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Trump v. Acosta; press pass suspended; 'threat to our democracy;' Sessions fired; Carlson harassed; midterm fallout; cuts coming to Vice

Exec summary: Wednesday and Thursday's biggest stories are 1) Voters making themselves heard through the midterm elections and 2) President Trump seizing control of the Russia probe by firing Jeff Sessions. But since this is a media-focused newsletter, my lead is Trump's sharp escalation against CNN. Scroll down for all the day's news...

White House pulls Acosta's press pass

You can love or hate CNN's Jim Acosta, but we should all be able to see that the White House's action against him is wrong.

Acosta's "hard pass" issued by the Secret Service, which speeds up entry to the White House grounds, was revoked by the Trump administration on Wednesday night. The White House said his pass was suspended "until further notice." Why? Because of Wednesday's combative press conference. 

Simply put, this does not happen. Not in America. I spoke with White House historians and professors who were hard-pressed to think of any parallel. 

CNN said in a statement that Acosta has the network's full support: The revocation of his pass "was done in retaliation for his challenging questions at today's press conference," the statement said. "In an explanation, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders lied. She provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better. Jim Acosta has our full support."

He's also getting support from a large # of W.H. reporters, even from outlets like The Daily Caller, which is typically critical of CNN. Details below, but first...

Thursday's questions...

-- Will any other White House reporters walk out in solidarity with Acosta?

-- Will Acosta be turned away again? Or will he be granted some sort of access to the White House grounds?

-- Who besides Trump is behind this? Bill Shine?

-- Will anyone challenge the W.H. decision on legal grounds?

-- After Acosta, which reporter might be next?

First, let's state the obvious

Acosta is a thorn in the side of the administration. He has been one of the most aggressive reporters on the Trump beat, winning him huge numbers of fans as well as critics. The pro-Trump media loves to mock him. Some press critics say he's a showboat. But he thinks his style is effective -- and necessary -- at this moment in time. And many viewers agree with him. Personally, I like that different W.H. reporters have different styles. Some are more confrontational than others. That's a good thing. That's part of what makes the free press FREE.

Here's what happened in seven steps:

1. Acosta asked multiple Q's

Trump hewed to tradition by holding a post-midterms presser. Acosta was one of the first reporters he called on. Trump leaned into the mic and said, "Here we go" -- seemingly relishing the confrontation.

Acosta brought up the migrants traveling from Central America toward the U.S. southern border, and the racist "caravan" ad that the Trump campaign released last week. "As you know, Mr. President, the caravan is not an invasion," Acosta said. Trump said he thinks it IS an invasion, and back and forth they went. Acosta pointed out the migrants are hundreds of miles away; Trump insulted CNN; and called on NBC's Peter Alexander to ask the next question. Acosta tried to follow up, pointing out that other reporters had also asked multiple Q's. "That's enough," Trump said.

A White House intern tried to take the mic from Acosta and hand it to Alexander, but Acosta held on to it. "Pardon me, ma'am," he said. "Peter, let's go," Trump said. But Acosta got in his Q: "If I can ask, on the Russia investigation, are you concerned that you may have indictments coming down..."

"I am not concerned about anything with the Russian investigation because it is a hoax," Trump said, "That is enough, put down the mic."

Acosta asked the question again and then let go of the mic.

2. Trump ripped into Acosta

While Alexander started to ask his question, Trump turned to Acosta and said, "I tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them." He pointed at Acosta: "You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn't be working for CNN." A moment later, he spit out his "enemy of the people" line.

May I remind you, this was televised live on all the major networks and cable news channels.

Alexander deserves a lot of credit for speaking up in Acosta's defense: "I've traveled with him and watched him, he is a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us," Alexander said.

"Well I'm not a big fan of yours either, to be honest," Trump said, prompting laughs in the room. Alexander didn't miss a beat and asked his Q...

3. CNN called Trump's attacks on the press "disturbingly un-American"

I'll come back to the presser later, but I want to highlight the statement that CNN put out right after the testy exchange.

"This President's ongoing attacks on the press have gone too far," CNN PR said. "They are not only dangerous, they are disturbingly un-American. While President Trump has made it clear he does not respect a free press, he has a sworn obligation to protect it. A free press is vital to democracy, and we stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere."

4. Trump's allies claimed "assault"

This is when it got ridiculous. Some Trump boosters alleged that Acosta had mistreated the W.H. intern. They used words like "pushed" and "slammed." They screamed "assault" and "abuse." 

All of this was contradicted by the video, which you can watch here, but it became a huge story in the conservative media universe. Mediaite's Ken Meyer said right-wing media had a "meltdown." Twitter trolls and even some high-profile conservative commentators said Acosta's credentials should be revoked. 

