As Trump, Sanders bash the press, even sporadic contrition is nowhere to be seen
Will they ever admit mistakes, just like the press they pillory?
In another Orwellian performance, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders fulminates about the press, aping her boss as she claims the media is "purposely putting out information that you know to be false." The president inveighs against CNN, ABC, The Washington Post, etc., amid high-profile slipups.
Somebody might send them a copy of a Nov. 14 Post report by Glenn Kessler and colleagues, who updated their running tally of false or misleading claims by Donald Trump. It was 1,628.
They've not updated that since, but Kessler tells me he guesses there have been at least another 100 since. That may seem low but it does dovetail with a distinct irony as Trump and Sanders castigate the mainstream press: Trump never seems to correct his errors, unlike, well, the "Fake News" media routinely does.
It partly explains a droll effort by Jill Lawrence, commentary editor of USA Today, who imagines what it would be like if the White House Press Office, just like a quality news organization, actually systematically corrected errors. For example, you might get this:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
"Statement by President Trump on his assertions about the tax bill he hopes to sign:"
"'I deeply regret and apologize for the serious factual error I made when I characterized my tax bill as the 'biggest tax cut in U.S. history.' In fact, credit for the largest tax cut would go to Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. I was also wrong to say the bill is 'not good for me.' I would benefit from elimination of the alternative minimum tax and lower taxes on pass-through businesses, and my children would benefit from elimination or reduction of the estate tax."
Or maybe this:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
"Statement by President Trump on his record to date:"
"'I deeply regret and apologize for the serious error I made when I said in a 'non-braggadocious way' that there has never been a 10-month president that has accomplished what we have accomplished. That was an oversight given the crises faced by some of my predecessors, from Lincoln, FDR and Truman to George W. Bush and Obama, not to mention George Washington’s challenge of creating a country from scratch. Let me add that my press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was wrong to say it is 'laughable' that 'Obama thinks he has anything to do with the success of where the economy is right now.' I am suspending Sanders for four weeks. While I would not have led us out of the Great Recession the same way Obama did, it is inarguable that he and Bush saved the auto industry and that Obama left me a healthy economy to build on."
There's more but the motive for her reverie is clear. Says Lawrence, "There's been frustration simmering on Twitter and elsewhere about Trump's double standard on fake news — he can spread it without consequence, but when the legit news media make a mistake, it's off with our heads. I wanted to make the point in a way that would be different from the hand wringing that seems to be our default mode these days. I started writing these fake apologies and found myself quite enjoying that alternate universe. For space reasons (even online, you can't go on forever) I had to stop at four. Sad!"
As for The Post's fact-checker non pareil Kessler, alluding to the paper's system of grading by Pinocchio's: "President Trump has said he doesn’t like to get Pinocchios so I live in hope that he will admit an error of fact. We don’t give Pinocchios if a politician admits he or she made a mistake. "
Like, say, admitting that you shared an anti-Muslim video you couldn't substantiate with 44 million Twitter followers.
Ryan Lizza let go by The New Yorker
Bill O'Reilly, Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Glenn Thrush and Matt Lauer. Add the fine New Yorker political writer to the mix after he was outright fired for alleged inappropriate sexual conduct. In a trifecta of bad news for him, CNN suspended its relationship and Georgetown University bid him farewell.
What's notable here is his outright denial. There'd been the almost requisite declaration of some contrition. For Lizza, no.
"I am dismayed that the New Yorker has decided to characterize a respectful relationship with a woman I was dating as somehow inappropriate. The New Yorker was unable to cite any company policy that was violated. I am sorry to my friends, workplace colleagues, and loved ones for any embarrassment this episode may cause."
The publicly unidentified woman's lawyer, who's filed 11 lawsuits against Fox News, took distinct issues with the notion of "respectful relationship."
It was Lizza who received the profanity-filled, late-night call from now-you-see-him, then-you-didn't White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci that promptly led to his exit.
And this in from NPR ...
"Tirades directed at young women in the studio. Name calling and belittling critiques of show ideas during meetings. 'Creepy' sex talk, hugs and back or neck rubs after a dressing down. That’s the pattern of alleged abuse described by 11 mostly young women and men who filed a multi-page document outlining their complaints against On Point host Tom Ashbrook," reports his home station, WBUR-FM in Boston.
"Details of the document emerged in an interview with one of the complainants and a second source who reviewed it. It was delivered to WBUR and the station’s owner, Boston University. Interviews with more than a dozen current and former On Point staffers confirmed the nature of the allegations."
"On Point is carried by more than 290 NPR stations in the United States. Ashbrook has been the widely acclaimed host for 16 years." He said he was stunned and "I have no idea what is being alleged, nor by whom."
Well, this is all rather less important than an ongoing Boston Globe series on race in the city. The latest installment is about the health system and finds, "Though the issue gets scant attention in this center of world-class medicine, segregation patterns are deeply imbedded in Boston health care. Simply put: If you are black in Boston, you are less likely to get care at several of the city’s elite hospitals than if you are white."
And now in the NFL, too ...
"Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk was among three NFL Network analysts suspended Monday night in response to a new filing in a lawsuit brought by former wardrobe stylist," writes USA Today. The others are Ike Taylor and Heath Evans.
And from The Financial Times ...
Susan Fowler, the software engineer "who lifted the lid on sexual harassment at Uber and inspired women to speak out," is the Financial Times Person of the Year.
Comcast out of 21st Century Fox bidding
As The Los Angeles Times notes, "Walt Disney Co.’s potential deal to acquire much of Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire appears to be in the home stretch as the only other serious bidder, Comcast Corp., confirmed that it was no longer in the running."
Uncovering 'Mosul Eye'
For more than three years, he documented atrocities by ISIS without letting the world know his true identity. Then he fled to Europe and finally decided to go public via two AP reporters: Paris-based Lori Hinnant and Cairo-based Maggie Michael. It's a story of their persistence but also of some tricky professional issues.
Notably, as heroic as Omar Mohammed was, how could one verify his claims? What about his clearly risking his life by smoking a cigaret in an ISIS-controlled area on the Tigris?
"Omar gave us databases from his hard drive tracking the dead, noting daily events in Mosul. Each one was a separate file — totaling hundreds of files. The origin dates on each matched the date of the file, or at most was one or two days away from it. For his account of the day on the Tigris, he gave us multiple photos and a video from the day, each with an origin date in March 2015, which was when he said the events had happened. On Google Maps, he showed us the curve in the river where he picnicked, and zoomed on the marshy areas to show how it matched up with his account. As for himself blogging inside a dark room in his house in Mosul, he provided a video that AP used. He used maps to show his escape route. He showed on Google a list of the top students from his high school in Mosul, and his name was among the top five."
There's more in this email chat I had with the duo.
The Post hammers Fusion GPS
The Washington Post disclosed new details about the work of Fusion GPS, the investigative firm whose founders include ex-Wall Street Journal journalists Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch. The firm has largely come to light due to its involvement on the dubious Trump "dossier," but there's much more here about its methods, secrecy and tactics that go beyond traditional opposition research for a wide array of clients.
One depressing parenthetical to its story is the dubious labor of famous attorney David Boies. The New York Times has already ditched his law firm for a "grave betrayal of trust" in both representing the paper and seeking to sidetrack a Times investigation of the disgusting actions of former longtime client Harvey Weinstein. And it's also chronicled his involvement in seemingly slimy litigation representing a former boyfriend against novelist Emma Cline, author of "The Girls."
But this details how Boies (and GPS) did the bidding of Theranos, the once hot, now-belittled health technology firm, in trying to stymie Wall Street Journal reporting on the company now linked to knowingly dubious blood tests. But great Journal works and many awards for the paper came despite his heavy-handed threats.
This is a great saga with one element still undisclosed: How rich has GPS gotten via its handiwork for what The Post calls its "eclectic" clientele? It's presumably a whole lot more than Simpson and Frisch would have made as print- and digital-stained wretches.
'The trademark Fox mouth'
In a New York Review of Books essay on Gretchen Carlson's book, Northwestern University academic Laura Kipnis writes, "The 'idealized pedestal' Miss America gets put on is itself a form of disempowerment, Carlson eventually came to realize. True, and if you flip to your local Fox affiliate, you’ll see the same compliant femininity distilled to its purest iteration. Like beauty contestants, the women of Fox are hired on the basis of looks, then laminated into near mannequins. The visual requirements may be ramping down at other news networks, but the optics at Fox make clear what’s expected from women: to begin with, not to be men."
"The idea of rigidly binary gender roles is under assault in certain quarters, but it’s hard at work here, indeed visually exaggerated as much as possible. Even when the persona is feisty, the dress code says feminine submission: tourniquet-tight dresses (undergirded by tethers of the appropriately named 'Spanx'), plunging necklines, four-inch stilettos to prevent anyone from bolting. Hemlines are so dangerously short that recrossing one’s legs — given Ailes’ notorious 'leg-cam' — leads to embarrassing crotch shots being posted online; in the ones of Carlson she appears to be auditioning for Sharon Stone’s role in Basic Instinct. (Men in the newsroom are allowed not to have bodies; women are all body.)"
"Then there’s the trademark Fox mouth: lips glossed to perpetual blow-job readiness. One illuminating tidbit from (Gabriel) Sherman’s reporting is provided by a former Fox makeup artist who tells of female anchors dropping by to get their makeup done before private meetings with Ailes. 'I’m going to see Roger, gotta look beautiful!' they’d say; at least one of them resurfaced post-meeting with the makeup on nose and chin gone."
"I’m not saying that women get harassed because of the way they dress. The point is that the way Ailes expected 'his' women to dress makes clear the role they were expected to play: receptacles. Whether that means blowing the boss or swallowing male fantasies generally, that’s the visual."
The morning Babel ('one of our attorneys is Jewish' edition)
It was mostly the Roy Moore election today in Alabama, with "Morning Joe" co-host Joe Scarborough wondering if there'd be a Trump impact that's less related to Trump's endorsement than this Trump-like reality: prospective voters not being straight to pollsters about their plan to vote for Moore.
