"Showdown" coming; Trump skipping Super Bowl interview; CNN and NYT scoops; Facebook's woes; SOTU ratings; "House of Cards" back in production

By Tom Kludt and the CNN Media team -- view this email in your browser right here
Happy February! I'm Tom Kludt, filling in for Brian Stelter, who's in Toronto for the day. Scroll down for Super Bowl week fodder, the latest on Stormy Daniels, "House of Cards" news and SOTU ratings...

BREAKING: Trump snubbing NBC

Brian Stelter emails from up north: President Trump has decided not to participate in a Super Bowl Sunday interview this weekend. "He is not doing a Super Bowl interview," a White House official said on condition of anonymity on Wednesday. Sources at NBC affirmed that their interview requests have been turned down. But Trump still has an open invitation, should he choose to change his mind, the sources said... 

 >> Context from Brian's story: A pre-Super Bowl interview with the president has become an American tradition in the past decade. When Fox televised the Super Bowl last year, Trump sat down with Fox's Bill O'Reilly at the White House. But right now he has lots of reasons to avoid high-stakes interview settings, no matter how high the ratings might be. Imagine all the questions an NBC journalist would ask about the ongoing Russia probes...

One hour, two scoops

Jake Tapper led the 4pm hour of "The Lead" with Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and Laura Jarrett's report that, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein visited the White House last month, Trump "wanted to know where the special counsel's Russia investigation was heading. And he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was 'on my team.'"

Later in the hour, another CNN scoop by Jarrett, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb: "Controversial FBI agent co-wrote initial draft of explosive Comey letter reopening Clinton email probe..."

Hope Hicks' name is trending...

Why? Because the press-shy Trump aide is featured in this story on the front page of Thursday's NYT: "Special Counsel Zeroes In on a Trump Tower Cover Story."

Per the NYT, Mark Corallo, former spokesman for Trump's legal team, "is planning to tell Mr. Mueller about a previously undisclosed conference call with Mr. Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, according to the three people. Mr. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that emails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting -- in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians -- 'will never get out.' That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice, the people said." Hicks' attorney responded: "She never said that." This may amount to "his word against hers," NYT's Mark Mazzetti said on "CNN Tonight..."

FBI takes on #ReleaseTheMemo

Via CNNPolitics: "FBI Director Christopher Wray sent a striking signal to the White House Wednesday, issuing a rare public warning that a controversial Republican memo about the FBI's surveillance practices omits key information that could impact its veracity."

The statement from the FBI was a strong rebuke to both the White House and the pro-Trump media universe, which has been hyping the Devin Nunes-authored memo for days now. The developments keep coming... Check CNN.com's homepage for the latest...

Heading for a "showdown"

On CNN on Wednesday afternoon, Gloria Borger wondered openly whether Wray could survive. "What does Chris Wray do? Does he have to quit? I don't know the answer to these questions. But this is a showdown that we're headed to. I don't know where it leads, honestly."

Appearing opposite Borger during the same segment, Jeffrey Toobin agreed: "I don't see how this gets resolved without perhaps more people leaving the Trump administration." 

--> Among Trump's media boosters, however, the development was seen as confirmation of their suspicions. "Of course the FBI has 'grave concerns about a memo that might shed light on its own malfeasance," tweeted Breitbart's Joel Pollak...
For the record, part one
 -- Amid new harassment allegations, Charlie Walk has been axed from Fox's musical competition show "The Four..." He says there has been an "extreme rush to judgment" against him... (Deadline)

 -- Erik Wemple's latest: "Massachusetts publisher fires newspaper editor after pay-equality spat..." (WashPost)

 -- "You're probably asking yourself, when will these cuts end? I wish I could answer that." The Oregonian is laying off another 11 people... (WWeek)

"Facebook lost daily users for the first time ever in the U.S. and Canada"

Brian Stelter emails: Maybe we'll look back years from now and say this was the start of something really serious. Or... maybe not. Either way, that's the headline on Recode right now... "first time ever..." Kurt Wagner and Rani Molla note that it was "a small but negative change to daily active users in Facebook's most valuable market." FB says this is not expected to be "an ongoing trend..."

