Friday, February 17, 2017

The Leaks are Real. The News is Fake

The press conference President Trump had Thursday might has been blogged about by yours truly as a "Trump Did Not Have A Great Day" post, but I'm not sure that's exactly how I would describe what transpired. I think a pretty good analysis of the entire presser with transcript was done by NPR, and I encourage looking at what I think is a pretty even-handed review. The presser itself took place while I was at work, so my impressions of what was said largely came through checking my Twitter feed at work whilst at lunch--and you would be quite reasonable to assume my Twitter follows lean left, and the conservatives and Republicans that I do follow lean "never Trump". My impression was that the nearly 1.5 hour event was kind of a damn mess.

I guess I still consider it a damn mess, but I recognize that for people who are pro-Trump, this is not a problem. Did he say things that weren't entirely factually true--sure, but they were "truthy" in the sense of fitting in with his worldview and specific hyperbolic style. Was he basically pissing and moaning about bad press coverage? You bet--but many people are critical of and even distrust mainstream media journalism. Also, I think because what Trump does and says is so highly different from what conventional politicians do or say, a person used to covering more traditional figures is liable to read his eccentricities as more erratic or disordered or imply that he's collapsing or self-destructing or that this one news thing is going to just disable his presidency--

It doesn't work like that, though. I think in both the liberal and conservative camps, we've gotten a little bit inured to clickbait-y titles that suggest that some figure was "destroyed" or "slayed" or "totally owned" by some event. But this never the actual case. Show me a chalk outline around a greasy spot where that individual once stood and I would call that "destroyed". "Made to look uncomfortable or even a bit emotionally aroused" is not actually "destroyed". In other words, from a liberal perspective, I am inherently distrustful of people who want to positively state that this early in a presidency, any number of off-the-wall utterances taking place can mark the end of a presidency. Especially for someone whose entire candidacy, nomination, and general election tactics were predicated on--what would I even call it? "Off-the-wall-ism"?

That said, as a critic of political communications and policy, I guess there might be any number of blogposts I could spin off of any given exchange or paragraph. I mean, seriously. Even basic things like Trump's fetish for discussing his electoral win is simply peculiar. His 304 electoral vote win was not the most significant since President Reagan. He likes saying it was "306" and seems to want to imply it was a massive landslide. It just wasn't. Or citing Rasmussen's claim that he has 55% approval--which disagrees with Pew and Gallup--but still wouldn't qualify as "through the roof" relative to being in what should be the "honeymoon phase" of his presidency. Which he isn't getting because his White House is not a "finely-tuned machine" (OMG--this was a thing he said!) but more like some good old boys making their way the only way they know how, which might be a little bit more than the law will allow.

He's obsessed with "ratings", but doesn't quite correlate the concept that popularity and effectiveness are not the same thing. And he's not yet achieved effectiveness despite his claims--shit like the botched Yemen raid and his skimpy staffing are on him, not the people reporting on him. He seems dilatory about vetting people or things. His "I can't believe it's not a Muslim ban" was not properly checked out. Leadership should include sharing responsibility for failures and taking a problem-solving approach to challenges--not complaining about them. For a person with business executive experience, he does not seem to be translating any acquired skills to government executive capacity. This is worrisome, because that is the exact flexibility his voters seemed to be counting on.

For blaming others for his own failures, look no further than the title of this post--Trump wants to claim that the leaks coming from his general circle are real, but the news they result in is fake. If the leaks are genuine inside information--why wouldn't the reporting of them constitute real information? It's kind of hard for me to reconcile the major WikiLeaks fan, who cheered on the possibility of Russia hacking Hillary Clinton's emails (which never did happen) with the POTUS so pissed-off about the impromptu transparency experiment from what must only be disgruntled folks under his unique leadership. I would suppose that if the news was made-up, it would be fake. But if the leaks are real, the news can't be much else. And "fake" is not either synonymous with "stuff the president would rather not be discussed".

