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.
The vilifying of the press has gotten so bad that some solace was provided Sunday by The Washington Post, which reported from Abu Dhabi that “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis…does not see the media as the enemy of the American people.”
Now all journalists have to do is find a viable business model and all worries will disappear!
While that Post headline might have inspired huzzahs among the Trump-obsesssed national media, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page writers are frequently finding themselves at odds in a Civil War of political ideas.
Among the combatants is the distinctly Trump-wary columnist Bret Stephens, who just delivered a superb Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture this week at the University of California, Los Angeles.
It’s a smart look by a conservative at the method behind the anti-media madness of Trump — and why it’s worked. Stephens declines to blame Trump’s adherents as he succinctly defends the journalism that the late Pearl practiced and represented.
“Ideologically, the president is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favor of the media he likes — Breitbart News and the rest,” said Stephens, who notes the irony of winning new liberal fans by merely sticking up for views he argues too many conservatives have fled. “Another way of making this point is to say that he’s trying to substitute news for propaganda, information for boosterism.”
“His objection to, say, the New York Times, isn’t that there’s a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He’s perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt — so long as it’s on his side.”
Ultimately, Stephens is very good on the rank hypocrisy of all his ideological friends who bashed Bill Clinton for immorality now rationalizing their Trump support.
Along the way he makes good use of a 1953 work by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, citing “the psychological and intellectual pathways through which some of his former colleagues in Poland’s post-war Communist regime allowed themselves to be converted into ardent Stalinists.”
What was up?
“They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn’t fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one’s beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness.”
Isn’t it interesting how many people we know — in public life or in our personal spheres — get tripped up by one falsehood or otherwise errant action and are screwed? Maybe it’s plagiarism, a faulty resume, cheating on an expense account. But the very ubiquity of Trump’s deceits are fascinating to the extent that we may become inured to them.
That gets him back to the world of Pearl, some of which he quotes as an example of old-fashioned journalism at play, namely of observing with ones senses.
“George Orwell wrote, ‘To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.’ Danny saw what was in front of his nose.”
Swedes go batty
“In a speech on Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that something had happened ‘last night in Sweden’ — prompting baffled Swedes to take to Twitter and other social media wondering what on earth the American leader might have been referring to,” reported the English language Local in Stockholm.
As if making the point The Wall Street Journal’s Stephens had made, Trump tweeted Sunday, “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants and Sweden.”
He didn’t deny the fact, merely the relevance of facts. He heard something else somewhere else.
Dickerson on media’s self-inflicted wounds
The day after Trump’s press conference last week came this back-and-forth between Hugh Hewitt and CBS’ John Dickerson on Hewitt’s radio show:
Hewitt: “…I really do think Manhattan-Beltway (media) elites have lost the country. They’ve lost it. There’s just no confidence in, I’m not going to say us, because I am neither in nor of the Beltway-Manhattan media elite. I live in California still. But what do you think of that? Is it true?”
Dickerson: “…It’s true, and it’s not because of anything obviously Donald Trump did. The press did all that good work ruining its reputation on its own, and we can have a long conversation about what created that. Part of it, though, is what you mentioned about the local weather report, which is to say a lot of hysterical coverage about every little last thing that doesn’t warrant it.”
That’s how Dickerson began his weekend. It concluded Sunday with conservative press giving him a hard time over a “Face the Nation” interrogation of Reince Priebus.
Curiously, Breitbart had a different take, sympathizing with Chris Wallace of Fox News as he skewered Priebus on the same topic. But Hollywood producer Jon Maas and I urge “Saturday Night Live” to cast alumna Rachel Dratch as Priebus, who did look overmatched with Wallace.
The Post as clickbait meister
The headline on the Sunday morning’s “First Reads” newsletter: “Is cannibalism ‘perfectly natural?'” (The Washington Post)
Ads for ABC’s Oscars broadcast are now gone, with 30-second ads at $2 million and, in some cases, $2.5 million. (Ad Age) That comes “despite a 7 percent decline in viewers for the 2016 Oscars, to 34.4 million people, and an eight-year low in the core 18-to-40 demo.”
A first on Israeli TV
“There have been a lot of new faces on Channel 1 over the past 18 months, despite the fact that the Israel Broadcasting Authority is set to cease operations on April 30, to be replaced by the Israel Broadcasting Corporation.” (Jerusalem Post)
Trump’s “important rage” against the press
University of Chicago Law professor Eric Posner writes, “By attacking the press as a whole, he can blame another institution for his failures and establish himself as an independent source of the truth…The problem is that the press includes conservative press, so the alternative strategy is to attack just the liberal press and thus doubling down in rallying his conservative base.”
