March 2, 2017 Last Updated 11:07 am

Attorney General latest to admit to Russian contacts; Los Angeles magazine editors let go after sale to Hour Media Group

Morning Brief: At least three Wisconsin newspapers publish opinion pieces urging the state to continue the practice of publishing public notices in state newspapers

This is getting really weird, really fast. A new scandal where I would not have thought it. Of all the things I might have worried about Jeff Sessions – and there are a bucket full – having had contacts with the Russians was not one of them.

“Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general,” The Washington Post reported last night.

The revelation is especially interesting, and potentially damaging because Sessions was asked specifically if he had had contacts with “any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election” by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in a written question sent to Sessions in January. His response was “No”, yet now it has evolved to a non-denial denial.

Meanwhile, one has to ask a simple question: why would a member of the Senate, one with ties to the Trump campaign, need to meet with a Russian official, and why would he then need to deny the contact? It simply makes no sense, which is why this could be incredibly damaging to the Trump White House. For one thing, it pretty much guarantees that Sessions will have to recuse himself from any investigation into Russian involvement in the election.

The Washington Post, Aaron Blake:

Jeff Sessions’s denials of contact with Russians are falling apart quickly

“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss the issues of the campaign,” Sessions said. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

This is a remarkably misleading non-denial denial. Sessions, in the course of three sentences, manufactures a straw man, props him up and then knocks him down. He is denying a report that doesn’t exist.

The fact is The Post never reported that Sessions and the Russian ambassador discussed “issues of the campaign.” The report was that he met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, period — apparently despite the Trump campaign’s repeated denials of contact with Russian officials and despite Sessions’s own apparent denials during his confirmation hearings.

It’s a statement that suggests Sessions is on his heels and needs to obfuscate. But just how much trouble is he in?

MSNBC, Steve Benen:

Jeff Sessions faces resignation calls following Russia revelations

Why would Sessions talk to an official with the Russian government? Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) noted overnight that she’s been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for a decade, and she’s never had any reason to call or meet with the Russian ambassador. What’s more, the Washington Post talked to 20 senators who were on the committee in 2016 – from both parties – and not one of them had communicated with the Russian ambassador.

Sessions, however, had two separate meetings. He says the communications were “superficial” and unimportant, but we have no idea if that’s true. We also don’t know why he’d take steps to conceal conversations that were anodyne.

It’d also be interesting to know if Sessions had other routine meetings with the Russian ambassador prior to 2016, or if this was unique to last year’s election period.

Is Sessions’ job in jeopardy? A wide variety of congressional Democrats have called for Sessions’ resignation given the contradictions between his sworn testimony and reality. So far, however, no Republicans have joined that chorus.

Is Sessions facing legal jeopardy? Richard Painter‏, the chief ethics lawyer in the Bush/Cheney administration, said, in reference to the comments Sessions made under oath, “Misleading the Senate in sworn testimony about one’s own contacts with the Russians is a good way to go to jail.”

The battle in Wisconsin over whether the state will continue to require that public notices be publishing in area newspapers is heating up. No less than three papers printed opinion pieces in the past 48 hours urging the state not to pull the notices.

Public notices continue to be a money maker for some newspapers, but a majority of Americans get their information from the web, isn’t that the best place for notices?

Yes and no. The best argument for keeping the practice, it seems to me, is that publishing them in print is sort of like a push notification, you get it without doing anything yourself. Placing on them on the web means that one needs to go search for them.

The argument against, of course, usually involves cost savings. But whether that is really the real reason some Republican run state governments are pushing the idea, or because it will damage the press, is an unknown.

Wisconsin State Journal, Rusty Cunningham:

Keep public notices in newspapers

For more than two centuries, governments in this country have paid newspapers to publish public notices about the actions of government.

But now, state legislators are circulating a pair of bills, Assembly Bill 70 and Senate Bill 42, that aim to take public notices out of newspapers and put them instead on government websites.

