Journalist lowers the boom on the press!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2019

Well worth thinking about:
Matt Taibbi has apparently lowered the boom on the mainstream press.

We base this statement on Ann Marie Lipinski's review of Taibbi's new book, Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another. Her review appeared in the Outlook section of yesterday's Washington Post.

We haven't read Taibbi's book. For that reason, we can't vouch for the quality of its analysis.

That said, we think its themes, as described by Lipinski, are well worth thinking about. After some preliminaries, she starts her description like this:
LIPINKSI (10/20/19): [Taibbi] blast[s] an American media industry he accuses of taking sides and manipulating the audience for profit...

“The subject here is the phasing out of independent journalism, replacing it with deeply politicized programming on both ‘sides,’ ” he writes. “Which ‘side’ is better is immaterial: neither approach is journalism. Fox may have more noxious politics, but MSNBC has become the same kind of consumer product, a political safe space for viewers in ironclad alignment with a political party.”
Is MSNBC really providing that kind of "consumer product?" Is it providing "a political safe space for viewers in ironclad alignment with a political party?”

In many ways, yes, it plainly is. And as Lipinski's overview continues, Taibbi even names Rachel Maddow:
LIPINSKI: Taibbi’s equal-opportunity enmity is announced by his book cover, a red-and-blue diptych featuring photographs of cable gladiators Sean Hannity of Fox News and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. Maddow suffers an especially rough critique for her persistent focus on the Russian collusion story, an approach Taibbi believes was excessive, built not on fact but on innuendo fashioned for liberal viewers, and worthy of Hannity-level shaming. “The two characters do exactly the same work,” he writes. “They make their money using exactly the same commercial formula. And though they emphasize different political ideas, the effect they have on audiences is much the same.”
We pause here for a scripted complaint concerning "moral equivalence." That said, has Maddow's "persistent focus on the Russian collusion story" actually been excessive? Has it really been built on innuendo more than on fact?

In our view, there's no simple answer to those questions, but the single-mindedness of her focus has been undeniable.

For ourselves, we would stress the many topics which get completely ignored as Maddow talks about Russia and (Almost) Nothing Else. We say almost nothing else because Maddow lards her discussions of Russia with consumer product about the past evil deeds of Republican figures associated with Presidents Nixon and Reagan.

Monologues about Ed Meese and Spiro T. Agnew do seem designed to provide the type of "political safe space" in which viewers get to hear endless accounts of all the bad things The Others have done.

Serious topics are dumped, disappeared, in favor of these pleasing morality tales. This strikes us as very bad conduct.

According to Lipinski, Taibbi makes a further accusation. It explains the name of his book:
LIPINSKI: Hate, the author argues, has been promoted by news outlets that cater to “distinct audiences of party zealots” fed a diet of information intended to demonize political opponents—and increase viewership. It’s a model with benign consequences when applied to coverage of rival sports teams, but otherwise corrosive. “In 2016 especially, news reporters began to consciously divide and radicalize audiences,” he writes. “. . . As Trump rode to the White House, we rode to massive profits. The only losers were the American people, who were now more steeped in hate than ever.”
Are news orgs really "promoting hate" when they pander to their specialized audiences? We'd have to see Taibbi's evidence and examples before we ascribed to that view, although there's certainly plenty of tribal loathing and disrespect being pimped all around.

As she continues, Lipinski finds fault with some of Taibbi's assertions:

"Taibbi is right to sound the alarm about the temptations that have tarnished news reports since Donald Trump’s election, resulting in more programming that appears designed to ratify an audience’s political beliefs," she writes. "But he overreaches when he claims that 'the bulk of reporters today are soldiers for one or the other group of long-entrenched political interests in Washington.' "

Actually, we're not entirely sure that Lipinski is describing an "overreach" there. With respect to both Clintons and Candidate Gore, and now with respect to Donald J. Trump, it's certainly true that many reporters have been in thrall to certain political storylines—storylines they pursue with maniacal zeal.

