Almost half of Republicans polled say courts should shut down “biased” news

Alex Jones fans promote his “CNN is ISIS” meme.

If one phrase captures the willful irresponsibility of the alt-right, it’s “CNN is ISIS.” Back in June, Alex Jones and his Infowars show offered $1,000 to anyone who could get that slogan onto TV, either by holding up a sign or wearing it on a shirt. It’s a nonsense statement. No one actually thinks CNN is connected to the Islamic State, or that they are even comparably bad, but saying you think so expresses an attitude. That attitude is “I’m willing to say whatever, especially if it drives libs crazy.” “CNN is ISIS” is the gleeful refrain of a lifestyle that has freed itself from truth.

As stupid as it is, though, it also captures an animosity toward the press that is real among supporters of Donald Trump. The president himself has called the media an enemy of the American people and now refers to any bad press—including leaks—as “fake news.” He encouraged crowds at his rallies to boo reporters during the campaign, and he continues to do so at various public events. But all this mindless hatred wouldn’t affect the public’s support for a free and independent press, would it? That’s just too deeply ingrained in the American system.

Enter The Economist, who found in a joint poll with YouGov that 45% of respondents who identified as Republicans approved of “permitting the courts to shut down news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate.” Seriously, look at this:

In the same poll, 71% of Republicans said they trusted Donald Trump more than the New York Times. That’s astonishing. Even if you think the Times is biased, the number of inaccuracies it prints in a year does not approach the number of falsehoods President Trump uttered in his first week. Even his supporters admonish us to take Trump seriously but not literally, which is a polite way of saying he does not speak with any regard for the truth. Calling this man more trustworthy than America’s paper of record is like saying your dog is smarter than the faculty of Yale.

Now is a good time to remember that polls don’t necessarily tell us what people think so much as what they want to think—the idea of themselves they take on, suddenly, when a pollster asks them to express their beliefs. Probably, 71% of Republicans don’t reach for the newspaper and then decide they’ll get a more reliable report from President Trump. When you ask them to choose between the two, though, they want to convey their support for him by saying Trump is better.

This phenomenon probably also accounts for the terrifying plurality of Republicans who said courts should restrict the free press. The overwhelming favorite among the general pool of respondents to that question is “haven’t heard enough to say.” It’s good they haven’t heard enough, since no one is really talking about it. I wouldn’t need much background on that one to feel confidently against it, but it’s not as though the 28% who said they favored the idea are out there trying to make it happen. It’s more likely they heard a pollster ask about it and said okay, whatever. But Christ merciful and lambent, that’s a scary question.

Jeet Heer on Chapo Trap House and “dominance politics”

The dirtbag right

To clarify the heading of today’s post: Jeet Heer did not appear on the Chapo Trap House podcast. Although he seems like a natural fit for the show, he has criticized it, most recently in an essay in the New Republic this morning. My experience reading Heer is that he is a scrupulous thinker even when he’s wrong, and this essay upholds that rule. He pushes back early against the dirty argument that Chapo host Will Menaker meant something sexist when he said centrist Democrats would have to “bend the knee” to form a coalition with leftists. Such a reading seems opportunistic, and Heer dismisses it. But he also cites Chapo as an instance of the left using the same bullying tactics as Donald Trump—a practice he calls “dominance politics.” Quote:

This gendered analysis seems unwarranted because Menaker’s remarks weren’t aimed at women as a class, but at the centrist wing of the Democratic Party; Clinton wasn’t mentioned, and the phrase may even be an allusion to a common refrain in Game of Thrones. Yet if the remark wasn’t sexist in intent, it still suggests a troubling vision of politics as a contest in domination.

Heer argues that dominance politics is a dead end. Demanding that centrists bend the knee won’t work, because “you can’t really build a coalition of egalitarian politics by browbeating a key segment of that coalition.” That’s true. I think his central point is correct: the Clinton wing is not going to cede control of the party to democratic socialists, and demanding they do might thwart a winning coalition. I’m not sure that’s what Menaker meant, though, when he said bend the knee. It seems like he was talking less about submission and more about some kind of acknowledgement that the moderates were wrong, and their mistakes blew a winnable election.

Regardless, I like that Heer envisions a coalition of Democrats who are not actively vituperating one another. For the same reason I don’t think liberals should hold Trump voters in contempt, I don’t think leftists should ask liberals to confess. My main concern with Heer’s argument, though, is that it focuses on one form of dominance without acknowledging others that are more significant.

