FRIDAY, MAY 12, 2023
How quickly they forget: "Time passes slowly up here in the mountains," the famous songwriter once claimed.
Down here, on the plains outside Troy, events now tend to move at lightning speed.
Since we started this week's report, a federal jury in New York City found that Donald J. Trump had sexually abused E. Jean Carroll, and also that he had defamed her.
The very next night, that very same Donald J. Trump starred on TV for more than hour! Here's part of what happened there:
GOLDMACHER ET AL (5/12/23): In little over an hour, Donald J. Trump suggested the United States should default on its debts for the first time in history, injected doubt over the country’s commitment to defending Ukraine from Russia’s invasion, dangled pardons for most of the Capitol rioters convicted of crimes, and refused to say he would abide by the results of the next presidential election.
The second-term vision Mr. Trump sketched out at a CNN town-hall event on Wednesday would represent a sharp departure from core American values...
For the record, Donald J. Trump isn't required to hold any particular position regarding Russia's brutal war on Ukraine.
Will he "abide by the results of the next election?" It seems to us that his statements concerning that particular matter were a bit more nuanced than this New York Times account suggests.
On the other hand, Trump engaged in endless ridiculous conduct as CNN's "town hall" proceeded. Is it time for these corporate news orgs to stop manufacturing events of this type? Is it time to let the two parties stage such events, then simply report on what happens?
All in all, the blinding stupidity of Wednesday's "town hall" was its defining characteristic.
On the one hand, reactions from the audience help us see what can happen as part of the "democratization of media"—when millions of citizens get their "information" from blindingly partisan "news sources."
Then too, there was the spectacular dumbness—and the occasional ugliness—of Donald Trump's various statements and claims. This shows how hard it's going to be for news orgs to cover his coming campaign.
Trump's crazy and occasionally ugly claims are going to continue. As they do, millions of people will continue to believe that his factual statements are accurate, and that his larger claims are true.
All in all, this is the public discourse we've chosen. As we've noted in the past, we don't see an easy way out of this profit-driven, Babel-adjacent mess.
Back on Monday, before that verdict and before that town hall, we had decided to start a discussion of what we'd call "songs sung blue." By Tuesday, we'd begun to focus on the phenomenon widely described, though only by experts, as Creative Paraphrase Drift.
As best we can tell, the paraphrase in question started last Thursday, over at Vanity Fair. As we noted yesterday, the paraphrase started like this:
Trump Doubled Down on the Right to Sexually Assault People...in Insane Deposition
As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Donald Trump is currently on trial for rape, and so far the civil case has not appeared to be going in his favor. Of course, no one knows which way jurors may be leaning—but presumably, taped testimony they heard today did not paint him in a great light, as it featured the ex-president doubling down on his claim that if you’re “a star,” it’s fine to sexually assault people—and then insulting E. Jean Carroll’s attorney’s looks.
Videotaped excerpts from Trump's deposition had been played in court that day. According to that paraphrase, Trump had made a remarkable statement on that videotape:
According to that paraphrase, Trump had said it's OK—even fine—to sexually assault someone as long as you're a star! In that way, he had "doubled down" on what he said, in 2005, on the Access Hollywood tape.
Trump makes strange statements all the time—but had he really said that? If so, you'd think that everyone would have reported the fact that he made this remarkable statement—but over the course of the next several days, pretty much nobody did.
The New York Times didn't report that Trump had made that remarkable statement. Neither did the Washington Post or the Associated Press.
Thursday night, on CNN, Anderson Cooper didn't report that Trump had made that remarkable statement. On Friday, the mystery deepened.
On Friday, videotape of Trump's deposition became available for public viewing and use. Certain excerpts were widely discussed—but once again, on Friday night's program, Anderson Cooper didn't report that Donald J. Trump had made the remarkable statement first described by an entertaining writer over at Vanity Fair.
That's pretty much where matters stood by the end of last week. That said, the paraphrase seemed to have spread to one major "cable news" show.
The paraphrase seemed to have spread to MSNBC's Deadline: White House. On Friday afternoon's show, Nicolle Wallace began the 5 o'clock hour by playing tape from the deposition, then by offering this:
WALLACE (5/5/23): Hi, everyone. It is 5 o'clock in New York. This is the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, who thinks, as of today, that he is a star and that stars can do that.
It's part of the newly released deposition of the disgraced, twice-impeached, once-indicted ex-president, doubling down, under oath, and now in front of the entire country and world, on comments he first made, as far as we know, on the Access Hollywood tape about where you can grab women.