It’s a bad idea that would harm transparency, democracy and public trust.

Without a third-party, independent source providing the information, there is no accountability, no checks and balances to make sure that government is posting all the public notices it is required by law to post.

Green Bay Press-Gazette, Rep. Todd Novak:

Keep public notices in newspapers

My professional background gives me a unique perspective on this issue. I was a newspaper editor for 25 years and can see the value of public notices, and I’ve also been the mayor of the city of Dodgeville since 2012 and understand how much it costs to publish notices.

As a local and state government official, I want the public to have as much information as possible. It doesn’t matter if they gather their information from a government website or if they read it in the public notice section of the local newspaper. In many areas of the state, newspapers are the lifeblood of a community and sometimes the only convenient source of information. By allowing the electronic option, we are cutting off a source of information to our constituents, our taxpayers, and the people who hold us accountable. At this time, the savings obtained by not publishing notices does not outweigh the public’s right to know.

As the Joint Finance Committee works on the governor’s budget, it is my hope they remove anything related to the elimination of the publication of government notices. We can still debate the merits of this issue, but it should be as stand-alone legislation where it can be discussed at the committee level and on the floor of both the Assembly and Senate.

Superior Telegraph, editorial:

Notices in newspapers best serve public good

Supporters of this ill-serving proposal argue that posts to government websites would allow for a single searchable electronic database of public information. But Wisconsin newspapers already are providing that at The newspaper industry operates the public-notice clearinghouse at no cost and as a service to its readers and the public.

Supporters also point to reduced costs for local governments by no longer placing paid newspaper notices. But is the estimated $1,414 in annual savings for the Waupaca, Wis., school district, for example, really worth stripping from the public the easy access to local government information via newspapers that they’ve depended on for decades?

Yesterday, TNM reported on the sale of four of the five remaining regional magazines owned by Emmis Communications. The company’s CEO has wanted to take the company private, but has struggled to do so. His solution is to dump print.

The first to be sold was Texas Monthly, which brought in a decent chunk of change. Yesterday Emmis announced that it has sold AtlantaCincinnatiOrange Coast and Los Angeles magazines to Hour Media Group for $6.5 million. As Emmis acquired Los Angeles magazine for $30 million in 2000, one can see that this was a fire sale.

As for the new owner, Hour Media is suddenly a big player in the city/regional magazine business. But what kind of owner will they be?

LA Weekly, Dennis Romero:

Los Angeles Magazine Sold, New Owner Lays Off Key Staffers

New owners took over Los Angeles Magazine today and quickly laid off more than a half-dozen staffers — all of them women, according to information obtained by the Weekly. A member of the editorial staff who did not want to be named said the layoffs included the publisher, the editor-in-chief, the head of digital strategy and the copy chief.

Outgoing editor-in-chief Mary Melton tweeted, “After a 16+ year run, seven of those as editor-in-chief, this is my last day with @LAmag.” Melton also was the editorial director for the publication’s parent company, Emmis, a media corporation with radio roots that announced last year it would sell Los Angeles and almost all of its well-regarded print titles to focus on the airwaves. Last fall Emmis’ Texas Monthly sold for a reported $25 million.

Los Angeles Times, James F. Peltz:

Top editors let go after Los Angeles magazine is sold to Hour Media Group

With the sale, Hour Media chose not to retain several staffers, including Los Angeles magazine editor in chief Mary Melton and editor at large Amy Wallace.

“Of the 140 employees of the four Emmis titles, we did not offer employment to eight of the employees,” Hour Media Chief Executive Stefan Wanczyk said in an interview…

…The four Emmis magazines are the latest in a string of publishing acquisitions made in the last two years by Hour Media, a Troy, Mich.-based company whose other properties include the magazines Hour Detroit and Sacramento.

The firm last month acquired the Palm Beach Media Group, whose magazines include Palm Beach Illustrated and Naples Illustrated. Hour Media overall now publishes 70 magazines and custom-titled publications.

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