Part 4—We're with anti-Communist: A dishonest anti-Communist witch hunt lies at the heart of the 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate.
Poor, friendless Raymond Shaw has been brainwashed by Communist forces somewhere in Manchuria. When he returns to the U.S., his mother is directing his hapless stepfather, Senator Iselin, as he conducts a crazily dishonest, McCarthyite anti-Communist crusade.
How inane is Senator Iselin's crusade? He keeps using a different number as he describes the number of Communists inside the federal government. On the whole, the press is too dumb to notice this problem.
In the scene shown below, Senator Iselin asks his wife to help him settle on the number of Communists he should he has discovered. Where will the pair get their final number? From a ketchup bottle!
Stage directions included:
MRS. ISELIN (vicious): Stop talking like an expert all of a sudden and get out there and say what you're supposed to say!We thought of that hunt, and of its dishonesty, as we watched the pundits perform on today's Morning Joe. Truthfully, the Iselins had nothing on Joe and Mika.
SENATOR ISELIN: C'mon, babe, I—
MRS. ISELIN (suddenly sweet as sugar): I'm sorry, hon. Would it really make it easier for you if we settled on just one number?
SENATOR ISELIN: Yeah. Just one real simple number that'd be easy for me to remember.
The senator unscrews a bottle of ketchup and starts glopping it on his steak. Mrs. Iselin looks at the bottle. It's Heinz Tomato Ketchup—you know, the brand with fifty-seven varieties.
CUT TO: On the Senate floor, Senator Iselin makes a speech.
SENATOR ISELIN: There are exactly fifty-seven card-carrying members of the Communist party in the Department of Defense at this time!
The Senate BUZZES at this. People are yelling, running around, etc. Raymond sits quietly with the other members of the press taking notes.
On Morning Joe, they aren't hunting down Communists at this particular time. Surprisingly, they're hunting down racists this week, starting with Candidate Trump.
The dishonesty comes to mind if you understand the way this program's hosts were pimping this same gruesome, disordered candidate all through the past year. Now, the multimillionaire cable stars have decided to execute a flip. They're erasing their own recent history through their new vibrant crusade.
Suddenly, surprisingly, we're all with Anti-racist! Unfortunately, we're also all with Stupid now, and with fake and dishonest.
The apparent dishonesty of the Morning Joe team has become its defining trait. That said, group hunts are almost always stupid. In a truly Manchurian way, that has been the case this past week as our new witch hunt proceeds.
Are we all Manchurian now? Are we all in the zombified, hypnotic, post-rational realm portrayed in The Manchurian Candidate?
It seems to us that we very much are. Consider what happened when Dahlia Lithwick denounced Trump's latest behavior while ignoring his actual claims.
For the record, Dahlia Lithwick doesn't typically work on the level of Mika and Joe. She holds a law degree from Stanford. She has covered legal issues for major publications for years.
Still and all, when witch hunts begin, we're suddenly all with Stupid. All power of discrimination is gone, along with normal journalistic practice.
So it was when Lithwick reviewed Trump's latest behavior for Slate.
Trump's latest claims involve a federal district judge, Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over the "Trump University" case. Like everyone else, Lithwick is horrified by Trump's behavior. She is deeply upset, on the level of history's greatest hunts.
Good judgment and sound practice tend to disappear at such times. Below, you see the way Lithwick began her piece for Slate. Although she's only written one sentence, several infamous motifs have already appeared:
LITHWICK (6/6/16): Let’s start by agreeing on this: No truly sane person can defend Donald Trump’s vile, racist slander against Gonzalo Curiel.Let's start by agreeing with me! Despite the unintentional humor, several infamous motifs have already appeared:
By law, the accusation must be ramped up when the mob starts running. In Lithwick's handling, Candidate Trump isn't simply racist. He is vilely racist—later, overtly so.
(For other examples of ramping up, see yesterday's Part 3.)
A second motif appears in Lithwick's opening sentence. When the mob runs through the streets, everyone has to pre-agree on the verdict. You won't be judged sane if you don't! Right in her opening sentence, Lithwick asserts this deadly historical point.
This is an extremely dangerous way to start any discussion. Before she has said a thing about Trump's actual behavior or claims, Lithwick has announced that no sane person can disagree with the standard group viewpoint.
Verdict first! This ancient, prehistoric impulse will always appear at such times. Mika and Joe have been playing this game as they erase their own recent history, but they are among our biggest fakes.
