School bulletin: Betsy DeVos speaks (very briefly) to a reporter!
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The Trump administration's suspicion of the press is typified by ditching some daily White House briefings, barring cameras from others and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson straying from the media as if he were still CEO of Exxon Mobil.
And then there's Betsy DeVos.
You remember her, right? She's the wealthy charter school advocate from Michigan whose Senate confirmation hearing was a painful embarrassment, given her seeming ignorance of the Education Department she was taking over.
Or maybe you don't. She's not in the news much. She's like a 5th grader avoiding eye contact with a science teacher whose test she flunked. Last night she did what was hailed by NBC as her first "network news interview" on Megyn Kelly's show, offering what appeared to be a brief and banal set of comments on charter schools.
Just ask, among others, Greg Toppo, USA Today's education writer and president of the Education Writers Association (my wife, a Pulitzer-winning ex-journalist, is on the board). He noted how the association started getting complaints about the department being unresponsive and frustrating.
It took nearly three months before DeVos brought on a full-time spokesman. Before then, "many reporters' queries, mine included, were simply going unanswered," says Toppo. Then there is DeVos' general lack of availability. She has yet to sit down with reporters at department headquarters and "I believe you can count her on-the-record interviews on one hand."
She's made herself available on several impromptu occasions during school visits hundreds of miles from Washington. She's not, to his knowledge, taken reporters questions at speaking events and, when Toppo and others approached her in a hotel corridor after one such gathering, her security team intruded and escorted her onto an elevator.
As for why reporters would like her to show a scintilla of spine, Toppo says they need to understand her agenda and the thinking behind it. Fine, we know she supports charters. There are many related and separate issues. Her Senate hearing was such a mess, one needs to test the initial, presumably inaccurate image of her as clueless.
And then there's this, as Toppo and Caroline Hendrie, the association's executive director, separately noted Sunday: DeVos came up with an excuse not to address the group's annual meeting in Washington in late May (The Washington Post's Marty Baron was left the primary star speaker with her no-show), the largest annual gathering of education reporters.
Instead, she surfaced at a session of National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.
A long way from home in Holland, Michigan, maybe she needed her carburetor checked and an oil change. It was simpler than talking to journalists.
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" offered its rose-colored take on the president at the G20 ("President Returns from Productive G20"), while both CNN and MSNBC quickly discussed The New York Times exclusive on how Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer during the campaign after being told there'd be potentially damaging stuff on opponent Hillary Clinton. In its opening, "Fox & Friends" didn't mention it at all.
Meanwhile, the show's corporate sibling, The New York Post, instantly badmouthed the story, replete with a headline, "The Times ‘exposé’ on Donald Trump Jr. is a big yawn." But, as Axios notes this morning, the rival New York Daily News opted for "Kid Pro Quo" on the front and a big photo of Don Jr.
Ultimately, "Fox & Friends" did a subsequent drive-by ("Don Jr: Russian's Vague Claims Made No Sense"). Nobody knew about this, said co-host Steve Doocy until "someone in the deep state leaked these details to The New York Times." Yes, he parroted the Steve Bannon construct of Trump & Co. being a victim of odious leftie bureaucrats in the "deep state" and downplayed it finally by saying young Don isn't a government official, anyway, so it didn't matter. Boy.
Fox holds on
"Amid Turbulence, Fox News Holds On to No. 1 Spot as MSNBC Surges: Cable network weathers a year of turmoil from sexual-harassment scandals, departing talent" (The Wall Street Journal)
A Chris Christie post-mortem
Read this Sunday editorial from New Jersey's Star Ledger (my first job) on not just Chris Christie's arrogant day at the beach but also his failed legislative gambits to muzzle the media.
His attack includes what would have cost many jobs, namely ditching the need to print legal notices in newspapers. It was tagged Christie's "newspaper revenge bill." It failed. Then came photographer Andy Mills' aerial shots of Christie on sand he'd barred the public from amid a government shutdown.
The editorial concluded: "Newspapers report on the people and institutions of your community and help drive the civic machinery. But their prime directive is to keep elected officials accountable, and if that duty requires an intrepid photojournalist hanging out of a Cessna at 1,000 feet for an hour, we'll do it."
"It takes manpower, resources, and some ingenuity. But full disclosure: Mills has been chased by Israeli tanks through the Gaza Strip at 1 a.m., so all things being equal, this was kind of a day at the beach."
When the ballgame gets boring...
The baseball press spends a lot of time mulling the state of the game and its declining hold on the American public. Now comes an inadvertent way you could at least hike up interest, at least between innings:
"An elderly woman shown dancing on the videoboard between innings at Dodger Stadium proceeded to flash the crowd." (AP)
"Fans egged on her daring dance moves and perhaps emboldened by their cheers, the smiling woman quickly lifted her blue shirt, revealing a white bra underneath in the seventh inning on Saturday night. The camera cut away, but it wasn't in time. There was a collective gasp from the crowd of 45,225, many of whom began laughing."
