MADNESS: The smell of napalm in the morning!

SATURDAY, APRIL 13, 2024

The NewsHour meets Berliner: Can Blue America's votaries be a tiny bit devious too?

If Stephanie Saul has it right today, so it might possibly seem. On the front page of today's New York Times print edition, her news report starts like this:

State Bans on D.E.I. Prompt Universities to Rebrand Their Efforts

At the University of Tennessee, the campus D.E.I. program is now called the Division of Access and Engagement.

Louisiana State University also rebranded its diversity office after Jeff Landry, a Trump-backed Republican, was elected governor last fall. Its Division of Inclusion, Civil Rights and Title IX is now called the Division of Engagement, Civil Rights and Title IX.

And at the University of Oklahoma, the diversity office is now the Division of Access and Opportunity.

In what appears to be an effort to placate or, even head fake, opponents of diversity and equity programs, university officials are relaunching their D.E.I. offices under different names, changing the titles of officials, and rewriting requirements to eliminate words like “diversity” and “equity.” In some cases, only the words have changed.

That sounds a bit dishonest to us. Online, the dual headlines say this:

With State Bans on D.E.I., Some Universities Find a Workaround: Rebranding
Welcome to the new “Office of Access and Engagement.” Schools are renaming departments and job titles to try to preserve diversity programs.

Education elites have played these kinds of games before. Sometimes, they've done so in ways which have encouraged black kids to stay in their lower-performing urban schools, avoiding the challenges and opportunities found in academic / admission high schools.

(Perhaps with the noblest of intentions, these games were devised so Blue America's education elites could skirt prevailing law.)

Elsewhere, Atlanta teachers and principals staged so-called "erasure parties," doctoring results of statewide testing programs. Fani Willis sent some of them to jail.

In Blus America, we can be devious too. It isn't just the termagant Gutfeld and them, though they are creating an art form.

That said, how about fairness and balance? On page A11 of today's same Times, we read about Kari Lake's flip on abortion rights in the state she loves. 

Online, the headlines read like this. We'd call those headlines accurate, though perhaps a bit soft and mild-mannered:

Kari Lake Backs G.O.P. Effort to Drop 1864 Abortion Law in Favor of 15-Week Ban
The Senate candidate and Donald Trump ally is supporting a handful of state Republicans who have backed away from a near-total ban that was upheld by the State Supreme Court this week.

After checking all the links, we would (almost) agree to let it be said that Lake is lying when she says that she never meant to say what she actually said about the "incredible law" she plainly endorsed all through her failed Senate campaign in 2022—the incredible law from 1864, the incredible law which allowed virtually zero abortions.

(We'd almost let that word be used. We might be more inclined to say that it's very, very, very hard to believe that Candidate Lake is telling the truth—and that you, the voters of Arizona, have to decide what you think about that.

As it turns out, we humans are sometimes inclined to be less than perfectly honest! In fact, we can even remember the time when Rachel Maddow swore, for the first half hour of a Monday night, that she had no idea why she'd been challenged, on Meet the Press about her (plainly inaccurate) statements about the gender wage gap.

As of 8 o'clock that Monday night, it was very, very, very hard to believe that she was telling the truth. It remains very hard to believe today—but in Blue America, we faithful votaries almost surely tended to gulp her denial down.

Are we humans also wired to love the smell of napalm in the morning? Perhaps to resort to our fighting words, eager to bring on our next wholly necessary war?

Are we possibly wired to march off to war? In his lengthy introduction to Robert Fagles' 1990 translation of the Iliad, the late Professor Knox speaks at some length about Hector, the upstanding hero of Troy.

As we'll note on Monday, Hector was a family man—though viewed from the modern perspective, perhaps just up to a point. That said, also this, Professor Knox observing:

[T]he Iliad is a poem that celebrates the heroic values war imposes on its votaries...And though the warriors of the Iliad often rail against their condition, they can also enjoy to the full war's intoxicating excitements. 

They revel in the exultation of victory as they taunt a fallen adversary with threats of exposure of his corpse, or with a bitter sarcasm, as when Patroclus mocks one of his victims, who, his face crushed by a stone, dives from his chariot: "Look what a springy man, a nimble, flashy tumbler!" (Book 16, verse 868). 

Even Hector, by far the most civilized of all the warriors at Troy, can list with pride and a kind of joy his credentials as a seasoned fighter.

"War—l know it well, and the butchery of men.
Well l know, shift to the left, shift to the right
my tough tanned shield. That's what the real drill,
defensive fighting means to me. l know it all,
how to charge in the rush of plunging horses,
l know how to stand and fight to the finish,
twist and lunge in the War-god's deadly dance." 

By far, he was the most civilized of all the warriors who fought on the plains outside Troy. But even he may have reveled in taunting his opponents with bitter sarcasm, as quite a few commenters did in response to Kevin Drum's recent post about the quality of work being done at NPR.

Go ahead—scroll through the comments! Right from the opening exchange, you can see the kinds of taunting and name-calling which come from our more self-assured and war-inclined players, even over here within our own blue tribe. 

They call NPR's Uri Berliner names. They direct bitter sarcasm at the honesty and the intellectual ability of those who don't agree with their own perfect views, right down to the commas and colons.

Our blue tribe loves its fighting words—our smell of napalm in the morning. In our view, this behavior tends to be ugly, stupid, counterproductive—and yet, as Ezra Pound once said, And yet, this is you.

In the essay under review, NPR's Uri Berliner said that he voted against Donald Trump twice. We can't say whether that statement is true, but our votaries hurried right past it.

