Interlude—Huckabee Sanders enabled: We were surprised by something that happened at yesterday's briefing by the newly acerbic Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Someone asked a sensible question; it concerned General Kelly's recent statements about Rep. Frederica Wilson. In response to that sensible question, Sanders gave a truly striking reply.
Here's the exchange, as it appears in the official transcript. The statement by the newly acerbic Sanders comes from a very strange world:
QUESTION (10/24/17): One of the aspects of civil discourse is for people in the discussion to acknowledge when they've made misstatements. And there's a pattern, in this White House and with the president, that, when they make misstatements, those are not corrected.If we live in a rational world, that was a startling statement by Sanders.
For example, the chief of staff came out here at this podium and mischaracterized a speech by a congresswoman given at an FBI building dedication. Why won't the chief of staff, or you right now, acknowledge that that was a mischaracterization and correct the record?
SANDERS: I don't believe that General Kelly mischaracterized. He gave his account of what took place. General Kelly and his family have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I think he's led with honor and integrity. I think he's doing a great job of chief of staff and I don't think he has anything to correct or apologize for.
The questioner seemed to want to ask a follow-up, as other questioners had been doing. But in the midst of all that CROSSTALK, Sanders threw to Hallie Jackson. Jackson seemed to think she was "following up on that:"
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, why wouldn't when—even if President Trump meant to console the widow of Sergeant Johnson, why hasn't he or anyone from the White House apologized for how she took his call, if she took his call as insensitive?The briefing continued from there No one actually "followed up" on what Sanders has said about General Kelly's statememts.
SANDERS: Well, the president was making the point that his call was meant to be respectful, sympathetic, and the purpose was to offer condolences on behalf of the nation.
None of the journalists so much as said boo. They let Sanders' remarkable statement stand.
What was so remarkable about what Sanders said? Plainly, Kelly did "mischaracterize" Rep. Wilson's 2015 speech in several basic ways. He made several obvious misstatements about what Wilson had actually said. This is a blindingly obvious fact, to which Sanders responded in this remarkable way:
"I don't believe that General Kelly mischaracterized. He gave his account of what took place."
Kelly didn't mischaracterize Wilson's speech. Instead, he simply "gave his account" of what Wilson had said!
That statement by Sanders takes us straight down the rabbit hole. There's no such thing as true or false. We each have "our own account!"
We're living in a lunatic world when blustering, swaggering figures like Sanders feel free to make such remarkable statements. But no one at that pitiful presser chose to follow up on Sanders' bizarre and remarkable claim.
It rolled right off the press corps' backs. The children just sat there and took it.
We've often asked a basic question about our the capacity and the skills of our upper-end journalists. We've often asked if they're actually human, or if they might instead possibly be space invaders, or cyborgs, or maybe even "pod people."
We've sometimes spoken in jest at such times, but yesterday's presser brought that question back home. Kidding aside, it's really a question about the mental capacity of us humans—of our floundering, deeply flawed kind.
In western lore, we humans have long been described as "the rational animal." More locally, we often hear that people like those journalists are "educated," perhaps even "highly" so.
We hear such things all the time! Then we see these life forms in action, and we see how much wishful thinking has gone into our characterization of our own kind, at least here in the west.
All too often, our upper-end journalists seem to be deeply unskilled. Yesterday, they went on to lob a succession of softballs at Sanders, who knocked them out of the park. No one bothered to question or challenge the remarkable answer she gave to that perfectly sensible question about what Kelly said.
We humans have propagandized ourselves for several millennia now. We've told ourselves that we're the rational species, that all other creatures are not.
This propagandization blinds us to the ways our elites actually function. With respect to the work of our upper-end journalists, we find ourselves struck by their lack of capacity every day of the week.
This includes people who work on behalf of our own liberal team. Let's consider a few examples from this morning's press:
Kathleen Parker characterizes that condolence call:
There is no tape of Donald J. Trump's now-famous condolence call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson. There is no transcript of the words he said.
Except in highly general ways, none of us know what he actually said. None of us know how his words and his tone would have sounded to us had we heard an audiotape before the current dispute arose.
There's little reason to think that Donald J. Trump would display much skill at making such difficult calls. Beyond that, General Kelly probably showed absurdly poor judgment in suggesting that Trump employ a framework which seemed appropriate when Kelly received a condolence call from his best friend, another general, about his own son's death.
It was dumb to suggest that Donald J. Trump work from that template in making his phone call to Johnson. That said, none of us know what Trump actually said, or how he actually sounded. It seems clear that his tone seemed wrong to Johnson herself, but she was suffering the worst day of her life, and in fact we know little else.