As always, the strength of Taibbi's accusation in this area rests upon the nature of the examples given, assuming Taibbi bothers with examples at all.

Uh-oh! By the end of her review, Lipinski is saying that Taibbi overreaches badly in certain respects. At one point, she even says that Taibbi "admits to a reporting career catering to liberal readers and the 'self-loathing that came with knowing I’d tossed so much red meat to political audiences.' "

We've sometimes had that very reaction to Taibbi's work in the past. We've also sometimes thought that he was given to the type of "entertainmentism" which we find objectionable in Maddow's relentless mugging and clowning and selling-of-self.

Will "the new journalism" ever get old? We've sometimes found ourselves asking that question as we've read Taibbi's past work.

Still and all, it's rare to see a major journalist complaining about the hyperpartisan behavior of the modern guild. And it isn't all happening Over There, though it is all producing big profits.

Is that why cable behaves as it does? No wider discussion will follow from this, but we're glad to see somebody ask.

STARTING TOMORROW: The Age of the Novel!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2019

The start of a two-week report:
Tomorrow morning, we'll be starting an award-winning, two-week series, The Age of the Novel.

The report will describe the headlong retreat of our own liberal tribe to the comforting realm of the novelized narrative. At various times, this novelized thinking has also dominated the mainstream journalism of the past twenty-plus years.

(Among mainstream journalists, E. R. Shipp best described this novelized journalistic culture in this brief column in the Washington Post in March 2000. The column appeared during Shipp's tenure as the Post's ombudsman. Today, Shipp is an associate professor right here at Morgan State.)

Our new report will focus on Chanel Miller's new memoir, Know My Name, and on some major reviews of the intriguing new book. As noted, we expect to spend two weeks on this topic.

Top anthropologists repeatedly tell us that the highly fallible human mind is wired for the type of novelized thinking we will describe in this series. We keep thinking these experts have to be wrong, but the evidence just keeps piling up.

After that, a projected series: After that, a projected series, The Greatest Stories Never Told. Amusing tales of the mainstream press you aren't allowed to hear or wonder about!

SNAPSHOTS OF A CULTURE: Four out of five Democrats can't all be wrong!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2019

Sympathy for the bumpkins:
At least one reader of the New York Times saw value in David Brooks' column.

The column appeared on October 5. It presented an imaginary conversation between a Trump supporter (Flyover Man) and an unconvinced interlocutor (Urban Guy).

At least one reader thought he took value from the column's imaginary conversation. On Wednesday morning, the Times published five letters about the column. One of the letters said this:
To the Editor:

David Brooks’s imagined conversation with Flyover Man was quite telling. Those of us who consider ourselves liberals or even moderates need to listen with open minds. Heeding the wisdom of Mr. Brooks’s imaginings may be the only means of winning the election in 2020. We as liberals cannot continue to think (and act) as though we have all the answers. We simply do not! That kind of arrogance must end.

J— L— S—
West Thornton, Colo.
Where do they get these people? This writer's the type of self-loathing liberal who is prepared to deny the claim that we liberals "have all the answers!"

How should readers have reacted to the column in question? It's a bit hard to say.

The problem with imaginary conversations is the fact that someone has dreamed them up. The Brooks column didn't let us evaluate the thoughts of any real Trump supporter, of whom there are still tens of millions.

That doesn't mean the column is worthless. It makes it a bit harder to say how we should react.

The Times published four other letters about the column; they outvoted West Thornton Guy by a score of 4-1. We were struck by the way the column had seemed to the writer of this, the first of the five:
To the Editor:

David Brooks unabashedly ignores differences among America’s population in his imagined conversation between “Urban Guy” and “Flyover Man.” Americans outside the Beltway aren’t a homogeneous monolith. Lumping together Michigan factory workers, Arizona retirees, disenfranchised African-Americans, flood-ravaged Nebraska farmers and insolvent college students fails to reflect multiple differences of opinion and circumstance. These populations are far more disparate than Mr. Brooks’s East Coast media cohort.

