Inside the R.N.C.’s huge, exhausting echo chamber
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CLEVELAND — The Republican National Convention is American media's version of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: a confounding malady whose underlying cause is unclear. It's in evidence once again today, with thousands of journalists exhausted despite a paucity of actual news to cover.
Days are long and include filing print and video stories on multiple platforms, chatting up delegates and one another (more often one another) and climaxing with a made-for-primetime TV event at night. It may then mean hauling your butt 30 or 40 miles to a motel bed, given the shortage of accommodations in the city.
By early Monday evening, I was already watching hollowed-eyed folks ambling about a garage retrofitted as a dank media center adjacent to the Quicken Loans Arena. As I sat nestled on a metal stool at a high-top metal table, squeezed among the small outposts of Twitter, Breitbart and SiriusXM Radio, I felt like a security guard at a combo seniors home-elementary school. There was Ted Koppel passing by. I bid Dan Rather hello. There was Jeff Greenfield.
Yes, it was elite media surfacing to be interviewed by other media, sometimes about the media. But, most of all, there were armies of 20-something producers, gofers, reporters and digital aides de camp, working their smartphones, laboring on digital graphics, maybe serving as ambitious lieutenants to politicians as the boss prepared talking points for an inconsequential interview — and, poor things, looking harried and weary in the process.
I turned to Ben Mankiewicz, a host on both Turner Classic Movies and The Young Turks network, a few hours after he'd interviewed me (yes, yes, it's incestuous) on The Young Turks. That had brought a briefly startling moment to fit my thesis: the cameraman, tired and dehydrated, collapsed in the middle of the taping. She'll be fine. She was replaced a few minutes later and viewers won't know a thing after judicious editing.
"The idea that thousands of media are here covering an event, working incredibly hard, for 12 and 14 hour days, for an event that generates almost no news, it's crazy," he said. "So you fill time by talking to one another. And it all feeds what Trump wants. Nothing happens and we oblige" by generating more publicity for him.
An hour later I was leaving the media center, having commiserated with CNN's Jake Tapper about the lack of a bathroom in what is, after all, a garage (we'd apparently both exhibited remarkable gastrointestinal self-discipline). Nearing the final cordon of security outside, I spied an international example of the press echo chamber: a clearly delighted Hungarian TV reporter interviewing the just-arriving Charlie Rose. Maybe it's a slow news week in Budapest.
The first convention evening brought all the code words for America going to hell; the perils of diversity; and the supposed cop-killing results of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was referred to as "anarchy" by Wisconsin sheriff David Clarke Jr., Fox News' favorite Obama-bashing law enforcement official.
I was at dinner with a German TV crew when Clarke launched into his well-received harangue. Looking up from his ribs, the Berlin-based cameraman offered a simple assessment after a long 24 hours of work at a quintessentially American spectacle.
"It's a sh*tshow."
Melania Trump, by night
The initial media consensus, at times a bit grudging, was that she did just fine. Even conservatives who disdain Trump seemed to offer a concession, as did CNN's S.E. Cupp, that hers was a "serviceable speech." Mike Murphy, the Republican strategist and writer who also hates Trump, praised her on MSNBC and wondered if Trump's campaign will now "evolve in this direction," meaning be a little bit warmer and more cuddly. Delegates "hailed Melania Trump’s optimistic, positive speech." (The Atlantic)
Pundits compared it to Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech not knowing something was very amiss. Then there came Slate's take, genteelly titled "Melania Trump’s Pathetic Attempt to Humanize Her Husband." It argues, "Melania’s speech was just as morally questionable as Rudy Giuliani’s Mussolini-not-so-lite speech that preceded it."
"The most striking feature of Melania’s speech was the lack of specifics: Perhaps because her husband is a gruesome demagogue rather than a halfway-decent person, there were no humanizing anecdotes or sweet stories to tell." (Slate)
It was a minority take amid bipartisan punditry accolades. Perhaps we've set the oratorical bar rather low for our public personages, including former Slovenian supermodels.
Melania Trump, in the light of day
"PLAGIARISM" was the banner across CNN's website after reports of Melania lifting a chunk of her speech from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention address. (Politico) Even a 2008 top Obama aide, CNN's David Axelrod, had missed the commonality. The revelation came through Jarrett Hill, self-described "Host. Journalist. Interior Designer. DIY Enthusiast. Dope Cook. Carb-assassin. Mindfully daring greatly." (@JarrettHill) Who is he? "Jarrett Hill...has a widely varied career in video, media, and interior design, and he’s written negative comments about Donald Trump in the past." (Heavy) His website is largely devoted to home design and he's done some work for The Huffington Post.
"Fox & Friends" exulted over the speech, by and large, but even co-host Brian Kilmeade said, "I am astounded that she plagiarized parts of the speech and the speechwriter has people to answer to." Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg, a frequent defender of the faith, lamented on "Morning Joe" what "a punch to the solar plexus this is...Building momentum is very difficult after something like this."
