The Washington Post's new motto is branding genius

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Marty Baron is no Tom Stoppard but, fortunately, they think sort of alike.

Go to washingtonpost.com and look under the masthead.

"Democracy Dies in Darkness," it says, as of Wednesday.

"This is actually something we've said internally for a long time in speaking about our mission," said a spokeswoman. "We thought it would be a good, concise value statement that conveys who we are to the many millions of readers who have come to us for the first time over the last year."

I initially thought it was a wee bit precious, even pretentious and overly reactive to the Trump-inspired outrage in many journalism quarters. There's a circling of wagons. Some people can't watch the news. Others binge on "The West Wing." Folks ask whether Trump will be impeached in the next few months. They inquire, imploringly, if we're not already witnessing the sequel to Watergate.

So "Democracy Dies in Darkness" could be seen to fit a preachy, overweening industry self-regard of the moment. A plea for attention and respect when simple, unexplained daily action will have to do, if not necessarily suffice.

But it works.

At minimum, it might just be a masterstroke when it comes to branding. Straightforward, succinct, a phrase that captures purpose. We'll see.

Obviously, it's about democracy, which one would hope remains a nonpartisan value. It sets a high bar for the paper, especially in a world increasingly filled with deceit and commentary passing as reporting.

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This is a period of time that can seem a bit off-kilter and unhinged on some days, with the president attacking a free press, then rattling off falsehoods in front of reporters. Baron, the editor of the Post, has been outspoken on Trump’s treatment of the press, as in his remarks when accepting this year’s Hitchens Prize, meant to honor those seeking truth in the tradition of the late Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens.

There's now the possibility of dismantling a host of government safeguards on various matters. The defenseless may be even more so in a year or two.

If Trump read books or plays — which he seems not to, and proudly so — I'd send a copy of "Night and Day," a 1978 play by Stoppard, the brilliant British playwright.

It’s all about honorable foreign correspondents and includes one George Guthrie, an old-hand and knowing photographer. He tells a young reporter, “People do awful things to each other. But it’s worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark.”

“Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light.”

Baron is not a great playwright or novelist. He's a smart newspaper guy, now adroitly using the vast resources of a wealthy boss in transforming an institution.

And he's keeping a set of values that include trying to avoid his readers being kept in the dark. As the opening night audience would declare at the end of many Stoppard plays, bravo.

Vice's impressive opening act

The 5th season premiere of Vice's HBO newsmagazine comes Friday night with a two-story production on both the Assad regime's media control in Syria and big oil's deceits when it comes to climate change. (Poynter)

The Assad feature is especially damning and mixes the rubble of civil war with Assad's astonishingly effective propaganda that even has onetime enemies cowed. It's a tour de force by reporter Isobel Yeung. The big oil piece, fronted by Vice founder Shane Smith, is very solid, especially with the candor of a giant Norwegian oil company that stands at clear contrast to the decades of deceit of ExxonMobil.

If you're a reporter in need

David Boardman, who heads the steering committee of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and executive director Bruce Brown, gave a lousy grade to the Trump White House after its first month. (RCFP)

And, said Brown, “We want to remind journalists everywhere — whether you report for a major outlet, a small nonprofit news startup, or as a freelancer — the Reporters Committee has the pro bono legal support, tools and information you need to protect yourself and your work."

A podcast for the propertied class

"Forbes’ annual lists of the wealthy, powerful and talented get the spoken-word treatment with The Forbes List, a new weekly podcast from the publication, hosted on Podcast One as part of an ongoing partnership between the two organizations." (Adweek)

So, yes, leftovers from Mar-a-Lago and other high-rent districts.

The plot unfolds for a prominent critic

Christopher Isherwood, the No. 2 theater critic at The New York Times, was canned and rumors are flying. It's seemingly got something to do with emails badmouthing colleagues and playing footsie with theater producers, even tipping them to what was up with coming reviews. (Vulture)

The union says he's "done nothing to warrant dismissal, unless remarking to a friend that he was disappointed that the Times was cutting its arts coverage was an offense.” The Times says there was something else but won't expand. "Only something more serious would result in such an action.”

The Times is not a democracy and, for now, there's darkness. As for staffers' putting anything vaguely personal in emails from here on in — or tipping sources about upcoming stories, even passages they'd written — they'd be smart to go the same route.

How the Black press has rated presidents

A Northwestern University academic studied a total of 43 Black newspapers' editorials about presidents since 1900 to divine a ranking of them. There's some notable disjoint between the resulting conclusions and conventional rankings by historians. (U.S. News & World Report)

It's a coincidence that his academic paper surfaces at the same time one watched Trump's head-turning, condescending exchange with reporter April Ryan at last week's press conference. You know, the exchange over her inviting the Congressional Black Caucus to meet with Trump, as if she were among the hired help.

"Why the exchange carries more potential weight is this: Trump's dull-wittedness will impact what many blacks will think of him. History suggests such moments have lasting impact on public impressions," with Alvin Tillery Jr.'s research offering a window onto the attitude of black journalists toward presidents.

So the Trump-Ryan moment exchanges underscores the sort of "tone deafness that leads some modern presidents to rank low," he says.

One conclusion of his from the editorials: Blacks ranked Barack Obama fifth in general, behind the two Roosevelts, Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson. But when one specifically looked at editorials on civil rights issues, Obama dropped to seventh. Meanwhile, Richard Nixon comes far better than many might assume.

