Heading down a perilous path: New York Times journalists vs. Sen. Tom Cotton

UPDATE: Sunday, June 7, 2020: JOURNALISM’S RETREAT –

James Bennet, editor of The New York Times’ editorial page, resigned today in the aftermath to the furor over publication of a controversial opinion piece by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). Bennet’s resignation was announced by the Times’ publisher, A.G. Sulzberger. Bennet initially defended the piece’s publication, saying ” It would undermine the integrity and independence of The New York Times if we only published views that editors like me agreed with, and it would betray what I think of as our fundamental purpose — not to tell you what to think, but to help you think for yourself.” Sulzberger, had also initially defended the column’s publication.

Bari Weiss, a staff editor and columnist for the opinion pages of the Times, described the whole dispute as a “civil war”. “The civil war inside The New York Times between the (mostly young) wokes (and) the (mostly 40+) liberals is the same one raging inside other publications and companies across the country,” she tweeted.

“The dynamic is always the same,” Weiss added. “The Old Guard lives by a set of principles we can broadly call civil libertarianism. They assumed they shared that worldview with the young people they hired who called themselves liberals and progressives. But it was an incorrect assumption. The New Guard has a different worldview, one articulated best by @JonHaidt and @glukianoffThey call it “safetyism,” in which the right of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe trumps what were previously considered core liberal values, like free speech.”

Weiss’ tweets set off a deluge of responses, some supportive, some critical:

#MeToo Barbie, MD
Um…pretty sure the “safetyism” that Black people want is physical safety. You know, since they keep getting shot by the cops. It’s fragile white people who are demanding emotional safety from having to confront their own racism.
John Barton
1/ Call it “safetyism” if you wish, but they’re seeking safety from arguments that run counter to their preferred narratives, which are a mix or leftist/progressive/intersectional views. I think “coercive leftism” is a more accurate label.

 

@Jyrkface

 

OF COURSE, @bariweiss sees people criticizing the NYT for pushing the idea that protesters should be shot, and considers the criticism an attack on the first amendment

@kbk3n3

 

Safetyism is actually just an excuse to control and manipulate people instead of growing up and dealing with opinions different from their own.

 

______________________________

 

 

 

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
Salman Rushdie

freespeech

“Running this puts black @nytimes writers, editors and other staff in danger,” New York Times opinion columnist Roxane Gay tweeted.

The “this” Gay was referring to was an op-ed written by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas that appeared in the Times on June 3, 2020. Running under the headline, “Send in the Troops,” Cotton argued that federal troops were needed to stamp out “anarchy” caused by the protests sweeping the United States that recalled “the widespread violence of the 1960s.”

“Some elites have excused this orgy of violence in the spirit of radical chic, calling it an understandable response to the wrongful death of George Floyd,” Cotton wrote. “Those excuses are built on a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters…The pace of looting and disorder may fluctuate from night to night, but it’s past time to support local law enforcement with federal authority.”

tomcotton

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)

Gay wasn’t the only Times journalist to decry the paper’s publication of Cotton’s Op-Ed. Multiple other staff retweeted her message, with some adding comments.

“As a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this,” tweeted Nicole Hannah-Jones, creator of “The 1619 Project,”  a New York Times Magazine effort that aims to reframe America’s history by focusing on the consequences of slavery.

“Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger and it’s fucking dumb as shit. I stand with my colleagues,” tweeted Times reporter Kyle Buchanan.

Then, like a thundering herd, as though they’d signed a loyalty oath to lazy thinking and the progressive branch of American politics, more than 800 New York Times staff members signed a letter protesting publication of Cotton’s  Op-Ed, according to a story in the paper.

The whole affair is reminiscent of when Bari Weiss, a staff editor and columnist for the opinion pages of the New York Times, found herself at the center of a social media feeding frenzy for sending a positive but carelessly worded tweet.  The furor was described in a 2018 Quillette article by Jamie Palmer, “Fundamentalists vs The New York Times.”

The News Guild of New York, a news professionals union, jumped into the fray, too. “Though we understand the Op-Ed desk’s responsibility to publish a diverse array of opinions, we find the publication of this essay to be an irresponsible choice,” the Guild said in a statement.  “Its lack of context, inadequate vetting by editorial management, spread of misinformation, and the timing of its call to arms gravely undermine the work we do every day.”

