Journalism? When Pigs Fly!

I could never have anticipated this post. In fact, I can see myself sitting in my journalism class alongside my friends, Marc, Mark and David, Alanna and Lori, and my professors, Isaacs, Patterson, Wood and Friendly. What I wonder, would have happened if I had predicted that 45 years later I would write, and publish where anyone in the world could see it, a commentary containing a reference to a “dick pic” Never have received my degree, probably.

For those of you who have been on the far side of the moon, shielded from any electromagnetic radiation emanating from earth, a quick recap. Jeff Bezos, who the style books demand must be referred to as “Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world,” on first reference, woke up one morning to find himself on the front page of the National Enquirer.

bezos-enquirer-div

One generally finds the Enquirer at the supermarket checkout, where it might come in handy if the store is out of toilet paper. This issue featured the details of Bezos’ impending divorce, along with pictures of Bezos and a woman, not his wife, who he was reportedly seeing.

In spite of the headline, I am not going to argue that this report is not journalism. The press has a special place in the history of the United States. It is the only occupation specifically protected by the Constitution. The framers who wrote that document knew exactly what they were doing. They had employed the press to spread the word, sometimes false, about British abuse of colonialists. That helped fan the flames of insurrection. In fact, I’ve often thought the British might have won the Revolutionary War if they had just confiscated every printing press in America.

The framers were well aware that in guaranteeing freedom to the press they opened the door to political attacks of the most scurrilous kind. They made the guarantee anyway, concluding that the press was such a crucial check on government excess that it must be given the greatest freedom.

In the case law which has developed around the First Amendment, it is almost impossible for a “public figure” to win a defamation lawsuit. And Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, head of the gigantic publicly held  company Amazon.com, Inc., owner of the aerospace company Blue Origin and owner of the Washington Post, one of the nation’s most important newspapers, certainly qualifies as a public figure.

So Bezos cannot win a defamation suit against the Enquirer. But he found other ways to fight back. Bezos discovered the story was about to be published before the fact. When you consider how much Amazon knows about us, that is not a surprise. But what Bezos did next was. He announced the news himself on social media before the Enquirer made it to the newsstand.

Bezos Twitter Divorce

 

A news rag that thrives on gossip and scandal doesn’t sell many copies featuring news which everybody already knows. Next, the richest man in the world hired one of best security investigators in the world to figure out where the Enquirer got its information. And he suggested that there may be a political connection.

The plot thickens!

The Enquirer is owned by American Media Inc., (AM). David Pecker, known to be a friend and fan of Donald Trump, is Chairman, CEO and publisher of the Enquirer. And AM told prosecutors it worked “in concert” with Trump’s campaign when it paid $150,000 to Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of a sexual affair with Trump, which it didn’t print “to prevent it from influencing the election.” That would have been an unreported contribution to the Trump campaign and it would have violated campaign finance laws. Pecker described the details of this “catch and kill” arrangement in an agreement with federal prosecutors to keep him, and his company, from facing charges.

Why does all this matter? Because as part of the agreement with the Feds Pecker promised not to commit any other crimes . And according to Bezos, who disclosed the entire sordid story in great detail with all the evidence in a remarkable personal blog post titled, “No Thank You, Mr. Pecker”, the Chief Content Officer for AM emailed a lawyer for Bezos’ security investigator. In that email AM proposed that Bezos publicly announce that he has “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces”. In return, “AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos.”  The photos, dick pic and all, are described in the email in the most excruciatingly intimate detail.

Bezos Medium

Still with me?

Here’s why I felt compelled to write about this tale. A lawyer for the National Enquirer made an appearance on ABC’s This Week program, proclaiming that this exchange was typical of the negotiating process between journalists and sources. I say BS.

In a journalism career which goes back to my grade school student newspaper, I’ve never observed a publication tell a public figure, “Give me something of value and I’ll suppress pictures and text messages you might find embarrassing.”

That’s not journalism. That’s extortion.

The AM proposal fits the textbook definition of extortion perfectly. Campaign finance law violations are usually punished with a fine and admonition to “go forth and sin no more.” Violation of a plea agreement is usually treated much more harshly. Extortion takes the crime to another level entirely.

Post Pecker

I think Mr. Pecker has a lot more to worry about than a salacious headline in the New York Post.

 

 

 

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The Name Game

Calling another kid by an unflattering nickname is a habit most of us left on the grade school playground. Of course, Donald Trump is not “most of us.” Donald Trump seems to take a particular delight in coming up with a derogatory nickname for people he is not too fond of. “Crooked Hillary” is just one example.

Some of the people he attacks don’t take the bait and engage him in this fashion. I admire them. I don’t think I would capable of that much self restraint. If a punch in the nose wasn’t an available option, and the guy is of course surrounded by Secrete Service agents, I’d at least resort to the obvious retorts. “Donny Draft Dodger” is a good fit. And “Pussy Grabber” would work for an adult audience.

But I am happy to see two of our most recently announced candidates for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 have found a way to meet the Trump insults forcefully, while stopping short of my tendency to stoop to his level.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a frequent Trump target, took a broadside from the Tweeter in Chief after she made her announcement:

Not only did Trump employ his usual nickname for Warren, “Pocahontas”, he took a direct shot at her unfortunate claim of being Native American, something for which she has apologized repeatedly. To that he adds a reference to the campaign TRAIL. The capitalization has prompted critics to charge he is referencing and trivializing the “Trail of Tears”, a series of forced relocation of Native Americans which drove the Natives from their historical lands and cost thousands of them their lives. In his defense, some of his supporters have argued that Trump is not knowledgeable about this history and so could not have intended to make light of the tragic events. Think about it. Using ignorance as a defense.

