September 14, 2016

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President Obama falls short of Hillary Clinton’s visceral disdain for the press, but not by much, as he relishes his role as lame duck Surrogate-in-Chief for the Democratic nominee.

As for the media and coverage of Clinton and Donald Trump, on Tuesday he proclaimed to a Philadelphia audience that he was “frustrated with the way this campaign is covered.”

“You know, you don’t grade the presidency on a curve,” Obama said, citing Trump’s decision to purchase a six-foot-tall painting of himself with charity money. “…You want to debate transparency? You’ve got one candidate in this race who has released decades’ worth of her tax returns. The other candidate is the first in decades who refuses to release any at all.”

It was all of a piece with Obama’s own deep suspicions of the media. He’s often spoken in lofty terms about the importance of press freedom, especially when bashing the awful press and human rights records of others, notably China. (The Guardian) And, for sure, he’s been at times unfairly diminished by unceasing media and political assaults during his presidency. But his record, say, on releasing government records is pretty awful, even after he initially promised the most open administration ever and made some clear advances, including improving the Presidential Records Act.

He’s exhibited the very same tendency of recent administrations, regardless of political party, to limit press access. He’s been bad on the Freedom of Information Act and topped predecessors in not fulfilling FOIA requests, be it withholding or censoring them. (PBS) He’s not been good on the so-called “open meetings” law. He’s relied greatly on “secret law” memos and going after the press for alleged leaks. (Poynter) A coalition of 53 press and open government groups skewered him. (Poynter) The White House Correspondents’ Association complained of sharply decreased access and manipulation. (Poynter)

As for Obama, “Words fail me. I’ve seldom been so disillusioned,” Jane Kirtley, a free press specialist at the University of Minnesota, told me a few months ago. “Big, big promises and very little delivery. All those leak investigations and prosecutions. And then he blames the media for Trump.”

Oh, and how might Obama and speechwriters know about that life-sized painting? It was not via their own sleuthing at New York art auction houses or gilt-edged Palm Beach, Florida flea markets. No, it was by ripping off, yes, revelations from the very press that Obama at times uses as a whipping boy/girl. (The Washington Post)

It’s good that Obama’s speechwriters picked up on the story. But they should also be glad that the boss isn’t being graded on his press record since even the most ardent loyalists might have to employ their own curve.

Zuckerberg’s stock sales

“Mark Zuckerberg has sold nearly $300 million in Facebook stock over the past month, including a $95 million sale over the past few trading days, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission document filed Tuesday.” (Recode) Oh, he still has more than 400 million shares of Facebook. It closed at $127.21 per share yesterday. Do the math.

A revealing Fox montage

After “Fox & Friends” this morning harrumphed about a new Clinton “email scandal,” namely Colin Powell emails sent to a former aide that bashed Trump, it segued to a montage of media coverage of his Philadelphia appearance. “The mainstream media loves her, she’s their candidate,” said Steve Doocy. Then came clips from last night’s prime broadcast network newscasts:

Said ABC’s David Muir, “Was it what the doctor ordered? With Hillary Clinton recovering from pneumonia, President Clinton hits the trial and takes aim at a Donald Trump presidency. “Obama to the rescue?” said a chyron.

NBC’s Lester Holt declared, “Tonight, Trump takedown. With Hillary Clinton sidelined a fiery President Obama unloads on Trump.” And over at CBS Scott Pelley opened a report with, “He looked a little bit like a retired athlete thrilled to be back in the game.”

