character assassination

An Abiding Question: Sinister or Stupid?

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016. (Detail of frame via YouTube)

“Take a moment to imagine the feeding frenzy that would exist right now if, just two weeks after the election, the Clinton Foundation quietly told the IRS it broke the law.”

Steve Benen

The msnbc producer and blogger has a point. For all the scandalmongering about family foundations, we knew before the election that the Donald J. Trump Foundation had some skeletons in its closet.

We might, then, turn to the Washington Post and the incomparable David A. Fahrenthold:

President-elect Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has admitted to the IRS that it violated a legal prohibition against “self-dealing,” which bars nonprofit leaders from using their charity’s money to help themselves, their businesses or their families.

That admission was contained in the Donald J. Trump Foundation’s IRS tax filings for 2015, which were recently posted online at the nonprofit-tracking site GuideStar. A GuideStar spokesman said the forms were uploaded by the Trump Foundation’s law firm, Morgan, Lewis and Bockius ....

.... In one section of the form, the IRS asked if the Trump Foundation had transferred “income or assets to a disqualified person.” A disqualified person, in this context, might be Trump―the foundation’s president―or a member of his family, or a Trump-owned business.

The foundation checked “yes.”

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Something Going On (Asymetrically Intriguing)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs before speaking to supporters at the Human Rights Campaign Breakfast in Washington, October 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is the thing: While it is easy enough to get lost in the spectacular noise and bluster, the breathtaking incoherence and disbelief, something does seem to have happened. Jonathan Chait dove in last month, noting, “The most important substantive problem facing political journalists of this era is asymmetrical polarization”. And to a certain degree, Chait is vital, here, because of something else he wrote, all of several days before:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Nor need one be any manner of confessed media elitist; outside the circles where people perpetually complain about the media, news consumers are more than a little puzzled―indeed, some or maybe even many are alarmed―about what they are witnessing.

Part of the problem, of course, is asymmetrical polarization; Chait considered the question―

Political journalism evolved during an era of loose parties, both of which hugged the center, and now faces an era in which one of those parties has veered sharply away from the center. Today’s Republican Party now resides within its own empirical alternative universe, almost entirely sealed off from any source of data, expertise, or information that might throw its ideological prior values into question. Donald Trump’s candidacy is the ne plus ultra of this trend, an outlier horrifying even to a great many conservatives who have been largely comfortable with their party’s direction until now. How can the news media appropriately cover Trump and his clearly flawed opponent without creating an indecipherable din of equivalent-sounding criticism, where one candidate’s evasive use of a private email server looms larger than the other’s promise to commit war crimes?

Liz Spayd, the New York Times’ new public editor, dismisses the problem out of hand in a column that is a logical train wreck. Spayd specifically addresses a column by Paul Krugman that lambastes two news investigations into the Clinton Foundation, one of which appeared in the Times. Both reports dug deep and found nothing improper, but instead of either walking away from the dry holes or writing an exculpatory story, dressed them up with innuendo. These stories supply a prime example of the larger critique often grouped under the heading of “false equivalence”―journalists treating dissimilar situations as similar, in an attempt to balance out their conclusions. Spayd dismisses false equivalence as liberal whining, without in any way engaging with its analysis.

―in the wake of a New York Times dispute between public editor Liz Spayd and columnist Paul Krugman.

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Something About “Her”

Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign even at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada. 25 August 2016. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This is fair … er … ah … well, you know―

See, it shouldn’t be that hard to cover Donald in a way that feels fair. Simply apply the three immutable tenets of Hillary reporting:

1. Always assume bad character and attribute malicious motives.

2. Completely overlook and invisibilize supporters.

3. Focus relentlessly on negatives — and portray positives as negatives.

―except that it’s about her.

(Right? Isn’t that how it goes?)

At any rate, Peter Daou’s open letter to the media is worth a read.

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A Note About Tennessee Family Values

Elizabeth Lauten, former communications director for Rep. Steven Fincher (R-TN08)

How … interesting. And you can take that proverbially or not as per your inclination. But consider this: Elizabeth Lauten has resigned.

Some might wonder who the hell Elizabeth Lauten actually is, and they would likely not be wrong to do so. Well, unless they happened to be a regular follower of the ins and outs of Rep. Steven Fincher (R-TN08), whose communications director reminded us all of the relationship between Republicans and family values.

A GOP staffer will resign after launching a verbal assault on Malia and Sasha Obama in the wake of their appearance at the president’s annual turkey pardoning ceremony last week at the White House.

Elizabeth Lauten, who served as a communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), criticized the two girls in a Facebook rant which eventually went viral. “Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised, public events,” wrote Lauten.

She also said that the Obama daughters, who largely stay out of the limelight, should show “a little class.”

Many have argued Malia and Sasha were behaving like typical teenagers at the event. They appeared unamused by their father’s corny jokes and at one point Malia declined to pet the Thanksgiving turkey by simply saying, “Nah.”

You might recall we mentioned this episode recently, in an attempt to fill space in an otherwise useless post about a really stupid American holiday tradition celebrating a mythical act of human decency. And while it is one thing to point out that it is Gawker, and wonder what else we should expect, one might think a communications director for a sitting congressman should know better.

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