Monday, June 22, 2020

In a Post Policy World Only Winning Matters

Steve Benen has written a book with the title "The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics. The book is excerpted on a talkingpointsmemo at How The GOP Gave Up On Governing In Order To Keep Winning Elections.

The excerpt explains, "The GOP's push to win elections at all costs opened the door to a new leader who would cement its status as a post-policy party."

The following passage is the heart of Benen's argument:
"Many voters have grown accustomed to the idea of a national competition pitting two governing parties against each other. One has a more progressive vision, the other a more conservative one, but for most Americans, Democrats and Republicans are basically mirror images of one other, each with an internal range of opinions. The electorate has long had reason to assume that both major parties were mature and responsible policymaking entities, their philosophical differences notwithstanding.

The actions of the Republican Party over the last decade have made it abundantly clear that it’s time to reevaluate that assumption.

The current iteration of the GOP is indifferent to the substance of governing. It is disdainful of expertise and analysis. It is hostile toward evidence and arithmetic. It is tethered to few, if any, meaningful policy preferences. It does not know, and does not care, about how competing proposals should be crafted, scrutinized, or implemented.

The modern Republican Party has become a post-policy party."

When this blog was started on February 14, 2016 with the post "Scalia Successor" , the blog name "When Tactics Become Policy" was chosen as the best description of the phenomenon that Benen describes.What he calls a "post-policy party" is one in which actions to advance a policy are completely replaced by actions with the sole purpose of winning, and such actions are tactical in nature, not designed to advance policy, but to ensure victories, either by election or by judicial nominations.

But this blog has also been dedicated to the proposition that the traditional view of political parties that are mirror images of each other, equal and opposite, is also a protected viewpoint, however flawed. That is because the traditional view of fairness and objectivity taken by the NYT and others commands that any objective view of the political parties must eschew assymetry -  assymetry could result in one party being "bad" when the other party is being "good", assumed be a biased conclusion.

This tension between entities like the NY Times clinging to an outmoded definition of good political journalism and the clear logical argument against that NY Times position has persisted in recent years despite its flaws. And so, Benen emerges as only the latest example of someone yet again making an argument to the public as if it is new, trying different angles to convince people who refuse to be convinced by compelling arguments because they made their minds up long ago. Or maybe because they only care about winning and using any tactics that will get them there.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Two Sides are Better Than One

When you are lost in bothsidesism like the New York Times, you come up with headlines like this:

Bolton Unites Republicans and Democrats in Scorn Over Tell-All Book

Bolton's upcoming book can be reported from different angles.

1. New revelations from a high-ranking insider among those who were fired or resigned. Are the revelations true? Anyone notice a pattern of behavior among these folks whose accusations of Trumpian incompetence are quite consistent?
2. Bolton as the focus in terms of the significant role he played refusing to testify during the House impeachment inquiry without a court approval, but agreeing to testify in the trial if called by the Senate.

But the NYT favors reporting that presumes there are two sides (no more, no less), equal and opposite, always in contention. The way for a reporter to find out about what's new in politics is bounce back and forth between those two sides asking questions prompted by whatever one side or the other said. But as a reporter, you always look for some novelty. Therefore, in this case Republicans and Democrats are "united" in their scorn for Bolton. But for anyone who cares about meaning, that headline is a great normalizer of the current state of the federal government. Suppose the current administration is devastating the Department of Justice under Barr as it has the Department of State under Tillerson, then Pompeo? Are acting heads of the departments a problem? How about the recent criticisms from Mattis? The criticism from General Milley? House cleaning at the Voice of America this week. Is that a concern? The list is endless.

Yet in a series of weak examples in support of a dubious thesis ("dubious" a favorite Times descriptor, often applied to outright lies), the Times makes us question whether the conclusions came first, followed by the examples.

"But on Thursday, they found consensus on one thing.

Everyone, it seemed, was mad at John R. Bolton."

