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At State Department, Heather Nauert's star is ascendant

When the ax fell on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his spokeswoman was half a world away, a distance he and his inner circle preferred and enforced.

Now, it's Tillerson who's on his way out after his unceremonious firing by President Donald Trump, and Heather Nauert whose star is ascendant.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Nauert are among the few women in the Trump administration with high-profile voices on foreign policy. Only three State Department officials — all men — now outrank Nauert, a former Fox News anchor who declined comment for this story.

Nauert's meteoric rise comes even though just a week ago she seemed not long for the job. Then Tillerson lost his.

She was denied the kind of close access to the boss that all recent successful State Department press secretaries enjoyed. So Nauert tried to defend Trump's top diplomat and explain his activities to reporters from around the world without being able to travel on any of Tillerson's international trips or attend most of his Washington meetings.

Frustrated at being sidelined, Nauert almost quit several times. She had been telling associates she was ready to move on.

The moment that Trump canned Tillerson by tweet, Nauert was in a Hamas-built tunnel on the border near the Gaza Strip, on a tour organized by the Israeli military to show U.S. officials the smuggling routes used by militants. Caught by surprise by the move back in Washington, Nauert cut the tour short and returned to Jerusalem to deal with the crisis. Soon, Trump also fired the undersecretary of state who publicly defended Tillerson.

The president named Nauert to that suddenly vacant position, near the top of the hierarchy of American diplomacy.

Nauert told associates she was taken aback and recommended a colleague for the job. But when White House officials told her they wanted her, she accepted.

The new role gives Nauert responsibilities far beyond the regular news conferences she held in the briefing room. She is overseeing the public diplomacy in Washington and all of the roughly 275 overseas U.S. embassies, consulates and other posts. She is in charge of the Global Engagement Center that fights extremist messaging from the Islamic State group and others. She can take a seat, if she wants, on the Broadcasting Board of Governors that steers government broadcast networks such as Voice of America.

Less than a year ago, Nauert wasn't even in government.

Nauert, who was born in Illinois, was a breaking news anchor on Trump's favorite television show, "Fox & Friends," when she was tapped to be the face and voice of the administration's foreign policy. With a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, she had come to Fox from ABC News, where she was a general assignment reporter. She hadn't specialized in foreign policy or international relations.

It was almost clear from the start that Nauert wasn't Tillerson's first choice.

She resisted the ex-oilman's efforts to limit press access, reduce briefings and limit journalists allowed to travel with him. Tillerson had preferred Genevieve Wood at the conservative Heritage Foundation, according to several individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss Tillerson's personnel decisions.

When Nauert arrived at the State Department in April 2017, she found relations between Tillerson and the diplomatic press corps in crisis. No longer were there daily briefings that had been a State Department feature for decades. Journalists accustomed to traveling with Republican and Democratic secretaries for decades found they were blocked from Tillerson's plane. Department spokespeople had no regular access to Tillerson or his top advisers.

Shut out from the top, Nauert developed relationships with career diplomats. Barred from traveling with Tillerson, she embarked on her own overseas trips, visiting Bangladesh and Myanmar last year to see the plight of Rohingya Muslims, and then Israel after a planned stop in Syria was scrapped. Limited to two briefings a week, she began hosting a program called "The Readout" on State Department social media outlets in which she interviewed senior officials about topics of the day.

All the while, she stayed in the good graces of the White House, even as Tillerson was increasingly on the outs. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Nauert as "a team player" and "a strong asset for the administration."

And she didn't shy from taking on foreign foes.

"The idea that Russia is calling for a so-called humanitarian corridor, I want to be clear, is a joke," Nauert said at one recent briefing where she took Moscow to task for its actions in Syria, where it has used military power to support President Bashar Assad's government.

Such comments have earned her the wrath of Kremlin officials and state-run media. Faced with pointed questioning by reporters from Russian news outlets at her briefings, Nauert often has lashed out, accusing them of working for their government.

"You're from Russian TV, too. OK. So hey, enough said then. I'll move on," Nauert told a reporter last month after Russian President Vladimir Putin presented an animated film clip showing a missile headed toward the U.S.

The comment sparked an intercontinental war-of-spokeswomen.

"If the StateDept dares to shun our journalists alongside with calling them Russian journalists one more time, we will carry our promise. We will create special seats for so called 'US journalists,'" Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova tweeted.

It didn't end there.

First, the Russian Embassy in Washington congratulated Nauert "and, of course, all female employees" of the State Department on International Women's Day. Nauert responded with gratitude and a dig, saying Moscow should use the day to "live up to its international commitments & stop bombing innocent men, women & children in #Syria."


