The case against playing tic-tac-toe!

MONDAY, JULY 31, 2017

The New York Times helps us pack:
We're off on a mission of national import. The New York Times helped us pack.

But first, we'd like to make the case against playing tic-tac-toe. We'll also continue to make the case in favor of using our words.

What would it mean to use our words in discussing the misstatements of President Donald J. Trump?

It might go something like this:

It could mean that we know there are many more words than simply "misstatement" and "lie."

It could mean that, when we discuss Trump's misstatements, we refer to his "many repeated gross misstatements which fly in the face of apparent obvious fact."

It could mean that we refer to his "many repeated gross misstatements which fly in the face of obvious facts, even when such obvious facts have been widely discussed and reported."

In a related venture, it could even mean that we refer to his "occasional, peculiar statements which seem to expose him, in obvious ways, to possible legal jeopardy."

(It could mean that we don't feel we have to describe such peculiar statements as part of a plan to "keep us off balance," as Virginia Heffernan recently did in her Trumpcast chat with Professor Nyhan.)

It could also mean that we avoid playing tic-tac-toe. Here's what we mean by that:

Imagine that you're the world's greatest chess master. In a match where the prize is a quadrillion dollars, would you agree to play a 10-year-old child in a game of tic-tac-toe instead of playing him or her in chess?

Playing chess, you couldn't lose. Playing tic-tac-toe, you couldn't win. Assuming even minimal competency, every game of tic-tac-toe results in a tie. Why would you choose to play that?

Alas! When liberals insist on discussing Trump's "lies," they're agreeing to play tic-tac-toe. They're abandoning a discussion of his misstatements, a discussion which strongly favors their interests, in favor of a second-order dispute they're very unlikely to win.

Alas! Depending on the skill level of the disputants, we liberals can even lose a debate about Donald J. Trump's alleged lies. Trust us! Kellyanne's eyes grow wide with delight when liberals agree to switch the discussion to this more difficult field.

That said, the skill level in our liberal world has long been extremely low. To cite one highly significant example:

How do you think we managed to lose so many debates, for so many years, about the claim that the Social Security trust fund was just a pile of worthless IOUs?

Our skills Over Here are remarkably slight, our self-admiration remarkably high. Over the course of perhaps thirty years, this has helped give us Donald J. Trump, whose routine, repeated absurd misstatements have proven to be a bit too much for us to overcome.

That said, we're off today on a mission of national import involving a family gathering. We're able to go because a great national newspaper helped us learn how to pack.

We refer to the "Here to Help" feature on page A3 of last Wednesday's New York Times. Due to concerns about packing procedures, we weren't sure we'd be able to make this week's trip. Under the following heading, the Times stepped in to help:
Here to Help
Follow these five basic tips to pack efficiently for any trip.
There it was, on page A3. We'd call it a real life-saver.

In truth, we actually had some initial concerns about last Wednesday's feature.

For starters, its text didn't cite any "experts." Instead, we were asked to take the advice of one "travel blogger" and one "decluttering guru."

This made us feel uneasy, almost filled us with dread.

Beyond that point of concern, some of the advice in the feature almost seemed a bit suspect. In fairness, no one could argue with a prescription like this:

"To help streamline your wardrobe, use the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule for a weeklong trip."

When that rule was explained, its wisdom seemed unassailable. Still and all, we were unsure about some other bits of advice. Our Advanced Spatial Geometry Team is still unsure about this one:

"You can also roll your clothes—this helps to maximize space and minimize wrinkles."

Really? Does rolling your clothes really mean that they will consume less space? Something tells us that can't be right—but then again, we aren't decluttering gurus.

We'll return to our sprawling campus on Friday night. We don't expect to post again until the weekend.

In the meantime, we anticipate some lively games of Shopkins with a pair of great-nieces, possibly even with a great-nephew live and direct from Dublin.

(As with many parts of modern American life, this particular, home-grown game seems to have no known rules.)

We anticipate winning at Shopkins! Absent this help from the New York Times, would we have been able to pack our bag and leave our campus at all?

For further elucidation: The New York Times' daily Here to Help feature doesn't appear on line.

That said, last Wednesday's feature said we should go to this New York Times site if we need further advice.

The site is headlined thusly: How to Pack a Suitcase. "Packing may seem simple," we're instantly told, "but it is a science with rules that travelers often learn the hard way over thousands of miles on the road."

Is packing a suitcase really a science? We don't feel sure about that.

We do feel sure about this: the New York Times never exactly got around to explaining what was wrong with all those decades of bullshit about the Social Security trust fund, because of which the storied program was supposedly destined to go "bankrupt" by the year [insert random number here].

Tens of millions of people were grossly misled by that long-standing propaganda campaign. It was beyond the skill levels at the Times to unpack that disinformation and blather.

For decades, that was highly influential right-wing agitprop. Like everyone else, the New York Times pretty much let it go.

In these and many other ways, our elites have created our current world—the world of the many peculiar misstatements of President Donald J. Trump. Insisting that his groaners, misstatements and falsehoods are lies probably doesn't help.

USING OUR WORDS: Refusing to use our inheritance!


Also, our long love affair with war:
Since it's the weekend, might we enjoy some real full-blown erudition?

We'll start with our English language, which was invented long ago. Though actually, no one invented the English language, not even the seers who invented the claim about what Candidate Gore crazily said he invented.

According to the leading authority on the subject, the English language, with its several words, has actually developed over a period of quite a few years. We'll quote our expert source:
English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years. The earliest forms of English, a set of Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the 5th century, are called Old English. Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England, and was a period in which the language was influenced by French.


Old English developed from a set of North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken along the coasts of Frisia, Lower Saxony, Jutland, and Southern Sweden by Germanic tribes known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
In the fifth century, the Anglo-Saxons settled Britain and the Romans withdrew from Britain. By the seventh century, the Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxons became dominant in Britain, replacing the languages of Roman Britain (43–409 CE): Common Brittonic, a Celtic language, and Latin, brought to Britain by the Roman occupation.
Those Jutes! Borrowing from Steve Martin, they had a different word for everything!

Or possibly not. At any rate, this brings us to glorious Austin, with his observations concerning the usefulness of our quite a few words.

We refer to J. L. Austin, who might be thought of as a type of Wittgenstein gifted with clarity. Way back in 1956, he delivered A Plea for Excuses, the Aristotelian Society's presidential address.

Pay no attention to his ultimate subject matter! Along the way, he described our English language as the ultimate example of crowdsourcing—as a repository of all the distinctions people found useful over thousands of years:
AUSTIN (10/29/56): Our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men [sic] have found worth drawing, and the connections they have found worth marking, in the lifetime of many generations: these surely are likely to be more numerous, more sound, since they have stood up to the long test of survival of the fittest, and more subtle, at least in all ordinary and reasonable practical matters, than any that you or I are likely to think up in our armchair of an afternoon—the most favourite alternative method.
According to Austin, the reason we have so many words is because millions of people, over thousands of years, found the distinctions they allow us to draw to be useful. Some of these distinctions probably come to us by way of the Jutes, in the language which eventually turned into modern-day English.

In some cases, Austin may have seemed to be speaking about minute distinctions. The leading authority on his work reminds us of a memorable bit of observation on his part:
An example of such a distinction Austin describes in a footnote is that between the phrases "by mistake" and "by accident." Although their uses are similar, Austin argues that with the right examples we can see that a distinction exists in when one or the other phrase is appropriate.
We're working from memory here. But if memory serves, Austin showed that English speakers would tend to agree on the circumstances in which it would make sense to use one or the other of those two phrases. That is:

Even though it might seem to us that the two phrases are interchangeable, we would all quickly agree that the one phrase was appropriate in Circumstance A, where the other phrase would be the one that fit Circumstance B. Our language equips us with the tools of minute distinctions, even if we're unaware of the breadth of the tools we possess.

Over thousands of years, millions of people have given us the inheritance of a rich assortments of words and locutions. We can use these tools to create an intelligent public discourse. Or we can decide to go to war with those we despise, in ways which are especially appealing at times of vast tribal partisanship.

Recently, we liberals have shown our love for the words "liar" and "lie." In one example, Masha Gessen drew applause when she assailed NPR for daring to use the term "misstatement" instead of "lie" when referring to a groaning misstatement by Donald J. Trump, the current American president.

"The word 'misstatement' as applied to Trump is actually a lie," the estimable Gessen said, drawing applause from the world's most brilliant audience. In these and other ways, we humans have constantly found ways to march ourselves off to war.

Those Jutes! They, and those who followed them, have given us many different ways to refer to inaccurate statements. Meanwhile, just as a simple matter of fact, Donald J. Trump, in the past six months, has issued a steady stream of groaning misstatements, many of which have been obviously false and/or baldly absurd.

That doesn't necessarily mean that his statements were lies, although they certainly may have been. Luckily, the Jutes and the Angles have left us with many ways to describe such inaccurate statements:
Various names for an inaccurate statement:
misstatement, falsehood, untruth, error, inaccuracy, misrepresentation, fabrication, exaggeration, distortion, prevarication, whopper, groaner, howler, fib, embellishment, tale, tall tale, invention
And so on. According to Austin, those words exist because people found, over thousands of years, that they help us draw useful distinctions. Or we can employ our one favorite word, marching ourselves off to war as we curtail our nation's public discussion.

Is Donald J. Trump a liar? Were his sometimes crazy, frequently obvious, repeated misstatements lies?

In the case of Donald J. Trump, the questions is clouded by a possibility many people have raised, though often just in passing. We refer to the possibility that Donald J. Trump may be mentally ill in some deeply unfortunate way.

