Category Archives: Media

Everything Old Is New Again (Again)

 

1979 – All That Jazz – Academy Award Best Picture WinnersThe title of today’s post is also the name of a Peter Allen song featured in Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical film “All That Jazz,” starring Roy Scheider and Ann Reinking.  This week, I had a sense of déjà vu when MSNBC, the Washington Post and New York Times admitted they erred when each reported the FBI and CIA had informed Rudy Giuliani and One American News Network (OAN) they had been targeted by Russia to spread disinformation about Joe Biden and Ukraine interference in the 2016 election.

Why?  The song and accompanying dance sequence are a visual representation of how knowledge is passed down from one generation to the next.  Reinking wants to show Fosse’s cinematic alter-ego Joe Dideon how she taught his daughter dance steps she had originally learned from Dideon.  It must have been a moment of great pride and satisfaction when Fosse watched how he ensured, through Reinking and his on-screen daughter (Erzebet Foldi), the Fosse-style of dance would continue long after he was gone.

Some things should not be passed from generation to generation.  Avoiding the mistakes of our predecessors, regardless of the profession or situation, is the advantage of learning from the past experiences of others.  The three media outlets that blew the Giuliani/OAN story should have known better.  It has been less than 50 years since two reporters made the same blunder which almost negated their otherwise stellar example of investigative journalism.

The year was 1973.  The reporters were Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.  The story was Watergate.  Their mistake involved misrepresenting information from a source about H. R. Haldeman’s role in crimes committed during the 1972 presidential election.  This one error could have derailed the paper’s Watergate investigation and all the solid reporting the two neophyte reporters had done.

Hugh W. Sloan Jr.Using anonymous sources is risky business.  Not only because you can never be sure of their motivation or to whom they may be loyal.  The process of vetting sources is more an art than a science.  The potentially fatal error by Woodstein (as Post editor Ben Bradlee referred to them) involved confirmation by a second source that Hugh Sloan, Jr., treasurer of the Committee to Re-elect the President, had fingered Haldeman, Richard Nixon’s chief of staff, as overseeing the direct tricks campaign which included the Watergate break-in and controlling the slush fund that financed the operation.

As well documented in their book All the President’s Men, that second source did not meet in person with either of the reporters and insisted the information be passed in a way it could never be traced back to him or he could be charged with a violation of the law which prohibits leaking grand jury testimony.  Think of it as the James Bond equivalent of the childhood game “Telephone.”  Anyone who has every participated in the game knows the original message seldom, if ever, remains intact as it moves down the chain of players.

The lesson from this episode in the downfall of a president is that two things can be true at the same time.  To prove this point, I will draw on the script from the film version of Woodstein’s book.  After the Post runs a story with the headline “Testimony Ties Top Nixon Aide to Secret Fund,” the White House pounces on Bradlee and his paper with evidence the story is flawed.  Bradlee demands Woodstein find out exactly how this could have happened.  When they meet Bradlee at his home, Bernstein explains:

I finally got through to Sloan–it was all a misunderstanding that we had: he would have told the Grand Jury about Haldeman, he was ready to, only nobody on the Grand Jury asked him the goddamn question.

To which Woodward adds, “So I guess you could say that we screwed up, but we weren’t wrong.”

Which brings us back to Giuliani and OAN.  We know the three news outlets screwed up as they have publicly admitted as much.  But were they wrong.  The formal retraction reads as follows.

Correction: An earlier version of this story, published Thursday, incorrectly reported that One America News was warned by the FBI that it was the target of a Russian influence operation. That version also said the FBI had provided a similar warning to Rudolph W. Giuliani, which he has since disputed. This version has been corrected to remove assertions that OAN and Giuliani received the warnings.

