NFL kickoff; anthem update; the "Big Game;" Twitter bans Alex Jones; op-ed guessing game; new comments from NYT; Academy's reversal

By Brian Stelter and CNN's media team
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Exec summary: Eye-popping page view totals for the NYT op-ed... Exit talks for Les Moonves... The Academy's about-face... And much more below...
An irresistible metaphor for the National Football League in the Trump age: A thunderstorm made a beeline for Philly and delayed the Falcons-Eagles kickoff. But now the game is underway... You know my household is rooting for the Eagles... And I'm sending this out at halftime so I can enjoy the rest of the game 😃

The big show

Football, despite its declining #'s for the past couple of years, is still the biggest show on TV. NFL Media tweeted out a reminder earlier this week: "8 of the top 10 📺 shows so far this year have been @NFL..."

This season's ratings: down, flat or up?

Check out Frank Pallotta's story about the ratings expectations. Brian Hughes, an EVP at Magna, told him: "We're not anticipating any growth this season." Hughes believes that consumer habits have "simply changed too much" for the NFL to see its numbers rebound.

Jay Rosenstein, a former VP of programming at CBS Sports, shared a more bullish view: "In my opinion, the ratings will go up," perhaps +5 to 10% from last season. "I'm not minimizing headwinds like concussions, changing viewing habits and the Anthem controversy, but I think it really comes down to match ups and keeping stars healthy. That's what fans want to see."

Trump's fresh criticism of the NFL

When the going gets tough for President Trump, he goes to a friend at Fox. Trump taped a chat with Pete Hegseth before stepping on stage in Montana. Portions of the interview will air on Friday's "Fox & Friends." But reporters were able to hear Trump's remarks during the taping. So we know Hegseth asked him who was "winning" the "culture war" re: the NFL and the anthem.

"We are," Trump said.

During the anthem on Thursday...

"All players were on the field during the National Anthem," per CNN Sports. "Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who demonstrated during the anthem in the preseason, stood next to teammate Chris Long. Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett, who also demonstrated in the preseason, stood behind Jenkins and Long at the beginning before he walked back to the bench and sat near the end of the song."

More: "USA Today reports Eagles running back Jay Ajayi also sat at the end of the National Anthem." USAT's headline: "No visible protests."

Think about this...

When Mark Leibovich signed up to write a book about the NFL, "my plan was to escape politics," he told me Thursday night. "I needed a respite."

But politics chased him. His book "Big Game" came out on Tuesday, and his press tour has been dominated by Q's about Trump, Kaep, etc.

When I got him in the phone, he said the league simply "does not know how to handle this anthem thing." He made a great point: "Who are the most powerful voices in the NFL as they prepare for their new season? Donald Trump, Nike, and Colin Kaepernick..."
For the record, part one
 -- Tickets for The New Yorker Festival go on sale on Friday at noon ET... (TNY)

 -- "Apple is beefing up the management of its Apple News product." Former Condé Nast exec Liz Schimel recently came aboard... (The Information)

 -- Jamie Gangel and Marshall Cohen's latest: "Read the stolen letter from Trump's desk reported in Bob Woodward's book..." (CNN)

 -- What made this Time cover newsworthy? It's the first time Nancy Pelosi has "ever made the cover of a major national newsmagazine..." (Twitter)

Moonves exit talks

Last year, Les Moonves signed a contract to remain atop CBS Corp through 2021. But now his tenure appears to be coming to an end. CNBC's David Faber, citing anonymous sources, reported Thursday that the CBS board is "deep in talks" that would result in Moonves leaving the company.

Moonves has also told some confidants about the exit talks, a friend of his confirmed to me. But I'm not totally clear on whether he is trying to fight the board's move. Here's the story I wrote with Jill Disis...

This is all about the $$$

There's so much money at stake -- that's what makes this case different from most of the #MeToo stories in the past year.

Under the terms of his contract, Moonves may be owed a $180 million severance package. But if he is removed "for cause," relating to the harassment allegations, such an eye-popping severance package would not be in play. Faber reported that the board "is offering a roughly $100 million exit package made up almost entirely of CBS stock." Furthermore, "the board also wants the right to claw back some of the compensation if it's determined that sexual harassment allegations against Moonves are confirmed."

Here's how the NYT's Edmund Lee put it later in the day: The payout "would be far less than $180 million..."

Twitter boots Alex Jones and InfoWars

Apple acted first. Then Facebook and several others. Twitter was the last major platform to leave Alex Jones' accounts up. But on Thursday, the company banned Jones and InfoWars from Twitter and Periscope, citing repeated violations of the "abusive behavior policy."

