DAVID BIANCULLI

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ERIC GOULD

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Today’s Events from the TCA Press Tour Include Washington and Founding Fathers – Not the Ones You Think
July 31, 2017  | By Ed Bark
 

Beverly Hills, CA -- Incessant political reporter/commentator/moderator Robert Costa (below) hit a hotel ballroom stage on another natural high late Monday morning.

Just minutes before a panel for PBS' Washington Week, he had learned -- and already tweeted, of course -- that White House communications director Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci had been sacked after barely a week on the job. It's always something, and Costa wants it no other way.

"I mean, you guys think you're the only ones covering drama, right?" he began.

At age 31, Costa is an ace political reporter for The Washington Post, a virtually constant presence on MSNBC and the new on-air orchestrator for Washington Week, succeeding the late Gwen Ifill.

"In this environment, we're all working 24/7," he said of tracking the Trump administration circus. "I don't go on vacation. I spend all my time reporting. I love it."

In that context, the weekly Washington Week, which airs on Friday nights, is something of a reset button, but primarily a "continuation of the reporting," Costa said. "On our show, we can really get reporters to unload their notebook -- in a real way."

Logging all that television time, usually beginning with MSNBC's Morning Joe, is "not in competition with my job as a reporter," he insisted. "It accentuates it."

But because of MSNBC's strategic positioning as a left-of-center alternative to Fox News Channel, Costa said he's aware of a built-in perception problem for any reporter striving to be fair first and foremost.

"It's a fair question," he told TVWorthWatching. "How do you make sure that you stay in the 'reporting zone?' It's not easy. It's a turbulent time. I just try to stay steady in everything I do so we don't feel 'Costa left, Costa right.' "

He's "always been addicted to having a front seat to history," Costa said. And with the Trump administration, it's been aboard a Tilt-a-Whirl of tweets, disruptions and protests that "fake news" rules the land whenever it's reporting the President doesn't like.

"He embraces disruption, he embraces chaos" -- and always has, Costa said.

Trump's recent appointment of retired Marine Corps general John Kelly (left) as his new chief of staff might possibly signal at least a sense of stability, Costa said.

Kelly, who had been secretary of Homeland Security, is seen by Costa as a stand-in for Trump's deceased taskmaster father, Fred.

"I think, when it comes to the 'pivot question,' that he's picking someone who's not ideological, who reflects his father's values," Costa said of Kelly. "He's turning to a steady hand."

Kelly replaces the recently deposed Reince Priebus. Embattled former White House press secretary Sean Spicer also departed the White House in recent weeks.

Priebus, for one, did not sign a non-disclosure agreement, Costa said. In his view, "you cannot be a federal employee and be sworn to secrecy."

But both Priebus and Spicer made nice in their cable TV news exit interviews. So it remains an open question, Costa said, whether anyone who previously served Trump will "actually step out on a limb and write a tell-all book about their presidency." Because in the back of their mind, he added, they know Trump will be waiting to pounce on whatever disparaging words they might have.

Not that it will matter all that much in the end. Costa noted that he and many other dogged White House and presidential campaign chroniclers have their sources. So if Priebus, Spicer and the like decide against tattling, they'll fill in the blanks with their own books, he said.

***

Earlier Monday, Ted Danson (top), political commentator Ana Navarro (top), and author/activist Janet Mock (below) appeared on behalf of PBS' Finding Your Roots, which launches Season 4 on Tuesday, October 3.

All three have their ancestries detailed by executive producer/host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (left), who in the new season also uproots the family trees of Amy Schumer, Christopher Walken, Aziz Ansari, Bryant Gumbel, Bernie Sanders, and Larry David. The latter two, as noted in a previous press tour dispatch, found out they were related in some way.

"This is some show you've got here," David said to end a highlight clip for Finding Your Roots.

David and Sanders turn out to be "third cousin, fourth cousin. We don't know what it is," Gates said.

Danson got an arguably bigger jolt, learning he was descended from both a slaveholder and a woman who criticized the sermons of Puritan ministers to her peril. She was executed for that "crime" in 1634.

Navarro and Mock both were told they had slaves as ancestors.

The popularity of Finding Your Roots, which now averages three million viewers a week according to Gates, has created a heightened awareness for its celebrity guests and the big reveals that await them. But they need not apply. Gates, also known as "Skip," and his production team personally select their prey, so to speak.

"Basically it's people we just fantasize about meeting," he said. "Each of these people is in here because we wanted to meet them."

TVWorthWatching wondered what happens if their ancestries then turn to be somewhat boring upon further review by the show's crack team of genealogists.

"Once they're in the series, they're in," Gates said. "And we have never struck out . . . Everybody's got a story."

Navarro, who regularly appears as a CNN Republican political analyst with a distaste for Trump, recalls being awestruck by the Finding Your Roots invite.

"When you get an email that says Henry Louis Gates, I felt like I had won the lottery," she said. "I still don't know how anybody says no.

Next comes "the most exhaustive questionnaire form that you can imagine," Navarro said. But after she duly filled it out, "for days I hear nothing."

"And I thought, 'Oh my God, I've just been hacked by the Russians.' "

Gates later joked that his show also might find out some day that Navarro and Trump share a genealogical line.

Just a few minutes later, Robert Costa, no relation, arrived to talk about all Trump, all the time.

 
 
 
 
 
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