WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 11, 2021
Do Collins and Milbank lack skills?: Yesterday afternoon, Joseph R. Biden, a veteran pol, made a rookie mistake.
He let a bunch of American journalists ask him several questions. When American pols make that rookie mistake, it frequently doesn't turn out well.
After a bit of clarification, the initial question posed to Biden was perfectly sensible. The question involved the ten-year tenure of New York governor Andrew Cuomo.
In the exchange we're discussing, Biden tried to clarify what he was being asked. With his prods toward clarification included, that question went like this:
REPORTER (8/10/21): Mr. President, if I may? Ironically, one of the Democrats, through the years, that you spoke with about infrastructure the most was Andrew Cuomo, who announced he's resigning today. You had traveled New York with him when you were vice president to the launch of the reconstruction of LaGuardia.
He was someone who supported your campaign early on, though you called on him to resign, though you condemned the alleged behavior. But you're someone who spends a lot of time with mayors and governors. How would you assess his 10 and a half years as governor of the state?
BIDEN: In terms of his personal behavior or what he's done as a governor?
REPORTER: What he's done as a governor.
Biden sought a bit of clarification—and he got it! He was asked to evaluate what Cuomo "has done as a governor." He wasn't asked to evaluate the "personal behavior" on the basis of which Cuomo will be stepping down.
It was clear what the veteran pol had been asked. After receiving the clarification, he offered his assessment:
BIDEN (continuing directly): Well, he's done a hell of a job, he's done a hell of a job. And I mean both on everything from access to voting, to infrastructure, to a whole range of things. That's why it's so sad.
Last question, right here.
Concerning "what he's done as a governor," the veteran pol said that Cuomo "has done a hell of a job." He said that's why Cuomo's resignation, due to that personal behavior, was so sad.
Inappropriate behavior to the side, has Cuomo been a good governor? We have no well-developed idea, but we'd be inclined to assume that he's been mediocre at best.
That said, the question to Biden was quite specific. Also, it's easy to understand what he actually said.
It's easy to understand what Biden said—unless the American press is involved! Moments later, this challenge was posed:
COLLINS: Can I quickly follow up on your comment on Governor Cuomo? Can you really say that he has done, quote, "a hell of a job" if he's accused of sexually harassing women on the job?
The question came from CNN's Kaitlan Collins. We've fulsomely praised her work at certain times in the past. Concerning that particular question and what followed, we can only say this:
Instantly, Biden must have realized that he'd made the classic rookie mistake. He'd appeared in public, with cameras rolling, and he'd allowed our mainstream journalists to ask him several questions.
Concerning these high-profile journalists, let it be said that they've often "gone to the finest schools," much as Dylan once said. That said, it often seems that they fall a bit short in the realm we're inclined to describe as the realm of Daily Logic.
Instantly, Biden realized that he'd made the classic mistake. Now he tried to save himself—but this latest auto-da-fe unfolded exactly like this:
BIDEN (continuing directly): You asked me two questions. You asked the substantive—
Should he remain as governor is one question. And women should be believed when they make accusations that are able to, on the face of them, make sense, and investigate it, they're investigated. And the judgment was made that what they said was correct.
That's one thing. The question is, did he do a good job on infrastructure? That was the question. He did.
COLLINS: Well, the question was, How did he do as a governor?
BIDEN: No, the question was, correct me if I'm wrong—
ORIGINAL REPORTER: About how was he as a governor generally. Outside of his personal behavior.
BIDEN: Outside of his personal behavior. Okay.
COLLINS: Can you separate the two? Since—
BIDEN: No, I wouldn't. I was asked a specific question. I'm trying to answer specifically. What do you want to ask me specifically?
COLLINS: Well, I'd like to ask you about infrastructure as well...
Again, we regard that performance by Collins as sad. That said, there's no ultimate way to render such assessments.
There's no ultimate way to assess such conduct—and at some point, the rest of the press corps may feel inclined to wade in. This very morning, we became aware of this exchange because it was featured by MSNBC early in the 5 A.M. hour, right at the start of the channel's live broadcast day.
The excerpt the channel chose to air seemed to show a veteran pol floundering in the face of some aggressive questioning. We had to turn to the transcript at Rev to get the fuller picture of what had actually occurred.
When we did, we saw a striking lack of Daily Logic, perhaps inflected with a dollop of "gotcha." What we saw struck us as sad, but also as sadly typical.
These upper-end journalists today! They've frequently gone to the finest schools, Quite often, you wouldn't know it.
That's especially true when they're advancing some favorite issue or policy position, or when they're pursuing some official press target. At such times, their access to basic Daily Logic may seem quite fragile indeed.
We see this unhelpful characteristic in various news reports and opinion columns in this morning's Washington Post. In some cases, certain relevant facts aren't presented. Elsewhere, bogus facts have been included, helping drive home preferred frameworks.
Always, the lack of Daily Logic! For a particularly sad example, consider Dana Milbank's new column.
Milbank went to one of the finest schools. He was even Skull and Bones!
Today, Milbank writes about the presentation made by Cuomo when he announced that he'd be resigning. More specifically, he writes about the presentation made by Rita Glavin, Cuomo's lawyer.
After reading Milbank's column, we compared what he had written to the full transcript of Glavin's remarks. We were struck by the lack of moral and intellectual sophistication the journalist had put on display.
In today's column, Milbank is all in on Good versus Evil. This very much tends to be the way our journalists play.
That said, we were struck by the childishness of Milbank's presentation, We were struck by how much of Glavin's presentation he simply brushed aside—by how many possibilities he simply chose to ignore.
For our money, Glavin's remarks were far more interesting that Milbank's column. But that column's lack of sophistication lies at the heart of the way our journalists tend to play.
What did Andrew Cuomo actually do in the various cases under review? At this site, we aren't really able to tell you.
It's possible that Cuomo has engaged in conduct which is worse than the conduct described in Attorney General Letitia James' formal report. It's also possible that attorney Glavin made some sensible points.
Milbank tells the simplest story—the story involving one villain. We're sorry to complicate your world, but the following possibilities could all be true. Many of these possibilities could be true at the same time:
1) It's possible that some of Cuomo's specific denials are accurate. It's also possible that none of them are.
2) It's possible that some accusations against Cuomo are inaccurate. It's possible that none of them are.
3) It's possible that one or more of Cuomo's accusers has been acting in bad faith. It's also possible that the accusers have all been completely sincere.
4) It's possible that Cuomo wasn't acting with the motives imputed to him. It's also possible that he was.
5) It's possible that political motivations of various kinds may have tilted the way the investigation was conducted. It's also possible that the investigation was conducted in perfect good faith.
It's possible that Cuomo has been acting in total bad faith as he responds to these claims. It's possible that James has been acting in some degree of bad faith too.
They could each be acting in some degree of bad faith at the same time! Also, each could be sincere.
It may be that James has behaved in total good faith. Also, it's possible that attorney Glavin believes every claim she has made, and believes in the value of every objection she has raised.
Many possibilities exist in such a complex case—unless you live in the childish realm in which we humans sometimes prefer to dwell, even after spending four years at one of the finest schools.
It's possible that there were some thumbs on the scale as the probe was conducted. Consider this post by David Freedlander, which says that James is now positioned to be the front-runner in a 2022 or 2026 gubernatorial run.
(Freedlander suggests no misconduct by James.)
After that, consider this post by Irin Carmon! Imaginably, many motives could be floating around the state of New York in this multifaceted case.
Is it possible that some thumbs were on the scales during this probe? Is it possible that some accounts by some accusers may be significantly inaccurate?
Of course those things are possible! Except in the childish realm which produced Milbank's stirring headline:
Cuomo could have departed with dignity. Instead, he sicced his lawyer on his accusers.
He sicced his lawyer on his accusers! Our question—if a politician knows that some accusation is false, is his lawyer permitted to say so?
Has Cuomo misbehaved in the ways described? We can't personally tell you.
It could be that his conduct has been even worse! Of course, that's also true of Milbank himself, and of everyone else.
We've watched this press corps for 23 years as it has struggled with bone-simple matters of Daily Logic. Within this remarkably unimpressive guild, the basic elements of Daily Logic tend to be honored in the breach.
What does any of this have to do with books which try to make Einstein easy? You're asking a very good question!
We'll continue with that question tomorrow. For today, we'll leave it at this:
Biden made a rookie mistake, and Collins entered the breach. She's been superb at times in the past. We'd call yesterday's questioning sad.
Ditto for someone at MSNBC—for whoever chose to rush (one part of) yesterday's videotape on the air. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we humans need help with our logic, and our logicians, such as they are, seem to have walked off their posts.
Tomorrow: Philosophy profs choose top book