Friday, July 19, 2019

Surprise: These Party Activists are Party Activists

CNN's "These GOP women see nothing wrong with Trump's comments" has been exposed as fundamentally misleading. Subtitled "CNN's Randi Kaye speaks to a group of Republican women who say they don't have a problem with President Trump's racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color.", the setup implies that these eight women are a focus group of somewhat randomly selected Republican women from Dallas.

Erik Wemple, among others, points out that the CNN piece (still up on CNN website at this writing, without correction or clarification) , and teed up in reporting by Anderson Cooper and Kate Boduan without further amplification, features a group of activist Republican women. And that CNN had previously used these same women in 2016 in a similar role.

After CNN's misleading identification of these women was exposed, as Wemple reports,

"CNN host Ana Cabrera on Wednesday afternoon characterized 'several' of the women as being 'affiliated with groups that support President Trump.' The purpose, said Cabrera was "to see if any of them have changed their minds.'"

So we are back on the diner circuit rationale employed by NYT, CNN and other mainstream political outlets. After the surprise victory by Trump in 2016, the presumption was that all those white Trump voters would come around soon. So each Trump outrage for months was followed like dusk follows day by a team of reporters visiting diners to see if they changed their minds about Trump. Which they never did - because the premise that any rational person would now be outraged by Trump was no better than the idea that any rational person on November 8, 2016 would be outraged by Trump.

This episode reminds me of an incident one year ago. S.E. Cupp, the conservative pundit, in a guest piece in the NYT with the straw man (straw woman?) title "No, Not All Women Are Democrats", wrote the following:

"Salena Zito, co-author of the new book “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics,” recently surveyed 2,000 Trump voters in the rust belt. They are the kind of voters, she says, that experts overlooked in 2016 and still don’t get today.

One of them is Amy Maurer, a 43-year-old well-educated suburban mom in Kenosha, Wis, who is on the executive board of the Republican Party of Kenosha County. The Clinton campaign aimed ads at Republicans— even women like Ms. Maurer — keying in on Mr. Trump’s misogynistic remarks.

“It’s not my favorite thing,” she said when I asked her about the way Mr. Trump has talked about women. “It’s kind of like what I told my mother-in-law when she complained that her heart surgeon wasn’t very friendly: If he’s good at what he does, who cares? He’s not there to be your best friend.”'

Except she did not write exactly those words. The article awkwardly suggests that Zito surveyed a large group of Trump voters, but then quotes a Republican woman activist in order to provide some insight on the thinking of representative Republican women voters. So what gives. Well, the original piece omitted significant information about Amy Maurer:

"An earlier version of this article omitted a relevant detail about Amy Maurer, a Wisconsinite who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Ms. Maurer is a Republican Party official in Kenosha County; that information should have been included with her comments."

Actually, no. That makes no sense. Ms. Maurer should not have been quoted. A Republican woman who is not a party activist should have been quoted, if we are trying to sample the crowd of 2,000 fairly.

So why is it so difficult to find Republican Party women who are not activists?  It's not.

My best guess is that the two mainstream new organizations who invariably bend over backwards the most to assure conservatives that they are truly objective - CNN and NYT - prefer to give as much control to Republicans when they "balance" their presumably "biased" political articles with pieces about Republican voters. And when they enlist Republicans in that cause, people like SE Cupp, and whoever puts together these "focus groups" for CNN, they are yielding editorial ground to a class of people - Republican political operatives - who seize every opportunity to distort the facts and avoid disclosure, in order to craft their favored narrative.

For the "facts don't matter" crowd, disclosures don't matter either, especially in these two cases where disclosure would render the pieces useless as a gauge of representative Republican women.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What's Wrong with these Headlines?

