Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, December 3, 2016 12:19 am

The media and Trump

Sixth in a series (first installment, second installment, third installment, fourth installment, fifth installment)

So what is to be done about the president-elect and the executive branch he is forming? I’ll get to that in the next installment, but I first want to make a point that I believe is crucial: Whatever we try to do, we will get no help from most news media. They are hobbled by the interests of ownership and, worse, their own blinkers as they confront what faces us.

The concentrated corporate control of most of the largest news media outlets has been covered in great detail elsewhere, and I won’t rehash that fact except to say that it is the rare outlet where the financial interests of the owner or chief executive does not, from time to time, interfere with news judgement in a way that disadvantages the less powerful. Does that happen every day, at every outlet? With the possible exception of a few outlets like Fox News, and with the obvious exception of propaganda mills like Breitbart, I’d say no, but it happens often enough even at outlets, like The New York Times, that are perceived as left-leaning. (In point of fact, true leftists in other countries — we have few here in the U.S. — would consider the Times center-right, but that’s a subject for another day.)

Moreover, I’ve argued off and on for 20 years or more that news media need to be more forthright about defining their interests in more detail than vague platitudes such as “all the news that’s fit to print” or “provide a free people the information they need to govern themselves.” For example, I think that, if pressed, most mainstream news outlets would concede that they have an interest in requiring government at all levels to do its business in the open, and the more advanced among them would frame this discussion not just as an interest of the news outlet but also as an interest of the public.

But I have thought for some time — and the ascension of Trump, I think, demands — that news outlets also must explicitly state additional values, in particular equal justice under the law and the Constitution, and should make clear that upholding those values means opposing all who would oppose them. If someone wants to make an argument for changing the Constitution for this reason or that, that’s a perfectly legitimate political argument to make, and news outlets should cover it like any other. But if someone wants to ignore the Constitution, U.S. statutes, and Supreme Court precedents, news outlets should, at the least, take the position in editorials and news reports alike that the individual supports positions that would be at odds with the oath of office and therefore is unfit for office.

That’s a radical position for most U.S. journalists for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, for most of the past century, U.S. journalism has embraced what journalism scholar Jay Rosen and others have called “the view from nowhere” — in perhaps too short, objectivity carried to the point that it omits even the most relevant context.

For another, journalists have a mostly-well-justified fear of becoming “part of the story.” Avoiding that is a good way to try to achieve fairness and accuracy, but sometimes it is not sufficient to deliver to the reader/viewer a fully accurate story. For example, extraordinary efforts by bureaucrats to hinder journalists’ access to records essential to documenting a story should indeed become part of the story, even if that means including steps journalists had to take to obtain those records, such as suing.

And for another, news journalism has almost by definition sought to avoid advocacy. But in America, I would argue, in some cases, advocacy journalism is essential to preventing the destruction of what makes America America and/or what makes journalism journalism. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson (formerly the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials after World War II) famously observed that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Well, neither is journalism, in that it should not just report on but also should actively oppose that which would make journalism difficult or impossible, not only for the sake of the outlet but also for the sake of the citizens that outlet purports to serve.

But American journalism has not just the right but also an affirmative moral duty to oppose that which would destroy our constitutional form of government and/or the journalism that provides the information that citizens of our democratic republic need to govern themselves. And not only must American journalism take this position, it must hold it without compromise.

Unfortunately, doing so directly endangers the financial interests of most owners of journalism outlets. So we’re back to Square 1, even if individual journalists try here and there to do the right thing.

And most journalists won’t.

There have been signs of this from the very beginning of Trump’s campaign. Cable news, in particularly, gave Trump large chunks of free air time to spew his views to American viewers, without editing, curation or context, even though their executives knew that doing so gave Trump a huge advantage over the rest of the large and ungainly Republican field.  And they did it for one reason: ratings. As Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, stated, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Media outlets also have proven themselves unable to resist outside forces, from Trump himself to the Russians. Worse, they’re making unforced errors. The broadcast networks, for example, devoted far less time in 2016 to coverage of issues than they did in the seven previous presidential campaigns dating back to 1988 — and devoted more than three times that amount of coverage to Hillary Clinton’s emails, a “scandal” that, despite numerous Justice Department and congressional investigations, never amounted to so much as a credible allegation of wrongdoing, let alone an indictment or conviction.

Print and online media did no better, UNC sociologist Zeynep Tufekci found: Her survey of pre-election coverage by The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico found that they devoted five times as many stories to Clinton’s emails, 1,372, as to Trump’s conflicts of interest, 279 — again, despite numerous Justice Department and congressional investigations, never amounted to so much as a credible allegation of wrongdoing, let alone an indictment or conviction.

Since the election, there has been no sign that things are getting any better. New York University professor Jay Rosen highlights one example of news media’s inability to grapple with Trump’s numerous, outrageous lies: The media provide what he calls “accusation-driven” journalism rather than what is needed: evidence-based journalism.

And the news media, with little education, perspective or background and no fucking sense of history, is utterly ignorant of Hannah Arendt’s trenchant observation about the Nazis’ lies and the German newspapers’ failed 1930s efforts to fact-check: The Nazis don’t lie to tell you what they think is true. They lie to explain what would have to be true to justify what they’re doing. For example, Trump didn’t claim on Twitter that millions of people had fraudulently voted for Hillary Clinton because it was true. He claimed it to lay the groundwork for even worse restrictions on minority voting once he takes office. It was his Reichstag fire.

