As if there weren’t enough to worry about during the pandemic, let me introduce you to “The Boogaloo”, which is the affectionate nickname that gun-fetishizing white supremacist fascist militias have given to the second American Civil War they eagerly anticipate. (The name comes from the movie “Breaking 2: Electric Boogaloo” for some reason.)

They are nerdily dedicated to this event in a way that makes Star Trek fans look like amateurs. They have other nicknames for the Boogaloo that are slant rhymes, like “Big Igloo” and “Big Luau.” They talk about it constantly and openly on social media, as well as in more secretive online areas.

Here’s a “funny” meme about how sad they are that covid hasn’t (yet) caused more starvation and concomitant social unrest (more after the pic):


You may see pics or video of armed white men wearing Hawaiian shirts who are involved in the protests against stay-at-home rules, or, more recently, the George Floyd murder protests. The Hawaiian shirts are not only a reference to “Big Luau” but also serve as their reasonably clever agreed-upon tactic for visually discerning friend from foe when the urban warfare they’re so excited about begins.


I urge you to read the brief Twitter thread I link to at the end of this post by a guy who has written and researched a lot about these terrorists.

I’m hoping this remains just an evil fantasy of a bunch of keen racists, but, if “Boogaloo” happens, there is no question it will dramatically impact people across the country. Some of these guys fantasize openly about rounding up liberals and dropping them to their deaths from helicopters, as Pinochet, whom they admire, did to his ideological opponents. 

These are the equivalent of the Nazi German brownshirts. If Trump loses the election it wouldn’t surprise me to see them occupy state houses and even the Capitol Building, as similarly-minded Cliven Bundy occupied the Bureau of Land Management offices after an armed takeover. (Trump pardoned him last year.)

There are more guns in America than people, and these forces have never been more confident, organized and motivated.

Please read this. It takes less than ten minutes.

Inimicus Brief

Below is a commentary about attorney general, monarchist, theocrat, and Trump’s personal public relations guy William Barr (seen in the header attempting to cast a sleep spell on Judiciary Committee Democrats) written by an old schoolmate that was published in The Florida Flambeau’s November 18, 1991 edition on the occasion of Barr’s confirmation hearing. (Pg. 4.) Flambeau indeed! 🔥

What William Barr isn’t telling his questioners

by Jimmy Lohman

I admit it: I have a personal ax to grind with Billy Barr, who is poised to be the next attorney general of the United States. I had the misfortune of knowing the AG dude pretty well (a lot better than I wanted to) in junior high, high school and college.

Billy was my very own high school tormentor. He was a classic bully. I met Billy when I was in seventh grade. Billy was a porky ninth grader who had a vicious fixation on my little Jewish “commie” ass. Billy and another ugly mean porker friend of his lived to make me miserable. Combined, they weighed a good three times what I weighed and they put the crunch on me every chance they got. I would give anything to meet Barr ”behind the gym” right now.

There was something about me that used to set Barr and his hideous sidekick off. I know the peace and civil rights buttons I wore drove these guys wacko. It was from 1963 to 1967 that I dodged these creeps: years of major polarization in this country.

Our school, which covered grades seven through 12, cranked out its fair share of ideologues and phrasemongers. On “the left,” the school boasts Kerouac, who did an aberrant preppy stint there, William Carlos Williams, Robert Heilbrohner, Anthony Lewis and George Herman, among others. Barr was more in the tradition of Ray(sic) Cohn, another illustrious alumnus who, like Barr, made a career of “hunting commies” and trampling the rights of those unfortunate enough to be in his path to the top.

There were four “Barr brothers” in school with us, all known for their right-wing views. In around 1964 or ’65, they picketed the “Junior Carnival,” the big social/fundraiser event of the year, because the proceeds were going to the NAACP. The older brother was a senior when I was in eighth grade and I got to know him a little bit through the International Club. After graduation he went to Columbia University, and withdrew shortly thereafter to enlist in the Navy. To his credit, he was one of the very few Ivy Leaguers, at a time when students received draft deferments, to enlist. Unfortunately he enlisted for a misguided and corrupt war.

Billy was the second oldest and the most fanatic rightist of the Brothers. The third brother, Hilary, was in my class. Hilary spearheaded Students for Goldwater in ’64, but by the time we graduated high school and both went to Columbia in 1969, he figured out he was not a fascist and strayed from the Barr philosophy. He emigrated to Germany in the mid-1970s and has lived there for more than 15 years.

It must have been around this time that Billy started developing a soft spot in his “law and order” heart for white-collar criminals. Bill’s father was the principal of a snooty little “East side” private school that was wracked with a scandal involving alleged kickbacks in return for favorable college recommendations. As with most scandals, it went away, and the elder Barr moved on to be principal of another private school.

Billy went to Columbia two years ahead of me and by the time I got there he was well established as one of the leading campus “pukes” who teamed up with the New York City riot police to attack antiwar protesters and “long hairs.” I’ve had a chance to catch some of Barr’s confirmation hearings on C-SPAN. Imagine the dismay: even the Democrats are gushing over Billy Boy, commending his candor, as if it is to=o someone’s credit merely to admit “I am a slimeball.”

It is nauseating enough watching Strom Thurmond feed my old nemesis ludicrous set-up questions. But the Democrats! They should be ashamed of themselves for acting like one serious confirmation process per generation is enough “advice and consent” to fulfill their constitutional duties. There are a lot of questions Barr has yet to answer convincingly: why did he try to squelch the Justice Department’s investigation of the BCCI scandal? Does it have anything to do with the fact that his 250-lawyer former law firm represents one of the defendants? Does Barr’s passion for “law and order” depend on the race and social standing of the alleged law breaker? Why did he find it necessary to file a government brief on behalf of Operation Rescue, another group of law violators who disrupt abortion clinics and harass clinic patients?

Teddy Kennedy threw this last question at Barr, who responded with “an example” of his professed ability to see all sides.

“When I was a student at Columbia University,” Barr told Teddy and the committee, “student protesters blocked the entrance to class buildings and obstructed my constitutional right to go to class. I know what it is like.”

Barr, meanwhile, had already expressed with “refreshing candor” (per Chairman Biden) his view that the Constitution does not provide a right to abortion, notwithstanding Roe v. Wade, which, the last time I looked, is the law of the land. Of course, the Constitution certainly does not provide a right to go to college, and Lord knows, if there was ever an effort to establish such a right, Bush, Barr and Company would do everything imaginable in opposition.

This type of hypocritical and cynical double talk about constitutional rights is an affront to the Constitution. Barr hates the Constitution, unless it is being used to shield millionaire defendants. He and David Duke are two of a kind: wolves in sheep’s clothing. I don’t see what is so “refreshingly candid” about wearing a three-piece suit over a brown shirt. In fact, it is all the more insidious.

