Generations before Facebook or Twitter, Tocqueville warned that censoring the press would endanger the survival of freedom and democracy in America.
With the recent suppression of a New York Post story damaging to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, many Americans have finally had enough of the one-sided censorious behavior of tech giants. Less than three weeks before one the most contentious and fraught elections in American history, Facebook and Twitter users were alarmed when it became clear they were prevented from sharing the Post’s article detailing the sordid dealings of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.
Both citizens and lawmakers justifiably fear the enormous influence wielded by entities like Facebook, Google, and Twitter; the rise of an unchecked tech-tyranny where one side of the political aisle has its views promoted while the other side has its views punished. Nearly two centuries ago, the author of one of the most penetrating insights on American life shared similar fears of what would happen should a free press remain free in name only.
Traveling across America in the 1830s, young French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville saw a nation filled with both promise and peril. Amidst boundless opportunities, an economically vibrant workforce, and an ever-increasing equalization of conditions, the potential for tyranny lurked underneath an otherwise promising future. Tocqueville feared some of the forces at work in the young republic could lead to despotism.
To prevent this future, Tocqueville sung the praises of two essential safeguards: a free press connected with freedom of association. Armed with these two weapons, Tocqueville argues the United States can help prevent a tyranny of the majority as well as the chilling and repressive effects of a nascent soft despotism. Yet, of the two, Tocqueville’s principal solution for America is a free press.
Unfortunately, as Tocqueville noted — and we’ve now witnessed — the free press he prescribes functions as a double-edged sword. To be sure, the press and modern media can help cultivate liberty. It can do a marvelous job of keeping the people informed of politics, sustaining their activity in local government, and helping to make their voices heard. In doing so, it can help train the populace in the necessary exercise of freedom. Liberty, after all, is like a muscle: if it is not used regularly it will atrophy.
On the contrary, an unhealthy, ill-functioning press can create problems rather than prevent them. If the press or powerful media organs can influence such a vast number of people at once; if there isn’t enough volume granted to dissenting voices; if the levers of media and press control are too tightly concentrated, a deadly homogenization of the American mind may occur.
When this happens, the former sovereignty of the people is transformed into something both helplessly docile and malevolent — worse, something deadly to liberty. These were the stakes back during the time of Andrew Jackson. Today, the situation is all the more dire.
In “Democracy in America,” Tocqueville writes Americans should strive to be continually “making liberty emerge from within the democratic society in which God makes us live.” One of the most effective avenues to pursuing this is to give some degree of local administrative power to bodies of private citizens such as would be found in newspapers, periodicals, or pamphlets — and today’s social media platforms.
A free press made up of numerous varied newspapers fulfilled this role in 19th-century America. In the 21st century, websites and social media should — hypothetically — join traditional print publications to prevent the dangers of the tyranny of the majority. When operating fairly and nobly, they provide a way for every voice to be heard.
Of course, a free press and media aren’t just useful vehicles for spreading ideas or forming associations, but for ensuring that new associations can connect their ideas over large distances. Furthermore, in a free nation, the press can and should help to disperse power — not concentrate it within itself. The answer to ideas some citizens disagree with is not to stifle, curtail, or limit such speech, it is to encourage more of it.
Beyond this, protecting freedom of the press is vitally important because it can often serve as an individual’s best or only means of appeal. Tocqueville writes:
A citizen who is oppressed has therefore only one means of defending himself; it is to address himself to the whole nation, and if it is deaf to him, to humanity; he has only one means to do it, it is the press. Thus liberty of the press is infinitely more precious among democratic nations than among all others; it alone cures most of the evils that equality can produce. Equality isolates and weakens men; but the press places beside each one of them a very powerful weapon, which the weakest and most isolated can use.
As Tocqueville observes in “Democracy in America,” opening and running an American newspaper in the 19th century was both relatively inexpensive and unregulated. As such, this meant a truly free press was an accessible weapon available to the common man to beat back the tyranny of the majority and the homogenization of the mind.
Thousands of newspapers operating throughout the country and representing various individuals, associations, and interests, was both a way of protecting divergent opinions as well as checking against the rise of despotic or tyrannical forces. In the current climate of Big Tech censorship, men and women of all political stripes should be asking themselves if this can be said of America any longer.
A healthy and truly free press is one of the mechanisms that can help prevent the public from being manipulated into having one set of “approved” opinions. Freedom of the press, says Tocqueville, does not just hold important influence over the success or failure of political parties, it makes its power felt “over all of the opinions of men”; not only that, it modifies both the laws and the mores of a society.
Indeed, if laws can affect the mores of a society, and the mores of society can affect the laws, something that can simultaneously change both is a weapon capable of either awe-inspiring good or tremendous evil. Tocqueville argues a free press has the power to do just that.
What happens if this power is used to stifle speech rather than spread it? The result, unfortunately, is not good for any polity featuring democratic institutions. As University of Oklahoma professor Donald J. Maletz puts it: “Tocqueville associates democracy with freedom of the press as a matter of principle.” As one goes, so goes the other. Forebodingly, Tocqueville calls the issue of how to handle a free press “the greatest problem of modern societies.”
Due to its non-institutional nature, a free press is unique in its role in helping prevent tyranny because it exists apart from the governmental arena. Separations of power and varied institutions are not enough to prevent tyranny if all interests involved are the same — you need associations or organizations outside of government as well.
Ultimately, the freedom of the press may well be the final bulwark of liberty against a rising tide of corruption. By Tocqueville’s reasoning, once the press ceases to be free, it’s hard for any society wishing to regain freedom for its citizens to do so, as the best avenues for opposition will be closed. Because of this reality, those who love liberty and value an open society must guard against any censorship of the press.
Tocqueville acknowledges in “Democracy in America” that an unfettered press can create problems, and is only so virtuous because it prevents more problems than it creates. Even so, Tocqueville goes on to powerfully proclaim one cannot be “moderate” in support of a free press. For Tocqueville, there’s no sustainable or workable “middle ground” when it comes to press censorship.
To “reap the inestimable advantages” brought by the freedom of the press, society must learn how to handle its potential pitfalls. This much is clear, however: liberty starts to evaporate the moment powerful entities within society start to censor its press or suppress the work of reporters and writers.
As historian Thomas G. West points out, James Madison saw free speech as a natural, retained right, not a privilege created by the government. West puts it in clear terms:
There is an absolute right to freedom of speech, just as there is an absolute or inalienable right to liberty in general. … For the founders, speech is simply a part of the overall natural right to liberty, which it is the main job of government to secure.
Indeed, the 1780 Massachusetts Declaration of Rights went so far as to say: “The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore to be restrained.”
In her analysis of “Democracy in America,” the University of Notre Dame’s Catherine Zuckert believes Tocqueville saw freedom of speech as an “essential part of liberal democracy.” She’s right. Tocqueville warned stifling press freedom, even a little, will lead to a chilling silence, and society will find itself “under the feet of a despot.”
The publication of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” shows the power of a free press during turbulent times. Paine’s pamphlet, which sold around 100,000 copies in 1776, is called by historian Grant S. Wood “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era.” It is an exemplary case of a political tract in layman’s language that shaped the future of a continent — all made possible by the press.
Freedom of the press, when combined with associations, acts as an incentivization to participate and be active in politics. For Tocqueville, the relationship between newspapers and free associations is symbiotic and correlative: “newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers.”
Properly functioning and free, the press can encourage debate instead of hindering it. It can foster statesmanship instead of leading to the rise of despots. The exchange of ideas and the proliferation of the best new civic and societal notions can be a chief tool in preserving the essential balance between liberty and virtue in America.
While the left’s current stranglehold on corporate media is formidable, Tocqueville would at least be partially hopeful that the rise of conservative voices on the internet, new media, and outlets like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter will at put up a fight to uphold liberty — that is, as long as they aren’t silenced in turn by the very platforms that are supposed to aid in the spread of ideas.
The “press” may look a lot different than in 1831, but it remains pivotal in the struggle to preserve freedom. Until enough Americans unite their voices and demand that tech giants like Facebook and Twitter stop their oppressive censorship of the very press and media outlets essential to the health of our republic, things will only get worse, and Tocqueville’s worst nightmares will inch closer to becoming reality.
Reporters love to play “Gotcha” with politicians. It’s in their DNA. A story about a politician caught doing something that conflicts with his or her platform is editorial gold. Sometimes.
What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. A conservative “family values” Republican caught in an affair or a self-described “pro-life” politician who is rumored to have paid for a girlfriend’s abortion becomes national news with remarkable speed. And it’s not just the politico involved who must deal with it. It becomes an issue in other races when fellow Republican candidates and officeholders are asked about it, as they invariably are.
The same is not true for Democrats. Exhibit A is the extramarital dalliance of the very married former U.S. senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards.
