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A mutual friend nails it about Gwen Ifill: “A voice of calm, reason and credibility.”
How odd that those pretty rudimentary values seem so rare. It wasn’t that long ago that such attributes were expected from most journalists. And, come to think of it, many other Americans in positions of responsibility, not just rabbis and parish priests. Possessing them didn’t virtually ensure professional esteem and reverence, as they do now.
Consider a culture in which being provocative is now more prized than being right. Being “interesting,” even if consistently wrong, will get calls from TV bookers. It will get clicks and calls from editors about having “really stirred the pot!”
And it’s a reason so many Americans detest the press.
Being understated and, for goodness sakes, perhaps “long-winded” (responses longer than eight seconds) might get you early-morning C-SPAN gigs — or, yes, spots on the PBS “NewsHour.” That’s where she maintained the legacy of predecessor Jim Lehrer, displaying understated authority at workman’s wages compared to the seven- and eight-figure takes of a Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly or Joe Scarborough.
“I honestly just feel empty. Like an important piece of my life has passed,” says Kevin Merida, who runs ESPN’s The Undefeated, a fine site on sports-race-culture and a former high-ranking Washington Post editor.
“I have known her since 1978 or 1979, after a student publication I edited at Boston University did a piece on her. She was this young hotshot journalist who had just gotten hired at the Boston Herald right out of college. Through the years, she became a wonderful friend and this extraordinary, accomplished journalist.”
He says, “All serious journalists admired her, but I think Black journalists were especially proud of her. She wore success well, and inspired those who were chasing their own success. To be so good, so grounded, and so beloved — that’s quite the trifecta. I will miss her madly, and love her always.”
David Brooks was in Chicago and, after speaking to a child development gathering, sat down to write about Ifill. She was “ambitious for quality,” he writes this morning. He also notes checking his paper’s website, seeing a photo of Breitbart product Steve Bannon (“From the Fringe to the White House”) above one of Ifill. “I wanted to throw up.” (The New York Times)
It all partly explains an outpouring within a craft too often given to too much self-regard, including for TV anchors. This is genuine. It’s why so many people — at least among a very sophisticated audience — were taken aback by her passing at age 61.
I last saw her at a dinner at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland hosted by colleague Judy Woodruff and her husband, Al Hunt. It wasn’t the place, so I waited a week to send her a note, alluding to her health challenge and wishing her the best.
“Thanks Jim. Made it through the conventions, which were something.” She then cited an author-friend of ours and how she was trying to do him a favor. There was no need to bring it up. There was no need to go out of her way.
Calm, reasoned, credible, yes. But also good, grounded and beloved. Everything that much of her business isn’t these days. Rest in peace, Gwen.
Google and Facebook move against fake news
“Taken together, the decisions were a clear signal that the tech behemoths could no longer ignore the growing outcry over their power in distributing information to the American electorate.” (The New York Times)
The culinary angle
President Obama held a press conference before splitting overseas yesterday. He was pelted with Trump-related questions during a session that reminded one of the Grand Canyon-like gulf in intellectual firepower and subtlety between him and his successor.
But here’s one question not asked, a truly local one: “Should D.C. Chefs Be Worried that Donald Trump Is Moving into the White House?”
It’s not from The Onion but Munchies, a digital video channel on food from Vice. Says Derek Brown, “a national recognized bartender and writer, and co-owner of several capital establishments:
“I will say unequivocally and not related to his policies that Obama absolutely added to the scene. I don’t know what a Trump administration will look like, but I know many people in D.C. are worried that it won’t be filled with the same enthusiasm for bars and restaurants that we saw with the Obama administration.” (Munchies)
Unmentioned is the impact on the business if Trump were to stick with his most sweeping immigration proposals. It might empty half the kitchens in Washington’s proliferation of chichi restaurants of the men and women feeding the town’s rising army of young professionals.
A media critic’s take from afar
I asked Richard Gizbert, host of the London-based “The Listening Post,” a very good media show on Al Jazeera, for his take on campaign coverage. The former ABC News correspondent pointed to a paragraph by Teju Cole, an author and the photography critic for The New York Times Magazine:
“In the early hours of Nov. 9, 2016, the winner of the presidential election was declared. As the day unfolded, the extent to which a moral rhinoceritis had taken hold was apparent. People magazine had a giddy piece about the president-elect’s daughter and her family, a sequence of photos that they headlined ‘way too cute.'”
“In The New York Times, one opinion piece suggested that the belligerent bigot’s supporters ought not be shamed. Another asked whether this president-elect could be a good president and found cause for optimism. Cable news anchors were able to express their surprise at the outcome of the election, but not in any way vocalize their fury. All around were the unmistakable signs of normalization in progress. So many were falling into line without being pushed. It was happening at tremendous speed, like a contagion. And it was catching even those whose plan was, like Dudard’s in Rhinoceros,’ to criticize ‘from the inside.'” (The New York Times)
Mencken on Trump (sort of)
H.L. Mencken wasn’t in populist overdrive when he wrote this in a July 26, 1920 Baltimore Evening Sun editorial:
“As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and complete narcissistic moron.” (Snopes)
Obama on the press
President Obama was talking about elections and his party yesterday. But think of his remarks in the context of the media’s need to get out more and cover the country, not just candidates.
“I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa, it was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall. And there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points. There are some counties maybe I won that people didn’t expect because people had a chance to see you and listen to you and get a sense of who you stood for and who you were fighting for.”
So you can rely on polling to tell you what they’re supposedly thinking in “every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall.” And you can still miss the forest for the trees if you don’t get off your ass.
“Autocracy: Rules for Survival”
Russian-U.S. journalist Masha Gessen finds unconvincing refrains from various members of the liberal commentariat, with Tom Friedman vowing, ‘I am not going to try to make my president fail,’ to Nick Kristof calling on the approximately 52 percent majority of voters who supported someone other than Donald Trump” to ‘give president Trump a chance.'” Ditto, he says, about Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
Why? Gessen has covered a lot of autocrats and offers “rules” to understand them: 1) “Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.” 2) “Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.” 3) “Institutions will not save you.” 4. “Be outraged.” 5. “Don’t make compromises.” 6) “Remember the future. Nothing last forever.”
“I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now.” (The New York Review of Books)
On the back nine of a presidency
Before splitting last night on his final overseas trek, President Obama got in a Sunday round of golf. That would be No. 324, says Mark Knoller of CBS News, chronicler of most things presidential.
Beck bashes Bannon
On his radio show Glenn Beck on Monday said Steve Bannon, the Breitbart executive-turned-Trump aide who will be chief strategist, “wants to burn it down. “He’s a nightmare. And he’s the chief adviser to the President of the United States now.”
The morning babble
“Fox & Friends” cited the AP in asserting Rudy Giuliani is top pick for Secretary of State. “What would disqualify him?” said one co-host. A lot, as noted on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Mr. 9/11’s profiteering on national security might make Hillary Clinton’s paid speechifying look like volunteering at a church food pantry.
On CNN’s “New Day” co-host Chris Cuomo, the child of a political family, chided talk of “infighting” within the Trump clan. It’s all very typical. He was funny, too, on the irony of Obama in Athens, reassuring the Greeks about the stability of our government. Meanwhile, Dana Bash said Giuliani will get State. “He didn’t run for the exits when the ‘Access Hollywood’ tapes came out,” said Daily Beast Editor John Avlon, a former Giuliani speechwriter.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” co-host Joe Scarborough, who scoffed at Giuliani, was dyspeptic over rumors that John Bolton might get the same post. He suggested Bolton would be a “wreck” (“a massive neocon on steroids”). “He still supports the invasion of Iraq. Today he still supports the invasion of Iraq.” And he’s called Obama “the first post-American president.”
“The stock market’s post-election bifurcation sharpened Monday as technology shares extended their worst performance since the start of the bull market on speculation Donald Trump’s trade and immigration policies will translate into lower earnings.
Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc. led the S&P 500 Information Technology Index down 1.7 percent for the biggest retreat since September.” (Bloomberg)
The Journal sticks to its guns
Spineless publishers, take note: “The Wall Street Journal left its paywall up on Election Day and saw a subscriber bump.” (Poynter) It apparently didn’t need the John Oliver “bump,” resulting from the comic’s call to help quality news media. (Poynter)
Good for The Journal in countering the conventional wisdom of giving away content during major events. They’re not cheapening the value of their product in return for some fleeting clicks meant as some marketing bonanza.
Need for a cable “nuclear option”
The U.S. Senate’s parliamentary “nuclear option” lets the majority override a rule or a precedent by majority vote. Is there any such option for curtailing Sean Hannity’s increasing, Beck-like self-absorbed treatises on a Trump agenda.
Last night he his 13 key issues, and was in his 12th minute of intoning with righteous indignation, when I forked over the clicker to my spouse and we segued to a “Madame Secretary” rerun. Maybe Giuliani should be watching them, too.