GOSSIP OR JOURNO? That pretty much isn't what CNN said!

MONDAY, JULY 30, 2018

Part 1—Embellishment, gossip, group fiction:
It's one of the most endearing traits of our not-quite-"human" species.

And sure enough! There it was, this very morning, in the very first item we read!

Our first perusal took us through this new op-ed column by the New York Times' Charles Blow. Midway through his predictable piece, Blow made the inevitable inaccurate statement:
BLOW (7/30/18): CNN reported on Friday that “sources with knowledge” told the network that Trump knew of the infamous Trump Tower meeting during the campaign in which Russians promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Except that isn't what CNN reported on Friday in this online report by Sciutto, Bernstein and (Marshall) Cohen.

Beyond that, it isn't what CNN reported at 9 PM Eastern the night before, in the bombshell report which touched off three hours of gossip and speculation by the nation's "cable news" stars.

According to CNN, did "sources with knowledge" tell CNN that Trump knew (in advance) about the infamous meeting?

Actually, no. That isn't what CNN said. According to Friday's report by CNN, "sources with knowledge" told its reporters something different.

According to CNN, "sources with knowledge" told CNN that Michael Cohen is claiming that Trump knew in advance. According to CNN, sources with knowledge" say that's what Cohen is claiming, though he "does not have evidence, such as audio recordings, to corroborate his claim."

According to CNN, that's what "sources with knowledge" told them. According to CNN, its sources have knowledge have knowledge of what Cohen is claiming, not of what Trump knew.

That differs from Blow's embellished account, in which CNN seems to be saying that sources (plural) who know what they're talking about have said that Trump knew in advance.

CNN has never claimed that its unnamed, undescribed sources have personal knowledge of what Trump knew. CNN has only claimed that its sources have knowledge of what Cohen is claiming.

Those are very different things. Blow's account of what CNN reported jumped ahead of the facts a bit, as does a great deal of what we read and hear from our mainstream press corps.

We "humans!" If we might borrow from Professor Harari, we love our "gossip" and our "fictions," which we tend to adopt and assert as a group, especially when we're engaged in gossip.

According to Harari's best-selling book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, our unreliable species, Homo sapiens, gained control of the planet when a set of chance mutations gave our ancestors the ability to "gossip" and to create group "fictions." These new abilities allowed our ancestors to cooperate in much larger groups, driving all other human species into extinction.

It seems to us that these all-too-human traits dominate our upper-end journalism today. Just consider our floundering nation's recent political history:

It could sensibly be said that the political journalism of the past thirty years has been dominated by gossip about the two Clintons and Gore. Also, by the widespread adoption of "fictions" about these major players.

It could sensibly be said that twenty months of such gossip sent George W. Bush to the White House through his amazingly narrow "win" in the 2000 election.

More recemtly, it could sensibly be said that twenty-five years of such gossip about Hillary Clinton sent Donald J. Trump to the White House through his narrow "win" in the 2016 campaign.

(Clinton won the popular vote by roughly 2.1 percentage points—by 2.87 million votes.)

Our journalists—quite frequently, they're "all-too-human"—gossiped about the Clintons, and then about Gore, from January 1992 on. This gossiping was largely conducted by the mainstream press, even by members and orgs which are perceived to be liberal.

These demonizations continued through the fall of 2016. "Corporate liberal" journalists stood by in general silence as decades-old themes were revived and as new themes developed. Whatever a person may think of her 2016 campaign, does anyone doubt that the demonizations of Hillary Clinton let Commander in Chief Donald J. Trump achieve his amazingly narrow "win?"

Harari has ventured into prehistory to deliver his remarks about gossip and group fictions. Even in the way he defines them, these group fictions are closely related to the age-old stuff of gossip.

We can't assess the statements Harari makes about our species' evolution in the distant past. But his claims about gossip and the adoption of fictions serve as a helpful heuristic—as a useful descriptive shortcut—for those who seek a useful general account of the way our press corps functions.

With that in mind, let's establish parameters for a week-long discussion:

Long ago and far away, Bobby Vee had a problem. He was only 18 years old—roughly the age of the typical modern journalist.

That said, Vee was troubled. He articulated his concern through the lyrics of a 1961 hit:
Bobby Vee's rumination:
Devil or angel, I can't make up my mind
Which one you are, I'd like to wake up and find
Devil or angel? Dear, whichever you are
I miss you, I miss you, I-I mi-i-iss you...
Vee couldn't decide if his girl friend was a devil or an angel! Almost surely, she was neither. But Vee's emotions had perhaps overwhelmed his rational faculties.

