I Wish Ever Reporter, Columnist, Editor and Publisher (and Every Voter) in America Would Read This Before It’s Too Late

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post says “We’re Already Seeing the 2020 Version of ‘But Her Emails'”:

Here we go again.

If you think we learned anything from the “But Her Emails” debacle of 2016, in which the fact that Hillary Clinton used the wrong email was treated as far and away the most important issue of the presidential campaign, I have some bad news for you.

And right about now, Republicans probably can’t believe their luck. They’re like a three-card monte grifter who keeps pulling the same trick on the same guy who stops at their table every day and never seems to figure out he’s being conned.

Yes, I’m talking about Tara Reade’s allegation that then-Sen. Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993. We’ve now entered the “Show us the documents!” phase of this game.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that Reade is lying; I have no idea, and the evidence we’ve seen so far is not conclusive in either direction. Moreover, in all likelihood we aren’t ever going to get proof, and we’ll be better off if we acknowledge that now instead of acting like a smoking gun will emerge if we dig hard enough.

But now this question has come to rest on Biden’s Senate papers, currently held at the University of Delaware. Despite the fact that those papers reportedly don’t include personnel records and there’s no reason to believe they contain anything at all about Reade, we’re hearing the first round of demands for Biden to publicly release them.

Transparency is a good thing, and if people want to argue that the release of those papers will be useful in giving us a full picture of Biden’s career as a senator, then that’s fine. I’m sure it would be of interest to historians to see drafts of Biden’s speeches or notes going back and forth between him and his staff as they write legislation.

The problem is that we’re already starting to treat those papers as though they will contain deep and shocking secrets that could transform everyone’s view of Biden and therefore must be brought into the light lest the electorate make a terrible mistake in November.

And we know that Republicans are just itching to get their hands on all those boxes, so they can find some sentence in a memo that can be taken out of context and turned into evidence that Biden is a villain, then plastered across Facebook and Twitter.

We know this because we’ve been here before, repeatedly.

In 2004, Republicans made the scurrilous charge that John F. Kerry lied about his Vietnam War service and didn’t deserve the medals he was awarded. Demands that his service records be released were repeated throughout the fall campaign.

In 2016, Republicans alleged that Hillary Clinton had concealed shocking proof of everything from Benghazi to Jimmy Hoffa’s murder to the Loch Ness monster in her personal emails. Demands that she produce them were repeated throughout the campaign.

It worked. One study of 2016 found: “In just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.” Other outlets weren’t much better.

The common thread linking Kerry, Clinton and now Biden is the allegation that hidden documents contain incriminating information, and if we can get our hands on them, then everything will change. As Republicans know, this plays right into reporters’ suspicion of secrecy. The result is wave after wave of news coverage that assumes that the Democratic candidate is concealing something nefarious.

And yet somehow, President Trump — the most dishonest and corrupt human being to ever sit in the Oval Office — largely manages to avoid that kind of coverage, all while he wages an unending war on transparency, including firing every inspector general who reveals his administration’s misconduct or incompetence. No one has more to hide than him, yet whenever those questions come up, they disappear in relatively short order. Reporters ask, he lies and evades, and then they move on.

Perversely, it’s precisely because Trump is so adamantly opposed to any kind of transparency that he gets fewer demands for transparency than Democrats do. We in the media wind up saying, “What’s the point of writing another editorial demanding he release his tax returns? We all know he won’t.”

Indeed, the Times reported back in the fall of 2018 — based on extensive documentary evidence — that the president of the United States and his family engaged in a years-long tax evasion conspiracy that defrauded the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet the story simply disappeared.

What if the hundreds of reporters who had been assigned to investigate Clinton’s email account were assigned to follow up on that? But they weren’t. So how many Americans know about it? Five percent? One percent?

The same apparently applies to the voluminous allegations of sexual misconduct, up to and including rape, that women have made against Trump. Biden’s running mate will be asked dozens or even hundreds of times about Tara Reade. How many times has Vice President Pence been grilled about Karen Johnson, or E. Jean Carroll, or Summer Zervos, or any other of the 24 women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct?

