Let’s Talk About Dogma & American Journalism

On the “Faitheism Project Podcast” I do with my dear friend Randy Lovejoy — a Presbyterian Pastor — we draw a distinction between spirituality and religion. Everyone — atheist, theist or agnostic — experiences awe as we gaze up at the cosmos. We are all very much connected to this massively huge universe. That relationship between each of us and the universe — that’s our spirituality. Religion attempts to quantify and codify it: “Here’s how it’s done!” If you want to experience the promise the religion swears will be yours, first, you’re going to have to follow the rules. The religion’s rules. Want to be a good Catholic? Do these things we tell you to do — or we’ll adjudge you an apostate and deny you even exist. Dogma quickly overtakes the spirituality it’s supposed to service. The next thing you know, the dogma gets all the attention while the spiritual quest gets nada.

American journalism works the same way.

The Constitution mentions only one occupation that isn’t an employee of the US government: journalism. Journalists were imagined as the final check on power. The Peoples’ backstop. That’s the spiritual mandate journalism in America is supposed to follow. Occasionally, that dedication to the Truth produces transcendence like Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate coverage or the 1619 Project. But, too often — way too often — American journalism surrenders its integrity in the name of “access”. That only happens during Republican admins by the way. The George W Bush White House got good at limiting access to “journalists” like the New York Times’ Judith Miller. Judith genuinely believed (still does) that she didn’t sell her soul to gain access to Dick Cheney. I’ve seen picture of Judith’s soul — sitting in solitary confinement. She sold it all right. Sold it all the way down the river.

Dogma naturally produces cynicism because it breaks the world down into them v us. Anyone not us — that’s a lot of people — is suspect. American politics are steeped in cynicism but not because “both sides do it”. Both sides are not cynical though Democrats should have been cynical about Republicans eons ago. That’s the Democrats’ recurring problem — like the news media, they keep giving the benefit of the doubt to a group of people not deserving it.

They do that because of the dogma that says “everyone’s opinion carries the same weight” or the one that says “the news media’s job is to remain eternally neutral”. Or the one that says “Republicans are better with money and the nation’s security”. Or “Republicans are the party of personal responsibility” or “The Party of Lincoln” or even just “honest actors”. Our news media has been telling us our story but through dogma’s lens. None of those dogmatic assumptions are even remotely true.

Donald Trump’s rise was entirely dogmatic. But then, everything the Republicans do is dogmatic because their end game demands it. You can’t get to permanent minority rule without rigidly adhering to a plan — and the state of permanent minority rule will be a whole rabbit hole of dogma. It became dogma that Trump’s hold on the GOP has everything to do with Trump’s base. It became dogma that a former Trump hater like Lindsey Graham “changed his mind about Trump more or less ‘just because’.” It became dogma that Trump was crafty — that’s how he avoided going to prison before this. That Trump was the “great businessman” and “negotiator” he said he was. That horse shit flavored dogma got invented by “The Apprentice”.

It became dogma that what Trump and the GOP were doing to America’s democracy was just their “opinion” being manifested as opposed to what it was and is: a criminal act being committed for a political purpose.

It became dogma that every time the Republicans did something for their political reason, the Democrats’ reaction was equally political. When Republicans suppressed Democratic voters, that was just Republicans “being political”. No. That’s them BEHAVING CRIMINALLY — denying other Americans their Constitutional right to vote.

It became dogma that we should stay in Afghanistan forever. That the lives we’d risk by staying there were just “the cost of doing business”. It became dogma that everything bad happening in and to Afghanistan more or less started the instant Joe Biden took the oath of office.

It remains dogma that Republicans are good actors — despite their relentless bad behavior. It remains dogma that “bi-partisanship” is a good thing and should be done at all costs. Just because it’s “bi-partisan”. It’s remains dogma therefore that making deals with the Devil are okie-dokie.

American journalism’s addiction to dogma over truth has brought us to this moment where we’re poised at the edge of a precipice. On one side is the very real promise of E Pluribus Unum — an America that lives up to both its potential and its true exceptionalism. On the other is the white people hell bent on destroying the greatest experiment ever in human self government because no one will vote for the America THEY want: the one back in 1850 where THEY had all the power.

Power creates dogma, too. It’s the hardest dogma to break. Imagine if our news media both understood and relished the job they committed themselves to do — BE the last check on power instead of the ones preaching power’s dogma.

In “Both Sides Do It” World, A Politician, A Criminal And A Public Servant Are All The Same Thing

American journalism has a lot to answer for. Given multiple opportunities to be the new Woodward-Bernstein, most American journalists chose to be Judith Miller instead. Judith Miller was the vaunted New York Times Reporter with the remarkable inside access to the George W. Bush White House and to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney in particular. The cost of that access was any pretense that Judith Miller would tell the truth about Dick Cheney and the mountain range of corrupt behaviors Cheney and his office perpetrated in order to put and keep America at war with Iraq. Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby was convicted of leaking the identity of covert intelligence officer Valerie Plame. To Judith Miller, getting and maintaining access to a source (even if it compromised her capacity to tell the truth) was more important than telling the truth. Judith liked the power access gave her. And, frankly, the naked cynicism fit better than the skepticism she’d never quite mastered.

Skepticism v cynicism. That, in a nutshell, is where American journalism went wrong. Skepticism is harder by a long shot. It requires perspective. “Is that really so?” and “Why IS that exactly” should be the guiding principles. The journalist has to appreciate at all times that the story she’s focusing on is a tile in a much larger mosaic. How does that tile fit into the larger picture? That’s a skeptic’s question because it assumes a complex world. Cynics, on the other hand, assume only simplicity. Every story can be boiled down to one opinion versus another. He said, she said. But, if you walk in the door assuming everyone’s an honest actor — or that everyone’s a dishonest actor — you’re going to mis-frame your reporting because neither assumption is true.

