Shot in Freund

[Written for a different blog right after Cheney shot his pal.]

The press has been missing the big story in the Vice President’s “peppering” of his friend. It’s not the delay in reporting possibly allowing time for any alcohol bloodstream evidence to dissipate. It’s not the prima facie negligent breach of hunting protocol. It’s not Whittington’s heart attack caused by a vice-presidential pellet. It’s not the permanently, and taxpayer-expensively, proximate medical roustabouts that trail after the VP like punished guardian angels (who knew?). It’s not even the garish obviousness of the itchy trigger-finger metaphor made flesh.

It is simply this:

Dick Cheney…has a friend.

Could anyone have guessed that the ultimate mad dad, this cantankerous uber-grinch of American policy both foreign and domestic, this epiphany-immune Scrooge , this man who, though compulsively draft-dodging, is a dead ringer for some Pat Conroy novel-inspiring brute of a military academy commandant, this unapologetic and presumably first-ever-in-the-Senate-halls “go fuck yourself” sayer, this unintelligibly grunting Yalie, this proud swinger of the revolving door between the governmental and the military-industrial, this fear-mongering stone gargoyle of a party chief who‚Äôd look terrifyingly at home in an old black-and-white Kremlin photo, clad in heavy dark overcoat and fur hat, gazing sternly out over a sea of goose-stepping troops and world-ending ballistic missiles, this mirthless, shipless Ahab so sour and without pity that his own heart attacks him on a weekly basis…has a friend?

Could there be some scrap of human love in him? Not Agape, of course, and certainly not Eros, but at least a smidgen of Philia?

Might he have a chance at redemption? Maybe so…

Go ahead, God, it’s finally time. I sense an opening. Send in the ghosts of carefully chosen Christmases! Send in that “Tuesdays With Morrie” guy and team him up with Barbara Walters and let’s just see what happens! Yes, it‚Äôs just crazy enough to succeed! Maybe things really will work out for the best‚ĶIraq will settle down, Katrina victims will be able to return to a safe New Orleans, global warming will finally be addressed! We might just be okay, because Dick Cheney has a friend!!!

But then Dick Cheney went and shot his friend,

in the face,

with a shotgun,

while ostensibly endeavoring to extinguish the blameless life of an almost weightless, defenseless creature with the temerity to defy gravity within 20 yards of the Vice President of the United States.

——

Why’d you shoot your friend, Dick?

Did you share some feeling or idea earlier in the day with Whittington, a like-minded and congenial compatriot? Did your heart warm, just a little, and did that scare you?

Were you attempting an auto-amputation of this friend to stem what might otherwise have become a life-changing transfusion of milk of human kindness?

I think we‚Äôll never know, and maybe, tragically, Dick won’t either.

[NOTE This is a piece I published on my old blog at the time. Decided to republish it here because I love it.]

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Truth, Lies, and Other Unknowables

As I’ve discussed and raged about, it is official @NPR policy¬†to never use the word “lie.” They defend this pusillanimous position by carefully choosing the one definition of the word that requires knowledge of the intent of the speaker, an impossibly high bar achievable only through omniscient narration or telepathy.

Strangely they apply this standard to political statements unevenly. NPR reporters assume knowledge of intent every day, but as long as they don’t call out lies it goes unremarked by seemingly everyone but me. A perfect example is the “he said” part of Scott Detrow’s inevitable “he said, she said” segment on today’s Weekend Edition: that “Republicans see character assassination” in the treatment of Mark “Boof-man” Kavanaugh by Democrats.

How Detrow’s description violates the silly lie policy seems subtle at first, but once you recognize it you’ll hear it constantly. Note Detrow takes at face value the things Republicans said (and screamed) about the claims against Barf Kavanaugh. But how can he know they are sincere? Isn’t it much more likely that some or all of the Republican senators believe Blasey Ford’s testimony and are feigning outrage for naked political purposes? Detrow’s phrasing precludes that possibility, making Detrow himself seem impossibly naive for a political reporter.

The fix is simple: he can simply add a qualifying verb such as “said” or “claimed.” Doesn’t “Republicans claimed to see character assassination” comport with reality so much better? Better still would be a little context for the claim, such as “Republicans said they saw character assassination even as they also said they found Blasey Ford’s testimony credible.”

I loathe NPR’s lie policy, but if they’re going to make mind-reading a criterion for word choice about speaker intent they should be consistent.

Suspicion

Scott Simon is one of the most affable interviewers employed by NPR, but there is a tone he takes with atheists that fathers¬†normally reserve for the first¬†dinner with¬†a daughter’s ostentatiously tattooed¬†jobless older boyfriend. He clearly believes atheism is a threat¬†to society regardless of whether or not God exists.

Saturday’s interview with Richard Dawkins is a¬†shining example. Simon has a history of disrespecting atheist interviewees, but this was the most rude¬†I’ve ever heard him be. He was¬†driven to ask a¬†particular question, one he has asked many times¬†before, and one he apparently believes is a checkmate in the rhetorical battle against atheists. It¬†was¬†delivered in an unusually awkward, almost Trump-like syntax:

I want to – look, I respect atheists and atheism. But I want to pick up a nice argument we used to have every couple of years with Christopher Hitchens, your friend. And that’s – you can respect atheism. I’ve covered a lot of wars, famines and tragedies. And it seems to me, truly, every theater of suffering I’ve ever been to, there is a dauntless nun, priest, clergy or religious person who was working very selflessly and bravely there for the good of human beings. And I don’t run into organized groups of atheists who do this.

Simon was so intent on this question that he mostly disregarded¬†Dawkins’ replies¬†in order to ask it again, and yet a third time. He even clearly implies that atheists are unpleasant know-it-alls:

But I do wonder, am I just not seeing the world correctly to see large numbers of well-motivated atheist(sic) lending their lives to trying to better the world? Or they’re – if I might put it this way, are they more concerned about just being right intellectually?

I think Dawkins acquitted himself¬†well, but I’d like to give my own responses¬†to this strident question, some of which will amplify his.

Simon’s question incorrectly assumes atheism is comparable to religion.

