If the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency proved anything (beyond the GOP’s jaw dropping criminality), it’s our news media’s inability to tell the most remarkable story any of them will ever get to report. To this day, they themselves remain in Trump’s thrall — and they remain oblivious of the fact. Even as the evidence of Trump’s criminality overflows the news environment like the warming oceans overtaking low-lying land, our news media keeps seeing Trump’s actions — and the GOP’s — in entirely political terms as if their manic compulsion to end America’s democracy was just their “opinion”, their “politics” — and not the intended end product of an overtly criminal enterprise. To this day — despite the consistency of their own reporting that shouts “Republicans are all lying, corrupt, treasonous scumbags!”, our news media insists that every one of those lying, corrupt, treasonous scumbags is an honest actor spewing a genuinely held political point of view based entirely on sound, logical, moral reasoning. Oh, FFS… . To be fair, if you take any profession, any endeavor that human beings pursue, while a small percentage of people will be truly exceptional at it, the overwhelming majority of people doing anything are going to be average at best — or, more accurately, mediocre at it.
That’s not a knock. It’s just a fact. And those people who ARE good at whatever they put their energies and skills toward are truly grateful that most everyone else isn’t as good. It makes being better than most people a hell of a lot easier. Even really talented people need to coast here and there.
There have always been journalists who stood head and shoulders above their colleagues. The reason Edward R. Murrow got to be Edward R. Murrow is because most of the other journalists working then simply weren’t as good as Edward R. Murrow. Great journalists — like great storytellers (since that’s what they are — storytellers relating the story of real events in real time) — need to have deep insight into how human beings work. That is so much harder than it sounds. For starters, you have to see every person in their own personal context against the larger Big Picture context in which that person lives. You cannot tell the story of a Donald Trump supporter without talking about their whiteness because their whiteness is deeply connected to what they’re doing as an individual and as a member of a larger group. The fact that “journalists” continue to ask racists if they’re racist betrays just how ignorant journalists are about racism itself. Like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder.
When (if) we ever get to the end of this war for America’s soul, we owe it to ourselves to figure out where the hell “both sides do it” came from. The “both sides do it” brand of journalism confused skepticism (what every journalist should have in their arsenal) with cynicism. Skepticism is vital to a free press. It’s the press demanding that a subject of their focus back up their words with evidence. Yeah, yeah — we know you have feelings — but what are the stone cold facts that justify those feelings? It’s true that both sides have feelings — intense feelings. But, both sides don’t rely entirely on their feelings. One side consistently backs up their feelings with facts (real ones). That’s because the two sides in this conversation are not the same and do not think the same way.
Let’s set “pre-history” aside for a moment. Let’s forget that the GOP is “the party of Lincoln”. As historian Heather Cox Richardson’s excellent “To Make Men Free: A History Of The Republican Party” points out, the Democratic and Republican parties are not at all what they were when Lincoln was POTUS. Over time, the two parties have exchanged philosophical outlooks and even constituencies. Nixon’s “southern strategy” simply recognized that the Southern Democrats (the Dixiecrats) were still very much the opposition party to Lincoln. Hell, the Dixiecrats would be an opposition party to the contemporary Democratic Party. That’s because they started and remained a party dedicated to racism and white hegemony. Nixon simply incorporated them into the Republican Party. In a way, everyone suddenly got honest.
But, our news media only read each others’ books. Their idea of “history” begins with them and their times. Some are even worse. They’re like those giant goldfish that supposedly have no memory beyond right here and right now (that, apparently is a myth — those fish do have memories — but the idea’s still good). Some are even worse than that! Take NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell.
Now, I’m absolutely certain that Kelly — out of her makeup, her hair let-down — is a lovely person, kind, genuine, open-hearted. But, when she picks up a microphone, she becomes a kind of zombie. Like many of her peers, she kicks into a “I’m a journalist and I don’t take sides” mantra. This is where “both sides do it” immediately goes off the rails. Kelly assumes that when she quotes Donald Trump, that Donald Trump is speaking truthfully. When Trump was POTUS, Kelly never qualified until AFTER the quote (if she did at all) that Trump might not be entirely trustworthy. Kelly didn’t want to judge him. That would be okay, perhaps, the very first time Trump said something then was caught lying. Kelly giving a president of the United States the benefit of the doubt would make sense. But, not after the third time or the fourth or the fifth or the five thousandth. Then Kelly wasn’t quoting a POTUS for her audience’s benefit, she was quoting a liar — but refusing to identify the lie as a lie. Or, when she did she softened the blow — using kinder, gentler, more understanding words to describe outright lies.
Sorry, Kelly, but that is you taking sides. With bullshit and against the Truth.
The moment a reporter like Kelly gives credibility to bullshit, bullshit becomes a player. Now, in order to report the story, we have to repeat the bullshit — and allow (because a president or someone on his team said it) that it “could” be true. Well, fact is bullshit is never true. Because it’s bullshit.
Another thing reporters like Kelly do — after they’ve quoted the bullshit — is to analyze the bullshit. It doesn’t get bullshittier than a mediocrity like Kelly applying how SHE sees the world to Donald Trump’s behavior. A pathological liar like Trump does not see the world or act in any way like Kelly O’Donnell. His reasons are not Kelly’s. So, when Kelly applies HER reasoning to what Trump or his allies do, she’s completely off base. She’s framing it all wrong.
