September 7, 2016

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On Tuesday, 21st Century Fox announced a settlement with former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson for a reported $20 million and Greta Van Susteren exited abruptly, with intimations she might be headed to court.

At the center of both stories is Roger Ailes, the former Fox News boss whose lawyers previously contacted The Daily Beast and badmouthed New York’s Gabriel Sherman for reporting that now seems all the more impressive.

After all, Ailes’ former bosses yesterday apologized to Carlson for not being “treated with the respect and dignity that she and all our colleagues deserve.”

So is Ailes really going to sue New York and reporter Gabriel Sherman, as his attorneys intimated when they launched a premeditated attack on his integrity and requested the magazine preserve its reporting materials?

When it comes to Carlson, the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal underscores today the obvious: “For Fox News and 21st Century Fox, a motivating factor to settle with Ms. Carlson was the likelihood that a trial would air more dirty laundry about the channel and the company, said people familiar with the matter.” (The Wall Street Journal) Duh, as we said back in fourth grade. But it also notes, “In addition to the arrangement with Ms. Carlson, 21st Century Fox also has settled with several other women who came forward with similar allegations during the probe, an executive close to the situation said.” The New York Times says it was “at least two other women.” (The New York Times)

Throw in the unexpected (and unceremonious) departure of Van Susteren amid rumblings she was unhappy with the Fox “culture,” and you could have more legal business for Fox’s law firm. And, be reminded, Van Susteren is herself a former federal prosecutor who is married to a lawyer.

For sure, the settlement doesn’t bode well for any Ailes legal assault against New York magazine. His longtime employer essentially admits something was very amiss. That’s not good.

At the same time, it didn’t divulge details. All the sordid matters that surfaced in an in-house investigation run by an outside firm are covered by attorney-client privilege (smart move). The deal likely contains no admission of wrongdoing by Ailes, in return for the giant $20 million payment and Carlson (and the unidentified others) going away.

So it doesn’t sink Ailes, either, down the road, if he wants to pursue both a friendly judge who won’t dismiss his suit and a clueless jury. His ulterior motive could be dampening the ardor of Sherman and others from doing more reporting on his mess at Fox.

Given New York’s track record, Ailes might better spend his creative time plotting a new, right-of-Fox News network to be financed by Donald Trump after his likely November defeat. He’s already consulting for Trump, who’s got a guy from Breitbart News helping run his very odd campaign. Trump, Ailes, Breitbart, a few big-name hires as anchors and, bingo, you just need to find some channel space.

As for litigation, he should save his energy and money for both the lawsuit that remains from ex-Fox host Andrea Tantaros and a possible battle with Van Susteren. The onetime prosecutor would be very formidable opponent if she’s got some goods on the former king of the potent Fox realm.

Politico’s government in exile unveils its plans

“Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei is preparing to unveil his next act: a media outlet targeting corporate executives and other professionals with a mix of business and political news. The soon-to-launch company secured about $10 million in financing late last week, according to people familiar with the matter. The investment round was led by Lerer Hippeau Ventures, the venture-capital firm that helped launch the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.” (The Wall Street Journal)

A discontented VandeHei and several colleagues split Politico for this new venture, which is said to partly reflect the Politico Pro subscription model and a “focus on areas such as tech, health care and business news,” with some politics and media coverage.

At first blush, the idea sounds fuzzy and short of path-breaking, akin to some mix of Business Insider, Vox and perhaps a less breathless Fast Company. The quality would have to be knockout, even with a well-heeled group of partners, including NBC News, David Bradley (owner of The Atlantic) and Laurene Jobs, widow of Steve (actually it’s her social justice group, which seems strange). But people sold VandeHei and then-partner John Harris short once before.

The Trump-Bondi deal

“Morning Joe” devoted justifiably ample time today to how Trump is “now defending himself against claims that he donated $25,000 to a group supporting the Florida attorney general, Pam Bondi, to sway her office’s review of fraud allegations at Trump University.” (The New York Times).

Trump and Bondi are brazenly denying anything untoward. It’s the dictionary definition of chutzpah. Trump wound up fined $2,500 by the IRS, or “the latest slap of his wrist in a decades-long record of shattering political donation limits and circumventing the rules governing contributions and lobbying,” as The Times puts it. It’s clear that Bondi was considering whether to join a New York State suit against Trump University, the donation came, then Bondi decided not to join the litigation.

