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Media news and perspective, from Steve Krakauer.
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December 19, 2019

Dateline: Twas the night after "Impeachmas"...
Watching tonight...
  • "Impeachmas" ethics
  • Very Serious and Somber impeachment journalism
  • Dingell responds to Trump... on Fox News
  • Yang turns media critic at Dem debate
  • Great Moments In Harry Potter Transphobia Journalism
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Democracy dies in deleted tweets about "Impeachmas"
 

Donald Trump was impeached 24 hours ago, and the media was Very Serious about it. We'll dig into that below. But something the media and the Democrats shared last night, and continue to share, is the goal of appearing somber and sincere when it comes to impeachment - an impeachment that, for many Americans, seemed inevitable from the moment Donald Trump walked into the White House.

Journalists and pundits alike worked to achieve a tone that properly conveyed the gravity of this moment. It was important to add context, historical perspective. It was important to make clear to the American public that this was not the outcome the media was actively rooting for.

And then, a tweet went out, and hurt this narrative:

This was from Rachael Bade, Washington Post reporter and CNN political analyst, enjoying a "Merry Impeachmas" drink with her colleagues. After being ratio'ed pretty dramatically in mere hours, she deleted the tweet, and sent out a minor mea culpa (copied directly from her tweet): "I’m deleting a tweeting tonight that is being misinterpreted by some as an endorsement of some kind. To be absolutely clear, we at the Post are merely glad we are getting a break for the holidays after a long 3 months."

Rather than cover the story for what it was, CNN's Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter only covered the reaction, through an interview with Washington Post editor Marty Baron. "Bad-faith attacks have been a steady feature of the Trump era. In this case, the complaints weren't about anything the Post reported -- just about the tweet," writes Stelter. Baron, in the piece, says: "What they were doing is that they were celebrating being able to go off the clock after a long day of covering impeachment. And that's what that's what she intended to convey...It's unfortunate that this has been distorted into celebrating impeachment."

So what is the ethical issue with a D.C. reporter tweeting this about impeachment? There are two significant problems. The first is an issue of perception. The media is already viewed by many Americans as antagonistic to President Trump - and with good reason. This tweet appears to be capturing a celebration. Calling it "Impeachmas" makes light of an issue the media is working hard to convey seriousness about. It feels wrong. (Which, let's be honest, is why she deleted it!)

But the second issue is not about perception - it's about reality. The reality of the obvious hypocrisy it shows - that if this were a Democratic president, and a group of reporters from, say Fox News, tweeted this after the impeachment of that president, others in the media would, rightfully, be in an uproar. It would reflect badly on all journalists, they might say. Progressives would say it shows these reporters are celebrating a bad day for a politician they don't like. 

The critique of this moment of clarity is not bad faith, and it's not a distortion, as her boss says. Is a single tweet the worst journalism moment of the year? Absolutely not. And Bade obviously shouldn't lose her job - I have a long-standing rule that no one, under any circumstance, should lose their job for anything they say or tweet, no exceptions (except for literal calls to violence).

But what this shows is a brief window into The Game. What the media is like, when the cameras go off, when they don't have to work so hard to put on their most serious face for the public. And it's revealing, in it's simplicity. The Trump Era Washington Post motto is "Democracy Dies in Darkness." This now-deleted tweet is a brief bit of light into the real fourth estate in America in 2019.

The media gets Very Serious on impeachment night
 

In the Vox report covering Rep. Rashida Tlaib's comments in January of this year, on the day she was sworn into office, that "We're going to impeach this motherfucker," Vox also revealed, as if they were omniscient about the future, how this would all play out, more than 11 months later: "Impeachment is much more likely now for a very simple reason: It only takes a majority vote in the House to impeach a president, and Democrats now have a majority...Tlaib is clearly tapping into a simmering grassroots appetite for impeachment. But, as Prokop explained, while Democrats could impeach Trump with a party-line vote in the House, it will be extremely difficult to remove him from office in the Republican-controlled Senate."

The impeachment cake was baked in January 2019, and really, if we're being honest, in January 2017. And yet, some of the highlights of the overreaction from our media, now that we're finally here.

- NBC's Katy Tur, impartial journalist, put forth a massive tweetstorm documenting all the terrible things Donald Trump has ever done, but not been impeached or held accountable for: "It is depressing but not surprising watching him get impeached for abusing power." Very depressing, yes.

- CNN's Jake Tapper said: "This is a stain that will forever live on his presidency. When we are all long gone... that might be the only thing people know about Donald Trump, that he was impeached." This despite the fact that his own network put out a poll Monday that said just 25% of Americans think Trump will be hurt by impeachment, with 69% saying it would have no effect or even help his re-election chances.

- Tapper's CNN colleague Chris Cuomo said: "No matter how you feel about President Clinton, more often than not when his name is mentioned the word ‘impeachment’ soon thereafter follows." Really? I've watched dozens of Bill Clinton interviews over the past decade. I've seen Bill Clinton speak at Democratic conventions, and appear on late night TV shows. No one has ever, not a single time, mentioned impeachment. 

Trump's gross Dingell comments - and Fox News' response


On the same night he was getting impeachment, Donald Trump found himself at a rally in Michigan, and as is often the case, made gross and inappropriate comments about someone. In this case, it was recently deceased longtime Michigan politician Rep. John Dingell, who he implied was in hell.

