Tying a player's pay to writers' votes on an award
Imagine if President Trump's compensation were tied to how often he is referenced in Maggie Haberman stories, Nate Silver analytics, Stephen Colbert monologues, Rachel Maddow dissections or Sean Hannity rhetorical embraces.
It's why the baseball writers were moved to uncharacteristic collective disapproval with one player's contract provision that could have given the player distinct incentive to suck up to those covering him.
The spat results from the Chicago Cubs signing a free agent pitcher named Tyler Chatwood to a three-year deal for $38 million (it says something about the sports marketplace that a guy who's lost more games than he's won, and may be little known to even diehards, can command $38 million). The problem is tying so-called escalator clauses in the contract to whether he receives a single vote for the annual Cy Young Award for best pitcher.
A base salary of $13 million could have jumped to either $15 million or $17 million in 2020 if he received votes for the award in either of the two previous seasons. But, be informed, the award is voted on by the baseball writers, the people who'd be covering Chatwood and who realize it would put them in a total conflict of interest.
So the Baseball Writers Association of America — many of whose members are hobnobbing with the managements and players they cover at a big annual confab in Lake Buena Vista, Florida — told the Cubs that if the provision stuck, it would unilaterally make Chatwood ineligible for the award. It sounds a bit like Trump tying his salary to votes for Time Person of the Year (or, actually, akin to Time saying it wouldn't even consider him if such were the case).
The Cubs altered the provision, and ironically so. The Cubs' justly heralded baseball chief, Theo Epstein, incurred the displeasure of the same association when, as World Series-winning Boston Red Sox general manager, he included a similar provision in a 2007 contract for pitcher Curt Schilling.
As Chicago Tribune baseball writer Paul Sullivan underscores, the association stepped in this time when word spread about the clause. But, come to think of it, the White House analogy doesn't hold since Trump would argue that it's he who's made some of the press who cover him rich, or at least inspired greater revenues for their employers. And he would be correct.
Breaking: The Murdoch empire is split
It was unfathomable not long ago but, of late, predicted: "Walt Disney Co. agreed (Thursday) to a $52.4 billion deal to acquire much of the global empire that media baron Rupert Murdoch assembled over three decades, from a fabled Hollywood studio to Europe’s largest satellite-TV provider to one of India’s most-watched channels," reports Bloomberg.
There are tons of reasons it seems smart for Disney, including building up content with franchises like "Avatar" and "Planet of the Apes," and cutting out various middlemen. But what about Murdoch hawking a giant chunk of an empire that he's built, often in the face of conventional wisdom that he was overreaching (some thought he was nuts in creating a new TV network to begin with, then "overpaying" for NFL rights and aggressively getting into sports)?
As Bloomberg wrote earlier, "The billionaire has been frustrated with the market undervaluing his assets, and is willing to reshape his empire if he can get what he thinks the holdings are worth." In his 80s, he remains the gambler even as he gives over the operation (slowly) to his sons.
Tavis Smiley suspended
If it's Thursday, the latest journalist suspended for alleged sexual harassment must be … Well, it's a tough time for public broadcasting. A top NPR executive, then a Boston-based NPR host and now it's Tavis Smiley, whose show is suspended by PBS, disclosed Variety's Daniel Holloway.
"Effective today, PBS has indefinitely suspended distribution of ‘Tavis Smiley,’ produced by TS Media, an independent production company.” It says it commenced an investigation immediately after learning of troubling allegations regarding Smiley. "This investigation included interviews with witnesses as well as with Mr. Smiley. The inquiry uncovered multiple, credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS, and the totality of this information led to today’s decision.”
Oh, oh, is it fitting that "Trump & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade just spent a day down on the southern border with Kirstjen Nielsen, John Kelly's former aide de camp who's the very new Homeland Security boss. Asked in the piece that ran this morning as to what Trump told her when she took over, she said "Build the wall, protect our country."
Well, remember the wall? It's lost the media's interest amid the avalanche of so many other major stories. But a great joint investigative project makes clear that it would be built on land yanked from citizens in the most cavalier and egregious way by the government.
A terrific joint project out this morning by Texas Tribune and ProPublica — a sign of the media times as outlets realize they can't go it alone on certain big efforts — details the federal land grab of Texas property that spans several presidencies and forms the heart of the once privately held territory to be used by Trump to build his wall. The reporting project was financially assisted by the nonprofit Pulitzer Center and here's a bottom line: Long before Trump was elected, the government was out of control as it totally abused its power to take away land from citizens and, way back then, built an 18-foot-high fence in Brownsville, Texas.
Yes, the Department of Homeland Security "paid $18.2 million starting in 2007 to accumulate a ribbon of land occupying almost half the length of the 120 miles of the Rio Grande Valley in southernmost Texas. It first tried to play nice, then filed hundreds of eminent domain lawsuits to get what it wanted, namely thousands of acres on the borders of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California." This dissects more than 400 eminent domain lawsuits and leaves you shaking your head about actions that have played out in successive presidencies and that highlight what one law professor concedes "is pretty much a very dark corner of the law."
The reporting partners now find that the department "circumvented laws designed to help landowners receive fair compensation," not conducting formal appraisal of targeted parcels and hit owners with low-ball offers. Meanwhile, wealthier owners with lawyers "negotiated deals that, on average, tripled the opening bids from Homeland Security" as poor land owners essentially took what was offered.
Further, "The Justice Department bungled hundreds of condemnation cases. The agency took property without knowing the identity of the actual owners. It condemned land without researching facts as basic as property lines. Landholders spent tens of thousands of dollars to defend themselves from the government’s mistakes."
