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Fake News and Real Consequences

There’s still a chance that Hurricane Irma will veer harmlessly to the sea rather than ramming into populous south Florida, and we’ll be praying that it does, but the way America’s luck has been running lately we wouldn’t place a bet on it. If we lived in the south Florida areas where the storm is expected to hit on Sunday we certainly wouldn’t bet our lives on it, and we urge our friends down there to prepare their properties as best they can and get the hell out of there. That’s what all the meteorologists and government officials are advising, too, but talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has other ideas.
“Just as I’m the go-to tech guy in my family and here on the staff, when it comes to a hurricane bearing down on bearing down on south Florida, I’m the go-to guy,” Limbaugh assured his audience on Wednesday, adding as a further credential that “I’m not biased and have no agenda in my analysis of the data.” He then went for another 20 minutes or so about how the “drive-by media” were simply up to their usual trick of scaring the public to increase ratings, propagandize their bogus climate change theories, and try to gin up business for the hardware stores and grocery chains and “Big Water” that advertise on their networks.
Oftentimes in the past we have argued in defense of Limbaugh, and even enjoyed his comically overstated critiques of leftist media bias and outspoken skepticism about the more alarmist claims of the climate change crowd, but we’ve been more inclined to roll our eyes during his broadcasts ever since President Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, and this is just Alex Jones-level crazy talk. There’s still that aforementioned chance that Limbaugh’s sanguine weather predictions will prove correct, but without any biases and agenda and all due respect to Limbaugh’s status as the “go-to guy on a hurricane bearing down on south Florida” we figure there’s an even better chance that all those meteorologists and government officials are right that it’s probably better for our friends in south Florida to be safe than sorry.
Most of Limbaugh’s estimated 20 million or so listeners aren’t in any projected path of Hurricane Irma, and we trust that most of those who are won’t be such “ditto heads” that they take his dubious advice to chill out about the category five hurricane and its 185-mile-an-hour winds that might well be headed their way, but it’s still a worrisome development. Talk radio hosts in general and Limbaugh in particular have by now supplanted such scholarly academicians as Milton Friedman and James Q. Wilson and such erudite print journalists as William Buckley and and George Will as the voice of the conservative movement, and given how awful the left still is we hate to see the right descend to such crazy talk.
Limbaugh is quite right that the overall media generally skews left, but it’s bonkers to contend that their wholly honest reports on what all the meteorologists and federal and state and local government officials are advising about a horrific storm that might very well bear down on south Florida are “fake news.” He’s also right to be skeptical about government officials, but arguing they’re part of a “deep state” conspiracy to promote draconian climate change policies and sell bottled water is basically crazy talk, especially when those same government officials might well be the ones that have to deal with another one of those occasional historic natural disasters that have always occurred even before the industrial revolution.
We suspect Limbaugh’s most cocksure listener in the potential path of Hurricane Irma is Limbaugh himself, who likes to boast about the high-dollar property he occupies in Palm Beach, Florida. He brags about it as unabashedly as his new-found pal President Donald Trump does about his fancy-schmantzy nearby Mar-a-Lago resort, and unlike the safely ensconced president Limbaugh is now obliged to ride out the storm. A columnist for the PalmBeach paper is even hoping that Limbaugh will be  exempt from the evacuation order that’s been issued for the town. As fitting as it would be for both of them to suffer some storm damage, we know some very fine folk in south Florida and will pray that they all the avoid the worst of it.

