By:
January 15, 2021

We close another tumultuous week with relative calm. It’s a calm after last week’s storm of an insurrection at the Capitol. We all hope it doesn’t mean the calm before another storm as Joe Biden is inaugurated next week.

Already, Washington, D.C., is on lockdown. In The Hill, Jordain Carney and Morgan Chalfant write, “Last week’s siege, in which a pro-Trump mob breached the Capitol and was overheard hunting for Vice President Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has set off a scramble to avoid a repeat as right-wing groups vow to try to storm the building on Jan. 20 when Biden, lawmakers and former presidents gather.”

As many as 20,000 National Guard troops could be called upon to protect the Capitol and the city heading into the inauguration. The New York Times’ Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Helene Cooper report, “Sixteen groups — some of them armed and most of them hard-line supporters of President Trump — have registered to stage protests in Washington, prompting deep concern among federal officials about an event that has historically been a packed celebration of American democracy.”

On top of all this, the Senate could meet next week to vote whether or not to convict Donald Trump after the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president for incitement of insurrection.

And, yes, this is “the calm.” We hold our breath hoping for no storms.

Politico’s guest writer draws criticism

Ben Shapiro. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, Pool)

Politico Playbook, the popular newsletter that covers Washington politics, is taking lots of heat for turning over its Thursday newsletter to Ben Shapiro, the controversial right-wing podcaster/radio host and editor emeritus of The Daily Wire.

Playbook is in the middle of a transition. New writers will be taking over soon after its previous authors left to start another project. In the interim, Playbook has had guest writers filling in, including former New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet, PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, documentarian Ken Burns, CBS News’ Weijia Jiang and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and others. In fact, Politico chief Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza pointed out that Hayes is a left-leaning voice in a tweet Thursday morning:

“Yesterday we had one of the leading voices of the left guest-writing @playbookplus and today we have one of the leading voices of the right: @benshapiro”

While Shapiro’s day likely had been planned out well ahead of time, the timing couldn’t have been more awkward for Politico. Shapiro’s day was the day after President Trump was impeached. The timing wasn’t the only issue. Shapiro is loathed by many for bigoted comments like this one made in 2016 when he tweeted, “Trayvon Martin would have turned 21 today if he hadn’t taken a man’s head and beaten it on the pavement before being shot.”

Shapiro is not the first conservative voice to guest write the Playbook. Eliana Johnson, editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, was a guest writer earlier this week. But Shapiro is the most controversial.

In Thursday’s Playbook, Shapiro wrote, “Opposition to impeachment comes from a deep and abiding conservative belief that members of the opposing political tribe want their destruction, not simply to punish Trump for his behavior. Republicans believe that Democrats and the overwhelmingly liberal media see impeachment as an attempt to cudgel them collectively by lumping them in with the Capitol rioters thanks to their support for Trump.”

His comments and, really, the fact that he was writing for Playbook at all didn’t go over well with many readers.

“Pod Save America” co-host Dan Pfeiffer tweeted, “Politico sidelining their many talented, well-sourced Capitol Hill reporters to have Ben Shapiro co-author Playbook on the day after a historic impeachment vote was an unfortunate choice to say the least.”

Joe Lockhart, the CNN political analyst and former White House press secretary under Bill Clinton, tweeted, “Ben Shapiro is not a journalist. He’s a propaganda machine who uses Republican anger to make money for himself. He does it with lies that put our democracy at risk still going forward. Pretending he’s a journalist is unforgivable.”

“The Daily Show” digital producer Matt Negrin tweeted, “Yesterday we had a journalist who believes liberal ideas like ‘science is real’ and ‘covid is bad’ write playbook so today we’re giving it to a white supremacist who tells millions of people voter fraud is real and republicans are the real victim of last week’s terrorist attack.”

Wall Street Journal national politics reporter Sabrina Siddiqui tweeted, “I would appreciate if someone from @politico would read all the racist things Ben Shapiro has said about Arabs and Muslims here and then explain why they chose to give him a platform.”

NBC Peacock host Mehdi Hasan tweeted, “Politico handed over its Playbook today to Ben Shapiro, who used it to (falsely) accuse Bernie Sanders of inciting the shooting of Steve Scalise and to equate Bernie’s rhetoric with Trump’s. I kid you not.”

And Media Matters’ Eric Hananoki pointed out, “The Daily Wire co-founder and editor emeritus Ben Shapiro is the guest editor of Politico Playbook today. His company calls Politico ‘fake news.’”

Shapiro weighed in too, with this trolling tweet, “People losing their s*** over me writing @politico Playbook this morning are pretty much proving my point. So keep at it guys, you’re doing great!”

The First Lady

First lady Melania Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Good reporting about first lady Melania Trump in this story by CNN’s Kate Bennett. Trump has been one of the more private first ladies and because not much is known publicly, we are mostly left with speculation.

