Reliable Sources: Trump's story; WaPo's next book; Newseum's apology

Exec summary: Scroll down for details about the Washington Post's next book, Jeff Fager's "...

Posted: Aug 6, 2018 2:45 PM
Updated: Aug 6, 2018 2:45 PM

Exec summary: Scroll down for details about the Washington Post's next book, Jeff Fager's "vacation," Disney's "Black Panther" milestone and more...

Trump's story

We've talked about President Trump's hate movement against the media. (It's getting worse.) We've talked about his tendency to lie. (That's also getting worse.) And we've talked about his exposure in Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference. (His back is up against the proverbial wall.)

But what we don't talk enough about... in my humble opinion... is Trump's storytelling prowess. I watched all three of his recent rallies and came away thinking that we should analyze his act through a storytelling prism more often.

To be clear, his stories are more fiction than fact. And we need to keep pointing out the fictions. But... like a novel or a TV drama... it's not really meant to be fact-checked, it's meant to make you feel. That's what Trump does to great effect. Like any entertainer, like any producer, he knows his story needs heroes and villains. So he pitches himself as the hero, the savior, the dragon-slayer. The villains include Democrats, foreigners and journalists.

Does it work? Judging by his approval rating among Republicans and the joyous looks on the faces of his rallygoers, yes. And Trump has a lot of help: His friends on Fox are like his co-producers. And he invites the audience to participate, too. He promotes TV shows, endorses books and encourages twittering.

So we need to make sure we're including this in our analysis. Here's my column all about his "storytelling..."

A tweet for the history books?

Some of Trump's stories -- like the false claims about the infamous Trump Tower meeting -- may ultimately hurt the president and his closest associates.

Witness Saturday's reporting about Trump being worried about Donald Trump Jr.'s legal exposure. The president's tweet denying those reports might end up in the history books. He admitted that "this was a meeting to get information on an opponent." Of course, he added that it was "totally legal and done all the time in politics -- and it went nowhere." And he said "I did not know about it!"

But Trump's admission -- what some called a confession -- dominated the news cycle all day. The headline on CNN.com right now: "Trump is twisting himself in knots." The lead on NYTimes.com: "Dirt on Clinton Was Focus of 2016 Meeting,Trump Admits."

Glasser's insight

Susan Glasser's newest column for The New Yorker is titled "It's True: Trump Is Lying More, and He's Doing It on Purpose." On Sunday's "Reliable Sources," she told me that the # of Trump's rallies and the # of his lies exist "very much in tandem."

"In my view, these misstatements and untruths are very much connected to his political identity," she said... "If you look at the categories where he lies the most in public, it's things like immigration, trade, Russia," and increasingly NATO."So these are things that are connected. It's not just that he has policies that he's supporting. He's supporting those policies with a conscious strategy of lying and attacking..."

Remember this...

Bad headlines about Trump prompt even nastier attacks against the media by Trump and his allies. Who knows what Monday will bring. But for all the hate... and distrust... there's also a lot of support from the public. Look no further than the parking lot of the hotel where the reporters accompanying Trump on his "working vacation" are staying. A group came out on Sunday with signs:

"HEROES OF DEMOCRACY."

"THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DO."

"THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE."

Scroll down for the rest of the weekend's Trump-and-the-media news...

Eye on the Eye network

Fager's vacation

"60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager had said he'd be back at work on Monday. But now he's extending his vacation, in light of the allegations against him in Ronan Farrow's recent article.

We broke this news on Sunday morning's "Reliable." CBS News said, "Having heard the investigation will be wrapping up soon, Jeff has decided to stay on vacation." A few days ago, CBS News prez David Rhodes said the law firm's work will be wrapped up sometime this month...

→ My followup Q's to CBS News: Who's in charge of "60 Minutes?" Who's running the meetings? No answer...

Kahl's answers

Brian Lowry emails from the TCA press tour: The CBS exec session at TCA was a pretty solid exercise in crisis PR, addressing what matters they could and punting on those that they couldn't.

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Perhaps foremost, CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl — who told reporters he valued the event, and the relationship with them — appeared to win points from the room just for showing up and taking questions, something his counterparts at ABC and NBC won't be doing on Tuesday and Wednesday, much to the irritation of some of those in attendance...

