EXTRA EDITION: White House spins; Bernstein speaks; Spicer benched?; Colbert’s record; Holt preparing for interview; what pro-Trump media is saying


By Brian Stelter and the CNNMoney Media team. View this email in your browser!
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SPECIAL MIDDAY EDITION

The Comey crisis

With new developments every hour, here’s the latest as of 3:15pm ET…

Comey’s “atrocities?”

One thing was clear at Wednesday’s White House press briefing: Reporters are deeply skeptical about the story President Trump and his team are telling about James Comey‘s firing.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders started the briefing by taking Q’s from NBC, Fox News and ABC — a break from Sean Spicer’s usual approach of calling on smaller outlets first. But some of what she said was nonsensical. For instance: Comey committed “atrocities.” Huh?

The NYT’s Maggie Haberman observed that Sanders “obfuscates same as Spicer” but does it without making it “deeply personal, petty, condescending…” 

“It’s simply not credible…”

In this moment, listening to the administration’s convoluted explanations, I’m reminded of Occam’s Razor, the principle that the simplest answer is most often the correct answer.

Quoting David Gregory from CNN’s 1pm hour: “It’s simply not credible that the president ever cared about how Jim Comey handled the Hillary Clinton investigation.” Credibility is at the heart of this crisis…

Live coverage almost everywhere

Frank Pallotta noticed that CBS did not break into programming to carry part of the press briefing, but NBC and ABC did…

What about Spicer?

CJR’s David Uberti, citing Jenna Johnson‘s WashPost story about the White House’s scramble to explain Comey’s firing, says “As this all goes down, it’s clear that the people employed to speak for Trump have no clue what he’s doing…”

Dylan Byers emails his take on the problems with the White House press shop: The episode has revealed something significant about this White House, which is that its press secretary is growing increasingly irrelevantSean Spicer‘s charge is to tell the media, and the public, what the president is thinking. And yet it is becoming increasingly clear that he is either not able to fulfill that task, or not willing to.

More from Dylan: Spicer is not scheduled to address reporters at all for the remainder of the week. Instead, he will be at the Pentagon on duty with the Navy Reserve, with which he has served for nearly two decades. That commitment was “previously scheduled,” according to White House comms director Mike Dubke

Spicer “benched” this week?

Fresh info from CNN’s Jim Acosta: A White House official says officials at the highest levels, including the president, are monitoring Sanders’ performance this week in place of Spicer. The perception, according to multiple sources inside and close to the W.H., is that Spicer has been “benched” during this critical week for the president. The big question, one of the sources said, is whether it’s temporary or permanent…

“Was Sean lying?”

On May 3, Spicer said “the president has confidence in” Comey. Thus, one of Jeff Zeleny‘s Q’s for Sanders in the briefing was, “I’m sorry if I’m not understanding this, but what has happened in the last seven days to shake the confidence? Was Sean lying at that point, or did something happen in the last seven days?” Sanders’ response: He was “certainly not” lying…

Banner headlines on six news sites

A mid-afternoon snapshot: 
NYTimes.com: “JUST DAYS BEFORE FIRING, COMEY ASKED TO EXPAND RUSSIA INQUIRY”

CNN.com: “Comey asked for more help”
HuffPost: “REPORTS: COMEY WANTED MORE MONEY FOR PROBE!”
Washington Post: “Comey sought more resources for Russia probe days before firing, officials said”
FoxNews.com: “‘WASN’T DOING A GOOD JOB:’ Trump defends sacking Comey”
Breitbart: “Dems Ratchet Up Hysteria: Comey Firing Latest Russian Conspiracy”

Top tweets

 — WashPost’s Robert Costa: “A Republican close to President tells me Trump has been increasingly isolated in recent days. Frustrated, avoiding major public appearances…”

 — Jonathan Swan of Axios: “I don’t think the White House is prepared for the leaks that are coming.”

 — Politico’s Josh Dawsey: “One White House staffer a few minutes ago: ‘Total and complete chaos — even by our standards.'”

 — McCain collaborator Mark Salter: “Words I thought I’d never say: the security of the United States might now depend on electing a Democratic Congress in 2018.”

BUT BUT BUT…

Conservative media types are rallying around the president 

Oliver Darcy emails: Trump’s allies in conservative media are amplifying the president’s talking points in the wake of Comey’s firing… Rush Limbaugh says he’s been “laughing” since Comey was fired Tuesday night… Read Darcy’s full story here…

 — The New Republic’s Jeet Heer tweets: “The GOP and right-wing media is overwhelmingly siding with Trump… As long as GOP stands with Trump, this will NOT spiral into a Watergate-like dying presidency…”

 — Dylan Byers tweets: “The disingenuousness of conservative media acting like it’s no big deal to fire the guy investigating you is staggering…”

Drudge says “small leaks sink ships!!”

