• The Media and the Myths of Trump

    December 1, 2017 // 23 Comments »


    Donald Trump’s victory was so loathsome to journalists that instead of acknowledging their cultural and partisan blindness lead to them misreport the election, they doubled down, growing two overlapping myths to delegitimize the presidency they never wanted to happen.

    The two myths are Trump did not really win the election, and that once in office Trump is so unfit to serve that he is a danger to the nation and must be removed as a people’s act of literal self-defense. Psychiatrists call this denial; political scientists may call it a kill shot to democracy.

     

    The myth Trump did not actually win exploded outward like the Big Bang from November 8, 2016. There were the Jill Stein recounts, and false claims of voter fraud, gerrymandering, and racist voter suppression that lead to an “unfair” win. This all morphed into what stands as one of the most ignorant themes ever expressed in American politics, that because Clinton “won” the popular vote she was somehow entitled to the Oval Office. Reporting on all this came close to claiming the Constitution itself conspired against Hillary. “We’re in uncharted waters,” proclaimed CNN’s Anderson Cooper; the network also featured an ex-CIA officer calling for a new election, what in CIA-speak is better known as an overthrow.

    Instead of dismissing such unconsitutional nonsense, the media featured elaborate justifications, and coined the term “Hamilton Electors” to tie the quixotic effort to one of the few Founding Fathers voters knew via song. An online petition to declare Clinton president that in normal times would have been seen as a crank call was instead promoted into gaining the largest response in Change.org history. Editorials called for the Electoral College vote to be unconstitutionally postponed. Once-cogent pundits like Lawrence Tribe and Robert Reich were handed mainstream platforms to morph themselves into human cottage industries proclaiming the impeach-ability of various Tweets and statements.
    Even today, the New York Times’ White House correspondent beats the fan fiction drum for the importance of the popular vote. Her paper continues to focus on the urgent need to do away with the Electoral College after 220 years, the system that put Obama and Clinton and Carter into office, before the next time Trump runs. In what under normal times would be dismissed as a conspiracy theory, Huffington Post features interviews saying the election may not be “legitimate,” over a year later.

     

    The efforts to somehow keep Trump from office continued right up to the swearing in ceremony, itself boycotted by Democrats who did not want to “normalize” the election.

    It was at that point the second myth came to the fore: Trump was unfit to serve. The uber-disqualification is that Trump is literally a Russian agent (“Is Donald Trump Working for Russia?” asked New York magazine, in a headline that would have made reporters blush during the McCarthy Red Scares), directly under the control of the Kremlin, who holds power over him via some sort of pornographic pee tape no one has seen, or sweetheart real estate loans no one has seen, or in return for buying Trump the election demonstrated by evidence no one has seen.

    Alongside the “Trump is a Russian agent” disqualifier are a handful of memes never before seen in American politics. Trump’s hotels make his presidency illegal under the Emoluments Clause, a Constitutional snippet that generally escaped notice for 220 years (that Obama might get a $60 million book advance to write about things he did in office but only paid out, alongside six figure speaking engagements, after he left office, or that foreign governments donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary was Secretary of State, are not discussed.) Trump’s tax returns, available to the IRS for decades, are a media strawman; only if the people of Twitter examine those old 1040s can democracy be saved, IRS auditors and their technical knowledge be damned. Maxine Waters, a Member of Congress, said Trump should be impeached because he is boorish and crude.

    Waters’ statements and other similar, albeit slightly more coherent ones, are addendums to the myth, the idea that Trump is on borrowed time. The media fans the flames of Mueller, expecting the smoking gun that has so far eluded the CIA, NSA, FBI, IRS, and NYT to emerge any day. The 25th Amendment, created after the Kennedy assassination to codify the line of succession should the president become incapacitated, has been crowd-sourced into some sort of psychological failsafe mechanism whereby the Vice President, et al, will wake up one morning, realize the Washington Post has been right all along, and force Trump out of office.

    Ensuring that Trump is to appear as unqualified, the media focuses on “evidence” of that. Looking at his trip to Asia, the main story out of the Japan leg was some silliness over Trump overfeeding fish, not what was discussed with the Japanese regarding North Korea. CBS News’ White House Correspondent purposefully pulled a quote about Japanese auto manufacturing out of context to make Trump appear uninformed, whereas the full statement paints the opposite picture. From China, the theme was Trump was “rolled,” cajoled into, well, something, via a VIP visit to the Forbidden City. The main point of the APEC meeting in the Philippines? A silly photo. His speech in Korea, focusing on the problems with the North, was largely reported based on a irrelevant cherry-picked sentence about a Trump golf course. Back at home, the New York Times headlined Trump taking an awkward drink of water.

