The facts play no role in our discourse: We marveled at some of the coverage of Wednesday night’s debate.
We especially marveled at some of the work in yesterday’s New York Times. For one example, consider the follow-up news report in which Trip Gabriel explained how Republican voters in Iowa had assessed the event.
“Voters See Lack of Fire as Problem for Carson,” the headline announced in our hard-copy Times.
“Iowa Viewers Praise Fiorina,” the sub-headline added.
It sounded like Gabriel knew his stuff! Live and direct from deepest Des Moines, this is the way he started:
GABRIEL (9/18/15): Carly Fiorina hit a walk-off homer, helium is leaking from Ben Carson’s balloon and Scott Walker’s candidacy is on life support, according to the Republicans in Iowa who will cast the first votes of the nominating contest in less than five months.The assessment of Trump was a little bit vague, but it sounded like Gabriel knew his stuff! After all, he had spoken to “the Republicans in Iowa who will cast the first votes of the nominating contest in less than five months!”
Oh, and Donald J. Trump is still Donald J. Trump—what did you expect?
Hungrily, we continued to read. Incredibly, this came next:
GABRIEL (continuing directly): A sampling of a dozen Iowans on Thursday who watched the second Republican debate—all of them close followers of the presidential race who are uncommitted—did not vary from the emerging national consensus about Mrs. Fiorina’s performance.“A sampling of a dozen Iowans?” That’s actually what it said!
Before succumbing to exhaustion, Gabriel had interviewed twelve voters! The analysts moped for the rest of the day, dismayed by what they had read.
A dozen Iowans? Really?
It’s always shaky, on its face, when reporters interview voters after events, recording their reactions. Whatever views such people express, their views are baldly anecdotal—anecdotal in the extreme.
The hoary old practice is shaky enough when newspapers like the Times send teams of reporters out to speak to scores of people. But Gabriel said he spoke to twelve voters! Thirty-six hours post-debate, that was his grand total!
It gets worse. On the basis of twelve reactions, the New York Times published a news report describing the way “Republicans in Iowa” reacted to Wednesday’s debate. On the basis of twelve reactions, the New York Times actually placed this headline at the top of its national politics page:
“Voters See Lack of Fire as Problem for Carson”
“Voters” see it that way, we were told! Based on Gabriel’s full report, it seemed to be two or three voters!
Have worms been secretly eating the brains of our journalistic pseudo-elite? We’ve asked that question many times in the past. This is the sort of ridiculous conduct to which we’ve always had reference.
Gabriel’s non-news report news report suggests that some form of intellectual illness has breached the high walls of the Times. But then, for our money, the paper’s lead editorial about the debate was little better; its report about Fiorina and the abortion footage skipped an extremely basic point; and its report about the vaccine dispute was weirdly narrow in its focus.
(Are the worms even advanced on Krugman? We even thought we might have seen that in his graf about Chris Christie’s “lie.”)
With Gabriel’s dozen leading the way, we marveled at the worm-eaten work in yesterday’s New York Times. On Thursday night, we also marveled at the way Rachel Maddow opened her increasingly worm-infested program.
Maddow’s worm-infested cable channel hasn’t posted transcripts of her program past Tuesday yet. But go ahead! Watch the first five minutes of Thursday’s show! The worms have been brutally active where Maddow’s staffers type the words which emerge from her grinning mouth.
(Oops, sorry! We can’t link you to that tape; that hasn’t been posted either! The Maddow Show has gotten so daft they now withhold her opening segments!)
Back to the Times:
Gabriel based a news report on what he heard from twelve voters! Increasingly, that’s the way his puzzling newspaper tends to function in its political coverage.
That said, we were struck by what we read in a front-page news report in that same paper this morning.
Richard Oppel reported the testimony by the general who led the Army’s investigation into the disappearance of Bowe Bergdahl. At one point, Oppel discussed a factual claim on which we’d never quite gotten clear:
OPPEL (9/19/15): [D]espite claims that a half-dozen soldiers died in the search for Sergeant Bergdahl, General Dahl testified that he had found no evidence that any soldiers had been killed while specifically engaged in the effort. And Sergeant Bergdahl did not intend to walk to China or India, as some other soldiers had suggested. Instead, the general said that while Sergeant Bergdahl might have made the comment, it was simply typical idle chatter among privates with time to kill on a lonely combat outpost.Really? No soldiers were killed in the search? We felt sure that we’d heard a different story in recent weeks. We checked to see where we heard it.
Alas! When it comes to bogus factual claims, all roads seem to lead to just one place at this time. Below, you see Donald Trump back in July, speaking to CNN’s Dana Bash about the horrible deal with Iran:
TRUMP (7/14/15): It’s emblematic of the way they negotiate. It’s like Sergeant Bergdahl. We get a traitor named Sergeant Bergdahl, and they get—look what they get! They get their five guys they most wanted anywhere in the world. Who makes deals like this?Trump’s statement went unchallenged.
And by the way, with Bergdahl, six people died trying to get that traitor back. So, we get Bergdahl and they get five guys they wanted? That's not the way you deal.
