Media muddle: Was Scalia being racist?

Good morning.

  1. May it please the court...
    The perils of analyzing Supreme Court arguments, especially if you're not in the chamber and don't know your stuff, are ample. They were underscored Wednesday with suggestions that Justice Antonin Scalia was being racist in questions he asked in a big affirmative action case. Mother Jones and The Hill jumped to that de facto conclusion. (Mediaite) "Justice Scalia Suggests Blacks Belong at 'Slower' Colleges," declared Mother Jones. The New York Daily News said the same, even tagging Scalia a "Supreme Dope" on this morning's front page. (Daily News) In fact, Scalia was citing serious academic work on affirmative action, even if his hands weren't totally clean. Fortunately, there are terrific Supreme Court analysts, such as Lyle Denniston, who actually was there and offered the proper context without letting Scalia totally off the hook for questioning that "became quite clumsy." (SCOTUSblog)
    Scalia alluded to a theory called "mismatch" as he declared, "There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to — to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well." (The Washington Post) The New York Times duly noted that one Scalia remark "drew muted gasps in the courtroom." (The New York Times) But "far from being racist, that proposition is an acknowledgment of racial inequality — and it's central to the argument for racial preferences. Those preferences wouldn't be necessary if applicants from all racial and ethnic groups possessed exactly the same paper credentials."(The Los Angeles Times) Unfortunately, the digital age brings a few too many reporters sitting at desks and doing facile, Twitter-friendly rewrites of stuff they know little about.
  2. New "Serial" season tells tale of Bowe Bergdahl
    The second season of the hit podcast debuted early this morning, to a glut of press from the likes of The New York Times and The New Yorker. It's a modern-day take on old radio serials like "The Shadow" that were immensely popular in the so-called "Golden Age of Radio" that was supplanted by television. It has been aided, in part, by the podcasting boom that's also given rise to the likes of Gimlet Media, Earwolf and Radiotopia. This season is based on 25 hours of conversations between Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, accused of deserting his outpost in Afghanistan, and screenwriter Mark Boal. Last season, "Serial" garnered more than 100 million downloads, making it the most popular podcast in history. (The New York Times)
  3. So where IS Bitcoin's founder?
    WIRED believed it had outed him as a 44-year-old resident of Sydney, Australia. Lots of others heralded its apparent disclosure. The cops there then raided that guy's home Wednesday in what essentially is a tax investigation. But he still has not surfaced. Meanwhile, forget the underlying mystery. "Amid the speculation, bitcoin climbed on Wednesday to hit its highest levels since early November." (Bloomberg) That apparently reflected a belief about "a legal arrangement that keeps a very large chunk of 1.1 million bitcoins locked up in a trust until 2020. That would remove the risk of a big supply hitting the market anytime soon and driving down the price." If it is this Sydney guy, he's thought to control a bitcoin stash worth at least nine figures.
  4. TV ratings decline persists
    Setup for a quiz question: "As the broadcast networks settle in for their long winter's nap, there is little evidence to suggest that the coming year will spell an end to the ongoing ratings crisis. Through the first 11 weeks of the 35-week regular-season TV schedule, only three legacy programs have improved upon their year-ago ratings numbers, while no fewer than 39 returning series have suffered double-digit percentage declines?" (Ad Age) So who are the only three veteran broadcast shows with year-over-year viewer hikes? The answer: NBC's "Sunday Night Football," Fox's "Empire" and ABC's "The Middle." Should I be proud, or something else, that I watch two of three?
  5. Kickstarter hires reporter to figure out mess
    "In a first, Kickstarter has hired a journalist to look into how its largest-funded European project ever suddenly imploded." (Ars Technica) This apparently stems from the failure of a British drone startup that raised $3.4 million, only to then crash in less than a year and have its co-founder announce he was exiting. In a post on Medium, Mark Harris, a Seattle-based British tech journalist, said he's been hired to figure out what the hell happened. (Medium)
  6. A pundit's mom says, "Huh?"
