How to succeed in journalism without really reporting

Those MSNBC and CNN political journalists and analysts are still on the air? I would have fired most of them last week. What a bunch of fuck ups. Blind, deaf and lazy. Not one saw the Trumpslide coming yet even the rumbling was there, the polling data was there, and it would have taken very little work to have seen it coming. Instead, aside from (I hate to say) Joe Scarborough, who is not even a trained journalist, not one of the reporters, commentators or analysts who wasn’t a surrogate on MSNBC or CNN claimed to have had a clue this was coming. They just stared dumbfounded into the camera and hoped we wouldn’t notice.

If they can’t fire them all–they can’t, they have contracts and fan clubs and groupies–at the very least network executives need to stamp out the celebrity journalist TV culture that values preening on panels (and laughing at each others jokes, incestuously popping up on each others shows, egomaniacal self-assurance and hours spent following each others tweets) over genuine reporting.

The lack of issues reporting and the complete inability to see trends among the working class in the very battle ground states these people had been reporting from since the conventions is completely the fault of lazy, self aggrandizing, piss poor journalism. Fire ’em all and hire new. Or cancel a couple shows, anyway, just to show them there is a price to be paid for such astonishing incompetence. Otherwise, you just reward stupidity.

So has political journalism hit the skids or what? Has it ever had a lower moment? You have to wonder how many viewers are taking these guys seriously anymore. I know I am having trouble, a bunch of crazies in the White House and we’re stuck with journalists who may or may not have a clue as to what is going on. It’s like feeling sick and having idiots for doctors. Well, not quite. You can sue your doctors. Reporters just get their own shows.

Donald Trump does not by any means represent the will of the majority

The New York Times has projected that once the California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado mail-in and provisional votes are all tallied, which could be a month off in California (where I believe about 5 million votes remain uncounted, breaking for Hillary about 2 to 1), that Hillary Clinton’s margin in the popular vote will be over 1% of the total. The total will probably be over 130 million (maybe 132 million), which means Hillary’s minimum total should be 1.3 million more votes than Trump, perhaps even 1.5 million. Maybe even more. That would be three times more than Gore’s margin over Bush in 2000. It would be about as many votes as Carter had over Ford in 1976, as well as being upwards of three times as many votes as Nixon had over Humphrey in 1968, and a dozen times more votes than JFK had over Nixon in 1968. It would also be equal to Trump’s combined margin over Hillary in the battleground states.

This may seem arcane now, but in a couple months as the Trump Administration gets set to launch their revolution (their term) on the country, Hillary’s margin could be a powerful argument, weapon and call to resistance on the part of those of us who did not vote for him. We will be the majority, and not a small majority. The two previous elections that resulted in revolutionary change were FDR in 1932, where his margin was 14%, and Ronald Reagan in 1980, where he had just under ten percent. Trump will have a -1.5%, that is a negative 1.5% margin. (Obama, in contrast, came in with a more than 7% margin in the popular vote.) Trump will be attempting, in true revolutionary style, to launch a nationwide revolution that changes everything from a minority position. In a democracy, where majority rule is the fundamental concept, there can’t be anything more wrong. This does not mean that there is anything we can do constitutionally to block him, aside from our rights of free speech and assembly. When the GOP retained the Senate we lost our checks and balances. But it does give a moral argument with which we can raise holy hell. Which is all we have going for us right now.

So never forget that Trump does not by any means represent the will of the majority. America has not spoken. The electoral college has spoken. He was just put in power by that archaic constitutional device designed to protect the country from the tyranny of the majority. They feared the French Revolution back then. Yet that very electoral college has delivered the country over to revolutionaries now…one of those ironies the Founding Fathers never considered, apparently. We may be screwed, but we have something to build our resistance upon–that there are more of us than there are of them, and they got into power because of a rigged system.

That’s not exactly good news, but it’s something.

