Cable excitement at its best!

SATURDAY, MAY 27, 2017

Though we'll add what the New York Times said:
Last evening's cable news excitement was excitement at its best.

At the appointed hour, the Washington Post had posted its latest blockbuster/bombshell. On CNN and MSNBC, everyone knew what to do.

Needless to say, this latest bombshell had come from unnamed sources behind a screen—from the unnamed people who now dole out our nightly dollops of "news."

In this morning's Washington Post, these unnamed people are described as "U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports." Increasingly, these unnamed people decide what tiny blips of alleged information we proles are allowed to hear.

On CNN and MSNBC, everyone knew what to do. A chase is on, and these highly unreliable cable savants stood in line to say the things we liberals were longing to hear.

More specifically, they spent the evening suggesting that Jared Kushner may be on his way to jail. They avoided all discussion of the the substance which lay behind the latest cable thrill.

Is Jared Kushner in legal trouble? Like all the hacks you saw last night, we have no idea.

We do know this. The Washington Post's exciting report was amazingly short on information, amazingly long on filler. This is the way it began:
NAKASHIMA, ENTOUS AND MILLER (5/27/17): Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.
That's pretty much all the Post had. The rest of the report is filler.

All last night, teams of pundits went to town on this blockbuster/bombshell report. Unfortunately, last night's excited discussions were about as fuzzy as any we've ever seen on cable. It was often quite hard to know what was being discussed.

In part, that was because the Post's report was so thin on content. Kushner wanted to set up a "secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin," the report alleged. The content ended there.

Did Kushner really propose such a thing? We have no idea. We're all relying on the good faith of the faceless people behind that screen—the unnamed people who now dole out our daily dollops of "news" in this peculiar fashion.

That said, we saw few attempts to discuss the possible reasons why Kushner (and Flynn) might have wanted to do some such thing. This brings us to the wonderfully ridiculous way Brian Williams ended last evening's Eleventh Hour program.

In his closing segment, Williams spoke with historian Jon Meacham about "backchannel" diplomacy of the past. Meacham praised a few such enterprises, then said, rather vaguely, that this effort was nothing like those.

It was what we all wanted to hear! Williams responded with this:

"No one is accusing this of having anything to do with diplomacy, at least at this early hour."

In fairness, Brian was almost right. As he spoke, it was a few minutes short of midnight. We'd seen no one discussing any possible "diplomatic" reasons for this apparent attempt at backchannel work, except to the extent that speculations could be launched about Kushner going to jail.

Then, this morning, we read the New York Times. Its opening paragraphs put Brian's snark in context.

As with the Post, this topic topped the Times front page. But the Times' report started like this:
HABERMAN, MAZZETTI AND APUZZO (5/27/17): Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues, according to three people with knowledge of the discussion.

The conversation between Mr. Kushner and the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, took place during a meeting at Trump Tower that Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team did not acknowledge at the time. Also present at the meeting was Michael T. Flynn, the retired general who would become Mr. Trump’s short-lived national security adviser, the three people said.

It is unclear who first proposed the communications channel, but the people familiar with the meeting said the idea was to have Mr. Flynn speak directly with a senior military official in Moscow to discuss Syria and other security issues. The communications channel was never set up, the people said.
As with the Post, so too with the Times. There was no way to identify the nameless people doling out these claims.

That said, these nameless, faceless people presented a motive for Kushner's alleged request. Williams' scripted snark notwithstanding, this effort did have something to do with diplomacy, these nameless people had said.

According to these nameless people, Kushner had been seeking a way to discuss "Syria and other security issues" with the Russkies. Last night, we heard no one advancing such speculations. Williams closed the evening haughtily saying that no one had.

Sad! Even as Brian spoke, there was the Times on-line report, saying something quite different. But this is the way corporate "newsmen" like Brian perform when a chase is on.

(In 1999 and 2000, no one was more upset by Candidate Gore's troubling clothes. At the time, Brian's owner was Jack Welch. It made that owner proud.)

Why might Kushner, Flynn and them have wanted to do something like this? Let's return to the topic of Michael Flynn's geopolitical views.

Remember the bromide we recently coined? "Crazy people get to be overpaid lobbyists too?"

Wellsir, crazy people also get to pursue diplomacy! That's especially true after thirty years of press corps misconduct have helped put Trump where he is.

The ineffectual people who helped place him there were prattling hard last night. They were pursuing an insider war they've already manged to lose through their relentless past misconduct.

They discussed little except the possibility that Kushner might end up in jail. That's the only way they know how to play. Their haplessness helps explain why Donald J. Trump's where he is.

By way of background, we thought you might want to understand the worldview behind this affair. Two days ago, the New York Times provided a bit of that background in a front-page news report.

For better or worse, crazy people get to have geopolitical views! Flynn strikes us as semi-crazy, but this is a taste of the worldview which was banging around in the Trump transition effort:
ROSENBERG, GOLDMAN AND APUZZO (5/25/17): Mr. Flynn's ties to Russian officials stretch back to his time at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he led from 2012 to 2014. There, he began pressing for the United States to cultivate Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, and even spent a day in Moscow at the headquarters of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, in 2013.

He continued to insist that Russia could be an ally even after Moscow's seizure of Crimea the following year, and Obama administration officials have said that contributed to their decision to push him out of the D.I.A.
By all accounts, Flynn favored a global realignment in which the United States and Russia became allies in a north-versus-south battle against various parts of the Islamic world.

You may think that worldview is crazy. We liberals should have thought of that before we did three hundred things in the past few years to help get Trump elected.

At any rate, the Times expounded further on Flynn's outlook and behavior. In our view, this passage suggests that The Semi-Crazy isn't just found Over There:
ROSENBERG, GOLDMAN AND APUZZO: American officials have also said there were multiple telephone calls between Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.

American intelligence agencies routinely tap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, officials have said.
That's what officials have said! At any rate, let's try to understand the strangeness of that passage.

We liberals have spent the past several months complaining about the fact that Flynn allegedly urged the Russians not to retaliate against the U.S. after those sanctions were imposed! We haven't quite been able to see how strange it may sound to register such a complaint.

Instead, we've pleasured ourselves with dreams of the Logan Act. Flynn might have to go to jail for urging the Russkies not to respond!

At any rate, we liberals have spent the past thirty years paving the way for Trump. The gentleman is now in the White House. He and his associates have certain irregular views.

By all accounts, Flynn and Bannon were strongly inclined to the view that future diplomacy should ally the United States with Russia against the Islamic world. In a report it first posted last evening, the New York Times suggested that Kushner wanted to discuss such possibilities through the backchannel he allegedly sought.

Last night, we saw no one discuss or raise any such possibility. Instead, a gang of hacks swarmed two cable channels, making the statement we long to hear: The Others are going to jail!

Inevitably, it fell to Williams to make the perfect gong-show summation. No one is talking about diplomacy, he said, sending us happily off to bed at an hour when the New York Times was doing that very thing right in its opening paragraphs.

Crazy people get to pursue backchannel diplomacy too! In a related fact, Williams worked quite hard, down through the years, paving the way for Trump.

Our team still sits dumbly around refusing to discuss the real world. On cable last night, they skillfully restricted the things we were allowed to hear.

They were dumbing it way way down. Do we actually like such dumbed-down cable porridge?

Concerning that gong show from Maddow: Rachel Maddow's latest gong show was delivered on Thursday night. For background, see yesterday's post.

The sheer pomposity of her performance was a thing to behold. As usual, MSNBC is ten days behind on posting transcripts, so we can't link you to a printed record of her endless report.

You can watch the interminable segment here. You'll be watching a classic high-pomposity effort from Our Own Cable News Clown.

Cable host reports mystery solved!

FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2017

News orgs succumbed to "Telephone," cable host declares:
It started with this dramatic tease midway through last night's program:
MADDOW (5/25/17): On top of that, though, there is one mystery about James Comey's firing and the question of whether or not that was the president trying to obstruct justice in the Trump-Russia investigation.

There's one piece of that that we think we've solved tonight. We've got that exclusive, next, right after this break.
The Maddow Show had solved a mystery concerning James Comey's firing! Maddow was going to have that exclusive right after the break!

After a commercial break, Maddow began an interminable, 15-minute segment with this nugget statement:
MADDOW: So we've got some new information in the Trump-Russia investigation. It is not a blockbuster revelation, but I think it's important and clarifying. It's about a key part of the behavior of the Trump administration with regard to the FBI since Trump has been in office. So, not during the campaign, but since the inauguration.

And I think what is widely believed to have happened, what is widely believed to have—actually, widely reported to have happened at this key point in time—what we think we know about it I think is wrong. And I think we can correct that record tonight.

So just settle in for a second and follow this through with me.
In fact, we would have to settle in for almost fifteen minutes. But if we just settled in in for those many minutes, Maddow was going to correct the record on something which had been widely reported!

The analysts were catatonic by the time she was done.

We've just been informed that this is a holiday weekend, so we're going to wait until tomorrow to lay the whole thing out. But Maddow went on to tell the world that, based upon her program's reporting, she now believes that James B. Comey did not request more resources for the Russia probe shortly before he was fired.

Based upon her staff's reporting, she now believes that congressional sources engaged in a game of "Telephone," which ended up with people making misstatements about what Comey had actually done.

You're right! We specifically warned you about this possibility in real time. We didn't have to do any "reporting." We simply read the Washington Post and the New York Times, noting the weakness of their sourcing on the morning of May 11, the morning when this exciting report produced a banner headline across the front page of the Post.

