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And why the White House won't admit it
To understand this moment — our politics, media, Donald Trump, the shaky status of facts, you name it — download a nine-minute video from the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale and maybe stick it into a time capsule.
You know of the video but probably didn't look at it (which is part of the ultimate problem). It shows that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly totally misrepresented what Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson actually said at the 2015 opening of a new FBI building in her South Florida district. After bashing Wilson for listening in to a conversation between Trump and the widow of a solider killed in Niger, Kelly claimed Wilson bragged about getting the money for the building.
Assistant managing editor David Schutz concedes that the paper doesn't really cover national news as such but looks for local angles if warranted. In this case, senior staff photographer Taimy Alvarez, a 19-year veteran and a pack rat, was reminded by a friend (who was scouring the internet after Kelly's remarks) that Alvarez had actually covered the April 10, 2015, FBI event.
She shoots with a Nikon DSLR 810 and saves, captions and files everything into digital folders and onto a hard drive. It wasn't until she found her file that she realized she had done more than just a so-called "spray" or "B-roll" and had video of the whole shebang. The FBI was refusing to disclose its own tape and none of the local TV stations had aired anything, so she had a scoop.
Leaving nothing to chance, she posted the whole raw video. No voiceover. They couldn't be criticized for dubious editing.
"Certainly, we went into this thinking the truth will win out," Schutz says. "We will put it up unedited and untouched. This was a mischaracterization of what the congresswoman said. And we didn't write that he (Kelly) lied but that he got it wrong. We were very careful about language, making sure we stayed neutral."
Within an hour, it was all over the place. The paper kept it alone on its site for a few hours, then started licensing it out to others. It was viewed many hundreds of thousand of times. And, of course, its damning disclosure was followed by the Sarah Huckabee Sanders response (circa the Kremlin 1957) that it's out of bounds to question a four-star general.
For many White House reporters, Kelly was off to a pretty good start as chief of staff, in part creating a much-discussed discipline not in evidence before. He's done some off-the-record sessions and his credibility was strong.
Now the Sun-Sentinel video both undercuts that credibility and inspires Sanders' pathetic HOW-DARE-YOU! response. It's a reminder of a journalist's need to double-check everything and the importance (if not to Sanders) of questioning authority, including four-stars.
But here's what's ultimately disconcerting: the likely lack of impact.
Engagement with video depends on the platform. People spend much more time, say, on YouTube (where they search for videos) than a news site. And perhaps 30 percent get frustrated by the preliminaries to news videos (ads) and give up.
What was the average time spent with the nine minutes of this video? Ten to 15 seconds, says Schutz. And while the likes of The New York Times and Washington Post encounter this all the time, given their huge quantity of political coverage, it was clear to him that many folks simply came with predisposed views of the Sun-Sentinel video and were unchanged by it.
As for the White House response, it struck Schutz as tantamount to "We won't back off, we won't apologize, it’s not even American to question this."
Yeah, stick the damn thing in a time capsule. As Alvarez says, "The video is the video and shows exactly what was said that day. And that contradicts Mr. Kelly."
Bill O'Reilly's defense
The New York Times' well-produced "The Daily" podcast, which has gained a sizable audience, was beckoned into a high-rise office at Bill O'Reilly's lawyers' Manhattan firm, where the onetime King of Cable News made an impassioned but generally fact-free defense of sex harassment allegations to reporters Emily Steel and Michael Schmidt, whose latest effort disclosed a $32 million sex harassment settlement with a longtime Fox colleague.
O'Reilly was fired soon after the duo's initial story. The most interesting few minutes here come after the formal interview ends (O'Reilly sat between two lawyers on the opposite side of a table) and they turn off the high-quality podcast recorder but are still running their smartphone recorders. They move from their side to shake hands but he won't have anything of that and says "If you really wanted to know the truth, you'd let him (a lawyer) tell you on background. We have physical proof that this is bullshit, bullshit."
"This is crap and you know it. It's politically and financially motivated, and we can prove it with shocking information," presumably about Lis Wiehl, the former Fox legal analyst who cut the giant settlement deal. "But I'm not going to sit there in a courtroom for a year and a half and let my kids get beaten up for a year and a half by a tabloid press that would sit there, and you know it."