New York Times today:

As America Turns More Divided The Mood Turns More Tense
It's the first time in more than a century that all but one state legislature is dominated by a single party.
As each state's majority party pushes its agenda, the weaker one has grown more combative

Absolutely nothing there to suggest that the current American president pushes his agenda of division daily, as he did throughout the 2016 campaign. Nothing to suggest that Republicans have been playing extreme hardball in state legislature for decades and Democrats have been slow to catch on to these tactics. And Republican tactics have become more extreme - not only to suppress the votes of citizens, but to thwart the outcome of elections if a Democrat defeats a Republican governor, but the state legislature remains controlled by Republicans, by stripping the incoming governor of powers normally retained by the executive, which were enjoyed by his or her predecessor. See Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Ohio. (Incumbent Ohio governor refused to play, to his credit.)

The NYT has a strong bias toward skewing the facts toward a balanced conclusion when reporting on politics. Thus the NYT fails to distinguish between fair, accurate reporting and balance. Balance in reporting is regarding by traditional reporters as an attribute when a fair and accurate conclusion can not be known. But Republicans in office together with Fox News reporting have teamed together to furnish America with a 24/7 propaganda channel dedicated to keeping Republicans in office and their policies in place. This conspiracy of the right has built on a mountain of lies that has worsened with Trump as president. True balance would mean that a responsible news organization (i.e. NYT or WaPo) would confront the mountain of lies with the hard truth - not after-the-fact fact checking,which always comes too late because liars have already moved on to the next lie, thus controlling the overall narrative - but aggressive reporting on the fact of Fox News as lying propagandists.And not trying so hard with every news story to report "both sides" as equal and opposite as possibly true, when they are not. The net result of the narrative that America hears is Fox News propaganda on one side and NYT maybe-yes-maybe-no "balance", which ironically yields an  imbalance in sum while failing to be accurate by implying that some lies may be true.

The NYT article provides factual information about the contentiousness of activity in the divided state legislatures, but fails to note that extreme gerrymandering has been practiced more by Republicans - to greater effect on election outcomes - than Democrats. This is not to suggest that Democrats have been perfect in all cases, but observing how Republicans behave in office and looking for the same thing in Democrats will always yield some examples, but accurate reporting requires continuing the analysis at that point to report full context, rather than declaring vicotry - done, we found an example of Democrats behaving badly so "both sides do it".

We see this again in the recent NYT:
People are trying to figure out Bill Barr. Meanwhile He's Stockpiling Power. Is he the operator who spun the then-secret Mueller report? Or the straight shooter who later disclosed portions that were damaging to President Trump?
NYT syntax shows how they gravitate to the middle of all stories relating to politics. Their headlines often take the almost comical form "On the One Hand, Yes - But on the Other Hand ,No". Bill Barr wrote an unsolicited paper in support of unbridled presidential power - a job application for AG - prior to his nomination.

The problem with these headlines is that when the NYT is satisfied with any conclusion that validates the middle as true and treats with great skepticism any conclusion that treats one "side" as different qualitatively as different from the other "side" they themselves help to create the reality of a "divided" country because that behavior encourages more extreme tactics. Republicans know that the more extreme their tactics, the more the NYT will be willing to work toward the "safe" conclusion that Democrats do it too.

And why, NYT, is the opposite of "straight shooter" an "operator who spun the then-secret Mueller report"? Isn't the opposite of straight shooter a liar?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Hypocrisy Watch

Keeping a lookout for charges of "hypocrisy" is a safe space for traditional media reports on politics. Leave no possible charge of hypocrisy unexamined lest we focus on stories that actually mean something. Was Elizabeth Warren singularly effective in establishing the Consumer Protection Bureau? Yes. Was she considered such an effective advocate on behalf of consumers that Republicans refused to consider her as chief of that bureau? Yes, of course.

But none of those stories that tell us how a candidate can be expected to act in a role as President of the U.S. matter much to political reporters. In the "he said/she said" reporting world, how a candidate can be made to appear to have behaved in the past contrary to their professed goals is the only thing that matters because that type of reporting supposedly demonstrates the reporter's political "objectivity". Such is the safe space in which so-called objective reporters and their editors choose to dwell. But this information is useless to any citizen who is affected by the choices that the president, Senators, Congresspersons and other officeholders make, just as reporting everything the president tweets because it is alleged news is also useless.

