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Was New York Times CEO Eased Out?

An abrupt resignation comes at a difficult financial time

It sure doesn’t look like Janet Robinson’s departure as CEO of the New York Times Co. was voluntary.

Her “retirement” was sudden; even some senior company officials didn’t know about it until the last minute. No successor has been lined up; company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is taking the title on an interim basis.That strongly suggests she got a hard shove.

And she’s not talking. No interviews, says a company spokesman. Neither is Sulzberger.

So it’s not hard to conclude that certain powerful people in the Times hierarchy were dissatisfied with its financial performance and nudged Robinson out the door. Robinson herself admits to “mixed feelings”: “Obviously, the last few years have been tough,” she wrote her staff, as “we have navigated one of the most difficult periods in publishing history.”

Despite an 82 percent decline in the Times Co. stock price since Robinson took over in 2004, she is getting one sweet deal. Robinson will continue as a consultant for an astronomical $4.5 million a year.

Insiders say there may not have been enough room at the top at a company that has deliberately downsized, now worth about $2.4 billion from an earlier peak of $3.5 billion. Since Sulzberger and his cousin, Vice Chairman Michael Golden, are part of the family the owns the Times, Robinson may have become the odd woman out.

Advertising at Times Co. newspapers declined 7.3 percent in the third quarter. Still, Sulzberger heaped on the praise in his own memo: “With Janet’s vision and input, we were able to convince the then corporate management to make the investment necessary and began to reposition The Times as a truly national newspaper—one that now has 58% of weekday and 62% of Sunday subscribers located outside of the NY market.”

Whatever the setbacks of Robinson’s tenure, the question has to be asked: compared to what?

“I’m most impressed by what she didn’t do—lay off hundreds of journalists, close bureaus in this country and abroad,” says industry analyst John Morton. “That was a smart way to handle a downturn in business. The paper has maintained its journalistic quality in every respect compared to what’s happening at other properties, where it’s not unusual to see the number of journalists reduced by half. I give her full credit for the way she ran the company during a very difficult time.”

It’s been a grim season for the newspaper business. Russ Stanton stepped down as editor of the Los Angeles Times this week, becoming the fourth editor to quit amid mounting budget cuts, with word that more are on the way. The L.A. Times newsroom shrunk from 900 to 550 during his four years; the New York Times, despite scattered layoffs, still employs more than 1,200 journalists.

Media General this week said it would lay off 165 people, or 16 percent of the staff, at the Tampa Tribune and its community newspapers.

On the plus side for the New York Times, the paper recently adopted a partial paywall without driving away hordes of online readers, a move that other papers are now studying. And the company said last summer it would repay a $250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim earlier than expected.

None of that was enough to save Janet Robinson’s job. But then, she’ll be well taken care of in her multimillion-dollar consultant’s role.

George Stephanopoulos

Stephanopoulos to Replace Amanpour

ABC tries to fix Sunday morning, will share former ‘This Week’ host with CNN

ABC News is doing its best to put a pleasant gloss on the fact that its Sunday morning anchor has been a flop.

No one doubts that Christiane Amanpour is an aggressive and talented globe-trotting correspondent. But the announcement Tuesday that she is leaving This Week, and will launch a new evening newscast for CNN International, seems to confirm the early criticism that she was not a good fit for the job of political pundit.

And the fact that ABC is bringing George Stephanopoulos back to This Week, the job he surrendered 18 months ago to co-host Good Morning America, is further evidence that the decision to replace him was probably a mistake. Stephanopoulos will continue at GMA, pulling the kind of double duty that he told me at the time was impossible, given that he has to be in New York for the morning show while the Sunday program is broadcast from Washington.

Under Amanpour, This Week slipped to third place in the ratings, while David Gregory at Meet the Press and Bob Schieffer at Face the Nation have been in a horse race for first place. On Dec. 4, for example, Face led with 3.29 million viewers, Meet had 3.02 million, and This Week trailed with 2.26 million. Schieffer has just won the right to expand his CBS program to one hour like the others, at least through the 2012 campaign.

ABC is giving Amanpour the title of global affairs anchor and saying she will report from around the world. “This is an exciting and unique opportunity for me to take my love of storytelling to primetime at ABC News with multiple specials,” she said in a statement. “I am looking forward to getting back into the field to report stories on global issues that matter greatly to the American people. At the same time, I will be broadcasting once again to hundreds of millions of people across the world with a weekday show on CNN International.”