Let’s be clear.  The only “correction” is that OAN and Giuliani did not receive the warnings.  The factual distortion during this real game of “Telephone” was that the subjects of an investigation had been warned.  Like Woodstein, Post reporters Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris and Tom Hamberger (Nakaharberger?) screwed up, but the story could still largely be true.  The FBI may have had evidence that Giuliani and OAN were “the target of a Russian influence operation.”  There must be some truth in the story or the FBI could not convince a federal judge to approve a search warrant for Giuliani’s home and office.  Furthermore, it begs the question, “If the FBI was prepared to share this information with Giuliani and OAN, who stopped them and why?”  One hopes Nakashima, et. al., will stay on the story as did Woodstein.

Being half-right when it comes to journalism is not good enough.  In fact, being 99 percent right is too low a standard. I suggest the managing editors of the Post put up the following sign in the “bullpen,” where row upon row of reporters do their research and draft their stories.

You’ve done worse than let Haldeman slip away, you’ve got people feeling sorry for him.  I didn’t think that was possible.

~Deep Throat/All the President’s Men

Remind each reporter to substitute the name of the subject of their own investigations for Haldeman’s.

And if they order it from Amazon in the next 9 hours and 24 minutes, it will be there by Wednesday. Right, Jeff?

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Senator Rand Gall

 

On Saturday, I found an envelope with the following return address and postmark in our mailbox.

It raised the following questions.

  • Since Senator Rand Paul is from Kentucky, why would he be sending a letter from Fredericksburg, Virginia?
  • If it was official business, why would the envelope have a “non-profit” postmark instead of a congressional frank?

Inside were two pieces of correspondence, a survey and a self-addressed envelope to Senator Paul (see below).  Note the return address implied either Paul wanted me to believe the U.S. Capitol (following the January 6 insurrection) had moved to Loveland, Colorado for security reasons or NAGR headquarters was exact replica of capitol building.

The cover letter from Paul to “Dear American Patriot” explained he was sending this information on behalf of the National Association of Gun Rights (NAGR), and at the bottom, wanted me to know it was “NOT PRINTED OR MAILED AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE.” (His emphasis.)  The accompanying letter from NAGR president Dudley Brown included six pages of the usual pro-gun arguments why I needed to stand up to national and global forces trying to deprive me of my constitution rights to own weapons of mass destruction and more ammunition than any civilian needs to possess.  Brown then asked me to complete the enclosed survey and (drum roll) “return it with your generous contribution of $100 TODAY.”

There is one more relevant piece of information.  At the bottom of the survey is the following disclosure.  “The National Association of Gun Rights, Inc. is a non-profit, tax-exempt advocacy organization under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Contributions or gifts to NAGR are not tax-deductible for IRS purposes.  Not paid for or mailed at taxpayer expense.”

There is a lot to unpack here.  First as a 501(c)(4) non-profit, NAGR is similar to a chamber of commerce or trade association which is not automatically eligible for the non-profit bulk postal rate of 16.9 cents per piece, a 50 cent subsidy over the current rate of 55 cents you and I pay for a one-ounce letter.  The U.S. Postal Service is very specific about this.  Question 11 on the USPS Form 3624, “Application to Mail at Nonprofit USPS Marketing Mail Prices,” specifically omits 501(c)(4) organizations as a choice to justify its eligibility for the non-profit rate.  (See below.)

I am sure I was not at the top of the target list for this mailing; so there is no telling how many pieces of mail were involved.  For argument sake, let’s pick a conservative number of 100,000.  In this case, NGRA would have saved $38,100.  If the mailing approaches one million pieces, the federal subsidy (something which is a thinly disguised equivalent of taxpayer expense) would rise to $381,000.  There are two reasons it is hard to determine the exact subsidy.  First, we do not know the size of the mailing.  Second, the envelope (pictured above) appears self canceled by the mailer and only has five cents worth of postage.  So it is impossible to tell whether NAGR paid the full 2021 bulk rate.

One could also argue Senator Paul only fronted this mailing because NGRA lobbies on an issue near and dear to his heart.  Or maybe it’s personal.  After all, following the attack by a neighbor in which Paul suffered rib injuries, he might want to own an AR-15.  However, you would be wrong.  Michael Rothfeld, founder and CEO of Saber Communications, the company which manages NAGR’s mail marketing has a long history with the Paul family.  He was a major fundraiser for the Senator’s father Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential run.  Of the $40.6 million in campaign donations Rothfeld helped generate for the failed attempt for the Republican nomination, $7.7 million (19 percent) went to Saber Communications.  Rothfeld provided similar services for Rand Paul’s senate campaigns.

