Category Archives: Media

Today, all celebrities are more than 50 years old

AARP 1

Harry Harris brought up AARP, which reminded me of something I noticed on the way out the door this morning.

All of a sudden, all truly famous celebrities, all the big names, are over 50.

That hit me when I noticed the latest AARP magazine on our kitchen table, with Steve Martin on the cover. Of course, we all knew Steve Martin was old — he was white-headed when all the world was young.

But the more I’m exposed to this magazine — I never pick it up, but I do notice the covers — the more I’m convinced that everyone famous is now older than 50.

Look at the recent covers above and below.

  • Dustin Hoffman — We boomers think of him as the ultimate exemplar of youthful angst. If he made a move on someone Mrs. Robinson’s age now, she wouldn’t give him a second glance.
  • Bruce Springsteen — OK, I get it: Everyone called “boss” is a white guy over 50, right? Except in this case, he’s more than 60.
  • Michael J. Fox — Yep. This time Marty McFly has traveled way, WAY into the future.
  • Diane Keaton — OK, we saw this happening over the years. What can be said about it? That’s life. La-dee-dah, la-dee-dah
  • Kevin Spacey — Again, not surprising.
  • Dennis Quaid — I remember when “The Big Easy” came out, and a review called him something like “our best breezy young actor.” I’ll always picture him with that crewcut, playing the brash young Gordon Cooper in “The Right Stuff.”
  • Brad Pitt — OK, I’m not sure this was actually a cover. I think this was something AARP does when they’re calling out a celebrity for crossing the line. Anyway, I read something recently about him and other big-name actors not getting the great roles any more, as Hollywood turns away from big names and relies on interchangeable young actors named “Chris.” I’d link to the story, but I can’t find it now.
  • Kevin Costner — Remember the goofy, gawky gunslinger in “Silverado?” Now he might have to turn to playing the crotchety, grizzled prospector, à la Gabby Hayes.
  • Ron Howard — Opie! I see Opie on those reruns now and I think of my grandson — not someone old enough to be a grandfather himself.
  • Denzel Washington — We’ve watched him get gray, but did you know he’s 62?
  • Cyndi Lauper — Now you know why she keeps dyeing her hair those crazy colors. It’s not just to have fun.
  • Sharon Stone — Which, of course, is why you don’t hear about her any more.

Sure, there are some recognizable celebrities who are under 50. There’s um, Taylor Swift! And that little Bruno Mars guy. And maybe one or two others. Dave Matthews? Nope — he’s 50. All those superhero actors named “Chris” don’t count, by the way. A celebrity needs to stand out distinctively.

When I was young, not even the OLD stars my parents liked were over 50. Take 1965, which I have written about in the past as the most fevered time American popular culture (it was for me because I had just returned from years in South America without TV, and soaking up pop culture was like overdosing on a powerful drug — but I don’t think it was just me).

Dean Martin was 48. Frank Sinatra didn’t turn 50 until the end of that year, and he seemed ancient! Kirk Douglas, father of the now 72-year-old Michael, was only 49. James Garner, who was born looking like somebody’s dad, was 37. Nat King Cole, who died that year and whose daughter now graces the cover of AARP, was only 45.

While all the celebs we kids were interested in were in their 20s, if not teens.

Anyway, that’s the way I remember it. Your mileage may, you know…

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The WSJ’s pricing pushes me over to the NYT

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When I was in college, one of my journalism professors told me that The Wall Street Journal was perhaps the best-written paper in the country. I didn’t discover how right he was until decades later.

As editorial page editor, I had print subscriptions to the Journal and The New York Times, plus The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The Post and Courier, The Greenville News, The Charlotte Observer and so forth. And I’d try to at least skim the Journal and the Times (as about the only person on the board who wrote about national and international issues, I felt the need to keep up).

But I really got into the Journal when The State made a deal to distribute that paper along our circulation routes. As part of that deal, we got a certain number of comp copies, so I arranged to have one delivered free to my house, brought by the same carrier who delivered The State. I wanted to get the Times at home, too, but the guy who contracts with them in this area refuses to deliver on my side of the river, or so I hear (Samuel Tenenbaum, who also lives in Lexington County, drives to the Publix in Lexington each morning to get his copy.)

I really got hooked on it. This was during the years that Murdoch was turning it into a national-international reporting powerhouse as well as just a financial paper. Every day I looked forward to the three pages of opinion, and on the weekends there was the wonderful Review section, always a feast for the mind.

The Journal wasn’t just a boon to me; my wife took the old copies with her when she tutored a Somali Bantu boy whose family our church was sponsoring, to help him with his English.

But after I got laid off, I had to make a decision whether to keep getting it and paying for it myself. And somehow, I managed to scrape along and keep doing it until sometime late last year, when my subscription ran out and they were not giving me a good-enough deal to keep it going.

To give some perspective: For the last two or three years, I’ve been subscribing to The Washington Post for $29 a year. Online only, but that’s fine — not only do they not circulate here, but I read all my papers on the iPad now. By contrast, I’ve been offered “deals” by WSJ for as much as $400-plus a year.

I chalk that up to the Journal continuing to be a paper that people pay for through their work expenses — or, if they pay for it themselves, they can afford it. I can’t.

To be fair, they kept offering me “professional courtesy” rates, usually about $99 for six months. And I’d think about it and shake my head — $99 for a year, maybe (which I think they offered me in years past). But not six months. Not when I’m getting the Post for $29 a year, and at a time when Jeff Bezos has been investing in the newsroom, and the paper’s political coverage is at least as good as it has ever been. Meanwhile, the WSJ has ditched the Arena section I use to enjoy on Fridays.

It was easy to pass up on these offers at first because, for some reason, the Journal was still letting me read the paper on my iPad app. Since that’s the way I prefer to read it anyway, no problem. But eventually — several weeks ago — they got wise and cut me off there, too.

So, I started reading The Guardian in the mornings in place of the Journal. It’s free, although they keep asking me to be nice and pay. But they don’t do it the right way. I think The Guardian‘s a great read, but they pitch it as though I’d want to support their editorial view, and I can’t go there.

Then, last week, The New York Times came at me with a proposition I couldn’t refuse — I could get the whole paper online for $7.50 a month — or $12.20 a month if I wanted the crossword, and one additional subscription for a friend. Why was this a good deal? Well, I was already subscribing to the NYT crossword iPad app, and was paying $6.99 a month for that alone. (Which I thought was really exorbitant, since I get The New Yorker on my iPad for only $5.99 a month, but hey, I enjoy the crosswords — at least, I do on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.)

So basically, I’d still get my crosswords, and then get the rest of the paper for only $5.51 — or $66.12 a year. With the offer expiring on Sunday, I pulled the trigger Saturday night.

Now, some of you will say — you won’t pay for The Guardian because of its editorial position, but you switch from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times — the national icons of the right and left, respectively — as though they were interchangeable?

Yep. Because they’re both great, well-written and -edited papers that bring me the world, and offer me something I enjoy reading on every page. Including the editorial pages. I probably disagree with both papers’ editorial boards about equally. But the opinions, especially the op-eds, are lively and though-provoking. And I’m not one of these people who has to agree with a view to enjoy reading it — in fact, I don’t understand such people.

Anyway, it had gotten to where my favorite columnist in the WSJ was Bret Stephens — and he just moved over to the NYT. As I start reading the paper daily, I expect my favorites will be the ones who skew right — Stephens, David Brooks, Ross Douthat — even as my favorites in the WSJ were more to the left, on the rare days when such was to be had.

Anyway, y’all will likely see me citing stories in the Times as much as I used to from the Journal. (Y’all had probably long ago noticed that I point you to the Post a lot.) I’m sure y’all will give me a heads-up if you think I’m getting reprogrammed…

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The NYT makes a mistake, and Bryan and I have a spirited discussion about it

I had a dental appointment at 8 this morning, which meant I arrived there uncaffeinated, intending to eat afterward.

