Step One: Don’t. That is, don’t argue with a Republican on their terms. That’s because Republicans don’t really have terms. They’re hell bent on winning all arguments purely for winning’s sake and it doesn’t matter how they win. That means if you enter an argument with a Republican thinking there are some kind of “rules”, then you’ve already lost the argument. Rules, as any Republican will tell you, are for losers and Democrats. What applies to arguments also applies to elections. So long as a “W” results, it doesn’t matter how you got it. If cheating is as good as not cheating (and cheating is easier), why NOT cheat? And, since the cheating almost never gets punished, it makes zero sense not to at least include cheating in your campaign strategy whether that cheating is accomplished by gerrymandering, voter suppression or outright treason. This nihilism is the baseline for every Republican argument. It is their rabbit hole — and to argue with any Republican is to find yourself plunging down their rabbit hole.
That’s why step one is “don’t”. Don’t follow any Republican down their bullshit rabbit hole. Force them either to step outside the rabbit hole to argue or to argue from inside the rabbit hole while you argue from reality. Republicans tire quickly of arguing with themselves. That’s why they prefer it if Democrats did that. Republicans forced into reality quickly realize the difference between their bullshit world and the real world. Take the January 6 insurrectionist foot soldiers — the ones who stormed the Capitol building at the behest of the Republicans in power. They were all full of themselves while committing their crimes. They screamed and shouted how proud they were. They even took pictures of themselves doing it — like they expected these videos to make their futures.
They’re getting their wish — just not how they intended. Suddenly, these “patriots” find themselves in legal peril with no one rushing to help pay the legal bills. And those bills are a bitch because billable hours to defend oneself against federal charges add up quickly. That’s a big reason so many of the little fish pled out. They got that even trying to defend themselves would bankrupt their families. Hey, even a traitor’s most vulnerable organ is their wallet (since they have no soul or heart and, clearly, no life to give for their country). At some point — soon — the January 6 investigation will formally pierce the veil of Congressional involvement in the insurrection. Actual members of Congress and their staffs will be caught out helping to PLAN the insurrection and to co-conspire with the foot soldiers — giving them guided tours in the days ahead of the insurrection as part of the crime’s planning.
It is absurd that we, as a nation, continue to call crimes committed in the clear light of day “political” when they’re criminal as hell. It doesn’t matter that they were committed FOR a political purpose. I could rob a bank for political reasons. I’ve still robbed a bank! What the GOP is doing — directly attacking our democracy — isn’t them asserting a problematic political position. It’s them committing a crime. If you attempt to deprive an American of their rights, you are committing a crime — and that is the whole point of the exercise. The Republicans have said so — out loud. It’s about time we took them at their word and at their deed.
Step Three: demand receipts or the argument ends right there. “Back it up or it’s bullshit” is how I’d put it. Imagine if every time, while Trump was president, instead of going along with Trump’s version of things, the White House Press Corps had, instead, stiffened its back and said “Back that up or it’s bullshit” then stood its ground. Now, sure, Trump’s first reaction would have been to explosively toss every offending journalist. But Trump’s a raging narcissist. He aches to be loved especially by those whose love he can never have. He craves their respect especially. Also worth noting: Trump’s a horrible negotiator. He keeps giving away that the only thing in his hand is his mushroom dick.
Imagine if every time Mitch McConnell got up on his treason turtle hind legs and began spewing, some reporter, shaking his head said directly: “Back that up, Senator, or we will understand it to be bullshit”. Imagine if every time Ron DeSantis or Gregg Abbott or Rudy Giuliani or Mark Meadows or Mike Pence or any Republican had to bring receipts to every conversation or they knew the convo would be short and always to their disadvantage. Republicans need to keep the conversation afloat in order to keep prosecution at bay.
The instant the news media stops thinking of Trump and every one of his Republican co-conspirators as honest actors acting politically and, instead, as criminals acting for a political purpose, the entire conversation we’re having will change. The framing will finally have caught up with the subject matter.
It was foolishness to think our news media would step out from under the shadow of their terrible Trump years performance and spend the Biden years reminding themselves what journalism is. Alas, they’re still convinced that “both sides do it”. It’s painful and ironic that the White House Press Corps saved all their skepticism — which journalists should have on their tool belt — to spend on Joe Biden when they used virtually none during the Trump years. In fact, our journalistic and chattering classes allowed their cynicism to flower and flourish instead. They bought into and promulgated the idea that Donald Trump 1) was the new “normal” for presidents and “presidenting”, 2) that all his visible corruption, his non-stop lying about literally everything were all acceptable cos “normal”, 3) that the Democrats were acting just as politically in resisting Trump’s attempts to dismantle our democracy as Trump was in dismantling our democracy (against the majority’s will!), 4) that Trump’s hold over the Republican Party was all because of Trump’s rabid base and 5) that some other explanation other than TREASON explained Trump’s bizarrely obsequious behavior toward Vladimir Putin and Russia. Our news media — with a few exceptions — STILL can’t get Trump right because they refuse to extrapolate based on a ton of consistent evidence that screams who Donald Trump is and what exactly he’s doing to America and why.
It was inevitable that our news media would get Joe Biden wrong because they still can’t get Trump right.
This is the work product of “both sides do it” brand journalism. It holds “neutrality” as the journalist’s ultimate creed. The Truth? It’s not for a journalist to say — even if the Truth screams from their own reporting. The thinking (such as it is) goes that the moment a journalist openly sides with the Truth (versus siding with bullshit), they will be seen to be “taking sides”. Since (in America) one side consistently makes shit up because they favor feelings over facts, it would appear that journalists keep taking the “other side’s side” — the side that prefers facts over feelings: the Democrats. Ironically, that’s exactly what our news media’s doing — and thankfully so — when they trumpet the science of vaccination over anti-vaxxing ooga-booga. The “side” pushing vaccination is the Democrats; the side pushing anti-vaxx bullshit for entirely political purposes is the GOP. Can we agree? Both sides aren’t doing the same thing.
