The Night CNN Rooted for Racist Thuggery

Back in the glory days of “Saturday Night Live,” before the show became an interchangeable trudge of Alec Baldwin’s mean-spirited Donald Trump impersonations, those productions used to be awfully funny – filled with sharp wit and good-natured swipes at offenders of all political persuasions and pomposities. (Memo to SNL and the genuinely talented Mr. Baldwin: Predictable makes lousy comedy.) Back in those heady days, the brilliant comic Jon Lovitz created a character named Tommy Flanagan (“Flan-AY-gan”), who was a pathological liar.

Tommy Flanagan was never satisfied with whatever initial outrageous lie he invented. Had he been to the White House yesterday? No, he meant to say that he was having dinner with the Royal Family. He wrote a book about rock-n-roll. Yeah, yeah, “that’s the ticket!” (Tommy’s catchphrase.) In fact, he himself had invented rock-n-roll. And Swing… You get the idea.

If you have been awake during the past week’s news cycle, you probably also have an idea of where I’m going with the topic of lies: initial lies followed by ever-greater and more desperate lies. Jon Lovitz and his preposterous whoppers were, as we might say back in Indiana, a real hoot. Jussie Smollett and his slick, sly disgorgement of slanderous deceit – well, not so much.

Now that I have meandered my way here (yeah, apologies – maybe the meandering is a Hoosier thing; I did mention I’m from Indiana, right?), please consider along with me a rather singular and telling broadcast that I watched last Wednesday evening on CNN (2/20/19). Like “Saturday Night Live,” much of CNN’s programming seems, regrettably, to have lost the wit and good nature of its own glory days. CNN, like SNL, has become too predictable: a dreary collection of chattering heads who deplore Trump (both for completed actions and pre-emptively), and who sneer at conservatives, and also at moderates (whom they mistake for conservatives), and who react violently and uncritically to any whiff of the politically incorrect.

These heads at CNN nod sagely and sadly in a circle of amiable dismay, validating for one another the moral inferiority (endemic racism always a choice exemplar!) of Other People. Left unspoken by these sad and nodding observers is the delicate and delicious sensation of their own contrasting moral superiority, as they parse through the wickedness that surrounds them.

So much truth was inadvertently on display during the Wednesday night broadcast that I could write two or three columns on it, easily. I will limit myself to this one main point: Don Lemon and his guests were in serious need of self-reflection and challenge. They made many jaw-dropping comments. Crowning all was this: Lemon uncritically described the hope for, and one of his guests openly advocated for, a real, non-faked nighttime attack on an un-armed man, carried out by vicious, racist, anti-gay, pro-Trump thugs.

You surely ask: How could they possibly root for, or how could they fail to indignantly condemn anyone’s clear desire for, the execution of such a horrible crime?

Here’s the problem: They do not often enough step outside their mushy circle of mutual approval and received wisdom. They do not appear to think critically, regardless of how Don Lemon congratulates himself on being (as he underscored during this very program) a “real journalist.”

Start with the fact that Lemon’s more voluble guest, Midwin Charles (contributor to Essence magazine), did not understand one of the likeliest roots of this likely hoax, even when her own question about the “why” answered itself! And although she didn’t appear to grasp the answer that was implicit in her own question, Don Lemon helpfully, if also unwittingly, supplied it. But both Midwin Charles and Don Lemon seemed oblivious to the motive that they themselves had just highlighted. Here’s the interchange:

CHARLES (who had just asked “why” Smollett would do this): “I find it baffling only because he’s well-known. Um, he may not be, uh, sort of the biggest star—

LEMON (interrupting): “People know him now!

(Hello…? Hello? Possible motive, anyone?)

CHARLES: “[This] did sort of, uh, trigger a lot of outpouring of, of emotional support, uh, from a lot of different people, from a lot of different, uh, producers, and, and television people who worked in the, sort of, entertainment industry.”

(Hello? Hello? Anybody there who’s not just nodding wisely? Anybody? Because it seemed that, to Midwin Charles, this [reasonable, predictable] “outpouring of emotional support” was one reason that Jussie Smollett’s desire to fake an attack on himself did not make sense; that the warm fuzzies generated by such an attack would be a disincentive to fake one. Yeah, because no actor truly enjoys an outpouring of support from television people, right?)

