New York Times reporters won't face jail for airing Trump's taxes
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So is The New York Times in legal jeopardy for publishing portions of Donald Trump's long-ago returns?
The Washington Post raised that question Sunday, underscoring how federal law "makes it illegal to publish an unauthorized tax return." A Trump lawyer said this was all illegal and threatened legal action. (The New York Times)
As Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers used to say on "Saturday Night Live," "Really?!"
An array of prominent First Amendment attorneys assembled by academic Ron Collins, including Floyd Abrams, Laurence Tribe, Nadine Strossen and Burt Neuborne, agreed the paper need not fit executives for orange jumpsuits. (Concurring Opinions)
My own chats with prominent media attorneys, several who declined to be identified, also make clear the First Amendment probably bars any criminal or civil action against the paper and any reporter. Of course, that doesn't mean that Trump couldn't file a suit.
But in a 2001 decision (Bartnicki v. Vopper), the U.S. Supreme Court said a media outlet can't be held liable when it republished part of a cell phone call intercepted by a third party — even if it knew the tape was initially obtained illegally.
It was in the clear if it wasn't involved in the illegal intercept, the original source handed it over anonymously and, finally, the conversation was one of "public concern," as Los Angeles attorney Kelli Sager reiterated to me (speaking for herself since her firm of Davis Wright Tremaine does work for The Times, The Post and Vanity Fair).
She and others concur that the paper wasn't involved in any theft, received the stuff from an anonymous source and it's of a distinct public concern. That makes it similar to other cases, including one involving the Chicago Tribune when an anonymous source gave us transcripts of a grand jury proceeding involving a congressman.
Indeed, I was once hauled before a grand jury in DuPage County, Illinois as a result of my then-Chicago Sun-Times legal column. I was anonymously leaked a head-turning juvenile court transcript. The experience was scary, especially as I met the ignorance-fueled poker-faced visages of disbelieving jurors as I explained that I didn't have a clue who sent it.
Nothing happened to me and the same will be true here. But The Times has an obvious pick for criminal defense lawyer if it somehow winds up in trouble: Rudy Giuliani.
On ABC's "This Week," he proclaimed that the Trump tax gambit of long ago displays "genius — absolute genius." You see, The Times was mere messenger of a mastermind's handiwork.
Gannett deal to buy Tronc 'imminent'
Somebody is now out on a journalistic limb. "Gannett’s long quest to buy the newspaper company known as Tronc is nearing the finish line." (Politico)
"Confidential sources have told POLITICO," meaning industry observer Ken Doctor, "that asset purchase agreement drafts have been exchanged by Gannett, the country’s second-largest newspaper chain and publisher of USA Today, and Tronc, formerly known as Tribune Publishing and the publisher of such broadsheet mainstays as The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun."
Let's see if Tronc boss Michael Ferro really, truly has his price. In theory, everybody does. But the Chicago tech entrepreneur hasn't suggested same in his early stage of his media semi-moguldom.
Fact-checking by The White House?
The White House press pool, which drew short straws Sunday and had to cool their heels while the president played golf, reported a cataclysmic error that was then resolved. "Pool was given a corrected list of POTUS' golf partners. He's playing with Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, not Alan Solow. From a White House official: Today, the President will be golfing with Kevin Plank, Marvin Nicholson, and Joe Paulsen."
Mark Knoller, the encyclopedic CBS correspondent, tells me it was Obama's 315th round of golf as president. That's 5,670 holes of golf.
The best Trump imitation?
Is it Alec Baldwin's much-acclaimed "Saturday Night Live" effort Saturday? Well, one top-10 list says almost, but not quite. It's second to that of the late Phil Hartman. (Bloomberg) "It's best because it’s the one that makes Trump look the most — human. Hartman doesn’t overemphasize the accent, or the hair, or the odd skin tone, or any of that: He instead focuses on Trump’s cold remove, his inability to see the world as anything other than a way to enrich himself."
The Washington Post and Trump
In a weekend editorial, before The New York Times neutron bomb about Trump's taxes, there was "The clear and present danger of Donald Trump" in The Washington Post. It opened, "If you know that Donald Trump is ignorant, unprepared and bigoted, but are thinking of voting for him anyway because you doubt he could do much harm — this editorial is for you."
In addition that morning one could find on the Post site, "Trump’s scattered, off-message attacks ‘a nightmare’ for GOP," "Trump under fire after nasty tweets about ex-Miss Universe, ‘sex tape,’" "Clinton campaign mocks Trump’s appearance in Playboy film," "President Trump would reconstruct our racist past," "The reaction to Trump’s fat-shaming reinforces toxic ideas about fatness," and many others.
If only there were a Pulitzer for Belated National Reporting on Imminent Purported Threats to American Democracy. It's the media's use of The Powell Doctrine on overwhelming force. And, unlike Trump, it's by and large fact-based.
