Someone at NBC called Anderson Cooper about something (now with less Matt Lauer)

Anderson Cooper on the telephone. ()
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Last night, Deadline.com reported that NBC "toppers" called CNN anchor Anderson Cooper to see whether he was interested in taking Matt Lauer's place on the "Today" show.

What has followed reminds me of an old tagline for "The Daily Show": "When news breaks, we fix it."

Let's start at the beginning, with Deadline's report from last night. Stripped of all its contextual extras, here is the news:

I hear NBC toppers recently reached out to CNN’s Anderson Cooper to replace Lauer on the show before the end of the year. After their initial approach to Cooper, I hear NBC reached out to Lauer to get his blessing about the changeover. But I heard they got pushback from the Today veteran, who contacted Cooper to express his disapproval. I also hear that call caught Cooper by surprise, as he had assumed Lauer had been brought on board before NBC began making overtures.

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This is Deadline, a site with a reputation for reaching to break news, with the resulting mixture of big, juicy scoops and misfires you'd expect to result from that. In this case, we don't know from reading the item how many sources the reporter heard it from, who they are or why they are in a position to know (let alone their names and titles).

Following on the report, The Hollywood Reporter (which always seems to me to enjoy any opportunity to dump cold water on Deadline.com reports) countered with a news item under the headline "NBC: Anderson Cooper Not Approached for Matt Lauer Job."

To be able to assert that, THR put together material from sources including "NBC executives and sources close to Anderson Cooper" who said that while someone at NBC did contact Cooper recently, "he is not in line to replace Lauer."

Mark this well: THR attributes the following to "an NBC executive": "[The network has] exploratory talks with talent inside and outside of the network. But to read anything specific into that is presumptuous."

In other words, someone at NBC called Cooper, but all the rest of Deadline's report is, if not false, then irrelevant.

"Sources close to both men deny that Lauer ever contacted Cooper to register disapproval over any talks," the article reports, for example. More tangentially, "sources close to Cooper" tell THR he isn't interested in a daily morning television show.

Want more? Through a spokesperson, THR obtained the following canned quote from NBC News senior vice president Alexandra Wallace:

As we’ve said before, Matt Lauer is the best in the business. We want him in the Today show anchor chair for many years to come. We are not considering replacing Matt Lauer.

Meanwhile, Brian Stelter, writing for The New York Times, gets a headline that reads: "NBC Is Said to Offer Lauer’s Job to Cooper." 

That's safe: even if nobody from NBC ever called Cooper about anything ever, that headline could be true. After all, the Deadline.com reporter says it happened; or rather says that "three people" say it happened; therefore it is, on its face, true to say it is said to have happened. If I said it to my mother, that headline is true.

(Editor's note: The headline was later changed to read "Entreaty to Cooper suggests shake-up at 'Today.'")

Then there's the lede sentence, which is both more and less ambitious than that headline. It asserts that NBC contacted Cooper about the gig, but not that he was offered the job:

Earlier this month an NBC executive contacted Anderson Cooper with a question that would flatter and intrigue just about anyone. Would Mr. Cooper, the biggest star of CNN, consider replacing Matt Lauer on the “Today” show in the months to come?

Again, stripping away contextual trappings and side notes, the case for this lede comes down to one thing: "[Three] people with knowledge of the call confirmed that it happened."

That is in itself something to make a formal logic student scratch his head. If it hadn't happened, then nobody could have knowledge of it. The important verb here is "confirmed," because three people asserted to Stelter that the call happened. And in the context of that lede, what they are confirming is that NBC called Cooper to ask whether he would consider the job.

Who are these "people" and how are they in a position to "know" about the call? We don't know: "The people insisted on anonymity because the call was considered confidential." Again, reputation matters here: Stelter doesn't get it wrong, pretty much ever.

But there are reasons to wonder about the context of this confirmation the three people gave Stelter in the article itself, which is disclosed in the passive voice.

"It is unclear who at NBC made the call to Mr. Cooper," Stelter reports.

So did the three people who confirmed to Stelter they knew about the call and what it was about not know who at NBC made the call? Or did they refuse to say? We don't know.

There is not presently a president of the network. The chairwoman of the company that oversees the NBC news division used to work at CNN. But none of it is to the point.

What does NBC officialdom have to say to the Times? Nothing. ("Declined to comment about the circumstances of the call or about Deadline.com's report that Mr. Lauer later called Mr. Cooper to 'express his disapproval.'")

