Flop Sweat (Open Thread)

They should have given it a different name. Who the fuck would watch an interview called “President Trump: 30 Hours”? Just reading those words makes me want to reverse-engineer a shop-vac so I can shotgun a quart of bourbon. [Oliver Willis at ShareBlue]

Americans would rather watch ‘Family Feud’ than Trump’s unhinged interview

ABC’s primetime special featuring Trump was a ratings flop.

“President Donald Trump’s much-teased interview with ABC was not the ratings bonanza the numbers-obsessed president likely would have wanted,” Politico noted on Monday.

The program, which featured ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos following Trump for 30 hours, came in third place during it’s time slot on Sunday night, behind the U.S. Open on Fox and “60 Minutes” on CBS…

Trump’s special attracted 3.91 million viewers, far below the 6 million viewers ABC attracted in the same time slot a week ago with “Celebrity Family Feud,” hosted by comedian Steve Harvey.

A friend once produced a local news show that got lower ratings on Christmas than the public access version of the Yule log (a program featuring a single camera on a log in a fireplace with Christmas music playing in the background). This is worse.

Maybe Trump could try the kitty cat filter. (H/T: valued commenter Trollhattan.)

Open thread!








This movie seems familiar…

Trump is underwater in the polls, under fire for confessing on national TV that he’d welcome reelection assistance from foreign governments, flailing in trade wars that threaten to undermine the economy, and besieged by subpoenas in a widening series of investigations that may blossom into a full-flown impeachment inquiry. Think he wouldn’t like a “splendid little war” to take the focus off this fail parade?

In other news, you won’t have Sarah Sanders to kick around come July. Per The Post:

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders will leave the job at the end of the month, President Trump announced in a tweet Thursday.

“She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job! I hope she decides to run for Governor of Arkansas — she would be fantastic. Sarah, thank you for a job well done!”

She didn’t do her job at all — they may as well convert the press briefing room back into a swimming pool for all the use they’re getting out of it. Anyhoo, good riddance, Sarah — may all your cheese plates be comped!

PS: Who do you think will replace her? Speaking of cheese, ambulatory cream cheese sculpture Hugh Hewitt has been auditioning for the job for a couple of years…








Jon Stewart Is an Unsupervised Child Playing With a Loaded Gun

If you haven’t seen or heard about it yet, earlier today Jon Stewart, on behalf of ill 9-11 first responders, threw a temper tantrum in front of the cameras during a House subcommittee hearing. Specifically the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. This subcommittee, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, has fourteen members: 8 Democrats and 6 Republicans. And in today’s meeting Congressman Nadler, who is an ex-officio member as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, was also sitting in. At the point that Stewart decided to pitch his fit during his opening remarks about there being an “empty Congress”, seven of the subcommittee members were in the room. Though you could only see six of them in the video because of how the cameras were angled. The subcommittee meets in the same chambers as the full House Judiciary Committee, so even if everyone was there, the dais at the front of the room where the members of the subcommittee sit would look somewhere around 2/3 empty as there are 41 members of the full Judiciary Committee.

If Stewart did not know or did not understand that this was the case, then he’s a moron. More likely, he knew, understood the optics, and used them to gin up outrage. Stewart knew, was counting on, and was not disappointed that 1) it won’t be initially reported that this was a 14 member subcommittee and 2) most Americans will neither know, nor understand that this is why, despite at least half the subcommittee members actually being in attendance at the time he was ranting, most of the seats on the dais are empty.

The House is going to pass the extension without an issue. With an actual large numbers of votes from members of both parties. The vote to move it out of the Judiciary Committee is actually scheduled for tomorrow and it will pass there, and then the full House in short order, with significant bipartisan support. But once it does, it has to go across the Capitol to the Senate. Stewart knows, and if he doesn’t, then he should, that the problem isn’t the House or its Democratic majority. Rather it’s the McConnell controlled, GOP majority Senate. Should Senator McConnell deign to allow this to move forward, given he’s bottled up everything else the House has passed, he’s likely to demand ransom to do so. Why? Because he watched how Stewart manipulated the news media today to hammer the Democrats running the House of Representatives for failing to take care of 9-11 first responders who are ill because of their service on 9-11. Senator McConnell also knows that if he does nothing, because there isn’t going to be an equivalent hearing in the Senate to produce equally negative publicity, that he and his GOP majority in the Senate will take no blame. And because he knows that if it fails, Stewart will simply rebroadcast today’s video, the news media will follow like lemmings, and he’ll have made this a problem for Democrats going into a presidential election year where his Republican senators are defending more seats than the Senate Democrats are in 2020. Senator McConnell already had too much leverage and Stewart’s tantrum today simply gave him more.

