Archive for the ‘News Media’ category

Is “Ignoring” An Option?

March 6, 2017

On Saturday President Trump charged that former President Obama ordered a wire tap of Candidate Trump. The first question might be why did President Trump feel in necessary to gratuitously attack a former President? The second question might be what does it mean if it were true?

In order to answer the second question (whether the charges were true), one must make assumptions on why a wire tap might be necessary. It could be wire taps were the result of a (on going) FBI investigation. The investigation might be/have been about Trump’s business dealings, his campaign financing, or even potential connections with Russia or Russian intermediaries? Any of these potential reasons could have been a justification for seeking a legal wire tap. But wire taps are not necessarily a smoking gun proof that a crime has been committed.

Instead wire taps generate evidence. Evidence is then assembled and once there is a preponderance of information supporting criminal charges, official charges are brought by appropriate law enforcement officials.

So, what if there is not enough evidence assembled?

Indictments are judgement calls. They can be influenced by all sorts of factors. And, it is not unreasonable to think that a higher bar is used for someone who becomes President of the United States.

Now back to the first question, why did President Trump feel it necessary to tweet in the first place.

The most obvious and likely reason is diversion. President Trump wanted to divert the public’s attention from some issue, for example, the Jeff Session/Russian influence controversy. But why include President Obama and not just claim the FBI was tapping his phones?

There are reports that President Trump was furious that press attention switched from positive coverage of his speech to Congress to negative coverage over Jeff Sessions ties to the Russian Ambassador. It is possible that President Trump felt he had to raise the ante in order to get the press off the Russians and back to covering him. Hmmm.

There also continue to be wide ranging reports that the Trump Organization have had numerous business dealings with nefarious organizations around the world including Russian groups. President Trump may have felt it potential useful to make it more difficult for any previous wire tap information to be used in the future (claiming information was illegally obtained).

There are also other claims which say Presidential Advisor Steve Bannon wants to “deconstruct” Washington institutions. What a better way than to claim President Obama was complicit in conducting illegal wire taps?  How could anyone trust the Federal Government?

But, the most serious speculation lies in the center of all these charges and counter charges. What if our narcissistic President was emotionally unsteady and prone to undertake irresponsible actions for reasons known only to him?

Hmmm.

Given past (45 days) experience, this controversy will blow over too, only to be replaced by some other outrageous incident. Ignoring President Trump’s tweets is a viable option but one with hidden dangers.

There will be a time in the next four years when President Trump will find it necessary to come before the public, explain a future event, and then ask for public support for his choice of a response. Each one of these emotional diversions will make it even more difficult to harness the publics support in such a situation. How will the public suddenly be able to tell that President Trump is telling the truth (this time) and his proposed response does not have an ulterior motive?

Ignoring President Trump’s tweets may be an option but far worse is dignifying them with a search for what “really did happen”.

If President Trump has concerns about anything he has a Cabinet and staff who can ask the appropriate section of the Federal Government for information and clarification, in a professional manner.

It would be wiser for the press and the public’s response to consider any Trump accusation as untrue (baseless) until supported by credible Government sources.

When Will The Morning After Headache Arrive?

April 22, 2016

The 2016 Republican Presidential Primary and to a lesser extent the Democrat Primary have held lessons Barnum and Bailey would have been proud to have produced. Packed with outlandish and totally unsupported claims and proposals, the GOP primary has been a sad commentary on American’s gullibility, and the News media’s crass, mercenary culpability ( or should I say entertainment media). One of these days the music will stop, the candidates will return to everyday life, the Country will have a new President, and then the regrets will begin.

How could the Presidential contest have gotten so far without even the simplest assessments of each candidates’ proposed policies?

In Barnum and Bailey terms, Donald Trump’s campaign has been a classic. “Behind this door sits the strangest creature ever to walk the earth. For just 5 cents you can see this unbelievable sight”.

Day after day, news (entertainment) programs have worked hand in hand with Trump to lasso the public’s attention. Shamefully, the news media has not balanced this entertainment with objective reviews.   Media criticism has dwelled instead upon crowd reaction, opposition group outrage, and rival candidates equally unsupported counter claims. Virtually no time has been spent asking how exactly Trump’s claims are supported by facts and how his proposals would improve the conditions Trump is railing against.

One is left with the sick feeling that news(entertainment) executives have seen the golden goose associated with a populous view of Trump. While the music is playing, let’s dance seems to be the media’s motto.

There is little question that Donald Trump has been a virtuoso in harnessing the media’s corporate greed and willingness to overlook news reporting ethics in order to capture large audiences and harvest the reward of bountiful ad revenues.

