Presidential? Trump's new conspiracy theory belies fawning punditry
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President Trump's speech to Congress prompted the press to act like a parent rewarding a toddler for not throwing up at the dinner table. It set the bar rather low, as he reminded the world over the weekend.
It was just last Tuesday night that Van Jones of CNN cited one part of the speech and announced how Trump “became president of the United States in that moment, period.”
Until a few days later, when Trump badmouthed President Obama and offered no evidence for a charge that he was wiretapped during the campaign. (@realDonaldTrump) It appeared he was responding to implications in a Breitbart News story, which then prompted Breitbart to assert that we should all blame The New York Times. (Breitbart)
Yes, defending itself by saying it had merely aped that paragon of the evil mainstream media, The New York Times. Like Trump, it appears to crave validation by the same media it reflexively derides.
But put aside the wiretap-related tweets. My own personal favorite came at 7:10 a.m. Eastern Saturday from Mar-a-Lago, presumably during a commercial break in the weekend edition of "Fox & Friends."
"Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me," tweeted the newly "presidential" Donald Trump. "Sad end to great show." (@realDonaldTrump)
So how does one square the Trump praised by pundits last week with the Maligner of Mar-a-Lago?
Says Joe Conason, editor of the National Memo, "Like most Americans, our colleagues wish that America had a 'normal' president. But he has reminded us more than once that he can mimic presidential demeanor. This is a dangerous illusion that we shouldn't foist on the public."
And, as put by Keith Olbermann to me Sunday: "From Chris Wallace to Van Jones, they provided insight that would last a lunchtime."
An amazing saga continues
The New York Times disclosed, rather amazingly, "The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject President Trump’s assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump’s phones, senior American officials said on Sunday."
CNN and The Washington Post were those who both quickly sought to cover the story and credited The Times. But one obvious question not quickly broached was this: What in the world is the difference between the FBI chief asking the Attorney General to call Trump claim B.S. and the FBI chief essentially going public and calling it B.S.?
An obvious long profile: "James Comey: Sober law enforcer gone haywire." He screwed up the Hillary Clinton emails matter and now is way out front on this wiretap tale without quietly laboring to be part of a coherent Department of Justice position. As a Justice Department alum friend of mine says, Comey seems totally, completely self-absorbed.
Our wayward warriors
"The U.S. Department of Defense is investigating hundreds of Marines who used social media to solicit and share hundreds — possibly thousands — of naked photographs of women service members and veterans," writes Thomas James Brennan, a former Marine sergeant-turned-journalist and a Purple Heart winner for the Center for Investigative Reporting. (Reveal)
As The Charlotte News & Observer reported, and his agent Stuart Krichevsky underscored, Brennan and family have received death threats. Through his agent comes this statement from Brennan:
"The story I reported is obviously a highly sensitive one, and it’s no surprise that there have been some negative responses and threats made. However, the focus here should not be on me or the threats to my family, but on making sure the stories of the victims of these behaviors come to light."
Google and "fake news"
"During the initial dustup over 'fake news,' Google and its parent company Alphabet got less flack for spreading hoaxes than social media platforms like Facebook and Reddit. This week, the search giant is taking its lumps." (Recode)
"First: BuzzFeed explained how Alphabet-owned YouTube became the 'engine' of false conspiracy theories like Pizzagate. Strike one."
"Second: SearchEngineLand editor Danny Sullivan noticed that Google was passing off right-wing paranoia as the promoted answer to questions like, 'Is Obama planning a coup?' and, 'Is Obama planning martial law?' Strike two."
As Snap ascended, they faltered
TechCrunch's Joanna Glasner looks at all the once "hot" messaging apps that started going south, despite the initial adoration of tech investors, as Snap headed north. (TechCrunch)
"Last year, the biggest tech IPO was Line, an unprofitable messaging app known for its cute animated stickers. Before Line, there was WhatsApp, which had just 55 employees in 2014 when it sold to Facebook for $19 billion. Twitter, not really a messaging tool but sharing many of the features, peaked a few years ago around a $40 billion valuation. Tencent-owned WeChat, China’s hottest messaging and productivity app, has an internal valuation some analysts have pegged around $80 billion."
The FISA court
Thanks to The Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima for a quick and solid backgrounder on the very secretive FISA court amid Trump's tweet-inspired journalists' own tweetstorm Saturday.
The ignorance and conspiracy theories were rampant for much the day. Having a friend who served on the court, I cringed. (The Washington Post)
Send in the clowns
At the elite Gridiron Dinner in Washington Saturday, Mike Pence tried his hand at humor. On analysis of Trump's speech to Congress:
“I even thought I heard Rachel Maddow start to say something nice, but then MSNBC immediately cut to commercial.”
When it came to his own email mess: "The end of the week was a little embarrassing for me. Not that I had a personal email account when I was governor. [It] really was embarrassing for me to have millions of Americans learn that I’m one of the few people in the country to still have an AOL account."
Guys, get some writers. Maybe fellow Hoosier David Letterman can assist.
"Condé Nast is promoting one of its young star editors: Phillip Picardi. Starting March 13, Picardi will join Allure as digital editorial director while retaining the same role at Teen Vogue, where he has led the digital team since April 2015. Condé Nast confirmed the appointment." (Business of Fashion)
Cuts at Commerce
"White House proposes steep budget cut to leading climate science agency," declared The Washington Post.
