Monday, April 24, 2023

That’s Show Business

From the Washington Post:

In a shocking announcement, Fox News announced Monday that its controversial yet top-rated prime-time host Tucker Carlson is leaving the network.

“Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways,” the network said in a statement. “We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.”

The apparently hasty parting — Carlson gave no indication he was leaving in his last nightly appearance Friday, and the network was still running promos for his show Monday morning — came less than a week after Fox settled a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, which had sued the network for false claims about the 2020 election. Carlson was among several on-air personalities expected to testify.

Apparently the management did not take kindly to his bad-mouthing of their leadership.  Sure, lie about the election, but trash the boss?  Um, no.

“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Carlson wrote to a colleague in a message a day after Fox, like other media outlets, called the election for Joe Biden. It was a sentiment echoed by others at Fox in the fall of 2020, as even network officials who disbelieved Trump’s election-fraud conspiracy theories fretted that countering them strongly would alienate their conservative viewers.

In another message, Carlson referred to management with an expletive: “Those f—–s are destroying our credibility.” He later wrote: “A combination of incompetent liberals and top leadership with too much pride to back down is what’s happening.”

It’s not like he’s gonna be out on the street panhandling — although that would be very much in keeping with his karma.  He’s an heir to the Swanson frozen food business.  So now he can go peddle his fish(sticks) someplace else.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Not About Chinese Balloons

The only thing more head-scratching about this whole story is the way the media went totally nuts about it.

Apparently this isn’t the first time one of these low-tech devices has sailed over the continent, but for some reason, like a cat being fascinated by a laser pointer, this has set off everyone across the spectrum, and of course there is some whacko in Congress who is calling for Joe Biden to be impeached because he ordered it shot down after it was out over the Atlantic, not before.

I guess we all need a little distraction between Tom Brady’s re-retirement and the Grammys.  It’s winter, it’s cold, the next election isn’t until the fall, and there were no more secret hidden (more likely forgotten) classified documents to be found in Joe Biden’s garage or Mike Pence’s underwear drawer.

Since I am devoting more of my time to writing fiction — plays and the occasional novel — I can see where the line between fantasy and reality is being blurred, and since I’m trying to get my plays produced, it makes me wonder if I’d be better off just cutting and pasting news stories, changing the names to avoid lawsuits, and letting the real people tell the story.  Embellish them a little to make the story plausible and the characters likeable like what I did with the backstory on “Cabana Boy.”  I certainly wouldn’t be the first to do that; the entire Law & Order franchise is based on stories ripped from the headlines, and I’m sure that somewhere some show-runner is trying to figure out how to tie a murder in Manhattan in with a Chinese spy balloon.

Now that I think about it, it really doesn’t surprise me that cable TV and punditry went nuts about the the story of a large bag of helium carrying a Chinese smartphone took over the world for a few days.  The human mind is ever curious, easily distracted, and now that George Santos has claimed credit for being one of the producers of “Spider-Man the Musical,” we have to come up with more crazy shit to keep us amused or enraged until the next new thing comes along.

Note: The poster is from the 1962 Irwin Allen extravaganza “Five Weeks in a Balloon” that starred, among others, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Barbara Eden, and Fabian.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Sunday Reading

Twitterpated — Tom Nichols on the childish dreams of Elon Musk.

For the past few days, Elon Musk has been throwing a gigantic temper tantrum on his platform, Twitter. It is not usually a matter of public interest when a narcissist like Musk goes haywire, but just as Donald Trump’s anger warped our public life, Musk’s conniptions could affect our culture and how we get information.

A lot of serious things are happening in the world: economic uncertainty, war, a pandemic. What’s happening on Twitter isn’t even close to those issues in importance or impact. But the continued reign of Elon Musk as Twitter’s chief jerk could, in fact, affect your life, in ways you might not realize. But first, let’s review the events of the past 24 hours or so. If you haven’t been on Twitter, you’ve been missing something like the tech version of Desperate Housewives, but it’s important to understand the claims Musk is making and why major news outlets are pushing back on them.

This entire drama is probably rooted somewhere in Musk’s privileged youth or his bloated psyche, but the immediate spur to this most recent mini-drama was that Musk does not like people knowing the location of his private jet. Jack Sweeney is a college student who used public data to track the location of Musk’s jet and many others, including some owned by Russian oligarchs. He then posted this information on Twitter through a variety of different accounts—all now suspended—including one dedicated to Musk, @ElonJet. Musk disliked this so much that almost a year ago, he offered Sweeney $5,000 to stop doing it.

Sweeney declined. Musk took ownership of Twitter in late October and, in a flurry of Calvinball rule changes, declared this week that revealing the whereabouts of his jet was the same as doxxing (that is, publishing personal data about private citizens), decreed this a violation of Twitter’s terms of service, and banned the account.

Musk claims that a stalker used the location of his jet to attack a car that his son was in. He has not presented any evidence that this event happened or, it seems, filed any police reports. And in a karmic plot twist, the founder of the investigative journalism site Bellingcat tweeted that his team ascertained that the event did not take place near an airport. But Musk used this story to go after yet more accounts. None were sharing the real-time location of his jet, but some were reporting on the ban of @ElonJet and the Musk Twitter tantrum that went with it.

Within hours, the account bans had piled up. Musk took out the independent journalist Aaron Rupar, a regular thorn in his paw. He banned Donie O’Sullivan of CNN. He scragged the accounts of Drew Harwell at The Washington Post, Micah Lee of The Intercept, and Ryan Mac of The New York Times. As the night wore on, he vanished Keith Olbermann—sure, he’s annoying, but still—and Matt Binder of Mashable. And just for good measure, when Steve Herman of that notoriously left-wing organization known as Voice of America merely affirmed the news that Musk was banning his critics, the Chief Twit zotzed that account too.

The usual Twitter tempête de merde ensued. Twitter’s liberals swore that this was the last straw and that they were all decamping to alternatives, usually the Mastodon social network. This really got Musk’s oddly shaped dander up, because, as it turns out, Sweeney was over on Mastodon doing his usual flight tracking—and so Musk seemingly went through another round of sweaty, angry panic, in which Twitter declared references to Mastodon to be “unsafe,” eventually blocking links to Mastodon itself in the name of safety and virtue and all that is holy and good—which is also convenient, because Mastodon is one of Twitter’s few competitors.

Musk’s petty outbursts make you wonder how dangerous it would be if a narcissistic, self-interested, vindictive adolescent ever gained a major political office such as, say, the White House. But I digress.

Now, unless you’re Very Online—and I am, for both personal and professional reasons—none of this matters very much at the moment. But Musk’s weird rampage does have an impact on the way the world around you exchanges information. Twitter has many levels; for some people, it’s a place to talk about oddball hobbies and exchange pet pictures. (Have you met my cat?) But it’s also an extremely valuable conduit for news, information, culture, and argument. Twitter doesn’t control the news, but it helps to shape public debate about many issues. Indeed, Musk’s entire public rationale for taking over Twitter was to preserve an important venue for free speech.

