In the “Pantheon Of Wrongheaded Common Wisdom”, “Both Sides Do It” is king, queen and the rest of the demented Spanish Aristocracy. It takes a nubbin of “maybe” and makes it incontrovertible fact. Bad behavior does not belong to any political party. Yes, both sides are physically capable of doing things they shouldn’t and then lying about them to keep from being revealed. Historically, both sides have “done those things”. But (and here’s where “both sides do it” hits a wall and loses), if we put it all on a scale and measured the two piles of awfulness against each other? As with right here, right now, Republican-brand awfulness is exponentially worse for America than Democratic-brand awfulness in large part BECAUSE THERE’S SO MUCH MORE OF IT!
Proportion and perspective are two things “Both Sides Do It” journalism jettisons from the get-go. It says a thief is a thief is a thief — regardless of whether it’s Bernie Madoff stealing billions because he’s a greedy pig or Jean Valjean stealing bread to feed hungry people. “Both sides ‘do it’.” See what I mean? Though theoretically correct, it is absolutely wrong in its framing because it equates two things that shouldn’t be equated.
I’ve worked as a journalist. I’ve been held to journalistic standards. In the absence of hard evidence, one must be skeptical. That’s SKEPTICAL as opposed to CYNICAL. There is a difference.
If your starting point for every story is “both sides do it”, you’re not being skeptical about human beings, you’re being cynical; you’re assuming the very worst for no reason other than you’re assuming it. Authoritarians want the population they control to be deeply cynical — making authoritarianism the only means to control all that irredeemable, inevitable bad behavior. When the press equates an act of extreme corruption with Joe Citizen claiming a few deductions he’s not entitled to — that puts a smile on a cynic’s face.
“See?” he’ll say, smiling, “Both sides do it!”
Take this to the bank, American news media: both sides DON’T do it and never have. You need to expunge “Both Sides Do It” from your way of thinking — from your brains entirely. That’s not a helpful suggestion, that’s a demand. Going forward, America needs “moral journalism”. I don’t mean phony “moralistic” journalism puked out by phony journalists who place themselves above the fray (though both sides “do it”, they apparently don’t), I mean journalists who bring perspective to work every day.
This is not an impossibility. MSNBC has multiple journalists hosting multiple shows that DON’T “Both Sides Do It” — Ali Velshi (an awesome journalist), Nicolle Wallace (fearless as hell!), Rachel Maddow (relentless and so articulate), Joy-Ann Reid (equally relentless). So, it IS possible for news networks to hire and keep journalists on their roster who DO bring perspective to work with them every day. But they also have Chuck Todd — the King of “Both Sides Do It”. They have other reporters like Stephanie Ruhl (who, though excellent when reporting on the financial world, gets lost in “Both Sides Do It” the instant she turns to reporting politics) — let’s call them “Both Sides Adjacent”. And they have Kelly O’Donnell — the QUEEN of “Both Sides Do It”.
“Both Sides Do It” refuses to take sides — even when there are no sides to take other than “pro-democracy” and “pro-athoritarianism” and the pro-authoritarian side accuses the news media of being fake. To accept that statement because you dare not get involved is to validate bullshit — even if that’s not the intent. THAT’S the biggest, baddest ripple effect rolling off of “Both Sides Do It’s” cynicism — the validation of bullshit.
Want to know why America felt so ripped apart at the end of the Trump years? Because we were facing the terrible consequences every day of being told the lie — that both sides would take us to this same, awful place.
Want to know why this morning feels so wonderful — on top of the change in leadership coming less than two weeks from now? Because we now look forward to breathing air that doesn’t stink of bullshit. That doesn’t stink of “both sides doing it”.
It’s now more than a MONTH since Joe Biden won the presidency. Donald Trump has not conceded (and won’t). That’s bad enough. As of this morning, just 26 Republican members of Congress have acknowledged that Trump lost. For a month now, the news media has reported this strange sequence with utter befuddlement. Why are the Republicans following Trump? Or, as journalistic mediocrity Alex Witt (of “Weekends With Alex Witt” on MSNBC) asked “What is the president doing? What’s his ‘angle’?”
