After ending the previous week convulsed by one S-word, the media seamlessly segues to another. No, not Stormy, but shutdown.
"House approves bill to keep government open as Senate Democrats take heat for threatening to block it" is how The Washington Post sets the table today, with the press, if not their readers and viewers, consumed by countdown clocks and whatever calculus they might use to assess potential ramifications.
It was rarely mentioned during any of the morning shows, but we're talking about a partial shutdown. The air traffic controllers will be on duty, as will the military. The Social Security checks will go out, your mail will come and, heaven forbid, the same politicians who might trigger a shutdown will still get their paychecks (they long ago made sure of that).
But, "The blame game is in full swing," the CNN reporter said early Friday as the network's "Shutdown Countdown" clock headed under the 18-hour mark. "U.S. Government Hours Away From Shutdown," heralded the chyron in case you couldn't read the clock.
"Government Shutdown Showdown" was the banner on "Trump & Friends," the president's primary vehicle to the outside world in the early dawn. They said that DACA is the Democrats' "Alamo" and that "the Democrats want to shut down the government." MSNBC had its clock, going with "Shutdown Deadline" as its moniker. It's chyron: "Shutdown Looms as Senate Weighs Action."
So Fox said the Democrats own this mess, while CNN and MSNBC tended to say the opposite. History does suggests that the Republicans — in charge of the White House and Congress — would take the rap, even as a CNN pundit demurred, saying that maybe, just maybe this might not be the right hill for the Democrats to wage this fight.
And then he underscored something both so very obvious and not mentioned enough by the media, about how most Republicans and Democrats represent very different Americas. Few Republicans have not just few DACA recipients as constituents but few immigrants in general. There's this: Trump lost 16 of 20 states with the highest percentage of immigrants, while he won 26 of 30 with the lowest. The same is true in the Senate, even more so in the House, i.e. the Republicans simply don't feel the same pressure as Democrats on the central immigration issue.
You can also note the disjoint between the press and the rest of America, especially during campaign years when far too many cover candidates, far too few cover the country. It's a disassociation to keep in mind while watching even smart people, cloistered in Washington and Manhattan studios, trying to figure what might happen out there if those clocks actually run down with no deal.
Stormy Daniels recedes into the media haze
So, the editor of the conservative political-cultural magazine Commentary tweets: "Trump pays off a porn star and it isn't even the fourth biggest story of the day."
Yes, John Podhoretz's lament is accurate in an age when, as Nick Gillespie of libertarian Reason put it Thursday, "God, was it just a week ago, we were all talking about "shithole"? The news never really stops, does it?"
But Podhoretz and colleagues forged on and do very much address Trump and Stormy Daniels in this hour-long magazine podcast.
It's a topic that they never thought the nation need address, even though there have been hooker scandals elsewhere (England was big on theirs in the 1960s).
"Our own Silvio Berlusconi cum John F. Kennedy," says Podhoretz, pays off Stormy Daniels to shut up about their liaison, it's in and out of the news. Now on to a possible government shutdown. Or something else.
It is remarkable and says something about modern media and a sui generis politician whose career is improbably not in limbo due to that revelation. There are some conservatives, as this podcast make clear, who do scratch their heads, rather than rationalize, as is apparently the case with many of Trump's evangelical supporters.
Remember the press announcing Trump's political obituary after "The Access Hollywood" tape? As a mildly dumb-founded Podhoretz concedes, "If you can live through that, you can live through a porn star."
Colbert on Stormy
Just as you thought the Trump-porn star story had inexplicably run its course, there was Stephen Colbert last night, initially making fun of Trump saying that NAFTA, the big trade deal, is a bad joke. And then, before I conked out, he responded that no, Mr. President, here's a bad joke:
"How many Donald Trumps does it take to screw in a light bulb? We’ll never know since after he screws something he gives it $130,000 not to tell anyone."
Newsweek reports on cop raid at, yes, Newsweek
"Investigators for the Manhattan District Attorney raided Newsweek’s offices on Thursday, removing 18 computer servers as part of a long-running probe into the company’s finances, according to witnesses."