This week, we'll walk a similar path. Are people like Blow best seen as gossips or as journalists? In the main, are they gossips devoted to adopting and promotion group fictions? Or are they the smoothly functioning "rational animals" we humans have long claimed to be?

In the paragraph we've posted above, Blow did what the gossip will typically do. He took something CNN reported and he embellished the story a bit.

All over the mainstream American press, our journalists took this approach to both Clintons and to Gore. Often, they went well beyond mere embellishment. Often, they simply invented their fictions.

That's largely the way they worked, from January 1992 on, concerning the Clintons and Gore. Now their target is Donald J. Trump, a deeply disordered person.

Their target today is Donald J. Trump, but it isn't altogether clear that their methods have changed. Gossip or journo? Do they mainly function as gossips, or are they mainly journalists?

Do they mainly work through preferred group fictions? Or do they apply the rational tests which play such a prominent role when we silly, gossiping humans start describing ourselves?

Harari mordantly notes the way we humans tend to overstate our own greatness. Since it's all anthropology now, we'll be asking a basic question this week:

These players say they're journalists. Are they actually gossips?

Tomorrow: What Natasha said—but also, Kessler, Marshall and Marcus

40 comments:

  1. Can somebody out there Paypal me some gas money... before Saturday?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey loser, you nailed Mao again! Just kidding, I know by the God Awful jokes you are the same person.

      Delete
  2. Somerby has no idea what Harari meant when he referred to gossip or to group fictions. Further, Somerby has no idea what it means to write an "op-ed" or opinion piece instead of a news article.

    Somerby thinks that the garbage Dowd wrote about Clinton and Gore, for example, is gossip. That is a huge misuse of the term. Saying ugly untruths about another person is slander, not gossip. Gossip is saying "did you see that your neighbor bought another new car?" it is not saying "did you know that your neighbor embezzles from his employer?" The latter is slander and is not healthy for groups. The former is helpful because it encourages group communication, cohesion, and enables planning and cooperation, affiliation, working together. Somerby misses key distinctions in the way these terms are used by folks like Harari.

    He misses these points because he isn't truly interested in Neanderthals versus Homo Sapiens. He is interested in a hook to hang his latest screed upon. He is playing gotcha with Blow, not discussing how anyone communicates.

    So, what is a group fiction? It is a set of beliefs that are shared among a group of people that organize and give cohesion to them as a people. Note the similarity to the function performed by gossip. In hunter-gatherer times, such group fictions gave order in the form of explanations for mysteries, ways to conduct lives, ways to cure and ways to find game. They were the shared wisdom of the group. Harari is referring to creation myths, religion, tradition and identity (who are we, why are we here, what are we like as a people). He is not talking about everyone agreeing that Gore shouldn't wear earth tones or that Edwards has girly-hair. Nor is he talking about an op-ed, which by definition is the opinion of the writer and not even the representation of the editorial staff, nor news put out by the paper. It is one guy's opinion. That means it is not group fiction. But Somerby doesn't care -- Harari is just a rhetorical device to him.

    Cohen is an eyewitness to what Trump knew. Short of Trump telling us what he knew, that is about as close as you get. In fact, Trump did tell us all that he knew about the meeting when days ahead of time he told us all to get ready for a major speech dishing Clinton dirt. In retrospect, we see that the major speech never happened because the Russians didn't deliver in the way Trump expected at that meeting. But Trump revealed his foreknowledge of that meeting when he made that statement, in public, to everyone. Cohen is just corroborated the meaning of that statement made by Trump.

    You have to be a total idiot to maintain disbelief in the face of that much evidence that Blow is correct in his interpretation of things. But Somerby is entirely capable of that much disbelief. Why? I believe it is because he is being paid to create chaos among liberals and offer support to Trump in his hour of need. Here is yet another piece of evidence that Somerby has become a Trump apologist. He yet again insists we cannot know what is obvious because we didn't see that old sun come up this morning with our own eyes. So no collusion -- and anyway, collusion is no longer a crime. Guiliani said so. What an asshole Somerby has become.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If Somerby is being paid, do you think Blow is in on it too? The whole scam rests on Blow embellishing what really happened. Somerby and the people paying him don't have any chaos to create if Blow is accurate.