Edwards not only had an affair with a campaign aide but fathered a child out of wedlock. The rumors about all this were rampant—and relevant, considering how he made the strength of his marriage to his dying wife Elizabeth a centerpiece of his personal narrative. Yet no mainstream media outlet would go near the story until it broke in the National Enquirer and everyone had to cover it.
Admittedly, those running on the GOP platform who make themselves vulnerable to such charges generally deserve what they get. What’s odd—or at least worthy of comment—is how hard it is to call out Democrats who are caught committing economic hypocrisy.
Democrats who campaign on a platform urging more social spending and trumpeting their concern for the poor, but whose tax returns show they gave little to charity, have never had to deal with a media firestorm over the issue.
One good example of an economic hypocrite is businessman Tom Steyer, who made billions investing in oil and natural gas. He ran for president on an anti-oil and gas platform that heavily promoted renewable energy (after he’d made his money and was spending it freely) so he could prevent anyone from doing what he’d done in the future. If that sounds to you an awful lot like “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” you’re not wrong.
Steyer’s not the only Democrat with this problem. Candace Valenzuela, a Democrat running in Texas’ open 24th Congressional District, has attracted national interest because she’d be the first Afro-Latina in Congress if she wins. She’s made attacks on corporations and “corporate social interests” a central theme of her campaign, evading discussion of how she personally profited from the oil and gas industry thanks to the job her husband once held at a subsidiary of Caterpillar, one of the country’s largest manufacturing concerns.
Valenzuela’s positions on the environment and American energy production are to the left of even the Green New Deal. She’s on record opposing American fossil fuel production and calling for a stop to all oil and gas permitting. Not good for Texas, not good for Caterpillar, but good for her because the economic benefits she reaped from the oil and natural gas industry are already in the bank.
Valenzuela’s not the only Democrat whose positions are at odds with their personal economic narrative.
Arizona’s Tom O’Halleran, running for reelection in the state’s First Congressional District, likes to tout his work getting federal funding to clean up polluted uranium mines on land belonging to the Navajo Nation. Yet his family has bought, sold, and still owns thousands of shares in different mining companies, one of which abandoned more than 75 uranium mines on that same land. Is O’Halleran seeking tax dollars to clean up his own mess? One could argue he is.
Then there’s Rep. Gil Cisneros, who has for years been invested in and profited from “Big Pharma” but is running for reelection calling for lower prices for prescription drugs. And there’s a whole bunch of Democrats in the campaign finance reform and corporate social responsibility crowd who’ve broken their pledge to refuse corporate PAC dollars.
Somehow none of that rises to the level of interest in the hypocrisy shown when a “family-values” congressional Republican is accused of an affair with a staffer. And, when a similar case involving now-former California Democratic congresswoman Katie Hill came to light, it was a race to see who could find the best excuse for her behavior and the most effective way to shift blame (and the story) onto someone else.
As a matter of policy, economic hypocrisy is just as big an issue as those that arise in matters of personal conduct. It’s obvious to the people, at least when they know about it. It should be just as obvious to the press.
Michael Cohen seems to believe his former boss threw him under the bus. If he did, it was only because the man called Donald J. Trump’s one-time “fixer” was standing in front of it at the time. Now, disgraced, disbarred, and in need of money, he’s written a book and is trying to get even.
Good luck with that. The public may be eating up what the major media is hyping in some detail but everything Cohen has to say, no matter how vile, won’t have much of an effect on the upcoming election. Neither will anything the other salacious books say about him – and that includes the books written by his niece, by a former confidant of the first lady, and by former members of his administration. As far as his conduct in business and in office is concerned, the president is bulletproof.
The country knows Trump and the voters have made up their minds. They either love him or hate him, with not much space in between. Some consider him the savior of a nation rapidly descending into permanent decline. Others see him as the cause of the decline. Either way, one more book about what a bad guy he is and who and why people might have gotten paid off and whatever else Cohen mentions in his book won’t move the needle.
Character counts, not just for the president but for the people who cover and criticize him in the public square. Cohen’s skirts aren’t exactly clean, which raises plenty of issues about whether anything he has to say now can be trusted. After all, he’s currently confined to his home while serving out a three-year sentence for tax evasion, violating campaign finance rules, and lying to Congress.
Cohen may have his regrets but most of them probably have more to do with getting caught than with any genuine pangs of conscience. Maybe he’s a transformed person but that doesn’t explain why he stayed in his employ for so long if Trump was so evil as to merit being called, among other things a “cult leader” and a “mob boss”.
Rather than take Cohen and the other “tell-allists” at their word we ought to be at least considering their motivations even if we don’t go into as much detail as the investigations of the president have. These former associates have, alongside the anonymous sources and so-called whistleblowers who’ve helped populate the pages of the daily paper with powerful allegations of political and presidential misconduct throughout the entire Trump administration, imperiled not just a presidency but the nation and the constitutional process.
Are these attacks coordinated? Probably. It takes more imagination than most people have to believe the way they all dovetail together to the benefit of the Democrats – especially to Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden – is mere coincidence. Most people believed Hillary Clinton when she blamed a “vast, right-wing conspiracy” for the problems her husband experienced while in office. Is it therefore that much of a stretch to believe a similar but ideologically opposite group are at work now?
We’re in uncharted territory: lockdowns, social anarchy and violence, virtual campaigning, and a heap of known unknowns.
We’re in uncharted territory: lockdowns, social anarchy and violence, virtual campaigning, and a heap of known unknowns.
The nation has never seen an election like this. A mysterious virus from China has terrified the country, killed perhaps 180,000 Americans, and is now weaponized as a political asset to neuter the president. Half the country is still in de facto quarantine. Governments — national, state, and local — for the first time have induced an artificial but severe recession.
The country is convulsed by riots, looting, and urban violence, but with the novelty that many governors and mayors have either turned a blind eye to the anarchy or contextualized it as a legitimate reaction to social injustice.
Joe Biden has been incommunicado for nearly four months, so much so that the Democratic Party believes that his vice-presidential running mate may well be the next president much sooner than later. And the media seek to shield Biden from himself by aborting normal journalistic scrutiny — on the unspoken surety that he is not cogitatively able to conduct a normal campaign and, indeed, in one unguarded moment of confusion and bewilderment, might well sink the entire 2020 progressive agenda.
The result is a virtual candidate, with virtual issues, and a virtual campaign. How then can we adjudicate what issues will matter?
1) The Lockdown. More or less, Americans followed the March–June lockdowns that seemed at least for a while to slow the viral spread. Of course, “flattening the curve” to prevent hospital overcrowding soon insidiously morphed into the impossible task of stopping the virus by shutting down the economy and quarantining the population. I suppose the theory was “we had to destroy the health of a society to ensure it was healthy.”
We know from Sweden and the gradual diminution in cases in the hardest hit states of the U.S. Northeast that the virus has a say in such policies. It seems determined to have an initial spike followed by a lull and yet another lesser spike, before it finds it harder to infect more vulnerable victims, as antibodies and T-cells increasingly ensure either growing de facto immunity or asymptotic infection, all while herd immunity rises and the virus plays itself.
We will soon, perhaps in a year or so, learn of the real tally of forced quarantines — the substance abuse, child abuse, retrogression in millions of young students denied K–12 learning and supervision, missed health diagnostics and preventative care, and delayed or cancelled surgeries. And the tab will likely be far higher than the coronavirus death count and the post-viral fatigue and morbidity of stricken but recovering patients. In other words, there were never blue/red choices or Democratic/Republican ones, but only bad and worse and all in between.
Fairly or not, the lockdown as a political issue is now crystalized as back-to-school/not-back-to-school for millions of the nation’s students, the vast majority of whom are either going to be immune — or asymptomatic if infected. To the degree Trump makes the moral argument that in such a lose/lose scenarios we have far more to forfeit by keeping kids home than at school, and that we can protect vulnerable teachers through reassignments from classroom teaching, he will win the issue.
Biden’s insistence that schools remain closed is likely a losing issue, because voters know that locked-in families are increasingly not viable —economically, physically, and psychologically, and in a way that outweighs even their fear of the virus. As a grandfather of a special-needs child, I can attest that the months without skilled teaching and classroom stimulation have been disastrous — they’ve now wiped away much of the stunning progress achieved in the past year by skilled and emphatic classroom teachers.
2) COVID. Like any other natural or manmade disaster — from 9/11 to Katrina to the 2008 financial crisis — the sitting president gets praised or blamed depending on whether the catastrophe is seen as waning or waxing, even if it is well beyond a president’s ability to either worsen or mitigate any such disaster.
COVID up until now is a he said/she said, dead-ender, as data can be adduced that the U.S. did better than the UK or Spain but worse than Germany, or should have/should have not issued the travel ban, quarantines, or earlier/later or not at all. The point is not the past status of the virus, but that the trajectory from October 1 to November 3 — Election Day — will become political. If the second spike deflates, the virus seems to decline, and people instinctually regain confidence, with news of impending vaccines and far better treatments, then Trump will benefit from that reality. If we see a third spike at this time — say, one that falls heavily on teachers who returned to work in some states — then Biden will claim “I told you so.”