That was it for the session. Instead of even any pro forma farewell, even shaking of hands, O'Reilly takes a deep breath and heads to a window overlooking the East River as the reporters are shown both his back and the door.
And one is left wondering just why he did the interview at all. Perhaps it was a mix of hubris and wishful thinking.
Respected Taiwan-based tech blogger Ben Thompson makes a case for the government stopping the proposed purchase of tbh.
Stopping the purchase of what? As TechCrunch explains:
"Facebook wants tbh to be its next Instagram. Facebook announced it’s acquiring positivity-focused polling startup tbh and will allow it to operate somewhat independently with its own brand."
"tbh had scored 5 million downloads and 2.5 million daily active users in the past nine weeks with its app that lets people anonymously answer kind-hearted multiple-choice questions about friends who then receive the poll results as compliments. You see questions like 'Best to bring to a party?,' 'Their perseverance is admirable?' and 'Could see becoming a poet?' with your uploaded contacts on the app as answer choices."
The Morning Babel
"Trump & Friends" heralded their buddy's lunch with Republican Senate leaders today and the push for tax changes. CNN's "New Day" detailed the latest on the Niger ambush (it's been very good on the military and political angles), including the remaining ambiguity on how Sgt. La David Johnson wound up isolated from colleagues. MSNBC's "Morning Joe" was riffing without its usual cruise-control acidity as it went after Melania Trump's anti-bullying campaign, seeing her calls for kindness hypocritical for an administration with a penchant for lying and, as Mika Brzezinski put it, bullying of world leaders by her spouse.
As for Trump, no tweets as of 7 a.m. Maybe he was distracted by Niger, North Korea or taxes.
The Pentagon's 'expensive toys' for Hollywood
"The Listening Post," a very good media show on Al Jazeera's English-language network, couldn't avoid a Harvey Weinstein piece, for sure. But it combines it with a piece focused on the longtime influence on Hollywood of both the Pentagon and the CIA. It's not a new story, but this is well-done, updated and explains why cheap access to "expensive toys make the Defense Department a more potent player (including in influencing scripts) than the intelligence folks — and why filmmakers don't go out of their way to tell viewers about the government role."
Power of the press
The Washington Post last week disclosed how Trump had weeks earlier promised $25,000 to a grieving father but the check never came. Now reporter Jonah Kaplan of WTVD-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, reports the personal check has arrived, albeit months late and dated the same day as the Post story (Oct. 18). But the family is grateful.
A national anthem reminder
From St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Benjamin Hochman:
"He was the only St. Louis pro athlete to protest during the national anthem."
"He was white."
"He was alone out there, back in 1968."
"He was Dave Meggyesy, a linebacker for the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals."
"Amid the Vietnam War, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle declared how players should stand during the anthem — in line, helmet under left arm, right hand on heart, facing the flag."
“'I didn’t do that,' said Meggyesy, now 75 years old. 'I had my helmet down in front of me and bowed my head, and clearly I was out of sync with everybody else. … I was kind of following in the path of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, thinking — what could I do that could indicate my objection to the war, as well as the ordering of me to be a patriot?'"
Ken Doctor reports in The Street that Steve Rossi, who has served as CEO of the country's third largest group of daily newspapers, Digital First Media, has stepped down. "Rossi retires from the top post he took on two and a half years ago. In was in May 2015 that he replaced high-profile CEO John Paton, as the company called off its attempted sale of its more than 50 dailies. Guy Gilmore, a career circulation executive and currently executive vice president and group head of the Eastern Region, moves into the position of COO, reporting to the board. There is no word from the Denver-based company on whether a new CEO will be appointed."
A Hannity sidekick
Near the end of another endless Sean Hannity opening snoozalogue last evening, he mentioned the work of John Solomon, who loves hammering the Clintons. By coincidence, there's a new Mother Jones profile of Sinclair, the right-leaning broadcaster that's set to be a powerhouse with its purchase of Tribune Broadcasting (it awaits final regulatory approval). Writes Andy Kroll:
"In August 2015, the company bought the name and technology from the remains of a failed San Francisco startup, Circa News. The new venture’s announcement promised an 'independent digital news site' for readers who 'value raw content, differing perspectives, and personalization.' Circa would produce stories for the web and video segments for Sinclair’s stations."
