Why billionaire Peter Thiel wants revenge on Gawker
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.
The bankrolling of Hulk Hogan's lawsuit
Forbes has reported that Peter Thiel, the founder PayPal and a very early big investor in Facebook, was secretly bankrolling Hulk Hogan's so-far successful lawsuit against Gawker Media as a result of his sex tape. (Forbes) A Florida jury awarded Hogan a rather over-the-top $140.1 million in March, and Gawker plans to appeal. Now, reporters Connie Loizos of TechCrunch and Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times leave no doubt that the catalyst involves less the Hogan sex tape than with a decades-old grudge. (TechCrunch)
"Indeed, if Thiel wanted to attack Gawker, it’s hard to conjure up as clever a way to get revenge on the outlet, whose now-shuttered gossip site Valleywag regularly published posts about Thiel during its heyday nearly a decade ago." She indicates that she spoke with Thiel frequently about how he was depicted by "by Valleywag’s then-editor, Owen Thomas, a sharp journalist who didn’t miss an opportunity to offer his take on Thiel’s essays, ties to other organizations, tax strategies, and sexual orientation."
Back in 2009, Thiel told her: “I actually think it’s sort of the psychology of a terrorist, where it’s purely destructive and that Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of Al Qaeda...It’s terrible for the Valley, which is supposed to be about people who are willing to think out loud and be different. I think they should be described as terrorists, not as writers or reporters. I don’t understand the psychology of people who would kill themselves and blow up buildings, and I don’t understand people who would spend their lives being angry; it just seems unhealthy.”
Clearly, there's a sensitivity among big, successful folks who are taken down several notches by the press. It's happened to Thiel more than once. The Times cites "a 2007 article published by Gawker’s Valleywag blog was headlined, 'Peter Thiel is totally gay, people.'" He now tells Sorkin "that and a series of articles about his friends and others that he said 'ruined people’s lives for no reason' drove Mr. Thiel to mount a clandestine war against Gawker. He funded a team of lawyers to find and help 'victims' of the company’s coverage mount cases against Gawker." (The New York Times) “I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.” Now he may be finding, as TechCrunch suggests, that revenge is a dish best served cold.
With a new report on her State Department email controversy, a headline captures this morning's media consensus: "Emails Add to Hillary Clinton’s Central Problem: Voters Just Don’t Trust Her." (The New York Times) It was open season on her. "It's not a knife to the heart but a very deep flesh wound," said advertising and marketing pro Donny Deutsch on "Morning Joe," viewing it all from a branding standpoint. "Look, the Cintons don't play by the rules," said Sara Murray on CNN's "New Day," with conservative David Frum saying the defense comedown to "'You just have to trust us.' Her own word is not a bond with the American public." It was all a bit repetitive with not much leavening of the matter by noting, for instance, that we haven't even hit Memorial Day yet. There's a long way to go.
Mike Murphy on Trump's media modus operandi
Mike Murphy, the Los Angeles-based writer-political consultant who hopped the wrong boat with Jeb Bush this year, is in Chicago for a few days teaching at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics. He offered me his notion of "regurgitation" being Donald Trump's primary media strategy. The four key steps he discerns: 1) "Watch cable news for the political trivia and noise of the day." 2) "Let that material soak in egomaniacal meatloaf-infused-bile for two to three hours." 3) "Vomit back a nastier, cruder version of it in a front of a large adoring crowd, live on cable." 4) "Watch such cable. Sleep. Repeat the next day." It helps explain Trump's return to "the old carnival stories of the mid -90's" as a way of belittling Hillary Clinton. Trump is, he says, our "would-be Regurgitator in Chief." (U.S News & World Report)
It just so happened that Mike Barnicle plaintively asked on "Morning Joe" today, "When do we make the editorial decision to stop carrying every aspect of the daily Trump Dump? We cover everything." Jim VandeHei, a former POLITICO bigshot, said, "It won't happen...It's great box office." Joe Scarborough retorted that Chris Christie and Bernie Sanders were bigger box office on the show and that Trump's lure is actually making "news." So, is it "vomit" or "news?"
Too many meetings
How many managers can relate to Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best, who "stunned" staffers there by disclosing she's splitting to run the paper in Missoula, Montana? “As I look ahead, it is clear that the person in this chair increasingly must be focused on creating a sustainable Seattle Times for the digital future. That’s totally doable, but will require even more meetings and even more time working on business strategies and budgets than I already spend. That’s not how I want to spend the last decade of my career in journalism.” (The Seattle Times)
A secret trek to the Middle East
As CNN Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr recounts, "The message arrived in my inbox several weeks ago. It asked if I wanted to go on an 'interesting trip' overseas." So she, Bob Burns of The Associated Press, David Ignatius of The Washington Post and CNN photographer Khalil Abdallah met in Tampa and "late one night boarded a C-17 transport plane for an overnight flight to our first stop, Kuwait." The master of ceremonies was Gen. Joseph Votel, the four-star "combatant commander" of the U.S. Central Command. New to the job, he's overseeing the U.S.-led coalition war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The rules they all signed "were the most restrictive I have seen. So, you can only guess who we were with. Despite these restrictions, Votel, to his credit, has decided it's a good idea to more publicly explain the war against ISIS." Their reporting, including a trek to Syria, will now surface. (CNN)
Sign of the times in local TV
The local homages have been ample for Ron Magers, who last night signed off at WLS-TV, the ABC-owned station, after 35 years as a Chicago TV anchor. His exit dominated Wednesday's Chicago Sun-Times front page. (Sun-Times) Unmentioned were dramatic economic changes that have made even genial de facto teleprompter readers like Magers high six-figure or seven-figure luxuries stations can't afford. WLS once printed money, especially in the years after it created a morning show hosted by a woman named Oprah Winfrey. Chicagoans tuned to Channel 7 for her and didn't switch. Now everybody's ratings are heading south, and a younger generation doesn't care for the numbing low-brow repetition of much TV news. So stations are hiring younger, far cheaper de facto teleprompter readers. Magers, 71, says he's a lucky guy. Yup. The man, moment and money were perfectly aligned.
