Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Floor Polish or Dessert Topping: Media Edition.

September 7, 2016

I think it’s always a serious risk to disagree with Adam; he’s basically always right.  But I do find myself differing from him on one question: is The New York Times actively trying to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency, or are their actions better explained by a less evil, more dangerous tendency?

Adam’s on the overt evil side: they’re trying to shiv her side. I’m thinking that what we’re seeing is an unconscious process, which is actually a much more difficult problem to tackle within elite political journalism.

My view:  I communicate with some NYTimes people, and I’ve known some there for a long time, though I’m not in close touch with that cohort these days.  I don’t have any contact with the Sulzberger/Baquet level, but below that I’m quite confident that there’s no conspiracy going on.  If you could ask just about anybody at the Times, I’m sure they recognize that Trump is a shit show and all that.

But that doesn’t alter the problem there, the way the deck is nonetheless stacked at the Times and other top-echelon outlets.

A big part of the reason, ISTM, is that within a lot of journalism there is a very particular definition of what a story is, and the concept of accuracy is narrowly defined.  A story need not be about facts, but about claims of alledged facts — Clinton’s emails raise pay-for-play concerns; and to be accurate such a story need only rise to the level of “some see in the new email release more indications of a pay-to-play connection to the Clinton Foundation.”   That is — the fact that someone is willing to say such a dreadful deed took place makes the statement and the story “accurate” even if no reasonable reading of the underlying material suggest such nefariousness actually took place.

Goya_y_Lucientes,_Francisco_de_-_Fool`s_Folly_-_Google_Art_Project

That paradigm leads The New York Times and the rest of them to make the same mistakes over and over again — and to get played in the same way seemingly every week. The right wing media activist camp — think Judicial Watch and the email farrago — is very good at pushing the story buttons, and you have a circumstance where the Times bites, over and over again, and finds itself once again dipping into  the Clinton well.

What makes that so wretched is that if The New York Times were anti-Clinton in the way, say, Fox News is, there’d be an obvious counter:  consider the source. But because this is done within a framework that the top practitioners believe is the right way to do journalism, pushback often serves to confirm their judgment in their own eyes. If partisans complain, they must be doing something right.  And given that the elite media basically talks to itself, it’s hard to insert a corrective, though I and many others are trying to do so on and off social media.

 It’s also important to note that the Times  did engage the Trump-Attorneys General bribery story today, placing it prominently on the website.  There are some oddities in the story — not uncommon for a publication playing catch-up.  And the test will be the follow up: how deeply the Times chooses to pursue each of the elements of the story in the days ahead.  If they do give it the full effort, then (a) that will be good and (b) it will suggest that much of the crap coverage of Clinton we’ve seen is the product of pre-existing bias (Clintons are yucky) combined with the story dynamics and incentives discussed here.

There’s an interview with Bob Woodward that the Harvard’s press office published today that to me expresses the problem of a Village, an epistemically closed community of practice that can’t easily interrogate the ways its own methods undermine the mission that they do in fact, sincerly, believe they’re pursuing. Woodward says:

Bob Costa, a reporter at the Post, and I interviewed Trump and we published the transcript and there are all kinds of things in there. For instance, he says, “I bring out rage in people,” and he’s proud of it. He forecast a giant recession, he was very pessimistic about the economy, and since then it’s only done better. He was asked, because he was running in the primaries in the Republican Party, a party that contained Lincoln and Nixon, “Why did Lincoln succeed?” And Trump’s answer was, “He did some things that needed to be done.” [We then asked,] “Why did Nixon fail?” “Because of his personality.” And we had to say, “Yeah, but his criminality was part of it.” And Trump said, “Oh, yeah.” It tells you who he is. 

The same with Hillary Clinton. There were just voluminous stories on her. Let me give you an example from The New York Times, Feb. 20, 2016, a two-part series they did on Hillary’s role in Libya. It explains her role, exactly what she wanted to do. At one point, after [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi’s death, it quotes her saying to some of her staff, “We came, we saw, he died.’ There was a series of spectacular Post stories about the Clinton Foundation, about her time at the State Department, and so forth. 

The Trump interview is a story, sure.  It was accurate, in the sense that I’m sure Trump said what Woodward and Costa said he said.  It’s not revealing of very much — like what Trump has done and what his actions in the various enterprises he’s undertaken would tell us about a potential Trump presidency.  But its accurate.

More important for the discussion of Clinton and whether press treatment of her reflects conscious or unconscious bias is the comparison between the kind of material Woodward celebrates as journalism about Trump vs. what he recognized in the Clinton Coverage.  The Libya story he cites is a perfectly reasonable one one, exactly what you’d expect a newspaper to do.  The Clinton Foundation stories…not so much, and so on.

