THE RELIABLE ABSENCE OF BASIC SKILLS: Gessen reads from Donald J. Trump!


Part 2—Crowd cheers embarrassing fail:
At various times in the past thirty years, our news orgs began composing transcripts, which they would post on-line.

They posted transcripts of their TV shows, including their "cable news" programs. They posted transcripts of interviews with public figures.

Both in theory and in practice, this is a good idea. If you want to be able to critique your nation's public discourse, it's very helpful to have a record of the various things that get said. Even by cable performers!

That said, there are problems. As with everything else our news orgs do, they tend to be a bit slipshod in their production of transcripts. Often the transcripts are composed by machines, which on occasion may misfire even more than we humans do!

Computer-generated transcripts will sometimes include comical errors in the attempt to record the words which were actually said. Beyond that, these transcripts will often be riddled with punctuation errors as the computers attempt to record the structure of the thoughts expressed, along with the mere strings of words.

A third problem is quote common within our news org transcripts. Especially in our entertaining "cable news" pseudo-discussions, the various children asked to perform are often all speaking at once.

Lazy news orgs adopt various strategies to adjust for the resulting confusion. They rarely seem to ask real humans to listen to the audiotapes to complete the record of what the various people in these shoutfests actually said.

Have you ever tried to figure out what some person actually said on one of our lively "news shows?" Have you ever tried to publish a record of what was said that is both complete and fair?

If so, you know how annoying it can be to work with news org transcripts. When a transcript merely says [CROSSTALK], you may have to listen, again and again, to discern what was actually said.

This may take hours out of your day. Here at our own award-winning site, we've provided that type of award-winning service for way too many years.

We've burned many hours out of our lives correcting and completing erroneous transcripts published by major news orgs. Evidence suggests that Masha Gessen has never engaged in such acts.

Don't get us wrong! Gessen is a highly respected figure; in our view, she should be. As a journalist, Gessen has walked the walk. Attention should be paid.

That said, we currently live in a largely skill-free world. Within the realm of American journalism, the reliable absence of basic skills can, as a rule, be assumed.

Meanwhile, the professors walked off their posts long ago. Even in basic, egregious cases, they can't be expected to help.

Gessen displayed a certain lack of basic skills when she gave a recent lecture. We're forced to note that she also displayed a lack of basic due diligence.

On May 7, Gessen delivered the Arthur Miller Lecture as part of the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival. She was then interviewed by Samantha Bee, a well-known, completely capable comedian who seemed to know that she lacked the background and the skills to serve in this new capacity.

The interview was an awkward waste of time. We'll focus on Gessen's lecture.

Have we mentioned the fact that Masha Gessen has walked the walk, and deserves the respect she is granted? As she started her lecture, she spoke about an important topic—the destruction of the public discourse in her native Russia by the end of the Soviet era.

(Warning: Gessen is another one of "the Russians!" If you hate the idea of receiving information from such people, you should likely stop reading right now.)

Because Gessen has walked the walk, she knows whereof she spoke. That doesn't mean that her judgments were automatically correct, since no one's judgments are.

It means that she, unlike our cable clowns, has earned and deserves our respect.

Gessen was motoring along rather nicely as her lecture proceeded. You can read an edited version of her lecture here. You can watch her lecture in full via this YouTube tape.

Gessen was discussing a very important topic. But then, at one point, she began to read from a recent transcript.

The transcripts had been published,
two weeks before, by the Associated Press. It recorded, or tried to record, a lengthy interview in which the AP's Julie Pace spoke with Donald J. Trump.

In part 1 of this report, we noted some of the obvious problems which appear at the start of this AP transcript. Gessen's lecture began to break down when she started quoting, or pretending to quote, something Donald J. Trump is said to have said by that AP transcript.

Let's be fair! Gessen received a great deal of laughter and applause as she quoted, or seemed to quote, what Trump had said to Pace. Around the 12:30 mark of the YouTube tape, she starts to set the scene for her reading of Trump's remarks with these comments about the way Trump uses words:
GESSEN (5/7/17): Donald Trump has an instinct for doing both of the kinds of violence to language that are familiar to me from speaking and writing in Russian. He has a particular nose for taking words and phrases that deal with power relationships and turning them into their opposite.