I guess there is a little Anita Hill in all of us–especially those who have been victimized by a power abuser who is on the verge of acquiring an ungodly amount of power. I’ll tell you– it is a terrifying proposition.

Barr was a sick and sadistic kid. He’s come a long way from terrorizing seventh graders just because they wore racially equality buttons. Now he gets in front of cameras and says things like “I am committed to the aggressive protection of civil rights and a Justice Department under my leadership will not tolerate discrimination.” Instead of jumping in with riot–clad cops to “beat heads” of protesters, Barr is now holding up charts of blown-up airplanes for the cameras, Setting the stage for an attack on Libya, a strong and predictable antidote for Bush’s plummeting approval ratings.

Barr is now virtually certain to be confirmed. He passed out of committee unanimously with nary a dissent from the listless Democrats, a pathetic array of burn-outs who are so many light-years from reality that they find the slightest hint of “candor” grounds for sainthood. One has to wonder how we have gotten to the point where confirmation is assured merely if a nominee gives an occasional answer that is not evasive. (Of course, even if all answers are evasive, a majority of the Senate is satisfied. Just ask uncle Clarence.)

The Democrats are cheering because the Bush administration has given them an attorney general who will “talk to” them. This looks like a step forward from the Thornburg and Meese models, the wimps are claiming. Look closer, white boys.

Barr joined the CIA when Bush was director. He has slithered up through the ranks, a loyal pet of current White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, stroking where needed, backing off where needed, being “candid” where needed.

While Meese was ordering California cops to bust heads at Berkeley, Barr was busting ‘em alongside the cops at Columbia. It’s just the same old sour wine in a new bottle. Check it out.

Editor’s note: Jimmy Lohman is a civil rights and criminal defense attorney who has lived in Tallahassee since 1974

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’d 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’s just crazy enough to succeed! Maybe things really will work out for the best…Iraq 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’ll 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.]

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.

Simon Says: Atheists Suck

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 – good or bad – of 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 principles 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 arrogantly believe they are on a first-name basis with the almighty creator of the universe 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 distant Mr. Spocks to religious people.
  5. In many places atheism is trending up even if the religious still dramatically outnumber free thinkers.

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.

Not Nearly Enough F*cking Things Considered.

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

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:


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

The President’s Bizarre Appearance. Trump is an ugly man, but that’s not his fault and not what I mean here. I’m talking about the bizarre ways he chooses to look even weirder than the good lord made him. Every day, he thickly applies an extremely bizarre and mysteriously orange shade of some kind of makeup. On top of this, his “hair” looks more like cotton-candy spun from expired mayonnaise at a haunted, defunct amusement park. Imagine if Biden or Pence showed up one day sporting a similar look. Even NPR would have to talk about it. But they have never once mentioned Trump’s strange choices. Why should they? Because they are weird, and weird things are news. More important,  they reflect his underlying personality disorder and lack of understanding about how he is seen by the world which are topics related to his fitness for office. They also failed to mention the only time he appeared on camera without his makeup, when he was hospitalized for covid, and that the makeup returned when he returned to the White House. The former reflects the seriousness of his condition, and the latter reflects his insouciance about putting staffers at risk, both pretty important stories.

Lock him up! At the 5th game of the World Series Trump got served a big slice of humble pie with two scoops of Bronx cheer, his least favorite dessert. The big crowd booing, jeering, and shouting “lock him up” at Trump himself, which he was wonderfully forced to listen to, was widely covered in the media because, well, because duh, obviously. But not on precious @NPR. In spite of NPR’s obsession with all things baseball this stunning event was never mentioned on air on any of the NPR news shows. Just amazing.

Trump Cheating at Golf. In other sports news, 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 often mosh-pits of disgusting behavior on the part of Trump supporters. Trump himself encourages this, dramatically breaking with John McCain’s precedent of actually scolding his supporters when they acted unreasonably at his rallies. NPR has had a lot of coverage of Trump election rallies by staffers like Asma Khalid and Sarah McCammon. They focus on what Trump says, but they omit or give minimal coverage to the unfortunate antics of Trump supporters. In one case I was reading live tweets from a college professor attending a particularly disgusting rally that NPR also covered. It was like two different worlds. At the actual rally a Trumpist screamed “JEW – S – A” over and over again by 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. UPDATE 2: Here we are in January, 2020. NPR continues to sanitize the rallies, but at least people aside from yours truly have finally started to notice.

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 feel objective to a putative Republican listener. If this is the reason, they need to stop worrying about it. Republicans hate them already, and that will never change.

Recently it’s been suggested to me that George W. Bush’s appointees to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the umbrella controlling authority for both NPR and PBS, decided to spay and neuter the networks rather than defunding them. Supporting this their success is that in these hideous times one hears few malevolence-signaling cries about “liberal tax-funded NPR” from Trumpists who criticize everything else about the “fed-al guh-mint.”

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 – the 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 – or 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.

Miracle of Miracles

Jackie Lyden had a story on Weekend Edition this past Sunday about the repair and re-costuming of a beloved icon of the Virgin Mary at a Catholic church in Harlem. This tacky statue is credited with countless miracles by parishioners and the Catholic church itself. And, so anyway, it has a new fancy dress up dress and stuff.

Wait, what? Back up. Who cares about the freaking dress, Jackie? A KITSCHY STATUE HAS BEEN GRANTING WISHES AND PERFORMING MIRACLES ON THE REG FOR DECADES NOW. There’s your headline, obvs. I mean if even one miracle were real it would change everything science knows about the universe. That’s not an exaggeration.

It is well worth asking why supposed miracles are treated so casually by the media. Here are a few theories:

  • The media has “learned helplessness” about trying to prove miracles happened, so they just report that lots of people believe they happened and move on.
  • The media is wary of alienating religious folks, so they get as close as possible to calling the miracles real (by quoting people who believe in them, aka “witnesses”) without actually confirming them.
  • The media is cynical and really doesn’t believe in miracles at all, but they overcompensate for their bias by condescending to the believers with their coverage. “I’m sure it helps you be a better person to believe in such things, though of course I don’t need to” might be the subtext here.

Miracles are spoken of with no suspicion with surprising frequency in conjunction with the canonization of new saints (3 “proven” miracles required), the death of religious leaders who are often credited with having performed miracles during their lifetimes, and, as with Lyden’s latest, some travelogue about holy places or icons.

If such stories are worth air time, how much more are the reported miracles worth the attention of the press? If a statue is routinely healing people and otherwise changing lives in dramatic ways then this really is the biggest story on Earth because miracles really don’t actually happen.

And since the press refuses to investigate claims of miracles, who do they expect to do it? Does James Randi have to do all of them himself?

And, finally, the question must be asked, if we accept the premise that miracles are happening all over the place, why don’t the gods heal amputees?

Open Letter to Weekend Edition & Scott Simon RE: Glenn Beck

Dear W.E. Team:

You guys generally do such a great job! But you made a very questionable choice today, and since second-guessing NPR is one of my most cherished self-appointed and under-appreciated jobs you know I’m obligated to interrogate it.

