Crazy Like a Fox

One of the more interesting things President Donald Trump is an extended interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, which chock full of Trump saying interesting things, was that “I’m not a fan of Fox. They’ve changed a lot since Roger Ailes.”
Which seemed an odd thing to say during his 92nd presidential interview with Fox, or 10 times more than the number of interviews he’s granted to any other network, but we’re not surprised he was nostalgic for the days of Ailes. The late Ailes was a media consultant for Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before becoming chairman and chief executive of Fox News and building it into a ratings powerhouse as a conservative alternative to the existing cable news networks. He was ousted in 2016 due to the high cost of settling with 23 women employee who had sued for sexual harassment, including two of Fox’s most prominent female reporters, then became a campaign advisor to Republican presidential nominee Trump, who was not offended by Ailes’ alleged behavior.
Fox News was largely unchanged by Ailes’ departure, remaining a conservative alternative to the other cable news outlets and apparently maintaining hostile workplace environment for women. Despite big ratings pundit Bill O’Reilly was shown the door when his sexual harassment lawsuits became to expensive to settle, and now there’s another round of lawsuits. This one involves former anchor Ed Henry, who was fired July 1 for “sexual misconduct in the workplace,” and now stands accused by longtime Fox Business News employee Jennifer Eckhart of a sadistic rape. The same lawsuit alleges she was fired for complaining about a “toxic work environment,” and also claims that other Fox employees, including star opinion show hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, sexually harassed her.
This is Carlson’s second recent scandal, by the way, following the revelation his now-fired head writer had for years used a pseudonym to post outrageously racist and sexist post on white nationalist web sites.
None of this will likely trouble Trump’s mind, of course, but he has other issues with the network. The early morning primetime opinion hosts remain as slavishly devoted to Trump as ever, but the straight news reporters in the afternoon occasionally report things Trump would rather not hear, and have an annoying habit of interviewing Democratic politicians as well as Republicans, and their polling has long displeased the president. Wallace is a very tough interviewer, which Trump surely knew when he agreed to the interview, and all the ringside observers think Wallace won by points if not a technical knockout.
So now all the cable news networks are “fake news” except for the One America Network and the Sinclair Network, which are steadfastly sycophantic to the president but only reach a small percentage of America’s televisions. The good news for Trump is that if all the current polls prove true and he loses reelection by a wide margin he’ll have something to blame.

— Bud Norman

Tucker Carlson, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and Their Asymmetrical War of Words

