Dear Washington Post

Here’s another slightly edited dispatch from my ongoing off-social-media conversation with some political reporters on the obvious implicit bias I see in coverage of Clinton vs. Trump.  The reporters I’ve engaged publicly and privately don’t see it that way — and they are, I firmly believe, sincere and honest in that belief.  So the task, as I see it, is to build the argument story by story and (as possible) in analysis of the sum of coverage, that they’re wrong, and to do so in a way that honest and expert reporters can read, analyze, and, I hope, become persuaded by.

What caught my eye today was this article in the Washington Post, “Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘Honorary Chancellor’ of a for-profit university,” by Rosalind S. Hellerman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee.  That story has received professional praise as a well reported deep dive — and it is!  Really.

School of athents

By that I mean:  it is definitely a long (2604 words) and detailed dissection of Bill Clinton’s involvement with Laureate University, a major international for profit higher-ed company.  The reporters play fair by the rules of the craft:  they show their work, and a reader can see where each individual fact comes from.

But does that make it a good story, an honest one, or one that within the larger story — that of the 2016 presidential election — meets basic standards of journalism as it serves readers interests?

Not at all.

That’s what I argued below in my note to one of my correspondents.  Here, the point is that the elite political press — like any group of people working on the same stuff in substantial isolation from the outside world — has its own professional criteria for excellence.  They’ve got a value system and an expectation or understanding of what represents good work or bad.  They’re not all wrong in that.

But as far as I can see from the outside, theirs is a bunker-dwelling, mostly technical standard: well reported = good, for example.  I don’t think that there is a conspiracy at the Times  or the Post, or CNN or what have you simply to shiv the Clintons.

But what I think outside the bunker (and please do recall:  a presidential campaign is a mind-and-body deranging experience; these folks really are working without access to a lot of the reality checks that could help) those of us who are looking at the coverage both closely and synoptically see the problem not as one of reporting, but of coverage.

That is, what matters is the way stories are assigned, framed, their narratives interpreted within each piece, how they’re edited and placed (2604 words!) affects the overall message readers and the electorate as a whole receive.

Thus, the ongoing and increasingly inexplicable failure of The New York Times to engage what should be a burgeoning Trump bribery scandal with state attorneys general and Trump U.  Thus all the stories on the Clinton foundation which (a) failed to show what was implied and (b) omitted crucial context, like the Bush Foundation headed by a Powell.  And thus today’s story, in which two good reporters distill what had to have been a substantial amount of work that taken all-in-all demonstrates that Bill Clinton made a lot of money while there was, in the words of the story itself, “no evidence that Laureate received special favors from the State Department in direct exchange for hiring Bill Clinton…”

What there was, instead, was a reason to ask whether or not such special favors might have taken place.  The answer was no.

There the story should have ended.  But because this was the Clintons, and this is the elite political press, it was impossible to accept that answer.  Hence what is a type specimen for how the press is getting this election wrong — with potentially disastrous consequences.

With that as prologue (I know…logorrhea…), my breakdown of the piece for my journalist-contact.  We began by marveling at the size of Bill’s fee — which truly is pretty astonishing:

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I agree with you on the sum, though from where I sit, with my full time job in higher education (and a professor’s kid, and w. two professor-siblings and, and, and…) what bothers me most about that clearly outsize wage is that it is less of an outlier than it should be.  As I’m sure you know, top academic positions at a lot of places are now paid at seven figure levels.  A million or so/year as a college president  is different from $3.6 million/year as an honorary chairman, certainly.  But it’s also true (and a scandal) that higher ed, both non and for profit has headed down the same path for CEO and senior management compensation that large businesses have.  That’s troubling.

But what got me about the story was the contrast between the reporting craft you rightly recognize: meticulous, detailed pursuit of both individual incidents and the financial details…and the lack of any substance to the clear thrust of the story: that this was another example of soft corruption in the Clinton family.  You look at the lede and it clearly asserts a pay-off.  Clinton invites someone to a working dinner who is an FOB, who later hires Bill for lots of money.   Read more



Open Thread: Pastor Dobson Has A Sad

James “Focus on the Family (While I Pick Your Pocket)” Dobson is very, very disappointed by all us haterz who cruelly mock his optimistic embrace of “baby Christian” Donald Trump…

And not just the unsaved Christianist-haters, either:

Poor saintly Mr. Dobson just wanted to remora Deadbeat Donald’s #WINNING grift while that shark is still moving — living off a host’s, uh, leftovers is an honorable tradition among his clan. How was he to know how rapidly the gilt would wear off the Trump scampaign, once it was exposed to the acid examination of non-believers?



