In Scriptwriting, We Call It A “Yes-No-Yes-No” Argument; In Cable News They Call It “Cable News”

A confession: though I write scripts for a living, I despise reading the damned things. It’s not necessarily the scriptwriter’s fault; the screenplay format itself defeats many a talented writer. But, storytelling itself can defeat writers too — especially when they’re mediocre at it. Journalists are storytellers first and foremost. Their canvas is the present or a deep dive into something from the past that helped shape and explains the present. But, regardless of when the story you’re telling takes place, the principles of storytelling remain the same. It’s all about adding information, scene by scene, to propel the story forward through all its good parts to a satisfying conclusion. Scenes that don’t add information don’t belong. Instead of moving the story forward, pointless scenes bring the story to a halt — or tell a different story — their own. Or, more likely, no story whatsoever.

The epitome of the utterly useless scene is two characters engaged in a “yes-no, yes-no” argument that literally goes nowhere. Scenes don’t necessarily have to have the words “yes” and “no” to be “yes-no” scenes. They just have to contain an argument that goes on and on without actually getting anywhere. You know, like the American news media reporting any story that isn’t a royal wedding.

With the Donald Trump story, the “yes-no, yes-no” scene often began with Trump doing something outrageous — like giving away secrets or backing Vlad Putin’s agenda over our own. The news media would look to the rest of the GOP, expecting them to be just as shocked as the press was pretending to be. Yet the Republicans never flinched. Their loyalty to Trump never faltered. “Why do the Republicans remain so loyal to Trump?” our news media talking heads would demand to know.

The talking head panel would then kick the question around — same as they did the day before and the day before that. That they kept having the same damned conversation wasn’t because an answer was so elusive and hard to tease out from the shadows. No, it was because our news media — insisting that “both sides do it” — have made themselves incapable of framing any story correctly. If you truly believe that “both sides do it”, it’s because you think that people are all, at the core, alike; the fact that they take differing sides is just them being “political” — which, of course, “both sides do”. But the two sides in this conversation — conservatives vs progressives — are entirely different in their vision for the future and for America.

Trust me on this — conservatives want one thing for the future (they want it to look like the past as much as possible — the thing conservatives want to conserve) while progressives want the diametric opposite. Unlike conservatives, progressives don’t fear the future. It’s the past that progressives want to get away from — our racist, misogynist, corrupt (and now treasonous) past. Of course, we want to prosecute all those the people who did these terrible things first (as we must). If cable news shows really wanted to, they could make these conversations on their air much more meaningful. But, first, they’d have to put down their cynicism and see the world they’re reporting on as it actually is.

In a movie or television script, the goal always is to move the story forward toward its conclusion. Every scene must both build upon the scenes that came before it and then add new information that will propel the story into the next scene. This requires the storyteller to continually aggregate all the new information into the story — baking it into the architecture in essence. Otherwise, every new scene would start — as cable news shows do — by returning to square one where we didn’t know the things we’ve subsequently learned. That’s how we get to a place where our news media can’t decide whether or not Donald Trump is/was/will always be a racist.

Anyone who says and stands by “Mexicans are rapists” is a racist. He’s telling us so. All we have to do is listen to the man. It’s stupid to ask racists if they’re racist to begin with. How the hell would they know? They have zero perspective on racism BECAUSE THEY’RE RACISTS. And racism, like beauty, isn’t in the racist’s eye, it’s in the “beholder’s”. In racism’s case, that will be the racist’s victim. THEY’RE the only people qualified to answer that question. They’re the only ones who actually know.

Our cable news talking heads can’t decide if Republicans are honest actors or not because they can’t aggregate the information that would tell them they’re not. Honest actors don’t obstruct justice the way Republicans do. They don’t stand with seditionists and traitors. They don’t do everything within their power to undermine our democracy because — being so regressive — no one will vote for them. But Republicans do. And we know that because they’ve been doing it for almost five years now. That’s a pretty reliable data set.

In a movie or TV show, the presence of a “Yes-no, yes-now” argument is evidence that the storyteller isn’t up to the job. In American politics, it’s evidence that a Republican is nearby. And so is corruption.

The Reason All Republican Arguments Sound Like Bullsh*t Is Because That’s What They Are

No one ever does anything “just because”. Trust me on this. It’s something storytellers know about human nature because we have to draw on human nature to create believable characters that ring true both inside and out. What’s worse than a character you’ve come to love who suddenly acts “out of character” — not because their author has crafted some ingenious (if convoluted) storyline for them, but because their author has flat out betrayed them. Or, more accurately, the author has betrayed how the rest of us understand human nature. Someone behaving badly may not be able to articulate their motivation, but, even if it’s because their brain chemistry’s funky, they’re doing it for a reason. Our news media quickly made the decision that Donald Trump did what he did and said what he said because “that’s how he is”. In other words, Trump behaved/behaves like he does “just because”.

That was the news media’s explanation for Trump having his head so firmly stuck up Vladimir Putin’s ass: “it’s just how Trump ‘is’.” That was why Trump said “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing is okay!” — because that’s how he is. Ummmm, no, actually. Trump said “Mexicans are rapists” because he’s a racist and he bragged about “pussy grabbing” because he’s a misogynist pig and (like his imaginary Mexicans) a rapist. But, our news media didn’t really care about that because “but — her emails” apparently was more “newsworthy” to them.