The final straw: "The company made its decision a day after Jones accosted a CNN reporter, Oliver Darcy, on Capitol Hill, and livestreamed the encounter through Periscope," Donie O'Sullivan writes. As you all surely know, Darcy sparked this issue by asking Facebook execs a simple question: If you're committed to stamping out misinfo from your site, why does Jones still have an account? Read more here...

More to come?

Donie emails: Twitter said "we will continue to evaluate reports we receive regarding other accounts potentially associated with @realalexjones or @infowars" -- meaning more accounts might come down. This has me wondering, what precedent does this set? Alex Jones is banned, but what if accounts keep linking to his site and keep quoting his latest conspiracies? Will they also be banned? And should they?

Have a laugh...

Re-upping this headline from The Onion last month...

"Alex Jones Returns To Humble Roots Of Screaming Conspiracy Theories Through Megaphone At People In Park."
For the record, part two
By Daniella Emanuel:

 -- Brett Kavanaugh says he'll keep an "open mind" about the idea of cameras in the SCOTUS courtroom, but he sure sounds hesitant... (

 -- Michael Moore's new film "Fahrenheit 11/9" had its world premiere at TIFF in Toronto Thursday night... (Deadline)

 -- Here's Marina Koren on the dangers of Elon Musk's misconception of "off the record..." (The Atlantic)

"It wasn't me!"

Mark Felt originally denied that he was "Deep Throat," informant to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during the Watergate scandal.

So I'm wondering... Has the "senior official" who wrote that op-ed already denied being the author?

Dozens of Trump admin officials issued denials on Thursday, some at the behest of the White House. "Almost the entire cabinet and leadership team" pleaded "not guilty," the NYT says. The headline in Friday's paper is "Fingers Point, Denials Spread And Fury Rises."

Here are the rest of Thursday's updates about the op-ed that shook DC and NYC...

Ten million page views

At 4pm ET Thursday, 24 hours after the op-ed was posted, the page was just over the 10 million page view mark, according to a Times spokeswoman. That makes the op-ed "one of the most read pieces of 2018" on the New York Times website. 

A "large volume of calls"

At lunchtime, Sarah Sanders tweeted out a statement that discouraged speculation about the source and encouraged people to call the NYT to complain about its choice to publish the piece. Sanders' message told folks to ask for the opinion section, but the automated phone system at the NYT was flummoxed by the calls. The system transferred people in all sorts of directions... To random reporters and ad sales reps and others.

Some reporters said they received hateful calls interspersed with surprising "thank you's" from callers who wanted to stick it to Sanders...

Unanswered Q's

 -- Many newsletter readers asked: How does the Times define "senior" re: senior official? Just how "senior" does the person have to be? The Times declined to answer...

 -- An editor asked: Did the agreement to protect the official's identity apply only to the opinion pages, or to the entire paper? Is the newsroom free to ferret out the source? NYT's non-answer: "We're not going to get into details of our agreement about anonymity."

 -- A congressman texted: "What happens if the author of the op-ed publicly denies writing it? Will The Times be free to name the person?" Again, no answer from the NYT...

Top reactions

Via Julia Waldow:

 -- Former NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan called the decision to publish the mystery op-ed "a quagmire of weirdness: fraught with issues of journalistic ethics and possibly even legal concerns..." (WaPo)

 -- Kelly McBride detailed "how the NYTimes' anonymous op-ed may change journalism..." (Poynter)

 -- Masha Gessen claimed that "by publishing the anonymous Op-Ed, the Times became complicit in its own corruption..." (The New Yorker)

 -- Erik Wemple said "what we need to know, more than anything, is what role this person played in Donald Trump's election..." (YouTube)

 -- Bradley Moss said the "Steady State" mentioned in the Op-Ed should "come forward, publicly, and inform both the Congress and the American public of exactly what you have seen..." (The Atlantic)

What would other papers have done?

Tom Kludt wrote about the "anonymity dilemma" on Thursday. The op-ed, he wrote, has "become a test of newsroom policies governing anonymous sources." Kludt spoke with editors at other papers about the notion of an anonymous op-ed... Read his story here...

Susan Glasser's latest

Her new column for TNY: "For twenty months, Washington has been asking, Is this the crisis? Is this finally the constitutional confrontation we have been waiting for? The Trump Presidency, to those closely watching it, and to many of those participating in it, has always seemed unsustainable. And yet it has gone on, and will keep going on, until and unless something seismic happens in our politics—and our Congress—to change it. We don't need to wonder when the crisis will hit; it already has. Every day since January 20, 2017, has been the crisis."

Trump's rage at his rally

He's still speaking at a rally in Montana while I'm writing this, but I wanted to flag a couple of points...

 -- Trump said his "really bad, really dangerous, really sad" haters in the media will, "sooner or later," be "exposed..."

 -- He had trouble pronouncing the word "anonymous..."

