Mental horizons of the Times!

FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2017

As always, we kid you not:
We'll admit to a sick fascination with the intellectual horizons of the New York Times—more specifically, with the intellectual horizons of the people who populate its inner circles.

Let's be fair! At least the Times didn't publish this piece, a thoughtful report by Robin Givhan about the meaning of Callista Gingrich's hair.

(Hard-copy headline: "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Her hair speaks volumes about mythic Washington.")

That piece appeared on the front page of Style, in Wednesday morning's Washington Post. If you're concerned about the cultural meaning of Gingrich's hair, we strongly recommend it. Also, if you're concerned about our nation's dying brain cells.

That wasn't the New York Times' work! On the other hand, this was the way yesterday's "Here to Help" feature started, on the reimagined page A3 of the brainiac Times:
Here to Help

The name of the game when it comes to cleaning the living room is tidying and straightening. Here are some tips for organizing the tasks involved, from the cleaning expert Jolie Kerr.
People, we kid you not. But then, remember the motto of page A3:
You are the dumbest people on Earth.
We at The Times want to serve you.
Kerr's expertise seems endless. In this, her initial tip, she seems to recommend removing dirty socks:
Remove that which does not belong
The nature of the living room being what it is, items that do not necessarily belong in the living room often make their way in there. Items such as dirty socks, wine glasses and even Krazy Glue eventually should be put in their rightful places (the hamper, dishwasher and tool box, respectively).
The insights advance from there. At one point, Kerr says this: "A quick pass of the feather duster over bookshelves and coffee tables will help get rid of dust with little fuss."

Who but the cleaning expert Kerr could have come up with that? Have we mentioned the fact that we wonder about the intellectual status of the people who populate this upper-end, Hamptons-tilting realm?

On this morning's page A3, the "Noteworthy Facts" have a gloomy feel. That said, we wondered about the first fact, which involves an important topic:
Of Interest
People awaiting bail account for 95 percent of the growth in the jail population from 2000 to 2014.
We noted the slippery nature of that particular type of statistic. In the particular case, that statistic could mean that the population awaiting bail rose by 19 people, out of a rise in the jail population of 20 people at all.

That's a slippery type of statistic, but the topic is very important. The source, it turned out, was this op-ed column by a pair of senators, Harris and Paul.

The column includes a lot of statistics. None of them are sourced or serviced by links.

Should the New York Times publish such columns without any sourcing or links? Actually, no, it shouldn't. We just burned about a half hour trying to Google the data.

Finally, we were struck by today's Spotlight feature on page A3. It involves "a wide-ranging TimesTalk" in which Carol Davenport interviewed Al Gore about his new climate film.

Gore cites some heartbreaking, horrible facts in this small tiny very small feature. Page A3 devoted more space to the tips about dirty socks.

That said, you may recall what the New York Times did when Gore's first climate film was released, the one which went on to win an Oscar. The brilliant liberal giant, Frank Rich, slagged the stupid ridiculous film from stem to stern.

He slagged the film in the New York Times. He slagged the film on MSNBC and national radio with his dimwitted buddy, Don Imus.

He said the film reminded him of one of those crummy instructional films they made you watch in high school. He didn't execute his 180 until Gore won the Nobel Prize, at which point he quickly began kissing ass.

Rich is plainly the world's dumbest person. But when he appears on the Maddow Show, he's still "the great Frank Rich." He remains a tribal hero Over Here in our liberal tents.

Our liberal world is extremely dumb. This is one of the ten million facts we liberals just can't seem to grasp.

We'd call it a highly noteworthy fact. Rather plainly, it helps explain how Donald J. Trump reached the Oval.

The Post should start using its number words!

FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2017

Today, we have counting of sources:
With apologies to Henry Reed, today we have counting of sources.

We refer to the front-page report in the Washington Post which drove cable news last night. Rather, it drove cable news after 9:15 Eastern, when the news report appeared on the Post web site.

Rachel explained how the posting had affected her personally. After that, she began to discuss what the Post report said.

This is now the established pattern in so-called cable news. Every night, something appears on the web site of the Post or the New York Times. After that, a gaggle of cable talkers offer instant analysis, usually in the form of undisguised speculation.

Last night, the news report by the Washington Post seized control of the apparent discourse. Today we have counting of sources.

Your assignment, if you should choose to accept it:

According to today's hard-copy headline in the Post, Donald J. Trump is "exploring [his] pardoning powers." Our question:

How many sources does the Post cite in this, the start of its front-page report?
LEONNIG, PARKER, HELDERMAN AND HAMILTON (7/21/17): Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

One adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.
Those are the four paragraphs which launched a thousand cable news ships. Once again, we ask our question:

In that passage, how many sources does the Post cite?

We note that the Washington Post never answers that question in an explicit way. By our count, the number could be as high as four:
Possible roster of sources
1) "one of those people" who are "familiar with the effort"
2) "a second person"
3) "one adviser"
4) "a close adviser"
That could be four different sources! On the other hand, the Post never uses its full assortment of words. The reporters never explicitly type this phrase, which would have been easy to render:

"according to four people familiar with the effort."

The reporters never write that! Having noted that fact, we ask some horrible questions:

How do we know that "one adviser" and "a close adviser" aren't the same person?

That would strike us as dishonest too! But how do we know that the Post is describing two different people there?

How do we know that the "close adviser" isn't that "second person?"

We agree with you; that would be highly misleading. But that doesn't answer our question.

By our own cynical count, the Post could be citing as few as two different sources here. Yes, that would be a bit dishonest. But we've been wondering about this sort of sourcing ever since November 1999, when the New Yorker published a long, amazingly scripted report about what a big giant mess the thoroughly pitiful Gore campaign was.

That same Gore campaign went on to win every Democratic primary, something which had never been done.

At any rate, in the New Yorker's report, a long string of (anonymous) people were lustily quoted, slagging dumb Candidate Gore. A reader got the clear impression that he was reading comments from a long string of different anonymous people.

That said, no number words were employed. Given the way the mainstream press coverage was already working, we wondered how many of the apparent sources might be the same person: [Name Withheld].

We don't know if the New Yorker played that game that day. We'll bet your grandmother's sprawling farm that, along the way, various journalists have.

Last night, cable exploded behind that Post report. The report launched a thousand analytical ships, most of which were speculations about Donald J. Trump's plan to pardon everyone in his family, not excluding himself.

Is Donald J. Trump hatching that plan? We have no doubt that he may be. But it seems to us that the Post report is a bit thin in its sourcing and its evidence. Did you notice that the third and fourth apparent sources seem to be pooh-poohing the claim at the heart of the Post's report?

The corporate gong-show called "cable news" now has an established rhythm. Cable stars wait for the latest "explosive" report to appear on-line. When it does, everyone starts to speculate, fulminate, recite and embellish.

That Post report was the trigger last night. We saw no one on cable news offer even a mild trigger warning!

It would have been easy to type the word "four." When will our biggest, most famous news orgs start using their number words?

THE RELIABLE ABSENCE OF BASIC SKILLS: Without any question, a clear mistake!

FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2017

Interlude—Following which, the fall:
Oof. Undeniably, without any question, Masha Gessen made a clear mistake.

This serves to remind us that everyone does. At any rate, Gessen's clear mistake came when she uttered these words:
GESSEN (5/7/17): And even the word "unintelligible," inserted by the journalist, means nothing, because how can something be unintelligible when uttered face to face in an interview?


Oof. As we noted yesterday, those words were part of Gessen's lecture to the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival. She was discussing the transcript of an AP interview with President Donald J. Trump.

In that remark, Gessen displayed an obvious lack of preparation with her source material. Also, a surprising lack of familiarity with the transcripts produced by news orgs, which routinely contain certain types of mistakes.

And that liberal audience! Good God!

Alas. Gessen's comment, which drew laughter and applause, was off base in several ways.

There is no reason to think that the journalist in question, Julie Pace, inserted the word "unintelligible" in the transcript of her interview with Donald J. Trump. We'll guess that was more likely done by unnamed AP editors.

(As Gessen continued, she referred to the journalist as a "he," again suggesting a lack of deep preparation. Pace is identified as the journalist in the AP document.)

Beyond that, the Associated Press, which prepared and published the transcript, had clearly and dutifully explained what the insertion of the word "unintelligible" was intended to mean.

The insertions didn't mean that Donald J. Trump's statements didn't make sense at those points. They simply meant that "the audio recording of the interview [was] unclear."

Oof! Gessen had made a clear mistake. Because her mistake aligned with audience preconceptions, the big, highly literate, very smart, highly learned and all-knowing audience proceeded to shower her with laughter and applause.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing occurs all the time within our liberal tents. You can't get us extremely bright liberals to acknowledge the obvious fact which follows, but this helps explain how Donald J. Trump ended up where he is.

Masha Gessen made a mistake, proving that everyone does. Basically, it was a mistake of preconception. Mistakes afflict us all.

That said, as Gessen continued, she made a succession of larger mistakes. These further mistakes raise a deeper issue:

They speak to the reliable absence of basic skills, especially during highly partisan tribal times.

Gessen is smarter than the average bear. During her journalistic career, she has also walked the walk.

She's highly regarded, and she should be. For that reason, her display of the absence of basic skills is especially worthy of note.

Gessen is one of our brightest and best. If her basic skills can be called into question, does our obviously brilliant, self-impressed tribe possess any such skills at all?

Your question is very important, but it's also quite hot here this week. Largely because the question's important, we're going to wait till Monday morning to finish this award-winning report.

We want to give you a good clear look at the reliable absence of basic skills within our admittedly brilliant tribe. Within the intellectual realm, does our self-impressed liberal tribe possess even the most basic skills?

(Wittgenstein might have leaned toward no. He would have had a decent point.)

What did Masha Gessen say next? How did her basic skills fail her?

