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EXEC SUMMARY: Stelter here. What a year this month has been. The three i's dominated, starting with Iran, then impeachment, and now the Iowa caucuses. But now it's February. Everyone gets a brief break this weekend for a uniquely American holiday...

Super Weekend

President Trump will be acquitted – but not this weekend. Closing arguments will start on Monday and the final vote will be held on Wednesday. Trump will be monitoring developments/tweeting from Mar-a-Lago over the weekend, while much of the country's attention will be pointed an hour's drive south in Miami. It's Super Bowl Sunday, and we could all use the break from political brawling...

 >> But it won't be a complete escape: "For what may be the first time, national politics will invade" the Super Bowl, the AP's Mae Anderson wrote, since both Trump and Michael Bloomberg are running spots during the game...

 >> Plan ahead: The 49ers and the Chiefs kick off at Hard Rock Stadium at 6:30pm ET...

Big audience for Hannity and Trump

Sean Hannity is about to have the biggest audience of his career.

On a good night, 3 or 4 million people tune in for "Hannity" on Fox News. But his big Super Bowl Sunday sit-down with Trump -- which will be taped at Mar-a-Lago ahead of time -- will be airing in the 3pm hour during the Fox broadcast network's pre-game show, and a much bigger crowd will be watching. The last time Fox aired the game, in 2017, Bill O'Reilly's 4pm hour interview with Trump averaged 12 million viewers. Last year's POTUS interview on game day, in the 3pm hour on CBS, averaged 8 million viewers, so that's probably the fairer comparison.

Either way, the upshot is: With more eyeballs comes more scrutiny. And O'Reilly was three-quarters in with Trump, but Hannity is all the way in, and then some. Will Hannity's pro-Trump propaganda be on display with a wider audience? Or will he do the right thing and ask the president some difficult Q's? 

"Fox's message is clear"

Oliver Darcy emails: The Trump-Hannity interview will almost certainly amount to a giant campaign ad for the president. Instead of flexing its (diminishing) news muscles and giving Bret Baier or Chris Wallace the opportunity to interview Trump, the network is letting Hannity lob softballs to him. I hope I'm wrong! But Hannity's record speaks for itself.

 >> The professional Fox critics over at Media Matters weighed in on Friday... "Fox’s message is clear: When the stakes are highest and the spotlight is brightest, the network produces right-wing propaganda, not journalism," Matt Gertz wrote. "This would be an embarrassment for Fox if anyone there still had any capacity for embarrassment. But as we’ve seen, the network has long abandoned even the pretense that any rules apply to Hannity, its undisputed standard-bearer. He is the epitome of Fox’s news product, and so it is appropriate that he represent it to the world. Fox is Sean Hannity’s network, and it doesn’t care who knows it."

Will Fox talent speak up?

Brian Lowry emails: Among other things, letting Hannity conduct the Super Bowl interview puts the Fox broadcast network in a tricky position, given efforts by its exec to distance itself from the cable-news side. Hollywood talent that has been roundly critical of Fox News and questioned doing business with Fox broadcasting -- Seth MacFarlane, Judd Apatow and Steve Levitan all come to mind -- will have more reason to question why they should cut deals with a sibling channel, which is hard-pressed to preach its independence when it allows a partisan commentator to be featured on the biggest possible TV stage...

Will the ratings top 100 million?

Last year the game averaged 100.7 million viewers during the four quarters... The total only counts Americans at home watching via TV, while streaming and out of home viewership were measured separately... But the at-home via-TV audience has been declining for the past five years. Will this be the year it dips below 100 million?

 >> To be clear, the total audience number is still amazing... towering above every other event on TV...

The ad bowl

 -- BI's Tanya Dua breaks down the 10 brands running Super Bowl ads for the first time...

 -- One of those is Quibi, which is running a 30-second spot just after kickoff...

 -- "The Super Bowl is still TV's ballgame, with streaming far behind," Sahil Patel notes: "Fox's streaming-only ads for the Super Bowl were priced between $300,000 and $400,000 for 30 seconds of ad time," versus $5.6 million for TV ads...

