Advertisements

The Washington Post’s Latest Scoop

Nothing so warms as the heart as a good old journalistic screw-up, especially when the self-righteous watchdogs of democracy and unforgiving judges of other people’s failures in the most almighty media are forced to admit that they are also mere humans. We had a good chuckle, therefore, to hear about The Washington Post’s premature announcement that Vice President Joe Biden has entered the Democratic presidential race.
The story was quickly retracted, profusely apologized for, and we don’t for a moment believe there was any nefarious intent. There was a for-internal-use-only “slug” on top of the story and “XX” markings where information was apparently supposed to be updated, so it was clearly pre-written copy intended to be used in the event that Biden did announce his candidacy, and some unlucky Postman or another simply hit a “send” rather than a “save” button and inadvertently thus sent it out over the internet. Anyone who thinks that the mistake indicates some inside knowledge of a Biden candidacy should know the paper almost certainly has another story in its computer files about how Biden has announced he isn’t running, and that it could have just as easily been the one that was published by a click on the wrong button.

We have some sympathy for the accidental offender, as even our humble operation has occasionally clicked on the “publish” icon rather than the “saved” icon and thus sent out unfinished and un-headlined columns to those readers kind enough to “follow” us on their “mobile devices” or those who just happened drop by during the short interval before the article was finished and headlined, although we can proudly note that has only resulted in some momentary confusion and a chance to watch how our word craft is so carefully polished, and it has never obliged us to apologize that what we posted was completely untrue, even if it was slightly incoherent. During our long years of toil for the local newspaper we gave first-hand witness to some truly spectacular and thoroughly retracted journalistic screw-ups, too, and on one occasion long ago very early in our obituary-writing days it was entirely our fault, so we try not to be too judgmental or self-righteous about such things. Still, this error seems to have resulted from journalistic tendencies that can be easily corrected.
Almost of all of those spectacular and thoroughly retracted journalist screw-ups we witnessed first-hand resulted from some editor or another’s insistence that the truth be written up and published before it could possibly be known. On one still locally infamous occasion two of the local aircraft manufacturers were vying for a sizable military contract, and in a city where aviation is still the most significant component of the local economy the editors were very interested in the outcome of the competition, and the poor fellow on the aviation beat, who was a good reporter and a buddy of ours, was under intense pressure to announce the result before the government or any of the television stations did. He buckled under and went with his best sources and best guess, both of which turned out to be completely wrong, and the winning company paid for a full-page in the local media’s satirical “Gridiron” revue to show a photo-shopped Harry Truman holding up the local newspaper’s headline where “Dewey Beats Truman” used to be. Our friend’s career never recovered, the careers of the editors who insisted on reporting the news before it happened never suffered, and we see it happen all the time.
Editors seem all the more eager to publish the truth they prefer before it can possibly be known. Nearly every mass shooting, even the frequent ones that occur abroad, usually begin with editorial assumptions that soon require more inconspicuous retractions. Natural catastrophes and real unemployment rates during Republican administrations seem prone to inconspicuous retractions than during Democrat administrations, too, and we can’t count how many times the “Tea Party” has been inconspicuously retracted from stories. Pretty much all the coverage of the unpredictable Democratic and Republican presidential primaries has been unaccountably cocksure, and the watchdogs of democracy and unforgiving judges of other people’s faults seem as ever.
Not that we’re entirely averse to the time-honored newspaper practice of writing up two plausible alternative stories in advance, just in case you’re right enough to be able to get a few minutes ahead of the competition. Many election cycles ago we were relegated to some forgettable congressional race, and as our deeply buried dispatches warned it turned out to be a nail-biter. Foreseeing this we had written three stories, with lots of “XX” markings for last-minute-before-deadline information, and one proclaimed candidate “A” the victor and the other one candidate “B,” and the third apologizing that as of press time no victor was apparent, yet even 10 minutes before deadline our editor was demanding a submission. With the latest polling numbers showing a single-digit margin we agreed to hand in the third option, but she rather haughtily insisted we tell our readers the outcome whether we knew it or not. She wound up as a the big-time editor at a newspaper down south, which happened to be one of the last two-newspaper towns left in America and where her drunken-driving arrest was front page fodder for the competitor, and we’re proud to say we withheld our byline from any story that purported to tell the truth before it was known.
Those pre-written stories almost always need to be re-written, too. By the time Biden does or doesn’t get into the race the storyline will be much different, and will need to include Donald Trump’s latest “tweet,” and the who, what, where, when, and why of a couple day’s ago will seem incoherent by the time paper hits your front door step, and your best bet to spare you a spectacular journalistic scandal and complete retraction is that third option conceding that you really don’t know what the hell is going on. So long as you keep your computer files free of any more cocky files, you won’t have this kind of embarrassment. Besides, the presses run all night and you’re going to be on the doorsteps of your readers before they wake up, and after the electronic media have beat you to the wrong story, so take a little extra time to get it right.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

If He’s So Rich, How Come He Ain’t Smart?

A healthy ego is required to run for the presidency of the United States, but Donald Trump takes it to his characteristic levels of excess. The tendency was on full display Tuesday during the announcement of his campaign for the nation’s highest office, where he boasted of his top-secret-but-foolproof plan to defeat the Islamic State, confidently predicted that “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” bragged that his nearby Gucci store was worth more than Mitt Romney, and described himself as “the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far.”
The oft-bankrupt real estate mogul and longtime reality television series star clearly isn’t running on the usual aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-regular guy shtick that fabulously wealthy Democrats such as Hillary Clinton routinely employ, and we must admit that he’s at least savvy enough to know that wouldn’t have worked for him, and that it probably wouldn’t have hurt the aforementioned Romney to have been a little less defensive about his more honestly earned and more generously shared wealth, but surely some small measure of humility is required to actually be the President of the United States. We’ve read enough Greek dramas to know about hubris and nemesis, and enough of the Bible to know that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, and when you throw in that ridiculous haircut of his and the embarrassment of a long-running reality television show Trump seems to be just asking for it. While we admire financial acumen just as much as the next guy, or at least the next Republican guy, we also have to quibble with his rather limited definition of success.
Trump might or might not be the richest person ever to run for the presidency, depending on which accounting of his extremely complicated spreadsheets you choose to believe, but that hardly makes him the most successful. George Washington had successfully led a rag-tag army of farmers and merchants to victory over the world’s mightiest military, which is at least as impressive as getting rich, which we he also did. Alexander Hamilton’s failed candidacy came after he had played a key role in that same rag-tag army’s victory, and then as the first Secretary of the Treasury had set up an American financial system that was the most successful wealth-generator in history until our recent profligacy ruined it, and we’re further impressed that he selflessly chose not to enrich himself in the process. Ulysses S. Grant had successfully forced the legendarily wily Robert E. Lee to Appomattox, which most historians agree was of far greater significance than his numerous failures as a businessman. Dwight Eisenhower had led a fissiparous coalition of out-gunned countries to victory over the Nazis, thus saving the world from history’s greatest calamity, and one needn’t be a historian to see how that’s a bigger deal than a Gucci store and an Atlantic City casino. That Trump measures success only in terms of dollars and cents, and even then by the most favorable accounting methods, is as problematic as his ego.
Other past presidential candidates have offered up impressive resumes full of notable successes, as well, and in many cases they’ve haven’t resulted in successful presidencies. Herbert Hoover had become quite wealthy with his international mining ventures, and he did so without the benefit of inherited wealth and in a way that won him world-wide acclaim for his ethical business practices, then volunteered for such hard jobs as coordinating relief efforts for Europe after World I, coordinating similar relief efforts for the victims of the Great Mississippi Flood, and serving as Commerce Secretary during the boom years of the Coolidge administration, and he was widely regarded as spectacularly successful in each of these tasks. He’s now regarded as one of the least successful presidents, however, and we think that’s largely due to all the counter-productive tinkering he did to overcome the Great Depression because he believed in his own powers more than he did the resilience of the free enterprise system. George H.W. Bush had a resume that not only included a successful private sector career but also public service posts ranging from Central Intelligence Agency director to Ambassador to China to being Vice President during the most successful presidential administration of our lifetime, and a similar confidence in himself had less dire consequences but slowed the momentum from the aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-B-movie-actor Reagan years.
Pretty much every presidential candidate ever has had a less a ridiculous haircut than Trump, going all the way back to the powdered wig days and even through the era when the bald were still eligible for the job, and none of them ever became famous for saying “you’re fired” to the sorts of desperate attention-seekers who co-star on cheesy reality television shows, and even the egotistical likes of John Kerry and Barack Obama preferred to let their allies in the mainstream press talk about how they would be the greatest presidents God ever created, and all of these things also figure into our definition of successful. By our accounting Donald Trump isn’t anywhere near the most successful person to run for president, and we have no doubt he’d be a spectacularly unsuccessful president, and his candidacy seems the quixotic quest of one of those desperately attention-seeking sorts you find on cheesy reality shows. The money and the name recognition and the desire of much of the media to portray the Republican nomination race as a freak show will bring him plenty of attention, and the fabulously wealthy and downright ridiculous Ross Perot has already proved that a certain percentage of the country can fall for it, but the sooner he’s out of this race the better.

