Modern de Tocquevilles: Foreign reporters assess Trump, the press, shameful U.S. poverty
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'Too much focus on Donald Trump'
"Donald Trump's chilling escalation of his war with the media" is the overwrought heading on a CNN effort by Chris Cillizza that plays into the "narrative" (a favorite cable TV construction) of our own generalissimo's assault on a free press.
Now, take a breath.
As with press hyperventilating about the relative amount of coverage given storm-ravaged Texas, Houston and Puerto Rico, there's a pervasive American myopia at play. As with the blindness to systematic lack of American media coverage to any number of greater ongoing disasters (civil war, famine, refugee migrations, kidnappings, etc.), it's the same with press freedoms. For starters, check the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists:
"Mexican journalist found dead with bullet wounds in San Luis Potosí," "Cartoonist detained in Equatorial Guinea for weeks without charge," "Uzbek journalist goes missing, turns up in court trial," "Local photographer abducted from home in central Mexico," "Prominent newspaper folds under official pressure in Cambodia," "Cambodian minister threatens to close media outlets that defy sweeping election rules" and "Radio Free Asia suspends operations in Cambodia."
Sure, Donald Trump is unceasing in his gratuitous venom, which has surely impacted support of the media among conservatives (the survey data is there). But be reminded, as Joel Simon did when I caught up with him Sunday, of some larger realities. He's executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Above all, the U.S. has strong institutions, and laws upholding the press, that most other countries don't. "We have rhetoric from Trump that is similar to what we hear from authoritarian leaders around the world but we have strong institutions, so he 's not able to implement (those hyperbolic threats) these days."
That was all underscored in chats over the weekend with some of 10 journalists from Afghanistan, Brazil, Bulgaria, England, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, Kenya, Poland and Russia who are touring the country as World Press Institute fellows. I spoke to the group in Chicago on Friday and was confirmed in a sense that context is grievously lacking in some assessments of Trump by the American media.
More interesting than the the travellers' firm grasp of the obvious was to discern a certain Alexis de Tocqueville outsider's insight about the U.S. from folks seeing it in some cases for the first time.
Mark Oloo, production editor of the Standard in Nairobi, was struck by the resentment among minorities toward Trump, the general hospitality he felt from Americans ("amazing"), the obvious disconnect between Washington, D.C., and rural America, and poverty was notable (including "the number of street families," as he put it, in San Francisco).
As for the media, the Kenyan found "too much focus on Donald Trump at the expense of other important issues. The media appears obsessed with covering Mr Trump's drama." He was, however, impressed by the generally high level of integrity and adherence to ethical morals ("compared to other countries I have visited"), even if skeptical about what he deemed the disconnect between op-ed sections and newsrooms (he just didn't find editorial endorsement of political candidates as in sync with the "journalistic principle of fairness and balance").
Elina Hiltunen, a producer for the Finnish Broadcasting Co. in Helsinki, said, "I still think the most notable thing here is the inequality with life opportunities. Americans may think I’m naïve, but I’m still saddened by the fact this rich, rich country doesn’t want to take care of its weakest. And how important it is for the wealthy people to show off their money, shamelessly. Once you have a conversation with these people, slowly the wall of happiness starts to crumble, I’ve noticed."
As for the press, "Having visited many media companies, big and small, you can quite soon feel the vibe. Are they going forward of just trying to survive a while, until yet another round of layoffs? I was surprised to notice that the so-called legacy media is not that worried about gaining back people’s trust. Or maybe they did not want to show their insecurities and/ or tips? Only one PR company had some idea how to deal with this 'age of fake news.'"
And there was Britta von der Heide, an editor and reporter in the investigations unit of Norddeutschen Rundfunk, a TV broadcaster in Hamburg, Germany, who was surprised to learn of the expanse of the First Amendment, in particular the tolerance of hate speech like that spewed during the tumult in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"'Jews will not replace us," 'White lives matter' and 'Blood and soil' are interpreted by American courts as protected forms of speech. So it is more important than ever that Trump denounces the white supremacists. But instead of denouncing them, Trump insists on their right to free speech — a right he himself takes much advantage of — and a right he seems to want to revoke from journalists: 'Shut up, fake news!' This shocked me."
She, too, was taken aback by income disparities, of seeing fancy cars and citizens spendings thousands of dollars on clothes and groceries while "people sleep in the street, people struggle to feed their children. The distance between the wealthy and the normal/poor is alarming."
