News, including how women somehow need to know all men aren't alike and nobody in his own circle of “accomplished” fellows would dare "harass a woman at work or sexually exploit a woman under his supervision.” If you fortunately missed his handiwork, take a few seconds to gag at this.
Now Martha MacCallum of Fox, whose resume includes stints at The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, responds and quickly notes these Horsey words: “Much like Roger Ailes when he was stocking the Fox News lineup with blond Barbie dolls in short, tight skirts, the president has generally exhibited a preference for sleek beauties with long legs and stiletto heels to represent his interests and act as his arm candy. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and wife Melania are the apotheosis of this type. By comparison, [Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee] Sanders looks more like a slightly chunky soccer mom who organizes snacks for the kids’ games.”
MacCallum goes on, "While the cartoonist and political commentator rightfully apologized to Huckabee Sanders and removed the lines from his column, the women of Fox News — commodified as 'Blonde Barbie Dolls' — also deserve a public apology. (When pressed, Horsey finally expressed remorse for his comments about Fox News hosts, but did not apologize to me or any other current Fox News anchors directly.)"
Later, she writes, "Horsey’s column lands hard in an ongoing national conversation about the treatment of women in the workplace. At Fox News, we faced our own realities about sexual harassment. For many, the stories we saw written about our workplace felt alien to us. The Fox News that I know and work in is a team of producers, technicians, photographers, truck operators and production managers who barely have time to eat lunch, much less engage in bad behavior. Obviously, there are well-documented exceptions. Still, as I watch these stories explode across Hollywood and Capitol Hill, I believe we are at a watershed moment in the conversation."
And, "I believe that this national conversation will lead us to a better place. Let’s hope the light shed on sexual harassment and assault will disinfect the darkest of places in offices across the country. I want my daughter to live in a world where she never has to fear that this will happen to her, and, if it does, she will know that speaking out will not harm her or her career in any way."
Rolling Stone and lust
You can find this in The Atlantic: "The Lust in the Heart of Rolling Stone — The editor Jann Wenner has been accused of trading work for sex — as a new book describes his 'jovial sexual harassment' and other forms of self-gratification."
Understanding Roy Moore and voter self-interests
Here's an idea: Journalists understanding human motivations do better by not just dissecting polling but reading Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. The notion surfaced after I listened to two Northwestern academics —one an economist, the other a Slavic languages and literature expert — discuss the need for the humanities and economics to learn from one another. It's all more complicated than understanding economic self-interests, so perhaps political analysts should learn from Russian writers of the past (presumably as opposed to Russian hackers of the present). Here's a U.S News & World Report opus.
A fabulous interactive tool
Anybody who runs an organization with a website should check out this interactive effort from The New York Times on "Every Tax Cut and Tax Increase in the House G.O.P. Bill and What It Would Cost."
This is the level at which some organizations are playing. It would be foolish not to think you had best aspire to the sort of work pulled off here by Alicia Parlapiano, a graphics editor and reporter covering politics and policy from Washington, and Adam Pearce, a graphics editor at the paper. It's either that or getting left in the dust.
Nate Silver on Roy Moore's chances
"Let’s say that without a write-in, the odds are 60 percent that Moore wins and 40 percent that Jones wins and that with a write-in, the odds are 50 percent (Alabama Democratic Senate nominee Doug) Jones, 25 percent Moore, and 25 percent Strange. So, sure, the write-in campaign makes Jones more likely to win. But it reduces Moore’s chances by more than it helps Jones’s chances — and if you’re truly indifferent between Jones and Moore, the trade-off is worth it for you."
"Then again, it wasn’t so long ago that another Republican was credibly accused of sexually assaulting multiple women just a month or so before a major election. Many Republicans legislators called for the candidate to drop out. Instead the candidate stayed in the race and won — and the claims are rarely discussed today. As was the case with Trump, Republicans may decide that the only thing worse than living with Roy Moore is living without him."
Here's Silver's whole shebang.
And how might one avoiding reading this?
The Marshall Project headline does stray into the vague or ambiguous: "Confess, or 'They’ll Fucking Give You the Needle' — An idle threat, but the teenage suspect confessed."
The superb nonprofit on criminal justice, headed by former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, features a tale that opens, "Recent research tells us that false confessions are more common than we previously thought and that teenagers, in particular, are vulnerable to the kind of police coercion that brings them about. The problem has been particularly acute in Chicago, where incidents of false confession, especially those involving juvenile suspects in Cook County, reportedly occur at far higher rates than they do in other jurisdictions around the country."
Sean Hannity willing to let voters vote
The Roy Moore firewall that is Breitbart News reported on the Roy Moore firewall that is Fox News as it relayed word that Sean Hannity has concluded "that the voters of Alabama will ultimately make the right decision and the election is up to the voters of the state, not anyone else." Whew.
Hannity had given Moore — get that, he gave Moore — a 24-hour "ultimatum" to clear up inconsistencies in his story. They do not appear cleared up but self-appointed state clerk Hannity is willing to let Election Day proceed in Alabama. Fingers crossed he gives a similar authorization for our teen's belated birthday party Saturday. Yes, there are inconsistencies into why we're late. But let's just do the party.
Evan Spiegel's stumbles
Recode asserts that Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel's "decision to rebuild the app just nine months into Snap’s life as a public company has led some to question whether or not Spiegel is truly the product savant he’s been made out to be."
Yes, some of its stuff is fabulous. "They just aren’t necessary to enough people — or defensible enough to prevent copycats. Snap’s product problem is a problem of scale and utility, not creativity."
From Andy Borowitz
"Trump Warns That Dumping Roy Moore Could Start a Dangerous Trend of Believing Women"
He elaborates on Trump:
"He said that he was considering a number of measures to stem the tide of women’s credibility, including an executive order banning women from giving believable accounts to the press. 'That’s something we’re looking into,' he indicated."