What a fucking asshole. Anyway, another year, another meme:
Cartoons via Cagle website:
Grab her by the pussy:
And let’s end with this powerful speech:
This is an open thread.
Once again, there isn’t a lot of good news out there to talk about. The media is still “freaking out” about the Covid omicron variant, and we still don’t actually know much about it. Trump and his goons are still threatening U.S. democracy, and the DOJ appears to be doing nothing to stop them. Finally, in another media issue: CNN’s top talking head, Chris Cuomo needs to go, but the network is still dithering.
From Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post:
The media freaked out during Thanksgiving weekend over the discovery of the omicron variant. The New York Stock Exchange dropped 900 points. Both were irrational, exaggerated responses based on little information.
In any case, travel restrictions aren’t likely to keep the variant out of the U.S. On the other hand, according to the doctor who identified omicron, the people she saw who were infected had very mild symptoms.
The South African doctor who first identified the omicron variant that is spreading in the country and abroad has described the symptoms as she observed them in her patients, stating that the strain is so far producing “very, very mild” effects in them.
Dr Angelique Coetzee told BBC News that she had first noticed the symptoms in a young, male patient around the age of 30 whom she normally knew to be very healthy. He was “extremely tired” as well as having “body aches and pains with a bit of a headache,” a “scratchy” rather than sore throat, and no cough or loss of taste or smell, she said. The doctor was speaking about her experience of a small group of patients, and not making general comments about how all patients will experience it.
Coetzee tested the man for covid-19 and found him to be positive, then tested his family and found them all to have the virus, despite showing only “very, very mild symptoms,” she said. For the rest of the day, people kept presenting at her surgery with similar symptoms, and all tested positive. Noticing that the symptoms seemed to differ from the delta variant, which had hitherto been the most prevalent form of covid globally, she alerted the country’s vaccines committee, of which she is a member. They announced their resultant discovery of the omicron variant a few days later.
Perhaps reassuringly for those who are worrying about this new development, Coetzee noted that none of the cases she knew of were serious. “What we are seeing clinically in South Africa, and remember that I’m at the epicenter, that’s where I’m practicing, is extremely mild…We haven’t admitted anyone [to hospital]. I spoke to other colleagues of mine: The same picture,” she told the BBC.
Obviously, that could change, but it’s not time to panic yet.
The latest on Trump’s coup attempt at The Guardian: Trump called aides hours before Capitol riot to discuss how to stop Biden victory.
Hours before the deadly attack on the US Capitol this year, Donald Trump made several calls from the White House to top lieutenants at the Willard hotel in Washington and talked about ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win from taking place on 6 January.
The former president first told the lieutenants his vice-president, Mike Pence, was reluctant to go along with the plan to commandeer his largely ceremonial role at the joint session of Congress in a way that would allow Trump to retain the presidency for a second term.
But as Trump relayed to them the situation with Pence, he pressed his lieutenants about how to stop Biden’s certification from taking place on 6 January, and delay the certification process to get alternate slates of electors for Trump sent to Congress.
The former president’s remarks came as part of strategy discussions he had from the White House with the lieutenants at the Willard – a team led by Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Boris Epshteyn and Trump strategist Steve Bannon – about delaying the certification.
Multiple sources, speaking to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity, described Trump’s involvement in the effort to subvert the results of the 2020 election.
Trump’s remarks reveal a direct line from the White House and the command center at the Willard. The conversations also show Trump’s thoughts appear to be in line with the motivations of the pro-Trump mob that carried out the Capitol attack and halted Biden’s certification, until it was later ratified by Congress.
The former president’s call to the Willard hotel about stopping Biden’s certification is increasingly a central focus of the House select committee’s investigation into the Capitol attack, as it raises the specter of a possible connection between Trump and the insurrection.
Trump also called the “command center” at the Willard multiple times on January 5.
Trump’s call to the lieutenants came a day after Eastman, a late addition to the Trump legal team, outlined at a 4 January meeting at the White House how he thought Pence could usurp his role in order to stop Biden’s certification from happening at the joint session.
At the meeting, which was held in the Oval Office and attended by Trump, Pence, Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and his legal counsel, Greg Jacob, Eastman presented a memo that detailed how Pence could insert himself into the certification and delay the process.
The memo outlined several ways for Pence to commandeer his role at the joint session, including throwing the election to the House, or adjourning the session to give states time to send slates of electors for Trump on the basis of election fraud – Eastman’s preference.
