The symbiotic–parasitic president and press

Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox has an insight American media either doesn’t grasp or isn’t willing to admit:

Donald Trump loves CNN. He most certainly does not want the New York Times to fail. And the Washington Post is doing fine by him.

You might think differently if you watched the news conference that Trump gave the day after the U.S. mid-term elections in November. Trump tangled with CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Later that day, Acosta’s press pass to the White House was revoked, making it impossible for him to gain access to the place he works.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders released a video clip that appeared to show Acosta delivering a karate chop with his left hand to the arm of a female aide as she tried to take a microphone from him. The clip had been altered. Run at proper speed, the video shows the arm of the aide brushed up against Acosta’s left arm as she reached across to try to take away the microphone. Acosta immediately said: “Pardon me, ma’am.”

It was yet another skirmish in what Trump has turned into an ongoing war against traditional news media. His words are as nasty and harsh as ever heard from a U.S. President—the press is the true enemy of the people, journalists are liars, awful people who spread fake news.

But most of the news media are playing exactly the game Trump wants to play.

Trump’s formula is simple:

Step 1: Say the media cannot be trusted. He undermines the work of journalists who gather facts and present them to the public. He tells supporters the media is not telling the truth about him. He is the only source of “truth” about what is going on.

Step 2: Lie. Trump continuously makes exaggerated claims about his accomplishments and utters falsehoods. He tells supporters they will not see this in the media because the media does not report what is really going on. He knows the media will report what he says, and point out what is not true.

Step 3: Loudly proclaim “I told you so.” Trump uses his unflattering portrayal in the news to prove that the media is out to get him, that it makes things up, that it spreads falsehoods, etc. This provides new justification to go back to step 1, turn up the volume and use even more inflammatory language.

The end result is that Trump has an opposition—the media—at all times. Trump’s strategy depends on having that opposition.

In politics, the media is the perfect opposition. For starters, it is not a single entity, but a broad group of independent organizations that compete against each other and never speak with a single voice. They have viewers and readers, but not a huge base of supporters to mobilize when attacked.

Individual reporters are like cats, going their own way, not overly interested in working together. Some voices were raised in support of Acosta, but there was no concerted industry effort on his behalf. He eventually got back the press pass, but that was due to the legal pressure CNN brought on the White House.

Journalists are an opposition that does not fight back. Most do not consider fighting back because this is not their role. The media’s role is to report on the president, not find ways of undermining him.

Trump is far from the first politician to make the media the opposition. But Trump is the best and highest profile practitioner of the craft.

It appears to be encouraging others. In the Canadian context, think of Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Even in Manitoba, Premier Brian Pallister has threatened to sue the Winnipeg Free Press for its reporting and the Conservative Party has sent fundraising letters to members urging them to give to help counter the lies the newspaper supposedly spreads.

It is unfortunate because news media are watchdogs, not opponents. Politicians like Donald Trump confuse the two roles—interpreting legitimate questions as criticism and factual reporting as attacks.

Serious news media that are doing their job will continue to ask questions and report facts.

They won’t fight back. And Donald Trump will keep bashing them because that is exactly how he wants things to work.

To quote a late friend of mine: Ya think?

 

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60 years ago today

David J. Halberstam:

Sixty years ago today, the NFL Championship Game earned an immediate and exalted label; The Greatest game ever played. In the league’s first ever overtime, the Baltimore Colts defeated the New York Giants, 23-17.

Nothing since, not a great Super Bowl or a post season cliffhanger, dulled the title game’s luster or knocked it from its top all-time billing. The Yankee Stadium matchup has since been the subject of many featured articles, multiple books and even an ESPN documentary; all about this one single epochal contest.

Deservedly so, many say, because the December 28th 1958 classic launched the NFL into high gear; eventually doing the unthinkable, surpassing baseball as the national pastime. What followed were billions in both sponsorships and television contracts and millions for Super Bowl spots and executive salaries.  To appreciate the exponential growth, superstar quarterback Johnny Unitas was paid only $17,500 and most players then made no more than $10,000.

After years of half-empty stadiums, 64,185 crammed into the big ballpark in the Bronx to watch the showdown. The public had been generally indifferent toward pro football until that day. The New York Times sports columnist Arthur Dailey called the title game, “One for the books…. an unforgettable episode crammed to the gunwales.”

There is no video recording of the NBC Network telecast. ESPN’s documentary was pieced together by NFL Films which did what it could with grainy clips. Viewers on YouTube today can watch the video which is matched nicely against the only full audio that survived; the NBC Radio broadcast done by Bill McColgan and Joe Boland.

What’s particularly striking, when looking back through an historical lens, is that the game earned unrivaled distinction despite the fact that the telecast was blacked out in New York City and that the Big Apple was limited informationally in the weeks leading up to the NFL championship. A newspaper strike in New York dragged from December 12th through December 28th, the day of the game.

Times were different too. The relationship between the coaches and the media was less confrontational or distrusting as it is today.

Although the Giants suffered a killer of a loss, Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell invited the press to watch film of the game with his assistant coaches on the day following the game. And these weren’t just ordinary retinues or acolytes. The offensive and defensive coordinators were Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry respectively; two peerless football leaders who would go on to win Super Bowls in their own right.

In the New York Daily News, Joe Trimble who attended the film session, wrote, “It was almost as exciting as the game itself. Couldn’t change the 23-17 ending, though.”

The Giants were up 17-14 and had the ball in their end with a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation. On third down, Frank Gifford busted through for what he thought was a first down and an opportunity for the Giants to coast to the NFL title. But the line judge didn’t agree. As such, the Giants punted and Unitas led the Colts down field where Steve Myhra connected on a 19 yard field goal. The result was a tie game at the end of regulation.

Years earlier, the NFL had added an overtime element but it wasn’t until that late December day that the rule would be activated. Meanwhile, 45 million viewers across America were watching the game on black and white sets; sitting at the edge of their couches and living room chairs.

Both sidelines knew that a sudden death overtime would begin three minutes after the end of regulation but had no idea of what was to occur procedurally. So they milled and weaved among themselves until officials trotted over to summon the captains to the middle of the field.

Some eight minutes into the overtime, the Colts’ Alan Ameche, a Heisman winner at Wisconsin plunged into the end zone for the title.

The NFL had arrived; breathtakingly!

Television and radio

NBC paid $200,000 for the television and radio rights. Until the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act was signed into law by Congress and President John F. Kennedy, baseball was the only sport that was legally permitted to negotiate league-wide broadcast contracts. Major League Baseball was exempt from anti-trust. The NFL didn’t have that luxury yet. For regular season games, each of the league’s 12 teams represented itself independently and most had contracts with CBS. The title game though was under the aegis of the league office and Commissioner Bert Bell had a deal with NBC.

Bell also extended timeouts that season from 60 to 90 seconds. The standard network commercial length in those years was sixty seconds, not thirty as it is today. Bell also asked the refs to add some ‘TV timeouts’ for the title game.

The overtime delay

In pre cable days, when connections to a station’s television tower were weak, viewers’ screens would jitter or fidget. When the signal was lost entirely or the connection from a remote location like a stadium was lost, the screen would produce an annoying black and white snowy picture what looked little ants flickering in place. The audio would produce an ear-piercing, sizzling sound. (Bad experiences of my youth!)Of interest and often included in stories about the telecast is what occurred in overtime. NBC lost its connection and the country saw what was called (figuratively) snow on their screens.  Those raised in the cable era who never watched a true over the air television program on a set using a portable or roof antenna probably never experienced snow on their TV screens.

Doing remotes back then wasn’t yet a perfect science. In the overtime of the Colts-Giants game, just a few plays before Ameche’s historic thrust, a critical cable snapped and NBC’s signal was lost.  The network went dark. Technicians needed a few minutes to reconnect, to get the game back on air.