Some journalists are ready to admit defeat. Others are at least suggesting ways in which journalists might combat Trump effectively; Ned Resnikoff at Thing Progress has done better at this than most. (I personally think that every time journalists at a Trump rally are derided by the president-elect, they ought to respond with birds and wanking gestures, just as a start.)  But none of them, with the honorable exception of Jamelle Bouie at Slate, seem willing or even able to grasp the reality that Arendt laid out a half-century ago.

Which leads us to a poignant question raised just this morning by the editorial-page editor of my local paper, a paper where I once worked for 22 years. Allen Johnson asked on his blog: Are we out to get Donald Trump?

My response was pretty simple:

First, he didn’t win the election “fair and square.” A large, multi-state effort coordinated by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach illegally purged large numbers of voters — primarily voters from demographics statistically likely to vote Democratic — from rolls in several swing states, as documented by journalist Greg Palast on his website and in his new book. Forget allegations of Russian interference and voting-machine tampering; we know for a fact that this happened and that its effect was more than large enough to have swung the Electoral College vote. See Palast’s website and book “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” for more information.

Second, Trump is doing and and has announced plans to do things that are not just mean-spirited, destructive and dangerous, but also unconstitutional. Opposing such an individual is the highest form of patriotism.

But for reasons outlined above, the media almost certainly aren’t going to be any help.

So where does that leave us, as a nation and as individuals? I’ll discuss that in my next post an upcoming post — sorry, but the next post got so big it needed splitting into pieces.

 

 

Friday, November 25, 2016 7:51 am

… but no one will do anything about the stolen presidential election

Third in a series (First installment, second installment)

I would dearly love to be wrong about this one.

But unfortunately for the country, no one is going to do anything about the fact that the U.S. presidential election was stolen.

There are a lot of reasons for this.

One is Americans are awful at math. Accordingly, no matter how good a case the researchers at, say, the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society might be able to make that vote totals in certain swing states were monkeyed with (and again, as of this writing, I remain agnostic on that whole question), Americans won’t buy it because they can’t follow the math.

(I realize that the trolls’ next question is, “Well, if you can’t follow the math, why should you believe them?” And the answer is that I didn’t have to be a computer programmer or an advanced mathematician to believe that, say, America could send people to the moon. I just had to look at what these same people already had accomplished and make reasonable inferences about what else they might be capable of, using the same skills.

Another is that Americans have an unwavering ability to ignore facts and research if those facts and that research conflict with strongly held beliefs, however untrue those beliefs might be.

But the biggest reason is that fixing a stolen election would be a lot of hard work. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say that a miracle happens and America reaches the consensus that not only are some of the voting-machine totals squirrely, but also that enough of them are squirrely in the right way that it proves Trump stole the election. Or let’s say, per Greg Palast’s journalism, tens of thousands of likely Democratic voters really were purged illegally from the voting rolls in a number of swing states, and that if even a tiny percentage of them had cast ballots it would have been enough to change the outcome. What would be the solution?

Even with the foregoing hypothetical consensuses, there’s no way America would reach consensus on simply awarding the presidency to Hillary Clinton. And even if it did, consensuses aren’t self-enforcing. There would have to be a legal mechanism of some kind to overturn the Nov. 8 results and award the presidency to Clinton. I Am Not A Lawyer™, and real lawyers can feel free to jump in here and correct me, but the only mechanisms I see are the Electoral College and, maybe — barely maybe — the courts.

Let’s look at the Electoral College first. If the Electoral College, which votes on Dec. 19, decided in this case to affirm the national popular vote, that would be a way, but 1) that ain’t likely even if Donald Trump was shown on video standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shooting someone, and 2) that mechanism would be available only if proof emerged and a consensus was reached before the Electoral College vote on Dec. 19.

That leaves us the courts. I suppose it’s just barely possible that someone could file a lawsuit on behalf of the voters who supported Hillary Clinton, address all challenges to standing, provide proof of harm, and so on and so forth and get the case to the Supreme Court. (I realize the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in some cases, and perhaps this would be one, but I don’t want to bet on that.) We’d then most likely lose on a 4-4 tie and Trump would become president anyway.

Beyond those two options? We’ve got nothing. This is election theft on a scale we have not seen in the modern era and perhaps ever. The imagination of the thieves here far surpassed the imagination of those who were robbed and the few who have even tried to anticipate a theft such as this, let alone prevent or undo it. Our system of government appears to have left us utterly defenseless against such a ruthless and effective attack as this.

And I say that before we even get to the Republican Party. Republican politicians, as an almost ironclade rule, no longer respect the rule of law, particularly when it comes to elections. In Republican-controlled states, it’ll take a federal court order to get all the provisional ballots counted unless, as here in North Carolina, a Republican candidate (like our apparently one-term governor, Pat McCrory) is behind. No Republican-controlled legislature is going to intervene and force a recount, let alone a true audit, where vote totals are flaky. Not only do they not respect the rule of law anymore, neither do they recognize the notion of country over party anymore — indeed, they don’t recognize even elected Democrats as legitimate leaders and haven’t since Bill Clinton’s first election.

If you’re wondering how a dwindling minority of white Christian males manages to hang onto an outsized share of power in a country that is becoming less white, male and Christian every year, now you know. As I say, I’d love to be wrong about this. But I don’t think I am.

(And don’t expect the media to help on the theft. More on them later.)

Monday, November 7, 2016 7:30 pm

Jay Rosen on what the media missed, and me on what we need to work hard to miss

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen has posted a piece titled “A Miss Bigger Than a Missed Story,” his final reflection before the election on how badly U.S. media have lost the thread of this election. It’s not that long, and its underlying thread is how politics simply doesn’t deal in reality anymore and how unprepared the media  have been for that change. He makes clear that this trend didn’t arise overnight with Donald Trump’s candidacy.

