Kelly reprises the 'Hanoi Jane' nickname
Megyn Kelly has vaulted us into a Post-Irony Age. At minimum, she and her employer are offering us a case study in a state of affairs deliberately contrary to our normal expectations.
So Kelly and Jane Fonda have been dueling since September's first week of "Megyn Kelly Today," the morning vehicle for NBC's expensive hire from The Land of Ailes, where she rose to prominence on Fox News Channel's prime time. You know, the world in which all societal problems — crime, hunger, hurricanes, failing public education, Russian uranium deals — lead one to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, elite academic institutions, the "liberal media," some pop singer or Sen. Charles Schumer.
Kelly pissed off Fonda by asking her about her cosmetic surgery. Thrown for a bit of a loop at the time, Fonda subsequently vented on, yes, both an appearance on the real "Today," with Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb and during a weekend interview with Variety at the Sundance Film Festival
"I was stunned. It was so inappropriate. It showed that she’s not that good an interviewer," Fonda, a rather amazing 80, declared at Sundance. "But if she comes around and learns her stuff, sure (she'd appear on the show again)."
So let's get this right:
NBC, whose MSNBC stablemate is the left-wing counterpoint to Donald Trump-loving Fox News, is now happily riding a significant ratings wave with Kelly that includes the former Fox star attacking the former Viet Cong sympathizer. Got it?
For sure, it's a rather complicated affair for Fonda — who has gone from marriages to the late anti-war activist Tom Hayden and foul-mouthed (and visionary) capitalist Ted Turner to, well, Jazzercise and other workouts — to argue too vociferously that it’s inappropriate to ask about her facelifts.
But she did get under Kelly’s skin, facelift or no facelift. On Monday, Kelly ended her show with a monologue attacking "Hanoi Jane" and declaring, "By the way, she still says she’s not proud of America. So the moral indignation is a little much."
As for NBC, kudos to them, even if the link between any of this and the fidelity to "news" that so comprises its self-image is difficult to grasp. The ratings are up! But, again, we are now in a Post-Irony Era as of Kelly's Monday peroration.
Oh, there's this from a just retired longtime broadcast executive, including a long tenure as a major market station general manager. "First, when was the last time Megyn Kelly asked a male actor about his plastic surgery?"
"Second, there are few better things that Jane Fonda could have done to raise Kelly's profile/ratings. Prediction: NBC will rerun the September episode ASAP. There’s no business like show business!"
Which is why I urge all readers to download Fonda and Lily Tomlin on Netflix's wonderful comedy, "Grace and Frankie." It's about two women who decide to be roommates after their spouses (Martin Sheen and an uncharacteristically over-acting Sam Waterston) announce they're gay and shacking up with one another. It's far more creatively stimulating than Jane and Megyn.
An arrest after threats to CNN
There are lots of generally high-minded analyses of fake news, such as the symposium planned for this morning at The Washington Post. It starts at 9:30 here.
But there is the occasional dark side to all this, which goes well beyond nasty tweets. Reports The Post itself:
"On Jan. 9, an operator in Atlanta manning the public contact number for CNN received a phone call. According to a federal arrest affidavit unsealed Monday, the male caller launched into a threat."
“'Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down. F–k you, f–king n—-rs.' The caller then clicked off."
There were other such calls and, according to an arrest affidavit, Brandon Griesemer of Novi, Michigan, “made approximately 22 total calls to CNN” between Jan. 9 and Jan. 10. Four ended in threats.
Perhaps the topic might be broached, at least parenthetically, this morning. It's part of the same angry mess.
Murdoch deal stymied
Says The Wall Street Journal, "British antitrust regulators said Tuesday that 21st Century Fox Inc.’s proposed $16 billion acquisition of the 61% of U.K. pay-TV giant Sky PLC that it doesn’t already own would be against public interest and would give the Murdoch family too much influence in the British media."
The Morning Babel (post-shutdown edition)
"Republicans have to learn how to win," said "Trump & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade this morning, with the show taking a victory lap drenched in faux magnanimity and counseling its ideology heroes to now cut a real immigration deal.
