A vote for absurdity: GOP cans NBC

Good morning.

  1. Cha-ching at CNN
    The Republican National Committee ditched NBC as a partner for the Feb. 25 Republican presidential debate in Houston, which comes right before Super Tuesday voting in 14 states. The RNC is still pissed at CNBC's handling of a debate 10 weeks ago. But it doesn't truly have the courage of its convictions since its partners will still include Telemundo, the Spanish-language network owned by NBCUniversal. Its rage is thus rather selective, lest the GOP further alienate Latino voters. So CNN now gets the debate and can make a ton of money: "CAN TRUMP BE STOPPED?!!!" "SHOOTOUT IN TEXAS!" etc. This simply underscores the lunacy of the U.S. system in which the debates are vehicles for commercial networks to make a buck. It doesn't happen elsewhere. Again, nowhere else do commercial network make millions off political candidates in such a fashion. Yes, networks should cover debates. But they shouldn't be overseen by political parties, whose primary goal is winning elections, not educating voters. They should by run by serious nonprofit institutions, like universities or C-SPAN, which don't market them like prize fights as they also hawk their own talent.
  2. Odd media doubles partners break tennis scandal
    The BBC and BuzzFeed? A partnership of a once-unlikely sort broke an investigation of big-time players possibly throwing matches, including at such august venues as Wimbledon. (BBC) As BuzzFeed succinctly put it: "Betting worth billions. Elite players. Violent threats. Covert messages with Sicilian gamblers. And suspicious matches at Wimbledon. Leaked files expose match-fixing evidence that tennis authorities have kept secret for years." (BuzzFeed) This used algorithms to dissect gambling on matches and identify those players who "regularly attracted lopsided betting that shifted the odds, which is considered a warning of possible match fixing." (ESPN) This is based partly on 2008 internal documents of the tennis association. Eight of the unidentified players said to be under suspicion are now in Melbourne playing in the Australian Open, the first big tournament of the year. (Reuters) But, again, consider this media tandem. Not long ago, the BBC would have been deemed to have gone slumming.
  3. Lessons of Jason Rezaian's odyssey?
    The just-released Washington Post reporter met with top editors, family and his congressman at a U.S. military facility in Germany and seemed to be in good shape and spirits. (The Washington Post) He detailed limited contact with others, spending at least 49 days in solitary confinement, being stuck in a 15-by-20-foot room with three cots and his exercise consisting of walking up to five hours each day about an 8-by-8 concrete courtyard. So now that his outrageous Tehran saga is over, what's there really to say? Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American who's an Iran expert, says, "Not sure there are any real lessons. Jason's case was difficult mainly because he is a dual national, with Iran not recognizing any other citizenship. Dual citizenship is suspect for some hardliners in Iran — to them indicative of dual loyalty at best. As a journalist, he was doubly suspect to certain elements, and was caught up also in some internal political struggles. Not sure there was anything he could have done differently." Majd is a contributor to NBC News and Vanity Fair and was in Vienna Saturday when Rezaian was released, which was tied to that day's end of Iranian nuclear sanctions, was announced. Well, let's say that, at minimum, it's a reminder that even in this rhetorically bombastic, bombs-away world of current politics, diplomacy and actually talking do work sometimes.
  4. Univision buys a controlling stake in The Onion
    The Spanish-language broadcaster is purchasing a 40 percent in the Chicago-based satirical news outlet, "which includes the site, its influential sister popular culture outfit the AV Club, the social media satire site Clickhole, and various book and video projects." (NPR)
  5. A fond and fun farewell
    Slate's Jacob Weisberg was just one of many eulogists Monday at the wonderful Chicago memorial service for his mom, Lois, who died at age 90 after a storied career as a cultural pacesetter and longtime head of the city's cultural affairs operation. Chicago Tribune reporter Rick Kogan brought a synagogue to its feet, while Malcolm Gladwell, who penned a classic 1999 profile of her (The New Yorker), drew lots of laughs recalling how the diminutive Weisberg would pick him up each morning from his hotel while at the wheel of her city-issued Chrysler. She couldn't see through windshield, he said, and wouldn't stop turning her head to talk to him. She was thus ahead of her time as far as a driverless car, he said, but in a "terrifying" manner. Gladwell himself just returned from a reporting gig in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, profiling Chester Wenger, a courageous 97-year-old Mennonite minister bounced for officiating a same-sex marriage. Wenger's never shown any bitterness, just as Weisberg was unflagging in her idiosyncratic, establishment-busting but ever-generous ways. For both there was a "generous orthodoxy that makes this world a better place."
