The Steve King rebuke is proof that solid reporting still matters

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

Posted: Jan. 15, 2019 10:45 AM
Updated: Jan. 15, 2019 10:45 AM

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

"Nothing matters" may be the No. 1 saying of the Trump age. The news cycle is insane, so much is shocking, so little is impactful... At least that's how it sometimes feels. But it is not true. MSNBC's Ari Melber pointed this out in an excellent segment last month.

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The evidence "shows many things actually do matter, especially facts and carefully exposed facts about the federal government," Melber said. He shared a long list of instances when reporting led to change in 2018.

There is a brand new example of this, and it comes from Iowa. Last week The New York Times published this story by Trip Gabriel: "Before Trump, Steve King Set the Agenda for the Wall and Anti-Immigrant Politics."

In an interview with Gabriel, the GOP congressman sympathized with white supremacists, lamenting that the term "white supremacist" is considered offensive. The story gradually gained attention over several days. Now the party is trying to break with him like never before. On Monday night King was removed from committee assignments. And, as CNN's story notes here, Rep. Chris Stewart "began calling for King's resignation" in an interview on Chris Cuomo...

Reaction from inside the NYT

An NYTer points out: "The quote that has led to this uproar was not even the lead King quote in the article. The focus of the piece wasn't King's embrace of white identity politics, which we assumed was well known, but about how that ideology fed so directly into Trumpism..."

So why now?

I asked CNN's SE Cupp, who called King a "cancer on the country" last Friday. She has been clear: King has to go. I asked her, why was this time different? King's prejudices have been clear for years, why did it break through now?

She texted me: "The generous answer — I think it was easier for some to compartmentalize King as merely an outlier, a kook, or a fringe right-winger in years past. But since then his views have been increasingly amplified at home and abroad — most disturbingly by President of the United States, whose rank apologism for white-nationalist thinking makes King's brazenness feel so much more urgent and alarming. Another, more cynical, explanation is that it takes less courage for Republican lawmakers to condemn King than it apparently would to condemn Trump. They can *look* brave and principled without running afoul the consequences of actually calling out the president for similar language."

The cable news factor

Last Friday the liberal group Media Matters came out with this finding: "Rep. Rashida Tlaib cursing got 5 times more coverage on cable news than Rep. Steve King embracing white supremacy."

The headline was technically accurate -- assessing 24 hours' worth of coverage of each story -- but I felt that it was incomplete. Tlaib's profane call for impeachment was on camera and it happened as the Dems were taking control of the House. It ignited instantly. King's quotes to the NYT caught fire slowly but had much more staying power. Over the weekend, CNN and MSNBC were all over the story.

I asked Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, if he had re-run the #'s, and here's what he told me on Monday night: "CNN and MSNBC's coverage of Steve King's racism has steadily increased in recent days. With additional developments, it still took a few days for King coverage to reach parity with the first 24 hours of Tliab coverage. This spotlights need for self-reflection on priorities. On the other hand, Fox News needs some serious soul-searching. Even after all these days, Fox News has covered King's racism for only a bit more than 15 minutes total. That's less than one-third the attention they gave to Tliab's comments in just the first 24 hours. Then again, they don't have much room, given that the substance of King's isn't that different than what is said during Fox News primetime."

What will Trump say?

On Monday, POTUS said he wasn't familiar with King's most recent comments. Obviously that claim strains credulity. But he's going to be asked about King again. What will he say?

>> Via NBC's Chris Donovan, here's a flashback to 2015, after Trump was introduced by Steve King: "Isn't he a great guy? He doesn't get a fair press. He doesn't get it, it's just not fair. And I have to tell you, I'm here, and very strongly here, because I have great respect for Steve King."

Welcome to the Colbert primary

Iowa. New Hampshire. Donor enclaves on the coasts. And... the Ed Sullivan Theater? Yes, the home of Stephen Colbert's "Late Show" is proving to be a key stop for Democrats who are positioning themselves for 2020 presidential bids.

Bernie Sanders and Julián Castro were on last month. Kamala Harris had a double-length interview last week. And Kirsten Gillibrand is expected to share some news about her presidential plans on Tuesday's show. It will be her second appearance in just over two months.

So I wrote this story about the "Colbert primary," noting that his interviews with politicians have not been a drag on the show's ratings. If anything, they've been a boon.

He's the Maddow of late-night

A Colbert booking is kind of like a Rachel Maddow booking. Aides for several of the most-talked-about contenders told me that they view Colbert as a crucial stop on the presidential roadshow. "We strategize about Stephen a lot," a comms aide for a yet-to-be-declared candidate said.