Plato recounts a man who asks Socrates how to find¬†the best teacher of warrior skills¬†for his son. Socrates replies “Is there not a prior question?” In Socrates’ case the prior question was complex and meant to enlighten the listener¬†about the nature of knowledge and what knowledge is worth¬†pursuing.

In Simon’s case there is a simpler prior question: “Why would¬†atheism organize into¬†large-scale atheist-themed charity organizations?”

Like many NPR¬†staffers Simon misapprehends what atheism is, and, more to the point, what it isn’t. It is not anything like religion. It is simply the lack of religion. As Penn Gillette once said, “atheism is a religion like not stamp-collecting is a hobby.”¬†To be slightly more accurate, atheism is a religion¬†like not having any hobby is a hobby. Atheism is a lack of churches, of theology, of clergy. Atheism represents¬†a simplification of one’s worldview to omit¬†irrational beliefs in gods, angels, demons and miracles.

Asking why atheists don’t create massive, atheist-themed global charity organizations¬†to deploy dauntless atheists to every theater of suffering is totally absurd. Churches are organizations of people joined together by¬†a common set of beliefs. It’s hard to imagine a lot of organizations joined together by a common lack of belief. Yes, there are atheist organizations, but mostly because atheists are a reviled minority, including by Mr. Simon. The day atheism becomes common and accepted is the day those organizations mostly disappear.

Secular organizations provide the counter-examples Simon is seeking.

Simon admits that secular organizations and individual atheists do good in the world, but refuses to allow those to substitute for the atheist organizations he apparently thinks should exist.

When people lack religious belief and therefore the desire to act as a member of a church they organize around other more specific¬†goals and causes that they care about, such as providing clean water or medical care to villages in the developing world, including in disaster-ravaged and war-torn areas. The secular organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is a perfect example of this. MSF is made up of doctors, many of them from Europe. Statistically it¬†is a certainty that many/most¬†of them are atheists. They perform some of the¬†hardest and most needed acts of bravery¬†in theaters of suffering around the world. UNICEF is another large-scale example. One can argue that secular organizations do a better job than religious ones because they don’t waste precious energy and resources on the evangelical goals¬†that both motivate and distract missionaries.

These organizations demonstrate that, in the unlikely event atheism takes hold across the world, Simon need not worry the theaters of suffering will be emptied of well-meaning helpers.

Religions are problematic in ways atheism is not.

Most of what religious organizations do is in places other than theaters of suffering. And much of what religions teach (and require) is not about helping others. Almost half of the Ten Commandments are not about behavior but instead are about worshipping¬†Jehovah. Religion is characterized by everything it requires of its believers, and everything that its organizations enable. This includes the good and the bad. Many wish¬†to define religion as only the positive¬†things done for religious reasons. For example with this statement from the Dawkins interview Simon even implies there’s an argument to be made that religion plays no role in terrorism:

You’ve been outspoken and unbowed in your beliefs that religion plays a role in terrorism.

This idea is absurd, but better minds than mine have thoroughly debunked it elsewhere.

Whether or not you believe religion is a major cause of terrorism, it certainly inspires many horrible outcomes ranging from tragically widespread alienation of gay kids from their fundamentalist religious families, to more spectacular sect-on-sect deadly violence that occurs weekly in places like Pakistan, Iraq, and Egypt.

To make this crystal clear I’ve created a chart showing some of the good and bad things that are demanded by or systematically enabled by religion and atheism:

religion chart 1

Atheism wins handily because it requires nothing Рgood or bad Рof atheists. You might argue that some atheists also molest children, but they are not empowered by the fact that they are atheists. The shocking child abuse widespread within the Catholic Church was enabled, hidden, and ultimately protected by the respect required of congregants for their clergy and the political power of the church in communities.

By contrast, atheism has no doctrine, not even rationality. If you are an atheist for irrational reasons you are still an atheist. Atheists¬†simply do not accept the truth claims about gods made by the religious. If an atheist organization is created and starts a youth group or meets every Sunday for discussions it’s not because atheist doctrine requires or encourages it. There’s even a group called “Atheism Plus” which admits by its very name that all of its principals and activities are additions to the simple base of atheism.

It’s also interesting that the World Happiness Report¬†rates many of the most secular countries at the top. Here’s the summary for 2017:

Norway has jumped from 4th place in 2016 to 1st place this year, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland in a tightly packed bunch. All of the top four countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.

And all without a single dauntless nun or priest! A world without religion is not as scary as Simon so often implies. It might even be quite a bit better.

Atheism is an undeserving target.

Globally atheists are an oppressed minority. In America majorities in many states say they would never vote for an atheist running for public office. Atheists are killed and tortured in many countries on a regular basis, something that is woefully under-reported by NPR.

Sometimes journalists like Simon get confused into thinking criticizing atheism is “punching up,” as in afflicting the comfortable on behalf of those who piously¬†comfort the afflicted. I believe they feel this way for a few reasons:

  1. Because atheism is the closest humans can get to a true representation of the world it seems more “powerful” than the absurd and conflicting myths taught by religion. Religious truth claims¬†have been in retreat¬†for centuries as science has progressed. (Meanwhile, due to population growth, lack of education, and familial & community indoctrination, there are more religious people than ever.)
  2. Many atheists are well educated privileged caucasians, while religious people tend to be less educated and more underprivileged.
  3. Some atheists have a gratingly supercilious manner. (Many religious people who believe they are on a first-name basis with the almighty share this trait, but for some reason they get a pass.)
  4. Religion has a major emotional component and atheism is purely rational. As a result atheists can seem like haughty Mr. Spocks to religious people.
  5. In many places atheism is trending up even if atheists are still dramatically outnumbered.

Given the real power of religion I’d much rather hear Simon & NPR punch up at, for example,¬†nefarious and hypocritical self-proclaimed religious groups like “prosperity gospel” churches¬†that are actively fleecing¬†people while wearing¬†the sheep’s clothing¬†of righteousness.

Missing Information

NPR Must Do Better In The Age of Trump

This post has two primary purposes:

  1. I’ll¬†debunk NPR’s argument that journalists¬†should not use the word “lie” to describe false statements because identifying a lie¬†requires knowledge of intent. I’ll also demonstrate that ¬†alternatives to the “lie” explanation for Trump’s false statements are terrifying and news-worthy.
  2. I’ll¬†adduce evidence that NPR normalizes Trump, and frequently does so by failing to report many crucial facts in their coverage of him and his administration.