The real value of the piece, though, is this conclusion:

Yesterday I read something by a philosopher, Jason Stanley, that illuminated what I mean by “a miss bigger than a missed story.” Beyond Lying: Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Reality. Stanley made the point that fact checking Trump in a way missed the point. Trump was not trying to make reference to reality in what he said to win votes. He was trying to substitute “his” reality for the one depicted in news reports.

“On a certain level, the media lacked the vocabulary to describe what was happening,” Stanley writes. And I agree with that. He compares what Trump did to totalitarian propaganda, which does not attempt to depict the world but rather substitutes for it a ruthlessly coherent counter-narrative that is untroubled by any contradiction between itself and people’s experience.

The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Trump’s campaign was “openly intended to distort reality” because that is a show of power. Power over his followers. Over the other candidates he humiliated and drove from the race. Over party officials who tried to bring him to heel. And over the journalists who tried to “check” and question him.

That last graf is really what Donald Trump is up to, and it’s the one I want most to commend to the attention of my friends at the Times and the Post and Politico and CQ and The Hill and all the other primary drivers of national political coverage in this country.

I’ve made quite the pest of myself with y’all by emphasizing that this was the campaign that repealed Godwin’s law. That tenet of Internet dialogue holds that the longer a discussion goes on, the greater the likelihood that someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Naziism. A corollary, also itself often referred to as Godwin’s law, is that whoever does so automatically loses the debate.

But in this campaign we have seen a candidate, Donald Trump, who has, in no particular order, advocated torture; advocated massive forced relocations; espoused racism, sexism (including sexual assault), many other forms of bigotry, xenophobia, and anti-intellectualismHe has embraced some of the most virulent anti-Semites currently operating in U.S. media and made them a key part of his campaign. His campaign’s final television ad was one long anti-Semitic dogwhistle. Look, I realize no one wants to look hysterical AND that comparisons to Hitler/Naziism have been overplayed on other subjects in the past. But, kids, at some point, if the jackboot fits, you’ve got to wear it. Trump and his campaign have been functioning in exactly the same way, with largely the same result, as all of the big totalitarian propaganda efforts of the 20th century, from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to China. And while some in the media get this, way too many are still in denial.

But, you say, Trump isn’t going to win tomorrow.

And as I write this, that looks like it’s probably true. My own prediction remains what it was once the two major-party nominees were determined last spring: Clinton wins with at least 310 electoral votes, and the Democrats tie for or retake the Senate. (Fun fact for us North Carolinians: Our polls close at 7:30 p.m. In 2012, the Associated Press called the state for Romney at 10:53 p.m. If North Carolina gets called for Clinton, particularly if that happens a lot earlier than it did in 2012, it’s game over for Trump. Clinton can afford to lose North Carolina. Trump cannot; he simply has no road to 270 electoral votes without us.)

But a huge number of Americans have supported Trump, and in so doing, they’ve demonstrated that they’re OK with the hatred, they’re vulnerable to the propaganda, or both. And those people will still be around and still creating trouble Wednesday and probably for years, perhaps decades, after. This campaign hasn’t just injected massive doses of hate into our political mainstream, as Rosen and Stanley point out, it has tried to make that the new reality.

Even worse, I can guarantee you that right now, this minute, someone both smarter and more disciplined than Trump already is plotting how to build on Trump’s accomplishments to capture those voters in off-year state and local races and in a race for the White House in 2020 and beyond.

That is what our news media will be facing, and denialism could be lethal to the American experiment as well as to nontrivial numbers of individual Americans. I realize that after this longest and ugliest of campaigns, no one wants to hear this — and God knows I’d love to be wrong about it — but I think the media, and all Americans of good faith and good sense, must fight this, starting immediately. I pray to God we’re up to it.

Saturday, September 17, 2016 2:45 pm

The press is lying, but so are the voters

Two of our greatest American institutions are badly failing us today — our news media, and our very electorate. Both like to think of themselves as standing up for our essential American-ness, embracing values as defined in, say, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and even the Pledge of Allegiance. But both groups are lying, to us and to themselves.

Evidence of the problem can be found in the news media’s problems in covering Donald Trump, which I addressed earlier this week, and I’ll have more to say on that in a bit. But let me start with the electorate.

We voters like to think of ourselves as spokespeople for American values, holding these truths to be self-evident — a free and independent country, a democratic republic where all are equal, with liberty and justice for all, and so on and so forth. In point of fact, those truths are not self-evident; they are evident only to the extent that we do the work of making them real, every day, everywhere. And that is not what American voters have chosen to do. Largely although not exclusively by embracing Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, a large minority of Americans has said something quite different: that they choose to be ruled by a tyrant.

This is not a new development. That segment of Americans has always been present and has been politically active continuously since World War II. They were there in the 1950s, lining up behind Joe McCarthy; they were there in the 1960s, hailing the domestic spy and hypocrite J. Edgar Hoover long after it was clear he was a constitutional abomination; they were there in the 1970s, defending the indefensible Richard Nixon; they were there in the ’80s, supporting the lawbreaking and increasingly senile Ronald Reagan; they were there in the ’90s, cheering George H.W. Bush’s pardons of the Iran-contra lawbreakers as he left the White House; they were there in the aughts, angrily denigrating anyone who didn’t support the Bush administration’s serial violations of U.S. and international law; and they are here today preparing to cast a ballot for a dyed-in-the-orange-wool fascist. Take it away, Esquire’s Charlie Pierce:

