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Death, chaotic cellphone images and speculation dominate
It's Vegas horror that's not the least bit entertaining or fictional.
Through Monday morning the media moved seamlessly and unavoidably from hurricane devastation and Trump's tweeting to its depressingly well-practiced coverage of mass shootings.
Newtown, Connecticut. Aurora, Colorado, Blacksburg, Virginia, San Bernardino, California. Orlando, Florida. And, now, the Vegas strip, in what is likely the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
"Trump & Friends, "Morning Joe" and "New Day" were all over the calamity after colleagues handled the early hours, while the major broadcast networks focused on the tale, too. In local markets, such as Chicago, network stations scrapped their own early local news shows and went with the network's coverage.
It all conformed to an inevitable and unavoidable early mix of reporting, speculation, cell phone video, law enforcement fragments and man-on-the-street recollections.
There was the name of a 64-year-old suspect, Stephen Paddock, and his being shot dead (at least initially disclosed on MSNBC, it appeared, which did well). There there was mention of another person of interest linked to him and a license plate number for her car and other cars of interest. In the dark of Vegas, reporters did what they could, including rounding up country music concert attendees, with cell phone videos the eerie, if chaotic primary images, as the frenetic and inescapably dramatic declarations on a police scanner became the most telling audio.
MSNBC quickly beckoned NBC's level-headed Justice Department correspondent Pete Williams. The dead suspect's friend, Marilou Danley, is a "complete question mark," Williams noted, about 90 minutes after police released her photo and name. Were she and the suspect an item or had they been seen together? The early reporting made that all unclear.
It was all so similar to, what was the last one, anyway, the Orlando Pulse shooting? Even news junkies might stop and try to recollect. Talk of semi-automatics, people scurrying in stark fear, the death of a suspect.
There was the reflexive TV turn to its Rolodexes of alleged terrorism specialists, rife with their well-practiced early speculation. On CNN James Gagliano of St. John's University opined about "the new paradigm," something about a committed shooter who's in a faraway position.
What "new paradigm?" And why a country concert? Why this guy, Paddock? And the inescapable favorite word in such moments was uttered often early Monday: "motive." What was it?
Brad Garrett, an ABC News terrorism analyst, underscored the lethality of automatic rifles and how "once they panic and they start to stampede, basically to get away, you've really now set something up where people are going to die who aren't even shot because they're going to be trampled. with the people trying to get by."
Imagine being in that crowd, late on a Sunday, after perhaps a long and fun day amid the alluring tackiness of Vegas. And then a stampede. Those early images of individuals just scattering were vivid.
As for the Sheldon Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review-Journal, it did okay, not great, in the early going, with lots of photos. But it might mull scrapping the cheesy banner ad at the top for a mobile sports betting operation, and the half-price special for Steak 'n Shake. And, please, ditch the now dated Robin Leach column (yes, that Robin Leach from "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" long ago) on the upcoming fun weekend epitomized by the concert: "You would have thought we were “'estival-ed out' after last week’s Life is Beautiful and the IHeart Radio concerts, but no! This weekend, we’re at it again country-style with the Route 91 Harvest shows."
Death and Las Vegas is a discordant enough mix. Throw in cheery Robin Leach and it verges on the painfully grating.
The limits of our outrage
So how much human misery can we handle? (And I wrote this next part before the horrific mass shooting in Vegas.)
A revealing and melancholy New York Times saga on a day in the life of Puerto Rico opens with Jorge Diaz Rivera, 61, who lives in a north central town "where there is no water, no food, and no help. The National Guard helicopters have been passing overhead, and sometimes he and his neighbors yell at them, pleading for water. But so far he has seen no help."
“They have forgotten about us,” he said.
It's one of those quotes from Central Casting that can climax one's reporting or fit a pre-ordained thesis. It's a journalist's dream (and, every once in a while, perhaps his or her invention). Here, it's in sync with the substantial evidence of Puerto Rico being shafted and President Donald Trump being remote and gratuitously combative, especially in fencing with the San Juan mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz.
What might what we've seen so far inform us about media coverage, even with the unavoidable segue to the Vegas Strip? At minimum, it underscores that there are limits to both our sense of outrage and the resources of media and at times government. An assessment by FiveThirtyEight suggests there's less coverage of Puerto Rico. Yes, yes, there have been prominent TV anchors and show hosts dropped in, and there is great work being done. But the armies appear fewer than sent to cover hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
A network TV correspondent, whose identity I hereby fudge lest his employer be miffed, says, "The level of coverage of Puerto Rico compared to the level of destruction is out of whack. Harvey got much more intense media attention than was appropriate for a storm that wouldn't go away. Florida got the same treatment on the lead up and then turned out not to be so bad. PR far worse though admittedly over a smaller footprint. Yes, the island issue separates it in more ways than one. But I suspect if more people spoke English there would be sustained coverage and media outrage of the order we got from the likes of Anderson Cooper and Shepard Smith."
