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'Chicago Fire' actress DuShon Monique Brown dead at 49

Actress DuShon Monique Brown, who played a secretary in the NBC show "Chicago Fire," has died at age 49.

The Cook County medical examiner's spokeswoman Becky Schlikerman says Brown died Friday at St. James Olympia Field Hospital outside Chicago. The cause of death wasn't given.

Brown was a veteran of Chicago theater. She worked as a crisis counselor at a Chicago high school and led its drama program before winning the role of Connie on "Chicago Fire". She played the assistant to Chief Boden, played by Eamonn Walker.

Brown also had a recurring role as nurse Kattie Welch in "Prison Break" and one-time guest spots on "Empire" and "Shameless."

In a statement, "Chicago Fire" executive producer Dick Wolf said the show's family is "devastated to lose one of its own."


This story has been corrected to reflect the first name as DuShon, not DeShon.

'Melrose Place' actress faces 2nd re-sentencing for crash

A former "Melrose Place" actress whose three-year prison term for a fatal 2010 auto crash sparked outrage from the victim's family and prompted legal appeals must return to court for a second re-sentencing.

A New Jersey appeals court ordered the new sentencing Friday for Amy Locane, writing that the trial judge's re-imposing of the same sentence last year didn't adhere to an earlier appellate ruling and didn't take into account the severity of the crime.

"The trial judge's legal analysis was not significantly different the second time he sentenced defendant than it was on the first," the three-judge panel wrote. They ordered the re-sentencing to take place before a different judge.

James Wronko, an attorney for Locane, said Friday he was preparing an appeal to file with the state Supreme Court. Wronko said Locane "clearly acknowledges her role in this case and is extremely remorseful for what occurred."

Locane, who acted in 13 episodes of the popular Fox series and also appeared in several movies, served about two-and-a-half years of a three-year sentence for the 2010 accident in Montgomery Township that killed 60-year-old Helene Seeman and seriously injured Seeman's husband, Fred. She was released in 2015.

Locane was convicted of vehicular manslaughter, assault by auto and other offenses and faced a sentencing range of five to 10 years on the most serious count.

Prosecutors had sought a seven-year sentence.

Locane's defense contended the crash was an accident and that a third motorist, whose car the actress had bumped into at a traffic light in the minutes before the accident, distracted her by honking at her and chasing her after being rear-ended.

Though the indictment charging Locane didn't mention intoxication, a state expert testified her blood-alcohol level was likely about three times the legal limit and that she was driving roughly 53 mph in a 35 mph zone at the time of the crash.

After the initial 2013 sentencing, the appeals court in 2016 ordered a re-sentencing and instructed state Superior Court Judge Robert Reed to offer additional justification for his decision to downgrade one of the charges and impose concurrent rather than consecutive sentences.

In Friday's opinion, the appeals court noted that while the jury convicted Locane of the lesser offense of second-degree vehicular manslaughter — prosecutors had sought aggravated manslaughter, a first-degree crime — Reed then downgraded that to a third-degree offense and imposed the lightest sentence available in that range.

"We fail to see on this record where the interest of justice demands a downgrade," the appeals court wrote. "Accordingly, we vacate the downgrade."

Wronko defended Reed's actions and said the judge was intimately familiar with the case and his imposed sentence accordingly.

"He's not known as a liberal defense judge," Wronko said. "He thought in his own evaluation that the appropriate sentence was three years in state prison."

Wronko said Locane could have to return to prison if a new judge upgrades the third-degree conviction to a second-degree conviction. A second-degree conviction carries a five-to-10-year prison sentence.

New witnesses detail sexual misconduct by Tavis Smiley

PBS says more witnesses have detailed sexual misconduct allegations against talk-show host Tavis Smiley, who was suspended in December and later fired.

In papers filed in Washington, D.C., Superior Court in response to a breach-of-contract lawsuit by Smiley, PBS said the witnesses spoke to an independent investigator and corroborated initial accounts that Smiley had established a pattern of sexual relationships with subordinates.

The filing Tuesday also said he subjected subordinates to unwanted sexual advances — including requests for specific sex acts — and made lewd jokes.

"Over a dozen individuals reported that they were either subjected to or witnessed unwelcome, inappropriate sexual comments or conduct or otherwise inappropriate behavior by Mr. Smiley or were informed of the misconduct contemporaneously," the court filing said.

Smiley and his representatives stuck by their denials.

