EXEC SUMMARY: Here's the latest on "chopper talk," The Hill, the EPA, the BBC, "Star Trek: Picard," Endeavor Audio, Deadspin, Comcast, Lena Waithe, Brad Pitt, "Mean Girls," and much more...
Jim Lehrer, 1934–2020
With the country embroiled in impeachment proceedings for the third time in 50 years, we needed wisdom from the newsmen who covered the first two times. That's why we reached out to Jim Lehrer last month. He joined me on "Reliable Sources" on December 15, for what turned out to be his final TV interview. Lehrer died on Thursday, "peacefully in his sleep at home," according to PBS. He was 85.
Our TV segment mostly had to do with President Trump's impeachment. I wish I could have asked him so many more questions. In that spirit, let me share some of the wisdom from his pre-interview – his on-the-record conversation with "Reliable Sources" producer Diane Kaye. He elaborated on many of the issues we only had time to mention during the ensuing TV segment. "The press is caught in a revolution that we didn't see coming," Lehrer said. "And Trump is not the cause of it, he is a symptom of it." Lehrer reflected on his career...
"We were the watchdogs"
"I started as a newspaper reporter 60 years ago," Lehrer said, referencing his job at The Dallas Morning News, "and covered the news daily until 2011," the year he retired from the "NewsHour."
"We were the watchdogs," he said. "We went to the country courthouse, to the state legislature, to the White House and everything in between on behalf of the public. We watched what happened and kept our eyes out for lies and malfeasance. Suddenly that purpose is being challenged in such a way in which we are still reacting to it."
"We've operated on the premise that lies are a bad thing and we expose the lies," he continued, "and now suddenly we are being challenged. And there's a bit of arrogance on the part of the media, you know. We're defending the First Amendment... but we are no longer being cheered by everyone when we expose a lie. And that's really hard to get used to. Some of us have reacted well and some haven't."
Lehrer brought up divisions in the country, which became the backbone of our TV segment. "The more division, the more the networks are competing over the divided," he said. "It's good for business for there to be division, and yet we don't think it's good for the country." The result, he said, is that we in the media "are the dividers, and it is not pleasant."
"Nothing is predictable"
Kaye also asked Lehrer about the #DemDebates, since he moderated 12 presidential general election debates, more than anyone else in American history.
"What makes a debate viable, is that nothing is predicable," Lehrer said. "No way to script these. There is no script for the debate... The candidates, the moderator, the potential voters all have their own script and are all playing to a different kind of music. As long as you understand that," as a viewer, "you will get a lot out of it." He said "the unpredictability is 90% of the reason why people watch..."
"We probably never will again"
Lehrer was remarkably plugged-in to the profound changes in the media biz. He said that, during Trump's impeachment, people are "going to get basic info from more sources than anyone could have ever imagined in the Clinton impeachment and certainly in the Nixon one."
When we spoke on air, he said the Trump impeachment hearings in the House probably had "even a larger audience" than Nixon's or Clinton's, but most Americans were "using their own prism to watch it," from Fox to PBS. "They're not gathering around the TV set to watch it like we did in '73, '74," and "with Clinton later. We're not doing that anymore," he said. "We probably never will again."
How Lehrer is being remembered
>> The "NewsHour" devoted much of Thursday's program to Lehrer's legacy.
>> The NYT's obit by Robert D. McFadden says Lehrer was "an oasis of civility in a news media that thrived on excited headlines, gotcha questions and noisy confrontations."
>> Lehrer played a key role in defining "what might be called the PBS style — deliberate, precise, a hegemony of facts over emotions. News, in other words, for grown ups," WaPo's Paul Farhi wrote Thursday. Lehrer "didn't like being called a 'journalist.' Too pretentious, he said. He wanted to be known as just a newsman. By any name, the news about Lehrer was that he was among the best."
"An open mind"
"It is abundantly clear," Adam Schiff said to the senators Thursday night, that "you are listening with an open mind. And we can't ask for anything more than that, so we are grateful."
Does anyone really believe what Schiff just said?
The Democrats' presentation of the case against President Trump is important, but so far there's little indication that it's been influential, in terms of opening or changing anyone's mind. For the third straight night, the broadcast networks stuck with regular prime time programming instead of carrying the trial proceedings live. Also for the third straight night, Fox News opted for pro-Trump talk shows instead of trial coverage. Oliver Darcy wrote about Fox News's choices here.
And the AP's David Bauder wrote about both Fox News and the broadcast networks in this new story. "FWIW," NYT's James Poniewozik tweeted, "the broadcast nets did not cover the 1999 Clinton trial in primetime either -- and only carried a few hours of it during the daytime." The trial will resume Friday at 1pm ET...