This story has been corrected to show that only Nauert, not the entire delegation, cut the trip short after Tillerson's firing.

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt:  5 things to know

It’s hard to call Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt an overnight sensation. After all, she’s been following basketball at Loyola University-Chicago for more than a half century and said she saw the Ramblers win the NCAA title in 1963. But thanks to television, the internet and social media, the 98-year-old nun has become a media darling.

>> Read more trending news

With victories against Miami and Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, the Ramblers are hoping for more spiritual guidance when they face the winner of the Cincinnati-Nevada game in next week’s Sweet 16.

Here are some things you might not have known about Loyola-Chicago’s inspirational leader.

Praying for victory: As the basketball team’s chaplain since 1994, Sister Jean begins every prayer the same way: “Good and gracious God.” But if you’re thinking she does not invoke the deity for a little help to win, think again. “I ask God to be especially good to Loyola so that, at the end of the game, the scoreboard indicates a big ‘W’ for us,” she told The New York Times. She ends every prayer with an emphatic “Go Ramblers.” Judging from some of the shots Loyola-Chicago has been burying during this tournament -- Clayton Custer’s game-winner against Tennessee comes to mind -- these prayers have been answered so far.

She’s a Hall of Famer: Loyola-Chicago inducted Sister Jean into the athletic department’s Hall of Fame in 2017, making her the 173rd member to be enshrined. Born in San Francisco in 1919, Sister Jean played basketball in high school.

Good scouting: Every season, Sister Jean researches the boxscores of upcoming opponents, using her sharp eye for detail to point out flaws in the Ramblers’ next foe. Coach Porter Moser found a manila folder on his desk on his first day as coach, according to Sister Jean had compiled a scouting report on the Ramblers to help the new coach.

“She lights up every room she goes into.” Moser told the Times. “She’s always smiling. She has an energy about herself. I connect with that.”

She has her own bobblehead: Loyola-Chicago held a bobblehead promotion night for Sister Jean in 2011.

Super sneakers: Sister Jean has a pair of maroon-and-gold Nike sneakers that she wears during each game. Two names are stitched on the sneaker’s heels: “Sister” on the left heel, and “Jean” on the right.

It’s been quite a ride for Loyola-Chicago, which has knocked off two highly touted program. Now, the Ramblers will have to go against Sister Jean in the Sweet 16: She picked the Ramblers to lose in that round.

WATCH: Bill Hader's Stefon returns to 'SNL,' and fans just can't get enough

He's baaack!

"Saturday Night Live" alum Bill Hader returned to the comedy show as host this week – and, much to fans' delight, revived his beloved character, New York City correspondent Stefon.

>> Click here to watch the full sketch (WARNING: Viewer discretion advised)

Hader brought his character-breaking comedy to "Weekend Update," recommending some unusual St. Patrick's Day hot spots.

>> Read more trending news 

"New York's hottest club is Gooosh," Hader's Stefon said. "Inspired by true events, this former CVS, which became a Chase Bank then became a CVS again, has a troubling yet familiar feel, like when Larry King would play himself in a movie."

>> See the clip here

Another suggestion? "If you're Irish, or just white and violent, I have the St. Paddy's place for you. New York's hottest Irish club is 'Off to Church, Mother,'" he said, adding, "This place has everything: Peeps, TED Talks, Roman J. Israel, Esq., and be sure to hit the dance floor and do a jig with Ireland' s hottest Farrah-cauns — leprechauns that look like Farrah Fawcett."

>> Watch the clip here

John Mulaney, Stefon's co-creator, also joined Hader as Stefon's lawyer, Shy.

During the segment, fans flocked to Twitter to sing Stefon's praises. Scroll down to see what they were saying.

The Roots' SXSW show canceled after bomb threat; man arrested

Update, 2:14 a.m. CDT Sunday: Austin police have arrested a man in connection with a bomb threat that led to the cancellation of The Roots’ show Saturday at South by Southwest. 

The city of Austin tweeted the following statement early Sunday:

Trevor Weldon Ingram, 26, was arrested on charges of making a terroristic threat, a third-degree felony, the release said.

Police also tweeted Ingram’s booking photo:

ORIGINAL STORY: A South by Southwest performance by The Roots at Fair Market in Austin, Texas, was canceled Saturday night due to a “security concern,” event organizers said.

>> Visit for the latest on this developing story

A police spokesman said around 9:30 p.m. that more information would be released via Twitter, but nothing had been posted by 11:30 p.m. CDT.