Barely stopping to smell the flowers, they rushed ahead to call-and-response performances of this familiar type:

COMMENTER: Sounds like Berliner is just another right-winger whining about "liberal bias" in the media, which usually turns out to be a bias toward the truth. The fact that he's "business editor" at NPR supports my view.

RESPONSE: Agreed. He’s just another MAGA asshole whining about easily and previously debunked news. Maybe he would be happier working for Fox News. I know as someone who occasionally gives my local NPR station some money, I personally would be much happier if he worked someplace else.

Dumb and angry all the way down, as we all are at times. That said, they're very, very sure of themselves. They seem to be sure that know what they know, and they seem to be sure that what they know is automatically true.

They seem to know that what they know is always and everywhere true. Everyone else is an asshole. There's no such thing as a different perspective—possibly a mistaken or imperfect perspective, but a different perspective laid out in good faith.

We humans have always been wired this way. We continue to behave in such ways until we train ourselves not to. 

We start our wars in such pleasing ways. We love our "fighting words."

For ourselves, we found little to work with in Berliner's essay, other than a list of the gent's opinions about the coverage of several major specific topics over the past seven years. In our view, Berliner thoroughly glossed those various topics—for example, saying this:

BERLINER (4/9/24): Like many unfortunate things, the rise of advocacy took off with Donald Trump. As in many newsrooms, his election in 2016 was greeted at NPR with a mixture of disbelief, anger, and despair. (Just to note, I eagerly voted against Trump twice but felt we were obliged to cover him fairly.) But what began as tough, straightforward coverage of a belligerent, truth-impaired president veered toward efforts to damage or topple Trump’s presidency. 

Persistent rumors that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia over the election became the catnip that drove reporting. At NPR, we hitched our wagon to Trump’s most visible antagonist, Representative Adam Schiff. 

Schiff, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, became NPR’s guiding hand, its ever-present muse. By my count, NPR hosts interviewed Schiff 25 times about Trump and Russia. During many of those conversations, Schiff alluded to purported evidence of collusion. The Schiff talking points became the drumbeat of NPR news reports.

But when the Mueller report found no credible evidence of collusion, NPR’s coverage was notably sparse. Russiagate quietly faded from our programming. 

There's a lot of hustle in that passage—flowery attempts at persuasion substituting for the tedium of  evidence. We refer to the verbal hustle about "catnip," and about "hitching our wagon" to an "ever-present muse" who created "the drumbeat" of the NPR's reporting.

It's hard to know what such language specifically means. In the meantime, riddle us this:

If Schiff was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, why wouldn't NPR have interviewed him on various occasions down through the many months or even perhaps through the years? 

Was something "wrong" with those interviews? Were other perspectives presented in other interviews—in other interviews which may then have been fact-checked and critiqued?

Schiff was interviewed 25 times? Over a period of how many years? Berliner tells an engaging tale, but he's sliding past information. He links to exactly one interview with Schiff—a total, complete nothingburger.

That passage, penned by Berliner himself, is an example of extremely weak journalism. Along the way, though, he did say this:

He did say that there were 87 Democrats on staff at central NPR—and exactly zero Republicans!

We can't verify that census, but those numbers do leap off the page. And according to the New York Times, this was the more general critique Berliner advanced in his essay:

NPR in Turmoil After It Is Accused of Liberal Bias

[...]

Uri Berliner, a senior business editor who has worked at NPR for 25 years, wrote in an essay published Tuesday by The Free Press, a popular Substack publication, that “people at every level of NPR have comfortably coalesced around the progressive worldview.”

Mr. Berliner, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, castigated NPR for what he said was a litany of journalistic missteps around coverage of several major news events, including the origins of Covid-19 and the war in Gaza. He also said the internal culture at NPR had placed race and identity as “paramount in nearly every aspect of the workplace.”

Is it true? In the years after Trump came into our lives, did “people at every level of NPR coalesce around the progressive worldview?” 

More specifically, did the internal culture at NPR place race and identity as “paramount in nearly every aspect of the workplace?"

Based on Berliner's essay, we can't answer those questions. He never makes a real attempt to support such claims in a specific way based on actual evidence concerning NPR's treatment of some specific topic.

That said, we'd been puzzled by a report on the PBS NewsHour dating back to late January. The report was broadcast by two journalists we're inclined to view quite favorably:

Trump deploys racist tactics as Biden rematch appears likely
Laura Barron-Lopez, Amna Nawaz. The PBS NewsHour, January 26, 2024.

We watched that broadcast in real time. To read the transcript or watch the tape, you can just click here.

We thought the journalism put on display that night was straight outta kindergarten. To our surprise and disappointment, the journalism seemed to have come from a Kindergarten Press Corps.

That said, the journalism served to advance the type of progressive, race-and-identity aligned cultural outlook to which that passage in the Times refers. Beyond that, it also tended to support our own Blue America's use of a world-famous fighting word.

In fairness, even Hector of the shining helmet loved the thrill of war! We'll return tomorrow to tell you what PBS said.

Spoiler alert! The assessments we offer tomorrow will be perfect, complete and true. All other assessments will be offered by assholes who are being dishonest and are liars, just as it ever has been.

Black kids were encouraged to stay in less challenging urban schools! We think of the contempt Willa Cather's narrator directed toward the Anglo men who refused to act on their attraction to the remarkably vibrant, good and decent, very beautiful immigrant girls. 

Tomorrow:  They found one man who said it!


MADNESS: The New York Times scans NPR!

FRIDAY, APRIL 12, 2024

But also, the flight of birds: Is this a form of madness? A possible second cousin to same?

Does it represent a possible dance of the fairies in the forest near Athens, Midsummer Night's Dream-wise? It's a front-page report in the New York Times on this very day!