The then acting attorney general, Jeff Rosen, and his predecessor, Bill Barr, who had both been appointed by Trump, had already determined there was no evidence of fraud sufficient to change the outcome of the 2020 election.
There’s a court hearing going on today about Trump’s attempts to exert executive privilege over his communications about the planned coup when he was “president.” From the CNN article:
A federal appeals court posed tough questions for lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, as Trump attempts to convince the court that he should be able to keep records from his presidency from the House select committee that’s investigating the January 6 US Capitol riot.
“This all boils down to who decides. Who decides when it is in the best interest of the United States to disclose presidential records? Is it the current occupant of the White House or the former?” said Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
The arguments are likely to be an uphill battle for the former President. The Biden administration and the House are aligned against him in wanting transparency about communications in the West Wing as Trump sought to overturn the 2020 election result and his supporters raided the Capitol. Trump lost his first round in court in the case, more quickly and resoundingly than his losses when he tried to claim broad protections from investigations while he was President.
Yet by raising major, unsettled questions about the power of former presidents to control information from their time in office, the case appears to be on a path to the Supreme Court.
Read more at the link.
Finally, CNN must fire Chris Cuomo. That link goes an Atlantic piece by David A. Graham. Yesterday, The New York Times published a shocking story on how Cuomo tried to help his brother Andrew escape accountability for his treatment of women: Chris Cuomo Played Outsize Role in Ex-Gov. Cuomo’s Defense.
Thousands of pages of new evidence and sworn testimony released on Monday show the extent to which former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo relied on a group of allies, including his younger brother, the CNN host Chris Cuomo, to strategize how to deflect and survive a cascade of sexual harassment charges that eventually engulfed him.
Beginning last December with the first public accusation by a former aide, Lindsey Boylan, the records lay out in unvarnished detail how the tight-knit group of advisers discussed a series of increasingly drastic steps to manipulate the press, discredit his accusers and retain a grip on power that became less and less tenable.
After debating the legality of the move, they agreed to pass Ms. Boylan’s personnel file to reporters, portraying her as politically motivated and unhinged. They sought — and failed — to rally dozens of former female aides and supporters to pen an op-ed defending him.
Chris Cuomo pressed to take on a greater role in crafting his brother’s defense, including phoning into strategy calls and using his media contacts to keep tabs on reporters pursuing stories about the governor. At one point, he even ran down a secondhand tip that another woman accusing the governor of unwanted advances at a wedding was lying. (She was not.)
“You need to trust me,” Chris Cuomo pleaded with Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s secretary, at one point in March, arguing that she should rely on him and other outside advisers like the political consultant Lis Smith and the pollster Jefrey Pollock.
He added: “We are making mistakes we can’t afford.”
Yet Cuomo appeared in his usual time slot last night.
An even more pointed headline from CNBC: CNN host Chris Cuomo used his media sources to find out info on brother Andrew’s accusers, records show.
CNN host Chris Cuomo used his sources in the media world to seek information on women who accused his brother Andrew Cuomo, then the governor of New York, of sexual harassment, according to documents released Monday by the New York Attorney General’s Office.
While Chris Cuomo has previously acknowledged advising his brother and his team on the response to the scandals, the records show that his role in helping the then-governor was much larger and more intimate than previously known.
Chris Cuomo was actively in touch with Melissa DeRosa, who was the then-governor’s top aide, about incoming media reports that detailed alleged sexual harassment by Andrew Cuomo, according to exhibits from the Attorney General’s probe and a transcript of his interview with the state’s investigators. He also lobbied to help the governor’s office as it sought to weather the storm of accusations, and he dictated statements for the then-governor to use.
“Please let me help with the prep,” Chris Cuomo said to DeRosa in one message in early March. Then, three days after the New York Times reported in March about how Andrew Cuomo attempted to kiss a woman, Anna Ruch, in an unwanted advance at a wedding, Chris Cuomo texted DeRosa: “I have a lead on the wedding girl.”
CNN says they are “conducting a thorough review of the documents.” Frankly, it’s difficult to understand why CNN kept Cuomo on after the initial revelations. If they don’t get rid of him now, they will lose all credibility as a news organization.
There are plenty of other stories out there. Which ones have caught your interest?
Good Day Sky Dancers!