A few seconds later, Ms. Charles described the real victims in all this. “If this is true, right… The saddest part about this is that he has chosen, if true, to scapegoat black queer folk who often are in the crosshairs of violence.” She then went on to list these wronged groups: transgendered people, especially black women; two black gay men found dead in the home of Democratic donor Ed Buck; and LGBTQ teens who commit suicide at high rates. She said: “Those crimes are not hoaxes.” (Leaving aside the fact that Midwin Charles apparently doesn’t understand what a “scapegoat” is, she is conflating suicide – indeed an evil to be avoided – with “crime”/criminal acts.)

Don Lemon pointed out that “early skeptics were black queer folk, saying… ‘This just doesn’t seem to add up. I hope it’s, y’know, he’s not lying. But this just doesn’t add up.”

Okay. Mr. Lemon will later come back and reinforce this. But before we arrive at that, let’s pause. Pause and breathe and make sure that we read, slowly and carefully, the truth that Don Lemon has just revealed, not strictly on his own behalf, but in the voice of others:

“I hope he’s not lying.

Did we get that?

Of course, Tommy Flan-AY-gan is an unsympathetic and fictional character, but when he claimed that he had blacked out in the middle of the ocean and faced a “miniature tidal wave,” would anyone have truly hoped that he was not lying? Hoped that the blackout and the abandonment to drown in the middle of the ocean were real?

Midwin Charles confirmed Don Lemon’s point, but in her own case, she was speaking for herself, not for others. She said: “I watched his [Smollett’s] interview on ‘Good Morning America’… And I came away… with watching him, thinking, ‘I hope he’s telling the truth. Because I’m not convinced.’ ” [emphasis hers]

Midwin Charles watched Jussie Smollett’s interview on “Good Morning America,” in which he described two unknown men attacking him, vile language, a noose, bleach, and physical assault (and, of course, his own plucky response, and his desire to be a role model for young gays). She watched that interview, and her reaction was: “I hope he’s telling the truth.” She hoped the attack had been real! She wanted to be “convinced.”

Okay, when she said that, why did no one in the studio gasp aloud?

The truth is that this story of Jussie Smollett’s is so precious to certain groups that they actually hope that he isn’t lying. They would rather that the attack have happened than that it be a hoax.

As Mr. Lemon’s other guest, Joey Jackson, explained: “It [the purported hoax] demeans and undervalues people who are true victims of crime.”

(Absolutely true. I agree with Mr. Jackson. And… How about someone who is not tucked up within the agreement circle poking the three commentators and adding: “A phony claim also demeans and devalues anyone falsely accused” ?)

During the last few seconds of the program, Don Lemon finished with a somber reflection on the pain caused by accused self-serving liar Jussie Smollett. Mr. Lemon spoke with great seriousness, and surely I was only imagining that he relished the drama of the reprise as Don reminded us in clearly enunciated, heavy words that “certain groups” had said of its being reported as a hoax: “I hope this is not true.” The groups hope this is not a hoax.

Not me. I hope for better. I believe better. I believe better of our nation. I believe better of my fellow citizens.

I even believe better of Jussie Smollett. I suspect that he started out with an ill-considered faked threat letter, intended to create publicity and sympathy, and then the situation simply complicated itself and widened beyond his ability to control it all. Anyway, that’s what I think. His alleged actions were, ultimately, reprehensible, but they likely started out as more narcissistic and clumsy than as deeply evil.

The un-critical response of many in the media is exemplified by the Don Lemon program, in which the idea of rooting for this street attack to be real, rather than a fake is treated as a perfectly reasonable position.

Could we please root for the hoax, rather than the thuggery? Yeah, that’s the ticket!




The Cable News War

For cable news, Donald Trump is no longer the gift that keeps on giving.

At first he was, but now big change is in the air – and it’s all because of the President.

When Mr. Trump initially announced his candidacy for President, the curiosity factor drove millions of Americans to watch him on cable news.

The shock of seeing a flamboyant political neophyte take on well known pols like Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee was immediate.

Then came the Republican debates – and the sight of Mr. Trump diminishing his opposition in very personal ways, blew up decorum.

This was reality TV at it’s best and viewers flocked to it.

There was Trump calling Governor Bush boring to his face. Senator Rubio became “Little Marco.” Carly Fiorina was labeled unattractive by Mr. Trump.

Anything could happen at any time.

