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Tag: Media

Time to Bury It: Journalism, RIP

Time to Bury It: Journalism, RIP

Just when you thought the state of journalism in this country couldn’t sink any lower, along comes a week like this past one. I’ve been trying not to say this, trying hard for a very long time, but I think it’s become inescapable. It’s time, I’m afraid, to declare journalism dead, and to give it a burial, decent or not.

This is coming from a recovering journalist. I was a practicing journalist for many years, got a hard-earned masters degree in the field, and later went on to teach journalism at the university level. But that was a different journalism. It was before its untimely demise, back in an age when facts and fairness and accuracy and balance all actually mattered. When a journalist’s ethics and credibility went hand-in-hand. Sadly, it seems these things no longer count in this post-journalism era, otherwise known as the Age of Fake News, we find ourselves in.

I’ll concede there are outposts of journalism that still live. But they have become few and far between. If the profession is twitching in those places, it’s certainly not kicking more generally.

There are some things that went down this past week that top all the general level of noise we’ve become accustomed to. Two stories in particular lead me to, at last, pronounce the profession dead. But beyond those stories, I think it’s more the result of a feeling I’ve had in my heart, a heaviness of spirit, that has become inescapable when I see or read most of what passes for journalism today. A chronic feeling has turned acute.

The thing that first put my hand to signing the death certificate was the report carried by BuzzFeed – BuzzFeed! – late last Thursday, Jan. 17, in which it was stated unequivocally, based on unnamed sources, that the President had directed his attorney, the now discredited and sentenced Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress. It would be a pretty big story, I suppose, if only it were true. Which, as it turns out, it apparently isn’t. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a journalist gets something wrong. But that’s not even the thing about this story and how it was treated by others in the so-called profession that initially grabbed my attention and caused me to become so despondent about the state of journalism.

The first thing that struck me was the source of this story. I mean, really, BuzzFeed? We’re supposed to take this to be a serious source for news? That seems ludicrous to me, and then, to my shock and dismay, here were other ostensibly serious journalists quoting the BuzzFeed story as if it were real journalism. One big nail in the profession’s coffin.

In case you can’t tell, I don’t take pop feeds like BuzzFeed seriously. Maybe every now and then a source like that, such as, for instance, the National Enquirer, gets things right, more or less the way a broken clock is right by default twice a day. But overall, this is not a serious source for news. We used to make fun of my grandmother for reading the Enquirer and the Globe, but here were national journalists actually copping to following BuzzFeed and treating it seriously. I think that said as much about the state of journalism as anything.

To prove my point, I took a look at the lead stories on BuzzFeed – just a random sample, mind you, but typical. Here is what they were, in descending order:

  • “If You Grew Up Listening To These 24 Songs Then You Are 100% Gay Now”
  • “29 Useful Kitchen Gadgets That People Actually Swear By”
  • “People Can’t Even With the Announcement Of This Gender Reveal Lasagna” (No, I don’t have a clue what it means, either, but that was the actual headline)
  • “Everything You Need To Know About The Drama Surrounding The British Royal Family Making Headlines in New Zealand” (Silly me, I heretofore didn’t think there was anything I needed to know about any drama or anything else concerning the British Royal Family, much less that merits headlines in New Zealand)
  • “Trending” – trending, mind you! – “The Entire World Is Obsessed That Americans Drink Out Of These”
  • “Get 3/10 On This Quiz And You Know More Than Most About Immuno-Oncology” (That sounded at least a little serious, until I noticed it was “Promoted by Bristol-Meyers Squibb” – that is, paid advertising by the pharma giant, stuck in among the headlines)
  • “Congress Wants To Know Whether Matthew Whitaker Talked To The White House About The Special Counsel’s Response To A BuzzFeed News Report”

Now if you look at that last headline and you’re astute enough to decipher it, you’ll see that the story is essentially political propaganda masquerading as news. Dissecting, briefly, the etymology of it, BuzzFeed, relying on unnamed sources, published a story saying something concerning the Special Counsel, the Special Counsel immediately said the story wasn’t true, BuzzFeed stuck by the reporters’ story (more on that in a sec) despite the Special Counsel’s denial, and then the Dems in Congress (portrayed in the headline as “Congress”) jumped on the false story told by BuzzFeed to further their political agenda, and that is what this story is about. Therefore, the translation of that headline is: “Our Sources Weren’t So Hot After All, But It’s Bad For Trump, So We’re Sticking By It, And So Are the Dems In Congress.”

Okay, I know what some of you are going to say. BuzzFeed News is a separate part of the operation and is a serious (sic) news organization. Putting aside for the moment that it was BuzzFeed News that broke what is likely to turn out to be a bogus story but won’t retract it, here were the headlines when I looked on this serious “news” side of the house:

  • “President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project” (Yup, there it is, the story the Special Counsel has said isn’t true, right there at the top of BuzzFeed News’s “news” feed. Even The New York Times has the decency to publish retractions and corrections, albeit buried inside the body of the paper.)
  • “Transgender Soldiers Are Terrified And Disappointed After The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Trump’s Ban”
  • “Cardi B Clapped Back Against Accusations That Her ‘Twerk’ Video Doesn’t Empower Women In the #MeToo Era” (Pardon my ignorance, but who the hell is Cardi B? And in what obscure way is this news?)
  • “The Biggest Surprises From This Year’s Oscar Nominations” (Not among them, I am sure, is that even fewer people will watch the Oscars this year than last, and the one before that, and the one before that, and . . . )
  • “The Campaign For A People’s Vote On Brexit Has Descended Into Infighting And Splits” (News Flash: And there is coal in Newcastle!)
  • “The Big Design Change For 2020: An Explosion Of Colors Beyond Red And Blue!” (A cross between more thinly veiled propaganda for Dems and a big bunch of “who cares?”)

