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 Hidden Figures Women who break down barriers to open the heavens to astronauts. 23  Fences Denzel Washington makes a powerful impression in front of and behind the camera. 24

Holiday Favorites

 Sing Hey, it’s the season when reindeer fly, so just let go and listen to the koala sing. 26

How a giant TV company helped Donald Trump’s campaign Sinclair says no deal with candidate existed, yet a review indicates coverage tilted toward him.



Over four days in early August, Donald Trump gave interviews to four TV stations in Ohio, Florida and Maine, and to the Washington bureau of a national TV chain. The interviews were a coup for the stations, which eagerly promoted their “one-on-one” encounters with the GOP nominee. They were also an effective way for Trump to target voting blocs

in key states, particularly since he had begun limiting his national media exposure largely to friendly interviewers on Fox News. The most striking thing about the interviews, however, may be that one company was behind all of them: Sinclair Broadcast Group. The Maryland-based company is the nation’s largest owner of TV stations, with 173 in 81 cities nationwide, including those that interviewed Trump in August.

The Washington bureau was Sinclair’s, too; it provided its interview with Trump to Sinclair’s many stations for their newscasts. Sinclair, which has drawn criticism for favoring conservative candidates before, says it had no special arrangement with Trump’s campaign and that it didn’t favor him at the expense of his main rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton. It also said it offered equal time to Clinton and solicit-

ed interviews with her throughout the campaign, but her managers responded less enthusiastically than Trump. Those statements appear to be at odds with comments made last week by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a key adviser. In a speech to business executives in New York, Kushner said Trump’s campaign struck a deal with Sinclair to provide access and coverSINCLAIR CONTINUED ON C3

Ashland, Va., offers a little holiday wonder for passing trains

Seasonal delights, from light displays and stocking stuffers to festive meals and cocktails PAGE 16

‘Humble and Kind,’ a home remedy for a world of hurt BY


Music is usually a reliable escape from reality, but between global tragedies and an acrimonious presidential election and deaths of iconic figures, it was extraordinarily difficult to escape the fever dream that was 2016. Still, there was one song, quieter than almost anything else, that became a huge hit this year — and it was one we sorely needed. Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” written by top Nashville songwriter Lori McKenna, stands out from the ballads you usually hear on country radio, which often center on relationships. Yet “Humble and Kind” struck a deep chord when it was released in January, as it hit No. 1 on the charts and went on to sell more than a million copies. Nominated for best country song at the upcoming Grammy Awards, it also won song of the year honors at the Country Music Association Awards and from the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. The song is exactly what it sounds like: a simple, thoughtful,

“I just hope in every song that I write, there’s a line that makes someone stop for a second and think.” Lori McKenna


Five-year-old Mary Hayden Stehle and her 7-year-old brother, Will, marvel at the lights that Ashland, Va., residents put out to provide a bright spot in the holiday journeys of train passengers and crews. BELOW: An Amtrak train pauses at the town’s rain-soaked but warmly lit station.

The bright side of the tracks BY



ive nights before Christmas, Mary Hayden Stehle is so deep into her Kindle jigsaw-puzzle game, she barely registers the racket of the train as it hurtles southward from Washington. Across the aisle, her brother, Will, sits on his grandfather’s lap, playing Minecraft. Neither child notices the dark forest outside, one seemingly filled with Wild Things. But then, just beyond the woods, lights start to appear like fallen constellations. The youngsters set down their gadgets and drift over to the window. “See the candy canes?” asks their mother, Michele Stehle. The Northeast Regional pulls into the Ashland, Va., station, in the bull’s-eye center of town, and the Amtrak train becomes an insurmountable median on Railroad Avenue. Boarding passengers are privy to only one half of town (the section with the depot draped in white lights). Travelers already on board, however, can delight in the holiday display illuminating both sides of the iron rails. ASHLAND CONTINUED ON C4

acoustic-driven tune that gently suggests ways to make the world a little nicer. “Hold the door, say ‘please,’ say ‘thank you’/Don’t steal, don’t cheat and don’t lie/I know you got mountains to climb, but always stay humble and kind,” the chorus advises, before zooming out to the bigger picture. “When those dreams you’re dreaming come to you/When the work you put in is realized/Let yourself feel the pride, but always stay humble and kind.” The verses dig deeper: “Don’t expect a free ride from no one, don’t hold a grudge or a chip and here’s why/Bitterness keeps you from flying.” Then, “Know the difference between sleeping with someone, and sleeping with someone you love/‘I love you’ ain’t no pickup line.” Other lines urge listeners to visit grandpa, go to church, and open the windows on a hot summer day instead of cranking up the air conditioner. McKenna admits the idea is fairly basic, and that’s exactly what she envisioned. She wrote it in May 2014 at her house in suburban Massachusetts, sitting at the dining room table with her morning coffee after taking her kids to school. With her five children on her mind (ages 12 to 27), she thought about life lessons she wanted to pass on. She scribbled down a list; strummed a melody on her guitar; worked out the rhyming and phrasing; and by HUMBLE CONTINUED ON C3


Nabokov’s and Wilson’s cross words are never really puzzled out THE FEUD Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship By Alex Beam Pantheon. 224 pp. $26.95



What holds a long-term friendship together is as mysterious as what sustains a lengthy marriage. The underpinnings are invisible to outsiders, who aren’t privy to the jealousy and passion and dependency and repressed desire that often hold sway. Boston Globe writer Alex Beam tries valiantly to examine such a relationship in his new book, “The Feud,” about critic Edmund Wilson and novelist Vladimir Nabokov, but he seems thwarted by his own congenial evenhandedness that avoids the dark clouds and hidden spaces

that can fuel intense friendships. Wilson and Nabokov became close friends after Wilson found him work writing for the New Yorker and the New Republic, where Wilson was already embedded. Nabokov had spent years in exile after escaping Russia when the Bolsheviks destroyed his idyllic childhood, which he wrote about in “Speak, Memory.” The two men seemed to enjoy each other’s company, even while needling each other over petty disagreements. Nabokov was exasperated by Wilson’s fondness for Lenin and Russia, which Nabokov detested. For Nabokov, the “Lenin-

ist reality” would always be “a pail of milk of human kindness with a dead rat at the bottom.” Wilson found Nabokov’s proclivity for punning intolerable and told him so repeatedly. Their childhood experiences and subsequent world views differed wildly. Nabokov hated Freud and was suspicious of anyone who claimed to decode the tragedy of human existence by espousing theories about sexuality and early development. He revered his mother, and he had great love for his father, who was assassinated when he was 22. Edmund Wilson, on the other hand, was the only

child of a critical and neglectful mother, who berated him for his inability to make enough money. Wilson became a chronic drinker and womanizer and married four times while producing an enormous output of books and criticism. Nabokov remained married to the same woman throughout his life but was also unfaithful. Both men revered the creative life and loved magic tricks and puzzles. Neither learned to drive. Unfortunately, Beam struggles to integrate these details into an engaging narrative about their BOOK WORLD CONTINUED ON C3


Songwriter Lori McKenna wrote the song we really need.

The washington post december 23 2016  
The washington post december 23 2016