Why, I mean seriously, why did you invite Glenn Beck (of all possible pundits) on your show to publicly vet Donald Trump’s conservative bona fides?

I’m not questioning the idea of having a conservative on your show for this purpose, I’m questioning your choice. Although Glenn Beck managed to sound calm and reasonable on your show – he only referred to himself in the third person twice – he has a very long and colorful history of saying bizarre and awful things. With good reason he is considered (sometimes even by the man himself) to be one of the most divisive, irresponsible, unhinged and inflammatory characters in the whole conservative freak-show. (I was tempted to use “Let Me Google That For You” for those links.)

By putting him on the air you are unquestionably lowering yourself and worsening the polarization and poisoning of the American political landscape, a tragic and potentially catastrophic situation you yourselves have bemoaned on previous occasions.

The fact that you chose Beck demands that we consider what your motivations might have been.

  • Was it stunt-casting to try to increase ratings?
  • Was it an attempt to attract sponsorship for your show from the merchants of gold, doomsday-prepper supplies, and ersatz male enhancers who support Beck’s poison-spewing media empire?
  • Was he the only conservative willing to criticize Trump in public?

Feel free to message me on Twitter with the actual explanation.

Please don’t do anything like this again. It’s so much worse than Kardashian on Wait Wait I can’t even.


Airbag Moments

Of Forests and Trees

Something the media seems to have a lot of trouble with is getting distracted by events rather than the higher level causes of classes of events. A dramatic recent example of this is the Gold King mining disaster in Colorado. Public radio did a reasonable job talking about the particulars of the event, and some shows made it clear that the Gold King site was one of thousands of closed-mine time bombs all over the U.S. that are either polluting or destined to pollute local environments.

But out of the nine stories NPR shows have produced to date about the problem, not one has covered the noisome economic feedback loop that allows mining companies to make incredible profits while ignoring or riding roughshod over environmental regulations. Local public radio station KUNC did an okay story about it, though it focused too much on Gold King. Even the oft-reviled CNN managed to emit a decent story which described some of the higher level dynamics of the mining industry. It’s often a complicated issue, but sometimes it amounts to mining companies simply declaring bankruptcy once a mine is no longer profitable. At that point it’s up to taxpayers to pay for clean-up. You’d never guess that listening to NPR over the last couple of weeks.

This is a huge blind-spot. If I were conspiracy-minded I’d come up with some theory about the Koch brothers muzzling this kind of information. Since it’s probably not a conspiracy, then what is the reason? I have no idea, but I can venture a few guesses regarding stories about the economics of mining:

  • They can be complicated and therefore are too much work for harried reporters.
  • They are considered boring and might turn off listeners.
  • They are inherently political and therefore getting into the details, ugly as they are, opens up NPR to accusations of anti-business (read anti-Republican) bias.
  • NPR producers, reporters, and interviewees are ignorant of the economic systems that produced these mines.

I have no idea which of these, if any, are true. If anyone knows, please drop me a line.

Meanwhile the principle remains that reporters and producers need to do a better job detecting and telling stories about the higher levels of abstraction that generate the every day events they currently have most of their focus on. Just today there was a piece about the abandonment of the term “alien” to describe those who are now more usually called “undocumented”. It was a fine story which detailed how this specific word went from official usage as a euphemism by Latino activists to a discouraged epithet.

But this is happening to language every day. Any euphemistic word describing something which is innately troubling, hateful or otherwise problematic will inevitably accrue negative connotations. Replacing the word with a new one simply delays the process. Eventually the failure of this kind of linguistic reality laundering will result in negative feelings about “undocumented” as well. This is a much more trivial issue than tens of thousands of abandoned mines, but it points to the blindness to or silence about the complicated patterns and levels of abstraction behind so many of the things we experience every day.

Look, Ma (.com)

I have sometimes talked about the way NPR uses what I consider to be over-gentle, linguistically pre-chewed forms of expression in its writing along with a story-time vocal style that combine to subconsciously infantilize the listener. I do not believe they are trying to infantilize us on purpose, it’s just the unintentional result of a lot of smaller style choices. In any case it’s one of the things that makes NPR so much more pleasant to listen to than the TV-news-standard stentorian delivery of someone like Andrea Mitchell. The closest NPR comes to this is Mara Liasson, who happens to moonlight on FOX TV News. (Or is NPR her moonlight job?  Hard to tell.)

But advertisers are another story. Baby-talk modern company names are generated from pure cynicism. And I mean “baby talk” literally. Words like “mama” are common across cultures as the first sounds made by an infant, and in many languages they are used as parental names.

Listen more carefully next time you hear the national underwriting messages pronounced in Jessica Hansen’s lovely voice. You’ll hear ““, ““, and ““. They are practically baby-talk anagrams for one another. I’m waiting for “”

So, is it a coincidence that at least three “baby talk” companies advertise heavily on NPR? Or maybe there are just so many nonsense-word baby-talk companies now that you should expect a normal distribution to be clotted with them.

Google Inc. took its name from the number “googol,” a one followed by one hundred zeroes, which a mathematician allowed his young nephew to name. Google it!

To Infinity…And Beyond!!! (and beyond that, too!)

The meaning of the word “infinity” is impossible to comprehend. It contains multitudes, literally. In fact, it contains everything and keeps coming for more. It is the the most famished concept in math and cosmology, devouring all sums and spaces, gleeful as it swallows exponents and parsecs alike. It is sinister, for everything that lives will eventually disappear into it without so much as a ripple or blemish on its mirror surface. No human mind can grasp it. The vertiginous vastness of its nature is beyond communication. It’s one of the first ideas children encounter that truly blows their minds. I’m still not over it.

Mathematicians have tried to tame it; infinity is useful and necessary in that abstract realm. They selected a symbol for it, as if it could be captured in a mere rune. But in practice infinity is a Hell’s Angel badass singularity that is fatal to applied logic and reasoning. All you have to do is ask a computer to divide any number by zero, the result of which is axiomatically infinity, and the computer will promptly behave like a a person injected with an LSD-PCP-Bath Salt speedball. The poor computer will immediately generate a deeply felt and wounded message reading simply “Divide by zero error”. The computer is saying “OMG did you just seriously ask me to try to calculate infinity? I just cannot even. I don’t even know where to go from here.”

My point here is that infinity is really, REALLY beyond humungous, akin to an ineffable deity. We can name it, try to talk about it, but never truly know it or grok it. And, like an angry god, its name should not be invoked for cheap effect.

And so a few days ago when I was listening to a Laura Sydell story on All Things Considered, as one does, I was suddenly struck by this comment, made by a worthy named John Seely Brown.

“The ability to imagine is the key challenge, because we have infinitely powerful tools to build whatever we imagine. As a result we’re limited by our imagination.”