We don’t have cable and rarely watch television, but we’re well aware of Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He’s a bowtie-wearing know-it-all who frequently makes news by saying things that cause his advertisers to bolt, an we watch the clips. Carlson is back in the news because of a feud with Democratic Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and so far he’s getting the worst of it.
The brouhaha began Carlson called Duckworth “a deeply silly and unimpressive person” who “hates America” for telling a television interviewer that there should be “a national dialogue” about such slave-holding founding fathers as President George Washington. Duckworth responded by “tweeting” that Carlson “should walk a mile in my legs and tell me whether or not I love America.” Carlson then responded by calling Duckworth a “coward,” “fraud,” and “moron.”
At that point Carlson had lost the argument, and we expect he’ll lose even more advertisers. Duckworth invited Carlson to walk a mile in her legs because both were amputated from the knee down after the Blackhawk helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down during a 2004 rescue mission in Iraq. That’s pretty convincing proof of her patriotism and courage, as far as we’re concerned, as is her service in the United States Congress as a Senator elected by the good on people of Illinois. Carlson never served in the military, and although we won’t question his patriotism we wonder what credentials he has.
Carlson has complained that he’s not allowed to criticize a veteran, but that’s balderdash. For all her bravery and sacrifice and resilience Duckworth is still a damn Democrat, and one is still free to criticize her positions on any issue. We’re unafraid to say we disagree with Duckworth on many issues, and will be happy to engage in a national dialogue about America’s history and argue that despite their shameful slave-holding both Washington and Thomas Jefferson should remain forever in the nation’s pantheon of heroes, but we have no standing to question Duckworth’s courage and patriotism and authenticity, and we don’t think she’s a moron. Carlson’s resort to ad hominem attacks and name-calling rather than making a substantive case against Duckworth’s opinion strike us as, well, cowardly.
Conservatives and Republicans used to honor military valor, but that changed on 2016 when presidential candidate Donald Trump sneered on camera that Sen. John McCain — who endured two years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp after being shot down on his 23rd combat mission, then another three year after refusing an offer of early release because it would require him to leave his men behind and hand the enemy a propaganda — “was only a hero because he captured. I like a guy who didn’t get captured, OK?” Trump won somehow won the nomination anyway, and wound up President Donald Trump, and since then even the most draft-dodging Republicans have been freed to question the patriotism such of decorated and high-ranking officers as Robert Mueller, James Comey, John Kelly, Alexander Vindman, and H.R. McMaster, among others.
Trump is currently at odds with his military’s leadership on a number of things, from honorifics to the Confederacy to its deployment against American citizens, and we think he’s losing that argument. He dearly loves to boast about his military, so he can’t come right out and say they’re all “deep state” traitors.
According to all the press speculation Duckworth is on the short list for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick, and Carlson’s set with her has probably helped her move up that list. She’s not only half-Asian and female and a decorated veteran but a double-amputee, which checks off a lot of boxes. so we think she’d be a shrewd choice. Duckworth’s a damn Democrat with a lot of dumb ideas, but Trump doesn’t want to debate with her about that. He can say that she’s only a hero because she lost two legs, and that he likes someone who didn’t lose two legs, OK?, but that probably wouldn’t work this time around.

— Bud Norman

Trump on a Fox Hunt

There were still a lot of cop cars down the street when we left the neighborhood, but they were mostly gone when we returned home and apparently the situation with the neighbor who had a handgun and “mental health issues” was at least temporarily resolved, so we tried to catch up on the rest of the world’s news. The story that caught our eye was President Donald Trump urging his followers via “tweet” and impromptu news conference to stop watching the Fox News network.
The early morning “Fox & Friends” show and the evening lineup of opinion shows with “Judge” Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham are much appreciated or much hated as sycophantic Trump apologists, depending on where you stand along the political divide, but Trump doesn’t seem to like what the network’s news side is reporting in between. They’ve published some polls by well-respected pollsters that show Trump in danger of losing reelection, the likes of Chris Wallace and Brett Baier and Shep Smith have been known to ask Trump administration officials some hard-to-answer questions, and worse yet, they’ve lately been covering the Democratic presidential primary campaign, even going so far as inviting the candidates to share their views and respond to some hard-to-answer questions.
Trump griped on “Twitter” that Fox is “heavily promoting the Democrats,” and that “The New @Foxnews is letting millions of GREAT people down. We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” All of which strikes us as a bit over-the-top, if not a full-blown mental health issue.
As longtime Fox analyst Britt Hume “tweeted,” Fox doesn’t work for the Trump administration, and except for the opinion hours is charged with reporting the truth as best as it can. Any responsible national news outlet — or “News Outlet,” if you prefer the random capitalization — is obliged to cover both party’s primary races and to ask hard-to-answer questions of all the candidates and give them respectful time to respond. Trump expects more loyalty than that, though, and it’s hard to say where he’ll find it. There’s something called the One America Network that Trump is lately touting, but for now it’s a mere blip on the media radar screen, and 24 hours a day of Trump apologetics and screeds against Fox News and other Trump enemies doesn’t seem a ratings-grabber.
Better Trump should stick by the Trump apologists who dominate most of the day’s ratings on Fox, and not ask them to choose which master they serve.