Thursday Morning Open Thread: “Your Cheeto Jesus”

Up with the rocket and down with the stick, my Irish granny used to predict about overnight celebrities — like a firework briefly dazzling all bystanders before the dead fuse dropped to the ground. Looks like the GOP may be searching for that stick to beat their presumptive presidential nominee (and as a loyal Democrat, I must applaud their efforts). Per Politico

Donald Trump is relying heavily on the Republican Party to bolster his skeletal operation, but his campaign’s relationship with the Republican National Committee is increasingly plagued by distrust, power struggles and strategic differences, according to sources in both camps.

In recent days, RNC chairman Reince Priebus has privately grumbled that his advice doesn’t seem welcome with Trump, according to one RNC insider. Other party officials have expressed frustration that Trump’s campaign is trying to take too much control over a pair of fundraising committees with the party while adding little to the effort, according to campaign and party officials familiar with the relationship…

Meanwhile, there’s deep skepticism on Trump’s campaign about the RNC’s commitment to the presumptive GOP nominee, with some campaign officials questioning how hard the RNC is working to help Trump and to raise money for his campaign’s joint committees with the party…

The fraught dynamic is a potentially serious liability for an insurgent campaign that has proudly eschewed political infrastructure and is dwarfed by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s operation, which is expected to raise $1.5 billion or more. And the situation is equally problematic for the Republican Party, which typically relies on its presidential candidate to help boost down-ballot candidates, enhance voter data and raise money…

The Trump campaign would not comment on the record about its relationship with the RNC. One Trump Tower official called it “a great relationship. I work well with everybody over there and I haven’t heard of anyone who doesn’t have a great relationship with them.”…

Rick Wilson is a professional Republican campaign operative with a filthy mouth and a history of gleeful muckery — the kind of guy who, if he shakes your hand, you should count your fingers afterwards. He also has a standing beef with Donald Trump. (That article from last fall was addressed to the other GOP candidates, but I sincerely hope the Clinton campaign took notes.) Last night Mr. Wilson put out a series of tweets that are being gleefully shared around the political-wonk internet, including:

Complete tweet series, storified, here. Since we know that the Vulgar Talking Yam, aka Captain Bankruptcy, aka Lord Short Thumbs, is extreeeemely sensitive about any slur to his magnificent person, I look forward to a stream of incoherent (yet entertaining!) rebuttal tweets as soon as Hair Fuhrer has had the chance to get the object atop his head glued into place…

Apart from wishing (ever more) confusion to our enemies, what’s on the agenda for the day?



Late Night Open Thread: No Thanks, Mr. Koch

Former College Republican & current ABC News shill Jon Karl got himself an invite to Charles Koch’s sanctum sanctorum, and he could not be more impressed:

Charles Koch says he won’t “put a penny” into trying to stop Donald Trump, that there are “terrible role models” among the remaining Republican presidential candidates, and that his massive political network may decide to sit out of the presidential race entirely.

“These personal attacks and pitting one person against the other — that’s the message you’re sending the country,” Koch said in an exclusive interview with ABC News that aired Sunday. “You’re role models and you’re terrible role models. So how — I don’t know how we could support ’em.”…

“We haven’t put a penny in any of these campaigns, pro or con,” Koch said. “That’s not what we do. What we’re trying to do is build alliances to make the country better.”

Instead Koch said he and his brother plan to stay out of the party’s nomination fight…

Koch went so far as to say the GOP nightmare of another Clinton presidency might be a better alternative to the remaining Republican candidates at this point.

“It’s possible,” he said…

You can watch more of the interview at the link, but it’s basically 75% arse-covering (not our fault! you can’t prove one cent came from us!) and 25% complaining that you just can’t buy good help any more (seventeen GOP candidates and not one worth a bucket of warm spit!). That parvenu Trump is sucking up all the attention, Ted Cruz couldn’t sell meat to a hungry dog, and some pissant casino mogul is getting more attention than True American Heartland Job Creators(tm) like you-know-who. And despite what Dick Cheney might think, there’s still no cure for mortality…
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The inanity, it burns

Two very dumb things are making the rounds today.  The first is from Tad Devine, Sander’s campaign manager:

 

This actually makes some sense if we are to assume that the Sanders campaign is fundamentally a message and viewpoint campaign. Those campaigns are a valued part of the American political process and most cycles will have a couple of single issue candidates run in order to air their ideas to a much wider audience and hopefully get their party’s front-runners to bend their positions more closely to the single issue priority. If we analyze the Sander’s campaign in this fashion, then the statement makes a lot of sense and the Sanders’ campaign has been successful.