More Big Game links

 -- The Athletic's Richard Deitsch has 20 notes in this Super Bowl broadcast guide...

 -- Numerous Fox News shows have relocated to Miami for the weekend, including "Fox & Friends," "Fox News Sunday" and "Bill Hemmer Reports..." There will also be a special edition of "The Five" on Sunday afternoon...

 -- Jennifer Lopez and Shakira are performing at the halftime show "in a milestone moment that will see two powerhouse Latina artists co-headline for the first time," Sandra Gonzalez writes...

 -- As this exceptionally long month comes to a close, Joe Weisenthal quips: "At least next month only has 28 days." (The bad news: It's 29 this year...)

 -- Ten huge days ahead: After the caucuses, there's the SOTU on Tuesday, two days of CNN town halls on Wednesday and Thursday, a NH debate on ABC on Friday, and the Oscars next Sunday...

 -- John Berman reacting to the Senate GOP's positioning: "Russia, if you're listening, 2020 is open for investigations..."

 -- "Trump made at least 27 false claims as Senate debated impeachment on Thursday," Daniel Dale found...

 -- "If he wins this, I think nobody should regard him as having been impeached," Alan Dershowitz told Hannity Friday night...

America is a 51-49 country

Drudge's banner headline on Friday night: "51-49 SENATE REJECTS WITNESSES."

HuffPost's banner: "COVER-UP COMPLETE."

The six-column headline atop Saturday's print edition of the NYT: "SENATE REPUBLICANS BLOCK WITNESSES, 51-49, CLEARING A PATH FOR THE PRESIDENT'S ACQUITTAL."

It's all but over now. So let me +1 what Shimon Prokupecz posted on Instagram, alongside this great photo of Manu Raju and co. asking questions: "To all my colleagues and the best CNN folks who've walked the halls of Capitol Hill, thanks for all the long days and long nights."


The state of play

Jake Tapper summed it up during CNN's special coverage on Friday: "It is striking that there is a national security adviser for President Trump, who is out there basically waving his hands saying, 'I would like to be subpoenaed, I would like to testify ... And even in that context, the Senate voted the way they did, with every Republican except for Susan Collins and Mitt Romney saying 'I don't need to hear anymore.'"

 >> John Bolton's forthcoming book is now No. 2 on Amazon, ahead of every title except for Kobe Bryant's 2018 memoir, which is sold-out...

 >> Chris Cuomo reacting to the vote to exclude key witnesses: "You should be mad as hell and you need to show these people you will not take it anymore..."

The bottom line

Oliver Darcy emails: Tim Alberta summed things up neatly on Friday: "There are multiple jurors who believe the defendant is guilty as charged but disapprove of the sentence that awaits him so they’re voting to acquit the defendant who they believe is guilty as charged."

Glasser: "The Senate can stop pretending"

Oliver Darcy emails: Over at The New Yorker, Susan Glasser's piece on Sen. Lamar Alexander's decision to vote against witnesses is worth a read. "In the end, it’s no small irony that Trump was saved from embarrassing public testimony against him by one of the last representatives of the Republican establishment that so recently scorned him—and for which the President himself has nothing but scorn," Glasser wrote. 

>> The kicker: "Donald Trump’s stonewalling will succeed where Nixon’s failed. Perhaps Alexander has done us all a favor: the trial that wasn’t really a trial will be over, and we will no longer have to listen to it. The Senate can stop pretending...."


 -- Britain has officially, really, finally left the EU. Here are Saturday morning's front pages... (Sky)

 -- Poetic justice: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly (who was berated by Mike Pompeo last week) and Michele Kelemen (who was removed from Pompeo's plane this week in a possible act of retaliation against the news outlet) jointly broke the news that former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch has retired... (NPR)

 -- Follow NYT China correspondent Amy Qin: "Just arrived in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, which has been under lockdown for more than a week now," she tweeted Friday. "The mood among locals: anxiety, flashes of anger & frustration, and extreme boredom..." (Twitter)

 -- Joe Heim's latest scoop: "The Library of Congress abandoned plans last year to showcase a mural-size photograph of demonstrators at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington because of concerns it would be perceived as critical of President Trump..." (WaPo)


Final Iowa poll on Saturday night

CNN and the Des Moines Register will release their final pre-caucus poll on Saturday at 9pm ET. "CNN's Chris Cuomo will anchor a special event in Des Moines, Iowa... joined by CNN colleagues Dana Bash, David Chalian and John King, as well as political pollster and president of Iowa-based polling firm Selzer & Company, J. Ann Selzer and Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief politics reporter for The Des Moines Register..."