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump is "mentally ill" in some way? Might that explain his gruesome behavior before the Boy Scouts this week? His many ridiculous statements, some of which ridiculously may even subject him to prosecution?

It isn't like major observers aren't willing to make that suggestion. Just last night, in the opening segment of The Last Word, former Bush official Peter Wehner offered this portrait of Trump:
WEHNER (7/28/17): Look, we've seen Donald Trump enough to know that he's fundamentally uncontrollable and uncontainable...The personnel at the White House is mediocre, there's no question about that. But the problem at its core is Donald Trump, and it is, at its core, that he is a person who thrives on chaos and manage with chaos.

But it's really deeper than that, Lawrence. It is a psychological and emotional affliction. He has a disoriented and disordered mind, and there is no controlling or containing that.
According to Wehner, Trump "has a disoriented and disordered mind," the fruit of "a psychological affliction." Wehner sat on a panel which included the Washington Post's Gene Robinson. He had referred to Trump in a column, that very same day, as "Mad King Donald."

To our eye and ear, Lawrence was still treating this as a form of cable amusement. As he did, the day drew nearer when Donald J. Trump—who is either a liar or the victim of a possibly disabling affliction—will launch his Korean war, endangering the whole world.

Wehner and Robinson are hardy alone in their fleeting suggestions. Yesterday afternoon, luxuriating at a chic happy hour, we stumbled back upon the words of the New Yorker's David Remnick, who asked this question, though fleetingly, in the July 10 issue:
REMNICK (7/10/17): Trump is hardly the first bad President in American history—he has not had adequate time to eclipse, in deed, the very worst—but when has any politician done so much, so quickly, to demean his office, his country, and even the language in which he attempts to speak? Every day, Trump wakes up and erodes the dignity of the Presidency a little more. He tells a lie. He tells another. He trolls Arnold Schwarzenegger. He trolls the press, bellowing “enemy of the people” and “fake news!”...The President’s misogyny and his indecency are well established. When is it time to question his mental stability?
"When is it time to question his mental stability?"

For us, that time arrived in February 2016. But as we noted yesterday, when Remnick raised this question with Maggie Haberman in a recent interview, Haberman refused to play, and Remnick moved right along.

Does the question of Trump's "mental stability" affect the question of his alleged lying? Well actually, yes it does, in several ways.

Gessen was happy to call Trump a liar; she said NPR was lying too, since they wouldn't use that word in their reporting on Trump. This childish desire to drop our bomb tends to curtail our public discussion of Trump.

It halts our discussion at a point which evokes the third grade playground, where "Your're a liar, no you're a liar." When this level of discussion is transferred to august lecture halls, everyone gets to go home feeling good, and we get to avoid a larger question concerning the possibility that the person who holds the nuclear codes is "mad" or gripped by a "psychological affliction" which eliminates his "mental stability" and leaves his mind "disordered."

When disordered people make false statements, they may not exactly be "lying." If we're willing to end our discussion of this peculiar person with our favorite bomb, we're behaving like third graders, and we're choosing to ignore the fact that Trump controls actual bombs of substantial power.

NPR has cited two reasons why reporters should, in most cases, tend to avoid use of the L-bomb. We think each of their reasons
made sense. We could add a third.

(When we stop discussing Trump's "gross misstatements" and start discussing his "lies," we liberals trade a fact-based discussion, and a debate we'll likely win, for a discussion many folk will quickly tune put and a second-order debate we are quite likely to lose. If we want an intelligent discourse which may help voters see the actual state of the world, this will tend to be a losing game, even if it makes us feel tribally good.)

Masha Gessen wants reporters to call Donald J. Trump a liar. This strikes us as a childish desire, one that's focused on the least of our possible worries concerning Donald J. Trump.

Why do we love to drop our bombs? As always, we think of the late Gene Brabender, an actual person and a character in Jim Bouton's famous book, Ball Four.

Brabender was a pitcher for a succession of major league teams. According to the leading authority on Bouton's book, it was "the only sports-themed book to make the New York Public Library's 1996 list of Books of the Century. It also is listed in Time magazine's 100 greatest non-fiction books of all time."

Brabender was portrayed by Bouton as a big, raw-boned country boy with little taste or tolerance for nuanced discussion. Late in the book, his patience is strained by an an absurd bullpen discussion concerning the circumstances which might enable a pitcher to maximize the number of strikeouts he records in the course of a nine-inning game.

Bouton describes the discussion as "insane," then describes Brabender's rising anger. After a comical discussion of the role of facts and disputed factual claims in the world, Brabender brings the discussion to a halt with this deathless oration:

"You're lucky. Where I come from, we just talk for a little while. After that we start to hit."

Given Brabender's size and strength, Bouton dryly said that he "felt lucky indeed."

We sometimes think of Brabender when our fellow liberals choose to "just talk for a little while" before starting to hit.

Our language gives us many ways to describe Donald J. Trump's long list of obvious absurd and peculiar misstatements. In our view, we ought to start using those words, as if life itself were at stake.

It may feel good to denounce his statements as lies. But this tends to stop the nation's discussion. More specifically, it tends to keep us from discussing our president's possible mental state.

As Gessen's audience burst into applause, that war with Korea drew a few minutes closer. In these and other ways, we the humans have always found ways to drive The Others farther away and march ourselves closer to war.

Is Donald J. Trump in the grip of an affliction? Does this affliction leave him with a mind that is "disoriented" and "disordered?" If so, he many not exactly be lying when he makes his peculiar statements.

Is he gripped by an affliction? Given the stakes, isn't it time we set cable amusements aside and actually started to ask?

USING OUR WORDS: Discussion curtailed is discussion denied!

FRIDAY, JULY 28, 2017

Part 5—Major scribes, keeping it simple:
In the first few days of our country's new era, should NPR have reported that Donald J. Trump had "lied?"

The question created a firestorm in the first week of Donald Trump's reign. Three months later, Masha Gessen drew applause when she declared that NPR's choice of words concerning Trump had, in itself, been a lie.

Her thunder recalls sacred Thoreau, then barely thirty years of age, denouncing the varied behaviors of his Concord "townsmen."

"I have traveled a good deal in Concord," the young writer said at the start of his famous book, Walden. And everywhere, Thoreau declared, he'd seen "young men, my townsmen," whose way of life was extremely wrong, based on "the scenes which I daily witness."

How vast was the error of those young men? "Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf," Thoreau rather hotly declared.

Years later, Gessen drew applause from the world's brightest crowd as she declared that NPR's conduct was, in itself, a lie.

Is it possible that the youngish Thoreau was "labor[ing] under a mistake" as he denounced his townsmen? Since everybody makes mistakes, is it possible that Gessen was mistaken as she denounced NPR?

For the record, NPR had offered two reasons for the conduct Gessen denounced. On January 25, 2017, those reasons were proffered, not for the first time, during a three-way discussion on Morning Edition.

Senior vice president for news Michael Oreskes agreed with national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly concerning the first of these reasons. Since NPR didn't know the state of Trump's rather disordered mind as he issued his recent misstatements, they couldn't report, as a matter of fact, that the new president had been lying when he made them.

Oreskes then stated a second reason, one he'd stated before. Way back in September 2016, he'd offered this explanation for the network's reluctance to use the fiery terms "liar" and "lie" when reporting the misstatements of then-candidate Trump:
ORESKES (9/15/16) Now a number of people have asked us why we didn't call Trump a liar. A professor named Jay Rosen actually asked why we didn't call Trump a "lying son of a b****." Others, like Amy Bradley-Hole, a fashion editor and blogger, asked the question more calmly.

It is a fair question. So here is why.

We want everyone to listen to us and read us. We want our reporting to reach as many people as possible. It is a well-established piece of social science research that if you start out with an angry tone and say something a listener disagrees with, they will tune out the facts. But if you present the facts calmly and without a tone of editorializing you substantially increase the chance that people will hear you out and weigh the facts. That is why the tone of journalism matters so much. We need potential listeners and readers to believe we are presenting the facts honestly, and not to confirm our opinions.
Should NPR have adopted a semi-Thoreauvian tone? Should they have called Candidate Trump a "liar?" Should they have called him "a lying son of a b****?"

Oreskes said that this approach would tend to drive listeners and readers away. In the aggregate, he may or may not have been right.

He also seemed to say that the use of such terms would have produced "a tone of editorializing." On this occasion, he didn't exactly speak to the journalistic accuracy of such a claim.

For what it's worth, we think Oreskes would have been better off, at several points in this discussion, if he'd referred to the known facts concerning Trump's inaccurate claims. It may, indeed, have been an actual fact that Donald J. Trump had been lying on the occasions under review. It's just that NPR wasn't in a position to know or report that as a fact, or so NPR had judged.

We tend to agree, very strongly, with NPR's basic decision. On these occasions, NPR would have been going beyond what it actually knew if it had referred to Trump's misstatements as "lies."

In early May, Gessen's claim to the contrary drew applause from an admittedly brilliant crowd. But alas! We think her claims that day were remarkably simple-minded, perhaps a bit like sacred Thoreau's, or even like Professor Rosen's.

As is true of everyone else, we liberals may tend to overstate when feeling is running high. As we noted yesterday, Gessen's claims about the word "misstatement" were basically silly on their face, though they didn't keep her genius crowed from erupting in applause.

We liberals! We aren't nearly as smart as we think we are, and everybody else knows it. Today, let's consider the way our avatars have been tending to dumb it down—to keep it simple—when discussing the question of Trump's endless peculiar misstatements.

