Sunday, August 21, 2022

Last Call For Full Court Press, Con't


Here’s the good news: The media has come a long, long way in figuring out how to cover the democracy-threatening ways of Donald Trump and his allies, including his stalwart helpers in right-wing media. It is now common to see headlines and stories that plainly refer to some politicians as “election deniers,” and journalists are far less hesitant to use the blunt and clarifying word “lie” to describe Trump’s false statements. That includes, of course, the former president’s near-constant campaign to claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged to prevent him from keeping the White House.

What’s more, the media seems finally to have absorbed what should have been blindingly obvious from the beginning: Trump is by no means a normal political figure, and he will never reform into some kind of responsible statesman. (Who can forget the perennial predictions that he was becoming “presidential” every time he read from a teleprompter instead of veering off on an insulting rant?)

Another encouraging development is the decision by a number of major media organizations, including The Post, to form democracy teams or beats, concentrating on efforts to limit voting access, the politicization of election systems and the insidious efforts to instill doubt in the public about legitimate voting results.

And yet, I worry that it’s not nearly enough. I don’t mean to suggest that journalists can address the threats to democracy all by themselves — but they must do more.

I’m often reminded of the troubling questions posed by ABC News’s Jonathan Karl in multiple interviews late last year about what it would mean to cover Trump if and when he runs for president again. He deemed it perhaps the greatest challenge American political reporters will ever face.

“How do you cover a candidate who is effectively anti-democratic? How do you cover a candidate who is running both against whoever the Democratic candidate is but also running against the very democratic system that makes all of this possible?” wondered Karl, a former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. His questions hit hard, the more so because of his reputation in the political press corps as a straight shooter.

The deeper question is whether news organizations can break free of their hidebound practices — the love of political conflict, the addiction to elections as a horse race — to address those concerns effectively.

For the sake of democracy, they must.

Journalists certainly shouldn’t shill for Trump’s 2024 rivals — whoever they may be — but they have to be willing to show their readers, viewers and listeners that electing him again would be dangerous. That’s a tricky tightrope to walk.

One thing is certain. News outlets can’t continue to do speech, rally and debate coverage — the heart of campaign reporting — in the same old way. They will need to lean less on knee-jerk live coverage and more on reporting that relentlessly provides meaningful context.

Real-time fact checking is of limited usefulness, in my view. Better to wait until these live events have occurred and then present them packaged with plenty of truthful reporting around them.

Journalists simply can’t allow themselves to be megaphones or stenographers. They have to be dedicated truth-tellers, using clear language, plenty of context and thoughtful framing to get that truth across. 


Unfortunately, as Sullivan's voluntary departure from the Post (and Brian Stetler's involuntary departure as the host of CNN's Reliable Sources) heralds, ratings, circulation, and access to a presumed Republican majority in Congress is the only thing that matters to the news industry, that and the coverage of Trump's inevitable 2024 run...and a second term in the White House at the cost of American democracy itself.

Sullivan's warnings will fall on deaf ears, even as she finally sees the light after her decades in Beltway journalism.

We didn't get Trump in a vacuum, folks.

Bad Religion, Con't

Pennsylvania's Senate race between Republican and professional quack Mehmet Oz and Democratic Lt. Gov Democrat John Fetterman is certainly important, but there needs to be focus on the gubernatorial clash as well. State Democratic AG Josh Shapiro is running against arguably the biggest Trumpian jackass so far, or at least in a tie with Arizona's Kari Lake in Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a man so far off the map that he's got his own religious praetorian guard that of course is made up of white supremacist domestic terrorist militia.

Doug Mastriano is running an unconventional campaign for governor. He’s not raising a lot of money. He prefers to attend closed-door events with his base or campaign at public events where reporters are often kept at arm's length.

But the Republican nominee’s campaign is also notable for another reason: Mastriano has surrounded himself with a non-professional, armed security team whose members include at least one person with direct ties to a militia group.

Mastriano’s detail includes several members of a relatively new evangelical church near Elizabethtown, LifeGate, whose leaders have spoken openly about electing Christians to office to advance biblical principles in government.

Perhaps the most visible member of the security team is James Emery, an Elizabethtown Area School Board member who has been photographed providing security to Mastriano at numerous events over the past year, sometimes armed. Earlier this month, Emery blocked members of the news media from entering a room in Erie where Mastriano was scheduled to speak to local business leaders.

Emery is an active and visible member of the congregation at LifeGate Church. A November 2021 post to the church’s Facebook page refers to him as a licensed minister and congratulates him for completing the LifeGate Leadership Development School.

