CNN, MSNBC, Fox grade GOP debate long before it even ends

January 15, 2016
Category: Newsletters

Good morning.

  1. Why wait?
    While the Republican presidential debate was still going on, the main cable networks were already flooding the zone with pundits assessing it. Anderson Cooper was impressed by Ted Cruz as he commanded an army of analysts straining to get in a premeditated word in edgewise. Chris Matthews, who didn’t seem quite on his game (including a truly odd reference to the dead late-night host Johnny Carson), thought John Kasich was auditioning to be Donald Trump’s running mate. And Fox News, the favorite channel of most GOP primary voters, was unveiling one of its trademark instant focus groups overseen by Frank Luntz, a graduate of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey School of Polling. His methodologically specious enterprise included his counting down, “Three, two, one” and asking 26 South Carolinians to simultaneously declare the winner. The whole group declared, “Cruz,” as if trained seals at the nearby South Carolina Aquarium, which was a crock. They missed several missteps. Those included his silence as Trump responded predictably with a reference to 9/11 heroism in defending himself against Cruz’s charge that he personified odious “New York values.” But these folks seemed to buy into what Jon Maas, a Hollywood producer, reminded me last night was Woody Allen’s declaration in “Annie Hall:” “The rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing Communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers. I think of us that way, sometimes, and I live here.”

    As Fox played its role as Republican handmaiden (Sean Hannity actually declared that “any” of the GOP candidates “compared to Hillary Clinton looked so much better”), the rest of the press tended to reflect a pretty banal, pugilistic Trump vs. Cruz construct in their analyses. References to policy were secondary to the superficial theater of it all, even as “very, very short on substance” as it all was. (Bloomberg) The debate was thus about the Trump-Cruz “cutting exchanges.” (The New York Times) How Trump still “dominates the conversation.” (ABC News) About “hostile internecine attacks.” (The Los Angeles Times) It was “Cruz pounds on Trump in GOP debate free-for-all.” (POLITICO) The “clash” came, “ending months of civility between fiery contenders seeking to tap into voter anger and frustration.” (AP) Estimable Gerald Seib discerned two debates within one; that between Cruz and Trump (“the two now know they are fishing from the same pond”) and that among the five others, who all seemed less certain of their targets. (The Wall Street Journal) And as the reporters were all typing away, candidates made the cable TV rounds for self-serving post-mortems, including Ohio’s Kasich, who makes his case based on his resume and experience. But, as Charles Krauthammer said amid the Luntz-infected din on Fox, in this Republican campaign, “Experience is irrelevant, as crazy as that is.”

