Sunday, May 01, 2011

USAT | How to tarnish your brand in one night

The historically non-partisan USA Today played a high-profile role in an event last night where scores of liberal media and Hollywood elite helped the head of the Democratic party -- President Obama -- publicly humiliate a prominent Republican considering a run for the White House.

You and I may not see the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in that light. But rest assured that thousands of Donald Trump supporters, other conservatives and USAT readers viewed it just this way. Look no further than the hundreds of comments posted on USAT's own story about the event.

Wrote reader Panabaker: "Isn't it an event where the press gets the 'roast?' If so, why did Obama and his minions used it to trash Trump?"

Granni7 wrote: "The room was leaning greatly to the left and therefore they 'roared' at the rude remarks against Mr. Trump. 
But throw a few barbs out at the President and the room would not be so happy."

The story has already attracted more than 300 comments, many involving politically partisan bickering over the "birther" issue that Trump raised, and the jibes directed at him by Obama and host Seth Meyers, the Saturday Night Live comedian.

Meyers was especially acidic: "Donald Trump has been saying that he will run for president as a Republican, which is surprising. Because I just assumed he was running as a joke."

"It was almost painful to watch," writes The New York Times' Helene Cooper, "the juxtaposition of the president, flexing his new post-birther comedy chops, and the real estate mogul-cum-politician, grimacing at his table as Mr. Obama basked in his post-long-form-birth-certificate glow."

Hillkirk, front and center
Obama took some licks, too. But much of the coverage about the event has focused on the drubbing Trump took. The real estate mogul is clearly ticked, calling it inappropriate at times.

"I really knew what I was getting into last night," he told Fox and Friends today, on the conservative-friendly Fox network. "I had no idea it would be to that extent where, you know just joke after joke after joke. It was almost like, is there anyone else they can talk about?"

In addition to spending thousands on tickets for the dinner, USAT's top editor -- John Hillkirk -- was seated next to Obama on the dais. A photo of the two is circulating widely on the Internet. Moreover, USAT White House reporter David Jackson is the correspondents' association's current president. None of this can help advance the image of Gannett's best-known paper, a daily that has gone to great lengths to appear as a non-partisan media outlet. USAT, for example, doesn't endorse candidates for the White House and other offices, fearing that readers will then see bias in its news columns.

Beyond the liberal-leaning perception of last night's dinner, there is the long-held observation that the event shows the media sucking up to politicians and other power brokers -- the very people journalists are supposed to watchdog.

The reporters association defends the event as, among other things, a fundraiser for underprivileged students. But if that were the main purpose of the dinner, Big Media would ensure that virtually all the proceeds went to that good cause, which would be the sign of a legitimate charity.


  1. Whatever. Trump deserved it. Anyone who thinks he's a viable presidential candidate and anything other than a self-aggrandizing demagogue is a sucker. As an owner of casinos, he knows all about suckers. (Think about this: Do you want a guy who has declared bankruptcy at least four times to be in charge of the U.S. economy?)

    The hardcore Tea Partiers are the same hardcore 27% who backed GW Bush at his lowest point in the polls (not coincedentally 27%). They think everyone to the left of Dubya is a commie anyway. Let the heathen rage.

  2. What an odd and fussy post, Jim.

    No doubt there is the reaction you describe. But Obama took it on the chin as well from Meyers -- and in some self-deprecating remarks -- and the dinner historically has been an equal-opportunity roast against presidents Republican and democrat.

    The media's "sin" here is not so much laughing at some pretty funny jokes at Trump's expense, but in covering Trump's excesses and sometimes abdurd allegations so repeatedly that it achieved critical mass.

    Did Trump doubt he'd be a target?

    But the true problem I have with your post, Jim, is that it is total spin, the fourth straight post looking for some knockdown of USA Today's role at the dinner.

    Whether these dinners should be held, or even attended, is a legitimate topic. But spinning every incident around to look as bad as it can be -- i.e. the Hillkirk photo is being circulated wide on the Internet! -- is totally out of reality.