"More lies, half- truths and smears from PBS from an 'investigation' that never should have happened, with a result that was decided well before the inquiry was even begun," they said Friday in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.

The network said it also found further evidence that Smiley created an abusive and threatening workplace, often belittling and cursing subordinates.

Many of the witnesses were women of color, the documents say, pushing back against comments from Smiley, who is black, that racial bias was involved in his firing.

At the time of his suspension, Smiley acknowledged having had a sexual relationship with a colleague but said he had done nothing to deserve the "public humiliation and personal destruction" he was undergoing.

Smiley's lawsuit, which seeks "multiple millions" in damages, also alleged that the PBS investigation was shoddy and poorly executed, and his dismissal was hasty.

PBS, in the answer and counterclaim, says those assertions in televised interviews after his suspension constituted a breach of contract by Smiley, who had agreed not to cast aspersions on his employer.

"PBS acted at all times justifiably, in good faith, and with reasonable care and diligence," the filing said.

The network is seeking $1.9 million in returned salary from Smiley.

Smiley's dismissal came amid a wave of reports of sexual misconduct in the workplace by powerful figures in movies, media and politics that began with allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October and also led to the departure of Smiley's fellow PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose.

PBS aired the show "Tavis Smiley" from 2004 until 2017.

Within weeks after his departure, he announced the beginning of "The Upside with Tavis Smiley," a new show featuring inspirational stories that is streamed online and shown on The Word Network, a religious-oriented cable and satellite channel directed at black viewers.


Follow Andrew Dalton on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton .

The Latest: 'Melrose Place' actress to appeal court ruling

The Latest on an appeals court ordering former "Melrose Place" actress Amy Locane re-sentenced for a fatal 2010 auto crash (all times local):

5 p.m.

A lawyer for former "Melrose Place" actress Amy Locane says he'll appeal a ruling ordering her to be re-sentenced for a fatal 2010 crash in New Jersey.

Locane was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to three years in prison. She served about two-and-a-half years and was released in 2015.

Prosecutors and the victim's family objected, saying the sentence was too lenient, and an appeals court ordered a new sentencing. Last year, the same judge re-imposed the same sentence.

On Friday a different appeals court said the judge was in error and ordered a new sentencing, in front of a different judge.

The crash killed 60-year-old Helene Seeman and seriously injured her husband, Fred.

A state witness testified Locane's blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit at the time of the crash.


1:50 p.m.

A former "Melrose Place" actress convicted in a fatal auto crash must return to court for a second re-sentencing.

A New Jersey appeals court in 2016 ordered the first re-sentencing after prosecutors contended Amy Locane's three-year sentence for the 2010 crash was too lenient.

In January 2017, the judge re-imposed the same sentence. On Friday, an appeals court ruled the judge didn't follow its earlier ruling and didn't take the crime's severity into account.

A different judge will conduct the re-sentencing.

Locane served about two-and-a-half years of a three-year sentence for the 2010 accident in Montgomery Township that killed 60-year-old Helene Seeman and seriously injured Seeman's husband, Fred.

Locane appeared in 13 episodes of "Melrose Place" and in several movies.

Her attorney didn't immediately return a message seeking comment Friday.

15th defense lawyer in Suge Knight's murder case leaves

Marion "Suge" Knight lost another defense lawyer — his 15th — on Friday and the three-year wait for his murder trial to start will grow even longer.

Judge Ronald S. Coen released attorney Dominique Banos, citing a conflict of interest.

Banos said outside court that she had told the judge she believes she is a target in the witness-tampering investigation that led to the indictment and removal of two of Knight's lawyers. She denied any wrongdoing and said she regretted leaving a case she felt was winnable.

The moment Coen finished announcing the dismissal, Knight launched into an animated, minutes-long monologue denouncing prosecutors and jail officials, saying their investigations and the limitations put on his visitors and phone calls have forced him to blow through attorneys and settle for bad ones.

"All this stuff's a way-out, crazy situation," said Knight, 52, as he sat in court in an orange jail jumpsuit and chains. "I should be able to spend my money the way I want it."

"These attorneys," Knight went on, getting angrier, "nobody in the world would use these attorneys for a jaywalking ticket!"

Coen, who has warned Knight to let his attorneys do the talking in court, finally intervened and said, "You need to take a deep breath, Mr. Knight."

The judge appointed a 16th attorney, Robert DeBlanc, who Knight reluctantly accepted on an interim basis. Knight said he has already privately hired yet another lawyer, without giving his name.

