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A request to cool down
Monday's Washington Post headline is redolent of global climax: "U.S. warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with North Korea." Then there's The New York Times counterpart: "The Rare, Potent Fuel Powering North Korea’s Weapons."
On CNN's "New Day" Daily Beast Editor John Avlon this morning called North Korea "the big news, the big stakes," while David Drucker, a pundit with the Washington Examiner, spoke of Trump's desire to "isolate North Korea" as "North Korea Threat Looms Over U.N. Summit," namely the big annual General Assembly meeting of the United Nations.
There's no definitive proof that North Korea has the technical ability to launch a missile that could strike the United States. And, yet, our cup runneth over with media coverage of the U.S.-North Korea at a cataclysmic brink.
For sure, the most revealing reporting of late — check Evan Osnos in The New Yorker last week — involves the paranoid culture of North Korea, not so much the technical realities of its missile program. Yet much of the reporting, especially on cable news, involves the assumption of world mayhem to be unleashed.
So it's notable that John Mecklin, editor in chief of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, not only demurs but blames the press itself.
He argues here that Kim Jong Un is neither nuts nor suicidal and, as telling, "In light of the undeniable reality of mutual deterrence, the North Korean 'crisis' of 2017 can most accurately be seen as a media puppet show put on by Chairman Kim and President Trump for their own public relations purposes."
It all remains dangerous, yes. "In the current overheated media environment, some piece of international theater by Kim or Trump — undertaken for political effect or negotiating edge or ego gratification — could become so magnified by breathless, 24-7 repetition on cable TV and the Internet that it becomes seen as a humiliating national insult."
So wayward response to overheated media coverage could inspire disarray. "To put things in more concrete terms: If U.S. forces had shot down the North Korean missile recently fired through Japanese airspace, might Kim, in an act of pique or bravado, have fired another missile, perhaps in the general direction of Guam? Would Trump have then felt compelled to craft a macho response? Etcetera — with a possible end result of mushroom clouds."
So what to do? The editor of the venerable publication, based at the University of Chicago (though Mecklin lives in Texas) and best known for its so-called Doomsday Clock, says, "The best way to reduce the threat of inadvertent war posed by the invented theatrical crisis in Northeast Asia would be to persuade the prime thespians — Kim and Trump — that the show they have been putting on is unbelievable and unlikely to get either what he wants. But I don’t really expect that my views will motivate two world leaders of high (if largely unearned) self-regard to quickly change their policies on matters of life, death, and television ratings."
So what does the press do? He proposes a "next-best approach:" Journalists "should stop writing and broadcasting about the North Korea situation as if everything had changed and war is very near. North Korea has been seeking a usable nuclear arsenal for years. Its latest underground nuclear test had a higher yield than earlier detonations, producing the explosive power of somewhat more than 100,000 tons of TNT, meaning it was four to five times the size of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The larger yield could have come from a fission bomb 'boosted' with hydrogen isotopes or a true fusion weapon, commonly known as a hydrogen bomb; experts cannot be sure which, based on the information currently available."
Mecklin quotes a real expert who declares flatly that even if a much-chronicled Sept. 3 North Korean test had actually involved a hydrogen bomb, it would not constitute a "game changer" since any nuclear device that landed would wreak havoc. But the press conveyed an urgency that Mecklin feels has actually needlessly exacerbated the whole mess.
"Journalists can’t make U.S. and North Korean leaders behave responsibly. But the media can help audiences understand that the Korean 'crisis' is really a Korean standoff, and that a puppet show full of bluster is a rather pathetic substitute for professional diplomacy."
Sean Spicer at the Emmys
The Stephen Colbert-hosted Emmy Awards included a pretty awful idea: beckoning former White House press secretary and notorious liar Sean Spicer (now a fellow at Harvard University) to joke at a lectern about the incredible audience watching the show. Get it? The inauguration deceits? It was like a comedy double negative, namely you try a bit where he is lying for comic effect. No twist. Amazing that nobody saw how dumb that was.
"It wasn’t parody. If anything, it was an effort to unravel Melissa McCarthy’s satirical take on him. It was less comedy and, for Spicer, more image redemption," says Harvey Young, a dramatist and theater and African American studies expert at Northwestern University.
"It really wasn’t a particularly funny bit but the laughter, the nervous, awkward, uncomfortable laughter, anchored itself in the fact that a person best known through parody was now standing before them" (including McCarthy).
The morning Babel
"Trump & Friends" previewed their favorite viewer's Tuesday address to the United Nations General Assembly and his chance to speak, as co-anchor Pete Hegseth put it, "hard truths" to "anti-Western" countries who "use the United Nations as a bludgeon against America." It's the conservative line about the UN, whose daily doings, including in the humanitarian, peacekeeping and health areas, are unknown to most, including cable TV hosts.
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" regular David Ignatius of The Washington Post said North Korea's "ever more advanced nuclear weapons" have "astonished" U.S. intelligence officials. It was then back to politics and Trump, with special criticism of indiscreet Trump attorneys, which is a rehash of a New York Times opus.
CNN's "New Day" did similar riffs on North Korea, while going digital in musing over the saga of Russian-paid ads on Facebook during the presidential campaign before getting to the same New York Times piece on two White House lawyers discussing Robert Mueller strategy at a restaurant. New York Times reporter Ken Vogel overheard them at a steakhouse near the Times bureau. Said the Examiner's Drucker: "I daydream about scoops like this," namely overhearing things "at a restaurant we all hang out at." Yes, "we all," press and the folks we cover, hang there.
Oh, a morning reality check: Simultaneously clicking about rival local broadcast morning shows in Chicago — one of whose ratings alone dwarfs those of the three cable new shows combined in the Chicago market ("WGN Morning News") — they all opened with stories on the city forcing tent cities of homeless from beneath two Lake Shore Drive overpasses as it begins renovation on them.
Beat reporters doing a double-take
Friday's Chicago Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals game was marked by the rarity of Cubs pitcher John Lackey being justifiably ejected from the game during a play. He was so unhappy that a Cardinal got a run-scoring hit right after an umpire's bad call that extended the inning, he charged the plate in an X-rated tirade at the ump.
But what would have happened if, say, the subsequent throw to home plate by the right-fielder got by the catcher and bounded Lackey's way while a second runner attempted to score? Could he pick it up and throw home? If not, would the play be automatically over when he did pick up the ball?
I quickly emailed not just beat reporters but other sports journalists. The first four or five had no idea. Then, Chicago radio co-host Dan Bernstein contacted Jason Benetti, a former intern of his who is now the chief TV announcer for the White Sox. Benetti, who also has a law degree, quickly forwarded the answer to a grotesquely obvious question that wasn't even broached in the subsequent Chicago Sun-Times and Tribune game stories, each with the boosterish theme of Cubs-fired-up-by-Lackey-ejection-defeat-Cards:
"The disqualification shall not take effect until no further action is possible in that play." 9.01(d)
Jemele Hill mess (Cont.)
Both ESPN and The Undefeated, its terrific site on sports, race, culture and politics, have not done themselves proud in not reporting extensively on the mess prompted by sports co-host Jemele Hill calling President Trump a racist. There was a low-key reprimand of Hill and not other discipline (she was quickly back on the air). Belatedly, its public editor Jim Brady weighed in over the weekend, concluding with a belief that the network does lean left ideologically but not as a function of executive decisions but as a result of the the types of personalities it features.
"But I still think it’s a problem that needs to be addressed if ESPN plans to better navigate the intersection of sports, politics and culture, and if it wants to hold onto a larger share of its audience in these days of unbundling. Bringing back Hank Williams Jr. for Monday Night Football isn’t the answer; the answer is improved ideological diversity in ESPN’s overall products."
But ESPN and parent Disney still look spineless and scared, even if some are cutting them some slack, as does the Wall Street Journal's thoughtful Jason Gay this morning. The president has gone after Hill, his spokesman has bashed the network twice. If this is important to them, stand up with Hill. Get Bob Iger, the boss, to publicly voice support, even go on air with her. As Madeleine Albright would have put it, show some cajones.