— Bud Norman

Let the Conspiracy Theorizing Begin

The world’s most infamous sex offender died by a reported suicide while in federal custody on Saturday, and already the internet is abuzz with various conspiracy theories about it. Jeffrey Epstein was far wealthier and better connected than your average sex offender, counting former President Bill Clinton and current President Donald Trump among his past party pals, and his death prevented a trial that might have embarrassed a lot of other wealthy and well-connected people, and there are the usual hard questions to be asked about what happened, so naturally the conspiracy theorists already have all the shocking answers.
Unsurprisingly, yet still disappointingly, Trump was quick to “re-tweet” a little-known comedian’s wholly unsubstantiated suggestion that Clinton and his wife Hillary had something to do with Epstein’s death.
Died of SUICIDE on on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH? Yeah, right! How does that happen,” the original poorly spelled and punctuated and capitalized “tweet” from someone named Terrence K. Williams said. “#JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton and now he’s dead I see #Trumpbodycount now trending but we know who did this! RT if you’re not surprised. #EpsteinSuicide#ClintonBodycount#ClintonCrime Family”
We’re not fully fluent in internet lingo and its abbreviations and “hash tags” and various other offenses against standard English, but so far as we can tell a sitting President of the United States is passing along to his millions of “twitter followers” an entirely unproved allegation that a former President of the United States ordered a hit on a federal prisoner. The die-hard fans will probably give him credit for telling it like it is, and ramp up their chants of “lock her up” at the next campaign rally, but we’re hopeful the rest of us are properly appalled by such unpresidential and un-American behavior.
Not that we’ve ever been fans of the hound dog Clinton or his harridan wife, and we wouldn’t be entirely surprised by almost any awful thing you might prove about either of them, but we do demand a high degree of proof before convicting anyone accused of murder, even the Clintons. Even after so many years we’ve not been convinced that Vince Foster’s long ago suicide was actually a Clinton hit, nor that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria, and the rest of the hash-tagged #ClintonBodyCount also seems dubious. The plain facts about the Clintons disqualify them from prominence in the public square, as far we’re concerned, and we don’t see why the rally mobs want to lock ’em up on such baseless claims.
Trump should also know that his conspiracy-mongering could be counter-productive, as there are plenty of plausible questions about his own friendly relationship with Epstein, and the fact that Epstein died in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which answers to the Department of Justice, which answers to Trump’s appointed Attorney General, and the buck still stops somewhere higher up. Trump’s many detractors wouldn’t be surprised by any awful thing you might prove abut him, and most of them won’t demand much more proof than some comedian’s unproved insinuations, and that Williams guy does ask a hard question about how a federal prisoner died under the watch of the Trump administration.
Perhaps the diabolical #ClintonCrimeFamily somehow managed to kill America’s most infamous sex offender in a federal prison cell to cover up their role in an international sex ring of globalist elites, but even so there’s no denying that it happened on the Trump administration’s watch. If you follow the fascinating QAnon conspiracy theory, with t-shirts that regularly show up at Trump rallies, you know that Epstein and the Clintons were part of an elite international conspiracy of child-raping bankers and politicians, and that Trump was providentially sent to bring them to justice, despite his own friendly relationship with Epstein. Still, it’s hard-pressed to explain why Epstein is undeniably dead.
Conspiracy theories are entertaining and downright tantalizing, but for our final judgments we rely on Occam’s Razor, which holds that the simplest explanation is usually the best. We can easily believe that Epstein, already convicted of abusing underage girls and facing more severe penalties on the same charges, chose to end his life rather than live the rest of it in circumstances far less pleasurable circumstances than what he was accustomed to. Easy to believe, too, that a bureaucratic foul-up would let Epstein off himself even in the age of Trump.