The question is debated on radio and TV, as I can personally attest. It is entirely justified and, also, all very American-centric. It is all about Puerto Rico versus Texas and Florida, mostly since the mainstream media in the U.S. paid shorter shrift to the Caribbean devastation to begin with. But that's an inclination seen with lots of tragedies outside the continental United States.
As the philosopher George Kateb puts it, it's a" damaged world" we live in, with more people than ever before and thus way more suffering than ever before.
I asked a top United Nations humanitarian aide official about examples of ongoing tragedy that we don't hear much about. Her one-line response: " Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, northern Nigeria, Somalia, the Rohingya, DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Central America, even Afghanistan."
Some are horrific oldies but goodies, the UN's counterpart to journalism "evergreens," notably Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia. They're still there, if not of much interest to the American media. And in case those opining about insufficient Puerto Rico coverage by the American media somehow missed Friday's noon press briefing at the United Nations, here's a cheat sheet on ongoing disasters in Bangladesh, Dominica, Nigeria, Honduras, Cameroon and Burundi.
But we don't see many network anchors dropping into the Lebanon or Jordan to talk to any of the several million Syrian refugees there, many cloistered in refugee camps. Or running to Honduras to get a take on the hellacious gang violence driving its youths out of the country.
At least Puerto Rico will be made whole at some point down the road. It will happen. Billions will come from Congress. It not the same in many dark places in which the press has scant interest. How many members of the media could pick out Burundi on a map? Hundreds of thousands of refugees from there face communicable diseases, including malaria and acute watery diarrhea.
Of course, as Kateb says, we have to be a bit oblivious, as if we were characters in a Jane Austen novel. After all, there's too much suffering to cover — even if we knew it even existed.
A big fast one across the plate for N.Y. Daily News
The front page of Sunday's New York Daily News featured Lin-Manuel Miranda's tweet telling Trump he’s “going straight to hell.” It was set against the backdrop of “Hamilton.”
The Guardian on Catalonia's referendum
S.I. Newhouse Jr. dies
S.I. Newhouse Jr. and brother Donald inherited a media empire and expanded on it. Though the newspapers, which were the heart of the family fortune (including my idiosyncratic first employer, The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J), have headed south, like the rest of the industry, its less well-known purchase and oversight for decades of Conde Nast flourished and remains vital even amid challenges faced by the magazine industry. There's no shortage of meddling proprietors of all sorts in the media world, so New Yorker Editor David Remnick's tribute to S.I., who died Sunday, is worth noting.
"As the magazine’s owner, Si reserved the right to hire and fire the editor, but the distance he otherwise kept was a rarity in modern American journalism, just as(co-founder Raoul) Fleischmann’s had been. Si’s way of communicating even something as essential as his desire to preserve the magazine’s editorial independence was often oblique. When I succeeded Tina Brown as the editor, in July, 1998, my only experience in editing a publication was a stint at my high-school newspaper. Some months later, when faced with an investigative article that made many bold assertions based on deep and prolonged reporting, I wondered if I should give Si a full rundown of the piece and its preparation."
"I recalled, from my years as a reporter at the Washington Post, that Ben Bradlee, the editor, had an arrangement with the paper’s owner, Katharine Graham, called the 'no-surprises rule.' That is, if he was planning to publish something of unusual investigative moment or daring, he alerted Graham, because she, after all, would be paying the legal bills. If I was going to burn down the house, it seemed fair to call the one who held the deed. So I called Si."
Remnick recalls going on, and on, concluding, “And so I think we should be O.K.” He was met by an apparently long silence, then "“That sounds very interesting. I look forward to reading it.” Remnick thus encountered a distinctly pleasant surprise via the clear message: Those decisions were Remnick's.
Oh, the afore-referenced Brown offered her own brief eulogy (Newhouse's "religion was quality") in Time.
The Trump Puerto Rico tweets
Longtime Trump Chronicler Tim O'Brien, a former New York Times reporter whom Trump once sued for allegedly understating Trump's wealth (it was dismissed), writes in Bloomberg:
"Pushed back on his heels by criticism about how quickly he recognized and called attention to the crisis in Puerto Rico, Trump is trying to hide by reshaping any criticism as an attack on first responders and the military. That’s simply not the totality of what’s in play, and it explains the White House’s repeated attacks on the truth. Trump’s leadership, skills and values are being questioned, by the media and others, and the president doth protest too much."
A distinct take on Hugh Hefner
From Ross Douthat of The New York Times:
"Hugh Hefner, gone to his reward at the age of 91, was a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies." If you don't catch his drift, here's the rest.
Megyn Kelly's early stumbles
On Kelly's initially untidy first week as an NBC morning show host, writes Mashable:
"No one expected Megyn Kelly's move from inflammatory Fox News host to soft-focus daytime talk show host to be a smooth ride but, if the first week is any indication, it's going to be a lot more awkward than we could have imagined."
