Part 3—A blizzard of crazy complaints: Is Moscow blackmailing Donald J. Trump? Or doing something like that?
To us, that seems like an obvious possibility, given Trump's endless array of puzzling statements and crazy ideas. We'd like to see a stronger push for a full-blown, serious probe.
That said, sometimes a crazy idea is just a crazy idea. (We believe Freud said that.) Trump's puzzling statements and crazy ideas may come straight from the heart.
In our view, CNN got out over its skis a bit when it offered a breathless report about Donald J. Trump last Tuesday afternoon and evening, January 10.
In truth, the channel was reporting a small, but puzzling, piece of news about the intelligence briefing Donald J. Trump had received the previous week. Based on the excited way CNN proceeded, you would have thought their "enormous team effort" had produced Pentagon Papers II, or even brand-new information about the white Bronco chase.
In our view, CNN went overboard pimping its own greatness when it made its report. The channel also seemed a bit credulous about the possible motives behind the intelligence briefing it was reporting, and about possible reasons why the news of this briefing was leaked.
For our money, CNN didn't cover itself in glory last Tuesday, even though its basic reporting seems to have been accurate. The next night, though, the gorilla dust really hit the fan when CNN burned twenty-five minutes letting Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway blather, distract and emote.
We refer to the dust Conway threw in the air last Wednesday, January 11, as she pretended to discuss the CNN report. Assisting her was Anderson Cooper, who seemed to lack the basic skills required for such an assignment.
Cooper videotaped, then aired, a 25-minute session with Conway. During the session, Conway displayed the main practices of the gruesome rhetorical style now known as Conwayism.
What did Conway do in her session with Cooper? For starters, she made a repeated claim, again and again—a repeated claim which turned out to be false. Beyond that, she displayed the central conceit of Conwayism:
The Conwayist must always be willing to make the next stupid complaint.
If you watch the tape of the Cooper-Conway exchange, you'll see an endless array of complaints by Kellyanne Conway. A few of her complaints may even have some merit, although it will be hard to tell through all the confusion and dust.
Most of Kellyanne Conway's complaints are ludicrous, groanworthy, silly, absurd. Her complaints are routinely inane. But this is the gong show she's chosen.
For decades, Conways has been perfecting the practices and skills which constitute Conwayism. She's a master at adopting an air of grievance as she lodges absurd complaints.
For unknown reasons, Cooper seemed innocent of any knowledge about how to handle such an approach. A cynic would say that, for business reasons, he prefers the Crossfire-style nonsense which marked this pseudo-discussion.
If you watch that 25-minute tape, you'll see a giant at work. We refer to Conway's preternatural skill at producing a blizzard of silly complaints while maintaining an air of deep grievance.
Good God! By our count, she falsely claimed, a dozen times, that CNN linked to BuzzFeed the previous night, a repeated claim which was wrong. But as she and Cooper pretended to stage an important discussion, she also made, by our count, roughly thirty other complaints and claims, most of which were utterly silly blather.
Kellyanne Conway is always prepared to make the next inane complaint! If you watch that full tape, you'll see her do so again and again.
You'll see her complain that CNN's polling turned out to be wrong in last year's election. You'll see her complain about the way Obama's transition was covered in 2009.
You'll see her complain that "heads didn't roll at CNN" when its election polling was imperfect. You'll see her complain that no one will get fired at CNN if this new report turns out to be wrong—which, of course, it hasn't.
You'll see her say that CNN's report from the previous night was "just not true." You'll never get clear on what it was that the channel got wrong. (As far as we know, CNN's factual statements were all correct.)
You'll see her claim that CNN should carry the blame for various things that BuzzFeed and others did. You'll even see her praise herself for being "gracious enough to come on and discuss it."
You'll see her complain that CNN based its report on anonymous sources. That's something all news orgs do, often in quoting Conway herself.
You'll see her complain that CNN's chyrons were wrong during last year's election. Also, that their "chyrons were wrong" during the previous night's report.
You'll see her constantly changing the subject, for example by asking tangential questions like these:
CONWAY (1/11/17): If cybersecurity was such a big priority to this administration and the Democratic Party and its apologists in the media, then why didn't we do more about it over the last eight years? Why, when 21 million personnel files were hacked of innocent Americans to the Office of Personnel Management by China, President Obama basically gave them a slap on the wrist?For the full transcript, click here.
CONWAY: If the four intelligence officials that gave the top-secret briefing last week that some fools think they should leak to the media when it's a top-secret intelligence briefing for a reason so they we're all protected, everybody, then why according to your own report last night—"report" used as a loose word here—why do they not tell the president-elect about it? Because your own reporting says that there's no confirmation that they briefed him orally. If it was so darn important...if it's worthy of a CNN screaming headline that became this huge fake news story, then why did they not brief him?
In response to that second complaint, Cooper sensibly said that he didn't know why the IC chose to brief Trump in the way it did, but that this didn't affect the accuracy of what CNN reported. (According to later reporting, James B. Comey did brief Trump orally about the contents of the two-page summary.)
In response to the first distraction, Cooper sensibly said, "I know you like to pivot." By that he meant that Conway likes to change the subject, thus creating a bewildering pseudo-discussion. That said:
Cooper's willingness to let Conway do that is one of our key topics here.
If you watch that 25-minute tape, you'll see an impressive blizzard of charges, complaints, distractions, sleights of hand and semi-comical groaners. The work product of this practice is sometimes described as "gorilla dust." It represents the attempt to create so much confusion that no clear point can ever be established within our public discourse.
How silly were some of Conway's complaints? Let's focus on a few of the absolute dumbest. Remember the basic tenet of Conwayism:
The spokesperson must always be willing to lodge the next complaint, no matter how silly or dumb.
