Scott reviews Moonlight; his commenters muse!


Solomon savages Maddow:
After seeing Manchester by the Sea, then Moonlight, we've come to believe that we've discovered the oddest place in the whole world of modern mainstream journalism.

The oddest place in that world is the intersection between 1) an A. O. Scott review in the New York Times; 2) comments by Scott's readers; and 3) the marks reviewers were told to hit in the film's press release.

This is especially true if the film in question concerns matters of race, or can be made to seem so, and if the film is critically favored. In such circumstances, Scott is prepared to turn day to night in pursuit of establishment script, and his readers will praise him for this.

With regard to Moonlight, we were especially struck by Scott' ability to glide past the suffering on display in every frame of the film, starting when the central character is only 9 years old. In fairness, other reviewers seem to have done the same thing.

We're commenting on Scott'e review, not on the film itself. Also, on the endless power of mainstream press narrative, especially of the pseudo-liberal persuasion.

We may write more about Scott's review at some later date. Truly, though, our journalism, and our liberalism, are narrative all the way down.

We also link you today to a piece by Norman Solomon, the longtime progressive activist and journalist. He batters an unnamed major cable star up one side and down the other.

Because this major cable star is a liberal untouchable, you rarely see such comments in print. Warning! This unnamed liberal TV star gets compared to Glenn Beck!

We began telling you, years ago, that you can't believe a thing this major cable star says. Solomon makes similar comments. We won't tell you whether he's right in the particular matter under review. But we think it's healthy for liberals to see that things like this can be said, even about our biggest corporate stars.

We liberals! We've spent the past twenty-five years bringing Donald J. Trump to power. Now that it's too late to do any good, we're energetically marching, en masse. We're shouting complaints far and wide.

(Last week, the unnamed cable star in question used her toy xylophone to tell us that Mark Dayton has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Could something be "wrong" in this cable star's head? We've often wondered about that. Today, we'll let Solomon do all the lifting.)

USING OUR WORDS: And why it matters!


Part 1—Did Trump's nominee lie:
Did Donald J. Trump's nominee tell a lie?

We don't have the slightest idea. In part, that's because we read the word of our favorite blogger!

The blogger in question is Kevin Drum. Yesterday, he dropped an L-bomb on the nominee's head. This made us wonder if the nominee in question had actually told a lie. But alas! Nothing in this passage addresses that basic question:
DRUM (1/30/17): Rep. Tom Price has been dogged for weeks by allegations that he got a special deal on stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd. thanks to his status as a senior member of the House leadership (he's chairman of the Budget Committee). Price says it's all hooey: the deal he got was available to anyone who had invested in the company.

But now that turns out to be—what's the word? A falsehood. You know, the deliberate kind. Here's the Wall Street Journal:

"In fact, the cabinet nominee was one of fewer than 20 U.S. investors who were invited last year to buy discounted shares of the company—an opportunity that, for Mr. Price, arose from an invitation from a company director and fellow congressmen.

"The shares were discounted 12% off the traded price in mid-June only for investors who participated in a private placement arranged to raise money to complete a clinical trial. The company’s shares have tripled since the offering.

"....The discounted stock offer in Innate Immuno, as the company is known, was made to all shareholders in Australia and New Zealand—but not in the U.S....[Price] said he paid the same price as other investors in the private placement but didn’t say that the 12% discount wasn’t available to ordinary investors or that he was one of a select few who were invited to participate in the deal."

This was a "friends and family" deal, which is not uncommon for small companies doing private placements. The question is, why did Price lie about it? It's not illegal, and I don't think it violates congressional ethics rules. So what's going on here? Price doesn't even work for Donald Trump yet, but apparently he's already adopted the Trumpian habit of lying about everything even if you don't need to. It's good practice, I guess.
We judge that Drum was snarking a bit concerning the question of falsehoods v. lies. In the end, he came down on the side of using the L-bomb in this particular case.

That said, did Trump's nominee actually lie? More sweepingly, has he "adopted the habit of lying about everything even if you don't need to?"

We're do old that we can remember when that pleasing claim was routinely directed at Candidate Gore. By early 2000, for instance, that claim had become the stock in trade of Newsweek's Bill Turque, who we judge to be a nice guy as well as a Gore biographer.

(As always, we liberals just sat there and took it.)

Let's return to the present! Did Trump's nominee, Rep. Price, actually lie about that stock deal? Assuming that he told a "falsehood," was his falsehood a lie?

Nothing in Drum's entire post actually speaks to that question! Meanwhile, we can't read the Journal report to which Drum links. It may provide some relevant information, but it's locked behind a subscriber's wall. You probably can't read it either.

Did Price lie about that deal? We know of no reason to doubt Drum's claim, but Drum provides no reason to believe it. We liberals gain pleasure from Drum's post, but it skips past some basic facts.

How do we know that a falsehood's a lie? We're so old that we can remember when questions like these were being widely debated about Donald J. Trump himself.

That was still happening as of last week. Since then, a new set of Trump-based disputes have arisen, principally concerning last Friday's executive order. Later today, those disputes will be partially supplanted by the outrage which results when he nominates someone for the Supreme Court.

In this age of Trump, the craziness, and the attendant disputes, are likely be continuous. That said, the question of the way we liberals use our words will likely stay front and center through a wide range of such episodes. Consider the latest example:

Was Donald J. Trump's executive order really "a Muslim ban?" Did Rudy Giuliani actually say it was?

We liberals are now answering those questions in our preferred tribal ways. When we do, we tend to set up pointless debates which we're destined to lose.

(This is one of our team's top skills. It ranks up there with our unsurpassed skill at falling asleep in the woods.)

Does it matter how we liberals use our words? In the current context, we ask this question for an obvious reason:

Within our English language, we have an endless array of words with which we can refer to misstatements. At a street-fighting time like this, does it really matter which of those words we use?

It's long been clear that we enjoy calling The Others "racists." In recent weeks, it's become clear that we enjoy dropping our L-Bombs too.

At a street-fighting time like this, does it matter if we casually refer to falsehoods as lies? Does it really matter which of our words we use?

In fairness, life becomes extremely simple if we simply employ favored words. With respect to inaccurate statements, just think of the annoying, confusing array of words the English language includes:

The English language lets us talk about falsehoods, misstatement and lies. But it also lets us talk about statements which are unfounded or supported.

It let's us say that a statement is false. But it also lets us say that a statement is "misleading."

It lets us talk about people who lie, but also about those who "dissemble." Sometimes people embroider, embellish, exaggerate. Are they different from people who lie?

(If a statement involves a "delusion," can it still be a "lie?" Crazy people can make misstatements. Can crazy people tell lies?)

Our English language lets us say that a presentation is "selective." This leads us to an outrageous question:

In the face of such a presentation, is it possible that someone might want to present a set of "alternative facts?"

At a street-fighting time like this, it feels good to drop our most potent bombs, to use our most aggressive words. It feels good to say that the other guy's statements are lies.

It may feel good, but it's often a way to start a discussion we're destined to lose. Over at CNN, Kayleigh McEnany can win these games in her sleep!

(Have you noticed an unfortunate fact? Have you noticed that McEnany's a hundred times smarter than we are?)

That said, our highly unimpressive team has spent the past twenty-five years preparing the way for November's triumph by Donald J. Trump. We've rarely missed a chance to miss a chance! Why should we end our self-defeating ways now that Trump's in the White House?

In the next few days, we'll discuss some of the way we make life easy for Donald J. Trump. We'll even claim that it actually matters how we use our words!

Tomorrow: Why do we have so many words? Also, what David Corn did.

Award-winning program posted on line!


Hooray for Hollywood:
It has snowed about an eighth of an inch. For that reason, and because it's cheap ticket Monday at The Senator, we've declared a snow day and we're headed off to see Moonrise.

Meanwhile, this morning'a award-wining radio program has been posted on line. To share in all the excitement, you can just click here.

The Marc Steiner Show comes to you live and direct from Morgan State. As you may recall, The Nation picked it as the nation's Most Valuable Radio Show just a few years back.

The program lists its own top attributes here. We'd hail this as one of the best:

"brings together people who would not usually interact..."

For our money, this is impressive too:

"Creating something from nothing was not a new concept for Marc. He has always been on the cutting edge of bringing innovative programs to life. Earlier in his career he worked in therapeutic settings with at-risk youth. He founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system, as well as the Family Circle Theater, a company of teenagers that wrote, produced, directed, and acted in original productions. Marc also served for a year as the principal of Baltimore’s Experimental High School, and he taught Theatre for ten years at the Baltimore School for the Arts."

Jeez. That said, we go all the way back with Marc to the days of the Baltimore Colts. We recall the time a network color man said it was too early (in the game) for one of the teams to panic.

What would be the correct time to panic, one of the analysts asked.

Marcus questions Trump's "mental health!"


Post scribe gets it right:
Should we the people be concerned about Donald J. Trump's mental health?

In our view, the answer is obvious—yes. We think Trump's behavior and thinking are notably strange. If we plan to have a serious national discourse, we think it's time to take note of this disturbing fact.