The government was forced to redraft certain settlements with owners after shafting them by not accounting for valuable nearby water rights. And, get this, the department sometimes "paid people for property they did not actually own. The agency did not attempt to recover the misdirected taxpayer funds, instead paying for land a second time once it determined the correct owners."
Michael Chertoff, the former prosecutor who was Homeland Security boss under President George W. Bush and personally approved the condemnations in Texas, declined to comment for a story that begins in that era but continued. President Obama also oversaw construction of the fence, with 654 miles built at a cost of $2.4 billion by Homeland Security.
This is a fine job by ProPublica's T. Christian Miller and the Texas Tribune's Julián Aguilar and Kiah Collier. Read it and realize that the bulldozers and pile drivers are probably not too far away. Maybe Nielsen will take a look, if she doesn't know the full history of what she inherits, as she chides Congress (as she did to Kilmeade this morning) for not giving her the needed funding.
Does she, or reporter Kilmeade, have a clue how the government got this land as they instead ambled along the Rio Grande and focused on the technology of a wall, with $1.8 billion now headed its way? "It will be cost effective," Kilmeade assured.
A demand for a reporter's sources falls short
Jamie Kalven, a journalist-acitivist who's broken key stories about the cop-related Chicago shooting death of Laquan McDonald, won't have to testify about his sources, a judge ruled. Judge Vincent Gaughan rejected arguments that Kalven’s sources leaked legally protected statements made to police investigators by police officer Jason Van Dyke, who is awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges in the October 2014 fatal shooting of the 17-year-old McDonald.
Fake public comments
Millions of public comments are posted on federal agency websites on this issue or that, presumably to suggest real sentiment about a topic. Alas, The Wall Street Journal documents, lots of them are bogus, including during the campaign to lobby the Federal Communications Commission on net neutrality. With the help of a private firm, Mercury Analytics, it spins a great tale about the manipulation of public opinion and how advocacy groups get away with it, with the paper tracking down lots of people whose identities were essentially stolen.
So I read this and remembered a great Chicago Tribune series, "The Fog Merchants," by Christopher Drew and Michael Tackett. In part, it was about lobbying and ginning up purported grassroots public sentiment. It won the Edgar A. Poe Award at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
The series was in 1992 and it won the award the next year. Some things don't change in Washington, even as technology does. Tackett's now at The New York Times, while Drew took a buyout from The Times and is teaching journalism in Louisiana.
Fact-checking on the rise, correct? Well …
Poynter notes a study from the Duke Reporters' Lab: "The number of active fact-checking organizations in the United States has decreased from the start of the year, despite covering a prolifically inaccurate president. Duke estimates there are now 44 American fact-checking outlets, of which 28 are local and 16 are primarily national, compared to the beginning of 2017, when there were 51, 35 and 16, respectively."
"This count includes some political fact-checkers that are mainly seasonal players. These news organizations have consistently fact-checked politicians’ statements through political campaigns, but then do little if any work verifying during the electoral 'offseason.' And not all the U.S. fact-checkers in our database focus exclusively — or even at all — on politics. Sites such as Gossip Cop, Snopes.com and Climate Feedback are in the mix, too."
On the pop music beat
Ed Sheeran's 2017 "Shape of You" is the most streamed song ever on Spotify and, writes The Atlantic's Spencer Kornhaber, typifies the hot pop music genre of a "sudden boom of white male solo singers with hits."
But Sheeran "is this era’s head boy in pop not only because of his conversational croon and facility with an acoustic guitar; he’s also a sponge, absorbing all the elements in the pop sea."
A blockbuster Roy Moore-New York Times co-production
The paper's live results page for the Senate race generated more than 13 million page views.
Really fake news
Axios informs, "Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was the victim of a fake news hit on Tuesday, and has turned over to Capitol Police a document that purports to detail lurid sexual harassment accusations by a former staffer."
"Why it matters: This was an apparent effort to dupe reporters and smear a senator — both symptoms of an amped-up news environment where harassment charges are proliferating and reporters have become targets for fraud."
A strong Alabama election follow-up
The New York Times' Nate Cohn notes how "Over the last eight years, political analysts had come to think that Democrats were at a distinct disadvantage in midterm elections, since their younger and nonwhite coalition was less likely to turn out than older and white voters."
"It is time to retire that notion. Tuesday in Alabama, Democrats benefited from strong turnout that plainly exceeded midterm levels, while white working-class Republicans voted in weaker numbers. It was enough to send Doug Jones to the Senate instead of Roy Moore, in one of the reddest states in the country."
"This has been a pattern in all of this year’s major special elections, as well as in the Virginia general election. It is consistent with a long-term trend toward stronger turnout by the party out of power in off-year elections. It also suggests that President Trump’s less educated and affluent version of the Republican coalition has eroded the party’s traditional turnout advantage."
The morning Babel
As "Trump & Friends" took us down to the southern border, taxes were a big topic on all the morning shows, as were Republican charges of political bias against the Robert Mueller investigation and some calling for his head.
"Morning Joe" gave congressional grilling of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ample air time as Rosenstein defended keeping Mueller right where he is, doing his job. Co-host Joe Scarborough was in a lather with the arguable myopia of Republicans calling for canning Mueller so soon after the fall of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and others.
On CNN's "New Day," Washington Post reporter Greg Miller surfaced to detail an excellent new Post effort that underscores, "Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House." Take a look here if you want to see the paper's tale of Trump dogmatism and, at best, wishful thinking about Vladimir Putin.
The members of that House committee that queried Rosenstein should take a look, too.