Why journalists should care about two indicted anti-abortion activists
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.
There is an inclination among some liberals to relish the California indictment of two anti-abortion activists charged with "violating the privacy of health-care providers by recording confidential information without their consent." (The Washington Post)
The two, says California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, "used manufactured identities and a fictitious bioresearch company to meet medical officials and covertly record the private discussions they initiated."
The right-leaning Federalist argues their indictment "is the latest attempt to punish the undercover journalists for the means by which they uncovered the fetal organ harvesting trade that abortionists engage in. In January 2016, Houston district attorney Devon Anderson got a grand jury to indict (the two) on charges of buying fetal organs and using fake IDs as part of their undercover journalism."
The National Review agrees and contends, "It’s becoming increasingly clear that in the state of California, the right to abort a child is the chief liberty in the land, and all other liberties must bow before it. Few things illustrate this sad and morbid truth more than the decision of the California attorney general to prosecute (or, more accurately, persecute) David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt."
A First Amendment lawyer friend makes the case for liberals stepping back a bit on this one.
He notes how civil and criminal laws penalizing surreptitious recording "are serious obstacles to newsgathering. Every journalist in the most restrictive states has confronted the issue of what to do at newsworthy events or how to gather news when the subject hides behind these laws."
For sure, there's a time and place for more specifically crafted laws to be applied when there's a reasonable expectation of privacy. Hospitals, doctor's offices, bedrooms, hotel rooms and locker rooms are obvious cases, though political gatherings, possibly large business gathering, may not quite meet that test.
Should journalists be losing sleep over this one?
It just so happened that Chicago attorney Michael Dorf had just exited teaching a law school class last evening when I caught up with him. He teaches First Amendment law, as well as specializing in other areas, such as election law (he's been Barack Obama's counsel on such matters).
"I'm looking at the difference between the freedom of speech part of the First Amendment and the freedom of the press part," he said.
"Freedom of speech has lots of exceptions — clear and present danger, commercial speech, defamation, etc. Freedom of the press has fewer exceptions."
"There's no prior restraint in the United States, for example, and the defamation exception is particularly narrow, especially when involving matters of public concern."
In his mind, the two activists, who are not journalists, are not entitled to the protection of the newsworthiness standard.
"Journalists are, and that's why I don't think this will be a precedent against them," he suggests after an initial glance.
A potentially important footnote: On Wednesday, a federal appeals court upheld an injunction barring the two activists from distributing their recordings. It appears they signed agreements saying they would not release information about those meetings and perhaps committed fraud to get into them to begin with.
Even if true, violating a contract shouldn't be a criminal offense and, one can argue, a breach of contract shouldn't support a prior restraint. Such a prior restraint mandates a government interest of very high order — as we should recall from the Pentagon Papers case involving The New York Times. The government's claims weren't even enough there.
Fraud, if it's proven, is something different. That can justify criminal charges. That raises the prospect of the two activists winding up in orange jumpsuits.
World's richest Washington newspaper owner
"Jeff Bezos has leapt past Amancio Ortega and Warren Buffett to become the world’s second-richest person." (Bloomberg)
"Bezos has a net worth of $75.6 billion on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, $700 million more than Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Buffett and $1.3 billion above Ortega, the founder of Inditex S.A. and Europe’s richest person."
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, remains first.
Trump, like any president, must make appearances at what are, from a news perspective, inconsequential events. Yesterday it was a women's empowerment panel.
But, Trump being Trump, every major cable news network, including Fox Business Channel, covered his remarks live. Only CNBC resisted the impulse.
National Enquirer and Trump
The mutually admiring relationship between the president and the tabloid also includes the publication's apparent amnesia when it comes to Barack Obama no longer being president nor Hillary Clinton having lost the election.
It's unceasing in its conspiracy-filled stories about Obama and Clinton, as well as it unceasing portrayal of Trump as either hero or victim (of Obama, Clinton, the press and other meanie elites).
Wednesday brought its uncritical regurgitation of the handiwork of the conservative Judicial Watch, a longtime Clinton-Obama nemesis. "Hillary Clinton's continuing email scandal has a bizarre new twist — with documents revealing her close aide Huma Abedin was sent even more classified documents on an unsecured server!"