Janet Malcolm on Rachel Maddow
Janet Malcolm's most famous (notorious?) work involved journalist Joe McGinniss, the author of ''Fatal Vision,'' his account of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, convicted of killing his wife and daughters. There will be no sense of trust betrayed in a very solid Rachel Maddow profile in The New Yorker.
It's inescapably engaging and offers a sense of a self-constructed high-wire that Maddow labors on with great intellectual honesty each evening via a long opening monologue that makes Sean Hannity's opening a virtual tweet. Maddow is refreshingly candid about the perils of it all, as well as her own personal demons, such as depression. She's reached the point where celebrity, and her likely encirclement by admirers and sycophants, can bring a distinct homogeneity to interview responses and a self-indulgence to one's work. But even if you're not a fan, take a look and you might be won over.
A change in emphasis
Some folks in the Twittersphere were chagrined with a New York Times headline on a Saturday profile of the Puerto Rico mayor: "Who Is Carmen Yulín Cruz, the Puerto Rican Mayor Feuding With Trump?" It wasn't a feud, some said, but an official standing up for the rights of her island and the indignities face.
By Sunday, there was a slight renovation: "Who is Carol Yulin Cruz, the Puerto Rican Mayor Criticized by Trump?"
Oh, no surprise, "Saturday Night Live" had easy fodder with Trump going after Puerto Rico. Alec Baldwin did the honors, as The Atlantic describes.
Nate Silver on media analysis of Trump:
"I’m happy to acknowledge that Trump’s responses to the news are sometimes thought-out and deliberate. His criticisms of the media often seem to fall into this category, for example, since they’re sure to get widespread coverage and Republican voters have overwhelmingly lost faith in the media," writes Silver.
But at many other times, journalists come up with overly convoluted explanations for Trump’s behavior (“this seemingly self-destructive emotional outburst is actually a clever political strategy!”) when simpler ones will suffice (“this is a self-destructive emotional outburst.”). In doing so, they violate both Ockham’s razor and Hanlon’s razor — the latter of which can be stated as “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” One can understand why journalists who rely on having close access to Trump avoid explanations that portray Trump as being irrational, incompetent or bigoted. But sometimes they’re the only explanations that make sense.
What fake news did to a small Idaho town
If you missed this New York Times Magazine opus on how an initial unconfirmed report of an assault on a minor by "foreign Muslim youth" turned Twin Falls, Idaho, upside down, check this out.
Headline of the weekend
"Tom Price Seated Between Two Screaming Babies on First-Ever Commercial Flight"
Thanks, humorist Andy Borowitz, who revealed, "According to witnesses, the two babies flanking the former Cabinet secretary screamed non-stop for the entire duration of the flight."
A heart-filled marathon tale
When thousands run a major marathon, there are inevitably great stories, especially of first-timers and entrants with some special and deeply felt purpose. Add to the list David Haugh's Chicago Tribune profile of Shae Brown of Shiner, Texas, who's running in Sunday's Chicago Marathon because she's a successful heart transplant patient. Oh, she will be running with psychiatrist Fred Miller of Glencoe, Illinois. His daughter, Alyssa, died at age 24, leaving behind a twin sister, her parents and the heart given Brown at age 44.
Aggregators and antitrust
Ben Thompson's Stretchery offers its take on Aggregation Theory, which tend to assert how digital platforms (aggregators) tend to prevail in many industries. Should they be regulated on antitrust grounds? He thinks not.
"Aggregators make it dramatically simpler and cheaper for suppliers to reach customers (which is why suppliers work so hard to be on their platform). This increases the types of new businesses that can be created by virtue of the aggregators existing (YouTube creators, Amazon merchants, small publications, etc.); regulators should take care to preserve these new opportunities (and even protect them)."
The non-sports take on latest sports scandal
The sportswriting universe has chimed in on last week's criminal action against college basketball, which has led to the de facto firing of Louisville's legendary coach, Rick Pitino. Here's the take of Chronicle of Higher Education:
"Basketball Scandal Highlights the Power of the Assistant Coach — and the Limits of Oversight." It opens, "The charges against former coaches provide a behind-the-scenes look at how assistants serve as key points of access to college players — and how checks on their power fall short."
The national anthem (cont.)
Mike Boren, a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer, chimes in as readers add to our list of non-sports events featuring the national anthem. Here's his own reference to the topic:
An announcement blares on the Wildwood [N.J.] boardwalk speakers every day at 11 a.m. in the summer: “Ladies and gentlemen, please pause and stand for the playing of our national anthem.”
Then, time freezes. The beachgoers stop. Store owners turn down their music. LeAnn Rimes’ voice takes over.
“It comes on and it’s instant — quiet descends over the boardwalk,” North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said. “It’s like somebody hit the pause button for 90 seconds.”