3) The Economy. Even Biden cannot argue that the pre-viral economy was inert when he knows it was booming by any historical marker. Its weakness — huge deficits — is neutralized as an issue because Biden and Harris, to meet their fantasy agendas, would borrow far more than even Trump has. Polls understandably continue to suggest more voter confidence in Trump than in Biden on economic issues. Whether the economy — rather than the lockdown and virus — is the news will hinge on whether it continues to recover or suffers a sudden debt/financial/liquidity crisis.
4) The Violence and Social Anarchy. The wreckage of the inner core of our major cities should be Trump’s greatest issue, given that even blue-city mayors and the network and cable news industry cannot censor all the sickening and nihilistic violence. The Left and its appeasers own the violence. Initially, they proudly enabled the demonstrations in hopes of weaponizing the outrage over the death of George Floyd into another “Charlottesville” writ against Trump.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox
The meme that Trump’s “stormtroopers” want to take over cities is now a stale joke, given that Antifa seems eager to roast Portland police personnel in their barricaded precinct, while looters in the million-dollar mile of Chicago greedily target Gucci and Nikes as “reparations” justice.
If Trump frames the issue that he is the only sane impediment between all that and civilization, he will be helped enormously. Biden’s recourse seems to be to stay quiet about the violence and to outsource support for the demonstrators to Harris, while he now and again nods to law and order and claims he wants to defund the police without defunding the police. In a larger sense, Biden seems fixated on past May-June inert issues that often drove down Trump’s polls, but seems baffled that the real challenges are August-October issues that are quite different, fluid, and breaking in Trump’s direction.
5) The Strange Case of the Biden VP. In Democratic terms, Harris was the only viable pick once Biden explicitly limited his running-mate selection to a woman and implicitly to a black woman. The other younger, more woke candidates were unvetted — and for good reason given their now exposed pasts. The only other candidate with stature is Susan Rice, who has never been elected to anything; but, more important, seems incapable of telling the truth, and she tends to alienate everyone with whom she deals.
But Harris has problems of her own that explain why she exited the Democratic primaries early with nonexistent support. She is rude, often ill-prepared, demagogic, and seems to think her role as VP is threefold: a) Trotskyization of her recent hard-left social persona that failed so miserably in the primaries; b) a wink and nod “centrist” rebirth, by carefully referencing her career as a California prosecutor (when in fact she was a vindictive DA), and c) privately reassuring leftists, donors, Sandernistas, and the Antifa/BLM crowd that if they elect Biden now, they will be very soon be electing Harris, who will revert to her hard-core leftist essence, since she will not have to face voters as she did in 2019. In sum, her appointment prompted short-term giddiness; but in retrospect, her long-term negatives will start becoming an issue.
6) Socialism. The new old Joe Biden is not really a socialist convert. He is a naïve Menshevik who has no idea of the nature of those who are telling him what to say and do. So far, he has mixed the message that he is impaired and personally fearful of the coronavirus — understandable given his age and health — with his usual platitudinous phrases (“first, second, . . .”; “come on, man”) and calls for patriotic obeyance to the quarantine. Throughout, he avoids telling America what he is for and what he is against— and whether the agendas of Bernie Sanders, AOC, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren are his own.
Whether before or during the debates, Biden will have to answer yes or no to fracking, reparations, government confiscations of semi-automatic guns (even the U.S. government cannot buy “back” what one never “owned”), Medicare for all, the end of border-wall construction, decoupling with China, free health care for illegal aliens, a wealth tax, a 40 percent-plus income-tax rate on higher incomes, and getting back into the Iran deal and the Paris climate accord. The strangest thing about this strange Biden campaign is that we all know what the hard Left was for in the primaries, we all know that Biden and Harris have embraced that losing message, and yet we known that no one will simply say, New Green Deal? Hell, Yes! Reparations? Of course! Open borders? Why Not?
Never have such contortionist candidates disowned the very issues that they bragged would usher them to victory, while reinventing themselves as something they are not — with the surety that they’d revert to what they are if they were elected.
7) Tweeting versus Mental Confusion. The proverbial swing voter in the ten or so states is the key to the election. Without much sweat, Trump will fire up his base and the old Perot/Reagan Democrat/Tea Party voters who previously hid in 2008 and 2012 or voted Obama. He may well capture 10–15 percent of the black vote and 40 percent of the Latino vote. But he could still lose, given lots of new variables, like mass mail-in voting and third-party vote harvesting like the kind that destroyed California’s quite accomplished congressional incumbents and candidates in 2018.
Conventional wisdom reminds us that Trump needs to win a majority of independent suburbanites in these key purple states. The issue is simple: Do they fear getting only a recorded message when calling 9/11, an Antifa punk showing up at their corner park, a BLM looter across the street from their Costco, or another no-bail, turnstile, parolee carjacking — more than they are turned off by Trump’s tweeting, his epithets, and his shouting about “fake news”?
What bothers these pivotal voters most: Trump on the rampage whining about how biased reporters spin fake news, or ten seconds of dead silence as Biden looks in vain for his wife, or a toady reporter, to steer him back to his prompt and his place in the script? In contrast, Trump’s most able cabinet members and advisors—Barr, Pompeo, and the recently arrived Scott Atlas—are increasingly appearing in high-profile, visible roles, and proving invaluable to the campaign
8) Known Unknowns. In the next eight days, all sorts of breaking news can change the pulse of the election. Will other Gulf Arab states join the UAE in recognizing Israel? Will Russia intervene in Belarus? Will China provoke an incident with Hong Kong or Taiwan or unleash its pit bull North Korea to embarrass Trump? Will the health of the septuagenarians Biden and Trump stay constant? Will John Durham flip a wannabe fixer like Eric Clinesmith to snare the principles in the veritable coup to destroy Trump? Will Kamala Harris go full Antifa/BLM? Will a mysterious tape, recording, intercept of a long dormant scandal appear in Access Hollywood/George W. Bush DUI style? Will Biden or Trump go full Howard Dean/I have a scream and shout “YAAAAHH!” to wreck his campaign? We all know some sort of attempted October surprise is coming, we just don’t know its magnitude and effect.
9) The Virtual Election. No one knows either how we can elect a president through virtual campaigning, virtual conventions, and perhaps virtual debates and virtual voting by mail. We suspect that Joe Biden’s cognitive challenges are the stimulus for the left-wing effort to cite the virus as grounds for changing the rules. But even when rules change, they don’t always change as the changers anticipated.
10) Sleeper Cells. In 2016, money didn’t matter. Hillary Clinton vastly outraised and outspent Trump in nearly every state. Polls of the Electoral College were way off. Voters do lie to pollsters because they don’t want their names on electronic lists, or they decline to say out loud what they like about Trump, or they’re just amused by the idea of screwing up left-wing analyses.
Worse in 2016 were the silly quoted odds that Clinton would win — often reaching absurd disparities such as a 4–1, 5–1, or 10–1 sure thing. In 2016, “organization” didn’t matter. Robbie Mook was declared a genius and proved a fool; Trump’s campaign was said to be foolish run by a bigger fool Steven Bannon, plagued by government subversion and serial firings and hirings — and yet it proved far more sophisticated in its analytics and strategies. Do record gun sales, crashing ratings for the woke NBA, weird outlier polls, voters’ own belief that Trump will win or that their neighbors will vote him in, etc. mean anything? Is right now August 2016, when the polls just can’t be wrong — again?
In sum, the more Trump talks about his empathy for the suburbanite and inner-city dweller, both deprived of their civil rights to safety and security by deliberately lax, blue-state law enforcement, the more he expresses his bewilderment but undeniable compassion for Biden’s tragic, steady cognitive decline, and the more he seems too busy to tweet about much other than the landmark Israel–UAE deal, an impending COVID vaccine and therapy breakthroughs, unexpected economic uptick indicators, and his efforts to save the nation’s children from the disaster of two lost two school years, all the more likely swing voters will break in his favor.
And all the more likely he will confound the learned-nothing/forgotten-nothing polls.
In 2020, there is no element of life too small or too trivial to not get outraged over. It’s time for us to be the change we want to see in the universe.
Finally, NASA is doing something important: Taking a closer look at the nicknames for cosmic objects.
In a real and not satiric press release announcing the move, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Science Mission Directorate, said, “Our goal is that all names are aligned with our values of diversity and inclusion, and we’ll proactively work with the scientific community to help ensure that. Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work needs to reflect that value.”
This comes a little too late. It is 2020, after all. It also focuses on things like the Eskimo Nebula and the Siamese Twin Galaxy, and doesn’t take into account all celestial bodies. The sad fact is that it’s time to cancel all the planets in the solar system, starting with Uranus.
Discovered in 1781, the seventh stone from the sun was named for the Greek god of the sky. Although all the other planets except for Earth are named for Greek gods, this is especially troubling as the god of the sky is the sun, unless you have a misbegotten belief in a geocentric universe. Even then, though, no way Uranus would get the crown.