Steve Cohen, who chairs the subcommittee, should have stopped Stewart, cut his mic if necessary, and explained that 1) this is a subcommittee with only 14 members, 2) as is standard procedure, subcommittee members would be in and out throughout the hearing as they had to do business, including taking votes in other committees and subcommittees (the ranking member actually did this at one point), and 3) Stewart could demagogue or the subcommittee could do the important business that Stewart wants them to do, but they could not and would not do both.

I appreciate Stewart’s passion. I understand why he’s angry. From his perspective even five year reauthorizations are a potential hindrance and failure to do right by the ill 9-11 first responders. But what he did today didn’t actually do anything to advance the cause he’s fighting for. It did make it easier for Senator McConnell to claim another scalp. Stewart’s bothsiderism served him, those for whom he’s advocating, and the Republic poorly today.

Open thread!








This Shouldn’t Be So Hard

Our Maggie Haberman is not the only reporter at the Grey Lady to use the framing of facts to create crap journalism. Kevin Carey writes on higher education from time to time at The New York Times, and in his latest he describes a new move to show which choices of majors are the most lucrative in order to deter students taking on debt for frivolities like…wait for it…social work.

Here is the lede, the nut graf and the first sentences of the body of the piece:

The Department of Education on Tuesday released detailed information showing the average amount of debt incurred by graduates of different academic programs at each college in America. This focus on programs, rather than institutions as a whole, is gaining favor among political leaders and could have far-reaching effects.

With anxiety about student debt soaring — the billionaire Robert F. Smith made headlines last weekend with his surprise promise to pay off the debts of Morehouse College’s 2019 graduating class — the program-level information has the potential to alter how colleges are funded, regulated and understood by consumers in the marketplace.

The new, more detailed debt information was created in response to an executive order issued in March by President Trump.

Other lawmakers have called for similar approaches. In February, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a former university president, gave a speech outlining his plans to revise the federal Higher Education Act.

There’s a lot of fig leafs within that second paragraph. “Has the potential” does a lot of work, and “consumers in the marketplace” accepts a whole conception of higher ed., that is, to put it most kindly, in dispute.

But there’s more than merely a boatload of unexamined assumptions within the piece to raise concerns.  Here, Carey clearly lays out what he thinks the story is emerging from the facts (not in dispute) that people are collecting information about income and majors (not in fact a new thing) and are doing so in the context of a phenomenon, college debt, that has economic, social, and political implications.

Carey’s story is that more data will enable policymakers and would be students to tailor decisions about money in the most efficient manner; more information will lead to better approaches to what slices of higher education gets funded and by whom.

Carey does hint that there might be something else going on around the undisputed facts (this information is being gathered and politicians are making choices):

There are still many disagreements and details to resolve. The Trump approach relies on the idea that if students have better information, choices in the higher education market will be enough to ensure quality. But there is little evidence to support this view. Even with program data, students will still be vulnerable to the deceptive marketing and aggressive sales tactics that remain widespread in the for-profit college industry.

The measures matter, too. Mr. Alexander’s plan is to evaluate programs based on loan repayment rates. But it isn’t known whether those rates are a good measure of program quality. The Obama method of comparing debt levels to student earnings, by contrast, was so accurate that many colleges pre-emptively shut down their low-performing programs before the sanctions were even applied. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is now working to repeal those regulations.

Of note: these two paragraphs are numbers 17 and 18 of 20 in this piece.  Now go back up to the opening passage above: the two measures he cites as evidence for this new move to apply data to college major choice are those he here decries as likely to be ineffective, at best: Trump’s executive order, which relies on, inter alia, the market behavior of for-profit colleges, and Senator Alexander’s, which replaces a (Carey-attested) effective Obama policy with one that reeks of bullshit.

Again: I’m not arguing with Carey’s facts. I’m quite sure that if I re-reported this piece, it would check out.  But only children and John Chait (see the GoS link re Haberman above) believe that journalism is merely the accumulation of stacks of facts like pebbles in a cairn.  The order in which a reporter lays out those facts; the qualifiers and modifiers employed; and above all, the explicit choices made about which facts to emphasize (the lede!) and which to bury (paragraph 17) construct a never-neutral account of reality. Every story is shaped thusly, and it can be done well, clumsily, and, often maliciously — whether that malign outcome is intended or not.

And so it is here: it would seem to me that the story is the Trump and GOP allies are continuing to use bad or at best untested criteria to emphasize technical education at the expense of not just of the liberal arts’ ideal of students equipped for civic and moral reasoning — but of anything that bears on social life as well, all those low-paying jobs (social work!) that do not serve the machine.

More, this version of the story fits with another, larger story: the way the Trump administration and the GOP are pursuing a broad, government-and-society-wide attack on institutions and government policies that have a conception of society large than the nuclear family. The use of selectively acquired or deployed data to undermine, say, social work (hey–it’s his example, not mine!) is not a neutral assessment of the economic value of this program or that.

