April 7, 2017

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The “whole world is watching,” a Republican congressman kept telling Tucker Carlson last night regarding President Trump and Syria.

And that was before the missile strike. Of course, the reality of our daily lives somewhat undercuts that declaration, with more people focused on, say, The Masters than on Bashar al-Assad.

If only sports fans were reading Christine Brennan as she writes about the striking effect of Trump on that precious spectacle, too. Yes, his impact on golf.

Before she split to Harvard from Augusta, Georgia to emcee a Friday event, the USA Today columnist asked some tough-minded questions of both golf superstar Rory McIlroy and Billy Payne, a Georgia corporate good old boy who oversees the tournament and the presiding club that was long an all-White male bastion.

McIlroy played golf with Trump in Florida earlier in the winter and later, wouldn’t you know, derided Scotland’s fabled Muirfield golf club for similarly “taking their sweet time to finally admit women members,” as Brennan wrote. Augusta now has all of three female members, including Condoleezza Rice, but the century is young.

McIlroy had said, “I mean, in this day and age, where you’ve got women that are like the leaders of certain industries and women that are heads of state and not to be able to join a golf course? I mean, it’s obscene. Like, it’s ridiculous. So they sort of saw sense. I still think that it got to this stage is horrendous.”

So Brennan asked him at Augusta about how he justified playing with Trump after his own many nasty comments about women. It was good that she did, since the golfing press is a solicitous group that often serves as a seeming marketing arm of the PGA and is in no danger of its members winning a Pulitzer.

“I mean, there was not one bit of politics discussed in that round of golf,” said McIlroy. “He was more interested talking about the grass that he just put on the greens. But, yeah, look, it’s a difficult one. I felt I would have been making more of a statement if I had turned it down. It’s not a tough place to be put in, but it was a round of golf and nothing more.”

“Would I do it again? After the sort of backlash I received, I’d think twice about it.”

While Brennan was there, she also flustered Payne, who in 2010 had derided Tiger Woods for the personal indiscretions at the heart of his famous meltdown and divorce.

“It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here,” Payne said at the time. “It is the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grand kids. Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children.”

So, Brennan wondered, what about Trump’s own comments about women and his very close association with golf?

“I’m not the one to judge…how (Trump’s) other remarks may have some influence on the game of golf, which is where my interest level resides exclusively,” Payne said.

“The careful answer was hardly surprising, yet it could have been so much more,” she wrote. “Such is life at the golf club that has changed a bit, but not that much.”

And what are the journalism lessons to be discerned here?

“To me, asking these questions was Journalism 101, just a no-brainer,” Brennan wrote. “Trump is so associated with the game of golf that the questions practically write themselves.”

“Billy Payne had no trouble lecturing Tiger Woods on his personal behavior in 2010, so it made perfect sense to ask what he thought of Trump in 2017. I’ve known Billy since he ran the Atlanta Olympics and was very surprised he got so flustered by the question that he tried to deny saying what he said in 2010.”

If interested, here are the columns on McIlroy and Payne.

The Syrian strike

“The main question after strikes on Syria: How does Russia respond?” (The Washington Post)

“Trump just ordered the kind of attack against Syria that he warned Obama against.” (USA Today)

“Why Did Israel Do Nothing About Syria?” (Haaretz)

“ANALYSIS: Missile attack on Syria a ‘win-win’ for Trump, say some analysts.” (CBC)

Why Twitter is suing the Trump administration

“Twitter is suing the Trump administration after it tried to compel the social media site to reveal the identity of an account that had been tweeting criticism of the president.”

“In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, Twitter revealed that the Department of Homeland Security in March had demanded that the company reveal who is behind @ALT_USCIS, an anonymous account that has been raising alarms about U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Trump’s immigration policies.” (Recode)

Guess what channel Sean Spicer watches?

On the way to Florida aboard Air Force One yesterday, Sean Spicer took media questions. They included this back-and-forth:

“Does the administration regret how it handled the Nunes situation or will it change protocols going forward? How did Spicer and the administration find out about recusal?”

“Um, I found out about it by watching Fox News. It was on the television.”

And, silly you, you figured he watched CNN, MSNBC or the NASA Channel? At least he finds some regular affirmation somewhere.

A rat’s nest grows

Tronc, the poorly retitled Tribune Publishing, is hosting a nasty internal battle with the boss, Chicago tech entrepreneur Michael Ferro. He’s now upset with a billionaire Los Angeles doctor-entrepreneur, Patrick Soon-Shiong, whom he beckoned initially to invest $70 million and fend off a Gannett takeover.

The doctor alleges woeful corporate governance by Ferro. Ferro and his essentially hand-picked board counterclaim that the doctor is a bad dude, buying up stock without its knowledge and merely trying to get his hands on his local rag, The Los Angeles Times. They’ve moved to get him off the board and strip him of his corporate title of vice-chairman.

But they also act as if Soon-Shiong was some sort of mystery man to them, perhaps randomly selected at baggage claim one afternoon at LAX and placed on the board. If their allegations have merit, they inadvertently suggest not a whole lot of due diligence in the first place but merely a craving to find some fat checkbook to help derail Gannett.

But what about the stock issue and the claims that corporate rules mandate his having notified and sought approval from the company general counsel?

Says Nell Minow, an expert on these matters who has hammered Tronc for awful corporate governance: “The ‘consult the (general counsel) rule’ is there for a reason — it’s not company policy, it’s SEC rules against insider trading that are the problem. They’re the ones who make a federal case out of it.”

“Presumably, if he (Soon-Shiong) was buying and selling, it was to make money. If he did make money and did the trading without the GC’s okay, the SEC may show up.”