The "Friends" are complaining...
Because, they say, the Dems are repeating things over and over again. It's repetitive. It's boring! That's what Steve Doocy and the other hosts said, repeatedly, on Thursday's "Fox & Friends," and I bet they will say it again on Friday. Erik Wemple caught onto the irony. "In tuning in to the impeachment trial," Wemple wrote, "Doocy came face-to-face with his own business model. Repetition, after all, is the foundational formula of all cable news: Find one major story, read it, run some footage, then analyze it. Do a commercial break, cover some other stuff, then return to the major story — more footage, more analysis, more distortion, perhaps courtesy of a guest commentator. Over and over and over..."
--> Related? CNN's Lauren Fox reports: During Thursday's Senate GOP lunch, Republican leaders "encouraged their conference to make themselves available during the breaks to the press in an effort to more publicly defend President Trump during a time when the entire public is focused on three days of Democratic arguments. According to one aide familiar with the discussion, constituents back home are calling lawmakers and expressing concern that no one on the Republican side is getting a chance to step in to defend Trump live on TV during the trial..."
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
-- Have you noticed this? Fox's graphics and packaging for the trial call it the "Senate impeachment trial," noticeably leaving Trump's name out of it...
-- Susan Glasser, who will join me on CNN this Sunday, says "the best witnesses" on Thursday "were all the President's men..." (New Yorker)
-- The headline of the day belongs to Daniel Dale: "Trump says 'with me, there's no lying' -- and makes 14 false claims about impeachment and Ukraine..." (CNN)
-- Conan O'Brien's quip: "One positive side of this whole impeachment mess -- we get to see how big CNN can make their homepage font." (Twitter)
Lowry on the trial "drama"
Brian Lowry emails: If Mitch McConnell wanted to suck some of the air out of the impeachment trial with the slightly backwards format, mission accomplished, in the sense that there's a clear repetition in the Democrats' arguments. But in a strange way, this all feels like a protracted teaser for the main event, namely, whether enough GOP senators will cross party lines to vote for witnesses, which is when, in essence, the key act of this drama will begin...
Pelosi cites Napolitano on impeachment
Oliver Darcy emails: Nancy Pelosi on Thursday night approvingly tweeted a column written by Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano. "What is required for removal of the president?" Napolitano wrote. "A demonstration of presidential commission of high crimes and misdemeanors, of which in Trump's case the evidence is ample and uncontradicted."
Pelosi tweeted Napolitano's column and noted that he is Fox's "top legal analyst." That said, it's worth noting: Despite being Fox's longtime go-to legal analyst, Napolitano has been missing from the network's special on-air impeachment coverage. Instead, Fox has gone with legal minds like Trey Gowdy and Andy McCarthy, who are far more sympathetic to Trump's case...
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
-- Maggie Haberman and Nick Corasaniti's latest on the Trump-Fox feedback loop: "Seeing a Bloomberg Ad on Fox News, Trump Takes the Bait..." (NYT)
-- A must-read from Sarah Ellison: "Trumpworld has converted the nation's regional talk radio hosts into a loyal army..." (WaPo)
-- An anti-Semitic website "says it was invited by White House to report from Davos summit." The W.H. still hasn't explained this credentialing decision... (Washington Times)
-- New from Davos: "George Soros said that nothing is keeping Facebook from spreading disinformation and the company may be in cahoots with President Donald Trump to get him re-elected." This story notes that "Soros didn't offer any evidence for his claim." FB said "this is just plain wrong..." (Bloomberg)
Trump avoiding "chopper talks" recently
It's been cold, so maybe that's why Trump has stopped holding "chopper talk" sessions with reporters. On Thursday afternoon CNN's Kevin Liptak pointed out the dearth of recent Q&A's. A little while later, Bloomberg's Justin Sink added this: "W.H. often points to the president's unprecedented availability to explain the death of press briefings, but even that's diminishing - over the past two months, Trump has only taken 15 total minutes of questions at "chopper talk," and only a single question in the past six weeks..."
The Sundance Film Festival is underway in Park City...
Trump is speaking at the March for Life in Washington, the first POTUS to do so...
Rudy Giuliani's podcast is supposed to launch...
Eli Manning is set to announce his retirement...
Megyn Kelly is guesting on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" for the first time...
The Hill's top editor: No "exact timetable" on review of Solomon's columns
Oliver Darcy emails: More than two months after announcing a review of his work, The Hill newspaper has yet to complete its promised evaluation of columns written by John Solomon, which are at the heart of the impeachment inquiry against Trump. It's unusual for a newsroom to take so long to review stories that have been fiercely disputed by individuals with first-hand knowledge of relevant events.
