“15 Clowns And Counting, Revisionists Reality Show”: The GOP Should Run Its Debates Just Like American Idol
We’re almost certainly going to have more than a dozen Republican presidential candidates in the 2016 race. As The New York Times helpfully points out, six are already in (Carson, Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Paul, Rubio) and seven more are all but certainly running (Bush, Christie, Graham, Jindal, Perry, Santorum, Walker). There are plenty more maybes, too — both serious (Kasich) and clowns (Trump).
This leaves GOP planners with a big and pressing question: How do you stage a debate when you can’t even fit the participants on a single stage?
It’s an unprecedented problem. There’s never been a primary debate — in either party — with more than 10 candidates. And it’s even more disconcerting to Republicans because they made a strong effort to limit the number of debates so it didn’t turn into a circus like it did four years ago… when there were a mere nine candidates.
Fox News, which hosts the first debate on August 6, announced that it will limit participation to the top 10 contenders based on an average of the last five national polls. Maybe that sounds good on the surface… except that formula threatens to leave out a couple of sitting governors, a U.S. senator, and the only woman running.
CNN, which hosts the second debate on September 16, will literally divide the candidates into two tiers. That could lead to some interesting exchanges, as the lower-tier candidates try to get attention with less airtime.
Other proposed formulas, which exclude candidates by the amount of money raised or the number of staffers hired, also have their problems. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of the potential candidates who could be left off the stage, has even proposed two back-to-back debates with randomly selected participants.
All of this worrying and rule-making is intended to prevent the GOP presidential debates from becoming a political version of a reality show. But when you think about it, what’s wrong with that?
Imagine if the debates were like American Idol, with candidates “performing” their answers to questions before a panel of “judges” — and ultimately the votes of television viewers across the country. At the end of each round, the poorest performing candidates would be “voted off” and wouldn’t move to the next round.
Viewership of the debates would surge as Americans discussed with their friends and colleagues what happened on the “show” the previous night. And as more viewers voted to keep their favorite candidates around, more people would have a vested interest in the ultimate winner.
Just as the winners of American Idol often go on to became famous singers who sell out their concerts and sell many albums, the winner of the GOP presidential debate would have a ready-made constituency for the general election.
Some might think it’s unseemly to treat a presidential campaign like a game show. But our politics have been evolving this way for more than 200 years. Our earliest presidents thought it unseemly to even campaign at all. They never left their homes.
The Republican Party has its strongest field of candidates in years. There is no fair way to pick those who would be allowed on the debate stage. Even with as few as 10 candidates, the debates will seem like a game show.
Why not just embrace that? A game show format might lead to the strongest general election candidate Republicans have had in years, too.
By: Taegan Goddard, The Week, May 26, 2015
On Wednesday night, The Washington Post leaked an alleged report from the Baltimore Police Department, which claims that Freddie Gray, the 21-year-old who died a week after his spine was fractured while in police custody, “was intentionally trying to injure himself” in the back of a Baltimore Police van.
The report, whose author is unknown, cites a single source: an unnamed second man who was in the van with Gray for a short time, but could not see him.
But if Freddie Gray was trying to break his own spinal cord in the back of a van, according to experts in spinal trauma injuries, it might be the first self-inflicted injury of its kind.
“I have never seen it before. I’ve never seen somebody self-inflict a spinal cord injury in that way,” says Anand Veeravagu, a Stanford University Medical Center neurosurgeon who specializes in traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.
“It’s hard for me to understand that, unless those terms (like ‘intentional’ and ‘injure himself’) are being used incorrectly. It’s hard for me to envision how a person could try to do that,” he says. “It would require them to basically hang themselves in a car where there isn’t anything to hang yourself with.”
Veeravagu says that there are only a few ways you can injure your spine in a similar way to the injuries that ultimately led to Gray’s death. One, he says, is by a sharp injury, which is a direct penetrating injury—either somebody with a knife “who knows what they’re doing, or something else that cuts through, like a gunshot wound.”
The other way, more pertinent to Gray’s case, is by trauma, where the bones are fractured and the ligaments are torn as a result of force or impact.
“It is very difficult to sever your spinal cord without a known fracture,” says Veeravagu. “Often, when patients come in with this kind of injury, you’ll find they’ve been either in a car accident or something similar to that kind of impact.”
There are times where Veeravagu, who is a former White House Fellow, has seen suicide or self-harm by means of a spinal cord injury, but it’s always by hanging, or by using an apparatus Gray couldn’t have on-hand.