Trump voters also are not a monolithic group. Assuming they’re all angry, underinformed bumpkins belies his support from greedy corporatists more concerned with personal wealth than national solutions. Where’s the fictional conversation with the C.E.O. aware that Mr. Trump is a traitorous grifter but voting for him to maintain his favorable tax rate? Dark money enriching Mr. Trump affects our democracy more than flyover angst.

W— J— A—
Phoenix
This writer seemed to think that Brooks' "Flyover Guy" was an "angry, underinformed bumpkin." Angrily, he wanted to know why Brooks hadn't written about the support Trump draws from rich corporate CEOs.

Phoenix Guy wasn't the only writer who felt that Brooks should have pursued a different topic. A writer from Chicago adopted this same style of complaint:
To the Editor:

Why is it always Flyover Man and Urban Guy? Doesn’t this conversation just add to the polarization in our nation rather than explain it? How about a conversation between Moderate Meg and Fundamentalist Florence or between Small-Town Sam and Big-City Sarah? Let’s hear some women’s voices discuss the Trump impeachment.

Instead of stridency and grievance—which we heard from David Brooks—I bet there would be more and quieter expressions of sorrow, loss and concern as we each struggle with our humanity and with the pain of who we are as a nation.

S— E— A—
Chicago
Brooks was just adding to polarization! This writer wanted to hear "some women’s voices discuss[ing] the Trump impeachment."

We were struck by that request. Is there anyone who hasn't heard women complaining about Donald J. Trump? Of course, many women oppose impeachment. Is it possible that this irate writer was asking to hear from them?

In our view, major pseudo-liberal news orgs have shown amazingly little interest in asking why so many people supported, and still support, Trump. When newspaper have explored such topics, liberals have often responded by angrily insisting that such coverage should stop.

Full disclosure. Anthropologists have despondently told us that the human brain, such as it is, is wired precisely this way.

We're wired to loathe and avoid The Others, these top major experts have said. "Whatever you do, don't speak to Those People!" So our lizards are allegedly wired to tell us.

We can't say if these experts are right, but their East Coast credentials are daunting. Meanwhile, one other writer bluntly expressed her reaction to the imagined flyover Trump supporter:
To the Editor:

David Brooks’s characterizations of Trump supporters don’t elicit my sympathy. Struggle and disappointment are not unique to white Americans in the middle of the country. People everywhere deal with job loss, family chaos and communities coming apart. One of the things that makes urban-me mad is the fact that my kids can’t afford to live in this town where they—and I—grew up.

Whites in rural America have no special privilege to justify their nihilism.
Life is difficult for everyone. Deal with it. Grow up.

L— S—
Berkeley, Calif.
Nihilists be damned! She has no sympathy for the bumpkin! But is that was the column had sought?

Why did 63 million people vote for Donald J. Trump? Some voted for Trump due to their loathing for Hillary Clinton. This morning, our big newspapers are dribbling out the news about the probe of her emails—the topic those newspapers beat to death in 2016, even as tribal stars like Rachel Maddow refused to tackle the topic in any way or challenge Comey the God.

(Question: Are we bumpkins when we fail to see the topics this star keeps avoiding?)

Why do (various) people still support Donald J. Trump? We'd like to know more about that. Meanwhile, for a second trip to rural Arkansas, we'll recommend this week's column by Gene Lyons, a New Jersey man by birth.

A few Sundays back, Monica Potts took us to Van Buren County, where the locals are "very religious" and refuse to do what they're told by people with several degrees who are patiently trying to help them.

Just for the record, these are the "educated" people who sat on their ascots while Clinton was savaged for her emails as Our Own Rhodes Scholar refused to speak up or complain. They're the people who said nothing when Clinton was slimed as "Evita" and "Nurse Ratched" many long years before that.

Potts took us to Clinton, Arkansas, population 2500. Lyons takes us to Perry County, "just down the road from Clinton."

What are thee bumpkins in that county like? Lyons provides brief description.