One might think that the day of reckoning is coming. Following the GOP convention which the media magnets hope will be a sh*t show, there will be time to reflect upon the platforms and proposed policies of the two standard bearers. Of course should Donald Trump become the nominee, he would be unlikely to want to suddenly go substantial and really discuss issues, causes, and solutions. Against Hillary Clinton, he will undoubtably use innuendos and extravagant claims while avoiding direct policy discussions. If the public responds, Trump’s unchecked statements are likely to continue to the delight of the media’s financial returns.

But there will be a day, at worst after the general election, when the champaign bubbles have died out that the news media will wake up and ask what has happened. Maybe they might ask what have we done?

The morphing of news from reliable information to entertainment has been a steady slow process. In part it is understandable. How else could adults be induced to waste time getting saturated with inane advertisements?

As a simple example, Bernie Sanders overarching theme is improving the lives of the middle class. He points to income inequality and proposes a minimum wage coupled with affordable healthcare (for all) and free (?) college education as the primary tools. Do economist agree and why?

Another example is Trumps claim that he will create a flood of jobs. He will accomplish this by building a wall between the US and Mexico while walking away from existing trade deals with other countries (read China). What do economist think will happen by restricting undocumented workers and what might happen to the overall economy if goods currently manufactured in low wage countries were now made in the USA? And breaking agreements, any repercussions?

Hmmm.  I feel a headache coming on.

Media Fiction Until There Are Two

August 15, 2015

The primary season leading up to the 2016 Presidential race seems to be a media fiction bonanza.  The media seems quite content to embellish any story so as to attract more readers.

While the more than two dozen declared 2016 candidates try to out do each other and garner voter attention (and deep pocket donor support), the media are beavering away trying to build excitement where banality exists, trying to build tension where laughter might be more appropriate, and trying to puff up importance where “so what” comes closer to the mark. Take the continuing saga of Hillary Clinton and her private email account. Did she or didn’t she?

The breathless question is whether Hillary sent or received classified emails on her private email device. Hmmm. Seems pretty straight forward to me, either she did and there is evidence to show it, or she didn’t (that comes from a lack of evidence). It should not count, for reasonable people, if an email is later classified and now its possible to say “gotcha”.

Or, re-litigating the Iraq war, the surge, and the eventual withdrawal of US combat forces is tempting, especially if your point is President Bush or the GOP made a mess of things, or if the opposite is the case where clearly (in your opinion) Barack Obama pulled US troops out too soon (even though former President George W Bush had signed the agreement and set the date).
The problem of course is that what has happened and what (in the minds of GOP candidates) should President Obama should have done has happened. All of it did not need to have happen, had “W” not invade Iraq.

Unless a candidate is willing to say, “with what I know now, I would have still invaded Iraq”, there is no intelligent conversation possible. But it is oh so tempting to catch a candidate unprepared for the “what would you have done” question.

Cutting taxes, cutting government spending, and of course, increasing defense spending simply can’t be said enough by our candidates. There are truck loads of great questions the media could put forward to those candidates but we don’t hear or read much.

The country has a crumbling infrastructure, is lagging in education (despite spending per capita more than any other country), has an urgent guest worker need but can’t seem to find the front door, has a readiness to trash “Obamacare” (Affordable Care Act) which has resulted in more Americans having healthcare insurance than ever before (sound like a positive to me), yet the real health care problem is still alive and thriving. US healthcare cost is the highest in the world, delivers no better or worse health outcomes, and still does not insure everyone. Where is the media on this easily documentable problem?

The choice of healthcare model has important influences on a host of other US “problems”. Medicare and medicaid costs more than what is collected in payroll tax revenues.  This, in turn, puts pressure on other discretionary budget items. For example, how can one discuss Defense spending when (with no tax increases) the money for defense must come from other important (IMO) line items.

Changing healthcare to a single payer system is very easy to say but will be very difficult to make happen. First, current healthcare providers (hospitals, doctors, drug companies, and medical device makers) do not want to take less revenue. Second, these providers will shamelessly employ lobbyists and spend gobs of money to influence law makers and confuse the public. And, third, law makers and media advertising departments will also not wish to receive less money from donations and advertisement purchases. Hmmm.

Healthcare, education, and security spending are three big ticket areas where candidates could speak long and passionately about how to reform these national programs where the outcomes remain the same or improve but the costs drop dramatically. In this manner, money could be found for infrastructure work which could help drive productivity (read jobs) gains.

The media, rather than creating excitement where there is none, could ask penetrating questions about these areas, The media could push back at candidates who speak of “block grants” (like in solutions for Medicaid deficits) as a method and insist on knowing what the candidate would do at the Federal level. Failure to answer should mark the candidate as unimaginative.

Not to be overlooked in questioning all candidates, those who intimated “tax the rich” should be just as sternly criticized. How can the country reform what we have, delivering the same output, but at a fraction of the cost. After that, and only after that should taxes be seriously entertained.

