'Pathetic?' Professional critics respond to President Trump's insult

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President Trump's thin skin has evolved into rage about the role of criticism of any sort.

Giving what "Fox & Friends" this morning actually called "a great uplifting speech" at Liberty University on Saturday, Trump declared, "No one has ever achieved anything significant without a chorus of critics standing on the sidelines explaining why it can’t be done. Nothing is easier — or more pathetic — than being a critic, because they’re people that can’t get the job done.”

So, what do folks who spend much of their professional lives offering tough, thoughtful criticism have to say about that?

Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips: "If Trump defines a critic as anyone who’s second-guessing what the hell he’s up to on any given day, then we’re living in criticism nation. And it’s a sign that we haven’t gone completely numb to the outrages."

Harvey Young, dramatist and a theater and African-American studies expert, Northwestern University: "The president is clearly conflating naysayer and critic. Critics, by and large, analyze and evaluate on the basis of fact, deep research and an enviable depth of historical and practical knowledge."

"They help us to appreciate the larger context. They often are among the first to advise on how something can be done and to applaud path-blazing innovation. It is true that critics will call out moments of error, failure, ineptitude — akin to telling the emperor that he has no clothes — but that’s being truthful, not oppositional."

Elizabeth Taylor, co-editor of The National Book Review and former president of the National Book Critics Circle: "With all the stuff coming at us every day, where would we be without critics? Without critics, we have only the loudest voices in the room."

"In a world where everyone seems to be a critic — in the rise of the citizen reviewer with undisclosed biases — we need discerning critics who can make convincing cases to readers and lead a conversation about quality."

Robert Abrams, board member of the Dance Critics Association and critic for ExploreDance.com: “Mr. Trump is confusing criticism with negativity. This is a common misconception, unfortunately. Well-crafted criticism helps readers understand the work in question with a greater depth than the reader might have seen before."

Andras Szanto, former director of the now-defunct National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia's University's Graduate School of Journalism: "In the world of art, artists and institutions welcome criticism because it validates what they do and connects them to a broader public. By saying what he said, Trump underscores two overarching features of his presidency: He does not seek validation from anyone but himself, and ultimately he doesn’t care much about what the public thinks. He is not interested in being part of a two-way discourse."

Mary McNamara, television critic of the Los Angeles Times: "Well, the obvious first response is that this is pretty rich coming from a man who has spent years criticizing many, many people including and especially President Obama, mostly through the facile and pot-shotty platform of Twitter. Perhaps that is what he means by 'nothing is easier than being a critic.’”

"Still, even that sort of criticism remains an important part of our democracy, which was, after all, born of criticism. What were the founding fathers if not critics?"

Well, of course, don't expect any uprising of the Fox News army of analysts to coalesce in outrage. After all, isn't Trump calling them idiots, too. Right?

Puerto Rico's giant mess

The island's financial woes are prodigious. The Wall Street Journal discloses that losses for mutual funds that invested in Puerto Rico's debt is about $5.4 billion in the last five years and explains exactly how it came up with the not-easy-to-divine figure. (The Wall Street Journal)

SNL's best moment

The shots at Trump via Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy were not the show's strongest elements Saturday. If you missed, it wasn't even a close second to a skit on a new Amazon Echo Silver for seniors. (Recode)

Call to critics

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University is today unveiling a survey of visual arts journalists. It's led by Mary Louise Schumacher, the 2017 arts and culture fellow at the Nieman Foundation and expands on a study conducted 15 years ago by the above-mentioned National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University (ah, time flies, I was on that board before it was disbanded).

The survey aims to find out about priorities and pressures facing those in a field impacted by industry contraction and new digital platform. It will take 20 to 30 minutes and can be found at www.research.net/r/artsjournalism.

If you've got questions, send them to Schumacher, who is the art and architecture critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (on leave) at criticssurvey@gmail.com.

Headline of the weekend

"What happens when the pro-Trump media get actual scoops? — Major scoops by former trolls have short-circuited the bullshit detector of the mainstream media." (BuzzFeed)

Amid the morning fragmentation

"In a move network boss Jamie Horowitz characterizes as 'another big swing,' Fox's upstart cable sports network FS1 is gearing up for the introduction of its first-ever morning show. The New York-based 'First Things First with Cris Carter and Nick Wright' will begin Tuesday, Sept. 5, two days before the 2017 NFL season kicks off." (Ad Age)

On last week's Comey coverage

The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan mulls the media's coverage of the FBI director's firing, with a heavy dose of opining from Ari Fleischer, who greatly minimized the Comey tale as a Fox pundit on "Hannity":

"Journalism has been called the first rough draft of history, but last week it felt more like an adrenaline-fueled doodle on Snapchat — scribbled in one frantic instant only to disappear the next."

