The annual schoolwide spelling bee!


A fascinating post about health care:
We're off on a mission of national import. We're headed south, by Amtrak no less, for the annual schoolwide bee.

Two years ago, when a certain unnamed relative was a mere third grader, we attended the bee for the first time. As we reported in real time, we were very much impressed by the greatness of the event.

Last year, we got blizzarded out. Tomorrow, as other ceremonies occur, we'll be in the public school auditorium, awaiting the word which was under review when we called the young scholar's home last evening:

"Promulgate: P-R-O-M-U-L-G-A-T-E. Promulgate."

(Journalistic definition: "Promulgate: A scandal involving trivial conduct committed by person or persons named Promul.")

We don't expect to post in the next few days. Under the circumstances, we'll have to postpone our final discussion of the scourge of Conwayism.

Upon our return to our sprawling campus, we'll discuss the role played by Anderson Cooper in the lengthy, ridiculous non-discussion we've been assessing this week. Our question:

Do people like Cooper really want to counter the noxious practices of this rhetorical style?

As we leave, we'll recommend two readings about people who voted for Trump:

In last Sunday's New York Times, Susan Chira offered brief interviews with several women who voted for Trump. Because we liberals are often so eager to cartoonize and generalize about Trump voters, it might be worth our time to consider the things these people said.

In a similar vein, we strongly recommend this fascinating post by Kevin Drum. We suggest you read it for what it says, and for what it doesn't.

Drum's post concerns another 50-something woman who has health insurance under Obamacare but can't afford to pay for actual health care. We strongly recommend Drum's post, and the first few ugly comments about the woman in question:

"Hard to feel sorry for someone who never asked for details. Ignored all his racism, misogyny, hate and out right lies and now is upset."

That was the very first comment appended to Drum's post.

Easy to be hard! All too often, that old bromide seems to capture the state of loathing which is so common in our liberal team's self-impressed soul.

For what it says and what it doesn't, we think Drum's post is very important. What makes our health care "system" so clownish, so awful? We'll discuss Drum's fascinating post upon our return.

We'll leave you with an important word:

"Tribalism: T-R-I-B-A-L-I-S-M. Ugly massive dumbness."

It savages our human functions. It blinds us to human concerns. It makes us very, very dumb. We tend to prove this in comments.

Michigan schools in the age of DeVos!


Headed for the bottom:
Yesterday, by happenstance, we experienced a rare mid-afternoon sighting.

By happenstance, we happened to watch this ten-minute, mid-afternoon segment on MSNBC. During the segment, Kate Snow interviewed two guests about our public schools.

Specifically, the segment was inspired by yesterday's Senate hearing involving Betsy DeVos, who will almost surely be our next secretary of education.

First, Snow interviewed a conservative who spoke in praise of DeVos. Then, she interviewed Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, who took a different view.

Largely because of her family's vast wealth, DeVos has played a major role in Michigan's public schools over the past twenty years. At one point, Weingarten issued a warning about the state of Michigan's schools in the age of DeVos:
WEINGARTEN (1/17/17): Look at the statistics from Michigan...What's happened in Michigan, on the same Naep test that you just talked about, they went from the middle of the pack in 2003 to the bottom, to 41 out of 50. That's not success. That's actually going backwards.
We decided to check it out. To access state-by-state comparisons on the Naep, we skillfully clicked here.

Yikes! In terms of their rankings among the fiftry states, Michigan's school have been in a serious downward spiral during the age of DeVos. As always, we'll disaggregate.

Below, you see the relative standing of Michigan's white students in Grade 8 reading and math, as compared to their counterparts in the other 49 states. Some states didn't participate before 2003. For the sake of simplicity, we're omitting some intermediate testing years:
Michigan, standing among the fifty states
Grade 8 reading, white students, Naep

2002: 19 out of 41 states
2003: 12 of 50
2005: 30 of 50


2013: 41 of 50
2015: 42 of 50

Grade 8 math, white students, Naep
2000: 10 out of 39 states
2003: 25 of 50
2005: 31 of 50


2013: 42 of 50
2015: 42 of 50
That has the look of a terrible downward spiral. Here are the rankings for Michigan's black kids. Some states don't have enough black kids to produce a statistically significant sample for purposes of the Naep:
Michigan, standing among the fifty states
Grade 8 reading, black students, Naep

2002: 22 out of 32 states
2003: 29 of 40
2005: 33 of 39


2013: 33 of 42
2015: 39 of 43

Grade 8 math, black students, Naep
2000: 22 out of 28 states
2003: 35 of 40
2005: 32 of 40


2013: 41 of 43
2015: 37 of 39
As compared with their peers in other states, Michigan's black kids started from a lower place than the state's white kids.

Among the state's white kids, the drop during the age of DeVos is really quite extreme. As compared with their counterparts in the other states, both groups of students in Michigan now rank near the bottom.

You won't see these data elsewhere; the truth is, nobody cares. We'll also say this about yesterday's report on MSNBC:

Kate Snow is perfectly bright. She went to Cornell, then got a master's degree at Georgetown. Her father is an anthropology professor at Penn State. For some C-Span learnin', click here.

Snow brought nothing, zero, nada, to yesterday's discussion. She seemed to be reading perfunctory questions which had been prepared by staff. She showed no sign of knowing a thing about public schools or testing data, a topic she quickly introduced to no useful effect.

Snow looked great, and she's perfectly bright. But she seems to know nothing about these topics. Basically, she was phoning it in. Simply put, her owners don't care.

That said, the story is largely the same all through our liberal world. We'll pretend to squawk about DeVos. In truth, we don't really care.

Please note: We're talking here about relative standing among the fifty states. From 2003 to 2015, white students' average scores in Grade 8 math actually improved by a small amount in Michigan.

That said, average scores in other states improved a whole lot more. This left Michigan near the bottom in terms of relative standing.

In Michigan, black students' average scores actually dropped by a small amount during those same years. In the age of DeVos, with test scores rising, Michigan has been a major outlier.

Here's the good news for DeVos—nobody actually cares!

CONWAYISM AND BABEL: Now you're insulting BuzzFeed, she said!


Part 3—A blizzard of crazy complaints:
Is Moscow blackmailing Donald J. Trump? Or doing something like that?

To us, that seems like an obvious possibility, given Trump's endless array of puzzling statements and crazy ideas. We'd like to see a stronger push for a full-blown, serious probe.

That said, sometimes a crazy idea is just a crazy idea. (We believe Freud said that.) Trump's puzzling statements and crazy ideas may come straight from the heart.

In our view, CNN got out over its skis a bit when it offered a breathless report about Donald J. Trump last Tuesday afternoon and evening, January 10.

In truth, the channel was reporting a small, but puzzling, piece of news about the intelligence briefing Donald J. Trump had received the previous week. Based on the excited way CNN proceeded, you would have thought their "enormous team effort" had produced Pentagon Papers II, or even brand-new information about the white Bronco chase.

In our view, CNN went overboard pimping its own greatness when it made its report. The channel also seemed a bit credulous about the possible motives behind the intelligence briefing it was reporting, and about possible reasons why the news of this briefing was leaked.

For our money, CNN didn't cover itself in glory last Tuesday, even though its basic reporting seems to have been accurate. The next night, though, the gorilla dust really hit the fan when CNN burned twenty-five minutes letting Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway blather, distract and emote.

We refer to the dust Conway threw in the air last Wednesday, January 11, as she pretended to discuss the CNN report. Assisting her was Anderson Cooper, who seemed to lack the basic skills required for such an assignment.

Cooper videotaped, then aired, a 25-minute session with Conway. During the session, Conway displayed the main practices of the gruesome rhetorical style now known as Conwayism.

What did Conway do in her session with Cooper? For starters, she made a repeated claim, again and again—a repeated claim which turned out to be false. Beyond that, she displayed the central conceit of Conwayism:

The Conwayist must always be willing to make the next stupid complaint.

If you watch the tape of the Cooper-Conway exchange, you'll see an endless array of complaints by Kellyanne Conway. A few of her complaints may even have some merit, although it will be hard to tell through all the confusion and dust.

Most of Kellyanne Conway's complaints are ludicrous, groanworthy, silly, absurd. Her complaints are routinely inane. But this is the gong show she's chosen.

For decades, Conways has been perfecting the practices and skills which constitute Conwayism. She's a master at adopting an air of grievance as she lodges absurd complaints.

For unknown reasons, Cooper seemed innocent of any knowledge about how to handle such an approach. A cynic would say that, for business reasons, he prefers the Crossfire-style nonsense which marked this pseudo-discussion.

If you watch that 25-minute tape, you'll see a giant at work. We refer to Conway's preternatural skill at producing a blizzard of silly complaints while maintaining an air of deep grievance.

Good God! By our count, she falsely claimed, a dozen times, that CNN linked to BuzzFeed the previous night, a repeated claim which was wrong. But as she and Cooper pretended to stage an important discussion, she also made, by our count, roughly thirty other complaints and claims, most of which were utterly silly blather.

Kellyanne Conway is always prepared to make the next inane complaint! If you watch that full tape, you'll see her do so again and again.