— Bud Norman

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News and Fake News and What’s in Between

The long war between President Donald Trump and certain members of the news media has lately escalated, and from our perspective on the sidelines we can’t see anyone coming out a winner.
Trump’s tormentors at the Cable News Network took a hard hit this week when they were obliged to retract a story that tied longtime Trump business associate Anthony Scaramucci to a federal investigation of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The story had only a single anonymous and other journalistic flaws that should have been obvious to the most cub reporter, proved to be utterly wrong, and can reasonably be attributed to the network’s unabashed zeal to air stories damaging to the Trump administration, so score one for Trump. Of course the president “tweeted” some about gloating about it, but of course he overplayed his hand by “tweeting” the non sequitur that everything else CNN and all of his other media tormentors have ever reported is therefor also wrong.
To its credit CNN did frankly acknowledge the error and retract the story, apologize profusely, then accept the resignations of three journalists including a Pulitzer Prize winner recently hired away from The New York Times. That inspires more confidence than Trump’s longstanding and clearly stated never-apologize-and-never-retract policy regarding his far more frequent statements that are anonymously sourced and utterly wrong, which a chastened CNN is for now not mentioning but has been widely remarked on in all those other Trump-tormenting media, and despite all the internet glee that CNN has been “destroyed” we expect they’ll stick around at least as long as Trump does.
CNN also got “stung” by the “sting” journalism of an independent filmmaker named James O’Keefe and his Project Veritas outfit, which caught a CNN producer on hidden camera describing his network’s coverage of the Russia thing with Trump and Russia with a barnyard epithet, but we expect that won’t prove much more than mosquito bite. O’Keefe is a protege of the late conservative provocateur Stephen Breitbart, who gave birth to the eponymous Breitbart.com internet news site where future Trump consigliere Stephen Bannon later became editor-in-chief, and although he once did a true public service by bringing down the notorious community-organizing racket called ACORN with a hilarious hidden camera video of them offering financial advice for his scam pimping business, he hasn’t scored any wins in a while. He was convicted of a felony for using a false identity to the infiltrate the offices of a Democratic Senator for some story or another, it turned out those hilariously over-the-top ’70s-blaxploitation pimp costumes he’d worn to the ACORN offices were an editing trick, and he’s generally engaged in the sort of journalistic trickery that no true conservative would tolerate if any of those Trump-tormenting outlets dared such a thing.
Still, Trump’s spokespeople in his administration and certain parts of the media tried to make the best of it. Official White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that she couldn’t vouch for the video’s accuracy but nonetheless urged everyone in the country to watch it, which strikes us as a damned odd thing for an official White House spokeswoman to say, and all the right-wing radio we heard on our drive time was endlessly replaying the video. After 36 years or more in the biz we think ourselves more savvy than most, so we don’t doubt the the tape’s accuracy but have to roll our eyes at its significance. As O’Keefe is obliged to admit, all he has here is one of countless CNN editors griping that his bureau’s stories aren’t getting as much airtime as as the Washington bureau’s stories, and although he’s the editor of the health bureau he’s based in Atlanta some reason and all those juicy and time-consuming stories about the health care debate also seem to be coming out of the Washington bureau, so his gripes are hardly newsworthy.
After 36 years or so of experience with various news organizations we can tell you there’s always someone swimming against the collective consensus, usually us, and we’ll score a point to CNN that they didn’t fire the guy and instead endorsed his right to a dissenting opinion. Back in our newspaper days we often butted heads with our executive editor, who had all sorts of crazy liberal notions, but we admired the way he butted heads with his corporate bosses, and he gave us the same respect he expected from his much higher-up bosses, and for the most part it kept us all honest.