The arrogant, mostly liberal national press dismissed Donald Trump as a vulgarian but gave him constant exposure. He was good for ratings and was destroying the Republican Party in the process. Both positive things for the media chieftains.

But then Trump won the nomination and faced Hillary Clinton.

Once again the establishment TV news media derided Trump but hung on his every word. He remained great for business and couldn’t possibly defeat Mrs. Clinton.

They were absolutely certain of that.

But then he won again.

Almost instantly, business plans were put into place. CNN and MSNBC, with a large helping hand from NBC News, set themselves up as the “resistance,” openly demonstrating to their viewers that fair coverage was not even being considered.

The mandate became “destroy Trump.”

Anti-Trump Americans now had two networks that would bash the President non-stop. Because MSNBC was more vicious than CNN, it garnered the biggest audience of the two.

On the other side, Fox News made a corporate decision to support Donald Trump and appeal to the 60 million Americans who voted for him. Because FNC stood almost alone in defending Trump, it remained the highest rated cable news operation – there was no where else for the President’s supporters to go.

But all three cable networks basically stopped covering the news, devoting most of their presentations to Trump. Unending Trump. Always Trump.

Many viewers became exhausted.

So, Fox News has begun losing viewers especially in the 25 to 54 years old category. MSNBC is actually beating FNC in prime time on some nights which rarely happened in the past.

Correction, it never happened.

Many philosophers believe that hate is a stronger emotion than love, and that might be what we are seeing here. The MSNBC people are better haters than the CNN crew although it’s close. MS trounces CNN in the ratings because their Trump loathing is kept at a white hot temperature. It’s almost amusing to watch.

How do they keep it up every hour on the hour?

Fox News allows some of its on air talent to hate Trump too, and that is not sitting well with its core audience who now have alternatives on radio and the net.

But the basic problem with FNC is a lack of entertainment value.

Hating is fun for some; defending the object of hate, not so much.

When Donald Trump leaves the national stage, all three cable news operations will likely decline in a major way. Covering the news fairly and accurately is difficult. Today, cable news doesn’t even try. If you are looking for accurate information and honest perspective, you better bring a strong microscope.

Americans know that. They clearly see what’s happening. And when the blood sport of Trump-era politics finally ends, viewers will not be back for an encore.

They have had it.




Trump’s Media War Gets Him (and Us) Nothing

Tuesday night, President Trump delivered a spirited, televised speech to an energetic crowd of supporters in Arizona. It came with the type of rhetoric we’ve grown accustomed to: lashing out at political opponents (on both sides of the aisle), doubling-down on past statements, bragging of an unprecedented number of presidential accomplishments, and throwing out slogans about the border wall, making America great again, and draining the swamp.

Perhaps most notably, he engaged in a nearly half-hour-long rant against the news media — at times singling out his favorite target, CNN .

The crowd, of course, loved it…just as Trump supporters watching at home assuredly did. After all, slamming the media will always earn cheers from the Right, and for good reason. Years of liberal bias have established the mainstream press as an unwavering, ideological foe of Republicans and conservatives.

Unsurprisingly, commentators over at CNN (and other networks) weren’t amused by the vitriol. Don Lemon said that Trump was “clearly trying to ignite a civil war in this country,” and lent credence to colleague Ana Navarro’s suggestion that the president might be suffering from early-on-set dementia. Other members of the post-speech CNN panel questioned Trump’s mental state as well.

This prompted Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld to tweet, “the CNN panel: every one is in disbelief. upset. angry. Translation: mission accomplished.”

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro seemed to share Gutfeld’s sentiment, tweeting, “Media still don’t understand Trump’s game: by responding emotionally to Trump’s rip, they grant credibility to his case.”

I’m sure many on the Right agreed with them.

But while there’s truth to the argument that Trump’s regular filleting of the news media has incensed some journalists to the point where they’ve dropped their guise of objectivity (see Jim Acosta if you need an example), it is still unclear as to how this “mission” or “game” helps the country, or even Donald Trump’s presidency.

Yes, exposing media bias is a good, important thing for democracy. Writers have been doing it here on this website for years. In fact, this site’s owner has been one of the movement’s leading voices for the better part of two decades.

But Donald Trump is the president of the United States. His job isn’t to fixate or wage war on the press. His job is to lead, and achieve things for the country and the American people. And it’s not the media that is preventing him from doing that.

