Why did Trump keep playing birther games?


Holt never quite managed to ask:
All in all, we'll agree with Isaac Chotiner. Lester Holt didn't knock it out of the park, but he also wasn't a world-class clown.

Given the way our press corps functions, that was a bit of a triumph.

(Chotiner: "Holt’s performance, like Hillary Clinton’s, was not a total knockout. But like Clinton’s, it was more than adequate. And in a year like this one, that counts as a victory for a beleaguered press corps.")

That said, we were struck by the several questions Lester Holt failed to ask. This is part of a wider observation concerning the remarkable lack of journalistic skill within our celebrity press corps.

The first question that didn't get asked? It concerned Trump's five-year reign as King of the Birthers.

Holt did raise the topic, of course. He started off like this:
HOLT (9/26/16): Mr. Trump, for five years, you perpetuated a false claim that the nation's first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple of weeks, you acknowledged what most Americans have accepted for years: The president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?
To peruse the whole transcript, click here.

Holt almost asked the obvious question. Why did Trump keep promulgating his bogus claim so long? More precisely, why did he keep playing birther games even after Obama released his "long-form" birth certificate in 2011?

In his "answer" to Holt's first question, Trump wandered the countryside. He made false claims about what Patti Solis Doyle, a former Clinton aide, recently said on CNN. More generally, he threw up handfuls of gorilla dust, creating balls of confusion.

Eventually, Holt broke in for another try. This time, his question was a bit more precise. He also made a bit of a factual error:
HOLT: I will let you respond. It's important. But I just want to get the answer here. The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You've continued to tell the story and question the president's legitimacy in 2012, '13, '14, '15, as recently as January. So the question is, what changed your mind?
In fact, Obama released his official birth certificate in June 2008. That was the so-called "short form" birth certificate. It's the official way a Hawaiian-born person proves his place of birth. (The so-called long-form document is no longer used.)

There was never any reason to doubt what that official document showed. But so what? Like so many other stars, Holt made it sound like Obama didn't release proof of his birth until 2011, when he released the so-called "long form" document.

This suggestion fits the Trump story line, according to which the marvelous Trump finally forced Obama to give us proof of his birth. Given the way our TV stars work, we'll assume that Holt didn't know about the original release of the official document back in 2008.

Let's set that blunder to the side. The bigger problem involves Trump's refusal to answer Holt's basic question, which the lumbering multimillionaire star never quite managed to state.

Here's the basic question, the question Holt never quite asked:

According to Trump, he forced Obama to release the certificate in 2011, thereby settling the issue. Why then did he keep saying and suggesting that the matter hadn't been settled right through January of this year?

Trump never answered that question, and Holt never made him. Indeed, Holt never even managed to state that question straight out.

Trump's story doesn't make any sense, but so what? Holt lacked the skill, the smarts or the nerve to pose that basic question to Trump:

If you solved the problem in 2011, why did you keep playing birther games right through the start of this year?

Alas! Our major, multimillionaire "journalists" possess almost no journalistic skills. To all appearances, it has been so long since they actually tried to nail down a fact they have no earthly idea how to go about it.

Lester Holt failed to ask the key question about Trump's birther reign. He let Trump wander all about, then moved on to a new topic.

Holt also failed to ask the key question about Trump's refusal to release his income taxes. Here you see the other dog which haplessly failed to bark:

Why don't you release your past income tax forms, the ones from the years preceding your current audit?

That may be the world's most obvious question. Holt never managed to ask.

It's hard to tell when our stars are acting in good faith. In truth, they seem to have few journalistic skills. Those muscles disappeared long ago.

But beyond that, they tend to be a bit on the cowardly side, except when pimping approved story-lines. We'd have to say that, as a group, they aren't obsessively honest.

WHERE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAPS ARE: A somewhat extreme but important case!


Previous report in this series

Part 1—The gaps of Fairfield County: In line with best practices for the classroom, let's start with a quick review.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is our most reliable public school testing program. In its best known component, the federal programs tests students in Grade 4 and Grade 8 in both reading and math.

The NAEP tests a nationwide sample of students. It also tests samples of students from all fifty states, and from 24 urban school districts.

The NAEP has been in operation since roughly 1970. Throughout its history, and in recent decades, substantial score gains have been recorded by all major population groups.

You almost never hear that fact from our big mainstream news orgs, but it's a fact all the same. These are the score gains recorded by our largest student groups in Grade 8 math since 1996:
Grade 8 math, NAEP
Gains in average scores, 1996 / 2015

White students: 12.16 points
Black students: 20.57 points
Hispanic students: 20.25 points
Asian-American students: 17.91 points (2000 / 2015)
According to a rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often equated to one academic year. We regard that as a very rough rule of thumb, but those are the "truly spectacular gains" to which educational specialist Richard Rothstein referred, though only in passing, in this essay at Slate.

On their face, those score gains seem very large. But very few people have ever heard about those "spectacular" gains. With amazingly few exceptions, you never learn about those gains when you read the New York Times or the Washington Post. Instead, you're told about the "achievement gaps," which are also large and important.

With amazing regularity, our big news orgs report the gaps but disappear the gains. In the process, the American public is vastly misled about a widely-discussed, important topic:

Where the test scores are.

That said, the gaps are also important! For that reason, in this, the third week of our four-week report, we'll examine another important question:

Where the achievement gaps are.

Within our American public schools, large achievement gaps obtain between different groups of kids. Although these gaps have been growing smaller, they remain large for a maddening reason: when all population groups record score gains, the achievement gaps tend to remain, though at a higher achievement level.