You'll see her complain that CNN's polling turned out to be wrong in last year's election. You'll see her complain about the way Obama's transition was covered in 2009.

You'll see her complain that "heads didn't roll at CNN" when its election polling was imperfect. You'll see her complain that no one will get fired at CNN if this new report turns out to be wrong—which, of course, it hasn't.

You'll see her say that CNN's report from the previous night was "just not true." You'll never get clear on what it was that the channel got wrong. (As far as we know, CNN's factual statements were all correct.)

You'll see her claim that CNN should carry the blame for various things that BuzzFeed and others did. You'll even see her praise herself for being "gracious enough to come on and discuss it."

You'll see her complain that CNN based its report on anonymous sources. That's something all news orgs do, often in quoting Conway herself.

You'll see her complain that CNN's chyrons were wrong during last year's election. Also, that their "chyrons were wrong" during the previous night's report.

You'll see her constantly changing the subject, for example by asking tangential questions like these:
CONWAY (1/11/17): If cybersecurity was such a big priority to this administration and the Democratic Party and its apologists in the media, then why didn't we do more about it over the last eight years? Why, when 21 million personnel files were hacked of innocent Americans to the Office of Personnel Management by China, President Obama basically gave them a slap on the wrist?


CONWAY: If the four intelligence officials that gave the top-secret briefing last week that some fools think they should leak to the media when it's a top-secret intelligence briefing for a reason so they we're all protected, everybody, then why according to your own report last night—"report" used as a loose word here—why do they not tell the president-elect about it? Because your own reporting says that there's no confirmation that they briefed him orally. If it was so darn important...if it's worthy of a CNN screaming headline that became this huge fake news story, then why did they not brief him?
For the full transcript, click here.

In response to that second complaint, Cooper sensibly said that he didn't know why the IC chose to brief Trump in the way it did, but that this didn't affect the accuracy of what CNN reported. (According to later reporting, James B. Comey did brief Trump orally about the contents of the two-page summary.)

In response to the first distraction, Cooper sensibly said, "I know you like to pivot." By that he meant that Conway likes to change the subject, thus creating a bewildering pseudo-discussion. That said:

Cooper's willingness to let Conway do that is one of our key topics here.

If you watch that 25-minute tape, you'll see an impressive blizzard of charges, complaints, distractions, sleights of hand and semi-comical groaners. The work product of this practice is sometimes described as "gorilla dust." It represents the attempt to create so much confusion that no clear point can ever be established within our public discourse.

How silly were some of Conway's complaints? Let's focus on a few of the absolute dumbest. Remember the basic tenet of Conwayism:

The spokesperson must always be willing to lodge the next complaint, no matter how silly or dumb.

How absurd were Conway's complaints? How much contempt did she show for CNN's viewers? Consider this early nonsense, in which Conway claimed that CNN called its January 10 report a "bombshell:"
CONWAY: Anderson, because CNN went first and had this breathless report, you know, everybody said it was a bombshell, earth-shattering report last night—

COOPER: We didn't say it was a bombshell.

CONWAY: BuzzFeed then went ahead— Yes you did! Yes, you did. It says right here: "Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian effort to compromise him." That's not true.

COOPER: Where's the word "bombshell?"

CONWAY: Your headline is wrong. Well, then Seth Meyers said that he, confronted me on the "bombshell." None of it is true.

COOPER: I'm sorry what Seth Meyers said to you.
Conway insisted that CNN had used the world bombshell. As proof, she read a CNN headline which didn't use that word.

Confronted with this obvious problem, she said that Meyers had used the word when she appeared on his show. Conwayism is powerful!

The sheer inanity of that exchange captures the essence of Conwayism. Remember, though—the Conwayist must always maintain an air of grievance as he makes her claims.

A few minutes later, Conway launched another absurd complaint. As the exchange begins, Cooper is trying to discern what Conway is actually saying about CNN's report. Quickly, Conway expresses her next point of grievance:
COOPER: So you're saying there was no two-page summary that was included in briefing material?

CONWAY: The president-elect was asked that question today. You should refer to his answer. But I will tell you—

COOPER: No, you can answer it. He said, he said—

CONWAY: No, I wasn't in the briefing.

COOPER: OK. So you can't say whether or not— You're saying it's not true, but you're saying also you can't say—

CONWAY: What did the president-elect say when he was asked?

COOPER: I don't know, you tell me.

CONWAY: Well then, you didn't pay attention to the press conference!
Vintage Conwayism! When Cooper asked Trump's spokesperson to relate what Trump had said, she replied, with an air of grievance, that Cooper hadn't paid sufficient attention during that day's press conference.

"I just don't want to misquote the president-elect," Cooper replied. "I assume you know what the president-elect said today." Cooper then paraphrased what Trump had said, and Conway raced ahead to the next in her long list of complaints.

Conwayism means never having to say you're not offended. At various times, Conway lodged silly, absurd complaints about Cooper's use of words:
COOPER: This is a red herring. You're just, it's like you got— You're trying to distract from my question which is, you do not have information whether it's true or not.

CONWAY: Anderson, you can use words like "pivot," "distract," "red herring" all you want. The fact is that the media have a 16 percent approval rating for a reason. It's been earned. And it's crap like this that really undergirds why Donald Trump won.


CONWAY: It's all fake news. And let me just say Anderson, I really think—

COOPER: But it's not all fake news. I mean, that's just disingenuous.

CONWAY: Well, in [the BuzzFeed] report, it is fake news. And people keep using the word "dossier" like some, like using some fancy French word is going to imbue it with credibility.
Please don't say "red herring," or even "distract!" Meanwhile, those French! They have a different word for everything!

Joking aside, those exchanges represent Conwayism in its purest form. In Conwayism, the practitioner must always be willing to issue the next complaint, no matter how silly or stupid.

At one point, Cooper was forced to take The Conway Challenge. When he successfully passed the test, Conway conjured an instant rebuttal:
COOPER: I get the anger over the BuzzFeed stuff. I thought that was—when I read that, it was totally unsubstantiated. We're not reporting that. I guess I don't understand— I guess actually, I think I do understand because I think it's politics for you to try to link all the reporters together. But it seems just unfair and frankly disingenuous.

CONWAY: No. Actually, very few people came to CNN's defense today. I'm sure you're aware of that.

COOPER: Well actually, Shepard Smith on Fox did, which I thought was interesting and actually pretty courageous.

CONWAY: That's a cherry pick. Great.
When Cooper cited a major host who did "come to CNN's defense," Conway knew how to react. Remember: when dealing with a Conwayist, there's nothing a person can say which won't produce instant aggrieved rebuttal.

(For the record: "cherry pick" seems to be OK, although "red herring" is not.)

At one point, Conway produced a truly amazing reaction. It happened when Cooper criticized the very news org she herself had criticized all through their pointless exchange.

This is Ultimate Conwayism. Giving the demagogue her due, the analysts burst into applause:
CONWAY: Anderson, do you think that BuzzFeed, or anybody else, after months of deciding against publishing specious, scurrilous, unverified, uncorroborated junk in a Democratic opposition research document, do you think they would have released it last night had CNN not preceded it with its own report? I doubt it. There was a nexus here.

COOPER: The last time I read BuzzFeed, I saw a headline that said like, "Ten top sex toys that was going to improve your sex life." I don't read BuzzFeed.

CONWAY: OK, now you're insulting BuzzFeed.
In a virtuoso performance, Conway adopted an air of grievance on behalf of BuzzFeed itself! Truly, the Conwayist will always be willing to voice the next complaint.

If you watch that 25-minute tape, you'll be watching Conwayism in its purest form. On the one hand, you'll see Conway make a false claim again and again, insisting, again and again, that CNN linked to the BuzzFeed report, which it actually didn't.

Beyond that, you'll see the essence of this rhetorical style. Conwayism involves the constant churning of aggrieved complaints, no matter how silly/inane.

Conway's performance on that tape is a public disgrace. She's churning clouds of gorilla dust every step of the way, creating maximum confusion while maintaining an air of deep grievance.

Vladimir Putin opposes the practices of civil society; Kellyanne Conway does too. Her conduct on that pitiful tape produced a perfect Babel.

We're left with the role played by Anderson Cooper. What should we think about him?

Next: Cable loves heat, not light

Todd lets Priebus make bogus claim!


You live in a world without facts:
Why does Rep. John Lewis think Donald Trump isn't legitimate?

It's hard to say! You see, Lewis made his much-discussed statement on Meet the Press, and there his statement just sat. Below, you see the text of Lewis' original statement, along with Chuck Todd's questions:
TODD (1/15/17): You have forged relationships with many presidents. Do you plan on trying to forge a relationship with Donald Trump?

LEWIS: You know, I believe in forgiveness. I believe in trying to work with people. It will be hard. It's going to be very difficult. I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.

TODD: You do not consider him a legitimate president? Why is that?

LEWIS: I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I don't plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I'll miss since I've been at Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that it`s wrong.
In that exchange, Lewis said he doesn't consider Trump to be "a legitimate president" because of actions by the Russians. The Russians helped get Trump elected. This means he isn't legit.

There's always dissembling and disinformation within our election campaigns. To us, this doesn't quite explain why you'd say that Trump isn't legit.

