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Civility

No, it’s not Okay to punch reporters.  I have some thoughts (best unexpressed) about reporters and pundits who couldn’t seem to move past the Benghazi Bamboozle and Ultimate Emails and give voice to reasonable opposition.  I have some thoughts about cable news outlets which prize confrontation above discussion, and who repeatedly request the services of Talking Point Bubble Heads (also best unexpressed.)  However, it is never appropriate to vilify The Press.  After all is said and said again, the Press is the only vocation protected by our Constitution. There’s a reason for that.

No, the press is not the enemy of the state.  To make this statement with any sincerity is to contend that the State should be (1) immune from criticism, (2) enabled to declare its own truth, and (3) able to defend its singular version of ‘reality’ against all comers.  This is not the basis for a democratic society.

No, the function of the press is not to make anyone feel comfortable.  Am I uncomfortable with some of the criticisms of the Affordable Care Act, yes, I am, but I am also willing to admit that the law needs some revision to deal with problems in the individual health insurance market.  I don’t need to be comfortable, I need to be informed.  I need information about options, such as a “public option,” or “single payer,” structures.  What I need is more light with less heat.  I would like to hear or read an explication of the problems associated market issues in the insurance business.  The function of the Press is to provide the informed discussion about those options.

No, punching out a reporter, and then cheering the assailant isn’t manly.  It’s cowardly.  It’s “Junior High.”  Or, it’s messaging for people who may be long gone from the creaking lockers of the ‘old high school now the junior high’ chronologically, but not so far removed in social and emotional immaturity.  It’s the bravado of the bar room.  It’s the bombast of the insecure.  It’s the reflection of the dark place in which to offer arguments against a political, or ideological sentiment isn’t differentiated from a personal assault.

No, physically attacking (or indulging in rancid verbal attacks) isn’t the new normal.  Such things are socially unacceptable.  They make the news broadcasts, as do highway accidents, gun fights, and public brawls — but that doesn’t make them “normal.”  Attaching the word “normal” to instances of brutality, incivility, and immature rancor is to demean the efforts of every parent on the planet advising children to behave themselves in both public and private places.  Norms are standards of social behavior, to be considered typical and expected.  We don’t expect people to indulge in emotional outbursts of undisciplined aggression.  That would violate our Norms.  As in “normal” behavior.

We could do with a bit more normality these days.

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Patterns in Politics from Congress to the Promised Press Conferences

That didn’t take long.  A mere 12 hours ago the Republicans in the House of Representatives wanted to put the OCE under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee; disallow the OCE from accepting anonymous tips from whistleblowers; stop investigating anything if the House Ethics Committee wanted the investigation stopped; not investigate anything that might have happened before January 3, 2011; not discuss its findings or even hire a spokesperson; and, not investigate any criminal cases or turn allegations of corruption over to law enforcement agencies. [BuzzFeed]   Then came the questions, perhaps the best of which was: When has anyone accused Congress of being TOO ethical?  Now the House Republicans have scrapped the plan. [The Hill]

However, watch for a pattern here.  This “jurisdictional” issue has been raised before, in the case of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  [HFSC 2013] [MPA 2016] Here’s a prediction for 2017 – the House Republicans will try to “reform” financial regulations by placing the CFPB (the outfit that caught Wells Fargo manipulating its staff and customers) under Congressional control.  What about a Republican controlled Congress having jurisdiction over mortgage lending practices and pay-day lenders could possibly go wrong?  Oh, well, there was that mess back in 2007-2008…

One thing about which there doesn’t seem to be much controversy: The Russians hacked the Democrats. (Except if you ask Trumpster Flack Kellyanne Conway, The Trumpster, or Vladimir Putin.) The geeks were on to this back in July 2016 when Motherboard posted this article.  The New York Times has a compilation of reports on Russian hacking.  In the face of all this actual evidence we have the Trumpster’s contention that “he knows things,” [CompWorld] and Conway’s advice that we should be listening to Julian Assange…[cnbc].  The Trumpster will have more to say, promise the flack, later this week.  We should add those comments to:

1. The April 2011 Trumpster comments that his investigators “couldn’t believe what they were finding in Hawaii” (about the President’s birth certificate.)  Trumpster told Meredith Vieira he had investigators there; however, there’s still no evidence he actually sent investigators to Hawaii. [HuffPo 2016]

2. On April 27, 2011 the Trumpster vowed to release his federal income tax returns.  We’ve not seen hide nor hair of these to date.

