Category Archives: The Media

Unvarnished Trump

Although the story is oddly absent from my domestic printed media, the Guardian pulls no punches in describing yesterday’s public Presidential meltdown:

A toddler threw a self-pitying tantrum on live television on Monday night. Unfortunately he was 73 years old, wearing a long red tie and running the world’s most powerful country.

Donald Trump, starved of campaign rallies, Mar-a-Lago weekends and golf, and goaded by a bombshell newspaper report, couldn’t take it any more. Years of accreted grievance and resentment towards the media came gushing out in a torrent. He ranted, he raved, he melted down and he blew up the internet with one of the most jaw-dropping performances of his presidency.

This was, as he likes to put it, “a 10”.

Trump’s Easter had evidently been ruined by a damning 5,500-word New York Times investigation showing that Trump squandered precious time in January and February as numerous government figures were sounding the alarm about the coronavirus.

With more than 23,000 American lives lost in such circumstances, some presidents might now be considering resignation. Not Trump. He arrived in the west wing briefing room determined to tell the world, or at least his base, that he was not to blame. Instead it was a new and bloody phase of his war against the “enemy of the people”: the media. Families grieving loved ones lost to the virus were in for cold comfort here.

Even conservative bloggers understand how bad it was. Here’s Steve Berman, of The Resurgant,

Monday’s coronavirus press conference was a total disaster. It was a train wreck, launch failure, explosion of stupid. “Everything we did was right,” Trump said, straight faced, one day after Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted on CNN that no, not everything we did was right.

And this schoolyard exchange with CBS News’ Paula Reid:

But worst, is this gaffe. When asked what authority the president has to open the nation, when state governors are already forming coalitions, Trump responded, “I have the ultimate authority.”

This straightforward answer exposes many of Trump’s worst instincts, and his total misunderstanding of his role as POTUS. All of Trump’s talk about working with governors belies his true belief that he alone has the authority.

Of course, if all you read was the NY Times, you’d never know the nation just witnessed a train wreck. All they have is a sober news analysis which leads as follows:

The president’s insistence that only he can decide if the country should reopen for business was disputed by constitutional scholars and contrasted with his earlier message that it was not for the federal government to take the lead in fighting the virus.

It is an important point that needed making, but it hardly seems the whole story.

Posted in COVID-19, The Media, The Scandals | 1 Comment

Spot the Real One

So they wrote this nice bit about me in the “News at the U”, Turning a hobby into a career (it’s a subhead half way down).

Strange though, that the very same day the Onion publishes Neurosurgeon Feels Lucky He Was Able To Turn Hobby Into Career.

Posted in Onion/Not-Onion, Personal | 1 Comment

Open Season on Trump on Late-Night TV

Late-night comedians on broadcast TV (i.e. not cable, where pretty much anything goes) have become savage and even profane in their criticism of President Trump. I don’t regularly watch late-night TV, so I don’t know if this is a sudden development or has been going on for some time. Either way, it is a remarkable, even shocking, change from the norms that governed TV ten much less twenty years ago.

Back in the day, there was more than lip service to the idea that the President was entitled to a modicum of respect, or maybe much more than a modicum, just because he occupied an institution worthy of respect. That norm has seemed was a bit suspect since at least the Vietnam war, but this is a primarily positive, not normative, post so let’s leave that issue aside until we circle back at the end.

This week, Trump attacking Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg via Twitter unleashed the comedic id. When Greta beat Trump for TIME magazine’s person of the year cover, Trump lashed out on Twitter. This provoked Stephen Colbert (CBS) to say “go Fjuk yourself” to the President; Colbert then softened it (not) by noting that he could say this on CBS because the reference was culturally appropriate, invoking Fjuk, a Swedish island: “it is lovely, they have a lighthouse, and you know where you can stick it.”

Colbert also responded to a Trump staff tweet photoshopping Trump’s head over Greta’s on an image of the TIME magazine cover by saying, “I’m guessing not the first time that Trump has forced himself on a young woman … [audience reacts] joke is based on a true story.”

Compared to the above, Seth Meyers (NBC) was actually tame, addressing Trump as follows:

Whenever you scream, you look like a tick that’s about to burst. I mean, look at him. He looks like a rabid possum hissing at you for disturbing his nest. Also, you are a 73-year-old man attacking a 16-year-old activist, because she cares about the environment. Think about how sad that is. You are a husk of a man. Actually not even, for there to have been a husk of a man, there would have had to been a man to begin with. You’re a husk of a husk.