Both sides do NOT “do it”.
The Republican Party — as a whole — is openly attempting to toss out the results of election 2020 — or, they’re trying to throw out the Donald Trump part. For the record, none of those Republicans screaming that Trump was cheated on HIS part of their ballots while none of the successful Republican candidates was cheated on THEIR part of the Trump voter’s ballot. This is not bullshit for bullshit’s sake. It’s bullshit for sedition’s sake. For insurrection’s sake.
For treason’s sake. What our poor, pathetic news media absolutely gets wrong is what this whole goddamned story is about: treason. Hey, look — I know that’s a big leap for professional news media to make. But, stone cold fact, amongst the realm of possible answers to “what’s really going on here?”, that is one of the possibilities. I can’t recall a single talking head segment involving journalists where — as they listed the possible explanations for Trump’s consistent obsequiousness toward Putin — “And, one of the explanations could be that Putin has compromised Trump — and therefore ‘owns’ him which would present a massive national security problem”. But, then, that SHOULD have been one of the explanations on the table — that Putin owned Trump because the news media itself REPORTED THAT VERY STORY!
So — a month before the GOP nominated Trump to be their candidate for President of the United States, they KNEW and discussed the fact that their candidate was compromised by a hostile foreign power who some of them knew for a fact was at cyber war with us. Cyber war IS war. Anyone who thinks “war” must involve bombs and bullets to be an official war is going to lose every war they ever fight going forwards. Russia spent pennies to put Donald Trump in the White House. More irony: we broke the Soviet Union in large part by making them fear “star wars”. They couldn’t afford to compete with us — even if it was all a chimera anyway. Putin — a man devoted to the idea of Old Russia becoming a player (third world country though it is) — got the last laugh by destroying American democracy and doing it with the couple of rubles in his pocket.
Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Patriotism pouring from the mouths of traitors is treason on steroids. Donald Trump preaching patriotism — with Putin’s hand up his ass — demands more than our news media has delivered. Especially when that fact should be part of the architecture already!
Among its copious other fatal flaws, “both sides do it” brand journalism insists on NOT aggregating any of the stories it reports. Each instance of Trumpian corruption is seen as a news item unto itself, completely unconnected to all the other remarkably similar news items floating nearby. In our news media’s defense, they represent a very white corporate culture that, just walking in the door, accepts a ton of white collar corruption and institutional racism, bigotry and misogyny as “normal”. Their assumption that the playing field is level doesn’t make it level. It isn’t and never has been. Not even remotely. That’s how all those sexual assault and rape stories concerning Trump never add up to what it should add up to — the portrait of a privileged, white serial rapist. Our culture — still dominated by men — doesn’t want us to have an easy time prosecuting men for inappropriate, offensive and even outright criminal male behavior. Where sexual assault is concerned, male culture wants (us) to blame the sexually assaulted instead of them: “they made me do it.”
Imagine if our news media practiced basic storytelling technique and not only “added information” with their daily reporting but used that newly added info foundationally — not as extraneous detail maybe worth noting, maybe not, but as Core Truth that one must have firmly in mind in order to understand what’s happening NOW. If that had been the case, We The People would never have shrugged off Trump’s history of assaulting women the way our news media did. With Trump’s REPORTED history of racism, our news media would have incorporated that racism INTO their understanding of Trump each time they wrote about him. Result? They would NEVER have asked Trump if he was racist (which is stupid anyway because it’s not up to a racist to say if they’re racist, it’s up to the racist’s victim!) because they’d have KNOWN he was racist for a fact and would have reported Trump’s racism differently — as Trump continuing his racist behavior.
Imagine if our news media had read their own (respected) reporting. Imagine if reporters other than the Washington Post’s Adam Entous either read or (heavens!) LISTENED TO what actual Republicans said out loud about Trump behaving treasonously — especially in retrospect — and then questioned those very Republicans about what they said! The one time the news media questioned McCarthy about his own blatant co-conspiracy to commit treason and obstruct justice, his answer was “I was joking”.
Instead of beginning their reporting about McCarthy (who STILL refuses to acknowledge that Joe Biden’s the president) by framing him as a traitor (or even as someone whose motives are deeply, DEEPLY suspect because he KNEW Putin paid Trump), our news media is more likely to report McCarthy as a guy who likes a good joke.
It’s little wonder that, per usual, when Democrats are in power, the American news media suddenly relocates its skepticism. There’s nothing wrong with that except that their skepticism lacks all context. To them, Donald Trump is just a former president still hungering for political power (rather than a traitor terrified of being tried for treason), the Republican Party (despite openly lying about voter fraud and pretty much everything else) are honest actors, and the choice between continuing as a democratic republic (what the overwhelming majority of Americans want) and becoming an authoritarian shithole is a fifty-fifty toss up proposition. Our news media has it in its head that Joe Biden was handed a ship of state sailing smartly along thanks to Skipper Donald.
But, Skipper Donald had deliberately set about scuttling the Ship Of State — to deliberately harm Biden’s ability to govern America but also to prosecute Trump. If you don’t get that? You don’t get this story. You certainly aren’t reporting it — and America’s news media still isn’t. Their version of Trump isn’t the Trump in our faces. Their version of every obstructive, treasonous Republican isn’t the GOP actively assaulting our whole way of life. The most painful irony of all might be that our news media bought into Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts”.
There are no “alternative facts”. There’s Truth and there’s bullshit. Alternative facts aren’t “facts” in any way, shape or form. They’re bullshit. And the fact that our news media didn’t immediately stop talking to Kellyanne shouted volumes. It no longer mattered if they were reporting alternative facts to their news audience because (since “both sides do it”, alternative facts were now officially as good as facts
Being neutral, it’s not up to our news media to discern fact from alternative fact. That’s up to their news audience apparently.
