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Like? I delivered a stirring email to the staff. “We need something to lift the Cloak of Indifference! How about Passing the Pom Pom of Positivity! Or the Tentpole of Terrificness?” and pressed send. Then, you know how you know you should count to three and all that? It hit me. I immediately did a group text: “No, wait! The Baton of Optimism!” (Majorettes, anyone?) Anyway, I added my charming one-legged smiling emoji, sent it out and waited. You could instantly feel the mood lift. Suddenly Healy was whistling, “What the world needs now is love” as our morning teaser went live.
We just needed that little Duranty something. Last night the LA Times released a depressing poll showing Really Stupid Trump up by seven and the dull side of the newsroom was boosting that number by pretending to be outraged by RST asking Russia to forward Hillary’s emails when they’re done with them. I said, “You really can’t say he’s ‘encouraging a foreign power’s cyberspying,’ Sanger. It’s not like Moscow would never have had the thought.” The Russians actually don’t need the big dumb guy’s encouragement. No! Something tells me the Putin Youth BBS Brigade was already all over Hillary’s server after they read about it in our paper.
It was my idea to to do a pack run on Ailes. Everybody was on board. Then Dean B called everybody in and said Artie O’Jr (we can’t call him “Pinch” any more because the lawyers are worried about how it might sound in any future sexual harassment negotiations) wanted to trim the budget, so we had to cut back from five reporters to three. I said, “How the hell do you expect us to beat the Post if all we have are our three scoopers to hunt down all those blind sources? We might have to call, you know, about a dozen women.”
Anyway, you know how this is going to end by just looking at our headline:
Weak. Lame. Rutterman, Ruterberg, Rutenberg, whatever, always trying to be edgy, said, “Okay, well, how about we add ‘Gangbangs’?” But I said, “Jim, a gangbang is what we’re doing, not what we’re reporting.”
“Okay,” says Rutterbergman. “But we don’t have any actual kisses, either. So why not a gangbang? It’s just a scale thing.” I work with idiots. But idiots with the gift of approximation, an invaluable skill for our side. Take a look at our nut graf:
The Times spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it. Two of them cited Mr. Ailes and the rest cited other supervisors. With the exception of Ms. [Rudi] Bakhtiar, they all spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing embarrassment and fear of retribution. Most continue to work in television and worry that speaking out could damage their careers.
Right. Well, let’s put it this way: that could never pass the Megyn Kelly Wardrobe Test. Way too much wiggle room. Plus, you could make a career by putting Roger’s paw-print on your undies.
I despaired. Our side had seven bylined reporters — four from Bezos’ money pit in D.C. and three from the Times — and “about a dozen” unnamed, brave and ambitious women who were afraid to jump on a well-lit, slow-moving, highly decorated bandwagon. I tried all day Saturday to get Dean to read Michael Wolff’s piece, now a half-week old. He goes, “I should read something not about me in The Hollywood Reporter? Right.”
“Dean, look. It’s a fabulous story about two dim, grasping, socially anxious brothers scheming against a powerful, intelligent father to get rid of the wise, but embarrassing old family retainer. Think Rob Lowe and Matt LeBlanc, with John Goodman and Ron Jeremy as Ailes. It’s epic! And besides our target is the whole rightwing news mill at Fox, not just the fat guy in the clown suit.”
End of discussion when Dean turns to me and says, “You spent too much time in Moscow, Walt. You want everything to be Dostoevsky. I need to sell stuff to lady liberals, so all I need is a damn Lifetime movie.”
But he did take my copy of THR, so there’s always hope.
I’m flattered to see that the Washington Post — the small-town version of our Real Paper — is honing the journalist’s craft of chasing down slow-moving targets, swallowing them whole and regurgitating them in Word. It’s a version of a technique I’m proud to say I pioneered back when I was helping break the eggs for Uncle Joe’s omelette.
To a potshotting journo, Roger Ailes is a textbook example of a herd-straggler. Faced with reporting a fast-moving, hard-to-track story about how family conflict and boardroom melodrama are changing the media landscape — that is, how the Murdoch boys did in daddy’s successful pal — the Post‘s four, count ’em— four! — intrepid scoopers aimed for the blimp-shaped guy who developed that atrocity called Fox News. I loved, loved, the result:
I love these journalistic bombshells filled with baking powder and sparkles. Wonderful work, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Scott Higham, Paul Farhi and Krissah Thompson! Your clip files will forever contain a wondrous piece of Keller (Helen, not Bill) journalism compiled under a magical cloak of invisibility. It took a lot of elbow grease to finesse all those telling winks and revelatory nudges. Good stuff, kids. In fact, forget Keller. I smell Pulitzer. (He’s practically next door to me down here and believe me when I say he is ripe!)
Of course, the real story went right past them in a cloud-engulfed graf:
[Michael] Wolff, the Murdoch biographer, couldn’t help thinking the billionaire’s sons were taking advantage of the situation to achieve their goal of excising Ailes. “This is not principally about sexual harassment,” Wolff said. “This is an internal coup.” (“Nothing could be further from the truth,” said a person at 21st Century Fox with knowledge of the situation.)
Will nobody speak to Post reporters on the record? In this week’s pack of stories about Ailes, that “internal coup” is the lead ‘lope, the one that got away completely.
I couldn’t have done better work myself, said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Walter Duranty. And there, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Scott Higham, Paul Farhi and Krissah Thompson, is your blurb, sourced.
Just so you know, I’ve been in a sales meeting since my last post. The sales manager for our circle loves spreadsheets. The best thing is he reads them slowly aloud in his charming New Jersey accent. Five years of pure hell.
I was delighted to see that we didn’t bother running a piece today on the nomination of Donald Trump. Instead, we ran a cluster of pieces that I like to call “validation journalism” — not really news, but timely, and always designed to reinforce our readers’ sense of themselves. I pioneered this approach to journalism of course but I’m very happy to see it still works.
Today, it gave us a chance to see the “Trump Organization” at work. A person named “McIver” was asked to create a speech for the missus. But McIver didn’t write it. She compiled it. She “borrowed” a bunch of text that had already been used. It was an accident! So it wasn’t actually plagiarism. Seems Melania read McIver the speechwriter some passages of stuff from other speeches she’d like to have in her own speech. (“Four score and seven” would have been a nice touch.) So the speechwriter will continue working for the Trump Organization, which is run by a man who got to the top because he knows how to get things done. Badly, apparently. He didn’t even hire the right MacGyver! (The real thing would have looked at the first draft of the speech, then checked it for plagiarism using nothing more than some chewing gum and a glob of Google. Ingenious, no?)