Is this a lower-grade bout of madness? Print edition headline included, Vanesa Friedman's "CRITIC'S ESSAY" essay starts exactly like this:

A Battle for the White House, Fought With Beading and Silk

There were cherry blossoms. There were silk and glass butterflies. There were toasts. There was an entree inspired by a California roll and a performance by Paul Simon. But before that, there was the photo op, and the fashion.

On Wednesday evening, as the Bidens hosted Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and his wife, Yuko Kishida, at the fifth state dinner of the Biden administration,  Jill Biden, wearing an evening dress from Oscar de la Renta, stood with her husband to greet their guests of honor at the North Portico.

[...]

On a night meant to underscore another powerful relationship—that of the United States and Japan — and reaffirm the strength of that mutual commitment through political stagecraft, the [de la Renta] label was an apt choice.

And it suggested that Dr. Biden, who has not always seemed interested in the game of fashion diplomacy, is gearing up with every means at her disposal to help amplify her husband’s message, not just as president but as the Democratic presidential nominee as he faces off against an opponent who revels in the reality TV nature of politics—complete with costumes.

The election will be fought partly in pictures, and already the pictures are starting to tell a story, at least when it comes to the women involved...

There are five front-page reports in today's New York Times. One deals with the death O.J. Simpson. Another deals with Shohei Ohtani's translator.

This third report treats the way the fashion choices of the prospective first ladies might swing this year's White House campaign. Might that editorial judgment represent a form of madness? 

We're prepared to let you decide.

Full disclosure! According to the report's identity line, Vanessa Friedman "has been the fashion director and chief fashion critic for The Times since 2014." It isn't her fault that someone decided to put this manifest drivel on the newspaper's front page.

That said, is it a cousin to sobbing, floor-pounding, undisguised madness when major newspapers function this way? Are we secretly back on the plains before Troy, where we meet Thestor's gifted son right at the start of Book One?

So he proposed
and down he sat again as Calchas rose among them,
Thestor's son, the clearest by far of all the seers
who scan the flight of birds.

Calchas was "the clearest by far" at the task of "scanning the flight of birds!" Today, within our continuing human madness, so is the fashion director and chief fashion critic of the well-known New York Times.

On the front page of today's Business section, the Times starts scanning NPR. Beyond the bare bones of the matter, the report doesn't say a whole lot. It's a report about this week's allegations concerning the way NPR now rolls:

NPR in Turmoil After It Is Accused of Liberal Bias

NPR is facing both internal tumult and a fusillade of attacks by prominent conservatives this week after a senior editor publicly claimed the broadcaster had allowed liberal bias to affect its coverage, risking its trust with audiences.

Uri Berliner, a senior business editor who has worked at NPR for 25 years, wrote in an essay published Tuesday by The Free Press, a popular Substack publication, that “people at every level of NPR have comfortably coalesced around the progressive worldview.”

Mr. Berliner, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, castigated NPR for what he said was a litany of journalistic missteps around coverage of several major news events, including the origins of Covid-19 and the war in Gaza. He also said the internal culture at NPR had placed race and identity as “paramount in nearly every aspect of the workplace.”

Beyond the bare bones, this Times report doesn't say much. Its authors even skip past the most striking specific claim to emerge from Berliner's essay—his claim that a census of staffers at NPR's headquarters in D.C. yielded a count of 87 registered Democrats versus zero Republicans—none.

(As we noted yesterday: We can't swear that those numbers are accurate. But that's what Berliner reported, and such numbers do leap off a page.)

Is something wrong with the way NPR is currently sifting the news? More specifically, is it true that “people at every level of NPR have comfortably coalesced around the progressive worldview?"

Is it true that the internal culture at NPR has placed race and identity as “paramount in nearly every aspect of the workplace?" Also, would it necessarily be wrong if some such assertions were accurate?

There's no way to answer those questions from reading Berliner's lengthy but sprawling essay—an essay which makes no attempt to nail down the accuracy of any particular claim. (Given the complexities of the world, it would be very hard to do so.)

Also, there's no way to know such things from reading Kevin Drum's post about Berliner's essay, accurate though it may (or may not) be in the three basic points Kevin covers. 

There's no way to know such things from reading the report in today's New York Times. Meanwhile, the pseudo-discussion of Berliner's essay performed on the Gutfeld! program last night was among the stupidest imitations of journalism ever broadcast by a "cable news" provider. But that's pretty much the way it rolls in our pair of large nations now.

One other point:

There's no way to assess the merits of Berliner's claims from reading the comments to Kevin Drum's post. 

Tomorrow, we'll walk you through a recent report on the PBS NewsHour which did traffic in the kinds of flawed "progressive" journalism Berliner attributes to NPR, or so it will say around here. 

We thought the work was astoundingly bad. To our surprise, it was done by one of our favorite rising journalists, joined by one of the program's wholly respectable and experienced co-hosts.

That said, there's no way to tell, from reading the comments to Kevin's post, whether Berliner was making decent points about NPR's work in the age of Trump. By way of contrast:

From the instantly nasty tenor of quite a few of the comments, you can something about us the humans —about our possible attractions to various forms of madness, especially to the basic human impulses which tend to lead on to war.

In Book One of Europe's earliest extant poem of war, the madness is quickly apparent. 

Agamemnon, lord of men, instantly says he's been gripped by a madness. (Tears stream down as he does.) At the time of the lord of men's breakdown, he says this madness has held him in thrall for at least the prior nine years.

