It’s all about Trump. And so it should come as no surprise that the 2018 New England Muzzle Awards have taken on a distinctly orange hue, singling out — among other offenses — thuggish attempts by President Donald Trump and his minions to suppress speech they found embarrassing.
One of those coveted Muzzles is being presented to the president himself, who, through his lawyer, Michael Cohen, threatened a member of the Harvard Lampoon with expulsion over a harmless prank. The other goes to former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who raised the specter of a libel suit against a student who’d written a critical op-ed piece about The Mooch in the Tufts campus newspaper.
On a considerably lesser scale, former president Barack Obama should be on the lookout for a golden Muzzle in his mailbox as well.
Two days before President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen issued a plea/prediction/warning. “I hope you’re ready for three days of ‘presidential,’” he tweeted. “Because they’re coming.”
In fact, much of the day-after media commentary took Trump’s relatively normal speech for what it was: a performance entirely at odds with his outrageous pronouncements and actions over the past year. Lede-of-the-day honors go to John Barron of the Australian Broadcasting Corp., who wrote:
If Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address had been a true reflection of his first chaotic, headline-grabbing year in office it would have been delivered in 280-character bursts on Twitter from his bed with a Filet-o-Fish in one hand and a TV remote in the other.
A strong whiff of won’t-get-fooled again permeated much of the post-speech analysis. Last year, Trump’s first joint address to Congress was greeted by rapturous reviews. According to Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner saw it as “a total reset.” Perhaps no one was more smitten that night than Van Jones, a liberal commentator on CNN, who said of Trump’s tribute to the widow of a fallen Navy Seal: “He became president of the United States in that moment, period.” A year later, Jones was having none of it, tearing into Trump’s latest immigration proposal as “sweet-tasting candy with poison in it.”
Nothing characterized Trump’s first year in office so much as his racist demagoguery, from his description of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, as “some very fine people” to his angry outburst that Haitians and Africans seeking to immigrate to the United States live in “shithole countries.” In keeping with that theme, Trump’s subdued delivery Tuesday night barely masked the racial dog whistles. I was particularly struck by his remark that “Americans are dreamers, too,” an unsubtle echo of the “All Lives Matter” retort that is so often used to rebuke the #BlackLivesMatter movement. As Rebecca Morin reported in Politico, Trump’s words were immediately hailed by David Duke and Richard Spencer, the two best-known figures of the racist far right.
Trump also equated immigration with the vicious MS-13 gang and exploited a patriotic little kid to renew his criticism of African-American NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem to protest police shootings. “For all of his gestures toward unity,” wrote Jamelle Bouie of Slate, “the substance of Trump’s speech rested on the same racism and demagoguery that has marked his entire career in political life.” Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo characterized the speech as “aggressive ethno-nationalism,” and continued:
The key theme is the extreme valorization of soldiers, police officers and immigration patrol officers as the central element of patriotism. Each of these are merited as part of a range of beliefs and values and commitments that make us American. Trump makes them central and almost sacral in a way that is at war with elemental American traditions, though we would be naive and dishonest to say his reactionary posture doesn’t also have deep roots in our history. We must remember both realities.
Conservative pundits, for the most part, have leaned anti-Trump from the start of his presidential campaign. Although there has been an uptick of support on the right following the recent tax cuts, enthusiasm remains in short supply. At National Review, Jim Talent gave pro-Trumpism a shot, calling the speech “a very strong effort, both substantively and emotionally powerful” as well as the capstone to “a good week for the Trump administration.” Dan McLaughlin was less enamored, writing that “just as hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, Trump’s periodic efforts to speak in the language of normal American politics is a reminder of why normal American politics remains a thing of value worth preserving.”
John Podhoretz, a leading anti-Trump conservative, had some fun with the first half of Trump’s speech, in which he gave shout-outs to so many heroes and other admirable folks in the crowd that you might have wondered if he was there to give a speech or to emcee a charity event. “The true inspiration for Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech was not Ronald Reagan or Abraham Lincoln. It was Paul Harvey,” Podhoretz wrote in the New York Post, adding: “So maybe this is what Trump should do. He was a TV star. Maybe he needs an actual TV show.”
And just in case you were wondering if Trump’s conciliatory rhetoric on immigration reform might lead to an actual deal, his old friends at Breitbart — now 99 and 44/100 percent Bannon-free — called the president “Donny DACA” on its home page this morning. If you missed the point, Neil Munro drove it home: “Pro-American reformers describe his amnesty offer as ill-timed, counterproductive and as a betrayal of his voters and his supporters on Capitol Hill.”