The Oreskes Doctrine

In case you didn’t know, NPR news director Michael Oreskes¬†went¬†on record bravely defending the value¬†of facts and truth, not exactly a controversial opinion among NPR listeners. But he explicitly abdicates any duty to¬†call a “lie” a “lie.” This is¬†the ditch that 21st century journalism drove into¬†when it naively tried too hard to pursue the shibboleth of objectivity in the face of half a nation (or more) of know-nothings.

Oreskes’ excuse for this editorial rule¬†is that in order to call a demonstrably false statement a “lie” we must know the intent of the speaker, which one¬†can only know if one¬†possesses the awesome power of telepathy. This pusillanimous definition of “lie” suddenly¬†limits¬†the use of the word to novels and confessions, when¬†the authors of lies take explicit responsibility for them.

Many NPR staffers have doubled down on this simplistic argument via Twitter. Whether they do this through sincere belief or organizational obeisance¬†I can’t say: nobody from a profession¬†whose life-blood is leaks has ever provided me with any inside information, anonymous or otherwise, about the true moods & opinions of NPR¬†staffers on this topic.

Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

I favor a more robust use of “lie” for a number of reasons. The first is the actual definition of the word “lie” in dictionaries not written by Michael Oreskes.

Webster’s provides two relevant definitions. The first does¬†involve intent. Maybe that’s where Mike stopped reading. The second definition is this:

2. to create a false or misleading impression.

Whatever Trump’s intention, he certainly creates false and misleading impressions through his bizarre utterances.

Here are the second and third definitions of “lie” at Dictionary.com:

2. something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture.
3. an inaccurate or false statement; a falsehood.

Both seem to fit the bill nicely, but especially number 3.

Trump makes a lot of false statements. The Washington Post helpfully counted how many different separate “false or misleading” statements the insane-clown-in-chief has made in his first 100 days. ¬†The total is four hundred and sixty-nine. Imagine the total¬†if they had counted every time he lied instead of each separate lie! Then add in the lies of his hench-people! That sum is a big number that, I feel certain, has no precedent in American politics. Hell, I doubt it has a precedent in the office where Bernie Madoff made his sales pitches. Statistically, some¬†of that hoard of falsehoods must be lies. But NPR, of course, won’t even discuss them in aggregate or in theory – other than the discussion about their refusing¬†to discuss it.

If Not A Lie Then What?

Let’s accept for the sake of argument the official public NPR position that¬†without a confession or telepathy no human¬†can possibly know if a false statement is unambiguously a lie. ¬†It still theoretically allows one¬†to speculate on the likelihood of any given false statement being a fully class A official and intentional¬†lie. But even that sort of discussion is forbidden. This emulates¬†the way that even criticizing¬†capital blasphemy laws in countries like Pakistan is legally also¬†a form of blasphemy.

But, okay,¬†there’s still a lot to talk about here without accusing Trump of the L-word or even speculating about it. The only alternative explanation for Trump’s repeated false and misleading statements is that there is something very, very wrong with him. He might be terribly ignorant, terribly stupid, terribly demented, and/or terribly delusional. Those are the only choices. They¬†are all really bad and dangerous and newsworthy.

Trump lying constantly is terrifying, but the alternative explanation for his blizzard of false statements is maybe even more horrible. So why isn’t NPR talking about both all the time? I’m not joking here. The tapestry¬†of Trump’s false statements, as opposed to some¬†particular false statement, is the biggest, scariest story in the country, whatever the available explanations.

Wee Report, You Decide

(“Wee” as in tiny, as in abbreviated reports that omit crucial information.)

The other argument that Oreskes makes is that it’s NPR’s job to provide the facts and the listener’s¬†job to be their¬†own personal decider about what the facts¬†mean. A¬†nice person recently happened upon one of my Twitterborne nano-Jeremiads¬†against Oreskes et al and replied thusly:

tweet

I gave her a brief answer at the time which I will expand upon here.

First of all “We Report, You Decide” was one of the ironic slogans of FOX News since its founding days. The other one was “Fair and Balanced.” So that happened.

But sure, these sentiments are as laudable in the abstract as they are laughable in the context of advertising the world’s most successful¬†propaganda organ and sexual-harassment fantasy¬†camp.

But does NPR give us the facts? I mean, sure, they give us some facts. In fact they give us a lot of facts. Even I often accuse All Things Considered of considering too goddam many things!

But do they give us the facts we need to make informed decisions about important things? In particular did they give us the facts we needed about Trump during the campaign? And did we get useful facts about his cabinet nominees? Are we getting good facts now on a day-to-day basis? Anyone remotely familiar with my Twitter feed over the last few months already knows my answer, which is a resounding “Hell¬†No!”

It is my contention that NPR shies¬†away from certain kinds of information that I and many other paying listeners consider to be vitally important. I’ll speculate about the reasons for this later, but first below I’ll¬†adduce specific examples from the Trump era. You’ll notice a progression: Some facts are ignored, some are delayed long past the time other MSM outlets are reporting on them (i.e. Stormy Daniels), and some are covered only in written articles on the NPR site rather than in much more attention-getting on-air stories.

The NPR Trump Coverage Hall of Shame

Trump Cheating at Golf. NPR loves golf. Searching their site for the word “golf” rewards you with a little over 7,500 (!) results. Hell, the phrase “a good walk spoiled” alone yields eight stories. Trump, of course, has had an infinity of coverage on the site. But a search for Trump, golf, and cheating returns only one result, an old item from before the election. It’s just a 29-second “humorous”¬†goofy interstitial about Oscar De La Hoya playing golf with Trump. It even features a clip from the cult comedy “Caddyshack.” But last week a new book appeared which details Trump’s long history of constant and hideously blatant cheating at golf and discusses what this behavior says about his fitness for office. Widespread media coverage of it began in February, but as of today, April 7, no NPR show has even mentioned it, not even the sports show Only A Game, which features appropriately angry liberal firebrand Charlie Pierce. So either there is a network wide prohibition on mentioning the book or every single show has independently internalized self-censorship of things which are true but are so nasty that they feel biased. See also the Stormy Daniels story, mentioned below, which they ignored for a full week.