5. Something happened at the W.H.

This part is still a mystery. Who decided to take action against Acosta? When and why? 

6. Acosta tried to re-enter the grounds

In the 7 p.m. hour, Acosta tried to re-enter the W.H. grounds for a live shot on "Anderson Cooper 360." He was stopped at the Pennsylvania Avenue gate where reporters usually enter -- and told to turn in his hard pass.

Acosta recorded the incident on his phone. "I was just told to do it," a Secret Service officer said on the recording.

Around the same time, Sanders issued a statement announcing the press pass suspension and calling Acosta's conduct "absolutely unacceptable." She said the W.H. will "never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern."

Many reporters have come to Acosta's defense. Chuck Ross of The Daily Caller, one of CNN's biggest critics, tweeted that Acosta "did not 'place his hands' on the intern. It's ridiculous for anyone to suggest he did. And after Trump joked about Gianforte bodyslamming Ben Jacobs, the White House can't bust out the fainting couch now..."

7. WHCA: This is "unacceptable"

NYT chief W.H. correspondent Peter Baker tweeted, "This is something I've never seen since I started covering the White House in 1996. Other presidents did not fear tough questioning." And the NYT's DC bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller said, "The president should not pick and choose who covers him, and he should certainly not force out a representative of one of the country's leading news organizations."

Leaders of the White House Correspondents' Association immediately went to work drafting a statement. They called the W.H. action "out of line" and "unacceptable."

Key line: "We urge the White House to immediately reverse this weak and misguided action."

Other advocacy groups have also weighed in. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said Sanders' "false description of the events leading up to it is insulting not only to the nation's journalists, but to its people."


Flashback: Trump said he would NOT revoke credentials if elected

In 2015 and 2016, Trump's campaign refused to give press credentials to reporters from several major news outlets. When the issue came to a head in June 2016, Trump called me. He told me in an interview that, if elected, he would not revoke credentials. At the White House, "it's a different thing," he said.

The memorable quote: "When I'm representing the United States, I wouldn't do that. But I would let people know if somebody's untruthful." Here's the story I wrote at the time...

So now what?

Remember the first full day of Trump's presidency? I remember it well. January 21, 2017. Trump attacked the media and Sean Spicer yelled at the press corps about crowd size. I listened to Acosta deliver his fair, factual 10 p.m. report from the White House lawn, and I thought to myself, this isn't going to last. Upstairs at the W.H., the lights were on. I thought, "Trump is going to walk out of his new house and say GET OFF MY LAWN." Since then, I've occasionally told that story as a way of saying, "it could be worse." The anti-media attacks have been awful, but at least Trump hasn't kicked reporters out of the White House. That all changed today...

More from the presser...

Trump snapped at the press corps, called reporters "rude" for asking questions, and made baseless claims about political polling. One minute, he showed contempt, but the next minute, he seemed to derive energy from the back and forth.

I wasn't the only one watching and wondering if this was part of a strategy to deflect attention from Democratic victories in the midterms.

Former Obama aide Tommy Vietor tweeted, "Trump wants to make the story him vs the media not him getting his ass kicked in the House. This press conference is playing right into that narrative..."


Tucker Carlson does not deserve this

You can love or hate Fox's Tucker Carlson, but we should all be able to see that this protester behavior is wrong.

"A group of protesters congregated outside what they claimed was Fox News host Tucker Carlson's home in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night to chant threatening messages," NRO's Jack Crowe reports.

Smash Racism D.C., which calls itself an "anti-fascist" group, has previously targeted Ted Cruz, Kirstjen Nielsen, and others. On Wednesday night it "posted a video of their members screaming obscenities at Carlson's house and blaming his 'policies' for the deaths of thousands of people."

Figures on the left and right quickly denounced the protest. Megyn Kelly tweeted: "This has to stop... He does not deserve this. His family does not deserve this. It's stomach-turning." Max Boot: "I think Tucker is a terrible influence on modern America but that doesn't justify harassing him at home. Go high, not low."

I agree. Get a permit for a protest outside Carlson's office if you want. But don't chant "we know where you sleep at night" outside his home.