Even the Times’ Public Editor, Gabriel Snyder, piled on. “The problem with this idea of the Times as an open forum for views of all stripes — no matter how abhorrent — is that by opening the door to all “operative opinion” (as a member of the Opinion section described it to me a couple of years ago), the Times becomes a platform for those who are hostile to its core values and at direct odds with the New York Times Company mission to “seek the truth and help people understand the world,”  Snyder wrote.

Initially, editorial page editor James Bennet strongly defended the paper’s publication of the senator’s opinion piece. “We published Cotton’s argument in part because we’ve committed to Times readers to provide a debate on important questions like this,” he wrote in the paper’s Opinion Today newsletter. ” It would undermine the integrity and independence of The New York Times if we only published views that editors like me agreed with, and it would betray what I think of as our fundamental purpose — not to tell you what to think, but to help you think for yourself.”

Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger also defended publication of Cotton’s piece. “I believe in the principle of openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with, and this piece was published in that spirit,” he wrote in an email to the staff. “But it’s essential that we listen to and reflect on the concerns we’re hearing, as we would with any piece that is the subject of significant criticism. I will do so with an open mind.”

2018 New York Times Dealbook

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger

Then the paper’s leaders put their tails between their legs and caved to the internal criticism.

During a virtual town hall with the paper’s staff, Sulzberger changed his tune, saying Cotton’s piece was “contemptuous” and “should not have been published.”

Bennet even bowed to the hurt feelings claims of some of the paper’s staff,  “I just want to begin by saying I’m very sorry, I’m sorry for the pain that this particular piece has caused,” he said.

Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy added that the paper would, as a result of the dust-up, reduce the number of Op-Eds we publish.”  She blamed a “rushed editorial process…that did not meet our standards” for the piece’s publication, adding, “As a result, we’re planning to examine both short-term and long-term changes, to include expanding our fact-checking operation and reducing the number of Op-Eds we publish.”

Now that’s a healthy response to controversy, cut back on publishing citizen opinions on the news of the day.

As a former newspaper reporter, I have to ask, is this what things have come to at one of America’s most influential newspapers? Woke reporters essentially arguing that opinions that offend them or cause them hurt feelings should not be published. Fragile reporters insisting that they be safe from uncomfortable ideas, that free speech endangers them. Public Editors, of all people, arguing that outside opinion writers need to be stifled if their perspective differs from the standard liberal view.

Going down this road is a perilous trip.

Sulzberger and Bennet took the appropriate stance at the outset. It’s far better to give exposure to controversial views and let the public debate them.

In the past, the paper has made a point of taking a strong stand on encouraging public debate on controversial issues.

“The purpose of the Op. Ed. page is neither to reinforce nor to counterbalance The Times’s own editorial position,” an introduction to the paper’s opinion pages stated 50 years ago. “The objective is rather to afford greater opportunity for exploration of issues and presentation of new insights and new ideas by writers and thinkers who have no institutional connection with The Times and whose views will very frequently be completely divergent from our own.”

The purpose of the Op-Ed page is “to create an environment of collegial combat among different points of view dealing with consequential questions.,” the introduction said. “…articles are are meant to push readers into considering points of view just outside their comfort zone.”

So much for adhering to these lofty principles today.

 

The Baltimore brouhaha: Trump is an attention whore and the media are complicit

President Trump threw out the lure last Saturday and the media leaped at it like steelhead going after spinners. For almost a week now, the the media has been salivating over the Cummings/Baltimore story, playing right into Trump’s hands.

Spinning-fishing-for-steelhead

I’m sure that Trump, a manipulative narcissist if there ever was one, has been absolutely loving it.

“Rep, Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA…..,,” Trump Tweeted to start it all..

“….As proven last week during a Congressional tour, the Border is clean, efficient & well run, just very crowded,” Trump continued. “Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.”

According to Politico’s Daniel Lippman, despite Trump’s public anti-media screeds, he religiously reads four daily newspapers — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, as well was a daily print-out of the Drudge Report, all of which have covered the Cummings/Baltimore contretemps like a thick blanket.

Thankfully, at least one outlet, the babylonbee.com, a satirical news site, has approached he whole tempest as a joke with stories such as, Futuristic, Utopian Paradise Of Baltimore Completely Baffled By Trump’s Attacks:

“BALTIMORE, MD—President Trump launched into a deranged attack against the city of Baltimore, calling it “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and a place “no human being would want to live.” This caused extreme confusion within the city — as, having been run exclusively by Democrats for decades and decades, it is a nearly perfect, progressive utopia and a beacon of hope to all.”