  2. “Most unfair” political reporting in 35 years
    Writing in Roll Call, Walter Shapiro says that since he began covering presidential campaigns in 1980, “I can think of nothing as unfair as the disproportionate media attention that has been lavished on Trump from the beginning. No primary candidate in history (not even Barack Obama in 2008) has ever had most of his speeches broadcast live on cable TV.” (Roll Call) He’s basically correct. But he doesn’t give Trump credit for brilliantly feeding the fire in a media hothouse where many of the ratings-craving TV folks reinforce an egomaniac’s reflex to respond and attack anything and everyone. But here’s an idea for Shapiro’s next column: the striking media inattention when it comes to Bernie Sanders’ surprisingly resilient campaign on the other side.
  3. Huffington won’t fight union
    Arianna Huffington will voluntarily recognize a union as collective bargaining agent for The Huffington Post’s editorial staff. It will count union cards signed by its employees and, if a majority of the 350 mostly New York-based workers wants the Writers Guild of America, East, management won’t fight by insisting on a formal election overseen by a third party. This is the latest in a pro-union trend among newer digital news media, including Gawker Media, VICE Media and Salon, spurred by mostly traditional workplace issues, including better pay, clearer job responsibilities, greater transparency in decision making and fairer disciplinary systems. There’s also a feeling that the company isn’t living up to its ideological support of diversity. “This movement empowers the people who write, edit and produce content to build sustainable careers doing work they care about,” WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson said in a statement. “As digital media continues to transform the way information is shared and stories are told, it is essential that content creators have their concerns about the workplace — and about the work itself — be heard and addressed by management.”
  4. Rupert back in the Fox henhouse
    Gabriel Sherman, the national affairs editor at New York, has chronicled palace intrigue in Rupert Murdoch’s realm almost like the 18th century British historian Edward Gibbon chronicled the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It’s inside baseball at its gossipy best. Now he brings word that Murdoch is attending the “secretive” daily Fox bigshot executives strategy meeting overseen by Fox News boss Roger Ailes in his conference room. “Murdoch has so far been a quiet observer, but his presence at the table is striking to Fox executives. Some interpret it as a sign that the 84-year-old, newly engaged Australian mogul is preparing for a future where the 75-year-old Ailes is no longer in the picture. It’s one of the most significant decisions Wall Street will be watching: Fox is valued at north of $15 billion and generates as much as 30 percent of Murdoch’s profits.” (New York) Showing the power of the media (or at least the echo chamber on the island of Manhattan), Murdoch felt compelled to tweet seeming support of Ailes before last night’s big debate. “Thanks Roger Ailes again for another great production.” (Murdoch) Hmmm. Let’s hope Sherman is on the mark with an 84-year-old perhaps slowly moving on a 75-year-old. Given our love of conflict, we must hope for a media version of “The Sunshine Boys” (1976), with Walter Matthau and George Burns playing a long-retired legendary vaudeville act who reunite for a TV show and realize they detest one another.
  5. Is Sean Penn a journalist?
    “There can be no question that Penn is a journalist, albeit a very bad one,” write venerable left-leaning journalist and cultural critic Nat Hentoff and Nick, his civil liberties lawyer son. “And the First Amendment doesn’t distinguish between good and bad journalists in protecting press freedoms. If professional journalists don’t stand up for Penn now, they may find themselves targeted by law enforcement in the future. In fact, professional journalists have already been targeted multiple times by the Obama administration in criminal investigations of their sources. Obama — who once said that his administration would be the most transparent in history — has waged a war on government whistleblowers, with professional journalists suffering the collateral damage.” (Chicago Sun-Times)
  6. How great journalism can vanish
    Poynter’s Kristen Hare touched a nerve with a piece that underscored the fragilities of the Internet in saving content and suggesting the need for journalists to proactively save their own work. (Poynter) That great story you wrote or read five or ten years ago? Don’t assume, even if you’re working for a seemingly big-time paper, magazine or online service, that it will always be there. Vagaries of hardware and software offer no guarantee. Among those responding was Michael Calderone, a reporter with Huffington Post, who alluded to two of his previous jobs as he tweeted, “Def a problem. I’ve lost old NY Observer/Yahoo stories following redesigns, along with my Politico blog archive.” (@mlcalderone)
  7. TV’s morning wars
    ABC, NBC and CBS can all now spin to their hearts’ content. “Good Morning America wins another week in viewers and the Today show continues to win the A25-54 demo, but No. 3 CBS This Morning is the only network morning show to see growth compared to the same week last year. This was also CBS’s largest weekly audience in the time period in 22 years, since March 1994.” (Adweek)
  8. Meet Lois Weisberg
    Lois Weisberg was more than the mom of supremely talented Slate boss Jacob. She was a dynamic, wonderfully independent longtime cultural affairs commissioner in Chicago but much more than that, which was why Malcolm Gladwell profiled her in 1999. (The New Yorker) She was a connector of people in many realms and, unlike last night’s GOP debate, showed how the power of ideas are important. Her contacts and creativity brought more influence than many Fortune 500 CEOs, newspaper publishers or cable TV hosts. I profiled her in 2011 after things hadn’t gone so well between her and her longtime political patron, then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. (TimeOut Chicago) She seemed to know everybody, everywhere, even if, sometimes, she didn’t quite know them. “‘I remember being backstage at the Blues Festival one summer when I was in college and seeing my mom rapt in conversation with Keith Richards,’ recalled Jacob. ‘He had a blonde under each arm and an open fifth of Jack Daniel’s as well as a lit cigarette in his hand. As soon as their conversation ended, I rushed over to ask if she knew who she’d been speaking to. She had no idea of course, so I filled her in. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘But he seemed like such a nice boy.'” (The Chicago Tribune) Weisberg, 90, passed away in Florida and services are Monday in Chicago. Check out Gladwell and Rick Kogan’s Tribune obit. A great lady, a rich life, a real loss. Have a good holiday weekend.

  9. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
    Michael J. Mishak will be a reporter at the Center for Public Integrity. Previously, he was a reporter for National Journal. (Email) | Job of the day: The South Bend Tribune is looking for a multimedia journalist. Get your resumes in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves:

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