It’s a cold, desolate planet with harsh winds and foul-smelling clouds (obviously). Its environment is most likely too harsh to support any life, at least life as we know it. Its 27 moons are named for characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope, two white dudes. Its atmosphere is leaking out into space. As far as planets go, it’s the least capable of taking a joke. Uranus is no god of the sky.
Those reasons are not themselves sufficient, however, in explaining why Uranus is offensive. No, the real reason Uranus is offensive is the same as why the names for allthe planets are offensive. Naming the planets after Greek gods just reinforces patriarchy on a cosmic level. How can NASA truly achieve its goal of inclusivity if it doesn’t acknowledge this?
Starting with the one closest to the sun, we have Mercury, the messenger of the gods. He was also the god of financial gain (read: greed), and we don’t need a giant Gordon Gekko orbiting the sun. Canceled.
Then there’s Venus, goddess of love and beauty, who is just a tool of the patriarchy. Buh-bye.
Up next, it’s Mars, the god of war. War is bad, okay? Gone. Well, how about Jupiter, the king of the gods? Kings are also bad. Sayonara.
Saturn is named for the god of agriculture. Saturn’s reign was marked by peace and benevolence, but his girlfriend was called Mother Destruction, so he’s out.
We’ve already covered Uranus, so next on the chopping block is Neptune, the god of water. Water is good and Neptune was one of four gods that one could sacrifice a bull to, but bulls also produce methane (think of the polar bears!), and too much water causes problems, so Neptune is canceled.
What about Earth? Our planet is not named after a god or even a mortal — so far, so good. The word Earth, however, is derived from Old English and thus represents a tacit endorsement of colonialism. It’s time to ditch that one, too.
Some may object to renaming all the planets because it’s unnecessary and ridiculous. Well, those people should probably be canceled, too.
In 2020, there is no element of life, or lifeless planets, too small or too trivial to not get outraged over. It’s time for us to stop being the change we want to see in the world and start being the change we want to see in the universe. To not do so would be to not go too far enough!
It always amazes me just how stupid reporters are. Maybe stupid isn’t the right word, ignorant is more like it. How do people who claim to be the arbiters of what is news not follow the news? Seems like knowing what you’re talking about would be an important component of journalism, especially since journalism considers itself “the first draft of history.” But for too many of these left-wing teleprompter readers and Democratic Party stenographers, history just started yesterday.
MSNBC anchor Katy Tur is known not for her depth of knowledge on important issues, but her basic ignorance of things that happened in her lifetime is disturbing. In a debate in 2017 with a Republican congressman (because why wouldn’t a “news” anchor debate a Republican?), she exposed how unaware she was of something that happened in 2012 – when then-President Barack Obama told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to tell Vladimir Putin he’d have “more flexibility” after the election. It was news to Tur, whose excuse was, “To be fair, I didn’t touch politics in 2012. I almost exclusively covered fires and shootings in NYC area.” Apparently New York City doesn’t have cable news or newspapers.
But all the ignorance of things that happened before today isn’t limited to television personalities. Colby Itkowitz, who covers national politics for the Washington Post, showed just how oblivious a reporter could be and still hold a job. Saturday, after President Trump signed executive orders related to tax policy and coronavirus relief, Colby tweeted, “Let’s ponder the most played out question of the last four years, but can you imagine if Obama had broken up a congressional stalemate over funding by simply signing an executive order and saying it was so? (jinx @pbump).”
This is particularly stupid for a number of reasons. First, in tagging her co-worker Phillip Bump, she showed she was quite proud of beating him to this declaration, that this sort of talk is common around the Post. Second, President Obama changed large sections of Obamacare with the stroke of his magic pen well within her lifetime. Third, if history didn’t start until Trump was elected, you’d at least think a reporter covering national politics for a major newspaper would be aware of the legal challenges to the DACA program, especially since the Supreme Court just ruled on it in June.
All of these escaped Itkowitz’s notice, somehow. When her ignorance was made apparent to her, she did what all good “journalists” would do – deleted the tweet and pretended it never happened.
Lest you think it’s just the younger media types who are ignorant of history, the senior citizen-set appears to have a memory rivaling Joe Biden’s as well.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a column titled “No Wrist Corsages, Please,” Saturday about how it’s been since 1984 that Democrats had a man and a woman on their presidential ticket. “It’s hard to fathom, but it has been 36 years since a man and a woman ran together on a Democratic Party ticket, writes @MaureenDowd,” the Times tweeted about a column Down had written proclaiming the same.
I understand why liberals would want to forget the 2016 election, and why everyone would like to forget Hillary Clinton, but you’d think someone in the multi-person editorial process that takes place before anything gets published by the Times would have a memory of it. (Not to mention ignoring the 2008 Republican “mixed-gender ticket.) You’d be wrong. The correction, “An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated the history of the Democratic ticket. It has been 36 years since a man chose a woman to run as his vice-president on the Democratic ticket, not 36 years since a man and a woman ran together on a Democratic Party ticket,” is one for the record books.
These are but three examples of ignorance of recent history from people working in a profession noted for the smugness of its practitioners.
Sadly, journalism is important. Unfortunately, we aren’t getting any. We’re getting self-righteous lectures from arrogant know-nothings who, whenever possible, ignore their mistakes, which uniformly go in one direction – against Republicans. Is it any wonder that 86 percent of the public in a recent survey said they find either “a great deal” (49 percent) or “a fair amount” (37 percent) of bias in media? They used to at least pretend to be honest.
Of course, when you operate in an ever-shrinking bubble of likeminded colleagues, you don’t even notice the problem. A new study found“Beltway journalism ‘may be even more insular than previously thought,’” which the authors say raises “‘additional concerns about vulnerability to groupthink and blind spots.’”
If there’s no one in your circle who knows any better, you’ll never think you’re wrong and not know when you’ve crossed a line. If everyone you know is polishing their resume in the hope of getting a job in a Biden administration, you’d better update yours too. If Joe loses, you can fill that hole in your heart with the awards you’ll be showered with for your biased, incorrect reporting. And you don’t have to worry about being haunted by thoughts of betraying the ideals of your profession since history starts all over again tomorrow.
The pressure to reopen schools is on everywhere now that New York is doing it. This means something else big: Their hard opposition to school reopenings is politically devastating for Democrats.
Prominent Democrat politicians have started making huge concessions on reopening schools. Back in May, Democrats pounced after President Trump supported reopening. Despite the data finding precisely the opposite, it quickly became the Democrat-media complex line that opening schools this fall would be preposterously dangerous to children and teachers.
In July, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to put the city’s 1.1 million school kids back in schools half the week and “online learning” the rest of the week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked a public fight with him, saying, “If anybody sat here today and told you that they could reopen the school in September, that would be reckless and negligent of that person.”
Then on Friday, Cuomo cleared schools to open this fall, just a few weeks after making uncertain noises about the prospect as teachers unions breathed down his neck. That same day, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s minority leader, joined the Democrat messaging reversal:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tucked the posture shift into a Saturday response to Trump’s latest executive orders, saying “these announcements do…nothing to reopen schools,” as if Democrats have been all along supporting school reopenings instead of the opposite. Just a few weeks ago, Pelosi was on TV bashing Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for encouraging school reopenings, saying, falsely, “Going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus. They ignore science and they ignore governance in order to make this happen.”
What gives? For one thing, New York’s richest people have fled during the lockdowns. If their kids’ tony public schools don’t offer personal instruction or look likely to maintain the chaos of rolling lockdown brownouts, those wealthy people have better choices. They can stay in their vacation houses or newly bought mansions in states that aren’t locked down. They can hire pod teachers or private schools.
And the longer they stay outside New York City and start to make friends and get used to a new place, the less likely they are to ever return. Cuomo is well aware of this.
“I literally talk to people all day long who are now in their Hamptons house who also lived here, or in their Hudson Valley house, or in their Connecticut weekend house, and I say, ‘You got to come back! We’ll go to dinner! I’ll buy you a drink! Come over, I’ll cook!’” Cuomo revealed in a recent news conference. “They’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking? ‘If I stay there, I’ll pay a lower income tax,’ because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge.”
Reopening means swimming against their anti-Trump base and teachers union donors’ full-court press to amp school funding and slash teacher duties. That means the below-surface financial and political pressure Cuomo, Pelosi, and Schumer are under to make this kind of a reversal must be huge. It’s likely coming from not only internal polling but also early information about just how many people have left New York and New York City, as well as interpersonal intelligence from their influential social circles.
This means three things. First, the pressure to reopen schools is on everywhere now that New York is doing it. Second, Democrats’ hard opposition to school reopenings has been politically devastating. Third, all the push polls and media scaremongering promoting the idea that most parents shouldn’t and wouldn’t send their kids back to school have failed.