Those achievement gaps are important. Two weeks ago, the New York Times published a front-page report about a pair of neighboring school districts, in a state whose public schools have recently been in the news.

The state is Connecticut, which is currently involved in a court case about public school funding. The front-page report in the New York Times was written by Elizabeth Harris and Kristin Hussey, a pair of reporters with little experience in public school reporting.

As Harris and Hussey started, they sketched the outlines of a large and challenging set of gaps—the gaps of Fairfield County. Headline included, this is the way they began:
HARRIS AND HUSSEY (9/12/16): In Connecticut, a Wealth Gap Divides Neighboring Schools

The two Connecticut school districts sit side by side along Long Island Sound. Both spend more than the national average on their students.
They prepare their pupils for the same statewide tests. Their teachers, like virtually all the teachers in the state, earn the same high marks on evaluations.

That is where the similarities end: In Fairfield, a mostly white suburb where the median income is $120,000, 94 percent of students graduate from high school on time. In Bridgeport, the state’s most populous and one of its poorest cities, the graduation rate is 63 percent. Fifth graders in Bridgeport, where most people are black or Hispanic, often read at kindergarten level, one of their teachers recently testified during a trial over school funding inequities.
The town of Fairfield and the city of Bridgeport are communities in Connecticut's larger Fairfield County, one of the nation's wealthiest counties. The town of Fairfield is a high-income suburb of Bridgeport, a low-income city.

As they start, Harris and Hussey present a striking set of contrasts between Fairfield and Bridgeport. That said, thhe most depressing statement in that opening passage is anecdotal:

How many fifth-graders in the Bridgeport schools are actually reading "at kindergarten level?" Harris and Hussey never say. It all depends on what the meaning of "often" is!

We're going to guess that the actual number would be quite small. That said, another depressing claim occurs a bit later in the Times report. This claim seems to involve ninth-graders at Bridgeport's Harding High, which serves grades 9-12:
HARRIS/HUSSEY: Some students arrive at Harding High School reading at a third-grade level, said Aresta Johnson, an assistant superintendent who oversees the district’s high schools. And in many cases, she said, students simply have not attended school consistently enough to learn how to read fluently.

“We face a huge issue with chronic absenteeism,” she said. Cuts to athletic programs, which are a big draw for some students, have only made the situation worse.
That claim is also anecdotal. How many kids enter Harding High reading at a third-grade level? It all depends on the meaning of "some!"

Aside from the graduation rates, Harris and Hussey provide no actual data about the achievement levels of the students in these neighboring school districts. We're handed a pair of vague assessments and left to imagine the rest.

That said, a statistical assessment can be drawn from a graphic which appeared in the Times in April. The graphic accompanied a multiply bungled report by education reporter Motoko Rich. We refer to the top graphic here.

Inevitably, the headline on the New York Times graphic misstates what it actually shows. The graphic was based on data collected by Stanford professor Sean Reardon. Reardon's data record achievement levels for public school students in grades 5-8 in the nation's many school districts.

According to that graphic, the average child in the Fairfield School District, grades 5-8, scored 2.0 grades above grade level. (That's the town of Fairfield, not the entire county.) By way of contrast, the average child in the Bridgeport School District scored 1.7 grades below.

Inevitably, the Times didn't say if those average scores were for reading, or for math, or perhaps for an average of the two subjects. That said, those scores demonstrate a large "achievement gap," on average, just by the middle school years:

On average, the achievement gap for students, grades 5-8, is a walloping 3.7 years in those neighboring districts. Presumably, this would mean that the average student entering seventh grade in Bridgeport is working at something like fifth grade level. His or her counterpart in Fairfield would be working at ninth grade level.

According to the Reardon data, those challenging achievement gaps coincide with a large family income gap. According to the Times graphic, these were the median family incomes for the students Reardon assessed:

Bridgeport: $40,000
Fairfield: $158,000

According to the Reardon data, the two school districts are also quite different demographically. The Fairfield students studied by Reardon were 84% white, according to the Times graphic. The Bridgeport students were 48% Hispanic, 41% black.

A basic fact should be noted. The Harris/Hussey front-page report examines a fairly extreme case. Several towns in Fairfield County are actually wealthier than the town of Fairfield, but Fairfield is wealthier than the average American suburb. Its juxtaposition to low-income Bridgeport creates a somewhat unrepresentative case.

As noted, Harris and Hussey don't have much experience in education reporting. Harris, who's eleven years out of college, was moved to the Times K-12 beat in July 2014. Hussey describes herself as a freelance reporter based in Connecticut.

This lack of experience in education reporting may explain some of the shortcomings which appear in the Harris/Hussey report. The writers brought little skepticism or savvy to their treatment of the judge in the ongoing court case, who seems to have made the kinds of assessments and recommendations which will often seem to make sense to people who have no experience with low-income public schools. (Let's outlaw social promotion!)

They also may have their thumbs on the scale a tad at some points concerning the funding of Bridgeport's schools. As a general rule, cities with pre-existing transit bus systems don't operate separate school bus systems for their high school students. At one point, the writers seem to treat this state of affairs in Bridgeport as a sign of the city's failure to provide basic public school services.

That said, a very large achievement gap obtains between these neighboring districts. People who want all our kids to succeed, and to feel valued, should be disturbed by this state of affairs.

No, Virginia! Most fifth-graders in Bridgeport's schools aren't "reading on kindergarten level!" That's the type of exciting fact which may substitute for full information when big newspapers wallow in their favorite subject, the alleged, often wildly exaggerated failures of our schools.