Last Friday, in a new Trumpcast at Slate, Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan discussed Trump's "misleading and unsupported statements" with Slate's Virginia Heffernan.

We regard Nyhan as one of the more constructive participants in our public discourse of the past ten years. We regard Heffernan as routinely puzzling.

That said, the pair joined forced to produce a simplified discussion of the current president's puzzling behavior. In our view, this happened in part because they refused to consider the possibility that Donald J. Trump may be some form of "mentally ill" and/or in the grip of some form of dementia.

It isn't like these possibilities haven't been raised by serious observers. It isn't that these possibilities aren't tragic, and potentially significant.

It's just that our journalists have tended to avoid these possibilities in their public discussions. Here's what happened late last week when the New Yorker's David Remnick attempted to raise these possibilities in an interview with the New York Times' Maggie Haberman:
REMNICK (7/21/17): In my memory, growing up with the New York Times, it was a very rare day—in fact, I don’t know that it existed at all—when the New York Times would say that President Johnson, or Kennedy, or Nixon, whoever—lied. Used the word “lied.” Now we have a situation in which the New York Times will go so far as to have an entire feature listing the collected lies of Donald Trump, and it’ll publish it in the newspaper and online and all the rest.


We’ve had presidents who’ve lied about the Gulf of Tonkin, and all manner of things, about intelligence regarding Iraq. So what changed?

HABERMAN: This is too frequent and too much a part of the fabric of daily life with Trump. It’s just different.

REMNICK: How do you analyze his mental state? I can’t avoid this question, because it’s more and more a matter of discussion in print, on television. If you turn on “Morning Joe”—a program that you could easily have interpreted some time ago as being quite pro-Trump, enthusiastic about him, in certain ways—now is discussing whether he has dementia. Their words, not mine. Let’s put a reality check on this. How do you analyze his grasp of life, of fact? What is his mental state?

HABERMAN: I think my psychiatry degree never came through, so I’m gonna be a bit circumspect here, or a bit circumscribed here. Look, I think that he has an amazing belief in his own ability to will what he thinks into reality. And I think that he thinks of reality as something that is subjective. So I think that what people characterize as “he’s out of touch” or “he’s not understating this” or “he seems off,” or whatever—I think he has an amazing capacity to try to draw the world as he wants it. And I think that’s a lot of it.
Is it possible that Donald J. Trump is "mentally ill" in some way? Haberman is right to be "circumspect" concerning this difficult medical question. But she basically sidestepped the question here, and Remnick quickly moved on.

If Donald J. Trump is "mentally ill" in some way, would that mean that he isn't a "liar?" Well actually yes, it might.

When you see a person in the street declaring himself to be Jesus Christ, do you normally walk away declaring that this person's a liar? Or might you think that he's "off his meds"—as he very well may be—and lacks the agency normally required for the act of telling a lie?

For ourselves, we're slow to characterize Trump's repeated ludicrous claims because it seems to us that he many be ill in some way. His possible illness changes the way we would assess his ludicrous claims. It makes us slower to claim that we know how to characterize his relentless, peculiar behavior and his endless inaccurate claims.

Is it possible that Donald J. Trump is "mentally ill" in some way? When Remnick raised the possibility, Haberman essentially avoided the discussion.

But as she did, she described Trump is a way which might suggest some form of "mental illness." What might you call it if a person "thinks of reality as something that is subjective" and "has an amazing capacity to try to draw the world as he wants it," whatever that word salad actually means?

Granted, that's largely gobbledegook. But it also starts to sound like some possible form of "mental illness."

We'll guess that Haberman may work for a paper which has decided, as editorial policy, that it doesn't want this topic discussed. The same rules seemed to be in effect when Heffernan and Nyhan discussed Trump's endless misstatements in that recent Slate Trumpcast.

Nyhan, the Dartmouth professor, is also a Times contributor. Their discussion starts around minute 9 on this tape, where Heffernan prompts Nyhan thusly:

"So tell us a little bit about the liar Donald Trump."

Instantly, Nyhan explains that a problem exists with the term "liar" because it involves the matter of intent. That said, "the pattern of misleading and unsupported statements is obviously undeniable at this point," Nyhan correctly says.

"It's almost impossible to keep track of," Nyhan says. "The severity of these falsehoods, and the frequency with which they're being promoted by the president himself and his aides and officials, really is without precedent in my lifetime...The absolute onslaught of these things is really incredible."

Those statements are all correct.

Over the next ten minutes or so, Nyhan and Heffernan discuss Donald J. Trump's "pattern of misleading and unsupported statements." Again and again, it sounds to us like Nyhan may be describing someone who may be mentally ill in some way.

Nyhan notes the fact that Donald J. Trump repeatedly "make[s] statements that are immediately and obviously false with public information, right? It takes ten seconds of Googling to show that whatever he just said is false."

He notes the fact that Donald J. Trump "won't back down on anything," even when it has been plainly shown that the statement in question is false. Before long, he seems to be channeling Haberman as he describes Trump's overall state of mind:
NYHAN (7/21/17): There's often this dream that, through words alone, we can kind of make a world the way we want it to be. And within a kind of epistemic bubble of the sort that Trump often seems to be in, and many of his most intense and hard-core supporters seem to be in, that may seem to be true, right? I mean, there's this question of to what extent reality intrudes and contradicts his sorts of claims, and how aware people within that bubble are of their actual falsehood.
Say what? "There's this question of to what extent reality intrudes" inside Trump's epistemic bubble? There's this question of how aware he is of the falsehood of his ridiculous claims?

Does it sound to you like Nyhan is describing someone who may be mentally ill in some way? Is it possible that Donald J. Trump thinks he's Jesus Christ?

Again and again, Heffernan and Nyhan seem to be describing a person who may not be well. But alas! Heffernan can't stop reverting to the simple-minded framework of "liar" and "lies," even when discussing Trump's tendency to blurt out the truth, even in ways which may send him to prison:
HEFFERNAN: Since we are in the habit of clocking Trump's lies, and it's an assumption I think in the majority of people polled that, you know, he does frequently lie, it's hard to also notice that sometimes he keeps us off guard by telling the truth, and especially about his motivations, in this florid way.

NYHAN: He has a tendency of blurting out what seem to be his real motivations that other politicians might withhold, right? The most famous example is the initial spin on Comey's removal being about how he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation, which everyone found preposterous.


But then he had the interview with NBC and he basically blurted out that the Russia investigation was uncomfortable or awkward for him and this took the pressure off, right, or whatever the wording was. So he basically conceded that the Russia investigation was the primary motivation for Comey's removal, which is a remarkable statement. I mean, it might be part of a potential obstruction of justice charge at some point, right? To put that on the record voluntarily is quite remarkable. So he does have this tendency sometimes of actually telling us what he's doing.
Donald J. Trump has this tendency of blurting out the truth, even when it might send him to prison! Because Heffernan is deeply simple-minded in her thinking, she interprets this tendency in this way:

It can't be that Trump is somehow unwell. Instead, the liar Trump "keeps us off guard" by telling us the truths!

Liberals, can we talk? Masha Gessen is an admirable figure. It's also true that her comments about NPR at her May 7 lecture were remarkably simple-minded.

Does the word "misstatement" suggest a singular occurrence? Not if you put an "s" on the end of the word, thereby making it plural!

Does the word "misstatement" suggest that Trump was well-intentioned? That he simply made an innocent mistake?

Not necessarily! Not if you say that his most recent misstatement, like many others before it, flew in the face of obvious evidence which has been widely discussed.

Our language gives us many words with which we can describe and discuss misstatements. Tomorrow, we'll wonder why we seem to love that one L-word so much.

Tomorrow: Sacred Austin's remarkable work; also, Brabender "starts to hit"

USING OUR WORDS: Wisely declining to "call lies 'lies!'"


Part 4—Tales of tribal prejudgment:
We noticed an intriguing contretemps of a type in today's New York Times.

Atop hard-copy page A20, our eyes fell upon Linda Qiu's latest FACT CHECK. We spotted a disagreement of sorts between Qiu's first paragraph and the headline which topped her piece:
QIU (7/27/17): 7 Falsehoods at 3 Events In 1 Day

In just a few hours on Tuesday, President Trump made seven misleading statements: about Middle East politics, during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon; about veterans affairs reforms, in remarks to “American heroes”; and about jobs and health care, to supporters in Ohio. Here’s an assessment.
Uh-oh! The editor who wrote the headline advertised seven falsehoods. But in her text, Qiu had referred to seven "misleading statements."

Is a misleading statement a falsehood? Moses produced no tablet resolving this question, but in general we'd have to say no.

A communicator can thoroughly mislead an audience while making perfectly accurate statements. Generally speaking, words like "misleading" entered the language, long ago, to offer us an alternative to describing a statement as "false."

(Such distinctions are also widely observed in the world's several other languages, including the earlier languages out of which English emerged.)

Just for the record, what kinds of statements did Qiu actually cite? Were the statements misleading, or false?

That isn't our point of concern today. But she specifically describes one claim by Donald J. Trump as "false," another as a "stretch."

We'd say that Qiu may have stretched and misled a bit too, for example in her sixth boldfaced claim. In that sixth presentation, she also revived her wondrously confusing formulation in which "[l]egal permanent residents who haven’t worked in the United States for 10 years are not eligible for food assistance or Medicaid within the first five years of entering the country."

That statement is wonderfully confusing. Would you call it misleading? False?

