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“Trump’s Most Impressive Boast Is A Brazen Lie”: An Excellent Time To Re-Adjust The B.S. Detector

Every presidential candidate is going to boast about all of the many reasons he or she deserves voters’ support. It’s how the process works: White House hopefuls, without exception, are going to present themselves as the best possible person for one of the world’s most important jobs.

And with that in mind, Donald Trump, perhaps more than most, seems to take great pride in singing his own praises, celebrating his wealth, judgment, and professed wisdom in ways that have evidently won over much of the Republican Party’s base. Some of these boasts have even impressed a handful of political pundits.

Last week, for example, Patrick Smith, Salon’s foreign affairs columnist, argued that Trump’s views on foreign policy deserve to be taken seriously because the Republican frontrunner opposed the war in Iraq – unlike a certain Democratic candidate.

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd devoted much of latest column, published yesterday, to a related point.

The prime example of commander-in-chief judgment Trump offers is the fact that, like [President Obama], he thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea. […]

You can actually envision a foreign policy debate between Trump and [Hillary Clinton] that sounds oddly like the one Obama and Clinton had in 2008, with Trump playing Obama, preening about his good judgment on Iraq….

It’s easy to imagine Trump and his campaign team celebrating pieces like these. It’s equally easy to expect a series of related arguments in the coming months from Clinton detractors looking for an excuse to support the GOP’s nativist demagogue.

There is, however, a rather important problem with the entire argument: it’s based on a fairly obvious lie.

Trump’s claim is that he, relying solely on his extraordinary instincts and unrivaled prognostication skills, recognized that the war in Iraq would be a disaster from the outset. The political establishment at the time lacked Trump’s vision, but if insiders had only listened to him, a catastrophic mistake could have been avoided.

Last fall, Trump went so far as to say, in multiple interviews, that he was so outspoken in his condemnations of the U.S. invasion plans in 2003 that officials from the Bush/Cheney White House actually reached out to him, urging him to tone down his criticism before he started turning Americans against the coming conflict.

These are all important assertions in the 2016 race, which may impress Clinton’s critics, but which aren’t even remotely true. Not to put too fine a point on this, but Trump is brazenly, shamelessly lying. There is literally no evidence to substantiate any of his claims, and extensive evidence that proves the opposite.

On Sept. 11, 2002, for example, Howard Stern asked Trump, “Are you for invading Iraq?” Trump replied, “Yeah, I guess so.”

One can certainly characterize this as lukewarm support for the disastrous war, but it’s hardly a position that can fairly be described as opposition. And for a New York Times columnist to tell readers that Trump “thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea” is both wrong and bizarre. (As of this morning, Dowd’s error has not yet generated a correction.)

In fairness, Trump eventually criticized the war in Iraq, but only well after the Bush/Cheney policy took a devastating turn for the worse and it became painfully obvious to everyone that the U.S. invasion had been a terrible mistake. But by the time Trump acknowledged this, he was only repeating observations that had already dawned on much of the country.

The larger dynamic to keep in mind is that some in the political world have not yet come to terms with Trump’s unique style of campaigning: (1) manufacture self-aggrandizing boast; (2) repeat said boast regularly; (3) wait for unsuspecting media professionals to accept boast at face value; (4) repeat.

It’s a shame some haven’t noticed the pattern sooner, failing to recognize the importance of scrutinizing Trump’s demonstrably ridiculous claims, but it’s not too late. The likely Republican nominee will continue to make outrageous boasts with no basis in fact, counting on journalists to simply give him the benefit of the doubt, between now and Election Day. For those who’ve been fooled by Trump’s falsehoods, now would be an excellent time to re-adjust their b.s. detectors accordingly.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 2, 2016

May 3, 2016 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Donald Trump, Iraq War | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Please, Not Again!”: Don’t Try To Breathe Life Into A Dead Scandal

This just in: Nothing boosts circulation or enhances ratings like a sex scandal. The more prominent the actors and the more prurient the allegations, the better. And if any factual adjustments become necessary to keeping the narrative going, many journalists are eager to play along.

For example, how did the current spat between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton over her husband’s well-known sins begin? Was it when Hillary, unwisely rising to the bait, criticized Trump’s “penchant for sexism”? Or was it earlier, when Trump described her taking a bathroom break during a TV debate as “disgusting”?

Most would say Trump’s bizarre insult jump-started things. However, if you watch Morning Joe or read accounts of Hillary’s supposedly “enabling” Bill Clinton’s transgressions, you’d learn that it’s pretty much all her fault. Always was.