Based on past history, would anyone be surprised if Rothfeld and Saber Communications received a substantial share of the “$100 ask” accompanying the NAGR survey?  Especially since the surveys and donations will be returned to a Fredericksburg post office box.  Is it a coincidence Saber Communications, Inc., a company with no public record of its clients, consisting of Rothfeld and two employees, is located in (drum roll reprise) Fredericksberg while NAGR is headquartered in Colorado.

Finally, a sense of curiosity demands one inquire, “Why did Paul align with NAGR rather than the National Rifle Association (NRA) which has a significantly larger membership despite its current legal and financial troubles?”  That answer may lie in an April 9, 2015 article in the Washington Times titled, “Rand Paul shunned by NRA over National Association of Gun rights ties.”  According to reporter Kelly Riddell, Paul did not receive the NRA’s endorsement “…because of Mr. Paul’s association with the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), a rival pro-gun rights umbrella group, that has angered other gun rights advocates, who accuse the group of misleading mailings and headline-stealing tactics.”  Misleading mailings?  Headline-stealing tactics?  What better surrogate for Senator Paul than NAGR?

ENDNOTE:  At an August 21 meeting of the Senate government affairs committee, of which Paul is a member, he raised the possibility of cutting mail delivery from six to five days a week and reducing the postal service workforce.  He claimed these changes could reduce the agency’s budget by $1.5 billion.  Senator, you know what else might help the USPS operating budget?  Not disguising questionable non-profit mailings by attaching your name to them.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Florida Man

 

Proponents of a ban on assault weapons often make this argument.  If you are someone who thinks there are that many people out to get you you need an AR-15 to defend yourself, you are probably an individual who should not have access to such lethal armaments.  Perhaps the same should hold true for people who are constantly being sued for libel and then propose new restrictions on the press.  Or those who question others’ morals yet are the subjects of multiple questionable personal relationships. Consider the following example.

In investigation of Rep. Gaetz's alleged sexual relationship with minor, feds looking beyond Florida, sources say - ABC NewsIt is hard to think of Matthew Louis Gaetz II as a U.S. congressman.  Every time he appears on television, I think I have accidently turned on a rebroadcast of Paul Sorvino as Reverend Willie Williams in  “Oh, God!” or am watching auditions for the Joe Pesci role in a remake of “Good Fellas,” both of which give me the creeps.  Yet, somehow this native of Hollywood, Florida and product of Niceville High School (no April Fools joke), Florida State University and William and Mary Law School has found a home on the “Redneck Riviera,” otherwise known as the Florida western panhandle.  Voters in Florida’s 1st Congressional District have thrice elected him to fill the seat once held by repentant former-Republican Joe Scarborough.

ImageThe last 12 months have not been kind to this Trumpist wunderkind. Least among them was the announcement last November he had tested positive for the coronavirus, the same health crisis he mocked on March 7, 2020, donning a gas mask on the floor of the House chamber.  For the record, two days after this picture was taken, one of his constituents was among the first Floridians to succumb to COVID-19.  In an effort to minimize any pushback related to being a long-time COVID denier, Gaetz explained he had actually tested positive for anti-bodies, not the virus itself, a precursor of the verbal Rorshach images he would employ in other embarrassing situations.

Let’s start with the mysterious case of Gaetz’ sudden acknowledgement in June 2020 that he had a Cuban-born “son” to refute Representative Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who, following George Floyd’s death, suggested that many of his colleagues could not understand what it was like to be a black father who wondered if a son or daughter would return home safely every time they left the house.  The disclosure came during an interview with (drum roll) Tucker Carlson although the 17 year old had never been mentioned in Gaetz’ official biography or anywhere else.