"The investigators, armed with a search warrant, took photographs and gathered information about the servers and their capacity, according to sources close to the matter, and throughout the day investigators were seen closely examining the equipment inside the server room," according to Newsweek.
Groveling for Amazon
Amazon announced 20 finalists for its second headquarters. The groveling will now accelerate, which is why you've got to check out a drolly dark video from Reason TV portraying mayors of fictional towns competing with one another for Amazon's blessing.
There are the mayors of Brogdan, Pennsylvania, and Anderson, Virginia, dueling and offering $15 billion in refundable tax credits, then $20 billion in direct kickbacks, cocaine flown in from Colombia, then $30 billion in unmarked and non-sequential bills ("no questions asked").
"We've got the land, the people, the desire. The only things we don't have is respect for taxpayers or a basic understanding of economics," said Anderson's mayor. He'll also happily change the town's name to, what else, Amazon, Virginia.
Watch it, then read The Atlantic's less theatrical, more empirical take on the downside of such groveling.
Business headline of the day
From edgy Dealbreaker: "Allow Carl Icahn To Concur With Some Other Guy Who Thinks Xerox Sucks"
The FBI's Roger Ailes files
Gizmodo and the nonprofit Property of the People obtained 113 pages of Roger Ailes-related FBI documents in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act tussle. They most involve background checks linked to his media consulting for the Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan administrations. There's nothing later than 1990. "Due to the questionable absence of any files from the past nearly three decades, Gizmodo will appear in court on Friday to argue that the Bureau’s production is almost certainly incomplete and likely the result of an inadequate search of its voluminous files."
As far as what the FBI did fork over, they include "notes about his personal life, schooling, and agent interviews with his past business associates, colleagues, and neighbors, none of whom appear to have said anything negative about Ailes. He’s described in glowing terms — as a 'well behaved' and 'honest' person 'of good character.' The nearly 50-year-old descriptions stand in stark contrast to the monster he’s believed to have become."
Russia and Trump
From Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy comes this intriguing tale: "The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy."
"FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said."
Calling for the president's resignation
No, not Trump, but Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon. And the calling is being done by the student newspaper, the State News, in a front-page editorial.
"Survivors of ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse cannot move on without change. You 'apologized' to them, you have thrown money at them, but about the only thing you haven’t done is listen."
"Simon, if you’re the Spartan you claim to be, you will step down and bow out gracefully. We hope you make the right choice, because time’s up."
A must-read for baseball fans
If you're a baseball fan, read Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan finely reported piece on dramatic changes in the essence of how Major League Baseball operates. It might prove a smidgen apocalyptic but it's filled with great insights about an important industry, with the explicit suggestion that some of those covering it are missing some forests for the trees. In part it turns on lots of ongoing discussion about why so few free agents are being signed this winter, prompting what may be a too facile media notion of cut-and-dried collusion.
But, "What’s clear is the free-agent impasse represents a reckoning long in the making – one that marries shifting power in labor relations, the emergence of analytics and cookie-cutter front offices, and the willingness of teams to treat competitiveness as an option, not a priority. Combined, they pose the greatest threat to a quarter century of labor peace and have people at the highest level of the sport asking whether a game-changing overhaul in how baseball operates isn’t just necessary but inevitable."
As for his colleagues in the press, Passan underscores and shows why "The media’s willingness to take at face value clubs’ rationalizations only has bolstered the canards." Among the realities missed is how the value of teams is rising dramatically even as owners are curbing their spending for many reasons. And you might have to be an idiot to lose money in an industry where, for example, every team is about to get a "$50 million payment from the sale of MLB Advanced Media’s streaming arm, BAM Tech, to Disney."
In charge at the Daily News
Jim Kirk, a fine Chicago-based reporter-editor now with the Tronc organization, was dispatched for several months to Los Angeles to oversee a newsroom in transition. Now he'll do the same at the grandest of tabloids, the New York Daily News, until Tronc, which is surely preoccupied by a sudden untidiness in L.A. (read on), finds a full-time editor. He'll be in charge until a successor to Arthur Browne is found. Here's more.