    Trump has his supporters, but this was not an assault on a "conservative,'' but an assault on someone who made himself a comic target all by himself.

    Hosting the dinner is a long-sought honor in Washington and if3the new paradigm of blogs and tweets makes it more risky, so be it.

    I wasn't there. But I know that my old colleague Jim Hopkins would have attended when he worked here. And happily.

  3. I, too, thought Trump's thrashing, though deserved for the total dork that he is, passed the point of barb and jest and bordered on rudeness. Trump chuckled at some of Obama's zingers; Myers was just rude. Yet the remark above from reader Granni7 ("But throw a few barbs out at the President and the room would not be so happy"), not true. Myers roasted Obama as well, and the room roared.

  4. It's been clear for some time that USA Today is tilting to the left, in part because the WSJ is moving aggressively into its territory. I think Hillkirk and Hunke think the NYT readers are more likely to be picked up by USA Today. Yukking it up at Obama ridiculing Republicans just proves it.

  5. ##t's been clear for some time that USA Today is tilting to the left, in part because the WSJ is moving aggressively into its territory. I think Hillkirk and Hunke think the NYT readers are more likely to be picked up by USA Today. Yukking it up at Obama ridiculing Republicans just proves it. ##

    Totally and completely absurd.

    There are no discussions ever about things like that. Just shows how distrustful people are of anything and everything.

    But it's just not how USA Today works. Or anyplace else I've ever worked. "Let's tilt more to the left" ?? Crazy.

  6. Myers hardly roasted Obama, 3:39. Saying the president's hair is turning Tea Party white is hardly a roast, especially compared to the below-the-belt hits Trump took.

  7. Hillkirk has no relationship with the White House Correspondent's Association, and I don't believe he ever held a White House pass. So what was he doing sitting at the head table next to the president? Did the Obama team give anything to USA Today for this?

  8. USA TODAY's david Jackson was this year's president of the White House Correspondents Association. It is traditional for the top editor or publisher of the association president, in this case John Hillkirk, to sit next to the president.

    Next year a Reuters reporter will be president of the association; a Reuters executive will likely sit next to Obama. Etc.

    There's no special deal or anything like that. Just tradition.

  9. These things don't come for free in Washington. How much do you think a Washington lobbyist would pay for a three-hour dinner with the president of the United States? Looks like a quid pro quo for something.

  10. I've worked in and around newsrooms for 30 years. You couldn't find two conservatives in a newsroom if your life depended on it so don't paint a picture that USAT is suddenly leaning left. Jimbo you haven't voted for a Republican in your life. So stop with the "leaning left" silliness. By the way Seth Meyers killed.

  11. ----Looks like a quid pro quo for something.

    Yes. It is a huge conspiracy!

    Sadly, the truth is much simpler: It is just what it looks like: A geeky prom by all the nerds who ended up in Washington, whoever the president is included. Is it incestuous? yes, but so is a trade show.

    Of all the evils of Washington and the media, this dinner is among the most benign.

  12. You've all lost your sense of humor. It was great I laughed out loud. The stuff about c-span was priceless.

  13. USAT is hardly left leaning. It went along with an event that took pop shots at an easy target. That's why Trump was the most roasted individual. He's been running around making a high-profile ass of himself, and that makes you an easy target for comedy.

    If USAT was truly left leaning it would be aggressively going after Wall Street and the corporate power brokers who brought this country to its knees. We all know that politicians are nothing more than pawns to these folks anyway.

    USAT will never get particularly aggressive on that front, though, because it's a paper run by a big, conservative corporation. The liberal media is one of the most enduring and annoying myths in America.

    Real liberals and progressives -- I'm one so I know -- are disgusted by just how conservative every major player in the mainstream media has become. Sometimes the excuse is fairness (we mustn't advocate for anything, no matter how good the cause). Sometimes it's laziness and fear (we can't really question Bush's push for war in Iraq because it would make us look unpatriotic).