A skeptical journalist – bringing perspective to the table – looks and listens for subtle clues that what they’re seeing and hearing has the ring of truth. When they see and hear those signs, the story takes a step forward because their skepticism has established to their satisfaction that their reporting can now add information upon which it can build. Adding information is how good, skeptical journalists build and tell a story. But a cynical journalist can’t do that because they can never establish to their satisfaction that anyone’s telling the truth. Or that anyone’s lying. If journalists won’t be the bulwark for what is versus what isn’t then their subjects will get to do it. That’s how Donald Trump managed to stand in front of the White House Press Corps for four years and spew pure, unadulterated bullshit with only the occasional whimper of complaint.

Counting Trump’s lies was great sport. It didn’t stop him from lying. Perhaps if the White House Press Corps had — just once — walked out en masse (and on camera) in order to make the point: STOP LYING TO US! But, of course, doing that would have risked access to an historically hypersensitive POTUS. Yes, on the one hand, if you’re not there to ask a question, you can’t ask a question. But, then, OTOH? Are you really asking any kind of meaningful questions? It’s all access for the sake of having access. That is pure cynicism.

Let’s compare public servant Adam Schiff to public servant Matt Gaetz.

While in high school, Schiff was both class valedictorian and the student voted by his classmates “most likely to succeed”. He got a BA from Stanford in poli sci and his JD from Harvard Law School. Those are nice names to have on your resume. They don’t automatically convey anything however. Donald Trump has Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania on his CV. Without daddy’s money, Trump wouldn’t have been allowed in the dorms at either institution never mind the classrooms. After law school, Schiff clerked for a judge in California then became an assistant district attorney. He first ran for office in 1994 (but lost), trying again (and succeeding) in 1996. Since then, Adam Schiff has epitomized the very notion of what a “public servant” should be.

Schiff’s closing remarks delivered during Trump’s first impeachment pretty much sum up his public servant bona fides…

Matt Gaetz is one hundred percent the Goofus to Schiff’s Gallant.

In Gaetz’s defense, there’s nothing wrong with being mediocre. Gaetz was an unremarkable high school student, an unremarkable undergrad at Florida State University and an unremarkable graduate of the William & Mary Law School (the country’s oldest, by the way). In 2008, Matt had a run-in with the law after cops pulled him over and booked him for a DUI. Strangely, though Matt SHOULD have lost his license, he didn’t. Pays to have connections apparently.

After a year of “private practice”, Gaetz did what his father and grandfather had done — he ran for office (as a Florida state rep). Having more money than any other candidate in the Republican primary got him through a crowded field. Having waaaaaay more money on hand than his Democratic opponent made a huge difference in the general election which Gaetz won handily. Having a little political power in his hands brought Matt Gaetz’s base awfulness to the surface.

A taste: Gaetz proposed legislation that would hasten the execution of many inmates on Florida’s death row, he joined State Senator Greg Evers in proposing legislation to eliminate the federal ethanol content mandate that 10 percent of gasoline sold in Florida contain ethanol and he was one of two members of the Florida House to vote against a Florida bill against revenge porn in 2015, after having successfully blocked the bill previously.

In 2016, Gaetz took his act national to the US House of Representatives. As we’re about to learn from the flipped testimony of Gaetz’s buddy former Florida Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, the answer to question “Are you a pedophile?” is “yes”.

And lest we forget — Matt said this:

In theory, both Adam Schiff and Matt Gaetz are “public servants”. From the news media’s point of view — that’s certainly true. But beyond the label, the two have zero in common.

But, from a cynical news media’s point of view, that fact’s irrelevant. They’re both “politicians”, too. If Matt Gaetz is also a criminal? Then what’s to say Adam Schiff isn’t one too?

Or, conversely — if Adam Schiff is a paragon of political virtue and public service then so is Matt Gaetz. From the news media’s point of view, who are they to say otherwise? Well, actually, according to the Constitution, they are the ones we most NEED to say otherwise — to employ their most skeptical instincts as the final check on raw political power.

When this assault on our democracy is finally laid to rest — as it will be — after we’ve finished investigating and prosecuting every last perpetrator (to leave an unprosecuted would invite them to try again), we need to turn our focus on the news media. We need to force some very real, very hard self analysis upon them. We need to rub their noses in “both sides do it”. It’s the only way to make them feel the disgust the rest of us feel about it.

We’ll know we’re finally making headway when wastes of carbon like Chuck Todd finally get kicked to the curb.

America’s founders didn’t intend to create a binary political environment but their refusal to outlaw slavery at the outset pretty much guaranteed that America would always be binary — pro-slavery v anti-slavery. Take this to the bank: pretty much every white supremacist would vote to bring back slavery if they could figure out a way to get it onto a ballot somewhere. That’s why their “public servants” — like Matt Gaetz feel less like servants and more like co-conspirators to commit a crime. That’s what they’re doing — committing crimes. But, in order to see that happening, you must have perspective.

A news media that really and truly believes that all politicians and public servants are criminals because some are isn’t doing the democracy they’re serving any favors.

Dear News Media: You Cannot Compromise With Evil So PLEASE Stop Asking The Democrats To Do It

America’s news media is what happens when journalism trades in perspective for access. On the one hand,, it’s understandable that a journalist denied access to a news maker will be handicapped. On the other, if gaining access means the journalist will have to compromise their integrity — a la the New York Times’ Judith Miller did to maintain access with George W. Bush and Maggie Haberman did with Donald Trump — the perspective gained from such access is instantly dubious. At least it should be. Alas, our news media is utterly incapable of self-analysis. That’s what happens when healthy skepticism — what should be every reporter’s stock in trade — hardens into flat out cynicism, a core belief that “both sides do it” — that both sides are exactly the same and therefore require no further distinction. They both act exactly alike for the very same reasons.