Musk’s defense of free speech is nonsense. One of the world’s richest men—who is not shy about his politics or his contempt for the free press—has reinstated Donald Trump, white supremacists, and any number of dangerous malefactors to Twitter, but he has made it clear that Donie O’Sullivan is beyond the pale. He has purchased an important and influential piece of the public square not to enhance public debate, but to punish people who annoy him. As if to underscore this point, Musk joined a Twitter Spaces live audio chat with journalists who asked him to explain what he was doing. He abruptly left the meeting—and then Twitter Spaces itself was shut down. (This was, he tweeted, to fix a “Legacy bug.” He announced on Friday evening that Spaces had been restored.)

I actually don’t subscribe to some of the more nefarious theories about Musk’s motivations (nor will I share them). I think he lost his cool because for more than a month, he’s been in way over his head with an impulsive purchase, his fortunes are plunging, and he got booed by a crowd of thousands of people at a Dave Chappelle performance—which, for a guy like Musk, is probably an unforgivable injury from what should be an adoring public.

But we can at least shelve all of Musk’s blather about free speech. Twitter is an important part of how we disseminate and process news, and it’s now in the hands of an irritable and unpredictable child. This is one more step in the infantilization of American life, in which we must accommodate and work around the behavior of grown men and women who not so long ago would have been pushed out of public life either by our collective political disgust or by responsible shareholders who would insist that their corporate leaders get back to work instead of making a spectacle of themselves.

Doonesbury — Am not! Are so!

Thursday, November 3, 2022

What Really Matters…

President Biden gave a prime-time speech last night about the perils of election-denial and political violence.  It was carried on the major cable outlets, including Fox, but the major broadcast networks went ahead with their regular commercial programming because, apparently, making money and ratings is more important, and c’mon, he’s been carrying on about that since whenever.  According to the networks, America would rather watch “Bob [hearts] Abishola” or the World Series.

I’m thinking that their excuse for this dereliction of duty is that if the electorate of America wanted to hear the president talk yet again about the rise of Fascism in our country, they know where the remote is and what buttons to push to watch it.  Meanwhile, there’s tampons and floor wax to sell and they have stockholders who think the news division is boring.  And that’s what happens when a corporation decides that it’s more important to make money than keep what’s passing for the democratic process from coming apart before our very eyes.  But when it does, they’ll be there to cover it and have their Very Serious Pundits wonder why no one was paying attention.

Age has granted me the ability to remember when broadcast journalism was taken seriously by both the companies that produced it and the people who watched it.  Now it has become a part of the entertainment division, and the people they put on the screen are chosen not for their background in journalism and understanding of the subject but their looks and smiles.  The fact that the whack-job Republican candidate for governor of Arizona went from the anchor desk to the campaign trail without so much as a wink at Edward R. Murrow or even Barbara Walters tells you everything you need to know about the state of reporting today.

The fault, dear reader, is not all at the feet of the TV nor the short attention span of the watchers.  The power of social media and the ability to read the Wall Street Journal with one hand and hold a coffee cup in the other while riding the Metro has made it so that what’s news and what’s important is diluted down to a scrolled-by sentence on a screen the size of a dollar bill.  Easy access has turned something valuable and necessary into the journalistic equivalent of the salad bar at Golden Corral, and few people realize that what they are missing may be the end of way of life that gave them the freedom to choose between chicken salad and pasta: it’s all the same noise and empty calories.

When Tip O’Neill observed that all politics is local, he wasn’t saying it’s a good thing.  It’s the shortsightedness that took over, and John F. Kennedy’s exhortation to “ask not what your country can do for you” became “what’s in it for me.”  Yeah, a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body has been wiped out, but have you seen how much gas is going for these days?  Sure, I believe in a good education, but if that neighbor kid insists on dressing funny, my world is falling apart.  No wonder people don’t care about global warming or the rising sea levels; they don’t live in the desert or near the coast, but leave my gun alone.

Journalism, or the lack of it, isn’t solely to blame, nor is the ability to carry the world in your pocket.  We still have the ability to reach out and help others beyond our neighborhood and do good things, and we’ve done it.  We still have the ability and the means to do the right things and preserve what’s passing for the American idea.  Then again, as Bobby Cramer said, hope is my greatest weakness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Do Your Job

Jennifer Rubin lays into the media for going along with the Big Lie or calling out the whack-jobs.

Donald Trump on Friday issued what can only be described as a threat against Mitch McConnell, declaring that the Senate minority leader’s support for bipartisan bills amounts to a “DEATH WISH.” The former president also added a racist insult against McConnell’s wife, former transportation secretary Elaine Chao, referring to her as “his China-loving wife, Coco Chow.”

Neither McConnell nor other Republican leaders — including Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), head of the Republican National Senatorial Committee — have condemned Trump for the statement. That’s the state of today’s MAGA movement, where decency toward fellow Americans, loyalty to one’s spouse and support for democratic values all take a back seat to cult worship and the unquenchable thirst for power. And once again, the mainstream media is failing to rise to the moment.

One might expect the media to stop treating Republicans like normal politicians after their “big lie” about a stolen election, their ongoing whitewashing of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, their attacks on the FBI and their indifference — if not assent —to racism. Alas, there is little sign that mainstream outlets have dropped their addiction to false equivalence and willful, moral blindness.

Scott, in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, explained Trump’s heinous statement by saying the former president likes to give people “nicknames.” Asked whether Trump’s “nickname” for Chao was racist, Scott added, “It’s never, ever okay to be a racist.” That’s it. Time was up for the interviewer to press him any further.

Making matters worse, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who also appeared on the segment, was not asked about any of this.

CBS News’s Margaret Brennan did a somewhat better job on “Face the Nation,” pressing Scott to comment on Trump’s remarks and on another disgusting statement from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who claimed on Saturday that Democrats “want Republicans dead” and “have already started the killings.” Brennan was able to keep Scott from ducking the question. But she allowed him to falsely claim that Trump was merely raising a concern about government spending and to say he didn’t “see” Greene’s remarks. He then ended the interview with a declaration that “we need to bring people together.” Seriously?

What should reporters be doing? Let’s start with five basic rules.

First, they cannot leave these exchanges for the end of an interview, when the guest can filibuster until the commercial break. Do it upfront, and don’t allow them to move on unless they give a straight answer. If Trump and his party present a threat to democracy, don’t treat their misconduct as an afterthought.

Second, interviewers must explain in real time when a guest is employing a common dodge. Brennan could have said, “For years Republicans have pleaded that they didn’t hear a comment, even after it is read to them.” She also could have followed up with tougher questions. For example:

  • Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted, “Against the backdrop of rising anti-AAPI hate, former Pres. Trump’s slander against Elaine Chao is inexcusable. American Jews know the danger of accusations of dual loyalty and name calling of this sort. It’s incitement, plain and simple, and unacceptable.” Do you agree?
  • Why does the GOP countenance another four-year term for someone willing to use such violent rhetoric?
  • What does “DEATH WISH” mean to you? At a moment when members are more concerned about violence than ever before, why don’t you deplore such language?
  • Why does the party not disown a member such as Greene, who lies about Democrats “killing” Republicans and makes blatantly antisemitic comments?
  • Why shouldn’t voters consider your silence as endorsement?