But most news outlets have pursued the Cummings/Baltimore stories with the kind of moral outrage and hand-wringing usually reserved for stories of great import.

The New York Times, for example, has been all over the story, with headlines like, “The Rot You Smell is a Racist Potus,” “Trump Accuses Black Congressman and Allies of Being Racist,” and “Some very Specific Things the President Could do to Help Baltimore.”

The Times went so far as to run a story featuring Trevor Noah of The Daily Show defending Baltimore and Fox News asked Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Tavon Austin, who grew up in Baltimore, what he thought about Trump’s comments. Even though Austin said he hadn’t even read Trump’s comments about Baltimore, Fox gave him an opportunity to opine on the city’s tough times.

On the Sunday, July 28 talk shows, commentators couldn’t stay away from the topic, relishing the chance to fulminate ad nauseam about Trump, racism, inequality, inner-city troubles, etc.

Tuesday evening’s network news shows continued with one quoting Trump saying that living in Baltimore is like “living in hell” and interviewing residents for their reactions.

Online news outlets have latched onto the story too. On Tuesday, The Bulwark, an American conservative news and opinion website, ran a 1048-word story, Republicans Can Defend Elijah Cummings Any Time Now. Huffpost has gone wild with Cummings/Baltimore stories, too, posting eight different stories just on Tuesday.

And the whole thing has presented an opportunity for all sorts of detestable people to raise their profile, aided and abetted by the media. For example, Al Sharpton, who shows up repeatedly at hot spots like Nadia Vulvokov in the Netflix series Russian Doll, has jumped on the Cummings/Baltimore flap.

At a Monday news conference in Baltimore with former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele (R), Sharpton said Trump “has a particular venom for blacks and people of color.”

The story continued to draw in the media on Wednesday (July 31). A CBSN reporter, for example, asked a Republican National Committee official whether the controversy would alienate voters of color from the Republican Party.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), also apparently unable to move on, continued the barrage on Thursday, saying Trump should ask “slumlord” Jared Kushner about Baltimore. Here comments generated multiple news stories, including a lengthy story on The Hill and television news stories across the country.

The hand-wringing continued on Friday, Aug. 2, as academics and politicians worked to find an angle they could exploit. William A. Donohue, a Distinguished Professor of Communication at Michigan State University, wrote a piece for The Conversation, an online publication, likening Trump referring to Baltimore as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess” to the “pattern of dehumanizing language in the lead-up to the genocide committed by the Turks against Armenians, where Armenians were “dangerous microbes.” Donohue went so far as to equate Trump’s remarks to Germans describing Jews as “Untermenschen,” or subhumans, during the Holocaust.

All of the country’s major news outlets, and many secondary ones, have been rabidly pursuing the Cummings/Baltimore story, elevating it to major coverage, as though it matters.

If the media had simply ignored Trump’s blathering, it would have died a natural, and appropriate, death.  OK, maybe the Baltimore Sun had a reason to go with news coverage and a scathing editorial, but that’s it.

TrumpTweeting

Instead, major media have seen in Trump’s tweetstorm an opportunity to promote rancorous public disputes and contrived mud fights, just as the Eugene Robinson, a Washington Post columnist, observed that the “clear intent of the (CNN) moderation was to spark fights” in Tuesday night’s Democratic debate.

Atlantic magazine writer Adam Serwer got it right. “The mainstream press has internalized Trump’s own reality-show standards for what counts as a significant political development,” Server wrote. “All the world is trashy television, and the president and his opposition are merely producers.”

Trump’s Cummings/Baltimore tweet storms were designed to be a distraction, and they’ve worked particularly well with an American media with a hive mentality, a kind of “On est tous dans le même bain, ” and a consistent race to the bottom. It’s likepornography has gotten more and more crude and explicit in order to compete for attention.

Trump’s outrageous tweets divert the world’s attention, and reporters, from real issues that matter. He manipulates the media by transforming out-of-the-blue poisonous rants into free, must-cover press opportunities. “I remain astonished by the ability of this former reality TV star to be our assignment editor,” bemoaned Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Frankly, Trump has led the media by the nose, as they’ve pursued audiences with ferocity, their eyes more than ever on the bottom line in this difficult time for journalism.

As a Wall Street Journal opinion column by Holman W. Jenkins Jr. put it, “He delights in making us dance to tunes he wantonly types out in the wee hours.” Jenkins went on to mourn “…the apparent ease with which he elicits ritualized behavior from our media.”

