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.

Screenwriting & Storytelling In The Age Of Coronavirus

The Age of Trump made fiction-writing redundant. No one could write characters or a story half as batshit bonkers as what we were living through before coronavirus and get away with it. Now, we’re just out in the stratosphere of “Whatever!” Twists might surprise us as they happen but nothing really surprises us any more.

Stories will now exist “pre-coronavirus” and “post-coronavirus” — exactly like with a war. If you were writing a love story on December 6, 1941, you had to revise it the next day — after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor — because a war started and the world all your characters lived in were going to war too — whether you knew it or not. Any visual storyteller who shoots a video where people are dressed like they used to — without masks or other protective accessories — without social distancing — is telling a period piece. Everyone might as well be wearing petticoats.

Shows like Fox’s Empire — as of now — gave up on the idea of finishing. In Empire’s case, the show’s creators are bailing on shooting the series finale for that very reason. Their show takes place in the present. In the here & now. That is, Empire took place in the present that was — in the there & then. Having to choose between suddenly (but inexplicably) wrenching their story and characters fully into coronavirus world or building coronavirus world into their story (very inconvenient when you’re wrapping your story up and lots of what you planned relied on the characters living how we used to), Empire’s producers (I think wisely though my heart breaks for them) chose to just “walk away”. To allow their creation to end where it did when the virus struck.

Like the show itself was a victim of covid-19. Which it absolutely was.

Simple conventions that storytellers have relied on forever now have to be rethought. Bars and restaurants might open again but they won’t look like they did pre-coronavirus. There won’t be “packed restaurants” or “pulsating night clubs” or “crowded bars” here in reality for a while. That means it’ll be tricky to write about them. It’s pointless to write a scene in movie script that no one would ever shoot because it’s not how people act anymore. It’d be like our love story writer insisting on his love story taking place in a world where Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor or Corregidor or Nanking or anywhere else. It’d be like writing Casablanca — except everyone just “shows up” in North Africa for no reason — the second world war no longer being a “thing” for them to worry about. No need for exit visas or Nazis or Vichy French.

For reference — I’ve spent my career in the entertainment business. I’ve been a writer & producer in film & TV for over 35 years. I’ve run TV shows (HBO’s Tales From The Crypt & Showtime’s The Outer Limits), sold pilots to Fox, ABC, HBO and the old UPN. I’ve written and produced feature films (Children Of The Corn II fer pete’s sake, Demon Knight and Bordello Of Blood!) I’ve written stories that take place in the past, present and the future. I’ve had to imagine how humans might problem-solve in a future beyond my imagining.

That’s one of the challenges for all of us who’ve been cooped up in our homes, imagining new TV shows to fill the void now that everyone in the whole world has watched everything on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon for the thousandth time. What world will our new creations take place in? What are the rules? If we get them wrong, the “here and now” we’re describing will turn off our audiences.

It’s like getting a character wrong. Writers have to know people better than even their therapists do. We all have experienced the great story idea ruined by characters who don’t act like anyone we know. The moment a storyteller loses her audience, it’s over. The audience is gone for good — hoping the next story they decide to invest in pays them back a little more generously.

On the one hand, one can see the coming waves of infection-and-death, shut-down-and-re-opening as an obstacle. Or, one could see them as an opportunity to tell a story that’s never been told before — putting modern, tech-savvy humans up against a primordial foe who sees their bodies (and cells) as a cheap sex hotel where they can slum for a while and reproduce.

The very good news for the world’s TV audiences is that when storytellers are allowed to get together in the same place again to practice their art, the stories they tell will be amazing. On the one hand, they’ll be familiar because we’ve all just endured the same wrenching experience together. On the other hand, we hope, they’ll be eye-opening for what’s new in them: new insights into human beings and how we react to stress; that’s pretty much the basis for all storytelling.

If the writers get it all wrong and don’t come up with a single binge-able idea coming out of the coronavirus quarantine, there’ll always be reality. When all else fails, we’ll know, if we want real entertainment that can’t be beat for compellingness, all we have to do is turn off the TV and walk outside.

The Reason So Many American Journalists Suck At Journalism Is Cos They Suck At STORYTELLING

Ever hear someone massacre a joke? They trip all over the set-up and blow the punch line then wonder why no one’s laughing. That’s America’s news media — except it’s not a joke they massacred, it’s the truth.

While everyone has a story, not every can tell a story — or tell their story. What most of America’s journalists don’t seem to get (it’s not evident in their reporting) is that Trump-Russia IS their story. They’re not just neutral observers in this dumpster fire, they’re both witnesses and active participants. Their very neutrality, in fact, has been turned against America.