More from Oliver: Matt Drudge fired off a pair of tweets at lunchtime, sounding the alarm over leaks coming from within the White House. “BIG DANGER: Small leaks sink ships!!” Drudge wrote in the first of two tweets. Drudge, who has been one of Trump’s fiercest backers, added that White House staffers leaking to the media “are now deliberately sabotaging presidency.”

“Major house cleaning needed for survival,” he concluded. It’s worth noting that, according to Politico, Drudge has met with Trump in the Oval Office and speaks regularly with Jared Kushner…

View from the left — or at least a part of it

Keith Olbermann is talking impeachment in his latest video for GQ: “This is either the end of Trump or the end of our democracy…”
Quote of the day — so far
“This is a terribly dangerous moment in American history…”

 —Carl Bernstein on Brooke Baldwin‘s show Wednesday afternoon

Trump’s interview with Lester Holt is still on… 

NBC has lucked into the most consequential interview of Trump’s presidency. When Lester Holt‘s Trump interview was announced on Monday, Holt and his colleagues had no idea that Comey’s ouster was imminent. The main news peg for the interview was thought to be last week’s health care vote in the House.

But now, with Comey’s firing garnering wall-to-wall coverage, the stakes are higher. Thursday’s sit-down could be the biggest interview of Trump’s young presidency and the biggest interview of Holt’s career. Here’s my full story…

Trump speaking wth a friendly Fox interviewer this weekend

Jeanine Pirro tweets: “I’ll be interviewing the President @realDonaldTrump this Saturday on ‘Justice’ at 9P! Let me know what u would like me to ask him!”

What media critics are saying

 — WashPost’s Erik Wemple: “CNN’s Brianna Keilar: ‘We have much more breaking news ahead.’ This time, it’s not hype…”

 — DC Examiner’s T. Becket Adams: “Fun conspiracy: Constant White House activity is part of a concerted effort led by Bannon to break newsrooms. We can’t handle this volume.”

 — Breitbart’s John Carney: “If you want a view of systemic media bias: are there any reporters at NYT, WSJ, NBCCBSABCCNN that don’t think Comey’s firing was terrible?”

Remember how all of this news is being perceived…

A timely new study from Pew: “Democrats and Republicans, who already tend to place their trust in different news sources and rely on different outlets for political news, now disagree more than ever on a fundamental issue of the news media’s role in society: whether news organizations’ criticism of political leaders primarily keeps them from doing things they shouldn’t – or keeps them from doing their job. Today, in the early days of the Trump administration, roughly nine-in-ten Democrats (89%) say news media criticism keeps leaders in line (sometimes called the news media’s “watchdog role”), while only about four-in-ten Republicans (42%) say the same. That is a 47-percentage-point gap… The gap stands in sharp contrast to January-February 2016, when Americans were asked the same question. Then, in the midst of the presidential primary season, nearly the same share of Democrats (74%) and Republicans (77%) supported the watchdog role…”

 — NiemanLab’s summary of the study: “The Resistance to President Trump is accelerating changes in how many Americans — especially Democrats — are consuming news…”

Russian state media shares photos of Trump-Lavrov meeting, while American media are shut out 
Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak “was closed press, meaning the rotating pool of photographers, reporters and camera operators who follow the president weren’t allowed in. Yet photos of the three laughing and smiling were soon published by the Russian state news agency TASS. The Russian foreign ministry also tweeted photos of the meeting,” Politico’s Hadas Gold writes.

 — The W.H. rationale: “Our official photographer and their official photographer were present, that’s it…”

Palmer and Putin!
What a scoop! Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman emails: CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer asked Vladimir Putin to comment on Comey as Putin was all geared up to start playing a game at the Night Hockey League match in Sochi. Here’s the story from CBS. And BuzzFeed has a good summary here…

The Roger Stone angle 

CNN’s Greg Krieg writes: A little after midnight Wednesday, Politico reported that longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone “had pushed his friend to remove the man in charge of the federal probe into alleged connections between the President’s campaign — possibly including Stone, mostly an informal adviser — and Russia. CNN was told the same. A source familiar with the conversation — which took place after Comey appeared at a hearing last week on Capitol Hill — confirmed to CNN that Stone advised Trump to sack the FBI boss. Trump, who has said he no longer watches CNN, seems to have made an exception on Wednesday morning. In a tweet, he denied that Stone played any role in his decision. ‘The Roger Stone report on @CNN is false – Fake News,’ Trump wrote, adding that it had been ‘a long time’ since he spoke to Stone.”

Bottom line: Both the primary sources here… Trump and Stone… have longstanding credibility problems. Stone typically says he speaks with Trump “from time to time..”

ABOUT LAST NIGHT…

“Toobin’s voice was both authoritative and riveting”
Margaret Sullivan‘s column about Tuesday night’s Comey coverage praises Jeffrey Toobin: “Maybe some of it was a little over the top. But at a surreal moment when much of live TV was stuttering and stumbling, Toobin’s voice was both authoritative and riveting…

For the history books…

Here are the front pages of the nation’s biggest papers. The NYT shared a behind the scenes look at how its front page changed…
And for GIF fans…
Anderson Cooper’s eye roll from Tuesday night. Here’s why Chris Cillizza says it was the right response…

Colbert’s highest overnight rating ever (in metered market homes)

Brian Lowry emails: Stephen Colbert‘s “The Daily Show” reunion show weathered Tuesday night’s news storm, drawing a 3.1 rating in the 56 overnight markets, the program’s highest since it premiered in September 2015. Jimmy Fallon was a distant second at 2.0. There was, however, an awkward moment during the monologue, when Colbert mentioned the Comey firing and the audience roared its approval. He later asked if it was because of the Clinton emails, and pointed out that the now-former FBI director had been directing the Russia probe…

Reminder: “SNL” likely to get real “Spicey” this weekend

Frank Pallotta emails this note: Melissa McCarthy will host “SNL” this weekend, which is perfect timing for the return of her Sean Spicer character, especially in light of Tuesday night’s depiction of Spicer hiding in the bushes on the White House lawn. (Have fun, “SNL” set designers!)

 — Frank’s two cents: Now would be a great time to finally put McCarthy’s Spicer and Alec Baldwin‘s Trump in the same sketch together… 

IN OTHER NEWS…

Reporter arrested over questions to Price: I was doing my job

CNNMoney’s Chris Isidore reports on the case of Dan Heyman, a West Virginia reporter arrested at the state capitol Tuesday after he called out questions to health secretary Tom Price: “Heyman said he asked a question about pre-existing conditions several times as he and Price walked through a hallway in the capitol, but Price never responded. Then, according to Heyman, a member of Price’s Secret Service detail signaled to Capitol Police to remove him. The reporter was arrested and charged with willful disruption of governmental processes, a misdemeanor. He was released on a $5,000 bond after being held for nearly eight hours. If found guilty, he could be forced to pay a fine of at least $100 and face jail time of up six months.”

Heyman said he was reaching over the agents with his phone to record any comment Price might make, Chris notes. Lawrence Messina, of West Virginia’s departemnt of military affairs and public safety, said, “It was his physical action and not that he was asking questions, that crossed the line.”

But the West Virginia chapter of the ACLU is calling the arrest “a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press…” 

Chris Berman’s wife Kathy dies in car crash

Devastating news reported by ESPN on Wednesday morning: “Kathy Berman, the wife of longtime ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman, died Tuesday in a car accident in rural Connecticut. Berman, a teacher, was married to Chris for more than 33 years and had two children, Meredith and Douglas. She was 67.”

John Skipper statement: “Chris is beloved by all his ESPN colleagues and for good reason: He has a huge heart and has given so much to so many over the years. We know how much his family means to him and all we can do at a moment like this is give him the love and support he will surely need at this hour. Our thoughts and prayers are with Chris, Meredith, Doug and the entire family.”

Joe Marchese taking over ad sales for Fox Networks Group

The end of a long search:

Joe Marchese, who has worked within 21st Century Fox to develop new ways of pitching commercials in new distribution venues, including video on demand, will take on the role of president of advertising revenue for Fox Networks Group,” Variety’s Brian Steinberg reports. “In doing so, Marchese will supervise not only ad sales related to Fox Broadcasting, the company’s FX suite of cable networks, National Geographic and Fox Sports 1, but also advertising research and the development of new ad products Marianne Gambelli, a former NBC ad-sales executive, will supervise ad-sales efforts for Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network…”

For the record, part one
 — Joel Stillerman is Hulu’s new chief content officer…

 — Megyn Kelly will be at NBC’s upfront next Monday…

 — Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy is “very open” to hiring Bill O’Reilly…

 — Time Inc. shares “fell more than 13 percent to the $13 range in late-morning trading after the company reported a steeper loss in the first-quarter loss and saw revenues shrink…

We’ll be back…

With a regular nightly edition of “Reliable Sources” late Wednesday night… or, at this rate, maybe early Thursday morning…
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