WHAT IS TRUTH?: Lawrence O'Donnell tries it again!


Elsewhere, incoherence: Last night, indefatigably, Lawrence tried it again.

In an earlier life, Lawrence was a high-level Senate staffer. He understands that body's arcane procedures. He understands its peculiar language. 

Lawrence understands such matters. As our journalists keep proving this week, almost no one else does.

Right at the start of last night's show, Lawrence tried it again! He tried to explain Tuesday's Senate vote, in which 55 senators voted one way while 45 voted the other.

The vote has been regarded as very important, but what were the senators actually voting on? Like silly Sisyphus pushing his rock, Lawrence decided to try it again, right at the start of his program:

O'DONNELL (1/27/21): Well yesterday, the Senate voted to proceed to the impeachment trial of Donald Trump without first debating whether it is constitutional to have an impeachment trial of a president who has already left office.

That is actually what they voted on. They did not vote on whether to have a trial at all. It never came to that point in the voting, never got even close to that.

The Senate is going to have that debate about the constitutionality of impeaching a president after the president's left office, or having the impeachment trial. But yesterday, 55 senators, including five Republicans, voted to have that debate during the trial, not before the trial. 

That's all that happened yesterday—the question of the timing of when to have that debate.

It has been reported as something bigger than that, but that's not what happened. It's simply about do we debate this now, or do we debate this later.

Lawrence simplified his remarks from Tuesday night as he tried it again. Specifically, he dropped his discussion about the Senate lingo in which a debate or discussion is said to have been "tabled."

To some extent, Lawrence dumbed his discussion down. But once again, he tried to explain what the Senate had actually voted on when it held that Tuesday vote. 

According to Lawrence, the 45 were voting to debate the question of constitutionality right now, as opposed to later. Because the 55 voted the other way, that debate will now be held as part of the actual trial.

"It has been reported as something bigger than that," Lawrence said, "but that's not what happened."

Once again, Lawrence tried. As he continued, he even seemed to suggest that there still might be 17 Republican votes for conviction during the actual trial. 

That strikes us as extremely unlikely. But Wednesday's vote doesn't rule it out.

Given his knowledge of Senate procedure and Senate lingo, Lawrence once again tried to explain what had been voted on. According to Lawrence, the Senate had voted to delay the debate about constitutionality—to make it part of the actual Senate trial.

"It has been reported as something bigger than that," Lawrence said. When he did, mordant chuckles were heard across the rolling landscape of our sprawling campus. 

Tuesday's vote "has been reported as something bigger than that?" Indeed, the vote has been described as something bigger than that all over MSNBC, the corporate clubhouse from which Lawrence's broadcast airs on weekday nights. 

It even happened last night! One hour after Lawrence offered his second explanation, the vote was "reported as something bigger than that" by Brian Williams. 

Three minutes into his own program, Williams offered this account of Tuesday's Senate vote:

WILLIAMS (1/27/21): Yesterday, most Republican senators voted against moving ahead with the trial. A narrow majority voted to move forward...Minority leader Mitch McConnell remains publicly noncommittal on conviction although he did vote to toss out the House impeachment case.

"That's not what happened," Lawrence had said, exactly one hour earlier. 

According to Williams, McConnell had voted "to toss out the case," but he still might vote for conviction! No, that doesn't quite seem to make sense. In fairness, his hair was perfect.

Early this morning, the vote was "reported as something bigger than that" by Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski. "Only five Republicans voted to move forward with the impeachment trial," Mika excitingly said at 6:54 A.M. Eastern.

Also, the vote is "reported as something bigger than that" all over this morning's New York Times and Washington Post, Our Town's most beloved newspapers.

We in Our Town are inclined to believe the things we read in those papers. But alas! Here's the way the vote is described in this morning New York Times, in a News Analysis piece by Fandos and Martin:

FANDOS AND MARTIN (1/28/21):  Three times in recent weeks, as Republicans grappled with a deadly attack on the Capitol and their new minority status in Washington, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky carefully nudged open the door for his party to kick Donald J. Trump to the curb, only to find it slammed shut.

So his decision on Tuesday to join all but five Republican senators in voting to toss out the House’s impeachment case against Mr. Trump as unconstitutional seemed to be less a reversal than a recognition that the critical mass of his party was not ready to join him in cutting loose the former president...