Even the New York Times, in an editorial arguing that “Trump is way out of line bringing up Mr. Clinton’s philandering,” couldn’t restrain itself from scolding her for allegedly attacking Bill’s paramours.

“When Mr. Clinton ran for president in 1992,” editors chided, “Mrs. Clinton appeared on television beside him to assert that allegations involving Gennifer Flowers were false. In 1998, he admitted to that affair under oath.”

Actually, no he did not. In the famous 60 Minutes interview, Bill Clinton had acknowledged “causing pain in my marriage.” He added that most adults would understand what that meant.

Testifying in 1998, he admitted a single backseat tryst with Flowers, very far from the 12-year relationship she’d claimed. In her own deposition, she testified to earning more than $500,000 posing as Bill Clinton’s mistress. Besides claiming college degrees she’d never earned, beauty titles she’d never won, and even a twin sister who never existed, Flowers also managed to write an entire book without stipulating a single time and place where she and her famous paramour were ever together.

Fans of MSNBC’s Hardball have evidently forgotten the August 1999 episode in which Flowers was permitted to accuse Bill Clinton of having political opponents murdered, while host Chris Matthews told her how hot she was.

Bob Somerby found the transcript: “You’re a very beautiful woman,” Matthews panted. “He knows that, you know that, and everybody watching knows that. Hillary Clinton knows that!”

See, where Lewinsky was a starstruck amateur, Flowers was a seasoned professional.

Echoing Trump, who’s been going around describing Hillary as an “enabler,” who “totally destroyed” women that accused Bill Clinton, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd depicted her as a hypocrite for “running as a feminist icon” after smearing women who truthfully maligned him.

And who would those be?

Dowd provides exactly one example, the unfortunate Monica — the most reluctant “accuser” imaginable. And did Hillary not describe her husband’s paramour as a “narcissistic loony toon”? Apparently so, but in a private communication with her close friend Diane Blair, a University of Arkansas professor whose papers became available after her untimely death.

It’s the press that turned it into a smear.

If that’s the worst thing a middle-aged wife ever said about a young thing who threw herself at her husband, she should get the Nobel Peace Prize.

So am I so naïve that I believe Bill Clinton innocent of all charges? Certainly not. However, my suspicion is that like most public men with what the old Johnny Cash song called a “wicked wandering eye,” he waited for the woman to make the first move, and rarely had to wait very long.

Indeed, I long ago learned that the way some women act around famous, powerful men — athletes, actors, musicians, politicians — contradicts almost everything your mama (and every feminist since time began) says women behave. I have even witnessed women at writers’ conferences trying to trip novelists (and even the odd journalist) and beat them to the floor.

I’ve also noticed that some can get vengeful when they don’t get what they want. Or even if they do. That’s why Hillary Clinton in particular ought to avoid academic-accented cant about women never lying about sexual assault.

All human beings lie, and sex is one of the most common things they lie about. Again, sorry, but there it is.

Meanwhile, some reporters appear keen to return to those thrilling days of 1998 the way others yearn to experience Woodstock. I recently read a screed by a Vox reporter who was eight years old when this all went down: Linda Tripp, Kathleen Willey, Michael Isikoff, the “Elves,” Kenneth Starr, the lot.

He made a brave show of arguing that it would be “misleading and pernicious” to doubt the ever-changing tale of Juanita Broaddrick, an Arkansas nursing home owner (and Trump supporter) who claims that Bill Clinton raped her 40 years ago, but has also given sworn statements denying it.

He appears unaware that a veritable army of jackleg private eyes and right-wing political operatives (many employed by Kenneth Starr) ransacked Arkansas for years without proving a thing.

Please, not again.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, January 13, 2016

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Journalists | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Leadership And The Politics Of Fear”: Obama Providing Exactly The Kind Of Leadership This Country Needs Right Now

Jeff Greenfield’s article titled: Getting the Politics of Fear Right got me thinking about what leadership means at a time like this. He acknowledges that following the Paris attacks, Donald Trump “went on a fear-mongering bender.” But then he finds President Obama’s response to be problematic as well.

Meanwhile President Obama has tacked sharply in the other direction, playing down the public’s anxiety, defiantly continuing to downgrade the possibility of an attack on the U.S. and the capabilities of Islamic State…Obama’s dismissiveness is no doubt one reason for Trump’s popularity; clearly many voters believe our current crop of leaders – starting with the president – have been too inattentive to their fears.

