SUMMER STORMS AND BASICS: It was Barzini all along!


Part 3—The possible rise of the bots:
Midway through The Godfather, Don Corleone thoughtfully tells Tom Hagen.

Somehow, he's managed to puzzle things out. This is what he says:

"Tattaglia is a pimp. He never could have outfought Santino. But I didn't know, until this day, that it was Barzini all along."

It was Barzini all along! For ourselves, we've never understood how the Don reached that conclusion. But the trail of cinematic mayhew proceeds directly from there.

Yesterday morning, sitting in Starbucks, we had a similar epiphanic experience. We think it happened when we were reading this lengthy piece in the New York Times, an analysis by Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

That said, we'd already read this report by Peter Baker. The brainstorm may have blown up then.

It had never occurred to us, till that very day, that our journalists may be bots! Rather, that the work which appears beneath their names may sometimes be the work of such entities.

(Full disclosure: after reading Stolberg's piece, we proceeded to this piece by Professor Vavreck, which tended to confirm our suspicion.)

In fairness, we've long suggested that our upper-end scribes might be aliens from other worlds, or possibly misfiring androids. But we hadn't thought, till we read the passages shown below, that it might have been bots all along.

Baker was writing about Donald J. Trump's tweets from the previous day. Thump had tweeted about Senator Richard Blumenthal, making an array of false statements as he did.

Ostensibly, Baker was trying to straighten things out. That said, why would he offer the peculiar description we highlight below?
BAKER (8/8/17): Mr. Blumenthal received at least five deferments from military service during the Vietnam War era and then went into the Marine Reserve, where he served in a unit in Washington. But as a politician, he referred to himself as having “served in Vietnam” or “served during the Vietnam era.” The New York Times article exposing these false statements in 2010 did not, however, report that he had told stories about Vietnam battles or conquests, nor that he had cried when exposed. Mr. Trump received five deferments from the draft: four for college and one for bad feet.
That's the way the graf appeared in our hard-copy Times. Obviously, we were puzzled.

In fact, Blumenthal did "serve during the Vietnam era," in the Marine reserves. Given the paragraph as written, it was hard to see why a major reporter would list that clipped quote, all by itself, as a "false statement."

This morning, we see that Baker's text has been revised on line. The text now says that the New York Times exposed "these false or misleading statements" in 2010.

(Was that statement by Blumenthal misleading? It all depends on the unreported context! It's possible that Baker's revised statement is right, though it could still be wrong.)

Still and all, we were puzzled by what we read in our hard-copy Times, in real time. In real time, we puzzled hard: why would a person as bright at Baker make such a puzzling error?

From there, we turned to Stolberg's report, which ran more than 1600 words. As she started out, she was rather skillfully using her words as she discussed the many false statements of President Donald J. Trump.

Stolberg was lustily using her words as he report began. Eventually, though, the programming failed, and she—or conceivably "it"—was saying this:
STOLBERG (8/8/17): Many of Mr. Trump's lies—like the time he boasted that he had made the ''all-time record in the history of Time Magazine'' for being on its cover so often—are somewhat trivial, and ''basically about him polishing his ego,'' said John Weaver, a prominent Republican strategist.

That mystifies Bob Ney, a Republican former congressman who spent time in prison for accepting illegal gifts from a lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, and lying to federal investigators about it. ''It really baffles me why he has to feel compelled to exaggerate to exonerate himself,'' Mr. Ney said.

But other presidential lies, like Mr. Trump's false claim that millions of undocumented immigrants had cast ballots for his opponent in the 2016 election, are far more substantive, and pose a threat, scholars say, that his administration will build policies around them.
Stolberg had battled, throughout her long piece, to avoid conflating misstatements with lies. But now, near the end of her piece, her performance broke down:

Why would she assume that Trump's misstatement about those magazine covers had been a "lie?" How dis she know that Donald J. Trump didn't believe what he said?

Why would she quote Ney seeming to say that Trump's misstatement was an attempt to "exonerate himself?" On its face, that didn't seem to make sense.

Wildly mistaken as Trump's statement about illegal ballots seems to be, why would Stolberg feel that she could report that this misstatement had been a "lie?" Given Trump's delusional tendencies, we aren't sure we'd make that assumption.

Given Trump's delusional tendencies, we weren't sure we'd go there. And the analysts were still writhing from having been forced to read this:
STOLBERG: President Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction in trying to cover up his affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, during legal proceedings. Chris Lehane, a former Clinton adviser, said Mr. Clinton's second-term agenda suffered during his impeachment, yet paradoxically his favorability ratings remained high—in part, Mr. Lehane said, because ''the public distinguished between Clinton the private person and the public person.''
Did President Clinton have an affair "with an intern?"