— Bud Norman

The New Trump Media vs. the Old Media

President Donald Trump continued his feud with the “fake news” media on Thursday, as he hosted many of the “bloggers” and “tweeters” and YouTube celebrities and talk radio talkers who are more inclined to praise him, and even the usually friendly Fox News called his “tweets” on the matter a “bizarre tirade.”
“Bizarre” seems an apt if slightly understated adjectives to describe Trump’s remarks to the nutcase conspiracy theorists and far-right race-baiters and unapologetic Trump apologists the president had assembled at the White House. Among the crowd were the editor of the conspiracy-theorizing Gateway Pundit web site, a fascist organization-affiliated defenestrated White House official and current talk radio show host, a guerrilla videographer whose “Project Veritas” has been caught several times editing its footage in dishonest ways, another talk radio talker who has recently accused Democratic presidential candidate and California Sen. Kamala of not being an “American black” because her naturalized citizen father is from Jamaica and her naturalized citizen mother is from India. Even Trump seemed to acknowledge it was a motley crew.
“Some of you are extraordinary. Can’t say everybody. The crap you come up with is unbelievable,” Trump said. Later he added that “Some of you guys are out there. I mean it’s genius, but it’s bad.”
Even so, Trump clearly preferred the crap some of his apologists come up with to the more critical coverage he gets from The New York Times and The Washington Post and the Cable New Network and the National Broadcasting Company and the rest of what used to be called mainstream media. He also asserted that the new social media had usurped the ancien regime in importance and influence, and boasted that his “tweets” alone have bested all the outdated print and broadcast and even cable news sources. He acknowledged that his “tweets” were often pockmarked with misspellings, but he explained that by saying “Really I’m actually a good speller, but everyone said the fingers aren’t as good as the brain.”
Trump didn’t acknowledge that his “tweets” also routinely have enough punctuation errors and random capitalizations and other offenses against the English language that any competent fourth-grade teacher would red-mark it to death, nor did he admit that many of them are downright untruthful, and he even bragged that his as-yet unverified claims that President Barack Obama put a “tapp” on his phones had “taken off like a rocket.” He even related a longtime boast in a “tweet” that all the big newspapers would wind up endorsing him and all the over-the-air and cable networks will lavish him with favorable coverage for fear they’d go out out of business without him. Trump truly seems to believe that the public will lose all interest in the news if his hit reality show is cancelled.
“That’s why they’ll all be Endorsing me at some point, one way or another,” Trump “tweeted.” “Could you imagine having Sleepy Joe Biden, or Alfred E. Newman …” We couldn’t find the rest of the “tweet,” but we assume he meant former Delaware Senator and Vice President and front-running Democratic presidential candidate Biden, and that the Alfred E. Newman was a reference to South Bend, Indiana, mayor and second-tier presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who bears what Trump thinks is slight a resemblance to the mascot of the recently deceased Mad Magazine. Biden is currently leading Trump in head-to-head polls against Trump, and in the unlikely event that Buttigieg winds up as president he’d be the first openly homosexual person to occupy the White House, and in any case we can’t imagine the public will lose its longstanding preoccupation with the news if Trump’s reality show is cancelled.
Having grown up on Mad Magazine, we also note with great annoyance that Trump misspelled the hallowed name of Alfred E. Neuman.
Those ancien regime media are frequently wrong, to be sure, but they usually acknowledge their mistakes with embarrassing corrections and the occasional retractions, which Trump and his apologists never do, and for the most part they’re far more pristine in their use of the English language. Their batting average for the truth is better than Trump’s, too, even when you take into account their undeniable left-of-center bias, Trump has an undeniable ratings appeal, and lately the late night night television comics have feasted on his videotaped comments about the Moon being an important part of of Mars and the Continental Army seizing the airports during the Revolutionary War and the kidney being an important part of the heart. Even so, we’re sure people will stay tuned in for any dumb thing some damned Democrat might say if her or she is elected.
Trump parenthetically “tweeted” that he was “(just joking)” about winning a third or fourth term, but our guess is that for all its faults a free press and broadcast and cable media will outlast Trump, for better or worse. We also hold out hope that the truth, whatever it might be, will ultimately prevail.