Think about, for example, how he used the phrase “safe space” when talking about Mike Pence’s visit to Hamilton.

The vice-president-elect, he was booed and then passionately and very respectfully addressed by the cast of the show. And Trump was tweeting that the show should not have happened because, he said, theater should be a safe space.

Now, the thing about the phrase “safe space” is that it was coined to describe a place where people who usually feel unsafe and powerless would feel exceptionally safe. Claiming that the second most powerful man in the world should be granted a “safe space,” in public, turns the concept precisely on its head.

And he really does have a talent for doing this. He performed the exact same trick on the phrase “witch hunt,” which he claimed was being carried out by the Democrats to avenge their electoral loss.

Witch hunts cannot actually be carried out by losers.


The agent of the witch hunt must have power. And of course, he has seized and flipped the term “fake news” in much the same way.

But he also has a talent for using words in ways that make them mean nothing. Everyone is "great" and everything is "tremendous." Any word can be given or taken away. NATO can be obsolete and then no longer obsolete, which challenges not only our shared understanding of the word “obsolete” but also our shared experience of linear time.


And then there is Trump’s ability to take words and throw them into a pile that means nothing.

I'm actually going to subject you to an excerpt from an interview that he did with AP for the hundred days.
It was really hard to choose because the whole interview's like this...
Already, we'd be inclined to disagree with some of Gessen's judgments. But at this point, at the 14:45 mark on that tape, you can see Gessen as she starts to quote Trump—and at this point in Gessen's lecture, our idealistic young analysts began to scream, writhe and wail.

Like the girls in Salem during the aforementioned witch hunts, they claimed the presence of destructive forces as Gessen performed her public reading of Donald J. Trump's remarks. From there, Gessen proceeded to criticize NPR in a way which we thought was strikingly odd, but typical of the age.

Quite plainly, Gessen's reading of Donald J. Trump betrayed a lack of due diligence. Her criticism of NPR was, in our view, a marker of an under-skilled era.

Tomorrow, we'll try to explain the basic problems with Gessen's reading of Donald J. Trump. We'll note the problems which obtain with her critique of NPR.

Gessen isn't a cable clown. She's a real live serious intelligent journalist who has earned full respect.

For that reason, her lack of due diligence, and her basic errors, are especially worth nothing. And oh, dear lord, that liberal crowd!

How did we ever reach the point where Donald J. Trump holds the nuclear codes? In our view, Gessen's lecture, and that admiring audience, helps supply an answer to that important question.

It's a question which rarely seems to trouble our own liberal heads.

Tomorrow: As the analysts wail


  1. How did we ever reach the point where our beloved press critic, Bob Somerby, melted into a puddle of repetitious blather? In our view it was his thinking his readership was more interested in the reaction of his writhing imaginary friends than him getting to the point.

    1. I'm inclined to agree with you. He seems to attribute Trump's win mainly to liberal
      punditry, or even liberals in general,
      including apparently Gessen and her audience, and not to any systematic efforts by the right.
      I believe he had a point back in the Clinton/Gore years, when a lot of so-called liberal elites (like Chris Matthews) were openly hostile to
      Clinton and Gore. But he ignores the massive efforts by the right to brainwash the electorate
      and seems to discount the massive danger we face now with Trump and the current crop of Republicans.
      Maybe Somerby sees his constant nit-picking at liberals as some diagnosis of the problem, although
      he never offers any ideas for a way out of this mess. He seems to yawn at the potential corruptions of Trump and rages against
      Rachel Maddow or some guest on Anderson Cooper.

      Now that we find ourselves in this absurd nightmare reality, Somerby's posts offer little more than
      fiddling while Rome burns, and very little optimism. I am tempted every day to stop reading altogether, and I've been reading Bob for over 15 years.

    2. I stopped reading three days ago and believe me you will never see me comment here again. And I've been reading for 27 years.

  2. For those interested in a blogger with basic skills:

  3. "It's a question which rarely seems to trouble our own liberal heads."


  4. It takes three days to tell us that Gessen should not have relied on a transcript while passing judgement on Trump's coherence?
    I'm tempted to say something about this, but maybe I'll wait for tomorrow, or the next day.