Suddenly, at that point, a fan ran out onto the field and the head referee was forced to pop his head into the Colts’ huddle to inform the players that the game was being delayed. Meanwhile, three New York cops ran out to surround and nab the infiltrator who observers suspected was inebriated.

Lindsey Nelson, then both an NBC executive and on-air broadcaster writes in his book, Hello Everybody, I’m Lindsey Nelson that the man who ran on the field was actually Stan Rotkiewicz, a business manager of NBC News who doubled occasionally as a statistician at sporting events. According to Nelson, “He was an old Roanoke tackle, capable of posing as an errant fan long enough to save the day for his network’s nationwide telecast of a big football game.”

TV announcers

The announcers teamed for the title game, represented the participating teams, Chuck Thompson who called Colts games and Chris Schenkel, the television announcer for the Giants. Both had voices for which to die, that good! Thompson was beloved in Baltimore where he also did Orioles baseball for many years. Schenkel later did college football for ABC and also made his mark as the lead broadcaster for the Professional Bowlers Association.

Radio announcers

Locally in New York, Les Keiter called the game on WCBS Radio. Keiter was quite popular. No recording of his call ever surfaced. Keiter’s voice was throaty, gravelly and inimitable. He brought great excitement to his dramatic broadcasts. He would call drives into the end zone,”5,4,3,2,1 Touchdown!”

Bob Wolff did the game back to Baltimore. There were those who called him, “Howling Bob.” His Ameche call is often heard on replays.

Bill McColgan and John Boland presided over the NBC Radio broadcast. Back then, there was no distinction of a play-by-play announcer and commentator. McColgan did the first half and the overtime and Boland the second half. McColgan who called Cleveland Browns games on radio, did a year of the Indians on television and spent a couple seasons doing the New Orleans Saints.

Boland actually was a member of the Notre Dame football team in the 1920s, a member of the famed Four Horsemen. He was the longtime voice of Irish football and also called the Chicago Cardinals on radio before they moved to St. Louis. His voice was husky and somewhat gruff.

At the end of regulation, Boland:

“We’re going to see the first application ever of the new sudden death role.” 

Later, on the game winning Ameche plunge;  McColgan:

“Unitas has been sensational… Flanker to the right. Ends are tight. Unitas gives to Ameche and the ball game is over. Ameche scores and the Baltimore Colts are the champions of professional football.”

McColgan was the best of the lot. He was silky smooth, had a magical voice, spoke clearly and quickly. He was graphic and easy to follow, a solid play-by-player. He also called the 1955 and 57 NFL title games for NBC Radio. His ’57 partner was the venerable Ray Scott.

In those years, both broadcasters said little when the other was on play-by-play play. The whole production set up was clean and simple; not overbearing, a pleasant listen. Television functioned similarly. When Thompson called the game, Schenkel said little and vice-versa.

There were two sponsors on radio, that was it; Marlboro Cigarettes and Hi-Grade Meats. Related or unrelated, Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly was a Marlboro Man and appeared in lots of the brand’s advertising (but not on the game’s radio broadcast). Hi-Grade promoted its meat products for consumption during the upcoming New Year holiday.

Some things don’t change

Neither announcer used statistics much because they weren’t broken down into minutia the way they are today. That said, McColgan, at one point, said that Ameche was second in NFL rushing behind Jimmy Brown. I was way too young to remember the game so when hearing the recording, I said to myself, wow! When I looked up the numbers, the announcer was indeed accurate. But the comment needed some heft. The unstoppable Brown rushed for 1527 yards and Ameche 797.There were others also clustered close to Ameche’s total too. It wasn’t like Ameche’s numbers were just a few yards behind the immortal Brown!

Change of lingo

McColgan also generally used ‘good’ or ‘no good’ when passes were thrown instead of ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete.’

Public Address Announcer

Those with deciphering ears who monitor the NBC Radio broadcast will hear the golden voiced Bob Sheppard as the in-stadium announcer. He of course was forever the PA announcer for Yankees games too.

The refs

The referees had no mics as they do today. Media members could only work off scant hand signals on the field.

The Giants and Yankee Stadium

The team’s first season in the big ballpark in the Bronx was 1956 when they won the NFL title. Previously, they played at the smaller Polo Grounds where their broadcaster, the late Marty Glickman, told me he could count the house from his broadcast position.

Tidbits and facts about the greatest game

The controversial call of whether Gifford got the first down late in regulation had the Giants angry

After the game, Giants’ coaches, players and fans were sulking over the call involving Frank Gifford and his field nemeses, fellow Californian, defensive tackle, Gino Marchetti. The Giants, as described above, were up 17-14 with some two and a half minutes remaining in the 4th quarter. The Giants had the ball on third down in their own territory. Attaining a first down would have made it extremely difficult for the Colts to fight the Giants through another set of downs and the tyranny of the clock.

Gifford took a handoff from quarterback Conerly and drove hard to the right, straining every muscle of his robust Hollywood body. As Marchetti dragged him to the turf, a trio of stout Baltimore defenders, weighing a collective 750 pounds, leaped on top of the two to prevent Gifford from hitting the first down marker. In the process, one of them, Big Daddy Lipscomb broke Marchetti’s ankle which was twisted under the pile.

As Mark Bowden wrote in his captivating The Best Game Ever, “Marchetti stayed on the turf, holding his leg, rocking back and forth, bellowing. His parents in San Francisco, who were watching the first pro football game they had ever seen on television, looked on with alarm as their son writhed.”

Gifford thought he had the first down but the line judge ruled otherwise. This was before replay or certainly any replay rule. The matter of whether Gifford did or didn’t earn a first down has been a subject of fierce debate for more than a half century.

The ESPN documentary done in conjunction with NFL Films apparently indicated that the line judge made the right call. So cries of “We wuz robbed,” might not have been justified.

The Greatest game and player salaries

You might say that as a result of the game, the television networks stepped up its rights fees significantly. It resulted in an immediate trickle-down effect on player salaries. As mentioned, Johnny Unitas made $17,500 in 1958 for leading the Colts to the league title. In 1964 Joe Namath signed with the AFL’s Jets for $427,000

To appreciate today’s equivalents, $10,000 in 1958 is worth roughly $87,000 today. So by that measure players were badly underpaid then. Today of course, they make millions .

For playing in the title game, each of the Colts earned $4,718 and each Giant got $3,111. Considering the relative pittance players were paid then in salary, the winner’s and loser’s shares were fairly significant.

Incidentally, from 1958-63, the Giants lost 5 NFL title games.

Commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle

Pete Rozelle, who became commissioner of the NFL in 1960, was then the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams; a franchise that had financial issues. Rozelle couldn’t get ownership (Daniel Reeves) to pay for a trip to New York to attend the game live. So he did the next best thing, he watched the title game in his office. The commissioner’s job opened when Bert Bell passed in November, 1959 at age 64. The commish died in his boots of a heart attack while watching a Steelers-Eagles game in the end zone. He was 64.

The accomplished receiver Ray Berry says that when Bell came into the locker room following the Colts win, he cried.  He was so overwhelmed by the events of the day; the gripping overtime , the packed house and the quality of play. It was as though a dream was reached and he knew it immediately. He was NFL commissioner from 1945-59.

The league’s headquarters were in Philadelphia. All would change the following year when Rozelle took the reins.

‘Win one for the Gipper’

The Colts defensive tackle Gino Marchetti, who broke a leg stopping Frank Gifford from getting a critical first down was on a stretcher along the Colts sideline during the end of regulation and as overtime began. He was in deep pain but stoically refused to be taken back to the locker room. He was intent on watching the rest of the game from the field. He was a military veteran who served in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. It’s the war experience that Gino said hardened him to pain.

At the start of the overtime, Baltimore coach Weeb Ewbank reportedly turned to his club while pointing to the end zone where Gino was still sitting up on a stretcher, “Win it for Gino.” Marchetti was soon thereafter carried off the playing field because fans were beginning to surge in the area where he was sitting on a stretcher. According to author Bowden, a police captain ordered the Colts to move him to the visitors locker room. But in there he had no radio with which to follow the game and it wasn’t until a happy group of Colts stormed into the dressing room did Marchetti learn that his team won the championship.

