Astonishing leaks; White House in crisis; Fox fires Beckel; cable ratings race; Brooke Gladstone interview; “SNL” season finale; Sunday’s lineup

By Brian Stelter and the CNNMoney Media team. View this email in your browser!
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This has been an epic week in journalism — filled with nonstop surprises, head-spinning scoops and an old-fashioned newspaper war. Take a moment to catch your breath… Because it’s not slowing down…

“Grading on the news curve”

That’s a Maggie Haberman phrase — she said on CNN Friday night that there’s so much happening, so many Trump-related stories coming out, that “we’re grading on the news curve now, unfortunately, with a lot of this, because there’s so much of it…”

Friday’s scoop cycle

Haberman and her NYT colleagues reported at 2:55pm that “Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation.” Suddenly the words “nut job” were all over television. At almost exactly the same time, the WashPost published this: “White House adviser close to Trump is a person of interest in Russia probe.”

 >> On the air Friday night, Rachel Maddow called the Post headline one of those headlines that “makes people buy the print edition of he newspaper, cuz they think they might be able to sell it for a lot of money someday, or impress their grandkids…”

These are astonishing leaks.

Quoting the NYT’s Matthew Rosenberg on “AC360:”

“I know a lot of people say, ‘Oh, these are just people with axes to grind who are leaking.’ They’re not. They’re political appointees; they’re career people; what they are, are people who are not particularly partisan. They’re not pushing an agenda in this case. These are people who are seeing things they think are wrong, and are horrified by them, and they realize that internally there’s no way to stop it, so they’re doing the last resort, they’re going to the press and trying to make it public, hoping THAT will stop it.” 

In other words: Whistleblowers.

Astonishing timing, too

The Post and Times stories hit just a few minutes after Air Force One lifted off for Riyadh. “I don’t know what’s going on on that plane,” Rosenberg said, “but it can’t be a happy place at this moment…”

White House did not deny the NYT story

Noah Rothman tweets: “Doubtlessly, the best thing Trump has going is his supporters won’t read the story to see if WH even disputes it…”

“White House in Crisis”

That’s the name of CNN’s Friday night special report… hosted by Jim Sciutto and Pamela Brown… airing at 10pm ET…

CNN’s latest

Sciutto and Brown are two of the five bylines on this story, which broke at 9pm: “Russian officials bragged in conversations during the presidential campaign that they had cultivated a strong relationship with former Trump adviser retired Gen. Michael Flynn and believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team, sources told CNN. The conversations deeply concerned US intelligence officials…

Stories you might’ve missed…

…Because of the aforementioned “news curve:”

 — “The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation,” Reuters reports…

 — CNN scoop: White House lawyers have been researching impeachment by reaching out to experts…

 — “Trump has told advisers he wants to end payments of key Obamacare subsidies, a move that could send the health law’s insurance markets into a tailspin,” Politico reports…

 — In Saturday’s NYT: “How to Woo Chinese Investors: With Visa Offers and the Trump Name”

Check out this headline on the Free Beacon

Friday morning’s banner at the Free Beacon was “Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Here’s Matthew Continetti’s column…

What Fox is — and isn’t — talking about 

Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which was on tape, led with… a lament about liberal media bias. Carlson’s news peg was Thursday’s Harvard study about first-100-days coverage.

On “The Five,” Kimberly Guilfoyle, whose name was linked to press secretary rumors again this week, pushed the White House press operation to tout Trump’s overseas accomplishments and get “positive play” in the press. About the “nut job” line, Greg Gutfeld said, “This is the way a salesman talks. And a salesman has the flaw of talking too much…”

Cooper apologizes to Lord for “crude” comment 

A quote that will spawn dozens of blog posts and outrage cycles: Anderson Cooper interrupted one of Jeffrey Lord‘s defenses of Trump on Friday night by saying “if he took a dump on his desk, you would defend it.” Lord laughed. Cooper apologized a few minutes later: “I was a little crude before, I apologize. I like having your voice on here, and I think you’re an important voice to have.” “No offense taken,” Lord said, smiling at home on Skype.

