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.

 

 

Thursday, August 1, 2013 6:32 pm

Why do I oppose a surveillance state? Must be the money.

Because arguing constitutional principles, righteous as they are, is getting us nowhere, we’ll have to argue financial principles. But maybe this argument will succeed where others have failed. James Fallows, prompted by an essay by John Naughton in the Guardian, explains:

In short: because of what the U.S. government assumed it could do with information it had the technological ability to intercept, American companies and American interests are sure to suffer in their efforts to shape and benefit from the Internet’s continued growth.

  • American companies, because no foreigners will believe these firms can guarantee security from U.S. government surveillance;
  • American interests, because the United States has gravely compromised its plausibility as world-wide administrator of the Internet’s standards and advocate for its open, above-politics goals.

Why were U.S. authorities in a position to get at so much of the world’s digital data in the first place? Because so many of the world’s customers have trusted* U.S.-based firms like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, etc with their data; and because so many of the world’s nations have tolerated an info-infrastructure in which an outsized share of data flows at some point through U.S. systems. Those are the conditions of trust and toleration that likely will change.

The problem for the companies, it’s worth emphasizing, is not that they were so unduly eager to cooperate with U.S. government surveillance. Many seem to have done what they could to resist. The problem is what the U.S. government — first under Bush and Cheney, now under Obama and Biden — asked them to do. As long as they operate in U.S. territory and under U.S. laws, companies like Google or Facebook had no choice but to comply. But people around the world who have a choice about where to store their data, may understandably choose to avoid leaving it with companies subject to the way America now defines its security interests.

Other countries will refuse to do business with U.S. tech firms for the same reason they would if the U.S. were mixing corrosive chemicals in with its exported petroleum products: The product is tainted and will damage whoever/whatever uses it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013 9:26 pm

What the next generation of maps is telling us that we don’t want to hear

As I think I’ve mentioned a time or three, I’m a map geek. Old, new, paper, digital, real, fictional, silent or talkative, I love ’em. (I do mute the talkative ones sometimes, but still.)

So I was tickled that James Fallows at The Atlantic did a Q&A with Michael Jones of Google, one of the people who helped create Google Earth (now installed on a billion computers worldwide). And he talked about how mapping apps on smartphones are becoming even more personal because they can use info the phone already has gathered about your locations, likes, and so on to craft maps that not only show how to get from here to there but also tell you potentially interesting things about some of the places you’ll pass along the way, or the places around where you are right now. (One manifestation is Google’s new Android app, Field Trip, coming soon for iOS as well.

Then Fallows asks what I think is both a creative and perceptive question. He points out that some of the first photos of the Earth from space, such as the iconic Christmas Eve 1968 photo shot by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, “created a different kind of environmental consciousness.” (The American nature photographer Galen Rowell has described this image as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” I was in the third grade at the time, and even now I can recall what that “different kind of environmental consciousness” meant: We — all of us — share one single planet, a planet that amounts to a speck in the vastness of space, and it’s the only planet we’re going to get. I think the first Earth Day and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, among other developments, are attributable in significant part to that photo.)

Could the current mapping revolution, Fallows asks Jones, have the same effect? Jones’s answer was both hopeful and heartbreaking:

My father is in his 80s. He wanted to know more about what I do, so I recently showed him Google’s underwater Street View. [This is an aspect of Google Earth that shows reefs, seamounts, and other underwater features in the oceans.] We dove in the water and we were basically swimming along. We stopped and zoomed in, looked at turtles, looked at fish. We went down under a big reef and we could see a tunnel in there, and there were fish resting in the tunnel.

After a while he said, “Son, this is so beautiful.” He’s never been scuba diving, but he said, “This is so beautiful. I just can’t believe how beautiful this is.” And I said, “Well, Dad, we chose beautiful places because most of the corals near islands around the world are already dead. They look like old concrete. No fish, just dead.”

He almost cried. He stared at me with a “What has the world come to?” kind of look, and we talked for a while about that. And so he was brought to an awareness of the grotesque damage that’s happening worldwide due to the ocean acidification that follows from the externalities of the way we live as a human race right now. It was powerful for him because he could personally experience the ocean in a way that, with his mobility challenges, he’s never going to see by scuba diving. Yet he felt what people who have experienced the sea know to be true and care about.

I believe that only this kind of understanding leads to activism, whether it’s a passive activism of a vote or an active activism of changing your lifestyle to protect the world.

The problem is that although this kind of activism is, as Jones observes, necessary, it is not sufficient. At current prices, there is something like $27 trillion worth of combustible carbon — coal, oil, gas and fuel wood — still in the ground. The industries that extract those resources will not willingly relinquish the opportunity to do so, and they have largely achieved a stranglehold on any other force that could force them to do so.

The way we live is killing the only planet we’ve got. The process has been proceeding even faster than we thought, so fast that my children, now adolescents, may well live to see global disruption and human suffering on a scale worse than that of World War II, with no country, no matter how geographically isolated or politically nonaligned, left unaffected.