To keep from dozing off while the dentist and hygienist were out of the room, I looked at Twitter, and saw this from Bryan:

And I’m like, say what? Has @realdonaldtrump taken over Bryan’s feed? I glanced quickly over the link provided, but couldn’t tell what he was trying to convey by the time people came back into the room and made me open my mouth again.

When I got into my car to leave, I saw I had a couple of direct messages from Bryan, to this effect:

I hope Palin sues the hell out of the NYT.

and:

I mean, if you want “fake news” it’s right there.

Huh? I replied,

You have the advantage of me, sir. As the foremast jacks would say, what are you on about?

I then drove downtown to get some breakfast. And coffee. When I got there, I found the following messages:

The NYT “Editorial Board” wrote a piece about the Scalise shooting. They specifically blame Palin for Loughner shooting Giffords. Explicitly.b3f68215788bf24bfc7cc42223023a42_400x400

However, it has been specifically, demonstrably proven that Loughner had no idea about Palin, AND THAT WAS IN THE NYT back in 2011.

So the accusation in today’s editorial is demonstrably false according to the NYT itself.

Which, to my legal mind, is evidence of actual malice and enough to support a libel claim.

Do Editorial Boards not run things by lawyers on a regular basis? I can’t imagine any lawyer would have let them make this claim in today’s editorial.

… which was lot to take in during one’s first cup. I replied:

Well, I haven’t seen the reference, but obviously, no one intended to make a false claim. No one knew that they were doing so. They would have zero motivation for doing that. And when you don’t know something you’re referring to is problematic, why on earth would you consult a lawyer?

From Bryan:

Just saying, this editorial is completely counterproductive to having both sides come together, not to mention utterly wrong.

And it was exactly what I predicted and exactly why I hoped the shooter wasn’t left-wing.

It’s another example of why lots of folks don’t trust big news outlets.

You can’t be “the paper of record” and get something factually wrong six year later.

Me:

Well, there are two things going on here. There’s the point the NYT is making, and there’s the error that was made in a reference to a different case. Critics see a connection between the two. I don’t.

“You can’t be ‘the paper of record’ and get something factually wrong six year later.” Of COURSE you can. Let’s suppose for a moment the NYT is the best paper in the world, as it believes it is. It would still make errors, regularly. You seem to be assuming omniscience on he part of the editors, and therefor not only intent, but malicious intent. You show me a long profile about this Loughner guy, and I’m taking your word that somewhere down in it, there’s something that negates the reference in that editorial. Then, you seem to assume that everyone who works at the Times, being omniscient, HAD to know that that fact existed, buried in a profile that appeared in the paper SIX YEARS AGO. Do you not see how unlikely your assumptions are?

Bryan:

It’s not hard to avoid saying false things you know are false.

Me:

“It’s not hard to avoid saying false things you know are false.” That’s 100 percent true. But I fail to see what that assertion has to do with the present case.

Bryan:

I assume the Editors of the NYT are informed about important things reported in their own newspaper. This wasn’t an obscure event.

I don’t think you have to be omniscient to know there was zero evidence linking Loughner to Palin.

Me:

I think our disconnect arises from the differences in our experiences. An attorney has months, sometimes years, to pursue and research anything and everything that might bear upon the case he’s presenting. Try going from concept to publication in half an hour.

Bryan:

Maybe. Might not be the best defense in court, though.

 Me:

The fact that Gifford got shot was not an obscure event. The footnote you refer to most certainly was. I couldn’t have told you the guy’s name was Loughner…

 “Might not be the best defense in court, though.” Actually, it is. Without intent — and if you think about this, you HAVE to see no one would make such a mistake intentionally (and I’m still taking your word that it’s a mistake, since Google isn’t helping me find independent evidence outside of Breitbart et al.) — you can’t have malice.

I then drove to work. By the time I got here, Bryan had written:

I think the fact that it was in their own newspaper is enough to show malice. Maybe a jury would disagree with me, but I think it’s certainly enough to get to a jury and survive a summary judgment motion. If Pailin asked me, I would take the case.

Could be some prize money in it.

And as long as I didn’t have former editorial page editors on my jury, I’d feel pretty good about my chances.

Oh, and related: This editorial is how you get more Trump. If you are someone who is anti-Trump, you should discourage this sort of erroneous editorial. It’s going to make it easy for him to run against the NYT et al. when they continue to make it easy for him to do so with editorials like this.

I’m against this editorial for that reason (it enables Trump), for the reason that it breeds distrust and reinforces existing distrust, and breeds contempt between opposing viewpoints. Literally no good comes from this awful piece.

As you can see, the NYT has now issued a correction, completely retracting their false claim – so you can stop taking my word for it that it was an incorrect claim.

Oh, it it fits into my previous point (a few weeks ago) about the “fake news” being this paradigm: (1) false story trumpeted out from large media source and then repeated by lots of other sources; (2) it’s proven to be factually wrong; (3) retraction/correction is made, but it doesn’t get the same fanfare the original wrong statement did; (4) general public never remembers the correction.

Ok. I’m off my soapbox. I’ll be getting back to some actual legal work now. Cheers.

Now that I was at the office and on my laptop (making typing less laborious), I concluded:

“I think the fact that it was in their own newspaper is enough to show malice. Maybe a jury would disagree with me…” It certainly would if a single person who had a clue about the newspaper business was on the jury. Because the expectation that the editors HAD to know about that point of fact buried in a profile six years ago is one of the wildest things I’ve heard this week.

Bryan, I want to drop this, but every time I get back to Twitter I see multiple assertions I have to address… “This editorial is how you get more Trump.” Yeah, and it would be a bad idea to intentionally publish editorials that contain errors — except no one would be crazy enough to do that! Can’t you see the fundamental flaw in making that point?

As for your complaint about the corrections process, another thing that could only come from a non-journalist (seriously, what is your practical suggestion for an alternative), please examine your words: “false story trumpeted out from large media source.” What “false story?” “Trumpeted how?” One would think that “trumpeting” would at least, at LEAST entail a headline, and to in any way match your indignation here, the headline would have to be large, and would have to say, “Sarah Palin goes around encouraging mass killers.” Instead, this involved an erroneous assertion of fact that was NOT the point of the piece. And your evidence that it was malicious is that there was, once upon a time (six freaking years ago!) there was a lengthy news story that also, deep down, contained something that refuted that fact — as assertion of fact that, just like the current instance, was not the main point being made, or even close to it! It would be outrageous to expect every editor at a paper to remember every HEADLINE that had appeared in the paper in the past six years, much less every single assertion of fact that could be found in every single story!

You know, there’d be a lot fewer arguments like this if, as part of everyone’s civic education, everybody in the country were required to work at a newspaper for a month. It would stop arguments like this before they start…

Of course, my solution is impractical, because to fully get what I’m saying, you’d have to be a senior editor for that month — and you can’t be that without years of experience, experience that would necessarily make the month unnecessary. Here’s the bottom line: To an editor worth his salt, every error is intolerable, and inexcusable, and must never happen again. But of course, it will. And all you can do is correct it. Used to be, you had a whole day to sort things out and make the correction. Now, if you haven’t completely refuted yourself within a couple of hours, the world has a coronary…

Folks, I don’t care what you think of The New York Times, but I’m here to tell you, it is a credible institution — about as credible as you’re likely to find in this sin-stained world.

And its editors — like every editor I’ve ever known or worked with — would rather get a hard punch in the face than make a mistake like that. It’s excruciatingly painful. Any editor I know spends his or her days and sleepless nights worrying about errors like that, and doing everything he or she can to avoid it.

Think for a moment: What in the world do you think would be an editor’s motivation to screw up like that intentionally? I can’t imagine, but maybe you’ll come up with a reason that will surprise me.