Amanpour spent 18 years at CNN before making the jump last year. Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, called her “synonymous with international reporting,” adding: “We could not be happier that through this unique arrangement with ABC News her experience and global perspective are returning to a nightly news broadcast for our international audience.”

Jake Tapper, ABC’s White House correspondent, who spent several months filling in as the Sunday anchor during the transition to Amanpour, will become a regular panelist and correspondent for This Week. He could also be tapped as a future anchor if the Stephanopoulos arrangement lasts only through 2012.

“It’s a big learning curve for me,” Amanpour told me last March. “And really, I’m enjoying learning all the kind of domestic information and news that I haven’t been covering.”

Amanpour had her moments of triumph—a “remarkable year,” as ABC News President Ben Sherwood put it-- particularly during the Arab Spring, when she landed exclusive interviews with Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. But having lived in Europe for a dozen years before taking the job, she never seemed to fully embrace the rhythms of American politics. Heading into a campaign year, ABC executives gradually concluded that it would be better to go with their top political analyst. As a former Clinton White House aide, Stephanopoulos is especially well connected in Democratic circles.

With Amanpour returning to what she does best, ABC must figure out whether to bring in Tapper or someone else after the campaign or permanently return the franchise to Stephanopoulos, who has been saddled with handling stories about Linsday Lohan and Justin Bieber as GMA moves in a more tabloid direction. Having moved his wife, Ali Wentworth, and their children to New York, it’s hard to see how he could do both shows indefinitely.   

How many kids have been doing what the media said they were doing? Not so many, it turns out.

So it turns out that fewer than 10 percent of kids have engaged in sexting.

But maybe half the news stories about teens have been about them sending salacious pictures back and forth.

Oops. Our bad.

Another phony media trend, blown to smithereens.

Cain’s Consent

Cain’s ‘Consensual’ Conduct with Accuser

Despite lawyer’s admission, candidate denies Atlanta woman’s account of 13-year extramarital affair.

Herman Cain, whose campaign was already fading, may have reached the tipping point.

After denying four separate accusations of sexual harassment, Cain found himself late Monday facing an account by an Atlanta businesswoman of a 13-year extramarital affair—and she has phone records to back up her claim. While Cain is denying the latest allegations, his lawyer, Lin Wood, offered comments that practically amounted to a confirmation:

“This appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults—a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life,” Wood said.

Um, did Wood sleep through the Clinton administration?

Are we supposed to believe that if Cain cheated on his wife, Gloria, for more than a decade—the same wife he sent onto Greta Van Susteren’s show to stand by her man—that isn’t relevant information for voters? After all, Newt Gingrich has gotten hammered for his serial adulteries, for which he has sought forgiveness.

The woman, Ginger White, gave an on-camera account to WAGA, the Fox affiliate in Atlanta, where Cain lives. “It was pretty simple,” White said. “It wasn’t complicated. I was aware that he was married. And I was also aware I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship.” She said it was “fun” and “exciting” and took her away form her “humdrum life.”

The physical relationship ended eight months ago, White says—around the time Cain was jumping into the White House race. She showed WAGA cellphone records with 61 calls or texts from an Atlanta-area number (some as early as 4:26 a.m.) starting with area code 678—and Cain called back when a reporter sent him a text message at that number.

What’s more, Cain told the station he had helped White financially—as a friend—while she says he lavished gifts upon her.

White said she’s a single, unemployed mother with two children, and she has a tangled legal history—including a bankruptcy in 1989--that could open her up to counterattack. According to WAGA, she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a temp agency in 2001 and the case was settled the following year. White has had several eviction notices in Georgia in the last four years, according to the station, and a former business partner once sought a protective order against her for stalking. The ex-partner won a libel suit against her when White never responded, the station says.

I don’t know why White is surfacing now. Cain acknowledged knowing White, telling CNN she was an “acquaintance” he had tried to help. Cain said “no, it was not” an affair, that “I don’t have anything to hide,” and that he would not drop out of the race.

“My wife’s reaction was very similar to mine: here we go again,” Cain said on the Situation Room. But it’s the voters’ reaction that counts.