"A lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch reveals how Hillary routinely passed along top-secret correspondence to Huma's own unsecured email accounts. It's part of the continuing incompetence that marked Hillary's disastrous stint as Secretary of State. In a further embarrassment, the emails also contain embarrassing revelations about Hillary's life, and even her plans for her death!" (Enquirer)
But there were more nuanced, policy-driven tales: Bill Cosby hitting on Ali MacGraw and, most of all, "WATCH: PYTHON SWALLOWS MAN — DEAD BODY CUT FROM BEAST’S BELLY..."
So how did C-SPAN miss the python story?
Viral video of the week
Retired thoroughbreds don't necessarily lose their penchant to run, and perhaps very fast, regardless of the intent of their rider. With thanks to HouseBeautiful, check out this video that's generated more than 2.3 million views since last week. As the great sportscaster Keith Jackson would say, "Whoa, Nellie!!!!!"
Rex's pool is small
"Two pool reporters are traveling with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his current trip to Turkey and Belgium after blocking pool reporters from his first trip to Asia earlier this month." (Politico)
"The two reporters, one representing the wire services (Reuters) and one representing television (Fox), were determined by the State Department Correspondents Association pool rotation. While the move was welcomed by the association, it's still a much smaller pool than traditionally travels with a secretary of state, and the rest of the media who wish to cover Tillerson are traveling commercially."
"Hijacking" our election
It's partly the penchant of cable news to suck a ratings-friendly topic dry. But the surfacing of Washington Post icons Carl Bernstein and Sally Quinn on CNN last night again suggested the loose journalist-speak about the Russians "hijacking," "corrupting" and "interfering" in our election process.
The same folks who wax outraged about the Russians allegedly trying to help Trump might call an historian or two for the litany of examples of U.S. intelligence doing same with other politicians around the world for many years. Of our fomenting civil unrest and even trying to overthrow regimes.
Read a December piece in the Los Angeles Times, which reiterated that "the U.S. has a long history of attempting to influence presidential elections in other countries — it’s done so as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000, according to a database amassed by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University."
Does anybody recall the German government welcoming candidate Barack Obama to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 2008? Remember how much Germans, and many other Europeans, hated then-President George W. Bush? Or how Obama, as president, headed to London to assist then-Prime Minister David Cameron's failed attempt to defeat the Brexit vote?
For sure, cyber-espionage does seem interference of a different sort, especially as practiced by the likes of the Russians, Chinese and North Koreans. Let's just not get too self-righteous, all the more so as we fumble in answering some central questions about the actual Russian interference in the campaign.
What's "fake news?"
Jay Seaton, the publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in Colorado, "made headlines in February when he threatened to sue Ray Scott, a Republican in Colorado's State Senate, for calling his newspaper 'fake news.'" (Poynter)
"If the spat should make its way into a lawsuit, it would put before the courts a topical question that has not yet been answered by the judicial system: What is the precise legal definition of fake news?"
Would Seaton have a snowball's chance in prevailing? Probably not. Fake news is very clearly an epithet and, when it comes to epithets, courts have tended to protect the most hyperbolic, opinionated speech when it comes to issues of public interest. That seems the case in Colorado.
Tricky tale of sports and race
Check out Michael Fletcher's, "A murdered basketball player and the uncomfortable discussion around ‘black-on-black’ crime — After shooting of 13-year-old girl, Mt. Vernon, New York, wrestles with how to talk about and prevent violence." (The Undefeated)
The morning babble
CNN's "New Day" was smart in checking back with a panel of Trump voters (this in Connecticut) to see if their loyalty is wavering. Democrats and media, take note: His base clearly isn't faltering despite a raft of early stumbles and unfulfilled promises, with the panel all giving him "A's" despite Alisyn Camerota prodding them to accentuate his missteps. A "quiet restoration of law and security," said one man even as Camerota suggested there wasn't any tangible Trump achievement to point to on the terrorism front.
"Fox & Friends" segued from high dudgeon over the picture-perfect inconsequential Fox News "story": the Drexel University associate professor (read "another wacko liberal" in Fox-ese) who tweeted something negative about a passenger giving up a first class plane seat for a uniformed soldier.