Quick — chose a word to describe Donald Trump’s White House. I bet the word “chaos” — or the abstraction described by “chaos” flashed through your mind. That chaos wasn’t Trump brilliantly playing some version of game theory above all our heads. It was a criminal and a traitor who never really wanted to be POTUS running America the same way he ran his own business. And Trump’s business, let’s be real, was not some world-beating real estate company, it was a mon ‘n pop money laundering shop . That’s what Glenn Simpson realized back in 2016 when his company Fusion GPS was hired to do oppo research on Trump for the benefit of the Marco Rubio-backing owners of the conservative Washington Free Beacon. Evidence of more money laundering keeps popping up. Take the Trump project in Azerbaijan which, in addition to evidencing money laundering connections, also evidences connections to Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guard — a sworn enemy of America.
Or take the entire Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin relationship as a whole. A case can already be made — and its make-ability will only get stronger with time — that everything about it is treasonous.
Trump ran the Peoples’ House like a cheap whorehouse with deep criminal ties. By contrast, Joe Biden, doesn’t. He’s like the democratic-spiritual Gallant to Trump’s complete & total Goofus. From the instant Team Biden took the reins of power from the Trump Clique, America began to “function” again rather than lurch haplessly from crisis to crisis. If you perceive government as public service then when the people grant you political power because you won an election, you’re apt to use that power to serve the public rather than use the power to abuse the public. But, if you’re like the GOP, you perceive “public service” as a way to get the American public to serve you. And, if you’re Donald Trump, you see the White House as the ultimate cash machine.
The simple fact is Joe Biden does not and would never run his White House the way Trump ran his. Honorable public servants behave like honorable public servants while criminals behave like criminals. Our news media however sees little difference between them. They instantly adapted to Trump and his lying by assuming Trump was lying. They didn’t really challenge Trump on his lies, they just agreed amongst themselves that Trump was probably lying no matter what he said. And that was fine with them. That’s how “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing” got normalized. Our news media decided that Trump was a “different” kind of politician who shot from the lip and drove their ratings ever higher. In a way, our news media are like all those conservatives who turned up their noses at Trump’s racist, anti-democratic behavior but tolerated him because Trump was putting money in their pockets.
As these humps will soon learn, if you stand with a racist, corrupt traitor, you will be painted with the same brush they’re painted with. Stand with a liar, that makes YOU a liar. Same goes for any stripe of criminal especially traitors.
It seems our news media now expect Republican administrations to be corrupt just like they expect Democratic admins to be competent and professional. That makes it odd and painful that the news media continually try to hoist Democrats on their own petard when that petard is the commonweal. Trump set the catastrophe in Kabul in motion before he left office — like a car bomber parking his vehicle in the shadows and walking away. He surrendered Afghanistan to the Taliban behind the government of Afghanistan’s back. He opened the prisons and released the very people now trying to run Afghanistan for the Taliban. In short, Trump did whatever Putin told him to do vis a vis Afghanistan. You’ll notice, please, how much benefit Russia (and China and Iran) are gaining from what Trump did. It’s not a coincidence.
One of the benefits of having Democrats in power — especially in the White House — is that Democrats, unlike Republicans, like governing. They bring genuine expertise to their work and genuinely aspire to make both America and the world a better place. Faced with challenges, Democrats go deep into problem-solving mode. Republicans, by contrast, go deep into finger-pointing mode. Unequipped to solve anyone’s problems, the party of personal responsibility makes it a point to never take responsibility for anything. Or to ever plan for anything since planning might take money meant for some Republican’s pocket and spend it on, you know, a disaster as it’s happening.
The White House Press Corps is determined to blame Joe Biden for the fall of Afghanistan. Their hearts may be in the right place, but their heads are shoved so far up their own asses that it doesn’t matter. They won’t be seeing daylight any time soon. Personally, I think the news media preferred having Trump as president to having Biden there. With Trump in office, there was NEVER a “slow news day” because chaos could erupt from anywhere at any time. These days — with Biden in the White House — there are days when, it sure feels like “nothing is happening”. Of course things are happening — just not with the narcotizing relentlessness of the Trump years.
It’s not in Joe Biden’s nature to act like Donald Trump — or like any Republican. But, if he could pull it off, he could tell the press they’re public enemies for caring about Afghanis. Biden could lie to the entire press corps’ face then insist either he never said it or was just “joking” when he did. Quick side note — people like Trump who have literally NO sense of humor? They can’t laugh at themselves — that’s how you know they have zero sense of humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you literally can’t see humor. You literally can’t see irony. You can laugh — at others — the way bullies do, but you can never laugh WITH anyone because, frankly, having no sense of humor, you can’t really grasp what everyone else is even laughing about.
Biden — any Democrat really — would seem far more successful if they simply refused to answer the Republicans’ questions. They aren’t being asked sincerely anyway. They’d seem even more successful if they approached politics with the same Machiavellian intent as the Republicans do. Trump’s White House failed because they’re all failures who suck at everything except being criminals. Biden’s White House has been tasked with, first, cleaning up the mess the Republicans made of America’s government and the world.
If Biden ran his White House with the same chaotic fervor Team Trump did, he’d probably get away with it — because he’d be ignoring the news media’s bitching and moaning about it.
If the fall of Afghanistan proved anything — aside from the fact that we set ourselves up for failure (alongside the Afghanis who helped us) the instant we landed in country — it’s how little perspective our news media brings to work each day. We knew lack of perspective (like failure of imagination) was a chronic journalistic problem throughout the Trump years — that’s both his pursuit of power and his abuse of it. The news media has always accorded wealthy, white, male Christians undue deference, normalizing their criminality like it was part of the architecture. It’s utter nonsense to think our press begins telling any news story from a genuinely neutral position. The playing field we all step onto is heavily skewed in one direction. If you don’t report that at the start — and if that fact doesn’t inform every last bit of your reporting than, really, you’re telling some other story about an imaginary world that only looks like ours. If you cannot report that bit of perspective because you can’t see it, then what you’re doing every day to pay the rent or the mortgage isn’t journalism.
