Good morning. Here’s our morning roundup of all the media news you need to know. Want to get this briefing in your inbox every morning? Subscribe here.
A fashionista friend in the White House press corps answered this lingering question after Sean Spicer’s much-anticipated first briefing: What exactly was the glaring color of that jacket worn by Kellyanne Conway?
“Tomato?” she guessed.
Well, it was especially vivid amid the characteristically lusterless apparel of the assembled media (the guys must opt for those two-for-one deals at Men’s Wearhouse). And it nearly outshone the new press secretary’s most conspicuous ongoing mistruth: the size of Donald Trump’s audience on Inauguration Day.
You’d think that neither Conway nor Spicer would want to draw further attention to themselves in any fashion after much-derided rhetorical flights of fancy. For Conway, it was that Sunday business of “alternative facts.” For Spicer, it was a five-minute rant a day earlier over alleged intentional media lies.
Spicer doubled-down and claimed he was misinterpreted on that matter. He asserted that he and his boss meant that the combined in-person and viewing (via media) audience was a record.
Ah, no, not true. It’s simply not what most people who read and write English clearly understood him or Trump to be saying.
But it was one of the few missteps for Spicer, who’d set the bar so low on Saturday, only a badly wounded gecko could not have hopped over it Monday.
He did just fine. He was vaguely contrite, called on a larger (43 reporters) and far more diverse group than most predecessors and did what a good press secretary does — not make news. (Poynter)
You really should have sympathy for those attendees whose days, and professional self-regard, tend to climax with sitting at a daily White House briefing. The luster associated with the job aside, these sessions often are only rivaled by having to sit in a Department of Motor Vehicles waiting room and stare at one’s iPhone.
And Spicer cut exactly the sort of collegial, we’re-sort-of-in-this-all-together, wink-wink, inside-Washington air that his boss and top aides theoretically detest (or so they said during the campaign).
But, clearly, they likely will now play the game, as will many of the assembled media who’ll angle for access to the new rulers. To whom will the White House leak self-serving tidbits? Which media can nab snippets from Spicer? Who will do the requisite groveling to procure an exclusive with our tweeter-in-chief?
Already, one saw Monday, it’s mostly all on a first-name basis. Very clubby.
With the arguable exception of ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, Spicer wasn’t really pressed on much — not even on Conway’s “alternative facts” malarkey.
“I had to laugh, and even admire a little, Spicer’s ability to worm his way out of a clear misstatement on Saturday that there were more people at Trump’s inaugural, PERIOD, BOTH for in person and otherwise,” says Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist.
“Anyone listening to him Saturday interpreted that as a record-breaking crowd for in-person and another record-breaking crowd for TV (and) online. But now it becomes an addition — add them all together and Trump is No. 1 — which is completely unprovable by him or anyone else.”
You have to listen to, and check, every single word they say, he said. It harkens back to the legendary Bill Clinton parsing of “is.”
Or maybe it’s John Mitchell, President Richard Nixon’s buddy and later-convicted Attorney General, who said about the administration, “Watch what we do, not what we say.”
Yahoo Problems, Part 234
“Yahoo Inc. said Monday its $4.8 billion deal with Verizon Communications Inc. will close a quarter later than expected, as both sides grapple with the fallout of two massive data breaches disclosed by the internet company.” (The Wall Street Journal)
Halperin, Bloomberg part company
Mark Halperin disclosed that he was no longer with Bloomberg Politics. It’s no surprise.
In 2014, Halperin and John Heilemann were hired, with reported seven-figure salaries, as the marquee players for Bloomberg News’ foray into political television. Their appearance coincided with a rehab of the company website, with part of the plan that video, and their show, would drive greater traffic.
A pretty hefty political reporting unit was built around the New York-based operation at the same time that some folks in the company’s Washington bureau fumed as its political reporting ranks withered.
At around the same time, founder Mike Bloomberg returned after three terms as New York City mayor. It was said to be unclear to him how this flashy, entertainment-styled format of a TV show and website fit into the company’s “market-moving” world of financial journalism. That’s centered around stories that make real money for the clients of the cash-cow Bloomberg Terminal.
The suspension of the show after the 2016 election, and now the exit of Halperin, sort of answer the question.
Halperin and Heilemann will survive quite well, and there’s no public hint of a Heilemann departure. They’re staples in the political journalism universe, including fixtures on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” And Bloomberg makes so much money, this will be a quickly forgotten and very small rounding error financially, though the patently errant editorial strategy might be recalled a bit longer.
Snowden’s favorite email service
“A little more than three years after it shut down to avoid complying with federal prosecutors’ demands for its encryption key, Lavabit is returning to life.” (TechDirt)
“The secure email system, whose most famous user was Edward Snowden, fought the U.S. government in court over demands to produce the key that would unlock access not only Snowden’s emails, but those of every user. Not only did it shut down, but it also memorably delivered a 4-point middle finger to the feds in the middle of the legal battle.”
Oscar nominations were revealed Tuesday morning but, in advance, the right-leaning LifeZette headlined, “Oscar Nominees: Expect the Expected: Liberals almost surely set to nominate the most unpopular social agenda films out there.” (Oscars)
Firm grasp of the obvious
“How to Tell When You’re Reading Fake News (and What to Do About It)” (Techwalla) The highly nuanced counsel here includes: Read the headline; consider the sources; check the Web URL.
