More quantity, less understanding?
Lawrence O'Donnell, a star host on a cable news "place for politics," says there's no doubt: Political reporting was better in 1968.
It might seem counterintuitive but that was the contention Wednesday evening of the host of MSNBC's "The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell" as we chatted before a large crowd at the University of Chicago. It was part of its Institute of Politics, which is run by former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod, and tied to O'Donnell's new book, "Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics."
Yes, a campaign that starred eventual winner Richard Nixon, Sen. Robert Kennedy (until his assassination), Sen. Eugene McCarthy, Gov. George Wallace and Vice President Hubert Humphrey (not to forget President Lyndon Johnson, who stunned all by not running again due to the Vietnam War) unfolded in a world without computers, cell phones or cable news networks.
There were no "embeds" tweeting (often redundantly) each candidate's every remark, at times straining to underscore conflict and offer the aura of something new. But there was time to actually think, develop sources and not be contacted every five minutes by an editor wondering if you could match some rival's sexy-sounding tweet.
There were not the incessant "Breaking News" banners across a TV screen or (the often successful) rhetorical hyperbole of anchors straining every incremental change in language or tactics as significant.
But O'Donnell clearly buys into a view — sure to be seen as retro by a younger generation — that was put to me by Jon Margolis, a retired great political writer for the Chicago Tribune: "What I think may suffer in the current world is thoughtfulness. When you’re writing one piece a day, you can think, filter your thoughts by doing some reporting (that part is made easier with cell phones). If you have to keep updating, changing, reacting to what the competition has not once or twice a day but constantly throughout the day, being thoughtful gets harder."
Said O'Donnell after researching his book and, especially, reading tons of newspaper accounts: "With a fraction of the resources," reporting offered "a much more accurate picture of what was happening in that campaign," compared to the 2016 counterpart. Now there's far more quantity, but less understanding.
And even conservative papers, he says, didn't tend to let ideology shape actual news coverage. TV stalwarts like "Meet the Press," he said, were a long-form forum for reporters to question candidates without the same theatrical flourishes that can mark on-camera interrogations. Yes, one candidate on for a full-hour.
And there wasn't the immersion, as one finds now at Fox News, of unsupported conspiracy theories about a wayward FBI or the opinionated but ultimately inconsequential texts between an agent and his senior FBI lawyer-girlfriend.
During the 45-minute trek to get to the gathering, I turned on the car radio and listened to CNN, Fox and MSNBC. Whether the host was Wolf Blitzer, Chuck Todd or Fox's "The Five," there was not a single topic discussed that didn't involve Donald Trump when I turned the dial their way. Two hours later, driving home, it was the same with Anderson Cooper, Chris Hayes and Tucker Carlson.
Everywhere, at every moment, it offered a case study in how Trump sucks up virtually all the cable news oxygen. And, for sure, it's all to the ratings gain of the networks.
So, consumed by information everywhere, with greater access to mountains of great content, are we now better informed on our politics than back in 1968? O'Donnell, for one, says no.
Facebook's new Vienna problem
"A big blow for Facebook today after Europe’s top court delivered a verdict in a long-running legal challenge that opens the door for plaintiff and privacy campaigner Max Schrems to sue Facebook in his home city of Vienna," writes TechCrunch.
"The company had sought to argue that Schrems does not have consumer rights on account of his privacy campaigning activities. But in its judgment today the CJEU rejects that argument, saying Schrems’ campaigning activities do not cancel out his status as a consumer with a private Facebook account."
Schrems said in a statement, “After throwing dirt at me for three years and circulating that I would try to make a profit from my political activities, it’s maybe the time now for Facebook to apologize." Facebook contended that Austrian courts didn't have international jurisdiction over it. (It's European operation is based in Ireland.)
The Morning Babel (Davos Edition)
CNN's "New Day" portrayed the elite gathering in Davos, where Trump arrived Thursday, as largely consumed by what's happening in Robert Mueller's probe, while "Fox & Friends" portrayed the gathering as his opportunity to cut business deals to benefit folks back home. It also heralded its own poll results showing that 40 percent believe he's made the economy better. Looking at the glass half-filled, it didn't lump those who think it's worse (22) or the same (34) and wonder why so many don't buy his claims.