The fruits of selling to Sinclair
The giant purchase of Tribune Media by Sinclair will mean giant payouts to some executives, as Securities and Exchange Commission documents disclosed by Rob Feder make clear.
In a filing this week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Sinclair disclosed plans for generous severance payments to top Tribune execs when they exit the company after the merger is completed. They include:
"Edward Lazarus, executive vice president and general counsel: $9,681,435; Chandler Bigelow, executive vice president and chief financial officer: $9,248,157; Larry Wert, president broadcast media: $7,760,566.
Peter Kern, the interim chief executive officer at Tribune, won't go begging, according to my own perusal. "The compensation committee of Tribune's board has preliminarily concluded that it may pay Mr. Kern certain bonuses in 2017, including up to $2 million as a discretionary 2017 annual performance bonus and up to $3 million as a bonus related to his running the sale process of Tribune. "
And if Tribune for some reason reneges on the deal, there's a $135.5 million payment to Sinclair.
Amazon Prime keeps growing and growing
"Someday soon, more U.S. households will be subscribers of Amazon Prime than cable or satellite TV, according to recent estimates of Amazon’s popular shipping and entertainment service." (Recode)
"According to estimates from Morningstar, nearly 79 million U.S. households now have an Amazon Prime membership, up from around 66 million at the end of last year."
Death in Russia
"The prominent Russian blogger and internet entrepreneur Anton Nossik has died from a heart attack aged 51. Nossik was often described as the godfather of the Russian internet, co-founding and editing Russia's biggest online publications." (BBC)
'News of his death has sent shockwaves through Russian social media...A dual Russian and Israeli citizen, he was outspoken in his condemnation of the government's efforts to tighten official control over the internet."
"Funds overseen by BlackRock expect to lose at least 96% of the roughly $300 million loan they made two years ago to Jawbone, which is going out of business, government filings show." (The Information)
Trump's election fraud claims
The president claims election fraud, picked a commission and now it's dueling with state election officials over a request for personal data of voters. The New York Times' Michael Wines and Rachel Shorey laid out the issues well right here when it comes to the commission and access to voter data.
"Little Marco" pushes back
"Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Sunday pushed back at a news article that claimed the conservative lawmaker was tweeting 'the most Republican part of the Bible.'" (The Hill)
"'Proverbs is the Republican part of the bible? I don't think Solomon had yet joined the GOP when he wrote the first 29 chapters of Proverbs,' Rubio said tongue-in-cheek while retweeting Politico Magazine's story on the matter."
Writing off lunch
The Wall Street Journal writes that the Boston Bruins (that's hockey for those who don't follow a great sport) won a face-off with the Internal Revenue Service in U.S Tax Court over its desire to deduct 100 percent of the cost of certain meals it provides players and staff. The current law is generally 50 percent.
Media organizations, be informed that this dispute involved the team deducting 100 percent of the cost of meals provided on the road (or over $280,000 in the most recent year detailed). But this could theoretically mean the ability to write off 100 percent of meal costs on one's own premises if an employer brings "far-flung employees together for training or coordination." (The Wall Street Journal)
Hawaii Five-0 junkie
It's one thing to get paid to watch and review television, as is the case for The New York Times' Mike Hale. But to have watched every episode of "Hawaii Five-0"? That's 168 so far, or 115 hours.
Hale responds to the departure of two of the ensemble members, both of Asian descent, in what appears a salary dispute in which they get paid less than the two primary characters (Caucasian actors).
"So why am I a 'Hawaii Five-0' completist? My mother lives in Hawaii, I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years, and I started watching the show for the scenery – calling out the locations, moaning over the blatant shilling for the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel. My mother is also Korean, and I felt some additional loyalty to the show because of Mr. Kim’s and Ms. Park’s prominence."
There's also this: "But I also thought it was kind of amusing that the state’s Asian population was being represented primarily by two Korean actors when people who identify as Korean make up about 2 percent of the population. If the performers who take their place are of Japanese, Filipino or Hawaiian heritage, 'Hawaii Five-0' will actually have become more representative on Hawaii." (The New York Times)
A read of the day
Robin Wright in The New Yorker upon the fall of Mosul and thus ISIS control: "Exactly three years after it was declared, the Islamic State is now near defeat..."
"But it is far too soon to celebrate. Since the rise of jihadi extremism four decades ago, its most enduring trait, through ever-evolving manifestations, is its ability to reinvent and revive movements that appeared beaten."
Obsessed with Obama
"In order to ensure a uniform transition to the new administration, the Department of Interior requested the immediate resignation of all Obama-era elk. 'We are asking all elk appointed by President Obama, regardless of subspecies, to step down from their posts by no later than June 1,' said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke."
Is this not a bit nuts? Going overboard? Not if you're a devotee of The Onion.