As we noted last Thursday and also last Friday, it was our impression last week that Nicholas Kristof and Carl Bernstein were inching in the direction of some such declaration. In Sunday morning's Washington Post, Ruth Marcus dispensed with the winks and suggestions.

Marcus came right out and said it—we the people should be concerned about Trump's mental health..

In our view, Marcus got it right. Let's review what she said:

In hard copy, Marcus' column bore this headline: "An alarmingly erratic first week." As her actual column began, so did the semi-psychiatric language:
MARCUS (1/29/17): Week One of the Trump administration was among the most alarming in the history of the American presidency.

There have been scarier weeks for the country, certainly
—the Cuban missile crisis and the Sept. 11 attacks. There have been more tragic ones—the Sept. 11 attacks again, the terrible toll of wartime, the horror of four presidential assassinations.

There have been occasions of terrible presidential judgment—Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order to detain U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II. And there have been moments of looming constitutional crisis—during Watergate alone, the Saturday Night Massacre, the showdown with the Supreme Court over the release of the tapes, the impeachment inquiry that resulted in Richard Nixon’s resignation.

But the first week of the Trump presidency was alarming in a different way, because the frightening part involved the president’s own erratic, even bizarre, behavior.
According to Marcus, Trump's behavior has been "erratic" and "bizarre," to the point of being frightening.

A bit later, she used semi-psychiatric language again, as Kristof and Bernstein had done:
MARCUS: And so it went, each day feeling scarier than the one before, and Trump’s sycophantic aides modeling his own fact-free rants—press secretary Sean Spicer’s falsehood-filled briefing-room tirade, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway’s brazen defense of “alternative facts,” chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon’s brutish admonition to the media to “keep its mouth shut.”

Trump himself outdid his petty obsession with crowd size with his delusional obsession with popular-vote fraud, first behind closed doors with incredulous congressional leaders, then for all the world to watch in his ABC interview. What was once delusional ego-salving now appears headed for official inquiry.


You will notice that my lament about the week is largely devoid of ideological content. That is not because his policy moves are not appalling—they are. But you don’t have to disagree with Trump’s policies to be rattled to the core by his unhinged behavior. Many congressional Republicans privately express concerns that range from apprehension to outright dread.
According to Marcus, Trump's rants have involved some petty obsessions, and others she termed "delusional." We should be "rattled to the core," she said, by Trump's "unhinged behavior."

As Bernstein did on two occasions last week, Marcus suggested that congressional Republicans have been expressing concern (to the point of "outright dread") about Trump's erratic, unhinged behavior. Finally, as she ended her column, she made her meaning clear through use of an uncoded term:
MARCUS: There have been reasons to worry about other presidents’ mental health. Lyndon B. Johnson’s senior aides were so concerned about his behavior that they consulted psychiatrists. Nixon in the throes of Watergate was drunk and unstable, so much so that his defense secretary, James Schlesinger, reportedly ordered the military not to respond to White House orders without approval from him or the secretary of state. Still, other presidents’ outbursts occurred behind closed doors, and there was some hope that aides would intervene. Trump’s inner circle seems divided between enablers and inciters.

What is to be done? In a meeting last week with The Post editorial board, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said he was weighing legislation to require presidents to undergo an independent medical examination, including for mental health. Chaffetz cautioned that he wasn’t “talking about some of the rhetoric that’s flying around” about Trump. Still, he said, “If you’re going to have your hands on the nuclear codes, you should probably know what kind of mental state you’re in.”

That can’t happen soon enough.
Marcus made her meaning fairly clear. We should be concerned, even frightened, she said, about Trump's "mental health."

We agree with that assessment. Having said that, let's add this:

For fifty years, the country has been well served by the so-called "Goldwater rule." As part of that informal agreement, people have generally avoided making psychiatry part of the political discourse.

That rule served us well for fifty years. In the past few years, the rule has started to fail us.

Make no mistake—if the Goldwater rule is abandoned, it will create a new Babel. Every crackpot and his crazy uncle will soon be offering psychiatric assessments of every major pol.

Despite that fact, we think it's good that Marcus has spoken as clearly as this. Because of his delusional thinking and weird behavior, Donald Trump strikes us as dangerous. Judging from appearances, he has problems with his mental health—and he has the nation's nuclear codes.

It seems to us that this situation should be discussed. We think other sensible scribes should build upon Marcus' platform.

Tomorrow: We consider a few percentages

USING OUR WORDS: The chaos moves on!


Preview—An incomparable plan for the week:
We're heading off to do a radio program. For that reason, our first real post today will appear this afternoon.

Over the weekend, the chaos and confusion have spread. We've moved from the issue of President Trump's falsehoods, misstatements and/or lies to the question of his new executive order.

That said, strange claims by President Trump will surely continue. For that reason, we plan to spend the week considering the best ways to describe these peculiar claims.

Will we liberals, and will mainstream journalists, ever learn to "use our words" as we pursue the strange things this president says? Consider two clips from this morning's newspapers.

First example: In this morning's Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan discusses the ways our much-maligned news media can rebuild public trust.

Sullivan says reporters should stick to the facts. At one point, she also says this:
SULLIVAN (1/30/17): More than three in four Americans want the media to “emphasize inaccurate statements,” Pew reports.

They want journalists to call out falsehoods—lies—clearly. That flies in the face of Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s testy directive last week that the media “keep its mouth shut,” after widespread condemnation—in the fact-based world—of Trump’s bogus claims of widespread voter fraud.
Wow. Rather plainly, Sullivan conflates "falsehoods" with "lies." That's a very unsophisticated approach—and yes, it actually matters.
Our view? Sullivan isn't using her words—and yes, it actually matters. That said, let's move to a second example.

Over at the New York Times, Francis X. Clinton clearly is using his words. For better or worse, he includes this passage in an Editorial Notebook piece:
CLINES (1/30/17): Headlines from the Trump White House keep feeding a reader’s need for fresh escape. Stephen Bannon, the right-wing iconoclast who is President Trump’s chief White House strategist, imperiously demanded the news media “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” Such a trusted aide at the president’s ear summons up Chance the gardener (Chauncey Gardiner) in Jerzy Kosinski’s novel “Being There,” who offers simplistic bromides about the nation’s problems to a credulous president. In the movie, Chauncey, played hilariously by Peter Sellers, becomes popular in his own right for “his simple brand of wisdom.”

As Mr. Trump dissimulates further, the reading list can only grow, touching on the works of Richard Condon. He was the author of the Cold War novel “The Manchurian Candidate” who contended, “Although the paranoiacs make the great leaders, it’s the resenters who make their best instruments.”
Has Mr. Trump been "dissimulating?" In our view, Clines may be using his words too much!

Does it matter which words we use? Yes, it actually does! We'll be exploring the topic all week.

This afternoon, we'll return to the question of Donald J. Trump's mental health. We'll be applauding one major columnist who very much got it right!

How should Donald Trump's claim be described?


Times editors give it a shot:
How should Donald J. Trump's claim be described—his recent (unrecorded, reported) claim that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast in November's election?

In this morning's featured editorial, the New York Times gives that question a try. As we'll show you below, the editors start out today referring to Trump's "false claim."

Eventually, in paragraph 6, the editors get a snootful and refer to the claim as a "lie."

We'll review the text of the editorial below. First, let's ponder something in Dan Barry's recent report—his report about the way the paper's "top editors" first decided to call Trump's statement a "lie."

As you may recall, the L-bomb was dropped on the front page of Tuesday morning's Times. Somewhat strangely, Trump's statement was branded as "a lie" in the paper's front-page headline only. The news report beneath that headline didn't say Trump told a "lie."

Whatever! By way of recollection, here's what that headline said:

"Meeting With Top Lawmakers, Trump Repeats an Election Lie"

Please note. That headline doesn't say Trump "lied." It says he repeated a "lie!"

According to Barry, a significant difference lurks there. In this passage, Barry quotes Joshua Benton, flamboyant youngish director of Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab:
BARRY (1/26/17): [New York Times mastermind Dean] Baquet said he fully understood the gravity of using the word “lie,” whether in reference to an average citizen or to the president of the United States. He emphasized that it should be used sparingly, partly because the term carries such negative connotations, and partly so that it does not lose potency.

“On the other hand, we should be letting people know in no uncertain terms that it’s untrue,” Mr. Baquet said, referring to the president’s assertion of a voter-fraud epidemic. “He repeated it without a single grain of evidence, and it’s a very powerful statement about the electoral system.”

Mr. Baquet said that emails from readers seemed split on the appropriateness of the word’s use. Meanwhile, Mr. Benton, of the Nieman Journalism Lab, applauded its use as a noun in the Times headline (“Trump Repeats an Election Lie”); in this construction, he said, “the lie can exist as a reality distinct from the speaker’s intention.”
Benton applauded its use as a noun! Because the term was used as a noun, “the lie can exist as a reality distinct from the speaker’s intention!"

Donald J. Trump told a lie without lying! We live in a world where people like Benton says such things, and people like Barry type them on up.