 -- Two staffers from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Angela Quintal and Muthoki Mumo, have been detained in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The women "have been taken to an unknown location." CPJ is calling for their immediate release... (CPJ)

 -- The State Department says it is "closely following" the matter... (CNN)

 -- A midterm boost: Sinclair "reported stronger-than-expected quarterly earnings Wednesday and boosted its quarterly dividend after seeing strong growth in sales of political advertising..." (Sun)

 -- Plus: Sinclair "will escape a fine in a consent decree with the Justice Dept. over sharing information between stations..." (Seeking Alpha)

 -- The latest in Dish v. HBO: Richard Plepler says Dish is trying to "muddy the waters" after dropping HBO's signals... (Deadline

Bulletins about Jeff Sessions

It was almost 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday. CNN's banners told the story of the day: "Senate races too close to call in Arizona, Florida... Trump shames Republicans who lost after not embracing him... New Dem House majority to target Trump's tax returns..."

And then came the news. On Fox, Dana Perino had just tossed to commercial break... And her show was playing a sound bite to tease a segment coming back after the break... When the control room told her to pivot. "Scratch that. No commercial," Perino said, tossing to John Roberts at the White House. "This is big, and it's about to pop in a very big way," Roberts said.

CNN and MSNBC were both in commercial breaks. Both networks busted into the breaks with breaking news animations. "Jeff Sessions resigns," the initial word from the DOJ, was very quickly replaced by the reality, "Trump fires Sessions." And the storyline dominated the rest of the day.

But let me go back in time a bit, to Tuesday night's midterms, since this is the first newsletter since then. Whether you call it a "blue wave" or not, Tuesday was a realignment of American politics and a "glass-ceiling shattering night for women." You've heard and seen all the storylines by now, so let me just highlight a few media-centric items: 

Not a bad night for the polls

Yes, there were some serious misses. (Florida!) But "polling experts offered at least tepidly positive appraisals of polling performance on Wednesday," WaPo's Scott Clement says.

And the Post's own "preliminary analysis of poll accuracy across U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races suggests that errors were smaller than for similar contests in the past, including state presidential polls in 2016." Still, the "surveys did tend to underestimate Republican candidates more than Democratic ones this year." Read on...

Divided government, divided viewership

It was a split result, a bit like the election results. Fox News was No. 1 among total viewers, while CNN was No. 1 in the key 25-54 demo. "The network posted its best audience for a midterm broadcast ever, and its largest prime time audience since 2016 election night," TVNewser notes.

MSNBC and the broadcast networks had big audiences too. All together, according to Nielsen, about 36.1 million people were watching midterms coverage on TV at any given time between 8 and 11 p.m. Tuesday. That's higher than in 2002/06/10/14...

Notes and quotes

 -- Andrew Tyndall reviewed the broadcast and cable news coverage for THR...

 -- The NYT's NEEDLE had a hard time, as The Hill explained here... But it eventually worked...

 -- Fox News had its own NEEDLE on screen: The graphic moved between Senate probability and House probability...

 -- Variety's Brian Steinberg wrote about how/why the Fox decision desk called the House for the Dems earlier than any other major news outlet...

 -- Absent, but not noticeably absent: Megyn Kelly. She was a star of previous Fox election nights, and was supposed to be on NBC's show on Tuesday, but she remains in exit talks...


By Julia Waldow:

 -- Take a look at the front pages of dozens of newspapers from the day after the midterms, courtesy of the Newseum... (Poynter)

 -- Plus: Here's how various global news outlets from Italy to Germany covered the U.S. midterm election... (CNBC)

 -- Issie Lapowsky writes that the midterm results presented both "good news" and "bad news" for big tech... (WIRED)

Where was Hannity?

Fox News PR said in an October press release that Sean Hannity would contribute to election night coverage just like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. But on Tuesday night, he was M.I.A.

Was his absence related to his on-stage appearance at Trump's Monday night rally, which Fox chastised him for? The network has not responded to my requests for comment. But Hannity claims "I don't work election nights," even though Fox PR said he was working election night...

Hannity's message to Fox staffers

Oliver Darcy emails: Sean Hannity was back on the air Wednesday evening, and at the end of his show he addressed the Monday controversy. Hannity stressed that he was not referring to his Fox News colleagues when he referred to "all" the reporters in the back of the auditorium as "fake news." Hannity said he was "totally sorry" if any of his colleagues interpreted it that way, and added that he "called a couple of my friends, colleagues" at the channel about it. He said that he has a "great relationship" with his coworkers and admires the work of the channel's journalists.

 >> Darcy adds some context: As I reported on Tuesday, Hannity's colleagues, in the words of one source, were "livid" with him after he campaigned with Trump on stage. Multiple senior employees told me they were "aghast" and "disturbed to my core" over the incident. Fox News has said they have addressed the matter, but declined to elaborate how.

