February 22, 2018

When Jokes Become a Crime: Free Speech Under Fire in Lebanon

Free speech has long been under fire across the Arab world, where authoritarian governments have an array of laws they can use to lock up those who criticize leaders, government institutions or religion, even on their own Facebook pages.

In 2012, Qatar sentenced a poet to life in prison for criticizing the royal family. (Qatar’s emir pardoned him in 2016.) This month, Saudi Arabia sentenced a journalist to five years in prison for “criticizing the royal court.” In its conflict with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates warned last year that prison terms and hefty fines awaited anyone who showed sympathy to Qatar or opposed the government’s stance against it. Egypt and Syria have locked up countless critics over the years.

Lebanon is better off when it comes to free expression. As a fragile democracy where power is shared by a range of political and religious groups, it has no dictator who can impose his will. On the contrary, it hosts an array of newspapers and television channels that cater to different tastes and are funded by political groups and powerful individuals to promote their agendas and undermine their rivals. The Constitution also guarantees freedom of speech.

Still, some of the country’s laws lay down red lines. It is a crime to libel or defame foreign leaders and public officials or to insult the president, the flag, the army or other national symbols. Other laws ban blasphemy and speech deemed insulting to religion.

In the past, they have been inconsistently enforced, and it is the recent rise in speech-related cases that is worrying journalists and human rights campaigners.

Marcel Ghanem, a popular talk show host, was summoned for questioning in cases against two Saudis who accused the Lebanese president and speaker of Parliament of links to terrorism while appearing as guests on his program. When he refused to show up, in protest of the charges, he was charged with obstruction of justice.

Last month, a military court sentenced the political analyst Hanin Ghaddar in absentia to six months in prison for comments deemed insulting to the Lebanese Army, in a talk in Washington in 2014.

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Human Rights Watch documented other cases in a recent report: an activist summoned for questioning and detained over comments he made on Facebook; a man detained for writing a post that was perceived as insulting the Virgin Mary; and an Islamist organizer who was arrested and charged with defaming the president and insulting “a brotherly country.”

In an interview, Salim Jreissati, Lebanon’s justice minister, denied an attack on free speech in Lebanon, comparing those who promoted such an idea to Don Quixote’s attacking windmills.

“We are proud that in this murky, desert region that surrounds us when it comes to freedoms, we are a country of freedoms par excellence,” he said.

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He said that laws placing limits on free speech were necessary to prevent flare-ups in a diverse country with a weak central state and a history of sectarian violence, including a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

“We are fragile,” he said. “Our body is still soft, our democracy is soft.”

Speech-related cases in Lebanon rarely lead to significant prison time. But the concern, rights groups say, is that the threat of prosecution will chill public discourse, deterring citizens from expressing their thoughts or criticizing powerful people or institutions.

“If you want to have a stable country, you need to not be going after journalists and civil society organizations that are giving the facts about what is going on,” said Ms. Fakih, of Human Rights Watch.

For Mr. Haddad, the comedian, the cases have brought unprecedented attention to his show, “Enough Is Enough,” which airs weekly.

He describes the show as a cross between Jay Leno and Jon Stewart, with a touch of Conan O’Brien, and the format is familiar. Mr. Haddad sits at a desk, riffs on the week’s news, comments on unflattering videos, receives celebrities and chats with the studio band. His biting sarcasm and pointed attacks on politicians have earned him many fans and strong ratings.

Mr. Haddad’s troubles began with the fortuneteller’s prediction about Prince Mohammed and fast food.

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Prince Mohammed has overturned conventions across the Middle East in recent years, beginning a military intervention in Yemen, locking up fellow princes and businessmen on charges of corruption and trying to force Lebanon’s prime minister to resign.

Those actions seemed more important to Mr. Haddad than the prince’s diet.

“He grows a gut or he doesn’t grow a gut, why do I care?” he said on the program. “What do I have to do with the cholesterol of the crown prince?”

A few weeks later, the public prosecutor filed charges against him, outraging many Lebanese frustrated with more fundamental concerns, like their government’s failure to offer reliable electricity.

On his next program, Mr. Haddad appeared in black-and-white-stripe prison scrubs and showed clips of Lebanese personalities who had stood up for him. Then, shimmying next to a scantily clad belly dancer, he addressed the state prosecutor in song, suggesting that a case about the country’s failure to pick up its garbage would be more worthwhile.

Unimpressed, the High Judicial Council called for new charges, for “damaging the prestige of the judiciary,” according to Achraf Moussawi, Mr. Haddad’s lawyer.

“He presents a comedy show that puts joy and laughter into people’s hearts,” Mr. Moussawi said. “It is not a show for political criticism or a political show.”

Mr. Haddad does not expect to stand trial, but his channel could eventually pay a fine of more than $13,000, he said.

He said he expected that others would avoid criticizing powerful people to avoid trouble, but vowed to keep his show the same.

“This is what I do,” he said. “I don’t do a cooking show. I do comedy.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/world/middleeast/lebanon-free-speech.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Making of a No. 1 YouTube Conspiracy Video After the Parkland Tragedy

“I had no idea where all the attention was coming from,” said “mike m.” in an online chat interview with The New York Times. “I just noticed it started to take off.”

Many commenters were confused. “Why is this on trending, especially on news? Nothing special,” wrote one. Others, tipped off by the caption calling Mr. Hogg an actor, knew exactly what they thought they were seeing: “Someone get this kid an Oscar!” one wrote.

By noon on Wednesday, YouTube had pulled the video for violating its policy on harassment and bullying.

It was not the first time that YouTube had served not just as a source of fringe conspiracy theories, but as an accomplice in their rapid spread.

