Part 4—Who could have dreamed that we did? A wonderfully comical headline appears in today's Washington Post.
It sits atop a science report. In hard copy, here's what the headline says:
Modern humans outlasted rather than outsmarted Neanderthals, study findsWe humans didn't outsmart the Neanderthals? Given the way our discourse works, who would have dreamed we did?
That headline sits atop the latest piece by Sarah Kaplan, a young science reporter at the Post who does persistent good work. Kaplan describes a new study which has found that we modern humans didn't drive the Neanderthals into extinction through use of our superstar smarts.
No one reading today's New York Times could have dreamed that we did! Or that we've ever outsmarted anyone, except perhaps ourselves.
Indeed, today's edition of our smartest newspaper is littered with illogic so ripe and so vast that it leaves the modern humanist cursing the fact that the Neanderthals didn't outlast our own kind.
We plan to discuss those humiliating reports tomorrow. For now, let's discuss the way the excitable children of cable TV have novelized George Papadopoulos, the ambitious young fabulist who has pleaded guilty to telling lies to the FBI.
We'll focus on one novelistic element. First, let's explore a few questions:
First question: Is Professor Stephen Mifsud a secret Russian agent, as claimed on Morning Joe?
It's possible that he is! It's possible that he was recruiting Papadopoulos in some way when he did or didn't introduce him to Vladimir Putin's alleged niece, and when he did or didn't tell the young fellow that the Russkies had a bunch of Hillary Clinton's emails.
The chronology of the alleged email proffer suggests the possibility that the professor is a Russkie agent. It's also possible that this peculiar episode was a modern rewrite of Gilligan's Island, with Putin's niece replacing Ginger and Professor Mifsud cast in the Professor Roy Hinkley role.
(The leading authority on the program discusses its characters here.)
We'd say the facts aren't clear as yet concerning these events. That said, let's imagine, as we continue, that it does become clear that Professor Mifsud was, and is, an actual Russkie factotum.
If Mifsud was acting as a Russian agent, does that mean that Papadopoulos committed some sort of crime, or some sort of wrongful act, in his interactions with the pernicious professor?
We'd have to say the answer is no, based on what's known so far. Even if Mifsud is a Russkie, Papadopoulos could have been a clueless "innocent abroad," based on what's known so far.
Other outcomes are possible too. with Papadopoulos committing actual crimes. We'd have to say that the actual facts about this fandango haven't been nailed down yet.
Alas! We humans, who didn't outsmart The Others, deal poorly with states of uncertainty. With apologies to George Carlin, the three words you can't say on TV are these:
I don't know.
You can't say those words on TV! All modern pundits knows this.
Alas! Perhaps it was once a survival skill, but we humans are strongly inclined to reject the agonies of uncertainty. In situations where the facts are unclear, we tend to invent stories, stories in which the facts are known and the moral roles are established. This helps explain the way the con men of cable have novelized young Papadopoulos.
In truth, it seems that young Papdopoulos was a real piece of work. Despite being wholly unqualified, he got himself signed as a foreign policy specialist—first by the clownish Carson campaign, then by the clownish caravan working for Candidate Trump.
For those who want to hang him on cable, his youth and his apparent idiocy can't helpfully be acknowledged. Instead, we're asked to focus on a single event—Candidate Trump's meeting with the Washington Post editorial board on March 21, 2016, during which he introduced Papadopoulos to the waiting world.
Inquiring minds were starting to ask if the frequently puzzling Candidate Trump had any foreign policy advisers, or knowledge, at all. Within that context, Trump ridiculously made the remarks shown below as he spoke with Frederick J. Ryan Jr., the newspaper's little-known publisher.
These comments came right at the start of the meeting. For the full audiotape, you can just click here:
RYAN (3/21/16): Mr. Trump, welcome to the Washington Post. Thank you for making time to meet with our editorial board.In that ridiculous moment, Trump introduced his foreign policy brain trust to the world. In no small part because of its inclusion of Papadopoulos, it was a truly ridiculous list, as people quickly noted. We ask you to notice these facts:
TRUMP: New building. This is very nice. Good luck with it.
RYAN: Even perhaps we heard you might be announcing your foreign policy advisory team soon. If there's anything you can share on that?
