Dear American News Media: It’s Gut Check Time… Are You Up To It?

I’ll admit it straight up.  I’m a “news addict”.  I keep my office TV tuned to the news (mainly MSNBC) most of my waking hours.  In between I’m tuned in to the same place via satellite radio and my phone.  I dare not look away.

I don’t watch for the news — except for the “breaking news” when it first breaks (and not for the subsequent five hours of its “breaking”).  I watch because I’m a concerned citizen deeply concerned that the Fourth Estate is not living up to its Constitutionally mandated responsibility.  I watch like a canary in a coal mine — squawking its head off because the environment is deeply, deeply toxic and will kill us for sure if we don’t stop.

Yesterday — with the drop of the redacted Mueller Report — the American News Media were handed a kind of Magna Carta.  It’s an imperfect foundational document that must be the basis for how America begins to handle the cancer gnawing at our vital systemic organs.  Our News Media will not see it that way.  They’re not deep enough.  They’re not insightful enough.  Their idea of analysis can’t possibly plumb those depths because it can’t take in the required perspective.

If not for  journalists and citizen journalists (Seth Abramson should be nominated for sainthood; so should Sarah Kendzior & Jennifer Cohn and a host of other relentless pursuers of the truth), the US might have already slid past our Democratic Event Horizon — the point beyond which our Democracy could not be pulled back from the black hole of Republican Corruption.  If not for David Corn’s advocacy of the Steele Dossier, while it might have still made its way through legal channels, it would have done so with a hell of a lot more pressure caused by the very criminals it was identifying.

There ARE journalists & writers & thinkers who’ve understood this story — its nature and its core truths — from the get-go.  They’re a small club.

It’s a core truth: take any profession you like — the overwhelming majority of people working in it will be proficient.  Good but not great.  Let’s call them what they are:  “Mediocre”.  Like any other group, the journalism profession is filled with mediocrity.  Unfortunately, these here times need something better.  Voila la probleme!

I’m a storyteller by profession.  My IMDb profile reflects a fraction of my professional storytelling life.  The point of my mentioning it: I’m not some piker. I’m not just another guy out on the internets shouting ignorant Jeremiads into the wind.  I’ve actually made a buck or two doing this thing.  In a world where anyone with a blog can be an “expert”, I may not be “an expert” (let’s call that subjective), but I can sure point to a few examples to suggest I “might” know what I’m talking about.

When it comes to storytelling, I know my shit. Trust me on this.

With that in mind — I’m offering these suggestions to our chums in the Main Stream News Media.  I’ve worked under journalistic restrictions.  I’ve had to back up my shit.  This is about storytelling — with purpose.

Here are your problems in a nutshell:

  1. FAILURE OF IMAGINATION
  2. An addiction to “BOTH SIDES DO IT” thinking
  3. Normalcy Bias

The first is the killer — and FAILURE OF IMAGINATION is the flaw that leads to the other two problems.  I’m not sure it IS solvable.  Maybe it’s just the case that you’re born with imagination or you’re not.  Mediocrity turns most journalists into the proverbial blind person feeling up an elephant for the first time and trying to make sense of it.  It’s outside their range.  Then, in the midst of their confusion, they start to analyze — using not solid data but their own fuzzy perceptions.  Gosh, what could possibly go wrong?

Frequently, watching them, I perceive a veal thrashing against the confines of its box.

An example from the recent past — in order to explain Donald Trump’s “inexplicable” behavior, whole round tables of journalists and journalistic fellow travelers would often “put themselves in his shoes” in order to explain his behavior.  Problem invariably was — each well-meaning but clueless nitwit tried to explain Trump’s narcissistic, sociopathic actions through the lens of their own behaviors. They were explaining Trump as if he was them.

Result — “analysis” that was miles away from the truth — even further away from being of value.  How like bullshit!  It’s all first rate — and so much of it!

