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“Enough With The ‘Optics’ And The ‘Narrative'”: There’s No Reason Journalists Should Have Any Shortage Of Questions To Ask

When an important news story breaks, Americans turn to journalists for answers. Answers to questions like: Does this story “play into a narrative”? And what are the “optics” of the story? Because that’s what really matters, right?

Or so you might have thought if you had been reading or watching the news for the past few days. Journalists and pundits were all in a tizzy because when Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch crossed paths recently at an Arizona airport tarmac, Clinton jumped on Lynch’s plane to chat with her for a half hour, about such shocking topics as Clinton’s grandchildren and their mutual friend Janet Reno.

The ensuing controversy looks like a prime example of the “Clinton Rules,” under which the media treat even the most ludicrous allegations against Bill or Hillary Clinton as reasonable and worthy of extended examination, assuming all the while that their actions can be motivated only by the most sinister of intentions. And if the underlying substance of a story is indeed ludicrous—like the idea that Clinton hopped over to talk to Lynch because he wanted to urge her to put the kibosh on any possible indictment of his wife (in a semi-public setting with a bunch of other people standing around), and not because he’s Bill Clinton and he loves chatting with important people—then you can just fall back on judging the “optics” and noting sagely that the story “plays into a narrative.” Whatever you do, don’t mention that the “narrative” is one you yourself are in the process of creating and sustaining, and when you say that the “optics” are bad, what you’re really saying is, “It was a mistake because here I am on TV saying it was a mistake.”

Here’s a handy rule of thumb: The more people you see in the media talking about “narratives” and “optics,” the less substantively meaningful the controversy they’re talking about actually is. So: Is there a reason to condemn Clinton or Lynch for their tarmac chitchat that doesn’t rely on the idea that one or the other should have known how it would look? The closest thing you can argue is that if there’s an active FBI investigation of a matter that involves the wife of a former president, that former president should have no contact, private or public, with the attorney general. Even if that’s an informal rule more intended to safeguard against the appearance of impropriety than actual impropriety, it’s still a perfectly good idea. On the other hand, the fact that their talk took place with other people around makes any kind of undue influence vanishingly unlikely; you’d have far more reason to be concerned about something like a private phone call.

Here’s what was going to happen if Clinton and Lynch had never spoken: The FBI would complete its investigation, the career prosecutors at the Justice Department would or wouldn’t recommend an indictment, and Lynch, as the department’s chief, would or wouldn’t accept that recommendation. I doubt any serious person thinks the outcome of that process would be affected by the conversation Clinton and Lynch had. Yes, there are Republicans, including Donald Trump, who will say otherwise. But there are also lots of Republicans who think that the Clintons killed Vince Foster and that Barack Obama was born in Kenya; that doesn’t mean you have to treat those ideas as anything other than the lunacy they are. But in the end, Lynch recused herself from the final decision on an indictment anyway. Why? Optics, of course.

Although this kind of thing happens with particular frequency to Bill and Hillary Clinton, that isn’t to say that that faux controversies don’t get whipped up about Republicans, too. For instance, over the weekend, Donald Trump retweeted an image of Hillary Clinton superimposed over a pile of money, with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” contained within a Star of David. Anthony Smith of mic.com tracked down the source of the image: a particularly rancid online forum of racists and white supremacists. I won’t link to it, but when I visited the forum Sunday afternoon, the top post was a story about Elie Wiesel under the headline, “DING DONG THE KIKE IS DEAD,” followed by lengthy discussions on the criminality of non-white people, the dangers of race-mixing, and the superiority of the white race. And it isn’t like this was an isolated incident. As David Weigel of The Washington Post noted, “For at least the fifth time, Trump’s Twitter account had shared a meme from the racist ‘alt-right’ and offered no explanation why.”

When the tweet started getting attention, the Trump campaign deleted it and replaced it with an altered image, this time with the Star of David replaced with a circle. My guess is that Trump got the image from one of his followers and retweeted it without giving it much thought. So is it a big deal, one worthy of multiple days of coverage? In and of itself, no. It doesn’t prove anything new about Trump. But it’s another demonstration of something that is troubling: Trump’s words and policy goals have garnered enthusiastic support from racists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.