To this day, our news media won’t call Donald Trump a racist. Well, a few of them will but most wouldn’t dare. They think it’s logical to ask a racist if they’re a racist — as if the racist had the least bit of perspective with which to answer such a question. Racism — like beauty — is in the eye of the beholder, not the object itself. Want to know if someone’s racist or not? Ask their victims. As the people who could have been subjected to the racist’s racism. They’ll know. They’ll happily tell you who is and who isn’t racist.

But, if you’re willing to let a racist tell you he’s not racist, you’re already willing to give bullshit credence. And every Republican knows it. All they have to ever do to make the American news media compliant is to draw them into that vast Republican Rabbit Hole where truth and patriotism and human decency all go to die. And our news media happily leaps right in. Suddenly, rabbit hole logic takes over. Up is down and down is up and both are sideways. It really doesn’t matter what the rule of law actually says since the Republican imperative is to violate its spirit regardless. And news events — even damning ones! — they lose all context. Acts of stone cold treason become minor details in forgotten stories.

For example — in June 2016 (the Washington Post reported in 2017 when their reporter heard a recording of the meeting), current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walked into a room of GOP leaders — their nominating convention a month away — and said: “There are two people I think Putin pays — Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” It was the nervous laughter in the room that made McCarthy add “Swear to God!” Why was there nervous laughter and not outrage — that such a thing was even remotely possible? Because everyone in the room knew 1) it WAS possible and 2) it was a fact. In fact, it was such a fact that then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan made everyone in the room promise to keep this piece of information (not speculation apparently) a secret.

As Paul Ryan himself put it: “That’s how we know we’re family”.

When, a year later, one intrepid reporter — having read the story in the Washington Post — asked McCarthy about his comment, McCarthy replied that he’d been “joking”. Quick side note: people with no sense of humor (people who can’t laugh at themselves) cannot make jokes. That is, they can’t make jokes that aren’t at someone else’s expense. Kevin McCarthy was not joking when he said he thought Putin pays Trump. That response was flat out bullshit. It was a lie — but, per usual, the “journalist” let it go — because that’s how bullshit and lies get normalized into the kind of toxic propaganda our news media can’t discern from news stories.

But, telling truth from bullshit isn’t really that hard. It’s no harder than separating feelings from facts.

When someone who’s based their point of view on facts gets challenged, they lay their facts on the table. Emotions may validate but they don’t elucidate. If anything, emotions cloud our thinking. That’s why our news media can only see the tragedy unfolding in front of us in Afghanistan. It IS a tragedy. But if you want to report it truthfully, you have to report the whole story — how we got to the tragedy part and not just the tragedy part. Joe Biden didn’t enter his presidency in a normal fashion because his predecessor 1) is still trying to hold onto power, 2) pre-surrendered Afghanistan to the Taliban before Biden even was sworn in, 3) denied Team Biden any sort of transition so that they could see this fiasco coming at them, and 4) are all stone cold traitors to begin with. To report this story as “And then Joe Biden screwed it all up!” is insulting not just to Joe Biden but to America and Afghanistan, too.

The truth is, we set Afghanistan up for failure when we walked in the door. We set the hook firmly when we changed our mission from “Get bin Laden” to “Turn Afghanistan into the democratic picture book American could never be”. Joe Biden did not suddenly change his mind about nation building in Afghanistan, he’s ALWAYS opposed the idea. It sucks being the only adult in a room filled with juveniles and their enablers but that’s Biden’s situation vis a vis both Republicans and the news media. From our news media’s point of view however, all those juveniles and their enablers have integrity equal to Joe Biden’s. Their feeling, in other words, have the same weight as Joe Biden’s facts.

No good can come of this.

Want to know why every Republican explanation for even the simplest things sounds like utter bullshit being invented right on the spot? That’s because it’s utter bullshit — being invented right on the spot.

A great day of reckoning awaits the entire Republican Party — at least it better. If America, Americans, the rule of law and the Constitution don’t punish every single Republican who in any way co-conspired to end the greatest experiment in human self government ever then that experiment will absolutely end. Bullshit will win the day.

When that happens, we can prepare for the worst because the worst will happen. Bullshit will finally have superseded truth as our baseline common experience. Betcha Republicans are already drooling at the thought.

January 6 Is What Happens When People Believe “Made Up Stories” Are True

According to an Ipsos Poll taken at the end of December 2020, (based on a “knowledge test” where respondents were given 10 true or false statements about historical events), 83% of Americans do not believe that “a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media”. That’s the good news. The bad — “while only 17% said it was true, another 37% said they didn’t know (emphasis all mine)”. Think about that (because you can) — “essentially half of Americans believe it’s true or think that maybe it’s true that utter nonsense could be “reality”. Take this to the bank: utter nonsense is NEVER reality. Stone cold fact: the Trump-directed insurrectionists who tried to overthrow our democratic republic on January 6, 2021 were, to a person, motivated by bullshit. That is the kindest way to put it.

These grown people — who make adult decisions about their lives everyday — life and death decisions, too — staked everything (their lives, their futures, the country’s future as a democratic republic — the majority of us be damned!) on a story. As we’re learning from their communications — that’s a problem right there: they were communicating with each other as they did this; that means it was a CONSPIRACY — this entire tragedy was built upon a framework manufactured exclusively from grade A prime bullshit.

Wow… who could imagine such a thing ever happening? It’s… it’s absurdity on steroids. And the scale of it! WOW! Surely such a thing’s never happened before where just enough people believed rubbish and then did something terrible because of it. Hey — is this sarcasm font working? I can’t tell… The history of human beings is the history of bullshit causing mayhem. Hey — didja ever hear the one about a crazy, deranged, murderous group of people who bought the fiction that “THE Jews killed Jesus”?