Like Brian, Fandos and Martin said that McConnell (and the 44 others) had been "voting to toss out the House’s impeachment case against Mr. Trump."

Lawrence keeps explaining that no, "that's not what happened." Inevitably, though, that's what it says in the New York Times analysis piece, and in the only letter the Times chose to run on this topic today.

(The letter starts by referring to "the vote by Republican senators against holding an impeachment trial." To read  it, just click here.)

Over at the Washington Post, we find at least three different attempts to explain what the senators voted on. All three accounts strike us as rather murky. All three tend to make Tuesday's vote sound like "something bigger" than Lawrence keeps saying it was.

McConnell voted to toss out the impeachment case, but he might still vote for conviction! Such puzzlements tend to go right down when they're offered on the corporate channel where the stars and the contributors both are among our own favorite friends.

That said, the incoherence of these accounts is nothing unusual. It's the modern-day journalistic norm, even over here in Our Town, where we denizens tend to feel that we actually are "the rational animal."

This incoherence has long been the reliable journalistic norm as our nation slides toward the sea. In the current instance, the only break from the norm is being offered by Lawrence:

It very unusual to see someone say that everyone else has it wrong! Dearest darlings, it just isn't done! It hasn't been done for decades.

For our money, it's very unlikely that Donald J. Trump will be convicted at his impeachment trial. For better or worse, that will leave the former commander "acquitted" and equipped with a new talking-point.

Some Republicans may vote to convict, but we'll guess that very few will. In part, that's because of the constant talk about finding ways to disqualify Trump from running in 2024, the peculiar part of the ongoing deal which never gets discussed.

We began planning this site in 1997. One trigger was the endless, incoherent debate about Newt Gingrich's Medicare proposal.

Was Gingrich proposing "cuts" to the Medicare program? Or was he simply "slowing the rate at which the program would grow?"

Night after night, then month after month, our upper-end scribes tried to puzzle it out. They kept debating the topic on Crossfire, creating gigantic amounts of confusion as they stumbled along.

No one could say what the truth really was. When it came to a search for the truth, that just wasn't one of their skills.

Our upper-end cadre just isn't real sharp. If we hope to stop our slide toward the sea, we need to acknowledge, and come to terms with, this very basic anthropological point.

Tomorrow: Biden cast as a liar

Still coming: What is truth in film?

Next week: At long last, truth in race


  1. "Our upper-end cadre just isn't real sharp."

    We have no idea of how sharp they are, but they sure are goebbelsian enough, dear Bob.

    And if you Lawrence dembot did get out of line and messed up any important cult-approved talking points, he'll be shown his place real soon, no doubt about that.

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  2. This is where excessive literalness gets you. Somerby is focused on the mechanism being used to delay or derail Trump's impeachment trial. He ignores the purpose of moving to debate the constitutionality of the process, tabling the trial itself. He ignores the larger purposes of the Republican Trump supporters, so that he can reduce the vote to a trivial procedural matter.

    Somerby insists that nothing big was at stake. He is wrong. Bodies like congress use procedures to achieve specific aims. They are masters at it. But the goals of this particular maneuver matter and that is what all the others were reporting on. That is what Somerby refuses to talk about.

    And he is so wordy in doing so. He repeats himself over and over, using the same phrases repeatedly, without making any progress in his argument. As if he were being paid by the word. This is one of the least focused "reports" he has written in a long time. He could have summarized the procedural issue and explained the difference in one or two paragraphs, but he drones on and one.

    As Somerby claims that cable pundits aren't reporting the truth, he implies that he himself knows what truth is. If you believe that, I have a Q-Anon conspiracy to sell you. Somerby wouldn't tell the truth here if it fell off a tree and hit him on the head. He is shilling for the right, now trying to minimize the effort to derail impeachment (by debating constitutionality) that failed yesterday. This is pure gaslighting, not a search for truth, and 5 Republicans wanted to get on with the trial and not waste time in political games. That is what happened.

  3. "Biden cast as a liar"

    No, that isn't what the article says. It merely points out that everybody lies, something psychologists have known and said for decades. But that isn't the same as what Trump did, and the article says that too.

    Among politicians and human beings, Biden tilts toward the truthful side. It is misleading to have said, for two days now, that Biden is some kind of liar. He is not and it is misleading in the extreme to keep saying this.