    Anyone who actually believes the media is liberal needs to look at what it does and not simply listen to the things that Rush Limbaugh says.

  14. I just looked it up, and Hillkirk doesn't even hold a congressional press credential. So what is he doing not only attending a dinner held by White House reporters, but presiding? Is this a glimpse at the secret government? Conspiracists will have a field day with this one.

  15. Jim. You're post seems to indicate that USAT had a great reputation prior to this dinner. I for one would subscribe to the New York Times (and likely the Wall Street Journal) before USAT. And I received USAT until recently.

    It's OK, but I think it's reputation is: "Third best among the national papers ... and not nearly as good as other big dailies like the L.A. Times and Washington Post."

    So, I don't think it's image is any more tarnished than it was last month. In fact, it might be able to build a new -- and loyal -- readership base if it decided to take a decidedly partisan approach. That would make it stand out next to the New York Times. And if did go liberal (not going to happen) it would further separate it from the Wall Street Journal.

  16. Did Hillkirk sneak in there like that couple the Salahis who got into the White House without credentials? If so, the Secret Service will go nuts.

  17. Trump is a total asshole, by the way. He's now criticizing Seth Meyers as "a stutterer.''

  18. Trump is a serial liar and I wish he'd get called out on all his blatent lies. I saw a clip of an interview, I think with ABC, before the dinner. He was asked if he thought Obama would mention him, and he said no.

    Then today he tells Fox, “I really knew what I was getting into last night."

    I thought the jokes were spot-on and hilarious. And the ugly grimace on Trump's face was priceless.

  19. 5:19 Agree. Trump was trumped and got exactly what he deserved. Should not have been surprised. The birth certificate fiasco and questioning Obama's academic record was a stupid and racist move on his part. He is the only one who takes himself seriously. Seth Myers was hilarious.

    The only brand that was tarnished was "Trump."

  20. No doubt had Obama and Meyers NOT mentioned Trump Jim would be criticizing the "free ride" Trump received.

    Being a critic is easy when all you have to do is take the opposing side to whatever happens. Again, Jim Hopkins would have been at the dinner, laughing with the rest of the press.

  21. @5:38 PM, if Obama was white, would Trump's statement's still be racist? The cone of invulnerability around this president is absurd. You can't attack him about anything without some lefty nutbag calling it racially motivated. I don't give a shit if Obama is green and colors his skin to fit in. He's a pompous ass, a lousy president and worth of derision.

    Come to think of it, he's a lot like Trump. They'll probably become best friends.

  22. Jim,

    Why the attack on conservatism? I thought you were a journalist....

    FWIW - Fox news soundly beats EVERY other news network EVERY night and has about run its competition right off the air.

    I like reading your blog - as a former Gannetter, I truly enjoy it - but you gotta remember you are a journalist.

    Don't let your personal slights make Gannett Blog something I'd rather not read...


  23. 6:30 This is not an attack on conservatives, or on liberals. I'm not passing judgement on Obama, Trump or the birthers.

    My view here is that a significant number of Americans believe journalists are overwhelmingly liberal; that perception is their reality, and contributes to a weakening of confidence in the press.

    Many of these Americans support Trump for the White House. They see events like last night's as another example of the media conspiring with Democrats to advance a liberal agenda. That is a downside of the media's -- and USA Today's -- continued participation in such high-profile socializing.

    Also, I would be delighted to attend this dinner as a working journalist, covering a newsworthy event. But I would be uncomfortable attending in any other capacity.

    How did this dinner advance the interests of readers, viewers and listeners? How did it show that we have the arm's-length relationship with government officials and other powerbrokers necessary for us to do our job?

  24. You had every news organization in the country attending the event, why single out USAT? Defending Trump a a viable presidential candidate and therefor immune from jokes? The man hosts a reality show for gods sakes, owns the Miss USA pageant and makes money from among other things gambling. How can you not Joke about him. Joe Biden got it at least as hard as Trump did, why are you not defending him? Jim, this post is out of place and makes no sense.