On Monday, we'll make a suggestion for our tribe as we answer that basic question:

In the realm of basic intellect, it's time to start using our words.

Monday: Using our words

The BBC reports what their big stars are paid!


Why can't we have frog-marches here:
How weird is the New York Times? Consider this morning's news report concerning what the BBC pays its big famous stars.

Yesterday, the BBC published its "pay data" for the first time. In the New York Times report, Sewell Chan reports the salaries of some major news stars—but he reports the salaries in British pounds, making no real attempt to translate the salaries into dollars, which is what we use Over Here.

Would anyone but the New York Times be that arch, that clueless, that daft?

Briefly, let's be fair. Presumably, the Times adopted this approach because of their "take" on the data dump. Predictably, the Times was interested in possible "gender pay gap" implications of the BBC salaries, not in anything else.

Chan's reporting on that matter was rather unhelpful too. That said, we dream of the day when our big news orgs Over Here are forced to report the salaries they stuff in the pants of their own TV stars.

We dream of the day when annual salaries appear, by law, in flashing chyrons below the faces of our big cable stars. Once a month, we could even have "Frog-march Fridays."

The big stars would be paraded around, hands drawn back, big long signs recording their salaries draped around their necks. The way the BBC does!

Why would this be a good idea? As we've explained many times in the past, you can't have a middle-class democracy with a multimillionaire press corps. In part, here's why:

When journalists are paid $10 million per year, there's little chance that they will do sound journalistic work. When salaries go anywhere near that high, recipients know they're being paid in large part for their obedience.

They're paid to stick to the company line. Mugging and clowning and nightly dissembling take the place of real reporting and analysis. They work to please the target audience, not to perform real journalism.

Long ago, some scribes may have known what we needed; today's stars basically know what we want. "Frog-march Fridays" might help us rubes understand the shape of this transaction.

In the heat of the morning's New York Times!


Scribes have salacious fun:
It's too hot to get much done here in Baltimore today.

We have several explorations to finish before the week is done. For today, let's consider the New York Times front-page report about their latest Trump interview.

Donald J. Trump has gone to war with everyone around him. He's gone to war with Sessions, Rosenstein, Mueller and Comey, with Andrew McCabe thrown in.

We want to get to a follow-up regarding McCabe, who was left for dead by Rachel Maddow is a peculiar report last month—a furious, vaguely-sourced report she has long since abandoned. For today, we just thought it was worth reviewing a bit of peculiar Times writing.

The passage concerns Trump's remarks on Comey the God. The passage in question starts like this:
BAKER, SCHMIDT AND HABERMAN (7/20/17): The president added a new allegation against Mr. Comey, whose dismissal has become a central issue for critics who said it amounted to an attempt to obstruct the investigation into Russian meddling in the election and any possible collusion with Mr. Trump’s team.

Mr. Trump recalled that a little more than two weeks before his inauguration, Mr. Comey and other intelligence officials briefed him at Trump Tower on Russian meddling. Mr. Comey afterward pulled Mr. Trump aside and told him about a dossier that had been assembled by a former British spy filled with salacious allegations against the incoming president, including supposed sexual escapades in Moscow.


Was that famous dossier really "filled with salacious allegations against the incoming president?" We recall one salacious allegation, which cable stars hoped to call Trickledowngate until they were told they couldn't.

(As President Trump is alleged to have raged, "Again with the leaks!")

Still, that was one salacious allegation. There were other incriminating or semi-incriminating allegations in the dossier. But was the dossier "filled with" salacious stuff, the way the Times said today?

We don't know the answer to that, although we suspect we know. That said, we were also struck by the way the Times writers continued. Looking again at the passage above, this is their full second paragraph:
BAKER, SCHMIDT AND HABERMAN: Mr. Trump recalled that a little more than two weeks before his inauguration, Mr. Comey and other intelligence officials briefed him at Trump Tower on Russian meddling. Mr. Comey afterward pulled Mr. Trump aside and told him about a dossier that had been assembled by a former British spy filled with salacious allegations against the incoming president, including supposed sexual escapades in Moscow. The F.B.I. has not corroborated the most sensational assertions in the dossier.
"The F.B.I. has not corroborated the most sensational assertions in the dossier?"

As far as we know, that statement is technically accurate. Still, that sentence seems to imply that the FBI has indeed corroborated many, indeed probably most, of the sensational assertions.

As far as we know, that isn't true. And by the way:

In context, wouldn't that imply that the FBI has corroborated a lot of the salacious allegations? Were the Times reporters maybe having some fun with their material today?

What kind of journalists write that way in a major front-page report? People, we're just asking! We'll also note the paragraph with which the reporters ended today's report. As we start the passage in question, Trump is discussing his recent, highly sensational second conversation with Putin:
BAKER, SCHMIDT AND HABERMAN: “The meal was going toward dessert,” he said. “I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.”

But the president repeated that he did not know about his son’s meeting at the time and added that he did not need the Russians to provide damaging information about Mrs. Clinton.

But the president repeated that he did not know about his son’s meeting at the time and added that he did not need the Russians to provide damaging information about Mrs. Clinton.

“There wasn’t much I could say about Hillary Clinton that was worse than what I was already saying,” he said.
“Unless somebody said that she shot somebody in the back, there wasn’t much I could add to my repertoire.”
There wasn't much the Russkies could have told him that was worse than what he was already saying!

Unless they could say that she shot someone in the back! The way Rush and Jerry and Gennifer Flowers used to do!

Let's give credit where due! Just for the record, Donald J. Trump was certainly right in those closing remarks. Here's something else that's certainly true:

Your favorite liberals tolerated these slanders against Hillary Clinton from 1992 forward. Indeed, many of our favorite "corporate liberal" cable stars were very active participant, down through the years, in the endless, often misogynist slanders aimed at Hillary Clinton.

Others simply ran off into the woods and hid, like big cable star Maddow. Dearest darlings, careers wer at stake! Ten million dollars per year!

We should also add this:

The New York Times—the very paper to which Trump was speaking—had played a very active role, from 1992 on, in creating and spreading those allegations. Big cable stars of the "corporate liberal" type will never tell you that!

It seemed to us that the Times reporters were stretching the salacious material reference a bit today. On the other hand, Donald J. Trump was right as rain as their report reached its end.

He referred to the basic game which has ruled the discourse for twenty-five years:

Chris and Brian and Lawrence all played significant roles in the endless slanders aimed at Hillary Clinton from 1992 on. A new generation of cable stars then came along and told us how great those men are.

This is the way the game has been played. No one is going to tell you, though. Dearest darlings, it just isn't done!

In case you're the type: In case you're the type who likes to check, the dossier is here.

THE RELIABLE ABSENCE OF BASIC SKILLS: Unintelligible, Gessen says!


Part 3—Crowd bursts into applause:
As major political figures go, Donald J. Trump tilts rather strongly toward inarticulate.

As she delivered the Arthur Miller Lecture to the PEN World Voices Festival, Masha Gessen took note of this fact. For ourselves, we'd prefer a more nuanced analysis. But the gist of this sketch was correct:
GESSEN (5/7/17): [Donald J. Trump] has a talent for using words in ways that make them mean nothing. Everyone is "great" and everything is "tremendous." Any word can be given or taken away. NATO can be obsolete and then no longer obsolete, which challenges not only our shared understanding of the word “obsolete” but also our shared experience of linear time.


And then there is Trump’s ability to take words and throw them into a pile that means nothing.
To watch the tape of Gessen's lecture, you can just click here.

Trump tends strongly toward inarticulate in his extemporaneous speech. According to Gessen, her learned audience would now be "subjected to" an example.

"I'm actually going to subject you to an excerpt from an interview that he did with AP for the hundred days," she said. "It was really hard to choose because the whole interview's like this."

The Associated Press had published a transcript
of its interview with Trump on April 23. Two weeks later, Gessen warned the crowd that they would be subjected to an excerpt. Indeed, she was going to read the painful excerpt aloud!

At this point, you need to see how the excerpt looks in the AP's official transcript. Below, you see the full interview chunk from which Gessen took her excerpt.

In the main, Donald J. Trump is speaking here about his award-winning Tomahawk strike. This is the full interview chunk from which Gessen took her excerpt:
AP: Can I ask you, over your first 100 days—you’re not quite there yet—how do you feel like the office has changed you?

TRUMP: Well the one thing I would say—and I say this to people—I never realized how big it was. Everything’s so (unintelligible) like, you know the orders are so massive. I was talking to—

AP: You mean the responsibility of it, or do you mean—

TRUMP: Number One, there’s great responsibility. When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria. I’m saying to myself, “You know, this is more than just like, 79 (sic) missiles. This is death that’s involved,” because people could have been killed. This is risk that’s involved, because if the missile goes off and goes in a city or goes in a civilian area—you know, the boats were hundreds of miles away—and if this missile goes off and lands in the middle of a town or a hamlet .... every decision is much harder than you’d normally make. (unintelligible) ... This is involving death and life and so many things. ... So it’s far more responsibility. (unintelligible) ....The financial cost of everything is so massive, every agency. This is thousands of times bigger, the United States, than the biggest company in the world. The second-largest company in the world is the Defense Department. The third-largest company in the world is Social Security. The fourth-largest—you know, you go down the list.

AP: Right.

TRUMP. It’s massive. And every agency is, like, bigger than any company. So you know, I really just see the bigness of it all, but also the responsibility. And the human responsibility. You know, the human life that’s involved in some of the decisions.
Trump was asked how the office has changed him. We'd be inclined to call his answer fatuous but basically harmless.

The AP had inserted one "(sic)" when Trump seemed to change a number. For ourselves, we'd prefer to see that term appear in brackets.

In that segment, Trump rambled a bit about the size of the job. Already, though, you've noticed something about that AP transcript. Just in that one short interview chunk, the term "unintelligible" has been inserted three times.