Joe Scarborough said that, in a normal campaign, somebody would be fired by 9 a.m. as you quickly sought to mitigate the damage. We shall now see. With all those smart Trump kids, and all those college educations, you figure somebody might have checked LexisNexis.
Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort told CNN's Chris Cuomo this morning that it was "absurd" to think that there was anything nefarious at play. "What she used was common words." Making the media rounds at the sunrise hour, he refused to concede this was plagiarism. Huh? No hint of shame there. "It's doubling down" on a lie, noted Scarborough. Very Trumpean. Blue cops matter, facts don't. The New York Daily News cover has it right with a photo of a beaming Donald and Melania on stage and the headline, "Thanks, Mrs. Obama." (@DylanByers)
Netflix misses numbers, kind of blames the press
"Netflix blew its Q2 numbers: It wanted to add 2.5 million subscribers and it only added 1.7 million. 'We are growing, but not as fast as we would like or have been,' CEO Reed Hastings said in his quarterly investor letter." (Recode) Who's at fault? "Hastings blames the media, sort of. He says reports about the price hike Netflix is instituting this year, which raises the price of its most popular plan by a dollar a month, confused people and got them to stop paying even before their actual price hike kicked in."
Marissa Mayer's possible farewell
The seemingly in-over-her-head Yahoo boss delivered her 18th quarterly earnings report. It was crummy. She did not provide an update on the sales process, even though the final round of bids for groups interested in buying Yahoo are reportedly due on Monday. "But after summing up the quarter's highlights, Mayer launched into what sounded a lot like a farewell speech. 'I want to share a few closing thoughts,' Mayer said, noting that since taking the reins, 'we set forth a plan to return this iconic company to growth over multiple years.'" (Business Insider) She insisted the company is better off than when she took over. Wall Street disagrees.
Google's GOP trends
By late afternoon Monday, Google Trends was reporting that the top search GOP convention speech was "Clint Eastwood 2012." The biggest search questions? A) "What is the RNC convention?" B) "When does the RNC convention start?" and C) "When is Peter Thiel speaking at RNC?" As for Melania Trump, the leading questions were A) "Where is she from?" and B) "Can Melania Trump vote?"
Twitter numbers crunching
Sitting near some Twitter folks, I learned this: "Users who tweet about Trump are more likely to tweet about: Terrorism, foreign affairs, immigration, U.S. economy and reproductive rights." Then, "users who tweet about Clinton are more likely to Tweet about: Foreign affairs, healthcare, terrorism, U.S. economy reproductive rights."
Skunk at Trump's dinner party
"It’s a party right out of his nightmares, and Bill Kristol can’t even find a way in." (The Washington Post) Yeah, being stuck in a long security line seemed in sync with The Weekly Standard editor's isolation from the Trump bandwagon he's fought to derail. “'It’s the last gasp of civilization, it’s the end of the Roman Empire' he said, standing outside Quicken Loans Arena more than three hours before the Republican National Convention kicked off its celebration of Donald Trump. 'Oh my, is this the line of people to get in?'"
Telling readers what you think (sort of)
Responding to an ESPN reader who doesn't like the new site site on sports, race and culture, "The Undefeated," being on his webpage, ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady says he gets regular emails of a similar thrust about FiveThirtyEight and the Body Issue, as well as tales about legal issues, labor talks, etc. But consumers know that they have many options and could go elsewhere. (ESPN) "I think these emails often reflect something deeper: a frustration about what these consumers view as an increasing effort on ESPN’s part to steer into politics and culture, and — based on the majority of feedback on this topic — a feeling that the network stands clearly on one side of the political aisle and is less tolerant of those who do not share those perceived values. ...I’ll revisit that topic between now and Election Day."
When it comes to "The Undefeated," let's hope the revisitation doesn't discount one explanation: unadulterated bigotry.
After layoffs, a shakeup
"Digital publisher IBT Media on Monday announced a new executive management structure that represents a step back for Etienne Uzac, who co-founded the company in the mid-aughts with Johnathan Davis and has served as chief executive." (Ad Age)
Pokemon Go overdose
Redef's Jason Hirschhorn vents, "Pokemon GO finally got on my nerves. I was taking a late afternoon walk and all of the sudden tons of kids raided the track I walk at. They looked like a cross between One Direction and Good Charlotte. The raid was so sudden it was like a troupe of dancers in a musical rushing the stage. Like the gang scene in "West Side Story." Four times they walked into me because they were looking at their phones. They were like zombies. Creepy. They reminded me of the Guilty Remnant from HBO's "The Leftovers." Usually, I'm alone there with 80-year-olds. They swarmed. I had visions of The Runts from 'City of God.'" (Redef)