Think about that question. Think about the “knowledge base” it seems to start from. Donald Trump is “doing” something. He has “an angle”. HE’S DENYING THE LEGITIMATE TRANSFER OF POWER. He “must” have “an angle”. In other words, a legitimate (to him) reason for DENYING THE LEGITIMATE TRANSFER OF POWER. Alex Witt’s question BEGINS by framing Donald Trump’s ILLEGAL ACT as if it “could” be legit. His “angle” couldn’t possibly be “criminal”, now, could it?
The question denies its own answer. It gives legitimacy to illegitimacy. And because it puts all that INTO THE QUESTION, it also assumes that this illegitimacy is “what is”. Like too, TOO many “journalists”, Alex Witt lacks the perspective to tell the Donald Trump story to begin with. After four years of non-stop LYING, Alex Witt still thinks Trump has “an angle”. After four years of inexplicable beta dog behavior toward a hostile foreign government, Alex still thinks Trump has a “strategy”. After personally REPORTING on myriad crimes, offenses and all sorts of other bad behaviors, Alex STILL sees Trump as just “a different kind of POTUS”.
She can’t really wrap her mind around Trump being a criminal. Not a metaphorical criminal, A LITERAL ONE. And if you can’t do that, then you certainly can’t see the Republican Party — their wagon and wagons all hitched to Trump. If you can’t — after all this time — see Trump for the traitor he is (which makes the entire Republican Party a CO-CONSPIRATOR to treason!), then you cannot in any way accurately report this story. The Donald Trump and the GOP you are reporting on don’t exist except in your mind.
How many times over the past four years has a host in the studio asked the White House reporter in the field to “explain” Trump’s behavior? Then the reporter will put themselves in the president’s place in order to answer the question. “Well,” they begin, “The president says he doubts the election’s results because he really wants every vote to be counted!” They’ll embellish a bit — playing amateur shrink — assuming Trump’s motives are reasonable. You know — like THEIRS would be.
Except Trump’s motives aren’t theirs. Trump doesn’t think anything like them. If you don’t understand that Trump is a criminal then you absolutely don’t understand how he thinks — and the thoughts and motives you’re putting into his head, aren’t his, THEY’RE YOURS! NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell is the Queen of this bullshit. She’ll repeat, verbatim, Trump’s bullshit — then “get inside his mind” to explain it to us — never mind the fact that 1) IT’S BULLSHIT and 2) Trump never thought that way for two seconds.
Russia. Russian money. Dirty Russian money. And Russian money, don’t forget, comes with not just “strings” but ropes. And Vlad Putin — the Russian head of state — is also its biggest criminal. If you took Russian money (and we need to know exactly how many and which Republicans took Russian money into their campaign coffers) then you are a criminal. Stone cold fact. Not an ounce of politics to it.
The English have a seasonal tradition called the “Christmas Pantomime”.
These fun, loose-goosey stage productions are invariably built upon some beloved old chestnut — Puss In Boots… Cinderella… Dick Wittington… There’s a hero, a girl, a villain. Simple, simple, simple. Invariably there’ll be a moment when the hero (who always speaks directly to the audience — fourth wall? WHAT fourth wall?) wanders downstage to commune. The villain will enter upstage — well behind the hero — and do something mischievous.
The audience will call out to the hero — “He’s behind you!” The hero will turn — but miss seeing the villain who ducked JUST BEFORE the hero turned. The hero will look at the audience as if they were nuts. “He’s still behind you!” the audience will insist — pointing over the hero’s other shoulder.
The hero will turn again — and, again, just miss catching the villain in the act. In a panto, it’s maddening fun. In real life? It’s just maddening.
“What’s the president doing? What’s his angle?”
I take it back. It’s worse than maddening. The reason only 26 Republicans will openly say that Joe Biden is the next president is because the rest of them are literal criminals.
We know already that Trump — the second he’s no longer protected by that ludicrous DoJ “rule” that you can’t indict a sitting POTUS — will be indicted. First, it will be in the SDNY in the legal case that put Michael Cohen in prison. Trump is, as we speak, “Unindicted Co-Conspirator #1”. He’ll lose the “un” distinction the nano-second Joe Biden is sworn in. Expect the indictment to land nano-seconds later.