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" in part scoffed at the latest right-wing conspiracy notion of a "secret society" at the FBI plotting against Trump and a spitball fight over a House Intelligence Committee memo assembled by Republicans that they refuse to even show the Justice Department. Co-host Joe Scarborough blamed House Speaker Paul Ryan more than the Republican chief of the committee for the flap over a classified memo that apparently derides the FBI for its investigation into the 2106 campaign.
Over at CNN co-host Chris Cuomo interpreted Trump's remarks on the kerfuffle — in particular saying he wasn't sure whether to trust the FBI ("I don't know") —as de facto unpatriotic. "Remember that, no matter what clean-up they do … He impugned the reputation of a key part of our democracy."
Yet, don't doubt that the White House notion of Trump being a victim of wayward law enforcement is an easy sell to the Fox audience and Trump's base.
Media bashers, take note
Send Donald Trump and the huge numbers of Republicans with scant respect for the press the court transcript. Who would have figured that a most stirring defense of journalism would come from a Michigan prosecutor in the case of a sexual predator?
But that was the deal in Lansing, Michigan, when Angela Povilaitis, the prosecutor in the Larry Nassar USA Gymnastics debacle, said, "We, as a society, need investigative journalists more than ever," as she heralded the Indianapolis Star's work in revealing how the doctor is a sicko.
Alvie Lindsay, the paper's news and investigations director, says those comments were appreciated, but the most humbling words are those of the women who had the courage to come forward and trusted the paper with its stories. In the process, they confronted not just Nassar but USA Gymnastics, "which over the course of our investigation often seemed more interested in protecting its brand than its gymnasts."
“The timing of this outpouring of acknowledgement and congratulations is certainly not lost on us. Journalism has been under siege in a way that I can’t recall in my lifetime. And yet I feel what we do now is perhaps more important than ever. Is journalism an imperfect profession? Absolutely. But it also is — and hopefully always will be — a noble endeavor. We have the power to expose wrongdoing, bring forth positive change and hold accountable those who don’t act in the public’s best interest. So, of course, it’s gratifying and, again, humbling, when the public believes you have done just that."
“We could not be more proud of the work by our investigative reporters, Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia and Tim Evans and their editor, Steve Berta. Their work has been truly amazing and inspiring — and a powerful reminder of why journalism matters.”
Poynter's Kelly McBride caught up with Kwiatkowski for a short video interview. You can watch it here.
The student-run State News at Michigan State University was ahead of the pack in calling for the resignation of President Lou Anna K. Simon. Now she's gone and it's unceasing in calling out the administration, as well as several prominent athletic coaches, for proving to be spineless in the face of the damning evidence against former MSU doctor Larry Nassar. It names names of campus big-shots who were moral Jello-O.
"At this point, MSU, you have a decision to make: Will you own up to mistakes and try to rebuild with the rest of the community, or will you become nothing more than 'Michigan State University, Home of the Larry Nassar Scandal' "?
"Better hurry up and make the right decision, MSU. You don’t want to be forever damned in the fiery inferno."
"The world is watching, MSU. What are you going to do?"
It's always struck some observers of Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz that his evolution into an at times media-bashing Trump sympathizer at Fox is not coincidental with his exits from CNN and The Washington Post after many years. Smart and very hard-working, with a craving to be seen as a serious political commentator (that didn't work at CNN), there's a chameleon-like adaption to his surroundings that's at the core of a harsh Esquire review of his new book, which his right-wing publisher calls "a stunning expose" about the press trying to delegitimize Trump.
Writing in Esquire, Charles Pierce says, "In his long and spotty career as a media critic, Howie Kurtz has been a monument to upward mobility, much like nausea is." Not a bad line, whether apt or not. And, then, "If I want to study a tool, I’ll go to trade school."
The media and the gymnastics scandal
Writing in The Atlantic, Alex Putterman notes the dramatic testimony of Olympics star Aly Raisman but also how, "Until that point, the case had gotten relatively little national attention. After 16 months of near-silence from national news outlets, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News had devoted fewer than 20 minutes total to the story in the four days prior to Raisman’s statement, according to the watchdog organization Media Matters."
"Meanwhile, USA Gymnastics — the sport’s governing body — had largely evaded consequences for its failure to respond quickly and appropriately to Nassar’s abuse. Steve Penny, its former president, had resigned last March (and according to The Wall Street Journal walked away with $1 million in severance), but the rest of the organization essentially remained intact."
