The Trouble with Corey — Margaret Talbot at The New Yorker on hiring campaign insiders as network pundits.
This week, Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, offered an upbeat assessment of one of the network’s newest additions, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, whom Zucker hired as an on-air political commentator in June. “I actually think he’s done a really nice job,” Zucker said in an interview with Variety. “He’s come under a much greater spotlight because of who he is, and the relationship he’s had with the media. As a result, people are going to be more critical.” It’s hard to know quite what to make of this. Bosses like to stand by their hiring decisions when they can—fair enough. But Lewandowski has manifestly not been doing a “really nice job” in his new role, unless his role is not so much to comment on the Trump campaign as to embody the pathologies of it.
The trouble with Lewandowski is not that he came out of a campaign or that he is clearly partisan. Both cable and broadcast networks have been hiring people answering to that description for years—Democrats like Paul Begala and David Axelrod, Republicans like Nicolle Wallace and Karl Rove—with the idea that, taken en masse, their perspectives add up to a kind of nonpartisan X-ray of American politics. Those old hands may be prone to repeating their parties’ talking points, but at least they have experience in the White House or in multiple campaigns, and they know they’re supposed to be offering some kind of insider’s insight into the process that may not always pay robotic obeisance to the candidate they worked for most recently. Most of the time, that campaign was long enough ago that they aren’t still being paid severance by it, as Lewandowski is. (To be fair, his CNN interlocutors say so every time he is introduced on air.)
Lewandowski, though, is a special case. CNN hired him just a few days after the Trump campaign fired him. As Trump’s adjutant, he had upheld an authoritarian attitude toward the press, banning the Washington Post, among other media outlets Trump doesn’t care for, from covering the candidate’s events. On his first CNN appearance, on June 25th, Lewandowski would neither confirm nor deny having signed a “non-disparagement” agreement of the kind other former Trump employees have. (In that interview, the CNN anchor Erin Burnett produced an example that read: “During the term of your service and at all times thereafter, you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the company, Mr. Trump, any Trump company, any family member, or any family member company.”) But, if he did, and if he were worried about being sued or just frozen out by Trump—not unreasonable worries, in his position—that would certainly make it unlikely he would say anything critical or even specific or surprising about his former boss.
Yet that was something his new CNN bosses could reasonably have expected: a few crisp anecdotes, a little texture, a sprinkling of behind-the-scenes flavor. Zucker said in the Variety interview that the network simply needed someone representing the G.O.P. nominee’s point of view: “It’s hard to find a lot of those. Our competitors tried to hire [Lewandowski], too.” But Lewandowski’s signal quality is a kind of unsmiling, nonironic loyalty that admits of no countermanding or even complicating detail; he’s like the ultimate faithful retainer, still fixedly serving his master as the mansion crumbles around him—Erich von Stroheim in “Sunset Boulevard.” He refers to Trump as “Mr. Trump” and speaks reverently about “the family,” meaning Trump’s family. When that interview with Burnett turned to how he felt about having been fired, Lewandowski said, “I’d go back and do it exactly the same way, only better. And if I did something to disappoint the family and I didn’t accomplish what they needed, then they do what they need to do, because the campaign is bigger than Corey Lewandowski.” He said he was “fully committed”—meaning fully committed to Trump. “In my private time with my family and my friends, I’m telling everybody that I know that Donald Trump is the only person who’s going to save the country for my children and, hopefully, their children someday.”
At one point, Burnett asked for a little glimpse into the process by which Trump was then picking a Vice-President. Campaign staff members are always coy about this, but there are ways of saying something moderately substantive about what the candidate’s priorities are, and, anyway, Lewandowski wasn’t working for the campaign anymore. This is what he said: “There’s been some speculation out there that people don’t want to be part of this. It’s absolutely the opposite. Every person that he has talked to, every person that he has had an interest in talking to, has reaffirmed with one-hundred-per-cent certainty that they would be absolutely welcome on the ticket.” Absolutely, one hundred per cent: you get the picture.