Our language gives us many ways to describe statements which are false and/or misleading or otherwise somehow bogus. Before our week is through, we plan to visit immortal Austin, reviewing some of the ruminations in his masterful books (How to Do Things With Words; Sense and Sensibilia) and in some of his most famous lectures or essays (Three Ways of Spilling Ink; A Plea for Excuses).

In effect, Austin was Wittgenstein gifted with clarity, but that's not our topic today. Today, we want to review a recent statement which seemed to be blindingly obvious.

The statement drew applause from the world's brightest people at a recent high-end lecture. The estimable Masha Gessen delivered the statement as part of the Arthur Miller Lecture at the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival.

Her statement seemed to be blindingly obvious. Unable to restrain themselves, the crowd burst into applause:
GESSEN (5/7/17): ...we have to become guardians of our language. We have to keep it alive and working. That means being very intentional about using words.

That means, for example, calling lies "lies."

I am actually—

For background, see yesterday's report.

Gessen said we should call lies "lies." The audience burst into applause.

It should be said that Gessen was specifically prescribing what journalists, including reporters, should do. As she continued, she specifically scolded National Public Radio for failing, indeed for refusing as a general matter of policy, to call lies "lies."

Should reporters call lies "lies?" The answer may seem obvious, but let's reason by way of analogy.

Presumably, reporters should call bank robberies "bank robberies." But before they do, they should probably ascertain that a bank has actually been robbed.

If they aren't yet sure of that fact, there are ways to report their uncertainty. They can refer to an alleged, apparent or reported bank robbery, after which they can describe the state of the evidence.

In the matters Gessen was discussing, should NPR have described Donald J. Trump's misstatements and apparent misstatements as "lies?"

Some of the misstatements in question seemed to be truly remarkable howlers. But did that mean that news reporters at NPR should have described them as "lies?"

The network had explained its reticence on several occasions, not always with perfect clarity. As Gessen continued, she hurried past NPR's explanation, then issued several semi-howlers of her own:
GESSEN (continuing directly): The NPR argument is that the definition of "lie," their argument for not using the word "lie" when describing what Donald Trump does, is that the definition of "lie" involves intent. A lie is a statement made with the intention to deceive. And NPR does not have conclusive information on Trump's intent.

The problem is that the euphemism "misstatement" clearly connotes a lack of intent, as though Trump simply took an accidental wrong step.

And the thing is that words exist in time, right? The word "misstatement" suggests a singular occurrence, thereby eliding Trump's history of lying. The word "misstatement" as applied to Trump is actually a lie.

Again, the audience erupted in applause. But here on our own sprawling campus, we observed a different reaction:

Our youthful analysts were loudly wailing rattling the chains with which we help them resolve to stay seated, and fully attentive, at their spartan study carrels.

It should be noted that Gessen never quoted anything that had ever been said by anyone at NPR. As in her native Russia, so too here:

Our public discourse tends to die when major figures treat themselves to such unfortunate shortcuts.

That said, it it true as a general matter? As a general matter, does the word "misstatement" suggest that the misstatement in question was uttered in good faith, was just "an accidental wrong step?"

We have no idea why you'd say that. It's abundantly clear that NPR's Mary Louise Kelly was suggesting no such thing in the NPR report about Trump which launched a thousand semantic ships. But if a reporter is concerned about that possible connotation, she is of course free to say this:

She is free to refer to Donald J. Trump's "extreme misstatement, which flies in the face of apparently obvious photographic evidence."

In short, she can use her words!

How about that other claim? If someone refers to a "misstatement" by Trump, does that word "suggest a singular occurrence, thereby eliding Trump's history of lying?"

We don't know why you'd say that. If a reporter had that concern, she could simply say this:

She could refer to Donald J. Trump's "latest misstatement, one in a puzzling list of misstatements on this particular point."

Once again, she can use her words. There are many to choose from!

Gessen spoke to an audience of writers. Earlier, in an unfortunate moment, she'd made the ultimate tribal claim, saying that she and her fellow writers "invariably" act in good faith:
GESSEN: Now, we writers have often spent time, much of it in the late twentieth century, questioning the ability of words to reflect facts, and the existence of objective facts themselves.

There are those who have, whether with glee or with shame, observed a sort of relationship between those post-modern exercises and Trump’s post-truth, post-language ways. But I think this reflects a basic misunderstanding, or perhaps a willing conflation of intentions.

When writers and academics question the limits of language, it is invariably an exercise that grows from a desire to bring more light into the public sphere, to arrive at a shared reality that is more nuanced than it was yesterday. To focus ever more tightly on the shape, weight, and function of any thing that can be named, or to find names for things that have not, in the past, been observed.
Good grief! "When writers and academics question the limits of language, it is invariably an exercise that grows from a desire to bring more light into the public sphere?"

We writers "invariably" act in good faith, with good intentions? If we might borrow from Michael Corleone:

Who's being naive now, Kay? Simply put, we humans aren't like that.

Gessen told her audience of writers that they "invariably" act in good faith. This is the kind of tribal thinking which can betray the finest of minds and the best of souls, especially at a time like this, when tribal feeling runs high.

Should NPR have referred to Donald Trump's statements as "lies?" They had said they couldn't state, as a matter of fact, that the misstatements in question were lies. Gessen blew past this sensible analysis, then made some peculiar claims of her own.

For our money, old patterns should hold in this area. Reporters should be very reluctant about describing misstatements as "lies."

Meanwhile, in the case of Donald J. Trump, it seems to us there's an obvious basis for a special reluctance. When people seem to be mentally ill, do we normally say that they've lied?

Tomorrow: Regarding possible illness or dementia, Slate pair seem to observe two guilds' rules

We're pleased to give credit where credit is due!


Observing some splendid behavior:
We're pleased to give credit where credit is due regarding President Donald J. Trump's latest spectacular brainstorm.

The Washington Post has published this instant dispatch. We were pleased to see these reactions by major Republican solons:
DEBONIS AND O'KEEFE (7/26/17): Lawmakers in both parties slammed President Trump’s decision on Wednesday to bar transgender Americans from serving in the military, while many of his allies on Capitol Hill remained largely perplexed or silent.


Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), a former Army officer,
said “it throws us off” when Trump issues surprise tweets that distract from other GOP priorities. “Based on what we’re doing in here this week, I don’t know what the connection is,” he said.

Capitol Hill’s most prominent Republican voice on national security matters, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), also criticized Trump’s announcement, calling it “unclear” and “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.”

McCain added, “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military—regardless of their gender identity.” He said there should be no change in policy until the Pentagon completes an ongoing review of the issue.

Other conservative senators offered criticism of the move. A spokeswoman for Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), an Army veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, said that the senator believes “Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity,” though the military should not fund gender-reassignment surgery.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a Trump ally on most issues, said he wanted “more information and clarity” on Trump’s policy. “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone,” he said, adding that transgender people “deserve the best we can do for them.”

And Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of an Appropriations subcommittee that sets Pentagon spending levels, said he expected Congress to call hearings exploring Trump’s policy change.

“You ought to treat everybody fairly and give everybody a chance to serve,” he told CNN.
We'll quote Woodrow Call from Lonesome Dove:

"Splendid behavior," he said.

For the historical source of the phrase: For the historical source of the phrase, why not just click here?

Why does Mark Johnson believe those things?


One last trip to the fair:
We want to make a final trip to the free health care clinic which was conducted at the Wise County Fairgrounds in rural southwestern Virginia.

More specifically, we want to ask you why Mark Johnson, age 56, believes the things he believes.

In Monday's New York Times,
Trip Gabriel published a valuable news report about the clinic, and about the suffering people who traveled hours to access its services. Let's start today with a person, a doctor, who plainly deserves our respect:
GABRIEL (7/26/17): Dr. Joseph F. Smiddy, 75, a lung specialist who has volunteered at every RAM clinic here since the first in 1999, said people’s health was getting worse, not better, as the regional economy shed well-paying jobs, primarily in coal, and diets and lifestyles deteriorated.

“We’re sicker here than in Central America,” said Dr. Smiddy, who has volunteered on charity health trips there. “In Central America, they’re eating beans and rice and walking everywhere. They’re not drinking Mountain Dew and eating candy. They’re not having an epidemic of obesity and diabetes and lung cancer.”

In a lead-lined truck he had modified to perform chest X-rays, Dr. Smiddy saw Sherman Devlin, 51, a heavyset former miner complaining of shortness of breath.

“I don’t have no income,” Mr. Devlin said, speaking with difficulty. “I’m a broke-down coal miner. I can’t do what I used to do.” Even though he received Medicaid, he said it did not cover much.
A significant point before moving on: Gabriel should have explained that comment about Medicaid.

That said, let's move on:

Dr. Smiddy is 75. Presumably, he doesn't have to volunteer for these clinics, nor did he have to volunteer for the service he provided in Central America. We'd have to say that Dr. Smiddy has earned the nation's respect.

Meanwhile, Devlin is 51. He's the kind of person our liberal tribe has long tended to disregard and demean. Do you remember the two weeks of dick jokes, back in 2009, from a certain unnamed cable host? How we laughed at all the "teabaggers"
before they started kicking our ascots at the ballot boxes!

This brings us to the question of Mark Johnson's beliefs. In this passage, Dr. Smiddy comments on the political beliefs of people in Virginia's depleted coal country:
GABRIEL: Dr. Smiddy grew up in Wise, a picturesque county seat on the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail. He said that the United Mine Workers of America had once operated one of the best hospitals in the state here, but that it had closed after mine owners drove out the union.

“The people of this area have been told by the politicians and President Trump that coal is coming back,” Dr. Smiddy said. “They believe that. They’ve been told that Obamacare is no good. They believe that. They believe that Trump’s going to bring them TrumpCare.”