In a column in today's Washington Post, Kathleen Parker seems completely unaware of these basic facts. She writes as if 1) she heard the telephone call in real time and 2) has been poring over an audiotape of the call in the days since.
In particular, she writes as if she knows that Donald J. Trump didn't know La David Johnson's name. Kathleen Parker doesn't know that. More strikingly, she doesn't seem to realize that she doesn't know.
This doesn't make Parker a bad person; we feel certain she isn't. It does mean that she is human, and as such substantially less than "rational." Or, as Yevtusheno put it:
"Whom we knew as faulty, the earth's creatures."
The Washington Post on the schooling of immigrant kids:
For decades, we've been struck by the technical incompetence found in news reports about public education. A new report on the "hardships" faced by children of immigrants is the latest case in point.
As she describes a recent study, Michael Alison Chandler reports a significant achievement gap between children of immigrants and children of non-immigrants. What explains this substantial gap? At one point, Chandler actually offers this:
CHANDLER (10/25/17): Nonso Umunna, research director at Advocates for Children and Youth, based in Maryland, said language and cultural barriers in public schools could be contributing to the disparities in academic performance.According to Chandler, Umunna noted "the relatively low number of children [of immigrant parents] who are attending preschool. That relatively low number turns out to be 60 percent, as compared to 63 percent of children of non-immigrant parents.
He also noted the relatively low number of children who are attending preschool, an indicator of future academic success.
In Maryland, 63 percent of children of U.S.-born parents attend early education programs. For immigrant children the rate is slightly lower at 60 percent.
Similar statistical nonsense is found elsewhere in Chandler's report. That said, blindingly obvious statistical bungling has long characterized education reporting in both the Post and the New York Times.
Chandler, an experienced journalist, has an impressive personal resume. What explains such work?
Lindy West inflames the tribe:
A larger groaner comes from Lindy West, in a New York Times op-ed column entitled "The Megyn Kelly Problem."
Presumably, there's a lot to criticize in Megyn Kelly's work—but the same is true of West's. In today's column, she quickly gets busy defining the tribe. At one point, she makes a blistering charge, sustained by two examples:
WEST(10/25/17): Kelly spent more than a dozen years as part of the Fox News machine, churning out the same brand of soft propaganda that helped lead to the Iraq war, the Tea Party and, eventually, “fake news” and President Trump.Has Kelly "happily trafficked in racist tropes for profit?" That's an extremely aggressive charge, but is it actually true? Is it reasonable?
Kelly happily trafficked in racist tropes for profit—black communities have a “thug mentality,” asking repeatedly whether the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown were necessarily related to race—until her own dehumanization at the hands of Roger Ailes, O’Reilly and others became untenable.
West's examples are extremely weak. According to Nexis, Kelly has uttered the phrase "thug mentality" exactly once, during an hour-long special about the Black Lives Matter movement. The special featured many activists who favor the BLM movement—and we're sorry, but Kelly didn't use the term in the way West suggests.
West's other example is even sadder. Has Kelly "asked whether the death of Michael Brown was necessarily related to race?" If so, was she "happily trafficking in a racist trope" when she did?
It's an ugly, extremely vague charge, but it's one which serves the tribal imperative. For what it's worth, Attorney General Eric Holder said the unfortunate shooting of Brown was fully justified, right down to every shot fired. Presumably, he was trafficking racist tropes too when he voiced that judgment.
Should newspapers like the New York Times publish such casual claims? Actually no, they shouldn't, and neither should anyone else. But over here in our liberal tents, we love the newly ubiquitous fire of the transplendently tough-taking West. Surely, we all can understand how this looks to The Others.
At every juncture, down through all the many years, people like West have always come forward, making their incendiary claims and urging us on to war. They tell us that The Others are evil. Foppish bureaucrats publish their words on their way out the door to the Hamptons.
We all can understand the way The Others see such work. It's hard to say that The Others are wrong in their perceptions of such tribal renderings.
That said, these examples all display the frail skill levels of our upper-end press. In the end, how rational are we rational animals? How "educated" are we?
At times of tribal war, we tend to be far from rational. Death and destruction tend to follow. This has now happened for thousands of years, all around the world.
Are we liberals able to see the way our words might sensibly seem to The Others? Tomorrow, we'll start with something Paul Krugman recently wrote.
For today, we'll leave you at yesterday's presser. The newly acerbic Huckabee Sanders made a truly remarkable statement. A room full of our brightest, upper-end journalists all stared off into air.
No one followed up! They just sat there and took it, exactly as they've been doing for a good many years.
These people, and their predecessors, helped bring us Donald J. Trump. They did it through their unskilled, ridiculous, slacker conduct over the past thirty years.
Tomorrow: How might Krugman's statement look, as seen by The Others?