As for the press "I came full of silent hope, that the American media know how newspapers and broadcasters can survive in the future. But unfortunately the American media don’t have an answer as well. They shrug their shoulders when asked in which direction journalism should go. They try to make more on their online platforms, but they are not able to earn money with it."
"The television viewers are getting older and older but there is no real idea how to change this development."
(Non)-Profiles in courage (Harvey Weinstein Edition)
Amid the clucking over the fall of Weinstein, here's The New York Times' Brooks Barnes:
"From Thursday to Saturday, I called more than 40 entertainment industry players, and almost all refused to speak for the record. Some said it was because their companies (or publicists) needed to approve anything they would say, while others gave reasons that painted a picture of a community hobbled by fear, self-interest and hypocrisy. 'Ladies of Hollywood,' Rose McGowan, one of the actresses who settled with Mr. Weinstein, wrote on Twitter on Friday, 'your silence is deafening.'"
Oh, MSNBC's "Morning Joe" panelist Steve Rattner said this morning Weinstein has been an "an incredibly loyal friend" to Rattner, but finds his actions "appalling." No surprise from Rattner, a Manhattan mover-and-shaker. However, one might wonder if people on the show will ever mention their view on Rattner himself, namely paying $16 million to settle New York State and Securities and Exchange Commission litigation for his role in a kickback scheme to get big state pension-fund business for his then-firm, which paid another $12 million, while his firm conceded Rattner's conduct was "Inappropriate, wrong and unethical." Anybody appalled by that?
So Rattner opined on people remaining silent on his loyal chum. Boy, that was drenched in irony. Meanwhile, co-host Mika Brzezinski said that she had a three-book deal on women's empowerment with Weinstein's publishing firm and is pulling it. "It felt like he was using the book series as a cover." ("It was a big three-book deal," interjected fiance co-host Joe Scarborough, prompting Brzezinski to say Weinstein "will now be a big part of it.")
A case for even more coverage of sexual harassment
So what's the significance, if any, of the Weinstein tale — and is there any chance that the amount of media coverage is excessive? Here's Suzanne Muchin, a wickedly smart Chicago brand strategist and host of "The Big Payoff" podcast, which is about career advice (and a good deal more).
"I think that we are in entering a corrective era that isn’t going away any time soon. We have a president who was accused of (and caught on tape) using his position of power to demean women, and not only had no consequences for it, but was rewarded with the presidency. Given that feeling of powerlessness for many women (and men who care about this issue), there is an eagerness to see men who have similar characteristics as Trump brought down by similar behavior — and to expose their shame publicly. So you had the string of Fox firings — Ailes, Cortes, Bolling, Horowitz, O’Reilly in the media world — and the tech-world giants similarly exposed (McClure, Kalanick, Sacca)."
"The movement towards women being empowered in the workplace (and at home) ,coupled with a zero-tolerance for sexual harassment, is still in its infancy (maybe not infancy, but toddlerhood). In order for the movement to mature, we need both a ground campaign and an air war. Women in situations of mistreatment or simply sexist work cultures need to stand up for themselves and not be afraid that there will be negative consequences, and to do that, they need the 'air cover' of the media to ensure that public will is also being cultivated."
"If you are asking if Weinstein is being disproportionately covered relative to OTHER sexual harassers, well, I’m not really concerned about that. When you create a life where you are a public figure, and surround yourself with other public figures, you are of course more exposed to media attention. And per the first paragraph, I think that the more exposure these cases get, the more we build a critical mass of concern around the issue that will hopefully ... slowly but surely ... lead to a culture shift."
The Indy take on Mike Pence
So the vice president and former Indiana governor exited the Colts game and an homage to Indianapolis hero Peyton Manning when San Francisco 49ers didn't stand for the national anthem. Here's the take of Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel:
"North Korea and its nukes can wait. The White House has declared war on the NFL. And on the First Amendment."
"Two weeks after President Trump decreed that NFL players who kneel during the national anthem should be fired, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday after about 20 members of the San Francisco 49ers knelt during the anthem. The 49ers were in town to play the Indianapolis Colts."
"Pence was in town to upstage Peyton Manning."
"What, you think he didn’t know the 49ers would kneel on Sunday? Pence knew. The 49ers are the one franchise, the only franchise, that have had at least one player kneel before every game since Colin Kaepernick was the first to do it in the 2016 preseason. Kaepernick played for the 49ers, of course. Last week, following Trump’s unpatriotic assertion that he would fire someone for exercising their First Amendment rights, more than half the San Francisco roster knelt."