 --> ICYMI: Margaret Sullivan visited the Register ahead of Monday's caucuses...

 --> Politico's Natasha Korecki writes: "The Iowa caucuses might finally settle a long argument over what really works better for politicians: social media or TV?"

"Why Iowa?"

That's the title of WaPo's must-read by Dan Zak. His story shows the drastic differences between "mythical Iowa, picturesque cradle of electoral politics," and "real Iowa." Read on...

Iowa Starting Line is the "new must-read" of 2020

Oliver Darcy emails: If you've been paying attention to the Iowa political scene, you've likely had the Iowa Starting Line on your list of must-reads. In this new profile of the news site, Michael Grynbaum said "elite reporters follow it. Candidates care about it. And at a painful time in the local news business, its six-person staff has started to rival The Des Moines Register for scoops and influence in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus." Read the full NYT piece here...

Bloomberg's big win

"We are thrilled," Bloomberg's campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said after the DNC released new qualifications for the Feb. 19 Dem debate that's being hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. "The party scrapped requirements that candidates have tens of thousands of individual donors," opening the door to Bloomberg, "a multi-billionaire who is funding his own campaign," NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald wrote. Some other candidates are objecting...

 >> Almost every day, I hear about someone else in the media world orbit who's joining Bloomberg 2020. The latest example: Gary Ginsberg, formerly the head of comms at both News Corp and Time Warner, has taken a leave of absence from SoftBank to become a senior advisor on the campaign...

This Sunday on "Reliable"

I'll be joined by Sam Donaldson, Jill Filipovic, Julian Zelizer, Robby Soave, and a trio of reporters in Iowa: Alexi McCammond, Astead Herndon and Storm Lake Times editor Art Cullen. See you Sunday at 11am ET on CNN...


 -- CBS CEO Joe Ianniello is "making an early exit," and George Cheeks is becoming the new "president and chief executive of CBS Entertainment Group, effective March 23..." (LAT)

 -- "Randy Freer is leaving his role as Hulu CEO amid a reorganization that will more closely align the streaming service with parent company Disney and its direct-to-consumer business..." (THR)

 -- Ben Mullin and Joe Flint report: "Richard Plepler is seeking to recruit Vice Media veteran Josh Tyrangiel to his new production company, Eden Productions," bringing in "an executive with news experience as his outfit prepares to make shows for Apple..." (WSJ)

Trillion dollar club

It's the MAGA club! Microsoft, Amazon, Google (well technically Alphabet), and Apple all started the day with trillion dollar market caps... This was notable because Amazon was joining the pack after a stellar earnings report on Thursday... But by the end of the day Friday, both Amazon and Alphabet had slipped back below the $1 trillion mark. Amazon "fell 8 cents short," the WSJ notes...

Fox-Roku dispute reaches boiling point

Oliver Darcy emails: "For the first time, Roku has found itself in a heated carriage dispute that’s very familiar to cable providers, but less often associated with tech companies," The Verge's Chris Welch wrote

Ahead of the Friday night carriage deadline, Fox responded by enlisting numerous personalities to put pressure on Roku. Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro, Tomi Lahren, and others posted nearly identical messages Friday which read something like this: "Why is @Roku threatening to take away the FOX News app? We don't know either! Tell Roku hands off your device, and to put you ahead of their business interests." 

We'll see if the two sides resolve their differences ahead of Sunday's big game. As Welch pointed out in his story, Fox sent a message to Roku that "it’s willing to keep fighting this one out."

