President Trump plays cable news director with early-morning tweets

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President Trump forced the morning news shows — well, at least two — to ditch their scripts this morning with his latest headline-grabbing tweet. His mercurial ways are a godsend for American journalism, albeit an arguably depressing one.

At 6:12 a.m., just as the shows were underway, he tweeted, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are emails and DNC server) and intel leakers!"

Said Mika Brzezinski on "Morning Joe," "He's done," referring to Sessions. Joe Scarborough held forth on Trump's self-inflicted wounds and firing Sessions, "a man that Jared Kushner and Donald Trump spent 2016 praising as the greatest mind in Washington, D.C., ...the most loyal person they knew they are trying to throw the Attorney General of the United States overboard."

"It's no longer shocking," said CNN pundit David Gregory. "He has no regard for the Department of Justice and the rule of law....I think he will fire his Attorney General, and he will take all comers. He doesn't seem to care about democratic processes."

And it did come the morning after a Washington Post story that declared, "President Trump and his advisers are privately discussing the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and some confidants are floating prospects who could take his place were he to resign or be fired, according to people familiar with the talks."

"Trump & Friends?” Well, prior to the tweet, it was praising their guy for "doing all he can" to push an Obamacare replacement despite ample evidence to the contrary. "And the president," said Steve Doocy, "he doesn't like the swamp," then rolling tape of Trump, of all people, addressing the Boy Scouts last night in West Virginia.

And, after, they were rather more interested in attacking California Rep. Adam Schiff for being a regular TV presence (99 national appearances, it said) and bashing the Trumps, with substitute co-host Ed Henry the designated pitbull. They also bashed Trump critics as a resistance "motivated by hate," with its genesis somehow, yes, Barack Obama.

At 7:29 a.m., or about 90 minutes after Trump's tweet, Fox's Doocy asked Sen. Rand Paul about it, prompting an unrelated Paul riff on asset forfeiture.

Oh, unrelated, CNN's "New Day" mulled Sen. John McCain's return to Washington today after his brain cancer diagnosis. Along the way, New York native and co-host Chris Cuomo called this a potential "Willis Reed moment."

That's a wonderful sports reference albeit one surely unknown to anyone other than New York Knicks diehards (I am one) since it refers to the final game of the 1970 NBA championship and the dramatic appearance and brief play of an injured Knicks center. I was watching, even if Cuomo wasn't (he was born several months later). Still, hurrah Willis!

It takes one's mind off crazy early-morning tweets even as this morning's social media grenade raises a rather straightforward question that doesn't necessitate knowledge of psychology or politics:

Does the president not have his Attorney General's phone number? Maybe he should email the Justice Department press office.

A Snopes plea

"The popular debunking site published a plea to its readers Monday requesting they donate money to help keep its doors open amid a legal fight against Proper Media, a small digital services company that owns, operates and represents web properties." (Poynter)

"Snopes' parent company, Bardav, Inc. and Proper Media both filed complaints against each other earlier this summer following the contentious termination of a contract between the two."

Buy or sell Netflix?

Lou Basenese, the founder of Disruptive Tech Research, was beckoned for an opinion on Cheddar as to whether he thought folks were wrong in shorting Netflix stock. He said no. But Cheddar founder Jon Steinberg flatly disagreed.

"You can love the company and think it's transformative without loving the price," Steinberg said, adding he likes Michael Kors clothing but doesn't want his family buying it since it's too expensive.

"Unless you're a hedge fund should stay away from it. You'll get your face ripped off in this."

Apple starts blogging

Benedict Evans, a partner at Silicon Valley's Andreessen Horowitz, notes how Apple has launched a blog, its only one, on machine learning. Apparently, its corporate focus on secrecy has been an impediment in recruiting talent (some of whom come from academe and discern publishing as essential).

"So, this is part of Apple's moves to position itself as offering AI researchers some interesting problems. First post: using synthetic images to train recognition models — which of course is something you do if you want to preserve privacy, another Apple trope."

Fake news? Ask a librarian

The libraries in Worthington, Ohio have created an infographic with tips on how to deal with possible fake news.

Advice includes, "Check out the website: Fake news sites will often use a real-sounding URL, but will have uncommon extensions such as '' instead of '.com'" and "Read the whole story: Headlines can be outrageous or misleading in an effort to get clicks. Does the content match up with the headline? Is the story clear, or are important facts missing? Is the article’s date current?"

There's a bunch of other suggestions — "Investigate the organization’s mission and its contact information" — and concludes, "When in doubt, ask a librarian! We are here to help you find the facts."

Trying to stop Sinclair

There's what at first seems like a kerfuffle on the right as Newsmax, whose boss Christopher Ruddy is a Trump chum, tries to convince the Justice Department that it shouldn't allow Sinclair to buy Tribune, which would vault Sinclair into the big-time with stations in the biggest markets.