But regarding the recent resigfiring or firignation of former General Michael Flynn, again, Trump is trying to have things all kinds of ways. Flynn did something wrong enough to be fired (or have his resignation accepted) in committing a sin of omission to VP Pence over the content of his conversation with Russian officials. But Trump might have been fully briefed on that and allowed Pence to be in the dark--so why did that happen? Also, Trump allows that the actual breach of the Logan Act in discussing ending sanctions with Russia seems to have been Flynn's job, and he has no problem with that--notwithstanding that the law doesn't let you go on the "making foreign policy clock" before you're sworn in. Also--Flynn lied to the FBI when questioned about it apparently, which would also be a felony. But that is somehow not the bit Trump is concerned with.  He wants it to look like Flynn was great and got fired anyway because Trump was swayed by fake news and despite everything you ever heard from Trump and his kids, he doesn't have anything to do with Russia so why are you even looking at this disagreeable thing that the Trump administration is apparently all balls deep in?

That sure sounds sincere, and also really fucked up.

But, and don't think I'm forgetting his thinking that all black people know each other because April Ryan and the CBC, he really showed his behind on the anti-Semitism question, because this is his second bite at the apple, and he jacked it up.

On Wednesday, he had a presser with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and was asked about the rise of anti-Semitism occurring contemporaneously with his campaign and what he would say to reassure Jewish people alarmed by this thing. And Trump sort of mentioned his electoral votes (OMG--so obsessed!) and then eventually got back around to saying Jewish people would feel loved because some of his best friends  his family members were Jews.

Not the most persuasive or even sane argument in the world. But when an observant Orthodox Jew asked, even starting with saying Trump isn't being accused of anti-Semitism himself, Trump snaps at him, saying he should sit down, and defends himself in a way that isn't really such a great defense. The rise of hate in the US is real.  The threats against Jews are real. They are terrorism--but President Trump can't even use his bully pulpit to say that people shouldn't attack religious minorities? He can use his bully pulpit to strike out at Nordstrom over his daughter's clothing line (which is ongepotchket) but doesn't have the leadership skill to say he disavows anti-Semites and thinks they should stop harassing decent Americans?

What we get instead is dreck. He could have called out the Pepe Frog brigade who joke about ovens and dissemble about whether this image or that is really a sheriff's star and offered a defense of people with real fears.  (But no. I don't think so. When you can't even mention Jews to commemorate the Holocaust, you are basically too invested in cultivating the sensitivities of deplorables to pour the anti-Semitic piss out of your jackboot.)

He called it--his critics were going to accuse him of ranting and raving. But he didn't so much rant or rave as piss and moan, and the narrative he provided was full of sound and fury, and signified the nothing his administration thus far was good for. And also reminded those of us who care about such things, why it was all so very, very bad.

6 comments:

Roger said...

"... cheered on the possibility of Russia hacking Hillary Clinton's emails " I'm so glad to see somebody, finally, characterize that incident in a way which doesn't distort it to try to make The Donald look even worse than he is. He did not "invite" the FSB to hack Hillary's emails. The possibility that they already had was what he was talking about. This distortion (i.e., a lie, one of many) is why I won't vote Democratic again unless they clean the place out. And I voted for Hillary. Had to tie a rag soaked in gasoline over my nose to do it, but I did. Sorry for going off topic, but I feel so strongly about the hysterical lies the Democrats are spreading to cover their loss.

Vixen Strangely said...

Roger, you make a good point: in the age of "fake news", accuracy is important. Trump's speculative and future tense phrasing to the effect of "I hope you find the 30K missing Clinton emails" seems more aspirational than a direct communication to Russia. If such a direction was going to be ordered in reality, wouldn't a person do that in a secure back-channel way, instead of in front of media? A person who was literally ordering Russian hackers to do that thing very publically would be absurdly reckless, and it is reasonable to doubt that this was exactly what he meant. What he more likely meant was that it would be beneficial to himself if more info was found out--a tacit admission that leaks served him well, but not necessarily an "invitation". (Although it does suggest he didn't altogether mind they did it if it served his agenda, which is another, if different, flavor of awful.)