After the massacre in Las Vegas last October, YouTubers filled a void of information about the killer’s motives with dark speculation, crowding the site with videos that were fonts of discredited and unproven information, including claims that the tragedy had been staged.

After a mass shooting last November at a church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., those seeking news about the event on YouTube were overwhelmed by videos falsely claiming it had been a “false flag” attack meant to spur gun control measures or a plot carried out by the so-called antifa (short for anti-fascist) movement.

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Mr. Hogg speaking at a rally calling for more gun control after the shooting at his high school. Credit Jonathan Drake/Reuters

In the wake of this latest tragedy, which left 17 people dead at the school in Parkland, YouTube still seemed caught by surprise by the rise of another video meant to peddle a baseless theory.

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“In 2017, we started rolling out changes to better surface authoritative news sources in search results, particularly around breaking news events,” YouTube, which is owned by Google, said in a statement. “We’ve seen improvements, but in some circumstances these changes are not working quickly enough. In addition, last year we updated the application of our harassment policy to include hoax videos that target the victims of these tragedies.”

Unlike the other unhinged clips that have garnered significant attention on YouTube in the recent past, the video of the Parkland survivor originated with neither a conspiracy-oriented media organization like Infowars nor one of the popular YouTubers who have catered to far-right subcultures and fringe political factions.

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Instead, it was posted to the infrequently updated account run by “mike m.” Up until the reposting of the video featuring Mr. Hogg, the account had fewer than a dozen videos and fewer than 1,000 followers. Although he declined to provide much information about himself or give his full name, “mike m.” said that he was a 51-year-old man living in Idaho.

His uploads included a handful of little-watched videos suggesting he is an avid fan of conspiracies. What inspired him to traffic in an unfounded theory about the Parkland shooting — aside from “having more time on my hands these days,” he said — were posts he had seen on the popular conspiracy site Godlike Productions. He pointed to comments on the site that claimed Mr. Hogg had been “coached” before giving interviews to members of the media who covered the massacre. It’s also where he found references to the beach video from last August.

Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Mr. Hogg addressed the explosion of conspiracy theories head-on. “I’m not a crisis actor,” said Mr. Hogg, who had been visiting family and friends when he appeared in the Los Angeles news segment. “I’m someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that. I’m not acting on anybody’s behalf.”

The video posted by “mike m.” rapidly gained steam nonetheless.

What propelled this one to popularity — and eventually into YouTube’s promotional apparatus — came from outside the platform.

Links to the video proliferated on 4chan, where users have gleefully embraced the conspiracy theories and mocked the shooting victims. When it hit YouTube’s Trending page, some on 4chan celebrated: “TRENDING IN THE USA,” began one thread in the far-right politics board called /pol/. “WE’RE BREAKING THE CONDITIONING.”

The “mike m.” video also found traction on Twitter, on Facebook and in stories and comment threads on conspiracy sites. It rose in the circuitous and unexpected manner of a viral video, rather than one that had been calculated to game YouTube’s algorithms by seizing on interest in breaking news or tragedy — it had no catchy headline, no recognizable personality, no vast theorizing. And yet it blasted through YouTube’s safeguards and somehow kept going, exposing the platform as vulnerable to sudden influence from inside and outside its walls.

After YouTube removed the video, “mike m.” said his account had received a “strike” — that is how YouTube warns users that they have broken the site’s rules or violated its guidelines. (Three strikes and you’re out.) “I mean, why strike me over a beach confrontation video???” he said. A second video he had posted about the shooting was gaining popularity Wednesday morning, he said, until it, too, was deleted, and another strike was added to his account.

Anonymous and remorseless, “mike m” was undeterred. “There is more to this kid than appears on MSM,” he said, using the common shorthand for “mainstream media.” Asked if he would think twice about posting such videos in the future, he said, “No not at all.”

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He said he was worried about his account getting deleted, adding: “But I am not going to stop.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/business/media/youtube-conspiracy-video-parkland.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

NPR Executive Was Warned Repeatedly About Sexual Harassment, Report Finds

NPR says it has already taken steps to bolster its workplace culture, including making changes to the complaint process, creating an anti-harassment support group, mandating in-person sexual harassment training and strengthening its human resources department.

The report suggested further steps, including conducting background checks and asking questions about prior sexual harassment issues during the hiring process, retaining an outside firm to investigate complaints and conducting a study of gender equity in pay and promotions.

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After Weinstein: 71 Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct and Their Fall From Power

A list of men who have resigned, been fired or otherwise lost power since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.

“We are committed to implementing its recommendations to ensure we have a workplace where everyone feels safe and respected,” Isabel Lara, an NPR spokeswoman, said in a statement. “The past months have shown that sexual harassment is a serious, widespread problem, pervasive in every industry and many organizations; NPR is no exception.”

The report said that some NPR employees had been warned about Mr. Oreskes’s behavior, but the knowledge stayed within a “whisper network” that didn’t extend outside the newsroom.

“As a result, information that many staff members felt was widespread actually was not known to HR or leadership,” the report said.

The timeline revealed by the investigation shows that NPR executives frequently expressed concern about Mr. Oreskes’s behavior, but repeatedly addressed it through conversations instead of disciplinary action.

When NPR hired Mr. Oreskes in March 2015, a search firm delivered “overwhelmingly positive” feedback, with no criticism of his workplace conduct, the report said. But a member of the eight-person hiring committee was aware of one episode and raised it to human resources: A woman said Mr. Oreskes had left her multiple voice mail messages late at night asking to discuss his book while they were at a conference. The woman said that she had heard a similar story about another woman at the conference and that “the incidents made the conference attendees very uncomfortable,” according to the report. Nonetheless, the committee unanimously voted to hire him.