Third, the media cannot allow the plethora of Trump outrages to go down the memory hole. Scott cannot get by without answering questions on GOP attacks on the FBI, Trump’s hoarding of top-secret documents at Mar-a-Lago or any other topic that suggests the party is a hapless front for a delusional cult. Yet for too many in the media, a smooth, cordial interview seems more important than exposing GOP lies and antidemocratic tactics, handing Republicans a cloak of respectability to reassure voters they are just ordinary politicians.

Fourth, there is nothing to be gained from inviting election deniers, violence enablers and abject liars on TV to talk about “regular” topics. Scott does not have anything unique to offer about Hurricane Ian. You’d never know from the interview that he released an agenda this year attacking women’s rights, LGBTQ Americans, Social Security and the separation of church and state. It’s akin to inviting Greene to talk about Georgia’s economy without grilling her on her lies.

Finally, interviewers should always have a Democrat to respond to MAGA dissembling, either in the same interview or immediately following. That didn’t happen on Sunday. If you were a Republican campaign consultant, you couldn’t have asked for cushier venues to project political normalcy.

These and countless other interviews illustrate the urgent need to reimagine coverage of the GOP. Refusing to confront and expose MAGA Republicans’ betrayal of democratic values doesn’t make members of the media “balanced.” It makes them enablers.

My instinct tells me that interviewers on TV and cable shows don’t want to rock the boat because making these snowflakes feel uncomfortable means they won’t be able to get them back on the air in the future, plus they don’t want to provoke the raging ire of Trump and his wormtongues.  It’s all about the ratings as well; where would they be if they couldn’t get such rock stars as Rick Scott and Marco Rubio to display their cowardice?  “We’ll leave it there.  Back to you, Chuck.”

I get it that politicians and their backers need to get their jollies out on the air, but the journalists need to do their effing job.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Below The Fold

Three years ago, Hillary Clinton’s e-mails were banner headlines and the investigations, speculations, and wild-eyed coverage probably contributed to her loss.  Now, after all that, we have this.

A yearslong State Department investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server found that while the use of the system for official business increased the risk of compromising classified information, there was no systemic or deliberate mishandling of classified information.

The inquiry, started more than three years ago, found that 38 current or former State Department officials were “culpable” of violating security procedures in a review of about 33,000 individual emails sent to or from the server that Mrs. Clinton turned over to investigators.

As the New York Times put in a footnote:

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 16 of the New York edition with the headline: Quiet Ending For Inquiry Into Emails And Server.

Page A16, right next to the news about the potluck at the VFW and the bowling scores.

That says more about the state of American journalism than anything else.


Monday, September 30, 2019

So, We’re Gonna Do This, Right?

After spending four days in the middle of the country steeped in theatre and characters and writing, I come home to this:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff said Sunday that his panel has reached an agreement to secure testimony from the anonymous whistleblower whose detailed complaint launched an impeachment investigation into President Trump.

The announcement from Schiff came on the same day that Tom Bossert, a former Trump homeland security adviser, delivered a rebuke of the president, saying in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that he was “deeply disturbed” by the implications of Trump’s recently reported actions.

Those comments come as members of Congress return to their districts for a two-week recess, during which they will either have to make the case for Trump’s impeachment or defend him to voters amid mounting questions about his conduct.

In appearances over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered a preview of the Democratic message, casting the impeachment inquiry as a somber task that she chose to endorse only as a last resort.

“I have handled this with great care, with great moderation, with great attention to what we knew was a fact or what was an allegation,” Pelosi said Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. “This is very bad news for our country, because if it is as it seems to be, our president engaged in something that is so far beyond what our founders had in mind.”

While privately favoring a rapid probe confined to the Ukraine allegations, Pelosi said Saturday that the investigation would last “as long as the Intelligence Committee follows the facts.”

I have every hope that unlike the Roman candle approach that the Republicans took twenty years ago with Bill Clinton’s trip down the rabbit hole, this will be a deliberate and yet efficient investigation, resulting in a prompt rendering of cogent articles of impeachment stating the clear-cut facts of the case which will so impress and horrify the majority of Republicans in the Senate that they will see their clear duty to the Constitution and the oath they all took and render a resounding verdict.  Meanwhile, I’m getting my speech ready for the Tony awards.

This will be messy, noisy, disruptive, and the business of the country will be set aside while accusations of treason and threats are hurled.  It will make for wild TV: excerpts of Trump’s defenders calling for capital punishment and worse (what could be worse?) will go viral, and when the identity of the whistleblower (or is it whistle-blower?) is released, they will be alternately vilified and glorified on the same network.

Unlike Watergate, which took years and numerous court battles to unravel and resolve, this one is going along as fast as a Twitter thread.  Unlike Whitewater/Clenis, this one doesn’t have salacious overtones so we don’t have to come up with colorful euphemisms for oral sex so it can be described in front of the children (who have a language all their own).  And unlike Iran/Contra, we’re not dealing with underlings who are manipulating foreign policy while the president is drifting off into dreamland.  In this case, he’s proudly admitted to what he did, got his minions to yell “Fuck yeah!” in support, and dare the Congress to come and get him.

It’s blackmail and coercion, pretty much the stuff of “The Sopranos” if that classic show was cast with the Three Stooges.  It’s illegal, it’s immoral, and a danger to the country.  So yeah, we’re gonna do this.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Back To Reality

It’s especially harsh to come back from nearly two weeks of not really paying attention to the news and land with a thud: Trump holding yet again a rally in Florida (although Karma sent in torrential rain to prove that his supporters are not smart enough to know when to come in out of it) and touting the various and sundry stupidities and cruelties foisted upon us by this cretinous vulgarian.  Living on the shore of a fjord in Alaska with no internet connection and eating reindeer pizza suddenly doesn’t sound so nutty.

Of course, I didn’t watch any of this kinderspiel in Orlando, and apparently those who did heard nothing new so they didn’t bother to broadcast it (except Fox News, which has announced that it will soon sell time to broadcast his potty-time).  But reports are that he spent most of the time re-running his 2016 campaign themes: attacking a retired grandmother from Chappaqua, New York, for imagined crimes that his own children have committed, and giving evidence out loud that will be used in some future hearing on mental competency (“I’m going to read you a series of numbers and I want you to repeat them back to me…”).  But as Dana Milbank pointed out, it’s all he’s got since he can’t run on his own record of incompetence, fraudulence, criminality, vulgarity, isolationism, greed, racism, and buffoonery.

On top of that, the regime is on the verge of announcing plans for immigration arrests and deportation.  You don’t need to be a historian to see that this reeks of another regime’s method of dealing with their political scapegoat; you can download “Schindler’s List” from Netflix.

It’s no wonder that two dozen Democrats want to run against him in 2020.  I’m surprised there aren’t more; this should be an easy target for them.  Yes, of course I know that Democrats could lose an ice-skating race to a snake, but if the polls are anywhere near accurate this far out and with this short-term memory-challenged electorate, Trump would lose to any one of the top ten Democrats.  And judging by Trump’s reaction to the reality of his falling numbers, he’s killing off the messengers who are delivering the news.  (Meanwhile, he’s got more people working in “acting” positions in his administration than the cattle-call audition for a revival of “Cats.”)