But Bennett writes, “… if the last few weeks have proven anything, it is that she is more aligned with the President than most would assume.”

One source told Bennett, “She’s part of this. She can be silent, but she’s part of this.”

Kate Andersen Brower, author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies,” told Bennett, “There’s never been any first lady as stubborn and defiant as Melania Trump.”

Bennett’s sources said Mrs. Trump is, unlike her husband, not sad to be leaving the White House. And, yet, some staffers were apparently so taken aback by her lack of emotion over last week’s riot at the Capitol that they turned in their resignations. Mrs. Trump also has not reached out to incoming first lady Jill Biden.

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Favorite read of the day

OK, this story is just bonkers. I normally would put something like this in the “Hot type” section at the bottom of my newsletter, but this one deserves special attention because it is just — well, like I said — bonkers.

Brace yourself. This Washington Post story by Peter Jamison, 

Carol D. Leonnig and Paul Schwartzman is about Secret Service agents assigned to protect Ivanka Trump and her family and where those agents — get ready for it — go to the bathroom.

The Post claims the agents are not allowed to use the bathrooms inside the Kalorama neighborhood home of Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, and their children. (The White House said Kushner and Trump do not deny access to their home and it’s the Secret Service’s decision that forbids agents from using the facilities.)

The Secret Service first used a port-a-potty and then used bathrooms at the nearby home of Barack Obama and not-as-nearby home of Vice President Mike Pence. In the end, the Secret Service rented out a nearby studio apartment with a bathroom, but it is costing taxpayers $3,000 a month — and $100,000 so far.

You have to read this story, which gets wackier and wackier, including this what-the-heck paragraph about the agency using the bathroom at the Obamas’ house:

“The Obamas did not use the garage, so the extra traffic to and from the command post caused no problem. Yet this solution, too, was short-lived after a Secret Service supervisor from the Trump/Kushner detail left an unpleasant mess in the Obama bathroom at some point before the fall of 2017, according to a person briefed on the event. That prompted the leaders of the Obama detail to ban the agents up the street from ever returning.”

An unpleasant mess? What the actual heck?

Certainly there are more critical stories going on in Washington at the moment, but I’ll repeat: This was my favorite read of the day.

‘I didn’t want to die’

Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Wisconsin man shot seven times by a police officer last August and left partially paralyzed, spoke exclusively to Michael Strahan for Thursday’s “Good Morning America” on ABC.

Blake told Strahan, “I didn’t want to be the next George Floyd. I didn’t want to die.”

Two of Blake’s children witnessed the shooting.

“All I remember at that point was kinda leaning back, looking at my boys,” Blake told Strahan. “I said, ‘Daddy love you no matter what.’ It was the last thing I said to them at that point. I thought it was gonna be the last thing I say to them. Thank God it wasn’t.”

Police were answering a domestic disturbance call and officers were told Blake had an arrest warrant. Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer Rusten Sheskey, who is white, shot Blake, who is Black. Kenosha County District Attorney Mike Gravely announced last week that no charges will be filed against officers in the shooting. Gravely said the shooting was justified because Blake was armed with a knife and refused orders to drop it.

There were protests in Wisconsin and throughout the country following the shooting, which was recorded on video that went viral.

Axios’ manifesto

Axios, the news site based on brevity and straightforward reporting, published a new manifesto and “bill of rights” that serve as a promise to readers about its mission.

Among Axios’ 10 rights:

  • Every item will be written or produced by a real person with a real identity. There will be NO AI-written stories. NO bots. NO fake accounts.
  • Every item will be written or produced to inform, analyze and explain. Axios will never be a platform for incitement or argument. We will never have an opinion section.
  • We are committed to helping revive local journalism — and invite local readers to help us best serve their community.
  • We believe high-quality journalism should not be an exclusive privilege. We will provide free access to the majority of our content.

Media tidbits

Le Batard’s next move

I’ve been trying to get this item for a couple of days now, but the busy news out of Washington keeps pushing it back. So, finally, an update on Dan Le Batard, who recently left ESPN.

Several media outlets, starting with the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson, are reporting Le Batard is going to team up with former ESPN president John Skipper to start a sports media company. It looks to be a left-leaning company. Think of it as the opposite of Clay Travis’ conservative OutKick.

Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy reports Le Batard and Skipper would be interested in bringing aboard several former ESPN colleagues, including Jemele Hill, Bomani Jones and Kate Fagan. Hill, a contributing writer for The Atlantic and the host of her own successful podcast, confirmed to McCarthy that she has spoken to Skipper.

McCarthy wrote the strategy for the new company is to “sell various types of original content, from TV, radio and streaming sports shows to films and documentaries.”

Le Batard left ESPN after nearly two decades earlier this month. Skipper, who was ESPN president from 2012 to 2017, is the executive chairman of sports streaming company DAZN.

Hot type

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

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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