Some of you have written to say that you miss the old Media Notes format. So a few words about the blog we unveiled this week seem in order. It's a work in progress. We're ironing out the kinks and correcting some things. I was the first blogger at The Washington Post a decade ago, at a time when it seemed odd not to be on paper and to be linking to the competition. Now just about everyone in journalism blogs all the time. There is a lot to be said for the morning roundup column, which I tried to develop as a one-stop shop for media, politics, culture and what's happening across the Web. But news now moves at the speed of light, and it's hard for one column a day to keep up.
Fox News, which often gets criticized for excessive coverage of minor scandals, took the journalistic high road this week. While the tale of the Koran-hating pastor spread like wildfire across the media landscape, Fox deliberately doused the drama by playing it down. The network also declared Thursday that it would not provide footage of Terry Jones's planned Koran bonfire this weekend if it happened -- and others followed suit. This was no accident. Fox Senior Vice President Michael Clemente says he decided earlier in the week that "here's a guy with 50 people in his parish and he's just off a little bit. ... Let's just not go crazy with something that seems like a very narrow bit of information about a very narrow guy. It just doesn't deserve more than the little bit of airtime we tried to give it."
For a guy who doesn't particularly like to hold news conferences, the president went on for an hour and 15 minutes. I half expected someone to say, "Mr. President, can we break for lunch?" I was glad the press didn't let the kooky pastor dominate the session. In fact, when ABC's Jake Tapper asked about the "fringe" fellow a half hour into the session, neither he nor Obama used Terry Jones' name. (I doubt they could have forgotten it, since the Koran-hating pastor was on all the morning shows today).
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Can Barack Obama convince America that John Boehner is bad for America? It escaped no one's notice this week that the president is suddenly running against the putative speaker of the House. And let's face it: He badly needs an opponent. (By the way, who was that fired-up guy in shirtsleeves in Ohio and Wisconsin this week? The Obama of 2008 seemed to be back, leaving some Democrats wondering why he put his passion in a blind trust these past 19 months.) Now there's one flaw in the plan: I bet the number of Americans who know who Boehner is is smaller than the number who know Obama is a Christian. In short, Boehner is no Newt Gingrich. (Or even Nancy Pelosi, the right's favorite pinata.) He's a low-key man with a perpetual tan and a fondness for the word "no." Turning him into a bogeyman isn't going to be easy.
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Terry Jones did it again--jerked the media's chain, as he's done since the start of this bizarre little episode. It was almost like blackmail: move the Manhattan mosque or I'll burn all these books! Suddenly he was the savior: he had a deal, the Islamic center would be moved, he'd call off the Koran bonfire and everyone would be happy. Except there was no deal, and the preening pastor with a few dozen followers had bamboozled all the networks into hours of live coverage. This whole thing was covered like the Balloon Boy hoax, but with potentially deadly consequences.
Turns out you don't just waltz into Chicago's city hall. First there's the little matter of getting elected. The national media started hyperventilating over the implications of Rahm Emanuel leaving the White House to try to succeed Mayor-for-Life Richard Daley. When will he declare? Who will replace him? After all, a bunch of aldermen that nobody has heard of outside the Windy City aren't going to roll Rahmbo, right? Well, all politics is local. And the former congressman may be a big Beltway player who just got a virtual endorsement from a POTUS who has a house in Chicago, but still: Working the wards and dealing with the racial pressures is no easy task. Maybe--just maybe--Rahm takes a hard-eyed look at the situation and doesn't run? As we all know, the guy doesn't like to blanking lose.
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The president, facing a fall disaster, wants to cut business taxes. The pundits aren't buying. It's not treating Obama like a dog to say that the commentariat is turning up its collective nose at his latest policy proposal. On its face, the plan seems reasonable enough: $50 billion of infrastructure spending over six years, to build or maintain 150,000 miles of highways, 4,000 miles of rail lines and other transit projects. A little New Deal-ish, but at least the country gets something for its money.
Is a British tabloid editor-turned-talent judge the right replacement for Larry King? We're about to find out. CNN has finally confirmed that Piers Morgan will take over the 9 p.m. Eastern hour this fall, which has been obvious for some time. People seem to like him on "America's Got Talent." They may not know he was once fired from the Mirror. Then again, they may not care.
There's a lesson here. Live by the Gallup, die by the Gallup. I regularly argue that the media place too much faith in polls; just ask Martha Coakley and Lisa Murkowski, both of whom were supposed to win easily. But the generic polls seem most problematic to me. People may say they want the GOP or the Democrats to control Congress, but when voters go into the booth, they have to decide between the incumbent, Joe Jones, and the challenger, Jane Smith. And incumbents usually win.
