Archive for the ‘words mattter’ category

Dear Washington Post

September 6, 2016

Here’s another slightly edited dispatch from my ongoing off-social-media conversation with some political reporters on the obvious implicit bias I see in coverage of Clinton vs. Trump.  The reporters I’ve engaged publicly and privately don’t see it that way — and they are, I firmly believe, sincere and honest in that belief.  So the task, as I see it, is to build the argument story by story and (as possible) in analysis of the sum of coverage, that they’re wrong, and to do so in a way that honest and expert reporters can read, analyze, and, I hope, become persuaded by.

What caught my eye today was this article in the Washington Post, “Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘Honorary Chancellor’ of a for-profit university,” by Rosalind S. Hellerman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee.  That story has received professional praise as a well reported deep dive — and it is!  Really.

School of athents

By that I mean:  it is definitely a long (2604 words) and detailed dissection of Bill Clinton’s involvement with Laureate University, a major international for profit higher-ed company.  The reporters play fair by the rules of the craft:  they show their work, and a reader can see where each individual fact comes from.

But does that make it a good story, an honest one, or one that within the larger story — that of the 2016 presidential election — meets basic standards of journalism as it serves readers interests?

Not at all.

That’s what I argued below in my note to one of my correspondents.  Here, the point is that the elite political press — like any group of people working on the same stuff in substantial isolation from the outside world — has its own professional criteria for excellence.  They’ve got a value system and an expectation or understanding of what represents good work or bad.  They’re not all wrong in that.

But as far as I can see from the outside, theirs is a bunker-dwelling, mostly technical standard: well reported = good, for example.  I don’t think that there is a conspiracy at the Times  or the Post, or CNN or what have you simply to shiv the Clintons.

But what I think outside the bunker (and please do recall:  a presidential campaign is a mind-and-body deranging experience; these folks really are working without access to a lot of the reality checks that could help) those of us who are looking at the coverage both closely and synoptically see the problem not as one of reporting, but of coverage.

That is, what matters is the way stories are assigned, framed, their narratives interpreted within each piece, how they’re edited and placed (2604 words!) affects the overall message readers and the electorate as a whole receive.

Thus, the ongoing and increasingly inexplicable failure of The New York Times to engage what should be a burgeoning Trump bribery scandal with state attorneys general and Trump U.  Thus all the stories on the Clinton foundation which (a) failed to show what was implied and (b) omitted crucial context, like the Bush Foundation headed by a Powell.  And thus today’s story, in which two good reporters distill what had to have been a substantial amount of work that taken all-in-all demonstrates that Bill Clinton made a lot of money while there was, in the words of the story itself, “no evidence that Laureate received special favors from the State Department in direct exchange for hiring Bill Clinton…”

What there was, instead, was a reason to ask whether or not such special favors might have taken place.  The answer was no.

There the story should have ended.  But because this was the Clintons, and this is the elite political press, it was impossible to accept that answer.  Hence what is a type specimen for how the press is getting this election wrong — with potentially disastrous consequences.

With that as prologue (I know…logorrhea…), my breakdown of the piece for my journalist-contact.  We began by marveling at the size of Bill’s fee — which truly is pretty astonishing:

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I agree with you on the sum, though from where I sit, with my full time job in higher education (and a professor’s kid, and w. two professor-siblings and, and, and…) what bothers me most about that clearly outsize wage is that it is less of an outlier than it should be.  As I’m sure you know, top academic positions at a lot of places are now paid at seven figure levels.  A million or so/year as a college president  is different from $3.6 million/year as an honorary chairman, certainly.  But it’s also true (and a scandal) that higher ed, both non and for profit has headed down the same path for CEO and senior management compensation that large businesses have.  That’s troubling.

But what got me about the story was the contrast between the reporting craft you rightly recognize: meticulous, detailed pursuit of both individual incidents and the financial details…and the lack of any substance to the clear thrust of the story: that this was another example of soft corruption in the Clinton family.  You look at the lede and it clearly asserts a pay-off.  Clinton invites someone to a working dinner who is an FOB, who later hires Bill for lots of money.   (more…)

My Gob is Smacked Past All Smackeration. Thanks, Rudy

August 15, 2016

Just a quicky here, as I can’t resist this:

Speaking in Youngstown, Ohio ahead of Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, who was the mayor of New York City on 9/11, declared that Islamic extremists hadn’t carried out any terror attacks on American soil before Barack Obama’s presidency.

“Under those 8 years, before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the US,” Giuliani told the crowd. “They all started when Clinton and Obama came into office.”

Video here.

Just as a reminder.  That would be Rudy “Noun, Verb, 9/11” Giuliani.

The_Rage_of_Achilles_by_Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo

This is beyond hateful.  This is, as Charles Pierce has often said, yet more evidence that the GOP has been consumed by prion disease.  Really, it’s  just…pitiable…

Wretched…

Terrifying…

Absurd…

…Aw, hell.  I got nuthin’.  You?