      Delete
    2. From Blow's op-ed:

      "“Cohen alleges that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians’ offer by Trump Jr. By Cohen’s account, Trump approved going ahead with the meeting with the Russians, according to sources.”"

      Sounds like an accurate description of the CNN report.

      Delete
    3. @12:06 -- Now you're just trying to create your own kind of chaos.

      Delete


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  3. "Whatever a person may think of her 2016 campaign, does anyone doubt that the demonizations of Hillary Clinton let Commander in Chief Donald J. Trump achieve his amazingly narrow "win?""

    "Demonizations"? You have gotta be kidding, Bob. The psycho-witch self-credited with extermination of the most prosperous state in Africa and barbaric murder of one the greatest anti-imperialist heroes of all times - she was portrayed by the goebbelsian liberal media as a generally well-meaning human being with some minor flaws. And that's the opposite of demonization, Bob.

    Now, Donald the Magnificent, the true American hero, has been demonized all the way, but you (being a lib-zombie, and all) are probably happy about that, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I doubt that the demonizations contributed to her loss. The statistical analyses point to Comey and Russian meddling. That's why this investigation is so important. We need to find out what actually happened so that this particular group fiction that Somerby keeps propagating can die a death.

      Delete
    2. No, Somerby is definitely right about this. Just read the latest OIG report on the 2016 election. You could basically boil it all down to the conclusion that Clinton Derangement Syndrome forced everyone including the Director of the FBI to act totally irrationally and against standard protocol. After all, it's just Hillary, you know. So who cares if we stomp on her right to due process.

      Delete
    3. I would be more likely to chalk it up to misogyny -- the country isn't ready for a female president. There just isn't anything about Hillary specifically to justify the weirdness surrounding people's opposition to her. But the visceral dislike of her can be motivated by sexism, especially given its similarity to how people with racist views feel and reason. But I guess the country isn't ready to talk about sexism either. So it has to be some unaccountable Clinton-related phobia.

      Delete
    4. No, it is not misogyny. Just look at Republicans treat republican women in politics.

      •Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (Senator Mitch McConnell's wife, doesn't even use his last name, something Hillary Rodham wasn't allowed to get away with when he was governor.)

      •Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
      •UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
      •Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon
      •Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (she was preceded by Elaine Duke, who served as acting secretary until Nielsen's confirmation in December 2017)


      •Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway

      •White House press secretary Sarah Sanders

      •Senior adviser for strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp


      Do you see this imagined misogyny towards Senator Lisa Murkowski , Senator Susan Collins , Senator Joni Ernst etc etc etc? No, this is special irrational sick hatred for Secretary Clinton and only Secretary Clinton.

      Just the other day on The View:

      "Joy, I call her 'Crooked Hillary," co-host Meghan McCain revealed. "I do. When I'm talking about Hillary Clinton, I call her 'Crooked Hillary.'"

      "'Crooked Hillary' really worked during the election," McCain added, "Because, I hate Hillary Clinton."

      Meghan McCain? What exactly are her accomplishments? Why does she feel so free and at ease to speak these hateful words on The View where she has a permanent seat?

      She's deranged. CDS

      This is a sickness, an irrational sickness directed to Hillary only.

      Delete
    5. And of course I forgot to mention, Sarah Palin, who electrified the Republican men in 2008.

      Delete
    6. None of those women were a serious threat to the presidency -- they didn't have a real shot and aren't as obviously competent as Clinton, as qualified. All of them are firmly under the thumb of male party leaders.

      If you ask "why Hillary?" there is no good answer except that she is more qualified than any woman has been, more likely to win. There is no need to step on someone unless they are getting in the way. None of the Republican women you describe has challenged the President or any male politician in any meaningful way. They have token power and act as pawns. Not Hillary.

      Delete
    7. Then explain to me why the hatred persists to this day. Hillary has been vanquished. She is no longer a threat to becoming President. She will never run again. Yet the chants of "lock her up" continue to this day.

      Don't forget, they were ready to make Sarah Palin VP. And don't kid yourself, Elaine Chao wields tremendous power and has for a long time.


      It's actually kind of a silly argument to say that unless they be a potential President republican women in high positions with great power and authority are just tokens. The hatred for Hillary began long before she was ever became a serious contender for the highest office.

      "why Hillary?" there is no good answer..

      But there is. Somerby just mentioned it. 30 plus years of demonization. I talk to people all the time who viscerally hate and can't tell you why.