“Unfortunately, sometimes people attempt suicide by hanging themselves. It’s one of the only ways I’ve seen where you can (commit suicide or intentional self-harm) by spinal fracture. They kick their chair out, they fall, they snap their neck. It results in immediate spinal cord injury,” he says. “But it’s very hard to see how somebody could attempt suicide by a spinal cord injury without the use of something else.”
But it’s even in those instances, he says, patients often don’t die of a spinal cord injury. And most who are taken to the hospital in time after suffering spinal cord injuries—self-inflicted or not—survive the trauma.
“Most spinal cord injuries are not fatal if patients are taken to the hospital,” Veeravagu says. “Most survive.”
Outlets covering The Washington Post’s leak have called the claims from the unnamed source “a twist” and a “new narrative (that) questions police brutality claim.” On Wednesday night, CNN’s broadcast ran a breaking news banner that read: “BREAKING NEWS: WASH. POST: GRAY TRIED TO HURT HIMSELF,” and the video remains on CNN’s Youtube page.
The Washington Post’s initial report does not reach out to any medical professionals to determine the feasibility of the leaked document’s claims.
The official police report of Gray’s arrest was scheduled to be released publically on Friday, but police delayed the release on Wednesday.
“I’m surprised they released that piece of information without a more detailed account,” says Veeravagu.
Another trauma surgeon, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political nature of the case and because he is “surprised time and again by what I previously believed to be impossible,” thinks that it’s “highly unusual (if not impossible) to deliberately make yourself a quadriplegic while shackled in the back of a police van.”
There are, Veeravagu says, situations that would make Gray more prone to a fatal spinal injury, however—like if someone or something applied pressure to his spine as it snapped.
“Certain conditions make people more prone to spinal injury. If you were to apply leverage to the spine at certain points, it basically converts the spine to a long bone,” says Veeravagu.
Veeravagu also says it’s possible Gray’s spinal fracture could have occurred before entering the van—and that symptoms of his broken vertebrae could have been delayed until he was placed in the van.
“That is possible: It’s possible to have an injury to your spinal cord that gets worse over time and eventually progresses to complete paralysis,” he says. “Did he have an expanding blood clot in his spine? Did he have an exact fracture to his spine? Both are important to understand. If the family does an autopsy—finding that out, that’s ideal.”
By: Ben Collins, The Daily Beast, April 30, 2015
“We Expect A Higher Standard From The Old Guard”: Brian Williams’ Lies Are Not Equal To Those Of Fox ‘News’
There’s this speech I give my students. Distilled, it goes like this.
“Your primary asset as a journalist is not your dogged curiosity, your talent for research or your ability to make prose sing on deadline. No, your one indispensable asset is your credibility. If you are not believable, nothing else matters.”
Which brings us, inevitably, to Brian Williams. The NBC Nightly News anchor saw his career crumple like used Kleenex last week after he repeated one time too many a story he has been telling for years: how a U.S. military helicopter on which he was a passenger was shot down over Iraq in 2003.
But the man who was flight engineer on that copter said on Facebook that Williams was never on it. Instead, he was on the one trailing it. Williams apologized for conflating the two, blaming the “fog” of memory.
The incident was remarkably similar to candidate Hillary Clinton’s false 2008 claim that she came under sniper fire as First Lady during a 1996 visit to Bosnia. As it turns out, an American dignitary was shot at in Bosnia — just not Clinton. Rather, it was then-Sen. Olympia Snowe, six months before.
Then, as now, one is tempted to ascribe the lapse to false memory, that phenomenon where you recall with clarity things that never happened. Then, as now, one is hampered by the sheer drama of the events in question. A person may honestly misremember eating at a certain restaurant or seeing a given movie. But you’d think you’d be pretty clear on whether or not somebody almost killed you.
So now, people are poring over old newscasts to determine whether this is an isolated incident. A statement by Williams of seeing bodies outside his hotel during Hurricane Katrina was initially mocked, but has been found on closer inspection to be more credible than first believed.
Fans of Fox “News,” at least to judge from my email queue, are having a ball with all this. I wrote a column a few weeks back blasting Fox for its habitual, ideology-driven inaccuracy. Attacking Fox is not for the faint of heart. Its viewers (like Rush Limbaugh’s listeners) tend to take it personally, responding with such a nasty, visceral outrage that a body might think you’d blasphemed their deity rather than criticized their news outlet. I savaged CNN in this space last year and while some folks took issue, no one called me a “bleephole” or invited me to “bleep” myself. With Fox fans, that’s the salutation.
So this latest news brings a flood of email crowing over Williams’ troubles and demanding I give him equal treatment.
As I wrote in the aforementioned column, serious people do not take Fox seriously. Indeed, consider the level of angst, the sense of expectations betrayed, that has attended Williams’ failure and ask yourself: Would there be a similar outpouring if someone at Fox had told this whopper?
Fox is what Fox is, but its distortions and mendacities are generally only mistaken for gospel by a stratum of the electorate already predisposed to its bizarre worldview. The rest of us like to think we can expect a higher standard from the old guard of the news media, meaning the likes of CBS, NBC and The New York Times. And usually we can.
But every time that belief is betrayed — meaning not garden variety errors of fact, but catastrophic failures of journalistic integrity — the damage is exponentially greater precisely because the level of trust is exponentially higher. Such failures feed the disaffection and cynicism of a politically polarized nation where the universally accepted fact is an endangered species.
It’s a state of affairs that makes it hard to run a country. Or to be one.
So people asking that I give Brian Williams equal treatment are missing the point. If, indeed, he lied, then his sins are not equal to Fox’s.
They are worse.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, February 11, 2015
Back in October I stared at enough Ben Carson remarks to begin to grasp the man’s very unusual definition of “political correctness,” a term he uses constantly. To him, it basically means the practice of contradicting or mocking right-wing conspiracy theories in a way that “intimidates” people into no longer articulating them, which in turn suppresses political debate and thus makes America no longer America or something. So I wasn’t surprised when Carson went into full anti-PC mode after Wolf Blitzer (among others) called him on comparing the United States to Nazi Germany (per David at Crooks & Liars):
Possible Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson on Wednesday lashed out at CNN host Wolf Blitzer for “focusing on the words” that he used when he compared the United States to Nazi Germany.
Earlier this year, Carson had told the conservative news outlet Breitbart that the U.S. was “very much like Nazi Germany” because President Barack Obama was using the government to “intimidate the population.”
“What I heard the comparison of the United States of America — the greatest country in the world, the greatest country ever — to Nazi Germany, I said, what is he talking about?” Blitzer told Carson on Wednesday.
“See, what you were doing is allowing words to affect you more than listening to what was actually being said,” Carson insisted. “Nazi Germany experienced something horrible. The people in Nazi Germany largely did not believe in what Hitler was doing, but did they say anything? Of course not. They kept their mouths shut.”
“The fact that our government is using instruments of government like the IRS to punish its opponents, this is not the kind of thing, as far as I’m concerned, that is a Democrat or Republican issue. This is an American issue. This is an issue that threatens all of our liberty, all or our freedom.”
Blitzer, however, wasn’t satisfied: “But to make the comparison, Dr. Carson, to Nazi Germany, the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis, the devastation that erupted in Europe and around the world to the United States of America, I want you to reflect on what that means.”
“Well, again, you are just focusing on the words Nazi Germany and completely missing the point,” Carson replied. “And that’s the problem right now, that’s what PC-ism is all about: You may not say this word regardless of what your point is because if you say that word, you know, I go into a tizzy. We can do better than that.”
Read that through a couple of times and you get there’s no reasoning with people like Carson. Anyone who doesn’t accept his planted axiom that the IRS is being used as a political weapon by Obama (you know, through that well-known totalitarian tactic of slow-walking applications for a phony “social welfare” tax exemption designed to hide the identity of political donors) is smothering his argument with “political correctness.” Anyone hung up on the meaning of “words” like “Nazi” is undermining the sacred right to lie and make outrageous false analogies. Carson sees no obligation on his own part to be slightly more careful in his characterization of political opponents as akin to slave-drivers and Nazis. And so until people like him are, God forbid, fully in charge of America, any expression of dissent from his bizarre world-view is in fact oppressive, and any debate is the suppression of debate.
Yeah, the more I listen to him, the more it’s clear Dr. Ben Carson is the true and perhaps ultimate leader of the Post-Modern wing of the conservative movement, where “facts” are just an inconvenient artifice.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 4, 2014
“Wanted; Less Terrible Political Coverage On TV”: An Increasingly Tiresome Model Of Political And Current Events Coverage
Jon Stewart is nothing if not America’s foremost cable news critic. On Sunday, he couldn’t help telling CNN what he thinks of them—and he did it on their network. “I want more of good CNN,” Stewart said. “CNN is very similar to the doll Chucky. Sometimes it’s good Chucky, but you really got to watch out for bad Chucky.”
It’s not just CNN. Much of what passes for political coverage these days is (to borrow a phrase) “bad Chucky.” What Stewart admires are the “brave correspondents” who cover things like the Arab Spring. What he doesn’t like, though—the breathless and feigned “BREAKING NEWS” time fillers and pearl clutching—is what cable news relies on the majority of the time spent between revolutions and natural disasters. It’s an increasingly tiresome model of political and current events coverage.