Whatever else you come away from this discussion with, I hope you absorb that one point…

Left, right; left, right; left, right… Give it a REST, people!

congressional

This morning, I was surprised to see that The Washington Post didn’t lead with their big scoop, which I had heard about on the radio first thing, on my way to my 8 a.m. dental appointment:

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said…

That’s so much bigger than other turn-of-the-screw stories that have led the paper in recent months.

Instead, the paper led with the congressional-baseball shooting, which of course is HUGE, especially if you’re published in Washington, but there was nothing new since last night. Rep. Scalise (may God send his healing grace upon him) was in critical condition yesterday, and he still was today.

But I guess I was wrong, based on what I heard on the radio later on a call-in show. Apparently the latest murderous nut-job case was Filled With Historic Political Significance, to hear what folks were saying.

Sorry that I didn’t take notes — I was driving — but it went kind of like this:

A man calls in and blames the shooting on the Left. After all, this guy was a lefty (so of course every liberal in the country was to blame). And he was made about Trump (so everyone who is mad that Trump is president is to blame). He had some kind of complicated theory about this all being part of the Left’s campaign against free speech, somehow connected to all the silly “safe zone” nonsense on college campuses. He explained that people were expressing themselves politically by electing these Republican lawmakers, who were delegated to speak for those people, and this guy was trying to shut them up by killing.

He was immediately followed by a woman who had zero hesitation about blaming it on the Right. After all, Trump had encouraged violence at his rallies, and didn’t Ted Nugent say something about assassinating Obama, and Trump invited him to hang out for hours at the White House? Therefore, she implied, everyone to the right of center was to blame for this, yadda-yadda.

Oh, come on, people! This isn’t a left-right thing. I mean, I was pretty disturbed by the whole Bernie Sanders billionaires-are-oppressing-us-all-and-we-must-get-angry-and-rise-up-against-them shtick, but it’s an outrage to suggest that even Bernie Sanders (whom the shooter supported) is in any way to blame for this, much less every other liberal in the country.

Obviously, such thinking must be refuted. But to do so by trying to turn it around and blame on conservatives everywhere is equally absurd.

Give it a rest, people! Not everything is an expression of the left-right dichotomy that you seem to think explains everything in the world. In fact, most things aren’t.

What we have here is a nut, one who went on a murderous rampage for reasons particular to him, which we’ll never know for sure because, as a result of what he did, he’s dead.

If there’s a political point to be made, it’s the one I made yesterday: It’s too easy for homicidal nuts to get their hands on guns. If we’d all like to have a constructive conversation about doing something to prevent that, great. But in this atmosphere, I’m not holding my breath…

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We have public libraries. Why not public broadcasting?

Last night's reception at the library.

Last night’s reception at the library.

Last night I was pleased to attend a reception unveiling the remodeled portions of Richland Library, which also served in a way as a celebration of the fact that the library was recently named one of the nation’s best.

The library is indeed something that we have to be proud of in this community, even though some of us (ahem!) aren’t allowed to check books out because we sleep across the river. Seriously, though, it’s awesome. (At this point I must note that ADCO did the library’s rebrand awhile back, and my daughter-in-law works there.)

Anyway, this came back to mind this morning when I was reading George Will’s Sunday column harrumphing about funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (“Public broadcasting’s immortality defies reason.”)

He trotted out all the usual libertarian, market-oriented objections, such as:

  1. It might have been all well and good in the 1960s, when it was started as part of LBJ’s Great Society (about which, as you’d expect, Will has snotty things to say). Back then, it increased most people’s TV choices by 33 percent. But if it were gone today, it would reduce folk’s choices from, say, 500 channels to 499.
  2. The elite snobs who like it are generally affluent enough to pay for their chosen recreation and edification themselves, without forcing Joe Sixpack to cough up taxes for it.
  3. If Big Bird et al. have value (and Will is willing to stipulate that they do, in a market sense, which to him is what counts), advertisers and broadcasters would line up to eagerly purchase them and take over would CPB cease to be.

Here’s how I answer those:

  1. That’s like saying we don’t need libraries because there are (or used to be) bookstores, and Amazon. Well, yes, those things are fine enough for those who can afford them, but they have a tendency toward the lowest common denominator — reality TV and other garbage. Occasionally, commercial TV has started to do what CPB does — remember how A&E and Bravo started out, before sliding into what Will would term inanition — but the market has yet to produce anything that regularly airs such material as “King Charles III” or “The Civil War” (just to name a couple of personal faves; you may have others.)
  2. Sorry, but even if everyone doesn’t want it, public amenities — from parks to libraries to public schools — are there to better our communities in ways that the market will not. And Joe Sixpack has the same ability to vote for what he wants our tax money to be spent on that I do. Not everyone will agree with every expenditure, but these are the little trade-offs involved in living in communities rather than as hermits. The government (in this country) is not some separate thing out there doing things to us. It is us, and every one of us has the right and the obligation to express what we want it to do — which I am doing at this moment. (Oh, and not all elite snobs are made of money, just as an aside in response to an assertion that is neither here nor there.)
  3. Yes, they may, and then we’d have to watch commercials every 10 seconds. And eventually, all that we would get would be the content that maximized profits, and we’d lose other things that might make a little money but not enough, things that very well be the best of the lot. The marketplace gives us all sorts of wonderful things, from iPads to, um, iPhones (if I had more time, I’d surely think of something else), but I think an important function of the public sphere is to give us good things that the market will not. And if you wonder what sorts of things those might be, go watch some PBS or listen to NPR.

Finally, Will makes a point that in the abstract is devastating and unassailable, especially if you’re a journalist:

America, which is entertaining itself to inanition, has never experienced a scarcity of entertainment. Or a need for government-subsidized journalism that reports on the government. Before newspaper editorial writers inveigh against Mulvaney and in support of government subsidies for television and radio, they should answer this question: Should there be a CPN — a Corporation for Public Newspapers?

Well, no, of course not. But then, we’ve long made a distinction between the press and the use of the public airwaves. The Fairness Doctrine and so forth.

Still, it’s a powerful argument: Government-run news, globally, is the mark of the totalitarian, repressive state.

But then we have the actual fact, right in front of us, of PBS and NPR news programming. And to any objective observer (especially a professional one), they are of such such vastly higher quality than commercial broadcast news that it’s stunning. They are every bit as fair and impartial if not more so, and the depth and quality puts everything (except the better print outlets) in the shade.

It shouldn’t be so. But in reality, it is.

I’m reminded of something The New Republic published a few years back: “Enough Acton: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, except when it does not.” (Of course, some of my friends will object that the magazine said so in support of the Iraq invasion, so there’s that — but it was still a very true observation, a warning against overgeneralization.)

Government-backed media is a scary thing. Except PBS news is so very good. I don’t know how to explain it, but I know that — as an informed observer of news — I’d be sorry to lose that source. (Also, consider — this is news that gets a subsidy from government. As disturbing as that sounds, it’s a far cry from government-run news, which is something I do take an absolute, Actonesque stand against.)

And ultimately, that’s what I have to say about public broadcasting overall. At our house, except for maybe the weekly cold open on SNL, PBS is the only broadcast TV we watch at my house. We use our TV for that, and Netflix and Amazon. That’s it. And the reason why is that the rest of the broadcast universe offers nothing else as good.

And whatever the abstract arguments presented pro and con, I don’t want to lose that. So, to the extent I get a vote, I say let’s keep it.

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Define ‘fake news,’ please…

archbishops

How do you define “fake news?” I ask because people tend to use it to mean opposite things. I think.

Everyone check my memory on this: I seem to recall that the phrase “fake news” emerged last year as a description of Breitbart and other fringe outlets that tended to be consumed by Trump supporters. It was coined by mainstream types. And then at some point, perhaps in the fall, Trump himself started using it to refer to what most people would call simply “news.”

Which is fitting, because it sounds more like what someone like Trump would say. It’s just the sort of odd word choice, lacking in precision, in which he tends to revel.

To what, precisely, does it refer?

