Wednesday, January 31, 2018

And Newsweek Goes Kersplat

Back in 2012, Newsweek magazine discontinued its print edition after some 80 years, in favor of an online-only version, deciding that the magazine could no longer turn a profit by publishing a printed copy.  An ownership change or two later, the print edition returned in 2014, but the "magazine", such as it is, had been struggling for decades and still is.  We start to understand why.

This is, as we know, the same Newsweek that declined to publish the story its own reporter had broken about the affair between Bill Clinton and his much-younger intern, Monica Lewinsky.  It is pretty bad when you publish fake news stories, as the media are wont to do these days, but it is just awful when you have the scandal of the decade in your own hands, broken by your own reporter, but just bury the story to protect ... well, I don't know what the purpose of that was.

So I happened to have been scrolling through a news feed from somewhere -- might have been Yahoo for some reason -- when I came across this link to a Newsweek story.  Now, for those of you who have an aversion to following links to Newsweek stories (and I don't blame you), here is the gist of the story.

Guy Fieri, the spiky-haired celebrity chef and restaurateur with a number of TV shows to his credit, apparently was closing a restaurant of his in Times Square in New York.  That might not have been news and, I suppose, it really isn't anyway, except that apparently the building that his restaurant was located in happened to be owned by the real estate company of Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and the husband of Ivanka Trump.

I know what you're saying.  "It still doesn't sound like news" ... and you're absolutely right.

That, of course, doesn't faze Newsweek.  They picked up a story that had actually been first written by the Washington Post in regard to the closing, and made words out of it, enough to be able to make a ... well, it wasn't a story, so I'll call it a "piece" for convenience.  Apparently the $17 million a year that the piece said Fieri was grossing on the restaurant, "Guy's American Kitchen and Bar", was not enough to pay the bills.  That included the $1.8 million rent on the Times Square location paid to the Kushner Company.

I kept reading through the piece to decipher what the actual news was.  About a third of the way through though, I figured that the ulterior motive was to make Jared Kushner look bad -- it was Newsweek, after all -- and then it started to make sense.

We were supposed to read that, and decide that the Kushner Company was charging exorbitant rent, and that's why poor Guy Fieri couldn't make a go of it.  Curiously, the piece seemed to have a real good line on Fieri's finances, because it pointed out that he would have needed to have grossed $30 million to make a profit on the location.  That, of course, defeats the purpose of the story, since even if the rent were free, simple arithmetic tells us that Fieri was still more than $11 million short in revenues to have made it work.

I read the piece yesterday morning but, curiously, when I went back to the Newsweek site to quote it properly in the afternoon while writing this, it had been nominally removed; a search of the site for "Fieri" came back with "You are not authorized to view this page."  Remember that three hours earlier it was apparently so important to Yahoo that it was sitting tight at the top of their stories.

I then went back and searched on "Kushner" on the site.  I wasn't allowed to view anything on Guy Fieri, apparently, but I found more stories on Jared Kushner than you can shake a stick at.  The Fieri restaurant story was not there, but the rest of the breathless Kushner news included:

- "Jared Kushner is a woman" (Serious.  Not making that up.)
- "Jared Kushner speaks in public, and here's what his voice sounds like"
- "Jared Kushner's high school is making students write letters of appreciation to Donald Trump"
- "Jared Kushner's NYC buildings aren't entirely his"
- "Jared Kushner's company cheated tenants out of cheap rent"

You may think I'm kidding.  Try it yourself; the above were five of the first eight linked stories that came up when I searched on "Kushner."

When I see a White House press conference or daily briefing, and I see the collected media types puffing themselves up to ask questions of the press secretary, and taking self-righteous tones when they speak of the media and refer to themselves as "journalists", well, I wonder.  I would like to ask them what they think now of a magazine that was common reading in the doctors' offices of my youth and early adulthoodth.

What, I'd like to ask, do they think of the "journalism" that entails creating stories out of things one could really not call "news", and then writing them in such a way as to cast an otherwise-benign public figure in the most villainous light possible.

Not long ago, I wrote about evaluating President Trump based on who his enemies were, and I mentioned the left and ISIS and a few others.  I mentioned the media among the enemies, and I certainly stand by that now.

Of course, we never laughed at the left and ISIS.  But if Newsweek has become this after all those years, and Newsweek is what the media have become, any serious journalist would have to think hard about staying in the business.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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