A Rose by Any Other Name…

I’m going to start a collection of Donald Trump descriptions and invite you to play along at home. I’ll update this post whenever I stumble across a new one.

The rules are simple: Any description is eligible as long as you can cite a link to an article or video somewhere on the web. Descriptions can be positive or negative, as short as a single word or up to a sentence in length.

At the end of the election, we’ll hold a vote to pick our favorites.

Here’s a couple to get us started:

Positive

“The best sex I ever had.” Marla Maples, Access Hollywood (h/t to Ellen Mrja)

Negative

“…dangerous buffoon…” Frances Wilkinson, Bloomberg View

“…a small, insecure money-grubber…” Elizabeth Warren, Huffington Post

“…a thin-skinned, racist, sexist bully…” Elizabeth Warren, Huffington Post

“He is a man-baby.” John Stewart, CNN (h/t to Mike Keliher and Jeremy Powers)

“…a megalomaniac…” Trump: What’s the Deal (h/t to Gary Gilson)

“…a pathological liar…” Carl Bernstein, CNN

“…a strong man who doesn’t believe in democratic institutions.” Carl Bernstein, CNN

“…a grifter always dancing one step ahead of bankruptcy court and concocting one failed scheme after another to separate people from their money.” Paul Waldman, Washington Post

“…a shallow, ignorant, incurious, emotionally immature narcissist.” Jon Austin, The Same Rowdy Crowd

I look forward to your entries.

– Austin

 

 

A Look Inside…

Trump photoMr. Trump gave one of his stemwinder, freestyle, stream-of-consciousness speeches last night in The Woodlands, Texas which is – I think – a particularly conservative Houston suburb. From what I can tell most of it was his usual collection of one-liners, but the closing two minutes – captured here by CBS – are worth watching because it offers an insight into the fantasy world of Donald Trump. Watching him, I can’t help but think he actually believes “winning” is an act of will and that he will simply compel the country to win and the rest of the world to go along with that decision.

From working with and watching politicians for much of my life I know that every politician has an ego and it’s usually huge. This is an observation independent of party affiliation, office, success at the ballot box or other personal qualities. I’ve seen ego in the most liberal politicians and the most conservative. Those professing to be “servant leaders” have egos every bit as big and demanding as those branded elitist and imperious. It is a necessary component for running for election – a brutal process – and for governing. Obama has it, as does Sanders, the Clintons, the Bushes, Cruz, Kasich and any other candidate you care to name.

Ego, however, that’s so overwhelming that it’s delusional is not healthy and it’s not a quality we should want in our elected officials. The presumptive Republican nominee has one that should send all of us running for exits.

– Austin

PS – The other thing that’s worth noting from the clip is Mr. Trump’s mood; he’s clearly very happy to be among his supporters and in large numbers. I’m not entirely sure of this point, but I get the impression that his rallies have been somewhat smaller over the last couple of weeks – smaller crowds, no lines to get in, etc. – and this event was apparently packed with people turned away (though the exact number varies according to those covering the event). If you want to watch the entire event – including the warm-up speakers – it’s available here.

 

Enough. No more liberal coddling.

In the days since Orlando I’ve become more afraid. And I’m ready to abandon my liberal “We Are The World” views and adopt harsh measures to assure American safety.

We are facing a threat to our very existence. Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine called the threat “an extinction-level event.” And the normal, nice, politically correct responses won’t work against it. Terrorism is inside our borders, playing out on our televisions every night, the unthinkable and the horrifying becoming the normal.

We have to exclude the terrorists and we have to root out the communities that hide and support them. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, abridging some rights to save all rights. We need to stop pussy-footing around the problem and go to the source — and stop it. Plug the holes so more terrorists can’t get in. Expel the terrorists who are here and hold those who are like them responsible for their acts.

One force is creating paralyzing fear among Americans. That’s the definition of terrorism. That force is causing us to abandon our principles and sink to the level of the  terrorists. That’s the result of lighting these fires and fanning these flames. I’m tired of it. It has to end. Or we won’t have a country.

My modest proposals:

  • Our most horrible threat comes from a German. So we must immediately stop immigration from Germany. Round up all Germans now in America and throw them the hell out of the country. You don’t have to have been born in Germany to be a German. Your parents being German is enough. Or your grandparents. Or maybe you once lived next to a German. Or ate German chocolate cake. You’re gone.
  • The terrorist who presents the greatest threat against America is a capitalist. So we must immediately bar any capitalists from entering the country. And we must stop all immigration from areas of the world where there are capitalists or where people support capitalism.
  • The steaming, fetid, amoral, immoral, festering hotbed of capitalist terrorism is Wall Street. We will build a wall around lower Manhattan, from the Empire State Building south, to keep all capitalists in so they can’t further infect our country. And, of course, we’re going to make Goldman Sachs pay for the wall. It will be beautiful.
  • We must stop the politically correct language that hobbles our response. Liberals and their running-dog media partners call the threat a “candidate” and analyze his “policies.” They talk about him giving a “speech” and about who are his “advisers” and what kind of “analysis” he engages in and what his level of “knowledge” is. C’maaahn. Let’s call a Drumpf a Drumpf. This is a dangerous, immoral, raving narcissist who, to increase his own false sense of his grandeur, will hurt anyone, trample on our most cherished beliefs and wreck our way of life. He doesn’t have bad policies. He doesn’t pay enough attention to anything beyond his own aura to have policies. He has infiltrated this country through our most-vulnerable yearning — the hope of the masses to someday not be among the masses. He now poses a threat that, because it seems so unlikely, is horrifyingly real. This force of terror is a threat to everything that makes America exceptional.
  • Enough. We have to stop Radical German Capitalist Terrorism. And it must start now.

In the immortal words of an American solider in Vietnam, talking to the late Morley Safer as he lit a Vietnamese family’s house on fire, “Sometimes we have to destroy a village to save it.”

–Bruce Benidt

Vietnam village

In the Wake of Orlando…

I rolled over this morning at about 6:30 AM and saw through my bleary eyes the initial reports of the shooting in Orlando. At that point all that was being reported was that “at least 20” had been killed and more than 50 had been injured. In the hours since then, the outlines of this terrible tragedy have come into sharper, more specific view.

There’s so much that could be said at this point – the insensitivity of Donald Trump in making the shooting a moment of self-congratulations, the hypocrisy of those who criticize the Obama administration for not doing enough to protect the homeland but oppose any restrictions on firearm purchases even for those on no-fly lists, the frightening suggestion made on Fox News today (which I can’t find but was made by a member of Congress) that we should be detaining Muslims who “could be” planning something (a comment that was so shocking that even the Fox host was flustered and said something to the effect of “I’m sure you’re only talking about the very, very small number of Muslim where there’s proof of illegality”), the tragic intersection of mental illness, economic and societal alienation and susceptibility to radicalization (of many stripes) – but the reality is simply that 49 people who did nothing to deserve it are dead today.

My heart is heavy and my thoughts are with the victims and their families.

– Austin

“The Suspense is Terrible…I Hope It Will Last”

Maybe this is what it’s like to get old.

My theory of aging is that you start getting old the moment when you stop keeping up. By that I meet keeping up with what’s going on in society, how technology is evolving, how to use it. Understanding the big flows in the global economy, how the pieces fit together and affect one another. Keeping up with your family and how they in turn participate in their communities.

