May 27, 2016

Counsel on pinning him down

Donald Trump’s characteristically “rollicking” and dissembling press conference yesterday in North Dakota, ostensibly to celebrate wrapping up the Republican presidential nomination, didn’t include this question: Why does the press do such an awful job of interrogating him?

Yesterday was typical: Trump’s vaguely refreshing nerve to take many queries, not really responding to some, bashing the media and just being deceitful on various matters, ranging from a previous outrageous comment on the suicide of Clinton White House aide Vince Foster to flimsy claims about why alternative sources of energy like solar are baloney. Once again, he basically got away with it all. It’s not that bright reporters haven’t interrogated him. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews totally tripped him up on abortion by being his own naturally combative self. (YouTube)

But that was an exception. So after the North Dakota session, I called the tough journalist-entrepreneur Steve Brill, an old friend who also teaches journalism at Yale University, to inquire about the basic problem and what he’d ask. Brill’s recent run of major stories includes a 15-part Huffington Post series on sleazy marketing of an anti-psychotic drug by Johnson & Johnson (The Huffington Post) and, yes, a TIME exposé on Trump University. (TIME) In sum: If you’re going to hold somebody accountable, he said, “you should ask closed-ended questions with either a numeric or a yes or no answer.”

He suggests these seven for Trump:

  • Will you release the portions of your depositions in the Trump University lawsuits that you have so far insisted be sealed?


  • You have expressed reluctance to release your full tax returns. But will you tell us what the amount was that you listed as your taxable income (line 43) of your latest return? We assume that your latest filed return is for 2014 because you likely received an extension until October 15, 2016 for your 2015 return, as is often the case for those with complicated returns.
  • This is a simple yes or no question that is more general than the question from George Stephanopoulos that you declined to answer: Did you pay more than 10 percent of your total income (line 22 of your 2014 return) in income tax in 2014 (line 44)? In the least five years have you ever paid more than 10 percent?


  • If, as you have repeatedly said, 98 percent of the paying students at Trump University filled out surveys saying they were satisfied with the education they got, why, according to the deposition testimony of the University’s director of operations, did 32 percent of the students in the $1,495 course request refunds within days of completing the course?


  • Your actual success running businesses has been questioned. Can you name a business that your company actually operates — as opposed to enterprises where you license your name — that has been consistently profitable? Would you make public an audited profit and loss statement for that business?


  • You have often cited the luxury apartment complex on the West Side of Manhattan that bears your name as an example of a successful project that you built and run. Can you tell us what percent, if any, of the equity in these properties you actually own?


  • Do you still have any doubts about whether President Obama was born in the United States?

“The only catch with Trump, unlike most people, including mobsters I wrote about in my book on the Teamsters Union, is that Trump seems to have a willingness to flat out misstate the truth,” Brill wrote. “He doesn’t even try to finesse an answer. He just lies as if he won’t be held accountable.”

Entering Jim Cramer’s “Wall of Shame”

The CNBC host last night did an eight-and-a-half minute “Mad Money” takedown of Tribune Publishing boss Michael Ferro for spurning a takeover proposal from Gannett. (CNBC) Yes, nearly nine minutes on the heretofore little-known Chicago tech mogul. Only three months into his tenure, it’s clear that Ferro wants the company to “remain his own independent plaything” after spurning a nearly 100 percent premium for the stock in an “ailing newspaper business.” Cramer calls it “one of the most gigantic takeover premiums in history!”

He said Ferro has “done so much damage in such a brief time, I had to put him on (the Wall of Shame).” He may deserve “his own annex.” In his mind, Ferro didn’t just destroy value by spurning a $15 a share Gannett offer for stock that recently was at $7.52 but has “hijacked” a publicly held company. He detailed moves of Ferro and a compliant board of directors and said, “We’re entering Crazy Town territory.” That’s especially so, he said, after Ferro created more than 4 million new shares that he sold to a Los Angeles doctor-entrepreneur for the same $15 Gannett was offering. The market is as unimpressed as Cramer, and the stock closed at $11.20 yesterday. Meanwhile, staffers just keep on keeping on with their work. (Poynter)

Bob Iger goes after Bernie Sanders (sort of)

On Tuesday, Sanders went after Disney for paying low wages and laying off people while paying boss Bob Iger a ginormous sum. Iger then retorted in part via his personal Facebook account, saying “our company has created 18,000 new jobs in the U.S. in the last five years. How many jobs have you created?” (The Wrap) But he didn’t address the central issue (to Sanders) of wage disparity. Iger received $46.5 million in 2014 and $44.9 million last year. (Fortune) Yesterday CNBC’s Eamon Javers brought up this matter: Would Iger ever have the nerve to specifically address the compensation issue in public rather than resort to his personal Facebook page? How would he publicly justify his pay? You could ask the same question of many CEOs.