Additionally, ellipses (dot dot dots) have been used four times. But hallelujah! At the very start of its document, before the actual transcript begins, the AP has already explained what those insertions mean:
ASSOCIATED PRESS (4/23/17): A transcript of an Oval Office interview Friday with President Donald Trump by AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace. Where the audio recording of the interview is unclear, ellipses or a notation that the recording was unintelligible are used.
The ellipses, and the "unintelligible" notations, were meant to indicate places where the audio was unclear.

The AP explained this point right at the start of its document. Apparently, Gessen hadn't read it. A fair observer must also say that Gessen seems to have little experience reviewing published transcripts by news orgs, in which such insertions are extremely common, although they're rarely explained.

Citizens, let's talk! It's completely common, in such transcripts, to encounter the insertion of terms like UNINTELLIGIBLE or INAUDIBLE.

Another term, CROSSTALK, will often appear in such transcripts, generally to indicate that six or seven cable news stars were all explaining something at once. Along with all the "unintelligibles" and all the ellipses, this term appears twice in the AP transcript, which is at least slightly odd, since only two people were involved in the AP's discussion.

Whatever! Everyone knows that terms like UNINTELLIGIBLE are common in press corps transcripts. You'd almost think that major journalists would know what such phrases mean.

In this instance, the AP took the trouble of spelling it out, but Gessen apparently hadn't read the AP's explanation. And so it came to pass! As Gessen subjected her audience to the painful excerpt from Trump, she played the term "unintelligible" for laughs, then pondered its ultimate meaning.

As she subjected the crowd to the excerpt, this is what Gessen said. We'll italicize the portions where she is supposedly reading Trump. Her worst moment comes at the end:
GESSEN: I'm actually going to subject you to an excerpt from an interview that he did with AP for the hundred days, It was really hard to choose because actually the entire interview's like this.

So here is Trump:

Number One, there’s great responsibility. When it came time to, as an example, send out the 59 missiles, the Tomahawks in Syria.



I’m saying to myself, “You know, this is more than just like 79 missiles. This is death that’s involved,” because people could have been killed. This is risk that’s involved, because if the missile goes off and goes in a city or goes in a civilian area—you know, the boats were hundreds of miles away—and if this missile goes off and lands in the middle of a town or a hamlet every decision is much harder than you’d normally make.



This is involving death and life and so many things. So it’s far more responsibility.


The financial cost of everything is so massive, every agency.


This is thousands of times bigger, the United States, than the biggest company in the world.

Now I made a partial list of words that lose their meaning in this passage. Responsibility; the number 59; the number 79;


Death; people; risk; city; civilian; hamlet, decision; hard; normal; life; the United States.

And even the word "unintelligible," inserted by the journalist, means nothing, because how can something be unintelligible when uttered face to face in an interview?



And the role of the journalist is also rendered meaningless in the most basic way...
Oof! Everybody makes mistakes—and Gessen, who has walked the walk as a journalist, has earned, and richly deserves, the public's full respect.

But that is a horrible offering. Gessen gets her first laugh by reading the world "period," implying that Trump's sentence structure made no sense at that point.

It didn't occur to her that the transcript might be poorly punctuated at that point. Such errors are tremendously common when news orgs publish transcripts of extemporaneous speech. We'll assume Gessen doesn't know that.

We'd call that a cheap first laugh. Assuming it was sought in good faith, it suggests a surprising lack of familiarity, on Gessen's part, with typical news org transcripts.

Her reading of "period" produced a cheap first laugh. But good God! The analysts began to writhe and scream when Gessen scored bigly with this:
GESSEN: And even the word "unintelligible," inserted by the journalist, means nothing, because how can something be unintelligible when uttered face to face in an interview?


Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow! The analysts were writhing in psychic pain. But the audience, comprised of smart brilliant writers, burst into laughter at this point, then offered dim-witted applause.

Tomorrow, we're going to subject you to what Gessen said next. Today, in closing, let's settle for this:

Nothing will turn on the fact that Gessen produced this large misrepresentation, which we assume was an honest mistake.

(Over in the tents of The Others, it will be scored as a "lie." In doing so, The Others will, of course, be behaving just like Us.)

Nothing will turn on the fact that Gessen made this blatant mistake. Beyond that, the path of history isn't going to change because that smart brilliant erudite wise learned audience showed its appreciation with a round of dim-witted applause.

Still and all, our analysts said, after calming down, that this is the sort of thing which happens all the time Over Here within the tents of our own smart learned tribe. Sometimes, if it weren't for the lack of understanding and skill, there would be no such critters at all.

Masha Gessen is smart and sincere, and she's walked the walk. When the times get sufficiently tribal, this is the kind of performance we get from those who are truly our best!

Tomorrow: Using our words; we return to third grade basic skills

If it weren't for all the embellished statements!


Would there by any statements at all:
We'll admit to a grim fascination with a certain cable news star.

We regard Donald J. Trump as our most disordered public figure. After him, we'll have to admit that the cable star just may rank number two.

In part, it's the astonishing degree of self-involvement. Last night, the star was talking about herself right out of the gate.

In her second minute, she was offering this. "I I I I I I I," the analysts all started yelling:
UNNAMED CABLE STAR (7/18/17): I know you`ve heard a little bit today about there being an eighth man who is in that meeting and the identity of the eighth man. You've probably heard a little bit of that today...

But we're going to start tonight with this late-breaking news.

So this is a little window into my work day. Whole staff is working away today. You know, the cubicle farm is really humming. People are in and out of everybody'S offices, like we know what we're doing. We`re working on the show.

I'm in my office, threatened to be buried under teetering piles of paper, as usual. We're all working away like we usually do.

By this point, almost six months into the Trump administration, we as a staff are now used to big stories about the Trump administration breaking late in the day and then we have to throw our plans out the window and start to cover instead what the other new bombshell is. We're used to that.

But even with the fact that we are used to that timing now and to stuff breaking late in the day, when these headlines popped tonight, when this story first crossed, "Trump/Putin held a second undisclosed meeting at the G20," when this started to cross tonight our newsroom, it caused an audible "Oh my God" to ripple across our cubicle farm.

"Oh, my God! Seriously?"
Awww! "Across the cubicle farm."

All the familiar hooks were there, mainly the humble-bragging self-denigration in service to huge self-involvement.

The star conducted an interview with Ian Bremmer about that Trump-Putin conversation. And then, sure enough! Just like that, she returned to her favorite topic:
BREMMER: Yes, my pleasure.

UNNAMED CABLE STAR: All right. Thanks. Yes.

Like I said, the news came across, "Second undisclosed meeting between Trump and Putin."

[Pretends to draw on map]

My office is like here, and my executive producer's office is like here, and the other offices for everybody who works on the staff kind of splay around the corner like this. I heard it coming like a stadium wave made audible.

"Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God, did you see this? Oh, my God."

Oh, my God. Today's news. We'll be right back. Stay with us.
You just can't tell us that's normal.

The star made her standard overstatements and misstatements last night. She again displayed a new hook, the one in which she pretends that she can't pronounce some funny new name, in this case the name of one of the Russkies:
UNNAMED CABLE STAR: Also, we know as of today, the meeting [with the Russian lawyer] included the apparent poster child for Russian money laundering in U.S. banks, a dual national named Ike—forgive me—Kaveladze? Maybe? Maybe that's how you say it?
She had all day to learn the name, she never learned how to say it?
But this has become a standard hook. Presumably, it's intended to make her seem more authentic, just a bit more like us.

In fact, it's one of the ten million ways she's constantly selling the car. It's designed to make us feel we want to help and protect her.

Something isn't quite right with this person. We liberals refuse to admit it.

Instant misstatement: Even before she went all "I-I-I," the cable star offered this:
UNNAMED CABLE STAR: This is a remarkable place we have ended up, right?

In this last election, Republicans got control of the Senate. They got control of the House. They got control of the White House, and even with that total control in Washington, they really are about to hit six months in power, which I think they hit on Thursday of this week.

By the end of this week, it will be six months in power with Republicans in control of all branches of government and they will have not passed a single substantial piece of legislation. I mean, they can pass anything they want to with zero Democratic votes. They only have to line up votes in their own party. And still they have passed nothing.
Bullshit like that makes us liberals feel good. On Fox, they used to play this game with respect to Obama.

Surely, though, the cable star has heard about the general need for sixty votes in the Senate to get most measures passed. She does know about that, right?

Why does the cable star do these things? We don't know, but this big giant cable star does these weird things every night. You can hear the sycophants chuckling off-camera.

Was Donald Trump Junior's first statement a lie?


Again with the basic skills:
We've been catching up on old blog posts today. We were intrigued by a discussion by Kevin Drum.

The post appeared last Saturday. Drum was reacting to Shepard Smith's complaints about the Trump camp's serial "lies."

(Why didn't we see the post in real time? If you ever decide to fact-check Maddow, you'll find you have time for little else, pretty much just like us.)

"Journalists are reluctant to call something a lie, and with good reason," Drum wrote. He then presented the basic reasons behind this long-standing policy, which is, on the whole, very wise.

(That's especially true for reporters, as opposed to opinion writers. But, for about ten million reasons, it's basically wise all around.)

In the passage shown below, Drum explained why journalists have, by long tradition, avoided dropping L-bombs. On the one hand, this is extremely basic stuff. On the other hand, his reasoning is basically sound:
DRUM (7/15/17): Journalists are reluctant to call something a lie, and with good reason. To be a lie, something has to be incontrovertibly untrue and the speaker has to know it’s untrue. Politicians say incontrovertibly untrue things frequently, but it’s the second part of this formula that trips us up. Short of mind reading, how can we know that they were aware of the falsehood?