Lewandowski has not grown into his job since. It could still happen, I suppose. Once in a while, as Callum Borchers pointed out, in the Washington Post, Lewandowski will emit a brief display of empathy. Lewandowski’s CNN colleagues have been doing their best, and when the dogged Alisyn Camerota asked if he could understand why some people might look askance at Trump’s comments about Brexit and the falling value of the pound—namely, that they would be good for business at his golf resort in Scotland—Lewandowski said he could. “This qualifies as progress,” Borchers wrote. “He is at least capable of seeing a non-Trump point of view and granting an unfriendly premise.” Borchars continued,
For the most part, however, Lewandowski is bad television. He remains prone to spouting fiction and doesn’t stay on-topic, grinding segments to a halt as CNN hosts have to correct his misinformation or interject to steer the conversation back to the point.
Since then, some of Lewandowski’s more memorable moments have included a weird outburst with Christine Quinn, the former speaker of the New York City Council and a designated liberal commentator who he’s often been paired with on air. When Quinn, gesturing, brushed his hand with hers in the midst of a heated exchange about Trump’s reaction to the Khan family, he snapped, “Don’t touch me!” And then he said it again.
This week, Lewandowski distinguished himself by reviving the birther canard—the thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. One of the other panelists that night, Angela Rye, remarked, “Donald Trump has been attacking the President long before he began campaigning for this important office. He is the one who was the spokesperson of the birther movement” and “saying the President was an affirmative-action admittee of Harvard.”
Though she was bringing this up only to establish that Trump had long had it in for Obama, Lewandowski hijacked the conversation: “Did he ever release his transcripts or his admission to Harvard University? You raised the issue, so just yes or no. The answer is no.” After they had wrangled for a few more minutes, Lewandowski went full birther. “And the question was: Did he get in as a U.S. citizen, or was he brought into Harvard University as a citizen who wasn’t from this country?” he said.
Birtherism was the crucible and the template for Trump’s Presidential campaign. It foreshadowed so many of its hallmarks: dog-whistle racism, the brazen spreading of thoroughly disproven allegations, the just sayin’ tone in which Trump smears people. Advancing birtherism in the guise of political analysis is a firing offense. But then there have been so many already. Earlier this summer, Politico reported that the publisher HarperCollins was backing away from a $1.2 million offer to Lewandowski to write a book about his time on the campaign, “Let Trump Be Trump.” According to Politico, the publisher had decided that Lewandowski’s non-disclosure agreement would prevent him from producing anything valuable enough. Too bad CNN didn’t reach a similar conclusion.
Florida vs. Women and Zika — Nina Liss-Schultz in Mother Jones.
Last week, Florida authorities reported the first cases of local Zika transmission, which means that Zika-infected mosquitos are now in the continental United States. The cases prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to warn pregnant women against traveling to the part of Miami where the cases were found, the first advisory of its kind in the United States.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who’s been preparing for this situation for months, issued a similar message: “For women who live or work in the impacted area and are either pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, I urge you to contact your OB-GYN for guidance and to receive a Zika prevention kit.”
In June, after congressional squabbles blocked federal funding for Zika prevention and response, the Republican governor announced that he’d allocated more than $26 million in state funds, part of which would pay for CDC Zika prevention kits that consist of two kinds of mosquito repellent, tablets that kill mosquitos in water, and condoms. In late July, Scott said his office and the state Department of Health were coordinating door-to-door educational outreach in the areas of concern and working “with OB-GYNs and organizations that serve pregnant women in the impacted area to distribute Zika prevention kits to pregnant women.”
But it’s unclear whether those plans have become reality. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health wrote in an email to Mother Jones that prevention kits are available for pregnant women at OB-GYN offices, but did not specify how they were being distributed or where.