Meanwhile, at the very top of our most famous newspaper, people like Baquet seem to think a claim is a lie if the claim is untrue. This is the shape of our world!

We'd pay good money to watch Benton and Barry attempt to defend Benton's gongy construction. That said, here's the way the editors limned this matter today:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (1/28/17): There are varying degrees of absurdity in the fallacies President Trump peddled during his first week in the Oval Office. Perhaps the most damaging was his insistence that millions of Americans voted illegally in the election he narrowly won.

Mr. Trump first made that false claim in late November, tweeting that he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” On Wednesday, he announced that he intended to launch a “major investigation” into voting fraud and suggested the outcome may justify tightening voting rules.

What once seemed like another harebrained claim by a president with little regard for the truth must now be recognized as a real threat to American democracy. Mr. Trump is telegraphing his administration’s intent to provide cover for longstanding efforts by Republicans to suppress minority voters by purging voting rolls, imposing onerous identification requirements and curtailing early voting.

“This is another attempt to undermine our democracy,” said Representative Barbara Lee of California, one of the states where Mr. Trump falsely claimed results were tainted by large-scale fraud. “It’s about not honoring and recognizing demographic change.”

The apparent source of Mr. Trump’s original claim of mass voter fraud was Gregg Phillips, a Texas man with a penchant for making wild allegations about voting fraud. Days before Mr. Trump’s tweet, Mr. Phillips claimed on Twitter that he had “verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens.” State election officials across the political spectrum promptly rejected that assertion, noting that ballot box fraud in the United States is exceedingly rare.

On Friday, Mr. Trump tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing the results of an analysis of illegal votes, as promised by Mr. Phillips. Republican officials know the voter fraud claim is an indefensible lie. But few are challenging Mr. Trump or raising alarms about how severely this hurts our election system.
The editorial continues from there. That said, did Donald J. Trump tell a lie? Here's how the editors played it:

First, they described Trump's statement about illegal votes as a mere "false claim" (also, as a "fallacy"). Skillfully moving from noun to verb, they soon said that Trump "falsely claimed" that California's results had been tainted.

(For our money, the editors never succeed in showing that Trump's claim is actually "false." That said, let's ignore that point today. Let's return return to the question of "lies.")

We were now four paragraphs in; no L-bombs had dropped from the sky. Frankly, we were starting to wonder if the editors, sixteen strong, were perhaps maybe taking a dive.

In paragraph 6, our faith was restored. Trump's "false claim" was bumped up a level. At last, it was scanned as a "lie."

Readers, can we talk? In the New York Times, Donald J. Trump still hasn't lied. On the other hand, he has told or repeated a lie.

At Harvard, the eggheads dissect these subtle moves. Here on our campus, we say it again:

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Starting Monday: Learning to use our words. Also, why does this matter?

Gazing into the middle distance: Earlier in his report, Barry had pondered that key noun-verb distinction. We bring his words to you here:
BARRY: To say that someone has “lied,” an active verb, or has told a “lie,” a more passive, distancing noun, is to say that the person intended to deceive.
Top editors chose a "distancing noun!" In this key and important sense, were they taking a dive all along?

Is Trump some version of mentally ill?


Carl Bernstein walks the line:
Remind us to tell you about the time we opened for Johnny Cash.

First, though, let's take a look at the things Carl Bernstein has said in the last four nights. We'd say that he, like Nicholas Kristof, has perhaps been walking a line.

Mental illness is a terrible thing. It robs people of their ability to do good things in the world.

Is it possible that our new president is some species of mentally ill? Monday night, speaking with Anderson Cooper, Bernstein started by offering this:
BERNSTEIN (1/23/17): We are having too many bizarre moments with this new president, as Phil Mattingly called it...Something very disturbing is going on here. I talked about the tweets being an MRI of his psyche, these remarks are likewise are an MRI of his psyche and it's not a very pretty place.
To us, that almost starts to sound like psychiatric language. For the record, these are the remarks by CNN's Phil Mattingly to which Bernstein alluded. Mattingly was describing Trump's appearance that night before congressional leaders:
MATTINGLY (1/23/17): Well, Anderson, in kind of what's being described to me at least by one source as a bizarre and awkward turn during that private meeting with congressional leadership, both Republicans and Democrats, the president recounted the idea, one that he has pushed several times in the past that between 3 and 5 million illegal votes were cast against him during the election. Now, this is something that is just not true, flatly not true. No evidence has been presented by Trump or his top associates to back up this claim that he'd made in the past on Twitter. And it's something we haven't actually heard a lot about from the president since those initial claims on Twitter. But it was brought up in a private meeting.

Now, the context of this is, the president was going through kind of a ten-minute recount of how he won the election, how the campaign all went and the congressional leaders were kind of listening intently. And then this came up. And, as I noted, as one source said it was a bizarre moment and it was a moment that the leaders kind of awkwardly just tried to move past.
Mattingly's account of "bizarre" behavior came from one unnamed source. The description isn't overtly psychiatric.

But when Bernstein returned to CNN Wednesday night, so did his semi-psychiatric allusions. On this occasion, he spoke with Don Lemon:
BERNSTEIN (1/25/17): Look, I think there is a subtext here that it is unlike anything that I have seen in fifty years of being a reporter. And that is that I'm hearing from Republicans, and other reporters are as well, that there is open discussion by members of the president of the United States' own party about his emotional maturity, stability. People are saying his psyche is driving the news cycle.

We are in uncharted territory here.
And we ought to talk to some of our colleagues about what they are hearing. I think it's, you know, it is a really fruitful area because I've never heard talking about a president the way this subtext is now talking—is now a talking point.
On this evening, Bernstein was discussing Trump's appearance before Republican leaders at their Philadelphia retreat. Later, Bernstein sounded semi-psychiatric again:
BERNSTEIN: This is why Republicans, in going to Philadelphia today, are talking to each other about his emotional maturity, stability. Look. We have a situation here where today the president of the United States told David Muir our country is falling apart. This is extraordinary. This is a broad brush, a tar brush, the likes of which I have never heard of.


I'm going to quote a senior Republican I talked with this evening. "It's delusional." That was his word. And that is what the conversation is about among supporters of this president. He is saying things that they regard as delusional, lies and they are perplexed. And they are bothered....There is something going on here. It's about the personality and ways of Donald Trump. Maybe we will get used to them, maybe we won't. But right now there are a lot of people who are disjointed by what he is doing and they tend to be in his own party.


We have a divided country. But he may be pushing away people who he thinks support him if he keeps lying and going to delusional ideas.
"Delusional" isn't necessarily a psychiatric term. "Lying" is a term applied to moral agents.

Still, we thought Bernstein might be walking a line this night. Last night, again appearing with Lemon, he seemed to go there again.

On this occasion, Lemon said his panel would discuss Trump's "escalating media war." Bernsetin introduced a new word—"pathology:"
BERNSTEIN (1/26/17): Look, we have two things going on at once here. We have a kind of pathology of lying, which is what we're here to discuss I believe. And we also have an enormous amount of presidential activity in the area of policy. Some of it perhaps wise, some perhaps very unwise. And we need to parse through both.


BERNSTEIN: It's outrageous, but really the truth is "the opposition party" right now. The truth is the opponent of what Donald Trump is doing, because he and his surrogates are lying in a way that those of us who are reporters with a lot of experience, I've been around fifty years, I've never seen a president of the United States or his people lie with this kind of intensity and regularity in the first days of the presidency rather than focus on the policy.

Look what—Frank Bruni was just talking about this extraordinary thing of going to the park service to lean on the park service. This is about pathology, not policy.
"Pathology" almost starts sounding like a psychiatric term here. Late in the hour, Bernstein returned to an earlier suggestion:
BERNSTEIN: Let me just one thing very quickly about Steve Bannon, and that is that I would speculate here, not report, that he is very concerned that the story is now moving to Donald Trump's emotional stability and maturity. And reporters and Republicans on Capitol Hill are talking about it. It's a big part of the story.
According to Bernstein, reporters and Republicans are talking about Donald J. Trump's "emotional stability." At least on Capitol Hill, "it's a big part of the story."

Yesterday, we thought we saw Nicholas Kristof walking a careful line. It seems to us that Bernstein is making the same suggestion as Kristof—is suggesting that there may be legitimate issues concerning our president's mental health.

There's a background to this careful discussion. In the wake of Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign, a new rule was born.

During that campaign, some psychiatrists had psychoanalyzed Goldwater from a distance, breaking professional guidelines as they did. In the wake of that bad behavior, a new rule was born. It was decided that psychiatric language should be kept out of political discourse.

For the past fifty years, that rule has generally served us well. Some players, like Charles Krauthammer, have observed the rule by refusing to observe it. Many journalists played the shrink in the case of Candidate Gore.

(As usual, we liberals sat there and took it. Simply put, we aren't smart enough to see such things going on.)

For fifty years, most journalists have agreed that psychiatry has no place in politics. We'll suggest that, in this new case, the rule is now serving us poorly.

Is President Trump exhibiting mental health issues? Even as they walk a line, Kristof and Bernstein seem to be suggesting that possibility.