Gifford and major injuries

For Gifford, his brutal intersection with hard hitting Marchetti is a reminder of what occurred a couple seasons later. On November 20, 1960, the Eagles’ Chuck Bednarik infamously blindsided Gifford fiercely. Frank was so badly concussed and hurt that he missed the entire following season.

More on Ameche

He was the son of Italian immigrants and cousins of actors Don Ameche and Jim Ameche. He was nicknamed the Iron Horse. Alan died young at 55.

Overtime games

The next title matchup to go into overtime was Super Bowl LI when the Patriots rallied to beat the Falcons.

Odds

Baltimore was 3 ½ point favorites and obviously covered.

Weather

On Christmas, three days earlier, New York was in a deep freeze, a high of 30 and a low of 15. On the day of the game, the 28th it was almost balmy.  The high was 49 degrees.

For those interested in delving deeper into the game, I would strongly suggest Mark Bowden’s book, The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL .

Bowden writes for the Atlantic and was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 21 years. Among other things, he covered the Eagles. Bowden has written books about a range of topics from the Iranian hostage crisis to hunting down Osama Bin Laden. He is a first cousin once removed of the legendary ex-Florida State coach, Bobby Bowden.

 

Conservatives and local media (not an oxymoron)

Steven Waldman and Charles Sennott:

Josh Holmes, the former chief of staff to Mitch McConnell, recently tweeted something important:

You won’t hear a conservative say this often enough but pls support your local media. . . Locals are underfunded and overextended and forced to fall into the clickbait competition with national outlets that only exacerbate the problem.

The result is national media misunderstanding/misinterpreting local politics.

If you don’t want someone on the coasts to tell the world what your life is like, what your business does, what you believe or what national policy means for your family, then subscribe to a local outlet. . .

He’s right. One of the most unfortunate traits of the modern political system is that journalism has become associated with liberalism and opposition to President Trump — and therefore is something that conservatives must oppose.

I’m not going to get into why that’s happened — there’s blame to go around — but I want to elaborate on Holmes’s argument that conservatives to take up a new cause: revitalizing local news.

While national institutions like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Fox News are doing well, local news organizations have collapsed. Some 1,300 communities have totally lost coverage since 2004. The number of newspaper reporters in America has gone from 455,000 in 1990 to 183,000 in 2016.

This has made journalism more concentrated on the coasts. In 2004, one in seven reporters lived in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. By 2016, the ratio had worsened, dropping to one in five. Part of why the national media missed the rise of the Trump voter is that newsrooms outside of these more liberal enclaves have been hollowed out.

Of course, this should matter to all Americans, but since saving journalism has not been a conservative cause in recent years, I’d like to suggest that conservatives should be especially concerned.

First, a paucity of reporters means less accountability of government.A study by three researchers at Notre Dame and University of Illinois even found that the shortage of reporters was associated with less efficient government. How did they come to that conclusion? By comparing bond prices in areas where newspapers had closed to economically comparable counties that still had a newspaper. They found that the ones with a recently closed newspaper saw municipal borrowing costs rise five to eleven basis points. The impact was most severe in more isolated communities.

A local newspaper provides an ideal monitoring agent for these revenue-generating projects, as mismanaged projects can be exposed by investigative reporters employed by the local newspaper. When a newspaper closes, this monitoring mechanism also ceases to exist, leading to a greater risk that the cash flows generated by these projects will be mismanaged.

They also found that local governments in those areas increased the amount spent on government-employee wages, and that taxes often went up. The authors theorized that the markets had less confidence that the city was run well since no one was watching.

By the way, the spread of news deserts has not respected political boundaries. Of the 22 states that have the lowest density of reporters, 14 are red states and eight are blue. That means that red-state voters live in areas where government — as well as powerful nonprofit institutions such as universities — is held less accountable.

One of the journalists we at Report for America placed in the field, Will Wright, went to cover Eastern Kentucky, which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. His stories were not about Trump or the Supreme Court — they were about the people there not having running drinking water for a week. When his reporting helped get the state to fix the water system, local residents were thrilled, and forgave Will for working for a newspaper.

Conservatives should also pay attention to the hollowing out of local-news coverage because they have traditionally cared more about civil society — the nonprofit institutions that both provide services and create a sense of community. Another recent study of 100 randomly selected communities found that only 17 percent of the stories in a community paper were actually about something happening in that area. That makes it harder for altruistic or civic groups to get the word out, especially to people whom they have not yet reached.

Finally, there’s the matter of objective truth. Until recently, it was liberals who were arguing that objectivity was impossible, truth subjective. Conservatives, grounded by religion and morality, believed in the reality and attainability of truth. Now would be an excellent time to reclaim that principle.

Some conservatives complain that media is too biased to be worth helping. But news organizations are just people, usually responding to the interests of communities. So if you feel like local news could be better, then help fix it. Conservative philanthropists should help fund local, nonpartisan, objective reporting, and talented young conservative writers should seriously consider becoming local journalists — not just commentators.

The organization where I work, Report for America, is loosely modeled on Teach for America, placing talented emerging journalists into local newsrooms. (We pay half the salary.) We want talented young conservatives to become reporters and serve their local communities.

Große Momente im Journalismus 2018

Charles Lane:

Nearly 30 years ago, the Cold War’s end opened Germany’s border to the formerly Soviet-dominated east. Asylum seekers from poor and war-torn nations poured across it. A violent backlash from ultra-right-wing Germans ensued.

“Refugees carry stones, sticks — even mace — for protection, walk in groups by day and rarely leave home at night,” USA Today’s roving correspondent Jack Kelley reported on Nov. 23, 1992. Fortunately, Kelley wrote, decent Germans “hide refugees and Jews in their homes to protect them.”

Based in Berlin at the time, I felt mystified, and a bit incompetent: Why had skinheads admitted possessing illegal guns and grenades — another stunning, exclusive detail in his story — to Kelley, but not to German or Germany-based U.S. reporters? And good Germans were hiding Jews, but we hadn’t even heard rumors of it?

Not until 2004, two years after Kelley had been honored as a Pulitzer Prize finalist, did USA Today figure out he had been fabricating and plagiarizing since 1991.

I review this history as context for the new journalistic scandal involving fabrications by a star correspondent for Germany’s renowned Der Spiegel magazine.

The Kelley scandal, like the 2003 revelation of Jayson Blair’s frauds at the New York Times, disproved my belief that Stephen Glass’s fakes at the New Republic (in the 1990s, when I was the magazine’s editor) might be the last. Surely computer-aided fact-checking would deter fraud, I thought.

Bridging the gap: Journalists, experts discuss rebuilding trust in media
Journalists and media experts explore the erosion of trust in the media and what steps the press can take to reverse the trend. (Washington Post Live)

However, the unmasking of Der Spiegel’s erstwhile ace, Claas Relotius, as a phony on Dec. 20, mere days after he collected his fourth German Reporter Prize, shows yet again that my hope was naive. Reporters keep inventing stories and getting prizes for them.

What’s going on? Fact-checking and other procedural matters are relevant but not fundamental. A great German philosopher got closer to the point when he wrote: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

That includes journalism. Reporters and editors are as susceptible to motivated reasoning and confirmation bias as readers are, though we say, and believe, that professional norms and training equip us to resist distorting influences.

Yet the power of stereotype remains. When Kelley told his 1992 tale, he tapped into widely held American fears, rooted in World War II, that Nazi tendencies lurked just below the surface of newly reunified and democratic Germany.

Similarly, while many German journalists report honestly from this country, going to great lengths to travel and meet ordinary people, the gun-toting, death-penalty-seeking, racist American nonetheless remains a stock character of much superficial coverage, particularly in left-leaning outlets such as Hamburg-based Der Spiegel.

