Interlude—As the machines break down: "What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar."
The quip is commonly attributed to Senator Thomas R. Marshall, who went on to be Woodrow Wilson's vice president. The quip, which seems to have predated Marshall, has somehow lived on through the ages.
After yesterday's string of journalistic embarrassments, we're forced to disagree with Marshall's assessment. What this country really needs is a good external enemy, the better to stop the rise of the internal clans.
When we have a good external enemy—think of the old Soviet Union—we self-described humans can direct our tribal loathings in that external direction. In the absence of such a target, we tend to redirect our tribalistic instincts, aiming them at each other.
The machines we describe as "journalists" are hardly immune to these instincts. Yesterday's cable, and today's newspapers, make this point awkwardly clear.
Long ago and far away, these machines flew into action, declaring their instant belief in the accusations launched by Kathleen Willey. This was especially true of the guild's lovesick boys.
At the time, the machines had never set eyes on Willey. As such, they had no apparent way to assess her character or her general credibility.
But with the Soviet Union gone, tribal war had been declared on an internal enemy, President Clinton. Given this potent internal dynamic, the children stood in line to declare their belief in this newest accuser.
We'd planned to take you back through their professions of belief today. By the way:
One year later, one of Willey's crazy false accusations had almost gotten a journalist killed. Four years later, independent counsel Robert Ray formally stated that he'd considered prosecuting her for perjury, she had lied to his investigators so much.
Despite experiences like these, the machines persist in the desire to believe the first accuser in—indeed, to believe all accusers, on the spot, so long as their accusations serve the presuppositions of the internal clan. Absent a good external foe, nothing will ever stop the machines from firing off in such ways.
A continental nation can't long endure when the machines misfire this way. For this reason, we'll swap Marshall's nickel cigar for an external enemy.
With that in mind, we're going to postpone our depressing walk down memory lane until tomorrow. Yesterday, the machines misfired so many ways that we thought it deserved our attention.
As we've noted in recent weeks, it's all anthropology now! What kinds of life forms are we really? Beyond that, do we have any real skills, beyond our powerful drive for tribal loathing?
Yesterday, the machines misfired all through the day. We'll hit a few examples:
Donald J. Trump's offensive slur: Is the word "Pocahontas" an "offensive racial slur?" That's what we're encouraged to believe in this morning's Washington Post.
Yesterday, similar declarations ran wild on tribal cable. Before we mention CNN, let's consider the Post.
At the start of today's news report, Ashley Parker offers a convoluted construction on behalf of the internal clan:
PARKER AND ZEZIMA (11/28/17): Native American groups have long objected to President Trump’s use of the nickname “Pocahontas” to deride one of his political foes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).It isn't clear what Parker is saying in the highlighted passage. But then, what else is new?
But even at a White House event specifically intended to honor the World War II Navajo code talkers—the heroic Native Americans who helped the U.S. Marines send coded messages in the Pacific Theater—Trump couldn’t resist.
“I just want to thank you because you’re very, very special people,” Trump said Monday afternoon, speaking to a small group of code talkers. “You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her ‘Pocahontas.’ ”
Trump’s reference—unrelated to the ceremony and widely considered an offensive racial slur—seemed to catch the code talkers off-guard, prompting polite smiles and silence. The scene played out in front of a portrait of former president Andrew Jackson, who signed into law the Indian Removal Act.
Presumably, "Pocahontas" isn't a racial slur in the way many other words are. It was, for instance, the title of a well-received Disney movie in 1995.
Specifically, Parker says that Trump's reference to Elizabeth Warren constituted the racial slur. And indeed, it wasn't just a racial slur; it was an offensive racial slur. Or at least, it's considered as such—rather, it's widely considered as such.
It's already somewhat unclear what Parker is claiming, but she's claiming it in the most internally pleasing way. The comedy comes when she starts quoting members of Native American groups—presumably, some of the very people who view Trump's comment that way.
Go ahead—read the report! Parker quote four different members of Native American groups. All four criticize Trump's comment.
All four people quoted by Parker criticize Trump's remark. But how rich! None of them describe the remark as a "racial slur," or in any similar manner. Despite the tragedies of our history, they're all able to "use their words" in more sophisticated ways.
The statement is "widely considered" to be a racial slur—an offensive slur at that. But how sad! Despite the wide reach of this opinion, Parker couldn't find a single person who described the remark that way. In these ways, these very slow misfiring machines help drive internal disorder.
By way of contrast, note the way Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports the same event in today's New York Times. In our view, Davis is much less inclined to misfire than most of the machines at our major news orgs.
In her report, Davis doesn't assert that Trump's comment was a racial slur. She does quote Elizabeth Warren describing the statement that way. Discuss!