Bernstein seems to be saying that the question is being widely discussed. In our view, the president's bizarre behavior seems to suggest that this should be discussed in the open, tricky though that will be.

Speaking of mental health problems: This Tuesday, Governor Mark Dayton announced that he's been diagnosed with colon cancer. On Tuesday night, did you see a certain unnamed cable star banging away on her toy xylophone, mugging, clowning and making us love her as she announced this unfortunate news?

Producer Nick Tuths helped out with the deeply weird clowning. We can't link you to the tape. Producers at this unnamed program knew enough not to post it.

FALSEHOODS, MISSTATEMENTS AND LIES: Why did the New York Times call it a lie?


Part 4—Sometimes you just have to laugh:
Should the New York Times have reported that Donald J. Trump told a lie?

The Times didn't just make that exciting report. On Tuesday, the paper made that exciting report in a hard-copy, front-page headline.

The headline appeared above the fold on the front page of Tuesday's Times. Excitement spread throughout the land. Here's what the headline said:

"Meeting With Top Lawmakers, Trump Repeats an Election Lie"

That sat atop a news report which didn't say that Trump had lied. For some reason which went unexplained, the exciting headline did!

Should the Times have used that word? And at a street-fighting time like this, do such niceties matter?

Eventually, we'll answer that second question. Our answer will be yes.

For today, let's examine the way the New York Times reached its thrilling decision. How did the Times decide to say that Donald J. Trump told a "lie?"

Before we explore the New York Times' thinking, let's establish a norm. Confronted by our upper-end press corps, sometimes you just have to laugh!

In what way did the New York Times reach its high-profile decision? What made the Times decide to say that Trump had repeated a "lie?"

Yesterday morning, the Times' Dan Barry explained the thinking behind that decision. In a 1249-word News Analysis piece, Barry described the way the thrilling decision was reached.

Below, we'll show you what Barry said. Again, though, we offer our sanity warning: Sometimes, you just have to laugh!

Barry's report started well enough. "Words matter," he instantly said.

He soon was making another sane statement. He said that Donald J. Trump's recent (reported) statement, alleging millions of illegal votes, had "challenged the news media to find the precise words to describe it."

Barry never quoted Trump's statement, of course. That's because there is no transcript or tape of what Trump actually said.

Soon, though, Barry was describing the way the Times decided to call the (reported) statement a lie. He started by describing a scene at NPR. Sometimes you just have to laugh:
BARRY (1/26/17): On NPR's ''Morning Edition'' on Wednesday, Mary Louise Kelly explained that she had looked up the definition of ''lie'' in the Oxford English Dictionary. ''A false statement made with intent to deceive,'' Ms. Kelly said. ''Intent being the key word there. Without the ability to peer into Donald Trump's head, I can't tell you what his intent was. I can tell you what he said and how that squares, or doesn't, with facts.''

Michael Oreskes, NPR's senior president for news, supported the decision. In an article on the NPR website, Mr. Oreskes said that ''the minute you start branding things with a word like 'lie,' you push people away from you.'' The inherent risk, he suggested, was that news organizations would be seen as taking sides.
For the record, we agree with NPR's decision. On the other hand, good God!

Mary Louise Kelly is a 45-year-old, magna cum laude Harvard grad. Did she really have to "look up the definition of lie" to learn that a lie is a false statement made with the intent to deceive?

Did Kelly need Webster's to help her see that many false statements aren't "lies?" How could a person get hired at NPR if she wasn't already aware of a broad range of such obvious facts?

Do NPR hosts look up "cat" and "dog" to learn that such creatures aren't house plants? Do they study the entry for "up" to learn that it differs from "down?"

In our view, Barry has already described a deeply ridiculous piece of behavior. But as he continued, he said "top editors" at the Times had perhaps done the same darn thing:
BARRY (continuing directly): Editors at The Times also consulted dictionaries. And they had some prior experience with the matter, having approved the use of the L word once before in reference to Mr. Trump.

In September, when he grandly announced the findings of a yearslong so-called investigation into what nearly everyone else never doubted—''President Obama was born in the United States, period''—the Times published a Page 1 article with the headline ''Trump Gives Up a Lie but Refuses to Repent.''

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, said that he learned of Mr. Trump's latest comments in a text message from an editor on Monday night. After consulting with other top editors, he decided that the use of ''lie'' was warranted.
At the Times, editors consulted their Webster's too! As we thoughtfully asked yesterday, are these editors new to the language? Or are they just new to the world?

Truth to tell, that passage by Barry left us with several questions. Among our top questions were these:
A few of our top questions:
1) How many editors does the Times employ? How many are top editors?

2) Did top editors consult dictionaries too? Or was that just lesser editors?

3) If editors approved the use of the L-word back in September, what the F-word made them decide to look up the L-word now?

4) How much less would the Sunday Times cost if half these people resigned?
Whatever! Plainly, one major question emerges from the passage we've posted. On what basis did Baquet "decide that the use of 'lie' was warranted?"

It sat in a headline atop a report which didn't say that Trump had lied! On what basis did Baquet decide this made good sense?

Let's be frank. As he proceeds to answer that question, Barry doesn't mention the flight of birds or the use of ouija boards.

Instead, he offers this. In standard fashion, this puzzling passage strikes us as incoherent:
BAQUET (continuing directly): For Mr. Baquet, the question of intent was resolved, given that Mr. Trump had made the same assertion two months earlier through his preferred mode of communication, the tweet: ''In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.''


Mr. Baquet said he fully understood the gravity of using the word ''lie,'' whether in reference to an average citizen or to the president of the United States. He emphasized that it should be used sparingly, partly because the term carries such negative connotations, and partly so that it does not lose potency.

''On the other hand, we should be letting people know in no uncertain terms that it's untrue,'' Mr. Baquet said, referring to the president's assertion of a voter-fraud epidemic. ''He repeated it without a single grain of evidence, and it's a very powerful statement about the electoral system.''
Do you understand the reasoning there? We'll be honest—we don't.

We don't understand the relevance of the fact that Trump "had made the same assertion two months earlier." In truth, you can make a false statement as many times as you like! Unless you knew the false statement was false, it wouldn't normally be considered a lie.

We also don't get this: Baquet wanted readers to be told, "in no uncertain terms," that Trump's (unrecorded, reported) statement was untrue.

In our view, Baquet is overstating the certainty of his own knowledge, in a way which isn't helpful or journalistically sound. But as everyone knows, the fact that a statement is untrue doesn't mean it's a lie!

People constantly make false statements which are in no way lies. Surely, Baquet's top editors could have derived such knowledge from their visits with Webster.

''[Trump] repeated it without a single grain of evidence," Baquet is quoted saying. We don't get that either.

Because Trump's statement was unrecorded, it's hard to see how Baquet could know that this is the case. Meanwhile, Trump, in his murky/ridiculous way, does claim that he's seen some sort of evidence which supports his (shifting) claim.

At any rate, a statement made without any offer of evidence may be "unfounded" or "unsupported." But it isn't necessarily a lie, even if it turns out to be false.

As a general matter, the statement can only be judged a lie if we learn that the speaker knew it was false. Given the apparent madness of King Donald, does Donald Trump know such things?

Our view? Because Trump seems delusional or perhaps flat-out crazy, it's hard to say whether he can discern that any claim is untrue. In our view, we're going easy on Trump when we get into unwise fights concerning whether or not he has lied.

That's especially true when we say he lied without being able to prove it (except, of course, to ourselves).

Our view? The relevant question about Donald J. Trump concerns his mental health. The last two nights, on CNN, Carl Bernstein has suggested that this question is being discussed within the press corps and within the Republican Party itself. As we noted yesterday, we'd already received that impression from Nicholas Kristof's recent work.

What's the state of Trump's mental health? For example, is it possible that he's some version of "delusional?" (The word has been going around.)

We'll discuss that topic this afternoon. For now, we'll finish with this:

Sometimes you just have to laugh! In our view, that's the approach you have to take to the New York Times' latest attempt to provide good hard-nosed journalism.

On Tuesday morning, the Times did something slightly odd. In a front-page headline, above the fold, they said that Trump had repeated a lie. The headline topped a news report which didn't say Trump had lied.

"Top editors" chose to run with that term after looking up "lie" in their dictionaries! Sometimes you just have to laugh!

Down through the years, the liberal world has had a very hard time grasping the truth about the Times. Here it is:

The Times is a very powerful brand. But beyond that, it's largely an upper-class social club—a strange collection of relative flyweights with few analytical skills.

Baquet is best known for his mumble-mouthed, evasive replies to complaints from the paper's last two public editors. This week, when he faced a tough call, he consulted with legions of top editors—with people who looked up "lie."

For today, we'll leave it here, with the laughter of the gods in our ears. Tomorrow or Monday, we'll answer these lingering questions:

Why do we have so many words which can be used to describe misstatements? And also: At a time like this, why does it matter which of these words we use?

When we give you our answer, we'll introduce two new words: "Kayleigh" and "McEnany." Those words will come with a warning.