For my parents, this process started happening when my father retired. Bit by bit over the next couple of decades they went from participants to observers to finally patients. They went from the people who I would call first for help and advice to the people I hid bad news from to a couple of fearful, confused people who didn’t understand the world around them.

Maybe that’s what’s happening to me. Without realizing it maybe I crossed that first threshold sometime in the recent past and didn’t realize it.

I’m thinking along these lines as part of my effort to understand the panicky feeling that’s been my constant companion ever since it became clear that Donald J. Trump would be the Republican nominee. His enduring success suggests I no longer understand the world and what moves it. The notion that he’s got a 45-55 chance to become the next president of the United States – and thus the most powerful person in the world – makes me anxious in a way I’ve rarely felt.

When I try to disassemble my anxiety, I end up sorting it into several buckets:

  1. The top line. A Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster for the United States, its citizens, our allies and world. I believe this with every fiber of being. Donald Trump lacks the experience, temperament, education, judgement, emotional maturity and almost every other quality I think is important in a president.
  2. The subtext. Do 39 percent of Americans REALLY believe Donald Trump should be president? According to the latest Fox News poll they do. If this number is even remotely correct then I feel a lot like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (or Kevin McCarthy if you prefer the 1958 version).
  3. The counter-narrative. What if I’m wrong? What if I’ve missed something so fundamental about the state of our country that those 39 percenters are right to want to elect Donald Trump? If they are, then what else am I wrong about?

For reassurance on all three levels I find myself compulsively reading the news, watching CNN, etc. I feel mildly encouraged by reports that suggest the Democrats are getting their act together or that the Republicans and the Trump campaign are in disarray. I find myself watching Trump’s rallies and speeches hoping for – at last – something that will irrevocably take him from legitimate threat to our democracy to universal joke.

In other words, when I step back and look at my behavior, I have to wonder,

“When did I get so fucking old?”

<sigh>

Austin

 

 

 

Trump then, Tump now.

Back in the hallucinatory Republican primary season Donald Trump appeared indestructible. Nothing he said damaged his standing with a mob of angry, ill-informed, anti-institutional voters. He won over some regular folks, too, people who thought it might be a good idea to run the country like a business, or who just liked him on The Apprentice. But it was a small, core group of haters who armored him. He pandered to their nihilism and their prejudices. And they embraced a candidate who eschewed political correctness while giving voice to the racist sentiments that always simmer just below the surface of American public discourse.

Nobody else in the Republican Party had to stand by what he trumpsaid then, and few, if any, did. Now they do. Except, of course, when they don’t…as is the case with Trump’s hysterical denunciation of a federal judge named Gonzalo P. Curiel, a midwesterner who is overseeing a lawsuit against the shuttered scam that was Trump U. Trump says Curiel is a “Mexican” and therefore biased because Trump plans to “build a wall.” Expanding on this thesis, Trump has also said that he probably could not get a fair trial with a Muslim judge either. Presumably women judges fall into the same category, unless they are unusually attractive and thus exempt from Mr. Trump’s general disdain for women.

Republican office holders and party regulars have rushed to the TV cameras to denounce Trump’s position. Awkward. Even Newt Gingrich, a rumored running mate, has blasted Trump and suggested that he shut up about Curiel. Meanwhile, Republicans have been mum about the fact that they’re blocking President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court so their guy can make the pick after the election. Word from “their guy” is that minorities and women need not apply.

The Curiel fiasco shows how ambivalent Republicans are about their nominee. It also hints at how deeply he might hurt down-ballot Republicans this fall if they stay with his candidacy and it flames out in bigotry and ignorance. They’re hoping he’ll change. He won’t. They’re hoping he’ll “pivot” now that the primary is done. He won’t. They’re hoping he’ll somehow see that running for President is about something more important than his own ego. He won’t. They’re counting on him to surround himself with wise, temperate advisers who will keep him (and the country) on the rails. He hasn’t yet. And, most of all, they’re hoping he’ll stop saying stupid, offensive things.

Good luck with that.

Former Congressman and longtime GOP consultant Vin Weber has invoked the parable of the scorpion and the frog, in which the scorpion delivers a sting after promising not to because it’s “in his nature.” Weber says Trump is what Trump is, period. What we see is what is in his nature. Not a pretty picture.

What surely gives the Republicans the most heartburn over the Curiel flap is that Trump, when cornered in some outrage, invariably responds by launching a new outrage as a way of changing the subject. His candidacy lurches from one controversy to the next. And now each instance will require Republicans who want to cling to office (and maybe to a few shreds of dignity) to disavow what he says.

Well, they can do that. They just can’t do it with straight faces. And they can’t hide the disconnect from voters. How do you “endorse” a candidate you have to distance yourself from every other day? Donald Trump entered the race as a joke. He stands a good chance of going out the same way.

 

 

 

Gene and Bernie

Bernie Sanders, meet Eugene McCarthy. In my head. And in my heart.

A public-television show about McCarthy was called “I’m Sorry I Was Right.” And Bernie, you’re right, but it’s time to fold your tent.

In 1968 Gene McCarthy stole the hearts and stoked the dreams of young people across the country. The world was falling apart and up stood this poet from Minnesota whose earlier campaign pamphlet for his senate seat, I recall, carried this quote from Gene: “I like a man with a good woodpile; it shows he’s at peace with the world.”

The guy couldn’t win. He had no chance against LBJ, who’d won in 1964 in the definition of a landslide. The Vietnam war wouldn’t end, and what could this diffident senator do about it? He could stand up and holler, in I.F. Stone’s immortal exhortation to the young. And he did.

And Gene was right. About most things, including the war. And Bernie is right. About the economy and the tax code and Congress being rigged for the rich. About not enough having been done yet to keep the speculators from ruining the country — again. And Bernie is right about Hillary. She’s compromised. Her ethics are moth-eaten. She’s as inspiring as a box of raisin bran. And her judgment, in taking contributions to her foundation from foreign countries while secretary of state — really? And her two-hundred-grand speeches to fat cat bankers — come on. Mark Twain said “Tell me where a man gets his corn pone and I’ll tell you where he gets his opinions.” (Corn pone, a staple, like flour, for those of you who didn’t grow up in the 19th Century in the Ozarks like I did.) She’s secretive and calculating and … oh I wish she were Elizabeth Warren.

But Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, I love ya man. But you gotta get out of the way. I jumped on my phone during the first debate and sent you money. I voted for you in the Florida primary. Other than on guns, I haven’t heard a syllable from you I disagree with. But you gotta let Hillary take it to Trump.

Clinton is such a flawed candidate that only the fact that Trump is such a baby whiner egomaniac gives her a chance to save us all from him. Bernie, maybe, could do better against him. Maybe could give him the embarrassing unmasking he deserves. But Bern, you don’t got the votes, you don’t got the numbers. And even though you’re right, continuing to hammer at Hillary only increases the I-hope-scant chance that the world might end in November, with Austin weeping.

Howard Dean said tonight on MSNBC that there are meetings going on between Sanders’s and Clinton’s campaigns about how to land this plane. I hope so. California could end it or drag it out. Bernie, you’re right, and you’ve had a huge impact, you’ve moved Clinton and the party to the left, you’ve hollered yourself hoarse, and you’ve stirred up a wonderful mass of young people, including my niece/daughter Ally, and we all love you for it.