Slate’s Election Day plan

“The online magazine will be breaking with Election Day convention in November by providing real-time election projections by working with a company called VoteCastr. The company, which is based in Palo Alto, California, will examine turnout data to forecast winners in crucial swing states.” (Poynter)

Editor Julia Turner argues in part that there’s no real evidence linking real-time data on Election Day and lower subsequent turnout. Hmmmm. Nevertheless, it does remind one of perhaps the greatest screw-up in analyzing returns, prompting the notorious “Dewey Beats Truman” headline in The Chicago Tribune. I discussed that debacle with Jim O’Shea, a friend who’s former editor of the Los Angeles Times and managing editor of the Chicago Tribune. He reports:

“The Tribune and many other papers were struggling with election results because of a typographers strike. The cumbersome process of rushing a 120 type headline to a page plate in time to roll off the presses forced the paper to go to press long before the polls closed. Arthur Sears Henning, the Trib’s Washington bureau chief and dean of the Washington press corps, was so confident in all of the predictions of a Dewey victory he wrote the lead story before 9 a.m. on Election Day. The first actual returns came from Republican heavy Kansas and showed Dewey leading, although by a far smaller lead that had been expected.”

“Even though the returns started to suggest an upset was in the making, Trib honchos, clinging to their beliefs that the predictions were sound, kept the headline on the stories as the first editors of 1.1 million papers were loaded on trucks and sent to the paper’s far-reaching circulation areas such as Dubuque, Iowa. Overall, some 150,000 papers with the Dewey Defeats Truman headline went out before it was changed, giving Truman that great photo of him holding up the copy of the paper with the bad headline and earning the Tribune a distinction for inaccuracy and a cloudy crystal ball that lasted for decades.”

“I remember one night in the late 1990s when I, as a fresh new national foreign editor, wanted to call an Illinois congressional race only to be stopped by the wise old political hand, former Tribune Managing Editor Dick Ciccone. He told me: ‘Never forget, you work for the paper that ran the Dewey Defeats Truman headline. Don’t you ever try to call an election until we know who won.'”

Twitter and harassment

Does Twitter not walk the walk in curbing harassment, including outright racism? Here’s one take on Twitter boss Jack Dorsey and his operation: “Unwittingly, Dorsey reveals the widening gap between how Twitter (the company) sees itself and how people actually use Twitter (the product). This balancing act is pulling the platform in two directions at once, while many users — women of color in particular — are punished for doing exactly what Twitter says they should: speak freely.” (Fusion)

Kudos to Russell Baker

There’s a fine review in The New York Review of Books of “His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt” by Joseph Lelyveld, former editor of The New York Times. “Lelyveld’s subject — those ‘last months’ — would seem to bode a heavy onset of melancholy reading, but nothing about FDR will long submit to gloom,” writes the reviewer, Russell Baker, the former great Times columnist and PBS host. (New York Review of Books) He’s now 91. Good for him. (And in a rare doubleheader, Lelyveld writes an essay in the same issue on why one might hold one’s nose and vote for Clinton).

Hillary and gender

From Peter Beinart’s “Fear of a Female President” in the October edition of The Atlantic:

“Over the past few years, political scientists have suggested that, counterintuitively, Barack Obama’s election may have led to greater acceptance by whites of racist rhetoric. Something similar is now happening with gender. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is sparking the kind of sexist backlash that decades of research would predict. If she becomes president, that backlash could convulse American politics for years to come.” (The Atlantic)

O’Reilly’s factor

Last night Bill O’Reilly beckoned Kyle Kondik, managing editor of “Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” a sharp newsletter bearing the name of a prominent University of Virginia political scientist, to discuss the state of the campaign.

As it turned out, Kondik largely sat there as O’Reilly explained his view of the campaign. His propounded his “Personal Suspicion Theory,” namely his notion that the “personal suspicion” of Clinton among voters is unprecedented in recent times. Not Al Gore, not John Kerry, not Barack Obama. When Kondik was given a few second to discuss what he thought, he did mention that despite the likelihood of a Clinton victory, there are some curiosities out there to give pause.

In particular, there’s a new Boston Globe poll showing a tight race in a seemingly bedrock Clinton state, Maine. “Also significant:” writes The Globe, “The poll of likely voters, conducted last week by SurveyUSA, showed only a small portion of respondents, 5 percent, remain undecided less than eight weeks before Election Day.” (Globe) When he confronted those Maine figures this morning, “Morning Joe’s” Joe Scarborough’s response was uncharacteristically brief: “Holy moly.”

