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“Can You Top This?” was a famous radio show that debuted on New York’s WOR in 1940 and finished a subsequent NBC run in 1954. The name seems apt for the Donald Trump campaign.
Monday brought a double-barrel attack from Trump and running mate Mike Pence and served as a rhetorical warm-up act for a typically startling Tuesday performance. On the radio show of Sean Hannity, seemingly an unpaid publicist for the campaign, Pence suggested that Iran’s execution of a former defector to the United States was a function of Hillary Clinton’s email. The same day Trump tweeted, “Many people are saying that the Iranians killed the scientist who helped the U.S. because of Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails.” (@realDonaldTrump)
On many days, journalists serving as fact-checkers on Trump need the stamina of an Olympic decathlete or one of those men’s 1,500-meter freestyle swimmers. By comparison, Tuesday was a breeze.
As The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler put it, “Truly, this is among the stupidest claims made so far in this campaign. There’s an easy way to figure this out before you make a fool of yourself on the radio or on Twitter: Simply check the newspaper clips.” (The Washington Post)
Kessler offered a timeline of articles, the defection and return of scientist Shahram Amiri going back to 2009. “Mystery solved! And four more Pinocchios for Donald Trump,” he wrote, awarding his ultimate derision.
“Can You Top This?” was a panel show where comics tried to top one another with jokes. Maybe there’s a subliminal connection with what’s playing out most days.
Gawker-Daily Mail settlement nears
As it tries to cut a deal with Hulk Hogan, litigation-ensnarled Gawker Media is dealing with a problem prompted by a Daily Mail lawsuit that stems from a former Daily Mail employee’s Gawker piece, “My year ripping off the web with the Daily Mail Online.” It bashed the Daily Mail’s standards and aggregation policies. Now “Gawker Media LLC is in the ‘final stages’ of settling a defamation suit brought by British tabloid The Daily Mail, a lawyer for Gawker said Tuesday.” (The Wall Street Journal)
A $1 billion streaming deal
“Disney is buying a one-third stake in streaming video company BAM Tech for $1 billion and will eventually launch what it calls an ESPN-branded subscription streaming service that — here’s the important part — won’t include ESPN.” (Recode) In a world of cord-cutting, it’s a way to supposedly get right to consumers. What’s the deal with not including ESPN, Disney’s biggest money-maker? “Selling it directly to consumers would hurt its standing with the cable and satellite distributors that already pay Disney a lot of money to carry the network.”
Blocking the blockers
Facebook will make it “tough for ad-blocking software to distinguish between a status update and a sponsored ad on the desktop version of the social network.” (USA Today) It’s the first time Facebook has tried to do so, thus falling into bed with an advertising industry seeking to block the blockers. (Poynter) Will it piss off many of its 1.7 billion monthly users who don’t like ads? One estimate is that “26 percent of U.S. internet users now use ad blockers on their desktop devices. Facebook declined to comment when asked on what portion of its desktop users have ad-blocking software installed.” (The Wall Street Journal)
Well, somebody’s got to do it
There are worse things in life than having your employer send you to “cover” President Obama and family on a Martha’s Vineyard vacation. You’re kept way out of sight, by and large, and unless there’s true news to which the President surfaces to respond, your biggest challenge is where to have that expense account dinner. And somebody has to be the so-called “pool” reporter and pass along whatever scraps there are for the rest of us. Thus, Gardiner Harris of The New York Times reported last evening:
“The Obamas are dining with friends at State Road, a West Tisbury restaurant they have visited many times…President Obama lost five pounds over the past year, presumably using the kind of intense dietary control that may have led him to eat just seven almonds a night,” Harris wrote, citing his paper’s recent front-page claim. “Or perhaps he is not such a dietary stickler. Can he resist the flourless chocolate sundae with marshmallow cream? Or the coconut cake with almond plum gelato?” (Public Pool)
Since curiosity wasn’t killing me, I checked out women’s gymnastics in Rio. By the time Bob Costas was interviewing the victorious Americans hours later, there was word from the Vineyard of “no word on menu choices.” By the way, the business about the seven almonds is apparently a fiction, even if the guy is exceedingly disciplined. (Politico)
“Jeff Gottlieb, who won a 2011 Pulitzer Prize for work at the Los Angeles Times, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against his former employer alleging age discrimination and detailing a years-long tug-of-war over prize money for a series of investigative stories.” (Poynter) The paper had not formally responded as of early Wednesday. In 2013 The Washington Post detailed the kerfuffle over the prize money. (The Washington Post)
TV station GMs thank Hillary Clinton
“Nearly $100 million has been spent on general-election TV advertisements in the presidential race since the primary season ended, but Donald Trump’s campaign still hasn’t spent a single cent on one of them.” (NBC News) Clinton? Her campaign “has now spent $52 million on ads, and pro-Clinton outside groups have chipped in an additional $39 million, according to ad-spending data from Advertising Analytics. (That’s the new name of the company NBC News partners with on this data.)”