It’s time to stop pushing at Hillary and stand beside her. And keep hollering.

— Bruce BenidtIMG_4556

Reaping the Trumpian Harvest

It’s early days in terms of calculating the damage Donald J. Trump has already done to America but there are already many signs that he has emboldened racists, misogynists and other species of political fungi that have been mostly consigned in the shadows of American politics.

Let’s not even get started on how many of our allies are already rethinking their relationship with a country that may end up led by a man who thinks it’s a good thing that they’re “rattled” by his candidacy. Here, too, the damage he’s already done is considerable.

In fact, Mr. Trump could drop out of the race tomorrow and we’d still be years recoMatthew Ericksonvering.

Or maybe his candidacy is the kind of damage a democracy like ours is ill-equipped to recover from. Take a few minutes to watch the announcement speech of one Matthew Erickson, the Republicans’ latest candidate to succeed Congressman John Kline in Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District. Mr. Trump likes to boast about his success in bringing new people into the political process. If this is a representative example, he’s done us no favors by creating a new class of candidates and activists who think his example is worthy of following. We may never wring this stain out of our national fabric.

I weep for our country.

– Austin

 

The Long Hot Summer

Our lesson for today:

1. demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than through rational argument

2. fascist: a political leader who believes in authoritarian nationalism

3. moron: a person who is okay with either or both of the above, which, according to recent polling, includes nearly half the American population

4. conventional wisdom: a banal, soul-crushing substitute for actually knowing something

5. pundit: idiot (Not to be confused with moron, as pundits do not care about what the government does, only who will get to be in it.)

6. eternity: the time remaining between now and November 8

 

American Exceptionalism Defined

The PeripheralLast summer I read an extraordinary book – The Peripheral by William Gibson (@greatdismal) – that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to look 20 – and 100 – years into the future. It’s such a good book, in fact, that I’ve re-read it (something I almost never do). Twice.

At one point in the book, the primary character is explaining why she refuses to do something terrible to people who are actively trying to hurt her and her family even though her refusal put her and her loved ones in danger. In three simple sentences, she explained American exceptionalism in words even Donald Trump can understand:

“They’re assholes. We’re not. But we’re only not assholes if we won’t do shit like that.”

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, appears to believe that American exceptionalism means we have to one-up the assholes. If you’ve ever caught one of his rallies, he loves to tell the (apparently pants-on-fire false) story of how Gen. John Pershing “took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood,” and shot 49 Muslim rebels. “The 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem.”

In Mr. Trump’s worldview, ISIS’ burning captives to death or conducting mass drownings isn’t a sign of its illegitimacy, it’s the nation-state equivalent of a “your momma” diss that has to be outdone.

Sad!

– Austin

 

 

And…We’re Back Live From the Site of the Apocalypse

Guess who’s back, back again…Shady’s back, tell a friend…

– Eminem

Goddammit.

At the end of our last episode, things seemed to be on an even keel. We figured it was safe for us to slip off into the sunset, that you guys could take it from here. If it wasn’t a silver-bullet-Who-was-that-masked-man-Hi-ho-Silver exit, it was at least Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little riding off in a limo at the Warner Brothers backlot.

And look what happened. You – we…because I bear a share of the responsibility – let Donald Trump happen.

I’m not mad. Just…disappointed. It’s (y)our democracy, after all, so what you(we) do with it is up to you(us), but I can’t help but think you(we) were raised better than this. 240 years of struggle to perfect the union just so we can watch the most unqualified candidate for president in modern history be this close to the Oval Office.

That’s no hyperbole or partisan perspective…it’s verifiable fact. If you trace the start of the modern age to the 1944 election – the election that most closely corresponds to the start of the nuclear age – there have been 18 presidential elections, 12 victorious candidates and 19 losers (I’m including the three third-party candidates who earned any meaningful number of electoral votes – Strom Thurmond, Harry Byrd, George Wallace – and excluding cranks like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader got 0). Any one of those 31 people was better qualified to be president than Donald J. Trump. Even the three guys who ran on the segregationist platforms had more credentials.

Here’s an interesting thought experiment: go to the Wikipedia entry on U.S. presidential elections and post your top five candidates and your bottom five. Not just in terms of qualifications, but in terms of who was/would have been a good president. I bet the top five are pretty easy and will reflect most people’s partisan biases. The bottom five, though, pose some interesting questions: Would Donald Trump make a worse president than George Wallace would have been? Than Strom Thurmond?

Honest to God, I’m not sure.

I can say for sure that I would have chosen any of the major party candidate – including Nixon, Goldwater and George W. Bush – over Donald Trump. Yes, even George W. Bush – who led us into the single stupidest foreign policy mistake since Vietnam, since the Treaty of Versailles, since…ever maybe – I would be ecstatic to have him back for a third term.

Another thought experiment: Which option would you pick?

Option #1: We call off the election right now and Obama is succeeded by the WORST major party presidential candidate since 1944. Hillary doesn’t get elected but neither does Trump.

Option #2: We let the election play out and hope that Hillary beats Trump.

I consider Trump such a threat to the country that it’s not a tough call for me. Thomas Dewey, Richard Nixon, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, Jimmy Carter, George W…each of these men would have been or were deeply flawed presidents IMHO and any of them would be a better president in 2016 than Donald J. Trump.

So, this means I can’t just bitch about this. I have to do stuff. I have to donate money to Hillary (more than I’d planned to), I have to volunteer for campaign activities (hadn’t planned to), I have to advocate for Hillary – and against Trump – wherever possible. It means I have to reactivate The Crowd if for no other reason than to give me an outlet for my near-panic about all this.

Now this looks like a job for me so everybody just follow me…‘Cause we need a little controversy…’Cause it feels so empty without me.

Welcome back, Crowdies.

– Austin

 

 

 

Deep Breathing Exercises

I keep repeating the following:

  • Twenty-six percent of voters identify as Republican
  • Thirty-two percent of Republicans support Donald Trump for President
  • That means only 8.3 percent of the electorate has lost its mind

Whew.

My question to the CDC is simply this: Have you begun an investigation into what is clearly a pressing public health issue? If 18 million of our friends and neighbors had been infected with some other form of infection that affected their judgement and rationality, we’d be hell-bent on finding the source of the bacteria.

C’mon guys, you took on ebola; surely your field teams can figure out Trump.

  • Austin

“Just when I thought I was out…”

…along came Donald Trump.

I’m not sure how much longer I can resist the urge to write about “The Thick-Fingered Vulgarian” as Spy used to refer to him. Can you imagine what it must be like to be Jon Stewart knowing that he’s about to walk away from…all this?

Hopefully, the urge will pass. Maybe I should get a hobby. Opiates maybe.

– Austin

This Site Under Construction

Crowdies –

The facts that 1) there hasn’t been a post to this site in more than a month and 2) there hasn’t been a general outcry over Fact #1 strongly suggests that we are talked out.

There’s no shame in this conclusion. Over the course of the last seven years we’ve had more than 780,000 visitors and almost 24,000 comments in response to 1,720 posts. That’s a pretty long-running cocktail party.