Rick Scott’s Healthcare Fraud. Trump has recently indicated that Florida man, Senator, Parseltongue tutor, digestive torpor enthusiast, and healthcare fraudster Rick Scott will be leading the imaginary Republican drive to “replace” the ACA (aka Obamacare.) Morning Edition today aired a lengthy interview with this award-winning Skeletor cosplayer followed by a discussion with one of their healthcare hacks. As usual with the Trump administration the chief sin was of omission. There was no mention either during the interview or in the discussion of the huge green elephant in the room, the Medicare and Medicaid fraud perpetrated by the giant healthcare company Scott made his fortune leading. Seems relevant, but maybe that’s just me?

QANON. If you are blessed not to know (because you get your news from NPR) abut “Q-anon,” get ready to lose some IQ points. It’s a conspiracy theory so ridiculous that it makes “Pizzagate” and “Flat Earth” look respectable. Many idiot Trump supporters believe some or all of it. It contends, among other things, that the collusion investigation is secretly a team effort between Mueller and Trump to defeat global child sex traffickers. When it gained popular awareness in August, 2018, several NPR shows did a total of four stories about it, which was fine, but, as of March 29, 2018,¬†not one show has mentioned it since. Latest example: frequent Airbag Moments target Tamara Keith did one of her classic “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” reports from Trump’s rally on March 28, 2019. She talked about the attendees as reasonable people who want the full Mueller report released. But she never mentioned the shockingly large presence of Qanon supporters at the rally. Talking about the former without a mention of the latter gives an inaccurate impression of the rationality crowd and of Trump supporters in general, a classic NPR/Tam Keith normalization technique.

Trump’s presence in the manifesto of the New Zealand terrorist. I am writing this on the morning of March 15th when every news outlet, including NPR, is spending a lot of time covering the horrible mass shooting. Morning Edition is over. They did at least two separate stories about this event, including plenty of time discussing the manifesto, and never once mentioned the shooter’s public praising of Trump in it. Frankly I’d be annoyed if all they did was mention it in passing rather than feature it as a major part of the story, but they didn’t talk about it at all. At all. We’ll see what the rest of the day brings. I’ll update this entry as appropriate. UPDATE (3/20/19) NPR has mostly failed to redeem its poor showing on Friday. Here and Now did honestly discuss Trump in the context of the manifesto. Most other pieces I am aware of for the next four days omitted any mention. A few mentioned it but only as a “red herring” that we shouldn’t talk about because the terrorist wants us to talk about it. Absurd. To not even ponder on the air why Trump in particular earned a mention in the manifesto – i.e. is he or isn’t he a hero to violent racists and why – is journalistic malpractice.

Trump’s Draft Dodging: NPR has deigned to mention Trump’s bone-spur diagnosis deferment a few times on their website, discussing it without irony, as in “Trump said the bone spurs that kept him from being drafted were ‘temporary.’ ” They fail to mention the obvious follow-up facts that real bone-spurs usually require surgery to fix which Trump never had and that many soldiers served even with bone-spurs. Tellingly the spurs have only been mentioned by an NPR news program once on the air. Never has NPR considered the very good chance obvious to most of us that the diagnosis was fake. A great time to do this would have been in December, 2018 when CNN reported that the surviving daughters of the deceased doctor who made the diagnosis gave new information about it. Their father had his office in a Fred Trump building and Trumped up the bone spurs as a quid pro quo favor to Fred. That story came out four months ago and NPR has still never mentioned this on any show or even in an online-only article.

Trump lying about being from Sweden: Trump, a primitive illiterate bully, loves to demean his enemies with sophomoric epithets like “Liddle’ (sic) Bob Corker.” Perhaps his most frequent target is Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom he calls “Pocahontas” because of a nontroversy involving her once claiming Native American ancestry on a form in a context that gained her no advantage. As with nearly every Trump accusation, he himself is ironically much more guilty of the malfeasance he projects onto others. It turns out that in order to avoid the stigma of Nazism, racist Fred Trump (and then his racist son Donald) lied for decades after World War II that the family hailed from Sweden, not Germany. This fabrication is even included in one of Trump’s autobiographies. NPR news shows have mentioned “Pocahontas” a total of 36 times on air¬†(additional mentions are online only) as of 2/7/2019. Meanwhile Fresh Air mentioned the Trump Sweden lie once, and not in the context of “Pocahontas.” Boston (Warren-country) based Here and Now once mentioned the Sweden lie in passing when introducing a “Pocahontas” story, but only because I badgered Robin Young about it on Twitter. (Boston Globe reported on the Sweden lie details.)

Trump “Bone Spurs.” (Update from 1/3/19) It’s well known that Trump got 5 deferments from Viet Nam. His entire ancestry seems to have avoided military service for any country for as far back as is recorded, so it’s on-brand. But the 5th time he needed a medical deferment, so he got a bone spurs diagnosis. This was a lie because he doesn’t have them now, yet never got the surgery required to fix them. The press has minimized this lie all along, especially NPR which has only ever mentioned his bone spurs as an aside that implied they were real. But a week ago the New York Times revealed that the doctor who gave Trump the diagnosis was a tenant in one of Trump’s dad’s buildings and did it as a quid-pro-quo. NPR has chosen to not mention this. At all.

Stormy Daniels! (Update from 8/21/18) Wow, I’ve been bad about updating this. Sorry. Here’s a really dramatic one: NPR waited more than a week after the Wall Street Journal broke the Stormy Daniels story to even mention her name on air. Scott Simon claimed at the time that they couldn’t independently verify the story. This is bullshit as NPR often runs stories from other outlets they haven’t independently verified. It also raises the question of why the NPR team took over a week to verify it? Maybe they need a better team?