However, the Austin Chronicle reported that it had two staffers at the event. One staffer heard event workers discussing the concern as a bomb threat, according to a report the weekly posted online, and "a second Chronicle staffer spoke with someone working at Fair Market tonight, who confirmed that Austin police were canvassing the property to determine whether there is any validity to the threat."

The cancellation of the show on the final night of the South By Southwest Festival comes at a time of heightened concern in the city following three deadly package bombs – two on Monday – that have exploded in East Austin this month, killing two people and seriously injuring a third.

>> Austin package explosions: 3 blasts appear connected, claim 2 lives, police say

Representatives for the event issued the following statement Saturday night after the cancellation

“Due to a security concern, we have made the difficult decision to cancel tonight’s Bud Light x The Roots SXSW Jam. After working proactively with SXSW, the Austin Police Department, and other authorities, Bud Light believes this is the best course of action to ensure the safety of our guests, staff, and artists, and appreciate your understanding. We are truly sorry to have to cancel the event, but we felt it was necessary to take all safety precautions.”

>> Austin package bombings: Friends remember victims Draylen Mason, Anthony House

In an Instagram post, Fair Market representatives said Anheuser-Busch made the call to cancel the event.

In a tweet that was later deleted Saturday night, frontman Questlove wrote, “Uh, welp can’t say much but for those in Austin waiting in line to see us tonight. Tonight’s show has been cancelled. They’ll make official announcement but I’d rather save y’all the trouble of waiting in line.”

>> On Complete coverage of SXSW

In response to fans who were upset after waiting in line for hours, Questlove also tweeted:

SXSW 2018: Bill Murray recites poem on street while wearing overalls, bucket hat

Bill Murray has arrived at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

>> The Roots SXSW show canceled following possible bomb threat, report says

He’s in town for multiple reasons – the premiere of Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” on Saturday night, a dedication at the Belo Center for New Media at the University of Texas on Saturday afternoon and an appearance at the Long Center on Sunday night.

>> On Complete coverage of SXSW

>> Read more trending news 

In true Bill Murray fashion, he also appeared on Sixth Street on Saturday evening and recited a poem while wearing overalls and a bucket hat, likely to promote his Long Center show at which he’ll be sharing stories and poetry. Anderson made an appearance, too:

>> Click here to watch

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma to speak at MIT about the role of culture

World-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma is set to give a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The school says Ma will visit the campus Monday to deliver a talk titled "Yo-Yo Ma: Culture, Understanding and Survival " as part of a lecture series featuring figures in modern thought.

Ma is a prolific performer who has recorded more than 100 albums and has worked to promote collaboration among artists from different cultures.

He was born in Paris and became a child prodigy after learning the cello at age 4. He has won 18 Grammy awards, the National Medal of the Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The event will feature a lecture from Ma and a conversation between the cellist and MIT President L. Rafael Reif.

Vandal tags mural created by British graffiti artist Banksy

British graffiti artist Banksy is drawing crowds to his New York City mural but for an unfortunate reason.

It seems somebody has added a signature tag to his artful protest of the imprisonment of a Turkish artist and journalist.

Plenty of pedestrians were getting a look Saturday at the signings scrawled across the bottom half of his 70-foot-long mural. The mural bearing the slogan "Free Zehra Dogan" was recently installed on the Houston Bowery Wall, made famous by Keith Haring in the late 1970s.

The mural protests the jailing of Dogan, an ethnic Kurd, after she painted the Turkish flag flying over the rubble of a destroyed town. Dogan, was convicted last March.

Banksy's mural shows her jailed behind a set of black tally marks representing her days in prison.

Barbra Streisand says no #MeToo moment marred her life

Barbra Streisand said she's never suffered sexual harassment but has felt abused by the media.

During a tribute to Streisand's decades of TV music specials and other programs, producer and long-time admirer Ryan Murphy queried her about her career, the #MeToo movement and her aversion to interviews.

"Never," she replied when asked if she had been sexually mistreated. "I wasn't like those pretty girls with those nice little noses. Maybe that's why."

She acknowledged the power of protests against gender inequality sweeping through Hollywood and society.

"We're in a strange time now in terms of men and women and the pendulum swinging this way and that way, and it's going to have to come to the center," Streisand said during Friday's Paley Center for Media event held at a packed theater.

Her reluctance to talk to news outlets is based on years of what she called inaccurate reporting, including one story that claimed she has an "awards room" at home dedicated to her Oscars, Emmys and other trophies. But it was the late TV journalist Mike Wallace who came in for the sharpest criticism.