The one thing that’s become more apparent to me than anything else is the double standard in the media and elsewhere with what they tolerate from white men who are screaming like scalded hogs at the moment and essentially trying to install an autocratic government to retain their privilege and control of the country’s major institutions. Loss of privilege is not the same as being unable to secure your civil liberties and rights.
So why is she getting buried in bad press by the Beltway media, as they gleefully pile on? Unloading breathless, the gossip-heavy coverage is not only detached from reality, the press has gone sideways portraying Harris as lost and ineffective — in over her head.
It’s impossible to miss the increasingly condescending tone of the coverage, as Harris serves as the first woman vice president in U.S. history, and the first person of color to hold that position. The Atlantic has dismissed her as “uninteresting” and mocked her lack of political agility.
The recent frenzy of gotcha stories, which perfectly reflects petty, right-wing attacks on Harris, represents an entirely new way of covering a sitting vice president. None of the white men who previously served in that position were put under this kind of a microscope, and certainly not months into their first term. “News outlets didn’t have beat reporters who focused largely on covering Dick Cheney, Joe Biden or Mike Pence, but they do for Harris,” the Post’s Perry Bacon noted. “Her every utterance is analyzed, her exact role in the Biden White House scrutinized.”
Worse, the premises used to support the steady drumbeat of negative, nit-picky coverage revolve around dopey optics and pointless parlor gossip. (She’s now rivals with Pete Buttigieg!)
Keep reading for the glaring examples all over the media. And notice it’s the gay guy and the black woman getting the nitpick treatment. Don’t start me on the number of women of color who’ve endured the tribulation of justifying themselves in from the of the old white Republicans of the Senate. My guess is it’s the Hillary treatment where you nitpick and find false scandals until she never becomes electible again. But, my question is WHY?
Yeah, It’s the Hillary Treatment alright. From the Telegraph: With Kamala Harris looking unelectable, the Democrats are considering the nuclear option
Ask yourself who really hates our democracy and country now.
Right-wing men are terrifically insecure. As best as I can determine, they’re very much afraid of any competition for anything. Righteous Hackers are working to take their white nationalist patriarchal movement down. This is from The Guardian. How far-right extremist groups face exposure from army of hacktivists. Data leaks and breaches by so-called ‘ethical hackers’ – often assisted by poor security practices – have exposed inner workings of groups and the nature of the movement as a whole.
Throughout 2021, websites associated with far-right extremist groups and extremist-friendly platforms and hosts have suffered from data leaks and breaches that have exposed the inner workings of far-right groups, and the nature of the movement as a whole.
The data has been exfiltrated in breaches engineered by so-called “ethical hackers” – often assisted by poor security practices from website administrators – and by activists who have penetrated websites in search of data and information.
Experts and activists say that attacks on their online infrastructure is likely to continue to disrupt and hamper far-right groups and individuals and makes unmasking their activities far more likely – often resulting in law enforcement attention or loss of employment.
Numerous far-right groups have suffered catastrophic data breaches this year, in perhaps a reflection of a lack of technical expertise among such activists. Jim Salter, a systems administrator and tech journalist, said: “Extremists, and extremist-friendly entities, have a noticeable shortage of even-tempered, thoughtful people doing even-tempered, thoughtful work at securing sites and managing personnel.”
There are many examples.
In the wake of the 6 January attacks, the Guardian reported on the leak from American Patriots III% website, which allowed the entire membership of the organization to be identified.
In that case, poor website configuration had allowed savvy researchers to view and republish the information on the open web.
In July, another organization affiliated with the Three Percenters, which monitoring organizations classify as an anti-government group or a component of the militia movement, had internal chats leaked which reportedly exhibited a “thirst for violence”.
Then, in September, it emerged that the website of the anti-government group the Oath Keepers was comprehensively breached, with membership lists, emails and what appeared to be the entire content of their server suddenly put on public display.
This is an extremely interesting read. And I just had to put this in wondering if the press will find a way to pick on First Lady Biden’s traditional Christmas tastes.
I imagine we’ll get lectured on the aesthetic of boring. And to our next question.
So, this trial is going to be interesting because we’ve only going one person to take trial for the sins of Jeffrey Epstein.
This is via Law and Crime: “An Anonymous Jury Has Been Selected for Ghislaine Maxwell’s Sex Trafficking Trial. Here’s What We Know About the Panel.”