Image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Rage of Achilles1757.

Compare and Contrast

August 10, 2016

Hillary, today in the Church of Latter-Day Saints owned Deseret News:

Trump’s Muslim ban would undo centuries of American tradition and values. To this day, I wonder if he even understands the implications of his proposal. This policy would literally undo what made America great in the first place.

But you don’t have to take it from me. Listen to Mitt Romney, who said Trump “fired before aiming” when he decided a blanket religious ban was a solution to the threat of terrorism.

Listen to former Sen. Larry Pressler, who said Trump’s plan reminded him of when Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs singled out Mormons in his infamous extermination order of 1838.

Or listen to your governor, who saw Trump’s statement as a reminder of President Rutherford B. Hayes’ attempt to limit Mormon immigration to America in 1879.

Instead of giving into demagoguery, Gov. Gary Herbert is setting a compassionate example and welcoming Syrian refugees fleeing religious persecution and terrorism. Once they’ve gone through a rigorous screening process, he is opening your state’s doors to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

Americans don’t have to agree on everything. We never have. But when it comes to religion, we strive to be accepting of everyone around us. That’s because we need each other. And we know that it so often takes a village — or a ward — working together to build the change we hope to see.

The Polyester Cockwomble, uttering word-like strings of sound in the Old Dominion State:

Trump himself made a veiled reference to the flap during a rally Wednesday in Abingdon, Va., protesting media coverage and drawing loud applause by telling the crowd that “the Second Amendment is under siege” from Clinton and other politicians.

738px-Paul_Cézanne_-_The_Murder_-_Google_Art_Project

Thomas Friedman in today’s The New York Times (sic! I know):

During the Republican convention, with its repeated chants about Clinton of “lock her up,” a U.S.-based columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, Chemi Shalev, wrote: “Like the extreme right in Israel, many Republicans conveniently ignore the fact that words can kill. There are enough people with a tendency for violence that cannot distinguish between political stagecraft and practical exhortations to rescue the country by any available means. If anyone has doubts, they could use a short session with Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, who was inspired by the rabid rhetoric hurled at the Israeli prime minister in the wake of the Oslo accords.”

People are playing with fire here, and there is no bigger flamethrower than Donald Trump. Forget politics; he is a disgusting human being. His children should be ashamed of him. I only pray that he is not simply defeated, but that he loses all 50 states so that the message goes out across the land — unambiguously, loud and clear: The likes of you should never come this way again.

Me, on the subject of  the “inarticulate” excuse for Trump’s “Who will rid me…” meditation on political assassination:

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The first Tuesday in November can’t come too soon.

Image:  Paul Cezanne, The Murder, 1867-70.

Verbum Sat Sapienti Est…Or Maybe Not

June 6, 2016

Try as I might, I cannot for the life of me figure out this from Gauleiter Drumpf:

I am getting bad marks from certain pundits because I have a small campaign staff. But small is good, flexible, save money and number one!

“Save money and number one!”  So his number lines begin at two?  He and his staff promise to pee less?  He’s running for a job as the Count’s assistant?

I read that tweet in light of this analysis of Trump’s purported advantage over Clinton, made by a once and (at least so he hopes so) future Republican candidate-whisperer:

“She is fighting a conventional war and he is fighting an asymmetrical war, and I don’t think that bodes well for her,” said Terry Sullivan, a Republican strategist. Mr. Sullivan has a unique perspective on the question, as the former manager of Senator Marco Rubio’s vanquished presidential campaign.

Trump’s secret weapon according to Sullivan:  feed the beast.  Constantly.

The primary lesson: “The solution is always more content, not less,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Partly, this is just grift.  Here’s how the reporter, James Rutenberg acquired that earth-shattering insight:

Mr. Sullivan; the former Rubio communications adviser Alex Conant; and a lawyer for Mr. Rubio, Will Holley, had reached out to me to discuss their new consulting firm, Firehouse Strategies. It’s based on the premise that Mr. Trump has rewritten the rules of modern communications strategy, and candidates and corporations need to take heed.

But what strikes me in this Firehoser’s argument is his apparent ignorance of everything that’s happened in media beyond politics over the last decade.  “Always more content” turns all content into noise soon enough.

Trump may have a bit of a first mover advantage in his dominance of the sclerotic political mediascape, but I think (a) that’s wearing thin, and one of the shocks of last week for the Trump camp was the degree to which their former lapdogs in the media have turned on them.

Frans_Snyders_-_Hounds_Bringing_down_a_Boar_-_WGA21530

And more important, (b):   as a number of people have pointed out Trump’s got a long haul problem: when the brand is escalation, at some point you’re promising to build a wall to bar the Red Lectroids from Planet Ten — paid for by the takings from Vogon poetry readings.