Also, in the meanwhile, her devices were already in the hands of forensic FBI investigators, and there is some reality to the idea that nothing is ever really "deleted"; the Bleachbit program (or what Trump liked to refer to as "acid wash", which always called to mind regrettable denim decisions to me) still isn't 100% good at erasing the whole gap where a deleted message would be, and it seems like the FBI was able to work with the fragments left behind to reconstruct what should have been there. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/national-security/article92481257.html

Here's where I diverge from what you're saying about "hysterical lies" though--not every journalist or blogger feels the way I do about the need for accuracy, but I think the mistakes they are making, even if agenda-serving, are done out of a real concern for what the Trump Administration and GOP Congressional support for it leads to. It's not sheer partisanship that motivates that erroneous reporting, but a genuine and not-unrealistic fear of what an authoritarian regime of uncertain loyalties might make possible. For that matter, the same kind of uncertainty about what Democratic "overreach" amounts to (meaning when Democrats accomplish some part of their agenda, whenever they have power, like passing the ACA, ending DADT, or blocking pipelines) fuels right-wing "fake news".

But I genuinely wonder what "cleaning the place out" looks like. The art of politics has never been free from propaganda, and at some point, it becomes necessary to pick one's battles (for clean air, or the First Amendment, or for the rights of POC and LGBT people and feminism, etc.) based on principle, despite any disagreement with your fellow travelers' tactics. Not supporting candidates who are more similar to your worldview on the basis of a tonal disagreement sounds like a self-defeating argument.

Or to just quote DJ Khaled, "Don't ever play yourself." Taking your balls and going home doesn't win any games. It just leaves you home alone playing with your balls.

Formerly Amherst said...

Hi Vixen, good for Roger. Keep it real.

Fake news? What news? Are we talking about news? Where might that endangered species be found?

One rarely sees “news” of any sort on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox.

In place of news what you have are mostly ridiculous editorials and contrived panels going on day in and day out about some piece of minutia in respect to Donald Trump. Where, may I ask, is the news? Did you see that they discovered a new microcontinent the other day? It is between Africa and Australia and is under water. It has all the properties required to be regarded by science as a continent. If you tuned into any of the major TV channels you would simply have been instructed in respect to what Donald Trump had for dinner and whether the digestive processes required leaning to the left or to the right. You know, it's bizarre, but things do happen out there.

I feel like we have been captured by a bunch of people enthralled by the inside-palace politics. Did you know that Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenia are in a struggle to more vigorously define their place publicly in the royal family? If people wanted palace politics, you could go and peruse the real thing. It's quite interesting. A certain contention because of historical events between Prince Charles and Prince Andrew.

OK here's the thing about Trump supporters. We are made up of people from both the right and the left. And as a consequence political parties have less to do with our aspirations than concrete plans to fix problems.

The president and the speaker and the majority leader have a 200-day plan that is more ambitious than most previous presidents. Right now this plan is completely on track, and I believe in the next few weeks we will see a rollout relative to Obamacare and the new tax plan. There are pauses in the 200-day plan to account for possible snags that could reveal themselves. Trump supporters are very pleased with the way things have gone so far.

This all amounts to really one salient fact: in a couple of years either Trump will have accomplished so many of the propositions he ran on he will enjoy great popularity, or he will have dropped the ball and his second term will be less certain. The rest is all noise.

Vixen Strangely said...