Shielded in anonymity, the jurors selected to preside over Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial will be identified only by their number in the interest of preserving their privacy and safety, but some details about them and their awareness of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal have been publicly disclosed earlier this month.
The 12-person panel, and six alternate jurors waiting on standby, were sworn in by U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan following a painstaking selection process. Judge Nathan whittled down a pool of 600 candidates with surveys, first with a written questionnaire and then one-on-one questions held in open court, known as voir dire proceedings.
Rejecting a request by Maxwell’s defense team to conduct this hearing secretly, Nathan held voir dire in full press and public view earlier this month. Potential jurors answered questions on the public record, with certain information—like their names—kept under seal.
Here is a breakdown of the jurors, a group that includes mostly highly educated professionals representing a broad cross-section of New York City and neighboring counties. The list may change as two newly-empaneled jurors expressed conflicts after being chosen. As the biographical information comes from voir dire transcripts, these profiles do not currently include a race and gender breakdown. The jury, however, appears to be diverse in these categories, as well as age and educational background.
So, the media continues to miss the point. And I’m tired already of writing about it. Did I mention the budget/deficit ceiling battle is about to restart?
Congress is only a couple of weeks away from hitting the Dec. 15 deadline to raise the federal debt limit, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) don’t appear to be anywhere close to a deal.
Democrats insist that Schumer will not burn up a week of Senate floor time to use the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt limit with only Democratic votes.
And Republicans say there’s no way that McConnell will be able to round up 10 Republican votes to quash an expected filibuster from conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and allow Democrats to pass debt limit legislation with a simple majority under regular order.
The Republicans are not capable of running anything but a Circus Sideshow. We need to vote them out where we can.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
I’m really struggling to write a post this morning. I’ve been having a powerful sense of deja vu as the Afghanistan withdrawal and the media reaction to it have played out. I had a similar helpless, despairing feeling when I realized George W. Bush was going to push us into a war in Iraq that would very likely mire us in another Vietnam-type conflict and the mainstream media was going to help him.
I didn’t think we should have gone into Afghanistan, and now Bush wanted to start a completely unnecessary war in Iraq, based on obvious lies and exaggerations. Naturally, big media was thrilled and pushed hard for the war–particularly at The New York Times. Now I’m watching helplessly as the NYT and other outlets gleefully tear down Joe Biden and in the process possibly help Republicans retake the House and Senate in 2022.
I don’t know if anyone here has been watching Lawrence O’Donnell this week on MSNBC, but I agree with his take on what’s happening in Afghanistan. On Tuesday night he talked about how people who weren’t even born yet when we withdrew from Vietnam are claiming that the Afghanistan situation is even worse. That’s insane. As O’Donnell said, “Everything about Vietnam was much worse than what has happened in Afghanistan.” It’s not even close.
“Here’s the link to O’Donnell’s commentary. I hope you’ll watch it if you didn’t see it already. He also argues that the Pentagon and military have no idea how to conduct a withdrawal after losing a war, and it would likely be chaotic no matter what we did to prepare. Also see this interview with marine captain Timothy Kudo, who served in Afghanistan.
Kudo wrote an op-ed for The New York Times that was published on Monday: I Was a Marine in Afghanistan. We Sacrificed Lives for a Lie. You really need to read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:
I see a report that the American Embassy will destroy its American flags to deny the Taliban a propaganda victory. I think of the star-spangled banner that flew over my old patrol base, called Habib, Arabic for “beloved.” Five men died under that flag, for what?
The hawks still circle and screech. The voices from the past 20 years who prodded us forward into battle return to the evening news to sell us on staying. “It’s not too late,” the former generals, secretaries and ambassadors say. “More troops can hold the line. Victory is just around the corner.”
But the speed of the Taliban’s advance makes clear that this outcome was always inevitable. The enemy had no reason to negotiate and no reputation for restraint. The only question before President Biden was how many American troops should die before it happened. But if leaving now was the right decision for America, it is a catastrophe for the Afghan people whom we have betrayed.
The Afghans are forced back into living under religious tyranny, an existence made all the more painful by their brief experience with freedom. Now they see the light from the far end of a dark tunnel. The school doors will close for girls, and the boys will return to their religious studies. For them, the arc of the moral universe will bend backward and break.
It’s my old unit, First Battalion, Eighth Marines, that is sent in to secure the airport in Kabul. I am jealous. I would give anything to return right now, to give what last full measure remains.