"Morning Joe" co-host Joe Scarborough defended the Democrats for standing up to Trump and guaranteeing CHIP funding for kids. "That's a win for the Democrats if they know how to spin it the right way." But Noah Rothman of conservative Commentary demurred, asserting the former Republican congressman was aping the "governing wing of the Democratic Party's message," while the Republicans are correctly contending that Sen. Charles Schumer & Co. folded.
And, of course, at some point this would be reduced to some list of "winners and losers," which CNN's "New Day" happily accommodated. Its Chris Cillizza claimed winners were Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Democrats running in 2018 and moderates like Sen. Susan Collins. There was then a thankful transition to the latest tidbits involving Stormy Daniels.
Tronc's sex harassment mess touches down in Manhattan
Now if you want to track sex harassment problems afflicting Tronc, formerly Tribune Co., you could either tape the office phone of NPR's David Folkenflik or put a GPS tracking device on Jim Kirk, a reporter-turned editor (and former colleague of mine) who is something of a media version of the Army Corps of Engineers for Tronc.
Kirk, who lives with his family in Chicago, was dispatched to the Los Angeles Times to oversee the newsroom during the delicate transition from Davan Maharaj, a combo publisher-editor (bad idea in the first place) who was canned. That meant subsequently assisting a new editor, who is not winning any popularity contests in the early going, and watching as support for a newsroom union grew.
After good labors, Kirk exited Los Angeles last week to return home to Chicago, only to then learn that Times publisher Ross Levinsohn was outed by Folkenflik for having been hit with sexual harassment allegations elsewhere and settled at least two cases. Levinsohn is now suspended pending an internal investigation. Throw in Friday's word that an NRLB-supervised election resulted in an overwhelmingly pro-union vote and, well, you have management untidiness afflicting an already wobbly management.
But Kirk had by then been dispatched to New York City, where on Thursday he temporarily was entrusted with running the newsroom at the Daily News, the iconic tabloid essentially given to Tronc by longtime owner Mort Zuckerman. He's there until a new editor is hired. But he's now there less than 48 hours before Folkenflik breaks the story of sexual harassment allegations against Rob Moore, the paper's first African-American managing editor.
Buy the guy a drink. As the News itself might put it, Holy S***!
Reacting to Facebook's latest news
From The Washington Post: "The move was one result of a tumultuous 18-month struggle by Facebook to come to grips with its dark side, interviews with 11 current and former executives show. As outsiders criticized the social network’s harmful side effects, such as the spread of disinformation and violent imagery, vigorous internal debates played out over whether to denounce Donald Trump directly, how forthcoming to be about Russian meddling on its platform during the 2016 election, and how to fight the perception that Facebook is politically biased."
From Columbia Journalism Review: "There are good reasons to believe that Facebook’s recent News Feed changes not only won’t fix the problem of 'fake news,' but could actually make it worse instead of better. And that looks to be even more likely after the company announced on Friday that the decision about which news sources to trust would be left up to users to vote on."
From three Indiana University academics in Buzzfeed: "First, our research shows users don’t trust other users. Populism and cynicism about experts may be in vogue, but our research tells us that in the real world, people trust expert ratings of news sources more than they trust ratings from other users. We studied 590 Facebook users in the United States from a wide variety of ages and education levels, and they believed that expert ratings would be more credible than user ratings because experts are more likely to be objective and check the facts."
From CNN (and Rupert Murdoch): "Rupert Murdoch has long expressed frustration with how companies like Facebook and Google use news content. Now the executive chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox is upping the ante, calling on Facebook to pay publishers a carriage fee the way cable companies pay for channels."
And if you are hankering for a debate on whether Facebook's a monopoly — okay, you probably aren't — you'll find it right here in episode one of a fun and sharp podcast, "Capitalisn't," from economists Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago and Kate Waldock of Georgetown University.
Happy holidays, Netflix
As Cheddar reports, "Shares of the video-streaming company soared after hours, taking its market cap past the $100 billion mark for the first time. The jump came after the company said it brought in a hefty 8.33 million subscribers during the holiday quarter, over 2 million more than it forecast back in October."