(The exciting report topped the Times' front page too. Over the subsequent two days, it seemed to us that the Washington Post was walking its banner claim back.)

We discussed this report in detail, warning you that this is the sort of thing which happens when a chase is on. Last night, Maddow spent fifteen minutes telling us that her staff's reporting had broken this case wide open.

She forgot to say that she herself was one of the people who had "widely reported" the claim she now believes to have been mistaken. She did that because she chose to report this pleasing claim on Wednesday night, May 10, about ten minutes after it hit the web.

That's what happen when people rush, at times when a chase is on, to feed us the stories we'll like.

Wednesday evening, May 10! That was also the night when Maddow spent twenty minutes telling us that Andrew McCabe had "joined the Trump disinformation campaign" last February. Where did she get that explosive report, which she has never mentioned again? For unknown and unreported reasons, Maddow was accepting the word of Reince Priebus for this otherwise unsupported but highly dramatic claim.

Just for the record, Maddow produced no particular new "reporting" during last night's segment. She merely said that her staff had received a new statement from the Justice Department, in which the spokesperson we cited two weeks ago vehemently denied the claim in question again.

The analysts were catatonic by the time Maddow finished last night. Tomorrow, we'll show you the text of what she eventually said, after roughly ten minutes of laborious, trademark time-wasting.

For now, you can observe an instance of high pomposity in the service to strange ascot-covering! To do so, just click here. You'll be observing the sort of thing which happens when the press is conducting a chase.

"EXCLUSIVE: NEW REPORTING ON CIRCUMSTANCES OF FBI DIRECTOR'S FIRING"

Somewhat comically, that's what the signage behind the cable host said.

FLYNN FACTS: What the heck is a foreign agent?

FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2017

Part 4—Exploring a scary term:
Today, let's start with a basic premise:

Crazy people get to be overpaid lobbyists too.

Crazy people get overpaid by firms right here in the United States. That doesn't mean that they're "on the United States government payroll," even if the work they're doing supports the policies of a sitting president.

Crazy people can also be overpaid by firms based in foreign lands. That doesn't mean that they're on some foreign government's payroll although, at exciting times like these, it can be fun to say so.

The "crazy" person of whom we speak is Michael Flynn. Last year, he was overpaid for three months by Inovo BV, a Dutch-based firm operated by Ekim Alptekin, whoever he may actually be.

In this morning's editions, the Washington Post again asserts that Alptekin is "a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials." For whatever it may be worth, that would mean that Alkptekin is an American citizen, though we have no idea if the Post knows what it's talking about.

At times like these, when a chase is on, our newspapers sometimes don't bother.

In President Lincoln's time, we were "engaged in a great civil war." Today, in the reign of President Trump, we are engaged in a newspaper war, and in a very large chase.

Increasingly, our daily newspapers are being scripted by unnamed figures who are, in fact, breaking the law through their carefully parceled, often quite murky disclosures.

This may or may not be a good thing. But at times like these, your newspapers will often serve you novelized tales rather than hard information. In all honesty, these tales are designed to further the chase, not to inform the public.

Michael Flynn, who seems to be crazy, is the object of one such chase. Perhaps for that reason, we're now being exposed to various "Flynn facts"—inaccurate or misleading claims which further the corps' preferred novels.

One such claims was voiced Wednesday night as Brian took a drink. Millions of people heard the New York Times' Glenn Thrush say that Flynn "was on the Turkish payroll" during his lobbying days.

As far as we know, no one has ever produced any evidence in support of that imprecise claim. The claim does support the current novel, in which the apparently crazy Flynn is the object of a chase.

At times like these, exciting claims of that type sell newspapers and attract eyeballs. They don't produce a well-informed public. We can't have it all, it would seem.

Was Michael Flynn "on the Turkish payroll" during his overpaid days? We know of exactly zero evidence in support of that exciting claim.

Today, though, we stand to examine another claim—a thrilling claim which is plainly "technically accurate." We stand to examine the claim that Flynn worked as a "foreign agent" during his overpaid days—a thrilling claim which is technically accurate and also the source of much mischief.

The apparently crazy Michael Flynn worked as a foreign agent! This thrilling claim, which is technically accurate, has spawned other thrilling claims in the past few months.

On Wednesday night, it spawned the apparently inaccurate claim that he was "on the payroll of Turkey." Just last week, it spawned the claim, in a New York Times news report, that he "secretly work[ed] as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign."

Flynn was a "secret agent man!" To enjoy Johnny Rivers' 1966 hit of that name, you can just click here.

Today, let's explore that exciting "Flynn fact." Did the apparently crazy Flynn work as a foreign agent?

Technically, yes, he did. We know that because, on Tuesday, March 7, Flynn belatedly registered as a "foreign agent" under terms of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Needless to say, this produced a ton of excitement. As of this past week, that excitement had us hearing that Flynn was "on the payroll of Turkey" and had "secretly work[ed] as a paid lobbyist for Turkey," which sounds like much the same thing.

The apparently crazy Flynn worked as a foreign agent! The claim can be said to be technically accurate. For today, let's try to get a bit more clear on what this "Flynn fact" means.

For unknown reasons, the Washington Post and the New York Times didn't report Flynn's registration until Saturday morning, March 11. At the Post, Ashley Parker's front-page report started like this:
PARKER (3/11/17): Attorneys for Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, informed the incoming White House legal counsel during the transition that Flynn might need to register with the government as a foreign agent—a phone call that raised no alarms within Trump's team, despite the unusual circumstance of having a top national security post filled by someone whose work may have benefited a foreign government.

The firm Flynn headed, Flynn Intel Group, was hired last year during the presidential race when Flynn was an adviser to the Trump campaign by the Netherlands-based firm Inovo BV,
which is owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin. Alptekin has close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Although the contract ended after the election, new details about the work Flynn did for Inovo resurrect the controversy over his short tenure as Trump's top national security aide.

The national security adviser is supposed to be an honest broker within the executive branch, pulling together military and diplomatic options for the president so he can decide what policy to pursue. But Flynn's work potentially benefiting Turkey meant he was representing the interests of a country other than the United States at the same time he was advising Trump on foreign policy during the election.
As is often the case with Parker's work, we're already in the conceptual weeds. Consider:

Parker notes that Flynn was hired by a "Netherlands-based firm," not by the Turkish government. (At the time, the firm's owner was said to be Turkish, not Turkish American, as he's described in this morning's Post.)

Parker says that Flynn's work "may have benefited a foreign government," not that it was done on behalf of a foreign government. She says Flynn's work "potentially benefit[ed] Turkey," not that it did benefit Turkey and not that it was done at the direction of Turkey.

But uh-oh! In the same breath, Parker says that Flynn "was representing the interests of a country other than the United States" through his overpaid lobbyist work. That makes it sound like the apparently crazy Trump adviser was working for the Turkish government, or something very much like that.

Already, we were in the weeds; Parker tends to be like this. As time goes on in a matter like this, you'd almost think that major journalists would try to bring more clarity to the discussion.

Pollyanna, please! That isn't the way our "journalism" works when a chase is on.

Parker's basic formulations here were rather muddy. Before long, she added this:
PARKER: On Tuesday, Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department identifying himself as a foreign agent who was paid last year to do work that could benefit the Turkish government.
Flynn had been paid to do work "that could benefit the Turkish government?" Do you understand what that means? Frankly, we do not.

Parker tends to be like this. Soon, though, she authored some surprising remarks—remarks which have gone down the memory hole as the chase has continued.

Hay-yo! Parker discussed the law under terms of which Flynn had registered as a "foreign agent." Breaking every rule in the book, she introduced a bit of nuance, even the hint of information:
PARKER: Dan Pickard, a partner at Wiley Rein and an expert in the Foreign Agents Registration Act, under which Flynn registered, said it is unusual but not unheard of for a senior campaign official to also be registered as an agent of a foreign government.

"I've been aware of people who are registered under FARA being involved at relatively senior levels of a campaign,
but in my experience that's more the exception than the rule,'' said Pickard, adding that the legal burden of complying with FARA "is relatively modest.''

FARA was passed in the run-up to World War II as a means of making pro-Germany activists acknowledge whether they were receiving financial support from that country.

For some in Washington, the political appearance of being a paid agent of a foreign government can be more problematic than the actual legal issues, according to others well versed in the law.
Is Parker allowed to do that? She quoted an expert who said it's "not unheard of for a senior campaign official to also be registered as an agent of a foreign government."

It's "more the exception than the rule," the expert unremarkably said. But he's been aware of this in the past!

The expert's comments made this matter sound a bit less nefarious. Meanwhile, though, did you notice what happened there?

In that passage, it suddenly sounds like Flynn has "registered as an agent of a foreign government." But when did Parker ever show that Flynn had done that?

This jumbled work is very typical of our floundering "press corps." For today, let's try to get clear on what a "foreign agent" actually is under terms of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, hereafter known as FARA.

We aren't experts about that act, but we do have access to Google. For that reason, we were able to visit FARA's web site, where we were able to peruse the act's basic provisions.

The basic fact you should know is this. If a person registers as a foreign agent under terms of the FARA, he is not necessarily declaring that he worked for a foreign government. The FARA site starts like this:
FARA SITE: The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) was enacted in 1938. FARA is a disclosure statute that requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. Disclosure of the required information facilitates evaluation by the government and the American people of the statements and activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents.
You see a reference to "foreign principals," not to foreign governments. But doesn't that mean "foreign governments?"

