Fager fired; what his text said; fallout at CBS; Armstrong out; Medium's new columnists; Apple Day; Kenya Barris speaks

Exec summary: What a day in the media biz. Seismic news at CBS News, layoffs at Meredith, and much more. Plus, scroll down for my impressions from Apple HQ...

Another ouster at CBS

Jeff Fager's tenure as the powerful E.P. of "60 Minutes" appeared to be over as soon as Ronan Farrow's first article about CBS came out in July. But Fager held on for more than a month, in part because Les Moonves held on too. And when Fager was fired on Wednesday, the official reason was a violation of "company policy," not the accusations of unwanted touching and other inappropriate conduct.

It's after midnight ET, and I'm still hearing from sources who are abuzz about this news. This episode has exacerbated the longstanding tensions between "60" and the rest of the news division. Let's unpack all of that, but first...

The threatening text message

Moonves was Fager's "protector," in the words of multiple insiders. So this outcome seemed even likelier after Moonves stepped down on Sunday. But the investigations into alleged misconduct -- which Fager has staunchly denied -- are still underway. So CBS News prez David Rhodes said in his Wednesday afternoon memo that "this action today is not directly related to the allegations."

Instead, the official reason was a text message that Fager sent to Jericka Duncan, one of the CBS reporters who has been covering the fallout from Farrow's stories. The text gave Rhodes an opening to take action.

At first, we didn't know what the text said. Fager, in an eye-popping statement just before 2pm, spun it as a demand "that she be fair in covering the story." He admitted his language was "harsh" but said it happens all the time.

At 6:30, Duncan shared the text on the "CBS Evening News." It became clear that Fager wasn't just insisting on fair coverage -- he was threatening her. 

"Be careful," he wrote. "There are people who lost their jobs trying to harm me."

There's no defense for a message like that, sent to a reporter -- at your own news organization! -- who's just trying to do her job.

Concern inside "60"

The "Evening News" report changed some peoples' minds. Up until 6:30, I was hearing about lots of support for Fager within "60," and lots of anger directed at Rhodes. Fager didn't get to say goodbye to his staff. When Rhodes met with the "60 team," it was confrontational, "bordering on hostile," an attendee said. The reporters and producers are fiercely protective of the newsmagazine. Fager is only the second E.P. in its history. So they are understandably worried about its future.

According to the NYT, "more than 60" staffers from "60," "including the building's security guard," joined Fager for drinks at P. J. Clarke's in the afternoon. "People were teary-eyed as they showered Mr. Fager with praise and hugs. Several said they were concerned that '60 Minutes' could be dismantled under new leadership."

But after the "be careful" text was revealed, some -- not all, but some -- sentiments shifted. "60" correspondent Steve Kroft told the NYT, "The text to Jericka Duncan was threatening and inappropriate. It's unfortunate, and everything about this situation saddens me."

If you haven't watched the "Evening News" report...

Take a look. You might be able to feel the tension. Via Twitter, here's Duncan's package and her tag. In the piece, there's even video of Rhodes declining to comment to CBS's crew. At the end of Duncan's report, Jeff Glor said to her, "That message was unacceptable. I think it's important for you to know...that the entire team at Evening News supports you 100%."

Now what?

Rhodes' memo said that Fager's longtime No. 2, Bill Owens, will manage the "60" team while a search is underway "for a new executive producer of the program." Rhodes said acting CEO, Joe Ianniello "is in full support of this decision and the transition to come." The newsmag's season premiere is on September 30...

 >> Joe Pompeo's latest for VF: "Gossip has already moved to his successor." Pompeo and I have both heard Susan Zirinsky's name come up...

New must-read in the NYT

James B. Stewart has a bombshell story about Moonves in Thursday's NYT. He details what happened at the CBS board level... and reveals that Moonves tried to keep one of his accusers quiet by trying to find a job for her.

"In the end, it was the evidence that Mr. Moonves had misled his board -- even more than the allegations of abuse from multiple women -- that doomed him," Stewart reports...

Linda's column

Brian Lowry emails: "Designing Women" creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason had a contentious relationship with Moonves when he took over CBS, and she used the occasion of his ouster to do a bit of score-settling, penning a Hollywood Reporter guest column where she, among other things, compared him to Charles Manson. This isn't the first public airing, it's worth noting, of the acrimony between Moonves and the Thomasons; indeed, reports surfaced in 2001 that President Clinton contacted the then-CBS chief asking him to "be nice" to the couple, who were longtime friends of his from Arkansas and produced the famous "Man From Hope" campaign video. Read on...

Tim Armstrong out at Oath

"Our enthusiasm for Oath's potential has never been greater," Verizon chairman Lowell McAdam said Wednesday. But that's hard to believe on the day when CEO Tim Armstrong's departure was announced. 

Oath COO K. Guru Gowrappan "will take over as CEO on October 1," Jill Disis reports. "Armstrong will stay on as an adviser until the end of the year."

