TRIBAL FICTIONS: Cauterucci gets it right!


Maddow gets it wrong:
This morning, we come to praise the new piece in Slate by Christina Cauterucci.

This morning, Cauterucci's aim is true. She writes beneath these headlines:
There Will Never Be an Honest Conversation About Nancy Pelosi as a Political Leader
Sexism doesn’t just harm women in politics. It also poisons political analysis.
We don't necessarily agree with every word or with every implication. But Cauterucci—she describes herself as "a writer on the women and gender beat"—starts in a very unusual way, criticizing types of work done within both major tribes, naming names as she does:
CAUTERUCCI (11/29/18): It’s been frustrating to watch members of both parties do battle over who Pelosi is, what she’s done, and whether she deserves another term as speaker, because there seems to be little room for nuance. Republicans have long made her out to be a cartoonish villain, a morally bankrupt banshee with an insatiable thirst for power. They’ve spent millions, if not billions, attacking her with ad campaigns in congressional districts she has no connection to, even as she held relatively little power as House minority leader. They’ve used her name as shorthand for sharp-elbowed ambition and her image, usually a photo with teeth bared and eyes bulging, as a dog whistle for conservatives who gag at the sight of a woman asserting her dominance in the public sphere.

To counter that narrative, some Democratic supporters have made Pelosi out to be a feminist savior, a groundbreaking role model who can translate the momentum of this year’s surge of female candidates and activism into a new era of progressive legislative accomplishments. In a recent New York Times piece by Kate Zernike that explores how Pelosi navigates her distorted public image, one Pelosi fan in Philadelphia notes that aging men in politics are perceived as experienced, while aging women are seen as “expired.” “If I think about who we need as a leader, it’s a woman who’s raised five children,” she said. In the same piece, another woman addresses an audience at an organization that trains female Democratic candidates, calling Pelosi “our style icon and political fairy godmother.”

It’s not just political allies who are hailing Pelosi as a feminist superhero. Journalists looking for vivid, accessible ways to illustrate her unflagging work ethic have latched onto gendered clichés...
As she continues, Cauterucci quotes some pro-Pelosi "gendered clichés" advanced by major journalists—by Zernike herself and by HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn. This sort of thing is never done within our tribe. In our view, this is superlative all the way down.

In this groaningly tribalized time, it's rare to find someone who's able to see the way the public discourse is ruled by cliché—by narrative, story-line, novelization and script—even on the side of the aisle where her own views may tend to hold sway. As noted, Cauterucci even names names from the New York Times, one of the news orgs which typically mustn't be named, presumably for career reasons.

Cauterucci is saying good-bye to all that! This personal jailbreak permits her to offer these excellent points:
CAUTERUCCI: As a writer on the women and gender beat, it’s my job to take notice when narratives like these emerge, as they do just about every time a woman vies for political power. I’m starting to think, though, that viewing female leaders through a gendered lens can be at once tiresome and self-defeating. When I write about male politicians, I scrutinize their policy proposals, messaging, personal histories, and alliances. When I write about female ones, I do all that, plus untangle all the gendered biases that attach themselves to their public personas. But it’s not just that the sexist rhetoric that’s billowed around Pelosi since her entrée into national leadership is an extra line item to ponder and write about. It’s that this sexist rhetoric, and conversations about the rhetoric, can make it impossible to have a fair, honest discussion about her political leadership.
We'll note that Cauterucci, being youngish (Georgetown, class of 2010), is writing about a decades-long story which began well before her time. She may not recall the poisonous, dimwitted "gendered cliches" which rained down on the heads of many major male Democrats in the era of Maureen Dowd, for whom every Democratic man was a woman and every Democratic woman was a man. (That first group included John Edwards, "the Breck Girl," but also Barack Obama, the "diffident debutante.")

These cliches rained down on many heads, but especially on the head of Candidate Gore, with Chris Matthews assuring the world, again and again, that Gore was "today's man-woman," and with every hack from here to eternity repeating the prehistoric claim that Candidate Gore had "hired a woman [Naomi Wolf] to teach him how to be a man." What explains these atrophied brains? We can't tell you that!