(It does explain why you'd insist on a full investigation of what occurred.)

At that point, Todd asked an additional question. When he did, the plot thickened quite a bit, but Todd didn't seem to notice:
TODD (continuing directly): It's going to send—it's going to send a big message to a lot of people in this country that you don't believe he's a legitimate president.

LEWIS: I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected. That's not right. That's not fair. That's not the open, democratic process.
At this point, Lewis seems to have made a much more serious claim. He says there was "a conspiracy" to get Trump elected—a conspiracy "on the part of the Russians and others."

Who else took part in this conspiracy? For some reason, Todd didn't ask. But then, throughout the interview, which he aired in two parts, Todd spoke to Lewis as if Lewis were six years old.

Was Trump himself, or the Trump campaign, involved in the conspiracy Lewis alleged? For whatever reason, Todd never asked.

We have a relentlessly childish discourse. That said, Todd's exchange with Lewis was grown-up stuff compared with what happened when he spoke with Reince Priebus.

In the passage shown below, Priebus makes an inaccurate claim two times. Todd just sits there and takes it:
PRIEBUS: James Clapper, the intelligence community—I don't know if John Lewis knows more than they do, but they have concluded that there's no evidence that anything that was done in the course of this election by Russians, or whoever, changed the course of this election.
Say what? Clapper and the intelligence community "have concluded that there's no evidence that anything that was done in the course of this election by Russians changed the course of this election?"

Obviously, that statement by Priebus was false. When the IC issued its public report about the hacking, they explicitly said that they hadn't attempted to assess whether the Russian conduct affected electoral outcomes.

("We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election." They said this plain as day, right there on page i.)

Obviously, Priebus' statement was false. Seconds later, he said it again. When he did, Todd jumped in to issue a non-challenge challenge:
PRIEBUS: There is nothing here in regard to this issue and Russia—

TODD: Wait a minute.

PRIEBUS: —and all of the defense intelligence agencies have concluded that.

TODD: I'm just curious. when you say there's nothing here, there's—

PRIEBUS: I mean evidence that changed the outcome of the election.
Priebus' grammar doesn't parse, but in context, his meaning was perfectly clear. Priebus had said it two more times. The intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia's interference didn't change the outcome of the election.

This statement was false every time Priebus said it, but Todd just let it go. Here's where he took things from there:
TODD (continuing directly): You're talking—you're not disputing that there is a lot of evidence of Russia's attempts to interfere in the election?

PRIEBUS: I'm not disputing that the Russian entities hacked the DNC, but I am—I'm not going to go back to our interview of a few weeks ago. I am also going to say that when you don't have any defenses on your computer system and you basically hand over 50,000 emails, obviously, that makes it a whole lot easier...

TODD: OK, but Mr. Priebus, does that excuse a foreign government from attempting to interfere in the United States election?
Sad! Priebus agreed that Russians did hack the DNC. He agreed that this behavior was wrong.

But he had also repeatedly said that the IC has concluded that this didn't change the outcome of the election. That repeated statement was false, but Todd just let it go.

In fairness, Todd is hardly alone. Last night, Don Lemon and two of CNN's liberal hacks let the same statement by a Trump hack go unchallenged. Last week, Jon Meacham let the statement go unchallenged when it was made by Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe.

It's an RNC/Trump talking point. The stars are letting it go.

What does John Lewis actually think? Todd didn't bother to ask. Subsequently, he let a glaring repeated misstatement by Priebus go unchallenged.

The world of our public discourse is an extremely childish world. On the bright side, many stars are receiving millions of bucks for their roles in this silly charade.

CONWAYISM AND BABEL: Always willing to make the next ludicrous claim!


Part 2—The essence of Conwayism:
What actually happened the day before Kellyane Conway's tiff with Anderson Cooper?

Conway's absurd performance during that tiff created an instant Babel. Her performance showcased the essence of Conwayism, an offshoot of the better-known rhetorical form, Trumpism.

What actually happened on Tuesday, January 10, triggering this giant tiff? Thank you for asking:

First, CNN aired a breathless report about Donald J. Trump's intelligence briefing the week before. Then, BuzzFeed published a 35-page document—a document full of unverified claims about that same Donald J. Trump.

According to CNN, a two-page summary of this document had been presented to Trump, in some manner or form, during or after the intelligence briefing. After CNN made this report, BuzzFeed went ahead and published the full dossier.

Did Donald J. Trump have reason to fault CNN for its slightly breathless report? Did he have reason to fault the unnamed "U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the briefings" who had served as CNN's sources?

Did he have reason to fault BuzzFeed for publishing the dossier? These are perfectly sensible questions, but all such matters were obscured by the crazy burst of Conwayism with which Cooper was confronted on Wednesday, January 11.

Kellyanne Conway is, at present, Trump's most aggressive spokesperson. In our view, she could have made some reasonable, limited complaints about CNN's report from the day before.

At present, there's no apparent reason to believe any of the unverified claims in the 35-page dossier. As best we can tell, one of the claims in that document instantly turned out to be false. The sexiest claim was so over-the-top that it recalled crazy unverified claims from the past, such as the claim in a number-one best-selling book that First Lady Hillary Clinton used drug paraphernalia for ornaments on the White House Christmas tree.

You'd pretty much have to be nuts to have believed something like that, but many people did believe it. In certain respects, the sexiest claim in the new dossier is almost as unlikely as that pathetic claim from the past.

Still, CNN adopted a slightly breathless air as it unveiled its new report. Here's the way Jake Tapper took the throw from Wolf during the 6 PM hour:
TAPPER (1/10/17): That's right, Wolf, a CNN exclusive.

CNN has learned that the nation's top intelligence officials gave information to president-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama last week about claims of Russian efforts to compromise president-elect Trump.

The information was provided as part of last week's classified intelligence briefings regarding Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 U.S. elections.

I have been working on this story with my colleagues Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez and Carl Bernstein. They all join me now.

Jim, let's walk through the basics here of what we know.

SCIUTTO: We will. To be clear, this has been an enormous team effort by my colleagues here and others at CNN.
For full transcript, click here.

Tapper and a cast of thousands announced that the "CNN exclusive" had resulted from "an enormous team effort" at CNN. Minutes later, Tapper introduced "the legendary Carl Bernstein, who also worked with the three of us on this story."

There was a hint of Oscar night as everyone on the team took his turn at the microphone, explaining the enormous team effort. And uh-oh! Getting way out over his skis, Sciutto was soon suggesting, wink wink wink, that the unverified claims in the dossier just might perhaps maybe be true:
SCIUTTO: The synopsis was considered so sensitive that it was not included in the classified report about Russian hacking that was more widely distributed, but rather in an annex only shared at the most senior levels of the government, this, of course, including President Obama, the president-elect and those eight congressional leaders.

But, Jake, we should also note that including this in these briefings given to the president and the president-elect, taking the time, while they are not verified, to take the time and include them in those very important meetings is a measure, gives a measure of at least importance to it. Not credence yet, because they haven't established it's factual. But you don't put that in there for no reason.
Wink wink, hint hint! These claims just may be true, Sciutto suggested. You don't put stuff like that in a briefing for no reason!

Sciutto didn't suggest a second possibility. He didn't suggest the possibility that the Intelligence Community included this material in the briefing, then leaked the fact that they had done so, as political payback to Donald J. Trump for the ridiculous insults he has thrown at the IC in recent weeks. Thoughts like this didn't seem to have entered the enormous team's head.

Our view? From the legendary Bernstein right on down, the CNN stars did seem to have their thumbs on the scale a tad during their somewhat breathless report. Even if all the narrow factual claims in CNN's report were accurate, it seems to us that Kellyanne Conway could have lodged a few basic complaints about the network's performance.

In our view, Kellyanne Conway could have lodged some sensible complaints about CNN's report. That said, Homey doesn't play it that way.

Conwayism has never been about the presentation of sensible observations, claims and complaints. Conwayism runs on a different fuel, and here's what it is:

The constant willingness to advance the next ridiculous claim.

Yesterday, we reviewed one striking part of Conway's performance with Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, January 11. Again and again and again and again, she kept insisting that CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's presentation of the unverified, 35-page dossier.

Almost everyone in the press corps agreed—BuzzFeed shouldn't have published the unverified collection of claims about Trump. Again and again and again and again, Conway kept insisting that CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's publication, making CNN just as guilty as BuzzFeed in this regard.

As far as we know, Conway's repeated claim was inaccurate, false, bogus, wrong. As far as we know, CNN didn't link to BuzzFeed's report, though the channel hasn't exactly broken its back to settle this apparently bogus claim in a definitive manner. (Again and again, our mainstream press corps doesn't run on facts.)

Again and again and again and again, Conway had made a cutting claim—a cutting claim which seems to have been false. That said, please understand today's basic point:

False claims are a common part of Conwayism, but they aren't its essence.

The essence of Conwayism is something slightly different. It's the willingness to advance a stream of ridiculous claims, no matter how ludicrous and absurd the various claims and complaints may be.

Conway has been practicing this culture since the mid-1990s. As she spoke with Cooper that night, she showcased this ludicrous culture in its purest form.