At a LifeGate meeting in May, Emery described himself as one of Mastraino’s “lead” security members. During an Easter Sunday testimonial, he revealed the names of four other congregants who work on Mastriano’s security team.


“I just want to ask for prayers while there’s a few in this congregation that have joined the (Mastriano) team: Scott and Skip and Dan, myself, and Carl,” Emery said. “We’re doing security for Mastriano and it comes with a lot of weight these days.”

The “Scott” mentioned by Emery is fellow LifeGate member Scott Nagle, who until recently was listed as a regional leader for the Oath Keepers, a militia group founded in 2009.

A photo from an early April event in Mercer County, which was reviewed by LNP|LancasterOnline, showed Nagle posing shoulder-to-shoulder with Mastriano. Also in the photo were Dan Slade and Carl Runkle, two other LifeGate members, along with Emery, Franklin County Constable Dom Brown and three other unidentified members of the security detail.

Emery said his security work for Mastriano is done as a private citizen expressing his First and Second Amendment rights. Nagle did not respond.
 
It gets worse.

In 2020, Emery’s son, Jay, helped lead a group whose members attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Elizabethtown. At least one member was armed, and they stood alongside members of another militia group, the Carlisle Light Infantry.

The two groups have at least one overlapping member and appeared to be coordinating their actions at the protest.

At the time, a man who identified himself to an LNP reporter only as Jay, a 30-year-old Elizabethtown resident, said he was with the “Domestic Terrorism Response Organization,” which he said was “dedicated to protecting businesses, citizens and homes.”


An archived version of the now deleted Facebook page for the group, provided to LNP|LancasterOnline, shows Jay Emery as an administrator. The LNP reporter who covered the 2020 Elizabethtown protest, shown a photo of James Emery-Shea, confirmed he is the same “Jay” the reporter spoke with.

James Emery-Shea, in an interview this week, denied the group was a militia and said “the whole premise (of coming to the Elizabethtown event) was if there are more numbers there no one will try anything stupid.”

His father, James Emery, was also a member of the Facebook group, the archived records show. Photos and video show him attending the Elizabethtown protest and speaking with members of the militia group.

James Emery said he was there to pray with the Black Lives Matter leaders for everyone's safety, and has “never had any affiliation with any kind of militia.”

Nagle, meanwhile, was the Lancaster County chapter leader for the Pennsylvania Oath Keepers as recently as January of this year, but his name was removed from the group’s website after LNP | LancasterOnline contacted him at the time for a story on a pre-Jan. 6, 2021, meeting of militia groups in Quarryville.
 
Let's remember Mastriano himself was a January 6th terrorist who refuses to cooperate with the investigation into whether or not he should be cooling his heels in a federal prison right now as part of the state's Republican conspiracy to defraud the United States with an "alternate slate" of electors.

 
As state budget talks went into overtime last month, a dozen or so Republican lawmakers gathered in front of a seated crowd in the state Capitol rotunda. They spoke about Pennsylvania’s founding father, William Penn, and signed a proclamation celebrating his legacy.

They talked about how religion influenced the 17th-century Quaker – and that they believe he wanted Christianity and government to mix. People like state Sen. Cris Dush (R-Cameron) referenced the Pennsylvania Great Law, Penn’s frame of government written in 1682.

“It shows clearly that Penn intended to carry his religion into his government and to give the greatest possible measure of freedom to the people,” Dush said.

Each time the point was raised, the crowd of about a hundred applauded.

They cheered the loudest when state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) got up to speak. As the GOP’s candidate for governor, Mastriano has melded his religious beliefs into his campaign messaging.

He underscored the connection as he spoke. Mastriano said he sees parallels between Penn’s life and his own, claiming both have been persecuted for their faith.

“William Penn landed in jail many times for his faith. He was mocked in the media, ridiculed, castigated, as we’re seeing today,” Mastriano said.


Penn was arrested and acquitted in 1670 for preaching about Quakerism in a London street. Many in the English government looked down on Quakers at the time, believing their tenets violated social norms.

Mastriano has never been arrested or jailed – but his amplification of false claims about the 2020 election and his movement past police lines during the January 6th attack have come under scrutiny.

Mastriano then weaved in his campaign slogan “Walk as Free People,” as he criticized media outlets for “castigating” his supporters’ belief system. He offered no evidence for his claim.

“They give us adjectives that are not fitting for people who are just living as they see fit. They want to walk as free men and women. That was William Penn’s dream,” he said.

The state senator did not take questions from reporters following the event and has not responded to a separate request for comment
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Walk free from under federal laws. Walk free under Christian laws. Everyone else need not apply for citizenship in Mastriano's Pennsylvania.

Vote like your country depends on it, because it does.