     

    Running alongside such spot reporting is a steady stream of anonymous source-based predictions war is imminent in Iran or North Korea, and that DeVos, Mueller, Sessions, Kushner, Tillerson, Mattis, and Kelly will be fired or resign. That such things haven’t happened in a year is irrelevant; the media says without evidence they still might. A silly Trump tweet criticizing a reporter becomes “evidence” the President has abandoned the First Amendment. Journalists, who as a group once took pride in their objectivity, now openly proclaim their “not Trump” political allegiance.

    Routine tussles of government, the stuff of our system, are overstated to a rube-like public such that courts doing what they are supposed to do, ruling on the President’s immigration orders, are inflated into “constitutional crisis.” It’s not a crisis if the system functions as it was created to do.

    Journalistic standards of evidence, typically requiring multiple sources and/or on-the-record witnesses, are replaced by the egregious use of anonymous sources that are little more than gossip from interns. Watch the mushroom-level growth of headlines with colons, such as Revealed:, Sources: or Reported: and passive constructions such as “I’m told…” that get around the fact that the story is not really based on facts.

    Reporters compete with one another to show how aghast they are at the “latest.” Newsweek is gleeful at the possibility Trump won’t finish his term. CNN talks of deposing the president. Politico runs an innuendo-heavy but fact-free piece claiming the KGB, seeing into the future, compromised Trump in 1987.

    The sum of such snarky, non-substantive reporting is clear: America is on the lip of chaos, Trump is not leading America, he is accomplishing nothing of substance, he is unfit.

     

    But the most unprecedented element of myth is the steady stream of reporting the President of the United States is so mentally ill that his continued presence in the White House is a suicide plan for America. Never before have mainstream media so freely and casually declared the President to be medically, legally, insane, and all based on little but fear and a few Tweets. The media has normalized this into common knowledge; as an example, an article pitch I made to a global media outlet explaining why war was not imminent in Korea was rejected because I could not “prove” Trump was not insane (The American Conservative bravely published my story.)

    The myth is buttressed by medically unethical remote diagnosis, such as that of Dr. John Gartner, former assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. “I don’t think people have any idea how close we are the point of no return,” Gartner said. “I think that there is an 80% chance he’s going to push that nuclear button. Why? Number one, Trump is a malignant narcissist. As far as I know, I cannot recall a single malignant narcissist in history who did not start a major war.” Gartner concludes “the noose is tightening around their necks and unlike Richard Nixon, Trump and his cabal are not going to leave gracefully. Donald Trump is going to be really like Bonnie and Clyde; he’s going to shoot his way out.”

    Though the nation’s nuclear command and control procedures have for better or worse been left relatively unchanged since the Truman administration, it is only now, under the guise that Trump is insane, that the media and some Members of Congress are promoting the idea that change is needed. Media outlets champion the idea the military could refuse to launch missiles, advocating insubordination, essentially a coup, as the best hope our nation will survive. Such paranoia exceeds the worst of Cold War fears.

    Along the way the myths have created their own new normals; it is now perfectly acceptable to call out the President with schoolyard-taunts: Trump has small hands, a joke about Cheeto Jesus, the orange man-child, homophobic jokes about Putin and bromance, that sort of thing. Writers like Charles Blow in the New York Times build whole columns out of lists (“ignorant… churlish… tacky”) of personal insults.

     

    For the first time in our nation’s history powerful mainstream forces are trying to change the results of an election. Shocked by Trump’s victory, many in the media wanted to stop him from entering the White House. Failing that, they delegitimize the president in the manufactured-from-thin-air belief that he is such a threat that it is necessary to destroy democracy in America to save it.

    At some point Trump will leave office. CNN and others would be expected to return to their originally scheduled programming at that time. The problem is once you let the genie of trying to overturn an election loose, you won’t be able to stop it. It’s foolish to think this process won’t be used again in 2020, or 2024. The clumsiness of the Obama birth certificate conspiracy to delegitimize a president is nothing compared to the approach being tried with Trump. People are getting more skillful at the game, learning more about the tools available. A new political weapon has been unsheathed. America is playing with fire.