A substantial portion of this country wants someone not to govern, but to rule, to defeat the imaginary enemies they have concocted so as not to bestir themselves to resist the forces that actually are working against their interest. For the balance of this election cycle, and largely due to the presence in it of this ridiculous man and his ridiculous campaign, the American people have proven themselves profoundly unworthy of being called citizens. …

[Trump’s personal and financial involvement with Moammar Qaddafi] likely will occasion another spasm of impotent introspection on the part of our elite political media on the topic of, “Why doesn’t any of this stick?” But few of the members of that media will dare to look at the real answer, which is that there is a substantial constituency for what Trump has been peddling. …  Americans are bored with their democracy and they don’t have the democratic energy to do anything about it, so they’ll settle for an entertaining quasi-strongman. When they decline, democracies get the dictators they deserve. A country mired in apathy and lassitude gets a dictator who can’t even put in the hard work of becoming very good at it. …

But the truth is that the facts are out there if anyone wants to make the effort and find them. (The elite political media makes this harder by its curious reluctance to let these stories fully inform its coverage of the campaign.) That’s our collective job as citizens, and to do it requires a collective national will that no longer may be in us. With every new poll that is released, I comfort myself with the knowledge that Donald Trump is not willing to put in the hours to be a competent authoritarian, which is cold comfort, I know, but you take what you can get.

That cannot be said of the next guy to try it, and there will be a next time, because the basic tectonic plates beneath our democracy have shifted so as to make the next guy inevitable. The mechanics of tyranny are not a magician’s prestige, the third part of a trick in which the lady is reassembled or the rabbit brought back to the hat. The mechanics of tyranny are primal in all of us, and vestigial in very few. They are reflexes, like breathing or flinching. We engage them without thinking. In fact, that’s the very best way to do it.

These are people who largely have decided not to do the hard work of self-goverance. Rather than seeking wisdom, or at least knowledge, they seek candidates who reflect their preconceptions and prejudices and who seek extraconstitutional power. They do so secure in the belief, though lacking any proof of that belief, that should such a tyranny come to pass, they would never suffer.

Why do they do so?

One big part of the problem, as I noted on Monday, is that the U.S. news media, for the most part, has not provided the information that a free people need to govern themselves, but the problem with the press is bigger than that. Donald Trump has presented the press with a campaign in which it is important, perhaps for the first time, for the press to respond not only with facts but also with values — and the press has almost completely failed to do so.

When Web 2.0 and social media began to become a thing back in the early 2000s, I wrestled with this issue in my role as an editor, Web jockey and blogger for the News & Record in Greensboro. Among the many things that seemed clear to me was that “objectivity,” the standard of the mainstream U.S. news media for the past century or so, was an inadequate standard for a changing industry. I suggested to co-workers at that paper and in the industry, and to the occasional reader who asked, that we needed something different, something more.

I argued, in different times and places and with differing levels of coherence, that we needed not objectivity, but fairness, accuracy and transparency in pursuit of what Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, in their book “The Elements of Journalism,” called “the discipline of verification.” With respect to transparency, I said, news organizations need to be open to their publics about how they do what they do, and about why they do it. And those reasons, I argued further, should stem from clear, well-defined values.

What should those values look like? I never completed a list, but I did start one. I would have hoped, for example, that a U.S. news organization would embrace and stand for some of the country’s fundamental values — like, well, liberty and justice for all. Equal protection under the law. Government by the people, which meant, as a practical matter, that the people needed to be able to know in almost all circumstances what the government was doing, and how, and with whose money and for whose benefit.

It sounds pretty basic and pretty logical, but the longer I spent in newspapers, the less I believed that the U.S. news media really stood for this stuff anymore, if it ever had. (Some of the country’s best, and best-known, newspapers were segregationist until relatively recently, for example. For another example, U.S. news media did not uniformly criticize our government’s use of torture, a crime against both U.S. and international law for which it had hanged representatives of other governments.)

And that is part of the reason why the media are failing to confront the danger that a possible Trump candidacy poses to those American values, writes Brian Beutler in The New Republic: The press hasn’t expressed those values because it hasn’t embraced them except in very attenuated circumstances. What it values most is itself.

The press is not a pro-democracy trade, it is a pro-media trade. By and large, it doesn’t act as a guardian of civic norms and liberal institutions—except when press freedoms and access itself are at stake. Much like an advocacy group or lobbying firm will reserve value judgments for issues that directly touch upon the things they’re invested in, reporters and media organizations are far more concerned with things like transparency, the treatment of reporters, and first-in-line access to information of public interest, than they are with other forms of democratic accountability.

That’s not a value set that’s well calibrated to gauging Trump’s unmatched, omnidirectional assault on our civil life. Trump can do and say outrageous things all the time, and those things get covered in a familiar “did he really say that?” fashion, but his individual controversies don’t usually get sustained negative coverage unless he is specifically undermining press freedom in some clear and simple way.

Even then, though, the press has no language for explicating which affronts to press freedom are more urgent and dangerous than others. All such affronts are generally lumped together in a way that makes it unclear whether the media thinks it’s worse that Trump blacklists outlets and wants to sue journalists into penury or that Clinton doesn’t like holding press conferences.

The result is the evident skewing of editorial judgment we see in favor of stories where media interests are most at stake: where Clinton gets ceaseless scrutiny for conducting public business on a private email server; Trump gets sustained negative coverage for several weeks when his campaign manager allegedly batters a reporter; where Clinton appears to faint, but the story becomes about when it was appropriate for her to disclose her pneumonia diagnosis; where because of her illness, she and Trump will both be hounded about their medical records, and Trump will be further hounded for his tax returns—but where bombshell stories about the ways Trump used other people’s charity dollars for personal enrichment [or about how his financial dealings conflict directly with national interests — Lex] have a hard time breaking through.

