The Media Today

The media today: Emma González goes silent, and Stormy Daniels speaks

March 26, 2018

In the days after 17 people were killed at Stoneman Douglas High School, there was an expectation that the horror would captivate coverage, then fade away, as we had seen so many times before. The morning after the shooting, I wrote about the “now-familiar pattern” of media coverage, and was pessimistic that this time would be any different than previous events that had shocked the country, only to slip from the national conversation. But this time, something is different.

Led by media-savvy students from Parkland who refuse to let the moment pass, hundreds of thousands marched against gun violence, giving voice to a nascent movement sparked by the February 14 shooting. But it was the silence of Stoneman Douglas student Emma González that captivated media attention. González, who has become one of the leading figures in the movement, recited the names of those killed, then stood in silence for several minutes, with tears welling in her eyes. She continued: “Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it’s someone else’s job.”

The marches, in Washington, DC, and around the country, dominated television coverage and Sunday’s front pages. Serious gun control legislations still seems like a long shot, but the focus of young people has kept the story in the spotlight and their voices show no signs of being silenced.

ICYMI: “Jared Kushner literally called Secret Service on me because I said no when he asked me to delete a recording of him”

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Below, more on the coverage of Saturday’s marches.

  • An iconic moment: “The absence of language, the extended pause for contemplation, remains a rare thing in public discourse, and even rarer onstage,” wrote The Washington Post’s Peter Marks of Gonzáles’s iconic moment. “We were left with the image of a young, grieving woman, drawing our attention not to herself but to something more abstract: to time—the amount it took for a killer to mow down her classmates and teachers.”
  • A truly national moment: BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen crowd-sourced images from around the country, focusing on marches that didn’t receive much national media attention. People responded with pictures from Walla Walla, Washington, to Plattsburgh, New York, and dozens of cities in between.
  • Beyond Florida: The Parkland teens have taken pains to draw attention to gun violence that affects minority communities. On Saturday, 11-year old Naomi Wadler from Alexandria, Virginia spoke at the rally in DC, saying, “I am here to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.” 


Stormy speaks

Sunday evening brought attention back to another story that seemingly won’t go away. It has been two months since The Wall Street Journal first reported that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer made a $130,000 payout to pornographic film star Stormy Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 campaign. Follow-up reporting on the non-disclosure agreement Daniels signed and the alleged affair she and Trump engaged in more than a decade ago has continued to dribble out over the past several weeks. On 60 Minutes, Daniels spoke in public for the first time.

ICYMI: Fox News lawsuit: What you need to know

Viewers tuning in for Daniels’s highly anticipated interview were treated to the final minutes of a thrilling NCAA Tournament game (Duke lost, so at least the evening started on a note that could bring everyone together). Once the show finally began, Anderson Cooper began by pressing Daniels over her motivation for going public. He faced a difficult task: keeping the interview focused on the newsworthiness of Daniels story, while not drifting too far into tabloid fare. Early reviews of his performance from journalists were positive.

While the conversation did delve into some of the sexual details of Trump’s alleged affair, the real news came from Daniels’s claim that she had been threatened by an unknown man shortly after first going public with her story in 2011. Cooper also focused on the payoff made by Trump’s personal attorney in the closing days of the 2016 campaign, raising questions about whether it violated campaign-finance laws.

Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti have skillfully kept this story in the news, with Avenatti doling out new tidbits of information and hints that there’s more to come in a series of television interviews. In an online companion piece to the interview, Cooper told 60 Minutes, “I think there’s more to come on this story. I’m not saying necessarily on Stormy Daniels’ aspect of the story, but on the methods that were used to keep her silent.”

Some responses to the interview were that it revealed nothing new, and therefore failed to live up to the hype. If that’s true, and talk of alleged intimidation and details of a payout that may have violated the law aren’t serious news, then that says more about what we’ve grown accustomed to during the Trump administration than it does about the merits of the story itself.

RELATED: How the non-disclosure agreement became a tool for powerful people to stymie journalists from informing the public

Below, more on the interview and the story that Trump hopes will go away.

  • No tweets: Trump has remained silent on the story so far, but you have to imagine that he was watching last night.
  • Sullivan’s take: The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan gets to the heart of why the story matters: “The Stormy Daniels story is certainly about sex but it’s also—and more importantly—about financial and emotional intimidation.”
  • A unique media moment: The embargo for reporting on the 60 Minutes interview lifted at 7pm Eastern time, but because CBS was carrying the college basketball game, the start of the show was delayed. That meant other outlets could post their stories and discuss the contents of the conversation before it actually aired. It left news consumers in the strange position of reading pieces analyzing the interview, like this one by The New York Times’s Jim Rutenberg, before they could see it for themselves.


Other notable stories

  • CJR’s “Behind the Story” series is one of my favorite recurring features, and Elon Green’s look at Olivia Nuzzi’s recent profile of Hope Hicks might be the best of the bunch. Nuzzi opens up about her struggle to get to the heart of the notoriously press-shy communications director, and provides insight into the frustrations of covering an administration in which it’s hard to know who to believe.
  • The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi tackles a troubling pattern in White House reporting. Reporters will publish a scoop, it will be shot down forcefully by the administration, and then, sometimes only hours later, the story will prove to be true. “This happens often enough that reporters have learned that we can’t trust the denials,” The New York Times’s Peter Baker tells Farhi. “It doesn’t help anyone when reporters have to assume that what the White House tells us may not be true or that a White House statement will prove inoperative just days or even hours later.”
  • For CJR, the Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Editor Joel Simon writes about promising press freedom rhetoric from Ecuador’s new president Lenin Moreno. But after years of crackdowns under Moreno’s predecessor, Simon says that the hard work of legal reform has only just begun.
  • For Politico, Adam Willis profiles Matt Jones, the outspoken Kentucky sports radio host who plans to oppose Mitch McConnell if the Senate majority leader decides to run for reelection in 2020.
  • “The past week has offered a case study in how race shapes empathy and blame,” writes Slate’s Jamelle Bouie in his look at how white killers receive more sympathy than black victims. “To be white, male, and suspected of a serious crime is, in the eyes of police and much of the media, to still be a full individual entitled to respect and dignity,” Bouie writes. “To be black (or to be Muslim or undocumented) is to lose that nuance, even if you’re the victim.”

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.