We're sorry, but no, it doesn't. Here's an official Q-and-A from the FARA site:
ARE FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS THE ONLY FOREIGN PRINCIPALS?

No.
The term also includes foreign political parties, a person or organization outside the United States, except U.S. citizens, and any entity organized under the laws of a foreign country or having its principal place of business in a foreign country.
In registering as a "foreign agent," the apparently crazy Flynn wasn't saying that he'd worked for a foreign government. Unless you're exempt under certain provisions, you have to register if you worked for a wide array of foreign entities or persons.

Back in the fall of 2016, Flynn had registered as a lobbyist under terms of the Lobbying Disclosure Act. It seems that he and his lawyers were later convinced that they had to register under the stricter terms of the FARA. Belatedly, they did so on March 7.

At that time, Flynn's lawyer made several murky statements about the technical reasons requiring this registration. One such statement has been quoted at various times, but no one has actually tried to explain the legalities of this matter. Things like that simply aren't done when a chase is on. As Journalists Ken and Barbie once said, "Explanation is hard."

We're making a small tiny point here. In registering as a "foreign agent" under terms of the FARA, Flynn wasn't saying that he had worked "on the payroll of Turkey."

On the other hand, he had associated himself with a wonderfully scary term. As Parker had murkily seemed to say, this can create "the political appearance of being a paid agent of a foreign government." And indeed: at times like this, when a chase is on, the actors who are cast as our "press corps" will have a grand old time with that term. Everyone will gain from this, except the American public.

Several times, we've mentioned the fact that Flynn is apparently crazy, with lots of semi-crazy ideas. We've done so for a reason.

At times like these, the haplessness of our liberal world tends to get exposed. In a wide array of contexts, we don't explore the crazy ideas of our political opponents.

Instead, we look for ways to say that our opponents have committed crimes. Either that, or we run to the courts, begging them to give us the wins we can't achieve on the ground.

In the case of Flynn, the press corps got busy embellishing the facts involved in his registration. "Foreign agent" sounds especially scary, so the phrase gets repeated a lot. The clowns you see on cable TV were soon repeating inaccurate claims, including the wonderful claim that Flynn was "on the Turkish payroll."

At times like this, few attempts are made to develop real facts. Instead, we're handed pleasing partisan novels.

We liberals have little skill at winning political debates. Rather than confront this problem, we tend to pray that The Others will get into legal trouble.

We're thrilled when a GOP candidate body-slams a reporter; it might let us win a campaign! We exult when the criminal figures behind the screen instruct our hapless newspapers to print the claim that Jared Kushner is now a "person of interest." However murky this claim may be, it lets us suggest that he is involved in crimes.

We love love love love love that stuff! We love it because we're lazy and dumb and are thereby born to lose.

To what extent are we inclined to play it this way? Consider:

Yesterday, two "stories" emerged about Kushner.

In an investigation for the New York Times Magazine and ProPublica, Alec MacGillis presented horrific facts about Kushner's life as a giant slumlord. Also, shadowy figures behind a screen directed our newspapers to print a fuzzy claim about an investigation in which Kushner is now said to be a "person of interest."

In the latter case, those shadowy figures were coming close to conducting a smear of Kushner. In the former case, dogged reporting showed that Kushner had engaged in widespread reprehensible conduct.

Which of these topics was being bruited all over "cable news" last night? Dearest darlings, please!

With compliments to the Times editorial board, did you have to ask?

Drum suggests Homer was right all along!

THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2017

Why we can't have nice things:
Friend, do you find yourself thinking that Homer may have right all along?

Do you find yourself thinking that we human are toys of the gods? That the gods stage-manage human events for their own amusement?

We considered this possibility when we read Kevin Drum's tough-talking post about health care. His tough-talking headline said this:

"Health Care Systems Are Expensive. Deal With It."

Drum was talking tough. After some back-of-the-envelope calculations, he said we could maybe have a single-payer health care system, but it wouldn't lower health care costs. In closing, he offered this:

"Short of some kind of legislative miracle, there's really no way around this. Health care is expensive."

So true! Health care really is expensive. So are health care systems!

We lunkheads should shut our traps and deal with this. These familiar facts help prove Drum's tough-talking point:
Per capita spending, health care, 2015
United States: $9451
Germany: $5267
Canada: $4608
Australia: $4420
France: $4407
Japan: $4150
United Kingdom: $4003
Finland: $3984
Italy: $3272
Spain: $3153
South Korea: $2488
As you can see, health care systems are expensive! Rather, our health care system is.

We're listing the standard OECD spending figures for the United States and the world's most comparable nations. We're throwing in miraculous Finland for the obvious reason.

In fact, health care systems aren't expensive; our health care system is! Among comparable nations, only Germany spends even half as much per person. But it was decided long ago:

In this nation, we aren't allowed to discuss this matter. We proles are here to get looted and conned.

The gods were laughing on Olympus when they read that recent post. In this earlier post, Drum staged a bit of self-frogmarch, apologizing for what he did, or failed to do, last summer.

Health care systems are expensive! Was a certain blogger placed on earth as a way to amuse the gods?

Ladies and gentlemen, deal with it! Homer was right all along!

Comey the God had little choice!

THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2017

Also, the Post seems to miss the point:
At times like these, you'll find yourself getting conned in a wide array of ways.

One such way appears in this morning's Washington Post. In a front-page report, the Post describes an apparent fake intelligence report by which James B. Comey—Comey the God—may himself have been conned.

Allegedly, the apparently fake document played a role in Comey's controversial conduct in the Clinton email probe.

Last July, Comey took "the extraordinary step of announcing the findings of the Clinton investigation himself without Justice Department involvement." So the Post correctly notes.

Along the way, the Post cites unnamed figures explaining why he did that—why he pretty much had to do that:
DEMIRJIAN AND BARRETT (5/25/17): Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement—in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence—set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.

[...]

Current and former officials have argued that the secret document gave Comey good reason to take the extraordinary step over the summer of announcing the findings of the Clinton investigation himself without Justice Department involvement.

Comey had little choice, these people have said, because he feared that if Lynch announced no charges against Clinton, and then the secret document leaked, the legitimacy of the entire case would be questioned.
Warning! You're looking at part of the ongoing attempt to restore the godlike status of Comey the God.

James B. Comey "had little choice," these unnamed figures have said. Because of what the fake document said, he pretty much had to make the announcement on his own, without consulting with Justice.

Warning! You'll be assaulted with these attempts at restoration in the months to come. Meanwhile, did you notice that the Washington Post seems to have missed the point of last July's flap?

Readers, please! In the Post report, unnamed figures seek to explain why Comey "announc[ed] the findings of the Clinton investigation himself"—why he made "his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over."

That said, no one complained about the fact that Comey "announced on his own that the investigation was over." People complained about the fact that, after announcing his legal judgment, he went on to make a long oration in which he stated his own highly negative view of Clinton's underlying behavior.

The Post report notes the fact that Comey did that. But we see nothing in the Post report which addresses the reason for that decision.

Why did Comey criticize Clinton in the course of making that announcement? That was the behavior in question—except on the Maddow Show, where Comey's behavior was hailed for two nights by guest host Steve Kornacki, then completely ignored by Maddow.

Why did Comey take that step? We see nothing in the Post report which speaks to that basic question.

In one way, today's report is embarrassing for Comey. The report implies that he got taken by fake intel from the Russkies. Oof.

On the other hand, the report includes the latest attempt to restore the gentleman's standing as an insider Washington god. You're likely to see many more such attempts in the weeks and months ahead.

On the third hand, we'd have to say that the Washington Post has missed the point of last July's dispute. Why did Comey—Comey the God—blast Clinton in that long, irregular oration?

That is where the god misbehaved. No one in the Post report seems to address that conduct.

The god was criticized last July for stating his highly negative views. Did Demirjian, Barrett and their editors understand this point?

FLYNN FACTS: The New York Times slips and slides down a slope!

THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2017

Part 3—Puts Flynn "on the Turkish payroll:"
Just last evening, we were surprised by what we heard at the start of The Eleventh Hour.

Brian Williams, our dapper host, started his first panel discussion by throwing to Glenn Thrush of the New York Times. The fellows shared the type of towel-snapping banter which sends a warning to sensible people.

"Warning," such repartee says. "You may be getting played:"
WILLIAMS (5/24/17): Glenn, we'll start with you. Tell us about what your colleagues have written tonight on Russia, and why it's important, while I take a drink of water.

THRUSH: [Laughs] Well, I think the president needs to take a drink too, Brian.
Basically, that's how Brian's program began.

Williams had had until 11 PM to think up an opening question. Despite the long preparation time, his opening "question" was simply an invitation to talk, accompanied by a wonderfully ironical bit of business.

Thrush chuckled at the star's witty ways, then directed some snark at Donald J. Trump. This is what our upper-end "journalism" starts to look like when a chase is on.

We were less than impressed by that Brianesque first exchange. The last time Brian went down this road, he ended up getting fired and "going away" for a couple of years.

That said, we were actively surprised by what Thrush said next. He spoke of his newspaper's "revelations," then seemed to dream one up:
THRUSH (continuing directly): Look, you know we have just, day after day, had these revelations. Today's revelation is that the Russians discovered the possibility of being able, as you said before, to influence Michael Flynn, who was then an adviser to the campaign, who was also at the same time on the payroll of Turkey and was being paid by RT, Russian television...
Masterfully, Thrush continued from there. Already, though, we were puzzled.

