Media postsFriday August 04, 2017
No Nip for Tuck
I finally got around to reading Kelefa Sanneh's profile of Fox host Tucker Carlson, “Tucker Carlon's Fighting Words,” which was in the April 10 issue of The New Yorker—the one with the Barry Blitt drawing of a fat-assed Pres. Trump golfing on the White House lawn.
Was it worth it? Did I learn anything?
Well, I learned that Carlson's father was a former U.S. Marine who became a journalist and then, when Tucker was 10, married Patricia Swanson “of the frozen food Swansons.” (Tucker's mother left when he was 6 and he's never seen her again.) I learned that Tucker “loves rascals”—from Rev. Al Sharpton to Roger Stone—and that he sees himself in that light. I like this description of him by Sanneh: “'Old money' describes Carlson's aesthetic but not, exactly, his circumstances.” I learned that he often flummoxes guests on his show by asking them questions that are tough/impossible to answer—such as, to Bill Nye, what percentage of global warming is caused by human activity?—and that he's more offended by liberal reaction to Trump's incompetence/buffoonery than he is by the actual presidential incompetence/buffoonery.
But the piece wasn't hard-hitting enough. In the Jon Stewart/“Crossfire” contretemps, Sanneh seems to favor “Crossfire,” which is odd, and his descriptions of right-wingers are unseasonably mild. Milo Yiannopoulos is “the crusader against political correctness”; the Roger Ailes sexual harassment suits are part of “a series of embarassments” for Fox.
Bradlee: You don't have it.
Psst: New York Times, NPR, Et al.
From “Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower's Secret Campaign against Joseph McCarthy” by David A. Nichols:
Sensing the chance to gain more headlines, [Joseph] McCarthy terminated his honeymoon and rushed back to take charge of the Monmouth investigation. Once back, he rolled out sensational charges every day. He was free to emerge from closed-door hearings and tell the press anything he wished, accurate or not, knowing that reporters would report whatever he said.
And it's still going on, Danny. In today's newspaper, it's still going on.
Last night, for example, this was a headline on The New York Times' website:
This turn of events is astonishing. Sessions was Trump's first ally on the national stage, the man who backed him from the beginning, and who was rewarded with the power of the office of the U.S. Attorney General. And now? Most suppositions, mine included, is that Trump wants special counsel Robert Mueller fired for extreme competence, but Mueller's ostensible boss, Sessions, can't, since he recused himself from the Russian investigations. So Trump wants Sessions gone and a new USAG in his place—one who will fire Mueller. The brazenness and lawlessness of it all is astonishing.
And yet that's the hed. Here's the question every media outlet needs to ask itself when dealing with such matters: How does the above differ from what you would get from state-run media? How are we better than state-run media? If the answer is we're not, then work needs to be done.
Work needs to be done. He was free to emerge from closed-door hearings and tell the press anything he wished, accurate or not, knowing that reporters would report whatever he said. McCarthy then, Trump now.
How a Press Indictment in 'The Insider' Indicts the Press
There's a nice scene in Michael Mann's great 1999 movie, “The Insider,” which is about “60 Minutes,” the Big Tobacco lawsuit, and intrepid journalism. The movie is essentially “All the President's Men” for the '90s.
In the scene, the “60 Minutes” team, led by producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) and newsman Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer), are trying to fathom what information their reluctant insider, Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), might have against Brown & Williamson. Here's the quote that I keep coming back to:
What that is, is tobacco's standard defense. It's the “We don't know” litany. “Addiction? We believe not. Disease? We don't know. We just take a bunch of leaves, we roll 'em together, you smoke 'em. After that, you're on your own, we don't know.”
It's the media mocking the false innocence of Big Tobacco.
I keep coming back to this scene because it increasingly reminds me of the way the media presents its news to us:
Climate change? We don't know. We just quote these two scientists—one of whom believes and one who doesn't. After that, you're on your own, we don't know. Trump's latest claim? We're not sure. We're just repeating what people in power are saying. We don't know.
Objectivity is not stupidity but too often the media makes it so. There's often no attempt to follow up, not much of an attempt to even do what Jon Stewart did—see if the people in power are contradicting what they said 10 years ago, or five years ago, or last year or last week. It's stenography. And it has to stop if we're going to survive as a democracy.
