COLUMN-MSNBC's book promotion machine, helping Dasani, and profiling Eric Schneiderman
(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)
By Steven Brill
Dec 24 (Reuters) - (This the latest installment of Steven Brill's weekly column, "Stories I'd Like to See.")
1. MSNBC's book promotion machine:
Lately it seems as if it must be written into MSNBC anchors' contracts that if he or she writes a book, no matter how related to current news, the anchor will get endless opportunities to promote it on the cable channel's air.
The most blatant example is "Hardball"'s Chris Matthews, who recently came out with "Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked" - about how the friendship between then-House Speaker Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan supposedly produced productive, bipartisan governing during the Reagan years.
Since Matthews' book was published in October (in fact, even in the weeks leading up to its publication) whenever there has been a story about Washington gridlock - which is just about always - MSNBC has used it as a pretext to feature Matthews on its various shows talking about how things were different in the good old O'Neill-Reagan days, when Matthews was O'Neill's chief of staff
Often, the connection between the day's news and the book - which I liked, but which the New York Times Sunday book review called "a nice idea for a book it only it were true" - is tenuous at best. So much so that it seems like there must be a quota of Matthews appearances that the channel is stretching to hit.
Worse, Matthews uses his own show to promote the book at every turn, sometimes simply urging people as he sign off of "Hardball" to be sure to buy it for Christmas. And, for good measure he often throws in a pitch for another book he wrote two years ago, a biography of John F. Kennedy.
Reporters covering cable news ought to ask MSNBC about all this. Are there, in fact, promises made, contractual or otherwise, to promote its anchors' books? Are there any limits imposed on the flacking? Is MSNBC's hype typical of cable news, or extreme?
Imagine if the New York Times allowed its news or even its opinion pages to be used this way. 2. The rules for helping Dasani and her family:
In the wake of Andrea Elliott's exhaustive, haunting five-part New York Times series on the plight of the homeless twelve-year-old, Dasani, and her family, the Times has directed readers who want to help Dasani to a trust fund established by the Legal Aid Society.
According to its website, the fund is meant to "assist Dasani and her family."
But perhaps the most wrenching aspect of Elliott's reporting is the connection between Dasani and her parents, who seem to be perpetually unemployed and unable and even unwilling to seek honest work. So, it's obviously a good idea that donations are going to a trust rather than directly to the family. But it also raises the question of how the trust will work, including who will be in charge and under what circumstances the money will go to Dasani's parents.
That's worth a careful follow up by Elliott, or perhaps a reporter not so involved in the story and the people to whom Elliott introduced us. It would also be a window into the larger issue of how to help kids who, as with Dasani, are tied emotionally to parents who seem to be the problem rather than the solution. 3. Trump and Schneiderman:
Last September I wrote about the $40 million suit that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had brought against Donald Trump, accusing Trump of engaging in "persistent fraud, illegal and deceptive conduct" in running an unlicensed school for aspiring real estate moguls.
It's time for a story looking into what, if anything, has come to light so far in the depositions that have been conducted and the documents that may have been subpoenaed in the run-up to a trial.
Trump dismissed the suit when it was filed in late August as the frivolous gambit of an ambitious politician, while Schneiderman insisted that he brought the case on behalf of Trump University's more than 5,000 students because the school had "promised to teach Donald Trump's real estate investing techniques to consumers nationwide but instead misled consumers into paying for a series of expensive courses that did not deliver on their promises."
Can we get any sense so far of what the evidence suggests about who's right? Or has Trump been stalling on discovery while his lawyers try to work out a settlement?
Speaking of Schneiderman, he has been all over the headlines this year, not only with this suit, but with lead roles in the litigation against the big banks for deceiving investors prior to the financial meltdown. He's also gone after Medicaid fraud and nailed the giant textbook division of Pearson for using a supposedly non-profit foundation to fund junkets for educators who make decisions on buying textbooks.
And just last week Schneiderman quickly jumped into the compromising of data related to credit cards used by Target customers by getting the retailer to agree to provide free credit monitoring services to its New York customers, whereupon he issued a press release trumpeting the deal.
New York's last two state attorney generals - Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo - used the same activism as a springboard to bigger things. Schneiderman, who was elected three years ago, seems well launched on that path, though he seems to be doing it with a less strident PR approach than his two predecessors.
He's worth a profile. (Steven Brill)
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