EXEC SUMMARY: Hello from 31,000 feet, flying back east from LAX. Lots of news down below... The names of the National Magazine Award finalists are out, a deal for a "Friends" reunion special is in sight, and a Warner Music IPO is in the works...
The culture of disinformation
"There is perhaps no better place to witness what the culture of disinformation has already wrought in America than a Trump campaign rally," McKay Coppins writes in this must-read for The Atlantic, "The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President." Three key quotes:
>> "Instead of trying to reform the press, or critique its coverage, today's most influential conservatives want to destroy the mainstream media altogether."
>> Trump surrogate Bryan Lanza: "It's our job to sell our narrative louder than the media. They're clearly advocating for a liberal-socialist position, and we're never going to be in concert. So the war continues."
>> "Twitter is already infested with bots that seem designed to boost Trump's reelection prospects. Regardless of where they’re coming from, they have tremendous potential to divide, radicalize, and stoke hatred that lasts long after the votes are cast."
"With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach"
For his research, Coppins created a Facebook account to take him down a MAGA rabbit hole. "The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting," he wrote... I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I'd assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline." Read the full piece here...
Internet trolls reportedly disrupted the Iowa caucuses
Marina di Marzo emails: NBC's Ben Collins, Maura Barrett and Vaughn Hillyard reported Thursday that internet trolls "deliberately disrupted" the Iowa caucus hotline after a call to "clog the lines" was posted in a fringe internet message board Monday night. The Iowa Democratic Party comms director said the hotline did receive "an unusually high volume of inbound phone calls... including supporters of President Trump," adding that "the unexplained, and at times hostile, calls contributed to the delay in the Iowa Democratic Party's collection of results..."
>> Speaking of Iowa: Pete Buttigieg maintained his "narrow lead in Iowa caucuses with 100% of precincts reporting..."
A meta front page of Friday's Post...
Showing POTUS holding up Thursday's "acquitted" front page during his East Room celebration:
"We can take that home ... maybe we'll frame it," Trump joked. "It's the only good headline I've ever had in The Washington Post." What about the White House's claim that its subscriptions to the Post had been cancelled? "Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told me she believes a 'staffer' fetched today's papers," Erik Wemple tweeted...
Inside the network news control rooms...
After Trump's vindictive hour-long address, "one television network anchor apologized to viewers for a presidential obscenity, while another said it was like watching someone on a therapist’s couch," the AP's David Bauder wrote. "Yet there’s no indication that anyone in the control rooms at ABC, CBS and NBC considered pulling the plug on him... In at least two network newsrooms, there was a strong thought that out of fairness, the president deserved the chance to be heard after several weeks where the impeachment hearings and trial were broadcast, said people familiar with the decisions..."
Acquittal 'land mines...'
A reminder from the LAT's Chris Megerian: Ukraine-related evidence against Trump "still could emerge as political land mines as the president seeks reelection." Most notable: John Bolton's book, coming in mid-March...
-- Related headline from CNN's Zachary Cohen and Kylie Atwood: "Washington waits for Bolton to break his silence..."
Napolitano: "Somewhere, Richard Nixon is smiling"
Oliver Darcy emails: In a Thursday op-ed, Judge Andrew Napolitano (Fox's senior judicial analyst who strangely was not part of the network's special impeachment trial coverage) argued that despite Trump's acquittal, the President clearly committed a high crime. "The evidence that Trump did this is overwhelming and beyond a reasonable doubt, and no one with firsthand knowledge denied it," Napolitano wrote.
-- More: He wrote that Trump's lawyers put forth a "morally bankrupt, intellectually dishonest argument" to protect him. He added, "Trump will luxuriate in his victory. But the personal victory for him is a legal assault on the Constitution. The president has taken an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Instead, he has trashed it." Napolitano concluded his piece, writing, "Somewhere, Richard Nixon is smiling."