The Death Row Records co-founder has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder for running over two men outside a Compton burger stand in 2015.

Banos was also released as Knight's attorney in a hearing that immediately followed on an unrelated robbery case where he has also struggled to keep attorneys.

"This must feel like deja vu," said Judge Craig Richman.

"It does," Knight said with a laugh. "It does."


Follow Andrew Dalton on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton .

Jann Wenner says MeToo suffers from absence of due process

Jann Wenner feels the #MeToo movement shows a "real absence of due process."

In an interview with The Associated Press, the Rolling Stone publisher said he feels that mere accusations of sexual impropriety are threatening careers, many times without corroboration, with people losing their jobs over "some of the most harmless (expletive) things."

"Honestly, I do believe it's a bit of a witch hunt," Wenner said in a recent interview at his office in New York. "It's difficult to get due process because there's no real place to adjudicate it except in court, which takes forever."

The 72-year old Wenner speaks from experience, after a former Rolling Stone employee came forward last year, claiming the media mogul sexually assaulted him in 1983. Wenner doesn't deny something happened between him and his accuser.

"There's some truth to it, but it does not fit any illegal, immoral, or unethical, or go in any way that direction," Wenner said.

"All you can say is no, not me too, and wait," he added.

He also sees violent sexual assault happening on college campuses as being a bigger problem.

"This is student-to-student rape. It's different than being harassed on the job or having your butt pinched or whatever you're complaining about. This is a physical violence," Wenner said.

Wenner made the comments while promoting the recent documentary by award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, "Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge." The four-hour, six-part documentary —which aired last year on HBO — makes its way to iTunes and other online services March 27. It showcases the magazine's 50-year history, and its remarkable news coverage, including the 1972 presidential election covered by Hunter S. Thompson and the Michael Hastings article that took down Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

It also highlights a dark time for the publication, the 2014 story of a gang rape at the University of Virginia, which the magazine had to retract because of "discrepancies" in the alleged victim's account. The magazine settled at least one suit over the story for $1.65 million.

Wenner considers that time one of the most regrettable moments in Rolling Stone's history, but "nothing I feel guilty about.

"Looking back, there's a few mistakes — had we not made a few mistakes, it would have turned out differently," he said. "In terms of regrettable things that have happened to us after 50 years, we finally had our turn with our feet on the fire. If you're in this business, sooner or later you're gonna make mistakes — that mistake happens."

Wenner's life has been in the news over the past year with the sexual misconduct allegation, and "Sticky Fingers," the salacious biography by Joe Hagan.

Yet, Wenner says he's unaffected by it all, especially now that the tables have turned, making him the focus of the story.

"I'm in the business of journalism myself, and I'm not really ashamed of anything I've ever did, so it doesn't matter to me if you tell some stories of my sex life. It's just that it's not well done, it's out of context, and it overwhelms the real story, which is what great work we did, what fun we had, instead of saying I had sex with somebody that nobody has ever heard of before, will ever hear of again. It doesn't affect anything," he said.



Opera in New York City to feature inmates recorded in Iowa

Inmates from an eastern Iowa prison have spent weeks learning German and perfecting inflections for a recording that will be played during a New York City opera performance of Beethoven's "Fidelio."

Heartbeat Opera invited the Oakdale Community Choir of the Iowa Medical and Classification Center to perform the "Prisoner's Chorus" for its New York City live production in May.

Production Director Ethan Heard traveled to the medium-security prison in Coralville, Iowa, on Wednesday to record the choir, comprised of 40 inmates and 30 community members. It's among six choirs being recorded singing for a pivotal scene.

Heartbeat Opera's modern-day performance of "Fidelio" is about a woman's journey to free her falsely imprisoned husband, a black activist. Video and audio from choirs such as Oakdale's will be projected during a scene in which prisoners are released into a courtyard to breathe fresh air. Each choir performs a different portion of the "Prisoner's Chorus."

Inmate Shane Kendrick has been singing in the Oakdale choir for two years. He said any humanizing depiction of inmates is good for them and the community that they'll re-enter. Kendrick said he has six more years to serve on his sentence.

Heard told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that the idea to reimagine "Fidelio" came to him when he began exploring injustice in today's prison system.

"I was looking for a story that would resonate in 2018, and it felt like 'Fidelio' was a story about hope in the face of injustice and perseverance in the face of corruption," he said.

