Posted tagged ‘Politics’

Stamina! (And Tactical Thinking)

November 4, 2016

I’ve reached the point where my sleep patterns and the kindness I’m able to show my family demands that I step away from the election noise machine — staying off Twitter as near totally as possible, for example — but I haven’t yet given up one habit: checking the official campaign schedule pages for both Trump and Clinton.

At this stage of the race, the only absolutely equal resource the two sides have is time, and without having any deep insight into the workings of how professionals think about deploying their stock of hours and minutes, I still find it interesting to see what each side is doing.  Right now, there’s quite a contrast.

The Republican ticket lists only what the two principals are doing.  On a quick glance Donald Trump and Mike Pence have eighteen events on their docket between now and Monday evening.  That’s deceptive, however, as the schedule includes two events at which both appear.   So that’s sixteen headlined campaign rallies over the next four days.*

william_hogarth_032

The Clinton/Kaine campaign is doing it differently.  Hillary’s campaign lists not just the ticket’s events, but those of her top surrogates.  Including those gives Clinton/Kaine sixteen events just today.  Two by the candidate (compared to four Trump rallies today, btw), one Kaine-led farrago — to which add appearances by Obama, Biden, Bernie Sanders, Bill C., Chelsea C., and a Cleveland, OH concert headlined by Jay Z. (Props to Bernie, doing four events today, three in IA and one in Nebraska, and then  two more tomorrow, in IA and CO.  Not leaving it on the table is our Senator from VT.)  Twelve tomorrow, without POTUS and Bill, but adding Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder and Jon Bon Jovi appearing in two concerts in PA (Perry and Wonder0 and FL (Bon Jovi).  Sunday and Monday see fewer events, but with similar star power — Obama back on the trail, with Michelle joining him and Clinton, Bill and Chelsea for an election-eve rally in Philadelphia.

In all, and not counting some Cher-led fundraisers, the Democratic campaign has thirty eight events between now and election day.

In terms of geography, the two campaigns basically agree on what’s left to fight about.  Both show up in all the usual suspects: FL, NC, OH, PA, MI, IA, CO, and NH.  Trump, somewhat oddly, heads to NV for the rally that is half his Saturday schedule. (Odd, because early voting ends today in NV, so he’s missing a chance to give a boost to that  process, which will finish with half, perhaps as much of 70% of all ballots cast.)

Clinton, Kaine and their surrogates will skip Nevada but add stops in  Nebraska’s one gettable electoral vote (with a Sanders visit), in Colorado on (four rallies on two different days — three led by Bill Clinton, one by Sanders), and one Joe Biden visit to Wisconsin.

So there you have it:  broad agreement on where this election will be settled (if it isn’t already), and very different deployment of publicly visible resources to fight those battles.  None of this speaks to the ground game or any of the secret sauce which we believe (and I deeply hope) favors the more organized and technically skilled Democratic operation.

Make of it what you will.  For me, this kind of thing helps me detox from election madness. YMMV.  The effect won’t last that long, but I’ll get myself some help by heading to NH to GOTV on Sunday, and probably again on election day.

Open thread!

*An bit of strangeness:  while Trump is indeed making good on his promise to fill a heavy campaign schedule, Pence only has three solo appearances slated.  I’m not sure what that means, if anything — could be Trump doesn’t see the point of spending money on his number two; could be that Pence is dialing it back; could be what the goat’s entrails told someone.

Image:  William Hogarth, Canvassing for Votes, from the Humours of an Election series, 1754-55.

All You Need To Know About Paul Ryan

October 11, 2016

This:

…the speaker is torn between his personal feelings about the tape showing Donald Trump discussing grabbing women by the genitals and his desire to preserve the historic GOP majority in the House of Representatives.

My reaction:

A) Profile in Courage.

edouard_manet_-_the_rabbit_1866

B) Put his picture in the dictionary next to “Party Before Country”

I have many dreams about this election. One that is very unlikely — but less so than a week ago — is that the GOP loses the House, and Ryan loses his seat.

A boy can dream, can’t he?

Image:Éduoard Manet, The Rabbit 1866.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

September 9, 2016

This is a video that will haunt your nightmares:

Go to NPR‘s story on this for a narrated version of the video — and you’ll find that what you see is a bacterial colony developing extraordinary capacities for antibiotic resistance in a shockingly short time — two weeks, or a little less, to go from a naive, wild-type strain to varieties that can resist 1,000 times or more the dosage that killed almost all of the original microbes.

