September 27, 2016

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Lester Holt of NBC News risked being a controversial star. Instead, he made a benign cameo.

The pundit class ruled after last night’s debate that Clinton won clearly, even if it remains to be seen if many Americans will be moved.

As for Holt, what do folks who actually assess performance think?

In advance of the debate, there was chatter about Holt being a registered Republican, said Harvey Young, a dramatist and a theater and African-American studies scholar at Northwestern University.

“For two hours, he became the face of Black Republicanism — and his poise and polish helped to rehabilitate the impression left by Ben Carson and mercilessly parodied by (“Saturday Night Live’s”) Jay Pharaoh,” Young said.

In sports, good refs stay out of the fray unless it’s incumbent they not. “Holt was pretty much invisible and the result was a spotlight on the two candidates who repeatedly clashed with one another,” says Young.

He found him a “throwback to a period when anchormen exuded a Mad Men-style authority, confidence, and fashion sense. Even sitting, he had swagger — and I mean this in a positive way.” All in all, says the theater expert, his was a cameo appearance.

Dan Fitzmier, director of debate at Northwestern, said Holt’s biggest test was a kind of prejudice.

“The main challenge for Holt was to mediate the gender bias that is quite real in American audiences,” Fitzmier said.

Fitzmier should know. Northwestern is, when it comes to debating, akin to the old New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers and Montreal Canadiens. It’s won 15 national championships. Who’s second? It’s some Ivy League school in Cambridge, Massachusetts that’s won seven times.

As Trump employed “classic male communication patterns — interruption and talking over a female interlocutor, refusing to stop when asked to by the moderator — Holt could have done a vastly better job at insisting that Trump follow the time limits and limit interruption.”

But he asked some good questions and elicited strong responses. That’s ultimately a moderator’s primary task. Distinctions were drawn.

Should he have interrupted a couple of times and asked follow-up questions? For sure. He missed how Trump seemed to suggest he hadn’t paid any federal income taxes. He didn’t ask if Trump thought about implicit racism. Near the end, he seemed to give up trying to get either to respect time limits (Fitzmier notes how women are discouraged from interrupting men in our culture, a problem underscored last night).

He could have asked a lot of stuff without being a jerk. On Clinton’s assertions about the increase in exports to China and the rest of the world, did Trump agree with her data or not? It would have focused the clash on trade.

Ultimately, the format was a tough one for any moderator. The open sparring was perhaps unprecedented for a presidential debate. Holt could have been a lot worse, and his involvement may become a trivia question faster than we’d imagine.

A jackass and a mule train

Fact-checkers’ cups did runneth over as the press proudly pronounced the discovery of many errors (mostly by Trump), though John Dickerson of CBS News correctly wondered, “Will it matter?”

Will it? On “Morning Joe” this morning, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough wondered if their own sense of her superior performance would be upended by Trump improving in polls. Would he suffer from a seemingly poor performance or would a disjoint between a media elite and the country be revealed?

On MSNBC, conservative Hugh Hewitt conceded some godawful Trump moments, especially on the Obama birth issue, but figured “the needle won’t change much.” Mike Murphy, the GOP consultant and writer, said Trump “pretty much collapsed in the second half” but, in “a wrong-track election,” raised the painful (to Murphy) possibility that Trump’s you-had-your-chance refrain toward her could be effective.

A personal favorite came from the cable gang’s now pro forma quest for “real people.” MSNBC had some in Columbus, Ohio, including “Anita,” a registered Democrat who detests Clinton. She wasn’t impressed by Trump last night. Then came her bottom line:

“I am voting for the conservative party. If this jackass is leading this mule train, so be it.” Three cheers for live television.

Trump’s cheerleader

The mule train’s riders include Sean Hannity of Fox News. In his 347th (it seems) exclusive Trump interview, Hannity got him moments after the debate for some mutual back-slapping.

“She tried to play the race card,” Hannity said, bringing up what she said once about “superpredator” lawbreakers.

“You know and I know she’s been a disaster,” said Trump.

Just like the sun rises in the East, Hannity agreed with The Donald.

The Krauthammer factor

In the run-up to the debate, Fox was rather lively as Bill O’Reilly and Charles Krauthammer tossed around possible questions.

Krauthammer had this for Trump: “Shortly after the convention, you said there are things that you regret. Name one, specifically.”