Oakdale Choir Director Mary Cohen started the program in 2009. The choir showcases their talents in an annual performance, where parole officers, police and prosecuting attorneys are invited to attend. This year, the concert will feature the "Prisoner's Chorus."

Warden James McKinney said the performance shows the rehabilitative side of prison.

"Those 95 percent (of inmates) are going to be somebody's neighbor. Maybe yours, maybe somebody else's," he said. "My job has always been to make them the best neighbor as possible, and punishment doesn't work. But I know if they start to learn to communicate with people and learn that they can be a contributing member of society, they usually walk out the door better prepared to be somebody's neighbor."


Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/

Prince Harry, Meghan tour N. Ireland; wedding china on sale

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made a surprise visit to Northern Ireland on Friday as part of their pre-wedding tour of the United Kingdom.

The trip was not announced ahead of time in keeping with security procedures used for royal travel to Northern Ireland.

Kensington Palace officials said the couple would meet with young people and other members of the public and would also tour some of Belfast's most popular sites.

They had lunch at the popular Crown Liquor Saloon, a landmark in central Belfast.

As they toured Northern Ireland, approved commemorative china marking the couple's May 19 wedding went on sale Friday.

The collection uses cornflower blue with white detailing and a gold monogram of the bride and groom's initials.

The design also references the couple's wedding venue at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. The decorative border is based on the ironwork of the 13th century chapel door.

The china is finished in 22 carat gold. It was made by hand in Stoke-on-Trent, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northwest of London, using traditional methods.

Profits will go to the Royal Collection Trust charity.


Complete AP coverage of the royal wedding: https://apnews.com/tag/Royalweddings

Chris Evans may not return as Captain America

The actor who plays Captain America may be ready to hang up his shield.

Chris Evans tells The New York Times he has no plans to return to the Marvel movie franchise after reshoots of the fourth "Avengers" movie later this year. Evans says "you want to get off the train before they push you off."

The movie has yet to be titled and is expected to be released in 2019.

Evans has played the role since "Captain America: The First Avenger" in 2011.

The actor is making his Broadway debut as a police officer in "Lobby Hero," which is scheduled to open March 26.

NYC firefighter dies battling blaze on Harlem movie set

A New York City firefighter died early Friday battling a fierce blaze on a movie set after getting separated from his fellow firefighters in the thick smoke.

The fire started in the cellar of a former jazz club as the crew of "Motherless Brooklyn," directed by Edward Norton, was nearing the end of its working day at 11 p.m. Thursday. Flames poured out the windows as firefighters stormed into the five-story Harlem building, dumping water on the blaze to get it under control.

Firefighter Michael R. Davidson of Engine Co. 69 was assigned to the nozzle on the lead hose-line and pushed into the burning basement.

But the blaze was too much. Firefighters had to back out, and the 15-year Fire Department veteran was separated from his colleagues. Firefighters searched desperately for him, and he was found unconscious after suffering severe smoke inhalation, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. Davidson was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after midnight.

"Our city lost a hero," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a tweet before visiting the fire scene Friday evening. The Democrat called Davidson's death "a heartbreaking tragedy for the entire city."

Davidson, a second-generation firefighter, had been cited four times for bravery during 15 years on the job.

The building was being used to film the adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel of the same name. Norton was directing and starring, along with Bruce Willis, Willem Dafoe and Alec Baldwin.

Neighborhood resident Daquan Evans, 28, told the New York Post he saw Norton at the scene.

"He looked pretty upset," Evans said. "This is crazy, this fire. You think a movie comes up here and it is good for the neighborhood. Not a fire . . . damn."

The cause of the five-alarm fire was under investigation. The building, built in 1920, is a landmark and was home to the former St. Nick's Jazz Pub, a venerable bar that was closed in 2011.

Neighbor Joan Adams said she saw white smoke, then black, billowing from basement windows in the front of the building. But when she went into her backyard, two buildings away, she could see flames.

"It was really scary," she said.

The movie's producers said crews immediately called the fire department when they noticed smoke coming into the set and other parts of the building.

"We watched firsthand with astonishment as they charged into the smoke to make sure all were safely out and then fought to contain the blaze and prevent it from spreading, putting their lives on the line as they do every day," the producers said in a statement sending condolences to the firefighter's family.

Background actor Ambroise Ironfence said the movie crew wasn't using any open fire during the shoot and the building's power wasn't on.

"All the equipment we were using ... the power came from the truck outside," he told WCBS-TV.

