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It was nearly 63 years ago that Joseph Welch, a Boston attorney serving as special counsel to the U.S. Army, famously declared to the red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
That moment during the so-called Army-McCarthy hearings, which were broadcast live by ABC, was seen as a turning point in McCarthyism. But that central question is getting fairly close to one that might be asked of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
There is, for sure, the comical aspects of Spicer’s daily briefings for the media in which he’s faithful messenger of an often fact-challenged boss. And there is, too, the current challenge of divorcing his actual performance from the evocative caricature by Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live.”
The occasional potency of satire is best left to theater experts, who have their opinions on McCarthy’s impact. And there is, for sure, a realm of acceptable, if aggressive political hyperbole and a smidgen of anti-Trump hysteria and hyperbole (“Monday Night Massacre” being an example).
Then there’s the Spicer performance yesterday. During the daily press briefing — now the best free entertainment in the capital — he had the gall to not just call the recent U.S. raid in Yemen an unfettered success but then suggest a lack of patriotism by those who deemed it otherwise.
Anybody who would suggest it wasn’t a “huge success,” he said, “owes an apology” to the U.S. solider, Ryan Owens, who died.
Which means that Sen. John McCain, of all people, would need to apologize. After all, it was McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who called the raid a failure.
That’s John McCain. It’s not Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer or Bernie Sanders. It’s John McCain.
I tracked down Mark Salter, McCain’s very bright former longtime aide and co-author. He pointed me to a series of afternoon tweets that put it as well as ay journalist could:
1 To state the obj, McCain likely has a deeper respect for Chief Owen's sacrifice than Spicer or I, for that matter, could ever have. https://t.co/A2SufDQgCq
— Mark Salter (@MarkSalter55) February 8, 2017
Then, he alluded to Owen:
@MarkSalter55 2 Using his sacrifice in an attempt to shame contrary opinions as unpatriotic is itself unpatriotic.
— Mark Salter (@MarkSalter55) February 8, 2017
@MarkSalter55 3. Spicer should have figured out by now that he can't sell out fast enough to satisfy a boss who doesn't respect him.
— Mark Salter (@MarkSalter55) February 8, 2017
If so, Melissa McCarthy and Trump have one thing in common. And those in the briefing room may increasingly concur, even if Trump & Co. don’t care.
Slack misses a message
Slack boss Stewart Butterfield “is among the most outspoken leaders in the tech community when it comes to the new president, which made it all the more surprising to see his company missing from the list of 97 tech giants that signed onto an amicus brief opposing the recent Muslim travel ban—arguably the most unified, aggressive action ever taken by the industry on a political issue.”
A holdout? No. It got left off the email.
“‘Slack heard about this when it appeared in the media and of course we support it,” a Slack spokesperson explained over email. ‘It’s our understanding that a supplemental one is being filed and Slack will be on that list.'” (Mashable)
Headline of the morning
“Google just found the one question it can’t yet answer” (Bloomberg)
It’s not “How long before Sean Spicer is chewed up by Steve Bannon?.” No, “When our robot overlords arrive, will they decide to kill us or cooperate with us?”
It turns out, “New research from DeepMind, Alphabet Inc.’s London-based artificial intelligence unit could ultimately shed light on this fundamental question.” One presumes the Spicer-Bannon relationship will be sorted out by then.
VOA in big trouble
Is the fate of the Voice of America now in the balance? Writing for the University of Southern California’s School of Public Diplomacy, onetime VOA newsroom manager Alex Belida writes:
“VOA is probably not a high priority for the new administration, but inevitably it will fall under scrutiny. Yes, the president could name a CEO to overhaul the organization who might possibly try to convert it into a propaganda mouthpiece. Employees could try to resist. While they might receive some editorial support from journalism organizations and the mainstream American news media, they could face dismissal, replacement or other repercussions. And in the end, the President could simply label VOA ineffective and shut it down as a cost-saving measure.”
And, along the way, he notes how “some staff may have given lethal ammunition to critics of VOA’s journalistic independence, playing into the hands of the new administration. The BBG Watch website, an unofficial site run by former and current VOA journalists, has documented a series of cases in which staffers have used personal social media accounts to criticize the President. BBG Watch has also identified a number of actual VOA programs and web postings of a similar nature.” (USC)
Trump, the Supreme Court, gays and lesbians
University of Chicago Law School stalwart Geoffrey Stone offers the first of three installments in The Huffington Post exploring the history of homosexuality in Western culture and the court’s own role in shaping policy.
“The plain and simple fact is that, with two Trump appointments to the Supreme Court, should that come to pass, we can expect significant changes in the way the Court approaches the rights of gays and lesbians in the future. Before we get to that point, it is important to understand how we got to where we are today. It is only with that understanding that we can truly comprehend the magnitude of the challenge ahead.” (The Huffington Post)
“Even the Sports Report Is biased, big-league!” (Bloomberg)
Well, not really. But novelist Harlan Coben does wonder if the the disputes with basic facts in the political and policy realms might infiltrate sports journalism, with folks simply not believing that say, “the Miami Heat beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 115-113.”
Fighting fire with images
Pete Souza, who just completed eight years as President Obama’s chief photographer, is very active on Instagram these days, mocking Trump. He tends to juxtapose Obama photos with Trump declarations or revelations.
For example, there was The New York Times claim that some staffers had trouble figuring out the lighting system in the Cabinet Room. So Souza, a friend and former colleague (and jingoistic Boston sports fan), moved a photo that showed an Obama cabinet meeting with the lights on.
