Nate Silver's sober, data-driven guide to March Madness
Good morning. Here's our morning roundup of all the media news you need to know. Want to get this briefing in your inbox every morning? Subscribe here.
Nate Silver's "March Madness" analysis is out and, knock on hardwood, he's not picking Hillary Clinton.
I know, I know. Cheap (jump) shot.
It's that time of year when FiveThirtyEight, the ESPN-owned politics and sports data site founded by Silver, crunches the numbers on college hoops. So put aside his bumpy and much-chided prognostications of a Clinton victory a few months ago.
Silver colleagues have now crunched data for the NCAA men's tournament. It comes up with what it deems the win probabilities of each team. For example, it concludes that Vanderbilt has a 55 percent chance of beating Northwestern in the first round, thus disappointing Northwestern grads Michael Wilbon of ESPN, David Chalian of CNN, Christine Brennan of USA Today, Peter Alexander of NBC and Julia Louis-Dreyfus of "Veep" (her son is also on the team).
"And every year, we’re reminded that the joy and chaos of March Madness can’t possibly be summed up in win probabilities alone. Each of the men’s tournament’s 68 teams has charted its own course to the field: Some have endured devastating injuries, some have made surprising runs in their conference tournaments and some have weathered tripping scandals."
But now, of course, "they all get a clean state. Win six — or maybe seven — games, and they do what no team is likely to do: win the NCAA Tournament."
FiveThirtyEight relies on a system of computer rankings it devised called Elo. But that's just one of six systems it brings into play (another bad pun, sorry). In addition, "we use two human-generated rating systems: the selection committee’s 68-team 'S-Curve,' and a composite of preseason ratings from coaches and media polls. The eight systems — six computer-generated and two human-generated — are weighted equally in coming up with a team’s overall rating."
And once the tournament starts, its probabilities obvious change. "As has been the case previously, our ratings are also adjusted for travel distance and (for men’s teams only) player injuries. Our injury adjustment has been slightly improved to account for the higher or lower caliber of replacement players on different teams."
Cut to the chase: It thinks that the University of North Carolina, Villanova, Kansas and Gonzaga have the best chances to get out of their respective regions and into the final group of 16.
As for "likeliest" Cinderella to make it to that same group, it goes with Wichita State, Rhode Island, Xavier and Marquette.
Bottom line: "No team has better than a 15 percent chance to win the tournament, according to our predictions, so there’s plenty of madness to come." (FiveThirtyEight)
Yup. But do watch for teams that move well without the ball, live and die by their outside shot, need to dominate the paint, pound the ball inside and, well, various clichés that should have a greater probability of being uttered than even Clinton had of winning back in November.
Rachel Maddow and Trump's taxes
Journalist David Cay Johnston, a longtime tax expert, opened his mail to find two pages of a Donald Trump tax return that was the centerpiece of Rachel Maddow's show and the inspiration for internet humor, both good and lame.
Maddow received a bit of derision for the rather melodramatic but unhurried manner in which MSNBC teased, then disclosed, the less-than-blockbuster news that both exploded assumptions the guy wasn't paying a dime for years and left questions about the actual sources of his income.
Yes, there were social media references to Geraldo Rivera's notorious prime-time special opening of Al Capone's vault long ago. Quite funny. At the same time, it all showed a mix of impatience and internet-fueled craving for instant gratification. "Why didn't she give it to us sooner and quicker?! How dare she?!"
Were they miffed that she was taking them away from "NCIS: New Orleans" or "This is us?" Or the "American Masters" profile of Carole King on PBS? Sheesh, it wasn't that long ago that papers held great stories for days to exploit a larger Sunday audience.
She milked what she had, which was interesting if not blockbuster. Big deal. Thanks to an unknown source and the Postal Service, Johnston and Maddow had a real scoop. The audience surely was big and the most basic questions about Trump's taxes will remain.
The morning babble
No surprise, Johnston was up bright and early, explaining his mailbox scoop to CNN's "New Day." His operative term: "a window, but a narrow view" of Trump's tax situation.
The return "isn't really a bombshell," finds The Atlantic.
For The New York Times, the gist is, "President Trump wrote off more than $100 million in business losses to reduce his federal taxes in 2005, according to forms made public on Tuesday night: a rare glimpse at documents that he had refused to disclose since becoming a candidate for the nation’s highest office."
And, with Trump's effective tax rate at 25 percent for 2005, Bloomberg notes, "By comparison, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney disclosed an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent on a 2010 tax return that he released during his 2012 presidential campaign. Last year, billionaire investor Warren Buffett said he paid an effective tax rate of 16 percent in 2015: $1.85 million in federal income taxes on adjusted gross income of $11.6 million."
Tronc out, National Enquirer in
"Us Weekly gets new suitor at altar after Tronc departure — The publisher of the Chicago Tribune drops out at the last moment, leaving room for National Enquirer owner AMI to snatch the middle-market celebrity magazine for up to $100 million." (The Street)
A Spicer, Trumpcare, yawn
For those craving policy substance out of their White House briefings, there was an ample amount Wednesday as Sean Spicer fielded an arguably wearying number of Trumpcare questions, including (via CNBC reporter Eamon Javers) whether private companies will make more dough if the new bill passes.
As far as actually calling the Republican-White House plan "Trumpcare," Spicer said that "labels and names" are not relevant to a president whose rhetorical modus operandi involves just that, namely (often nasty) labels and names.
And, if you wanted real inside baseball of a civics lesson sort, there was a back-and-forth with Major Garrett of CBS on a so-called "manager's amendment" that in an and of itself is evidence as to why the existing underlying legislation won't pass in its current form.
Spicer was by and large impressive in playing a bad hand and not making any news.