— Bud Norman

‘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

The Calm Before the “Tweetstorm”

The news has been eerily slow that past few days, except for that horrific slaughter of 50 people in two New Zealand mosques over the weekend, and the continuing fallout from President Donald Trump’s response to the tragedy. Things have been so quiet that Trump found time to type out more than 50 “tweets” over the weekend, and of course that provided plenty for the pundits to pontificate about.
It was, we have to admit, a prolific and noteworthy outpouring. Trump “tweeted” a happy St. Patrick’s Day message to the country, but other than that it was mostly a barrage of potshots against enemies living and dead, some full-throated defenses of two besieged allies at Fox News, and several “re-Tweets” by some little-known supporters, including someone who identifies himself as “@LonewolfnDuke.”
The die-hard fans no no doubt loved every word, and could once again reassure themselves that “at least he fights,” but we’d like to think that a President of the United could find something better to do with his time on a slow news weekend.
Trump once again criticized the “Saturday Night Live” television program, even though it ran a re-run over the weekend, and once again threatened to have the Federal Communications Commission “look into” the televised satire of him. Once upon a time a sitting president threatening to use his office to punish his critics for the exercise of their First Amendment rights would have been a big deal, but these days it barely makes the middle paragraphs of a story about Trump’s latest “tweets.” There were also insulting “tweets” about special counsel investigator Robert Mueller, a union official working at General Motors, Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and even the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
The figurative dancing on the literal grave of McCain got a lot of attention, and rightly so as far we’re concerned. Trump ridiculed McCain for being last in his class at the Naval Academy, even though McCain was fifth-from-last and always man enough to joke about it, and Trump has threatened to sue any school he attended for revealing his class ranking. Trump also falsely accused McCain of leaking the damaging “Steele dossier” to the press, when McCain merely passed the information on to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a responsible citizen should, and once again castigated McCain for voting against the repeal and replacement of “Obamacare,” even though Trump and the congressional Republicans hadn’t come up with any replacement. McCain died last August and thus can’t fight back, but McCain’s daughter is still around to fire back on network television that her father suffered five years of torture in a Vietnamese prison camp for his country while Trump was hitting all the New York City nightspots on his bone spurs, and speculate that Trump continues his bloodless war with the late McCain because he somehow knows he’ll never be such a great man, which sounds about right to us.
Trump also rallied to the defense of Fox News opinion hosts Tucker Carlson and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, who have lately been under fire elsewhere in the media for some of their more daring opinions. In Carlson’s case it’s some decade-old off-the-cuff remarks to a shock radio jock called “Bubba the Love Sponge,” where Carlson defended a cult leader who was arranging very underage marriages between his followers, described Iraqis as “primitive monkeys” and all womankind as “very primitive,” which Carlson has refused to apologize for and sloughs off as being “naughty” on the radio a decade ago. In the case of Pirro she went on the air and said that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar wearing the Muslim hijab suggested she she more loyal to Islam than the American constitution, which followed a big controversy about Omar saying American jews who supported Israel were disloyal the United States, and although it’s all very complicated even Fox News issued a statement disavowing her statement and pulling her from the schedule for at least one week.
Both shows have lately lost some big-name advertisers, but they retain an outspoken supporter in the White House. Trump “tweeted” his advice to Fox News to immediately restore Pirro to her Saturday time slot, and urged Carlson to “keep fighting.” We’d hate to see either show banished from the cables and airwaves for exercising their First Amendment rights, but we’d also hate to see the same thing happen to “Saturday Night Live,” which by the way has a talented woman who does an absolutely dead-on and devastating impression of “Judge Jeanine.”
Our guess is the country will somehow survive the satiric sketches of “Saturday Night” and the legacy of the late Sen. McCain, as well as the ill-tempered and authoritarian-sounding presidential “tweets” about them, but we can’t help worrying about what comes next from Mueller and O’Rourke and the sorts who gun down houses of worship in New Zealand and elsewhere, and we worry that the President of the United States seems worried about it as well.