Whether he did or not, CNN reports that it cost taxpayers $242,500 to pay for the trek.
Trump and the regulatory process
The circus of the Trump administration is unavoidable. But so is a reality getting some attention but nowhere near as much: What's going on with the attempts, many thwarted by the courts, to roll back regulations, especially those from the Obama years? Nobody has done better so far than Eric Lipton of The New York Times, with his latest effort here.
A Mike Bloomberg defeat looms
Mike Bloomberg has bombarded TV and radio in Chicago in support of a controversial and hefty penny-an-ounce tax on sodas and other sugary drinks. He's pressed the health issue but has run into heavy support for repeal from the soda and affiliated lobbies, notably unions. It looks like the latter will win a repeal vote this week on the tax that only took effect in August.
The tale of a Cleveland Indian
In the ninth inning of last night's Yankees-Indians game, Indian Jason Kipnis singled off the at times un-hittable relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. Among those cheering was surely Mark Kipnis, his dad.
There's no reason for the Fox announcers to know but Mark Kipnis was a top legal aide to newspaper magnate Conrad Black. He was collateral damage when Black was convicted and wound up in prison for defrauding investors. A federal trial in Chicago showed Black and his aides to be very bad dudes. Not Kipnis. Unlike Black & Chums, he didn't make anything off any of the relevant deals as he signed documents as told.
Indeed, despite the jury also finding Kipnis guilty, a judge realized what the deal was and sentenced him to probation and a $200 fine. It seemed the fair thing to do.
Even as an obnoxious Yankees fan, I could deal with another Indians-Cubs series, so the dad can go to Wrigley Field and see the son against what was Jason's favorite team as he grew up in the Chicago suburbs. And this footnote: Jason Kipnis gave his parents his entire $575,000 signing bonus when he was signed to a professional deal out of college so it could help with the dad's legal expenses, the family mortgage payments and his own siblings' education.
Another bastion of maledom
The Harvey Weinstein saga partly reminds one of the male domination of Hollywood's upper ranks. But gender diversity there may be better than in some aspects of college sports, such as the number of female athletic directors.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does a nice job on the woefully small number as it notes how the female athletic directors at Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh are in a tiny minority.
Only 35 of 351 Division 1 schools have a non-interim female athletic director, or about what the percentage (obviously just under 10 percent) found 20 years ago. One explanation offered here is that football still so dominates the college sports landscape that, since they didn't play it, women are deemed not as capable of administering an athletics operation. Which is so clearly a crock.
A fraternity death at Penn State
Caitlin Flanagan's "Death at a Penn State Fraternity" in The Atlantic continued a strong showing over the weekend. It's been No. 1 on its site for four days, says Atlantic president Bob Cohn,"from about 30 minutes after we posted it late Wednesday night to this moment on late Sunday night. It's the second-most well-read story so far this month, behind a political analysis by David Graham on President Trump's trip to Puerto Rico. With 690,000 page views, it's not yet a certifiable blockbuster (My Family's Slave, the May cover story, has 12 million page views) but it's on its way.
The other Hollywood news
Everything was drowned out by Harvey Weinstein but No. 2 for many industry journalists was the weekend take, as detailed in the Hollywood Reporter:
"Despite strong reviews and an A- CinemaScore, Denis Villeneuve's big-budget sequel "Blade Runner 2049" careened off course in its North American debut over the weekend, even while placing No. 1. The long-awaited follow-up to Ridley Scott's 1982 cult classic grossed $31.5 million from 4,058 theaters, a dismal start for a movie that cost $150 million to make after tax rebates and incentives."
In case you wondered ...
Nine under-40 influencers shaking up the media
Adweek's list includes Ben Winston, executive producer, "The Late Late Show With James Corden;" Arlie Sisson, vice president of emerging products, Condé Nast; Issa Rae, creator, star, executive producer, HBO’s "Insecure;" and Matthew Henick, head of development, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures.
Journalist John Troan dies at 99
The former editor of what was then the Pittsburgh Press, who died over the weekend at 99, was a science writer in 1955 when he broke word that Jonas Salk and his team had crossed a threshold in national field trials of the polio vaccine. "Polio Is Conquered" was the headline on April 12, 1955.
He later worked in the Scripps-Howard Washington bureau covering science. Following President Kennedy's 1961 pledge to land a man on the moon before decade's end, he missed by all of three days when that would actually happen.
Oh, as far as his name, it was actually Troanovitch when he started at the Press. "But because editors kept butchering his name he changed it to Troan."