FCC move

"Federal regulators said Wednesday that they will allow certain new wireless devices to use a portion of unlicensed airwaves now used largely for Wi-Fi, a move aimed at ending a long-running dispute between industries." (The Wall Street Journal)

Demanding social media passwords

Techdirt reminds that last summer it started noting "that the Department of Homeland Security had quietly tested the waters to expand the information it requested of travelers entering the United States, to 'optionally' include social media handles. By December it was officially in place."

Well, just a few days of the Trump administration and, bingo, "the idea was floated to expand this program even further to demand passwords to social media accounts. In other words: that escalated quickly. We went from 'hey, maybe we could ask people to volunteer what their social media profiles are' to 'hey, let's demand all social media accounts, including passwords' in, like, six months."

"In response, a ton of human rights and civil liberties organizations have posted an open letter condemning this dangerous plan." (Techdirt)

Magic and Mike

ESPN's Michael Wilbon, a longtime friend and professional colleague of Magic Johnson, was waxing rhapsodic on ESPN's Chicago radio outlet about the genius of having Johnson now essentially taking over running the Lakers, his old team. Fabulous guy, prodigious worker, stickler for getting to meetings early, etc., etc. It verged on canonization.

And it's at odds with other views of a guy who's spread way too thin and can have a child's attention span. As Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke put it:

"Certainly, he’s impulsive in his thoughts, sometimes reckless in his words, and Johnson even surrendered his honorary Lakers vice president post last summer because his statements were causing so much confusion. He has had little impact as part of the Dodgers ownership team, is often distracted by his other business interests, and never seems to be in one place for more than five minutes."

The "but" is that his "heart" is with the Lakers. It may not get him over the hump, unless you're in his ample network of chums.

Ray Bonner's CIA scoop

Ray Bonner, the great former longtime New York Times reporter, breaks a tale on how Gina Haspel, who is Trump’s pick for the No. 2 spot at the CIA, was more deeply involved in the torture of Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian the U.S. believed was a top al-Qaeda's official, than the world has known. (ProPublica)

"ProPublica has combed through recently declassified documents, including CIA cables and Zubaydah’s own account of what he endured, and books by officials involved in the CIA’s interrogation program to assemble the fullest public account of Haspels role in the questioning of Zubaydah. The material we reviewed shows she played a far more direct role than has been understood."

The morning babble

"Fox & Friends," the president's favorite morning show, compared how "they" (the meanie liberal press) characterize the 2009 Tea Party protests versus those anti-trump folks showing at Republican legislators' meetings. "Getting ugly" and "unruly protests" back then, "grassroots resistance" now. It mirrored a White House attempt to downplay the unrest and impugn protesters' motives.

Well, the Trump resistance at CNN was simultaneously focusing on issues such as rescinding protections on transgender students, a short delay of Trump's new travel ban and the trek that top U.S. officials make today to Mexico to see their president. And, yes, "angry crowds pack GOP town halls across America," with examples of Republicans facing very unhappy constituents from New Jersey to California.

Ditto at MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "Republicans confronted at contentious town halls" was the chyron for a Nevada Republican's town hall. Donny Deutsch, wearing his Nathan Detroit white-and-striped jacket, opined with far less acuteness than any "Guys & Dolls" character" with a banality about Trump "starting in a very difficult position to look upwards." Unlike the Fox cheering squad, Willie Geist argued this isn't "AstroTurf," meaning the protests aren't artificial.

Oh, two vaguely notable matters. First, pundit Jon Meacham perhaps broke new morning ground by invoking Lionel Trilling, a key intellectual critic and essayist of the 1950s surely unknown now to most viewers Then, Joe Scarborough and Deutsch fenced over some minor slight perceived by a thin-skinned Deutch. Said Scarborough: "You're going to ask me to apologize air to you? Stop playing TV. You don't have to come on."

Trump critique from western Massachusetts

The editorial page of the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton writes, "After a month of Donald Trump on the world stage, outside his bubble of fans and sycophants, the reviewers of our new president’s performance mostly give him a B, for 'baffling.'" (Gazette)

It gives Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith of Fox News a shout-out. Wallace's was for his Sunday grilling of Reince Priebus, while Smith was lauded for an earlier declaration, "It is crazy what we are watching every day. It is absolutely crazy," Smith said. "He keeps repeating ridiculous throwaway lines that are not true at all and sort of avoiding this issue of Russia as if we are some kind of fools for asking the question."

Justice Scalia's son

Paul Scalia, a Catholic priest, spoke about his dad on "Fox & Friends" as he touted a book of his own essays about Catholicism. "My dad prized Catholic doctrine...had a love for Catholic liturgy..." They didn't ask him about transgender bathrooms, town hall protests or whether Hillary Clinton conspired to kill his dad (one of the campaign's many crazy claims). One of nine children, he spoke eloquently of the need to meld truth and charity.

Maybe Snap's IPO isn't a snap

"A top London technology investment banker says the blockbuster stock market listing of the company behind messaging app Snapchat looks like a 'very risky' investment." (Business Insider)

Whom do you trust?

The Onion weighs in with this satirical headline: "FBI panicking after learning encrypted national security communications may have been intercepted by Trump administration."

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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