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In the summer of 2015, two female NPR employees said they had dinners with Mr. Oreskes that turned excessively personal, the report found. He gave one of them a hug after dinner, which “made her feel uncomfortable,” the report said. They reported the dinners to human resources in October 2015, and the company’s general counsel, Jon Hart, spoke with Mr. Oreskes within a week.

“This conversation was described as a ‘stern talking to’ in which Mr. Hart told Mr. Oreskes that sexual comments were not appropriate and warned him that it could not happen again,” the report said. “Mr. Oreskes committed to Mr. Hart that it would not happen again.”

But in the spring of 2016, Mr. Oreskes expensed several dinners with women, including one with a female NPR employee, the report found. In August, Mr. Hart and Deborah A. Cowan, the chief financial officer, met with him and asked for business justifications for his dinners, while cautioning him to make sure he had justifications for dinners going forward.

Executives again discussed his behavior in October 2017, and they decided that Jarl Mohn, the chief executive, “would have an additional counseling session with Mr. Oreskes,” which he did, the report said.

“They decided not to terminate Mr. Oreskes at that time because there were only two reported incidents of conduct involving NPR employees and both had been addressed two years prior,” the report found.

After Mr. Mohn asked the staff to come forward with harassment complaints, an employee said Mr. Oreskes had groped her in the spring of 2017. Around the same time, a woman told NPR’s legal team that Mr. Oreskes had kissed her without her consent when he was employed by The Times.

He was suspended on Oct. 31 after the Washington Post article was published. Shortly after, an NPR employee said Mr. Oreskes had made an inappropriate comment in 2016 during a conversation about her career, and had invited her to his beach cottage to “continue the conversation over wine,” the report found. Mr. Mohn asked for his resignation after hearing her complaint.

Mr. Oreskes’s career in journalism stretches back about four decades. He started at The Daily News and joined The Times in 1981, holding many jobs in two decades at the paper, including chief political correspondent and deputy managing editor. He worked at The Associated Press from 2008 to 2015, serving as a vice president and senior managing editor.

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The newly released report, which was not edited by NPR employees, was based on interviews with 86 current and former employees, 71 of whom were women.

Reached by email on Wednesday, Mr. Oreskes said that the law firm that prepared the report did not ask to speak to him, but that he continued to support NPR and its mission.

He pointed to a statement he made on the day he resigned: “I am deeply sorry to the people I hurt. My behavior was wrong and inexcusable, and I accept full responsibility.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/business/media/npr-michael-oreskes.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

The Atlantic Plans a Hiring Spree

The austerity plan at Condé Nast coincided roughly with the sale of the once-mighty Time Inc. to the Meredith Corporation — the Des Moines-based publisher of Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle magazines — in a $2.8 billion deal made possible by an equity infusion from Koch Industries, the conglomerate run by Charles G. and David H. Koch.

With Emerson Collective as its new patron, The Atlantic has avoided the grim fates of its fellow news organizations. In a memo to the staff, Mr. Cohn said that circulation is at an all-time high — it rose 13 percent last year — and that visits to TheAtlantic.com rose by 25 percent in 2017.

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The magazine’s decision to go on a hiring spree is surprising at a time when legacy publications and recently established websites alike are shedding employees.

“I think quality journalism is a scarce commodity these days and I think the discerning readers reward places that are making stories that mean something,” Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor in chief of The Atlantic, said.

The planned additions to the newsroom are meant to bolster the magazine’s coverage of Washington, Hollywood, Europe and the tech industry.

“It will be a mix of writers and editors and video producers and podcast producers and live events producers,” Mr. Cohn said. “Those are areas of coverage that we want to focus on, and we’ll do it across all our platforms: digital, print, live events, video, audio, newsletters.”

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Other jobs will go to engineers, designers and members of a new team the magazine has called Talent Lab, which is intended to “help us achieve one of our paramount goals: ensuring that our team is truly representative of America in all of its diversity,” Mr. Cohn wrote.

When it acquired a majority stake in The Atlantic, Emerson Collective — which focuses on education, the environment and immigration — expanded its portfolio of media and entertainment holdings. It is also an investor in Axios, a media company started by the Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei and its former star reporter, Mike Allen, and in Pop-Up Magazine. In 2016, it took a minority stake in Anonymous Content, the production and talent management company behind the movie “Spotlight.”

The organization also supports several nonprofit journalism organizations, including The Marshall Project, Mother Jones and ProPublica. It was founded in 2004 by Ms. Powell Jobs, the widow of the Apple co-founder Steven P. Jobs, who died in 2011.

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“Emerson is eager to see us grow and succeed, and they were excited at helping to make this happen,” Mr. Cohn said.

Mr. Goldberg said he looks forward to bringing The Atlantic back to its 19th-century roots, when its founders, including heavyweights like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, viewed the magazine as a forum for some good old intellectual brawls and tussles.

“We are in a moment of national fracturing, and our expansion allows us to do a lot more of the kind of work that really is in our DNA,” Mr. Goldberg said. “We can double down on our coverage of Washington and this administration. We can double down on publishing the best and most interesting and thought-provoking ideas about the American future.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/business/media/the-atlantic-plans-a-hiring-spree.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bahrain Activist Gets 5-Year Sentence for ‘Insulting’ Tweets

As those charges were pending, Mr. Rajab reiterated his criticisms last May in another opinion column in The New York Times appealing to President Trump on the eve of his trip to Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “It fills me with shame that my country, Bahrain, is bombing Yemen, with United States support,” Mr. Rajab wrote, adding, “What I have endured is a small fraction of what the people of Yemen have suffered, largely because of the military intervention of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and their allies.”