This was not 1980

This was not 1980. There was not a landslide. Indeed, when the votes are finally tallied in a couple weeks, Clinton will have a margin in the popular vote that could reach two million votes. Most people did not vote for Trump. But enough did in the right states that enabled Trump to win the electoral college. But American did not change like it did in 1980. There is no national mandate for Trump’s vicious, racist ideology. This was the electoral college equivalent of a coup d’etat. So what do you do? You resist. You resist in every way possible, you fight him at every step, until the next election. Remember, this scumbag declared war on the rest of us. He and his followers treated it like war. They screamed bloody threats, waved guns, and promised to put us in jail. His movement–and he loves calling it that, his movement–is probably the most fascist thing we have seen in this country since the nazi-infiltrated German-American Bund in the 1930’s. Trump and his movement have some really freaky tie ins to the far right movements in Europe, to the creepy insane Alt Right in this country, and most bizarrely of all is affiliated with the kleptocratic regime of Vladimir Putin. The most dangerous right wing ideologues in this country will be working in his Administration. There has never been such a threat to American democracy as the presidency of Donald Trump. We can’t afford to lighten up on them for a minute. We are like the French when they suddenly found themselves conquered by the Nazis in 1940. Some collaborated. Some hid and pretended it wasn’t happening. And some joined with others and resisted. It’s your choice.


You’ll notice, incidentally, that most of that crowd is baby boomers. We are the worst generation politically since the 1920’s. We voted Republican in most elections, and if not Republican we came close, even in 1968. It was us who dismantled the New Deal. Reagan and his people began it, but it was the baby boomers who went at it hammer and saw and destroyed it. The Tea Party was the most successful political movement the baby boomers ever came up with, and look what it wrought, the political equivalent of the Mongol invasions. The George W. Bush administration was the ultimate in the baby boomer political philosophy in action, such as it was. Thankfully most of us will be dead in a couple decades and the younger folks can rebuild what our parents built. We may have been lots of fun and made some of the greatest music of all time, but we sure fucked everything up. Not that you can tell us that, though. We have convinced ourselves that it was us and us alone who brought progressive values to America. But think of this. When our parents saw Barry Goldwater running for president, they turned him down in a landslide. They knew dangerous crazies when they saw them. When we saw George W Bush, we elected him.

And Trump? Well, this is who baby boomers vote for when they get old and cranky. He is us. Maybe not me and you, but most of us. Certainly most of us baby boomer men, white and a surprising number Hispanic. And the majority of Trump’s female followers were born between 1946 to 1964, inclusive. There are not only a helluva lot of us–we were the biggest American generation ever since before the First World War, proportionately, there were so many of us and we all had lots of siblings, unlike today–and we live longer and healthier than our parents did, but we vote far, far more conservatively than any other generation in our age group, ever. The Bernie voters never had a chance against our numbers and voting participation rate–and that was against only those of us who voted for Democrats this year. More of us voted for Republicans. And most of them voted for Trump. The only reason that Trump is in this race at all is because so many Baby Boomers love the guy to death. Hey, we are wild and crazy guys. By the time we got to Trumpstock we were half a million strong.


A Trump rally in Loveland, Colorado, 10/3/2016. This shot is by Nate Gowdy, a brilliant photographer you can find on Facebook. His work has the depth of Walker Evans, and each picture tells a story worth far, far more than a thousand words. (Thanks, too, to Michael Rowe, who doesn’t know me from Adam, for the tip.)


Trump’s kamikaze debate

If Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson could swing the funds he could go on an advertising, television and rally blitz this week as the honorable constitutional alternative to Donald Trump, and probably peel off lots of Republicans who can not now vote for Trump. He’d have to do it fast, but he might get 10-20% of the popular vote. Suddenly it is wide open on the conservative side, and Johnson ought to put down the bong and take advantage of the sudden opening. These things only happen once in a political lifetime.