Ugly Americans, and American ugliness, crop up repeatedly in Relotius’s articles. He made up a story about an oft-tortured Yemeni released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, and another about a Joplin, Mo., woman who travels the country just to witness executions.

And on the outskirts of rural Fergus Falls, Minn., a majority of whose voters backed President Trump in 2016, Relotius purportedly found a large sign — “almost impossible to overlook,” he wrote — reading “Mexicans Keep Out.”

The fact that no one in the U.S. press or social media had previously spotted the sign apparently did not prompt so much as a follow-up call to Fergus Falls by Der Spiegel’s editors.

They believed what they found believable. Their credulousness was rooted partly in truth — xenophobia, gun violence and the rest are real problems in the United States, just as anti-foreigner violence was, and is, in Germany.

But it also reflected bias: Contempt for American culture has a long history among the continental European cognoscenti, the sort of people who read Der Spiegel and write for it.

Negative caricatures of the United States have taken hold in broader German public opinion, too, especially since a stereotypical Ugly American, Donald Trump, reached the White House — but well before that, too.

The United States’ favorability rating is lower in Germany than in any other large European democracy, and has been since the latter half of the Obama administration, according to data compiled by the Pew Research Center.

It was under President Barack Obama, after all, that Der Spiegel called the U.S. Embassy in Berlin “a nest of espionage.”

Germany today finds itself in a galling situation: It depends, for both military protection and export markets, on a country — the United States — that many Germans, including influential figures in academia, the media, business and politics, regard with ambivalence bordering on disdain.

Der Spiegel’s contribution to mutual understanding was to publish Claas Relotius, even though the magazine’s deputy editor in chief described anti-Americanism as “deeply alien to me” in his published response to a letter of complaint about Relotius from the U.S. ambassador in Berlin.

The editor was undoubtedly sincere. Still, you have to wonder why Relotius didn’t fabricate stories for Der Spiegel about, say, growing U.S. acceptance of racial and ethnic diversity, or a successful prison rehabilitation program. Maybe he worried the fact-checkers wouldn’t believe him.

A Fergus Falls resident wrote about Der Spiegel:

There are so many lies here, that my friend Jake and I had to narrow them down to top 11 most absurd lies (we couldn’t do just 10) for the purpose of this article. We’ve been working on it since the article came out in spring of 2017, but had to set it aside to attend to our lives (raising a family, managing a nonprofit organization, etc.) before coming back to it this fall, and finally wrapped things up a few weeks ago, just in time to hear today that Relotius was fired when he was exposed for fabricating many of his articles.

We hope that our version of this story makes you think twice the next time you read an article claiming some kind of intellectual authority over rural identity, and that you’ll come and see for yourself what Fergus Falls is all about (we don’t mind a little tourism boost every now and then — although we’re doing pretty well attracting artists from all around the nation, among other things).

1. The Sleeping Dragon

“After three and a half hours, the bus bends from the highway to a narrow, sloping street, rolling towards a dark forest that looks like dragons live in it. At the entrance, just before the station, there is a sign with the American stars and stripes banner, which reads: “Welcome to Fergus Falls, home of damn good folks.”

Fergus Falls is located on the prairie — which means our landscape mostly consists of tall grass and lakes. While we have trees, we do not have any distinct forests in our city limits, and definitely not in the route that the bus Relotius would have taken from the Twin Cities. And sadly, our welcome sign is quite mundane in its greeting.

2. The gun-toting, virgin City Administrator

“Andrew Bremseth would like to marry soon, he says, but he was never together with a woman. He has also never seen the ocean.”

Relotius chose to put the spotlight on Fergus Falls city administrator, Andrew Bremseth, as the main character in his article. We have spoken to Bremseth at length regarding the parts of the story that feature him, and Relotius got three facts right:

  • Bremseth’s age (27)
  • That he grew up in Fergus Falls
  • That he went to university in South Dakota

Everything else, from the claim that Bremseth carries a Beretta 9mm on his person while at work (“I would never ever wear a gun to work, and I don’t even own a Beretta.”), his disdain for a potential female president, his comment that Trump would “kick ass” (“Never said that”), and even his college-era preference for 18th century French philosophers (“Never read them”) and the New England Patriots (“I’m not a fan of them at all”), is complete fiction. Says Bremseth, “Anyone who knows anything about me, this [portrayal] is the furthest from what I stand for.”

Perhaps the oddest fiction in a list of many is Relotius’ depiction of Bremseth as someone who “would like to marry soon…but he has not yet been in a serious relationship with a woman. He has also never been to the ocean.”

We can attest that Bremseth has indeed been to the ocean, by his account, “many times” and is currently happily involved in a multi-year, cohabitational relationship with a woman named Amber. In fact, here’s a picture of the two of them in front of, all things, an ocean.

Relotius also decided he could get away with telling his readers that Bremseth is the only Fergus Falls resident that subscribes to national publications, painting the community as the perfect villain around which to frame the rest of his horror story about rural America.

3. The town obsessed with American Sniper

“There is also a cinema outside of town, where fast food stores are lit up. In this cinema, a flat, rectangular building, there are two films on a Friday evening. The one, “La La Land”, running in empty rows, is a musical, a romance about artists in Los Angeles. The other, “American Sniper”, a war film by Clint Eastwood, is sold out. The film is actually already two years old, almost 40 million Americans have seen it, but it still runs in Fergus Falls.”

This anecdote that supported Relotius’ exaggerated story of an immigrant-fearing, gun obsessed small town one was the easiest to fact check and yet the strangest, most random lie for him to craft. American Sniper definitely has not played in Fergus Falls since its first and only run in 2015. To be sure, we even reached out to Isaac Wunderlich, the manager of Westridge Theatre.

4. Neil, the coal plant employee that doesn’t exist

“There is nothing on the cap of Neil Becker. Becker, a man with strong shoulders, blond hair and big, clear eyes, asks, “Have you lost your mind?” Neil Becker is 57 years old, married, a man with a deep voice and a face in which seldom find any questions. He is not a farmer, he works next door in the coal-fired power plant, his hands are always black.

The man Relotius describes has an accompanying photo in the Der Spiegel article, and we all know that guy. It’s the one and only Doug Becker, who works for UPS and ran the Fergus Falls Fitness Center for years, which is possibly the only place in Minnesota where you could listen to a vintage record collection while lifting weights. While we have not yet been able to sit down with Doug to discuss his conversations with Relotius, we know enough about him (it’s a small town after all) to make his depiction seem very suspect.

5. The mixed-up case of Israel and Maria

“Maria Rodriguez, a mother and local restaurant owner from Mexico, who came to the USA years ago, also saw Trump as a savior.”

One of the most exploitative aspects of Relotius’ story was his depiction of the employees at Don Pablo’s, a much-beloved Mexican restaurant in the heart of downtown. Relotius weaves together the story of Maria, restaurateur turned Trump supporter whose treatment for kidney disease becomes increasingly expensive under Obamacare, and that of her 15-year old son Israel, who faces prejudice at the hands of his Fergus Falls classmates. It’s riveting stuff, but, as is par for the course, an utter lie.

This was confirmed through a lengthy conversation we had with Maria’s son, Pablo Rodriguez, dubbed Israel, in Relotius’ story. “None of that story is true,” said Rodriguez. In fact, he had never talked to Relotius at all. His only interaction with the journalist was when he was stopped and asked to pose for a picture outside of the restaurant, which later appeared in the article.

In Relotius’ telling, “Israel” was a 15-year-old high school student, when in reality Pablo was in his second year of college. There is an Israel in the Don Pablo’s universe, a waiter in his late 20’s, who likely served Relotius a meal and lended his name to this fictional character, but little else.

