EXEC SUMMARY: Oliver Darcy here... Scroll down for the latest on Lev Parnas, "Better Call Saul," TikTok, Peacock Day, plus a scoop about The Economist's newest US expansion, Friday's front pages of NYT and WaPo, and much more. But first...
Capitol Hill crackdown
As the impeachment trial of President Trump kicked off on Thursday, reporters faced a draconian security crackdown that quite significantly limited their ability to question United States senators. Reporters, who can normally approach senators with questions as they roam the halls of Congress, were prevented from doing so by Capitol Police in many areas.
Such restrictions, which obviously assist senators who wish to avoid the press, were not communicated to journalists ahead of time, Standing Committee of Correspondents chair Sara Wire told me. "Reporters [were] learning about the restrictions in real time," Wire explained. Here's my full story...
"This is how ludicrous these restrictions are"
Reporters shared stories about how the security crackdown was interfering with their jobs throughout the day on Thursday. The Hill reporter Jordain Carney tweeted, "A reporter was interviewing Pat Roberts outside the Senate GOP lunch. A cop came up and said they had to stop talking." McClatchy reporter Emma Dumain was interviewing Sen. Mike Braun, who wanted to be interviewed, when a police officer told her she couldn't talk in the hallway. "This is how ludicrous these restrictions are," Dumain tweeted.
To add to the chaos, some reporters noted that journalists were being provided contradictory instructions from police. "Capitol Police are giving members of the press conflicting instructions on where reporters can be in the Capitol as senators leave the floor," tweeted CQ Roll Call reporter Chris Marquette.
Silence from Senate leadership and Sargent of Arms
Nothing happens in the Senate without the approval of Mitch McConnell, so I asked his office repeatedly for comment on the restrictive measures being implemented. I never received one. I also pinged the office of Chuck Schumer. Didn't get a comment from him either.
And, of course, I reached out to the Office of the Sargent of Arms, which is responsible for security. Despite repeated requests, I never heard back...
Flashcards advise senators how to avoid Q's
The Office of the Sargent of Arms might not have been responding to media requests, but they were out distributing flashcards to US Senators about how to avoid unwanted questions. Suggested responses? "Please move out of my way." Others read, "You are preventing me from doing my job" and, "Please excuse me, I am trying to get to the Senate Floor."
GOP senator attacks Manu Raju as "liberal hack" for asking a legitimate question
Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona would have been wise to have read the flashcard and followed its advice. But instead, she resorted to lobbing cheap, false, and personal attacks against CNN's Manu Raju, who is widely considered to be one of the best reporters on Capitol Hill.
When Raju asked if the Senate should consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial, McSally called him a "liberal hack," adding, "I'm not talking to you." This has all the trademarks of a fund-raising initiative by a lawmaker in a competitive race. McSally went on Laura Ingraham's show Thursday night for a victory lap of sorts... But even Ingraham tried to get her to answer the same Q Raju asked...
CNN: "It is extremely unbecoming for a U.S. Senator to sink to this level"
In media circles she was widely panned for her childish attack on Raju. CNN said in a statement, "It is extremely unbecoming for a U.S. Senator to sink to this level and treat a member of the press this way for simply doing his job." And on "The Situation Room," Wolf Blitzer commented, "It was disgusting, it was awful. She should know better." Raju, who noted McSally lashed out at him amid a "very difficult reelection race," said he had not received an apology for the comment. "I have not heard from them at all," he said.
>> Some reporters noted that McSally's predecessor, John McCain, treated Raju with respect and joked with him...
When the going gets tough, the news gets fake...
This adage doesn't just apply to Trump. Other Republicans seem to subscribe to it, too. As the plot of the Ukraine scandal thickens, it's no longer why Trump-aligned lawmakers are attacking the press corps. In the right-wing universe on Thursday, McSally was -- disturbingly -- celebrated as a hero.
The Trump campaign tweeted out video of the exchange, calling for "THREE CHEERS" for her and saying, "THIS is how you handle FAKE NEWS." Right-wing media outlets also promoted the exchange all day. Sean Hannity exclaimed, "Love This!" As Maggie Haberman noted, "for those wondering why she did it" just look at the "reward" she received from pro-Trump corners...
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
-- MSNBC said Wednesday night's episode of Rachel Maddow's show, featuring her interview with Lev Parnas, drew 4.5 million viewers -- the program's episode ever... (THR)
-- Meanwhile, Anderson Cooper's interview with Parnas began to roll out on "New Day" Thursday morning, and the full interview aired Thursday night... (CNN)
-- On a related note: Jake Tapper with a good reminder about the "serious credibility problem" that Parnas has... (Mediaite)
-- That said, Kellyanne Conway refused four times during an interview with Bill Hemmer to say Parnas was lying about Trump... (Mediaite)
One of the big Q's
The New Yorker's Susan Glasser writes: "The Democrat-controlled House voted to impeach Trump in a party-line vote in December, and yet key facts about the President's aborted scheme to pressure Ukraine for his personal political benefit remain unknown (although they are very much knowable), owing to an executive-branch information blockade ordered by Trump. Will those facts come out before the Chief Justice of the United States bangs down the gavel on the trial’s seemingly inevitable outcome?"