“But this is far from the only dig and it’s certainly not the most direct.” (PetaPixel)
Will they have enough time?
“The Public Theater…and The New Yorker…announced today that a new series, PUBLIC FORUM: A WELL-ORDERED NATION, has been added to the 2017 Spring Public Forum line-up.”
“Over four evenings in the coming months, artists, thinkers, journalists, performers, and politicians will come together at The Public to consider what it means to be responsible citizens and how culture can respond to politics in the age of Donald Trump.”
A melancholy “Spotlight” postscript
“A former Roman Catholic priest, who previously spent a decade in a Massachusetts prison for the rape of an altar boy, was formally charged with 29 counts of gross sexual misconduct in a Maine court Monday.” (Bangor Daily News)
What about pitching blindfolded?
“Major League Baseball plans on testing a rule change in the lowest levels of the minor leagues this season that automatically would place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings, a distinct break from the game’s orthodoxy that nonetheless has wide-ranging support at the highest levels of the league, sources familiar with the plan told Yahoo Sports.” (Yahoo)
Great idea. And if game goes into the 11th, what about taking off two outfielders? In the 13th, you should have to ditch your shortstop and first baseman. And, if it goes into the 14th, the relief pitcher should be taken off a pre-screened list of 5th graders attending the game with a grandparent and nearly nauseous from junk food.
Even Breitbart News concedes…
Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s criticisms of Trump judiciary bashing “create new problems for an embattled White House. On the one hand, they demonstrate President Trump’s willingness to appoint a judge who will not hesitate to criticize the executive. On the other hand, they create a new source of criticism — one that is not as easily dismissed as hostile queries from the press gallery or barbs from the opposition.” (Breitbart)
Nixon and Trump
Put aside the silliness of the “Monday Night Massacre” moniker emblazoned across CNN after the canning of the acting Attorney General, an allusion to President Nixon’s notorious “Saturday Night Massacre.” Is there a Nixon-Trump comparison of any sort to be made?
Elizabeth Drew makes one in Politico. And, while I was emailing writer-comic-radio host-“The Simpsons” characters voice Harry Shearer, he suggested this:
“I see a deeper similarity which might help to explain the otherwise bewildering — why a self-proclaimed billionaire New Yorker resonates with lower-middle class middle Americans.”
“Both guys seethe with a lifelong resentment against the Northeast elite: Nixon, growing up in very suburban SoCal, going to crappy little Whittier college, resented the Harvard-Yale crowd who networked their way to power and money. Having become VP, partner in an NY law firm and finally President did nothing to salve that resentment, which is obvious from the tapes, wherein he continually corruscates Harvard people, even in front of Kissinger, a Harvard person.”
“Trump came up on the wrong side of the East River, and no matter how many golden penises he erected when he crossed the bridge, Manhattan’s real-estate and social swells never accepted him. The booing of him at the Al Smith dinner last October showed this pattern continued, and it still does — VF canceling out of the nerd prom the latest example.”
“In both men, that resentment fueled a burning ambition to beat those who shunned them. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
The morning babble
MSNBC’s Trump Whisperer, Joe Scarborough, intimated this morning that his unidentified White House sources make clear that there are “systems problems” being “fixed” at the White House. Key Cabinet members are being “situated,” apparently meaning that Toyota-like efficiency beckons.
CNN’s “New Day” was travel ban and more travel ban, then on to Trump bitching about Nordstrom dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs said she didn’t put dad up to it, Nordstrom’s stock price is up and Ivanka’s line is now appearing in more, not fewer outlets.
Co-host Ainsley Earhardt offered us a pre-breakfast respite from the political storms by announcing “a shocking statistic”: 69 percent of divorces are initiated by the woman. A relationship expert was beckoned to “tell you how to save your marriage.”
It didn’t help that a following commercial informed that “90 percent of couples disagree on mattress firmness.” Given a recent purchase, this hit far too close to home, prompting a quick switch back to Scarborough and The Washington Post’s Robert Costa discussing, yes, immigration. My back instantly felt better.
What you missed last night
“What could be the biggest storm of the winter…in some places blizzard warnings already in effect,” is how ABC’s “World News Tonight” opened via Mr. Melodrama, host David Muir, who at times seems more immersed in atmospheric condition than Al Roker or Ginger Zee.
No sign of snow at the top of CBS’ newscast with Scott Pelley thankfully going heavy on Gorsuch-related matters. NBC, too, went that route as Lester Holt opted for “Supreme Stunner,” or a “head-snapping rebuke of the president over his criticism of the judiciary.” Yes, “head-snapping.” Oh, well.
There was no snow, either, at the top of HBO’s “Vice News Tonight.” It went with Jeff Sessions’ confirmation, a Russian court finding a Putin enemy guilty of embezzlement, Hungary detaining asylum seekers upon arrival and the imminent appeals court immigration ruling. It included a good Evan McMorris-Santoro piece on the leaderless Democratic National Committee.
Trump’s cynical manipulations
President Nixon tried to illegally exploit the FBI and CIA but nothing like this:
“In an effort to respond to the vast and ever-changing dangers faced by the nation’s commander in chief, Secret Service administrators announced Wednesday the creation of an Emotional Protection Division to safeguard President Donald Trump’s psyche.”
“The new unit’s three dozen agents, who have undergone rigorous training to prepare for their challenging role, will be charged with defending the 45th president’s psychological well-being around the clock, investigating foreign and domestic threats to his self-esteem and quickly intercepting any spoken or written criticisms before they can harm his pride.”
You might want to email or all your senator or congressman about this outrage. Or just go read about it in The Onion.