Viewers can't look away from President Trump
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.
Donald Trump is temporary ratings gold, which is either evidence of renewed civic engagement or merely the decline of Western civilization.
Variety reports that Fox News "finished far and above its competition in the ratings for the first quarter of 2017, with the network putting up the highest-rated quarter ever in cable news history in the total day viewership measure, according to Nielsen data released Tuesday."
Cable ratings still pale in comparison to the big broadcast networks. And their historical fragmentation persist, spasms of industry propaganda aside. But the sales departments at Fox, MSNBC and CNN have some reason to cheer. Fox averages 1.72 million total day viewers, with CNN next at 826,000 and MSNBC third at 781,000, with the latter sharply growing viewership of late.
Trump's divisiveness is exactly what the networks are benefiting from.
Matthew Gentzkow, a Stanford economist who studied media consumption patterns while previously at the University of Chicago, says, "One thought is that none of this seems very consistent with the idea that people no longer pay attention to mainstream media."
It would be interesting, he says, to see if Republicans and Democrats have become any more dispersed among the three networks. When he and colleague Jesse Shapiro (now at Brown University) assessed the state of play for a 2011 academic article, they found the Fox News' audience at 54 percent conservatives, 13 percent liberal and 33 percent moderate. Their full data is right here.
Matthew Baum, a public policy expert at Harvard's Kennedy School and analyst of the nexus of mass media and politics, demurred when I suggested that one lump together CNN and MSNBC and perhaps conclude that there's a roughly 50-50 liberal-conservative split in the cable audience.
"I would just add that in most respects CNN has situated itself as the centrist network, and so I think it would not be at all fair to describe the cable universe as more or less ideologically balanced in terms of audience. It's not."
"That said, I think CNN in general, and Jake Tapper in particular, has been fairly critical of Trump's behavior in office, though less consistently so than MSNBC. So if you want to divide the cable world into camps of shilling for Trump vs. skeptical of Trump, then I suppose your comparison makes somewhat more sense."
"While MSNBC is more or less the mirror opposite of Fox, again, CNN is not, as the network assiduously airs both sides of nearly every argument (unlike the other two)." So, he says, when it comes to the ideologically contours of the ratings, "The Fox/pro-Republican side wins hands down I think."
Finally, there's this big picture reminder from Markus Prior, a Princeton University political scientist: The cable news universe has been bigger. And it's been, on the whole, going down despite overall population growth.
Indeed, the total audience was way higher in the early Obama years, hovering around 4 million. (Pew) But, for now, they, if not Western civilization, should be thankful for Trump.
Says Harvard's Baum: "Trump is good for business. But slightly more seriously, I would perhaps endorse Andrew Sullivan's notion that a sign of a democracy in trouble is when people feel the need to pay constant attention to politics, or, alternatively, lose the freedom to ignore politics. Record cable news ratings could thus be interpreted in this light as a troubling sign of a democratic civil society on the ropes."
Guess who's not coming to dinner?
Sounds like Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and all their 20-something flunkies in the White House must have the acoustic guitars out and are belting out Pete Seeger's "Solidarity Forever," even if none (perhaps beyond self-appointed chief populist Steven Bannon) know of Seeger.
"The White House informed the White House Correspondents’ Association this evening that White House staff will not be attending this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner out of 'solidarity' with President Trump, who has previously announced that he would skip the event," association chief Jeff Mason, a Reuters reporter whose attempts to be solicitous toward the Trump media apparatus have been falling short.
"The WHCA board regrets this decision very much. We have worked hard to build a constructive relationship with the Trump White House and believe strongly that this goal is possible even with the natural tension between the press and administrations that is a hallmark of a healthy republic."
So if you're looking for tickets to the dinner, call your chums in D.C. If Trump and White House aides, big and small, ain't coming, figure that the many administration officials in other departments, some of whom can be a very big "get" for a media outlet, won't be coming, either.
And, with the Mets in town that weekend against the Nationals, this will not be the hottest ticket around. Plus, come to think of it, there's the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester, Virginia, and Annapolis Spring Sailboat Show in the Maryland capital.