    Don't get me started on The Atlantic. Their presentation of pseudo-controversies that will trigger the left is as shameless as the click bait Somerby complains about.

    By the way, Somerby has still said nothing whatsoever about Trump's attempted coup and the reasons for this latest impeachment trial. But Joe Biden might be a liar.

  4. Truth is not a matter of writing about things in the way Somerby prefers.

  5. Somerby is being absurd. If 45 Republican Senators voted that the trial is unconstitutional, it’s the same damn thing as saying what Brian Williams said: “most Republican senators voted against moving ahead with the trial.”

    They hardly voted that way to express their support for moving ahead with the trial.

  6. We are nearing 4,000 or more deaths a day from Covid according to Jake Tapper and many brilliant commenters on this site.

    And who could argue with them?

    After all, we've had 4,000 or more deaths every day in the last week except for last Friday, last Saturday, last Sunday, this Monday, yesterday and today.

    1. NY Times reported more than 4000 deaths today and yesterday. Not sure about previous days because I wasn't reading in order to memorize those stats, but I know that your statement about yesterday and today is wrong.

    2. According to the New York Times we went over 4,000 deaths a day every day last week.

      Except for last Friday, last Saturday, last Sunday, last Monday and today, Thursday, we will not go over 4,000.

      So 5 out of the last 7 days we have not gone over 4,000 deaths a day. 2 of those days we did not go over 2 thousand deaths. But we are "nearing" 4 thousand deaths a day according to Jake Tapper and the genius commenters here. It totally makes sense. You guys are SO smart!

    3. Go back and look up how many deaths were reported on those remaining days. I won't waste my time. If you were wrong about today and yesterday, I suspect you are wrong about the other days too. It seems likely that Somerby's precious rolling average will be above 4000, which supports Tapper's prediction.

    4. The stats are 100% correct. The precious rolling average will not be above 4,000 anytime in the next month if ever. The precious rolling average is the same today as it was a few days after Tapper made his hyperbolic prediction three weeks ago. Clearly, we are "nearing" 4 thousand deaths a day sometime soon.

      Or not.

    5. From the NY Times:

      New deaths on Jan 27 -- 4101
      New deaths on Jan 26 -- 4097
      New deaths on Jan 25 -- 1907
      New deaths on Jan 24 -- 1815
      New deaths on Jan 23 -- 3731
      New deaths on Jan 22 -- 2021
      New deaths on Jan 21 -- 4135

      The 23 & 24 were the weekend, the 22 was a Friday. MLK birthday was Jan 20.

      If you look at the curve of deaths, it is trending up, not down and not flat, increasing steadily. It is currently at its highest point and still going up. There is no reason to mock Tapper's prediction. There is also no reason to prefer Somerby's rolling average when you can look at a graph of the daily totals and see how covid deaths are trending.

      Stats are only as good as the person interpreting them. Somerby has ulterior motives and his complaints are specious.

    6. https://www.google.com/search?q=coronavirus+deaths+january+27%2C+2021&oq=coronavirus+deaths+january+27%2C+2021&aqs=chrome..69i57j33i299.9158j1j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

    7. Correction, MLK day was Monday the 18th. There were no holidays during the 7 days listed above.

    8. While you are at it, remember that covid increase is exponential, not linear.

    9. Are we nearing 4,000 deaths a day? We've only had over 4k deaths a day 10 times in the entire pandemic.

      When will we have 4,000 deaths a day? We didn't have it this week. We didn't have it last week. We won't have it next week or the week after.

      If there's no reason to use Somerby's rolling average, why does the NYT prominently display it?

      We'll have to see. There's a chance your prediction won't come true at all.

      As you know new cases are falling and as you know deaths follow new cases by about a month. So, it's likely you are wrong on this one.

      Please let me know when your and Tapmaster's prediction comes true, if it ever does.

    10. "While you are at it, remember that covid increase is exponential, not linear."

      Thanks for the tip!!! So, when will the prediction become true do you think? (If it ever does.)

    11. According to mh's figures below, it took a month and a half to go from 2000 to 3000 deaths per day (on average).

      I would say that it all depends on whether you keep wearing your mask or not.

