Saturday, November 10, 2018

Meat The Press, Con't

Masha Gessen at The New Yorker argues that a media boycott of the Trump White House in the wake of the clear setup of CNN's Jim Acosta to be stripped of his press credential would be a complete and total victory for the Trump regime.

What should the media do now? On the CNN Web site, the British journalist Jane Merrick advocates for a boycott: “The entire White House press corps should walk out. Deny him coverage. Take him off the air. Cancel his series. Leave him to rage into Twitter's echo chamber, which is all he deserves.”

There are good arguments in favor of a boycott. It would feel good and righteous to stop rebroadcasting the messages of a corrupt, lying, hateful Administration. A walkout would serve as a clear demonstration of professional solidarity, and solidarity is an absolute value. Reducing the amount of Trump on the air and in print would also probably be a good thing. The media scholar Jay Rosen has long argued for downgrading the prestige of the White House assignment proportionately to the quality of information that emerges from the Administration. “Put your most junior people in the White House briefing room,” he has written. “Recognize that the real story is elsewhere, and most likely hidden.”

But there is a counterargument. The White House is a lousy source of information about itself, but it is also the best available source. The real story of Trumpism is probably found not in the White House or even in Washington but in Ohio, in Texas, along the Mexican border, in refugee camps the world over, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, and in the Palestinian territories. But the story of how the Administration functions must still be observed up close. Walking away would give this White House exactly what it wants: less contact with the media, less visibility, ever less transparency and accountability. Walking away would feel good, but it would ultimately be a loss. Would the loss in information be greater than the gain in solidarity? That’s a hard question, but my guess is that the answer is yes.

The Trump Administration has the media in a vise. On the one hand, most of what comes out of White House mouths is poison to the public conversation: because it’s a lie, or an expression of hate, or both. Simply reporting Trump’s lies and incendiary comments, however critically, serves to entrench his world view as a part of our shared reality. At the same time, he is the President. His Twitter pronouncements find a sympathetic audience among tens of millions of Americans. Refusing to engage with his words would mean refusing to engage with Trump voters and with the Trump Administration itself. It would mean walking away from politics altogether, which, for journalists, would be an abdication of responsibility.

As for that responsibility, it warrants some reflection. Americans, including those who claim to have no use for the media that Trump calls “fake,” expect the press to perform a public function. The media is the fourth estate of the political system, and the only one expected to earn its own keep, independent of how well it performs its service to the public. With significant but limited exceptions—such as NPR, ProPublica, and the Marshall Project—American media producers are rewarded not for how well they inform the public but for how many sets of eyes they can draw to advertising. The correlation between these two measures is tenuous, if it exists at all. In the end, the decision about whether to walk out of the White House, report the latest tweet, or publish an anonymous Op-Ed is made on the basis largely—if not solely—of market factors: How will it play against the competition, and how many people will be drawn to read it? That’s the sort of logic that makes perfect sense to Trump, who believes that the world turns on the profit motive. But Americans may want to reconsider the wisdom of entrusting the fourth estate to the laws of the commercial marketplace.

It's a very lofty argument and one with merit.  Meanwhile, Trump continues to specifically attack black women journalists now that Acosta is gone, targeting them for his rage and ire and threatening them specifically with the loss of their press credentials as well.

This week, he hit a trifecta, singling out three African American women who are journalists. The women — Abby Phillip, April Ryan and Yamiche Alcindor — earned his contempt apparently just for asking him questions.

Trump called one of Phillip’s questions “stupid,” described Ryan as “a loser” and brushed off Alcindor, saying her question was “racist.”

Phillip, a CNN reporter and former Washington Post journalist, drew Trump’s wrath on Friday, after she asked whether he hoped Matthew G. Whitaker, Trump’s appointee as acting attorney general, would “rein in” special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Trump’s presidential campaign.

What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question,” Trump snapped. He didn’t answer the allegedly “stupid” question, but he did pour more contempt on Phillip. “I watch you a lot,” he said. “You ask a lot of stupid questions.”