Today will be my first full day back at work, back to reading what’s going on, and wondering why I came back to this harsh dose of reality when there are otters to watch frolicking in Prince William Sound and reindeer pizza to be ordered in.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Little Twerp

Speaking of not worth it (see below), Tucker Carlson doubled down on his petulant adolescent act.

A day after releasing audio of Tucker Carlson making numerous misogynist remarks, Media Matters for America published a new video with clips of the Fox News host using racist and homophobic language to describe Iraqi people, African Americans, gay people and immigrants while speaking on a radio program between 2006 and 2011, according to a report published Tuesday by the nonprofit.

The self-described watchdog of “conservative misinformation in the U.S. media” published the audio from Carlson’s appearances on a Tampa-based radio program, the “Bubba the Love Sponge Show,” just 25 hours after releasing similar recordings in which he’s heard flippantly using sexist language to express his views on child rape, rape shield laws, underage marriage and other sensitive topics.

The new audio highlights about a dozen instances of Carlson using racist language on the “shock jock” show, which he apparently called into for about an hour per week. In 2008, Carlson lamented that “everyone’s embarrassed to be a white man,” before stating that white men deserve credit for “creating civilization and stuff.”

Fox will never fire him.  This is the kind of crap they live for and the more they can outrage normal people, the better it is for their audience that buys My Pillow and boner pills.  And he’s cheaper than Sean Hannity.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

No Debates For You

The DNC finally gets it.

The Democratic National Committee has decided to exclude Fox News Channel from televising any of its candidate debates during the 2019-2020 cycle as a result of published revelations detailing the cable network’s close ties to the Trump administration.

In a statement Wednesday, DNC Chairman Tom Perez cited a story in the New Yorker magazine this week that detailed how Fox has promoted President Trump’s agenda. The article, titled “The Making of the Fox News White House,” suggested that the news network had become a “propaganda” vehicle for Trump.

Ya think?

I’ve never really understood why the Democrats even want to be seen on Fox, much less try to win over their audience.  The purpose of Fox News has been to tear down the Democrats and attack liberals, so why go ask them to keep doing it?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Trump And Fox: Made For Each Other

After reading Jane Mayer’s exploration of the relationship between Fox News and Trump in The New Yorker, I came away with the feeling that neither one could live without each other in their current status.

In a normal world of the American day-to-day news business, entities like Fox News would co-exist with all the other broadcast or print outlets and the public would see it as perhaps the same way it sees any other media outlet with an agenda such as The Nation or National Review or MSNBC and let nature take its course in the market.  Their brand would be identified and they would find their audience and life in the news media would go on.

But something happened when Trump decided to break out from being a shameless self-promoting con man dabbling in reality TV and on-line “education;” two things that draw in the gullible and the begrudged of the population and therefore ready marks who would open their wallets.  Trump saw Fox News as an easy way to hawk his brand of easy money and glitzy excess, and Rupert Murdoch and his minions saw Trump as someone with an uncanny knack for pushing the right buttons on their audience that bore envious grudges against the “mainstream,” which included anyone that didn’t agree with them that white Christian men with money were the ones who should really be running the country.

Thus this marriage of convenience and avarice.  Both Fox and Trump know that the more extreme and sensational their stories, the more the aggrieved and self-pitying base will follow them, which explains both the National Enquirer and the New Testament.  It also explains why the evangelicals worship Trump despite his obvious lapses that are antithetical to the strict codes of “Christian” morality that they used to beat up the Clintons and the Obamas.  They know a fellow huckster when they see one, and along with Fox News, they could both feed and pluck the pigeons.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Throwing Them Their Lines

To the surprise of no one, the Daily Beast reveals that Fox News gives their Trump administration interview subjects the questions in advance and tailors them to their liking.

Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was clearly taken aback last year when occasional Fox & Friends fill-in host Ed Henry grilled him about a number of ethical scandals facing his administration.

And Pruitt had a good reason to be surprised. In past interviews with President Trump’s favorite cable-news show, the then-EPA chief’s team chose the topics for interviews, and knew the questions in advance.

In one instance, according to emails revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Sierra Club and reviewed by The Daily Beast, Pruitt’s team even approved part of the show’s script.

Fox & Friends has long been a friendly venue for Trump and his allies, but the emails demonstrate how the show has pushed standard cable-news practices to the extreme in order to make interviews a comfortable, non-confrontational experience for favored government officials.

Cable-news veterans told The Daily Beast that it is common for television producers to discuss topics in advance with their subjects; and, on occasion, producers will ask pre-interview questions to understand what a subject has to offer, and why their information is relevant.

However, it is widely frowned upon to offer public officials pre-interviews, as this can help the official avoid difficult questions.

And providing and seeking approval scripts is even more of a taboo.

Well, it’s only a taboo if you’re a real news outlet doing real journalism.  In the case of Fox News, it’s as well-scripted as your average Cub Scout skit with the same level of talent and theatrical integrity.  The only thing they’re missing is the den mother standing in the wings shouting out the lines to the poor kid who can’t remember them.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Yes, I’m Still On Facebook

I still have a page on Facebook.  I use it on a pretty regular basis to keep up with friends and family, some of whom I haven’t seen in years.  I also use it to keep up with playwriting and production opportunities.  Without it I wouldn’t have had one of my plays being produced in Sydney, Australia this week, and I’m also a part of a vibrant and interesting community of playwrights who share, teach, and commiserate.

I’m not going to link the profile here because, well, if you’re really interested in seeing it, you can make the effort to find it.  It shouldn’t be too hard, and if you do, well, okay… I might even return your “Friend” request.  (Oh, come on; you know I will.)  But I’m also not going to delete my profile.

Whether or not the social networking platform was a willing or unwitting participant in the Russian manipulation of the 2016 election is still a valid question, but one thing that some people, including good friends, have forgotten is that Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and whatever else is being used out there to share pictures of cats riding vacuum cleaners and sell condos in Aruba and perhaps mine personal data, in the end they’re just tools, and not a whole lot different than a hammer or a screwdriver.  In the right hands and with discernment, they can be useful.  In the wrong ones or misapplied, they can be dangerous.  (I hear the same argument about guns.  Yeah, but a hammer wasn’t designed for the sole purpose of killing someone or something.)  Like anything, it matters how you use it and your common sense along with it.

By now — some thirty years into it being a part of our lives — most people have learned to discriminate between spam and real stuff in their e-mails (although obviously not enough because I still get it e-mails offering V1agr@, and they wouldn’t keep doing it if they didn’t get a bite every day) and just yesterday I amused my co-workers with a short play I staged with a guy on the phone trying to get me to send money to the Criminal Division of the IRS.  It’s been that way as long as there’s been mass communication — what, you don’t think Moses didn’t have a sales pitch when he came back from Mount Sinai? — and there always will be.  The trick is knowing when to turn it off, hang up the phone, and go read a book.

Facebook didn’t elect Trump.  We did.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday Reading

To Tell The Truth — Timothy L. O’Brien in Bloomberg about Trump under oath.