Sorry, but that's not really what constitutes consensus, in particular when we are talking about lawmakers. Democrats in Congress would have preferred that the Bolton evidence be submitted only a few months ago when the impeachment and trial were taking place. A sane NYT article on the subject would have noted that Trump has consistently taken extraordinary measures to keep useful witnesses from appearing before committees, but some have appeared anyway. Instead, the Times regards being able to tell a both sides are the same story as a resounding success. Or is it a safe place for these editors. Hard to tell. But they do go on.

"Republicans were mad that Mr. Bolton, whose book “The Room Where It Happened” described Mr. Trump’s presidency as a series of actions that amounted to “obstruction of justice as a way of life,” was daring to malign the president."

How does "daring to malign the president" explain or justify Trump's alleged 'obstruction of justice as a way of life." The NYT editors know full well if they started to ask Republican members of Congress directly about Bolton's accusations, they would be stonewalled or lashed out against as "fake news". Instead of confronting the Republican officeholders failure to address these issues in good faith with responses, the NYT editors and reporters accept Republicans' reactions as if they are rendered in good faith or just let them sit there without elaboration. But Democrats are not entitled to such generosity. Democrats suffer from "a certain institutional hostility to being told how to do their jobs." if they wanted Bolton to have testified before Congress. Yet Kevin McCarthy can assert without NYT challenge, and without apparent basis in fact "We’ve watched people before make lies about the president.” and suggest that Bolton is only doing this for the money. Is McCarthy claiming that Trump is actually competent?

"Still, at least some lawmakers who agonized over whether to allow Mr. Bolton and others to be subpoenaed as part of the impeachment trial — and ultimately decided to block the move — said they were not sorry.

“I made the decision that I made at the time that I made it,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska. “And, you know, there’s no going back.”"

Where is the proof that Lisa Murkowski agonized? Maybe she just put on a good show. Her alleged mental processes are reported as fact - a typical NYT kidgloves treatment for Republicans in Congress. And there's no going back? Sorry, Trump could be impeached and convicted pretty quickly if Congress got together on it, but someone like Lisa Murkowski would have to take the next step to indicate her openness with "And you know, I would have voted differently - let's go back and fix this problem!"

Susan Collins, another Republican, gets a different free pass, running off and ducking questions with claims of ignorance -another Republican favorite avoidance tactic that NYT fails to point out even as John Cornyn makes the same claim.

Note the shoddy reporting. The assertion of Republican scorn for Bolton is supported by the Kevin McCarthy quote, but the quotes from Murkowski, Collins, and Cornyn do not express or imply scorn whatsoever. Neither does a vague reference to Rubio later in the piece seem to indicate scorn at all.

At the NYT, the federal government of the U.S. is treated as something permanent and unshakable. Nothing could ever destroy it. If democracy in the U.S. were completely destroyed, you can be sure NYT reporting on politics would look pretty much as it does now, centering new articles on "Republicans and Democrats" or, as they sometimes incongruously pose "Democrats and some Republicans".

But the big problem was clear at the very beginning of the article:

"On Capitol Hill, the release of the book appeared only to harden long-calcified views of the president and his conduct."

See what they did there? John Bolton, a very conservative life long Republican no longer in a government position, accuses the president of the U.S. of being completely incompetent, corrupt, and ignorant -  only interested in personal advantage with no regard for U.S. policy except as it affects him personally. In other words, Bolton only makes accusations that any long time observer of the national scene already knows through accumulation of all evidence collected over these last three years. Bolton just adds evidence to the case. But the NYT sees all of that evidence and maps it onto the both sides frame - Democrats on Capitol Hill are not looking at the evidence and drawing proper conclusions; they are politicians with "long-calcified views". And Republicans in Congress are given a free pass. They are not politicians who have continued to support Trump and his corruption. They, too, are just politicians with "long-calcified" views. See both sides are the same. Aren't we good fair reporters? Or as the NYT's own Maggie Haberman might say,  Whatta Town!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Will The New York Times Kill What's Left of Americans' Faith in The New York Times?

Will The New York Times Kill What's Left of Americans' Faith in The New York Times?
Yes, they will.