Some of the press has gotten a little better at it: The “Trump Accuses Obama of Wiretapping, Cites No Evidence” kind of thing. Trump is actually helpful in this regard. He's such a psychopathic liar he's forcing the press to own up to what the facts are. But I don't think Trump would be where he is, destroying our country, if the media had simply done a better job covering the 2016 election.
NPR: No Democratic Response Today, Boys
This morning on NPR, host Steve Inskeep interviewed right-wing advocate Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union on yesterday's news: Mitch McConnell delaying the vote on the GOP's horrendous bill to replace Obamacare with less insurance for fewer people and more tax breaks for the uber-wealthy. After Schlapp danced around him, Inskeep thanked him profusely (“really enjoyed talking with you”), and then Inskeep seemed to pivot toward getting the liberal or Democratic response.
Nope. There was no Democratic response. Instead Inskeep spoke with NPR correspondent Scott Horsley, who gave the straightforward approach to what's happening, and what's been happening, with the Senate bill.
Remember the old “Firing Line” dynamic: Liberal vs. Conservative? Apparently NPR has repealed and replaced that with: Right-wing bullshit vs. What's really happening.
Makes you wonder why they have the right-wing bullshit on in the first place.
NPR: I'd like the news, please, rather than people bullshitting over the news.
OK, Can We Impeach NPR's Mara Liasson Then?
Here's a dialogue about the past week in politics between NPR's “Weekend Edition” host Lulu Garcia-Navarro and NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson, which ran this morning:
Garcia-Navarro: What about the left? I see a whole political spectrum mobilized by Comey's firing. You know, you look on social media and cable news, they're calling for Trump's impeachment. What do you think when you hear calls like that? Is it feasible?
Liasson: No. I don't. I think there's a lot of magical thinking on both ends of the political spectrum. You know, his supporters think he's rewritten the rules, and they'll tell me, “It doesn't matter what he does, it doesn't matter what his approval ratings are.” Remember during the campaign he said he could stand on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters. On the left, I think they are in the grip—many people, critics of him—are in the grip of this delusion that he's going to be impeached, or that we're in a full-fledged constitutional crisis. So this is a phenomenon of our very tribalized politics.
I can't imagine a more blasé response from a political reporter to an unprecedented week in politics.
Reminder: This week, the president of the United States fired the director of the FBI, who was in the midst of investigating his presidential campaign. According to initial reports, the president did this because of the director's handling of an unrelated matter, and he did it only upon the recommendation of the attorney general and assistant attorney general. A day later, the president admitted on television, no, it was his decision, and that he fired the FBI director because of the investigation into Russian ties—which he feels are baseless. It's also been revealed that in January the president demanded the FBI director swear loyalty to him rather than to the Constitution. Later, the president tweeted a veiled threat to the FBI director if he should leak any information.
I could go on. Even The National Review (The National Review, Liasson) concludes there are only three reasons for James Comey's firing:
- the initial stated one (Clinton, emails)
- the Russia investigation, because POTUS feels it's baseless
- the Russia investigation, because it's not baseless
TNR disimisses 1) as both absurd and contradicted by POTUS, feels 2) is likely, but is open to 3).
The third one is definitely obstruction of justice, which is an impeachable offense. My question: Is 2) obstruction of justice as well? I'm looking for someone to answer that. Maybe a national political correspondent for a prestigious radio network.
But here's where Liasson really pissed me off:
Liasson: I talked to a conservative yesterday who accused the media of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” because CNN was focusing on the fact that Trump gets two scoops of ice cream when everyone else gets one at the White House. So I think that Trump is a divisive figure, and he's divided America even more.
Garcia-Navarro (amused): Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Liasson: Well, there was also Obama Derangement Syndrome on the right! So this is a real phenomenon, unfortunately, of our politics today.
Really? Obama insures millions, kills Osama bin Laden, opens up Cuba, tries to extricate U.S. ground troops from foreign wars, conducts himself with civility and propriety ... and the right-wing froths at the mouth. Trump tries to take away insurance from millions in favor of a tax break for the uber-wealthy, appoints dept. heads who despise their departments, enacts unconstitutional executive orders, signs more executive orders in his first 100 days than any president ever, is chiefly advised by his daughter and son-in-law as well as people tinged with anti-Semitic ties, blames everyone but himself, and fires the FBI director investigating him ... and the left-wing calls for impeachment. Can you spot the difference? It's a little easier than “Where's Waldo?” but I don't know if Liasson can see it.
The goal should be to strive for objectivity without descending into stupidity. Liasson, and most of NPR, are failing at this.