Historically, the real problem starts when people like Lithwick get swept up in such crazes.
Everyone has to agree about the witch! If you can't spot him, that means you're insane! Lithwick has voiced the eternal cry from which craziness flows. As she continues, she excitedly skips right past the most basic part of the case:
LITHWICK (fuller text): Let’s start by agreeing on this: No truly sane person can defend Donald Trump’s vile, racist slander against Gonzalo Curiel. The Southern California federal district judge is currently presiding over two class-action lawsuits filed by former students against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s Trump University. The “University” and Trump are on the hook for allegedly using predatory marketing practices to sell worthless real estate classes. Last week, Curiel ordered documents containing damaging statements from former Trump University employees released to the public. The documents were damning. Grifters gonna’ grift.There are so many problems with that text that the gods of rational process all cry out in pain. Examples:
Trump responded in a fashion that conforms perfectly to his usual methods. First he accused Judge Curiel of being “a hater.” Then he claimed that Curiel, “happens to be, we believe, Mexican,” which not only carried racist overtones but was also wrong—Curiel was born in Indiana to parents of Mexican descent. Trump then warned “judges in this court system … ought to look into Judge Curiel,” implying that he was guilty of some kind of systematic misconduct. Then on Thursday, Trump issued the coup de grace, arguing that Curiel had “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation because he was “of Mexican heritage” and a member of a Latino lawyers’ association. Trump insisted that the racial background of this American-born judge was relevant because “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.”
Faced with the chance to walk back the statement this weekend, Trump walked it gleefully forward. The former reality TV star told John Dickerson on Face the Nation it was “absolutely possible”—based on religion alone—that a Muslim judge would also be unable to treat Trump the litigant fairly.
He may not have acknowledged it as such but Trump has gone beyond racist dog whistles into overt racism here. The use of a judge’s ethnicity or race alone has been rejected for decades as a basis for demanding formal judicial recusal.
Did Candidate Trump really start by calling Curiel a hater? Has Candidate Trump actually criticized Curiel on the basis of "ethnicity or race alone?"
Is it not "possible" that a Muslim jurist could display a bias of some sort in some case, including in a case involving Trump? Why wouldn't that be possible? Is a person not truly sane if such questions come to his mind?
Later, Lithwick makes other embellished assertions. Is Trump really "declaring that no judge from any ethnic or racial background Trump has insulted can ever hear any case involving him?" For ourselves, we'd have to say that he hasn't done that. It's hard to get even dumber than Trump, but as the new hunt created excitement, it seems that Lithwick went there.
Everyone must pre-agree! If you don't pre-agree, you're not truly sane! Excited people carrying ropes have always started with these scared tenets. That said, do you notice what Lithwick hasn't done in the part of her essay we've posted?
That's right! Lithwick hasn't made any attempt to evaluate the claims with which Trump really did start!
Candidate Trump has claimed that Curiel made a series of bad legal rulings—bad legal rulings which went against Trump. On the basis of these rulings, Trump asserts that Judge Curiel seems to have a bias.
That's what Candidate Trump has said. By normal standards, an obvious question arises:
Is it true? Did Judge Curiel really make a series of bad legal rulings? Lithwick, Slate's legal reporter, never states a view on this at any point in her essay! Indeed, she never even mentions the fact that Trump has made this claim. She's too busy saying that she has spotted a racist witch, and that you aren't sane unless you pre-agree with her judgment.
Do you mind if we state an obvious point? If Judge Curiel really did make a series of bad rulings, it wouldn't be crazy to speculate about a possible motive.
This sort of thing occurs all the time. This very week, it's being done in a case involving sexual assault at Stanford. (More examples tomorrow.)
People speculate about possible bias in legal rulings all the time! In the normal course of events, it's the job of a legal reporter to start at the beginning—to evaluate the contested legal rulings on the merits.
That would be the normal course. But Lithwick was in a mob.
Are we all Manchurian now? On Morning Joe, the fakery is obvious, noxious—and it's being engaged in by all. Meanwhile, over at Slate, the legal reporter has chosen to run with Stupid.
In recent decades, the boys and girls of our mainstream press have often played it this way. In this case, they've finally done the impossible.
In this case, the press corps' performance has been even dumber than Trump's! Tomorrow, we'll visit one legal reporter who did the traditional work.
Tomorrow: Astonishing journalistic conduct! Megyn Kelly evaluates Trump's actual legal claims