Maria Rodriguez, as pictured in the story, is indeed Maria Rodriguez in real life, but that is where the truth ends. She does not own the restaurant (she is a waitress there; her sister-in-law Teresa is the owner), has never suffered from kidney disease, and, most tellingly, never even sat for an interview with Relotius. Says Rodriguez, “He just wanted to take a picture of me. He never talked to me about anything.”

6. The view from the Viking Cafe

“You can see the power plant where he works when you look out the window of the Diner, six tall, gray towers, from which rise white steam clouds.”

The Viking Cafe is Fergus Falls’ most treasured downtown establishment — over 60 years old. One of the reasons we Minnesotans all like it so much is that it has a cozy, underground feeling. Why? Because there are literally NO WINDOWS in the interior of this restaurant. Sure, you can see a little bit out the small front windows, but nothing beyond the shops across the street. The power plant Relotius refers to is almost 2 miles away on the northeast edge of town, blocked from view by a neighborhood on a large hill, and sports a single smokestack. Relotius’ imaginings are dramatic for the movie version of Trump’s America someday, but is it accurate and true? Not in the least.

7. Library lies

“In the library, which used to be a kindergarten, pensioners meet for knitting. A couple of buildings away, in the town hall, City Administrator Andrew Bremseth, who believes in breaking away, is leading a seminar called ‘iPad for Beginners,’ four locals are participating. He also organizes a TV series quiz night once a month, his favorite series is called ‘Game of Thrones.’

One of our writers, Jake, is married to the Fergus Falls Public Library’s youth librarian, so we feel this is a great place to quote him. “No,” he says, “the building was built in 1986 and has only functioned as a library.”

There has never been an iPad for Beginners class at City Hall. Classes like that are the library’s domain and taught by one of the librarians there. And as to Bremseth’s “Game of Thrones” quiz night? As with everything else related to our city administrator, a complete lie. Says a laughing Bremseth, “I don’t have cable, I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, and I don’t even know what it’s about.” Never seen Game of Thrones? In this case, truth is (just about) stranger than fiction.

8. High School security

“Anyone who enters it must pass through a security line, through three armored glass doors, and a weapon scanner.”

Although we haven’t tested the strength of the doors fronting our high school, we are quite sure that “armored” is an exaggeration, and there are two, not three, sets of doors; their real purpose is to keep the cold January air out of the school more than automatic weapons. That is not to say our grounds are not secure — all doors are locked during the school day and visitors must pass through the school office to receive a visitor’s pass before entering. While this picture of a hardened school is undoubtedly true elsewhere in the U.S., it’s simply not the case in Fergus Falls.

9. Secret Super Bowl viewing at the Brewery?

“The pub around him is crowded with men, hanging from the ceiling garlands, the Super Bowl is on TV, and Andrew Bremseth is sitting on a stool, in front of him is a dark beer, he likes it warm in the winter.”

The Super Bowl was on Sunday, February 5th. Union Pizza wasn’t open on Sundays at that time. Therefore, Bremseth and Relotius definitely couldn’t have watched the Super Bowl there and talked politics. To confirm this, we talked briefly to our Mayor, the owner of Union Pizza, just to make sure he didn’t have some kind of private Super Bowl party. “Was the restaurant open for the Super Bowl? Did you have it open just for friends and family?” His response to both queries: “No…?”

Bremseth confirmed this, saying, “I didn’t watch the Super Bowl at Union Pizza and I certainly wouldn’t have watched it with this guy. And I like my beer light and cold.”

10. The awesome “Western Evening”… that no one was invited to.

“That evening, Bremseth says the people of Fergus Falls love are big, extravagant festivals. It was last summer, he says, they were celebrating a Western evening here in this bar. They poured sand and straw on the porch, grilled marinated beef halves, and played a country band. All women, including Maria Rodriguez, danced in old-fashioned clothes, all the men, among them Neil Becker and his regular friends, wore hats or cowboy boots.”

We find this hilarious, if not a little inspiring for a future event idea, especially since all of the characters Relotius portrayed in this article just happened to show up at this “Western evening” in Fergus Falls. The nice thing about a small town is that none of us would have missed this, especially if our city administrator, the non-owner of our Mexican restaurant, and our non-existent power plant worker Neil knew about it and attended. Again, we confirmed with Mayor Schierer, just in case we were somehow too busy to miss this, or just not invited. “No western-themed parties here,” he said.

11. The High School New York Trip

“The bus reaches New York at midnight, the towers of Manhattan light up. The students move into a hostel on the outskirts of the city, only the next morning take the subway to Times Square. None of them ever went underground, and their parents have never been to New York. On their first day, they head through the streets, head hanging back to their necks. They spit from the Rockefeller Center and ride a boat across the Hudson River. They do not go to Liberty Island, the Statue of Liberty, but they visit the Trump Tower.”

We reached out to several sources on this one, and no one recalls a busload of high school students traveling to New York. We asked two high school students, an assistant principal, and a teacher who is tuned in to all the happenings at the school, and all cited an every-other-year band trip that goes to New York, but 2017 was an off year. We searched our local newspaper archives for mention of a trip by any of our 29 churches or a service clubs but came up short. We couldn’t find our fictional friend “Israel,” who went on the trip and we even reached out to our network of Facebook contacts to see if anyone recalled such a trip happening, but no one had. As with many other vignettes painted by Relotius, this one, too, appears to be complete fiction.

So, what did Relotius miss?

Being an outspoken advocate of rural issues and Fergus Falls, I tried to say “hi” to Relotius at a public meeting, only to be glanced at briefly and ignored because he was very preoccupied with taking a picture of an American flag at our city hall. Or maybe he just pretended not to hear me because I didn’t fit into his story.

Not only did he simply indulge in fabricating dramatic scenes and stories about Fergus Falls, but Relotius somehow spent three weeks here and managed to miss out on experiencing the real community and its many complex perspectives, which might have actually offered a helpful analyses about economic transition, politics and identity in rural America.

But as the phrase goes, other than that, the story was accurate. I guess it’s nice to know that crappy journalism doesn’t only exist in this country.

 

Two shows, one movie, one theme song

The first record I ever purchased was this, for $1.03 from the neighborhood drug store:

This song, which reached number one on the charts, was for this two-season TV show:

Of course I watched, since I watched nearly every TV cop show in those days. I can’t tell you much about the series, except for the description of actor Robert Urich, who termed it as four guys who jumped out of a bread truck and yelled “Where’s the fire?”

The theme was, shall we say, heavily massaged for the movie of the same theme:

But then it came back in more original form when CBS brought back ABC’s series 40 years later:

In a sense the producers of new “S.W.A.T.” are borrowing from the producers of “Hawaii Five-0” …

… who would have been marched into the ocean had they not used the theme of the original “Hawaii Five-O.”

The same applies to the varieties of “Dragnet,” from black and white …

… to color half-hour …

… to the late one-hour “L.A. Dragnet”:

Just the facts.

 

Why your newspaper is important

This is a transcript of a National Public Radio story from last week:

Hundreds of newspapers have closed across the country. The loss of local reporting means fewer investigations into fraud and waste. That has had an impact on the budgets of cities and towns.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Travel to a town with a good local newspaper and you feel it. A good paper helps a town feel vibrant, open, accessible. In recent years, many towns have fewer papers, smaller papers or no paper. And you feel that, too. NPR’s Shankar Vedantam found a financial consequence.

SHANKAR VEDANTAM, BYLINE: In February 2009, Colorado’s oldest newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, shut down. Investigative reporter Laura Frank remembers that day. As she left the newsroom for the last time, Frank says she worried not just about her own financial future but also about the work she was leaving behind.

LAURA FRANK: I had all of these stacks of documents on my desk at the Rocky Mountain News, each representing some issue that I thought needed investigating.

VEDANTAM: One of those issues was electronics waste, or e-waste. Frank was looking into a Colorado company that was allegedly sending e-waste to a village in China.

FRANK: Where people were dipping parts in acid and burning them over open flames to get little bits of gold and other metals. And they were exposing the village to dangerous levels of lead.