Even after she seemed to see that her claim about the link may have been wrong, she jumped from one ludicrous claim to another. In the process, she created a Babel—though she did so with Cooper's help.

Tomorrow, we'll look at some of the ludicrous claims Conway advanced that night. Gorilla dust was all around as her nonsense continued.

"Gorilla dust?" Ross Perot introduced the term into the political lexicon in 1992. We'll offer some background below.

That said, gorilla dust was all around as Conway created a Babel last Wednesday night. Increasingly, our public discourse functions this way.

People like Cooper help.

Tomorrow: No charge or complaint too absurd

What the heck is gorilla dust: Fortune magazine explained the term in 1987:

"Gorilla dust: When gorillas fight, they throw dust in the air to confuse each other." The magazine referred to Ross Perot as it offered this explanation.

Ross Perot commonly used the term within the political context. Within the political context, the term refers to the attempt to create massive confusion through distractions and asides, thereby eliminating the possibility of a clear discussion.

In 2011, White House press secretary Jay Carney used the term in a press briefing. Inevitably, the youngsters at the Washington Post had never heard the term.

Finally, one old-timer—he was 56—explained Perot's use of the term.

Conway threw plenty of dust during her pseudo-discussion with Cooper. In the process, she created our latest Babel.

Her crazy pseudo-discussion with Cooper produced plenty of heat but almost no light. More and more, this is the culture we've chosen.

Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, how much else sails over young journalists' heads? Youth may keep salary structures low, but it does have disadvantages.

CONWAYISM AND BABEL: Twelve angry claims!


Part 1—Twelve angry claims which were false:
She wasn't named for Conway Twitty. And she didn't marry Tim Conway.

Despite these disadvantages, Kellyanne Conway has become a powerful force within the world of Donald J. Trump.

The president-elect's rhetorical style is often referred to as Trumpism. If we lived in a different kind of world, competent intellectuals would be working to define the elements of that style.

We don't live in that kind of world. We do live in a world whose public debate is increasingly being shaped by Conwayism. This fact became more clear last Wednesday night, January 11, on Anderson Cooper's CNN show.

The previous day, all Hell had broken loose. Late Tuesday afternoon, CNN had reported that the nation's intelligence chiefs had briefed Trump on the contents of the latest "dodgy dossier," a 35-page collection of unverified claims about Trump.

A few hours later, BuzzFeed actually published the full contents of the dodgy document. The dossier had been floating around for months. Because its claims were unverified (and may in some cases have sounded crazy), no one else had published it.

Suddenly, BuzzFeed did, inanely saying that people could make up their minds for themselves about the array of charges.

CNN's report about the intelligence briefing had preceded BuzzFeed's document dump. Here's the way Jake Tapper reported to Wolf during Tuesday's 6 PM hour:
TAPPER (1/10/17): That's right, Wolf, a CNN exclusive.

CNN has learned that the nation's top intelligence officials gave information to President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama last week about claims of Russian efforts to compromise president-elect Trump.

The information was provided as part of last week's classified intelligence briefings regarding Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 U.S. elections.

I have been working on this story with my colleagues Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez and Carl Bernstein. They all join me now.
It was a CNN exclusive. Excitement seemed to be running high at the pundit-rich cable channel.

In our view, the excitement overrode good journalistic practice in certain ways during's Tapper's report. Eventually, though, it came to seem that CNN's report had basically been accurate.

CNN broke its exclusive late Tuesday afternoon. A few hours later, BuzzFeed went all in, publishing the entire dodgy dossier/memo/report, which ran 35 pages.

By Wednesday, Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway was very unhappy about this whole affair. As a result, CNN's Anderson Cooper taped a 25-minute interview with Conway.

Cooper played tape of the entire interview during his program last Wednesday night. During that session, we got to see the general shape of the rhetorical style called Conwayism. We also saw some of the journalistic failings which help make the style so effective.

Which attributes of Conwayism were on display Wednesday night? For today, let's restrict ourselves to one aspect of Conwayism—the ability to make an angry claim again and again and again and again, even if the angry claim in question is factually false.

Let's be fair! At some point, almost everyone ends up making false or shaky claims. It also seems that certain people make many more such claims than is the statistical norm.

During her session with Cooper, Conway launched her false claim quite quickly. Below, you see the way the interview started. We highlight the bogus claim to which we refer:
COOPER (1/11/17): Kellyanne, at today's press conference, Sean Spicer conflated unsubstantiated claims that BuzzFeed released with what CNN reported. And I was surprised by that, because he said BuzzFeed and CNN made the decision to run with the unsubstantiated claim.

That's simply not true. I mean, what CNN said is that CNN is not reporting on details of that memo, as it is not independently corroborated the specific allegations.

Do you acknowledge here and now that CNN did not release the 35-page unsubstantiated claims against Donald Trump and it was misleading and untrue for Sean Spicer to suggest otherwise?

CONWAY: No, our incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, was exactly right, as was the president-elect, Anderson. CNN went first yesterday and BuzzFeed went second.

COOPER: We didn't report what BuzzFeed reported.

CONWAY: I didn't say that you did, but you linked to it in your story.
To watch the full interview, just click here.

Let's be candid. In part because of Cooper's shortcomings, this conversation was already a bit of a Babel.

That said, Conway had already seemed to make a fairly specific claim. She seemed to be claiming that CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's publication of the 35-page dossier/memo/report.

Is that what Conway meant when she said, "You linked to it in your story?" Few things ever became clear during Cooper's 25-minute tussle with Conway. But it's fairly clear that Conway was claiming that CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's posting of the dossier, or to the BuzzFeed report which presented the dossier.

Again and again and again and again, Conway restated her slightly murky complaint: CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's publication of the 35-page dossier! By our count, she went on to make some version of this angry claim eleven more times.

That made it twelve angry claims in all. It was Classic Conwayism:
Conway's twelve angry claims:
1) " linked to it in your story."

2) "And so were you. You linked to—"

3) "Why do you link to the BuzzFeed story in your report?"

4) "If you couldn't corroborate it, why would you even link to it? Why are you linking to fake news?"

5) "Why are you linking to this stuff? You know the Michael Cohen—you know the Michael Cohen who is mentioned in that report is not the Michael Cohen who works at the Trump organization."

6) "You're linking to the BuzzFeed report."

7) "It's mentioned in here. I'm looking at the updated CNN report. I read it right before we came on air."

8) "It's on your website. But anyway, it's on"

9) "I think if you link to something on your website, you're reporting it."

10) "No, no, hold on! You can't say you're not reporting it if it's on your website."

11) "If you say that CNN's not reporting on something but it's on your website, does that mean CNN is not reporting on it? Because I think they are."

12) Sarcastically: "The BuzzFeed report, the BuzzFeed story is not linked on your website, it's not mentioned in the story?"
If you read the transcript or watch the tape, you'll see that it's perfectly clear. In these repeated statements, Conway was claiming that CNN had linked in some way to BuzzFeed's publication of the 35-page dossier.

During the first half of her interview with Cooper, Conway made this claim again and again and again. Suddenly, though, she stopped making the claim. We'll speculate about the reason for that below.

Again and again and again and again, Conway made her angry claim. At, CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's publication of the 35-page dossier!

If you watch the first half of the videotape, you'll be seeing one key part of Conwayism in action. We refer to the ability to make an angry claim again and again and again.

Having said that, let us also say this. As best we can tell, Conway's angry claim was false. She made her claim again and again, but she was wrong every time.

Conway kept insisting that CNN had linked to the dossier, or perhaps to BuzzFeed's report presenting the dossier. At one point (see number 7 above), she even said that she was looking at the CNN report which contained the link. She said she'd checked it "right before we came on the air" (presumably, right before they started taping).

Angrily, Conway kept making her angry claim. In the course of her tirade, she insisted, several times, that CNN should "clean house," so horrible had their overall journalism been the previous day.

It's a basic tenet of Conwayism. You keep repeating your angry claim, again and again and again. But uh-oh! As best we can tell, in this instance, Conway's claim was false.

As best we can tell, CNN didn't link to the dodgy dossier, or to the BuzzFeed report about it. But here's another problem:

When Cooper sat for his interview with Conway, it seems he didn't know that.

As Conway made her repeated claim, Cooper offered various responses. At several points, he clearly said that CNN hadn't linked to BuzzFeed.

Eventually, though, he flatly said he didn't know whether CNN had done so. This was Cooper's response to Conway's twelfth angry claim:
CONWAY: If you say that CNN's not reporting on something, but it's on your website, does that mean CNN is not reporting on it? Because I think they are.

COOPER: BuzzFeed is not on our website.

CONWAY: OK. The BuzzFeed report, the BuzzFeed story, is not linked on your website, it's not mentioned in the story?

COOPER: I don't know. I don't know all of what's on digital program.


COOPER: I'm told it's not, but I don't believe that it is. I find it weird that CNN—and frankly, if CNN linked to the BuzzFeed stuff, that seems to me inappropriate. And if CNN does that, I would not, I would not support that. But as far as I know, that is not the case. I'm certainly going to check out our website and I urge people to go to our website right now and check it out for themselves.
By this time, complete confusion reigned about an array of points. As we'll see in our next few reports, Cooper and Conway created a total Babel in an array of ways.