And, too, there's author Paul Starobin on "Madness Rules the Hour: Charleston, 1860, and the Mania for War" at the Politics and Prose book store.
Culinary journalism at its finest
"The Olive Garden is building its comeback around shrimp scampi" (Bloomberg)
Will the Raiders fans stick around?
There's no story much bigger in Oakland, California, than the exit of the NFL Raiders to Las Vegas, probably in two, at most three years. And sportswriter Mark Purdy wonders, "Will Bay Area fans keeping showing up in the meantime?"
His candidly ambiguous conclusion: "Your guess is as good as mine. Reactions will probably be all over the map. Nothing this strange has ever happened in American pro sports. But with the Raiders expected to field a playoff-caliber team this fall, it’s hard for me to believe the Coliseum will be very empty."
"(Owner) Mark Davis said he hopes fans will not take out any anger or emotions on Raider players or coaches, but on ownership. The whole thing may become a sociological experiment about sports consumers and why they attend games. Is their loyalty to a certain team or only to a certain team if it plays in a certain city?" (East Bay Times)
Headline of day
"Trump trades the planet for a few coal jobs in a doomed industry
31 — ‘Trump to future generations: Drop dead’" (The Verge)
News and analysis combo
Reporter Ronn Blitzer wrote the news story for Law Newz, then the separate analysis of sexual assault litigation against the president. The latter opened:
"As I wrote earlier today, President Donald Trump‘s legal team said in a late-night court filing on Monday that they plan to fight the defamation case brought by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos on the grounds that as President, Trump is immune to such litigation while he’s in office. After reviewing the key points of the arguments on both sides of this issue, it’s highly likely that Trump’s side is right on this one." (Law Newz)
The death of journalists
Academics Anita Gohdes of the University of Zurich and Sabine Carey of the University of Mannheim scrutinized the more than 1,300 journalist killings between 2002 and 2013 for an academic paper. They note how a great many are killed far from battlefields, often killed in countries less known for repression than we assume, more likely to be done in by state agents than criminal gangs and can represent a harbinger of bad things to come as far as human rights in a nation.
Gohdes herself finds notable that the most are killed in what they deem "medium" repressive countries."It’s not the super repressive ones." Also, "I think the findings show us just how dangerous it can be to be a journalist — and outside of conflict zones it’s mostly the local members of the press who are targeted, not international ones."
Joel Simon, who heads the Committee to Protect Journalists, had not seen their paper, though it draws heavily on his group's data. "I thought it was interesting because it confirmed what I have observed but having the data to back it up is valuable. Based on my experience, killing a journalist is an escalation, whether perpetrated by a state actor or non-state actor."
Drip, drip, drip
"A year after acquiring the Commercial Appeal and Knoxville News-Sentinel, Gannett made sizable cuts today in both of those newsrooms, in addition to laying off three reporters locally." (Nashville Scene)
The morning babble
"Morning Joe" was in full Washington status quo defense this morning, heralding the smarts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell versus the supposed White House troglodytes like Bannon and the days when the likes of Jim Baker and Michael Deaver ambled about the Ronald Reagan White House.
Joe Scarborough even insisted that co-host Mika Brzezinski pipe down (explain that dynamic, please) so he could underscore how astute he was to tell an undisclosed White House source on the first day how dumb it was to tweet photos of the Inauguration Day crowd size. "We are going to kill you," he claims he told Mr. Unidentified, unless they quickly changed their ways.
Both his crew and CNN's "New Day" group were very down on White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer but not as down as CNN pundit Errol Louis on Fox's Bill O'Reilly for those very dumb comments suggesting Rep. Maxine Waters wears a "James Brown wig."
"Fox & Friends," which beckoned golfer-entrepreneur Greg Norman to tout Donald Trump as pro-business, made much of Hillary Clinton's call to "resist, insist, persist, enlist" in San Francisco and called her "the failed candidate."
However, it didn't make as much of her black leather outfit as did CNN's Alisyn Camerota, who found it possibly symbolic of a new combativeness. Hmmm. Imagine if O'Reilly brought that up, too.
