October 19, 2017

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A painful memory goes public

Keeping an alleged sexual assault under wraps wasn't an ultimate quandary for Maureen Ryan, TV critic for Variety and formerly critic for Huffington Post and The Chicago Tribune. The Harvey Weinstein scandal necessitated searching her soul and going public.

"F— that," she wrote in going public about a tawdry incident involving an unidentified executive at another company while she was at Huffington. She says both the executive's unnamed company and Huffington did nothing, with the latter even forcing her to hire her own attorney (Arianna Huffington tells me she hadn't heard of the matter at all). Ryan expanded on what she wrote and initially discussed with me in a later discussion, which included the subject of what more reporters should be doing, whatever field they cover.

"I think there is more reporting that could be done here. I think as journalists, we're often taught, 'You are not the story.' That was very much ingrained in me when I was coming up."

 "But it's interesting, the pieces where I have taken something I've gone through and woven it into a larger social trend or topic have often been amongst the most popular stories I've ever done. And there are generations of many very fine writers who came up in in the last decade or so, when a confessional or personal style became more ascendant in many realms. So I think these sort of first-person accounts have become more accepted."

But, she conceded, "there still is some reticence in many quarters to putting journalists, journalism and the media industries under the microscope. And that's a problem. If we don't look at the entertainment industry, the media and the PR companies, how much credibility do we have to report on anyone else's transgressions?"

Public relations? It's not an accidental reference from Ryan. "Based on my in-box, the next huge series of scandals to break might be among PR professionals. It's a largely female-dominated field, and whether they work at an agency or at a network or studio, they're constantly in contact with executives, with talent and with members of the media. People from all three arenas can be demanding and difficult on the best of days — and harassers and assaulters on the worst. It's not uncommon, I think, and the barriers to those in PR reporting transgressors are high and numerous. Even more so than for someone like me."

Ryan, who worked for me at The Chicago Tribune (she's a superb colleague and a smart, populist and disarmingly effective critic), had a final thought.

"There is also an idea floating around there that we should keep the dirty laundry hidden because we work in prestigious fields that can even be fun. Going on the set of a TV show or a movie can be fun! There is that side of it."

 "But I think that mentality also leads people like me to think, 'Well, I don't want to complain, who am I to talk about the dark side of this?' But the extremely messed-up power dynamics of the entertainment and media industries, where consequences are clearly few for bad behavior, tend to make the dark sides of these fields very harrowing indeed. We have to look closer at all of it if we're going to even think about getting past this and building something better for the future."

The growing political mess of Google, Facebook

A Bloomberg report guarantees only one thing —  even more Washington lobbyists and consultants are going to get rich: "Facebook and Google Helped Anti-Refugee Campaign in Swing States: The big tech companies worked closely with Secure America Now to target an audience the group felt could be swayed by the message."

Sheryl Sandberg and her pristine reputation, who lobbied in the capital last week on behalf of Facebook, had best hop the corporate jet back to explain this:

"In the final weeks of the 2016 election campaign, voters in swing states including Nevada and North Carolina saw ads appear in their Facebook feeds and on Google websites touting a pair of controversial faux-tourism videos, showing France and Germany overrun by Sharia law. French schoolchildren were being trained to fight for the caliphate, jihadi fighters were celebrated at the Arc de Triomphe, and the 'Mona Lisa' was covered in a burka."

“'Under Sharia law, you can enjoy everything the Islamic State of France has to offer, as long as you follow the rules,' intoned the narrator of one ad."

I winced a bit when recently watching Axios' hyperkinetic Mike Allen opine about the problems of the two giants morphing into one of next year's very major political issues. Really? Hmmmm. Now, I wonder. Maybe.

Hearst buys Rodale

As The New York Times puts it, "Hearst, the publisher of magazines like Cosmopolitan and Esquire, announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to acquire Rodale, which owns Runner’s World and Men’s Health, another sign of consolidation in an industry struggling to offset declines in print. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. The deal is expected to close next year."