A major departure from The New Yorker

Pam McCarthy, deputy editor at The New Yorker for 27 years, will step down in May, succeeded by current senior editor Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn. Top editor David Remnick announced the transition to staff in an email Friday, nothing a "deep sense of loss... not only for selfish reasons." He said the time has come for her "to make a change in her life after decades working in magazines," and that "she wants to explore other ways of working and, more, living."

Two schools of thought about Matt Gutman's suspension

Matt Gutman's suspension from ABC News -- for incorrectly reporting that all four of Kobe's daughters had died in the helicopter crash -- is 30 days long, I'm told. This week I've heard two schools of thought about ABC's decision to bench him.

The first view: A 30-day suspension is excessive. Gutman is a valuable part of the team, he misspoke, he wasn't being malicious. The punishment doesn't fit the crime.

The second view: ABC isn't going far enough. Gutman has a reputation, fair or not, for playing fast and loose on stories. This was a fireable offense, and he's lucky to only be suspended...

What The Dispatch hopes to do

Oliver Darcy emails: The Dispatch, the conservative news organization launched earlier this month by Steven Hayes and Jonah Goldberg, got the profile treatment from The Atlantic's McKay Coppins. “At places like Breitbart and further off into the swamplands,” Goldberg said, “You can literally just make stuff up as long as it makes people angry enough to click on it.” 

Goldberg and Hayes have said they want The Dispatch to be a fact-based news organization that follows traditional journalistic ethics. As Coppins wrote of Hayes, "He is convinced that audiences will respond to rigorous news reporting that doesn't pander, but shares certain premises that are often missing from mainstream coverage, such as sympathy for conservative religious beliefs."

Whether they will be successful is another story. The appetite for content critical of Trump on the right has greatly diminished over the last few years. Mark Hemingway bluntly told Coppins, "There's absolutely zero market for it."

 >> If nothing else, it appears The Dispatch is in good financial shape. Despite being new to the scene, Hayes told Coppins that they had sold nearly 400 "lifetime memberships" for $1,500 each. He added that they have sold 3,500 annual subscriptions for $100. Read more...


By Kerry Flynn:

 -- Jason Hanna and Tina Burnside report: "Anne Cox Chambers, who with her sister took over the family media conglomerate that became Cox Enterprises and once served as US ambassador to Belgium, died Friday." She was 100. (CNN)

 -- Edmund Lee interviewed Ben Smith and Jonah Peretti for a story on what’s next for BuzzFeed News, reporting the news division costs about $18 million per year. "We want to do everything possible to continue Ben's legacy," Peretti said. "We want to break news and be fearless and stand up to power to do all the things that define what BuzzFeed News is..." (NYT)

 -- Morning Brew revealed $13 million in 2019 revenue, up from $3 million last year. The company also announced new hires: Samir Sheth as svp, head of content; Erika Velazquez Alpern as svp, head of brand and product marketing; Jason Schulweis as svp, head of brand partnerships; Kate Noel as vp, head of people operations (MediaPost)

 -- Julia Alexander interviewed Carlos Maza on his decision to leave Vox Media and become a full-time YouTube creator... (The Verge)

 -- TVWeek is shuttering after "38 years of continuous publication." Owner Chuck Ross has a new idea for the brand: He wants it to be "adopted by a journalism school..." (TVWeek)

Tim Alberta on the "Reliable" podcast 🎙️

"Instead of just filling up my notebook" with voter interviews "and occasionally throwing a quote into the tenth paragraph of a story," Politico chief political correspondent Tim Alberta is making those voters the main point of his pieces, writing a series of letters "to Washington from the rest of America." We discussed his new project on this week's "Reliable Sources" podcast... Check it out via Apple Podcasts or your preferred app...

"Did AI kill the radio star?"

"Or was it just big business?" asks WaPo's Drew Harwell. After iHeartMedia announced hundreds of layoffs as part of a shift to "AI-enabled Centers of Excellence," Harwell spoke with iHeart DJs who "said the cuts were tantamount to a 'bloodbath.'"