One of the most significant reasons it failed is that parents’ experience with online pandemic schooling was a horror show. Another is that private schools have clearly outpaced public schools’ response to coronavirus. That’s both in offering quality online instruction when forced to close, and in seeking to remain open as much and as safely as possible, all while teachers unions have been staging embarrassing tantrums over people on public payroll actually having to do their jobs to get paid, even though epidemiologists have noted “there is no recorded case worldwide of a teacher catching the coronavirus from a pupil.”
Public schools have been so clearly shown up by private schools during the coronavirus panic that state and local officials have begun to target them specifically, and have carefully included them in all onerous government burdens on school reopenings, to reduce their embarrassment and bring private schools down to the public school level as much as possible.
The most prominent recent example is in Maryland, where a local bureaucrat in one of the nation’s richest counties specifically banned private schools from safely teaching children in person, and is now battling with the state’s Republican governor over the edict. In North Carolina, many private schools are offering safe, face-to-face, five-day instruction, while most public schools are not.
Part of this is just that government bureaucrats hate individuals making their own decisions based on their own circumstances (a major reason for mask mandates, by the way). But also they’re scared because the coronavirus panic is expanding the massive fault lines inside public schooling. And public schools are a feeder system for Democrat support.
Before coronavirus hit, a near-majority of parents already thought a private school would be better for their kids than public school. People really are not happy with public education. Mostly they do it because they think it’s cheap.
But politicians’ handling of coronavirus has shown that public education is actually very expensive. The instability, the mismanagement, the lying, the public manipulation, all of it has tipped many people’s latent dissatisfaction with public schooling into open dissatisfaction. It’s a catalyst. Now many more people have decided to get their kids out of there, either by homeschooling, moving school districts, forming “pandemic pods,” or finally trying a private school.
Like all the rich people leaving locked-down locales, parents removing kids from locked-down public schools have scared public officials. If just 10 percent of public-school kids homeschool or join a private school for two years, that is a watershed moment for the social undercurrent of animosity towards public schools. That is especially true in the government funding era we’re entering, in which government debt and health and pension promises are set to gobble up education dollars faster than ever, a dynamic that was already ruinous before it was accelerated further by the coronavirus.
This is dangerous to Democrats’ political dominance because the education system tilts voters their way through cultural Marxism, and because public education is a huge source of Democrat campaign volunteers and funds. Now Democrats have detached people from their conveyor belt. The consequences will be huge.
Reopening public schools the way Democrats are doing is not going to stave off this tsunami, either. New York City’s “reopening,” for example, includes several days per week of distasteful online instruction, as well as a rule that a school will close for two weeks any time two inmates test positive for COVID. That’s a recipe for endless school brownouts that will drive parents and kids nuts. Humans simply can’t live under this manufactured instability, by the pen and phone of whatever self-appointed petty little dictators feel like changing today.
Democrats are trying to have it both ways. They’ve learned that parents are not going to put up with putting school indefinitely on hold when everything from swimming to climbing stairs is more dangerous to children. But they also want to maintain the fiction that coronavirus is an emergency situation that requires tossing trillions of dollars in deficit funding out of helicopters, keeping people cooped up and restive as an election nears, and purposefully choking the nation’s best economy since before Barack Obama got his hands on it.
Democrats are their own worst enemy. The problem is, the rest of us are so often their collateral damage.
U.S. newspapers collected millions from Beijing to publish propaganda
The New York Times quietly deleted hundreds of advertorials that the Chinese Communist Party paid to publish on its website.
A Times spokeswoman told the Washington Free Beacon that the move is a reflection of a decision to stop accepting ads from state-run media. “We made the decision at the beginning of this year to stop accepting branded content ads from state run media, which includes China Daily,” she said.
The Times‘s decision to end its partnership with China Daily is part of a society-wide reckoning about the cozy relationships between the Chinese government and American institutions, from the NBA to Harvard University. While the paper is responsible for some of the most gut-wrenching stories about Chinese government oppression, it has also run more than 200 propaganda articles in the last decade, some of which sugar-coated China’s human rights abuses. One 2019 video ad, for example, promoted Xinjiang tourism by depicting the oppressed Uyghur people as content under Chinese rule.
China Daily, an official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, has been purchasing advertorial spaces in the pages of mainstream U.S. media outlets for the last decade, using the space to disseminate Chinese propaganda to millions of unassuming Americans. In return, U.S. newspapers such as the Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal received millions of dollars.
Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of Congress’s China Task Force who has spearheaded efforts to rein in the distribution of Chinese propaganda, applauded the Times for terminating its relationship with China Daily.
“The New York Times has done excellent, detailed reporting on the ongoing Communist Party atrocities in Xinjiang and around the world,” the congressman said. “That reporting has finally had an effect—at the New York Times—and it no longer supports covering up the CCP’s barbarity. I hope the other outlets follow suit and start putting American values over Communist bribes.”
After the Free Beacon found that China Daily failed to follow federal disclosure requirements about its relationship with U.S. media outlets, Banks and 34 other Congressional Republicans demanded a Justice Department probe into the outlet. Following the demand, China Daily submitted a revised disclosure of its U.S. activities since 2016, revealing previously undisclosed details about its ties with U.S. media organs.
The new disclosure revealed that the Post and the Journal each received more than $100,000 per month to run print versions of Chinese propaganda articles. The Times received $50,000 in 2018 to place the propaganda on its website, presumably a small fraction of the revenue it made selling print space to China Daily. The new disclosures also showed that China Daily paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Houston Chronicle, and other large regional newspapers to print copies of the China Daily for local distribution.
A Post spokesman told the Free Beacon that the outlet has not published any China Daily advertorials since 2019 but did not clarify whether the Post formally terminated its relationship with the propaganda outlet.
Yaqiu Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, urged other U.S. media outlets to follow the Times‘s example and end their relationships with Chinese state media. “If you care about the truth, then don’t participate in the Chinese government’s machinery of propaganda, censorship and repression,” she said.
Two recent pieces in Vox and the New York Times say outright what many of us have long understood is an implicit belief among our elite media: that the media are motivated — and should be motivated — by ideology, not objectivity.
Of course, the ethics guidelines and mission statements of leading outlets have yet to acknowledge this reality, and many still read like paeans to the old gods.
“Our fundamental purpose,” the New York Times cautions its reporters, “is to protect the impartiality and neutrality [of our] reporting.” The Washington Post insists on strict “fairness” and that it “shall not be the ally of any special interest.” We are “unbiased, impartial, and balanced,” declares the Associated Press. “Non-ideological objectivity” is what the Los Angeles Times assures readers it maintains. “Professional impartiality . . . without our opinions,” is the standard declared by National Public Radio.
But if you look at what journalists actually say about each other and their racket behind closed doors, at the champagne-soaked galas where they hand each other prizes, you’re hard-pressed to find an acknowledgment that impartiality or balance are even virtues at all.
The most insider-y of these onanistic lovefests is the annual Mirror Awards, hosted by the prestigious Newhouse School of Public Communications and focused on reporters who cover the journalism industry itself.
One of this year’s nominees for “Best Story on the Future of Journalism,” the Pacific Standard’s Brent Cunningham, perhaps captures the new media zeitgeist most starkly in an article spotlighting reporters who hold the “belief that journalism’s highest calling [is] not some feckless notion of ‘objectivity,’ but rather to . . . expose the many ways the powerful exploit the powerless” and “f*** ’em . . . with the facts.” Indeed.
Reporter Jon Marcus was nominated for a piece in Harvard’s Nieman Reports about reporters who withhold certain facts — say, the name of a mass shooter — in a move that’s come to be called “strategic silence.” While Marcus says it’s a “fraught and complex debate” that “media organizations are struggling with,” he rehearses an Olympian leap of logic from a left-wing activist at Media Matters, who argues that reporters should apply this strategic silence to the leader of the free world, too: The idea is that they should refrain from reporting statements by President Trump that they determine are not “inherently newsworthy” or that they classify as “misinformation.” Say what you will about the man — he probably shouldn’t be covered like a gunman.
Forget about laying out the facts, or airing competing viewpoints, or writing “the first draft of history.” Americans are far too thickheaded for that. Marcus cites another sage who observes that “assuming media literacy . . . may be optimistic.” Yet another one of his sources bemoans journalists who assume that if you merely “throw facts at someone . . . that’s going to change their minds.”
The other nominees for the 2020 Mirrors (19 in all, across six categories) hardly need the encouragement to selectively slant their reportage. The list includes a host of liberal media darlings singing straight from the progressive hymnbook. In the eyes of the Newhouse School, apparently no conservative writers came up with any worthy media criticism in the last year.
Elsewhere The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, a writer whose leftism is more knee-jerk than a can-can dancer’s, was nominated for an essay called “Trump TV,” which explains that, gee whiz, Fox News tends to support the president. Move over, Bob Woodward.