The original Boston Globe headline was "Warren Disclosed Past as Corporate Advocate". Yes, Elizabeth Warren's claims about herself and her consistent actions in government should all be ignored because of her shady past.

After some hubbub on twitter, the headline was changed to "Warren assisted dozens of corporations as a bankruptcy advocate".  Now it reads "Warren discloses past corporate legal work". Who knows what the headline will read in a few minutes?

The article tells us "The issue of Warren’s corporate legal work reared its head during her 2012 race, when Republican Senator Scott Brown highlighted her advocacy for the insurance company Travelers in 2009 and other corporations as an example of hypocrisy from the populist candidate."

That's the he said/she said safe place. Scott Brown said such-and-such. Elizabeth Warren defends her shady past. That is how he said/she said journalism works - by distorting reality into an illusory world of two equal and opposite sides, no matter the stark differences between those two sides.

As a result, reporting on Trump falls far short of effectively presenting the egregiousness of Trump's actions as president which are treated as individual items to be compared with other presidents or democrats and thereby softened. On the other hand, actions by democrats are placed under a stark lens in a desperate attempt to depict them, too as "hypocritical" or otherwise inconsistent in their behavior.

In this magical realm, when Bernie Sanders changes his tune from decrying "Millionaires and billionaires" to "Billionaires" on the heels of reports of his wealth amounting to $2.5 million, he is somehow less of a populist figure - how can a man who is a millionaire be truly populist? Isn't he being hypocritical? That is nonsense. First of all, never mind the book deal, Sanders has worked for salary nonstop until current age 77, an age when many Americans have been drawing down a retirement for many years. Someone who has been able to add to savings rather than draw down those savings should be in a position to accumulate wealth. To many Americans, that $2.5 million sounds like a lot of money, but for someone making his Congressional salary all these years it is fairly modest. But, again, this is a safe space for reporters who need to demonstrate their so-called objectivity.

Political reporters need to let go of the breaking news mentality that feeds their inclination to overreact to any sign of '"hypocrisy" and ask themselves every day - what do I need to tell citizens so that they can make the best informed choices when they vote or contact their representatives? Not, what is the most exciting story of the minute.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

What Jussie Smollett Is All About

"It's the false epitome stupid!"
Yes, bear with me.
If you are Donald Trump, the decision in Chicago yesterday to drop charges against Smollett creates an irresistible opportunity to exploit the occasion for personal gain. And nothing feeds the need of Team Trump to distract from everything they do like the chance to accuse a black person, immigrant, or minority of something. And the Smollett case could not be better - he is black and gay. Terrific. And this appears to be a case of false victimization. Even better. And he got off - a black person who is not deserving who benefits from favoritism from authorities. Great. Anything else? We are going to investigate - see, we can investigate, too, just like you Democrats do. Perfect.

But there's more. One of the great tools used over and over by Team Trump is the false epitome. Highlighting the Smollett case, which does, in fact, appear to be a miscarriage of justice creates a focus that is intended to represent a far broader case. For those conservatives who like to obsess about these things, this single case provides an opportunity to take this one example as representative of a much more extensive problem.

Smollett was treated initially as a victim, but he was a perpetrator...becomes
They are all claiming to be victims, but they are all perpetrators.

False epitome was at work in Trump's claims that immigrants come here to kill people, often using as examples drivers involved in fatal traffic accidents - as if that is identical to deliberately murdering people.

And, perhaps more importantly, to help any such conservatives hold dearly to that fallacy, Trump acknowledges NO EXCEPTIONS to this rule. "They" must all be bad people. Therefore, Team Trump can never acknowledge, let alone, praise the noble sacrifice of Humayun Khan. Because that threatens the logic of false epitome - if any are good, even noble, maybe others are too...maybe they are just like us in many ways...No, we can't have people thinking like that. In fact, given the opportunity, take down his grieving mother and father.