When are the media going to wise up?

Trump’s seven words: Who you gonna believe?

Ghostbusters-2-01-4

It’s not easy being right.

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 6 that, “The Trump administration has informed multiple divisions within the Department of Health and Human Services that they should avoid using certain words or phrases in official documents being drafted for next year’s budget.”

According to the Post, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were told seven words or phrases were prohibited in budget documents: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

I’ve no doubt the two reporters who wrote the Post’s story, Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eipperin, were roundly celebrated for the scoop by their colleagues in the newsroom. It’s also likely that the Post was pleased to see its story picked up by multiple other major and minor newspaper, television and social media outlets.

I thought it was fascinating, too, partly because it tied in with all the current discussion about the misuse of words and the 1984 parallels.

“We’re becoming Venezuela, where doctors are warned not to diagnose a patient as suffering from ‘malnutrition’, likely because it would highlight the widespread hunger in the country where, according to a horrific story in the New York Times, starving children are regularly brought to hospital emergency rooms,” I wrote in a post on my blog.

But was the Washington Post’s story true?

On Dec. 18, National Review, a conservative publication said emphatically, “No”.

In a story titled, “No, HHS Did Not ‘Ban Words’,” Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs, a quarterly journal of essays on domestic policy and politics, forcefully challenged the Post’s version of events.

Levin, after talking with some HHS officials, argued that the budget office at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent divisions of the department a style guide to use in their budget-proposal language and “congressional justification” documents for the coming year. That style guide set out some words to be avoided, Levin said, because they are frequently misused or regularly overused in departmental documents. “The style guide does not prohibit the use of these terms, but it says they should be used only when alternatives (which it proposes in some cases) cannot be,” Levin wrote.

Why avoid certain terms? “The common practice of substituting the term “vulnerable” for “poor”, for example, has a long history of annoying some Republicans on Capitol Hill, and presumably that accounts for the instruction to avoid it in congressional-justification documents,” Levin said. In other words, he said, it wasn’t that retrograde Republicans in the Trump administration ordered career CDC officials not to use these terms but that career CDC officials assumed retrograde Republicans would be triggered by such words and, in an effort to avoid having such Republicans cut their budgets, reasoned they might be best avoided.”

“If all of that is correct… it does make for an interesting story,” Levin said. “But it’s not nearly as interesting as the Washington Post made it seem, and it doesn’t point to quite the same lessons either. In fact, it probably tells us more about the attitudes and assumptions of the career officials in various HHS offices than about the political appointees of the administration they are now supposed to be working for.”

So, slightly modifying the Ghostbusters line, “Who you gonna believe?”

With all the attention being given to so-called “fake news,” it’s becoming harder to know what’s true and what’s not. Sure, there are carefully planted tweets and Facebook posts that are clearly false, items posted not to inform but to sway public opinion. But what about all the stories by so-called legitimate media sources that, when closely examined, seem to some to be more an effort to advance an ideological agenda

The Post and the New York Times, for example, have come under fire from critics arguing that they are increasingly functioning as public relations arms of the Democratic National Committee. Equally, Fox News is routinely accused of just the opposite.

“Since its 1996 launch, Fox has become a central hub of the conservative movement’s well-oiled media machine,” says FAIR, a group that criticizes media bias from a progressive viewpoint. “Together with the GOP organization and its satellite think tanks and advocacy groups, this network of fiercely partisan outlets—such as the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative talk-radio shows like Rush Limbaugh’s—forms a highly effective right-wing echo chamber.”

Perhaps we are just returning to the beginning.

The first newspaper produced in North America was Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, published on September 25, 1690, by Boston printer Benjamin Harris. The colonial government objected to Harris’s negative tone regarding British rule and the newspaper was banned after one issue.

Subsequent newspapers printed during the colonial period were highly opinionated, generally arguing one political point of view or aggressively pushing the ideas of whatever party subsidized the paper.

Mitchell Stephens, a New York University journalism professor and the author of History of News, said the purpose of newspapers “changed to the political and polemical after 1765—around the time of the Stamp Act-as tensions snowballed.”

 

“As the century began, the fledgling colonial press tested its wings,” James Breig, a newspaper editor, wrote in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal. “A bolder journalism opened on the eve of the Revolution. And, as the century closed with the birth of the United States, a rancorously partisan and rambunctious press emerged.”

It looks like it’s back.