This is not an uncommon critique of President Obama. Way back in 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Maureen Dowd led a chorus of people complaining about the fact that the President didn’t seem to feel our panic.

President Spock’s behavior is illogical.

Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.

So this is nothing new. We heard the same thing during the Ebola scare and every other crises we’ve faced over the last 7 years. It all makes me think about what it is we want in a leader.

I was reminded of a powerful diary written years ago by a blogger named Hamden Rice about the leadership of Martin Luther King. The parallels with our current situation eventually break down, but Rice pointed out that King emerged to lead African Americans during a time that they were experiencing the terrorism of Jim Crow.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south…

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus…

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

And what was King’s response to that terror?

They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be okay.

One has to wonder if folks like Greenfield and Dowd had been around back then, would they have complained that MLK was too inattentive to their fears?

When it comes to the current threat of terrorism, President Obama plays a very different role in this country than the one Dr. Martin Luther King did all those decades ago. But interestingly enough, yesterday his message sounded pretty similar.

What happened in Paris is truly horrific. I understand that people worry that something similar could happen here. I want you to know that we will continue to do everything in our power to defend our nation…

But it’s not just our security professionals who will defeat ISIL and other terrorist groups. As Americans, we all have a role to play in how we respond to threats. Groups like ISIL cannot defeat us on the battlefield, so they try to terrorize us at home – against soft targets, against civilians, against innocent people. Even as we’re vigilant, we cannot, and we will not, succumb to fear. Nor can we allow fear to divide us – for that’s how terrorists win. We cannot give them the victory of changing how we go about living our lives.

That is exactly the kind of leadership this country needs right now to combat the politics of fear.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 25, 2015

November 26, 2015 Posted by | Fearmongering, Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Authentic Candidates Suck”: What’s Really Behind This Peculiar And Counterproductive Media Obsession With ‘Authenticity’

We’re hearing a lot this week about authenticity, as in Joe Biden has it and Hillary Clinton does not (Kevin McCarthy, meanwhile, maybe a little too much of it). Except that in fact, the reason that authenticity is in the news is that these long-held and superficial media assumptions about Biden and Clinton have been challenged this week by the revelation in Politico that the vice president leaked a story about son Beau’s deathbed wish himself. The Biden camp did not deny that a conversation may have taken place but did deny that any such theoretical conversation that might have happened was intended as a trial balloon that used paternal grief as a launching pad to a candidacy.

Here’s the quick catch-up, if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Back in August Maureen Dowd of the Times wrote this column about how Biden might run for president because it was Beau Biden’s dying wish that his father challenge Hillary Clinton. Dowd, appearing to paraphrase her source, wrote that Beau argued to his father that “the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” She revealed nothing at the time about her sourcing. Everyone assumed it came from somewhere inside Biden world, but quite possibly without his knowledge, from someone who wanted to see him run.

But from Biden himself? To America’s most prominent Hillary-hating columnist? It has not seemed, to a number of observers of the situation, like a very “authentic” thing to do, for this man who gets so many points from the media for his authenticity.

I raise the episode not to assess Biden on the authenticity scale, but to argue that authenticity is overrated in the first place. I hate authenticity. Authenticity sucks. It’s a substitute for critical thought and actual argument, and the political media harp far too much on it.

Here is my theory about why they do. Political reporters (not columnists) feel the need to be objective, and of course properly so. They’re not supposed to be seen as taking sides. As such, they have to refrain from passing judgments on candidates’ ideological positions. To do that—to decide that Bernie Sanders’s stance on monetary policy is better than Marco Rubio’s—would constitute bias. And that’s the biggest no-no you can commit in the straight-news reporter game.

Yet, reporters are human beings (mostly!), and human beings have a natural need and urge to pass judgments—to make some kind of moral order out of the chaos that swirls around us. And since they can’t do it on the basis of ideology, then they have to do it on the basis of something else. And that something else is sincerity. So for the political reporter it doesn’t matter so much what so-and-so believes. What matters is that he believes it, and conveys that he believes it, with sincerity.

I can’t tell you the number of straight-news reporters who’ve said to me over the years something like: Yes, OK, Ted Cruz or Lindsey Graham or whoever may be a little out there, but you know what? At least he really means it. What you see with him is what you get. To which I would rejoin, well, that’s fine, but so what; all that means to me is that when he starts World War III or resegregates our school system via his court appointments or gives the 1 percent another whopping-big tax cut, he’ll be doing so sincerely. But this (as I knew going in) was always a loser of an argument to an objective reporter, because they divorce themselves emotionally from the whole idea of outcomes.