Do you see the problem there? If not, read it again. There it is: Infinitely powerful tools.

Yeah, as they say, no. “We have infinitely powerful tools” is something only comic book super-villains should say with a straight face, usually followed by a prolonged, evil cackle and some kind of intimidating knife-switch being closed.

John Seely Brown doesn’t have infinitely powerful tools. No one has infinitely powerful tools. No human will ever have infinitely powerful tools. Theologians even debate whether or not the omnipotence-claiming god of Abraham truly has infinitely powerful tools. Can God throw a curveball so sneaky even Jesus can’t hit it? Is God constrained to moral actions? (The answer to the latter seems like a big old “No!” of course. #theodicy)

But John Seely Brown is thought-leading us to believe he is not constrained by the mere finite, but only by the interdisciplinary artist-in-residence-curable constraint of imagination.

After hearing this howler of a hyperbolic claim I unwittingly began a Twitter conversation in which I was quickly accused by an NPR reporter of being hubristic and having neither a life nor an imagination. No, really. Here it is:

Can you believe this shit?
Figure 1. Laura Sydell rips public radio’s infinitely awesome blogger a new one. Rhetorical summary: “I know you are, but what is John Seely Brown!?”

Ouch, right? Plus I was obviously applying the hubris tag to claims of infinite power, not to Sydell as she seems to have misinterpreted. Of course one might be justified in accusing her of something like hubris-by-proxy…

The proper response was, if anything, “allow John Seely Brown a moment of exaggeration in his exuberance at the cool stuff he’s doing”, not a spit-take inducing doubling down on “infinitely powerful.” If Sydell had accused me of being over-literal in my reaction to the word “infinitely” she might have a fair point, but her mama-bear ad hominem broadside is over the top. How am I the hubris-befuddled party here?

Were Airbag Moments a blog about language peeves I would have cause to opine about the overuse and cheapening of the word “infinite” simply on the basis of style, like the overuse and cheapening of the word “literally”, but there are actually much more serious reasons, especially for journalists and industry spokespeople, to eschew tech triumphalism and to treat it with skepticism when it appears. This idea that “the only limit is our imagination” is the obnoxiously perfumed Disney-film epitome of tech triumphalism. The same exaggeration can equally inappropriately describe a pencil, or Play-Doh ™.

Tech triumphalism flourished, as one would expect, in the mid twentieth century, when the development curve of fundamental invention was arguably at its steepest. Magazines like Popular Mechanics boasted unintentionally hilarious (even then) covers featuring flying cars and plans for working robots you could build with free boxes from your neighborhood grocer.

flying car
Figure 2. “Your flying car for 1967, Hiller’s Aerial Sedan” PM said in 1957.

Wired magazine periodically takes up the mantle of Popular Mechanics for contemporary techno-gushing, and has proven to be almost as hilarious in some of its predictions over the years.

Sydell is not the only public radio personality to overestimate just how awesome our present and near future are. Remember when that guy from 99% Invisible said we now have everything from the Star Trek tv show except the teleporter? Good times! When I thoroughly corrected him on the inanity of that claim he also refused to back down. I guess nobody likes corrections. Or reality.

The idea that there is eventually going to be a technological fix for all of our problems is a deadly one. It inculcates lassitude and inattention towards very real, very, very hard to fix dynamics in the world. If Doctor John Seely Brown has an infinity gadget then I guess anthropogenic climate change is nothing to worry about. In fact if it’s even close to true that the only limit to his power is imagination I hope the United Nations will quickly dispatch John Seely Brown to start fixing some things real quick, like the anthropogenic hellscape living nightmare that Fukushima Daiichi has turned into.

There’s actually a benighted school of thought in Economics comically named “Cornucopianism” that is accepted as dogma by some noted economists. It essentially teaches that we humans are such clever little buggers that we will always invent ourselves out of every hole we are capable of digging ourselves into, including problems like disease, resource scarcity, and overpopulation. (Sounds like hubris to me.) The effect of this is to encourage us to dig ourselves into ever deeper holes. Jabbering about infinity devices, or flying cars for that matter, encourages that delusion. Who needs to recycle or buy a fuel-efficient car or practice safe-sex when Doctor John Seely Brown has an infinity machine?

Of course I could be wrong. Maybe John Seely “Thanos” Brown actually owns and operates an infinity machine. But the examples from Sydell’s story of what our nation’s infinity labs are doing certainly don’t inspire the expected awe. For example I’m sure the 3D-printed model of San Francisco’s antique cistern system is attractive and interesting, but it isn’t exactly a cure for Malaria, much less a fix for the continents of plastic debris laying waste to our oceanic biosphere. In fact I’m guessing odds are good that the plastic 3D-printed model of San Francisco’s antique cistern system is fated to choke a Sea Lion in the not too distant future, shortly after the forgotten gewgaw is discovered in an attic and junked by a mystified tenant.

Sea life greet 3D-printed tchotchkes with less enthusiasm than Laura Sydell and Ira Flatow.

Now, in spite of her vituperations against yours truly and her not-very-imaginative or infinite dreams of a smart fridge, I do generally respect Sydell. So I went ahead and looked up this Doctor John Seely Brown as she so icily demanded.

Instead of finding a list of Tony Stark-like world-changing inventions, I discovered that Doctor John Seely Brown has a lot in common with none other than my frequent target, professional religion-adorer Krista Tippett. Like Krista Tippett, John Seely Brown won admission to Brown University. Like Krista Tippett, John Seely Brown is the eponym for his own website. And like Krista Tippett, John Seely Brown is clearly a very talented, intelligent person, an accomplished self-marketer, and sometimes talks in ways that, while verbose and grandiloquent, fail to convey specific meaning to the average listener.

Here are a few TED-talk-ready Seelyisms (Holy Cow does he give a lot of lectures!) from his website:

“Today, I’m Chief of Confusion, helping people ask the right questions, trying to make a difference through my work”

“Learners craft their own pathways, through a rich ecology of learning experiences” (I guess they craft their pathway through the ecology with some sort of imagination machete?)

“Welcome to the Imagination Age where the arts, humanities & sciences fuse creating a new kind of alloy.” (applause, presumably)

“For the problems we now face in the 21st century we need vividness and texture to sense what might be needed given their complex nature.” (who can argue with that?)

“His personal research interests include digital youth culture, digital media, and the application of technology to fundamentally rethink the nature of work and institutional architectures in order to enable deep learning across organizational boundaries – in brief, to design for emergence in a constantly changing world.” (emphasis mine)

Do those mean anything tangible to you? It’s all a bit vague for my apparently raisined, lifeless, and pride-distorted imagination. I assume he has nurtured vivid imagishperical ecologies that have enabled deep utility for the world, such as the copier his team developed at Xerox PARC that could actually predict when it was about to break and call for repair – which is very cool, except, you know, Malaria and all – but he sure has produced a lot of triumphalist techno-evangelical jargon as a by product. A lot of research outfits manage to produce incredible breakthroughs without that sort of hype. Hell, Apple Computer is a shrinking violet compared to this stuff.