VEDANTAM: The federal government was also investigating these allegations.

FRANK: So here you had an ongoing federal investigation into the role a Colorado company allegedly played in endangering kids in a foreign nation. And my newspaper was shutting down; we couldn’t investigate. But the worst thing was, no other local media had the capacity to investigate it either.

VEDANTAM: This, of course, is what happens when a newspaper shuts down. Some stories, especially the long and costly ones, simply don’t get done. Where there once was reporting, there’s now a void. And it was this void that piqued the interest of three finance professors, Dermot Murphy, Paul Gao and Chang Lee. They had a hunch that the loss of a newspaper might be bad for the financial health of a city or town. Specifically, they thought it might harm a municipality’s ability to borrow money. So they investigated. Murphy says they started by looking at old newspaper almanacs.

DERMOT MURPHY: So we combed through almanacs for the period 1996 to 2015 to figure out the newspaper closures over time.

VEDANTAM: It turns out that in that period, about 300 papers closed across the country.

MURPHY: And then we cross-referenced this information with government borrowing costs data.

VEDANTAM: They also looked at the borrowing power of cities and towns with thriving newspapers. When they were done crunching the data, they found there was a significant difference between places that had local newspapers and those that lost them. When a newspaper closed, the cost to borrow money for projects like schools and roads and hospitals, it went up.

MURPHY: In the long run, after a newspaper closes, the borrowing costs for governments increases by about 10 basis points, or 0.1 percent.

VEDANTAM: You might be thinking here, that doesn’t seem like a lot. But it adds up when loans are for huge amounts of money.

MURPHY: On average, a loan will be for $65 million in our sample.

VEDANTAM: With a 0.1 percent increase in a loan that size, taxpayers have to pay an extra $65,000 in interest. That’s every year for the life of the loan, which could be 10 years or more. In addition, cities and towns usually have more than just one project in the works.

MURPHY: So if the government funds several projects in one year, then just multiply that by the number of projects, basically.

VEDANTAM: The bottom line? That little rate increase of 0.1 percent can cost taxpayers millions. So why are lenders charging more when towns don’t have newspapers? Dermot Murphy and his colleagues had an idea.

MURPHY: So our intuition was that if a newspaper closes, then they are no longer performing a crucial watchdog role for keeping local governments in check.

VEDANTAM: And if local governments are not being kept in check…

MURPHY: Then they are more likely to engage in bad behavior and just generally be more inefficient.

VEDANTAM: And that makes it riskier to lend money to that city or town.

MURPHY: And so when a lender is more nervous about lending to an inefficient government, than they’re going to have to ask for a higher interest rate on the money they’re lending to compensate for that risk.

VEDANTAM: And of course, there’s an irony here. People who cancel their newspaper subscriptions to save money will be among the taxpayers who bear the cost of higher interest rates.

MURPHY: It’s an interesting trade-off, really. If the local newspaper is no longer around, then the local news consumer no longer is paying for that newspaper. So I suppose they save dollars in that sense. But in the other sense, borrowing costs go up for the local governments. And they, as a taxpayer, are ultimately going to be footing that bill. So we think that the net cost is definitely higher. …

VEDANTAM: And then, Frank says, there are all the other stories no one is even aware of. They simply remain untold.

FRANK: It’s the unknown unknown that is also very worrisome to me.

VEDANTAM: Those unknown unknowns, they can end up costing us the most.

Shankar Vedantam, NPR News.

The media is an unfortunate blind spot among conservatives. As someone who has worked in this silly field for more than 30 years, I would be the last person to say that any media outlet gets it right all the time. I think many people in the media do have a bias against conservatives, and conservatives are certainly underrepresented in the media, and I’ve documented all that on this blog. The media was and is too uncritical of Barack Obama and Democrats generally, and it will be interesting to see if the Wisconsin media can be bothered to report on Gov. Tony Evers with the degree of harshness it reported on Gov. Scott Walker for eight years.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the media isn’t vital to our democracy and our republic. Fiscal conservatives — if any are left in the conservative movement — should be alarmed at the idea that the media’s being unavailable to be a government watchdog and how that makes government more expensive. That also doesn’t mean that what the media is reporting is necessarily incorrect because you don’t like what it’s reporting.

The end of a competitor

Jim Geraghty of National Review:

If you want to gripe about William Kristol, fine; I have major beefs with folks who jump from anti-Trumpism to full-blown cheerleading for Democrats and abandoning their past views and positions on a wide variety of issues because of the rise of one particular political figure. But Kristol stopped editing The Weekly Standard back in December 2016, and he was always only one of many voices over there. If you’re cheering the demise of The Weekly Standard as a way of “getting” Kristol . . . one way or another, Kristol is going to be fine. Shutting down the Standard doesn’t punish Kristol. It punishes the John McCormacks, the Mark Hemingways, the Haley Byrds, the Rachel Larimores, all the folks in the art department, running the website, copy editors, the fresh-faced editorial assistants, ad-sales folks, and so on.

For those who argue that the Standard’s demise represents a triumph of the free market, note that almost no political magazine makes money. (My understanding is that National Review has done this twice. This is why it feels like we’re always asking for money. A broad base of small donors is more secure than being dependent upon one big one.) Advertisers are and probably always will be frightened of political magazines. If you want to run a profitable magazine, you probably make it look like Vogue, with lots of glossy pictures of models, showcasing the products of a luxury industry inclined to buy many pages of ads.

The Weekly Standard wasn’t much more or less profitable now than in previous years. If the money had simply run out, the story would be sad enough but common, for those of us who remember The American Enterprise, Policy Review, The Public Interest, the print version of Human Events and National Journal and when CQ and Roll Call were separate.

But in this case, there are claims that the owners of The Weekly Standard rebuffed inquiries from those interested in buying the magazine. They didn’t just want the financial loss taken off their hands; they allegedly wanted to eliminate a potential competitor for the relaunched Washington Examiner magazine. They closed it and laid off the entire staff, with little warning but plenty of ominous rumors, about a week before Christmas.

(Gee, it’s so hard to understand why employees are showing so little loyalty and respect to their employers, huh?)

The urge to see publications you disagree with fail is one step removed from censoriousness.

 

Book it! (maybe)

I have engaged in a mixed metaphor by using a term sometimes used by UW announcer Matt Lepay to describe a three-point field goal.

Lepay doesn’t announce the Bucks; legendary announcer Eddie Doucette did, with a catchprhase for nearly everything …

eddiewords_2100

… except a three (“Bango!” is for a slam dunk), perhaps because most of his time in Milwaukee came before the National Basketball Association added the three to its rules.

(I started with “Bango!,” not realizing Doucette used it for dunks and not threes, and then Mrs. Presteblog pointed out that almost no listeners even in the early 2000s would have any idea what “Bango!” was supposed to refer to, so I substituted “Bullseye!”, which has stuck.)

This long-winded preamble introduces this from Awful Announcing:

Sports Illustrated has been on the market for some time, and back in April we wrote about how Meredith was looking to sell SI for something like $150 million. Since then, there hasn’t been much movement on the sale front, although there was a fun stretch where Dan Gilbert and Tony Robbins were reportedly interested.

For a while, that lack of movement seemed to be a result of Meredith asking too much for SI. But according to a Reuters report from Carl O’Donnell and Liana B. Baker, Meredith’s patience might be paying off, as they’re apparently close to completing a deal. Not with an existing media company, but with a former NBA player.

Ulysses Lee “Junior” Bridgeman, a former U.S. basketball player who became a fast-food mogul, is in the lead to acquire Sports Illustrated magazine from U.S. media company Meredith Corp (MDP.N) for about $150 million, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The deal would be the result of a review that Meredith is carrying out in its portfolio, following its $1.84 billion acquisition of Time Inc last year. It has already sold off its Time and Fortune magazines and is exploring a sale of Money Magazine.