BuzzFeed already has a recap of the social media reaction, and Fox has already played the sound bite on the air. Dana Perino: “When you gotta go, you gotta go.” Jesse Watters: “CNN’s been defending Barack Obama taking dumps for eight years…”

Fox fires Bob Beckel

Speaking of “The Five,” another shocker: on Friday morning the network announced that Bob Beckel had been fired for an “insensitive remark” made to a black employee.

Just a few weeks ago, Beckel and his fellow co-hosts of “The Five” were promoted to the 9pm hour. Now he’s gone. No word on who will take his curmudgeonly place. Beckel could not be reached for comment, Oliver Darcy reports…

Fox stuck in third place all week long

For the FOURTH straight day, Fox News ranked #3 in prime time Thursday in the 25-54 demo. MSNBC was #1 and CNN #2. Rachel Maddow had the biggest show of the night by far.

In the total day ratings, CNN was #1 in the demo, Fox was #2, and MSNBC was #3. Here’s the TVNewser scoreboard. TV newsers are saying that Fox seems lost, unsure of what to do in this dizzying news cycle…
 — The big Q: Is this just a temporary blip in the ratings, or is something bigger happening?

 — John Ziegler‏ picked up my tweet about the ratings and said: “This should worry Trump more than any other specific story this week. If it continues much longer, Fox will turn on him and then he’s toast…”

This Sunday on “Reliable Sources…”

Bob Schieffer, Salena Zito, Bill Kristol, Nicole Hemmer, and David Zurawik will join me live… plus WashPost national editor Scott WilsonCNN, Sunday, 11am ET…
For the record, part one
By Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman:

 — The NYT “will offer buyouts to editors in push to transform editing,” per Poynter. More details to come by the end of the month…

 — A Daily Caller exclusive: Alt-right figures Chuck Johnson and Mike Cernovich say they are each launching web sites to go after reporters…

 — Vox unpacks the Louise Mensch phenomenon, and the spread of fake news about Russia that has liberal readers falling in the trap…

 — Twitter‘s VP of global content partnerships Ross Hoffman is leaving the company after 7 years, Recode reports…

 — David Fahrenthold‘s notebook is now officially a piece of history… at the Newseum…

Russia promotes conspiracy theory on DNC staffer’s death after false Fox News story

Oliver Darcy emails: The Russian Embassy in the UK promoted a conspiracy theory on Friday about the unsolved murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. It came after Fox News heavily promoted an inaccurate story about the theory, for which there is no evidence, earlier this week.

The Rich family asked Fox News to retract the story two days ago, but as of Friday evening, it remains up. A spokesperson for the network did not respond to multiple requests for comment…

 >> The family also sent a cease and desist letter to Rod Wheeler, the private investigator investigating the death, saying his comments to the media have caused “severe mental anguish and emotional distress…”

 >> Rich’s family spokesman Brad Bauman will join me on Sunday’s “Reliable…”

This week’s “Reliable” podcast guest: Brooke Gladstone

It’s a “Reliable Sources”/”On the Media” crossover! My guest on this week’s bonus podcast is “OTM” co-host Brooke Gladstone, who’s promoting a brand new book, “The Trouble with Reality.”

“We don’t like information that challenges the universe we’ve created,” she told me. So how do we combat that and cover “alternative universes?”

“Fact-checking plays a role,” she said, “but I think more important is to take the fact and place into context. What does the available information tell us about what a particular fact means in the context of a person’s life? Just covering information or correcting it in isolation will not change the narrative.” Listen to our full discussion here… and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes…

Remembering Roger Ailes

Gabriel Sherman’s reflections

Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman shared this column on Friday. He ends with this: “I feel a deep sense of loss. The subject that had been a singular focus of my writing life is now gone.”

Margaret Sullivan’s point

I missed this Margaret Sullivan column on Thursday, and I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it too. She says women who worked with Ailes suffered “humiliation and psychological anguish,” but “then they decided to learn from the master and take power back.” That, she says, will be a lasting legacy of Ailes’ career…

Four more reads

 — Bret Stephens calls Ailes “the man who wrecked conservatism…”

 — Jonah Goldberg says “the Fox News founder shaped his times more than almost anyone…”

 — Great insights from Jeff Greenfield here: “The Secret of Roger Ailes’ Billion-Dollar Bubble”

— Former CNN/US president Jon Klein writing for the WashPost: “The dark source of Roger Ailes’s power”

Now revealed: Ailes’ call to Don Kaplan

“Why would anyone take the word of these women over mine?!” That’s what Ailes asked NY Daily News columnist Don Kaplan recently, Kaplan says. The two men agreed that the conversation would stay off the record as long as Ailes was alive.

When Ailes died on Thursday morning, Kaplan shared the quotes, showing Ailes professing his innocence despite sexual harassment claims from so many women at Fox. When Kaplan asked about the settlement payouts, Ailes said “I did nothing wrong, they are lying.” Ailes added: “A settlement is not an admission of guilt. I did nothing wrong — and I will be back.”

“Ailes and the creation of the conservative media celebrity”

Oliver Darcy emails his latest: It can be argued that no person is more responsible for the current state of the conservative movement, good and bad, than Roger Ailes. “You can’t tell the story of the rise of the conservative movement without talking about Roger Ailes. But you also can’t talk about how it went off the rails without talking about Roger Ailes,” conservative radio host Charlie Sykes told me. “To the extent that conservatism has been eclipsed by shrill showmanship — he was the ring leader. He was the guy who brought the circus to town.” Read Oliver’s piece here…
Quote of the day
“Journalists drink too much, are bad at managing emotions, and operate at a lower level than average, according to a new study…

Business Insider’s Lindsay Dodgson…

For the record, part two
 — Update on Roll Call’s John Donnelly, who said he was “manhandled” by security guards at the FCC: he tells me Roll Call has reached out to the commission, but has not heard anything back. Several lawmakers are also asking questions…

 — In Saturday’s NYT’s: James B. Stewart with a positive column about the WashPost…

 — BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman interviewed Facebook’s Adam Mosseri about fighting “fake news…”


Deny. Deflect. Downplay. Those are three types of spin I’m seeing from pro-Trump partisan media outlets. Here’s my report from Thursday’s “AC360” about conservative media counter-narratives…

Chris Cornell’s wife disputes ‘intentional’ suicide finding

Chloe Melas emails: New developments in the death of Chris Cornell. The rocker’s wife released a statement Friday morning disputing the medical examiner’s findings that her husband committed suicide. She says that there’s no way his death was “intentional.” She also claims he was taking Ativan and might have taken too much, impairing his judgement. You can read her full statement here…
The entertainment desk

“The Wizard of Lies” premieres Saturday night

Brian Lowry emails: Robert De Niro turns in a terrific performance as Bernie Madoff, but HBO’s movie about the case, “The Wizard of Lies,” doesn’t deliver much in the way of dramatic returns…

 — Related: Jake Tapper interviewed director Barry Levinson on Friday’s “Lead…”

“SNL” season finale this weekend 

“SNL” is wrapping up its most-viewed season in 23 years, Frank Pallotta reports. This weekend’s finale will be hosted by The Rock.

Now “the question that remains is, how will ‘SNL’ top itself next season?” Frank writes. Will Alec Baldwin continue playing Trump? He recently told THR, “I’d love to keep doing this per my availability, but I have other things I’m going to do, so I guess we’ll figure it out. I have a lot of things I’m supposed to do. I’m sure ‘SNL’ creator Lorne Michaels] will find ways to kill them.”

Netflix’s new seven-hour documentary

Brian Lowry emails: “The Keepers” turns out to be a bit too much of a good thing, with Netflix, clearly seeking its next “Making a Murderer,” devoting seven hours to this documentary that has at its center the unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun. Read more…

“Twin Peaks” returns this weekend!

If you missed Lowry’s column about the series, check it out here…

Lowry grades the upfronts 

Brian Lowry emails: I’d have to concur with this New York Times piece giving the week’s highest marks for upfront presentations to CBS, which clearly articulated and executed its strategy, and appeared to have the likeliest new hit in “The Big Bang Theory” prequel “Young Sheldon.” In descending order from top to bottom, the runners-up among the broadcast networks — grading based both on the quality of their presentations with how good the cut-downs of the various new series looked — would be CW, with NBC, ABC and Fox, in roughly that order, lagging behind…

25th anniversary of “The Real World”

What a milestone for MTV and reality television! Per Lisa France, the first episode of “The Real World: New York” debuted 25 years ago this weekend. Here’s Lisa’s look at how the show helped change the real world…
Hope you have a great weekend!
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