AS SEEN BY OTHERS: Skill levels of our upper-end scribes!


Interlude—Huckabee Sanders enabled:
We were surprised by something that happened at yesterday's briefing by the newly acerbic Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Someone asked a sensible question; it concerned General Kelly's recent statements about Rep. Frederica Wilson. In response to that sensible question, Sanders gave a truly striking reply.

Here's the exchange, as it appears in the official transcript. The statement by the newly acerbic Sanders comes from a very strange world:
QUESTION (10/24/17): One of the aspects of civil discourse is for people in the discussion to acknowledge when they've made misstatements. And there's a pattern, in this White House and with the president, that, when they make misstatements, those are not corrected.

For example, the chief of staff came out here at this podium and mischaracterized a speech by a congresswoman given at an FBI building dedication. Why won't the chief of staff, or you right now, acknowledge that that was a mischaracterization and correct the record?

SANDERS: I don't believe that General Kelly mischaracterized. He gave his account of what took place. General Kelly and his family have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I think he's led with honor and integrity. I think he's doing a great job of chief of staff and I don't think he has anything to correct or apologize for.


SANDERS: Hallie.
If we live in a rational world, that was a startling statement by Sanders.

The questioner seemed to want to ask a follow-up, as other questioners had been doing. But in the midst of all that CROSSTALK, Sanders threw to Hallie Jackson. Jackson seemed to think she was "following up on that:"
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, why wouldn't when—even if President Trump meant to console the widow of Sergeant Johnson, why hasn't he or anyone from the White House apologized for how she took his call, if she took his call as insensitive?

SANDERS: Well, the president was making the point that his call was meant to be respectful, sympathetic, and the purpose was to offer condolences on behalf of the nation.
The briefing continued from there No one actually "followed up" on what Sanders has said about General Kelly's statememts.
None of the journalists so much as said boo. They let Sanders' remarkable statement stand.

What was so remarkable about what Sanders said? Plainly, Kelly did "mischaracterize" Rep. Wilson's 2015 speech in several basic ways. He made several obvious misstatements about what Wilson had actually said. This is a blindingly obvious fact, to which Sanders responded in this remarkable way:

"I don't believe that General Kelly mischaracterized. He gave his account of what took place."

Kelly didn't mischaracterize Wilson's speech. Instead, he simply "gave his account" of what Wilson had said!

That statement by Sanders takes us straight down the rabbit hole. There's no such thing as true or false. We each have "our own account!"

We're living in a lunatic world when blustering, swaggering figures like Sanders feel free to make such remarkable statements. But no one at that pitiful presser chose to follow up on Sanders' bizarre and remarkable claim.

It rolled right off the press corps' backs. The children just sat there and took it.

We've often asked a basic question about our the capacity and the skills of our upper-end journalists. We've often asked if they're actually human, or if they might instead possibly be space invaders, or cyborgs, or maybe even "pod people."

We've sometimes spoken in jest at such times, but yesterday's presser brought that question back home. Kidding aside, it's really a question about the mental capacity of us humans—of our floundering, deeply flawed kind.

In western lore, we humans have long been described as "the rational animal." More locally, we often hear that people like those journalists are "educated," perhaps even "highly" so.

We hear such things all the time! Then we see these life forms in action, and we see how much wishful thinking has gone into our characterization of our own kind, at least here in the west.

All too often, our upper-end journalists seem to be deeply unskilled. Yesterday, they went on to lob a succession of softballs at Sanders, who knocked them out of the park. No one bothered to question or challenge the remarkable answer she gave to that perfectly sensible question about what Kelly said.

We humans have propagandized ourselves for several millennia now. We've told ourselves that we're the rational species, that all other creatures are not.

This propagandization blinds us to the ways our elites actually function. With respect to the work of our upper-end journalists, we find ourselves struck by their lack of capacity every day of the week.

This includes people who work on behalf of our own liberal team. Let's consider a few examples from this morning's press:

Kathleen Parker characterizes that condolence call:

There is no tape of Donald J. Trump's now-famous condolence call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson. There is no transcript of the words he said.

Except in highly general ways, none of us know what he actually said. None of us know how his words and his tone would have sounded to us had we heard an audiotape before the current dispute arose.

There's little reason to think that Donald J. Trump would display much skill at making such difficult calls. Beyond that, General Kelly probably showed absurdly poor judgment in suggesting that Trump employ a framework which seemed appropriate when Kelly received a condolence call from his best friend, another general, about his own son's death.

It was dumb to suggest that Donald J. Trump work from that template in making his phone call to Johnson. That said, none of us know what Trump actually said, or how he actually sounded. It seems clear that his tone seemed wrong to Johnson herself, but she was suffering the worst day of her life, and in fact we know little else.

In a column in today's Washington Post,
Kathleen Parker seems completely unaware of these basic facts. She writes as if 1) she heard the telephone call in real time and 2) has been poring over an audiotape of the call in the days since.

In particular, she writes as if she knows that Donald J. Trump didn't know La David Johnson's name. Kathleen Parker doesn't know that. More strikingly, she doesn't seem to realize that she doesn't know.

This doesn't make Parker a bad person; we feel certain she isn't. It does mean that she is human, and as such substantially less than "rational." Or, as Yevtusheno put it:

"Whom we knew as faulty, the earth's creatures."

The Washington Post on the schooling of immigrant kids:

For decades, we've been struck by the technical incompetence found in news reports about public education. A new report on the "hardships" faced by children of immigrants is the latest case in point.

As she describes a recent study, Michael Alison Chandler reports a significant achievement gap between children of immigrants and children of non-immigrants. What explains this substantial gap? At one point, Chandler actually offers this:
CHANDLER (10/25/17): Nonso Umunna, research director at Advocates for Children and Youth, based in Maryland, said language and cultural barriers in public schools could be contributing to the disparities in academic performance.

He also noted the relatively low number of children who are attending preschool, an indicator of future academic success.

In Maryland, 63 percent of children of U.S.-born parents attend early education programs. For immigrant children the rate is slightly lower at 60 percent.
According to Chandler, Umunna noted "the relatively low number of children [of immigrant parents] who are attending preschool. That relatively low number turns out to be 60 percent, as compared to 63 percent of children of non-immigrant parents.

Similar statistical nonsense is found elsewhere in Chandler's report. That said, blindingly obvious statistical bungling has long characterized education reporting in both the Post and the New York Times.

Chandler, an experienced journalist, has an impressive personal resume. What explains such work?

Lindy West inflames the tribe:

A larger groaner comes from Lindy West, in a New York Times op-ed column entitled "The Megyn Kelly Problem."

Presumably, there's a lot to criticize in Megyn Kelly's work—but the same is true of West's. In today's column, she quickly gets busy defining the tribe. At one point, she makes a blistering charge, sustained by two examples:
WEST(10/25/17): Kelly spent more than a dozen years as part of the Fox News machine, churning out the same brand of soft propaganda that helped lead to the Iraq war, the Tea Party and, eventually, “fake news” and President Trump.

Kelly happily trafficked in racist tropes for profit—black communities have a “thug mentality,” asking repeatedly whether the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown were necessarily related to race—until her own dehumanization at the hands of Roger Ailes, O’Reilly and others became untenable.
Has Kelly "happily trafficked in racist tropes for profit?" That's an extremely aggressive charge, but is it actually true? Is it reasonable?

West's examples are extremely weak. According to Nexis, Kelly has uttered the phrase "thug mentality" exactly once, during an hour-long special about the Black Lives Matter movement. The special featured many activists who favor the BLM movement—and we're sorry, but Kelly didn't use the term in the way West suggests.

West's other example is even sadder. Has Kelly "asked whether the death of Michael Brown was necessarily related to race?" If so, was she "happily trafficking in a racist trope" when she did?

It's an ugly, extremely vague charge, but it's one which serves the tribal imperative. For what it's worth, Attorney General Eric Holder said the unfortunate shooting of Brown was fully justified, right down to every shot fired. Presumably, he was trafficking racist tropes too when he voiced that judgment.

Should newspapers like the New York Times publish such casual claims? Actually no, they shouldn't, and neither should anyone else. But over here in our liberal tents, we love the newly ubiquitous fire of the transplendently tough-taking West. Surely, we all can understand how this looks to The Others.

At every juncture, down through all the many years, people like West have always come forward, making their incendiary claims and urging us on to war. They tell us that The Others are evil. Foppish bureaucrats publish their words on their way out the door to the Hamptons.

We all can understand the way The Others see such work. It's hard to say that The Others are wrong in their perceptions of such tribal renderings.

That said, these examples all display the frail skill levels of our upper-end press. In the end, how rational are we rational animals? How "educated" are we?

At times of tribal war, we tend to be far from rational. Death and destruction tend to follow. This has now happened for thousands of years, all around the world.

Are we liberals able to see the way our words might sensibly seem to The Others? Tomorrow, we'll start with something Paul Krugman recently wrote.

For today, we'll leave you at yesterday's presser. The newly acerbic Huckabee Sanders made a truly remarkable statement. A room full of our brightest, upper-end journalists all stared off into air.

No one followed up! They just sat there and took it, exactly as they've been doing for a good many years.

These people, and their predecessors, helped bring us Donald J. Trump. They did it through their unskilled, ridiculous, slacker conduct over the past thirty years.

Tomorrow: How might Krugman's statement look, as seen by The Others?


  1. How many times did Megyn Kelly use the term "thug mentality" to describe Wall Street?

  2. What’s also startling is that Sanders called on Hallie (Jackson, I assume) as a safety valve. Did she know Jackson would change the subject? Do they have an agreement? Or, even worse, was Jackson unaware there were two contemporaneous feuds between the White House and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. Or, worst of all is, this the new normal that Sen. Jeff Flake spoke of?


  3. That statement by Sanders takes us straight down the rabbit hole. There's no such thing as true or false. We each have "our own account!"

    I guess you're not up on modern liberal doctrine. This is referred to as 'lived experience.' It's considered highly rude, if not somehow racist or sexist, to challenge it.

    1. Thus you illustrate Somerby's point.

    2. There is an actual difference between subjective experience and objective observable reality.

      When someone refers to lived experience, they are talking about that person's subjective phenomenology. When they talk about whether something is true or false, they are talking about objective, verifiable, consensually observable reality.

      You can say there is an apple on the table. Each person will see that apple differently, but the apple exists and can be verified to exist even when the lived experience of that apple differs from person to person.

      There is no confusion of one with the other unless you are obfuscating or playing philosophical mind games.

    3. “There is an actual difference between subjective experience and objective observable reality.”

      No, there can be such a difference, it doesn’t mean they’re actual. Of course, that leads to the observation that all human experience at least starts out as subjective. It’s when we agree on our combined subjective experiences that we identify the objective truth.

      Certainly, this is a flawed mechanism, but can’t we all agree that the Earth isn’t flat?

      Can’t we agree that Sander’s defense of Kelly really does take us down a post-modernist rabbit hole?

  4. "But no one at that pitiful presser chose to follow up on Sanders' bizarre and remarkable claim."
    If they had, would she have answered it? How many times do you ask a brick wall the time of day before giving up?

    1. You are entirely correct. There is no way on God's green earth that Sanders would have EVER given any other answer or acknowledged her pathetic attempt at alternative fact propaganda. I'm pretty sure all professional WH reporters know this by now and are resigned to transcribing the gibberish spewed from the podium on a daily basis.

  5. Yevtushenko. Frankly, I have never understood why reporters don't follow up on questions that get fended off by calling on another reporter. Hardly the first time. It might be ego - they want their own question.

    1. So, the reporter gets to decide who Huckabee-Sanders calls on, and who she ignores?

  6. It would be wonderful if there were a large group of people and institutions who valued integrity for its own sake, but we are not going to see that from the Trump Administration. Scott Adams, a Trump supporter, explains that Trump uses words as tools to negotiate, to change people's minds, etc. His words are not selected because of their accuracy, but rather because of their effectiveness at achieving Trump's particular goal.

    1. So I guess we're suppose to tolerate a liar, cheater and stealer.

    2. His words are not selected because of their accuracy...

      Translation: Trump is a lying sack of shit.

      David, why do other run of the mill bullshit artists, conmen and frauds lie? You seem to be impressed that Trump is somehow unique in this respect. He's not. He's a fucking lying sick of shit. This is not something to be admired.

      And by the way, his bullshit act doesn't seem to be very successful and his first year has been nothing but a fucking flaming dumpster fire or failure.

    3. Erie -- How do you feel about Obama's lies that led to the passage of ObamaCare? Do you tolerate those lies for the sake of a program that you think is valuable?

      Trump's cavalier approach to words may have helped lead to thousands of black youths finding jobs, a booming economy, improved
      civil liberties and due process on college campuses, the defeat of ISIS And, possibly also de-nuclearizing NK.

      mm - Not very successful? Can you think of anyone who has had so much success in widely varied fields? earned billions, hit TV show, best-seller books, elected President. Let's face it: whether we like it or not (and I don't like it) Trump's use of words as weapons, rather than facts, has led to enormous successes.

    4. Eric- sorry for mis-typing your name.

    5. Up until September, 83 months of job growth, stock market improvement, previous efforts laid the groundwork for the recent defeat of ISIS in Raqqa. Why you give Trump credit for any of that, but none to Obama, is illogical.

    6. Fine, give Obama some of the credit for good things that happened while Trump was President. But, a new President could have f*cked up the economy and the war against ISIS. Trump didn't.

    7. It is premature to say that Trump hasn't messed up the economy. Job growth has slowed and if he screws up NAFTA or replaces Yellin, there could be a mess.

    8. Sadly, lying doesn't harm someone in the public eye, because there's no reward for honesty. As Bob explained, George Bush honestly believed Saddam had nukes, and his belief was reasonable, since his spy agencies said that was the case. Nevertheless, he was branded as liar. He was sometimes called "Bushitler". Romney, a true and honest gentleman was falsely accused of avoiding income tax by the use of offshore investments.

      If Trump miraculously stopped lying, would the media treat him any better? I don't think so.

    9. David, you aren't seriously suggesting that if you tell the truth you should be immune to all other criticism?

    10. And Obama honestly believed everyone would be able to keep their doctor. That's what his policy experts were telling him. So you shouldn't call him a liar either, at least, if you apply Somerby's standards.

    11. Of course not, 5:21. I am suggesting that most of the media (on both sides) choose a narrative and stick with it. Look at how our best newspaper covered George Zimmerman. First, their narrative was that a white man had murdered a black kid for no reason. When they discovered that Z was Hispanic, they made up a new term, "White Hispanic". Not only was this term created to avoid giving Z minority status, it may not have even been true. The Times didn't know Z's genetic background.

      As the evidence showed that Martin was at fault and Z had killed him in self-defense, the Times maintained their narrative of Z being the perp and M the victim.

      The liberal media hate Trump because they don't agree with his political positions. And, he's a Republican. If they didn't flagellate him as a liar, they'd find some other reason. Note, for example that he's frequently called "dumb", despite a Ivy League degree and an incredible string of successes.

      The chosen narrative of Trump being terrible is not going to change, no matter what he does.

    12. Anon 5:35 - do you have links confirming that Obama's experts told him that people would be able to keep their doctor? And, links showing the "keep your insurance" and $2500 per family premium reduction were confirmed by Obama's experts?

      I find it hard to believe that people so knowledgeable were unaware of what would happen.

    13. "The chosen narrative of Trump being terrible is not going to change, no matter what he does"
      Let's see: how's this alteration:
      "The chosen narrative of Hillary being terrible is not going to change, no matter what she does."
      Let's try another one:
      "The liberal media hate Trump because they don't agree with his political positions."
      And change it to:
      "The conservative media hate Hillary because they don't agree with her political positions."
      You see how these contentless tribal statements go both ways?

    14. George W. Bush was corrected and informed multiple times that Saddam Hussein did not throw the weapons inspectors out of Iraq (in fact, they had been warned to leave by the Bush Administration. Yet he continued to tell that same lie many more times. Of course, you have no problem with someone repeating lies after they have been corrected multiple times. In fact, I'm sure I've pointed out this GWB lie to you multiple times. Yet you still come here intimating it is just some liberal opinion that George W. Bush lied about Iraq.
      Here's a fact, both you and George W. Bush are known liars.

    15. 7:09 - no Saddam didn't literally throw the weapons inspectors out of Iraq. But, they were removed because of Saddam's action.

      Saddam stopped cooperating. He refused to let the inspectors go where they needed to. Thus, the inspections became pointless. That's why the inspectors were removed.

  7. "it's really a question about the mental capacity of us humans—of our floundering, deeply flawed kind."

    "we humans have long been described as "the rational animal."

    "With respect to the work of our upper-end journalists, we find ourselves struck by their lack of capacity every day of the week. "

    Couple of questions:
    If humans are floundering, flawed, and not rational, then why be surprised when they flounder, make mistakes, and act irrationally? You might as well move to a cave and create a new species of beings. If humans are unimprovable, then why bother with any critique?
    Are you as struck by the lack of capacity of the average voter as you are by journalists?
    Why be struck at all after 20+ years?

  8. Fortunately there was a recorded condolence call by Trump made available to the media. If you're not a sufferer of Trump Derangement Syndrome and you permit yourself to know things, you will have heard a warm, sensitive phone call that convinced you that Wilson's politicization of the call to the widow in question was disgraceful and dishonest.

    1. The recorded call was NOT the one made to Mrs. Johnson. If you permit yourself to be honest, you might assume that the call in question was possibly disgraceful, and that Trump is being dishonest.

    2. The evidence we have of how Trump behaves in these phone calls is the recorded call we do have. Decent people rely on evidence to clarify a question in their minds. The evidence shows Trump conducts himself in an honorable manner when making these calls. Self deluding people ignore evidence when motivated to believe the worst.

    3. Only LaDavid Johnson was black. Because of that, there is a likelihood the calls were different.

    4. 8:51 PM,
      Don't let Trump's admitted sexual predation get in the way of your love for his bigotry.

    5. @8:51pm: "The evidence we have of how Trump behaves in these phone calls is the recorded call we do have. "
      You're not being scientific. You cannot judge the content of the unrecorded call based on a single recorded call. Your "evidence" would not hold up in court.
      What evidence do self-deluding Trump supporters ignore when motivated to believe the best about your hero?

  9. I'd argue Megyn Kelly does traffic in racist tropes — Kelly stoked fears about the insignificant New Black Panther Party, for example — though Somerby correctly points out West provides bad examples.

    Liberals stopped at some point treating race as a topic that demands sensitive and careful treatment, at least as long as one takes the right side. It shouldn't be hard to do the proper work of documenting claims about how bad Fox is. This is embarrassing.

    1. "It shouldn't be hard to do the proper work of documenting claims about how bad Fox is. "
      Don't hold your breath waiting for Somerby to do this.