"The news cycle, once a stately 24 hours, was reduced to mere seconds. It was hard for dizzied news consumers to know what, or whom, to believe." (The Washington Post)

The "most tempered and thoughtful man in D.C.?"

Peter Baker of The New York Times says its former Washington Post colleague Dan Balz. (@peterbakernyt) Amid ageism in the journalism business, chalk up a victory for non-millennials.

Thrush, Spicer, McCarthy and Guilfoyle

It's all a mish-mash, isn't it, with Melissa McCarthy surfacing again as the beleaguered Sean Spicer on "Saturday Night Live," with Bobby Moynihan as The New York Times' Glenn Thrush. It's funny, but is it effective satire, mere parody, a mix of the two or none of the above? (The Spicer-Trump-McCarthy-Alec Baldwin smooch didn't work, guys.)

Then there's the real Thrush and colleague Maggie Haberman reporting, "And while Mr. Trump has raised the Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle to allies as a possible press secretary, he has spent several hours with Mr. Spicer this week, praising his television 'ratings' during the briefings." (The New York Times)

Finding your political representatives

OK, you know your congressman and two senators (right?). But your state rep and senator or city council member?

"The feature can be found by pulling up Facebook on a desktop or by opening the app on your phone. Click the three horizontal lines in the lower right corner of the screen. Scroll down to 'Explore' and tap 'See More.' 'Town Hall' should be there, with a blue or white building icon." (Techwalla)

The Wall Street Journal and Jimmy Carter

The paper editorialized Saturday, "Mr. Trump has assembled many able advisers and officials who are trying to serve the country and steer and mercurial President from his own worst instincts. If Mr. Trump won't heed their counsel, he really will turn into Jimmy Carter."

Jimmy Carter? James Fallows of The Atlantic, who was a Carter speechwriter, says, "Carter had approval ratings 25-30 percent ahead of Trump's at this stage; was broker and personal force-of-will creator of most lasting peace deal in the Middle East; began the process that broke the inflationary cycle (though that was part of what cost him the presidency); reinvented the role of ex-presidents; de-regulated the airline industry (which the WSJ should like) and home-brewing industry (which set the stage for the craft brew revolution) — not to mention winning the Nobel prize."

"He had his limitations, but if Trump matched a tiny fraction of his genuine accomplishments it would be a miracle."

Mother Jones' crowdfunding

"Mother Jones on Friday announced a half-million dollar crowdfunding campaign to investigate any connections between the Trump administration and Russia, asking for reader support to "make sure truth prevails over power." (Poynter)

A question Lester Holt forgot

Emmanuel Macron, new president of France, was interviewed by a classical music website in France. Below is a translation via an American music site. Just imagine Trump getting the same question and what his answer might be:

Q. More personally, what is your favorite composer and/or opera?

"I have a great admiration for Rossini. For me, he occupies an essential place in the history of music. His freedom, his life and his genius have always impressed me. He took opera out of its yoke by offering a new freedom to the voice: he completely reinvented lyrical singing." (Musical America)

Imagine the comparative pedestrian nature of most any American politician's answer to the same question if a journalist was ever moved to inquire.

Drawing a short straw on Mother's Day

Tom DeFrank, a predecessor as New York Daily News Washington bureau chief, drew the short straw Sunday as White House pool reporter in his role these days for the National Journal.

"All's very well," he said during a day spent largely at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia (I once shot a very satisfying 88 there in a driving rain). "In Texas, we call it drawing the black bean, after an ill-fated military expedition by the Republic of Texas before joining the Union in 1845. Net effect is the same, of course."

"Every Texas schoolkid knows the story. Google "Mier Expedition, 1842." One in 10 captured Texan prisoners were executed after an attempted escape; they were the ones who drew black beans from a pot. Draw a white bean, you live; black bean, you die."

The morning babble

The panel on "Fox & Friends" unveiled their upteenth blond female newsreader (need males not apply?) and expressed concerns about cyber attacks continuing today. But most of all, they sounded off about the "liberal media" being unfair to Trump via liberal-bashing "media analyst" Cabot Phillips a 20-something "media director for Campus Reform." Who?

CNN's "New Day" was focused on a successor to James Comey. They also discussed what they deemed Melissa McCarthy's "tour de force" as Sean Spicer on SNL. That's debatable. Co-host Chris Cuomo said, "not funny" on "fat shaming" Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

MSNBC's "Morning Joe" opened on Comey, with polling on people not trusting Congress to investigate the Russian issue, preferring an independent counsel. The Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski line is that there's justifiable grounds for impeachment.

But, alas, no mention on any show of the eighth birthday today of Eliot G. Warren! Oh, well, I will handle those duties shortly.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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