The Mayer love gets meta, too. Nominated for “Best Profile” is a piece by Molly Langmuir that appeared in the glossy magazine Elle, titled “What’s Next for New Yorker Reporter Jane Mayer?” Here is what the awards committee regards as an exemplar of “hold[ing] a mirror to their own industry for the public’s benefit”: “In person, Mayer, who is petite with brown shoulder-length hair she usually wears down, the tips slightly flipped up, displays a confidence that has no visible fault lines. She also has a tendency toward self-deprecation. And while her mind often seems to whir with seamless elegance, this appears to fuel in her not impatience but curiosity.”
And here’s a detail that didn’t make it in alongside the flipped tips: Mayer was recently excoriated by critics across the ideological spectrum for a baseless and uncorroborated hit piece she co-wrote, the central claims of which were later disavowed by “several dozen” sources contacted by the New York Times.
In an Orwellian flourish, Langmuir explains that to Mayer, the “furor from both the left and right” over the piece was a consequence of her and co-author Ronan Farrow’s own “attempts at carefulness.” Mayer told Langmuir that she had focused on the “‘accountability portion, trying to be fair,’” you see. Plus, Mayer’s certainty on the unsubstantiated accusation she did get into print was “informed by [another] incident Mayer learned about, the one she didn’t get into print.” Got that? The reporting rejected by every other mainstream outlet except The New Yorker was backed up by reporting rejected by every mainstream outlet — including The New Yorker.
If Mayer was at all chastened by the denunciation of her work by her peers, it’s hard to tell. In her most recent piece, “Ivanka Trump and Charles Koch Fuel a Cancel-Culture Clash at Wichita State,” she returned to one of her pet obsessions. Riffing on original reporting in the Wichita Eagle, Mayer deceptively claimed that Koch Industries “threatened to withdraw its financial support for the university” after Ivanka Trump was disinvited from giving a commencement speech. But the source article makes clear that neither Koch Industries nor Charles Koch threatened any such thing. A company spokesperson said explicitly that the company was not pulling funding and in fact stressed its commitment to “academic freedom.”
Maybe Elle ought to hold off on the puff profiles, and Mirror on the awards, until Mayer can master faithfully representing all the facts she finds reported in regional newspapers?
And that isn’t even the biggest coffee-spitter Mirror Awards nominee. That honor would go to David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun, saluted for his opinion piece applauding MSNBC host and serial prevaricator Brian Williams. “At this moment when journalism and a free flow of reliable information are under continual attack from the Trump administration and its many media allies,” Zurawik proclaimed, “our democracy is made stronger by having Williams . . . at the end of each weeknight to offer perspective on the political and cultural warfare” in our “nation’s civic life.”
But that’s tame stuff compared to the outright agitprop of the nomination for a multipart series jointly published by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation, “The Media Are Complacent While the World Burns,” which argued that the press doesn’t spend enough time talking about climate change. Right, and the New York Post ought to devote more ink to a plucky ballclub from the South Bronx called the Yankees. A recent report found that in 2019 the top five U.S. newspapers combined ran between 400 and 800 articles per month that mentioned climate issues. The top seven TV news outlets (ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC, PBS) combined covered climate issues between 200 and 400 times a month.
For the authors of that series, Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope, the sheer volume of this reporting isn’t good enough if it doesn’t send readers to the ramparts. “Instead of sleepwalking us toward disaster,” they insist, “the US news media need to remember their Paul Revere responsibilities — to awaken, inform, and rouse the people to action.”
Let me suggest a different historical analog for Hertsgaard and Pope. It was a former newspaper editor, Vladimir Lenin, who once wrote, “A newspaper is what we most of all need . . . [in] the pressing task of the moment. . . . Never has the need been felt so acutely as today for reinforcing dispersed agitation . . . that can only be conducted with the aid of a periodical press. . . . A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer.” That’s why, to turn the sleepwalkers into the fully woke, Lenin created the infamous Department of Agitation and Propaganda, or “agitprop” for short.
For all that they say the quiet parts out loud, most journalists still want to have it both ways. They want the satisfaction of slanting coverage to suit their ideological commitments but without giving up the authoritative veneer of neutral objectivity. This duplicity helps explain why surveys from leading media groups like Pew Research show a fast-growing majority of Americans no longer trust the news.
The Mirror Awards, at least, seem to have sensed which way the winds are blowing and are sailing in that direction. They’ve moved away from their promise that the prizes should “recognize reliable reporters who criticize the media and put their own views aside [to] be transparent and objective” and toward the consensus that the problem is “the media’s reliance on objectivity and what some see as false equivalency,” as Newhouse professor Joel Kaplan puts it.
Objectivity is for suckers. A reporter’s own subjective assessment is what counts, and the public is depending on the media to tell them what to think and how to vote.14
Fine. But treat readers like grownups. Polemic masquerading as unbiased reporting demeans everyone involved, making liars out of the press and treating the public like idiots. So why not end every article with a shirttail stating plainly the reporter’s point of view? The author of this piece is a committed progressive and would like [insert desired political result] to come from the issues raised here.
The Newhouse School could even give the first New York Times or Washington Post reporter to adopt the practice an award for bravery.
The New York Times continues to shake up its editorial page after the resignation of James Bennet, the opinion editor who angered many of his former colleagues by publishing an op-ed written by a Republican.
In addition to hiring Charlotte Greensit, former managing editor at the Intercept, the Times announced the promotion of Talmon Smith to the position of staff editor. Smith, who has previously written for Salon, the New Republic, and HuffPost, has a history of what some would describe as blatant partisan bias on social media.
“All I want for Christmas is impeachment,” Smith wrote in November 2017. That was before he started working for the Times, which maintains a strict social media policy under which its journalists “must not express partisan opinions [or] promote political views.” The Times demoted a deputy editor for suggesting on Twitter that big cities (Minneapolis, Atlanta) are not representative of the broader regions (Midwest, Deep South) in which they reside.
Smith even criticized the Times in 2017 for a headline suggesting Trump had a chance to “unify” the country in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. He has also dabbled in failed punditry, asserting in 2018 that former vice president Joe Biden “has an approximate zero percent chance of winning a 2020 primary.”
Smith’s promotion comes as professional newsrooms, and the ornately educated liberal youths who populate them, debate the merits of objectivity in journalism. Restrictive social media policies such as those at the Times have come under fire for limiting the ability of journalists to express their feelings about politically charged issues.
Some outlets, such as Axios, have responded by allowing their employees to take part in public protests. “We trust our colleagues to do the right thing, and stand firmly behind them should they decide to exercise their constitutional right to free speech,” Axios founder Jim VandeHei said in a statement.
That statement, and the willingness to allow journalists to take part in protests, appeared to conflict with the opinion VandeHei expressed in a 2018 column advising media outlets to “ban their reporters from doing anything on social media—especially Twitter—beyond sharing stories.” VandeHei argued that “snark, jokes and blatant opinion are showing your hand, and it always seems to be the left one. This makes it impossible to win back the skeptics.”
This view may be prevalent among media bosses, but it is increasingly under attack by younger journalists who consider their profession a form of political activism.
“What if we built a journalism where instead of judging a reporter’s ability to be fair and accurate based on their tweets, we instead judged them based on their journalism?” tweeted Pulitzer Prize-winning race journalist Wesley Lowery while promoting his widely disseminated (among elite journalists) piece on the media’s “Reckoning Over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists.”
Smith’s tweets have become more subdued since joining the Times but continue to address controversial topics. For example, he retweeted more than one positive assessment of disgraced editor James Bennet’s humanity and suggested that liberals should stop shaming people for not social distancing following the mass protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd. Smith also tweeted in praise of Dave Chappelle, who some have criticized as anti-transgender, and said he “will happily take a memorial day [part] 2 based on white guilt,” in reference to the recent observance of Juneteenth.
The entire media industry is in the midst of a revolution of sorts. At the very least, it’s a hasty attempt on behalf of white industry leaders to express their opposition to racism and support for left-wing activism. It’s the new normal, for now.
Politicians and public-health authorities reveal their hypocrisy — and reduce the chances of the public taking them seriously again.
The universal lockdown of the country following the COVID-19 outbreak raised tensions through every segment of American society. The social and economic disruptions sparked protests all over the country, most famously in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. These protests were quickly denounced by media personalities, medical experts, and politicians who claimed that the risk of spreading the virus made it foolish to gather in such ways.
Consider Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, who said that those protests were risking the health of the people of her state, that they “make it likelier that we are going to have to stay in a stay-at-home posture,” and that anyone with a platform should encourage others to “do the right thing” and remain home. Or consider Deborah Birx, the lead doctor on President Trump’s coronavirus task force, who said: “It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or a very — or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives.”
Such concerns were completely reasonable. The nation had just passed the peak of the virus surge in hot spots such as New York and Michigan, and fear of further spread was legitimate. The entire scientific logic for the lockdowns, after all, was to suppress the peak of the surge of the disease, in hopes that our health-care system would have time to learn and adapt.
