Media Critic in Chief

After a weekend largely spent “tweeting” his indignation about a curtain call oration at a Broadway play and a skit on a satirical comedy show, president-elect Donald Trump returned to work on Monday with an effort to bully the television news media into giving him more favorable coverage. That’s how we’ll describe his off-the-record-but-inevitably-leaked meeting with the heads of several networks, at any rate, at least while we still can still do so without fear of recriminations.
The meeting was first reported by the tabloid New York Post, which described it as a gerund-form-of-the-F-word “firing squad,” quoting an unnamed source, and the more polite broadsheets found more suitable language to say pretty much the same thing. The New York Post’s unnamed source recounts Trump telling Cable News Network’s head honcho Jeff Zucker that “I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar, you should be ashamed,” with a second unnamed source saying that Trump called the news outlet “a network of liars” and singled out the National Broadcasting Corporation for similar disparagement. The Washington Post’s article, headlined “A defiant Trump meets the TV news crowd in private — and let’s them have it,” corroborates that “The president-elect specifically called out reporting by CNN and NBC that he deemed unfair, according to four people who attended the meeting, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was off the record.” The scooped New York Times headlined its report with a familiar-sounding “Trump Summons TV Figures for Private Meeting, and Lets Them Have It,” citing unnamed sources with the same information. Each paper added some quotes by Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway about how very “cordial,” “productive,” and “congenial” the meeting was, but even she acknowledged it was also “very candid and very honest,” which we’ll interpret to mean a gerund-form-of-the-F-word firing squad.
All of which was lustily celebrated in the newer and more Trump-friendly media. The Drudge report linked to the New York Post story with the headline “BEAT THE PRESS: TRUMP TOWER SHOWDOWN WITH MEDIA ELITE,” and the Breitbart News site, until recently run by Trump’s newly appointed “Chief Strategist,” went with “Trump Eats the Press.” We spent our driving-around time on Monday listening to old rockabilly and garage band mix tapes rather than talk radio, but we’re quite sure all the hosts were happy to hear that all the media they constantly rail against got a presidential dressing-down. The more die-hard sorts of Trump supporters, who routinely harassed the same networks and newspapers at Trump’s urging during his rallies throughout the campaign, were no doubt similarly delighted.
Which is not hard to understand, given that much of the ancien regime media have indeed long been relentlessly hostile toward Republicans in general and the putatively Republican Trump in particular, and often unfairly, but we still find it somewhat unsettling. Although we are also frequent critics of the press, we think that Trump’s critique is conspicuously self-serving, and in many cases unfair. We wonder why Trump isn’t thanking CNN for all those endless hours of live coverage of his raucous rallies while almost completely ignoring his many vastly more qualified challengers during the Republican primaries, and although we have to admit that he’s got a point about NBC he should admit they also didn’t do those primary challengers any favors, nor did they do his Democratic rival much good. The Washington Post and The New York Times and other singled-out media gave thorough coverage of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s countless undeniable scandals, even if it was less prominent than on the front pages than their thorough coverage of Trump’s countless undeniable scandals, and by now their biases are as familiar to the public as those of The Drudge Report or Breitbart News or any of those talk radio show hosts.
Our view is that all of the media, both those hostile to Trump and those angrily supportive of him, should be able publish or broadcast whatever they want. They should all be subject to the same sort of scrutiny to they apply to public figures and one another as well, and a president or president-elect should have the same rights to express an opinion about it as anyone else, but no one should have the power of retribution or censorship. Trump’s past vows to “open up the libel laws” and to target certain press barons’ other business interests and cut off media access to his administration lent an air of menace to Monday’s meeting, and those cheering him on should take a moment of self-interested consideration about how it might affect them during an inevitable future Democratic administration.

— Bud Norman


No News Today

There was no news on Sunday, so far we can as tell, and it was good to have a day off from the stuff.

The world keeps right on churning out news, we suppose, but this time of year it is more easily ignored. Obamacare is a continuing disaster, millions of Americans remain out of work despite all the happy talk about the economy, Iran is happily for proceeding with it apocalyptic plans, and that “Duck Dynasty” guy is still on suspension from his reality show, yet it all seems so easily put off until the next year. All of the politicians are on vacation, as are the mass media muckrakers, and there are all the chores that must attended to before everything shuts down for Christmas.

Here in our humble prairie hometown it was a good day for doing even less. Bitter cold and just enough snow to justify staying off the roads kept most sane folk indoors, where they could sit by the radio and hear a play-by-play account of the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball squad run their record to 12-and-0, which is some consolation for all the aforementioned bad news. The weather also provides a welcome break from all the global warming doomsaying, which seems to have gone into hibernation for the weather, although we’re sure the Envivornmental Protection Agency will be back on the job of solving this non-existent problem ust as the soon as the holidays are over.

Something might come up in the next few days, most likely from one of those heathen countries that care little for the Christmas spirit, but in the meantime we’re hating the cold and enjoying a respite from news. Here’s hoping you will, as well.