That said, large achievement gaps do exist within our domestic NAEP scores. On the international front, some substantial achievement gaps do obtain between the students in the public schools of the world's various developed nations.

In newspapers like the New York Times, a cruel, inexcusable practice has long obtained. We're constantly told about the gaps, sometimes in slightly embellished form. But we're never told about those large score gains. The gains are disappeared.

On the international front, we're told that small corners of Europe outscore our public schools. We aren't old that larger corners of the U.S. outscore those small corners of Europe.

Those practices constitute a journalistic con, a point we'll consider again next week. This week, though, let's try to establish some basic facts about a key subject:

Where the achievement gaps are, foreign and domestic.

Tomorrow: The gaps in the international scores

Krugman speaks up, many years too late!


Just look at the very first comment:
In this new post, Paul Krugman speaks up, much too late, about the "abnormalization" of Candidate Clinton.

This "defining" of Clinton has been underway for 24 years. Krugman quotes the heroic Jonathan Chait, who actively enabled this game during the vast bulk of that era, but has begun fighting back in the past week or so:
KRUGMAN (9/26/16): [A]s Jonathan Chait says, the problem hasn’t just been the normalization of Trump, it has been the abnormalization of Clinton. Consider the AP report on the Clinton Foundation. An honest report would have said, “The foundation arguably creates the possibility of self-dealing and undue influence, but we’ve looked hard and haven’t found much of anything.” Instead, the report played up meetings with a Nobel Peace Prize winner as being somehow scandalous.

And it’s still happening, if not quite so relentlessly. We’re still seeing reports about how something Clinton did “raises questions,” “casts shadows,” etc.—weasel words that allow reporters to write negative stories regardless of the facts.

I’ve compared this to what went down in the 2000 campaign; Nick [Kristof] compares it to what happened in the runup to the Iraq war. Pick your analogy.
"Pick you analogy," Krugman says. In the case of Campaign 2000, just don't discuss it with the public until sixteen to seventeen years have passed!

Two points should be made. First, the abnormalization of Clinton involves much more serious journalistic dysfunction than the normalization of Trump.

Newspapers like the New York Times have been running from Trump's craziness and/or dishonesty, dating to the period when he made himself King of the Birthers. But the "abnormalization" of Clinton, Clinton and Gore has been going on forever. Hillary Clinton has been massively "defined" in the process. It is many years too late to notice this problem now.

Second point: The very first comment to Krugman's post shows the problem with Krugman's permissive "pick your analogy" hook. Comments like these should make a progressive tear his or her last remaining hairs:
COMMENT FROM WALTHAM, MASS. (9/26/16): A thoughtful, nuanced post by Krugman. I still think a large part of the double standard applied to Hillary is due to misogyny. Or, more accurately, the power-relationship between men and women. This pushy broad is intruding on a formerly all-male preserve. I don't think most people realize how deeply this anti-feminist instinct runs in most men.

Yes, it is an instinct, and an ancient one at that. Today, we can see resistance to women's progress in many parts of the world. In the Islamic culture sphere, it is often violent.

I'm sure I'll get intensely defensive replies from male readers to this comment, as I have in the past. But they only serve to confirm me in my understanding of this issue.
Pseudo-progressive, please!

In a word, that comment is deeply clueless. It's the kind of perspective a progressive adopts when he lacks the first freaking clue about the journalistic history here—for example, about what "went down" in Campaign 2000, Krugman's chosen analogy.

The abnormalization of Candidate Gore had nothing to do with gender, but it's the same abnormalization which has been delivered to Hillary Clinton. Self-admiring pseudo-progressives insist on cramming this conduct into the high-minded frameworks they like. Their cluelessness about the larger picture stems from twenty years of silence from the likes of Krugman and Chait.

Once again, Krugman cites "the Clinton Rules" in today's post. It's good that he does so, of course. But those journalistic rules have been in operation forever. People like that first commenter have simply never been told.

Here's how Krugman closes his post. This too is deeply clueless:
KRUGMAN: I doubt that reporters or even editors have thought of themselves as trying to elect Trump; many of them will be horrified if he wins. But they went all in on Clinton Rules, under which sneering at and razzing a Clinton is considered good for your career. It’s really more like high school than high journalism, but it may have horrendous consequences.

A lot depends on whether the same behavior continues for the final stretch. If the media report on the debates the way they did in 2000—if substance is replaced by descriptions of Clinton’s facial expressions, her sighs, or how she “comes across,” while downplaying Trump’s raw lies, say hello to the Trump White House. And history will not forgive the people who made it possible.
History will not forgive the people who made it possible? Press corps enabler, please!

As we explained many years ago, the mainstream press corps is unique among American elites. Unlike every other professional or industry group, the mainstream press corps gets to decide what gets written about itself.

For that reason, the press corps' conduct in Campaign 2000 has gone completely unexplored and undiscussed, despite the many years we spent detailing it. The Clinton Rules may have horrendous consequences? Careerist cracker, please! As we've noted again and again, they already have!

Perhaps the horrors of a President Trump will produce a break in the press corps' ironclad code of silence, which is reliably maintained by the usual professors. But we can think of no reason to assume that any such thing will occur.

People like Krugman and Kristof and Chait have always made the smart career play over the many years of this mess. Their active role in the code of silence has us on the verge of an era of Trump.

Fearful, they've finally started telling the truth. But they've told the truth extremely slowly over these many ridiculous years. If history stands on its feet to complain, it will complain about them.