That said, Conway stopped making her angry claim at this point, perhaps because Cooper said he'd been told that her angry claim was wrong (presumably by a producer). We'd don't know if that's why Conway suddenly dropped her repeated claim. But we'd call that a decent conjecture.

At any rate, Cooper had finally said it! He finally said that he didn't know if CNN had linked to the BuzzFeed report. Earlier, he'd seemed to say that CNN didn't link. Now, surrounded by a Babel, he said something quite different.

We wouldn't say it was Cooper's "fault" that he didn't know, coming in, whether CNN had linked. You can't know what sorts of claims will be made until someone like Conway starts making them.

We wouldn't say it was Cooper's "fault" that he didn't know whether CNN had linked to BuzzFeed. But again and again, Conwayism feeds on journalistic ignorance, incompetence and deference to power—attributes which are legion.

Today, we've seen one small part of the rhetorical style known as Conwayism. In Conwayism, you make your angry, angry claims again and again and again.

Your anger may overwhelm your accuracy, as seems to have occurred in this instance. But within the world of Conwayism, this may not gigantically matter.

Concern about accuracy may not be a major part of Conwayism. We'll be honest with you one more time:

We see a similar style at work on some of our own tribe's favorite programs. Did you happen to see a certain unnamed cable star bungling facts last Thursday night as she told us about Trump's "lies?"

Tomorrow: Basic tenet: You must always be willing to move to the next ridiculous claim

Should journalists call a lie a lie?


How the debate got started:
Two Sundays ago, it started.

On Meet the Press, Chuck Todd was speaking with Gerard Baker, editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal. With our journalistic culture crumbling around him, Brother Todd asked a question:

Should journalists call a lie a lie?

After Brother Todd popped the question, Baker gave Todd a reply.

Should journalists call a lie a lie? As a general matter, we'd say the answer is no.

Just last night, an unnamed major cable star helped us see why the L-bomb can be dangerous. In her case, she made several basic factual errors, trailing L-bombs behind her as she proceeded.

In fairness, most journalists aren't as kooky or self-indulgent as this rapidly fading star. For today, let's just consider what Todd and Baker said:
TODD (1/1/17): The issue of facts. We don't— People always say, "You've got to fact-check, you've got to fact-check." But we sometimes—there isn't an agreement on what the facts are. And this is yet another challenge for you and everybody here, which—

Do you feel comfortable saying. "So-and-so lied?" To be that—you know, if somebody says just an outright falsehood, do you say the word "lie?" Is that important to start putting in reporting or not?

BAKER: You know, it's a good— I'd be careful about using the word "lie." "Lie" implies much more than just saying something is false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead. I think it's perfectly—

When Donald Trump says thousands of people were on the rooftops of New Jersey on 9/11 celebrating, thousands of Muslims were there celebrating, I think it's right to investigate that claim, to report what we found, which is that nobody found any evidence of that whatsoever, and to say that.

I think it's then up to the readers to make up their own mind, to say, "This is what Donald Trump says, this is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what, I don't think that's true."

I think if you start ascribing a moral intent, as it were, to someone by saying that they've lied, I think you run the risk that you look like you are being—you're not being objective. And I do think also it implies that people—

This is happening all the time now, people are looking at what Donald Trump is saying and saying this is false, this is a false claim. I think people say, "Well you know what, Hillary Clinton said a lot of things that were false. I don't recall the press being quite so concerned about saying that she lied when, in headlines or in stories like that."
That's what the twin titans said. For starters, let's frisk Todd's question, simplifying his language the tiniest bit:

If somebody says an outright falsehood, should a reporter say that he or she "lied?"

Basically, that's the question Todd asked. It's a perfectly sensible question.

That said, we'd be inclined to pose a second question in return:

If Person A says an outright falsehood, what would be wrong with reporting that Person A "said an outright falsehood?"

What exactly would be wrong with using language like that? Even that language strikes us as a bit problematic. But what's wrong with using language which simply reports that Person A made a statement which is blatantly or plainly false? Why do we want to jump ahead to the claim that Person A "lied?"

As a starter, that's the question we'd pose to Todd.

Now let's turn to Baker. He starts off noting an obvious fact: When we say that Person A lied, we've gone beyond the mere claim that Person A made a misstatement.

As Baker notes, we're now saying that Person A deliberately tried to mislead us. This takes us into the realm of intent, and intent is typically hard to demonstrate or know.

When Trump made the statement to which Baker refers, was he telling a lie? Was he telling a lie when he continued making his claim, even after evidence began to indicate that his statement was almost certainly wrong?

It's hard to nail down an answer to such questions. In partisan times like these, the claim that Person A (or Donald Trump) lied will tend to end the consideration of what Person A did. One tribe will cheer; the other tribe will leave the room. Inevitably, the reporter will have to admit that he can't quite demonstrate or prove Person A's intent.

Our basic point for the day:

There is a lot of very strong language which falls short of the claim that So-and-so "lied." In the past several decades, our mainstream reporters have very rarely turned to the use of such language, even when discussing public figures who seem to make wild misstatments as a matter of course.

There's a lot of strong language which falls short of the claim that So-and-so "lied." In most cases, we'd suggest that reporters try that sort of language out before they jump ahead to the diagnosis of "lies."

In future episodes of this series, we'll look at some of the punditry which followed Todd and Baker's exchange. We also may look at Baker's statement in a bit more detail. As he continued along, we thought he got rather wobbly. How often has Brother Baker pondered questions like this?

That said, "outright falsehood" is strong language. Has Brother Todd ever used it? We'll guess the answer is no.

INTRODUCING THE GRETA: Helping Trump spread birther claims all around!


Part 4—In search of the greatness of Greta:
MSNBC has stepped up its efforts at selling The Greta.

The channel is now running ads in which a certain "cable news" star vouches for Greta's greatness. "Greta is great," this unnamed star is shown saying in this repulsive new ad.

Victims, it gets even worse! The channel is now running a second ad, in which this same multimillionaire star tells us how much she enjoys interviewing Kellyanne Conway! We've only seen this ad one time, but it sent our analysts into the yard, hands clapped over their mouths.

How great is Greta Van Susteren? Last Thursday, an unnamed major cable news star vouched for her greatness on MSNBC's air. She made a wildly embellished claim about the number of times she's played tape of Greta in the past. She even described the nature of Greta's vast greatness:
MADDOW (1/5/17): If you want to count on your fingers how many times we on this show have played clips of Greta Van Susteren over the years, you could not do it. You need like four extra hands.

And she has an uncanny ability to make newsworthy things happen when the red light is on the camera and she is on TV talking about the news. She can get anybody to talk to her. She has reported from all over the world. She had a decade at CNN. She had 14 years at Fox.

She's also, outside this building, one of the single most decent and genuine and honorable people I have ever come across in this business...She starts here at MSNBC 6:00 Eastern on Monday night. And I could not be happier about it.
Off the air, Greta Van Susteren may well be the world's most decent person. On the air, her work at Fox was often inexcusably bad. The unnamed star who is pimping her greatness has spiraled down badly over the years. Alas! When corporations make people extremely famous and rich, this sort of thing sometimes happens.

How great has Greta Van Susteren's work been over the years? Today, we want to show you two of the video clips this unnamed cable news star has played on MSNBC.

We also want to show you the way Van Susteren helped Donald J. Trump pimp his birther claims down through the years. Today, an unnamed star is pleased to pretend that her dear friend and drinking companion never engaged in such conduct.

Let's start with the video clips of Greta the Great this star has played through the years. Judging from the Nexis archive, you wouldn't need four extra hands to count such incidents up.

For the five years from 2012 through 2016, we found thirteen instances in which this star played tape of Van Susteren interacting with a guest. And uh-oh! Eight of those instances involved repeated airings of just two favorite clips.

How great was Greta Van Susteren at Fox? In a clip this cable star has played on five occasions, Van Susteren interviews the rather callow Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, who inherited his seat in the House from his name's-the-same father, Rep. Duncan L. Hunter.

Back in 2014, Hunter the Younger was claiming that ISIS was sending agents across the southern border. Here's the clip of Greta's greatness, as shown last Thursday night:
MADDOW (1/5/17): This was one of my all-time favorite Greta moments from when she was on Fox.

(videotape from October 7, 2014)

HUNTER: I know that at least ten ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas. There's nobody talking about it, there's—

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you know that?

HUNTER: Because I've asked, because I've asked the border patrol, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: And the border patrol, they just let ISIS members come across the border?

(end of video clip)
According to the unnamed star, we rubes are supposed to regard this exchange as one of Greta's greatest. We'll admit we have no idea why. As almost anyone can see, Greta's second question to Hunter the Younger doesn't even seem to make sense. If ten ISIS fighters have been caught, it would seem fairly clear that the border patrol wasn't "just letting them cross."