Another thing that will happen on January 20, 2021 — the DoJ will reopen for business as a Department dedicated to Justice (and not being a criminal president’s consigliere). That will change the landscape considerably. Of course it will when dozens if not hundreds of Republican lawmakers are subpoenaed and asked under oath to explain their odd, obstructive behaviors of the last four years. One thing most Republicans apparently never stopped to consider: what will they do if their coup fails? What will they do if the power grab comes away empty-handed?
Will they pull a Rick Perry and mutter an embarrassed “Oops”? Will they look to the Democrats — as they usually do — and assume the Dems will let them sail? Again?
Republicans will continue to get away with being criminals and traitors until they’re called out for what they are — criminals and traitors. Every time the news media sticks a mic in their faces so they can legitimize corruption and treason, they’ll set us back. If the Chuck Todds and Stephanie Ruhls and John Kings and Wolf Blitzers don’t stop scratching their heads so hard, they’ll leave permanent divots in their skulls.
Sometimes a banana is just a banana. And a criminal is just a criminal.
It is immoral to equate Truth with bullshit. Yet that is what the bulk of our news media does every day. They equate the stone cold facts of what Donald Trump has done and is doing to our democracy with the utter bullshit of his denials.
But, on MSNBC, their White House stenographer, Kelly O’Donnell reported that Trump vigorously denied saying any such thing.
What are we, the news audience, to make of this? On the one hand — solid reporting of a newsworthy transgression by a president dedicated to committing transgressions. That’s also a president newsworthy because he lies about literally everything. On the other hand? Kelly O’Donnell insisting that Trump says it isn’t so. Zero context from Kelly about, you know, all the other stuff the rest of us know already.
Kelly O’Donnell wants us to accept what she’s telling us as truth — or a possible truth — that Donald Trump never said what all those witnesses said he said. In the face of the Truth, Kelly O’ wants us to believe that bullshit could still be true.
That is immoral. And that is the problem with far too much American journalism.
When we finally begin to put what’s left of America back together again, we need to launch an investigation into who or what started “both sides do it” journalism.
Trump couldn’t have done what he did to the country without the full-on complicity of nearly the entire Republican Party. And the GOP couldn’t have done what it did — allow Trump to take America to the brink of catastrophe — without the news media cutting them all the slack they needed to drive us here.
It’s understood that covering Trump is unlike covering anyone else. He’s deeply sociopathic, a narcissist’s narcissist, incapable of any sort of self analysis. He’s utterly shameless. And willfully cruel — even to his own family. He says anything that comes to his mind, no matter how outrageous and untrue. But then, none of that is a secret.
The press has reported it since he slithered down that golden escalator into the lobby of Trump Tower and insisted that “Mexicans are rapists”.
That, of course, is not true. Virtually nothing Trump says about himself is true — except perhaps that he has a thing for young girls. And his own daughter.
Trump wasn’t “kidding” when he said that, by the way. Trump can’t kid. He can’t joke about things because he has no sense of humor. When Trump does “make jokes”, he’s not actually “making jokes” — he’s bullying. The tell whether you have a sense of humor or not is “can you laugh at yourself?” If the answer is no — as it absolutely is with Trump — you have no sense of humor.
It is a false narrative to ever say Trump is joking therefore. But then, Trump is a collection of false narratives and, for some reason, our news media prefers false narratives to real, verifiable ones.
“Donald Trump, Successful Businessman” is verifiably untrue. Yet our news media chose to accept that false narrative without checking it out. Checking it out would have meant acting like a news organization and doing some scut work. Kind of like how Fusion GPS did after the republican-owned, Jeb Bush supporting Washington Free Beacon hired them to do oppo research on Donald Trump. Fusion was co-founded by two former Wall Street Journal reporters.
What Fusion saw, Simpson testified, convinced them that Trump had, at the very least, used his (now bankrupt) Atlantic City casinos to launder Russian mob money. To violate the law.
Worst of all — Fusion saw that Trump was deeply compromised in ways that made him vulnerable to Russia. No one with half a brain thinks Russia wants anything good for us. Matter of fact, we already know that Putin has drawn up plans for cyber war against us. Gosh, if all the journalists working the Trump beat had been aggregating everything they know (from their own reporting) about Trump, he’d already by in federal prison.