A classic moral quandary
It's Sophie's Choice transplanted to the Mediterranean Sea. The best news feature of the weekend might've been "A Doctor's Hard Decision" by Drew Henshaw in The Wall Street Journal. You're a doctor on a rescue ship with two different sets of desperate migrants trying to reach Europe. You know that at least one man will die in a half hour after you get there, but there's a larger number in need elsewhere. What the hell do you do?
A much easier call
The New York Times' "Walking the Line Between Covering a Rohingya Refugee Story and Changing It" by Hannah Beech, the paper's Southeast Asia bureau chief, is part of its "Times Insider" feature and suggests there's a serious question about whether a reporter should attempt to save a life in a Bangladesh refugee camp on the border of Myanmar (whose ethnic cleansing is now being discovered belatedly by much of the mainstream media). It just underscores how there isn't much of a question. Do it.
New Mexico tragedy
"A longtime reporter-videographer at an Albuquerque TV station has died after the news helicopter he was piloting crashed and burned in a field near a New Mexico ghost town, authorities said Sunday." (AP)
"Bob Martin, 64, was pronounced dead at the crash scene Saturday night, according to New Mexico State Police. The Bell B206 helicopter was destroyed, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Lynn Lunsford."
He was a 20-year veteran of KRQE-TV, which ran its own appreciation this morning.
Not the best preamble to a new gig.
Michelle Goldberg, who is about to commence a great gig as a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, is subject of a correction due to her review of "Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power and Consent on Campus" by Vanessa Grigoriadis.
"A review on Page 11 this weekend about 'Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power and Consent on Campus,' by Vanessa Grigoriadis, refers incorrectly to her reporting on the issues. She does in fact write about Department of Justice statistics that say college-age women are less likely than nonstudent women of the same age to be victims of sexual assault; it is not the case that Grigoriadis was unaware of the department’s findings. In addition, the review describes incorrectly Grigoriadis’s presentation of statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. She showed that there is disagreement over whether the data are sound; it is not the case that she gave the reader 'no reason to believe' the statistics are wrong."
Boston kudos for CBS' new NFL No. 1 commentator
"In Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Saints, it was more of the same. Calling the game with Jim Nantz, Romo showed why CBS decided to make him the network’s lead color commentator. From the Saints’ second quarter touchdown to their fourth-down attempts (one in which they tried to draw the Patriots offsides and another where they actually went for it), Romo appeared almost clairvoyant."
Breitbart concedes some Bannon bashing
Breitbart has done a lot of shilling for Steve Bannon since he returned from his disastrous White House gig. But it did report Sunday's Fox News appearance by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who chided Bannon for pursuing his own narrow agenda during his West Wing tenure.
But it did feel compelled to add: "Breitbart News Senior Editor at Large Joel B. Pollak responded: 'Bannon’s only agenda was Trump’s campaign promises on his whiteboard.' " Well, it was a Sunday and maybe the editor and managing editor were hard to find.
A future of payments
"After several weeks of speculation and leaked details,Google officially unveiled its first big foray into mobile payments in Asia. The Android and search giant has launched Tez, a new mobile wallet in India that will let users link up their phones to their bank accounts to pay for goods securely in physical stores and online, and for person-to-person money transfers." (TechCrunch)
To save you time
Are you an executive looking for a new digital media agency? Here's the "About Us" section on the website of one. Or maybe two of them. Come to think of it, probably more than two:
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And Weekend Update: Eliot Warren's U8 fall baseball Iron Pigs went 1-1 as he both pitched and batted against his best Kindergarten bud (they hugged one another after Sunday's Iron Pigs win), while his 9U Chicago City Soccer Club team won handily on a scorched field near Abt Electronics in Glenview, Illinois, as he both scored and played goal as grandpa watched on his 83rd birthday. Brother Blair's Chicago City 15 U team, topped Illinois Premier, 1-0, while playing on a home field arguably inferior than anything found in Kabul (thanks, City of Chicago). But at least nobody broke an ankle.