January 20, 2016 Academy

The 88th annual Academy Award ceremony is more than a month away, but Oscar chatter has been dominated by criticism of the extreme lack of diversity in this year's crop of nominees. Selma's David Oyelowo and Twelve Years a Slave's Lupita Nyong'o have expressed disappointment. Director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith have announced they won't be attending the ceremony. Even Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs has acknowledged that it's time for the Academy to "[take] dramatic steps to alter the makeup of [its] membership."

But not every Academy member is so willing to take the blame. The Hollywood Reporter interviewed several Oscar voters, who expressed frustration at being painted as "racist" simply because they consistently fail to recognize any of the many qualified people of color who are eligible for recognition.

"I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren't nominated. But to imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. [...] It was just an incredibly competitive year," said actors branch member Penelope Ann Miller.

Another voter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was even blunter: "I'm very offended by the idea that some people are calling us racists — race was the furthest thing from my mind when I cast my ballot, and in fact I nominated one person of color for an award." Scott Meslow

12:00 p.m. ET

The Indiana wind seems to have blown the cover on President-elect Donald Trump's secret to keeping his red ties perfectly in place. As Trump stepped off a plane Thursday to tour the Carrier plant in Indianapolis, a strong gust briefly upended Trump's signature hairdo and tie — revealing two pieces of strategically placed Scotch tape:

Apparently even men with sprawling business empires and a penchant for gold leaf can enjoy the simplicity of DIY fixes. Becca Stanek

11:22 a.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is putting the brakes on Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's recount efforts. On Friday, Schuette announced he is filing a lawsuit to block Stein's "frivolous, expensive recount request" in the state. "It is inexcusable for Stein to put [Michigan voters] at risk of paying millions and potentially losing their voice in the [Electoral] College," Schuette tweeted, noting he had filed an "emergency motion" with Michigan's Supreme Court to "ensure a timely process."

Stein's efforts are also facing pushback in Wisconsin. The Associated Press reported Friday that Trump supporters have filed a federal lawsuit to halt Wisconsin's recount, which started on Thursday. The lawsuit argues that the recount "threatens the due process rights" of those who voted for Trump.

Stein announced last week she would raise money to fund recount efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, after cybersecurity experts noted alleged irregularities in the states' results. No evidence of a hack has emerged. Becca Stanek

10:45 a.m. ET
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Accomack County Public Schools on Virginia's eastern shore have decided to at least temporarily pull Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from campus shelves after a parent of a biracial child complained about the novels' racial language.

"I keep hearing, 'This is a classic, this is a classic,'" the parent, Victoria Coombs, said at a school board meeting. "I understand this is a literature classic... But there [are so many] racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can't get past that." Coombs argued it is "not right to put that in a book" or teach such a book to a child because to do so would be "validating that these words are acceptable."

While it is certainly true that both books include racial slurs, they do so to accurately represent the historical racism each work condemns. In Mockingbird, the main characters defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in the pre-Civil Rights South; and Huck Finn decides he'd rather risk hellfire than abandon his runaway slave friend.

Still, this is hardly the first time either work has been banned over accusations of racism. The Accomack school district will soon convene a meeting with a librarian to determine whether the ban should be permanent. Bonnie Kristian

10:22 a.m. ET

In the fall of 2015 alone, some 67,442 state and federal prison inmates were kept in solitary confinement, defined as at least 22 hours per day locked alone in a cell. So finds a new report released this week by the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and Yale Law School, which sought to fill longstanding data gaps on the use of solitary confinement in America today.

The study results show solitary rates vary widely by state. At the high end, Louisiana kept 14 percent of inmates in solitary for 15 days or more in the time period studied. Utah and Nebraska were the only other states to top 10 percent, while at the low end are states as geographically and demographically diverse as Mississippi and California, Connecticut and Hawaii.

The study also found race-based disparities in the solitary population, with most states seeing disproportionate representation of black men in solitary as compared to their share of the general prison population. Also noteworthy: Texas holds the dubious distinction of keeping the most inmates in solitary the longest, with more than 1,000 people isolated for a shocking six years or more.

Though solitary confinement use has declined in recent years thanks to evidence that it is inhumane and counterproductive, that 67,000 figure still provides just a partial tally. It only counts segregated inmates in state and federal prisons, excluding those in local jails as well as juvenile, military, and immigration detention centers. Bonnie Kristian

10:12 a.m. ET
Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

For former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, it literally pays to have friends in high places. Politico Playbook reported Friday that Gingrich's speaking agency Worldwide Speakers Group sent out an email Thursday announcing a "fee increase" on the basis of Gingrich's exclusive "insight" on President-elect Donald Trump. "Few people in the world have as much insight into President-elect Trump's philosophies, principles, and objectives as Newt Gingrich," the email says, per Politico. Though Gingrich has said he will not take a position in Trump's Cabinet, he will serve as an adviser to the administration.

To get Gingrich to speak, it now costs $25,000 in D.C., $60,000 east of Chicago, and $75,000 west of Chicago — and that's not including the transportation costs that Gingrich also requests are covered. All in all, Politico said, it's "an increase of about $15,000."

Gingrich told Politico he had "no comment." Becca Stanek

9:44 a.m. ET

A bromance may have been born at President-elect Donald Trump's dinner this week with 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, a leading contender for secretary of state. In an interview aired Friday on Fox and Friends, Trump said there was "actually a good chemistry" between he and Romney. "He's been very gracious, and don't forget I hit Mitt pretty hard also — I mean before the fact," Trump said, defending his consideration of Romney, who repeatedly and harshly criticized Trump during the election.

Trump also seemed ready to chalk up President Obama's past barbs to politics, noting he had "really good chemistry" with Obama, too. "We were supposed to sit down for 10 minutes, and we ended up sitting down for about an hour and a half, keeping everybody waiting," Trump said, recalling his post-election meeting with the president.

Catch Trump's fond remarks about Romney and Obama below. Becca Stanek

9:18 a.m. ET

President-elect Donald Trump's top aide Kellyanne Conway, who seemingly had an explanation for Trump's every move during the presidential campaign she ran, finally got tripped up Friday. During an appearance on Good Morning America, during which she was largely deft in defending Trump's claim that "millions" of people voted "illegally" in the election, it was a "simple question" from host George Stephanopoulos that left Conway momentarily speechless. "Simple question Kellyanne: Is that statement by President-elect Trump true?" Stephanopoulos asked, referring to the tweet Trump sent out Sunday baselessly claiming that voter fraud caused him to lose the popular vote.

Conway was completely silent. After a few seconds, she seemingly "feigned as if she didn't hear the question" and adjusted her earpiece, Mediaite said, in an apt description of the moment. "I'm sorry?" Conway said, before launching into a lengthy answer about Hillary Clinton's "negative" message.

Watch Conway's interview below. The cringe-worthy moment comes around the 5:41 mark. Becca Stanek

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