Left-leaning Salon suggests it's a civil war on the right. But it's premature, even with the government recently stopping the sale of the Chicago Sun-Times to the owner of the Chicago Tribune due to fear of media concentration.

Sinclair's steadfast support of Trump will now pay off. Perhaps a minor condition or two will be insisted upon by some career officials at Justice. But anything beyond that will surely incur the wrath of their boss of bosses.

Big Ten, big money

The Big Ten formally disclosed a giant media rights deal with CBS, Fox and ESPN. It didn't disclose figures but SportsBusinessJournal had the scoop last year (yes, last year) and said it was worth about $2.64 billion over six years.

Google's stranglehold

"Google parent company Alphabet makes more money from digital ads than any company on the planet — it’s expected to make $73.8 billion dollars in net digital ad sales in 2017 after subtracting for traffic acquisition costs, according to internet research firm eMarketer. Google represents 33 percent of the world’s $223.7 billion in digital ad revenue this year." (Recode)

"Facebook is a distant second at $36 billion this year, or nearly $40 billion less than Google."

And, as Bloomberg underscores, "Google has proved adept at increasing the number of people using its internet products, boosting the supply of ads it sells and persuading people to click on those pitches. This is the holy trinity of digital advertising."

Sports journalism expands

The subscription-based Athletic is "launching its first site devoted to national sports: a college football publication called The All-American."

"Overseen by veteran college football reporter Stewart Mandel, the site 'plans to launch Aug. 28 with three to four writers, plus a freelance budget.' A few months later, The Athletic will 'launch a college basketball site with Seth Davis that will be called The Fieldhouse.'"

They've been charging $40 a month for coverage of local sports in several cities, starting with Chicago, and Bloomberg had disclosed that its founders assembled a new round of financing totaling $5.8 million.

Jim Vance, R.I.P.

There was nobody in Washington, a town rife with plastic virtues and self-important careerists, quite as cool and genuine as Jim Vance, a longtime anchor on WRC, the NBC owned-and-operated TV station.

He worked there for more than four decades, candidly battled some personal demons (drugs, depression) and endured a cut-throat industry to become a local icon. He publicly disclosed his fight with cancer and passed away last week at age 75.

In a lovely appreciation, the Washington City Paper writes, "To live in this city is to move through a landscape of quasi-familiar faces, senators and philanthropists, anchormen and quarterbacks, people you see often enough to confuse with someone you’ve met at a bar or restaurant. They arrive and disappear in two- and four-year cycles, the regular movements of terms of office or military postings. Sometimes all Washington seems to be is a way station between other cities, other careers."

"The rarest citizen is one who comes from elsewhere and makes the city his own, conquers it, becomes the very definition of a Washingtonian. That was Jim Vance." He was a longtime anchor of the NBC affiliate WRC-Ch. 4.

"The day of his death, Mayor Muriel Bowser told Channel 4, 'He’s been on NBC my entire life, so I don’t really know a time in Washington without Jim Vance.' He has been the anchor of my lifetime too, both when I lived here, and especially once I moved away."

Oh, there's this nice riff in the alternative weekly from writer Steve Kistulentz: "Whether it was the single, quarter-inch stripe on his otherwise white-collared shirts, or the gold hoop in his left ear that appeared in tribute to his friend the late Ed Bradley, Vance on television was the walking embodiment of cool. He was bespoke, original, and contrarian."

"In an era when consultants told anchors what to wear on air and news directors not to hire those who didn’t comply, Vance was the original voice that said, to hell with that. If you watched Vance, you know that is exactly what he would have said, taking great delight in emphasizing the minor swear within. Read that phrase aloud. You will hear it in Vance’s voice."

He notes, too, that he last saw Vance on TV was earlier this summer in a story about a new mural that overlooks a local restaurant, Ben's Chili Bowl. He made some remarks and did so with a pen in his pocket. He was thinned from cancer treatments but "he came to U Street that day with a pen in his pocket."

Pretty simple. A pen in the pocket. "He covered all seven of the city’s elected mayors. He was, first and foremost, a reporter."

As Julie Carey, a great general assignment reporter at the station, emailed me from vacation last night, "He was a rock-solid journalist who had a grasp on such a broad array of issues that he could easily ask me a nuanced follow-up question if I was doing a story on Virginia politics, no prepping required. Perhaps the most unique thing: while Vance had such stature in the community, he was embraced because he was so approachable. There was never ego or self-importance that separated him from folks in the community. "

And this: "And what he represented to young African Americans in our area was incalculable."

Somewhere in the news industry's many problems is losing touch with regular consumers. One might thus study the Vance legacy. They knew him, loved him and respected him.

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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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