Was Michael Flynn "on the payroll of Turkey" during the 2016 campaign? Also, had the New York Times ever made that assertion?

You're asking excellent questions! Regarding the work of the New York Times, let's take a look at the record. What has the newspaper said?

The New York Times hadn't done much reporting on this matter until this March. At that time, Flynn registered as a foreign agent under terms of the rarely-explained Foreign Agent Registration Act.

"Foreign agent!" It's a wonderfully scary term, though it's also perhaps a bit imprecise. But on the New York Times' front page, Baker and Rosenberg reported such facts as these:
BAKER AND ROSENBERG (3/11/17): Michael T. Flynn, who went from the campaign trail to the White House as President Trump's first national security adviser, filed papers this week acknowledging that he worked as a foreign agent last year representing the interests of the Turkish government in a dispute with the United States.

[...]

Mr. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, registered as a lobbyist last year but did not file papers with the Justice Department registering as a foreign agent, providing a fuller understanding of his role, until Tuesday. While he did not work directly for the Turkish government, the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and asked him to work on an issue important to the government.

[...]

On behalf of his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, Mr. Flynn signed a contract on Aug. 9 with Inovo, a Dutch firm owned by Ekim Alptekin, the chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council. Mr. Flynn's firm was to receive $600,000 for 90 days of work.
In that report, Baker and Rosenberg did not assert that Flynn had been "on the payroll of Turkey." Indeed, they explicitly said that Flynn "did not work directly for the Turkish government."

You're right! The word "directly" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. (Baker and Rosenberg never quite explained what that somewhat slippery word meant.)

At any rate, Baker and Rosenberg didn't say that Flynn had been "on the payroll of Turkey." Without using the exact formulation, they said he'd been on the payroll of Inovo BV, a Dutch firm owned by a Turkish-American businessman who had "links to leaders in Ankara."

As far as we know, Ekim Alptekin, the owner of Inovo, isn't Turkish-American. As we noted yesterday, our biggest and laziest, most famous newspapers haven't quite puzzled that out.

But in this report, Flynn was "on the payroll" of a Dutch firm, not "on the payroll of Turkey." Flynn was said to have done lobbying work for that Dutch-based firm.

(That same day, the Washington Post reported that Flynn's firm had been "hired last year...by the Netherlands-based firm Inovo BV, which is owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin...Flynn's firm was paid more than $500,000 by Inovo for public relations and research work." The Post believed that Alptekin was Turkish, not Turkish-American. But they too said that Flynn had been on the payroll of a Dutch-based firm.)

At times like these, when a chase is on, such facts aren't likely to stand. At times like these, reporters for newspapers like the Times may start massaging and shaving such facts, producing the stories they like.

Case in point:

The Times returned to this matter on April 2, one day after April Fools. In these passages, Mark Rosenberg's formulations had perhaps begun to slip and slide:
ROSENBERG (4/2/17): Mr. Flynn has faced fierce criticism for the Moscow speech and for his lobbying efforts for Turkey. But the work paid well, and the disclosure forms showed income of nearly $1.5 million, a sizable amount for a man who left the military less than three years ago.

[...]

The payments for lobbying work that Mr. Flynn did for the Turkish government—and did not disclose until March—were handled through the Flynn Intel Group, and are not listed separately on the disclosure forms. Mr. Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government; the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and asked him to work on an issue important to the government.
In this report, the New York Times has headed down a slipshod slope.

Rosenberg was still willing to note the fact that "Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government," whatever that was supposed to mean. But before he offered that disclaimer, he referred to Flynn's "lobbying efforts for Turkey," then to "the lobbying work that Mr. Flynn did for the Turkish government."

It had started to sound like Flynn had been "on the Turkish payroll!" Rosenberg hadn't said that in so many words. But he was humming the tune.

The New York Times returned to this topic last week. A prosecutor had issued subpoenas to Flynn, including a subpoena "for records about Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman who is close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and is chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council."

By now, the Times was saying that Alptekin is Turkish, not Turkish-American. Also, the basic facts had been massaged by the Times within an inch of their life.

Those basic facts had almost gone through a blender. By now, Rosenberg and Mazzetti were truly making it sound like a certain foreign agent had been on the Turkish payroll:
ROSENBERG AND MAZZETTI (5/18/17): Michael T. Flynn told President Trump's transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.

[...]

The investigation stems from the work Mr. Flynn did for Inovo BV, a Dutch company owned by Mr. Alptekin, the Turkish businessman. On Aug. 9, Mr. Flynn and the Flynn Intel Group signed a contract with Inovo for $600,000 over 90 days to run an influence campaign aimed at discrediting Fethullah Gulen, an reclusive cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and whom Mr. Erdogan has accused of orchestrating a failed coup in Turkey last summer.

When he was hired by Mr. Alptekin, Mr. Flynn did not register as a foreign agent, as required by law when an American represents the interests of a foreign government. Only in March did he file a retroactive registration with the Justice Department because his lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, said that ''the engagement could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.''
In these latest formulations, Flynn had been "secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign." He wasn't just a foreign agent. By now, he had become a secret agent too!

Inovo BV got mentioned again, but we were then told that Flynn had failed to "register as a foreign agent, as required by law when an American represents the interests of a foreign government." That's what Flynn had apparently done.

A few nights later, a wise-cracking journalist went on TV and made an inaccurate statement. In fairness, you almost can't blame Thrush for saying that Flynn had been "on the payroll of Turkey."

Who knows? Given the things his paper had published, Thrush may even have come to believe what he said!

In truth, nothing the New York Times has reported justifies the pleasing claim that Flynn was "on the payroll of Turkey." That isn't where his checks came from. His checks came from Inovo BV, a Dutch-based lobbying firm.

In truth, no one has ever shown that Flynn was "on the payroll of Turkey." But so what? At times like these, with a major chase on, such pleasing claims will emerge.

No, Petunia! As far as anyone has shown, Michael Flynn wasn't on the payroll of Turkey. He was on the payroll of a Dutch firm owned and operated by a man who is probably Turkish, though our big newspapers are too lazy and incompetent to find out.

Our mighty newspapers have never quite bothered to establish that basic fact. They've been too busy massaging and disappearing facts, the enterprises in which they tend to engage when a chase is on.

Was Flynn doing something "wrong" when he worked for Inovo? Not necessarily, no. He was advancing some unconventional views, but that is normally not a crime, and Flynn evinces many signs of being at least half-nuts.

The key to this conundrum may lie in the scary term, "foreign agent." The term is wonderfully scary, and that makes it potentially useful. It may seem to imply various things which it doesn't imply in the situation under review.

Tomorrow, we'll review the meaning of that term, which has of course gone unexplained by our most glorious newspapers. The reason for that lethargy is simple:

Michael Flynn had become so crazy a few years back that people began rolling their eyes about his unreliable claims. Those claims were referred to as "Flynn facts." There he goes again, his associates were wont to suggest.

We can't judge the various claims which got eye-rolled that way. But at times like this, when a chase is on, our upper-end press corps is strongly inclined to start inventing facts too.

They sand, massage, disappear and invent elementary facts. They fail to explore the most basic distinctions. They make no attempt to clarify even the most basic points.

In the process, they produce their pleasing group stories, the kinds of stories they very much like. They end up saying things like this:

Michael Flynn was on the Turkish payroll.

Pleasing though the claim may be, no one has ever shown that it's true. When you see performers like Thrush clowning with Brian, then going on to make such claims, you are seeing the same old turkeys inventing their own "Flynn facts!"

Your lizard brain will tell you it's great. As always, your lizard is wrong.

Tomorrow: What is a "foreign agent?"

At the Washington Post, they're selling the car!

WEDNESDAY, MAY 24, 2017

Newest product yet:
Yesterday, John Brennan testified to the House Intelligence Committee.

In all honesty, he said virtually nothing that was new. Unless you read the front page of this morning's Washington Post, where Greg Miller, or his editor, were busily selling the car.

This was Miller's first paragraph. Warning! They're selling you the car!
MILLER (5/24/17): The CIA alerted the FBI to a troubling pattern of contacts between Russian officials and associates of the Trump campaign last year, former agency director John Brennan testified on Tuesday, shedding new light on the origin of a criminal probe that now reaches into the White House.
Did Brennan's testimony "shed new light on the origin of a criminal probe that now reaches into the White House?"

Not exactly, no. Everything Brennan said has been said several times before.

This isn't a criticism of what Brennan said. It's a comment on the process of selling the (daily) car.

Several hours later: Maddow offered a gong-show edit of something Brennan said. It tilted the tale in a way we like.

There was certainly nothing new there!

FLYNN FACTS: Who the heck is Ekim Alptekin?

WEDNESDAY, MAY 24, 2017

Part 2—At times like these, nobody cares:
For the record, Michael Flynn strikes us as a bit of a nut.

Last summer, he stood on stage at the Republican Convention, leading chants of "Lock her up." He retweeted a claim about the way Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the basement of a D.C. pizza joint.

At the business he founded, he chose his even-crazier son to be his chief of staff.

That said, Flynn had a distinguished military career—and he has geopolitical views. If we're willing to be honest just this once, most of us liberals aren't sufficiently knowledgeable to say, with any real authority, that his views are "wrong."