The media as the resistance

NYTIMES

Jill Abramson, a former executive editor of the New York Times, has a few things to say about the paper’s coverage of President Trump. In a Columbia Journalism Review piece, she warns that the paper needs to be careful not to “create the appearance of a pile-on… that needlessly inflame Trump loyalists.”

“Precisely because of its influence, the Times’s tone and sense of proportion in covering the president must be pitch perfect,” Abramson says. She notes statements by the paper’s current Executive Editor Dean Baquet, “Our role is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump,” and by David Sanger, a Washington correspondent for the Times, that it would be “the biggest single mistake . . . to let ourselves become the resistance to the government.”

To put it mildly, I’m far from a Trump loyalist, but I’ve seen the Times’ blatant bias in its coverage of Trump’s recent package of immigration proposals.

“White House Makes Hard-Line Demands for Any ‘Dreamers’ Deal”, the NY Times screamed on Oct. 8.

DACA PROTEST

The paper went on to say Trump’s “demands” threaten a bipartisan solution.

“WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday delivered to Congress a long list of hard-line immigration measures that President Trump is demanding in exchange for any deal to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, imperiling a fledgling bipartisan push to reach a legislative solution.”

The Washington Post blared on the same day:
“Trump administration releases hard-line immigration principles, threatening deal on ‘dreamers’ “

RealClear Politics fell in line, too. “ “An array of hard-line immigration priorities the White House outlined to Congress Sunday were quickly rejected by Democrats as complete non-starters, jeopardizing the chances of striking a deal to shield hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

 The Boston Globe, the L.A. Times, USA Today and multiple other news outlets piled on with the same “hard-line” cliché.

 Wait a minute. Why are Trump’s proposals “hard-line” and not the Democrats demands?

A little history is in order.

When President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals   (DACA) program in the Rose Garden on June 15, 2012, it hardly reflected a middle-of-the-road consensus. If anything, it represented hard-line hard-left thinking, but the media didn’t describe it that way.

This despite the fact Republicans vigorously denounced the move as an abuse of executive power. The action is “a politically-motivated power grab that does nothing to further the debate but instead adds additional confusion and uncertainty to our broken immigration system,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

And when Obama said in 2014 that he intended to expand DACA so more people would be eligible, 26 states with Republican governors went to court to stop him. Resistance broke out as well when Obama took executive action to grant deferred action status to illegal immigrants who had lived in the United States since 2010 and had children who were either American citizens or lawful permanent residents.

In both cases, courts blocked Obama’s actions and in June 2017 the Trump Administration officially rescinded the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans order.

In other words, Obama’s actions were pretty hard-line. But the media didn’t describe them that way.

Trump’s current package of immigration proposals includes a dozen proposals grouped into three broad areas — border security, interior enforcement and merit-based immigration. Key elements are:

  • Build a southern border wall and close legal loopholes that enable illegal immigration and swell the court backlog.
  • Enforce our immigration laws and return visa overstays.
  • Merit-based immigration system. Establish reforms that protect American workers and promote financial success.

The Democrat’s reaction? Immediate, unqualified, harsh, hard-line dead-on-arrival rejection of Trump’s plan. “This list goes so far beyond what is reasonable,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer  and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise.”

Why do the media label Trump’s proposals “hard-line”, but not apply the negative appellation to the Democrat’s outright rejection of them and insistence on their positions? Why aren’t the opening positions of both sides simply described as starting points for negotiation? Then we can decide what we think of them.

That would be more responsible than the major media becoming the resistance.

Trump’s Not The First To Try To Control the Drip Drip Drip

leaks

Media are joining in on the hysteria about the Trump Administration’s efforts to control federal government communications.

“Federal agencies are clamping down on public information and social media in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, limiting employees’ ability to issue news releases, tweet, make policy pronouncements or otherwise communicate with the outside world, according to memos and sources from multiple agencies,” Politico reported today, Jan. 25.

Willamette Week jumped on the bandwagon today as well, telling readers, “Send us tips, oppressed comrades!”

“Got information that would make a great story, but worried about revealing who you are? (Because you work for, say, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump?) WW has two new ways to send tips without disclosing your identity,” WW said.

“It’s a dark time right now,” because of Trump Administration restrictions on the use of social media and other channels by government employees, a former Obama administration spokeswoman told Politico. “From what we can tell, the cloud of Mordor is descending across the federal service,” added Jeff Ruch, executive director of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Before everybody goes off the deep end on all this, assuming it’s something new under the sun with the evil Trump, let’s step back a bit.

