Stelter interviews Bandy X. Lee!


Psychiatrists enter the crossfire:
Yesterday, on Reliable Sources, CNN's Brian Stelter finally did it.

Stelter interviewed two psychiatrists about issues of Donald J. Trump's mental health—or at least, he gave it a half-hearted try.

At the start of the segment, Stelter offered a lengthy justification for the fact that he was the raising the issue at all. Here's part of what he said:
STELTER (8/25/19): Now, I get it that Trump opponents have been saying he's sick since before Election Day. I think some folks threw out terms like "cognitive decline" way too casually. They dream about the 25th Amendment.

But it is possible to have a fact-based conservation about this. In fact, it's not just possible, it's necessary. Look at the New York Times reporting that some former Trump aides are, quote, increasingly worried about his behavior. Most people who cover this world for a living know that.


So something is wrong. There are lots of theories about what it is. There are some doctors who think they know. Others say we shouldn't speculate.

There are ethical questions about having this conversation at all, but we can't tiptoe around it anymore. We've got to talk about this. So let's talk about it. Let's do it!
"Let's do it," Stelter enthused, perhaps reassuring himself.

So far, almost so good! Stelter then introduced two psychiatrists. As in the old Crossfire days, they held "opposing views:"
STELTER (continuing directly): Let me bring in two guests, two psychiatrists with different views about this.

Dr. Bandy X. Lee is a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. She co-authored a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. It originally came out two years ago, started this conversation in many ways about Trump's mental health.

And Dr. Allen Frances is in Philly for us. He's a professor emeritus and former chair of psychiatry at Duke University Medical College. And he authored the book, Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump.
The contestants were in place. From that point on, we'll admit we don't exactly understand what either of Stelter's guests said.

The alleged conversation made little sense, and it didn't last long. Here, for example, is a statement by the guest who seems to think that we shouldn't be discussing Trump's mental health:
FRANCES: I think that medicalizing politics has three very dire consequences. The first is that it stigmatizes the mentally ill. I've known thousands of patients, almost all of them are well-behaved, well-mannered, good people.

Trump is none of these. Lumping the mentally ill with Trump is a terrible insult to the mentally ill, and they have enough problems and stigma as it is.

The second issue is that calling Trump crazy hides the fact that we're crazy for having elected him, and even crazier for allowing his crazy policies to persist.

Trump is as destructive a person in this century as Hitler, Stalin and Mao were in the last century. He may be responsible for many more million deaths than they were. He needs to be contained, but he needs to be contained by attacking his policies, not his person.

It's crazy for us to be destroying the climate our children will live in. It's crazy to be giving tax cuts to the rich that will add trillions of dollars to the debt our children will have to pay. It's crazy to be destroying our democracy by claiming that the press and the courts of the enemy of the people. We have to face these policies, not Trump's person.

Now, it's absolutely impossible, you can bet the house, that the Congress, that Pence, that the cabinet will never ever remove Trump on grounds of mental unfitness. That will never happen. Discussing the issue in psychological name-calling terms distracts us from getting out the vote.
We have no idea why a competent suggestion that Trump may be mentally ill in some serious way would "stigmatize the mentally ill." Just as most people who are physically ill aren't suffering from terminal cancer, most people with some sort of mental health problem aren't the most severe type of sociopath, the equivalent of Hitler or Stalin.

We have no idea if Donald Trump is "mentally ill" in some serious way. But if he is, it doesn't make sense to say we mustn't discuss the possibility because it would "stigmatize" others with mild conditions.

Beyond that, has some responsible psychiatric observer diagnosed Trump as "crazy?" In what sense have such people engaged in "psychiatric name-calling?"

To our ear, it was Frances who was starting to sound a bit unhinged this day. At times, he sounded less like a psychiatrist and more like a old-style ward-heeler trying to get out the vote.

This strangeness continued later, near the end of the segment:
STELTER: And Dr. Frances, your advice to the press? How do you feel the press should handle these situations, these ongoing questions about the president's health?

FRANCES: Well, the problem is, I thought [Lee's] book was really silly. The people most willing to offer diagnoses know the least about it, have never contributed to discussions about diagnosis.

There is absolutely no doubt that Trump is dangerous. Everyone knows that. Everyone should have known that before the election. The question is, is he dangerous because he's a bad, evil con man or is he dangerous because he's mentally ill?