There’s a lot to be argued about the liberal arts, of course, and some academic disciplines and individual departments do indeed go off the rails on occasion — no argument there.  But the point I’m making here is that Carey had a choice about how to construct his story, and he decided to present it as another advance of a data-driven approach to life, and not at least highlight in his opening the gap between the rhetoric (data! economic efficiency!) and the actual measures being offered to address the alleged problem. A better edited newspaper might have caught some of this.

TL:DR Framing matters. And in this case, the choice of frame glosses a set of pre-existing beliefs never clearly stated or interrogated, while burying the actual news of more GOP taking advantage of a crisis (student debt) to achieve other goals (fucking higher ed)(..  It’s bad journalism, in other words, not because it’s wrong or even because it points to stuff I don’t like, but because it makes it harder, not easier, to understand what its facts actually mean on the ground.

Image: Gerbrand van der Eeckhout, Scholar with his Booksbefore 1674.








Changing the Channel

In a recent thread, Anne Laurie expressed a wish that I share: that engaging in blatant hypocrisy was physically painful. In that ideal world, posting these tweets yesterday evening would have caused Mango Mussolini to writhe in agony and bellow like a ruptured wildebeest:

Politico managed to cover that pair of tweets without mentioning that racism is as central to Trump’s brand as the “golden arches” are to McDonald’s. It also neglected to mention that Trump called for the execution of the Central Park 5 and continued to advocate for their lynching even after the men were exonerated in a court of law.

It’s weird how impervious Beltway hacks are to the siren call of “both sides” when there’s a “Dems in Disarray” angle to exploit. The Politico piece notes that some Democrats have problems with Biden’s work on the crime bill, specifically 2020 rivals Harris and de Blasio, who called it “a huge mistake.”

As we now know, Russian trolls operating fake accounts pushed the “super predator” line relentlessly against Hillary Clinton in 2016 and blamed her for the crime bill, even though she wasn’t a senator back then and was thus not eligible to vote on it. Was that line of attack effective? I don’t know.

I’m not making excuses for Biden, but it’s a lot easier to criticize that bill in hindsight, and if Twitter had been a thing in 1994, Trump would have been one of the biggest loudmouths on the platform, blasting the crime bill as weak sauce. That said, Biden will have to account for his advocacy and vote to an electorate that includes many voters who either weren’t alive in 1994 or were too young to remember the prevailing sense at the time that crime was spiraling out of control. Will that matter? I don’t know.

Trump’s astoundingly cynical and hypocritical tweets signal his 2020 “strategy,” which is the same strategy he’s employed every minute of his worthless public life: divide and conquer through a boundless capacity for projection and shamelessness and a willingness to accept help from malignant actors (including foreign autocrats) who want to weaken and destroy the country.

And Politico’s hackery in this instance is yet another signal that the Beltway media will be as worthless and destructive in 2020 as it was four years back. So, we’re on our own, with the stakes even higher.

I’m not sure how we (as a party) address it. At the risk of igniting a salvo of anti-Buttigieg trollery, here’s a clip of a recent interview in which Buttigieg addresses Trump’s “strategy” vis-à-vis opponents and how to push back on it, which he called a “crazy uncle management” approach:

TL;DR summary: call out Trump’s lies and point out when he’s wrong, but don’t let him make everything about himself because attention of any kind feeds Trump’s gigantic ego and media dominance. Maybe that’s the answer, but I’m not so sure. Whether the person Trump is lying about in any given comment punches back or not, the media hacks will broadcast the lies.

Toward the end of the clip, Costa (WaPo interviewer and former NR wingnut) asks Buttigieg if Cadet Bonespurs should have gone to Vietnam, and Buttigieg gives a pretty good answer:

“If he were a conscientious objector? I’d admire that. But this is someone who — I think it’s fairly obvious to most of us — took advantage of the fact that he was the child of a multimillionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place. And I know that that dredges up old wounds from a complicated time during a complicated war, but I’m also old enough to remember when conservatives talked about character as something that mattered in the presidency.”

That’s a response with a point that is larger than Trump. Maybe that’s an effective approach. I honestly don’t know. It seems like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, as Hillary Clinton found out the hard way. She focused on policy and took on Trump, but people (including Buttigieg!) interpret her loss as a failure to follow their own as-yet untested prescription for defeating the Tang Tyrant.

My guess is there’s no magic formula, and whoever wins the Democratic Party’s nomination will win the general election and be hailed in the media as a genius for their approach to dealing with Trump. But the truth will be that all but the hardcore cultists are just sick and tired of the Ochre Ogre and are ready to change the fucking channel already.