Okay, now let’s look at the reporters – and one in particular, Jason Leopold – who produced this journalistic masterpiece that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has denied. Leopold, billed as a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and based in Los Angeles, has a checkered past that includes previous false reports, making stuff up as he went along, and even plagiarism (about the worst crime a writer can commit). Salon, after an extended series of unsuccessful attempts to get Leopold to document claims contained in a 2002 story about Navy Secretary Thomas White when he formerly was Vice Chairman of Enron Energy Services, wound up pulling the story and apologizing to readers. I won’t detail the lengths Salon went to to get Leopold to document his reporting, but you can read all about it on the New Zealand site Scoop. Leopold’s rebuttal, which reads like a petulant and self-justifying denial of the facts, is there, too. That, incidentally, also was the story where Leopold was credibly accused of plagiarizing several paragraphs from a Financial Times story.

That wasn’t the end of Jason Leopold’s missteps, either. In 2006, Leopold, again relying on unnamed sources, reported on Truthout.org that Presidential Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was being indicted on charges related to the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. The only problem with the story, since taken down by the site, was that it wasn’t true. Columbia Journalism Review called the story “Leopold’s latest addition to his application for membership in the Stephen Glass school of journalism,” a reference to The New Republic writer who just made things up in his stories written over a three-year period with the publication. Further, Leopold’s history includes being fired by The Los Angeles Times for creating a newsroom fracas with a colleague, and the would-be publisher of Leopold’s first memoir, Off the Record, canceling the publication after being threatened with a lawsuit for alleged misstatements made in the book.

Now if the Special Counsel’s denials weren’t enough, and Leopold’s questionable track record didn’t raise questions, public disagreement between the two authors of Thursday’s story about whether they actually viewed the evidence corroborating the allegations cited in the article might have put up red flags. While co-author Anthony Cormier – formerly of The Tampa Bay Times – told both CNN and NPR he had not actually seen the evidence, Leopold later insisted that they had in fact seen the evidence. Is this some minor point that might have been mis-remembered by the co-authors? Not likely. But as startling is what Cormier told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. After insisting in his CNN interview that he was “rock solid” on the story, Cormier told Inskeep, “This is a crime, if it’s true. And our reporting suggests that it is.” What? Full stop. “This is a crime, if it’s true.” If it’s true? What the hell kind of reporting insists something is true when there remains an “if” involved? I don’t know if that would cut it at The Tampa Bay Times, but apparently it does at BuzzFeed. Big nail number two in the coffin.

As if they’re all in an echo chamber, which apparently they are, a slew of Dems in Congress, in tweets and statements, picked up not only on the BuzzFeed piece but on Cormier’s very words, “if it’s true,” and ran with that making assorted threats of impeachment against the President. Quelle surprise!

Wouldn’t all this give an editor cause for concern? Apparently not BuzzFeed’s editors. BuzzFeed stood by the story, and its Editor-in-Chief, Ben Smith, later tweeted on Friday: “In response to the statement tonight from the Special Counsel’s spokesman: We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”

Okay. That was one of the two stories this past week that led me to declare journalism dead. The other is the story, such as it is, of the standoff between the kid from Covington, Kentucky, and the Native American guy originally from Nebraska. The incident actually took place last Friday, Jan. 18, but it was only after a video of the standoff went viral that the story took off, and the reportage (again, sic) this week has been rabid.

When I first heard this story at the beginning of the week, my initial reaction was, “Why are we supposed to care about this?” If this had happened anywhere else except in Washington, D.C., and in any time other than the one in which we live, it probably wouldn’t even have made the local news. I was gratified to hear someone else – I regret that I don’t recall who – on the radio ask the same question, “Who cares?”

Well, apparently lots of people cared. Not enough to actually get the facts straight, and that includes most in the national media, but they cared. After all, the story – at least as it was perceived – had all the hallmarks of what I’m afraid has come to make stories considered newsworthy in this age of post-journalism: Racism, angry confrontation, demonstrations, and – more than anything – Trumpism v. anti-Trumpism. The media was all over the story: Angry kids wearing MAGA – “Make America Great Again,” the Trump motto – hats confront Native American elder near the Lincoln Memorial. They are in his face, ready to tear him apart, a bunch of racists who hated blacks, Native Americans, anyone except white Americans. They came to Washington to oppose abortion (labeled, in PC terms, “a woman’s right to choose”), and now they were spreading their racism by getting in the face of this poor Vietnam vet.

The only problem with the story was . . . it wasn’t true. But that didn’t stop a maelstrom of national debate, name calling, accusations, death threats, and who knows how many millions of dollars of air time from being dedicated to it. And, as much as we might wish it would just go away, we’re probably going to be hearing about this story for days, even weeks, until something more scintillating comes along to displace it. And then it will just disappear.

Even in an age of biased media, this story stands out for how one-sided the media coverage of it has been. Whether it is CNN, MSNBC, or just about every other news outlet, the only side of the story that was told for days was that of Nathan Phillips, the Native American man. It was as if there was no other version of events. Even CNN’s URL for the interview with Nathan Phillips – still up as of this writing – gives a hint of the bias:

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/21/us/nathan-phillips-maga-teens-interview/index.html

I was especially distraught to see stories carried in USA TODAY, written by reporters with Gannett’s Cincinnati Enquirer local newspaper, that were entirely single-source stories, quoting only Phillips, without even an apparent attempt to contact Nick Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High student facing off against Phillips in the actual incident. I used to work for Gannett at the paper, TODAY, now FLORIDA TODAY, that served as the model for USA TODAY, and even though Gannett, even then in the 1980s, was not the paradigm of journalism, I don’t think single-source stories on such a controversial topic would have been acceptable to my editors. But today they are. And the whole country gets to read them.