As you may already know: Lyons is the author of Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater (1996), a book press elites knew they had to ignore. Four years later, he and Joe Conason wrote The Hunting of the President.

Because these books discussed the work of the upper-end mainstream press, the books had to be ignored. We intelligent liberals rolled right along, self-impressed to the end.

We decided to try to resist. But only after Trump won!

Brooks would vote for Candidate Warren!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2019

But says she could actually lose:
Will our stumbling nation even have an election net year?

We aren't completely sure about that. And things are unraveling fast.

There are things a certain person could do, or could at least attempt to do, to avoid the possibility of losing such an election. We find it hard to believe that we won't experience some astounding events next year.

That said, let's suppose that Donald J. Trump is on the ballot next fall, opposed by Elizabeth Warren. After listing four objections to Warren, David Brooks says today that yes, he would vote for Warren:
BROOKS (10/18/19): [I]f it comes to Trump vs. Warren in a general election, the only plausible choice is to support Warren. Over the past month Donald Trump has given us fresh reminders of the unique and exceptional ways he corrupts American life. You’re either part of removing that corruption or you are not. When your nation’s political system is in danger, staying home and not voting is not a responsible option.
Brooks continues from there, beating up further on Trump. We're most concerned by one of the objections he lists with respect to Warren:
BROOKS: First, there are Warren’s policies. On trade, she’s a protectionist. Her 10-year, $34 trillion health care plan isn’t paid for. Her student debt cancellation plan is a handout to the upper middle class. Her campaign seems to not acknowledge the inevitable trade-off between economic growth and high spending, high taxes and high regulation.

Second, she’s one of the few Democrats who could actually lose. As Yascha Mounk notes in The Atlantic, Democrats won in 2018 because they won back a lot of nonpartisan suburban office park workers who found moderates they could vote for. When you remind independents of Democratic support for abolishing private health insurance and decriminalizing unauthorized border crossing—two key Warren policies—they become six percentage points less likely to vote for the Democrats. Trump will tell voters: You may despise me, but she’ll destroy the economy.
You can review objections three and four by reading Brooks' column.

That said, could Brooks be right? Could a Candidate Warren actually lose to a Candidate Trump next year, assuming that we actually have an election?

(For the Yascha Mounk essay, click here.)


We rarely make predictions. In the current circumstance, it seems to us that Trump's increasingly bizarre behavior has taken us beyond the place where anyone can sensibly make any predictions at all.

That said, could a Candidate Warren actually lose? Is it true that she's one of the only Democratic candidates who imaginably could?

It seems to us that liberals ought to be exploring such questions. From "everyone knows that Trump can't win" to "everyone knows that Mueller will save us," we've been living inside a succession of fantasy bubbles over the past four years.

Given the fact that we're all so bright, might it be time that we stop?

Also this: Brooks didn't even mention the Native American question.

Are we sure that topic can't come back? Given our usual way of functioning, are we sure it can't come back because we don't want it to? Because we've declared it racist?

We'd guess that no, it can't come back. But we can't really say that we're sure of that. Should we possibly try to puzzle this question out?

SNAPSHOTS OF A CULTURE: The time we followed Rep. Cummings!

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2019

Even respectful toward Trump:
In the wake of Elijah Cummings' death, we've thought about some of our experiences as a performer.

On one occasion, in August 1996, we opened for Johnny Cash. After we finished, changing our mind, we decided to to stick around to see what happened next.

Thirty seconds into the gentleman's set, we were very glad that we'd stayed. Immediately, it was strangely apparent that Johnny Cash was the real deal.

Around that same time, we performed at a convention luncheon event for a well-known corporate group whose name we can't recall. The speaker that day was Rep. David Bonior, the liberal Democrat who chaired the relevant committee in the House. We were struck by the chill in the air as he gentleman spoke.

On another occasion, we performed at the national convention of a construction industry group. The convention had a striking, somewhat menacing theme: "Balcony failure."

We've often thought that, if the world contained only people like us, there wouldn't be any balconies at all, let alone any balcony failure. In all likelihood, there wouldn't even be any walls for balconies to fall off.