Russia is attacking us as we speak. We are living through World War Three — a Cyber War, an Information War, an Intelligence War — no less threatening to our security and future as a bombs n bullets war. Instead of ammo, the Russians fire lies, propaganda & misinformation at us — and they use our own news media to do it. And our news media — unaware to see that THEY are indeed PART of the story — continue to go along with it. They continue to repeat Russia’s misinformation & disinformation.

Lies mingle with Truth to create a new-fangled concoction of half-truths — like a poisonous slurry that’s about to swamp us all.

Good storytelling demands that the storyteller have PERSPECTIVE. To gain perspective, you have to continually add to your story’s foundation. As you learn new info, you make it part of the story. When you learn that Trump lies more than he tells the truth, you make “Trump’s a liar” part of the story. You don’t start every day’s reporting by assuming he’s telling the Truth. That would take the story backwards.

By the same token — when you report breathlessly about all the ways Trump is betraying the country and then turn to the subject of election 2020? Trump doesn’t suddenly STOP being that traitor. He’s the TRAITOR who’s “running for office” again — by using Russia to guarantee his win — just as he did in 2016. Our MSM keeps saying “Russia meddled in 2016” as if “meddled” is some vague abstraction with results no one could possibly identify.

That’s our MSM normalizing what should never be normalized.

When Fusion GPS first got hired by the Washington Free Beacon to do oppo research on Trump, they did their “due diligence”. They got ahold of every bit of publicly available material on Trump: video, newspaper stories, magazine articles, radio interviews — everything. What they found there — in publicly available material — so concerned them about Trump’s obvious criminality (at the very least he laundered Russian mob money through his Atlantic City casinos) that they contracted with former MI6 intel pro Chris Steele whose contacts inside Russia were unequaled.

Fusion saw the story — and incorporated it into their narrative.

Our MSM, on the other hand, keeps (even now when so much of Steele’s raw intel has been proven correct) referring to Steele’s output as “unverified”. That might have been so two years ago. It’s not true today. To say it is to distort the story significantly.

The whole basis for storytelling is “add information”. Learn something new about the story? You add it to the story — and make it part of the storyTELLING.

And yet — on MSNBC & CNN, we still get reporters who refuse to add information to the story — or do so grudgingly then wonder why everyone else always scoops them.

Maybe our reporter class should go back to basics. Learn how to tell a joke. Get good at it THEN return to reporting. Otherwise they’ll continue turning our Democracy into a joke — and ain’t no one gonna laugh at that.

Dear TV Pundits: Donald Trump Doesn’t Stop Being A TRAITOR Just Cos He Takes In A Ballgame

So, you’re watching the cable TV news. The on-air team smell blood in the water. Hard evidence keeps mounting that whatever drawer you put the Mueller Report into, Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine is impeachable on steroids. The really astute talking heads — the Malcolm Nances, the Natasha Bertrands, the Nancy Wheeler’s, the Lawrence Tribes, the Glenn Kirschners — they have no qualms about letting their moral outrage rage. Donald Trump isn’t some ordinary republican potus playing the executive over-reach card, he’s their end product brought horrifyingly to life.

Trump is republican corruption on steroids and too many taco bowls. He’s old, Christian white-guy-racism projected onto electronic billboards that reach across whole zip codes.

He’s a mash up of greed and cynicism and ignorance that every republican must have envied because they’ve all worked so hard to mimic it.

And then there’s his undying devotion to Vladimir Putin.

In the storytelling trade, that’s a set-up you can’t go away from. There’s no satisfying twist that will suddenly make a hero out of Trump. In our menu of choices — A) Trump’s completely innocent, B) Trump’s kinda innocent-kinda guilty, or C) Trump’s completely guilty, “Trump’s completely guilty” is absolutely one of the possibilities.

And yet — as the MSM and its pundits “pick through the bones of last week’s news” — that’s the one possibility they refuse to entertain.

It’s true. They’ll concede the middle easily (cos who knows until all the facts are out). But the middle isn’t as fuzzy as they wish it was. When the only ongoing defense against truly perilous charges is “it’s a hoax!”, you don’t have a defense. We all agree (even Trump’s supporeters FFS!) — Trump’s not innocent. So — let’s remove that empty pot from the table please.

That means Trump must be KINDA guilty at least.

But therein lies the problem — KINDA guilty? That sounds like things we used to call guilty are being normalized.

I keep going back to this fact: Fusion GPS was hired — famously now — to do oppo research on Donald Trump (hired originally by the Washington Free Beacon — Jeb Bush supporters). As Fusion’s co-founder Glenn Simpson testified before Congress, when they did their due diligence before formally commencing their oppo work, they found so much evidence that Trump had laundered Russian mob money through his failed Atlantic City casinos (a red flag itself since who goes broke running a casino?) that they hired Christopher Steele whose Russian contacts were the best in the West.