If I’d heard it in a vacuum, uttered neither by or about Donald Trump, my first guess would be that it was a reference to the sort of thing The Onion does so well — “news” that is indeed fake, and meant to be understood as such. Of course, it has to have a passing resemblance to actual news in order to be funny. One of my favorite Onion tropes is the “area man” reference in headlines (such as, “Area Man Accepts Burden Of Being Only Person On Earth Who Understands How World Actually Works“), gently poking at the lack of imagination of America’s more provincial copy editors.

But that’s not what Trump means when he says it.

It could mean all sorts of things.

It could be something that is true, but isn’t really (in the opinion of the speaker) news, and I think maybe Trump means it that way sometimes — news media reporting on “the Russia thing” instead of real news, which would be about how awesome Trump is.

Or it might be something that isn’t true. Of course, we generally don’t see evidence that supports such an assertion, do we?

It could mean opinion instead of news. I get the impression sometimes that people who call the various 24/7 cable news channels “fake news” are reacting to the fact that so much of what is said is opinion. Well, it has to be. There just isn’t all that much to say about news without getting into opinion, and these channels are trying to fill the 24 hours. That should be understood, but in fact is more often simply resented. (My advice to those who don’t like it: Read your news; don’t watch it. That’s what I do.)

Sometimes it seems to mean news that isn’t held to a high-enough standard — as when Trump decries the use of anonymous sources, an objection he shares with many journalists. In this case, he’s using it to mean “sloppy,” except when he goes overboard and claims the sources simply don’t exist. Then he means to say “lies.”

Anyway, how do you take it when you hear it — or, perish the thought, when you use it yourself?

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My appearance on WIS about the flag plane

wistv.com – Columbia, South Carolina

I’ve long thought I fit in the category of people with a face made for radio, but yesterday I even flubbed the talking part a couple of times — and of course, the stumbles made the final cut, since they were in the middle of my most pertinent quotes.

Oh, well. I didn’t set out to be on TV yesterday, but I was asked to after that brief post about the “Confederate Air Force” yesterday, and I generally say “yes” to media requests and speaking engagements.

I did hesitate on this one. I wrote about the flag hundreds of times when it was actually still an issue. Now that it’s behind us completely, I generally stay away from it (and I have little or no interest in the other Confederate controversies around the country, such as what’s happening in New Orleans). But the plane pulling the gigantic imitation naval jack (not the battle flag South Carolinians served under in the Army of Northern Virginia) was a bit hard to ignore, which was the point, of course.

Since this was shared with me by one of my kids via Facebook this morning, I’ll inflict in on y’all…

You can sort of tell Bret Stephens is no longer at the WSJ

Sally

Or maybe you can’t. His title was deputy editorial page editor, but I don’t know how editorial decisions are made at that paper, so I can’t say whether he had any influence over board positions, much less a decisive one. There is evidence to indicate his influence didn’t extend far beyond his own columns — even though, for a period last year, the Journal did seem genuinely interested in stopping Trump.

In any case, the paper’s editorial about Lindsey Graham’s hearings on Russian meddling in our election, flippantly headlined “When the Senate Met Sally” (you can read the whole thing here), was rather lacking in deep concern about what Sen. Graham was (from what I’ve read and heard) legitimately focused on — the Russians.

And it ended with a conclusion that was as pure a Republican talking point as you could find — trying to distract from what the Russians did to how we knew about it, or at least how we knew about Michael Flynn’s role:

So far the only crime we know about in this drama is the leak of Mr. Flynn’s name to the press as having been overheard when U.S. intelligence was eavesdropping on the Russian ambassador. Mr. Flynn’s name was leaked in violation of the law after he was “unmasked” by an Obama Administration official and his name was distributed widely across the government.

We don’t know who did the unmasking, but on Monday both Mrs. Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted that while in office they had personally reviewed classified reports about “Mr. Trump, his officials or members of Congress” who had been “unmasked.” Both also admitted that they had shared that information with others in government, though they did deny leaking to the press.

We thought readers might like to know those details in case they go unreported anywhere else in the press. The unmasking of the names of political opponents is a serious concern, and the American people need to know how and why that happened here.

That’s the sort of thing the Trump White House would put out, if it had its act together and was capable of projecting a coherent, consistent message. Which, as we know, it isn’t.

Oh, and by the way… As for that childishly petulant “in case they go unreported anywhere else in the press,” I was fully aware of it before I got to the WSJ. I think I first read of Republicans’ fixation on that point in The Washington Post. Anyway, the Journal knows (or should know) better than to say such things as that. It’s more what you’d expect to see in a Tweet from Trump himself, not serious writing by anyone who knows what he’s about…

graham yates

George Will’s diagnosis of Trump’s ‘dangerous disability’

A lot of readers don’t like George F. Will. They find him haughty, imperious and supercilious, and his writing dense, showy and vague.

But when he takes some of those qualities and packs them into a pointed diagnosis of just what is wrong with Donald J. Trump, he can be a pleasure to read. And edifying to boot.

Take today’s column, “Trump has a dangerous disability,” in which he writes:

It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about President Trump’s inability to do either. This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence….

Amen to all of that, especially that first sentence. That, after all, is the problem: Not that Trump might have the wrong idea about this or that, but that his brain doesn’t really do ideas, can’t process or express them clearly, and lacks the informational foundation for forming them in the first place.

More:

George WillWhat is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history. As this column has said before, the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something….

Absolutely. And here’s the big finish:

Americans have placed vast military power at the discretion of this mind, a presidential discretion that is largely immune to restraint by the Madisonian system of institutional checks and balances. So, it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.

I share this partly because the piece was a pleasure to read, but also because some of you seem genuinely puzzled that I don’t just accept that Donald Trump is president of the United States, calm down and move on.

I don’t do that because I see clearly that it is my duty to be “insistently communicating to [my] elected representatives” just how unacceptable this state of affairs is. Every citizen who perceives the danger has an obligation “to think and speak clearly about President Trump’s inability to do either.”

One of the toughest questions in journalism (or advertising)

The split-second in question.

The split-second in question.

This intrigued me, because it poses one of the toughest questions I used to deal with as an editor:

In a self-congratulatory ad marking his first 100 days in office, President Trump labels major television networks “fake news.” So CNN is refusing to sell the president airtime to show the commercial.

“CNN requested that the advertiser remove the false graphic that the mainstream media is ‘fake news,’” the cable channel said in a statement. “The mainstream media is not fake news, and therefore the ad is false and per policy will be accepted only if that graphic is deleted.”…

I’ve been there. But as an editor, rather than as a gatekeeper for ads.

As editorial page editor, a substantial portion of the space I was in charge of was devoted to copy generated by people who didn’t work for me — op-eds, and letters to the editor. We always had a lot of copy to choose from in filling that limited space, and we gave priority to fresh views, and particularly those that disagreed with something we had said.

If we had just criticized someone editorially, and that person asked for some of our space to respond, that response went to the front of the line.

But sometimes, there was a problem. Sometimes in answering us, the writer said things that weren’t true. And we weren’t going to let our limited space be used to say things that weren’t true.

We especially weren’t going to let people use our space to mischaracterize what we had said. We went to a lot of trouble to shape the positions we presented to readers and we agonized over exactly how to present them — we weren’t about to let people claim we’d said something we hadn’t said, and give the lie credence by publishing it on our pages. We wouldn’t let a writer say, “They called me a big, fat idiot” when we had not even implied that the gentleman was big, fat, or any kind of idiot.

Trouble is, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes you write X and someone reads Y, no matter how hard you worked to make your point clear. Still, we weren’t going to let people waste our space arguing with Y when no one had said or even suggested Y. Which quite often they wanted to do.

This led to some pretty intense discussions with the writers, and on occasion to an impasse in which the writer withdrew the piece and went around telling anyone who would listen that those jerks at The State refused to publish a dissenting opinion.

Which of course was another lie. We very much wanted alternative, and especially dissenting, opinions. We just weren’t going to allow alternative facts.

