Category Archives: Media

The Fringe on Top

 

I’ll make this follow-up to the December 24, 2020 post “Gullibles Travels” short and sweet.

Yesterday I received an email from a trusted and respected friend in which he echoed some of the right-wing fringe propaganda about the recent COVID relief legislation.  Concerned that Congress had used the health crisis to pass a plethora of non-germane items, he forwarded an email which began, “A COVID relief bill should be for COVID RELIEF. It should be focused on the American People, who have spent the better part of a year struggling and hurting.”

For the record, nothing was attached to a COVID Relief Act.  Quite the opposite.  The relief provisions and appropriations related to the pandemic were attached to the Consolidated Budget Act of 2021 as Division M.  It is 100 pages of the 5,593 page omnibus bill which funds every federal agency (with the exception of the Defense Department), clearly labeled as such in the Table of Contents as Divisions A through L.  (Example:  DIVISION A—AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2021.)

After I pointed out this email was just one more example of “Gullibles Travels,” my friend responded, “Really should be a law that limits a bill to one subject at a time or requires a statement that it includes multiple items.”  No argument with the first part of his concern.  It would be nice if congressional rules forbade non-germane amendments to bills.  But that is not the case, and unfortunately such additions are often the only way to garner enough votes to assure passage. (The technical term for this practice is “logrolling.”)  The second half of the sentence is an entirely different matter.  Section 2: Table of Contents is a detailed outline of the legislation.  To ensure the reader understood this was merely a compilation of separate appropriations bills, Section 3: References reads, “Except as expressly provided otherwise, any reference to ‘this Act’, contained in any division of this Act shall be treated as referring only to the provisions of that division.”

Now, I do not expect anyone other than policy wonks such as myself to put down their copy of the latest potboiler to peruse a 5593 page piece of legislation.  But it does beg the question, “Where are normal people getting this misinformation?”  This morning I got my answer.

On page B2 of today’s Washington Post and its website there is an article by Paul O’Donnell titled, “Dalai Lama’s reincarnation ends up in Congress’ $900 relief bill.” The lead paragraph states:

Among the hodgepodge of legislative loose ends that made their way into the $900 billion spending bill signed by President Trump on Sunday night was a significant update to the 18-year-old Tibetan Policy Act, strengthening U.S. support for Tibetan autonomy and religious freedom for followers of Tibetan Buddhism around the world.

Furthermore, the writer claims that the provision pops up under something called the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, a phrase that does not appear in the bill’s language.  So what is the truth?  On page 2627 of the bill, Section 618 covers “Diplomatic Representation Relating to Tibet,” which authorizes the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, Tibet.  Among the objectives for opening the consulate are assurances in support of “the aspirations of the Tibetan people.”  Subsection (7)(a) states:

…oppose any effort by the Government of the People’s Republic of China to select, educate, and venerate Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders in a manner inconsistent with the principle that the succession or identification of Tibetan Buddhist lamas, including the Dalai Lama, should occur without interference, in a manner consistent with traditional practice; (page 2630)

Therefore, Mr. O’Donnell is half right.  The act does include language to protect the status of the Dalai Lama.  But it appears on page 2630 when all provisions of the COVID Relief Act/Division M are contained in pages 1815 through 1915.  If a Washington Post reporter cannot get it right, how can we expect anything different from those who look to major mainstream media for their understanding of current events?

All good blogs require an analogy.  During the impeachment debate, the question arose, “Is the president of United States a Russian agent or is he just an unwitting tool of Vladimir Putin?”  The same can be said of the media based on this example.  Do they unwittingly bring fringe lies and conspiracy theories into the mainstream or do they have a more nefarious agenda?  This morning on MSNBC, Ali Velshi asked a New York Times reporter how she thought her job might change after January 20th.  She admitted, “My bias is toward chaos.”  Too bad her answer was not, “My bias is keeping readers informed honestly and accurately.”

Finally, I apologize for the length of this post.  I guess it was not as short and sweet as I intended. But, if you want people to understand what is real and what is not, you need to take the time and effort to explain it to them.  If not, you become complicit in the dumbing down of America.  And those who promote fringe views of the world end up on top of it.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Gullibles Travels

 

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

~Edmund Burke

On any given day over the past five and a half years, there were multiple candidates to which the above quote might apply.  Hypocritical Republican members of Congress who claim to be the guardians of law and order yet remained silent as the presidential equivalent of a VegaMatic sliced and diced the Constitution and the U.S. Code.  Evangelicals who thump their Bibles but bury their heads in the sand for a leader who views the ten commandments and the gospel as optional.  And of course voters who claim to despise everything Donald Trump did except for the one thing from which they personally benefit, be it tax cuts, deregulation, conservative judges or affirmation of their most base prejudices.

