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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are your problems in a nutshell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like that, racism and bigotry had been normalized.

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

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

That has to stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barr Summary w highlights

Apparently they never learned how to read footnotes either…

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

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

I worry for us.

 

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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.