When Heer says that Trump or the hosts of Chapo Trap House are exercising dominance by mocking their political opponents, he means they’re exercising rhetorical dominance. Agreed the left is good at that—especially compared to the Clinton campaign, which pretty much ate sand in the area of messaging. But moderate Democrats and the Clinton network dominate the party in every other meaningful sense of the word. They control the DNC, as we saw last spring. They control fundraising. They set strategy in the last election. They drive the policy agenda, although Sanders et al have tickled the wheel lately. Still, in most important areas, centrists dominate the Democratic Party. The only area in which they don’t is rhetoric. The rhetoric of young, left-leaning Democrats is much more lively and contagious than anything moderates have come up with since Obama 2008.

That’s not to say Heer is mistaken to argue Chapo should be nice to them. On the contrary, it probably means that going easy on neoliberal complacency will be an important part of the left’s strategy moving forward. But that’s a claim about tactics. Heer also seems to be making a claim about the philosophy, or even ethics, of the Democratic party. Are Democrats too good for insult comedy? It’s a question worth considering, but only in the context of larger power dynamics. Civility is a luxury of the winning team.

Okay, now choose which of these is funny

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been loving today’s wall-to-wall coverage of a Twitter exchange between Donald Trump, a real estate magnate and reality TV celebrity who recently became President of the United States, and Chelsea Clinton. You may remember her as the daughter of that world-famous symbol of feminine power, Kim Kardashian. Anyway, here’s the leader of the free world this morning:

The amazing thing here is that Trump has access to professional speechwriters, yet he continues to address millions in the same voice your uncle uses on your Facebook wall. The other amazing thing is that he is referring to the recent G20 summit, where Ivanka filled in for him at a general meeting as he met with the president of Indonesia.

No biggie—it’s just the president’s daughter representing the United States to foreign nations, like when Barack Obama sent Malia to the Sochi Olympics. Too bad the Fake News, continues to apply a double standard to him and Hillary Clinton even now, in the second year of their campaign. That’s why he mentioned Chelsea in his tweet, since she is the logical parallel to the sitting president’s daughter.

Anyway, the whole thing is garbage. You have to read the sentence three times to even understand what he’s trying to say. He wants to imagine Clinton in a parallel situation to his own, but he also can’t resist saying that she would “give our country away,” whatever that means. These two concepts are incompatible, but Trump is too bad at sentences to realize that, so he crams them in together and leaves the reader to unpack. It’s bad. To get a sense of how bad it is, look how good Chelsea’s rejoinder seems by comparison, even though it, too, is terribly bad:

Look what you can accomplish when you have multiple people writing the tweet instead of just one! Chelsea also crams in too many ideas, including that A) her father was president, and he never had her sit in for him,  B) he slipped up with that giving-the-country-away thing, C) she respects the office more than he does, as her salutation will indicate, and D) she hopes he does a better job in the future. It’s banter from the least funny and spontaneous person ever to inherit fame. But at least the writing doesn’t sound like she’s yelling over a dragster engine. It’s committee-quality copy from a brand that knows it will be applauded for any gesture of defiance.

Anyway, which one of these people totally inspires you? Is it the sub-literate plutocrat who insists the news is fake? Or do you prefer the anodyne nepotism case whose mother’s obstinance put the plutocrat in charge? I’m siding with Chelsea, because she seems less likely to put people in camps. But does she seem 100% certain not to do that? Not really, and therein lies the problem.

CNN reserves right to expose maker of Trump wrestling meme later

Donald Trump attacks CNN founder Carl News Network at Wrestlemania.

The hashtag #CNNBlackmail is some high-level internet, some third-degree online hoodoo. In order to understand it, you have to know, first, that an anonymous Reddit user named HanAssholeSolo made a video by superimposing the CNN logo on old Wrestlemania footage of Donald Trump tackling Vince McMahon. That’s called satire. Repurposing pop culture with comically amateur video editing is internet degree one. The second degree happened when the president retweeted the video to his 33.3 million Twitter followers, prompting the commentariat to disgorge a clutch of takes. It also prompted CNN to go looking for the real person behind the Reddit presence named, I reiterate, HanAssholeSolo.

They found him. They elected to preserve his anonymity, though, after he issued a written apology and promised not to make any more trouble. Judging by this passage in their own report, CNN reserved the right to out him if he messes with them again:

CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.

Emphasis added, naturally. The third degree of internet set in when Trump supporters interpreted that last sentence as a threat and coined the hashtag #CNNBlackmail. Let no one call me a Trump supporter, but I kind of have to agree with them. What CNN did strongly resembles blackmail. Consideration after the jump.