Argue all you want with what we said. But don’t waste everyone’s time (and more to the point, our valuable space) arguing with what we did not say.

Not that facts and opinions are always easy to separate. We had some pretty intense arguments among us editors over that. I’d be reading a proof, and stride into the office of the editor who had allowed the piece onto the page and say, “He can’t say this; it’s not true.” And my colleague would say, “It’s an opinion, not an assertion of fact.” And we’d go ’round and ’round, and I’d generally err on the side of letting the reader have his say. And the next day kick myself when another reader would point out that something false had been said on my page, and that we had a sacred duty not to allow that. And I’d be like, Yeah, but he really thinks it’s true, and he and a lot of other people act and vote on that assumption, and if I’m going to educate all readers as to how such people think so that we can all understand each other, they need to be able to present their arguments… And sometimes I’d convince myself, and sometimes not.

Anyway, these kinds of questions are not easy. Telling truth, and making sure what others say on your medium is true, isn’t easy…

Sorry to see Bret Stephens get rough reception at NYT

The last couple of weeks, it occurred to me briefly to wonder why I hadn’t seen any Bret Stephens columns in The Wall Street Journal. I chalked it up to the fact that I don’t look every day, and maybe I wasn’t looking on the right ones.

That wasn’t it.

It seems that Stephens, the WSJ deputy editorial page editor whom I’ve been praising over the past year for his principled criticism of Donald Trump, has left the paper.

He left to write for The New York Times, where readers have not made him welcome, according to a third paper, The Washington Post:

The New York Times thought it was bringing a fresh voice and some ideological diversity to its influential op-ed pages when it hired conservative columnist Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago.

????????????????????????????????????

Bret Stephens

Readers weren’t impressed by Stephens’s debut column, to say the least.

The cancel-my-subscription outrage flowed freely after Stephens challenged the certitude about climate science in his first piece for the newspaper on Friday. While acknowledging that the planet has warmed over the past century and that humans have contributed to it, he wrote, “much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future.”…

This news prompts three reactions from me:

  • Why did Stephens leave the WSJ for the NYT? Was it merely a better opportunity, or had he been made to feel unwelcome at the Journal? I would hate to think it was the latter, because he had been one of the best reasons to read the Journal, especially over the past year.
  • What caused him — and, to the extent they had involvement, his editors — to choose this topic for his debut column? Was an anti-Trump column considered, but rejected as seeming like pandering to his new audience? Did he deliberately decide to be more in-your-face, to announce his presence as a new voice? Perhaps these questions don’t interest you, but as I’m someone who has spent years thinking about such things — which message to go with and when — they do me.
  • As for all you howling New York Times readers: Get over yourselves. Has your safe space been invaded? Good.

In searching for more info about Stephens’ move, I ran across quite a bit of fulminating against him and his first column, describing the latter as weak and poorly reasoned.

I thought the piece was fine. Its point, for those who claim to have a problem finding it, was this: If you find yourself being 100 percent certain, or close to it, about something, perhaps you should question yourself more.

Seems like a good choice for a first outing, considering the writer and his new venue. It was even prophetic, in the part where he wrote, “By now I can almost hear the heads exploding….”

Pssst, media types: Ixnay on the Umptray ailurefays…

Mind you, I'm not saying we need to run pictures like this and report, "Look what Trump built!" Not exactly, anyway...

Mind you, I’m not saying we need to run pictures like this and report, “Look what Trump built!” Not exactly, anyway…

When I see headlines like this (in The New Yorker), it makes me a little nervous:

HOW TRUMP GAVE UP ON HIS BORDER WALL

It worries me because touting Trump’s failures walks all over his poor little ego, and it seems likely that such bruising would cause him to redouble his efforts. And we do not want that…

Look what happened with the Trumpcare failure. At first, he seemed content to let the whole repealing-Obamacare thing slide. But after about the billionth headline noting how he’d failed on this central (to his base) promise, he started pushing on Congress to try again.

And now, if everyone makes a big deal about him stepping away from the stupid wall thing, it’s liable to get his back up, and we’ll be wasting time talking about that again.

I’m not saying lie or mislead — I don’t want the media to actually start making a truth-teller out of Trump by reporting “fake news.” We don’t need to run pictures of the Great Wall of China on front pages and tout what a great job Trump did building it.

I’m just saying, you know, that maybe we could not rub in the failures as much. If he’s content to let his most spectacularly dumb ideas die a quiet death, maybe that’s a good thing.

I mean, report it, but don’t go on and on about it. Go easy on the poor guy; he’s having a rough year.

I’m saying, must Kathleen Parker write columns headlined, “Dealmaker in Chief? More like the Backdown President.“?

Sigh… I suppose she must…

Sneering at the masses, and how it helped lead to Trump

This guy's off the air now, but I think he did more than anyone to produce the phenomenon under discussion.

This guy’s off the air now, but I think he did more than anyone to produce the phenomenon under discussion.

Bryan, who is off somewhere in foreign parts today (California, I think), brings to my attention this piece from The Atlantic. Its headline is “How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump,” with the subhed, “Sneering hosts have alienated conservatives and made liberals smug.”

Or at least, they were smug until Nov. 8.

The piece isn’t bad, although it gets sidetracked here and there, and reading it didn’t make me a whole lot smarter than I was after reading the hed and subhed — with which I agreed from the start.

Not that I didn’t learn anything new. For instance, I heard of this Samantha Bee person, and her salacious-sounding show “Full Frontal.” (Remember, folks, I don’t watch TV beyond Netflix, Amazon Prime and PBS.)

When I read the headline, I was picturing Jon Stewart — who, although he’s been replaced by Trevor Noah, still seems the perfect example to illustrate the point.

Here’s probably the best bit in the piece. It comes after the author has established, in fairness, that Donald J. Trump is any comedian’s dream, and richly deserves every bit of mockery aimed at him and more (which is obviously true):

So Trump has it coming, and so do the minions pouring out of his clown car, with their lies and their gleeful disregard for what Nick Carraway called “the fundamental decencies.” But somewhere along the way, the hosts of the late-night shows decided that they had carte blanche to insult not just the people within this administration, but also the ordinary citizens who support Trump, and even those who merely identify as conservatives. In March, Samantha Bee’s show issued a formal apology to a young man who had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and whom the show had blasted for having “Nazi hair.” As it turned out, the young man was suffering from Stage 4 brain cancer—which a moment’s research on the producers’ part would have revealed: He had tweeted about his frightening diagnosis days before the conference. As part of its apology, the show contributed $1,000 to the GoFundMe campaign that is raising money for his medical expenses, so now we know the price of a cancer joke.

It was hardly the first time Full Frontal had gone, guns blazing, after the sick or the meek. During the campaign, Bee dispatched a correspondent to go shoot fish in a barrel at something called the Western Conservative Summit, which the reporter described as “an annual Denver gathering popular with hard-right Christian conservatives.” He interviewed an earnest young boy who talked about going to church on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays, and about his hope to start a group called Children for Trump. For this, the boy—who spoke with the unguarded openness of a child who has assumed goodwill on the part of an adult—was described as “Jerry Falwell in blond, larval form.” Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps….

She returns to that incident at the end:

… I’ve also thought a good deal about the boy on Samantha Bee’s program. I thought about the moment her producer approached the child’s mother to sign a release so that the woman’s young son could be humiliated on television. Was it a satisfying moment, or was it accompanied by a small glint of recognition that embarrassing children is a crappy way to make a living? I thought about the boy waiting eagerly to see himself on television, feeling a surge of pride that he’d talked about church and Bible study. And I thought about the moment when he realized that it had all been a trick—that the grown-up who had seemed so nice had only wanted to hurt him.

My God, I thought. What have we become?

Indeed.

But there’s something to her thesis beyond citing pain inflicted upon victims with whom even the most indoctrinated liberals might sympathize. She touches on the broader point when she says “the tone of these shows [is] one imbued with the conviction that they and their fans are intellectually and morally superior to those who espouse any of the beliefs of the political right.”