Yes, what is happening is unbearably tragic, but is it Joe Biden’s fault as the media “analysts” keep telling us? How can Biden, after 6 months in office, suddenly be responsible for 20 years of failures? It just makes no sense.
Eric Levitz at New York Magazine: The Media Is Helping Hawks Win the War Over Biden’s Withdrawal. This piece is critical of Biden’s Afghanistan policy, but even more critical of those who fought to extend the war for two decades and now want it to continue.
Biden’s failure of moral courage and contingency planning is this moment’s lesser scandal. The bigger one is the war that he is ending, which recent events have certified as an unmitigated disaster. Yet you might not know this from the many ostensibly objective news reports that have cast Biden’s troop withdrawal as the source of our nation’s “humiliation.”
The first 20 years of America’s occupation of Afghanistan cost, by one estimate, 241,000 lives (including 2,448 U.S. troops and 71,000 civilians) and more than $2 trillion. The Taliban’s swift triumph has made it clear just how little all those deaths and dollars bought. Anyone paying attention already knew that the U.S. had engineered a kleptocracy in Kabul. But Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s decision to flee the country with $169 million in tow, even as his government was on the cusp of reaching a cease-fire agreement with the Taliban, made our client state’s depravity newly conspicuous.
Critical observers understood that the Afghan army was a paper tiger whose true ranks were far thinner than advertised and whose loyalty to the government was rooted less in patriotism than a mercenary’s interest in gainful employment. But the fact that America had invested $80 billion into training an army that was so incapable of independent action that it could not feed itself in the absence of U.S. air support — and so disenchanted with its own government that it would forfeit its capital with little fight — was not readily apparent until now.
Those who fought to extend America’s war in Afghanistan have every incentive to divert our attention from these revelations. They would like the public to miss the forest for the trees — by mistaking Biden’s tactical errors for strategic ones. The primary lesson of the past week could be that the U.S. war in Afghanistan was a catastrophe and that those who misled the public about the Afghan army’s strength deserve little input on future policy, no matter how many stars they have on their uniforms or diplomas they have on their walls. Alternatively, if news coverage focuses exhaustively on the shortcomings of Biden’s withdrawal, while largely ignoring what our client state’s abrupt collapse tells us about our two-decade-long occupation, then the lesson of Kabul’s fall could be quite favorable for Beltway hawks: Presidents shouldn’t end wars in defiance of the military brass unless they wish to become unpopular.
Unfortunately, we are currently hurtling toward that latter outcome. In recent days, much of the mainstream media has comported itself as the Pentagon’s Pravda. Reporters have indignantly asked the White House how it could say that America doesn’t have a vital national security interest in maintaining a military presence near Tajikistan. NBC’s Richard Engel has devoted his Twitter feed to scolding Biden for suggesting that America’s nation-building project in Afghanistan was always hopeless, and that the Kabul government was “basically a failed state.” CNN’s Jim Sciutto lamented on Twitter Wednesday, “Too many times, I’ve witnessed the US military attempt to dutifully carry out difficult & dangerous missions left to them by the miscalculations of civilian leaders.” This sentiment is disconcerting in the abstract, since it seems to suggest that civilian control of the military may be unwise. But it’s even stranger in context. As we learned just two years ago, American military leaders in Kabul systematically lied to the public about how well the war against the Taliban was going, so as to insulate their preferred foreign policy from democratic contestation.
For more context and the critique of Biden, read the whole thing at New York Magazine.
This piece is by Jed Legum, Tesnim Zekeria, and Rebecca Crosby at Popular Information: Where are the anti-war voices?
Yesterday’s newsletter detailed how the media is largely overlooking voices that supported Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. Instead media reports are almost exclusively highlighting criticism of the withdrawal — often from people complicit in two decades of failed policy in Afghanistan.
We have reason to believe that this is not an accident. On Wednesday, Popular Information spoke to a veteran communications professional who has been trying to place prominent voices supportive of the withdrawal on television and in print. The source said that it has been next to impossible:
“I’ve been in political media for over two decades, and I have never experienced something like this before. Not only can I not get people booked on shows, but I can’t even get TV bookers who frequently book my guests to give me a call back…
I’ve fed sources to reporters, who end up not quoting the sources, but do quote multiple voices who are critical of the president and/or put the withdrawal in a negative light.