McEnany is brighter than most of our stars. We'll admit that we've come to like her, due to the fact hat she never gets unpleasant, abrasive or mad.

McEnany is sharper than Us! That is a very important fact. It will be a key part of our answer.

Still coming: Falsehood, misstatement, embellishment, lie? Untrue, unfounded, misleading?

Why do we have so many words? And why does our choice of words matter?

Is Trump some version of mentally ill?


We have a deep, serious problem:
On Tuesday evening, the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof appeared on CNN with Don Lemon.

We were struck by what Kristof said that night, and by what he fled from saying.

In his second segment with Kristof, Lemon played tape of Trump press secretary Sean Spicer discussing Trump's claim that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast in November's election.

On the videotape, Spicer struggled with reporters' questions about Trump's unfounded statement. After Lemon played tape of this session, he and Kristof engaged in a brief discussion.

That brief discussion by Kristof and Lemon shouldn't be overlooked. You can watch the tape here.

In the course of this discussion, Kristof floated the possibility that Donald J. Trump is "a crackpot." In his new column in today's Times, he floats the same idea.

We think that possibility should be directly discussed. If we run through the brief discussion between Lemon and Kristof, we'll see some of the ways the press will use to avoid confronting this matter.

After playing tape of Spicer, Lemon posed a question to Kristof. Kristof replied with a peculiar question of his own. Lemon then took a stand:
LEMON (1/24/17): So, Sean didn't answer the question. But what does that mean for democracy when the White House questions the legitimacy of the election?

KRISTOF: It's an astonishing moment. I mean, I don't know— Are you using the word "lie," or "falsehood?" What are you, what are you using?

LEMON: Yes. Yes. I mean, you have to use the word—you have to call it what it is.
Kristof asked a very peculiar question. Have you ever seen a journalist ask what words a channel is using?

It was our impression that Kristof was suggesting that there's a distinction between the two words he mentioned. A "falsehood," after all, is not the same thing as a "lie."

It was our impression that Kristof was asking if CNN preferred the use of one of these terms as opposed to the other. If that's what Kristof meant, it's fairly clear that Lemon misunderstood him.

Whatever! As you can see, Lemon urged his guest to be candid. As he continued, Kristof described a conversation which had occurred at the New York Times. It concerned the paper's decision to use the term "lie" when discussing Trump that day:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): And I mean, at the New York Times, we had this debate. We, in today's newspaper, we used the word "lie." And saying that about a president is an astonishing thing. There was some internal discussion about that.

But those who argued that one shouldn't use the word "lie" said, "Well, we don't know the president's intention. And it's only a lie if he knows it's wrong."
In that statement, Kristof seemed to say that some Timesmen were uncomfortable saying that Trump had "lied." In fairness, journalists should be careful about making that charge about anyone, not just about a president.

Kristof then said that those people at the Times had made an obvious point. If a speaker believes that some statement is true, you wouldn't normally say that the person has lied, even if it turns out that his statement is false.

Presumably, everybody understands that basic point of logic. But as he continued, Kristof seemed to introduce a new possibility into the discussion of Trump. Here's what he now said:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): But essentially, that's saying, "Well, you know, he may believe the moon is made of green cheese, so it's not a lie if he says it is." It's saying that the president is either a liar or a crackpot. And boy, those are unappetizing choices when describing the president of the United States.
Uh-oh! Kristof seemed to be suggesting this:

He seemed to suggest that Trump is making such crazy claims that a horrible possibility has come into view. It's possible that Trump is "a liar," he said. But it's also possible that Donald J. Trump is "a crackpot."

Did Kristof really mean to suggest that as a real possibility? Did he mean to suggest that Trump may not really be lying here—that he may be (some version of) crazy?

Our guess would be that Kristof was trying to suggest this possibility, while giving himself deniability about the "unappetizing" possibility he'd just put in play.

Was Kristof suggesting that Trump might be crazy? Consider what he wrote, for the second time, in this morning's column:

At the start of this morning's column, Kristof returns to the scene of the crime. He directly presents that same choice about Trump, then quickly hurries along. Here's how the column starts:
KRISTOF (1/26/17): Should we journalists use the word “lie” to describe President Trump’s most manifest falsehoods?

That debate has roiled the news world. The Times this week used the word “lie” in a front-page headline, and I agreed with that decision, but there’s a counterargument that lying requires an intention to deceive—and that Trump may actually believe his absurd falsehoods.

So in 2017 we reach a mortifying moment for a great democracy: We must decide whether our 45th president is a liar or a crackpot.

Yet the costliest presidential falsehoods and delusions are not the ones that people are talking about, such as those concerning the inauguration crowd or electoral fraud. The most horrific chicanery involves Trump’s new actions on women’s health that will cause deaths around the globe...
In that passage, Kristof directly offers a choice—President Trump may be a liar, or he may be "a crackpot!" He also floats the term "delusions," then quickly exits the scene, moving on to discussions of policy matters.

Let's return to Tuesday night's discussion on CNN. When Kristof spoke with Lemon, he seemed to float the idea that Trump might actually be a crackpot as opposed to being a liar. Lemon never showed any sign of hearing this suggestion:
LEMON (continuing directly): You know, as I said, it's really tough to call, because, and I've said this a number of times, I think it was Saturday night where we actually said on air, our very own Jim Sciutto, when we were talking about, you know, what he said at the CIA, what he said about the, you know, other crowds, Sean Spicer, and the president, "It's tough to call the president of the United States a liar." Because you want to respect the office.

But I think it does a disservice to the American people, and even to the president, and even to, you know, journalists, not to call, call it what it is. And it is a lie. And so, I mean, it's really tough to do.
Lemon never seemed to think that he'd been given the option of declaring Trump a "crackpot." He went ahead and said that Trump had told "lies," saying that reporting that fact is "really tough to do."

Our view? Based upon these two presentations, we think Kristof is floating the idea that President Trump may be some version of diagnosable / mentally unwell / crazy. We also think that Kristof is trying to provide himself deniability. If his suggestion meets with disfavor, he wants to be able to say that he never meant that at all.

In our view, it seems clear that something does seems to be wrong with Trump's mental functioning. Is this new American president some version of "mentally ill?"

In our view, we face a deep, serious problem. At present, the children are pretending to be tough by calling out the president's "lies." It seems to us that a serious discussion of Donald J. Trump needs to move on to that second possibility—to a possibility Nicholas Kristof has now floated two times.

President Trump seems unwell. However unappetizing or tough it may be, "patriots" need to say so.

FALSEHOODS, MISSTATEMENTS AND LIES: The possible madness of King Donald Trump!


Part 3—Crazy men tell no lies:
On Tuesday morning, the New York Times did something very exciting.

Above the fold, right there on page one, the dull-witted newspaper placed the word "lie" right in a front-page headline!

Above the fold, out on the front page, there the thrilling headline stood. Donald J. Trump had repeated a lie, the large bold word clump said:

Meeting With Top Lawmakers, Trump Repeats an Election Lie

On the hard-copy front page, that's what the headline said!

Today, we learn an astonishing fact. According to the Times' Dan Barry, editors at the Times "consulted dictionaries" as they tried to decide whether to go with the thrilling term "lie."

Good God. Are the editors new to the planet, or just to the language? Tomorrow, we'll examine Barry's remarkable account of the way the editors reached their daring decision.

For today, let's focus on a peculiar point. The news report which carried that headline didn't say that Donald J. Trump had told or repeated a "lie!"

The headline bore a thrilling word. Below, you see the way the news report began.

The news report didn't say that Trump lied! Thrilling headline included:
SHEAR AND HUETTEMAN (1/24/17): Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers

President Trump used his first official meeting with congressional leaders on Monday to falsely claim that millions of unauthorized immigrants had robbed him of a popular vote majority,
a return to his obsession with the election’s results even as he seeks support for his legislative agenda.

The claim, which he has made before on Twitter, has been judged untrue by numerous fact-checkers. The new president’s willingness to bring it up at a White House reception in the State Dining Room is an indication that he continues to dwell on the implications of his popular vote loss even after assuming power.

Mr. Trump appears to remain concerned that the public will view his victory—and his entire presidency—as illegitimate if he does not repeatedly challenge the idea that Americans were deeply divided about sending him to the White House to succeed President Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump received 304 electoral votes to capture the White House, but he fell almost three million votes short of Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. That reality appears to have bothered him since Election Day, prompting him to repeatedly complain that adversaries were trying to undermine him.

Voting officials across the country have said there is virtually no evidence of people voting illegally, and certainly not millions of them. White House officials did not respond to requests for a comment on Mr. Trump’s discussion of the issue.
The news report said that Trump made a "false claim." It didn't say that Donald J. Trump had told or repeated a "lie."

Alas! So it tends to go at the New York Times, where layers of editors work their will, in layered ways, on the paper's news product. In this case, we were left with a thrilling hybrid:

The headline said that Trump had lied. The report said something different.

For ourselves, we would have tilted toward "unfounded," not "false." But then, we believe that journalists should "use their words" to make accurate statements—accurate statements in which they report the things they actually know.