We know Trump violates the rule of law and the Constitution because we’re watching him do it — in real time! It’s not as if finding Trump’s criminality requires much heavy lifting. FFS, just quote the guy and you’ve got him nailed. When journalists go deep into Trump, they always come up with treasure. The deeper they go, the more valuable the treasure. And yet, they demur… It boggles the mind.
It makes one wonder — why do they refuse to tell Trump’s story? Is it fear of losing access? Trump needs the press way more than the press needs Trump. He knows he can’t rely exclusively on Fox to spread his toxic messaging. That means the press doesn’t have to let Trump frame his story his way. THEY should never have let him do it to begin with. But, going forward, the news media could absolutely frame Trump correctly — based solely on the collective reporting of the American news media.
It’s baffling why a guy like Seth Abramson doesn’t get more news media attention. He’s the ultimate aggregator of the story the news media itself is trying to tell. If only they’d look at the perspective they themselves have created about Trump. Our starting point, every day wouldn’t be “Trump, the normal POTUS, running a normal re-election campaign”, it’d be “Trump, the corrupt, soulless, criminal, impeached president who committed treason to steal his first term in office and now wants to keep committing treason in order to remain in power forever because the moment he stops being POTUS, he’ll be indicted and sued out the wazoo”. That should be where all reporting about Trump BEGINS.
So — how does our news media heal itself?
First, it must open its eyes and truly look at itself. Regardless of whether “both sides do it” infected them in journalism school or later via contact with infected journalists, all journalists need to disavow “both sides do it”. They need to atone for equating skepticism — that thing all journalists are supposed to have in their tool kit — with cynicism. Cynicism assumes that everyone’s a rat bastard who deserves what they get.
That’s bullshit. Not everyone is motivated by self-interest. To brush everyone that way is despicable. Worse, it’s immoral.
Worst of all? It ain’t journalism — not the way journalism needs to be practiced going forward. From here on out, American journalism needs to stop equating political neutrality with neutrality. No one can remain neutral in the face of evil — even at its most banal. If, say, a reporter knows someone is doing something terrible in real time, they are obligated to stop it from happening if they at all possibly can.
Not as a journalist, AS A HUMAN BEING.
Journalists need to remember who and what they are first — before they take on the mantle of “reporter”. They’re humans living amongst other humans in (we hope) a civil society. They need to follow those rules first.
They’re also Americans — whose interests, while diverse, also hew to a particular set of rules. Citizenship doesn’t just come with benefits — voting, an American passport (for what that’s worth these days) — also it comes with responsibilities. Voting. But also an obligation to stand up for the rule of law. It can’t stand up for itself, you see.
We The People need to be the rule of law’s guardian. We need to defend it because that’s what our whole system of government is based on: a mutual understanding of the rules that keep us from killing each other. Journalists aren’t just another segment of We The People — which they are part of — they’re also charged with being the last check on power. That’s what it says in the Constitution; journalists are the only actual “job” enumerated in the Constitution. Journalists have a double obligation. But then, they chose journalism as much as it probably chose them.
Because we failed to prosecute or enforce the rule of law equally, the rule of law seems to have broken down. It hasn’t. We’re the thing that’s broken down. The moment we go back to enforcing the rule of law (this time properly)? It will begin to work for us. So long as we don’t extend any special treatment to anyone, just by enforcing the rule of law again, we’ll feel our sails begin to fill with forward momentum toward justice. If we can get there, not only will we fulfill our mutual obligation to give every single one of us the same chance to achieve our maximum potential, we’ll have helped America achieve the potential it aspired to back at its founding — minus all that white, Christian, European male Chauvinism that hogged all that potential for itself.
A Great Moral Reckoning is coming to America. It sure would be nice to see our news media actually riding that wave — atop its crest even. The way they’re going right now, they’ll be watching it from the shore.
Some false narratives are okay — Santa Claus, for instance.
In point of fact, no jolly, old white man lives at the North Pole where he “employs” (can we please see a labor contract?) elves who make toys for every child on earth — to be delivered over roughly a 12 – 24 hour period via a low tech sleigh pulled by dubious-tech flying reindeer.
