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Reliable Sources: Epic coverage of a historic day

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. ...

Posted: Aug 22, 2018 12:52 PM
Updated: Aug 22, 2018 12:52 PM

A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

All The President's Men, the sequel?

Sometimes news trickles out. And other times, like Tuesday, it hits like a flash flood. Michael Cohen's guilty plea came within minutes of the verdict in the Paul Manafort trial on Tuesday afternoon. Just before 4:30, phones lit up with successive news alerts about two felons who had been in President Trump's inner circle. Cable news channels had to interrupt breaking news coverage of one for breaking news about the other. And readers and viewers were left wondering what it all means. The pressure is on newsrooms -- right now and in the coming days -- to explain what's going on and what it means for the Trump presidency...

Wednesday's A1: "Convictions tighten squeeze on Trump"

Quoting from Dan Balz's Washington Post page one piece: "Everything that happened in a pair of courtrooms hundreds of miles apart strengthened the hand of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and weakened that of the president of the United States..."

How it all went down

11:08am: The Manafort jury sends a note asking about what to do if it can't reach a verdict on a count...

11:50am: NBC News reports that Cohen is discussing a plea deal, and it "could come as early as today..."

11:58am: Judge T.S. Ellis sends the jury back to deliberate some more...

12:04pm: CNN's Erica Orden notes that barricades (often used to corral the press) were going up at the Manhattan federal courthouse...

1:37pm: George Stephanopolos breaks into ABC programming with a big scoop: "Michael Cohen has reached a plea deal..."

1:45pm: CNBC nabs the only video of Cohen entering the FBI's NYC field office. We later learned that this was his moment of surrender...

2:12pm: Prosecutors signal that there will be a 4pm court proceeding in the Cohen case...

2:16pm: Lester Holt breaks into NBC programming with the word of a plea deal...

4:09pm: The Manafort jury sends another note. This time, it's word of a verdict on 8 of the 18 counts...

4:37pm: Interns start sprinting out of the courthouse with news about the guilty verdict...

4:48pm: "I apologize. We have more breaking news. It's like a Saturday Night Live skit," Jake Tapper says...

4:50pm: Details of the Cohen plea deal begin to dribble out...

4:52pm: Sarah Sanders declines to comment...

4:58pm: Jeff Glor on CBS's special report: "Divided country, divided verdict..."

5:00pm: Matt Schlapp posts the most-mocked tweet of the day. "Strange I see no 'Russian collusion' in any breaking news. Odd."

6:46pm: Fox's John Roberts quotes a source close to Trump saying, "Remember, the President cannot be indicted."

7:00pm: Chris Matthews' lead on "Hardball:" "All the President's Men...are Guilty! Let's play Hardball."

7:12pm: Omarosa (engaging in wishful thinking?) on MSNBC: "Today changed everything. Today is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump."

8:47pm: The WaPo calls the day a "breathtaking political nightmare for Trump..."

8:53pm: Dan Rather tweets, "I've been saying 'Wow' since about 4 o'clock this afternoon, and have yet to stop."

9:31pm: "I'm still trying to let this day sink in," CNN's Shimon Prokupecz says. "The personal lawyer to the President of the United States now a convicted felon. The chairman of the campaign a convicted felon."

11:05pm: Cohen's lawyer Lanny Davis says on "CNN Tonight" that Cohen now considers Trump to be "a danger to our country."

11:52pm: "This is the Justice Department being serious about discovering the truth," Bill Kristol says on MSNBC...

Meanwhile, at Trump's rally...

POTUS didn't directly bring up any of these stories, but he mocked the press and invoked the "witch hunt," saying, "Where is the collusion? You know they're still looking for collusion. Where is the collusion? Find some collusion. We want to find the collusion."

Stranger than fiction

"If there was a movie script about what happened today," Jen Psaki said on "AC360," "you wouldn't believe it."

Anderson Cooper responded: "This is like one of those movie montages where several things happen all at once, and you're like, 'Oh, it's getting to the end of the movie, because this is the montage.'" Here's my full CNNMoney story about the media reactions...

Bursting with news

At one point, I forget exactly when, I said "we're gonna need a bigger homepage." CNN.com was bursting with news... By 8pm, the homepage used an unusual format that featured the Cohen shocker, the Manafort verdict, Trump's rally in West Virginia, the indictment of Republican congressman Duncan Hunter, and the arrest of an undocumented immigrant in the death of 20-year-old Iowa student Molly Tibbetts.

Fox News' homepage, on the other hand, led with the Tibbetts case, pushing the bad news for Trump further down the page...

Here's what the pro-Trump media is saying

"NO COLLUSION:" There's an intense focus on the idea that these felonies aren't directly related to Russian interference in 2016, as if that's the only real crime that exists. Some Trump boosters have reverted back to the "fruit of a poisoned tree" argument, claiming that these investigations started under politically partisan pretenses, so none of what's found is fair game.

"REAL AMERICANS DON'T CARE:" I haven't seen many people saying this explicitly, but it's been implied in multiple Fox News segments, including a chat on "The Five" that suggested Americans are more interested in the Tibbetts case.

