Rupert Murdoch and Van Jones worked together to get this bill passed

Posted at 12:03 AM, Dec 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-19 07:32:12-05

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Senate passes criminal justice reform bill

Van Jones and the Koch brothers. Jared Kushner and Kim Kardashian. Fox and the ACLU. An unlikely band of supporters have been working behind the scenes to overhaul outdated criminal justice laws. On Tuesday night, the Senate passed the First Step Act by a vote of 87 to 12. President Trump is expected to sign it this week.

“The effort cements what is so far the biggest bipartisan victory of his presidency and turns the page on decades of policies that critics say were brutal, racist, ineffective and costly,” Jeremy Diamond and Alex Rogers wrote in this incredible tick-tock about the bill’s life and near-death. Check it out!

For more, here are the NYT and WSJ’s Wednesday stories about what the bill will do.

Van Jones’ reaction to the vote

Jones, a CNN commentator and host, was one of the bill’s top champions, working hand in hand with Jared Kushner. Shortly after the vote, Jones said on Don Lemon‘s show, “A Christmas miracle just happened tonight.” For decades, both political parties have “rushed to build prisons and be tough on crime, and we’ve been trapped,” he said, but “that nightmare began to come to an end tonight.”

Key word: Began. “People go, ‘Van, it doesn’t do this. It doesn’t do that.’ It’s not called the last step. It’s called the First Step! We will get to all these other issues,” Jones told Lemon…

Related: The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery tweeted that these 3 things are all true: “1. Possibly most significant criminal justice reform Congress has enacted in a generation. 2. Bill barely touches most areas of needed reform. 3. Amount of effort this small step took to get a vote on/passed not exactly encouraging for those who believe sweeping reforms needed…”

Winning over the right

Assuming Trump now signs the bill, “Kushner’s efforts to court conservative media figures” will be a big reason why, Politico’s Eliana Johnson and Burgess Everett wrote last week. Kushner worked the phones with Fox News hosts; showed up in person on Sean Hannity‘s show; and spoke with executives like Rupert Murdoch.

“Tending to the conservative press has also allowed Kushner to shape the news consumed by the president’s political supporters, and to make the case directly to the president — who has publicly embraced the measure — that the bill would not roil his political base,” Johnson and Everett wrote.

Fox’s parent company took the rare step of publicly endorsing the bill earlier this month. Fox spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the company has no new comment about the Senate vote…

In other news…

The ad boycott against Tucker Carlson’s show is growing

Oliver Darcy emails: Tucker Carlson is facing a growing advertiser backlash over anti-immigration comments he made last week. As of Tuesday evening, more than a dozen companies had abandoned Carlson’s program, either suspending or outright pulling their advertising. Those companies are Land Rover, IHOP,, Just For Men, Minted, Smile Direct, Pacific Life, ScotteVest, Nerd Wallet, TD Ameritrade, Bowflex, CareerBuilder, Zenni and the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer card. A few other companies have publicly said that they’ll continue sponsoring his show. Here’s my full story…

Fox slams “agenda-driven intimidation efforts”

Darcy continues: Fox News released a pointed statement on Tuesday afternoon that invoked the recent Antifa protest outside Carlson’s DC home and said this is another “threat” from the left. “We cannot and will not allow voices like Tucker Carlson to be censored by agenda-driven intimidation efforts from the likes of, Media Matters and Sleeping Giants,” Fox said…

>> Another bullet point from Fox: All of the advertisers that left Carlson’s show moved their commercials to other shows on the network, a network spokesperson said. As a result, the Fox spokesperson said no revenue has been lost…

>> Tucker’s show had at least 17 advertisers on Tuesday night, but the overall ad load was lower than usual…

Lowry’s take

Brian Lowry emails: It’s frankly embarrassing that Fox — and specifically whoever drafted its PR response — would refer to Tucker being “censored” by advertisers withdrawing from the program. Censorship has a very specific meaning, one that involves the government or an institution imposing limitations on speech. A company bowing to pressure from interest groups and pulling ads might be a lot of things — including, in the past, a preferred tactic of conservatives who have a beef with primetime series — but censorship isn’t one of them. It is, rather, an example of “free-market logic,” as The Post’s Erik Wemple put it, which an enterprise with Fox’s editorial stance would clearly support in other circumstances. And in practical terms, trashing your own advertisers isn’t a great look…


— If I ran a print newspaper, I’d put this on Wednesday’s front page: “Trump Foundation agrees to dissolve under court supervision…” (CNN)

Jeffrey Toobin tweeted: “State of play: @realDonaldTrump is unfit to run a charity in New York State but fit to control nuclear weapons that could destroy the world several times over.” (Twitter)

— Trump is once again claiming that he’s the victim of pro-Dem bias at Twitter. Aaron Rupar debunked his “conspiracy theory” here… (Vox)

New NYT story about Facebook and your data

“While it is true that Facebook hasn’t sold users’ data, for years it has struck deals to share the information with dozens of Silicon Valley companies. These partners were given more intrusive access to user data than Facebook has ever disclosed,” The New York Times reported Tuesday night in a new investigation by Gabriel J.X. Dance, Michael LaForgia and Nicholas Confessore.