But today the target is the media, and local news outlets in particular.  And to make the point, I am going to use examples from the two platforms in my home town, the twice-weekly paper Fernandina Beach News Leader and the on-line Fernandina Observer.  I will start with excerpts from two “letters to the editor” in the News Leader.  Ironically, the first appeared on Wednesday under the headline, “Corruption wins when good people do nothing.”

We may be fortunate in Florida to have a fairly solid election system, but our votes are diminished, diluted and canceled out by the fraudulent votes of dead people, noncitizens, mail-in ballots, Xeroxed ballots, electronic vote-switching and all sorts of other cheating in other states. (Jesse Duke)

Why isn’t Mr. Duke on Trump’s crack legal team?  He seems to have evidence of a litany of fraud and election malfeasance unavailable to Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Lin Wood and Sydney Powell.  And he makes fraud claims that the above legal “dream team” have made in front of a landscaping company, but as yet, have never voiced in court, knowing such hogwash could make them subject to charges of contempt, sanctions and even possible disbarment.

The second appeared in this morning’s Christmas edition under the headline, “Biden is an ‘illegitimate president’.”

I have never written to a newspaper, but after reading many comments indicating the recent presidential election was fair, I felt I needed to comment.

Much of the logic was that the courts generally rejected the lawsuits, thus it must have been a fair election. The courts rejected the lawsuits based on “procedure or technical,” issues not because there was lack of  evidence. (Charles L. Warren)

Without going into detail, it is clear Mr. Warren is getting his information somewhere other than the attorney filings or court opinions.  One need look no farther than judge Brett H. Ludwig of the U.S. District Court in Wisconsin, nominated in 2017 by none other than (drum roll) Donald J. Trump.  Dismissing the case, Judge Ludwig was quite specific this was NOT due to a technicality, stating, “This court allowed the plaintiff the chance to make his case, and he has lost on the merits. In his reply brief, plaintiff ‘asks that the Rule of Law be followed.’ It has been.”  In 55 other cases, state and federal judges delivered the same verdict.

Giving Mr. Warren the benefit of the doubt, he may be referring to the two cases that were considered by the Supreme Court.  In the Pennsylvania case, the Court unanimously found the state supreme court and the U.S. circuit and appeals courts had made no errors in their consideration and dismissal of Trump’s claim.  And in the case of Texas challenging outcomes in other states, even the two justices who felt the case should be heard–Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas–dissented only on the technicality of standing.  In his dissenting opinion, Alito did not recommend any other judicial relief.  One can only imagine Mr. Warren’s ire if the state of California had challenged Florida’s electoral process or the outcome in our state.

Which brings me to the comment by one Ben Martin in response to a story in the Fernandina Observer titled “Jobless Floridians could receive federal assistance by year’s end” by free lance writer John Haughey.  Setting aside the need for Mr. Haughey to update his report based on Trump’s “indie video” blowing up COVID relief agreement, Mr. Martin felt the need to add, “Most Americans who will receive $600 in assistance should be more aware about “under the radar” provisions in this most recent stimulus bill.”  He pointed to items “reportedly” (his word) including:

  • $1.3 billion would go to Egypt, $700 million to Sudan and $500 million to Israel.
  • An extension of a tax credit for racehorse owners
  •  The Smithsonian, the National Art Gallery, and others will receive tremendous grants.

If Mr. Martin had done his homework, he would know the 5,500 page bill sent to the White House for signature combined the $900 billion COVID relief act and the budget resolution which authorizes the funding for the federal government for the remainder of this fiscal year.  In other words, none of the items which seem to make Mr. Martin’s neck hairs stand on end are covered under the $900 billion dollars for stimulus checks, supplemental unemployment, personal protective equipment, vaccine distribution, etc.

So the question is, “Where could Mr. Martin have possibly obtained this incorrect information?”  You guessed it.  Donald J. Trump.  In the Trump/Meadows production aired Tuesday night, Trump made the same mistake, referring to “$1.3 billion for Egypt” as part of the COVID Relief Bill.  To make the same point Mr. Martin echoed, Trump complained, “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it.” (To demonstrate to Mr. Duke and Mr. Warren what evidence looks like, this statement appears at the 03:18 mark in the video.)  What Trump did not tell Mr. Martin or anyone else was all of the items he criticized were recommended in his own FY2021 budget submitted to Congress on February 10, 2020.  Oops!