Jews are pretty far down on the list of groups Donald Trump is trying to get voters to hate and fear, so to be honest, I’m not much more concerned about his tweet than I am about Bill Clinton telling Loretta Lynch how cute his grandkids are. In both cases, the last question we should care about is what the optics or the narrative are. Either Hillary Clinton did or didn’t do something wrong by using private email while at the State Department (she did), and either it will or won’t be determined to be a crime (it almost certainly won’t). In Trump’s case, it isn’t whether voters will react negatively to his extended game of Twitter footsie with white supremacists (much as one hopes they would). There’s something real and meaningful underneath the tweets: the fact that Trump is running the most nakedly racist presidential campaign, in both rhetoric and substance, since George Wallace in 1968, or maybe Strom Thurmond in 1948.

I have no idea what lies within Trump’s heart, and there’s no way to know for sure. But when members of the KKK are endorsing you, neo-Nazis are praising you, and every steroid-addled racist frat boy rage-monster is totally pumped about your campaign, there’s something much more important than the details of your retweeting habits at work. There’s no reason journalists should have any shortage of questions about that to discuss.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, July 3, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Bill and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Journalists, Loretta Lynch | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Loretta Lynch Is Now Public Enemy #2”: Guess Why The GOP Hates Our Black Attorney General?

It’s something I always figured would happen, and now it has. Attorney General Loretta Lynch is now public enemy #2 to the conservative media, after the president. The Justice Department’s initial decision to remove mentions of ISIS or the Islamic State from the transcript of conversations between Orlando massacre shooter Omar Mateen and the police not only showcase Lynch’s supposed incompetence, but also her inability to recognize what they see as America’s gravest threat: “radical Islam.” And the recent release of the full unredacted transcript has done little to dampen their ire.

Breitbart, The Daily Caller, The Blaze, Fox News, and more have become apoplectic with indignation. “The Orlando attack confirms Donald Trump’s analysis of the threat,” wrote Joel B. Pollack of Breitbart.

Lynch’s press conference in Orlando only increased their fury after she encouraged love in the face of hate and said that she did not know the present whereabouts of Mateen’s wife.

Sure, we’re all entitled to complain about how the transcript was released and the whereabouts of Mateen’s wife. Who can argue against it being better for the investigation if the shooter’s wife’s location is known and she has been questioned by authorities? Personally, I’m not too bothered by how the transcript was released, but I also don’t think “radical Islam” is our gravest domestic threat. Yet dismissing the importance of compassion, unity and love in the face of terror and hate is not only bizarre and dehumanizing, but perpetuates a divisive us vs. them narrative.

To the right, Lynch is an Obama lackey who just wants to “manipulate the truth” and “rewrite history.”

It is clear that they dislike her because she’s an Obama appointee—her arduous confirmation process is proof enough—but also, her fairness toward other groups signals an end to the predominantly pro-white male favoritism they have grown accustomed to. As a black woman, her experiences, perspectives, priorities and struggles will naturally clash with theirs. The increasingly polarized and radicalized conservative base also means that reason and compromise will be shunned, demonization will be encouraged, and that Lynch would inevitably climb up their hit list.

Lynch’s nomination was delayed for over 160 days. That is longer than the nomination process of the previous seven AGs combined. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who has well-known racial issues of his own, led the charge against Lynch’s confirmation based on her support for Obama’s immigration executive actions. Senator Ted Cruz also vociferously disapproved of her confirmation. And many other Republicans wanted her to distance herself from outgoing AG Eric Holder before approving her.

Holder had a tumultuous relationship with Republican legislators to say the least, including being held in contempt in 2012 by the GOP-led House in relation their “Fast and Furious” investigation. Holder too found it inconceivable how long Lynch’s nomination was being delayed, especially since this meant that he had to stay in the job until she was approved.

The absurdity of her delay was so stark that Democratic Senator Dick Durbin compared it to Jim Crow Segregation by saying that Lynch was being asked to “sit in the back of the bus.” Republican Senator John McCain responded to Durbin by saying that it was beneath the decorum of the United States Senate to “suggest that racist tactics are being employed to delay Ms. Lynch’s confirmation vote.”

Yet despite McCain’s ire, there’s a long history of racist tactics being used to prevent African American participation and advancement. And when you factor in nearly eight years of unprecedented Republican obstruction toward America’s first black president, combined with the opposition his two black AGs have faced from the GOP, these race-based accusations become even less outrageous.

Accusing the GOP of outright racism, especially since Donald Trump is their presumptive presidential nominee, and given the party’s opposition to virtually every civil-rights position that African Americans care about, is hardly an outrageous claim. But is it productive? Sure, some members may harbor racist or bigoted sensibilities, but does assigning a group an inflammatory label provide clarity in a complex situation? Does this label enable progress through compromise, or does it perpetuate an unhealthy polarization of our society?