Howler history: Williams and Matthews, way back when!


Before that first debate:
Let's understand the potential role of the mainstream press in what happens tonight.

Potentially, it doesn't matter what happens tonight. Potentially, what matters more is the way the mainstream press corps presents what happened later.

The best example of that effect occurred in October 2000, in the aftermath of the first Bush-Gore debate.

Candidate Gore was judged the winner of the debate in all five overnight polls, by an average margin of ten points. Then, the press corps got busy spinning and rearranging what had occurred.

They convulsed over minor errors by Gore, ignored gigantic howlers by Bush. Most significantly, they constructed a tape which supposedly showed Gore's constant annoying sighs. They played this tape on a loop, with the sound jacked up.

Yesterday, with the volume jacked way up, Chuck Todd was still playing videotape of those alleged sighs. These life-forms live for their silly group tales about key moments in past debates. They're still actively trying to nail down the claim that Candidate Gore annoyed the public, and defeated himself, through his constant outrageous sighs.

In fact, Gore "won" that first debate on all five overnight surveys. But uh-oh! After several days of press corps propaganda, the original winner of the debate had lost roughly ten points in the national polls!

It's unlikely that any such thing will happen this week. (It's unlikely, but not impossible.) The mainstream press corps doesn't like Trump. Meanwhile, the conservative press will fight to help Trump win.

That said, it's important to keep this dynamic in mind. Claims the press corps pushes post-debate can, in theory, be more important than the debate itself.

That first debate between Bush and Gore changed the course of history. Gore entered the debate with a lead in the national polls, then proceeded to "win" the debate in all the overnight surveys.

Despite these facts, press corps reaction sent Candidate Bush into the lead. Gore spent the remaining month of the campaign recovering from his "victory" in that first debate.

Yesterday, by happenstance, we looked at MSNBC's pre-debate program from October 2000. We were struck by some of what we saw. We thought you might be intrigued by some of the punditry too.

Brian Williams hosted the hour. Here's the way he started:
WILLIAMS (10/3/00): In Boston, Massachusetts, in one hour, Al Gore and George W. Bush will face off against each other for the first time, two men going 90 minutes in front of a nationally televised audience that may go as high as 90 million viewers at some point during the hour and a half, coming as it does during an interesting time in this race, with our MSNBC/Reuters News
Agency/Zogby tracking poll showing Al Gore cracking through the margin of error, but just barely,
46 to 40 against George W. Bush.

Good evening to you. I'm Brian Williams. I am joined by the host of Hardball Chris Matthews.
MSNBC's tracking poll had Gore ahead by six points. Brian was actively playing that down, saying Gore was "just barely" ahead. After Matthews' opening remarks, this exchange quickly occurred:
WILLIAMS: I know you were laughing during Hardball tonight that expectations for George W. could not be managed any lower by his surrogates.

MATTHEWS: I believe that they put out a brilliant spin tonight that the man is lucky to be able to get through tonight without drooling, when in fact he's quite capable of doing a spectacular performance tonight. Anyone who's spent any time with George Bush knows he has one big advantage over Al Gore. He is always the same George W. Bush.

If you met him on an airplane and kidded around with him, he wouldn't be much different than the guy we're going to see on television tonight. Al Gore has many Al Gores to choose from in his wardrobe. There's the serious policy wonk, there's the almost crazed zealous populist, who's out for the little people against the big people. There's the defender of his current establishment, the administration. He was a great defender of Bill Clinton's.

Jack Kennedy once said in a very unkind way, he said he felt sorry for his opponent, 40 years ago, Richard Nixon, in the great debates as they were called then, because there were so many Richard Nixons he didn't know which one to be on any particular occasion. I think it's an easier job for Bush tonight. He knows who he is.
We were struck by the several standard narratives Matthews folded into that brief oration about Candidate Gore, who was said to be "almost crazed" at times. For starters:

Ever since Gore's formal announcement in June 1999, mainstream pundits had been sliming him with serial comparisons to Nixon. (At that time, Roger Simon started one branch of the trend, saying this: "Al Gore may have the heart and soul of a moderate Democrat, but his sweat glands are positively Nixonian.")

The comparisons to Nixon had been fairly frequent. Given the endless discussions of Candidate Gore's deeply troubling clothes, we'll also guess that Matthews used the term "wardrobe" with a bit of a narrative purpose.

Most striking, though, was Matthews' instant scripted claim: Unlike the highly authentic Candidate Bush, Al Gore doesn't know who he is!

This standard scripted claim dated to the fall of 1999, when the press corps spent a month pretending to be disturbed about the fact that Naomi Wolf was a paid adviser to Gore.

Wolf's role in the Gore campaign was revealed on October 31, 1999. On that morning's Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume started a trend:
HUME (10/31/99): We learn now, today, that Mr. Gore has as one of his advisers, at $15,000 a month, at least for a while, Naomi Wolf, who is sort of an interesting young woman who is tribune of sort of modern feminist psychobabble, who is said to have advised the vice president that he is the beta male to Bill Clinton’s alpha male in that relationship, and that it’s very important that he somehow reverse that in some way. And then we read from the Los Angeles Times that he’s casting himself—I mean, this all sounds a little strange.


HUME: I think what it suggests about Al Gore is—a man we all have known in one way or another for a very long time, but never any of us really known, who’s always had this disconcerting difference between the public self and the rather easy-going private self, or at least personal self—that this may be a man who doesn’t know who the heck he is, doesn’t have any idea who he is, and is trying to find who to be.

Now all politicians make adjustments continually on issues and positions and attitudes for political suitability. That’s all within the realm of reasonableness, but when you have somebody who brings in some exotic consultant from the, you know, feminist psychobabble movement, who’s trying to teach him about alpha male and beta male stuff, you wonder if Al Gore has any idea who he is.
Was Naomi Wolf "some exotic consultant from the feminist psychobabble movement?" In fact, she was a best-selling author with a strong academic background.

Two of her three books had been selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Her first book, The Beauty Myth, had been selected by the Times as one of the hundred most influential books of the century.

Her advice to the 1996 Clinton campaign had been lavishly praised by none other than Dick Morris. But now, the fact that Gore was taking advice from Wolf meant something very troubling. According to Hume, the troubling news meant that Candidate Gore "doesn't have any idea who he is."

(So said Hume, as he complained about Wolf's psychobabble.)

Hume's psychobabble stuck! The claim that Candidate Gore "doesn't know who he is" became a pundit corps standard. Throughout the ensuing Month of Wolf, a number of pundits joined this memorized claim to the standard claim that Gore, who didn't know he was, had "hired a woman to teach him to be a man."

An array of smutty claims followed. The liberal world sat and stared.

The smut was endless and well scripted. On Sunday, November 28, The Month of Wolf was nearing its end. In a column for the Washington Post's magazine, Marc Fisher took Hume's psychobabble all the way to this level of screeching:
FISHER (11/28/99): [W]hen Al Gore sneaks around and spends $15,000 a month to hire an oddball like Naomi Wolf…we have two choices: We can say Gore’s a good man who’s been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president.

A person who makes her living by writing pop philosophy about sex tells a man who would be president of the United States that he must be a different kind of man, that he must be more assertive, that he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American. And he says, “Okay.”
Admittedly, the suit in question was brown, or perhaps a shade of olive. By now, though, Fisher had reached a point of hysteria which led him to say that Gore's (perfectly normal) suit was "alien to virtually every American."

And oh yes! "We can (possibly) say this is a man who does not know himself" and is "therefore not fit to be president!" So recited Fisher, as the press corps neared the end of its astonishing Month of Wolf.

The Chaits, the Marshalls, the Dionnes, the Alters, all sat still for this lunatic conduct. Eleven months later, before that debate, you-know-who was still reciting that psychobabble for Brian:

George W. Bush knows who he is! Like Nixon, Gore does not!

The clowning by these terrible life-forms continued for the full hour before that first debate. Before long, Brian couldn't help himself. He talked about Gore's phoniness, as could be seen in his clothes:
WILLIAMS (10/3/00): Hey, Claire, we just saw some tape coming in from just outside the building tonight in Boston. Al Gore, who watches his movements and personal style very carefully, because he's been taught to, not walking with his Secret Service agents but running toward the crowd, not wearing suits during the week but wearing a polo shirt. A lot has become very studied about this very staid man.

SHIPMAN: It is studied, and it's practiced. And that is the way Al Gore learns everything.
Throughout the campaign, Brian Williams, The Great Dissembler, never stopped talking about Gore's revealing clothes.

As the hour continued, Matthews mentioned, several times, that Gore sweats a lot, like that guy named Nixon. Roger Simon's hook had stuck! We'll offer two examples:
MATTHEWS (to Doris Kearns Goodwin): Let me ask Doris about a totally cosmetic matter, but it has come up in these debates. As Brian pointed out, they've agreed on a 65 degree Fahrenheit room temperature. That was a compromise because apparently the Gore people wanted it down to 55, which is incredible. That's where the Nixon people tried to get it at one point.

Al Gore was sweating like mad in the picture we just saw of him entering the studio. He got a sunburn, which a lot of people know when you get a sunburn, you start sweating a lot in the next couple of days. I'm serious, dead serious about this, if he starts dripping out there tonight, is this going to make him the Nixon of the night? You're a student of this.


MATTHEWS (to David Maraniss): What about this sweat thing? I know I go back to it again, but it's certainly odd. He was profusely sweating just a few minutes ago. He went down there [to Florida] and got a tan. It seems to me that's the other reason he went down to Florida. I am focusing on cosmetics because all of us grew up in the Kennedy era and it's a big part of debate prep. Nixon did not have a tan, Kennedy did. Is this part—do you— I'm being honest here, let me tell you, let me ask you a question.

MARANISS: Well, this—

MATTHEWS: Did he get a tan on purpose?
Did Matthews know who he was that night? We will guess he knew he was a $5 million per year servant to Jack Welch.

This is all history now, of course. And the real press corps propaganda only started after the debate, when pundits began instructing the public in what they had actually seen.

Jumping ahead to tonight:

Over the course of the past few years, Candidate Clinton has been thoroughly "defined" by the mainstream press corps. Some journalists are worried about this now, but it's much too late to change what has been done.

Reading through that old transcript, we were struck by the way Matthews went straight to that year-old talking-point: Al Gore doesn't know who he is!

Make no mistake. These are terrible, devious people. People are dead all over the world because they behaved like this for two years, while the Chaits, the Dionnes, the Riches and Robinsons all carefully stared into space.

Today, the children have started to push back a bit. They're bravely arriving at the scene several decades too late.

World's silliest people to cover debate!


With thoughts about balcony failure:
In the 1990s, as a comedian, we entertained the national convention of a major group from the construction industry.

The theme of their four-day conference was this: "Balcony failure." We often think about that group, and about the work they successfully do, when we read the work of the political wing of our fatuous national press corps.