3. August 9, 2016:  the Trumpster says that his wife Melania will have a press conference to settle details about her immigration to this country. [Hill]  No press conference yet.

4.  September 9, 2016: The Trumpster vowed to release more detailed medical records. [BloombergNews]  Nothing released to date.

5. December 12, 2016: The Trumpster postpones his press conference on his business conflicts of interest for “a month.” He had told reporters on November 30th there would be a press conference on December 15th.  [MMA/Bloomberg]

I’d not advise anyone to hang by their hair or hold their breath waiting for the Trumpster to divulge any information on any of these topics much less on the hacking.

And, again, there’s a pattern.  One of the things that an overwhelming amount of scientific investigation and analysis tells us is that global climate change is very real. Faced with this, the energy industry fought back with attempts – not to attack the science itself – to sow doubt, and to promote those “doubts” in popular media. [guardian] This play goes back to the Tobacco campaigns of an era past.   Now, it’s “hacking.”

17 United States security and law enforcement agencies report that the Russians hacked the Democratic Party, and election efforts.  That’s 17 out of 17. There’s no doubt here.  Except – backers of the Trumpster using popular media to sow doubt.  We’ve seen this pattern before, and before, and before. The media keeps falling for it.

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Lewis Carroll 1876 and 2016 American Media

Hunting Snark Quote

The fake news issue is very serious, and should be addressed in a serious way.   No, the Pope did NOT endorse the Republican candidate for the Presidency. No, the Clinton Foundation doesn’t rake off 80% of the donations… No, No, and No.  Information is power, and power needs to be exercised with judgment.

Normally we think that organizations with a lot of power have an obligation to use that power responsibly. But the leaders of the largest technology companies have resisted thinking of themselves in those terms. They like to think of their sites as neutral platforms that help users share information with each other — without the company making value judgments of its own.

But this isn’t how power works. When an authority figure turns a blind eye to a problem that’s happening under his watch, the problem doesn’t go away. It festers, often becoming an even bigger problem over time. [Vox]

Perhaps the most chilling argument is that we can’t restrain fake news because it will have a devastating impact on conservative communications.  Nor are more traditional media outlets immune from fake or distorted “news.” Hypothetically:

Mr. X Tweets, “New proof emerges of deliberate attempt to have all guns registered in the U.S.”  The message is retweeted .  No one questions the source of the information, no one checks to see if the links are valid. No one checks – anything.  The retweets continue until some news organization picks up the “story” because “people are interested in it.”  Now, the headline becomes: “Is there a movement to register all guns in America?”  Followed by some generalized arguments from proponents and opponents of the idea. Followed by more “interest” in the “story,” which no one has checked in the first place.

This isn’t journalism.  It’s the old Telephone Game we played as children, seeing how garbled the message became after passing through several repetitions.   It’s dangerous because:

1. It plays into the hands of those who would diminish the credibility of reporting.  Several right wing radio personalities have used this platform: You’ll only get the Truth from Me.  A statement which isn’t true and never has been.

2. It ultimately destroys the legitimacy of reporting.  How is the average consumer supposed to know that the “Denver Guardian” isn’t a real newspaper?  How is the average news consumer supposed to know that what appears to be an online news organization is simply a fictional page of fantasy and filibuster for a right wing neo-Nazi organization?

There are enough problems with media today (chasing shiny objects while ignoring major issues) without adding pure fiction to the mix.  Someone, somewhere needs to be the Adult In The Room.

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Resist: The Ugly Face of Trump’s America

Modified Niemoller

Please pardon the replication of Reverend Niemoller’s famous short poem, but at this point there is a need to face down the ugly and demeaning actions of the Trump supporters and their Dear Leader.  

Resist: I’ve already called for support for progressive and liberal organizations that provide the research, and I’ll do it repeatedly.  We need an informational infrastructure to help fuel the resistance to Trumpism.  If your budget can stand it, pick at least one, or possibly two organizations of your choice and make a donation towards their efforts.  We cannot depend on the corporate media to make issues known, and to provide the data necessary to inform the public.  I’ve called it #2-4-2018, a way to call attention to the importance of the mid-term elections.  We can’t blame these organization for not publicizing and promoting our issues if we haven’t given them the funds to do so.