However, everything changed on May 25, 2020, when Minneapolis resident George Floyd was killed. The outrage over this cruel killing by an officer of the state inflamed the passions of the country, sparking protests, violence, and looting, in the Twin Cities and across the United States. People surged onto the streets, primarily peacefully, to display their full displeasure, fear, anguish, and sorrow.
This time, the response from national pundits and experts to the protest movement was starkly different. Dan Diamond’s excellent article in Politico provides a full accounting of how the medical community has responded to these protests. Jeffrey Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School, admitted that physicians were grappling with conflict between the science, and their emotions:
“It makes it clear that all along there were trade-offs between details of lockdowns and social distancing and other factors that the experts previously discounted and have now decided to reconsider and rebalance.” . . . Flier pointed out that the protesters were also engaging in behaviors, like loud singing in close proximity, which CDC has repeatedly suggested could be linked to spreading the virus. . . . “At least for me, the sudden change in views of the danger of mass gatherings has been disorienting, and I suspect it has been for many Americans.”
“Disorienting” is a very kind way to paint the shift from outright disgust and hatred that many Americans faced when they challenged the logic of the lockdowns to the ongoing celebration of the current protests. Don’t forget just how vitriolic the earlier outrage was: On social media, people were outright called murderers and terrorists; numerous governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, literally said people would die because of those protests; and media personalities behaved even worse, with Julia Ioffe of GQ calling the protesters selfish and demanding they stay home originally, and Soledad O’Brien calling Ricochet editor Bethany Mandel a “Grandma Killer.”
Suddenly, with the eruption of protests in the name of the murder of George Floyd, those concerns conveniently disappeared. Some former critics, such as Ioffe, have reversed their positions on mass gatherings and openly support them. Others remain silent, demonstrating their cowardice by barely mentioning the threat of the coronavirus to the public at large as thousands of people congregate in protest.
Consider, again, Governor Whitmer of Michigan. Whitmer has been very slow to reduce restrictions on the lockdowns. She and her attorney general, Dana Nessel, famously pursued a barber in the city of Owosso, Mich., who refused to close during the pandemic; the barber has since won his case in court. Whitmer has continued demanding strict masking and social-distancing rules for everyone in the state well into June. Yet when the BLM protests arrived in metropolitan Detroit on June 4, Whitmer was there to greet them. She wore a mask but rejected all social-distancing regulations, marching side-by-side with protesters. Whitmer was more than happy to violate her own executive orders.
Such hypocrisy is not unusual from journalists, or even politicians. However, a much more serious ethical and professional issue arises when doctors and scientists show such blatant hypocritical bias. As scientists, we have sworn to the public that our recommendations would depend on the science and the data, and reject the whims of emotion and personal opinion.
Sadly, this has not been the case. Former head of the Centers for Disease Control Tom Frieden tweeted that he was concerned about losing the community trust by having physicians voice the risks of the virus to protesters. However, back on May 3, he stated, without any fear, “We’re not just staying home in the magical belief that the virus is going to go away. It won’t. Staying home gives us the opportunity to strengthen our health-care and public-health systems.”
Did the virus change in the last month in ways that staying home now doesn’t weaken our system? Frieden is now making the same arguments that lockdown opponents were making a month earlier! In a tweet on June 2, Frieden stated: “The threat to Covid control from protesting outside is tiny compared to the threat to Covid control created when governments act in ways that lose community trust. People can protest peacefully AND work together to stop Covid. Violence harms public health.”
The facts and reality are that the science and data have not substantially changed. We don’t have a good quantification of the risk of viral spread outdoors: the common consensus is the risk is low, but that consensus existed a month earlier as well, and no conclusive, landmark studies have emerged. Nothing about our fundamental understanding of the disease has changed, but Frieden has done a 180-degree reversal of his position regardless.
Many physicians and scientists have likewise let their partisan leanings overshadow the science. An epidemiologist on Twitter stated: “In this moment the public health risks of not protesting to demand an end to systemic racism greatly exceed the harms of the virus.” What absurd scientific standards were used to make that remarkable statement?
The short answer is: none. Between 2013 and 2019, police in the United States killed a total of 7,666 people, according to Mapping Police Violence, a research and advocacy group. That data shows that relative to their share of the general population, blacks are 2.5 times as likely as whites to be killed by police; since 2015, 1,252 African Americans have been shot and killed by police, using the Washington Post’s database. These are obviously horrific numbers, and we should stipulate that no citizen of the United States should be complacent about these obvious abuses.
But science shouldn’t deal with emotion or fundamentals. It deals with facts and data. And the facts are these: As of May 26, 2020 (the last date for which race-based data is fully available), the APMResearch Lab documented a total of approximately 88,000 deaths as a result of COVID-19. Of those, 21,878 were African-American. African Americans were shown to die of the coronavirus 2.4 times as often as whites, and 2.2 times as often as Hispanics and Asians. To put that into better perspective, 1 in 1850 black Americans in the entire country perished, versus 1 in 4400 white Americans. African Americans represent 13 percent of all Americans, but have suffered 25 percent of all viral deaths.
These are incredible, and tragic, numbers. And medical science can give us some clues as to the reason for the disproportionate effect. African Americans are less likely to have family physicians, are more likely to have co-morbidities that lead to high risk of complications with coronavirus, and are more likely to use mass-transit systems. Additionally, more African Americans live in multi-generational homes, with possibility of infection from their children and grandchildren. All of these factors likely made them far more susceptible to the disease than the average American. But ultimately what this shows is that the coronavirus is somewhere in the range of 200 to 300 times more deadly than all of the police in the entire country — as a conservative estimate.
To be sure, reducing this complex issue to basic numbers fails to capture the complexities of dealing with racism in our society. These are emotional issues that cannot be distilled scientifically. It is perfectly reasonable for the public to deal with these issues by contemplating the larger context of society, racism, and historical connotations.
But scientists and physicians are supposed to be immune to political or emotional whims. Too many are showing themselves not to be. And the dangers extend beyond hypocrisy. Distrust between the public and the medical community makes it harder for the public to make sacrifices in the name of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Physicians fundamentally rely on trust; the doctor–patient relationship is one of the fundamental philosophical cornerstones in medicine. So, too, do public-health officials, whose recommendations can be disruptive to ordinary people’s lives.
It took a Herculean effort to institute the lockdowns. But many experts have totally refused to speak up about the risk of these protests to cause future surges of the disease, while they were violently opposing similar, smaller protests a few weeks ago. The narrative is clear: They are willing to stand up for the science, as long as it is politically and emotionally convenient.
Not all experts have stayed silent about the risks that persist to this day. Anthony Fauci has remained consistent in warning about the likely consequences of mass gatherings. But, from the beginning, plenty of people in the public-health and medical communities have expected ordinary Americans to listen to their recommendations while failing to admit their own scientific and knowledge limitations. In a piece in April, I stated that we would need sympathy and empathy nationwide to get through this crisis. We should now add humility to the list as well.
A former New York Times reporter opposes an investigation of the sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden, calling for a “coronation” of the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“I want a coronation of Joe Biden,” Martin Tolchin, a 40-year Times veteran and founder of The Hill newspaper, wrote to his former paper. “Would he make a great president? Unlikely … Would he make a better president than the present occupant? Absolutely. I don’t want justice, whatever that may be. I want a win, the removal of Donald Trump from office, and Mr. Biden is our best chance.”
It is not the first time the veteran journalist has publicly criticized the White House. While promoting his memoir last year, the 91-year-old Tolchin said the Trump presidency was a form of “adversity” that had inspired “very good reporting.”
Tolchin wrote in response to a May 1 Times editorial calling for the Democratic National Committee to investigate Tara Reade’s claim that Biden forcibly penetrated her with his fingers in 1993. Reade was one of eight women who said in 2019 that Biden touched them or made them feel uncomfortable, but she did not publicly make her assault allegation until March.
“Suppose an investigation reveals damaging information concerning his relationship with Tara Reade or something else, and Mr. Biden loses the nomination to Senator Bernie Sanders or someone else with a minimal chance of defeating Mr. Trump,” Tolchin wrote. “Should we really risk the possibility?”
Republicans have criticized members of the media for downplaying Reade’s allegation, in comparison with their aggressive pursuit of allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. A Free Beacon analysis found that Biden was not asked about Reade once in 19 interviews after the former staffer went public in March. He denied the allegation on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday.
The Times published its editorial 19 days after it published a lengthy news article headlined, “Examining Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden.” Though it did not reach a conclusion on Reade’s claim, Biden’s campaign instructed surrogates to cite it as proof the charge was false. In a statement, the Times rebuked the Biden campaign for misrepresenting the article.
Another nail in the coffin of public confidence in the press
America’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic is little surprise given the major media coverage. It’s another nail in the coffin of the public’s confidence the mainstream press is an information conduit and neutral arbiter of disputes between the powerful and influential rather than a mouthpiece for a political agenda.