Instead, its spirits were lifted as Ainsley Earhardt fronted a feel-good "story" about a three-year-old caught on video hugging a police officer in a Fort Worth, Texas McDonald's. "A hug for a hero" was the chyron as cop, kid and mom were beckoned live for a banal chit-chat in an all-is-right-beyond-meanie-Drexel University tale.
"Morning Joe" emoted over a John McCain tweet. "Did they want me to call him a crazy skinny kid?" in reference to the North Korean leader he'd previously called a "crazy fat kid." If there were any doubt that McCain's primary constituency is the press, it was dispelled with the "John McCain we've always known and loved," as Joe Scarborough put it, adding that McCain "is serving his country better than he ever has."
The art (not) of puffery
"Bill Adee, long one of Chicago journalism’s most innovative and accomplished leaders, has been hired away from the parent company of the Chicago Tribune to oversee the startup of a sports gambling network in Las Vegas," writes longtime Chicago media writer Rob Feder.
There's a double-edged sword in covering the same topic in the same town for decades. And when that topic is a small and declining industry, there can be even more of a lapse into boosterism and being solicitous to friends and sources. It's like being a small town editor or reporter and running into those whom you critique at the grocery. It's easier to go soft.
To say Adee, a former colleague and good fellow, is an innovative and accomplished leader strains credulity. The results of his handiwork as a sports guy-turned-digital executive at the Chicago Tribune and parent Tronc should give pause, not an homage. Both are very far behind the eight-ball of industry leaders, all ironic given the Tribune's path-breaking role as a techno-innovator in the industry, be it with the coming of color print pages, vertical integration, expanding into TV and radio, melding of print and broadcast operations and creating a free tab edition for young commuters.
But perhaps Chicago's addition by subtraction is also a gain for Las Vegas, too, as Adee, who was a solid tabloid sports editor, returns to topical roots. "Adee, 52, has been named chief operating officer of Vegas Stats and Information Network (VSiN), the first multichannel sports media company dedicated to sports gambling news and analysis. The network’s headquarters and studios are at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa in Las Vegas."
A Recode podcast offers the one-hour chat at South by Southwest by Kara Swisher with former Obama administration staffers Jon Lovett, Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor who have started Crooked Media. It opened with this:
Swisher: So, progressive media companies have had not the best history. I’m thinking Air America, and we got Rachel Maddow and Al Franken, and others out of that, but it wasn’t a successful effort. Same thing with Current, other things. How do you guys look at this idea of it? What are you thinking?
Lovett: First, I don’t compare myself to those things.
Swisher: Well, good idea.
A different Brexit angle
"Triggering Article 50: What Brexit Means for Fashion" notes a British report on how "losing EU protections against intellectual property could significantly impact the fashion industry given that all designs are protected 'automatically, thereby saving on the costs of registering all designs across a portfolio (which can be substantial)." (Business of Fashion)
A great miniature story
"This Audi Ad Was Shot Using 1/43 Scale Models and a Homemade Desert" is headline on a PetaPixel story that opens, "Most car commercials involve big budgets, test drivers and excursions to exotic far-away lands — unless, of course, you hire miniature photography master Felix Hernandez."
"For his latest assignment with Audi Middle East, Felix created his own personal desert and roadway right in the comfort of his own studio."
Spicer's White House briefing
They're getting weird, as in the latest account.
"Sean enters press room. His suit is on backwards. His American flag pin is on fire. He tries to immediately exit, but is pointed towards the podium. He begins."
“'First, I just want to say: Please don’t make me do this. Second, good afternoon, everyone. I hope you had a good morning. The President spent his morning traveling between Mar-A-Lago, the Winter White House, and the White House, the Winter Mar-A-Lago. Once he arrived at the White House, he immediately left for Mar-A-Lago.'”
“'Yesterday, as many of you saw, President Trump had a working lunch with several members of his team, including Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Ross and an unknown mystery man whose face was always in shadow. The group discussed immigration reform and solved the problem in under 30 seconds. President Trump left the lunch without paying, which is simply a smart move more people should do.”
That's quite a transcript, with thanks to McSweeney's.