Aside from Fox News (as evidenced by the ratings), MSNBC’s Morning Joe (as evidenced by its status as a tastemaker), and comedy shows like the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and HBO’s Real Time (by virtue of their place in the cultural zeitgeist), politics on TV doesn’t seem to be as good anymore. Maybe it’s just me. Then again, cable news ratings are down more or less across the board, and Americans find much of the media untrustworthy.
There are other exceptions, no doubt. But whether it’s cable news or the Sunday morning talk shows, something just doesn’t seem right. One gets the sense that they’re flailing, that the world has changed, but they haven’t. That they’re trying to figure out how to make it work, but so far it’s not coming together.
And I think it’s worth noting that among the shows that I believe to be “working” include several examples that are, ostensibly, comedy. And that makes me wonder if maybe the networks and shows might not want to look to them for guidance? And, of course, they already are: Jon Stewart was seriously considered as host for Meet The Press, a move that would have either changed the whole damn paradigm—or failed spectacularly. But the larger question lingers: Why do these shows work, while much of what passes for straight political commentary and analysis (not to be confused with straight news) seem so stale?
A theory: As our political system—not to mention our coverage of it—becomes more absurd, there’s a natural yearning to point out that absurdity in a way a show like Meet the Press is not equipped to handle. MTP and shows like it are all about how serious this is. These are senators, don’t ya know—statesmen. It’s like the whole format is left over from the Washington that existed in an Allen Drury novel, a time before the message was controlled and you rose in the ranks on your ability to avoid gaffes and raise cash.
Our politics—our culture at large, really—now disincentivizes loose informality when it comes to political coverage. It’s really quite schizophrenic: we urge you to be loose and fun and interesting, but we’ll crucify you if you trip up. ‘It’s all absurd, yes, but don’t take it lightly!’ seems to be the mantra, and there’s a million tripwires to look out for if you’re a senator talking on a set. So we settle on this arrangement that has this sort of bloodless/uber-serious political coverage on the one hand, and Jon Stewart absurdity on the other. A politician or pundit screws up on one, and is made fun of on the other.
But there’s a missing middle ground here—a warm wit, a little mischievous but not cynical—that Sunday shows kind of miss now.
I’m not advocating that we dumb down political analysis and chase the lowest common denominator. Quite the opposite. The irony is that shows that are meant to be funny are often also the smarter shows. There is a long tradition of Swiftian satire, and in this regard, the comedy shows are selling themselves short when they cast themselves as mere “entertainment.” One could argue that they are providing a service—and a service that could be replicated by other outlets and media.
But as faking sincerity is difficult, replicating insouciance is a challenge. It helps to have fun, smart hosts who don’t have an ideological ax to grind. That’s not to say Stewart and Oliver and Maher (just to mention three) don’t have a point of view; they tend to universally lean leftward. But they are probably more intellectually honest—more willing to call their own team for BS—than most political commentators.
They’re also funny. For them, the rule has to be to “be funny first.” You can have an agenda, but it’s always second fiddle to being funny. Or, if your show is about ideas, then I think it has to be intellectually stimulating first. My point here is that scoring political points probably can’t come first, at least if believe this is the model that works best.
Here, talent is important, too. There were a lot of things about that infamous Jon Stewart rant on Crossfire that I thought were unfair, but one thing he got completely right is that being funny is harder than doing political commentary. On the other hand, Stewart and Oliver and Maher have some huge advantages over their political interlocutors, such as a team of writers helping them come up with one-liners. They’re also held to a lower standard, partly at their own insistence, allowing them to quickly move back and forth between serious public-service style journalism and “we’re all just having fun” irreverence.
So I leave you with this: Could a cable network—tasked with providing content 24/7 replicate the quality of these shows, day in and day out? There’s probably no way that would happen. It’s so much easier and cheaper to book guests to gab about the news of the day. There’s little time or money for flying the perfect guest—maybe a smart author—across the country to have an elevated discussion. But it could work as a model for the Sunday shows which, let’s face it, would benefit from a little more levity.
Political commentary will slowly evolve, and what I think we’re witnessing right now is a kind of transitional period—an adolescence, if you will, and that’s rarely an attractive stage. The current formula for TV news isn’t working, and the networks know it, but they haven’t quite figured out what will replace it. Yes, there will always be a place for serious discussion about policy, but this much seems obvious: A decade from now, political punditry will look very different. And I’m betting on the funny guys.
By: Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast, November 19, 2014