The press has taken sides and the people don’t like it. The March 2020 Gallup poll shows its approval rating lags President Donald J. Trump and Congress and, at 44 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove, is the only institution tested with numbers underwater.
At the beginning of the current crisis, it was easy to dismiss the Chinese virus, as most media institutions called it then, as a noteworthy, probably insignificant outbreak. As recently as February, for example, New York City’s top public health official was still promoting the city’s celebration of the Chinese New Year rather than calling for self-imposed isolation.
Now, New York City has been hit harder by the COVID-19 virus than perhaps any other place in the country. That’s not surprising; it is the nation’s largest city. But it’s hard to argue based on the information available at the time that anyone promoting Chinese New Year celebrations is responsible for what’s happening now.
These are unprecedented times. We haven’t seen anything like this since the 2009 Swine Flu outbreak or the 1918 Spanish Flu. We face a threat about which we learn more each day and we remain unified, supportive of one another, and help ensure everyone is educated with the most accurate information we have at the time we have it to get through it.
Or that we must rely on a media establishment that has had trouble separating its dislike for the president from the need to get the facts to the American people. Anyone who stands with President Trump, even momentarily, is subject to criticisms that, when magnified through social media, blunt even the important and helpful things they have to say.
Fox News, the nation’s most successful cable news channel, has been and is still being attacked over its early coverage of COVID-19. This ignores how the network, like The New York Times and everyone else, shifted their tone as the seriousness of the story became more apparent. Now, instead of being praised for its coverage which, if it came from almost any other source would be hailed as good journalism, it is still under assault.
It matters, and not just for political reasons. Fox’s demographic is comprised of people considered high-risk if exposed to the virus. Recognizing this, the network has hired new health professionals and physicians as news contributors. It increased the airtime devoted to discussions of what people must do to protect themselves from COVID-19 exposure. It launched Q&A segments, roundtable discussions with physicians, townhalls, a daily blog written by medical experts where viewer questions are answered and the CoronavirusNOW.com — a free-to-use website featuring the latest news about the virus.
Moreover, and most unusual in the news business, the dayside anchors and infotainers who dominate prime time have conspicuously corrected their earlier statements downplaying the threat. Sean Hannity, who the so-called responsible media has thrashed for spreading inaccurate information, told his viewers on Feb. 27, “Make no mistake. Coronavirus, it is dangerous. Those infected are contagious before they show symptoms during incubation period. They don’t know they have the disease. The rapid spread of the virus across continents, it is, of course, concerning.”
The so-called responsible media, meanwhile, has been having a field day for which they have yet to account. On Feb. 26, New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote a piece poking fun at the president’s handling of events titled “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus.” On March 4, when CNN’s Anderson Cooper should have known better he was still telling viewers “if you’re freaked out about the Coronavirus you should be more concerned about the flu.”
And the “great, gray lady of American journalism?” Beside continually fanning the public’s fear it changed a headline on The New York Times website not once but three times to turn House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s successful bid to wreck the passage of aid to beleaguered American businesses and workers sidelined by coronavirus from a negative for the Democrats into a positive.
COVID-19 is scary. It’s an unnerving time but that doesn’t justify irresponsible attacks on anyone. The learning curve has produced plenty of human error, but the time to evaluate them is largely on the other side of the pandemic. Lots of mistakes have been made. We’re taking this day by day and must remember to be unified in the fight against the virus and not fight each other.
Former Vice President Joe Biden continues his presidential campaign from Delaware in the era of the Wuhan coronavirus by conducting remote interviews from a home studio.
Biden however, whose candidacy has survived slip-ups seemingly every month on the trail still appears forgetful and frail from the comfort of his own home. While the pressures of on-the-ground campaigning are temporarily gone, the same Biden we’ve seen for much of the last year is not.
On Monday, Biden once again refreshed concerns about the Democratic frontrunner’s age and aptitude at 77 years old to win the White House in November, offering a nonsensical jumbled word salad on MSNBC with notes in his lap.
Here’s what Biden said:
Boy those very high numbers have to do at least several things. One, we have to depend on what the president’s going to do right now, and first of all he has to… tell… wait til the cases before anything happens. Look, the whole idea is, he’s got to get in place things that were shortages of.
Biden’s Monday clip comes just a week after Biden seemed to have thrown in the towel on being articulate as he has become the likely Democratic nominee.
During an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Biden trailed off and looked defeated after mixing up his words again prompting an awkward silence on air.
“We have never, never, never, failed to respond to a crisis as a people, and I tell you what, I’m so darn proud. Those poor people who have…” Biden said before realizing what he actually said. “Anyway…”
Last week, Biden was also caught coughing while denying he had any symptoms of the Wuhan virus.
At one point on CNN, Jake Tapper directed Biden to cough into his arm as advised by public health officials.
“You know, you’re supposed to cough into your elbow… I learned that actually covering your White House,” Tapper said.
“Fortunately I’m alone in my home, but that’s okay,” Biden said.
In the last Democratic debate between Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who remains the final major competitor in the race, Biden also opened up with a cough to answer a question about the Wuhan virus.
So what is going on with Joe Biden?
No, the federal government shouldn’t 'take over the supply chain' for medical equipment, and yes, states can in fact govern themselves.
Watching the media react to federal and state government responses to the Wuhan coronavirus over the past few days, you would think they secretly wished we had an executive branch with unlimited powers—their hatred of President Trump notwithstanding. You would also think they have only a vague idea of what federalism is and how it’s supposed to work.
Many reporters and pundits, for example, seem to think states are almost entirely dependent on the federal government in emergency situations like this. CNN’s Jim Sciutto mused about whether the president will soon be pushing for a national curfew, seemingly unaware that the president has no power to impose such a thing.
But governors do. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday stopped just short of issuing a curfew on businesses, instead signing an executive order that strongly urges all non-essential businesses to close at 8 p.m. every night. He also activated the New Jersey National Guard to help carry out his order.
Local governments are going one step further. Portland’s city manager announced an emergency curfew on Monday, shutting down restaurants, bars, clubs, movie theaters, and any other establishments where people gather. Six counties in the San Francisco Bay area announced a “shelter in place” order for all residents—a population of some 6.7 million people—to remain in effect until April 7. It wasn’t exactly clear how the order would be enforced, but it did call on sheriffs and chiefs of police to “ensure compliance.”
Similar measures have gone into effect across the country in recent days. In New Orleans, police cleared crowds on Bourbon Street, ordering people back to their homes and hotels via loudspeaker. Lockdowns of various sorts were ordered in cities from Florida to Washington state, mostly affecting bars, restaurants, and other places crowds gather.
But here’s the thing: the president of the United States doesn’t have the power to order these things. For as much as we might think of the federal government as all-powerful, it really isn’t. The founders wisely chose a federal republic for our form of government, which means sovereignty is divided between states and the federal government.
The powers of the federal government are limited and enumerated, while all powers not granted to the feds are reserved for the states, including emergency police powers of the kind we’re seeing states and localities use now. Local governments, as creations of the states, can exercise state police powers as well.
Much of the media seems wholly unaware of this basic feature of our system of government. Exemplifying the ignorance was a widely panned tweet from an editor at The Daily Beast who seemed to think states can’t “govern themselves” without permission or direction from the president.
So the states are basically governing themselves because our president doesn’t know how to president at all?
After the Trump administration’s announcement on Monday of new, stricter guidelines to stop the spread of the virus, a media chorus arose that it wasn’t enough. “Ok. Someone finally talked some sense into the President two months into this. That’s good. But we need huge amounts of coordinated federal *action* *assistance* and *mobilization* along with the shift in rhetoric,” tweeted MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
An attitude of shock and outrage pervaded The New York Times’ coverage—as well as misleading tweets from some NYT editors—of a conference call in which Trump told governors that they should try to get ventilators and respirators for themselves. Many of the tweets left out the full context of what Trump said: “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”
Asked about the Times report later in the day at the press conference, Trump explained that many governors might have a more direct line on this equipment and if so they should go ahead and acquire it themselves, no need to wait on Washington, D.C.
This is of course exactly the way federalism is supposed to work. Besides the media not getting it, many Democrats don’t seem to grasp federalism, either. A group of House Democrats on Monday urged Trump to invoke war powers to order the production of more facemasks and ventilators. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio went on cable news and declared that the federal government needs to “take over the supply chain right now” for needed medical supplies.
As the coronavirus get worse, we’re going to see a lot more actions being taken by cities, counties, and states—many more than we’ll see from the feds, in fact. That’s as it should be. We should expect the government power that’s closest to affected communities to be the most active, while Washington, D.C., concern itself with larger problems, like developing a vaccine and controlling our borders and ports of entry.
To put it another way, President Xi Jinping of China can order every Chinese citizen to stay in his or her home under threat of arrest. He can shutter every business in China by fiat. He can “take over the supply chain” of any industry whenever he wants. President Trump can’t do any of that. You’d think Democrats and the media would be relieved about that—and they might be, if they knew the first thing about federalism.