June 15, 2017 Last Updated 8:43 am

The Washington Post story on obstruction of justice probe nets over 13K comments, is that the business model?

Morning Brief: Civitas Media sells 17 dailies in Ohio and West Virginia to AIM Media Midwest; Tax reform effort may target advertising deduction, though this effort has little support

The big story came later than usual, after 5pm ET, the bewitching hour for big scoops. The Washington Post at 6:21 pm dropped its story that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the president for obstruction of justice.

Honestly, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, not after the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the knowledge that Comey had given Mueller his memos. Still, there is a sign that something important may have happen, that we’ve passed some sort of Rubicon: the story generated over 13,000 comments.

The Washington Post, like Breitbart News, seems to have decided that opening itself up to trolls, bots, and nefarious players, isn’t something to be avoided, it’s a business model. Proof of this may be hard to nail down, but the fact that the paper left comments open on the DC shooting story yesterday is probably proof enough. It was a disgustingly cynical thing to do, leading to the kind of trash talk seen every day at Breitbart or InfoWars.

The problem with the Post’s policies are that they appear to have none. Anyone can register to comment, and there is no way to see any information on where the person is commenting comes from, what their past comments have been, etc. The only link on a comment is the time stamp which leads one back to the same comment. Readers can “Like” a comment, but they cannot “Not Like” a comment. One also cannot see who is “Like-ing” the comment, which encourages trolls to Like their own comments.

Having wide open comment threads is probably the easiest way to build traffic, but that traffic is as bogus as any being claimed by Google or Facebook, in many ways it is worse. It is an attempt to make money off hate speech, and that does tend to lead one to wonder about any organization ready to go down that path — even while the newsroom is producing excellent journalism, which the Post is doing.

(Note: There is a good story on the Fortune website about the NYT’s new comment system called Moderator, developed by Jigsaw, a subsidiary of Google. Unfortunately, the web page contains so many pop-ups and takeovers that you would hate me for linking to it. Why do some publishers hate their readers so?)

The Washington Post, Devlin Barrett, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Sari Horwitz:

Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said…

…Five people briefed on the interview requests, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said that Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy, and it is unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI.

The New York Times, Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo:

Mueller Seeks to Talk to Intelligence Officials, Hinting at Inquiry of Trump

It has been clear since Mr. Mueller was appointed last month that he was likely to scrutinize the president’s actions. Mr. Trump has said he is willing to be interviewed by Mr. Mueller’s agents, and Mr. Comey said he was sure that the special counsel would investigate the possibility of obstruction.

In recent days, Mr. Trump is said to have considered firing Mr. Mueller but to have been talked out of it by aides. If the president is under investigation for obstruction, a move to fire Mr. Mueller would prove more complicated politically.

The F.B.I.’s gathering information about the possibility of a crime does not necessarily mean prosecutors are building a case against the president. In the early stages of investigations, F.B.I. agents typically want to gather all the facts. Agents then present those facts to prosecutors, who decide whether they want to take the case.

A couple of weeks ago TNM reported that HD Media had acquired four West Virginia newspapers from North Carolina-based Civitas Media. So, when the news broke on Tuesday that the same publisher had sold papers in Ohio I mistakenly assumed this was the same story. Wrong, oops.

Civitas Media is owned by the private equity investment firm Versa Capital Management, so it appears that the first has decided it is time to liquidate. With this sale, 17 daily newspapers — 16 in Ohio and one in West Virginia — have been sold to AIM Media Midwest LLC.

The good news is that the new owners has said that “all active Ohio employees working directly for any of the individual newspaper publications will be hired immediately and continue in their respective jobs and positions with the new Company.” After all the news of layoffs in the media business yesterday, this is good to hear.

It is pretty obvious that there are some in the Republican Party who are not exactly friends of the newspaper industry. In several states, there have been efforts to end the practice of requiring local governments to publish their legal notices in newspapers. In North Carolina, the state Senate passed lat week a House bill that would require newspapers to provide worker’s compensation coverage and pay unemployment insurance tax for carriers.

Then there is the idea proposed by Michigan Rep. Dave Camp (R) to change advertising from a fully deductible business expense to one where the advertiser could only deduct half the expense, essentially taking away a large portion of everyone’s marketing budget.

(The plan would actually force advertisers to deduct the other half of their expenses over 10 years, allowing the government to essentially use that money in the meantime. It would, of course, make an already complicated tax system that much more complicated.)

It is clearly a bad idea, one that probably is going nowhere. But if you haven’t heard about it, now you have. And with the GOP trying to pass bills secretly, not allowing hearings or oversight, any tax legislation passed this year just might contain such a dumb idea.

Townhall, David Williams:

Are Republicans Ready to Kill Local Newspapers?

…members of Congress are now exploring ways to dilute President Trump’s historic financial reform ideas with costly provisions that will not only wreak havoc on the economy, but also slow down the flow of vital information from community leaders to American families.

Chief among these brow-raising ideas is the imposition of an advertising tax, which will effectively bankrupt scores of local newspapers across the country. This will greatly limit consumers’ knowledge of important information that is going on within their communities…

…Thousands of papers are already on the brink of bankruptcy, and Republicans shouldn’t gamble with pushing more into insolvency.

The Hill, Naomi Jagoda:

Lawmakers: Leave advertising tax break alone

Industry groups and more than 100 lawmakers want to prevent tax reform legislation from curbing the deduction for businesses’ advertising expenses…

…The intensity of the backlash highlights how hard it will be to overhaul the tax code; many of the breaks that lawmakers will need to close to raise revenue to lower rates have big business backers.

The IRS generally allows businesses to write off the full amount of their advertising costs in the year they were incurred because it treats advertising expenses as an “ordinary and necessary” expense. Advertising costs are treated similarly to expenses such as employee wages and office supplies.

Advertising is “one of the most essential parts of doing business that there is,” said Clark Rector, executive vice president of government affairs for the American Advertising Federation.

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