There should be no question that Trump is a criminal many times over. He was a criminal before he ran for president and his whole campaign — and presidency — have been literal crimes, too. Trump violated his oath of office even as he spoke it; he was knowingly and aggressively violating the emoluments clause.

The Rule Of Law doesn’t have grey areas. It either is or isn’t. Same as Integrity. Once one steps into a traitor’s shoes, those shoes become permanent fixtures on your feet.

I cannot count the hours I have spent either half-listening to or half-watching TV cable news pundits describe actions that — were they to remove them from a president doing them — they’d call ‘TREASONOUS” at the top of their voices. But their normalcy bias blinders are bolted so tightly to their heads — perhaps it’s cut off all the circulation.

They’re like the character in a joke we liked a lot on the bus going to grade school. Guy sees dog shit on the ground. But he’s not sure so he picks it up. Sniffs it. Tastes it even. Yup. It’s dog shit. He puts it back down — glad as hell he didn’t step in it.

How many times and in how many ways does one have to describe treason, traitors and treachery before one is willing to say “Yeah — there might be treason afoot here”?

How many notes from a meeting with Putin does Trump have to destroy before we allow there might be something a wee bit “unkosher” going on?

Technically, “treason” requires a state of war to “be”. We’re in a State of War — make no mistake. There aren’t any bombs or bullets (not here in America but ask Ukraine if that’s true; ask the Kurds — our abandoning our ally benefited one person above all others: Vlad Putin) but then, New Wars will be fought with Information across Cyber networks. Exactly like the war we’re engaged in now.

We will come to see in time that we’ve been living through World War Three. It ain’t just Russia after all that’s firing upon us.

And we aren’t Russia’s only target. And the war Putin’s waging goes back to how the Cold War ended — and his desire to undo the dismantling of the Soviet Union. For reference — the people who took part in the 14th century’s Hundred Years War (it actually lasted 116 years) had no idea that’s what they were involved in. Even as that war rolled through their lives, destroying them, they had no idea they were part of anything historical.

Donald Trump is a traitor. It’s a stone cold fact. He’s done everything except confess it himself. To go back to my earlier metaphor — he put on those shoes. When TV cable news shows turn from reporting a story about just how much of a traitor Trump is to a story about Trump’s re-election plans, they forget Trump’s even wearing shoes. Never mind Treason Shoes.

But he IS wearing them. That same presidential candidate they now glibly discuss — how much money he’s raised, where his base is strongest — is the exact same traitor they were apoplectic about two minutes ago. He didn’t stop being that guy just because THEY changed the subject.

When Donald Trump & his entourage of co-conspirators showed up to take in Game Five of the World Series the other night, he got booed BECAUSE HE’S A TRAITOR.

Everyone chanting “Lock Him Up” is chanting that because they’ve seen enough, heard enough to know — Donald Trump should not be potus for another second longer. BECAUSE HE’S A TRAITOR.

The internet went justifiably bonkers after Morning Joe’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski disapprovingly lectured America on not wanting traitors showing up & ruining their entertainment. Escapism is hard enough to come by in Donald Trump’s America. It’s infuriating to think he feels compelled to take over that space too.

Our TV punditry needs to get it through their heads: it’s dog shit. DON’T pick it up. DON’T sniff it — and whatever you do, DON’T EAT IT.

Trump is a traitor. It’s the only fact that really matters.

Dear American News Media: Never Mind What The Democrats Are Doing To Prep For Trump In 2020, What Are YOU Doing?

I’ll answer my own question (it’s why I asked): NADA.

The overwhelming bulk (the perfect word) of the American News Media is happily zooming down the same idiotic, Democracy-destroying path THIS election as they did in 2016. Despite whole mountain ranges of evidence, most of our MSM still refuses to accept an ounce of responsibility for their piss poor 2016 performance.

They still think Donald Trump is just a “different” kind of president.

On their talking head panels, the MSM Talking Heads worry themselves sick about how the Democratic nominee will handle Trump’s bully-in-the-schoolyard tactics. If I remember correctly, Hillary Clinton stood up to it. The MSM, on the other hand, not so much.

Trump’s campaign should have been over the instant “Mexicans are rapists” tumbled from his bloated, orange lie hole. How in hell’s name did Trump’s campaign survive that? It wasn’t because Mexicans accepted it — or Democrats. It was because the MSM accepted it. Donald Trump moved past it — and so did they. They stopped asking Trump about it which, to him, meant they’d accepted it as part of “the deal”. That was just who Trump was — a, you know, “different” sort of presidential candidate.