A reminder of the media's daily impact
Earlier last month there was a 100th anniversary celebration of the Pulitzer Prizes at the Nieman Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The speakers included Maria Henson, who won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for an editorial campaign in the Lexington Herald-Leader titled “To have and to harm: Kentucky’s failure to protect women from the men who beat them.” (Nieman Foundation)
It's a wonderful talk and, in this age of hand-wringing about the ills of mainstream media, explains the central role in a democracy of the press, especially with the discovery of godawful local problems. It this case, it was a lot of men in Kentucky who beat up women and got away with it. Henson explained her very rapid introduction into editorial writing, the real reporting she did, the courage of women who went public and, finally, the real legislative impact of her series.
The Tribune's puzzling Gary Johnson pick
The endorsement of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson by the Chicago Tribune was a topic of conversation at a memorial service Friday for former Tribune executive Jack Fuller. Much of what I heard was not flattering.
There was a sense that my old paper sought some high moral ground without the risk of taking a stand that actually matters. So a longtime reflexive ally of Republican White House candidates (with the exception of local guy Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012) now seeks the smug satisfaction of a soft landing in the Clinton-Trump race. Instead, it slouched toward irrelevance.
Warren Buffett refers to his investments in newspapers as "the last puff of the cigar." The same is true of most newspaper endorsements. But it's more untidy given logic that seemed "absurd," as Geoffrey Stone, a prominent University of Chicago law professor and regular Tribune contributor, puts it. (The Huffington Post)
Those undecided voters
Lynn Vavreck, a very smart UCLA political scientist, offers insight of likely utility to campaign reporters and analysts. "Despite the possibility that there may be more undecided voters this year than in previous elections, the undecideds of 2016 look a lot like those who remained unsure at this point in 2012. They are less interested in politics and the news, less partisan, and less likely to hold opinions on issues dominating campaign discussions. Essentially, they think less about politics." (The New York Times)
The morning chatter with Trump and Kardashian
"Fox & Friends" took the Rudy Giuliani-Chris Christie line that, as Steve Doocy put it, "the bombshell from the Times is that Trump follows the law." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough says "the real outrage is guys who can live like Donald Trump and pay no taxes." CNN's "New Day" also mulled the fairness of the tax code, with New York Times reporter Megan Twohey joining the fray.
Only Bloomberg's Mark Halperin on "Morning Joe" underscored the potency of the lobbying status quo in Washington. Special interests will see that there's little change of consequence.
A window onto a frustrating labor market
"FedEx, UPS Gear Up for Holiday Season With More Sorting Hubs, Technology — Package-delivery giants plan to process more packages without hiring many more workers." (The Wall Street Journal)
As it notes, "Both companies have also invested in automation so they can process more packages over the holidays while keeping staffing levels relatively steady. If their projections hold, FedEx and UPS will have kept the number of seasonal workers steady for two years running, at over 50,000 and 95,000 workers respectively, after sharply ramping up holiday hiring earlier in the decade."
CNN in the tank for Trump?
His campaign will launch hundreds of future graduate school dissertations. One topic will be individual cable networks' disproportionate coverage of his campaign, especially during the Republican primaries. Margaret Sullivan, the former New York Times public editor, who is now at The Washington Post, hammers CNN, essentially saying its self-image and strong journalism are undermined by being a toady for too long with Trump. (The Washington Post)
A hello from the Obama administration
Tweeted Glenn Thrush, a terrific and multi-platform savvy Politico reporter: "Shit's getting real. Just got my first LinkedIn request from a senior administration official..." (@GlennThrush)
Fuller, who was as close as the newspaper industry will get to a philosopher-king, was celebrated Friday at a Chicago gathering attended by many former Chicago Tribune and Tribune Co. colleagues and media luminaries such as Donald Graham.
He was son of a newspaper reporter who worked for Stars & Stripes in Saigon during the Vietnam War, was a Yale Law classmate of Bill and Hillary Clinton, worked in the post-Watergate Justice Department for the mythic Attorney General Edward Levi, rose to be a Pulitzer Prize editorial writer and, then, editor and publisher of The Tribune. Eventually, he became president of Tribune Company's publishing division. All along, he wrote novels and played jazz piano.
There was wonderful jazz played and his writings read aloud. My favorite moments included Seth Lipsky, editor of The New York Sun, remembering a Saigon farewell party for a colleague when Fuller, their boss, punctured the conviviality with, "Men, we must never think of the war as the 'good old days.'" Another favorite: Close chum Mike Conway, a lawyer, recalling Fuller being threatened with expulsion if he didn't reveal his sources for a story in the Northwestern student paper. Fuller replied, "You'll throw me out for not revealing my sources? You'll make my career!"
Tribune columnist John Kass read from the non-fiction "News Values: Ideas for the Information Age," where Fuller reminded that "a newspaper's voice isn't a solo. It's more like a chorus, but still unmistakable. Like Georg Solti's Chicago Symphony Orchestra or Miles Davis's great quintet."
Readers expect personality ("I don't mean celebrity") and a sense of character, to stand for something that starts with honesty and news values. "But it may also include such qualities as compassion, tough-mindedness, moral courage and even perhaps a bit of stubbornness. A little civility would be welcome these days, too."
Yup. And those virtues applied to Jack Fuller in full.