Columbia Journalism Review
Neither Trump nor the Democrats are budging, and neither is the shutdown story. As the longest ever freeze of the federal government continues, the president still wants a border wall; Nancy Pelosi and her House majority still don’t. Politico Playbook, which for 28 days has gone into the weeds, yesterday zoomed out to draw a simple, stark overview of the impasse: “Over the past few days, it feels as if the crisis in our government has hit a new inflection point. Look at all of the available evidence and ask yourself a simple question: Do you believe the government is poised to function over these next two years?”
Media outlets also appear entrenched in their arguments. Before the shutdown started, right-wing commentators with direct lines to Trump and his base grumbled about a mooted compromise package that did not include wall funding, causing the president to do a U-turn. As CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote yesterday, those commentators, including Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, have only doubled down since.
Back in the real world, reporters covered the shutdown’s effects. A CNN list of consequences stands at 91 and counting; these include the Federal Aviation Administration recalling furloughed safety workers without pay (via The New York Times), North Carolina schools scaling back lunches to conserve food (via The Charlotte Observer), and the closure of an airport security checkpoint in Texas. Yesterday brought more bad news, including a Times report that thousands of federal workers have filed for unemployment benefits, a Journal story that routine small-business loans have dried up, and a Washington Post alert that navigation systems worldwide are being misdirected because the shutdown means scientists can’t post an emergency update to their model.
Not infrequently, the shutdown story has also become silly. Yesterday, after Pelosi asked Trump not to deliver his State of the Union address in Congress unless the government reopens, the president retaliated by grounding a military flight she’d planned to Afghanistan an hour before it was set to take off. News organizations jumped on the tit-for-tat. “As the shutdown drags on, septuagenarian politicians are squabbling like 7-year-olds,” Mark Landler wrote in the Times. “Trump’s letter to Pelosi accomplished its main goal: Owning the libs,” added the Post’s Philip Bump.
Weightier shutdown-adjacent stories got pushed down the cycle, including the publication of a federal audit admitting that thousands more migrant families have been separated at the border than previously acknowledged. And reporters are stuck in a frustrating loop. Katie Rogers, White House correspondent at the Times, suggested: “If we turned off cable and internet for one day this shutdown would end.”
Below, more from the past 24-hour news cycle:
- Send in the clowns: After Trump grounded Pelosi, “The scene around the Capitol quickly devolved into a circus-like atmosphere as reporters chased a charter bus with lawmakers on board who were supposed to join Pelosi on the trip overseas,” Politico’s Andrew Restuccia, Heather Caygle, and Andrew Desiderio report. Desiderio writes separately that “one reporter grabbed a shared electric scooter and rode toward the bus, leaving everyone else in the dust.”
- Towering presence: Last night, a BuzzFeed scoop pierced through the shutdown noise. Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier report that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his planned Trump Tower Moscow project, and that Trump was eager to travel to Russia during his presidential campaign to kickstart the deal. While rival outlets could not immediately confirm the reporting, the Post, CNN, and others followed up on BuzzFeed’s story.
- Hot mess: In a banner day for Cohen news, The Wall Street Journal published a story on his alleged interference with Drudge and CNBC polls. The reporters—Michael Rothfeld, Rob Barry, and Joe Palazzolo—include a juicy detail: that Cohen paid for a Twitter account, @WomenForCohen, dedicated to calling him hot. Jezebel’s Katie McDonough zooms in.
Other notable stories:
- In Ghana, Ahmed Husein, a journalist who went undercover to expose corruption in African soccer, was shot dead on Wednesday night. Before the murder, a Ghanaian lawmaker had showed Husein’s photograph on TV and encouraged viewers to beat him.
- Les Moonves, the disgraced former CEO of CBS who resigned after a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct, will take the network to arbitration over its decision last month to deny him a $120 million severance. “CBS wants to break from the Les Moonves era, but Moonves isn’t making it easy,” CNN’s Brian Stelter writes.
- In a HuffPost Q&A, Ashley Feinberg holds Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s feet to the fire over right-wing extremism on the network. Among other vague answers, Dorsey refuses to confirm that Trump will be booted from the platform if he asks his followers to kill journalists. “Dorsey can be incredibly disorienting,” Feinberg writes. “Not because he’s particularly clever or thought-provoking, but because he sounds like he should be. The reason his impassioned defenses of Twitter sound like gibberish is because they are.”
- After 121 years, The Forward, a prominent Jewish publication, is ceasing its print operation and going online-only. Keith J. Kelly of the New York Post reports that, in the process, about 40 staffers are being laid-off.