Occasionally, of course, we really can know for sure.
Most of the time, though, we just have to do our best, and we have to apply a standard of “beyond reasonable doubt,” not “beyond all possible doubt.”
Most of the time, a journalist can't be sure that a misstatement was a lie. Still, Drum says, there are times we can know for sure.

There are times when we know that a statement's a lie. As Drum continues, he gives a recent example:
DRUM (continuing directly): In the case of Don Jr. and the meeting with the Russian attorney, we have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. We know that his first statement was not off the cuff, but carefully crafted on Air Force One by the White House. He said it was just a quick meeting about Russian adoptions. The next day, after the New York Times demonstrated this was untrue, he admitted it was actually about getting dirt on Hillary. Two days later, after the Times once again poked holes in his story, he released emails showing that he knew beforehand it was part of a Russian government effort to smear Hillary Clinton.

At each step along the way, he admitted only what he had to. He revealed more only when forced by the Times. No reasonable person thinks he just forgot about all this until the Times jogged his memory. He was, obviously, lying.
The reasoning here seems amazing. Drum cites Trump Junior's initial statement as an example of a clear-cut lie. And then, he offers a paraphrase of what Trump Junior said! He doesn't even quote him!

Before we started The Daily Howler, we toyed with two other ideas.

First, we thought about writing a spoof called "My Life on Earth, Among 'The People.' " It would have been the story of a being from a more advanced world.

In the story, the author would have been sent to Earth to send back dispatches about these amusing, primitive lifeforms called "people." In short, the author would have been sent to Earth to amuse his own society's rulers.

This spoof would have been written as a parody of 19th century dispatches from British explorers discussing more "primitive" people. We abandoned the gloomy idea when we realized that we didn't the slightest idea how to write such a parody.

After that, we planned a comic novel called Socrates Reads. Eventually, we settled on The Daily Howler.

Who would do what Drum did here? Who would present a paraphrased statement as the ultimate example of an obvious "lie?"

In the past two weeks, we've been musing on the level of basic skills possessed by us the people. By human standards, Kevin Drum is quite smart.

That said, who reasons like that? Who would cite a paraphrased statement as the perfect example of an obvious lie?

Concerning that initial statement: Having said that, is it true? Did Trump Junior's initial statement qualify as a "lie?"

In this July 9 report by the New York Times, his initial statements are quoted at considerable length. For various reasons known to past humans, we would go with a no.

By traditional standards, we wouldn't say that his quoted statements were obvious lies. All in all, it isn't even clear to us that his statements were misstatements. (If we try to use our words, we can probably describe the situation more clearly.)

(Here's the Day Two New York Times report, with Trump Junior's second-day statements.)

Might we make one final statement about the desire to drop L-bombs? Our statement goes something like this:

Lies tend to be in the eye of the beholder. Conservatives can rattle off a long list of lies by Barack Obama. It isn't entirely clear that their claims are always wrong.


Remember when Candidate Obama said he didn't favor an individual mandate—that it wouldn't be necessary? That helped him beat Candidate Clinton and then McCain. He suddenly changed his mind after winning the November 2008 election.

Was his original statement a "lie?" Within the political sphere, little is ever gained by attempting to make such assessments. That's especially true at highly partisan times.

The Others are always seen as the liars. It never seems true Over Here.

THE RELIABLE ABSENCE OF BASIC SKILLS: Gessen reads from Donald J. Trump!


Part 2—Crowd cheers embarrassing fail:
At various times in the past thirty years, our news orgs began composing transcripts, which they would post on-line.

They posted transcripts of their TV shows, including their "cable news" programs. They posted transcripts of interviews with public figures.

Both in theory and in practice, this is a good idea. If you want to be able to critique your nation's public discourse, it's very helpful to have a record of the various things that get said. Even by cable performers!

That said, there are problems. As with everything else our news orgs do, they tend to be a bit slipshod in their production of transcripts. Often the transcripts are composed by machines, which on occasion may misfire even more than we humans do!

Computer-generated transcripts will sometimes include comical errors in the attempt to record the words which were actually said. Beyond that, these transcripts will often be riddled with punctuation errors as the computers attempt to record the structure of the thoughts expressed, along with the mere strings of words.

A third problem is quote common within our news org transcripts. Especially in our entertaining "cable news" pseudo-discussions, the various children asked to perform are often all speaking at once.

Lazy news orgs adopt various strategies to adjust for the resulting confusion. They rarely seem to ask real humans to listen to the audiotapes to complete the record of what the various people in these shoutfests actually said.

Have you ever tried to figure out what some person actually said on one of our lively "news shows?" Have you ever tried to publish a record of what was said that is both complete and fair?

If so, you know how annoying it can be to work with news org transcripts. When a transcript merely says [CROSSTALK], you may have to listen, again and again, to discern what was actually said.

This may take hours out of your day. Here at our own award-winning site, we've provided that type of award-winning service for way too many years.

We've burned many hours out of our lives correcting and completing erroneous transcripts published by major news orgs. Evidence suggests that Masha Gessen has never engaged in such acts.

Don't get us wrong! Gessen is a highly respected figure; in our view, she should be. As a journalist, Gessen has walked the walk. Attention should be paid.

That said, we currently live in a largely skill-free world. Within the realm of American journalism, the reliable absence of basic skills can, as a rule, be assumed.

Meanwhile, the professors walked off their posts long ago. Even in basic, egregious cases, they can't be expected to help.

Gessen displayed a certain lack of basic skills when she gave a recent lecture. We're forced to note that she also displayed a lack of basic due diligence.

On May 7, Gessen delivered the Arthur Miller Lecture as part of the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival. She was then interviewed by Samantha Bee, a well-known, completely capable comedian who seemed to know that she lacked the background and the skills to serve in this new capacity.

The interview was an awkward waste of time. We'll focus on Gessen's lecture.

Have we mentioned the fact that Masha Gessen has walked the walk, and deserves the respect she is granted? As she started her lecture, she spoke about an important topic—the destruction of the public discourse in her native Russia by the end of the Soviet era.

(Warning: Gessen is another one of "the Russians!" If you hate the idea of receiving information from such people, you should likely stop reading right now.)

Because Gessen has walked the walk, she knows whereof she spoke. That doesn't mean that her judgments were automatically correct, since no one's judgments are.

It means that she, unlike our cable clowns, has earned and deserves our respect.

Gessen was motoring along rather nicely as her lecture proceeded. You can read an edited version of her lecture here. You can watch her lecture in full via this YouTube tape.

Gessen was discussing a very important topic. But then, at one point, she began to read from a recent transcript.

The transcripts had been published,
two weeks before, by the Associated Press. It recorded, or tried to record, a lengthy interview in which the AP's Julie Pace spoke with Donald J. Trump.

In part 1 of this report, we noted some of the obvious problems which appear at the start of this AP transcript. Gessen's lecture began to break down when she started quoting, or pretending to quote, something Donald J. Trump is said to have said by that AP transcript.

Let's be fair! Gessen received a great deal of laughter and applause as she quoted, or seemed to quote, what Trump had said to Pace. Around the 12:30 mark of the YouTube tape, she starts to set the scene for her reading of Trump's remarks with these comments about the way Trump uses words:
GESSEN (5/7/17): Donald Trump has an instinct for doing both of the kinds of violence to language that are familiar to me from speaking and writing in Russian. He has a particular nose for taking words and phrases that deal with power relationships and turning them into their opposite.

Think about, for example, how he used the phrase “safe space” when talking about Mike Pence’s visit to Hamilton.

The vice-president-elect, he was booed and then passionately and very respectfully addressed by the cast of the show. And Trump was tweeting that the show should not have happened because, he said, theater should be a safe space.

Now, the thing about the phrase “safe space” is that it was coined to describe a place where people who usually feel unsafe and powerless would feel exceptionally safe. Claiming that the second most powerful man in the world should be granted a “safe space,” in public, turns the concept precisely on its head.

And he really does have a talent for doing this. He performed the exact same trick on the phrase “witch hunt,” which he claimed was being carried out by the Democrats to avenge their electoral loss.

Witch hunts cannot actually be carried out by losers.


The agent of the witch hunt must have power. And of course, he has seized and flipped the term “fake news” in much the same way.

But he also has a talent for using words in ways that make them mean nothing. Everyone is "great" and everything is "tremendous." Any word can be given or taken away. NATO can be obsolete and then no longer obsolete, which challenges not only our shared understanding of the word “obsolete” but also our shared experience of linear time.


And then there is Trump’s ability to take words and throw them into a pile that means nothing.

I'm actually going to subject you to an excerpt from an interview that he did with AP for the hundred days.
It was really hard to choose because the whole interview's like this...
Already, we'd be inclined to disagree with some of Gessen's judgments. But at this point, at the 14:45 mark on that tape, you can see Gessen as she starts to quote Trump—and at this point in Gessen's lecture, our idealistic young analysts began to scream, writhe and wail.

Like the girls in Salem during the aforementioned witch hunts, they claimed the presence of destructive forces as Gessen performed her public reading of Donald J. Trump's remarks. From there, Gessen proceeded to criticize NPR in a way which we thought was strikingly odd, but typical of the age.

Quite plainly, Gessen's reading of Donald J. Trump betrayed a lack of due diligence. Her criticism of NPR was, in our view, a marker of an under-skilled era.

Tomorrow, we'll try to explain the basic problems with Gessen's reading of Donald J. Trump. We'll note the problems which obtain with her critique of NPR.

Gessen isn't a cable clown. She's a real live serious intelligent journalist who has earned full respect.

For that reason, her lack of due diligence, and her basic errors, are especially worth nothing. And oh, dear lord, that liberal crowd!

How did we ever reach the point where Donald J. Trump holds the nuclear codes? In our view, Gessen's lecture, and that admiring audience, helps supply an answer to that important question.

It's a question which rarely seems to trouble our own liberal heads.