“We all know when we take 32 million people out of the system”—an allusion to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of how many would lose coverage under one Republican plan—“that these people will be the first to go,” he said.

Mark Johnson, 56, a disabled truck driver from Coeburn who came to have 10 teeth pulled, said the president’s opponents had created distractions with charges about Russia. “They won’t leave him alone enough to do anything,” he said.
Dr. Smiddy grew up in Wise, the county seat of Wise County. He understands what happened to the local hospital after the bosses drove the union out.

He also seems to know what people in the area have been told, and what they believe. Mark Johnson, age 56, seems to provide an example.

Coeburn, Virginia is part of Wise County. Johnson seemed to tell Gabriel that Donald J. Trump's opponents are the ones who are causing the problems.

Our questions would be these:

Who told the people at that clinic that Obamacare is no good? Why did they believe them?

What kind of effort did liberals and progressives make to tell them that they were being misled? To tell them they've been misled about may things, for many years?

Presumably, the people to whom Dr. Smiddy refers have been misled by the usual suspects. Our closing questions would be these:

To what extent has our liberal contempt led them into Rush Limbaugh's hands, then into the hands of Fox? We refer to liberal contempt extending back a very large number of years.

Last fall, in Vox, Sarah Kliff wrote about middle-aged women in rural Kentucky with insurance under Obamacare who couldn't afford to go to the doctor. We liberals reacted with contempt and incomprehension.

Why do we behave that way? How long has this been going on? Is it possible that we are part of the problem here, along with the gruesome Donald J. Trump, lord of all he surveys?

USING OUR WORDS: On the importance of calling lies "lies!"


Part 3—Sometimes a less-than-great notion:
On January 21, 2017, the newly-inaugurated president, Donald J. Trump, journeyed south to CIA headquarters, where he made deathless remarks.

As sometimes happens, Trump seems to have made some inaccurate statements. In this part of a broadcast on NPR's Morning Edition program, national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly cited two such remarks:
KELLY (1/23/17): In that same speech out of the CIA this weekend, Trump also falsely inflated the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

In talking about the weather, he described that when he began to speak at his inauguration, the rain stopped immediately. And in fact, you could see water beating on the lapel of his coat.
Kelly offered no direct quotes from Trump concerning these peculiar topics. That said, his comments about the size of the crowd and the heaven-sent weather still rank among the strangest and most obvious misstatements he has uttered to date.

One might even say that they rank among his craziest statements to date, correspondence to reality-wise.

At this point, a problem arose. In her report, Kelly described an array of statements by Trump as "false," as "provably not true," and as "untrue claims." She compared what Trump had said to what you could see "in fact."

That said, Kelly didn't say that Donald J. Trump had "lied" in maiing these deathless remarks. Within days, NPR was under attack from portions of the liberal world, which had just started its noble resistance, twenty-five years too late.

On January 26,
NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen posted a column concerning the controversy. Jensen described the waves of complaints and summarized NPR policy:
JENSEN (1/26/17): This column will attempt to address the several hundred emails (and an untold number of social media posts) to my office and NPR's Audience Services department that were harshly critical of NPR's policy. I've included a representative sampling of listener letters below. They and others used words like "shocked," "appalled," "horrified," "cowardice," "sanctimonious," "timid" and "complicit." ...

The policy, in brief, is to largely avoid using the word "lie." As NPR's national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly said Wednesday, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a "lie" as "'a false statement made with intent to deceive.' 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 fact..."

Michael Oreskes, NPR's head of news, added this: "Our job as journalists is to report—to find facts, establish their authenticity and share them with everybody. And I think that when you use words like lie, it gets in the way of that."
Should Kelly have referred to Trump's statements as "lies?" For unknown reasons, she had looked up the word in a dictionary after the complaints rolled in.

On the basis of what Kelly found, she stood behind her original choice of words. She said she didn't feel she could say, as a matter of fact, that the groaners in question were lies.

In several venues, Oreskes had offered a second reason for "largely avoiding" the use of that word. In response, the emails poured in, using other evocative words like "appalled," "horrified" and "complicit."

Our language gives us many ways to express our horror and shock. It also gives us many ways to describe inaccurate statements.

We'll discuss the development of our English language before the week is through. For today, let's consider what happened last May, when Masha Gessen, a highly respected journalist who has actually walked the walk, weighed in on this perhaps underwhelming subject.

In our view, Gessen has earned the respect she's afforded. On May 7, she delivered the Arthur Miller Lecture at the 2017 PEN World Voice Festival.

(To watch the lecture, just click here. For a lightly edited version of Gessen's remarks, you can just click this.)

Gessen spoke to a liberalish audience known, at least among itself, for its obvious maximal brilliance. As she started, she discussed the ways the public discourse in her native Russia had been compromised, undermined, damaged, undone by the end of the Soviet era.

It's a very important topic. She then began suggesting that a similar process is underway here, driven, in large part, by the weird and constant groaning misstatements of ruler-for-life Donald Trump.

Gessen is a serious, admirable journalist. She was discussing a very serious topic. That doesn't mean that her judgments were sound, or even that she was fully prepared to discuss the materials at hand, especially perhaps at a time like this, when tribal feeling is high.

Doggone it! Gessen introduced the transcript of an interview Donald J. Trump had recently conducted with Julie Pace of the Associated Pace. As she did, it seemed fairly clear that she hadn't fully familiarized herself with the transcript in question.

(For background information, see last Thursday's report.)

Anyone can make a mistake! In this case, the big, admittedly brilliant crowd laughed and applauded as Gessen was making hers.

Gessen was perhaps a bit unfair in her remarks about the Associated Press. From there, she quoted something Hannah Arendt once said about the way the world reveals itself to us limited individuals.

"Only in the freedom of our speaking with one another does the world, as that about which we speak, emerge in its objectivity and visibility from all sides," Arendt apparently said, part of a longer statement quoted by Gessen.

At this point, Gessen repeated one phrase from Arendt's remark. She then entered the fray concerning NPR:
GESSEN (5/7/17): “Only in the freedom of our speaking with one another.”

And to preserve that freedom, we have to become guardians of our language. We have to keep it alive and working. That means being very intentional about using words.

That means, for example, calling lies "lies."

I am actually—


I am addressing specifically National Public Radio, home to the word "misstatement," among others.

The NPR argument is that the definition of "lie," their argument for not using the word "lie" when describing what Donald Trump does, is that the definition of "lie" involves intent. A lie is a statement made with the intention to deceive. And NPR does not have conclusive information on Trump's intent.

The problem is that the euphemism "misstatement" clearly connotes a lack of intent, as though Trump simply took an accidental wrong step.

And the thing is that words exist in time, right? The word "misstatement" suggests a singular occurrence, thereby eliding Trump's history of lying. The word "misstatement" as applied to Trump is actually a lie.


It is actually a lie to think, or to claim, that there are neutral words. Words exist in time, words reflect a history, words reflect an understanding. And using words to lie destroys language.
Four months after Kelly's report, Gessen still felt that NPR was wrong, in a significant way. In the passage presented above, she made several claims about the way we need to protect our language, and through it our pubic discourse.

Gessen made these claims:

She said that, to keep our language alive, we need to call lies "lies."

She said that the term "misstatement" clearly implies that the person who made the misstatement did so in good faith.

She said the term "misstatement" suggests that only one misstatement has been made. She said the term "misstatement," applied to Trump, is itself a lie!

The audience applauded that statement. She then said there are no "neutral words," though we don't really know what she meant.

Gessen is an admirable figure. We won't vouch for her audience, limited individuals all.

That said, her statements that day made little real sense. Tomorrow, we'll issue a heartfelt plea to Gessen and others:

Gessen and others, please! Let's start using our words!

Tomorrow: "That means, for example, calling lies 'lies?' "

Who the Sam, Joe or Lauren Hill could disagree with that?

Did Sessions discuss "campaign-related matters" with Kislyak?

TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2017

Let's start with what Kushner has said:
Did Jeff Sessions get it on with his buddy, Sergey Kislyak, at the Mayflower Hotel?

Let's be more specific. We refer to the April 2016 event at which Candidate Donald J. Trump read a glorious foreign policy speech at the famous hotel.

(Full disclosure: Many of Trump's enemies have said it was the greatest such speech ever given.)

Kislyak was in attendance, presumably vacuuming canapes from the refreshment tables. Sessions was present as well.

According to last Saturday's Washington Post, Kislyak later "told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions" that day.

Was that an accurate statement on the part of the Post? In other words, did Kislyak actually say that to his superiors?

We can't answer that question. We think the Post did a miserable job sourcing its exciting claim in Saturday's news report. We don't know if Kislyak actually said that to his Russkie bosses. More importantly, we also don't know if some such discussion with Session really took place at the famous hotel.

Yesterday, we mentioned a problem with the Post report—the possibility that the Post got caught in a game of Telephone, as has happened before. To start to flesh out this possible problem, let's start with Jared Kushner's written statement about that same event at the Mayflower.

Kushner released his written statement prior to yesterday's meeting with Senate investigators. In this report from today's Washington Post, you see Kushner's account of his own experience at that same exciting event:
BARRET, RUCKER AND DEMIRJIAN (7/25/17): Kushner wrote that his first meeting with a Russian official was in April 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where Trump delivered a major foreign policy speech, the execution of which Kushner said he oversaw. Kushner wrote that he attended a reception to thank the event’s host, Dimitri Simes, publisher of the National Interest, a foreign policy magazine. Simes introduced Kushner to four ambassadors at the reception, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Kushner said.