To analyze Trump you have to get inside HIS head.  To do that, you have to use your imagination.  BUT — the way journalists are supposed to do it — they use their imaginations based on deep, background knowledge of their subject.  They can point to multiple instances of past behavior to justify projecting similar behaviors forward in a different (more recent) context.  It’s exactly what they’re doing now — projecting future behaviors based on past — except based on the right character (Trump) not the wrong one (them).

I withdraw my “must be born with it”.  I just demonstrated — American News Media CAN use their imagination.  They just have to WANT TO…

I don’t think I’m alone in pointing to “BOTH SIDES DO IT” thinking (“thinking” should be in quotation marks too) as part of American journalism’s core problem.  I would love to know where it came from — where it started.  Was this disease born in some American journalism school and then spread outward like typhus or dysentery?

Guys like Chuck Todd are the deans of “Both Sides Do It” journalism (“journalism” should be in quotation marks too).  “Both Sides Do It” — by its nature — fosters the creation of False Equivalences.  Inequal things get equalized.  Bernie Madoff, we all agree, is a thief.  By the same token — thievery being thievery — so is the character Jean Valjean from Les Miserables (or, for you “kids”, Les Mis).  Madoff stole BILLIONS. Valjean stole bread.

In Chuck Todd’s world, “both sides did it” — both sides STOLE.  Proportion plays no part. All facts have the same feather weight.

It ain’t so.  And every “journalist” who thinks this way is betraying their Constitutionally mandated duty.

NORMALCY BIAS infects us all.  No one is immune.  That’s why you have to be hyper-vigilant about it.  Something in us aches for “normalcy”.  Normalcy equals safety, security.  We hate being on edge 24/7.  It’s wearing us out.  We want normal back.

Wishing won’t make it happen though.  When things aren’t normal, we need to point them out — and if they’re harmful to us (like, say, CORRUPTION is), we need to REFUSE to EVER allow them to be normalized.  Yet here we are.  Normalization is a process.  We didn’t just drop here, magically transported.  We walked here.

If not for normalcy bias, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign would have ended the day it began.  It would have died stepping out of its trench — going down in a hale of “Mexicans are rapists” bullets.  But Trump’s campaign didn’t end that day.  It continued — because the press covering the story let it continue.  Rather than put their collective foot down and DEMAND what the hell he meant — not being satisfied till he admitted the clear, obvious truth: he meant HE’S A RACIST and A BIGOT — the American press accepted Trump’s behavior as “different”.  This was just “how Trump was”.

Just like that, racism and bigotry had been normalized.

Now, granted, “pussy-grabbing” got short-circuited by Wikileaks dumping Hillary Clinton’s emails, but even the emails (in point of fact) were a Republican-backed crime that the American News Media couldn’t wait to normalize and use to their own advantage.  Let’s be quite clear — the principle vector for transmitting stolen Democratic emails & internal data was the American News Media.  They were literally working at Russia’s behest each and every time.  You don’t have to be witting to be a useful idiot.

Russia used our news media’s Normalcy Bias to get them to carry Russia’s message-water.

That has to stop.

What has this done to us?  How has American News Media’s failure hurt us?

Well, for starters — as I just said — it’s undermined our concept of “Truth”.  We’ve put its definition up for grabs like a jump ball.  But the Truth isn’t subjective.

There is Core Truth.  We need our news media to focus its limited skillsets on getting to it. My simple (if not very humble) suggestion is this:  “Keep asking WHY?”  Do not accept any “WHY?” that doesn’t get to the very, VERY bottom.  It means more “WHY’S?” need asking.  No one — NO ONE — ever does things for “no reason”.  A person doing terrible things may not be able to adequately articulate what’s driving them — but “something” is driving them other than “that’s just how they are”.

In the case of Donald Trump, American News Media, it means he doesn’t do what he’s doing because “he’s different”.

You saying “he’s different” means “you suck at your job”.  That’s a problem for us.  For two plus years, you have failed for all the reasons above to TELL the most important story you will ever get to cover and any of us will ever have to live through.  While “crazies” on the left gnashed their teeth about Russia, the American News Media turned up its nose.  Even as they described treasonous-sounding behavior (Trump meeting with Putin sans a single other American), they assumed it must be “normal” somehow because the President of the United States was doing it — and so therefore it must be “normal”.