A second major shareholder penned a tough letter urging new Tribune Publishing boss Michael Ferro to sell to Gannett at a price above $15 per share after he spurned its latest, sweetened offer. (Poynter) "We now believe your primary interest is self-interest," writes the chief of Towle & Co., a St. Louis-based investment firm. "A good letter," says corporate governance expert Nell Minow. But Ferro has thus far been unwilling to sell and now has lured a Los Angeles billionaire who's invested $70 million in the company. But "Tribune Publishing's shareholders could learn a thing or two from a company that sells Cinderella dresses and 'Frozen' dolls." Huh? "What we're getting at is the sudden emergence on the Tribune shareholder register of one Patrick Soon-Shiong. Four years ago, the billionaire was involved in a spookily similar situation at toymaker Jakks Pacific. That involvement didn't exactly turn out to be a game-changer for Jakks shareholders, with the shares subsequently falling 54 percent." (Bloomberg)
Buffett buffeted by lousy newspaper trends
Warren Buffett owns 32 dailies and 47 weeklies and a few years back gave solace to a melancholy industry by decreeing that "papers delivering comprehensive and reliable information to tightly bound communities and having a sensible Internet strategy will remain viable for a long time." Now he says, "Circulation continues to decline at a significant pace, advertising at an even faster pace. The easy cutting has taken place. There's no indication that anyone besides the national papers has found a way." As for the editorial content of many papers, "they don't tell me as much new as three years ago, let alone 10 years ago," he says. "They are a fair amount worse off, and not one is bucking that trend, even in prosperous communities. There's less and less in the newspaper." (USA TODAY) Meanwhile, Lee Central Coast Newspapers announced it's killing the 129-year-old weekly Times Press-Recorder in San Luis Obispo, California on Friday due to falling revenue and rising costs. (Times Press-Recorder)
The media, race and renaming
In the cerebral New York Review of Books, Yale President Peter Salovey details the media's influence in campus protests over not changing the name of a Yale college that honors a 19th century defender of slavery. "The media’s obsessive focus on specific triggering events on many campuses misses the larger issues. There is no doubt that social media accelerated the sharing of information among students. But more significant is what is on eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds’ minds when they come to campus today. Students from underrepresented minority groups in particular arrive having witnessed videos and reading reports of unarmed individuals of their age and color dying at the hands of law enforcement officers. They think about who disproportionately populates our prisons. They think about how a case is in front of the Supreme Court now that might bar the consideration of race or ethnicity in admissions decisions at colleges and universities. They think about the fact that the high schools they attended might have been more integrated twenty-five years ago than they are today. They think about the way political figures running for public office talk about race and ethnicity in disparaging terms." (The New York Review of Books)
The greatest goalie
Manuel Neuer, 30, is the goalkeeper for Bayern Munich and perhaps one of a kind, as an ESPN profile leaves little doubt. "It's a rare and pleasing thing, in a world permeated with compromise and equivocation, to stand at this window and know that the human being on the other side is better at what he does, both quantitatively and qualitatively, than anyone else currently doing it — and, in all likelihood, anyone who ever has." (ESPN)
Shilling for authoritarians
President Obama is ditching a ban on selling arms to the communist authoritarian regime in Vietnam. Disclosure forms show how the Podesta Group, a very successful if not necessarily deeply respected influence peddling firm in Washington with deep ties to Hillary Clinton, "reached out to top media outlets and dozens of Hill staffers to improve the perception of Vietnam in the United States and grow its public policy clout. And given that the Vietnamese government got what it wanted, it just might have worked." (The Daily Beast) Its purported labor including contacting "numerous media outlets (including POLITICO, Roll Call, CNN, The Hill, PBS NewsHour, the Washington Post, National Geographic, The Food Network, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal) for the purposes of 'Vietnam public relations.'"
Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
Sylvana Ward Durrett is leaving Vogue. Previously, she was director of special projects there. (New York Post) | Errol Barnett is now a correspondent at CBS News. Previously, he was an anchor and reporter for CNN International. (Email) | Kaja Whitehouse has joined the New York Post as a courts reporter. Previously, she covered Wall Street for USA TODAY. (Talking Biz News) | Job of the day: InsideEdition.com is looking for a digital reporter. Get your resumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: firstname.lastname@example.org.