"Will the Coronavirus Kill What's Left of Americans' Faith in Washington?" from Sabrina Tavernise manages to squeeze in a multitude of the grievous errors of political reporting typical of the Times.

As a matter of interest, the URL link tells us the theme "coronavirus-government-trust". That's the warning this will be a carefully crafted both sides story.

To begin, take the false premise - the Times pretends they are in no way part of the story, Even with a focus on the theme of trust, trust is just something that deveops between politicians and constituents without the influence of information sources like the Times. In this fantasy world, the Newspaper of Record has no impact.

Now take the logical fallacy. The Times has been feeding these "man on the street" pieces on politicians and "trust" for years now, bolstered by poll results showing a decline in trust in government.  These articles, slotted under the hard news banner rather than opinion pieces, purport to be the result of an exploratory process. Yet a true exploration might yield a surprise here or there. But that never happens. We always know the result of the interviews with "just folks" out there in the country (the real America?) will be a balance and a contrived one at that. We hear from a 62 year old in whose experience "Vietnam happened, then Watergate." Really? Vietnam just happened? Wasn't that the result of conscious decisions by politicians? And Watergate just happened? That was a conscious decision by political operatives to burglarize the HQ of the Democratic Party and by the Republican president to conspire to conceal evidence of crimes. Things don't just happen, unless you are the NYT afraid to seem to point fingers.

If we know what is going to be reported before the interviews happen, what is the value of the interviews other than as false support for a preconceived narrative. And isn't that just a different form of propaganda?

Another fallacy that serves as a fundamental premise of the trust theme is that there is this thing called "Washington". This false premise co-exists with the fallacy that Republicans and Democrats exist in a rivalry between two equal and opposite sides which can only be symmetric, never assymmetric. What if some interesting asymmetry emerged. Sorry, that can not exist because if we observed that and reported its significance, and it made one side look bad, we would appear to be taking sides and could no longer be trusted as reporters. What if one side noticed we, the NYT, always gave our reporting a tilt toward nominal balance and decided to skew their behavior to take advantage of that reporting weakness (such as lying)? Nope. We would still bend over backwards in support of balance and call that "fairness". It's up to the other side to get the truth out there.

The rules of false balance require the reporter to avoid pinning blame on politicians which might make the reporter appear biased or would inevitably tilt a reasonable person to conclude that maybe in this one case one "side" is really bad after all. Can't let that happen.

So in this narrative, you would never know that Trump was impeached by the House a few months ago and acquitted by the Senate. You would not know that a factor in whether or not to trust Trump could be his recommendations to use hydroxychloriquine for coronavirus or that he was excited about getting UV rays inside the body and bleach. You would never know that there just might be more reasons to mistrust Trump than any other government official and certainly any other president. You would not know because of paragraphs like this:

"The disillusionment has become a facet of national political campaigning. Mr. Trump pitched himself as an outsider fighting for those left behind by Washington’s policies. Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner, talks that way, too. But for Americans who no longer trust government, the promises, even from their own party, sound hollow."

Paragraphs like that normalize Trump. He has been president for three years, yet the article goes back to favorable claims Trump make about himself while campaigning in 2016. Yet another lame, but standard straight reporting approach is to avoid making statements, far less judgments, about Trump based on ordinary standards of objective facts and instead, to take his claims about himself as a starting point.

That throw-in line "Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner, talks that way, too." reads like a last minute desperate attempt to both sides the comment about Trump with a "Biden just like Trump" line.

The saddest fact about the NYT  standard "real people" mistrust Washington articles is that they perpetuate the perception that "Washington" is the problem, thus avoiding accountability of top politicians for their actions and inactions. The NYT could take a stronger stand to force accountability rather than desperately reaching to both sides all of the articles related to politics. When one "side" maintains such control over the federal government, which they continue to expand in the judiciary with lifetime appointments of young judges, the NYT could shift their tone to a speaking truth to power mode. Instead, the NYT has chosen to strain credulity by doubling down on bothsidesism.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

It's Not Bizarre - Here's What's Bizarre

Glenn Kessler is the keeper of the lie count over at WaPo. As if counting lies into the thousands serves some purpose. Oh what a tangled web we weave when at 20,000 lies we continue to deceive. Is that the point?