Just prior to the November election, then Candidate Trump outlined a “100 Day Plan” for his presidency, referring to it as a “contract with the American voter” to “restore honesty, accountability and change to Washington.”

Here’s that plan (detailed here):

  1. Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act
  2. End The Offshoring Act
  3. American Energy & Infrastructure Act
  4. School Choice And Education Opportunity Act
  5. Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act
  6. Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act
  7. End Illegal Immigration Act
  8. Restoring Community Safety Act
  9. Restoring National Security Act
  10. Clean up Corruption in Washington Act

It’s been over 200 days since Trump was sworn into office. Thus far, not one of these promises has been delivered upon. Not one. Heck, when’s the last time you’ve even heard the president talk about half of these? How many were mentioned in the Arizona speech, for example?

Sure, it’s not entirely Trump’s fault. Congress is a mess. No one could have possibly expected all ten of these vows to have been fulfilled. But Trump ran on his “tremendous” deal-making abilities. Yet, he hasn’t been able to work deals to deliver one or two?

And how is the “fake news” media to blame for this? If they’re not the problem, why does Trump invest so much of his personal energy in going after these people? If it’s to build public support or faith in his presidency, I’d say it’s not working. You can check out his approval ratings if you don’t believe me.

Here’s a broader question: What defines a successful Trump presidency?

If “not being Hillary” is the answer (which many Trump supporters would proudly tell you), he’s already succeeded. If it’s “nominating a conservative Supreme Court justice,” he has succeeded there too. Bravo, Mr. President.

But Trump has at least another 3 1/2 years left in office. Clearly the bar must be raised. If the principal focus of the Oval Office is on slamming the president’s detractors, and reacting to whatever domestic and international events arise, it’s going to be a hell of a waste of a presidency and historic Republican majorities.

When anti-Trump bias is on display in the media, it’s fair game to call it out. But let’s not pretend that the president’s media fixation, and continual combativeness with news organizations, in any way serves the country. It doesn’t. All it serves is his ego.




CNN Investigative Journalism: Policing Internet Videos

Last Sunday, President Trump continued his weekly tradition of posting adolescent, self-defeating statements on Twitter, by tweeting an Internet video of him fake-pummeling famous wrestling promoter, Vince McMahon. The scene came from Trump’s brief stint with World Wrestling Entertainment a few years back, and it had been modified by an anonymous Reddit user to replace McMahon’s head with a CNN logo. The meme somehow caught Trump’s attention, and he passed it along to his millions of followers.

Its message was painfully obvious: In the “fake news” war between CNN and President Trump, Trump was winning.

The tweet was goofy, undignified, and of course unsurprising. And like the other times — because Trump is our nation’s leader — it made news. Network commentators discussed the video at length, and pondered whether or not the imagery might inspire acts of violence against the media. Liberals feared it would. Righties mostly laughed off the notion. Beyond that, there wasn’t much more to the story. At least, there shouldn’t have been.

Some in the media decided that it was important to focus not just on Trump, but also on the random individual who introduced the video to the Internet in the first place — this Reddit user who goes by the not-so-witty screen-name of “HanA**holeSolo”.  As it turns out, Mr. Solo is into more than just wrestling memes. He also has a history of posting anti-Semitic and racist imagery on social media. And though it’s highly unlikely that the president knew any of this at the time of his tweet, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski dug even deeper, figuring out the true identity of the poster, and contacting him.

The inquiry apparently left HanA**holeSolo shaken enough to delete all of his Reddit posts, and issue multiple public apologies, including a specific one to CNN where he insisted that he had no intention of encouraging violence against the media. He additionally agreed to do an interview with Kaczynski, where, as Kaczynski wrote in a piece for CNN.com, he asked to “not be named out of fear for his personal safety and for the public embarrassment it would bring to him and his family.”

I should probably note that as someone who writes for Bernie Goldberg’s website (and manages some of his social media), I’ve read a good number of anti-Semitic responses to him from nameless Trump fans who don’t like Mr. Goldberg’s criticisms of our president. I have zero sympathy for such people, and I’m perfectly fine with them being put on the hot seat for their bigoted remarks. But a couple of paragraphs in Kaczynski’s piece truly bothered me from a journalistic standpoint:

CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same.

CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

Should any of that change? That sounds an awful lot like blackmail — a threat to expose the person’s identity unless he sufficiently repents for his sins, as defined by CNN. This is wrong, and it’s not an appropriate measure for a serious news organization.