What’s happening in Afghanistan is a human tragedy of monstrous proportions. What’s about to happen to the women of Afghanistan is even more monstrous. It’s impossible not to be emotionally gripped by video of the genuine terror all those desperate Afghanis thronging Kabul’s airport are feeling. But, leadership demands reacting with one’s head and not one’s heart. One must take off all blinders and see the world for what it is — in realpolitik terms. The reason we were still in Afghanistan is because, up till now, we have refused to see the world as it is. Wanting to make the world a better place for everyone in it is a lovely ideal. But doing good is way more complex than that especially when the good involves changing another culture’s culture or trying to install a form of government that you yourself haven’t mastered.
Journalists describing their own arduous route to the Kabul airport mention having to pay bribes at various points along the way in order to continue along the way. That’s just how it is here, they point out. It’s how it is in a lot of places where they don’t have dynamic economies and corruption is the business model. Now, right there, each and every journalist on the ground is providing deep perspective about the rules on the ground. Put all judgment aside — whether paying bribes is good, bad or a necessary evil. And don’t forget: Afghanistan is only a country because a Western colonial power made it one, drawing up borders that never existed before in the tribal lands where those borders got drawn.
One of those lines got drawn right through the Pashtuns’ tribal territory. One second they were all in one territory, the next, some of them were Afghanis and the rest Pakistanis. The border may have made the Afghani Pashtun Afghani on paper, it did not make them Afghani in their hearts.
Four things brought us to this awful moment, Chayes writes (and I recommend that you read her reporting yourself!): Afghan government corruption, and the U.S. role enabling and reinforcing it, Pakistan, Hamid Karzai and self-delusion. Pakistan is the key. Pakistan is behind most of the other three items on Chayes’ list. To be fair, corruption being a human frailty no matter the country, impoverished Afghanistan (with no real central government to speak of, no infrastructure, no national identity to rally ’round) was and remains organically corrupt. Again — not judging, just trying to describe accurately (so we can judge later).
Chayes writes —
Do we really suppose the Taliban, a rag-tag, disjointed militia hiding out in the hills, as we’ve so long been told, was able to execute such a sophisticated campaign plan with no international backing? Where do we suppose that campaign plan came from? Who gave the orders? Where did all those men, all that materiel, the endless supply of money to buy off local Afghan army and police commanders, come from? How is it that new officials were appointed in Kandahar within a day of the city’s fall? The new governor, mayor, director of education, and chief of police all speak with a Kandahari accent. But no one I know has ever heard of them. I speak with a Kandahari accent, too. Quetta is full of Pashtuns — the main ethic group in Afghanistan — and people of Afghan descent and their children. Who are these new officials?
In fact, Pashtuns make up 48% of Afghanis. The thing is, they identify as Pashtuns first and Afghanis… maybe second. “Afghani” remains a made up designation. The power inside Pakistan — always looking to improve its situation and why not — benefits from controlling not only the Pashtuns but — look at it from their point of view — controlling Afghanistan, the country on the other side of that made up border. Way better to have a staunch ally there than a foe. That’s the context for this —
The Taliban were a strategic project of the Pakistani military intelligence agency, the ISI. It even conducted market surveys in the villages around Kandahar, to test the label and the messaging. “Taliban” worked well. The image evoked was of the young students who apprenticed themselves to village religious leaders. They were known as sober, studious, and gentle. These Taliban, according to the ISI messaging, had no interest in government. They just wanted to get the militiamen who infested the city to stop extorting people at every turn in the road.
Chayes points out “both label and message were lies”. Of course they were!
Within a few years, Usama bin Laden found his home with the Taliban, in their de facto capital, Kandahar, hardly an hour’s drive from Quetta. Then he organized the 9/11 attacks. Then he fled to Pakistan, where we finally found him, living in a safe house in Abbottabad, practically on the grounds of the Pakistani military academy. Even knowing what I knew, I was shocked. I never expected the ISI to be that brazen.
Meanwhile, ever since 2002, the ISI had been re-configuring the Taliban: helping it regroup, training and equipping units, developing military strategy, saving key operatives when U.S. personnel identified and targeted them. That’s why the Pakistani government got no advance warning of the Bin Laden raid. U.S. officials feared the ISI would warn him.
By 2011, my boss, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Taliban were a “virtual arm of the ISI.”
Sarah Chayes, The Ides Of August
As for Karzhai — our choice to pilot Afghanistan after we ousted the Taliban, was “in fact the go-between who negotiated the Taliban’s entry into Afghanistan in 1994! Chayes says “It is my belief that Karzai may have been a key go-between negotiating this surrender, just as he did in 1994, this time enlisting other discredited figures from Afghanistan’s past, as they were useful to him.” Think about this. Chayes can’t say this is a fact because she’s still a journalist at heart and a damned good one. But, she is willing to connect dots that demand connecting if we’re to truly understand what’s happening in Afghanistan with any sort of perspective.
Chayes concludes —
One final point. I hold U.S. civilian leadership, across four administrations, largely responsible for today’s outcome. Military commanders certainly participated in the self-delusion. I can and did find fault with generals I worked for or observed. But the U.S. military is subject to civilian control. And the two primary problems identified above — corruption and Pakistan — are civilian issues. They are not problems men and women in uniform can solve. But faced with calls to do so, no top civilian decision-maker was willing to take either of these problems on. The political risk, for them, was too high.
True leadership — what Joe Biden did and is doing — requires taking those political risks. We fulfilled our original mission — oust the Taliban, get bin Laden and stop Afghanistan from being a terrorist haven quickly. In fact, we could have gotten bin Laden when he was holed up in Tora Bora. We didn’t — a choice made by George W. Bush and Company. We should have exited Afghanistan right about then. It would have messy in its own way as imaginary country Afghanistan tried to set up a government for itself. Of course the Pashtuns would have taken part and if the Pakistani intelligence service wanted to infiltrate them whether as Taliban or some other entity? It would have been easy.