But that’s not what I came here to talk about.  Any expectations members of Cult 45 will pay attention to the facts before spouting their nonsense and bile have long since vanished into the ether.  Nor do I expect the GOP “psychophants” who have excused the 25,000+ lies and misstatements to accept their role in this half-decade war on truth.  However, I did hope the fourth estate might honor its tradition of holding all of us to a certain level of honesty.

And to some extent it has.  Reporters and broadcast journalist have exposed numerous instances of deceit, corruption and illegal acts by this administration.  Even in the “new frontier” of social media, we see the beginnings of a movement to separate opinion from fact.  Facebook would have tagged any one of the above examples as contrary to the truth and pointed users to more reliable sources.

But not our two local news outlets.  To their credit, the editors of both have published my factual/sourced responses to previous undocumented opinion pieces which promoted debunked conspiracy theories or lies.  But this is not my, or any other reader’s responsibility.  So, for the record, let me remind those responsible for the content in these communication platforms, 74 percent of your readership base voted for Donald Trump, and many still question the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.  Fanning that flame over time raises the possibility of turning disappointment and anger into questionable actions.

If and when someone presents solid evidence that contradicts the courts, local election officials of both parties, and Trump’s own attorney general and director of the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (both since removed), feel free to let them share that information with your readers.  Until then, you have a choice how you “monitor” the traffic on the virtual highways you provide for these “gullibles” to travel.  You can either create checkpoints to ensure opinions are supported by facts not hearsay or rumor.  Or you can continue to create “on-ramps” by which you increase the unregulated flow of misinformation and undocumented conspiracy theories until the traffic interspersed with speeders and lane jumpers becomes dangerous.

Or as Burke warns, you can do nothing and bet he is wrong about that evil triumphing thing.  Is this a risk you are willing to take?

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

The Source

 

In his signature style of grand storytelling, James Michener sweeps us back through time to the Holy Land, thousands of years ago. By exploring the lives and discoveries of modern archaeologists excavating the site of Tell Makor, Michener vividly re-creates life in and around an ancient city during critical periods of its existence, and traces the profound history of the Jews, including that of the early Hebrews and their persecution, the impact of Christianity on the Jewish world, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition.

~Inside Flap/The Source

TheSourceNovel.jpgJames Michener’s The Source is an onion with 1,104 layers through which the author reveals the evolution of Israel from her beginnings as a strategic asset in the on-going battle for control of the region to a stop along the Far East trade routes to a sanctuary for the Jewish people post World War II.  Except in this case the onion is Tel Makor, an archeological site which housed multiple civilizations over the millennia, one on top of the over, each drawn to the spot by a freshwater well, a valued asset in an otherwise arid environment.

[Historical Note:  The actual dig on which Michener’s fictional version is based is Tel Dan, which overlooks the plains of Arman-Megiddo, referenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls as the battleground for the final conflict between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.  It is also the etymological origin of the term “Armageddon.”  The fact it is also equidistant from Tel Aviv and Damascus might also keep you up at night.]

The process by which the protagonists in the story, four archeologists, document the history and interpret what they observe is a model for approaching any discovery or new information.  What triggered my renewed interest in Michener’s take which I first read in preparation for my first trip to Israel in 1974 was the potential relevance to on-going debate over the impact of social media such as Facebook, Twitter or even a blog such as Deprogamming101.  What if we approached each social media post or comment in a manner akin to the meticulous step-by-step practice of an archeologist who looks not just at the content of an artifact, but questions who left it and why.

I have long since cancelled my Facebook and Twitter accounts, but am frequently the recipient of emailed articles or links from family, friends and colleagues.  They may be follow-ups to something I have written in this blog, a perspective on an off-line discussion in which we are engaged or just an attempt to affirm their perspective on a topic du jour.  Sometimes the sender will forward an article about which they knew I will object as a means of prodding me to present the counter viewpoint.  And throughout much of 2020, I welcomed this challenge and made the effort to address either inaccurate information, questionable logic in the interpretation or both presented by the author.

However, since November 3rd I have taken a different tack.  Before reading any article, I have approached the materials as a data archeologist a la the main characters in Michener’s tome.  The process begins with the same underlying hypothesis, “How can one truly understand the content without first exploring its origins?”  In other words, who wrote it and why?  Of course, this raises the next question, “What criteria does one use to determine the potential value of each ‘artifact’?”  Having now engaged in this practice for just over a month, I found two yardsticks which make the difference whether the subject matter is read or ignored.