But imagine the royal keeper of the lie count deliberately shading the truth in order to maintain an antiquated inoperative journalistic standard from days of yore.

The headline, though likely written by a person not named Kessler, starts this off on the wrong foot:

"Fact Checker: Trump's bizarre effort to tag Obama's swine flu response as 'a disaster'".

Using the term "bizarre" in this headline is a lie. The writer presumably means - if we were to ignore Trump's longstanding pattern of behavior of false accusations against Obama and political opponents, repeated for effect, and consider Trump a normal person, not a pathological liar, then this behavior would be bizarre. But Trump is Trump, not a different person. And don't journalists have a responsibility to treat him according to objective standards that consider his pattern of behavior, rather than as if he just now spontaneously sprang to life from the head of Zeus? What sense does it make to call behavior that exactly meets expectations "bizarre"? It makes no sense at all.

Of course the smell test tells us that if the swine flu epidemic was a disaster, we would have strong recollection of many bad things happening, which would be preserved as a collective memory informing our cultural references. But we don't. So without going to the tape, we all know it was not a disaster.

The fact checker walks through the necessary steps of examining the data and debunking the Trump claim. He does a good job of it. But is that the best use of resources. Trump succeeds by distracting attention from his failures and, by making false and misleading accusations, drawing attention to others. The so-called fact-checker's painstaking analysis tells us that a certain amount of luck was involved in the swine flu epidemic. OK, but should our focus be on the Obama administration performance in 2010?  And should journalists and fact checkers allow themselves over and over to be led by the nose in whatever direction Trump leads them? I would argue, yes - maybe once, or twice at the most. But thousands of times? No. After the first couple, as the tangled web is being weaved, they need to stop fact checking and report, as I have argued many times, not what Trump claims, but what he appears to be doing by making false and inflammatory claims and accusations. Distracting from his malfeasance and escaping scrutiny of his performance.

Kessler's bottom line:
"The Pinocchio Test
Reviewing this history, we can only assume that Trump has not studied the swine-flu pandemic very closely. He simply heard a death-toll figure — remembering it incorrectly — and presumably concluded that anything associated with Obama was a debacle. But in reality, the government under Obama worked relatively smoothly, even if it was not tested as in the current pandemic."

So "Trump has not studied the swine-flu epidemic". OK, not false, but not exactly true in a helpful sense. Can't we assume that Trump has not studied anything? He does not read any agency reports - remember?  And why speculate that he "simply heard a death-toll figure" and " concluded" anything. Trump does not marshall the evidence and draw conclusions about anything whatsoever. He makes accusations and that's what he does. Why speculate about a train of events in a way that is tantamount to lying by ignoring the evidence of a pattern of irresponsible behavior. Just report that behavior factually, recognize the pattern as the most important element - not the detail surrounding the allegation. Because when you, the press, shine a spotlight on the person Trump wildly accuses, you are doing his work for him - and neglecting your own work. And don't even leave the frame there of "anything associated with Obama was a debacle."

So there is nothing unexpected about Trump's behavior. News organizations that aspire to some sort of standard that still can not bring themselves to recognize and directly report a specific pattern of bad behavior as just that need to stop "fact checking" and spend more time "pattern checking".

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

When a Journalist Is Like a Bad Scientist

In his blog post on 'The Generalizability Crisis in the Human Sciences' Andrew Gelman writes:
"The point is that there are costs, serious costs, to being overly polite to scientific claims. Every time you “bend over backward” to give the benefit of the doubt to scientific claim A, you’re rigging things against the claim not-A. And, in doing so, you could be doing your part to lead science astray (if the claims A and not-A are of scientific importance) or to hurt people (if the claims A and not-A have applied impact)."