We'll explain the connection below. For today, consider yesterday's Washington Post, which was filled with the remarkably childish thoughts of our journalistic elite.

The journalists were looking ahead to tonight's presidential debate. As the journalists looked ahead, the childishness was general. For one example of many, consider the op-ed column by Kathleen Parker, who hails from the less ridiculous wing of the national press corps.

How childish, how silly, are the members of this peculiar guild? In the part of her column shown below, Parker seemed to explain how the public should view tonight's debate and assess the candidates in it:
PARKER (9/25/16): Everything you need to know for Monday’s debate, you learned in high school—how to size up a person, get their gist, seek their weak spot and watch closely how they handle themselves in the tightest sort of squeeze—exposed as 200 million eyeballs (that’s assuming two per person) are watching.

Yes, of course, the answers matter, but at this point in our 24/7/365 election cycle, the last laps are about persistence, strength, self-control and one’s own humanity. Out here in the bleachers, human nature rules the ward. An angry country fed up with pretty much everything can’t be seduced or persuaded by a fraud or a fake. There just isn’t any patience left for that sort of thing. The courtship is long over.

Showing viewers who they really are is all that’s left. This, I think, is where people are today. The moderator who can get to the core of the individual rather than simply elicit yet another rote recitation of either facts or nonsense, as the case may be, will have provided a public service indeed.
Parker was willing to make a concession. "Yes, of course, the answers [to the moderator's questions] matter," she managed to say, very much in passing. But tonight's debate is really about sizing the candidates up, "getting [the candidates'] gist."

"Showing viewers who they really are is all that’s left," the columnist said. Continuing, she offered some "somewhat silly" thoughts:
PARKER (continuing directly): So who are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

We know their résumés. We know their histories. We know their foibles and weaknesses. But do we know their characters? Clinton has asked who the American people want to answer that 3 a.m. call. In past campaigns, other questions have arisen. With whom would you leave your children? With whom would you like to grab a beer?

These are somewhat silly questions, obviously, but human beings aren’t so terribly complex after all.
Most people think they’re pretty good judges of character. Most times, they can’t put a finger on what precisely tips the scale or sends the signal that this or that person is a mover or a maker.

It may be a simple gesture, a slight movement at a specific time, a tightening of the jaw, a sag of the shoulder, eyes that can’t stay with you. Or it can be something more discreet—an absence of presence, a missing something you sense rather than see.
According to Parker, this is an exercise in sizing up who the candidates really are, perhaps through their body language. A sag of the shoulders might tip you off! So says this Pulitzer winner.

Let's repeat an important fact. Parker actually hails from the less silly wing of the nation's political press corps. That said, Parker was talking about who you'd like to have a beer with, possibly based on your assessment of a twitch of the shoulder or jaw.

Parker never says a word about the things the hopefuls might actually say about major matters of substance. Continuing, she closes her column like this:
PARKER (continuing directly): This is why polls aren’t the final word—or debates, so full of words, the endgame. Whatever Clinton and Trump do say, Monday night will likely be more about watching than listening—and who these two are seen to be.
Never mind the words they say! This event will turn on who the candidates "are seen to be," perhaps from that twitch of the jaw or the shoulders.

A defender of the faith might say we're being unfair to Parker. Such a person might say that Parker isn't recommending this childish approach to tonight's event. She's simply describing what viewers will do, such a person might say.

Is Kathleen Parker simply saying that this is how viewers will function tonight? We can't say it's entirely clear from her silly-bill text.

Earlier in her column, she seemed to offer an upbeat assessment of what viewers already know. We'll take one of whatever she's having!
PARKER: Is anyone really going to change his or her mind based on what the candidates say Monday as opposed to what they said last week? Trump lovers are set in stone, as are Clinton haters. That’s one voting bloc. Clinton supporters (I don’t think there are many lovers around) are solid and entrenched, as are those who find Trump utterly unfit to be president.

It’s all over but for showing up at the polls.

Thus, the debate won’t really be about substance. It will be a popcorn-and-brew event—entertainment pure and simple. To the extent there’s a contest, it will be one of senior superlatives. Who’s smartest? Funniest? Quickest? Deepest? Most important, whose voice do you want to listen to for the next four years?

Questions of substance—who is going to keep us safe, build our economy, stanch the flow of immigrants, rally the troops, protect the innocent and elderly—have been asked hundreds of times in a variety of forums.

What will make this or any other debate any different? What would sway the swayable, whoever those poor people are?
On the planet where Parker lives, "questions of substance have been asked hundreds of times in a variety of forums." She seems to think that voters have heard the answers to these questions. She seems to suggest that voters have those answers down cold.

For that reason, all that's left is that body language! It will help undecided voters figure out who the candidates really are!

What is Parker recommending in this peculiar column? Is she recommending that voters evaluate the candidates based on this evening's twitches? Or is she simply saying that this is what will occur?

From her careless, who-gives-a-flip text, it isn't easy to say. We'll only note that she tickles every low-IQ key in the insider pundit's tired old playbook while avoiding all matters of substance.

She says nothing, nothing at all, about any substantive topic. She offers no serious thoughts about how a voter might be able to assess either candidate's "character."

Instead, she talks about who you'd like to have a beer with and who you want to listen to for the next four years. She mentions the popcorn we voters will eat during tonight's entertainment event. She adopts the flippant, feckless tone which so frequently seems to emerge from the pampered, privileged, overpaid specimens who pretend to be our nation's political press corps.