We, your humble hosts, thank you for coming and hope that you had a good time. We’ll leave the door unlatched and the light on for the off chance that one of us will feel moved to say something here in the future, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of time worrying about that possibility.

– Austin, for the Crowd

PS – I’m actually in a conference room doing real work for a client so the post above comes across a little more rushed than I intended.  While I have a few minutes between Wave 1 and Wave 2 let me add that – by far – the most enjoyable and valuable part of this site over the years has been the people who have shown up to comment on whatever silly topics your hosts have seen fit to post. The smartest, funniest commentary has come from you. The best ideas and the most thoughtful positioning have come from you.  Even the people I’ve disagreed with – especially those people – have taught me much.  Thank you.

Back to Wave 2.

That Damn Hippie Pope

NEW SLAUGHTERMy guess is that Pope Francis was well aware of the appalling orgy of fevered consumerism — Black Friday and the onset of our sacred “Holiday Season” — when he dropped his 50,000 word rip job on “trickle down” economics and our “idolatry of money.” The timing was just too ideal to be a coincidence. And that, you have to hand it to him, demonstrates some shrewd marketing chops, along with a bona fide Christian conscience.

I am not expecting it to do much good though, unless he requires his “shepherds” in local parishes to hammer that message … to the dwindling audience that still sees moral authority in a church degraded by medieval sexual politics.

Coincidentally, news of the Pope’s hippie-like attack on the foundation of American exceptionalism — i.e. unbridled acquisitiveness and status through possession — came on the same day I caught a nakedly cynical Christmas-y ad that began with a lament for the sad state of Christmas today.  (Open with: A montage of Norman Rockwell-like imagery; happy nuclear families, cherubic kiddies, fresh snow, tree trimming). The clear inference being that we’ve fallen a long, long ways from “the true meaning of Christmas”.

Where, I wondered, was this leading?

Cut to a scene from today … inside some tricked out big box super store, with … you know t, a fake Santa and excited shoppers stockpiling massive amounts of crap (excuse me, “gifts”). It was an ad for Gander Mountain or Cabela’s or some much enterprise, which, I think you can see the irony here, has nothing whatsoever to do with the “true meaning” of Christmas and everything to do with what’s wrong with this blessed season and what the Pope was getting at.

Popes routinely bemoan crass consumerism and exploitation of the lower classes. But soon they move on … to negotiating Vatican politics, managing the church’s vast real estate holdings, meetings with attorneys fending off sexual abuse claims and battling homosexuality. The priority stuff.

Maybe Francis, who is off to a good start, will be a transformative figure. Maybe he’ll push this them, especially when he makes his first visit to the United States. But the odds are against him.

Especially here in America, where to watch the network and local news there is no greater unalloyed good than storming the mall — or WalMart — in support of the economy. Sure they all reported the fistfights over 40″ Funai TVs and laughed at the video of the guy loosing his drawers in a WalMart brawl and flashing plumber butt — but nowhere did I see anyone come back from any of this and say, “This is nuts.”

Obviously, TV news has an enormous stake in shilling for any excuse to spend money. But, Barry Ritholtz in the not exactly hippie-dippy Bloomberg View tells us again, it’d help if “news” was actually based in some semblance of fact instead of junk numbers made up by random shoppers and repeated endlessly everywhere you looked.

I still think it’d be interesting to get someone like Barack Obama into a candid conversation about values. Not just the usual platitudinal stuff about “democracy” and “a thousand points of light” but the essential message leaders have an obligation to convey to their citizens.

Once away from the White House (and you know he’s got scratch marks on the cell wall counting off the days ) I suspect he’d agree with the Pope. There’s almost nothing about inciting mass psychosis and the constant pornographic exultation of the super rich that meshes with actual Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) values.

You had to feel . . . NOT!

There are too many life-and-death things happening in the world to be concerned about trivial matters, but I love sports, and so I feel compelled to indulge my revulsion at too many broadcast interviews of athletes.

I sometimes conduct workshops in sportswriting and the craft of interviewing.

A cardinal sin in interviewing: instead of asking a direct question, the interviewer states the answer he is looking for, leaving the athlete an opportunity only to grunt, or lamely say, “Yes.”

Example: “You had to feel great when you made that catch in the seventh inning.”

This approach robs the athlete of a chance to tell his or her own story.

Instead, a reporter should ask: “Tell me what happened when you saw the ball come off the bat.” Now the athlete gets to communicate the experience. And the listener gets to feel it.

Why do so many interviewers cheat athletes and listeners out of feeling an experience? 1) they feel insecure and compelled to let the listener know how smart they are; and 2) they have adopted as models bad habits learned from elders in the business who have risen to high positions despite work that has been mediocre.

The latest version of this wrong-headedness oozed from my radio just this week.
A reporter previewing the football game between the University of MInnesota and the University of Michigan was interviewing the Minnesota quarterback, Philip Nelson, a sophomore who had started only a few games and who could still be considered a wide-eyed rookie.

The interviewer wanted to know how Nelson felt about playing at Michigan, in the biggest stadium in the country — 109,000 seats. Minnesota’s stadium seats only 50,000, and I doubt that Nelson ever played a high school game in front of as many as 5,000. But Nelson never had a chance to answer what was a very good question: the interviewer (as if he were the quarterback), instead of asking a question, laid out his own set of expectations, in great detail and at great length, leaving Nelson merely to agree with the interviewer’s premises and sound like a nonentity.

What I wanted was the raw feeling Nelson could have expressed if he had had to come up with his own answer. That would let us get to know him, instead of getting to know the interviewer.

Years ago I made a documentary film on the values in big-time college football, and the program was memorable, I believe, because it allowed players — without helmets obscuring their identity — to communicate their experiences and feelings.

A few years before that I interviewed the great athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who competed in the long jump at the University of Minnesota. After the meet, in a quiet moment when I caught her alone, I asked her to describe exactly what she felt from the moment her foot struck the take-off board.

She took a deep breath and said, with obvious delight, “No one has ever asked me that before.” She proceeded to explore her experience, moment to moment, and as she spoke she beamed with pleasure at having the chance to explain the passion she felt as she soared through the air.

Interviewers should understand and embrace the principle that they are not the story; the interviewee is. What we’re after is not good questions, but great answers.

I’ve been scrutinizing interviews since I broke into the business, always eager to learn from the best, and from the worst.

A final observation, from an example of the worst: During the Vietnam war a CBS News reporter covering combat was interviewing a an 18-year-old Marine whose buddy had just been shot and killed right in front of him. The reporter said, “How would you characterize your feelings when you saw him die?”

That young Marine may not even have known the meaning of the word characterize; if he did not, the very question may well have intimidated and inhibited him.

Why didn’t the reporter — instead of playing the sophisticate — simply say to the Marine: “Please tell me exactly what happened.” In that way, the Marine could have told his story, and his feelings would likely have become clear . . . and unforgettable.

JFK 50 Years Later: It’s Still … Means, Motive and Opportunity

NEW SLAUGHTERWith the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination comes a lot of predictable commentary.

We’re getting the inevitable re-resurgence of Camelot-era hagiography. “Oh, the glamour!” “Oh, the grace!” “They were our royalty!”, “They were so rich and so beautiful!” Likewise we’re enduring the usual musty, journalistic eulogizing about the immensity of the tragedy and how it was a “turning point” for American culture, our “loss of innocence”, the beginning of our distrust of authority, etc. Ditto another round of conclusive-sounding assertions of the veracity of Warren Commission’s ruling on who-dunnit, assertions that, like the Commission itself, seek to reassure us in the absence of any kind of real certainty.