United Nations agencies say that the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen has contributed to a humanitarian disaster, including thousands of indiscriminate civilian casualties as well as widespread famine and disease. A recent report by a United Nations panel concluded that the two sides had reached a stalemate neither could win, and that a Saudi-led blockade of the country has “had the effect of using the threat of starvation as an instrument of war.”

Supporters of the Saudi-led campaign argue that it is necessary to prevent Iran from establishing a beachhead on the Arabian Peninsula through its allies in Yemen, the Houthis. Supporters of Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim monarchy similarly argue that the Shiite-dominated opposition is in league with Shiite-led Iran. Tehran has used its state-owned media to encourage unrest in Bahrain, and Shiite militants in Bahrain have carried out violent attacks on security forces.

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Mr. Trump has embraced Saudi Arabia as a close ally, vowed to push back against Iranian influence around the region, and tempered even the muted criticism of Bahrain that occurred under the Obama administration.

“Our countries have a wonderful relationship together,” Mr. Trump said during an appearance in Riyadh last spring with the king of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. “There has been a little strain, but there won’t be strain with this administration.”

In September, the Trump administration approved a $3.8 billion deal for Lockheed Martin to sell Bahrain more than a dozen new F-16 fighter jets, as well as upgrades to its existing fleet and other military equipment. Mr. Trump dropped requirements imposed under President Barack Obama for improved human rights before any arms sales. And, after a meeting with the crown prince of Bahrain in late November, Mr. Trump said on Twitter that the kingdom had agreed to spend as much as $9 billion on unspecified “commercial deals,” including the F-16s.

Mr. Rajab’s sentence on Wednesday was “a slap in the face to justice,” Heba Morayef, the Middle East director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “It is absolutely outrageous that he be forced to spend a further five years in jail simply for daring to voice his opinions online.”

Aziza Salman, a representative of the government of Bahrain, said in an email that the charges against Mr. Rajab “relate to specific articles of Bahrain’s penal code and did not, in any way, relate to any political views he may hold.”

“Bahrain’s commitment to protecting the security of the nation and its citizens is absolute; Nabeel Rajab was found guilty of undermining that security,” she added.

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Asked on Tuesday about Mr. Rajab’s impending sentencing, a State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said the administration was “very disappointed” that an earlier conviction had been upheld. “We continue to have conversations with the government of Bahrain about our very serious concerns,” she added.

Follow David D. Kirkpatrick on Twitter: @ddknyt.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/world/middleeast/nabeel-rajab-bahrain-twitter.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Right-Wing Media Uses Parkland Shooting as Conspiracy Fodder

In written posts and YouTube videos — one of which had more than 100,000 views as of Tuesday night — Gateway Pundit has argued that Mr. Hogg had been coached on what to say during his interviews. The notion that Mr. Hogg is merely protecting his father dovetails with a broader right-wing trope, that liberal forces in the F.B.I. are trying to undermine President Trump and his pro-Second Amendment supporters.

Others offered more sweeping condemnations. Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist behind the site Infowars, suggested that the mass shooting was a “false flag” orchestrated by anti-gun groups. Mr. Limbaugh, on his radio program, said of the student activists on Monday: “Everything they’re doing is right out of the Democrat Party’s various playbooks. It has the same enemies: the N.R.A. and guns.”

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By Tuesday, that argument had migrated to CNN. In an on-air appearance, Jack Kingston, a former United States representative from Georgia and a regular CNN commentator, asked, “Do we really think — and I say this sincerely — do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?” (He was quickly rebuked by the anchor Alyson Camerota.)

Conspiracies, wild and raw online, are often pasteurized on their way into the mainstream. A subtler version of the theory appeared Tuesday on the website of Bill O’Reilly, the ousted Fox News host. Mr. O’Reilly stopped short of saying the students had been planted by anti-Trump forces. But, he wrote: “The national press believes it is their job to destroy the Trump administration by any means necessary. So if the media has to use kids to do that, they’ll use kids.”

Some of those who have been spreading the conspiracies are facing consequences.

Benjamin Kelly, an aide to a Florida state representative, Shawn Harrison, emailed a Tampa Bay Times reporter on Tuesday accusing Mr. Hogg and a classmate, Emma Gonzalez, of being actors that travel to the sites of crises.

Mr. Kelly was soon fired.

“I made a mistake whereas I tried to inform a reporter of information relating to his story regarding a school shooting,” Mr. Kelly tweeted. “I meant no disrespect to the students or parents of Parkland.” His boss, Mr. Harrison, said on Twitter that he was “appalled” by Mr. Kelly’s remarks.

But by Tuesday evening, a new conspiracy was dominating Gateway Pundit’s home page. “Soros-Linked Organizers of ‘Women’s March’ Selected Anti-Trump Kids to Be Face of Parkland Tragedy,” read the headline. Within an hour, it had been shared on Facebook more than 150 times.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/business/media/parkland-shooting-media-conspiracy.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Fox News Plans a Streaming Service for ‘Superfans’

Mr. Finley said the network was still discussing the cost of a subscription.

The Fox News venture joins an increasingly crowded — and increasingly niche — marketplace for web-only streaming television.

ESPN is starting its subscription service, ESPN Plus, in the spring. About five million viewers signed up last year for HBO and Cinemax digital subscriptions. Last week, CBS said it counted five million subscriptions to its CBS and Showtime streaming services, and it plans to add two more stand-alone products, CBS Sports HQ and an offering branded for “Entertainment Tonight.”