Trump held an impromptu press briefing in the White House early Wednesday evening, popping into a meeting of reporters and his chief of staff and telling the group that he’s “looking forward” to speaking “under oath” with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

That’s the Robert Mueller who is overseeing a Justice Department investigation into whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with the Kremlin to tilt the 2016 election in his favor. That’s the Robert Mueller who is examining whether Trump and others in his orbit obstructed law-enforcement efforts to examine that matter. And that’s the Robert Mueller scouring the president’s businesses and finances. He’s already indicted four former Trump insiders for a variety of crimes, including lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Yet the president mustered the bravado to tell reporters last night that he “would love to” sit down with Mueller in two or three weeks.

Sometimes love is blind.

Whether he realizes it or not, Trump is in a perilous position. He presides over a chaotic White House stocked with competing interests and egos, he’s mired in a complex investigation and he’s advised and protected by a relatively scanty phalanx of private attorneys. If the president goes mano-a-mano with Mueller, the outcome of that encounter is likely to hinge on how careful, credible and capable he is under oath.

Speaking from experience, I think the president’s attorneys should grab their worry beads. Trump sued me for libel in 2006 for a biography I wrote, “TrumpNation,” alleging that the book misrepresented his business record and understated his wealth. Trump lost the suit in 2011, but during the litigation my lawyers deposed him under oath for two days in 2007. We had the opportunity to ask Trump about his business and banking practices, his taxes, his personal finances and his professional relationships.

Trump’s attorney then was Marc Kasowitz, who also briefly represented the president when the Justice Department investigation first got rolling in Washington. My attorney was Mary Jo White, a former federal prosecutor steeped in many of the same legal traditions and courtroom experiences as Mueller. It didn’t go well for the future president.

Hammered by White and her deputies, Trump ultimately had to admit 30 times that he had lied over the years about all sorts of stuff: how much of a big Manhattan real estate project he owned; the price of one of his golf club memberships; the size of the Trump Organization; his wealth; his speaking fees; how many condos he had sold; his debts, and whether he borrowed money from his family to avoid going personally bankrupt. He also lied during the deposition about his business dealings with career criminals.

Trump’s poor performance stemmed in part from the fact that he was being interrogated by shrewd attorneys wielding his own business and financial records against him. But there were lots of other things that went wrong as well.

Trump is impatient and has never been an avid or dedicated reader. That’s OK if you’d rather play golf, but it’s not OK when you need to absorb abundant or complex details. Lawyers typically prepare binders full of documents for their clients to pore over prior to a deposition, hoping to steel them for an intense grilling. My lawyers did that prior to my own deposition in the Trump lawsuit. But Trump didn’t appear to be well prepared when we deposed him, a weakness that my lawyers exploited (and that Mueller surely would as well).

Trump, for example, had submitted a document to the court from his accountant outlining his assets and liabilities. He was proud of the document’s glowing conclusions but hadn’t seemed to have read most of it prior to sitting down with my lawyers – including a section that said that the report wasn’t a reliable gauge of his wealth. Trump seemed surprised when my lawyers pointed that out.

Trump also has a well-known inability to stick to the facts and a tendency to dissemble and improvise. While under oath, he’ll try to avoid saying that he’s lied in the past until he’s presented with documentation proving otherwise.

“How do you differentiate between exaggeration and a lie?” one of my lawyers, Andrew Ceresney, asked when discussing inflated sales figures Trump had used to promote a property.

“You want to put the best spin on a property,” Trump replied. “No different than any other real estate developer, no different than any other businessman, no different than any politician.”

Ceresney pointed out that there was a difference, though: the actual sales figures for the property being discussed, which Ceresney possessed. This is relevant today, because Trump probably doesn’t know which documents Mueller has collected. If the president sits down under oath and lies, it’s likely that Mueller will have a raft of paperwork on hand to document that fact.

Trump has also courted the spotlight for so long that there’s an ample public record going back decades of statements he’s made on a wide array of subjects. That’s not true of most people sitting for a deposition, but it’s true for Trump and it’s a problem for him. My lawyers unearthed wildly conflicting statements Trump had made about his wealth over the years, for example, but they only had media and books to rely on. Mueller can dig into the president’s ill-considered and possibly damaging Twitter rants about what he calls the Russia “witch hunt,” the FBI and his life in the Oval Office.

Trump’s campaign and White House aides may have done any number of problematic things without Trump knowing about them, and that could protect him from being charged with setting illegal things in motion (like obstructing a federal investigation, for example). But another Trump weakness is that he basks in the perception that he’s the man in charge and everyone else follows his orders.

At moments during his deposition in my libel case, Trump would have been well served to acknowledge that others in his organization – like his chief financial officer – had independently decided to gather and report certain problematic financial information. But Trump couldn’t resist saying that his minions at the Trump Organization and elsewhere were just following his orders, a boast that also raised the legal stakes for himself (even if he didn’t realize that’s what he was doing).

Trump’s enthusiasm for a get-together with Mueller clearly freaked out his lawyers, who scrambled to roll back the president’s statements shortly after he made them. His lead lawyer, Ty Cobb, said that the president was speaking off the cuff and that a more considered approach to Mueller and his team might be taken.

“He’s ready to meet with them, but he’ll be guided by the advice of his personal counsel,” Mr. Cobb said of the president.

I’m not so sure. Cobb’s client hasn’t often been guided by advice from anyone. He’s probably not going to start now.

Unfriend This — Ethan Zuckerberg on Facebook’s self-service.

Facebook’s crushing blow to independent media arrived last fall in Slovakia, Cambodia, Guatemala, and three other nations.The social giant removed stories by these publishers from users’ news feeds, hiding them in a new, hard-to-find stream. These independent publishers reported that they lost as much as 80 percent of their audience during this experiment.

Facebook doesn’t care. At least, it usually seems that way.

Despite angry pushback in the six countries affected by Facebook’s algorithmic tinkering, the company is now going ahead with similar changes to its news feed globally. These changes will likely de-prioritize stories from professional publishers, and instead favor dispatches published by a user’s friends and family. Many American news organizations will see the sharp traffic declines their brethren in other nations experienced last year—unless they pay Facebook to include their stories in readers’ feeds.

At the heart of this change is Facebook’s attempt to be seen not as a news publisher, but as a neutral platform for interactions between friends. Facing sharp criticism for its role in spreading misinformation, and possibly in tipping elections in the United States and in the United Kingdom, Facebook is anxious to limit its exposure by limiting its role. It has long been this way.This rebalancing means different things for the company’s many stakeholders—for publishers, it means they’re almost certainly going to be punished for their reliance on a platform that’s never been a wholly reliable partner. Facebook didn’t talk to publishers in Slovakia because publishers are less important than other stakeholders in this next incarnation of Facebook. But more broadly, Facebook doesn’t talk to you because Facebook already knows what you want.

Facebook collects information on a person’s every interaction with the site—and many other actions online—so Facebook knows a great deal about what we pay attention to. People say they’re interested in a broad range of news from different political preferences, but Facebook knows they really want angry, outraged articles that confirm political prejudices.

Publishers in Slovakia and in the United States may warn of damage to democracy if Facebook readers receive less news, but Facebook knows people will be perfectly happy—perfectly engaged—with more posts from friends and families instead.