A good entertainment yarn
Ellen Pompeo had an up and down childhood in a working-class Boston 'burb and hoped to be a great screen actress. Then came a script for "Grey's Anatomy," which she didn't think was a gateway to satisfaction when it premiered on ABC in 2005.
Flash forward, as the Hollywood Reporter details: "Pompeo's new pact will have her earning more than $20 million a year — $575,000 per episode, along with a seven-figure signing bonus and two full backend equity points on the series, estimated to bring in another $6 million to $7 million. She also will get a producing fee plus backend on this spring's Grey's spinoff as well as put pilot commitments and office space for her Calamity Jane production company on Disney's Burbank lot. Already, she has a legal drama in contention at ABC, and she recently sold an anthology drama to Amazon, which will focus each season on a different American fashion designer's rise to prominence."
A mess at the Los Angeles Times
So NPR, which has had its own sex harassment travail, vigilantly reports on the topic and may have upended the rather brief tenure as Los Angeles Times publisher Ross Levinsohn. Reporter David Folkenflik reveals an untidy past, several lawsuits and settlements. The timing is richly perfect as the results of a unionization vote in the newsroom come today.
Folkenflik concedes it took a fair bit to piece together the legal documents in the case. But the mix of those and 26 interviews with current and former associates "suggest a pattern of questionable behavior and questionable decisions on the job. The portrait that repeatedly emerges is one of a frat-boy executive, catapulting ever higher, even as he creates corporate climates that alienated some of the people who worked for and with him."
The paper is "investigating" the matter and rather conspicuously hasn't suspended him, raising very early questions about the inclination to possibly dismiss Levinsohn of Michael Ferro, the Chicago tech entrepreneur who evolved into the improbable boss of Tronc, formerly Tribune Co., which is the corporate parent.
For sure, Levinsohn thinks he should stay. Then, again, as a $300,000-a-year consultant to Ferro, he did suggest himself for the publisher job in the first place. He's been there only since August.
And, of course, there's the possibility that there's more out there on the onetime News Corp. and Yahoo executive who cut a deal that includes a $1 million a year salary, a potential $1 million bonus, stock worth $7 million and, get this, a tidy 10 percent of the gross revenue Tronc procures from licensing Times content for syndication worldwide.
Milt Rosenberg, RIP
As academic and social critic Joseph Epstein correctly puts it in The Weekly Standard, "Five nights a week, Sunday through Thursday, from 1973 to 2012, Milton Rosenberg elevated AM radio and the cultural tone generally in Chicago. Milt Rosenberg died on January 9 at the age of 92. His two-hour talk show was nothing if not anomalous. A University of Chicago professor, his academic specialty was social psychology, though it seems strange to use the word 'specialty' in connection with Milt Rosenberg, who may have been the world’s greatest paid dilettante."
"Dilettante need not be a pejorative word. In its archaic sense, it meant someone with an amateur interest in many things, and amateur, in its root sense, means a lover. Milt Rosenberg qualified on both grounds. As Terence said 'Nothing human is alien to me,' Milt might have said that nothing intellectual was without interest to him. He seemed to know a fair amount about everything. During any given week he might have on his show Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milton Friedman, a film actor, an astrophysicist, and a Chicago machine politician — and he would keep the conversation humming along nicely with all of them."
Yup, if I only had a buck for every appearance of my own during the 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. slot for a show called "Extension 720"! He was an at times cranky anomaly. The New York City native mixed in French aphorisms and alluded to dead German philosophers. It was a show made for FM, or now a podcast, but was a fixture on a powerhouse AM station that for decades was associated with lively morning drive hosts and broadcasts of the Cubs. And you'd shlep downtown for a 9 p.m. radio show because, well, it was Milt. And those listening were a smart and engaged slice of the Heartland.
The programming tides change and he seemed a bit like Mariano Rivera, the great Yankees relief pitcher allowed to still wear No. 42 after baseball had retired Jackie Robinson's number. When his show was gone after a nearly half-century run, a richly idiosyncratic slice of radio vanished. Rest in peace, Milt.
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Okay, that's it for the week. Our clan has a baseball practice, a soccer practice at 8:30 p.m. Friday, soccer and basketball games, etc. Have a good weekend.