The New York Times thrilled us rubes with that headline that day. One night before, Lawrence O'Donnell prefigured their boldness with a murky opening segment about the terms "falsehood" and "lie."

For the full transcript, click here.

As he opened his program, O'Donnell explained the basic difference between the two well-known terms. "A lie is the deliberate use of a falsehood with the intention to deceive," the cable star thoughtfully said.

O'Donnell proceeded to offer puzzling assessments about several of Donald J. Trump's alleged lies. He quoted a statement by Trump about the size of his inaugural crowd and, for reasons which didn't seem clear, he said it was merely a falsehood.

Then, he diagnosed a "lie." We're sorry, but this doesn't seem to make sense. To watch the full tape, click this:
O'DONNELL (1/23/17): The same man who told you he saw a million, a million and a half people [at his inaugural], also told you he saw this:

TRUMP (videotape): I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.

O'DONNELL: "I watched thousands and thousands of people." Now, we all know, for an absolute fact, that he did not watch that because that never happened.

Thousands and thousands of people cheering as that building was coming down. So we know that that's a lie. That's what Donald Trump looks like when he's lying.
Do we know, for an absolute fact, that "that never happened?"

Not exactly, no. But for argument's sake, let's say we do. Let's assume that we do know, for an absolute fact, that the scene Trump described never happened.

By normal assessment, that wouldn't mean that Donald J. Trump was lying when he made his statement! If he somehow thinks his claim is true, that would mean his claim isn't a lie.

The assessment turns on what the speaker knows and believes, not on what O'Donnell might think or know out there in corporate cable land. Duh. If a speaker somehow believes a false claim, the false claim isn't a lie.

According to O'Donnell, Trump's wild statement about his inaugural crowd was a falsehood, nothing more. But his statement about what he saw on September 11? That was an actual lie!

Truth to tell, O'Donnell's analyses of these claims didn't much seem to make sense. But then, we live in a world where our highest-ranking journalists break out their dictionaries to consider the nuances of the complex term "lie."

As we've noted for the past nineteen years, the analytical skills of our high-ranking scribes are often observed in the absence. That said, O'Donnell encountered intriguing push-back this night when he turned to his pair of guests.

First, he turned to Indira Lakshmanan, a Washington columnist for the Boston Globe. O'Donnell mentioned the statement Trump had made that very night, in which Trump claimed that he lost the popular vote because of 3-5 million illegal votes.

"Is that a falsehood, or is that a lie?" O'Donnell dull-wittedly asked. And uh-oh! After pandering to her host and dodging his question a bit, Lakshmanan finally offered this answer
LAKSHMANAN: He continues to repeatedly repeat this thing, that has absolutely no verification or evidence behind it, of illegal immigrants voting, and continues to say that he won a landslide in the electoral college, when we know it was one of the lowest electoral college victories in history.

So I don't know. You could say this is a falsehood [and not a lie], in the sense that Donald Trump has probably convinced himself and believes it.


Can he tell the difference between these falsehoods that he continually repeats? Is he intentionally lying, or has he convinced himself of this?
Truer words were never spoken. "I don't know," Lakshmanan said.

She seemed to suggest the possibility that Trump may really believe his improbable claims. She seemed to say that this would mean that he isn't actually "lying."

Does Trump believe his improbable claims? We have no freaking idea. But when O'Donnell turned to David Corn, he got even stronger push-back.

Has Donald J. Trump been telling "lies," the way that New York Times headline said? Corn suggested a possibility which would likely be even more troubling.

Corn also pandered to his host a bit. After that, he suggested that Donald J. Trump may be some version of crazy:
CORN: In your wonderful opening, you set up sort of a dichotomy between lies and falsehoods. I think, you did, you know, you got it right.

But there might be a third option, which is delusions. And I'm not being overly glib when I say that.

He may really believe that he saw thousands of people protest, you know, cheering on the 9/11 tragedy in Jersey City. He may really believe that there are 5 million people, because it's convenient to believe this.

He may really believe he wasn't making fun of a reporter.

You know, during one of the debates, Hillary Clinton said, "You called global warming climate change a hoax created by the Chinese." He said, "No, I did not." That was exactly what he had tweeted. She was quoting him accurately. He may have believed he never said it. Maybe he forgot.

So I think there's something about his processing of information, to be maybe charitable about it, that still leaves a lot of mystery. I mean, it's mystifying. And when he goes to the CIA headquarters, as he did on Saturday, and has that bizarre statement and says I've been on Time magazine's cover more than anybody.

Well, he probably believes that, even though it's not true. It's going to be a big problem, I think, for the media to cover this well and fairly.
Does Trump really believe the crazy-seeming things he keeps asserting? Corn said he actually might!

Taking care "to be maybe charitable about it," Corn didn't specifically say that Donald J. Trump might be some version of crazy. He did introduce the word "delusions" into the discussion this night. And he said Trump "probably believes" his crazy claims, even though his claims aren't true.

Does Trump believe his crazy claims? Like Lakshmanan, we don't know. Given Trump's apparent serial lunacy, we have no way to be sure.

Corn said that Donald J. Trump probably does believe these claims. We don't have the slightest idea how he reached that judgment.

We do know this—it's embarrassing to watch the mainstream press corps fumble along with these concepts. The concept of "lie" is tremendously basic, except at the New York Times or on O'Donnell's program, where one wild statement is a lie and another wild claim is a falsehood.

Dead men tell no tales, it's been said. They also wear no plaid.

It'a also true that crazy people tell no lies. As a general matter, we don't say that a deranged person is telling a "lie" when he says something that's objectively crazily false.

Does Trump believe the things he says? We have no way of knowing. Is it possible that Trump is some version of delusional / crazy / deranged?

We hate to kill all the L-bomb fun, but we'd say it plainly is.

Tuesday night, on Don Lemon's CNN show, Nicholas Kristof raised this very question during a discussion of Trump's possible "lies."
Is it possible that Trump is "a crackpot," Kristof explicitly asked—that he isn't a liar at all?

Kristof was raising a possibility which seems quite obvious to us. After he did so, he turned tail and ran. Our big scribes tend to be like that.

Tomorrow, we'll examine what Kristof said that night. Very briefly, he opens this morning's column with the same rumination.

As we watched Kristof on Lemon's show, it seemed to us that he was unwilling to gaze into the abyss. It's more fun to use a thrilling term, to tell us that King Donald "lied."

The game has been played this childish way for at least the past twenty-five years. Our journalists run and hide from the truth.

They break out their Webster's to parse "cat" and "dog." This childish behavior has gone on forever. It helps explain how we all got here.

Still coming: Why do we have so many words? And why do these questions matter?

Bruni gets off to a very good start!


Liberal scold on a plane:
Frank Bruni got off to a very good start in today's New York Times. If not for the cheap shot he took last week, we'd be inclined to applaud him.

Bruni was discussing our liberal team's familiar ridiculous conduct. As conservatives are told (we liberals get shielded), there seems to be an endless supply of that.

Bruni cited one of the ways a dangerous crackpot like Donald J. Trump is able to stay afloat. Sadly, what he says here is accurate:
BRUNI (1/25/17): You know how Donald Trump wins? I don’t mean a second term or major legislative victories. I’m talking about the battle between incivility and dignity.

He triumphs when opponents trade righteous anger for crude tantrums. When they lose sight of the line between protest and catcalls.

When a writer for “Saturday Night Live” jokes publicly that Trump’s 10-year-old son has the mien and makings of a killer.

“Barron will be this country’s first home-school shooter,”
the writer, [Name Withheld], tweeted. I cringe at repeating it. But there’s no other way to take proper note of its ugliness.
Frank Bruni was getting it right!

Is there any end to the cringeworthy dumbness of our liberal tribemates? Conservatives get spoon-fed examples of ridiculous liberal conduct like this. At our for-profit liberal news orgs, we liberals get shielded from knowledge of conduct like this.

How clueless does somebody have to be to tweet something as foolish as that? We'll assume that Name Withheld is a good person who did something dumb. But is there any end to our team's relentless dumbness, which we increasingly develop and enjoy inside our low-IQ tribal bubble?

If not for Bruni's cheap shot last week, we'd almost want to applaud him. As he continued, he spoke about the gruesome hustler who damaged our interests last weekend:
BRUNI: Look elsewhere on Twitter. Or on Facebook. Or at Madonna, whose many positive contributions don’t include her turn at the microphone at the Women’s March in Washington, where she said that she’d “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House,” erupted into profanity and tweaked the lyrics to one of her songs so that they instructed Trump to perform a particular sex act.

What a sure way to undercut the high-mindedness of most of the women (and men) around her on that inspiring day. What a wasted opportunity to try to reach the many Americans who still haven’t decided how alarmed about Trump to be. I doubt that even one of them listened to her and thought: To the barricades I go! If Madonna’s dropping the F bomb, I must spring into action.

All of this plays right into Trump’s hands. It pulls eyes and ears away from the unpreparedness, conflicts of interest and extreme conservatism of so many of his cabinet nominees; from the evolving explanations for why he won’t release his tax returns; from his latest delusion or falsehood, such as his renewed insistence that illegally cast ballots cost him the popular vote; from other evidence of an egomania so profound that it’s an impediment to governing and an invitation to national disaster.
Once again, Bruni was getting it right.