Sunday Long Read: Af-Gone-Istan

Afghan journalist and writer Bushra Seddique details her escape from Afghanistan one year ago in The Atlantic in today's Sunday Long Read, as she recounts leaving her parents and best friend behind in order to leave the country with her sister during the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.

The text message came a little before 5 p.m. It was August 26, 2021. Eleven days earlier, the Taliban had overthrown the Afghan government. My friend—a German writer and academic—had been trying to help my family flee the country. Now she told me she had gotten my two younger sisters and me on the list for a flight to Frankfurt, a last-minute evacuation negotiated by the German government and a nonprofit group.

“What about my mom?” I asked. She didn’t reply for a moment. “I was not able to get her on this flight,” she answered. Please, I begged her: “My brothers are gone and my father is living with his second wife. She just has us, no one else, for God’s sake please do something.”

But there was nothing she could do. “These are the names that they offered me,” she wrote. “I know it’s a terrible choice.”

She said we had 20 minutes to decide whether to stay or go. We would need to pack, then take a taxi to a secret location, where we’d meet the buses that would drive the evacuees to the airport.

Just a few weeks earlier, my life had been relatively normal. We knew the Afghan National Army was getting weaker—on the battlefield, scores of soldiers were dying—and the front lines kept getting closer to Kabul. And yet, inside the city, schools, offices, and caf├ęs were still open. People were going out to sing and dance; music played in restaurants and taxis. I was 21 and had recently started working for a newspaper, which had me traveling around the city reporting. I loved writing about people, especially the poor, whose voices were rarely heard. I wrote about how they lived, the problems they faced, the joy they experienced regardless.

My father is from Tolak, a remote district in Ghor province, where, even after the fall of the Taliban 20 years ago, women were still flogged and stoned to death. As far as I know, there has never been a journalist from Tolak, certainly not a female one. I knew that the life I was living would not have been possible if my father hadn’t worked hard to bring our family to Kabul. I knew it would not have been possible if the Taliban had remained in power.

But now the Taliban were back. On August 15, the government collapsed, the security forces disintegrated, and the president, Ashraf Ghani, fled. Once he’d left his people behind, Europe and the United States abandoned us too. If I could meet Ghani today, I would have nothing to say to him. I would silently stare into his eyes so that he could feel the homelessness of a young woman.

I had heard about the Taliban all my life. But I had never actually seen a Talib before. Suddenly they were everywhere, patrolling the streets of Kabul. My family gathered in my mother’s apartment, near the U.S. embassy: me, my younger sisters, and our mother, as well as our father and stepmother and their five kids. When the government disappeared, my job at the newspaper disappeared too. It wasn’t safe to commute to work anymore, anyway; none of us left the apartment except to go to the food shop just downstairs. The apartment was crowded. But we were together.

Now, suddenly, I had to choose between my loved ones. How could I leave my mother alone? If one of us girls stayed behind, which one should it be? What if the sister who stayed was killed? What if the sister who tried to escape was killed?

We sat on the floor of my small bedroom with its red-and-white curtains and tried to talk about what to do—me; our mom; my youngest sister, Sara; and another sister, Asman. I knew that my family would be targeted—I had two older brothers who had worked for the Americans and had already been evacuated, and I was a woman with a job. But I didn’t want to leave, especially when I looked at my mother’s face, at the lines across her forehead, her white hair that made her look older than her five decades—proof of how hard the life of an Afghan wife and mother is.

In the end, she decided for all of us. “You and Sara go,” she said to me. “Asman and I will stay.”

Sara was only 16 then—she’s a dreamy girl who likes adventure and wants to be a pilot when she grows up. My mother felt she wasn’t brave enough to adapt to the oppressions of life under the Taliban. Asman was 19. She is the quietest of us sisters but also the kindest. We’re two years apart but grew up like twins. She’s more than a sister to me—my all-time secret keeper. My mother knew she would be strong enough to withstand whatever came next. It was the best choice she could have made.

But what about me? I didn’t know how I would take care of Sara on my own. And how could I leave my best friend? (Asman, for the record, is a pseudonym; because she remains in Afghanistan, it is not safe to use her real name here.)

Sara and I packed a bag each, and my mother handed us some snacks—cakes and cookies—and water. We put on long black dresses and veils over our hair. I couldn’t look Asman in the eye. I didn’t have the courage to tell her goodbye. All of us were crying. As Sara and I walked out the door, my mother sprinkled water on our backs—an Afghan tradition to wish someone a safe trip. It all happened so fast. My father was sleeping in the other room. Instead of waking him, I just opened the door and looked at him—this brave man who had worked for years in the most dangerous provinces to support us and make it possible for us to go to school and have a better life. And then we were gone
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America's choices in Afghanistan over four administrations had real-world consequences for millions of people over two decades. It was never just a series of anodyne, clinical decisions made in the halls of power or on the campaign trail. Real lives were always at stake, millions of them.