Maximizing a message opportunity is a very different objective than maximizing the probability of winning sufficient delegates to be nominated.  Hillary Clinton is running on a delegate optimization mode as she is running to actually be nominated.  That was her theory of her campaign in the spring of 2015 (and spring of 2007).  She needs to campaign everywhere to get delegates, while Sanders needs to stay plausible enough to get a microphone so spending resources and losing minimizes the microphone opportunity.  Two very different beasts being run with very different optimization functions.

But saying this outloud while still proclaiming that Sanders is running an actual campaign to get the nomination is stupid.

And now the other piece of stupid from reactionary anti-health policy “wonk” Michael Cannon:

There is no sense in marking the ACA’s anniversary, however, because the ACA is no longer the law.

Realizing the law he signed was unconstitutional and unworkable, President Obama and the Supreme Court have since made a series of dramatic revisions that effectively replaced the ACA with something we now call “Obamacare.”

Unconstitutional does not mean what Mr. Cannon thinks it means.

Unconstitutional does not mean “I don’t like this” and “the embedding of liberterian doctrine into a document written at least three generations before the first liberterian thinkers has been obstructed”.  Unconstitutional does not mean that something is stupid or venial.

Unconstitutional means what five justices on the Supreme Court thinks that means. So far, there have been at least five justices who have said that PPACA is fundamentally allowed under our governing constraints.   Constitutionality does not in and of itself imply that an act is wise, good, desirable or prudent.  In this case, I think those descriptors are fair descriptors of the ACA, but those can be up for debate.

Constitutionality is not at this point.



Three ways in the House

Reading the Huffington Post, I saw this political bodice ripper and I still can’t figure out how to make the mechanics of the piece actually work in our shared reality:

Suddenly they realize, “holy shit, what if we could stop Donald Trump and keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House?”

So they run a moderate establishment Republican as a third-party candidate — 100 percent as a spoiler candidate. Worst case scenario oh, they prevent Donald Trump from winning the White House. Best case scenario they pull enough votes away from Hillary Clinton to prevent her from securing the necessary majority of 270 electoral votes.

Then the election goes to a House of Representatives ballot presided over Speaker Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s former running mate in 2012.

If neither candidate gets 270 electoral college votes, Congress picks the president. And he will be called President Mitt, the one who is laying the groundwork for this doomsday electoral scenario.

The basic theory is that a third party candidate who is Generic Republican Establishment (no not Pawlenty) would be able to do three things at the same time:

  • Insure that Trump does not get 270 electoral votes
  • win at least one electoral vote
  • Insure that Hillary Clinton does not get 270 electoral votes

In an alternative universe, that could work, but in this universe, I am having a hard time seeing how to actually make it work with a generic Republican running as a non-Trump alternative.

I think the first part is achievable.  However, the third party Republican spoiler is not needed.  Continual video playback of Trump’s speeches to non-Trump fans will isnure that.  If the Republican establishment decided it needed at least one electoral vote, it’s sock pocket could probably win Utah or a Congressional district in Nebraska.  Worse comes to worse, an elector could be a faithless elector.  I’ll concede the mechanics on this one.

The problem with this pre-emptive pants shitting is the third part.

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Open Thread: Could Be Worse, You Could Be A Republican

The above tweet made me curious enough to check the source. Allahpundit’s very first line:

I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that not only isn’t this guy [Trump] conservative, he doesn’t much respect conservatism either when you come right down to it…

… Some voters, as Shapiro says, don’t care about conservatism in the first place; either they’ve been centrists for years or they’ve drifted towards nationalism in frustration with the GOP. But others probably do still identify as conservative yet have no problem identifying Trump that way too because their definition of conservatism is thin and consists in great part of opposition to the left…

… The true risk to Trump in lumping conservatives in with Beltway Republicans is that it makes the right’s incentive to go third-party stronger if he ends up as nominee. If conservatives are part of the problem that a Trump-led GOP is trying to overcome, why would they stick around and support him in the general? Better for that 20 percent of the party to go indie and vote for Romney or whoever, even at the expense of electing a Democrat, since it would force nationalists to recognize that they can’t win without conservatives any more than conservatives can win without them…

I keep thinking of the punchline to the ancient joke about an overbearing bully confusing Raisinettes and rabbit pellets: See — you’re getting smarter already!

Apart from schadenfreude, what’s on the agenda as we start the (long for some) weekend?
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