In true Trumpian fashion, Trump has tried to resolve this contradiction by attacking what he calls the ‘fake news media,’ encompassing an ambiguous group that includes the liberal media but presumably excludes conservative outlets, but only as long as they continue to support him.” (EricPosner.com)
His one very debatable notion: “The press has never had more influence or enjoyed more trust, in the disaggregated sense.” Really? Even if you break it up into lots of separate parts?
Fair and balanced on Air Force One Saturday
“TVs in the Air Force One press cabin were tuned to Fox News Channel showing pre-game for the rally and analysis from The Hill’s Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack,” wrote Hill reporter Jonathan Easley of The Hill, who served as pool reporter. The surfacing of his boss will surely be of vital relevance to historians. Ditto, “Wheels down Melbourne International at 5:27 p.m.”
Publishing dollars will be flying soon for books that will be bought if not actually read, though there remains one constant when it comes to the Washington establishment seeking a middleman in cashing in.
“Book proposals from former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama are making the rounds among the Big Five trade publishers in New York, while a book by one of the Obama administration’s highest profile cabinet members has already been acquired.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Both Obamas, as well as (John) Kerry, are being represented by Washington, D.C., lawyer Bob Barnett, who has brokered book deals for scores of politicians and celebrities.”
The price of litigation
Gawker was far from alone. Techdirt, a blog that does a lot of legal affair reporting on technology, is being sued for $15 million by Shiva Ayyadurai, a guy who claims he invented email and is represented by Charles Harder, the same lawyer who helped bring down Gawker on behalf for Hulk Hogan. It’s not bought into his claims and has written unflatteringly about him. (New York)
How Assad is winning
With the siege of Aleppo done, the modest American media interest in international affairs, notably Syria, wanes. If still interested, check former ABC News chief Middle East reporter Charles Glass as he lays out the turning of the tide in the Syrian war with a strong emphasis on how the rebel forces, including ISIS, blew it. (New York Review of Books)
What might served as a companion piece, if you want to take a few minutes off the Trump beat, was Patrick Cockburn’s dissection of partisan reporting of the work in the London Review of Books. (London Review of Books)
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, of late has given $1 million to The Poynter Institute for an ethics chair and $500,000 to Wikipedia for its its anti-harassment Community Health Initiative after a previous donation to them of $1 million. “Those gifts look like they be might be just a start of his news/information-centric philanthropy,” with another $3.5 million to come to various groups. (NiemanLab)
“Imagine how it would have played in Melbourne, Florida
Consider how Trump has beckoned the likes of pro bono publicist Sean Hannity and ABC’s David Muir to the White House for TV interviews, our medium of choice, then realize how Abe Lincoln spent lots of time posing for real portraits, including one by artist Francis Carpenter, then only 33, titled, “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln.”
Carpenter’s 1864 effort “created a sensation on an extended national tour, hauled from city to city on a collapsible frame,” writes Harold Holzer, who heads the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, in The Wall Street Journal.
Yes, Holzer repeated in a note, “On a collapsible frame to accommodate its huge size. It was a sensation. Imagine how it would have played in Melbourne FL.”
Government in exile
Pete Souza, the White House chief photographer during the Obama years, posted a 2012 shot Sunday of deliriously happy Obama supporters, arms raised aloft as it at a revival meeting. “Yelling for hope, 2012” was his brief description. (Instagram)
The morning babble
“Fox & Friends,” the morning show that Trump heralded at his press conference as a bastion of integrity, delved into matters on Presidents Day that might engross the president: holiday mattress sales, Bon Jovi taking over Channel 18 on Sirius XM satellite radio, a two-year-old rescued from a blackberry bush and, yes, the coming of a new executive order on immigration.
Matters were more subdued on CNN’s “New Day” with talk of Sweden, yes, Sweden, along with Trump lies and misinformation, but how (for co-host Chris Cuomo) Trump’s base would rally behind him as he underscored that “refugees and migrants equal trouble.” But that’s not true, said Jackie Kucinich of the Daily Beast, who argued that “words matter” at a moment where one does really wonder how much they do.
As for “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, Joe Scarborough displayed what amounts to asceticism for him, using the personal pronoun rarely while leading a homogenous anti-Trump refrain about recent lies. Partner Mike Barnicle argued that the “media needs no defense,” which one hopes were the case but may not be, while Nicholas Confessore of The New York Times waxed the most righteous in declaring, “the people are are my boss, I work for them and they are a tough boss. But they are not the enemy. I am their employee.”
Hopefully “the people” won’t be rolling out any rumored buyouts at the Times in coming months. Meanwhile, we shall see how tough a boss the people are when it comes to reacting to what Bret Stephens last week called the depressing and perhaps increasingly accepted ubiquity of Trump’s deceit, recalling Stalin’s remark that the death of a single man is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic.