May 20, 2016

Rank speculation in the absence of many facts

It was a bit hard to comprehend, but Donald Trump’s is not the only aircraft that can fascinate the press. The EgyptAir disaster prompted a well-practiced journalistic disaster cruise control. You could imagine the TV bookers’ electronic Rolodexes turning to “plane crash contacts” as a squadron of vaguely familiar former commercial pilots and government regulators were beckoned, supplemented by a slew of individuals identified as terrorism experts or “aviation consultants” (usually former regulators cashing in somewhere in the capital).

In a few cases — but a lot fewer than once upon a time — there were actual TV foreign correspondents to be beckoned. Precious few TV faces now seem familiar, perhaps most notably London-based Nic Robertson of CNN. He’s one of the precious few savvy TV reporters doing actual work overseas amid rampant cost-cutting in newsrooms back home.

Fox News beat the terrorism drum rather loudly. Typical was Gillian Turner, a Fox contributor, who said we had to be mindful of the terrorists constantly “innovating” with “new kinds of underwear and shoe bombs being developed as we speak.” With the unsettling vision of ISIS bad guys profiting from a 2-for-1 sale of Hanes briefs at a faraway Walmart, one could turn elsewhere for vaguely similar admonitions.

And it was all repeatedly interspersed with mention of our ongoing ignorance even as word came of some debris being found. (The Washington Post) “Unfortunately, the evidence is 3,000 feet deep in the Mediterranean and until we have the black boxes, and pieces of the aircraft, everything up to this point is just speculation,” said Jim Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and a plane disaster regular for CNN, in his folksy Southern drawl. The repetition of such qualifiers was constant but followed, of course, by rank speculation.

The complete story remains elusive more than 24 hours after it broke. But there is a savior to fill the vacuum for TV: Trump. Or, really, Trump and Hillary Clinton, as we segued seamlessly from the horror of the air disaster to the politics of the crash and how they were playing it amid their sound bite sniping. Snippets of Chris Cuomo’s CNN interview of Clinton, where she called Trump unfit to be president, seemed to be everywhere. (CNN)

Running those clips, and punditizing about the race, was safe ground since it doesn’t entail actual reporting. Thus, there was was “Morning Joe” with Joe Scarborough holding up Friday’s New York Times (at least somebody reads the print version still) and focusing viewers attention on a poll that shows how much Americans dislike the two candidates. “This is mind-blowing,” he said. “Happy Friday.” (The New York Times)

The death of Morley Safer, 84

“The celebratory tone of last week’s retirement announcement gave way to tearful news bulletins Thursday. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell told MSNBC viewers, choking back tears, ‘We have something…something uh very sad to report.'” (Poynter) He was “an intrepid storyteller and interviewer whose name became synonymous with the newsmagazine ’60 Minutes.'” (CNN) He was “unflinching, tough, urbane, witty, rarely dull,” said NPR’s David Folkenflik. (NPR) “To many colleagues and competitors, he was regarded as the best television journalist of the Vietnam era, an adventurer whose vivid reports exposed the nation to the hard realities” of the war. (The New York Times) Some of those reports are worth a look. (Vulture)

And as his employer put it, “A dashing figure in his checked shirt, polka dot tie and pocket square, Morley Safer — even his name had panache — was in his true element playing pool with Jackie Gleason, delivering one of his elegant essays aboard the Orient Express or riffing on Anna Wintour, but he also asked the tough questions and did the big stories. In 2011, over 18.5 million people watched him ask Ruth Madoff how she could not have known her husband Bernard was running a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme. The interview was headline news and water cooler talk for days.” (CBS) Yup. A helluva career.

Newspaper war escalates

Tribune Publishing is fending off both a Gannett takeover attempt and a pissed-off major shareholder that wants a Gannett deal. New Tribune boss Michael Ferro, who’s been running the show since February, now says that he’s mulling going after Gannett. (POLITICO Media) Small chance of that happening. Buying Gannett would cost around $2 billion, which is why this likely winds up in court.

Chiding Nate Silver, and everybody else

Data maven Nate Silver has written a mea culpa for consistently messing up analyses of Donald Trump this year. He had crunched figures throughout to conclude he had no chance. Rolling Stone’s Matt Bai now argues that Silver’s apologia inadvertently underscored “a lot about what we campaign journalists in general have done wrong to pave the way for the seeming outlier of a Trump nomination.” (Rolling Stone)

One problem, he contends, is a tendency to treat populist candidates “as peripheral nuisances, and candidates representing a tiny minority of wealthy donors were upheld as the safe majority choice.” Reporters missed much of the economic pain out there. And in seeing Trump as an outlier, Bai believes, Silver and many others miss how “the real outlier was that this upside-down capsule description of American politics held for so long.”