TRUMP: We are going to be doing that, in fact, very soon. I'd say during the week we'll be announcing some names. We always will.
RYAN: Any names you can start off with this morning with us?
TRUMP: Well, you know, I hadn’t thought of doing it, but if you want I can give you some of the names. I wouldn't mind.
Corey, do you have that list? I can be a little more accurate with that?
[PAUSE FOR LIST]
OK, you ready?
Walid Phares, who you probably know, PhD, adviser to the House of Representatives caucus, and counter-terrorism expert.
Carter Page, Ph.D.
George Papadopoulos, he's an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy.
The honorable Joe Schmitz, inspector general at the Department of Defense.
Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg.
And I have quite a few more. But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do, but that’s a pretty representative group.
Trump seemed to know very little about the people on this ridiculous list. For example, note the sheer absurdity of this description:
"Carter Page, Ph.D."
Carter Page, Ph.D.! That seemed to be all the candidate had about one of his five advisers!
We also ask you to notice the fact that Trump had to be given a written list of names, from which he apparently read, before he could list his advisers. Aside from the fact that this was a very unimpressive list, Trump seemed unable to provide it without employing a cheat sheet.
On cable. this silly piece of audiotape has long been used to tell the world that Carter Page was a top adviser to Trump. Now that the ridiculous Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying, this ridiculous moment is being used to establish the youngster's high importance within the Trump campaign.
By now, everyone has done this on cable. Here is Margaret Hartmann, telling the story the pleasing way for New York magazine:
HARTMANN (11/1/17): Following Monday’s revelation that his campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his contact with Kremlin-linked Russians, President Trump tried to distance himself from Papadopoulos, saying, “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.”Trump once called him an excellent guy! That ridiculous moment before the Post board is thereby used to establish the claim that Papadopoulos really was an important Trump campaign player.
That’s a hard claim to swallow, since Papadopoulos was in regular contact with top campaign officials and met with a number of foreign officials as a Trump surrogate. Trump once called him an “excellent guy.” The Washington Post reports that he even sat next to future attorney general Jeff Sessions at a dinner for campaign advisers weeks before the Republican National Convention.
Did Trump once call him "an excellent guy?" Yes, he actually did, in one of the many ridiculous moments which defined the know-nothing inanity of this know-nothing candidate.
That said, did Donald J. Trump know whereof he spoke? We'd say it sounds like he didn't. For example, was Papadopoulos actually an "oil and energy consultant?"
Well basically no, he was not.
Did Trump really think that Papadopoulos was "an excellent guy?" Is there any reason to think any such thing from what he said during that silly exchange, in which he was reading a text?
If you live on the far planet Tribal, then possibly yes, there is. Otherwise, we would say that exchange is exactly what it seems to be—the latest attempt by a ludicrous candidate to scrape by in the face of his ignorance and his lack of preparation.
On cable news, you've rarely been told that Papadopoulos was extremely young and was a total pretender. But you've often heard chunks of that audiotape, with Trump's remark used to establish the preferred claim in which Papadopoulos for something much more than an idiot non-hire hire.
Did Donald J. Trump have any idea who Page or Papadopoulos actually were as he read that list of names? We know of no reason to think so. But cable players are selling a story in which it's clear that Papadopoulos was drenched in "collusion," a term whose meaning we'll explore tomorrow.
That ridiculous moment from that board meeting is used to establish this tale.
We "modern humans!" When the facts are unclear, we'r strongly inclined to fill the void with a pleasing novel. We tell the story the way we like. We disappear uncertainty, avoid saying "I don't know."
In the current case, it's very unclear what Papadopoulos actually did as he flounced around in Europe, or who the young fellow actually was. Rather than acknowledge this fact, modern stars of cable TV are selling a novelized tale.
Was Papadopoulos actually doing something wrong with Professor Mifsud and Putin's putative niece? Or was he merely a young incompetent trapped on Gilligan's Island?
Eventually, we all may know. In the meantime, we modern humans, outsmarting ourselves, are peddling stories on cable.
The story-sellers get rich and famous as they do this. We viewers get more Neanderthal as this process unfolds.
Tomorrow: Krugman and Kristof claim collusion