Wallace was doubling down on the claim that Trump had doubled down on Access Hollywood. As she spoke with four of her "favorite reporters and friends," the nature of the group accusation became abundantly clear.
As is the norm in "cable news," Wallace's friends all agreed with what their host had said. Below, you see the transcript of Wallace calling the roll. Then, you see the series of assessments offered by her favorite friends:
WALLACE: The twice impeached, disgraced, indicted ex-president, on video and under oath, is where we begin the hour with some of our favorite reporters and friends.
Legal analyst and MSNBC host Katie Chang is here. Also joining us, Maya Wiley, former assistant U.S. attorney, now the president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Charlie Sykes is back, he's the editor at the Bulwark, and New York Times investigative reporter Susanne Craig is here.
WALLACE: It is an admission that the act of grabbing a woman between the legs is something that he believes today that—that deposition was in October, so he believed in October that it was something he could do, because stars could do that and when asked under oath, "Are you a star," he said yeah. It's an incredible admission of conduct he believes he can carry out today.
CRAIG: ...I think today we're seeing, with the release of this tape, you're seeing in his own words in fact that he feels that it is the right of a star to do that, that they've been doing it forever and that everybody knows that they can just take what they want in this context.
It was "an incredible admission," Wallace said. Plainly, Susanne Craig agreed—but so did everyone else:
WALLACE: I don't know that there is a confession on tape as stark as Trump saying that he today, as he stands trial in this civil case, for sexual assault, believes that today he could still carry out the act of grabbing women between the legs. Are you aware of any such confession?
PHANG: ,,,From a legal perspective, you can't get any more clear. He says that he was allowed to do it because he thought that he was a star...And when he's under oath on a videotaped deposition setting,,..the jury could still see and hear very palpably the lack of contrition and the embracing by a defendant who has been accused of civil rape and defamation that he thinks it is OK, that it is given to him because he is some sort of a deity because he has stardom in his pocket.
WILEY: We have to start thinking about [rape] as violence and recognizing it's an abuse of power. And that is part of the point about the Access Hollywood tape, and Donald Trump doubling down on it is, "I got the power, I'm the star, I can do what I want."
SYKES: I have to say it is remarkable to imagine anyone looking at that man in that video, listen to him essentially smirkingly say, "Yeah, I'm a star and I'm able to grab women any time I want" and throwing out these insults and thinking "Yeah, that man should be president, much less a role model."
All the favorites agreed with the host, as is the norm in tribal cable. Along the way, Trump's admission had become a confession—and it's obvious what was being said.
What was being said was the very thing that had been said the day before at Vanity Fair:
Donald J. Trump had "doubled down" on his Access Hollywood comments. He had once again said that, because he's a star, he has the right to grab women in the manner he had described in 2005.
What an amazing thing for Donald J. Trump to have said! Also amazing is the fact that the New York Times and the Washington Post hadn't reported his statement!
Meanwhile, Anderson Cooper didn't report the statement on Thursday or Friday nights! By Monday night, though, he was on script. By then, the phenomenon known as Creative Paraphrase Drift had washed ashore at his CNN program.
Tomorrow, we'll show you what Cooper said on Monday night. We'll also show you, once again, what Trump is actually shown actually saying in the actual videotaped excerpt.
Eventually, the paraphrase drifted and spread quite far. In our view, the paraphrase is, in fact, significantly creative.
We don't think it's a reasonable account of what Trump actually said. For now, one more confession:
When we watched that bit of tape, we didn't think that Donald J. Trump was doubling down on the idea that he can do whatever he wants.
Instead, we thought of Matt and Charlie and Mark, but also of Bill and Roger. We also thought of Harvey Weinstein, and perhaps of Bill Cosby.
Inevitably, we thought of the time-honored "casting couch."
We thought of the way our mainstream journalists rushed to pretend that they hadn't known what Matt and Charlie had been doing. We thought about the extremely sickly feminism and sexual politics on display within our mainstream press corps over the past thirty years.
We thought about how phony these people seem to be.
We thought about the war they conducted for twenty-five years—the war which ended up sending Donald J. Trump to the White House. That war didn't start with Emailgate. It had started long before, with a large and largely ignored amount of misogyny-adjacent behavior.
Blue residents, please listen up! Powerful men have been doing that sort of thing for something like a million years.
"How quickly these horrible hirelings forget," we skillfully said to the analysts.
Tomorrow: Is that really what Donald Trump said? And why should anyone care?