Officials Delight in Confounding Reporters with the Infamous ‘Friday Night Dump’

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For people in the news business, Friday afternoons are both rewarding — you are about to leave for two days of rest — and anxiety-ridden, with one last look at the email.

Beware the Friday afternoon news dump, the favored method of burying bad news.

Politicians have used the Friday news dump for many, many years, but they are not alone.

 

If publicly traded companies have bad news they are required to share with stockholders they wait until the stock markets close Friday afternoon and then release the troubling news as Moody did in announcing it would pay a $864 million fine for its role in the financial crisis that nearly crippled the world’s financial system a decade ago.

If a hospital has a problem with patient infection rates or a school has a sexual abuse scandal, the preferred day to release the information is Friday when it will have the least impact and hopefully is buried after one news cycle.

Why? Because most people do not plug in over the weekend having other things to do like visit friends, go out for lunch or dinner, or a concert or a play, or watch the Red Sox finally clinch the eastern division American League title.

The current 24-hour news cycle has to be filled with something although there is nothing on the A wire, but has dampened the effectiveness of the Friday night dump, but has not made it go away witness Rachel Maddow’s Friday Night News Dump Game.

However, the practice is making a comeback and the Donald Trump administration has raised it to an art form.

On Friday Aug. 25 with category 5 hurricane Harvey taking aim at the Texas coastline, Trump announced three controversial actions that each would have been front-page news the next day if not for the devastating typhoon.

Although Trump had been expected to pardon his “huge supporter” former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio, he announced it that day, although he hinted at it earlier in the week at a rally in Arizona.

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Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Arpaio had yet to be sentenced after he was convicted of defying a court order to stop detaining suspected illegal immigrants without evidence.

The pardon was quickly denounced by the two GOP Arizona Senators, other politicians and immigration advocates, but pleased his base supporters.

What did not please his base was the firing of controversial advisor Sebastian Gorka, darling of the alt-right, which was also announced.

Trump was not done. He released his plan to ban transgender individuals from the military, setting off another fire storm after the military had managed to tamp down the outrage from his initial tweet announcing the ban weeks earlier.

The time-tested method worked as expected and all those controversial actions were quickly lost in the news as Harvey coverage dominated the media for days.

Trump has used the Friday night news dump repeatedly since he became president.

In March a judge’s decision approving a $25 million settlement in the Trump University lawsuit brought by disgruntled students was announced on a Friday. The students paid to attend the school they claimed was a sham. The settlement closed what had been lengthy litigation casting a dark cloud over Trump.

The Environmental Protection Agency removed climate change information that had been on its website for two decades on a Friday night and 21 states were informed by the Department of Justice that Russians attempted to hack their election systems on the same day of the week.

 

Anthony Scaramucci

Also former White House communications director Sean Spicer was ousted on a Friday night and replaced for a short time by Anthony Scaramucci.

And in another blow to Trump’s alt-right supporters, controversial advisor and Breitbart editor Steve Bannon was ushered out the door on a Friday night although everyone knew it was coming after former General John Kelly became Trump’s chief of staff.

And Friday the administration announced the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price after he spent nearly $1 million of taxpayer money on private and military jets to travel the country.

While Trump may have raised the Friday dump to an art form, he is certainly not alone in burying the release of controversial information on the last day of the work week.

President Barack Obama was fairly adept at the practice as well.

President Obama

The administration released the State Department’s final environmental review of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on a Friday afternoon.

The review found the pipeline would not increase greenhouse gas emissions.

And fittingly, Obama announced on another Friday afternoon he cancelled the project that Trump reinstated soon after he was sworn into office.

One of the key components of the Affordable Care Act in its infancy as it crawled through Congress was long-term care insurance, something everyone agrees is needed but very expensive to purchase.

On a Friday night, the Obama administration said he was abandoning his attempt to include it in the Affordable Care Act.

What was then and remains one of the more unpopular features of the health overhaul law, mandatory insurance coverage, was also announced on a Friday.

The Internal Revenue Administration released the draft of the 2014 tax form that required taxpayers to prove they were covered by health insurance.

The Clinton administration also practiced the Friday night dump with regularity and that extends to Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

 

 

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton/Daily Mail

The Department of Justice released thousands and thousands of her emails as Secretary of State on a Friday night when it was impossible for anyone to write with any detail of their contents.

As a candidate, Clinton released her health records, which had become an issue when she fell ill at a ceremony honoring those lost during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and her tax returns, also controversial, on a Friday night.

Perhaps the most famous attempt to bury the news was not on a Friday, and instead is known as the Saturday Night Massacre.

President Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley/Wikipedia

Former President Richard Nixon ordered then Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox on Oct. 20, 1973, in the midst of the unfolding Watergate scandal.

Richardson refused and resigned as did Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshaus.

Nixon then ordered Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire Cox, which he did. Bork would later emerge as President George H.W. Bush’s unsuccessful pick for the U.S. Supreme Court.

New Hampshire has had its share of Friday night news dumps with numerous politicians seeking to put the least light possible on controversial actions.

But perhaps the most famous news dump — like the Saturday Night Massacre — did not happen on a Friday, but it might as well have.

The Supreme Court’s landmark Claremont II decision declaring the state’s system of funding public education unconstitutional because it relied on property taxes with widely varying rates was released on a Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving.

The decision that turned the education funding system upside down was published on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 1998.

The timing effectively buried the bombshell, but the issue has never gone away and today lawmakers still tinker with the education funding system that continues to rely on widely varying property tax rates to determine educational opportunities for Granite State students.


This column brought to you jointly by independent news partners ManchesterInkLink and InDepthNH.org.

Garry Rayno’s Distant Dome runs exclusively on Manchester Ink Link and InDepthNH.org, where Rayno explores a broader perspective on State House – and state – happenings. Over his three-decade career Rayno has closely covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat, and his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. He is former editor of The Hillsboro Messenger and Assistant Editor of The Argus-Champion. Rayno graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in English Literature and lives with his wife Carolyn in New London. Garry Rayno can be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com