The correct answer remains: “No, he’s not a ‘different’ sort of presidential candidate (there’s no such thing), he’s a RACIST, BIGOTED kind of candidate”.

Since 2016, has the American press gotten better? No — they still ask out loud if Donald Trump is a racist. Like it’s a question.

It isn’t, of course. Which bring me to my next giant bone in need of picking — because it’s another way the press is repeating its past mistakes to our collective detriment. The nature of storytelling is simple. Every scene should add information. Each following scene then builds on the new information — and adds new information of its own. Voila! Storytelling!

The whole mechanism breaks down however when you don’t add the new information to the mix — you kinda toss it aside — and keep returning to Square One as if the new information never existed. It’s a bit like a flat earther seeing irrefutable proof that the world is round — and agreeing with it — then going back to the flat earth way of seeing things as if the proof never existed.

In point of fact, our Main Stream Media has been so damnably lazy about covering Trump, it’s enough to make one a conspiracy theorist. The Truth about who Donald Trump really is is not a mystery. When Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS testified before Congress (one of the earlier hearings where the Republicans were trying to undermine the integrity of ‘The Steele Dossier’), he described Fusions process. Fusion had been hired first b6y the Washington Free Beacon to do oppo research on Trump. The Beacon’s owners liked them some Jeb Bush.

Step one, Simpson testified, due diligence. Fusion got its hands on every book, magazine article, radio interview, TV show — everything they could — finding it online, in book and video stores — even at the public library. All publicly available material. What Fusion found in that publicly available material that ANYONE (any member of the press could have found themselves) convinced them that Trump had been part of numerous criminal enterprises involving his Atlantic City casinos and the Russian mob.

That was why Fusion GPS hired Chris Steele, former head of the MI6’s Russia Desk. His deep background on Russia and Russians was unmatched.

Just wondering: Has anyone in the MSM done even the same due diligence since then?

Has the MSM fully embraced the idea that without Russia, Donald Trump wouldn’t be POTUS? If they haven’t they’re going to have a helluva time making sense of what Russia does in 2020.

To be honest, I don’t hold out much hope for the MSM. I’m not even sure their hearts are all in the right place. I know that with too many of them, their heads are right up their asses.

Why Our Main Stream News Media Sucks — “It’s The Framing, Stupid” Edition

It physically hurts watching most of our Main Stream News Media grapple with Donald Trump. He’s so much a creature of their making — his entertainer’s DNA is the same as theirs — that they fail to see their own fatal flaws in him.

It’s days/weeks/months/a presidency like this that make me think about Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant screenplay Network.

If you haven’t seen it, see it! When you remember that Chayefsky wrote it eons before Fox News flared to life in Roger Ailes’ fetid mind (the feature came out in 1976) — a propaganda tool designed from the ground up to stop a Richard Nixon type president from ever getting caught again (that’s right — Roger Ailes believed that had Fox News been around during Nixon’s time, Nixon would never have had to quit) — Network becomes even more visionary.

Chayefsky anticipated the marriage of news and entertainment — and the birth of their Frankenstein Monster-like love child — a wildly out of control noise machine that gleefully blurs the lines between fact and fiction, reality and bullshit, ordered moral rectitude and total Machiavellian chaos. In one extra-brilliant scene, Ned Beatty — playing the Chairman Of The Board — explains “the rules” to renegade anchor man Howard Beale (Oscar winner Peter Finch). This is a wonderful example of “FRAMING”…””

…And YOU, Mr. Beale, have disturbed the Fundamental Forces Of NATURE!”

9A5% of our Main Stream News Media cannot “frame” a story to save their lives. To save OUR lives either. We need to remember — so does our Main Stream News Media — that journalists are storyteller first and foremost. News is just the story of what’s happening now and why. Journalists must follow the same rules fictional storytellers play by — if they’re going to be any good at storytelling.

All storytelling begins with framing. It’s storytelling’s “In the beginning…”. Do we frame Hitler (in a story about him) as a good guy or a bad guy? The overwhelming majority of us would probably frame Hitler as the villain regardless of the piece. But a few — white nationalists for instance — would probably frame Hitler as a hero. Framing equals point of view. Whose point of view does a story represent.

If you go and frame a story from Hitler’s point of view — or, say, Donald Trump’s — then things like Jew hatred to the point of causing a Holocaust or caging Latino babies at our southern border — then outright evil doesn’t seem so… “evil”. Evil gets normalized. Not all at once — but enough so that the next evil act plays to a collective psyche that accepts a certain amount of evil as “just how things are”. No, they’re NOT how things are.