And then she wonders whether that tone is largely responsible for Trump supporters’ dismissal of “the media,” by which she means in this context HBO, Comedy Central, TBS, ABC, CBS, and NBC — the very networks that present the comedy shows. The point being that folks who feel so insulted by the late-night comedy tend to associate it with the news programming on the same networks, and dismiss it all.

You say “media” to me, and I think of the news that I consume — from leading print outlets to NPR. Others don’t see it that way, I’ve long been forced to realize. They think of television, and sometimes — perhaps most of the time — they have trouble distinguishing between the “news” presented by celebrities one hour from the entertainment presented by other celebrities in a different time slot.

Which is understandable, if regrettable…

I'd say the King of the Sneerers now is probably this guy.

I’d say the King of the Sneerers now is probably this guy.

‘Electrocution chair?’ Is that like a ‘Holocaust center?’

Kemmler_exécuté_par_l'électricité

Speaking of words, has anyone noticed an uptick of mispronunciations and bizarre word choices lately on broadcast media?

I’m not even talking about Donald Trump, who is so justly famous for such. I’m talking about normal people.

I should have been keeping a list of the mispronunciations, but at the moment I’m only thinking of one: My wife heard someone say “pre-VALE-unt” on the Tube the other day, instead of, you know, prevalent. (I called just now to ask her for another, and she offered “contri-BUTE,” as opposed to contribute. And yes, the Brits might say, “CON-tribute,” but as my wife noted, these were Americans speaking.)

As for word choice, my current fave is from Friday’s installment of “The Takeaway.” A perfectly lucid, intelligent-sounding young woman with Arkansas Public Media was being interviewed about the crowd of people that state is trying to execute. She was asked (at about 2:29 on the recording) whether, when it runs out of approved poisons for lethal injection, the state would have any alternative methods of administering death. She replied, informatively:

The alternative on the books is electrocution chair…

Electrocution chair? Is that something they have at “Holocaust centers?”

She was probably just nervous being interviewed on national radio. Either that, or — she sounded really, really young — she has been blessed by never having heard of that fixture of more barbaric times, the electric chair. (She may have even realized she wasn’t on solid ground, based on the questioning way her voice went up at the end of the phrase, as though she were asking, “Is that a thing?”)

Ultimately, I suspect all of this is a result of far too many people trying to say far too many things on far too many outlets in much too quick a hurry.

But maybe there’s another explanation…

O’Reilly sounds slimy. I’m glad he’s gone. But he’s not POTUS…

Yes, slimey TV personalities who abuse women SHOULD get canned...

Yes, slimey TV personalities who abuse women SHOULD get canned…

The world we live in gets stranger every day. For the last two days, I’ve been traveling and a bit out of the loop. So I sit at my laptop to catch up on the news before ending my day, and I see that the lead story on most of the news sites I follow is about a TV personality losing his job.

This is probably one of these things like NCAA tournament games coming to Columbia two years from now — people who follow 24/7 cable TV “news” are likely to see it as a far bigger deal than I do.

From what I’ve read, it seems to me no wonder that he’s being shown the door. But maybe people didn’t think it would happen. Or didn’t think it would happen at Fox (despite what happened to Roger Ailes). Or something. I don’t know. I’m a bit color-blind in the TV “news” celebrity range.

To the extent I have an opinion about it, I say way to go, Fox. If the allegations are true, sounds like he’s a major slimeball. But I have to say I’m more concerned about the fact that we have a president who has boasted of similar behavior.

And other stuff.

Check out this Jennifer Rubin column, appropriately headlined “Trump’s ethical squalor is worse than you thought.”

From his abuse of his access to secret intelligence to smear the former administration to the unbelievably tawdry, petty, tacky personal financial dealings of the Donald and his kin, we are seeing behavior we have never, ever seen on the part of anyone with so much power over our country and the world. As the conservative columnist writes:

President Trump’s ethical sloth and financial conflicts of interest are unique in American history. (The Harding and Grant administrations were rife with corruption, but the presidents did not personally profit. Richard Nixon abused power but did not use his office to fatten his coffers or receive help from a hostile foreign power to get elected.) But it keeps getting worse….

You would think, reading of his doings and the business dealings of daughter Ivanka, that these were dirt-poor people who had for the first time in their lives set eyes on a chance to pick up a dollar, and were so desperate to seize the opportunity while it lasts that they would never pause for a second to consider the ethical considerations. What do I mean? Cheesy stuff like this, which Ms. Rubin cites from The Associated Press:

On April 6, Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago, her father’s Florida resort….

And yes, this is part of a pattern:

This is hardly an isolated event for Ivanka Trump. Recall that as she was working on a clothing deal with a Japanese apparel giant — whose parent company’s largest shareholder is wholly owned by the Japanese government — she was sitting in a transition meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Even aside from this, Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, observes: “This raises serious questions that we should not have to be asking. The White House is not a side gig.”…

Yeah, I know — this stuff (and Trump’s ongoing refusal to disclose his tax returns or truly wall himself off from his businesses) is going on every day, and doesn’t seem as fresh as the nasty doings of some guy on TV.

But, as I keep saying, we can’t allow ourselves for a moment to regard any of this as normal…

“President United States” Nikki Haley

Nikki 1

My wife was watching her Reuters TV app yesterday, and at one point she said, “Why does it say ‘president’ under Nikki Haley’s name?”

I thought at first that she meant Reuters had made a mistake in the chyron under the video, and thinking there might be a light blog post in it, I downloaded the app myself just to watch the clip.

Turns out that no, Reuters had made no mistake. And the label wasn’t part of some ephemeral electronic crawl, but an actual, physical sign in front of her that said “PRESIDENT,” next to a sign just like it that said, “UNITED STATES.”

This juxtaposition would have freaked me out a bit a year or two ago, as it did whenever I heard or read national pundits referring to her as running-mate material. Only more so. But now, Donald J. Trump actually is president of the United States, and I would far rather see Nikki — or almost any reasonably normal person — in that job.

As for the “PRESIDENT” sign, that’s easily explained. She’s taking her turn this month presiding over the Security Council (another thing that might have freaked me out a year ago, but as I explained before, things have changed).

But let’s, just for the sake of variety, speak for a moment to the substance. If you didn’t see and hear her speech before the Security Council, here it is:

That clip culminates with her line that’s been quoted a good bit over the last 24, “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”

Which sounds ominous, of course. But it seemed quite natural after she stood up and displayed those pictures.

The good news is that the Steve Bannon isolationist America-First nonsense seems to be fading into the background this week. The bad news is that we might soon have (more) troops fighting in Syria, a country where you can’t walk across the street without tripping over one of Trump’s buddy Putin’s people.

So, a tense situation.

But that’s not my point in this post. What is my point? I guess it’s to say that at this difficult moment, Nikki did a pretty good job…

Nikki 2

If only Spicer were as much fun as the SNL skits

Editor’s note: I wrote most of this early in the week, and never quite finished or posted it. So it may seem a bit dated, but here you go:

I saw the second Sean Spicer skit on SNL over the weekend, and it was funny. But I found myself wondering, OK, I get why they did this gag once. Spicer was way over the top in that first performance on Saturday, Jan. 21. It was a bizarre situation, with Trump sending him out with specific orders to go on the attack with a bunch of silly, obvious lies. But is he still like that? Hasn’t he calmed down?

In other words, is this not overkill? Is the joke still relevant?

Well, how would I know? I work. How would I know what the daily press briefings are like? I’m not one of these people who does nothing but watch cable TV all day (or ever, these days).

So I went back and watched one. And I saw the problem.

If only the actuality was like what Melissa McCarthy was doing. That might be fun to watch. The real thing is not. It’s painful.