The movie crew didn't need a city film production permit to work at the building because it was a private residence. The filmmakers did need a street parking permit and had one, officials said.

The building owner's phone number wasn't accepting messages Friday; nor was the phone for a lawyer who has represented him in real-estate cases. An email message to the owner failed.

Neighbors said the movie crew had set up a sign that read "King Rooster Jazz Club" and began filming about two weeks ago. Cars from the 1950s era lined the street.

Douglas Miller, who lives across the street in a second-floor apartment, said the fire traveled fast and went all the way to the roof. He saw firefighters carry out one of their own, on a stretcher, and try to resuscitate him and give him oxygen.

"They tried to save him, but they couldn't," Miller said, and soon the firefighter was being rushed to a hospital.

Later Friday, Davidson's body was taken to a suburban funeral home in a procession of fire trucks, getting somber salutes from firefighters stationed along the route.

Davidson, 37, was the son and brother of New York City firefighters. His father is now retired.

"You haven't heard a scream until you've heard the scream of a mother who's seen her son give his life to protect us," tweeted the mayor's spokesman, Eric Phillips.

Davidson leaves behind a wife, Eileen, and four children under 8. Neighbors described him as a salt-of-the-earth guy, a great friend, father and husband.

"He was a great guy — he went up and down and did everybody's sidewalk in the snow. He was playing with the kids in the snow yesterday," said Joanne Caldon.

Two other firefighters suffered burns and were in serious condition, and three others were injured, Nigro said.


This story has been corrected to show the last name of Mayor Bill de Blasio's spokesman is Phillips, not Philips.

US Postal Service unveils Mister Rogers postage stamp

It was a beautiful day to honor Mister Rogers with a postage stamp.

The U.S. Postal Service on Friday released a stamp featuring Fred Rogers, the gentle TV host who entertained and educated generations of preschoolers on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

The stamp pictures Rogers in his trademark cardigan along with King Friday, a puppet character from the show's Neighborhood of Make-Believe sketch.

A dedication ceremony was held at the Pittsburgh studio where Rogers filmed his beloved PBS show, which aired between 1968 and 2001. Rogers died in 2003 at age 74.

Among those attending were Rogers' widow, Joanne, and David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely, the deliveryman on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

Joanne Rogers said that when she first saw the stamp, it was "love at first sight."

"I thought it was so beautiful. I think it is so festive," she said.

Postmaster General Megan Brennan said at the unveiling that Mister Rogers "made the ups and downs of life easier to understand for the youngest members of our society."

"He shaped generations with his kindness and compassion," she said.

Noting the stamp has the words "Forever USA," Brennan said "these words of the Postal Service are our way of saying Mr. Rogers represents the best of America and will do so always."

Paul Siefken, president and CEO of the Fred Rogers Company, said he couldn't think of "a better tribute to Fred and his legacy."

He noted that Rogers loved sending letters, especially to young children who wrote to him about his show.

"Fred Rogers left an indelible mark on generations of young audiences through his groundbreaking series, and his timeless wisdom and important messages of inclusion and neighborliness remain just as relevant today as they were 50 years ago," Siefken said.

Rep: Lorna Luft has successful brain surgery for tumor

A representative for Lorna Luft says the singer has had successful brain surgery after being diagnosed with a tumor.

Victoria Varela told The Associated Press on Thursday that Luft had the surgery to remove the tumor on Tuesday at a hospital in Los Angeles and is expected to be released soon.

The daughter of Judy Garland and sister of Liza Minnelli collapsed earlier this month backstage after a concert and was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Varela says Luft thanks her fans for their support and also her doctors for taking good care of her. Luft says she plans to reschedule her concerts in England.

Luft also is in remission after fighting breast cancer.

Former Playboy model says Trump tried to pay her after sex

A former Playboy model apologized to first lady Melania Trump for a 10-month affair she claims she had with President Donald Trump that started with him offering her money after the first time they had sex.

During an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper that aired Thursday night, Karen McDougal said Trump tried to pay her after their first sexual tryst at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2006.

"Well, after we had been intimate, he, he tried to pay me. And I actually didn't know how to take that," she said. "But I looked at him and I said, 'That's not me. I'm not that kind of girl.'"

She cried on the way home and didn't think she would see him again, but agreed to go on other dates with him after he called her back, she said. McDougal repeatedly described Trump as "very charming" and "sweet."

McDougal said she continued the relationship with Trump for about 10 months and broke it off in April 2007 because she felt guilty. She recalled traveling to meet Trump at his properties in New York, New Jersey and California and said she had sex with him "many dozens of times."