This is just how it is on the ground. It’s the culture — good, bad or indifferent. We can judge it if we like but that won’t change it. And, really, corruption is entirely relative. From the Pashtuns point of view, the West is corrupt. Like everyone else, what they really object to is corruption that benefits the other guy.
If you’re going to report this world journalistically — and by “report”, I mean, at the top of your game — you must have this corruption in mind as you survey the landscape. You also have to understand the corruption’s nature. You have to appreciate the role corruption plays in quotidian life. And you have to understand not just the neighborhood you’re standing in but the entire environment itself. Journalism demands a holistic approach. The details of any one story are vital — bore deeply! But detail divorced from the Big Picture they’re part of can easily deceive. It’s like thinking a piece of the mosaic is the mosaic. No — it isn’t.
Our news media, being corporate, is organically corrupt. The corporation’s fiduciary responsibility is to its own survival. Yeah, sure — most of what any corporation does is within the rules. But every corporation seeks to cut corners. To maximize its profits and minimize expenses. Hey — show me an American who’s never cheated on their taxes (still not judging!) and I’ll show you a null set. All corruption starts locally. We all bend the rules to suit ourselves and our needs. We don’t like to think of it as corrupt but it is.
In journalism, corruption often takes the form of access. The White House Press Corps allowed Donald Trump to get away with literal murder. They refused to ask a known liar pointed questions about his lying because they feared Trump would stop letting them ask questions or, worse, banish them from the White House. They compromised their journalistic integrity in order to “be there”. Game already over from the point of view of corruption. You can’t negotiate with corruption. You can’t quid pro quo it.
But, one thing you can do with corruption is aggregate it. Yeah — if you honestly tell a story about corruption, you’re going to describe how a monster got birthed, how it evolved and thrived and then broke free and ran amok. If that corruption is treasonous — as so much of Trump’s corruption is, was and always will be — you’d expect it to be not just a detail of the Trump story but one of its engines. Once you’ve gone and committed treason, there’s no going back. Even the hint of treason should get a good journalist’s Spidey senses tingling.
Our journalists witnessed the above scene — this moment in time — and refused to call it what it so blatantly was. If they’d applied ANY perspective to this moment, the Trump admin would have ended right there and then.
In their defense, many of the journalists who covered Afghanistan in country saw with their own eyes what American style democracy could do for Afghanistan’s women especially. If only that had been something we could set in concrete… alas, in order to make that inorganic cultural shift work, America would have had to remain in Afghanistan forever. Pakistan did not want us in Afghanistan and, sooner or later (sooner, as we’re learning) would have moved to remove us. They would have tasked the Pashtuns working for them to step up their aggression. The Taliban never left Afghanistan, don’t forget; they lived in Afghanistan and — if they had passports — those passports would have been either Afghani or Pakistani. They could afford to outlast us because they were home already. And they know their “country’s” culture a lot better than we do.
It sucks what’s going to happen to Afghanistan and its women. Whatever we can do to mitigate it, we absolutely should. But we have to stop lying to ourselves about Afghanistan — why we’re there, who the players are and what they want. And we have to stop reporting on Afghanistan like it was some other country. The stone cold reality is that America staying in any would result in an eventual bloodbath. The longer we stayed, the worse the blood bath because the stronger the resentment.
I’m not faulting a single journalist’s emotional response to this tragedy. But, every time their emotions obscure the true story of how we got here, they’re doing much more harm than good. Not all corruption is malignant. Some of it’s entirely cultural. That goes for the culture of journalism too.
Perspective-free journalism is corrupt journalism. It’s not actually journalism therefore — it’s just another variety of corruption.
American journalism has a lot to answer for. Given multiple opportunities to be the new Woodward-Bernstein, most American journalists chose to be Judith Miller instead. Judith Miller was the vaunted New York Times Reporter with the remarkable inside access to the George W. Bush White House and to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney in particular. The cost of that access was any pretense that Judith Miller would tell the truth about Dick Cheney and the mountain range of corrupt behaviors Cheney and his office perpetrated in order to put and keep America at war with Iraq. Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby was convicted of leaking the identity of covert intelligence officer Valerie Plame. To Judith Miller, getting and maintaining access to a source (even if it compromised her capacity to tell the truth) was more important than telling the truth. Judith liked the power access gave her. And, frankly, the naked cynicism fit better than the skepticism she’d never quite mastered.
Skepticism v cynicism. That, in a nutshell, is where American journalism went wrong. Skepticism is harder by a long shot. It requires perspective. “Is that really so?” and “Why IS that exactly” should be the guiding principles. The journalist has to appreciate at all times that the story she’s focusing on is a tile in a much larger mosaic. How does that tile fit into the larger picture? That’s a skeptic’s question because it assumes a complex world. Cynics, on the other hand, assume only simplicity. Every story can be boiled down to one opinion versus another. He said, she said. But, if you walk in the door assuming everyone’s an honest actor — or that everyone’s a dishonest actor — you’re going to mis-frame your reporting because neither assumption is true.
A skeptical journalist – bringing perspective to the table – looks and listens for subtle clues that what they’re seeing and hearing has the ring of truth. When they see and hear those signs, the story takes a step forward because their skepticism has established to their satisfaction that their reporting can now add information upon which it can build. Adding information is how good, skeptical journalists build and tell a story. But a cynical journalist can’t do that because they can never establish to their satisfaction that anyone’s telling the truth. Or that anyone’s lying. If journalists won’t be the bulwark for what is versus what isn’t then their subjects will get to do it. That’s how Donald Trump managed to stand in front of the White House Press Corps for four years and spew pure, unadulterated bullshit with only the occasional whimper of complaint.