Mosul is not a battle, it’s a siege. There is no such thing as a surprise siege. This is such an idiotic debate point. When I saw Trump’s first tweet on this I laughed it was so ignorant. Sure enough, though, no matter how stupid and facile a point that Trump makes in one of his tweets–they all seem to begin as tweets–the press will feel compelled to ask the same question soon enough. Heated debate follows. Throughout this entire campaign year Trump has kept the process going that way. He’s obviously far too ignorant to be president, but the press’s admirable notion that they must be even handed means that such stupidity has to be treated as being informed and educated. Hence, the reporters repeating Trump’s question about why this Mosul operation–which began six months ago–was not kept a surprise. As if ISIS, knowing an attack was coming eventually and preparing for it for years, would have no idea that the build up of forces investing the city and the six months of aerial bombardment preceding it were not signs of an impending attack. But this is a siege of a fortified city, not a surprise attack on a sleeping army in the field. This assault can be no more a surprise attack than was the battle of Iwo Jima.

Presidential election on drugs

So Trump says Hillary is on drugs? And all this time I thought I was on some really bad acid. Maybe Trump is flying on a Viagra/PCP cocktail. Damn, things are so weird I’m sounding like Hunter S. Thompson. Bad deja vu. Nixon must be stirring somewhere, amidst indignant reporters, slouching toward Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Lehigh Valley, battleground central. I stared at the television news while in line at the pharmacy and wondered why I bothered with seizure medications at all. Look at Trump there raging at a rally like a lunatic. Look at that crowd confusing a presidential election with professional wrestling. Look at the silver haired ladies in obscene tee shirts screaming lock her up and talking revolution. And it’s Hillary who needs a neurologist? Half the country seems to be completely out of its mind. I could lay off these meds right now and fit right in.

Trump makes the best TV ever

(October 10, 2016)

Donald Trump was never a politician, and billionaires are a dime a dozen (or billion a dozen, anyway) but what made Trump special was that he was a blowhard billionaire reality star with no substance at all, which meant that he could not be judged by the same standards as real politicians. He swept away the competition in the GOP that way, with the press–the television press especially–holding all his opponents to much higher standards of behavior, awareness, truthfulness and anything even remotely presidential, while The Donald acted like, well, a billionaire blowhard reality star. In the process, Trump and the television press managed to lower the level of discourse and debate to cataclysmically low standards, especially as no matter what Donald Trump said, the press began repeating it with deadly seriousness. Perhaps they scoffed a bit at his penis references–heh heh–in the early GOP debates, but they accepted his armchair neurologist diagnosis of Hillary as an epileptic with drop dead seriousness. She needs to get to a neurologist right now! demanded Brian Williams live on NBC as Hillary stumbled, weakened from a mild case of walking pneumonia. Apparently Brian had seen those fake spasm videos so much he was believing them, medical science and truth be damned.

But then Brian Williams was just doing what the press has been doing all along. Whatever Trump says the media will echo, and they will find surrogates for their panels to defend even his most outrageous and stupid prevarications, to which his opponents–at long last only Hillary–are compared with. They have to show that their network too is fair and balanced, so if Trump says something horrible, then Hillary too must have said something horrible too. If Trump did something awful, then Hillary must have done something just as awful. Think how differently Nixon’s career would have turned out had the Washington Post insisted that the Democrats were just as guilty of illegalities as poor Dick Nixon. But here was no sense of innate balance then, the press didn’t have to find McGovern’s evil ying to match Tricky Dick’s criminal yang. Fair and balanced did not mean everyone must be equally guilty.

Yet that is the way so much of the press coverage is presented in this election, particularly on television . And the White House press corps, raised on the ethos of All the President’s Men, make no attempt whatsoever to conceal their overweening sense of intellectual and moral superiority over the politicians they cover. It oozes like molasses across all the TV coverage, as if they, the press, had nothing to do with the disgraceful displays of lies and filth and hate we heard from Trump in last night’s debate, when they in fact are almost completely responsible for it being on that stage at all. They cultivated it. It made good TV. Trump makes the best TV ever. Hell, look at the ratings. A presidential debate buried the NFL, twice. Advertising revenues must be going through the roof. Traffic to websites reaching astronomical levels. Even Kim Kardashian is buried under the stuff coming out of Trump’s mouth. This is certainly better than any of those deadly dull issues discussions. No one watches TV to learn about education. This is politics as show biz. And no one knows show biz better than Trump. He is the P.T. Barnum of politics, and there is a reporter born every minute.