Joe Arpaio & His Pardon¬†(Update from 8/27/17) On 8/26 Weekend Edition Saturday did a two-way about Trump’s monstrous pardon of the truly villainous Joe Arpaio. It both failed to convey the many gruesome and easily available facts revealing Arpaio’s insane,¬†anti-government, sadistic character and failed to note the scary implications for future investigations, including the Russia investigation, of Trump’s not-at-all-normal action. Arpaio once tried to garner publicity by¬†framing someone for the crime of trying to assassinate him and cost taxpayers over a million dollars to deal with it. The victim of the framing had to spend four years in prison! That story has never been mentioned on any NPR news program either at the time or in conjunction with this disgusting pardon. That evening Michel Martin and Domenico Montanaro did a two-way that similarly ignored Arpaio’s grotesque malefactions, but at least it not only mentioned, but also took seriously the pardon’s implications for the Russia investigation. On Sunday, by which time there had been ample opportunity to prepare a complete piece about Arpaio, the pardon was only mentioned in a two-way about politics that discussed neither Arpaio’s history of sadism nor the implications for the Russia investigation. I don’t know if this represents a difference in editorial attitudes between Morning/Weekend Edition and All Things Considered.

Trump rallies.¬†Trump’s rallies are were often mosh-pits of disgusting behavior on the part of Trump supporters. Trump himself encouraged this, dramatically breaking with John McCain’s precedent of actually scolding his supporters when they acted unreasonably¬†at his rallies. NPR had a lot of coverage of Trump election¬†rallies by staffers like Asma Khalid and Sarah McCammon. They focused on what Trump was saying, but they omitted or gave minimal coverage to the unfortunate¬†antics of Trump supporters. In one case I was reading the live tweets from a college professor attending a particularly disgusting rally that NPR also covered. It was like two different worlds. At one rally a Trumpist screamed “JEW-S-A” over and over again at the press area. Not a mention by @NPR. Why leave out such ugly stuff? Are NPR staffers suffering the thing from that horror movie where bad things¬†only happens when their eyes are closed? UPDATE Feb. 12, 2019: Last night Trump held a rally in El Paso, TX. NPR spent 6 and a half minutes on it but never mentioned that a BBC cameraman in the press area was physically assaulted by a violent Trump fan. This lie by omission is journalistic malpractice and fits right in with this blog post. UPDATE: Weekend Edition Sunday finally broached this topic, well over two years into the Trump era. Tamara Keith was (duh) not involved in this report.

Trump’s Supporters¬†are 50% deplorable, at least as described accurately by Hillary Clinton. But NPR and many other journalists clearly saw her comment as out-of-bounds. And, sure, maybe if she’d been running against Mitty Milquetoast Romney it would have been mean by comparison, but,¬†given Trump’s daily provocative racist lies about immigrants, and the really vile stuff promulgated by Trump’s supporters, her non-false statement¬†was positively¬†genteel. She could have called them¬†“a nauseating dumpster-fire of fact-free hate-zombies” and been nearly¬†as correct.

But NPR would have you believe Trump supporters are just, you know, wonderful folks. The other day they were attempting to gingerly approach the concept of white supremacists in America by interviewing an articulate former white-supremacist. He had a lot of interesting things to say, but I found this comment by his interviewer, David Greene, more telling:

“Covering this last election I met so many supporters of president Trump who were not full of hate, I mean, who were just lovely, lovely people who were parents and just were looking out for their families. But was there rhetoric in this campaign that was somehow speaking directly to some of the kids you’re talking about?”

The first sentence¬†is just¬†wildly naive. I’m astonished a working journalist could take the people he met at face value to this degree.¬†I think it’s more likely that, as an adult human being not raised in a Skinner Box, he knows that people who are¬†superficially lovely and polite can harbor some horrible¬†prejudices and glaring misapprehensions. So why put Trump voters on a pedestal like this? Why posit¬†two neat, unrelated boxes with lovely people in the one and ugly rhetoric in the other?

Like most, I have friends and relatives of varying degrees of loveliness who voted for Trump. They all present pretty well in day to day society, but I know which ones have sickening¬†reasons for voting for Trump. (SPOILER ALERT: it’s pretty much all of them.)

Finally I want to mention the endless¬†vox populi¬†pieces where often poorly-informed Trump supporters sit around, usually in some folksy just-folks diner, and spout rarely¬†challenged¬†FOX News talking points. These kinds of reports sprang up on NPR programs¬†like mushrooms after a rainstorm in the wake of¬†Trump’s election. It was like NPR suddenly noticed the existence of lower middle class white people and are on a mission¬†to make sure listeners notice them too. (Nothing remotely analogous¬†occurred after Obama’s¬†elections.) The problem is that these people all know they’re on the radio so they aren’t likely to say how they really feel about certain sensitive topics.

My favorite of these annoying, redundant reports ended with one brief point of light when something happened that perfectly embodies this point and my next point:

Another man approached me on his way out of this event, someone who had not spoken out during the breakfast. He leaned in and whispered to me, off-mic – and I’m quoting now – “there are two words you haven’t heard this morning,” he said, “narcissism and lies.” So obviously very provocative, I wanted him to explain what he meant by that. He said he didn’t want to get into it, and he just walked away.

Which Brings Us To Trump’s Psychological Health. Donald Trump is a delusional, sociopathic malignant narcissist. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of my board-certified practicing psychiatrist (that means M.D., folks) spouse. Okay, be like that, don’t take her word for it. But do take the word of a bunch of prominent¬†psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers who are circumventing one of their own professional ethics codes by publicly diagnosing Trump because they believe their ethical duty to report is more important than the outmoded “Goldwater Rule.”

(FYI “Duty to Report” is the obligation doctors and therapists have to break sacred doctor-patient privacy because, for example, a child is in danger of violence. It’s not comforting that¬†it applies to the President’s mental condition.)

If you use the search feature on NPR’s website to¬†find a story about Trump’s mental health you’ll be looking for a long time. It’s been mentioned in passing¬†by a few interview subjects, and that’s about it.