Can we talk? The machines love to misfire concerning matters like this. CNN's Jim Acosta is a big, likable, good-looking lug who's strongly inclined to misfire. Yesterday, the big lug misfired instantly, comically informing the world of the "facts" concerning this matter:
ACOSTA (11/27/17): WH press sec says "Pocahontas" is not a racial slur. (Fact check: it is.)This tweeted Acosta! Childishly, he describes his claim as a fact. The children are strongly inclined to misfire in such ways.
Frankenwatch—the question which went unasked: Yesterday afternoon, Al Franken haltingly discussed three women's claims that he has grabbed their keisters down through the years.
Franken hemmed and hawed a bit, then threw the floor open to questions.
Given Franken's fuzzy remarks about these claims, the follow-up question was obvious. Is he denying that he's ever grabbed a woman's keister in an unwanted fashion? Is he acknowledging that he has? Is he saying he might have done that, but he can't remember?
These questions were blindingly obvious. The children never managed to ask them. Franken returned to work.
Roy Moore and moral equivalence: At times of tribal war, the machines will always find a way to maintain the internal tribal imperative. In this morning's Washington Post, the eternally spotless Dana Milbank uncorks a pathetic example.
Milbank is responding to an obvious question. If Roy Moore is unfit to serve, what about Bill Clinton?
This question is blindingly obvious, if perhaps irrelevant now. The internal clan is charged with finding ways to avoid addressing this obvious question.
Because the machines have very few skills, they tend to offer the kind of answer Milbank gives today. In paraphrased form, here's what he says:
Roy Moore has been accused of molesting a child—a 14-year-old girl. Bill Clinton was never accused of anything as heinous as that, of misconduct involving a child.
Seriously, though, that's the way Milbank framed it! Clinton stands accused of violent rape, but Moore stands accused of molesting a child! Who could possibly see a moral equivalence there?
Thus spake Milbankthustra! But this is the way the machines will function absent an external foe.
Continuing breakdown on Morning Joe: Ever since the program went on the air, Morning Joe has been tangled up in peculiar displays of throwback gender politics.
When the show debuted, Joe would often rage at Mika is overtly gender-fried ways. Mika would retreat into herself. She would just sit there and take it.
Over the years, the pair evolved into a romantic couple, even as Mika continued to praise the greatness of her marriage in the "female empowerment" books she published for Weinstein Books. That said, the weird gender dynamics continue.
This morning, it finally dawned on the analysts—Mika is now being presented as a version of Lucy Ricardo. She goes on extended rants while Joe and the rest of the boys make sidelong cracks to one another about her ridiculous ways.
In fairness, her comments often are ridiculous. That was surely the case yesterday, in an event we'll transcribe this afternoon.
But this program's clownish entertainment features seem to have taken a new, dimwitted, throwback form, as Joe and the rest of the boys roll their eyes and shake their heads about the childish, uncontrollable girl-woman among them.
For part of today's performance, click here. Joe plays the role of the hen-pecked man who can't get a word in edgewise. "Hold on, Mika. If I could just talk for one second here," the poor guy says. "Can I say one more thing? I just want to say one more thing."
Other points to note on the tape:
Mika starts by pretending or claiming that she's unaware of what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about Trump's "Pocahontas" remark. It's the first topic her program is going to discuss, and she claims she hasn't done the most basic background work.
Also this: by the end of the segment, Mika is insisting that General Kelly would never have backed Trump up in the way Sanders did! Has Mika Brzezinski been off the planet over the past few months?
Regarding consumption of product: On today's reimagined page A3, the New York Times informs us about the public's consumption of yesterday's news product.
The report that Prince Harry will wed "was Monday's most read article," the beaming newspaper reports. On Facebook, the article "attracted more than 10,000 'likes,'" the blushing newspaper says.
In its second post about yesterday's product consumption, the paper reports reaction to Stephen Marche's essay in the Sunday Review, which had "garnered more than 1,600 comments on nytimes.com by Monday."
We'll spare you the monster dumbness of the Times' subsequent remark about those reader comments. But since Marche's essay was the dumbest possible tribal treatment of a major worldwide problem, it was destined to be highlighted by the Times at a moment like this.
As Freud once mused, sometimes a good five-cent cigar is just a good five-cent cigar. Sometimes, though, an external enemy is needed to stop the destructive stampedes of the internal clans.
Tomorrow, we'll try to return to the past. Responding to the demands of the clan, the machines once staged an absurd stampede when Kathleen Willey presented an accusation.
Alas! Absent a good ten-dollar overseas threat, the machines will be inclined to reinvent themselves as internal clans. As any anthropologist could tell you, we machines are strongly inclined to devour our worlds from within.
It's happened down through the annals of time. It will happen again.