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‘Crazy’ Bernie Sanders, Crazy Like on Fox

More pressing matters kept us from watching independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander’s two-hour “town hall” on the Fox Network Monday night, but despite an infuriatingly busy day of play rehearsal and car troubles on Tuesday we couldn’t help hearing about it. President Donald Trump was apparently watching, as he “tweeted” quite a bit about it.
Trump is usually a big fan of Fox News’ programming, but was quite displeased about it giving Sanders two full hours to make the case for his presidential run. “So weird to watch Crazy Bernie on @FoxNews,” Trump “tweeted,” adding “Not surprisingly, @BretBaier and the ‘audience’ was so smiley and nice. Very strange, and now we have @Donnabrazile?”
In case you’re only a casual fan of the media game, the
@” thing with the missing spaces is newfangled internet lingo, “Crazy Bernie” is Trump’s usual nickname for the duly elected Senator, along with Chris Wallace Bret Baier is one of the few Fox News journalists who occasionally poses hard questions to the Trump administration, and Donna Brazile is the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman recently hired by Fox News to add some balance to its panel debates. The audience Fox News chose for the “town hall” reflected the mix of Republicans and Democrats and independents and right-wingers and left-wingers that make up the swing district in the swing state of Pennsylvania where the broadcast took place, and although it was hardly “so smiley and nice” we can see how it was a bit too civil and fair and balanced for Trump’s tastes.
As old-fashioned Republicans wer’e not at all fans of Sanders’ self-proclaimed socialism, but neither do we care much for Trump, and as old-school newspaper journalists we reckon that Sanders got the best of it.
The town hall was held in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, one of those de-industrialized Rust Belt towns that have been left behind in high-tech and service economy, and a majority of its citizens twice voted for President Barack Obama based on his promises of a futuristic revival, and when that predictably pan out a majority voted for President Donald Trump’s promises turn back time to the good old days of his steel-making and coal-mining and less-Mexican youth. Now that those promises are predictably proving hard to keep, the district and the state’s sizable and potentially crucial 20 electoral votes are one again up for grabs. Sanders’ unabashed tax-and-spend and even more-socialistic-than-Obama shtick almost certainly won’t work out well for the people of Bethlehem, but they’ve already fallen for both Obama’s pie-in-the-sky futurism and Trump’s for Technicolor promise to turn back the clock to the good old days of hard and sweaty and life-shortening labor in the steel mills and coal mines, and “Crazy Bernie” might well convince them he couldn’t do worse.
Sanders was shrewd enough to not describe those Rust Belt Obama-voters-turned-Trump-voters as racist “deplorables,” as the last Democratic presidential nominee stupidly did, and he emphasized his policy disagreements with Trump more than the president’s undeniable character flaws and countless scandals. Sanders has his own character questions and political scandals, including an out-of-wedlock son he recently declined to endorse in a Vermont political race, and a wife who runs a currently bankrupt college, but in an age when the sitting president is a boastfully adulterous womanizer who apparently cheated on his nude-model third wife a porn star, and an openly homosexual mid-sized city mayor is climbing in the Democratic primary polls, that sort of old-fashioned stuff doesn’t seem to matter much.
At times got Sanders got some big applause from all segments on the Bethlehem audience, at other times he got some boos and hisses, so we can well understand why Trump didn’t like what Fox News was doing. He’s come to rely on the highly-rated Fox News network for unceasing hosannas, is understandably perplexed why they should hand over two hours of prime time to someone who could very well beat him the crucial state of Pennsylvania, and why they should fine air time for that awful Brazile woman. As old-fashioned Republicans we can empathize, but as old-school newspaper journalists we have no problem with how Fox News handled it.
As crazy as he quite arguably is, Sanders is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, and seems to have a good chance of knocking off Trump in Pennsylvania and the rest of the Electoral College next time around, so that’s a solid reason for Fox News or any other journalistic outlet to grant him a couple of hours to expound his crazy ideas. Bret Baier and his co-host did ask some pretty tough questions, and if they were civil if not quite “smiley and nice” about it, that doesn’t bother us a bit.
One of the other character questions about Sanders is that the self-proclaimed scourge of the millionaires and billionaire and 1 percent has learned more than a million dollars over the past two years, putting him well into hated 1 percent, so the self-proclaimed billionaire of course “tweeted” about that hypocrisy, given that Sanders got a huge break from Trump’s tax reform bill. Trump should have noticed that even Brett Baier asked about that, and that Sanders accurately responded he’d voted against the bill. We’re no fans of Sanders’ soak-the-rich socialism, nor Trump’s wildly overstated tax cuts that worked out best for the wealthy, but we have to admit that Sanders voted against the bill and his self-interests and seems to have the courage of his quite arguably crazy convictions, which is more than we can say for Trump and whatever convictions he’s espousing today.
There’s been some grumbling among the Democrats that Sanders would boostt ratings in two highly-rated hours for the hated Fox News, and the Democratic National Committee has determined that none of its primary debates will be aired on the network. Most Republican politicians these days are similarly wary of the Cable News Network and MSNBC and the rest of the widely-watched broadcast and cable and print media, but they’d probably do well to follow Sanders’ example and wade into enemy territory. They won’t find a nice and smiley audience, to be sure, and there are likely hard questions to be asked, but it will likely be at least civil, and we still hold out hope an old-fashioned Republican who doesn’t make grandiose promises should be able to make a persuasive case to at least some of those people in such crucial places as Bethlehem.
In an ideal world there’d be an old-fashioned Republican party telling the white underclass what its been telling the brown and black underclass for decades, that it needs to get off its lazy ass and relocate and reinvent itself for the modern economy, but that now seems unlikely, and the damned Democrats don’t have anything better to offer. For now we have little regard for either side of the political divide, but we still hold out hope that a free and open press might somehow hold the center.