Tomorrow: As the analysts wail

How silly can these stampedes get?

TUESDAY, JULY 18, 2017

No speculation refused:
How silly can a press corps stampede get?

In our previous post, we let you ask us about the way we started our search this morning.

How did yesterday morning begin? We started by watching Natasha Bertrand's guest appearance on MSNBC's First Look.

Bertrand is one of the genuine youngsters. She graduated from Vassar in June 2014.

Today, she writes for Business Insider, where she's a "senior reporter."

Yesterday morning, as we watched, it seemed to us that the First Look team was expecting her to say something of interest. It also seemed to us that the big bombshell never quite came.

We decided to Google it out. Over the weekend, we discovered, Bertrand had posted this report.

In her report, Bertrand had advanced another fine speculation. She speculated that President Trump himself had attended the now-famous meeting with the Russian lawyer! It wasn't just Donald Trump Junior. It was President Trump himself!

Presumably, this highly improbable speculation landed Bertrand that guest spot on First Look. Presumably, someone may have told her not to repeat such an improbable speculation, and so the guest spot never really took off.

Those are speculations. Bertrand's speculation seems rather far-fetched, but a stampede is on. We thought it might be worth your time to consider the source of her speculation.

On Sunday morning, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow did all five Sunday shows. At one point, on ABC's This Week, Sekulow engaged in a bit of a reach.

Bertrand described it at the start of her report. Improbable headline included:
BERTRAND (7/16/17): Trump's lawyer let something slip about the Russia meeting that raises questions about whether Trump attended

President Donald Trump's lawyer told ABC News on Sunday morning that Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting last June with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin was innocent because if it weren't, the Secret Service would not have "allowed these people in."

"I wonder why the Secret Service—if this was nefarious—why the Secret Service allowed these people in?" Sekulow told ABC News' Jon Karl. "The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me."
As it turned out, the Secret Service wasn't protecting Trump Junior in June 2016. They weren't restricting who could get in to see him, other than to check for the presence of weapons.

With respect to Bertrand, Sekulow's comment somehow made her think that Donald Trump Senior had attended the now-famous meeting. To examine her reasoning, you can peruse her piece.

Bertrand was stretching bigly. But by Monday morning, all the children knew that Sekulow had said a stupid thing. This provided some of the needed scandal fodder for Monday's "cable news."

On various cable shows, Sekulow was banged around for having said such a stupid thing. On the Maddow Show, the take-down ended with a stinging punchline:
MADDOW (7/17/17): The Secret Service doesn't comment on stuff like this. But after that guy went on TV and said that, they had to put out a statement saying, that's not how it works.

"Donald Trump Jr. was not a protectee of the United States Secret Service in June 2016. Thus, we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time."

The duh is silent.
According to Maddow, the duh was silent! We all enjoyed a good laugh.

In truth, it actually was fairly dumb for Sekulow to make that comment. That said, we remembered Anderson Cooper's program from the previous Monday, July 10.

The next day, we told you that it had been a very bad evening on cable. In part, it was because of the ugly discussion of this very point on Cooper's devolving program.

Ryan Lizza went on and on, and on and on, insisting that the Russian lawyer could never have entered Trump Tower without being heavily vouched for. The Secret Service would never have allowed such a thing to occur!

When Trump supporter Jason Miller kept insisting that Lizza was wrong, all the gang beat him up, making little attempt to disguise their contempt for his manifest dumbness and dishonesty.

It seemed to us that the mob was probably wrong that night, and that Miller was probably right. It also seemed to us that the whole discussion was ginormously pointless, but this has largely become the norm on Cooper's devolving program.

The open contempt the mob displayed was, in our view, a bad and discouraging look. Lizza, Cooper and former Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon all displayed open contempt for the person who turned out to be right.

Below, you see the transcript from the panel's second discussion of this moronic point. As it turned out, Miller was actually right, and the mob was actually wrong.

But Lizza, Cooper and everyone else were filled with contempt for the obvious way Miller was dissembling and wrong. We were amazed to see how far Lizza's standards have fallen in these tribal times.

Ryan Lizza isn't a lawyer, but he played one on TV this night. We can't vouch for the perfect accuracy of the transcript, but the gist of the chat is clear:
LIZZA (7/10/17): I want to ask Jason something. Jason, because you know this. You worked at Trump Tower, right, Jason?

MILLER: Yes, of course.

LIZZA: Can you get into Trump Tower without showing an identification?


LIZZA: You can just walk up to the offices of the Trump Organization with no ID and not revealing who you are?

MILLER: Not any more. But again—

LIZZA: But as of June of 2016, when that place was locked down by the Secret Service, you could walk in there without showing ID?

MILLER: There's plenty of times I entered without an ID.


COOPER: Wait a minute, Jason. I mean, the Secret Service, in June, when he's the candidate, would allow a random stranger to come to the office?

MILLER: Well, if you're escorted by someone. But again, this was an acquaintance that made the introduction, who said this is someone who might have some interesting information, and he sat down with them, it was a 20-minute meeting.

COOPER: All right.

MILLER: And it was a throwaway. I mean, it's— I don't understand how, Brian, how you're trying to get away with making stuff up—

FALLON: Just answer Ryan's question. You can't even answer the question.

LIZZA: I just— The thing that struck me about this whole story is it doesn't make sense. When it's a building like Trump Tower, it was one of the most secure buildings in America as of June in 2016. So, the idea that this woman could walk in there without identifying herself to the person she was meeting with doesn't pass the smell test.

You worked there. You're telling us that people routinely got into that building without identifying themselves?

MILLER: I'm saying I don't remember when I would show the ID, but again—

LIZZA: Do you ever remember anyone you met with bringing that person up and that person didn't have to show identification if they were going to a meeting with you?


MILLER: Ryan, I don't understand the point that you're trying to get here.

LIZZA: The point is that he said he didn't know the person's identification and I'm trying to understand how that's possible. How could—

MILLER: So, OK, let me go down your rabbit hole, Brian.

LIZZA: It's not a rabbit hole, Jason. It's just a fundamental fact that is—


MILLER: No, it's an absolute rabbit hole, Ryan. So, here's the deal. So say somebody showed an ID when they're coming into Trump Tower. I'm playing your game for a moment, so let's go ahead and play it.

LIZZA: It's not a game. It's just a question.

MILLER: Say, you go and check the ID, they don't go and check it at the door and the elevator. That's not like a five-step ID check. That's just the reality of it.

Maybe there was at Brooklyn, maybe at Brian's campaign, there was a different setup. At Trump Tower, there's not as again, at that point in June or so after the president had captured the nomination, there wasn't as structured a setup.

COOPER: But the Secret Service didn't ask for names or Social Security numbers of people who are going to be coming to the office?

MILLER: I can't speak to the exact background of every single, the way that the Secret Service did this on every single time. But, again, I think it's a little bit ironic that you guys are trying to make this big issue about, you know, where exactly you're going to show I.D. At no point in that was Don Jr. checking somebody's I.D.

The fact to the matter is, he had an acquaintance that said, "Hey, I want to chat with you." They come in. They sit down. They're talking absolutely nonsense. Twenty minutes later, they're gone.

COOPER: All right. We have to take a break. We'll ponder all of that.

Up next, what we know about the Russian attorney who met with the president's son-in-law and campaign chair and son last summer.
You would have had to watch the program to see the hostility and disbelief from the people who were factually wrong.

As a general matter, "(CROSSTALK)" means that everyone was snarking at Miller all at once. We thought it was a very bad, very discouraging look.

Last Sunday morning, Sekulow raised a version of this pointless point. In the process, he made a dumb remark.

To Bertrand, the comment suggested that Donald Trump Senior had attended the now-famous meeting. No speculation will be refused when a major stampede is on, certainly not from a senior reporter three years out of college.

This is the way our press corps works. As a group, our upper-end press corps just isn't enormously sharp.

Anderson Cooper conned you last night!

TUESDAY, JULY 18, 2017

That's where this search began:
The children are currently on a stampede. And when the children stage a stampede, the misinformation flows like a mighty rain.

If you want to be a functioning citizen, you need the understand this fact about the children's stampedes. If you only want to be entertained, frightened and tribally pleased, you need read no further.

The children are currently on a stampede. With that in mind, consider what happened when we read this post, the first thing we read today.

The post appears at New York Magazine, a well-known, major news site. First, though, a bit of background concerning an event which happened yesterday.

Yesterday, Sean Spicer held one of his no-videotape press events. He did allow his remarks to be captured on audiotape. At one point, this underwhelming Q-and-A occurred:
QUESTION (7/17/17): Thank you, Sean. The President tweeted earlier today that most politicians would have gone into the meeting like the one Don Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent. He said that's politics.

His FBI Director nominee said that anyone who was approached by a hostile government for opposition research should contact the FBI rather than taking the meeting.

Who's right? And what's the White House's position on whether or not it's okay to meet with a hostile government for opposition research?

SPICER: Well look, you know I'm not going to get into the specifics of this. But I will say that it is quite often for people who are given information during the heat of a campaign to ask what that is. That's what, simply, he did.

The president has made it clear through his tweet. And there was nothing that, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act.

But I would refer you back to counsel on that one.
As usual, we've checked that transcript against the audiotape. As best we can tell, that's an exact record of what was actually said.

You'll note that Spicer starts by acknowledging an obvious fact. He acknowledges the fact that Donald Trump Junior held the now-famous meeting in question because "it is quite often for people who are given information during the heat of a campaign to ask what that is.

"That's what, simply, he did," Spicer says. He then refers to Trump Senior's tweet, in which Trump Senior said the same thing.

By the norms of White House spokespeople, Spicer is rather inarticulate. That said, he plainly acknowledged an obvious fact:

Donald Trump Junior attended that now-famous meeting in search of (negative) information about Candidate Clinton. Spicer directly referred to Donald Trump Senior's earlier tweet, which also acknowledged the same basic fact.

