Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Opposition Party

This week Don Trump and his right-hand man, Steve Bannon, have decided to label the media as "the opposition party." This makes sense from their point of view, and in fact it may be a more profound observation than they realize.

I have said on this blog many times that when history is written about our era, the main topic will be the media. The newspapers and networks take sides, often without seeming to realize it, nudging our understanding to favor one conclusion or another. Simultaneously blogs and social media have given a media voice to every citizen and the roar from the bleachers has occasionally overpowered the commercial media but the almighty dollar wins in the end. The story of our times will be about who got to tell the story.

There have been plenty of times when I have thought of the media as "the opposition party." When our suburban county of a million good, decent people was attacked by a dozen or so rightwingers over a sex-ed class, the media turned their cameras on the small group and amplified their narrow-mindedness in a way that made it seem that they were a significant force in our bluest-of-blue community. What should have been a simple adjustment to a health curriculum became a "culture war," due entirely to the presence of the media. So I get that.

At any moment, in any place, there are an infinite number of things going on. We choose, as social beings, to focus our attention on the details that are relevant to us. And we interpret those details in whatever way serves our needs. A single thing may be a blessing, a threat, or we might ignore it. When something happens right in front of us we interpret it and deal with it.

Some things happen where we can't see them. We only hear about them. And that's where the media come in.

Have you ever seen something happen, and then read about it in the paper or seen it on TV? It's shocking, isn't it! The media have to boil an event down to a narrative, they have to make a story out of it, and that means they focus on certain facts and ignore others. That's just how it is, they do the same thing we do as individuals and groups, they make a story out of an infinite sea of information -- but they might not make the same story we would make if we had been present. We give up the ability to control our attention in exchange for some condensed information about events that we do not personally witness.

Part of living in the modern world is understanding the media. You cannot take a media representation as a truth, it is only a story. It may contain facts, and you need to know something about the source and the topic in order to evaluate that. If you are not sure about how to understand the original incident that is reported, you might want to look at alternative tellings of the story. Reading about an event or seeing it on TV is not the same as being there, and actually -- this is important -- "being there" is not the same for you as for some other person. I mean, you know this already, but it is important that two people can attend the same event and see it two entirely different ways. This phenomenon is magnified when one of the observers has a TV camera and sponsors who want the numbers to be big.

The media have loved Don Trump. He is everything that draws a big audience, flashy, brash, personable. He says the craziest things and expresses ideas that are so obviously wrong-headed that you just want to see what will happen next. Remember when Charlie Sheen went off the rails? Don Trump is like that all the time, and the TV cameras and newspapers love it. There is always a story, some crazy thing will come out of his mouth.

But the media, like the rest of the country, had an epiphany that Tuesday night when we watched the returns coming in, and those red states did not turn blue. It turns out that the requirements for reality TV and the requirements for being President of the United States of America are different. Who woulda thought? The media, pursuing their own business goals, pushed this charismatic lunatic out in front of us hundreds of times through the campaign. Jimmy Fallon patted his hair, Saturday Night Live made him the host, CNN cut into their regular programming to show his antics of the moment. MSNBC obsessed with him, even the "liberal" talk-shows talked about nothing else for months. They're just trying to sell soap, but people sitting at home forget that.

Don Trump is a media creation. He is an ordinary, vulgar, hometown gangster in real life, but you put a camera on him and he is every bit the equal to Snooki or Honey Boo Boo, or Dog the Bounty Hunter. He's good TV, the media lifted him and he rode that wave of attention right into the White House. But as President he is a buffoon. He doesn't know what he is talking about. He is a clown. The media still love him, the story sells a lot of soap, but the story line has changed. Where it was "Brash Millionaire Takes on the World" it is now "Ignorant Bigot Signs Executive Order Screwing Millions of Innocent People," "Thin-Skinned Old Man Argues Against Proof About How Big His Stuff Is." The media still love him, but now they are loving pointing out the character defects that they aggrandized in the past as lovable quirks.

So, yeah, the media have become the opposition party for him. We have a noble narrative of journalists investigating and checking public figures, but they don't really do that very much, or very well. These days they report tweets, if somebody doesn't call them with leaks. What we call "the media" are mostly huge corporate entities that serve their stockholders, and there is neither a mechanism or incentive for them to be truthful, honest, thorough, or fair. They aren't for you or against you, they sell soap.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

An Unpresidented First Day in Office

Yesterday's Women's March was amazing, millions of people all around the world, uniting in a common desire for peace and freedom and decency. Meanwhile our new president turns out to be a petty, greedy little pig whether he's campaigning or actually working in office. Pivot? Uh, no, he is not going to change. Today the front page of the Washington Post had an article headlined "Trump uses CIA visit to rip media." It has a different headline online. Here's how the story kicks off:
President Trump used his first full day in office to wage war on the media, accusing news organizations of lying about the size of his inauguration crowd as Saturday’s huge protests served notice that a vocal and resolute opposition would be a hallmark of his presidency.