False epitome is an especially sinister weapon because, like many of Trump's weapons and his endlessly awful behavior, the underlying reality hides in plain sight.

When Trump distracts and attacks with an argument or action that takes a specific case - of his choosing - and unreasonably extrapolates to make a general case that appeals to his followers- traditional journalists are at a loss to identify what is really happening. But, at this point, the rest of us should not be fooled.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"Inevitable Progress"

In "Trump’s America does not care" Robert Kagan presents an interesting analysis of the Trump revolution from the perspective of international diplomacy: "the United States as rogue superpower, neither isolationist nor internationalist, neither withdrawing nor in decline, but active, powerful and entirely out for itself."

Kagan observes that "Trump is not merely neglecting the liberal world order; he is milking it for narrow gain, rapidly destroying the trust and sense of common purpose that have held it together and prevented international chaos for seven decades."

As we have seen over the past two years, the role of the U.S. in the international order has been turned upside down. Common sense dictates that even an election of a Democrat as president in 2020 can not reverse this because once "America First" takes hold and requires a "Me First" or an "Us First" from other nations, excluding the U.S., other countries know they can not count on the U.S. to honor treaties or commitments from one administration to the next.

Kagan states, "Trump’s world is a struggle of all-against-all. There are no relationships based on common values. There are merely transactions determined by power. It is the world that a century ago brought us two world wars."

Kagan writes more expansively on a similar theme in "The strongmen strike back: Authoritarianism has reemerged as the greatest threat to the liberal democratic world — a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge. And we have no idea how to confront it."

In this piece he recounts the history of the tension between authoritarianism and liberal democracy over the past several hundred years, with the First World War largely representing a great battle between the two and the Second World War marking the defeat of authoritarians and a "new birth" for liberalism.

Of interest to readers of this blog, Kagan remarks that the authoritarians are succeeding in ways never imagined since the end of the Cold War. He writes:

"It has been decades since liberal democracies took this challenge seriously. The end of the Cold War seemed like indisputable proof of the correctness of the Enlightenment view — the belief in inexorable progress, both moral and scientific, toward the achievement of the physical, spiritual and intellectual freedom of every individual. History was “the progress of the consciousness of freedom,” as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel put it in 1830; or as Francis Fukuyama wrote in "The End of History and the Last Man” in 1992, there were fundamental processes at work dictating 'a common evolutionary pattern for all human societies — in short, something like a Universal History of mankind in the direction of liberal democracy.'” [emphasis added]

This observation about the current reversal of progress belies "the belief in inexorable progress"on a global scale that mirrors the belief in "Inevitable Progress" expressed as Point #4 of the Six Points keynote page of this blog.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Enemy Within

Who is the enemy within? To figure that out, you need to decide who you are, who is acting against you, and whether or not they were here all along acting against you or recently entered from the outside - physically or virtually.

The Mueller investigation starts with actions taken against the U.S. and makes an effort to determine their source. The Special Counsel team is investigating crimes against the foreign actors as well as U.S. citizens.

But team Mueller is constrained by their mandate and how legal investigations work. They do not look for analogies. What if Russian has been working all along to ally themselves with conservative movements in Europe and the U.S. in order to weaken the Western alliance - NATO and the EU to strengthen the Russian hand internally as well as throughout the formal members of the Soviet Union and the unaligned nations?

Russian actions against the progressive democracies of the West have manifested themselves in similar ways in different countries. Yet this similarity is too abstract, too speculative for mainstream political journalists in the seize upon as evidence of anything.

The U.S. and the UK stand out as examples, but Italy looms large.

"Billionaires" who are not billionaires.