Here’s why it matters: Cain keeps insisting that the other women’s accusations are wrong—entirely made up, in the case of Sharon Bialek, who says Cain tried to grope her in a car in the late 1990s when she was asking for a job. If what White is saying is true, doesn’t it cast serious doubt on all of Cain’s other denials? And wouldn’t that, morality aside, leave him with a huge credibility gap?

Yes, Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 after Gennifer Flowers accused him of a 12-year affair, and years later admitted to at least some sexual contact with the former lounge singer. And there were other “bimbo eruptions,” as a top aide at the time described them. But Clinton was a veteran governor, not a former pizza executive and political neophyte.

The charismatic Cain has had an improbable run as a leading Republican candidate, despite the harassment allegations and a series of incidents, most recently involving Libya, in which he didn’t appear to know the issues. But Gingrich’s surge in the polls has much to do with Cain losing support. If Ginger White has any documentation of the alleged affair, Herman Cain’s brief moment in the political sun is over.

The Hillary Fantasy

Why Some Democrats Can't Let Go

The Hillary diehards just won’t give it up.

For them, it all seems so obvious: Barack Obama should step aside, the secretary of State should lead the 2012 ticket, and the Democratic Party would be restored to its former glory.

Easy, right?

This analysis is so screwy it’s hard to know where to begin.

Hillary Clinton might make a very good president. Certainly, her legion of fans in 2008 thought so. But she ran a badly flawed campaign, Obama won, and Hillary is now an international diplomat who floats above partisan politics.

What’s easy to forget is how polarizing a presence Hillary was on the political stage, complete with people bemoaning the role that Bill would play as first spouse. To trumpet her approval ratings now, when she’s been out of the domestic political crossfire for three years, misses the mark. The day she got into the campaign—in this bizarro world in which the president magically bows out—she would come under fierce assault that would drive her numbers down.

Could Hillary Clinton win? Sure. Would she be free of some of the Obama baggage? Yes, although she’d have to defend the administration of which she is a part. Meanwhile, how are African-Americans going to feel about the first black president being pushed aside? And while Clinton didn’t pass Obamacare, her Hillarycare was even more of a big-government contraption—and in the primaries, she chastised Obama for not including a strong enough health insurance mandate.

Still, along come Doug Schoen, a former Bill Clinton pollster, and Pat Caddell, who worked for Jimmy Carter, with this Wall Street Journal piece promoting HRC as the irresistible nominee:

“Never before has there been such an obvious potential successor—one who has been a loyal and effective member of the president's administration, who has the stature to take on the office, and who is the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy.

“Certainly, Mr. Obama could still win re-election in 2012. Even with his all-time low job approval ratings (and even worse ratings on handling the economy) the president could eke out a victory in November. But the kind of campaign required for the president's political survival would make it almost impossible for him to govern—not only during the campaign, but throughout a second term.”

So Obama would have to go ugly to win, but Hillary would have a walk in the park?

No matter: “Her election would arguably be as historic an event as the election of President Obama in 2008.”

The other odd thing about the Clinton boomlet, if it can be called that, is that Bill’s presidency was hardly a time of liberal rejoicing. He was a Third Way guy who ran against the “brain-dead politics” of both parties, and became known as a slippery triangulator who compromised with the Gingrich Republicans on welfare reform and budget-cutting. If Hillary represents the restoration, she would be bringing back what was once regarded as a brand of Democratic centrism.

Which leads to this question posed by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine:

“Why are liberals so desperately unhappy with the Obama presidency?

“There are any number of arguments about things Obama did wrong…Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president. “So, what if we compare Obama with a real alternative? Not to Republicans—that’s too easy—but to Democratic presidents as they lived and breathed?

“One variant of liberal disappointment has taken the form of resurgent Clinton nostalgia. Hillary Clinton, removed from the undertow of partisan combat in her role as secretary of State, has enjoyed soaring approval ratings, while Bill has burnished his credentials with a book on fixing the economy. If Bill Clinton (or Hillary Clinton—admirers tend to blur their identities) were in charge, pine their devotees, they wouldn’t have rolled over on the economy.”

Schoen and Caddell wind up arguing that if Obama won’t abdicate, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi should march up Pennsylvania Avenue and demand the keys. Don’t hold your breath.