“I like that one!” said O’Reilly, who also found time to show us a clip of his droll self on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” earlier.

“And it’s short,” said Krauthammer, self-approvingly.

And it didn’t get asked.

Jose Fernandez (cont.)

The death of the young baseball pitcher, who intrepidly fled Cuba, reminded of his importance for Cubans in South Florida. “As (Miami sportswriter-radio host) Dan Le Batard eloquently wrote this weekend, watching Fernandez represented freedom. Fernandez reminded us of our own doting, loving abuelita. He showed that no matter the oppression — two failed defection attempts? Three? Jail? A new country as a teenager? — you could come out the other side with freedom and immense appreciation for life.” (The Undefeated)

Obama’s golf: Tiger may be jealous

Tiger Woods remains sidelines with injuries but President Obama plays on, with a weekend round now bringing his total rounds during his tenure to 314, according to my encyclopedic reference, CBS News’ White House radio mainstay Mark Knoller.

Remember the EpiPen hoopla?

The press seemed to lose interest shortly after the company CEO’s congressional testimony last week. On Monday, Mylan released revised profit figures for the device. The executive said the company makes $100 per two-pack. “Turns out…the company makes at least $60 more than that. Mylan had used a much higher tax rate than it pays to calculate the original figure (whoops).” (Business Insider)

Women of the CIA

“Women have been central to American spycraft since 1776, and they continued to play important roles in the World War II–era Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIA’s predecessor. Even so, the agency has a long history as a chauvinistic old boys’ club rife with sexism.” (Newsweek)

If you missed this, check out a nice effort by Abigail Jones, with photos by the great David Hume Kennerly. Jones got access to seven women in current or past divergent roles, including a mother of five who “wrote the first report warning of Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s, years before 9/11, and she was one of the six women in the CIA’s ‘band of sisters’ that tracked down bin Laden and inspired the 2012 thriller Zero Dark Thirty.”

Athletes run amok

The New York tabloids should knock on wood that the woeful Knicks traded for Chicago Bulls oft-injured hometown star Derrick Rose. A civil suit against him has morphed into a criminal rape investigation in Los Angeles. So the Daily News offers the latest on that and a 64-photo gallery of “Athletes in Trouble With the Law.” (Daily News)

A billionaire’s self-exile

One of seven people in the United States who wasn’t tweeting last night is, surprise, fabled Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, well known for his tweetstorms on just about any topic. But he’s had enough, at least for now (there are rumors that he might actually be interested in buying Twitter).

“Good time for a break,” he told Recode’s Kara Swisher. “That’s about it. Busy fall.” He used a smily emoji. (Recode) If only most journalists would follow suit, rather than feel compelled to offer their two cents on matters big and small (mostly small).

Maryland students’ election site

University of Maryland journalism students unveiled an “Election Watch” website. It’s a solid effort overseen by Tom Bettag, a former longtime A-list network TV producer, and includes praise for ABC News for doing a 5-minute evening news piece on Syrian immigration into the U.S. (Election Watch)

But amid praise from Hooman Majd, a contributor to NBC News and Vanity Fair, and longtime New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, there’s this from Jack Laurence, former longtime ABC and CBS correspondent who’s in London:

“Since I am not accustomed to watching TV news in this form, much of the story flashed by in a blur, too stylized and compressed for me to take in clearly. Maybe American viewers have adjusted to this kind of fast-paced TV news reporting, but I have not…There was no one interviewed who could say that strict measures are being taken to block terrorists from getting in, only that the interviewers are very professional.”

“That said, these types of stories should be reported at length in the evening news broadcasts. The subject matter in this case is important to Americans and to the rest of the world,” he said. “ABC News is to be commended for following the story for a year and for devoting this much time to the issue.”

Keith Olbermann’s latest Trump critique

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post offered us Trump falsehoods over the past week on virtually the same day. Olbermann offers a list of 74 B.S. comments by Trump over the past month in a GQ video commentary of just 10 minutes, 33 seconds. (GQ) He feigns exhaustion at the end. But his list is exhausting.

And, now, there’s so much grist for his mill from last night. It appeared to be all hands on deck at The New York Times (and other outlets) when it came to fact checking (The New York Times) Are murders up in New York, as Trump said, or down, as she said? They’re down. It was one of many errors. But, as Dickerson of CBS wondered, will it matter?

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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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