Which is to say, There’s much to be done to stomp his campaign into utter oblivion, but if texts like the Drumpf-tweet up top represent the current state of his content stream, I’m OK with that.

Image:  Frans Snyders, Hounds Bringing Down A Boar (couldn’t resist), before 1650.

They Are Who We Thought They Were

May 16, 2016

Exhibit A, from Trump’s “butler”*

Anthony Senecal told West Virginia newspaper The Martinsburg Journal on Friday—one day after a Secret Service agent called Senecal regarding online comments he made calling for Obama’s death—that he believes the President is a “traitor” who deserves to be killed.

…“I think they (Secret Service) wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to go there with a rifle,” Senecal told the newspaper. “I told them it was too far to drive…

The 84-year-old…told the newspaper that he stands by the comments he made in his Facebook posts.

*I swear that has to be code for some other function. Pharmaceutical grade toad purveyor, perhaps?

And then, there’s this guy, who is actually (attempting) to stake a claim on Washington:

“Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call President, because he’s an animal, OK — seven and a half years, has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country…

Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_The_Shipwreck_-_Google_Art_Project

It’s hard to pick where to start.  Should it be with the backwards-jacket level delusions concerning Obama-the-Destroyer (damn that doubling of the stock market; damn that cut in unemployment by half; how will we survive millions of our fellow Americans gaining access to health care; how wretched it is for our troops not to be on their fourth or fifth deployment and so on).

No: it is with the raw racism — enabled since 2009 (and really, since 1968) by the more “genteel” members of the Republican Party, who have made the fact of a black President such a horror to those who know in their bones that such a event cannot be permitted to happen in any well-behaved universe.

So yeah, while it’s easy to point and laugh at an aging crazy who perhaps sipped too much of whatever it was he brought The Donald, or to slap down Beruff’s vile manners, never forget the story behind the story:  these folks feel empowered to speak of the best president of a generation (or more) as if he were disqualified from the human race by those who trained ’em up.

There are lots of reasons the Republican Party must not merely be defeated this fall, but wrecked, utterly.

This is one.

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, The Shipwreck1805

Point And Laugh

April 14, 2016

Yes, the Democratic primary has entered its manic and ugly phase.  Yes, I’d dearly love to see Bernie show some sign he truly cares about getting either Democrat into the White House before any other ambition.  And damn-straight I’m ready to just make it all stop.

But it could be worse.  We could have to face this from one of our own candidates:

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful holiday for our friends in the Jewish community – the Passover,” Kasich told reporters after emerging from the matzah bakery, a box of the fresh-baked stuff in hand.

Yes, Jews are known to love The Passover, almost as much they love The Pre-Election Drop-By from vote-seeking politicians.

…Kasich then launched into a brief appraisal of the links between Passover and, um, the blood of Jesus Christ.

“The great link between the blood that was put above the lampposts” – er, you mean doorposts, governor — “the blood of the lamb, because Jesus Christ is known as the lamb of God. It’s his blood, we believe …” [forwarded by a valued reader]

Putz doesn’t even begin to describe the schmendrick who would say such a thing.  Putz is too grand a word, to expansive.  Kasich is a schmeckel, a schtickl, a petseleh, someone of so little use as to be barely worth noticing.

'A_Fool's_Fool'_by_Thomas_Shields_Clarke

But oy gevalt is this dumb.  I got two words for Kasich’s advance team:  blood libel.  There’s no bottom to the evil that comes from associating Jewish rituals with the blood of Jesus — and no limit to the stupid it takes to wander into such a thicket.  Ignorance is a pathetic excuse — to the point of being disqualifying (at least for any Jewish voter I know) in a would-be president.

It gets better, which is to say not so much worse as more bathetic.  Before hitting the matzoh bakery, Kasich tried to hang with some yeshiva bochers at a bookstore who told him that they were studying Talmud, specifically, the laws of the Sabbath.  Kasich’s comeback?

“You know who I like?” Kasich finally said. “Joseph. You guys like Joseph?”

Yeah, John.  Just like we enjoy the top ten commandments.

It is to laugh.  And to mutter a little blessing:

Thank the FSM this guy is their problem, not ours.

Image:  Thomas Shields, A Fool’s Foolc. 1887.

Glad That’s Clear

August 28, 2015

Sargent_MadameX

Ben Carson on the real battleground for the Republican War On Something To Do With Women:

“They tell you that there’s a war on women,” he said. “There is no war on women. There may be a war on what’s inside of women, but there is no war on women in this country.” [via Raw Story, w. a h/t to TPM]

I’m so glad that’s clear.  Ladies: you’re alright.  Your ladybits, not so much.

Carson, I may remind you, is running second in recent GOP presidential primary polling.

(another, perhaps apposite image comes below the fold as it is NSFW in a fine art kind of way.) (more…)