It’s a false narrative to tell kids that a human such as Santa exists therefore they better behave themselves. Every time we tell a kid this tripe, we’re telling them we want an untruth to be the basis for their behavior. It won’t be the last time we pepper spray people with untruth and insist they believe it.
Most kids figure it out eventually. There’s no Santa Claus. Yeah, yeah — “culture” and “harmless” and “tradition” but a lie is a lie is a lie. We are still justifying a lie when we could just as easily have told them the truth.
Santa is a false narrative. So is “Donald Trump is a legitimate president therefore we should treat him as such”.
Donald Trump has never been legitimate. He’s been telling us that from the get-go. It might behoove us to listen to him. But, Donald Trump pushing a false narrative — his legitimacy — is one thing. The news media doing it — that’s a whole other thing entirely. That, probably, continues to be the biggest impediment to America solving its problems quickly (or at least more quickly): in the face of mounting evidence — that they themselves were reporting — the news media continues to report on Trump as if he was “normal” — as if his absurd, abnormal-to-its-core presidency was “normal”.
The evidence that our press lives inside a false narrative shows itself every time a reporter wonders aloud if Trump has finally “pivoted” or “changed tone” when all he did actually was read off a teleprompter or NOT act like an ape for two seconds. He didn’t call Mexicans rapists again or tell us how easy it is to score with chicks when you’re famous. Our press lives inside a false narrative that racists & rapists suddenly reform — as if they experienced a religious conversion.
Our press apparently believes in religious conversions. You know, cos “magic!”
I’d love to know who first belched out “both sides do it” and then made that pervasive idiocy the curriculum across America’s J schools. It’s lazy — intellectually, morally, reportorially. It starts by removing itself from the moral equation. “We’re not there to judge”, this brand of journalism tells itself. “We’re just there to report ‘the facts’ as we see them.” But, if you don’t judge facts — that is, if you give all information equal weight — true or untrue — then the the first thing that dies is perspective.
Everything’s a flat, treeless plain. No hills. No valleys.
When a terrible journalist like NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell repeats back the vile, lying puke that Trump or his press office spews — as if it “could” be true (and therefore they’re obligated to report it) — they’re giving it credence. It could be true. No, it can’t. And no amount of “coulding” will change that. Kelly O’Donnell reports virtually context free. I’m sure she’s a lovely person — warm and amiable (it’s how I perceive her anyway) — but an open mic & a camera on sticks could do what she’s doing and for a lot less money.
Bad journalists like Kelly foster the notion that Donald Trump’s presidency falls within the “perfectly normal” range. As Kelly is a trusted, professional storyteller (that’s what journalists are), the public then takes Kelly’s presentation as valid. Trump’s utter bullshit — delivered to Kelly with the utmost cynicism — has now been fed to the American news watching public as if it was “good for them”.
Kelly made bullshit wholesome.
It starts there. Then grows. No — it metastasizes because that’s what this is — a cancer. False narratives are a cancer of the consciousness. They get us believing things that are verifiably untrue (like “the coronavirus will just disappear!” — which will ultimately kill us just like a cancer.
Donald Trump turned his whole coronavirus response into a false narrative — into a whole string of them actually. The virus will disappear. It only kills old people. Masks make me look weak. He turned Black Lives Matter into a false narrative that this is about civil unrest. He turned his entire presidency into a false narrative that he isn’t owned outright by Russia. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect those dots.
You can’t ease yourself off of false narratives. You have to go cold turkey. Otherwise the false narrative will lure you back — using some false narrative.
We’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that Donald Trump’s entire presidency has been a giant false narrative. The rule of law has never stopped functioning; we simply stopped enforcing it. But, when we do go back to enforcing it, we’ll be obligated to deal with this patch right here — when we stopped enforcing it.
The rule of law is very clear: if you cheat to become the president, then you are not (and never have been) president. One plus one can never equal three. If Trump’s very legitimacy is a false narrative then everything inside the false narrative is — say it with me — “FALSE!” An illegitimate president never had the legitimate authority to anything presidential — especially nominate judges (with lifetime appointments). When you consider that getting to appoint those judges (despite Trump’s known illegitimacy) was the point of the exercise — none of this comports with the rule of law. The false narrative would be that it has something to do with Justice. It does not.
