Terrible, horrible, typical work!


The first few things we read:
Yesterday's testimony by Jeff Sessions was a bit underwhelming.

He said he didn't collude with the Russians or even engage in treason. Rightly or wrongly, he refused to talk about his discussions with the president, Donald J. Trump.

Generally speaking, Sessions doesn't always seem to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Then too, we were saddled with the typically haphazard, disjointed congressional questioning, based on the idea that every member of the panel must get his or her five minutes.

(Yesterday's questioning was much better than normal.)

That said, a great deal of confusion and dissembling emerged from yesterday's event. How sad can our "journalism" be? Consider two of the first pieces we perused this morning.

We started our day at TPM, where we quickly spied an intriguing headline. Alice Ollstein wrote the piece. The pleasing headline said this:
"What Really Happened At The Mayflower? Sessions Gives Conflicting Answers"
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Sessions had been been caught giving "conflicting answers!"

Did Sessions actually give conflicting answers about the event at the Mayflower? We liberals long to say that he did! Setting the scene, Ollstein started like this:
OLLSTEIN (6/13/17): In his highly charged hearing Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave the Senate Intelligence Committee several variations of what happened at the Mayflower Hotel on April 27, 2016, when then-candidate Donald Trump gave a Russia-friendly foreign policy speech attended by a crowd that included Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

At a VIP reception following the speech, Kislyak, Trump, and Sessions were all in the same room, but whether they spoke and what they spoke about remains in dispute.

Ousted FBI Director James Comey reportedly told the committee in a classified session last week that U.S. intelligence agents intercepted communications between Kisklyak and Russian officials back in Moscow that suggested the ambassador and Sessions met on the sidelines of that event—a charge Sessions and the Justice Department have denied.

But Sessions’ various answers throughout Tuesday’s hearing did little to clear up the confusion.
Dear God! Kislyak and Sessions were actually in the same room that day! And not only that! According to that headline, Sessions gave "conflicting answers" about "what really happened!"

Josh was giving us what we want as he begged us for more subscriptions. Sadly, though, the passage shown below is supposed to contain those "conflicting answers."

There are no such conflicts here:
OLLSTEIN (continying directly): In his opening statement, Sessions broadly declared: “I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel. I did not attend any meetings at that event.”

But later, when questioned by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Sessions said that “it’s conceivable that [a conversation with Kislyak] occurred” but that it included “nothing improper.”

Then, in response to questions from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sessions said: “I didn’t have any formal meeting with him. I’m confident of that. But I may have had an encounter during the reception.”

“I have no recollection of a discussion with the Russian ambassador,”
Sessions later added, though he allowed such a discussion may have occurred.
As any competent human can see, those accounts all say the same thing:

According to Sessions, he didn't have a private meeting with Kislyak that day (or with anyone else). He says he doesn't remember having a conversation with Kislyak as people were milling around, but he says it's possible that he did.

Needless to say, it's always possible that those statements are false. But there's nothing confusing about any of that. There are no "conflicting answers."

But so what? At TPM, we liberals were given the gruel we love, right there in that headline. The same thing happened when we proceeded to Slate.

At Slate, we spied another tribally pleasing headline. In fact, it was a pair of headlines. The thrilling banners said this:
Sessions Sticks to His Fiction
Why the attorney general is still lying about James Comey's firing.
Yay yay yay yay yay yay yay! Sessions was "still lying," we were told. He had "stuck to his fiction!"

The piece was written by Leon Neyfakh. Thrillingly, headlines included, the excited scribe started like this:
NEYFAKH (6/13/17): Sessions Sticks to His Fiction
Why the attorney general is still lying about James Comey's firing.

The first story we heard about why Donald Trump fired James Comey as FBI director was that he’d done so on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, both of whom were emphatically disgusted by Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Two days later, on May 11, Trump himself told NBC’s Lester Holt that he’d been planning to fire Comey long before Rosenstein and Sessions laid out their complaints, and that he’d done so for his own reasons. “When I decided to just do it,” Trump told Holt, “I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story—it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’ ”

Based on his performance at Tuesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Jeff Sessions seems to have committed himself to pretending that interview never happened. Time and time again during the roughly three-hour hearing, Sessions insisted that the original story of the Comey firing had been the true one—that despite everything we now know, including the fact that Trump bragged to Russian officials in the Oval Office that firing Comey had relieved him of “great pressure” stemming from the Russia investigation, it had been Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation that was responsible for his ouster after all.
According to Neyfakh, Sessions insisted, time and time again, that "it had been Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation that was responsible for his ouster after all."

We were surprised to read that. We didn't remember any time when Sessions said that Donald Trump fired Comey because of the Clinton fandango. And sure enough! Despite the claim that Sessions insisted on this again and again, Neyfakh quotes no examples of any such statement by Sessions.

Sessions "insisted" on this "lie" again and again! Until you read the rest of Neyfakh's piece, which provides zero examples.

