Today’s scoops; Conway cancels on Carlson; Alex Jones retracts; Itzkoff profiles Fallon; upside down cable ratings; upfront week finale

By Brian Stelter and the CNNMoney Media team. View this email in your browser!
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White House PR strategy in chaos…

Conway suddenly cancels on Carlson

Kellyanne Conway‘s Wednesday night interview on Fox News was going to be a big deal. Fox promoted it ahead of time as the administration’s first on-camera reaction to the news about former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. But at around 7:15pm the White House abruptly canceled Conway’s 8pm appearance, causing Tucker Carlson to fill the air time by discussing the cancellation. What a mess.

The cancellation means NO Trump officials have addressed this week’s news-hurricane on-camera. Conway was going to be the first.

Here’s the kicker: Carlson said it was the White House’s idea to have her on his show! “We had booked her, at their request…” But then the Mueller news broke, and Conway backed out… Here’s my full story…

Today’s scoops

I’m sure I’m missing some, but…
 — ProPublica: “Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago”
 — WashPost: “House Majority Leader McCarthy told colleagues in 2016: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump”
 — McClatchy: “Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed – after being paid as its agent”
 — NYT: “Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House

“That never happened”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy now says that “his assertion last year that Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying President Donald Trump was merely a bad attempt at humor.” But when the WashPost first inquired about it, Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said “that never happened.” Post reporter Adam Entous says “he didn’t change his story until we told him there was a tape…” 

 — Buck’s defense: “Goodness, I don’t lie. Period. What was presented to me originally was far different than what they ultimately presented: an obvious joke.”

Learning to dread 5pm 

Via CNN’s Jim Acosta: “WH official says staffers are feeling exhausted after this week’s bombshells: ‘It’s just been three days straight of these 5:45 pm announcements.’

Seriously, what’s with all the early evening bombshells? The Mueller news was embargoed til 6pm… that’s when the broadcast networks broke into programming with special reports…

Top tweets

 — Andrew Golis: “This is The Longest Week in the History of American Politics.

 — Matt Fuller: “One Republican member to another as they’re exiting House votes: ‘You just can’t make this shit up. Every day it’s like a reality TV show.'”

 — Maggie Haberman: “Would really recommend people watch ‘Get Me Roger Stone’ to understand this moment better.” I agree. It’s available on Netflix…

Seth Rich family demands retraction and apology from Fox News

Oliver Darcy emails: The family of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich is demanding retractions from Fox News and 21st Century Fox’s DC station WTTG for their inaccurate reports on the unsolved murder. So far, neither Fox News nor WTTG-TV have corrected their reports after we proved them to be inaccurate.

The Rich family’s spokesman told me if the news organizations don’t take action, the family may consider a legal course of action… Read more here…

Who was in charge? 

Some of Fox’s opinion shows, including “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity,” touted this week’s new conspiracy theory about Rich’s death. Where was the editorial oversight?


Alex Jones retracts his hateful claims about Chobani

CNNMoney’s Jackie Wattles reports: InfoWars’ Alex Jones just made the rarest of statements (for him): an apology. On Wednesday, facing a lawsuit, Jones retracted and apologized for a previous report that accused yogurt maker Chobani of supporting “migrant rapists” who spread disease in the company’s Twin Falls, Idaho, home base. In a video message posted to YouTube, Jones admitted he made “certain statements” on InfoWars — the name of his YouTube channel — about Chobani “that I now understand to be wrong…”

The lawsuit has now been settled, according to Chobani. The financial terms of the deal were not revealed…

For the record, part one
 — Margaret Sullivan‘s latest column: “Trump’s wish to jail reporters is more than possible. Ask his international friends.” CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote about it on Wednesday as well…

 — NYPost’s Claire Atkinson: “Liberty Media-backed SiriusXM is in active discussions about making a bid for internet radio company Pandora…

 — Poynter’s Ben Mullin says “yet another nail was hammered into the coffin of clickbait”Facebook is once again tweaking the News Feed algorithm “to reduce the reach of made-you-look stories…”

CNN and MSNBC beating Fox News in prime time this week

ProPublica’s Richard Tofel tweets: “It may turn out that intentionally ignoring bad news for Trump is bad business for Fox.He was reacting to my latest ratings story… Here it is:

Both MSNBC and CNN have seen big ratings spikes in the past week. Those ratings also suggest that Fox viewers are less interested in the aforementioned news-hurricane. So far this week, Fox has ranked #3 in the 25-54 demo in prime time, behind both CNN and MSNBC, which almost never happens. On Monday night, MSNBC was #1. On Tuesday night, CNN was #1. Read more…

 — Notable: Fox News is still winning May to date in the demo…

“This represents a real problem going forward…”

“Messengers of the Right” author Nicole Hemmer told me that Fox’s “inattention to the breaking news of the day was startling” on Tuesday: “As someone who turns on Fox to watch breaking news coverage, I found myself switching over to CNN, because my hunger for any analysis was going unmet at Fox. And this represents a real problem going forward for the network…” 