 -- He claimed that CNN is "almost out of business." As the LAT noted earlier this year, CNN has topped "$1 billion in profits in each of the last two years."

 -- He called Montana congressman Greg Gianforte a "fighter," saying "he's fought in more ways than one for your state," calling to mind Gianforte's body-slamming of reporter Ben Jacobs last year...

A "season of fear"

CNN's Jim Acosta tweeted from the rally: "Trump turning the midterms into a season of fear, sounding increasingly paranoid at this rally in Montana. A lot of talk about impeachment, the 'deep state,' and haters out to take down his presidency. More blatant falsehoods like Dems out to end Medicare and confiscating guns..."
For the record, part three
By Julia Waldow:

-- A government photographer edited photos of Trump's inauguration to make the crowd look bigger "following a personal intervention from the president," the Guardian's Jon Swaine reports, citing documents released via the Freedom of Information Act... (The Guardian)

-- Rob Hiaasen, one of the journalists killed in the attack at the Capital Gazette, will have his novel posthumously published on September 15... Proceeds will be donated to Everytown for Gun Safety... (Baltimore Sun)

-- Spotify has quietly been giving some independent artists direct licensing deals -- and it's making Universal, Sony, and Warner nervous... (NYT)

-- HBO's "Insecure" and "Ballers" have been renewed for a fourth and fifth season, respectively... (Variety)

 -- Across the parking lot from the LAT's new HQ, there's a building that is set to become the "LA Times Center," with "an event space, LA Times production studio and e-sports arenas with fiber inter-connectivity at a global scale..." (BusinessWire)

Goodbye to the Bandit

Hollywood is mourning the passing of Burt Reynolds. The "mustachioed megastar who first strutted on screen more than half a century ago" died Thursday at age 82. Read CNN's obit here...

 >> Anderson Cooper's remembrance on "AC360:" "He'll always be remembered for the kind of easy charm we all wish we had..."
For the record, part four
 -- Federal prosecutors are investigating whether Harvey Weinstein "violated wire fraud or other laws in any efforts to silence women who accused him of sexual misconduct..." (WSJ)

 -- "The Predator" director Shane Black cast his friend, a registered sex offender, in a small role. When Twentieth Century Fox found out about the man's past, it pulled the scene, Amy Kaufman reveals... (LAT)

 -- Now that NBCU is allowed to take a "more active role on the Hulu board," the company has named Jeff Shell, Linda Yaccarino, and Matt Bond to board seats, Natalie Jarvey scoops... (THR)

 -- Geoffrey Owens says he is mulling a "whole handful" of TV offers... (THR)
The entertainment desk

A popular decision by the Academy

"We recognize the need for further discussion with our members." With that, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson backed away from the controversial plan to add a "popular film" Oscar category. 

NYT's Brooks Barnes has the lowdown on what happened: "The academy's 54-member board voted to rethink the creation of the category at a closed meeting on Tuesday night. Some board members, including John Bailey, the organization's president, voiced support for the category at the meeting, while others, including the actress Laura Dern, were adamantly opposed, according to two board members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. Those people also said the director Steven Spielberg, who sits on the board and has enormous influence, was uncomfortable with plans to introduce the category at the coming Oscars, which will be held on Feb. 24."

Lowry's take

Brian Lowry emails: The academy's decision to pull the proposed "popular film" category — at least from this year's awards — remedies a clear mistake. But it doesn't mean that the group's voters can't recognize some more popular movies this year in key categories, in the same way "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings" earned nominations in the past. If that sentiment has any traction, "Black Panther" would be a possible beneficiary...

How to recognize a "wider scope of films"

Important note in Barnes' story: "The concept may not be completely dead." Hudson told him that the board still supports the principle of honoring "excellence across a wider scope of films."

"Looking at it in retrospect, however, she said the announcement should have been made with more complete information, and not just as the Oscar race was beginning to kick into high gear at the Telluride, Venice and Toronto film festivals." So the Academy is pumping the brakes...

Lowry reviews "Hal"

Brian Lowry emails: On a related note, this weekend marks the limited release of "Hal," a fine documentary devoted to director Hal Ashby. Not only is the project timely because Ashby directed "Being There" — what appears to be an increasingly prescient look at politics, media and myth making — but the movie highlights the tension that existed during Ashby's career between art and commerce, with his mentor Norman Jewison specifically telling him that he shouldn't trust studio executives, whose only objective is to make money. Read on...

Lowry does not recommend "Peppermint"

Brian Lowry emails: Jennifer Garner has been in the headlines recently because of her personal life, but she's back on screen as an action hero in "Peppermint," an ill-timed vigilante movie that features the actress' character mowing down Hispanic drug dealers. As cartoonish as the movie is, the timing still feels unfortunate at best...

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


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