  25. I think everyone is missing the point. And that point is Seth Myers is not funny.

  26. 7:17 Not every news organization in the country -- or even every bureau in Washington -- was represented at that gathering. Furthermore, only the editor of USA Today -- who himself doesn't hold any press credentials and doesn't cover the White House -- sat next to the president for three hours in conversation far more engaged than anyone has ever seen at USA Today. I'll be you he won't write a word of what was said, or what deals were made. Maybe there was a fortuitous discussions of the prospects of federal bailouts for the newspaper industry, but I doubt we will hear anything from the press until it happens and is almost over.

  27. I watched the roast on C-Span and thought it was extremely funny. If they'd offered Trump a microphone after Seth made fun of NYC's biggest mouth, we'd have seen Donald as he truly is -- an insecure little rascal suffering from delusions of grandeur. Without question, Trump would have ripped into the jokesters with f-bombs and threats, sounding more like a gangsta than a candidate for president. Trump's his own worst enemy and will soon slip back into the shadows where he lives on borrowed money and bull shit.

  28. What's wrong with this dinner:

  29. The comedians are told to keep their routines low-key after the 2006 incident in which Steve Colbert gave a presentation so anti-GOP that several Bush aides stormed out of the room, and the president himself was said to be preparing to leave.
    I thought Seth Meyers presentation was solid and within acceptable limits.
    The other thing you must realize is the NYT boycotts the event each year, and other organizations have dropped out. It has become more Hollywood and less Washington in recent years, and there are complaints of press bandstanding.

  30. Seth was right when he said Trump's candidacy is a joke. It will continue to be a joke until two things happen: Trump quits the TV show where he belittles and then fires emotionally challenged has-beens; and, he opens his finances to public scrutiny.

  31. The Dump on Trump has been the lead story on the Drudge Report all day.
    12X more eyeballs look at that than at USAT.

    Limbaugh always turns down all the invites he gets to this.
    Trump should have too.

    Although, maybe in two years he'll be obliged to go!

  32. Of course Trump was treated to a drubbing by the President and Seth Meyers. Did he think the President was some sort of pansy, too weak or afraid of biting back once bitten? Lesson learned. Trump has no integrity. Before he decided to toy with himself about becoming President, he supported a woman's right to choose birth but now he's anti-abortion. Before he was an advocate for gay and lesbian civil liberties but now not so much. He has abandoned his principles and integrity (if he ever had them) to cater to the worst in human nature. Fuck Trump. Time magazine is running an article called Trump's Failures. Read it and then tell me if you think this clown is worthy of being elected dog catcher.

    Trump, the supreme blow-hard got EXACTLY what he deserved. Karma is a wonderful thing.

  33. Trump had his feelings hurt? Oh, so sad. Someone should care as much for the employees of his casinos.

    USAT's role in the correspondents' dinner isn't going to have that much of an impact on how the right sees USAT because they've already written off all of the media that isn't FOX news.

    You can argue the point over whether the dinner is an appropriate setting for a journalist. But as several have noted, it's hardly a USAT show.

  34. 11:29 is RIGHT ON.

    As for 6:10 not understanding how Trump is being racist... no matter who the president is or what color they are, they deserve the respect of not having their eligibilty as president questioned three years into their term. No other president has even had that happen but this is supposed to be okay now that it is Obama? Trump is implying our country is so stupid that we don't check a person's eligibilty to be president before we elect them?! As for his academic record can Donald Trump not believe that a black man can get into Harvard and SUCCEED? Why didn't he question how Bush got into Harvard or how Bill Clinton was a Rhodes scholar? This coming from a man who has claimed bankruptcy, had multiple failed marriages and recently used the F word in a public speech? He should stick to his tacky beauty pageants, casinos and ridiculous "reality" shows. Trump is indeed a carnival barker (and that is a nice way of putting it). Now that Osama bin Laden is dead will Obama get some respect? Our country needs to move forward from worrying about birth and academic records to much more critical things like unemployment, improving the economy, ending the war, etc.