Resist: Support media outlets that promote tolerance, liberty, and equality.  There are a multitude out there, some examples are the Talking Points Memo, Crooks and Liars, Politicususa, and Think Progress, as aggregators these are outstanding, and you probably know of more.  There are research based publications like Pro Publica, which is also deserving of our attention and support.  There’s also the CBPP, and the EPI, also deserving of support. And, no list would be complete without the Center for American Progress.  Make your own list of your favorites and share it with family and friends if you have not already done so.

Resist: Call your Congressional Representatives and public officials.  Let them know quickly and surely that American do NOT support criminalizing public protests, such as the legislation proposed in Iowa and Washington state. [Root]  It’s never too soon to hold the media accountable – no, Steve Bannon is not “alt-right,” that’s just a euphemism for White Supremacist.  No amount of cleansing will ever make his bigoted views “normal.” He’s not the “new normal,” he’s just the old abnormal.

Resist: There’s no need to call for boycotts, simply vote with your eyes and wallet.  Unimpressed with the news coverage by major corporate media outlets?  Why watch? Lord knows, they are sensitive to their ratings. Why give them any.  Watching and being appalled at their ‘coverage?’ There are addresses for sending civil and polite expressions of our displeasure:

CBS Evening News.  524 West 57th St.
New York, NY 10019

ABC News 147 Columbus Ave.  New York, NY 10023

NBC News  30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10112

CNN, One CNN Center, Atlanta, GA, 30303

MSNBC, One MSNBC Plaza Secaucus, NJ 07094

Resist: Get involved at your local level. Find your local organizations and local political committees, and to the extent that you can get involved in their activities.  Get up, get out, and get involved.

Thank you.

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To the Corporate Media: This paragraph sums it up

“6. All our media friends. Thank you for preserving reportorial balance. You balanced Donald Trump’s proposal that the military execute the innocent families of terrorists, against Hillary’s emails. You balanced pot-stirring racist lies about President Obama’s birth, against Hillary’s emails. You balanced a religious test at our borders, torture by our military, jokes about assassination, unfounded claims of a rigged election, boasts about groping and paradoxical threats to sue anyone who confirmed the boasts, against Hillary’s emails. You balanced endorsement of nuclear proliferation, against Hillary’s emails. You balanced tirelessly, indefatigably; you balanced, you balanced, and then you balanced some more. And for that — we thank you. And thank you all for following Les Moonves’s principled lead when he said Donald Trump “may not be good for America, but he’s damn good for CBS.”  [NYT OpEd]

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Passion and Politics: Playing Loose with the Truth

Lincoln Cartoon “George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist, wrote that Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.” Henry Ward Beecher, the Connecticut-born preacher and abolitionist, often ridiculed Lincoln in his newspaper, The Independent (New York), rebuking him for his lack of refinement and calling him “an unshapely man.” Other Northern newspapers openly called for his assassination long before John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger. He was called a coward, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla” by none other than the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan.” [Atlantic]

The descendents of those who passionately vilified Lincoln are with us today.   They become particularly noticeable during times when U.S. politics are polarized, polemicized, and full of more propaganda than factual content.  

Case in point: Those “30,000 missing emails” on Secretary Clinton’s server. There are, as we speak, some Internet trolls repeating the claim that Clinton ‘lost’ 30,000 emails during her tenure in the State Department. They’ve got the story bass-ackwards.

“So in 2014, Clinton’s lawyers combed through the private server and turned over about 30,000 work-related emails to the State Department and deleted the rest, which Clinton said were about personal matters.” [Politifact]

The rest of the FBI investigation?

Of the tens of thousands of emails investigators reviewed, 113 contained classified information, and three of those had classification markers. FBI Director James Comey has said Clinton should have known that some of the 113 were classified, but others she might have understandably missed.