And on that issue, I think it's very clear he's dangerous because he's evil. He's not dangerous because he's mentally ill.
Needless to say, "everyone" doesn't believe, let alone "know," that Donald J. Trump is dangerous. Meanwhile, Frances was never asked to explain how he knew that Trump isn't mentally ill, if that's what he was saying. These were his final remarks:
FRANCES: I think Trump is best characterized as a spoiled brat, as a baby having temper tantrums, as a completely unfit person unable to meet the challenges and the responsibilities of his office, as a con man, as a—the most narcissistic person maybe in our time, a narcissist for all times.
We're puzzled. If Trump is "the most narcissistic person maybe in our time, a narcissist for all times," doesn't that suggest a possible issue of mental health? Does it help that he may end up killing millions more people than Hitler, Stalin and Mao?

Alas! Stelter didn't seem ready to field these peculiar remarks in this Crossfire-style discussion, for which a limited amount of time had been scheduled and a slightly strange guest had been booked. We weren't even entirely clear about what Lee was trying to say, but the statements by Frances made little sense for us at all.

In the past, we've said two things about this long-forbidden topic. We've said the topic should be discussed. We've also said there's little chance that the mainstream press would be able to conduct that discussion in a competent manner.

It's been a long time since cable news hosts were ever really asked to try to figure anything out. Stelter seemed to be in way over his head. Beyond that, he'd been allotted a limited amount of time for this tricky discussion with, perhaps, a poorly selected guest.

After thanking his two psychiatrists, Stelter took a commercial break. He then moved to a more familiar question:

Should Sean Spicer have been picked for Dancing With the Stars?

One last very basic point: The fact that important discussions unfold this way is an anthropological problem. That said, this is the way our "national discourse" has worked for the past thirty-plus years.

This seems to be the best we can do, at least on the "elite" level.


  1. Oh, yes, Brian Stelter has been so reluctant and squeamish about discussing the crazy old president in the WH.

    Don't believe me? Well, from 2017, you can find Brian invariably prefacing insulting tweets and tv comments about Trump's mental unfitness with just such proclamations of purported uneasiness and discomfort over the necessity of broaching such a distressing subject.

    He'd have bravely laid his delicate sensibilities aside and gotten to it sooner had he not been busy tweeting statements linking Trump to unconfirmed reports of hate crimes days after his election.

    You expect regular joes and party operatives to go for the jugular, but media critters must maintain a level of distance and professionalism, you know.
    Consequently, Stelter has long been rhetorically asking if it is "now" time to discuss the president as being a lying demented racist traitor to the country and assuring his audience that it's a very sad and difficult examination and discussion for our media Diogenesesees...

    Asking...doing...on tv and Twitter... twenty-four hours...eight days a week.

  2. “We have no idea if Donald Trump is "mentally ill" in some serious way. “.

    And yet “the topic should be discussed. “

    Stelter has a discussion. The two psychiatrists ‘held "opposing views:"’

    And this is precisely the reason why such a discussion is doomed from the start. There are *trained psychiatrists* who disagree. Where is the enlightenment in that? Should Stelter commit the unpardonable sin of having guests who only promote a single point of view, like Lawrence or Nicolle?

    It isn’t ultimately up to psychiatrists on TV or up to the press, absent reliable sources, to determine whether Trump is mentally ill or not. It is up to the people closest to Trump to get him to a real psychiatrist and take appropriate steps *if* Trump is seriously mentally ill. What does Somerby think the effect would be of public debate and speculation about this? It would create yet another media circus, it would enrage Trump supporters, and possibly “gain more votes for Trump”, as Somerby likes to say.

    1. The discussion spanned the range of opinion between Trump being dangerous due to the deluded thinking inherent in a personality disorder, to Trump being dangerous due to his moral failings.

    2. The medium is the message.

    3. Which one do you pick, Cecilia?

    4. Which necessitated photoshop and cable news, 7:20pm.

    5. Have you ever read any H. C. Anderson, Cecelia? I always thought it was a very implausible children's fairy tale. Not anymore.

    6. We all hit the rabbit hole at some point.

    7. No discussion of Trump being dangerous, due to him being a standard issue Reagan Republican?

      I haven't seen this kind of limited discussion on an important issue since the corporate media examined everything but Trump's bigotry to explain his support by his voters.