If you haven’t been in a coma the past few days you know of the death threats made against Sandmann and the other students involved. You know how they have been accused of being racists, how Sandmann “got in the face” of Phillips, how the students chanted “the wall, the wall,” how everyone from members of Congress to state representatives to the usual gaggle of Hollywood celebrities put out terribly nasty tweets critical of Sandmann. One so-called journalist wished the kids would die (he got fired). It didn’t help that the Catholic Diocese of Covington piled on with criticism and threats against the Covington students before they had the facts, either. That’s the kind of age we live in, being first counting more than being right, with the kind of moral righteousness that might otherwise be seen as the less-than-desirable quality of being holier-than-thou.

But if you watched the full video of what went down, you would have seen that the account given by Phillips wasn’t at all accurate. You would have seen Sandmann, smiling silently, facing a man banging a drum in his face, and periodically signaling to this classmates to cool their antics, and those same classmates, most just kids, not even old enough to grow facial hair, being, well, kids.

And if you just paid attention to the national media, you also might not know that the Native American group, some 50 individuals led by Phillips and his drum, attempted to disrupt a mass being held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington on Sunday night. Or that Nathan Phillips has a violent criminal record, including assault and jail break, or that he never served in Vietnam (a fact you might have picked up on by his carefully nuanced statements about his service, but not by the banners run across the screens of CNN or the questions of TV interviewers). And you certainly can be excused for not knowing about the group that may be the real racists involved in the subject incident, the Black Hebrew Israelites, whom the students said were shouting hateful things at them before the incident involving Phillips took place. Though, if you follow TMZ – another prime example of the state of journalism in 2019 – you might have learned that the venerable Phillips has turned down Sandmann’s invitation to meet and talk things out. Oh, and if you want to see that it’s not just journalism but the state of the readership that has gone down the toilet, just read the comments on that piece. I mean, why bother? All in all, a third nail in the coffin of journalism.

Thus ends a helluva week and, with it, a formerly venerable profession. RIP.

Illiberal Liberals

Illiberal Liberals

I’m increasingly reminded how very illiberal many liberals are. This used to be a relatively rare occurrence, but in the age of Trump, and with the liberal affliction of Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS, reaching epidemic proportions, it’s happening pretty much all the time now.

There are unmistakable signs of this illiberal bent in all sorts of places, but every so often it takes on a personal dimension. Yesterday was one of those occasions. As many of you know, I regularly post my pieces on Medium, a site that supposedly promotes propagation and discussion of all different viewpoints. I say “supposedly,” because like most of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, if your views are liberal they get pushed, and if they’re not, they get buried, banned, shadow banned, or just ignored. I’ve read utter drivel on a variety of subjects, but with a liberal perspective, on Medium that get lauded (approvals are registered by “claps” by readers) with thousands and thousands of claps. Other posters and pieces – and I know this sounds like sour milk, but I do my best to base my postings on actual facts and not just figments of my paranoia or imagination – such as myself and my postings, not of a liberal tilt, are lucky to even get any readers. In general, if Medium promotes a piece, it gets exposure. If it doesn’t get promoted, one might as well throw a piece down a well, and it doesn’t matter how much sense it makes or how well informed it is.

Which takes me back to my story about the personal dimension of liberal illiberality I encountered yesterday. One of Medium’s promo emails, which list several postings site editors view as especially worthy of promotion, included a link that tied back to some piece of (I use the term loosely) poetry that, in less than subtle terms, accused the President of treason for some connection with Putin, which it seems the poster took as fact. It was, I don’t know, about five lines long, and wasn’t even good poetry. Never mind that it contained no evidence or even theory for what would normally qualify as a slanderous allegation, it was enough that this “poet” believed it. And, of course, in true Medium form, he had all sorts of sycophantic clappers. Yea! Great work! Right. Well, not being terribly judicious, I had to say something, so I posted a very simple response, which I think was in keeping with the style and depth of the original posting. What I said was, “Seriously? I mean, seriously???”

Well, next thing I know the poster did what liberals often do when confronted with something they don’t like. He blocked me. He didn’t argue against me. He didn’t ask my reason for posting what I did. He didn’t call me a nasty name, which at least would have been an honest thing to do. He just did the cowardly thing and blocked me, like I was some sort of stalker (believe me, I’m not) or threat to his life or safety (as many so called “liberals” actually are with those with whom they disagree). I’ve been online since the early days of the Internet, and even being the direct and sometimes controversial person I tend to be, I make a point of being reasoned and not engage in ad hominum attacks, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been blocked. And even most of those few times have been by disgruntled former girlfriends. But there you have it – this über-liberal and would-be poet couldn’t handle just four words of dissent with his ill-founded views.

I mean, me, I welcome disagreement. Of course, I love it when someone agrees with me, but I’d rather have someone disagree and say why then just ignore what I say, or do something gutless like blocking me. I’m not afraid of argument or dissent, and I have the facts to back up my positions. I’m even willing to admit when I’m wrong, which happens on rare occasions. Which I guess is part of liberals’ cowardice, because they often don’t base their positions on fact and simply can’t admit when they are wrong.