But Sydell clearly drinks the rhetorical Kool-Aid and so do a lot of very smart and successful people in business and the academy, so I’ll check to see if Google Translate has a “Thought-Leader Lecture –> Unimaginative Egotistical Zombie Grunts” translation mode.

If not I’m just going to have to sharpen my imagi-machete and get to work crafting a new path through my personal learning ecology.

Obit or Eulogy?

Journalism has been called, aptly (and possibly tautologically) in my opinion, the “first draft of history.” This expression is beneficial because it implies both the limitations of journalism and its obligations. It also implies that journalism, like first drafts, is basically disposable.

Journalists on deadline have two disadvantages that historians don’t: they can’t know what crucial information will be revealed after their story has gone to print, and they don’t have time to do deep research on the context of a story.

Obituaries of celebrities are less difficult than breaking news stories in both of these regards. News organizations have the ghoulish good sense to write obits of famous people well in advance of their deaths. Because the deceased are famous the context is already established, and new revelations about the dead that will dramatically alter an obit are unlikely. The death of a person is the ultimate not-ongoing event, and editors can make considered choices about what parts of a person’s life to include.

In this context we can consider the All Things Considered obit of televangelist Robert Schuller broadcast yesterday that could have easily been mistaken for a press release. It was the epitome of the kind of kid-glove treatment religious figures are granted by NPR. The obit writer, Nathan Rott, was happy to highlight Schuller’s rhyming and alliterative projects, including the “Hour of Power” and the “Crystal Cathedral”.

If you only had Rott’s obit to go by you’d assume that Schuller was simply a feel-good godly genius whose life was one big success after another.

The true picture is rather different. The “Hour of Power” was one of those shows that begged for money in the name of religion from the poor and lower-middle-class folks who watched it. In spite of the millions raised from Meemaw and Peepaw’s social security checks the Crystal Cathedral went bankrupt and the Schullers eventually sold it to the Catholic Church. In the process there were dramatic family squabbles. Schuller himself died seemingly in poverty and, perhaps, senility.

So how is it that none of that appeared in the obit? NPR is practically obsessed with old age and mental illness after all!

All we need to do is look back at NPR’s coverage of the death of Jerry Falwell to see another example of the spineless coverage of religious figures, especially Christian evangelical figures.

(Note: I’m not a journalist. It’s not my job to provide footnotes about Schuller, but just Google “Robert Schuller controversy” if you want the details. NPR apparently didn’t.)

Yes, Public Radio is Pro-Religion

Last updated July 31, 2018

When religion and “objective” journalism mix, things get weird.

Journalists are routinely required to disclose conflicts of interest and even recuse themselves from stories or even their jobs. Michelle Norris, for example, left her position as host of All Things Considered when her husband took a position with Obama’s reelection campaign. Yet religion gets something of a pass in this regard. It is routine for reporters not to discuss their personal beliefs and practices even when they are reporting on religion. This is an obvious double-standard. How can a Catholic reporter, who seriously believes in transubstantiation, the infallibility of the Ex-Cathedra utterances of the Pope, etc., possibly be objective when covering Catholicism if the assumption is that Norris can’t be objective about Obama because her husband works for the campaign? I mean I sort of get it about Norris, although I credit her with having a totally independent brain from that of her husband and personally think she needn’t have stepped down, but a person’s religion is a deep part of their personal identity – not just something their spouse does.

I’m a bit of a purist on this issue and think that religious folks shouldn’t be religion reporters because they are, by definition, biased in favor of religion in general and biased against the tenets other faiths. But at the very least reporters should tell us what religion, if any, they follow.

As a strict agnostic I have a sensitive ear for bias in religious journalism. I don’t mean bias towards one religion or another, I mean the underlying, nearly axiomatic assumption by many American journalists that being religious is good per se. This is something the journalists themselves have a hard time noticing, because they swim in a sea of what Daniel Dennett has called “belief in belief,” which is the idea that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, but it matters that you believe. Statistically I’m guessing most public radio reporters actually are religious/spiritual. I have no way of knowing across the board, but if they come even close to representing the American demographic histogram – nine out of ten Americans believe in God – they must be. I do know some of them are religious or constitutionally friendly to religion, and I’ll be listing them below.

One thread common among agnostic/atheist “believers in belief,” whether my own friends or public figures who go on record about their feelings about religion, is that they grew up in religious families and have an autonomic “respect” for those who are religious. I suspect some of them feel like their own lack of faith is a personal failure that they might manage to rectify in the future. (Bill de Blasio seems to fall into this category.) Sometimes I think such feelings can cause those who have lost faith to value those who have it even more than believers do. In any case religion-friendly journalists absolutely must check their bias when talking about religion. Otherwise you can end up with the kinds of stories I am listing below and will continue to update as I have time.

I’ve mentioned this situation in passing in many of my posts, of course, but I’ve noticed that when I make comments to this effect on relevant message boards the usual chorus of right-wing public radio-haters drown me out with brainless claims that public radio hates hates hates religion the way they must hate Mom and Apple Pie – because they are so LIBERAL!!!

It is beyond the scope of this post to address the dumb notion that public radio is radically liberal, as so many conservatives convince themselves. The purpose of this post is to provide the evidence requested by the trolls that public radio in general and NPR in particular are pro-religion in their coverage as well as in their personal lives.

I am going to continue to update this as time allows and as examples present themselves.

Side Note: No True Scotsman

“No True Scotsman” is a fallacy that many people, including journalists, engage in when they talk about religion. It boils down to assuming that religion is a positive force and then using that assumption to retroactively define negative religious forces as definitionally not religious. This is the heart of the tragically and willfully stupid “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam” assertion made by journalists and politicians alike from Reza Aslan to Bush to Obama.

Entire Public Radio Shows That Are Religious or Pro-Religion

On Being with Krista Tippett, (formerly Speaking of Faith.) This show is embarrassingly pro religion, hosted by a Yale Divinity School grad.

Interfaith Voices. Their treacly, obsequious-to-religion slogan on Twitter is “Approaching the world’s religions with an open, humble mind.” Hosted by a Catholic Nun. (I always find it ironic to approach religion with a “humble mind” given the unfathomable arrogance so many religious folks have involving their evidence-free certainties about reality and personal relationship to the infinite almighty.)

Shockingly I just heard the contributor credits at the end of Science Friday and was horrified to learn that the Templeton Foundation is a sponsor. The missions of that very wealthy foundation include trying to prove various religious notions like the efficacy of prayer, and to promulgate the misguided assertion that science and faith are compatible. I have not detected much bias in this direction on Science Friday, but I am not a regular listener. I don’t know when this unfortunate relationship began.

