Morning Media, presented by the National Confectioners Association: Future of the Fox News probe — Goodbye to Roger Ailes — Postcard from Sulzberger Bay

By Joe Pompeo | 05/19/2017 05:41 AM EDT

With Cristiano Lima

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE FEDS' FOX PROBE? With the death of former Fox News chief Roger Ailes at the age of 77 yesterday, the FT's' sources say the investigation into possible criminal practices at the network "is now on shaky ground ... Prosecutors with the US attorney's office in Manhattan have been questioning former Fox News executives in recent weeks as part of a probe opened last autumn. Because Ailes, 77, was at the centre of the government inquiry, these people say, that makes it challenging for them to advance the investigation."

My colleague Hadas Gold was chatting with a lawyer who has extensive knowledge of corporate compliance cases like the Fox probe, which involves the accounting of sexual harassment settlements under Ailes, as well as potentially illegal tactics used against journalists and Fox News critics. For what it's worth, this attorney -- who didn't want to speak on the record -- doesn't think the inquiry is in jeopardy.

"I don't think [Ailes' death] will have any impact. The issues that have been floated out there, including potential wire fraud and securities law violations, are sort of separate from the people involved in any alleged misconduct. So whatever happens to the people, the sometimes hyper technical approach they take at [the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan] to chase a violation, will or will not bear fruit based on whether the financial documents offer requisite evidence. I think a new U.S. attorney could maybe move the needle, but with financial misreporting and payment concealment stuff, the government rarely gives up unless they're sure they can't find a thread to pull. That stuff has a long tail."

Then again: "It's definitely going to have an impact not having a key decision-maker being able to testify on the company's behalf," Los Angeles-based attorney Bryan Sullivan tells Variety. "Odds are everybody who is going to be questioned is now going to say 'Roger Ailes made the final decision.' And he's not going to be able to say 'I relied on the general counsel' or 'I relied on the CFO.' "

SPEAKING OF HADAS - You'll be in her hands early next week while I'm away for a couple of days. Be sure to send her lots of juicy tips over the weekend so she can put together a red-hot Monday edition for you guys: hgold@politico.com / @Hadas_Gold

TIPS AND COMMENTS: jpompeo@politico.com / @joepompeo. Morning Media is edited by Alex Weprin (@alexweprin / aweprin@politico.com) and produced with writing/reporting help from Cristiano Lima (clima@politico.com / @ludacristiano ). Archives. Subscribe.

** A message from the National Confectioners Association - #AlwaysATreat: Leading global chocolate and candy companies are coming together to provide more information, options, and support as consumers enjoy their favorite treats. It's the first step on our journey to help people manage their sugar intake and ensure that they feel empowered to make informed choices. Learn more at AlwaysATreat.com. **

A FEW TIDBITS FROM THE DELUGE OF ROGER AILES COVERAGE YESTERDAY:

-- Big NYT feature dropped last night: "Roger Ailes's Swift Exit From the Network He Built," by Emily Steel. Some good color and anecdotes in here, but what I'm most curious about is: Which New Jersey diner was Ailes spotted at the week after his ouster, "eating bacon and eggs and drinking what appeared to be a vanilla milkshake"? (I'm serious. Does anyone know?)

-- In Michael Wolff's piece for The Hollywood Reporter, he recounts a conversation he had with the Fox News founder just one week ago, in which Ailes addressed the chatter, heavy in the air lately, about a rumored Fox News competitor: "Roger, yet proscribed by the non-compete provisions of his separation agreement, nevertheless had a plan in his head, and was taking calls. 'I can't call. But I can't stop people from calling me.'"

-- Shep Smith's on-air encomium is worth watching in order to understand the complexity of the past 10 months for veteran Fox Newsers as they came to terms with Roger Ailes the mentor vs. Roger Ailes the monster: "Then last year... last year we began to learn of another side of Roger Ailes. Another part of his life. I didn't believe it could be true at first. This man I so admired, despite our differences."

-- Bill O'Reilly, fresh off of his own Fox News ouster, published a remembrance in USA Today last night. "He did both good and bad in his life and in that, he has something in common with every human being."

MUST READS:

-- "Comey, Unsettled by Trump, Is Said to Have Wanted Him Kept at a Distance" [NYT]

-- "As investigators circled Flynn, he got a message from Trump: Stay strong" [Yahoo! News]

-- "Cassandra Fairbanks Loved Bernie Sanders. Now She's a Donald Trump Superfan." [Cosmopolitan]

-- "It'll Take An Army To Kill The Emperor" [Popular Mechanics]

-- "The Most Important Scientist You've Never Heard Of" [Mental Floss]

NOTES FROM YESTERDAY'S OTR ANCHOR LUNCH, by Hadas Gold - Ahead of his press conference with the Colombian president, a relaxed President Trump criticized the media for not covering his successes and made it clear he doesn't think the media covers all of the good work he says the White House is doing. "I don't watch you guys as much anymore because if I did it would be all hell," Trump griped, according to someone who was there. "You couldn't tell that I went to a good school, studied, that I succeeded in my companies." There was one thing about which Trump was more circumspect: Jim Comey's termination as FBI chief. Trump did however acknowledge that the timing was a "miscalculation," according to our source, and he told the anchors he'd expected to receive bipartisan praise for the move.