Cauterucci was still extremely young when this stupid behavior occurred. She was also very young when "the continued smearing" she cites at the end of this passage got its stupid and ugly start:
CAUTERUCCI: There’s a good argument to be made that any Democrat with Pelosi’s visibility and long history of leadership would get branded a villain. Democrats rag on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and outgoing Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan plenty, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s mug (usually wearing a stern look, very withering and fatherly) has appeared on a few pro-GOP mailers. But there’s something obsessive, almost feral, about the way Republicans sink their teeth into Democratic women, especially women of color, regardless of how much power they actually wield. You can see it in Republicans’ fixation on Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has never held political office; in the proliferation of Rep. Maxine Waters’ image in the sort of right-wing memes that populated mail bomber Cesar Sayoc’s Twitter feed; and in the continued smearing of Hillary Clinton.
Just as the mindless sliming of Gore sent George W. Bush to the White House (and children in Iraq to their deaths), "the continued smearing of Hillary Clinton" sent Donald J. Trump to the Oval. There's no way to know where that dangerous experiment will end, but vast amounts of the smearing of Hillary Clinton was done on Cauterucci's side of the tribal aisle.

This brings us to a tribal fiction which got brief play last week:

For one brief shining glorious evening, the corporate clowns of cable TV got the glorious chance to discuss Ivanka Trump's email practices. The children quickly invented cliches built around memories of Hillary Clinton's email travails. This led CNN's Jeffrey Toobin to insult the public's intelligence in the following manner:
TOOBIN (11/20/18): [Ivanka Trump's email behavior] underlines how the Trump family recognizes what a bogus issue this whole thing was. That it was just minor. That—

You know, people in government have—sometimes have two e-mail addresses. Sometimes they mix and match what they do. It is done routinely; it is no big deal.

Hillary Clinton did it. Ivanka Trump did it. By the way, her husband, Jared Kushner, there were earlier reports he did it, too. It is not a big deal when Ivanka and Jared do it. It was not a big deal when Hillary Clinton did it.

And I feel some personal responsibility, having spoken a lot about Hillary Clinton's e-mails, that I at least—I don't speak for anyone but myself—spent too much time talking about a minor issue in the 2016 campaign.

And I think this recognizes—this shows that Trump has never cared about this issue. It was just a political [attack].
Toobin repeated this "good guy" mea culpa through the course of CNN's day. In this casual way, he absolved himself for the kind of mainstream conduct which, repeated from 1992 on, has ended with a deeply disordered man in the White House.

Toobin never explained why he "spent too much time talking about a minor issue in the 2016 campaign," especially after decades of general "smearing of Hillary Clinton." Why on earth did Toobin get drawn in again?

No one will ever ask.

No one will ever go back to see what Toobin actually said and did regarding Clinton's emails. No one will ever ask him to explain why he did what he did.

Like earth girls, we liberals are easy! We're ready to swallow whatever we're served by our designated tribal leaders. Toobin thus refashioned himself as a good guy this day, with no further questions asked.

That same night, there was Maddow.

This past Monday, we started to show you one of the pleasing, tribalized tales Maddow spoonfed viewers that night.

On Tuesday, we showed you another tribal fiction from that same evening's entertainment. As we noted, there were others that night.

In thrall to the twin gods Snark and Snide, Maddow told her latest tale that night about former Trump aide Don McGahn. By rereading Monday's report, you can revisit that mountain of snark and snide. But then, as we showed you on Monday, Maddow ended by telling you this:
MADDOW (11/20/18): What is amazing about this New York Times piece that is published tonight, though, is the whole first part of the story is about Trump saying he wants to order these prosecutions, right? He wants to order the prosecution of Comey and Clinton, and McGahn heroically explains to the president, and puts in writing, that that would be a terrible idea.

But then, eight paragraphs into this story, there is this sort of parenthetical reference
—oh, by the way, also some time last year, quote, "Mr. Trump's lawyers did privately ask the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Comey. Law enforcement officials declined their requests."