     

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    The Secret Rules That Allow the FBI to Spy on Journalists

    July 28, 2016 // 31 Comments »

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    The bones of our democracy — the core elements that separate that way of life from others — lie in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically the rights to free speech and a free press.


    Without the ability to speak freely, and to have things about our government reported equally freely to us, most of the rest of the concept of what was laid out on July 4, 1776 and later falls away. Thomas Jefferson himself stated that an “informed citizenry” was the key to everything.

    So it is with more than a little anxiety that we learned secret rules allow the FBI to spy on journalists with such ease that the restraints are really nothing more than a bit of paperwork. As always, the ostensible justifications for another deep step into Post Constitutional America are terrorism, security, protecting the homeland. And, as always, the outcome seems to be much more about stomping out whistleblowers than anything else.


    As revealed by an anonymous whistleblower to The Intercept (the government refused to release the information), secret rules allow FBI agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from only two internal officials. No warrant needed. No outside oversight. No courts, no judges, no hearings, no public records.

    The rules govern the FBI’s use of national security letters (NSL), which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. National security letters are themselves an anti-Constitutional outgrowth of the Patriot Act and its successors. The letters allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies conducting a national security investigation to demand access to information without a warrant, and, in most cases, prohibit the organization required to supply the information (for example, a library asked what books you read) from even acknowledging the request was made.

    The FBI issued nearly 13,000 NSLs in 2015 alone. No one outside of government knows why they were issued, who was affected, and what information was gathered.


    The FBI’s secret rules in the specific cases of whistleblowers and leaks only require an additional couple of internal signatures. In addition, the rules specify any extra oversight layers do not apply at all if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization “associated with a foreign intelligence service” or “otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power.” That will easily rope in any national media service, and most likely is broad enough to pull in quasi-national media outlets like the BBC or Japan’s NHK. And once again, it is the FBI itself defining who is and who isn’t whatever it wants them to be.

    In an era when our government conducts more and more of the “people’s business” in secret, the need for brave men and women to step and an provide information, and the need for brave journalists to report that information, is ever more urgent. Without men like Edward Snowden working with journalists, we would never have known the depths of the NSA’s spying, for example. And without the heroic efforts of the person who leaked these once secret FBI rules, we would never have known what new tools the government had granted itself to weaken the press freedoms that otherwise helped sustain this nation for centuries.




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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Hillary Clinton Team Held Off-The-Record Journalist Dinner Ahead Of 2016 Announcement

    April 13, 2015 // 20 Comments »

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    No doubt vying to be the most transparent administration ever someday, the Clinton campaign is off to a great start — sucking up to powerful journalists, who are happy to play along, excluding non-mainstream press, and swearing everyone to secrecy. What more likely scenario for open and objective news coverage could there be?

    Oh, in case you weren’t sure, that was sarcasm. The actual event for so-called journalists was not, and really, sadly, took place.

    Hillary Clinton’s campaign team held an off-the-record dinner Thursday night in Washington, D.C., for roughly two dozen journalists and staff members at John Podesta’s house. Podesta is Chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and previously served as Chief of Staff to president Bill. The Clinton team is also holding a private event in New York on Friday night for journalists.

    All off the record, of course.

    Invited “reporters,” who promised not to report anything that was said included people from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, Bloomberg, McClatchy, Reuters, HuffPo and several major TV networks.

    Clinton herself did not attend. But several key Clinton staffers, including Campaign Manager Robby Mook, Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, Strategic Communications Adviser Karen Finney, Senior Adviser Mandy Grunwald and pollster Joel Benenson, were there.

    A Clinton spokesman declined to comment on the gathering. Naturally.

    So if you don’t get it, get it now. Like with the emails, you, lousy slugs of citizens consumers voters, will only be told what the Clinton campaign wants you to be told. The media, in return for a free dinner and the occasional exclusive leak, are happy to assist the Clinton’s in keeping quiet what they wish to keep quiet.

    For those with a little free time, look up “investigative journalism” in your history books for a laff.




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    Body Blows Against the First Amendment

    April 11, 2015 // 11 Comments »

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    Two recent cases show the contempt with which our government, at the federal and state levels, views the First Amendment.



    First Amendment Semi-Win After Military Police Harass, Sexually Threaten Journalist

    A very basic tenet of our democracy is that a free press exists to report to The People on the actions of their government, and that government is prohibited by the beautiful words of the First Amendment from interfering. In a small instance in Ohio, after the government had military police officers in the United States harass and confiscate the cameras of journalists, the journalists went to court and won back their rights.