    Erick Erickson, a very conservative Atlanta radio host and Fox News pundit, tweeted that as a result of Pearl Harbor, "I remember my parents never letting us have Asian food on December 7th. They were children of WWII." When Gawker called his sister about this, she hung up. When they did reach his mother, she responded, "I’ve never heard that before...Whatever you heard, I think that is completely your idea, I have never heard of that before. Somebody is making that up about my son." (Gawker)
  7. Dutch "iTunes for news" coming to U.S.
    Blendle allows you to pay for individual articles and get your money back if you don't like them. It claims 500,000 users in the Netherlands and Germany and makes available content from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist to European consumers. It will surface in the U.S. next year but isn't yet disclosing its roster of partners. (Poynter) The New York Times and Germany's Axel Springer has invested in the firm. (NiemanLab) To underscore the obvious, the jury remains out on micropayment schemes. In fact, newspaper analyst Alan Mutter in San Francisco argues this very morning that paywalls are a dangerous impediment for publishers trying to build audience. (Editor & Publisher) "Yes, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times each has about 1 million digital-only subscribers," he writes. "But they are unlike the typical newspaper in that they are mission-critical reading for the international elites in government, business and academia, whose readers for the most part pay with the boss’s credit card."
  8. Tribune to help "King of Clickbait"
    Tribune Media, the TV company spun off from what was Tribune Co., is investing $25 million in digital entrepreneur Emerson Spartz, 28, dubbed the "King of Clickbait" by The New Yorker. (Poynter) His Dose Media uses algorithms to help stories go viral and its traffic "has quadrupled to about 50 million unique monthly visitors in the past year, putting it in competition with sites such as Gawker and VICE." (Crain's Chicago Business)
  9. Zuckerberg won't be President Trump's immigration czar
    Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook that we "ought not 'succumb to cynicism' despite bigots like Donald Trump calling for Muslims to be banned from entering the United States." He just wanted the planet to know, "As the leader of Facebook I want you to know that you are always welcome here and that we will fight to protect your rights." (TechCrunch)
  10. A totalitarian surprise
    ABC had a proposal for the censorship-crazy wackos who run North Korea: Let correspondent Bob Woodruff and a crew bring in "a virtual reality camera with 16 lenses pointed in almost every direction so that the world could see their capital of Pyongyang with 3-D, 360-degree video, which to them would look like a science fiction movie." Ah, for whatever reason, they gave thumbs up and ABC will release a VR project, "Inside North Korea." They were even cleared for a military parade staring North Korean boss Kim Jong-un. All in all, "We could see in their eyes infatuation with this new device," says Woodruff. "They were more curious than afraid." (Adweek) So will ABC be sending everybody there those little cardboard boxes a la The New York Times a few weeks ago?
  11. Job moves, edited by Benjamin MullinJill Lawrence will join USA TODAY's editorial board as commentary editor. She is a columnist for U.S. News & World Report. (Email) | Job of the day: Fast Company is looking for a senior editor. Get your resumes in! (Mediagazer) | Send Ben your job moves:

Correction: The opening item on the Supreme Court oral argument in an important affirmative action case cited a Mediaite story that criticized several outlets, including Mother Jones, for wrongly reporting remarks made by Justice Antonin Scalia. Mediaite implied that Mother Jones wrote its story before the transcript was made available.(Mediaite) In fact, a Mother Jones reporter, Stephanie Mencimer, was in the chamber listening to what struck some as jarring remarks by Scalia. And, as she noted to Poynter on Thursday, she did await the 1:17 p.m. Eastern release of the transcript before writing a story posted by Mother Jones at 1:59 p.m. She block quoted from those remarks to provide the context that included his reference to a position take in a brief in the case. But, as she notes, Scalia also said, "I'm just not impressed by the fact the University of Texas may have fewer (blacks). Maybe it ought to have fewer. I don't think it stands to reason that it's a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible." (Mother Jones) That last remark was not a Scalia reference to a claim made in a brief but, rather, Scalia apparently offering a personal view. Mother Jones stands by its interpretation of the nature of Scalia's remarks, which largely prompted the substantial coverage of them at the heart of the Poynter item.
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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.


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