 >> More via CNN Tech's Seth Fiegerman: "Mark Zuckerberg's attempts to fix Facebook are causing users to spend less time on the service... Tweaks made to the content it shows users has led to a 5% drop in the total amount of time users spend on the social network..."

 >> Donie O'Sullivan's latest: "Facebook didn't catch fake 'supermoon' video as it racked up 16 million views"

YouTube scores deal with new MLS team in L.A.

"YouTube TV has secured exclusive rights to games with a new Major League Soccer team in Los Angeles, marking the first time a streaming service of any kind has made such a deal with a U.S. pro sports team instead of a TV alternative," Variety's Andrew Wallenstein and Todd Spangler reported Thursday. "As part of the innovative arrangement, YouTube TV will also nab naming rights on jerseys for the team, known as Los Angeles Football Club, which joins MLS in March. The team's owners include media mogul Peter Guber, Magic Johnson and Will Ferrell." Read more...

Tomi Lahren issues apology 

Oliver Darcy emails: Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren raised eyebrows on Wednesday for some of the comments she has made on her Instagram page in recent days. Lahren referred to Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy as "that little limp d---" and another individual as a "little ginger nerd." I reached out to a Fox News rep to see if the network had any comment and whether such comments were in accordance with its standards. I did not hear back... But Lahren issued an apology: "My comments on my personal Instagram about Kennedy's response were inappropriate and I take full responsibility for that. I got too upset. I sincerely apologize."

A manic morning...

President Trump's SOTU address didn't stay in the news for long. Congressional resignations, the FBI controversy and the train crash in Virginia dominated cable news screens and homepages by midday...

Surprise, surprise: conspiracy theories abound after train crash...

Oliver Darcy emails: Alex Jones, one of the world's leading conspiracy theorists, told viewers without evidence on his fringe broadcast that it was a "kamikaze" attack. "This country is in civil war," he said. Infowars DC bureau chief Jerome Corsi suggested the crash was a "deep state counterattack" after the GOP chose to release a controversial FISA memo. And The Gateway Pundit posted a story about "DEEP STATE RUMBLINGS" after the train crash. Will Sommer had a good running thread on all the theories here...

 --> Important: The Daily Beast's Ben Collins writes that Facebook's Trending News feature helped boost some of the baseless theories about the train crash. ..

#SOTU: The day after

46 million tuned in

Brian Stelter reports: About 46 million people watched Tuesday night's address... The viewership figures were down, but only slightly, from Trump's joint address to Congress last winter. Tuesday's ratings were also slightly lower than the comparable State of the Union speech delivered by President Obama in 2010. But is that because of Trump's relative unpopularity, or the increasingly fragmented state of television? Read Brian's story here...

Trump meets with regional outlets 

Trump met Wednesday with more than a dozen reporters from local print and TV outlets. Steve Herman has a rundown of who attended...

He invited WHO?!

Oliver Darcy emails: Congressman Matt Gaetz invited notorious right-wing blogger Chuck Johnson to be one of his guests at the State of the Union address. Gaetz confirmed to The Daily Beast's Lachlan Markay and Gideon Resnick that he did provide Johnson a ticket. The Florida congressman, however, downplayed his relationship with Johnson, saying he had an extra ticket and Johnson "showed up at my office" that day and was in the right place at the right time. Johnson, for his part, offered up a different explanation on how he received the ticket, but told The Daily Beast, "I'll go with whatever version Gaetz says because I'm not a gangster rapper."

Has the Stormy passed? 

Stormy Daniels was set to follow up her strange interview with Jimmy Kimmel with an appearance Thursday on "The View." But THR's Jeremy Barr reports that will no longer be happening. A spokesman for "The View" did not provide a reason for the cancellation...
 -- ICYMI: Frank Pallotta has a recap on Kimmel's interview with Daniels...