Mitt Romney

A Scorched Earth Attack on Romney

A key blogger says he’d be a disaster—and lose badly

Erick Erickson is hardly a household name, but as founder of the influential conservative blog Red State, he has shaken the blogosphere with a no-holds-barred assault on Mitt Romney.

In a blistering post Tuesday, Erickson predicted that Romney will win the Republican nomination and “will be an utter disaster for conservatives as he takes the GOP down with him and burns up what it means to be a conservative in the process.” In a particularly stinging reference to the debacle surrounding a Supreme Court nomination in the Bush years, he called Romney “the Harriet Miers of 2012, only conservative because a few conservative grand pooh-bahs tell us Mitt Romney is conservative and for no other reason.”

Why, then, is Romney such a sure bet to capture the nomination? Because, says Erickson, the other candidates “are a pretty pathetic lot.”

By himself, Erickson is just an Atlanta-based blogger, and CNN commentator, who commands a small but loyal following. But his posting resonated—and got plenty of attention on Morning Joe—because it seemed to reflect, in admittedly harsh terms, a deep sense of conservative unease with Romney now that other alternatives (Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain) are so clearly struggling.

Erickson calls the former Massachusetts governor “a man devoid of any principles other than getting himself elected. As much as the American public does not like Barack Obama, they loath a man so fueled with ambition that he will say or do anything to get himself elected. Mitt Romney is that man.

“I’ve been reading the 200 pages of single spaced opposition research from the John McCain campaign on Mitt Romney. There is no issue I can find on which Mitt Romney has not taken both sides. He is neither liberal nor conservative. He is simply unprincipled. The man has no core beliefs other than in himself. You want him to be tough? He’ll be tough. You want him to be sensitive? He’ll be sensitive. You want him to be for killing the unborn? He’ll go all in on abortion rights until he wants to run for an office where it is not in his advantage.”

Erickson denigrates not just Romney but what he calls “the Washington GOP crowd who loves him,” saying neither has “very much at all in common with fly over country conservatives who see the GOP and Democrats both as out to lunch tools of K-Street and Wall Street.” Having trashed Perry, Cain and Newt Gingrich, he turns to the former Utah governor who has gotten little traction in this race: “I’m starting to think I need to walk it back on my rejection of Jon Huntsman.”

Meanwhile, another group of activists and pundits on the right, including gadfly operative Roger Stone, has launched a website called The site says “a Romney administration where the public is unaware of where he stands on the major issues of our time: fundamentally reforming entitlements and ending the bailouts (which he has said he is still for today).

“His timid rhetoric is not only distrusting, and a losing campaign strategy, but if he some how squeaks it out due to President Obama’s horrible job-record, we’ll have a White House that believes in little.”

Of course, as with the conservative grumbling about John McCain before he won the 2008 nomination, none of this may amount to anything more than group therapy. If Romney becomes the party’s standard-bearer, he may win over some of the detractors and, in a tough financial climate, could win the White House. But these online attacks underscore why he’s having trouble getting above 25 percent in a less than imposing field.   


Cain Controversy Reaches Tipping Point

The narrative is now officially out of control

Herman Cain may feel like he’s being harassed by the media, but his harassment controversy is now spinning out of control.

The question when Politico broke the original piece Sunday night, involving two unnamed women and largely unspecified conduct from his tenure at the National Restaurant Association, was how much more would come out on the sexual harassment front. The answer, at the moment, is a whole helluva lot.

Forget for a moment his ham-handed handling of the matter, first saying he didn’t remember any legal settlement, then saying it was for about three months’ pay (it turned out to be a year’s salary, $35,000, the New York Times reported). Leave aside that some reporters looked like jackals shouting questions at the candidate while he appeared with a doctors’ group in Alexandria. On Wednesday, the story reached a tipping point.

Now there’s a third case, according to GOP pollster Chris Wilson, who says he saw Cain sexually harass an unnamed woman at an Arlington restaurant in the late 1990s, making everyone “very uncomfortable.” Wilson says the woman wants to talk. (Again, though, no details on what Cain allegedly said or did—this is one murky controversy, without so much as a pubic-hair-on-Coke-can phrase attributed to the alleged harasser.)

And we have the lawyer for one of the two complainants at the restaurant group saying she wants to tell her side of the story if the trade association would just release her from her promise not to talk. That was starting to smell like a cover-up--although the lawyer later backed off and said the woman doesn’t want to go public and become the next Anita Hill.