Public Radio Staff Who Are Religious or Pro-Religion

Ari Shapiro. I don’t have an opinion about him yet, but since he reports on religious subjects from time to time I asked him on twitter. So far no reply. He is gay, so that may inflect his feelings about groups like ISIS that hurl homosexuals and apostates off of roofs.

Krista Tippett of “On Being”, née “Speaking of Faith”. Never met a religion she didn’t love.

Michelle Norris of NPR (Feb 19 2015 tweet below)


EJ Dionne is usually the liberal half during ATC’s version of point/counterpoint. He often mentions his Catholic faith. This is an interesting position that some in media critical circles have called for more of: Dionne admits his biases. I suppose this ghettoizes him sometimes as an editorialist, but it’s a good start. When he reports on the church at least we have a broad idea of his perspective.


Barbara Bradley Hagerty is a religion reporter for NPR and was raised as a Christian Scientist. What she is now I don’t know, but her journalistic output is consistently pro-religion and pro-religious figures. I’ll list some of her worst stories below.

Scott Simon (for whom I have otherwise great affection as a host) often speaks warmly of religion and religious figures, even some nasty ones like Oral Roberts. On August 1 he interviewed Nick Tosches, author of Under Tiberius which portrays Jesus as a villain. Simon once again revealed his naked affection for religion. As soon as the conversation became a bit critical of religion, Simon pulled out this:

I have been around the world in a lot of different wars and scenes of savagery. And in I believe all of them, you will find very selfless priests and nuns trying to help people.

The problem with this sentiment is that it represents the one-way filter used by people predisposed to religion. The claim is that when people do good things it’s because of religion, but when people do bad things, even in the name of religion, it’s somehow not because of religion. This is how the press in general and NPR in particular refuse to blame Islam for the actions of ISIS even as they give Christianity the credit for the good actions of Christians. They refuse to admit religion can be a bad influence, even though examples abound, from monumental atrocities of ISIS to quotidian indignities perpetrated against gays and women. Tosches gave him a pretty good answer:

I am saying that those same good human people would be behaving the same way without a god to tie it onto.

UPDATE 4/30/29

Scott Simon went into some detail about his personal theology in an interview on today’s show:

NEVINS: Do you know where you’re going? I don’t believe in heaven or hell. So…

SIMON: No. I know what I tell myself, but do I know that for sure?

NEVINS: What do you tell – what do you say?

SIMON: Oh, I – you know, I believe in a heaven and I’ll be reunited…

NEVINS: You think that?

SIMON: I’ll be reunited with my parents and with my lost sister and with, you know, every pet I’ve ever had and loved. And I’ll be up there waiting for my wife and children. Is that for real? Of course not. But that’s what I tell myself to get through the day.

This is totally fascinating. They say genius is the ability to hold 2 opposing ideas in your head at the same time, but I’ve always thought that was a stupid thing to say. Scott Simon basically just described a theology that I think is common to many intelligent “believers.” They’ll say they believe, they’ll even tell themselves they believe, but, if pressed by someone they respect they’ll often admit they do understand it’s all a fairy tale.

Tom Gjelten is now on the religion beat at NPR. Judging by one of his first stories (see below) he is pro-religion, but I don’t know yet if he is religious. UPDATE: Gjelten is a gentleman and replied thusly on Twitter: “Lapsed Norwegian Lutheran (ie, unaffiliated) but humble enough not to claim I grasp anything cosmic, respect those who do.” That last clause is part of the problem. Nobody is owed respect simply because they claim to grasp the cosmic. I would argue people who claim to grasp the cosmic deserve more scrutiny than those who profess ignorance. Countless people have fallen for con men who claimed to grasp the cosmic. I suspect he knows this and couldn’t fit more nuance in a tweet, but religion reporters must be more clear-eyed than others when they approach people who claim to grasp the cosmic. Otherwise you risk becoming Krista Tippett. I highly recommend Gjelten and any other religion-beat reporters go see Book of Mormon as a corrective.

(8/18/15) It has come to the attention of Muslim-despising Republicans that law school drop-out and AT&T sales rep turned presidential candidate Carly Fiorina once said some nice things about Islamic cultures, not long after 9/11. Fiorina was responding to the brief and predictable outbreak of various anti-Muslim hate crimes at the time. She did so with some well-worn platitudes about the contributions to world culture of the Ottoman Empire and other Islamic apogees. Discovery of Fiorina’s heinous crime against Republican orthodoxy caused a particularly inept rhetorican named Bethany Blankley to emit an incoherent tantrum-level diatribe against her. (It’s worth reading for her hilariously clumsy sophomoric metaphor usage alone.) This caused Tom Gjelten to defend Fiorina on Twitter with the statement “True words, and sorely needed.” I don’t dispute the truth of Fiorina’s words or that they were sorely needed at the time. I mention to this very minor incident simply because it demonstrates the eternal autonomic drive on the part of the press in general and religion reporters in particular to magnify positive statements about religion and minimize negative ones.

(5/14/15) Gjelten had a few revealingly odd moments hosting the Diane Rehm show episode dedicated to the recent poll showing Americans are becoming less Christian and less religious in general. He seemed alarmed by the fact that an online poll on the show’s website was showing listeners were 36% atheist and 19% agnostic. He hastened to point out that this didn’t necessarily reflect NPR listeners in general, just the ones who took the poll. Then, as if feeling guilty about the whole topic, he twice encouraged the Catholic Priest to explain to listeners why they should return to the faith, including letting the Priest have the last word on the show. Imagine if he had been doing a show on tobacco companies and encouraged their PR person to sell the listeners on smoking in the face of declining rates!

Eric Deggans was quick to defend religion against Peter Sagal in the following Twitter exchange:

This is some serious apologetics. “Religion can’t be blamed because it’s human and humans are bad!” Religion is a powerful cultural tool often employed effectively to further nasty human ends. It doesn’t get a pass because it’s part of a generalizable description. The universe tends towards entropy, but that doesn’t mean general human misbehavior is absolved.

Rachel Martin, talented host of Weekend Edition Sunday, recently tweeted that ex-Wonkette Ana Marie Cox’s Daily Beast love letter to Christ, “Coming Out Christian,” was “worth reading.” This prompted me to ask Martin if she practiced a faith, to which query she generously replied “I don’t. But grew up in a religious home and have a lot of respect for many people who do.” I appreciate her addition of the word “many,” because it allows room for judgment in the cases of those who fake or otherwise mis-use religion.

Reza Aslan is not a staffer but is often interviewed on public radio as an expert on religion. He has the kind of animus for new atheism that middle schoolers have for the person who stole their boyfriend/girlfriend. Literally. Wait Wait Don’t Tell me broke my heart by recently featuring him as a panelist.

More to come…

Public Radio Staff Who Chose Not To Answer My Inquiry About Their Religion

Ari Shapiro

Jennifer Ludden

Pro-Religion Stories in Public Media

This ATC story about an increasing demand for exorcists in the Phillippines just takes it as read that demonic possession is, you know, a thing. A real thing.