If Kelly were the only reporter screwing this pooch, we’d be okay. But, alas, Kelly’s not alone. She’s got a ton of company — most of her fellow journalists. As an MSNBC regular, most of my ire is focused on their talent roster. Among the most mediocre — Hallie Jackson, Alex Witt, Andrea Mitchell, Craig Melvin and Garrett Haake. Hallie is a little girl struggling to do a grown woman’s job. Alex walks onto the set completely unprepared; no one asks less informed questions than she does. Except Craig Melvin and Andrea Mitchell. Andrea’s so deeply embedded inside the DC bubble, she can’t see reality anymore from her house. Her personal relationships with so many of the players blind her to what those players are doing and why. Garrett Haake isn’t an untalented journalist, he’s just incapable of connecting dots beyond his immediate environment. And even then, his lack of perspective prevents him from connecting some of the most essential dots. Don’t dare suggest Garrett has this problem: also like most of his fellow journalists, Garrett has zero capacity for self-analysis.
Especially awful: Chuck Todd. Chuck is the Clown Prince of Both Sides Do It. He’s neither a good journalist nor a good TV performer (seriously — watch Chuck — he’s got more tics than a Tourette’s ward). That Chuck is NBC News’ “political director” should be a constant source of embarrassment to them.
As we stand here today, the majority of America’s journalists see Joe Biden’s Afghanistan pull out as a travesty. Is it hard to watch? Yeah. Is it hard to stomach? Damn right. But if you watch it without the context of twenty years, of the trillions spent, of the lives lost, of the corruption that flowed like water, of the fact that the Taliban are NOT interlopers (like us), they’re Pashtun — an Afghani tribe (48% of Afghanis at that) — you’re going to report the story entirely from your heart and not from your head. If you either don’t know or don’t understand that the Taliban (the word means “student” in Pashto) do not naturally back terrorists, that they really did want to turn Osama bin Laden over to us — but not without proof (because to turn him over otherwise would betray their Islamic culture — then you do not know who the Taliban really is and why they do what they do. The Taliban are indeed brutal and Medieval in their outlook — but you cannot defeat a nemesis you don’t understand.
Witness the fall of Afghanistan. What the Taliban understood but our news media still doesn’t is that after we defeated the Taliban twenty years ago, they didn’t go away, THEY WENT HOME. To their part of Afghanistan. If you don’t understand that we’ve interceded in a civil war — with religious overtones — you’re reporting some other story taking place in some other country. It’s exactly like Kelly O’Donnell reporting on Donald Trump like he was some “other” president — a “normal” one other than the corrupt, racist, misogynistic, bigoted traitor he was.
One of mediocrity’s hallmarks is its capacity to normalize things that should NEVER be normalized. But that is exactly what our news media did at the very start of Trump’s candidacy. Yes, they were outraged by “Mexicans are rapists” same as everyone not a Trumpanista. But then they allowed Trump to move on. Yes, it was to a fresh outrage — “pussy-grabbing” — but because they stopped questioning Trump about “Mexicans are rapists”, Trump was allowed to think “Mexicans are rapists” was okay. Okay enough NOT to end his presidential bid. The same went for pussy-grabbing because, to our news media, “But her emails!” played bigger.
For that high jump alone — “But her emails” — our news media should win perpetual gold. Well, what they deserve is to have the shame hung around their necks forever.
They were 100% wrong about it. Like they are right now about Afghanistan. Our mediocre news media want Joe Biden to “admit he was wrong!” That’s in the context of twenty years of being in country with twenty years of waste, corruption and bullshit that the news media itself has reported. The one real gain America’s presence bestowed upon Afghanistan was equal treatment for Afghani women. Also, we engaged thousands of Afghanis to help us in our “mission”. After we took over the country, chased bin Laden and then killed him, our mission — the one we had in our heads when we invaded (throwing an Afghani tribe out of power) — ended. But, we stayed. And invented a new mission for ourselves — turning Afghanistan into America.
This was always folly. Arrogant folly. Cruel folly.
We set Afghanistan, its women and everyone who helped us up for failure. We did. It’s a fact. The notion that we could have stayed on forever — with a contingent of 2500 or so soldiers — denies the reality of the “country” we’re talking about, the Taliban’s motivation and the fact that the Taliban are Afghanis. They would win in the end regardless because they have time on their side. The Afghanis understood this; that’s why they all pre-negotiated their surrenders. The Taliban ARE Afghanis. Their culture is a more cruel version of the general culture they live in.
For comparison’s sake, let’s suppose some other country — its heart in the right place — took up the cause of all fundamentalist LDS women (even the Church of Latter Day Saints — the Mormons’ — have issues with their fundamentalist co-religionists). There are about 10,000 FDLS members spread across remote parts of Utah, Colorado and Arizona. What if that “do-gooder” country went at us relentlessly for not protecting those women and girls. What if they got so incensed that they sent in a team to snatch them all (knowing they’re not going to invade us). There’s nothing far-fetched here. Countries have actually done things like this — here in America. Ever hear of the Russian mafia?
We’d lose our minds, of course. People don’t impose their cultures on us, we impose ours on them.
Make no mistake: what the Taliban wants to do again to Afghanistan’s women is horrible in the extreme. I could call it unacceptable but, as we stand here today, there is nothing I (or anyone) can do to stop it. Unless we want to invade Afghanistan all over again. If America had chosen to keep 2500 boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect its women, not only would this war have continued, it would soon have escalated. Whenever the Taliban finally decided they’d had enough, they would have escalated their violence. Under current circumstances, the Taliban have good friends in Russia.
And we cannot remove Trump from the equation because he buried himself in it. We will yet learn (take it to the bank) that what is happening now in Afghanistan was set in motion while Trump’s fat ass still stank up the Oval.
Ah, but to see all that, you’d have to have perspective. You’d have to acknowledge that both sides don’t do the same things — and what they do do? They do for entirely different reasons. You’d have to see people for who they are versus who you’ve projected them to be. You’d have to expunge “both sides do it” from your brain.
You’d have to aspire to rise above your own mediocrity.