Then there’s Iowa radio host Steve Deace, saying that Cain has said “awkward” and “inappropriate” things to his staff.

Beyond the drip-drip-drip of new details, the harassment story has now graduated to full culture-war status. You have Cain accusing one of his former consultants, Curt Anderson, a Rick Perry supporter, of leaking the allegations (Anderson denies it), while his chief of staff demands apologies from Perry and Politico (don’t hold your breath). You have Rush Limbaugh accusing the media of an “unconscionable, racially stereotypical attack” and Ann Coulter using similar language (“Liberals detest, detest, detest conservative blacks.”). Lefty pundits, of course, are firing back (Lawrence O’Donnell saying Rush is peddling “pure hatred”).

What all this means is that there’s enough invective to fuel the story hour after hour even during the brief periods when no actual news emerges.

Meanwhile, some Iowa Republicans are telling reporters for The Washington Post and Politico that they don’t much care about the harassment allegations and view the whole mess as a media-generated scandal.

The problem now for Cain is that he can’t talk about anything else—or that, more precisely, nothing else he says can break through the scandalous static.


Madoffs Invade the Media

Has anyone else had enough of this suddenly inescapable family?

Would the Madoffs do us all a favor and shut up?

Nearly three years after the exposure of the biggest Ponzi scheme in American history, the family’s gone all gabby on us, determined to share their feelings.

What about our feelings? What about the feelings of the people who lost a big chunk of their life savings when $65 billion was found missing from the stock accounts that Bernie was fraudulently managing?

The Madoff media moment is, of course, driven by money—the cash to be earned by peddling books about the tragedy.

I don’t blame news organizations for interviewing members of the clan. There’s plenty of public interest in what they have to say, an inherent curiosity about the impact on those who were closest to the epicenter of this monstrous crime. But I’m already tired of family members who benefited from the scam trying to generate sympathy for themselves, when the real victims are those who were fleeced.

So we have Madoff’s wife Ruth telling 60 Minutes that she and hubby almost checked out after being exposed.

“I don’t remember whose idea it was. We decided to kill ourselves because it was so horrendous what was happening. We had terrible phone calls, hate mail just beyond anything and I said I can't, I just can't go on anymore.” But somehow they survived. And Ruth Madoff, you may recall, lived the high life, with houses in Palm Beach and the south of France, thanks to her hubby’s ill-gotten gains.

Not that Bernie Madoff is suffering in silence. Diana Henriques, the New York Times reporter whose book on the family is being featured Sunday on 60 Minutes, chatted him up for the paper. From the prison where he’s serving a 150-year sentence—not long enough, in my view—the Ponzi perpetrator attempted to shift blame to the people who trusted him with their money.

“They had to know,” Madoff said. “But the attitude was sort of, ‘If you’re doing something wrong, we don’t want to know.’ ”

Barbara Walters came away with a different impression from her jailhouse interview (no cameras allowed). “Remorse, he has terrible remorse,” she said on Good Morning America. “He knows that he ruined his family. During the day, he doesn’t think about it. He’s had therapy.”

I certainly hope he’s working out his issues.

The only one who stirs my sympathy is Stephanie Madoff Mack, whose husband—Bernie’s son Mark—committed suicide last year. “I hate Bernie Madoff,” she told Chris Cuomo on 20/20. "If I saw Bernie Madoff right now, I would tell him that I hold him fully responsible for killing my husband, and I'd spit in his face."

Was her late husband shocked by the criminal enterprise, as she says? Who knows? Stephanie has her own book coming out.

I have the sense that the Madoffs are scrambling to peddle their tales after a long period of silence because each one is doing damage control as the family comes apart at the seams. What a sorry spectacle.


The Pummeling of Mitt Romney

He survived the debate. Can he survive the punditry?

Mitt Romney firmly stood his ground in Las Vegas as his Republican rivals tried to pound him, humiliate him and drown him out.

His reward: A spate of headlines saying “Romney Loses His Cool,” including one in The Daily Beast.

I think that’s wrong, and here’s why. Yes, Romney got a bit agitated in Tuesday’s debate as Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich ganged up on him, especially when the first two wouldn’t allow him to utter a full sentence in reply. At one point he seemed exasperated when he told Perry: “You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking.”