News outlets are less alarmed by the idea that Trump might run the government to boost his company’s bottom line, or that he might shred other constitutional rights, because those concerns don’t place press freedoms squarely in crosshairs. Controversies like his proposal to ban Muslim travel into the U.S., create a deportation force to expel millions of immigrants, and build a wall along the southern border are covered less as affronts to American values than as gauche ideas that might harm his poll numbers with minorities. Trump’s most damaging scandal may have been his two-week political fight with the Khan family, but even there, the fact that Trump attacked the Khans’ religious faith was of secondary interest to questions like whether attacking a Gold Star family of immigrants would offend veterans and non-whites who might otherwise have voted for him.

Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that when liberal intellectuals argue the press’ coverage of Trump and Clinton is out of whack, in ways that imperil the democracy itself, members of the media don’t see a world-historical blindspot that must be urgently corrected. They see an attack on the trade itself—and reflexively rush to protect it.

So when someone points out weaknesses — often huge ones — in the press coverage of Trump, the press doesn’t perceive the criticism as highlighting a danger to the country, it perceives the criticism directly as a danger to itself. As Beutler notes, this tendency was highlighted by Liz Spayd, the grossly inferior successor to Margaret Sullivan as public editor (ombudswoman, if you will) of The New York Times.

This problem can be prevented if the press will define and then act in accordance with its explicit values as elucidated in the founding documents, crafting those values as reflective of the press’s historical role as the representative of the people, all the people, who govern this country: its citizens. It also can be prevented if journalists will stop spending so much of their time worrying about what effect this proposal or that comment will have on one candidate or the other’s standing, and worry instead about what we talked about earlier: pursuit of the discipline of verification, including eyewitness verification.

Beutler agrees, in a separate article published just yesterday:

Most prominent political reporters have covered more than one election. This is my third election as a professional political writer; James Fallows has been doing this since the 1970s. Whether you have a short or long view, you’ve seen enough to say authoritatively that Trump is different from all major party nominees in living memory. It is not normal in modern times for a major party nominee to be an erratic, racist demagogue; and it is almost definitionally abnormal for a major party nominee to be described as such by leading members of his own party.

These are the cardinal facts of this election. They should be the dominant upshot of any significant increment of news coverage and analysis—the thing that reaches and sticks with casual news consumers, in the same way that even musical dilettantes can hum the leitmotif of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

That is a journalistic judgment, just as sending hundreds of reporters to Louisiana to cover Hurricane Katrina was a journalistic judgment. It is not a Democratic or liberal judgment. It is not the equivalent of saying that unflattering revelations about Clinton should be suppressed or that any particular new revelation about Trump should be overhyped. It’s simply to say, through the many means we have to indicate what is important, what is breaking news, what is worthy of discussion, “we have seen this, it is ongoing, and it is extraordinary.” And then let the chips fall where they may.

For several weeks now—including since Labor Day, when most Americans truly began paying attention to the campaigns—these truths, which we all took for granted six months ago, have not been communicated to glancing news consumers. They’ve receded from most article leads, headlines, front pages, and A-block TV segments.

That development is the product of many collective choices and thousands of individual ones. It is an institutional failure, and as such, a major and abrupt course correction seems highly unlikely. But that doesn’t absolve reporters, editors, producers or anyone else who is part of the system. There’s still time to alter our focus, however incrementally, so that it better captures what’s new and alarming, and all journalists have some degree of power to nudge it in that direction. The goal is not to swing an election, or call Trump mean names, or render partisan judgment about whether electing him would be a world-historical mistake. It’s simply so that after this is all over, however it shakes out, we can say we bore witness faithfully.

What we do about the large minority of the electorate that appears to desire, or at least be content with, the election of a tyrant is a larger and more difficult question, likely encompassing everything from family dynamics and civic education to neuropsychology. And the stakes could not be higher outside the realms of global warming and giant meteors: The future of the 240-year-old American experiment depends on our finding an answer, for as Pierce observes, while this tyrant is quasi-comical and in many ways inept, the next tyrant quite likely will be neither. But one thing that cannot hurt and almost certainly will help is a press that strives to pursue the discipline of verification within the context of explicitly stated and observed values that will inspire us to be our best national self, which is the best the world has to offer.

Saturday, July 2, 2016 12:15 pm

Unseemly appearances

Not for the first or last time, Bill Clinton has committed, at the least, an enormous unforced error, to the significant detriment of his wife’s presidential campaign.

Clinton met at an Arizona airport with Attorney General Loretta Lynch. This would be the same attorney general whose Department of Justice is investigating possible crimes with respect to Hillary Clinton’s having used a private email server and who ultimately must sign off on any decision about prosecutions.

Clinton and Lynch have said they did not discuss the case. I’m skeptical, and we’ll probably never know. But let’s assume for the sake of discussion that they didn’t: It was still an enormously stupid thing for Bill to have done.

This meeting happened just after the release of a report by the congressional committee that is investigating the deaths of four Americans in an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. (Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server was part and parcel of that investigation.) That report, two years and $7 million in the making, found no wrongdoing on the part of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Given that the whole investigation — indeed, the whole committee — was nothing but a partisan witch hunt, this should have been an opportunity for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to take a big ol’ victory lap and rub the GOP’s face in its own failure. Instead, the story of Bill Clinton’s meeting with Lynch popped up almost immediately, and the media hubbub over that meeting pretty much drowned out the good news for the Clinton campaign.

