Onward towards What Trump Said: There are many ways in which our journalists seem determined to show us that basic skill levels are down.
Creative paraphrase and selective quotation are only two parts of the problem. We also think of selective use of the nation's three million academic studies. We think of bungled (and selective) use of basic statistics, sometimes including something as basic as a failure to adjust for inflation.
Skill levels have long been non-existent when it comes to basic assessments of character. According to the puzzling creatures within our pre-war establishment press. Paul Ryan was long "the most upright man now living," but Al Gore was the world's biggest liar!
Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves (TM), the trademarked yet disconsolate group which reports to us from the far side of Mister Trump's All-Too-Human War, have long told us that these "below basic" skill levels are best understood as an anthropological artifact.
"Given our so-called 'human' wiring, this was the best we could really expect!" So these chastened future scholars have said as they've sadly reviewed the decades of upper-end journalism which led to Donald J. Trump's ascension to power and to his aforementioned war.
They've told us we should always notice one basic anthropological fact. Among humans, technical failure typically tracks the desire to support and advance tribal story lines, narratives and scripts-the types of potent group "fictions" to which Professor Harari has more or less almost referred.
It all comes down to tribal novelization! We can't help thinking that this anthropological nostrum may shed some light on the question of What Mister Barr Really Said.
Is it true? Did William Barr fail to answer Senator Harris' question? As we showed you yesterday, that's what we were told by Rachel Maddow, and also by Harris herself.
Tribal stars have made this claim, but is their claim really true? Once again, here's the extended Q-and-A in question:
HARRIS (5/1/19): Attorney General Barr, has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?As we showed you yesterday, Harris' original question had a compound subject and a compound predicate. As we showed you yesterday, it was really four questions in one.
BARR: I wouldn't—I wouldn't—
HARRIS: Yes or no?
BARR: Could you repeat that question?
HARRIS: I will repeat it. Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone? Yes or no please, sir?
BARR: The president or anybody else?
HARRIS: Seems you'd remember something like that and be able to tell us.
BARR: Yeah, but I'm trying to grapple with the word "suggest." I mean, there have been discussions of, of matters out there that— They have not asked me to open an investigation, but—
HARRIS: Perhaps they have suggested?
BARR: I don't know. I wouldn't say suggest—
BARR: I don't know.
HARRIS: Inferred? You don't know? Okay.
That said, is it true that Barr failed or refused to answer? Let's approach that key question from the standpoint of Skill Levels Down as caused by novelization.
We start with Senator Harris. Working under the childish time limits maintained in the vast bulk of congressional hearings, she interrupted Barr several times. She then rushed ahead to ask other questions before attempting to establish his answers to the four she'd already asked.
Viewed as a technical matter, this was unskilled questioning. Basic skill levels were way, way down as Harris rushed past the welter of questions lodged in her complex ask.
That's an assessment of Harris' questioning viewed as a technical matter. Viewed as a political matter, her questioning was a triumph.
Harris was widely praised for defenestrating Barr, even by the admittedly brilliant Maddow. This aligns with the Future Anthropologists' insightful nostrum:
When basic skill levels are down, this deficit will often align with the desire to fulfill tribal tasks.
Basic skill levels were way down as Harris sped through her truncated frisking of Barr. But how about the subsequent performance of a journalist like Rachel Maddow?
According to Maddow, "Attorney General William Barr never answered that question from California Senator Kamala Harris." That's what she said as soon as she played the tape of the exchange we've transcribed.
In fairness to Maddow, it wasn't entirely clear what question she meant. She might have meant the original compound question. Or she might have meant the final question thrown at Barr, in which he was asked if anyone had "inferred" that he should open an investigation.
(Presumably, Harris meant "implied.")
It wasn't entirely clear what Maddow meant when she said Barr "never answered." In that sense, it could be said that her basic skill levels were down!
That said, Maddow went on to quote a letter Harris had written:
"In response to my questions during the hearing, Attorney General Barr proved unable or unwilling to state whether he'd been directed to open investigations at the request or suggestion of the president or other White House officials," Harris had defiantly said.
Maddow seemed to approve of Harris' claim—but just how accurate was that claim? We'd say there's a skill problem here!
As you can see above, Barr pretty much seemed to say at one point that no one has asked him to open an investigation. A moment later, he seemed to be saying that no one has suggested such a thing—but Harris boldly interrupted before he could finish his statement.
With these points in mind, is it really "fair and balanced" to say that Barr failed to answer Harris' question or questions? Or did Harris fail to elucidate a full answer or set of answers to her original compound question, due to the fact that her own skill levels were perhaps several quarts down?
We also return you to Christine Emba's column in the Washington Post. The headline complained about Barr's "hairsplitting." But is it possible that Emba's skill levels were just a bit down when she penned this pungent passage?
EMBA (5/4/19): There was faux ignorance [on Barr's part]. "Could you repeat that question?" pleaded Barr to Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who had asked whether the White House ever suggested that he open an investigation into anyone, which would be a clear abuse of power. "I'm trying to grapple with the word 'suggest,'" as though he was hearing the word for the first time.Granted, that mocking passage in Emba's column pleased the "liberal" base. But Emba's paraphrase greatly simplified Harris' original question—and, as Maddow would later do, Emba forgot to mention the passages where it seemed that Barr had answered.
A person could call that selective quotation—and an example of skill levels down!
Viewed from the technical standpoint, basic skill levels were notably down on the part of Harris, Maddow and Emba. The same can be said of Elliott Williams, who fumbled through a discussion of this exchange for his namesake, Brian Williams, last Friday night.
Brian Williams didn't utter a peep of protest about the skill levels put on display.
Last evening, one future scholar stressed the way skill level breakdowns tend to track the basic human desire to tell the approved tribal tale. "That endless longing for gossip and fiction," this disconsolate scholar exclaimed. "It's much as Harari once said!"
A pitiable moment followed as the scholar moved from academic analysis to a brief reminiscence:
"How I wish I could be back in my sophomore-year study carrel reading Coming of Age in Samoa!" So this disconsolate future anthropologist ever so sadly said.
Once again, we marveled at the insights conveyed to us from the post-Trumpian future. We awoke to the 1 AM rerun of Lawrence O'Donnell as this disconsolate future scholar despaired of past skill levels down.
Tomorrow: Moving on to possible tribal shaping concerning What Donald Trump Said