Counting Trump’s lies was great sport. It didn’t stop him from lying. Perhaps if the White House Press Corps had — just once — walked out en masse (and on camera) in order to make the point: STOP LYING TO US! But, of course, doing that would have risked access to an historically hypersensitive POTUS. Yes, on the one hand, if you’re not there to ask a question, you can’t ask a question. But, then, OTOH? Are you really asking any kind of meaningful questions? It’s all access for the sake of having access. That is pure cynicism.
Let’s compare public servant Adam Schiff to public servant Matt Gaetz.
While in high school, Schiff was both class valedictorian and the student voted by his classmates “most likely to succeed”. He got a BA from Stanford in poli sci and his JD from Harvard Law School. Those are nice names to have on your resume. They don’t automatically convey anything however. Donald Trump has Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania on his CV. Without daddy’s money, Trump wouldn’t have been allowed in the dorms at either institution never mind the classrooms. After law school, Schiff clerked for a judge in California then became an assistant district attorney. He first ran for office in 1994 (but lost), trying again (and succeeding) in 1996. Since then, Adam Schiff has epitomized the very notion of what a “public servant” should be.
Schiff’s closing remarks delivered during Trump’s first impeachment pretty much sum up his public servant bona fides…
Matt Gaetz is one hundred percent the Goofus to Schiff’s Gallant.
In Gaetz’s defense, there’s nothing wrong with being mediocre. Gaetz was an unremarkable high school student, an unremarkable undergrad at Florida State University and an unremarkable graduate of the William & Mary Law School (the country’s oldest, by the way). In 2008, Matt had a run-in with the law after cops pulled him over and booked him for a DUI. Strangely, though Matt SHOULD have lost his license, he didn’t. Pays to have connections apparently.
After a year of “private practice”, Gaetz did what his father and grandfather had done — he ran for office (as a Florida state rep). Having more money than any other candidate in the Republican primary got him through a crowded field. Having waaaaaay more money on hand than his Democratic opponent made a huge difference in the general election which Gaetz won handily. Having a little political power in his hands brought Matt Gaetz’s base awfulness to the surface.
A taste: Gaetz proposed legislation that would hasten the execution of many inmates on Florida’s death row, he joined State Senator Greg Evers in proposing legislation to eliminate the federal ethanol content mandate that 10 percent of gasoline sold in Florida contain ethanol and he was one of two members of the Florida House to vote against a Florida bill against revenge porn in 2015, after having successfully blocked the bill previously.
In 2016, Gaetz took his act national to the US House of Representatives. As we’re about to learn from the flipped testimony of Gaetz’s buddy former Florida Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, the answer to question “Are you a pedophile?” is “yes”.
And lest we forget — Matt said this:
In theory, both Adam Schiff and Matt Gaetz are “public servants”. From the news media’s point of view — that’s certainly true. But beyond the label, the two have zero in common.
But, from a cynical news media’s point of view, that fact’s irrelevant. They’re both “politicians”, too. If Matt Gaetz is also a criminal? Then what’s to say Adam Schiff isn’t one too?
Or, conversely — if Adam Schiff is a paragon of political virtue and public service then so is Matt Gaetz. From the news media’s point of view, who are they to say otherwise? Well, actually, according to the Constitution, they are the ones we most NEED to say otherwise — to employ their most skeptical instincts as the final check on raw political power.
When this assault on our democracy is finally laid to rest — as it will be — after we’ve finished investigating and prosecuting every last perpetrator (to leave an unprosecuted would invite them to try again), we need to turn our focus on the news media. We need to force some very real, very hard self analysis upon them. We need to rub their noses in “both sides do it”. It’s the only way to make them feel the disgust the rest of us feel about it.
We’ll know we’re finally making headway when wastes of carbon like Chuck Todd finally get kicked to the curb.
America’s founders didn’t intend to create a binary political environment but their refusal to outlaw slavery at the outset pretty much guaranteed that America would always be binary — pro-slavery v anti-slavery. Take this to the bank: pretty much every white supremacist would vote to bring back slavery if they could figure out a way to get it onto a ballot somewhere. That’s why their “public servants” — like Matt Gaetz feel less like servants and more like co-conspirators to commit a crime. That’s what they’re doing — committing crimes. But, in order to see that happening, you must have perspective.
A news media that really and truly believes that all politicians and public servants are criminals because some are isn’t doing the democracy they’re serving any favors.
America’s news media had a really bad day yesterday. That means America had a really bad day. Ironically, that really bad day happened in the midst of a series of much better days as America slowly begins to reacclimate to the idea that our government can actually govern if so inclined. It was the news media that bristled at the lack of formal news conferences — their star turn, in their minds. Though plenty of reporters have heaped plenty of questions on President Biden informally — and gotten good, long answers — apparently none of that counts; the White House Press Corps has its ways and those ways, it tells itself, must be respected. Over a thousand Americans died yesterday from Covid19 yet the White House Press Corps — hungry for a chance to ask the new POTUS the most important questions their readers want and need answered — asked instead about election 2024 and whether or not Biden plans to run. Wow. That wasn’t just a terrible, lame, dumb-assed question, it was a tell. We know — having lived through it — that the overwhelming majority of America’s press absolutely blew the story of their lives because they’ve convinced themselves that “both sides do it”. That lack of perspective continues to haunt their coverage of Donald Trump. Yesterday, that lack of perspective revealed itself again except this time, in a way that even people in the news media finally saw for themselves.
Why has our news media been so incapable of covering Donald Trump? Maybe a better question is “why, if SOME in the news media can see Donald Trump and the GOP for the corrupt, treasonous players they are, can’t ALL in the news media see it?” For instance — how can MSNBC’s excellent Nicolle Wallace, Ali Velshi, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell or Joy-Ann Reid report the Trump story one way, filled with detail and hard evidence that paints a picture of massive corruption and treason, while, say, Chuck Todd acts like no such detail or hard evidence even exists? He seems to walk around in a news universe where Trump maybe isn’t corrupt or a traitor. Maybe that’s just the Democrats “playing politics”.