Gaetz explained the boy was the orphaned brother of a former girlfriend and had lived with him for six years, even after Gaetz’ relationship with the boy’s sister ended.  When asked during a People Magazine interview if he had legally adopted the boy, Gaetz explained why it was unnecessary.  “Our relationship as a family is defined by our love for each other, not by any paperwork.”  Too bad the congressman does not feel the same about birth certificates and gender identification.

In an unintentional effort to prove T. S. Elliot wrong (“April is the cruelest month” from Waste Land), June continued to plague Gaetz as we now know from reports he is the subject of a Department of Justice investigation related to possible sex trafficking.  The examination is part of a larger inquiry into a Gaetz political ally, former Seminole County, Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg.  Greenberg was indicted (drum roll reprise) last June of multiple sex trafficking charges and misuse of the government data.  (Synchronicity runs deep in the Sunshine State.)

Gaetz chose (this drum is getting beaten to death) an interview with Tucker Carlson to refute the New York Times report the DOJ investigation included his having paid expenses for a 17 year old girl.  At one point, Gaetz said he had never travelled with any 17 year old, adding, “It is a verifiable lie.  People can look at my travel records and see that is not the case.”  And any travel payments were merely evidence of his generosity to friends.  However, even I, without the advantage of a William and Mary law degree (To paraphrase Gaetz, “Paperwork doesn’t matter.”) know there is a no legal distinction between “travelling” with someone across state lines and paying for them to travel unaccompanied across state lines when it comes to sex trafficking. HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: In December 2017, Gaetz was the only Congressman to vote against the Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act which also passed the Senate by unanimous consent.

Gaetz’ legal entanglements do not stop there.  During the Carlson interview, he volunteered he and his father were cooperating with the FBI to thwart an attempt to extort his family in exchange for making any legal or political problems disappear.  He went so far as to accuse Pensacola lawyer David McGee, a former federal prosecutor, as being behind the extortion plot.

For the record, Gaetz has not been charged with any crime nor have any of these stories been independently substantiated.  That is best left to DOJ and local prosecutors.  However, it does explain why Gaetz may need an army of defense lawyers and public relations specialists to address the reports.  Not to mention (but I will) many of his House colleagues have failed to come to his defense.  Gaetz admitted as much, telling The Daily Beast:

The last time I had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, I was 17. As for the Hill, I know I have many enemies and few friends. My support generally lies outside of Washington, D.C., and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are two notable exceptions.  Ohio congressman “Gym” Jordan who told CNN, “I believe Matt Gaetz.”  And Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene who compared the reports to “conspiracy theories and lies like Trump/Russia collusion.”  With friends like these…

On this opening day of the 2021 baseball season,  I can hear the man or woman behind the table as you enter the stadium, “Get your program!  Get your program!  You can’t tell the players or the Matt Gaetz scandals without a program.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Beholding a Drudge

 

Vernon Jordan, ex-Clinton adviser and civil rights activist, dead at 85 | Fox NewsToday’s post is another stroll down Memory Lane on Dr. ESP’s own “way back machine” (with apologies to Jay Ward, who created “Peabody’s Improbable History”).  This time the triggering event was the March 1 passing of businessman, civil rights activist and Bill Clinton advisor Vernon Jordan.

During Clinton’s second term, Jordan took on the additional role of “presidential fixer” when White House staff expressed concern a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky was spending too much time with the president.  In April 1996, Lewinsky was reassigned to work at the Pentagon although sexual encounters with Clinton continued through March 1997.  When Lewinsky left her Pentagon job in December 1997, Jordan was tasked with finding new employment for her, preferably in New York City.

On January 12, 1998, Linda Tripp turns over recordings of conversations she had with Lewinsky about the Clinton relationship to Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who then receives permission from Attorney General Janet Reno to expand his investigation.  Re-enter Vernon Jordan who had been unsuccessful in finding new employment for Lewinsky and was in regular contact with Clinton about the still “under the radar” federal investigation.