Most of America just washed our hands of it, and we moved on to the next big conflict in Ukraine.

Not everyone had that luxury.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

If I didn't know better, I'd say Maggie Haberman and the NY Times was trying to construct a defense for Donald Trump's document-keeping woes.

Four days before the end of the Trump presidency, a White House aide peered into the Oval Office and was startled, if not exactly surprised, to see all of the president’s personal photos still arrayed behind the Resolute Desk as if nothing had changed — guaranteeing the final hours would be a frantic dash mirroring the prior four years.

In the area known as the outer Oval Office, boxes had been brought in to pack up desks used by President Donald J. Trump’s assistant and personal aides. But documents were strewn about, and the boxes stood nearly empty. Mr. Trump’s private dining room table off the Oval Office was stacked high with papers until the end, as it had been for his entire term.

Upstairs in the White House residence, there were, however, a few signs that Mr. Trump finally realized his time was up. Papers he had accumulated in his last several months in office had been dropped into boxes, roughly two dozen of them, and not sent back to the National Archives. Aides had even retrieved letters from the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and given them to him in the final weeks, according to notes described to The New York Times.

Where all of that material ended up is not clear. What is plain, though, is that Mr. Trump’s haphazard handling of government documents — a chronic problem — contributed to the chaos he created after he refused to accept his loss in November, unleashed a mob on Congress and set the stage for his second impeachment. His unwillingness to let go of power, including refusing to return government documents collected while he was in office, has led to a potentially damaging, and entirely avoidable, legal battle that threatens to engulf the former president and some of his aides.

Although the White House counsel’s office had told Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s last chief of staff, that the roughly two dozen boxes worth of material in the residence needed to be turned back to the archives, at least some of those boxes, including those with the Kim letters and some documents marked highly classified, were shipped to Florida
. There they were stored at various points over the past 19 months in different locations inside Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s members-only club, home and office, according to several people briefed on the events.

Those actions, along with Mr. Trump’s protracted refusal to return the documents in Florida to the National Archives, prompted the Justice Department to review the matter early this year. This month, prosecutors obtained a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago for remaining materials, including some related to sensitive national security matters. The investigation is active and expanding, according to recent court filings, as prosecutors look into potentially serious violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice.

Many questions about the mishandling of the documents lead to Mr. Trump, who often treated the presidency as a private business. But people in his orbit also highlight the role of Mr. Meadows, who oversaw what there was of a presidential transition. Mr. Meadows assured aides that the harried packing up of the White House would follow requirements about the preservation of documents, and he said he would make efforts to ensure that the administration complied with the Presidential Records Act, according to people familiar with those conversations.

But as the clock ticked down, Mr. Trump focused on pushing through last-minute pardons and largely ignoring the transition he had tried to forestall.


A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Trump himself has denounced the F.B.I. search of Mar-a-Lago as a “witch hunt.” His office has said he had a “standing order” that materials removed from the Oval Office and taken to the White House residence were deemed to be declassified the moment he removed them, although none of the three potential crimes cited in the F.B.I. search warrant depend on whether removed documents are classified.

A lawyer for Mr. Meadows declined to comment.
 
Now, this in and of itself is a useful, informative article. We know the fingers are being pointed at Mark Meadows.  We know Trumplandia is currently on a mole hunt, for somebody who had significant knowledge of Trump's documents at Mar-a-Lago.  We know the January 6th Committee is after Trump's WH documents too
 

Well, they’ve done a number of interviews with current Trump aides who would have some visibility into whether documents were still at the property and what he was doing with them. But also former senior Trump White House officials who had direct knowledge of how documents were handled. And they’ve clearly tried gleaning insight into what was going on with Trump and these documents over a long period of time. So the Justice Department was clearly afraid that Trump could do exactly what you just said, share them, let somebody access them through carelessness, put the federal government at risk by doing so, and that it could be with some knowledge of what he was doing. But to be fair, Trump is somebody, as I told you last time we talked about this, who has a long history of loving tchotchkes and showing them off to people. So there is a world where these were things he took as some kind of personal keepsake because he refuses to see them as the government’s property, and that it was less nefarious than it was obstinate. But for the federal government, that doesn’t matter that much.

I know I've played Devil's advocate and made plenty of use of the "To be fair/having said that" writing device to bring up additional information over the last 14 years, but my God, not when it comes to both sidesing the most obvious case of Trump's guilt yet, folks.

Haberman needs to be shown the door. She's a threat.
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