Donald Trump Junior attended that meeting in search of (negative) info! It's obvious that that's what Spicer said at the start of his statement. Unless you were watching cable last night, in which case he didn't say anything like that!

If you were watching cable last night, Spicer's answer was edited in a way which gave the children the nightly scandal they so desperately crave and need. If you were watching Anderson Cooper, you saw the multimillionaire corporate star mislead you through the wonders of editing.

In the second minute of his 8 PM hour, Cooper said that Spicer's statement had been "flat-out false." He said this after eliminating the part of Spicer's statement which would have debunked that claim.

Below, you see what Cooper did and said. Assuming minimal competence on Cooper's part, this represents an act of flat-out deception:
COOPER (7/17/17): Later today, during another no-cameras-allowed press conference, press secretary Sean Spicer gave an explanation for Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting that's flat-out false.

SPICER (audiotape): The president has made it clear through his tweet. And there was nothing that, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act.

COOPER: So Sean Spicer is saying that there was nothing that would lead anyone to believe that the meeting was for any other purpose than to discuss Russian adoptions and sanctions.

That answer, it ignores the chain of e-mails that Donald Trump Jr. himself released under pressure saying the meeting was about information on Hillary Clinton provided by the Russian government. Sean Spicer's answer is as if all the revelations this past week about who was at the meeting, who they claimed to represent, and what was said simply never happened at all.

Keeping them honest, that defense didn't even work two Saturdays ago. It started crumbling the next day. Tonight, just demonstrably false.
"Keeping them honest!" Yes, he actually said it!

Through the miracle of selective editing, viewers didn't hear the part of Spicer's statement in which he acknowledged that Trump Junior held the meeting in search of negative information. Cooper and a few other children then spent considerable time worrying themselves about Spicer's failure to acknowledge what Junior had done—a failure Cooper had created through a misleading edit.

Cooper baldly misled his viewers. But this is what the children do when a stampede is on. And let's be fair to Cooper:

Spicer's statement was "edited" that way all over non-Fox cable last night! Everybody got to pretend that they were hugely upset by his crazy refusal to acknowledge what Junior had done!

Because we aren't the world's dumbest bunnies, we wondered about the edit of Spicer's statement when we watched Cooper last night. Plainly, the edit seemed shaky.

We wondered what Spicer's full statement had sounded like. We wondered about the antecedents to the (plainly edited) remarks which we were permitted to hear.

Early this morning, we fired up the Dell and turned to New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer site. Because we still wondered what Spicer had said, we greedily clicked on this item:
Yesterday at 5:21 p.m.
Spicer: Seriously, Donald Jr.’s Meeting Was About Adoption
By Benjamin Hart
From that headline and that one-word snark, you can probably tell what happened. Benjamin Hart had spun this item pretty much as it was spun all over cable last night.

That said, Hart did provide the full audiotape of Spicer's Q-and-A. We played the tape, and sure enough:

The analysts screamed and wailed as their suspicions were confirmed.

That's right, citizens! Cooper and a gang of fellow cable hacks pretty much conned you last night. They dropped the part of Spicer's statement where he acknowledged what Trump Junior did. Then, they wailed about the fact that Spicer hadn't acknowledged the conduct.

To read Hart's full post, just click here. As we read it, we were struck by a few statements Hart had made himself, and so our search continued.

Specifically, we were struck by the highlighted phrases below. In those passages, Hart describes that now-famous Russian lawyer and her now-famous, much-maligned fellow traveler:
HART (7/17/17): Asked whether the White House believes it’s acceptable to meet with a foreign power offering opposition research, Spicer defended Donald Jr.’s sit-down, adding, “There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption and the Magnitsky Act.”

Yes, adoptions. Never mind that one of the attendees at the eight-person meeting was a KGB-connected lawyer, and another was an ex-Soviet counterintelligence official known for opposition research...
Interesting! Is the now-famous Russian lawyer "KGB-connected?"

We didn't think we'd ever seen her described that way. We decided to click Hart's link, thereby checking the source for this scary claim.

Is the now-famous Russian lawyer "KGB-connected?" When we clicked Hart's link, it took us to this report by Julia Ioffe at the Atlantic.

(Warning! Ioffe is one of "the Russians" too, based the standards which quickly surfaced during our current Red scare.)

We reread Ioffe's report, which we'd already read this weekend. At no point is the KGB mentioned in any way, shape or form.


At no point is the KGB mentioned, cited, alluded to, named, hinted at or discussed. And yet, this was supposed to be the source for Hart's exciting claim.

It's always dangerous to say that something isn't in a report. That said, we find nothing in Ioffe's report to justify New York Magazine's claim that the now-famous Russian lawyer is "KGB-connected."

Hart, a recent hire, seems to have dreamed that up. It's the sort of thing the children do when a stampede is on.

You'll note that we also highlighted Hart's description of the Russian lawyer's fellow traveler, Rinat Akhmetshin. As many other people have done, Hart described him, late yesterday afternoon, as "an ex-Soviet counterintelligence officer."

That's a scary description. It returns us to Rachel Maddow's appalling, gong-show opening segment on her eponymous "cable news" program last Friday night.

As we've often told you, Maddow is constantly selling the car. On that program, she stated, on two ccasions, that her own amazing NBC News was the first news org to tell the world that Akhmetshin is "a former Soviet counterintelligence officer."

Maddow was referring to this July 14 report by NBC's Ken Dilanian. By the next day, Dilanian had offered this second report, in which he substantially softened his scary description of Akhmetshin's military service.

Still and all, the initial scary description lives on in reports like Hart's. This leads us to ask two questions:
A tale of two questions:
1) Is it sensible—is it accurate—to describe Akhmetshin in the way Hart did?

2) Where did that description originate?
Let's start with that first question. Is it sensible to describe Akhmetshin as "a former Soviet counterintelligence officer?"

By now, everyone seems to agree on some basic facts. Akhmetshin served in the Soviet army for two years as a teen-aged draftee.

How many 19-year-old "counterintelligence officers" did the Red Army have at that time? It seems to us that Hart's scary description may perhaps be a bit overwrought. We'd like to see a fuller analysis.

With that, let's turn to our second question. Where did that scary description come from in the first place?

It entered the current news flow with Dilanian's July 14 NBC report. But on what basis did Dilanian offer that scary description?

In a classic example of skill-free journalism, Dilanian's report didn't say. He dropped his bomb in his opening paragraph, saying only that NBC News had "learned" this frightening fact.

Dilanian didn't cite a source. When the children stage their stampedes, they tend to do things like this.

Where did the giants at NBC News get their alleged information? Where did they get the idea that Akhmetshin can sensibly be described, in a giant bold headline, as a "Former Soviet Counterintelligence Officer?"

Alas! Deep in their report, the NBC stars link to this letter from Senator Grassley, the tired old Republican hack. Grassley has been chasing Akhmetshin around, in part because Akhmetshin "was reportedly working with Fusion GPS, the company that oversaw the creation of the controversial dossier alleging a conspiracy between President Trump and the Russian government, on the pro-Russian lobbying effort at the same time the dossier was being created."

That's right! In part, Grassley was angry at Akhmetshin because he was affiliated with the org which created the anti-Trump dossier! At any rate, the link to Grassley probably leads to the original source of Dilanian's scary claim. Here's why we say that:

Grassley's letter claims that Akhmetshin "has admitted having been a 'Soviet counterintelligence officer.' " As we mentioned yesterday, Grassley sources this statement to a Politico report in which no such admission or claim is made.

After checking a web of citations, we find that the claim most likely originated here, in a second Politico report from last November. We'll only note that Akhmetshin isn't quoted describing himself that way. A Politico writer described him that way, claiming to be paraphrasing something Akhmetshin said.

That's an extremely shaky basis for making a claim of that type. Careful journalists would be very reluctant to function in this way.

At the present time, however, a major stampede is on. Dilanian ran with the thrilling unsourced claim, then walked it back the next day.

Let's summarize! Here's what happened last Friday:

Dilanian threw an unsourced claim into a giant bold headline. That evening, Maddow trumpeted the claim, part of a 20-minute opening segment in which she conned her liberal viewers within an inch of their lives.

By the next day. Dilanian offered a second report in which he softened his claim. But there was Hart, in our first click today, repeating the exciting claim—and offering a second, falsely-sourced claim, in which the now-famous Russian lawyer is excitingly said to be "KGB-connected."

In the past two weeks, we've been asking you to consider a basic question. Which is the more helpful heuristic as we ponder the work of our skill-free journalists?
A tale of two ultimate questions:
Are we humans sensibly viewed as "the rational animal?" Or are we perhaps more profitably viewed as a bunch of misfiring machines?
Wittgenstein went with the latter description. In fairness, he was mainly talking about philosophers and philosophy professors.

We'll suggest that Hart, Dilanian, Cooper and Maddow neatly fit the machine construct too. Anderson Cooper conned you last night. That's where this search began.


TUESDAY, JULY 18, 2017

Our series resumes tomorrow:
On May 7, Masha Gessen delivered a lecture at the PEN World Visions Festival.

Gessen is highly respected, and she should be. For that reason, the enormous absence of basic skills that day is especially noteworthy.

Plus, that liberal audience!

That said, the children are currently on a stampede. Their day-to-day dissembling is massive.

When Trump supporters discuss "fake news," the horrible truth is, they do have a point.

Donald J. Trump is disordered, deranged. But so is your upper-end "press corps."

The worst stampede we've ever documented was the twenty-month stampede directed at Candidate Gore. This current stampede is astonishing too, even though the current mob is chasing a persistently guilty party.

Are the children "rational animals?" Or are the children more sensibly viewed as a group of misfiring machines?