  6. Now the belated media navel gazing about covering Bernie Sanders
    Has his campaign been taken very seriously? No. Are media obsessed with polling? Yes. Has new polling prompted a 180-degree turnaround? Yup. "I've never been in an avalanche, but I'm beginning to think I know what it feels like," Mike Briggs, Sanders' spokesperson and a former very good reporter himself, said of the requests now coming his way for interviews. But the conventional wisdom remains that even if he were to emerge victorious in Iowa and New Hampshire, he's got a snowball's chance against Hillary Clinton. (CNN)
  7. Spinning fictions in the media
    Stuart Stevens is a successful Republican political strategist who oversaw Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. He's a regular in the political press but also an eclectic fellow who writes screenplays, novels, non-fiction books and short stories. His latest, pretty good, story is found in The Daily Beast and involves a man who was a Rhodes Scholar and former governor and a woman who was royalty from a dangerous part of the world. They were lovers long ago, then went about their lives. Until the CIA tracked him down to ask his help with her. And then... (The Daily Beast)
  8. If you cover the cancer 'moonshot'
    As Joe Biden is dispatched (apparently to his initial surprise) to help solve cancer per President Obama's State of the Union announcement, how might the media thoughtfully discern whether this is a legit endeavor or political malarkey? A terrific and very understandable new life sciences website proffers seven ways to do just that. Is the project at least upsetting something the science-medical establishment? Is Obama's a real deadline? Does Biden bang heads? Does the enterprise involve specialists outside of cancer biology? There are more questions to keep in mind. (STAT)
  9. Tale of 2 octogenarian billionaire newspaper proprietors
    So casino mogul Sheldon Adelson caused a ruckus by buying a Las Vegas paper. Less attention is given the potentially more intriguing decision by Philadelphia's Gerry Lenfest to give over the two big Philadelphia papers and Philly.com, along with $20 million, to a newly created nonprofit institute meant to preserve public-interest journalism in the city. David Boardman, who runs the communications school at Temple University and will be on the institute's board, argues there's an Adelson-Lenfest link: they recognize that papers "remain powerful societal tools that can be used for purposes both selfish and civic, for evil and for good, to deceive or to enlighten." He concedes the new Philly deal is no panacea since the two papers have "for years bled money, circulation, and staff." But he remains hopeful. (Philly.com)
  10. Looking for great, profitable career in media?!
    Crain's Chicago Business crunched some Bureau of Labor Statistics data to come up with the top-10 "in-demand" area jobs for 2016 that pay $60,000 or more. Surprise, nothing in media! But you're fine if you're a biomedical engineer, pharmaceutical regulatory affairs specialist, genetic counselor or industrial organizational psychologist. (Crain's Chicago Business)
  11. Somehow missed on a slow news day
    Ian Duncan of The Baltimore Sun had White House pool duty yesterday, notably trailing the Obamas to a Washington elementary school on a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday service project. At one point he reported, "My tape is somewhat muffled but the president said: 'Spinach is outstanding...That's how you stay healthy.'" But nothing from the commander in chief on the perils of high-fructose corn syrup or Yellow Dye No. 5? Oh, well.
  12. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
    Kathy Lee is now a designer at The Washington Post. Previously, she was a designer at The Boston Globe. (Wash Post PR) | Joel Gehrke is now a political reporter at The Washington Examiner. Previously, he was a political reporter at National Review Online. (Fishbowl DC) | Chris Mannix is joining Yahoo. Previously, he was a staff writer at Sports Illustrated. (Fishbowl NY) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org.

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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