What happened yesterday isn’t an aberration, either. I have found almost universally it is so-called liberals who are quick to cut off contact when one utters something that diverges from their orthodoxy. This all began for me a few years ago when my oldest friend in the world, a besty since high school in the 1960s, decided I wasn’t liberal enough for him and he cut off contact after more than a half-century of friendship, 50-plus years of putting up with each other’s idiosyncrasies. In doing so, he accused me of having “changed“ in my views over the years. Funny that, which doesn’t seem like a crime to me, but funnier because it was said to someone who doesn’t really believe most people can or do change, not much. But not being afraid of dialogue, I wrote back and recounted all the key beliefs I held in high school – how I valued the individual and individual freedom, being paramount among them – and how I still was true to them. I also pointed out to him, inter alia, how he supported bombing the North Vietnamese back to the Stone Age, a not terribly liberal view, in those days. That aside, the point I was trying to make was, while we might disagree in our views, our values, I thought, were pretty similar.

Notice the distinction that I made between “views” and “values.” Views come and go. Values endure. That’s how I see it, anyway. Well, there were two values I guess we didn’t share – engaging in reasoned argument, and the value of friendship – because he never responded. Not then. Not since. After all, he’s a liberal, right, and I’m some sort of lesser person because I’m not. Speak of a holier-than-thou attitude, the hallmark of a hypocrite.

If truth be told, even during the many years when I was sympathetic to supposedly liberal causes and beliefs, I’ve always detested the word liberal. The reason was that it seemed to be a cop out, and people who claimed to be liberals were usually half-assed and didn’t really live by liberal values. I’d rather an honest radical – in some respects, I’m closer to that, radical, than liberal – than a wishy-washy liberal.

So now we’re seeing these self-styled liberals showing their true colors. If the facts don’t comport with their world view, they just change them, or make them up. If they don’t like someone, it’s easier to call them a name than look at their own hatreds and prejudices. The inconsistencies and downright fraud perpetrated on them by their appointed heroes doesn’t seem to phase them, but if someone they don’t like, or are told not to like, is the least bit inconsistent or less than honest, they’re all over him or her like a rash.

This tendency, of course, is most evident when it comes to the President and TDS. These so-called liberals, led by the liberal stoolies in the mass media, are like a pack of rabid jackals. It’s gotten to the point where school kids are bullied for just having the name Trump, so much that they’re driven to want to change their name. And what do they get back? A bunch of ineffectual (though undoubtedly liberal) coping techniques from someone who, if thinly disguised, clearly shares the same view of the President that has led to this hapless kid being bullied (I’m somewhat qualified to comment on what does or doesn’t work with bullies, by the way, having been bullied relentlessly in grade school and even after).

I actually heard someone in the media today say that not only is Trump bad, but anyone who voted for him is equally bad. This is the kind of intolerance, not to mention ignorance, that is gaining traction in so-called liberal quarters.

I’m not so doctrinaire or limited in my view to accuse all liberals of this illiberal behavior, and I do recognize there still are some reasonable liberals with whom one can have a civil disagreement or discussion. That said, in my experience and observation, they are increasingly in the minority. They certainly are not the ones who are in a position to control either social or mass media. And they are not at all on the ascendancy.

If this were an earlier century, I have no doubt that many of these illiberal liberals would be happy to put anyone who disagreed with them into the village stocks and have the general populous hurl rotten vegetables at them. Or worse. Much worse. Now, we get ridiculed or bullied or blocked, as I was by that would-be poet on Medium, or by my erstwhile friend. But as is said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I do wonder what these illiberal liberals would do if they were to get absolute power. Given all the signs, it’s not encouraging.

Removing All Doubt: There Is Something Wrong With James Comey

Removing All Doubt: There Is Something Wrong With James Comey

There is an old adage that says it is better to remain silent and appear the fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt. It is an adage that former FBI Director James Comey would be well advised to heed.

For some time now, I’ve been convinced there were grounds to believe something was wrong with Comey. Having listened to the troubled and troubling blather coming out of this man’s mouth, I’ve wondered about how grounded in reality he is. But after listening to all or part of several more interviews he’s given in the past couple of weeks, generated to promote Comey’s recently released memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, I now believe it is irrefutable that there is something intrinsically wrong with this man.

I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so this is not any kind of clinical diagnosis. It’s just my own observations and the non-professional conclusions they lead me to. That said, I do base a large part of my conclusions on my background of having been a U.S. Government employee, a Foreign Service officer, who served in a range of circumstances and who also was entrusted with high-level security clearances over the years of my service.

One just has to listen to the words, and observe the demeanor, of Comey to realize he’s gone off the rails. But in his apparent eagerness to let the rest of us know what a true mensch he is and sell some copies of his book in the process, he also tells us all the idiotic, cowardly, and even illegal things he himself did along the way. As has been asked more than once, what lawyer would allow his or her client to go public with some of this stuff, as Comey has?

Comey is highly critical of President Donald Trump, but he prefers to damn through innuendo and inference and petty comments rather than having the courage to state his beliefs, whether correct or not, plainly. He whines his way through interview after interview, sounding more like a teenage girl (with all due respect for teenage girls) dealing with the emotional angst of adolescence than like a former FBI director.

Asked if he thinks the Russians have anything on Donald Trump, Comey says (with strategic hesitations), “I think it’s possible. I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a president of the United States, but it’s possible.”

Comey, in his book, belittles the President’s looks, his hair, his skin color, the size of his hands. In doing so, he comes across as petty, if not downright childish. But his intents are transparent, and he cites a widely discredited dossier – now known as the Steele Dossier, named after the British ex-spy, Christopher Steele, who compiled it – as the basis for his belief that there might have been collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But Comey still says he doesn’t know that the dossier was commissioned and funded by the Democratic Party. It was this same unsubstantiated, politically motivated dossier that now-disgraced former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe – hand-picked by Comey himself – presented before a FISA court to obtain a warrant to spy on the Trump presidential campaign.