Bridgeman is in the final stages of negotiating a deal for Sports Illustrated after lining up acquisition financing, the sources added. If his effort is successful, a deal announcement could come by the end of the year, according to the sources.

Bridgeman is a former Indiana high school legend from East Chicago who went on to play at Louisville before a lengthy NBA career. After his playing days, he ended up going into an entirely different industry, becoming a restaurant franchise mogul. Bridgeman’s interest was first reported in October by the New York Post‘s Keith J. Kelly.

Considering Bridgeman is apparently willing to offer the asking price, it might be surprising that the deal hasn’t gone through yet, but as Reuters notes, it’s for a very simple reason: Bridgeman isn’t in media or publishing. That means a lack of infrastructure, which means the buyers will need a way to actually print the magazine, among other things.

One aspect of the deal still being hashed out in the negotiations is the outsourcing agreements related to printing and paper costs of the magazine, one of the sources said. These discussions are common when a buyer who does not own a media company purchases a magazine, the source added.

For example, when Marc and Lynne Benioff bought Time magazine for $190 million in cash in September, Meredith entered into a multiyear agreement with them to provide services such as subscription fulfillment, paper purchasing and printing.

If the deal goes through, it will be interesting to see how a new entrant to the world of media handles the Sports Illustrated brand going forward.

It would be great to see SI, which I have read since I was in high school (the first issue I received was the 1982 swimsuit issue) in the hands of an owner who can figure out a plausible yet profitable direction for the magazine. SI has taken its yearly swimsuit issue into its own brand (including models who don’t actually wear swimwear, or anything else), with no indication of financial success. SI.com is now covering the non-sport of “professional” wrestling and has delved into other areas that can’t really be called sports.

SI also now prints every other week instead of weekly. Perhaps that economic decision makes sense, but it tends to restrict covering events after the event, which was the ultimate downfall of Sport magazine and Inside Sports. Some of the greatest game stories have been written by SI writers over the years, but if the event took place two weeks ago, perhaps readers beyond fans of the participating teams have moved on. ESPN The Magazine also publishes every other week, but the magazine has a horrid and unreadable design, perhaps designed for people who don’t generally read. If you don’t cover news (as in what happened, as opposed to what you think is going to happen, failures in which created the infamous SI Cover Jinx), what’s the point of reading?

 

 

News of former and would-be employers

Readers know that the first newspaper job I ever had was a part-time sportswriting job in college.

Nearly all of my career I’ve worked in non-daily publications, except for 7½ months at the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen. The guy who hired me was Jeff Hovind, the editor. So this news from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association is sad to me:

Jeff Hovind, a Milwaukee native and former Wisconsin newspaper publisher and owner, died Thursday, Oct. 25 in Lincoln City, Oregon. He was 62.

After earning his journalism degree at UW-Eau Claire, Hovind started his career at the (Beaver Dam) Daily Citizen as a reporter and editor. He went on to serve as publisher of The (Waukesha) Freeman before purchasing the Merrill Courier.

Hovind, who moved with his wife Susan to Oregon in 2015, is remembered by colleagues for his journalistic passion.

“Jeff cared very much about local journalism and was a champion for open government,” said Bill Yorth, publisher and editor-in-chief for The Freeman. “I learned a lot from him. I always admired his dedication to the paper and to our profession.”

The Daily Citizen was, shall we say, an interesting place to work. Ninety minutes into my first day there someone tried to drive into the building. The driver was a job applicant who had a car whose engine would die when the car was taken out of Park, so she would gun the engine before shifting. Unfortunately for the building she shifted into Drive instead of Reverse, and the car jumped the parking lot curb and smacked into a floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window next to the ad manager’s desk. Fortunately for him the ad manager was out sick that day, but on my first day the newspaper was its own front-page news.

One early afternoon after that day’s paper was done I was sitting at my desk when I got an anonymous phone call with the ridiculous story that two eighth-grade girls had just gotten back from a bus trip to Mexico that resulted from their successfully claiming that they were the children of migrant farm workers who had left them in Wisconsin after the harvest season ended. Then when I started calling around I found out that the story may have been ridiculous, but it was true. One of the two apparently looked vaguely Hispanic, the other took Spanish class, and between the two of them they had convinced a Greyhound Bus terminal clerk and a police sergeant to put them on a bus to El Paso (where one of them had an aunt), whereupon they walked to the border into Mexico, came back and requested a ride home.

The Citizen was the most bureaucratic small business I had ever seen, and ever have seen since then. Somehow I got roped into the company’s Safety Committee, which meant I had to attend meetings with the publisher’s wife. Said publisher owned a late-1970s large Mercedes-Benz sedan, and as it turned out a few other management types, including Jeff, also owned Mercedes sedans, which appeared to me as the Cult of Mercedes.

One project I the education reporter worked on was an eight-day-long series about sex education in area schools. After the series the Citizen received a letter claiming that I was a liberal, which I imagine readers should find amusing. One thing I learned at the Daily Citizen was what we called The Fay Rule, named for one of our typesetters: If we put a name in a headline but Fay didn’t know who it was, the name had to be removed.

The funniest thing that happened was relatively late in my stay there. I was hired as the education reporter to replace another reporter who was moving to the police and courts beat. She then decided to leave, and she hosted a going-away party at her house in Watertown. The only person from the newsroom not at the party was the associate editor, who was legendary in the newsroom for speaking in clichés. Jeff brought a karaoke machine, and so over the course of several drinks each we composed The Tom Song, whose lyrics consisted completely of Tomspeak. Since we didn’t want him to feel left out, we called him around 10:45 p.m. and sang The Tom Song to him. On the other hand, the next day Tom was the only person in the newsroom who wasn’t hung over.

Jeff and his wife took me to lunch the next day and he seemed envious that I was getting into the world of newspaper ownership. (I should have told him it was overrated.) So I’m glad he got the publishing opportunity.

One of the Citizen’s competitors was the Watertown Daily Times, with which I interviewed twice, but the Times decided it was never time to hire me. Another competitor of the non-daily was the Dodge County Independent News in Juneau, which when I worked for the Daily Citizen was owned by Scott Fitzgerald, later to become state Senate Majority Leader. (Cue “It’s a Small World.”) Watertown is on the border of Dodge and Jefferson counties, which means that the Daily Times’ daily competition was the Daily Citizen to the north and the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson.

How do I wrap up every newspaper except the Citizen here? With this news:

Adams Publishing Group announced December 3, 2018 they have purchased the assets of the Watertown (WI) Daily Times and Dodge County Independent News from James M. Clifford. The Watertown Daily Times is published Monday through Friday and the Dodge County Independent News weekly. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Members of the Clifford family have owned the Watertown Daily Times since 1919. James Clifford, chairman of the company said that this was a difficult day for the family but felt the Times would be in a stronger position to compete in a challenging and fast changing competitive environment if it were part of a larger group. Clifford went on to say, “My family and I have enjoyed being stewards of this important community institution the past 99 years. We believe we have selected a new owner that will carry on in the best interests of Watertown, the readers of the Daily Times and our wonderful employees.”

Clifford’s son, Kevin is the fourth generation of the Clifford family to have worked at the company and currently serves as the Editor and Publisher. Both James and Kevin Clifford have served in leadership roles in a number of state and national newspaper organizations. …

Adams Publishing Group announced December 3, 2018 they have purchased the assets of the Daily Jefferson County Union and the affiliated Hometown News Limited Partnership from W.D. Hoard & Sons Company. The Daily Jefferson County Union and the affiliated Hometown News Limited Partnership publish 13 community newspapers and shoppers, stretching across parts of six counties in south central Wisconsin.

Brian Knox, president of W. D. Hoard & Sons Company, will continue to operate its other businesses including the Hoard’s Dairyman magazine, a magazine aimed at the dairy industry with world-wide distribution, other agricultural publications, a dairy farm, recently launched cheese products and other businesses.