Might we offer an alternate view? In our view, there has never been a presidential campaign so devoid of discussion of matters of substance. How many voters, Parker included, could possibly answer this question:

What has Candidate Trump proposed in his formal budget proposal?

What has Trump proposed in his budget proposal? The answer to that unanswerable question would take the form of a question:

Which one? Which of Trump's formal budget proposals are we talking about?

This embarrassing presidential campaign has been inane, empty, silly, shapeless, stupid, embarrassing, dumb. Except on the planet where journalists live! On that planet, voters know what has been proposed by the candidates! Secure in that knowledge, voters will check for Who They Are based on their shoulder twitches.

Or something! We emerged from this piece with no clear idea of what Parker was saying.

Kathleen Parker is part of a guild whose members are almost inhumanly silly. They have long conducted their work in remarkably feckless ways. They've sometimes been called "Antoinettes," a gendered but evocative term.

Yesterday, their nonsense was everywhere in the Washington Post. It was strewn all over the side of Outlook. It was on the op-ed page, in the front-page news reporting.

It made us think, as we often do, about the topic of "balcony failure."

Our technology and construction sectors are remarkably capable. Like you, we've never walked on a balcony and had it fall off the side of the building.

In part, that's because industry groups conduct four-day conferences built around the topic of "balcony failure." But make no mistake:
If construction elites conducted themselves in the way the Parker bunch does, there wouldn't be a balcony left anywhere in the country.

They all would have fallen off by now. The very concept of a balcony would no longer exist.

Many professional and industry sectors do extremely reliable work. Our political journalists seem to come from a whole different realm. They're feckless, useless, childish, silly. Everything you need to know you learned in high school, one of their less fatuous members has now quite predictably said.

WHERE THE TEST SCORES ARE: Four-week series to resume!


Series resumes tomorrow:
Our four-week series, Where the Test Scores Are, will resume tomorrow.

We'll be offering the third week in the series. This week's reports will carry this title:

Where the Achievement Gaps Are.

When our four-week series is done, we'll offer a single post with links to all sixteen reports. That post will offer single-stop shopping to the basic facts about one of our most remarkable journalistic scams.

What do domestic and international test scores suggest about American schools? For reasons at which we can only guess, the mainstream press corps has long been devoted to telling a highly selective story about that important question.

We get told about the gaps, but not about the gains. We hear about test score success in Finland, even in Estonia. Test score success in states like Massachusetts is reliably disappeared.

Why do our big mainstream newspapers insist on misleading the public about what our test scores seem to show—about Where the Test Scores Are? Though we can only guess at an answer, we'll do so before we're done.

Whatever any possible motives may be, one fact is abundantly clear. The American public is persistently given a highly selective, misleading set of facts about the apparent state of its public schools.

Our big newspapers should be ashamed. But shame has never seemed to be one of their tricks.

Starting tomorrow: Where the Achievement Gaps Are! We'll give you the basics on the international achievement gaps and on the gaps which exist within our own student population.

People should know the basic facts about this widely-discussed, important topic. But alas! The mainstream press corps seems devoted to telling a highly distorted tale, and our pseudo-liberal corporate stars manifestly don't care.

Their kids attend the best private schools. It's all narrative from there!

Tomorrow: The gaps of Fairfield County

Speculation about expectations!


Atop the Post's front page, Tumulty proves Krugman's point:
Yesterday, in his New York Times column, Paul Krugman discussed what the press corps should and shouldn't do in reporting Monday's debate.

We didn't agree with every word. In particular, we don't recommend the casual use of the term "lie" when journalists describe the misstatements of candidates, even the howling misstatements.

That said, we think Krugman made a lot of good points, if you're prepared to accept a large amount of informed speculation on his part. In that chunk of informed speculation, Krugman says it's highly likely that Candidate Trump will emit more howlers during Monday's debate than Candidate Clinton will.

If that happens, Krugman says, the press corps should let that basic fact guide its reporting and analyses. Their reporting and analyses should reflect the disproportion between the two candidates' misstatements.

According to Krugman, the press corps shouldn't pretend, or convey the impression, that the two candidates misspoke to an equal degree. And yet, Krugman says, journalists will feel pressured to do just that.

In this passage, we think Krugman makes good points, assuming you're prepared to accept his assumption about what is likely to happen:
KRUGMAN (9/23/16): ...I am not calling on the news media to take a side; I’m just calling on it to report what is actually happening, without regard for party. In fact, any reporting that doesn’t accurately reflect the huge honesty gap between the candidates amounts to misleading readers, giving them a distorted picture that favors the biggest liar.

Yet there are, of course, intense pressures on the news media to engage in that distortion. Point out a Trump lie and you will get some pretty amazing mail—and if we set aside the attacks on your race or ethnic group, accusations that you are a traitor, etc., most of it will declare that you are being a bad journalist because you don’t criticize both candidates equally.

One all-too-common response to such attacks involves abdicating responsibility for fact-checking entirely, and replacing it with theater criticism: Never mind whether what the candidate said is true or false, how did it play? How did he or she “come across”? What were the “optics”?

But theater criticism is the job of theater critics; news reporting should tell the public what really happened, not be devoted to speculation about how other people might react to what happened.
Never mind whether what the candidate said is true or false, how did it play? How did he or she “come across”?

In that passage, Krugman is describing an extremely common type of punditry. For a recent egregious example, consider Nia-Malika Henderson's analysis of a statement by Candidate Clinton in the recent Commander in Chief Forum. For our report, click here.