Nor did Greta proceed from there to display the astounding skill this unnamed star was now selling. In real time, this is the way her interview with Hunter the Younger proceeded:
HUNTER (continuing directly): No. They caught them at the border. Therefore, we know that ISIS is coming across the border. If they catch five or 10 of them, you know that there are going to be dozens more that did not get caught by the Border Patrol. That's how you know. All you have to do is ask the Border Patrol. That's where we are at risk here, is from ISIS and radical Islamists coming across the border. Once again, they don't have a navy, an air force or nuclear weapons. The only way that Americans are going to be harmed by radical Islamists is to have an open southern border. Chairman Dempsey said the same thing. He said that's where the major threat is here, is having an open southern border. That's how these guys are going to infiltrate through America and harm Americans.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congressman, thank you, sir.

HUNTER: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: And now to the new terror raids in London...
For some reason which has gone unexplained, we rubes are supposed to regard that exchange as one of Greta's greatest at Fox. As noted, the unnamed star has played some version of this exchange five separate times in the past several years.

The unnamed star's second favorite "Greta moment" involves an exchange with Donald J. Trump. The exchange occurred in late May 2015. The unnamed star has played some form of this video clip on three separate occasions.

Last Thursday night, the clip was included in a medley of Greta's greatest moments. Here's how it was presented:
MADDOW (videotape from May 29, 2015): Foreign policy pronouncements like this one that he made this week with my friend Greta Van Susteren on Fox News.

(videotape from May 27, 2015)

TRUMP: Bring ISIS to the table or beyond that, defeat ISIS very quickly, and I'm not going to tell you what it is tonight. You know, one of the problems that we have—

VAN SUSTEREN: Why won't you tell us? Hey, Donald, Donald—

TRUMP: I'll tell you what, because I don't want to, Greta. I'll tell you what—

VAN SUSTEREN: Donald, why don't you tell?
That's what we were shown last Thursday night.

On that occasion in 2015, Van Susteren was asking a perfectly decent question. It was also perhaps the most obvious question in the history of the known world.

Nor did Greta push on from there. In real time, this was the rest of the story. Can you spot Greta's brilliance?
TRUMP (continuing directly): If I run, and if I win, I don't want the enemy to know what I'm doing. I don't want the enemy to know what I'm doing. Unfortunately, I will probably have to tell at some point, but there is a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory.

I don't want to be Obama, where he goes on television to explain exactly when we're going to attack a certain city, what we're going to do, what hour we're going to be using for the attack, how many men are going in. I don't want to do that because, you know, the late great General Douglas MacArthur and General Patton are spinning in their grave when they hear what we do, how we announce exactly what we're going to do and how we are going to do it. If I run and if I win, I don't want the enemy to know what I'm going to do. All I can tell you is that it is a foolproof way of winning, and I'm not talking about what some people would say, but it's a foolproof way of winning the war with ISIS and it will be absolutely 100 percent they will at a minimum come to the table and actually they will be defeated very quickly, very quickly.

VAN SUSTEREN: You say "if" you're running, so tell me. Where do you stand on this and when will you have more information on that?
You may have noted Greta's tendency to let guests like Trump rattle on at length even when they're making ridiculous claims, then to move to the next subject. Despite this rather obvious flaw, we liberals have now been told to regard this exchange as another example of Van Susteren's greatness at Fox.

Citizens, do you really need four extra hands to count the times this cable host has played tape of Van Susteren's greatness? Not exactly, no.

In fact, those two soporific exchanges represent eight of the thirteen occasions on which this cable star has played such Greta tapes in the past five years! Aside from the fact that her corporate bosses wanted her to sell their new car, it's hard to see why this unnamed star would be pimping The Greta this way.

That said, we want to help you see why last week's grift was so appalling. We want you to see the way Van Susteren helped her frequent guest, Donald J. Trump, peddle his birther claims during her tenure at Fox.

As John Whitehouse recently noted at Media Matters, Van Susteren frequently interviewed Donald J. Trump even before his run for the White House. On several occasions, this gave her the chance to apply her journalistic greatness to his birther claims.

Briefly, let's be fair. Typically, Van Susteren would meekly tell Donald J. Trump that, for herself, she was "satisfied" with Obama's claim that he had been born in Hawaii. But she avoided telling her viewers why she would have said that.

Duh! Van Susteren is a ranking, experienced lawyer who came to TV in the 1990s as a legal analyst. As of 2011, she of course understood that Obama had presented his legal Hawaii birth certificate way back in 2008, and that the state's Republican health director had vouched for its authenticity.

This was the so-called "short form" document. But duh! As Van Susteren of course understood, the "short form" document is the official document the state of Hawaii provides as proof of Hawaiian birth.

It was, and is, Obama's official "birth certificate!" He had presented it in 2008, as Van Susteren of course understood.

That said, so what? By 2011, an array of people like Donald J. Trump were saying it wasn't enough. In response, in May of that year, Obama obtained and presented his "long form" birth certificate—the type of document which is maintained in Hawaiian state archives, but isn't normally issued for any reason, or legally used as proof of birth.

As it turned out, even this wasn't enough for hustlers like Donald J. Trump. This presented Van Susteren with a problem—how to keep presenting Trump as a guest without telling her millions of viewers that they were being conned, disinformed, treated like fools, grotesquely misled and played.

Van Susteren could and should have told them that. Despite her greatness, she kept refusing.

Greta Van Susteren was very careful to keep The Donald afloat. In the transcript shown below, we see how much abuse she was willing to take to let Trump keep pimping his garbage.

It was now October 24, 2012. It had been more than a year since Obama had produced his "long form" document—his second proof of Hawaiian birth. Meanwhile, Donald J. Trump was now pimping the claim that Obama hadn't really attended Columbia, or that something embarrassing would surely be found in his mysterious college records.

As their interview began this night, Van Susteren asked about Trump's offer to pay $5 million to a charity if Obama would release his college records. Soon, though, Trump swerved back to the question of Obama's birth, and a sad discussion occurred.

When Van Susteren said she was "satisfied" about that matter, Donald J. Trump subjected her to a lengthy pistol-whipping—and Greta just sat there and took it. As she apologizes to Trump, try to note the basic things which somehow go unsaid:
TRUMP (10/24/12): You have no idea. I get millions and millions of hits on, "Just please stay with this." I walk down the street, people love me over it. I went to North Carolina, made a speech. The most important thing was the issue of location, place of birth, etc.

I went to Liberty University, made a speech, incredible school. I mean, they loved this.
Greta, this is a very important issue. This is a very important issue.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you not satisfied with the presentation of the documents of his birth? Are we going back to that? Is that why you want this? Or is it something else?

TRUMP: Well, I am not sure about it. Other people are not sure. All have you to do is pick up the newspapers and you will see. There are many people that have serious questions about what he presented. There were many, many people. So I'm certainly not sure. Now, would I like to see him—

VAN SUSTEREN: There are two different questions, though. There are two different questions. One is, I thought the birth issue was established, that you were satisfied. You got the president to produce his long-form birth certificate establishing—

TRUMP: I did. And Greta, nobody else was able to do that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Right. And so I thought that you were satisfied that he met the constitutional requirements. Now you want these other records, and I'm trying to figure out why. Is it like you want to see what kind of student he was or is there something you're looking for—

TRUMP: Greta, why are you speaking for me? I never said I was satisfied. I never told you that I was satisfied.

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, you weren't? Oh, I didn't know that.

TRUMP: Excuse me, who's satisfied? All you have to do is pick up the newspapers, there are many, many people, tremendous numbers of people, that are not satisfied. There's tremendous skepticism as to what he presented. Unbelievable skepticism—

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, then I stand corrected. I apologize. Let me just say, I apologize for getting it wrong. I'm satisfied, so that's why I made a mistake about you. But go ahead.

TRUMP: Are you satisfied?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yeah, I am, actually, because I went back and looked—

TRUMP: I am very surprised at you. I am very surprised at you. I don't know how you can be satisfied. But if you are satisfied, you are less skeptical than me. I grew up in the real estate business in New York, Greta. I have seen everything.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let me ask you a question about, in these college records, is there something else that you are looking for besides the issue about birth?

TRUMP: Greta, let's see what it says! You're talking about a tremendous amount of money for charity. Let's see what it says! Who knows? I mean, if you ask me, what do we know? You don't know anything, Greta. I mean, for you to say—

I really am surprised at you. You don't know anything. And for you to say that you're satisfied is really shocking to me, to be honest with you.
And when you ask me, what do you think? Let's find out. I can't tell what you I think because I don't know. I haven't seen the papers. But I will tell you this—

VAN SUSTEREN: Donald, let me—this is the thing— This is what I don't get. There was a newspaper report that this child had been born at the time the president had been born in Hawaii.


VAN SUSTEREN: And there would have been no way to create that fiction—

TRUMP: You're wrong!


TRUMP: It's a well-known fact that many people in order to get certain benefits of the United States would put out those reports and they put them out when people aren't even in the country. That happened many, many times. And if you read the facts and if you understood this, you wouldn't even be asking that question.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right.

TRUMP: But that put it out because by putting it out, they would get the benefits of being a U.S. citizen and get some of the benefits and all of the benefits of being a United States citizen. So you know, I'm surprised you said that too, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So what is your suspicion? Are you just fishing? Or do you have—

TRUMP: Greta, I don't want to say anything about suspicion. I'd like to have him be transparent. We know nothing about our president...
The discussion continued briefly from there. As it ended, Van Susteren said, "Donald, always nice to see you, even when we lock horns."