"Rodale, a family-owned company that also publishes the magazines Bicycling, Prevention and Women’s Health, said in June that it was exploring 'opportunities for potential buyers.' Hearst and Meredith Corp., which publishes Family Circle and Better Homes & Gardens, were both circling Rodale, and industry executives expected that one would prevail."

The New York Post says the sale is in the $250 million area, which is puny compared to what they would have once fetched before print headed south, and it's not clear what happens to the workforce of 450.

Sorry, Oleg

A federal judge ditched a defamation suit brought against the Associated Press by Oleg Deripaska, a self-described private investor and industrialist, who claimed AP falsely accused him of “involvement in criminal activities and other improprieties.”

The article opened “Before signing up with Donald Trump, former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire with a plan to ‘greatly benefit the Putin Government,’ The Associated Press has learned.” It outlined how “Manafort proposed a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005” to Deripaska, characterized as an “aluminum magnate” and “a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006.” 

One claim of defamation turned on a comment by garrulous U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. As the story recounted,  “Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a frequent Trump critic, said of Manafort: ‘Clearly if he’s getting millions of dollars from a billionaire close to Putin, to basically undermine democratic movements, that’s something I’d want to know about."

The branding of journalists

A speech on the state of the press by Washington's Bruce Sanford, long one of the best media attorneys, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas entitled "Trusting the Media in the Age of Trump" included this observation:

"President Trump is not the only television performer who nurtures his brand. Many journalists who live in celebrity or aspire to it cultivate a brand as aggressive truth-tellers untouched by mortal clay. This brand building, of course, is pushed on them by media companies who bank on the reputations of their stars. The public understands this profit motive and dislikes the unwillingness of journalists to admit mistakes when they inevitably happen. It should not surprise us that the media’s failure to report the 2016 election competently has had the logical consequence of eroding public confidence in the press. It would help if leaders in the profession acknowledged or, here’s a thought — even apologized for their mistake. But I’m still waiting for humble voices to be raised."

"Similarly, it is not helpful to a restoration of public trust to have celebrity journalists clashing with the president as if they were his equals in a boxing match. I know broadcast stars have to protect their brands, but no one is impressed except maybe Trump's opponents and maybe that’s the point in an industry made up of niched audiences."

Sanford, whose clients over the years includes an A-list of mainstream outlets, concluded with praise for great work now being done by the better digital newcomers. He concluded, "I am as admiring as ever of journalists at BuzzFeed, the L.A. Times, Bloomberg, the N.Y. Times and outlets everywhere. By and large, they are redoubling professional efforts to report the news accurately, evocatively and with context. They are not daunted by presidential criticism; they see it as an opportunity to prove their stuff. Let’s hope for America’s sake, I’m right and they’re right."

The groveling over Amazon

Jeff Bezos is shrewdly, if unsubtly exploiting economic anxiety and what is often economically counter-productive regional competition in soliciting bids for a second Amazon headquarters. Inevitably, as Recode outlines, "The federal lawmakers who regulate Amazon are begging the company to move to their home states: Democrats and Republicans in Congress are warring to snag the jobs and investment that might come from HQ2."

Microsoft's investment in cyberscurity

Microsoft Cloud vice president Julia White tells Cheddar how Microsoft "is increasing its efforts to combat cyberattacks. White says, on average, hackers can go undetected in a system for 200 days. To be proactive, Microsoft spends $1 billion each year on cybersecurity."

Fascinatingly obscure

From PetaPixel: "The use of slit-scan photography is actually quite old. It is often called line-scan, photo finish, or streak photography. Slit-scan photography has a rich and colorful history rooted in chemical analog photography. This technique is often used to visualize high-speed events such as missiles and bullets, although it is probably best known as photo finish photography used to determine the outcome of races."

Harvey Weinstein as dying gatekeeper

In "Goodbye Gatekeepers" Stratechery's Ben Thompson recalls how in 1980, right after Miramax was created, there were just a bit more than 100 movies release in U.S theaters. By last year, there were 736, but only 93 of what would be known as “wide studio releases,” Weinstein’s turf. Figure five important acting gigs per movie, or about 500 really important such gigs a year. Weinstein "had an outsized ability to affect who filled the rest by making or breaking reputations."