And this is how political journalists end up assessing politicians with such a preponderant emphasis on their authenticity. They aren’t allowed to make subjective ideological judgments, so they make them on the basis of personality. It’s why they dwell excessively on matters like explaining to you which candidate you’d rather have a beer with. That was one great scam, by the way, back in 2000—persuading the American public that they’d all rather have a beer with the candidate (Dubya) who didn’t drink beer!

So. Back to Biden and Clinton. I have eyes and ears and I can readily see why Biden comes across as more authentic. Of course a lot of this has to do with gender, because the gestures and habits that create the impression of authenticity—the glad-hand, the backslap, the knowing wink—are gestures that code male. But not all of it has to do with gender. There is no doubt that Clinton is a bit stiff in public and is stand-off-ish with journalists, and of course we did just see an example of her reversing field on a major issue (the TPP).

She also completely and utterly lacks the Defuse Gene—the ability to make a budding scandal melt away with a quip that carries just the right balance of self-deprecation (i.e., acceptance of some responsibility for the mess) and needed perspective-keeping (i.e., what I’m accused of here isn’t so awful in the grand scheme of things). Instead she seems always to have had the Detonate Gene—her handling of these things has almost always made them worse.

But I don’t care whether she’s authentic. In fact, I don’t care whether any of them is authentic. I just care what they do. I’d much rather have a president who inauthentically raises the minimum wage and passes paid family leave than one who authentically eliminates the federal minimum wage and does what the Chamber of Commerce tells him to do on all such matters.

Now I recognize that I’m an extreme case. But I do think—and let’s end on this quasi-hopeful note—that the American people are somewhere in between the two extremes of me on the one hand and objective reporters on the other. Americans care about authenticity, but not as much as reporters do, and not nearly as much as reporters think they do. And they do care about positions.

They care a lot about positions, actually. No, they’re not sitting there combing through issue books and thinking about what the optimal payroll tax formula might be. But the voting public—the nonvoting portion of the public is another matter—has a pretty decent sense of what parties and candidates stand for. And these things still matter to most people, and it’s my job—and yours if you’re with me—to make them matter more. The cult of authenticity must be smashed.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 10, 2015

October 11, 2015 Posted by | Authenticity, Political Media, Political Reporters | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“An Expensive And Partisan Excursion Into Nowhere”: Benghazi! Why Trey Gowdy Is Still Hiding Blumenthal Transcript

The strange saga of the House Select Committee on Benghazi continues as its chair, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) fends off renewed questions about the committee’s purpose, as well as demands to release the sworn deposition of Sidney Blumenthal, taken behind closed doors on June 16.

In a July 7 CNN interview, Hillary Clinton – the actual target of Gowdy’s investigation – brushed off accusations about her use of a private email server and mocked his partisan probe. “This is being blown up with no basis in law or in fact,” she said. “That’s fine. I get it. This is being, in effect, used by the Republicans in the Congress, OK. But I want people to understand what the truth is. And the truth is everything I did was permitted and I went above and beyond what anybody could have expected in making sure that if the State Department [servers] didn’t capture something, I made a real effort to get it to them.”

Gowdy answered by reiterating previous claims that only his committee’s intrepid work had revealed Clinton’s email practices. “The fact of the matter is it took the Benghazi Committee to uncover Secretary Clinton’s use of personal email and a server to conduct official State Department business,” the chairman insisted after her interview aired. He went on to make a series of further accusations about the emails, insisting that the messages about Libya sent to her by Sidney Blumenthal were “solicited” by her and not, as she described them, “unsolicited.”

These disputes might be cleared up if Gowdy would release Blumenthal’s testimony, since he answered all the committee’s questions on these and other matters under oath.

In actuality, Blumenthal probably mentioned the indisputable fact that Clinton’s use of a private email server was revealed not by the Benghazi committee but by a Romanian hacker known as “Guccifer” — now serving time in prison for stealing messages from Blumenthal as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Dorothy Bush, the sister of former president George W. Bush. Many of those emails, obtained by Guccifer in a suspected Russian intelligence operation, were published on the Internet months before the Benghazi committee came into existence.