The video is part of the supporting material for a paper published this week in Science .  In a way, there’s nothing new, or rather, nothing surprising here.  Microbial resistance to antibiotics is a phenomenon as old as antibiotics themselves.  (See Alexander Fleming’s Nobel Prize speech, for example).

What’s revealed in this video — and the reseach behind it, of course — is the obvious.  We ain’t going to win any war with bacteria anytime soon.  But in this political season, I’d add another thought:

There are some things at stake in this election that matter rather more than whether one candidate used a not-according-to-Hoyle email server.  Among them are matters of life and death — and not just in the usual sense of decisions about national security or similar matters.  One party, one candidate takes science seriously right now.  The other doesn’t.  Vote like your — and your kids’ — lives depend on it.

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

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:

__________________

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…)

Dear New York Times…

September 2, 2016

Hey, folks.  Been spending way too much time on Twitter lately, ranting about coverage and the election, and hence have sucked up all the would-be blogging time.  But in doing so, I’ve managed to begin a conversation with some folks who actually perform such coverage.  One of them asked me to be specific about a charge they found hard to swallow:  that there is a systematic difference between the way Trump is covered and Clinton is in the major venues.

Rockwell fact and fiction

That correspondent and others pointed out, accurately, that at least since May, and in many cases before then, there have been major, damning, utterly critical stories about Trump.  Given that, wouldn’t complaints about, say, stories on Clinton’s emails or the alleged corruption inherent in the Clinton Foundation-State Department nexus suggest more a partisan reaction, hypersensitive about stories critical of the side I favor, rather than a measured accounting of the full coverage record?

My answer was and that while there are indeed such stories, and that many of the Clinton pieces that have enraged me are at some definition of accuracy perfectly on-the-beam.  But then I go on to say that the question of systematic bias is not about each single story.  Rather, it turns on the entire editorial apparatus of campaign coverage: how those stories are assigned, pursued, resourced, and extended past day one or two coverage, and how the facts within them are set up for interpretation.

That argument leads to an obvious and appropriate response:

Prove it.

It’s going to take me some time to do so across the range of questions I’ve actually received.  But there was a piece in today’s New York Times that provides a case study (the fancy name for anecdata) that offers an example of the gap between fine-scale factual accuracy and a truthful exercise in journalism

For the record:  what I’m attempting to do isn’t simply to say “You Suck!” to The New York Times, the first target of my logorrhea below, or anyone else.  It is to help smart and incredibly hard working people realize what’s often hard to notice deep in the weeds and the mud.  That would be exactly where one is in the maze — which would be the first step to navigating to somewhere better.

With that as prologue, here’s what I just wrote to one of my correspondents.  That reporter challenged me on several points, and I began what will be a multipart response by walking back, just a little,  my somewhat incendiary claim that current campaign coverage reminded me of the Times’ Iraq war lead-in coverage — to which I added my own desire to give a specific example of what I meant by a biased approach to a story.  So here goes, in a slightly edited version of what I sent in private:

________________

…The Iraq War mention isn’t a perfect analogy, I’ll agree:  there’s no comparison to Judith Miller in the Times’ current campaign coverage, and there’s no sign I can see of the editorial or management errors that allowed her coverage (and other stuff too, TBH) such impact.

 The Iraq war serves for me, and I think many critics of the Times as a kind of existence proof:  the Times is capable of major failures that have huge consequences, which means, to me, that it’s important to be very vigilant.  I know this seems obvious, and perhaps even insulting to those inside the organization – but from outside the newsroom, it often appears that the NYT has a difficult time admitting errosr, especially those more complicated than a straightforward factual mistake.   A personal anecdote:  I had drinks some years ago with a NYTimes reporter (still there, not on the politics desk) and at one point in our conversation (late, after a number of rounds) he said something like NYTimes reporters don’t write stuff that’s not true; we get more scrutiny than you believe so we make sure it doesn’t happen. (Fallible memory, some years, but that was the gist).  And I’m sure the scrutiny is there (heck – here I am part of it.) But that was not a reassuring statement, as I think you can see. 

 I’ll get into this more below but my broad framework is that with exceptions, the way the thumb is on the scale (from my point of view) in NYT coverage of the campaign is not at the level you work, on the reporting day by day and the production of individual stories.  It is rather on the editorial apparatus that creates the framework for readers to interpret your coverage.

