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.
It was a military move heralded worldwide: The Trump administration was sending the U.S.S. Carl Vinson aircraft carrier to the Sea of Japan as a warning to the nutbag in North Korea.
And it was totally bogus.
The errant mix of government deceit or ineptitude and press passivity is underscored by news that, ah, no, the Vinson wasn’t headed there. The Vinson — only in America do we name ships after staunch Georgia segregationists — was going the opposite way. But, when it comes to the tides of history, so was the late congressman.
The initial reports were everywhere, be it the mainstream New York Times or the niche defense trade publication Defense News. Its naval warfare correspondent, Christopher Cavas, wrote, “The aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and her strike group have been ordered to cancel planned visits to Australia and head back to Korean waters, the U.S. Navy announced Saturday night. The carrier was already operating in the western Pacific and had just visited Singapore.”
“’U.S. Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Strike Group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific,’ Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the command, said in a statement.”
Now we know it’s not true. On April 9, The Times reported, “U.S. reroutes warships toward Korean peninsula in show of force.” Many others did likewise. Yesterday, it reported, “Aircraft carrier wasn’t sailing to deter North Korea, as U.S. suggested.”
“It’s hard to tell what we’re looking at with this story,” Cavas said. “I have no indication there was any intentional misdirection or misinformation put out by the Pentagon or the administration, but there is clearly confusion at different levels about who is doing what, why and under who’s authority. My sense is there’s nothing conspiratorial here — rather it could be another case of people dealing with new situations and not thinking things through.”
“It’s also a case of the media not paying attention to what’s right in front of them,” he added. “Too many media are interviewing themselves and not talking to people who might actually know something about the context in which events are taking place.”
Shane Harris, a senior writer at The Wall Street Journal and a journalist-author who’s a national security specialist, did not report this particular story. But, he said, “This does seem like a pretty wicked game of telephone — maybe that’s the charitable explanation.”
“It sounds like (Defense Secretary James) Mattis and others at the Pentagon told reporters that the group was on its way to Korea. I’m not sure if he was misinformed, or just not being complete. Like, maybe it is on its way to Korea but stopping first at other locations. In any event, we are generally reliant on the military to tell us where naval groups are. No idea why this wasn’t corrected earlier.”
Then there’s Tom Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize winner, longtime military affairs specialist and author of the new book, “Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom.”
“The lesson,” he says, “is that even with Trump in the White House, people still tend to trust what the government says, and especially what the military says. But Trump is doing his best to change that.”
“I don’t think it is a press screw-up,” says Ricks. “The Navy says a ship is somewhere, it is supposed to be there. No way in real-time to check it.”
But, that said, concluded Ricks, “aircraft carrier movements should get a bit more scrutiny.” Until then, we might again be victims of Trump subterfuge that prompted what The Wall Street Journal this morning concedes was a “false narrative” masquerading as a macho response to North Korea.
Will Bill O’Reilly be canned? Kept? Traded for Rachel Maddow?
Let’s see: As Bill O’Reilly’s Fox fate hangs in the balance, we are now in a world in which “experts” are offered up well before the news, if any, is actually made.
So amid CNN’s Brian Stelter’s disclosure of a 21st Century Fox board meeting Thursday, and a later report elsewhere of O’Reilly’s impending exit, there was at least one public relations firm’s press release, “INTERVIEWS: Speculation O’Reilly fired tomorrow — Leading activist avail.”
“Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online civil rights organization, is available for interviews to discuss Bill O’Reilly, including speculation that he will be fired tomorrow and new allegations of racial discrimination from a Black Fox News employee who O’Reilly allegedly called ‘hot chocolate.'”
The Wall Street Journal, which one assumes has decent sources within the corporate parent it shares with Fox News Channel, says he’s a goner, “according to people close to the situation” (which could be anybody from lobby security to Jerry Hall, the Mrs. Mick Jagger-turned-Mrs. Rupert Murdoch).
Reporters will now prepare O’Reilly death notices, or a litany of pre-cooked outrage at his being kept or stories on his being moved to a Fox executive position in Hollywood (hey, why not turn those best-selling pseudo-histories into movies) or traded straight-up for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow as the young Murdochs head, Vinson-like, in an opposite direction.
And, if he does vanish, there’s the question of bottom-line consequences, if any, for the Fox juggernaut. Don’t get too ecstatic, Fox bashers: As an equally tone-deaf and slow-moving United Airlines will likely prove, public and press indignation don’t necessarily translate into any competitive or financial hardship.
From The Onion or…?
“Senior administration officials praise President Donald J. Trump’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order.
The Onion, right? Has to be.
Ah, no, it was the headline on the White House’s own press release late yesterday.