I was 12 when Kennedy was killed and as stunned as everyone else. (The old Vaughn Meader comedy record was a staple at the Lambert boyhood manse.) A lot of people were still on edge after the previous autumn’s Cuban missile crisis, so word that the accused/likely assassin was a “communist sympathizer” … kicking around 1963 Dallas … had almost everyone fighting back fears of another nuclear showdown.

… and then Jack Ruby killed “the killer.”

I watched it happen that Sunday morning and when it was announced that Oswald had died my first thought was, “Now we’ll never know why he did it.” And we don’t. And there are good reasons to believe that’s why Ruby did what he did.

Respectable, responsible journalism venues, your Time and Life magazines, your New York Times and Washington Posts and your network newsrooms have accepted Oswald as the assassin since the moment he was collared in the Texas Theater. I’d like to say that appropriate, intense skepticism was applied at some point over the past 50 years, but I really can’t. Oswald has always been the one and only.

In my personal experience, discussions with other journalists on the minutiae of JFK killing have been a bit underwhelming. Few if any could explain what Arlen Specter’s Magic Bullet Theory was all about. Most had heard of it, but after that their eyes got pretty glazey. And the glaze got even thicker once I wandered off the plantation and started talking … means, motive and opportunity.

Mainstream journalism runs on conventional wisdom, and after the Jim Garrison meltdown in New Orleans in 1967 every theory counter to the Warren Commission’s became professionally toxic. The accepted default in newsrooms was, and remains, that Oswald acted alone, the government said so, it’s yesterday’s news  … let’s move on. To suggest you remained skeptical, to suggest that the 24 year-old Oswald’s associations in  New Orleans and Dallas were exceedingly odd and that there were parties with far — far — higher levels of … means, motive and opportunity … who might find it useful to manipulate a guy like Oswald was/is pretty much like saying, “I just saw Elvis, Janis and Jim Morrison land a flying saucer in front of the White House.”

So, about 20 years ago, or soon after Oliver Stone’s loony-but-provocative “JFK”, I finally let it go. I’ve rarely talked about it since. Certainty will never be achieved. I’m not interested in convincing anyone of anything. Believe what you want. The ratio of skepticism-to-acceptance we have today is, I’m guessing, pretty much what it’ll be 500 years from now. Moreover, it no longer matters. Where maybe something could still have been accomplished 10 years after the assassination, or even 15 — when the House Select Committee on Assassinations asserted that there was a conspiracy, and even ID’d those with means, motive and opportunity — at 50 years out the horses have long since left the corral and been reduced to glue.

G. Robert Blakey, counsel to the 1978 House Committee has often said that the JFK murder has become a kind of Rorschach test for those looking at it. What we see is in many ways more illuminative of our individual prejudices and beliefs than the reality of the event itself.  There’s a hard truth in that, that I accept.

Just as I accept that I’ll remain a skeptic of the Warren Commission theory for a long time to come.

Without re-litigating the whole case, here’s why:

Over the years CBS, ABC and most recently PBS’s NOVA have argued in favor of the Commission’s view based on the only aspect of the crime testable by science — namely the forensics of the shooting in conjunction with the Zapruder film. Each has hired experts, staged reconstructions, fired rifles, extracted bullets and established in ways that would be convincing in any courtroom that it is possible for one bullet to do everything Arlen Specter and the Commission said it did.

… and each therefore concluded that … Oswald did it.

To which I always say … wait a minute.

It’s one thing to make a case that it is possible for one man to have done all the damage recorded on camera (and in the mangled autopsy) and a whole other thing to say that man was Lee Oswald. But the two are almost invariably mashed together as inseparable conclusions … based on a problematic palm print on the rifle found stashed at the Book Depository and the circumstantial evidence collected and vetted by the Commission.

Comedian-actor Richard Belzer (“Homicide”, “Law and Order: SVU”) has had a second career for years as a kind of Howard Zinn  of contemporary American politics. He has churned out several books on the JFK hit and when interviewed invariably returns to one moment that for him most undermines the Oswald-as-shooter scenario (as well the Commission’s choice of who and what evidence to accept as most accurate). The moment was when a Dallas motorcycle cop dropped his bike in front of the Book Depository seconds after the motorcade gunned it for Parkland hospital, ran in, yelled for the boss, a guy named Roy Truly, and ordered him to accompany him upstairs. Upon reaching the second floor cafeteria they encountered a guy at a vending machine. The cop asked Truly to identify the man, which Truly did as Oswald, an employee, and they continued on up.

What it means is that within 90 seconds of shooting … the President of the United States, kind of big deal for which a person might both be (and look) a little excited, a not so great a marksman has run across to the opposite end of the sixth floor, stashed the rifle behind some boxes, run down four flights of stairs, dropped coins in a vending machine and appeared composed and unflustered when confronted by a cop. While the speed required to accomplish those actions hasn’t been recreated without signs of obvious exertion, I suspect it is, like other aspects of the Commission’s case possible under a certain set of circumstances.

But it is means, motive and opportunity that carries the day for me. Oswald barely had the first (a for-shit rifle and very limited skills as a marksman), is deep into dime store psychology on the second (“he was a nobody who wanted to be a somebody”) and, were it not for his second floor cafeteria appearance, has indisputable credibility only on the third. He was employed right there on the motorcade route.

As Daniel Schorr, the bete noir of the Nixon White House once told me when I asked about his interest in the JFK killing, “I like stories that are ascertainable”, which the JFK saga most definitely is not. The unascertainable, reputation-sullying quagmire of every theory other than the Warren Commission’s may explain why so few news organizations have aggressively pursued the most tantalizing of the “means, motive and opportunity” angles.

Oliver Stone lost me with his “LBJ gave them their damn [Vietnam] war” angle. Not even in 1963’s subservient media culture would there be a way to keep chatter of an assassination cabal from leaking out of government offices. Governments keep paper records (and recordings). Every reporter has sources of some sort within or close to the CIA and the White House. Ascertainability is possible.

Not so with organized crime.

If you want a practicing, professional journalist to glaze over in disdain, bring up the role of the mob in anything that went on in 1963 or even today. As limited as my press colleagues’ knowledge has been on the topic of JFK forensics, the first mention of Carlos Marcello and the mob always has them scanning over my head for an emergency escape. Since almost none of them has even heard of Marcello, the longtime head of the New Orleans mob … I’m another whacked out “grassy knoller” counting UFOs in the Rose Garden.

I have found very few journalists who know that Bobby Kennedy, prior to becoming Attorney General vowed and immediately upon being sworn in made a top priority of throwing Marcello out of the country … and that he actually did it. RFK literally had Marcello kidnapped off the streets of New Orleans and dumped in Guatemala, simultaneous with an unprecedented, coordinated effort to take down his sprawling operation … which besides the usual racketeeering included seedy strip clubs across the South and Texas. In fact, the 1978 House Committee specifically ID’d Marcello, along with Jimmy Hoffa and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana as people with … means, motive and opportunity to kill JFK.

