Nation and World briefs for December 27

Bad headlines for Trump also means ratings slump for Hannity

NEW YORK — The drumbeat of bad news for President Donald Trump hasn’t been good for his most prominent backer in the media.

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While Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity will end 2018 as cable news’ most popular personality for the second year in a row, he’s been slumping in the ratings since the midterm elections and ominous stories related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the president.

His show averaged 2.76 million viewers since the election through Dec. 17, down 19 percent compared to the previous month, the Nielsen company said. Among the 25-to-54-year-old demo most coveted by advertisers, he’s down 30 percent. Competitors Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Chris Cuomo on CNN are up in each measurement.

Maddow has been beating Hannity outright in December, a turnaround from October. During that month, when Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation drama dominated the news, Hannity’s audience routinely exceeded Maddow’s by about a million people each night, Nielsen said.

“I think it’s a reflection of the mood of his audience,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of Hofstra University’s communications school and a longtime NBC executive. “They can’t be happy with what is coming out of Washington every day.”

Quake from Mount Etna volcano jolts Sicily, sparks panic

ROME — An earthquake triggered by Mount Etna’s eruption jolted eastern Sicily before dawn Wednesday, injuring at least 10 people, damaging churches and houses on the volcano’s slopes and prompting panicked villagers to flee their homes.

Italy’s Civil Protection officials said the quake, which struck at 3:19 a.m., was part of a swarm of some 1,000 tremors, most of them barely perceptible, linked to Etna’s volcanic eruption this week.

Italy’s national seismology institute said the quake had a magnitude of 4.8 on the open-ended Richter scale and 4.9 on the moment magnitude scale, which relates to the amount the ground slips. It struck north of Catania, the largest city in the eastern part of the Mediterranean island, but no damage or injuries were reported there.

The quake opened up cracks in homes in several towns, sending chunks of concrete debris tumbling to the ground. It toppled a Madonna statue in a church in Santa Venerina and broke up sidewalks and a stretch of highway, forcing it to close. Many people spent the hours after the quake sleeping in their cars.

In the town of Piano d’Api, firefighters removed cracked stucco from the bell tower of the damaged Santa Maria della Misericordia church. Italy’s culture ministry said the quake damage to churches was being tallied by experts.

“Etna remains a dangerous volcano, and this country of ours is unfortunately fragile,” government undersecretary Vito Crimi said as he reported 10 people injured.

FBI concerned by money mules roped into fraud schemes

WASHINGTON — The email caught the executive at a small company by surprise one morning in 2016. The company’s owner, or so he thought, was requesting a money transfer to pay for supplies from a new vendor.

It wasn’t until that night when the executive, hours after the money had been transferred and still puzzled by the out-of-the-blue demand, texted the owner to make sure he’d heard the request correctly.

The befuddled reply was disheartening: “I just saw your message about a wire transfer today. What is that about?”

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It was all part of a fraud scam that targeted companies, schools and nonprofits in Connecticut and elsewhere in the United States and that resulted this month in a 45-month prison sentence for one of the culprits. The case is part of a seemingly endless cycle of money laundering schemes that law enforcement officials say they’re scrambling to slow through a combination of prosecution and public awareness.

Beyond the run-of-the-mill plots, officials say, is a particularly concerning trend involving “money mules” — people who, unwittingly or not, use their own bank accounts to move money for criminals for purposes they think are legitimate or even noble.

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