There exists a parallel to the treatment by journalists of their subjects. As president, Trump has openly subjected journalists to extremes of special treatment - berating them, revoking credentials, etc, especially journalists who most conform to long accepted standards of objectivity. Those journalists who have been subjected to this treatment - or the implied threat of similar treatment for non-obeisance - have sometimes come to heel in subtle, but damaging ways. And if we treat the journalistic product in these instances similar to the way we determine conclusions based on scientific study, we join them in doing damage to the truth. The most important damage may well be in ignoring the possible truth of "not-A".

For example, in ‘What do you have to lose?’: Inside Trump’s embrace of a risky drug against coronavirus', reporters Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, Laurie McGinley and Josh Dawsey begin with:
 "As he stares down a pandemic, economic collapse and a political crisis of his own, President Trump thinks he may have found a silver bullet: hydroxychloroquine."

We can see the A vs. not-A problem coming in this article in the very first line that contains an important working assumption posing as a statement of observable fact. Any statement by a reporter of the form "Person X thinks R" can not be a simple statement of observable fact. We never know for sure what someone thinks or believes. In Trump's case, we often find reporters telling us "what Trump believes" - sometimes attributed (lamely) to "three people close to the president", sometimes without attribution. Strikingly, I can not recall reporters making such statements on a regular basis about any other president - all of whom, unlike Trump, felt some affinity, some obligation, to stick to the facts as much as possible. In Trump's case, in the absence of a reliable source in the president, reporters choose to short circuit their customary process of developing facts by appealing to the magical assumption that they can discern Trump's beliefs from the combination of his statements, his behaviors and sometimes, anonymous sources - and this reporting is permissible because they only employ this approach in conjunction with the assumption that the president is innocent of deliberate wrongdoing,

So, in this example, A = president touting hydroxychloroquine is based on a belief he sincerely holds that this drug is effective against the COVID-19 virus. They also ignore for this purpose the unusual negative qualities of this president who has materially lied thousands of times and committed many other acts destructive of a functioning democratic republic.

But in this example, not A, which the reporters ignore, can be many things.

Not-A could be that DJT has stalled having the federal government provide personal protection equipment, ventilators, virus testing kits, and other supplies to NY and other parts of the US in order for family and friends to benefit financially acting as a middleman for desperately needed supplies. In this scenario hydroxychloroquine might be touted as a wonder drug in order for these cronies to corner the market selling this unproven treatment. Giuliani is one of those promoting hydroxychloroquine. Suppose every time Trump puts Jared Kushner in charge of an important government initiative, the primary purpose is to advance personal financial gain for the family with corrupt intent. Suppose Kushner was originally put in charge of Middle East peace as a cover for a trade of foreign policy favors for Bin Salman and Netanyahu for personal financial payoffs or political favors. And now Kushner's assignment to the fight against the virus would be to rake in profits as a coordinator of distribution of medical equipment through private middlemen. And suppose Trump is perfectly fine with Americans dying if they are disproportionately not members of his "base"?
Reporters interested in important factual reporting should not be relying on the illogical standard - "if it means the president is doing something incredibly horrible and we can not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, it can not be true."

Context matters. See:
Trump Removes Watchdog Overseeing Pandemic Fund

Behind the Scenes Kushner Takes Charge of Coronavirus Response

Republican Fundraiser Looks to Cash In on Coronavirus

Again, remember, the point here is not that not A is necessarily factually correct and complete in all respects. The point is that the working assumption underlying the WaPo standard reporting is that not-A is assumed to be false, at least for the sake of discussion. And by assuming that not-A is false in story after story, the reporting substantiates a narrative that Trump is innocent of many, many things of which he is accused and others of which he is only suspected based on his history. The truth is that we do not know exactly why Trump is stuck on hydroxychloroquine. The reporters on this story track down numerous alleged influences on Trump, which may or may not be material to the story, but if they ignore all of the evidence of corruption in this particular case, then they are failing by treating not-A as not important.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Mr. Baker's Balancing Act

Peter Baker writes opinion pieces for the New York Times under the label of news on politics. NYT does not call these opinion, but these puff pieces are tantamount to opinion. In this worldview Trump is a poor, misunderstood beast who does some things for which he is criticized by some people who are on the other side. (If people who were on the same side switch sides, or if they never thought of themselves as being on the same side as Trump - 'Never Trumpers', we at the NYT just report that as criticism by Democrats and some Republicans. That's the tidy shorthand we use to fix reality into the two sides format that we cherish.