Fox Nation, depending on its popularity, may prove more consequential to the country’s political life than the average streaming service.

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Fox Nation is intended to appeal to “the dedicated audience that really wants more of what we have to offer,” said John Finley, who oversees program development and production for Fox News. Credit Fox Nation

Fox News already commands the attention of President Trump and many voters in his base. The digital product would bring viewers an additional dose of opinion programming beyond staples like “Hannity” and “Fox Friends.” Live events, like question-and-answer forums, would encourage more direct interaction with anchors and commentators.

Fox News viewers “value our product so much, they go to hotels and if they can’t have Fox, they send us emails. They go on cruises, and if they can’t have Fox, they send us emails,” Mr. Finley said. “This is a way for us to meet that demand.”

Whether the venture would be a moneymaker is up in the air.

Fox News reaps more than $1 billion in annual profit, providing ample funds to hire a new team for Fox Nation, which is not expected to initially carry advertising. Mr. Finley declined to estimate his start-up costs, and streaming services in conservative media have had a mixed record of success.

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The Blaze, a web-only service founded by the host Glenn Beck in 2011 after he left Fox News, struggled to attract interest and eventually morphed into a more traditional network distributed by cable and satellite providers. Bill O’Reilly, who was fired by Fox News in April, started a subscription service on his website that has earned little attention.

Mr. Finley said Fox Nation was not comparable to a personality-driven product. “This is not starting from scratch here,” he said. “Glenn Beck had a ton of viewers when he was here on Fox. When he left, it didn’t seem to me that they followed him. People are loyal to the Fox brand.”

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The median Fox News viewer is 65 years old, according to Nielsen, but the network points to its website traffic and heavy presence on Facebook and other social media platforms as evidence that a web-only service can appeal to its audience.

Among Fox News’s main rivals, MSNBC has no stand-alone product. CNN has a streaming service, CNNgo, which offers some free original programming, but it otherwise requires an existing cable or satellite subscription. Jeff Zucker, CNN’s president, said in December that he was considering a digital product for the channel’s “Great Big Story” brand, which is aimed at younger viewers.

Fox News, though, is facing some new competition on its conservative flank. The potential expansion of the Sinclair Broadcast Group may bring more conservative programming to local television stations. Peter Thiel, the technology investor and Trump supporter, is said to be interested in creating a right-leaning media organization based in Los Angeles.

Asked if Fox Nation was a response to pressures from cord-cutting and other industry trends, Mr. Finley said Fox News loyalists “are not cutting the cord anytime soon.”

“I don’t think this is about competing with our rivals. It’s about serving our audience,” he added. “We know who our audience is. We know what they want.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/19/business/media/fox-news-streaming.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

David Poindexter, 89, Who Used Media to Preach Family Planning, Dies

“If we want to sell this family-planning idea,” he told The New York Times in 1993, “we have to push the education and the motivation of the product and the why of the product. That’s what we are about.”

In one of the many international dramatic series that Mr. Poindexter helped develop, a Filipino man grieves at the grave of his wife, who died delivering their 13th child, and apologizes for not helping to plan their family better. In another, a Pakistani doctor warns a woman with four daughters that she would be committing suicide if she continues to try to bear a son.

“Hum Log” (or “We People”), an Indian soap opera that debuted in 1984, was suggested a year earlier to Ms. Gandhi by Mr. Poindexter and Miguel Sabido, a Mexican writer and producer who had embedded his popular telenovelas with messages about family planning and adult literacy.

Mr. Poindexter had encountered Mr. Sabido’s work several years earlier and viewed his research-based model for creating socially conscious programming as one that he could export to many other countries.

“David was uniquely able to get to the head of a state broadcaster to convince them that these series were a good idea and in line with the policies of their country,” said Bill Ryerson, a longtime colleague of Mr. Poindexter’s and the president of the Population Media Center, which has carried on his work. (Mr. Poindexter retired in 1998.)

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In the 1980s, Mr. Poindexter trained Kenyan radio and television personnel to produce soap operas for the government-run Voice of Kenya. In one episode of the show “Tushauriane,” or “Let’s Discuss It,” which made its television debut in 1987, a teenager marries an elderly polygamist in her village, becomes pregnant, has a miscarriage and becomes pregnant again. The series’ intent was to persuade couples to use family planning.

“This is not, first of all, drama, but value-reinforcement,” Mr. Poindexter told The Times in 1987.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Ryerson cited one study about the effect of a series on Radio Tanzania in the 1990s that was broadcast as a result of Mr. Pondexter’s work. It found a 32 percent increase in first-time use of family-planning clinics in the area where the show was broadcast, and 41 percent of the study’s respondents named the program as the reason.

David Oldham Poindexter was born on Jan. 30, 1929, in Hood River, Ore., about 60 miles east of Portland. His father, Dean, was also a Methodist minister whose postings around the state kept the family moving. His mother, the former Anna Porter, was a homemaker.

David Poindexter earned a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Salem, Ore., and a master’s in theology from Boston University, following his father into the ministry.

After eight years as the pastor of a Portland church, he joined the National Council of Churches in Manhattan as director of its broadcasting and film commission. The post brought him into contact with Hollywood executives. In 1970, he moved to the Population Institute in Washington as the director of its communication center.

Mr. Poindexter said he became interested in overpopulation in the late 1960s when he watched Paul Ehrlich, the author of the best-selling 1968 book “The Population Bomb,” in an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Mr. Poindexter compared Mr. Ehrlich to Paul Revere.