- Separately, Jesse Angelo, the New York Post’s publisher and CEO, is stepping down.
- For CJR, Kelsey Ables charts how Himal magazine, a publication dedicated to upending clichéd narratives about South Asia, died in Nepal and was reborn in Sri Lanka. Ables writes, “Reporting on the plastic surgery industry in Afghanistan, the control of the media in the 2018 Maldivian election, the orientalization of Sri Lankan tea advertising, and civil service exams in Bhutan, the magazine upends narratives and steers clear of tropes.”
- In the UK, Arif Ansari, head of news at the BBC’s Asian Network, is standing trial after a broadcast he oversaw named a survivor of sexual abuse. Under British law, news organizations are banned from naming survivors who have reported their abuse without their consent or an appropriate court order.
- Sarah Carr, who edits the Teacher Project at Columbia Journalism School, writes for CJR that becoming a mother has changed her perspective on education reporting. “When I began rereading old stories through my new lens as a parent, what struck me was how often—when it came to my writing about children—I wanted more,” Carr reflects. “More details. More depth. More of them talking about their lives and feelings.”
- And the Louisville Courier Journal apologized after it refused to publish a line in a local woman’s obituary claiming that “Her passing was hastened by her continued frustration with the Trump administration.” Gannett, which owns the Courier Journal, told Frances Irene Finley Williams’s family that it does not allow “negative content” to appear in obits.
When an industry is under severe financial pressure, it tends to bring out the sharks, so it’s probably not surprising there has been an increase in shark-like activity in the media business of late—now, even the sharks are being attacked by other sharks. Take the Gannett newspaper chain: one of the largest players in a shrunken industry, it owns dozens of leading papers across the country, including flagships such as USA Today and the Detroit Free Press. Some see it as a perfect candidate to snap up some of the other players in the market, such as McClatchy or Tribune Inc. (formerly Tronc), the latter of which it tried to buy in 2016. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Gannett was recently said to be looking at the assets of Gizmodo Media, which current owner Univision is trying to unload.
Unfortunately for Gannett, competitor Digital First Media has thrown a large wrench into the works, by quietly acquiring 7.5 percent of the chain’s stock as a prelude to launching a takeover bid. DFM sent the chain a letter earlier this week advising the board that it seeks to buy the company for $12 a share or about $1.4 billion, and would reserve the right to replace some or all of Gannett’s board of directors. The would-be acquirer also accused its target of making a number of poor financial decisions, including a number of what it said were ill-fated digital deals (a somewhat ironic criticism coming from a company that goes by the name Digital First). “The team leading Gannett has not demonstrated that it’s capable of effectively running this enterprise as a public company,” the letter said.
The proposed acquisition has sent shivers through the industry. DFM has developed a reputation for squeezing its properties financially and shedding reporters and editors as quickly as possible in order to protect its bottom line. According to industry analyst Ken Doctor, the company—whose largest shareholder is the New York–based hedge fund Alden Global Capital—reported a 17 percent operating profit margin last year, much higher than most media entities, profit that many believe came from hacking away at the staff of its papers. “Alden Global Capital is making so much money wrecking local journalism it might not want to stop anytime soon,” he wrote, while Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Institute, told the Journal DFM buying Gannett was like “the lumber company trying to buy the national park.”
If Digital First goes ahead with its bid, Gannett will have to put its interest in Gizmodo on hold, which could open the door for other bidders. Among those who have expressed interest is Bryan Goldberg, the man behind Bustle and a growing group of distressed digital properties. In July, Goldberg swooped in to buy the domain name and archives of Gawker for $1.35 million (those assets weren’t part of the deal with Univision), then late last year he acquired the assets of Mic.com for about $5 million, after that site shut down due to a lack of funding. And now, it seems both Gawker and Mic have returned to active duty in a sense: articles have begun to appear on the latter, despite the fact that the company laid off all 100 or so of its writers and editors when it shut down. And Gawker just announced its first new hires, including veteran digital writer Maya Kosoff, formerly of Vanity Fair. The new site is being run by Amanda Hale, former managing editor of The Outline, a relatively new digital-media startup that has also been under financial pressure recently.
Although writers and journalists like to think what they do is special, at least in cultural or social terms, the reality is the media business has a bottom line just like any other industry, and that bottom line has been chipped away by the advertising dominance of Google and Facebook. Digital enterprises were once seen as a better risk than stodgy old newspaper chains like Gannett, but if we’ve learned one thing from the recent travails of BuzzFeed, Vice, Mic and others, it is that new and old media entities alike are under very similar kinds of pressure—and until that changes, the sharks and bottom-feeders will rule the day.