Here’s what it’s really like:

… Q    Earlier this week.  You say the — this is in context of Nordstrom and not about what she was counseled about, but about something she said to CNN earlier this week, is that the President doesn’t comment on everything.  And so I want to contrast the President’s repeated statements about Nordstrom with the lack of comments about some other things, including, for example, the attack on a Quebec mosque and other similar environments.  Why is the President — when he chooses to —

MR. SPICER:  Do you — hold on — because you just brought that up.  I literally stand at this podium and opened a briefing a couple days ago about the President expressing his condolences.  I literally opened the briefing about it.  So for you to sit there and say —

Q    I was here.

MR. SPICER:  I know.  So why are you asking why he didn’t do it when I literally stood here and did it?

Q    The President’s statement —

MR. SPICER:  I don’t understand what you’re asking.

Q    Kellyanne’s comments were about that the President doesn’t have time to tweet about everything.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    He’s tweeting about this.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    He’s not tweeting about something else.

MR. SPICER:  I came out here and actually spoke about it and said the President spoke —

Q    I’m talking about the President’s time.

MR. SPICER:  What are you — you’re equating me addressing the nation here and a tweet?  I don’t — that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.

Q    I’m talking about an attack on Nordstrom on —

MR. SPICER:  Okay, I’m done.  This is silly.  Okay, next.

Q    — and an attack on people, and you’re equating —

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  You’ve asked your question.  Thank you.

Q    Does that not diminish the language that you’re using?

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  Go ahead [to another reporter]…

spicer

It’s not exciting; it’s not funny like throwing a big wad of half-chewed gum across the room, but the very unfunny alienation comes across. So is the fact that there is little communication going on.

The bits where he dismisses reporters with undisguised irritation (“Okay, I’m done.  This is silly.  Okay, next…”) are very uncomfortable to watch. Although maybe the weirdness of the interactions is not as noticeable unless you’ve been  journalist. And of course, if you’re a Trump supporter, this undercurrent of hostility and alienation is just what you want to see. You don’t want to see a professional interaction. You want to see someone giving journalists a hard time.

But if you’re someone who cares about having functional politics, it’s distressing. Government can’t work this way. Trump may think he’s the Tweeter of the world, but bottom line, most people are going to get most of their information about this administration, directly or indirectly, from the people in that room. It helps everybody to have a smooth dialogue going.

And I invite Trumpistas and others who take a dim view of the press to note that the demeanor of the reporters asking questions does not match the stereotype of the howling mob — and is generally more respectful of Spicer than he is of them.

Television has created a misleading impression. A reporter spends a long, frustrating day trying to get a certain question answered. Maybe a lot of that day has has involved trying to get various people on a cell phone while standing in a mob of other frustrated media types. Then, suddenly, the person who can answer the question — possibly the only person on the planet who can answer it — gets out of a car in front of the reporters and walks in into a building, which means you have maybe three or four seconds to get your question answered, and you know that odds are against your even being heard. So yeah, you very urgently and insistently call out your question, desperately trying to be heard over the rest of the gaggle.

And those two seconds when you’re calling out the question, and your competitors are calling out theirs, is all that people who only get their news from television (which they shouldn’t) will see of you trying, against the odds, to do your job.

I’ve had thousands of interactions with newsmakers over the years, and can count on two hands the number of times things got unruly. (Of course, most of that time I was an editor, not a reporter.)

But all that aside — for all my interactions, I’ve only attended a White House press briefing once. But it was at a pretty tense time for the press secretary. It was in 1998. I had gone to Washington to talk to Strom Thurmond in person and try to get an impression of his mental state, since he was declining to meet with our board in that election year. (Yeah, newspapers had money to do stuff like that then.)  And since a South Carolinian, Mike McCurry, was Clinton’s press secretary, I arranged to go by and interview him for a column. The interview was set for after the daily briefing.

On my way in from the airport, I had noted a bunch of TV news trucks outside a federal courthouse, and my cab driver — who was probably from one of those countries Trump would rather people not come from — simply explained in a heavy accent, “Monica Lewinsky.”

The scandal was at its height. And the White House press corps was in no mood for having their questions deflected. There were moments that would fulfill the stereotype of the howling mob, if one didn’t know what was at stake. At one point, the lady next to me jumped up, practically climbing over the seat in front of her, to roar, “Aw. COME ONNN, Mike!” Everyone else around me was doing something similar, but I remember her in particular.

For his part, McCurry smiled disarmingly — sort of a specialty of his — and braved his way through a session in which some of his answers were less than entirely satisfactory. Hence the yelling.

Mike McCurry

Mike McCurry

But before and after the yelling, there was a cordiality and a congeniality that stood in marked contrast to what seemed to run through that Spicer briefing on Feb. 9. At the start of the briefing there was a little ceremony for a member of McCurry’s staff who was leaving for a different job, and the reporters all applauded politely and congratulations were offered. There was real friendliness.

Republicans and other media detractors will say, “Of course it was congenial; it was a room full of liberals.”

But no — the atmosphere in that room (except during the outbreaks of yelling) was more typical of normal interactions between the media and their subjects regardless of party. Normally, there is a mutual recognition of each others’ humanity. A topic I’ve written about quite a few times.

You’ll note that even when the aggressive young woman next to me seemed like she wanted to put her hands around McCurry’s throat and throttle the truth out of him, she still called him “Mike.” Which is normal.

Whereas the interactions between Spicer and the press are not quite normal. And the weirdness seems mostly to be on his side. Of course, if I had his job, trying to sell the world on Trump’s version of events, y’all might find me acting pretty weird, too.

In the end, it’s not funny. And it’s not healthy, either…

WSJ’s Stephens on Trump: ‘capricious, counterproductive, cruel and dumb’

Kudos to The Wall Street Journal‘s Bret Stephens, who is continuing to keep the heat on Donald J. Trump, even as some others on the paper’s editorial page — who also know better — seem to have lost the will to do so.Bret Stephens

His piece today, headlined “The Wrong Kind of Crazy,” plays off of the Nixonian global strategy — the “madman theory” — of keeping adversaries in the dark about what you might do in a crisis, which theoretically causes them to tread lightly. In the hands of grounded figures such as Nixon and Kissinger, the approach made some sense. But that was in the case of rational actors — the “madman” part was that you wanted your adversaries to want to act in ways that would keep you rational.

It doesn’t work so well when your president is an ignoramus who basically doesn’t do rational, or at least doesn’t do it any more often than a stopped clock states the right time.

Which brings us to the present day, of course, since this is the first time in our history that we’ve been in such a situation.

Stephens says Trump has done one thing so far that — against a background of Nixonian stability and pragmatism — could have fit in the “good crazy” category: throwing China off-balance with that phone call with the Taiwanese president. As he wrote, If Beijing wants to use ambiguous means to dominate the South China Sea, why shouldn’t Washington hit back with ambiguous devices of its own?”

Unfortunately, practically all of Trump’s brand of nuttiness is “the wrong kind of crazy: capricious, counterproductive, cruel and dumb:”

So much was evident with the president’s refugee ban on Saturday. And with Steve Bannon’s elevation to the National Security Council, and the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s demotion from it. And with the announcement Wednesday that Mexico would pay for the wall. And with the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on Monday and the aggressively protectionist themes of his inaugural. And with his performance at CIA headquarters. And with his incontinent fixations on crowd size and alleged voter fraud….

That’s quite a list, isn’t it, describing the insane things done by an administration that’s only 11 days old? (And that’s a nice phrase: “incontinent fixations.”)

Just take one item: Replacing the head of the Joint Chiefs with Breitbart’s Bannon on the National Security Council would by itself be enough for me, were I a member to Congress, to start looking into impeachment procedures. That’s just beyond gross.

Anyway, I appreciate that Stephens isn’t going all wobbly…

The theory is, there's good crazy and bad crazy.

The theory is, there’s good crazy and there’s bad crazy.

 

Trump’s grotesque first outing, and ‘alternative facts’

Trump preening in front of Langley's Holy of Holies.

