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“Reporters Now Face A Choice”: Can Donald Trump Win By Duping Young Voters With ‘90s Conspiracy Theories?

The final week of the Republican primary was essentially a formality, but in hindsight an exceptionally important formality.

As long as Donald Trump still had to go through the motions to fend off candidates whose campaigns had been reduced to simulacra, and as long as his opponents were clinging to the hope of defeating him at the GOP convention, their combat served as a kind of permission for reporters to treat Trump’s campaign as the anomaly that it was.

On the eve of the fateful Indiana primary, when Trump infamously and speciously linked Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Washington Post ran a story headlined, “How on earth is the media supposed to cover Trump’s wacky JFK-Cruz conspiracy theory?” Glenn Kessler, who writes the Post’s fact checker column, gave Trump all four of his dreaded Pinocchios. Even the Post’s straight news piece about the supposed Cruz/Lee Harvey Oswald connection lead with an incredulous dependent clause, describing Trump as “Never one to shy away from discussing unsubstantiated tabloid fodder …”

In theory, debunking political whoppers is what the press is supposed to do, but in practice, things aren’t usually so straightforward. Politicians control access to themselves and their privileged information, which gives them outsize control over who breaks news. With their parties and supporters behind them, they can freeze out adversarial reporters and dismiss accusations of dishonesty as media bias. But in Trump’s case, reporters weren’t the lone arbiters of truth during the primaries. Other Republicans participated, too. Ted Cruz called Trump an “utterly amoral” “pathological liar,” a “narcissist” and a “bully.” The press wasn’t adjudicating Trump’s claims so much as they were relaying a cross-ideological consensus that Trump was unglued.

Just a few hours after he addressed the JFK conspiracy theory, Cruz suspended his campaign and the dynamic between the press and Trump changed. Leading Republicans stopped calling Trump a liar and trying to deny him their party’s nomination. In embracing Trump, they essentially rescinded their permission to the press to treat him as an outlier.

Reporters now face a choice between reimagining Trump as a partisan mirror image of Hillary Clinton, or drawing the ire of the broader GOP. Trump can’t become president unless he comes to be seen as on a par with Clinton, and that can’t happen without the assent of the media. So far the media hasn’t granted it, but we’ve seen scattered indicia of how it might happen.

Trump can’t become president unless he comes to be seen as on a par with Clinton, and that can’t happen without the assent of the media.

When Trump swung into general-election mode and indulged the horrific lie, fixated upon by conservative media more than twenty years ago, that the Clintons may have murdered Vince Foster (a Clinton ally who killed himself shortly after joining the White House counsel’s office), the Post rightly described Foster’s suicide as “the focus of intense and far-fetched conspiracy theories on the Internet.” But the same article essentially baptized Trump’s tactics as part of the normal give-and-take of partisan campaigning:

The presumptive Republican nominee and his associates hope that his tactics will bring fresh scrutiny to the Clintons’ long record in public life, which conservatives characterize as defined by scandals that her allies view as witch hunts. Through social media and Trump’s ability to garner unfiltered attention on the Internet and the airwaves, political strategists believe he could revitalize the controversies among voters who do not remember them well or are too young to have lived through them.

Trump’s approach would be perfectly reasonable but for the fact that the “scandals” he has resurfaced have all been either roundly debunked or, in the case of Hillary supposedly enabling Bill’s sexual indiscretions, merited no respectful hearing to begin with.

What Trump and his allies really hope is that they can hoodwink first-time voters or people who weren’t paying close attention back in the 1990s into believing known lies. Only the media can prevent this—but with Trump as GOP nominee, and party leaders rallying behind him, the media suddenly faces fresh incentives not to intervene, and they will become harder to resist over time.

It is possible, even in the context of a general-election campaign, to treat Trump’s embrace of widely discredited Clinton attacks responsibly. The Post, even as it was presenting Trump’s myth-based campaign strategy as a neutral matter in its news pages, ran a story by Foster’s sister, scolding Trump for revisiting “untold pain” on the Foster family, and Kessler gave Trump another four Pinocchios.

Meanwhile, CNN’s Jake Tapper set a standard for reporters who have to cover Trump’s pronouncements, but don’t want to lend credence to false claims, by calling the Foster insinuations “ridiculous and frankly shameful.”

“This is not an anti-Trump position or a pro-Clinton position,” Tapper said. “It’s a pro-truth position.”

