Media postsSunday February 05, 2017
The Question Journalists Should be Asking Trump About His Anti-Refugee Ban
There was a key moment on NPR's Weekend Edition this morning when host Lulu Garcia-Navarro inteviewed William Lacey Swing, of the International Organization for Migration, which, according to NPR's website, oversees the travel plans of most refugees resettling in the U.S. They were talking about Pres. Trump's recent excecutive order, of course, banning refugees along with all immigrants from seven specific countries:
Can the vetting [of immigrants] be improved? This is all, fundamentally, according to the adminstration, about keeping Americans safe.
Well, it's hard to imagine a more strict vetting than we have now—this came in after the 9/11 attack in 2001. You have eight U.S. government agencies who are vetting them, they are looking at six different security databases, they are doing five different background checks, they have three separate in-person interviews and then two interagency security reviews of that. So part of the problem has been that since 9/11 security vetting has been so strict that you're talking about at least 18 months until you can travel.
Since a week ago Friday, I've been waiting for a journalist, any journalist, to ask that question of the Trump administration—with this tweak: What about current vetting worries you? What needs fixing? Once again, though, the press is letting Trump get away with ignoring the details, even though it's the details that matter. We are safe, or not, in the details. That should be the focus.
I've been waiting for this, in part, because in my day job we've interviewed and featured quite a few immigration lawyers over the years, so I'm at least aware of the arduous vetting process for immigrants. I know it's arduous. I know immigration attorneys want it impproved. I doubt Trump's EO is the improvement it needs.
That EO, of course, has been temporarily struck down by a federal judge (in Seattle!), but even this, I fear, plays into Trump's hands. Imagine if we now get attacked from within—by Muslims or refugees, rather than the usual crazy white Christian men with guns. This would play right into his and Bannon's hands: “We tried to keep you safe but they stopped us. Now give us the power we need.” It could be Trump's Reichstag fire.
Anyway, bravo to Garcia-Navarro for asking the question and kudos to Mr. Swing for his answer. To the rest of the press: Follow the details.
NPR Allows Libertarian to Prevaricate About Lies
The New York Times has a good piece on the front page of its Sunday edition, entitled ''Up Is Down': Trump's Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past,“ on all the lies coming out of the Trump administration in its first eight days in office. It's hardly news for anyone paying attention but it's a good compendium. Here's the lede:
As a businessman, Donald J. Trump was a serial fabulist whose biggest-best boasts about everything he touched routinely crumbled under the slightest scrutiny. As a candidate, Mr. Trump was a magical realist who made fantastical claims punctuated by his favorite verbal tic: ”Believe me.“
Yet even jaded connoisseurs of Oval Office dissembling were astonished over the last week by the torrent of bogus claims that gushed from President Trump during his first days in office.
And here's Steve Schmidt, John McCain's 2008 campaign manager, on the dangers of Trump's blantant lies for representative democracy:
In a democratic government, there must be truth in order to hold elected officials accountable to their sovereign, which is the people,” Mr. Schmidt said. “All authoritarian societies are built on a foundation of lies and alternative facts, and what is true is what the leader believes, or what is best for the state.
Also this morning, NPR did a piece on Trump's lies but from the perspective of David Harsanyi, a libertarian-conservative writer for The Federalist. His take? Report all the lies. Did he mean Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and Chuck Schumer? Maybe. But his example involved the most famous broken promise of Barack Obama.
In the 4-minute segment, two lies are mentioned: Donald Trump's insistence that his inauguration numbers were higher than has been reported by everyone else, and Barack Obama's 2009 comment on the ACA that ”If you like your health care plan, you can keep it," which PolitiFact called the No. 1 lie of 2013. That's it. Those two.
See, everyone lies. And really, Obama's was more substantative. It affected all of us, it wasn't just ego-driven like Trump's.
It's beyond the false equivalency, and the refusal to acknowledge the new, dangerously 1984 territory we're in. I would've liked it if host Lulu Garcia-Navarro had simply drilled down into what was a lie and what wasn't. Was Obama's a lie? Or was it a promise that didn't pan out? And what's the difference? Does intent matter? You say something you know to be untrue at the time you say it. In this regard, you might even say Donald Trump's lies aren't lies since he may believe what he says. Which would be worse, of course, since they would indicate a diseased mind in control of America's nuclear arsenal. Not to mention its armed forces.
At least this time around, NPR let us know its guest was a conservative. Unmentioned were the books Harsanyi has written. Among them:
- Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (2013)
- The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy (2014)
Remember those disasters unleashed by Obama's reelection? No? So are these lies? Or are they simply wrong?