He suggested he was considering pulling other reporters’ press credentials to cover the White House, as he did with CNN reporter Jim Acosta on Wednesday.

Among those he brought up in that context was Ryan.

“You talk about someone who’s a loser,” Trump said of Ryan, a reporter for American Urban Radio Networks and a contributor to CNN. “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing. She gets publicity and then she gets a pay raise, or she gets a contract with, I think, CNN. But she’s very nasty and she shouldn’t be. You’ve got to treat the White House and the office of the presidency with respect.”

Trump’s “loser” comment came two days after he admonished Ryan at a White House news conference.

“Sit down! I didn’t call you,” Trump commanded after Ryan tried to ask him about alleged voter suppression in the midterm elections. “Such a hostile media, it’s so sad,” Trump added as Ryan pressed him. “You rudely interrupted him,” Trump told her, referring to another reporter.

A few moments later, Alcindor asked Trump about his recent characterization of himself as “a nationalist” and whether that label was “emboldening white nationalists.”

Trump interrupted her and responded, “I don’t know why you say that, that is such a racist question.” He repeated that characterization — “racist” — two more times.

The National Association of Black Journalists is at least coming to defense of all three, but if anyone thinks Trump is going to moderate his racist behavior, or cool his assaults on a free press, there's no hope for you.  At some point, that balance Gessen mentioned has to tip in the favor of a total boycott.

Of course, Trump could save the media the trouble and just ban the press.  I'm betting that's far more likely than the media deciding on a boycott.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

Greg Sargent looks down the road to the inevitable fight between incoming House Democratic majority and the Trump White House over the Mueller probe and comes up with four possible paths:

House Democrats can investigate the firing of Sessions. The question of whether Trump fired Sessions or whether Sessions merely resigned is critical. If Trump fired Sessions, it might not be legit that Trump replaced him with an acting attorney general (Whitaker) who didn’t require Senate confirmation (which Trump may have wanted to do to insulate the replacement from questioning from senators about his intention toward the Mueller probe). Mueller could conceivably challenge the appointment in court if Whitaker does try to shut down or severely constrain the probe.

Sessions was definitely fired, but I don't believe this alone will fix the problem.  It's a part, sure, but it can't be the only attack from the Democrats.

Subpoena Sessions himself. House Democrats can try to question Sessions himself, both about the circumstances surrounding his firing and, more broadly, about private meetings in which Trump raged at Sessions for failing to protect him from the investigation. Sessions would likely assert executive privilege regarding his conversations with Trump.

It's that last part that will make this drag on, and again, it won't solve the issue.

Subpoena Mueller’s findings. Under the regulations governing the special counsel, he is to provide a “confidential” report explaining his conclusions to the person overseeing the probe — who would have been Rosenstein but now will be Whitaker. It is Whitaker who is then supposed to provide a report to the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate judiciary committees, which gives him a great deal of discretion to decide how much to put in that report.

Whitaker could theoretically report little to nothing, in effect covering up what Mueller learned. “Democrats could subpoena Mueller’s findings,” Chafetz tells me. “But expect the White House to put up a fight in response to the subpoena.” Other legal experts think that if the White House defied such a subpoena, the courts would rule against them, meaning Congress would get Mueller’s findings.

This is probably the best of the possible paths to take.  Even better, leaking all this to the NY Times or Washington Post becomes another Pentagon Papers fight, but once this is all out there, that becomes moot.

Impeach the acting attorney general. This is a far-fetched scenario, but it’s not an impossibility. As it is, Whitaker has publicly opined that Mueller has gone too far in probing Trump’s finances and has openly suggested that one option is to de-fund the investigation. On these grounds, Democrats have called for his recusal.