Along the way, Flynn's craziness and his geopolitical views made him the apple of Donald J. Trump's eye. These are the wages a society pays when its "elites" mug and clown their way through thirty years of gonzo pseudo-political history, as our "elites" have done.

Now we're engaged in a great newspaper war, with the ludicrous Flynn providing much of the excitement. This leads us to our question for the day:

Who is Ekim Alptekin?

Who the heck is Ekim Alptekin? For now, let's let the New York Times tell us!

Alptekin has been all over the news in the past six months. He's routinely featured in news reports which deal with Michael Flynn's international adventures.

Despite his ubiquity, Alptekin remains a bit of an international man of mystery. Let's let the Times clear things up:
ROSENBERG AND MAZZETTI (5/18/17): The subpoena also asks for similar records about Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman who is close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and is chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council. There is no indication that Mr. Alptekin is under investigation.

ROSENBERG (4/2/17): The payments for lobbying work that Mr. Flynn did for the Turkish government—and did not disclose until March—were handled through the Flynn Intel Group, and are not listed separately on the disclosure forms. Mr. Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government; the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and [sic] asked him to work on an issue important to the government.

BAKER AND ROSENBERG (3/11/17): Mr. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, registered as a lobbyist last year but did not file papers with the Justice Department registering as a foreign agent, providing a fuller understanding of his role, until Tuesday. While he did not work directly for the Turkish government, the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and [sic] asked him to work on an issue important to the government.

NORDLAND (11/19/17): General Flynn's article, as Politico reported, did not disclose that he was a paid lobbyist for a consultancy founded by a Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin, who is also the head of the Turkish-American Business Council.
You just can't beat the New York Times for cool clear consistent reporting! According to our smartest newspaper, Alptekin is either a Turkish businessman, a Turkish-American businessman, or a Turkish businessman who is the head of the Turkish-American Business Council.

In two recent attempt to identify Alptekin, Rosenberg and Mazzetti seemed to say that he's an American citizen. As far as we know, that's false. But even that elementary fact remains unresolved within our floundering "elite" press corps, which is currently on a chase.

(As we noted yesterday, the Washington Post keeps jumping around about Alptekin's citizenship too!)

Good God! Alptekin's employment of Flynn became a major topic last November. Even now, our big newspapers haven't managed to get clear about his citizenship, which would seem to be relevant to the matters at hand.

In fairness, everything else is murky too! Even after some recent searches, we don't think we've ever seen a statement about Alptekin's age, or about his place of residence.

How old is Alptekin? Where was he born, and where does he live? What is his citizenship? Because the corps is on a chase, details like these no longer matter. We're being sold an exciting tale, in which the most elementary facts seem to have no place.

Who the heck is Ekim Alptekin? We have no real idea—but over the weekend, as part of a search, we finally came upon a biographical profile from a non-journalistic source.

Because it comes from some sort of interest group, we can't swear for its perfect accuracy. But what the heck! Here it is:
RESEARCH TURKEY: Ekim Alptekin is a successful young businessman, specialised on transatlantic trade and the development and maintenance of commercial and political cooperation between Turkey and the US. He was born in Ankara in 1977. He completed his studies in law and economics in Utrecht University in 2001. He speaks Turkish, English, French, German, and Dutch. After completing his studies he moved to the USA and worked in the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) as well as other international organisations. Alptekin also carries important diplomatic missions. He is honorary consul of Turkey to Albania and member of the board of the USA Newroz Commission. In addition, he is member of European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD).

Ekim Alptekin also carries out important activities in trading sector. He is the founder and a principal partner of Eclipse Aerospace Inc., a New Mexico-based company manufacturing aircrafts. He founded EA Aerospace in Turkey to buy American Eclipse Aerospace, which was re-founded in 2008. EA Aerospace is significant as it is the very first Turkish company that made aircraft industry investment in the USA. In addition to EA Aerospace, Ekim Alptekin owns EA Construction, ATH Defence and One Colony companies active in real estate, construction, defence, security, entertainment, and tourism industries. Alptekin agglomerated his companies under the name of AE Group, where he acts as the Chair of the Executive Board. He also worked as the President of the Turkish-American Business Association (TABA/AmCham) between 2012 and 2014, and he was elected as the Young Leader by the American-Turkish Society in 2012. He won the Commercial Leadership Award of American-Turkish Council thanks to the Eclipse Aerospace initiative in 2011. Alptekin’s EA Construction has been active in Istanbul’s construction sector through Beykonak Houses and Kartal Kule projects and his "Kartal Kule" project was awarded the "Best Architecture Single Office Europe by International Property Awards.

Since October 2015, Ekim Alptekin is acting as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Turkish-American Business Council (TAİK), an organisation under the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey (DEİK).
According to that account, Michael Flynn's recent employer is 39 or 40 years old. Especially considering his age, he seems to be a go-getter.

It sounds like he's Turkish, not Turkish-American. That said, he seems to have gone to college in the Netherlands. Could he maybe be Turkish-Dutch—a Dutch citizen of Turkish extraction?

Did Alptekin move to the USA after college, as that profile declares? Does he maybe possibly live on Imus' ranch in New Mexico, where he founded Eclipse Aerospace Inc.?

Rather plainly, no one knows or cares!

Who the freak is this guy? Incredibly, the New York Times and the Washington Post still haven't bothered nailing down the basic facts about his citizenship. But this is the way our "press corps" behaves when they engage in a chase.

A few key facts do seem to be known about Alptekin. At some point, he founded Inovo BV, the Dutch-based firm which hired Flynn on a short-term contract last year.

Having said that, let us also say this: "a Dutch-based firm" is not the same thing as "the Turkish government." For whom was Michael Flynn working last year? Let's review the masterful way Rosenberg dealt with this basic question:
ROSENBERG (4/2/17): The payments for lobbying work that Mr. Flynn did for the Turkish government—and did not disclose until March—were handled through the Flynn Intel Group, and are not listed separately on the disclosure forms. Mr. Flynn did not work directly for the Turkish government; the firm that hired him, Inovo, is owned by a Turkish-American businessman with links to leaders in Ankara and [sic] asked him to work on an issue important to the government.
According to that paragraph, Flynn "did lobbying work for the Turkish government" without "working directly for the Turkish government."

It's possible this could be explained, though no one has really bothered.

(Through early March, Our Own Rhodes Scholar kept exciting and delighting us liberals by telling us that Flynn had been "on the Turkish government payroll." On its face, this exciting claim always seemed to be false.

(Our Own Rhodes Scholar no longer makes this claim, though she still sometimes implies it. On alternate weeks, she tells us that the money for Flynn's work came from Putin-connected Russian oligarchs, without seeming to notice that this second exciting story doesn't directly jibe with her first.

(Even as she dropped her thrilling earlier account, Our Own Rhodes Scholar never fired up her gong-show based DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS to explain the change in her story. She was assuming, quite correctly, that we liberals are too dumb to notice the change in her account, and/or too addicted to narrative to care.)

Did Michael Flynn do something wrong when he worked for Alptekin and Inovo BV, which is either 1) the Turkish government or 2) an arm of Putin's oligarchs? We can't answer that question.

We can tell you this:

A chase is on in the mainstream press. At such times, elementary facts and logic tend to disappear.

What matters is preferred talking points, which get repeated again and again. In the current instance, the greatest such point is this:

Michael Flynn registered as a "foreign agent!" That is a very exciting point. But does anyone know what it means?

Michael Flynn worked as a foreign agent! It sounds wonderfully vile. But what the heck does that term really mean? And to what has Michael Flynn copped?

Tomorrow, we'll start to sift those questions. In the meantime, Ekim Alptekin, Flynn's fresh-faced employer, is either Turkish or American or possibly Dutch. Flynn was on the Turkish government payroll. Or he worked for Putin's oligarchs!

As with New England weather, so too with elementary facts when a chase is on. If you don't like the most recent account, you can just wait a while!

Michael Flynn strikes us as a bit of a nut, but so do large swaths of the elite press. Thirty years of their low-IQ clowning got us all into this mess.

Tomorrow: What is a foreign agent?

POSTSCRIPT: Did Andrew McCabe sell out to Trump?

TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2017

The Post's peculiar reporting:
On Wednesday evening, May 10, Rachel Maddow made an angry allegation about acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, her program's latest villain.

Back in February, Maddow angrily said, McCabe became part of "the Trump disinformation campaign!" We discussed this topic all last week.

Did McCabe really do that? If so, someone should tell Dianne Feinstein! On Sunday's Face the Nation, she recommended that McCabe become the FBI's permanent director. Apparently, Feinstein hasn't been watching the Maddow Show!

Full disclosure! In our view, Maddow's May 10 report was her latest weirdly researched, embellished "villain tale." During her twenty-minute performance, she offered exactly one journalistic source for her fiery claim about McCabe—an analysis piece in Time magazine whose author had simply seemed to accept the truthfulness of a set of accusation by Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, the nation's least famous truth-tellers.

Priebus and Spicer made their claims during the period when Donald J. Trump was thrashing about, trying to shoot down reports about possible collusion with Russia. Absent evidence, why should anyone have believed the claims by Priebus and Spicer?

Maddow never addressed that point during her May 10 report. Very few viewers would have realized that her attack on McCabe was based on claims by Priebus and Spicer, claims they made last February during a highly fraught time.

Maddow simply launched her attacks. In fairness, her diatribe was exciting.