— Bud Norman

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On the Importance of Protecting the Free Press Environment

Back in our newspaper days we were often forcibly kicked out of various places for being a reporter. Sometimes it was at fringe group rallies, other times it was at ghetto crime scenes we’d arrived at after the cops had split, and on one memorable occasion it was at a “gay rodeo” that apparently had gotten some previous bad press from more homophobic reporters than ourselves. Until the age of President Donald Trump, though, we’d never heard of a reporter being evicted from a governmental agency’s public meetings.
That actually happened to three reporters on Tuesday, as they attempted to cover the Environmental Protection Agency’s meeting with industry and regulatory officials on the rather dry subject of water contamination. A reporter for the Cable News Network was barred from the event, as was a reporter for an environmental internet publication called E&E News, and a reporter from the Associated Press was literally shoved out of the building.
The administration’s official explanation for the expulsions is that there just wasn’t enough room to accommodate everybody who wanted in, now matter how impeccable their press credentials, but all the reporters who did somehow get through the door attest that there were far more than three empty seats. The only plausible explanation is that the Trump administration is growing even bolder in its bullying of the free press.
Which is worrisome to our free speech sensibilities, as Trump has been a bully boy toward the press all along. During his surprisingly successful campaign for the presidency Trump promised that he would “open up the libel laws” so that he could sue any reporter reporting embarrassing news and “make lots of money.” During every campaign rally he led his followers in menacing chants against the nervously penned-up reporters in their midst, and forbade certain news outlets from access to to his campaign. As president he’s described the adversarial press not only as “fake news” but also by the Stalin-esque phrase “enemies of the people,” leaned on the Postmaster General to charge a few extra billion dollars to the Amazon e-commerce giant that happens to be run by the guy who also also owns troublesome Washington Post. He’s also “tweeted” about revoking the White House credentials of America’s most venerable news media, prosecuting reporters who report on leaked information, and groused that it’s a “disgrace” that the First Amendment allows a free press to “write whatever they want.”
Perhaps the only American who more resents a free press than Trump is EPA director Scott Pruitt, who has taken some Trump-level pillorying. Part of it is his because of his vigorous-even-by-Trump-standards deregulating, which our old-fashioned Republican souls are mostly but not altogether approving of, but it’s also because of “fake news” but all-too-verifiable reports about the sweetheart condo deal he got from some companies he was supposed to be regulating and his exorbitant spending of taxpayer dollars on air travel and such weird things as the “cone of silence” from the old “Get Smart” comedy, which our old-fashioned Republican souls cannot abide.
Pruitt has also reportedly used the cops’ flashing lights and sirens to get him to unofficial dinner reservations on time, and he strikes us as exactly the sort of guy who would use figuratively and literally rough even-by-Trump-standards tactics to get even for all those verifiable stories. This troubles our old-fashioned Republican souls, and after too many years of daily reporting it outrages our journalistic sensibilities.

