The White House revolving door spins, but don’t expect change

Call the maintenance man, the White House revolving door needs greasing again. Yesterday morning, President Trump made official his appointment of Bill Shine, the former Fox executive whose arrival as deputy chief of staff for communications had been imminent for days. Then, hours later, embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who had labored for months under a heavy weight of scandal, finally handed in his resignation. One in, one out.

Shine’s confirmation refocused attention on the president’s deepening symbiosis with Fox News. Fox ousted Shine last May as fallout from sexual harassment allegations against former network chairman Roger Ailes and star presenter Bill O’Reilly gathered pace. While Shine has always denied the allegations, several lawsuits allege that he covered for Ailes, in particular, while overseeing a broader, toxic culture of misogyny at the network. Former Fox presenter Gretchen Carlson, who sued Ailes in July 2016, tweeted her disappointment at Shine’s new role. Her attorney Nancy Erika Smith went further, referring to Trump as she told The Wrap that “Shine is the perfect person for the job of protecting a sexual abuser and liar.”

ICYMI: Headlines editors probably wish they could take back

As CNN’s Brian Stelter noted, Fox’s coverage of Shine’s appointment has been curiously muted, eliciting only a couple on-air mentions, and a brief web story yesterday. Shine does have a long-time friendship, however, with Trump booster Sean Hannity: Their families regularly dine together, and Hannity publicly defended Shine as the Ailes scandal blew back at him last spring. With Shine on the inside and Hannity (just about) on the outside, the Foxification of the administration’s communications strategy seems complete.

As Trump’s increasing courtship of Hannity has shown, the president’s trust may have shifted from inside loyalists to outside boosters. According to Politico, Trump considered several internal contenders for the brief vacated by Hope Hicks in February, including Mercedes Schlapp, a confidant of beleaguered Chief of Staff John Kelly. But Trump looked outside of his inner circle to reshape his message. While they’re very different people, Shine’s appointment recalls his ostentatious former Fox colleague, Anthony Scaramucci—a Trump-friendly outsider who came on board to blast the president’s message—more than it does Hicks, a low-key, longtime Trump loyalist.

The New York Times reported last summer that Trump was considering hiring Shine into a “behind-the-scenes role” focused on “producing and staging televised events.” With Shine finally in the room—and the White House communications team shrinking with the departure of Kelly Sadler and possible imminent departures of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Raj Shah—Trump’s presidency may be about to get even showier than it already is. At the end of Shine’s first day in post yesterday, the president hosted a typically bombastic rally in Great Falls, Montana, during which he blasted familiar foes like Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, and, of course, the news media, which he once again called “fake” and “really bad people.”

Sign up for CJR's daily email

The president attacking the press just days after a shooter killed five staffers at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, is the sort of outrage that has become numbingly routine under this administration. The same had applied to the many scandals of Pruitt, and so it was something of a jolt when he did finally step down yesterday. CJR Editor and Publisher Kyle Pope tweeted afterward that Pruitt’s ouster “shows that facts, eventually and even in this administration, do matter.” Shine, who enters the White House under a cloud of scandal himself, would do well to note those words—even if, for now, we can expect him to let Trump carry on being Trump.

Below, more on another revolving-door day at the White House:

  • Blue-collar credentials: The New York Times’s Daniel Victor profiles the new man in charge of the White House comms shop. “Mr. Shine was seen as representing the network’s typical working-class viewer: An Irish-Catholic, the son of a police officer, he commuted two hours each morning from Long Island to Midtown Manhattan on a train filled with construction workers,” Victor writes. “He was said to be known less for expressing strong political views and more for suggesting stories about issues popular with viewers, like the gas tax.”
  • Bipartisan opposition: Prior to Shine’s appointment, prominent conservative activist and Trump supporter Larry Klayman laid into the former Fox executive in an interview with The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove. “The president does not need unnecessary controversy at this time,” Klayman said. “I don’t want to see the ghost of Roger Ailes running the White House communications operation.”
  • No smoke without fire and fury: Mother Jones’s David Corn remembers his interactions with Shine from his days as a Fox contributor, including one instance where Shine told producers to train cameras on smoke billowing from a St. Louis electrical fire. When Corn asked Shine why he wanted to stick with the boring footage, Shine replied: “People will sit on their couches and watch a live shot of a fire for hours and hours. They will not switch the channel. Flames are the best. But smoke is the next best thing. We have smoke. We stick with smoke.”
  • “What Hope Hicks learned in Washington”: ICYMI in February, this Olivia Nuzzi profile of Shine’s predecessor, Hope Hicks, is still well worth a read. After publishing it in New York magazine, Nuzzi spoke with CJR about her reporting.
  • Tipping point, reached: Fox’s John Roberts got hold of Pruitt’s resignation letter, which took aim at “unrelenting….unprecedented” media attacks. (Before Pruitt stepped down yesterday, I wrote that if reports of his imminent demise were true, “This is no time for triumphalism. While Pruitt is uniquely corrupt in Washington, his successor will likely be no better for the planet.”)

Other notable stories

  • The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi asks whether the Koch brothers—who put together a secretive super-network of right-wing donors and whose company has publicly attacked journalists over critical coverage—are pivoting to become champions of free speech. The Charles Koch Foundation, in particular, has recently given money to media players like the Post, the American Society of News Editors, and the Poynter Institute. As Christopher D. Cook reported for CJR in January, that’s ignited criticism of some of the outlets that benefitted.
  • The Post also reports on a new study by three researchers who took a troubling deep-dive into the education portion of Forbes’s annual “30 under 30” list. Winning, the researchers claim, “has less to do with training or experience in education and everything to do with being connected to the judges and their respective, and likewise connected, organizations seeking to deregulate and privatize schooling in the United States.”
  • For CJR, Elon Green talked with Connie Walker about her true crime podcast Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo, which follows an Indigenous Canadian child who disappeared in the 1970s.
  • CNN’s Brooke Baldwin and James Masters report on the underrepresentation and harassment of female journalists at this summer’s World Cup in Russia, including the on-air groping of Deutsche Welle broadcaster Julieth González Therán. “Of the 16,000 journalists accredited to cover the World Cup in Russia, just 14 percent are women, according to FIFA, the tournament organizer,” Masters writes. “And for some of those women working in the media at the World Cup, the past couple of weeks have been a challenging experience with reports of sexual assault, harassment and online vitriol being directed at them.”
  • And the former MSNBC and talk radio host Ed Schultz died yesterday at the age of 64. In a 2013 profile for CJR, Michael Meyer wrote of Schultz’s “talent for taking embattled positions that, after much sweating and shouting, become ideal vehicles for his carefully cultivated image as the one liberal loud and mean enough to stand up for the working man.”

ICYMI: The never-ending Pruitt beat reaches “a tipping point”

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.