It has long since become a cliché, but Trump’s main purpose Tuesday night was to play to his base — to come across as a “warm glass of milk,” as The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher put it, to deliver a fundamentally extremist message, especially regarding the threat posed by foreigners of all sorts.
And it worked, sort of. A CBS News instant poll revealed that 75 percent of viewers approved of Trump’s speech. But the viewing audience was 42 percent Republican and only 25 percent Democratic, an indication of the extent to which the president’s divisiveness has super-charged the polarization that has characterized American politics for the past several decades.
Trump remains deeply unpopular. In the latest Gallup tracking poll, 58 percent disapprove of his job performance while just 38 percent approve. The Russia investigation has descended into chaos. Trump may be getting ready to fire special counsel Robert Mueller or Mueller’s boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Congressional Republicans, goaded by Trump, may release a memo containing classified information aimed at impugning the integrity of the FBI.
For one night, Trump was able to set that aside. With few exceptions, though, Jay Rosen’s pessimistic prediction did not come true. After all, we’ve been watching this act for a long time, and we know what always comes next.
Should journalists be allowed to express their opinions on social media? Among the tiny circle of people who think about such things, it is a fraught debate. Some say no — including the editors of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, both of which recently issued updated social-media guidelines. Others argue that objectivity is a myth, and that it’s long past time for news organizations to move away from old-fashioned neutrality.
Falling squarely into the latter camp is the veteran digital journalist Mathew Ingram, who recently took his talents to the Columbia Journalism Review. In a column posted last week, Ingram wrote that the new Times and Journal policies, like similar rules at other news organizations, are bound to fail. Moreover, he added, a ban on opinionated tweets stops media outlets from taking advantage of what makes social networks interesting. Ingram wrote:
If someone tells you that they have no opinion, even on serious issues, that they are totally objective and that they also never make a mistake, you would probably think they are either a liar or a sociopath. And yet that is what social-media policies like the ones at the Times and the Journal are asking people to believe.
Now, Ingram is among our sharpest media observers, and he makes some strong points in favor of being transparent about our biases rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist. And yet at the risk of coming off as an old fogey, I have to disagree with him. I think it makes all the sense in the world for journalists to bring the same sensibility to social media that they do to their day jobs. A reporter who makes her living providing neutral coverage of, say, the pharmaceutical industry shouldn’t mock industry executives on Twitter. Likewise, a commentator who is paid to give his opinions should obviously be free to opinionate on social media as well.
Essentially I think Ingram is making a category error. He tells us that he’s writing about how news organizations should use social media, but in fact he’s making a much larger argument. Read what he wrote again: If someone tells you that they have no opinion, even on serious issues, that they are totally objective and that they also never make a mistake, you would probably think they are either a liar or a sociopath. This statement is obviously true, but, properly understood, it applies just as readily to a news organization’s journalistic output in general, not just to its use of social media. If a reporter covering the governor’s proposed budget thinks the governor is an idiot, well, why not say so? Wouldn’t that be more transparent? Isn’t that information our audience should have in assessing the fairness and accuracy of our journalism?
No, it’s not. Here’s the problem. Providing tough, fair-minded coverage is a discipline that is undermined once you disclose your own biases. It’s not just that your audience’s view of your work changes; it’s that you change, too. No longer are you a reporter who can be counted on to provide accurate, neutral coverage of state politics. You’re the reporter who thinks the governor is an idiot, and you are going to start slanting your journalism in ways that you wouldn’t if you’d kept your opinion to yourself.
There is a fine line. Even beat reporters are expected to be provocative and edgy on social media in a way that they wouldn’t on other platforms. Their employers want this because it attracts attention and clicks. Too often, though, journalists are expected to serve up generous dollops of snark and attitude without having received sufficient guidance as to what’s acceptable and what isn’t. That’s why every news organization should consider adopting a set of guidelines. Even better: a group like the Online News Association should develop a model policy, much as many media outlets already use the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
Here’s the heart of the Times’ policy: “In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts The Times’s journalistic reputation.” It’s hard to see how anyone would disagree. Even opinion journalists should refrain from endorsing candidates and making offensive comments.
Nearly all of our major news organizations have adopted a stance of strict neutrality. That doesn’t mean their journalists lack opinions. It does mean that they are craftspeople paid to do a job as well as they can; expressing their opinions would interfere with that job. Seen in that light, social media is just another platform for their work — and the standards should remain the same.