 --> As The Information Martin Peers wrote Wednesday evening, "It's easy to see Verizon disposing of Oath at some point in the future. More interesting now is what Armstrong does next..."

Jacob Weisberg out at Slate

After 22 years at Slate, Jacob Weisberg says he's leaving to "launch a new audio company with Malcolm Gladwell." Weisberg announced the move via Twitter on Wednesday. He's been the chairman and EIC of the Slate Group for a decade.

WHAT HE'S DOING NEXT: "The new audio venture, which doesn't have a name yet, will be funded by Mr. Gladwell and Mr. Weisberg at the outset. It will focus on creating new podcasts, audiobooks and short-form audio content," Jaclyn Peiser reports. Gladwell has been doing a pod called "Revisionist History," and it will move over to the new company...

WHAT'S CHANGING AT SLATE: There's no change in strategy. Slate leadership will now report directly to Graham Holdings. Slate's president Dan Check is now interim CEO. But there is a big change at Slate's sister company Panoply: It's getting "out of the content business," as Nicholas Quah reports here...



Two new columnists at Medium

Medium is adding columnists, and on Thursday the site is adding two big names: Jessica Valenti and Douglas Rushkoff. Both of them will be writing exclusively for Medium.

Medium says Valenti will be "focusing on feminism, culture, and politics..." Rushkoff "will be focusing on the intersection of tech and society..." Look out for Valenti's debut column on Thursday...
 -- "Magazine giant Meredith swung the ax again on Wednesday, lopping about 200 jobs and merging its Cooking Light title into EatingWell and chopping the frequency of Coastal Living to a newsstand-only quarterly..." (NYPost)

 -- MDC Partners CEO Scott Kauffman is stepping down... (AdAge)

 -- Anthony Crupi tweeted: "OK, so this is weird: Including the Thursday night NFL Kickoff Game and the two Monday Night Football telecasts, all seven Week 1 TV windows averaged 16.4 million viewers and a 9.4 HH rating, which is *exactly* what the averages were for Week 1 of the 2017 season."

Florence updates

Tom Kludt emails: The Weather Channel has air mattresses and bedding ready for its 18 crews of nearly 100 people. At the Star News of Wilmington, North Carolina, journalists are preparing to sleep in the newsroom at their "brick fortress" of an HQ. And the three nightly news anchors were all on the ground in the Carolinas on Wednesday night. Here's my look at the coverage preps...

Coverage notes and quotes

 -- Many of the biggest newspapers in the region have dropped their paywalls to provide unrestricted access during the storm...
 -- Battling a shoddy cell phone connection because you're in the storm zone? CNN is once again offering a text-only version of its top stories online…
 -- The cable newsers are adding extra hours of overnight and early morning coverage...

 -- The Weather Channel will be on the air 24/7 for "at least a week and likely longer," according to SVP Nora Zimmett...

Preparing to ride it out...

Tom Kludt adds: Tim Buckland, a political reporter at The Star News in Wilmington, told CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Wednesday that the paper has "several reporters who are going to hunker down in our building, at the Star News, which is a brick fortress that has no windows."

Katrice Hardy, the exec editor of the Greenville News, told me that her staff has been "booking hotels and then having to find new ones when they close so our reporters can stay on the ground along the Coast..."
By Julia Waldow:

 -- Big tech's move-fast-and-break-things ethos is getting an upgrade. When it comes to Silicon Valley CEOs, "boring is the new black," NYT's Farhad Manjoo proclaims... (NYT)

 -- The BBC is launching a weekly news program, "Cut Through the Noise," on Facebook Watch later this year. It will be the platform's first series from a non-U.S. publisher... (THR)

 -- The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Associated Press Media Editors (APME) are merging as the News Leaders Association... (ASNE)

 -- And speaking of the ASNE: Congrats to its newly elected members of the Board of Directors -- Nicole Carroll, Rick Christie, Audrey Cooper, Brian McGrory, and Anne Vasquez... (ASNE)

Today in Cupertino...


Wednesday's Apple event was evolutionary, not revolutionary. Some vets called it an "off" year, noting Apple's pattern of big iPhone changes every other year. But for an "off" year, there were still lots of headlines out of the Steve Jobs Theater. Three new iPhones, an upgraded watch, new health features... Details here...

 >> This was my first time at an Apple product launch event, so I enjoyed seeing how the company tries to seduce the press and VIPs in attendance. Each and every detail matters, right down to the mood music that's piped through speakers hidden in the grass. On the way out, Apple's armies of greeters ask questions like, "Did you enjoy it?" 

 >> Listening closely to the Apple execs on stage, I heard them urging us all not to take the power of these devices for granted, not to shrug off the technological achievements that we're all carrying around in our pockets. It's definitely easy to start taking this tech for granted, but Apple wants you to remember what you're paying for -- or, to put a finer point on it, WHY you're paying so much...

 >> I thought the most interesting announcement on stage was about the new heart monitoring tools in the Apple Watch. I wrote about it here... 