McDougal had feelings for Trump, but the affair was "just tearing me apart," she said.

"There was a real relationship there. There were real feelings," she said. "He would call me baby or he would call me beautiful Karen."

Trump married his current wife, Melania Trump, in 2005, and their son, Barron, was born in 2006.

Speaking to CNN — which her attorney has said would be her only interview about the relationship — McDougal apologized when she was asked what she would say to Melania Trump.

"What can you say except, I'm sorry?" McDougal said. "I'm sorry. I wouldn't want it done to me."

McDougal said she never wanted to discuss her relationship and repeatedly rebuffed inquiries from reporters about the alleged affair. But after the story became public, she wanted to get out and tell her side of what happened, she said.

The White House has said Trump denies having an affair with McDougal and did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the interview Thursday night.

On Tuesday, she filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against the company that owns the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer, which she said paid her $150,000 during the presidential campaign for the rights to her story of an affair, but never ran the story.

McDougal's lawsuit, which asks a judge to invalidate the contract, alleges that Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, was secretly involved in her discussions with the tabloid's parent company, American Media, Inc.

The company has said that McDougal has been allowed to speak about her relationship since 2016 and the contract gave them discretion over whether to publish the story.


This story has been corrected to reflect style on first lady.


Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

Communist Party will regulate China's media, film industry

Chinese state media will be getting more propaganda now that the Communist Party has announced it will be in direct control of broadcasters and the regulators of everything from movies and TV to books and radio programs.

The move is part of a push by President Xi Jinping — emboldened by the removal of term limits on his time in office — to tighten party supervision over broad swaths of Chinese public life as he pushes for what he calls "unity in thought" among officials and citizens.

Analysts say having direct oversight of the media will help the party hammer home its message domestically and also work to improve its image internationally.

"It's one vast effort to get everybody thinking together," said David Zweig, director of the Center on China's Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Under the plan announced Wednesday, China Radio International, China National Radio and China Central Television, along with its international broadcast arm, China Global Television Network, will be merged into a new body with a name that translates to "Voice of China."

The government's regulator of the press and print publications, radio, film and television will cease to exist and its responsibilities and resources will be transferred to the party's Central Propaganda Department, along with control over the film industry, including the import and export of movies.

The new body's chief responsibilities include "implementing the party's propaganda guidelines and policies," the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The Communist Party newspaper Global Times quoted government expert Feng Yue of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences as saying the move will "concentrate the resources and authority to improve China's influence overseas and promote China's international image."

While Chinese media consumers have grown increasingly apolitical with an ever-expanding range of options, from foreign television shows to video games and online shopping, Xi has been steadily increasing the role of the party in the lives of many through new or newly invigorated branch committees in schools, offices and factories.

That could leave ordinary Chinese with "little choice" but to become active consumers of propaganda, Zweig said.

Writing on the website of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong, editor David Bandurski said the change gave the Propaganda Department — which formerly provided broad overall guidance of the media message — direct control over output.

"And that is largely the point that comes through here — the tighter, more centralized control of media and ideology," Bandurski said.

As its name suggests, the new media monolith appears modeled on outlets such as the U.S.'s Voice of America or Russia's Russia Today, now known simply as RT.

Xi has repeatedly stressed the role of state media as the party's "throat and tongue" — the equivalent of "mouthpiece" — especially since a 2016 visit to Xinhua and other major outlets during which he further reinforced the message by saying such outlets must "take the 'party' as their surname."

At the same time, China has faced opposition to its moves to consolidate territorial claims in the South China Sea and rapid economic expansion overseas, as embodied by Xi's signature trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative to tie China to Southeast Asia, Europe and Africa through roads, railways, ports and power plants.

China has spent vast sums to boost its overseas media presence in recent years, with CCTV opening broadcast centers in Washington and Nairobi, Kenya, and the English-language China Daily newspaper paying to have itself included as an insert in esteemed American papers such as the Washington Post.

Yet those efforts face an uphill battle in competing with well-established global media outlets such as CNN and the BBC, while much of the reporting on China smacks of party propaganda in contrast to reports about the country by foreign media outlets.

Cao Peixin, a professor at the Television School under Beijing's Communication University of China that has long trained much of the country's on-air talent, said the reorganization fits the trend toward greater efficiency and media convergence, but would also help present a more unified political message.

Integrating the various departments may not be easy, however, Cao said.