Now, a lot of people I’ve interacted with on social media claim that this is a bullshit nonstory blown up by a GOP-compliant media. To which I respond: So what? We already know that our news media tend to make nothingburgers about Democrats into Big Hairy Deals while ignoring or downplaying the much worse excesses of Republicans. (Here’s just one particularly relevant example: The GOP established a special congressional committee to look into the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi — but did nothing about the deaths of 60 Americans in dozens of attacks on U.S. embassies that took place during the George W. Bush administration.)

As someone in the PR business, I would tell any client that you need to deal with the news media as they are, not as you wish they were. To do otherwise is to violate a basic rule of PR: If you do something that looks bad, a nontrivial number of people in the media are likely to claim that it is bad even if it really isn’t.

Critics of this position tend to argue that the news media need to be better at their jobs (which they do) and that because there’s no actual, substantive wrongdoing here (so far as we know), it doesn’t matter. But it does. One reason the Clintons score so low on the trustworthiness scale is that they have a long history of doing things that look wrong even if they actually aren’t wrong. That history includes, among many greatest hits, Bill’s claim to have smoked pot without inhaling, Hillary’s unlikely but apparently legitimate profit at cattle-futures trading, and Hillary’s latter-day flip-flops on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Each of these things, in isolation, means little or nothing. But put them all together, combine with the aforementioned media flaws and Republican pile-ons, and shake well, and you get a pretty poisonous PR cocktail.

The Clintons’ defenders in this instance argue that this somehow doesn’t matter, but unforced errors this big always matter. And the vehemence with which these defenders argue their position, even though it makes no sense to anyone with a lick of common sense, let alone PR training, suggests that on some level, they know Bill Clinton screwed up and they’re angry about it but just don’t want to admit it.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m voting for Hillary in November because I am a single-issue voter and my single issue is not opening the seventh seal and ushering in the Apocalypse. But given the ability and willingness of Republicans and their media allies (unwitting or otherwise) to turn nothingburgers into “scandals,” the Clintons desperately need PR counsel with absolute veto power over their worst instincts. And history suggests that they either don’t know this or don’t care.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 7:19 pm

Well, that was different

I didn’t plan this blogging hiatus; it just happened. So what messes have y’all gotten into during my absence?

Trump and Clinton are now their party’s presumptive nominees. (Sorry, Bernie backers — of whom I am one — but math is math, and you know as well as I do that the superdelegates aren’t going anywhere.) Clinton is everything wrong with modern politics except that she’s not a racist or bigot, she doesn’t hate women (or men), and she’s not anti-science. Trump? Well, as some guy on Twitter said, I am voting against Trump because I am a single-issue voter, and my single issue is not opening the seventh seal and ushering in the Apocalypse.

Related to Trump, it is fascinating to watch all the GOP leaders like Paul Ryan condemn Trump’s racist remarks and then say they’re going to support him anyway. Oh, it’s simple enough to understand. The GOP has spent the past 50 years whipping its base into a frothy mix of bigotry and know-nothingism. Donald Trump is the natural, predictable and predicted outcome of that approach. Now, GOP politicians who don’t embrace Trump lose their base. And given our current political schism — as a country, we’re more divided than we’ve been since 1860 — without that base, their careers are over.

Relatedly, #OneAndDone N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has officially endorsed Donald Trump for president, which, as Facebook commenter Mike Conway sagely noted, is like two albatrosses wearing each other around their necks.

Also here in North Carolina, the GOP’s ill-begotten HB2 “bathroom bill” is not looking long for this world. Earlier, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a very similar Virginia law. Then, last week, the full 4th Circuit refused to hear additional arguments. So, for the 4th Circuit, which includes North Carolina, equality is settled law. The problem is that there are parts of that law as evil or worse that aren’t within the scope of the Virginia law the 4th Circuit ruled on. To fix that, I fear, we’re going to need a Raleigh housecleaning, and I don’t think even the prospect of losing billions in federal aid will be enough for that this time around.

In my neighborhood but not where I can do anything about it, Eric Fink is trying to get onto the ballot to face otherwise-unopposed Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger. All best to Fink; Berger’s an evil little shit, and it is a mark of the state Democratic Party’s ineptitude that it could find no one to face him in a year when Trump may lead the GOP to the biggest defeat since Mondale. (No, it won’t be as big a defeat as Mondale’s; the political chasm is too big for that. But Clinton wins with 310+ electoral votes and will have some coattails, I bet.)

I have watched with a combination of outrage, horror, and fascination, as the Brock Turner rape case has gone viral. He’s an entitled, sociopathic little shit, enabled by an entitled, sociopathic little shit of a father and a mother who thinks that posting a Facebook photo of a teenage girl fellating a kid in a Franzia box-wine costume while her son’s case is being adjudicated is somehow a good idea.

The judge in the case, Aaron Persky, could have given Turner 14 years; he gave him six months, which was much too much for Daddy, who bemoans the fact that Brock no longer enjoys eating steak or some such shit. The judge is unopposed for re-election (why are the shits of the world always unopposed for re-election?), but there’s a recall movement afoot. And just today we learned that Judge Persky also is a Stanford graduate and was captain of the lacrosse team there. I suppose it’s possible there’s no white male athlete privilege going on in this case, but, Lord, it sure don’t LOOK that way, do it?

Related to that case, it took until yesterday — after Turner’s sentencing and many months after his arrest — for Turner’s mug shot to finally show up on social media. That’s because the arresting agency, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department in California, played a shitty little public-records game until national media finally called them out on it. I’ve argued for years that intentional withholding of public records ought to be a crime, and episodes like this are Exhibit A for the prosection. Maybe when cops start losing law-enforcement certification and (and they and bureaucrats start doing time) behind this shit, they’ll start doing their jobs right.