In our view, Donald J. Trump seems like a truly dangerous figure—until our tribe drags in a hack like Madonna to pimp her fading brand at the nation's expense. Fox then plays tape of her self-dealing hustle, and Trump starts looking good.

(We're sad to say that Ashley Judd wasn't a whole lot better. Will Dems and liberals ever stop getting burned by these tone-deaf Hollywood types?)

For decades, our team has reveled in the claim that we're the good, smart people. For whatever it's worth, we aren't!

A lot of crazies can be found Over There in the conservative camp. But as a trip down Comments Lane will reveal, our team is rich with ridiculous people too—and conservatives and undecideds are relentlessly told about that.

Madonna, Judd and Name Withheld are all public figures. Conservatives are also being told about the the liberal who police removed from a Baltimore-to-Seattle flight last weekend because she wouldn't stop haranguing and lecturing the flight's Trump voters.

Her husband had to leave too!

We'll assume that she's a very nice person who had an extremely ridiculous day. That said, for BuzzFeed's report, with videotape, you can just click here.

On Fox, conservatives are being shown that tape. They're being told that that's what Those People, The Liberals are like. Concerning the way this strikes other people, note the way the other passengers applaud as this thoughtful, smart, caring liberal is being removed from that plane.

(Fox plays tape of such incidents. In fairness, our impresarios do the same thing. Every time some conservative does something stupid, Josh Marshall hurries to tell us about it. As the nation slides toward the sea, it's how you make money on line.)

In truth, that woman's behavior is increasingly what We Liberals are like. For one more example, consider the ridiculous rant by Sally Boynton Brown, who is currently running for DNC Chair for some unimaginable reason.

Brown, a youngish white Idahoan, gave a ridiculous campaign speech on Monday in which she said, among other things, "My job is to listen [to minorities] and be a voice and shut other white people down when they want to interrupt." Also: "We have to teach [people] how to communicate, how to be sensitive and how to shut their mouths if they are white."

Given this ridiculous thinking, it's hard to know why Brown would run her white ascot for DNC chair against, let's say, Keith Ellison. But this is how politically clueless and totally weird we "liberals" increasingly are.

Needless to say, the tape of Brown is airing on Fox, and at RealClear Politics. At our orgs, we get shielded from hearing about this latest ridiculous conduct.

Bruni made some excellent points in this morning's column. We almost would have applauded, if not for the amazing cheap shot he aimed at Jenna Bush Hager.

Bruni, please! He opened with his cheap shot at Hager, then largely let a male movie star slide. Neither one had committed an offense which called for Bruni's ridiculous scolding.

Presumably, we all remember the early days of the liberal web, when ratty young liberal males got their rocks off, day after day, with misogynistic attacks against the young Jenna Bush and her appallingly female sister. Despite the praise we heap on ourselves, it was an early glimpse of how ratty we really are.

Inside our bubble, we're quite self-impressed. Again and again, it turns out that we're secretly dumb and perhaps not real nice. Fox plays the tape again and again. At our orgs, we never get told.

We play tape of their biggest nuts. To expand on Bruni's original point, the mutual loathing which results serves the interests of Trump.

Concerning Hager and Keaton: In separate episodes, each made a certain mistake at the Golden Globes. We wondered if this might mean that they were being fed bad info by some producer.

Aside from that, people do make mistakes! In response to this mistake, Bruni engaged in the type of stiff-necked scolding you might expect from Comey the God, or from the "liberal" web.

FALSEHOODS, MISSTATEMENTS AND LIES: Fact Checker appears in the hard-copy Post!


Part 2—Proceeds to turn water to wine:
Over at the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler has long been in charge of the paper's Fact Checker site.

Normally, Kessler's work has only appeared on line. Each Sunday, though, some sample of his work has appeared in the hard-copy Post.

In this way, the Post has turned devotion to fact into a once-a-week, Sunday event, like the old-fashioned visit to Grandma's house or the long, lazy nap on the porch.

Today, though, Post breaks the mold! In the past few weeks, the mainstream press has made a decision—it cares about facts after all! In line with that exciting new value, the Post has published a Kessler lieutenant in its hard-copy editions.

Kessler's lieutenant is Michelle Ye Hee Lee. She fact-checks recent statements by Spicer and Trump, and quickly bungles her task.

Good lord! There Lee sat, at the top of page A5, right in our hard-copy Post! Excitedly, the analysts started to read—but as they read her first paragraph, they emitted a wail, then a groan.

Lee begins by quoting Sean Spicer's latest misstatement. Then, just like that, her bungling starts. For now, we'll highlight one single word:
LEE (1/25/17): "I think there have been studies; there was one that came out of Pew in 2008 that showed that 14 percent of people who have voted were not citizens. There are other studies that were presented to him."
—White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, at a news briefing Jan. 24

The White House on Tuesday reiterated President Trump’s false contention that he lost the national popular vote because of 3 million to 5 million illegal votes, as yet another untruth swelled into a distraction that threatens to undermine his first week in office.
That statement by Spicer was rich with bungling, as we'll note below. But Lee's first paragraph is bungled too. Specifically, we refer to her assertion that Trump's recent (unfounded) contention is "false."

Nothing Lee says, in a full-length piece, justifies that assertion. Nothing justifies her claim that the statement is an "untruth."

Does Lee actually know that Trump's unfounded contention is "false?" We find no sign that she actually does, as we'll explain below. As others are turning falsehoods to lies, we would say that Lee has now turned an unfounded statement to "false."

Yes, but does that actually matter? the excited liberal might ask.

We'd say that it very much does! Aside from a general rule of thumb—the journalist should only make claims she can defend—we'll explain why this actually matters by the time this series is done.

There are several major reasons why this matters, reasons which should be of special concern to liberals, progressives and Democrats. We'll return to those reasons, which we've note before, in the next few days.

For today, let's focus on our specific claim. Let's consider the claim that Lee, at the mother of all fact-checking sites, has made a substantial bungle, has turned "unfounded" to "false."

Reportedly, Donald J. Trump has now claimed that 3-5 million illegal votes were cast in November's election. We would assume that this (largely unfounded) statement is false, but it's quite hard to prove that it's false.

Everyone has heard the rule of thumb—it's hard to prove a negative! Applied to this case, that rule tells us this:

It's hard to prove that Donald J. Trump's unfounded statement is false.

Everyone has heard that rule of thumb. Today, amid all the excitement about the new importance of facts, we'd say Lee blows right past it.

In truth, there's nothing in Lee's hard-copy piece which shows that Donald J. Trump's claim is false. Let's review the various ways Lee bungles her evidence.

Before too long, Lee reaches the part of her report which bears this heading: "The Facts." In her first paragraph beneath that heading, she overlooks a gong-show misstatement—a gong-show misstatement by Spicer.

Below, we show you the way the text appears in the hard-copy Post. On line, Lee's text is much shorter, and it's substantially different.

We don't have the slightest idea why a big newspaper would want to do that. But for the record, this is the text which appears in today's hard-copy Post:
LEE: Spicer said that a Pew study from 2008 showed that “14 percent of people who have voted were not citizens.” He probably was referring to research by Old Dominion University professors, using data from 2008 and 2010, that was published two years ago by the Monkey Cage, a political sciences blog hosted by The Washington Post. They found that 14 percent of noncitizens in the 2008 and 2010 samples said they were registered to vote.
Uh-oh! Lee doesn't seem to have noticed. But she and Spicer give vastly different accounts of what those professors said.

According to Lee, the professors said that 14 percent of noncitizens in their samples said they were registered to vote. According to Spicer, the professors said that 14 percent of people who voted in the past were noncitizens.

Those are vastly different statements! Consider:

If we apply Lee's account of what the professors said to November's election, it would mean that roughly 1.5 million illegal votes were cast. (Fourteen percent of the nation's estimated 11 million unauthorized residents.)

But uh-oh! If we apply Spicer's formulation to last November's election, it would suggest that roughly 19 million illegal votes may have been cast! (Fourteen percent of the 136 million total votes.)

According to Lee, Spicer competely misstated what the professors said! But so what? Lee completely failed to notice the fact that Spicer authored this gross misstatement. In part for this reason, his account will rocket around the conservative world, heightening conservatives' sense of the depth of this alleged problem.

So it goes at the Washington Post under this rubric: "The Facts."

So the fact-checking tends to go at the Washington Post! Might this give us a hint of the skill levels found in our mainstream press?

We'll keep that question for another day! For today, we'll note that Lee started by giving Spicer a total pass on a major, howling misstatement. She then proceeds to make another mistake, turning "unfounded" to "false."

Alas! Nothing in Lee's presentation shows that Trump's statement is "false." For ourselves, we would assume that his statement is false. But Lee's report doesn't demonstrate any such fact.