Many on the left and in the supposed-objective media like to call out Fox News as "State TV" or "Conspiracy TV." Well, how did Fox News cover this story? For one, Dingell's wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell, appeared on "America's Newsroom" this morning, interviewed by Sandra Smith. The exchange was powerful, particularly Dingell's call to rise above what Trump said and work toward bipartisanship.

But that wasn't it. Dagen McDowell, a co-host on "Outnumbered," said of Trump's comments, "It was appalling and repugnant, and it was wrong and small." Maria Bartiromo and Bret Baier weighed in too.

The story was widely covered by the news hosts at Fox News, and all media outlets, and rightfully so. 
Dem debate: Yang's media critique

Some notes from the PBS/Politico debate which just came to an end:

- The debate started with everyone trying to one-up the other when it came to impeachment, but I think Andrew Yang's response really stood out - for turning the question around on the media for being "obsessed with impeachment.": "The media networks didn't do us any favors for missing the reason Donald Trump is our president in the first place," said Yang. "If you turn on cable network news today you would think he's our president because of some combination of Russia, racism, Facebook, Hillary Clinton and emails all mixed together. But Americans around the country know different." He nailed it, and I'd imagine his support, particularly among independents will rise.

- Van Jones on CNN said Joe Biden looked like a frontrunner (I agree). Eugene Robinson on MSNBC said Pete Buttigieg "lost" (I disagree). Most pundits agreed the moderators were particularly excellent (I strongly agree).

QUICK HITS


- Longtime former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren is going to host a new show for Discovery Network about celebrities and their pets. "Pet Tales" will highlight Terry Bradshaw, Bill O'Reilly and, well, their cats and dogs. 

- And speaking of cats... the movie "Cats" premieres this weekend and it's giving movie critics to a chance to unfurl their most vicious review material. Perhaps at the top of the list is the usually positive Peter Travers at Rolling Stone, who has called it "A Broadway Musical Adaptation Straight Outta the Litter Box." Meow...

Some right-leaning media get "hang" attack wrong


In a rush to jump on an awkwardly-phrased interview answer on CNN's "New Day" this morning, some right-leaning outlets - from The Federalist to PJ Media and others - got the context of a clip totally wrong. John Berman was interviewing Rep. James Clyburn, and Clyburn said "let's give him a fair trial and hang him" related to the impending impeachment trial in the Senate. The problem was, the out of context clip - also spread by the Trump campaign on Twitter - continued, and Clyburn said what Sen. Mitch McConnell was doing was "the reverse" of that, meaning he would have the trial and find Trump innocent.

Some on Twitter ended up attacking Berman for not speaking up when Clyburn made the comment. But Berman was in the right - and the attack on Clyburn was unfair.

REWIND // FAST FORWARD 

⏪ Who were the most influential individuals in media in 2019? Mediaite - my former employer - has their annual list. Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow share the top spot, with Jeff Zucker #2 and Matt Drudge #3. I'd probably only quibble with the Fox News host at the top spot - I'd have gone Tucker Carlson - but otherwise, a very good list.

⏩ Is MSNBC headed for a 2020 fight...from the left? Jeremy Barr has a good read at The Hollywood Reporter about how "progressive activists are urging the network to course-correct and tap into party energy on the left before it's too late." A lot is dependent on how things shake out in the primary fight - who the nominee will be - but it'll be interesting if the "establishment" vs. "progressive" fight on the left plays out in the media space.
WATCH IT: My buddy Will Cain of ESPN has a must-watch interview coming up tomorrow on his Will Cain Show (radio and simulcast on TV) - with Ryan McCarthy, Secretary of the Army, to discuss the results of an investigation into cadets accused of flashing "white power signs" (the OK symbol), which was supposedly shown during the Army-Navy football game telecast.

HEAR IT: I usually enjoy the Jamie Weinstein podcast, as he's one of the better true podcast "hosts" - who let's his guest star. So it helps when a guest is as interesting as Sen. Ted Cruz, who he spars with on a variety of issues in the podcast this week. One of the most interesting elements was some behind-the-scenes "good cop, bad cop" commentary Cruz re-tells regarding the recent Erdogan White House visit.

READ IT: The excellent Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review absolutely skewers CNN in a story out tonight, simply titled "CNN is Not a News Network." Lots of quotable lines, but this pretty much sums it up: "These days, CNN is a peculiar and unlovely hybrid of progressive propaganda outlet, oleaginous media apologist, sexless cultural scold, and frenzied Donald Trump stalkerblog."

MORE TK...


This is the 5th Fourth Watch newsletter, so I apologize for not asking it sooner, but... did Jeffrey Epstein kill himself? The story has a clear media angle - from the media member connections he had, to the Amy Robach Project Veritas video that still hasn't been investigated fully - and today, some news: surveillance video of Epstein's first suicide attempt has apparently been found (no word on the actual, successful "suicide attempt" surveillance video). On Sunday - let's dig into the story.
 

GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM

I'm not a Harry Potter fan - have never read a book or seen a movie - but I find it, uh, hard to believe, a tweet from the progressive author J.K. Rowling would "destroy the legacy of Harry Potter with a single, transphobic tweet." That's what a Vox writer argues today. The "transphobic tweet," by the way, is related to a British woman who was fired for tweeting "men cannot be women."  And the tweet in question was "Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?" So...hinged reaction I guess?
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Thanks for reading. Talk to you Sunday.

- Steve Krakauer

@SteveKrak
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