For the record, part one

-- Margaret Sullivan's Monday column: "The local-news crisis is destroying what a divided America desperately needs: Common ground" (WaPo)

-- The season finale of "Succession" aired Sunday night. There's been lots of buzz about the series in recent weeks... Here's a VF column by Julie Miller calling it "the summer's best TV," and a Slate piece by Willa Paskin titled "Watch Succession Now." Paskin says "I didn't get HBO's genre-bending drama at first. Now I realize it's amazing..." (Slate)

-- Over on Showtime, episode four of "Who Is America" aired Sunday... Joe Arpaio made an appearance, so I'm sure we'll be reading about it in the morning...

Media week ahead calendar

-- Monday: The CW and Showtime present at the TCA press tour...

-- Tuesday: Ohio's special election!

-- Tuesday after the bell: Disney reports earnings...

-- Wednesday: NYT and 21st Century Fox earnings...

-- Thursday: Tronc and Viacom earnings...

-- Thursday: Fox faces a deadline to submit a Sky bid...

-- Friday: Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman" opens nationwide...

Newseum apologizes for selling "fake news" T-shirts

Hadas Gold emails: Less than 24 hours after initially -- and defiantly -- defending selling a "Fake News" T-shirt in their gift shop, the Newseum retracted. In a new statement on Saturday afternoon, the museum's spokesperson admitted the museum "made a mistake" and apologized. The shirts have been removed.

I noticed some people in my Twitter feed were upset. They argued that the outcry about the shirts was more evidence that members of the media want to tamp down on speech they don't like. That's a valid point to bring up -- but it's hard to argue with the bad PR strategy of selling the shirt in the first place -- and then suffering through a storm of bad press before ultimately doing what could've been done immediately...

For the record, part two

-- Philly is mourning the death of H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest... As Brian Roberts said, Lenfest was "one of the greatest philanthropists the city has ever seen..." Late in life, Lenfest bought the owner of the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com and put a nonprofit group in charge... (Philly.com)

-- Via Andrew Beaujon: "The Washington Post announced its sale to Jeff Bezosfive years ago today. He's transformed it but there's still work to be done. I wrote him a punch list..." (Washingtonian)

WashPost's next book

The Post's Greg Miller has authored "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and The Subversion of American Democracy." It will come out on Oct. 2, from Custom House, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. WaPo says the book is about Russia's 2016 attack "and the subsequent political, legal and diplomatic fallout."

Miller took the lead, with "contributions from fellow Post reporters," according to the paper. "The events of the past several years called for a revelatory and riveting book, and Greg delivered," Marty Baron said in a statement...

What was different about this attack

Trump's media bashing on Sunday stood out because of how downright dehumanizing it was. He sounded like he was trying to strip away our legitimacy and indeed our humanity with words like "dangerous" and "sick." It's a "hate movement."

On the "A block" of "Reliable Sources," I asked Anthony Scaramucci and Joe Lockhart to respond. Scaramucci said he has told Trump about his concerns. "I don't like the WAR declaration," he said, "because it will lead to something that none of us really want." Read Jackie Wattles' full story here...

-- NPR's Scott Simon: "If the president had called reporters nosy, cranky, contentious, or smart-alecky, many reporters would have laughed and agreed. But calling them — us — enemies of the people is the kind of curse made by tyrants..."

Lockhart: Sarah Sanders is "cowardly"

Lockhart, a press secretary in the Clinton years, had very strong words for current @PressSec Sarah Sanders. He said she's "crossed the line" by "aiding and abetting" the president's lies.

Scaramucci defended Sanders, saying "she's trying her hardest to tell the truth to the American people." My response was, basically, "Really?" Sanders still hasn't admitted that she screwed up when she claimed that reporters made it harder to track down Osama bin Laden in the run-up to 9/11. That idea was debunked years ago. (When will she apologize?)

Catch up on Sunday's show here

You can read the transcript... Listen to the podcast edition via Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, or Stitcher... Watch the video clips on CNN.com... or watch the whole thing via CNNgo or VOD...

Lemon's show will be interesting on Monday night...

CNN's Friday night rebroadcast of Don Lemon's interview of LeBron James got Trump tweeting... And got Michael Jordan, Hillary Clinton, Steph Curry, John Kasich, and Melania Trump all aligned on LeBron's side, against Trump's childish insult. Here's my full story...

-- This wasn't the first time Trump had called Lemon the "dumbest man on TV." Trump had previously said "I never watch Don Lemon." But he disproved that on Friday night...

