Why the A-word was front and center at media summit on sex harassment

Near the end of a "Power Shift Summit" on sex harassment in the media, it was left to Politico's editor to best summarize matters after hours of top executives, rank and file journalists, harassment victims, consultants and academics opining with frequent rhetorical elegance and strategic acumen.

Essential to all, said Carrie Budoff Brown, is "hiring people who aren't assholes. I will not hire assholes, and if you are a bully, you won't survive here. Nobody wants to be around assholes."

This reduction to basics Tuesday was a refreshing moment at the Newseum, which is situated on Pennsylvania Avenue halfway between the Congress and the White House. And since there are so many in both of those buildings — both men and women and probably led by President Trump — who use the A-word about the press, it was at least atypical to hear the press use it about themselves.

"We said asshole more than ever in this room," concluded Jill Geisler, Loyola University Chicago’s Bill Plante Chair of Leadership and Media Integrity and the event's very skilled ringmaster. She had that right.

The event's biggest surprise came from one of the few men in the room, namely Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi. He responded with open skepticism to comments by Carolyn Ryan, assistant managing editor of The New York Times, after she recounted the internal investigation into, and ultimate suspension, of high-profile reporter Glenn Thrush (played by Bobby Moynihan on "Saturday Night Live" before Thrush's fall from grace).

In the event's one moment of vague tension, as Poynter chronicled, he questioned whether The Times was as transparent as Ryan intimated in its handling of the whole matter. Ryan conceded that Farhi had raised a good question but noted some understandable issues involving privacy and the confidential nature of some interviews conducted in a seemingly comprehensive probe of Thrush.

There was irony in The Times, of all places, being so chided since it's been in the forefront of reporting on sexual harassment. It is generally rather more transparent on most matters than most organizations. But it is fallible — and its esteem surely prompts disproportionate scrutiny (and envy). 

By comparison, Madhulika Sikka, a media consultant and the public editor at PBS, scoffed at NBC News for its handling of the Matt Lauer debacle. That came during a session in which Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor and Mark Halperin were among the other prominent names alluded to with implicit scorn.

Loren Mayor, NPR's chief operating officer, didn't explicitly cite its most prominent bad actor, former top news executive Michael Oreskes. But she didn't have to as she conceded important lessons she's learned in the aftermath of the Orestes mess: a) sexual harassment was "the tip of the iceberg" of institutional problems subsequently uncovered, b) the organization is deeply splintered structurally, and c) tough budget times have led to focusing on editorial dollars at the short-sighted expense of other functions, like a thinning human resources department.

There was no shortage of mea culpas, insights and telling anecdotes throughout the day that had an unavoidable preaching-to-the-choir air. There was the duly noted lack of of men among the 150 or so in the room (though there was otherwise a seemingly praiseworthy mix of ages, race, media platforms, ethnicity and sexual orientation).

Joanne Lipman, who recently exited the top editorial post at USA Today to focus on an upcoming book, “That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together,” spoke of the "unfortunate side effects" of not rallying males to the whole evolving national discussion.

In the process, she said, one may "demonize perfectly good men, the good guys." And then there are those armies of men in the media who are simply "clueless," unaware of the issues so grotesquely obvious to their female colleagues.

Bye, bye Bannon

The media's use of middle names is usually reserved for accounts of presidential inaugurations or disclosing the identity of mass murderers. As for use of middle initials in news headlines, well, ah, you don't see it often — except apparently in corporate obituaries of disgraced and garrulous leaders of small right-wing news organizations.

"Stephen K. Bannon Steps Down from Breitbart News Network" reported Breitbart.

His smiling mug was at one point yesterday surrounded by not one or two but three ads for the conservative digital channel CRTV. Maybe he can get a gig discussing fake news or Michael Wolff.

Okay, so what does his exit mean for Breitbart?

Says Will Sommer, an editor at The Hill who turns out (on his own time) the Right Richter newsletter on conservative media:

"This is a blow to Breitbart, which has now lost the last thing it had differentiating itself from the competition. Before Bannon's falling out with Trump, the site looked like it had the ear of the White House. Without him, it's no different from rivals like the Daily Caller, and will struggle to stand out from the competition without the sense that it's the most Trump of the pro-Trump sites."