UPDATE NPR loves to use new books as a jumping off point for stories, but not the recently published “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” A team of mental health professionals wrote the book as a warning about Trump’s obvious and dangerous constellation of personality disorders.¬† That’s pretty serious and nothing like its release has happened before in history. NPR won’t even mention the book’s existence. I tweeted with Scott Simon about the book, and he expressed no interest in talking about it on his show. He seems to think NPR is one of the enforcement arms of the American Psychiatric Association since he claims that the fact that the psychiatrists in question haven’t examined Trump in their offices, which is part of the outmoded and controversial “Goldwater Rule” of psychiatric ethics. If these experts aren’t capable of diagnosing Trump from a distance, Simon is certainly not capable of judging whether the “duty to warn” trumps the Goldwater Rule. Simon also claims that the book isn’t “news.” This is what journalists always use as a last ditch defense for why they don’t cover the things they ignore, as if they have some kind of secret knowledge about what constitutes news. In fact many news outlets do consider the book news. As of December 5, 2017, there are 2,710 Google news results for the book’s title. Outlets like “Slate,” “CNBC,” and “Newsweek” have covered it as news. Many more cover it as opinion, but at least they cover it at all.

A¬†president’s mental health is pretty important. Why isn’t NPR talking about it, even abstractly, when there’s plenty of discussion of it in magazines and in other media outlets?

Oh, wait, they finally did. On December 23, 2017 they produced the most breath-taking piece of Trump normalization I am aware of. Unbelievably it’s entitled “Why Mental Health Is A Poor Measure Of A President.” To save you the heartburn I’ll summarize the ridiculous assertions:

  • You can’t judge mental health unless you are a pro AND have one or more office visits with the subject.
  • Lots of presidents have had mental issues.
  • Mental health problems can be good for presidents.

They even juxtapose a photo of Trump with a photo of Abe Lincoln.

Dirty Donny’s History¬†is a haunted landfill of outrageous misbehavior, both personal and professional, but it was never thoroughly plumbed by NPR during the campaign. Now anything before the election seems to be a distant, irrelevant memory to them. His fraudulent “university” didn’t go away as a story because he got elected, but you won’t hear much more about it on NPR. It’s like once he became president NPR¬†could only talk about what he’s doing now. Guys, his backstory is a devil’s playground designed by Baz Luhrmann! Go nuts! We’re VERY interested. This devastating article, for example, is based mostly on information available before the election. NPR did not even mention any suspicion of Trump businesses laundering money until well after the election, in May of the following year.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for education secretary, is an interesting person, but you wouldn’t know it from NPR’s coverage of her. Sure, they talked about her past support of charter schools, but holy cow they left out a lot! Did you know her brother is Erik “spelled the German way, why?” Prince who headed up a massive private military force that would make a James Bond movie villain green with envy? You may remember it as “Blackwater,” the company that America paid zillions¬†to during the Iraq occupation to enhance our presence without inflating our official boots-on-the-ground numbers. NPR, which must know this, felt it was irrelevant in all of the¬†DeVos reporting when she was nominated. Blackwater has¬†since rebranded itself with a¬†somehow even creepier name, “Academi.” UPDATE 7/24/17: NPR doubled down on not mentioning this. They did a lengthy interview with brother Erik and never mentioned his sister. They also failed again to note his militant extremist Christian-adjacent beliefs. UPDATE 3/10/2018. Today is literally the first time NPR has (briefly) mentioned the sibling relationship on air.

Oh, also, did you know a bunch of DeVos’ money (she’s super-rich, natch) comes from the Amway pyramid scheme? Well if you do know it’s not because you heard it on¬†NPR. There’s plenty more that is directly relevant to her new job, like her support for gay conversion therapy and other extreme Christian attitudes, but, I guess NPR figures we should¬†find that stuff out elsewhere for some reason.

Greg Gianforte, everybody’s favorite journalist body-slammer, gained an extremely high profile for both his violence and his Montana special election. ¬†NPR produced 43 stories that mentioned him, and that total includes a number that were entirely about him or the Montana race. They never thought to mention that’s he’s a die-hard moronic creationist who believes man hunted with dinosaurs. He even gave large amounts of money for a creation museum in Montana, also never mentioned. This is especially ironic because Montana is full of fossils and geology that utterly and obviously disprove creationist claims.

The Mercer Family¬†is another seemingly off-limits topic for NPR. Until there was a major story about them recently¬†in The New Yorker the name “Mercer” had never been uttered on-air on any NPR program. Turns out they’re kind of a HUGE DEAL and SUPER CRAZY, but so far only Dave Davies¬†has talked about them on Fresh Air in an interview with the writer of the New Yorker article. UPDATE May 26, 2017 Jim Zarolli finally did a 4 minute piece on Mercer. It focused mainly on his wealth building and normalized him as merely very conservative. It never mentioned the family’s religious beliefs or any of the other really bizarre stuff found in the New Yorker article.

Ben Carson is an unqualified joke, but he was treated as a not-totally-weird HUD secretary nominee by NPR.

Rick Perry¬†makes Ben Carson look like a nuclear physicist/unstoppable 30-season Jeopardy champion. Again they treated him with far more respect than he deserved. His predecessor was an actual nuclear physicist. Perry can’t even pronounce the word “nookyooler.”

Jeff Sessions¬†is radioactive in the racism bandwidth, but NPR treated him far too well. I did a separate post about that so I won’t add more here. I’ll just say it involved the tortured, NPR-invented minimizing phrase “alleged racial statements.”

Trump’s Recent NRA Speech¬†was covered with stories and many NPR News bulletin items. In most (or all – I have only listened to most)¬†of them they failed to mention that the NRA gave Trump’s campaign $30 million. I feel like that’s news I could have used. I tweeted at the reporter covering the event, Lisa Hagen, asking why she kept leaving this out, but she never got back to me.

“The President Show.” Okay, this one’s a little petty, but I still find it revealing. This weekly show on Comedy Central features comedian Anthony Atamanuik’s devastating Trump impression. It’s newsworthy both because its blatantly disrespectful satire is so sharp and up-to-the-second and because¬†Atamanuik is literally playing the president, fat suit, scare-wig, and all. NPR’s TV critic, Eric Deggans, has never once mentioned the show, nor has anyone else on NPR. I know he’s aware of it because I’ve talked about it with him on Twitter. His claim is that there are too many shows for him to talk about all of them. Obviously, but this show is totally unique. UPDATE Apparently the smart team at Fresh Air agrees with me that this show is newsworthy. On November 29, 2017 they devoted most of their show to an interview with the creators. So much for Eric Deggans’ dismissal. Perhaps, as with the Mercer family, this will lead to a mention on one of NPR’s news shows.