I think one of the failures of the internet age is editing. Back in the day, when an individual took one or two papers and chose one of three non-cable television network news franchises to patronize, one was the beneficiary of editors. The stalwart gatekeepers of yore kept us from knowing that LBJ waggled his wedding tackle in front of bemused journos for shits'n'grins, or that John Kennedy and FDR were both, in their respective ways, quite physically wrecked (and both apparently entertained mistresses). Both health and personal peccadilloes were judge "not news" and presumably, things of a more appropriate and newsworthy nature were indulged. Also, certain John Birch-affiliated propagandists distributed flyers about Communist-sympathizer (srsly?) Enemy Number one Kennedy, which somehow were distributed in Texas where that president was murdered by a supposed comsymp. (Not allegedly by the CIA over the Bay of Pigs or by the Mafia because he fucked the wrong capo
s mistress, they say--but you know the kinds of things they say.) FDR was called a Jew, which is astounding when you consider how very WASPY he was for a NY Dutch with a pedigree as long as a very long thing. To this day, the so-called "Business plot" is either a thing that happened or didn't, depending on whether you think a cocktail putsch could have been plausible at the time. My grandmother probably heard less about it than I did, and she was alive then.

Today, people self-edit, with mixed results depending upon their critical thinking abilities and areas of interest. The British Royal family and its succession bores me, and not at all due (I think) to my latent Irish Catholic (my other folks were German Lutheran) sensibilities. The idea of another "Atlantis" candidate fascinates me as a geographical feature and as a potential holiday destination--I have never scuba-dived, and as a person who likes marine-life and thinks it would be a good thing to be a mermaid as much as I have, I would be fascinated by a visit to an underwater terra incognita.

I don't care much whether Trump is a fast-food junky or whether Conway and Spicer are allegedly tearing out each others' hair. A lot of the picayune things might be disinfo anyway--there are parody (and possibly real) "Alt Government Agency" Twitter accounts that allege to be giving an insight into a chaotic and disintegrating White House--this seems like lib-bait: giving anti-Trump people what they want to see. I sometimes check in for a laugh, but take it with a grain. What interests me is quantifiable things--EO's submitted, Federal Circuit Court cases, cabinet nominations, confirmations, etc. Gossip is not as germane to our national security as things like whether Trump can successfully staff those positions pertaining to intelligence and national security--and holds off on purges of long-time staffers with institutional knowledge before installing his own, hopefully knowledgeable folks in.

I don't thing Trump voters who claim to be leftists concern me much at all, because those people are terribly confused. Trump's plans don't strike me as liable to be effective at MAGA. I'm more concerned with whether he's even considered competent. McCain--I would have considered him competent. Not great. Competent. Mitt Romney--competent. Not liable to actually turn into an authoritarian jackwagon with no empathy.

I just don't have this confidence with Trump. I look at him, and I see a poorly potty-trained senescent child who is surrounded with people who have competing agendas, but is himself not actually cut out for government service. I could be wrong, and we would be better off if I were. But I am not optimistic.

Roger said...

Vixen,
I agree editors can provide valuable services, but I can't forget how they can also shape the news to favor certain viewpoints. Although I should probably assign more blame to the publisher, Henry Luce, Time and Life magazines regularly refused to run the material from their reporters in Vietnam, preferring to rewrite the handouts from Luce's friends at the Pentagon instead. In 2003 somebody failed to find space to report on the large anti-war demonstrations that were being held around the country. In the last year somebody decided that the stories about how the IC had proven that Putin was personally responsible for hacking Podesta's emails and the DNC computers were more important than mentioning that many people expert in IT security believed they didn't even prove the perps were Russian. I mean, after all, you only have so much space, amirite? Interesting reposting of a 1973 article from Rolling Stone by Halberstom, detailing how much the CIA controlled journalists in the '50s and '60s. I don't think they've given up control after 9/11.

I'm not at all confident I would have considered McCain competent, since he chose to run with Backwoods Barbie.

Roger said...

Oops! It was Carl Bernstein, not Halberstam (I even misspelled his name, I really needed an editor), and the article is at http://www.carlbernstein.com/magazine_cia_and_media.php