“With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy,” he wrote. “The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election. Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.”
According to Kushner, he shook hands with the now-famous Russkie, then exchanged a handful of meaningless words.

Is that what actually happened? We have no way of knowing. But just for the sake of illustration, let's assume or imagine that Sessions also did something like that.

After that, let's imagine how Kislyak might have reported this perfunctory encounter back to his Russkie bosses. For purposes of illustration, we'll assume he was playing it straight.

Finally, let's imagine how Kislyak's report might have seemed after it had gone through two or three layers of "Telephone" on its way to the front page of the Washington Post.

We'll continue this rumination tomorrow. We won't be trying to tell you what actually happened, since we have no way of knowing.

Instead, we'll be trying to show you what could possibly be wrong with the work of the Washington Post. They've lost at "Telephone" before, as we'll remind you tomorrow.

Why those suffering people lack health care!

TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2017

One reason, via Drum:
As we noted yesterday, Trip Gabriel's report from that free health fair in southwestern Virginia is very much worth reading.

That part of Virginia is low-income coal country. People traveled long distances from other states to access the free health care. Gabriel's accounts of their medical needs is a savage indictment of our nation's failed health care arrangements.

As we mentioned yesterday, the peculiar data shown below lie behind this ugly story. If health care didn't cost so crazily much in this country, we presumably wouldn't have so much trouble seeing that everyone got it.

These numbers lie behind our savage health care dysfunction. They lie at the heart of every health care report you've read or seen this year. Oddly enough, you're virtually never permitted to see them:
Per capita spending, health care, 2015
United States: $9451
Canada: $4608
France: $4407
United Kingdom: $4003
Very few people attending that fair have ever seen those crazy data. Very few people of any description have ever seen a major liberal report and attempt to explain those data—explain where that crazy level of American health care spending comes from.

Why does a year of health care cost so much in this country? Today, Kevin Drum offers one explanation.

Drum has just finished Elisabeth Rosenthal's book, American Sickness. Right at the start of her book, on page 3, Rosenthal asks the key question:

"Where is all that money going?"

In this horrific passage at the start of his post, Drum provides part of the answer. This is one of the reasons why those suffering people at that health fair have been consigned to suffer:
DRUM (7/25/17): I finished reading Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness a few days ago, so the depradations of the American health care system are even fresher on my mind than usual right now. Unsurprisingly, one of the things she talks about is the surge in hospitals surreptitiously employing doctors who are out-of-network and therefore not covered by a patient’s insurance. The result is gigantic bills for people who thought—quite reasonably—that if they went to an in-network hospital they had nothing to worry about.

It turns out this scam is especially common in emergency rooms, precisely the place where patients are least likely to be thinking clearly.
Quite correctly, Drum uses the term "scam" to describe this form of medical looting. The other key word is "surreptitious."

As he continues, Drum quotes from a new report on this practice:
CRESWELL, ABELSON AND SANGER-KATZ (7/25/17): Early last year, executives at a small hospital an hour north of Spokane, Wash., started using a company called EmCare to staff and run their emergency room….Although the hospital had negotiated rates for its fees with many major health insurers, the EmCare physicians were not part of those networks and were sending high bills directly to the patients.

...“Fiona Scott Morton, a professor at the Yale School of Management and a co-author of the paper, described the strategy as a “kind of ambushing of patients.” A patient who goes to the emergency room can look for a hospital that takes her insurance, but she almost never gets to choose the doctor who treats her.

...When emergency room doctors work for a company that has not made a deal with an insurer, they are free to bill whatever they want, insurers say. “The more they bill, the more they get paid,” said Shara McClure, an executive with Blue Cross of Texas.
Creswell's 1900-word report appears on the front page of today's New York Times. Like yesterday's report by Gabriel, it will go almost completely undiscussed and unnoticed.

For a fuller picture of the scam, read the rest of Drum's post. As you do, remember this:

Drum's post explores only one of the scams which lie behind the suffering of the people Gabriel met at the fair. That said, you will never hear a word of any of this on your favorite "corporate liberal" TV shows.

Rachel will continue to give us the thrill of the hyperbolized tribal chase. She will fail to tell you a word about the suffering of those who aren't paid $10 million per year to please their corporate owners.

According to Nexis, Rosenthal hasn't appeared, not even once, on MSNBC or CNN. The Buddha was cosseted this same way—until he left the palace.

USING OUR WORDS: NPR reported "misstatements!"

TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2017

Part 2—We liberals insisted on "lies:"
Way back when, early last fall, presidential candidate Donald J. Trump authored one of his many moments.

It all began on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. Candidate Trump journeyed to Flint, where he delivered a heartfelt address to a reported 50 people in a local church.

At one point, he began trashing Candidate Clinton. The local minister interrupted, saying this: "Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we've done for Flint, not to give a political speech."

Trump accepted the minster's direction and pulled himself back in line.

The next morning, Candidate Trump appeared on Fox & Friends, perhaps the most god-awful program in the history of "cable news." During this appearance, he described his experience at the church, offering an account which was perhaps less than completely accurate.

At this point, National Public Radio stepped into the fray.

NPR's Scott Detrow had been in the church in Flint, serving as the press corps' pool reporter. In response to Trump's remarks on Fox & Friends, Detrow published this account of what had actually happened.

NPR published Detrow's report under this offensive headline:

"Trump Criticizes Flint Pastor—But Misstates Key Facts About Their Encounter"

What made the headline offensive? According to some in our liberal tents, NPR shouldn't have said that Trump had "misstated key facts." NPR should have said that Donald J. Trump had "lied."

Should Detrow, or Detrow's editors, have said that Trump had "lied?" Just for the record, Deytrow cited only two alleged misstatements by Trump, and one of the two involved a highly subjective matter of judgment.

(Did the minster really "seem nervous" at the start of the event?)

Regarding the second alleged misstatement, should NPR have said that Trump lied? In response to such assertions, NPR's public editor, Michael Oreskes, offered this instant defense of Detrow's report, and of NPR's headline.

Oreskes offered a somewhat limited case for eschewing the L-word in this instance. He didn't state the most obvious reason: in all likelihood, NPR didn't know whether Donald J. Trump had lied.

You can read Oreskes' short piece for yourself. For our money, the skill level displayed in the piece wasn't gigantically high.

A few months later, Donald J. Trump had been sworn in as president-for-life, lord of all he surveyed. Sure enough, this issue invaded NPR's tents again.

In this instance, Trump visited the CIA, where he made a short heartfelt address announcing his love for the intelligence community. On Wednesday morning, January 23, NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly discussed Trump's remarks and attendant issues on NPR's Morning Edition.

Kelly's interview with Steve Inskeep ran 869 words. She said that some of Trump's recent statements had been "false," even "provably not true."

Below, you see the bulk of the passage where these critiques were offered. Rather plainly, this was not a Trump-friendly report:
INSKEEP (1/23/17): NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly is in our studio. She's been speaking with members of the intelligence community, past and present.

Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, so he's not saying, "I'm making up with the intelligence agencies." He's saying, "I never had a problem with you to begin with."

KELLY: That's what he said. And that is false. President Trump is on record in statements, in tweets, in that news conference you just mentioned that he held as president-elect. And he is on the record ridiculing and attacking U.S. intelligence officials. So to suggest that the media made up this feud—

INSKEEP: His own statements.

KELLY: It's provably not true. In that same speech out of the CIA this weekend, Trump also falsely inflated the size of the crowd at his inauguration. In talking about the weather, he described that when he began to speak at his inauguration, the rain stopped immediately. And in fact, you could see water beating on the lapel of his coat.

Now, does it matter whether it rained or not?


KELLY: Who cares? But it does matter to the CIA veterans, who I was reaching out to this weekend. It rankles because he made these untrue claims and of where he made them, in the lobby of the CIA.

INSKEEP: And not just any lobby—there's a wall of stars behind him as he was speaking. And those stars represent something.

KELLY: They represent CIA officers who have died in the line of duty. And it's interesting. One of the former intelligence officers who I reached this weekend said there's the stars. And those are sacred if you work at CIA. But this person said, remember what's on the opposite wall, what Trump was looking at as he spoke.

And I have crossed that lobby, Steve, many times on my way to interview officials who work there. And carved in the marble on the opposite wall is this. It's a quotation from the Bible. And it reads, "and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
In our view, Kelly may have been ahead of her skies a bit in a few of her assessments. Example:

Trump may have attacked certain "U.S. intelligence officials." But did that mean that he was angry with "the intelligence agencies" in general?

Not necessarily, no. That said, when a chase is on, it can be easy for journalists to slip past such distinctions. We'd say Kelly was over her skies a tiny bit that day.

At any rate, and rather plainly, this was not a Trump-friendly report. Kelly had asserted all sorts of false statements by Trump. But once again, an NPR reporter had failed to use the word "lie."

When NPR listeners complained, Kelly returned for a second session in which she explained her decision.

On January 25, Kelly took part in a four-way discussion with Inskeep, Oreskes and host David Greene. What hadn't she said that Donald Trump lied? As part of her explanation, Kelly somewhat oddly said this:
KELLY (1/25/17): So this has prompted me to go actually look up the word "lie" in the Oxford English Dictionary. And here's the definition. I'll read it:

"A false statement made with intent to deceive."

"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, with publicly available facts.

INSKEEP: And leave you, leave the listener to make their own conclusions.

Mike Oreskes, how much discussion has there been about this word, lie?