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
-- "Mr. Trump's vituperative performance on Thursday was the diametrical opposite of how President Bill Clinton responded to his own acquittal after a Senate impeachment trial in 1999..." (NYT)
-- Aaron Blake tweeted How It Works: "Hard to overstate how simple this is: If you run afoul of Trump, you get what McCain, Corker and Flake got -- and Romney is getting. If you defend him to the hilt and go further than other GOPers, you get a shout-out on national TV, like Jordan, Gaetz, Lesko and Stefanik." (Twitter)
-- Marie Yovanovitch's op-ed: "It has been shocking to experience the storm of criticism, lies and malicious conspiracies that have preceded and followed my public testimony, but I have no regrets..." (WaPo)
Fox internal doc said Fox regulars pushed disinfo
Oliver Darcy emails: "Fox News' own research team has warned colleagues not to trust some of the network's top commentators' claims about Ukraine," The Daily Beast's Will Sommer, Maxwell Tani, and Andrew Kirell reported on Thursday. The trio obtained a 162-page internal Fox research document that "openly questions Fox News contributor John Solomon's credibility, accusing him of playing an 'indispensable role' in a Ukrainian 'disinformation campaign...' The document also disputes the credibility of Trump personal attorney and frequent Fox News guest Rudy Giuliani..."
>> Fox responded by saying the document is being "taken out of context and politicized to damage the network..."
Where's John Solomon?
Oliver Darcy adds: You might remember that last week I pointed out that John Solomon has mysteriously vanished from Sean Hannity's Fox News show. Solomon used to appear frequently, but has not been on Hannity's prime time show since December 24th. He was on Laura Ingraham's show a couple of times in January, and has done some Fox Business, but no Hannity. It's pretty much undeniable that his appearances have decreased on Fox News from what they were at one point last year.
But in an interview with Mediaite aimed at promoting his new website, Solomon denied this when asked about it. "It's simply not true," he claimed, adding that he has been on Fox plenty. Sure, Solomon might be doing Fox Biz. But he was a regular fixture on Fox News -- particularly Hannity's prime time show -- and that is no longer the case...
"I dispute the idea that I’ve been debunked or refuted"
Darcy adds: While The Hill's review of Solomon's work is STILL ongoing, Solomon continued to stand by his work in the interview with Mediaite. “I dispute the idea that I’ve been debunked or refuted,” Solomon said. He added that there was "very strong factual basis for all the columns I did.” That remark, of course, doesn't jive with what witnesses told House investigators while under oath...
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
-- WaPo's Greg Miller is moving to Europe to be an investigative correspondent... (WaPo)
-- "Harvey Weinstein's defense team called their first witness Thursday -- a former producer who they say casts doubt on actress Annabella Sciorra's alleged rape allegations..." (CNN)
-- CNN's second night of NH town halls is taking place right now... CNN.com's live story has the highlights... (CNN)
Remnick slams Trump for honoring Limbaugh
Oliver Darcy writes: Adding his voice to the growing chorus, New Yorker EIC David Remnick wrote on Thursday against Trump awarding Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom. Remnick wrote that "empathy is due to anyone who is suffering" cancer, "but not high honors, not a celebration of a life’s work devoted to the mockery and derision of the Other."
"For the President of the United States to bestow one of the nation's highest laurels on Limbaugh is a morally corrosive and politically cynical act," Remnick continued. "It is a kind of assault on the achievements of so many previous award winners..."
Rush is expected to be back on his radio show...
The next Dem debate begins at 8pm ET, co-hosted by ABC, WMUR-TV and Apple News at St. Anselm College in NH...
"Birds of Prey" opens in theaters... Scroll down for Brian Lowry's review...
What ViacomCBS is working on...
"Newly combined ViacomCBS is working on combining media assets for a new streaming service that will build on CBS All Access," CNBC's Alex Sherman reported Thursday, citing sources. It might include "Viacom assets including Pluto TV, Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures" along with CBS All Access, with both ad-supported and ad-free versions.
>> Frank Pallotta confirmed that the company "will unveil a new streaming strategy when it reports" Q4 earnings on February 20. "The company's new streaming product will host live and on-demand content as well as sports, news and entertainment..."
>> Rich Greenfield's reaction: "The mad dash to blow up the legacy multichannel video bundle is accelerating at an incredible pace..."