Talk about a story that’s gotten way more play than it ever deserved.

But, then, “THE Jews murdered Jesus” was part of a larger invention — that Jesus was a messiah, a half-man, half-god, conceived by the union of a body-less deity and a virginal human female. You really can’t take anything away from Paul The Apostle here. HE invented Christianity, not Jesus (Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew and never in his wildest dreams ever imagined that a non-Jewish CHURCH would arise from his teachings hell bent on persecuting Jews first and foremost). Anyone who thinks a Jewish, “Do unto others” preaching Jesus would think the Spanish Inquisition was just the right thing to make those Jews behave… you finish the sentence. I’m reaching my bullshit tolerance limit.

But, try staring into eyes that either condemn you for killing “their lord” or insist they’ll “pray for you” in hopes that the Jew-hating Jesus in their heads will enlighten you. Get that? It ain’t Jesus they want to transmit from them to you, it’s their hatred — in the form of Jesus. Or, as they think of him “McJesus”. That’s really how most Christians now think of Jesus — as a McMascot. You drive in hungry for the “Do Unto Others” but drive out loaded down with dogma and bullshit — none of it satisfying the craving you drove in with. Do you see how much worse that makes it? The Jesus Jews are accused of personally betraying is hyper-fictitious.

For the record — I take nothing away from Paul. He was a genius! The reason he couldn’t sell his version of Jesus to the Jews in Roman Palestine is because it wasn’t Jewish enough. Paul needed to “square peg, round hole” Jesus into a bunch of messiah prophecies that had been around in the Jewish culture for hundreds of years. Reality check: these are PROPHECIES, not data points. If we’re going to base real decisions on them, it sure would help if they bore some resemblance to the real world we all have to live in. Paul didn’t have that problem though. When he took HIS version of Jesus to the gentiles, they had no basis for comparison. They had no background in or knowledge of the Jewish texts that Paul referenced. They were or said whatever Paul said they were or said.

If THE Jews were responsible for murdering Jesus, who were the gentiles to argue? They weren’t there — but, then, neither was Paul.

The other thing Paul created — to his infinite credit — is the genius idea that if you are willing to believe in the Jesus Paul invented, you can beat death. That’s it: that’s Christianity’s sales pitch in a nutshell. Believe what we’re telling you (every last bit of it!) and you, too, can “live forever”! Maybe not “live” the way you think of “living” but “live” in a way we’ve imagined for you — where you get to be with your loved ones forever, Amen. In Greco-Roman world with minimal science but bounteous gods, no one had ever given gods that kind of power before.

Made up stories becoming “A Reality” doesn’t just happen. First, the stories have to be made up. Then they have to be propagated. For that to happen, they have to be believed. They have to transcend entertainment (stories told around the campfire) and become the basis for a whole belief system: Eve committed the “original sin” and that is why people deserve what they get. It’s why Jesus “died for our sins”. But then again, Jesus rose from the dead — and you can, too — if you’d only believe in “Jesus”.

From a basic storytelling point of view, this simply doesn’t add up. Think about it: either God (deity that he is) saw a way to “forgive humans their sins” and devised this remarkable plan (have sex with a virgin, hope the kid survives to adulthood in a world where that’s not terribly certain, hope his ministry catches fire, hope that between the Romans and the Jewish authorities, they’ll find a way to get Jesus crucified so he can rise from the dead in order to die for humanity’s sinful ways) or, after the “sex with a virgin” part, he pretty much improvised everything. Those are the two story possibilities Christianity needs us to buy.

If God planned for Jesus to die for humanity’s sins then what Judas does is part of God’s plan, right? If Judas doesn’t “betray” Judas, the Romans never come, Jesus never dies (for anyone’s sins) and, perhaps, he lives a long, happy life, preaching “Do Unto Others” until dying of old age in his bed. His message is no less important or impactful: “Do unto others”. It’s just all the ooga-booga that winds up on the cutting room floor. If Jesus NEEDS to die for the story logic to work then Judas, really, is a kind of hero. Ditto the Jews.

The luxury of writing fiction is you never have to back anything up (so long as your audience will go with you). Once Paul struck a chord in his audience, they wanted more. “Really, Paul? We, too can rise from the dead like this Jesus-Fellow can? Tell us more!” That’s how storytelling works. Paul wouldn’t have done himself any favors as Christianity caught fire to suddenly ask: “But, what would Jesus do?” That’s because Paul’s invention had little to do with Jesus and everything to do with Paul. Jesus’s version of Jesus was entirely human. Paul’s version of Jesus wasn’t. His was fictitious!

Here’s the key: never mind if Paul’s version of Jesus was fictitious, aside from Paul no one was trying to sell Jesus outside of Palestine. No one else except Paul was trying to sell Paul’s invention. But, Paul was succeeding! What he was selling, other people were buying. It didn’t matter to them that they were buying “feelings” and not “facts”. It’s just a fact about facts — they never sell half as easily or successfully as feelings.

What a damned shame they’re not the same thing.

Jews poisoned the wells and caused the Black Death. Black people are naturally less intelligent than white people. Mexicans are rapists and women don’t mind being grabbed by their pussies. Donald Trump “won” the 2020 election but baby-eating, pederast-performing, elitest Democrats stole it.

Oy. Does it really need to be said? Feelings in the absence of facts are dangerous things. Yeah, it DOES need to be said. And repeated until IT becomes the Truth.