OK. So here we have, you know, a Superman story, short of a cape, in which White House counsel Don McGahn is stopping Trump from doing this terrible thing, stopping Trump from injecting himself into law enforcement matters to try to start an investigation into Clinton and Comey.

But also we should also mention, eight paragraphs in, that Don McGahn did go to the Justice Department and tell them to start investigating Comey.


So, huh?
That's the pleasing, tribalized story this chuckling corporate hack told us. Her story went like this:

According to Maddow, Don McGahn's minions had told the Times that McGahn heroically intervened to stop Trump from ordering prosecution of Comey and Clinton. (Inevitably, she grossly misstated what these unnamed sources reportedly told the Times.)

But then, "also last year," McGahn did go to the Justice Department and tell them to start investigating Comey! Ha ha ha ha ha! Or so Maddow said.

As usual, this was pleasing but wrong. As you can see if you read the Times report and click the appropriate links, the Times had reported something quite different. Enjoyable though it may have been, Maddow's tribalized fiction was wrong.

In point of fact, the Times had reported this:

In the spring of 2018, Trump wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute Comey and Clinton. McGahn persuaded him not to do that.


On September 1, 2017, Trump's personal lawyer, John Dowd, had "asked the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Comey for mishandling sensitive government information and for his role in the Clinton email investigation."

That earlier request had come from John Dowd; McGahn had nothing to do with it. Also, these events occurred in two different years, not in rapid succession in the same year, the way Maddow seemed to frame it.

This was only one of the many tribal fictions Maddow served viewers that night. It was slathered with heavy doses of snark, the way we liberals have come to expect.

Both tribes are rank with simpering apes who dumb their viewers way, way down. At Slate, Cauterucci starts to suggest this very thing, very much getting it right.

Tomorrow: Maddow does it again:
MADDOW (11/28/18): The reason I'm being a little snarky is because all this comes just as Nancy Pelosi led her party to an electoral victory that will return them to power in the House with the largest margin victory in the popular vote of any party ever in the midterm election. No party ever in the history of the country has won a midterm election by a larger margin than Pelosi's Democrats just did in the House.
Maddow was prepared to admit this night that she was being snarky. That said, by any rational standard, her pleasing claim was thoroughly bogus. In a rational world, we'd basically call it "false."

This occurs on both sides of the tribal aisle. It's the way corporate ratings and salaries grow, with the public's collective IQ being driven lower and lower.

Our wars have always started this way. We're in a very dangerous time, but the corporate hacks keep clowning.


  1. "This morning, we come to praise the new piece in Slate"

    You have gotta be kidding, Bob.

    Any piece found in Slate can only belong to the species of repulsive liberal hackery.

    Nothing else could ever make it into that lousy lib-zombie death-cult magazine.

    1. I see the Establishment is up early to smear Slate. That's why they pay him the big Rubles.

  2. The information that it was Dowd who asked for an investigation into Comey was not in the Times story that Somerby and Maddow are referencing. The online version links to an AP report that supplies the information. Maddow may have mistaken the term “Mr. Trump's lawyers” to mean the White House Counsel, rather than Trump’s personal lawyers.

    She does not imply the two events happened in the same year. She reads from the Times: “oh, by the way, also some time last year, quote”, with emphasis on “last.”

    Perhaps a case can be made whereby Maddow deliberately misinformed her viewers about McGahn, when it was really Dowd. Another explanation is that she simply made a mistake and didn’t check the embedded link.

    But, for this to be “tribal fiction”, it would need to be something that materially slants the Times story to serve liberal interests. Maddow’s mistake doesn’t do that. The main idea in both cases is that Trump was trying to use the DOJ to investigate his enemies, and mistaking McGahn for Dowd doesn’t materially alter that contention.

    As far as the election numbers, Somerby simply asserts that Maddow was wrong. Would Somerby care to show his work on this?

    Maddow broadcasts perhaps 217 hours worth of programming per year. Are these examples really enough to show someone trafficking in tribal fiction?

    1. I have to say, reading this blog since the midterms, it is becoming more and more apparent that Mr. Somerby appears to be a little unhappy and unwilling to concede that there was a ginormous blue wave, even in the face of relentless voter suppression and fighting uphill against the in place gerrymandering mountain we had to climb.