Comey said the Justice Department shouldn’t prosecute Clinton because there isn’t enough evidence that she intentionally mishandled classified information. FBI investigators didn’t find vast quantities of exposed classified material, and they also did not turn up evidence that Clinton intended to be disloyal to the United States or that she intended to obstruct justice.  [Politifact]

So, the entire “scandal” doesn’t concern 30,000 emails, those were handed over early in the game; and, it boils down to 3 emails which can’t be shown to have been intentionally mishandled.  Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the investigations were entirely political, entirely overblown, and total malarkey but that’s not the point.  No matter how often the story is fact checked [MMA] [MMA] [Slate] [Star Telegram] [MJ] [WaPo] it is still being pumped by the passionate.

Those in that Basket of Deplorables doing the arm-work to keep the air in that story intended to cause “distrust” of Secretary Clinton are committed to their version – no matter how untrue, no matter how politicized because it’s their version.  Long advised by right wing radio hosts to distrust the media, distrust the ‘establishment,’ and to distrust anything other than the version of events as dispensed by the hosts, they will now easily slip into dismissing any explication which doesn’t fit their personal narrative.  In simpler terms, they don’t care if a statement isn’t true – they’ll find a way to make it that way.

We could add another ten links in the paragraph above to articles debunking the email story (or any other tale for that matter) and the emotional voter will dismiss all as “liberal media.”  Not that they have any idea what the ‘liberal media’ might be – it’s just that they identify as conservative, and the media isn’t enabling their narratives garnered from right wing sources.  Therefore, the media (having been described as liberal on AM radio) must be so. 

If a cavalier dismissal of conflicting information isn’t sufficient, there’s always the conspiratorial element – the ‘liberal’ media must be discredited because “they” are always “hiding something from us.”    Both the Distrust Element and the Conspiratorial Element make up a portion of that Basket of Deplorables – the racists, the misogynists, the bigots, the Islamophobes, the intolerant – which drive some of the support for Trump’s candidacy.

It doesn’t matter how many times the New York Times, or the Washington Post, or any other major news outlet debunks and fact checks Trump’s characterizations of people and events.  These people just aren’t into facts.

Another factor is the capacity of people to filter what they are hearing.  Did Donald Trump say that President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. and is therefore a legitimate president?  Well, they may say slyly, that’s what he said because he had to say it, he just doesn’t really truly mean it.  Interesting that this analysis comes from people who like Trump because “he tells it like it is.”

This isn’t of course to argue that Trump’s 40% support is coming solely from the Deplorables and the Deniers – Secretary Clinton herself acknowledged that there are those for whom our economic system isn’t working.  They’re frustrated, fearful, and in need of assistance not forthcoming from our current political systems.   They’ll vote “against the establishment” whatever that might be (such as Bush, Kasich, etc.) because they want some form of change.

Nor should we forget that there are those who will vote for anyone on the top of the ticket with an R.  There are yellow dog Republicans as well as Democrats.

Hence, this election in 2016 will come down to TURNOUT. Good old fashioned door knocking, phone calling, rides to the polls, TURNOUT.  We can be assured that the Deplorable element will be there, as they were for the mid-terms, and the disaffected will arrive.  It’s a matter of no small importance that Democrats make the same effort to GET OUT THE VOTE.

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Media Takes Some Well Deserved Hits

Press conference It’s been a miserable season for political reporting.  Some of the misery is self-inflicted.  Let’s admit that we’ve moved a long way from Murrow and Cronkite.  And, let’s also admit that what made the ‘Murrow Moment’ (March 9, 1954) significant when the broadcaster called out the invidious Senator Joe McCarthy was a matter of personal courage when most other stations were satisfied to repeat what the Senator had to offer without comment.   Many of the broadcasters today weren’t around on February 27, 1968 for Cronkite’s epic Vietnam War comments.  No anchor today has the gravitas to make the President say, as Lyndon Johnson remarked that day, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Nor can we look back to some Golden Age of political reporting without noting that Robert R. McCormick reigned supreme at the  “America First” newspaper, the Chicago Tribune – arduously attacking Franklin D. Roosevelt, all things New Deal, and any question that the U.S. should enter World War II on the side of the British.  The currently resurgent “America First” slogan got its initial patriotic veneer from the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst. [Atlantic]  The unhelpful press has always been with us.

“Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.” [SPJ]

The statement above is the standard by which journalism is to be delivered.  There are two key words in that simple statement which seem to have become blurred — “accuracy,” and “honest.” The reading and watching public have been let down several times.