Every administration in recent memory has tried mightily to control the flow of information it doesn’t want disclosed from its agencies, with varying degrees of success.

In 1962, President Kennedy approved the wiretapping of a New York Times reporter and then set in motion Project Mockingbird, illegal CIA domestic surveillance on American reporters.

Richard Nixon fought leaks to the media with a vengeance. After an initial honeymoon with the media, he later distrusted them and fought them tooth and nail, believing coverage of him was deeply biased. And, frankly, it was. As Politico’s John Aloysius Farrell wrote in 2014, “Just because he was paranoid doesn’t mean the media wasn’t out to get him.”

A recent report commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists blasted the Obama administration for being overly aggressive in controlling government communications with the media, too, saying its information disclosure policies had a“…chilling effect on accountability.”

“The war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” said Leonard Downie, a former Washington Post executive who authored the study.

David Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, said in the report: “This is the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.”

The report told of how the Obama administration used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute leakers and created the “Insider Threat Program” requiring government employees to help prevent leaks to the media by monitoring their colleagues’ behavior.

The report also described how the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed and seized all the records for 20 Associated Press telephone lines and switchboards for two months of 2012, after an AP investigation into a covert CIA operation in Yemen.

“Put all these together and it paints a pretty damning picture of an administration that talks about openness and transparency but isn’t willing to engage with the media around these issues,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

So before everybody goes ballistic, singling out Trump’s efforts to tightly manage public pronouncements and minimize leaks, consider that he’s part of a long line of presidents who have fought hard to do the same.

That’s just a fact. Depressing, isn’t it.

Creating A New Blue Bubble

mediacoveringtrump2

One week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, editors from CNN, Slate, Univision, The New Yorker, and The Huffington Post plan to huddle for a discussion on how to cover the Trump presidency.

The collusion has begun.

“Join Slate for a conversation with top editors in New York about how the news media can and should proceed to cover the Trump presidency,” says an e-mail making its way around the major media universe. “The panel will discuss strategies they are implementing at their outlets, and how journalists and media companies at large can play a bigger role in making sure that fact prevails over fiction in the coming months and years.”

The e-mail, reported by Mediaite, says proceeds from the Jan. 25 event at the NYU Skirball Center will go to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit dedicated to the global defense of press freedom. This is the same committee actress Meryl Streep urged people to support in her controversial Golden Globe remarks.

Slate is bringing the media together to advance a liberal  post-election agenda, just as the Democratic Party is using the confirmation process for Trump’s cabinet nominees as a first step in a rebuilding effort.

“That effort includes getting opposition research and outside messaging groups into high gear, fundraising off of certain confirmation hearing highlights or controversies regarding some  nominees, and coming up with a way to paint the administration they will run against in four years in an unflattering light,” said Caitlin Huey-Burns in Real Clear Politics.

The gathering is consistent with a call by New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg for reporters to present “a united front”.

A united front for press freedom is an admirable goal. A united front to attack a presidency is not.

But if you regularly follow Slate, Univision, The New Yorker, and The Huffington Post, they are already consistent in their disparagement of Trump and his coterie of advisers and supporters.

The current New Yorker, for example, has a cover portraying Trump as a child taking off in the family car with the hope he’ll be apprehended before he can do too much damage.

newyorkercovertrump

The magazine itself features multiple stories denigrating Trump and his allies. One accuses Trump of being “a clumsy bigfoot” with his comments on contributions to his campaign from an L.L. Bean family member. Other stories lambaste Trump’s inaugural festivities, liken Trump to Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, in an upcoming movie that “conspires to smooth any wrinkles of villainy”, and take on Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump supporter, in an odd piece about his views on Star Trek vs. Star Wars,

This all reminds me of the much-maligned JournoList, a private Google Groups forum for discussing politics and the media with membership consisting of 400 left-leaning journalists, pundits, academics and others. The forum, active during 2007-10, was accused of encouraging and facilitating coordinated messaging supporting liberal views, though many critics asserted any conspiracy theory was overblown.

JournoList did display, however, the inclination for the progressive community to bond over common political and personal biases. The new Slate-driven consortium of progressive publications is likely to head in the same direction, reinforcing their blue bubble as they battle Trump and his policies.

As Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote shortly after the election:

“Much of the mainstream, legacy media continues its self-disgrace. Having failed to kill Donald Trump ’s candidacy they will now aim at his transition. Soon they will try to kill his presidency.”