In that discussion, Van Susteren absorbed abuse from the ludicrous Trump over her lack of skepticism about his birther claims. Bowing down before Ole Massa, she apologized for her errors—and she never stated the obvious reasons why she was "satisfied" about the question of Obama's birth.

Over the years, Van Susteren conducted a number of discussions with Trump about the birther lunacy. We find no place where she ever informed her viewers about the most elementary facts—where she told them that the "short form" record, which Obama had provided in 2008, was Hawaii's legal record of birth; where she explained the relationship between that document and the "long form" record, which Obama had provided in 2011.

In this exchange in 2012, she let Trump scold her, in derisive terms, for mentioning the birth notice which appeared in the Hawaiian newspaper. But she never mentioned these basic, obvious legal points about the gong show her guest was conducting. In this way, she served the interests of her corporate owners, who were paying her millions of dollars per year—and she treated millions of viewers like fools.

(Obviously, she also would have understood how inane Trump's statements about the birth notice were.)

Today, we liberals assail those viewers as racists. As we do, Our Own Corporate Hoor goes on the air to treat us like absolute fools, money stuffed into her pants.

Like the viewers over at Fox, we liberals just sit there and take it. If we might borrow from Don Corleone, this is the gong show we've chosen.

Greta Van Susteren's work at Fox was anything but great. Last Thursday, an unnamed star was working hard to sell us a wheezing contraption—to sell us The Edsel, The Betsy.

In TV ads, this major star can now be seen vouching for The Greta. Grinning weirdly, "Greta is great," our own tribute to Trumpism says.

To watch Greta bow to Ole Massa: For tape of Greta's exchange with Trump, just click here, then click again under the headline, "Trump Suggested Obama's Long-Form Birth Certificate Was Forged."

Can you spot the greatness there? Frankly, we cannot.

Regarding The Greta, no fish today!


We're fact-checking Cooper v. Conway:
We expect to spend the day fact-checking this week's Wednesday night fight.

We refer to last evening's dispiriting battle between CNN's Anderson Cooper and Donald Trump's Kellyanne Conway.

To watch the tape of the fight, click here. The full interview lasted 25 minutes. Broken into chunks, it ate up most of Cooper's 8 PM hour.

Cooper and Conway were debating the accuracy of a Tuesday report by CNN. This is the way last night's battle got started:
COOPER (1/11/17): At today's press conference, [Trump spokesman] Sean Spicer conflated unsubstantiated claims that BuzzFeed released with what CNN reported [on Tuesday]. And I was surprised by that, because he said BuzzFeed and CNN made the decision to run with the unsubstantiated claim.

That's simply not true.
I mean, what CNN said is that CNN is not reporting on details of that memo, as it is not independently corroborated the specific allegations.

Do you acknowledge here and now that CNN did not release the 35-page unsubstantiated claims against Donald Trump and it was misleading and untrue for Sean Spicer to suggest otherwise?

CONWAY: No, our incoming press secretary, Sean Spicer, was exactly right, as was the president-elect, Anderson. CNN went first yesterday and BuzzFeed went second.

COOPER: We didn't report what BuzzFeed reported.

CONWAY: I didn't say that you did, but you linked to it in your story.
That chunk of transcript shows you how last night's battle started. As best we can tell, three things have already happened:
Things which have already happened:
1) Cooper has offered a fuzzy paraphrase of whatever it is Spicer said.

2) Cooper has asked a two-part question, making it easier for Conway to give him an answer she liked.

3) Conway seems to have made an inaccurate claim ("you linked to it in your story"), though we aren't yet completely sure about that.
Toward the end of his hour, Cooper devoted one segment to a discussion of this dispute. This discussion featured CNN personnel only. Whatever one thinks of Conway's performance, we thought the CNN personnel got way out over their skis at times.

Skill levels sometimes seemed low. In fairness, this shouldn't be completely surprising given the peculiar behavior these stars are now confronting.

Conway is so central to one branch of Trumpism that it might as well be called Conwayism. We expect to explore the culture of Trumpism next week.

Tomorrow, we'll finish our report on The Selling of Greta Van Susteren. Just in terms of depression abatement, on how many consecutive days can you ask a sensible person to discuss the sales job a certain unnamed cable star dumped on our heads last week?

("Greta is great! She is!")

For the transcript of Cooper's 8 PM hour, you can just click here. You'll be seeing the headlong unraveling of our failing political culture, which enters, on that videotape, into Full Babel Mode

The process which produced last night's "discussion" has been underway for 25 years. Whatever your preferences, make no mistake:

Our liberal world has played a key role in this ongoing, gruesome process.

What is a lie, academic division!


The absence of the profs:
We know, we know! On Monday, we said we were going to examine the skill levels put on display when some journalists recently tried to answer this basic question:

Should a journalist call a lie a lie?

Our view? As a general matter, the answer is no! But let's return to that tomorrow. For today, let's consider the recent death of Derek Parfit.

Very few people have ever heard of Parfit. In the New York Times, the obituary, by William Grimes, started off like this:
GRIMES (1/5/17): Derek Parfit, a British philosopher whose writing on personal identity, the nature of reasons and the objectivity of morality re-established ethics as a central concern for contemporary thinkers and set the terms for philosophic inquiry, died on Monday at his home in London. He was 74.

Janet Radcliffe Richards, his wife, said the cause had not been determined.

Mr. Parfit, who was associated with All Souls College at Oxford for his entire career, rose to pre-eminence with the publication of his first paper, ''Personal Identity,'' in 1971.


''It was a revolutionary paper, and it made him a philosophic celebrity instantly,'' Jeff McMahan, a professor of moral philosophy at Oxford and one of Mr. Parfit's former students, said in an interview.

''Reasons and Persons,'' published in 1984, was greeted as the most important work of moral philosophy since Henry Sidgwick's ''The Method of Ethics'' in 1874. In it, Mr. Parfit elaborated his ideas on identity and explored issues in moral choice that reanimated the field of ethics, which had descended into abstruse technical analyses of moral terms like ''ought,'' ''good'' and ''right.''
The obit runs more than a thousand words. Let's consider what is said right there, at the start:

According to Grimes, Parfit's work "re-established ethics as a central concern for contemporary thinkers." Parfit became a "philosophic celebrity" in 1971. The book he published in 1984 "was greeted as "the most important work of moral philosophy" since a book by Henry Sidgwick in 1874.

These statements struck us as strange. Reason: we'll guess that very few New York Times readers have ever heard of either Parfit or Sidgwick. But according to Grimes, they were the most important writers in the field of ethics and/or moral philosophy in at least the past 150 years!

We decided to check. Given their greatness, how often has either man's name ever appeared in the Times?

The Nexis archives date back, fairly reliably, for thirty to forty years. But when we searched, we found that Parfit's name had appeared in the Times only five times during that period. Sidgwick's name beat him, racking up seven cites.

Trust us—these were almost all fleeting single citations, often in book reviews:
Dates of previous mentions in the New York Times:
Parfit: 10/3/10; 1/2/11; 10/2/11; 3/18/12; 8/5/12

Sidgwick: 7/15/84; 7/22/84; 9/9/90; 12/2/02; 8/14/06; 8/20/06; 5/8/11
This struck us as strange, but revealing. Everyone has heard of "morality," "morals" and "ethics." But no one has ever heard of the two most important academic figures in the field of ethics over the past 150 years!

If you read the rest of the Grimes obit, you may come to see why that is. You'll be reading hopelessly abstruse attempts to summarize some hopelessly abstruse work.

The problem will become much more stark if you read Dylan Matthews' schoolboy-crush pretense of a discussion of Parfit at Vox. (Unintentionally ironic headline: Here's Why He Mattered.) Meanwhile, if you click the link Matthews provides, you'll find that he came very close to plagiarizing a hopelessly abstruse account of Parfit's work from a lengthy 2011 profile in The New Yorker.

Over the past thirty years, our national discourse has been disappearing beneath the waves of what is now known as Trumpism. Our journalists have almost completely lacked the skills, or perhaps the will, to confront the attacks of the sanity and the clarity of our discourse. Meanwhile, our professors of ethics have been absent, like central figures from one of Ingmar Bergman's all-time gloomiest films.

God is dead? So are our philosophy professors!

Go ahead! Read the profile of Parfit from The New Yorker. See if you can con yourself into believing that you have any idea what Parfit was talking about. Do you feel sure that he was talking about anything at all?

Was God AWOL for poor Bergman as of The Seventh Seal? Our logicians and our ethics professors have been AWOL for us for a good many years! In their absence, what's the best our journalists can do in their stead? Believe it or not, this is the way the lengthy New York Times obit ends:
GRIMES: In addition to his wife, Mr. Parfit is survived by his sister, Theodora Ooms. In addition to his home in London, he had one in Oxford.

On Daily Nous, Mr. Singer offered a snippet from Mr. Parfit's new work:

''Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine.

''In Nietzsche's words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea.''
Did our greatest moral philosopher write those words? Or was it actually (we're just asking) possibly Chance the Gardener?