Trump’s latest Hillary Clinton comments
A consensus, left and right and middle, was that Donald Trump seemed to encourage gun owners to go after Hillary Clinton Tuesday. As Deutsche Welle, the German news organization, put it, “Trump, addressing gun supporters, hints at Clinton assassination.” (Deutsche Welle)
The Washington Post said Trump “appeared to encourage gun owners to take action if Hillary Clinton is elected president and appoints judges who oppose gun rights.” (The Washington Post) No surprise, it served as a morning producer’s dream this morning. Let’s the punditry begin!
“Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy called those comments “ambiguous” and chided “media elites” for exaggerating them, as if Fox were some deficit-ridden upstart, not the Godzilla of elite cable news.
Born-again Trump critics Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski didn’t see much ambiguity on “Morning Joe.” The former said Trump “crossed a lot of Rubicons yesterday,” the latter agreed and dismissed House Speaker Paul Ryan (fresh from his GOP primary win in Wisconsin) calling it “a joke gone bad.” Scarborough called on the GOP to drop Trump in a Washington Post editorial this morning. (The Washington Post)
Then there was Ann Coulter, who displayed her characteristic (presumably Earhardt-approving) precision with words by tweeting that “media IS trying to get Trump assassinated by incessantly calling him Hitler.” (@AnnCoulter) Amid all, CNN was thankfully less melodramatic and did note across the bottom of the screen the not-quite-surprise of “Pence and NRA come to Trump’s defense” It cut things off after a modest but pointed Chris Cuomo-led discussion to give us lots of campaign polling and, whew, Olympics highlights.
A belated digital obit
The corporate parent of the Chicago Sun-Times attempted a “mobile-first app network” that aimed to aggregate news, sports and entertainment from 70 or so cities and put it in one place. So you’d click on “Omaha” and supposedly get the latest in Omaha, Nebraska. It was a venture approved by Michael Ferro, now better known for running the so-far much-ridiculed Tronc, successor to Tribune Publishing. Now it’s formally been put out of its misery. (Crain’s)
Is it a cautionary note about his great plans for the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and other Tronc properties? It’s unclear. The Sun Times network was woefully understaffed with no obvious strategy to penetrate local markets with a heretofore unknown brand. It errantly strove to get consumers to go to increasingly less potent homepages and get search engine optimization via articles posted on aggregation pages (something that Google undermined a long time ago).
Bottom line: When I asked the editor of a major paper for his post-mortem yesterday on what The Sun-Times sought to do in his market, he didn’t know initially what I was talking about. The gambit just never penetrated his competitive radar screen.
Somebody’s probably getting a bonus at Bloomberg
Who needs understatement — or much reference to actual content — when dealing with your direct reports? Bloomberg Media CEO Justin Smith reported to his crew, “Total global revenue in the first seven months of this year has grown +10% year-to-date compared to the same period in 2015. Global advertising revenue year-to-date through July is up +10%. U.S. advertising sales in July grew a remarkable 32% vs. July 2015, fueled by our focus on global, ideas-based marketing programs and unique multi-platform approach.”
Fine. But, per usual, there was nothing about the actual revenues. But Bloomberg is private and won’t divulge those. Just rates of growth, which fall a bit short of the admirable precision associated with the Bloomberg terminal when it comes to financial disclosure.
Putin, fascism and the press
In case your latest issue of Communist and Post-Communist Studies hasn’t arrived yet, Newark-Rutgers’ academic Alexander Motyl has written, “Putin’s Russia as a fascist political system.” His assessment includes this: “The propaganda apparatus of television, print media, radio and internet is huge, actively promoting the official worldview and the cult of the leader, but far short of the ubiquitous machine found in Soviet times.” Hey, see, everything is relative. (Communist and Post-Communist Studies)
What NPR listeners missed
Reporter Tom Gjelten did a piece on the religious backgrounds of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for “Morning Edition,” then one on religious backgrounds of Trump and Pence for “All Things Considered.” They both were on the network’s website. People bitched, in some cases having only heard one piece and thinking NPR was unfair. Ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen expounded on “why some listeners ended up seeing bias that didn’t exist.” (Jensen)
What’s the deal with “cupping?”
The Olympics have spawned a cottage industry on the press writing about cupping (you know, those spots on the body of Michael Phelps and many others), even though it’s been a topic for several years. It’s “the latest alternative therapy elite athletes are using to try to recover faster and perform better. But as with a lot of alternative therapies, the science on these medicinal hickeys is pretty inconclusive, suggesting you may not need to sprint off to a cupping practitioner to try it out on your sore muscles.” (Vox)