— Bud Norman

Something There Is Doesn’t Love a Wall

So far the big news story of the year is President Donald Trump’s long promised plan to build a big and beautiful wall along the entirety of America’s border with Mexico, and the longer and more painful than usual partial government shutdown that has resulted from the Democrats’ refusal to pay for it. Trump has announced a short oration on the matter tonight, and the “fake news” organizations at the American Broadcasting Company and the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcast System the Cable News Network have all agreed to air it live, along with the Fox News Network and the Fox Business News Networks, so it should get great ratings.
Both the wall and the resulting partial government shutdown are polling quite badly for Trump at the moment, however, and we doubt that Trump’s self-proclaimed reputation for salesmanship will be able to change that. There are plenty of persuasive arguments for more stringent enforcement of America’s border laws, and we proudly note we were publicly making them long before Trump latched on to the issue, but Trump generally prefers what his ghost-written bestseller “The Art of the Deal” describes as “truthful hyperbole,” which is to say baseless but nonetheless appealing claims.
Inevitably and undeniably there have been murders and rapes and other crimes committed by criminals illegally crossing the border, but Trump has always exaggerated their share of America’s alarming level of violence. He similarly overstates that number of Middle Eastern terrorists seeking to cross the southern border, even as he vows to continue a partial government that has diminished America’s security efforts at its airports, where most would-be terrorists attempt to arrive. Trump also implies that a border wall would keep all the illegal immigrants out of the country, even though most of them have arrived at legal ports of entry and outstayed their welcome, and that the cost of a border wall would divert funds from any efforts to expel them. There are other high-tech and more cost-efficient means of securing the border that the funding Trump wants to his wall could pay for, too. Perhaps the simplest solution to illegal immigration is to crack down on the businesses that hire illegal immigrants, but that would include the Mar-a-Lago resort and other still wholly-owned companies of Trump.
Lately Trump has claimed that President Ronald Reagan tried in vain for eight long years to build a sea-to-sea border wall, and that several past presidents have confessed to their regret that they didn’t accomplish what Trump now bravely strives for, but that’s all entirely untrue. Neither Trump nor his friends at Fox News or on talk radio have come up with a single sound-bite from Reagan about a wall, and all Reagan’s still-living advisors on immigration issues have told the “fake news” that’s because Reagan never said any such thing. All four of the living ex-presidents have also convincingly contradicted Trump’s claims, and the spokesman for recently deceased President George H.W. Bush declined comment on the grounds that it was too soon for Bush “to be dragged into such debates.”
So it will be interesting to see what new claims Trump makes tonight. He has plenty of compelling arguments at his disposal for the need to main the hundreds of miles of border barriers that have already been built, as well as a few hundred miles more, but the Democrats have already voted to fund the maintenance of existing barriers and signaled a willingness to cough up a couple billion more dollars for another few hundred miles, but it’s not in his nature to settle for that. After Trump bragged on national television that he’d be proud to shut the government down over a border wall he’s hard pressed to blame the Democrats for the partial government shutdown, and they have no apparent reason for helping Trump out with the beating he’s taking in the polls. Trump also promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, and although Trump makes some convoluted arguments that the money America’s going to eventually come from the profits private businesses make from a renegotiated-yet-not-ratified-by-any-country trade agreement the Democrats can confidently consider themselves off the hook.
There’s still a chance that both sides will agree that enhanced enforcement of America’s immigration laws is an urgent national priority, but that a big and beautiful sea-to-sea border wall isn’t, and the the airport security and the Coast Guard need to start getting paid again and the farmers need their subsidies and the national parks have to resuming taking out the garbage. We surely hope so, as it seems sensible enough. This Trump fellow seems to have negotiated himself into a corner, though, and those damned Democrats for now seem to have both the opinion polls and the objective facts on side, so the big story of the day seems likely to linger. For most of us it will likely be soon supplanted by other big stories, but all those airport security employees and Coast Guardsmen and farmers and national park-goers should gird themselves for the long haul.