  3. CNN's idea of "balance" is two people who both think Trump is a horrendous President, but for different reasons.

    1. Since you asked about the good of the country:
      -- No news wars.
      -- Reducing military involvement in Afghanistan and Syria
      -- Substantial defeat of ISIS in Syria
      -- Near-record low unemployment overall
      -- Near record low unemployment for blacks and Hispanics, in particular.
      -- Big improvement in black youth unemployment, which was a big issue for Sanders in 2016
      -- Decrease in the number of black murder victims after the big increase from 2014 to 2016
      -- Salary increases that finally exceed the rate of inflation (after 8 years of no real increase).
      -- big increase in GNP
      -- big rise in stock market

    2. If you believe David cares one iota about anything he listed above as a Trump achievement, you haven't been paying attention.
      Those things mean nothing to him at all.

    3. David, as you know, those are "bullshit" jobs. Blacks are supposed to be happy to be working in a warehouse for $12 dollars an hour and for a corporation that is working night and day to automate the very same job?

      You are a rich Trump supporter. He vowed to drain the swamp and came in and let the swamp go hog wild, so you benefit. But the rank and file who voted for him know now they are conned. He will lose all those votes next time. Especially if the idiot Dems run Yang against him in which case the landslide will be so evident and total, Trump will probably quit before the election.

      Trump may be good for you and you may even be able to bullshit yourself into thinking he is good for everyone but, he ain't.

      The best thing you have going for you is the DNC and the Democratic establishment who are born losers and so out of touch.

    4. Gargle: The phrase "As you know" is like the word "obviously". It's what one says when he can't prove his statement.

      In any event, there is a huge difference between a warehouse job and no job for the individual.

    5. Exactly. The way to prove your point is to bring up an anecdote about your wife's sisters cousin which can't be verified.

    6. David, you treasonous bastard. You've got some goddam nerve demanding proof of assertions from anyone. You spout your bullshit claims here every day, and when called on it, crawl back under your rock until the feel the coast is clear. Trump increased troop deployments in Afghanistan. Trump had not a goddam thing to do with the stock market or unemployment which countless times has been shown to you to be a fucking straight line extrapolation from Obama. the only goddam thing Donald J Chickenshit is responsible for was passing a gigantic tax cut for businesses and extremely wealthy which all subsequent analysis has shown to be a complete failure in the predicted business investments. The only thing it's done is balloon the deficit, asshole.

    7. I'd say Trump's huge giveaway to Mao's establishment elite buddies did one good thing. It opened the door to telling any Conservative who brings up the deficit to "go fuck themselves with a rusty saw."

    8. Do you disagree those job numbers and increases in jobs reflect "bullshit" jobs? (low-paid service sector jobs.) Do you really think I don't have proof of that?

      What about the word "huge"? Can you prove there's a huge difference between being unemployed and having a $12 an hour job? There is a difference but why would you say it's huge? Where's your proof that there's a huge difference?

      I only ask because they are still very poorly paid, have limited access to very, very overpriced credit, are part of a constituency that has not seen a pay raise in a generation.

      That's why they voted for Trump. And you are now sitting in your gated community telling them how hugely great their $12 an hour jobs are and how it reflects so positively on Trump?

      Brother, that ain't the bargain Trump struck with them. The people who take the bullshit jobs of which you speak so highly of do so out of desperation. It may marginally make a difference but they know they have zero access to the American dream. They are on a treadmill to nowhere and they know it.

      You and Trump can fool them omce, but twice, that's going to be difficult.

    9. The best thing you have going for you is that, just like you and just like Trump, a majority of Democrats are not interested in offering any solutions or openings to the American dream for them either.

    10. Gargle,
      Don't sell the voter suppression short, when pointing out things Republicans have going for themselves.

  4. Somerby knows nothing whatsoever about psychology or psychiatry yet he has such disrespect for the field that he thinks he knows how to diagnose Trump without any training or knowledge about mental illness. Hubris.

    This arises because Somerby that anything he considers sufficiently weird must be a sign of "mental illness". It doesn't work that way. If he read even the preface of a book about Abnormal Psychology, he might understand what these two guests were talking about, especially with respect to stigmatizing the mentally ill.


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