But The Hill EIC Bob Cusack told me Thursday that the review is still ongoing. "Our review continues with a collective intensity and thoroughness which is needed and expected on a subject of importance," Cusack wrote me in an email. "We cannot put an exact timetable to something this significant. But we are confident it will be completed in the near future. Rest assured we'll be sharing it with you when it has been properly completed." More in my story here...
>> Darcy's 🔌: I'll be on "New Day" in the 8 a.m. hour discussing this...
Beneath the cloud of impeachment coverage...
Marina di Marzo emails: As the trial overwhelms our screens, the W.H. is moving forward on key policy items...
-- With immigration, Trump's State Dept issued a new rule to cut down on "birth tourism," allowing customs officials to deny entry to those who are suspected of traveling to the US for the sole purpose of giving birth on American soil.
-- With the Middle East, WaPo reports that Trump is preparing to discuss a "peace plan" with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week with intentions to release the plan this spring.
-- And with the environment, Trump's EPA announced the "largest rollback of the Clean Water Act since the modern law was passed in 1972."
The impeachment trial is the perfect window of time for the Trump administration to make large-scale changes with little blowback... so newsrooms should remember to keep these stories in our sights...
FOR THE RECORD, PART THREE
-- The most powerful thing I read on Thursday: "The Enemies of Writing," by George Packer... (The Atlantic)
-- "After closing down its long-running Peacock Productions non-fiction unit, NBC News is quickly getting back into the documentary business with NBC News Studios." Liz Cole will be at Sundance to plant the new flag... (Variety)
-- Why is there so much skepticism about NBC and Sky's plans to launch a new international channel? Alan Barker sums it up nicely: Global television news is "a business with no accurate viewing figures and a limited pool of advertisers..." (FT)
-- "The White House on Thursday said it is taking reports about the hacking of Amazon chief and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos' phone seriously..." (Reuters)
-- Brand new story by two of the best on this beat, Michael Rothfeld and Jim Rutenberg: The Bezos hack inquiry notably "did not find evidence to back his suggestion of a link between Saudi Arabia" and the National Enquirer, "the tabloid that gleefully exposed his affair..." (NYT)
🎙️ Alan Miller on this week's Reliable podcast
On this week's "Reliable Sources" podcast, News Literacy Project founder and CEO Alan Miller previews the first-ever National News Literacy Week -- starting Monday -- and a new partnership with Scripps' local TV stations.
Miller told me about his efforts to make people part of the "information solution." While the News Literacy Project focuses on middle and high school programs, the public awareness campaign with Scripps will give the general public "some tools and resources to become more news literate," he said. We also discussed between skepticism and cynicism; the impact of digital disinformation; why the term "fake news" is an "oxymoron," and more. 🎧 Listen via Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify or your app of choice...
FOR THE RECORD, PART FOUR
-- Angelina Jolie will exec-produce "BBC My World," a new program to "give young viewers real tools to stop fake news..." (Variety)
-- Very true: "China's battle with the Wuhan coronavirus is shackled by a toxic relationship with information," Echo Huang writes... (QZ)
-- PressGazette's Charlotte Tobitt reports: "Prominent Brexiteer Arron Banks has dropped half of his libel case against Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who is now appealing for help with her legal costs to continue fighting the claim..." (PrezzGazette)
-- "In emotional testimony with vivid detail, actress Annabella Sciorra said Thursday that Harvey Weinstein barged into her apartment 25 years ago and raped her..." (CNN)
Comcast's net profit "rose 26% in the fourth quarter, once again riding on the back of internet subscriber growth amid continued pay-TV customer losses," the WSJ's Lillian Rizzo wrote. These two numbers tell the story: "Comcast's broadband business generated $4.8 billion in revenue, while its traditional pay-TV unit brought in about $5.5 billion..."
Deadspin's new EIC
Kerry Flynn writes: Deadspin is coming back. G/O Media announced Jim Rich, a longtime sports journalist and editor, has taken on the role of EIC at the site, which has been in a state of limbo ever since the staff resigned en masse last November. Rich was most recently editor at large at SWNS Media Group and previously worked at the New York Post, New York Daily News and HuffPost. Here are the highlights from our convo:
>> Won't stick to sports: "If anybody knows me or knows any of the work that I've done over my career, I think you'll understand quickly that I'm the farthest thing from the stick to sports sort of person. I think it's a lazy form of journalism and it's an excuse to avoid difficult topics."