Oh, if you’re considering asthmatic bronchitis as a hobby, I strongly recommend you pursue something else instead.

 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 12:19 pm

Why “Bernie or nothing” will kill us dead

If there’s anyone out there who seriously thinks there’s no difference between Hillary Clinton and the Republicans, just get over yourself right now.

We’re taught as kids that voting means choosing the person we think is best for the job. Unfortunately, what we’re too often faced with when we come of voting age is a choice between the lesser of two or more pretty evil evils. But you know what? That’s true in a lot of situations in life, not just electing a president. Adults deal with it and move on.

I was around in ’80 and ’00 and I saw the damage that “perfect or nothing” causes: It gave us Reagan and Bush 43, two of the three worst presidents of the postwar era. Moreover, as a result, I’ve spent my entire adult life cleaning up the messes created by people who think like you, and I’m damned tired of it. I’d like to play offense for a change — work for things, not just try to stave off, or clean up, disasters.

I voted for Bernie in the primary, but I’m going to vote for the Democratic nominee in November, no matter who it is, because ANY Republican in or currently contemplating the race would be an unqualified and unmitigated disaster. (Voting for third-party candidates like Jill Stein, nice and appealing as she is, is like voting for a Republican, too.) Hillary won’t deny anthropogenic global warming, and that difference alone could save millions of lives in coming years. Hillary will work for a saner gun policy, which also will save lives. And if nothing else, Hillary Clinton would not put a Sam Alito or a Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, and by God, that matters to anyone who doesn’t want to be pledging allegiance to MegaCorp or the Last Global Bank and the exploitation for which they stand.

Yes, Hillary is a huge letdown for people who believe in and voted, or plan to vote, for Bernie. But if you throw a snit fit over Hillary’s becoming the Democratic nominee, if in fact that’s what happens, your tantrum will have a body count.

 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 5:45 pm

Odds and Ends for Oct. 6

First things first: Here in Greensboro, the polls are open until 7:30 p.m. If you haven’t already voted, vote! It annoys the bastards.™

So did the Lions lose to the Seahawks last night because the officials knew the rule but made the wrong call? Or did they lose because the officials didn’t know the rule?

No one ever has paid me to be a campaign manager, but I cannot see any upside for Hillary Clinton to pulling out of New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders may lead her there now, but it’s months until the primary. The state awards delegates proportionately, so a loss could be almost as good as a win. The Clintons have a lot of history there; indeed, Hillary won there in 2008 after being left for dead. And is anyone seriously arguing that a campaign that took in $32 million in the third quarter can’t campaign there and on more promising turf? I think this is just a case of Politico doing what it does best, which is to let any old fool say any damnfool thing that comes to mind and treating it like a story.

So 87% of frequent flyers are annoyed by the TSA. The good news is, those 87% are at least 153% annoyed.

I don’t know why the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, got bombed by U.S. planes. All I know is that it did and that the organization is pulling out of the area, taking northern Afghanistan’s last trauma-care hospital with it. This needs investigating. If it was an accident, the U.S. government needs to be issuing abject apologies and paying reparations. If it was intentional, some people need to be charged with war crimes. Either way, some heads need to roll — and I mean commanders and civilian bureaucrats, not pilots.

An EU court has ruled that EU-based companies that store their data in U.S. servers are illegally exposing their customers’ data to snooping by the U.S. government. So not only is that snooping unconstitutional, it’s also bad for business. Maybe that will get the Republicans’ attention.

So once upon a time, South Carolina’s five Republican representatives and two Republican senators voted against federal disaster relief for the Northeast after Superstorm Sandy. Now, with all the flooding in South Carolina, they’re all, including presidential contender Lindsey Graham, seeking federal disaster relief for South Carolina. This is hypocrisy, but it’s more than that: It’s a bone-crushing level of stupid. Because when they were extending the middle finger to New Jersey and New York, did these intellectual ceiling tiles not think that tropical weather — or ice storms, for that matter — could make a huge mess of South Carolina?

Charlie Pierce has more:

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the path of the destruction, certainly. (To paraphrase Will McEvoy, nobody’s thoughts and prayers are with the flood.) But my memories go back to 2013, when a survey warned us that the country is chockfull of aging, obsolete dams, many of them of the earthen variety, like the ones that gave way in South Carolina today. That same survey found South Carolina’s performance on dam safety as leaky and unsafe as the dams themselves. I mean, 4.3 fulltime employees to monitor and inspect 550 dams, 162 of which were classified as “high-hazard.”

Talking fence post Ben Carson thinks the Oregon community-college shooting was as bad as it was because not enough people attacked the attacker and assures us he would have behaved differently. By his logic, not enough cavalrymen shot at Injuns at Little Big Horn and we must not have shot back at Pearl Harbor. His candidacy poses an interesting question: How dumb can a presidential candidate be before Republican voters notice?

Florida Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus once sacrificed a goat and drank its blood, which I not only am OK with, I also find it one helluva lot less bizarre than believing in supply-side economics.

A TV reporter asked a Dothan (Ala.) city commissioner a question and got hit twice in the face for his trouble. Commissioner Amos Newsome faces assault charges and is lucky not to have a high-def video camera stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.