You could see all this in the glare of the post debate analysis last night on MSNBC and CNN (I couldn’t get myself to watch FoxNews). Maybe half the men–and none of the women–on the panels insisted that Trump had a good debate. It was all on style points. Threatening to jail your opponent? Well, yeah, that was bad, but his base loved it. Throwing Mike Pence under the bus? Well, yeah, that was bad, but his base loved it. About glorifying Putin? Admitting utter ignorance about Russia? Bragging about not paying taxes? All bad, but his base loved it. Somehow all that mattered to these men was that the sloppy, bigoted, and collectively none too deep base that was the ragged Greek Chorus off stage dug everything that Trump said, no matter how hateful, how much a lie, how authoritarian, how blatantly ignorant. And the consensus after a couple hours discussion on both CNN and MSNBC? Trump won the debate. How? By not losing. Hillary–though none of them uttered the word–lacked stamina.

Was that the debate you saw? No. And how did these genuinely very intelligent guys come to that counter-intuitive conclusion? By holding Trump to a much, much lower standard than Hillary. So low that there was no way to even approach Trump’s level with aping Trump. Apparently, that is a hood thing for Trump. His base loved it. The rest of us do  not count in this analysis. Donald Trump seems to have a big male chunk of the Washington press corps completely under his spell. Hypnotized. Crow like a rooster. They crow like a rooster. Dance. They dance. Quote everything I say. They quote everything he says. They do all that without even a hint of discussing the issues. Not even a hint of journalistic self-awareness that they are not talking about the issues. Indeed, they still feel terrific about themselves as professional journalists. Mark Halperin had a brief moment of self-consciousness about this on his show a few days ago, but decided it was the fault of the candidates. Co-host John Heileman said how could they report on issues when the two campaigns–Hillary and Trump–are essentially moral and issueless cesspools?  Of course, Hillary’s campaign is perhaps more issue oriented than any other nominees in American presidential history, but never mind, the press has spoken. They report only on scandals, therefore this campaign is only about scandals.

Of course, it is reporting on those scandals that gets you on TV. All those talking head appearances on the networks help pay the mortgage, help boost your Twitter following, help make you a TV personality. Besides, you don’t get called back if you insist on talking about the deficit. The press covered the nomination campaign as a horse race, and since the conventions they’ve covered it as heavyweight boxing match, and issues be damned, integrity be damned, that’s how it will be reported. By that measure, and that measure only, Trump had a good debate. What the hell? It’s only show biz.

Bleeding Kansas

“KSN News Poll shows Donald Trump losing ground in Kansas” says a stunning little article from a Kansas media site.

“The poll showed that Donald Trump would get 44 percent of the vote followed by Hillary Clinton with 39 percent. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had eight percent. Nine percent of those polled were undecided. The margin of error is 4.2 percent.”

That’s right–Kansas, solidly Republican Kansas, edging toward Hillary Clinton. And while I wouldn’t bet real money against the GOP in Kansas, not ever, but the fact that Hillary is gaining and is within a few percentage points in the state really shows just how bad off Trump is nationally, for now anyway. The last time a Republican presidential candidate lost in Kansas was in 1964, when Goldwater scared even Kansans. Before that you have to go back to the Dustbowl years when FDR took it twice (beating a Kansan in 1936, Alf Landon, in fact). Before that it was when the Republicans tore themselves apart in 1912 and Kansas voted for Woodrow Wilson (by a plurality) and then voted for him again in 1916, with war looming. Before that it was 1896, when William Jennings Bryan, from next door in Nebraska, gave such an extraordinary acceptance speech (“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!”)[ at the Democratic convention it swept even Kansans off their Republican feet. And before that is was never. Kansas was quintessentially Republican even then.