Mike Cernovich. Because Cernovich was involved in revelations about John Conyers, Steve Inskeep did a five minute interview with Andrew Marantz about this notorious edgelord pig literally entitled “Who is Mike Cernovich.” Don’t worry, I’m not hurting Cernovich’s feelings, he’s a proud pig. It seems he tweets things from his official “verified” account like “Sex with 90% of women is using a human body to masturbate with. They are soulless. Same as sex robots” and “who cares about breast cancer and rape?”

One of Cernovich’s claims to infamy is his promulgation of the twisted and ridiculous “Pizzagate” rumor about Hillary Clinton. Marantz, a supposed expert on “right wing figures,” claims Cernovich never named the pizza parlor in question. Outcry on the internet caused NPR to emit a rare correction. But that’s the least of this interview’s problems. As with Roy Moore and Joe Arpaio, when odious figures are discussed on NPR news shows the hosts only discuss the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg, in Cernovich’s case, is truly awful.

The interview notes several times that Cernovich has a history of spreading “made-up stories” (without calling them lies, natch), but also discusses his role abstractly as a sort of hybrid journalist who sometimes knowingly spreads false stories but acts a real journalist at other times. It’s the most kid-glove treatment imaginable for a person like this. Once again NPR omits the kind of information that actually answers the question “who is Mike Cernovich?” An honest portrayal of this creature would include a few additional items, according to¬†this online petition:

  • He uses twitter & doxxing to incite his followers into harassment campaigns, and has been caught on video openly bragging that his followers would kill for him.
  • He actively promotes and enables white nationalism.
  • He has smeared political enemies as pedophiles.
  • He has recorded podcasts giving tips on how to rape and how to manipulate and abuse women.
  • He tried to cover up and lie about having named the pizza parlor. Guess that worked on Inskeep and Marantz.
  • He is on a quest to appear as a legitimate reporter by erasing his past as a violent ex-convict. He should be pretty satisfied with Inskeep’s normalizing interview in this regard.
  • He was charged with rape and convicted of battery.
  • Twitter users regularly get suspended for calling Mike Cernovich out on his lies and his past, yet Mike Cernovich can use Twitter to accuse anyone of whatever lies he has thought up with impunity.

So that’s apparently who the fuck Mike Cernovich is. Do Inskeep & Marantz not know this? Why would they fail to mention any of it, even in general terms?

UPDATE on NPR Cernovich coverage: as usual it takes scrappier programs like On The Media to deal with a subject like this properly.

This isn’t even close to a complete list of NPR’s under-reporting¬†and over-normalizing reporting.

Why Does NPR Do This?

I am a rationalist. I do not subscribe to conspiracy theories, for that way lies madness. I will constrain myself to the believable before I list a few conspiracy-ish ideas.

Honestly I think NPR seeks to be both nice and objective. They want to be the grown-ups in the room even as they sometimes deliver the news employing¬†a tone and syntax¬†that would better serve “Goodnight Moon.” This causes them to self-censor either at the reporter level, the producer level, or both. That’s my theory, and I corroborate it with my many posts about their habits of expression, such as constantly asking for a “sense” of something rather than going after the thing itself.

A more paranoid interpretation is that they are worried about Republicans cutting their funding if they seem the least bit biased. As Stephen Colbert correctly stated, reality has a well-known liberal bias, and the fake news phenomenon renders this ever truer. This makes it pretty damned tricky to stay both accurate and objective to the Republican observer. If this is the reason, they need to stop worrying about it. Republicans hate them already, and that will never change.

Even more paranoid, and which¬†I do not believe, is the idea I’ve heard that hefty donations from the likes of the Koch brothers come with quid-pro-quo agreements enjoining them from robust investigation¬†of certain topics.

Now What?

If you’ve made it this far you are either an NPR staffer wanting to know what is being said about them or a serious NPR listener. If you are a staffer¬†I ask that you message me on twitter if you have comments. I will keep them anonymous.

If you are a dedicated listener I would also like comments, and I ask that you tweet a link to this story or retweet my original tweet linking to it. I also ask that you use social media to hold NPR to a higher standard than the one they are currently holding themselves to.

Their timid, normalizing coverage of the Trump campaign helped get him elected, instantly turning all of American history into a joke.

Let’s just hope the¬†maladroit monster they empowered, the very avatar of America’s moral, educational, and, I’m forced to conclude, journalistic failures, doesn’t turn Tehran into a smoking ruin.

If you want a more academic and generic perspective on the failure of the press to properly communicate about Trump, read this fantastic Twitter thread.

I remain, @airbagmoments.

Alleged Journalism

Yesterday’s All Things Considered featured the following statement by Robert Siegel:

Democrats have accused President-elect Donald Trump of stacking his cabinet with millionaires and billionaires.*

*Oddly this isn’t in the transcript. To¬†hear it click “play” on the linked page.

Siegel takes a pure fact, which is that Donald Trump has appointed many millionaires and billionaires to his cabinet, and inserts it into the mouths of a group of anonymous Democrats. This transforms the actual real, true, not #FakeNews fact into a suspect partisan accusation.

Why would he do this instead of clearly stating¬†“President-elect Donald Trump has stacked¬†his cabinet with millionaires and billionaires.” Is it because the word “stacking”¬†implies cheating, as in “stacking the deck?” That makes no sense because this is not a real quote. It’s one of the weakest rhetorical devices in journalism, a generic pseudo-quote. Whoever wrote his¬†pusillanimous introduction chose the word “stacking” when they could have selected¬†a less negative expression¬†like “picked a number of,” or even “picked an unprecedented number of” – if that’s historical fact. (Which would be a cool thing for NPR to research and tell us…)

I believe the explanation is the same over-abundance of “he said/she said” journalistic¬†caution that has hamstrung¬†NPR for years and which helped normalize Donald Trump’s candidacy all the way to the White House. Whenever a journalist, terrified of potential accusations of bias, feels the least bit uncomfortable stating something outright she can simply add “alleged” or, as Siegel did, pseudo-quote a generic speaker, like “disgruntled Star Wars fans.” This quickly develops into¬†a crippling habit. The latter strategy even verges¬†on Blair/Glass-style invention¬†of sources and fits the definition of “conventional wisdom.”