Framing begins with what you know and what you can legitimately believe based on the preponderance of evidence. Donald Trump is a liar. Donald Trump is a money launderer. Donald Trump is a fraud. Donald Trump is a bully. Donald Trump is a racist. Donald Trump is a rapist. Donald Trump is a traitor. One could legitimately frame any story about Donald Trump from any one of these points of view — and successfully tell a NEWS story.

One could NOT (for comparison’s sake) frame a story from the point of view that Donald Trump is an honest actor who believes every word he reads off a teleprompter. That story would be demonstrably false even as you told it. And yet — our Main Stream News Media persists in framing the Donald Trump story from that very perspective: that Donald Trump is a normal person and a normal president. Sorry — I got that slightly wrong: they frame Trump as a “different kind of potus” who “expresses himself directly”.

Allow me to translate from the bullshit — “Trump’s a chaos agent and we have no idea how to report on him”. There’s no such thing as “different”. A journalist reporting that a politician is “different” because he ignores all rules and norms is a lazy journalist. “Why” are they different? “What do you mean exactly by ‘different’?” To call Donald Trump “different” is to frame Trump from the point of view of bullshit. It helps no one — except Donald Trump.

And that — right there — is the problem. When you frame a story from the point of view of, say, a villain — you see the world through the villain’s eyes. You empathize with the villain and see their goals as our goals. You normalize evil and make it not only respectable but desirable.

The Poster Girl for this rancid brand of un-journalism is NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell.

Kelly O’Donnell – A nice person (I bet) with zero perspective (I’m positive).

I’m sure Kelly’s a lovely person. I’m sure she’s a wonderful friend — she seems very empathetic. But she lacks critical faculties. She’s no more discerning of the Truth than an open microphone. Kelly happily reports everything Trump says from her White House beat as if Donald Trump was a tower of integrity whose every word was his bond.

FFS, Kelly — when we look back at this period a few years from now (provided we’re not all living in a gulag or a mass grave), we’ll look squarely at the Fourth Estate and their many profound failings. Journalists are the only job mentioned specifically in the Constitution. They are obligated to be our final check on power.

But a check that frames stories from the point of view of the things it’s supposed to be checking cannot check shit. It surrenders the necessary perspective the moment it starts reporting. Any story about Trump that doesn’t immediately frame Trump as a liar is a lie itself — how can it not be? It’s telling the liar’s lie for him. carrying his lying water wherever he wants it carried.

This isn’t hard to fix. Gaining perspective is as easy as stepping back from a story and allowing yourself to see all the great details you’ve uncovered in the largest possible context — so that you can see, evaluate and appreciate how your small cogs work as part of the larger wheel. I think of NBC’s number cruncher Steve Kornacki.

I’m sure Steve’s a lovely person, fun to lunch with. And he’s bright, too. I’ll give him that. But bright without perspective is less bright than it could be. Than it SHOULD BE. Steve Kornacki can tell you everything you want to know about a grain of sand — so long as we’re only talking about that one grain. Does that grain of sand live on the beach at Malibu or smack in the center of the Sahara Desert? Steve can’t tell you that.

He can only frame the grain of sand’s story from the grain of sand’s point of view. That is only part of its story unfortunately.

We need our news media to report the WHOLE Trump story every time out of the gate. We need them to see Donald Trump the way Fusion GPS saw Trump. Fusion, you’ll recall, was the research entity hired by the Washington Free Beacon then (through intermediaries) the Hillary Clinton campaign to learn all the could about Trump — through legitimate means. Fusion (as principle Glenn Simpson testified to Congress), upon being hired, started the job by doing its due diligence. They got ahold of every bit of publicly available material concerning Trump. Books, magazines, video, radio, internet. They bought from Amazon, browsed book stores & magazine racks and even went to the public library. What they found in publicly available material so convinced them that Trump had used his Atlantic City casinos to launder Russian Mob money that they hired former MI6 Russia desk guru Christopher Steele. Steele had the best sources inside Russia.

Fusion, in its report to its clients, framed Trump from the widest possible perspective. That perspective saw Trump as a criminal.

There is nothing whatsoever — still, to this very day — stopping America’s Main Stream News Media from doing the exact same due diligence.

It’s a little late now, of course. CNN & MSNBC (and all the rest) could easily have done this back when Trump was insisting that Mexicans are rapists. Perhaps if our Main Stream News Media HAD done that, there wouldn’t be a pile of dead Mexican bodies right now in El Paso.

When our MSM mis-frames stories, it isn’t just bad storytelling, it’s toxic to our Democracy.