For Facebook, our revealed preferences—discovered by analyzing our behavior—speak volumes. The words we say, on the other hand, are often best ignored. (Keep this in mind when taking Facebook’s two question survey on what media brands you trust.)Tristan Harris, a fierce and persuasive critic of the ad-supported internet, recently offered me an analogy to explain a problem with revealed preferences. I pledge to go to the gym more in 2018, but every morning when I wake up, my partner presents me with a plate of donuts and urges me to stay in bed and eat them. My revealed preferences show that I’m more interested in eating donuts than in exercising. But it’s pretty perverse that my partner is working to give me what I really crave, ignoring what I’ve clearly stated I aspire to.

Facebook’s upcoming newsfeed change won’t eliminate fake news… at least, it didn’t in Slovakia. People share sensational or shocking news, while more reliable news tends not to go viral. When people choose to subscribe to reliable news sources, they’re asking to go to the gym. With these newsfeed changes, Facebook threw out your gym shoes and subscribed you to a donut delivery service. Why do 2 billion people put up with a service that patronizingly reminds them that it’s designed for their well being, while it studiously ignores our stated preferences? Many people feel like they don’t have a choice. Facebook is the only social network, for example, where I overlap with some of my friends, especially those from my childhood and from high school.

I don’t want Facebook to go away—I want it to get better. But increasingly, I think the only way Facebook will listen to people’s expressed preferences is if people start building better alternatives. Right now, Facebook chooses what stories should top your news feed, optimizing for “engagement” and “time well spent.” Don’t like the choices Facebook is making? Too bad. You can temporarily set Facebook to give you a chronological feed, but when you close your browser window, you’ll be returned to Facebook’s paternalistic algorithm.This fall, my colleagues and I released, a customizable news aggregator. Gobo presents you with posts from your friends, but also gives you a set of sliders that govern what news you see and what’s hidden from you. Want more serious news, less humor? Move a slider. Need to hear more female voices? Adjust the gender slider, or press the “mute all men” button for a much quieter internet. Gobo currently includes half a dozen ways to tune your news feed, with more to come. (It’s open source software, so you can write your own filters, too.) Gobo is a provocation, not a product. While it’s a good tool for reading Twitter, Facebook only allows us to show you Facebook Pages (the pages that are being deprioritized in the news feed changes), not posts from your friends, crippling its functionality as a social network aggregator. Our goal is not to persuade you to read your social media through Gobo (though you’re certainly welcome to try!), but to encourage platforms like Facebook to give their users more control over what they see.

If you want to use Facebook to follow the news, you should be able to, even if Facebook’s algorithms know what really captures your attention. There’s a robust debate about how Facebook should present news to its readers. Should it filter out fake news? Prioritize high quality news? Focus on friends and family instead of politics? Facebook’s decision to steer away from news is an attempt to evade this challenging debate altogether. And perhaps we were wrong to invite Facebook to this debate in the first place.Instead of telling Facebook what it should do, people should build tools that let them view the world the way they choose. If regulators force Facebook and other platforms to police news quality, they’ll give more control to a platform that’s already demonstrated its disinterest editorial judgment. A better path would be to force all platforms to adopt two simple rules:

  1. Users own their own data, including the content they create and the web of relationships they’ve built online. And they can take this data with them from one platform to another, or delete it from an existing platform.
  2. Users can view platforms like Facebook through an aggregator, a tool that lets you read social media through your own filters, like Gobo.

The first rule helps solve the problem that Facebook alternatives like Diaspora and Mastodon have faced. People have a great deal of time and emotional energy invested in their online communities. Asking them to throw these connections out and more to another network is a non-starter. If we can move our data between platforms, there’s the possibility that some of Facebook’s 2 billion users will choose a social network where they have more control over what they read and write. The second rule allows developers to build real customizable aggregators, not toys like Gobo, which would let people control what they read on online platforms—helping them live up to their aspirations, not down to their preferences.

Obviously, Facebook is filled with people who care deeply about these issues. Some are my friends and my former students. But Facebook suffers from a problem of its own success. It has grown so central to our mediated understanding of the world that it either needs to learn to listen to its users stated desires, or it needs to make room for platforms that do.

An Appreciation of Ursula K. Le Guin — John Wray on the writer who defied categorization.

Four years ago, on a midsummer Sunday, I rang the doorbell of an unassuming Victorian perched on the north slope of the Forest Park neighborhood of Portland, Ore., and waited for Ursula Kroeber Le Guin to come to the door. I’d grown up with — and in no small part, because of — her writing, from “Earthsea” to “The Left Hand of Darkness” to “The Dispossessed” to “Lavinia,” and the moment felt appropriately otherworldly. Not everyone is lucky enough to find himself ringing the doorbell of one of his literary heroes, let alone with a decent chance of being let in, and I was somewhat dumbstruck at the privilege. My host, when she came to the door, was decidedly less solemn.

“Come on in, Wray,” she said. “You get here all right? Good. Watch out for that [expletive] cat. He’s a terrorist.”

(Ms. Le Guin’s vernacular, I’d soon discover, was saltier than might be anticipated from an 84-year-old with a pixie cut. From here on, let the reader insert invectives into our dialogue at will.)

Fittingly for a writer of speculative fiction, Ms. Le Guin’s house seemed larger on the inside than it was on the outside. I entered cautiously, and not only because of the cat. I was there to spend a long weekend conducting an interview with her for The Paris Review, the highbrow literary journal known for its in-depth conversations on the craft of fiction, and I’d had to lobby the editor for a month to get him to consider featuring a writer whose work was so tinged with genre. Ms. Le Guin, however, was distinctly beyond caring what literary New York thought of her — if the thought, in fact, had ever crossed her mind.

“Where I can get prickly, Wray, is if I’m just called a sci-fi writer,” she said. “I’m not. I’m a novelist and a poet. Don’t shove me into your pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.”

My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions. If there’s ever been a better description of Ms. Le Guin’s astonishingly diverse and adventurous body of work, I’ve yet to come across it. She’ll doubtlessly be remembered for her sophisticated, nuanced and profoundly humanistic speculative fiction, and of course for her series of magical coming-of-age novels, the Earthsea series, without which the Harry Potter megafranchise could scarcely be imagined. But she was more than a sci-fi or fantasy writer, much more. She was more than her identity as a trailblazer in the overwhelmingly male (and chauvinistic) field of 1960s and ’70s science fiction, as well, and more than an iconoclastic thinker on gender, or on ethics, or on the material world. The much-discussed fluidity of gender in her most famous novel, “The Left Hand of Darkness,” could serve as a metaphor for Ms. Le Guin’s entire approach to living, thinking and creating: She reserved the right to think, and write, and react as she saw fit — and to inhabit a completely different role as the occasion, or the project, demanded.

Ms. Le Guin cared passionately about many things, as is clear to any reader of her books: the rights of indigenous peoples, the search for alternatives to our pitiless economic scheme, the myth of innate gender difference, our slow collective murder of the planet. But what she cared about above all, it seems to me, was the paramount freedom — if not obligation — of all thinking individuals to define their personal enterprise strictly for, and by, themselves. By the time I came to know her, Ms. Le Guin had made peace with the nature of her legacy, and with the reductive effects of the passage of time. But it was, to the end, an anarchist’s peace.