“Only this time, the message was, ‘The people are coming,’ and it began to galvanize the country,” he said in a speech in 2008 at the Norman Lear Center, part of the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

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Mr. Lear and his socially conscious situation comedies, like “All in the Family” and “Maude,” became part of Mr. Poindexter’s efforts to spread his message. He and other activists lobbied to have their issues reflected in Mr. Lear’s shows.

“David was messianic about overpopulation,” Virginia Carter, a former executive of Mr. Lear’s production companies, said in a telephone interview.

She said she had been Mr. Lear’s emissary to advocates like Mr. Poindexter. “David felt that a better world was one with fewer people in it,” she said.

Ms. Carter said his family-planning concerns were reflected in an episode of “All in the Family,” in which Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner), the son-in-law of Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), had a vasectomy.

Mr. Lear said in an interview that his sitcoms had provided inspiration to Mr. Poindexter. “We were dealing with subjects that mattered,” he said, “and he was a great fan of that, and he took those lessons learned and applied them internationally.”

In addition to his son, Mr. Poindexter is survived by his wife, the former Marian Sayer, who taught theology. He continued to serve churches as a guest pastor for many years.

In his 2008 speech in Los Angeles, Mr. Poindexter acknowledged that some had been skeptical of his soap opera strategy.

“You talk about soap opera,” he said. “I’m the person who got the word ‘soap opera’ into a U.N. document, and I had battles doing that because nobody believes that a soap opera can make any difference.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/19/obituaries/david-poindexter-dead.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

We Have Streaming Revenue, Too, Says NBC. And We Can Prove It.

Nielsen ratings, which measure the number of viewers who tune in for shows at the time of their broadcasts, are down for the networks yet again — at a 10 percent clip this season. NBC has responded by learning to make money from viewers who stream its programs — and now it is learning how to put a number on it. The key is gathering statistics from services like NBC.com, the NBC app, video on demand and Hulu to determine how much money its shows are pulling in from streamers.

Take “This Is Us,” for example. According to the network’s data crunchers, NBC has earned around 47 percent of the revenue generated by its 2016 pilot episode from advertising through digital views. Over all, 44 percent of the revenue NBC has earned from “This Is Us” has come through digital viewership, the network said.

Similarly, the critically acclaimed sitcom, “The Good Place,” starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, has earned roughly 36 percent of its revenue from digital advertising, NBC said.

The new source of revenue is NBC’s attempt to make up for a larger decline in advertising dollars. Television ad sales fell 8 percent in 2017, one of the biggest drops in years, Bloomberg reported. That’s why executives like Mr. Greenblatt need to make the digital business work sooner rather than later.

“It’s not insignificant now,” he said, “and I think over time it grows into becoming really significant.”

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About 36 percent of the revenue NBC has received from “The Good Place,” starring Krisetn Bell and Ted Danson, has come from streaming. The network pulls data from services like NBC.com, the NBC app, video on demand and Hulu to makes its calculation. Credit Justin Lubin/NBC, via Associated Press

Not every show is making big money from digital views. About three-quarters of the revenue NBC made from the 2015 pilot of “Blindspot,” for instance, has been earned the old fashioned way, the network said.

But NBC was less savvy back then in extracting money from viewers who preferred streaming. By the time of the first “This Is Us” season, NBC had wised up, striking a deal that allowed it to earn money from Hulu ads shown during episodes of the hit tear-jerker.

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Generating revenue from streaming is relatively new for the networks, said Jeff Bader, NBC’s president of program planning, strategy and research.

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“When I came to NBC five years ago, we were in this place with: How are we going to manage this business that’s been in decline?” he said. “We were doing everything we could not to be the record industry and have our stuff pirated and not monetized.”

Particularly depressing was the number of younger viewers who seemed to be changing their viewing habits.

“For years, we were seeing our average age go up, up up,” Mr. Bader said. “Younger viewers were drifting. They weren’t watching broadcast television in the same numbers they used to.”

Once the network examined the data, however, it began to see that younger viewers hadn’t exactly abandoned NBC. They were just watching shows on their own schedules — sometimes months after the broadcast date.

NBC has intensified its efforts to measure the nontraditional audience with the Winter Olympics. Its latest ratings reports have combined the number of viewers it reaches through broadcast, cable and streaming platforms under a single figure it calls total audience delivery. This is the network’s attempt to counter the Nielsen measure, which shows a shrinking Olympics audience.

NBC understands the reason for the advertising community’s skepticism concerning the number of people who watch shows via streaming, however.

“That is the frustrating part of the whole ecosystem,” Mr. Greenblatt said, “because we don’t have a third-party objective measuring system that everyone has adopted that we all buy into.”

Until that third-party system emerges, Mr. Greenblatt said that his sales department has gone all-in on selling advertisers on a statistical portrait that is prettier than the one painted by Nielsen.

“This started for me purely on looking at viewership numbers, because I wanted to be able to make the argument, ‘People aren’t just bailing on network TV,’” he said. “Then it occurred to us, it’s not just a viewership number we’re defending. It’s part of the business model now and it’s going to be move that way more and more.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/18/business/media/nbc-streaming-viewers.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Tools of Trump’s Fixer: Payouts, Intimidation and the Tabloids

In August of that year, Mr. Cohen learned details of a deal that American Media had struck with a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, that prevented her from going public about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen was not representing anyone in the confidential agreement, but he was apprised of it by Ms. McDougal’s lawyer, and earlier had been made aware of her attempt to tell her story by the media company, according to interviews and an email reviewed by The New York Times.