The fallacious notion that “Both sides do it” completely fogs the environment. Right off the bat, it jettisons perspective. It gleefully points at all instances of “it” as being equal. It doesn’t see or distinguish proportionality. All thieves are created equal; a woman stealing a loaf of bread so her children can eat is no different to this way of “thinking” than Bernie Madoff stealing billions from billionaires. They’re both thieves of a kind so therefore “both sides do it”.
For four years, the White House Press Corps regularly embarrassed themselves though they still don’t get that that’s what happened. Consumed by the fear of losing access, the press corps allowed themselves to be openly lied to. Yeah, yeah — a few dutifully tried to call out the lies — some even succeeded and they stood apart! — but the overwhelming majority of news people, given the chance to demand Trump tell the truth for once in his life balked at the opportunity and watched silently as the moment passed. No one wanted to be the kid pointing out how incredibly naked the bloated orange emperor was. Now, some of them can’t wait to be the kid asking the most pointed questions.
Democrats rarely play the access game. We simply don’t approach power the same way. We don’t see it as a possession. We see it as something the electorate has granted us the authority to use on their behalf and for their good. Yes, as the reporter added, Trump (Biden’s “predecessor”) registered to run again on the day he was sworn in, but why the hell would any reporter assume that Joe Biden would behave exactly like Donald Trump did? When Trump did it, it was remarkable — for all the wrong reasons. And yet, this reporter assumed that doing something that cynical and power mad was just “how presidents are now” since, to the reporter’s way of thinking, obviously it must be part of Biden’s thinking. Of course it’s not!
Even members of the news media were excoriating the White House Press Corps bad showing yesterday. Has any member of the WH Press corps stepped forward to say “yeah, we really screwed the pooch!” No, they haven’t. Don’t hold your breath either.
That day of reckoning will come regardless.
I’m not sure how exactly our news media came to embrace “both sides do it”. We need to make them rue the day. Journalism is the only non-governmental job mentioned in the Constitution. The Fifth estate is supposed to be our final check on power. But a press obsessed with access won’t be up to the task because they’re always too afraid to offend those in power which, ironically, is what they’re supposed to be doing).
The thing is, it’s not the entire American news media. There ARE some talented, smart, intuitive journalists who’ve managed to aggregate this story all along. I cannot, for the life of me, wrap my head around how MSNBC can have a deeply perceptive Nicolle Wallace on its payroll and, at the same time, a hack like Chuck Todd. Does MSNBC really expect its audience to forget everything it knows because it watched Nicolle’s excellent Deadline White House the second MTP Daily begins and they see Chuck Todd’s facial tics and bad haircut?
Hell, I bet if MSNBC’s & CNN’s lineups consisted of nothing but Nicolle and Nicolle clones, we’d have dealt with Trump and the Republican Party eons ago.
Maybe this is another fatal flaw in “both sides do it” journalism. The problem with “neutrality” is that in refusing to judge anything (“just here to report the facts”), you end up giving everything you report equal weight. Because you won’t call out a lie, you give it equal validity with the Truth. How can a news audience discern what “is” from what “isn’t” when the reporters on the ground refuse to differentiate between the two?
We now see reporters in the WH Press Pool asking Trump harder (but still not hard enough), direct questions — then getting flummoxed as, like yesterday, Trump responded to NBC News’ Peter Alexander’s question about helping to quell peoples’ fear by telling Peter Alexander what a terrible journalist he was. When Trump went on to the next reporter, that reporter asked THEIR question — letting Trump GET AWAY with what he did to Peter Alexander. And the Coronavirus update went on — filled with even more misinformation, disinformation and…
Let’s be real. Trump’s now using these daily updates to replace his rallies. It’s not a coincidence that, as Trump tries to lay the blame for his failures on China (by calling the virus Chinese), Bill Barr is grabbing for more unrestrained power — asking Congress to approve new, sweeping powers to arrest and hold people indefinitely. Donald Trump intends to remain in power past January 20, 2021 — the day on which his term expires. In point of fact, Donald Trump will LOSE ALL PRESIDENTIAL AUTHORITY on that date. He won’t have the Constitution on his side — at all. It will treat him as of that date — and everyone in his administration — as ordinary citizens, subject to the same rules. There will be no executive power to hide behind.
Trump may try to. His followers may try to. The chain of command will not respond. It better not. It sure sounds like it absolutely won’t. It’s just not set up to work the way Trump ultimately wants it to. And while coronavirus & Covid-19 will make responding to Trump harder — Trump has already set in motion so much misery, economic ruin and death that no one will be untouched. No one except the hardest hard core Trumpanistas will even think about going along with him.
This can only end one way. Coronavirus will do what the truth could not: it will destroy Donald Trump.
But, in the meantime, it is incumbent on every one of us — the press especially — to mitigate that as much as we possibly can. Every time Trump gets to use the news media — and a crisis — as a campaign event, we are doing ourselves great harm and making the inevitable more catastrophic and bloody. We KNOW for a fact that Trump is lying to us daily. We have to ask why.
That is — our news media has to ask. They’re the ones with the microphones & the cameras. They’re the ones in the room. They have to be us more than ever — and, as of now, they are letting us down.
CNN & MSNBC run “Breaking News” banners all day for news that broke hours before. It ain’t breaking all day. The same logic should apply to Trump’s daily lie-athons. If Trump says something that’s “breaking news” now, it will still be “breaking news” five minutes from now. Between Trump’s utterance & broadcast though, there needs to be fact-checking so that either Trump’s lies are cut out or they’re marked in real broadcast time with some clear, visible, unmistakable disclaimer that what Trump is saying to America is 100% certified bullshit.
The press pool needs to take all attention off of Trump. Washington Post columnist (and former Republican) Jennifer Ruben had a great suggestion this morning on AMJoy — the pool reporters need to stop asking Trump anything. Direct all questions to the experts. When Trump jumps in, ignore him and direct the question back to the expert. The adults in the room need to stop treating the infant like one of them.