But — a reality check here — no ink-stained newsroom beat reporter does ascertainment on the Mob. As I say, to follow the news even today you’d be inclined to believe organized crime has ceased functioning in the United States … a turn of events which truly would make us exceptional in human history. Crime kingpins are brown, scarfaced, moustachioed guys like Pablo Escobar. They operate in sweaty Latin American countries. Based on the lack of reporting we could easily believe they have no peers within our borders. No stateside kingpins. Just street level distributors like Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale in “The Wire”.

More to the point in the JFK era, it was the official view of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI that organized crime was a non-factor in the United States, a view that infuriated Bobby Kennedy especially since the FBI’s “investigations” of Marcello’s New Orleans operations were consistently misdirected and thwarted.

For me this is, ironically, the Occam’s Razor phase of the story.

In order to accept that Oswald acted alone you have to ignore/outright dismiss his very strange associations with Dallas’ very right-wing “White Russian” community and the crowd he assorted with in New Orleans, as well as his lack of expertise as a marksman, his jailhouse assertion that “I’m just the patsy” [an interested choice of words] and accept as his motivation that he was … suffering from low self-esteem. It’s not what you call a neat scenario.

By stark contrast, in the Marcello-driven version of events you have a bona fide, serious-as-a-heart attack adversary, requiring by far the fewest assumptions to reach a conclusion … if …  if it is a conclusion you’re comfortable making.

Means: Organized crime, should you choose to believe it exists, has professionals it can call upon to kill anyone. (Ask Whitey Bulger’s FBI compatriots.) And you don’t need an Oliver Stone-sized conspiracy. Just maybe a half dozen guys doing what they do.

Motive: Not only is this little prick Bobby Kennedy coming after one of the leaders of the American mob in that era, he’s a damned Kennedy who appears to have forgotten all the business the Mob and his father did back in the day. Getting harassed and dumped in Guatemala is not a way you treat friends. More to the point, by hitting the brother, you neuter the Attorney General.

Opportunity:  Open car. Parade. Plenty of cover … and a chump, set up to think he’s a player in some spy game, primed not only to take the fall, but be killed off in quick order. (By the mobbed-up owner of a seedy strip club … who did it, we are asked to believe, in order to spare poor Jackie Kennedy a return to Texas for Oswald’s trial.) The hand-the-cops-the-dead-patsy ploy is classic mob architecture. Plus, as a plot, it understands quite well the cultural climate of that era. The “communist sympathizer” angle virtually guarantees  that responsible elder statesmen like Gerald Ford, CIA Director Allen Dulles, segregationist poster boy Richard Russell, and all-purpose Cold War counselor John McCloy will see the peril of super-power confrontation and gravitate to the lone, glory-seeking-nut explanation, which is infinitely easier to make with that particular guy dead.

Also, should there be even the faintest interest in pursuing an organized crime angle, those same statesmen will quickly appreciate that an aggressive mob inquiry means a wholesale re-write of the “fallen King of Camelot” narrative, with the shocked public getting a highly disillusioning education in how Joseph Kennedy made his fortune and how cozy the sexually compulsive JFK was with the seamier side of the show biz-Vegas interface. Bobby Kennedy seemed to grasp the dilemma.

Given the low likelihood that courtroom-worthy evidence would ever to spill out of the mob — no files, no recordings, and no witnesses — the choice for the Commission was actually pretty easy. Build a credible-enough case that sets the long-dead Oswald as the lone shooter, calm the country, let everyone mourn and savor a fallen hero and move on. It’s what patriarchal leaders are supposed to do.

But as Rorschach tests go … this version of the story paints an exceedingly different view of the United States than most people care to entertain.

Lara Logan Has it All Over Dan Rather

NEW SLAUGHTERIf there was ever an example of the quantitative difference between the rage-stoking machinery of the right and the left its in the reaction to Lara Logan’s big Benghazi blockbuster on “60 Minutes”.

Where literally within minutes of its airing nine years ago, “60 Minutes II’s” story about George W. Bush’s essentially non-existent National Guard “service” was under fire from right-wing bloggers pointing to a specific fake document, Logan’s far more amateurish blunder, in using an oddball mercenary’s story as the sole source of a startling new perspective on the Benghazi incident, is fast receding from public attention. Internally, CBS, which can not be pleased with the transparent inadequacy of  Logan’s reporting, may eventually take further action. But lacking a sustained furor, it has the luxury of doing so quietly and in a way it can manage, and … without explaining how it happened.

Lacking any serious of level of heat from outraged liberals — beyond David Brock and Eric Boehlert at Media Matters — this botch, which smells at least as politically inspired as “60 Minutes II” producer Mary Mapes’ shot at Bush — is going nowhere.

People like Kevin Drum at “Mother Jones” and Jay Rosen have already laid out the fundamental complaints with Logan’s story, and CBS has endured the inevitable round of ridicule from comics. For me though the most egregious error — the brightest flare in the sky — was Logan basing her story on a guy who was about to publish a book through CBS’s sister company, Threshold Editions, which exists solely as a distributor of (often) paranoid, fact-deprived righter-than right-wing screeds. How was that allowed to happen?

Worse, Logan didn’t disclose that illuminating little detail either in her original story or in her explanation-free apology last Sunday night. As a consequence we have an episode that walks and quacks very much like something cooked and contrived by the producer/reporter.

And that is different — and worse — than what Mapes and Dan Rather got into in 2004. The tragic irony with CBS’s Bush Air National Guard story is that the central assertion — that Bush was all but officially AWOL from a cushy stateside service slot and far from combat during Vietnam — was all but “smoking gun” provable without the tarted-up memo that persons still unknown used to intentionally deceive CBS, Rather and Mapes. (I believe Doonesbury-creator Garry Trudeau still has the $10,000 he offered to anyone who could prove they saw Bush with his National Guard unit at any time he says he was there.)

With Logan, the rapidly-evolving view is that she was the driving force of the bogus Benghazi story, and that to make her story she consciously violated a basic tenet of Journalism 101. Namely, she allowed a single source, one with obvious personal motivations, to push a startling counter narrative with rabid appeal for a specific fringe audience. A stringer for Eagan Patch couldn’t get away with that.

While the controversy will soon evaporate among the general public, media-watchers who suspect Logan pushed the story far beyond what the facts could support will continue to believe she did it to curry favor (for herself?) with a conservative audience that normally sees “60 Minutes” as a threat to their intensely partisan world view. Her now famous, gung-ho, “let’s go get the bastards speech” isn’t doing anything to refute that suspicion.

We are living in a moment where celebrity reporters are routinely carving out brands (and fatter paychecks) for themselves beyond the walls of their day jobs. And Logan, who looks much better in a low-cut dress than Morley Safer, (and did you notice how much more demure her attire was for the “apology”), has all the ingredients for full-tilt, anchor-level stardom.

But since there is a vast difference in the rage machinery of the right and left, I doubt many will notice when Ms. Logan announces a year from now that she has decided to leave CBS and pursue “new opportunities”.

Finally, you can only laugh that FoxNews, which rarely if ever has something good to say about a story produced by actual professional journalists — and rushed to hype the “60 Minutes” piece —  is pretty much alone now in “standing by” the “facts” of Logan’s botched tale.

