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CLEVELAND — The media’s reaction to the latest bout of political dishonesty is reminiscent of con man Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” warning the populace of moral decay as he sings the signature “Ya Got Trouble.”
To hear the media tell it, we got trouble with a capital “T” in the midst of the ethical whodunit of Melania Trump’s convention speech and somebody’s plagiarism. Imagine: dishonest political oratory.
Of course, this is a digital world of media fragmentation where fact-checking and actual corrections seem increasingly quaint. When I tell old hands here about Vanity Fair’s fact-checking and lawyering of a recent tale of my own about journalist-historian Sidney Blumenthal, they shake their heads.
Nope, not at their joints anymore. Make a huge mistake? Well, just go online and make a change — not correction required. And if you’re waiting for your favorite local TV news anchor to come clean with seven errors on the previous day’s 5 p.m. newscast, your odds are better playing lotto.
And, yet, there was consensus that there would be hell to pay in other realms, including the media, if somebody was discovered to have pilfered in such fashion. Yes, said Evan Osnos of The New Yorker, there would be repercussions at his joint. Ditto Dan Klaidman, deputy editor at Yahoo News and former Newsweek managing editor. Tim McNulty, a professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and former reporter and editor at The Chicago Tribune, said, “If it was a young, untrained person, I’d give him or her other duties. If a senior person was responsible, I’d say: ‘You’re Fired!'”
Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review, demurred in asserting to me, “this whole thing isn’t really comparable to a piece of journalism because it is so high-profile and so high-stakes and the political damage has been done, whatever the details of how it happened.”
Perhaps. But you can also wonder about the limits of notoriety these days and whether there will be much damage — beyond a few news cycles. Until the press turns to the next Trump-inspired kerfuffle. Or the next shooting of cops. Or act of terrorism committed at home or abroad. Or until Hillary Clinton picks a running mate.
“GOP Reeling From Plagiarism Claims.” (MSNBC) “Why the plagiarism allegations against Melania Trump matter for her husband’s campaign.” (Los Angeles Times) “Questions over Melania Trump’s Speech Set Off Finger-Pointing.” (The New York Times) Then, again, by early this morning, there was, “Christie presses case against Clinton, fires up crowd.” (CNN)
And there were other tales attaining equal, even greater prominence for some outlets and their faithful. “21st Century Fox Negotiating Exit of Fox News Chief Roger Ailes.” (The Wall Street Journal) “‘Happy Days’ Creator Gary Marshall Dies at 81.” (The New York Post) “Hitchhiker who stabbed man 66 times at Clackamas County rest stop guilty of murder.” (Portland Oregonian) On and on.
As with making corrections, our attention spans are fleeting, our outrage quickly diverted elsewhere.
Meanwhile, at Fox News
The network is part of the convention story — or at least what some of the media are making a convention story — given the executive suite melodrama involving Fox chief Roger Ailes. Is he in or out? Are the Murdoch boys finalizing a deal to show him the exit and usher in a new generation of leadership? The overriding, at times elliptically sourced consensus is that he’s a goner. (The Washington Post) And there are claims that where there’s Gretchen Carlson-related smoke, there’s more fire. (New York)
And there’s at least one competitor’s pre-death obituary: “When Roger Ailes leaves Fox News, it will bring an end to an era — an era in which one man utterly reshaped American politics and media; wielded immense control over the Republican party; and, critics often charged, stoked the nation’s political, cultural and racial divides.” (CNN)
It obviously puts Fox folks here in an awkward spot, and they’re not saying much if anything for public consumption.
A godawful Yahoo deal
“In the wake of Yahoo writing down another $482 million from Tumblr on Monday, Scott Galloway, NYU’s marketing professor, had some harsh words for CEO Marissa Mayer and her decision to buy the social media site for $1.1 billion. ‘Tumblr will likely go down as the worst acquisition in tech of this decade and summarize Mayer’s tenure as CEO.'” (Business Insider)
Melania Trump via Twitter
Adam Sharp, the head of news, government and elections for Twitter, showed me a graphic that was a window onto disclosure of the Melania Trump mess. Unemployed journalist Jarrett Hill was in a Los Angeles Starbucks when, during her address at 10:40 p.m. Eastern Monday, he tweeted out about a line that was similar in both her and Michelle’s Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention address.
That got 2,800 retweets. Hill then issued a clarification at 11:26 p.m. that made clear there were two whole paragraphs that were similar. That got 20,000 retweets. Then, Mike Hearn, a product manager for New York Public Radio, tweeted side-by-side video clips of the two speeches at 12:37 a.m. Tuesday morning. Before then, Hearn had a good deal fewer than 1,000 followers. He got 127,000 retweets and now has about 3,000 followers, said Sharp.
“The last days of Rome”
Further proof Amazon rules the world: The Washington Post’s convention headquarters. They’ve taken over a two-floor brew pub for their contingent of about 80. There is free food and booze for everybody and guests, including craven hangers-on from Chicago who are friends with a distinguished reporter. The beers include a very nice “Post Pint” pale ale.