So will we have more media fiction or will we have media purposefulness?

Lying Williams?

February 5, 2015

Yesterday, NBC Nightly News Anchor, Brian Williams, announced he had “misremembered” the facts about a helicopter flight he had made during the Iraq War in 2003. Hmmm, “misremembered”, what does that mean?

Williams has reportedly told on several occasions over the past 14 years that he was in a helicopter that drew rocket and rifle fire and was forced to make an emergency landing. Why would he have ever said that if it were not true?  How can anyone “misremember” events like that?   Who knows, besides Brian, but his explanation last night shed little light upon his reasons.

Dan Rather ended his news anchor career over an alleged “mistruth”. Rather reported that George W Bush had consciously worked to avoid being deployed to Vietnam based upon certain documents. Rather was forced to admit that he had not fully vetted the documents and therefore could not prove what was widely thought to be the case. Rather alleged something about someone else, in essence confirming circumstantial evidence, but could not prove it. Rather’s report had violated his public trust.

Williams, on the other hand, has alleged something about himself. In the scope of Williams career, the helicopter event is close to meaningless. Most likely the “misremembering” got its life by inflating Williams image as a “player”, someone who had more substance than just a news reader.  And like sticky paper, the “misremembered event” just would not go away.

I guess that when Williams chose to describe his “mistruth” as “misremembered”, he was trying to divert the public from thinking he was really “Lying Brian Williams”.

Sensitive Eyes

August 22, 2014

Deborah E Lipstadt wrote an opinion column this week in the New York Times, titled “Why Jews Are Worried”. Lipstadt cites demonstrations in several major European cities in which anti-Jewish rhetoric was publicly used. The implications is that anti-Semitism is not dead in Europe and in fact is on the rise. Hmmm.

I cannot speak to whether Jews are worried, or whether anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. I can however, speak to what Ms Lipstadt references and what I saw in some of these same European cities in August.

First we must recognize that many major European cities have sizable Muslim populations. These groups have either emigrated for economic reasons from former colonies or have been invited in as “guest workers”.

Regardless, theses Muslim groups see the conduct of the Israeli-Gazan conflict as grossly unfair to their Muslim brethren. Speaking out against a perceived injustice is a freedom most Western democratic nations strongly support. Hmmm.

For these Muslims, Israel is using its power unfairly.

There should be little doubt that these demonstrations are aimed at impressing the host governments to put diplomatic (or any other form of) pressure upon the Israeli government to come to some peace with Hamas. This is hardly a return of anti-Semitism (even though the demonstrators maybe highly anti-Sematic).

I visited Amsterdam, Paris, Cologne, and Bonn and witnessed demonstrations in each city. All were lead by “guests”, and all were directed against the Israeli actions in Gaza. Not anti-Semitism.

The Israeli Gazan action is not straight forward and difficult to either condemn or to support. Like most Middle East conflicts, tracing the cause back to square one leads one to totally lose the connection with what is happening today.

Both Israel and Hamas possess the means to end this bloody conflict today. Neither seems ready to carry on their disputes without involving innocent civilians. This is not anti-Semitism.

World opinion is a nuanced entity. The world tends to support the oppressed and resist the aggressor. Israel has some how overlooked this part in its choice of means to combat the reckless Hamas behavior. Most Europeans have seen the same news as we have in America and many have privately concluded that Israel has used disproportionate force. So have many Americans.  This is not anti-Semitism.

This is not, also, an endorsement for Hamas. I believe it is a sign of sympathy for the Palestinian people.

Lipstadt’s referenced demonstrations in European cities so far have been lead by Muslim guests or immigrants and have been used to make headlines. (These demonstrations have not been by European college students, for example.)

Hopefully Ms Lipstadt’s column reflects her interpretation of these events and not an attempt by friends of Israel to influence American support. Hmmm.

The Key Question – Why?

August 12, 2014

The news media is reporting that President Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 40. Pretty low for a President.

The media normally introduce this information when also reporting some foreign event which is either bad in itself or uncertain as to how it would ultimately turn out. Cause and effect? Or just a random occurrence?

The President is and has been a poor communicator as it relates to providing both context and rational for American actions or lack of actions. There is no doubt in my mind that the President has thought about foreign events, has considered consequences of possible actions (or non-actions), and has chosen the path which maximizes the possibility of not getting deeper involvement. Avoiding foreign entanglements was a chapter of history Barack Obama must have studied well.  He just can’t find the way to explain it.

So why would these new media sources constantly reference the President’s approval rating? While his approval rating is news worthy, it is far more likely the reporter is trying to question wisdom of the Presidents decision without appearing to be providing editorial content.

So lets follow this “why” a little further.

