Who Do You Trust?
As Paul Pelosi bodycam footage is released, we see reasons to be skeptical of the police, and the press
January 29, 2023
Dateline: The day it became Kelce vs. Kelce in the Super Bowl
Watching this week…
— Trusting press, and police, and the Pelosi bodycam footage
— Bezos and the Billionaire Conundrum
— How Did This Get Published?: Daily Beast’s anti-Silver screed
— Flyover bias, Amazon’s media plans: Fourth Watch Pod with Joe Flint
— Great Moments in Doomsday Clock Journalism
Paul Pelosi bodycam footage shows the need to be skeptical of police, and press
On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police released a statement about a “medical incident during police interaction.” “Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress,” said the statement about the “incident.” This incident turned out to be the killing of George Floyd — an incident we know far more about because of the citizen journalism of Darnella Frazier, whose video showed the truth in excruciating detail.
This weekend all cable news outlets were focused on the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, as police released the bodycam footage from his arrest and beating on Friday night. The officers in that “incident” have already been charged with murder, but the original tweet about the interaction from January 8 of this year had Memphis police describing it this way: “While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however the suspect was ultimately apprehended. Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene.” This spin is outrageous, considering what we know now about what happened — but it also, sadly, shouldn’t necessarily be surprising.
This doesn’t have to do with race, it has to do with power. And police departments are a powerful part of our society that is incentivized to do whatever it can to retain that power. It’s of course far more pervasive of a problem than just the police. Matt Taibbi lays out this week in forensic detail the case of former FBI agent Clint Watts, who successfully spun the media during the Trump years about the Russian disinformation and “bots” story. It’s a must-read to see how our intel agencies collude with our corporate press to spin a narrative that benefits one particular consensus opinion. In an environment like this — boosted by social media, like Twitter — once you get the ball rolling, even the occasional solid journalism about the reality (like this from BuzzFeed in 2018) is powerless to shift the narrative and stop the misinformation snowball from picking up velocity and pervasiveness.
Which brings us to the Paul Pelosi story. The attack on former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband was back in the news on Friday, as the bodycam footage of the attack was released publicly, along with security camera footage, the 9-1-1 call, and other materials. This comes, as I wrote last newsletter, after several prominent news outlets sued the San Francisco Police Department. And it’s good they did, because we see now what the SFPD was really hiding — a truly horrifying hostage situation, then brutal attack, but also a particularly poor job at all levels in ending this incident before Pelosi got hurt.
The story instantly became fodder for conspiracy theories, for many reasons. But one in particular was the bizarre circumstances, and lack of details. It was an incomprehensible attack — how could this happen, in this particular way? And now we see how. It was a failure by many to stop it from happening.
And we also begin to see, perhaps, what led to an incredibly rare action by NBC News, to “expire” a Today show segment from its website hours after it aired. In November, Miguel Almaguer’s Today show report noted that Pelosi “did not immediately declare an emergency or try to leave his home” when police arrived, and “instead began walking several feet back into the foyer toward the assailant, and away from police.” Watch the entire now-deleted report by clicking the screenshot:
What I wrote at the time in Fourth Watch was that perhaps what happened was this Alamaguer report was getting the San Francisco police spin out there, justifying their lack of action when they got to the house (and, side note, I just realized my Mailchimp Fourth Watch links aren’t working, will try to get that corrected). That now seems obviously to be the case. The bodycam footage doesn’t show Pelosi walking “several feet” anywhere. He does appear to answer the door as they are both holding the hammer, and then he takes one step into the foyer and is attacked. This report is what the police want the public to believe.
Another example of this is the NBC Bay Area report which came out a week after the Today show reporting. It includes very similar details, and also San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins saying Pelosi “will one day need to explain…why he did what he did, and what thought process was going on in his mind,” as if Pelosi’s actions were worth questioning. It’s more spin by law enforcement to cover their faults.
We know from the 9-1-1 tape that the dispatcher failed to pick up on key signs there was serious trouble at the house. The dispatcher failed to relay any major concerns to the responding officers. The dispatcher, and the cops, didn’t pick up on the fact that this was freaking Nancy Pelosi’s house (even though Paul said so). The police showed up and did not immediately act to disarm the intruder. And taking it national, Capitol police failed to monitor security cameras outside the then-Speaker’s home.
There are still the oddities of the story. Why wasn’t a basic home security system on at 2 a.m., which would have gone off once the intruder began breaking the glass outside the home or entering through the back door, instantly alerting police the problem? And while Almaguer’s NBC report was flawed and clearly seemed to rely on a police source spinning a narrative, why was it deleted and Almaguer suspended for weeks? If reporting flawed information based on a biased source got you suspended, an Acela Media reporter would have been sidelined every week during the Trump Era.