 

 

Media Transparency: Who said that?

mediatransparency

Untrustworthy information isn’t just about fake news, the media’s topic du jour. There’s another equally insidious trend in today’s media.

It was highlighted in a recent New York Times  opinion piece contending that Facebook shouldn’t be expected to fact-check news posts.

“What those demanding that Facebook accept “responsibility” for becoming the dominant news aggregator of our time seem to be overlooking is that there’s a big difference between the editorial power that individual news organizations wield and that which Facebook could,” wrote a woman named Jessica Lessin, identified as the founder and chief executive of The Information, a technology news site. “Such editorial power in Facebook’s hands would be unprecedented and dangerous.”

Lessin noted in her piece that her husband worked at Facebook “for a brief period.” That’s it.

But the New York Times’ Public Editor, Liz Spayd, disclosed on Nov. 30 that, in fact, Lessin and her husband, Sam, have pretty damn close ties to Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive officer.

Not only have Sam Lessin and Zuckerberg been friends since they both attended Harvard, Spayd reported, but Sam introduced Zuckerberg to investors when he was starting Facebook. In addition, in 2010, Facebook acquired a file-sharing site, Drop.io, that Sam had founded and made Sam a Facebook vice president overseeing product. Zuckerberg was even a guest at the Lessing’s wedding.

Spayd ripped the Times for not disclosing to readers the Lessins’ ties to Facebook, particularly because Jessica Lessin had vigorously defended the company.

The problem is this is not the only case of the media’s failure to disclose relevant information on somebody expressing an opinion.

On Oct. 28, 2016, CBS News Tonight featured a comment by a Matthew Miller condemning FBI Director James Comey for reopening the Clinton email investigation. CBS noted only that Miller had been a spokesman for the Department of Justice.

That same day, Politico reported that Miller had gone on a 14-post spree on Twitter blasting Comey and said Comey’s letter to Congress announcing the review of more evidence in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server constituted “…an inappropriate disclosure.”

Politico also identified Miller only as “a former director of the Justice Department’s office of public affairs.”

Salon jumped on the bandwagon, too, citing a Miller tweet, “FBI is undoubtedly investigating links between the Russian hack, Manafort, & the Trump campaign”. Salon also identified Miller as “Former Department of Justice spokesman…”.

The next day, the Washington Post ran a lengthy opinion piece by Miller titled “James Comey fails to follow Justice Department rules yet again.” Miller blasted Comey, saying his action “…was yet another troubling violation of long-standing Justice Department rules or precedent, conduct that raises serious questions about his judgment and ability to serve as the nation’s chief investigative official.”

In this case, the opinion piece identified Miller only as director of the Justice Department’s public affairs office from 2009 to 2011.

In both cases, there was a glaring omission. For full transparency, CBS and the Washington Post should have pointed out that Miller was hardly an unbiased observer.

Not only has Miller served as communications director for the House Democratic Caucus, but he held the same position at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was elected Senate minority leader on Nov. 16, 2016, making him the highest ranking Democrat in the U.S.

Before working for Schumer, Miller was communications director for the successful 2006 Senate campaign of Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

Don’t you think it would be instructive to know all this before reading Matthew Miller’s opinions?

In other words, untrustworthy news isn’t just about fake news, the media’s topic du jour.

Readers shouldn’t have to research a writer’s background on their own, as I had to do to evaluate Matthew’s credibility, because of the media’s lack of candor. But too often, media cast aside their responsibility to be forthcoming, sometimes I think deliberately, to obscure their biases.

In the end, this is all about the critical importance of the media telling what radio broadcaster Paul Harvey called ‘the rest of the story’ ”.

 

 

 

Post-Election: More of the Same

“Much of the mainstream, legacy media continues its self-disgrace. Having failed to kill Donald Trump ’s candidacy they will now aim at his transition. Soon they will try to kill his presidency.

Columnist Peggy Noonan, Nov. 19, 2016

not-my-president-anti-trump-protesters-900

New York Times Headlines from just one day, November 19, 2016

Trump Selects Loyalists on Right Flank: Strident Team of Like Minds

Donald Trump’s Disturbing Picks

Michael Flynn (Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser), Too Hotheaded for a Sensitive Position

As Trump Rises, So Do Some Hands Waving Confederate Flags

Amid Divisions, a March Seeks to Unite Women

Diplomats Shift Focus to a New Threat Facing Paris Pact: Trump

 Disoriented ‘Never Trump’ Stalwarts Try to Focus on Policy, Not the Man

 Muslim Americans Speak of Escalating Worry

650 Harvard Business School Women Assail Bannon (Trump’s pick for chief strategist)

 Conflicts and Nepotism Under Trump?

