Can We PLEASE Stop Living Inside False Narratives?

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.

What “Both Sides Do It” Journalism Gets Especially Wrong: Both Sides Don’t Always Act “Politically”

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.

Dear American News Media: This Is NOT A Time For Neutrality; YOU Are One Of Trump’s Main Targets

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.

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.

Here’s What Happens When We “Pull Back The Lens” — And We NEED To Pull It Back NOW…

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?

Doubtful.

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 different.

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.