Comey, again in his whiny way, prefaced with those same “I never thought I’d ever have to say this” words, claims the President is morally unfit to hold the office. But what can be said of Comey, who defends these swarmy tactics and who invented new legal definitions to protect then-candidate Hillary Clinton from the prosecution she certainly was due after her blatant abuse of national security interests?

Some of what Comey says would be comical, were it not for the position with which he had been entrusted. I mean, it takes a special kind of idiot to believe one could blend into blue curtains in the White House and thus become invisible to the President, as Comey has described in interview after interview. But even that idiocy is surpassed when Comey says he thought this was a “brilliant” strategy. Along with the moronic nature of this comment comes a clear sense of what a coward this man truly is. He held a high government post and it behooved him to represent that post firmly and with dignity, regardless of his personal feelings about the President. Instead, he thought to try to blend into the curtains. I wonder what some of the agents working under him, facing the real possibility of lethal danger on a daily basis as they go about performing their duties, think of this.

Time and again Comey refers to his wife and even his daughters to explain something or other he did or said. But Comey’s wife and daughters – avowed Clinton supporters, as if that should even matter – were not appointed FBI director. Comey was, and his spouse or offspring should have had absolutely no bearing on how he conducted himself in office. In pulling them into his battles he again shows how unfit he was to hold the office he did.

Comey invents new legal and political defenses to protect himself as well as Hillary Clinton. He has the audacity to say that, prior to his July 2016 announcement letting Clinton go scot-free for the crimes she committed, that he knew whatever he decided would make one side or the other unhappy. Why on earth should such a concern even have entered into his calculations? The FBI’s job is to investigate crimes and present the results of its investigations to the Justice Department and prosecutors to determine how they should be handled. The FBI director is not supposed to be a political figure, and pleasing or displeasing any constituency shouldn’t ever be a consideration. Clearly Comey didn’t, and still doesn’t, understand this.

Again he says that when new evidence came to light in October 2016 that thousands of Hillary Clinton’s official emails wound up on the unsecured computer of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the husband of Clinton aide and confidante Huma Abedin, and convicted of sexting to an underage girl, Comey says he had to consider what the protocol was for releasing such information in the run-up to a national election. What protocol? What on earth is he talking about? And once more, why should this even have entered into Comey’s calculations? Well, he himself admits that he expected Clinton to win the election and thus didn’t want her to start her presidency under a cloud of illegitimacy.

“I don’t remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, that she’s going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment she’s elected, the moment this comes out,” Comey told George Stephanopoulis in his initial interview just prior to publication of his book.

And there is your explanation, such as it is.

Once more, Comey shows himself to be a political actor and not the properly dispassionate director of the nation’s top law-enforcement agency. Aside from that, one has to ask, does not the American public have the right to know whether a presidential candidate has broken the law and their trust? Even worse, why would an FBI director make a political calculation about whether or not to release something damning of one of the candidates? It is clear that Comey has had no compunction about casting a cloud over the Trump Administration. It was only because he thought Trump had no chance to win and he wanted to prevent this “cloud” from casting a shadow on a newly elected Hillary Clinton that he went public about the emails found on Weiner’s computer in what has since become known as “the October Surprise.”

As I pointed out in my piece of last June, Comey openly admitted to breaking the law in his testimony before Congress at that time. He admitted to leaking — if not classified, highly confidential information – he had gathered in his official capacity to a university professor with the express expectation that it would subsequently would be leaked to The New York Times. And in open testimony he admitted, in violation of 18 U.S. Code Section 4, that he had failed to report his suspicions that President Trump might have been trying to influence the course of an investigation while at the same time dismissing the words of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging him to call the FBI’s inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s email offenses “a matter” as opposed to “an investigation.” And he continues to make these admissions in his book-pushing interviews.

Now Comey comes along and says that Hillary Clinton was never “a target” of the FBI’s investigation. This ostensibly is how he can justify never having her questioned under oath and exonerating her even before the interview the FBI did conduct with her. This is especially outrageous to me, having held the same clearances, signed the same papers, and bearing the same responsibilities as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did. Without a scintilla of doubt, had I done even a fraction of what Clinton did, I would not only have been a target of an FBI investigation, but I’d almost certainly be languishing in a federal prison as a result of it.

It is unprecedented that an FBI director would usurp the normal role of the Justice Department in deciding on the matter of a prosecution based on the results of an FBI investigation, but Comey didn’t stop there. He went on to invent new legal grounds that let Clinton off the hook for the clear and blatant mishandling of highly classified national security information, as even Comey admitted she had done. And as part of the bigger political plot, Lynch let it all go by, never interceding to assert her authority as AG. Her little meeting on the tarmac in Phoenix with Hillary-husband Bill Clinton just prior to the Comey announcement had clearly made its point. Meanwhile, more recently, as Comey has become such a blabber mouth of all that went down, Lynch has taken some action to cover her own ass in the matter.

Other than I think he should have done it at the beginning of his tenure as President, I don’t fault President Trump for firing Comey which, lest we forget, came at the recommendation of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. As Rosenstein wrote in his memo to AG Jeff Sessions recommending Comey’s termination, “Almost everyone agrees that the Director [Comey] made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives. The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation [of Hillary Clinton’s private email server] was wrong. As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them.”