So, you may ask, why is this post listed under “media” and what does the title “Beholding a Drudge” have to do with it?  On January 16, 1998, Tripp invites Lewinsky to meet her at the bar at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City (across from Reagan National Airport).   Upon her arrival, Lewinsky is met by FBI agents who take her to an upstairs room, offer her immunity and question her about the Clinton affair and her potential obstruction of justice when she coached Tripp to submit a false affidavit about other alleged Clinton sexual encounters.

Drudge Diagnoses Hillary Clinton on Twitter and More NewsAs “luck” would have it, a little known political gossip columnist Matt Drudge is tipped off about the FBI intervention and breaks the story on January 19 via the on-line Drudge Report, a news aggregation service he started in 1995.  Why and for whom was this lucky?  In a most bizarre and perverse turn of events, in my opinion, Matt Drudge may have been single-handedly responsible for saving Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Immediately following Drudge’s exposé, which included a charge that Newsweek reporter Mike Isikoff had the story but his editor chose not to run it, Jordan terminated all communications with Lewinsky.  Why is this significant?  Jordan had been a “trusted mentor” to whom Lewinsky turned for guidance in navigating the potential public relations and legal firestorm if her affair became public knowledge.  Imagine Jordan was unaware Lewinsky had accepted an immunity deal in return for her cooperation in the Starr investigation.  Might her cooperation agreement have included recording future conservations between Lewinsky and Jordan and subsequent conversations between Jordan and Clinton?

If you think a Republican-led Congress had an impeachment field day over a perjury charge predicated on the meaning of the word “is,” imagine if there was evidence of further obstruction of justice including attempted witness tampering after the FBI’s involvement.  Democrats would have been in the same position as Republicans last month when they had to defend the indefensible.  As well they should have been.

Sadly, the story does not end there.  Even without further evidence of wrongdoing, I was among the minority of Democrats who believed then, and still believes, Clinton should have resigned.  Not because of the over-hyped perjury charge.  Rather due to his liability as a potential national security threat (can you say “kompromat”) and his setting a new precedent for reckless “presidential behavior.”  In hindsight, one has to consider the possibility Drudge’s premature outing of the initial FBI encounter with Lewinsky may have also resulted in Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

While Republican defense of Trump under the premise “what aboutism” is often unfounded, in this case, there is reasonable justification.  How could Democrats give Clinton a pass and attack Trump for being a sexual predator?  How was Trump’s response to his accusers any different from Hillary Clinton’s claim on the “Today Show” that Lewinsky was a pawn in “a vast right-wing conspiracy” against her husband. (Ironically, the January 27, 1998 interview was conducted by Matt Lauer.)  Or do we conveniently forget New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd “slut shamed” (before the phrase became part of our vocabulary) Lewinsky, calling her “a ditzy, predatory White House intern?”

Is this twisted tale just one more example of the “butterfly effect?”  Did the 1995 flashing of an intern’s thong in the Oval Office set the stage for the election of a reality TV host two decades later?  Does this make Matt Drudge an unwitting asset of MAGA World who has since fallen out of favor with the movement’s leader? Or is this a morality tale with no heroes?   Or as Carl Jung would suggest, a series of unrelated events which become a synchronistic narrative?

Or, was Vernon Jordan’s passing just one more opportunity for a blogger in search of a topic to consume one more morning while waiting for his second Pfizer vaccine dose to fully kick in?

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Real Time Meets This Is Us

 

SPOILER ALERT:  If you plan to and have not yet watched either last Tuesday’s episode of “This Is Us” or “Real Time with Bill Maher,” you may want to wait before reading this post.

I do not know about you, but the attraction of NBC’s “This Is Us” is its ability to remind us of the challenges we all face in relationships.  For example, last Tuesday’s episode provided a tri-generational perspective on fathers and sons.  We first see another backstory example of why Jack Pearson constantly vows to be better than his own father.  At the other end of the spectrum, we witness Kevin Pearson telling a complete stranger about his self-imposed pressure to live up to his father’s example even though a flashback suggests Jack, at times, can emulate the same paternal behaviors he swore not to repeat.