  5. "Gessen isn't a cable clown"

    Perhaps she isn't a clown, but (imho) she's worse: an ideological zealot, one of the Russian western-cargo-cult maniacs, and a dedicated Putin-hater.

    And in the current environment these are indistinguishable from the clowns...

    1. And Putin-hating is a bad thing?

    2. Sweetie, it's just not productive to world peace.

    3. Putin loving is not productive to world peace either. Or to American interests.

    4. "And Putin-hating is a bad thing?"

      Well, Mr Putin is not only extremely successful and popular politician (on the scale of FDR, De Gaulle, and Josip Broz Tito, imo) -- he's also, currently, the most recognized symbol of resistance to American imperialism, on the scale of Che Guevara. I'm not sure this reputation is well-deserved, but Ms Gessen and other clowns helped create it, so here we are.

      Now, you can be a Putin-hater all you want; all I'm saying is that whether you're a 'cable clown' or sincere anti-Putin jihadist, in the current climate it amounts to the same thing...

    5. If Putin were dedicated to anything but his own interests this view of him might make sense but he is a crook who is repressive toward his own people so he cannot be a symbol of resistance to anyone else with any truth.

    6. Well, thank you for your opinion, but I don't think it has any relevance here. Like I said: Mr Putin is extremely successful (check RF socio-economic stats, starting from 2000) and popular (check the polls) - these are simply empirical facts.

      As for his status of a symbol of resistance to American imperialism, here I mostly go by anecdotal evidence, although I don't think this is particularly controversial.

      Anyway, I guess whether Putin-hating is a 'bad thing' or not is not really a question I can answer. To me, I can't see anything good about it, but ymmv.

    7. In fact, chengjimao, your assessment of Putin's "success" is woefully inaccurate. Russia enjoys a vast wealth of natural resources, but under Putin, Russia has become a country of state ownership and crony capitalism.

      Putin has never had an economic vision. Growth in the 2000s was largely attributed to pre Putin reforms and oil prices. Since 2009, Russia has had abysmal economic growth. To make matters worse, Putin's terrible foreign policy has led to Russia becoming isolated and sanctioned, further weakening it's economy.

      Typical of Putin-lovers, chengjimao you have been blinded by your rage at those who would criticize Putin. You should take note, chengjimao, Putin's critics are not Putin-haters, they are those that are concerned about the negative impact of his disastrous policies.

    8. "his disastrous policies"

      Like I said, check the statistics. Off the top of my head: the average wage had grown ten-fold (in dollar terms) from 2000 to 2010. Check all the statistics you can find: crime, suicide, life expectancy, abortion, drug use -- everything. Then re-read what you just wrote and see how stupid it is...

    9. chengjimao, you check all the statistics from 2009 on. They in fact show decline everywhere.

      As I stated previously, the improvements and growth from 2000-2008 are the result of pre Putin policies and high oil prices. There is no Putin policy that can be correlated to positive outcomes in Russia's economy or society. Putin's policies are related to increased state ownership and crony capitalism, neither of which contributed to economic growth or societal health.

      Seeing stupidity in others presenting evidence that is contrary to one's belief indicates a rage that blinds one to reality.

    10. Perhaps you're unaware, but there was a global recession recently (aka 'The Great Recession'). It started around 2009, caused by a gigantic looting operation of the western financial sector in collusion with most of the western governments.

      Many western countries (for example: the European Union as a whole) still haven't recovered. In this context the Russian Federation is doing fine; it did recover.

      If you're so concerned about this unfortunate development, then perhaps you should direct your burning outrage towards the real culprits: large global financial institutions (residing exclusively in the West) and their stooges - Western neoliberal governments.

      Ironically, Mr Putin represents the forces opposing exactly the neoliberal dynamics that caused the 'great recession', which is also the reason why Putin-hatred has to be instilled into your weak head. Oh well.

    11. chengjimao, your rage continues to blind you from reality.

      Even in your own context Russia is doing worse than western countries, indeed much worse. Nobody wants to migrate to Russia, the migration is from Russia to the west. London is full of Russian oligarchs. Russia's economic and societal woes are Putin's legacy, they have no connection to the complex issue of the recession in the west.

      Putin does not support any policies that would protect against greedy financial companies.