It focused on plans "to slash" the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The New York Times referenced the Post story the next day in a piece on EPA cuts. Lost amid the implicit theme of odious Trump cuts was whether or not one might actually be able to find such cuts in a government agency without the end of the world beckoning.
It's the sort of question the vast majority of beat reporters, even at A-list places like The New York Times and The Washington Post, are incapable of answering. They may know a fair bit about overall policies and politics of an agency but zilch about personnel quality, productivity and efficiency of those agencies with their multitude of separate departments, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
I asked a former top Commerce official (a Democrat), who knows the 47,000-employee department cold, about whether that agency in particular could tolerate such cuts. The response? "Yes."
Pravda's Sunday highlights
The White House now offers its own press release on the "highlights" of the Sunday shows. It opened yesterday's with, "Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on ABC’s This Week: 'If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest overreach and the biggest scandal.'"
Huckabee's fumbling performance with sub-host Martha Raddatz was rightly skewered this morning by CNN’s Brian Stelter and Bill Carter, who noted Trump's "smear" against Obama and reliance on dubious conspiratorial sources.
Need a respite from journalists blogging (at times, it seems, for other journalists) about Trump, be it press conferences or speeches? Trying journalists blogging about art, in particular New York's big Armory Week art fair. (ARTnews)
Want to know how a big installation by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, 87, began as a mere sketch on a napkin that she faxed over? That and much more can be found.
The graying of our billionaires
In a follow-up to its expanded Billionaire's Index, Bloomberg reports on how so many of American billionaires are just very old. "The problem is most acute in the U.S. and Europe, where about a quarter of the billionaires on the index are age 80 or older, compared to 20 percent in Asia."
There there's this: "In mainland China, where only chemical maker Xu Chuanhua has reached that milestone, just 3 percent of the wealth is in the hands of the elderly, with about 40 percent held by billionaires under age 50."
A reporter's latest ignominy
Juan Thompson was described by one and all as a former disgraced reporter for The Intercept when word got out about his being charged "with making more than a half-dozen bomb threats against Jewish community centers, schools and a Jewish history museum, federal authorities said." (The New York Times) He had other stops.
Michael Miner of the alternative Chicago Reader, wrote a year ago, "Has anyone ever been disowned faster than Juan Thompson?" Miner goes on. "He'd just been accused by the website the Intercept of fabricating quotes, creating fake email accounts, and impersonating other people, including the editor of the website. The site had described Thompson as a former reporter for DNAinfo Chicago and for WBEZ, but both media were quick to minimize their connections."
"'He interned for us a few summers ago — VERY briefly,' tweeted DNAinfo's Jen Sabella. WBEZ's Ben Calhoun, the head of programming, said Thompson had been an intern for a talk show for four months and 'the extent of his duties was minimal.'"
Miner noted how The Riverfront Times in St. Louis ran an opus on Thompson that argued "Thompson might have done more damage than more celebrated media fabricators such as Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair because in Thompson's time reporting is so much more rapidly (and carelessly) repurposed." (Riverfront Times)
Saturday night at Mar-a-lago
The Palm Beach Post reports, "Some 300 guests mingled with donors and doctors at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, sipping champagne and admiring the cherry blossoms and hydrangeas that decorated the tables in the grand ballroom, the one where President Donald Trump and wife, Melania, had celebrated their 2005 wedding."
"But in other parts of the Trump-owned property, the mood was decidedly more serious. Guests caught glimpses of Trump meeting with members of his team, including Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Gen. John Kelly, head of the Department of Homeland Security."
There was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, too, but if he "was taken to the gilded woodshed at Mar-a-Lago, he showed no signs of it during a brief encounter with Bascom Palmer guests. In Mar-a-Lago’s grand salon, where tapestries hang heavy on the walls, Sessions was all smiles as he greeted the gala’s attendees."
In search of online sizzle
Headline on print version of Amanda Hess story in New York Times Magazine on internet trolling: "Clickbait."
Headline on mobile version: "How the Trolls Stole Washington"
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends" opened with, what else, possible surveillance of Trump's New York office. It chided a key New York Times story for having unnamed sources (while MSNBC actually had one of the reporters). Co-host Brian Kilmeade said, with scant argument, that "in retrospect, it (Trump's) was a tweet that caused a lot of consternation," while badmouthing the integrity of James Clapper for a notoriously wrong 2013 statement about whether the NSA collected (so-called phone metadata) on millions of Americans.
CNN's "New Day" noted that Hillary Clinton felt the FBI (Comey) was out to get her, now Trump thinks the intelligence community is undermining him. Citing the latest wiretap story, co-host Chris Cuomo said, "My main question every day is why?" He opted for the term "V.D.," for "virtual deception" — before switching to the North Korean missile program, and the Obama-era cyber war against it so vividly (and scarily) detailed over the weekend by The New York Times.
Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" found nothing especially "virtual" in our midst. We are viewing "no respect for the office (of president) and (Trump) calling the former president unbelievable names. We are at a low point in American history, and I don't know how anybody can defend this president even if it's their job."
Any doubt about her take on things? Here's her speaking, and emoting, to Trump-ites: "And when you are out speaking for President Trump, I would urge you not laugh at yourself because this is not funny. This is really bad. just for the record, we're all really nervous. So if people out there feel really nervous, we do, too."