Among the attendees: Fareed Zakaria, Jake Tapper, and Wolf Blitzer; David Muir and George Stephanopoulos; Chris Wallace and Bret Baier; Scott Pelley and John Dickerson; Savannah Guthrie; Judy Woodruff; Jose Diaz-Balart and Lori Montenegro; and others. On the administration side, there was Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, Hope Hicks and Sean Spicer. Ivanka Trump and Mike Pence dropped by, too.

Baier's take, on Fox News: "It was the same Donald Trump we saw in the campaign talking to reporters. It was the same Trump we saw before the joint address."

REVOLVING DOOR:

-- Big news for NYRB: "Ian Buruma has been named editor of The New York Review of Books. He succeeds Robert B. Silvers who recently died and who was, with the late Barbara Epstein, a founding editor of the Review. Buruma has been a regular contributor to The New York Review since 1985; he also has contributed articles to a number of other publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Guardian, and La Repubblica. He is currently the Paul W. Williams Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College." Full announcement.

-- The new president and publisher of The Daily Beast is Heather Dietrick, "a first amendment lawyer who served as Nick Denton's right hand through Gawker Media's legal struggles, bankruptcy and eventual sale to Univision Communications Inc.." WSJ has more.

FEELS LIKE THIS IS BECOMING A TREND? Hadas Gold reporting: Security guards at the Federal Communications Commision "manhandled" a CQ Roll Call reporter and forced him to leave the premises of a public hearing, the National Press Club and the reporter said on Thursday. John M. Donnelly, a well-regarded veteran correspondent, said security guards hassled him as he tried to ask commissioners questions at a public hearing on net neutrality. Per an NPC news release: "When Donnelly strolled in an unthreatening way toward FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly to pose a question, two guards pinned Donnelly against the wall with the backs of their bodies until O'Rielly had passed. O'Rielly witnessed this and continued walking."

Donnelly, who also happens to be president of the National Press Club Press Freedom Team, said he was then forced out of the building after being asked why he had not posed his question during the press conference. O'Rielly apologized to Donnelly on Twitter, saying the didn't recognize Donnelly in the hallway. An FCC spokesperson said in an email: "We apologized to Mr. Donnelly more than once and let him know that the FCC was on heightened alert today based on several threats." But Donnelly said on Twitter that while he appreciates the apologies, he doesn't buy the security threat excuse: "There's no way I could have been mistaken for a threat."

TRUMP TRIPLES PAST PRESIDENTIAL COVERAGE, via Cristiano Lima: Surprise, surprise. Donald Trump dominated media coverage in his first 100 days, according to a report by the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center, accounting for 41 percent of all news coverage in that time. The figure is three times higher than that of his predecessors, and the study shows Trump was the featured speaker in almost two-thirds of his coverage. Also perhaps not a surprise to you: Trump has been the subject of largely unflattering media coverage. The outlet that came the closest to giving Trump consistently positive coverage? Fox News Channel. The full report is here.

SOUND BITES:

-- "Finally called on at a Trump news conference! Too bad I wasn't there." [Peter Baker]

-- "Reince: Please, sir, no tweeting for a while. Trump: Got it. Reince: Ok, I'm just going to tie my shoe..." [Stephen Colbert]

-- "Rest In Peace Roger Ailes, a complicated day for many at @FoxNews, but what you heard from us all day is the most honest assessment of him." [Jay Wallace]

-- "Actually, the way I'll always remember him is when he threatened to have a CNBC camera crew follow my daughters, 4 & 6, home from school." [Kurt Andersen]

FUN FACT - The New York Times' multimedia feature and VR film series about the Antarctic ice sheet is stunning. But what really caught our eye was seeing "Sulzberger Bay" in the southwest corner of the interactive map. Yes, it's what you think it is. From the U.S. Geological Survey : "Discovered by the Byrd Antarctic Expedition on Dec. 5, 1929, and named by Byrd for Arthur H. Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, a supporter of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition." And from the 1990 obituary of Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger: "Amid these activities she found time to be interested in polar explorations, an interest shared with her husband. One result was Adm. Richard E. Byrd's naming of a body of water Sulzberger Bay; it is in Antarctica, off Marie Byrd Land. Its cold blue surface reflects a mountain, Mount Iphigene." Who knew!

SOUNDTRACK: Nu Shooz, "I Can't Wait"

EXTRAS:

-- Jack Shafer: "Roger Ailes Was a Revolutionary in Reactionary Clothing" [POLITICO]

-- More details on the incident that led to the arrest of a West Virginia journalist after he attempted to interview Health Secretary Tom Price. [Charleston Gazette-Mail]

-- "The Skimm Is the Ivanka Trump of Newsletters ... Imagine if Politico's Playbook were translated by a chatbot that learned the English language from The Simple Life, Daily Mail headlines, and Nick Jr." [Slate]

-- The Atlantic rolled out a new homepage yesterday. [TheAtlantic.com]

** A message from the National Confectioners Association - #AlwaysATreat: We've always created transparent, fun, and great-tasting treats. By 2022, Mars, Wrigley, Nestlé USA, Ferrero, Lindt, Ghirardelli, Russell Stover, and Ferrara Candy Company will work together to make half of their individually wrapped products available in sizes that contain 200 calories or less per pack. And, 90 percent of the best-selling treats made by these companies will have calorie information printed right on the front of the pack. During the same time period, the newly established AlwaysATreat.com will evolve into a digital resource full of easy-to-use information for consumers to better understand the unique role that chocolate and candy can play in a happy, balanced lifestyle. Learn more at AlwaysATreat.com. **

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