Deriding the GOP's bill
As MSNBC's Chris Hayes put it Tuesday, Republicans' call to "repeal and replace" Obamacare has been six years of "all words and no action. That seems stunning that for six years you could run on something and have absolutely no plan."
But, hold on, wait just a moment. I messed that up. It wasn't Hayes. I was actually watching Shepard Smith on Fox after Spicer's briefing. The frequent oasis of straight reporting provided relief from the predictable dogma around him.
Tom Bevan, co-founder of RealClearPolitics, agreed with Smith and said, "They (Republicans) never came up with the same sheet of music to repeal and replace" and are thus left with their very divided congressional ranks with "not a lot of wiggle room."
Turning a buck on a newsletter
"Launching a general-interest tech and business news site these days seems like kind of a dumb idea — there’s way too much competition. It doesn’t seem that much smarter in email newsletter form — until you learn that The Hustle has grown to 300,000 subscribers in less than a year, is profitable, and just raised over a million dollars from Silicon Valley and an additional $300,000 from readers." (Nieman Lab)
Envy precludes my divulging much more.
Mike Pence's safe zone
At the beautiful National Building Museum tonight, Mike Pence will speak to an Irish gathering. Don't be envious of any reporter assigned to the event.
"7:45 p.m. — 8:30 p.m.: Vice President delivers remarks to Irish Fund’s National Gala."
"Note: All press must return to press area by 7 p.m. and remain there until the event concludes. Media may not approach the stage during or following Vice President Pence’s remarks."
Not quite an AP opening
At the Whitney Museum Biennial, "The mood is, by turns, anxious and dark, even sinister, but also, at times, expectant, guardedly hopeful. Everyone is on edge. The show presents a nation, and the sensibilities of its artists, in a period of transition, with violence cresting, identities in flux and some brave souls hatching plans. A sea change is coming, though it is unclear if its effect will be disastrous, momentous, or something more complicated. Call it the biennial on the brink." (ARTnews)
Go ahead, call it that. I dare you!
Trump and Jackson
Historian H.W. Brands did a nice job on Andrew Jackson for The Tennessean in advance of Trump's trip today to Nashville, where he will lay a wreath at Jackson's tomb (Steve Bannon, a Jackson fan, may be enraptured by the photo op prospect).
He details how a man born 250 years ago Wednesday was once one of the most admired figures in American life. "Historical reputations rise and fall; Jackson isn’t unique in this regard. But his case is peculiar in the extent of the fall and for what it says about historical memory. Oddly, Jackson’s reputation was the victim of his success. His sins were remembered because his achievements were so profound."
Our chums at C-SPAN remind that it's the 9th annual "Sunshine Week" and pass along a treasure trove of events and resources via the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of News Editors.
C-SPAN itself is celebrating the 38th anniversary of the House of Representatives allowing its sessions to be televised — and the concurrent launch of C-SPAN by the cable TV industry. Badmouth your cable bill all you want, but it's the same guys who pay the freight for an American treasure.
In a few days, the network will unveil results of a survey of public attitudes toward the Supreme Court in the run-up to the confirmation hearings of Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch.
Oh, if you missed that big deal in the House 38 years ago, take a look at a young congressman from Tennessee, Al Gore, on the House floor that very day. It's an oldie but goodie.
A neophyte's White House press critique
Following a New Yorker profile of the White House daily briefing, Jim Stinson of LifeZette, a spirited new politics and cultural newcomer on the right, wrote, "The carping at the White House will likely not drown out new voices. Just as liberal outlets The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed grew to great heights under President Obama, it's likely the new conservative media will find its groove with a Republican in the White House." (LifeZette)
He's one of the new arrivals in the press room welcomed with open arms by the White House, if not all his new colleagues. He's also got an expansive definition of left-wing, as underscored in a gratuitous opus that caricatured and took shots at Ann Marie Lipinski, an esteemed former colleague of mine who now runs the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. (LifeZette) It was way too facile.
March Madness in lieu of work
"The NCAA Tournament is about to shut down productivity across the country, and there are going to be a lot of ways to see it. One of the easiest comes via the March Madness live app and website. The app and website are the official NCAA tournament apps and are built around TV everywhere. That means that users will have to use a valid cable login in order to access the action." (The Streaming Advisor)
A "sacred" hire at Apple
"Apple hired an important figure from the forensic security and mobile phone hacking community. Jonathan Zdziarski announced today that he accepted a position with Apple's security engineering and architecture team." (Recode)
"Zdziarski didn’t provide details about what he’ll be doing there, but he did say that his decision to take a job at the hardware giant was motivated by a passion to protect online privacy."
He emoted, "This decision marks the conclusion of what I feel has been a matter of conscience for me over time. Privacy is sacred; our digital lives can reveal so much about us — our interests, our deepest thoughts, and even who we love."
"Disney's ABC News unit is facing the possibility of a hugely consequential jury trial in South Dakota after a judge there moved along a lawsuit alleging that the network defamed Beef Products Inc. in its coverage of a meat product called lean, finely textured beef, which critics have dubbed 'pink slime.'" (Hollywood Reporter)
A First Amendment lawyer friend says the judge has ruled against Disney before and "The food libel law at issue — and particularly the Treble damages provision — should be unconstitutional. It is explicitly designed to chill unfavorable reporting on food safety issues through the imposition of treble damages. Due to the danger of such chilling effects, the appellate courts and particularly the Supreme Court, has never upheld an award of the size BFI is seeking (as much as $6 billion) in a case involving reporting on matters of public interest — which this report certainly was."
It's time for spring break with the kids, so you won't have me to tell you what you missed on "Fox & Friends," "Morning Joe," "New Day" or on an obscure arts website. Taking the rest of this and next week off.
But, please, don't repeal and replace me. I need the health insurance.