Paul Ryan: weakling, con man, misleader Ryan in headlines

paul-ryan-60-minutesOver the weekend we got to see Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on CBS News’ “60 Minutes”… Did he disagree with Donald Trump’s [fantastical made-up fantasy] claim of millions of illegal voters in the last election? Mr. Ryan: “I don’t know. I’m not really focused on these things.”

This is actually quite serious. The supposedly “responsible” or “traditional” or “establishment” leaders in the Republican Party [see also Reince Priebus and VP Mike Pence] are actively helping Trump weaken our democracy.

It is time… way past time… for the non-insane press, which is now just one segment of what Americans regard as their news and information system, to call a spade a spade.

Here’s a list — ranked, roughly, from best to worst — of news headlines covering Ryan’s remarks:

GQ: ‘Paul Ryan Apparently Doesn’t Give a Shit if Donald Trump Lies About Illegal Voting’

Politico: ‘Ryan won’t repudiate Trump’s false illegal voter claims’

Raw Story: ‘I have no knowledge of such things’: Paul Ryan plays dumb on Trump’s big lie about illegal voters

Mediaite: Paul Ryan on Trump’s Voter Fraud Claims: ‘It Doesn’t Matter to Me,’ He Won

Yahoo news: Paul Ryan on Trump’s baseless voter fraud claim: ‘Who cares what he tweeted?’

Huffington Post: Paul Ryan On Donald Trump Tweeting Lies: ‘Who Cares?’

Salon: Let’s watch Republicans feign ignorance about Donald Trump’s bogus voter fraud claims

Wisconsin State Journal: Paul Ryan: ‘Who cares’ what Donald Trump tweets if problems are fixed

To their credit, the Wisconsin State Journal did publish something.  But why is the headline so ambiguous? After reading the headline, would anyone know what the story is about? The story is: Trump manufactures a self-serving lie, a YUUUGE lie, a lie corrosive to American democracy. And Paul Ryan fails to marshal courage to say bupkis.

 

Big Lies… endlessly repeated It takes a toll

Now we shall have a President-elect who just lets the Big Lies fly.

It’s not as if past Presidents have never misled us. But in the past Presidential lies were relatively rare and then carefully constructed. They were reviewed and polished by high-level wordsmiths and cautious handlers before being rolled out to the public. Think Condi Rice’s line, “…there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” That was a work of art delivered on behalf of her President. It was scary as hell, and uncheckable by the press. True, it was checkable by U.N weapons inspectors, but that’s another long story.

But now Trump. Now we have a President-elect who wakes up at 3 in the morning and delivers a load of obvious rubbish via Twitter.  Being who he is, he has 16.5 million Twitter followers, which includes of course at least half the reporters in America. He has no filters of his own. At 3 AM, in his gold-embroidered pajamas, he has no handlers. This will be our new world:

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The idea that busloads, or thousands, or now (in the fevered brain of a President-elect) millions of people are illegally voting in U.S elections really got rolling about 6 years ago. It’s still got momentum. And it’s always been baseless. It was a lie manufactured out of nothing by GOP governors and GOP state legislators working to make voting more difficult and suppress voting among Democratic constituencies. There was never any evidence of voter fraud. When the governors and legislators were pressed for evidence, none was forthcoming.

This was, in a way, quite sadly instructive. Turns out, propaganda campaigns are easy. No jingles are necessary, no clever ad-copy is needed. No actual evidence is required. Propaganda simply needs to be repeated, like any other advertising.

Look at the voter fraud lie. Begin by simply asserting (against all evidence) that some horrible thing (voter fraud) is going on. When challenged for evidence, ignore the challenge. Simply go back to the original assertion. Do it over and over. Remember, you don’t need everyone to buy your beer; you just want a lot of people to do so.

These GOP governors and legislators never paid any price for peddling this lie. The mainstream press remained largely predictably supine.

And now we have a man ascending to the pinnacle of world power — a U.S. President-elect — who merrily repeats the “illegal voter” b-s.

By now millions of Americans believe that busloads, or thousands, or (ludicrously) millions of people are voting in our elections illegally. Millions of us also believe that President Obama is a Muslim, or was born in Kenya.

When repeated over and over, even the most absurd claptrap finds a home in the minds of the gullible, and the lightly-informed, or the predisposed. And remember, you don’t need everyone to buy your beer; you just want a lot of people to do so.

Is there any hope that we shall survive this collapse in the public dialog? Probably not. Really. Probably not. But let’s enjoy a small moment of progress. Here are a couple of headlines from our most valuable national press outlets– the New York Times and the Washington Post (h/t Melissa Block at NPR):

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Now the first headline (from the NY Times) is the better. The debunking is located right in the headline. The WaPo’s debunk is in the sub-headline. But it too is a step forward. This is progress, but should the public have waited for this for six years? When some politician is spouting what is well known as rubbish, headlines that repeat or reinforce the rubbish do the public great harm. And those headlines happen all too often.