Thiel vs. Gawker

You’d think it was Ali-Frazier. Or maybe FDR-Hitler, given the passion elicited by news that the billionaire was funding Hulk Hogan’s sex tape litigation. “You know what’s gross about Peter Thiel reportedly funding Hulk Hogan to sue Gawker (which is, in turn, funded by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg)? Everything.” (Pando) You have the morning free? Here’s a link to at least 21 separate stories on the matter. (REDEF)

Gawker issued an open letter to Thiel should he continue to fund lawsuits against Gawker Media, warning, “however philanthropic your intention, and careful the planning, the details of your involvement will be gruesome.” Gawker’s sounding a bit like Don Corleone in “The Godfather” even as, alas, it is tentatively exploring a possible sale of the company. (The Wall Street Journal) My solution: Thiel, like Corleone, makes them an offer they can’t refuse, then puts Gawker out of business.

A little-known civil rights hero

The early days of The Undefeated, ESPN’s new website on race and sports, have been solid if not inspiring. But one of the better efforts came yesterday via Andrew Maraniss, son of The Washington Post reporter-author David. He profiles retired basketball coach C. M. Newton, now 86. “No one provided athletic opportunities for African-Americans in the South like C.M. Newton. At every stop of his career, he made unprecedented and controversial moves related to race, recruiting the first black players at Alabama, fielding the Southeastern Conference’s first all-black starting lineup, hiring the first black coach at Kentucky, and initiating the long-overdue reconciliation between a black athletic pioneer and the university community at Vanderbilt.” (The Undefeated)

Censorship, NFL style

The Buffalo Bills unveiled their 2016 Media Policy. For sure, NFL teams are all somewhat Kremlin-like when it comes to information. “But the Bills’ 2016 policy is bizarre even by bizarre NFL standards. From the Bills not wanting reporters to report in camp who’s on the first team, second team to ‘who is rushing the passer, dropped passes, interceptions, QB completion percentage, etc.,’ the team is trying to crack down on any information from public practices getting to fans.” (Buffalo News)

Now you see it, now you don’t

“The Guardian has removed 13 items from its website after an investigation into accusations of fabrication committed by a freelance journalist.” (Poynter) They were written by “Joseph Mayton, a freelance contributor who’s written or contributed to more than 60 items for The Guardian.”

Google vanquishes Oracle

“Google won a jury verdict that kills Oracle Corp.’s claim to a $9 billion slice of the search giant’s Android phone business and may give comfort to programmers who write applications that run across different platforms without a license.” (Bloomberg) Why is this important? “Free speech and copyright experts have been up in arms about the case. The suit is fundamentally about whether the common Silicon Valley practice of using open source technology created by other corporations constitutes a copyright violation, as Oracle’s lawyers have argued it does. (Recode)

Assessing Baylor’s shame

So they canned the remarkably successful football coach and demoted president Kenneth Starr, with the irony so very vivid as they buried their heads in the sand with football players accused of sexual assault. “Mr. Starr’s demotion delivered a twist to the biography of a man whose reputation was built on what many considered an overzealous pursuit of allegations of sexual transgressions by Mr. Clinton.” (The New York Times) As for the sports side of the tale, writes Ivan Maisel: “Mark this day down. Turn the corner of this page in the college football family bible. Someone in the gridiron-industrial complex stood up and said some standards are more important than winning. (ESPN)

The Young Turks offers its services

“One news network is stepping up with a million-dollar offer to host a debate between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, announced Thursday that his online news network would donate $1 million to a charity of the candidates’ choosing to air a debate between the two men on their network.” Uygur is a very sharp former MSNBC show host who oversees a Los Angeles-based online video news channel that gets more than 200 million views a month on YouTube. (POLITICO)

Obama visits Hiroshima

It’s very much like when Bill Clinton was the first president to visit Vietnam since the war. It was late 2000 and coverage of the Bush vs. Gore campaign drowned out that historic trek. Similarly, there was far more about Trump and Hillary Clinton’s emails this morning on cable TV than on Obama being the first president to visit Hiroshima since the bombing that helped end World War II.

But CNN, MSNBC and Fox did at least note it, with MSNBC giving it the most discussion, mostly via Richard Haass, the Council on Foreign Relations chief who’s rarely informative on politics during his “Morning Joe” gig but was good on Obama not apologizing and the nuclear risks that remain in the region. It was important history to recall on the eve of Memorial Day Weekend. Have a great weekend but perhaps take a minute amid the grilling and partying to remember those who have served.

Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
Dana Williams will be the executive editor of Pacific Daily News on Guam. She is Data News Editor at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. (Email) | Ellen Shultz will be executive vice president of talent and inclusion at The New York Times. She is vice president and head of human resources at Media General. (Email) | Kathy Best will be the editor of The Missoulian. She is the editor of the Seattle Times. (Seattle Times) | Job of the day: Colorado Public Radio is looking for a digital assistant news editor. Get your resumes in! (Poynter Media Jobs Connection) | Send Ben your job moves:

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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.…
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