I turn on TV and watch CNN and, frankly, a lot of MSNBC shows, and they’re presenting it as if there’s not a voice out there willing to defend the president and his decision to withdraw. But I offered those very shows those voices, and the shows purposely decided to shut them out.
In so many ways this feels like Iraq and 2003 all over again. The media has coalesced around a narrative, and any threat to that narrative needs to be shut out.”
Who is on TV? As Media Matters has documented, there are plenty of former Bush administration officials criticizing the withdrawal.
Is it really about execution?
Much of the criticism of Biden’s decision to withdraw has focused on the administration’s “execution.” The critics claim the withdrawal was poorly planned, chaotic, and unnecessarily put Americans — and their Afghan allies — in danger.
Some of these claims may be true. It’s hard to know, for example, how many people have been left behind since evacuations are ongoing. But, with a few exceptions, the criticisms of Biden’s execution are being made by people who opposed withdrawal altogether.
Click the link to read the rest.
I’m honestly depressed and disheartened by what is happening in the Afghanistan coverage. That’s about all I can say about it for now. Here are some other stories to check out today:
Steve Inskeep at NPR: A Mission To Give Afghans Democracy Became A Bid To Repair America’s Own.
What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread.
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
What a difference a week makes! The headlines today actually contain more news and analysis than melodrama and craziness. Perhaps it’s time to turn some focus to the news outlets and the way their approach to the last four years actually created a good deal of the havoc. A good first place to start is Fox News which basically turned into a propaganda arm of a deranged and out of control President by repeating and reinforcing every deranged lie and conspiracy theory out of his pouty little potty mouth.
This is from Mother Jones and Kevin Drum: “What Can We Do About Fox News?”.
However, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say again that all the attention being given to social media is basically a distraction. Sure, the insurrectionists used social media to help organize things, but people have organized protests in Washington DC before with little trouble. Nor was social media necessary to inflame to mob. The 2009 tea party movement did just fine without much in the way of social media.
The source of all this was, as usual, Fox News and the mainstream right-wing media empire. It wasn’t social media that convinced 70 percent of Republicans that the election was stolen. It was Fox News. It wasn’t social media that relentlessly took seriously all the moronic lawsuits filed by Donald Trump’s team of idiot lawyers. It was Fox News. It’s not social media that has any serious appeal outside the folks who are already conspiracy theorists. It’s Fox News.
But of course there’s nothing we can do about Fox News, is there? And they all dress so nicely, too. They can’t really want to overturn the peaceful transfer of power after an election, can they?
I have no idea what they really want to do. Maybe it’s all a game, maybe it’s just a way to make money, or maybe they really do want to overturn an election. But it doesn’t matter. Regardless of their intentions, they’re the ones responsible for this insurrection. And we aren’t completely helpless to stop them, either.
The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan writes this Op-Ed : “Fox News is a hazard to our democracy. It’s time to take the fight to the Murdochs. Here’s how.”
Last week, two key members of Fox News’s decision desk abruptly departed the network. One was laid off, the other has retired, and some insiders are calling it a “purge.”
Apparently, at a network that specializes in spreading lies, there was a price to pay for getting it right. (“Fox News isn’t a newsgathering organization,” surmised press critic Eric Boehlert, arguing in response to the purge that its White House credentials should be revoked.)
In recent days, Fox has taken a sharp turn toward a more extreme approach as it confronts a post-Trump ratings dip — the result of some of its furthest-right viewers moving to outlets such as Newsmax and One America News and some middle-of-the-roaders apparently finding CNN or MSNBC more to their liking.
With profit as the one true religion at Fox, something had to change. Eighty-nine-year-old Rupert Murdoch, according to a number of reports, has stepped in to call the shots directly. Most notably, the network has decided to add an hour of opinion programming to its prime-time offerings. The 7 p.m. hour will no longer be nominally news but straight-up outrage production.
Why? Because that’s where the ratings are.
And in a move that should be shocking but isn’t, one of those who will rotate through the tryouts for that coveted spot will be Maria Bartiromo, whose Trump sycophancy during the campaign may well have been unparalleled. She was among those (including Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro) recently forced under threat of a lawsuit to air a video that debunked repeated false claims on her show that corrupt voting software had given millions of Trump votes to Biden.
At the same time, Sean Hannity, who likes to blast Biden as “cognitively struggling,” and Tucker Carlson, who tries to sow doubt about the prevalence of white supremacy, have become even more outlandish as they try to gin up anti-Biden rage within their audiences.