But, ya see, that’s when “both sides do it” bites even the most intrepid reporter on the ass. “Both sides do it”, ya see. How can they treat an infant like an infant? That would be “judging” & they’re all just there to report the facts.
I stopped drinking alcohol about two years ago. I didn’t have to but the mood stabilizer I’m on gives alcohol a terrible aftertaste. It was an unexpected side effect — and, frankly, I’m grateful for it.
When I say I didn’t “have to” stop drinking, what I mean is, I didn’t stop because I perceived I had an alcohol problem. I did — I just didn’t perceive it. Ironically, alcohol (and my denial that I had a problem with it) contributed significantly to the depression that drove me to within literal inches of killing myself. Alcohol’s pretty powerful that way. It gives bullshit crazy power over you.
Not drinking, I’m cut out of a big part of what we think of as a “social life’. I go out with my wife and friends to bars or parties — where nearly everyone but me drinks. Over the course of an evening, conversation goes from crisp and sparkling to… well, a little less crisp. A lot less sparkling. The irony (there’s loads of irony) — when you’re drinking, you’re convinced that the alcohol is making everything crisper and more sparkling.
That’s alcohol lying to you.
Over this past weekend — just before California and Washington State and lots of other places started calling states of emergency because of the coronavirus — alcohol turned a casual conversation about masks into an argument that nearly ended a friendship.
A friend was talking to their college-going son about masks. He was relating how he’d told his son to run to CVS to buy masks.
“Don’t bother,” I said. They’re sold out. Everyone’s sold out. CVS, Target, Amazon… “And anyway,” I said, “The masks in question won’t do anything to stop the virus”.
That wasn’t the point to my friend — who was halfway through his third glass of wine. The point was his kid had anxiety issues and wearing the mask would help them.
I started to tell him that — just for clarity’s sake — the mask was only useful if you had the virus and wanted to minimize the chances of infecting others. BUT — this was the crux of my point — there were more PRO-ACTIVE things even someone feeling anxious could do…
I never got there. My drunk friend had grabbed onto “MASKS” with both hands and was not going to let go. For the next ten minutes, we argued about masks and the relative value of thinking you’re protected when, in fact, you are not. I pointed out that not telling his son the stone cold truth about masks could reverberate negatively when his son learned the truth — and also learned that he’d been lied to about the masks’ efficacy. By his dad.
My friend got louder because louder means more right when you’re drunk. That’s alcohol lying to the drinker again.
Alcohol convinces you that the emotion you’re feeling right that second is the most intense, most valid feeling you’ve ever experienced. That’s why people who’ve been drinking argue like obsessives. They can see their one point and literally nothing else. The truth is, they can’t even “see” their one point. They can repeat the point endlessly — their form of “arguing”, but they can’t actually articulate it.
When I caught myself pitching deeper into the rabbit hole, I bailed. I told my friend three times that I was not going to continue arguing with someone who’d had too much to drink. Like a cliched person who had too much to drink, my friend got all insulted about my calling out their drinking. They insisted — slurring their words — that they were not, in fact, slurring their words.
It got heated and then it ended. My friend said he didn’t want to talk about it any more — and maybe he didn’t want to talk about anything with me ever again.
That stung. But I knew one thing — and, the next morning, when my friend called to apologize, I brought it up immediately. The first thing he said as we started talking was “I think I’ve had too much to drink…”.
“I agree with you,” I told my friend. “You had too much to drink”. As far as I was concerned, nothing else happened after that. Nothing that mattered — not to me anyway. My friend needed to look closely at their drinking. That was my takeaway.
By the end of the day, my friend had come around. They were still pissed at me (no one likes to be called out for drinking too much; I know this from experience) but they didn’t drink that evening. The next morning, we talked it through. I wasn’t calling my friend an “alcoholic”. I was simply telling him that when he drank too much, it altered his personality in troubling ways. What he did about that was his deal, not mine.
And then my friend and I “kissed and made up”. It seemed ludicrous to let an argument begun while one of the two arguers was drinking to undo a good, solid friendship. Irony? Within 36 hours, it was common knowledge that wearing a mask would protect you from nothing. My friend’s whole reason for now questioning our friendship was blown up by a news cycle.
In the same way that it’s madness to chase an alcoholic’s argument down a rabbit hole, it’s equally mad to chase a liar’s argument. It’s hard to throw facts at something that has no basis in reality. Watching our news media chase Donald Trump down HIS rabbit holes is especially depressing. They’re so obviously bullshit, concocted on the fly in order to deal with the crisis of the moment. That’s a crisis of Trump’s own making.
To argue with bullshit & bullshitters is to give bullshit & bullshitter credence. “Okay,” you’re saying, “What if bullshit “WERE” true?
Problem is, bullshit is NEVER true. It’s a nonsensical question but — because you asked it — you gave credence to something that did not earn it or deserve it. You engaged with bullshit on its terms — and nothing good can ever come of that.
The time has come (it passed eons ago actually) to stop accepting a liar’s words as true first. No, liars should be told to back up everything they say — or it’s bullshit. The press needs to stop respecting a POTUS who has no respect for them, the office of the president, the rule of law, the Constitution — any of it. They need to refuse to accept anything he says without his providing receipts.
No receipts? YOU DON’T REPEAT IT. Who cares if “the president said it’? The president is a LIAR.
Imagine that first time journalists refused to engage with Trump’s lies. What if instead of repeating it verbatim they shook their heads and said “No. Not going to report that. It’s bullshit”? What if the White House Press Corps demanded truth from the White House — and if they don’t get it? THEY DON’T REPORT WHAT POTUS SAYS.
Trust me, CNN & MSNBC, Donald Trump needs YOU waaaaaaaaaay more than you need him. You just need to trust that fact — it’s true.
It’s time for all of sane Washington to hold an intervention for Trump & the whole GOP. Drinking and lying aren’t that far apart as vices go.