In the UK, Arron Banks was the largest contributor by far to the Leave campaign at 8.1 million pounds. If the source of his funds was foreign, such as Russia, those contributions would be illegal in the UK.  For much of the past three years, the press reflexively called him "Billionaire Arron Banks". As recently as last November, Time ran a piece: "The Billionaire Who Bankrolled Brexit Is Now Under Criminal Investigation. Officials Suspect Foreign Money" even as questions mounted about the source of his wealth and whether he is a billionaire. Bloomberg now has "The Mysterious Finances of the Brexit Campaign’s Biggest Backer" which sets his known assets at 34 million pounds.

Denying Meetings with the Russian Ambassador...and many other Russians...or their agents

In Britain, as in the U.S. meetings between those who promote so-called "populist" campaigns, inexplicable meetings with the Russian ambassador are first denied, then admitted, but minimized - it was "only once", then when there are more, but it was only social. As The Guardian reported: "Revealed: Leave.EU campaign met Russian officials as many as 11 times"

For analogy in the U.S., one need only think back to Jeff Sessions in his Senate testimony at confirmation hearings claiming that no one in the Trump campaign had any meetings with Russians. Then for him personally, it became only twice with Kislyak, allegedly and improbably in Sessions' role as a Senator.

Those Russian Wives and Girlfriends

Of course Arron Banks has a Russian wife whose first marriage at age 25 to a much older Englishman was an apparent sham to obtain UK citizenship and perhaps act as an agent of influence in the UK?: "The story of Mrs Arron Banks’ extraordinary first marriage"
Which brings to mind special agent of influence Maria Butina and her much loved boyfriend Paul Erickson of GOP/NRA fame.

Another Russian wife is Olga Roh, married to Stephan Roh. Zurich lawyer Stephan Roh has had close ties to the missing "professor" Joseph Mifsud, speaking alongside him at conferences and claiming to represent him though Mifsud has been missing for over a year. Roh has co-written a self-published book “The Faking of Russia-gate: The Papadopoulos Case, an Investigative Analysis,” Early Trump campaign advisor George Papadapoulos worked with Mifsud, as did his girlfriend, now wife Simona Maniante, who claims to be Italian, not Russian,  and admits her real age did not match her Italian passport age.

And Now Italy

Similarities to the U.S. are fascinating. The Daily Beast reported in March, 2017 :"Putin’s Party Signs Cooperation Deal with Italy’s Far-Right Lega Nord".

The Money: As the Daily Beast reports: "An Italian Expose Documents Moscow Money Allegedly Funding Italy's Far-Right Salvini" :
 "Italy’s interior minister and vice premier, Matteo Salvini, went off the grid for 12 hours during an official state visit to Moscow last October. Tales of Russian prostitutes seemed to explain the time lapse for the single statesman. But a new exposé by the Italian newsmagazine L'Espresso suggests that his time may have been spent doing something far more sinister: he may have been making backroom deals with Russian operatives ahead of European Parliamentary elections.The investigation, which the magazine says was conducted over several months, comes to the conclusion that Russian president Vladimir Putin is selling 3 million tons of diesel fuel via a Russian company to an Italian state company, Eni, that Salvini as interior minister can help manage."

The Russian Wife: 

As the Daily Beast reports:
Salvini's key tie to Russia is his former spokesman, Gianluca Savoini, who is not present in the current Italian government, but who remains a trusted ally of the leader. Savoini, who is married to a Russian woman named Irina, is listed as president of the Russia-Lombardy Association based in the north of Italy"

Austria, too. It's all happening in Austria, as the Daily Beast reported:

"Anger as Austria's foreign minister invites Putin to her wedding""
"Kneissl, an independent, owes her appointment as foreign minister to the populist, anti-immigrant Freedom party (FPÖ), the junior party in Austria’s ruling coalition.

The Eurosceptic and openly pro-Russia party has signed a “cooperation agreement” with Putin’s United Russia party, and Kneissl’s close ties to the Russian leader are raising questions in the EU over where Austria’s loyalties lie. The FPÖ has supported Russia’s claim to Crimea and called for the easing of sanctions on Moscow."