 >> This is what the demo room looks like an hour AFTER the event:

 -- Nielsen's board has expanded its "strategic review." Translation: The company might be sold soon... (B&C)

 -- Did you know Laura Ingraham's brother is running a Twitter account "dedicated to exposing his sister as a 'hypocrite?'" Max Tani interviewed him... (Beast)

 -- TVEyes is asking the Supreme Court to grant review of its ongoing legal battle with Fox News... (THR)

 -- The next step in Fox's rollout of its Fox Nation streaming service: A "talent roster..." (Fox)

 -- In the debut of his new weekly newsletter, Frank Bruni recalls the time POTUS told him, "I'm going to get you to write some good stuff about me..." (NYT)

 -- Gaslighting or master marketing? Read Josh Dawsey on Trump's tendency to "elevate a widely perceived failure or mistake and defend it as a great triumph while attacking his critics..."

 -- And read James Poniewozik on Trump's "pivot to video," his new Rose Garden web videos...


My podcast with Jamie Weinstein

Am I still surprised by President Trump's actions and behaviors? What's it like to work at CNN in the Trump age? What do I think of Sean Hannity, Greg Gutfeld, Matt Drudge, etc? I really got into it with Jamie Weinstein for the newest episode of his podcast. We drilled down deep... and you may find it interesting... The pod is up now on Apple and other services, and NRO has a landing page for it here...

"Fear" sales through the roof  

"Fear" is officially one of the top selling books of the year -- not just on the politics shelf of the bookstore, but in the entire store. Bob Woodward's publisher Simon & Schuster said Wednesday that more than 750,000 copies of "Fear" had been sold up through Tuesday, the first day it went on sale. The staggering figure included pre-orders, first day sales of the print copy, ebooks and audiobooks. President Jonathan Karp called it a "cultural phenomenon."

There are some big backlogs to get ahold of a hardcover copy. S&S is now on its ninth printing, so 1.15 million hardcover copies will eventually be printed.

 >> MORE: Barnes & Noble says "Fear" has had the "fastest sales for an adult title since Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman' was released in July 2015..."

Can Woodward beat Wolff?

"Fear" is still marching up Amazon's best sellers of 2018 list... On Wednesday it reached #3... But Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury" still holds first place. And "Fire" is going to be hard to beat. It has sold more than 2 million copies in all formats in the United States...

"Shekels?" Seriously?

On "Fox & Friends," Eric Trump made a strange comment about CNN's coverage of "Fear." Even though Woodward had not yet been on CNN to talk about the book, he said, "You can write some sensational nonsense book, CNN will definitely have you on because they love to trash the president, it'll mean you sell 3 extra books, you'll make 3 extra shekels at the behest of the American people." He misused the word "behest," but that's not the point here. Many commenters on social media called out Trump for the "shekels" dog whistle.

In the evening, when Woodward was on CNN, Anderson Cooper asked about it. "I just hope no one would talk like that, frankly," Woodward said. "It sets us back..."

Stephenson calls Netflix the "Walmart" of streaming

Jill Disis emails: AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says he feels "very good" about the company's chances as the DOJ appeals AT&T's takeover of Time Warner. Stephenson was quizzed about the case Wednesday at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference. He said his teams are "spending zero effort" thinking about the appeal, and he expects everything to wrap up sometime in January or February.

Stephenson's interview was wide-ranging. He outlined AT&T's plans to have HBO ramp up its production, but he also promised not to mess with the network's high-quality image, adding that he was "not talking about Netflix-like investments." In fact, he called Netflix the "Walmart" of on-demand streaming video. By contrast, he sees HBO as the "Tiffany..."

Must-read interview with Kenya Barris

In this interview with THR's Lacey Rose, Kenya Barris speaks for the first time about the Trump-related "Black-ish" episode that never aired. She says he's "careful never to utter the phrase 'censorship' as others throughout the industry do," but it's clear how awful the back-and-forth was. 

Barris also talks about his leap to Netflix -- his hopes, his fears, etc. "One of my fears at Netflix is that there are so many shows, so it's my job to make sure in that huge bundle we somehow find a way to be noisy," he says...

Henry Cavill out as Superman?

Chloe Melas and Sandra Gonzalez's latest: "Is Henry Cavill hanging up his Superman cape? THR reported Wednesday that Cavill will not be reprising his superhero role, citing unnamed sources. Warner Bros. released a statement shortly after the story's publication leaving Cavill's future in question. 'While no decisions have been made regarding any upcoming Superman films, we've always had great respect for and a great relationship with Henry Cavill, and that remains unchanged,' a Warner Bros representative said in a statement to CNN..."
By Lisa Respers France:

 -- "Dancing With the Stars" has announced the new cast for the show's next season...

 -- The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office has decided that singer Nick Carter won't be charged in a sexual assault case...

 -- Norm Macdonald apologized after some controversial #MeToo comments. He was cancelled from "The Tonight Show," but he is scheduled to be on "The View" on Thursday...

 -- Geoffrey Owens has scored another new acting gig, this time on "NCIS..."

Thanks for reading! Email me your feedback... See you tomorrow...
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