In other words, from the perspective of American journalism, Republicans gerrymander and suppress Democratic voters for the very same reason Democrats GET gerrymandered and have their votes suppressed. The Republicans — acting out of purely political ambition (to force America into a state of permanent minority rule) — are exactly the same as the Democrats who are, in fact, the victims of a crime. Voter suppression of ANY stripe is an attempt to violate another American’s most essential right — the right to vote. It’s the very worst kind of thievery in a democracy. But, that’s not how American journalism sees it — no matter what they say in their reportage.

It’s not that American journalists don’t see what Republicans are doing — it’s pretty hard to miss. But, “both sides do it” means you never have to aggregate a story’s emerging details into its evolving narrative because narratives never evolve. America’s news media not only knew Trump lied to them every day, they kept track of it! They tabulated his lying to them AND YET, every time Trump said something, their first impulse was to assume it was true BECAUSE THE PRESIDENT SAID IT.

Oy.

Our news media should never have moved on from “Mexicans are rapists”. But they did. Granted, their shock at Trump’s repellant racism turned into their shock at his repellant misogyny when he was caught bragging about “pussy grabbing”. Neither of those two shocks however could stand up to “But, her emails!” That is what happened. That is what our news media did: they gave far, FAR more weight to “But her emails” than they did to “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing” put together. Racism, can we agree, is EVIL. Same goes for misogyny and sexual assault and rape and anyone who does them. But, our news media made peace with that evil because a larger evil — “But her emails” threatened.

The Republican Party — our news media tells us every day — are restricting voting rights in every state they can because of The Big Lie. Democrats aren’t doing this, but Republicans are. The whole point of the Big Lie is to deny the majority their will — again — but, this time, with the intention of making minority rule a permanent fixture of American politics. Atop this sits the fact that we KNOW that the people who planned and carried out the insurrection on January 6 acted with the express approval and outright involvement of Republicans in Congress and numerous people on Team Trump — up to and including Donald Trump himself. This isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s a federal crime and it demands prosecution from the top of the treason food chain all the way down to the very bottom.

But, let’s go further. The insurrection wasn’t an isolated incident. Considering everything Russia had invested in Trump, getting him into the White House and keeping him there, it doesn’t pass the smell test that Russia had zero involvement in the insurrection meant to KEEP Trump in the White House, the exact place Russia wants him. The moment we uncover THOSE connections, we’ll have broken through to this story’s “bottmest” line: treason. Donald Trump and the Republican Party have all committed treason — and they know it — which is why they will do literally anything now either to put Trump back into power or undermine the Democrats attempts to reveal the GOP’s treachery to the nation.

The hard core Republicans will not care that their party and its leader are traitors. Let’s stop worrying about them — except for the fact that they’re dangerous. Instead, let’s start prosecuting every single one of these criminals. That is our only choice now just as it’s the Republican Party’s only choice to destroy our democracy: if they don’t, the rule of law will finally come for them. They WILL be prosecuted not just for election fraud and obstruction of justice but for treason itself or for conspiring to commit treason.

Hey, let’s not forget — the Republican hierarchy KNEW a month before they even nominated Trump in 2016 that (as current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy put it to a roomful of GOP leaders), “Putin pays [Rohrbacher and] Trump — swear to God!” Per then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the Republicans sided with corruption over patriotism. Did they go to the FBI with this unsettling information? No, they “kept it in the family”. That wasn’t just garden variety corruption they were keeping secret (it wasn’t just Spiro Agnew collecting literal bags of cash in the White House basement), it was a hostile foreign government’s direct OWNERSHIP of an American politician and his political party’s refusal to let America in on the fact that they knew.

How many times must the GOP negotiate with the Democrats in totally bad faith before journalists see a pattern? How many instances of corruption must they see before they accept that the person they’re reporting on IS CORRUPT? How many times will America’s news media allow itself to be lied to without demanding receipts in advance — or at all?

American news media still can’t fathom why the Republican Party can’t quit Trump. Every damned day, they scratch their heads and ask themselves: “why, even though Trump LOST THEM the White House, the House and the Senate, do Republicans like Lindsey Graham insist that, without Trump, they’re nothing? The reason American journalists settle on is “just because”. Republicans back Trump despite everything “just because” — “just because” Trump’s a Republican and the Democrats aren’t… “just because” Republicans always do what they do and Democrats always do what they do. As they contemplate the rage of possible explanations, of course they include “Cos Trump’s innocent but misunderstood”. That’s the one journalists wish were the case because it would be the easiest to report.

It’s not the American electorate clamoring for “bi-partisanship”, it’s the news media — a fact the news media itself reported on repeatedly. American voters — both Democratic and Republican — have expressed approval for most of what Team Biden is doing or proposing. Biden’s overall approval sits at 63% FFS! “Bi-partisanship” in Congress is not the same as bi-partisanship outside of Congress. Don’t forget, the structure of the Senate, like the Electoral College, is meant to over-represent conservative, rural states at the expense of populated, urban states. Why do you suppose there are TWO Dakotas? Because there are too many Dakotans for one Dakota? The only thing standing between Washington,, DC, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and statehood is who lives there (and who doesn’t).

Our news media insisting the Democrats “make a deal” with Republicans is like insisting that James Bond cut a deal with Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Does Bond really think Blofeld will keep to his part of the bargain? The second Blofeld blows up the deal — which he will — Bond will look like a moron. By then, the news media will have moved on; they will miss the point of the story entirely. Instead, they’ll whine some more about how Democrats and Republicans should “find” a way to be bi-partisan because that’s what everyone (meaning they themselves) want.

An example of compromising with evil and what it will get you is the Judenrat. These were councils of Jews — formed by Jews during Nazi occupation of Poland mostly — who chose to work WITH the Nazis. They told themselves and the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto that Jews choosing Jews for transportation to the camps was better than Germans choosing Jews. When you’re being loaded onto a cattle car like you were cattle? That distinction’s probably not gong to satisfy. As for the Jews ON the Judenrat? They all got sent to the camps, too. Sure, making a deal with Nazi Evil bought the guys making the deal a little more time — of living in hell and doing the Devil’s bidding.