Here’s more on some of the major players in the industry’s ongoing turmoil:
- Let the games begin: Ken Doctor says the bid by Alden Global and DFM to acquire Gannett is likely just the opening round in what could be a consolidation spree within the newspaper industry. “This may be the first newspaper mergers-and-acquisitions story of 2019, but it definitely won’t be the last,” he writes at Nieman Lab.
- A British front: The fact that Gannett is now in play doesn’t just affect the fate of US newspapers or the American media industry. The Drum notes that since Gannett owns Newsquest, a major UK newspaper publisher, any move to acquire Gannett could set off a consolidation spree in Great Britain as well.
- Gawker, the sequel: In September, Bryan Goldberg told The Wall Street Journal that he planned to invest at least $5 million in relaunching Gawker, just after his company closed a $40-million financing round that valued it at more than $200 million. “We’re building a company that Condé Nast ought to have built for digital,” he said.
- The great unwinding: Univision announced that it was looking to sell Gizmodo Media last July, including sites like Jezebel, Deadspin, and Splinter, as well as humor site The Onion. The Spanish-language broadcaster acquired the assets from Gawker for $135 million in 2016 as part of an ambitious digital expansion.
Other notable stories:
- A report from Digiday says The New York Times stopped using ad exchanges and behavioral targeting in Europe, in the wake of the European General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR. But the newspaper’s ad revenue didn’t decline as a result, a Times executive said—instead, it has actually increased significantly.
- Report for America, which is trying to build a national non-profit journalism operation and just received some funding from Facebook, announced that it will create 50 new reporting positions this year in newsrooms across the country, including a watchdog group in Puerto Rico, as well as the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Associated Press. Reporters will also be placed in non-profit organizations and public radio stations.
- After it faced widespread criticism for adding alt-right conspiracy theorist and nutritional supplement purveyor Alex Jones and his Infowars site to its lineup, streaming-media company Roku said that it would remove the site and Jones from its platform. Jones and Infowars have been blocked or banned by a number of services including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, and PayPal.
- Grindr, the dating app for gay men, has laid off the entire staff of its LGBTQ publication, Into, as part of what it said is a refocusing of its efforts on video. The publication caused some controversy in November when one of its reporters called out the company’s president, Scott Chen, for making remarks some said were homophobic.
- As the prospect of Brexit draws ever closer, British publishers and media companies are stockpiling newsprint and ink, according to a report by Bloomberg, concerned that if Britain leaves the European Union their supplies could be cut off, or the price of those commodities could rise suddenly if the value of the British pound tanks.
- Dan Sanchez, the editorial lead for The New York Times‘s new venture into audio programming for digital assistants, spoke with the newspaper’s Insider staff about how the new features for Amazon’s Echo units will work. Among other things, Echo owners will be able to ask their assistant to play them a “flash briefing” read by Mike Barbaro, host of the paper’s popular podcast The Daily.
- Storyful, the digital verification company owned by News Corp., did an analysis of how posts by certain influential accounts on Twitter helped spread the story of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, a Saudi Arabian woman who pleaded for asylum and was eventually accepted into Canada.
- A court in Montenegro has sentenced an investigative journalist, Jovo Martinović, to 18 months in prison, on charges of drug trafficking and criminal association. Press freedom advocates say the accusations are bogus and are further evidence that the government is engaged in a crackdown on independent media.
Last night, The Wall Street Journal’s Cara Lombardo reported that MNG Enterprises Inc. is planning a bid for Gannett, the publishing powerhouse that owns USA Today as well as important local papers such as the Arizona Republic, the Detroit Free Press, and Iowa’s Des Moines Register. The scoop might normally have passed under the radar as standard-issue jockeying—except MNG Enterprises is better known as Digital First Media, the prolific private-equity-backed publisher that has become an industry byword for cost-cutting and job-slashing.
The largest shareholder of Digital First Media, which owns about 200 publications nationwide, is Alden Global Capital, a New York-based hedge fund that specializes in investing in troubled companies. The names Digital First and Alden made headlines last April after flagship paper The Denver Post ran an editorial excoriating them as “vultures” alongside a striking all-staff photo, from 2013, with tens of since-laid-off employees blacked out. A few weeks later, the editor of a neighboring Digital First title, Boulder’s Daily Camera, was fired over a similar rebuke; then, in early May, the Post’s editorial page editor himself resigned, accusing Digital First executives of further attempts at censorship (CJR published a critical editorial he said was spiked). As tensions rose, staffers from Digital First papers as far away as California traveled to protest outside Alden’s New York offices. Buyout campaigns were mooted, then fizzled.