The partners include Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify. They “got far more access than Cambridge Analytica did,” and FB “never directly told users that it was sharing this data,” according to the NYT’s “5 takeaways” recap of its own story.

Here’s the main story, titled “Facebook Offered Users Privacy Wall, Then Let Tech Giants Around It.”

A dichotomy…

CNN Digital SVP S. Mitra Kalita emails: Walt Mossberg announced he is leaving Facebook, and I bet many journalists are considering the same. Then I saw this heartbreaking account of a Massachusetts professor being stopped by police. And therein lie the two narratives of social media in 2018: One is of a platform so porous that users have been manipulated and mind melded, all while Russians meddled in U.S. elections. The other is the agency that Facebook and Twitter represents to Americans dealing with cops, or drinking coffee at a Philadelphia Starbucks, or barbecuing in Oakland, or selling bottled water in San Francisco. At their best, platforms democratize content and force us not to look away. Surely, they could figure out a way not to kill democracy in their business model…

— Related: NYT’s Kevin Roose tweeted on Tuesday, “So many tech executives think the public/media is at the cars-in-1910 stage of social media acceptance (‘we want our horses back’), but most people I know are at the cars-in-1955 stage (‘yes we know driving can be both useful and dangerous, now please give us seatbelts’)”

“Silicon Valley won’t save us. We’re on our own.”

That’s the subhed on Kara Swisher‘s latest column, titled “How You Can Help Fight the Information Wars.” She says social networks are exploited so effectively “precisely because they represent our values” — free speech, privacy and other democratic principles. So “for now, it’s not clear what we can do, except take control of our own individual news consumption.”

To that last point, I wrote in last night’s newsletter about the need for media and tech literacy and wondered aloud about how it can possibly scale to meet the size of the problem? Alan Miller, the head of the News Literacy Project, emailed with an answer: “Our Checkology virtual classroom is now being used by more than 5,000 teachers in every state in the U.S. We’ve reached more than 117,000 students with the prospect of exponentially expanding that number…”

Moonves: “It’s far from over”

One day after CBS said Les Moonves would not receive his $120 million severance, Moonves told Agenda, the FT’s corporate governance news service, that “it’s far from over.”

“In the interview, Mr. Moonves said he hadn’t yet decided whether to pursue arbitration,” Jim Stewart writes in Wednesday’s NYT. “But why wouldn’t he? Under his termination agreement, reached when he left the company in September, CBS itself will be picking up the tab.” Yes, the company has been paying Moonves’s legal fees…

An update on the CBS CEO search…

The WSJ’s Joe Flint and Emily Glazer report that former Disney COO Tom Staggs “has emerged as a top candidate” to take over at CBS.

They say the list includes about 10 people. The search firm Korn Ferry is helping the board with the list. Other potential candidates, according to the WSJ, include the company’s interim CEO Joe Ianniello (who deserves a lot of credit for steadying the ship), Hasbro CEO/CBS director Brian Goldner, and Starz COO Jeffrey Hirsch. “Former senior Time Warner executives John Martin and Olaf Olafsson are also among those who have had informal contact about the job, people familiar with the matter said. HBO Chief Executive Richard Plepler also was sounded out but indicated he wasn’t interested, the people said…”

Read more of Tuesday’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter… And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox…

Politico’s record year

This Joe Pompeo piece for VF reveals that Politico “made $113 million globally in 2018, the highest revenue number in its history, and roughly double what the company made five years earlier.” Owner Robert Allbritton says the company “will turn a profit of around $2 million this year.” The site has been plowing its annual profits back into expansion for years… Pompeo’s story has a preview of further expansions…

>> Allbritton’s comment about the state of VC-backed digital media: “Look, there are a lot of guys who took money at frothy valuations, and it’s really hard to keep those numbers going and to keep them sustained. And there are a lot that are still playing in the consumer-advertising world. I don’t know what the future holds for them. I think it’s gonna be a tough business. There’s this idea that you’re either sliding toward a position of having greater market presence, or you’re sliding off that curve, and if you’re dealing with consumer advertising, you’re fighting Facebook, Twitter, Google, now Amazon. Those are really, really big vacuum cleaners that are gonna suck up the vast majority of bucks. And even big media companies—the critical mass of those organizations is gonna be weighed against what Google’s got. I don’t know how that works long term, which saddens me to a large degree. I think everybody’s gonna have to find a different way.”