Most of our news media still can’t or won’t connect the Donald Trump and Russia dots. Because they won’t do that, they can’t imagine that 1) Trump is a traitor, 2) the GOP has always known about it, and 3) the GOP has worked feverishly to obstruct justice right in the news media’s face. Their inability to see Donald Trump for the criminal he is could yet cost us the republic. Every time they follow him down another rabbit hole, they legitimize bullshit.

Whatever it takes to wean American journalism off the “both sides do it” teat, we gotta do it if only because it might finally pull the blinders from American journalism’s eyes. Both sides don’t “do it” and never, ever have.

One side is behaving like democracy-hating authoritarians and the other side isn’t. To compromise in any way with authoritarians is to give authoritarianism credence — as if it’s point of view and way of doing things deserved our consideration. The only thing that ever happens when you encourage criminals to act like criminals is criminality.

Or modern American Republicanism.

Maybe Our News Media Shouldn’t Take Its Audience — US — For Granted…

Of all the things Team Biden must accomplish pronto on January 20, 2021, atop the list must be setting the Department Of Justice back onto a course of justice and away from its role as a mob boss POTUS’ consigliere. Had our news media not normalized a thousand terrible Trumpian behaviors as “different” rather than “objectionable” or “illegal”, we might not be facing a Constitutional crisis on January 6. Too much of our news media still aspires to be the next Judith Miller — the New York Times’ access whore who sold her sole out so that Dick Cheney might whisper lies into her ear. Even more take it on faith alone that “both sides do it” and will willingly tie themselves in knots to avoid asking white conservatives the same impertinent questions they automatically burp at progressives.

Our news media assumes we’re as stupid, vacuous and intellectually incurious as they are. Boy, are they wrong. The rise of citizen journalism has saved professional journalism from itself. Now, let’s understand — as it destroyed every other business it touched, the internet is destroying the business model for journalism. Has destroyed it already, in fact. The pandemic then came along and demonstrated how anyone with a Zoom account is now just as much a TV talking head as the most experienced TV talking head.

Hell, in my other incarnation — as The Faitheism Project — I do a podcast every week now just like every other podcaster out there. I may not be much competition right now for the big players, but we’re still competing nonetheless. The internet levels all playing fields — for better and worse. The news audience — and I consider myself just another piece of it — is far more sophisticated and savvy than it was in the days when all we had was ABC, CBS and NBC. We sit down in front of our monitors or TV sets more conversant in the visual medium, it turns out, than the people we’re watching and listening to.

TV news media truly don’t understand the language of the medium they’re working in. Example — back when it was still kosher to put climate deniers on the air, the TV news networks would, as a matter of course, put climate scientist and climate denier into a “50-50” shot that splits the screen right down the middle. That’s great. It appears incredibly fair. And it IS being fair — to bullshit. It’s being incredibly unfair to the Truth however.

The problem is the climate scientist has mountains of hard data to back up what he’s saying. The climate denier has stuff he pulled (almost literally) from his ass. They are NOT the same thing. Yet there they both are, being presented in what’s called a “50-50” shot. Fifty percent of the screen to science and fifty percent of the screen to bullshit. See the problem? A truer, more accurate representation would give more like 99% of the screen to the climate scientist and maybe one percent to the climate denier. And the climate denier would be somewhere in the corner of a frame, virtually impossible to see.

A lot of us live in a constant state of war with the press — not on the press itself but on its utter failure of imagination and it’s stone cold refusal to see or acknowledge that failure of imagination. In fact, most of the press does not see itself as culpable in any way. They arrogantly hold themselves “above the fray”, never taking sides even when taking sides is demanded. One only worries about being seen to take sides if one hasn’t the courage of one’s convictions (or, more likely, no convictions to begin with).

I’m not alone in watching cable TV news not so much for the news as for the constant assurance that we’re just as screwed up today as we were yesterday — maybe a bit more screwed up in fact. Donald Trump has turned most of America into the world of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”. That’s not a good thing. Logic is that world’s kryptonite. If America’s journalists weren’t trying to convince themselves that Democrats and Republicans are all really the same person (which we absolutely are NOT!), they’d be banging away at some other story already.

America’s J-schools all need to take a break from producing journalists. They need to sit back and truly see what they’ve done to the rest of us: a party that feels compelled to explain everything and a party compelled to explain nothing. After a certain point, the trains will become physically incapable of being on time.

A few years back, the 21st Century Fox board of directors chose to end their relationship with Bill O’Reilly at a time when O’Reilly was their biggest draw, their cowiest cash cow. And yet — the 21st Century board of directors understood and agreed that O’Reilly had zero future at Fox News. The reason? Fox News’ advertisers were signaling from afar. The big advertisers were the first to grasp that, as women were more and more becoming the buying-decision decision makers in American households, it no longer behooved the big advertisers to ignore them. If America’s women — out of disgust — were likely to vote with their pocketbooks, then how and why they voted was going to become vitally important.

Fox News cannot survive without big companies advertising on it. Money drives every decision they make. Never mind what anyone on Fox ever says. Watch what they do. Their actions speak every dirty secret their words refuse to betray.

We Need Moral Journalism NOW

Journalists are front line storytellers. While a novelist writes at some remove from whatever time they’re writing about — it takes time to think out then write a novel (never mind the time it takes to get it published) — a journalist works in the right-here, right-now. A novelist writing “morally” has time to line up all that morality — to structure their story so that the moral message gets highlighted just the way they want. That’s a luxury most journalists just don’t have.

Therefore if a journalist wants to write morally (we’ll get to why they’d want to bother momentarily), they need to have their moral way of thinking lined up in advance.

Here’s the trick: EVERY journalist should want to write “morally”. Going forward, if we don’t get turned into a Trump-branded authoritarian shithole, writing morally — meaning writing that’s framed from a moral perspective rather than a neutral amoral one — will be an employment prerequisite.