By way of contrast: And we're just saying. Edie Sedgwick's name has been mentioned several hundred times.

Ask one question, you may get an answer!


Ask two questions, you won't:
We haven't seen Donald J. Trump's full press conference yet.

That said, upon returning to our campus from a mission of national import, we found a complaint from Josh Marshall about Trump's refusal to answer:
MARSHALL (1/11/17): There's such an avalanche of stuff coming out of this press conference, this may have been missed. When asked to state categorically that no one tied to his campaign was in contact with the Russian government during the campaign, Trump ignored the question.

Indeed, he ended the press conference after he ended his response to the question.
Headline: "Trump Dodged Key Russia Question; Ended Presser"

Why didn't Donald J. Trump answer so basic a question? Marshall went on to provide the transcript of the question Trump had "dodged." Can you spot the journalistic problem here?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. Can you stand here today once and for all and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign and if you indeed do believe that Russia was behind the hacking, what is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?
That's right! Donald J. Trump was asked two questions there, not one. And when a pol is handed a multi-part question, you're pretty much inviting him to answer the part he prefers.

Technically, this is terrible journalistic practice. We may understand why a reporter may want to ask all his or her questions at once. But this "dodge" illustrates the obvious problem with asking a question like that.

(We saw reporters asking three-part questions earlier in the press conference.)

Marshall got semi-hot and bothered about Donald J. Trump's refusal to answer. Later, he added an update:
MARSHALL: Late Update: CNN's Jim Acosta is now reporting that reporters followed Trump to the elevator in Trump Tower and, noting his non-answer, repeated the question as he walked toward the elevator. Acosta's quote: "As he was going to the elevators, we all were asking him again to answer that question, and he said, no, that nobody associated with him or his campaign was in contact with the Russians during the context of that campaign."
We don't know if Trump's answer was truthful. But dearest darlings, where is technique? Josh was getting us all worked up about a standard journalistic fail.

INTRODUCING THE GRETA: The summer of '10!


Part 3—As the worm turned:
A letter in today's New York Times describes a serious problem. It helps explain how we've achieved the current ludicrous state of our ludicrous public discourse.

The writer refers to this guide, in which a pair of liberals explain how we liberals should react to Trump. That said, we were struck by the letter writer's description of one part of our ongoing cultural mess:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/11/17): It’s nice that the Op-Ed writers have created “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” for people willing to read it, but the existence of this guide is no match for the huge propaganda machine on the right—Fox News, which runs continuously in almost every bar and convenience store in many parts of the country, and the hundreds of right-wing radio stations molding people’s minds, often with complete disregard for the truth.

Until moderates and progressives have an equivalent way of communicating, the right wing in this country will continue to dominate.
It's true! There is a "huge propaganda machine on the right." Frequently, it does operate "with complete disregard for the truth."

Rather plainly, that huge machine does "mold people's minds." It determines the things that people believe, the things people think they know.

Should moderates and progressives find "an equivalent way of communicating?" We're not sure what that means. But we do know this:

Greta Van Susteren was part of that "propaganda machine" during her years at Fox. Last Thursday, so was the ludicrous Rachel Van Maddow as she buffed and polished, then tried to sell, her own corporation's new car.

Yesterday, at the Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove was especially scathing in his review of Van Susteren's Monday night debut at MSNBC. Her new lead-in to Hardball should perhaps be called Softball, the wry pundit puckishly judged.

Grove recalled Van Susteren's "zealous defense" of Roger Ailes when accusations of sexual harassment broke. He then launched a point-by-point account of her Monday night performance.

From that one show, there's no way to know what Van Susteren will be like as an MSNBC performer. That said, Grove's critique stood in sharp contrast to Maddow's fawning last Thursday night, when she told us gullible liberal viewers that "Greta is great. She is!"

Despite Maddow's ridiculous claims, Greta Van Sustern wasn't great during her tenure at Fox. Maddow's pimping and fawning was grossly misleading. Let's just say she was selling the car.

In our next report, we'll offer examples of Greta's less-than-great work, focusing on the inexcusable ways she helped Donald J. Trump pimp his birther claims all around. For today, let's return to the year when Rachel Maddow flipped on Van Susteren's work.

In recent years, Maddow has consistently tended to vouch for Van Susteren. She didn't feature clips of Van Susteren's work as often as she seemed to claim last week. But when she did, she routinely referred to the Fox News star as "my friend."

Last Thursday night, we even learned that Maddow has been a drinking buddy of Van Susteren and her husband, DC lawyer John Coale. For today, we thought you might want to know an intriguing fact:

In the old days, Rachel Maddow didn't seem to think that Greta was great.

Maddow wasn't always "a real admirer of Greta Van Susteren," a point of view she unveiled in October 2010. In the early months of that very year, she played video clips of Van Susteren on two separate occasions—but on each occasion, she did so to show us Maddow-sketeers how bad Van Susteren's work was.

Maddow hadn't yet started pretending that Van Susteren's work was great. And uh-oh! In the first example, Rachel told us that Greta the Great was "just plain making things up."

Without going into the substance under discussion, Maddow's condemnation of Van Susteren's work on this occasion was clear:
MADDOW (2/3/10): Wrong. Wrong! Andrea Mitchell just said that was wrong, just ignoring all the evidence of your complete and total wrongness does not make you less wrong!

But Senator Collins, for all of her astounding wrongness on this issue, is not the only Republican tripping and falling into the wrong in this political battle over the attempted Christmas Day bombing. Here, for example, is South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, along with Fox News's Greta Van Susteren. And the two of them—I will warn you in advance here—are just plain making things up.


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the interesting thing is, in my prior life as a criminal defense lawyer, so—and sort of my look at this, either he got himself a deal—

GRAHAM: Yes, probably.

VAN SUSTEREN: —right up front, a good deal, or he's got a lousy lawyer.

GRAHAM: Well, I.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I understand his lawyer's good, so he must have gotten some deal.

GRAHAM: I used to be a military lawyer, a defense lawyer. I used to be a defense lawyer in the civilian world. I wouldn't let my guy talk until I knew it was to his benefit.


MADDOW: Wrong? Wrong.
Oops. Greta was "just plain making things up" back in 2010!

Four weeks later, it happened again! In this instance, Maddow was wondering how an unnamed Fox News anchor could be so uninformed about the so-called "nuclear option"—why he mistakenly believed a "bogus Republican talking point."

She said he must have been watching too many other people at Fox News! Maddow included Van Susteren in a list of Fox miscreants:
MADDOW (3/1/10): No, no. Completely not what the nuclear option is! Why would that Fox News anchor mistakenly believe that bogus Republican talking point? Perhaps because he's been watching a lot of Fox News lately.


STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS: Republican lawmakers fear that Democrats will use the controversial nuclear option or reconciliation to pass health care with just 51 votes.

BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS: Reconciliation or the nuclear option requires only 51 votes to pass the bill on the Senate side.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The GOP slamming the majority for threatening to use the nuclear option. The Senate procedure called reconciliation.

VAN SUSTEREN: Some Democrats want to use reconciliation known as the nuclear option to push through a health care bill with 51 votes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this may be the course, reconciliation, the nuclear option, we shall see.


MADDOW: You know, they say that only— They only push an agenda, they only sort of have opinions, in their prime time hours, just those guys at night. It's amazing.
Maddow listed Van Susteren as one of the people who was misinforming others at Fox. She seemed to say that Van Susteren was repeating "bogus Republican talking points," "pushing an agenda."

As of March 2010, Maddow didn't seem to think that Van Susteren's work was especially great. Something happened over the summer.

That fall, Maddow interviewed Senator Lisa Murkowski, who was locked in an election fight with a more conservative Republican. Without explanation, Maddow now offered this endorsement:
MADDOW (10/26/10): Fox News makes me crazy, but I am a real admirer, actually, of Greta Van Susteren. She did an interview with you last week where you said something really interesting. You said you remembered a time when the Moral Majority came in and turned Republican politics on its head here in Alaska. What did you mean when you said that to Greta?
Maddow was now "a real admirer" of Van Susteren, who was now referred to on a first-name basis.

Needless to say, people are allowed to change their minds about the work of big major cable news stars. Over the summer of 2010, Maddow seemed to have developed an appreciation for the greatness of Van Susteren's work at Fox.

Maddow seems to have changed her view, but that doesn't mean that her new view was wrong. At any rate, from that point on, Maddow tended to describe Van Susteren as her "friend." Last Thursday night, she told us that Van Susteren is "great."

Here's the problem:

Maddow's new view about Van Susteren was wrong. So were Maddow's ridiculous statements last Thursday night.

Van Susteren may well be a wonderful person off stage. On stage, her work for Fox has been a rolling mess. During her years at Fox, Van Susteren was an obvious cog in the propaganda machine today's letter writer described.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the lack of greatness exhibited by Van Susteren during her tenure at Fox. In particular, we'll look at the way she helped Donald J. Trump pimp his birther claims.

No part of the path to our broken discourse has been more broken than that. Alas! While Maddow was sipping classic cocktails with her friend, her friend was doing this.

Tomorrow: How to roll over for Trump