— Bud Norman

Ready or Not for Hillary

So it turns out that Hillary Clinton will be running for president, after all. It was all over the news on Sunday after she “tweeted” her announcement, which is apparently the high-tech way that hats are flung into rings these days, otherwise we might not have noticed.
Our annual involvement in an amateur theatrical production has lately brought us in daily contact with Democrats, our frequent meetings to discuss foreign policy with a gray pony-tailed neo-con pal at a local hipster joint provide plenty of opportunities for eavesdropping on Democratic discussions, we always peruse the “alternative” publications on offer there, our occasional appearances on the peripheries of the local art and music scenes routinely expose us to the latest in Democratic opinions, and of course of our infrequent visits to our Facebook are chockfull of Democratic venting, yet we rarely hear any mention of Clinton. Perhaps it’s because Kansas Democrats are too preoccupied with their red-hot hatred of our robustly Republican Governor and Secretary of State and Legislature to bother with their party’s presidential prospects, but the local Democrats’ lack of enthusiasm about Clinton is glaringly conspicuous. After the state’s mid-term elections last November one of our Facebook friends who long ago re-located to Maine, where even the Republicans are Democrats, tried to console her shell-schocked Democrat friends back home that the Republicans’ sweep would only make Clinton’s win in ’16 all the more satisfying, but that’s the only time we can recall any Democrat of our acquaintance even bringing up the name.
The press still regards Clinton as news, and is obliged to write countless column inches about her candidacy, but even there we can’t help noticing a distinct weariness with the topic. There’s lately been more buzz about that Martin O’Malley fellow, who was governor of Maryland or some other small eastern state that was reliably Democrat until he left office, but that buzz is the only reason we’ve heard of him, and we’d wager that at this early point in the campaign not one in ten of our Democrat friends and acquaintances have the slightest idea who he is, and except for some hopeful speculation about Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Vermont’s openly socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders getting in the race, which no Democrats we know are talking about, that seems to be the desultory state of the Democrat nominating process. Given such limited options, it’s no wonder our Democrat friends and acquaintances prefer to talk about that damned Governor and Secretary of State and Legislature we’ve got here in Kansas.
All of them will eventually line up behind whatever candidate the Democrats choose, and will couch their arguments mostly in opposition to the extremist right-wing conservatism of whatever the candidate Republicans choose, but at this point it’s hard to imagine they’ll have any of the religious fervor that informed their support of their messianic candidate of ’08  or even the self-righteous indignation toward the other side that dragged their all-too-human candidate across the finish line in ’12. They’ll be up against a Republican party which is talking a great deal about Clinton and even O’Malley and the other rumored possibilities, and with an increasingly red-hot hatred of their own, and the enthusiasm gap favors the GOP. Everyone in a wide and deep Republican field has such enthusiastic supporters that the intra-party sniping has already begun, much to the delight of the Democratic press, but we can readily imagine them all lining up behind the eventual nominee once the Democrats’ choice has been made.
Being temperamentally Republican we are inclined to gloominess, but at this point the race seems seems tantalizingly winnable despite the press and the seemingly permanent blueness of some populous states and the ever-present gullibility of the American public. Whatever candidate winds up winning the Republican nomination could still blow it, but even the Democrats don’t seem excited about that possibility, and we suspect they’d prefer four years of hating the incumbent to the difficult task of defending her..