USA Today Reports Trump's Spin, You Decide
On Twitter, writer Molly Ditmore posted the following image of yesterday's USA Today (B section) in the wake of Donald Trump settling a $25 million lawsuit for fraud—which, by the way, is unprecedented for a president-elect:
She wrote, “Much of US has a @Gannett -owned newspaper. This is nat'l news section. This is what the country is being fed news of POTUS-elect. Shame.”
Indeed. And immediately beneath that tweet? Like the first comment? Brad Heath, investigative reporter for USA Today, asking, “Curious: What's your objection to the piece?”
One more time for the hard-of-thinking.
The PRESIDENT-ELECT. Settled a LAWSUIT. For FRAUD. And the headline was his team's SPIN. So was the subhed. So was the secondary subhed. The entire thing is Trump's SPIN. “We report the spin, you decide”: Is that the motto?
I replied to Heath, stating as much. Please do the same. Hound these fuckers until they get it.
'The Surreal Being Normalized'
“As outrageous as Trump's victory is, the media covering the GOP convention have become so acclimated to it that they are acclimating us, too. Watching the convention was watching the spectacle of the surreal being normalized: the parade of 1980s retreads like Scott ”Chachi“ Baio and underwear model-turned-actor Antonio Sabato Jr. given prime speaking real estate; the chants of ”Lock Her Up!“ out of some dystopian sci-fi film where the public runs amok; the spittle-spewing mania of Rudy Giuliani, like some crazed villain from a Marvel picture; the WWE confrontation between Ted Cruz and Trump as the latter entered the arena to step on Cruz's peroration; the disjunction of a convention with all of 18 black delegates (yes, 18!) while a caravan of black speakers made it seem like the NAACP convention; and, last but by no means least, Trump himself, looking like a grumpy potentate.
”None of this is normal ... “
-- Neil Gabler, ”The media went AWOL: Members of the press shied away from doing their jobs during RNC coverage," on BillMoyers.com
The Feb. 22 2016 issue of The New Yorker
Like everyone, I get behind in my New Yorkers, but I spent much of this morning nursing a cold and reading the Feb. 22 issue—the one with the black-history cover: Baldwin, Ellington, Holliday, Hurston, the Nicholas Brothers, Malcolm X.
This is what's inside:
- The various iterations of the American two-party system, and their links to technological change, by Jill Lepore
- The new journey to the west by China's rich, bratty generation (a.k.a. Why Chinese Communism needs Socialism), by Jiayang Fang
- A history of TMZ and its founder and driving force Harvey Levin, by Nicholas Schmidle
- An in-depth look at Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the San Bernadino shooters, by William Finnegan
- All those 20th century leftists who turned right and enabled the conservative movement, by George Packer
Each story is worth it. Each gives a broader, less certain view of the world. It's astonishing, really, that all five are in the same issue of the same magazine. Seems unfair. To both the competition and to readers like me, who suddenly have their hands full.
Each is a downer, too, but that's often the way of the world. We go to the movies for uppers, serious literature for downers. Why so few people read seriously now.
The San Bernadino piece is particularly good. Finnegan begins with a church service for one of the victims, Nicholas Thalasinos, who seems like a good guy, then gives us the history (as we know it) of the terrorists, Rizwan and Malik, and their various intolerances, and then back to Thalasinos, who worked with Rizan and used to argue with him about religion. He was, in fact, a frequent social media poster, and made enemies there. He hated all of Islam, which he called “the cult of rape, pedophilia, antisemitism and murder.” He hated our president, too, calling him an “utterly vile pagan filthy antisemitic drug addicted maggot”; he felt that while Obama didn't necessarily deserve lynching, he should at least be tried and executed—the trial apparently perfunctory. There's a line near the end of the piece from Rizan's less-religious father, Syed Sr., which was my feeling finishing the piece: “I despair and I do not understand.”
Then I read Packer on liberal apostates and felt a step closer to understanding. Or re-understanding. Packer is writing about Whitaker Chambers, a closeted homosexual and communist, whose testimony against Alger Hiss in the late 1940s led to the rise of Richard M. Nixon (although, let's face it, nothing would stop his rise; not even his fall). It's a quote from Chambers himself about why, after a shoddy childhood, he embraced communism in 1925:
It offered what nothing else in the dying world had power to offer at the same intensity: faith and a vision, something for which to live and something for which to die.
It's what hooks so many of us: communists and capitalists; Christians and Muslims; Republicans and Democrats. That awful search for meaning that leads to so much violence and death.
Anyway, subscribe to The New Yorker when you get the chance.