In 1995, we had to follow President Clinton at the first official fund-raiser for the re-election campaign. The gentleman told an extremely good joke about the immediate surroundings. Making matters even worse, he delivered the joke very well.

(The punch line: "I always ask myself, Hey, which one of us got elected president, anyway?")

Then too, there was the time, probably in the late 1990s, when we had to follow, or attempt to follow, Rep. Cummings at a biannual AFL-CIO evening event.

Senator Sarbanes also spoke, as did Kweisi Mfume, who was the head of the national NAACP at the time. But it was Cummings, the relatively new congressman, who gave the most memorable speech.

Because the gentleman's political appeal was that of a "regular guy," we had no idea, until that night, that he was such an astonishing speaker. He spoke about the values he learned from his grandparents in South Carolina.

We can't remember a single specific thing he said. We only remember his remarkable moral depth and power.

In this morning's papers, we find two anecdotes about Rep. Cummings' respect for others. This attitude on Cummings' part has been discussed on several occasions in the past year or so.

In the Washington Post, Colbert King discusses Cummings' role in passing criminal-justice reform legislation in recent years.

"What a blessing he was," King writes. He continues with this:
KING (10/18/19): In April 2015, Cummings assembled at Howard [University] some key advocates of criminal-justice reform legislation that no one thought would see the light of day on Capitol Hill.

On the dais sat an unlikely alliance—liberal Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), sharing a panel with now-former congressman and Freedom Caucus member Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), in addition to a Koch Foundation representative—promoting an unprecedented progressive change in an unjust and corrosive justice system. Cummings, by all measures, helped steer that bill out of darkness into law.

Which galled some of us to see Trump shamelessly take credit
for an initiative that was underway and advanced months before he took office.

Some of us gagged.

But not Cummings.
Apparently, Cummings wasn't one to gag. Nor does he seem to have been a hater, or even a loather, of persons.

Did Rep. Cummings learn these values from his grandparents? We can't tell you that. But in this morning's New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise quotes an associate of Cummings who said that Cummings' "unflappable optimism sometimes frustrated him."

That estimable figure is Ralph Moore, "a veteran activist in Baltimore who teaches classes for adults getting their G.E.D." The world needs many people like Moore, who sometimes found Cummings frustrating:
TAVERNISE (10/18/19): “He was a moderating influence,” Mr. Moore said. “He wanted this system to work. He believed in it. I guess from the vantage point of a congressman that makes sense. But he was mindful that from our vantage point in a city like Baltimore, you have to keep wondering how is this going to work.”

One example was Mr. Cummings’s response to President Trump’s attack on Twitter this summer
in which the president called his district a “rodent infested mess.”

Mr. Cummings replied calmly: “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors.”

“He was being nice to him,” Mr. Moore said, “and I didn’t agree with him being nice to him.”

But that spirit is what made Mr. Cummings unique, his friends in Baltimore said on Thursday.
Hey! We live in that district too!

At any rate, Cummings was being nice to Trump! Understandably enough, Moore wasn't inclined to agree with that approach.

There is no ultimate right or wrong concerning such matters. And Trump, of course, is the one person best equipped to occasion the loathing of those who oppose his behavior and his views, to the extent that he actually has any discernible views.

That said, Cummings was able to assemble various people to pass that criminal justice legislation. There was even a Koch person there!

In our own view, our liberal tribe has suffered greatly from the impulse to look down on others, not excluding millions of regular people who aren't Donald J. Trump. As a group, we're long tended to think that we're the good, smart, decent people, unlike the lesser folk offensively found Over There.

We're told that we human beings are wired to see things that way. It seems to us that, for our own hapless liberal tribe, this attitude has frequently been self-defeating over the past quite a few years.

Did Cummings mention respect for others when he spoke to that crowd that night?

We can't recall a single specific thing he said. But as many others seem to have found, he was very impressive, and we were impressed and surprised.

Tomorrow: No sympathy for the devils