 

 

Hope and Branding

NEW SLAUGHTERBefore getting to the important stuff, as a member of “the single-payer left”, but also someone sees Obamacare as a substantial step forward, can I just say that I’m delighted to see a resurgence of skepticism among the “lamestream” press over the hysterical claims coming from Obamacare’s entrenched opponents?

First there was Eric Stern’s instant classic, “Inside the FoxNews Lie Machine”, where Stern fact-checked three sets of guests in a Sean Hannity interview. Then a couple of days ago Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post reported a story out of Rome, Georgia on a guy convinced his small business failing was entirely Obama’s fault.  (By all means read through the comments section on that one.) Then yesterday we had Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times doing the same thing as Mr. Stern in a piece titled, “Another Obamacare horror story debunked”.

Continue reading “Hope and Branding”

The LA Times Applies a Factual Standard

NEW SLAUGHTERTalk about setting dangerous precedents.

The Los Angeles Times recently declared that it was no longer going to run “factually inaccurate” letters about climate change. Anyone who follows the, uh, “debate” on that issue knows what the paper is talking about. Climate science is up there with abortion and gun control in terms of setting off an irrational, emotional explosion among a certain faction of the public … with the notable difference that there is actual science involved in the mechanics of human-caused climate shifts.

A reporter at Mother Jones then called around to nine other big mainstream papers to see what their policies are regarding … reader opinions that have no basis in fact. He got some great weasel-word quotes. The best/worst came from the Denver Post, who said:

Continue reading “The LA Times Applies a Factual Standard”

I’m a Bleeding Heart Liberal…Because Esquire Magazine Says So

Bleeding heart 2This feels so…not right…I think.

I have always thought of myself as a centrist in personal and political disposition.  I don’t care for extremism on the left or the right and I think “compromise” is a good word and a good way to get things done when it comes to governing.  I like notion that our leaders fight over questions of political philosophy and practical governance by day and then play softball on the Mall and share a beer afterwards.

But, according to Esquire Magazine’s survey of the “New American Center” I’m a classic “bleeding heart liberal.”  There’s apparently nothing to the left of me.

Continue reading “I’m a Bleeding Heart Liberal…Because Esquire Magazine Says So”

It’s the “Hysterical Delusional Affirmation” Syndrome

NEW SLAUGHTERThis was pretty good from Charlie Cook’s National Journal column today …

“Driving in to work Tuesday morning while listening to WTOP, Washington’s excellent all-news radio station, I heard my friend, the extremely able congressional reporter Dave McConnell, relate a conversation he had with a Republican House member. This member told McConnell that allowing the debt ceiling to be breached might “get the leadership’s attention.” That sounded like a kid saying if he threw his mother’s priceless vase against the wall, she might start letting him do what he wants. Political judgment this bad, coming from members of Congress, is a dangerous thing for a party. When it comes to dealing with something with enormous consequences, such as intentionally creating a situation that could lead to default on our national debt, we are no longer quibbling about minor differences of opinion.

Continue reading “It’s the “Hysterical Delusional Affirmation” Syndrome”

A Rowdy Crowd Pop Quiz

NEW SLAUGHTERWhat father of what politician preached this … ?

“There are some of you, as a matter of fact I will dare to say the majority of you, that your anointing is not an anointing as priest. It’s an anointing as king. And God has given you an anointing to go to the battlefield. And what’s the battlefield ? The battlefield is the marketplace. To go to the marketplace and occupy the land. To go to the marketplace and take dominion. If you remember the last time I was in this pulpit, I talked to you about Genesis chapter 1, verse 28, where God says unto Adam and Eve, “Go forth, multiply, TAKE DOMINION over all creation.” And if you recall, we talked about the fact that dominion is not just in the church. That dominion is over every area – society, education, government, economics…

Continue reading “A Rowdy Crowd Pop Quiz”

Not Just “Unconditional”, A Faceplant Surrender

NEW SLAUGHTERSo, it has come to this. A complete, unconditional, unequivocal faceplant surrender by John Boehner. I should feel more Schadenfreude and vindication than I do.

A few thoughts on the truly ridiculous debacle we’ve just lived through (and may have to live through again in January).

1:  Can a major political party get any closer to the life-or-death decision of whether to self-amputate a body part than the Republicans are today? I keep thinking about Utah hiker Aaron Ralston, sawing off his own arm from under an immovable boulder in order to live to hike another day. The Tea Party has made the Republican party an object of ridicule and contempt with truly perilous consequences for even “moderate”-but-enabling characters like John Kline and Eric Paulsen here in Minnesota.

Continue reading “Not Just “Unconditional”, A Faceplant Surrender”

End of Days for the Bubble-Saurii.

NEW SLAUGHTERAlong with the strategies, tactics and rhetoric, this whole shutdown/default crisis is a fascinating moral drama, at least for President Obama.

His level of exasperation with Republican malfeasance and ineptitude was pretty evident in his press conference yesterday, and mirrors what the public is saying in polls. You saw today’s? Where Congressional approval has hit … 5%? Scrape away a bit and you’ll find that number is an overwhelming condemnation of the Tea Party factor.

Obama certainly knows — and said — that we can’t go on like this, with the same bunch of “neo-confederates” (TM former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren) ginning up a national crisis every three months. I suspect he is factoring that into his thinking talk of a “deal” that kicks this can a month down the road. Why do that? What does that really serve? At some point enough has to be enough, and the public at large is clearly on board with that line of thought.

Continue reading “End of Days for the Bubble-Saurii.”

No problem? Sez who?

A few weeks ago, on one of my favorite TV programs, CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” the commentator Bill Flanagan deliciously lamented and skewered the younger generation’s annoying habit of answering reasonable requests with the expression, “No problem.”

He said that in almost every instance, there is no problem to begin with, so that an answer of “no problem” is inappropriate. What’s called for, he said, is an answer such as, “I’ll be happy to do that for you,” or, “Certainly.”

Well, I do have a problem, and it also has to do with choice in language.

I can best illustrate it by pointing to a Minnesota Public Radio program in its series of Q&A sessions with noted broadcast journalists. The featured guest was the NPR reporter Kelly McEvers, who has been covering the civil war in Syria.

I have no reason to doubt the courage or skill she has brought to that assignment. But I do recoil at the way she speaks: almost every sentence contains the word “like’,” as in the popular misusage regularly heard among high schoolers: “I was, like, surprised,” or, “I’m, like, what are you talking about?”

Further, she larded her sentences with “you know” –a crutch phrase that equates with “um.” And she used the qualifiers “sort of” and “kind of” as hedges, when no hedges were needed. If something is a fact, it’s not “kind of” a fact. Just state the fact.

For these lapses I blame not her, but rather her supervisors, who are failing to hold her (and, I presume, other on-air staffers) to a standard worthy of the pre-eminent American radio news operation. Her editors would never allow her written stories to contain these blemishes, nor can I imagine her ever writing THE stories in that way. But when it comes to speaking without a script, she suddenly morphs from professional journalist to Valley Girl.

People who speak in that way are creatures of a culture that has produced language slackers. Of course some people in every generation do master fundamentals and niceties.

I wrote to the NPR ombudsman, who replied that his office considers only concerns about ethics, but would forward my message to the NPR training officer. I thanked him for that, but urged him to send it first to the editors and producers who directly control the output of their first-line reporters.