No map, no matter how cool, is going to stop that. In fact, I don’t know that anything will.

Saturday, March 24, 2012 3:12 pm

Israel and Iran: Goldberg says to be afraid

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 3:12 pm
Tags: , , , ,

The Atlantic’s James Fallows and Jeffrey Goldberg engage in an email conversation about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, what Israel might do about them and the ramifications of this dynamic for the U.S. (Goldberg recently interviewed President Obama on this subject.) Short version: Goldberg believes the current Israeli government is engaging in some magical thinking that, if followed to its logical conclusion, is unlikely to end well.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3  (although labeled “Round 2”; the end, for now).

My utterly uninformed take: I could be wrong, but I bet the Israelis have Mecca and Medina targeted in the event of what Goldberg calls an “extinction-level threat.” And I would be stunned if the Iranians (and other predominantly Muslim countries not friendly with Israel) don’t know this, or at least strongly suspect it. Which makes what Goldberg describes as the Israeli government’s determination to strike against Iranian facilities very, very scary.

 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 11:57 pm

Odds and ends for 2/3

Penn State “Climategate” scientist cleared of falsifying data: Three of four charges are dropped, including one claiming he destroyed e-mail; the investigating committee decides it isn’t competent to assess the fourth and punts to a different committee.

Eated: The FDIC closed six banks Friday, bringing the total for the month to 15. Six was the total for the month of January a year ago.

A cautionary note about the strong 4th quarter of GDP: Never, in 50+ years’ worth of data, has a quarter’s GDP growth of 5.7% coincided with a drop in private hours worked (-0.5%). Not sure what that means, but given that we know that productivity growth right now is being driven by layoffs, not capital investment or technological advances, and that 90% of that GDP growth was attributable to stimulus spending only, something’s fishy here.

Lessons from the AIG meltdown from one bureaucrat who sat at the table: I suspect that his conclusions are good because of, not in spite of, the fact that he worked for a state and not the feds.

Contributing factors vs. “but for” factors: Barry Ritholtz divides contributing factors from “but for” factors in deciding how much blame to apportion where for the economic crisis. What’s a “but for” factor? But for X, the crisis wouldn’t have happened. His three major but-for factors? “Ultra-low [interest] rates; unregulated, non-bank subprime lenders; ratings agencies slapping AAA on junk paper.” What about Fannie and Freddie? Contributors, yes, but not but-fors because they arrived so late to the subprime game.

MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan carves the president a well-deserved new one. Perhaps he hasn’t heard what happened to Ashley Bancroft when she did the same to his predecessor. Who’s she, you ask? Indeed.

If the Democrats had the brains God gave a billy goat, this wouldn’t be happening, but Republican pollster Frank Luntz has laid out a strategy for Republicans to use in fighting financial reform, and I’m pretty sure that because of previous Democratic inaction, Luntz’s strategy will work.

David Rosenberg (via Zero Hedge) says this is all far from over: “We ran some simulations to see what would have happened in 2009 without all the massive amounts of fiscal and monetary stimulus. Instead of real GDP contracting 2.4% for all of 2009, it would have been close to a 4.0% decline. And, as for the last two ‘positive quarters’ — well, Q3 would have been -1.0% QoQ [quarter over quarter] at an annual rate and -1.5% for Q4 (as opposed to the +5.7% annualized print). Still no sign of organic private sector growth and here we have the Fed discussing exit strategies and the Obama team about to soak it to the rich (for anyone who makes over $250k). This is what is otherwise known as a ‘low quality’ recovery.” On the bright side, at least he puts paid to all this “The stimulus didn’t help!” nonsense.

James Fallows explains how circumstances now prevent the traditional conception of bipartisanship from functioning in American politics (at least in Congress). I understand all this — quite well, in fact. Indeed, millions and millions of ordinary Americans understand all this probably as well as Fallows does. The question is: Why is it that so many of the people whose job it is to understand this — David Broder, Chris Matthews, Maura Liaason, and I could go on and on and on — do not understand this? Relatedly, because they do not understand this, why do they still have jobs? Digby gets it: “Can anyone argue that the village just sees all electoral losses as a result of the losing party failing to be “centrist” and “bipartisan” enough?  It doesn’t matter what  the real factors are that drove the electorate.”

Way-cool animated model of the solar system: Go here for hours of family fun!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 10:49 pm

Odds and ends for 1/6

Wall Street vs. Main Street: Despite record profits and record bonuses on Wall Street, overall U.S. payroll withholdings and corporate tax payments in December were down 8.2% (to a multi-year low) and 61.5%, respectively, from December 2008. If you still need proof that the banksters are feasting on the rest of us, well, I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to accept at this point that the sky really is blue, not pink with purple polka-dots.

With sepsis, we can at least hope he suffered some: James von Brunn, the white supremacist who shot and killed a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington last June, died today in prison of congestive heart failure and sepsis. Saving the taxpayers the expense of a trial, appeals and execution, von Brunn’s death appears to have been the first considerate thing the 89-year-old ever did in his life.