Bloomberg adds, "Netflix added 24 million customers in 2017, bringing its global total to 117.6 million. For the final three months of the year, the Los Gatos, California-based company crushed Wall Street estimates and suggested it will continue to do so in 2018."
A copy editor's counsel
For $120, Atlantic readers can join "The Masthead" for extra, now including a terrific piece on fact-checking Atlantic stories by senior editor Yvonne Rolzhausen, who's done just that, and ably so, for 30 years there. (I've written for these guys and they're good. Ditto Vanity Fair and a few other magazines.)
One need only be a casual news consumer to discern the ignominious state of copy-editing and fact-checking, even at mainstream publications that claim to take this all seriously. So just consider this one point — one of many — Rolzhausen makes about the normal process at the magazine.
"Plan interviews with the author’s sources. Next, I figure out who to contact and what to ask them. For a primary source, this could mean hours of conversations or pages of emailed questions. For a difficult or sensitive source, I create a script of what I need to find out and confirm, since these conversations are too important to leave anything to chance. Once a source hears the checking questions, and they realize what the author has or hasn’t chosen to include, they often sense the focus of the piece in a way that wasn’t clear in initial interviews. This is one reason why checking is not a job for the faint of heart. The next-to-last thing that a checker wants is to endanger a piece’s prospects for publication — but the last thing a checker wants is to allow publication of a piece that cannot withstand factual scrutiny. So it is utterly imperative to know about any potential issues prior to publication. It’s a controlled explosion, of sorts, when we still have enough time to sort out problems or at least prepare ourselves for the fall-out."
A professor weighs in on 'speculative journalism'
Christy Wampole, an associate professor of French at Princeton, weighs in on a seeming increase in "speculative journalism" for The New York Times online "The Stone," a forum for philosophers and other (hopefully) deep thinkers. In part, Wampole argues:
"The media, which seems to be repenting for having misread or misrepresented polls that showed a sure Hillary Clinton win, now atones by constantly hedging — offering us a tree of all possible outcomes and a range of fairly noncommittal speculations that can be backed away from if their conjectures prove false."
"This leads us to a third possible reason speculative journalism thrives today: its mitigation of risk. What the speculative journalist has in common with the gamblers of Las Vegas and Wall Street is the willingness to take risks, but the stakes in this game are relatively low. When the future materializes, there will certainly be winners and losers. Someone will have gotten it right, and this certainty reassures us somehow. But given the superabundance of speculations clouding the mediascape, will anyone remember or care exactly who got it wrong? Those who were right will trumpet their prophetic insight and ascend as soothsayers; those who were wrong will simply keep quiet. One has little to lose but much to gain from this wager."
A top Hearst executive makes the case for print
Here's a very good Recode interview with Hearst Magazines president David Carey, whose empire includes Cosmopolitan, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, Esquire, Town & Country and, soon, Rodale's publications, including Men's Health and Runner's World. Privately held, Hearst makes the case for not necessarily thinking "digital" first and foremost.
Oh, trivia question: Who's the biggest private employer in New York City? He says it's Hearst.
A new publisher weighs in on almost everything
The New York Times solicited questions for its new publisher, 37-year-old A.G. Sulzberger, got 2,500 of them and now offers some edited responses. It's worth a look and includes thoughts on subscription pricing, Hillary Clinton coverage, national coverage, changes in the editing structure, fake news and, well, just explaining itself.
"In the past, our approach was to let our work speak for itself. Our assumption was that people intuitively understood all the hard work that goes into a New York Times article. But we’ve learned we need to do more to explain how our reporting works. For example, many readers don’t know that a dateline from a foreign city means our reporters are physically in that place, on the ground seeing and hearing firsthand everything they’re reporting. They don’t know that Adam Liptak’s Supreme Court reporting is made stronger by his experience as a lawyer, or that Sheri Fink’s background as a physician informs her investigations into medical misconduct. And they don’t know that for every person we quote in a story, sometimes dozens more have been interviewed."