The point’s obvious, I think.  All of the stories listed above are “news” in some way.  They meet (mostly) the narrowest criterion of accuracy.  But they add up to a very different body of work, and evidence of very different approaches to the two candidates, born, I think, of the construct of the “sweet story” much more than of a planned journalistic campaign to derail Hillary.

TL:DR?  You don’t need to invoke malice.  An intellectual laziness* born of bad craft habits and professional norms fully explains what we see — which is bad news, as that’s harder to fix than explicit enmity.

*I don’t mean to suggest that Times journalists and their peers elsewhere are lazy in the sense that they don’t work hard.  They work constantly for (in almost all cases in the print world) relatively short money.  I’m just saying that they don’t sufficiently train the traditional journalist’s skepticism on their own endeavor, and so find it very hard to credit outside criticism, or to recognize what it is in fact they’re doing, not just day by day, but summed over the life of a campaign.

Image: Francisco de Goya, Fool’s Folly, 1815-1819

That Didn’t Take Long

August 9, 2016

So, the Incompressible Jizztrumpet reboot lasted…well, I’m not saying you need femtosecond-accuracy here, but not long, brothers and sisters. Not long.

Anthonie_Palamedesz._-_An_Officer_Blowing_a_Trumpet_-_WGA16874

Yesterday it’s all, “Hey — his economic plan is warmed over ZEGS-gruel, seasoned with some pants on fire, but at least there was no visible froth on his grubby mien.”

Today, having struggled free of the Manafort manacles strapping him to the teleprompter, the Hamster Heedit Bampot went away and boiled his nappy:

“If she gets to pick her judges,” Trump said, “nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is.”

To put that into the plainest of terms:  the nominee of one of the two major parties  in the United States just said that if his opponent were to win, then she could — and by context, should — face armed rebellion. (ETA:  this could as easily be read as a call for assassination.)

That, my friends, is John Calhoun’s dumber younger brother, up on his hind legs, urging his supporters to follow General Pickett’s division up the ridge, (ETA: or, perhaps, to attempt a little John Wilkes Booth action) in pursuit of the same end as the party of treason sought 150 years ago: the destruction of the American Republic.

It would make me yet more furious, except that it does appear that Trump knows, or embodies his Karl Marx:  first time tragedy, second time (tragic) farce.

In any event, we now have yet further proof of the obvious:  there is no “presidential” Trump.  There is only the same Cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon we’ve come to know and loathe.

Image:  Anthony Palamades, An Officer Blowing a Trumpetfirst half of the seventeenth century.

A Guy Can (Day) Dream…

July 30, 2016

I know that the general in question was hardly what you’d call a political liberal, but I’ve just spent a happy while in a reverie on what would have happened if George Patton had ever gotten ten minutes with Donald Trump into a windowless, sound proofed room.

I get that the real Patton might have been a Flynn analogue, but after the McCain POW diss, the “I know more than the generals” declaration, and above all, today’s “I’ve sacrificed” bathos, I’m going to stick with the notion that he would have left the Cheetos-faced ferret-topped shitgibbon* breathing through his colon.

In which happy imagining, I give you this, perhaps the most comprehensive scenery mastication in the history of film:

*Just the most satisfying phrase to say out loud.  Enunciate “shitgibbon” with exquisite clarity to get the full effect.

Because Some Asshattery Needs Its Own Snark

July 28, 2016

I can’t help but love this story:

The [North Carolina] state GOP sent out a tweet Wednesday night saying it was “shameful” for Kaine to wear the flag of Honduras during his speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Kaine was, of course, wearing a Blue Star Service pin, which people wear to signal they’ve a family member on active duty during a war or a conflict.

Here’s a typical version:

s1097

To the wingnut mind, which is to say the Twitter account of the North Caroline GOP, this subtle and simple acknowledgement of pride and moment in a son’s service was the Honduran flag, and Kaine’s brazen display of that unAmerican allegiance was, and I quote, “shameful.”

To which I reply: Morans!

One additional note:  the Military Times article linked above contains an error.  It states that “North Carolina Republicans have apologized to Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine…”

Maybe so, but the only acknowledgement of their feckless, incompetent asshattery I’ve been able to find is a thank you to the person who pointed out what Kaine was actually wearing.  No contrition aimed at the nominee, his son, or the Democratic Party.

Which is to say that the NC GOP is not merely incompetent, feckless and having trouble peering through its own colon; they’re a bunch of ill-mannered boors whose parents should have (and maybe tried to) raise them better.

ETA:  as pointed out by valued commenters Hoodie, Omnes Omnibus, and in a prior thread Raven, the executive director of the state GOP did issue a clear apology to Tim Kaine and his family this afternoon.  So my dudgeon was accurate at the time I first read this story, and was superceded by the time I wrote my snark.  I regret that error — and exactly none of my disdain for the impulse that produced the initial last-refuge-of-scoundrelism.

TL:DR?  “Bless their hearts.”

Image:  from this catalogue.

Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

July 22, 2016

Josh Marshall has a tweet stream going talking about the Trump-Russia alliance.  As he sees it, the Manchurian-by-way-of-Queens Candidate isn’t even trying to hide his alliance with/subservience to Putin.

I’m not sure I wholly believe it, but I can’t come close to ruling it out, and that cranks the dangers of this election up to eleven.  Which is why I found this story a welcome bit of comic relief:

Sargent_MadameX

@IvankaTrump

Shop Ivanka’s look from her #RNC speech: http://bit.ly/29Qj7dE #RNCinCLE

  • 271271 Retweets
  • 748748 likes

This isn’t Ivanka Trump tweeting, technically. It’s @IvankaTrump, but that’s the Twitter handle forIvankaTrump.com. If one has one’s own clothing line, it seems natural that you’d wear pieces from it; perhaps the marketing folks saw an unplanned opportunity to plug the outfit on Twitter. It’s $138 at Macy’s; apparently her father’s boycott of the chain doesn’t apply to her. The garment is described as a “sophisticated sheath dress” that “works wonders at both social and professional occasions” — and, clearly, political ones.

Oh, also? The dress is “imported,” according to its description.

So perhaps this was a just a smart move by the site’s marketing team to capitalize on the moment. Possible. Or perhaps Ivanka Trump has been doing this for the entire convention, posting a series of photos from the event at her website with personalized captions to each — and links to where you can buy all of the things she’s wearing or carrying.

So yeah, maybe the Trump campaign is Putin’s Hail Mary attempt to reverse the outcome of the Cold War.  And maybe it’s just one long grift, the true family business now being carrie on by the smart child.

Of course, there’s no reason that what we’re seeing couldn’t be both a floor wax and a dessert topping.

Image:  John Singer Sargent, Madam X (Madame Pierre Gautreau)1883

Who Needs The Sorting Hat?

July 22, 2016

Here’s a little story to leaven the gloom cast by Nuremberg on the Cuyahoga*…

…I’d guess it’s kind of intuitive, but now we can point to Science! as we divide our fellow Americans into their respective Hogwarts houses.

Trump supporter: Slytherin

The_Sorcerer_poster_with_Marmaduke_and_Sangazure_(1884_revival)

Those who recognize Trump’s cousinhood w. he who must not be named, and that Godwin fellow too — off you go.  It’s Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffendor, as your particular talents and qualities lead you.  [via Lenika Cruz at The Atlantic]:

a forthcoming study from the journal PS: Political Science and Politicsmakes a better case for how lessons learned from fiction can influence people’s political preferences. The researcher Diana Mutz, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, found that Harry Potter book readers are actually more inclined to dislike Trump. This was the case even after Mutz controlled for variables such as age, education, gender, party identification, evangelical identification, and ideology.

The key question here is the arrow of causality, which is what Mutz’s study attempts to study.  As Cruz notes in her write up,

There will always be limits to the usefulness of comparing real people to fictional characters. And so far, there has been only one other empiricalstudy exploring the political impact of reading Harry Potter (unlike Mutz, the researchers didn’t control for important factors such as political ideology.)

But it seems less specious to argue that the bestselling book series of all time could instill values that affected how its readers—especially its younger fans—now think about the world.

I’m not going to depend on my mastery of a Riddikulusspell to deal with the real and deadly serious menace of the Republican nominee.  But perhaps maybe the long-view approach to helping our Trump-dazed Wingnut-American fellow citizens is to hand them a book.  (Or even better, the magnificent audio books for those long, dark, nighttime journeys of the soul.)

A boy can dream.

*Stolen from somewhere on the ‘Tubes, but I can’t remember where.  Apologies to the author…

Image: poster for a revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer1884.

All Hail Acting President Mike Pence!

July 20, 2016

Francisco_Goya_-_Night_Scene_from_the_Inquisition_-_Google_Art_Project

From The New York Times:

One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

Two obvious thoughts:

First:  the Trump folks can’t be bothered to hide the con, not even a little.

Every Trump voter out there, know this:

Remember:  in any good confidence game, most of the work is done by the sucker.  So you Trump voters?  You’re marks. Chumps. Just the latest in the long, long line of folks whom the ferret-headed Mussolini-of-Queens-County has played for losers.  You think you’re electing a tough guy who can get things done? He tells you himself that’s bullshit.

Second: as we confront the FSM-help-us-and-save-us possibility that Trump actually wins come November, who Pence is, what he thinks, and what he wants to do are much more important than they should be, more vital even than the Cheney history would remind us.

And that should scare the living piss out of us.  “Scare” isn’t the right word, actually.  Try “terrify.”  With Trumpismo as the public face of the United States and a theocratic, misogynist, bigoted incompetent administrator with zero effective knowledge/experience of the world beyond our borders in charge of domestic and foreign policy?….

Heed the words of Master Bruce:

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Image: Francisco de Goya, Night Scene from the Inquisition1810