I learned many things from Ms. Le Guin in the course of that first day, which we spent drinking tea and chatting on her slightly vertiginous veranda, with its glorious view of the snowy cone of Mount St. Helens. We talked about the usefulness of whispering one’s writing aloud when revising, and how it somehow functioned better than reading at a normal volume, when trying to get the music of a sentence right. We talked about the advantages an interest in ethnography can give to writers interested in imagining entire societies, if not whole worlds. We talked about the mysterious power of artists in the last stages of their creative lives, when they were writing to please no one but themselves.

I was working on a science fiction novel of my own at the time — my first — and I confessed to her that it seemed to be turning into something too complex, perhaps even convoluted, for the rollicking page-turner I’d hoped for. Her response shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.

Entertaining them is all well and good, Wray, but does it make them think?”

I answered, a bit defensively, that I thought my book did — maybe more so than most readers might be looking for. That snort came again.

“We don’t know what we’re looking for when we pick up a book, no matter how clear-cut the genre,” she said. “We think we do, but we don’t. Don’t ever give people the thing they expect just because they expect it. Our job is to surprise them, to shake them — to turn their expectations on their heads. And do you know why, Wray?”

Why, I managed to mumble.

“Because that’s when the MRI of their brain lights up, and they begin to see.”

Don’t try to fit Ms. Le Guin into your pigeonhole, posterity — or even into two, or three, or half a dozen. Her tentacles are coming out in all directions.

Doonesbury — Advice for the road.

Monday, May 22, 2017

He Can Read And Talk At The Same Time

Microsoft Word 2016 has a nice feature called Speak.  You highlight a portion of text, click an icon, and a voice that sounds like the machine that Stephen Hawking uses reads the passage out loud.  Depending on your computer settings, it can be male or female.

Its purpose is to be an aid for the visually-challenged.  It’s not always 100%.  It seems to have trouble with interjections such as “Uh” and “Um” that show up in written dialogue — it sound out each letter — and it confuses the pronunciation of the adjective “nice” with the city in France if it is capitalized, but by and large it does a good job.  (And I am sure that any number of people have been amused by hearing it read porn.  C’mon, admit it, you were thinking that too.)

Apparently this ability to read and speak a written language is not limited to software.  Based on the reception of Trump’s speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia, he’s the next Great Communicator.

Reacting to President Trump‘s big speech in Saudi Arabia today, Bob Schieffer said on CNN that Trump “sounded like a president” today.

“He actually sounded presidential. You may agree or disagree with what he said, but he sounded like a president… It was a much different kind of presentation.”

He took note of how Trump delivered this “dignified speech” and hasn’t tweeted out anything needlessly provocative recently.

Schieffer added, “He didn’t sound like the guy at the end of the bar popping off. He sounded like someone who had actually thought he was going to say before he said it.”

Hear that, folks?  He actually thought about what he was going to say before he said it!  For that we’re letting him run the country.

We have set the bar so low for sounding presidential that you need ground-penetrating radar to find it.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I May Vomit

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, sharply defended his rationale for notifying Congress about new emails related to the Hillary Clinton investigation less than two weeks before Election Day, saying Wednesday that any suggestion he affected the vote’s outcome made him “mildly nauseous.”

Mr. Comey’s comments at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing were his first public explanation for his actions, which roiled the presidential campaign in its final days and cast a harsh spotlight on the F.B.I. director.

Mr. Comey said he went public on Oct. 28 because he believed that the emails found by his agents might provide insight into Mrs. Clinton’s reasons for using a private server as secretary of state and might change the outcome of the investigation. Failing to inform Congress, Mr. Comey said, would have a required an “act of concealment.”

“Concealment, in my view, would have been catastrophic,” he said, adding later that he knew the decision would be “disastrous for me personally.”

What Mr. Comey viewed as concealing, Justice Department officials viewed simply as following the rules. The F.B.I. does not normally confirm ongoing investigations. Senior Justice Department officials urged him not to send a letter to Congress informing them that the bureau was examining the new emails.

“Mildly nauseous”?  What he did was basically hand the election to Trump.  He knew it, too.  So while he may feel queasy about it, the rest of us have to live with four years of power-barf.

And if that doesn’t make you blow chunks, perhaps the conclusion by Nate Silver that the mainstream media let Comey slide will.

Hillary Clinton would probably be president if FBI Director James Comey had not sent a letter to Congress on Oct. 28. The letter, which said the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into the private email server that Clinton used as secretary of state, upended the news cycle and soon halved Clinton’s lead in the polls, imperiling her position in the Electoral College.

The letter isn’t the only reason that Clinton lost. It does not excuse every decision the Clinton campaign made. Other factors may have played a larger role in her defeat, and it’s up to Democrats to examine those as they choose their strategy for 2018 and 2020.


And yet, from almost the moment that Trump won the White House, many mainstream journalists have been in denial about the impact of Comey’s letter. The article that led The New York Times’s website the morning after the election did not mention Comey or “FBI” even once — a bizarre development considering the dramatic headlines that the Times had given to the letter while the campaign was underway. Books on the campaign have treated Comey’s letter as an incidental factor, meanwhile. And even though Clinton herself has repeatedly brought up the letter — including in comments she made at an event in New York on Tuesday — many pundits have preferred to change the conversation when the letter comes up, waving it away instead of debating the merits of the case.

The motivation for this seems fairly clear: If Comey’s letter altered the outcome of the election, the media may have some responsibility for the result. The story dominated news coverage for the better part of a week, drowning out other headlines, whether they were negative for Clinton (such as the news about impending Obamacare premium hikes) or problematic for Trump (such as his alleged ties to Russia). And yet, the story didn’t have a punchline: Two days before the election, Comey disclosed that the emails hadn’t turned up anything new.

One can believe that the Comey letter cost Clinton the election without thinking that the media cost her the election — it was an urgent story that any newsroom had to cover. But if the Comey letter had a decisive effect and the story was mishandled by the press — given a disproportionate amount of attention relative to its substantive importance, often with coverage that jumped to conclusions before the facts of the case were clear — the media needs to grapple with how it approached the story. More sober coverage of the story might have yielded a milder voter reaction.

What, and miss out on all those rating points and the money they bring in as they spread BREAKING NEWS across the screen because Hillary Clinton tripped over a curb?

And to top it all off, now the press is trying to soberly figure out how Trump became president.  Feh.

(Bonus points if you can identify the source of the title.)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Low Bar

The Very Serious Pundits are all giving Trump golf claps because, after five weeks in office and with the help of Speechwriting for Dummies, he sounded “presidential” in his speech before Congress.

If the bar was any lower, they’d have to find it with ground penetrating radar.

PS: Veterans were not pleased with Trump’s exploitation of the death of Navy Seal William “Ryan” Owens.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Moving Right Along

Here’s a shot of what’s on a local TV station’s news site concerning the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport last Friday that killed five people:

FLL Shooting Stories WTVJ 01-12-17

Well, I’m glad the little girl got her teddy back after dropping it in the chaos, and it was poor judgment on the part of the Broward Sheriffs Office deputy to post the video.  But the shrug about the shooting suspect’s “mental issues” is just another way of saying, “Well, shit happens.”

I suppose, in the world of tweeting autocrats and instant news feeds on phones, we should now be accustomed to the idea of moving on, leaving the mourning and the legal issues to others.  So don’t expect any in-depth investigation into why a man who recognized he was so tortured by his illness that he went to the FBI and basically said “Stop me before I kill someone,” then went out and did it.

