Moving past Mueller, plus a juicy anonymous tip and silence from the press secretary

July 25, 2019
Category: Newsletters

Your Thursday news roundup

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July 25, 2019

Good Thursday morning and there’s nowhere else to start today but with the Robert Mueller testimony.

Moving past Mueller

Despite a big day for the media on Wednesday, it doesn’t feel like much has changed.

This is a newsletter about the news and, in particular, the news media. It would seem irresponsible to start today with anything other than the most dominant story of the past 24 hours: the testimony of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Yet it doesn’t feel like anything has truly changed. Most of those on the right see the investigation as a witch hunt that hasn’t proven the president guilty of anything and the country should now move on. Much of the left continues to see Trump as a crook who should not be in office because of this investigation, and, well, a lot of other things.

I’m not sure Mueller’s testimony changed any of that. But if you’re looking for context and coverage, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake, the New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Mark Mazzetti and CNN’s Veronica Rocha, Meg Wagner and Amanda Wills had the best reads. In addition, the staff at Politico had a nice roundup of what surprised them.

The rest, particularly TV, was what you would expect: filling time with hypotheticals and plenty of spin — especially from Fox News, which took a victory lap Wednesday night regardless of Mueller’s testimony that did not exonerate the president. (Look for more spin on Fox News tonight when Trump is expected to give an exclusive interview to his pal, Sean Hannity.)

In the end, the only thing left is whether or not the president will be impeached. That question was asked on the air by ABC News’  George Stephanopoulos: “Was the ball advanced?”

His colleague Terry Moran said, “No. Impeachment’s over.”

Moran added he couldn’t see Speaker Nancy Pelosi bringing forth impeachment hearings that have no chance of actually getting the president out of office. It won’t get past the Senate, Moran said, or the American people. Even Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said before Democrats went down the path of impeachment they would “have to make that case to the American people.”

That doesn’t mean impeachment talk will stop, as you will see when the Democratic presidential hopefuls meet next week in another round of debates.

It was a long day, and Mueller’s testimony was supposed to be the last chapter. But this story will continue to ebb and flow until the 2020 election.

Tweet of the day

CNN’s Brian Stelter, with this insightful tweet on Wednesday:

“Trump with the press corps this afternoon: ‘You’re fake news.’ Pelosi to the press an hour later: ‘I hope you will be messengers of the truth to the public. We think today was really a milestone…'”

One heck of an anonymous tip


Neil Armstrong in 1966 during a suiting up exercise Cape Kennedy, Florida. (AP Photo)

There’s a scene in “The Post” where a reporter is sitting in the newsroom and an unknown woman plops a package on his desk. That package turned out to be a portion of “The Pentagon Papers.”

Imagine having that kind of story dropped on your lap.

A similar scene played out recently at The New York Times. It wasn’t quite the Pentagon Papers, but it was a good story nonetheless. The Times received a package in the mail from an unknown sender that included 93 pages of documents relating to the 2012 death of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the possible malpractice involved and the legal case that followed.

We already knew that the Cincinnati hospital where Armstrong died after heart surgery paid the family $6 million to settle the matter privately. Not much else is known because the settlement prevented anyone from talking. But the documents The Times obtained led to this latest chapter — a terrific story by reporters Scott Shane and Sarah Kliff.

They wrote, “The legal settlement adds a grim footnote to the inspiring story of Mr. Armstrong, who avoided the limelight and never cashed in on his fame. It also illustrates the controversial but common practice of confidential settlements in medical malpractice and other liability cases, which protect reputations but hinder public accountability. And it shows how the extraordinary renown of a figure like Mr. Armstrong can become a powerful hammer in negotiations.”

The other part that I liked about this story is that in the middle of the online version, The Times wisely had a link to how readers could submit a confidential tip. It starts by asking readers, “Do you have the next big story?” Then it warns that no communication is completely secure, but that it has set up a system to protect anonymity.

The sound of silence


White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham (center) listens as President Donald Trump speaks with reporters in July. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

This paragraph in a story by Nancy Cook for Politico perfectly captures new White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham:

“Unlike her predecessors Sean Spicer, Hope Hicks or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Grisham is not on her way to becoming a household name or the subject of a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit. Hicks could barely leave her Washington apartment without being photographed toward the end of her tenure. Most Americans do not know what Grisham’s voice sounds like — a rarity for a White House front man.”

Is it good or bad that we don’t even know what the White House press secretary’s voice sounds like? It’s not a good thing, because it amplifies the fact that she has yet to hold an official White House press briefing since taking over a month ago. She hasn’t even met with reporters in the White House driveway like Sanders used to regularly. The only thing we really know of her is fighting (literally) to make sure the press had access during President Trump’s visit to North Korea last month and one tweet critical of the “mainstream media.”

There are reports that after she gets more comfortable and reorganizes her staff, she will start being more visible, including getting back to some form of press briefings.

Cook wrote that, for now, Grisham wants to “allow Trump to serve as his own best messenger and dictate the strategy while giving reporters as much direct access to him as possible.” What’s more, the president is reportedly happy, so there might not be much reason for her to become more visible.

This Al Franken profile is still buzzing


Former Minnesota Senator Al Franken in 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Jane Mayer’s extensive piece in The New Yorker about Al Franken, the former Minnesota senator who resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, has become quite the buzz in media and political circles. Now Mayer is facing backlash by those who think she was too easy on Franken.

In a story on Jezebel, Esther Wang wrote that Mayer’s story was a “largely, remarkably sympathetic portrait, meant to rehabilitate. Franken, in her (and many others’) reckoning, was the subject of a character assassination. And it’s time, it seems, to fully bring him back to life.”

The headline and subhead on Christina Cauterucci’s story for Slate was: “What Jane Mayer gets wrong about Al Franken: And what she fails to understand about the #MeToo movement.”

After her story was published, Mayer took to Twitter to promote it and tweeted:

“Almost NOTHING His Main Accuser Said checks out: the Case of Al Franken”

When Lawfare executive editor Susan Hennessey tweeted that Mayer’s story felt like re-writing history, Mayer tweeted back: “Sometimes the first draft of history is wrong — especially when no one fact checks it.”

Mayer’s story, which is incredibly rich with straightforward reporting, is well worth your time. Coming to a conclusion about Franken, however, will take much more time.

Now, a (pricey) message from our sponsors


The Democratic presidential candidates on the second night of the primary debate in Miami. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The best show on TV these days might be the Democratic presidential debates. Here’s how you can tell: CNN is asking advertisers to spend at least $300,000 if they want to run ads in the next round of debates, according to an exclusive report by Variety’s Brian Steinberg. A 30-second ad likely will run about $110,000.

Steinberg reported that CNN typically gets anywhere between $7,000 to $12,000 for a primetime 30-second commercial. By comparison, a 30-second spot on the highly-rated NBC drama “This Is Us” costs a little more than $394,000, according to Variety.

The first round of the Democratic debates on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo earlier this month averaged about 15.3 million viewers the first night and 18.1 million the second night. The next round will be July 30-31. With a still-crowded field, look for similar TV numbers as the first go-around.

Hot type


The Twitter office building in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Keep an eye out for big changes coming soon to Poynter’s morning newsletter!

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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