Yes, Biden should be transparent. But let’s apply the same standards to Trump that we apply to him. And let’s not be fooled, once again, into going on a months-long crusade to uncover documents that swallows the entire presidential campaign, just because Republicans claim they must contain something incriminating.

We’ve been through this before, and we know how it ends.

Unquote.

Yesterday, The Guardian had three stories about this on their digital front page. The New York Times has three opinion columns about it, including one that calls for Democrats to develop a Plan B:

To preserve the strides made on behalf of victims of sexual assault in the era of #MeToo, and to maximize their chances in November, Democrats need to begin formulating an alternative strategy for 2020 — one that does not include Mr. Biden.

Given that the election is six months away, that might be the dumbest piece of political advice ever printed (no wonder there were more than 5,000 comments). 

In USA Today, a former prosecutor explains why he’s skeptical about Ms. Reade’s story, even after presenting the reasons to believe her.

I don’t plan to write about this again, unless it looks as if those same voters are heading toward an even worse decision than they made in 2016 (four years ago, nobody had seen this president in office yet — there is really no excuse now).

If You Want To Feel Even Worse About the 2016 Election

Or imagine how good it will be to get rid of this president, you can watch Howard Stern’s long interview with Hillary Clinton. He’s a very big fan of hers, so he gushes a lot, but as human beings or leaders go, she beats the Toddler hands down.

For the most important part of the interview, go to the brief Russian Meddling & 2020 Election section in part 4 further down the page.

This is part 1.

Part 2

0:00 – Therapy & Religion

4:24 – Family & Upbringing

15:39 – College Years & Obama

20:35 – Meeting Bill Clinton

Part 3

0:00 – Favorite President

5:08 – Falling in Love 

12:55 – Investigating Nixon & Meeting MLK

18:32 – Becoming First Lady & Public Scrutiny

Part 4

0:00 – Life in the Public Eye

9:33 – Economy & Bin Laden Raid

18:31Russian Meddling & 2020 Election

Part 5

0:00 – “The Book of Gutsy Women”

12:17 – Nelson Mandela

21:01 – The Beatles & the Rolling Stones

The Creep Wins If You Only Focus On Mueller’s Performance

Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post says what needs to be said about the Mueller hearings. Quote:

“After totally unplugging and being out of the country for 23 days, watching President Trump’s gloat-o-rama in the wake of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s halting testimony on Wednesday was like turning on a soap opera after 20 years. Same plot. Same script. Same actors. But being away from Twitter, the perpetual American news cycle and the insane pendulum ride that is the Trump presidency gave me some much-needed perspective.

The reaction to Mueller’s testimony brings a key lesson to light. If y’all are focused on the 74-year-old lifelong Republican’s performance rather than the substance of what he actually said, you’re playing Trump’s game on Trump’s turf. Here are three of the bombshells from Mueller:

  1. The Russians are still interfering in U.S. politics. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” Mueller told congressional lawmakers.
  2. The FBI is still engaged in a counterintelligence investigation. When pressed by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) about how his report did not address false statements made by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller said, “I cannot get into that mainly because there are many elements of the FBI looking at that issue.” Notice the present tense? Krishnamoorthi did and asked, “Currently?” To which Mueller replied, “Currently.”
  3. The Mueller report does not exonerate the president on charges of obstruction of justice. “The finding indicates that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” Mueller told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), using a $50 word (exculpated) to say the president was not declared not guilty of obstruction of justice.

The first two points are clarion calls for us to pay attention to things that are happening in the here and now that we’re not paying attention to because of Trump’s distraction industrial complex over at the White House. The third point is bound to have folks dismiss it because it’s something we already knew. And while that might be true, it’s always good to have the words said out loud again, since most folks haven’t read the 448-page Mueller report.

Since the start of Trump’s candidacy four years ago, we know that optics mean everything to Trump. How someone looks, how he or she sounds is paramount to the man who views every day as an episode of the “Apprentice” scripted television franchise that made everyone think he was a successful businessman instead of the grifter he really is. What should be important to all of us is that the world heard (again) that the Russians continue to undermine our democracy, that the Trump campaign was not averse to accepting Russian help in the 2016 presidential election and actively sought to cover up its actions, and that there was convincing evidence the president of the United States obstructed justice. And those are just some of the things that were discussed at the hearings.