– This worshipful interaction between Scott Simon and a monk.

– This one-sided treatment of a Catholic family’s decision not to euthanize their suffering daughter. As the blog Why Evolution Is True points out, when NPR ran a story about a woman who chose euthanasia they throughly covered both sides of the debate.

– This travesty was constructed of 2 parts speculation and one part Reza Aslan by Tom Gjelten. According to it there is a potentially violent group of extreme “anti-theists”. It’s laughable. Still waiting for more on this non-development. Hey, by the way, whatever happened to this case? Maybe brief spasms of Twitter outrage from the professionally offended isn’t the best way to prioritize production and air time?

– In this ridiculous piece Barbara Bradley Hagerty basically presents a medical case as a holy miracle.

– Every episode of “Speaking of Faith” and “On Being”.

– NPR is in the midst of a well-intentioned and well-produced (as usual) series about Muslims in Europe. Today’s story about an abandoned church in Bolton, England filed by Ari Shapiro is a good example. It’s an interesting story about a very ecumenical project that is just the sort of narrative people who are reflexively pro-religion love to promulgate. I don’t have a problem with the story itself, but its “celebrate diversity” and “yes, we can all just get along” message is practically the only one you’ll hear throughout this series. Yesterday there was the oddly-headlined and very sympathetic story “British Muslims Still Feel the Need to Explain Themselves” (filed by Audie Cornish) in which Muslims described hate emails they get from anti-Muslim extremists. It’s too bad about the hate emails, but until an anti-Muslim extremist walks into a building full of innocent artists and starts shooting up the place we need to keep things in perspective. (And shouldn’t we ask religious folks to explain themselves all the time?) I’m waiting for a story in this series about radical imams who encourage violence or the like, but I doubt we’ll be hearing one. It appears to be a “feel good” piece except for the parts where we are meant to pity the plight of European Muslims. Muslim groups in Britain are attempting to pass anti-blasphemy laws, for example, but nothing like that is discussed in this series. So far it is mostly an attempt to understand and reify the ways in which Muslims feel bad about living in their chosen countries rather than why those countries might have some difficulty with immigrants whose religious choices are antithetical to the founding principles of the host country.

– When Evangelical cash machine Robert Schuller died NPR once again, as with Falwell, delivered a pointless, timid press-release of an obituary.

– Giving Barbara Bradley Hagerty a 5-PART-SERIES about her book on science & religion.

MANY more items to come as they are produced and from the archives when I have time to update… (if you can’t wait just peruse old posts here.)

Religion-Unfriendly Events Ignored or Downplayed by Public Media

– In 2013 a numbskull named Richard Loewen tried to cause a whole bunch of carnage at the Wichita airport with a truck bomb – right before Christmas. Oh, yeah, apparently by total coincidence he also happened to be a radicalized Muslim convert. NPR published exactly two stories as part of the “The Two-Way” news disposal on their website. One was from the initial arrest in 2013, and the other was from his conviction. This means the story of what could have been a very major tragedy was never mentioned on air. (I’m increasingly concerned that “The Two-Way” is just some kind of plausible deniability landfill for not putting things on the air. Does anyone get their news from these pages?) Both stories are brief and minimize the Islamic terrorism angle. In neither story are the rather interesting and important issues surrounding his conversion and radicalization explored.

– It’s the anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings that killed over 50 people. Morning Edition had a moving report about victims and responders today, but the event itself, while referred to as a bombing, was treated more like a natural disaster. There was absolutely no mention of the bombers or their motivations. That was a dramatic and obviously purposeful omission. Why did they choose to treat it that way? Were they worried that simply mentioning the Islamist terror that caused the bombings would seem “islamophobic,” or did they just not want to give the bombers the attention they sought in the first place? Guessing it’s the former. There will be more coverage on All Things Considered this afternoon and we’ll see if they treat the event the same way. UPDATE Sure enough the second report on ATC also failed to mention anything about the bombers. This is akin to journalistic malpractice.

– The documentary film “The Wolfpack” is about the strange isolated upbringing of the children of a Hare Krishna father. Scott Simon did an interview with the filmmaker and her subjects. It’s clear that one of the major sources of the bizarre and mentally abusive family culture was, as is so often the case with such families, religion, specifically the father’s interpretation of the Hare Krishna branch of Hinduism. This was never asked about by Simon in the interview. It’s too bad, because public attention to the role religion plays in nightmarish family cultures, from keeping gay kids in the closet all the way to murdering children by denying them life-saving medical care, could help diminish tolerance for such practices.

Simon was kind enough to respond to my tweet asking about this “I’m reluctant to label those beliefs Hindu, even if he does. A billion Hindus in the world don’t lock up their children.” Isn’t it interesting that he self-identifies as Hindu? This is the same argument that inspires NPR guidelines to specify that ISIS must be referred to as the “self-described Islamic State.” Just because most followers of Islam don’t behead people on a daily basis does not mean Islam doesn’t inspire some to behead people. Meanwhile the denial that religion inspires the small number of very horrible atrocities masks the fact that it indisputably inspires the millions of daily indignities and aggressions suffered by millions/billions around the globe.

– There are secularist conventions happening all the time all over the world, but you’d never know it listening to public radio. On the other hand every time there’s a political prayer breakfast or CPAC circle jerk you’ll hear about it for days. On the other hand given the snide tone public radio uses when it talks to or about secularists it may be better they stay away from such meetings.

– A classic today from Peter “The Non-Tweeter” Kenyon on Morning Edition. He did a whole segment on violence against women in Turkey without mentioning Islam. Yes, most cultures outside of Wonder Woman’s home island are rife with sexism, but Islam has ancient, terrible and unique problems with women. Not bringing this up in the context of a story in Turkey is nearly journalistic malpractice. (He did mention head-scarves.) I can only imagine internalized fear of accusations of Islamophobia caused this omission.

– On February 26 a Bangladeshi-American named Avijit Roy was hacked to death by Muslim Extremists who were unhappy with his writings critical of fundamentalist Islam. No word was heard on NPR, though their “Two Way” news blog did cover it. Meanwhile they did see fit to run a trivial Islamophilia story about a moderate German Muslim who encourages people to ask him about his faith.

– There have been several recent stories in the US and Canada regarding children who died because religious parents refused them the treatments that would have saved them. You wouldn’t know about them listening to NPR.

– Coverage of the trial of the Boston Marathon bomber on NPR routinely downplays or fails to mention the Islamic Extremist ideas behind the mass murder.

– (3-23-15) 7 children died a few days ago in a fire that was caused because ridiculous Orthodox Jewish tradition demanded a hot-plate could not be turned off on the sabbath. On numerous occasions today the deaths/burials were reported on NPR without the crucial information about the circumstances of the death.