"If the system cannot be established in a modern, efficient and very flexible way, it will be very difficult for many organizations to work in step," he said.

Weather Channel sold to independent studio, distributor

The Weather Channel is under new ownership.

Entertainment Studios Inc., an independent movie and TV producer and distributor, said Thursday it's acquired the channel's parent company, Weather Group.

Byron Allen, founder and owner of Entertainment Studios, bought the Weather Group from the Blackstone Group, Bain Capital and Comcast-NBCUniversal, Entertainment Studios said.

"The Weather Channel is a phenomenal asset," Allen said in an interview. "It is the No. 1 weather news network in America. It's a network that's very important, that provides us information to protect our families and our lives."

The purchase price for the channel and Local Now, a news streaming service, reportedly was $300 million. Entertainment Studios declined to confirm the figure.

Bain, Blackstone and Comcast-NBCUniversal bought the Weather Channel Cos. from Landmark Communications in 2008 for a reported $3.5 billion. The new owners sold digital assets including the Weather.com website for a reported $2 billion-plus to IBM in 2015.

Allen called the Weather Channel "an American treasure" that he intends to expand.

"We're just honored to be able to own and take it to the next level," he said. "They're already doing great, we're just going to invest more to position it for greater success" domestically and internationally.

Meteorologist Jim Cantore is among the familiar faces at the basic cable channel that's available in more than 80 million North American homes.

In a statement, Weather Channel CEO Dave Shull said Allen's ownership will benefit its viewers, distributors and advertisers.

Entertainment Studios owns seven TV channels, including Comedy.tv and Justice Central.tv, which are distributed online and by pay-TV providers.

It also owns TheGrio.com, a website devoted to African-American stories and issues.

Allen said the purchase of the Weather Group was completed Thursday morning through his company Allen Media LLC.

Prosecutor: Decision in Prince case coming in "near future"

A prosecutor in Minnesota says he's reviewing law enforcement reports about Prince's death and will make a decision on possible charges "in the near future."

Carver County Attorney Mark Metz says in a statement that investigative data in the case remains active and isn't public information until a charging decision is made.

Authorities did release autopsy data to Prince's siblings after an agreement and a judge's order that calls for strict rules requiring confidentiality.

Attorneys for Prince's siblings asked for the information so they can pursue possible litigation. Metz says he plans to address the release of other investigative data the family wants at a hearing next week.

Prince was 57 when he died at his Paisley Park estate on April 21, 2016, of an accidental fentanyl overdose.

Suit settled in death of Anton Yelchin, actor crushed by SUV

The parents of Anton Yelchin have reached a settlement with the makers of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the SUV that crushed and killed the "Star Trek" actor in his driveway in 2016.

The confidential settlement agreement between Victor and Irina Yelchin and Fiat Chrysler was filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Fiat Chrysler said in a statement Thursday that it is "pleased that we've reached an amicable resolution in this matter" and that the car company continues to "extend our deepest sympathies to the Yelchin family for their tragic loss."

Messages left for Yelchin family attorney Gary Dordick were not immediately returned.

The actor was killed at age 27 when his 2015 Cherokee rolled backward down a driveway of his Los Angeles home, pinning him between a mailbox and a security fence.

"Anton Yelchin was crushed and lingered alive for some time, trapped and suffocating until his death," the lawsuit stated.

The Cherokee model was among 1.1 million vehicles recalled about two months earlier when regulators said its gear shifters were confusing drivers, causing the SUVs to roll away unexpectedly and leading to dozens of injuries.

The wrongful death and product liability lawsuit alleged that those gear selectors were the cause of the actor's death.

"In spite of our unbelievable grief, we decided to come here to prevent other families from the same tragedy," Victor Yelchin said when the lawsuit was filed.

Anton Yelchin had dozens of film and television credits that included voices for the "Smurfs" movies and the Netflix TV show "Trollhunters," but is probably best known as Pavel Chekov in the rebooted "Star Trek" movie franchise.


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Former Fox News anchor sues O'Reilly for defamation

A former Fox News anchor filed a defamation lawsuit on Thursday over comments by Bill O'Reilly it says were meant to damage the reputations of women who have accused him of harassment.

The suit by Laurie Dhue in federal court in Manhattan accuses O'Reilly of engaging in a "smear campaign" against his accusers after the former prime-time star or Fox settled their claims for millions of dollars. At least three other women have filed similar suits.