As a postscript to last week's reports, we thought we'd note the peculiar way the Washington Post reported these accusations by Priebus and Spicer.

The paper's sole report on this topic appeared on Saturday, February 25. In the passage shown below, Miller and Entous reported the accusations by Priebus and "administration sources."

In the process, they simply seemed to accept the accuracy of these claims. No further evidence needed!
MILLER (2/25/17): The administration's push against the Russia coverage intensified Sunday [February 19] when White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said in television interviews that he had been authorized "by the top levels of the intelligence community" to denounce reports on Trump campaign contacts with Russia as false.

Priebus's denunciations ranged from calling the articles "overstated" to saying they were "complete garbage."

Administration officials said that Priebus's comments had been cleared by FBI Director James B. Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. In doing so, the FBI's leadership would appear to have been drawing a distinction between authorizing comments by a White House official and addressing the matter themselves.
"In doing so, the FBI's leadership would appear to have been drawing a distinction between authorizing comments by a White House official and addressing the matter themselves?"

In that statement, Miller and Entous seemed to assume that the administration's accusations were accurate. They offered no evidence in support of this assumption.

Later, they quoted former CIA director Michael Hayden casting doubt on what Priebus had said. But in that earlier passage, they seemed to accept the accuracy of the administration accounts.

It gets worse. On that same day, a Post editorial did the same thing. For unknown reasons, the editors even referred to the accusations by Priebus and Spicer as "the week's revelations."

In its own report on this topic, the New York Times didn't seem to accept the accuracy of the administration's claims in the way the Post did. Still, we'd have edited one part of the Times report to make this fact more clear.

Let's review:

Back in February, Priebus and Spicer delivered a set of accusations against McCabe and Comey both.

According to Priebus and Spicer, McCabe and Comey had both said that a New York Times report about collusion was inaccurate. For reason which went unexplained, the Washington Post seemed to accept these accusations as accurate.

At that time, Rachel Maddow did two reports which cast McCabe as the hero of the piece. (As we noted last week, those reports appeared on February 23 and 24.) On May 10, without explanation, she launched her attack on McCabe, apparently accepting the accuracy of what Priebus and Spicer had said.

Just like that, McCabe went from hero to goat! Priebus' attacks on Comey went completely unmentioned. Maddow's earlier reports, which cast McCabe as the hero of the piece, also went unmentioned. No explanations required!

Maddow often plays this way. In fairness, accusations of this type are exciting and tribally pleasing.

Beyond that, it's fun when she mugs and clowns! It helps Our Own Channel beat Fox!

Rachel Maddow is very good at giving us liberals our villains. Someone should tell Senator Feinstein about what Our Scholar has said.

Synopsis is all!

TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2017

Visiting King Lear again:
Upon our return to our sprawling campus, we found ourselves surrendering, once again, to curiosity concerning King Lear.

Once again, we found ourselves turning to the leading authority. At the start of their savantic report, our top unnamed sources said this:
King Lear is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare. It depicts the gradual descent into madness of the title character, after he disposes of his kingdom giving bequests to two of his three daughters based on their flattery of him, bringing tragic consequences for all.
Needless to say, "gradual descents into madness" are tragedies for all. Thank goodness that's not happening here, "based on their flattery"-wise!

Descents into madness can have tragic consequences? Shakespeare, of course, who didn't exist, simple adored "fake news."

Yet to come: Eventually, we plan to record the way number-one Lear daughter Ivanka recently "quoted" Maya Angelou. But only if liberals are good!

FLYNN FACTS: And the lack of same!

TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2017

Part 1—The way the press corps functions:
Midway through last night's 7 o'clock hour, cable news went "all-Manchester all-the-time."

Before that happened, we were struck by several aspects of Erin Burnett's journalistic performance on CNN.

First, Burnett discussed the newest report from the Washington Post, a report which appears on this morning's front page.

The Post reports that Donald J. Trump "asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials."

Before events in Manchester took precedence, this report was destined to be the focus of last night's cable excitement.

Did Donald J. Trump really do the things described in the Post report? We were surprised to see Burnett treat the report as established fact. Whatever the facts may turn out to be, that wasn't the world's greatest journalism.

Soon after, we were surprised by Burnett's treatment of a new report concerning Michael Flynn. She seemed unfamiliar with a ludicrous claim Flynn first made last summer.

The ludicrous claim concerns the money Flynn was paid for a speaking engagement in Russia—a December 2015 engagement which is now quite famous. According to a congresional committee, Flynn received roughly $45,000 for the engagement. But by whom was he paid?

At least as early as last summer, Flynn was answering that question in a ridiculous way.

In a widely-discussed interview with Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News, Flynn offered an absurd explanation. He wasn't paid for the Russians, he said. He was paid by his speakers' bureau!
ISIKOFF (7/18/16): Were you paid for that event?

FLYNN: You’d have to ask my—the folks that I went over there on behalf of.

ISIKOFF: Well, I’m asking you. You’d know if you were paid.

FLYNN: Yeah, I mean I went over there as a speaking event. It was a speaking event. What difference does that make? Did somebody go "Oh, he’s paid by the Russians?"

ISIKOFF: Well, Donald Trump has made a lot of the fact that Hillary Clinton has taken money from Wall Street, Goldman Sachs.

FLYNN: I didn’t take any money from Russia, if that’s what you’re asking me.

ISIKOFF: Well then, who paid you?

FLYNN: My speakers’ bureau. Ask them.
He wasn't paid by the Russkies, Flynn said. He was paid by his speakers bureau! To watch that exchange, click here.

Periodically, that silly distinction has bubbled up over the past ten months. Yesterday, it seemed to bubble up again in a letter by Rep. Elijah Cummings—but Burnett seemed to think the silly distinction was new.

Burnett's apparent cluelessnes regarding this point struck us as unimpressive. That said, there's been a lot of journalistic heat surrounding Flynn's behavior on the international stage, not always a whole lot of journalistic light.

How competent have our news orgs been in their discussions of Flynn-in-the-world? Not gigantically competent! Consider something we read in Saturday's Washington Post.

The report concerned Flynn's work for Inovo BV, a Netherlands based lobbying firm. In this passage, two Post reporters described Ekim Alptekin, the founder of the firm:
BARRETT AND ZAPOTOSKY (5/20/17): A grand jury in Alexandria, Va., recently issued a subpoena for records related to Flynn's business, the Flynn Intel Group, which was paid more than $500,000 by a company owned by a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Flynn Intel Group was paid for research on Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who Turkey's current president believes was responsible for a coup attempt last summer. Flynn retroactively registered with the Justice Department in March as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests.
Alptekin wasn't named, but he was described as "a Turkish American businessman." Two weeks earlier, Matea Gold had described him the same way in this front-page report in the Post:
GOLD (5/5/17): [Flynn's] research was financed by a company owned by Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish American businessman close to top officials in Turkey, the documents show. Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accuses Gulen for fomenting a coup attempt last summer and wants him extradited from the United States.

Inovo, a Netherlands-based company owned by Alptekin, paid Flynn Intel Group $530,000 to activate an "investigative laboratory" made up of former top security and intelligence officials to research Gulen, according to documents Flynn filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Alptekin is "a Turkish American businessman," Gold also reported. That would be fine, except back in March and April, the Post was describing Alptekin as "a Turkish businessman," which isn't the same thing.

The New York Times has also toggled back and forth in its descriptions. Sometimes Alptekin has been "Turkish-American," sometimes he's been "Turkish."

Does this distinction matter? Given the charges and claims involved here, it probably pretty much could!

That said, we'd make a different basic point. Given the amount of attention paid to Flynn's work for Inovo BV, it's amazing that our biggest newspapers can't be bothered to establish even the simplest facts about the man for whom he worked.

Is Ekim Alptekin a Turkish citizen? Is he "Turkish American," a designation which seems to imply that he's an American citizen?

Might he be a dual citizen? Does anyone at these major newspapers know or care?

The Post and the Times have both toggled about between these dueling descriptions of Alptekin. Given the amount of focus directed on this matter, this is lazy, incompetent front-page pseudo-reporting as its ridiculous worst.

In fact, reporting on Flynn's work for Inovo has been riddled with incompetence and error. This extends beyond the work of the Post and the Times, extending up the slopes of Olympus to the aerie which houses Rachel Maddow, whose accounts of this much-beloved matter change on a daily basis.

In the next few day, we'll try to nail down a few basic facts about Flynn, Alptekin and Inovo, the Dutch-based form Alptekin founded and still runs. But our focus won't be on Flynn or Alptekin. As always, our principal focus will be on the work of the press, which is currently staging a chase.

A headlong chase is currently on; excitement fills the air. When such episodes occur, our journalists sometimes send their standards and skills on holiday. On partisan cable, you may get severely conned.

Flynn, who strikes us as a nut, has been widely ridiculed for his unreliable "Flynn facts." That said, the press corps has produced its own array of puzzling, murky "Flynn facts" as it has pretended to cover this high-profile topic.

Who the heck is Ekim Alptekin? As we attempt to fumble through the press corps' array of "Flynn facts," that will just be our initial question.

We'll end with the most exciting question of all. What is a "foreign agent?"

Tomorrow: Who is Ekim Alptekin?

We're on our way back to our sprawling campus!