There seems to be a stronger consensus at all those right wing talk radio shows and the rest of the Trump-friendly media, and we can’t say it’s serving them well. The formerly formidable Rush Limbaugh gloated that one of the fired CNN reporters as Thomas Frank, who had some years ago written a controversial and best-selling jeremiad called wither “What’s The Matter With Kansas” or “What’s Wrong With Kansas,” with Limbaugh not being quite sure, and later in his jeremiad against “fake news” had to retract and apologize for the inaccurate claim that it was the same Thomas Frank. Sean Hannity predicted the “collapse” of CNN based on the O’Keefe tape and the retraction about his friend Scaramucci, but his cable network is currently in third place, and has recently retracted that weird conspiracy theory he’d been touting about how the Russians had nothing to with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails. He also wondered why a White House press pass had been issued to a reporter who challenged Sanders’ “inflammatory” attacks on the press, describing him as a “contributor to Playboy,” even though the fellow is also the executive editor of two newspapers, and William F. Buckley was also once a contributor to Playboy, and he never griped that the nutcase conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose reputation has Trump has praised along with The National Enquirer, was also granted credentials.. We think Hannity could also do with some dissenting opinions at the morning news budget meetings.
Trump’s tormentors could do with some more of that, too. All of the media organizations we’ve dealt with over the past 36 years have had their biases, and although they rarely just made stuff up out of whole cloth almost every time they got things utterly wrong it was because of a collective zeal for a certain outcome. That tough old executive editor of ours had a particular dislike for nuclear energy, one of his more ambitious underlings obliged him by altering some documents to implicate a local energy corporation running a nuke up in the Flint Hills, and all the lesser mistakes we noticed over the years followed the same pattern. Our executive editor and his paper ultimately acknowledged the mistake and retracted the story, and apologized profusely, and the reporter wound up at a better gig at a bigger paper where he did an even more scandalously wrong story, and we always read the paper with confidence that it was unabashedly biased but not entirely fake.
These days we’re skeptical of both the president’s “tweets” and his tormentors latest scoops, and we’re carefully considering all the claims. Some are obviously wrong, others are hilariously spun, and none are at all encouraging.
Trump has proclaimed his media tormentors “the enemy of the people,” and on the campaign trail he threatened to “open up the libels” so he could be enriched by any negative coverage, and he recently “tweeted” another threat to impose an internet tax on the billionaire Washington Post publisher’s Amazon business in retaliation for the paper’s unfavorable coverage, and lately the war isn’t so much against certain segments as the media as it against the very notion of freedom of press. He and his media allies are railing against the disrespect for the presidency, as if Trump hadn’t alleged with unnamed that his Republican predecessor had lied the country to into a war and his Democratic predecessor was born outside the country and was a “bad (or sick) guy,” and all the outside-the-mainstream media have been unerringly accurate.
We hope that all those media and the freedom of the press somehow survive this. The right wing media have noted that several of the lawyers that the special counsel investigating the Russia thing with Trump and Russia were contributors to the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, which is accurate even if the oft-stated claim that they’re all Clinton donors isn’t, and they don’t note that Trump was also a Clinton contributor, but that’s still information that should reported. Those lawyers were chosen by a special counsel who is a registered Republican and rose through three Republican administrations during his distinguished career, and were more likely chosen for their highly specialized expertise in eastern European organized rackets and money-laundering, so that’s also useful information those right wing radio talkers should be warning their audiences about. Any information from either side, so long as its true, is welcomed.
The glaring mistakes that have to be retracted and apologized for are almost always a result of zeal, which is why our lazy selves found few scoops for our tough old executive editor but had fewer retractions to apologize to him for, and what with all the zealousness going around these days we’re being very careful in our reading of the news.