— Bud Norman

Running on Cruz Control

Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz has officially entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and we’re glad of it. He’s a smart fellow and solid conservative who deserves his party’s consideration, and it will be fun watching the ensuing hysteria on the left.
The howling commenced immediately after Cruz launched his campaign Monday with a speech delivered at Liberty University and clearly aimed at the party’s conservative base. Just the choice of venue was enough to rile the left, as Liberty University is an unapologetically evangelical school founded by the late Moral Majority founder and left-wing boogyman Jerry Falwell, and is full of the kind of clean-cut and well-groomed and chaste young people who give the left the willies, and is even located in a town with the scary-sounding name of Lynchburg, Virginia, but all the talk about repealing Obamacare and restoring constitutional limits on government and balancing budgets was was like fingernails scraping across a blackboard to leftist ears, and when Cruz through in some talk about abortion and same-sex marriage and God it became all the more painful. “Tweets” immediately twittered across the internet from outraged listeners, most with the usual snarky but unspecific complaints about what a “moron” and “joke” and “wack job” Cruz is, the lattermost with a row of exclamation marks to emphasize its misspelled assertion of intellectual superiority, and yet they also seemed to fear that Cruz is also a diabolical genius. There’s already much talk about Cruz having been born in Canada, and we can’t tell if this is meant as a sarcastic payback for the questions that a small group of people raised about President Barack Obama’s place of birth or is a serious effort to have Cruz declared ineligible for the president, but in either case it demonstrates Cruz’s unhinging effect on liberals.
This only further endears Cruz to the conservative primary voters that he’s courting, though, and it made the praise for Cruz’s speech all the more effusive. Cruz is already well respected by conservatives for his willingness to take political risks for his beliefs, such as his leading role in the “government shutdown” of a while back in a noble but failed to effort to get Obamacare repealed, which is also why he is more despised by the left than the average Republican politician. To whatever extent Cruz becomes the favorite of his party’s conservative base he will be even more vehemently opposed by the liberal base of the opposition party, so his fortunes will ultimately be determined by all those folks in the middle. Much of the media will be happy to inform those largely uninformed voters that Cruz is a fire-breathing right-wing radical who will dismantle the government and force women into back alley abortions and conduct a foreign policy without proper respect for the touchier Islamic sensibilities, but Cruz can count on the support talk radio and other far-reaching conservative media, and it won’t be easy for the opposition to caricature him.
The “moron” stuff will quickly fade as the public comes to Cruz, who was graduated from Princeton and then Harvard Law School, where liberal Prof. Alan Dershowitz regarded him as his most brilliant student, so the diabolical genius angle will probably take over, but the birth certificate stuff will just give Cruz a chance to recount his heartwarming and humanizing family history as the son of a Cuban refugee. Nor is Cruz’s staunch conservatism so far out of the mainstream to be considered “wack job.” Repealing Obamacare and abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and the “Common Core” takeover of local education are not ideas that will strike a vast majority of Americans as radical, and the public might even be in the mood for a little more governmental dismantling. Cruz’s blunt talk about social issues will strike many as old-fashioned and self-righteous, but when the Democrats are increasingly perceived as the party of transgenderism and forcing bakers to make cakes for same-sex weddings and a general distaste for anything religious, it’s hard to say which party that vast middle now considers out of the mainstream. Nor does the public seem to share the exquisite sensitivity to the touchier Islamic sensibilities of the current administration or any likely Democratic successor, so unless Cruz makes some very bellicose blunder he should enjoy the same advantage on foreign policy as any Republican nominee.
The Republicans will have other candidates who deserve consideration, though, and even Cruz’s admirers might find others a preferable candidate. Some have executive experience to go along with their own acts of political bravery, and there’s a case to be made that’s preferable to one term in the Senate now mater how distinguished it might have been. Some have their own heartwarming and human family histories, too, and more likable personas to go along with them. A few have also been vilified with the same vehemence by the left, which always endears a candidate to the right, and it was often because of the things they succeeded in doing. Cruz strikes us as far superior to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum or any of the other candidates who might be making the same pitch for cultural conservatism, and the intellectual equal of any of his gubernatorial rivals, and the least establishment of any the congressional contenders, so we consider him a viable possibility to win it all. It’s going to be a long contest, though, and the field is strong, and Cruz might have weaknesses that have not yet revealed themselves, but we will be watching.
If nothing else, the hysteria on the left should prove amusing.

— Bud Norman