  35. Your next conspiracy theory preview:

    bin Laden was killed to get this dinner and the birthers off the news cycle.

    Grab the sound bites, the press releases and compare them to this afternoon, next week, and next month. See which facts seem to disappear, and what the talking points turn into. Last week's Petraeus announcement wasn't a coincidence. His rock star status meant a hole was created in Afganistan, but now that bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, obviously we're spending our money in the wrong place. Close the war in Afghanistan and move all our troops to Africa to fight for freedom from Libya to Somalia to Ivory Coast to ... Kenya?

    Responding to nutjobs only gives them credibility, but at some point the cost/benefit ratio tilts. The Bildebergers told me so.

  36. 12:44 - hanging chads, Florida supreme court, stolen election. Tell me again how Obama is the only president whose legitimacy was questioned, years into their term?

    Who is it that keeps telling us you can have your own opinions but not your own facts??

  37. So did Obama confide to Hillkirk that we were about to attack Osama's compound, or did the issue come up? What did they talk about? This, I would remind you, is supposed to be a newspaper.

  38. The dinner should go away and is an embarrassment to journalism. Watching journalists kiss up to powerful politicos and dumb celebrities is a terrible example for non-journalists to see. We are not them and don't want to be them. It's become a corporate shill-fest, now that most journalism companies are broke - it is irresponsible for companies like Gannett to treat its (remaining)employees so poorly and blow thousands on this ugly spectacle.

  39. To save yourselves time, how about if everyone with a "this dinner is a travesty of a mockery of a sham of the state of journalism" complaint just copy and paste what you wrote last year, and the year before that, OK?

  40. The editor of USA today sitting next to the President of USA? Seems pretty natural to me and NOT a statement about parties.

  41. If it doesn't bother anyone that the editor of USA Today sat next to Obama for a three-hour dinner Saturday, please tell us when the last time an editor for USA Today sat down with a Republican president, say Bush 1 or 2, or Reagan? If that doesn't bother you, no wonder you are tone deaf to these claims of media bias.

  42. >>>when the last time an editor for USA Today sat down with a Republican president, say Bush 1 or 2, or Reagan?

    So much just plain wrong-headed information here. USA TODAY has routinely been a part of these dinners, Republican and Democrat, for almost three decades. Yes, our editors or publishers have been next to Bush just like they were next to Obama. Hell, Reagan even helped USA TODAY kick off its debut.

    We are an equal opportunity party crasher,, OK?

  43. 5:38 is correct about President Reagan being on hand to launch USA Today in 1982. Founder Al Neuharth pulled some serious strings to make that happen.

  44. Here's an example of how hard USAT tries to avoid appearing partisan.

    In its bin Laden editorial posted about seven hours ago, the paper is careful to congratulate no one on the terrorist's killing -- not President Obama, not former President Bush, not even the Navy SEALs who did the job.

    Indeed, Obama is referred to carefully as "the second president to carry the fight."

  45. Seth Myers' performance was painfully delicious.

  46. The editor of USA today sitting next to the President of USA? Seems like a win-win situation and a no-brainer. Only the Birthers and Wingnuts are soiling their diapers.

  47. Watch what they do, not what they say. That is one of the fundamentals of journalism. Actions speak louder than words. So, based on that, I would certainly say USA Today is climbing in the sack with Obama based on the clear evidence of that dinner.

  48. The more climbing in the presidential sack and more criticism of Israel policies and Obama's banking and hawk friends, the more journalism awards. Do your damn jobs and aspire to the truth, not births.

  49. I think Amir (above) is on to something here. The Editor of USA TODAY was sitting next to the President of the USA.


  50. It's not right or left. It's just that Trump is such a clown, the jokes became obvious.


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