"As part of his desperate campaign to clear his name, O'Reilly published false statements about Dhue . calling her a liar, swearing that her allegations were fabricated in an effort to obtain a settlement," according to the suit, which seeks unspecified damages. It also accuses him of "falsely asserting that her purported claims against O'Reilly were politically motivated."

Fox ousted O'Reilly last year after The New York Times reported that at least five women with professional ties to him had received payouts totaling $13 million to settle claims of sexual harassment and other misbehavior. The newspaper said Dhue received $1 million.

There was no immediate response on Thursday to a request for comment from one of O'Reilly's lawyers. In court papers filed earlier this week in the suits brought by the three other women, his lawyers called the defamation claims "frivolous and wholly unsupported in law or fact."

CNN chief Jeff Zucker says Fox News is propaganda machine

CNN chief Jeff Zucker sharply attacked the network's rivals at Fox News Channel on Thursday, saying that it has become a propaganda machine that is "doing an incredible disservice to the country."

Zucker spoke at the Financial Times Future of News conference two days after a former Fox military analyst quit, claiming he was ashamed at the way the network's opinion hosts were backing President Donald Trump. Zucker said that analyst, Ralph Peters, voiced what a lot of people have been thinking about Fox in the post-Roger Ailes era.

"What has happened to that network in the last 18 months, especially the last year, is that it has just turned itself into state-run TV," Zucker said. "TASS has nothing on them," he said in reference to the Russian news agency.

There was no immediate comment from a Fox representative.

However, Trump's former White House strategist, Steve Bannon, said later at the same conference that Zucker's comments were absurd. He said "you can't name a more propaganda outfit than CNN."

"Every night it's 'hate Trump,'" Bannon said. He questioned why anyone wasn't fired at CNN after the 2016 election results took many people by surprise.

Fox has maintained its ratings lead with a prime-time opinion lineup led by Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Together with MSNBC's left-leaning lineup, the two political talk networks are frequently the most popular destinations for viewers on cable television. Fox and MSNBC have been widening their lead in prime time over CNN, which recently announced that Chris Cuomo would join its prime-time lineup.

Zucker said that Fox has "a handful of good journalists but they get lost in the propaganda machine."

"The idea that they are a news channel is really not accurate at all," he said.

Zucker's network has been on the receiving end of withering criticism from Trump during his presidency. He's repeatedly referred to CNN as "fake news" when he doesn't like its coverage. Zucker said Trump's criticisms are not going to stop CNN from doing its job of holding leaders accountable.

But he said the Trump has created an atmosphere of hostility toward reporters that has spread from the U.S. across the world.

"He doesn't even understand the danger he is creating for journalists and the danger he is creating for news organizations," Zucker said.

However, he said the Trump administration has helped news organizations raise their games to cover what is going on.

"He has made American journalism great again," Zucker said.

Jim Parsons says he's fortunate to have worked with Hawking

Jim Parsons cherished the opportunity to work with Stephen Hawking, but admitted he was a bit intimidated to meet the celebrated theoretical physicist.

Hawking or his voice appeared in seven episodes of Parsons' hit series "The Big Bang Theory."

"So much of our show is related, based on, adjacent to everything that Stephen Hawking did, strove to do, thought about, was passionate about through his entire life and career. The fact that he knew of our show, was interested in being on it, was willing to come play with us group of monkeys for a couple days was really moving," said Parson.

"It was just, it was an amazing experience. It was an intimidating one. I'd be lying if I said I was comfortable. ... To get to finally meet him was, it was just overwhelming," he continued. "And it's one of the things that's kind of bittersweet in a way because once he's passed now and now we're talking about him, it really hammers home how fortunate I was to get to be with him.

"At the time, it was just like this is neat and I know it's neat intellectually, but emotionally all I can think of is 'I want to get out of here before I embarrass myself,'" Parsons said.

Hawking, who died March 14 at age 76, became the public face of science genius. He also appeared on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and voiced himself in "The Simpsons."

"His willingness to be part of our world, to come and be part of our show, was an extraordinary acknowledgement ... it felt like maybe we were doing something worthwhile that he would agree to participate, you know? He first was on the show six years ago and it was hard to believe this is really happening, you know? We were really lucky. We got to work and spend time with Stephen Hawking. I mean how blessed is that? How fortunate can you get?" said "Big Bang" executive producer Chuck Lorre.

The "Big Bang" cast came together Wednesday for PaleyFest, the annual television festival in Los Angeles.

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