It took until 2004 for the New York Times to admit that the articles written by Judith Miller concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq 2001-2002 were inaccurate.  When they did, the blame was deflected to “bad sources,” and “everyone makes mistakes.”  There is a difference between being a journalist and being a stenographer using unexamined, “unreliable, and possibly partisan sources.” [MMA]

MSNBC host Chuck Todd received well earned flack for this bit of commentary in 2013:

“MSNBC host Chuck Todd said Wednesday that when it comes to misinformation about the new federal health care law, don’t expect members of the media to correct the record.” [TPM]

Really?  What was that first standard from the Society of Professional Journalists again?  Accurate and fair?  Yes, it definitely is a journalist’s responsibility to the accurate.  And, if your reporting isn’t accurate why should anyone watch, listen, or read what you have to say?

Todd got into similar territory during an interview with Senator Ted Cruz in April 2016:

“Cruz went onto accuse the Department of Justice of letting Planned Parenthood off the hook for supposedly selling baby body parts, which as we all know, is a bald-faced lie, and cited those doctored videos as proof, and what was Chuck Todd’s response? You guessed it. Crickets.” [C&L]

One can be a reporter, a stenographer, or a microphone – Todd did not choose to be a reporter.

The New York Times writer, Roger Cohen, got into an instructive exchange with Norman Ornstein a day ago, leading to Ornstein questions about the Times’ focus on Clinton ‘scandals;’

“Roger this is not about ignoring these issues. It is about obsessing on them to the exclusion of everything else.” [Storify]

Ornstein refers here to the questions about Trump University, the investigation into the actions of Trump University, and the possible bribes to Florida and Texas authorities concerning the investigations into Trump University.

Fox News, Chris Wallace, echoed the Chuck Todd defense yesterday:

“That’s not my job. I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad. It’s up to the other person to catch them on that. I certainly am going to try to maintain some reasonable semblance of equal time. If one of them is filibustering, I’m going to try to break in respectfully and give the other person a chance to talk….” [MMA]

So, if one candidate, the other, or both are being untruthful, it’s up to the viewers to discern the difference?  This is the very antithesis of informing the public.

If the main point isn’t to be the accuracy of the information given to the public what is the public getting?  Not much. Not as much as we could be getting because the press is almost as interested in covering its own interests as it is in covering the news.

“The Press Conference Flap” is informative in itself. David A. Graham (Atlantic) Callum Borchers (WaPo) Oliver Darcy (Business Insider) and Jonathan Easley (The Hill) are among those who have wondered and opined about why Secretary Clinton hasn’t had a press conference.  Paul Krugman’s column may provide a hint?

“So I would urge journalists to ask whether they are reporting facts or simply engaging in innuendo, and urge the public to read with a critical eye. If reports about a candidate talk about how something “raises questions,” creates “shadows,” or anything similar, be aware that these are all too often weasel words used to create the impression of wrongdoing out of thin air.”

If all the press conference is to be is a mob format Q&A in which Secretary Clinton can’t possibly say all the right things in just the absolutely right way to dismiss the innuendo and outright falsehoods of the email and foundation manufactured scandals, then why should she bother?

Besides which, contemporary press conferences don’t seem to get much accomplished.  I’ve (almost) joked before that press conferences are sessions in which reporters ask ten minute questions and then expect a ten second response; or, press conferences are where reporters ask complicated questions to which they seem to want simple, sound byte, answers.  Or, a session in which a reporter is asked for one question, squeezes in three, and then later complains that the respondent didn’t answer the second and third?

A sample:

“Chicago — August has been the worse month in violence and homicides in several decades.  Obviously, we focus on these things when we hit these milestones; I’m sure the President thinks about it all the time.  What is his response to this?  And more specifically, what is his response to the Trump statement that, essentially, he’s going to make these shootings stop, and that he’s the law-and-order candidate, and that the President has not done the job in this area generally, is the criticism?” [WHPC 8/30/16]

We could have shortened this question easily because it’s relatively obvious the questioner isn’t focused on the President’s reaction, but on the President’s reaction to Mr. Trump’s reaction.  So, the question becomes – do reporters want a press conference because they have essential, policy related, questions about Secretary Clinton’s domestic and foreign policy statements, or do they want to get on TV asking about emails, foundations, and a personal aide’s domestic arrangements?  Or, just to get themselves on TV?

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