>> Trusts G/O's leadership: "I don't know Jim [Spanfeller] very well… I felt comfortable taking them at their word that I will not be constrained… I've been around and I've worked at places where I've left because I disagreed with ownership's sort of take on the direction."
>> He's not in the GMG Union, but his hires can be: "I'm hoping when we put together our staff, which will probably come in somewhere in the ballpark of 20 or so journalists, that it's also a robust union shop.
>> Launch date TBD: "Hopefully we have a date sooner rather than later that we can share with you, but at the moment I just want to get a pencil and my desk..."
FOR THE RECORD, PART FIVE
-- NBC Olympics is partnering with Snapchat, releasing more than 70 episodes across four daily shows on the app leading up to and during the games... (Variety)
-- Jill Dickerson has joined Snap as a senior member of the Snap Originals team, helping lead unscripted efforts. She was most recently an SVP at OWN... (TheWrap)
-- Lynzy Billing reports on the ways Afghan women journalists are fighting for their place in the newsroom... (ZORA)
Hot Pod: Endeavor Audio lays off in-house sales team amidst restructure
Hot Pod's Nick Quah reports: "I’m able to confirm that Endeavor Audio, the podcast division launched by the entertainment conglomerate Endeavor in the fall of 2018, has laid off its in-house advertising sales team, and is pulling out of the podcast advertising sales business more broadly. At least one client has already been informed, and the sales team was informed late last week."
>> Why? Quah continues: "According to a person familiar with the matter, the move comes amidst a restructure that sees Endeavor Audio shifting its operations from being a standalone end-to-end podcast publishing entity -- covering development, financing, production, distribution, marketing, and monetization -- into something that’s more formally integrated with Endeavor Content, the division established by Endeavor in 2017 to focus on developing, packaging, and distributing projects, primarily for film and television." Read on...
Megyn Kelly touches on blackface controversy
Brian Lowry emails: Megyn Kelly is due to appear on Bill Maher's HBO "Real Time" show on Friday, and she previewed that by playing the victim on Twitter Thursday. The former anchor pointed to an article about Robert Downey Jr. doing blackface in the satire "Tropic Thunder" while suggesting that she had been "cancelled" by NBCUniversal for merely having a conversation about it. But that's a self-servingly simplistic read on why Kelly and NBC News parted ways, ignoring that she was simply miscast from the get-go as a morning-news personality. If this is Kelly's posture in mounting a comeback, it doesn't bode well...
Lowry reviews "Star Trek: Picard"
Brian Lowry emails: CBS All Access has relied heavily on "Star Trek" as the kind of content that will beam up paying subscribers, having used the spinoff "Discovery" to launch the service in 2017. Now, it's back with "Star Trek: Picard," a spinoff in which Patrick Stewart reprises his role as Jean-Luc Picard, 33 years after "The Next Generation" launched. It's nice seeing him back as the character, but based on the opening episodes of this deeply serialized series, the show slo-o-owly goes where the franchise has gone before. Read on...
FOR THE RECORD, PART SIX
By Katie Pellico:
-- A movie adaptation of the "Mean Girls" musical is in the works. Tina Fey will "once again pen the script," per Playbill, "utilizing the Tony-nominated score by her husband Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin..." (Playbill)
-- Background: "How Tina Fey turned 'Mean Girls' into a pop culture phenomenon..." (Boston Globe)
-- Betty Gilpin is set to play Ann Coulter in Ryan Murphy's upcoming FX limited series about the Clinton-Lewinsky impeachment scandal... (Deadline)
-- "Captain Marvel 2" is in the works, THR's Borys Kit reports... (THR)
"Cats" claws Universal's profits
Frank Pallotta writes: Me-OW. Universal took a pretty big hit last quarter largely because of the box office disaster that was "Cats." The studio's revenue fell 21% from last quarter, its parent company Comcast reported on Thursday. Earnings for its film unit decreased 49% in the quarter and box office revenue declined nearly 60% (!!!).
That has a lot to do with "Cats," which bombed with both audiences and critics, but Universal was also a victim of its own success since hits like "Halloween" and "The Grinch" opened in the comparable quarter in 2018.
FOR THE RECORD, PART SEVEN
By Lisa Respers France:
-- Former Grammys head Deborah Dugan appeared on two morning shows Thursday to both defend allegations against her and explain her allegations which led her to sue the Recording Academy. "I hate that I am in this position," she said...
-- Writer/actor Lena Waithe and her wife Alana Mayo have split two months after their marriage announcement...
-- Drummer Joey Kramer lost his battle to play with his band Aerosmith at the Grammys...
-- Brad Pitt is the new toastmaster of awards season, and we are loving his speeches...
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