In fact, it’s hard to find a state more Republican than Kansas. After all the state had been born bloody, in 1856, with pro-slavers–Democrats all, in those days–from Missouri beating and burning and massacring the Kansas Territory’s free soilers, soon to be Republicans all, trying without success to chase them out and bring Kansas into the union as a slave state. Kansas was also where John Brown had done his killing, his sons massacring some local pro-slavers with swords, hacking them to pieces. It was an eye for an eye response to a massacre of local free soilers by pro-slave ruffians. Politics was a murderous affair in Kansas then, with some voting and a lot more shooting and burning and death threats and beatings, and we forget that John Brown was a Republican martyr. “John Brown’s body lies mouldering in the grave”, went the hugely popular song of the time, “but his truth goes marching on!” The lyrics were later transformed into the Battle Hymm of the Republic, a Republican Party anthem till the party turned southern in the Reagan years.

We forget too that what gave birth to the abolitionist Republican party had given birth to Kansas, indeed the struggles between good and evil in Kansas in the 1850’s helped to create the Republican party. Forgotten almost completely now is how those former pro-slavery Democrat ruffians from Missouri morphed into Confederate guerillas and came back to Kansas on a sunny day in 1863 to slaughter a couple hundred unarmed men and boys in the town of Lawrence, merely for being free state Republicans. Jayhawkers, as they called the free soil militias who fought the pro-slavery Border Ruffians, were incorporated into the Union Army and took their vengeance on Missouri many times over. That bitterness must linger in a zillion little ways even today. Certainly small town Kansas and small town Missouri seem like very different places. And as Kansas seems to drift blue, Missouri has shifted dramatically red. The strife had enormous consequences at the time. Bleeding Kansas, as they called it in the 1850’s, helped birth the Republican Party, but also sundered the Democrats into Unionist and Secessionists and utterly destroyed the Whig Party. The bloodthirsty politics of Kansas in the 1850’s foretold the American Civil War, just as the American Civil War foretold the politics of the century to follow.

Now it seems, a century and a half later, that the Tea Party experiment in the state’s governance–Kansas is its laboratory–has completely failed and the state’s electorate is planning on voting more Democratic than it has in over half a century. In most states that might not be that big of a deal. But this is Kansas. You could not find a single example on the electoral map this year that shows more clearly how catastrophic the nomination of Donald Trump could be for the Republican Party. Foretelling the future again? Who knows. People yell, people scream, people jump about excitedly and say crazy things. You can never tell who among us is making any sense till later, when our time now is history and most of us are dead and things so confused today appear so much clearer. Perhaps Trump is a one time thing and Kansas and the rest of the red states will return to their perennial rock ribbed Republicanism. Or perhaps, like the Whigs we can scarcely remember anymore, the Republican Party will break up on the rocks on Kansas and throughout the once quiet backwaters of Republicanism and new parties will emerge from the wreckage. That, after all, is how the Republican party was born.

Do I think so? No. My money is on the GOP recovering nicely. After all, the party recovered swiftly from the Goldwater debacle, gaining 47 House and three Senate seats in the 1966 midterms and retaking the presidency in 1968.  And it seems likely that today there is more than enough Republican solidity at the state level for a quick, phoenix-like reemergence in just a couple years. But then in 1852 I would have bet on the Whigs lasting forever too. Hadn’t they just elected a president in 1848? By 1856 what remained of them aligned themselves with the Know Nothings and disappeared.

In 2012 Ted Cruz told the New Yorker that without Texas

the Republican Party would cease to exist. We would become like the Whig Party. Our kids and grandkids would study how this used to be a national political party. ‘They had Conventions, they nominated Presidential candidates. They don’t exist anymore.’

Cruz was referring to Texas turning blue because half of the state’s population is now Hispanic and the Republicans were doing all they could to alienate them. But it’s not Hispanics (about 6% of the population) giving Kansas its blue tinge this year. It’s Republicans and independents. White people. Donald Trump is scaring his own kind.