Throughout Lynch’s tenure she’s applied an unbiased application of the law and a willingness to prosecute white-collar criminals and defend civil liberties and civil rights. These positions bizarrely appear antithetical to modern-day GOP ideology.

Few would have imagined the amount of corruption rife within FIFA, the world soccer body, until the Justice Department got involved. Following the terrorist attack by Dylann Roof at Emanuel AMC Church, Lynch announced that Roof would be charged with a hate crime after it was confirmed that white supremacist beliefs were the motivation for the attack.

She’s also launched a historic investigation into the Chicago Police department following the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. Hers and the Obama Administration’s stance in favor of allowing transgender people the right to use the restroom of the gender they identify with also continues her application of the law that prioritizes equality regardless of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

The investigation into the Orlando shooting also follows this pattern since it demonstrates an unwillingness to demonize, demean, or unjustly label a person or a community until the facts are evident and the investigation has concluded.

The GOP’s dislike of Lynch, Obama, and Holder may be motivated by race, but it may also be far more complex than that. Yet there is very little doubt about how dangerous their myopic us vs. them mentality that encourages rushing to judgment and demonizing “them” has become. They’ve encouraged a prejudicial environment within a society where guns are readily available, and have a presumptive presidential nominee who has campaigned on stoking these societal divisions. This sounds like a dangerous radicalization that has nothing to do with Islam.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daly Beast, June 27, 2016

June 28, 2016 Posted by | Conservative Media, Domestic Terrorism, Loretta Lynch | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Oh, The Irony!”: Holder Suddenly Enjoys The GOP’s ‘Love’ And ‘Affection’

It was six months ago that Attorney General Eric Holder announced his retirement, though he said he would stay on until President Obama nominated, and the Senate confirmed, his successor at the Justice Department. Given the scope of Republican opposition to Holder – the phrase “unbridled disgust” comes to mind – it seemed likely GOP lawmakers would rush Holder out the door.

Little did we know at the time that Republican senators would prepare to keep the A.G. around indefinitely.

Holder spoke this morning at the Center for American Progress, where he heard a few intentional laughs about his unique professional circumstances.

“There is no place I’d rather be in my closing days as Attorney General than here with you all. Well, at least these should be my closing days.

“Given the Senate’s scheduling and delays in considering Loretta Lynch’s nomination for a vote, it’s almost as if the Republicans in Congress have discovered a new fondness for me! I’m feeling love there that I haven’t felt for some time. Where was all this affection over the last six years?”

To borrow a Homer Simpson line, it’s funny because it’s true.

Six weeks after Holder announced his departure, Obama introduced U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as his nominee as the nation’s next Attorney General. Republicans, eager to rid themselves of Holder and impressed with Lynch’s sterling credentials and qualifications, seemed to embrace the president’s choice.

It was easy to imagine at the time that the new year would begin with a new Republican-led Congress and a new Attorney General. Instead, for reasons that even they can’t fully explain, GOP lawmakers have found a way to keep Holder in the same position they ostensibly want him to leave.

Remember, Senate Democrats could have tried to rush Lynch through the confirmation process during the lame-duck session late last year – before Dems lost their majority status – but Republicans implored Democrats not to. The power should rest with the incoming majority, GOP senators said.

The outgoing Democratic majority obliged, expecting Republicans to be at least somewhat responsible. After all, there were no substantive objections to Lynch and the GOP was desperate to see Holder go. Republicans had a built-in incentive to act reasonably.

And yet, here we are. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his team have subjected Lynch to the longest delay of any A.G. nominee in history – for reasons they haven’t even tried to explain – and this week, McConnell even broke his word about bringing Lynch’s nomination to the floor for a vote this week.

The irony is under-appreciated: Republicans wanted Holder to step down, and he did. Republicans wanted Obama to nominate an uncontroversial successor, and he did. Republicans wanted Democrats not to vote on Lynch in the lame-duck session, and they obliged.

Months later, the Senate’s GOP majority can’t quite bring itself to do what Republicans say they want to do. In fact, as far as McConnell & Co. are concerned, they hope to defeat Lynch – again, for reasons they’ve struggled to articulate – raising the prospect of Republicans keeping Holder at his current post until January 2017.

Can you really blame the Attorney General for asking facetiously, “Where was all this affection over the last six years?”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 18, 2015

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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