    The U.S. government agreed to pay The Toledo Blade newspaper $18,000 for seizing the cameras of a photographer and deleting photographs taken outside the Lima Tank plant last year. In turn, The Blade agreed to dismiss the lawsuit it filed U.S. District Court on behalf of photographer Jetta Fraser and reporter Tyrel Linkhorn against Chuck Hagel, then Secretary of Defense and the military police officers involved in the March 28, 2014, incident.

    An attorney for The Blade said the settlement was made under the First Amendment Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits the government, in connection with the investigation of a criminal offense, from searching or seizing any work product materials possessed by a journalist. “The harassment and detention of The Blade’s reporter and photographer, the confiscation of their equipment, and the brazen destruction of lawful photographs cannot be justified by a claim of military authority or by the supposed imperatives of the national security state.”

    The government admits no wrongdoing, however, and just paid off the settlement.

    Here’s what happened. The reporter and photographer were in Lima to cover a news conference at another facility and had been tasked to take photos of area businesses for future use, including pictures of the tank plant, known as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.

    As the pair were leaving they were detained by three military police officers and questioned. Fraser showed the officers her Blade identification, but initially declined to provide her driver’s license as she was not driving. She was removed against her will from her vehicle and handcuffed for more than an hour.

    During the confrontation, the officers repeatedly referred to Ms. Fraser in the masculine gender. She objected and was told by one officer, “You say you are a female. I’m going to go under your bra.”

    The officers then confiscated two cameras, memory cards, a pocket-sized personal calendar, and a notebook in clear violation of the First Amendment.


    Philly Cop Arrests Man for Photographing Philly Cop Harassing Homeless Woman

    A college student arrested as he photographed a Philadelphia police officer harass a homeless woman in a public park was put into handcuffs and held for an hour. Federal jurors must now decide whether the cop had cause to cuff Coulter Loeb, 24, and charge him with disorderly conduct.

    The case, however, is about far more than a simple disorderly conduct rap. At issue is how the Philadelphia government sees the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution, and how it views people fulfilling their responsibilities as citizens to provide oversight to government employees performing their jobs. And it does not look good for all that in Philly.

    Things went south almost from the get-go, after the trial judge dismissed any connection between the arrest and the First Amendment.

    In a pretrial order that covered two similar cases, the judge ruled that the federal appeals court in Philadelphia had not “clearly established” a First Amendment right to photograph police as of 2011, when this incident occurred. “Whether the Third Circuit will eventually decide to follow what appears to be a growing trend in other circuits to recognize a First Amendment right to observe and record police activity is, of course, not for this court to decide, even if there are good policy reasons [to] adopt that change,” U.S. District William Yohn wrote. He therefore threw out Loeb’s free-speech claim, leaving a jury to weigh only the Fourth Amendment issues of false arrest and malicious prosecution.

    Moving on to how the city of Philadelphia views these issues, we turn to the city attorney working the case, who described arrestee Coulter Loeb, in front of his ACLU attorney, as “a meddlesome 24-year-old” with “very high-minded ideas about government” and the role of media. The Assistant City Solicitor told jurors that Loeb was interfering with police work by photographing police work in a public place.

    But what was in the mind of the arresting officer? “He [Loeb ]looked me up and down, and then took one step back. That to me was being a wise guy,” said the cop.

    Irony Alert: Yes, yes, it was in Philadelphia in 1787 that the Constitutional Convention was held. How far we have fallen.




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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    POGO Summer Reading List: We Meant Well

    June 22, 2012 // 3 Comments »



    The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) published its summer reading list, and was kind enough to include We Meant Well alongside books like Michael Hastings The Operators, Drift by Rachel Maddow and Black Banners by Ali Soufan.

    The whole list is worth reading and, packed on to your Kindle and digested over the summer, provides a tidy snapshot of the current state of the War of Terror.

    One of the few books I have not read on the list is Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Timesby Eyal Press. The book tries to explain what impels ordinary people to defy the sway of authority and convention and become whistleblowers, protesters and heroes. The conclusion tracks with my own experience and the experiences of the other whistleblowers I have come to know, that acts of dissent are often carried out not by radicals seeking to overthrow the system but by true believers who cling to their convictions.

    See the whole list of summer reading over at POGO.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

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