SNL's Sean Spicer parody has gone from laugh-out-loud funny to roll-your-eyes boring

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Sean Spicer took a break. Now it would be smart for Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy to do the same.

The much-maligned White House press secretary is back after perilous and arduous Navy Reserve duty (in a public relations office at the Pentagon). The two actors should do the same to avoid becoming parodies of parodies.

Why is Baldwin's Donald Trump (especially) and McCarthy's Spicer (a little less) wearing thin? Perhaps it's just that the unpredictability is gone, even if they're a ratings hit, and that Baldwin's impersonation "feels increasingly dutiful," said Harvey Young, a theater and African studies expert at Northwestern University.

I fell asleep not long after Baldwin's opening, a takeoff on his Lester Holt interview. And I was out before the pretty awful depiction of White House deputy spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a dumb, food-addicted Southerner, even if that worked in Soho, Scarsdale and Park Slope.

With apologies for what my spouse cites as my dated cultural references, we must harken to the great blues guitarist B.B. King: the thrill is gone.

Writing in The Ringer, Alison Herman says, "I finally realized what I’ve found so frustrating about SNL’s political comedy of late, and what makes political comedy so hard for SNL to pull off right now: It’s been predictable, and unpredictability is exactly what makes this show so fun to watch."

Anne Libera, who teaches comedy at Chicago's Second City and was teaching Monday at Stanford University, told me a few weeks ago about "studies out there that suggest that people are less likely to try to affect change in a situation after being exposed to jokes about that situation."

"It may be that there is something in laughing at an injustice that gives us an intellectual distance rather than creating an emotional/empathic connection which could drive us to action."

She was amplifying on Baldwin's own articulated qualms about his impersonation not having the net negative impact he'd desired. It's not.

And the more they go after Trump, the more they seem to normalize his presidency. It becomes a given, as shocked as core "Saturday Night Live" viewers might be.

If you live between the coasts, it's having scant impact. It's nothing compared to the daily disclosures by reporters about an off-kilter White House.

It's sketch comedy that, for the moment, has lost its bite.

Trump's Comey "tapes?"

He's got tapes? It's B.S., suggests Bloomberg's Tim O'Brien:

"Here's why: Trump lied to me repeatedly about the same kind of thing." (Bloomberg)

The White House briefing

Julie Mason, who hosts "The Press Pool" on Sirius/XM Radio, makes the case this morning against the (not new) idea mulled by Trump to end the daily press briefing that inspired "Saturday Night Live" to beckon McCarthy for Spicer duty.

The Obama White House considered it. But "the many reasons for rejecting the idea are still relevant: The daily briefing is bigger than its parts and about more than whoever is at the podium or asking questions. It's also about more than the first viewer, darkly nursing a Diet Coke and watching in his private dining room." (U.S. News & World Report)

In her mind, it's "a necessary affirmation of democracy, an expression of the defining American value that we question and challenge our leaders, all the way up to the top. It's not just a privilege but a duty to confront and yes, even to heckle, as we push them to explain and account for their work."

A confidential disclosure

The attribution is rather vague ("according to a current and former government official") in what The New York Times calls "a major breach of espionage etiquette" as it follows a headline-making Washington Post story (that the key named source denies).

But the story doesn't leave any doubt about the depths of suspicion toward Trump among and outside the government. When current and former government officials start talking to the press about what is conceded to be classified information, that's, ah, pretty unusual. Some call it unfortunate.

Tribune-Sun-Times

The Chicago Sun-Times this morning juxtaposes a solicitous business gossip column item on multi-billionaire builder Sam Zell, whose brief ownership of Tribune Co. was a disaster that wound up in bankruptcy, with a stark, black-and-white full-page notice on the facing page offering the paper for sale. Yes, a for-sale ad. (Sun-Times)

It's no surprise that Tronc, the inelegantly renamed Tribune Publishing and owner of the Chicago Tribune, likely will now buy the paper's Chicago rival. (Poynter) In turbulent times, this was in the cards, with nobody else seriously interested in a purchase after it was shopped around.

The big question is how much Tronc, which has been wickedly spoofed by John Oliver, "will invest in preserving a strong and independent editorial voice for the Sun-Times," says San Francisco-based industry analyst Alan Mutter, a Sun-Times alum.

I was among a group running the nonprofit Chicago News Cooperative when Jim O'Shea, my colleague and former Los Angeles Times editor, convinced board members to buy the Sun-Times, believing the purchase would set them up to ultimately snatch the far bigger, more valuable Tribune.

It will now happen in reverse even though the key player at Tronc, tech executive Michael Ferro, was part of the group that bought the Sun-Times and wound up being first among equals (via a bigger investment) and running the Sun-Times. Then, he split for Tribune Publishing, whose holdings also included the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Hartford Courant.

O'Shea recalls how even before Ferro took over the Sun-Times, the paper signed a deal under which the Tribune printed the paper, allowing the Sun-Times to ditch its printing plant and lots of production employees.

That deal was too rich for the Sun-Times and was later renegotiated, though the Tribune benefits handsomely from it (one of its few real profit centers). But, at least both papers survive, albeit under one (bright but mercurial) owner, with all that entails. At least for a while.

"The end of privacy"

Journalists have weighed in on this topic endlessly but probably can't match Stanford University data scientist Michal Kosinski on how potent algorithms that collect bits and pieces about our lives can produce distinctly intimate portrayals of our lives. Here's Part 1 of a Stanford Business School interview.

Even just using a list of songs you've listened to and websites that you have visited can prompt accurate predictions about your most intimate traits, including sexual tendencies. Even stipulating to the many wonders of our age (he cites Google Maps as a prime example), "We're heading to a post-privacy era, when people won't have rights to privacy...the game is lost."

Jesse Waters on loyalty

My two oldest friends attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, so I know there are smart alums. They don't seem to include Jesse Waters of Fox News, the theatrically gratuitous and low-brow former Bill O'Reilly jester who last night questioned on "The Five" the patriotism of people who allegedly leak to The Washington Post.

If you're disloyal, you talk to the Post; if loyal, you go to your superior, he said. That prompted conservative writer-pundit David Frum to tweet, "What if your loyalty is to the United States?" He expanded on CNN's "New Day," deriding Trump's servility to the Russians and says he should now resign.

Capital punishment

Washington's hockey team, the Capitals, tanked last week in a big game seven and, last night, it was the turn of its basketball team, the Wizards, also in a game seven.

Moments after the game, The Washington Post noted that "a D.C. team in one of the four major sports hasn’t advanced to its league’s conference championship round since 1998."

Dismal lack of diversity

Hiring in college sports reflects the rest of executive hiring in many industries. The Washington Post is good on how even a weak diversity pledge promulgated by the NCAA is spurned by many, including the presidents of Notre Dame and Boston College.

Inside the NBA

In the first playoff game the other night between the favored Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, Kawhi Leonard, the super-star Spur, reinjured an ankle after a dubious defensive play by a Warrior.

Was it intentional and dirty? TNT's "Inside the NBA" offered a very lively late-night give-and-take among former players Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith and the consensus was, yes, dirty and intentional play, with O'Neal unequivocal.

"He knew what the hell he was doing," said O'Neal, with Smith disagreeing (calling it merely "reckless") and Barkley taking a middle ground, but all of them naming names of prior dirty players. It was great TV.

Headline of day

"Your data is probably safer with Facebook than with your hospital" (Recode)

And that was based on an interview before the ransomeware attack Friday. Meanwhile, Stat News, the new biomedical site, discloses how "U.S. hospitals are scrambling to strengthen their digital security systems following the ransomware attack that crippled the health care system in the United Kingdom." (STAT)

The morning babble

The cable shows were dominated by reports of Trump disclosing classified information to the Russians. It ran the gamut from "Fox & Friends" reflexive defense to the "Morning Joe" prediction that Republicans wouldn't support Trump, with Post reporter Greg Miller there to detail the full story and Trump's penchant to "go off script" in the presence of the now notorious Russian ambassador.

"It makes ISIS's job so much easier," Joe Scarborough said flatly, as if we really know. On CNN's "New Day," The New York Times' David Sanger argued that the big issue was if Trump so burned an allied intelligence service that it would be unlikely to again share information.

David Frum and Trump acolyte Jeffrey Lord dueled a bit later, with Lord taking the Jesse Waters line about going to a boss, not the press ("sabotage," he called it). Frum said that was baloney, that "the boss" of the leaker was President Trump, who couldn't be trusted, and instead somebody went to Trump's boss, "us."

Lord, who video conferenced in, was unmoved. He stared into his computer and derided Frum (and columnist David Brooks) as a "Never Trumper." History may suggest there were worst epithets.

But maybe this will help boost the Fox ratings tonight for 48th birthday boy Tucker Carlson. It will be an anxiety-filled day as the world (not quite) awaits his surely perplexed and cutting rejoinder.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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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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