 -- Brian Lowry emails: It's hard to blame Kimmel for capitalizing on the attention that went with booking Daniels, even using the forum to push a very sober conversation about immigration earlier in his show. But given her coy responses, anyone else who books her is walking into an awkward and likely embarrassing segment with eyes wide open...

Michael Wolff's grotesque claim

In an interview with theSkimm posted online Wednesday, the "Fire and Fury" author defended the rumor that he's fanned: that Nikki Haley was involved in an extramarital affair with Trump. As Wolff put it, Haley "seems to have embraced it." Huh? That probably came as news to Haley, who has denounced the rumor as "highly offensive" and "disgusting." Erik Wemple has a justifiably tough response to Wolff over at WaPo. "Embraced it?" wrote Wemple. "In what reportorial universe is Wolff living?"

It also drew sharp pushback from Axios' Jonathan Swan, who took to Twitter to call out Wolff: "Hey @MichaelWolffNYC: it must be fun to write and say whatever you want under the banner of 'non-fiction,' with zero fact-checking or basic decency," Swan tweeted. "I have no idea why you put me in your author acknowledgments but please remove my name for the next edition."

Congrats! We made it to the end of the month!

MSNBC's Chris Hayes tweeted that about a year ago, less than a week into Trump's presidency. It became my mantra in 2017. And if the first month of 2018 was any indication, Year Two figures to be just as dizzying. HuffPost's Ryan Reilly and Amanda Terkel provided a much-needed recap on the past 31 days with an instant-classic headline: "What A Year This Month Has Been."

 >> And the WashPost's Ashley Parker just filed this: "The month of January felt like a year -- and the pilot episode for the 12-part series to come..."
For the record, part two
 -- The Hill says Krystal Ball, the former MSNBC host and Democratic congressional candidate, will serve as the "progressive co-host" on a morning show that will be streamed online. A conservative host will be announced soon...
 -- Speaking of The Hill, the news outlet told staffers on Wednesday that employees are prohibited from purchasing Twitter followers. This comes on the heels of last week's big NYT expose... (The Daily Beast

 -- Via Joe Pompeo, The Village Voice -- which shuttered its print operations last year -- will return to 36 Cooper Square, the building it called home for over two decades. The relocation will begin in the spring...

 -- Insightful NYT story: The online ad business is "the driving force behind much of the chaos and disrepute online..." (NYT

Parents Television Council to Timberlake: "Break a leg"

Has it really been 14 years since "wardrobe malfunction" was etched permanently in the cultural lexicon? Let's see: Tom Brady was a youthful 26 and playing in only his second Super Bowl; John Kerry had just won the New Hampshire primary; I was a sophomore in high school. 

So, thanks to the Parents Television Council for making me feel old! The group penned an open letter to Justin Timberlake, who will return to the Super Bowl halftime stage in Minneapolis, making an "urget appeal for a positive, uplifting and entertaining" show on Sunday. His infamous performance with Janet Jackson in 2004, the group wrote, "left an indelible mark." 

"As we approach this Sunday's Super Bowl LII and its halftime show during which you'll be performing, we ask you to keep the halftime show friendly and safe for the children watching, and who may be hoping to emulate you one day," PTC wrote.

The letter closed: "Break a leg." 

Lowry reviews latest "30 for 30"

BrIan Lowry emails: ESPN pretty much lucked out with its latest "30 for 30" documentary, "The Two Bills," with Bill Belichick's Patriots back in the Super Bowl. The feature-length film brings Belichick together with former boss Bill Parcells to reminisce about their soap-opera-worthy coaching history. Read the review here...

Unmasking "Left Shark"

Speaking of halftime shows that will live in infamy, NPR sat down with the "hapless backup dancer" who lumbered on stage with Katy Perry three years ago and became instantly immortalized as a meme. It turns out 'Left Shark' has a name: he's Bryan Gaw, and he spoke with Morning Edition's David Greene...

Pre-game reads

Here's a roundup of some good Super Bowl coverage to digest before the big game...