The trouble is that unless a critical mass of media figures agrees to treat the things Trump exhumes from the fever swamps of the 1990s with the appropriate contempt, Trump will enjoy the benefit of the doubt most major-party nominees expect. It was easy for reporters to treat Trump adversarially, without fear or favor, when other Republicans were begging them to scrutinize him. Just three weeks later, the same kind of scrutiny presents those reporters with a collective action problem—by admonishing Trump, they might find themselves at a disadvantage to peers who choose to remain in the good graces of both campaigns. And if enough of them are cowed into treating the 20-year-old contents of The American Spectator as fair-game politics, Trump’s plan to dupe the young and forgetful will succeed.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, May 27, 2016

May 31, 2016 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Reporters | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Brazen Arrogance Bordering On Amusing”: Christie-Brand Leadership: The Buck Stops Over There

About a week ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) sat down with CNN’s Jake Tapper, who asked about the governor’s “Bridgegate” scandal. The Republican presidential hopeful made it seem as if the entire fiasco had nothing to do with him.

“I’m the governor; it happens on my watch,” Christie said. “But you can’t be responsible for the bad acts of some people who wind up in your employ.”

A day later, the Garden State governor told the editors of the New Hampshire Union Leader, “I’ve learned to be less trusting and ask more questions, first off. The fact is my general nature is to be a trusting person.”

All of which led to yesterday’s Christie interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who asked about the scandal that’s helped drag down the governor. From the transcript, by way of Nexis:

KELLY: So far there’s nothing tying you to giving the order in the bridge gate scandal.

CHRISTIE: Nor will there be.

KELLY: But the case is not yet closed and so some say, what if you get indicted? Are you a risky bet?

CHRISTIE: No, the U.S. Attorney said in his press conference weeks ago, that there will be no further charges in the bridge matter. He said that affirmatively three or four times. This has been 15 months of investigation and there’s been no connection to me because there is no connection to me. I had nothing to do with it, knew nothing about it and nor will there be evidence come to the contrary because it just didn’t happen.

The more the governor says the scandal has “nothing to do with” him, the harder it is to take his defense seriously.

Indeed, looking back at Christie’s comments to Jake Tapper, note that he refers to his former aides – now under criminal indictment – as people who “wound up” working for him, as if the governor showed up at his office one day and discovered some random people who just happened to somehow end up in his administration.

The truth is far more straightforward. Some of Christie’s top aides conspired to punish some of Christie’s constituents because a local mayor failed to endorse Christie’s re-election. These Christie administration officials abused their powers – allegedly to a criminal degree – in Christie’s name.

“There is no connection to me”? C’mon. Even if one is inclined to accept the governor’s explanation at face value – Christie was simply too ignorant of what was happening around him to be held responsible – clearly the scandal has at least some connection to him, given that this was his team acting in his name.

What’s more, there’s also the possibility of a more direct link. David Wildstein’s lawyer said two weeks ago that the governor “knew of the lane closures as they occurred” and that “evidence exists” that proves it.

In last night’s interview, Megyn Kelly also reminded Christie that two-thirds of his own constituents do not believe he’d be a good president. The governor replied, in reference to New Jersey residents, “They want me to stay. A lot of those people that 65 percent want me to stay. I’ve heard that from lots of people at town hall meetings, ‘Don’t leave,’ and ‘Don’t run for president because we want you to stay.’”

Christie also probably believes they were saying “Boo-urns.”

To be sure, the brazen arrogance borders on amusing, but the notion that New Jersey voters are so in love with Christie that they can’t bear the thought of him moving to the White House is plainly silly. As of two weeks ago, the governor’s approval rating in his home state was down to just 35%.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 19, 2015

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sometimes, It’s Not Entirely About Us”: A Note On Criticism Of Obama For Not Attending Paris March

The march in Paris yesterday expressing solidarity in the wake of the terrorist attack on the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was an inspiring sight, with somewhere between one and two million people, joined by world leaders, proclaiming their defiance of terrorism and their support for freedom of expression. But don’t think for a second that politics was absent, there or here at home. For instance, there was apparently a great deal of behind-the-scenes wrangling between the French, Israeli and Palestinian governments over whether Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas would attend. Back here in the United States, the Obama administration has been roundly condemned for not sending sufficiently high-ranking officials to participate in the march.

Many argued that President Obama should have attended, since other heads of state like Angela Merkel and David Cameron were there. “Our president should have been there,” wrote Sen. Ted Cruz. Others said that if not the President, then at least the Vice President or Secretary of State should have gone (the U.S. was represented at the march by the American ambassador to France). The criticisms have been somewhere between vehement and vicious, and not just from conservatives, but from mainstream reporters and news organizations. CNN ran a headline reading, “Where was Obama?” The New York Daily News cover read: “You let the world down.” Jake Tapper, writing about the absence of American officials, opined: “I say this as an American — not as a journalist, not as a representative of CNN — but as an American: I was ashamed.”