Preston v Sumner

Congressman Preston Brooks, left, Democrat of South Carolina, debating Kansas politics on the senate floor with Senator Charles Sumner, right, Republican of Massachusetts, 1856. Sumner had just delivered his fiercely abolitionist Crime Against Kansas speech, two hours of vituperative elegance. Brooks objected. And you thought things were hostile now. This beating, incidentally, caused an instant media furor (news was telegraphed then almost as fast as we tweet it now) that helped to turn the Republicans into the dominant party of the north. The Civil War did the rest. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that the Democrats retook control. And it wasn’t until the sweeping electoral victories of Ronald Reagan that Republicans became dominant again, by basically abandoning the world view of Senator Sumner and taking up that of Representative Brooks. OK, I exaggerate. But Donald Trump does have far more in common with Preston Brooks than with Ronald Reagan. Something changed. Perhaps politics is much more immutable down south, ancient beliefs lasting generations. When the GOP shed it’s northern skin and became based in the south, it began to take on a lot of ancient southern ideologies as well. Ideas and notions have staying power south of the Mason-Dixon line, while up north they come and go with the generations. John C Calhoun is still a living presence down there, and we up north and out on the coast can barely remember the name Henry Clay.


Big silly wigs

Maybe it’s because the political press is mostly East Coast (and mostly Washington DC, and New York City) while I am way out here in LA, but I just can’t seem to understand why they see what happens in England is a harbinger of what happens in America. The US and Britain are two different countries, for one thing, and there is no issue like Brexit facing us, unless you really do think that Trumpmania and Brexit are the same thing, which I simply cannot see at all. I suppose you could go back in our political histories and find parallels, but I would bet that you can find far more times when we did not parallel at all. Indeed this country was founded on a couple of those non-parallels, and why then we assume we are a reflection of Britain bewilders me. It’s as if somehow these terrified people have watched so many British shows on PBS they actually think Downton Abbey and English politics makes sense here. They do not. They do not because we are way different countries.

Is anyone in Canada or Australia seeing Brexit as an immediate threat to political futures in their own nation? After all, the queen is the official Head of state for Australia and Canada, they officially still have to kiss her royal arse. Yes, even Australians. Even French Canadians, in theory anyway. Yet I seem to recall that in Canada the Conservatives lost the recent election there in a landslide. They were wiped out. A far cry from Trumpmania is Canada right now. What are we to make of this? That something is dangerously out of sorts in Canada because Canadian politics is not wound tightly around political trends in the Motherland?

You could say the same for Australia, New Zealand and, well, Scotland. Hell, you could say the same for Ireland. But no one does, because there is no visible causation between this Brexist referendum and anything happening in those own countries. Except, of course, Scotland, who voted completely opposite from the way the media–and the social media–is getting themselves into hysterics about, seeing Trump everywhere in everything all the time. And they wonder how Trump got to where he is. It was all attention he gets in media, which is due in large part to all the attention he gets in social media. People–reporters, wackos, whisperers and those who stare into their iPhones on the elevator–are obsessed with him. Yet consider this–the least significant thing that occurred on Brexit Day was Trump talking about his golf course. Compared to all the hell breaking loose in London markets and beyond, it was nothing. Yet how often have you seen him talking about his new sprinkler system in the news? On Facebook? In a tweet? But how Trump talking about his sprinklers in Scotland means that Trump will be president and Hillary doomed escapes me. Yet the American Right is thrilled, as are the Bernie or Busters….They rant and rave in ecstasies of I-told-you-so’s, how Brexit equals Trump, Hillary is doomed, Obama a failure. Oh God, what hath Britain wrought?

(I heard someone from New York City say they were so terrified of Brexit that they were moving to Canada. That’s right, moving into the British Commonwealth to escape Great Britain.)

So is Brexit important? Of course it’s important, but it’s mostly important to the United Kingdom (while there still is a United Kingdom) and the European Union. But what does it mean for American politics? Very little. It hasn’t been until the advent of social media that people began obsessing over English politics like it was our own. But each of our constitutions is so different–their’s isn’t even written, for one thing. Our party systems are different, and our voters have little in common besides a language we can mostly understand except on Are You Being Served. The differences are fundamental. Hell, their judges wear wigs. Big silly wigs.

Oh well, I suspect that in an ever shifting 24/7 news cycle, with so much profound copy needed on an hour’s notice, one grasps at coincidences and finds why they are not coincidences at all. Any two coincidences can be connected somehow, even if that connection is ludicrous, at best.