      Look at NC where Dems and Reps split the popular vote in congressional races yet Dems walk away with 3 seats vs. 10 seats going to the party of voter suppression and anti-democracy.

    2. "there was a ginormous blue wave"

      Tell us more about your weird fantasies, dear dembot. We can help; there are medications available.

      "Look at NC where Dems and Reps split the popular vote in congressional races yet Dems walk away with 3 seats vs. 10 seats going to the party of voter suppression and anti-democracy."

      Ah. Clearly, dembots are incapable of understanding the concept of congressional districts, and obvious effects of the underclass being heavily concentrated in few of those.

      Tsk. Oh well, not a UGE surprize, obviously...

    3. @mm
      I recall a Somerby post awhile back where he looked at an article about gerrymandering (I don’t remember the date, and not going to look it up), but he seemed unimpressed that gerrymandering was a problem or that there was a realistic fix for it. Maybe my memory is faulty though.

    4. It's OK, Boris, you did your best. Will you be sticking around to watch Donny Chickenshit answer questions under oath. It's gonna be a gas.

      God bless America.

    5. "God bless America."

      Being a racist again, dembot? Wait, aren't you the one threatening to smuggle a bunch of foreign underclass into the country, recently?

    6. God bless America.

      Yep, I bet you wish you could say that, Boris.

    7. Sure, Boris. I know you love the place: a whole shitload of space for the underclass from south of the border.

    8. You're damn right, Boris. But don't worry, we'll still have room for Donny's next Eastern-Euro-trash imported porn model/wife.

    9. Yeah, thanks for sharing more of your mezcal-induced fantasies, dembot.

  3. Fact checking Somerby:
    As of 2pm CST, Friday, November 30, 2018, these are the vote totals that I was able to locate for the recent House election:
    D: 60,109,539
    R: 50,684,077

    The Dems got 9,425,462 more votes than the Republicans. This is indeed the largest difference in terms of total popular vote in the history of midterm elections. Or, as Wikipedia puts it:

    “Democrats won the House with the largest raw popular vote victory of any midterm in the country's history in terms of total votes.”

    You were saying, Mr Somerby?

    1. I think this was highly disappointing result for Mr. Somerby and Bernie bros. It blows his whole premise.

    2. "Democrats won the House with the largest raw popular vote victory"

      Ah, yes. I'm sure your boss Gyorgy Soros is getting his money's worth, spreading this ignorant bullshit, pretending that the US has a political system of proportional representation.

      Yeah, Bob, why don't you address this particular activity of your tribal leaders?

    3. A 3rd-rate grifter is now the acting Attorney General. It's not proportional representation. It's Establishment representation, just like you crave it.

  4. 2:02,

    You might be thinking of this post by TDH,

    BREAKING: A statistical pet peeve!


    In a state like that, the GOP would get 54 percent of the statewide vote, and it would win every single congressional seat! In principle, no gerrymandering is required to produce an outcome like that.

    In the real world, Pennsylvania's districts plainly have been gerrymandered. No one seems to dispute this. But every time you see a gap between the statewide vote and the statewide allotment of districts, you aren't necessarily seeing evidence of foul play.

    As has been widely observed, gerrymandering isn't the only force which can tilt the allotment of House against the Democratic (or Republican) party. As has been widely observed, Democratic voters tend to be heavily concentrated in large urban areas. In the absence of gerrymandering, this tends to produce urban House districts which are heavily Democratic.

    As we have witnessed in the midterms, PA had to have their heavily gerrymandered districts re-drawn resulting in a more equitable distribution and closer correlation of congressional seats to popular vote.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I suppose if you're calling out your media peers it would be out of the question to reference their treatment of Sarah Palin, Betsy DeVos, Sarah Sanders, Ivanka and Melania Trump.

    It's one thing to take risks, another to be suicidal.

    1. When will the media stop treating these folks like they're human?

  7. What difference does it make what the nationwide popular vote for the house of reps was...this is like arguing over the size of the crowds at various inaugurations...

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