Krugman is right in that passage. Analysts should focus on whether a statement is true or false, not on speculations about how the statement "came across" to the nation's 130 million voters.

That said, journalists love to engage in such speculations. They even like to pre-speculate about such matters—to speculate in advance.

We thought of that passage from Krugman's column when we read today's Washington Post. Atop the front page of the hard-copy Post, a news report by Karen Tumulty sat beneath these headlines:
Why the first debate is the most hazardous
With expectations for Clinton higher, a stumble could hurt her more
Those headlines are egregious. In those headlines, the Washington Post tells its readers that expectations for Candidate Clinton will be higher next Monday night. For that reason, the Post tells readers, an error by Candidate Clinton on Monday may prove to be more harmful than an error by Candidate Trump.

That last claim is pure speculation. That said, this conceptual structure is very familiar from past presidential debates, most notably from the first debate between Candidates Bush and Gore in October 2000.

In the run-up to that crucial debate, the mainstream press corps immersed itself in the expectations game. For a reasonably detailed report about what they did, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/06.

The mainstream press corps loves to play this expectations game. Note the way Tumulty recalls that deeply consequential first debate between Bush and Gore as she starts her report:
TUMULTY (9/24/16): The first presidential debate of the general election is often the most treacherous—especially for the candidate who steps on stage with the presumed advantage.

Which is why Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the one in that position this time around, knows not to take anything for granted.

Monday’s 90-minute faceoff at Hofstra University on Long Island is projected to have the biggest audience ever for politics’ equivalent of the NBA playoffs, with estimates that upward of 100 million people will be watching.

“You can’t really win an election in a debate, but you can lose one,” said Brett O’Donnell, a communications consultant with long experience coaching GOP presidential candidates. “The first debate is the most important of all the debates, and it definitely has the most potential to harm.”

Examples of first-debate stumbles are many. And they have almost always hurt the candidate for whom the expectations were higher.

The biggest pitfall is a blunder that confirms the misgivings that voters may already be harboring.

A confused Ronald Reagan rambled in 1984, opening doubts about whether he had become too old to do the most important job in the world. In 2000, Al Gore sighed and exaggerated. George W. Bush casually draped himself over the lectern in 2004 and peevishly quibbled on minor points. Four years ago, an aloof Barack Obama seemed to phone it in.
Eventually, Tumulty explains her claim that expectations for Candidate Clinton are higher. She cites a recent survey in which 53 percent of voters said they expected Clinton to do a better job Monday night.

Only 43 percent said they expected Trump to do a better job. On that rather flimsy basis, Tumulty speculates that a blunder by Clinton may do more harm than a blunder by Trump.

This is pure speculation. To state the obvious, no one has made a blunder yet. More significantly, Tumulty presents no evidence in support of her basic thesis—her claim that voters react more strongly to a blunder by the candidate who entered the debate with "higher expectations."

She cites Campaign 2000 as an example supporting her thesis. What sorts of blunders did Candidate Gore supposedly make, leading to pushback from voters expecting more?

"In 2000, Al Gore sighed and exaggerated," Tumulty writes. In a slightly more rational world, work like this would get reporters and editors fired.

Did Candidate Gore "sigh and exaggerate" during that first debate? Did the sighing and the exaggerations cause him to be graded harshly by voters?

When it comes to the alleged sighing, we've often extended The C-Span Challenge. Go ahead! Watch that full debate on this C-Span videotape. Accept the challenge of trying to see or hear those troubling sighs, which later became so famous in the punditry of the mainstream press.

After puzzling yourself in that manner, recall this additional point. After that history-changing debate, five major news orgs surveyed viewers about which candidate "won."

In all five surveys, Candidate Gore was declared the winner, by a margin which averaged ten points. This happened after the voters were offended by the sighs you'll barely see or hear on that C-Span tape, according to Tumulty's thesis—after Gore was supposedly graded harshly, due to voters' high expectations before that crucial debate.

According to Krugman, journalists shouldn't speculate about the way candidates' statements "come across" to voters. Atop the front page in this morning's Post, Tumulty is pre-speculating about the way a blunder by Clinton may come across.

Tumulty is also declaring that Candidate Clinton is facing a higher bar next Monday. Before the first debate of Campaign 2000, mainstream pundits spent so much time driving down expectations for Candidate Bush that they were openly laughing about it in the days before that debate.

Three days before that crucial debate, Brit Hume laughingly described the way expectations had been lowered for Candidate Bush. According to Hume, the run-up to this first debate “helped to beat the expectations down, which are now in the case of George W. Bush so low that if he gets through it without drooling that he will have thought to have done well, or at least better than some expected.”

It's fairly clear that Hume was discussing the way expectations for Candidate Bush had been lowered by major pundits. A few other pundits mocked this journalistic procedure back then. But Tumulty was playing the same old game this morning.

In this game, pundits set different expectations for the candidates before the debate. They set the bar of expectations higher for one candidate, lower for the other. Often, this setting of expectations will affect the way the debate is judged, not by any actual voters, but by the press corps itself.

Making matters worse, Tumulty supports her thesis with a Standard Press Corps Story about that first Bush-Gore debate—a Standard Story which eliminates what the press corps did after five surveys all declared that, in the opinion of voters who watched the debate, Candidate Gore had "won."

If you couldn't observe what our press corps does, you'd think such conduct couldn't exist. On Monday, we'll extend these thoughts, noting the way the career liberal world has endlessly enabled and accepted this mainstream press conduct.

Yesterday, Krugman complained, making some very good points as he did. These complaints come very late in the game, a game of some twenty-plus years.