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73 year-old man “lands in coma” after “encounter” with Missoula police

Justice

Last month, Missoula police responded to a complaint that a man on Higgins Avenue was shining a flashlight in the eyes of passing drivers. That man was 73 year-old James Smith. Commuters may know him as the guy who sits in his yard with a heart-shaped box during rush hour. According to police affidavits, Smith hit two officers with his flashlight when they arrived at his home on May 20. After he was detained, he tried to kick and trip them. Two days later, his daughter got a call informing her that he was in a coma. Here’s Dylan Kato at the Missoulian:

Stephanie Smith, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, said that in addition to the coma, her father sustained a skull fracture, multiple facial fractures, a concussion, respiratory failure, bruised ribs, organ damage, bruising and other injuries from the incident. While he was sometimes confused or disoriented before the incident, Smith said these symptoms, as well as amnesia, have become more prominent since he was hospitalized.

What happened between when Smith was arrested and when he was hospitalized with multiple head traumas is not stated. Who can say what put this 73 year-old man in a coma? It’s a stone-cold whodunnit, as far as the Missoulian is concerned.

The reticence starts with the headline: “State investigates Missoula police after encounter lands 73-year-old man in coma.” Whatever happened was not a beating or even an arrest. It was an encounter, and it “landed” Smith in a coma the same way Bugs Bunny’s hijinks land him in trouble. “Lands” is an odd choice of verb that reflects this headline’s desire to allege as little as possible. The pathological refusal to say anyone did anything continues in the opening paragraphs:

The Montana Department of Justice is conducting a use-of-force review after an incident involving the Missoula Police Department in May ended with a 73-year-old man hospitalized in a coma. James Smith spent several days in Providence St. Patrick Hospital before he was committed involuntarily to the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs. He was released to his daughter following a court hearing May 30.

That doesn’t even say who released him, much less how he got into that coma. It was an “incident involving the Missoula Police Department,” and it “ended” with Smith near death, but beyond that we cannot say. Maybe he fell down the stairs ten times before a metal press closed on his head.

Kato has a good reason to write this way. The matter is still under investigation, and a newspaper must be careful never to blame people for things they might not have done. The passive voice is a way to maintain a scrupulous objectivity. But it can also disconnect the facts of a story so thoroughly as to distort it. When Markus Kaarma was charged with murder after shooting a teenager in his garage, the Missoulian did not report that an incident involving him ended with a 17 year-old exchange student bleeding to death. We reserve such conspicuously softened language for the police.

Reporting potential instances of police brutality as vague situations that just happened is an industry-wide habit. It reflects a journalism that has become too deferential to police. On the cops-and-crime beat, the prohibition against attributing fault to cops is so powerful as to outweigh the prohibition against the passive voice, leading otherwise strong writers into paragraphs like this:

Missoula police Detective Capt. Mike Colyer said on May 24 that he was called to the scene shortly after 2:30 a.m. on May 20. He confirmed that Smith had been hospitalized after being detained, and that due to the potential use-of-force issue, the department followed best practices and asked the Justice Department’s Division of Criminal Investigation to conduct an independent review.

Smith has been hospitalized and detained, but for what and by whom go unstated. The injuries that put him in a coma are a “potential use-of-force issue,” reinforcing the vagueness of the passive voice with some old-fashioned Orwellian euphemism. One of the paragraph’s only active verbs pops up to shine a favorable light on the police department, which “followed best practices” by asking for an independent review [of how two of its officers put an elderly man in a coma.]

I want to emphasize that this style of writing is not Kato’s invention or even his choice. He’s following standard practices in daily news reporting, and wisely so. He’s working with limited information, and he doesn’t want to smear two good cops if there is somehow an innocent explanation for all this. Neither does he want to get his paper sued. He’s got editors combing his copy to make sure that doesn’t happen, while on the other end he’s got to worry about access. If cops think he wrote a hit piece on other cops, his job as a reporter gets a lot harder. I don’t want to blame Kato for having to work under these pressures. But I do want to draw attention to the system that pressures him, and the way news reporting bends over backwards to say nothing critical of the police.

Maybe it’s not just reporters, though. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of this story comes at the end, when Kato paraphrases Smith’s daughter and her husband:

They reinforced that they appreciate the help they have received from the police department, as well as lawyers in the Missoula County Attorney’s Office and the Office of the State Public Defender, since they arrived in Missoula. “The people that we dealt with are very nice, including the detective and evidence people. Over all this we do support law enforcement, we understand that they put their lives in harm’s way,” Jones said.

It does look like they almost beat her father to death, though. I was going to say that we give police too much deference. We heap praise on them whenever they become vulnerable to criticism, so that the more evidently awful things they do, the more we announce our support. That was going to be my conclusion. But if this woman doesn’t agree, who would?