Baker is the master of the softened phrase. If a plain statement of fact would make a certain 'side" look bad, then soften the statement even if that means changing the meaning or making a statement that is unsupportable on its face.

He commits this aggressive crime against the English language and plain factual reporting throughout his writing.

"Trump's War Against 'the Deep State' Enters a New Stage" starts off badly with the title. In this moment for our republic, in a post-impeachment week of mass resignations, firings and withdrawn appointments, is it really necessary to use the Trumpsters' favored term "deep state"?  Putting the term in quotes does not change the warped framing being employed and misses the opportunity to tell the reader exactly what is going on. Instead, Baker and the Times adhere to the two sides rendering of reality. One side says this, the other side says that, no one can know for sure what is happening. Everyone is biased except us, your faithful both sides political 'reporters' at  the NYT.

Then there's the subhead:

"The suggestion that Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman should now face punishment by the Pentagon was one sign of how determined the president is to even the scales after his impeachment."

We know a slick softening is coming in any sentence that begins with "the suggestion that" along with the passive voice. "Was one sign" is another softy. But the worst phrasing is "how determined the president is to even the scales after his impeachment." Really? Is that all Trump wants? To even the scales? Almost makes it seem like the fair thing to do. The only person trying to even the scales here is Mr. Baker.

But it gets worse with repetition of the coddling and bothsidesist phrasing.

"This is an unsettled time in Mr. Trump's Washington."

What the hell is that supposed to mean? "This is an unsettled time" is classic, bothsidesish phrasing that, regardless what you think of what is going on, tells us absolutely nothing other than the fact that the author is a strict believer in bothsidesism. Unsettled is a vague assertion without attributing good or bad acts, good or bad faith to anyone - just unsettled because some people are upset, maybe a lot of people, probably upset on both sides, but we are clear on one thing - it's Mr. Trump's Washington. Okay...

"In the days since he was acquitted in a Senate trial, an aggrieved and unbound president has sought to even the scales as he sees it.". The word "aggrieved" has many words of similar meaning, but "aggrieved" in particular, unlike "resentful" or "vindictive", connotes a person with a grievance, likely legitimate, due to harm inflicted by another party. And remember, this is the "determined" president that we met earlier in the article. Baker and NYT make a habit of employing this kind of almost invisible description laundering in their clear intent to deprive sentences of objective clear meaning in favor of an appearance of fairness. After all, you wouldn't want an 'aggrieved" Mr. Trump 'determined' to turn his wrath on the NY Times.

An "unbound" president reminds one of Prometheus or Sampson, that is, a god or a hero with the chains removed.. "Unbound" is not inaccurate, but unbound by what? By any principles, law, or maybe norms or a sense of decency? But like the passive voice that omits the subject of an action, applying an adjective to the president without amplification can make him seem dignified and deserving of respect. For more on the story from that perspective, turn to Fox News...

"The war between Mr. Trump and what he calls the 'deep state' has entered a new, more volatile phase as the president seeks to assert greater control over a government that he is convinced is not sufficiently loyal to him."

OK, so Baker knows we are entering a new phase and says he knows what Trump is thinking. Despite a reporting style that makes him avoid plain statements of fact that could make him seem biased, if those statements got into the wrong hands, you know, of someone biased say, on Fox News, Baker knows that Trump is "convinced" the government is not sufficiently loyal to him. That phrasing is almost a full-throated endorsement of the thought - there really is a deep state after all! No wonder Trump is aggrieved!