"Sinclair’s pick to run Circa was a former Washington Times editor named John Solomon, who has a conservative slant and a history of writing stories damaging to Democratic politicians. Ten current and former Circa staffers told me that Solomon pitched the new venture as a down-the-middle, nonpartisan news organization: 'BuzzFeed with a brain,' is how one remembers Solomon putting it. But as the presidential campaign ramped up, staffers, who asked to remain anonymous because they signed nondisclosure agreements or fear retribution, say Circa adopted a notable rightward tilt and an increasingly hostile stance toward Clinton. Solomon hired a former Republican National Committee spokesman named Raffi Williams to be a political reporter, though he previously had little formal journalism experience. Williams, the son of former NPR reporter turned Fox News pundit Juan Williams, is now a spokesman at Secretary Ben Carson’s Department of Housing and Urban Development."
The 'adults in the room'
There's an old Washignton trope, parroted for decades by lazy journalists, about "adults" or "grownups in the room." It surfaces again when it comes to Trump vis a vis Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis. A very good take on the latest iteration of the notion comes in The New York Review of Books via Johns Hopkins' James Mann:
"Following the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, the meaning of the words 'adult' and 'grownup' has undergone a subtle but remarkable shift. They now refer far more to behavior and character than to views on policy. This is where Kelly, McMaster, Mattis, and (to a lesser extent) Tillerson come in; 'grownup' is the behavioral role that we have assigned to them."
Limits of journalism?
Nate Silver pointed followers to a long thread on some of the limits of journalism, with some finding common denominators in coverage of Trump, the Vietnam War (specifically the Ken Burns documentary) and the ebola virus (among others).
You sure you want to read this?
"How Mosquitoes Use Stealth to Steal Your Blood — A team of researchers has discovered mosquitoes are a lot more graceful than your average insect."
As National Geographic reports, "Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Netherlands' Wageningen University teamed up to investigate the behavior of these vexatious vectors using super-slow motion footage."
"By observing hundreds of specimens of Anopheles coluzzii mosquitoes with a high-speed camera, the scientists found that mosquitoes start flapping their wings about 600 times a second in preparation for takeoff. Then, they gently push off into the air with their spindly legs, levitating themselves to safety."
A knockout PSA
Take a look at a very unusual public service announcement on bullying from Burger King. It hired actors to serve as a high school bully and victim in a real Burger King; while the bullying was going on, the people behind the counter were smashing real customers' Whopper Jr. orders. It then watched to see how many folks reported the bullying, and then how many the smashed burgers (take a guess; it wasn't close).
The likes of Ellen Degeneres have tweeted the PSA, so I showed it to Tim Calkins, a marketing expert at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, and sought possible lessons for any of the zillion media firms going heavy into the alleged Promised Land of video.
"The challenge for brands today is remaining relevant and top of mind. People are getting very good at avoiding traditional advertising. The ad is an inspired initiative from Burger King to connect with a cause. It will build positive brand associations: Burger King is concerned about an important issue. There is also good brand linkage. This isn’t one of those videos that anyone could put their name on. This one is uniquely from Burger King."
"Social issues can be complicated for brands because they are often divisive. If you take a stand on a particular issue, you might alienate a significant group of customers. Bullying is a different; it is someone everyone is against. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives … this is someone people can agree on. "
The takeaway for media companies is obvious: Make your storytelling engaging. And, since Burger King is surely thinking that goodwill will also bring them business, you can have your Whopper Jr., or whatever, and eat it, too. Again, do check out "Bullying Jr." from David, a Miami ad firm.
And one C-Span missed!
Not long after it interviewed Sen. John McCain, who pointedly derided Trump's Vietnam War deferments, we have word that "Confirming that the 71-year-old had officially been determined fit to carry out his duty, officials from the United States Army announced Monday that President Trump was being called upon to serve in Vietnam after the last of his draft deferments had expired."
Thanks to The Onion.
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