Last night the food included steak, chicken liver mousse with bacon, an artisan jerky (yes, “artisan jerky” seems an oxymoron) and more. There are free messages. “These are the last days of Rome,” said another distinguished reporter. No, these are the first days of Bezos ownership of The Post. They are doing good and doing well. People were working very hard, it can be reported. And, oh, yes, the pulled pork was also fabulous. Let’s all praise great journalism and Amazon Prime.
When I entered the Post’s operation last evening, whirling dervish political writer-columnist Chris Cillizza appeared to be doing Borscht Belt stand-up on a small riser. In fact, he was entertaining some of the assembled with a convention quiz, exhibiting a well-honed entertaining knack in evidence during “Politics and Pints,” a gig he does back in Washington on the second Monday of every month. Two of the questions: What was the last year both party conventions were held in the same city? And in what years were the conventions held in back-to-back weeks, as is the case this year?
The answers? The last time both conventions were in the same city was 1972, in Miami. And the years in which they were in back to back weeks: 2016, 2012, 2008, 1956, 1916 and 1912.
Reporting on the convention protests
Has the media suppressed tales of great unrest and tumult? No. Perhaps it’s a function of the horrendous violence elsewhere in recent weeks. But what’s playing out in Cleveland is simply more subdued than people figured. The demonstrations aren’t that big and dramatic. And the cops, who come from all over the country, have been impressive and cordial. It’s like everybody went to Law Enforcement Cordiality School before showing up here.
Mike Pence’s mixed record on the press
While his political patron bars certain reporters from his campaign events, Pence has a pretty solid pro-press legislative record, including advocacy for a so-called federal shield law to offer protection for sources and reporters, as is true under laws in 49 states and the District of Columbia. (Newsweek) He did, however, try to establish a taxpayer-funded “news” site that was likened to Pravda before it was canned due to popular outrage. (CNN)
Among the new media throng
Everybody and his mother are live-streaming punditry from the convention. Among the many media newbies is Seeker Daily, which just started and “is committed to answering the smart, inquisitive questions people have about life, society, politics and anything else happening in the new.” And, of course, to appeal to lots of 20-somethings. (Seeker)
Hawking native ads via Google
“Advertisers can now buy native ads programmatically in DoubleClick Bid Manager, Google said Tuesday at its DoubleClick Leadership Summit. Publishers can also make their entire native ad inventory on the web and in apps available programmatically. The move, which was expected, comes nearly two months after the search giant said it would allow publishers to sell native ads in sales where there was a direct relationship with the advertiser. Now no such relationship is required, making it easier for marketers to buy native ads at will across all screens and formats, Google said.” (Ad Age)
“He did it without any of us”
Ever-amiable Republican observer Nicolle Wallace of MSNBC voiced a mix of mild disappointment and grudging admiration on “Morning Joe” this morning over the Trump ascendancy formalized here. “He did it without any of us,” she said, alluding to the media.
That was mildly ironic given the longtime Trump boosters in her sunrise midst, namely Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. And she somehow discounted the likes of the vast Fox News apparatus, led by Trump nightly surrogate Sean Hannity. Yes, her own two colleagues have manifested a recent spasm of born-again anti-Trumpdom. But “this guy was discounted as a complete joke,” said Brzezinski this morning, suggesting the error of the world’s ways.
Scarborough did mention a seeming lack of enthusiasm at the Cleveland assemblage and an omnipresent interior design reality: “Lots of empty chairs,” last night, he noted. “I have never seen empty chairs like this. I have never felt the lack of enthusiasm on the floor.”
And Scarborough is nonplussed that “professionals” have not been brought in to run the campaign, suggesting that new campaign manager Paul Manafort is not ready for primetime and akin to beckoning Bjorn Borg back to Wimbledon with his wooden racquet. “My first question when he took over was, ‘Who is Paul Manafort?'”
Such qualms by the self-acknowledged political savant were not in evidence on CNN’s “New Day” when former Trump campaign-manager-turned-pundit Corey Lewandowski offered his hear-no-evil-see-no-evil “analysis.” He praised the convention’s unity to the hilt.
Hungarian TV and Charlie Rose
On Monday night, I’d seen a Hungarian TV crew joyously buttonholing Charlie Rose and interviewing him outside the arena. Huh? Is he a big deal in Budapest? I contacted a wonderful character, Miklos Martin-Kovacs, a Budapest TV journalist who also runs a yoga studio (yes, the Chicago Yoga Studio in Budapest) and was once a diplomat based in Washington and Chicago. He emailed, “I guess probably only a handful of us know about (Charlie Rose), and you were quite right, it’s (a) summer-type slow news week in (Budapest).
Meaning there are not too many major government-involved corruption scandals to chew on, and it seems this week even the constitution has not been amended — or at least the public doesn’t know about it. After all, it’s none of their business, right?
And, if you want a real flavor, one of the best tales about the protests so far surfaced last evening via journalist-historian David Maraniss as he ambled about town with an anti-Trump Unitarian minister relative who’d driven in from Upstate New York. (The Washington Post)