Part 2—The essence of Conwayism: What actually happened the day before Kellyane Conway's tiff with Anderson Cooper?
Conway's absurd performance during that tiff created an instant Babel. Her performance showcased the essence of Conwayism, an offshoot of the better-known rhetorical form, Trumpism.
What actually happened on Tuesday, January 10, triggering this giant tiff? Thank you for asking:
First, CNN aired a breathless report about Donald J. Trump's intelligence briefing the week before. Then, BuzzFeed published a 35-page document—a document full of unverified claims about that same Donald J. Trump.
According to CNN, a two-page summary of this document had been presented to Trump, in some manner or form, during or after the intelligence briefing. After CNN made this report, BuzzFeed went ahead and published the full dossier.
Did Donald J. Trump have reason to fault CNN for its slightly breathless report? Did he have reason to fault the unnamed "U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the briefings" who had served as CNN's sources?
Did he have reason to fault BuzzFeed for publishing the dossier? These are perfectly sensible questions, but all such matters were obscured by the crazy burst of Conwayism with which Cooper was confronted on Wednesday, January 11.
Kellyanne Conway is, at present, Trump's most aggressive spokesperson. In our view, she could have made some reasonable, limited complaints about CNN's report from the day before.
At present, there's no apparent reason to believe any of the unverified claims in the 35-page dossier. As best we can tell, one of the claims in that document instantly turned out to be false. The sexiest claim was so over-the-top that it recalled crazy unverified claims from the past, such as the claim in a number-one best-selling book that First Lady Hillary Clinton used drug paraphernalia for ornaments on the White House Christmas tree.
You'd pretty much have to be nuts to have believed something like that, but many people did believe it. In certain respects, the sexiest claim in the new dossier is almost as unlikely as that pathetic claim from the past.
Still, CNN adopted a slightly breathless air as it unveiled its new report. Here's the way Jake Tapper took the throw from Wolf during the 6 PM hour:
TAPPER (1/10/17): That's right, Wolf, a CNN exclusive.For full transcript, click here.
CNN has learned that the nation's top intelligence officials gave information to president-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama last week about claims of Russian efforts to compromise president-elect Trump.
The information was provided as part of last week's classified intelligence briefings regarding Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 U.S. elections.
I have been working on this story with my colleagues Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez and Carl Bernstein. They all join me now.
Jim, let's walk through the basics here of what we know.
SCIUTTO: We will. To be clear, this has been an enormous team effort by my colleagues here and others at CNN.
Tapper and a cast of thousands announced that the "CNN exclusive" had resulted from "an enormous team effort" at CNN. Minutes later, Tapper introduced "the legendary Carl Bernstein, who also worked with the three of us on this story."
There was a hint of Oscar night as everyone on the team took his turn at the microphone, explaining the enormous team effort. And uh-oh! Getting way out over his skis, Sciutto was soon suggesting, wink wink wink, that the unverified claims in the dossier just might perhaps maybe be true:
SCIUTTO: The synopsis was considered so sensitive that it was not included in the classified report about Russian hacking that was more widely distributed, but rather in an annex only shared at the most senior levels of the government, this, of course, including President Obama, the president-elect and those eight congressional leaders.Wink wink, hint hint! These claims just may be true, Sciutto suggested. You don't put stuff like that in a briefing for no reason!
But, Jake, we should also note that including this in these briefings given to the president and the president-elect, taking the time, while they are not verified, to take the time and include them in those very important meetings is a measure, gives a measure of at least importance to it. Not credence yet, because they haven't established it's factual. But you don't put that in there for no reason.
Sciutto didn't suggest a second possibility. He didn't suggest the possibility that the Intelligence Community included this material in the briefing, then leaked the fact that they had done so, as political payback to Donald J. Trump for the ridiculous insults he has thrown at the IC in recent weeks. Thoughts like this didn't seem to have entered the enormous team's head.
Our view? From the legendary Bernstein right on down, the CNN stars did seem to have their thumbs on the scale a tad during their somewhat breathless report. Even if all the narrow factual claims in CNN's report were accurate, it seems to us that Kellyanne Conway could have lodged a few basic complaints about the network's performance.
In our view, Kellyanne Conway could have lodged some sensible complaints about CNN's report. That said, Homey doesn't play it that way.
Conwayism has never been about the presentation of sensible observations, claims and complaints. Conwayism runs on a different fuel, and here's what it is:
The constant willingness to advance the next ridiculous claim.
Yesterday, we reviewed one striking part of Conway's performance with Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, January 11. Again and again and again and again, she kept insisting that CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's presentation of the unverified, 35-page dossier.
Almost everyone in the press corps agreed—BuzzFeed shouldn't have published the unverified collection of claims about Trump. Again and again and again and again, Conway kept insisting that CNN had linked to BuzzFeed's publication, making CNN just as guilty as BuzzFeed in this regard.
As far as we know, Conway's repeated claim was inaccurate, false, bogus, wrong. As far as we know, CNN didn't link to BuzzFeed's report, though the channel hasn't exactly broken its back to settle this apparently bogus claim in a definitive manner. (Again and again, our mainstream press corps doesn't run on facts.)
Again and again and again and again, Conway had made a cutting claim—a cutting claim which seems to have been false. That said, please understand today's basic point:
False claims are a common part of Conwayism, but they aren't its essence.
The essence of Conwayism is something slightly different. It's the willingness to advance a stream of ridiculous claims, no matter how ludicrous and absurd the various claims and complaints may be.
Conway has been practicing this culture since the mid-1990s. As she spoke with Cooper that night, she showcased this ludicrous culture in its purest form.
Even after she seemed to see that her claim about the link may have been wrong, she jumped from one ludicrous claim to another. In the process, she created a Babel—though she did so with Cooper's help.
Tomorrow, we'll look at some of the ludicrous claims Conway advanced that night. Gorilla dust was all around as her nonsense continued.
"Gorilla dust?" Ross Perot introduced the term into the political lexicon in 1992. We'll offer some background below.
That said, gorilla dust was all around as Conway created a Babel last Wednesday night. Increasingly, our public discourse functions this way.
People like Cooper help.
Tomorrow: No charge or complaint too absurd
What the heck is gorilla dust: Fortune magazine explained the term in 1987:
"Gorilla dust: When gorillas fight, they throw dust in the air to confuse each other." The magazine referred to Ross Perot as it offered this explanation.
Ross Perot commonly used the term within the political context. Within the political context, the term refers to the attempt to create massive confusion through distractions and asides, thereby eliminating the possibility of a clear discussion.
In 2011, White House press secretary Jay Carney used the term in a press briefing. Inevitably, the youngsters at the Washington Post had never heard the term.
Finally, one old-timer—he was 56—explained Perot's use of the term.
Conway threw plenty of dust during her pseudo-discussion with Cooper. In the process, she created our latest Babel.
Her crazy pseudo-discussion with Cooper produced plenty of heat but almost no light. More and more, this is the culture we've chosen.
Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, how much else sails over young journalists' heads? Youth may keep salary structures low, but it does have disadvantages.