A lot of us felt the false narrative kick in the night Trump “won” the 2016 election. We were incredulous, terrified, gob-smacked. But we were also reacting in real time — and with incredible accuracy — to something very real: a strong sense that the man who’d just become president did not win.
We were right. That’s the narrative we should be starting from — that our news media should be starting from.
Donald Trump’s legitimacy is the biggest false narrative going.
It’s a simple fact: American journalism has, by and large, failed America. The press is the only job mentioned in the constitution. It’s obligated there to be the final check on power. Too bad they abdicated that responsibility eons ago.
I’d love to know at which J-School this virus first started. “Both sides do it” is the basis for every false equivalence that brought us to this catastrophe. It replaces healthy skepticism with outright cynicism — a very conservative thing to do. The only outcome is a bad outcome (it says) — so assume the worst of everyone regardless of the truth.
“Both sides do it” says that Bernie Madoff is a thief. And, so is Jean Valjean (the hero in Les Miserables). Madoff stole billions because he’s greedy. Valjean stole bread to feed the hungry. But — under “Both Sides Do It”, both men are thieves. So — both sides do it. The difference in scale and context means nothing. All information has equal weight — regardless of whether it’s true or false.
That’s the framing our press insists on. Fortunately, they’ve stopped giving air time to climate deniers (though they put Trump on their air, so I take that back). But, when they put climate deniers on their air regularly, they always sat the denier next to a climate scientist in a 50-50 shot. In the visual language, that means those two points of view are equal.
It’s true. We interpret visual images in very distinct ways. If you present two points of view in a way that says they’re equal regardless of whether they are or not, your framing has already undermined the truth.
Same token — if you present anything Donald Trump says without the context that he’s probably lying, then YOU are lying to your audience. You’re implying via your silence on the matter that, of course, he’s telling the truth. When he says things that (you know) are outright lies and you DON’T correct them immediately? They BECOME the truth. How can they not? No one contradicted their UNtruthfulness.
Each time a “Both Sides Do It” journalist gives the benefit of the doubt to someone or something undeserving (MSNBC’s Stephanie Rhule is especially guilty of this), they give credence to something that had none. “Yeah, but what if total bullshit were true…?” is not “journalism”. It’s indulging liars, fabulists and frauds.
“Both Sides Do It” journalists get suckered by job titles. It’s as if the moment Trump became POTUS, he became “infallible” to some of the press. NBC’s awful Kelly O’Donnell comes to mind. She’ll quote anything Trump says without an ounce of context. The president said it, Kelly insists. She’s just there to report what he says.
I’m curious… if Trump (for shits n giggles one day) said “And I know for a fact that Kelly O’Donnell kills puppies and eats them for breakfast every day”, would Kelly O repeat those words without comment — words that SHE KNOWS are not true? Would she suddenly decide then to be a little less “neutral”?
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what Kelly O would do. She’s that terrible at being a journalist (hell, an open mic on a stand could do what she does).
When Mitch McConnell refused to give Merrick Garland so much as a hearing — THAT was a political act. Any Democrat reacting to Mitch’s abuse of his power is NOT acting politically. They’re pointing to an inappropriate political act.
Similarly — when Donald Trump violates the Constitution (say, by openly violating its emoluments clause every single day), it’s not a political act to point out that fact. It’s somewhere between law enforcement and patriotism. Similarly — when the Democrats called out the Republicans for working with the Russians to steal election 2016, that was not a political response.
It was a CRIME VICTIM trying to report that a CRIME had been committed — against them, against the American People, against democracy itself. FFS — it’s like a robbery victim calling the police — only to have them come and arrest HIM for being the crime’s victim.
That’s the most frustrating part of “Both Sides Do It” journalism. It constantly mischaracterizes what Democrats do, say and think.
Trust me, American Journalism, while my opposition to Donald Trump has a massive political element to it, another big element is purely patriotic. Both sides do not conspire with hostile foreign governments to undermine the integrity of an American election.
Both sides do not then cover up every aspect of that conspiracy in every way they can — out in the open even.
Both sides do not aspire to permanent minority rule.