"...the president has shown a renewed willingness to act even if it prompts fresh complaints about violating traditional norms." In that sentence, Baker, a reporter, retreats from stating that Trump violates traditional norms, something that is plain to see, in favor of bothsidesing the thought. I cant say he does what he does if it sounds bad - I have to render his actions as something that the other side will criticize.

"But the withdrawal of the four career prosecutors working on the case left the unmistakeable impression that they thought something improper had happened.? "unmistakeable impression'? Is that a joke? Is there any more mealy mouth way of saying what happened even possible?

"Mr. Trump has long suspected that people around him - both government officials and even some of his own political appointees - were secretly working against his own political interests. His impeachment...has only reinforced that view..." Wait. How does Peter Baker know what Trump suspects, that is, what he thinks? Based on what Trump, who lies all the time about everything says? This Baker soft treatment is almost an exoneration of Trump. Baker is effectively applying a standard that says - suppose Trump is innocent of all wrongdoing and is, if fact, a victim of a 'deep state' conspiracy by people who just hate him and are trying to get him. How would I write about Trump in this situation. And this is it.

"But Mr. O'Brien is presiding over a broader housecleaning at the National Security Council."

Does a housecleaning ever a bad thing? No, of course not. Let's make the government more efficient. At the NYT, let's put Mr. Trump and everyone allied with him in the best possible light.We wouldn't want to call it a purge. Maybe Mr. Trump cares about efficient government. Makes sense - he cares about corruption in Ukraine, right?

A more useful, meaningful rendering would have placed the latest 'housecleaning' in the context of the many departures from the Trump staff, advisors, and Cabinet positions where only the most ardent loyalists to a Mafia-style boss remain to assist in the expanding abuse of power we are seeing in plain sight.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Retribution vs. Revenge

Retribution vs. Revenge. Which side shall win?
So far, retribution is winning, at least in the Washington Post.
Today's headline:

WaPo 02082020
And then there is the first line of the story:
"President Trump on Friday punished two witnesses who testified in the investigation that led to his impeachment, removing them from their posts in an apparent campaign to exact retribution on his perceived enemies in the wake of his acquittal in the Senate this week." [Emphasis addded]

"Retribution" means giving back what is due and has come to mean "punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong or criminal act." as tells us. "Revenge" means to come back, but as tells us in contrast with avenge which means to punish a wrongdoing with the intent of seeing justice done, revenge is more personal, less concerned with justice and more about retaliation by inflicting harm. So you avenge wrongdoing to seek justice, but you seek revenge if a person's actions hurt you, whether or not those actions were morally wrong. But you seek retribution if those actions were morally wrong and those actions hurt you.

When Vindman testified before Congress truthfully to matters consistent with other truth tellers like Marie Yovanovitch who testified, did he do wrong? No, of course not. Therefore, "retribution" as a description of Trump's behavior has no place in objective description of these events. But using the term "retribution" works well if you are WaPo and your goal is not objective reporting, but is "balanced" treatment of the personalities in the news. If WaPo reporters wrote only of vengeance and revenge, readers might think of Trump as a petty person. Better to provide balanced coverage. The subheadline imples this - rather than calling Trump's actions "vindictive", WaPo shifts to the passive voice and calls them "moves that were condemned as vindictive and an attempt to intimidate officials." That pesky passive voice is always a sure sign of an attempt to balance the reporting.

"Retribution" has a softer sound to it and implies normalcy, but most of all, as noted above, the term implies that the action is proper and fitting to the circumstances. That's why the White House prefers that term and used it this week in their official statement on the impeachment outcome:

"Rep. Adam Schiff lied to Congress and the American people with a totally made up statement about the President’s phone call.  Will there be no retribution? "

That happens to sound like a threat as well...

Nothing to worry about here. No creeping fascism. Just an incremental change. The President can hire and fire officials at any time for any reason. Yes, and he can wait until the day after the Senate vote to acquit him. Nothing wrong with that. Apparently he can do anything he wants. Anything. And the mainstream press will do their best to balance it.