Given this raw context, yesterday’s Journal report elicited immediate concern among media reporters and local-news watchers, many of whom noted that Gannett titles nationwide are in a sad enough state without the prospect of further cuts. Keach Hagey, Lombardo’s colleague at the Journal, tweeted: “After watching what Gannett has done to my hometown paper—cutting most of the staff, outsourcing printing so far away local sports scores can’t appear the next day—I’m fascinated to learn what fat Digital First thinks is left.” Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton added that “Digital First is the worst owner of newspapers in America and they will do their best to draw blood from even Gannett’s already desiccated stone.” And the LA Times’s Matt Pearce warned Gannett that, if Digital First is knocking on its door, it should “lock the deadbolt.”
It’s too early to say how Digital First’s courtship will play out. It has raised the idea in the past and been rebuffed, according to Lombardo, who adds that “it isn’t clear whether Gannett will be receptive now.” Although Robert Dickey, Gannett’s CEO, emailed staffers last night to tell them that a new proposal had yet to be communicated, Digital First confirmed its intentions this morning. Dickey is set to retire in May, with Gannett yet to name a replacement. Lombardo reports that Digital First, which already holds a 7.5 percent stake in Gannett, wants to broker a strategy review before any leadership change is finalized, and hasn’t ruled out pushing changes to Gannett’s board if it isn’t successful. While Gannett stock has rebounded of late, it’s trended down over several years. Digital First, which is relatively profitable, is pressing the case that a sale is Gannett’s best bet.
Even if Digital First’s latest power play comes to nothing, it’s an important reminder of the power hedge-fund owners wield over local news. And if it does presage a successful bid, journalists—and readers—nationwide should brace for more big papers to be stripped for parts.
Below, more on the dire climate for local news:
- A unified front: CJR covered last year’s tensions at Digital First titles in detail. Corey Hutchins tracked sister papers’ different responses to The Denver Post’s editorial stand, and interviewed Julie Reynolds, a freelance reporter who made Alden the focus of her work. Meg Dalton, meanwhile, went downtown to Alden HQ to cover the protests there.
- Milking profits: Last May, Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor tallied the profits Alden has made by cutting newspapers to the bone. In addition to The Denver Post and other titles, Digital First’s Southern California and Bay Area news groups have seen eye-watering staff reductions—with The Mercury News, for example, reduced to around a tenth of its peak size.
- More Bay layoffs: On Friday, the East Bay Express, an alt-weekly in California (which is not owned by Digital First), laid off almost its entire editorial staff, The Mercury News’s David DeBolt writes. The Express won a Polk award in 2016 after exposing a police sex scandal in Oakland, but is now shifting to a freelancer-driven model as print revenue declines. A court’s ruling that the paper illegally denied overtime to a former staffer has exacerbated its financial problems.
- The King of local news: After Maine’s Portland Press Herald announced it was scrapping its Sunday review of local books, local author Stephen King took to Twitter to voice his disapproval. Spying an opportunity, the paper replied that if 100 of King’s followers bought a digital subscription, it would reinstate the book reviews. The gambit worked: by Sunday, the Press Herald had 200 new subscribers.
Other notable stories:
- It was a weekend of huge scoops on the Trump–Russia beat. On Friday, The New York Times reported that the FBI investigated whether Trump was a Russian asset after he fired the bureau’s former director, James Comey, in 2017. Then, on Saturday, The Washington Post revealed that Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin from senior officials. The stories were the latest salvos in a news cycle that defies belief so frequently that it can be hard to keep up. Handily, The Atlantic is out with a detailed recap of its top 50 “unthinkable” moments of Trump’s presidency.
- CBS News was criticized over the weekend for failing to include a single black journalist in a 12-strong 2020 election reporting team. Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told the network to “try again,” while Jelani Cobb, the New Yorker staff writer who guest edited CJR’s latest print issue on race and journalism, tweeted: “So… what you’re saying is that in a campaign in which voter suppression and racial attitudes are expected to play a huge role you will have zero black journalists covering it?” CBS responded that the group is only an “initial wave.”