— Bud Norman

A Good Day to Ignore the News

Our yesterday was mostly devoted to preparing today’s speech to the Wichita Pachyderm Club, a weekly gathering of downtown’s Republicans, and the effort left little time to keep abreast of the day’s events. It’s an honor to be asked to address our fellow right-wing lunatics, and we wanted to make sure the oration had a few laugh lines to leaven all of our usual gloominess, so we paid only scant attention to our usual news sources.
What little we did hear was mostly about the crazed woman who attacked the White House and the Capitol, or the ongoing inconveniences caused by the government shutdown and the endless speculation about who is to be blamed, and neither story seemed especially compelling. The crazed woman’s attack and subsequent death are regrettable, of course, but unlikely to be of lasting public significance. Whenever these incidents occur much of the media are breathlessly hoping that the perpetrator will turn out to be some white male “tea party” member with an assault weapon, but in this case it turned out to be an African-American woman dental hygienist armed only with an automobile, which wasn’t even a sport utility vehicle, so we expect the matter will quickly fade away.
The government shutdown will likely be with us for a while, and the blame game will certainly linger even longer, but at this point the latest juicy details are of little importance. We got a good laugh from hearing President Barack Obama boast of how he’s carefully tempered his rhetoric against those suicide-vest-wearing Republicans who are holding a gun to the public’s head because they’re so eager to deny poor people access to health care, but the rest of it was too dreary to distract us from our speech-writing. In several of the radio news snippets the president was also warning that the Republicans would cause the government to default on its debts, an admittedly unpleasant possibility, but we also spent enough time perusing the more complete news outlets to notice that the Republicans’ House leadership has promised to avoid that at any cost including complete capitulation, so we’re not yet ready to panic. Default lies not in the stars, as Cassius might have said to Brutus had they been misfortunate enough to live in these times, but rather in Obama.
The deranged woman who crashed through the Capitol Hill barricades on Thursday isn’t the only crazy person in Washington, it seems, and the rest of them are more likely to do the most lasting damage.

— Bud Norman

Politics in a Hurricane

There is less than a week to go before the most consequential presidential election in generations, and the big story is the weather.

We wouldn’t want to downplay the significance of Hurricane Sandy, which has killed 50 people, severely disrupted the lives of millions, and caused untold billions of dollars of damage to beloved and irreplaceable property, and we sympathize with all of those who have been affected by the storm. Although the weather has been quite pleasant around here lately, those of us who live on the plains know all too well how very brutal nature can be.

Still, one hopes there will be some space left in the news for the election. Sandy’s winds seem to have blown all mention of the presidential race off the front pages and out of the newscasts, and that is a shame. As horrible as the storm has been, it is not at all hyperbolic to say that a second Obama term could be even more destructive.

What little attention has been paid to the presidential election in the past few days has mostly concerned how it might be affected by the storm. Some alarmists have fretted that Obama will somehow contrive to delay the election, which is too paranoid even for our tastes, but most of the speculation has concerned which candidate is most likely to benefit from the weather.

Any break from the news that has lately seen Mitt Romney surging in the polls is thought to be beneficial to Obama, a plausible theory, but the four years’ worth of unpleasant stories won’t be immediately forgotten and are bound to resurface once the campaigns resume today. There’s also a hope among the Democrats that Obama will seem more presidential when the helpful media broadcast images of him solemnly running the government’s response to the disaster, which is also plausible, and especially walking around the rubble with whatever elected officials can find time for him, but a president’s role in these affairs is mostly limited to signing orders to spend money and there have already been countless images of that. Every natural disaster now entails the usual cries about global warming, which is still considered an issue for the Democrats, but no one seems to pay them much heed any longer.

Another theory holds that Romney could benefit if lingering bad weather, power outages, road closings, and various clean-up chores keep large numbers of voters away from the voting booths. This strikes us as reasonable, given that Romney’s voters will crawl across broken glass on their knees to vote while Obama’s supporters seem to be less enthused these days, but the areas that are most likely to still be struggling through Election Day are in states that usually vote Democratic in any circumstances. There’s also a good possibility that Obama will blunder through the hurricane, or at least say something that reminds people of their pre-storm reasons for voting against him, and a good probability that at least some of the storm victims will be without electricity or have some other valid complaint on Election Day.

Here’s hoping that all who were affected by the storm recover quickly, and that any effect the storm has on the election will benefit the challenger. It’s an ill wind that blows no good, as they say.

— Bud Norman

What Do You Know?

A few days ago we were splashing around a friend’s backyard pool, a much appreciated invitation in a Kansas summer, and a woman of our mutual acquaintance who had dropped by made a complimentary remark about the wooden gateway and concrete base that our friend had recently built. “You didn’t build that,” we teased him, “somebody else made that happen.” Our friend chuckled knowingly at the witticism, but the woman of our mutual acquaintance was clearly perplexed by it. We helpfully explained that the remark was an allusion to President Barack Obama’s recent speech in Roanoke, Virginia, where he made the very same comment about America’s business owners, and she was not the least embarrassed to admit that she had no idea what we were talking about.