The Daily Jefferson County Union was founded in 1870 by William Dempster Hoard. The Knox family eventually acquired the company from the Hoard family. Brian Knox, the second generation of the Knox family and current publisher, has been with the newspaper for the past 41 years.

Hometown News publishes the Sun Prairie Star, a twice-weekly newspaper, plus eight weekly newspapers: Milton Courier, Cambridge News/Deerfield Independent, Lake Mills Leader, Herald-Independent/McFarland Thistle (covering Monona, Cottage Grove and McFarland), Waterloo/Marshall Courier, Waunakee Tribune, DeForest Times-Tribune and the Lodi Enterprise/Poynette Press.

Knox said in a statement that his family’s interests are refocusing on other sectors of the company. “148 plus years ago this company was founded on community journalism. When I became publisher, almost all of the 37 daily papers in the state were independently owned, either as single papers or in small groups. Now there are fewer dailies and just a handful of independents left. One of the reasons for this is that in the 41 years I have been publisher, the industry has had to technologically re-invent the way we do business every three or four years to continue on. We have done this successfully and even our circulation numbers have fought the industry trend and grown the last few years. But the reality is that we’ve reached the point where we need to be much bigger to spread those costs and to take advantage of rapidly changing technologies.”

I suppose I should add that the newspapers mentioned two paragraphs ago were all competitors once upon a time too.

 

The worst in the worst

Steven Zeitchik:

Maybe you came to her in “Mechanic: Resurrection.” It could have been “Good Luck Chuck” that gave you your first taste. Or perhaps it was “Valentine’s Day” that hooked you; you’re a romantic that way.

Whatever your access point, if you’ve watched a Jessica Alba movie at pretty much any point in her career, you’ve seen a chain of critical badness unprecedented in the modern era, according to a new report.

Alba leads the rare Hollywood list that nobody wants to be on: actors in the worst-reviewed movies of the past 20 years.

The report, whose results were compiled by the London-based SEO firm Verve on behalf of British comparison-research site Go Compare, aims to offer statistical evidence of something we all sense: there are some actors who just seem to turn out one bust after another. (You can see its results here.)

The report saw Alba average a Metacritic score of 39.0 for the movies she starred in during the preceding two decades. That’s only slightly better than the male performer with the worst-reviewed movies of the modern era: Mike Epps.

The New York native and former comedian averaged just a 38.3 score, a numeric representation of what many people who watched “Resident Evil: Extinction” or “The Hangover Part III,” both Epps-starrers, felt upon seeing those films. (Metacritic is the popular review site that assigns mathematical values first to a critic’s review and then to a movie as a whole.)

I must report that “The Hangover: Part III” is one of the few movies from this piece that I’ve actually seen. Not that I tried to see it — it was on a college basketball team bus ride. That was how I saw its predecessor; this one was, if I remember correctly, set around a wedding in Southeast Asia. If you’ve seen any one of them, you’ve seen all of them.

Epps narrowly edged out longtime character actor Kevin Pollak – average Metacritic score: 38.5 percent — for the top spot.

In fact, only 5 percent of the movies starring Epps, Pollak and Alba were given overall positive reviews. You’d have a higher chance of going on an undersea dive with James Cameron. Verve defined positive reviews as any movie that had a Metacritic score of at least 60 percent.

“You’d think these actors would have a hard time getting work making one badly reviewed movie after another,” said Verve’s James Barnes, who helped conduct the study. “But this shows how hard it is for producers to find veteran actors. And that critics aren’t the end all and be all of casting decisions.”

To conduct the study, Verve looked at every actor who’s had at least 20 live-action roles in the past 20 years. To eliminate bit-parters and day-players, the group included only those who had were billed in the top 10 of a film according to IMDB. Then it crunched their Metacritic scores to come up with an average, landing on Epps on the male side and Alba on the female.

And if you think “well, I’m safe, I like the other Jessica born in the 1980′s,” rest not comfortably: Jessica Biel finished in second behind Alba, thanks to such non-Smithsonian-esque work as “The A-Team,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” and “Powder Blue.” You’d have been better off rallying behind Jessica Rabbit.

And while Biel did manage to crack the 40 percent threshold – her average Metacritic score was 41.6 percent – she has a lower percentage of outright positive movies than anyone on the list with just 4 percent.

Rounding out the list of males were a few performers who’ve starred in some not-exactly-stellar romantic comedies or action movies over the years: Josh Duhamel, Robin Williams and Gerard Butler.

Williams, you ask? Robin Williams? Didn’t the late actor win an Oscar for “Good Will Hunting” and was nominated three other times? Yes, the very same. But also the actor who, sadly, scored a Razzie hat trick, for “Jakob the Liar,” “Bicentennial Man” and “Death to Smoochy.” All of the nominations from that ignoble prize came in the 2000′s, within the field of study, while many of the Oscar-decorated works fell before it.

On the actress side, Heather Graham, Radha Mitchell and Kathy Bates took slots three to five. Bates would seem a surprise in her own right: she’s been nominated for an Oscar on three occasions, and even won best actress, for “Misery.” But in recent years she also has acted in a host of…less estimable fare. “You May Not Kiss The Bride.” “The Great Gilly Hopkins.” “P.S. I Love You.”

P.S. Butler was also in that film.

P.P.S. Bates, like Alba and Biel, was in “Valentine’s Day.”

And Butler and Biel themselves co-starred in “Playing for Keeps,” a soccer romantic dramedy with a Metacritic score of 27. Badness is a community.

If you’re wondering, why Alba? Really, why? Well, her movies make it so. She has just a single film, among the dozens she’s made, that was reviewed positively by critics. That was “Sin City,” in 2005. And she has a whole bunch under the low water-mark of 35, including some lesser-remembered fare like “Some kind of Beautiful,” “Idle Hands,” Meet Bill” and “The Love Guru.”

Another movie I’ve seen from this piece is “Idle Hands.” I thought it was reasonably clever, particularly Seth Green as a talking corpse. It’s not “Gone with the Wind,” but it was at least entertaining, particularly this scene:

The lesson is that, while working may be good for the bank account and the acting muscles, it can really drag your average down. (Barnes acknowledged that, since there are generally more badly reviewed movies than good ones, the survey can be punitive to those who work more.)

See Shatner, William.

Of course, an actor can give a good performance in a bad movie too — sometimes their performance looks better in a bad movie, rising above the tripe that surrounds

The study also underlined a gender gap: on the top-15 list of actresses are well-regarded performers including Amanda Seyfried, Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Aniston. That speaks to how hard it can be even for talented actresses to get good roles, Barnes said, and also to the fact that there are more roles for men in general, which allowed A-list male names to be sheltered in ways top females were not.

That said, plenty of men considered at the top of their field don’t fare so well either. “I have to say, I was surprised Robert De Niro wasn’t in the top 15,” said Barnes of the actor who has been known to take a “Dirty Grandpa” or “The Intern” in and around his seven Oscar-nominated turns.

As it turns out, De Niro isn’t on that top-15 list but still doesn’t do great — he finishes in 27th. Ahead of him on are other award-decorated performers with a reputation for making…ecumenical choices: Nicolas Cage in 17th, Bruce Willis in 18th.

And since you’re about to ask: Adam Sandler finishes high (or is it low). He lands in sixth place with a score of 40.1.

Of course for every 10 bad movies, there’s a good one raising the stock of a performer. That’s why Verve also looked at the highest-rated actors: Carey Mulligan and Sally Hawkins were tops among women with 72.8 and 69.2 Metacritic scores, no surprise to those who’ve watched them turn out one award-worthy performance after another, from “An Education” to “The Shape of Water.”

The highest-ranked men? Adam Driver and Leonardo DiCaprio, with 71.7 and 69.3.

So the lesson of all this might be: see the movies with those actors. Or that before accepting a role, Jessica Alba and Mike Epps should make sure Adam Driver and Carey Mulligan are reading the scripts too.