And here, something very interesting!

A news division executive, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity, confirmed in an e-mail that “NBC News has many exploratory talks with talent inside and outside of the network, but to read anything specific into that is presumptuous.” The same person also said, “We are confident in our anchor team and are focused on producing great morning TV.”

The first part is identical to the quote carried in THR that was sourced to "an NBC executive." Except where THR uses the quote to throw water on the Deadline.com report, the Times uses it to "confirm" that a call might well have happened. Used this way, it seems to bolster the report.

Most of the rest is added context, too:

TMZ.com said its sources had said that “Lauer is actually on board with the idea of Anderson replacing him,” and that “he actually planned to have a meeting with Anderson to sit down and discuss it.”

But that's just more sources talking to more reporters. It proceeds from the factualness of the phone call rather than helping to establish it.

Then, late in the piece, the following befuddling bit:

On Wednesday, through a spokeswoman, the executive in charge of “Today,” Alex Wallace, said: “As we’ve said before, Matt Lauer is the best in the business. We want him in the ‘Today’ show anchor chair for many years to come.”

Later in the day, Ms. Wallace amended her statement to add, “We are not considering replacing Matt Lauer.”

So: NBC's explicit denial, sourced to the executive in charge of "Today," is less reliable in the view of this article than the "three people with knowledge" we began with.

Where does that leave poor Matt Lauer?

—Tom McGeveran

On Capital...

Screamer piece good for Quinn's name-recognition, if not for her reputation

Media start-up hatched at Columbia, 'The Big Roundtable,' looks for a new long-form business model

In other news...

Vice Media says its new HBO show is the "grown-up, smarter, more erudite version of Vice.” [The New York Observer]

You can scratch Vice Media svengali Tom Freston off the list of possible Time Inc. chief executives. [The New York Post]

Tucker Carlson is the new co-host of "Fox & Friends Weekends." [Deadline]

Esquire stands by its recent piece on the killing of Osama bin Laden in light of a new CNN report calling some of its reporting into question. [Esquire.com]

Pivot, the new cable channel for millenials. [TV Newser]

A Jane Pratt Q&A? Why not! [Media Bistro]

Quote of the day...

We are reaching a point at which there will be many fewer actual media companies, and more and more companies which learn to mimic what used to be journalism in order to sell their products. We’ve gone from advertizing supporting journalism to journalism supporting corporate propaganda. At the rate we’re going, as the line between church and state is deliberately blurred by desperate media companies, we may end up with a handful of actual independent online magazines and newspapers and a vast industry of corporate propaganda designed to look like the real thing. If we’re lucky.

Andrew Sullivan

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This year's Peabody Award winners:

Thirty-nine recipients of the 72nd Annual Peabody Awards were announced today by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The winners, chosen by the Peabody board as the best in electronic media for the year 2012, were named in a ceremony in the Peabody Gallery on the UGA Campus.

The latest Peabody recipients reflect diversity in content, genre and sources of origination.

They include “Girls,” Lena Dunham’s HBO comedy-drama about the young and the feckless in New York; “Putin, Russia and the West,” a compelling portrait of a modern-day czar; “Rapido y Furioso (Fast and Furious),” Univision’s Mexican perspective on the infamous Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive gun-tracking debacle; “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” a sterling magazine series that springboards from athletics; “Robin’s Journey,” a public-service campaign created around “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts’ treatment for a rare blood disease; and “Design Ah!,” an imaginative Japanese series aimed at developing children’s creative vision.

“Reviewing submissions for Peabody consideration is a truly exciting process,” said Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabody Awards. “Producers and organizations send us their best work from the previous year. It is an astonishing array of outstanding media accomplishment. From this array, we must select the ‘best of the best.’ It’s not always easy, but it always demonstrates the meaning of true excellence in electronic media.”

International recipients also included “Salat (Bone Dry),” a report by the Philippine magazine series “Reel Time” about malnourished children; “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished,” a sobering dispatch from a little-covered civil war zone; and a pair of hard-hitting documentaries from ITV’s “Exposure” series: “The Other Side of Jimmy Savile” dealt with posthumous revelations that a beloved, knighted TV star was a sexual predator; and “Banaz: An Honour Killing” detailed the case of an independent-minded Kurdish-British woman murdered by her own family. A Canadian winner, the documentary “Under Fire: Journalists in Combat,” explored the mindset and motivation of war correspondents and the dangers they increasingly face.