Conspiracy theorists were wrong. But the knee-jerk journalistic instinct by some in the press to use the attack as an opening to further the “right-wing violence” talking point was wrong too. “Attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband follows years of GOP demonizing her,” published The Washington Post just days after the attack, with the sub-hed noting it was a “man with right-wing views” who attacked Pelosi. For many, this was the preferred narrative — especially in the week before a very important 2022 election.
Eventually the truth would come out. We’d see the bodycam footage, and hear the 9-1-1 call, thanks, yes, to the same media which seemed so disinterested in the more nuanced story at the time. Now the election is over, and the narrative has been ingrained. But it’s still good to know the truth. And we see another reason to be skeptical of the police, and the press. Who do you trust? In 2023, the answer is increasingly very few in power.
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The Billionaire Conundrum: Bezos and Washington Post might be headed for break-up
A theme of the rest of this newsletter is the dire state of the corporate media, which I touch on throughout the rest of the sections. The ad market is drying up, audience habits are shifting — it’s a tough time for pretty much every outlet. But The Washington Post is going through a particularly challenging time. There’s the tension with the publisher, Fred Ryan (detailed in an excellent Clare Malone New Yorker deep dive). But beyond Ryan, there’s the looming shadow of the billionaire benefactor, Jeff Bezos. Bezos recently paid a visit to the Post, which he purchased 10 years ago. He sat in an editorial meeting, where stories about his company, Amazon, were mentioned. It was awkward, to say the least.
And while Bezos has traditionally been hands off with the editorial direction of the Post, this exact moment feels like the one where the Billionaire Conundrum really becomes apparent. It’s great that Bezos “rescued” the paper — infusing it with cash when it needed it. But what really is Bezos’ endgame? It stands to reason the Post purchase was somewhere between an influence play, getting himself connected with the most powerful people which can benefit his core businesses, and a vanity project. He’s got the yachts, so why not a splashy media property? (This topic is covered extensively in my forthcoming book “Uncovered” — I think you’ll be particularly interested in Tucker Carlson’s take. You can pre-order here.)
But if that were purely the case, the financial viability of the business wouldn’t be so central to the mission. But clearly the financial outlook is playing a huge factor in the decisions that are being made there now. Charlotte Klein at Vanity Fair has been tracking the story, and lays out the uneasiness over Bezos’ recent visit. This as she reports on the dozens of jobs that were cut this week — handled in a way that drew the ire of the Post’s union, saying they were not “rooted in any coherent business plan.”
This comes as the New York Post reports Bezos is exploring selling the Post and buying the Washington Commanders football team instead (which Bezos denies). Still, it’s clear from the fact that cuts are even being made at the Post that Bezos is not content to simply let the media property be his pet project or his influence play. And then comes the conflicts of interest — which are everywhere, and growing. If he’s already unhappy with the financial prospects of the paper, what will he do once his own reporters start digging into the actual Bezos businesses?
When their billionaire owners are off in Europe on their superyacht, life is good for media outlets. But when they’re in the newsroom, seemingly unhappy with the financial viability of the property? That’s when life gets very complicated. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” was the Post slogan started during the Bezos Era. How does journalism die?
Flyover bias, Amazon’s media strategy: Fourth Watch Podcast with WSJ’s Joe Flint
After a far-too-long hiatus, The Fourth Watch Podcast returned this week with veteran Wall Street Journal media reporter Joe Flint (and will be back to its regular twice-per-month cadence). Flint’s Twitter bio sums up what makes him such a necessary member of the media: “Contrarian. Curmudgeon. Provocateur.” We talked about the state of the media industry in 2023, Amazon, Netflix, Disney, News Corp, "flyover bias," the craft of media reporting, "vibes journalism," and more.
You can download the audio podcast for free on Apple, on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Here’s a video clip from our conversation, about “flyover bias” and why a hit show like “Yellowstone” barely gets covered by the broader media. And what question got Flint giving an answer that included Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld… and former CNN host Brian Stelter? Watch here — and if you want to listen to the full conversation, including some bonus content, you can become a paid subscriber and here it at this link:
❓How Did This Get Published❓: Daily Beast’s Bizarre Anti-Nate Silver Screed
The corporate press across the board is in a perilous position as we enter 2023, and so it’s not surprising that ABC News would be among the many media outlets making cuts this year. It’s also not necessarily surprising that FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s analytics outfit, might be taking some hits from under the ABC umbrella. But The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright found one of the stranger ways to illustrate his “scoop” that ABC has put FiveThirtyEight “on the chopping block” when Silver’s contract is up this summer.