We've been posing that question the past two weeks. In our next post, we'll walk you through the search that resulted from the first thing we read this morning.

Tomorrow, Gessen returns. Masha Gessen is highly respected. In our view, she should be.

Maddow loses count of the Russians!

MONDAY, JULY 17, 2017

Her actual count came to one:
Last Friday night, she made it official:

Rachel Maddow is one of least disguised major dissemblers in the history of "cable news."

Her opening segment on that night included a rich assortment of cons. To watch the full segment, click here.

At one point, Maddow was astonished to think that a Russian lawyer who doesn't speak English might have had a translator present. This is the bullshit she served:
MADDOW (7/14/17): And then we learned that it wasn't just Donald Trump Jr.

Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were at that meeting too, and they too had been notified this was a Russian government attorney coming to meet with them, bringing derogatory information that came from the Russian government.

And then we learned it was not just all of them and the Russian government attorney.

Today, we learned the group also included this guy [Rinat Akhmetshin], who NBC News first identified as a former Soviet counterintelligence officer suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence. He was there too.

Despite all of these days of reporting and statements and admissions about this meeting, the presence of this guy, this former Russian military intelligence guy, the presence of this guy at the meeting was somehow left out of all of the earlier disclosures and we only found out about that today, thanks to NBC.

In addition to him, there was also reportedly a translator there, who is a relatively well-known person himself. I expect you'll see a bunch of reporting about him and his potential role in this in the days ahead, over the course of the weekend.
That passage starts shortly after the eight-minute mark of the Maddow videotape.

Imagine having a translator there! We have no idea what made Maddow meant by her insinuations about the translator, Anatoli Samochornov. But four hours earlier, this profile had already appeared at the Daily Beast, along with this profile at the Huffington Post.

Long story short: the scary translator, an American citizen, had been vouched for, by Masha Gessen, as "the best intrepreter in New York, hands down." He has worked in all sorts of major international settings, typically for the good guys. Also this, at HuffPo:
SCHULBERG AND BLUMENTHAL (7/14/17): A registered Democrat, Samochornov works with clients on all sides of American and international politics. But his own views appear to be progressive. On Facebook, he has shared clips from MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s show, labeled former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Bush-era adviser Karl Rove as losers, and posted in favor of expanded health care coverage and more restricted access to guns. When PEN, the literary and human rights organization, invited a gaggle of Russian writers critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin to New York, he became “great friends” with them, Gessen said.
Who would allow such a man in the room? Four hours later, Maddow was using this scary Maddow viewer as a way to extend and enhance her brainless, dissembling red scare.

How bad did Maddow's dissembling get? As is often the case, if it weren't for the phony facts she provided, she offered few facts at all.

Go ahead! On your own, note the overt dissembling as she pretended to establish the claim that the Russian lawyer actually was a Russian government lawyer. In the passage below, she served you a flat misstatement:
MADDOW: So that meeting with the upper echelons of the Trump campaign in June of last year, today we learned that it also included a former Russian counterintelligence officer who nobody thought to mention before. He also tells the Associated Press that he and Natalia Veselnitskaya left documents about Hillary Clinton behind at that meeting for the Trump campaign to continue to review. We didn't know that before.
In that passage, Maddow was still playing Akhmetshin as "a former Russian counterintelligence officer." (By the next day, her beloved NBC News would move way back from that claim.)

But whatever you may think about that characterization, Akhmetshin didn't say that "he and Natalia Veselnitskaya" left documents about Hillary Clinton behind. He said that Veselnitskaya did. Full and complete total stop, unless you're getting yourself conned by a con man like Maddow.

That said, the most comical part of Maddow's con occurred when she started counting Russians. You really need to watch the tape to see Maddow clown and emote as she cons you at this point. But in this fuller chunk of text, she is rolling her eyes about all the Russians in the room at the now-famous meeting:
MADDOW: Today, we learned the group also included this guy [Akhmetshin], who NBC News first identified as a former Soviet counterintelligence officer suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence. He was there too.


In addition to him, there was also reportedly a translator there, who is a relatively well-known person himself. I expect you'll see a bunch of reporting about him and his potential role in this in the days ahead, over the course of the weekend.

That would bring the total number of people in the meeting to, let's see:

Junior, Manafort, Kushner, the lawyer, the ex-counterintelligence guy, the translator.

Oh, also on the lower right hand side there, that's the British guy who wrote the e-mails to Don Jr. in the first place.

That brings the total number of people we now know in the meeting to seven. But CNN is also reporting that actually maybe it was eight, and maybe it was more than eight.

CNN is reporting that there was somebody else in the meeting in addition who was there as a representative of the family of this Putin-linked Russian oligarch who initially took the meeting with Yuri Chaika, with the federal prosecutor in the first place that led to this whole thing.

So, we're now basically waiting to find out if there were any Russians who were in New York that day who were not in that meeting. And if so, is that just because they wouldn"t fit in the elevator? Honestly, like anything else to declare on this?
Maddow's outraged muggng was superb during that performance. Consider:

She said there may have been as many as eight people in the room. Histrionically, she asked if there were any Russkies in New York who weren't at the now-famous meeting.

She failed to note that her own sacred NBC News was saying that the alleged eighth person may have been Akhmetshin himself. She also failed to note this:

Of all the people she identified, only one—the now-famous Russian lawyer herself—wasn't an American or British citizen. The lawyer was the only one! Let's run down the list:
People known to be in the room at the now-famous meeting
"Junior," Manafort and Kushner: American citizens
Akhmetshin: naturalized American citizen
Translator: naturalized American citizen
Music publicist: British citizen
The Russian lawyer: flat-out Russian citizen
Maddow had identified exactly one straight-up Russkie. But uh-oh! Amazingly, she never told her misled viewers that Akhmetshin is an American citizen. She also forgot to mention the fact that the translator is an American citizen too.

She made it sound like all Mother Russia was there. In reality, she had managed to count exactly one person in the room who wasn't a British or American citizen.

We the pitiful liberal viewers weren't permitted to know that.

We don't know what makes Maddow behave in this highly unstable way. But this is very much the way she does behave, at least when she gets on the air.

We've warned you, for quite a few years, about her lack of obsessive honesty. That performance Friday night was an ugly con all the way down.

This ugly con was played on us, her gullible liberal viewers. We are the people who get fooled when this puzzling corporate tool plays these deeply disordered, Trump-like TV games.

There was one Russkie in the room. Maddow shrieked and completely lost count, the number had gone so high.

This actually is what Maddow does. She's been like this for years.

Don't misunderstand this remarkable fact: Maddow never told her viewers that Akhmetshin is an American citizen.

She never told viewers that the very scary translator is an American citizen too. This is what Rachel Maddow does. She's played the game this way for years, as has Donald J. Trump.

Scarborough spots former KGB agent!

MONDAY, JULY 17, 2017

Maddow was even worse:
Friday night, she made it official:

Rachel Maddow is one of least disguised major dissemblers in the history of "cable news."

Assuming even minimal competence, Maddow's opening segment was a masterwork of dissembling, misstatement and scary-time propaganda, all aimed at the brains of us unsuspecting liberal viewers.

Liberal viewers were misled in an array of ways. But first, let's talk about Morning Joe's self-promoting rock star, Morning Joe's own Morning Joe.

Despite the fact that he's 54 years old, his rock songs are still about "bad girls." If you believe the Washington Post, "the Harvard types" adore him.

This morning, ten minutes into his program, he was complaining about the lying of the Trump administration. There's a bit of an irony there.

Scarborough sold his soul to pimp King Trump after Trump had spent four years spreading his bogus tales about Obama's Kenyan birth. Now, today, with everything changed, the upright fellow was deeply concerned about Donald J. Trump's alleged lying.

Ten minutes into his program
, here's what the gentleman said:
SCARBOROUGH (7/17/17): David Ignatius, I want to talk about—you know, Elise was talking about "more of the same."

There is one thing that Donald Trump is saying that is more of the same, and that his lawyers are saying, and that the administration is now saying, now that they've just been busted lying time and time and time again about meeting with Russians, about this specific meeting.

Donald Trump, the president of the United States, saying. "Hey! There's nothing new about opposition research, us meeting with a former KGB agent, us meeting with a series of Russians, us lying about the people who were in attendance there...
"Us meeting with a former KBG agent!"

Scarborough simply hates Donald Trump's lying. But he was quick to spew that!

Scarborough was referring to Rinat Akhmetshin, the lobbyist who attended the now-famous meeting at Trump Tower with the now-famous Russian lawyer.

Unless you're watching the Maddow Show, Akhmetshin is a lobbyist who is also an American citizen. He came to this country from his native land, the former Soviet Union, in 1993 ot 1994, when he was 25-27 years old.

By now, even NBC News seems to have agreed that Akhmetshin spent two years in the Soviet army as a teen-age draftee, full stop. Except in the land of high excitement and throwback red scares, there's zero evidence that he was ever "a KBG agent" or anything like it.

Unless you're watch criminal pundits like Morning Joe, or undisguised con men like Maddow. Unless you read the New York Times, which continued its Cold War throwback performance art on Sunday morning's front page.

People, can we talk?

The children are currently on a chase, a stampede, a scare. They are, in fact, behaving like a lynch mob.

Concerning lynch mobs, we'll tell you again what we've told you before:

Lynch mobs have operated all over the world, all through so-called human history. Many times, such mobs have hunted people who were in fact guilty of crimes.

That doesn't mean thay they weren't lynch mobs. That doesn't mean that they weren't behaving in the way of such mobs.

In the current episode, a journalistic lynch mob is chasing a generally guilty party by the name of Donald J. Trump. For decades, their target has engaged in a range of offenses against the public interest.

During much of that time, mobsters like Scarborough were blowing smoke op his astral region and kissing his hind parts to boot. Mika was doing it too, just extremely bigly.

