Media postsTuesday January 30, 2018
‘And the Public was Glad to Go Along’
“Nothing had bugged me more during and right after Watergate than the know-nothing charge that the press had gone after Nixon because he was a Republican and the press consisted of a bunch of liberal Democrats. ‘You guys never would have gone after Kennedy,’ went the dreary charge, ‘if he were involved in Watergate.’ Truth is, at the Post anyway, we were always praying for good Democratic scandals ... and found more than our share. But that criticism, the suggestion of bias, wore me down over the years, I now think, and I know we walked the extra mile to accept the official version of events from the [Republican] White Houseexplanations that I doubt we would have accepted from the right-hand men of Democratic presidents. And the public was glad to go along.”
Ben Bradlee, “A Good Life,” pg. 409
A Succinct Answer to a Convoluted Question
Yesterday on NPR's “Morning Edition,” host Steve Inskeep talked with two top ethics lawyers from previous administrations, Richard Painter (Bush II) and Norman Eisen (Obama), about the lack of ethics of our current president. I know: shocker. Both men are on the board of CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has sued Pres. Trump for violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution:
No Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
I.e., you can't make money from being prez. Trump is ignoring that. Ironically, at his apparent financial peril.
CREW's first lawsuit was tossed out because the judge ruled the org lacked legal standing. They're appealing, and states, which do have legal standing, are now suing on the same grounds. All of which led to this exchange:
INSKEEP: I want to ask about another aspect of this because as I understand the judge's ruling—throwing out your lawsuit—the judge said, really, this ought to be up to Congress to police, among other things. Congress, of course, is controlled by Republicans. They've said they want to hold the White House accountable. They've been accused of actually defending the White House.
But, you know, we're just been discussing immigration, and it's an issue in which it appears the president was at one point ready to compromise with Democrats, and conservatives realized they needed to stay very close to the president and talk to him a lot or he was going to wander off and not support their policies. You have an example of why Republicans in Congress need, politically, to stay close to the president. What would you advise them to do when it comes to ethics and this president?
PAINTER: Do their job.
'A Massive Transfer of Wealth to the Very Rich' = 'A Win' to NPR
Here's Andrew Sullivan in his weekly column on the New York magazine site, recounting some of Pres. Trump's achievements in office:
We have record levels of social and economic inequality, along with unprecedented peacetime debt, and the only serious legislative achievement of an all-Republican federal government is a massive transfer of wealth to the very rich, funded through an increase in the national debt of close to a trillion dollars.
And here's Rachel Martin on NPR this morning:
Pres. Trump heads to Camp David today to meet with congressional Republican leaders. They're expected to start planing their next move after the GOP notched a win by passing [estate?] tax legislation.
After the GOP notched a win...
I really wish Martin, and NPR in general, and journalists in general, would stop using this horse-race language. It's the language of Washington, D.C., not us. It's not the language of NPR's listeners and donaters.
The GOP notched a win... We'll see how much of a win that was in November. Or during NPR's next fundraising drive.
NPR's Ron Elving Knows What He Signed Up For
I’ve ragged on NPR a lot over the last year, with reason, but I’ve got to give credit to senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, who, in discussion with Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon, deftly and humanely handled how you deal with the perpetual and absurd distraction machine coming from the Trump White House.
The topic was Pres. Trump’s remarks to the widow of a fallen soldier, Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger a few weeks ago. In a phone call to her, Trump said that Johnson “knew what he was signing up for, but it still hurts.” Clumsy. He also never used Sgt. Johnson's name. He kept saying “your guy.” The widow, with two children, and pregnant with a third, felt like the president didn’t even know her husband’s name. “That’s the hurting part,” Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fl), who was with Johnson’s widow when the call was received, told MSNBC.
At first Trump denied he said those words. Then he’s spent days attacking Congresswoman Wilson. He's still doing it.
Now to NPR:
Scott Simon: [White House Chief of Staff] John Kelly, in addition to delivering, I think, very moving remarks about what it’s like to be a parent and lose a child, he stepped into the controversy by directing criticism at the congresswoman, didn’t he?
Ron Elving: Yes. Someone had apparently given him some kind of bad information about a claim that she had supposedly made of giving some funding for a building in Florida. Turns out she never made that claim. ... And the White House was also (sighs), oh, poking fun at the congresswoman’s dress and hat. And this just turned out to be the sort of thing that, if they were trying to distract from the original questions about what these soldiers were doing in Niger, why we were suddenly taking casualties in this part of the world where most people don’t think the United States is engaged, and of course the controversy over why it took so long for the president to acknowledge these deaths, or to say anything to the families, or to acknowledge them at all, if that was the purpose, well, I guess that has been accomplished.
Love the way he framed that: If they’re trying to distract us from A, B, C, well, it worked—even as he reminds us of A, B. C.
Rest of media, please take note.
The rest of their discussion is good, too.
It's the GOP, Stupid
I don't know which paragraph in Jonathan Chait's New York magazine essay, “The Only Problem in American Politics is the Republican Party,” to highlight, since they're all so relevant, and explain so much of the world.
This gets at it:
Whatever interest liberals may have in finding congenial media, they don't dismiss the mainstream media out of hand in the way conservatives have been trained over decades to do. When the conservative news media criticizes Republicans, it is almost always to play the role of ideological enforcer, attacking them for their lack of fervor. One party has a media ecosystem that serves as a guardrail, and the other has one that serves only as an accelerant.
This is probably closer to it:
Democratic politicians need to please a news media that is open to contrary facts and willing — and arguably eager — to hold them accountable. The mainstream media have have its liberal biases, but it also misses the other way — see the Times' disastrously wrong report, a week before the election, that the FBI saw no links between the Trump campaign and Russia and no intention by Russia to help Trump. One cannot imagine Fox News publishing an equivalently wrong story against the Republican Party's interests — its errors all run in the same direction.
The sad part is the mainstream news media—New York Times, NPR—still doesn't get it. They keep trying to find a middle ground as the Republican party moves gleefully, dangerously right. I think a lot of mainstream journalists think the truth lies on the other side of whatever the public image is, so they search for the lurid in Barack Obama and the respectable in Donald Trump. They keep searching for Trump's “pivot.” They think in contrarian terms. Peter Baker's recent “news analysis” in the Times, saying Trump upends “150 years of two-party rule,” calling him an independent and (in one subhed) a “Lone Ranger,” is an example. Lone Ranger? Jesus Christ. What's the difference? What's the fucking difference? The Lone Ranger is a hero for children in the 1930s and '50s, and Donald Trump is a present-day solipsistic monster, and the two have nothing to do with each other. Journalists, go back to your Orwell: “To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.” I.e., Quit trying to be so fucking clever. Quit damning both houses in order to try to appear objective. Here's your question: What is it? Here's another: How do they differ? Go from there.