Without resulting to direct name calling herself, Warren called out Trump for posting tweets she said are “racist” and “hateful.” And at a campaign rally in Iowa she added, “Here’s what bothers me, by the time we get to 2020 Donald Trump may not even be president.” “In fact”, she added, “he might not be a free person.”

Warren is not the only one drawing a barb from Trump. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar recently announced her candidacy for president in the middle of a typical Minnesota snow storm. From the comfort of the White House Trump tweeted:

I could do a whole hour explaining the difference between climate and weather and how Trump just cannot see the difference. We already know he melts in the rain and can’t operate an umbrella. So instead we’ll just let him play the ignorance card again and move on to Klobuchar’s classic response:

Once again a candidate proves she can give even better than she gets, making her point without resorting to the name calling that passes for debate.

And debate is what we need in these troubled times. Debate on the issues of the day and the policy choices we must make. Night after night in 2016 Donald Trump led the evening news by saying the most inflammatory thing he could think of while his opponents, trying to stick to civil discourse and policy based argument, got far less coverage if any. And the media is already at it, focusing its attention on Warren’s claims of native heritage, asking if Klobuchar is too tough a boss, if California Senator Kamala Harris is black enough and does New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand know how to eat chicken.

It would be nice if in 2020 voters demanded better of the news media, and of all the candidates.

Me Academy. Pick Me.

Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:

I respectfully submit my name for your consideration as the host of the 91st Academy Awards broadcast. I know you’ve had some difficulty filling this role. In fact, your track record in this area is pretty shaky. It’s another nice mess you’ve gotten yourself into!

Its hard to understand why finding a host for the movie industry’s biggest night, and one of the highest rated television broadcasts of any year, should be so difficult. But the rumor mill says many very big names in the entertainment industry turned you down this year. Oscar, you have a problem.

This year’s announced choice, comedian Kevin Hart, withdrew. Those darn social media posts from the past just keep coming back to haunt you. What you got here is a failure to communicate. I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse.

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Winners. Losers. 2020.

We’ve done it. We’ve survived Election 2018. And of course there are winners, losers, and implications for 2020. A few, in no particular order.

We the People. Tough call here. On the one hand, we won. We decided that an unconstrained government is not a good thing and we restored at least the potential for a check and balance for the next two years by putting the House of Representatives in the hands of a different party. We also turned out in record numbers for a midterm. Can we keep it up?

On the other hand, we proved once again that we are a deeply divided nation. Moderates lost to partisans. The future for bipartisanship seems as bleak as before. Race remains the greatest dividing issue. Even a geography based solution involving the dismemberment of the nation doesn’t seem practical as the divide is between urban and rural residents, not between states or regions. The election of 2018 was decided in the suburbs. 2020 may be decided there too.

Continue reading…

Don’t be suppressed

Someone rings the doorbell right around Jeopardy time, not the best moment to interrupt, and I go downstairs to answer. There are two young men at the door. One carries a clipboard. The other a stack of papers. It is election season and I expect to get a pitch or two but instead am simply asked if I intend to vote. “Yes” I reply and the questioner proceeds to ask if I want to vote by mail. “No” is my answer and he launches into a fervent speech about how much easier it is and how they can help not only by supplying me with a “Vote by Mail” form but also with a ballot I can fill out to cast my vote right then and there. At that all my alarm bells go off and I ask them who they are and who they represent. They quickly cover by saying, “Well, if you’re not interested…” and heading off down the block.

I go back upstairs and rejoin Amy, knowing not to interrupt the sacrosanct Jeopardy-Wheel of Fortune hour until a commercial break, when I give my report. She agrees the encounter was strange but says it was not a big deal. The more I think about it, the more I think it is and hop in the car to see if I can find the young men.

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The Preachers of Hate

PittsburgMemorialThe last of eleven funerals was held today. Eleven people, shot dead in simply because they were Jewish.

A federal grand jury has charged 46 year-old Robert Bowers with 44 crimes including hate crimes resulting in death. Bowers has pleaded not guilty. So we’ll do the journalism thing and note that he is the “alleged” assailant and that he is considered innocent until proven guilty. We will also note that the indictment alleges that on the morning of the Sabbath, October 27, 2018, Bowers drove to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, entered the building with multiple firearms, and opened fire. He also engaged public safety officers, wounding several before he was wounded and captured. While inside the Synagogue, Bowers made several statements indicating his desire to “kill Jews.”

It was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. But of course Jews have faced many millennia of persecution and oppression and even in America Jews are no strangers to anti-Semitic incidents, which an Anti-Defamation League audit found rose 57% in 2017.

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No. Just No.

I’ve had it. I’ve had it with whataboutism. I’m done with false equivalency. No more political correctness. You can take your gaslighting someplace else. I’m tired of demonizing, of disinformation, of scapegoating, of rationalization and of lying and deception of all kinds.

Thirteen pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats, including former presidents Obama and Clinton, and other Trump critics. That’s a fact. The FBI has arrested Cesar Sayoc, 56, and charged him with a long list of crimes in connection with the bombs. That’s a fact. They also impounded a white van, which they say was Sayoc’s, its windows covered with political images and stickers of President Trump and his critics, including pictures of some of the bomb recipients with gun sights superimposed on their images. That’s another fact.

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