  7. In the old, old days, news articles reported what happened. Opinion pieces reported what it means.

    In the old days, news article reported what happened and also reported what it means.

    Today, news articles report only what it means.

    1. This makes a nice epigram, but it isn't true.

      For example, in the old, old days, a newspaper would report that someone had won an election to office. They would simply report how many votes for this guy and how many votes for that one. They would tell you what the vote totals meant.

      When the Hindenburg crashed, they told you about the lives lost, the survivors and the reasons for the crash. The reported on the horror of those who watched it explode in flames and crash. They didn't simply report the facts about bad weather causing a build-up of an electrostatic charge igniting hydrogen. And that was 80 years ago.

      Today, people are watching the GameStop crisis in the stock market. They are reporting about hedge funds going bankrupt (what it means), not explaining the mechanics of short selling. That is what the press has done all along, because people don't want to know the details only, but also rely on news reports to place events in context and report their meaning.

      Opinion pieces are about controversy, always have been and still are.

  8. “Some Republicans may vote to convict, but we'll guess that very few will. In part, that's because of the constant talk about finding ways to disqualify Trump from running in 2024, the peculiar part of the ongoing deal which never gets discussed.”

    Sure. Makes perfect sense. If they could only convict without disqualifying him, surely they would!
    Only, wouldn’t you know, conviction after impeachment automatically disqualifies him, according to the rag known as the constitution.

    Somerby’s thinking is twisted in so many convoluted ways that it resembles a Möbius strip.

    1. Somerby says: "...the peculiar part of the ongoing deal which never gets discussed.”

      How are the consequences of Trump's wrongdoing a deal? There is no deal being negotiated, especially not in the sense of a plea bargain. This trial is about whether he did the things he was charged with, or didn't. It is about holding Trump accountable.

  9. Here is what Rand Paul said:
    "If the accused is no longer president, where is the constitutional power to impeach him? Private citizens don't get impeached. Impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office," he said.

    That logic will get you a gig at TDH.

    (The president was impeached while he was still in office.)

    1. Liberal Constitutional scholar Dershowitz, who knows a lot more than you and I, agrees with Bob.

    2. You know what, David, I doubt you have any idea what mh knows in life. You can only speak for yourself about that. Dershowitz has lost the respect of the legal profession and is pretty much a joke (as a legal scholar) these days. He has been blatantly supporting Trump these last few years and there is no reason to believe his comments are anything more than partisan support for the ex-president.

    3. @6:28 Dershowitz never supported Trump. He always voted Democratic and publicly said so.

      Dershowitz sometimes supported Trump's position when he thought it was legally correct. He's a liberal with integrity.

    4. David, I don’t have to know anything esoteric to understand that Paul is full of shit. He said “Private citizens don't get impeached.” Trump wasn’t a private citizen when he was impeached. McConnell refused to have the trial until after Trump left.

      Paul and McConnell are perfect examples of bad faith Republican shitheads.

    5. From a website called Above the Law:

      "Fox News loves putting Alan Dershowitz on TV so they can trumpet that he’s a “Democrat” willing to support Donald Trump and complain about Black Lives Matter. Without his purported Democratic affiliation, Dershowitz is another generic MAGAhead, a distinction that could force Dershowitz to face the worst fate imaginable: not being on TV.

      But Dershowitz is also cast as a Johnny-come-lately to the right-wing ecosphere which keeps him just alienated enough from his new audience. That appears to be a bit of a problem for him, so, weary of his brand as a Democrat in name only, Dershowitz is now going all Endgame to repair the timeline of his own life so he can be his current flavor of quasi-Republican all along. Just one who was viciously tricked by the Democrats."


      I'll bet Somerby and Dershowitz could find a lot of common ground.

    6. New deaths on Jan 28 -- 3868

    7. Commencing a string of days under 4,000 that will last 5 or 6 days.

  10. @5:35
    Here was Somerby, doing his “statistics are hard” shtick, complaining about Maddow:

    “Are we heading, very quickly, toward three thousands deaths every day? In a sense, yes we are! But we'll have to get to two thousand deaths per day first!”

    (Covid statistics are very hard!



    That was waaaay back on December 3. According to the CDC, the number of daily deaths surpassed 3000 on January 19 of this year. Maddow’s prediction came true within a month and a half.

    What does Somerby think he’s proving with this endless quibbling?

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