— Bud Norman

‘Round the Clock Baseball

With a little bit of luck and a fortuitous lack of those annoying robo-sales calls we’ll be sleeping late today, because they’ll be playing games down at the local baseball park until the wee hours of the next morning and we’d hate to a missing an inning of it. One of the cultural advantages of living here in Wichita, Kansas, along with the Cassatt and the three Hoppers and the Eakins and the other masterpieces over at the Wichita Art Museum, and the odd strain of punk and country that infuses the music in the local dives, and the surprising amount of talent in the various local theatrical groups, and the relatively cheap rents that foster a fertile bohemian subculture that defies the town’s rather staid and conservative reputation, and Koch Industries and ‘Shocker basketball and the the rest of the right-wing conspiracies that bolster our crazy reputation, is the “around the clock baseball” tradition at the annual National Baseball Congress.
The National Baseball Congress is more or less the world championship of semi-professional baseball, and has been ever since the darkest days of the Great Depression when a wily sporting goods salesman named Ray “Hap” Dumont started it up in the old Island Stadium that once flourished in the middle of the Arkansas River. To help draw the business of the impoverished locals he offered the grand sum of one thousand dollars to to the great Negro Leagues pitcher Satchel Paige, who was at the time the best hurler of any color in the business, and who gratefully accept the offer and temporarily abandoned his Negro League team and mowed down the semi-professional competition with such ease that his pitching records still stand in the NBC books to this day, and the gimmick worked well enough to lead to another tournament and now an 84th one. Since then the old Island Stadium, which was somehow exempt from the local blue laws and able to sell beer even on the Sunday games, has burned down, according to local legend because of some smoker’s carelessly tossed cigarette, but to this very day the games still go on at the elegant and now aged Lawrence-Dumont Stadium just across the river from downtown, named in honor of some bearded Civil War-era town founder and “Hap” Dumont, and one of its enduring gimmicks is to play baseball once a year until the sun rises.
Whatever benighted city you happen to live in probably doesn’t afford the privilege of watching red-blooded young American men from unknown small towns playing the great game of baseball long after the bars have closed, but be assured that you’re missing out on quite a spectacle. This year’s NBC has already provided some Hollywood-scripted baseball, with the Wellington, Kansas, Heat notching a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Cyclones with a walk-off single in the bottom in the bottom of the ninth inning after a ferocious pitchers’ duel, and Kansas’ Liberal Beejays, which despite your unseeingly assumptions was not named in honor of the of the Clinton administration, scoring a “run rule” win over Rush Limbaugh’s hometown Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Capahas by a “run rule” 23-2 after five innings. The now-familiar “run rule” was invented by the National Baseball Congress, by the way, and is sometimes known as the “Wichita rule,” so the entertaining but anti-climactic result had a certain appeal to baseball traditionalists. We expect more great baseball early tomorrow morning, along with all the usual color.
Some years ago we we were witness to a game involving one of the usual Alaska entries, whose bullpen admitted to us during a casual conversation along the first base line that they were disturbed by the 4 a.m. heat, and when a foul ball popped out of the glove of a 12-year-old fan there were hearty boos by the remaining and pajama-clad fans. There’s nothing in baseball quite so gratifying as hearing a couple hundred die-hard fans booing a 12-year-old at four in the morning, and our occasional treks to the major league parks have never topped that. One of the local convenience store chains is offering one-dollar tickets to it all, too, and despite the inflated beer prices it’s even a better entertainment bargain than Netflix. That will be hard to top, but we’ll seated in the smoking section with a couple of wizened cigar-chomping buddies of ours, and we’ll be wearing our trademark straw fedora, and every picture we’ve ever seen of “Hap” Dumont shows him with a hat atop his head and cigar in his mouth, and despite the recent prominence of Ultimate Fighting and NASCAR and the National Football League this is still the national pastime, and we expect something great will happen here in Wichita in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

— Bud Norman

A Civic Chore

Life is full of rude awakenings, but few are so cruelly impolite as being forced out of a perfectly comfortable bed at 7:30 a.m. in order to report for jury duty. Being so very civic-minded we nonetheless roused ourselves at that unfamiliar moment of the morning on Monday and presented ourselves for service at the Sedgwick County Courthouse by the mandated time of 8:30 a.m., bleary-eyed and brain-cloudy despite two cups of coffee, and proceeded to do our patriotic duty by somehow staying awake through a cheesy informational video and an interminable wait to be tossed into a jury pool along with 47 of our randomly-selected fellow citizens. Justice surely cannot be properly administered at such an ungodly hour of the morning, we mused as the hours ticked slowly by, but ours is not to question the peculiar workings of the American court system.
The judge admonished all the potential jurors not to discuss the case, and we will heed his order even though we are unlikely to wind up on a jury, as we are the obviously opinionated sorts that the attorneys with the weaker case are always quick to discard, but in any event at this point we know nothing of the case worth discussing. We mention the early morning ordeal only by way of explaining the scantiness of today’s report. Jury duty has not only jarred us from the nocturnal writing rhythm that typically propels our pen to the high standards of this publication, it also deprived of the usual afternoon’s slog through the news in order to find something to rant about. On our drive home for a brief lunchtime nap we heard a few minutes of Rush Limbaugh, who seemed quite agitated about something or another, but otherwise we spent the day frustratingly out of touch with the world’s events.
Nine hours of waiting around the courthouse reading an old P.G. Wodehouse novel in between listening to our pool mates answer questions about their marital status and the ages of their children left us exhausted, but upon returning home we somehow summoned the energy for a quick glance at the always-intriguing headlines on The Drudge Report. There were more outrageous details about the Internal Revenue Service’s systematic harassment of conservative activist groups, a story that had already outraged us, and a new tale that the government has also been snooping through the phone records of the Associated Press. The government’s animus toward the tea party is easily explained, as these groups as so extremist they would severely limit the government to a size that taxpayers are willing to fund, but we could not readily discern why the government would take such an untoward interest in the phone conversations of such reliable defenders as the Associated Press. It’s like the occasional stories of Great Britain or Israel spying on the United States, or at least like it used to be back when we had strong alliances with those countries, and it will be interesting to see how the story plays out. The Associated Press dispatch about the scandal seem understandably miffed, and if this signals the end of a beautiful relationship we suspect the government agents responsible will eventually regret their actions.
Depending on events we might be back to our usual routine by Wednesday, and we hope you will bear with us in the meantime. The news doesn’t always imbue a sense of civic responsibility, but we will press on.