It’s nice to be polite, but if you’re a journalist being polite to a barrel of rubbish? And maintaining that pose over a span of years? What should we suppose might happen?

 

Finally, Mr. Milfred pipes up on Trump Wisconsin State Journal: Clinton, not Trump

[Almost] no American newspaper has endorsed Donald Trump for President.

Stalwart Republican newspapers like The Arizona Republic have warned their readers don’t vote for Trump.

Newspapers that have never before taken sides in a presidential race (e.g., USA Today) have called Mr. Trump “unfit for the presidency”.

So, we had wondered back on August 21,  “Will the Wisconsin State Journal ever start addressing the Trump phenomenon?”

It’s true that 5 months earlier the State Journal had published an earful when Trump threatened to “open up our libel laws” (?) to sue news organizations for being too critical.

“If I become president, oh, do they have problems. We can sue them and win lots of money.”

It’s true that this anti-constitutional dumbassery deserved pushback, very strong pushback, but still we had to withhold credit at the time, because Mr. Trump had been offering multiple stupidities, lies, and reversals week after week after week. And yet, seemingly, it took a threat to the newspaper industry to get Mr. Milfred aroused? We were not wowed by the moral clarity of defending one’s very own wheelhouse.toles-trump-covers-every-side-of-every-issue

But now at long last, on Sunday, Mr. Milfred put forward an official endorsement for the 2016 race: “Hillary Clinton — by far — is best prepared to lead our nation toward peace and prosperity.” And his essential brief against Trump? “[H]e can’t even work with his own party. He’s tearing the GOP apart.”

So that was pretty good. You know, accurate. So, pretty good!

Mr. Milfred might have said that Trump is tearing America apart, not just his beloved GOP. But baby steps….

Now if, if, if Mr. Milfred hopes to rebuild a winning future for conservatism, or America, or the world in general, he could stand to read not here, but the blog of NYU professor of journalism Jay Rosen. Many of the old rules of journalism are fried, he says. There is actually some bipartisan agreement on this starting point.

Normalizing hate And nonsense, too

NY Times columnist Tom Friedman who, for years, has written breezily about worldwide social/technological disruption, has given himself a new beat. Now he writes — and not breezily — about the Trump problem

…Trump just skips from blaming Mexican immigrants for high murder rates, to President Obama for inventing ISIS, to China for creating the concept of global warming, to thousands of Muslims in New Jersey for celebrating 9/11, to Obama for really having been born in Kenya, to an I.R.S. audit for preventing him from showing us his tax returns — which would probably show that he paid no taxes.

Every word of it is a lie that most in his own party won’t call out.

toles-trump-covers-every-side-of-every-issueWhy thank you, Mr. Friedman! As you know, most of the press cannot bring itself to call anything a lie. Heck, they can’t even call something “nonsense” or “unsupportable” or “fantastical”.

Remember Trump’s 1st foray into politics — the birther libel? It was a lie and nonsense and racist. Our press found it impossible to say so, but they did help spread the lie by “covering” the “story”.

Can you imagine the damage Trump could do to the fabric of our democracy if he had the White House pulpit from which to preach his post-truth politics — how it would filter down into public discourse at large and infect every policy debate?

Yes, that would be bad if public figures could just shoot their mouths off without “being held to account” by our bulldog independent press. It might, as Friedman says, “filter down into public discourse at large.” Is he saying that might happen in the future? Friedman continues

“Donald Trump has not only brought haters into the mainstream, he has normalized hate for a much broader swathe of the population who were perhaps already disaffected but had their grievances and latent prejudices held in check by social norms,” observed Josh Marshall, publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com, in his blog on Saturday. “This isn’t some minor point or critique. It’s a fundamental part of what is at stake in this election…”

Let’s not talk about global warming Where's the profit in that?

burning earthJuly wasn’t just hot,” sez the Times editorial page. “It was the hottest month ever recorded.”

Fourteen of the 15 hottest years have occurred since 2000. Does any serious person not see what’s happening?

Still, the steady approach of catastrophic global warming — no matter how dire, no matter how evident — is never much of a topic for the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board.

  • Are they climate denialists? No, that’s not it. Every once in a while there’s a crumb of evidence that they do know it’s a real thing and that it’s happening.
  • Are they reluctant to ‘call out’ climate denialism or the climate deniers? Well, this seems much more likely. Since climate denialism has for at least a decade functioned as a bright identity marker in our tribal politics, as well as a marker of being in touch with reality — with the Elephants in denial and the Donkeys not — it’s gotten very hard to make the case that oh, everyone’s to blame. Saying, “everyone’s to blame, both sides do it, the truth is somewhere in the middle…” this is the safe spot for American commercial journalism, and of course it’s not always wrong. But to make this claim about climate change is journalistic nonsense, so the State Journal editorial page just shuts up about it. It finds a million other things to talk about.

 

Will the Wisconsin State Journal ever start addressing the Trump phenomenon? A very short open letter

Gentlemen of the editorial board:

Are you ever planning to say anything about Trump? It’s been about a year now, and he’s been in the news more or less constantly. Surely you’ve seen some of it.il duce - the founder of Italian fascism

Are you really going to say nothing??? (You know, on the editorial page?)

Are you really going to blow bubbles all the way to November while this bizarre, wannabe Il Duce amps it up week after week?  He’s now moved on to de-legitimizing not just the coming election (where he looks to be a Loser) but the news media itself. Are you watching this? Are you offended by anything going on at the highest levels of conservative and/or Republican Party messaging?

Nothing to say? Nothing???

Kudos to Phil Hands at the Wisconsin State Journal Can they keep him on staff? How could they?

Just earlier — as we watched Republican National Conventioneers shouting “Lock her up!” — we wondered:

Wouldn’t — shouldn’t — the responsible press, where it still exists, sorta recognize that something was going very terribly wrong???

Phil Hands Lock her upPhil Hands, editorial cartoonist and youngest member of the editorial board at the Wisconsin State Journal, answered the call of the convention with a cartoon showing Trumpistas shouting “Lock her up!” at who? At a startled Statue of Liberty.

Spot on. The State Journal will not be able to hold on to this employee. Phil Hands will be moving on to greener pastures. About a year from now, we’d guess.

Mitt Romney: “trickle-down racism” Very similar to the kind that "bubbles up"

MittRomneyThe Washington Post, reporting from an annual Romney-hosted summit (3 days at a luxurious Utah mountaintop resort):

[Romney] was emotional here Saturday as he delivered an impassioned case against Trump. He said the business mogul’s campaign rhetoric — the latest example being his accusations of bias by a federal judge because of his Mexican American heritage — is so destructive that it is fraying at the nation’s moral fabric and could lead to “trickle-down racism.”

“I love what this country is built upon, and its values — and seeing this is breaking my heart,” Romney told summit attendees, according to the Associated Press.

In response, from his Tampa rally, Mr. Trump insulted Mr. Romney by calling him a “total booger-head” [Correction: a “stone-cold loser.”]

The party of Trump We have a white nationalist party now

There’s an interesting piece — Why Trump Was Inevitable — at the New York Review of Books. It’s authored by 3 academic political scientists. It’s blessedly short, but we will shorten it further to highlight a single point: Donald Trump’s signature positions — on wall-building, banning Muslims, and deporting Mexicans — sounded pretty darn good to Republican primary voters. That’s why he was out in front for months. That’s why he won. Popular positions!

Abramovitz_figure3.2

Our 3 professors put it this way (emphasis added):

One of the main reasons many political commentators were surprised by Donald Trump’s success in the primaries was his willingness to take extreme positions and use unusually harsh rhetoric in talking about immigration and related issues. Indeed, Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants and Muslims have been at the center of his campaign. And his pronouncements on these topics have greatly concerned many Republican leaders and elected officials who feared they would harm the party’s image and damage its electoral prospects. But how did his positions and comments play with Republican primary voters?

The clear answer is that they reflected the views of likely Republican voters extremely well.

Voters in this year’s Republican primaries listened to the various candidates’ messages, and then they voted for the candidate whose message they liked best. Does that sound like democracy in action? Well, yes, it does.

But ban Muslims? Build a wall? Find and deport all the illegal immigrants? In what way does this not sound like the platform of an American White Nationalist Party? This is disheartening. The Republican Party has become a magnet for terrible ideas — from crank trickle-down economics, to criminalizing abortion, to fiddling (or worse) while climate catastrophe becomes certain. Now, in regard to racism and xenophobia, Trump is cranking it up from dog-whistles to outright campaign promises. The ignorance and the fear is disheartening.

It was four years ago when we wrote this:

Last week, Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein — both of them well-scrubbed, respectable, centrist Washington think-tank academics — delivered a WaPo opinion piece with an attention-grabbing headline:

  “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”

Actually, that headline could’ve been better… but let’s get a flavor of what they said:

In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

I have 2 good friends who are Republicans. The first is almost required to be a Republican. He’s a seriously wealthy businessman. He’s volunteered his feelings of shock and dismay at the Trump phenomenon. The other friend is just a normal middle-class guy who ‘grew up Republican’, (happens all the time, depends on where you live) and he never got out. He doesn’t follow politics obsessively the way I do. He hasn’t said a word about Trump. I’m afraid to ask him.