"The company, which now uses software to schedule music, analyze research and mix songs, plans to consolidate offices around what executives call 'AI-enabled Centers of Excellence,'" Harwell explains. He says "the cuts at iHeartMedia and other companies also highlight a little-noticed element of these mass layoffs: the human decision-makers who lead them." Read the full story here...

Recommended reads for the weekend 👓

By Katie Pellico:

 -- Beginning The New Yorker's "Future of Democracy" special series, Charles Bethea zeroes in on Jones County, North Carolina to show "What Happens When the News Is Gone?"

 -- The RTDNA celebrated Student Press Freedom Day this week by exploring "What newsrooms owe student journalists..."

 -- A detailed analysis from Guardian US reporter Julia Carrie Wong shows that over 2019, "the Trump campaign spent nearly $20m on more than 218,000 different Facebook ads..."

 -- Garrett Graff profiles Sen. Mark Warner, the former telecoms entrepreneur who says "saving the industry (and democracy) might mean blowing up Big Tech as we know it..."

 -- "CollegeHumor launched over 20 years ago and helped shape modern comedy and the internet as we know it. This month, it laid almost everyone off." WIRED's Kate Knibbs explains "What Went Wrong..."

 -- Bobby Finger for Vulture: With a total of 15 Academy Award nominations, including one this year for his work on "1917," composer Thomas Newman "may finally win..."

"The Crown" set to end with Season 5

CNN's Marianne Garvey reports: "'The Crown' will end a bit earlier than expected, with Season 5 being the last. Netflix revealed the royal epic will conclude with Imelda Staunton on the throne as Queen Elizabeth II for the final season." Staunton said in a statement, "I am genuinely honoured to be joining such an exceptional creative team and to be taking The Crown to its conclusion." Read on...

>> Show creator and EP Peter Morgan explained in a statement that "it has become clear to me that this is the perfect time and place to stop... I'm grateful to Netflix and Sony for supporting me in this decision."


By Lisa Respers France:

 -- Rapper Mase called out former collaborator Sean "Diddy" Combs for his business practices after Combs called out the Grammys for how he said they treat black artists...

 -- Deandre Arnold was told he couldn't attend his graduation ceremony unless he cut his dreadlocks. Now he is heading to the Oscars thanks to the team behind the nominated animated short "Hair Love..."

 -- Lizzo and Harry Styles performing "Juice" together is all you need today...

 -- Lil Wayne dropped his eagerly awaited new album, "Funeral," on Friday...

 -- "Lethal Weapon 5" is set to happen with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover...

Lowry: "'The Assistant' is the #MeToo version of a monster movie"

Brian Lowry emails: "The Assistant" is an interesting low-budget indie film, clearly inspired by the Harvey Weinstein case, focusing on a young assistant working for a powerful entertainment mogul. Although a little too coy in its approach, think of it as a monster movie for the #MeToo era, one where you never actually see the monster. Read Lowry's review in full...

Taylor Swift charts her decision to speak out politically in 'Miss Americana'

Brian Lowry emails: The Taylor Swift documentary "Miss Americana" dropped Friday on Netflix, and it's essentially two projects in one. The better half chronicles the singer's decision to wade into the political fray -- endorsing Democrats in 2018 -- despite an impulse and upbringing that told her not to. The other part feels like a more conventional celebrity-reality docu-series, the kind you'd find on Bravo or E!, intended to get the viewer to walk a mile in the shoes of the rich and famous...


Remembering Mary Higgins Clark

This just in: "Mary Higgins Clark, the tireless and long-reigning 'Queen of Suspense' whose tales of women beating the odds made her one of the world’s most popular writers, died Friday at age 92. Her publisher, Simon & Schuster, announced that she died in Naples, Florida, of natural causes," the AP's Hillel Italie reported.

"Nobody ever bonded more completely with her readers than Mary did," her longtime editor Michael Korda said. "She understood them as if they were members of her own family. She was always absolutely sure of what they wanted to read — and, perhaps more important, what they didn’t want to read — and yet she managed to surprise them with every book."
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