Even James Murdoch, while not naming names, blasted the harm that his family’s media empire has done. “The sacking of the Capitol is proof positive that what we thought was dangerous is indeed very much so,” he told the Financial Times. “Those outlets that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years.”
There’s plenty of blame to spread around when it comes Trump’s media coverage and the minute by minute blasting of lies, conspiracy theories, and displays of id. Here’s one from New York Daily News and Pete Vernon: “Giving up the ‘Golden Goose’ how the Trump presidency shaped the media and what’s to come.”
The Trump era, marked by vitriolic attacks on the media and the failure to stand up for press freedoms abroad, did, however, harbor a cynical silver lining when it came to news organizations’ bottom lines. In 2016, then CBS executive chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves said of Trump’s candidacy, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” By admitting the quiet part out loud, the since-disgraced media mogul hit on a truth about the 45th president: whether Americans loved him or loathed him, they couldn’t turn away.
With Trump now ensconced at Mar-a-Lago, stripped of the Twitter account which served as his method for instigating so much madness, the political press is left to confront a as-yet-unanswerable question: What happens when the shiny objects of politics are no longer gilded in Trumpian ratings gold?
Journalists acknowledge Trump’s frequent claims that he was great for their business, unlike so many of his other boasts, were not lies. Newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post saw subscriptions surge, while cable news ratings skyrocketed. The Times and Post reportedly tripled their digital subscriber base over the past four years. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC all notched record audiences in 2020.
Trump was “a controversy factory” in office, says Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker. “Controversy sells and attracts readers, no question about it. We would get hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to tune into a story just because he said or did something outrageous.”
Under Joe Biden, the news, of course, is no less important. Biden has taken office in the midst of a raging pandemic, an economic crisis, a period of racial reckoning, and an impending impeachment trial of his predecessor. While it is unclear if the American public will continue to follow developments from Washington with the same intensity they did over the past four years, journalists are hoping that the audience remains tuned in.
Yes, folks in the media, you certainly do need to do better.
Since the Capitol siege of Jan. 6, federal and local officials have been scrambling to fortify Washington and its institutions against the threat of white supremacy and violence, but one national institution remains painfully vulnerable: the mainstream media.
The breaches to our Fourth Estate came long before Jan. 6, of course. From the moment Trump entered the 2016 race, endless oxygen was given to his racism and lies. White supremacists were deemed worthy of profiles noting their haircuts and wardrobes or allowed NPR airtime to rank the intelligence of the races. The breaches continued as ex-Trump officials were allowed to profit from distorting the truth to the American people, through TV analyst spots, book deals and Harvard fellowships.
Our media ushered all this through the door, under the aegis of “balance” and “presenting both sides” — as if racism and white supremacy were theoretical ideas to be debated, not life-threatening forces to be defeated. Never would I have imagined that I would say Biden’s stance on white supremacy is more progressive than the media’s. But here we are.
From the start, many non-White journalists grasped the threat that recognizing and calling out white supremacy was a life-or-death matter. And many paid a price for it. Black on-air commentators were literally laughed at by White counterparts for sounding the alarm. Journalist Jemele Hill was reprimanded by ESPN after calling Trump a white supremacist.
It took White blood being spilled, and elite lawmakers being threatened, for other sectors to confront the need to forcefully guard against extremism. In the wake of the Capitol insurrection, which left five dead, corporations pulled support from GOP politicians who supported the assault. Several Capitol officials resigned. Twitter kicked Trump off its platform, and Apple and Google removed Parler, which has increasingly become a haven for extremism, from their app stores.
But the media still seems unwilling or unable to reform itself. There have been no major efforts as an industry to systematically examine the role we played in America’s journey to the brink.
Then there is the entire debate around the role of social media as platform or publisher?