Did Sessions "give conflicting answers?" Based on Ollstein's presentation, no.

Did he "lie," "time and time again," in the manner Neyfakh alleges? Neyfakh quotes zero examples.

Neyfakh is ten years out of Harvard. Ollstein is seven years out of Oberlin. (We don't know who put the headline on her report.)

Reading work of this type, we wonder about our basic human capacities at times of tribal war. And let's be clear—this type of work was the rule, not the exception, all over cable last night. We saw horrible, false or misleading work by people of all descriptions.

We've been at this task for nineteen years. Our experience has left us with one basic meta-question:

Ignore what Aristotle said. To what extent can we humans be said to be "rational" at all?

This afternoon: When Donald J. Trump made an accurate claim, our big stars swore that he was wrong (and that Comey would never do that)


  1. Trump wanted to fire Comey so Sessions concocted a justification. Sessions talked with Kislyak at a reception, as verified by intercepted Russian intelligence, and now has a convenient memory because he never reported that contact. He denies only a "formal meeting" which presumably means a scheduled office appointment. They may have thought meeting at an event would give them cover but the Russians recorded the contact. So Sessions was caught being evasive.

    Somerby has a beef with headline writers but I think some public outrage is justified by Sessions' testimony.

  2. I agree with Bob insofar as it is essential that Democrats start winning elections. That is the only real way to effect change. However, as I have previously pointed out, we must still hold Trump and his minions to account for their crimes, mustn't we??
    Also, what if the Repubs use violent acts such as today's to begin outlawing liberalism? It could happen. They are the ones quick to blame the entire "left" for the act of a single deranged man. We, "the left", are somehow responsible for all acts committed by anyone remotely "left", but conservatives are not culpable in attacks by right-wingers? How do you think it affects people's minds when they hear the drumbeat of "evil progressives resort to violence and must be rooted out" ad infinitum on Fox and every conservative talk radio program, of which there are hundreds? How does that affect the right and the left?

  3. When a Democratic nominee for President of the United States labels people "irredeemable," Democrats will take note and decide it's OK to murder them.

    1. The rhetoric works both ways. It's wrong no matter who says it. We have to get away from this ridiculous hyperpartisanship.

    2. The shooter was a Bernie supporter, and anti-Hillary, by the way.

    3. So the party of second-amendment solutions (GOP) suddenly doesn't like second-amendment solutions?

    4. Thank God there were people there who could defend themselves and others.

    5. "Thank God there were people there who could defend themselves and others."

      People: you mean Scalise's security detail and the Capitol Hill police immediately returned fire, and Alexandria police also immediately came and began to return fire.?

      Were you intentionally trying to be misleading?

    6. Blaming this on Kathy Griffin's locker room talk is the funniest thing on the internet today.

    7. Lt us all pause the remember, Trump - the President of the United States - is currently being sued for inciting violence at his campaign rallies. That's a fact.

      On 23 January 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump caused controversy when he stated the following during a campaign rally in Iowa:

      I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.

      “So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of him, would you?” he told a crowd in Iowa in February. “Seriously, okay, just knock the hell. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees; I promise, I promise.”
      Donald Trump hints at assassination of Hillary Clinton by gun rights supporters

      “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day.”

  4. Bob - thank you for this. Please keep doing what you're doing. I am sure that criticizing the left-leaning media from a basic competence/liberal perspective is a lonely struggle (and confusing to many readers) but I think it's especially important now, when I increasingly feel -- as a reader of sites like Slate, and formerly a reader of TPM -- that these outlets are trying to "pull a fast one" on me and feed me stories that they think I want to hear (e.g., impeachment/criminal charges are right around the corner) rather than those that accurately reflect reality.

    Maybe this is no longer timely, but I wonder if you might find it worth doing a post on how sites have interpreted Trump's comments to Lester Holt about the Comey firing as an admission that he dismissed him *because* of the Russia inquiry. As is often the case, Trump's disjointed manner of speaking makes it hard to parse his statements, but I always thought the fact that mentioned "the Russia thing" as a "made up story" when discussing the firing could be interpreted as him trying to make the point that he did not think it raised obstruction of justice or obstruction of an inquiry concerns. In other words, rather than an admission that he fired him because of or to stop the inquiry, it was him saying that he wasn't worried about the effects on the inquiry because he was sure there was nothing there. I wouldn't necessarily agree with this viewpoint, but it seems like many outlets have been misleadingly characterizing his comments as more significant than they really were.

    Please keep up the good work!

    1. In other words, rather than an admission that he fired him because of or to stop the inquiry, it was him saying that he wasn't worried about the effects on the inquiry because he was sure there was nothing there.

      bwahahahaha!! He wasn't worried therefore he asked Comey to let it go and when Comey refused he was fired.

      let me tell you something. He sure as shit is worried now. bwahahahaha!!!!

    2. "many outlets"


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