      Your argument is incoherent. Beyond that, Putin critics use clear-headed logic based on evidence, in direct contrast to your disjointed babbling.

    12. 'Well, Mr Putin is not only extremely successful and popular politician (on the scale of FDR, De Gaulle, and Josip Broz Tito, imo) -- he's also, currently, the most recognized symbol of resistance to American imperialism, on the scale of Che Guevara. I'm not sure this reputation is well-deserved, but Ms Gessen and other clowns helped create it, so here we are.'

      That is total nonsense. People around the world barely know about Gessen. And it is completely false to say that Putin is seen as a sign of resistance to American Imperialism (outside of Russia).

    13. "Nobody wants to migrate to Russia"

      Ah. Well, you may be surprised to know that the Russian Federation has world's second largest immigrant population after the U.S.

      You don't know much about the things you opine so readily, do you?

    14. "You don't know much about the things you opine so readily, do you?"

      I was not opining, my statement is indeed factual. Your statement is misleading. Here is some education for you:

      Almost all of the relatively small number (11 million) of immigrants in Russia, migrated there in the 1990s (pre Putin). Of Russia's immigrants, 95% are ethnic Russians that were born in other Soviet republics. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it became inhospitable for ethnic Russians to live in those former Soviet states, and Russia made it easy to return to their ethnic homeland.

      In fact, Russia is facing a crisis of emigration:

    15. "Of Russia's immigrants, 95% are ethnic Russians that were born in other Soviet republics."

      I doubt the 95%claim very much, but even it were true, it would still refute your claim that "Nobody wants to migrate to Russia".

      "the relatively small number (11 million)"


      "In fact, Russia is facing a crisis of emigration"

      Your own wikipedia chart refutes this claim. Check it out.

    16. Mao, you really are misinformed; yet, tirelessly I shall continue to educate you.

      Yes, of the over 230 million immigrants in the world, the 11 million in Russia is just a fraction.

      Yes the number is correct, most immigrants in Russia are ethnic Russians, the rest are mostly Tatars who also originate from Russia. There are essentially zero immigrants in Russia from Western Europe, or North America, or South America, or Africa, or frankly any western country or any country that was not part of the former Soviet Union.

      Yes emigration is a problem in Russia, recently spiking. In fact Russia actually has less population today than 1990.

      Here is some education to that shows how wrong you are:

  6. Somerby thinks professors should be spending their time cleaning up machine generated transcripts?

  7. Warning: Gessen is another one of "the Russians!" If you hate the idea of receiving information from such people, you should likely stop reading right now.

    Wrong. Gessen is a jew. Like virtually all jews, she's a jew first, a jew second, and a citizen of some country another third, if at all. In her case, not at all, as she spends as much of her time here in the US jewing us as she does in the beleaguered nation of Russia, jewing their pathetic populace.

    1. To my knowledge Gessen never hacked anyone and didn't interfere with the last US election.

  8. In discussing the Arthur Miller Lecture, Bob cleverly uses Miller's plays. He uses as an analogy the Salem witch trials, theme of The Crucible. Bob almost includes the famous quote from Death of a Salesman: "Attention must be paid." Bob substitutes "should" for "must".

    1. Perhaps "clever" is in the eye of the beholder. As Mamet wrote about the impact of Miller's plays "no one is immune from self-deception." Allowing your take on Bob's literary ploy, I would be inclined to say too clever by half.

      It was actually Gessen who brought up witch hunts that led to Bob writing "Like the girls in Salem during the aforementioned witch hunts." He clearly references Gessen, not Miller, by saying "the aforementioned witch hunts." The Crucible was a play attempting to impart an analogy between the Salem witch hunts and the McCarthy hunt of communists. Bob does not draw an analogy of that type, his analogy is comparing the reaction of the girls of Salem to his analysts' reactions, a banal comparison with no meaning or intent beyond inducing a chuckle. Interestingly McCarthy had no previous passion about hunting communists, he simply latched on to the "red scare" that had existed already for decades as a way to jump start his weakening political career. McCarthy died in 1957 from hepatitis. I have heard that Wisconsin is the state with the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases.

      In fact the quote from Death of a Salesman is "Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person." It would make no sense to draw a parallel between Loman and Gessen.