No matter where in the U.S. you live, one Texas wingnut creationist is deciding which textbooks your kids will use in school. Maybe we should let ’em secede; the national IQ would probably go up 30 points.

Speaking of wingnuts, Allen Quist is right. Just not in the way he thinks he is.

But … but … but … Democrats are dropping like flies! ABC said so!: As of today, more Republican than Democratic U.S. representatives, U.S. senators and governors are retiring than Democrats. But ABC says Democrats are dropping like flies. This is why I told my reporters not to use subjective terms when objective ones will do.

Speaking of the media, it’s only Jan. 6 and we’ve already had the best media criticism of the year, from commenter PeakVT at Balloon Juice, on why things like Travelgate and Filegate seem to get more media attention than, say, torture and other war crimes: “Republican scandals tend to involve the press corps. For instance, starting an unnecessary war under false pretenses was immensely helped by stenographers like [The New York Times’ Judith] Miller. Democratic “scandals” are limited to Democratic politicians, which makes them a lot more fun for the press.”

I’ll believe it when it happens: According to one report, White House anonymice are claiming President Obama will re-nominate Dawn Johnsen to run (and, please God, clean up) the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Good news, if true.

I would watch this on pay-per-view: MSNBC’s liberal talk-show host Ed Schultz may run to succeed retiring N.D. Sen. Byron Dorgan. Republicans, who are confident of picking up the seat, think of Schultz as just another Al Franken, and they say that like it’s a bad thing.

Jogging bores me to tears, but I will read any jogging blog that regularly uses lines like this: “I’ve been needling my 67-year-old friend Jim to run the half-marathon with me just so I don’t come in last. What kind of friend exploits a slow-moving retiree? I’ll tell you what kind: the kind who doesn’t want to come in last. ”

The legal group that worked hardest to create the modern system of capital punishment now says its efforts have been a failure. Given the risk at which it places innocent defendants, it’s hard to argue otherwise. (And yet I find a way, sort of.)

Quote of the day, via Maru:  “What happens if Rush dies in Hawaii? Will anyone believe the death certificate?”

Another Quote of the Day, from Paul Volcker to BusinessWeek, via Goddard Taegan’s Political Wire: “The American political process is about as broken as the financial system.”

And why not one more Quote of the Day, this one from Jason Linkins at HuffPo on the Apple iSlate and its ilk: “… the short-term ‘end of print’ apocalypse will not be felt by people clutching pricey panes of glass, but by a forgotten class of people who need quality journalism as a stopgap against a whole range of societal ills.”

And James Fallows, for the win: “That is the American tragedy of the early 21st century: a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent, and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke.”

He says he’s only a sportswriter, but Mike Lupica of the NY Daily News says it all with remarkable economy: “Cheney used to be a much better liar than this.”

Cue the “Applachian Trail” jokes. And worse: U.S. Rep. Joe “You Lie!” Wilson, R-S.C., Tweets about hiking through Panthertown National Forest with an “expert hiker” who also happens to be a babelicious congressional intern. (Although I’ll grant that if he’s dumb enough to Tweet about it, he’s probably guilty of nothing more than bad judgment.)

When Guantanamo inmates get transferred to Illinois, will torture come with them? It’s entirely possible.

I’d just like to say that my friend Andy Duncan rules. Yes, he does. And we’re really looking forward to lunch with him and Sydney on Saturday.

Out of the box. WAY out: As America struggles with an Afghan insurgency and the Center for a New American Security prepares for its June convention, Spencer Ackermann proposes what would be a fascinating keynote program: Gen. David Petraeus … and Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap.

Geoffrey Chaucer, who hath a blog, now also hath a forthcoming book, “a solid volume the which ye kan underlyne and spille egg-salad upon and take yn to yower jacuzzi whanne the mood stryketh yow.” Huzzah!

Those of us who don’t work for the MSNM see this as a feature, not a bug: Time’s Mark Halperin whines, “… politically and personally, the First Couple and their top aides have shown no hankering for the Establishment seal of approval, nor have they accepted the glut of invitations to embassy parties and other tribal rituals of the political class.” That would be because they have a mess to clean up that you pretty much ignored for eight years, jackass.

Charmed life: Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only person known to have survived both U.S. atomic attacks on Japan, is dead at the age of 93.

Better the devil you know than the other devil you know: Sen. Christopher Dodd’s retirement is coming only because of the virtual certainty that he would be unseated in 2010 because of his coziness with banks. But his successor as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee will be even worse.

What part of “public” were you lying about?: C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, bless him, reminds Congressional Dem leadership of their promise to have House/Senate reconciliation of health-care reform out in the open.

And yet I languish without, probably because of a relative lack of explosives: The demolition of Texas Stadium now has an official corporate sponsor.

Twitter through history. “Too soon? In the Twitter Era it is probably already too late.” And more.

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