Both sides do not — like the Kochs — intend to use their money to direct American politics how THEY want it to go.
Both sides do not think there are more important things (the economy) than living.
Both sides do not aspire to open up America’s economy — however many deaths it causes — because they need to win an election.
When this is all done and dusted — and we’ve buried the Republican Party alongside the Whigs — we must then turn our attention to the press.
We need to bury “Both Sides Do It” in the same cemetery.
I think of 95% of our news media as being like the inhabitants of Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941 — about a half hour before the Japanese Imperial Fleet kicked their Sunday morning out of bed. The Japanese didn’t just “fall from the sky” though, of course, that’s what they did. To get to that patch of Hawaiian sky, the Japanese had to plan extensively going back months and years (as a contingency). They had to assemble all that equipment, the manpower, the supply chains to back it all up and then pull the trigger on it.
The Japanese Navy took weeks to get from port to where it could assemble for attack (having moved cautiously to avoid giving away the surprise). In a very real sense, a
The point — in a very real sense, a state of war existed in Japan’s mind long before it existed in ours. We were going to be victimized. Americans were going to die. Yet, had we known (and there are debates as to whether we did or not), and had we been able to “do” something (show enough force sailing toward Japan to dissuade them from their adventure), who knows where the world would be now.
But we did get attacked. We did get surprised — in large part because we took the world for granted. We took it for granted that Japan would never attack us. We took for granted that, if they did, the consequences would be negligible. We took for granted that we were safe in a very dangerous world.
Our news media take an awful lot for granted too. They’ve normalized things that should never EVER have been normalized. The moment they stop squawking about “Mexicans are rapists” and “Pussy-grabbing”, they normalized it. In the aftermath, if whatever Trump said didn’t top that? Who cared. He’s said worse. And if he DID top it — welcome to the NEW “normal”.
Our press still don’t realize yet how much they’ve done that.
We’ll remind them repeatedly when this is done.
One of the “journalists” who staggers me the most is NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell. This award-winning journalist (that staggers me even more!) brings not an iota of perspective to her “reporting”. She will faithfully repeat whatever Trump or his spokespeople say — without contextualizing it ever. If the president said it, Kelly O’s thinking goes, it’s my job to repeat it accurately.
Ah, but what if we live in Trump World — you know, the world we actually live in — where the president in question has been verifiably accused of lying over 13,000 times. What if the context instead was: “This president — who’s fealty to the truth is dubious at best — just said this…”? Granted the language is a little fancy-assed but the point is good. A man notorious for lying repeatedly wants you to believe something he’s saying — because he needs you to.
Trump needs the Kelly O’s to repeat back what he says without them pointing out it’s bullshit. Every time Kelly O does exactly that, Donald Trump has gotten away with more lies and lying. I wonder… if, one day, Trump came out to the White House lawn and told the assembled reporters — Kelly O’Donnell included — that Kelly O eats puppies for breakfast, would Kelly O blithely repeat it — because that’s what Trump said and her job is to report it without “getting involved” in the story?
Would Kelly O make an exception — knowing for a fact that she DOESN’T eat puppies for breakfast and, personally, finds the idea disgusting? Would she muster the nerve to hold up her hand and say to Trump “Now, hold on here, Mister President, I know for a fact that I do not eat puppies for breakfast, having given up he habit years ago. Either you are mis-informed or you’re a liar, take your pick.”
Mmmmm, no, I can’t hear Kelly O rising to the occasion to defend herself. That would mean she inserted herself into the story — and Kelly O would never do that — not even to defend the truth. About herself.
The media keep framing Bernie Sanders through Trump’s lens — “he’s a socialist” (as if being a socialist was in fact a terrible thing — never mind corporate socialism). Do they ever — to level the playing field — frame Trump the way Democrats will likely frame him — as an authoritarian criminal? As a rapist? As corruption with legs?
No? How about as “Co-Conspirator Number One”? That IS supported by evidence.
I guess all those mediocre “journalists” figure they’ll survive the purges that are sure to follow Trump “winning” another election. They’re even more delusional than usual. Trump will want them to be all Kelly O all the time — a steno pool masquerading as an open mic. Poor them. They don’t grasp how terribly expendable they are.