If CNN views this person’s identity as relevant to a legitimate story, his name should be released. If not, it shouldn’t. The decision should in no way be predicated on the individual’s future actions, and whether or not they’re deemed acceptable by CNN.

That’s not news. That’s behavioral conditioning.

At this point, it’s hard to see how CNN has even met the “legitimate story” requirement. A president’s conduct is certainly newsworthy, but the conduct of some random stranger whose meme he impulsively tweeted? Where’s the association, and how is this national news?

Normally, I dismiss the notion put forth by fervent Trump supporters that the president’s tweets bait the media into revealing their biases (since those tweets typically only damage the president), but in this particular case, that appears to be exactly what has happened. By going down this road to nowhere, CNN is coming across as though it’s trying to settle a score. And in doing so, the network is lending credence to the president’s grossly over-applied “fake news” narrative.

This is not the shot of credibility CNN needed after losing three journalists last week, due to faulty reporting. In fact, the network has now put itself in a position where it might have to issue an apology to an anonymous bigot on the Internet, in order to save some face.




Rubio Destroys Trump at the Debate; Will it Matter?

GOP debateIt took a long time, but Donald Trump’s GOP primary competitors finally figured out that battling for second place was an ineffective campaign strategy. With all but one of the early states going to Trump, and national polls showing more to soon follow, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz understood that they needed to focus their efforts on chopping away at the big dog.

They showed up at last night’s CNN debate wielding axes.

Viewers who tuned in to hear about policy and fresh ideas were likely disappointed, but the reality is that the rise of Trump has proven that a significant portion of the base just doesn’t care about such things anymore. They want attitude. They want soundbites. They want a fight. They got all of those things, but for the first time, it wasn’t Donald Trump who walked out as the victor of such a contest. He was the decisive loser. And though Cruz did well and helped himself, it was Rubio who came out as the clear champion.

Rubio bested Trump in their head-to-head exchange of personal insults and one-liners. He made Trump look weak, portraying the billionaire’s success as having been inherited rather than earned. He mocked Trump as a lightweight for his faux conservatism and his robotic repetitiveness (a criticism Rubio himself had to deal with a few weeks back). He effectively branded Trump as a hypocrite for his bulk-hiring of illegal immigrants. While Cruz attacked Trump for not divulging has tax returns, Rubio ridiculed Trump’s business failures and his inclination to liken the Middle East to a real estate venture.

Perhaps most importantly, Rubio drew attention to some of Trump’s controversies (like Trump University ) that, up until today, had largely been overlooked by a media.

This is significant because the media hasn’t been vetting Trump to the level they would typically vet a GOP presidential front-runner. Sure, journalists have been reacting to Trump’s controversial, often dishonest rhetoric, but there hasn’t been a serious effort to shed light on questionable business practices, lawsuits, associations, etc. (like there was with Mitt Romney). Now, with Rubio publicizing such topics in a high-profile, national debate, the media’s going to have to react.

For Trump, the optics of the two-way assault were bad. He looked rattled. He flailed. He turned “low-energy” (as Trump likes to put it) fairly quickly, and he never quite recovered. He wasn’t funny like he usually is, and he never landed any significant counter-punches.

As disheartening as it is that style and optics have become the most important elements in a run for the presidency, it was Trump who set these schoolyard ground rules. And last night, the bully got knocked to the ground.

As of this morning, Rubio hasn’t let up. He’s been mocking Trump on the campaign trail using the kind of attack-lines we’d previously only seen from Trump himself. He’s been deriding Trump’s tweets, proclaiming Trump had a meltdown backstage. Rubio even went as far as suggesting that Trump may have wet his pants at the debate. He’s framing Trump as small and inconsequential, and he’s doing it in front of roaring crowds. It’s an all-around optics win.

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Is any of this conduct dignified? No. Is it presidential? Absolutely not. But it’s an effective attack strategy against a man who has skated to front-runner status on little more than his crass, loud slogans, and a larger than life persona.

The big question is this: Has it come too late? Conventional wisdom says yes (and I’m inclined to agree), but if we’ve learned anything from this campaign, it’s that conventional wisdom no longer applies.

If Rubio wants to win the primary, he’d better continue his roast of the front-runner. And it needs to be relentless.