(Trump) The Man Who Would be King

Oh, No! Trump’s Calling

Daughter (of Trump)’s Presence at Meeting Poses Questions

An Anti-Muslim Proposal

As the The Nieman Lab, a respected media analysis organization, wrote recently:
 
“…will the increased clarity about the divides in this country encourage a more targeted product for affluent, coastal, progressive audiences? And will reporters and editors at these outlets — who, it is fair to assume, did not vote for Trump in large numbers — begin to see themselves as more explicitly oppositional?” 
Based on the New York Times, the answer is yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump, Clinton and taxes: saving money the American way

U.S. Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees convention in Las Vegas

According to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump “abuses power and games the system” by declaring a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns that could be used to avoid future federal income taxes.

But let’s get real here. The Clintons have taken advantage of tax laws to minimize their taxes, too.

According to their 2015 federal tax return, Hillary Clinton reported earning $1,475,500 in speaking fees. To reduce the amount of those earnings, and the amount of taxes owed, she claimed:

  • $93,073 in expenses for commissions and fees
  • $25,000 for taxes and fees
  • $231,498 for travel
  • $1,281 for deductible meals and entertainment
  • $460 for utilities

By claiming these deductions, Hillary Clinton reduced her taxable income from speaking by a total of $352,257.

Bill Clinton took advantage of tax laws to reduce his taxable income, too.

He reported earning $5,250,000 in speaking fees in 2015. To reduce the amount of those earnings, and the amount of taxes owed, Bill Clinton claimed:

  • $359,703 in expenses for commissions and fees
  • $25,000 for taxes and licenses
  • $445,654 for travel
  • $4,155 for deductible meals and entertainment

By claiming these deductions, Bill Clinton reduced his taxable income from speaking by a total of $834,512.

Bill Clinton also reported consulting income of $1,660, 575 in 2015, from which he deducted $84,234 in expenses in order to reduce his taxable income.

The Clinton’s also claimed a long-term capital loss carryover of $699,540, generating a net long-term capital loss of that amount.

In addition, the Clintons took advantage of allowed deductions for charitable contributions. In 2015, they claimed a deduction of $1,042,000 donations for charitable to the Clinton Family Foundation, a non-profit that was formed in 2002 and serves as a philanthropic vehicle for the Clinton family.

The Clintons have also been aggressive in estate planning steps that will minimize taxes. According to Money magazine, they’ve established property and insurance trusts that ensure that, after they die, at least some of their millions of dollars in assets will be shielded from the estate tax.

Money has reported that one way the couple has chosen to limit the tax hit on their estate is via residence trusts, which prevent any growth in the property’s value from being counted in the couple’s estate — and, therefore, from being taxed when passed along to heirs.

The Clintons established two such trusts in 2010 and shifted ownership of their home in Chappaqua, N.Y., into them the following year. If the value of their home continues to grow, the move could save their estate hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.

So before media and Clinton denunciations of Trump for his tax practices get totally out of hand, let’s remember that tax avoidance is not only common, but respectable.

Even the New York Times, which broke the story on Trump’s tax returns and has editorialized against Trump’s actions, paid no income tax for 2014 and got a $3.5 million refund, despite a pre-tax profit of $29.9 million, Forbes has reported.

As Judge Learned Hand so famously said:

“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.”

Are you liberal or conservative? Facebook thinks it knows.

liberalconservativeThe New York Times reported today on Facebook’s efforts to classify you so it can sell that info to advertisers.
According to the NYT, if you want to know how Facebook categorizes you, just go to facebook.com/ads/preferences on your browser. (You may have to log in to Facebook first.)
 
Under the “Interests” header, click the “Lifestyle and Culture” tab.
 
Then look for a box titled “US Politics.” In parentheses, it will describe how Facebook has categorized you, such as liberal, moderate or conservative.
 
The NYT says Facebook makes a deduction about your political views based on the pages that you like — or on your political preference, if you stated one, on your profile page.
 
Even if you don’t like any candidates’ pages, if most of the people who like the same pages that you do — such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream — identify as liberal, then Facebook might classify you as one, too.
 
But the system isn’t foolproof. I checked and it said I’m a liberal. Anybody who knows me knows that couldn’t be further from the truth. So much for data analysis.