I hope they get a good bunk at the gulag. I hope they’re not counting on it though.
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.
Lack of perspective kills.
A swimmer who sees only the immediate water around them – lovely and
turquoise – but not the school of hungry sharks circling that lovely bit of
turquoise? That swimmer is chum.
Religionistas will insist that their deity wants them to live according to the rules set down by ignorant (by our standards) iron age desert dwellers because everything anyone needed to know was “known” and set down in the texts those iron age desert dwellers produced. But, what if those iron age desert dwellers, before they sat down to write, had had access to all the information we take for granted today?
What if those scribes had known that microbes and pathogens cause most human diseases? What if they knew what RNA and DNA are? What if they had a Hubble Space Telescope and every bit of its remarkable data flow to chew on? Would they have written texts that killed people with magical plagues or put the earth at the center of everything?
If the men who wrote the OT had read Darwin or Stephen
Hawking, if they had taken in a geology text book or a scientific paper on
genetics, if they had ever gotten a chance to use the internet – would they
have sat down and written the texts they wrote the exact same way?
The people who wrote, edited and put together the canonical
New Testament used significant portions of the old texts as the basis for their
new texts. The mythology Paul created
leaned heavily on the Pentateuch. The whole
basis for original sin is Eve and the Garden of Eden. If the men who wrote the originals never
wrote those originals – because they were better informed about how the world
really worked – the course of human history would have been radically
We may not have been any less self-destructive (homo sapiens are still homo sapiens) but at least we would have been denied that particular flavor of bullshit to use as an excuse.
So – if the people who wrote the religious texts so many Americans say they rely on as the basis for their lives had been just a teensy bit more educated via access to modern technologies – had they been able to “pull the lens back” even a little — human history would have been spared the chaotic, illogical darkness that certain religions have repeatedly inflicted upon humanity.
By the same token — if our Main Stream News Media were able to find the widest possible lens they can find, they might finally be able to tell the story we’re all living through. Nearly three years in to this nonsense, there are STILL reporters (like NBC News’ well-meaning but hopelessly feckless Kelly O’Donnell) who repeat back Donald Trump’s words as if he spoke gospel truth. It never occurs to them to contextualize Trump by saying – before repeating his words – that nothing he says is reliable.
They don’t. They position their reporting lens inside Trump’s bubble – where bullshit is true just because Trump says so. They report from inside the lie with the lie as their only apparent frame of reference. Either they genuinely believe the lie is true or they lack the perspective to see and report the relationship between lie and truth. Either way, they render themselves useless to We The People just when we need them most.
At the end of the day, when the smoke can finally clear and we see this story with whatever perspective we can before our generation literally dies off (and real perspective finally has a chance to flower), I bet we’ll post mortem the press this way: they failed on two major counts. First – Lack Of Perspective. Too often, our press has turned a laser focus on a piece of the larger story. While their focus was admirable, the fact that they lost perspective while focusing in so intently was not. For all the detail a guy like NBC’s Steve Kornacki can tell you about how voters vote, he never places them in the context of their times.
We have never lived through what we’re living through
now. We have never had elections stolen
by foreign countries before (at least not that we’re aware of). We have never experienced one party tossing
out the Rule Of Law in a desperate grab for permanent minority rule. When these things happen, it kinda changes
things. It’s like someone shitting in
the pool. Is swimming in it – with turds
bobbing around – the same experience?
No, Steve Kornacki, it is not. Steve epitomizes this sort of “intense focus”
journalism. He can tell you everything
you want to know about a particular grain of sand. Ask him where the grain of sand IS – on a
beach? In the middle of the Sahara? In some kid’s sand box in a suburb somewhere?
Steve has no idea.
That’s a problem where storytelling is concerned.
Second – Failure Of Imagination. It’s directly related to the first problem –
lack of perspective. It’s kinda the “ouch”
to lack of perspective’s “pinch”. If you
can’t really see what the problem (or the story) is, you can’t possibly solve
it (or report it accurately).
What happens when we pull back the lens on most of our Main
Stream News Media is we see that they’re failing us – failing their
Constitutionally mandated role as final check on power. I suggest we keep the lens back here. Their close up is really, really ugly.