Bad Things Often Happen When People Show Up Because They Believed “A Story”

Storytelling can be like a super power. Take Donald Trump telling a mob of racist, bigoted followers that the election was stolen from them. That’s a story. Pure fiction. And yet, a fiction propelled that mob into deadly action. Seditionist, treasonous action. If Trump — after setting the mob in motion — had suddenly chuckled into the mic “Heh heh, no, I’m just fooling ya, folks — I lost that election fair and square, now all of you get in your cars and go the hell home!” — they wouldn’t have listened to him. The truth would have disappointed them. The story, on the other hand…

The Insurrection At The Capitol happened because a shitload of people accepted bullshit as truth. Frankly, I don’t care if they were “fooled” by Trump. We ALL heard what Trump said before the insurrection began. We all heard what he said in the weeks beforehand. But only a few of us got into our cars or — like Jenna Ryan, the pathetic real estate agent from Texas who got on her private freakin’ jet and flew halfway across the country in order to DO something terrible because she believed a story!

Why is it usually white people begging for a Mulligan because they got duped by a con man? Probably the same reason it’s usually white people running the con. Although, in Jenna’s case, she isn’t even looking for a Mulligan. She expects to be forgiven immediately — to be pardoned by the president since, to her, she wasn’t just doing her “patriotic duty”, she also was answering to God! The highest authority of all — creator of the universe — wanted this pathetic woman to fly to Washington, DC and take part in a melee. In other words, she expects to be forgiven because she believed a story.

In my experience here in America? It’s ALWAYS white people doing that. Yes, yes — all human beings are open to being charmed into evil by a charismatic smile. But, white people just seem better at creating nonsense and then accepting it as gospel truth.

These people showed up because they believed a story.

These people showed up because they believed a story.

These people showed up because they believed a story.

These people showed up (in Salem, at the witch trial) because they believed a story.

The Holocaust happened because people had long believed (and accepted as truth) a story that Jews deserved to die because “they killed Jesus”. That never happened. Neither did the virgin birth or the three wise men from wherever or the star of Bethlehem. It didn’t. It is pure, unadulterated fiction. “The Jews murdered Jesus” is as reality-based as a piece of crime fiction yet it has transcended Jesus’s message of “love thy neighbor as thyself”. Stone cold fact — if born-lived-and-died-a-Jew Jesus were to return from the dead and hear about all the Jews who were murdered in his name — because of a story about him that wasn’t true — and stood in stark contrast to who he was and what he lived his whole life for? He’d be mighty pissed off about it.

Ah, but… if given a choice between believing the truth or believing a story, we know for a fact which the majority of people will choose. It’s literally incalculable the number of people — Jews or otherwise — whose lives were cut short because the person murdering them “believed a story”.

If You Want To Know What Donald Trump Will Do Next, You Have To Think Like A Criminal

Here’s a basic storytelling rule of thumb: good people behave like good people and criminals behave like criminals. That’s how storytellers signal to their audience that the story they’re telling takes place in a world we all recognize. Now — if it’s a good story, the good people may turn out to be criminals and one or two of the criminals may turn out to be good people. But, we’ll see all that in the context of the story. Actions and thoughts will tell us who the real good people and criminals are just before the final fade out. Regardless of who turns out to be what, when the full picture is revealed, good people will have behaved like good people and criminals will have behaved like criminals.

Donald Trump is a criminal. Being a rich, white guy, we shrugged off Trump’s pre-POTUS criminality in real time, letting him repeatedly piss all over us. When the Washington Free Beacon hired Fusion GPS to do oppo research on Trump back in the early days of the 2016 campaign, Fusion started its work by first getting its hands on every piece of publicly available material about Trump. Books, magazine and newspaper pieces, TV and radio appearances — everything. Their due diligence — the work they did BEFORE actually starting the work — convinced them (Glenn Simpson, Fusion’s co-founder testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on August 22, 2017) that Trump had strong ties to Russian gangsters and likely laundered their money through his bankrupt Atlantic City casinos.

That’s why Fusion hired Christopher Steele (and his company Orbis). Steele had excellent contacts and sources inside Russia, having run MI6’s Russia desk.

To see Donald Trump as just a “different kind of POTUS” (as many in our news media still do), is to see Al Capone as just “a different kind of businessman” or Pol Pot as “just a different kind of politician”. Yeah, okay — you could say that and you’d be right, but… it’s kinda beside the point. But, if you don’t see Trump as a criminal — either because you truly don’t see him that way or because you refuse to — then you are reporting on a Donald Trump who doesn’t actually exist except maybe inside your head.

Example — NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell. She seems like a very nice person. That very nice person should find another line of work. She’s not particularly good at journalism — all her awards be damned. Kelly is a lipstick-wearing steno pad. She thinks “journalism” is repeating back the words people speak to her. But Kelly doesn’t leave it at that — just repeating, say, what Donald Trump says. No, Kelly goes the extra mile. She “characterizes” Trump’s bullshit — she “puts it into his voice” — speaks what she insists is Trump’s thinking behind it all.

Oh, FFS! Kelly’s a nice person — we all agree. Donald Trump isn’t. He’s a rapist and a racist and a bigot and a serial adulterer and an abusive parent and a criminal and a traitor (that’s just for starters). His thought process doesn’t work the same way Kelly’s does. He doesn’t justify himself to himself the way Kelly justifies herself to herself. So, when Kelly applies how SHE thinks to how Trump thinks — it’s completely wrong. The person she’s describing — Trump on the outside, Kelly O’Donnell on the inside — DOES NOT EXIST except in Kelly’s soft, mushy mind.