Here an irony kicks in. A handful of House Republicans loyal to Trump tried to impeach Rosenstein earlier this year on grounds so specious that even many Republicans, including the leadership, rejected it. It’s hard to say what circumstances might justify such a move against Whitaker, if any, but if he shuts down the Mueller probe without good cause, that might be seen as extremely serious misconduct — far more serious than what Republicans alleged against Rosenstein.

Again, possible, but only the third option above actually gets the Mueller probe info into the public eye.

Having said all this, the absolute best option is for Mueller to start raining down indictments like a biblical monsoon as well as allow the state investigations underway, especially those in NY, come to fruition.  Trump can't avoid or shut those down.

The wild card however remains the Supreme Court.  At some point, all this will go to the nine justices, five of which have been appointed by Republicans, two by Trump himself.  There appears to be clear law here and precedent to follow, but anyone counting on the Roberts Court to stop Trump needs to understand that it may very well not happen.

The fate of the Republic is still very much in doubt.

A Peek Into The Future

Yeah, I know, I don't want to start in on 2020 already while votes are still being counted for 2018 (and Democrats are now heading for 40+ House seats and could limit Senate net losses to just two or even one if they get both recounts) but the fact of the matter is we can't afford not to think about it.  Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report mentioned the new battleground map on Friday:

So what does that map look like?  Here's my approximation of that:

Click the map to create your own at

Six states, 101 EVs up for grabs. This is where we start in 2020, and this is where Dems need to be thinking about.
Huge, huge bonus for Dems: four of these six battleground states have Democratic governors now, with a recount underway for Florida for the fifth.  That is a powerful tool.  If the Democratic candidate wins those four states, that's the ballgame, Florida/Arizona become irrelevant.  That's why Scott Walker's loss in Wisconsin and Gretchen Whitmer's huge win in Michigan were both critical this week.  And even if Trump wins NC, well, then PA, MI, and WI are enough to give the Dems the win.

Bottom line: Any three of those six states, Dems win, Trump needs at least four and one of them has to be Florida, otherwise he needs all five of the remaining states to win.  What happened in 2016 is that Trump got five of those six including Florida, an easy EV win despite a popular vote loss of 3 million, and WI, PA, and MI Trump won by less than 80,000 total.

And as Wasserman mentioned, should Dems get ahead in Georgia or Texas, Trump is done.

Onward.  2020 Elections tag now active.  We'll check back in on this post in two years, hopefully.

Malibu Beach Nightmare

I wanna stay in the sun,
I gotta have my fun,
When the work is done
Down The Malibu Beach

A wildfire has destroyed most of a Northern California town of 27,000 people. At least nine people were killed by the so-called "Camp Fire" in Paradise, authorities said Friday evening. The victims have not been identified.

The fires across the state have forced 157,000 people from their homes, officials said. Evacuation orders included the entire city of Malibu, which is home to 13,000, among them some of Hollywood's biggest stars.

"There was really no firefight involved," Capt. Scott McLean of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said of the blaze near Paradise. He said crews gave up attacking the flames and instead helped people get out alive. "Pretty much the community of Paradise is destroyed. It's that kind of devastation."

This one is bad, guys.  Even by California wildfires in the advancing climate change era, this is bad.

At least nine people were killed by the Camp Fire in Northern California, Butte County officials said Friday evening. The fire has burned more than 90,000 acres and destroyed 6,700 structures
Nurses and patients have recounted their dramatic escapes from a hospital in Paradise that was devastated by a ferocious wildfire. Nurse Darrel Wilken told the Chico Enterprise-Record newspaper that the fire came so quickly that he and other coworkers used their own cars to evacuate patients from the Adventist Health Feather River Hospital.

Wilken said he took three patients in his car and that two of them were in critical condition. He said he battled gridlocked traffic on a road surrounded on both sides by fire.

Cody Knowles said his wife, Francine, was having gallbladder surgery Thursday morning.

When the evacuation was announced, she was still asleep from anesthesia. He waited until she woke up and they escaped in a hospital employee's car. The hospital said it evacuated 60 patients to other facilities.

These are only going to get worse in the future.
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