Gayle King puts blame on CBS for controversy
Oliver Darcy emails: In an extraordinary Instagram post, Gayle King criticized CBS News for sharing what she called a "salacious" and "out of context" clip of her questioning basketball icon Lisa Leslie about a 2003 sexual assault allegation Kobe Bryant faced. (The criminal case against Bryant was dropped, but Bryant later settled a civil suit with his accuser.) King faced strong criticism after the clip was posted, including from celebrities like 50 Cent.
King responded by putting the blame on CBS, expressing regret that the network used that isolated clip to promote the interview. "I know that if I had only seen the clip that you saw, I'd be extremely angry with me too. I am mortified, I'm embarrassed and I am very angry," King said. More here...
CBS News is "addressing the internal process"
Darcy adds: In a Thursday statement, a CBS spokesperson agreed that King had "conducted a thoughtful, wide-ranging interview" with Leslie, but that the promotional clip "did not reflect the nature and tone of the full interview." The spokesperson added, "We are addressing the internal process that led to this and changes have already been made."
FOR THE RECORD, PART THREE
By Kerry Flynn:
-- The NYT is marketing The 1619 Project with a 30-second TV commercial during the Oscars, and more... (NiemanLab)
-- Kayleigh Barber reports on Morning Brew’s growth story, from a single email newsletter to a multi-media company with $13 million in revenue... (Digiday)
-- Kathryn Lundstrom reports on Forbes naming Lynn Schlesinger CMO... (Adweek)
BuzzFeed without Ben
Kerry Flynn emails: When Ben Smith announced he was leaving BuzzFeed, some skeptics said it spelled doom for the news operation. Not true -- at least so says the current and former employees I spoke with since his news last week. BuzzFeed News, the people I spoke to say, is positioned to be in a much better place financially in part thanks to new leadership like executive editor Samantha Henig.
And Smith is leaving behind a 200-person newsroom with a culture for ambitious reporting that won't suddenly disappear. It's TBD who will be the new EIC. Smith says, "I'm telling everybody who will listen what a good job it is." My full story here...
Kerry Flynn emails: Mark Thompson made something clear through Q4 earnings on Thursday: The NYT's subscription business is working. The company's ad revenue fell in the quarter, down 10.7% from the year prior, while subscription revenue increased 4.5%. NYT hit some big milestones: 1 million digital-only subscriptions added in 2019, its largest increase ever, for a total of 5.3 million subscriptions. Reminder: The NYT's goal is 10 million subscriptions by 2025.
>> Interesting tidbit from the call: Starbucks' move to stop selling print newspapers contributed to 2 percentage points out of NYT's 3% decline in print distribution for the quarter. But in good news for NYT, "other" revenues were up 30% thanks to "The Weekly" and Facebook News revenue...
National Magazine Award finalists...
On Thursday ASME announced this year's finalists for the National Magazine Awards. "The New York Times Magazine, under EIC Jake Silverstein, leads with 10 nominations, a historic high for the title," AdAge reported.
"New York Magazine (acquired by Vox in September) snagged nine; National Geographic, published by National Geographic Partners (a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the National Geographic Society), eight; and Bon Appétit and The New Yorker, both published by Condé Nast, six nods each." Details here...
-- Tracy Weber noted that her colleague Pamela Colloff is "now tied for most nominated writer in the history of the National Magazine Awards. SEVEN!"
Meredith's 15% stock jump
Kerry Flynn emails: Didn't seem like a great quarter for Meredith with sales at $811 million, down from $878 million the year prior. But the stock was trading up 15%. There was indeed some good news. CEO Tom Hardy said, "Our two years Time Inc. integration process is now largely complete, and we have more confidence than ever that Meredith is at the strongest competitive position in its history."
>> Another piece of news from the report, per THR's Alex Weprin, "Meredith Corp. will take the People Mag brand and turn it into a syndicated TV show. It is taking 'People Now,' the weekend show it runs on its local stations, and turning it into a daily."
Tribune Publishing cuts execs in "bloodbath"
Katie Pellico emails: NY Post's Keith Kelly reported Thursday that Tribune Publishing's new CEO Terry Jimenez "has unleashed a bloodbath in the executive ranks," having "swiftly executed a series of cuts that wiped out at least a half-dozen executives with the rank of vice president or higher." Kelly reported that the "casualties include a former New York Daily News publisher who himself had halved the paper’s staff in a brutal, one-day bloodbath in 2018."