While the inaction of Lynch’s DOJ against Clinton is no surprise, it is something of a surprise that current AG Jeff Sessions has been so slow to pursue his own actions against her or others involved in protecting her and leaking information to the media. Sadly, what comes as less of a surprise to me is how most in the media fawn and idealize Comey. This all started with the initial “set-up” interview on April 15 by (for lack of a kinder term) “journalistic” whore George Stephanopoulos, former Bill Clinton Communications Director and Clinton sycophant. And it has repeated itself through obsequious interview after obsequious interview, where the same questions and responses are repeated, verbatim or virtually so, ad nauseum, while little-to-no attention is paid to the crimes of Hillary Clinton and Comey’s role in exonerating her.

One interview, though, stands out, which is the interview that Fox News Chief Political Anchor Brett Baier did with Comey on April 26. What is most notable about this interview, aside from the questions Baier asked which did probe Comey’s response to the things overlooked or glossed over in the “softball” interviews conducted by others, was that Comey showed up 15 minutes late for it. He had texted that he was “stuck in traffic” to explain his tardiness. Now one has to ask, is it possible for any single human being to be that stupid? Especially for one who had been spending so much time giving on-the-air interviews as Comey was, surely he knew the importance of allowing more than enough time to get to the studio on time. There is the alternative question, too, which is whether Comey was deliberately late because he wished to cut short the interview time and limit the amount of post-interview discussion among Fox analysts? So again we’re faced with this great choice: Comey is an idiot, or Comey is a coward. My call? He’s both.

A more hopeful view of things is that there might be some real action to come out of all this after all. At long last we’re getting criminal referrals, from Congress to the DOJ, of Comey, his deputy McCabe, Loretta Lynch, and even Hillary Clinton, among others involved in this twisted frustration of justice, and AG Sessions says investigations are under way. But as I said before, and I’ll say again, I really don’t expect any prosecutions to evolve, other than perhaps of some very low-level actors, if that. I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but I think there are two distinctly different forms of “justice” in this country – the one for us ordinary shlubs, and the one for the likes of the Clintons and Comeys and Lynches of the world. They get away with things as a matter of course for which the rest of us would be put behind bars.

That doesn’t change my view that something is seriously wrong with James Comey. It just goes to show that one can open one’s mouth and remove all doubt that one is a fool, and most in the media won’t even notice. And if you’re in the right political class, you can openly admit to having committed crimes and no one will do a thing about it.

Let there be no doubt about either of these things.

 

Photo of James Comey by AP – used under fair use provision

Dead White People

Dead White People

If we’re discussing dead white people, of course we’re discussing National Public Radio, the bastion of deceased Caucasians.

You’ve heard the euphemisms: “Encore presentation.” “The Best of . . . ” “We bring you a program that first aired on . . . ” Which, in normal-person non-spin parlance, all translate to “Re-run.”

Instead of renewing itself like most living media do, NPR continues to air the same programs not just for years, but for decades, often long past when the hosts of those programs are deceased. And even when the hosts are still alive and kicking, many programs play repeats over and over, ostensibly while the hosts are on extensive holidays or sick leave.

I’m listening to one such program with a deceased host right now, a re-run of Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz from more than 25 years ago. Now don’t get me wrong. I like Marian McPartland. I used to listen to her programs back in the day. But Marian died in 2013, at 95, and the last show she produced was in September 2010. That seems an adequate amount of time for NPR to come up with a contemporary replacement.

Then there is Car Talk, AKA Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, AKA The Car Guys, with Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Car Talk in its day was the most popular NPR program, and even in re-runs, as The Best of Car Talk (hint-hint, re-run), it still ranks third in the line-up. I guess that is the network’s rationale for continuing to air it. But the last show was produced in 2012, and Tommy died in November 2014. Tune in today, in 2017, and you’ll hear questions about callers’ 1988 Cavaliers and 1982 Subarus and 1978 Datsuns (yes, I said Datsuns). In an age when self-driving cars roam the nation’s highways, you’d be excused for wondering whether any Car Talk callers own cars that don’t qualify as antique vehicles. That’s because some of the material aired dates back as much as 10 years prior to the show’s last four years of production. That goes back 19 years. I mean, even when it was current, this was a show that would send its weekly Puzzler feature on summer vacation each year.

To give it some kind of credit, NPR said last year it will stop airing The Best of Car Talk at the end of this coming September. I’m curious whether the network will come up with a new car show, or give us one more radio game show. Frankly, I won’t be surprised to hear it replaced as The Best of the Best of Car Talk.

Then there is that other NPR mainstay, A Prairie Home Companion. Now APHC certainly had its audience as originator and host Garrison Keillor regaled listeners with “News From Lake Wobegone” from the show’s inception in 1974 until his retirement in 2016. To do the math, that’s 42 years. But today, with mandolinist Chris Thile selected as replacement host by the cantankerous Keiller (for reasons that, despite Thile’s considerable musical talents, elude me), most of the same skits and standard joke advertisements I listened to while in grad school in the 1980s continue to be run on the program. Notably, the Lake Wobegone segments, which really were uniquely Keillor’s own, have been dropped, and along with them went a significant portion of APHC‘s audience. The program has become mostly a musical variety show, but never mind that. Almost every week the program is a re-run from “earlier in the season” – this week’s broadcast was one from last November. As was last week’s. And almost every one in recent months is a re-run, and even a re-run of a re-run. Listen in enough, if you can stand it, and soon you’ll be able to recite the lines by heart.