Investigation over years-old leak focuses on Comey
Another investigation into unauthorized leaking is underway, according to NYT's Adam Goldman. "Federal prosecutors in Washington are investigating a years-old leak of classified information about a Russian intelligence document, and they appear to be focusing on whether the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey illegally provided details to reporters," Goldman reported Thursday, citing sources.
>> Key context from Goldman: "The timing of the investigation could raise questions about whether it was motivated at least in part by politics. Prosecutors and F.B.I. agents typically investigate leaks of classified information around the time they appear in the news media, not years later..."
I asked why WH holds press calls on background. I didn't get an on the record response
The White House held another sanctioned phone briefing on Thursday. But reporters who called were AGAIN forced to attribute info to unnamed "senior administration officials." So I asked Stephanie Grisham and Hogan Gidley why an administration with a President who has told the American people not to trust info from unnamed sources continues to force reporters to cite unnamed sources. I didn't get an on the record response to share from either of them...
Meanwhile, Grisham defends not holding briefings
Stephanie Grisham, who has not held a single briefing as press secretary, woke up early Thursday morning to chat with "Fox & Friends." They asked her if she will do a press briefing, and Grisham defended herself, saying she talks to reporters on a daily basis and answers questions. Which is true, I'm sure. But a key difference between her current practice and a televised briefing: She can pick and choose which questions to answer. In other words, she can choose not to answer the tough questions.
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
-- "Fox News has long denied there was any crime related to Trump's impeachment. The GAO just said otherwise..." (Media Matters)
-- "A Very Stable Genius" by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig has been at No. 1 on Amazon all day... (Amazon)
-- Joe Pompeo looks at how James Bennet has reshaped NYT Opinion... (Vanity Fair)
-- Fox News anchor Shannon Bream has signed a "multi-year deal with the network," continuing as 11pm anchor and chief legal correspondent... (Variety)
NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT...
Anna Wiener on this week's "Reliable" podcast
Brian Stelter emails: Anna Wiener's new memoir "Uncanny Valley" is getting rave reviews for its "outsider's look at Silicon Valley – a jaded naif's journey into the heart of venture capital." Wiener is my guest on this week's podcast episode... We talked about digital age morality, tech jargon, how media coverage of Big Tech is changing, and why CEOs think they "are being unfairly picked upon." Listen via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your favorite app...
YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST...
The Economist is launching a newsletter and a podcast with 2020 coverage
Brian Stelter emails: On Friday The Economist is planning to announce a new 2020 newsletter and podcast, both called "Checks and Balance," both designed to bolster the publication's coverage of the US presidential election. "The new podcast and newsletter will be accompanied by a comprehensive marketing campaign aimed at increasing readership and subscribers," The Economist says...
Are Democrats taking hacking threat seriously?
Donie O'Sullivan emails: Pete Buttigieg’s head of cybersecurity had left the campaign. But what is extraordinary is this: “Mr. Buttigieg’s was the only campaign in the expansive Democratic field known to have hired a full-time staff member dedicated to overseeing cybersecurity,” WSJ reported.
It's incredible that given all the concerns about Russian hackers, all the talk about 2016, and even the reported targeting of Burisma by GRU, that major Democratic campaigns don’t have someone in this role. The DNC has invested in cybersecurity but the help they can provide campaigns is limited. By the time the DNC can work with the nominee directly in July it might be too late...
Pelosi calls Facebook "shameful"
Donie O'Sullivan emails another one: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted Facebook as a "shameful" company on Thursday, further escalating tensions between Democratic leadership and the social media giant.
In response to a question about the power held by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, Pelosi accused the company of being "accomplices for misleading the American people with money from god-knows where." She also suggested that the company cares about profits above all else...
FOR THE RECORD, PART THREE
-- Twitter apologized for letting advertisers target neo-Nazis: "We're very sorry this happened and as soon as we were made aware of the issue, we rectified it..." (BBC)
-- Facebook has backed off a plan to sell ads in WhatsApp... (WSJ)
-- The Department of Justice has reached out to news publishers like News Corp. and Conde Nast to learn more about how Google operates in the advertising market... (Bloomberg)
"Brian Stelter should be parking my car"
"Brian Stelter should be parking my car," rather than producing a documentary for HBO about disinformation, Tucker Carlson said on Fox Thursday night.
Brian sent in this reply: I hope Tucker tips well! 🚗 Actually I'm surprised he would trust me with his car. I'm just glad he is getting the word out about "After Truth" – the film will premiere on HBO in March – with case studies of both left-wing and right-wing disinformation...
Brian Lowry emails: Folks like Bill O'Reilly are treating Shamira Ibrahim's New York Times op-ed about Meghan McCain as if it's another attempt to muzzle (or "cancel") conservative commentators. They're missing the more fundamental point that she made in the column — namely, that the give-and-take of these ginned up debates has become "exhausting," in the current climate, to the point of being bad television...