— Bud Norman

No Way to Treat a Lady

One should never call a woman a slut, unless she’s into that, and it would have been better if Rush Limbaugh had not done so. Still, the indignation of his critics is hard to bear.

If you’ve limited your news reading to the important things, you might have missed the story. In the wake of the Obama administration’s decision that the Catholic church should provide contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization for the employees of its hospitals, schools and other large institutions, a Georgetown University law student with the intriguing name of Sandra Fluke spoke before an unofficial congressional hearing about the burdensome injustice of not being provided contraceptive coverage by the Catholic school. Radio commentator Limbaugh disapprovingly commented on her comments during his popular program, and in the course of his commentary he likened her to a prostitute and referred to her as a “slut.” Much tsk-tsking ensued from the rest of the commenting industry, several politicians expressed grave offense, outraged activist groups scared away some advertisers, and Limbaugh wound up apologizing at length on consecutive broadcasts.

Such broadcasting brouhahas pop up from time to time, heaping massive amounts of publicity on the offending speaker before fading from the public’s memory, and this is just another one of them. Limbaugh’s many enemies are hoping to make the most of it, however, and it should be noted that their protests are censorious, opportunistic, and hypocritical.

The president apparently called Fluke “to express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks,” but he won’t be returning the million bucks that was raised for his campaign by foul-mouthed comedian Bill Maher, who has refused to apologize for calling former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin an ever harsher epithet that does not bear repeating here. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Republicans to disavow “the vicious and appropriate attacks,” but had no public opinion when television wag David Letterman insinuated that Palin’s apolitical daughter was promiscuous. Rep. Steny Hoyer is apparently advising Fluke to sue, but offered no such advice to conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham after MSNBC’s Ed Schultz called her a “right-wing slut.”

Examples of such liberal vitriol abound, as any prominent conservative woman will attest, and are in keeping with the generally degraded nature of contemporary popular culture. Since the days of Lenny Bruce and The Berkeley Barb the cultural left has championed vulgarity, profanity, and the personal attack as authentic and liberating, and at this late date it’s galling to hear them complain that some of it has seeped in to Limbaugh’s shtick.

Still, it would have been better if Limbaugh hadn’t said that. It’s not only unseemly, so very like the sort of people he usually rails against, but it also distracted from a fair critique of a ridiculous young woman who chose to thrust herself into the national political discourse. Fluke’s notion that her rights are being violated if the government doesn’t pay for it will prove extremely expensive if put into practice, given that we’ve all got a right to guns and many other costly things, and she deserves ridicule. It’s bad enough when people think the world owes them a living, but Fluke seems to think it owes her some loving as well.

Which is not meant to imply any promiscuity on her part, of course. She’s no doubt a fine young woman, just slightly mistaken.

— Bud Norman