As recently as last week, actual “journalists” were questioning if the Mueller Report would contain anything of value.  Actual “journalists” were ignoring how AG Bill Barr had used grammar and a damned footnote to bamboozle them into proclaiming right along with Trump that there was “no collusion”.  Apparently the meaning of quotes that start with a [bracketed] first letter didn’t get taught where American journalists went to school…

Barr Summary w highlights

Apparently they never learned how to read footnotes either…

Our News Media were handed a kind of gift yesterday.  They were given insight into massive corruption.  They were given actual perspective.

That is their gut check: Will all those mediocrities gumming up the American News Media be able to use perspective.  Hell, will they even recognize what it is?

I worry for us.

 

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It’s Time For “Benefit Of The Doubt” Journalism To Be Put To Sleep

Dear American Main Stream Media:

I’m going to give you “the benefit of the doubt” here and assume that the REASON you employ “benefit of the doubt” journalism isn’t because you’re malicious assholes but because you suck at your jobs.  While I know that, on the surface, “benefit of the doubt” journalism is just you trying to be fair, you’ve confused “trying to be fair” with being a total moron.

If you walked into a room with no knowledge of the room itself or anything that’s gone on inside of it, you would be justified (and even applauded) for NOT drawing any conclusions about the room (or what’s happening in it) until you’ve learned enough TO justify whatever conclusion you reach.  In that instance, you SHOULD “give the benefit of the doubt” — because there is doubt.

However.  If you’d been in the room many times before… knew most of the people “in” the room and “why” they were in it (in order to do…), you wouldn’t have many doubts about the room; you’d have context for the room.  You’d know enough to NOT give the benefit of the doubt — cos you’d have no doubt.  I believe in journalism it’s called “background”.

It’s my understanding  (and I’m not a journalist by trade though I’ve become a “quasi-journalist” via Life Path (I’d heartily recommend my series BLUNT TRUTHS at Weedmaps — even if I wasn’t completely and totally biased) that background is supposed to “inform” the writer’s view — give it nuance, detail, flavor — and context. The kind of context that would make giving someone like, say, Donald Trump, the “benefit of the doubt” foolish.  Or stupid.  Or naive..

Or complicit?

The “benefit of the doubt” is what that frog blithely swimming in that slowly heating water gives to the guy in the chef’s hat.  A time will come however when that frog won’t give the chef the benefit of the doubt anymore — but only because the frog will be dead (boiled alive) and on its way to someone’s dinner plate.

How Failure Of Imagination Kills…

When the forensics get done on our Time — and the Big Question gets asked — “How in the world did Americans let such an obvious criminal & traitor 1) get elected & 2) remain in power so long?

The answer will complicated with lots of moving parts (requiring actual calculus to figure out). One of the biggest moving parts will be the Republican Party itself and the monstrosity of its actions here. But the fact that they were complicit — in ways that even predated Trump’s takeover of their party (think Mitch McConnell & his refusal to even talk to Merrick Garland) goes right back to the heart of my premise. We “didn’t see it”.

In real time, Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans did something no other Senate had ever done before — held a President’s SCOTUS pick hostage. Mitch’s excuse was so phony it should have physically hurt every ear that heard it. It was Bullshit On Steroids: “The American People should get to decide who the next SCOTUS judge is”. The American People in that equation are the ones who VOTED FOR BARACK OBAMA and made him POTUS — the guy charged with doing that very thing.

Yet here we are. No Merrick Garland. Neil Gorsuch instead. Funny how the rules work when you make em up as you go along — AND GET AWAY WITH IT.

With all this press going at this story like sperms going at an egg — you’d think someone would have gotten through already and “fertilized” that egg. And yet — with a mountain RANGE of evidence staring them in the face, the Press seems blind to it. It’s there — they kinda know it is — and yet they can’t bring themselves to go and report it. It’s like they just can’t “trust” themselves and what they’re thinking. What they “know”.