— Bud Norman

Quoth McRaven, Nevermore

President Donald Trump’s latest war of words is with retired four-star Navy Admiral William McCraven, and so far as we can tell Trump is predictably getting the worst of it.
After earning a degree with honors from the University of Texas McCraven was commissioned the Navy and volunteered for it’s elite frogman and Seal units, then rose through the ranks during both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations, eventually being entrusted with command of the Navy’s special forces and European fleet, but he’s best known as the guy who led the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. One can hardly describe him as a “very low-IQ individual,” or impugn his manliness, and a name like Bill McRaven doesn’t easily lend itself to a taunting nickname, but McCraven’s been publicly critical of certain aspects of Trump’s presidency, so Trump is required by his immutable character to punch back somehow or another.
When McRaven’s name up during a Sunday interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the most damning thing Trump could think to say is that “He’s a Hillary Clinton backer.” Wallace was trying to explain to his viewers that McRaven is a former Navy seal and all that when Trump interjected, and when Wallace tried to resume MccRaven’s impressive resume Trump once again interrupted to say, “Excuse me, but he’s a Hillary Clinton backer.” Eventually Wallace got to the part about the Bin Laden raid, and Trump sneered that “He’s a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer. Frankly, wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner than that?” Thus Trump stepped boldly onto the minefield.
Pretty much the whole interview was s public relations disaster for trump. He probably figured he was on friendly terrain at Fox, but he apparently hasn’t noticed that Wallace and Shep Smith and Brett Baier and a few other Fox journalists still tend to ask some embarrassing questions from time to time. and Trump was ill-prepared for that sort of thing. He claimed complete credit for some Republican victories in the midterm elections, and denied any blame for the more numerous losses. He also spouted some self-apparent nonsense about how Finland doesn’t have fires like California is suffering because they rake their forests, citing the Finnish president as his source, which resulted in the Finnish president denying to the world he’d ever said any such thing and lots of Finns making jokes about it on the internet, including one waggish Finnish woman who posted a photo of herself in the forest with a vacuum cleaner under the heading of “Just another day in Finland.” Trump also wound up making a rare admission of error by saying he probably should have observed Veterans day despite the rain and his busy schedule.
Even so, the worst fallout was from the feud with McCraven. By Monday McRaven was telling the Cable News Network that “I did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else. I am a fan of President Obama and President George W. Bush, both of whom I worked for. I admire all presidents, regardless of their party, who uphold the dignity of the office and use that office to bring the nation together in challenging times.” We also didn’t back anyone in the last election, although we cast a protest vote for some suitable right-of-center protest candidate, and for all his faults we still miss George W. Bush and lately have a very begrudging newfound respect for the way that Obama at least didn’t go out of his way to start futile feuds with his fellow citizens all the time, so we think McRaven got the better of the exchange.
McCraven has left it to his many apologists to rightly note that he couldn’t have legally killed Bin Laden any sooner without presidential approval, and both Bush’s and Obama’s apologists can credibly argue that these things take time, no matter how impatient the immediate gratification sorts out there might be. Besides, even if McRaven is a damned Democrat it doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything. McCraven once pursued a journalism degree his stellar studies at the University of Texas, and his public complaints about Trump’s ongoing war with the free press, which originally provoked Trump’s ire, sound fair enough to our ink-stained journalistic souls. We rather like how this McCraven fellow fights his war of words in pristine parseable English with facts at hand, and in general we like the cut of his four-starred naval admiral jib, and at the risk of sounding like Republicans In Name Only we can’t say the same for his latest foe.

— Bud Norman

Strzok’s Star Turn

Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Peter Strzok has played a prominent and intriguing supporting role in the ongoing “Russia thing” reality show since its debut, but on Thursday he had a star turn in one of the series’ most watchable episodes when he testified before a testy and televised congressional joint committee meeting. Depending on whether you’ve been following the story through Fox News and talk radio or the other broadcast news networks and the last of the big newspapers, Strzok fared very well or very badly.
According to the Fox News hosts in the opinion hours and a full day’s worth of right wing talk radio, Strzok is the real villain of the show. He’s the high-ranking FBI agent who was involved in the end of the agency’s investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices while she was Secretary of State, which infuriated the right by its failure to lock her up, and he was also one of the agents who commenced a counter-intelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election on behalf of Republican nominee Donald Trump, which continues to infuriate Trump and his fans. Strzok was also carrying on an extra-marital affair at the time and “texting” profanely anti-Trump diatribes to his mistress, which included ambiguous statements about “secret societies” and “insurance policies” and a promise to his paramour that he would prevent Trump’s election, and thus Strzok became the mastermind of the “deep state” “silent coup” plot by the “globalist” “elites” against Trump’s agenda to make America great again.
The other broadcast news networks and the last of the big newspapers are hard-pressed to make Strzok a heroic character in their version of the story, but they’ve got ample evidence that he’s not a villain, and certainly not such a diabolically ingenious one who might pull off the plot that’s been alleged.
There is a strong argument to be made that Clinton should have been locked up for her careless handling of classified information, but if you want to get all letter-of-the-law about it presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and former White House staff secretary Robert Porter and all the other administrations who have handled classified materials without the necessary security clearance should also be in legal jeopardy. As a high-ranking agent with a long record of successfully discovering and prosecuting Russian operatives and thwarting Russian plots he was also assigned to look into credible tips from longstanding allies that Russia was meddling in various ways with the American presidential election, and by now all of President Donald Trump’s FBI and intelligence community appointees and a bi-partisan group of Senators and pretty much everyone but the Russian dictator and the American agree that there was Russian meddling the needed to be investigated.
We’d also note that although Clinton didn’t get locked up her campaign was hit hard by an FBI announcement that although her e-mail practices weren’t criminal they were damned sloppy, and then again when they announced the re-opening of the investigation when some of the e-mails showed up on the computer of the perverted husband of a close aid, and that the FBI made no mention it was already winning warrants from Republican-appointed judges to investigate Trump campaign operatives’ undisclosed contacts with Russians. If Strzok and the rest of the “deep state” cabal at the FBI were conspiring to deny Trump the presidency, they did a damned clumsy job of it.
It’s true Strzok was carrying on a extramarital affair and using profane language about Trump in his “texts” to his illicit lover, which we do not approve of, but it strikes us a rather hypocritical argument to be made in defense of Trump. Strzok managed to cheat on his wife without making any six-figure payments to porn stars, which strikes us as better business sense than the president possesses, and his language is no more offensive than what Trump has used on the campaign trail and did not include any boasts about grabbing women by their expletives deleted.
Strzok’s apparent disdain for Trump doesn’t much bother us, either, as we’ve frequently voiced the same sort of opinions in more family-friendly language. A broader reading of Strzok’s “texts” and e-mails reveals that he had similarly harsh things to say about Clinton and her Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, just as we did in our more polite fashion, and that the only politician he seemed to like was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the last centrists standing and currently among our most favorite Republicans.
According to the Fox News opinion shows and all the conservative talk radio talkers Strzok was exposed as a villain at the hearing, while the rest of the broadcast news networks and big newspapers more prominently quoted the sources who thought Strzok got the best of the it. We urge that you watch the more than two hours of hearings the the “fake news” dutifully videotaped and make up your own mind. It’s more compelling television than any other reality show on the air or web, with America’s tribal divisions fully on trash-talking display in a joint committee meeting of the House of Representatives.
In the end Strzok will probably be remembered as a foul-mouth cheating husband rather than they guy who discovered all those Russian agents thwarted all those Russian plots, but as a supporting character rather than the villain of the “Russian thing.” The “Russia thing” reality show will drag on at least through the summer, and there are a lot of plot twists yet to come. For now we can turn our attention to Trump’s international tour, where he’s upsetting relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and his current hosts in the United Kingdom, with a summit with the Russian dictator coming up, and for now Strzok seems an intriguing but minor player in this weird tale.

— Bud Norman