On a related note

The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, blocked two election security measures yesterday, arguing that Democrats are trying to give themselves a “political benefit” (i.e. the opportunity to have a fair election without foreign interference in 2020).

Facebook, Google, Twitter: You Are “Crime Scenes”

British journalist Carole Cadwalladr has taken fifteen important minutes to explain how the tech giants are damaging democracy.

One excellent point she makes is that these massive corporations refuse to divulge which misleading political advertisements are being directed at which voters, and who is behind those advertisements, and how much money is being spent on them. As a result, the British laws that limit campaign spending and have been in effect for 100 years no longer work, thanks to the “gods of Silicon Valley”. She addresses Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and others directly:

Liberal democracy is broken. And you broke it. This is not democracy. Spreading lies in darkness paid for with illegal cash from God knows where. It’s subversion. And you are accessories to it.

Of the Democrats seeking the presidency, Senator Elizabeth Warren is the one who has offered a plan to rein in the tech giants. You might consider donating to her campaign.

Meanwhile, give Carole Cadwalladr fifteen minutes of your time. She is worth listening to.

A Big Reason Why There Is a Monster in the White House

One of the 2016 election’s least reported stories was how a certain candidate benefited from starring in a “reality” TV show for the 14 years before he ran for president. The program was The Apprentice, sometimes known as Celebrity Apprentice. It was created and produced by a man named Mark Burnett, now the head of MGM Television. Burnett is the subject of an article in The New Yorker written by Patrick Keefe. Here are excerpts regarding the program’s star performer.

Trump had been a celebrity since the eighties, his persona shaped by the best-selling book “The Art of the Deal.” But his business had foundered, and by 2003 he had become a garish figure of local interest—a punch line on Page Six [the New York Post‘s gossip page]. “The Apprentice” mythologized him anew, and on a much bigger scale, turning him into an icon of American success…. [Mark Burnett’s] legacy is to have cast a serially bankrupt carnival barker in the role of a man who might plausibly become the leader of the free world. “I don’t think any of us could have known what this would become,” … a producer on the first five seasons of “The Apprentice,” told me. “But Donald would not be President had it not been for that show.”

Tony Schwartz, who wrote “The Art of the Deal,” which falsely presented Trump as its primary author, told me that he feels some responsibility for facilitating Trump’s imposture. But, he said, “Mark Burnett’s influence was vastly greater,” adding, “ ‘The Apprentice’ was the single biggest factor in putting Trump in the national spotlight.” Schwartz has publicly condemned Trump, describing him as “the monster I helped to create.” 

“The Apprentice” was built around a weekly series of business challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But … Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, … the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense. 

“The Apprentice” portrayed Trump not as a skeezy hustler who huddles with local mobsters but as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth—a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines. “Most of us knew he was a fake,” [one of the show’s editors] told me. “He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.” [One of the producers] recalled, “We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture. We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise.”

Trump maximized his profits from the start. When producers were searching for office space in which to stage the show, he vetoed every suggestion, then mentioned that he had an empty floor available in Trump Tower, which he could lease at a reasonable price. (After becoming President, he offered a similar arrangement to the Secret Service.) When the production staff tried to furnish the space, they found that local venders, stiffed by Trump in the past, refused to do business with them.

More than two hundred thousand people applied for one of the sixteen spots on Season 1, and throughout the show’s early years the candidates were conspicuously credentialled and impressive. Officially, the grand prize was what the show described as “the dream job of a lifetime”—the unfathomable privilege of being mentored by Donald Trump while working as a junior executive at the Trump Organization. All the candidates paid lip service to the notion that Trump was a peerless businessman, but not all of them believed it…. Fran Lebowitz once remarked that Trump is “a poor person’s idea of a rich person,” and [one contestant] was struck, when the show aired, by the extent to which Americans fell for the ruse. “Main Street America saw all those glittery things, the helicopter and the gold-plated sinks, and saw the most successful person in the universe,” he recalled. “The people I knew in the world of high finance understood that it was all a joke.”