And Blumenthal surely noted, again under oath, that his emails to Clinton were “unsolicited,” despite Gowdy’s strained attempt to prove otherwise — as Gowdy undoubtedly knows. That is one of many reasons why he continues to suppress the former Clinton aide’s testimony. The excuse proffered by committee Republicans is that releasing closed testimony might discourage candor by future witnesses – an argument undercut by letters from Blumenthal attorney James Cole, urging the committee to release it.

No, it is now clear that Gowdy prefers to leak the Blumenthal testimony to smear both Clinton and the witness he claims to be protecting. For weeks, snippets of Blumenthal’s testimony and of his emails to and from Clinton have turned up in the media, to advance negative, highly distorted perceptions of both the former Secretary of State and her longtime friend.

These cowardly, bullying tactics are designed not only to embarrass Clinton and Blumenthal but to justify the committee’s increasingly expensive and partisan excursion into nowhere.

On July 7, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen too took a hard shot at Gowdy, under the headline “Placating The Right-Wing Clinton Haters.” He capably sums up the results of the committee’s inquisition into Blumenthal and Clinton:

The committee, the eighth to look into the Benghazi matter and determine if Clinton, as Secretary of State, was somehow complicit in the deaths of four colleagues — you know, those Clintons are capable of anything —asked Blumenthal 160 questions regarding his relationship with Clinton and fewer than 20 regarding Benghazi. (The Democratic minority kept count.)

The committee also asked Blumenthal more than 50 questions about his relationship with the Clinton Foundation and only four about security in Benghazi [the ostensible purpose of its existence]. Blumenthal was additionally asked more than 270 questions about his business dealings in Libya, which, considering that he has none, is commendable thoroughness run amok.

The committee in its wisdom came to appreciate that regarding Libya, Blumenthal not only had no business interests there, but also that he had never even been in the country. The emails concerning Libya that he had passed on to Clinton had come originally from Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s one-time top spy and someone who just might have had something interesting to say. It seemed reasonable to Blumenthal to relay them to Clinton and it seemed reasonable for her to relay them to her staff for vetting. In fact, it seems downright admirable, because the last thing you want is a government official who operates in a bubble. Given what the committee learned, its Republican majority then nimbly pivoted from insinuating a Blumenthal conflict of interest over Libya to accusing him of having nothing of interest to say about it. They got him there.

The Republicans, led by Gowdy, have learned little of significance, despite spending millions of taxpayer dollars. But they have keenly pursued political matters of interest to them, such as Blumenthal’s work for Correct The Record, a political committee that publicly defends Clinton and other Democrats, and Media Matters for America, the watchdog against right-wing misinformation wherever it appears. Today Gowdy also received a sharply worded letter from David Brock, the founder of both groups, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Maryland lieutenant governor who chairs Correct The Record’s board.

Noting that Gowdy and other Republican committee members asked at least 45 questions about Blumenthal’s “association with our organizations,” the letter from Brock and Townsend urged him to disgorge the testimony in full:

Mr. Chairman, we are entitled to know what questions you and other committee members asked about our organizations in Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition. Judging by the portions that have been leaked to favored people in the press and various right-wing blogs by Republican committee staff aides in direct violation of your committee’s own rules, presumably with your approval, aspersions have been cast upon our work. Your unethical leaking was a further abuse of Congressional power. The only way we can clear our good name is by knowing exactly what innuendoes and insinuations Republican members made about us behind the committee’s closed doors.

Indeed, Gowdy no longer seems to expect anyone to believe his denials that the leaks emanate from him and his staff. In his Washington Post media blog, Erik Wemple wrote that the Select Committee chair seemed to “wink” at a recent leak to Politico that sparked a brief controversy last week. And nobody else would have either the motive or the opportunity to orchestrate the leak campaign.

Meanwhile, the New York Times and other outlets that have published the leaks continue to slant their reporting against Blumenthal and Clinton. The easiest way to measure the Times bias is to note that Blumenthal’s attorney, former Deputy Attorney General James Cole, has written not one or two but three pungent letters to Gowdy, protesting the committee’s cheap-shot leakage and urging the release of his client’s testimony. For reasons best known to Michael S. Schmidt, the Times reporter covering the Benghazi committee, the paper has failed to mention those letters from Cole, let alone to quote them.

Times editors might well ask themselves why their Washington bureau is in cahoots with a congressional committee that epitomizes partisan abuse. Even Maureen Dowd, of all people, understood what was going on when she aptly renamed it “the House Select Committee To Keep Republicans in Power and Harass Hillary Clinton.”

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, Featured Post,  The National Memo, July 8, 2015

July 9, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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