Let's talk about that photo of Al Franken groping a sleeping woman
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Maddow, Al Franken and that photo
"This is my life now," Rachel Maddow quipped with a certain melancholy Thursday evening, kidding on the square as she recounted the latest on Roy Moore and belatedly the new stuff on Sen. Al Franken. She didn't get to Franken until 29 minutes into her show — there was no such reluctance at Fox for its hosts — and, when she did, inadvertently raised an interesting journalism question about The Photo:
"I have to tell you, had the photo not been distributed by the woman who is being mistreated in this photo, I don't think there's any circumstances under which I would show it," Maddow said. "But because she is the one who made this publicly available today, and she wanted it to be seen, here it is."
And, soon, there came a tweet (right after 10 p.m.) from the Leader of the Free World. Yes, Germany's Angela Merkel.
No, no, it was actually Donald Trump. He exhibited no such disinclination over the photo as he tweeted, "The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4,5 & 6 while she sleeps....?"
Maddow's candid, if by now merely theoretical, hesitance was rather more interesting than a scolding from the most famous former "Access Hollywood" guest. You could read various explanations into it, as compared to the transparent Trump bloviating.
Absent the approval of the victim, might one have otherwise deemed it an invasion of privacy, vaguely akin to naming a rape victim? Legally, Maddow was correct. The woman, radio talk show host Leeann Tweeden, circulated the photo herself. Ethically? What should one do, regardless of her consent? A lawyer for a prominent media organization says it's degrading and juvenile. A description would make the point, perhaps even being worse for Franken.
I asked a major market broadcast TV news director. He didn't have a problem with showing it, regardless of her permission. The woman's not naked, he's being a total and inappropriate buffoon (at very best), so "Why not show it if you feel it reveals something about Franken" even if it didn't come at the behest of the victim?
Al Tompkins, an esteemed member of the Poynter Institute faculty who spends a lot of time consulting with TV newsrooms, says, "The victim has the call on this one. First, it is her photo not a photo in a government archive."
"But it is also a way of giving the victim power over the circumstance. To release it without her consent might re-victimize her."
For sure, he says, "There might be outlandish circumstances when this might not be the only decision. If there was overwhelming public importance in such an image it could be different. But such an image would have to be proof of information the public truly needed to know. Just being interesting or topical is not enough to run the image without the woman’s consent."
But it is out there and we are talking about it and trying to update what's up with Franken, Moore, Harvey Weinstein, various journalists, various Silicon Valley bigshots, on and on and on. Grabbing, groping, raping, you name it.
Yup, this is our life now.
A clarification about ESPN and concussions
An opening item here Wednesday about "Requiem for a Running Back," a terrific documentary on the NFL and brain injuries, included the filmmaker's negative comments about ESPN coverage of the subject. She was wrong and I was wrong in not double-checking and calling her on it. Here's my story with Rebecca Carpenter's remarks.
The big get bigger
As Poynter noted, the Federal Communications Commission predictably relaxed ownership rules that will, among other matters, likely speed the purchase of Tribune Media and its big market TV stations by Sinclair, whose right-leaning ideological slant is clear. To the election victors go the spoils, and long-time small-market broadcaster Sinclair is poised to enter a very much larger universe, notably with big stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg underscored, "Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. have looked into acquiring a big portion of 21st Century Fox Inc., swooping in after talks to sell film and television assets to Walt Disney Co. cooled, according to people familiar with the matter." CNBC and The Wall Street Journal broke the story about the same time and Fox's stock went north, meaning Rupert Murdoch is even richer this morning.
A case study in media imprecision
Education blogger Alexander Russo explores how one line in a Politico profile of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos resulted in apparently misguided stories that she's not long for the job. "How the DeVos resignation rumor went viral — and what to do next time" is his opus in The Grade.
What was the line that Russo argues was the hitching post for stories suggesting she was a short timer, with one in Salon declaring, "Officials expect DeVos to Resign"? It's this Politico line:
“In Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long,” said Tom Toch, a former education journalist who now runs an education think tank at Georgetown.
As Russo notes, "Among the outlets that posted a version of the DeVos resignation piece were MassLive, HuffPost (in the form of a contributor’s blog post), and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution." And one reporter told him, "Nothing would surprise me at this point. Anything can and will happen.”
Nate Silver on Franken
No sooner had Al Franken become the hot social media story than Nate Silver weighed in with the politics of it all via @NateSilver538.
"If Al Franken were to resign — and Tweeden's accusations seem highly credible — Minnesota Gov. Dayton (D) would appoint an interim replacement." He wrote, "Then there'd be a special election as part of next's November midterms to fill out the remainder of Franken's term, which ends in 2020."
And the bottom line: "So it wouldn't surprise me to see Schumer look to push Franken out, since Democrats will probably hold the seat anyway through 2020. ... Democrats have a pretty deep bench in Minnesota and would be favored to win that 2018 special election."
CBS News' Rhodes on facts and digital platforms
Speaking at the Committee to Protect Journalists annual dinner in New York, CBS News chief David Rhodes said, "Like all of the news organizations here tonight, we support journalists willing to take risks on behalf of their readers, listeners and viewers — and their right and need to be informed."
"It is our job to fight for these journalists to work in as safe an environment as possible — here and abroad. It is also our obligation to make sure their work is presented in as safe and credible environment as possible."
"Look, good reporting is built on a foundation of journalistic standards and practices, which news organizations take great pains to adhere to. That is not the case with all platforms."