— Bud Norman

All the News That Fits in a Day

Tonight is opening night for our annual amateur theatrical turn in the Gridiron Show, a satirical song-and-sketch revue that the local media types put on to raise money for the lost cause of journalism scholarships. That means last night was an exhausting dress rehearsal, followed by a cast gathering at Harry’s Uptown Bar & Grill, so it’s been hard to keep our usual keen eye on the news.
While working with our news-mongering friends, though, it’s been hard not to notice some worrisome stories about the news business. Foremost at the moment is the Sinclair Broadcasting Company’s attempt to add another 42 local television broadcasters to the 189 it already owns in 89 markets by taking over the Tribune Company’s television markets, which would give Sinclair access to 72 percent of the nation’s households and make it the largest local television operator in the country.
We’re usually not inclined to worry much about media monopolization, as the internet and the proliferation of cable channels and other market innovations a offer wider and more diverse range sources of news than ever, but this is troubling. Sinclair recently made news by forcing all of its news anchors to read from the same script criticizing other media for their biased “fake news,” a criticism frequently made by President Donald Trump, its outlets have a well-earned reputation for bias toward Trump, and there’s worry that it might be meant to curry favor with the Trump appointees on the Federal Communications Commission that has to give approval to Sinclair’s buy-out of Tribune’s local TV holdings.
Sinclair is certainly entitled to its pro-Trump point of view, and there are historically valid reasons why the federal government has the power to regulate over-the-public-airwaves broadcasts, but there’s something smelly about this.
The FCC gets to regulate the rather narrow range of over-the-public-airwaves radio and television broadcast frequencies because the radio stations used to amp up their broadcasts to the point they overwhelmed their competitors, and in the early days of television there were only four players, but even then there was a First Amendment and a broadly recognized understanding that the federal government did not have the right to regulate the content of whatever news any old news disseminator might disseminate. Networks rose and fell, newspapers rose and fell and merged, new news media emerged through some market innovation or another, but somehow the First Amendment always survived.
This time around, though, despite our preoccupations, we can’t help noticing Trump’s thumb on the scale. The president has lately “tweeted” Sinclair is far better than the “fake news” Cable News Network or the even more “fake news” National Broadcasting Corporation, along with his ongoing criticism of any print or radio or televised or internet critics as “fake news.”
At the same time, he’s been especially harsh in his criticisms of the Cable News Network, and “tweeted” misspelled insults against its chief executive officer, who used to head the news department at NBC, where Trump had once had a hit reality show and there expected better coverage. The gigantic media conglomerate that owns CNN is in the process of being sold to an even more gigantic entertainment-and-news media conglomerate, that also requires the approval of several federal regulatory agencies, including the Trump appointees, and that seems to be dragging out more than usual.
The big-media conglomerate that owns CNN is just as constitutionally entitled to it’s to anti-Trump views, as far as we’re concerned, and we don’t see any reason the government should be any more averse to its acquisition by by an even bigger media conglomerate than it should about Sinclair’s acquisition o the once-formidable Tribune company’s holdings. Let Sinclair buy up those local television stations, too, and in any case let the buyer beware.
In the long run we’ll let ┬áthe buyers beware, and after the past few weeks of rehearsal with our fellow local media types we’re heartened that they’ll also do their best.

— Bud Norman