This is an oddly common refrain among people who were involved in “The Apprentice”: that the show was camp, and that the image of Trump as an avatar of prosperity was delivered with a wink. Somehow, this interpretation eluded the audience. [An editor] marvelled, “People started taking it seriously!”

The show was an instant hit, and Trump’s public image, and the man himself, began to change. Not long after the première, Trump suggested in an Esquire article that people now liked him, “whereas before, they viewed me as a bit of an ogre.” [A Trump publicist said] that after “The Apprentice” began airing “people on the street embraced him. All of a sudden, there was none of the old mocking. He was a hero.”

The show’s camera operators often shot Trump from low angles, as you would a basketball pro, or Mt. Rushmore. Trump loomed over the viewer, his face in a jowly glower, his hair darker than it is now, the metallic auburn of a new penny. (“Apprentice” employees were instructed not to fiddle with Trump’s hair, which he dyed and styled himself.) Trump’s entrances were choreographed for maximum impact, and often set to a moody accompaniment of synthesized drums and cymbals. The “boardroom”—a stage set where Trump determined which candidate should be fired—had the menacing gloom of a “Godfather” movie. In one scene, Trump ushered contestants through his rococo Trump Tower aerie, and said, “I show this apartment to very few people. Presidents. Kings.” In the tabloid ecosystem in which he had long languished, Trump was always Donald, or the Donald. On “The Apprentice,” he finally became Mr. Trump.

Originally, Burnett had planned to cast a different mogul in the role of host each season. But Trump took to his part more nimbly than anyone might have predicted. He wouldn’t read a script—he stumbled over the words and got the enunciation all wrong. But off the cuff he delivered the kind of zesty banter that is the lifeblood of reality television. He barked at one contestant, “Sam, you’re sort of a disaster. Don’t take offense, but everyone hates you.” … Producers often struggled to make Trump seem coherent, editing out garbled syntax and malapropisms. “We cleaned it up so that he was his best self … I’m sure Donald thinks that he was never edited… We didn’t have to change him—he gave us stuff to work with.” 

By the time Trump announced his campaign, ratings for “The Apprentice” had fallen, and the show had been repackaged as “The Celebrity Apprentice.” The contestants were now D-list celebrities… Still, everyone gamely pretended to take it seriously….

Burnett’s reluctance to discuss the Trump presidency is dismaying to many people involved with “The Apprentice,” given that Trump has succeeded in politics, in part, by borrowing the tropes of the show…. When Trump announced his candidacy, in 2015, he did so in the atrium of Trump Tower, and made his entrance by descending the gold-colored escalator—choreography that Burnett and his team had repeatedly used on the show. After Trump’s announcement, reports suggested that people who had filled the space and cheered during his speech had been hired to do so, like TV extras, for a day rate of fifty dollars. Earlier this year, the White House started issuing brief video monologues from the President that strongly evoke his appearances on Burnett’s show. Justin McConney, a former director of new media for the Trump Organization, told New York that, whenever Trump works with camera people, he instructs them, “Shoot me like I’m shot on ‘The Apprentice.’ ”

I asked [a psychologist] what kind of personality profile he might have prepared for Trump as a candidate for the show. He said he would have noted “the energy, the impulsiveness, the inability to articulate a complete thought because he gets interrupted by emotions, so when he speaks it’s all adjectives—‘great,’ ‘huge,’ ‘horrible.’ ” What made Trump so magnetic as a reality-television star was his impulse to transgress, … and it is the same quality that has made a captive audience of the world. “That somebody can become that successful while also being that emotionally undisciplined—it’s so macabre that you have to watch it,” he said. “And you keep waiting for the comeuppance. But it doesn’t come.”

There has likely never been a man who, in his own lifetime, has been as widely spoken and written about as Donald Trump. Politics has never been so spellbinding. “It’s the reason people watch a schoolyard fight,” [the psychologist said]. “It’s vicariously watching someone act out and get away with it.” Burnett once remarked that “Lord of the Flies” is so absorbing because all the characters are suddenly transported into a world in which “the rules are changed, and convention, law, and morality are suspended.” It’s an apt paraphrase of the Trump presidency.