ORESKES: There's been quite a bit. And of course, it began during the campaign. And we at NPR have decided not to use the word lie in most situations. And there's really two reasons...
Especially since she's a reporter, we agree with Kelly's decision. But did she really have to look up "lie" in the dictionary to know what the word has long meant? To understand the word's standard usage?

Perhaps that was just performance art, designed to suggest that NPR was making the fullest possible effort to puzzle out this dispute. Surely, though, everyone knows the general meaning of the word "lie." Everyone knows that a lie, as a general matter, is an intentional false statement—a false statement made by a person who knows his statement is false.

Not long ago, we would have assumed that everyone was familiar with this simple-minded concept. We would have assumed that everyone knew that many or most misstatements, untruths and/or falsehoods actually aren't lies.

We would have assumed that everyone knew something else. We would have assumed that everyone knew that many misstatements which really are lies can't be reliably identified as such by external parties, for example by reporters. Here's the way that age-old problem goes:

Person A's statement was "provably untrue." Was Person A lying when he said it? If you're Person B or Reporter C, there's every chance that you won't be able to say for sure.

We would have thought that everyone was familiar with these basic points. But this is a highly partisan time, and a tribal chase is on.

When times are tribal, our basic skills and understandings may tend to head out the window. We may forget, ignore or fail to consider the most basic things we know.

In the high feeling of the moment, we may step around the things we know in search of the judgment we long to render.

We live in such a time right now. Over here in our liberal tents, our basic skills often seem to be AWOL.

Early in May, Masha Gessen stepped into the ring with NPR. Gessen is an admirable figure, but her basic skills seemed to be missing in action this day.

Her audience was laughing and applauding. But we'd have to say that the admirable Gessen wasn't quite using her words.

Tomorrow: Gessen scolds NPR

Also over at Slate: Last Friday, a similar discussion occurred at Slate, in this new Trumpcast.

Are Trump's speeches a tissue of lies? Our tribe is strongly inclined to say so.

Other explanations are possible—explanations which ought to be deeply troubling. We long to use our L-word so much, it seems that we never quite go there.

Trip Gabriel does a real report!

MONDAY, JULY 24, 2017

Star scribe does the New York Times proud:
On cable news, tonight's exciting sugar high will come via Jared Kushner.

If you want to read a news report, we'll recommend Trip Gabriel's report in today's New York Times.

Over the weekend, Gabriel went to a free health fair in southwestern Virginia. We think you should read every word.

A question lingers behind that report. It's based on these disappeared data, the data you never are shown:
Per capita spending, health care, 2015
United States: $9451
Canada: $4608
France: $4407
United Kingdom: $4003
People are suffering behind those strange numbers. People are suffering behind the strange numbers you simply, by law, can't be shown.

Rachel and Lawrence won't show you those numbers. Why won't these great big stars do that?

Did Sessions talk to the Russian ambassador?

MONDAY, JULY 24, 2017

What Entous told Anderson Cooper:
Last Friday, cable news got its nightly sugar high from this exciting report in the Washington Post.

The next morning, the report appeared atop the front page of the Post. It struck us as underwhelming work, drifting toward dishonest.

According to the Post report, Jeff Sessions discussed campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in two encounters during the 2016 campaign. Well—the Post report didn't exactly make that assertion. The Post reported that Kislyak had said that to his superiors.

The Post report started like this:

ENTOUS, NAKASHIMA AND MILLER (7/22/17): Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions—then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump—were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies,
which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.
According to the Post report, Kislyak's communications with his superiors were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies. According to the Post report, he told his superiors that he had those discussions with Sessions, though his claims may not be true.

In our view, the Post's report was very shaky, in ways we noted on Saturday morning. Later that day, CNN posted its transcripts of Anderson Cooper's two-hour broadcast on Friday night.

Lead reporter Adam Entous appeared for the bulk or the whole of both hours with Cooper. In our view, the fuzziness of his report only grew more plain.

Did Sessions actually have those conversations with Kislyak? Even in its formal report, the Post explicitly offered a pair of caveats.

Kislyak could have been misleading his superiors, the Post explicitly said. Or he could have been spreading false information, in line with the Russkie attempts to create confusion and mistrust all through the American world.

Even after explicitly stating those possibilities, the Post still claimed certainty in the headlines it placed atop its report. This is what the headline says on-line today, even as we type:

"Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show"

The actual report claims less certainty. But so what? It was close enough for a front-page headline in the Washington Post, especially when a stampede is on!

Did Sessions have those discussions with Kislyak? We have no idea. That said, it seems to us that the Post's position is substantially worse than what we've discussed so far.

In our view, it isn't clear that the Post knows what was in those intercepted communications, assuming they even exist. Why do we say that? Let's run through the way this would have worked:

According to the Post report, U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted some communications. Presumably, this means there are tapes of Kislyak's conversations. (Entous seemed to say as much during Cooper's program, as you'll see below.)

People who heard those tapes would have first-hand knowledge of what Kislyak said. But uh-oh!

During Cooper's first hour,
he asked an obvious but very good question. He received got the explicit answer which, as we noted on Saturday, didn't appear in the Post's report:
COOPER (7/21/17): It is accurate to say you have not heard these intercepts?

ENTOUS: No, I have not heard these intercepts.

COOPER: Right, but you've talked to—

ENTOUS: We've talked to multiple current and former officials who described it, and I think we can all understand why we use anonymous sources.
As we noted on Saturday, the Post's report never explicitly said that the Post hadn't heard the intercepts. We think it should have done so.

You'll also note that, as Entous answers Cooper's question about his sources, his statements may perhaps seem a bit slippery or fuzzy. The Post talked to multiple current and former officials "who described it?"

If a chase were on with Entous as target, he'd get strung up, perhaps unjustly, for a slippery sideways non-answer answer of that type. At this point, he at least seems to have said that he has "multiple" sources (which could imaginably mean two). That said, Cooper never asked him how many sources he had, and he never said.

During Cooper's second hour, Cooper somehow managed to ask a second specific question. This time, the answer strikes us as rather strange:
COOPER: This is based on intercepts, U.S. intelligence intercepts.

ENTOUS: Correct.

COOPER: You haven't heard the intercepts. but you have spoken to people who have?

ENTOUS: Correct. I don't know if they listened to the intercepts or read intelligence reports that are based on those intercepts.
Say what?

Once again, Entous seems to say that he had more than one source. But in two hours on the air, Cooper never asked him how many sources he had, and Entous never said.

In our view, that was lousy work on Cooper's part. But beyond that, good God!

Adam Entous doesn't know if his source(s) heard the intercepts? He doesn't know if his source or sources heard the intercepts, or if they just read (second-hand) reports?

Cooper seemed surprised by that statement. But he never asked Entous why he doesn't know this basic fact about his source or sources.

(Dearest darlings, this is a courtesy within the guild. You simply don't ask a fellow guild member—a "CNN contributor," no less—an awkward questions like that.)

That said, Adam Entous doesn't know if his source or source heard the intercepts! Aside from the suggestion of journalistic incompetence, let's get clear on why this matters:

A person who heard the intercepts has first-hand information about what Kislyak said. A person who only read the intelligence report is starting out with second-hand information.

He is relying on someone else's account of what Kislyak said. That account may be perfectly accurate, of course. But then too, it may not be.

We're now back to a problem Entous has struggled with in the past—the problem of playing "Telephone." If his source or sources didn't hear the intercepts, then Entous is relying on his source's account of someone else's account of what Kislyak said.

By the time we read the Post's report, we are relying on Entous' account of his source's account of somebody else's account. Someone else's account of a conversation in which, according to the Post, Kislyak may be lying!

In other words, we Post readers are receiving fourth-hand information. We're receiving a fourth-hand account of a conversation in which, according to the Post, may have been a Russkie con.

Does it sound to you like Adam Entous had a "bombshell report?" We use that term because that's the way Cooper described the Post's exciting report at the start of Friday's 8 PM hour.

But uh-oh! In his bombshell report, Entous never said how many sources he had. In speaking to Cooper, it turned out that he didn't even know if his source, or sources, had heard the intercepts!

Then too, there was something else. Shortly after 8:30 Eastern, Cooper addressed the idea that Donald J. Trump may have leaked this material because he wants to get rid of Sessions.

Entous threw cold water on that idea. We thought his overall statement was striking. Here's why:

According to Entous, the Post had been sitting on this "bombshell report" for six or seven weeks. They's only decided to publish it now because they feared the New York Times might scoop them:
COOPER: You and I were talking during the break, and I just want to have everyone else hear what you said. Because I think it's important because there is—

I've seen it online, a lot of people sort of have a, I don't know if it's a conspiracy theory to grant the term, but the idea that perhaps given what President Trump said about his anger toward Attorney General Sessions and then the story breaks that it gives him a reason to get rid of Sessions.

You've actually been working on this story for quite some time.

ENTOUS: Yes, I mean, we had the initial story back in March, which was that Sessions had two encounters with Kislyak. And basically ever since then, we were trying to figure out what was the nature of those discussions, what were the contents of those communications, right?

And so we've been working on it for weeks, you know, before this,
and when the New York Times had that excellent interview with Trump in which Trump commented about Sessions in particularly, you know, talked about specifically how he didn't appreciate the way he answered the questions in the confirmation hearing, we realized that we may not have as much time as we thought and we should basically try to push the story out as soon as we could.

COOPER: May not have as much time because other reporters are going to be hunting it down?

ENTOUS: Correct, correct. Yes. It's a competitive environment and, you know, obviously something—sometimes we can work on stories for months and not worry about the competition. But when we saw The New York Times story, we realized, you know, we really need to finish up that.