Over at CNN, the topic of The Times opus was broached, too, with co-host and New York political animal Chris Cuomo saying, “This man has a long and dark past in trying to get around rules to get influence in politics, true or false?” It was a rhetorical question to guest Maggie Haberman of The New York Times. She jested, “Your phone is going to ring when this episode is over.” Said Cuomo, “I’m already on the blacklist,” with Haberman then detailing the Trump pattern and how he broke the law with the Biondi donation.

Over at “Fox & Friends,” it was all Trump friendly, per usual. Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade were big on how conservative talk host Mark Levin, heretofore not big on Trump, said he’ll vote for him. (Conservative Review) Said Kilmeade, “That is extremely powerful.” Hmmm.

Twitter’s vacation comes to an end

“Twitter’s quiet summer may soon be coming to an end. The social communication company’s board of directors is set to meet this Thursday in San Francisco, and there are plenty of things to discuss. That includes, said sources, its fate as a standalone company.” (Recode)

How Facebook’s News Feed works

TechCrunch offers what it heralds as “the ultimate guide to how Facebook chooses what to show in your News Feed, and how you can get your content seen by more people.” (TechCrunch) “Understanding how the News Feed works is tough because the algorithm is always changing. So TechCrunch launched this research project for today’s 10th anniversary of News Feed, interviewing Facebook’s team members, compiling the company’s announcements, and reviewing a decade of our coverage.”

Imagine, a hypocritical CEO!

Nice job. “Ten years ago Steven Sugarman, a former Lehman Brothers investment adviser, co-wrote a book on how to avoid stock losses. One of its top tips: ‘Beware of companies run by family and friends.'” (Bloomberg) “Now, Sugarman is chief executive officer of the fastest-growing publicly traded U.S. bank — a lender exhibiting some of the red flags listed in his book. Banc of California is riding high enough to pay $100 million for the naming rights on Los Angeles’s new soccer stadium, one of the richest prices ever in Major League Soccer. Sugarman’s brother is a minority investor in the team, marking the latest in a series of deals involving the CEO’s family and associates.”

A helluva run will end

If you say a guy is “the Walter Cronkite of Canada,” it might not ring even half a bell for many Americans. But Peter Mansbridge, the Walter Cronkite of Canada, will retire next year. He’s anchored The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s key evening newscast for the past 29 years. He’s conducted 15,000 interviews during 48 years as a reporter and anchor, says his employer. (CBC)

If Hillary gets $250,000, How much for the Pope?

Hillary took $250,000 from Goldman Sachs for an appearance. If he were as craven as Clinton — I mean as free-market oriented — how much could Pope Francis get for showing at a Fortune/Time Global Forum gathering in Rome Dec. 2-3? “The conference will be led by Time Inc. chief content officer Alan Murray and Time editor in chief Nancy Gibbs.” (Fortune)

Dallas won’t do Donald

The Dallas Morning News ripped Donald Trump in an editorial and said it won’t endorse him. It had “had previously endorsed every GOP nominee dating back to 1968.” Big deal! When The Chicago Tribune endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, it was the first time it had ever endorsed the nominee of the Democratic Party. (Politico)

A serious poll

Especially on cable news, there’s no way for even a discerning consumer to know the difference between solid polls and B.S. polls. A Washington Post-SurveyMonkey 50-state poll, in large measure “conducted to provide an expansive portrait of American voter attitudes about the 2016 election from every part of the country,” is superior and underscores the variety of reasons for the Clinton advantage over Trump. (The Post) I asked Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, a political scientists steeped in polls, good and bad, for his reaction to the modus operandi.

“I don’t recall a 50-state survey with samples in every state. Maybe I’m forgetting something. What matters is the information the enormous sample can give us about specific sub-groups of the population, once the state data are combined. And many states have not had a single survey taken, much less multiple surveys. And because of Trump’s controversial nature, there are indeed Republican states that are not performing as expected (Utah, Mississippi, Texas, etc.) So I think it’s notable for both methodology and substance. I hope they do it again closer to the election.”

Algorithms others don’t understand?

Former Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger caused a minor stir at a London conference by suggesting that the paper’s revenue projections last year went south largely because about $27 million in ad revenue headed to Facebook, instead. “Rusbridger said Facebook does present some opportunities for publishers, but ‘they are taking all the money’ because ‘they have algorithms we don’t understand, which are a filter between what we do and how people receive it.'” (Business Insider) “This is going to get worse because they have a means of distribution which we simply can’t cope with and the more people switch on to these devices, the more problematic that question is going to get.”

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CORRECTION: The original version of the column referenced Andrew Cuomo, not Chris Cuomo, as host of CNN’s “New Day.”

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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.…
James Warren

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