Somewhere, somehow American journalism got it in its head that journalists are obligated to be utterly neutral in their reporting. If by utterly neutral they mean “apolitical” then yes — by all means — American journalists should be “neutral”. But, if by “neutral” they mean “amoral” then absolutely not. “Apolitical” and “amoral” aren’t the same thing. That’s at the heart of American journalism’s confusion.

If a politician charged with upholding the rule of law violates the rule of law, it does not matter what that politician’s party affiliation is. Every other politician is obligated by the rule of law to report the offending pol’s offense. If they don’t, the rule of law starts to break down because we’re not enforcing it evenly or equally. Therefore — when those other politicians go to the media to describe what the criminal politician is doing, they’re NOT ACTING POLITICALLY.

They’re acting patriotically. They’re FOLLOWING THE RULE OF LAW.

Ah, but… how many times do our journalists frame that reaction to actual criminal behavior as merely “political”? How many times do our journalists ASSUME that the motive behind REPORTING A CRIME isn’t to report the crime but to gain political advantage. Right there — the truth gets distorted by the very people responsible for reporting it. They’ve equated reporting a crime to journalists & the proper authorities as a political act — and thus, “both sides do it”.

That’s really more “both sides get accused of it by a stupid news media who don’t ever seem to do their homework”.

Both sides do it journalism has no sense of perspective or proportionality. To them a crime is a crime is a crime. Bernie Madoff — stealing billions from billionaires — is no different from, say Jean Valjean (the hero of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables) whose whole adventure begins when he steals bread to feed the hungry. Yes, both Bernie Madoff and Jean Valjean are thieves. Both were chased down by the Law. Framed that way, “both sides do it’.

But, really?

Storytelling can NEVER be divorced from morality. The whole point of storytelling is cultural self-analysis. Storytellers, as entertaining as they can be, are also part psychoanalyst. The best peer deeply into the cultural psyche and come away with remarkable observations about who we are and why we do what we do. That’s really why we love storytelling. We love seeing ourselves (however abstract) in the world the storyteller weaves. But, what happens when a culture’s storytellers lie to it? What happens when a culture’s storytellers — the fawning German right wing news media that supported Hitler, say — lies to the public about the politician they support? Lies become the truth.

That is, lies get taken for the Truth.

Nothing good can ever come from that dynamic. Lies are lies, Truth is Truth. There is no middle ground.

To report lies as if they were the truth is absolutely immoral. To report lies as if they “could be” the truth tap dances along the precipice. The only way to report lies as if they could be true is by using full transparency. The news audience needs every last bit of real perspective they can get — especially because the likelihood is that the lies aren’t true and never were.

It’s understood: on the one hand, it’s hard to tell your story when none of the interview subjects you need refuse to speak to you. But on the other — the cost of access to those interviews cannot be your soul or integrity. You’re going to need both of those things in order to conduct the interview. New York Times reporter Judith Miller became notorious for selling out her soul to (then) veep Dick Cheney. She lied in print to protect her source Scooter Libby — Cheney’s chief of staff. That kinda sucks as journalism.

It’s damned immoral, too.

I have a funny feeling America is about to enter a Great Moral Reckoning. Once it begins, it will gather momentum — and the momentum will gather momentum as we learn more and more just how corrupt Donald Trump was. The real momentum will gather when We The People realize just how corrupt and treacherous the entire Republican Party has been.

A reporter telling a story about white supremacists should absolutely do everything in their power to reveal the human being beneath their story. But that doesn’t include touting their vile, racist rhetoric as justifiable in some way just because you’re telling the story “neutrally”.

If you’re telling Evil’s story, you need to point out that it’s Evil. Telling a story about how “Evil is misunderstood” isn’t journalism, it’s you, the journalist, being stupid.

Worse — it’s the journalist being amoral which, in this world, is the exact same as being immoral.

There’s no middle ground in a war between Good and Evil. Similarly, there’s no middle ground in a war between Truth and lies. Both Good and Evil, Truth and lies have a “point of view”. They don’t all have “a side”. That is, they’re point of view cannot be justified.

Reporting that point of view as if it “could” be justified — say, by asking “Yeah, but what if fascism has a few merits?” — is giving credence to it. See, it says, fascism could have merits.

I won’t dignify such immorality with a response.

The Rule Of Law Matters — Unless You’re A Republican – Or In The Main Stream Media

Not A Revelation — The story we’re all living through (the extended Republican-Russian coup d’etat dressed up as a bad reality series) is light years beyond what our befuddled Main Stream News Media can handle. “Both Sides Do It” journalism has so distorted their perspective that they don’t see the threat to their own existence staring them in the face. In theory, members of the press have a Constitutional mandate to be the final check on power in our system of government.

In practice, the American press are too obsessed with getting access to be a check on anything. The ghost of Judith Miller (the New York Times reporter who carried water for Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby back when Libby was put on trial for outing CIA officers) still haunts American journalism. Miller sacrificed her journalistic integrity in order to secure access within the Bush-Cheney White House. She lost all perspective and became Dick Cheney’s mouthpiece/apologist instead of a professional reporter, sacrificing the story itself in the process.

Judith Miller insisted that it wasn’t her job to judge the illegal behavior her access gave her access to. She worried that reporting it too quickly (or reporting it at all) would compromise her access to Dick Cheney. So, she compromised her integrity instead. She chose not to report that Cheney had outed Valerie Plame as a CIA agent (compromising every agent she was handling) to pay her husband (Ambassador Joe Wilson) back for contradicting BushCo’s bullshit claims that Saddam Hussein was arming himself with nuclear weapons.

Republicans have no use for the Rule Of Law — because they’re criminals and the Rule Of Law cramps their style. It’s not like they’re subtle about their disdain.