"It pains me when our solid, fact-based — fact-checked — reporting appears online alongside demonstrably false items. We are being responsible in our journalism. Technology platforms need to do their part."
When I tracked him down last evening, he wasn't cutting those "technology platforms" — of course, Facebook and Google decline the notion of being media companies — any slack. He recalled how during the Las Vegas tragedy, he routinely saw CBS News pieces on YouTube adjacent to the likes of "What they don't want you to know about the Vegas shooter," and other junk.
"They aren't really serious about fixing it. And yet they want all our content on their platforms."
Understanding the disputed Russia investigation on Trump
You've probably heard of that investigation of Trump's links to Russia done by a private Washington firm started by journalists and named Fusion GPS. It relied on a former British spy, Christopher Steele. If you really want to understand it all, and Steele, than your long read of the weekend should be The Guardian's "How Trump walked into Putin’s web" by Luke Harding.
"At the same moment Steele said goodbye to official spying, another figure was embarking on a new career in the crowded field of private business intelligence. His name was Glenn Simpson. He was a former journalist. Simpson was an alluring figure: a large, tall, angular, bear-like man who slotted himself easily on to a bar stool and enjoyed a beer or two. He was a good-humoured social companion who spoke in a nasal drawl. Behind small, oval glasses was a twinkling intelligence. He excelled at what he did."
They shared expertise on Russia and began a professional relationship. "The Washington- and London-based firms worked for oligarchs litigating against other oligarchs. This might involve asset tracing – identifying large sums concealed behind layers of offshore companies." And then came the U.S. presidential campaign and folks who wanted to "derail Trump."
Again, read this. Harding is a great reporter, whose work on Putin and his crooked cronies got him expelled from Russia. He was also just part of the team that dissected "The Paradise Papers" on tax havens, as this Poynter story notes.
The press, the nation, sex harassment
Here's a sense of the Big Picture from Suzanne Muchin, a corporate branding and strategy consultant in Chicago who is a voracious consumer of media (she co-hosts a podcast, "The Big Payoff," about careers and culture).
"There are a few stories here: women finding their voice and being empowered by their anger rather than ashamed by it, men being tried for this bad behavior in the court of public opinion, and the question of where all this is headed ... because it is headed somewhere big (in my opinion)."
Further, she said soon after the Franken story broke, "Shifting cultural norms usually takes 5-10 years. Think about smoking in public, the perception of homosexuality, and drunk driving. While I think this issue has been simmering for decades, the switch might actually have been flipped during the perfect storm created by the existence of Trump as president and all that has meant for women. So that is gas on the fire."
Is she hopeful? "I’m hopeful. If you track She Should Run, The Wing and conversations about women who run venture funds, women taking over big publications like Vanity Fair, etc., there is something happening."
Red State Dig of the Week
On Anderson Cooper's CNN show last evening, Scott Jennings, a former assistant to President George W. Bush, said, "If Roy Moore loses the popular vote in Alabama, there won't be an Electoral College to save him."
The media's 'scandal hobbyists'
Andrew Ferguson is very droll and accurate in Commentary on what the Paul Manafort indictment, and that of seemingly small potatoes George Papadopoulus, a onetime Trump foreign policy advisor, tell us about the media penchant for scandals, real and contrived.
"For now, the great hope of scandal hobbyists is that Papadopoulus was wearing a wire between the time he secretly pled guilty and the time his plea was made public. This would have allowed him to gather all kinds of incriminating dirt in conversations with former colleagues. And the dirt is there, all right, as the Manafort indictment proves. Unfortunately for our scandal fetishists, so far none of it shows what their hearts most desire: active collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign."
Wilbur Ross, down to his last (or real) $900 million
Bloomberg reports, "The Bloomberg Billionaires Index lowered its net worth calculation for U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to $860 million from $3 billion after determining that figures he provided couldn’t be independently verified."
"The revaluation follows a Forbes report last week that concluded Ross inflated the size of his fortune to the media for years. Bloomberg’s previous calculation included historical compensation figures submitted by Ross in an on-the-record email exchange in 2016, before he joined President Donald Trump’s cabinet. Those figures have now been removed."
Franken, Moore and taxes was the script for the morning news shows. And several discussions touched upon a curious retrospective topic du jour, namely were people too easy on President Bill Clinton. Should liberal Democrats have bailed on him?
Perhaps the most interesting of those was CNN's chat with Errol Louis, dissecting New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand saying he should have resigned over the Lewinsky scandal, prompting a former Hillary aide to acerbically note how she's taken Clinton money and endorsements. But the most interesting debate was found on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," where frequently bombastic ad executive Donnie Deutsch broached the whole delicate subject of where one draws lines with male behavior — how does one sort through degrees of bad behavior? — without being an apologist for the likes of Franken.
Tricky and complicated, with NBC's Kasie Hunt eloquent on what those differences are, especially when it comes to men who exhibit a repeated pattern ("serial predation," she called it), as opposed to a single isolated and dumb act. And, unavoidably, co-host Mika Brzezinski broached the topic of a man no longer sitting near her, namely the departed Mark Halperin. There's more to come.
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That's it for the week. The indoor soccer season commences (kids soccer now has similar hours to CVS and Walgreen's) and, improbably, an outdoor baseball practice with the weather in the 30s. Oh, there's a teen's belated birthday party (bad parents, I concede). Cheers.