How many days until we get, “Senior education department officials praise Education Secretary DeVos for ‘courageously’ granting first TV interview to Sean Hannity“?
A story that could have been run in any of several past decades
“City magazines, dependent on print, face uncertain future amid wave of deals” (Columbia Journalism Review)
Live from the tarmac of Milwaukee
After getting to Air Force One after Trump’s quickie in Kenosha, pool reporter S.V Date of The Huffington Post relayed:
“POTUS signed the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order at Snap-on as the pool was hustled out. Pool has asked WH press to please send the executive order out to the list, as pool has only paper copies.”
“Pool did ask Stephen Miller why the executive order was necessary, as it appears many if not all of its provisions could have been accomplished without one. Miller declined to answer and boarded AF1 through the aft staircase.”
A gilded decompression
Former President Obama and Michelle Obama have been as far away from his South Side Chicago community organizing roots as one might while vacationing on a 450-foot, $300 million private yacht with Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Hanks (all awarded Medals of Freedom by Obama during his tenure), among others, near Tahiti.
Rather than ask your garden-variety Obama bashers on the right, I asked several journalism supporters on the left. Several took a pass on the Obama holiday. One who spoke on the record, National Memo editor Joe Conason, said:
“I can’t work up much indignation about what ex-presidents do immediately after leaving office — they have a right to decompress as they see fit. President Obama will find a way to give back in due course, I have no doubt — he has already spent a lot of time thinking and planning for that over the past few years.”
But it is quaint, is it not, to think of the likes of the late former Gen. George Marshall (of Marshall Plan fame) who felt an ethical imperative to not profit off his government service? Bill Clinton set a gross new standard for post-White House money-making.
And now Obama, with his giant new book deal, and the estimated $1 billion to be raised for a Chicago presidential library, is heading down a rather rich path.
One reason women aren’t quoted enough
Crain’s Chicago Business reporter Claire Bushey recalls having a devil of a time getting a particular female stock analyst to return her calls. For sure, it’s part and parcel of a problem.
“But you know what’s critical to correcting it? Women actually have to talk. And like with my elusive stock analyst, my professional experience suggests that, maddeningly, this is where the process often breaks down.” (Crain’s)
“Why does it matter if women don’t call me back? Because civil society hashes out issues in print, online and on the air. If you aren’t there, it doesn’t matter how eloquently you air your views on Facebook: Your unamplified voice will peter into silence, unheard.”
The morning babble
No surprise, that Georgia special congressional election dominated cable news with heretofore little-known Democrat Jon Ossoff winding up in a runoff after gigantic spending on his behalf.
“Ossoff fails to flip 6th District” was the “Fox & Friends” glass half-filled take on the guy getting 49 percent but falling short of an outright win (it interviewed his Republican runoff opponent, not Ossoff, whom they said declined the invitation). And it did have fun at the expense of former Hillary Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon tweeting, “Even if he doesn’t hit 50 tonight, Ossoff is showing us the path to retaking the House. It turns through the Panera Breads of America.”
Yes, real people! Ainsley Earhardt conceded Panera has good salads. If only Clinton’s campaign had been sensitive to those who hang at any fast foods joints, Fallon might be laboring in the West Wing.
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and CNN’s “New Day” were similar in underscoring the seeming rebuke to Trump but not seeing any political revolution. “There are reasons to temper the enthusiasm,” said CNN’s David Gregory.
And “Morning Joe” heralded former top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett’s “first interview since leaving the White House” tomorrow on its show. Not really. She’s been speaking and trying to profit quickly off her government experience (no George Marshall here, either).
Freebie question: Ask about the $30,000 graduation speech fee she was to get from a financially pressed Illinois state college — until trustees objected. Now she’ll get it from a separate donor.
Social media sleuthing
Rick Hahn, the well-liked general manager of the Chicago White Sox, was disarmingly candid during an interview on a Chicago sports radio station yesterday when it came to using social media.
Does he ever use social media aliases to follow rivals who are on Twitter, just in case he might pick up a tidbit here or there? Oh, yes, he said. He does. Many aliases.
If only his anonymity had any vague impact on the team’s godawful on-field performance in recent years. Sox fans are by and large left only with the dramatic upgrade in beer alternatives, with around 100 — yes, 100 — brands being offered this season. (Crain’s)
Trump gets the last laugh
So much for the press hounding Trump on his tax returns:
“A satisfied smirk spreading across his face as he watched them finish their meals, a cackling Donald Trump reportedly revealed to dinner guests Tuesday that each and every one of them had just eaten a single piece of his tax returns.”
Well, that’s more telling than the Rachel Maddow exclusive. Then, again, hers was real and this is The Onion.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to “Defense News”