COOPER: I don't want the program the areas (INAUDIBLE) too much but then, you know better than anybody what to say or not to say, but the information about what Kislyak said to his boss is, is that information you had had for—

ENTOUS: That's information we had since basically early June.



COOPER: So you've had it for a while.


COOPER: So for those who believe that this only fell into your lap 24 hours ago, that is not the case. This is something you've been working out.

ENTOUS: That's correct.
Again, Cooper seemed surprised. According to Entous, the Post had been sitting on this "bombshell report" (Cooper's term) since early June. They only published it now because they were afraid they might get scooped in the ongoing newspaper war.

Simply put, this means the Post never thought they had a "bombshell report" at all. They had been trying, for almost two months, "to figure out what was the nature of those discussions, what were the contents of those communications."

They knew their information was murky. Sensibly, they didn't want to publish until they had something more.

On Saturday, we inquired into the honesty of Adam Entous. Today, we're letting our question stand.

To this day, Entous has fudged the number of his sources for this murky report. As it turned out, he doesn't even know if his source or sources heard the intercepts.

Meanwhile, the Post had been sitting on its report for six or seven weeks before last week's excitement. That means it wasn't a bombshell at all. It seems to mean that it was a murky, poorly sourced, underdeveloped report.

Are you sure there actually were intercepts? Absent stronger information, we don't think you should feel sure.

At the present time, a chase is on. In truth, the chase is a stampede.

Sessions is one of its targets. Over here in our liberal tents, we very badly want him to be a liar. Meanwhile, "cable news" wants a sugar high every night, as do we cable news stooges.

If we want to be children our whole lives, we can maintain our true belief in the giants who are conducting the chase. If we want to be rational animals, we might consider starting a chase against the slippery people who parade around on cable TV, giving us our nightly excitement.

Does Entous know what he's talking about? We can't say we're sure that he does.

USING OUR WORDS: And other key skills!

MONDAY, JULY 24, 2017

Part 1—The world of Ridiculous Us:
Decades ago, Aristotle is widely said to have said it.

"Man [sic] is the rational animal," he is said to have said. Depending on what he actually meant, he may have been right in some way.

Years later, sacred Thoreau expressed a somewhat different view. "Men [sic] labor under a mistake," he unpleasantly said.

Wittgenstein might have tilted toward Thoreau a tiny tad. In his later work, he said that people are inclined to make certain types of mistakes, especially when "doing philosophy," though not exclusively so.

(According to Professor Horwich, the professors threw Wittgenstein under the bus so they could keep teaching their Kant course. This too would have been a mistake.)

Are we humans "the rational animal," or are we perhaps profitably viewed as a bunch of misfiring machines? The question occurred to us this morning as we started reading Olivia Nuzzi's portrait of Mika and Joe.

Nuzzi is 24. According to the leading authority, she "rose to prominence" in 2013 when she outed herself as a 20-year-old intern to Anthony Weiner, who had risen to prominence through a series of photo he sent of himself.

Nuzzi's lengthy profile of Joe and Mika appears in New York Magazine. It seems to be the cover piece for the current issue.

Because Mika and Joe are influential, the world could use a well-researched report on their behavior over the past ten years. Nuzzi's somewhat confusing first two paragraphs concern a pet rabbit which was bestowed as a birthday gift, complete with a rabbit-shaped birthday cake.

Those were paragraphs 1 and 2. In paragraph 3, we finally got to the hair:
NUZZI (7/24/17): At six-foot-three, or eight-foot-nine including the hair, Scarborough looks like Jimmy Neutron in his Lizard King phase or Tucker Carlson after someone put him through a taffy-pulling machine. No matter the shoe, he never wears socks, displaying a pair of glistening ankles at all times. Brzezinski is five-foot-six and the unusually even color of a vizsla puppy, her blinding hair a cross between Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s and Polly Pocket’s. Together, they achieve a kind of strange aesthetic perfection—the decorative figurines topping the bunny cake that is political media in Trump’s America.
In fairness, we ourselves have noticed the growing height of Joe's big pile of hair. It's also true that Nuzzi is journalistically witty, despite her tender years.

Still and all, Nuzzi's profile devotes a large amount of attention to "hair, long beautiful hair, Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waven," as the Broadway cast used to sing it. Sometimes when we machines misfire, we do so by being inane.

Last Wednesday, on the front page of Style, the Washington Post's Robin Givhan explained the meaning of Callista Gingrich's hair. As Nuzzi's profile continued, we got photos of Joe's massive hair with Mika's fingers running through it, and a comment from sidekick Willie Geist Jr. about the way Joe and Mika's hairstyles have changed down through the years.

(And even his own! “Other than the size of my and Joe’s hair and maybe Mika’s haircut, not much has changed” on the Morning Joe program in the past ten years, Geist is quoted saying.)

At its upper end, our political press corps spends a fair amount of time on hair. Major stars at the New York Times have focused on Mayor Giuliani's comb-over, then on Candidate Gore's bald spot. (Seven "bald spot" columns in all, including one on the final Sunday.) The press has obsessed on the cost of haircuts obtained by Bill Clinton and John Edwards.

In November 2011, the New York Times ran a full-length front-page profile of Mitt Romney's stylist. In the face of all this ridiculousness, the standard professors emerge to complain about the way the mainstream press corps plucks at the hair and clothing of female candidates alone. On what planet are these standard professors kept?

There's little question that Joe's pile of hair has been rising, apparently reflecting the lift of a driving dream. Because attention must be paid, Nuzzi's profile of Mika and Joe ends with this embarrassing passage:
NUZZI: Joe and Mika were engaged in the south of France in May, and she wears her large diamond solitaire, even though she said it gets in the way of caring for their petting zoo. “I’m not sure where we begin and the other ends. We’re just really connected,” she told me. Scarborough added, “You don’t know where I start, where she ends … We … she … understands me—” She cut him off: “Makes you better.”

“She does make me a lot better.” Including paying particular attention to the height of his hair, which she has her own stylist cut at the Carlyle Hotel and is often fixing herself with her fingers.

“You know,” Scarborough said, “it’s actually funny that Mika, she loves—stop that,” he laughed, as her hand disappeared into the mane.

“I’m just trying to get it to be tall.”

“She loves—she will grab it.”

“I suggest you don’t talk too long about this,” Brzezinski cautioned him.

“She’ll yank it up high and spray it. And I’m like, ‘What are you doing? It’s going straight up!’ ” He laughed. “It just keeps hitting you that it’s forever. It’s forever. It’s forever. And you do realize immediately what matters, what doesn’t matter. It makes you treat people around you differently, people that you love.”
Hair, brain-damaging hair!

With that, the profile ends. You the reader get to decide whose inanity you are observing. Joe and Mika's? Olivia Nuzzi's? That of the press as a whole?

In Nuzzi's closing paragraph, we readers are given some options. As we think about the way Joe and Mika treat the people that they love, we get to think about the way our journalists treat us, the consumers of these attempts at "news," the rubes Out Here in a failing land.

Given their level of influence, a serious profile of Joe and Mika could be important. That said, just consider:

You've never seen a serious profile of the past work of Maureen Dowd or Chris Matthews, influential players who shaped the way Candidate Clinton was viewed by the public last year.

Matthews and Dowd were influential back in the day. Joe and Mika are influential now. In even a slightly more rational world, you might expect to see a serious profile of the way they behaved toward Candidate Trump, and about the way they now behave toward President Trump.

Nuzzi's profile is interesting when she touches on the latter point. But her chronology from the campaign is wrong, and her research seems very slight. She doesn't attempt to describe, or explain, the fawning behavior this ridiculous pair directed at Candidate Trump until they flipped, early last year.

There is no sign that Nuzzi has done the laborious background work here. She hasn't reviewed the tapes which would record all the fawning behavior which helped put Candidate Trump on the political map.

On the brighter side, we do get wonderfully entertained with talk of that mile-high hair. This is a trade-off we've been accepting down through these many dumb years.

All this week, we're going to explore the basic skills, and the basic values, of the American press corps. We'll also be exploring the basic skills and values of us Over Here in our liberal tents—the basic skills of Ridiculous Us.

Tomorrow, we'll return to Masha Gessen's recent lecture at the PEN World Voices Festival. In particular, we'll look at one heartfelt plea, in which Gessen said that NPR should describe Donald Trump's lies as "lies."

Gessen is one of our brightest and best. As a journalist, she has actually walked the walk. In our view, she has earned our respect.

That said, her liberal audience burst into applause when she made a remarkably simple-minded plea. So it goes, given the level of basic skills attained by Ridiculous Us.

As our culture collapses around us, are we really rational animals, or are we perhaps more profitably seen as a gang of misfiring machines? Tomorrow, we'll turn to the basic plea made in Gessen's lecture. Eventually, we'll look in on Michael Oreskes, public editor at NPR, as he responded to complaints about the way NPR was using some of its words.

We'll review what Professor Rosen said about NPR's use of its words. Professor Rosen is fully sincere. But when it comes to using our words, is he man or machine?

We'll also review this new Trumpcast at Slate, in which Professor Nyhan and Virginia Heffernan talk about the ultimate meaning of Donald J. Trump's many peculiar lies. Before we're done, we'll think about the history of the English language itself, even recalling what Austin said about the origin of the many words we have at our disposal, available for our use.

We like to tell our 5-year-olds that they should "use their words." Within our so-called meritocracy, at this time of vast division, how skillfully do our journalists and professors seem to be using theirs?

Tomorrow: "Our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men [sic] have found worth drawing..."