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Donald J. Trump speaking at a Miss Universe book party in 2006. Credit Gabriela Maj/Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images

Two months later, Mr. Cohen played a direct role in a similar deal involving an adult film star, Stormy Daniels, who once said she had had an affair with Mr. Trump. Last week, Mr. Cohen said he used his own money for the $130,000 payment to her, which has prompted a complaint alleging that Mr. Cohen violated campaign finance regulations. Legal experts also have noted that the payment on behalf of his client may have violated New York’s ethics rules.

Mr. Cohen, who is still described as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer although he is no longer on the Trump Organization payroll, has denied any wrongdoing and insists the arrangement was legal. In an interview, he disputed details of some of his other activities that were described to The Times. But he has never shied away from his role as Mr. Trump’s loyal defender. “It is not like I just work for Mr. Trump,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview in 2016. “I am his friend, and I would do just about anything for him and also his family.”

An examination of the efforts to shield Mr. Trump from aspects of his own past shows how Mr. Cohen maneuvered in the pay-to-play gossip world — populated by porn stars and centerfold models, tabloid editors and lawyers with B- and C-list entertainment clients — that came to unusual prominence in an American presidential election.

Mr. Cohen exploited mutual-self interest. By heading off trouble involving Mr. Trump’s history with women, he accrued loyalty points, the ultimate currency with Mr. Trump. He dealt with lawyers who could win fat cuts of any settlements women might reach with American Media or with Mr. Trump.

At least two women got money and, in Ms. McDougal’s case, a promise of favorable attention in American Media publications, which include The National Enquirer, Star, Us Weekly and Radar. Mr. Trump, of course, benefited the most: avoiding more scrutiny as he struggled to dismiss multiple allegations of groping and unwanted advances that arose during the campaign.

One American Media executive, in a 2016 interview, said that the priority was that nothing embarrassing come out. But in the gossip economy, secrets last only as long as the incentives to keep them do.

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David J. Pecker, chairman of American Media Inc., a tabloid news company that has bought and buried unflattering material about his high-profile friends and allies. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Risqué Photos

It was July 2015 when Mr. Cohen received a phone call from Jeremy Frommer, a hedge-fund manager turned digital entrepreneur, who had obtained photos of Mr. Trump appearing to autograph the breasts of a topless woman from the estate of Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse magazine. Mr. Cohen was not pleased.

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“He was in a rage,” Mr. Frommer said in an interview. “He’s like, ‘If you show those photos, I’m gonna take you down.’”

It was the rough talk of a Long Island native who started his career juggling work as a personal injury lawyer and taxi fleet manager and met Mr. Trump after acquiring units in Trump buildings.

After Mr. Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006, the role that Mr. Trump wanted him to play was clear: a combination of aggressive spokesman and lieutenant who would take on the real estate mogul’s antagonists. It was a job Roy Cohn, a New York lawyer best known for advising Senator Joseph McCarthy, had done decades earlier for Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen’s work for his boss was often a mystery even to others in his office, but his devotion was clear.

In talking with Mr. Cohen, Mr. Frommer mentioned Mr. Pecker. Years earlier, Mr. Frommer had sold American Media the exclusive rights to a suggestive photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger — which it did not publish — and he knew the company’s chief executive.

Mr. Frommer recalled Mr. Cohen’s saying, “Yeah, I know Pecker.” Mr. Frommer added, “That’s where the conversation calmed down.”

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Mr. Trump with Jill Harth, a former business partner who accused him of groping and other sexual misconduct. Credit George Houraney

Mr. Pecker and Mr. Trump, a staple of the American gossip media since the 1980s, have a friendship that goes back decades. The relationship benefited Mr. Trump throughout the campaign as The Enquirer lionized him and hammered rivals like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and, finally, Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Cohen formed his own bond with Mr. Pecker, keeping in touch with him and Dylan Howard, a top executive, throughout the campaign.

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American Media acknowledged those ties, saying in a statement, “Michael Cohen and President Trump have been personal friends of Mr. Pecker’s for decades.” But, it said, neither of them “nor any other individual has attempted to, or ever, influenced (or will ever influence) coverage at A.M.I.’s publications. Period.”

After the initial blowup, Mr. Frommer said, he and Mr. Cohen quickly agreed that Mr. Frommer would take the Trump photos to Mr. Pecker. The men soon began discussing potential business deals, including an interview with Mr. Trump as part of a joint project between American Media and Mr. Frommer’s company, Jerrick Media, according to text messages and emails reviewed by The Times.

“Spoke to Cohen we are set. Well done!” Mr. Pecker told Mr. Frommer in a July 2015 text exchange.

Two months later, when Mr. Frommer expressed doubt that the Trump interview would take place, Mr. Cohen responded in an Oct. 5 email: “No no … relax. I am on it and will make it happen.”

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Mr. Frommer said he had assured Mr. Cohen at the time that he wouldn’t make the photos public — “I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to publish them’” — but that the decision had nothing to do with the business talks.

In the end, American Media concluded that the photos were of little value. The interview and the deals never materialized for Mr. Frommer, who went on to publish one of the Trump photos on his own website.

American Media said in a statement that it had no interest in suppressing the photographs. But in early 2016, an American Media executive, speaking only on condition of anonymity in discussing internal company thinking, said that when the negotiations between A.M.I. and Mr. Frommer began, they were intended to suppress the photos, part of broader efforts by American Media to “catch and kill” information that would damage Mr. Trump.

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In an interview Friday, Mr. Cohen acknowledged directing Mr. Frommer to A.M.I., but said he did so not because of photographs of Mr. Trump but for other photos of “another notable individual that I had no interest in seeing or wanting.”

Back then, however, Mr. Cohen acknowledged that he had been eager to keep the photos hidden. “Mr. Trump has a family,” he said. “I felt like I had to protect his family.”