"THE MEDIA IS OVERREACTING:" This is a go-to move on days like today. Cue Alan Dershowitz on Tucker's show: "Some stations are already playing the funeral music for President Trump, but this is much more complicated and much more nuanced.

Hannity's show felt like a repeat...

Oliver Darcy emails: It was more of the same theme on Sean Hannity's television program Tuesday night. Hannity recited most of his usual talking points, attacking Mueller's "witch hunt," saying there was no evidence of collusion, and talking about Hillary Clinton's emails.

That said, Hannity did briefly address some of the day's news. He characterized Manafort as someone who "worked for Trump a little over 100 days" and was charged with crimes that had "zero to do with Russia collusion or Donald Trump." And he suggested Cohen was pressured into implicating Trump on the Stormy Daniels payment, saying that "knowing him all of the years I have known him" he was "probably forced by prosecutors" to make the claim. In fact, Hannity later appeared to almost give Cohen a pass, saying that, given the circumstances, "Most people would take the deal."

No disclosure...

Darcy adds: Of note, as he was discussing Cohen on his show, it did not appear that Hannity disclosed that he had consulted Cohen previously for legal work...

The difference between Fox and everyone else...

The difference on a night like this: Fox's pro-Trump shows acknowledge the news, yes, but they don't give it the serious wall-to-wall coverage that it merits. Instead, the shows move on... to safer subjects like confederate statues and Dem "extremism" and the VMAs...

Tweet of the day

"There is no universe that exists under which all the MAGA-folks wouldn't be calling for Hillary's impeachment or resignation under similar facts," NRO's David French wrote. "So take that into account when you read their defenses..."

What Tuesday felt like

Here's what Hannity viewers didn't hear...

"The day had a feeling, on one level, of history, of recognizing that one is living through moments that will become central parts of the Trump Presidency," The New Yorker's Adam Davidson wrote. "At the same time, the day felt small and shabby, as we learned more details about the crude crimes of those who surround the President. Manafort and Cohen did not commit clever, subtle crimes; they blatantly and crudely lied. They lied to banks to get money; they lied to the I.R.S. In Manafort's case, he instructed countless support people to lie on his behalf. In Cohen's case, it was Trump demanding that a subordinate do the lying. The crimes were not unravelled by brilliant detective work. All it took was law-enforcement officials looking."

Shades of 1974

NYT's Michael Grynbaum with a recap of the day's TV coverage: "CNN and MSNBC went commercial-free, the broadcast networks broke in with special reports and the word 'Watergate' was thrown around by pundits with abandon." The word "impeachment" repeatedly came up, too...

"If what we learned today doesn't matter to people, what will?"

Tuesday was a bad day not just for Trump, but for America, Chris Cuomo argued on his CNN program Tuesday night. He started out by saying "we have never seen anything like this" and concluded this way: "Today will be the test. If what we learned today doesn't matter to people, what will?"

What about American Media Inc.?

The revelations about "catch and kill" tactics started seven months ago thanks to reporters at the WSJ. The NYT, The New Yorker and other outlets have also been all over it. But Tuesday's Cohen plea deal revealed that the National Enquirer's partnership with the Trump campaign was even more extensive than we thought. The plot to "catch and kill" stories that could hurt Trump was hatched way back in August 2015, just two months after Trump entered the race, according to Tuesday's filing.

Get your media fix with the Reliable Sources newsletter

The filing does not name the Enquirer's owner, American Media Inc., or the company's CEO, David Pecker. But previous reporting by the WSJ, NYT, CNN, et cetera leaves no doubt about who's being described. "In or about August 2015, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Corporation-1 ("Chairman-1"), in coordination with MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, and one or more members of the campaign, offered to help deal with negative stories about Individual-l's relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided," it says. "Chairman-1 agreed to keep COHEN apprised of any such negative stories."

Related: Stranger than fiction: Journalists marvel at a day almost hard to believe

The filing also says Cohen and the CEO "worked together to keep an individual from publicly disclosing" info by paying them $150,000 -- the amount Karen McDougal received.

A spokesman for Pecker did not respond to multiple requests for comment...

Nine days left in August...

MSNBC host Chris Hayes quipped on Twitter: "Really glad I took vacation last week!" CNN contributor Ana Navarro, who's on vacation this week, listed all the month's news and said, "There's still 9 days left in August!"

Yes, and they're typically some of the quietest days of the year. But not in the Trump era.The reports about prosecutors being likely to move ahead with the Cohen case before Labor Day were, it turns out, accurate. There's also been speculation that Mueller could complete a report about alleged obstruction of justice by Labor Day, although that remains to be seen...

Mueller still silent

WaPo's Paul Farhi tweeted Tuesday night: "Since becoming special counsel more than a year ago, Robert Mueller hasn't given a single news interview. There have been few, if any, leaks from his office. Both of these things strike me as kind of amazing." Me too...

Read more of Tuesday's Reliable Sources newsletter... And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox...

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