"But really, Breitbart's owners didn't have a choice, especially after the White House rejected Bannon's apology. There's no future for the site in criticizing Trump or his family, as Bannon did, so he had to go. Judging by the comment section, Breitbart's readers were revolting. Bannon had also strained the site's relationships with other conservative media outlets — like the Drudge Report, which can decide a lot of the traffic that goes to a site like Breitbart. From the owners' perspective, Bannon had to go, but they'll take a hit over this."

Trump's lawyer targets BuzzFeed

As Bloomberg details, "Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen sued Buzzfeed Inc. on Tuesday for defamation over allegations about him in a dossier the news organization published that was commissioned in 2016 by the president’s political opponents."

"Cohen said he also filed a second defamation suit against political intelligence firm Fusion GPS, which compiled the dossier, in federal court. Buzzfeed published the dossier in its entirety nearly a year ago, which it said it obtained from a source it didn’t identify."

"The dossier contains unverified claims that Cohen and Trump had suspicious connections with Russian figures. Most other U.S. news organizations declined to publish the document because many of its claims — some of them salacious — haven’t been substantiated."

BuzzFeed's spokesman said, "We look forward to defending the free press and our First Amendment rights in court.” The attorney for Fusion GPS, which was started by former Wall Street Journal staffers, hadn't seen the suit against Fusion so couldn't comment.

Trump's dumb threats

Writing in the Daily Beast, former longtime New York Times attorney George Freeman makes clear why Trump's threatened lawsuit against Michael Wolff and his publisher is B.S. And, along the way, the head of the Media Law Resource Center opines:

"The three antagonists, Trump, Bannon, and Wolff are all of a piece and, in a sense, all deserve each other. They are hucksters, self-promoting salesmen and, ultimately, egotistic provocateurs. This whole incident will only add to the undeserved publicity they will all receive. Moreover, while I am unaware of Bannon’s proclivities for falsehoods, Trump and Wolff have a similar, distant relationship with the truth, though Wolff’s falsities may be not as continual and blatant as the president’s."

Chris Christie's exit

"Vice News Tonight" on HBO did a very nice job in a nine-minute piece — yes, imagine a nine-minute piece on ABC, CBS or NBC newscasts — on the rise and fall of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the outgoing leader who gave his final State of the State address to the legislature Tuesday.

Evan-McMorris Santoro drove all around to remind one how the brash Christie went from sky-high approval after Hurricane Sandy to the least popular departing New Jersey governor ever, not to mention one the most unpopular politicians in the country. It finished with an aerial shot of the reporter alone on the same beach where Christie stupidly hung with his family during a government shutdown that closed all the beaches. Remember those images?

Bill Clinton and press freedom

If you missed it during Monday's (scintillating) college football championship game (how does Alabama recruit three of everything, including an amazing left-handed, God-fearing freshman substitute quarterback from Hawaii?), Bill Clinton tweeted this:

"A free press is critical to a free society — the detention of journalists anywhere is unacceptable. The Reuters journalists being held in Myanmar should be released immediately."

Like all ex-presidents, his admiration for the press grows as those White House years recede into the faraway past. 

In case you missed the Golden Globes

There may be few more curious journalism organizations than the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which was long a journalism laughingstock and improbably saw its awards dinner morph into a national event. Even Best Actress in a Motion Picture winner Frances McDormand expressed her befuddlement from the stage as to who they are.

Well they've traditionally been a rag-tag group of folks who live in Southern California who write (sometimes infrequently) for foreign publications. Their professional distinction can be minimal, the requirements for membership are scant. But they're generating enough income from that awards show to exhibit praiseworthy largess toward others, if not any professional distinction of its own.

Thus it announced Sunday grants of $1 million each to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists. There are many worthy journalism groups and these are two, with the former having recently done the blockbuster Paradise Papers expose of tax havens. 

The 'new' Sports Illustrated

Iconic Sports Illustrated unveils a less frequent but what it claims will be a heftier version on Friday as the onetime weekly essentially morphs into a biweekly — and perhaps awaits a different fate when Meredith, which has been given more to running lifestyle, not news, publications takes over Time Inc. (some assume it will thus sell the likes of S.I.,Time and Fortune). Here's a look at what seemingly beckons, via Poynter's Rick Edmonds.