As usual, the men were fighting over which of two warring civilizations would maintain rights to Helen, radiance of women—the most beautiful woman in the world. Next week, we vastly more enlightened moderns start our own clown-car courtroom fight over access to our own failing nation's number-one, best-known "porn star!"

Can we learn to see ourselves more clearly in the twenty-four books of the Iliad? In the comments to Kevin's post, the eternal human drive toward war is quickly rather apparent.

Quite often, there's no such thing as good-faith disagreement within those poisonous comments. Like the silly Southern boys cavorting for Miss Scarlett before venturing off to meet their deaths at the hands of the Yankees, successors to the rage of Agamemnon insult and attack, with fighting words, those others who fail to create the most perfect speech and analysis.

Some of these poisonous attacks are "race and identity" all the way down. These are the impulses to war from within our own Blue America, not from the ugly, misogynistic clown-car which pulls up to the Fox News Channel at 10 o'clock each weekday night.

We're wired to march ourselves off to war! The practice is general over "cable news" now, though nowhere quite as much as on the truly astounding and primetime / primitive Gutfeld! imitation of human life.

We're wired to subdivide into nations, then to provoke a hot war. Can we see this tendency a bit more clearly if we return to the cultural setting surrounding that poem of war?

We take you now to the 1990 Robert Fagles translation—more specifically, to the Introduction to that translation penned by the late Bernard Knox.

At the time, Professor Knox was Director Emeritus of Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. According to the leading authority, he possessed subject matter awareness.

At one point in his lengthy essay, Professor Knox described the cultural norms—and the human impulses—of those Euro forefathers. As we start, he's speaking about "the Greeks of historic times who knew and loved Homer's [war] poem:"

The Trojan War

[...]

For them history began with a splendid Panhellenic expedition against an Eastern foe, led by kings and including contingents from all the more than one hundred and fifty places listed in the catalogue in Book 2 [of the Iliad]. History began with a war. That was an appropriate beginning, for the Greek city-states, from their first appearance as organized communities until the loss of their political independence, were almost uninterruptedly at war with one another. The Greek polis, the city-state, was a community surrounded by potential enemies, who could turn into actual belligerents at the first sign of aggression or weakness. The permanence of war is a theme echoed in Greek literature from Homer to Plato. We Achaeans, says Odysseus in the Iliad, are

"the men whom Zeus decrees, from youth to old age,
must wind down our brutal wars to the bitter end
until we drop and die, down to the last man. "

And in Plato's Laws the Cretan participant in the discussion says: "Peace is just a name. The truth is that every city-state is, by natural law, engaged in a perpetual undeclared war with every other city-state." 

There was no lack of declared wars, either. The citizens of Athens in the great century of Greek civilization, the fifth B.C., were at war, on land and sea, for more years than they were at peace. In the Louvre in Paris there is an inscription, dating from the early 450s [B.C.], that lists the names of 171 men of one of the ten Athenian tribes, who died "in war, on Cyprus, in Egypt, in Phoenicia. at Haliels. Aegina. Megara in the same year." Athens at this time was fighting not only the Persian Empire but also her former ally against Persia, Sparta and its Peloponnesian League. She had been fighting the Persians continually since 480 and Sparta since 460. In 448 she made peace with Persia and in 446 with Sparta and the League. But the peace lasted only fifteen years. In 431 the Peloponnesian War began, to end in 404 with the surrender of Athens and the loss of her naval empire.

Even in Athens' greatest century, its citizens found themselves embroiled in constant wars. Further establishing the cultural record, the madness found throughout the Iliad had apparently come into being, as a work of literature, three or four centuries earlier.

That earlier madness inspired the Achaeans to spend ten years (brutally) dying in the dust before the walls of Troy as they tried to get Helen back. Judging from the Fagles translation, she had engaged in her move to Troy voluntarily, as with the one (alleged) act of congress engaged in by our modern-day "porn star."

With respect to the surrender of Athens in 404 B.C., we turn now to the leading authority on the subject. Here's what happened next:

The Athenian Defeat

The overall effect of the war in Greece proper was to replace the Athenian Empire with a Spartan empire. After the battle of Aegospotami, Sparta took over the Athenian empire and kept all its tribute revenues for itself; Sparta's allies, who had made greater sacrifices in the war than had Sparta, got nothing.

For a short time, Athens was ruled by the Thirty Tyrants, a reactionary regime set up by Sparta. In 403 BC, the oligarchs were overthrown and a democracy was restored by Thrasybulus.

The Thirty ruled for less than a year. In the meantime, here's some of what happened in Athens, as Plato and Socrates watched:

The rule of the Thirty

With Spartan support, the Thirty established an interim government in Athens. They reestablished the Boule, a council composed of 500 members. They appointed other officials, including 10 men who would rule the port town of Piraeus on behalf of the Thirty, and hired 300 mastigophoroi, whip bearers who would act as a police force. The Thirty oversaw trials in the Boule against Athenian leaders who had opposed the peace with Sparta and sentenced them to death. They then tried and executed a number of "undesirables" within Athens...

Instead of drafting a new constitution, the Thirty instead ruled Athens themselves, similar to the Spartan Gerouisa. They limited citizenship and the right "to share in the government" to only 3,000 selected Athenians. These hand-selected individuals had the right to carry weapons, to have a jury trial, and to reside within city limits. The list of the selected 3,000 was constantly revised. Although little is known about these 3,000 men ‒ for a complete record was never documented ‒ it is hypothesized that the Thirty appointed these select few as the only men the Thirty could find who were devotedly loyal to their regime.