With Americans taking to the streets in red and blue states alike to emphatically decry a president they consider reprehensible and, even, illegitimate, Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency for a stream-of-consciousness airing of grievances — including against journalists, whom he called “the most dishonest human beings on Earth.” Trump wages war against the media as demonstrators protest his presidency
Reprehensible and, even, illegitimate.

You won't hear somebody like me saying how great the CIA is. I have a bit of a problem with our democratic government secretly disrupting economic and political processes in foreign countries, arming rebels and assassinating people. I know it happens and that's about it. Sometimes something comes out and it is usually ugly. Has the CIA ever gone into a country and brought food to hungry people? The idea kind of makes you laugh.

Still, this is Washingon DC and the people all around us work for the government, including the CIA. The agency works very closely with the president, forming strategic plans, conveying intelligence, they meet and it is not something the world knows about. The CIA and the president have to have a very close relationship built on trust.

So if Trump goes to visit them, you'd think he'd talk about that. He could mention the success of one of their missions, lament the sacrifices of agents, discuss trouble-spots around the world that he is counting on the CIA's help with, there are lots of ways he could have started his presidency forming an important alliance.

Instead, he complained about journalists, because they had published estimates of the size of his inauguration crowd that he did not like. His inauguration in fact was dismal. There were bleachers with nobody in them, streets lined with nobody. No self-respecting performer would perform for it. Celebrations were canceled. The streets were torn up by violent protestors, a couple hundred arrested.

And ironically, even as he spoke the streets of Washington and every other city in the US were jam-packed with people protesting his deplorable presidency. In DC alone the Woman's March drew many times more people than the inauguration. Half a million in LA, ten thousand in Portland, Maine. Ninety to a hundred thousand in St. Paul. Boise had five thousand people in the street. People streaming through the streets in Paris. Every city had it, people protesting the reprehensible orange man who has been inaugurated as president and the vile, vulgar things he stands for.

And rather than begin the work of running the country, rather than build a relationship with the CIA, the president complained to them that the press had miscounted his crowds. And then he sent his press secretary out for a surreal press conference. As CNN put it:
"This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period," Spicer said, contradicting all available data.
So there it is. They will tell you what to believe. There may be people who accept this. There must be a lot of them. A great proportion of America is going to be living in a kind of reality that they hear about from authorities, denying the evidence of their own experience. It is going to be difficult to deal with them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

No, It Is Real News

Trump is calling the story about the intelligence dossier on him "fake news," and that is interesting. It's incredible, actually.

The story is not that he hired prostitutes to urinate for him and is probably being blackmailed by the Russians -- that information is not verified. "Women Pee for Trump in Hotel Room" is not a headline in any newspaper. It might be true but journalists are not sure, so they are not publishing that as a news story.

The story is that top people in the government, both in Congress and the intelligence community, think the dossier is worrisome enough, it looks real enough, to brief the President of the United States -- the real President who is in office now -- as well as the President-elect and top members of Congress about it.

Take something like "Obama is the founder of ISIS," or "Hillary is a crook, lock her up." Those are lies. Obama is not the founder of ISIS, and Hillary has never been charged with breaking any law, even though every minute of her life has been dragged out in investigations and questioned.

Compare that to "Intelligence officials briefed the President and Congressional leaders about possible blackmail, sex tapes, and treason." This is a true statement. "Trump hired prositutes to pee for him" might not be true, I don't know. "Trump is being blackmailed by the Russians," again, I don't know, I don't think anybody is saying these things are true. In fact, every source I have seen has been very careful to say the statements are "unverified." Journalists have had this dossier since October at least, and they let it go right through the election with almost no mention -- certainly no mention of what the dossier said. David Corn had a story in October about some intelligence, and Harry Reid asked the FBI in a public statement to release "explosive information about close ties and co-ordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government - a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Mr Trump praises at every opportunity." But he didn't say anything about golden showers or blackmail -- he had seen this report by that time and still didn't spill its contents, even though American voters needed to know there was serious evidence that their Presidential candidate is a traitor.

The thing is, we don't know if Trump hired ladies to urinate in a hotel room for him, or whether the Russians actually have dirt on him, but we do know that the allegations looked like the real thing to people in the intelligence business who know what the real thing looks like. And that is news. It is not fake news, even if the story reports what was in the dossier, this is not Elvis Has Alien Twin, this is an actual document that has people in the top of government very worried.

In time, America is not going to react well when they find out that the FBI kept this secret while they went out to the TV cameras to say that Anthony Wiener has email they haven't seen yet, that might be connected to Hillary. If it turns out we elected a traitor and the insiders knew and helped sabotage his opponent, it will not be good.

Saturday, January 07, 2017


Here is the image of treason.

When cheaters win, they get to referee the rest of the game.