"Trump & Friends" was all about terrorism, immigration and hero Port Authority police as it heralded the arrest of the attempted suicide bomber in New York City yesterday. It brought in a pundit who's a bit fan of enhanced interrogation and said the guy should be treated like "an unlawful enemy combatant." It then turned to Alabama with the requisite countdown clock (until polls close), as did CNN.
CNN pundit John Avlon spoke of the political tone-deafness, and discomfort with diversity, articulated by Moore's wife as she declared, "We have very close friends that are Jewish, and rabbis, and are in fellowship with them." As Alisyn Camerota noted, the writers at "Saturday Night Live" probably had just sent them a bouquet of flowers for the prospective sketch inspiration.
Net neutrality and local news
"A report published Monday, ahead of the FCC's Thursday vote to repeal net neutrality, highlights the damage that repeal could have on local news," reports Poynter's Kristen Hare. "The report, 'Slowing Down The Presses: The Relationship Between Net Neutrality and Local News,' comes out of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society."
"The repeal, which could create tolls for internet companies and tiers of access for consumers, is also expected to damage local news, which is both suffering at the legacy level and just emerging for new online publications, according to the report." And Adam Hersh, who authored the report, explains the impact on local news:
"The general principle of net neutrality is that internet service providers should be prevented from interfering with applications that travel across their networks. But the net neutrality debate, and the FCC’s Open Internet Order, tends to subdivide that general principle into a set of bright-line rules addressing four main areas: (1) charging access fees to application providers or the networks they use to deliver content to broadband ISPs simply to load properly or at all for the ISP’s subscribers; (2) blocking traffic from certain applications altogether; (3) discriminating in the treatment given to traffic from different applications (often called 'throttling'); and (4) charging fast lane fees to application providers in return for preferential treatment (often called 'paid prioritization'). Each of these practices would have effects on local news."
Our intelligence failures with Russia
Susan Glasser does a strong podcast, The Global Politico, and her latest, with two-time acting CIA Chief Michael Morell delves into an array of seeming intelligence failures, as well as the notion that intelligence officials unhappy with Trump probably were a bit too garrulous and open in their dismay. One snippet from the podcast:
Glasser: So, do you think that in making choices, we underestimated Russia and its return under Vladimir Putin?
Morell: I think yes. Right? I think in the early Putin days as president, and then certainly when Medvedev was president and Putin was prime minister, Russia was not what it is today. We were interacting with them in a much more normal way— we being the United States and Europe. It was only when Putin came back the second time as president, that the behavior started to turn, and turned significantly back towards what was essentially Russian behavior during the Cold War, which is challenge the United States everywhere you can in the world, and do whatever you can to undermine what they’re trying to accomplish. Do whatever you can to weaken them.
They’re being extraordinarily aggressive with regard to that. And that was a change. That wasn’t Vladimir Putin from day one.
Speaking of Putin
It's not an entirely new thesis but Julia Ioffe does a good job in The Atlantic on the misnomer of Putin as a genius and the penchant to attribute everything Russia-related to him. It's a needed reminder for reporters about the perils of caricature.
The Daily Beast and Russia
The politics and culture site backed by Barry Diller and first run by Tina Brown has done very solid work on Russian influence on American politics. Here, editors and reporters Noah Shachtman, Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman discuss with me how they've gone about finding targets of opportunity on a story that armies are covering. The best saga involves this, as Shachtman explained:
"We found that associated with two of the stranger Russian propaganda accounts that purported to be either against police violence or in favor of Black Lives Matter-style movements, those efforts were hosted by a company owned by a Russian-Ukrainian guy on Staten Island."
Lost in the shuffle in Brooklyn
For five weeks prosecutors have been unveiling their case in the racketeering trial of former top South American soccer officials. Coverage is modest but Bloomberg notes how "The South American soccer barons gathered at Miami Beach’s St. Regis Bal Harbour hotel in late April 2014 to gloat: They’d just made $100 million selling the rights to the Copa America soccer tournament." (Ah, time flies. On that same site, years ago, I used to cover the lords of labor, including some ethically challenged union bosses, holding a then-annual winter gathering).
“'Business is going very well!' Argentinian sports marketing executive Mariano Jinkis elatedly told his partners, citing sales to Mexico’s Univision and Fox Sports. 'We will have $100 million of profit,' he crowed, 'from the U.S. only!'"
"What Jinkis didn’t know was the FBI was also listening — through surreptitious recordings made by an associate. That’s how the U.S. mounted a sprawling corruption probe of FIFA, the organizing body for the world’s most popular sport, eventually ensnaring more than 40 people, including soccer officials and sports marketing businessmen."
So far it's a saga of millions of dollars in alleged gifts and bribes, and secret ledgers. For example, one IRS agent showed how one defendant and his wife "opened an account at Morgan Stanley under an entity called Firelli International Ltd., where $4.9 million was deposited from an Andorran bank between January and March 2014."