Winners, losers in a digital age

From Scott Galloway, a marketing and brand strategist expert who teaches at New York University: “As the big four — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — increasingly encroach on each other’s territory, the latest missive is from Video Direct” an Amazon competitor of YouTube. “Who’s winning? People producing original content who no longer need big media companies for distribution. Four established YouTube creators have already partnered with Amazon’s Video Direct.” Ok, fine. Now this from him: “On YouTube just these four channels have one third as many subscribers as cable TV in the U.S. in 2015.” (YouTube)

A big slice of data crunching

Sniping over Nate Silver’s campaign miscues blinds one to the reality that his operation is mostly analyzing sports. Here’s a good one from Thursday: “A Definitive Guide To Baseball’s Pizza Discounts.” Major League Baseball’s partnership with Papa John’s means that if somebody hits a grand slam, you get a 40 percent discount the next day. But MLB “is so in bed with Big Pizza that the promotions don’t even stop at a national Papa John’s partnership.”

There are a variety of discounts on the local level, at least for the 22 teams for whom Papa John’s is the “official pizza.” Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur dissect the varying discount conditions. For example, the Yankees have to win a game and score at least six runs, which seems a Herculean task for them these days (I say bitterly as a lifelong fan). The Houston Astros have to win on a Tuesday. The subsequent odds of getting a discount if your team wins a game ranges from 52.9 percent for the St. Louis Cardinals to a small-chance-in-Hell 77 percent for the Atlanta Braves. (FiveThirtyEight)

A four-way liaison!

The CW Network, in its unceasing quest for young TV viewers, acquired Warner Bros.’ “Supergirl” after its initial season on CBS. As a result, it’s creating “the mother of all crossovers”: it will offer a combo of it and “Arrow,” “The Flash,” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”) during a December “mega-event” of four DC Comics properties. (Ad Age) This prompted Gina Rodriguez, who stars in the network’s Monday night “Jane the Virgin” to tweet, “And #JaneThe Virgin? Too much? OK, too much. But how many women have babies with no sex?!? #superMom.” (@HereIsGina)

Business Insider’s inelegant coupling

Business Insider was rather tone deaf yesterday in sticking side-by-side stories on the EgyptAir crash and this: “The bond market could be gearing up for its worst massacre in decades.” It used a big fat image, though it didn’t identify it, of fire, desolation and death. (Business Insider) Michele Bogart, a friend and art historian at Stony Brook University in New York, informs that it’s the British-born American painter Thomas Cole’s “Destruction, which is part of of a series called “The Course of Empire (1836)” that’s now at the New-York Historical Society. It’s all about man’s hubris bringing him down, with nature triumphing in the end. Knock on wood we’ve done away with hubris these days.

Trying to make a buck off of radio

PRX, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based nonprofit that’s distributed radio programs including “This American Life” and “The Moth Radio Hour,” will launch RadioPublic, a new, for-profit company that aims to reimagine the way people listen to audio on their mobile devices. (Poynter) “Their first order of business: Create a listening app that will enable users to discover and engage with a variety of audio, including ‘spoken-word stories, news, information, journalism, entertainment.'”


A porn bot named “Miranda Davis” apparently hacked the verified Twitter account of the late New York Times media writer David Carr and posted photos. (Hollywood Reporter) Twitter was quickly informed.

Tweet of the Day

“Theranos Inc. has told federal health regulators that the company voided two years of results from its Edison blood-testing devices, according to a person familiar with the matter.” (The Wall Street Journal) This prompted Jacob Weisberg, the chief of Slate, to harken back to what he tells me was his three years of Greek back in Chicago. “Theranos looking more like Thanatos,” he tweeted. (@jacobwe) Just in case you forgot, Thanatos was the daemonic representation of death. Well, at least you’ve got the weekend to catch up up on your Greek mythology. Cheers.

Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin

Dawn Garcia will be director of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships. Previously, she was managing director there. (Stanford) | Amy Astley is now editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest. Previously, she was editor in chief of Teen Vogue. (Email) | Tatiana Simonian is now head of marketing partnerships at Tumblr. Previously, she was vice president of branded music at Nielsen Entertainment. (Email) | Job of the day: Law 360 is looking for a reporter. 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.…
James Warren

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