Who needs Lindsey Graham when you can interview Stormy Daniels?
As moderate U.S. senators sought unsuccessfully Sunday to "race to strike a deal to end government shutdown" (Washington Post), "break shutdown logjam" (Politico) or serve as "shutdown fixers" (Fox), Stormy Daniels provided the only bipartisan, if bare-breasted, satisfaction.
Consider: Whether it was David Broder, Theodore White, Dan Rather, Sam Donaldson, Jim Acosta, Major Garrett, Maureen Dowd, Ron Fournier or Savannah Guthrie, how many reporters who've covered a presidency have been assigned to a South Carolina strip club?
Well, that was the deal Saturday night in Greenville where members of the national media descended on the Trophy Club ("Making America Horny Again" is the slogan outside) to see two shows starring Daniels, the most famous porn star to have allegedly had relations with a president.
Given how the latest's faux government crisis wasn't resolved — perhaps the Senate should beckon Tom Brady to assist in miraculously skirting ignominy — the weekend's primary Trump-related highlight involved the porn star to whom Trump reportedly paid $130,000 to stay mum on their relationship.
"'I’m trying to think of what I can say,' said the woman of the hour, sighing and shuddering simultaneously, as if to convey she’s been through an ordeal. She was in between performances, signing autographs and taking topless photos with oglers in a corner of the smoky club."
That was from the dispatch of Dan Zak of The Washington Post. He had rather more pleasurable duty than colleagues back at the office who hung on every utterance of charismatic (not) Sen. Mitch McConnell and wallflower (not) Sen. Chuck Schumer. And then there were normal Americans, probably far more, concerned with Vikings, Eagles, Jaguars and, yes, the Patriots and Brady, the Dorian Gray of pro football.
Zak's due diligence of necessity included a "60 Minutes"-like (not quite) interrogation of Jay Levy, the club's owner. “I’m an old grandfather, and I seized an opportunity. I’m a liberal. I’m a big-time liberal. … I’m not here for the scandal. I’m here to make money off the biggest name in adult entertainment this week."
But wait, here's the money quote procured by both Zak and The New York Times' Matt Flegenheimer (apologies for other able to extract the same soaring bon mots):
"'We’re Cheers with tits,' said Levy, smoking a filtered Camel in his office earlier Saturday as the Greenville Women’s March finished downtown."
Having once traveled around South Carolina with its very own Sen. Lindsey Graham, I can assure that a masterful retail politician could surely have offered insights about Levy and his universe. But Graham was presumably preoccupied with the shutdown — and his golf partner, Trump, now badmouthing him over immigration. So knock on wood for the Charleston City Paper.
In a very consumer-oriented setup to Daniels' late Saturday-early Sunday appearances, it offer a primer from Greenville native Vincent Harris. His advice on where to stop while in town included, "CresCom Bank main branch, 1111 W. Poinsett St., Greer. They're open from 9 a.m.-noon on Saturdays, and you'll need to stop by and get some $2 bills. It's kind of a strip-club tipping etiquette thing."
Thanks, Vincent. Find the journalism school that will teach you that!
Upending the Facebook-Google online advertising 'duopoly'
TechCrunch explains why Martin Sorrell, boss of the largest advertising company, thinks that 2018 is the year that Amazon sharply raises its game and evolves into an ad and search company (presumably further leaving traditional media in the dust of declining ad revenues).
Meanwhile, as Recode details, "Amazon Go, a high-tech version of a 7-Eleven, will finally open on Monday — with no checkout lines and no cashiers. The first one, laid out in part like a Pret a Manger sandwich shop," is on the ground floor of Amazon's new headquarters in Seattle. And, on more fundamental strategic matters, check out Business Insider's speculation that Amazon will make some giant, surprise acquisition.
Don't bet against them, though
Analyzing the Patriots' come-from-behind win against the Jaguars, Bleacher report contends, "But the Pats emerged from their 24-20 AFC championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars as a team that might be running low on four-leaf clovers, rabbit feet and whatever else has allowed them to remain dominant during an era in which nobody is supposed to continually succeed. "
Headline of the day (via Bloomberg)
"A Year Ago, Davos Thought Trump Would Be a Normal President"
Social media's impact on your mental health
The BBC has a month-long series dissecting social media and well being. One British researcher, said to have dissected the topic "for decades," concludes, "that a technological compulsion like ‘social media addiction’ comes with all the behavioural signals that we might usually associate with chemical addictions, such as smoking or alcoholism. These include mood changes, social withdrawal, conflict and relapse."