Led by Critias, the Thirty Tyrants presided over a reign of terror in which they executed, murdered, and exiled hundreds of Athenians, seizing their possessions afterward. Both Isocrates and Aristotle (the latter in the Athenian Constitution) have reported that the Thirty executed 1,500 people without trial. Critias, a former pupil of Socrates, has been described as "the first Robespierre" because of his cruelty and inhumanity; he evidently aimed to end democracy, regardless of the human cost. The Thirty removed criminals as well as many ordinary citizens whom they considered "unfriendly" to the new regime for expressing support for democracy. One of their targets was one of their own, Theramenes, whom Xenophon depicts as revolted by Critias' excessive violence and injustice and trying to oppose him. Critias accused Theramenes of conspiracy and treason, and then forced him to drink hemlock. 

Many wealthy citizens were executed simply so the oligarchs could confiscate their assets, which were then distributed among the Thirty and their supporters. They also hired 300 "lash-bearers" or whip-bearing men to intimidate Athenian citizens.

They hired 300 whip-bearing men! Welcome to downtown Teheran!

The silly Southern boys got off fairly easy. Within the four corners of Gone With The Wind, some of them, as they lay there dying or dead, were nursed by Miss Scarlett herself.

Has something gone wrong at NPR? Because we rarely follow its work, we have no way of knowing. That said:

To this very day, our deeply-rooted human impulses are often very "wrong." Nor are Blue America's highest-ranking journalists always masters of technical brilliance.

Even here in Blue America, we regular citizens may be inclined to use fighting words, urging all others to war. And when we respond to sudden changes in human events, our basic judgments and our basic analytical skills may not be especially strong.

We blues sometimes tend to go wrong! For that reason, as dumbfounding at the nightly Gutfeld! program is, it's almost impossible to be wholly wrong if you're a corporate hireling in Red America today. 

Such people are now scrambling to explain Red America's position regarding abortion rights. Meanwhile, Blue America's pundit guild is scrambling to explain President Biden's astonishing silence and lack of action concerning the southern border. 

Even for someone like Gutfeld, along with his heavyweight wrestler and his gaggle of low-grade comedians, it's very hard for Red America's "analysts" to be totally wrong about President Biden's silence and inaction. After all the ugly, amazingly stupid insults, the termagant can always fall back on the president's peculiar lack of action, as can his colleagues around the 24-hour dial.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at a recent report where we'd say that the PBS NewsHour went way off the journalistic rails, very much in the manner Berliner attributes to NPR.

(Good people can get things wrong. We'll suggest that example.)

This morning, the New York Times scanned Uri Berliner's report about NPR. That said, can we sometimes see ourselves more clearly when we visit an ancient war poem?

On page B1, the New York Times scanned Berliner's critique. But out on page one, is Blue America's greatest newspaper still scanning the flight of birds?

Tomorrow: Kindergarten press corps?


The New York Times largely avoids the conflation!

THURSDAY, APRIL 11, 2024

Distinguishes falsehoods from lies: At times of partisan conflict, we humans often like to accuse our opponents of lying.

Sometimes people do lie, of course. It's just isn't especially easy to know that they actually have.

Our own work was widely cited in Al Franken's 2003 book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. In fairness, Al—he was still a comedian then—was occasionally working a bit tongue in cheek. In part, he was writing a "satirical book," one with an eye-catching title.

How can you know if a public figure has lied? How do you know that a misstatement of some kind isn't a simple mistake, even perhaps a delusion?

There's no perfect answer to such questions. But saying the others are lying has become a standard way to proceed for pundits from Red America, and from Blue America too.

Directed at Donald J. Trump's endless claims, it strikes us as a lazy way to go. Also, as an approach which hasn't necessarily been gigantically helpful.

At any rate, Laura Ingraham started that way last night, one minute into her 7 o'clock prime time show on the Fox News Channel. 

Her initial focus was on the southern border. As 7:01 turned to 7:02, this is what she said:

INGRAHAM (4/10/24): From the beginning, whenever the Biden folks were pressed about the border, they started lying. And, of course, blame-shifting. 

Now first, you'll remember, it wasn't a crisis at all, said our border Caesarina. Thank you, Kamala.

It's the easiest thing in the world to do! 

The paraphrased claim that the border "wasn't a crisis at all" seemed to be the main example of "lying" to which Ingraham referred. A few minutes later, our analysts came right out of their chairs when Ingraham discussed a new approach to reducing asylum claims Biden seems to be considering.

You can read about that possible new approach in this brisk report at Axios. Last evening, Ingraham showed Biden answering a question in an interview with Univision. Then she offered this:

INGRAHAM: At this point, I'm not even sure that he knows that he's lying. But that was a lie.

If a person "doesn't know" he's lying, can he really be said to be lying? If you think the statement you're making is accurate, can it be scored as a lie?

Traditionally, the answer has strongly tended to be no, and it's been that way for obvious reasons. Traditionally, distinctions have been observed, all over the world, between two groups of misstatements:

1) A simple misstatement, made in good faith, by a person who believes that his statement is true. 

2) That less attractive type of misstatement—the kind of misstatement made by a person who knows that his statement is false.

Within mainstream American journalism, this distinction has largely been washed away in the past thirty years, first by the virulent verbal bombast of the Gingrich Revolution, then again as journalists of the center left began to challenge claims made by the George W. Bush administration.

Today, though, everyone is said to be lying all the time! If you watch the Fox News Channel, the Democrats are constantly lying. If you watch MSNBC, the lies are coming thick and fast from the people Over There.

As we noted this morning, this accusation tends to shut down discussion and debate. In our view, this has been a generally unhelpful way our own blue elites have chosen to go, but we've come to see that it's really the best the vast bulk of this cadre can manage.

There is no point in trying to argue for other approaches to misstatement and / or apparent misstatement. Blue America is wed to our current approach, in which we talk to ourselves about locking Trump up and castigate everyone who tries to speak to Red America's many millions of others.

We'll only say, once again, that this strikes us as a lazy and unproductive way to proceed. For example, was the 2020 election really stolen? Trump keeps saying that it was. Here are two ways Blue America can package this for the gentleman's voters:

1) Donald J. Trump is lying to you.

2) Donald J. Trump has never presented a white paper in support of this repeated claim. He's had three years to document his various claims. Why do you he's made no attempt to do so?

As for us, we don't know what Trump may believe. We don't know if he believes anything. 

We regard Trump as (presumptively) mentally ill. We have no idea what he thinks, and the journalists we're told we should trust have all agreed that medical specialists must never be consulted about his apparently disordered mental state.

That cuts off the route to a fuller discussion. It leaves us in thrall to the same people who spent many years, decades ago, insisting to everyone who would listen that Candidate Gore was the world's biggest liar, just like his boss, President Clinton.

That was the best those people could do. Here's a basic fact about our world:

They didn't bring a lot to the table, and neither do their descendants.

This morning, we linked again to the new essay in the Washington Post which conflates falsehoods, untruths and false claims with a flashier entity—lies. We thought we'd link you to another recent essay in which the New York Times took a different approach.

The analysis appeared beneath a double headline. Dual headline included, this is the way it starts:

The Method Behind Trump’s Mistruths
A close examination of every public word from the former president during a crucial week of his campaign.

Since the beginning of his political career, Donald J. Trump has misled, mischaracterized, dissembled, exaggerated and, at times, flatly lied. His flawed statements about the border, the economy, the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 election have formed the bedrock of his 2024 campaign.

Though his penchant for bending the truth, sometimes to the breaking point, has been well documented, a close study of how he does so reveals a kind of technique to his dishonesty: a set of recurring rhetorical moves with which Mr. Trump fuels his popularity among his supporters.

In the week starting with Mr. Trump’s victory speech in Iowa through his win in the New Hampshire primary—the contests that put him on the path to becoming his party’s nominee for the third consecutive time—The New York Times analyzed all of his public statements, including speeches, interviews and social media posts.

His words focused heavily on attacking his political rivals, self-aggrandizing and stoking fear to make his case for 2024. In doing so, Mr. Trump often relied on repeated falsehoods and half-truths. He has yet to deviate from this approach in the general election.

Here’s a look at how he does it.

At that point, the Times starts to list Trump's alleged techniques and approaches. Please note:

In the material we have posted, the Times only claims that Trump has "flatly lied" at times. 

Is a "repeated falsehood" always a lie? The Times makes no such assertion. In our own view, some such falsehood may represent the delusional belief of someone who's (severely) mentally ill, assuming anyone really believes in such constructs.

By the way, how does the Times know that Trump has ever "flatly lied?" They never attempt to nail that down, nor is it likely that they will ever try to do so. The question involved is too complex. It pretty much can't be answered.

According to the New York Times, Donald J. Trump has emitted "mistruths" and also "flawed statements."  He has relied on "falsehoods," but also on "half-truths." 

But is a falsehood just a lie? The New York Times doesn't say that. Nor will there ever be an easy way to know when some public official has "lied"—and at a time of partisan conflict, there is no imaginable way to get people to form a consensus concerning such matters, one partisan group with some other.

It all becomes a loud, angry Babel. Under current arrangements, that's good for ratings, profits and salaries, and very bad for you.

Donald J. Trump has never made a serious attempt to document his most striking claims. To our neighbors and friends, we would be inclined to say this:

Why do you think that is?

Along the way, we'd quickly acknowledge that our own side has sometimes been horrible too. After that, we'd remind our friends and neighbors of this:

You have an unending citizen's duty, just as we blue voters do.

In our view, each side has thoroughly earned its way out. That said, we'll be voting for President Biden and his strange behavior concerning various major issues, assuming things ever get that far, which they may never do.

It's the dumbness of this which drives us wild. And yet, as the poet once said—and yet, "This is [us]."


MADNESS: Blue America spots the LIES!

THURSDAY, APRIL 11, 2024

The joy of fighting words: Perhaps surprisingly, there aren't a whole lot of "fighting words" in the verses of The Iliad.

Within the modern American legal context, what the heck are "fighting words?" The leading authority on the concept offers the following thumbnail:

Fighting words

Fighting words are spoken words directed to the person of the hearer which would have a tendency to cause acts of violence by the person to whom, individually, the remark is addressed. The term fighting words describes words that when uttered inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.

The "fighting words doctrine," in United States constitutional law, is a limitation to freedom of speech as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In 1942, the U.S. Supreme Court established the doctrine by a 9–0 decision in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. It held that "insulting or 'fighting words', those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" are among the "well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech the prevention and punishment of [which] … have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem."

Such automatically "insulting" terms are remarkably rare in The Iliad, an ancient poem of war. As we've noted, the lengthy, fictional siege of Troy was a war between two different civilizations, with the Achaeans (Argives, Myceneans, Greeks) venturing to Asia Minor to try to get "Helen, radiance of women" back.

For those present at the scene, there was little question which side you were on—which side you wanted to win. There was little need to stir up partisan juices.

Helen, radiance of women, was now living with her second husband inside the towering walls of Troy. The Achaeans wanted her back. 

As far as we know, the Trojans are never shown considering any such action. And so it came.

(In a somewhat similar way, our only slightly more modern nation starts next week with the trial of a former president concerning Stormy Daniels, our nation's most famous "porn star." 