First, the history of the organization associated with the content.  When was the entity established?  What events might have motivated the founders to act at a specific point in time?  Has the entity recently renamed or rebranded itself or changed its mission?  Who are the founders?  Who are listed as directors, advisors or consultants?  These questions differentiate commentators who have a history of punditry covering multiple issues and those who use a website or created a presence to promote themselves as an expert or leader of a single issue movement.  Or whether the organizational affiliation is a front that gives its members credibility on the topic which they might otherwise not deserve.

Second, I Google the name of the author to see what else he or she may have written.  For example, a recent letter to the editor in our local paper consisted of a diatribe against the radical left, conspiracy theories about the “stolen election” and unsubstantiated charges of Biden family corruption.  The first hit from my search was a 2015 opinion essay by the same writer calling for people who submitted opinions to newspapers to demonstrate “civility and credibility.”  As Buffalo Springfield would say, “Hypocrisy runs deep.”

So, to those who want to share mainstream or social media with me, you can save us both time and effort.  I welcome viewpoints, even those with which I might disagree, from sources such as the Wall Street Journal or even the National Review as I do from The Atlantic or Washington Post.  Nor am I concerned if a long-established source takes up a new cause as I assume they apply the same editorial standards as they have in past and their history provides evidence of any partisan or ideological bias they may bring to the table.

The same is true of commentators the likes of George F. Will or Peggy Noonan.  They may spin the facts, but they do not promote conspiracy theories.  And when recently they condemned a wannabe dictator’s efforts to overturn the will of the people, it reinforces my willingness to listen to their side of a policy argument, knowing that we share a common commitment to the democratic process.

And though I do not expect others to follow these same rules of the road, this approach does provide insight to the dilemma created by open-source platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.  Despite recent efforts to filter content and the apologies for past failure to do so, primary responsibility for what one views or ignores is up to the individual.  While each platform must address clear threats to public health and safety, the worst actors in these storm clouds over Madisonian liberalism will always be the subscribers to the services, regardless of political affiliation or ideology, who choose not to peel back the onion in order to question not only what they read, but why they are the target audience and the history and motivation of those making that decision.

As Walt Kelly aka Pogo always reminds us, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Good News Is No News

 

1a: a report of recent events

1b: previously unknown information

~Definition of “NEWS”/Merriam-Webster

The operative words are “report” and “unknown.”  In other words, if you want to speculate about what may or may not happen or if you want to share the same information (e.g. T**** lied today about …) over and over, feel free to do so.  Just do not call it news.  Consider this sample of headlines from today’s broadcast  media outlets.

CNN

  • “Former presidents volunteer to get vaccine publicly to prove it’s safe.” NEWS because it is recent and previously unknown.
  • “Our cities may never look the same again after the pandemic.” Speculative OPINION.

MSNBC

  • “Multiple casualties after warehouse explosion near English city of Bristol.”  Very recent (reported 19 minutes ago).
  • “Alleged pay-for-pardon scheme might be two low-level knuckleheads..but might not.”  Possibilities, not NEWS.
  • “T**** rages over the election, ignoring a rampaging virus.”  Same old, same old.  Not recent or unknown.

Fox News

  • “Pelosi, Schumer endorse $908B coronavirus relief deal as basis for negotiations.”  The issue may be old, but is NEWS because of the recent development.
  • “Far-left is ruining games that are meant to be entertainment.”  Includes unsubstantiated claims attributed to “most Americans.”

Compare this with Walter Cronkite’s reporting of what was one of the most significant events in history, the first moon landing.  Below is the transcript of the CBS broadcast at the moment Eagle touched down on the lunar surface.

Eagle: Contact light. O.K, engine stopped…descent engine command override off…
Wally Schirra: We’re home!
Cronkite: Man on the moon!
Eagle: Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed!
Capcom: Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.
Tranquility: Thank you.
Cronkite: Oh, boy!

I could have drafted this entry any time during the past decade; so, why today?  Because yesterday several news outlets reported T**** may not attend Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony on January 20th, and is more likely to hold his own rally to announce he will run again in 2024.  One anchor imagined what that “split screen” might look like.  My question, “Why would any legitimate news service even consider airing a “made for TV event” next to a real moment in the history of our nation?  Or why is this even NEWS as defined by Merriam-Webster?  What is recent or unknown?”

  • T**** cannot stand to have anyone else in the spotlight?  NOT NEWS.
  • T**** lost the election in a “landslide” per his own definition of the term in 2016?  NOT NEWS.
  • T**** is announcing his re-election candidacy within hours of an inauguration?  Definitely NOT NEWS, as he did the same thing in 2016.
  • T**** is good at holding super-spreader events and people will die?  NOT NEWS.
  • T**** does not believe in democracy or the Constitution?  NOT NEWS.
  • T**** is a dick?  NOT NEWS.