But not the U.S., right? Where's the signed cooperation agreement with the Republican Party?

Even if Mueller can prove everything, these are just process crimes, right? Nothing to see here. Or, as the Republican House Intelligence Committee insisted, speciously and falsely - Putin was anti-Hillary Clinton, not Pro-Trump, which Republican leaders repeated even after Helsinki: "House GOP stands by controversial finding in Russia report despite Putin's preference for Trump"

OK, so Putin was
(1) Pro-Brexit in the UK,
(2) Pro-Northern League in Italy (and Five-Star Movement for Italy to leave the EU),
(3) Pro-FPO in Austria, but
allegedly not (4) Pro-Trump in the U.S, despite Trump's strong pro-Putin stance.

If we only we could find the person or party Putin secretly supported in the U.S. in our national elections, that would surely be the enemy within.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Pivot to the General Case

One communications tactic that is easy to spot is the pivot from discussing that which is specific and germane to that which is general and irrelevant, and, often misleading.

Let's take an example that has nothing to do with politics per se and show how this works.

A certain NYTimes article begins thus:

"Danielle Teuscher decided to give DNA tests as presents last Christmas to her father, close friends and 5-year-old daughter, joining the growing number of people taking advantage of low-cost, accessible genetic testing.

But the 23andMe test produced an unexpected result. Ms. Teuscher, 30, a nanny in Portland, Ore., said she unintentionally discovered the identity of the sperm donor she had used to conceive her young child.

The mother of the donor was identified on her daughter’s test results as her grandmother. Excited and curious, Ms. Teuscher decided to reach out."

So, in the space of a few short sentences we are told that the mother of a young girl who was just trying out new ideas for Christmas gifts stumbled on the heritage of her biological daughter. Something does not seem right there.

The deflection begins with the first sentence. Let's talk about Christmas, not -"who is the biological father of my child?". And the general case - everybody is interested in DNA testing kits these days, not just mothers who resorted to anonymous sperm donors. Besides, this testing is so darn low cost and accessible. Who could resist? And then you find out a genetic link to the father of your daughter - who knew that was even possible?

But there is a dramatic logical flaw in that first sentence. Supposedly Ms. Teuscher bought a DNA test kit as a gift for her 5-year-old daughter. That makes no sense. Ms. Teuscher is obviously buying this test kit for herself to uncover the sperm donor. And the nonsense about buying kits for other family members is just noise - introduced to create confusion and to falsely make the case that this is all about Christmas, not about the mystery of paternity.

Even the title: "A Mother Learns the Identity of Her Child’s Grandmother. A Sperm Bank Threatens to Sue." gives away the game. "A Mother Learns..." is passive voice, also a clue to deception. Why not be direct? The mother did not just learn something. She took deliberate action. "A Mother Subjected Her 5-year-old to DNA testing and located the biological father. A Sperm Bank Threatens to Sue" would have been more to the point. The author is clearly taking the side of the mother in this one, but is being incredibly disingenuous. But this type of subterfuge is common in politics. Start with a specific case, possibly a specific question from a reporter, and deflect attention away from meaningful information to other irrelevancies, thus turning a discussion into nonsense. News reporters in politics have a tough time identifying this behavior as bad faith action, which, unfortunately, leads to continued bad faith.

In the Rose Garden yesterday Trump was challenged about his evidence requiring declaration of a national emergency at the southern border when statistics tell us "illegal immigration is down and crime is down, so on what do you base your facts?". After yelling "Sit down. Sit down" as he waved the reporter away -"You get one. You get one." Trump claimed, "I get my numbers from a lot of sources, Department of Homeland Security..." and then bobbed and weaved all over the place, saying "I have many statistics." In Trump's case, not only is the pivot away from the specific and germane to the general and irrelevant, and also to the vague and misleading, but, as we all know, almost always - to a statement that is false.