“Questions over FiveThirtyEight’s future come as Silver faces public criticism for his reliance on polls that inaccurately predicted a ‘red wave’ in the midterm elections,” writes Cartwright in the middle of his piece.
He then quotes a random “Democratic strategist and former ABC News producer” who says, “FiveThirtyEight was used by partisan sources to create a false impression of the election and that Nate was aware this was happening and by not addressing it he ended up contributing to misleading the American people about what was happening in the election,” and then describes this as an “existential threat” to 538. What?!
All polls (and aggregations and analyses of polls, like what 538 really is) were more favorable to the GOP in 2022 than the reality turned out to be, but of all the sources out there, Silver’s 538 was actually closest to reality. In his final election forecast, he gave only a 59% chance the GOP would take the Senate, which was far less of a chance than almost every other analysis gave it (and certainly all the useless pundits). Silver’s nuanced Twitter thread about it at the time makes it very clear that this criticism is completely ridiculous.
I’m not some Silver stan, but I do appreciate his rational take on everything from sports, to politics, to COVID. And I can’t help but think the irrational Silver hatred — which brings us bizarre pieces like this — stems from his heterodox COVID views from 2020 and 2021, which, of course, turned out to be totally true.
Cartwright’s scoop may be true, and Silver could be leaving ABC this year. But the rest of the unnecessary and fact-free color? The Daily Beast…how did this get published?!
WATCH IT… Comedian and former SNL cast member Leslie Jones was a guest on The View earlier this month, and it took a turn that I’m not sure anyone in the audience or on the panel was expecting. Responding to a question about almost quitting comedy from Sunny Hostin, Jones silenced the host by launching into an incredible story about overcoming adversity, never feeling sorry for yourself, and ending by literally yelling “Stop complaining about it…you’re not special!”
HEAR IT… It’s another year of me watching oh about one or two of the major Oscar-nominated movies. Going to try to fix that in the next month. But in the meantime, the best Oscars nominations conversation I heard was with Wesley Morris and Bill Simmons on Simmons’ podcast — it starts at an hour into this episode, and uses the nominations as a jumping off point to talk about the entire state of the film industry.
READ IT… Readers of this newsletter know my interest/obsession with golf. Well Max Homa is one of the most exciting up-and-coming golfers on the PGA Tour today, and happened to take down his sixth victory of his career yesterday. It’s good timing, because it comes as Homa gets the feature profile treatment in a fantastic piece in Golf Magazine by Dylan Dethier. Homa’s “regular guy” persona gets totally inverted in really interesting ways.
The Intercept has an important look at what appears to be Elon Musk censoring content on Twitter to appease India.
Great thread by Free Beacon’s Joe Simonson on how the press was itching to turn the recent shootings of Asian Americans into hate crimes before the truth was revealed.
CNN is making some changes to its new morning show already, moving the top producer off the program and over to primetime instead.
Big news for right-leaning TV network TheFirst TV, which is taking Newsmax’s slot on DirecTV (Fourth Watch originated under TheFirst before moving to Substack this year).
A must-read Tablet column by Jacob Siegel on the classified documents story, but more broadly, on why “secrecy is for losers.”
Here’s a very lengthy but intriguing column by Richard Hanania on why the corporate media is actually better than most critics from the right give it credit for (more of an argument for nuance, which I generally support).
⏪ REWIND // FAST FORWARD: Davos Man Edition ⏩
⏪ Davos happened recently. You probably missed it. Our elites are very concerned about the threat of disinformation. Not from them, of course. From you.
⏩ Former New York Times editor Jill Abramson summed the whole thing up well to Semafor editor Ben Smith: “It was — and is, a corrupt circle-jerk.”
As the classified documents story moves from Trump, to Biden, to Pence, to every prominent political figure from the past 30 years, the whole fiasco has taken on a new ridiculous quality. So what’s the lesson from this, as we look at the original Trump raid, and how the press treated that story as if it was the new Watergate? Semafor’s Benjy Sarlin tweeted, “The moral of the story (so far, investigations pending) seems to be this is extremely common and would have been a total nothingburger with Trump if not for the next 200 steps he took in response.” Ah, you see this is all Trump’s fault. I don’t think that’s the takeaway. The story was a nothingburger… until the corporate press and DC establishment inflated it into a story about threats to national security. More on the whole classified docs mess to come…
GREAT MOMENTS IN JOURNALISM
The Doomsday Clock is a strange little relic of a pre-Twitter universe, an inconsequential and arbitrary scare tactic by a group of scientists. It’s not supposed to be taken literally, as apparently this CNN headline and triple-bylined story seems to think it is…
Thanks for reading. Back in a few days with the next “Rabbit Hole” deep dive column…