Yes, Romney probably shouldn’t have invaded Perry’s space by placing a hand on his shoulder. And yes, Romney shouldn’t have said “Anderson?” in hopes that the CNN moderator would cut off Perry for what was a blatant violation of the rules.

But here’s the takeaway. Romney’s Achilles heel is that he can come off like a brainy accountant who never breaks a sweat. The wave of attacks at the CNN debate, and his heated attempts to push back, made him seem, well, all too human. A few hairs might have fallen out of place. He had a chance to show a bit of passion, and Americans like that in a leader.

Now maybe I’m wrong. Here’s what veteran GOP consultant Don Sipple told me: “Romney’s mega-problem is that he’s fairly unlikable bordering on annoying. You don’t get a sense of warmth from the guy.”

Did the debate help that? “I don’t think he rose above the rancor—he was part of it,” Sipple says.

And much of the punditry tended toward that view.

“It was Romney’s worst debate so far,” says National Review Editor Rich Lowry, “if only because his opponents finally delved a little deeper on Romneycare and for the first time ever he showed anger in public… And Romney came off as a little frantic and maybe too much of a hall monitor about the debate rules.”

"Romney got rattled on stage, and everyone knew it,” writes Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey. “He lost his temper, raised his voice, and looked decidedly uncool in his efforts to push back on immigration — a topic which Romney used in earlier debates as a club against Perry.”

“Perry clearly got under his skin in a way that no other candidate has this year, and it showed,” says Salon’s Steve Kornacki. At one point, “Romney looked red-faced and almost unhinged.”

Unhinged? I think these descriptions are way overstated, but hey, debate scorecards are inherently subjective. There was also a rough consensus that Perry didn’t help himself, that his attacks on, for instance, a 4-year-old report that Romney’s lawn company employed illegal immigrants came off as overbearing.

That was the focus in the post-debate spin room. “I think Romney did come across as petulant," Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan told reporters. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom called Perry “desperate,” saying that “Rick Perry had a strategy of coming into this debate to kill Mitt, and he ended up killing himself.”

Maybe all this will be forgotten by next week. But you don’t win a presidential nomination without getting roughed up a bit, and Romney has now demonstrated that he’s comfortable with combat—even if he did get somewhat ticked off.


How Palin's Dad Found Out

Not long before the rest of us.

Sarah Palin's father found out about his daughter's decision not to run for president  just before she made her official announcement. But he had an inkling when he saw on the website of the Iron Dog—which bills itself as the world's longest snowmobile race—that Todd was signed up for 2012.
"I'm glad they made a decision," Jim Palin says. "It's a good decision. The family fully supports it and any actions they decide on in the future.I know they will remain active in trying to turn things in this country around."


Fox News Unfiltered

More on the cable network’s biggest personalities

After spending weeks looking into Fox News, I have plenty of material in my notebook that never made it into this week’s Newsweek piece. Here is just a sampling:

Sayings of Chairman Roger:

Roger Ailes
on his ideology: “If I were to become a liberal, I’d be the toast of this country.”

On Obama’s funding of shovel-ready projects: “It’d be helpful if the president had ever picked up a shovel. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” (Ailes dug ditches as a teenager.)

Asking his staff about a possible future guest: “Can we book Al Gore? Did you see him the other night? He seems angry. We need to have Keith Ablow talk to him.” (Ablow is Fox’s on-air psychiatrist.)

On hiring White House correspondent Ed Henry from CNN: “The White House somehow thought he’d had a frontal lobotomy and now that he’s working for Fox he’s therefore a totally different human being. He’s the same guy.”

On criticism by bloggers: “The second some jerkoff hits a computer key, he thinks he’s a journalist. These clowns put out stuff every day to damage people.”

On hearing that Columbia University students might attend a dinner (which was later canceled) with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “I frankly don’t give a fuck what a mass murderer thinks. I think he should be whacked.”

Bill O’Reilly on putting together his show: “I’m not real interested in policy on this program any more. We used to do that, but it just didn’t resonate. Policy is very complicated, and TV just doesn’t have the time.”

On his on-air style: “Once in awhile we’ll have an explosion, we’ll have a pie fight. You become a caricature if you do it all the time.”

Megyn Kelly on the reaction of her mother, a lifelong Democrat, when she joined Fox: “My mom believed the same things about Fox that many of our non-viewers do: ‘Isn’t that a right-leaning network?’”