Drip, drip, drip
“Journalists at the North Jersey Media Group are facing yet another round of layoffs, according to a memo from the company’s boss.” (Poynter)
There were staff cuts six months back at the company, which is now owned by Gannett and includes, the once-sterling Bergen Record, the Herald News and more than 50 community paper. Gannett bought it from the Borg family.
The lessons of dealing with tyrants
The Atlantic offers a sort-of primer on how journalists elsewhere deal with repressive, deceitful regimes. But while “What Trump Could Mean for Journalism” offers some similarities in how populist movements’ view the media, there seem to be even more differences overseas. The lessons may be limited. (The Atlantic)
The Times’ Powell Doctrine
Let’s see, I think I caught one, two, three, four, no, five New York Times reporters commenting in real-time on Spicer’s first briefing. Five.
It’s either a pragmatic journalism counterpart to the Powell Doctrine or a dubious use of resources. And the format can produce commentary that’s too glib by half.
New boss, just like the old boss
Mark Matthews, a Denver Post reporter, had so-called pool duty when ushered into the Oval Office at 4:03 p.m.
“When pool entered, POTUS was seated at desk with union leaders from 3 p.m. meeting standing over his shoulder. POTUS asked them how it went and received a chorus of ‘excellent meeting’ from those around him.”
“‘We’re going to get them working again,’ POTUS said.”
“Asked whether he’d come to any conclusions re: free trade, POTUS said ‘we will be discussing that.'”
“After about two minutes for photos, and little comment, pool was ushered out.”
The local angle
“A Chicago writer on ‘Saturday Night Live was suspended Monday and apologized for making a dark joke about Donald Trump’s 10-year-old son on Twitter.” (Chicago Sun-Times)
Katie Rich “grew up near 80th and Pulaski and continued to reside in Chicago during her ‘SNL’ tenure, living in temporary New York quarters during show weeks.” She was one of the backup singers when several Cubs celebrated their World Series win with a (rather lackluster) version of “Go Cubs Go” with Bill Murray on the show.
Yahoo Problems, Part 235
The Wall Street Journal disclosed that federal authorities were investigating if beleaguered Yahoo should have come clean publicly about two giant data breaches earlier than it did. The notion was that, as a publicly held company, it was material information for investors.
Allan Horwich, a Northwestern University law professor and partner at Schiff Hardin, tells me that several issues are relevant. When did the hack become materially relevant? When risk did it really pose? And had there been any sorts of disclosures previously by a company?
“Of course, as the article notes, the sensitivity, or more accurately materiality, of the information may take on greater significance given the pending deal (Verizon’s purchase of the company), which could be impaired by the financial liability risks now faced by Yahoo because of the hack. This might implicate representations and warranties Yahoo made in the deal documents, which, even though not made directly to the public, may have been included in public filings in connection with the deal — I have not looked.”
“In short, this is a fact-intensive inquiry that may involve hindsight judgments of when something was known to be material.”
The morning babble
“Fox & Friends” chided Democrats for “delaying” Trump’s cabinet, detailed his “ambitious” schedule for the day and happily repeated a report that on the Senate floor Friday Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas responded to Democrat Chuck Schumer grousing about where he was eight years ago when Obama nominees were being stalled by declaring, “Eight years ago, I was getting my ass shot at in Afghanistan.” (Review)
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” chronicled Spicer’s unveiling, asserting that he “made lots of news” (huh?) as he sought to “reset relationship with press.” The Associated Press reporter Julie Pace said it all felt “very traditional, not a lot different” than previous briefings under Obama’s flacks, and that the press corps there would “give Sean the benefit of the doubt” on policy and certain details “because the administration is new.” Open warfare is unlikely within those decorous confines between the press and “Sean.”
CNN’s “New Day” pivoted to today’s various confirmation hearings and how long the minority Democrats can delay any of them. Answer: a little but not too long. David Drucker of The Washington Examiner found the greatest news the “slow walking” of a campaign pledge to move our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.
A scoop of scoops
From the Economist obituary of British foreign reporter Clare Hollingsworth, 105:
“It all started in August 1939, when, aged 27 and a foreign correspondent for barely four days, she commandeered a British consulate car and drove into Germany from Poland. A gust of wind lifted a roadside hessian screen, revealing Hitler’s army, mustered for the invasion. It was to be the scoop of the century, though at first nobody believed her. On her return she had to produce her shopping — German products unavailable in Poland — to show she had crossed the border.” (The Economist)
And talking about being ready to roll! “Well into her 80s Clare Hollingworth would sleep on the floor every week or so, just to prevent her body from getting ‘too soft.’ Her passport was to hand, with visas up to date, just in case the foreign desk rang. She liked to have two packed suitcases, one for hot climates, one for cold, though her wardrobe was notoriously sparse: in later life she was seldom seen in anything but a safari suit and cloth shoes. And all you really needed, she said, were the ‘T & T’—typewriter and toothbrush.”
Over at the Department of Agriculture
It was totally understandable that the press missed this amid Trump’s executive orders and the press secretary’s first big performance:
“Saying his new role seemed ‘way more interesting’ than his usual menial office gigs, temp worker Jon Barder told reporters Monday that he was really looking forward to starting his first day as Secretary of Agriculture.”
“’All I really know from the ad is that I’m in charge of farming for the entire country or something,’ said Barder, 22, who will oversee the approximately $140 billion executive department for the duration of his five-day assignment.”
Oh, it’s from the Onion.