Let’s dispense with this specific question with no more than the attention it deserves: It would have been all but insane for President Obama to participate in a march, in public, in a foreign country, with a couple million people around him. The security requirements necessary to protect him make it impossible. The Secret Service has to do an extraordinary amount of work and planning for him to drop by Ben’s Chili Bowl a mile from the White House; the idea that with a couple of days notice he could walk through the streets of Paris in an enormous throng of people is absurd.

But let’s be honest: practical considerations aside, the world wasn’t waiting to see whether Barack Obama would participate in this particular march. As shocking as this idea may seem from our perspective, sometimes it’s not entirely about us.

And it isn’t as though the whole American political leadership, from the President on down, haven’t spoken out on this subject. Should the administration have sent Vice President Biden to the march? Yes, they should have. That would have been a fine gesture (and I’m guessing he could have fit it into his schedule). But what’s interesting to me is the way that people and organizations that hesitate to express personal opinions on other topics feel free to issue thunderous condemnations of the White House for its less than active participation in what is, after all, a symbolic act.

Maybe my memory’s faulty, but I don’t recall any other journalist committed to the ideal of “objectivity” saying he was “ashamed” about the fact that millions of Americans have no health coverage, or about the 30,000 Americans killed by guns every year, or about our ample contributions to global warming. It’s precisely because those things are about real people’s lives that it would be considered deeply inappropriate for a mainstream journalist to express such an opinion. But you can say you’re ashamed about something entirely symbolic — and in the long run essentially meaningless — like the fact that the American ambassador attended a march when it would have a bigger deal had the Secretary of State or the Vice President been there.

That isn’t to say that symbolism is unimportant. Much of politics is about the creation and dissemination of symbols. But what exactly is the damage that has been done by the fact that a (supposedly) insufficiently high-ranking American official represented our government at this event? Will the peoples of the world no longer believe that America is an advocate for freedom of speech, or that Americans abhor terrorism? I doubt it.

And before anyone gets too self-congratulatory about his or her own courage and ideals in expressing solidarity with those murdered in France, consider another event that occurred last week, when Boko Haram killed as many as 2,000 men, women, and children in the city of Baga, Nigeria. There are mundane reasons why that news got so much less attention than the events in France — perhaps most important, those killings occurred in an isolated place, while Paris was already full of reporters, and more could get there quickly and easily to report on the story. But it’s undeniable that a terrorist attack in Europe — and one targeting journalists — is going to be of infinitely more concern to the media in Europe and America than an attack in Africa.

When someone in France or Germany or the United States says “Je suis Charlie,” in many ways they’re right. The victims of the Paris attacks were people like them, which makes the horror of their murders feel more real and immediate. And of course, there’s a critical democratic value at issue, that of free expression, which allows us to expend plenty of words considering what these events “mean.” Boko Haram’s victims, on the other hand, weren’t advocates for a cause, and their deaths weren’t imbued with symbolism. They were just human beings.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2015 Posted by | Charlie Hebdo, Paris Shootings, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sanctifying Defenders Of The Status Quo”: The GOP’s Obsession With Rate Shock Victims

Last week, the Obamacare war room detected a twist in the national narrative that concerned them. The media’s obsessive focus on the failed website launch was beginning to give way to stories about individuals who found higher-than-expected prices on the exchanges. A memo instructed participants to prepare for such “media inquiries”: “The media attention will follow individuals to plan selection and their ultimate choices; and, in some cases, there will be fewer options than would be desired to promote consumer choice and an ideal shopping experience,” warned the memo. “Additionally, in some cases there will be relatively high-cost plans.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper obtained the memo. Here is how he described it: “Officials expressed concern that the next shoe to drop in the evolving story about the Affordable Care Act would be disappointment from consumers once they are able to get on the troubled Healthcare.gov website — disappointment because of sticker shock and limited choice.” Notice the crucial difference in framing. The memo simply acknowledged that in some cases — a caveat that appeared twice — consumers would have fewer options and higher prices than the administration would like. In CNN’s characterization, the caveat disappears altogether. Tapper portrays the problem as “disappointment from consumers,” writ large. The minority facing sticker shock has become a stand-in for the entire public.

This turns out to be a synecdoche for the entire Obamacare narrative now. The world of the Republican Party’s fever dreams has sprung to life in the mainstream media, where the Affordable Care Act now exists primarily as a series of cruel, oppressive acts of theft against innocent Americans. Here are CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post chronicling the parade of horribles.