Kelly’s not the only offender here. It’s the rare working journalist who’ll put themselves inside Trump’s head. “We can’t know what he’s thinking,” they insist — as if Trump’s own words, whole PATTERNS of thinking and the assurances of those who know him weren’t enough to convince THEM. FFS — in a civil trial, all one needs is 51% certainty to win and what is the news media if not a court of PUBLIC opinion?

In most talking head panels, they’ll allow for 90% of the spectrum of possible explanations for Trump’s behavior. He’s completely innocent is at one far end. But, look to the other far end — it’s not there: that’s the missing 10% (generously assuming that total innocence and total guilt are equally likely when only total guilt actually is). Think about that — these conversations between serious people will allow that Trump could be completely innocent but completely guilty? No way! If you can’t allow for the possibility that Trump is 100% a criminal — and does what he does BECAUSE he’s 100% a criminal — then when you put yourself inside his head and (try to) stare out into the world through Trump’s red-rimmed eyes, you’re mis-reporting it. Hell, you’re not seeing it, period.

Want to know why Trump will do anything and everything to stay POTUS for the rest of his life? HE’S A CRIMINAL! He’s been protected all this time by that ludicrous DoJ RULE (it’s not a LAW) — put in place to hinder Nixon and Agnew! Without it, Trump would have been indicted eons ago. Team Mueller would NOT have felt constrained; they held back accusing Trump because that same rule prevented Trump from, in essence, defending himself. A technicality has kept the most corrupt president in the country’s history in power.

If you think of Trump that way — desperate to avoid testifying under oath because you will perjure yourself because you ARE a stone cold criminal and a traitor — then his behavior isn’t mystifying at all. The dots all connect and the picture you get is complete and logical. But, as we know — it ain’t just Trump.

Our news media scratches its head even harder when it tries to make sense of Republicans. “Why, oh why do Republicans go along with this madness?” our press asks itself. They all must be terrified of Trump. Terrified of his voters. Yes and yes. But it’s bigger than that. Prison is the bigger motivator — fear of going to prison and dying in prison. The split second Trump has a legal nightmare, so will virtually every single Republican — because that’s how conspiracy works. See something, SAY something. See something, say NOTHING? An actual journalist should ask “WHY?” Why say nothing? Who are you protecting?

The Republicans knew even before the 2016 convention that Trump was dirty. But then, they were already dirty, too. That’s why then Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan admonished the meeting of muckety mucks to stay silent on the matter of “Putin paying Rohrbacher and Trump” by “keeping it in the family”. Sounds like a mafia family, no?

It’s the storyteller’s job to keep the heroes and the villains straight inside their head. To do that though, you have to have a deeper grasp of who they really are. You have to look past the icing and dig into the cake beneath. Imagine you’ve just taken a mouthful of rotten cake — made even more horrible because the icing was so pretty. No projectile vomiting allowed! Now — describe the taste in your mouth.

I bet the only thing you say about the icing is how deceiving it was. Now, please — go on! Tell us how terrible that cake tasted and still tastes. Tell us how you might never get its essence out of your mouth or senses even. Finally — how do you feel about the baker? Put yourself inside HIS mind as he concocts the flavor he intends to fool you into tasting.

I always wonder this about Kelly O’Donnell. If Trump (because he’s Trump) said “I know for a fact that Kelly O’Donnell eats children!”, would Kelly faithfully report it even though she’s pretty certain that she doesn’t eat children and never has? Or would Kelly — as she always does — repeat the words simply because Trump said it?

I betcha Kelly would (finally) draw a line. I bet that she’d (finally) step outside of her ivory tower of “both sides do it”. She certainly wouldn’t put herself inside Trump’s thought process so as to personalize WHY he thinks Kelly does this terrible thing because, she’d know, every thought she’s attributing to Trump is utter bullshit.

Isn’t perspective funny, that way?

Scrunch Or Fold: Is How You Wipe Who You Are? If So, I Bet Donald Trump Scrunches

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I hope it’s not too personal a question. Or too political a question. Scrunching v folding is like body language. It’s you inadvertently giving away too much information. Bad for you, good for anyone who wants to know what you’re really thinking. Each unintended grimace, grin or smirk tells us something —

Donald Trump smiles at Vladimir Putin while everyone else (except Melania) looks a little less pleased to be breathing the same air.

And then there’s toilet paper. It’s like body language’s cousin who talks too much.

I can’t claim credit for this insight. Back (about 25 years ago) when my good friend Johnny used to do stand-up, he had a great bit where he’d ask his audience if they scrunched up the toilet paper or folded it neatly before wiping. After the uncomfortable “recognition” laughter, the bit played brilliantly because the point was so uncomfortably accurate: how you wipe your ass says “a shitload” about who you are.

Personally, I’m a fold guy. Scrunching is too much of a “crap shoot” if you know what I mean. I won’t go into the details of “how” I fold — some secrets must die with me — but I know this: Johnny’s right. Me folding my TP — and the way I do it — reflects my inner psychology perfectly.

Being a storyteller, I craft order out of chaos. To me, scrunched TP is chaos. Worse, it’s chaos in a place where I don’t want chaos. There’s a “dark side of the moon” quality to this part of one’s toilet habits. A touch of “blind guys trying to make sense of an elephant”. I want fewer variables and question marks, not more.

I want to look into the eyes of scrunchers and ask what they’re thinking. Surely they don’t think they’re being more efficient! Is it that they trust their hands to “see” what to avoid or do they just not care?