 

 

 

Thursday, August 27, 2015 9:44 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 27

I don’t have anything to add to the coverage and discussion of the fatal shootings on live TV of reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward yesterday in Virginia. The now-dead shooter clearly had problems but, given the state of our laws, probably not the type that would have prevented him from getting a gun. The media too quickly made the discussion about itself, when they weren’t outright endangering people’s lives, and I have no interest in adding to that pile of crap. And I’m beyond tired of people who say nothing can be done, as if we don’t actively choose, every single day, to do nothing. Something can be done — maybe not to have prevented this particular shooting, but to prevent many more like it. The whole racism angle was silly (and, no, I’m not linking to Breitbart, FFS). And I’m just profoundly sad for the victims and their families, friends, co-workers, and industry — the TV news bidness is even smaller than the newspaper bidness, so everybody knows everybody else, or at least knows of everybody else. The two dead victims went out to do a job and were ambushed, and I’ve got nothing.

Moving on …

North Dakota is weaponizing its police drones with so-called “less lethal” weapons such as tear gas, Tasers, and beanbag cannons. Internet, you may hereby consider the fatal wounding of an absolutely innocent civilian reasonably foreseen.

Yes, it’s true that roughly 3% of all peer-reviewed research on climate change differs from the predominant theory. It’s also true that several common errors often appear in that contrarian research.

At least one county court clerk in Kentucky plans to fight same-sex marriage — which, by the way, has been the law of the land for a couple of months without the world’s coming to an end — even unto death. Upon reflection, I’m fine if the door hits ya where the good Lord split ya. In fact, I hope it hurts a little.

If you want to try to indict Hillary Clinton for transmitting classified information via unsecured email during her tenure as Secretary of State, you can try — it wasn’t illegal at the time, but what the hey — but you’re going to have to indict a lot of other people as well. One of them might well have been Colin Powell, but we don’t know because his emails were illegally (although probably not criminally) deleted.

Two Seattle cops tried to get a metro bus driver fired, alleging that he had cursed them. Just one problem: the bus driver was wearing a body cam. Now the cops are the ones who have been fired. But one must ask: How often do cops lie just because they think they can? And if they do it over such chickenshit stuff as this, how likely are they to do it when they could be going to prison?

Just how badly doctored were the so-called “expose” videos on Planned Parenthood? Very badly.

Hurricane Erika could make landfall somewhere on the southeastern U.S. coast — possibly in North Carolina — in the next four or five days. Y’all stay safe.

North Carolina’s unemployment still sucks. Couldn’t be because the legislature keeps taking money from the middle class and the poor and giving it to the rich, could it? Nahhhh.

Blogging is dead? Someone forgot to tell the home of some of the original blogging. (h/t Jeff Sykes)

Stevie Ray Vaughan died 25 years ago today. Still miss ‘im.

And, finally, another reason to keep ISIS out of Greece: a newly-discovered palace near Sparta that dates to the 17th century B.C.E.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 6:28 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 26

When Hillary Clinton corralled journalists, journalists and pundits complained, and rightfully so. I trust they’ll do the same now that Donald Trump had reporter Jorge Ramos, whose audience is huge, physically removed from an event. Right?

Speaking of Trump, the N.C. GOP wants to ban him (and anyone else) from the state’s 2016 presidential primary unless they pledge to support whoever the party’s nominee turns out to be and promise not to run a third-party candidacy. This Republican wouldn’t vote for Trump at gunpoint but thinks that if you support him and he has filed, you deserve to get the chance to vote for him.

So, while it may have been incredibly stupid for Hillary Clinton to handle State Department info on a personal email account, it was against neither law nor policy at the time it happened. The same is true when her predecessor, Colin Powell, did the same thing, FWIW.

California schools are requiring kids to get vaccinated, so, naturally, parents are lining up to home-school their kids rather than vaccinate them. We need a vaccination against stupidity, is what we need.

Our legislature, which can’t be bothered to do its own damn job, has decided that it needs to kick the unemployed, even though North Carolina’s unemployed already get the nation’s lowest benefits. They should be reminded that this state is chock-full of pine trees and chickens, the raw material for tar and feathers.

Campaigns of and SuperPACs supporting four GOP governors running for president have received $2.5 million from “companies with state contracts or subsidies,” per the Wall Street Journal. But, go ahead, Justice Anthony Kennedy, tell me again how money in politics creates neither the reality nor the appearance of corruption.

So Raleigh anti-abortion activists are now harassing clinic escorts and trying to get them fired. Becauses that’s what Jesus would do.

And in a setback for veganism, the FDA rules that if you’re going to call something “mayonnaise,” it has to have eggs in it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 10:19 pm

Odds and ends for March 25

I think it’s about damned time the president of the United States reminded Israel (as well as congressional Republicans) that we have no permanent allies and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.* It’s a position with which Israel should be familiar.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says that if Sen. Elizabeth Warren isn’t seeking the Democratic nomination for president and no one else runs on economic issues, he might have to run. That’s an interesting development. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support is a mile wide and, on average, an inch deep (see this Meredith College poll re her N.C. standing), precisely because she’s not running against the GOP’s continued reaming and killing of the working class and strip-mining of the little remaining wealth of the middle class. If Reich jumps in soon — which he would have to do to win — he’d pose a formidable challenge to Hillary and would add some desperately needed real-world substance to the 2016 debate.

N.C. Republicans continue their war on equality. Serious question, guys: Why do you hate America? And spare me your “religious freedom” crap, please.

North Carolina’s private-school voucher program has met with, to be charitable, deeply mixed success. So what do the Republicans want to do? Quadruple it, duh.

And they want to privatize the state ferry system, an essential public service for Outer Banks residents. Look at the backers’ financial support and see what you find.

I usually try to end these posts with something lighthearted or at least satirical, but today I’ve got nothin’. Have a good evening.

*Attributed to Henry John Temple Viscount Lord Palmerston

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: