October 30, 2017

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Does he really want to be questioned about his personal past?

Here's the No Spin Zone on Bill O'Reilly filing a defamation suit against a former New Jersey politician:

You gotta be kiddin'. But, Bill, do bring it on. The press, be it mainstream or tabloid, left or right, will salivate at the prospect of waiting for this to play out.

If you missed it, O'Reilly on Friday sued a former New Jersey politician, Michael Panter, for posting details of a legal settlement between O'Reilly and a former Panter girlfriend who had worked at Fox. Yes, he's suing a guy who dated an O'Reilly accuser. This verges on the laughable. No, it may go beyond laughable. Consider the Mount Everest-high out-of- court settlements he's reached and Fox's dismissal (albeit clearly reluctant) of him. He doesn't want to persist with the suit.

Might there be details in the Facebook posting that are inaccurate? Maybe. But, boy, the general thesis of the Facebook post sure matches what we know of O'Reilly's workplace modus operandi. And, as one media lawyer noted Sunday, "Courts regularly dismiss libel suits when the reporting at issue does not do more harm to the plaintiff's reputation than a recitation of existing facts would do."

Michael Dorf, a Chicago lawyer who teaches First Amendment law, as well as specializing in other areas, such as election law (he’s been Barack Obama’s counsel on such matters), said Sunday, "For me, the dog that didn't bark in this case is the fact that O'Reilly isn't suing the ex-girlfriend for breach of the non-disclosure agreement."

"Since truth is an absolute defense in a defamation case, and a suit against the ex-girlfriend would inevitably open up all the facts, the defamation suit seems to me to be a warning to others who might have stories about O'Reilly that he is litigious and it will be expensive, whatever the result."

But just imagine if this suit would persist. How much would some folks give to see how much a very smart defense lawyer might reveal about O'Reilly during so-called pre-trial discovery. Just think of the questions.

Does Mr. No Spin Zone really and truly want to answer these questions?

Final thought: There are a great many journalists and others who would welcome the opportunity to see what a good libel defense lawyer could uncover about O'Reilly's behavior in the course of discovery in this lawsuit. It seems unlikely that O'Reilly will open himself up to having to answer these types of questions under oath.

Says George Freeman, former longtime top attorney at The New York Times who now runs the Media Law Resource Center, "Why would O'Reilly want there to be a long public saga, with discovery and evidence in public, about what he did to this, and possibly other, women? Seems unwise."

'The nation awaits …'

"Morning Joe" was convinced that "the nation awaits" the first Robert Mueller indictment(s) as "President Trump Issues Series of Panicked Tweets." CNN's Jeffrey Toobin on "New Day" conceded, "I don't know, I don't know what the charges are." Good for him. "Trump & Friends" conceded their guy sought to shift attention to Hillary Clinton and the Fusion GPS investigative work on the so-called Trump "dossier." All in all, it's notable that there didn't seem any major leaks by sunrise.

And, notes The Wall Street Journal: "President Donald Trump’s approval rating has fallen to its lowest level since he took office, with Americans disapproving of his performance as commander in chief and handling of some policy issues while largely favoring his work on the economy, a new Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll finds."

Didn't stay up for the whole World Series game?!

As David Schoenfield of ESPN writes, "We settled in at 7:21 local time, expecting a tense, classic World Series pitchers' duel between Dallas Keuchel and Clayton Kershaw."

"We ended five hours and 17 minutes later after witnessing a game that was simultaneously an exhilarating baseball adventure and something Caligula invented. If you had a rooting interest in this game, you're not even reading this column because you're probably out of energy."

Houston won, 13-12, in 10 innings. And Major League Baseball wants to attract young kids? Not last night. Given the length, it was adult fare.

Still, wrote the Los Angeles Times' Andy McCullough, "Nowhere else can you find theater like this, like the 10th inning of Game 5 of the World Series, with life’s rich pageant displayed in one tableau in the final moments of a depth-defying 13-12 Dodgers defeat in Game 5 of the World Series."

Halperin's latest accuser

CNN is surely patting itself on the back for its Mark Halperin story last week that prompted his admission of bad behavior and his seeming professional downfall. It shouldn't get too righteous. The story did not have a single named source. Yes, it proved right, with Halperin essentially confirming the gist. But there are other media outlets that would not allow a story of that sort — again, nobody on the record — especially given the potential to wreck a guy (maybe even his family).

So knock on wood that Eleanor McManus, a onetime senior producer at CNN and co-founder of a crisis management and strategy firm, surfaced with this CNN online commentary about her experience (as a 21-year-old student) meeting, and later seeking advice from, Halperin. She delivers the goods in damning fashion.

The reporters behind the Trump dossier

Steve LeVine, who worked with Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch at The Wall Street Journal, discusses the two reporters behind the dossier produced by Fusion GPS. We now know that despite the initial assumption that it was all Democratic (Hillary Clinton) funded, indeed it all started as work for the Washington Free Beacon, funded by a wealthy and conservative New York businessman who hoped to derail Trump during the Republican presidential primaries.

"I have no idea what Simpson and Fritsch charge," writes LeVine in Axios, "but I understand it's a lot, and that seems to be driven by the market: They are seriously savvy at finding extremely hard-to-locate — and even more difficult to understand and contextualize — documents and other intelligence on globally powerful people and organizations. People who know what they are talking about want to speak with them, in large part because they understand that — either immediately or some time in the future — they themselves can learn something from them."

"Their expertise is rare. Most people in the investigative game, whether reporters or former government agents, are more skilled at name-dropping or sounding scary than at actually knowing something telling. Not that Simpson and Fritsch themselves are unskilled raconteurs: Simpson especially is extremely good at sounding like he knows more than he does; it's a technique for pulling more information out of who he is talking to, and, I would guess, winning over potential clients."

Is Trump ever right about media bias?

Some left-leaning journalists reflexively rebut the notion that Trump might be occasionally right in wondering whether kinky Democratic-side acts get less play than those on his side. For example, check out this Washington Post story from late last week, which indicated that attorney Marc Elias, general counsel for the Clinton campaign, was right there with John Podesta, former Clinton campaign manager, at a closed-door session with Senate Intelligence Committee staffers when Podesta said he had no knowledge of payments to Fusion GPS.

Stop. Consider. Elias had paid for the Fusion-generated Trump dossier as Clinton/Democratic National Committee lawyer. As a Democratic lawyer chum of mine notes, might one not think he was obligated to tell Podesta what the hell he knew? Or possibly withdraw as his counsel because of a conflict? Maybe, just maybe, correct a false suggestion that Podesta & Co. weren't involved with the dossier? Sheesh. Pretty outrageous, even if there were no illegalities in this whole saga.

Defending George H.W. Bush

The great Andrea Mitchell rose to the defense of the former president after he was accusing of groping an actress. Hmmmm. It's not convincing that we defend somebody largely because we like them a lot and they're old and not well. Does the possibility that Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, etc. might have some serious problem excuse their behavior? Stipulate that Bush is a good man, but don't excuse pretty awful behavior.

The state of higher education

The best piece of education journalism of late may be the Chronicle of Higher education's "A Radical College’s Public Meltdown: How a season of racial protests turned Evergreen State College’s self-examination into a national spectacle."

It's quite an amazing tale of self-immolation of a Pacific Northwest college meant to be in an educational vanguard (no grades or majors), eschewing hierarchies and "designed as a new order of college, unshackled from the history that had shaped older state institutions like Washington State University." It embraced a social activism and penchant for protest that ran amok, especially when it decided to tie hires of new faculty to their ability to bridge an "equity gap."

"The quirky college in the woods outside Olympia would become famous for insecurity and chaos, leaving observers to wonder whether the Evergreen State experiment had failed, or succeeded too well for its own good. It started with a canoe … "

A few Bloomberg tidbits worth noting

Well, when I last checked, Jeff Bezos was still secure in his new position as World's Richest Guy/Gal, at $93.8 billion, compared to Bill Gates' piddling $88.7, according to the intentionally Michael Bloomberg-less Bloomberg Billionaires Index

Found deep in a Bloomberg story on airlines …

Is this fact that should miff those who argue that merger can bring greater efficiency: "'The reality is that legacy carriers still have very high costs, and consolidation didn’t really improve the cost structure,' Spirit Airlines Inc. CEO Bob Fornaro told analysts Oct. 26 on a quarterly earnings call. 'It improved the networks, but the costs are going higher.'"

Oriana Fallaci is still making waves

There was no journalist quite like the bomb-throwing Italian whose many famous interviews included ones with Henry KissingerMuammar el-Qaddafi, the Shah of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, Willy Brandt, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, Indira Gandhi and Deng Xiaoping. Kissinger famously confessed that talking to her was the "stupidest mistake" he'd ever made, especially as he expressed the notion of himself as a cowboy on a horse riding all alone into town.

A new authorized biography wasn't treated especially well in a weekend Wall Street Journal review. The New York Times had been much more sympathetic, along the way noting how "Her interviews were guerrilla achievements and global events. She was witty, well-prepared, antagonistic; she got people to say things they ordinarily would not."

The state of legal help for journalists

Whether it's Hulk Hogan's victory over Gawker, the giant ABC News settlement in the "pink slime case" or a variety of complex digital issues, there are many reasons for journalists to need lawyers. Yet, amid industry fragmentation and declining budgets, that sort of help is not as plentiful as in the past. Here's a Poynter look at one group, the Media Law Resource Center, and what it's trying to do.

Thanks to student journalists in Southern Illinois ….

The Daily Egyptian, the paper at Southern Illinois University, reports, "A bowel movement bandit has been prowling the lower level laundry room in Abbott Hall, leaving several residents to find fecal matter on clothes they left in washing machines."

So, editors, next resume you get from SIU, you might want to ask, "Hey, were you involved in that story about … ?"

And the headline of the weekend (Thanks, McSweeney's)


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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