-- Lemon outsmarted Trump with this Saturday morning tweet: "Who's the real dummy? A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages? #BeBest"

Notes and quotes

-- Unanswered Q: Why did Hope Hicks travel with POTUS to his Saturday rally?

-- "The pastor giving the invocation at President Trump's rally Saturday night in Ohio prayed to God to protect Trump from the 'jungle journalism...'"

-- Last year Kellyanne Conway broke with Trump by saying CNN is not "fake news." On Sunday, she did it again, telling CBS's Margaret Brennan that "I don't believe journalists are the enemy of the people..."

-- Tom Nichols' reaction via Twitter: "It shows how low our expectations have become that we think this is something worth noting..."

-- John Cassidy's take for TNY: "Although Trump is conducting a war on the media, he isn't necessarily winning it. If he were, he wouldn't be so angry..."

-- Jonathan Swan's latest scoop: "Trump likes to watch replays of his debate and rally performances. But instead of looking for weaknesses in technique... Trump luxuriates in the moments he believes are evidence of his brilliance..."

-- Recommended reading from Philip Bump: "Why does Trump's media-bashing resonate with his base? Many see themselves as needing to rise to his defense..."

For the record, part three

-- Donie O'Sullivan emails: Greetings from Vegas... With 92 days to go until the midterms, election and national security officials' eyes will turn to Sin City this week where two hacking conferences are taking place. Last year, hackers here at DEF CON hacked into some voting machines, and they are planning to do even more this year...

-- "Very little is known about Disneyflix," Brooks Barnes rightly points out in his Monday NYT story. But here's what IS known... (NYT)

US v. AT&T update

Hadas Gold emails: For those of us who covered every single day of the AT&T antitrust trial, we became accustomed to the "white noise" machine that Judge Richard Leon would turn on every time he wanted to have a private conversations with the attorneys, called a bench conference. But often he would discuss rulings or evidence during those conversations, and the rest of us would be in the dark on what was requested or decided.

Now, though, we'll get a chance to see. The DOJ filed a motion to unseal the transcripts of the bench conferences ahead of their appeal of Leon's decision -- and the appeals court granted that request on Friday. It's not clear why the Justice Department wants the transcripts unsealed -- and available to the public. It's possible they're going to try to point out to something Leon said during those conferences to help in their appeal. Regardless I'll be eagerly awaiting what those transcripts reveal...

ICYMI: David Leonhardt on the podcast

My guest on this week's "Reliable" podcast was NYT op-ed columnist David Leonhardt. He connected the dots between Trump's "fake news" epithets, "fake polls" claims, elaborate lies, and extreme attempts to discredit Robert Mueller's investigation. "He essentially is on a campaign against anyone who represents an independent source of information," Leonhardt said.

We also discussed conspiracy theory thinking, the role of partisan media outlets, and changing coverage of climate change. Check out the pod via Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, or Stitcher... And/or read Julia Waldow's recap here...

"Black Panther" passes $700 million milestone

Brian Lowry emails: Disney might have engaged in a little sleight of hand to push "Black Panther" over the $700-million mark at the domestic box office before it exits theatrical release, but it's still a milestone. The film becomes only the third ever to cross that plateau, behind "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and "Avatar." As a footnote, Disney released two of them, and is about to acquire the studio that distributed the third, meaning it will soon lay claim to seven of the top 10 spots in unadjusted grosses...

The weekend's box office...

Tom Cruise for the win: "Mission: Impossible — Fallout" once again "dominated the North American box office, blowing past a new, computer-generated version of Winnie-the-Pooh (and Tigger too) to generate an estimated $35 million in ticket sales," the NYT's Brooks Barnes reports.

"Christopher Robin" came in second place... Barnes says it had a "respectable start if still a long way from profitability..."

Underwhelming start for Dinesh D'Souza's doc

Per Variety's Rebecca Rubin: "Controversial pundit Dinesh D'Souza's latest documentary received a lackluster response from moviegoers. 'Death of a Nation' made $2.3 million when it opened on 1,032 screens, averaging a tepid $2,248 per theater. The documentary, which explores fascism and white supremacy and compares President Donald Trump to Abraham Lincoln, is the lowest wide release launch to date for the right-wing conservative filmmaker."

COMPARISON: "His last movie, 'Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party,' generated $3.6 million during its wide release in 2016. It went on to make $13 million..."

CONTEXT: D'Souza has been complaining that major networks didn't book him to talk about the film...

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