How absurd were Conway's complaints? How much contempt did she show for CNN's viewers? Consider this early nonsense, in which Conway claimed that CNN called its January 10 report a "bombshell:"
CONWAY: Anderson, because CNN went first and had this breathless report, you know, everybody said it was a bombshell, earth-shattering report last night—Conway insisted that CNN had used the world bombshell. As proof, she read a CNN headline which didn't use that word.
COOPER: We didn't say it was a bombshell.
CONWAY: BuzzFeed then went ahead— Yes you did! Yes, you did. It says right here: "Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian effort to compromise him." That's not true.
COOPER: Where's the word "bombshell?"
CONWAY: Your headline is wrong. Well, then Seth Meyers said that he, confronted me on the "bombshell." None of it is true.
COOPER: I'm sorry what Seth Meyers said to you.
Confronted with this obvious problem, she said that Meyers had used the word when she appeared on his show. Conwayism is powerful!
The sheer inanity of that exchange captures the essence of Conwayism. Remember, though—the Conwayist must always maintain an air of grievance as he makes her claims.
A few minutes later, Conway launched another absurd complaint. As the exchange begins, Cooper is trying to discern what Conway is actually saying about CNN's report. Quickly, Conway expresses her next point of grievance:
COOPER: So you're saying there was no two-page summary that was included in briefing material?Vintage Conwayism! When Cooper asked Trump's spokesperson to relate what Trump had said, she replied, with an air of grievance, that Cooper hadn't paid sufficient attention during that day's press conference.
CONWAY: The president-elect was asked that question today. You should refer to his answer. But I will tell you—
COOPER: No, you can answer it. He said, he said—
CONWAY: No, I wasn't in the briefing.
COOPER: OK. So you can't say whether or not— You're saying it's not true, but you're saying also you can't say—
CONWAY: What did the president-elect say when he was asked?
COOPER: I don't know, you tell me.
CONWAY: Well then, you didn't pay attention to the press conference!
"I just don't want to misquote the president-elect," Cooper replied. "I assume you know what the president-elect said today." Cooper then paraphrased what Trump had said, and Conway raced ahead to the next in her long list of complaints.
Conwayism means never having to say you're not offended. At various times, Conway lodged silly, absurd complaints about Cooper's use of words:
COOPER: This is a red herring. You're just, it's like you got— You're trying to distract from my question which is, you do not have information whether it's true or not.Please don't say "red herring," or even "distract!" Meanwhile, those French! They have a different word for everything!
CONWAY: Anderson, you can use words like "pivot," "distract," "red herring" all you want. The fact is that the media have a 16 percent approval rating for a reason. It's been earned. And it's crap like this that really undergirds why Donald Trump won.
CONWAY: It's all fake news. And let me just say Anderson, I really think—
COOPER: But it's not all fake news. I mean, that's just disingenuous.
CONWAY: Well, in [the BuzzFeed] report, it is fake news. And people keep using the word "dossier" like some, like using some fancy French word is going to imbue it with credibility.
Joking aside, those exchanges represent Conwayism in its purest form. In Conwayism, the practitioner must always be willing to issue the next complaint, no matter how silly or stupid.
At one point, Cooper was forced to take The Conway Challenge. When he successfully passed the test, Conway conjured an instant rebuttal:
COOPER: I get the anger over the BuzzFeed stuff. I thought that was—when I read that, it was totally unsubstantiated. We're not reporting that. I guess I don't understand— I guess actually, I think I do understand because I think it's politics for you to try to link all the reporters together. But it seems just unfair and frankly disingenuous.When Cooper cited a major host who did "come to CNN's defense," Conway knew how to react. Remember: when dealing with a Conwayist, there's nothing a person can say which won't produce instant aggrieved rebuttal.
CONWAY: No. Actually, very few people came to CNN's defense today. I'm sure you're aware of that.
COOPER: Well actually, Shepard Smith on Fox did, which I thought was interesting and actually pretty courageous.
CONWAY: That's a cherry pick. Great.
(For the record: "cherry pick" seems to be OK, although "red herring" is not.)
At one point, Conway produced a truly amazing reaction. It happened when Cooper criticized the very news org she herself had criticized all through their pointless exchange.
This is Ultimate Conwayism. Giving the demagogue her due, the analysts burst into applause:
CONWAY: Anderson, do you think that BuzzFeed, or anybody else, after months of deciding against publishing specious, scurrilous, unverified, uncorroborated junk in a Democratic opposition research document, do you think they would have released it last night had CNN not preceded it with its own report? I doubt it. There was a nexus here.In a virtuoso performance, Conway adopted an air of grievance on behalf of BuzzFeed itself! Truly, the Conwayist will always be willing to voice the next complaint.
COOPER: The last time I read BuzzFeed, I saw a headline that said like, "Ten top sex toys that was going to improve your sex life." I don't read BuzzFeed.
CONWAY: OK, now you're insulting BuzzFeed.
If you watch that 25-minute tape, you'll be watching Conwayism in its purest form. On the one hand, you'll see Conway make a false claim again and again, insisting, again and again, that CNN linked to the BuzzFeed report, which it actually didn't.
Beyond that, you'll see the essence of this rhetorical style. Conwayism involves the constant churning of aggrieved complaints, no matter how silly/inane.
Conway's performance on that tape is a public disgrace. She's churning clouds of gorilla dust every step of the way, creating maximum confusion while maintaining an air of deep grievance.
Vladimir Putin opposes the practices of civil society; Kellyanne Conway does too. Her conduct on that pitiful tape produced a perfect Babel.
We're left with the role played by Anderson Cooper. What should we think about him?
Next: Cable loves heat, not light