It’s the American News Media’s disdain for the Rule Of Law that confounds. What did the Rule Of Law ever do to journalists to warrant it? As citizens — better informed than most — you’d think journalists would be leading the charge against Trumpian assaults on the Rule Of Law — and journalism. But American journalists are either deeply cynical or emotionally inert.

They’re among Trump’s most consistently enabling enablers. When Trump says things that clearly violate the Rule Of Law, people to whom following it is important run instantly to its defense. “Hey,” they might say in protest, “What you’re doing is violating/looks like it’s violating The Rule Of Law!” Instead, most journalist seem befuddled — as if it’s possible the Republicans could be violating the Rule Of Law — and if they are, what of it?

The Constitution obligates journalists to DO something when power over-reaches. Rolling over isn’t one of them. Neither is shrugging it off.

No one makes anyone BE a journalist. You’d think a dedication to the truth would be every journalist’s calling. And while most journalists can certainly pay lip service to “just wanting the facts”, they need to DO SOMETHING with those facts other than “report them”. If the facts say (if they even suggest) that someone has violated the public trust — never mind the law — that alone should set off every journalist’s alarm bells.

The Rule of Law is an artificial construct. We made it up. It only works though when we follow it. The rules of journalism — we made those up too. They’re flexible — so long as the truth is being served. Journalists play at neutrality but no one is truly neutral. That’s not a flaw. It’s a fact of life — one that journalists should acknowledge rather than deny.

When journalists (like NBC’s White House reporter Kelly O’Donnell) insist on giving every info-bite they report equal weight — regardless of whether it’s true or bullshit — they destroy the audience’s ability to discern the truth — because Kelly O can’t seem to tell herself what’s true and what’s bullshit. To her, if words tumble from Trump’s bloated orange lie-hole, they must be true because the president said them.

The fact that the words Kelly repeats aren’t true — that doesn’t matter to Kelly O. In that instance, clearly, the truth is secondary to Kelly O. She refuses to get involved with what is or what isn’t true. The president said it — that’s all that matters to Kelly O.

And if the president violates the Rule Of Law — well, that’s not Kelly O’s problem either. What’s The Rule of Law to Kelly O but an abstraction she wants no part of anyway? Every time Trump violates the Rule Of Law — or the Constitution — or even common decency — it’s no different than if he had done something normal to Kelly O. Or every reporter like her.

The greatest damage Trump has inflicted on us is the demonstration of how fragile our Democracy really is. Even worse, our ability to agree upon a mutual truth has probably been destroyed forever. The way back — if we can get back — will be through The Rule Of Law. Following it. Respecting it. Nurturing it.

Giving a shit when it gets violated.

And, if you’re a journalist — reporting on it.

There’s A Difference Between Storytellers & “Storytellees”; That Difference Is Why American News Media SUCKS…

First things first. Journalists are storytellers. News is a story about what’s happening (theoretically out here in reality) right here, right now. As news anchors all over the world put it as they start yakking — “Here’s what’s happening now“.

Then they proceed to tell you the story.

Except way too many journalists are piss-poor at telling stories. Well… let me be fair — I don’t know how good or bad they are at telling stories in general; what I know is they’re piss poor at telling the “Donald Trump Is A Traitor” story. They don’t know how to approach it, let alone “tell” it.

It seems odd, doesn’t it, that professional storytellers would be so incapacitated by the greatest story they’ll ever get to tell? It starts with their forgetting that THEY’RE storytellers to begin with — albeit storytellers reliant on their sources. But how storytellers approach a source is different than how a storytellee approaches a source. Storytellees don’t have sources.

Let me go a little deeper. When I set out to write a story, I need as much control over as much of the story I can get — so I can FRAME IT the way I want to. I want to frame the story one way vs another because facts are not generic. In and of themselves, facts are independent things. String a bunch of facts together, connect the dots in other words, and those facts paint a picture. Or they present a mosaic-like image, if you prefer.

A storyteller — in composing that mosaic — needs to make choices. Some facts belong and others either don’t belong (they’re not relevant to THIS mosaic) or they aren’t facts. They’re bullshit or too unsubstantiated to have value — so, therefore, don’t make the cut. A storyteller needs to have this sorting process at work constantly in their minds — especially as they’re doing their research. They need to be hyper-critical.

Storytellees, by comparison, are there to soak it all in. Unless a fact or detail strays too far outside their own experiences of life and people, they’re happy to accept it as part of the storytelling. They’re there to listen (critically, one hopes), not story-tell.

Something bizarre happens however when Storytellers fail to act like storytellers and act like storytellees instead. Because they’ve turned their critical faculties off (aside from that last fail-safe one when a story’s details fail to pass any smell test whatsoever), they miss essential details any storyteller relies on. They lose perspective — and therefore any ability to successfully tell that story. You cannot accurately describe what you cannot actually see (one way or another).

The perfect example of the storyteller turned storytellee is NBC’s reporter Kelly O’Donnell. I’m sure Kelly’s a lovely person. That’s not the question. She’s far too credulous — like a storytellee. Watch virtually any Kelly O’Donnell stand-up and, aside from her professional demeanor, all she’s ever doing is repeating back what “her sources” told her.

I bet Kelly’s sources go to her as often as Kelly goes to them. That would mean (if I’m right) that Kelly’s sources are using her as much as Kelly’s “using them”. What Kelly doesn’t get though about this set-up: Kelly’s purpose is “information transmission”, her source’s purpose is “message control”. Without that context, Kelly’s information SOUNDS neutral (Kelly’s intent) while not actually being neutral at all — it’s one-sided. But Kelly has failed to report that fact.

WHY?

In Kelly’s defense (and — bending over backwards to be fair here — it applies to a whole bunch of other reporters across multiple news networks) Kelly has lost sight of how her sources are using her; she’s been too busy patting herself on the back for having sources to begin with. To get those sources, Kelly agreed to put whatever critical faculties she has on hold. She’s agreed to not question their veracity or motives. She’s agreed to not question their information — regardless of how true, false or politically motivated it is.