I want to know that they wash their hands even more thoroughly.

I bet Donald Trump scrunches. In fact, I’m certain of it. A mind as disorganized and chaotic as his couldn’t possibly fold. It requires too much attention to detail and forethought. Hell, it requires too much attention from a guy who’s never paid any to anything.

The current state of America reflects (what I’d call) a scruncher’s touch.

We’ve wasted a ton of paper but there’s still shit everywhere — not just in and around our ass but all over our hands now and the toilet and the walls. The whole house is caked in shit in fact. Donald’s gonna be right for once — it will take multiple flushes to make this mess go away.

But then, what kind of toilet habits would we expect from a guy who thinks having a gold toilet makes him special?

We don’t need to know whether Joe Biden folds or scrunches. But, I bet we’ll be able to make a good, educated guess based on how he governs.

Dear American News Media: YOU Will Be The Problem Until YOU Stop Being It

When your job is to tell our story in real time, as it’s happening, it’s vital that you know how to frame that story — in real time. If you screw up the framing, you’ll end up telling the wrong story. Our news media can’t ever get the Donald Trump story right because they insist on framing Trump’s story from TRUMP’S point of view. That’d be great if Trump were even semi-reliable with the facts. The fact that he lies about everything — that’s his most prominent feature.

On the one hand, a storyteller SHOULD base their story about this character on the fact that they always lie. On the other hand, a storyteller shouldn’t base their story on this character’s lies as if they were true. Because they’re not — and it skews the whole story away from REVEALING who the character is toward revealing nothing except the depths of the storyteller’s credulity. Trump is not some visionary whose lies are part of some grand vision. He’s just a goddamned liar. He’s a goddamned criminal. His lies are meant to keep him from getting caught. Period, end of story.

You’d think professional storytellers could tell it.

This isn’t every journalist working this beat, but it is most of them. While their dedication to the journalistic ethos of fairness is admirable, they seem to have confused political neutrality with complete detachment. They don’t want to judge whether anyone’s politics are right or wrong. Okay, fine. But, then they go and assume that EVERYONE is being political — “both sides do it”.

Except that’s not true. Both sides don’t “do it”. Example: both sides do not relentlessly try to suppress the other sides voters. Both sides do not approach elections the same way. Both sides do not want every single eligible voter to vote.

When a suppressed voter raises their hand to complain that their vote is being suppressed, they’re not being “political”. They are responding to a political act however. The person suppressing their vote IS acting politically. In fact, the whole point of voter suppression is to undermine the other sides ability to conduct politics. To get what they need from the political process. To suppress a voter is a political act. To defend the suppressed voter is NOT. It’s an act of patriotism actually.

And an act of civil obligation. The vote suppressor is breaking the law.

All this is framing. It’s seeing the story from the neutral perspective journalists aspire to. Real neutrality would involve asking what everyone’s motives were rather than assuming.

What are Donald Trump’s motives? That’s not a hard question. As big a liar as he is, Trump is remarkably transparent. His motives are always right out in the open. You don’t even have to scrunch up your eyes to see them. The trick apparently (to judge by our news media) is in accepting what you’re seeing.

Plenty of journalists HAVE accepted what they’ve been seeing all along: Sarah Kendzior, David Corn, Seth Abramson. Even the former Wall Street Journal journalists at Fusion GPS — the research firm hired by Republican-owned Washington Free Beacon to do oppo research on Trump during the 2016 primary season accepted what they saw (after doing their due diligence): that Trump was almost certainly a criminal who’d been laundering Russian mob money through his failed Atlantic City casinos. Some journalists have accepted that Trump is every bit the rapist all the brave women who’ve come forward SAY he is.

Some journalists have accepted that Trump is the rapist he himself says he is.

And then there’s the rest…

The ones who “reset” every day to a bizarre “Square One” where Trump is a “normal POTUS” who ran a normal campaign in 2016, not at all touched by a hostile foreign power actively engaged in an undeclared cyber war against us. That Trump “strategizes”. He’s a brilliant businessman and a master negotiator. He’s a good father and husband. He was a great student. He’s well read. He’s loved and he’s made us more respected.

All because he says so.

This liar.

There’s a traditional English entertainment that plays at Christmastime called pantomimes.

These theatrical pieces are almost always based on some old chestnut — Cinderella or Puss In Boots. The story’s just a framework on which to hang a somewhat improvised game of call and response with the audience. At some point in almost every pantomime, the bad guy will end up standing behind the Good Guy who’s downstage center talking to the audience.

The audience — since their participation is expected — will tell the Good Guy with increasing desperation that the Bad Guy is behind him. The Good Guy — finally getting the message — turns one way but misses seeing the Bad Guy. He turns the other way — misses seeing the Bad Guy again. It’s maddening of course. That’s the point.

In a panto, it’s also part of the fun. Here in reality though, watching Trump and the GOP stand behind the news media while We The People shout “Look out behind you!” has become part of the tragedy. The news media has become part of the story. That is, their inability to tell the story has become part of the story.

Bullshit and truth are not the same thing. When a reporter, attempting to be “neutral” asks a “Yeah, but what if bullshit was true?” kind of question, they’re giving credence to bullshit. Regular bullshit is bad. Bullshit given the credence of Truth? Oy.

Is it really a wonder why at least a third of America doesn’t know what the Truth is anymore? It’s understood that political actors — Fox News — have made it their purpose to undermine everyone’s journalist credibility including their own. They need “truth” to flow from the top, truth being whatever the criminals running the kleptocracy say it is. Orwell knew what he was talking about. Control the past, you control the future.