FOR THE RECORD, PART FOUR
By Kerry Flynn:
-- Media reporter world is buzzing about Vanity Fair's new hires: Politico's Michael Calderone is joining The Hive as senior editor. Mediaite's Caleb Ecarma is joining as a staff reporter to cover media and politics... (Axios)
-- Glenda Bailey, EIC of Harper's Bazaar, announced her departure on Wednesday night. She was "one of the last in a line of fashion editors producing expensive, glossy monthly magazines..." (NYT)
-- Kurt Bardella announced he is now a "Morning Joe" contributor... (Twitter)
-- Jake Lahut of the small but mighty Keene Sentinel newspaper in NH is joining BI next month as a politics reporter... (Twitter)
-- Elias Leight has the inside story of iHeartMedia's layoffs this week... The cuts are "dealing a blow to local radio across the country..." (Rolling Stone)
TikTok as a news channel?
Kerry Flynn writes: More and more publishers are using TikTok. While most are creating funny and lighthearted videos, often showing behind-the-scenes of their newsrooms, some are testing explainers on news topics. NowThis has covered impeachment and the Australian bushfires on TikTok. USA Today created a video about the US-Iran conflict. But does hard news make sense on TikTok? More, including insights from WaPo, in my story...
FOR THE RECORD, PART FIVE
By Katie Pellico:
-- CJR's Matthew Ingram pans out on the political ad protocol problem: "Who is right... Twitter or Facebook?" (CJR)
-- "Music publications Spin and Stereogum will no longer be a part of Billboard-The Hollywood Reporter Media Group." While Spin was acquired by private equity firm Next Management Group, Stereogum will be bought back by publication leadership, with EIC Scott Lapatine staying put... (Billboard)
-- Amy Kaufman's latest, based on her interview with Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering: "Oprah Winfrey backed out of the Russell Simmons sexual assault documentary. Why the fallout was 'horrible...'" (LAT)
What we learned at Peacock Day
Frank Pallotta emails: Streaming is becoming increasingly crowded, so what better way to stand out from your competitors than by giving away your streaming service for free? That's part of Peacock's play... NBCUniversal's new service was showcased on Thursday at a media event in NYC...
There will be "Peacock Free," which will be a free, ad-supported option. There will also be "Peacock Premium," which will be free to Comcast and Cox subscribers, and it will cost $4.99 to everyone else. "Premium" without ads will cost $9.99. The service will launch on April 15 for Comcast customers and will debut nationally three months later.
News, sports and an early late night
Pallotta adds: It appears that Peacock is leveraging NBC News as well as the company's sports rights. Premier League soccer will be on the service... And so will the opening and closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics. The service will also stream "The Tonight Show" starting at 8pm ET and "Late Night with Seth Meyers" starting at 9pm ET -- i.e. several hours before the shows air on broadcast stations.
Click here for Joe Adalian's analysis of those moves. He calls it "a rare and possibly unprecedented case of two tentpole network shows shifting to streaming for their debut window..."
About "Law & Order..."
NBCU "is getting a trove of Dick Wolf programming for its new Peacock streaming service, including 'Law & Order.' But despite paying nine figures for the library, it won’t have the fan-favorite dramas to itself," Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw reports. "Walt Disney Co.'s Hulu also will offer some of the shows on its service through a separate deal, according to a person familiar with the situation."
>> So -- what about NBC's stake in Hulu? The Streamable reports: During the Q&A at Thursday's event, outgoing NBCU boss Steve Burke "said that as part of that deal, the company can take back all their content from Hulu 'in about two years.' According to sources familiar with the matter, NBCU will be able to retain exclusive rights starting in late-2022..."
Lowry does not recommend 'Dolittle'
Brian Lowry writes: On the same day NBCUniversal trotted out Peacock, its movie studio Universal unleashed its second animal-related dud in a month. Like “Cats," "Dolittle" looks very expensive, which didn't save the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle from a pretty brutal (if deserved) critical drubbing...
A pair of Friday streaming premieres...
Brian Lowry writes: Streaming continues to yield a barrage of new shows, with two arriving this weekend: "Little America," a wonderfully executed anthology series about different immigrant experiences in America, landing on Apple TV+; and "Diary of a Future President," a Disney Channel-type show on Disney+ with a twist — the 12-year-old main character will eventually grow up to the President of the United States, played in a cameo by Gina Rodriguez. Read the review here...
FOR THE RECORD, PART SIX
By Lisa Respers France:
-- We are here for the blossoming Beyoncé and Reese Witherspoon bff-dom. Queen Bey hooked the actress up with the new Ivy Park collection...
-- Wendy Williams has apologized for Joaquin Phoenix "cleft lip" comments she made.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST...
One more season of "Better Call Saul" in 2021
"AMC will bring 'Better Call Saul' to a close with a 13-episode sixth and final season in 2021," THR's Rick Porter writes. "Season five of the 'Breaking Bad' prequel from Sony Pictures TV is set to premiere Feb. 23." Showrunner Peter Gould said at the TCA Press Tour: "We're going to try like hell to stick the landing of these 63 episodes..."
Thank you for reading! Send your feedback via email or connect with me on Twitter. See you tomorrow...