I have to wonder how much of NPR’s mostly liberal audiences are locked into that old-timey thing. Apparently enough of the network’s listeners are tolerant of these practices to keep on shelling out during twice-yearly local fund-raising drives. And the re-runs extend to shows that are ostensibly current daily mainstays. I don’t even try to keep count of how many times Terry Gross’s Fresh Air is stale air, re-runs of past programs while the host is who-knows-where. The same with many other programs, like Peter Sagal’s game show, Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! Well, I can tell you, since too many times I’ve already heard the program. I mean, who gets that much leave? When I was a journalist I had to fight to get two weeks off in a year. Sometimes it seems the hosts of NPR programs are away more than they’re there. Must be nice work, if you can get it. But with such a little amount of turn-over, it doesn’t pay to wait for people to die to try to get in, because they’re still not going anywhere.

When I worked for the government it was said that the only way to get fired was if they held a mirror to your nose and you failed to fog it. Things are even worse than that at NPR.

NPR apparently can’t even come up with enough programs within the nation’s borders to air, so it turns to Canada for some of the music and even news discussion broadcasts the network runs, as well as the BBC for some news programming. To be clear, I have nothing against Canada and acknowledge that there is plenty of musical talent within our northern neighbor, but do we really have to hear about unknown musicians’ experiences growing up in Timmons and St. John and Thunder Bay, sprinkled with frequent misperceptions of the U.S.?

Now we come to the white people part. For all its hectoring us about race relations in America and what a bunch of deplorable racists we are, NPR is an almost solidly white organization. Other than a smattering of music programs, I can only think of one nationally syndicated NPR thematic or entertainment program hosted by a black person, Glynn Washington’s Snap Judgment. And Washington got the nod to do the program after winning a competition, the Public Radio Talent Quest. There are so few blacks within NPR, even fewer on the air, maybe a tiny smattering on the news side of the house, NPR’s lily-white complexion often is the subject of self-deprecating jokes made on the network. Ha-ha. Very funny.

What’s even more galling is that we support NPR with tax dollars. The network’s slant is unabashedly liberal, ignoring and even insulting listeners who don’t adhere to that orientation but who still are required to shell out for it through their taxes, while the network continues to rest on past laurels, past achievements, past personalities. How many commercial networks would be able to get by routinely running programs from a quarter century past? And how many networks, or institutions of any sort, could justify the kind of racial homogeneity as NPR’s?

I don’t have any illusions that anything I have to say on the topic will make a fig of difference. Mostly I just need to vent on this stuff. As much as I’d like to think that if enough listeners were to rouse from their long sleep and say, wait, wait, we want something new from NPR, there might be the beginnings of change at the network, I’m not holding my breath. We’re probably in for more decades of encore performances, and more dead white people filling the public airwaves.

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Shouting Past Each Other

Shouting Past Each Other

For several years now, I have been in the habit of listening to the liberals in the morning and the conservatives in the afternoon. My rationale for this is that I want to hear both sides of various current arguments and issues. Not being an adherent to either political persuasion – I consider myself both a libertarian and independent – I find lots of cause for annoyance across the political spectrum, though in truth I find lots more grounds for annoyance originating from the left than from the right. It has been this way for some time, but the trend seems to be accelerating lately.

What has increasingly occurred to me is that there not only seem to be at least two entirely different conversations going on, with some sub-sets within each, but those conversations are based on entirely different sets of facts and, without doubt, vastly different world views. And as this trend continues and deepens, the conversations – again, especially on the liberal side – seem to be degrading into shouting matches.

I’ve always believed that we all can disagree, but that disagreement is based on the same sets of facts. Now, listening in to these two camps, one increasingly begins to wonder if there are even such things as facts any more, and what facts there might be seem to be mutable, with each side holding and citing two almost completely different sets of them. And that’s ostensibly on the news and news analysis side of things. In the realm of entertainment, the divisions appear to be even greater, and sub-sets of divisions, between the coasts and what is called fly-over country, between white and black, between younger and older, between cities and rural areas, and even schisms between and among residents of the same cities and the same states become ever more evident.

While I listen to these things daily, becoming somewhat inured to them, someone coasting in from out there somewhere and catching these battling views for the first time might be justified to conclude that we are going through a kind of societal crack up.

Without a basis in common facts, the arguments become self-justifying. Each side builds its logic like competing jenga towers teetering atop bases of illusory blocks, seemingly ignoring the laws of physics and the pull of reality. When things become too difficult to justify based on factuality, the next step is simply to raise the volume. Speech rises to shouting and shouting to screaming, as if decibels are a stand-in for rationality. See me, the shouters seem to say, I can yell louder than you so I must be right and you must be wrong.

We’ve seen this in street demonstrations, where one almost comes to expect such behavior. We’ve seen it on cable TV, with panelists shouting at each other to the point no one, least of all the viewers, can make out what is being said. And now we see it in Congressional hearings, where raising one’s voice and speaking over the subject of one’s disdain appears to be a substitute for actually seeking answers to questions. We saw this during Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, with Democrats like California’s Sen. Kamala Harris insistently speaking over Attorney General Jeff Sessions, her grandstanding meant to block out whatever Sessions might actually have to say and, ostensibly, to discredit him. And then Sessions is later heckled by the liberal media for becoming flustered and stymied by such obviously pre-planned tirades and Harris painted as some sort of victim because she’s a woman and black.