Kelly has followed the Judith Miller Paradigm to a “T”.

Quick digression — Judith Miller:

Judith Miller worked in The New York Times‘ Washington bureau before joining Fox News in 2008. While at the Times, she gained notoriety for her coverage of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) program both before and after the 2003 invasion, which was later discovered to have been based on inaccurate information from the intelligence community. The New York Times determined that several stories she wrote about Iraq were inaccurate, and she was forced to resign from the paper in 2005.

Miller herself refused to accept any responsibility. Her defense: It wasn’t her responsibility to “critique” the information she was passing between her “inside sources” and the American public, it was her responsibility to just “pass it along” all steno pool like. Miller’s “lackadaisical” approach to journalistic integrity killed her reputation deader than dead. She’s now a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute For Public Policy — carrying water for them full time. At least Judith finally is plying her trade on the up-and-up.

Miller’s willingness to trade access to Dick Cheney for her integrity had an even consequence. Miller actively took part in Dick Cheney & Scooter Libby’s deliberate outing of Valerie Plame as CIA. Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal that her source in the Plame Affair was Scooter Libby.  The fact that Libby was doing something stunningly illegal — its political motivation crayoned all over its giant sleeve — was, apparently, irrelevant to Miller.

It wasn’t her “responsibility”, I guess, to tell THE TRUTH. It was her “responsibility” to tell Dick Cheney & Scooter Libby’s “truth” regardless of how untruthful it was.

The process of Judith Miller-ing news gathering — of sacrificing integrity for access is the crux of the problem. It’s what causes storytellers to become storytellees instead. The moment they go critical-faculty-free for access, they put their storytelling into a near-permanent cocoon-like stasis.

If not for the fact that journalism is the only job mentioned in the Constitution — it’s obligated to be the final check on political power — none of this would matter. But journalism IS mentioned in the Constitution and it IS purposed with this very high mission. If you don’t want to do the mission, what the hell are you doing in journalism? If you don’t want to be an actual storyteller, please — let us know now. Our future depends on it.

Our Dirty Secret: We Now Accept A Shitload Of Corruption As “Normal”. Spoiler Alert – BLAME THE MEDIA

Spoiler Alert Redux: BLAME THE MEDIA. They betrayed our trust in them. I bet money had something to do with it…

Yeah, yeah — it’s not entirely the media’s fault. We aren’t sheep out here, beyond the media bubble. But most people don’t have all day to sift through or triangulate all the information pouring on us to feel clarity about what is true and what isn’t. We identify a voice or two that we trust. When that voice speaks, we’ll feel secure that THEY, at least, aren’t bullshitting us.

This doesn’t apply of course to Fox News viewers.

The Press is the only job mentioned in the Constitution. They’re the only profession enumerated there (in the First Amendment) and given a mission: to be the Peoples’ last check on Power. That means they have to have a ZERO TOLERANCE for corruption since even the tiniest bit can grow (quickly) and bring down the whole system itself. Because self-government is based on TRUST. We have to TRUST that We The People aren’t trying to screw each other over. There’s simply no room for corruption in that equation.

The moment our Press accepts one tiny bit of corruption — or, should I say, the moment our Press ACCEPTED corruption — they helped set us on this very road we’re on. They’re not completely to blame, of course, there’s the corruption the Press didn’t report on. Who are they? And WHY did our Press fail to warn us about them?

During the Bush years, there was a New York Times reporter named Judith Miller. Judith traded a big chunk of her integrity to have access to Dick Cheney. That gave her an inside track to Cheney’s story. He wasn’t telling her the whole truth however. And there was Judith in the end — with a bullshit story under her byline and her integrity in tatters.

Our Press helped sell us the False Narrative we’re living inside of now — that Donald Trump is a legitimate president who “won” in 2016. “But he won the election” has been the mantra for two years to explain the screaming incongruities of Trump’s actions and the electorate’s disgust. “But he won the election” they say — as if everything surrounding the election (you know, RUSSIA) had nothing to do with that incongruity. Never mind every animal instinct inside of us screaming “That’s Bullshit!” — “But he won the election”.

For The Record: It was reported back in real time — 10 days before the election, Paul Manafort (having been forced to LEAVE the Trump campaign because of his ties to Russia) RETURNED to the campaign with this directive: “FOCUS ON PENNSYLVANIA, WISCONSIN & MICHIGAN”. Trump won those three states by a combined total of less than 80,000 votes. No one has ever done any official forensics on the machines (that’s not to say that people haven’t looked at the results — and seen some very real mathematical anomalies including similar vote totals across multiple counties). No one, to date, has asked Paul Manafort (though I’m sure Team Mueller has) — “What’d ya mean by that, Paulie?”

Remember — Even Team Trump expected to lose. There are stories of true shock in the Trump camp. There were stories of Melania especially — raging at Donald because he had assured her he would lose; the whole “deal” they had was he would lose.

Quick Digression — I’m quire convinced that Euro Trash FLOTUS is as much a part of Putin’s active measures against us as was Mariia Butina. Melania isn’t nearly as trained (I don’t think) — but we’ve got so much to learn still…

These stories WERE reported at the time. For some reason — despite their strangeness — they didn’t catch much heat. Shame. We might have gotten to the bottom of this sooner. But, back then, we were living large on lies. We had feasted more than we realized on bullshit — and had been calling it prime rib. More fool us. But then, remember — BLAME THE MEDIA.