Let's give credit where due! Many years later, major journalists have stopped saying that he had an affair with "a 21-year-old intern," a plainly false claim they insisted on making for a great many years. (Why did they keep making this misstatement? We can't tell you, but it made their pleasing story much better.)

That said, did the gentleman have an affair "with an intern" at all? We'll grant you, it's a treasured claim, but to what extent is it accurate?

Did President Clinton have an affair "with an intern?" Nineteen years later, for reasons which have been explained many times, the statement remains a bit "Clintonesque"—though we'd say the unflattering term may describe the work of the mainstream press corps more than the work of Bill Clinton!

At any rate, at some point in the course of reading Stolberg's piece, an epiphanic moment occurred. For the very first time, we began to wonder if we were reading the programmed work of a bot.

Make no mistake—Baker and Stolberg seem to be actual people. In recent months, Baker has been an increasingly reassuring presence on cable, where his calm clear presentations tend to contrast with the more excited work of the rampaging cable news herd.

That said, the Stolberg piece shook us to the core. (On the very next page, Professor Vavreck's "Upshot" piece seemed to reinforce our new suspicion.) For the first time, a thought had entered our heads:

At least upon the printed page, it may have been bots all along!

Briefly, we offer these words of justification:

What difference does it make, you ask, if those inaccurate statements by Donald J. Trump are identified as lies?

Given the perilous state we're all in, it makes no difference at all! Fire and fury are going to come, just as we've been suggesting.

That said, our upper-end journalists make their living using words and drawing distinctions. And the distinctions involved in these ruminations are unbelievably basic.

When is a misstatement a lie? The question is about as complex as the sum of 2 plus 2. And yet, our highest-ranking scribes struggle beneath its weight.

When scribes can't handle such basic tasks, we're unlikely to be well-served by the rest of their work. Inevitably, one wonders if their published work come from real people at all—or if it could come from bots!

When is a misstatement a lie? When is a federal employee an intern? When is 22 to 24 years old really just 21?

Our highest-ranking professional journalists routinely fall beneath the weight of such conundrums. Any person with any good sense would ask the question we now ask:

Was it the bots all along? Did the bots outfight the Clintons, enabling Donald J. Trump?

Tomorrow: We've cited this piece many times


  1. One or maybe two of the blow jobs were with an intern but she was a White House or Pentagon employee for the other seven.

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerAugust 9, 2017 at 12:59 PM

      So, are just lying or is this just a misstatement of the facts?

  2. There are all kinds of misstatements - lies, half-truths, honest errors, statements made with reckless disregard for whether they are true or not (many of Trump's weird statements fit this category); statements made by someone who isn't rational, like someone who is psychotic; lies told so as not to hurt someone's feelings, malicious lies told to cheat or deceive someone, lies to avoid being punished for some wrongdoing, etc. TDH partly makes a good point that the lie word is being used too promiscuously, but he seems too lenient on Trump - the distinction between Trump's indifference to whether what he says is true or not is often comparable to lying, and TDH's (and others') suggestion that Trump misstates things because of type of mental illness is worse than the misuse of the lying accusation. (I think one might properly characterize Trump as being "nuts' in the layman's colloquial sense, but he is not insane in the legal or medical sense).
    While I'm at it, I don't think it's even correct to characterize Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky as an "affair', - they never had intercourse, and he only climaxed once. It was juvenile. JFK apparently was banging away left and right in contrast to Clinton's pale efforts.

  3. Bob, I have known a few compulsive liars. I have a pretty good memory, and when I questioned them for contradicting an earlier statement, they would spin out fanciful tales to explain how both statements were true.
    Are you saying people like this aren't aware they are lying?
    Trump usually doesn't respond to challenges, but when he does, he must know he is making stuff up on the spot.
    Do serial liars know they are lying as they speak, or does some trick of the mind hide that knowledge from them, even when they are directly confronted with a contradiction?

  4. Rand Paul in 2014 claimed Bill Clinton had victimized an underage intern saying she was only "20" years old.

    1. Well, he was wrong, wasn't he. Oddly, no one seems to have read Lewinsky's deposition. She says she chased Clinton and was the aggressor. She stalked him, by her own admission. That makes their interactions consensual and hardly makes her a "victim." But that word has an accusatory ring to it, so what the hell?

  5. Somerby clearly thinks it is cute to compare journalists to machines, but that denies their humanity and degrades them, just as calling someone an animal does. It has an ugly undertone.

    The bots who flooded social media and are still doing so, originating in Russia or funded by Russia, to serve their purposes, are a real threat to public discourse. They demonstrably affected the 2016 election and they have not stopped. It will be important for all of us to learn to tell the difference between real information and that propagated by bots in order to influence us.

    It is unhelpful when Somerby ignores this important issue and muddies the water by calling real people bots.

    For a man who cares so much about lying, he should care about the distinction between real messages and fake ones propagated by AI. If he spent a little more time thinking, he might realize that discussing the impact of bots on political opinion might be an important topic. But it's easier to criticize people. Will it be as much fun to criticize machines when they are all we have to talk to?

    1. Somerby clearly thinks it is cute to compare journalists to machines, but that denies their humanity and degrades them, just as calling someone an animal does. It has an ugly undertone.

      It degrades bots, in point of fact.

      The bots who flooded social media and are still doing so, originating in Russia or funded by Russia, to serve their purposes, are a real threat to public discourse.

      Fake news. There's no evidence for that.

    2. Here is some evidence:

    3. It wasn't a serous comparison. What are you, daft?

    4. This is the point. You thought you were being funny or sarcastic or ironic or some such without anything evident to signal your intent.

      We are going to be confronted with bots in many areas of our lives, who present themselves in a managed way to serve the purposes of their creators, without any way for us to evaluate their reality, truthfulness, reliability, or anything about them. Our lives will become a constant stream of decisions about whether to trust the evidence in front of us or whether to be perpetually suspicious or whether to give up and just treat all bots as if they were human.

      If you were to participate in a discussion instead of making semi-clever jokes, it would be easier to tell you from the trolls (many of whom I believe are bots). Perhaps we'll be able to tell the bots from the trolls from the humans by the amount of effort they are willing to put into their comments?

  6. Wildly mistaken as Trump's statement about illegal ballots seems to be,

    Please. Just yesterday, Judicial Watch announced that 11 California counties had more voters on the rolls than eligible voters residing in them (148% for San Diego). Why do Democrats fight tooth and nail against Voter ID? Their claimed reasons are utterly retarded. They fight it because they know that they get millions of votes through voter fraud. That's why "community organizing" is such a thing in our, uh, more vibrant districts.

    1. No one is disputing that there are people on the rolls who have died or moved away. They are disputing whether any of those people vote (or have their names used by others who vote for them). There is no evidence that the latter is happening. Democrats have no problem with cleaning up the voter rolls. They do not want to institute procedures that will be an obstacle to legitimate voters casting their votes. There is no evidence of "millions of votes through voter fraud".

    2. 1:44 PM,
      The election problem is not enough people are voting. Not too many.
      BTW, if you want Voter ID it's up to the government to make sure everyone gets one. Not the other way around. It's worth the expense just to stop Republicans from crying about phony voter fraud.

  7. "In fact, Blumenthal did "serve during the Vietnam era," in the Marine reserves"

    Well, since you like precision so much, how could you not notice that the first quote in your piece could easily be read as indicating that the politician in question went to serve in the Marine reserves AFTER the Vietnam era.

    As for millions of foregners voting, that's, of course, not anywhere even close to a lie. Merely an unverifid assertion.

    1. You make it sound as if there have never been any studies of voting. That is untrue.

    2. Mao Cheng Ji hangs around playgrounds and exposes himself to little girls and boys for a hobby. That is not a lie, just an unverified assertion.

      Mao is what you get after decades of Affirmative Action for Wingnuts.

    3. Actually, you made several assertions, all entirely unsupported. This is pretty common for the social media realm, where we are at the moment. And Twitter is part of it. Also common for combative talk shows and such. Nothing to it; no reason to get agitated, as you appear to be.

    4. Bots not wanted here. Go away

  8. "Nineteen years later, for reasons which have been explained many times, the statement remains a bit "Clintonesque"—though we'd say the unflattering term may describe the work of the mainstream press corps more than the work of Bill Clinton!"

    Well, This is hardly surprising, given that the scripts used by corrupt politicians and corrupt media are written by the same slimeballs. In case of the Clintons, it's yout Stephanopouloses, your Carvilles, your Begalas, your Mooks, and hundreds of other bullshit maestroes...

    1. Except the Clintons are not and never were corrupt.

    2. Thanks for reading and for expressing your opinion.

    3. Clintonesque = Having consensual sex with an adult.

      Used in a sentence:
      Unlike Trump's pussy-grabbing and barging into the dressing rooms of underage women, I prefer to keep my sex life Clintonesque.

    4. Did you have sex with that woman?

      That's none of your business.


  9. In calling journalists bots, Bob knowingly asserts a falsehood, but he doesn't intend to deceive us, so he's not lying.

    1. Why, of course they are bots; mindless devices performing well-defined functions assigned to them: glamorising, smearing, demonizing. In short: propagating 'narratives' developed by political institutions; 'think-tanks' and secret services.

  10. Obsessed with “bots”, Bob Somerby neglected to use that helpful program on his own computer called a “spellchecker”, leaving his article with some glitches:
      mayhew → mayhem
      Thump → Trump
      How dis she know → How did she know

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