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, 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

Now they tell us!


Courtesy message received:
We just received our courtesy message from Baltimore Gas & Electric. Sent at 8:15 this morning, it let us know that our electricity would be out at 9. For six hours!

We're glad we didn't get it. It was only out for maybe two hours, but this certainly helped create a jumbled Part 3 today.

Did Andrew McCabe do what Rachel said? Between the Post, the Times, and Rachel herself, what webs we life-forms weave!

Three key points!


Plus a bonus:
This morning, at the coffee joint, a person we know from the coffee joint asked us a thoughtful question.

"Tell us, rabbi," she said. "Is this enough to get him impeached?"

We assumed she must mean Donald J. Trump. Thoughtfully, we answered:

"You have two choices," we thoughtfully said. "He'll get impeached, or he'll start a nuclear war. This can't go on forever."

As we left, we reassured her. "It won't be today," we said.

Could Donald J. Trump start a nuclear war? Actually, yes, he could. We aren't saying that he will. We're just saying that no one can seriously assure the world that he won't.

That's our first key point. Our second key point is this:

We hear the sound of cultural and tribal triumph in the air. The system is starting to work! The resistance [sic] is succeeding!

Carbon-based life-forms, please! The fact that Trump is where he is shows that the system has failed. Stating the obvious, the system has grotesquely failed over the past twenty-five years. This brings us to our third key point, and to our bonus point:

Over here in the liberal world, we're unable to conceive of the fact that we have massively failed. We think the error must all be Over There. In this way, we continue to fail.

Bonus point:

Can we really hope to survive a world of partisan media? A world in which every tribe gets to hear its own twaddle? Gets to believe the myth of its own tribal brilliance? The arrow keeps pointing to no.

Could Donald J. Trump start a nuclear war? In our view, he seems to be highly disordered, which of course is always a loss for the world. For that reason:

In our view, yes, he plainly could—which isn't to say that he will.

Full disclosure: We like that person at the coffee joint. At some point, we all have to decide:

Do we like people, or not?

VILLAINS AND US: A villain today, a hero back then!


Part 3—Andrew McCabe transformed:
The villain's conduct was "a scandal," Rachel Maddow told millions of viewers last week.

In this way, the cable star handed us liberals our latest villain. It happened in the dramatic opening segment of last Wednesday night's Maddow Show.

The villain in question was Andrew McCabe, acting director of the FBI. In a wonderfully dramatic monologue, Rachel Maddow angrily told us what he did last winter.

Plainly, it sounded bad! Back in February, McCabe "improperly discussed the investigation into the Trump camp's ties to Russia with Reince Priebus." In this way, he "became part of the Trump disinformation campaign."

We're quoting from the official synopsis, at Maddow's site, of what McCabe allegedly did. Plainly, it sounded very bad, pleasingly so.

Maddow told a dramatic story in a twenty-minute opening segment. Here's the problem:

Back in February, in real time, Maddow told this same story in an "alternative" way. Back then, McCabe was the hero of the tale! Reince Priebus was cast as the villain.

Back in February, did Andrew McCabe really become part of the Trump disinformation campaign? We know of no reason to say so.

We don't know what McCabe may have done. We do know how Maddow originally told this tale.

Did McCabe do something villainous last winter? We have no idea! Back in real time, reporting on the alleged incident was limited, murky, unprofessional, puzzling, in highly familiar old ways.

We also know this. Last Wednesday night, Maddow's new story was wholly based on accepting a set of unproven accusations by Priebus! On that remarkably shaky basis, we liberals were handed our latest villain tale.

Yesterday, we showed you the dramatic story Maddow told last week—the dramatic story in which McCabe was defined as a villain. For today, let's review the way she told this story in February, with McCabe in the hero role.

We're talking about the same events. Only the casting is different.

It all began with a fiery report on Thursday evening, February 23. As she often does, Maddow started her show this night with one of her interminable historical digressions. After almost eleven minutes of prologue, the rubber at last met the road.

In the passage shown below, Maddow begins to tell a dramatic story. Priebus tried to lean on the FBI—but Andrew McCabe said no!

To watch the whole segment, click here:
MADDOW (2/23/17): CNN reports tonight that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, earlier this month, leaned on the FBI, leaned on the FBI personally and specifically, about FBI investigations into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

CNN was first to report this. NBC News has now confirmed it from NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams.

The story is that a White House official—CNN says specifically it is Reince Priebus—a White House official contacted the deputy director of the FBI and told that deputy director that the FBI should make public statements about their ongoing investigation, about this ongoing question of Trump staffers communicating with Russian government or intelligence officials during the presidential campaign while Russia was working to influence the outcome of our presidential election campaign.

The question of those contacts, of course, between the Trump campaign and Russian government, those contacts are the subject of multiple ongoing FBI investigations.

According to the reporting this evening, the White House told the FBI they should publicly knock down press reports about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Again, the FBI is currently investigating contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. You want us to do what now?

The FBI deputy director—and this is confirmed by both CNN and NBC—the FBI deputy director refused that request from the White House. Said no. We're not going to do what you want on this investigation.

And now, of course, unnamed officials are telling reporters at multiple news organizations about the White House leaning on the FBI with regard to this incredibly important, incredibly sensitive investigation.
The story was quite basic. Priebus had tried to tell the FBI to shoot down certain reports. The deputy director of the FBI had refused to comply with these demands. On-screen, we saw the CNN headline:

"FBI refused White House request to knock down recent Trump-Russia stories"

That deputy director was Andrew McCabe. This is the same incident Maddow described on her program last week.

Last Wednesday night, Maddow savaged McCabe as the villain of the piece. The way she told the story last winter, Priebus was the villainous figure. McCabe had pushed him away.

Andrew McCabe had refused to submit! As she continued telling the story last winter, Maddow helped us see how villainous Priebus had been:
MADDOW (continuing directly): You can't do that! I mean, one—take a civics class, right?

I mean, like as a matter of principle, right? When there is an ongoing serious criminal investigation that affects the president, you can't have people close to the president, you can't have the president's chief of staff meddling in that investigation or giving directives to the people conducting that investigation. Just as a matter of basic principle. Ask a fifth grader.

As a matter of the rules, though, it would appear somebody like Reince Priebus is not cleared in any circumstance to be talking to the FBI about any of their investigations—unless Jeff Sessions changed the rules without telling anybody.


The White House leaning on the FBI about these investigations overtly, I mean, that's as serious as a heart attack, right?
Priebus had "leaned on the FBI," telling them to knock down press reports about Trump campaign contacts with Russia. That was as serious as a heart attack, we were told.

At that point, pure cable joy—we got have some fun! Maddow engaged in some of the wonderful clowning which makes us love her so much:
MADDOW (continuing directly): That said, maybe it's not a heart attack, maybe it's gas. Sometimes a gas pain can feel like a heart attack. You think it's the most serious thing in the world but it's just a little body burp.
"Oops, how did that happen?"

[Enjoys a good solid laugh]

OK, to extract myself from this metaphor here, what I'm trying to say is this could be death of the republic.

This could also just be stupidity, right? Benefit of the doubt. You really don't know this is a problem? I mean, is it possible the White House, including the White House chief of staff, doesn't know you can't tell the FBI what to do about their ongoing investigation into the White House?

You can't give them directives about that. You can't nudge them on their investigation. You can't tell them what public comment to make about that investigation.

Could it be the White House, including the chief of staff, just doesn't get that that's a bad? "Oops, my bad, sorry, didn't mean to interfere. Am I not supposed to?"

I mean, that's the best case scenario here, presumably that will be their defense.
Was it a heart attack or a body burp? Wonderfully, Maddow wasn't sure—but it could be the death of the republic!

Priebus was the villain here—and McCabe, although he went unnamed, was the obvious hero. The next night—Friday, February 24—Maddow returned to this story, banging on Priebus again.

Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Priebus was such a villain now that he might be losing his job!
MADDOW (2/24/17): The second big story tonight is increasingly starting to feel like the open question of whether or not the White House chief of staff gets to keep his job.

When last we left White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, when we last left him in the news, he was being named as the White House official who contacted the FBI about the FBI's reported investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia while the Russian government was attacking our election last year.

Well, today, the White House got excited to push back on that reporting. We don't exactly know what they thought was the damaging thing about that reporting that they were pushing back on, but in their big, excited, hours-long pushback today, they also actually confirmed repeatedly and emphatically the worst part of it.

They confirmed today, in no uncertain terms, that, yes, Reince Priebus, yes, the White House chief of staff, they now confirm he did discuss with the deputy director of the FBI and the director of the FBI what the FBI knows about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The White House is confirming that the White House chief of staff contacted and pressured the FBI about that ongoing investigation.
This is the way the story was told in real time. Briefly, let's be fair.

Over the ensuing February 25 weekend, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported on this kerflubble. Meanwhile, Priebus went on Meet the Press and made accusations about McCabe and Comey both.

That said, Maddow didn't return to this topic on her February 27 show, or on any subsequent program. This is the way the matter was left—until last Wednesday, when we were suddenly told that McCabe joined the Trump disinformation campaign during this episode.

Did McCabe do some such thing? We know of no respectable basis for saying that. We can tell you this:

When Maddow launched last Wednesday's attack, she presented no serious basis for her very serious charges. Truthfully, she relied on a highly unreliable source as she made her screeching claims:

She relied on a set on three-month-old claims by Reince Priebus!

We know of no reason to assume that Priebus' claims were accurate. Needless to say, Maddow never told her viewers that she was relying on Priebus.

Why would Maddow base such aggressive charges on such an unreliable source? Is there any reasonable basis for her aggressive charges?

In our view, the answer is no. Still, we need to be fair.

Tomorrow we'll look at some shaky "reporting" on this incident from the Washington Post and the New York Times. We'll also look at the one journalistic source Maddow cited last week, an analysis piece from Time.

Maddow thundered hard last week. She made a very serious claim. As is often the case on her show, it's very, very, very hard to find a serious basis.

Tomorrow: Unsupported claims

Is something "wrong" with Donald J. Trump?

TUESDAY, MAY 16, 2017

Mainstreamers still don't want to ask:
Most mornings, we start by looking at certain news sites.

After last night's craziness, we found ourselves doing something different this morning. We reread the start of King Lear. You can accomplish that here!

Was the famous monarch "mentally ill" in some way? Was he suffering some form of "dementia?"

It seems to us that Shakespeare said yes. At any rate, Lear's behavior at the start of the play is not unlike Donald J. Trump's.

(Lear insisted on getting conned by the grifters Goneril and Regan. Trump is now said to surround himself with the gruesome Ivanka and her blame-shifting husband and with communications aide Hope Hicks, age 28. Two of his three favored sycophants are youngish former teen models.)

For whatever reason, Donald J. Trump has always had unattractive impulses and values. Now, it increasingly seems that he may be losing his basic acuity. It seems to us that many pundits still want to avoid this topic. This seems like a lousy idea.

We're also puzzled by two recent posts by Kevin Drum, whose work on lead exposure has been so instructive. In the first of these posts, Drum headlined Trump as an "idiot." In his very next post, he plainly suggested that Trump is dealing with dementia.

Trump has always had unattractive values and impulses. That said, dementia is a terrible disease, producing a loss to the individual and to the wider world.

When a person dies, "what has gone is not nothing?" We will remind you, once again, that (the late) Yevtushenko said that.

What was Flynn's "underlying conduct?"

TUESDAY, MAY 16, 2017

Cooper to interview Yates:
Anderson Cooper is going to air an interview Sally Yates tonight. The interview has already been taped. Let's hope he asked her a basic question concerning Michael Flynn.

In "Trump years," it seems like it happened long ago. In fact, it has only been eight days since Yates testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She described the warnings she delivered to White House counsel Don McGahn—warnings concerning the mighty Flynn. She said she warned McGahn about an array of problems, including Flynn's "underlying conduct:"
YATES (5/8/17): The first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself.

Secondly, we told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn't true...

We told him the third reason was, is because we were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and additionally, that we weren't the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done.

And the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others, because in the media accounts, it was clear from the vice president and others that they were repeating what General Flynn had told them, and that this was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information.

And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.
Oof! Yates told McGahn that Flynn could conceivably be blackmailed by the Russians. She told him that false statements were being made to the public.

But she also said she told McGahn that Flynn's "underlying conduct" was "problematic in and of itself." In fact, she said that was the first point she made.

In the past week, different people have understood that remark in different ways. What exactly did Yates mean when she referred to Flynn's "underlying conduct?"

Let's start with the Washington Post's David Ignatius. In a May 10 column, he seemed to say the "underlying conduct" to which Yates referred was simply Flynn's discussion of sanctions with Ambassador Kislyak:
IGNATIUS (5/10/17): The mystery at the center of the Flynn case is why Trump didn't react sooner to warnings about Flynn's involvement with Russia...

We don't have answers. But one obvious possibility is that Trump didn't take action because he already knew about Flynn's Dec. 29 discussion with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions, and knew that Flynn had misrepresented the Kislyak call to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Flynn's discussion with the Russian ambassador at such a sensitive time, when the United States was punishing Russia for hacking the 2016 election, was arguably a violation of the Logan Act, which bars private meddling during a confrontation with another country. It was "problematic" behavior, as former acting attorney general Sally Yates said in her riveting testimony Monday.

But this wasn't a hanging offense, and it probably wasn't even a prosecutable one.
Ignatius seemed to think that Yates was simply referring to Flynn's "problematic" discussion of sanctions with Kislyak—a discussion which, or so many people suggested, could have been a violation of the Logan Act.

Ignatius has made similar statements on Morning Joe. Is that what Yates meant?

Last night, on The Eleventh Hour, Jeremy Bash had a different idea. He told Brian Williams this:
BASH (5/15/17): The "underlying conduct" of Mike Flynn, the underlying conduct Sally Yates complained to the White House about? That was probably disclosure of national security information to the Russians...
In Bash's view, Yates may have been referring to a whole second-order offense. Flynn may have flirted with a Logan offense by discussing the sanctions. But the "underlying conduct" to which Yates referred was probably a separate offense—a disclosure of national security information.

What did Yates mean by her statement? Will she tell Cooper if he asks? We don't know, but we hope he asks and she answers. Our reason is this:

Needless to say, a certain unnamed cable star drew a great deal of excitement from Yates' remark last week. On May 9, she went on, at some length, about this provocative question. Excitingly, she suggested that Flynn's "underlying conduct" must be some troubling new misbehavior of which we're still unaware. Several Democratic pols were pushing a similar-sounding line.

For ourselves, we were inclined to assume that Yates was simply referring to Flynn's discussion of sanctions. That unexciting interpretation seems to be supported by part of her statement above. ("We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct"—that is to say, they had been misled, by Pence and others, about Flynn's discussion of sanctions.)

We were inclined to think that was what Yates meant. That said, there's no way to know till she's asked.

Until that time, a certain drama-spewing host will be inclined to add to the excitement by imagining rich new offenses. It would be a good idea to find out what Yates meant.

Cooper's interview is in the can. If only for clarity's sake—remember that?—we very much hope he asked.

VILLAINS AND US: Unmasking McCabe!

TUESDAY, MAY 16, 2017

Part 2—Villainy revealed:
Is Andrew McCabe a villain? Like you, we have no idea.

Andrew McCabe, 49, is the FBI's acting director. He took on the role last week when Comey the God was fired.

McCabe was largely unknown at that time. Last Wednesday night, on the Maddow Show, his villainy was described by that program's excitable host.

There's little doubt that Maddow imputed villainy to McCabe. That said, we can't link you to the program's transcript. In its typical haphazard way, the "cable news" channel which pays Maddow's wage has posted no transcripts of her show since April 24.

That said, we can link you to the videotape of that evening's lengthy opening segment. During Maddow's monologue, we liberals were sold the latest villain found under Maddow's bed.

To watch that videotape, click here. At the Maddow Show site, the synopsis reads like this:
New FBI director McCabe compromised by serious conflict
Rachel Maddow reviews how new Acting Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, improperly discussed the investigation into the Trump Camp's ties to Russia with Reince Priebus and became part of the Trump disinformation campaign.
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! McCabe improperly discussed the investigation! He became part of the Trump disinformation campaign!

In that lengthy opening segment, Maddow was telling her favorite type of story. It's a type of story we humans have relished since we first crawled from the swamp.

Over the past few years, Maddow has increasingly relished the kind of story in which villains lurk under every bed. She dramatically tells these stories in long-drawn-out, repetitive fashion. In the years since her worm has turned this way, her cable ratings have soared.

Here's the problem:

While Maddow tells a wonderfully scary tribal tale, she and/or her various staffers aren't always obsessively honest. In her scary villain tales, she tend to embellish basic facts, disappear certain others.

She's long been inclined to play it this way, even as she has peddled a story about how honest she is. We liberals have tended to swallow this whole, which isn't the greatest idea.

Today, let's review what Maddow said last Wednesday night about her newest villain. Before we do, we'll restate testerday's two warnings:

Last Wednesday night, Maddow described a villainous act performed by McCabe on February 15. But uh-oh! In real time, Maddow told the same story a different way.

Back in February, in real time, Maddow made McCabe the hero of the piece! Three months later, he was sold as the villain, without any sign that any new facts were part of the new improved tale.

There was a second, even larger problem with the story Maddow told us last Wednesday. Her accusation against McCabe seems to be based on accepting the word of two unreliable sources.

Below, we'll show you the slippery way she sidestepped letting us understand this fact. Would you buy a car from Priebus and Spicer? Most Maddow viewers would not!

Today, we'll look at what Maddow told us last Wednesday. Tomorrow, we'll review what she said in real time. We'll also look at the actual reporting of the incident in question, flimsy though it is. This may help you understand where scary stories, and high cable ratings, all too frequently come from.

What did Maddow say about McCabe last Wednesday night? As she started, she recalled the glorious days when Michael Flynn resigned or was fired.

We join her story in progress. To watch the whole segment, click here:
MADDOW (5/10/17): On February 13th, we only knew that Mike Flynn had just become the shortest serving national security adviser in U.S. history. On February 13th, we knew that this guy hadn't even lasted four weeks.

Before we could even start to absorb that information, though, before we could even start to figure out all the backstory on Mike Flynn that has proved to be so damning and so illuminating in the weeks and months since; before we could even absorb that; before we could even start digging into it, that story, that Mike Flynn just resigned as national security adviser, that story got its tail stepped on.

Because Mike Flynn resigned on February 13th, and then the very next day, February 14th, is when the New York Times dropped this:

"Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence."

And, you know, once you see that, like, "Oh, right, OK." At that point, yes, "Oh, it's interesting that the national security adviser had to resign yesterday. But, ho-lee, look at this!" I mean, this was remarkable, right?

"Phone records and intercepted calls showed that members of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election."
Long story short:

Michael Flynn resigned on February 13. The very next day, the New York Times published a lengthy report asserting "repeated contacts" between Trump associates and Russian intelligence officials.

Last Wednesday night, Maddow went over the details of this matter, as she's endlessly wont to do. Eventually, she dropped her bomb on McCabe, still without naming him yet:
MADDOW: But then something happened to that story. Remember, right?

February 13th, Flynn resigned. February 14th, New York Times posts this bombshell story, right?

What was the headline? [Pretends to fumble for information]

"Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence."

February 14th. Kuhhh! [makes sound of bomb exploding]

And February 15th, the next day, something very unusual happened. The deputy director of the FBI went to the White House for a 7:30 a.m. White House meeting on what was reportedly an unrelated intelligence matter. And at the end of that 7:30 a.m. meeting, the deputy director of the FBI had a private pull-aside, a little private pull-aside, one-on-one meeting with the White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

The deputy director of the FBI, quote, "spoke with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus for five minutes after a 7:30 a.m. meeting at the White House on February 15th." According to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the matter, quote, "The deputy director of the FBI told Reince Priebus, I want you to know the story in the New York Times is BS."

Deputy director of the FBI, telling the White House, "Hey, that New York Times story about Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials? That's a bad story. That's BS."

That's really weird, right?
At this point, McCabe's name still hadn't been mentioned. We had been told that he had done something "really weird" on February 15. We'd been told that he went to Reince Priebus and told him that the New York Times "story" (report) about the Trump/Russia contacts was "a bad story—BS."

As Maddow told us this story last week, she clearly presented this claim as an established fact. As viewers could tell from a visual, she was quoting this analysis/opinion piece from Time magazine as she lodged this initial indictment of McCabe.

But she clearly seemed to be making a flat assertion. The deputy director of the FBI had in fact gone to Priebus and called that report BS!

As you may have noticed, some weasel words had already been voiced by Maddow. But those weasel words flashed by very quickly. We'll highlight those words below.

Meanwhile, did Andrew McCabe actually do the thimgs Maddow described? Did he actually go to Priebus and call that report BS? We have no idea! But as Maddow continued, she conferred villain status on McCabe. She had found another villain lurking under our beds!

If you choose to watch that tape, you'll find that Maddow's scary story goes on and on and on. Again and again, she goes over the "really weird" things McCabe is said to have said and done.

This opening segment ran twenty minutes. Eventually, after fourteen minutes, Maddow dramatically named our latest villain:
MADDOW: Why the heck was the deputy director of the FBI running to the White House and calling that apparently true story, that now-confirmed story, why was he calling that BS? Why was he giving the White House that ex parte advice on their bad press? Why was he talking to the White House ex parte about this investigation at all?

What the heck was the deputy director of the FBI doing? I don't know. I've never known. It's been one of the weirdest parts of this investigation all along.

But now, the deputy director of the FBI has been promoted. He's now the director of the FBI, the acting director of the FBI, which means he's now leading the FBI investigation into the Russian attack on our election and the Trump campaign's potential involvement in it.

His name is Andrew McCabe. He reportedly took a long, in-person meeting with the president yesterday at the White House, and now he has been put in charge at the FBI, including in charge of the Trump-Russia investigation.

Given his previous named individual role in communicating inappropriately with the White House about this investigation, given his extraordinary effort to ky-bosh damning reporting about this story, reporting that we now know is well-corroborated and multiply sourced and confirmed as true by the director of national intelligence, isn't there an issue here with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe taking over the lead in the FBI's Trump Russia investigation? Isn't there?

How can he specifically be the one who's leading this investigation now?
Our biggest, multimillionaire corporate star had named our latest tribal villain!

Throughout this lengthy segment, Maddow kept asserting that McCabe had pulled Priebus aside and called that report BS. She said McCabe's behavior was "a scandal in its own right, because the FBI deputy director shouldn't be talking about the FBI's investigation with the White House."

Maddow went on and on and on, frogmarching our latest villain before us. She told the tale in dramatic fashion, as is her crowd-pleasing wont.

You've seen the flavor of the indictment. For today, we'll only repeat those two warnings:

Back in February, Maddow reported these same events in a totally different way. Back then, she presented the unnamed McCabe as the hero of the piece. Last Wednesday, she made no attempt to explain why her assessment had flipped.

That said, there was a bigger problem with the new story she told. Uh-oh! As we re-post a key part of Maddow's tale, we'll highlight her slick weasel words:
MADDOW: The deputy director of the FBI, quote, "spoke with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus for five minutes after a 7:30 a.m. meeting at the White House on February 15th." According to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the matter, quote, "The deputy director of the FBI told Reince Priebus, I want you to know the story in the New York Times is BS."

Deputy director of the FBI, telling the White House, "Hey, that New York Times story about Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials? That's a bad story. That's BS."

That's really weird, right?
Uh-oh! "According to senior administration officials?" Those weasel words went flying by as Maddow told her tale.

Did Andrew McCabe really engage in the conduct described by those senior officials? We don't have the slightest idea, but the names of those senior administration officials are Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer! How do you like this tale now?

Maddow burned twenty minutes last Wednesday night handing us our latest villain. She handed us a scary story—a story which was told by two people her viewers despise and mistrust.

She never named those senior officials. Instead, a generic attribution went flying quickly by.

Did McCabe engage in the conduct Maddow described? We have no idea.

Tomorrow, we'll review the way Maddow told the story in real time. We'll also review the original, shaky reporting done by the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Maddow's work last Wednesday night was slippery and dumb, but highly pleasing. Could this be where good ratings come from? Also, what else is new?

Tomorrow: Strange work by the Post and the Times

Concerning the transcript: We'd love to link you to last Wednesday's transcript. As we mentioned above, MSNBC is three weeks behind on that score.

This is a very slipshod "news org." Despite the profits Trump has brought them, they function this way all the time.

New York Times says we should take deep breaths!

MONDAY, MAY 15, 2017

Gray lady helps us be mindful:
We swore we were going to stop citing the New York Times' reimagined pages, A2 and A3.

Our resistance was broken by today's Here to Help feature. The heading looks like this:
Here to Help
Most features on A2 and A3 can't be accessed on-line. The bulk of this feature can be accessed, by visiting nytimes.com/mindful.

There actually is such a site! The bulk of today's Here to Help introductory essay is available there. So are the eight "steps" for staying mindful which we're eventually given.

Given the very serious situations which may take people to a doctor's office, it wouldn't be polite or decent to poke fun at such material. That said, the very next item at the nytimes.com/mindful site is headlined as follows:

"How to Be Mindful While Taking a Shower"

One suggestion, live and direct from the New York Times: "Prepare your towel and other necessary items, treating them and yourself with the utmost care."

In terms of visiting the doctor's office, some of the steps almost seem macabre. We're not saying that any of what follows is "wrong." We're saying it represents a peculiar journey for our leading newspaper:
Before you enter the doctor’s office, pause at the door and take two deep breaths, count slowly to three on both the inhalation and the exhalation.

Once seated in the waiting room, take a moment to focus on your breathing, counting to 10.

Look inward with complete acceptance, noting why you came to the doctor. Are you worried or scared? Are you in pain?

If you are, permit yourself to have these feelings. Understand that there’s nothing you are supposed to do about these feelings right now. Just let them be. That is why you are here.

In the examination room, notice the cool air, the bright lights and the feeling of your feet dangling as you sit on the table.

Acknowledge the universality of sickness and mortality. Often we feel our suffering isolates us and takes us out of the present moment.

But since suffering is inevitable, it is also an experience we share with everyone else. Allow yourself to feel that connection.

Take another deep breath and commit to sharing with the nurse or the doctor what they need to know to help you.
We're not saying any of that is wrong, not even the part about feeling your feet as they dangle. We are saying this:

When readers turn to the New York Times for this sort of advice, no one should be surprised to learn that we the people have no freaking idea how national health care policy works, or to learn that Donald J. Trump is now in the Oval Office.

No one should be surprised to learn that half our nation's health care spending disappears into the ether, in a way your leading newspaper has long refused to examine or diagnose. That many people have no health care at all, for this very reason.

Meanwhile, how to be mindful while taking a shower? Let your newspaper help you! Click here.

Cable news ratings early in Trump!

MONDAY, MAY 15, 2017

As the resistance began:
We don't plan to construct a history of primetime "cable news" ratings. But here's the way those numbers looked on a Wednesday night early in Trump:
Total viewers, Wednesday primetime,
February 8, 2017

Bill O'Reilly: 4.251 million
Tucker Carlson: 3.326 million
Sean Hannity: 3.018 million
Rachel Maddow: 2.013 million
Lawrence O'Donnell: 1.678 million
Chris Hayes: 1.437 million
Anderson Cooper: 1.309 million
Don Lemon: 1.100 million
As far as we know, we aren't cherry-picking. Here you see the numbers for the very first Wednesday in Trump:
Total viewers, Wednesday primetime,
January 25, 2017

Bill O'Reilly: 4.949 million
Tucker Carlson: 3.781 million
Sean Hannity: 3.175 million
Rachel Maddow: 2.090 million
Lawrence O'Donnell: 1.760 million
Chris Hayes: 1.399 million
Anderson Cooper: 1.455 million
Don Lemon: 1.106 million
Megyn Kelly was already gone from Fox, replaced by Tucker Carlson.

Those numbers were already historically fantastic for MSNBC. As the week proceeds, we'll show you how the corresponding numbers looked just a few years back.

As of the start of this year, all the cables had already gained from the onset of Trump and its discontent. But as of last week, MSNBC was basically matching Fox in primetime, an amazing transformation.

In Hollywood, they said it came in part from the Comey bounce.

We'll have a few more thoughts on the product lines which helped MSNBC, and especially Maddow, gain numbers in recent years. Maddow rolled out some especially horrible product starting in the spring of 2015.

At that time, the cable star spent thirteen weeks staging a ludicrous nervous breakdown about the way Fox was going to stage the first GOP debate. She kept forgetting to say that CNN was going to stage the second GOP debate the same darn way.

For our money, it was one of the most ridiculous sustained performances in cable news history. But it was also wonderfully partisan, aimed at our tribe's favorite villain.

She rolled out a ludicrous product line. The evidence suggests that our self-impressed tribe flocked to buy what she was selling.

Itinerants once sold pills this way. It's why there's an FDA!

VILLAINS AND US: Under every bed!

MONDAY, MAY 15, 2017

Part 1—An eternally popular story:
Bill O'Reilly is gone from Fox. In the world of profit-based cable news, we liberals are suddenly hot.

Appropriately, the Hollywood Reporter announced the news of the latest big ratings bump. "Huge wins," last Friday's headlines said, in a bit of an embellishment:
O'CONNELL (5/12/17): TV Ratings: MSNBC, Maddow Scoring Huge Wins With Comey Coverage/
MSNBC dominates its third night of primetime since Trump's FBI ouster as 'The Five' proves more of a draw than Tucker Carlson for Fox News.

The incredibly eventful couple of days in Washington, D.C., has been a boon to MSNBC. The cable news network, which has seen ratings surges for star Rachel Maddow, just won its third night of the week.

MSNBC easily topped Thursday in primetime among adults 25-54 with an average 635,000 viewers in the key news demo across the three-hour block. Maddow led all of cable news, with 734,000 demo viewers and 2.87 million viewers, but the most interesting victory might be the one Brian Williams scored in late night. His 11 p.m. show, which trailed lead-in Lawrence O'Donnell for No. 3 status in all of cable news last night, actually outperformed Fox News' Tucker Carlson by 12 percent among adults 25-54.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, such across-the-board MSNBC advantages over Fox News Channel and CNN are in the realm of unprecedented—and offer the most substantial proof to date that viewers are tuning into MSNBC for coverage of the embattled Trump administration.
Brian outperformed Tucker among adults 25-54—and those are the people the advertisers adore! The bulk of the audience doesn't matter in the dollars game!

As you may recall, Rachel Maddow barely cares about this sort of thing. How litle does she care? So little that she once told Charlie Rose that she didn't even know who her cable competitors were at the 9 PM hour.

Charlie didn't question the claim, which some people likely believed.

That said, Maddow and her fellow "cable liberals" produced very high numbers last week. In primetime, these were the numbers among all cable news viewers last Wednesday night, May 10:
Total viewers, Wednesday primetime, May 10
Tucker Carlson: 2.991 million
Rachel Maddow: 2.739 million
Sean Hannity: 2.581 million
The Five: 2.500 million
Lawrence O'Donnell: 2.450 million
Chris Hayes: 1.864 million
Anderson Cooper: 1.457 million
Don Lemon: 1.357 million
Cooper's number is an average across his two broadcast hours. At 11 PM, Brian Williams scored 2.050 million viewers, outdistancing a Carlson rebroadcast on Fox (1.499 million).

(For whatever reason, "primetime" is generally defined, in such calculations, as 8-11 PM Eastern. When Brian was beating that Carlson rebroadcast, it was 8 PM on the west coast.)

For MSNBC, those are amazing numbers. They seem to represent an end to Fox's traditional dominance during primetime. For CNN, those numbers seem to say that we the people like our "cable news" with an undisguised partisan slant.

In our view, the rise of baldly partisan news orgs largely explains our ongoing state of political disintegration. Our tribes now receive their own sets of frameworks and facts.

They also receive their own sets of villains. As this pattern advances, it becomes harder and harder to function as intelligent individuals, let alone as a nation.

In our rundown of last week's numbers, we picked Wednesday night for a reason. On that evening, we liberals received a treat:

We were handed our latest villain by our biggest "cable news" star.

That villain's name is Andrew McCabe. Early last week, he became acting director of the FBI when James B. Comey got fired.

Is Andrew McCabe a villain? For ourselves, we have no real idea. But that's what we liberals were told that night by a highly convincing Rachel Maddow, our top-rated cable news star.

Indeed, Maddow's ratings rise in recent years has been fueled by the way she has supplied us with story-lines about the nation's villains. At one time, a certain type of analyst found communists under every bed. Although she often takes a dive on the most destructive political jihads, Maddow has been finding villains under every bed for the past several years.

Objectively, the world does contain some real villains. That said, given our inbred human desire to identify such monsters, it may not be the greatest idea to build our picture of world events around this eternally popular construct.

That said, we human beings love being told that villains are lurking under every bed. Last Wednesday night, Maddow sold us the villain McCabe. Tomorrow, we'll review the wonderfully scary claims she advanced on that high-rated program.

Warning! Maddow told you, last Wednesday night, that McCabe did something disturbing and bad on February 15, 2017. This alleged disturbing behavior represented Maddow's full indictment of this newly disturbing figure.

As has been true through the annals of time, last Wednesday's scary tale gave us tribals a thrill. But here's what we weren't told by Maddow last Wednesday night:

We weren't told what Maddow had said in real time, back in February. Back then, Maddow presented McCabe as the hero of the piece!

We also weren't told this:

We weren't told that Maddow's indictment of McCabe seems to be entirely based on accepting the word of Donald J. Trump's chief of staff and Donald J. Trump's press secretary!

That's right! Back in February, in real time, the accusation against McCabe was made by a pair of somewhat shaky sources. Initially, the accusation was made by Reince Priebus. It was then bruited about, second-hand, by Sean Spicer.

We know of no external evidence supporting the claim by these somewhat unreliable tribunes. Nor did Maddow cite any such evidence in her presentation last Wednesday night. In fact, she directly cited Reince and Sean, although she skipped their names.

In February, in real time, Maddow presented McCabe as the hero of the piece. By last Wednesday, though, that reading had changed. In convincing fashion, a major corporate cable star sold us our latest villain.

She'd found a new villain under our beds. Within tribal tents, beside a fire, it has always seemed convincing when we humans are told such tales.

Is Andrew McCabe a villainous figure? We have no idea. That said, our exploration of Maddow's claim may help us see the way our "news business" frequently works.

Warning! Our exploration may leave us somewhat puzzled about the major star Maddow. Also, about the work of the Washington Post, even the New York Times.

What lies behind last Wednesday night's claim? Millions hung on every word. Prepare for a bumpy ride.

Tomorrow: Maddow's indictment

The same numbers, one week before: To what extent did last week's numbers reflect a "Comey bounce?" To what extent did MSNBC's performance reflect interest caused by the firing of Comey the God?

There's no perfect way to answer that question. But below, you see the numbers from Wednesday, May 3, exactly one week before:
Total viewers, Wednesday primetime, May 3
Tucker Carlson: 2.743 million
The Five: 2.480 million
Sean Hannity: 2.268 million
Rachel Maddow: 2.096 million
Lawrence O'Donnell: 1.691 million
Chris Hayes: 1.506 million
Anderson Cooper: 901,000
Don Lemon: 805,000
Those were already historically high numbers for MSNBC. As the Hollywood newspaper said, Comey's firing seems to have pushed those numbers higher last week.

We liberals were highly engaged last week. On Wednesday evening, we received a tasty, familiar old treat.

DAYS OF EXCITEMENT AND SCANDAL: The Washington Post walks its banner back!

SATURDAY, MAY 13, 2017

Let them entertain you:
Two days ago, the claim was bruited across the top of the Washington Post's front page in an exciting banner headline.

Comey had sought a big increase in funds for the Russia probe! Four reporters lent their names to the "revelation."

The exciting news report started like this. Hard-copy triple headline included:
VIEBECK, O'KEEFE, SULLIVAN AND KANE (5/11/17): Comey sought more resources for Russia probe
Justice Dept. denies reports as uproar grows

The furor over President Trump's abrupt firing of FBI Director James B. Comey grew Wednesday with the revelation that Comey had sought more resources for an investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government shortly before he was dismissed.

Republicans and Democrats alike expressed dismay Wednesday over Comey's firing the day before, which several said will frustrate bipartisan efforts to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible ties between the Kremlin and Trump associates. Many Democrats called for a special prosecutor to take on the investigation, and a handful of Republicans said they were open to the idea.

For some, the news of the request provided further evidence that Trump's stated reason for firing Comey—that the director had botched the bureau's investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server—was untrue. The likelier and more troubling reason, critics said, was to quash the Russia investigation and the threat it poses to the Trump White House.

Although several Democrats confirmed that Comey had informed lawmakers of the request he made last week in a meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, the Justice Department denied those reports.
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Indubitably, the furor had grown. It was exciting stuff!

Despite that Justice Department denial, the exciting claim about that request was framed as a "revelation." Did we mention the fact that the claim appeared beneath a banner headline which stretched across page A1?

Did James B. Comey—Comey the God—really make some such request? Like you and almost everyone else, we have no way of knowing.

That said, the Post began to waffle on this claim in yesterday's editions. This morning, we'd have to say that the Washington Post has basically walked its claim back.

In standard fashion, the paper does so in paragraph 23 of a news report which appears inside the paper, atop page A5. If you read all the way to paragraph 23, you meet this semi-admission:
BARRETT, NAKASHIMA AND HORWITZ (5/13/17): While it had been reported that Comey’s firing came days after he asked Rosenstein for more resources for the Russia probe, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said that Comey did not make that request, and that the investigation had and continues to have all the personnel and resources it needs.
Say what? Readers, what do Barrett, Nakashima and Horwitz know today that Viebeck, O'Keefe, Sullivan and Kane didn't know on Thursday?

Please note who Barrett, Nakashima and Horwitz are citing as their source. They're citing "a person with direct knowledge of the matter."

Presumably, very few people have direct knowledge of what happened when Comey met with Rosenstein, if indeed they met at all. (Presumably, acting FBI kingpin Andrew McCabe would not be such a person.)

Very few people would have "direct knowledge" of what happened. Today's report cites one such person. He or she says that no such request was made. The report offers no reason for thinking that this assertion might be false.

Just this once, let's be clear. It doesn't hugely "matter" if the Post's exciting "revelation" was actually false. After twenty-five years of mugging and clowning, our national discourse had moved so deeply into the dumpster that we actually managed to elect Donald J. Trump to his current post.

His apparent mental disorders have been on wide display this week. As long as he remains in the Oval, few other things hugely matter, human existence-wise.

Still, Martin Luther is said to have said that we should plant our apple tree even if Donald J. Trump is destined to start a world war. In accord with that nostrum, we'll offer a few small thoughts about the workings of our mainstream press corps.

First, let's enjoy a good laugh! In today's report, Barrett, Nakashima and Horwitz say "it [was] reported that Comey’s firing came days after he asked Rosenstein for more resources."

It was reported! It slipped their minds to say that this "was reported" in a banner headline which stretched across the front page of their own newspaper!

To say that this happened on Thursday morning! Which was just two day ago!

It was reported, the scriveners said! Truly, it doesn't get richer. Noting again that it doesn't matter whether Comey asked for more resources, let's compare the sourcing for today's report to the sourcing which drove the exciting report which dominated Thursday's Post.

Today, the reporters source a debunking statement to a person "with direct knowledge." By traditional norms, this is weak sourcing. To state one possibility, a single source with direct knowledge of some situation could be lying about what occurred.

The scribes don't seem to think that's the case. They cite no one who is disputing what this knowledgeable person has said. They report his or her claim and they leave it at that. No one says he or she's wrong.

Today, we hear from a person with direct knowledge. By way of contrast, what sort of sourcing lay behind Thursday's exciting reports, which topped the front page at the New York Times and at the Washington Post?

In Thursday morning's New York Times, two reporters described a game of Telephone. (They also referred to a "toilet bowl-shaped building" in the Washington suburbs.)

In their deathless evidence chain, Comey was said to have said something to Warner and Burr. After that, Warner was said to have told Durbin what Comey had said. Durbin then gave a third-hand account of what Comey said he did to the Times reporters.

At the very start of its report, the Times also cited "four congressional officials," none of whom could have had direct knowledge of the matter at hand. Readers were never told why they should credit these four unnamed people at all.

On its face, that looked like "group urinal sourcing." The Post offered less extensive but similar sourcing on Thursday. To examine their game of Telephone, you can just click here.

As we read these reports on Thursday morning, we thought their sourcing was weak. We especially thought this because the chain of claims about what happened began with a statement by Comey the God, a person we don't exactly regard as beyond reproach at this point.

(Comey's most recent jumbled, inaccurate public statement occurred just last week at a Senate hearing. Whatever his intentions may be, he seems to misstate fairly often.)

At any rate, let's review. As we do, we're simply planting an apple tree, remembering that none of this actually "matters," given the fact that a highly unstable person now holds the nuclear codes.


On Thursday morning, a game of Telephone yielded a thrilling new claim. At the Washington Post, the claim was called a "revelation." It was bruited across the top of the paper's front page in a banner headline.

This very morning, just two days later, the Post seems to say "never mind." The paper cites a person with direct knowledge saying that Thursday's report was wrong.

Here's where the wonderful clownistry happens. This semi-retraction appears in a news report on page A5. You have to read to paragraph 23 to learn what that knowledgeable person said.

You're told the original claim "was reported," but you aren't told where!

As noted, none of this exactly matters. More in amusement than in anger, we continue to plant the occasional small award-winning apple tree.

DAYS OF EXCITEMENT AND SCANDAL: Did Comey make a hefty request?

FRIDAY, MAY 12, 2017

Exciting new fact fades away:
In the days before he got fired, did James B. Comey request a funding increase for the FBI's Russia probe?

Did he seek "a hefty increase in resources for the Russia investigation," as Dan Balz excitingly said?

As of Thursday morning, this was the most exciting new "fact" anywhere in the land. In the hard-copy Washington Post, a banner headline across page one bruited this fact to the world.

The banner front-page headline said this: "Comey sought more resources for Russia probe." According to the exciting report, Comey had sought the additional resources in a meeting with Rod Rosenstein.

The New York Times also built its featured front-page report around this exciting new fact. The hard-copy headlines looked like this:
In Last Days as Chief, Comey Sought Aid in Russia Inquiry
In his final days, Comey had sought additional funding for the Russia probe!

On Wednesday night, pundits had shouted this thrilling new fact all across cable, saying it explained Comey's sudden firing. On Thursday morning, Joe Scarborough even staged a classic Morning Joe rant. Click here, move ahead to 1:30.

Did Comey ask Rod Rosenstein for a funding increase? Yesterday afternoon, at a Senate hearing, Susan Collins posed that question to Andrew McCabe, Comey's former deputy and the current FBI acting director. We thought you might be interested in seeing what McCabe said:
COLLINS: Press reports yesterday indicated that Director Comey requested additional resources from the Justice Department for the bureau's ongoing investigation into Russian active measures. Are you aware of that request? Can you confirm that that request was in fact made?

MCCABE: I cannot confirm that request was made. As you know ma'am, when we need resources, we make those requests here. So I, I don't— I'm not aware of that request, and it's not consistent with my understanding of how we request additional resources.

That said, we don't typically request resources for an individual case. And as I mentioned, I strongly believe that the Russian investigation is adequately resourced.
Did Comey make some sort of funding request when he met with Rosenstein? McCabe said he wasn't aware of any such request. He said that isn't the way a funding request would work.

Did Comey make a request? Does that explain why he got fired?

We can't answer that question. And thanks to Donald J. Trump's crazy interview with Lester Holt, we no longer need that exciting claim to explain why Comey got fired.

The claim was thrilling for a day. Then the pundit corps moved on. No one will examine this matter further. This is the way our press corps works in days of excitement and scandal.

Did Comey really make some sort of request? At the Post and the Times, sourcing for the exciting claim was extremely thin. In these days of excitement and scandal, that's pretty much all it takes.

Comic relief from the glorious Times!

THURSDAY, MAY 11, 2017

Reporters spot toilet-bowl shaped UFO in the Washington suburbs:
Did James B. Comey get fired because he requested more money for the FBI's Russia probe?

Did Comey even make this request? After reading the New York Times this morning, we had no freaking idea.

(Also after reading the Washington Post.)

We did experience a moment of comic relief—and it wasn't even in the "noteworthy facts" from the Times' page A3. Near the end of a muddy discussion of Comey's alleged request, Rosenberg and Apuzzo baffled us with the highlighted statement:
ROSENBERG AND APUZZO (5/11/17): Also on Wednesday, Mr. Burr and Mr. Warner asked the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for financial information on Mr. Trump and some of his associates that was relevant to the Russia investigation.

Both Mr. Warner and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon—the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee with jurisdiction over the Treasury Department and also a member of the Intelligence Committee—have said they will block the confirmation of Sigal Mandelker, Mr. Trump’s nominee to be the top Treasury official for terrorism and financial crimes, until the network delivers the information.


The little-known bureau, which operates out of a toilet bowl-shaped building in the suburbs of Washington, serves as the financial intelligence network of the United States, gathering and maintaining a vast collection of data on transactions and suspicious financial activity that can yield valuable leads and help expose hard-to-find networks.
According to Rosenberg and Apuzzo, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network "operates out of a toilet bowl-shaped building" in the suburbs of Washington.

Does anyone on the face of the earth have any idea what that means? Does the building have a flat white retractable roof which swings straight up toward the sky?

Did the toilet-bowl shaped suburban building possibly drop from the sky one day? Inquiring minds want to ask!

We find ourselves wondering more and more about the mental states of various players inside the question mark-shaped buildings owned by the New York Times. We end with a question which must now be asked:

Are Rosenberg and Apuzzo the scribes in charge of picking those "noteworthy facts?"

DAYS OF SCANDAL AND EXCITEMENT: Hewitt says the corps ran wild!

THURSDAY, MAY 11, 2017

Cooper goes 7 on 1:
"These are the days of miracle and wonder," Paul Simon once alleged.

He advanced his claim in 1986. Times have changed since then.

At the dinner hour this past Tuesday night, Donald J. Trump directed James Comey to spend more time with his family. With that one act, we entered these current days—these days of excitement and scandal.

How vast was the excitement that night? So vast that conservative talker Hugh Hewitt may even have made a decent point in today's Washington Post.

Hewitt is in his early days as a columnist at the Post. He isn't especially troubled by Comey's dismissal. Instead, he makes some unflattering claims about the press corps' reactions to same:
HEWITT (5/11/17): There are, in fact, plenty of superb candidates [for the post of FBI Director] who would bring stature and independence to the job.

But first we have to endure a few days of over-the-top takes from the always overwrought mainstream media. This isn’t the “Saturday Night Massacre.” There are no tapes, no subpoenas for presidential documents, no resignations from the Justice Department, but instead recommendations from the Justice Department. It’s four months into an administration, not four years. In short, the overwrought media has toppled into hysteria again.
That's the way the column ends, with those unflattering claims.

Ignore Hewitt's judgment about Trump's recent action. We focus on the press corps here, not on the politicians.

Try to focus on the press. In the current instance, does Hewitt possibly have a point about their recent reactions?

For ourselves, we're inclined to assume that the actions of Donald J. Trump will almost always look like the work of a badly disordered man. Comey has been a bit of a hot rolling mess, but Trump seems vastly disordered.

That said, what about the men and women of the mainstream press? How have they conducted themselves in the wake of Comey's dismissal? Is it fair to say they've been "overwrought?" Have they "toppled into hysteria?"

We may do several posts on that general topic in the next few days. For starters, let's briefly review the modern history of televised pundit excitement.

To some extent, it started on 60 Minutes, with James J. Kilpatrick (conservative) battling liberal Shana Alexander (liberal). If memory serves, they generated lots of excitement and heat, perhaps some occasional light.

That said, the format was one-against-one at the start. When cable arrived, that format was formalized on CNN's Crossfire:

One liberal host, one conservative host! So too with each show's pair of guests!

(We guested on the program once, in the "liberal" chair.)

Inevitably, the Fox News Channel produced a better idea. Yes, they had Hannity & Colmes for many years—a program which, at least in the formal sense, worked on a one-on-one basis.

(We even guested on that.)

But then, good God! In 2011, the Fox News Channel invented The Five. In an undisguised parody of "fair and balanced," the program featured five co-equal panelists—but four of the five were conservatives!

Only one of the five was a liberal! On Fox, the balance for a fair pundit fight was now set at four-against-one.

Because The Five was quite successful, MSNBC tried to copy its ways. They created an unsuccessful program, The Cycle, where the suitable ideological balance was set at three-against-one.

(Starting in 2013, Abbie Huntsman was the lone conservative. Today, she has massively dumbed herself down, thus qualifying for her current role as the young woman between the two guys on the weekend Fox & Friends. Good God, she plays it dumb there!)

How quaint our early pundit days seem—days when a fair food fight among TV pundits was defined as one-against-one. That said, we were struck by the ridiculous behavior on Anderson Cooper's CNN program this Tuesday night.

On this exciting occasion, Cooper's hugely excited, eight-member panel broke down seven to one.

Ken Cuccinelli was the lone conservative in the eight-member panel. We thought he argued his claims rather well—and his overall claims weren't cartoonish. Beyond that:

In sharp distinction to some other guests, he conducted himself with what is typically called "professionalism."

Some of Cooper's other pundits possibly maybe did not. Most strikingly, David Gregory's excitement kept leading him to direct visible scorn at Cuccinelli as he kept interrupting him.

Especially given Gregory's former status within the industry, his behavior was quite striking. We'd say he was dumbly, overtly rude. He may be the nicest guy in the world. His performance that night was childish, silly, embarrassing.

Others in The Seven did better—but did we mention their number? The Seven kept over-talking each other as they tried to shout down The One. Rather plainly, Cuccinelli seemed to have been cast in the role of Piggy.

As we watched Cooper's program that night, we were struck by the journalistic disorder. Rather plainly, we were watching the start of the current days of excitement and scandal.

Excitement can be very exciting. That said, it isn't a journalistic trait. It tends to produce a lot of heat and over-simplification. without producing real light.

Last night, other cable stars were excited, even on The One True Liberal Channel. In their excitement, they kept pretending they had answers to various questions—answers they didn't yet have.

They kept pretending they were dealing in facts—facts they hadn't established. They kept disappearing other facts—actual facts which would have made their stories less simplistic, less simple-minded.

They rushed to explain the Rosenstein matter. They didn't yet have the slightest idea what had gone on in this typically disordered production by Donald J. Trump.

The children were very excited last night; this can be lots of fun. They were excited about the claim that Comey was fired because he'd asked for more funding. They were excited by the claim that the number-two man at the FBI might be a big Commie too.

(Needless to say, that was Maddow. She seemed to be basing her central claim on something Reince Priebus once said!)

We heard a lot of exciting claims. We kept failing to hear the documentation—the evidence which would establish these claims. Elsewhere, people have been rushing to jump to conclusions. This is the way excited mobs tend to run through streets.

Conduct like this is very exciting. It's also bad journalistic practice.

This is the way our press corps works. While fascinating and comical, it's a tough game to watch.