She also said the coverage “highlights a growing disjuncture between Fox’s news arm and its opinion arm.” Flipping channels Wednesday night, I sensed that Fox is trying to fix this… Tucker Carlson is hosting another live hour at 11pm… 

Here’s how Maddow is the new O’Reilly

I ended my ratings story by noting Rachel Maddow’s remarkable gains — she topped three million viewers on Tuesday night. She’s scoring Bill O’Reilly type #’s. Until last month O’Reilly was the host who spurred the biggest spike in nightly cable news viewership… taking Fox from 2 to 3 million on a nightly basis… now it’s Maddow who’s doing that, for MSNBC instead of Fox…

Tonight’s O’Donnell update

So what about Maddow’s colleague Lawrence O’Donnell? On Wednesday morning O’Donnell confirmed via Twitter that his contract is expiring on June 4: “I’ll let you know where you can watch me June 5 if it’s not msnbc. I’m sorry this situation has become public.” Asked to respond, an MSNBC spokesman said “negotiations are ongoing” and the goal is to renew O’Donnell’s contract…
For the record, part two
 — “Bobby Moynihan will depart ‘SNL’ following the sketch franchise’s season finale this weekend…”

 — Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi will host a business show that’s not supposed to be a typical business show, titled “Velshi & Ruhle,” Saturdays at 12:30pm on MSNBC…

 — “Dennis Quaid will play President George W. Bush in the upcoming FX series ‘Katrina: American Crime Story…’

 — Erik Wemple‘s latest: “Trump’s White House defies media’s superlatives…”

Itzkoff’s must-read profile of Fallon 

Sandra Gonzalez emails: This is an excellent profile of Jimmy Fallon by Dave Itzkoff. He talks about that now-infamous Trump interview and how criticism affects him.

Many news outlets have picked up on Fallon’s Trump comments (“I didn’t do it to humanize him”). But this one was much more telling to me: “I’m a people pleaser…If there’s one bad thing on Twitter about me, it will make me upset. So, after this happened, I was devastated. I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just trying to have fun…”

Trump and the media

Trump lunching with anchors on Thursday

Politico’s Hadas Gold scoops: “Trump is set to have an off-the-record lunch with network anchors on Thursday… The lunch is expected to cover Trump’s upcoming foreign trip. But with bombshell reports about the Trump White House dropping nearly every day this week, the lunch is sure to cover more ground…”

…That’s one of the reasons why Pelley anchored from DC on Wednesday

Scott Pelley anchored Wednesday’s “CBS Evening News” from the north lawn of the White House. He pre-taped an interview with Jason Chaffetz at 5:15… but in light of the Mueller news that broke at 6, Chaffetz came back for a live interview on the 6:30 broadcast…

Trump told Coast Guard graduates that the media is unfair 

“Reliable” producer Lee Alexander emails: Trump’s advice to Coast Guard graduates could also double as a rallying cry for his own White House staff that feels besieged and consumed by crisis: “Fight, fight, fight.” During his commencement address on Wednesday, POTUS also commented on fairness, then pivoted to the press: “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.” Jake Tapper delivered an important retort to that on Wednesday afternoon…

I heard lots of sentiments like this on Wednesday…

Nicholas Thompson tweets that this is “a week to praise the 1st Amendment: the free press is running the investigation the political system won’t do…”

A first look at Fox’s newsroom renovation

“Fox News is overhauling its newsroom in New York and hiring more reporters as the country’s most-watched cable network tries to adapt to the increasing demands of digital journalism,” Bloomberg’s Anousha Sakoui writes. “An entire floor at the Fox News headquarters at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan will be transformed into an open-concept office space for journalists, according to a statement Wednesday. The previous newsroom was in the basement of the building, and the change will literally bring reporters and editors out into the open.”

Here’s a preview:

Rupert Murdoch rallied staffers and previewed the imminent renovation on Wednesday. He said in a statement that “this is a major investment in the future of Fox News and a sign of my unwavering confidence.” 

Ailes’ old office will be getting the wrecking ball

Construction starts on July 1… and it should wrap up early next year…  according to TheWrap’s Brian Flood, the project will “gut the entire floor of offices recently occupied by disgraced former CEO Roger Ailes” to make room for the new news hub…

Oliver illustrates the “fake news” problem on the left 

Oliver Darcy emails: An FBI raid fed a rumor last week that Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch was about to be president. The incident was emblematic of a larger, growing trend on the left. Since Trump captured the White House, some liberals have been all too willing to buy into promises that impeachment proceedings are just around the corner. An echo chamber of these claims seems to be expanding and shows no signs of slowing down…
For the record, part three
 — Lee Alexander emails: Kevin D. Williamson has offered up a lesson in media literacy over at National Review – “How to Read a Newspaper.” And with all the bombshell reports dropping this week, it’s well worth a read…

 — An Phung emails: Racquet, a new quarterly tennis magazine crowdfunded through Kickstarter, published its third issue this spring. Nieman Lab has an in-depth look…

 — Jon Steinberg’s Cheddar, which bills itself as the “leading POST cable network,” has raised another $19 million, led by Raine Ventures, plus AT&T, Amazon, Altice, the NYSE, and Broadway Video…


CBS’ Trump bump?