This is how “FAILURE OF IMAGINATION” works. Under normal circumstances where everything’s normal — failing to think with imagination won’t hurt you (not much anyway). You can always muddle along in your mediocrity enjoying the status quo until you don’t.

But this here ain’t “normal”. Not even remotely. Gawd, I hope that’s not a revelation. Laws weren’t written to deal with our particular situation. This wasn’t “imagined” by the Constitution’s framers — a flat out treasonous POTUS and the flat out treasonous political party supporting him (the framers didn’t even want political parties; they happened because we’re human and tribal by nature). See how our problem is “outside the box”?

The solution to our problem will have to come from “outside the box” too. Part of our problem is — the criminals are using our rules to undermine them — as part of the whole Cyber War they’ve been waging against us as we sleep. We’re miles behind — in large part because we’ve been so damned slow to SEE what was happening.

Not slow to SEE, so much, really, as GRASP. We saw all this happening — but failed to grasp what it meant — and how it was playing out in all its terrible detail RIGHT IN FRONT OF US. That, too, is failure of imagination.

FAILURE OF IMAGINATION is how McConnell got away with circumventing the will of the American People to deliberately remake the judiciary as conservative when the people CLEARLY want it progressive?

HOW has Donald Trump gotten away with HIS shit for as long as he has? How did we ever let him get past “Mexicans are rapists” or “Pussy Grabbing” or every stinking lie he’s told from the moment he became OUR EMPLOYEE? How have we not been able to stop this — or even report this accurately?

I’ll let you fill in the blank — with an “Amen!” chaser.

But it isn’t just OUR failure of imagination — as citizens. We rely on our Press (as per the First Amendment) to be the final check on power. To do that they need to IMAGINE the worst — because you can’t report all the possible reasons things happen if you don’t include that. For one, you’re not being accurate.

But — strangely — watch enough news, and of all the possible answers to The Biggest Question Facing Us — Why Does Donald Trump Act Like Vladimir Putin Owns Him? The American Press STILL refuses to answer the question: “BECAUSE VLADIMIR PUTIN OWNS HIM”.

It seems bizarre that one can’t “imagine” the thing that’s not just “staring you in the face” but stabbing you there, too.

American News Media’s Biggest Fail: They SUCK As Storytellers…

There’s an art to telling a story. It isn’t just knowing how to line up the beginning, middle and end in the right way so the story makes sense…

Anyone who’s ever listened to someone massacre a joke knows what I mean. A joke, after all, is just a story — sketched out in a handful of words. But it works by the same storytelling principle. A set up and a punchline are the beginning, middle & end of a story.

To correctly and successfully tell a joke or a story, you have to know all the pieces of the story — or suspect enough about where they’re going to at least tap dance through the ending. I just finished a book (looking for a publisher now — “How To Live Bullshit Free (and other Showbiz Tales)” — which basically tells my own story; I knew going in what the story was — but, even so, the ending took me by surprise — and I was the guy writing it. Stories can take on a life of their own.

But, in order to go where the story takes you, you have to be fully invested in it. More than that, you have to be the story’s teller — and not the person to whom the story is being told. There’s a huge difference. A huge philosophical difference.

In order to tell you a story, I have to gain your confidence — that is, I have to convince you to suspend your belief if only for a moment. If I tell you that a dog walks into a bar — and you stop me: “Wait — dogs can’t walk into bars!” — then I’ve failed at the start. You haven’t suspended your belief enough to allow the fantastical element at the heart of my story to take wing. But, if instead, you said: “Cool — so, a dog walks into a bar — tell me more!” then I’ve succeeded — at the start. You will let me take you wherever I want — so long as the story stays interesting and doesn’t violate its own rules.

To put a finer point on that — you become the passive listener while I become the active storyteller.

That’s how storytelling works. OUR problem is our Main Stream News Media doesn’t get that. Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth and lies — and the News Media repeats the lie as if it could be true — they stop being storytellers and start being the guy the story was told to instead — who’s simply repeating what he heard. That is not storytelling.