– (4-2-15) Robert Schuler, the man who made himself and his family very wealthy while his Crystal Cathedral ministry went bankrupt, was pre-eulogized during today’s NPR News round-ups because he has fallen ill. The mini-bio mentioned his Cathedral and his “Hour of Power” TV show, but, as usual, failed to mention any hint of greed or financial misbehavior on his part.

– (5/18/15) Five days ago 45 reformist Shia were murdered in cold blood execution style on a bus in Pakistan by decidedly less reformist Sunnis. So far not a peep about this on any of the flagship NPR news programs. Somehow the news choosers for every major NPR show decided this hideous event wasn’t worth considering. On the other hand there was a hard hitting interview with the guy behind “The Bachelor” TV show. Priorities? It may have nothing to do with fear of being perceived as Islamaphobic, but it certainly does make one wonder.

What’s Annoying on Public Radio Now

On a Tuesday, this is Airbag Moments returning to air – or wifi anyway.

I notice with horror I made zero posts in 2014. I am tweeting a lot, though, so blame the siren song of social media and fear of the Riyadh Flogger for my lack of blogging. (@airbagmoments)

What has driven me beyond the 140 character restriction today, the first time in over a year? Only a brief list of weird/annoying micro-trends in Public Radio, especially NPR, that I feel need some publicity – so they can stop.

Let’s do the numbers!

1. The Daily Grind

Apparently Steve Inskeep feels our pain. (Well he doesn’t feel my particular pain, since he took to his fainting couch and blocked me on Twitter at some point – see below.) But apparently he feels the rest of you, because he has pioneered a new version of the useless day-of-the-week intro ritual (ie “on a Wednesday”) he and other hosts have adopted over the last couple of years. Now he’s taken to uttering pseudo-ominous inanities like “well, you’ve made it to Tuesday!” I think everyone out here in listener-land is pretty aware of what day of the week it is and whether or not surmounting the previous midnight is worthy of succor and sympathy.

I will go so far as to say I would not mind being calmly reminded of the date, Steve, which you never do for some reason.

2. Yay us!

NPR or its shows were mentioned in two nerdy inner sanctums in the past week, the game show “Jeopardy” and the NY Times crossword puzzle. Given the exuberant twit-storm about this from NPR staffers I can only deduce that it’s apparently everything they’ve been working towards for their entire lives. What will they do now for a second act?

This brings me to a more general annoyance, which is the self-aggrandizing vanity retweets many hosts and official public radio program feeds indulge in. I guess I’m glad that @doctormom420 cried in her driveway during the segment when Scott Simon sang “Danny Boy” to Draggy, GoryCorps creator and aptonym David Isay’s 2-legged Golden Retriever, but I don’t need to know about it.

Let’s make a deal: if you are going to retweet the effulgent praise then I expect you to retweet the trenchant critiques also, which you can find more easily if you unblock me on twitter.

Which brings me to…

3. Throwing a block

I try to be a resource for people by following every public radio personality and show I can find on Twitter, unfollowing them only when their feeds become choked with baby pics and vanity retweets.

Those of you who are familiar with the effete and grammatical pokes I take at public radio must marvel at Steve Inskeep’s (and EXCITING UPDATE “Vocal Fry Guy” Raz!) precious sensitivity. This is unbecoming in one who makes a living ostensibly asking tough questions in interviews. If Twitter actually notified users at the time when other users blocked them I could know which comment of mine tweaked Inskeep’s and Raz’s hair-trigger peevishness.

Then we come to On The Media, a show I myself have praised effulgently in this space. Yeah, they blocked me for some reason. Really, OTM? You are the show that hates censorship so much you have produced entire episodes about it. What could I, who have called OTM the best show on radio, have said to offend them so much that they would block me from their official Twitter feed? What does that even accomplish other than tainting the purity of my love for them? At least Brooke and Bob, the hosts, have yet to block me from their little-used personal feeds.

I admit that I do sometimes say things that don’t follow the public relations guidelines for human society known as “political correctness.” But I am not one of these ignorant, racist, sexist, conspiracist or wing-nut (left or right) knee-jerk public radio trollers you find in the comment sections dangling under so many segments’ web pages.

To those who block me I have this to say: no matter what you claim, vous n’êtes pas Charlie.

4. Same old pundits vs. Sarah Chayes

I have written before about how outrageous it is that Chayes, one of the most valuable voices about Afghanistan we have and a former NPR correspondent, has been ignored ever since she left her radio job to actually do something instead of just “getting a sense.” I have also written about how weird it is that smart voices only seem to appear on radio shows like Diane Rehm when they are coincidentally on a book tour.

Well the second phenomenon has, at least for a brief period, solved the first because Sarah Chayes is on a book tour, which is the golden ticket to get back on the radio. Yay!

Meanwhile most of the regular pundit slots remain filled with people whose responses are entirely predictable: either political talking points or conventional wisdom.

I’m out of time, but not out of bile, so stay tuned!

I do, I like Green Eggs and Ham!!!

You’d think a purported master-debater like Ted Cruz would know that the protagonist of “Green Eggs and Ham” learns to freakin’ LOVE green eggs and ham – once he actually tries them.

You’d think NPR’s news department would be smart enough to point out this amusing fact.

The whole damned point of that book is to get children (Republicans?) to try new things.  Sound familiar?

Who knows, maybe Cruz will come to like Obamacare!  If he’s like other Republicans who individually change their minds when it suits them it will happen the moment someone in his family needs an expensive life-saving procedure that they can’t afford.

Where’s the Pork?

NPR reporter Julia Simon had a story today that exemplifies the best and worst of public media.

She starts with an incredibly good question: all educated Americans know that the US gives mega money to Egypt annually, but what does that money actually buy?

In a  very easy to understand narrative Simon takes us on a guided tour of what happens with this money.  SPOILER ALERT!  It never leaves the USA.  It actually purchases a bunch of bloated, American-made cold-war weapons systems of which Egypt already has plenty.  Best quote:

There’s no conceivable scenario in which they’d need all those tanks short of an alien invasion.

– Shana Marshall, Insert Relevant Institution Here

Simon then follows with specific examples of companies who lobby Washington to keep these purchases going.

So far so awesome.  But then the story just ends.  There is the requisite comment that this is just how things are and the inertia of existing programs is difficult to change etc.  We’ll just have to leave it there.

Conventional wisdom achieved: the military industrial complex is what it is, sigh.

But there’s a giant Nile crocodile in the room that is utterly absent from this story of a corrupt developing country spending proxy billions of American taxpayer money on unnecessary American made weapons, isn’t there?



Oh wait!  Corruption!

The subtext of the story for those actually paying attention is that someone, somewhere, is getting a lot of kickback for these deals.  Probably a lot of someones.  In fact a lack of corruption in this set-up would be so astonishing as to deserve its own mention.

But I guess that sort of exploration is for the kind of investigative reporting that either doesn’t exist much anymore or is too focussed on Anthony’s Wiener.