On August 19, the candidate held a town hall event in New Hampshire. The cable channels all pimped it live. With inserts from the CNN transcript, here’s part of what he said:
TRUMP (8/19/15): But take Sergeant Bergdahl. Does anybody remember that name?“Bing, bong?” That was Trump imagining Bergdahl getting shot, extra-legally, back in the days when men were men and bunions were a deferment.
TRUMP: So, this is the way we think. So we get a traitor named Bergdahl, a dirty, rotten traitor–
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Who, by the way, when he deserted, six young beautiful people were killed trying to find him, right? And you don't even hear about it anymore.
Somebody said the other day, well, he had some psychological problems. You know, in the old days—Bing, bong.
The cables made money off that event. Two nights later, the candidate held his stadium event in Mobile, once again with full coverage:
TRUMP (8/21/15): That is sort of like Sergeant Bergdahl. Has anybody heard of Sergeant Bergdahl? The traitor. No, no, the traitor.How stupid are we? Increasingly, that’s an important question.
I call President Obama the five-for-one president. We get Sergeant Bergdahl, a traitor who—by the way, six people at least that we know of, six people were killed trying to get this guy back, six people that went after him. They wanted to get him back.
So we get Sergeant Bergdahl, and they get five people that they desperately wanted for years that are right now back on the battlefield trying to kill everybody, including us. How stupid are we? How stupid are we?
When we checked, we were surprised by what we found. We thought that we’d been hearing the claim about the Bergdahl search on various Fox News programs. As it turned out, we’d been hearing it straight from the Trumpster's mouth.
Has anyone ever challenged that claim on those cable channels? Without conducting a detailed search, we saw one minor semi-correction on CNN. That said, the fact that no one got killed in the Bergdahl search doesn’t seem to be entirely new. Way back in June 2014, the New York Times’ Savage and Lehren wrote this in a news report:
SAVAGE/LEHREN (6/4/14): Did the search for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl cost the lives of American soldiers?News orgs were put on notice back then. But so what? This summer, Candidate Trump has toured the countryside making his thrilling claim.
Since last weekend's prisoner exchange in which Afghan insurgents turned over Sergeant Bergdahl after five years of captivity, a number of the men who served with him have called him a deserter. Some have gone further, blaming him for the deaths of six to eight soldiers.
That second claim is hardening into a news media narrative. CNN has reported as fact that ''at least six soldiers died'' looking for Sergeant Bergdahl after senior American military officials say he wandered off his base. The Daily Beast published an essay by a former member of Sergeant Bergdahl's battalion, Nathan Bradley Bethea, who linked the search to the deaths of eight soldiers whom he named. ''He has finally returned,'' Mr. Bethea wrote. ''Those men will never have the opportunity.''
But a review of casualty reports and contemporaneous military logs from the Afghanistan war shows that the facts surrounding the eight deaths are far murkier than definitive—even as critics of Sergeant Bergdahl contend that every American combat death in Paktika Province in the months after he disappeared, from July to September 2009, was his fault.
His claim has been made all over TV. We haven’t seen any pushback.
Basic facts play almost no role in our devolving discourse. We’ve noted this fact again and again in recent years, in a variety of contexts.
As our news orgs sit and stare, Trump has been making this basic fact about our culture just that much more clear. Consider the candidate’s conduct in just the past week:
On Wednesday night, he told his buffoonish story about the way vaccinations cause autism. Twenty-three million were watching.
On Thursday night, Trump diddled himself as an angry voter announced that Barack Obama is a Muslim and isn’t even an American.
(Back in 2011, Trump pimped these bogus claims all across the land. The gentleman disgraced himself, playing the role of King Birther.)
On Tuesday night, Trump had appeared at a fund-raiser for an entity which he said boasted membership from “hundreds of thousands” of veterans. As it turns out, the entity may not have any members at all and has lost its tax-exempt status.
The entity may be a sham. This is the latest report from CNN.
For many years, facts have played amazingly little role in our public discourse. Increasingly, our public discourse tends to be narrative all the way down.
Increasingly, factual claims are invented, embellished or disappeared to suit prevailing narratives. News orgs don't seem to notice or care.
News orgs managed to notice what happened on Thursday night. Presumably, those news orgs will now be forced to ask Candidate Trump to state his view about Obama’s place of birth.
The orgs had avoided that topic till now. Candidate Trump was making things fun! He was also making them money.
Presumably, “news orgs” will now be forced to ask Trump about his birther past. Will they ask him about those six dead soldiers? Not in a million years!
Meanwhile, what do twelve Iowans think about this? As part of its daft political coverage, we look for the Times to tell us.
Mika squirms and deflects: On Thursday evening, Candidate Trump let those statements about Obama go unchallenged. Friday morning, on Morning Joe, Mika squirmed and deflected.
On Morning Joe, Mika is cast in the role of the Clinton fan who is forced by indisputable facts to admit the depth of the email scandal. She minces and squirms and pretends to be torn as she helps Joe go for the kill.
Mika savages Clinton daily. To watch her deflect on behalf of Trump, go ahead—just click here.