The “truth” is, Donald Trump sucks at messaging. That is, he sucks at messaging anything other than what he is — a traitor and a criminal. The bulk of our news media also sucks — at storytelling.

It’s a fixable problem. All they have to do? Open their eyes. Accept what they know and make it part of the story.

Neutrality toward the Truth is not neutrality. It’s journalistic malpractice.

We Need Moral Journalism NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, really?

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

That is, lies get taken for the Truth.

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

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

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

It’s damned immoral, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I won’t dignify such immorality with a response.

Dear American News Media: Even Villains Do Things For A Reason — Like, Say, Republicans…

Never mind how many times Donald Trump lies, I want a running total of how many time American news people wonder aloud while scratching their heads why the Republican Party continues to march in lock step with him. I bet the journalists are winning.

If they scratch their heads any harder, all those journalists will have permanent divots in their skulls.

Imagine staring at the obvious for that long without seeing it.

Think of it in terms of storytelling. What if a storyteller told you a story where a lot of the characters did things “just because”. Why did that character screw over that other character? Just because. Why did this character murder that other character? Just because. Hey, one could write a story that took place entirely in a “just because” world where nothing seemed to have any purpose. In fact, one could create an entire genre — we could call it “existentialism” or “absurdism” — as we already did.

Except we don’t live in an absurdist world, absurd as our world is. People may do things for absurd reasons but they do have their reasons. That’s the point. Even if someone can’t articulate why they did something staggeringly stupid, down deep, there was something that triggered them to action. Even an animal impulse is tied to the rest of who they are — and they’re willingness to give in to animal impulses others teach themselves to ignore.

Storytelling can go wherever it wants but it has to follow one basic rule: it must mirror actual human behavior or we’ll turn on it. How many times have you been reading a book or watching a movie or TV show when one of the characters did or said something so completely out of character that the whole story suddenly felt weak? We demand satisfaction from our stories. Stories that try to deceive us about how human beings are do not satisfy us.

In storytelling, villains especially must have a purpose. Even if the audience can’t discern it (that can make a horror movie even scarier), the villain itself must have a reason for doing what it does. Because human beings do. And human beings understand from experience that when humans do rotten things, if they’re not genuinely deranged (a purpose unto itself), they’re doing that rotten thing for very clear reasons.

A Bond villain has a purpose — world domination. Granted, it seems kinda foolhardy (who’d want the agita?) and hard to enforce here in reality (the enforcement costs better be figured into the business model because those all by themselves are going to be astronomical and the money to pay for it has to come from somewhere), but you can’t say it’s not a purpose.

Darth Vader has a purpose. Lex Luthor has a purpose. Doc Oc has a purpose.

So does every stinking Republican.

Mitch McConnell had a purpose when he denied Merrick Garland so much as a hearing. He had a purpose when — in the Gang Of 8 meeting at the WH, September 2016 — he vowed to accuse President Barack Obama of “politiciziing the intelligence” if Obama let We The People in on the secret that Russia was actively engaged in perverting our upcoming election toward Donald Trump. Mitch had a purpose when he removed the sanctions against Oleg Deripaska — sanctions imposed because Russia made Donald Trump president — to get a Russian aluminum factory in chronically impoverished western Kentucky. The hundred or so newly employed hillbillies were a throw in bonus. Mitch’s real purpose was committing treason.

Well, to be more exact, Mitch’s Russian handlers compelled Mitch to commit treason. But that’s just technical stuff. It doesn’t change the bottom line about Mitch McConnell: he’s a traitor. He’s been a traitor since before the election — that’s why Mitch has behaved as he’s behaved. He’s not just being a “political master”. He’s being a criminal — a criminal behaving politically because he’s using our political system both to commit his crime and to cover up his crime. See how framing changes things?

Take note, American news media — Mitch McConnell (our example) — isn’t doing what he’s doing out of blind loyalty to Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell has a purpose. Stop scratching your heads please.

Now (that you’ve stopped scratching your heads), please look around. See all those other Republicans whose actions you can’t fathom? They’re just like Mitch. They’re complicit. We’ll find out in time how early more and more Republicans understood — even if only implicitly — that Donald Trump was not behaving legally — that he would never have “won” the presidency (or they their offices) without direct Russian meddling in the election’s results.

They all knew “something happened” election night. They knew damned well it wasn’t “undeclared Trump voters”. Those at the top definitely knew that Russia was deeply, deeply involved. They knew Russia had more than just a hand; at the very least, Russia had money in the game — and money in the game was strictly illegal. We KNOW the Republicans knew, it was reported on FFS!

Now GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, upon entering a meeting of GOP leaders during the 2016 GOP convention, said out loud “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump”. Did anyone in the room reply “What? Kevin — how do you know this? Quick, someone — get the FBI on the phone — we must report this likely criminal behavior!”? No, strangely, they did not. They did exactly as then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan insisted they do: “keep the conversation private, saying: ‘No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here’.”

If Putin paying Rohrbacher and Trump was legal, do you really think Paul Ryan would have insisted they keep it in the family?

This is what’s called “consciousness of guilt“.

Now, I know it’s a can of worms, but here goes (and I’m talking to the media here) — Consciousness of Guilt” is a real thing. It can be used to convict real people of real crimes. That means when people whose stories you’re trying to tell exhibit clear consciousness of guilt? It’s incumbent on you (the storyteller) to make that part of the story too. They’re signalling to you that there’s more to them than you know. Storytellers — good ones anyway — like that sort of thing. It gives our stories somewhere interesting to go.

