The Intercept exposes Trump's tall tale on the botched Yemen raid
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British reporter Iona Craig went to the al Ghayil, the Yemeni town stormed by Navy SEALs in the raid that President Trump says was a great success even as it claimed the life of the operator whose widow was honored at his joint address to Congress.
Her reporting for The Intercept, assisted by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, would appear to demolish the Trump claims. At bare minimum, it's what Kellyanne Conway might call "alternative facts" to those her boss has proffered.
"With the SEALs taking heavy fire on the lower slopes, attack helicopters swept over the hillside hamlet above," writes Craig, formerly the Yemen correspondent for The Times of London and editor of the Yemen Times. "In what seemed to be blind panic, the gunships bombarded the entire village, striking more than a dozen buildings, razing stone dwellings where families slept, and wiping out more than 120 goats, sheep, and donkeys."
Craig, a onetime serious horse racer, was one of the last correspondents accredited in Yemen and has snuck into the country on occasion. This time she talks to many villagers and, combining those accounts with insight from current and former military officials, concludes it was not the “highly successful” operation Trump claims, "from the description of an assault on a fortified compound — there are no compounds or walled-off houses in the village — to the 'large amounts of vital intelligence' the president said were collected.”
And this: "According to a current U.S. special operations adviser and a former senior special operations officer, it was not intelligence the Pentagon was after but a key member of al Qaeda. The raid was launched in an effort to capture or kill Qassim al Rimi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the special operations adviser, who asked to remain anonymous because details behind the raid are classified."
As for the women killed, this casts doubts on the Pentagon claim that some were armed and fought U.S. forces from “pre-established positions.” But all witnesses interviewed for this piece call that balderdash, "citing a culture that views the prospect of women fighting as ‘eib’ — shameful and dishonorable — and pointing out the practical implausibility of women clutching babies while also firing rifles. A CENTCOM spokesperson refused to provide any details about female fighters to support its assertion."
The Intercept's nexus with the Pulitzer Center is revealing. The latter funds top-notch overseas journalism and has partnered with an A-list of media, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, "The NewsHour" on PBS and The Washington Post, among many others. Its track record is impressive.
This effort concludes with a tribesman who underscored that, once again, we haven't made many new friends in the region.
As he and Craig finished a chat at dusk, he declared, “If they (the SEALs) come back, tell them to bring their caskets. From now we are ready for any fight with the Americans and the dog Trump.” (The Intercept)
Bidding for Time
"A group that includes Jahm Najafi, chief executive of private investment firm Najafi Cos., and private-equity firm Pamplona Capital Management, has emerged as a bidder for Time Inc., according to people familiar with the matter." (The Wall Street Journal)
Gothamist deletes articles
"After online local news outlet DNAinfo announced Wednesday it was buying Gothamist LLC, the parent company that owns the Chicagoist and runs four other similar news websites across the country, some media observers noticed something was missing from the archives of the newly acquired sites: A number of negative stories about Joe Ricketts, DNAinfo's owner and patriarch of the family that owns a controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs, had been deleted." (Patch)
Writes Techdirt, "Put together, here's what we're left with: Gothamist proactively took down posts critical of the family that owns the company in discussions about acquiring it and attempted to explain it by stating something that isn't true. How is that not worse than if Joe Ricketts himself had demanded the takedown of the articles?"
Terrific sports journalism
The best sports journalism is, quite often, not really about sports. That's true of Marc Tracy and Dan Barry's exploration of the institutional disaster at Baylor University spawned by rape and football. "Collectively, the cases have become a cautionary parable for modern-day college athletics, one in which a Christian university seemed to lose sight of its core values in pursuit of football glory and protected gridiron heroes who preyed on women." (The New York Times) And, at the top of the pecking order, exhibiting rather gross situational ethics at times, was none other than Ken Starr, the velvet shiv of the Bill Clinton era.
Plagiarism is not confined to journalists
"Art Market Monitor (via Le Monde) reports that a French court has ruled in favor of the estate of the photographer Jean-François Bauret in a plagiarism case against the American artist Jeff Koons. Heirs to the now-deceased artist successfully argued that the 1988 Koons piece Naked is a contrefaçon (or “counterfeit”) of a 1975 photograph by Bauret, who was known for his nude portraits." (ARTnews)
Sam Donaldson on White House briefings
There's nobody in the White House press corps who can match Sam Donaldson for effectively exploiting cameras at the daily press briefing to their professional advantage. It's why one might do a double take in hearing Donaldson say the cameras should go.
In a new C-SPAN podcast interview, he says that he very belatedly agrees with Mike McCurry, who believes he erred 22 years ago in approving cameras as a Bill Clinton press secretary. In sum, it's a belief that theatrics have gone up, lack of substantive candor have gone down.
Yes, he had a self-interest that the TV folks could "show our wares," said the longtime ABC News stalwart now retired in New Mexico. But, "I think they've turned into a P.R. show by the press secretary and a demonstration by some reporters to show how tough they are," says Donaldson, who was barely accused of erring to the side of the understated in his public performances. (C-Span)
"Sam Donaldson covered 8 presidents and his presence was legendary at The White House," reminds C-SPAN's Steve Scully, a former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association who hosts "The Sidebar" podcast. "He knew what questions to ask and more importantly, how to ask them. So yes, it is fascinating to now hear his thoughts today on televised briefings."