Local television news reports honored included “Ford Escape: Exposing a Deadly Defect,” an investigative series by KNXV in Phoenix that led to a recall of more than 700,000 SUVs; “Investigating the IRS,” an exposé of billions of dollars in fraudulent tax-claim payouts; and “Investigating the Fire,” Denver station WMGH’s probe of a controlled burn by Colorado state foresters that turned deadly. WVIT, a West Hartford, CT, station that also serves nearby Newtown, was awarded a Peabody for its quick response and comprehensive coverage of “Breaking News: Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

Other entertainment winners included the FX series “Louie,” comedian Louis C.K.’s serrated, boundary-testing take on being a single, showbiz dad; “Southland,” TNT’s richly nuanced drama about Los Angeles police; “Inside the National Recording Registry,” a delightful series of radio documentaries about recorded music chosen for inclusion in that archive; and “Switched at Birth,” an ABC Family drama whose multicultural elements include major characters who are deaf.

“Our list of Peabody recipients for 2012 demonstrates the range of superb work,” Newcomb said. “From local to national to international, from radio to television, broadcast to cable to web, the Peabody sets the goals for every type of media production. We’ll continue to do this, no matter how the world of electronic media develops.”

Peabodys also went to “Game Change,” an HBO film about how Sarah Palin was catapulted into the national political spotlight, and “D.L. Hughley: The Endangered List,” a mock documentary on Comedy Central in which the comedian campaigned to get black men the “same EPA protections” as the Kaman cave cricket and the Texas kangaroo rat.

“Doctor Who,” the ever-evolving, ever-clever BBC science fiction series now entering its second half century, was awarded an Institutional Peabody, as was Michael Apted’s remarkable “Up” series of documentaries that have assayed the lives of 14 Britons at seven-year intervals since 1964.

A rare Individual Peabody was awarded to Lorne Michaels, now in his 37th year as executive producer of “Saturday Night Live” and still discovering new comic talents, incubating ideas and nurturing careers.

The documentary honorees underscored the vital, variegated state of the non-fiction form. They included the Smithsonian Channel’s “MLK: The Assassination Tapes,” in which rare archival footage was fused into a gripping reconstruction of the events surrounding the Civil Rights leader’s 1968 murder; “Sheikh Jarrah, My Neighborhood,” an encouraging Al Jazeera report about a Palestinian-Israeli interaction in an East Jerusalem neighborhood; and “Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present,” an HBO film about the performance-art pioneer that’s as challenging and outrageous as she is.

Other documentaries winning Peabodys included “The Loving Story,” a poignant film shown on HBO about a couple infamously arrested in 1958 for daring to marry across racial lines; “Summer Pasture,” an “Independent Lens” film that chronicled a nomadic Tibetan family’s natural and political hardships; and “Why Poverty?,” a collection of eight distinctively different films from Steps International that explored aspects of that human condition historically and here and now.

Other radio winners included “Teen Contender,” a “Radio Diaries” entry that shadowed a teenaged boxer on her quest to fight on the U.S. Olympic team; “The Leonard Lopate Show,” WNYC Radio’s noble, nimble daily consideration of New York City’s art, political and cultural life; and “What Happened at Dos Erres,” a “This American Life” spellbinder about a Guatemalan immigrant who learns that the man he believed to be his father actually led the massacre of his village.

News winners also included two “60 Minutes” segments that demonstrated the magazine show’s range. “Deception at Duke” dug deep into allegations of fraud in a prestigious Duke University doctor’s cancer-cure research findings. “Joy in the Congo” celebrated the emergence of a home-grown symphony orchestra in that war-ravaged African republic.

ABC News’ presciently planned, comprehensive coverage of “Superstorm Sandy” was honored with a Peabody, as was CNN’s thorough, voluminous and well-contextualized “Coverage Inside Syria and Homs 2012.” NPR’s detailed, daring coverage of Syria’s descent into chaos by Deborah Amos and Kelly McEvers was also a winner.

The two websites receiving Peabody Awards demonstrate the breadth of styles and content that this medium can accommodate. SCOTUSblog is a treasure trove mostly of text–archival material, updates, analysis–about the daily and historic workings of the Supreme Court, while “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” on The New York Times’ website, explored the cause and toll of an avalanche in Washington state primarily through spectacular graphics and aerial video.

These 39 Peabodys will be formally presented at a luncheon ceremony on May 20 at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York. Scott Pelley, anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” will be this year’s emcee.