Brian Lowry emails: CBS had a bounce in its step at the upfront, thanks in part to the gains it’s posted with the “Late Show” and “CBS This Morning.” The network also showcased what looked like the coming season’s most sure-fit new hit: A spinoff of “The Big Bang Theory,” “Young Sheldon,” featuring the Jim Parsons character as a nine-year-old genius entering high school in Texas.

CBS CEO Les Moonves stressed that he was “bullish” on the network TV business, but also cited its evolving nature, including more reliance on ancillary sources of income. “For the first time, less than 50% of our revenue at CBS is advertising,” he told reporters.

Moonves introduced the upfront presentation and singled out CBS News for praise, saying, “There has never been more news or more need for real news than now.”

CNN in the spotlight at Turner upfront

“Real news” was also part of the pitch at Turner’s upfront earlier in the day. The CNN portion of the presentation began in a nearly pitch-black room with loud audio clips of Trump and his aides condemning “fake news.” Then Anderson Cooper and several others anchors appeared on stage.

“Now more than ever, our mission is clear. Find the truth. Check the facts. Report the story. Hold those in power accountable,” Cooper said.

This Erin Burnett line stuck out to me: “We are dedicated to delivering all sides of the story. We aren’t liberal. We aren’t conservative. We are reporters. We are CNN.” And this line from Jake Tapper: “Politicians lie. They have staffs and allies who lie and spin and sometimes try to confuse the public as to what is real and what is fake. The press needs to be there and be worthy of the Amendment that protects our work.

Also at the Turner event…

Conan’s new deal takes him beyond late night

Frank Pallotta emails: Conan O’Brien is going beyond late night. He has signed a four-year contract extension that will have him cracking jokes on TBS through 2022. Late night’s longest-tenured host will add digital and branded content, podcasting, mobile gaming, pay TV and even live tours to his repertoire. O’Brien had some fun on stage, asking Anderson Cooper why he was there when the “republic hangs by a thread!”

Now back to CBS…

Colbert mocks Trump some more

More from Frank Pallotta: Stephen Colbert opened the CBS upfront at Carnegie Hall with a musical number, and followed it with a monologue that mocked the commander-in-chief. “It’s an honor every night to be on stage talking about that day’s Trump scandal. Unfortunately, the hour I spend on stage means I’m often missing the breaking news of tomorrow’s Trump scandal,” he said. “So by the time a monologue airs, I can sound as out of touch about what’s going on in the White House as Sean Spicer does…”

CBS pitches “Young Sheldon”

Sandra Gonzalez emails: I really loved the “Young Sheldon” trailer from CBS. It felt so different from “The Big Bang Theory” in the best ways. (Of note: It’s a single-camera versus a multi-cam.) I’m curious how loyal “BBT” viewers will respond to it…

 — THR’s Dan Fienberg said it well on Twitter: “‘Young Sheldon’ is truly intriguing because it’s CBS taking something they do well and spinning it off as something they don’t do well…”

Kimmel animates “Reliable Sources”

Wednesday’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” included a very funny Schoolhouse Rock spoof called “I’m Just A Lie.” Much to my surprise, a cartoon version of “Reliable Sources” popped up at one point… that’s me on the left, interviewing fact-checker Daniel Dale, and the banner at the bottom is identical to this October 30 segment from “Reliable…”
The entertainment desk

Netflix renews “Arrested Development!”

Lisa France emails: Grab a frozen banana and a vodka on the rocks, because Netflix is bringing all The Bluths for season 5 of “Arrested Development…”

NYT criticized for this Kardashian comparison

Lisa France emails: The NYT is under fire for comparing Kim Kardashian West to Sarah Baartman, an African woman who was displayed in a freak show in Europe in the 1800s as the “Hottentot Venus” because of her large buttocks. Theater critic Ben Brantley made the comparison while reviewing the off-Broadway play “Venus” about Baartman, and then the publication tweeted it. Black Twitter called out the review. It’s led to discussion about the paper’s diversity in the editor ranks — or possible lack thereof.
For the record, part three
 — Chloe Melas emails: I caught up with Samantha Bee, who discussed how she grapples with a White House in turmoil and why she doesn’t “give a f**k” anymore…

 — Lisa France emails: Michael Moore is “making a movie to get us out of this mess.” Here’s what we know about his new, secret documentary on President Trump…

 — More from Lisa: Heath Ledger died in 2008 at the age of 28, but the late actor still helped to “direct” a posthumous documentary about his life titled “I Am Heath Ledger.” Here’s how he did it…

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