… And you can listen to the results on SoundCloud. Thank you to Jeff Semon and Ed Lyons for inviting me onto “The Lincoln Review.” We talked for more than an hour about media and politics. But it was OK, because we were all drinking. You can subscribe to their podcast on iTunes. I understand that video will be up in a few days as well. God help us.
A source just passed this along from Mike Sheehan, the chief executive officer of Boston Globe Media Partners:
In a quiet corner of the third floor, Pete Doucette has spent the past ten years managing every conceivable aspect of our circulation. To say the least, it’s been a challenging task during challenging times. Balancing the science of market data with the art of consumer engagement—and doing so with limited resources—the job he’s done is nothing short of remarkable: we have essentially the same number of paid subscribers as we had five years ago.
Pete helped create the two-site strategy for Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com, and in doing so set us on a path to charge a premium price for premium journalism. We now have over 72,000 digital-only subscribers, which is the No. 1 digital subscription business of any metro daily publisher, and behind only two national publications, the New York Times and the Washington Post. He’s also overseen successful efforts to retain and attract print subscribers who remain an important cornerstone of our business.
Pete will be the first to say that he’s fortunate to have the increasingly relevant and interesting journalism of the Boston Globe to attract subscribers. Thanks to Brian [McGrory], Ellen [Clegg], and everyone in the newsroom for their tireless efforts to create such important work. To demonstrate the relationship between our journalism and our business, digital subscriptions rose 66% in the 10 days following the Presidential election compared with the 10 days prior to the election.
Starting today, Pete will be our Chief Consumer Revenue Officer. While he’ll still oversee our circulation efforts, the product and development teams, led by Anthony Bonfiglio, will report to him. In his new role, he will weave together business strategy, digital strategy, and operations which is a critical step as we continue to aggressively attract new digital subscribers.
If you see Pete, be sure to congratulate him. Or pay him a visit on the third floor. It’s time he got accustomed to it being a little less quiet up there.
Despite the dry weather this year, there was a bumper crop of pumpkins.
This massive hog has a name, but I can’t remember what it is.
The sign said that these guys bite.
Tea for two.
In another couple of months, this may be a snow scene.
Click on the first image to view a slideshow.
On Sunday we headed north to Russell Orchards in Ipswich to buy pumpkins, eat cider donuts, and check out the animals. We always made this trip when the kids were little, so it was fun to see that nothing had changed.
Update: I have been told that the new term for “reporter” will be “multimedia journalist.” That’s a perfectly respectable title, so I withdraw the anticipatory snark you’ll find below.
GateHouse Media New England, which owns more than 100 daily and weekly newspapers in Greater Boston and its environs, is shedding about 40 positions through buyouts and layoffs, according to Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal.
The full picture is not entirely clear. Seiffert reports that the buyout was offered to GateHouse’s non-union employees. But Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio recently wrote that employees at GateHouse”s Providence Journal, a union paper, were also offered a buyout.
GateHouse, headquartered in the suburbs of Rochester, New York, owns more than 600 newspapers and other media properties nationwide. Its New England holdings include many dozens of community weeklies, as well as high-profile dailies such as the Journal, the Quincy Patriot Ledger, the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and the Cape Cod Times.
GateHouse papers have shrunk so much that concerns have been raised over whether they are going to have to pursue a fundamentally different way of doing things that would involve covering less and less community news. Further cuts could also give rise to more independent local news projects in GateHouse communities, such as the Bedford Citizen and the Worcester Sun, which I wrote about for the Nieman Journal Lab last fall. (Disclosure: I was recently asked to serve as an unpaid adviser to the Sun.)
One thing is for sure: The turmoil hasn’t ended. On Tuesday, Lisa Strattan, who is in charge of GateHouse Media New England’s recently redesigned Wicked Local websites, announced a relaunch that will be unveiled around mid-September. In a memo I obtained, she wrote:
We plan to reorganize into several teams, some serving the whole of Wicked Local and some focused along already established unit lines, to better leverage talent across our entire footprint.
Our centralized teams include a Print Production team, a Special Sections team, a Photo team and a Digital Specialists team. During a later phase of our reorg, we hope to organize our Sports personnel into a Wicked Local Sports team. Our West, Central, North and South units will also divide journalists into teams within each unit, covering given geographic areas.