One of the worst recent examples of this same tic involves yet another ostentatiously¬†outrageous Trump nominee, Jeff Sessions. Steve Inskeep, as if with awkward tongs, referred to Jeff Sessions’ “alleged racial comments.” This is a cowardly sort of triple euphemism. He fails to quote a source, even a generic one like “people who don’t like racial comments.” He uses the word “alleged” as a rhetorical blanket for what he’s about to say. Finally, and worst of all, he employs the meaningless-in-this-context term “racial” instead of “racist.” Nobody, allegedly or otherwise, cares if Sessions makes a “racial” comment. I’m not even sure what a “racial” statement is. Maybe it’s something like “many races make up the population of America?” In any case, it’s obviously racist comments critics are concerned about, and Sessions has made them. That’s another fact. I would have preferred Inskeep had simply said “Sessions’ racist comments,” but since he hid behind¬†“alleged” he had no reason not to at least say “racist.” Journalism not achieved.

The day after the election of Donald Trump, which resulted in large part from the worst misprision by news-folks in modern history, African-American novelist Attica Locke appeared on Morning Edition. She was not in the mood for bullshit. The following salty exchange took place:

GREENE: And we should be careful here because there are many Trump supporters who I’ve spoken to over the years who would not consider themselves racists.

LOCKE: You know what though, David? I’m out with that. There’s a part of me that honestly feels like that level of politeness, where we’re not calling things what they are, is how we will never get forward. The fact of the matter is that you have to at best be able to tolerate racism in your president.

It took a novelist, i.e. a professional liar, to tell this truth to Greene. I hope NPR reporters were listening well Рthe way they claim to think is so important.

NPR “head of news” Michael Oreskes¬†takes the brave stance that facts exist and they matter, and NPR former ombudsman Alicia Shepard agrees.¬†Yet they cannot bring themselves to allow the word “lie” to pass between¬†NPR reporters’ lips even as they play and endless stream of them from the new administration.

Start calling things what they are. We’re waiting.

Postscript: Thanks to composer B.J. “That’s his real name” Leiderman for inspiring me to start blogging again!

Hot Take on NPR Politics Podcast

I listened to the first episode and, since Sam Sanders specifically asked for comment, here I go.

I judge political chat shows via a set of three unrealistic aspirational metrics.¬†I’ve listed¬†them interspersed with my comments below.

Does a show waste a lot of time trafficking in conventional wisdom?

The show started off rather badly on this question. The crew decided to open their first show with an imitation of the infamous Dean Scream. The conventional wisdom is that Howard Dean made a super goofy sound on stage and could no longer be taken seriously as a presidential candidate by the American people.

They failed to mention that the reality is that the Dean Scream was the creation of the media. The people who were actually present at the event when¬†the scream occurred, you know the actual Howard Dean supporters and members of the press who were in the audience, never heard anything like the barbaric yawp¬†heard round the world minutes later. That sound was the way a microphone picked up and recorded the scream which reporters, as Bob Garfield put it, “excerpted for maximum cruelty and endlessly re-ran”. This is not a conspiracy theory.¬†Even CBS News knows this.¬†The fact that the NPR Politics crew failed to make an aside acknowledging¬†this absurdity which, farcical as it is, may have killed a presidential campaign, implies either that they don’t recognize what really happened¬†or that they aren’t interested in providing¬†even¬†a¬†middlebrow level of deeper analysis.¬†I won’t want to judge them too harshly by this¬†brief, goofy bit. (Too bad Howard Dean didn’t get that kind of consideration.)

The rest of the show certainly fared better than the opening and better than a lot of political talk on NPR Рor anywhere else.

One ¬†conventional wisdom-inspired practice of media figures is to autonomically interject expressions like “on both sides” when criticizing one party in order to try to avoid accusations of partisanship. This safety net of false equivalence (nothing is ever truly the same on both sides) ¬†tends to hamstring reporters’ ability to actually criticize one party for something even when that party is primarily or sometimes even uniquely responsible for that thing. This happened on several occasions in¬†this first episode. I hope they can figure out a way to minimize this practice or get a little more granular with some data to back up who does the thing¬†more and what that means.

Does a show feel like a talk radio program about sports?

This was the problem I had with the show “Political Junkie”. Yes, politics has things in common with sports. There are fans. There are winners and losers, favorites and underdogs. There are pseudo-competitive events like “debates” and actual competitive events called “elections.” There is handicapping.

But if you allow the tropes of sports coverage too much presence in your reporting you’re losing the thread. Politics is like sports, but politics isn’t sports. Treating it as¬†sports is lazy and, more importantly, hides what is truly going on. Sports, for example, are not important.

The most common way to treat politics like sports is to focus too much on polls. Most reporters realize that opinion polling is unreliable, but that doesn’t stop them from talking about the latest polls like they are meaningful, as if¬†a poll, like the Dean Scream, is an event¬†that actually happened and has provided useful information. Late night hosts might call this “clock gobbling”. Frankly the Iowa caucuses don’t even¬†qualify as providing useful information.

Anyway, the good news is that they didn’t focus too much on polls and they didn’t treat politics¬†like sports enough to be terrible – which is kind of a triumph for political reporters. Tamara Keith did do one thing that has become common, at least on NPR where staffers know listeners are tired of “horse-race” coverage. She said “not to get too horse-racy” and then got all horse racy. It’s like when someone leans over to you and¬†says,¬†sotto voce,not to gossip, but I heard Peggy is pregnant and that Dan isn’t the father!”

Does a show provide me new useful information?

This will be unique to everyone, so I won’t comment specifically. Go listen and judge for yourself.

Overall I enjoyed listening to the show, and I think they did a great¬†job for a first episode. I’m interested to see where they take this. My favorite part, by far, was the “what you couldn’t let go” segment. It feels better when reporters actually exhibit human reactions to things. This is why people gravitated to the exaggerated reactions¬†of Stewart and Colbert to current events and it seems to be a trend in public media.