The last time a split screen on inauguration day might be justified was January 20, 1981, when at noon EST, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president and the Iranian hostages simultaneously began boarding a plane to bring them back to the United States.  Yet, even then, the first footage of the hostages was not broadcast until Reagan finished taking the oath of office.

6 things you didn't know about the Iran hostage crisis - CNNJan. 20, 1981 | Iran Releases American Hostages as Reagan Takes Office - The New York Times

Normally, I would say the role of the fourth estate is to report the news, not make it.  But if on January 20, 2021, they choose not to broadcast whatever T**** is doing at noon or cover this latest episode of his reality show for what it is, celebrity entertainment rather than a story of national import, THAT WOULD BE NEWS.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Area 45

 

People always ask me about Roswell and the aliens and UFOs, and it turns out the stuff going on that’s top secret isn’t nearly as exciting as you expect.

~President Barack Obama/November 17, 2015

Every president since Harry Truman has been asked about Roswell and the Nevada Air Force testing facility commonly known as Area 51.  Due to the highly classified nature of activities conducted there, it is at the center of multiple conspiracy theories claiming the site is where an alien spacecraft crashed in the early 1950s.  Such rumors intensified as a result of the government’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge the existence of the facility until June 2013, following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

As an admitted political junkie, I too have fantasized about unfettered access to the nation’s deepest, darkest secrets.  But not whether there are remains of aliens in an underground fault a la Independence Day.  My interests lie elsewhere.  What dirty laundry about his detractors did J. Edgar Hoover keep in a private file cabinet that protected his tenure at the FBI for 37 years?  And of course, despite presidential promises to the contrary, why has each administration continued to withhold from public view still classified documents pertaining to John Kennedy’s assassination?

It makes you wonder if Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men is a metaphor for a paternalistic federal government which believes the American people “can’t handle the truth.”  Both in the past and in the present. Has the White House under Donald Trump become Area 45, a federal facility shrouded in secrecy protected by an attorney general who sees FOIA as an annoyance rather than a tool to ensure transparency within the public sector?

Yesterday, thanks to Bob Woodward, Donald Trump, in his own words, confessed, “You’re damn right I ordered the Code Red!”  However, instead of being hauled off by MPs, Trump suggested he has done it more than once and will do it again.  In foreign policy.  About systemic racism.  Bragging about classified weapons systems.

As I’ve referenced in a previous post, comedian David Steinberg revels in those occasions, e.g. Watergate, when we get “to see the torn underwear under America’s tuxedo.”  And despite concerns to the contrary, we always seem capable of handling the truth.  That is why on his first day in office, President Joe Biden needs to heed the advice of those who recommend the formation of a bi-partisan Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Although they may not admit it publicly, many Republicans and conservatives, if they truly fear Biden will usher in an era where unrestrained presidential power will be used to implement a radical leftist agenda, should also welcome such a panel.

Woodward has chiseled a peephole into Area 45.  To understand the bigger picture and address the legal and moral shortcomings which allowed it to be constructed in the first place, we need to unlock the gates and air out the windowless recesses. Citizens have a right to see an unredacted version of the Mueller Report.  The interpreters’ notes from Trump meetings with Vladimir Putin.  The complete transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky.  Communications between the White House, Trump Campaign Committee and the Department of Justice related to ongoing investigations, pardons and commutations and the firing of district attorneys and inspectors general.  And more.

Not only can we handle the truth, we must demand it and put every succeeding occupant of the Oval Office on notice that this is the standard going forward.

EPILOGUE

In 2010, I team-taught a course at Miami University titled, “Entrepreneurship and the Future of Journalism,” with a colleague in the Journalism Department.  While much of the syllabus focused on changes in what interests news consumers and the impact of technology, my goal was to help these aspiring reporters and editors think like entrepreneurs.  Lesson #1 was, “Every potential story is an opportunity, but more importantly it is a call to do more homework than the story requires.”  To no one’s surprise, I would use Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as examples.  In particular, demonstrating how what began as a back-page story about a break-in at the Watergate proved to be so much more as Wood/Stein (as they were often referred to by Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee) kept peeling away the layers of the onion.  Each time revealing more of the saga.

At the end of the lesson, I wondered aloud where the next Woodward or Bernstein would come from.  What epic story would bring them to the forefront of journalism?  Win a Pulitzer Prize? Yesterday, we got the answer.  The next Bob Woodward is still Bob Woodward.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP