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Questions about NCAA, prosecutors and media
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen … maybe more. If you want to know how big college basketball is in Kentucky, the Louisville Courier-Journal site has at least 17 stories on the latest college sports scandal.
Not a single piece out front on Donald Trump when I last checked. Let us hereby thank fabled and ethically challenged University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino (he'd be played in the movie by a younger Al Pacino or Joe Mantegna) and some guy named Tom Jurich (Nathan Lane, for sure), the athletic director.
The FBI arrested 10 individuals, including an Adidas executive and four assistant basketball coaches, in a recruitment bribery investigation that raises questions about the role of law enforcement and media coverage of college sports.
Allegations include Louisville (a public institution) paying a basketball recruit's family $100,000. It helps explain why Pitino and Jurich (neither arrested) are now on "administrative leave," meaning they're as good as fired — though they'll be very wealthy dudes.
Joel Christopher, the paper's editor, tells me that two-thirds of a 65-person reporting staff have worked the story over two days. It's broken all online readership records by various indices (and the vast majority are local readers), he says, and prompted surprisingly little negative response by pro-Pitino diehards in a town where college sports is everything, especially since there are no pro teams.
The mountain of coverage notes how Pitino has about $46 million left on a contract that runs through the 2025-26 season. Not only is he the best-paid college basketball coach, Jurich is improbably the best paid athletic director. He had taxable income last year of $5.3 million and, concluded forensic auditors (they were needed for taxpayers to learn the tab), he was paid $19 million between 2010 and 2016 — and $30,000 to pay his own financial advisers.
Pitino's total annual comp exceeds $7.4 million. And get this one: He got $1.5 million in a personal services contract from Adidas. That's virtually every dollar of the $1,525,000 in cash that Adidas paid the university under a one-year sponsorship deal. But the single most provocative piece on this mess comes from Bloomberg columnist Joe Nocera, the former New York Times financial and op-ed columnist who co-authored with Ben Strauss "Indentured," an unsparing look at the NCAA and college sports.
He's wondering why, after decades of government and NCAA passivity, the government is now criminalizing the sliminess inherent in college sports.
He writes, "When exactly did the Federal Bureau of Investigation decide that NCAA regulations were the law of the land? When did it conclude that, in addition to hunting down terrorists and investigating insider trading, its mandate also included protecting amateurism in college sports?"
Strauss, who is freelancing for The New York Times, says, "I wish instead of focusing on the schools and the charges — which are made to sound shadowy and nefarious — we looked at the bigger picture of how college sports operate. Convicting a few coaches and agents won't change that."
I then asked Nocera about press coverage of both this story and related issues in the past. Generalizations can be perilous but you can't deny that much of college sports reporting remains beset by boosterism and a lack of investigative journalism. And there's the frequent newsroom receptivity to anything prosecutors say on any topic.
"In general I would simply say that in the past, the press would have completely swallowed the prosecutors line. Here, there is a lot of straight reporting on the charges, etc., but there is also some skepticism: Are the universities really the victim? What is the NCAA going to do? And what will this ultimately mean for college sports?"
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner's soft spot
There's a ton of good obituaries this morning for the 91-year-old, who died overnight, typically in The New York Times. Among books, old and new, that touch on Hefner's impact on American culture are Thomas Dyja's superb "The Third Coast" and the new "The Naughty Ninetees" by Vanity Fair's David Friend (a friend), the latter noting Hefner's improbable ascent into free speech hero. But then there's this parenthetical, hereby noted:
Hefner, who long ago moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, is a 1944 graduate of what was then called Steinmetz High School. He was a reporter-cartoonist on its paper, the Star, and always felt a tie to the paper. In 2010 he made a $7,500-a-year, five-year commitment to help print the paper. And, last year after a kerfuffle over alleged censorship by the principal, Hefner renewed his commitment to the paper so that the Steinmetz Star would continue to be printed in color and on high-quality paper.
With public school finances tanking in Chicago, it was a very nice gesture, even if teacher and newspaper adviser Sharon Schmidt informs that the donation promised by his foundation hasn't arrived. Regardless, the paper will run an obituary.
Dealing with conservatives' mistrust of the media
A team from PolitiFact surfaced at Tulsa County Republican headquarters in Oklahoma as part of a project to better discern conservatives' clearly growing qualms about the press and fact-checking. It was illuminating, if not reassuring. (Poynter)
Said attendee Mary Putnam, an information assistant at a web development firm: “Americans as a whole, we don’t trust the news anymore because the news has violated our trust repeatedly. So how do you think you’re going to change that, honestly? We might like you, we might start believing you — but we’re just in Tulsa.”
This is where the rubber meets the road for the press. How does one convince these folks that you're to be trusted? Even stipulate that deep misperceptions about the media persist and they've been aggravated by Trump's gratuitous ways? What does one do?
Mourning Twitter expansion
Roy Peter Clark, Poynter's longtime writing savant, is not a fan of Twitter likely expanding to a limit of 280 characters.
"Most writers I know cannot resist the temptation to fill up the available space. Even when I choose the smaller Post-it note to the bigger, I shrink my letters to squeeze as many words as possible onto the available space."
Careful about those NFL/anthem polls
Writes libertarian Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist Steve Chapman:
"In a poll, whites were asked whether the NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem are helping or hurting the cause of racial justice. No fewer than 85 percent said they are hurting it."