This dismissal of inconvenient facts seems to be a hallmark of the 21st Century in this country. If we come to realize that the Iraq War was a folly, we dismiss the fact that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats voted in support of it. If the IRS abuses its power in going after conservative groups, we look the other way and ignore it as if it never happened. If the Obama Administration failed to protect or attempt to rescue Americans under attack in Benghazi, we say there is no there there and don’t question why the Administration found it necessary to concoct and promulgate a lie about what actually happened. And if Hillary Clinton violated federal law and jeopardized the country’s security, we ignore it and her non-prosecution and justify voting for her anyway. And when facts turn out differently than we have been told they are, such as that there is no chance Donald Trump can ever be elected President, we throw a tantrum and question his legitimacy and hold his bloody head in our hands. How dare reality intrude on our manufactured view of how things should turn out?

Like I said, I find lots more to annoy me on the left than on the right, but the right is not without its own sets of facts and fictions. I think at this point there is little question but that Trump can be his own worst enemy, despite the efforts of many on the right to defend his every misstep, and even many of his supporters hope someone will take away his phone and throw it in the toilet. And while he gets no credit on the left for what he does right, there is little criticism from the right of what he does wrong. And let’s not forget that, despite years of bellyaching about the ills of Obamacare, the Republicans showed themselves utterly bereft of a viable alternative plan.

While I can understand the urge to overcompensate on the right to counter the venom spewing like a volcano from the left and the anti-Trump crowd, there is truth in what many of us were taught as children, which is that two wrongs do not a right make.

But my assertion remains, which is that we’re not arguing over the same facts and realities, but over completely different sets of facts, completely different realities. And therein lies much of the problem.

How did this state come to be? I think there are a number of factors in play, some of which are the result of changes in technology and how we communicate, and some of which go back much further and are rooted in the same sources that have led to the general alienation and disconnectedness we have come to take for granted in our society, and to the coarsening and degradation of dialogue.

In past decades, as recently as the 1990s but going back well before that, we had a basis for a common dialogue. Not that everyone agreed, which they didn’t, but at least there was a common set of facts we could and would debate over. We had three primary television networks, three primary sets of national news reporting, and, in effect, three focal points for a national audience. Locally, we might have had one or two or three newspapers which, while they might have diverged somewhat in viewpoint, made an effort to at least deal in common facts. And one could make one’s views known through a letter to the editor which had a decent chance of showing up on the editorial page.

All that has changed in the past 20 years. While the three TV networks prevail, there is now cable television with new sources and new, and often radically divergent, views on the news. There is social media, like Facebook and Twitter. And there are hundreds and thousands of online so-called news sites and blogs (full disclosure: including this one), where there is no prevailing view or even any prevailing agreement on the facts. Daily newspaper readership has dwindled to the point that it’s not clear how long newspapers will even remain viable. Our news sources have become fractured almost beyond description, as has our national dialogue. Anyone can spout any sort of nonsense one wants, any sort of venom, any set of facts, real or fabricated, and there is a place for it on the Internet. Try to express one’s views, like one could before with a letter to the editor or even in some online forums, and there is a high likelihood it will be lost in a flood of conflicting and often nutty comments, and diluted by multiple places to even post one’s views. What if one doesn’t use Twitter? One’s views might never see light. And have you read much on Twitter? The same 140-character vision of reality (whatever that might be) repeated 100 times.

With all this fracturing of communication, there also is a tendency toward recycling. When I was trained as a journalist 30-some years ago, it was considered tacky, if not downright improper, for journalists to interview other journalists. It was expected that one would go out and find original sources for stories, or even commentary, and that one would at least make an effort at balancing one’s stories. Now journalists interview other journalists incessantly, with little or no effort at balance, and this incestuous relationship just builds on and furthers this tendency toward competing and non-overlapping conversations. So-and-so at the New York Times or the Washington Post reported this, so it must be correct, and I’ll base my reporting and blathering on those reports (which more often than not are based on anonymous sources readers or viewers or listeners have no means of vetting for themselves).

Going back further, we see how things like air conditioning in our homes and the rise of the automobile moved people indoors and off public transport, breeding the kind of alienation and social separation that has been with us and growing for many decades. Now we have people with their noses buried in their devices – it’s common to see even friends and lovers incommunicado with one another as they focus on their smart phones – and our interpersonal distance simply grows exponentially and, along with it, any sense of a common dialogue. The Culture of the Id seems to prevail over all.

While all this was going on, our dialogue also seems to have become coarsened. We no longer seem capable of conducting civil discussions with those with whom we disagree. Whether in Congress, or in the media, or in our personal interactions, it’s become acceptable to spout all sorts of untruths and distortions, to issue threats, and to cut off communication, simply because we might disagree. This seems to be mostly, if not exclusively, a tendency on the left, and I have had supposedly “liberal” friends going back half a century break off contact with me simply since I didn’t agree with everything that came out of their mouths or off their keyboards, no matter how logically flawed or factually incorrect it might be.

I like to see the bright side of things and a way out of dark places and times, but I confess I’m at a bit of a loss on this one. In some ways we appear to be on the verge of a Vietnam Era breakdown, and I guess the one bright side might be that our discourse has become so fragmented that even that kind of two-sided split may no longer be possible. But I think that is false optimism. We see battling demonstrations, people being gunned down for their perceived views, looting and lawlessness, widespread dissent across the political spectrum and, along with all these things, competing realities that make any common effort at resolution virtually impossible. Given current trends, I’m afraid I just see more of what we have, and that’s not positive.

I’ll probably continue to listen to the liberals in the morning and the conservatives in the afternoon, knowing that ultimately we all need to form our own judgments and, to the extent we can, protect ourselves from whatever the latest new cause either side might concoct that will come raining down on our heads.

I’d love to hear dissenting views and maybe some insights on ways forward. I’m open to having my mind changed, as challenging as that might be. But that’s how I see things from here.

 

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