Her ignorance of the speech left us looking perplexed. After all, the speech had been widely reported by almost all of the media, touched off a week’s worth of debate among the chattering classes, been highlighted by a widely disseminated advertisement from the Romney campaign, and it’s “You didn’t built that” line had immediately become as iconic an epigram for Obama’s administration as “I didn’t have sex with that woman” had been for Bill Clinton’s. We had assumed that the phrase was by then as ubiquitous as a catch phrase from “Laugh-In” or “Seinfeld,” and that even the most obstinately ignorant Americans would be aware of it, so it came a surprise that such a sentient woman could have somehow been aware of it.

People do manage to avoid hearing of such things, though, and often enough that we really shouldn’t have been surprised by the woman’s apparently blissful ignorance. We can recall another conversation with a young fellow who boasted of how the current administration had gone three years without a single scandal, which he clearly regarded as a most remarkable accomplishment. We asked if he didn’t consider the Fast and Furious operation, with its Keystone Kops plotline and massive body count, or find the Solyndra fiasco, with its mix of high-minded “green” idealism and corrupt cronyism, to be scandals. We then threw in the resignations of admitted communist Van Jones and the Mao-admiring Anita Dunn, the Justice Department’s lax attitude towards black supremacist voter intimidation, and a few other choice contretemps, asking if he didn’t find any of these the least bit scandalous. He was not only unfamiliar with any of the stories, but dubious that they had happened at all, and angrily demanded to know if we had heard these scurrilous lies on the Fox network.

An aversion to news outlets that provide news challenging to one’s own opinions is part of the problem. Politically-minded people who only want to hear things that deify their guy and impugn the others can now easily find a suitable magazine, network or internet site. This phenomenon leads some media critics to pine for the old days when everyone in the country got their news from the same three networks, a few newsweeklies, or the lone daily newspaper, but it’s likely that if the old order were still in place even right-wing news junkies such as ourselves wouldn’t have heard anything in the past four years or so that suggests the current administration hasn’t been scandal-free and wildly successful in all its efforts.

A larger part of the problem, alas, is that so many people don’t bother to seek out any information on current events even in the most sympathetic media. In some cases this is a result of cynicism, in others mere apathy, and oftentimes plain old stupidity, but in no cases does it ever prevent the ignorant from feeling entitled to an opinion and a vote.

The determinedly unaware segment of the population tends to vote Democrat, or so we have observed, and for a variety of reasons. Those who don’t follow the news still wind up hearing the generally left-leaning views of late night comedians, movie stars, and other opinion-makers, and never hear of the arguments advanced by the less glamorous but better-informed pundits. Hearing the anti-business tirade that Obama launched in Roanoke might not have dissuaded the woman at the pool from voting for him, as she shares the president’s resentment of the prosperous entrepreneurs, but at least it would have forced to her form some coherent argument for her envy.

On the other hand, she might never hear that Mitt Romney is a dog-torturing, woman-hating, tax-evading cad who somehow made money by sending his businesses into bankruptcy and then killed a factory worker’s wife. She’s also unlikely to avoid the mounting evidence of economic decline that daily confronts everyone who has to work for a living, whether they ever pick up paper or not, and no one will get the opportunity to explain that it’s all the fault of the people who have been out of power the past several years.

She might even be unaware of when the election is to be held, and we were careful not to let her know.

— Bud Norman

A Week Out of Whack

This is Thursday, so far as we can tell, but somehow it doesn’t seem so. Planting a holiday in the middle of a week has a discombobulating effect, and it might be some time before we regain our natural rhythm.

Middle-of-the-week holidays have a notoriously negative effect on worker productivity, which is not our forte no matter the vagaries of the calendar, and given the consistently sluggish state of the economy of late we expect this official lull should be particularly enervating. The government has attempted to rectify the problem by moving some presidential birthdays and other observances to Mondays, regardless of the actual date of what is being observed, but for obvious reasons they are unable to move the Fourth of July to the Second of July.

The news business always maintains at least a skeleton crew on Independence Day, even though there’s rarely any news that needs to be covered. Politicians traditionally avoid intruding on the public revelry, the stock markets are closed, the press release writers are enjoying the day off, and even the criminals tend to take it easy. That leaves the obligatory sappy feature story about people celebrating at the lake or someplace photogenic, but of course the people being written about are too busy celebrating to ever read the stories. On occasion some natural disaster will intervene without the slightest regard for anyone’s vacation schedule, and this year it was the big eastern storm of six whole days ago that still has left a million or so homes without power, but those people aren’t going to read the stories because they’re without power.

Foreign news of some significance will sometimes arise on the Fourth of July or some similar occasion, foreigners being rudely indifferent to America’s holidays. This time it was the deranged government of Iran launching a series of long range missile tests, accompanied by the usual saber-rattling rhetoric, a ominous development that is sure to rattle the oil markets and could lead to war and unthinkable disaster. The story was easily overlooked on the Fourth of July, but will be impossible to ignore over the coming days.

Worrying about such things is what the coming days are for, though, and anyone who chooses to attend to more personally satisfying pursuits on the lazy day will hear no condemnation from us. We’ll return to more weighty matters on Friday, which will seem like a Tuesday, and Tuesdays are always good for us.

— Bud Norman