So much the better that it’s all 100% true.

From the get-go, Republicans have had a reason for suppressing Democratic voters. Donald Trump has a reason for saying vote-by-mail is corrupt. The instant Trump stops being president, not only will his legal problems begin (and probably never end), so too will the legal problems of every single Republican.

Good villains have simple desires (even if those desires were arrived at by a complex process). The Republicans may be bad people but — in their defense — they are excellent villains (mostly because they fill the role so completely). They do what they because they’re corrupt. They want to overturn all our democratic principles and processes to install permanent minority rule.

I ask you this, American News Media: would tell a James Bond story from Bloefeld’s point of view? You could; it would even be interesting. But it’s still from the villain’s point of view and our culture cannot survive by glorifying villainy. It’s just how culture is. To see a story from a villain’s point of view — without condemning that point of view — is to give that point of view credence. The villain might have a point.

No, he doesn’t. He may have a point of view but, ironically, he has no point: his argument cannot carry water.

That’s the problem our news media has — and they’re inability to see the problem they have is causing all kinds of ripple effect harm.

We know why villains do things — they’re corrupt. We also know why our news media fails us regularly — they’re mediocre.

If You Think Living During A Pandemic Is A Bitch, Try Storytelling In It

And we thought things for storytellers were bad because Donald Trump’s awfulness supersedes anything any writer could ever think up.

And then the coronavirus walked in our door. Of all the gin joints in all the world…

We know how ya feel, Bogie, we know how ya feel…

Trump’s story is so hard to tell that our news media hasn’t gotten within miles of even figuring out how to tell it — never mind actually telling it. In their defense, what can you do about a candidate or president who lurches quite happily from calamity to calamity? I don’t know… maybe stop lurching after him? Maybe stop following him down every damned rabbit hole? But, I digress.

If you make your living by making up stories, it sucks when reality keeps belching out content far more inventive than anything you could imagine. Donald Trump isn’t even the worst villain riding this supersonic shitwagon. There are plenty of others: Mitch McConnell, Bill Barr, Mikes Pompeo, Pence & Flynn. Every one of these characters would fill one story all by themselves as villain. What did we ever do to deserve a whole Justice League Of Villains?

Oh, right — slavery.

I digress again.

Fictional storytelling before the coronavirus landed was already a fool’s errand. The coronavirus pandemic just made it hopeless.

Never mind what anyone says. Dialogue’s gonna be rewritten ten thousand times before it even gets to the actors — and then it’ll get rewritten ten thousand more times. First thing visual storytelling demands is being clear on what the audience sees. If you’re working in a visual media — as a screenwriter or TV writer — this is job one.

Think of it this way: before the pandemic you were a show taking place in real time — and half of your episodes were in the can when the lockdown came. Your show took place in a time when people didn’t social distance or wear masks. Bars were open and packed. Restaurants, too. People could go on a date — to a movie.

Then the pandemic hit. Production stopped for months. And months. But, let’s say circumstances ease enough so that — if your company can successfully follow 20 pages of protocols and requirements without anyone getting sick — you can go back to work, finishing your season. One problem. While your show was in hiatus, reality changed.

The literal reality in which the show had been taking place is not the literal reality we live in anymore. People can’t go to movies on dates. There are no movie theaters. And dating — it’s more complicated now (though no less essential). Coronavirus is like an STD on steroids. A show about a person with an active sex life has a problem now it didn’t have before.

And did I mention everyone wears masks now? Yeah, they wear masks — and they’re likely to be wearing masks for the foreseeable future because of the wretched hash Donald Trump and his band of pirates made of our response to the virus. That means that if your show takes place in real time — in our collective real time where we all live? Everyone better be wearing masks.

If our show said “I don’t care!” and shot the rest of the season the same way they shot the first part of their season — with no one social distancing or wearing masks, acting as if the virus never existed — they would be making a period piece.

People NOT wearing masks would be as costumed, in a sense. The same way good wardrobe is meant to draw our eye toward it (and reflect elements of character and environment), someone maskless will get our attention. We no longer live in a world where people walk around maskless. But we used to. That’s what the audience knows. Stories rely on immediacy — especially stories that take place in our contemporary world. Put that story in the past and — even if we love the characters deeply — we’ve still surrendered a big piece of the story’s drive — it’s immediacy.

I just finished a Zoom story meeting with another writer. It’s a TV project about a fish out of water who lands in LA. It’s based on a real person. She’s genuinely fascinating — and Russian. The work we’d done all had to be re-evaluated; a draft was written before the pandemic and the lockdown.

Now we had to try to imagine what our character — who’s single and sexually active — would do in a world where being single and sexually active just got harder? Keep in mind — if we got super, SUPER lucky, we could be in front of the cameras with our TV show in… super, SUPER lucky — 6 months. It’s never going to happen but let’s say. The soonest we could possibly be on air so people could binge us? A year. If we’re super, SUPER lucky.

What will THAT world look like? We’ll probably still be wearing masks. Will bars be open? Will restaurants? Or will most of them be gone — victims of the economy that started to come back far too late to save them. Will movie theaters still be off limits? Will spectating at live sports events? It’s hard to write scenes that take place in a setting that might not realistically be open anymore. That might not even exist as we knew it.

No one’s going to go with a story that says “He walked into a bar. Or maybe he didn’t because they’re all closed so he stood outside where the bar used to be.” Chrissakes — shoot the table read instead. On Zoom. It’ll be easier.