"Then, on Monday, as more of Nassar’s victims joined the dozens who had already testified at his sentencing hearing, USA Gymnastics (USAG) announced that three board members, including its chairman, had 'tendered their resignations,' effective immediately. That a reckoning arrived as soon as the story reached the mainstream consciousness did not seem like a coincidence."
What's the deal with Ben Shapiro?
In Slate, Seth Stevenson dissects the curious case of conservative firebrand Ben Shapiro, who's been both deriding liberals and pushing back on Trump. It leaves him "with an ancient dilemma: Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?" Is he a conservative liberals can trust (as so many trust David Brooks)?
"Shapiro is among a dwindling cadre of Trump-averse conservatives at a time when the mainstream GOP and its media apparatus are following (and sometimes leading) our cretinous president straight into the muck. Shapiro is ascendant, with a growing media empire and a large audience who adores him. Should there arise a constitutional crisis in which this president attempts to roll his tanks (metaphorical or otherwise) over the ramparts of American democracy, I will be relying on influential right-wing figures like Ben Shapiro to help America hold the line. The question I keep asking myself is: Will he?"
Meanwhile, Shapiro spoke Wednesday night at the University of Connecticut, prompting Fox News (nobody else) to decry some restrictions made on getting into the event. As the Hartford Courant reports, " 'Everyone’s alive, no one’s been killed, it’s a good event — great!' Shapiro said at one point, while hammering home his views that abortion is evil, that transgender people have a mental disorder, that the fears about an epidemic of rape on college campuses are exaggerated, and on race and crime."
A true reinvention
Outside Magazine, a great publication, began its life in a cruddy building on a dingy block on Chicago's North Side before long ago moving to Santa Fe. Now it's heralded in NiemanLab for a very connected effort to diversify its audience, as partly evidenced by surveying readers last year on sexual harassment.
"That means weekly meetings to ensure that editors of each vertical on the website are running an equal number of stories written by men and by women," writes NiemanLab. "It means women and different body types featured in photography and art. It means a Facebook group dedicated to the preservation of public lands, as well as thorough coverage of other political issues relating to the outdoors. And it means a profile and a tweet that made U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke very mad."
It included a picture of him with fishing rod and said, "Zinke had already rigged his fishing rod when our writer showed up to interview him at the edge of a lake in Glacier National Park. He'd rigged it backwards."
And if you ever doubted the link between aggressively recruiting a diverse workforce and revitalizing editorial content, this is a case study.
"The push toward diversification is strikingly apparent throughout Outside’s site. Women aren’t banished to their own vertical; they’re just everywhere, in a way that drives home how unusual it is to see actual gender equity in a publication. Click to the Gear vertical and the first article you see is 'Duer Makes the Best Women’s Skinny Jeans.' Fitness: '4 Laws of Muscle' is illustrated with a photograph of a woman, even though the article isn’t specifically about women. Head over to the Culture vertical and you see an original illustration of female authors who write about the wilderness. And in Adventure, in a collage to illustrate a story called 'Eight Adventurers Who Changed Our World,' two of the photographs are of men, and two are of women."
It's not unusual to call a newspaper, announce you're canceling and then have the call center person (in El Salvador or India maybe) offer you a way cheaper deal to stick around.
Thus, Poynter notes, "The Los Angeles Times (and Tronc's nine other papers) are offering some digital subscriptions for the super-bargain rate of two cents a week, or $1.04 a year." All you have to be is an existing digital subscriber who phones or emails to cancel.
The marketing gambit is both a good deal and pathetic.
Fire in Los Angeles
The worst wildfire in California history started Dec. 4 and lasted 40 days. Here's a terrific, graphics driven chronicle by the Los Angeles Times of how it actually happened, including effective, enhanced satellite images.
The first televised presidential press conference
Historian Michael Beschloss notes that it was on this day in 1961 that John F. Kennedy held the first televised press conference, five days after his inauguration. Check out photos and it was a sea of white males everywhere.
CORRECTION: Mea culpa. In first version of the newsletter, I wrote Steve Hayes, not Chris Hayes. I had the Weekly Standard editor (about whom I'd written twice in recent days) on my mind, as opposed to Chris, the host of the MNSBC show to which I was listening.