If NPR’s news managers do not enforce strict standards for speech, they will undermine the network’s substance and image.

To my mind there’s no difference between hearing language slackers on NPR and seeing Jeff Daniels (lead actor in “The Newsroom”) accept his Emmy Award while chomping on chewing gum on camera.

It’s a problem — not “no problem.”

Shutdown and Default: Let Their Will be Done!

NEW SLAUGHTERI gave some thought to whipping up a super-clever comparison of Walter White, “Breaking Bad’s” abused-ego-driven meth king and Ted Cruz, he of the guffaw-inducing narcissism and putative leader of the Republican nihilist caucus. But the concept fell apart so damned fast.

Walter White, trail of bodies, ruined lives and psychic mayhem aside, was at least intelligent enough to remain respectful of science, the inflexible boundaries of hard mathematics and in the end … the very end … even managed to achieve the self-realization that he did it all “for me”. Because he was good at it and it made him feel “alive”.

Ted Cruz, by comparison, doesn’t appear to have respect for anything, other than himself, while still posing as a guy who like the early-Heisenberg, believes himself immune to the consequences of his nefarious actions.

Continue reading “Shutdown and Default: Let Their Will be Done!”

Building a Better American Male

NEW SLAUGHTERDuring Sen. Ted Cruz’ 21-hour fili-fake-buster against … health insurance, I fell down the rabbit hole of a(nother) conversation about what a godawful mess men are today.

Frankly, it is still tough to figure where exactly this one started. But somehow the news that Esquire magazine is launching a TV channel collided with news that Maxim magazine has lost its mojo and ran into Hanna Rosin’s year-old piece titled, “The End of Men” before ricocheting off news that Popular Science magazine (large guy readership) is axing its comment section because of witless brawling by (likely male) trolls determined to shout down liberal believers in mushy-headed ideas like … evolution and human-caused climate change. It was a tornadic tumble.

Continue reading “Building a Better American Male”

Jim Souhan Isn’t the Problem

NEW SLAUGHTERI don’t know Jim Souhan, the Star Tribune sports columnist who kinda stepped in it by saying that the University of Minnesota should, at the very least, keep epileptic seizure-prone football coach Jerry Kill out of public view. But I have some idea how he got himself into a predicament that unleashed a hailstorm of blowback.

But first, let’s be clear, risking and then taking a hammering in the court of public opinion is not always a bad thing. Often enough it is quite the opposite. If no one ever cares enough to complain about you or argue against your point of view you’re really just writing Chamber of Commerce ad copy … which, unfortunately, is what a lot of today’s news managers regard as responsible journalism. The irony with this incident is that Souhan, filing from the sports/entertainment department, over-exercised one of the last remaining licenses left to push an informed, personal point of view in regional newspapers. He over-played a license the Star Tribune and other papers have steadily hobbled in their metro and opinion pages.

Boiled to its essence, the criticism of Souhan is that his tone was cloddish, an affront to both epileptics and common decency. And it’s easy to see how readers got that impression.

Here are some of the problematic lines and why:

” … where the University of Minnesota’s football program, and by extension the entire school, became the subject of pity and ridicule.” (Is “ridicule” really the word you’re looking for here? “Ridiculed” by who? What sort of thoughtless yob sees any level of humor in an epileptic seizure? What percentage of even our local, get-a-life football fandom engages in that kind of “ridicule”?)

“Kill suffers a seizure on game day as the coach of the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium exactly as often as he wins a Big Ten game. He’s 4-for-16 in both categories.” (Souhan’s working a context where Kill’s health issues are bad for the football program. But by elevating Kill’s winning percentage to the same level of concern as his health diminishes the appearance of concern for the latter. It’s what you call “playing too cute for your own good.”)

“No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars.” (College sports’ money issues are legendary and scandalous, even in a football wasteland like Minnesota. But again, mashing the two together — money and a man’s health — is callous, at best, and asking for trouble. Besides, as at least one commenter noted, fans pay top dollar every weekend with some expectation that they’ll see a 20 year-old kid carted off the field with shredded knee or worse.)

“Kill is unable to fulfill his duties.” (Really? I don’t think Souhan came close to proving that point. Or even trying.)

What I mean by the special license sports columnists have is this. They are writing for a heavily male audience that enjoys provocative writing reflective of a “man’s world”, i.e. a place where you call ’em as you see ’em, where lousy performance and incompetence are ridiculing offenses and where everyone’s tough enough to play again tomorrow after getting their feelings hurt. Look around the sportswriting landscape today. It’s one of the more talent-rich and compelling landscapes in the mainstream press because writers aren’t pulling punches, slathering their copy with consensus-conscious euphemisms and turning a blind eye to hypocrisy and incompetence. The contrast, as I say, with most papers’ metro and opinion columns is pretty damned stark.

But every provocateur risks going steps too far. It’s very much the nature of the broader media world today, outside stodgy daily newspapers. There’s career traction in upping the ante on “calling ’em, as you see ’em.” Hell, push it further and there might even be another paycheck in it, from sports radio, which is far less concerned with hurting feelings and sounding cloddish than mom and dad’s morning paper.

Souhan, who is still living in the shadow of Dan Barreiro, a guy who flexed a dagger with the best of them and has been well rewarded for it, simply “over-exploited” his provocateur license. It happens when you try to push itr “to the next level” to borrow a tired sports cliche. But there was no need to flex tough with an epileptic.

But my larger point here is the irony that Souhan style calling-out of sacred cows is now entirely the province of the sports department … where adults write about games.

The Star Tribune, which memorably prohibited its columnists from writing about the final stages of the presidential campaign in 2008, has taken a route much like every other regional, second-tier paper, avoiding partisan controversy by focusing on stories and themes with much higher levels of consensus. This, as I’ve said before, despite the presence of Michele Bachmann, and to a (slightly) lesser degree, Tim Pawlenty, people who should have been to any healthy “call ’em, as you see ’em” newspaper columnist what Les Steckel, Norm Green, Mike Lynn, Ron Davis and J. R. Rider have been to the sports department.

The fair question has always been, “Are you exercising journalistic responsibility by ignoring or grossly under-playing flagrant, unprecedented dysfunction and dishonesty by the highest-profile characters on your beat?”

It’s hard to get too upset over an outburst from the toy department, when the adults are hamstrung by their unwillingness to get seriously tough with people who actually matter.

Sampling the Alternative Universe

fox-logoI just did a survey of the three major cable networks…CNN, Fox and MSNBC…primarily to see how each of them were covering the Navy Yard shootings.  MSNBC and CNN are devoting substantial coverage to the shooting.  Fox, however, went nearly 30 minutes before even mentioning the event. Instead, they spent nearly 10 minutes covering House hearings on Benghazi and nearly as many minutes on a new report claiming manmade impact on climate change is insignificant and the “criticism” by two former Secretaries of Defense – Leon Panetta and Robert Gates – of President Obama’s decision to seek Congressional approval on Syria.  After all that, they did about 30 seconds on the shooting focusing on the question of how the shooter could get and keep a security clearance.

As I’ve often said, I think it’s very important for all of us to get our news from multiple sources.  I’m glad Al Jazeera is broadcasting (though I’m not impressed so far) and would love to see more news networks on my menu of choices.  Today’s anecdotal survey proves the point.

– Austin