You ask for specifics – let me give you an example from today’s paper, “Emails Raise New Questions About Clinton Foundation to State Dept.”

[Edited to add:  Hmmm, didn’t realize how long this sucker was on the page. Continued after the newly inserted jump] (more…)

The Best People

August 26, 2016

There is this guy.  He’s running for president.  He himself is not particularly experienced at most (all) of what a president does, but we’re not to worry.

Why not?

Because he’s not the detail guy.  He’s the big picture guy, the boss.  He hires the folks who lift and tote.

But that’s OK.

Why?

Because:

“My motto is ‘Hire the best people…”  (Donald Trump: Think Big, 2007).

And now, let us savor:

Donald Trump’s new presidential campaign chief is registered to vote in a key swing state at an empty house where he does not live, in an apparent breach of election laws.

Stephen Bannon, the chief executive of Trump’s election campaign, has an active voter registration at the house in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which is vacant and due to be demolished to make way for a new development….

John_Sell_Cotman_-_Ruined_House_-_Google_Art_Project

Election officials in Miami-Dade make clear to prospective voters that they are required to actually live in the county and to use their home address in election paperwork. “You must reside in Miami-Dade County,” their website states. It adds: “When you register to vote, an actual residence address is required by law.” A county spokeswoman did not respond to questions relating to Bannon’s situation.

Three neighbors said the house where Bannon is currently registered to vote had been abandoned for three months. When the Guardian visited the property on Thursday a large window in the front aspect was missing. A soiled curtain was blowing through it. The driveway was a mess of tree branches and mud.

Bannon never appeared at the house, according to the neighbors.

What’s most striking is that this apparent prima facie  voter fraud — while the more likely to get Bannon into actual legal difficulties — is in a moral sense the lesser of two scandals that have dropped over the last twenty four hours.  Because we’ve also learned this:

Stephen K. Bannon, the new CEO of the Donald Trump campaign, was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness following an incident in early January 1996, though the case was ultimately dismissed, according to a police report and court documents.

That witness:

The Santa Monica, Calif., police report says that Bannon’s then-wife claimed he pulled at her neck and wrist during an altercation over their finances, and an officer reported witnessing red marks on her neck and wrist to bolster her account. Bannon also reportedly smashed the phone when she tried to call the police.

The details get uglier:

Bannon then got his lawyer on the case, who allegedly “threatened” Piccard and told her she “would have no money [and] no way to support the children” if the case went to trial.

Bannon then told Piccard to skip town.

He said “that if I wasn’t in town they couldn’t serve me and I wouldn’t have to go to court,” she claimed in the document.

Piccard left for two weeks before Bannon’s attorney said she could return, according to the declaration.

“Because I was not present at the trial, the case was dismissed,” she said in the documents.

That second quote is from The New York Post. That would be the Rupert Murdoch-owned Post, which is an added twist to this tale.  What is the true state of Trump-Murdoch relations?

But leave aside that kind of political inside baseball.  The most compelling element to the story of Bannon’s thuggery is that it is an unexpected, deep look into his character.  Through it we can discover what kind of person Donald Trump — a major party nominee for President, with a genuine, non-zero chance of achieving that office — thinks is one of  “the best people.”

It ain’t pretty.  The Post‘s coverage continues:

Bannon had allegedly also earlier told Picccard, who was then his girlfriend and the expectant mother of their twin girls, that he would only agree to marry her if the kids were “normal.”

He married her on April 14, 1995, three days before the twins were born.

George_Romney_-_Mother_and_Child_-_Google_Art_Project_(2220591)

Worst of all — at least it seems to me — Bannon is a man who would do this:

Piccard alleged in another document that Bannon believed in corporal punishment for the girls, even though he rarely saw them.

She cited as one example that Bannon allegedly spanked one of his toddler daughters to try to stop her from hitting her head against the crib.

Piccard claimed that when she intervened, he exploded, calling her “f—ing crazy” and saying if he hadn’t been interrupted, “she wouldn’t be banging her head anymore.”

Beating any adult is reprehensible.  Whacking on a child, a toddler? (And no, I don’t think “spanking” in this context is likely to have been a gentle swat on the bum.)  There are special circles of hell in my Inferno for those folks.

I left out the last half of the Trump quote at top.  In full, it reads “My motto is ‘Hire the best people, and don’t trust them.’”

As none should him.

Images:  John Sell Cotman, Ruined House betw. 1807 and 1810.

George Romney, Mother and Childundated, before 1802.