The difference between media and tech
Recode's Kara Swisher does a terrific (and droll) podcast interview with Quincy Smith, a talented banker with tons of experience with big operators in media and tech, including the start of the internet at Netscape. This is one of his many interesting declarations:
"When things get tough in technology, they really laser focus on the product and really don’t buy anything at all. So if you looked at an investment banker’s stock chart of Time Warner or Comcast, you’d see if things are under pressure, they think, 'What else can we buy to get our fiefdom bigger,' or, 'How do we expand things?'"
"Whereas in tech companies, actually that’s the time when they don’t buy things. That’s when they really focus on what is going on with the product. But if they wake up the next morning, you know, and their stock is on a tear, they’re like, 'Hey, maybe the market is trying to warn us, trying to tell us to do something.'"
"More importantly inside the culture of entrepreneurs, when one zigs the other zags. Inside of a media company, that’s less the case. If (Disney chief) Bob Iger is doing something, it’s more likely that the other moguls will follow suit in terms of what he’s doing rather than have a differing opinion, just because there is too much risk around it." (Recode)
Facebook goes after Snapchat
"Facebook Inc is giving the camera a central place on its smartphone app for the first time, encouraging users to take more pictures and edit them with digital stickers that show the influence of rival Snapchat." (Yahoo)
Publisher suing publisher
"In the news and publishing world, there tends to be pretty strong support for protecting free speech and, in particular, strong anti-SLAPP laws. After all, news publishers, are (unfortunately!) frequently targeted in SLAPP suits that are designed solely to shut up a news organization from reporting on something that someone doesn't like."
Now, you've got "a weird legal battle involving two publishers in nearby Santa Clara, California. The lawsuit was filed by Santa Clara Eagle Publishing and its boss Miles Barber against a guy named Robert Haugh, who just recently started an online-only publication called 'Santa Clara News Online.'" Haugh written some stuff critical of Barber and Santa Clara Weekly, thus the odd litigation.(Techdirt)
Need a tote bag?
If you inexplicably — well, it's explicable — don't associate the New York Review of Books with comics, you might since it unveiled its first New York Review Comic via Mark Beyer's Agony. So it's proudly produced "some of the best, strangest, most exciting comics we know—from a Pop-Art dystopia to delicate memoir to the finest in cowboy jokes—and join in the long NYRB tradition of inventive, witty, and beautiful storytelling."
So it's offering "all NYR Comics titles, along with a few of our other favorite books, at 30% off. Order $50 or more and we’ll include a free NYR Comics tote bag." (New York Review of Books)
So "Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire doctor in Los Angeles and a major shareholder in the newspaper publisher Tronc, has sent a letter to Tronc’s board accusing the company of 'poor corporate governance' and asking for access to its books and records." (The New York Times)
The doc was beckoned to the company by Michael Ferro, a Chicago tech mini-mogul and the iconoclastic boss, and now are both trying to be king of the hill, with Soon-Shiong seemingly short of the needed board votes.
What's the lesson here?
Nell Minow, a corporate governance expert, tells me: "Tronc continues to add insult to injury — and some more injury, too — with its apparently endless series of governance atrocities. Ferro seems incapable of understanding the basic principle that shareowners have rights, and Dr. Soon-Shiong is clearly right that the stock has a 'governance discount,' reflecting the lack of trust investors have in this management team and board of directors."
Limits to Kushner's multitasking
While some White House reporters were grousing about whom they'd invite to their dinner, they missed this:
"Admitting there was simply too much on his plate right now to bring stability to the fractious region by end of day Friday, Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner quietly moved the task 'solve Middle East crisis' to his to-do list for next week, sources reported Tuesday."
“'Ushering in lasting peace across the Mideast is definitely still a big priority for me, but given everything else I’ve got going on right now, I’m just going to need to bump it to next week when I have a little more time on my hands,' Kushner reportedly said as he crossed out the task on his pocket day planner and rewrote it on the following page, acknowledging that he was just 'too swamped' at the moment with policy reports and real estate development meetings to resolve the numerous wars, land disputes, and centuries-old ethnic and religious tensions that have long raged among the 350 million residents of the geopolitical hotspot."
At least somebody from Foreign Policy magazine was paying attention. Oh, wrong outlet. My bad. It was The Onion.