Meanwhile, over on cable, mild-mannered Daily Show (Comedy Central) host Trevor Noah called President Trump “an asshole.”

The President of the United States is on Twitter bullying a teenage girl. Just try to imagine any other President doing something like this.

Noah then expanded the category to include first Donald Trump, Jr. for shooting an endangered sheep with a laser sight. Then Noah added in more adult Trump children: “this family is cartoonishly villainous — they even do charity like assholes”.

If these TV performances created any groundswell of public revulsion, it completely passed me by. One could argue this absence of respect for the Presidency began in the Nixon administration, and has grown steadily ever since — rightly (Bush 2) or wrongly (Obama). But now, surely, we can safely say that any reverence the public has for the Presidency as an institution is quite dead? On balance, this freedom might even be a good thing, since the US has often been criticized by political scientists for giving the head of government the deference that elsewhere is reserved for a separate and often largely ceremonial head of state. That said, the costs of getting to this point seem to me to have been quite high.

Posted in The Media, Trump | 1 Comment

Interviewed on WLRN

I was interviewed on WLRN Radio’s Sundial program today about privacy issues relating to home assistants like Alexa, and other privacy topics such as the risks of using private DNA sequencing companies. They’ve published a transcript.

Posted in The Media | 2 Comments

Check this Out

My brother has a new project: Press Watch, “a collaborative project to monitor political reporting and encourage more responsible, informed and informative campaign and government coverage before the 2020 election.”

About This Site

The problem

We’re entering a critical period in American politics and American political journalism is not up to the task. Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency have exposed and exploited chronic weaknesses like never before. And despite some progress, elite political press coverage insufficiently rebuts lies; normalizes abnormal behavior; asserts false equivalences; remains overly susceptible to spectacle, conflict, and gamesmanship; fails to contextualize the news with expertise – and on and on.

The opportunity

Over the past several years, a considerable number of expert groups, commissions, panels and individuals have voiced elements of what, writ large, is a fairly coherent and consistent critique of the current practice of political journalism at our major news outlets (see above). But on a day-to-day basis, it’s diffuse. Press Watch will aggregate, amplify, curate and centralize the consistent application of that critique by a network of smart, critical readers.

We’ve also identified some solutions, such as prominently rebutting misinformation; practicing radical transparency; holding politicians accountable to the citizens’ agenda; imbuing our work with civics lessons; pursuing solutions journalism; and encouraging civic engagement. But too much of our discussion of these solutions is theoretical. There’s an urgent need for practical, recreatable models and best practices.

The work product

  1. A four-day-a-week, real-time assessment of political coverage in the form of a column with critiques harvested from a wide network of expert readers. Our first publishing partner is Salon.com
  2. Guided, goal-oriented workshops – physical and virtual, held in collaboration with journalism schools and other organizations — that dive into specific elements of political reporting and generate concrete deliverables including guidelines, examples, and recreatable models.

The impact

Political reporters are hard to influence. But they are more likely to respond to pressure if the critiques are reasoned, detailed, constant, and coming from respected members of their profession and other experts. They are more likely to do their jobs better if we offer them plausible alternative approaches that don’t create more work or risk. Meanwhile, a lively ongoing discussion of political coverage will encourage the public to read more critically.

The project lead

Dan Froomkin is a trailblazer in the area of online accountability journalism with 21 years of experience building, editing and contributing to websites including the Huffington Post, The Intercept, and the Nieman Foundation’s Watchdog Project. Over 12 years at the Washington Post, he served as Editor of the website and wrote its enormously popular White House Watch column, which aggregated and amplified insightful political coverage. He has taught online journalism at the Poynter Institute and the American University Graduate School of Communication.

Posted in Dan Froomkin, The Media | 1 Comment

Useful Advice

Tips For Staying Civil While Debating Child Prisons.

A sample: “Avoid unkind generalizations like equating the jailing of ethnic minorities with some malevolent form of fascism.” And “Make sure any protests are peaceful, silent, and completely out of sight of anyone who could actually affect government policy.”

Previously: Yes, We Have Reached a New Low

Posted in Immigration, Onion/Not-Onion | Leave a comment