Dumbnification is powerful: Dumbnification is powerful.
It's also semi-ubiquitous. Dumbnification seems to be an essential part of our so-called human nature, a fact the modern mainstream press corps has worked to make quite clear.
We marveled at the dumbnification as we watched Chris Hayes last night. (He was assisted in part of the dumbnification by NBC's Julia Ainsley.)
In today's hard-copy Washington Post, Alexandra Petri's op-ed column is a monument to dumbnification. All these acts of dumbnification involve the Manafort trial.
Within the workings of the mainstream press, dumbnification is quickly converted to script. For today, let's discuss the Post's hard-copy news report about the Manafort trial.
The report bears the bylines of four Post scribes, though it's less than 900 words long. In the news report's first ten paragraphs, we're offered some very basic facts.
No dumbnification intrudes at this point. Hard-copy headline included:
WEINER, ZAPOTOSKY, BALINGIT AND THOMPSON (8/4/18): Manafort jury told of false filings, undisclosed accountsIn those passages, readers are given basic information. Manafort's accountant testified that she helped Manafort and Gates 1) falsify tax records and 2) obtain bank loans through fraud.
One of Paul Manafort's accountants testified Friday that she went along with falsifying his tax records because she was afraid to confront a longtime client.
Cindy Laporta said that in 2015, Manafort's right-hand man, Rick Gates, told her his boss couldn't afford to pay his taxes. To ease that burden, she said, Gates instructed her to misrepresent $900,000 in income as a business loan.
Laporta, who testified after she was granted immunity, said "I very much regret" the decision to go along with a plan that she estimated saved Manafort at least $400,000 in taxes.
[LaPorta] testified that she also helped Manafort obtain millions in loans fraudulently, including by representing rental property as a second home, sending a bank a loan-forgiveness letter she believed to be forged, and telling another bank Manafort expected a $2.4 million payment when she had "no idea" if it was true.
That's basic information about what was said at the trial. Soon thereafter, the scripted dumbnification occurs. What follows is dumbnification:
WEINER, ZAPOTOSKY, BALINGIT AND THOMPSON: [Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo] Asonye guided jurors through the details of the alleged tax fraud, showing them Manafort's personal and business tax returns. Even as testimony turned complicated, the jurors appeared to pay careful attention. Several took notes in black notebooks, and virtually all looked at the monitors in front of them as attorneys zoomed in on portions of documents they sought to highlight.According to the quartet of reporters, the jurors paid close attention to basic documentary evidence concerned the alleged tax fraud. They were being offered basic facts, and they were taking notes.
During recent years, Manafort reported making healthy incomes—$504,744 in 2010; $3,071,409 in 2011; $5,361,007 in 2012; $1,910,928 in 2013; $2,984,210 in 2014. But prosecutors say he was making millions more from his work in Ukraine, stashing it in foreign bank accounts and using it to buy luxuries such as a now- infamous $15,000 ostrich-leather bomber jacket.
For us at home, a bit of thoroughly entertaining dumbnification followed. We were offered the entertainment, and the mandated gossip, involving the now-iconic ostrich jacket.
Just how dumb is the highlighted passage? The passage is this dumb:
According to the four reporters, Manafort was receiving millions of dollars in unreported income. And how was he using that money?
He used the millions of dollars to buy a $15,000 item! Obviously, this construction make no sense, except as an example of scripted dumbnification.
The mandate emerged quite quickly this week—the ostrich must always be mentioned. It's a way of entertaining us rubes. It's also an item of gossip, a way of "killing the pig."
In this case, the four reporters were even willing to identify the jacket as an artifact of irrelevant script. It isn't simply an ostrich-leather jacket, they say. They specifically say that it's the "now-infamous" ostrich jacket, the one that a cast of millions have been clowning about.
When reporters behave this way, they're telling you that they regard you as basically dumb. They're also saying that they regard you as lovers of gossip.
Beyond that, they're telling you something about themselves—that they themselves are creatures of gossip. According to Professor Harari, our warlike species, Homo sapiens, drove all other humans to extinction when this new capability emerged.
Those journalists! They regard you as the sort of people who enjoy killing the pig. In this particular case, the reporters gave us the basic facts—but then, we got our dessert!
The nature of that one "now-infamous" purchase has nothing to do with the basic elements of this trial. Undisclosed income does; so do fraudulent loan statements.
That said, reports of the use to which Manafort put his (undisclosed) income is purely an entertainment function. It's also a matter of gossip, in which legions of leather-wearing liberals are encouraged to see their moral superiority to That Guy, the one Over There.
Hayes should be ashamed of himself for various things he did last night. Petri's column is her usual piffle. That said, this sort of silly scripted gossip is what our press corps likes best.
We'll remind you again—it was Candidate Gore whose wardrobe was frisked by the "mainstream press" for two solid years in one recent election. That disgraceful, relentless conduct was accepted by one and all. In the end, it sent George W. Bush to the White House, where he started an ill-advised war.
People are dead all over the world because the children gossiped and invented fictions about various items of clothing. But it's the game they love the most.
The ostrich stays in the news report! By now, it's a matter of script.
The most faux moment of all: We're sure that Ainsley is a thoroughly decent person. That said, we'll ask you again: Does anyonee escape cable news with their basic values intact?
The analysts groaned at the exchange shown below. This moment was thoroughly faux, but also rather familiar:
HAYES (8/3/18): You know, there's something here as I, as I read testimony in the case and as I've sort of paged through some of the, some of the bits of evidence the government has entered, Julia, that there's a desperation here that's almost cinematic. I mean, you can feel it wafting off the e-mails right? These are people that are scrounging and starved for cash.Manafort wasn't financially desperate in the way Ainsley and Hayes might be! Our journos are working stiffs like us, such comments may seem to say.
AINSLEY: Desperation is the word here, Chris. I'm glad you use that, because I think that's the one word that the prosecution wants to have sticking in the jurors' mind would they go to deliberate. They want to show that this man was desperate enough that he would have worked with these incredibly shady characters like Viktor Yanukovych, that he would have falsified his tax returns. He would have even put his whole business and family at risk because he was so desperate. There was even a point brought up yesterday, he got to a point he might not even be able to pay his own health care premiums, but he still wanted to be able to fund the lifestyle and keep the house in the Hamptons.
This was a man who was desperate, not only to survive, but to keep up his own image. He was desperate, not in a way that you or I might be financially desperate, but desperate to kind of hold onto this kind of pseudo-power that he had amassed around him.
In such ways, journalists may sometimes try to keep us from grasping the lay of the land in a big-money medium like cable news.
Chris Hayes is very bright; last night, he played it entertaining and dumb through various parts of his hour. How much money is he paid to make these adjustments to his substantial intelligence?
You aren't allowed to know such things! In fact, you're widely encouraged to misunderstand the size of the payments involved.
People will do lots of things for large amounts of cash. It seems that was true in Manafort's life. To what extent is that ancient fact true in the realm of entertaining, ratings-based "cable news?"
People are dead all over the world in part because we don't ask.