 >> LA Times headline: "Fox News DC journalists told their bosses they were unhappy over Hannity stumping for Trump"

Election coverage tech

Brian Lowry emails: Steve Kornacki's by-hand calculation of various races in the later-night/wee-morning hours on MSNBC was this year's version of Tim Russert and his whiteboard, an endearingly low-tech approach amid all the magic walls and gee-whiz graphics. That perception was helped by a stretch where the technology glitched. For context, it's worth reading Slate's trip down memory lane about the technology of election coverage...

Timely ad buys

On election night coverage, I saw multiple ads for the forthcoming RBG drama "On The Basis Of Sex," aimed at the politically minded audience...

More from Lowry: There were a striking number of movie ads on cable news Tuesday night, reflecting the hunger of studios to reach audiences watching live heading into the holiday movie period. It helps that the older audience that generally watches news is also a better fit for prestige end-of-year releases, like Netflix¹s Oscar contender "Roma..."

Late night #'s

Tuesday's live "Late Show" enjoyed is biggest Tuesday night audience since June, per CBS.

Brian Lowry emails: WaPo's Steve Zeitchik concisely put the big ratings for Stephen Colbert's election-night live show in context, tweeting, "What a difference two years of Trump make. On Election Night 2016 Colbert had that awkward Showtime special w/the surprise winner and an uncertain future." Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is the fact that the guy who hired him, Leslie Moonves, is no longer at CBS...


 -- Dana Milbank's Thursday column: "Thought the election might restore some order? Oh you poor, sweet child."

 -- Susan Glasser tweeted: "Prediction: We will look back on the pre-election as that nice quiet time before things got really crazy..."

 -- And McKay Coppins: "All signs point to the next two years of American politics being *much* more volatile than the last two..."

Cuts coming to Vice

This is why Nancy Dubuc didn't rule out Vice layoffs in THR's big feature last week: "Vice Media plans to shrink its workforce by as much as 15% through attrition and cut its selection of digital sites by at least half," the WSJ's Keach Hagey, Benjamin Mullin and Alexandra Bruell reported Wednesday, citing the usual "people familiar."

Vice has basically stopped growing. Revenues are "expected to be roughly flat this year, the people said, coming in between $600 and $650 million, on par with 2017." That's far below what Vice had projected. "Vice lost more than $100 million in 2017 and is on track to lose more than $50 million this year, people familiar with the matter said..."

Some of Vice's websites will be folding

The WSJ story has a LOT of info. "To reduce head count," Dubuc issued "a companywide hiring freeze about six weeks ago, leaving about 220 positions open at the company of 3,000 employees... Through that freeze and natural attrition, she plans to slim down Vice's ranks by between 10% and 15% overall..."

Per the story, the company held a board meeting in L.A. on Tuesday... Dubuc outlined a plan to essentially shift Vice's "emphasis away from the kind of online content that originally put it on the map for young users... Vice runs more than a dozen online 'verticals' such as Munchies for food, Noisey for music and Broadly for women." Dubuc plans to "fold several of them into between three and five verticals..."

Netflix's road to global dominance

Netflix is launching two new series from Europe as it seeks to capitalize on its growing international audience. Speaking to Hadas Gold at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Chief Product Officer Greg Peters said the original series are part of a larger investment in content for its global audience of 137 million subscribers, most of whom are outside the United States. The shows are from Spain and Norway and will enter production next year. Read more about them here...


 -- Via Julia Waldow: The NYT gives readers an inside look at the six times its legal department challenged secrecy in the courts this past week... (NYT)

 -- Via Daniella Emanuel: WME's HQ in LA was partially evacuated today after a suspicious package was delivered. After 45 minutes, the situation was cleared and staffers were allowed back in... (Deadline)

"The Grinch" strains to haul feature-length loot

Brian Lowry emails: While "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is arguably the best of the classic holiday specials, tripling its size to create an animated feature, Dr. Seuss' "The Grinch," has stolen a good deal of the original's charm. Based on projections, that won't prevent the latest Illumination Seuss adaptation (following "The Lorax"), featuring the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, from absconding with the weekend box-office crown. Read more...

This will be Carell's third time on on "SNL"

One more from Lowry: NBC announced Steve Carell, who stars in "Beautiful Boy" and the upcoming "Welcome to Marwen" will host "SNL" on Nov. 17...

By Lisa Respers France:

 -- Michael Douglas' famous dad Kirk Douglas got him emotional at Hollywood star ceremony.

 -- "Dance Moms" star Abby Lee Miller is not letting cancer stop her from working.

 -- Celebs who got vocal about voting also had a lot to say about the midterm results.

Thanks for reading! Sorry this edition of the newsletter came out so late. Busy day. Too busy. Email me feedback anytime!
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