"The most important factor is whether a person can differentiate between healthy use and a relationship with social media sites that is negatively affecting their life."
Zuckerberg's decision on rating news sites
As The Wall Street Journal put it, "Facebook Inc. plans to start ranking news sources in its feed based on user evaluations of credibility, a major step in its effort to fight false and sensationalist information that will also push the company further into a role it has long sought to avoid — content referee. The social media giant will begin testing the effort next week by prioritizing news reports in its news feed from publications that users have rated in Facebook surveys as trustworthy, executives said Friday."
How important is this? After all, as The Wall Street notes (citing Pew Research), 45 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook.
"It’s something," says Peter Kafka, an ace tech reporter with Recode. "There are obvious question marks, and like any implementation on a giant tech platform, there will be flaws, glitches, and unintended consequences. But! This seems like a not-terrible idea, particularly given the constraints imposed by Facebook’s core ideology — that while it sets up all kinds of guard rails, rules and restrictions about what people do on its platform, it will still leave it up to users to create the stuff that populates the platform."
"Certainly (it) seems like it will favor better-known publications that are viewed as non-ideological, but FB says they are trying to account for that. Seems like what they are really trying to exclude, without saying so, are the fringiest sites, and bogus ones like the Denver Guardian. Obviously this will engender a whole new round of complaints from publications who claim they are unfairly targeted, and FB will spend time responding to them, etc."
As for the the impact on former TV reporter-host Campbell Brown, who's served as Facebook's de facto conduit to a Facebook-suspicious media in hashing out this and other issues, it's not clear if this underscores a diminished role and sway. "We will ask her about it onstage next month at our conference."
Meanwhile, the whole notion of how the nation deals with truth inspired a Jessica Chastain-led "Saturday Night Live" skit in which she played the increasingly distraught host of a game show called "What Even Matters Anymore." She asked contestants what Trump outrages would have impact, they'd answer (his punching the Pope and having relations with Don Jr. were among the responses) and she'd then say no, it wouldn't matter, before ultimately breaking down.
The Morning Babel
"Where has the president been all weekend?" was a mantra on CNN's "New Day," while Fox News blamed Democrats for trying to make him look bad and being beholden to their left wing. MSNBC's "Morning Joe's" Mika Brzezinski said "our standing around the world is slipping; the concept that we actually have a leader that has all his marbles is completely gone."
Somehow it seemed fitting that one of the first ads CNN cut to amid its coverage of Senate wrangling this morning was one for Camp Bow Wow ("premiere doggy day care & boarding"). Maybe citizens could parachute them into the Capitol and cross our fingers.
Reporters' takes on Hollywood's version of Tonya vs. Nancy
The Tonya Harding–Nancy Kerrigan movie with Margot Robbie getting critical accolades is reviewed by tons of serious movie critics. There's no shortage of revisionism under way, typified by Golden Globe Awards comments by actress Allison Janney (she plays Harding's mom in "I, Tonya"), where she said, "She wasn’t embraced for her individuality enough. I don’t think the figure skating world embraced her or wanted her to succeed because they didn’t think she represented the kind of woman they wanted to represent the figure skating community, that they wanted to represent America.”
That's mostly baloney, and Janney, as sportswriter Christine Brennan notes, would have been served by looking at the historical record. Some great sports reporters who have covered the skating world for decades have weighed in, so for the straight scoop, do read both Brennan here and Phil Hersh here.
It's why I also followed up over the weekend with The New York Times' Jere Longman who, like Brennan and Hersh, does puncture some of the new myth-making of Harding as victim. "Personally," he says, "I liked Tonya and her defiance of stereotypes about skating. And I liked how the movie portrayed her as something more than a one-dimensional character, even if it was a mockumentary."
"I grew up in Louisiana and have a high tolerance for characters. The more outrageous, the better. But you just can't go around having your associates knee-whack your chief rival. I never expect Hollywood to strictly adhere to the facts. I was just trying to point out that Tonya mostly got in her own way, not skating officials."
Oh, by the way, he nominates his home state for the greatest political quote in history. No, it's not the well-known one from former Gov. Edwin Edwards about being vulnerable to defeat only if he were found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. "My favorite is another quote by Edwards, made about David Duke, when they faced off for governor: 'The only thing we have in common is that we're wizards beneath the sheets.' "
An untidy present, a challenging future for Tronc
More telling than the suspension of its flagship Los Angeles Times' publisher after an NPR story on sex harassment allegations and legal settlement is a presentation to investors by the company that includes the Chicago Tribune and New York Daily News. It's now called Tronc.