Kelly on the e-mail she gets when she grills a conservative guest: “I always knew you were a lefty. Go work for MSNBC!”

Bret Baier and Chris Wallace were on stage at a rehearsal for the Fox News/Google debate in Orlando when Baier checked his smartphone:

: “You know what’s great? Getting a Google alert at a Google event.”

seemed puzzled. Baier was Googling himself?

Baier: “You don’t do that? Get with the times. It lists all the stories that include your name.”

Wallace: “That’s cool.” But he showed no interest in adopting the practice.


Inside D.C.'s Mediaquake

Not much news, but wall-to-wall coverage

I was a block from the White House when I heard the loud rumble, saw park benches rattling and wondered whether a passing cement truck was to blame.

Despite my finely honed journalistic instincts, I didn’t realize it was an earthquake. People looked around, puzzled, and resumed their conversations. Only when thousands of workers started pouring out of downtown office buildings did I realize that something of a higher magnitude was up.

But it wasn’t much of a higher magnitude, at least this distance from the epicenter of the 5.8 quake in Virginia. Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into the Upper Crust pizzeria and, up on the wall past the freshly baked pies, saw CNN in breaking-news mode. Uh, what happened to the Libyan rebels who had just taken over the Gaddafi compound? They had vanished. On the cable news channels, it was all quake all the time.

It was a perfect media story on a sunny Tuesday afternoon: Lots of pictures, lots of person-on-the-street interviews, lots of clicks online—but without the messy and depressing reality of an actual disaster. No one, as far as I can tell, was seriously injured, but everyone was buzzing. As officials called press conferences, it looked, felt and smelled like news—but only in a surreal sense.

Now, of course we should cover such an unusual East Coast event, minor though it might be in L.A. The Capitol was evacuated, trains were slowed down, flights were delayed and work ground to a halt in the capital—though in late August, it was hard to tell. Some D.C. buildings sustained minor damage, and, as I can personally attest (since the building housing the NEWSWEEK/Daily Beast bureau was shut down for the day), traffic was in utter gridlock even miles from downtown as everyone tried to drive home at once. Cellphone service was close to nonexistent.

Meanwhile, there was a 5.7 earthquake near Trinidad, Colo. at midnight Monday that also did little damage. Did you hear about it? No, because Colorado isn’t a major media center, crawling with TV crews the way Washington is (not to mention New York, where news executives got interested when their skyscrapers swayed).

Honestly, given that no one was badly hurt, doesn’t this wall-to-wall coverage feel like overkill? Isn’t this going to feel like a blip on the media Richter scale tomorrow? Whatever happened to those Libyan rebels, anyway?

Debt Plan

GOP's Circular Firing Squad

Conservative allies are shooting at one another over the Boehner debt plan.

If the Republican Party isn’t having a collective nervous breakdown about the impending default deadline, it’s doing a pretty good imitation.

The level of finger-pointing within the conservative movement is getting uglier by the moment.

It’s not that Democrats don’t have plenty of divisions over the Obama approach—hey, they’re Democrats—but at the moment the heat is really on John Boehner. He’s caught between his usual corporate backers, who desperately want a debt deal, and his Tea Party wing, which has opposed every effort at hammering out a compromise.

Keep in mind that Boehner is proposing $1.2 trillion in spending cuts—and none of the tax increases sought by Democrats--in the first phase of his blueprint to raise the debt ceiling before the Aug. 2 deadline.

John McCain went off on the “bizarre” logic of Republicans who are opposing the House speaker’s latest plan. “Maybe some people who have only been in this body for six or seven months or so really believe that,” McCain said. “Others know better. Others know better.”

The party’s 2008 presidential candidate also took a whack at the Tea Party insurgents who knocked off establishment figures in last year’s Senate primaries and then crashed and burned. “This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into G.O.P. nominees,” he said.

Meanwhile—and this is like a scene from some B-movie about Washington—some GOP lawmakers were chanting “fire him, fire him!” at a Republican staffer who incurred their displeasure.

Some of the rank and file were angry about e-mails from Paul Teller, executive director of the Republican Study Group, a caucus of 175 mostly conservative House members, to right-wing activists, urging them to “kill the Boehner deal.” One of his staffers, according to Politico, wrote that “we need statements coming up to the Hill every hour of the day in mounting opposition to the plan.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who belongs to the group, was quoted as saying that “I don’t like to see Republicans attacking other Republicans.”