The Morning Babel

"Morning Joe" opened with a tweet but it wasn't a Trump tweet. No it was colleague and Washington Post reporter Robert Costa. Was he bashing Rocket Man, too? No, he'd  opined, "Nearly a year after talk of nationalism and revolution at the inauguration, it was reported today that President Trump will head to Davos + moved closer to a DACA deal, and Bannon is out at Breitbart."  

"Trump & Friends" didn't note any such a confluence of acts offering a dictionary definition of hypocrisy. No, it derided the unceasing narrative (thanks, Michael Wolff) of Trump as lazy, crazy and eating fast food in his bedroom. So he "did something brilliant," Fox held, in having cameras stay in that bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders for  55 minutes. It praised him even as the same video showed the likes of Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, seated next to Trump, looking dyspeptic and funereal to the point of possibly verging on nausea. It did so despite the fact that Trump appeared totally malleable and contradictory on various matters, as CNN "New Day's" Alisyn Camerota noted and The Washington Post underscored at greater length this morning. 

CNN's New Day" included Chris Cuomo's critique of the congressional interview of Glenn Simpson, the former Wall Street Journal reporter who is a founder of Fusion GPS, which was disclosed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He finds it rife with conspiracy-filled Republican interrogation of Simpson, and contends Simpson "shot it (the conspiracy notions) down like a cheap carnival trick." Assuming one can shoot down cheap carnival tricks. Viewers got the point. 

But, wait, did that televised Trump session exhibit a "stable genius?" On "New Day" the Daily Beast's John Avlon said it "was a great thing for the administration and the president to do, to show what he is capable of and show some delivery on the promise that he could shake things up and focus on a deal." He "comported himself like a president should," added Cuomo, and exhibited "a little bit of TV genius."

Amid the 24/7 interviews with Michael Wolff, that's certainly a different take than the recent mantras of either CNN or MSNBC. It's one that would not reflexively be ridiculed on "Fox & Friends," a bit of analytical homogeneity that is very rare these days.

Tensions at the Harvard Crimson

Writes student journalist Ruben Reyes, "The Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s college newspaper and one of the oldest dailies in the country, is experiencing a bit of a racial reckoning. The last article my co-columnist and I wrote in the opinion section comes with an editor’s note: 'The Crimson is not, and has never been, a perfect institution.'"

"The piece outlines the ways we, two Latinx students on substantial financial aid, and other students of color who came before us have struggled in our own newsroom because of racial micro-aggressions, push-back on pitches and an environment that siphons writers of color out of the organization."

An Ivanka angle missed by Big Media (including Fox)

"Did Ivanka attend Shabbat services this past Saturday?" communications strategist Beth Balsam asks in an op-ed in the Jewish-oriented Forward. "That question has been bouncing around my head since I sat in the pew and heard the rabbi talk about this past week’s parsha, Shemot, the beginning of the book of Exodus, in which Pharaoh’s daughter, in an act of great bravery, defied her father’s orders."

"You see, the evil and probably crazy Pharaoh had decreed that all male Jewish babies were to be killed. In an act of desperation, Yocheved, Moses’s mother, took her newborn son, put him in a basket and had her daughter Miriam place that basket in the Nile. Miriam watched as the Pharaoh’s daughter, who came to the Nile to bathe herself, found the basket and rescued the infant. She knew this was a Jewish baby and by taking him in, she was laying it all on the line. But she was compelled to do the right thing, the human thing. To save an innocent child. She raised him as her own and, as you know, that child was Moses, who later delivered the Israelites from slavery."

Her bottom line: She mulls that unidentified woman and the compulsion to "do the right things." She writes, "For those of us who were dreading a Donald Trump presidency, we placed our hopes in Ivanka Trump. Would she act as Pharaoh’s daughter and defy her father in order to save the world." Ah, as she now concedes, it hasn't happened. No moral courage is displayed, at least not to this Trump critic.

This is apparently the first reference to Pharaoh, or his daughter, as the press tries to make sense of what's going on in the West Wing.

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 chief media writer, The Poynter Institute.

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