- Following reports of “false flag” social media campaigns run by progressive activists during the 2017 Alabama Senate special election, Doug Jones, the Democrat who narrowly won that race, called on the Federal Election Commission to investigate. Late last week, On the Media’s Bob Garfield spoke with one of the activists involved in the effort, who bluntly defended his actions. And the Times’s Jim Rutenberg writes that “in addition to giving Russia new ammunition in its defense against election-meddling allegations, the progressives’ political caper in Alabama sent a chilling message to the rest of us: Reality-warping attacks are now coming from inside the house.”
- Palestinian citizens of Israel are under-represented in the country’s media and struggling to tell their stories as a result, Miriam Berger reports for CJR. “The struggle to create a sustainable and independent Palestinian press inside Israel reflects many of the pressures facing these communities,” Berger writes. “Journalists who work in the local Arabic newspapers and websites complained of low pay, poor writing and editing standards, and basically no way to advance.”
- For CNN, Oren Liebermann explains how a malware attack on an associate’s phone may have helped state killers track the Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi last October. On Saturday, meanwhile, Rahaf al-Qunun, the Saudi teenager who garnered international attention when she barricaded herself in a Bangkok hotel room to avoid being rendered to her family, arrived in Canada, where she has been granted asylum.
- In the UK, The Guardian’s Saturday edition will now be sold in a biodegradable wrapper made of potato starch after readers told the paper to cut down on plastic waste.
- And also in the UK, the Daily Star tabloid pulled an “interview” with the actor and erstwhile-presidential-rumor-generator Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson after he said it was fabricated, BuzzFeed’s Marcus Jones and Julia Reinstein report. The Star quoted The Rock as “smacking down” on “Generation Snowflake.”
Update: This post has been updated to reflect the breaking news that Digital First Media confirmed its proposal to acquire Gannett.
When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exploded onto the scene last June with a New York primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley, chair of the House Democratic caucus, many in the media wondered why they’d failed to see her coming. While left-leaning outlets such as The Intercept, Splinter, and The Young Turks had paid attention to Ocasio-Cortez’s longshot bid, more mainstream publications had overlooked both her campaign and the radically progressive platform it touted. “Abolish ICE” and “Medicare for all” quickly entered the lexicon of the political press.
Seven months later, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez fills column inches as a disrupter in Washington. In addition to her agenda, plenty of ink has spilled on her social media game: prominent media and tech writers have lined up recently to hail it as a mini-revolution in political communication. Where Trump, is “online,” Ocasio-Cortez is “Extremely Online,” Kara Swisher writes in her New York Times column. Ocasio-Cortez’s #relatable video content humanizes her, Swisher adds, whereas Trump’s disembodied tweets make him look “more and more like a giant cartoon bobblehead.”
The right-wing mediasphere, which had become accustomed to its own viral dominance, has developed an obsession with Ocasio-Cortez. Other top targets, like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, have rarely dignified its ire with a response, yet Ocasio-Cortez, backed by her many supporters on social media, has proved adept at drowning out the noise with blaring counter-noise. When critics tag a “scandal” to her, she quickly turns it around—and scores points with her fans in the process.
When, in November, a Washington Examiner reporter shared a picture of Ocasio-Cortez dressed in normal clothes with the caption “that don’t look like a girl who struggles,” he was, as Vice put it, “ratio’d into oblivion” on Twitter—reigniting a debate on salaries for incoming lawmakers. Last week, after an “Anonymous Q” Twitter account shared a video of Ocasio-Cortez dancing in college, she filmed and tweeted an update; this time to the song “War (What Is It Good For).” This week, the Daily Caller found itself on the end of another Ocasio-Cortez clapback after sharing a hoax “nude selfie” of her in the bath that had already been comprehensively debunked. Ocasio-Cortez used this episode to draw attention to the heightened scrutiny women face in leadership positions. “No wonder they defended [Brett] Kavanaugh so fiercely,” she wrote.
Responses to these conflagrations represent only a small portion of Ocasio-Cortez’s online presence: she’s on social media day-in, day-out, sharing everything from serious policy points to cooking tips, using the informality of the latter to boost the appeal of the former. As BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel (who yesterday announced he is headed to the Times opinion desk) writes, all these posts are “agenda-setting.” Ocasio-Cortez has not limited herself to social forums: last weekend, she used a high-profile 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper to suggest tax rates as high as 70 percent to fund a “Green New Deal”; on Tuesday, soon after Trump’s Oval Office address to the nation, Ocasio-Cortez went on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show, drawing attention to the separation of families at the border. Taken together, it all begins to seem like one big, personalized, multimedia feedback loop.