Of course, you could argue that the reflexive evasions, and deceits, of the Trump White House argue for more, not less coverage. Seeing can be believing.
And, as Jonathan Alter tells me, "Televising the briefing has only one benefit — material for SNL, which is no small thing when we all need the laughs from Melissa McCarthy. But Spicer lies nearly as much as his boss and spends the rest of the time spinning, which means he's close to useless in helping provide an accurate picture of what the Trump Administration is doing to the country. If the briefings aren't televised, fewer reporters will go, freeing up time for them to do more real reporting (and there has been some great work) instead of stenography."
A meal that Anthony Bourdain apparently missed
Got any Netflix stock?
"On the eight-year anniversary of the bull market following the 2009 stock market bottom, the 'Fast Money' traders said Netflix is the stock to buy out of the six best-performing stocks since the financial crisis." (CNBC)
New tool looks like the old one
"Google’s workplace tools, called G Suite, is splitting its Hangouts app into two parts — Hangouts Meet for video chat, and Hangouts Chat — which looks a lot like Slack.” Its “rooms" and threaded conversations don't enthrall Recode.
The morning babble
"Let's talk about Obamacare" is how "Fox & Friends'" Ainsley Earhardt opened the show this morning, like so many moms and dads at breakfast tables (not). A few minutes later, Stuart Varney heralded how an economic "explosion of confidence and optimism precisely coincides with the election of Donald Trump on Nov. 8th." So call your broker, tell them Stu sent you and invest the kids' college fund in the market.
CNN's "New Day" went with the network's rather complex (or just confusing) tale — a follow to stories on Slate and The New York Times — on the FBI looking into an "odd" computer relationship between a Russian bank and Trump's organization.
It involves a computer server, with reporters Pamela Brown and Jose Pagliery both intriguing but, ah, well, complicated about a probe involving the FBI's counter-intelligence unit. "There could be an innocuous explanation," said Brown, who can't be accused of a hard sell on the tale.
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" was aghast over the ineptitude of the Trump White House of letting Michael Flynn into their midst even as he was getting paid big bucks as a foreign lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign in which Trump was bashing Hillary Clinton "pay to play." And there was lots of Obamacare talk, with Joe Scarborough reminding us (did you know?!) that he was once a congressman.
A real live broadsheet newspaper
The aforementioned Jon Alter got home to Montclair, New Jersey Thursday to find the first edition of a new broadsheet weekly, Montclair Local. (Poynter) It's a noble attempt to fill a void in local coverage in a lovely 36,000-populaton suburb that's got so many journalists, The New York Times could probably get by with just its staff who live there.
It's initially financed by a couple without any media background but concerned, as were others, with a decline in local coverage partly explained by Gannett cuts at the mainstay Montclair Times. It will be printed at a Middletown, New York newspaper and delivered by the Postal Service.
Alter loved his first edition and Merrill Brown, a journalist-entrepreneur who just finished five years as de facto founder of the Montclair State University School of Communication and Media, says, "Too print-centric will fail from a business standpoint. But the region needs new voices and I am hopeful that this team is creating one."
Headline of day
"I don’t trust anyone — except my wife."
That's Republican consultant William F. B. O'Reilly in a Newsday op-ed on why he doesn't trust Trump's claims of Obama wiretaps, or intelligence agencies' denials, or clergy, pollsters, judges, Mark Levin, Bill Cosby, you name it. (Newsday)
Don't you wish you could walk out of some meetings?
Miffed with how you're treated in the newsroom? "American International Group Inc. Chief Executive Peter Hancock, apparently having lost the faith of the insurer’s directors, quit at a board meeting Wednesday where his future was being discussed, according to people familiar with the matter." (The Wall Street Journal)
As tipped here, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is conveniently claiming he's got to take a smaller plane for a big Asia trek and thus probably can't accommodate the traditional press pool. (Poynter)
CNN's Jake Tapper rightly tweeted that this was insulting "to any American who is looking for anything but a state-run version of events." The logistics and costs of getting to where he's going are formidable for any but the most well-heeled media outlets. Even then, it might be very difficult in following a man employing what seems an ExxonMobil School of Media Deflection from his previous gig.
Jonathan Salant finished his White House pool duty yesterday by telling colleagues at 6:01 p.m. that there was a so-called lid called and his day of "covering" Trump was done. Then came this:
"In the words of the former WNEW-TV 10 O'Clock News anchor Bill Jorgensen, 'thanking you for your time this time 'til next time.'"
Ah, Jorgensen retired in 1987. Sheesh, to think I get accused of dated cultural references! So as the late Roger Grimsby, a wonderfully cynical Jorgensen competitor of sorts at WABC-TV (who died in 1995), signed-off, "Hoping your news is good news," have a good weekend.
Correction: A previous version of this newsletter referred to "Sam Donald." We meant Sam Donaldson. A previous version of this story also implied that Joe Ricketts had a hand in deleting articles from Gothamist about him. That is not the case.