      Delete
    8. The hatred persists because she represents uppity womanhood, an existential threat to manliness in men who are insecure and whose sense of themselves depends on being superior to others. Trump uses Hillary hatred because (1) he himself is insecure in that way, as his need for constant conquests demonstrates, and (2) it rallies his so-called base to remind them of the threat. She is symbolic now.

      Elaine Chao stands in the shadow of her husband, on purpose. She wields power until she displeases someone. The she is toast, just like all the women (and men) Trump gets rid of. Omarosa comes to mind.

      There are no women in the Republican party who have real agency. They toe the line (tow the line?). The hatred for Hillary began when it was clear she wasn't going to bake cookies and when she talked about her own aspirations (joking about whether she or Bill would run) and the whole two-for-one presidential bargain. The hatred started when she got out of line.

      The demonization is motivated by fear of castration, which is pretty primal.

      The tip-off is that Hillary has never done anything to warrant the demonization. You still haven't answer, why her? In terms of demonization, note that Nancy Pelosi is a close second. Is it a coincidence that she is the second most powerful woman in the Democratic party, that she wields real power and is not subject to any male party leader who keeps her in line, and that she doesn't seem to care what men in particular think of her?

      Delete
    9. Republican women all meet the traditional stereotypes for appearance, behavior, adherence to gender norms. They are permitted to hold office because they are useful. Otherwise, they would be sent back home. Attributing agency to them is silly. They are not in charge of their own careers. Look what happened to Sarah Palin when she was no longer useful.

      Delete
    10. You make a lot of good points and I agree with most of what you say. I guess part of my reluctance to call it just plain old straight up misogyny may depend on how one defines that term.

      Delete
    11. Mao,
      You may not be dumb, but you sure are stupid.

      Trump is a liar and a thief.
      And Putin's bitch.

      Want me to repeat that?
      Trump is a liar and a thief.
      And Putin's bitch.

      The Russian whores are coming. All over Trump.

      Somerby? Cite any progress in the history of the world attributable to lying racist bastards.
      Parse your ass off Bob. You have lost the plot.

      Delete
    12. misogyny = "anyone but Hillary"

      Delete
    13. In contrast, Putin's motivation for attacking Hillary was motivated by her actions as Secretary of State. The failure of our nation to defend a public official from reprisals by a foreign government is shameful. Instead, Trump has sided with the enemy of our nation to defeat the person who held him accountable while in office. Party partisanship cannot explain this -- the only word for it is treason.

      But compared to so many who voted in the last election, Putin's motives are straightforward and relatively pure. You can ask "What did Hillary do to deserve Putin's attacks?" and get an actual answer. And now Trump is Putin's bitch and every word he utters against Hillary is a declaration of fealty to Putin.

      How is that not obvious to all?

      Delete
    14. "There just isn't anything about Hillary specifically to justify the weirdness surrounding people's opposition to her."

      That is not true at all. Libya. Her decisions on that alone are enough to justify a reasonable opposition to her being president or having any position of power.

      Delete
    15. Now, who has the derangement syndrome? Clinton destroys Libya and is responsible for tens of thousands of dead and opening up a void that has led to a slave trade, she leaves the place in ruins and people that don't like her are deranged? The people that support her are the ones who are deranged. What she did in Libya alone is criminal and disgusting.

      But it seems to the people here - her labia gives her a pass for her Libya (disaster). Or something. Or you people are probably not even aware of what she wrought there.

      This is why Somerby's criticism of political entertainment media is valid. They don't tell you about these things. You sail along the seas of ignorance "dreaming with thy hand on the helm" as it were. Worrying and wondering about the confederacy of ignorant racists and misogynists who surround you and confound you. Worrying and wondering whether or not Melania faked her death or whatever the sideshow de jour may be. Even still, while your leaky boat has crashed into the sharp rocks of reality, you dream and fantasize and absolutely refuse to take a deep, thorough look at the party who represents you and their maniacal leaders.

      Delete
    16. Sure Brent, that's why she's been hated for 30 plus years - cause every right wingtard knew that in 2011 Qaddafi would begin slaughtering his people, and everyone knew that she was going to be SoS and agree to join our allies to stop the madman. Of course we knew all along she was doing it to promote slave trade which never existed before in the history of that wretched and corrupt region. Blow me, pal.