No, we can’t arrest someone for a crime they haven’t yet committed, and yes, there are people among us who sincerely believe that someone who is suffering from obvious violent thoughts is still entitled to his Second Amendment rights.  All we have to do is just wait for the next news cycle to move on.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In The Tank

If Hillary Clinton loses, blame the media.

Thomas Patterson in the Los Angeles Times:

My analysis of media coverage in the four weeks surrounding both parties’ national conventions found that her use of a private email server while secretary of State and other alleged scandal references accounted for 11% of Clinton’s news coverage in the top five television networks and six major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. Excluding neutral reports, 91% of the email-related news reports were negative in tone. Then, there were the references to her character and personal life, which accounted for 4% of the coverage; that was 92% negative.

While Trump declared open warfare on the mainstream media — and of late they have cautiously responded in kind — it has been Clinton who has suffered substantially more negative news coverage throughout nearly the whole campaign.

Few presidential candidates have been more fully prepared to assume the duties of the presidency than is Clinton. Yet, her many accomplishments as first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of State barely surfaced in the news coverage of her candidacy at any point in the campaign. She may as well as have spent those years baking cookies.

How about her foreign, defense, social or economic policies? Don’t bother looking. Not a single one of Clinton’s policy proposals accounted for even 1% of her convention-period coverage; collectively, her policy stands accounted for a mere 4% of it. But she might be thankful for that: News reports about her stances were 71% negative to 29% positive in tone. Trump was quoted more often about her policies than she was. Trump’s claim that Clinton “created ISIS,” for example, got more news attention than her announcement of how she would handle Islamic State.

I also looked at the year before the 2016 primaries began, and even then Clinton had a 2-to-1 ratio of bad press to good press. There was only one month in the whole of 2015 where the tone of her coverage on balance was not in the red — and even then it barely touched positive territory.

During the primaries, her coverage was again in negative territory and again less positive than Trump’s. After the conventions got underway and Trump got embroiled in a testy exchange with the parents of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier, the tone of his coverage nosedived and her coverage looked rosy by comparison. But even then it was not glowing. Her convention-period news coverage was 56% negative to 44% positive.


Judging from their stories, journalists rate the emails as being a highly important and very serious issue. They cover it heavily and with damning tone. When 90% or more of the coverage of a subject is negative, the verdict is in. Even good news gets turned to her disadvantage. For example, when the FBI announced that her emails did not violate the law, the Los Angeles Times ran a story focused on Trump’s response, quoting him as saying, “This is one of the most crooked politicians in history…. We have a rigged system, folks.”

In today’s hypercompetitive media environment, journalists find it difficult to resist controversies. Political scientist W. Lance Bennett explored this phenomenon around Trump’s 2011 allegation that President Obama was not a native-born American. Trump’s “birther” statements were seized upon by cable outlets and stayed in the headlines and on newscasts for days. Veteran CNN correspondent Candy Crowley even interviewed Trump, who was then not a political figure at all. She justified it by saying on air: “There comes a point where you can’t ignore something, not because it’s entertaining …. The question was, ‘Is he driving the conversation?’ And he was.” In truth, the news media were driving the conversation, as they have with Clinton’s emails.

Decades ago, the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press concluded that reporters routinely fail to provide a “comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in the context that gives them some meaning.” Whatever else might be concluded about the coverage of Clinton’s emails, context has been largely missing. Some stories spelled out how the merging of private and official emails by government officials was common practice. There were also some, though fewer, that tried to assess the harm, if any, that resulted from her use of a private server. As for Clinton’s policy proposals and presidential qualifications, they’ve been completely lost in the glare of damaging headlines and sound bites.

So if we end up with a president who is vaingloriously proud of his ignorance and treats the Constitution like one of his contractors, it will be in large part because the media was far more interested in getting a story that boosted ratings so they could charge more for ads for boner pills.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Just One Day

Via Digby, here’s the Toronto Star reviewing the packs of lies put out by Donald Trump in just one day.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump delivered two speeches on Saturday.

The first was to The Remembrance Project, a group for the family members of people killed by illegal immigrants. The second was to a rally in Colorado Springs.

He made 12 false statements. Here’s a fact check:

Speech on immigration to The Remembrance Project

  • Falsely said, “Her plan calls for…ignoring visa overstays, closing detention centres.” (Clinton is not calling to ignore visa overstays. She wants to close only privately owned detention centres, not all detention centres.)
  • Falsely said, “Hillary Clinton is the first person to ever run for the presidency of a country effectively proposing to abolish the borders around the country that she’s supposed to be representing.”
  • Falsely said, “According to the federal government’s own data, there are more than 2 million convicted-criminal illegal immigrants inside the United States right now.” (That figure – 1.9 million – refers to the number of non-citizens, illegal AND legal, with convictions. The number of illegal immigrants with convictions is much smaller.)
  • Falsely said, “The government knows a lot about the people that did it, but they don’t go after them. They’ve killed people, they don’t go after them.”
  • Falsely said, “Hundreds of individuals who have been given visas and refugee – think of this, they’ve been given, they’re refugee admissions into this country, subsequently were charged with terrorism, and nobody does anything about it.” (This figure is incorrect. “I have seen no evidence that there are ‘scores’ of recent migrants charged with terrorism,” Rand Corp’s Seth Jones told the Washington Post.
  • Falsely said, “We’re admitting people here with no idea who they are.” (Refugees undergo extensive screening.)

Speech to rally in Colorado Springs

  • Falsely said, “We’re going to have a massive tax reduction, big league tax reduction, for working and middle-class families.” (Trump’s bracket changes would give middle-class families an income boost of 0.5 per cent or less, according to the conservative Tax Foundation.)
  • Falsely said, “Destroyed her phones – and think of this: with a hammer! Boom. Thirteen of them.” (Two of Clinton’s phones were destroyed with a hammer.)
  • Falsely accused Clinton of selling “government favours and access.” (There is no evidence of this.)
  • Falsely said, “Since President Obama came into office, another 2 million Hispanic Americans have fallen into poverty.” (This figure begins the count during George W. Bush’s last year; when the count begins in 2009, the figure is less than 1 million. It is also highly misleading to use a raw number; the poverty rate for Hispanics has fallen.)
  • Falsely said, “Hillary Clinton is going to raise your taxes very, very substantially.” (Clinton’s tax hike only applies to the top 1 per cent of earners.)
  • Falsely said, “We have a trade deficit of $800 billion a year.” (The trade deficit in goods alone $763 billion – but there was a trade surplus in services of $227 billion, putting the total deficit well below $600 billion.)
  • Misleadingly said, “58 per cent of African-American youth are not employed.” (This figure counts millions of 16-to-19-year-olds who are not looking for work, including high school students and the children of black millionaires.)

And yet Hillary Clinton is the untrustworthy one.

Why do we have to rely on the media from another country to do the job of the press in this country?

By the way, the language Mr. Trump has been using is regressing from middle-school tween taunts to elementary school neener-neener:

trump-dopey-tweet-09-19-16Since when do adults refer to one another as “Dopey” unless you’re talking about the Disney character?

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