“We haven’t heard about any kits,” says Laura Goodhue, a vice president at Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida. Planned Parenthood hasn’t received any Zika kits from the Florida Department of Health, nor has it received any guidance from the department about how to serve pregnant women during a possible outbreak.
How ready is the state—where almost two-thirds of pregnancies are unintended and the state government has attempted to block state funding for reproductive health clinics—to take on Zika?
Here’s the backstory: The virus, which has spread through many parts of Latin America as well as Puerto Rico, is mostly benign for adults and causes mild flu-like symptoms. But it can cause microcephaly in fetuses, a severe and debilitating birth defect, the presence of which has ignited concerns over a global public health crisis. In March, the CDC told pregnant women to avoid traveling to Zika-infected areas in Latin America. And authorities in the region, where abortion is severely restricted and contraception is often hard to come by, took the unprecedented step of asking women to hold off on having children for as long as two years.
Florida’s recent cases of Zika weren’t the state’s first. By late July, nearly 400 cases had been reported over a period of several months, including 55 involving pregnant women. But they were all travel related, meaning someone brought the virus back from a Zika-infected region outside the United States.
The confirmation that four cases of locally transmitted Zika had been reported in a neighborhood in Miami means that mosquitos carrying the virus are now in the area. The number of confirmed cases grew to 15 in a matter of days, prompting the CDC to issue its warning. Those cases are a big deal because scientists warn that infected mosquitos are necessary for the virus to really spread. (Scientists still say, however, that we should not expect a widespread Zika epidemic in the United States.)
A big part of the defense against infection for women in Florida appears to be the Zika prevention kits and OB-GYN outreach, but the Scott administration’s strategy is unclear. The Planned Parenthood affiliate operates three clinics in Miami-Dade County, which has the fourth-highest uninsured rate in the country, and another just over the border in Broward County. The women’s health care organization serves tens of thousands of people per year, many of whom are low-income and without insurance—and more likely to get pregnant by accident. As Laura Goodhue notes, they have not received a single kit.
A spokesperson for Today’s Women Medical Centers, which offers family planning, prenatal, and abortion services, also said her clinic has not heard from Gov. Scott’s office or the state Department of Health about what help to offer women facing Zika. They also do not have CDC Zika prevention kits.
Goodhue says Scott’s efforts to curtail reproductive health clinics in Florida has damaged his efforts for Zika prevention. Most recently, Scott signed a bill that would block state funding for many reproductive health clinics, including Planned Parenthood and Today’s Women Medical Centers. Planned Parenthood sued the state, and the law is not currently being enforced, but, Goodhue says, Scott “has placed barriers on affordable health care, birth control, and contraception.”
So far, the Florida Department of Health has confirmed one case of microcephaly in an infant whose mother contracted Zika while in Haiti. There are no cases of currently pregnant women with microcephaly diagnoses. But if there were, her options would be limited: the state restricts public insurance coverage for abortion, and prevents health insurance providers on the Obamacare exchange from covering abortion, with no exception for fetal anomaly. There is also a ban on abortion after 24 weeks.
Jeri Bustamante, a spokeswoman for Scott, wouldn’t comment on whether Scott’s efforts to block funding for reproductive health clinics might be undermining his fight against Zika, but she did point out that the Department of Health is now testing pregnant women for Zika at no cost, and that, for now, the virus is contained to a small neighborhood in Miami. “We want to emphasize it is just within one square mile,” she said.
How to Watch the Rio Olympics — David Sims at The Atlantic has a viewers guide.
Watching the Olympics is a multimedia experience that should be perfectly suited to the age of TV streaming. Want to catch a volleyball game without missing that day’s individual dressage? For the most part you can: Viewers are no longer shackled to time-delayed primetime broadcasts for the events they want to watch. Indeed, watching the 2016 Rio Games, which begin with the Opening Ceremony at 7:30 p.m. on Friday August 5, will be easier than ever thanks to NBC’s blanket approach to airing thousands of hours of events both on cable and online. Unfortunately, the best viewing experience will mostly entail a cable subscription, but there are a few other ways to watch in the U.S. without shelling out too many extra dollars.