The stories often turn out to be either more complicated than initially depicted, or wildly overblown. But it is surely true that some people will find themselves worse off, at least immediately, under the new law. That their fate has blotted out everything else about the law explains why health-care reform is so maddeningly difficult to enact in the first place.

Everybody knows about the two main ways in which the American health-care system is awful: It’s the most expensive in the world, by far, and also the only advanced health-care system that denies basic care to many citizens. There’s also a third awful trait as well: The system is resistant to change. The very insecurity of American health care, the ever-present fear of finding one’s insurance lifeline snapped and plunging into the howling void of the 50 million uninsured, renders those with insurance understandably terrified of change.

The Affordable Care Act worked around the inherent change aversion of the system by leaving the vast majority of it in place. Insuring tens of millions of Americans costs money, and that money has to come from somewhere, but the law’s author’s carefully apportioned the burden in a relatively painless way. Some of the money comes from higher taxes on the rich — a source of anger and resentment on the right, though conservatives have shrewdly recognized that complaining about higher taxes on wealthy investors to pay for covering the uninsured is not a winning message. Some of it comes from reshuffling Medicare spending, so that the government essentially shifts funds from reimbursing hospitals for treating uninsured patients in emergency rooms to basic medical care, a clear positive-sum transfer.

And, yes, some of the cost is borne by the minority of healthy individuals paying higher premiums. (These individuals will, of course, go from Obamacare victims to Obamacare beneficiaries the moment anybody in their household develops a serious medical condition, in the same manner that fire insurance is a bad deal for people whose houses don’t burn.)

Why has their plight attained such singular prominence? Several factors have come together. The news media has a natural attraction to bad news over good. “Millions Set to Gain Low-Cost Insurance” is a less attractive story than “Florida Woman Facing Higher Costs.” Obama overstated the case when he repeatedly assured Americans that nobody would lose their current health-care plan. There’s also an economic bias at work. Victims of rate shock are middle-class, and their travails, in general, tend to attract far more lavish coverage than the problems of the poor. (Did you know that on November 1, millions of Americans suffered painful cuts to nutritional assistance? Not a single Sunday-morning talk-show mentioned it.)

The point here is not that Obamacare represents a perfectly optimal restructuring of the health-care system. Almost nobody would regard it as such. The point is that it represents the least-disruptive, least-painful way to clear the minimal threshold of any humane reform. The preferred alternatives of both right and left would impose an order of magnitude of more dislocation — creating not a few million “victims,” but tens of millions. What’s on display at the moment is a way of looking at the world that sanctifies defenders of the horrendous status quo and places all the burden upon those trying to change it.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, November 5, 2013

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Aiding And Abetting: The Flawed Reporting That Touched Off A Firestorm

We talked yesterday about last week’s ABC News reporting on emails related to the Obama administration’s Benghazi talking points, which are now very much in doubt. I’ve heard from ABC, so let’s follow up.

ABC’s reporting on Friday, which touched off a major political firestorm, pointed to a top White House official who reportedly sent an email siding with the State Department and recommending the removal of specific references to terrorist organizations and CIA warnings from the talking points. Jake Tapper at CNN reported yesterday that ABC was wrong — the “actual email differs from how sources characterized it” to ABC’s Jonathan Karl.

ABC last night referred me to this statement from Karl.

I asked my original source today to explain the different wording on the Ben Rhodes e-mail, and the fact that the words “State Department” were not included in the e-mail provided to CNN’s Tapper.

This was my source’s response, via e-mail: “WH reply was after a long chain of email about State Dept concerns. So when WH emailer says, take into account all equities, he is talking about the State equities, since that is what the email chain was about.”

As Josh Marshall explained, “I guarantee you Karl had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when he saw that explanation. Because that explanation by reference to earlier comments in the thread is pretty weak. Karl’s follow on piece is entitled ‘More Details on Benghazi Talking Points Emerge’ but the substance is, ‘How the Story Changes When I Realize the Notes I Was Using Weren’t Reliable.’ The answer here is that Karl pretty clearly got burned by his source. But he at least seriously singed himself by making it really, really look like he was looking at the emails themselves when he wasn’t.”

Right. ABC’s Karl originally told his audience that he’d “obtained” White House materials, when in fact he’d seen summaries, apparently provided by a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, which we now know were misleading. Karl received unreliable information, and seems to have been incomplete in how he characterized his direct knowledge of the information.

I wouldn’t ordinarily focus on one flawed report like this — we all make mistakes — but ABC’s coverage on Friday became the basis for a media firestorm, which now appears to have been a mistake.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2013

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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