He "was a gatekeeper, presented with virtually unlimited supply while controlling limited distribution: those that wished to reach consumers had to accede to his demands, no matter how criminally perverse they may have been."

"What made Hollywood’s structure particularly nefarious was the fact that selecting actors is such a subjective process. Movies are art — what appeals to one person may not appeal to another — making people like Weinstein cultural curators. If he were to not select an actor, or purposely damaged their reputation through his extensive contacts with the press, they wouldn’t have a chance in Hollywood. After all, there were many others to choose from, and no other routes to making movies."

From David Schwimmer to corporate governance

Nell Minow was mentioned here in her role as "Movie Mom," writing about films and culture for parents. She detailed a hotel room interview with David Schwimmer, who proved the anti-Harvey Weinstein in treating her with respect. But her primary gig is as a corporate governance expert, explaining a Huffington Post column by her referencing a new report that "finds that on some subjects there is a wide disparity between the directors who oversee corporate strategy and the investors to whom they owe the legal duties of care and loyalty."

It concludes that “directors are clearly out of step with investor priorities in some critical areas,” especially with regard to climate change and sustainability and board composition.

From anchor desk to cannabis dispensary

Her old Detroit station reports, "Former FOX 2 anchor Anqunette Jamison Sarfoh is pushing a new cannabis campaign to (the Detroit neighborhood) Corktown, which supporters say would provide safe access to medical pot, but not everyone is on board. Jamison has plans for an empty lot on Rosa Parks off of I-75 that's been abandoned for about 10 years in Corktown."

Trump & Hugs

After birthday hugs for co-host Steve Doocy on "Trump & Friends," it was time to turn back a clock and bash the president — that would be President Obama — by hyping a Hill story that notes Senate Republican interest in Obama-era uranium sales to Russia in 2010. Yes, 2010. The lawyer for the FBI informant who wants to gab is itself a tipoff, namely Victoria Toensing, once a Bill Clinton-bashing former federal prosecutor who was a cable news staple during the Clinton Wars 20 years ago.

CNN's "New Day" was focused on October 2017 and back to Trump comments on, and to the families of, fallen soldiers, as well as questions about the Niger ambush that resulted in four deaths (former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was beckoned for pundit duty). Thus etiquette and strategic ambiguity melded to raise doubts about Trump's veracity. But there was the obvious reality, too, of the Pentagon stalling either as a result of proper due diligence (Albright seemed sympathetic to that notion) or evasion. Co-host Chris Cuomo clearly believes there are things the government knows about the incident and is withholding. Meanwhile, CNN was alone (again) in doing actual living reporting from somewhere else important, namely Raqqa, Syria, with Arwa Damon and team checking out the dangerous realities at a former ISIS stronghold.

MSNBC's "Morning Joe" seemed to be airing a re-run, though it wasn't, also back to Day 2 of what Trump said or didn't say to a Florida military widow and her congresswoman. "Everybody in the media should tie a bow on this and move on to nuclear war with North Korea and ensuring health care for one sixth of the economy," said co-host Joe Scarborough. Panelist Mark Halperin agreed, noted all the coverage of the issue, but said scrutinizing of this issue doesn't amount to much. So, guess what? They continued on the topic, with co-host Mika Brzezinski once again calling Trump "unfit for the job."

Lest one not get lost in the weeds of who said what to whom regarding Niger deaths, The Washington Post editorializes, "Having failed to publicly acknowledge the deaths for 12 days, Mr. Trump on Monday boasted about reaching out to family members of slain military personnel while falsely accusing his predecessors of not doing so. His whining about how hard the calls are on him — and the apparent hash he made of a conversation in which he allegedly told one widow her husband “must have known what he signed up for” — underscored his cluelessness about being commander in chief."

'Ecological Armageddon'

Journalist-environmentalist Bill McKibben tweets this Guardian story about, of all things, flying insects, which is not a topic that cable news spends much time on amid Trump Mania:

"The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists."

"Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is 'on course for ecological Armageddon,' with profound impacts on human society."

Well, do try to have a good day, nonetheless.

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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