 -- As a Vikings fan, I felt very triggered by this headline: 'The Eagles Crushed Vikings Fans' Hopes. Now They're Crashing Their Super Bowl Party.' No, I still haven't gotten over the NFC title game. Thanks for asking. (NYT)

 --> (Brian, representing Eagles fans, will be back on newsletter duty tomorrow!)

 -- Over at The Ringer, Kevin Clark has a fun piece on the argument dividing the Eagles locker room: MJ vs. LeBron. 

 -- Another one from The Ringer: "How play-by-play announcers became the new anchors."

 -- Here's another good debate: who has meant more to the Patriots dynasty, Tom Brady or Bill Belichick? (ESPN)

 -- The Patriots have obviously been here before; the same can't be said for most of the Eagles' roster. But how much does that experience really matter? (WSJ)

It's official: Fox wins five years of "Thursday Night Football" 

Ahiza Garcia emails her latest: The NFL and Fox Sports have formally agreed to a five-year deal for the broadcast rights to "Thursday Night Football." Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed... Read more...
For the record, part two
By Julia Waldow:

 -- Lauren Katzenberg is joining the NYT as the editor of At War, a soon-to-return channel covering global conflict...

 -- In this piece, Jim Bankoff reflects on Vox's status amid changes in the media industry, including new Facebook policies that will make posts from publishers and businesses less prominent in one's News Feed...

 -- THR has a look at Kathy Griffin's plan to return from comedic exile...

 -- In an age of increasing shutdowns, sales, and bankruptcies, Freedom of the Press Foundation and Archive-It are helping news organizations protect their online content from wealthy business buyers who might want to erase or adjust unfavorable coverage...

An unlikely opponent to Sinclair-Tribune

Writing for Politico, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay urged the Trump administration to block the Sinclair-Tribune deal.

 --> Hadas Gold emails: DeLay says that the merger could backfire on Republicans who are excited by the deal, partly because of "the prospect of a national broadcast giant with a distinct right-leaning perspective." For one, DeLay says it could open up the door for the other networks to consolidate "their own empires even further, creating huge liberal broadcasters." But it could also open up the administration to issues when it comes to their lawsuit to stop the AT&T-Time Warner deal. Read DeLay's piece here...
For the record, part three
By Francesca Giuliani-Hoffman:

 -- In what may be her last-ever blog post on The Awl, Silvia Killingsworth dissects Felix Salmon's departure from Fusion. She touches upon some of the most important macro-dynamics in the media today, like the lack of transparency around salaries and the unionization trend across newsrooms, all in the context of how journalism as a business has changed over time... (The Awl)

 -- CJR published written statements from people who responded to its newsroom sexual harassment survey, who agreed to their statements being published... (CJR)

 -- David Dayen says tech companies, whose feet have been held to the fire throughout 2017, are not receiving any pushback from the institution that could prompt them to make changes... (The Intercept)
The entertainment desk

9 Best Picture noms, 0 blockbusters

Jill Disis emails her latest: The Academy nominated a slew of critically acclaimed movies for its best picture award this year — and chances are, you haven't seen any of them. It's not enormously surprising that no blockbusters are in the running for the Oscars, since the Academy has been trending toward smaller, more artistic films. But should any big hits have been considered? Read Jill's piece here...

Hollywood vets join "House of Cards"

Chloe Melas emails: Netflix's "House of Cards" resumed filming its sixth and final season on Wednesday. It was also revealed that the upcoming season will feature two Hollywood veterans – Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear. Read Chloe's whole piece...

MoviePass: "a kind of movie insurance program"

Frank Pallotta sat down recently with Mitch Lowe, the CEO of the much-ballyhooed company MoviePass. Lowe likened the service to "kind of a movie insurance program." 

"Our service is really low because we are going to use our understanding of you as a customer to be able to give you relevant suggestions that you might find valuable in your life," he said. "We might say there's a great restaurant across the street from the movie. If you go over there and show them your card, you're going to get a free appetizer." Read/watch Frank's interview here...
What do you think?
Email brian.stelter@turner.com... I love the feedback, corrections, suggestions, and tips. Thank you...

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