She added: “Accompanying our reorg will be new job titles (and descriptions!) that better describe the role of a multimedia journalist or editor in 2016. For instance, reporters use a burgeoning bag of tools to create multi-layered multimedia stories. Although ‘reporter’ is tried and true, it’s important to signal our dramatic shift in newsgathering, both to our internal and external audiences.” Let me say that I cannot wait to see what new title GateHouse comes up with for “reporter.” (You can read the full memo here.)
Given that Strattan specifically includes print under her bailiwick, it sounds to me like the papers may be moving away from their traditional community-by-community orientation, with journalists assigned to stories within regions as needed. If that’s what she intends, then I’d be shocked if it doesn’t translate into less local coverage.
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Defenders of Donald Trump are trying to claim he was joking when he said at a news conference this morning that he hoped Russia had hacked Hillary Clinton’s email server and that it would expose “the 30,000 emails that are missing.” For instance, here’s Newt Gingrich on Twitter:
The media seems more upset by Trump's joke about Russian hacking than by the fact that Hillary's personal server was vulnerable to Russia
Now, there are several pieces of evidence out there that show Trump wasn’t joking at all. But one should be enough. Here’s the Washington Post:
“They probably have them. I’d like to have them released. . . . It gives me no pause. If they have them, they have them,” Trump added later when asked if his comments were inappropriate. “If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”
That doesn’t sound like a joke to me.
So now we have a major-party presidential candidate—whose ties to Vladimir Putin are already under scrutiny (here is a good overview from the BBC)—inviting Russian intelligence to interfere in the presidential campaign more than it already has. He refuses to release his tax returns, which anti-Trump conservative George Will has pointed out could contain information about his dealings with Russia. And tonight he denied having met Putin, thus flatly contradicting previous statements. (He’s lying, but I don’t know which statement is the lie.)
House Speaker Paul Ryan should rescind his endorsement. Indiana Governor Mike Pence should resign from the ticket. Of course, neither will happen.
As I wrote Monday, I thought the most significant part of Nick Ciubotariu’s post in defense of Amazon was his flat-out denial that the company fires a certain number of employees every year as a way of “culling” the staff. So I want to note that The New York Times is now asserting that its reporting is correct and that Ciubotariu is simply wrong:
His points contradicted the accounts of many former and current colleagues, and some of his assertions were incorrect, including a statement that the company does not cull employees on an annual basis. An Amazon spokesman previously confirmed that the company sought to manage out a certain percentage of its work force annually. The number varies from year to year.
The responses to the Times’ megastory on Amazon’s workplace environment, reported and written by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, continue to roll in. Here are a few — none of them long — that I think are worth your time.
At Fortune, Mathew Ingram argues that though the Times’ reporting may be accurate, it lacks context. “For some, it is probably a cruel place where they [employees] feel unwelcome, and their performance is judged more harshly than they would like,” Ingram writes, “but for others I expect it is a challenging environment that makes them do things they might not have even thought they were capable of.”
Ingram also makes an important point that I couldn’t help but notice as I was reading the Times opus: an underlying dismissiveness of Amazon because it’s a mere retailer (not actually true, but whatever). Ingram puts it this way:
I think part of the reason that Amazon gets singled out is that it is seen as just a retailer, not a company like Apple that is making magical products to improve people’s lives or fill them with joy. This tone runs throughout the New York Times piece, which talks about how employees are subjected to inhuman treatment “with words like ‘mission’ used to describe lightning-quick delivery of Cocoa Krispies or selfie sticks.” The implication is that selling things somehow isn’t a worthwhile goal.
Buzz Machine blogger Jeff Jarvis thinks the Times article lacks balance, and says that though it did manage to take note of the fact that Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, more emphasis should have been placed on the Times’ rivalry with the Post.
“The Times did not say until halfway down its very long piece that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which some say is closing in on The Times,” Jarvis writes. “The problem at a moment like this is that once one starts to believe The Times might have an agenda, one is left trying to suss out what it might be.”
Former Poynter faculty member Bill Mitchell, a colleague of mine at Northeastern, praises the Times article for its use of on-the-record sources rather than relying on anonymous whispers. “I don’t recall an anonymous source amid the 6,700 words,” he writes. Actually, there are a few, but he’s right that the story is better documented than many such stories.
Mitchell also hails the Times for its “even-handed tone,” which I find interesting mainly because of how different readers interpret the same material in different ways. I thought the Times article was overwhelmingly negative, and that the Amazon employees and officials who spoke favorably about the company were cast in the role of corporate stooges.
Anyway, much to chew over — as there should be given Amazon’s role as a paradigm of the new economy.