Welcome to this week’s newsletter, where you can read about something I didn’t cover during the week, find out my distinguished person of the week and get something more than your usual news diet.

What caught my eye

CNN finally unloaded chief executive Chris Licht, but it has hardly solved the network’s problems. Indeed, its viewership has dropped below 500,000for an entire day. The problem is not unique to CNN.

From Forbes: “The three prominent cable networks reported audience declines when first quarter 2023 is compared to the first quarter 2022.” Even at cable TV news leader Fox News, “year-over-year the average audience dropped by -18% and -6% from fourth quarter 2022.”

The good news is that CNN has nowhere to go but up. In that case, the network might decide to go bold. Just as founder Ted Turner broke cable news free from the straitjacket of broadcast news — where viewers could only get national and international news from an evening broadcast and periodic evening magazine shows (e.g., “60 Minutes”) CNN should stop tinkering with a broken formula and instead reinvent the format.

If you watch cable TV news, you might be amazed at how lacking in news most cable TV news outlets have become. In lieu of investigative reporting, in-depth probes and illuminating analysis, viewers get an unending parade of shows with a popular host and panels chewing and rechewing a few of the top stories of the day. At best, they have become news aggregators. After watching a half-hour of one of the shows, you’ll not find anything much different the rest of the day. The same few stories and the same few points get repeated ad nauseam. And I say this as a contributor to MSNBC who appears on these panel shows.

It does not have to be that way. In lieu of 90 percent of the panel shows discussing the news, CNN could do serious reporting on real issues (e.g., why homelessness is getting worse, how close we are to “curing cancer”) and devote much more time to international events. And it certainly could spend far less time on meaningless horserace political coverage and polls.

It might not work. The audience might have permanently decamped from cable TV. And such a transformation might be very expensive. But it’s an experiment worth trying. If it doesn’t work, perhaps the world would get by with fewer TV cable news outlets.

In any event, it seems worth the effort to try something that might actually raise the tone of politics and better inform viewers.

Distinguished person of the week

Too frequently lost in the discussion about defeated former president Donald Trump’s federal indictment in Florida are the extent to which he has damaged national security and the necessity of protecting our most sensitive military secrets. Former Trump administration defense secretary Mark T. Esper, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” effectively described the issue. “If the allegations are true that [the documents Trump retained] contained information about our nation’s security, about our vulnerabilities, about other items, it could be quite harmful to the nation. And, look, no one is above the law,” Esper told Jake Tapper.

Esper confirmed that removing documents about nuclear secrets and attack plans was “unauthorized, illegal and dangerous.” He also explained just how serious the breach was. “Look, we have a case playing out right now in Massachusetts where that young airman from the Massachusetts National Guard is being charged on similar types of accounts under the Espionage Act for taking and retaining unauthorized documents that affected our national defense.” You cannot very well let Trump get away with conduct for which you are prosecuting an ordinary service member who “places our service members at risk, places our nation’s security at risk.”

Put aside the legalities for a moment. Esper reminded us that “if a foreign agent, another country were to discover documents that outline America’s vulnerabilities or the weaknesses of the United States military,” they could “be used against us in a conflict” and enable the enemy to “develop countermeasures.” In the case of Iran, Esper stressed that letting attack plans float around “affects our readiness, our ability to prosecute an attack, if indeed we know that Iran eventually develops a nuclear weapon and we need to act on it.”

Discussion about the Mar-a-Lago documents case naturally has focused on the criminal charges, the elements of the crimes Trump is charged with and the unprecedented federal indictment of a former president. But Esper rightly brings us back to the substance of what Trump did: He grossly endangered U.S. national security, putting Americans at risk and damaging the system by which we enforce confidentiality. That, regardless of the alleged criminality, should earn Trump the condemnation of all patriotic Americans.

Esper deserves credit for underscoring that essential point.

Something different

Perusing the shelves at a used bookstore recently, I came across Gilbert King’s “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America,” a detailed telling of the horrendous 1949 Florida case in which four Black men were wrongfully accused of rape. Within days, one of the men was killed by the police. At trial, two were sentenced to death and the fourth was incarcerated for life. After their convictions were overturned, the two men who were sentenced to death were shot by a sheriff when being transported for a second trial, and one of the men died; the other died under suspcious conditions a year after being paroled.

The book contains every element you’ve read about or imagined in the Deep South during Jim Crow: the sheriff’s affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan, a racist judge, an all-White jury determined to convict, a town’s mob mentality and the constant fear in the Black community. The book also underscores how the brilliant Thurgood Marshall and his co-counsel literally risked their lives traveling into the Deep South as they litigated cases up and down the state and in federal courts. There are hints of brighter days: a prosecutor who later recognizes the injustice he perpetrated, a newspaper reporter who comes to understand the plight of Black people and (as this is all going on) the Brown v. Board of Education decision. But one is left numb, horrified by the account.

It left me thinking, “My God — this is not ancient history. This happened in the lifetime of the parents of today’s MAGA Republicans!” But that sentiment was foolish, as I soon realized.

Just after finishing the book, I started browsing on Netflix, where I came upon the documentary “Civil: Ben Crump,” which examines the work of the lawyer often called “Black America’s attorney general.” He, as you will recall, has represented numerous families of Black people murdered by police, including George Floyd. Watching one case after another, one grieving family after another, I thought about my initial reaction to “Devil in the Grove.” What was I thinking? The racist justice system examined in that book isn’t “history” at all.

The ever-present fear of murder at the hands of law enforcement, the despair that no one will be held accountable, the lack of remorse or even recognition among right-wing Whites of their bigotry and the threats on attorneys’ lives remind us of William Faulkner’s adage “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

Yes, much has changed. Floyd’s murderer was convicted. Families destroyed by the death of a loved one can find financial compensation, and laws on the books protect civil rights. But the killings continue. The MAGA crowd refuses to acknowledge systemic racism in our justice system. In the South and in the North, racist police departments abuse minorities. In the week we celebrate Juneteenth as a national holiday, we should acknowledge the past is not entirely past and the work of creating that more perfect union continues.

From my weekly Q&A

Every Wednesday at noon, I host a live Q&A with readers. Read a transcript of this week’s Q&A, or submit a question for the next one.

Guest: When would inflation not be a liability for President Biden? Year-over-year inflation for May was 4 percent, dropping from 9.1 percent in June 2022. What level does inflation have to reach for the media to stop treating it like a political liability for Biden and Democrats?

Jennifer Rubin: Great question! They are unlikely to give him any credit so long as inflation remains above the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent. The economy seems to be heading for the proverbial soft landing, which would be a monumental achievement. History will be kinder to Biden than the incessantly negative media’s coverage.

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