MONDAY, MAY 22, 2017

In the meantime, do trees exist?:
Last Friday, we found Paul Krugman's column semi-discouraging. He ended the piece like this:
KRUGMAN (5/19/17): In a perverse way, we should count ourselves lucky that Trump is as terrible as he is. Think of what it has taken to get us to this point—his Twitter addiction, his bizarre loyalty to Flynn and affection for Putin, the raw exploitation of his office to enrich his family, the business dealings, whatever they were, he's evidently trying to cover up by refusing to release his taxes.

The point is that given the character of the Republican Party, we'd be well on the way to autocracy if the man in the White House had even slightly more self-control. Trump may have done himself in; but it can still happen here.
"Think of what it has taken to get us to this point," Krugman said. His chronology took us all the way back to maybe last week.

It has taken a lot more than Trumpistry and its discontents to get us to this point. For one example of what we mean, consider this timely news report from the next day's Times.

The Times was reporting a recent firestorm within the realm of academic philosophy. The firestorm surrounds a little-read paper about a touchy topic by Assistant Professor Tuvel.

The basic question raised by Tuvel was poorly explained by the Times. That said, our idealistic young analysts all howled in pain at this point:
SCHUESSLER (5/20/17): [U]nderneath the hyper-charged war of words lies a wonkier but no less significant battle over philosophical method.

''In terms of quality, it's a very normal paper,'' Justin Weinberg, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina and the editor of Daily Nous, a philosophy news website, said in an interview. ''But some people will say that's part of the problem.''

[...]

Ms. Tuvel's paper is squarely in the tradition of analytic philosophy, an approach that focuses on clarifying concepts and that relies on blunt logical analysis and sometimes outlandish-seeming hypotheticals and analogies. (Do justifications for eating meat also support cannibalism? Are unwanted fetuses akin to rapists?) But it's an approach, some of her detractors say, that is unsuited to the subject at hand.

''That's fine when you are looking at abstract metaphysical questions,'' like ''whether trees exist, or things that exist in the past exist in the present,'' said one of the signers of the open letter, Talia Mae Bettcher, a professor of philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles. ''But when you start philosophizing about racial oppression or trans oppression or other contemporary social issues, different methodologies need to be employed.''
According to Professor Bettcher, normal procedure is fine when you consider normal philosophical questions. But not for something like this!

Sad. According to Professor Bettcher, a normal philosophical question might go something like this:
Normal philosophical questions:
1) Do trees exist?
2) Do things that exist [sic] in the past exist in the present?
Maybe Professor Bettcher was kidding. More probably, she wasn't. Assistant Professor Tuvel's approach would be fine when examining questions like that!

Readers, do trees exist? As our academic elites have been pondering such questions, the society which hands them their sacks of money each month has spent the past thirty years slouching toward Trumplehem.

The intellectual/journalistic descent started long before Trump. As this headlong descent occurred, the professors were asking if trees exist.

Krugman wrote as if our current situation started with Trump. Increasingly, our long-time unquestioned MVP has been sliding toward the only dumbness large enough to match the dumbness of Trumpism itself. We refer to the disabling dumbness of Trump hate, which is the latest way we liberals, and our failed elites, have arranged to malfunction.

We're on our way back to our sprawling campus. Full services resume tomorrow. At some point, we expect to return to this topic, and to Jim Holt's book from 2012, one of that year's ten best.

Meanwhile, do trees exist? Three decades after Rush went national, the professors still aren't sure.

For that reason, they haven't moved on. Such roads have all led to Trump.

Just for the record: "Things that exist in the past?" We're assuming that wasn't a typo.

It happens during newspapers wars!

SATURDAY, MAY 20, 2017

And when a chase is on:
It's a fascinating time to be a press corps watcher.

Also, a time of frustration. A great deal of conduct is occurring all at once. We'll return to full services at the start of the week.

Today, we'll note a few trends:

1) A chase is on: Within the mainstream press, there's hasn't been such a uniform chase since the two years of Campaign 2000.

At that time, the mainstream press was chasing the vile Candidate Gore. Today, they're chasing Donald J. Trump.

In terms of the press corps' selection of targets, we note a slight imbalance.

2) Judgment may disappear: When the mainstream press corps stages a chase, all judgment disappears. Every claim will be credited and bruited, no matter how silly or far-fetched.

Next week, we'll review the way major figures and major news orgs ran with the Washington Post's thrilling report about the way the House majority leader said that Donald J. Trump was in the pay of the Russians. For today, we'll only say this:

Sad.

(Sad, but typical during a chase. During a chase, all negative-sounding reports are created equal. Normal journalistic practices can be completely ignored.)

3) A "newspaper war" is on: Many pundits are applauding the fact that a "newspaper war" is under way between the Post and the New York Times. In theory, a newspaper war can have beneficial results. In practice, such wars can also lead newspapers to run with exciting pseudo-reports whose contents have been vastly embellished or constitute sheer speculation.

At this time, there's an enormous amount of filler going around.

4) Reinstatement of Comey the God: At exciting times like these, group novels will be adopted, filled with clear-cut character portraits. At present, we invite you to note one major example: the rehabilitation of James B. Comey—Comey the God—as the latest iteration of a press corps perennial, The World's Most Upright Person.

In recent decades, The World's Most Upright Person has almost always been a Republican. "Judge Starr" got his start as The World's Most Upright Person; Paul Ryan is still widely cast in that role. People who get cast in this role almost always take advantage.

Truth to tell, James B. Comey probably isn't The World's Most Upright Person. (Very few people are.) That said, he's very good at selling the car, and he has a lot of friends. Beyond that, he's now being defined in opposition to Donald J. Trump, against whom a chase is on.

For this reason, his godlike status is being restored. This represents our modern "press corps" at its least impressive.

Summarizing, other people focus on Trump. Our focus here is on the press corps.

In itself, Donald J. Trump's apparent craziness tells us nothing about the press. The corps' behavior must speak for itself. Right now, a great deal of that behavior strikes us as underwhelming.

Coming next week: What is a "foreign agent?"

It happens during stampedes: Shortly before he was fired, did Comey ask Rod Rosenstein for additional resources for the FBI's Russia probe?

Not long ago, this "revelation" drove a banner headline atop the front page of the Washington Post. Over the next two days, the Post seemed to walk its revelation back.

Today, the Post says this, at the very end of a news report:
HORWITZ, DEMIRJIAN AND VIEBECK (5/20/17): Rosenstein also told the lawmakers that he is “not aware” of any request by the FBI for additional resources for the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“Moreover,” he said, “I consulted my staff and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, and none of them recalls such a request.”
The fact that Rosenstein said this doesn't prove that it's true. That said, the Post's initial "revelation" was based on third- and fourth-hand sources.

Did the Post ever know its "revelation" was true? Quite possibly not.

On the brighter side, the Post's "revelation" met that day's excitement quota. Cable pundits yakked about it for hours the night before.

This sort of thing occurs at times of newspaper wars, and when a great chase is on.

A mission of national import!

FRIDAY, MAY 19, 2017

Lack of fish today:
We're off on a mission of national import. We'll have no fish today.

Flynn's "underlying conduct" defined!

THURSDAY, MAY 18, 2017

Yates' meaning seems to come clear:
What the heck did Sally Yates mean when she spoke to that Senate subcommittee?

Back on May 8, she told the committee that her DOJ team believed Michael Flynn might be subject to blackmail due to the administration's false statements about his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak.

In those false statements, various people denied that Flynn had spoken to Kislyak about the Obama Administration's sanctions on the Russkies.

When she appeared before the committee, Yates also said the Justice Department had been concerned about Flynn's "underlying conduct." This raised a bit of an interpretive problem:

To what "underlying conduct" did Yates mean to refer?

As we noted on Tuesday, David Ignatius thought she was referring to Flynn's conversations with Kislyak about sanctions—conversations which supposedly could be a violation of the Logan Act. Other more excitable figures thought she meant something more thrilling.

One example:

Last Tuesday evening, May 9, a certain major cable star gave us liberals a thrill. She suggested that Yates must be referring to some other type of misconduct by Flynn—that Yates must have been concerned about some other "underlying conduct," of which we were still unaware.

We almost always get some thrills when we watch that cable star's show. Tuesday, on Anderson Cooper's show, Yates seemed to settle the question what she actually meant.

Cooper never directly asked Yates what she meant in her remarks about Flynn's "underlying conduct." But in these passages, it's fairly clear—the "underlying conduct" to which Yates referred was simply Flynn's discussions of sanctions, not some other offense:
COOPER (5/16/17): When were you first made aware that General Flynn was lying about his interactions with the Russian ambassador?

YATES: Well, first, let me say—and I know that this may seem kind of artificial to folks. I can't really talk about what General Flynn's underlying conduct was, because that's based on classified information.

COOPER: Can you say when you were made aware about an issue with his underlying conduct?

YATES: It was in the early part of January where we first got some indication about what he had been involved in. And then, sort of the middle part of January, when there were false statements that started coming out of the White House based on misrepresentations he had made to people there.

[...]

YATES: We were really concerned about the underlying conduct in and of itself, even before there were misrepresentations about it. Then there were misrepresentations coming out of the White House again where they were saying it was based specifically on what General Flynn had told them.

And they were getting more and more specific. And it became clear they weren't going to stop.

[...]

YATES: It was the misrepresentations, that didn't really start until mid-January, that aggravated the situation.

COOPER: Because misrepresentations to the vice president and others in the White House, that you believed took it to another level?

YATES: It did. It certainly aggravated the situation in terms of the ability for that information to be used for compromise with the Russians.

COOPER: Explain the idea of compromise, how that works.

YATES: Sure. Now this has been a tried and true tradecraft of the Russians for decades now. And the gist of it is pretty simple. It's that if they have information that they can use to—as leverage over someone, then they will use that.

They even have a word for it, "kompromat." And in this situation, we had both the underlying conduct that was problematic for General Flynn. But then, the public misrepresentations about it, that were based on lies that General Flynn had told the vice president and others.
On several occasions, Yates referred to the many "public misrepresentations" about Flynn's "underlying conduct." That seems to mean that the "underlying conduct" to which she referred was Flynn's discussion of sanctions.

For ourselves, we thought a great deal of Yates' analysis seemed a bit overwrought. On its face, we don't see what would be so awful about an incoming administration speaking to a foreign government about possible policy changes, perhaps involving sanctions.

The notion that Flynn could have been subject to blackmail seems a bit overheated as well. Beyond that, we don't know why Yates, like everyone else, assumes Pence didn't know the truth about Flynn's discussion of sanctions.

Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. No one has shown how we know. Instead, a group novel has formed.

With that in mind, we'll offer this tiny warning:

By now, the chase is very much on against President Donald J. Trump.

As usual, we liberals have proven unable to win political fights on the merits. Instead, we hope and pray that we can catch our victorious opponents in some illegal or immoral behavior, giving us our only chance to emerge with a win.

At any rate, the chase is currently very much on, and you're going to see a million thumbs on a million scales. Cable news discussions last night were pretty much thumbs on the scales all the way down.

Last Tuesday night, May 9, a certain major cable news star gave us our nightly fix. Excitingly, she said Yates must be referring to some additional misbehavior by Flynn.

She never mentioned an obvious possibility—the possibility that Yates had simply been referring to Flynn's discussion of sanctions. The following night, she gave us a thrill about Andrew McCabe. This is the way this self-adoring corporate-paid child plays the cable news game.

We liberals get dumber and weaker this way. When will we rise up on our hind legs and make these childish games stop?

In fairness: In fairness, excitement is good for cable ratings and profits.

We'll guess the unnamed cable star is being paid $10 million per year. It takes a lot of excitement and fun to underwrite wages like that.

VILLAINS AND US: Was Reince Priebus telling the truth?

THURSDAY, MAY 18, 2017

Part 4—Maddow forgets to ask:
Is Andrew McCabe a villain? More specifically:

Back in February, did McCabe, then the deputy FBI head, "become part of the Trump disinformation campaign?"

Last Wednesday night, on the Maddow Show, we were told that he did. Rachel Maddow delivered that claim in a dramatic, twenty-minute rant.

She told us liberals that McCabe's conduct had been "a scandal." To watch that whole segment, click here.

In this way, we liberals got our nightly dollop of high paranoia porridge. In fairness to Maddow, whose salary is likely $10 million per year, these highly dramatic claims are good for ratings and profits.

Having said that, let us ask this: Was Maddow's claim actually true? Or had Our Own Rhodes Scholar managed to do it again?

Spoiler alert: we know of no particular reason to believe what Maddow said. She certainly didn't provide any.

Maddow cited one journalistic source in support of her dramatic claims about McCabe. And uh-oh! That source had simply accepted a claim by Reince Priebus, without making any attempt to show that the claim was true.

On this basis, we liberals were given our nightly porridge and we were sent off to bed. We were sent off to bed with a smile on our faces. We had our latest villain!

On what basis did Maddow make her claim? Below, we'll examine that point. But first, let's construct a basic chronology. Here's how the whole thing went down:

Wednesday morning, February 15: The New York Times published a front-page report about the Trump campaign. (The report had appeared on-line the night before.)

According to this widely-discussed report, "members of [the] campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials."

Sunday, February 19: That Sunday, Reince Priebus appeared on three Sunday morning shows to dispute this report. "I've talked to the top levels of the intelligence community," he said on Meet the Press. "And they have assured me that that New York Times story was grossly overstated and inaccurate and totally wrong."

Saturday morning, February 25: By the end of that week, Priebus' claim had become more specific. On Saturday morning, February 25, the New York Times offered this account of a briefing by Sean Spicer:
DAVIS (2/25/17): Mr. Spicer said that it was top F.B.I. officials—first Andrew G. McCabe, the deputy director, and later James B. Comey, the director—who approached Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, the day after the [original New York Times] article appeared to say that it was false.

Mr. Priebus then asked the two F.B.I. officials what they could do to rebut it publicly. They apologized and said they were unable to issue a statement or otherwise comment on the matter, Mr. Spicer said.

''They came to us and said the story is not true. We said, 'Great, could you tell people that?''' Mr. Spicer said, describing the discussions between Mr. Priebus and F.B.I. officials.
Spicer was speaking for Priebus. According to Priebus, McCabe had approached him on February 15 and said the original Times report was false.

(In the February 25 Washington Post, the claim from within the administration was slightly more colorful. The Post quoted "administration officials" saying that McCabe told Priebus, "I want you to know" that the New York Times story "is BS.")

Was McCabe guilty as charged? Last Wednesday night, Maddow spent twenty minutes asserting that he was. (She didn't mention the claim that James B. Comey had been accused of disputing the Times report too.)

Were Priebus' claims really true? Did McCabe (and Comey) really behave as described? For ourselves, we have no way of knowing. On what basis did Maddow support this exciting claim?

In the course of last Wednesday's report, Maddow cited exactly one news source in support of her fiery assertions. She quoted a piece by Time magazine's Massimo Calabresi.

Calabresi's piece appeared on Time's site on February 24. It represents the only news source Maddow cited in support of her claims.

Here's the part where Calabresi described what happened. Can you spot a small problem here?
CALABRESI (2/24/17): The first questionable contact came when McCabe spoke with Priebus for five minutes after a 7:30 a.m. meeting at the White House on Feb. 15 on an unrelated intelligence issue. The day before, the New York Times had reported that Trump’s campaign and other Trump associates had multiple contacts with known agents of Russian intelligence in the year before the election.

At the [February 15] White House meeting, McCabe told Priebus, ‘I want you to know story in NYT is BS," according to senior Administration officials who briefed reporters on Feb. 24.

Priebus asked McCabe what could be done to push back, saying the White House was “getting crushed” on the story. McCabe demurred, and then later called back to say, “We'd love to help but we can't get into the position of making statements on every story.”

FBI Director James Comey later called Priebus himself and repeated McCabe’s statements about the New York Times story. Comey also said he was unwilling to speak publicly about the piece but agreed to let Priebus cite senior intelligence officials in his pushback, the officials said.
For starters, whoop—there it is! McCabe told Priebus that the New York Times report was BS! Later, Comey called Priebus and said the same darn thing!

Maddow quoted from this report during her May 10 rant. She repeated these claims as if they were established facts.

She employed her million-and-one performance tics to help us marvel at the way McCabe "became part of the Trump disinformation campaign." For whatever reason, she didn't say that Comey had also been charged.

Maddow ranted; we liberals were thrilled. That said, can you spot a minor problem with Calabresi's report, the only source she cited?

That's right! Calabresi sources these claims to "senior Administration officials!" He then simply seems to assume that these claims are true.

He presents no reason for believing these claims. Trump officials made these claims. On that basis, Calabresi seems to regard them as fact.

From reports the next day in the Times and the Post, it seems fairly clear that these "senior officials" were in fact Spicer and Priebus. This leaves us with our basic question:

Were these claims actually true?

Like you, we have no way of answering that question. We do know this: Spicer and Priebus are not the world's most reliable sources. And this excitement started during the week when Donald J. Trump apparently took Comey aside and asked him to pretty please stop investigating Michael Flynn.

Priebus was the direct witness here. Were his claims about McCabe true?

We have no way of knowing! Last Wednesday night, in a typical rant, Our Own Rhodes Scholar seemed to assume they were true.

She never said that she was simply accepting the word of Priebus and Spicer. Instead, she staged one of her patented rants, filling our heads with scary thoughts about our latest villain.

Let's close with a bit of good news. Everyone else isn't as ridiculous as Maddow frequently is.

Back on February 24, William Saletan was a bit less trusting. At Slate, he asked an obvious question, captured in this headline:

"Is Reince Priebus Lying About the FBI?"

In his analysis piece, Saletan ran though Priebus' claims, but he didn't simply assume they were true. Eventually, he asked the obvious question:
SALETAN (2/24/17): Is that true? Did Comey and McCabe authorize Priebus to dismiss the Times story? Or is Priebus misrepresenting what they said?
Unless we're simply writing novels, those are obvious questions. Saletan didn't solve that riddle, but he cited the administration's bad track record in matters of this type.

Three months later, Rachel Maddow went on TV and seemed to assume that Preibus was telling the truth. As we noted on Tuesday, she hurried past Calabresi's attribution of these claims to "senior Administration officials."

She read that part, but she read it quite fast. Trust us—nobody noticed.

Why does Maddow do these things? We can't say, but she does this sort of thing with remarkable frequency. She routinely does horrible work on her TV program. Because she's so good at selling the car, we liberals aren't able to see this.

That said, it wasn't just Calabresi. Our major newspapers did some strange work reporting this matter too.

We'll close this series by reviewing the work which appeared in the Post and the Times. As Casey Stengel asked long ago, can't anyone here play this game?

Next: The Post and the Times