If so, this must not be a great week for Cantor.

Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol let Boehner’s critics on the right have it, saying: “To vote against John Boehner on the House floor this week in the biggest showdown of the current Congress is to choose to vote with Nancy Pelosi. To vote against Boehner is to choose to support Barack Obama. It is to choose to increase the chances that worse legislation than Boehner’s passes.”

And there was this live-in-the-real-world slam from Kristol: “Can the pro-Obama right explain how defeat for Boehner on the House floor would redound to conservatives' benefit, to their ability to do more and to go further?”

That was pattycake, though, compared to the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which finds it strange that some GOPers and outside conservatives are condemning Boehner’s proposal as a “fiscal sellout”:

“The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.”
Boehner himself aimed some pretty sharp language at his hell-no bloc, anchored by the 87 freshmen elected last November. “Well, first they want more,” said Boehner. “And my goodness, I want more too. And secondly, a lot of them believe that if we get past August the second and we have enough chaos, we could force the Senate and the White House to accept a balanced budget amendment. I’m not sure that that — I don’t think that that strategy works. Because I think the closer we get to August the second, frankly, the less leverage we have vis a vis our colleagues in the Senate and the White House.”

And several news outlets are reporting that Boehner told his COP colleagues at a closed-door meeting: "Get your ass in line." Pretty strong words from an obviously frustrated party leader.
The heat of the moment is melting away the usual niceties that bind together members of the same political party. This is pretty close to a circular firing squad as Boehner scrambles to find 218 votes to avert fiscal Armaggeddon. It would be downright entertaining if the stakes weren’t so high.

White House

White House Targeted Fox News

Despite denials at the time, e-mails show the administration boasted about an attempt to exclude the network from a round-robin interview.

The Obama administration made a deliberate effort to exclude Fox News from a press pool during the height of its war with the network, newly released documents show.

At the time, in the fall of 2009, the administration dismissed the matter as simply a mistake. “There was no plot to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did. Much ado about absolutely nothing,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. But internal e-mails obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch show that the attempted exclusion from an interview with federal pay czar Ken Feinberg was part of a deliberate strategy. The attempt failed when the other networks refused to go along unless Fox was included.

On Oct. 22, 2009, Dag Vega, the White House director of broadcast media, wrote to a Treasury official that “we’d prefer if you skip Fox please.” Deputy White House communications director Jennifer Psaki wrote the official, Jenni LeCompte, and other colleagues about a report by Fox anchor Bret Baier on the network’s exclusion that “brett baier just did a stupid piece on it -- but he is a lunatic.”

The next day, Psaki wrote: “I am putting some dead fish in the fox cubby – just cause.” And deputy press secretary Josh Earnest wrote LeCompte that day: “We’ve demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews…”

A watchdog group wants to know whether Americans were victims in the phone hacking scandal

The scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World has remained safely on the other side of the Atlantic—until now.

A Washington watchdog group on Monday asked Congress to investigate whether journalists at the British division of Murdoch’s News Corp. have hacked into the voice mail of Americans.

The request by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) comes as the Guardian is reporting that another Murdoch tabloid, the Sun, obtained confidential information from former British prime minister Gordon Brown.

“It is becoming increasingly clear this scandal was not perpetrated by a few rogue reporters, but was systematically orchestrated at the highest levels of News Corp.,” Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, said in a statement.  “If Mr. Murdoch’s employees can be so brazen as to target the British prime minister, then it is not unreasonable to believe they also might hack into the voicemails of American politicians and citizens.”

The Mirror has published a story in which an unnamed former New York City police officer claims to have been offered money by News of the World to access the phone records of 9/11 victims and their families. The story suggested the now-shuttered tabloid was mainly interested in British victims.

Murdoch’s detractors would like nothing more than to shift the investigative spotlight to such News Corp. properties in the States as the New York Post and Fox News.

“Given the ever-increasing number of Murdoch publications involved, combined with the allegation that News Corp. journalists sought access to the voicemails of 9/11 victims and their families, America cannot leave this investigation entirely to the British,” Sloan said.

About the Author

Author headshot

Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast and Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, and writes the Spin Cycle blog. He also hosts CNN’s weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.


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