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The guy became mayor in the first year of George WALKER Bush's presidency. So Richard Daley stepping down is a pretty big deal in its own right. He coulda been da mare for life, like his pa, ya know what I'm sayin'? But in Washington, all the talk is about Rahm. He wants the job. You know he wants the job. It's bleeping golden to him. But he's still got the White House to run, heading into a brutal midterm season. Yes, the filing deadline in Chicago isn't till December, but Emanuel can't twiddle his thumbs until then.
With new predictions every hour or so that the Democrats will lose the House, media interest in John Boehner is suddenly surging. Although the Man Who Would Be Speaker has been in town for two decades, few people know about his personal story. And it's in the GOP's interest to push this narrative as a way of humanizing Boehner, who comes off like a permanently bronzed, country club Republican, reflexively saying no to everything the administration wants. Newsweek's Howard Fineman has the tale: "Growing up, his family owned a bar, Andy's Café, on the outskirts of Cincinnati. The second of 12 children, he mopped floors and bused tables. He traces his demeanor to watching his dad's blunt, but soothing, way of dealing with patrons...
It's hardly unusual for journalists to tout their own stories on Twitter. I've done it myself. And I appreciate seeing links to provocative pieces I may have missed. But what happens when you write what you think is an important story, and no one much cares? That's happened to just about everyone in the business. But Fast Company's Adam Penenberg decided to do something about it. He tweeted. And kept on tweeting.
The president is facing the perfect storm this fall: Conservative commentators denigrate him every hour or so, while some liberal pundits are feeling downright scorned. When a Republican president is under siege, he can usually depend on the right-wing punditocracy to buck him up. George W. Bush had that until the last couple of years of his term. Barack Obama is getting little of that, perhaps because he raised hopes on the left so dramatically, perhaps because some of those folks demand ideological purity. (Remember the endless debates about the public option?) If only he would show more passion, they say, and not be so afraid of offending the center.
Having lived through the demonization of Bill Clinton, I find it amusing that some conservatives now regard him as, well, not so bad. Some of these folks may be sincere, but it's also a convenient way to bash Barack Obama ("he's no Bubba") while sounding reasonably bipartisan. They don't miss Clinton's policies but are fond of his style, at least as recalled through the haze of memory. National Review's Jonah Goldberg (whose mother teamed up with Linda Tripp to try to run Clinton out of office) is the latest to take this route: "I'm suffering from a mild case of Bill Clinton nostalgia.
I can no longer file a story in our computer system without filling out a box, a small gray square that may well determine the future of serious journalism. The box is supposed to contain words and phrases that will help me reel you in. Search has become a journalistic obsession on the Web, and with good reason. Most people don't read publications online, patiently turning from national news to Metro to Style to the sports section. They hunt for subjects, and people, in which they're interested. Our mission--and we have no choice but to accept it--is to grab some of that traffic that could otherwise end up at hundreds of other places, even blogs riffing off the reporting that your own publication has done. If you appease the Google gods with the right keywords, you are blessed with more readers. So carried to a hypothetical extreme, an ideal headline would be, "Sarah Palin rips non-Muslim Obama over mosque while Lady Gaga remains silent." Every newsroom in the country grapples with these questions, and The Washington Post is no exception.
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Bob Woodward's behind-the-scenes book on the Obama White House is about to land, and Diane Sawyer's got the first interview. The book is called "Obama's Wars," and based on the longtime Washington Post reporter's track record, it will likely contain some key revelations just in time for the midterms. The interview will air first on "World News" on Sept. 27, the same day the book is slated for release (barring the usual leaks). Of course, so many Obama books have already been published that the soil may not be as fertile for Woodward as it was in the Bush administration, when he seemed to have more access than anyone else in journalism.
Just when the Democrats think the polling news can't get any worse, their numbers drop. I'm starting to wonder whether these surveys create a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more the Dems look doomed in November, the harder it is to raise money and the more dispirited their supporters become -- although a major problem is that many of them who turned out in 2008 will probably stay home this fall. Matching the WP poll this morning is this NBC/Wall Street Journal survey:
David Westin announced Monday night that he is resigning as president of ABC News after a tough year that included anchor changes on every broadcast and cutting a quarter of the staff. Thirteen years after he succeeded Roone Arledge, Westin, 58, felt he was ready for another career and in May told Bob Iger, chief executive of Disney, the network's parent company, that he wanted to wrap up his tenure. Westin will stay on the job until year's end to give Disney time to find a successor. "I've always admired those few who know when it's time to move on," Westin said in a letter to the staff. "This is the right time for me."