Yes, yes — part of storytelling is listening to others — so you can tell their stories — but storytellers are tasked with finding deeper Truths inside other peoples’ stories — and then telling them. That’s where storytelling ‘art’ kicks in.

It’s not a hard problem to fix. Actually, it’s shockingly easy. All any journalist ever has to do is remind themselves on which side of the storytelling equation they’re supposed to sit. And if they can’t remember themselves, it’s incumbent on US to remind them — as loudly and persistently as we must.

After all — journalists aren’t merely storytellers — they’re the only job mentioned by name in the Constitution. THEIR stories are the last check on power. If they “tell them wrong”, we’re screwed.

What NBC’s Savannah Guthrie did – interviewing young Nick Sandmann — was the exact opposite of storytelling. She became the person to whom Nick Sandmann told his story — as in SHE suspended all belief in order to accept what he said as truth. That she walked away — having allowed a clearly faulty version of the story to stand shouts at us: Nick Sandmann became the styoryteller & an American news outlet became the passive listener to that story.

Fail.

Fail, fail, fail, FAIL.

From one storyteller to another, NBC News – You SUCK at your job. Find other work more suitable to your skills such as they are.

Perhaps Walmart is looking for greeters. Give em a call. Please.


Our Retail Politics Are Killing Democracy

In theory anyway, Democracy’s simple:  In self-government, the majority of the people get to call the shots.  It’s understood that the majority is made up of a multiplicity of views because it includes so much of the citizenry.

“What do the citizens want?”  That’s the first question.  But it needs to be accompanied by ‘But, what do the citizens KNOW — do they understand what they want in its proper context?’  A citizenry yearning for Unicorns and Jetpacks for all might be a little too hopeful for their own good.  We count on our elected representatives — we expect their perspective to be better than ours,  In order to do their jobs representing us, they simply need to know more of the nuts and bolts details about how we run things.

Can we assume they went into that line of work because they liked it — and thought themselves good at it?

Some people go into politics for genuinely altruistic reasons.  Yeah, sure — everyone wants to ‘make things better’.  The question’s always ‘for whom?’  Guys like Beto O’Rourke — you can hear it in their voices and see it in the way they practice politics: He’s in it because he actually cares — about people, about the commonweal — about the whole notion of what ‘America’ is supposed to be.

Ironically, Beto’s opponent Ted Cruz is the cynical opposite.  Ted thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us — and knows better.  He doesn’t know better what WE need — but he knows damned well what HE needs — and what those giving him money need.  Ted Cruz is ‘clearer’ than an Upper Thetan Scientologist on that.

American Retail Politics isn’t about doing what’s best for anyone.  It isn’t about believing in anything other than getting more votes (however you need to accomplish that end).  It is, by its nature, an exercise in anti-democratic cynicism.  And yet — every two years (on a national level), we demonstrate to the world how little we value actual Democracy and how much we value money.

Our media loves the horse race.  They ADORE it.  They see it through the most narrow Horse Race-y lens.  A zero-sum game where one group of Americans wins while another loses.  Then they wonder — after crowing about winners and losers — whey Americans are perpetually at each others’ throats.  Elections don’t take place in vacuums.  This one certainly isn’t.

Yet the News Media wants to tell THIS story as if it’s happening in a world where the President of the United States — and his political party — aren’t TRAITORS.  When indictments drop — whenever they drop — the News Media will act as if the crime started to be committed AT THAT MOMENT.

No — all the time the News Media behaved as if this was Normal World, a CRIME was being committed — right in front of them.  They even asked some of the perps questions — and got lied to.  The TRUTH didn’t matter, the ‘correct answer’ did.

It’s the ‘correct answer’ that drives Retail Politics.  It ain’t about what anyone believes.  It’s about the getting and keeping of power.

That’s NOT how Democracy works.

We are living inside PROOF that THIS — what we’re living in — is how Democracy dies.