And, in case it’s not apparent, all this has nothing to do with journalism and trying to boost the quality, and chances of survival, of the Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and other papers. But you can read all about the it-took-two-to-tango pissing match in the financial press. (TheStreet.com)

The Rex Tillerson style with the press is in vogue

“As of early April, journalists’ access to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — and to timely responses from the agency she now runs — have become something of a hot-button issue.” (The Grade)

“DeVos takes press questions at events only occasionally, has yet to grant a formal interview with a major national education reporter and heads a department that only intermittently provides answers in a timely manner — through a spokesperson whose name reporters are forbidden to use. The agency has even struggled to put out her weekly schedule in advance of public events.”

Woodward and Bernstein Redux

The White House Correspondents’ Association said that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein will give out awards at its annual, now Trump-less dinner. Given its belated quest to make the dinner a showcase for enduring press values, not merely a celebrity-filled bacchanal, one is only surprised they aren’t digging up the graves of Ernie Pyle, Walter Cronkite and Ida Tarbell.

Meanwhile, it’s seeking to build “unity, fellowship and camaraderie within our membership” and has organized an outing to a Washington Nationals-Cincinnati Reds game on June 24. The $36 ticket includes a hot dog, chips and a drink. It might well be more enjoyable than the dinner.

Making a prime-time buck, perhaps, off immigration

“A lot has changed in the year since Azteca America last held an upfront event. For proof, look no further than the highlight of the Spanish-language network’s new upfront slate, which was unveiled at tonight’s event in New York: El Muro (The Wall), a new drama set on the U.S.-Mexico border.” (Adweek)

Don’t figure Trump will do any promos for it.

Alternate media universes

It’s really a bit odd seeing the clashing takes on the Susan Rice “unmasking” story. Fox, and others on the right, make it out to be Watergate Redux, while others, including at CNN, tend to deride it as a Trump-Fox diversion.

Here’s a high-ranking official from President George W. Bush’s State Department, who asked that he not be identified so he could be blunt:

“The story, as I understand it, is that Rice asked for the unmasking from the intelligence people. That is not merely her right but her responsibility.”

“There’s a legitimate question whether Rice leaked the material to anyone, but I doubt she did that. She would be incredibly stupid since, as she knows, requests like this are logged. It would be known she asked for it. I have no problem with a leak investigation.”

The O’Reilly exodus

“Nearly 50 advertisers have either pulled their ads from cable news’s No. 1 program, ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ in response to a New York Times investigation detailing five harassment cases against Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.” (Adweek)

Headline of the day

“New YouTube rules restrict ads to vetted channels as PewDiePie declares The ‘Adpocalypse'” (Ad Age)

“On Thursday, YouTube’s most popular personality PewDiePie, Felix Kjellberg, called the brand boycott ‘the adpocalypse’ and showed his fans how his videos were now making only a trickle of money.”

Our lives in 20 charts

“Americans: In a generational reversal, are now more likely to work for a large employer than a small one, a shift that’s rippling through the economy.” (The Wall Street Journal)

The morning babble

“Fox & Friends” portrayed President Trump as “very strategic” and surgical in the Syria attacks. Where has one heard this before in the immediate aftermath of an American action (when the Pentagon line on efficiency and “surgical” moves is always accepted as gospel). It was far from alone. But not everybody used a Fox-like chyron, “WORLDWIDE PRAISE: POTUS sends powerful message with strike:

“What a difference a day makes,” intoned Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day.” “Russia now back on its heels, condemning the U.S. missile strike as an act of aggression, basically a phrase trying to undermine any legal justification for it.” Live from Moscow, reporter Matthew Chance said Putin’s was a “furious response.” No talk of worldwide praise.

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” also underscored Putin’s chagrin and how American soldiers in Syria (about 1,000) may now be in a more “hostile” environment. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius says traditional alliances with the U.S. will be stronger but the relationship to watch is not just Russia but Iran.

But, praise aside, the “what comes next?” question prevailed here. The New York Times’ Tom Friedman said on “Morning Joe” that the “best-case scenario” is that this opens some sort of dialogue with the Russians over the Assad regime, while Bob Woodward praised Trump for doing something but not feeling compelled to do something “big.” Again, the “surgical” line is bought early.

And from a former top Obama official

Writes Antony Blinken, a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, “Now, the administration has leverage it should test with the Assad regime and Russia to restrain Syria’s air force, stop any use of chemical or biological weapons, implement an effective cease-fire in Syria’s civil war and even move toward a negotiated transition of power — goals that eluded the Obama administration.” (The New York Times)


A search for digital funding

“The millennial-focused web publisher Mic announced last week that it was rolling out nine new channels. Now comes the check.”

“The company has raised $21 million in Series C funding, led by previous investor Lightspeed Venture Partners. Other participants in this round include Time Warner Investments, which is part of media company Time Warner Inc; Kyu Collective, a U.S.-based operating unit of the Japanese ad holding company Hakuhodo DY Holdings; and the San Francisco-based brand technology firm You & Mr Jones.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Poor timing

“Bashar Al-Assad shares laugh with military leaders over time he once wanted to be a doctor and help people.”

Pretty arrogant, eh? Yeah, but also only in The Onion.

It’s Friday. And since jealousy is unbecoming, now get ready to fend it off: I’m spending my weekend at a kids soccer tournament in Rockford, Illinois. A team dinner at Sam’s Ristorante (I bargained $13 a head, pizza and salad, cash bar). One king-sized bed and two rollaways in the hotel room. See you Monday.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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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.…
James Warren

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