Trump preening in front of Langley’s Holy of Holies./Still from CBS video.

Before I even knew what he said Saturday, I cringed at the image: Donald Trump… who has likened our intelligence community to Nazi Germany for its sin of having told the truth about Russia injecting itself into our election on his behalf… standing in front of the wall at Langley that honors CIA officers killed in the line of duty.

That, alone, was grotesque. But hey, maybe that’s not Trump’s fault. Maybe the CIA people set it up for him to stand there. Move on…

Then I learned what he said while he was there. He was there to mend fences — and good for him wanting to do that, and making it a priority. But he dishonored those assembled and even more those on the wall by spending a huge portion of his time moaning about the awful media and how they lie all the time.

What would be the pettiest “lie” for him to focus on? Yep, he claimed that the turnout for his inauguration was greater than it was, and lambasted the media for reporting it accurately.

He went on and on about it. To some who were there, it seemed he spent most of his time  talking about his grievance with the media rather than mending fences with the CIA. That’s not quite the case. Here’s a transcript of his rambling, hard-to-follow monologue (no, President Trump will not be any more coherent than the candidate was). I went through and tried, as well as I could, to separate the “CIA” parts from the “me, me, ME!” parts. My rough division came up with 1,450 words in the CIA sections, and 937 words that were purely moaning about himself and the media.

Still, pretty bad. And worse if you consider that he finds it hard to talk about the CIA without self-aggrandizement showing up in the same sentence. An example:

You know, the military and the law enforcement, generally speaking, but all of it — but the military gave us tremendous percentages of votes. We were unbelievably successful in the election with getting the vote of the military. And probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did. (Laughter.) But I would guarantee a big portion, because we’re all on the same wavelength, folks. (Applause.) We’re all on the same wavelength, right? He knows. It took Brian about 30 seconds to figure that one out, right, because we know we’re on the same wavelength.

But we’re going to do great things….

Maybe I shouldn’t have included those 114 words in the “CIA” file, since it’s so “me, me, me.” But hey, that’s how this guy reaches out to people. The basic form is, Wow, I am so great and awesome, and I know you appreciate that, so you’re great, too. I include you in my awesomeness.

So it’s hard to know what to put in the “focusing on others” category, and what is purely “focusing on me.”

A side note about the part about him and the media: He mentioned one actual error that one reporter had committed (a TIME reporter failed to see the bust of MLK in the Oval Office, and reported it was missing) — and then corrected right away as soon as he knew it was wrong. Which is what reporters do, immediately, when they report things that aren’t right. Trump, of course, uses the incident to suggest that this is but one example of the dishonesty of the media. (At least, that seems to be what he’s saying. As usual, it’s a bit hard to parse. At one point, he’s excusing the mistake; at another, he’s attaching universal significance to it.)

Note that Trump couldn’t even tell this anecdote without an extensive, childishly pathetic digression about how awesome he is: “So a reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on there cover, like, 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time Magazine. Like, if Tom Brady is on the cover, it’s one time, because he won the Super Bowl or something, right? (Laughter.) I’ve been on it for 15 times this year. I don’t think that’s a record, Mike, that can ever be broken. Do you agree with that? What do you think?” Just, wow.

And how were the media being dishonest? By truly reporting a simple fact: The crowd that turned out for Trump’s inauguration was smaller than those for Obama in 2009 and 2013. This is obviously, clearly true, whether you go by photographs or Metro ridership. Here’s the 2009 crowd, and here’s the 2017 crowd. And it’s no big deal. Only the most fragile and insecure of men would be bothered by such a fact being reported. Hey, it was raining — so who cares, right?

Trump cares. Trump cares bigly. And therefore, so do his people.

That same day, we were treated to what may have been the most extraordinary White House press briefing in history — and hey, this was just the press secretary’s first outing! He marked the occasion by fuming at the reporters that lies were truth and truth was lies. His lies were patently obvious ones, easily refuted. And after spouting these lies, he stormed off without taking questions, which would have been remarkable in itself.

Already, this guy has made us nostalgic for the honesty, affability and quiet reason of Ron Ziegler.

OK, so a new administration’s rookie press secretary gets up and makes a jackass of himself in his first at bat. So you acknowledge it and move on, right? You hope to do better in the next game.

Nope. Not this team. The media’s refusal to embrace this lie about how many people attended the inauguration is, in their minds, the first crisis of the new administration, and calls for lashing out and circling the wagons.

The next morning, Kellyanne Conway responded to Chuck Todd’s questions about Sean Spicer’s bizarre performance by saying:

Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving — our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that.

And she was serious about that! Watch the video below.

OK, so now you have it: This new administration that was going to “Make America Great Again” spent its first weekend in power engaging in a full-court press insisting that a lie was true. Insisting adamantly, because this utterly trivial matter is of the highest importance to this crowd, because anything bearing on his fragile ego is of the highest importance to the new president!

And that the new president kicked off this farce while standing in front of a monument to patriots who died in the darkness, without credit or acclaim, transforms what might otherwise be low comedy into obscenity.

I miss Garrison Keillor

garrison_keillor_96

Saturday, the radio in our kitchen was on at 6 p.m., and when “Prairie Home Companion” came on… we turned it off.

Instead of turning it up, which is what we usually would have done, ever since we started listening to it out in Kansas in the ’80s.

It’s just not the same without Garrison Keillor. That deep, mellifluous, soothing voice, speaking of things that prompted nostalgia and peaceful reflection on the human condition, was what the show was about. I appreciated that the new guy made a joke in the first show about his high, piping voice, but you know, after a bit it’s not funny. I’ve lost my reason to listen.

Keillor is still writing. But frankly, I’ve never liked his writing quite as much on a page or screen — I prefer to hear him say it. Also, his unspoken stuff tends to be more political, and he’s such a doctrinaire liberal that a lot of stuff he says is a bit off-putting to me.

But… I find that if I can imagine him reading it, I’m fine with it. And this latest piece in The Washington Post yesterday made it very easy to hear the voice. It was gentle, it was kind, it was reassuring, unassuming and forgiving. And when you write in a voice like that, I can handle pretty much anything you have to say. An excerpt:

Face it, Southerners are nicer people

I’ve been down in South Carolina and Georgia, an old Northern liberal in red states, enjoying a climate like April in January and the hospitality of gracious, soft-spoken people, many of whom voted for He Who Does Not Need Intelligence, but they didn’t bring it up, so neither did I.

I walked into Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston, and a waitress said, “Is there just one of you, sweetheart?” and her voice was like jasmine and teaberry. There was just one of me, though I wished there were two and she was the other one. She showed me to a table — “Have a seat, sweetheart, I’ll be right with you.” Liberal waitpersons up north would no more call you “sweetheart” than they would kiss you on the lips, and if you called one of them “sweetheart” she might hand you your hat. I ordered the fried chicken with collard greens and mashed potatoes and gravy and read a front-page story in the Charleston Post and Courier about a Republican state legislator charged with a felony for allegedly beating his wife in front of their weeping children, and then the waitress brought the food and I dug in and it was luminous, redemptive, all that chicken and gravy could be. If this is what Makes America Great Again, I am all for it….

I thought to myself, “A person could live in a town like this.” I’ve spent time with people whose politics agreed with mine and who were cold fish indeed and now that I’m elderly and have time on my hands, maybe I’d enjoy hanging out with amiable sweet-talking right-wingers. I’m just saying….

Indeed. And I miss hanging out with him on Saturday evenings…

(It’s fun when Yankees find us so captivating. Reminds me of the one year I lived above the Mason-Dixon line growing up. I attended second grade in Woodbury, NJ. I read more fluently than most 2nd-graders, and once a teacher heard me read aloud, she started lending me to other classes to read to the kids. I was happy to oblige. They thought my accent was so charming. They looked upon me as a pint-sized Ashley Wilkes, and that kind of thing can make a certain sort of Yankee lady just swoon.)