The Trump problem hardly caught Twitter by surprise. In 2019, Jack Dorsey did a round of podcast interviews and press appearances, hoping to boost “conversational health”—and, surely, Twitter’s stock price—with yet more public conversation. The podcast host Joe Rogan asked Dorsey whether he’d considered getting rid of Donald Trump, one of the most influential and least healthy conversationalists on the platform. Dorsey demurred, arguing that the words of a President are inherently newsworthy. “We should see how our leaders think and how they act,” he said. “That informs voting, that informs the conversation.” In the end, Twitter banned Trump, ostensibly, for two tweets posted on January 8th. The first, in which he referred to the seventy-five million Americans who had voted for him as “patriots,” was hardly one of the most incendiary things he’d ever posted. (It wouldn’t even make the top fifty.) The next tweet read, in its entirety, “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.” This was, ironically, one of the tiny minority of Trump’s tweets that really was unambiguously newsworthy. Twitter argued that “President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate”; to my eyes, on the contrary, it looked like the closest Trump will ever come to a concession. If you take Twitter’s reasoning at face value, then the most generous way to interpret the ban is that the company made the right decision for the wrong reasons. Perhaps the real reasons for the ban were simpler—that Trump is now a lame duck who can no longer punish Twitter with the levers of the federal government; that the siege of the Capitol was simply one bad press cycle too many; that the company is worried about violence in the near future, and is trying to avoid ending up with even more blood on its hands. If Twitter is being coy about its real motivations, or if the thinking leading to this monumental decision was really as muddled as the official explanation suggests, then there is little cause to think that its future decisions will be much more coherent.
“I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” Donald Trump said in 2017. He may have been wrong; after all, he uttered those words on Fox Business, a TV network that will surely continue to have him on as a guest long after he leaves the White House, and even if he loses every one of his social-media accounts. Perhaps Trump could have become President without social media. There were plenty of other factors militating in his favor—a racist backlash to the first Black president, the abandonment of the working class by both parties, and on and on. Still: Trump wanted to be President in 1988, and in 2000, and he couldn’t get close. In 2012, just as social media was starting to eclipse traditional media, Trump was a big enough factor in the Republican race that Mitt Romney went to the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas to publicly accept his endorsement. Only in 2016, when the ascent of social media was all but complete, did Trump’s dream become a reality. Maybe this was just a coincidence. There is, tragically, no way to run the experiment in reverse.
We’ve been seeing normal pressers the last few days with Biden’s White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki that are a breath of fresh air compared to days of trying to watch Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kayleigh McEnany McEnany out there on TV giving whining interviews about every one hating on Trump. Huckabee Sanders is trying to run for Governor of Arkansas. We’ll see how that goes. We’ll also see how this new coverage goes. I bet they bothersider Psaki by the end of the month.
I’m going to leave you with this from The Atlantic: “TV Captured Trump by Looking Away”. This is by Sophie Gilbert. She argues with the eye of some one who looks at culture.
Television during the Trump era faced a paradox: The 45th president was obsessed with TV, was saved by TV (The Apprentice resurrected him as a public figure in one of the lowest periods of his career), was influenced by TV, and seemed made to be analyzed by it. But early on, creators appeared befuddled by the project of portraying someone whose self-satirical physicality and distorted psyche defied pastiche. It didn’t help that so many viewers were, like me, exhausted by the antics of the real-life Trump and emotionally numbed by cortisol spikes of outrage.
And yet, Trump exerted a centripetal force on pop culture. Broad swaths of works that weren’t about him at all seemed newly crucial in understanding his ascent, even as the stakes for shows that tried to deal with him directly as a subject grew impossibly high. What became clear while taking stock of TV over the past four years is that the shows and artists that most clearly and urgently responded to him did so by looking past his theatrics as an individual, and focusing instead on the elements—recurrent throughout American history—that led to his rise.
There are some disturbing things that still needs some focus. Trump basically represented elements that have been recurrent through American History as Gilbert states. The blatant racism, xenophobia, and misogyny were obvious to nearly all of us. However, the media coverage did not originally and still may not fully study the mistakes made when we called your basic White Christian Nationalists present throughout the KKK movement and the American Nazi Party just sympathetic old white dudes misplaced by the economy.
It’s the same way that the Capitol Hill Insurrectionists got so far into the Building. No one thought all theses white police, ex-military, and Karens were truly capable of anything. Trump was the catalyst and the symbol but the underlying currents must be reported in a different way. Also, while holding Biden to account, the media should not go out of its way to prove it’s unbiased by unnecessarily going after any one in the Biden Administration. I’m seeing that now and not only in Fox News. Of course, the New York Times appears to be going right down that road. The Trump administration deserved the microscope. A lot of what Biden will do is likely yawn worthy in its return to normalcy.
I have to say that it’s nice to read more news that just something about the daily Trump crazies, meltdowns, and weirdness.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?