"Clearly, this offense to the anthem and the American flag is the worst possible way to change minds. Blacks need to find a less divisive means to register their discontent."
"Oh, wait. I’ve got that wrong. Those figures don’t come from a new poll. They come from a survey taken in 1966 asking whites whether 'the demonstrations by Negroes on civil rights have helped more or hurt more in the advancement of Negro rights.'"
Keep that in mind when you see the current polling about public chagrin with those uppity football players. Like this morning when substitute "Trump & Friends" co-host Abby Huntsman heralded a new Fox News poll that shows 55 percent find it inappropriate to kneel during the national anthem.
A Native-American paper bids adieu
In 2011 Ray Halbritter, the CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, bought Indian Country Today, a 30-year-old weekly. He had a good run editorially but, as is the case elsewhere, the business model is too tough to sustain and he's closing shop. But the need for coverage by somebody will obviously remain.
"In media, Native people are often looked at as relics or mascots. And there's so much more complexity, so much more beauty. There's struggle and nuance to the Native American experience in this country." (NPR) As for key issues to be covered:
"The critical issue to me, for Native America, I mean, they have the highest teenage suicide rate in the world on Indian reservations. And that comes from, to me, a lack of self-esteem. A lack of even having an understanding, or a perception, or an image about themselves to see any hope for the future. What a hopeless statistic that is. And it is a statistic that says something very complex about our society, and about our problems that we have."
"And who in the country really is delving into that and addressing that issue?"
Trump and immigration
Foreign Policy's Colum Lynch notes sharp immigration cuts under way and how White House hardliner Stephen Miller couldn't back up some of his own positions with actual evidence. But in a world with 2 million refugees, allowing just 45,000 to resettle in the U.S. in the next year is pathetic.
Barack Obama had set a ceiling of 110,000 refugees for fiscal year 2017, the highest number since 1995.
In 2016, most of those refugees came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Myanmar, Iraq, and Somalia, including a record number of Muslims, who accounted for 46 percent of the total, and a slightly smaller number of Christians, who accounted for 44 percent of resettled refugees. Over the coming year, the U.S. will take in about 20,000 refugees from African conflict zones, as well as a significant number from Asia, including Burmese refugees, and some from Central America. “Few if any Syrian refugees are technically exempt, but there is likely to be huge pressure to keep them out,” said one official.
Ruddy on Breitbart
Lest one think the right-leaning media constitute a monolith, check comments made at an Atlantic-Aspen Institute gathering by Newsmax CEO and Trump chum Chris Ruddy about Breitbart News. He finds it more a "political machine" than a news organization and reflective of a nativist impulse that doesn't have a big audience.
Ruddy has known Trump primarily from his membership in the Mar-a-Lago Club, which he procured for a bargain basement $125,000 a decade ago
The morning Babel
"Trump & Friends" hailed its guy's tax speech (when will John Oliver put together a video of every time he refers to "something special"?), including an "exclusive"interview at the event procured by Fox's Pete Hegseth (he went on and on about the NFL/national anthem flap).
Karoun Kemirjian of the The Washington Post, a Hill reporter who actually knows her stuff a bit more than a lot of the usual studio pundits, told CNN's "New Day" about a tax plan that will balloon the deficit in conjunction with military spending.
"Morning Joe" argued "the middle class will basically get nothing" via pundit and Wall Street financier Steve Rattner, its only regular who's had to pay $10 million to settle "civil charges that he engaged in a kickback scheme involving New York state's pension fund." (The New York Times) Wouldn't it be nice if such history, be it good or bad, scrolled across the bottom of the screen as a truth in advertising thing?
Regardless, Rattner contends that blue states like Connecticut and New York would get shafted by Trump eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes, which are big there, and the plan would cost the average resident $4,000. Losses in red states would be far less, he contends.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal headlines its analysis on the tax story: "The Tenuous Logic Behind Republicans’ About-Face on Debt —Donald Trump and congressional leaders take a politically convenient but risky path in drive to overhaul taxes."
Headline of the day
"The brilliance of Amazon’s Echo sh*tshow"
It was atop a TechCrunch story on the new Echo:
"Whether you call it fragmentation or flexibility, there are now seven Amazon Echo devices from which to choose. Today Amazon launched a slew of new smart home devices, so there’s one for every conceivable use case and living space set-up. That leaves competitor Google Home looking like a one-size-fits-none solution."
Where the anthem is played (cont.)
Lots of readers are helping out in figuring what institutions beyond pro sports play the national anthem.
Retired CBS News mainstay Bill Plante notes that both the Washington Opera and National Symphony played it on opening night of their season. New York social media consultant Linda Bernstein writes, "When the Israeli Philharmonic plays at Carnegie Hall, they first play the national anthem and then play the Israeli national anthem."
And Maria Sciullo, a reporter at the PIttsburgh Post-Gazette, mentions that she's heard it regularly at the start of dog shows.
Which reminded me of Christopher Guest's hilarious documentary "Best in Show" and the opening of the late Roger Ebert's 2000 review (3 1/2 stars):
"I am a dog lover, but I am not a dog fancier. I can understand people who dote on their dogs, but I cannot understand dog shows, which make dogs miserable while bringing out the worst traits of their owners. Dogs were not put on earth to pose, prance, sit, point and have their coats shampooed. They were created to chew shoes, bark at cars, have accidents on the rug and get their tummies scratched."