Tab headline of the day

Had somebody hacked the Murdoch-owned New York Post or was it a tab being a tab? The online headline at one point yesterday: “The Graham Cracker was invented to stop you from masturbating.” (Post) It was the latter.

Fact-checking child care plans

On “New Day” CNN’s Christine Romans did a terrific job this morning comparing Donald Trump’s new child care plan, unveiled last night and featuring Ivanka Trump (sounding like Nancy Pelosi) as his warm-up act, with that previously outlined by Hillary Clinton. In sum, as her graphics put it, “Trump: Maternity only, 6 weeks, pay: unemployment insurance. Clinton: Family leave, 12 weeks, pay: at least 2/3 income.” So it’s maternity only for Trump and six weeks paid leave compared to Clinton’s 12. Trump’s seems geared to working women and apparently would over same-sex couples.

The average cost of your child are with Trump would be tax deductible, up to four children or an elderly parent. Clinton looks at childcare as something capped at 10 percent of your income and also endorses universal pre-K, which would be really expensive.

Trump’s plan, Romans said, would cost $2.5 billion a year and partly reflect eliminating what he deems existing fraud in related government programs, which seems naive and doesn’t factor in the expense of finding the fraud, said Romans. Clinton hasn’t really yet told us what the real cost would be of her proposal, with some a mix of direct subsidies and tax relief. Universal pre-K would obviously be very expensive. “These are two very different proposals,” said Romans at the end of a very nice bit of fact-checking.

Samantha Bee, press critic

“At some point, networks decided they could just ask questions and the answers would be someone else’s problem,” opined comic Samantha Bee on her new show, which seeks to craft cutting cultural satire. “And though Bee has some sympathy for everyone who has to fact-check the ‘mendacious geyser of vomit that spews nonstop from the Trump campaign,’ she took the time she had to point out that even if that’s hard, that’s kind of what newsrooms are supposed to do.” (Vox)

An investigation of Trump’s dealing revealed

Kurt Eichenwald, a best-selling author and former New York Times investigative reporter, unloads a provocative opus this morning in Newsweek. “A close examination by Newsweek of the Trump Organization, including confidential interviews with business executives and some of its international partners, reveals an enterprise with deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals, although there is no evidence the Trump Organization has engaged in any illegal activities.

It also reveals a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled. If Trump moves into the White House and his family continues to receive any benefit from the company, during or even after his presidency, almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires.” (Newsweek)

On CNN’s “New Day,” he detailed how some of the entanglements could not be undone if Trump were elected and how putting them into a blind trust wouldn’t work, either. Asked by Chris Cuomo to compare the Trump Organization with the Clinton Foundation, he said sit it was apples and oranges, with the Clintons not getting rich off their foundation. And, it appears, they’ve not used donations to buy six-foot-tall portraits of themselves.

Cokie Watch

In the mid-to late-1990s, a Chicago Tribune Washington bureau chief (me) had a regular column item, “Cokie Watch,” on capital journalists like Roberts who took huge speaking fees in frequent clear ethical conflict with what they covered. Perhaps it should be renewed as synonym for obtuse campaign punditry. Writes Charles Pierce in Esquire:

“Just when you thought the coverage of this election couldn’t get either worse or weirder, veteran NPR centrist-whisperer Cokie Roberts chimes in.” He recalls a classic Roberts reference to beauty parlor gossip as truthful reality back then. “Thus did Cokie Roberts rearrange American journalism in such a way that truth no longer mattered, and in such a way that something that didn’t happen could be said to have happened because people were talking about it.” (Esquire)

Now she was heard the other day on NPR citing unidentified Democrats who were allegedly nervous amid disclosures of Hillary Clinton’s health ills and “very nervously beginning to whisper about her stepping aside and finding another candidate.”

“Crap,” writes Pierce. “Who are they? Not their names, but at what level of the party? DNC members? Elected officials? Senators? TV pundits? A majority of the voices in Pat Caddell’s head? The hairdressers again?”

Yeah, it could be the TRESemme School of Punditry again.

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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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