      Delete
    17. OK - we can agree to disagree. I think it is reasonable to oppose her based on the Libya disaster and ALL middle east interventionism. I thought it was reasonable to oppose her 30 years ago for using a fake Arkansas accent. It's true - she's over now and she left her party in tatters.

      Delete
  4. "These new abilities allowed our ancestors to cooperate in much larger groups, driving all other human species into extinction."

    If these new abilities permitted homo sapiens to prevail, why have they now become a liability? Why wouldn't they go on permitting humans to succeed as a species? Why is Somerby convinced these are bad things, to the point that he writes post and post decrying our tendency to gossip and create group fictions, predicting gloom and doom because we can't get news straight (according to his view of reality)?

    Supposedly, we liberals cannot win elections and are hopeless politically, but conservatives engage in far more gossip and group-fiction making than we do and they are the ones succeeding. Seems to me, if Somerby truly cared about our success, he would be encouraging liberals to do more gossiping and group fiction writing, because that is the key to winning.

    So, why is Somerby trying to undermine liberal success? Why doesn't he want us to be the homo sapiens of the political arena? Can it be that he is actually a Neanderthal and wants us to lose in this replay of the war between the species? I don't see any other explanation.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Blow isn't trying too hard to create a misleading narrative. Aside from linking to the same CNN report that Somerby does, Blow says this, immediately following the text quoted by Somerby:

    'According to the report:

    “Cohen alleges that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians’ offer by Trump Jr. By Cohen’s account, Trump approved going ahead with the meeting with the Russians, according to sources.”'

    It's pretty clear to the reader that, in an op-ed which is a profile of Cohen, that the passage in question is about Cohen's allegations, and how dangerous he could be for Trump.

    Now, someone at least believes the sources and thinks Cohen himself is making the allegation:

    "I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?)."

    Now there are reports of Giuliani walking back the original denials.

    That sounds like someone trying like hell to create a misleading narrative.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Charles Blowhard you mean

    ReplyDelete
  7. (Marshall) Cohen

    I like how it's necessary to specify.

    Did you see that Bergblattstein article?

    Wait, Morty?

    No.

    Moishe?

    No.

    Shlomo?

    Yeah, he sure skewered those hick southerners!

    ReplyDelete


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  9. According to Wikipedia, "Devil or Angel" is a song written by Blanche Carter and originally recorded by the Clovers in 1955.

    Because it wasn't written by Bobby Vee, it doesn't matter whether he was 18 years old and it doesn't matter whether he was emotional or rational (as if the two were opposites).

    Why does Somerby stick in random stuff like this? Is he writing stream of consciousness? There is no connection between the rest of his post and the lyrics of this song. And the things he says about it are just plain stupid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Devil or Angel is another example of the impact of Somerby's Catholic heritage on his thinking. This is the view of women in the church. Women are either virgins or whores, they are like Mary or they are fallen, in the arms of Satan. That's perhaps why this song appeals to him and keeps running in and out of his brain as he tries to think about weightier stuff, like Neanderthals.

      Delete
    2. Greil Marcus, he is not.

      Delete
    3. I know and love the Bob Dylan/Bobby Vee connection.

      Delete
  10. Hey July 30, 2018 at 1:33 PM,

    Fuck off and die, Nazi filth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The people that brought us Weimar Germany and modern America are going accuse others of being filth? That's rich. Ya know, some say that Hitler did nothing wrong, but that's a monstrous thing to say. Jews are more numerous and powerful than ever, so Hitler clearly did something wrong.

      Delete
    2. You don't find many self-hating Jews these days, but @5:17 is a wonderful example. Of course Hitler made mistakes. For one thing, he failed to invaide Great Britain. For another, he attacked Russia creating two fronts, then he ignored history by moving toward Moscow in the Fall, exposing his ill-equipped troops to freezing weather, starvation (Russians scorched the earth before their advance so they could not live off the land), and illness. Then, instead of cutting his losses and regrouping, Hitler used to force his troops to fight to the last man, which was self-defeating at the end and undermined faith in his judgment. Because of his superstition, Hitler destroyed the best universities in Europe and let the scientists flee to the US and Russia, creating a brain drain that hurt Germany but helped his enemies. So, yes, Hitler did many things wrong. Maybe it was his part-Jewish heritage that led him to make so many many mistakes? You tell me. Your shame at your own 23&Me results are obvious to all here. But we are tolerant and can overlook your wretched heritage.

      Delete
    3. And yet when all is said and done, yer still a worthless piece of Nazi filth. Sad!

      Delete
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