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A Playmate’s Story

For Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump, American Media was more than a company they could rely on for friendly coverage. It was also where people looking to sell potentially damaging information about Mr. Trump were likely to turn.

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Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, claimed to have had a consensual affair with Mr. Trump while he was married. Credit Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

In the summer of 2016, American Media came to Mr. Cohen with a story involving Ms. McDougal, the former Playboy Playmate. She claimed to have had a consensual affair with Mr. Trump in the mid-2000s, early in his marriage to Melania Trump. Mr. Trump denies an affair.

Ms. McDougal had retained Keith Davidson, a Hollywood lawyer, who reached out to contacts at American Media. After negotiating on and off for a couple of months, A.M.I. agreed to give Ms. McDougal $150,000 for the exclusive rights to her story, along with promises of publicity and marketing opportunities through its fitness magazines. The contract did not identify Mr. Trump, but required her to keep quiet about any relationship with a married man.

A.M.I. had shared her allegations with Mr. Cohen, though it said it did so only as it worked to corroborate her claims, which it said it ultimately could not do. But that was not the only heads-up Mr. Cohen received.

Soon after Ms. McDougal signed the confidential agreement on Aug. 5, 2016, Mr. Davidson emailed Mr. Cohen, “Michael, please give me a call at your convenience.” Mr. Davidson followed up by explaining to Mr. Cohen over the phone that the McDougal transaction had been completed, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Mr. Cohen said, “I don’t recall those communications.”

Mr. Davidson acknowledged the public’s interest in Ms. Clifford’s and Ms. McDougal’s stories, but said that he was “not at liberty to discuss private client information.”

In the months after Ms. McDougal’s agreement with A.M.I., Mr. Trump’s relationships with women drew more scrutiny on the campaign trail. The release of an audio recording that captured the candidate bragging about grabbing women’s genitals inspired numerous women to step forward with allegations that he had groped or kissed them against their will.

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Keith Davidson, a Hollywood lawyer retained by Ms. McDougal, reached out to contacts at American Media to offer to sell her story.

According to people in contact with her at the time, Ms. McDougal expressed frustration with what she viewed as foot-dragging by A.M.I. in fulfilling commitments made in her contract and with Mr. Davidson’s lackluster response to her. She reached out to a prominent First Amendment lawyer, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who had made a public pledge in October 2016 to defend anyone threatened with legal action by Mr. Trump for making allegations against him. Mr. Boutrous briefly represented Ms. McDougal, focusing primarily on her restrictive contract with A.M.I., which in late November 2016 agreed she could respond to “legitimate” press inquiries about the alleged affair.

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Ms. McDougal’s story eventually became public, in a Wall Street Journal article published days before the election. The New Yorker published new details, including an interview with her, last week.

Quelling a Storm

Over the years Mr. Cohen had come to know Ms. McDougal’s lawyer, Mr. Davidson, well enough that when New York magazine profiled Mr. Davidson last week, Mr. Cohen offered an enthusiastic endorsement: “He has always been professional, ethical and a true gentleman.” (The California State Bar suspended Mr. Davidson’s law license for 90 days in 2010, for four counts of misconduct.)

Mr. Davidson’s client list had included the professional athletes Jalen Rose and Manny Pacquiao, as well as gossip-page regulars who placed him in the middle of the sex-tape cases of the “Austin Powers” actor Verne Troyer, the wrestler Hulk Hogan and the onetime Playboy model and MTV host Tila Tequila. He was a natural choice for Stormy Daniels when she sought to sell her own Trump story.

She was alleging that she had had a consensual sexual relationship with Mr. Trump after they met at a celebrity golf tournament about 10 years earlier (Mr. Trump denies her claims).

Just two months after Ms. McDougal’s story was effectively muted by her contract with American Media, Mr. Davidson set about brokering the silence of the adult film actress. This time, the negotiator on the other end of the transaction was Mr. Cohen.

The actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, agreed to a $130,000 settlement in mid-October 2016 in exchange for keeping quiet, according to contracts seen by The Times and people familiar with the matter. To make the payment, Mr. Cohen created a Delaware limited liability company called Essential Consultants, news of which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal last month, and he claimed in a statement first released to The Times last week that the money came from his own pocket.

Ms. Clifford has suggested in recent days that she believes Mr. Cohen has breached that agreement and that she is preparing to speak out. In 2011, she had told her story about Mr. Trump to two gossip publications. One of them, In Touch magazine, did not publish the story after Mr. Cohen warned that he would pursue aggressive legal action, The Associated Press reported last month.

The other outlet, The Dirty, took down a brief story after Mr. Davidson threatened legal action just a day after his client had provided information to the website, according to Nik Richie, The Dirty’s founder, and a letter seen by The Times.

After the deal between Ms. McDougal and A.M.I. was completed, Mr. Davidson regularly exchanged emails, text messages and calls with Mr. Cohen, according to people familiar with the contacts, including last week, when Mr. Davidson publicly bolstered Mr. Cohen’s statement that he had paid Ms. Clifford himself.

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Mr. Cohen went on to steer a new client to Mr. Davidson, Chuck LaBella, a former NBC executive who worked closely with Mr. Trump on “The Apprentice” and the “Miss USA” pageant. Mr. LaBella had become the object of an intense Twitter campaign — led by the comedian and ardent Trump critic Tom Arnold — calling upon him to share anything he might know about misbehavior by Mr. Trump. He became a client of Mr. Davidson last fall, according to people familiar the arrangement.

Murray Waas contributed reporting, and Jaclyn Peiser contributed research.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/18/us/politics/michael-cohen-trump.html?partner=rss&emc=rss