Streisand said he asked her hurtful questions during a TV interview and she called him afterward to complain. But on a subsequent show, Wallace told viewers who'd objected to his treatment of Streisand that she "loved" the interview, according to the star.

"I thought, I don't know what date rape is, it's terrible ... but it was such a violation," she said. "Why lie?"

Wallace's tough questioning brought Streisand to tears on a 1991 interview on "60 Minutes."

Streisand said she demands control in her work but only in service to her art that's included directing, acting and producing TV movies, among them 1995's "Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story," about anti-gay discrimination in the military.

Murphy ("Glee," ''American Horror Story"), who admitted to being nervous as he began his one-on-one conversation with the star of "Funny Girl" and award-winning TV specials dating back to 1966's "Color Me Barbra," said he owed his career to her.

"People talk about Barbra as the greatest female star. I say, no, that's not enough," Murphy said, calling her a groundbreaker for those who don't fit the mold. "She was a touchstone, a beacon I followed my entire life.

The tribute, which kicked off the 35th annual PaleyFest LA television festival at the Dolby Theatre, was capped by the presentation to Streisand of the 2018 PaleyFest Icon award.

Streisand is a "truly magical artist," Maureen J. Reidy, Paley Center president and CEO, said of her work as a singer, actress, director and producer.

Streisand also is known for her political activism on behalf of Democratic candidates and issues including gay rights.




Lynn Elber can be reached at and on Twitter at

Demi Lovato celebrates 6 years sober at show with DJ Khaled

Demi Lovato celebrated six years of sobriety at a concert in New York with tour mate DJ Khaled, whose powerful words brought the pop star to tears.

Lovato performed Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, telling the audience that March 15 was a proud day for her.

DJ Khaled played the role of preacher, life coach and best friend as he offered words of inspiration, motivation and admiration to Lovato, who has been open about her issues with drugs and alcohol. He told the crowd "this is a special day" and repeatedly said "happy birthday" to Lovato, as she began to tear up.

"Every time I see you I say, 'Man, this is a strong queen,'" he said. "What you've overcome through trials and tribulations, through dark clouds, you found the sunshine, and now the sun is shining on you forever."

"You inspire me," Khaled added.

DJ Khaled and R&B singer Kehlani, another tour mate, encouraged the crowd sing "Happy Birthday" to Lovato in honor of her sixth year of sobriety.

The crowd then chanted "Demi!" as she sat down by the piano and dabbed her eyes with tissues handed to her by a crew member.

"Six years ago, I was drinking vodka out of a Sprite bottle at 9 in the morning, throwing up in the car," Lovato said. "So, I took a look at my life and I said, 'Something has to change, I've got to get sober.' So, I did."

"Thank you for being a part of saving my life. I love you guys," she added before performing the song "Warriors."

Lovato struggled with an eating disorder, self-mutilation and other issues, entering rehab in 2010. The 25-year-old has spoken out about her battles over the years, detailing her recovery in the YouTube documentary "Simply Complicated," which was released last year.

Grammy-nominated Kehlani, who has also been open about her personal struggles, thanked Lovato and said she's honored to know the singer.

"As a 22-year-old woman, you represent me, you represent every single women in this room and even every single young boy," the singer said. "You are 100 percent yourself, and that is so rare in this world and this industry."

Lovato's concert took another emotional turn when she performed the song "Father," saying this was the first tour she's been able to sing the song. Her biological father, who she has described as mean and abusive, died in 2013.

"I had love for him and I forgave him," she said. A photo of her father holding her as a baby closed the performance.

Lovato ended the concert, backed by the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, with the songs, "Sorry Not Sorry," and "Tell Me You Love Me."

The 'force' with Mark Hamill at Dublin's St. Patrick's Day

Mark Hamill has tweeted that "today the whole galaxy is Irish" as he appeared as international guest of honor at Dublin's St. Patrick's Day parade.

The "Star Wars" actor, whose great-grandmother was born in Ireland, was invited to represent the Irish diaspora at the celebration. Hamill spent time on Ireland's rocky Skellig Michael island filming the most recent "Star Wars" movie, "The Last Jedi."

Hamill sported a tweed cap, a green scarf and a shamrock sprig as he attended the parade, which sees floats, colorfully clad performers and marching bands wind their way through the Irish capital.

"Game of Thrones" actor Liam Cunningham was the grand marshal of Saturday's parade, attended by Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar is at New York's St. Patrick's Day parade.

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