As the story of what REALLY happened behind the scenes of our election began to find sunlight, one story caught the Media’s attention: The Steele Dossier. It was so sexy sounding. Its origins were even sexier. It all sounded like something out of a John Le Carre novel. On meth. Quick

Quick background: Back when in the early, early days of the 2016 campaign, a conservative news site — The Washington Free Beacon — hired a company called Fusion GPS to do oppo research on Donald Trump —

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/10/28/560544607/conservative-website-initially-hired-firm-that-later-produced-trump-dossier

The Free Beacon (rightfully) feared Trump. Like everyone else with a pulse, they’d heard rumblings about Donald Trump and various illegal behaviours. Fusion GPS was co-founded in 2011 by Glenn R. Simpson (a former investigative reporter and journalist for Roll Call and The Wall Street Journal), Peter Fritsch, (former Wall Street Journal senior editor), and former Wall Street Journal journalist Thomas Catan — so they had rock solid bona fides. Some more info about Fusion is here —

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_GPS

When the whole Trump-Russia saga began to emerge — and the first obstructions of justice flared, Glenn Simpson was called before Congress to testify (the intention of the Senate Republicans being to tamp Simpson down and discredit him and the Steele Dossier; this occurred at roughly the same time Devin Nunes was making his “Midnight Runs” to the White House). He told some fascinating stories that blew up repeatedly in the faces of the Republicans who’d brought him there. Shame it didn’t get more attention but — c’est lat vie (or our Press).

Among the things Glenn Simpson said under oath was this: When got hired, they did what they always do first — their Due Diligence. Their due diligence consisted of getting ahold of every newspaper article, every magazine article, every video, radio show, anything anywhere in any format — if it was PUBLICLY AVAILABLE, Fusion got its hands on it. They ordered it from Amazon. Found it in book stores. They even took it out of the library if that’s where it was. Due Diligence it’s called.

Simpson testified under oath that what Fusion GPS found IN PUBLICLY AVAILABLE MATERIAL gave them pause. It convinced them that Donald J Trump had (at the very least) been laundering money for the Russian mob forever. And if you’re laundering money for the Russian mob, you’re laundering money for the Russian government — Vladimir Putin in particular. It’s Russia. That’s how it works there.

Fusion wanted to hire the best Russia hand in the business to dig into that. The Free Beacon bailed. They weren’t interested in knowing that much about Trump (who was on the way to becoming the GOP’s nominee). I guess it might have changed how they felt about him SO much they did something. Shame about that.

In April 2016, the law firm Perkins Coie retained Fusion on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC to continue their work. Fusion hired Chris Steele in June 2016. When Perkins Coie ended their contract with Fusion in October 2016, Steele — who’d become so concerned by what HE was uncovering that he continued working gratis because he cared about the Western Democracies. If you want — Simpson’s full August 2017 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee is here (Simpson & Fritsch even wrote an op-ed in the NYTimes demanding their full testimony be released) —
https://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/politics/read-the-full-transcript-of-glenn-simpsons-senate-testimony/2700/

So — The Steele Dossier (a collection of raw, unvetted intel actually) became a kind of bete noir for America’s news media. They glommed onto the first word that, while being true about the dossier, also betrayed a wide beam of editorial ignorance about the espionage trade: “Unverified”. While the claims made in the Dossier may indeed have been “unverified” by them, there were people verifying or quite capable of verifying most everything Steele wrote. In fact, on the subject of the Steele Dosser, the Press got quite belligerent — as if, somehow, Christopher Steele needed to prove his product’s claims to THEM before they could possibly pass muster.

It was bizarre, frankly — these “journalists” who hadn’t done THEIR due diligence about Donald Trump, casting aspersions on someone else’s DUE DILIGENCE. Bizarre? It was PERVERSE.

As we keep learning: Nothing in the Steele Dossier has been “disproven”. Steele’s work product — and remember — Chris Steele ran the MI6’s Russia Desk. He had great contacts. He had integrity. Side note: When the FBI wanted to take down FIFA’s Sepp Bladder for being corrupt — they hired Chris Steele. The man’s work was solid. He had a solid reputation.

But our Press had been compromised already. They were still buying everything Trump or his underlings said at face value (no matter how much it stunk up the joint). Instead of trying to perhaps even verify some of the claims themselves — they shrugged the Dossier off as “UNVERIFIED”. Think about that in retrospect — the great bulk of our Free Press were denying a desperate whistle blower (desperate in part to save THEIR hides, rights & Constitutional purpose) in favor of the CRIMINALS & TRAITORS who were coloring the False Narrative.

The fix was already in though. By then — keep in mind — the Press had already accepted things that could not possibly be “accepted” before. By “accepted” I mean “NORMALIZED”.

Yeah, sure — the press reacted to “Mexicans Are Rapists” & “Pussy Grabbing” with all the proper alarm. For two seconds. Then they turned their focus to fresh outrage — and they stopped asking about these outrages. The effect was immediate: Trump’s bigotry and misogyny were now baked in to The Product that was Trump. And the Press accepted those things as “Part of Him”. Voila — the unspeakable had been normalized.

Taking the bait, our Press yapped about emails instead. Benghazi. Then the Comey Letter (a whole other subject for discussion). The Press’s inability to discern real from bullshit — and their carnival barker mentality could likely have changed the whole course of the election right there. In retrospect, the Press’s relentless harping on the emails (stolen property, don’t forget) will be seen as its blind spot. Its nearly fatal blind spot.

Now we live in a time when it is acknowledged that most everything that spews from the president’s anus-shaped mouth is a lie. Yet most of the press report it as if it could be true. They’re getting better at contextualizing it but — we’re so late in the game and they’re still so loathe to use the word “lie”. “Falsehoods” still abound. So does bullshit.

It wold be awesome if we could go back in a time machine to that moment before our Press ate, digested & pooped out to us as truth Trump’s first lie. Unfortunately, that’s not an option. All we can do is learn from our mistakes. Too bad learning from our mistakes is not a given.

We’ve never been “here” before — to this terrible, treasonous place. We can still save ourselves — what’s our choice? But We The People can’t do it without our Constitutionally mandated partners: The Press.

But we need them to swear off corruption. Cold turkey. Zero Tolerance. The moment they sense it (or even suspect that they sense it), they need to speak up. Loudly and persistently cos we’re not always good at listening. It’s hard to listen sometimes when so much bullshit is being thrown at you.