Here's my story, including the full list of Dem bookings since last summer... And the caveat that the comedy route works better for some politicians than for others...

FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE

-- Margaret Sullivan's latest: "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is freaking out the news media. And it's working for her..." (WaPo)

-- Joe Pompeo looks at how WaPo is covering the divorce of the paper's owner Jeff Bezos... "One Post journalist told me that some reporters and editors are indeed having conversations about how to handle it and what angle would be appropriate..." (Vanity Fair)

-- In a bonus Mediator column, Jim Rutenberg explains why Trump is still playing nice with David Pecker and the National Enquirer... (NYT)

How will Gannett respond?

Digital First Media formally proposed "to buy Gannett for $12 a share in cash" on Monday morning, Jill Disis reports here.

So what will Gannett do? The company's outgoing CEO Bob Dickey told staffers that "we are business as usual" while the offer is reviewed. But staffers are obviously on edge. Niraj Warikoo, staff writer for the Gannett-owned Detroit Free Press tweeted: "If DFM takes over Gannett, it will basically be the end of the American newspaper industry."

>> Here is Ken Doctor's latest on possible paths forward...

>> Dan Kennedy: "Let's just hope the Gannett board decides to fight rather than give in..."

What makes NBCU's streaming strategy different

Frank Pallotta emails: NBCUniversal restructured its exec ranks on Monday with an eye toward launching a new streaming service in early 2020. The company is stacked with bingeable content, everything from hit films like "Jurassic World" to hit TV shows like "The Office."

So what's the plan? An ad-supported version will be free to those who already have a cable subscription. An ad-free option will come with a fee. And those without cable TV will be able to purchase an à la carte subscription.

The most interesting point from NBCU's news...

More from Frank: NBCU said that it will continue "to license content to other studios and platforms, while retaining rights to certain titles for its new service." In other words, "The Office" will likely still be available on Netflix while also being on NBCU's new service. For me, that's the most interesting point of this announcement. It goes in the opposite direction of Disney, which isn't just creating a new service but taking its content with it, and shows that NBCU is not placing all of its bets on red or black.

If it wants, NBCU can eventually pull its popular content and hurt its competitors or it can continue to make a ton of money by licensing its content. It has options! Read on...

Monday's exec moves

Bonnie Hammer will run NBC's direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises. NBC Sports chair Mark Lazarus will now oversee broadcast, cable, and news too. Jeff Shell, chairman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, will gain oversight of NBC Entertainment.

Brian Lowry emails: Universal is just the latest studio to undergo a reorganization to evolve to meet the demands of the new streaming universe, following changes at WarnerMedia, CBS/Showtime and Disney. It's a sign that veteran TV (mostly) executives are the ones being tasked with morphing their old medium to adapt to survive this rather uncertain new world...

How this affects NBC News

NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack previously reported directly to CEO Steve Burke. Now he will report to Mark Lazarus, who reports to Burke.

"We are making the company easier to manage," Burke told THR. He had 18 direct reports, and now he'll have 12. Thinking ahead? "We're giving two people in Jeff Shell and Mark Lazarus more responsibility, and they're two people who have earned more responsibility..."

Burke speaks about Kelly, Lack and Oppenheim

Three keys quotes in Variety's interview with Burke:

-- On the Megyn Kelly debacle: "News organizations like ours should take risks." It was ultimately his call to hire her. "Megyn Kelly was a huge talent. She was at the wrong time of day (on NBC). In hindsight we shouldn't have done it. But it wasn't Andy going off rogue."

-- On the "Today" show: "Matt Lauer was a grenade that we didn't know was a grenade. I was here seven years and I thought Matt Lauer was the greatest interviewer in news."

-- On Lack and NBC News prez Noah Oppenheim: "I still have full faith in" Lack, "and Noah is extraordinary. He's going to end up running NBC News after Andy retires. He's really good."

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

FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO

-- There are doubts, lots of doubts, about Jeffrey Katzenberg's Quibi venture, Beejoli Shah reports... (The Information)

-- "Matthew Rhys is jumping from Soviet spycraft in The Americans to an iconic All-American role: Perry Mason. The actor has signed on to play the famed fictional defense attorney in HBO's long-in-the-works limited series..." (Vulture)

-- Two former Weekly Standard staffers, Mike Warren and Holmes Lybrand, are joining CNN... (Twitter)

-- WordPress has launched a Google-backed platform for "small- and medium-sized news organizations..." (WordPress)

-- Have you seen this yet? "Gillette's new ad isn't about shaving. It's about men in the age of #metoo," Heather Kelly writes... (CNN)

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