(That president is accused of having consensual intercourse with Daniels on one lone occasion, back in 2006, ten years before he ran for the office. Perhaps somewhat comically, Blue America's pundits agree to refer to this one alleged event as "an affair."

(In what strikes us as a constant embarrassment, Blue America's major pundits go on TV and say that voters needed to know about that allegation before they could know how to vote in November 2016.

(Such pundits operate under a hard tribal lawthey repeat the term "porn star" as frequently as possible, Would voters have needed to know if the former president stood accused of having consensual relations, on one occasion ten years before, with a corporate accountant? 

(Presumably, many fewer would care. It was all about the control of women back when men fought on the plains outside Troy. Given the tiny parameters of our limited human minds, it works in somewhat similar ways in the modern context now. Just watch Gutfeld! any night if you want to see a more aggressive, even stupider form of the gender political rollback by the underfed modern humans who want the ancient order retained, or watch Eyes Wide Shut again.)

(It's still all about who's zoomin' who inside our small human brains.)

Back to the fighting words! The Achaeans wanted Helen back. Troy's King Priam loved his daughter-in-law of ten years, and the Trojans wanted to keep her.

Everyone knew the siege would continue until one side or the other won. There was no need to stir tribal hatreds. People knew which side they were on.

In our modern pair of Americas, the laws of war are different. Members of the two Americas live on the same streets in the same towns and show up for the same jobs. When the martial spirit flares, we need to find ways to heighten the eternal human desire to split ourselves into angry tribes so we can march off to a brutal war.

And so the fighting words come out, as one did, just yesterday, in the Washington Post. We refer to the start of this analysis piece by Kessler at al., in which a Rubicon seems to have been crossed:

Which Trump lies stick? Republicans believe some falsehoods more than they did six years ago, our poll finds.

Fictions, misleading claims, wild exaggerations, lies—former president Donald Trump dispenses untruths of one variant or another relentlessly. The falsehoods range from the inconsequential, like the crowd size at his inauguration, to the democracy-shaking, like the “stolen” 2020 election.

With Trump barreling toward November, when Americans will have a chance to choose him to lead the nation again, The Washington Post Fact Checker sought to get a sense of the staying power of his lies—whether people are more or less likely to believe them over time and which lies prove the stickiest—as well as measure the value Americans place in a president’s honesty, however they define it.

Midway through Trump’s presidency, in 2018, we documented through a poll that most Americans, including Republicans, did not believe many of his most repeated claims.

A fresh Washington Post-Schar School poll shows that remains largely the case, with an average of 28 percent of Americans believing Trump’s false claims tested in the poll.

But Trump has made significant inroads in convincing Republicans that his lies are the truth. That applies to election integrity especially—the basis of Trump’s “big lie.”

"Even more significant, Americans appear to have diverged on the meaning of honesty itself," the three authors write as they continue. At that point, their use of the terms of everyday language has become almost wholly incoherent.

The headline spoke about Donald Trump's "falsehoods." In the body of the piece, the language quickly turned to "lies," then moved back to "untruths." 

Falsehoods, untruths, false claims—and lies! It's as we noted yesterday:

For Glenn Kessler's Washington Post, that seems to mean that a Rubicon has finally been crossed. And yes—terms like "lying" and "lies" function as a species of fighting word within the modern political context.

Were we omniscient like the great god Zeus, how many of Donald J. Trump's (many) "false claims" would qualify as "lies?" It isn't easy to know such things, no matter how tempting it may be to pretend that "falsehoods," "untruths" and "lies" are all the same kettle of fish.

Over the centuries—over the millennia—speakers of the world's many languages developed the semantic distinctions which let them speak in a more intelligent way about the real events which really take place in the real human world. 

Today, the Post had decided to pleasure its readers with the promiscuous use of a specialized term—a term which provokes the kind of reaction, within a political discourse, which is recognized under constitutional law with respect to the insults delivered by "fighting words."

Instead of "using our words" to report what we actually know, we turn to this fighting word. It's a deeply childish turn of mind—but it helps us create the onset to war between our Red and Blue Americas, a pathway no one needed to take back when a conglomeration of angry white males fought on the plains outside Troy.

At the Post, they're no longer "using their words" as carefully as they did in the past. Instead, they seem to have decided to offer a form of pleasure to their audience, 

The term "honesty" plays the same role in that childish opening passage—a passage to which Kessler has apparently agreed. 

How often is Donald Trump being "dishonest" when he makes some sort of false statement? Once again, it's quite hard to say. 

In our reading of the Post's analysis piece, its reporters have a hard enough time discerning when some of Trump's statements are actually false without providing themselves the pleasure of deciding what may have been going on inside his mind—a mind which 37 medical health professionals have said, in a major best-selling book, may be in the grip of a (severe) mental illness.

When is Donald Trump "lying?" Kessler and his colleagues don't exactly know. But the assertion that someone is lying tends to end all political discourse. It acts as a fighting word within the political context.

So, of course, does the claim that members of the other tribe are racist, misogynist, bigoted (and on and on and on). We'll postpone till tomorrow this recent attempt by the PBS NewsHour to come to terms with those ubiquitous fighting words—to tell us Where Those Wild Things Are. For today, let's look at the instinct to trigger modern political war, as that instinct was put on display in some of the comments to Kevin Drum's recent post about NPR.

Like Kevin, we almost never listen to NPR. We have no pre-existing view as to how its journalism currently works.

When Uri Berliner published an essay accusing the org of a type of political bias, we didn't have much to go on. But at one somewhat comical point, Berliner authored this claim:

BERLINER (4/9/24): For nearly all my career, working at NPR has been a source of great pride. It’s a privilege to work in the newsroom at a crown jewel of American journalism. My colleagues are congenial and hardworking. 

I can’t count the number of times I would meet someone, describe what I do, and they’d say, “I love NPR!” 

[...]

It still happens, but often now the trajectory of the conversation is different. After the initial “I love NPR,” there’s a pause and a person will acknowledge, “I don’t listen as much as I used to.” Or, with some chagrin: “What’s happening there? Why is NPR telling me what to think?”

In recent years I’ve struggled to answer that question. Concerned by the lack of viewpoint diversity, I looked at voter registration for our newsroom. In D.C., where NPR is headquartered and many of us live, I found 87 registered Democrats working in editorial positions and zero Republicans. None. 

So on May 3, 2021, I presented the findings at an all-hands editorial staff meeting. When I suggested we had a diversity problem with a score of 87 Democrats and zero Republicans, the response wasn’t hostile. It was worse. It was met with profound indifference. I got a few messages from surprised, curious colleagues. But the messages were of the “oh wow, that’s weird” variety, as if the lopsided tally was a random anomaly rather than a critical failure of our diversity North Star. 

Stating the obvious, we have no way of knowing if any of those statements are accurate. We don't know if Berliner's reported census created an 87-0 count. Assuming that's what actually happened, we can't verify Berliner's account of staff reaction inside the D.C. headquarters. 

For the record, Berliner says, early on, that he himself "eagerly voted against Trump twice but felt we were obliged to cover him fairly." 

We can't verify those claims either, but they may seem to suggest that Berliner himself was one of the NPR 87—though some commenters to Kevin's post aggressively pushed back against any such thought, name-calling Berliner as an obvious right-wing hack as they bowed to the ancient impulse to create a state of war between the Very Good People (Us) and the Very Bad.

This war will be, and is, an internal war within a pre-existing nation state. It's being promoted inside Red America, and inside Blue America too.

Some commenters inside Drum's post were eager to use even harsher fighting words against their fellow commenters. We refer to insults coming from the edges of Blue America in ways which are every bit as stupid as the garbage peddled on Gutfeld! each night, possibly even more so.

We humans are not "the rational animal," except in limited contexts. We long for division into tribes. Also, we know what we know, even when we may not exactly know it.

This comment came from a good, decent person early on in the Comments wars:

COMMENTER: I largely quit listening to NPR years ago. Two much "both sides do it" and a serious lack of insightful reporting. It took them four years to use the L-word (LIE!) in describing Trump's claims. They reported Trump's claim that he would be meeting with union workers in Detroit when he was actually meeting with paid actors at a non-union plant. From their reporting it is clear they view Biden's age as a greater existential threat than Trump’s dictatorial ambitions. Like the NYT, their inevitable lead is "How does this hurt Jor Biden."

The commenter—a good, decent person—seems to have longed for a type of moral certainty and for a clear moral division. He wanted to hear the term LIE. "Flatly false, repeated misstatement" simply wouldn't do.

Concerning the way NPR "reported Trump's claim that he would be meeting with union workers in Detroit when he was actually meeting with paid actors at a non-union plant," here's the transcript from Morning Edition on the morning after the visit, whose location had been shrouded in mystery during the previous week:

GONYEA (9/28/23): The event was at a small automotive supplier, a factory in Macomb County that's half-hour north of the city or so. Trump did not talk about the [Republican Party] debate at all. He said he was there with a vision for a revival of American nationalism. He accused President Biden of killing the auto industry. He promised to put tariffs in place to protect that industry.

It's notable, Steve, that he came here with a message for UAW members who are on strike, and this was a non-union shop. And over and over, he returned to the ongoing transition to electric vehicles, saying it would be such a failure, that it would completely wipe out the industry. This is where he mentioned the strike:

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

INSKEEP: OK. You mentioned the United Auto Workers who are on strike. He referred to striking workers. Were they listening?

GONYEA: The room was full, maybe 500 people or so—a rough guess. There were UAW members there. They stood on risers in the front on either side of the stage. Still, they were nowhere near the majority in the room—maybe 1 in 5 or so.

No reporting can ever be perfect. Our recollections can be faulty or limited too. When our brains instruct us to move toward a state of war, we may be inclined to remember the reporting we didn't especially like. We ourselves have sometimes "remembered" reporting which never took place at all! 

(That's why we try to check.)

Do our brains instruct us to move toward war? Fighting words help us do that! They make us feel moral and good, and they bring discourse to a halt.

Early in the feature film Gone With The Wind, the silly, cavorting Southern boys are trying to impress Miss Scarlett on the staircase outside Tara. Miss Scarlett was their Helen of Troy. (Their "21-year-old intern," to adopt a bungled but thrilling formulation our journalists ran with for years.)

Boldly, they tell Miss Scarlett what they plan to do to "the Yankees." Midway through the film, the camera pulls back from many acres of land in Atlanta, where many acres of Southern boys are stretched out on litters.

Their fighting words felt good at the time. Now they were dying or dead.

That one good and decent person wanted to hear the word LIES. Other comments to Kevin's post are actively poisonous—and ugly and deeply stupid. We're speaking here of poisonous comments which are delivered from Blue America's side of the aisle.

We'll offer an example or two tomorrow, reminding you that the human brain is still inclined to march off to war, even all these thousands of years after the death and dying which took place on the plains outside Troy.

Our brains instruct us to create two warring sides. Fighting words make us feel very good, and they help us accomplish that task!

Did Trump have sex one time in 2006! Inquiring minds need to know!

Could this all be a form of madness? As always, you decide!

Tomorrow: PBS spots the racists

This afternoon: Ingraham spots Biden's "lies"