NBC will broadcast the Olympics …
The network paid the dear price of $1.2 billion to secure broadcasting rights for the Rio Games. After the opening ceremony on Friday, the network will air prime-time Olympic coverage for the entire two weeks of the Games. Viewers can catch up on the day’s biggest highlights from 8 p.m. to midnight every day, presented by hosts including Bob Costas, Ryan Seacrest, Al Michaels, Rebecca Lowe, and Dan Patrick. The channel will also air live coverage for most of the day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., until the Games end on August 21.
The main NBC broadcast will feature the biggest events: Swimming, gymnastics, diving, beach volleyball, and anything else the United States excels at, but it should dip into all of the most newsworthy events as they play out. Unlike the Summer Games of the recent past (which took place in Sydney, Athens, Beijing, and London), the games in Rio will be easier for American viewers to keep track of during the day, because the city’s time zone is only one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
… But other cable channels are airing events too
If NBC isn’t airing anything of interest, there are many other cable channels that are part of the NBCUniversal umbrella. NBC Sports will be the primary backup network, focusing on basketball and soccer. The Golf Channel will, unsurprisingly, be the home of golf, which is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904. Bravo will feature tennis; CNBC has a number of events including volleyball, cycling, and wrestling; MSNBC counts rugby and water polo among its sports; Telemundo will broadcast hundreds of hours in Spanish; and USA will carry more basketball, along with beach volleyball, rowing, synchronized swimming, and more.
Cord-cutters might have a tricky time of it
Beyond that, the NBC Sports app and NBCOlympics.com will stream some 4,500 hours of events that don’t make it to TV, but you’ll need a cable login to view anything for more than 30 minutes. NBC has also been smart enough to respond to criticisms of its past Olympic coverage by further expanding the viewing options online. Still, in an era of binge-watchers and cord-cutters, the Olympics are the kind of live event that the network will try to milk for every possible dollar, younger viewers be damned.
NBC’s approach is emblematic of the new path major networks have to chart in an era where ratings are more diluted than ever. No longer can it rely on its regular prime-time hits to generate ad revenue—most of the younger generation is happy to wait for it to appear on Hulu or Netflix months later, ready for binge-watching. The Olympics have been viewed for years as a prestige event, a gaudy laurel for NBC that couldn’t possibly justify the immense cost needed to secure the broadcast rights, though that has begun to change.
But there are work-aroundsInternet-only viewers can subscribe to NBC’s cable channels through PlayStation Vue, which is available on PlayStations, Roku boxes, and Amazon Fire TV, for between $30 and $40 a month. Apple TV users can also get access to some of the channels—NBC, NBC Sports, MSNBC, CNBC, USA, and Bravo—through Sling TV, a $25-a-month TV streaming service available as an app.
What about 2020?
This year, NBC agreed to pay a staggering $7.75 billion for the rights to future Olympics through 2032. Back in 2010, the network was judged to have vastly overpaid for the Sochi Winter Games, losing hundreds of millions because of the steep price paid to broadcast them. But live events like the Olympics are increasingly the kind of coveted property that advertising executives know viewers will actually tune into, rather than relying on their DVRs so they can skip through the commercials.
The network had assumed it would lose $200 million on the 2012 London Games; it ended up breaking even, because of higher-than-expected ratings. The seemingly vast overpay for the Olympics through 2032 is a bet on the future of TV, where live events will be the main purpose of broadcasting. That’s why Comcast, the cable company that now owns NBCUniversal, is rolling out a new set-top box that will offer access to real-time high-definition Olympic streams as well as regular cable programming. The 2016 Games might be a risky proposition for the government of Brazil and the athletes attending, but they may well prove a safer bet than expected for NBC.