Indeed, her own account of what the professors said might seem to suggest, on its face, that a lot of unauthorized residents really are registered to vote. That's different from actually voting, of course, a second distinction Lee fails to note. But Lee's critique of the professors' study may seem to suggest that a lot of unauthorized people really are registered to vote.

This tilts the field in Trump's direction. It's hard to see how this aligns with her claim that Trump's statement is "false."

Is Trump's latest statement actually "false?" Lee demonstrates no such thing. Indeed, when she critiques the professors' study, she seems to leave a great deal of room for doubt about what the actual facts may be.

Trump supporters will see lots of wiggle room here—a whole lot of room for concern about the possible amount of illegal voting:
LEE (continuing directly): But the researchers warned that “it is impossible to tell for certain whether the noncitizens who responded to the survey were representative of the broader population of noncitizens.”

A number of researchers were skeptical of the findings and methodology. In particular, critics noted the small sample of noncitizens and the possibility, explained by the study's own authors, that some of the self-reported"noncitizen" voters in the study might actually have been citizens who "accidentally misstated" their status. Some critiques are being incorporated into a revision of the original study.

One of the researchers, Jesse Richman, wrote about the Trump staff’s use of his research. The results “suggest that almost all elections in the US are not determined by noncitizen participation, with occasional and very rare potential exceptions,” he wrote.

The original post on the Monkey Cage now includes an editor's note at the beginning of the article saying that it inspired three rebuttals and a peer-reviewed article saying the findings were biased.
Good God! Based upon that account, we'd start by rolling our eyes and saying this:

These professors today!

Based upon that account, it sounds like the two professors thoroughly bungled their research. Beyond that, it sounds like the Washington Post also bungled, when it allowed the Monkey Cage to report such bungled work.

To our ear, that passage seems to suggest that the professors' research wasn't worth the fig leaves on which it was written. But nothing in that embarrassing passage shows that Trump's claim is false.

That passage does suggest that Trump's claim is unfounded, at least to the extent that it was based upon that apparently bungled study. But nothing there shows that his claim is false—and conservatives will see much room, in that very passage, for suspecting that many non-citizens really are registered to vote.

(Example: Was the professors' sample of non-citizens possibly "biased?" Liberals will take that possibility to mean that many fewer than 14 percent, maybe even none, are actually registered to vote. Conservatives will take it to mean that the real percentage might be even higher!)

Readers, let's review:

Suddenly, the Washington Post has decided that it cares a great deal about facts. For that reason, it took The Fact Checker hard-copy today, in mid-week, breaking with genteel tradition.

But alas! When it took The Checker hard-copy, The Fact Checker bungled its task. In truth, The Fact Checker made a series of bungles. Foremost among them was this:

As Jesus once turned water to wine, Lee changed unfounded to false. Meanwhile, make no mistake—conservatives will notice this fact.

Before we end, let's say this: In our view, Lee was much too easy on several players today. First and foremost, she was much too easy on Sean Spicer.

She failed to note the way he misstated what the professors had said. She went too easy on his bungled citation of Pew, a prestige site whose study in 2012 provides exactly zero support for Trump's latest unfounded claim.

Spicer's misstatements were demonstrable and grievous; the Fact Checker barely noticed. It seems she was excitedly chasing the press corps' major target today. In the process, she excitedly changed unfounded to false.

Is Donald J. Trump's new statement false? We would assume that it is, but Lee's exciting, excited piece fails to demonstrate this fact.

When the Washington Post overreaches this way, the conservative world takes notice. The tribe's spear-chuckers will tell the troops that this means that they shouldn't believe a single thing the Post says.

In truth, that isn't the world's worst advice. But it leads to the Babel of Conwayism and to the death of our culture.

We liberals are having big fun this week, turning water to wine. We're turning falsehoods into lies. We're turning unfounded to false.

We liberals are having our usual fun. But we will pay the price in the end, just as we've already paid a huge price for our own past clowning, for our naps in the woods, for our crowning incompetence.

Our tribe just isn't impressive at all—unless you let Us tell it.

Still coming: Falsehoods, misstatements and lies? False, unfounded, misleading?

Why do we have so many words? And, at times of high excitement, why should these differences matter?

Observing our nation's descent toward the sea!


The shape of the downward spiral:
The downward spiral is hard to watch. The Conwayism has been horrific. Our tribe has been horrible too.

Last Saturday night, Trump press secretary Sean Spicer staged a ridiculous public breakdown, screeching about the press corps' alleged dishonesty while offering crowd size information which plainly seemed to be false.

Yesterday, in his first press conference, Spicer copped to the fact that he had used bad numbers about public transit (Metro) ridership during recent inaugurations. Speaking with Jonathan Karl, he authored these claims about where his bad information had come from:
KARL (1/23/17): Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium, and will you pledge never to knowingly something that is not factual?

SPICER: It is. It's an honor to do this, and yes. I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may not fully understand when we come out. But our intention's never to lie to you, Jonathan. Our job is to make sure that sometimes—and you're in the same boat—

There are times when you guys tweet something out or write a story, and you publish a correction. That doesn't mean that you were trying to deceive readers and the American people, does it? And I think we should be afforded the same opportunity.

There are times when we believe something to be true, or we get something from an agency, or we act in haste because the information available wasn't complete, but our desire to communicate with the American people and make sure that you have the most complete story at the time. And so we do it.


KARL: Do you have any corrections that you would like to make, or clarifications on what— I don't want to get into it or relitigate the whole issue, but like, on the issue of Metro ridership, you made a statement about—

SPICER: We did, and at the time, that was provided by the inaugural committee, came from an outside agency that we reported on. And I think knowing what we know now, we can tell that [Metro] numbers are different, but we were trying to provide numbers that we had been provided. That wasn't like we made them up out of thin air.
Did Spicer believe his Metro numbers were correct at the time he pimped them? We have no way of knowing. Luckily, our team had Kevin Drum to let us know, right from the start, that Spicer was peddling "lies."

Meanwhile, the press corps did its usual terrible job nailing down Spicer's new account of the facts. Nor have we seen any sign that any news org is going to seek further clarification about Spicer's original ridiculous statements. Truth to tell, they don't actually care.

Spicer also offered these complaints concerning that mistaken press pool report about the bust of Dr. King. We think this is worth considering:
SPICER: I want to make sure that we have a healthy relationship. We saw the other day that—and I'm not trying to rehash history, but you're asking the question so I'm going to answer it.

You know, we had a tweet go out about Martin Luther King. Think about how racially charged that is.
And someone rushes out and says to the entire press corps that the president of the United States has removed the bust from his office. Do you—I mean, think about what the signal—hold on, please.


I'm just saying that when you—when things like that happen, when John Lewis says that he's never missed an inauguration and we find out actually he did, he skipped George W. Bush's, that there are points in which we have a right to make sure that we correct the record.


it's a two-way street. We want to have a healthy and open dialogue with the press corps and with the American people about what he's doing to help this country and to unite it. But in a time when he's trying to unite this and he keeps talking about uniting this nation, bringing this nation together, and then a tweet goes out in a pool report to, what, a few thousand people saying that he removed the bust of Martin Luther King, how do you think that goes over?
We think those remarks are reasonable, including the remarks about Rep. Lewis. Luckily, we have plenty of tribal sachems to tell us Our Own Tribal Stories, exactly The Way We Like Them. We're all dittoheads now!

Donald J. Trump strikes us as diagnosable. It seems to us that he's a very dangerous person; it seems to us that Kellyanne Conway is a visible crackpot nut. It seems to us that Trumpism is a very dangerous movement, in a way which goes well beyond childish cheerleading for the use of the thrilling term "lie."

That said, our own side stinks to high heaven. The journal Slate isn't the White House, and Heather Schwedel isn't president of the United States. But good God! Schwedel's reports the past two days are signposts to conservative triumph (links below). The fact that our team can't seem to grasp this fact just shows how helpless we are.

Then too, there are the thing The Other Team hears and sees, the things from which we're shielded. Last night, Hannity viewers saw and heard some of the downside from Saturday's march, including some of Madonna's endless self-dealing garbage. Nor was Madonna alone.

Conservatives get exposed to this crap. On cable, Our Own Corporate Liberals shield us from being forced to consider the things Our Own Tribal Crackpots do.

Donald J. Trump strikes us as deranged. The haplessness of Our Own Self-Impressed Side is what sent him to the White House.

It happened in Slate: We're so old that we can remember when Slate was almost for grownups.

Yesterday, Schwedel wrote this, then followed with this. (Good God. "A Detailed Forensic Analysis of Melania Trump’s Creepy, Devastating Inauguration Smile/Frown!")

That second piece even includes a groaner correction. ("Correction: This piece originally misstated that when reversed, Melania's smile turns into a frown. When the footage is played backward, her frown turns into a smile.")

No, we aren't making this up. This is who we actually are.

Regarding Schwedel, it's hard to believe that grads from Penn (class of 2009) can be almost as childish, self-involved and dumb as their counterparts from Wharton. Or that Slate is willing to publish such ludicrous pitiful nonsense.

Our tribe worked hard to put Trump where he is. We show few signs of stopping.

At present, we simply don't have what it takes. We've been this way a long time.