Which brings me to last night’s edition of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”  No one has made more fun or criticized Donald Trump than Maher, targeting his narcissism and his willingness to ignore facts.  Yet, last night, if I had not known better, I could have sworn the host was channeling the former president.  The opening monologue could only be described as “Bill Maher’s Greatest Hits.”  Just like every Trump rally, the content was neither new or clever.  He spent the first couple of minutes telling the audience (aka HIS cultists) how wonderful they are.

Image result for adam kinzingerNext came an interview with Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), one of ten GOP representatives to vote for impeachment and, with Liz Cheney, is trying to retake the party from the Trump cultists.  Maher’s response to every one of Kinzinger’s comments was, “Well, okay.”  This is how you respond when you either have not listened to what someone has said or do not care.  Remind you of anyone else?

But the most disturbing illustration of Maher morphing into Trump came during the panel discussion with Markos Moulitsas, founder and publisher of the blog Daily Kos, and former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt. First, he had to again talk about the difficulties he is having trying to activate the solar energy system at his home.  In the middle of a pandemic, Maher became the “it’s all about me and my problems” celebrity.

Then, in the middle of a conversation about whether cable news only invites guests who will say what the audience wants to hear, Maher interrupts and says he has the only show that offers opposing views.  He might as well have said, “Cable news is a carnage, and only I can fix it.”

The difference between Jack Pearson and Bill Maher?  Jack had the presence of mind to catch himself, look at the impact on his own son, and modify his behavior.  Trump just went plowing on.  Ironically, the ensuing discussion about the need for a sane middle-right party resulted in TOTAL agreement among the panel despite the fact there was a counter argument to be made.

Did Maher, Moulitsas and Schmidt not watch or read the news this week?  I do not want to take credit for this observation as Joe Scarborough has made the point repeatedly since the Georgia senate run-off.  He contends all the GOP rehetoric about an untethered radical left is unfounded.  As former red states elect Democratic senators and representatives, the moderating forces that used to be in the GOP now are the Joe Manchins (WV), John Testers (MT), Kyrsten Sinemas (AZ) and Mark Kellys (AZ).  They are the ones who are proposing alternatives to better target COVID-19 relief and putting the brakes on loading up the relief bill with non-germane provisions.

Additionally,  the panelists’ premise was also disproved by an exchange on “Morning Joe” earlier this week when Scarborough and a guest questioned whether the Biden administration was siding with teachers’ unions over the CDC when it came to school re-openings.  The gist of the criticism?  Biden said they were going to make decisions based on science, and in this case, it appears they are not.  It does not matter where you personally stand on the issue.  Anyone who believes that is not a legitimate question needs to check their objectivity credentials at the door.

One more data point.  A day after Schmidt resigned from the Lincoln Project following allegations of sexual misconduct against co-founder John Weaver, the panelist’s introduction included no mention of his former association with the anti-Trump group. This was followed by Maher telling his guest, “I’m not here to prosecute you.”  Instead Maher, who as mentioned above chided shows that play to their audiences, read a quote from New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioning the use of fund raised by the Lincoln Project.  Is it coincidence Maher chose AOC as the dissenting voice, as opposed to Meghan McCain who had also challenged Weaver’s and Schmidt’s motives?

Image result for bill maher gel hairImage result for eric trump haircutTo recap, Bill Maher hosted a panel during which all the participants shared the same opinions after ignoring any information that might refute their position and side-stepped the touchy issue that led to Schmidt’s Lincoln Project resignation.  Could there have been an agreement (you know, an NDA) between Schmidt and Maher to not raise the subject?  So much for Real Time being “the only show” with the testicular fortitude to broach unpopular viewpoints.  Just as Jack Pearson sometimes reneged on his pledge not to be like his father, Maher seems to be guilty of following in an elder’s footsteps.  Except it does not involve his actual father as Trump, who to my knowledge, did not sire the Real Time host, though Maher and Eric seem to have genetically similar hair.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP