Exec Summary: Oliver Darcy in the chair on this busy news day... Scroll down for Trump's new record, Thursday's WaPo and NYT front pages, the latest on Jeff Bezos, CNN and BuzzFeed's court motion, Jim Rutenberg's new role, TIME's new cover, Billy Eichner as Matt Drudge, and so much more. But first...
"Impeachment Doesn't Require a Crime"
Don't take it from the "liberal media," take it from the conservative National Review. On Wednesday evening, National Review's editors published an editorial pushing back against one of the main arguments Trump-defenders have made in recent weeks: The idea that impeachment requires a crime.
In an editorial, aptly titled "Impeachment Doesn't Require a Crime," the editors laid out the "unspoken consensus" Republican senators have reached behind closed doors. According to National Review, that consensus is that Trump behaved improperly, but "his conduct does not merit his removal from office."
The National Review editors contended such is a "reasonable position." But they noted Republican senators "are inhibited" from making such an argument because of Trump's "obstinacy." The editors continued, "Instead of sticking to the most defensible case for a Senate acquittal of Trump, Republicans from the president on down are making arguments that range from the implausible to the embarrassing."
"Attempts to impeach presidents have thus frequently combined charges of crimes with charges of non-criminal abuses," National Review's editors added. "A categorical denial of the latter class of charge would do violence to the Constitution and one of its checks on presidential misconduct." AND YET, that is the very argument that is being repeated over and over again by Trump's army of defenders.
Speaking of Trump's defenders....
Fox cuts away from Senate proceedings
The executives at Fox News made a remarkable editorial decision Wednesday: They decided to cut away from the Senate impeachment trial proceedings in favor of airing regular programming. It started during the 5 p.m. hour. While CNN and MSNBC continued airing raw feeds showing Democrats make their case on the Senate floor, Fox chose to air "The Five" hosts' opinions on the trial and grievances about the media.
The network never looked back. While some shows dipped into the Senate chambers here and there for impeachment proceedings, Fox mostly continued airing its pro-Trump prime time lineup. I checked in with a spokesperson for the network to see if someone could walk me through how it was determined that airing shows like "The Five" carried greater editorial value than the historic trial of a sitting President of the United States. I never heard back...
...continues focus on Hunter Biden
While Fox took heat off Trump by not airing the Democratic case against him in prime time, the hosts on the network simultaneously continued to run negative stories on Hunter Biden throughout the night. Anchor Martha MacCallum found time in her show to do a segment on his paternity case. Tucker Carlson said it would "be nice" to hear from Biden. And hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham each went after Biden as well.
>> Related from WaPo's Erik Wemple: "Who needs a press secretary when you've got 'Hannity'?"
Napolitano still MIA
It might be time to put Judge Andrew Napolitano on the milk cartons over at Fox News. While he appeared on Fox Business Wednesday, Napolitano has still been missing from Fox News' special coverage of the impeachment trial. That's notable because Napolitano has been extremely critical of Trump's dealings with Ukraine. And he's Fox's senior judicial analyst, someone who has been a staple on the network for many years. So where is he?
Hayes and Maddow zing senators
After the first day of opening arguments concluded, MSNBC hosts Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow went after senators who didn't appear to be paying close attention to the proceedings. Hayes noted, "This is literally their job." He then said, "If you find it too annoying or frustrating or uncomfortable to sit for eight hours and listen, you can resign tomorrow and go get another job.” Maddow added, “There is something to be said for the civic example that they could fake. You don’t have to believe it, but fake it for the sake of your country.”
>> Related from CNN's Jeff Zeleny: "At one point, 15 GOP seats were empty and 12 Democratic seats were empty — but several senators on each side were milling around and stretching their legs..."
Trump's new record
The President set a record on Wednesday for the most tweets of his presidency. According to Factba.se, which tracks Trump's tweets, the record came at 4:25 p.m. ET, with more than 125 tweets or retweets. That number later went up to more than 140.
NYT noted in its live-blog that Trump "began his Twitter blitz around midnight Washington time while still in Davos, Switzerland, where he attended an economic forum. He fired off 41 tweets over the next hour, or one every 88 seconds, according to Bill Frischling of Factba.se..."
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
-- CBS News has hired Reince Priebus as a political analyst for the 2020 election cycle... He is clearly there to present the pro-Trump POV, and this caused howls from critics... (CBS)
-- The Senate press restrictions "have an ugly goal," Margaret Sullivan writes: "Putting distance" between the public and Trump's trial... (WaPo)
-- Day one of the Senate impeachment trial drew 11 million viewers... (Variety)
-- Jake Tapper pointed to comments by Jay Sekulow when he said, “One of the reasons there’s also confusion is because there is a lot of misinformation. A lot of things that are being stated that are not true..." (Mediaite)
-- George Conway explained on CNN why he is so outspoken about Trump... (CNN)
-- Cool moment: Norah O'Donnell was joined Wednesday for special impeachment coverage by current "Face The Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan, along with predecessors John Dickerson and Lesley Stahl... (Twitter)
NBC Sky World News to launch in summer
The international offering from NBCUniversal and Sky will launch this summer. It will be called "NBC Sky World News." Deborah Turness, who is overseeing the launch, told Variety's Brian Steinberg that the company will hire new talent, as well as around 100 employees for the project. More details from Steinberg here...
Trump campaign exploring debates with outside companies?
Is the Trump campaign looking to circumvent the Committee on Presidential Debates this fall? NYT's Maggie Haberman tweeted Wednesday that campaign manager Brad Parscale has told people he's had conversations with some outside companies about debates. Trump, of course, has bashed the CPD, claiming it is "stacked with Trump Haters and Never Trumpers."
A person on the Trump campaign familiar with the situation told me they would not dispute what Haberman tweeted. The person said the Trump campaign does "want to do debates," but just wants to "make sure they're fair." I asked what exactly the Trump campaign was worried about regarding the CPD debates, but didn't hear back...
-- The Sundance Film Festival begins in Park City...
-- Comcast reports earnings after the closing bell...
-- Gayle King's first prime-time Grammy special airs at 10pm ET...
Bezos, the Saudis, and the Post
Experts at the United Nations on Wednesday said information the organization had received suggested the "possible involvement" of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in hacking the phone of WaPo owner Jeff Bezos "in an effort to influence, if not silence" the newspaper's reporting on the kingdom. WaPo, at the time of the possible intrusion into Bezos' phone, had been publishing the columns of Jamal Khashoggi.
"The hacking of Jeff Bezos is in a different league," Agnes Callamard, one of the United Nations experts, said according to NYT. "He is not a Saudi citizen. He is a person of strategic interest, and his hacking appears to have been driven by his ownership of The Washington Post.”
The statement was released after media outlets reported a forensics team hired by Bezos concluded the hack originated from a WhatsApp account belonging to MBS, Charles Riley and Shimon Prokupecz reported for CNN Business. UN experts relied in part on that analysis. Saudi Arabia has denied responsibility for the hack. I checked in on Wednesday with WaPo, but a spokesperson declined comment. Bezos, who has declined comment through a representative, tweeted out a photo of himself at a memorial service for Khashoggi...
White House silent
While UN experts were quick to call for a probe, CNN's Kevin Liptak noted Wednesday that the White House has remained silent. "The episode underscores the unusual camaraderie between President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's rulers, as well as Trump's fraught relationship with Bezos, who owns the Washington Post," Liptak wrote.
CNN and BuzzFeed file court motion against DOJ over Jared Kushner 302s
CNN and BuzzFeed on Wednesday filed a motion in court asking a federal judge to enforce a previous order and compel the Department of Justice to turn over documents related to Jared Kushner's interviews with Robert Mueller within one week. As CNN's Katelyn Polantz reported Wednesday, DOJ was supposed to turn over those documents to both outlets last week, but did not do so -- despite a judge's previous order.
DOJ, instead, informed CNN through a department attorney that a "member of the intelligence community" needed to review the documents and make sure they were properly redacted. The DOJ lawyer told CNN the 302s would be "released with the appropriate relations" after the review...
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
-- Joe Pompeo took a look at Harry and Meghan's post-royal business model. His publishing sources estimated a memoir by Harry would go for a ballpark of $15 million.... (Vanity Fair)
-- A Republican congressman is asking the DOJ to look into whether Xinhua should register as a foreign agent... (Axios)
-- Tulsi Gabbard sued Hillary Clinton on Wednesday for remarks the former Democratic presidential nominee made on David Plouffe's podcast in 2019... (CNN)
-- Isaac Chotiner conducted a Q&A with Glenn Greenwald following federal prosecutors in Brazil charging him... (New Yorker)
-- Related: Tucker Carlson voiced support for Greenwald, who has been a repeat guest on his show: "We are rooting for you," Carlson said... (Twitter)
-- "Virulent anti-Semite Rick Wiles has once again received White House press credentials..." (Right-Wing Watch)
-- Sinclair is launching a new channel for raw, unfiltered streams of campaign events. But is it a good idea? (Mediaite)
-- Judd Legum breaks down how Facebook is allowing a pro-Trump Super PAC to "lie in ads" despite the social media company's own fact-checking partners ruling claims included in it false... (Popular.Info)
No more Mediator
Brian Stelter emails: Say it ain't so! NYT media columnist Jim Rutenberg, a/k/a the Mediator, is moving into a new role -- writer at large -- "splitting his time between the politics desk and the Sunday Magazine," according to a Wednesday memo. "During what will certainly be one of the most important and competitive news years, Jim will do quick-turn investigations, long-form stories and profiles."
I missed his column when he was on book leave, and I'll miss it even more now. The NYT hasn't specified what will happen to the long-standing Monday media column...
"Serial" for sale?
The company known for creating the viral true-crime podcast "Serial" is exploring a possible sale, the WSJ's Benjamin Mullin scooped on Wednesday. Per Mullin, the NYT is among the potential buyers. Both companies declined to comment...
Trump praises "excellent writer" Bob Woodward
During his press conference Wednesday at the conclusion of his Davos trip, Trump lauded Bob Woodward, calling him an "excellent writer." Trump added, "This time I'll actually give him an interview." As Kaitlan Collins noted, Trump was irritated when Woodward's requests for comment weren't relayed to him for "Fear."
In his remarks, Trump also recounted a recent conversation he had with Woodward about impeachment: “He said, ‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘No, I’m not enjoying it.’ He said, ‘No, you act like you’re winning and you won. You’re actually enjoying it.’ I said, ‘I’m not enjoying it. I’m doing it because it’s very important what I'm doing."
...complains Hannity and Limbaugh haven't been awarded Pulitzer Prizes
At his press conference, Trump did what he almost always does: complain about the media. "The press is so dishonest, so corrupt," he said, claiming he doesn't "mind bad stories," just dishonest ones. Trump complained that "people got Pulitzer Prizes for their coverage of me," which he claimed was "totally wrong."
Trump then suggested Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh should have received the prestigious journalism award. “Other people Sean Hannity, Rushbo -- a lot of great writers got it right," the President said. "They didn’t get Pulitzer prizes." No, they (obviously) did not...
And seemingly discloses details of Bartiromo's contract!
This was a notable moment from Maria Bartiromo's interview with Trump. During the interview, Trump told Bartiromo, "Congratulations on six more years." As Stelter noted on Twitter, Bartiromo recently did renew her deal, but Fox never commented on the terms.
This is the second instance this month that Trump has seemingly disclosed private details of a media personality's contract when the media organization has declined to provide them. Just a couple weeks ago, Premiere Radio Networks declined to comment on the terms of Rush Limbaugh's renewal, but Trump blurted out at a rally that it was a four-year deal.
FOR THE RECORD, PART THREE
-- "Tightrope" by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn debuted at No. 3 on the NYT's print and ebook nonfiction best-seller list on Wednesday... Rick Wilson's "Running Against the Devil" debuted at No. 3... and "Uncanny Valley," by last week's Reliable podcast guest Anna Wiener, debuted at No. 7... (NYT)
-- Congrats to Tara Westover, who just hit 100 weeks on the aforementioned bestseller list with "Educated." 100 weeks!
-- Katie Pellico writes: LMU Loyola Law School is accepting applications for its 15th-annual Journalist Law School, a four-day intensive seminar developed by the school's Civil Justice Program... (Loyola Law School)
-- HLN announced Wednesday that the network is launching its first podcast, "Down The Hill: The Delphi Murders." The eight-part series will debut on February 5, and is hosted by HLN producers Barbara MacDonald and Drew Iden.... (HLN)
Brian Stelter emails: This week's TIME cover story is by national correspondent Charlotte Alter -- it's the first excerpt from Alter’s new book, "The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America," coming out on February 18. Her story is about how millennial leaders will change America. The story will be up on Time.com at 7am Thursday...
Free press orgs call for release of journalist
An Phung emails: Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists are calling for the release of American journalist Philip Jacobson who was arrested in Indonesia on Tuesday for an alleged visa violation. Mongabay, the environmental news site where Jacobson is employed, is working hard to secure his release.
But its CEO Rhett A. Butler expressed surprise that the country’s “immigration officials have taken such punitive action against Philip for what is an administrative matter.” CPJ said it could not confirm that his work as a journalist is connected to his arrest, but he wrote stories that exposed Indonesia’s environmental issues and corporate corruption. Indonesia ranks 124 out of the 180 countries on Reporters Without Border’s World Press Freedom Index.
Group Nine's 2020
Kerry Flynn emails: “We’re going to be profitable this year,” Ben Lerer said at a breakfast at Group Nine’s HQ on Wednesday. Lerer was joined by his exec team including Brian Sugar, who took on the role of president after PopSugar’s acquisition, and Lisa Sugar. After a few bleak years in digital media, Lerer expressed “optimism” about his own company and peers. Some highlights...
>> Horizontal scale maintains brand identity: “We let each of the brands be about themselves by building an infrastructure that all the brands can rise on. We sell a portfolio rather than sell individual brands, allowed each of our brands to be more comfortable in their own skin.”
>> Right culture fit: “The press around consolidation has been focused on the business case but the reality the reason why [the PopSugar] deal has worked is it’s about the people … Our leadership team is the combination of both sides.”
>> Platforms as partners: “Digital is so used to instant gratification but in reality partnering with the Netflix and Quibis of the world we did so much work last year that the world is not aware of, and I think that’s the case for our competitors as well.”
FOR THE RECORD, PART FOUR
By Kerry Flynn:
-- Kayleigh Barber reports why publishers including Time, Protocol, Quartz and Fast Company have invested in Davos events... (Digiday)
-- Rebecca Jennings reports on TikTok’s ability to spread political messaging, interviewing activists and teen memes... (Vox) Related: I recently spoke to publishers about sharing hard news on TikTok... (CNN)
-- Alex Wilhem reports Substack is allowing multi-author support and other publisher-friendly tools... (TechCrunch)
-- Sports Illustrated launched its “reimagined” print magazine under Maven, which took ownership last year. This issue tied to the Super Bowl will be the first of 22 issues in 2020... (SI)
-- Meredith is launching a new quarterly lifestyle magazine with Ayesha Curry. Title is TBD but it will cover “food, family and home tips” and debut in May 2020... (People)
-- The Ringer Union tweeted, "It’s been five days since news broke that Spotify may purchase The Ringer. We have not heard from management on this matter..." (Twitter)
Laurene Powell Jobs' production company enters Sundance with "auspicious start"
"Concordia Studio, a production company backed by the multibillionaire philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, will make its debut this week at the Sundance Film Festival, two years after Ms. Powell Jobs founded it with the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim," NYT's Nicole Sperling reported Wednesday. "Four of Concordia's nonfiction films will be among the 16 shown as part of Sundance's U.S. Documentary Competition," Sperling added, "an auspicious start for a newcomer to the country’s pre-eminent festival for independent cinema." Sure is...
Billy Eichner to play Matt Drudge
Get ready to see Billy Eichner as Matt Drudge. On Wednesday, FX announced that Eichner will play the reclusive Internet-news mogul for its limited series "American Crime Story: Impeachment," which focuses on Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. Per Deadline, the series is based on Jeffrey Toobin's book, "A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President."
Drudge, of course, broke news of the Lewinsky affair on his website back in 1998. I emailed Drudge to see if he had any comment on the Eichner casting, but did not hear back. FX also said Eichner is not doing any media interviews for the time being. Which is a bummer, because I had a few questions: Has Eichner met with Drudge to discuss the role? What research has he done? After all, how does one determine how to play a recluse?
FOR THE RECORD, PART FIVE
-- Former late-night comedy writer Jack Allison wrote an essay about the social media attacks he's received from "SNL" co-head writer Michael Che. I checked in with NBC to see if the network had any comment about the behavior described by Allison, but never heard back... (The Outline)
-- The former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow said a rape allegation made against him this week is "ludicrous and untrue..." (Deadline)
-- "Bill Abbott is exiting his post as president and CEO of Crown Media, the parent company of Hallmark Channel..." (Variety)
Why some movies flop at the box-office
Brian Lowry emails: Indiewire’s Anne Thompson explored in a Wednesday article some of the reasons that conspicuous box-office flops like “Cats” and “Dolittle” happen (both, incidentally, from Universal). Among them, Thompson cited an over-reliance on existing intellectual property and ceding too much power to coveted talent...
Hope you enjoyed this edition of the newsletter. Send me your feedback via email or connect with me on Twitter. I'll be back on newsletter duty Friday, but Brian is in the chair Thursday. See you then!