  • Why did the US not get involved on the ground in Libya? The US did participate in the Qhaddafi regime change but chose not to stay around for the next phases.
  • Why did the US not get involved in the Syria insurgency? The US did clearly indicate it favored the removal of Assad but has been reluctant to provide arms and supplies to rebel groups.
  • Why has the US not laid out terms for what it thinks is a just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? The US (and the world) pretty much agree on the broad outline of a just settlement.
  • Why has the US not inserted itself into the Ukrainian situation more forcefully and threatened Russia with military force? The US has clearly stated that it wants the Russians to let well enough alone.
  • Why has the US not shown greater support for Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines in their dispute with China over who owns what in the South China Sea? The US has expressed the wish that the parties would resolve this issue through negotiations.

In many regards, each of these situations lies on a slippery slope which ends (or could end) with US military involvement. In addition, even with a military successful solution in any of these situations, it is difficult to see the future state related to any US national interest.

Of course humanitarian considerations are motivating (stop the hunger or senseless killing) but why would that be a US national interest? Who made us king? And more basically, who in the US is willing to pay for it?

One can imagine a future state where too many regions of the world have open armed conflicts or have become populated with pirates and rogue states. International commerce could become captive and such a state of affairs could negatively hurt the US economy and our quality of life.

But can you imagine such a state and it not also hurting Russia, China, and Europe too?

As the run up to the 2016 Presidential elections unfolds, we will hear all sorts of descriptions of what’s in the US national interest. One might even recall hearing that invading and occupying Iraq was in America’s national interest. Be careful.

Today US domestic politics are horribly confused. Some advocate deep cuts in government spending without any plan to deal with the consequences (economically or socially). Others advocate a moral code and see that code applying to all Americans while others are as adamantly opposed.

Others see the US as exceptional and propose our way of living as the model for the rest of the world. And still others see no place for US involvement in world affairs. There is no consensus.

Any foreign policy which brings with it the probability of a slippery slope to armed conflict is very dangerous given the lack of national resolve.

The US economic and political model is as good as any, and probably the best, in the world. Our model, however, is not so good as to have the capacity to take on all the problems the world has to offer.

Our government needs to have the confidence that very limited foreign engagements (the path we appear on) are superior to whole scale military efforts.

It would, however, be special if President Obama could say this like Bill Clinton would have.

McWho And Nothing

August 11, 2014

In 2008, Barack Obama won the US Presidency defeating Senator John McCain. For a while McCain seem to drift into the shadows giving way to other faces on the Sunday talk shows. Recent Iraq developments, however, have brought him back louder than ever.

What a break for the American public.

Refreshing ones memory, John McCain supported the Iraq invasion and occupation from the start. When things went haywire, McCain told us President Bush was right to invade but his Secretary of Defense had poorly executed the military operations.

When exhaustive search revealed there were no WMDs in Iraq, McCain still supported the invasion. “It was the right thing to do”.

McCain was full square behind the “surge”. “America cannot afford to lose this war”, he insisted. Later when the Iraqis would not agree to a status of forces agreement and President Obama confirmed the US would withdraw all combat forces, McCain went apoplectic. “Al Qaeda would follow us home to the US”, McCain warned.

It has been always troublesome to listen to these al Qaeda predictions. There was no al Qaeda in Iraq on Saddam Hussain’s watch. This radical insurgent group popped up once Hussain’s strangle hold on Iraq was lifted. Where had been McCain’s warnings about what might happen in Iraq once the Iraqi government was toppled?

Yesterday, both John McCain and Lindsay Graham waved warning flags about imminent strikes by ISIS on US soil. The sole cause was laid at President Obama’s decision to pull out US troops from Iraq (remember Iraq would not agree to a Status of Forces agreement). In other words, the President can not win (in McCain and Graham’s eyes) even though the President has authorized air strikes against ISIS.

One must accept the possibility that McCain really believes what he is saying. While he may hold some some glimmer that in a deadlocked GOP presidential convention, he might be the Ronald Reagan to emerge, it is more probable that he can’t help himself.

As for Graham, this is reelection time and any media exposure that projects his image as a national figure must help his candidacy. He too carries the burden of history which he must feel can only be overcome by doubling down.

Public opinion polls tell us that Americans are tired of war and see no direct value to our national interests. The blame game is unlikely to shift this view and slick reminders of 9/11 are becoming less effective everyday. The President rightly should ignore the protestation of the likes of McCain and Graham.

Reality, however, is fickle. Radicalized muslim elements may very well attempt another 9/11 type incident simply out of frustration.

Picking sides in the Middle East is fraught with danger and more resembles picking the lesser of two incompetent or two despotic options. Simply stated the Middle East is a mess which became clear following an unnecessary invasion and occupation.

When McCain and Graham begin their talk show gab sessions with that admission, then it will be time to listen.