Today, Scarborough is part of a mob. He's behaving like he's part of a mob. He's too lazy to get clear on facts. He's too busy writing and recording his rock songs.

"Meeting with a former KGB agent!" On the front page of the New York Times, it's 1954 all over again. This morning, Scarborough played the same game.

In our next post, we'll review Maddow's astonishing Friday night opening segment. Have liberal viewers ever been so baldly deceived, in so many different ways?

THE RELIABLE ABSENCE OF BASIC SKILLS: Dead German scientists and the AP!

MONDAY, JULY 17, 2017

Part 1—The AP's basic skills:
Last Thursday morning, the New York Times dropped a dime on those misfiring German scientists of the late 18th century.

The topic even made page A3, home of Noteworthy Facts:
Of Interest


In the late 1700s, German scientists blamed the occurrence of arson on the traumas of menstruation,
a theory that had to be discarded when it was determined that most arsonists were men.
Oof. That fact was drawn from a book review by Jennifer Senior, whose work for the Times has been superb. The noteworthy fact on page A3 made us recall our ruminations on Wittgenstein and Kant.

Last Monday, at the start of our "basic skills" series, we briefly considered Professor Horwich's theory—his theory that the academy turned away from Wittgenstein because Wittgenstein said that previous philosophy should pretty much land on the junk heap of history.

It might be hard to keep teaching your standard Kant course if you accept the idea that traditional philosophy was built upon a foundation of conceptual confusion. And so, alas:

Though Wittgenstein's later work provides an array of highly useful analytical skills, it had to be thrown away! Better him than the familiar, traditional courses in the course catalog!

Is that why Wittgenstein lost favor within the academy? We can't answer that question, though we'd long considered that possibility by the time we read Horwich's essay.

That said, we couldn't help chuckling at the failed attempt of those German scientists to explain the cause of arson. Their embarrassing error made us think of immortal Kant.

In this, our modern misfiring world, we're supposed to roll our eyes at the embarrassing dumbness of European scientists, physicians and such from that embarrassing era. But we're also asked to continue thinking that figures like the immortal Kant (17424-1804) were firing brilliantly on all cylinders—that their immortal analyses and critiques were pretty much right on course!

The planet is losing its biological diversity with each passing year. With the refusal of our logicians to perform their classic guardian role, the planet is also losing its storehouse of analytical skills, or at least is failing to develop the new, advanced skills we need.

We'll return to these musings another day, and to Horwich's essay. For today, let's think about the skill level recently put on display by the Associated Press, the Kant of American news orgs.

Late in April, the AP released this transcript of Julie Pace's interview with President Donald J. Trump. The interview had been granted to mark the president's masterful first hundred days.

As such, the transcript qualifies as a significant journalistic document. But how odd:

The body of the historically significant transcript starts as shown below. Presumably, the "AP" designation marks the questions and statements made by Pace, to whom the interview is attributed:
AP: I do want to talk to you about the 100 days.

TRUMP: Good.

AP: I want to ask a few questions on some topics that are happening toward the end of the interview.

TRUMP: Did you see Aya (Hijazi, an Egyptian-American charity worker who had been detained in the country for nearly three years) ...

AP: Can you tell me a little bit about how that came about?

TRUMP: No, just—you know, I asked the government to let her out. ...

TRUMP: You know Obama worked on it for three years, got zippo, zero.

AP: How did you hear about this story?

TRUMP: Many people, human rights people, are talking about it. It’s an incredible thing, especially when you meet her. You realize—I mean, she was in a rough place.

AP: Did you have to strike a deal with (Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah) el-Sissi over this?

TRUMP: No. No deal. He was here. He—I said, “I really would appreciate it if you would look into this and let her out.” And as you know, she went through a trial. And anyway, she was let go. And not only she, it was a total of eight people. ...
After that, a break in the transcript occurs. That text seems to represent the first, self-contained chunk of the interview—and it makes little apparent sense.

"I do want to talk to you about the 100 days," Pace says at the start of this exchange. "I want to ask a few questions on some topics that are happening toward the end of the interview," she quickly adds.

That said, how strange! At no point does the transcript explain what "interview" Pace was citing.

To what "interview" does she refer? We have no idea.

In his response, Trump seems to think that Pace is referring to an event, or set of events, involving an Egyptian-American charity worker whose name seems to be Aya Hijazi. Within the transcript, the reader is given no idea why Trump would have thought that.

What explains this first chunk of this significant transcript? To what "interview" is Pace referring in her initial statement?

She doesn't seem to be referring to some other part of her own interview with Trunp. We find no other place in the AP's transcript where Hizari's name or situation was ever discussed.

Peculiarly, this unexplained chunk of dialogue appears at the very start of this lengthy, significant transcript. Presumably, anyone who peruses the transcript will be instantly puzzled by this initial chunk. But three months after the interview transcript was posted by the AP, there the reference sits, still unexplained. Our big news orgs ted to be like this.

Unless you've worked with the careless transcripts our major news orgs routinely produce, it might be hard to imagine why the AP would publish such a peculiar document. That said, further puzzlement might arise from the punctuation displayed in that brief first interview segment.

We refer to the ellipses which occur at three different places, and to the parentheses which appear in this comment by Trump:
TRUMP: Did you see Aya (Hijazi, an Egyptian-American charity worker who had been detained in the country for nearly three years) ...
As you can see from what we've posted, parentheses also appear in a later comment by Pace.

This may seem like a minor point, but this is a major interview. Did Trump speak the words which appear inside those parentheses? Or were those words inserted as a point of explanation by the AP itself?

We ask because, in standard practice, an inserted statement would probably appear inside brackets. In that case, Trump's statement would look like this:
TRUMP: Did you see Aya [Hijazi, an Egyptian-American charity worker who had been detained in the country for nearly three years] ...
We'll guess that the AP added the parenthetical material. But the transcript has barely started, and already we're guessing about who spoke or wrote a major phrase in a discussion of a topic whose very existence is puzzling.

Meanwhile, alas again! By normal standards, another point of confusion seems to lurk in that interview chunk. We refer to the use of ellipses (dot dot dots} at three separate points.

In standard notation, ellipses are typically inserted to indicate that a deletion of some kind has occurred. If a writer transcribes a statement but omits some part of the statement, those three little dots let the reader know that a deletion occurred.

Typically, that would be standard practice, but our major news orgs tend to be amazingly careless, in various ways, when they prepare their transcripts. In this instance, the AP has offered a brief explainer about its use of those ellipses.

Here's what the AP's explainer says. This text appears at the very start of the AP document, before the body of the transcript appears:
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (4/23/17): A transcript of an Oval Office interview Friday with President Donald Trump by AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace. Where the audio recording of the interview is unclear, ellipses or a notation that the recording was unintelligible are used.
Apparently, the transcript was prepared from an audio recording. According to that brief explainer, ellipses were (sometimes) used when parts of the recording were unclear.

Somewhat remarkably, this seems to mean that, at three separate points in that one short exchange, the audio recording was so unclear that verbiage spoken by Trump couldn't be included. One starts to wonder about the way this interview was recorded.

Beyond that, an additional point is left unexplained. At some points, ellipses will be used to indicate that verbiage was omitted because the audio was unclear. At other points, we're told that the term "unintelligible" will be inserted into the transcript, to indicate the same thing.

Why did the AP mark this problem in two different ways? No explanation appears. Our news orgs tend to be like this.

We run through these points for a reason. Two weeks after this transcript appeared, Masha Gessen, an important journalist, delivered an important lecture at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York City.

In a substantial chunk of her lecture, Gessen worked directly from this AP transcript. She did so very poorly.

In theory, this AP transcript is an important journalistic document. In its execution, it was a bit of a puzzling mess.

And then, the inevitable occurred, bringing in the eternal note of sadness:

When Gessen delivered her lecture, she completely misinterpreted one significant element of the AP transcript. For this reason, it seems fairly clear that Gessen hadn't performed basic due diligence before making use of this document.

It also seems clear that Gessen has little experience working with the amateurish, unreliable transcripts our biggest news orgs routinely produce. It seems to us that Gessen has probably never wrestled with these problematic documents before, trying to determine what was actually said.

Can we talk? Gessen drew a great deal of laughter and applause as she read from the AP transcript during her lecture. As she did, our analysts cringed and wailed.

They were watching a somewhat embarrassing liberal audience laughing and cheering as a badly unprepared major journalist made extremely basic, embarrassing errors as she worked from a somewhat bungled transcript.

The analysts moaned and tore at their hair. "Buck up! What else is new?" we thoughtfully declared.

Long ago, our guardians within the academy walked off their posts. In his essay, Professor Horwich pokes and prods at one possible part of that group's refusal to serve.

This happened within our philosophy departments. But it has also happened at an array of major news orgs, not excluding the Associated Press.

Julie Pace is a thoroughly competent, thoroughly sensible journalist. The transcript purporting to record her interview with Trump is a bit of a puzzling mess.

Gessen is one of our most highly regarded journalists. When she worked from the AP transcript, she made inexcusable errors. And good God, holy smokes, dear lord!

Good God! That liberal crowd!

Tomorrow: Pretending to quote what was said

One other point from that short first chunk: The short first chunk of that AP transcript is riddled with points of confusion.

We don't know what "interview" Pace is referring to in that chunk. Just for the record, we also can't explain this:
TRUMP: No, just—you know, I asked the government to let her out. ...

TRUMP: You know Obama worked on it for three years, got zippo, zero.
Why does Trump seem to speak two consecutive times, without an interjection from Pace?

We can't exactly answer that question. We can tell you this:

When our big news orgs create transcripts, basic transcription skills are commonly missing in action. Our big news orgs are slipshod, careless, deeply unskilled. Again and again and again and again, they don't much seem to care.