>> Of note: Kelly noted the cuts were unrelated to the voluntary buyouts Tribune offered staffers in January...
Two Capital Gazette journalists take Tribune buyouts
Pellico adds: Capital Gazette photojournalist Joshua McKerrow and reporter Pat Furgurson both took the buyout offer from Tribune, and as Poynter's Kristen Hare pointed out, both journalists covered the 2018 shooting in their own newsroom. McKerrow tweeted, "I wanted to stay. I really did." He told Hare he had "to do what’s best for my family," saying that although American journalism is enduring some of its "roughest years... It's a new golden age for journalism in the country." Read on...
FOR THE RECORD, PART FOUR
-- Jason Sacca has been tapped as the new executive editor of "CBS Sunday Morning..." (Variety)
-- Reddit has struck a new deal with Tagboard, "which will for the first time allow broadcast networks the ability to easily display Reddit’s content on TV," per Sarah Perez... (TechCrunch)
-- "Steve Bannon has pushed a debunked theory about the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China" on a new podcast he's hosting called "War Room: Pandemic..." (Media Matters)
CNN's David Culver chronicles two weeks under quarantine in Beijing
Katie Pellico emails: In this compelling segment, CNN's David Culver recounted the two weeks he and his team spent under quarantine in Beijing, reporting on the coronavirus outbreak at "all hours," after being in Wuhan just before the area went into lockdown. Here's what it was like...
>> Related: Li Wenliang, the doctor who was interviewed by CNN after warning colleagues of a potential "SARS-like" disease in December, has died. Culver told Lynda Kinkade that his team learned Wenliang is one of several doctors who were "blowing whistles early on."
>> LAT's powerful summary: "He appeared on social media, a solitary man in a surgical mask, warning of a deadly virus. His insistence that an epidemic was coming turned him into a folk hero in a country that prizes secrecy and crushes dissent. He died Friday in a hospital in Wuhan."
Investigation Discovery docu considers toll of gun violence through eyes of survivors, family
Brian Lowry emails: Investigation Discovery normally revels in true crime but allows itself a few more elevated stabs every year, and so it is with "In Memoriam," a spare look at the toll of gun violence. Presented commercial free, the documentary focuses on three mass shootings, getting past the statistics via shaky cellphone video and interviews with survivors and family members of victims.
>> Read Lowry's full review here...
Lowry reviews "Birds of Prey"
Brian Lowry emails: Margot Robbie was the best thing in a bad movie in "Suicide Squad," and the same formula holds true in "Birds of Prey," which pushes her character, the Joker’s sadistic sidekick Harley Quinn, front and center. It’s likely heading for a big opening weekend -- with projections in the $50-million range in the United States -- continuing DC’s anti-Marvel run with R-rated comic-book fare. Read on...
FOR THE RECORD, PART FIVE
-- "Warner Music Group, the record group behind artists such as Cardi B, Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars, filed for an initial public offering -- becoming the latest music company to cash in on the streaming boom..." (Bloomberg)
-- On Thursday Taylor Swift "announced a global deal with the Universal Music Publishing Group to represent her work as a writer, ending a relationship with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the company that had signed her when she was just 14..." (NYT)
-- "Showtime has ordered the drama 'First Ladies,' with Viola Davis playing Michelle Obama..." (B&C)
-- NYT's James Poniewozik writes about how, in its final season, "'Homeland' gives the long war a long goodbye..." (NYT)
-- A new "Redemption Song" video celebrates what would have been Bob Marley's 75th birthday, Lisa Respers Francereports... (CNN)
LAST BUT NOT LEAST...
WSJ: Deal for 'Friends' reunion special is in sight
Joe Flint's Thursday evening scoop for the WSJ: "WarnerMedia's HBO Max is completing agreements with the cast of 'Friends' for a reunion special that will likely be used to launch the streaming service this spring, people familiar with the matter said." Each of the stars "would receive between $2.25 million and $2.5 million for the show" under the terms currently being discussed...
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See you tomorrow...