It might not be inspiring to rank-and-file journalists wondering about just what exactly is the strategy for the company, at least one that goes beyond an inordinate amount of jargon. Some of the more curious declarations are found on page 11 of the presentation and could easily be interpreted as a flight from any truly serious emphasis on original content.
"Over time, emphasis shifts to more audience-targeted, self-distributed and cost-effective models. … All content fed back into TCA and to other T10 (its newspapers) properties for further distribution and monetization."
TCA is Tribune Content Agency, the company's vehicle to syndicate content and to now create so-called content "verticals," which theoretically includes (unmentioned in the presentation) grandiose and fanciful Tronc plans for foreign bureaus to generate entertainment stories, including in Lagos, Moscow and Seoul (after the announcement in 2016, mum's been the word since). Such verticals are a retro concept and ad agencies now tend to buy high-end ones via the likes of those in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washignton Post and Financial Times, as underscored Sunday by media analyst Ken Doctor (and previously by ad executives).
Ad there's this note at the bottom of the same slide. "The approach allows us to be less dependent on the newsroom transformation as we pursue other growth opportunities; the goal is to integrate all efforts over time." Translation: Don't worry, editors, we can rely on commoditized content from elsewhere.
A tidy summation of the shutdown's politics
From The Washington Post's estimable Dan Balz, all you need to know in a tidy paragraph:
"The elements that produced this weekend’s government shutdown sum up the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency: a dealmaking chief executive who can’t make a deal; a divided Republican Party struggling to govern and in an uneasy relationship with the president; and a Democratic Party tethered to its anti-Trump progressive base in the face of political risk."
The deadline is Monday for entries for STAT Madness, its yearly contest that allows universities and research institution to boast of their latest life science discoveries and work. There are two categories:
"The Fan Favorite:" This is a contest among research findings. "Like sports brackets, we go round by round to a championship matchup. Last year, after 50,000 votes and an energetic interactive campaign on social media, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's prosthetics research was crowned the fan favorite."
"The Editors' Pick:" This is the selection of best breakthrough by STAT's reporters and editors. "Last year, we picked Tufts University's silk matrix for blood preservation as our winner, and the researchers talked about their work at HUBWeek, Boston's festival of the future."
Amid media sex harassment scandals, a legendary novelist opines
In Sunday's New York Times Book Review, Charles McGrath interviewed Philip Roth, 84, about what he makes of this moment with so many very high-profile men accused of harassment and abuse.
"I am, as you indicate, no stranger as a novelist to the erotic furies. Men enveloped by sexual temptation is one of the aspects of men’s lives that I’ve written about in some of my books. Men responsive to the insistent call of sexual pleasure, beset by shameful desires and the undauntedness of obsessive lusts, beguiled even by the lure of the taboo — over the decades,"
"I have imagined a small coterie of unsettled men possessed by just such inflammatory forces they must negotiate and contend with. I’ve tried to be uncompromising in depicting these men each as he is, each as he behaves, aroused, stimulated, hungry in the grip of carnal fervor and facing the array of psychological and ethical quandaries the exigencies of desire present. "
"I haven’t shunned the hard facts in these fictions of why and how and when tumescent men do what they do, even when these have not been in harmony with the portrayal that a masculine public-relations campaign — if there were such a thing — might prefer. I’ve stepped not just inside the male head but into the reality of those urges whose obstinate pressure by its persistence can menace one’s rationality, urges sometimes so intense they may even be experienced as a form of lunacy. Consequently, none of the more extreme conduct I have been reading about in the newspapers lately has astonished me."
The Education Writers Association has a Jan. 30 webinar to help journalists speed up stalled Freedom of Information Act requests, while The Washington Post has a morning-long “Americans and the Media: Sorting Fact from Fake News” gathering Tuesday that will feature many of its best folks (and others). Here's the agenda for an event that will be streamed here at 9:30 a.m.
The new season of Netflix's wonderful comedy, "Frankie and Grace," includes septuagenarian lovers Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston having breakfast and Robert (Sheen) actually reading The Wall Street Journal. I caught the episode last night and found it heartening, even if a reminder of the declining geriatric demographic doing the same each morning across the land.