That’s quite a lot for a Congresswoman just now wrapping up her first week. Despite being a newbie in Congress, she’s been effective in speaking for her colleagues. Last weekend, she told Cooper that she does not see herself as a “flamethrower” but as a “consensus builder.” Nonetheless, both her policy platform and communication style show she’s intent on burning the status quo. Ocasio-Cortez intends to dominate the conversation, and not let it dominate her.
Below, more on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
- A disrupter: Wired’s Antonio García Martínez writes that “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a social media marketing genius, and very likely a harbinger of a new American political reality … The same way florid, hours-long public oratory (echoed by the newfangled telegraph and newspapers) was the route to power for Lincoln in 1860, the preeningly candid self-display of streaming social media will be the route to power in 2020 and beyond.”
- On fact-checking: When Cooper fact-checked an old Ocasio-Cortez tweet on Medicare for all, she drew criticism for responding “I think there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” Writing for New York’s Intelligencer, Eric Levitz argues that she has a point. “Which truths and falsehoods the mainstream press chooses to spotlight—and which it leaves unscrutinized—does reflect the ideological biases of the “objective” press,” he writes. “While Medicare for All’s proponents are constantly confronted with the fiscal implications of their preferred policy, opponents of dramatically expanding the public sector’s role in health care are rarely confronted with the humanitarian implications of leaving nearly 30 million Americans uninsured.”
- The status quo: Ocasio-Cortez created a new Instagram account yesterday, blaming “House rules” for having to mothball her old one. “The Members’ Congressional Handbook doesn’t explicitly say that lawmakers are required to make new accounts, but in most cases it’s easier to separate their government resources and personal ones in order to avoid ethics violations,” The Verge’s Makena Kelly explains.
- Pulling teeth: Braving a new #relatable frontier yesterday, Beto O’Rourke broadcast his dental appointment in an Instagram Story. Some people wish he hadn’t. “A sudden rush of extremely online candidates could leave some politicians oversharing,” The Daily Beast’s Kelly Weill writes. “When everyone is uploading folksy videos from their kitchens, it takes an otherwise questionable Teeth Video to cut through the noise.”
Other notable stories:
- Trump went to the border yesterday to reinforce his demand for a wall and tape an “interview” with Sean Hannity—showing up despite telling network anchors earlier this week that he thought the visit would be pointless. (Trump countered that the previous remarks were “OFF THE RECORD.”) Hannity spent the visit with White House staffers, not the press corps; he was spotted huddling with his old pal Bill Shine, a former Fox executive who is now Trump’s communications director. Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman of the Times report that Trump may be getting sick of Shine: “Shine, according to his critics, has shown little understanding of the conservative media beyond the cable news ecosystem and his former network—the one place where the president does not need much assistance, and where Shine has few remaining admirers.”
- The National Enquirer claimed credit for Jeff Bezos going public with his divorce, boasting that it tracked him “across five states and 40,000 miles” to reveal him “whisking his mistress off to exotic destinations on his $65 million private jet.” The Enquirer’s history with Trump, and Trump’s hatred of Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, sparked rumors of something sinister, though CNN’s Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy are skeptical: the Trump-Enquirer relationship “visibly ended in April when the FBI raided [Michael] Cohen’s office and subpoenaed records from the Enquirer.” We might know more about Cohen and the Enquirer’s work to bury bad stories about Trump on February 7, when Cohen will testify to Congress.
- When three Russian journalists turned up in the Central African Republic to investigate Russian private military contractors’ work there, they were tracked closely, then killed in “a well-planned ambush involving a senior police officer with shadowy Russian connections,” according to new evidence seen by CNN’s Tim Lister and Sebastian Shukla.
- Q13, a Fox affiliate in Washington state, fired a staffer after the station aired an apparently doctored video of Trump’s Oval Office address on Tuesday night. The video made Trump look bright orange and showed him “sticking his tongue out languidly between sentences,” Christine Clarridge and Ryan Blethen of The Seattle Times report.
- Agenda, a corporate news service owned by The Financial Times, deleted quotes from a supposed interview with Les Moonves, the disgraced former CEO of CBS, after Moonves strongly denied speaking to its reporters, The Wrap’s Jon Levine reports. Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr reports that Jeff Flake, who just finished his term as a Republican US senator for Arizona, is in talks with CBS about a role at the network, which could be “as an on-air contributor—or as something more.”
- And for CJR, I checked in with a new magazine in France that looks at big challenges facing the world through the prism of … toilets.