Rob Corddry

The Press vs. HRC (Habitually Peeved)

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, June 14, 2015. (Detail of photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Failed Republican congressional candidate Charles S. Faddis is apparently a former CIA officer with no real talent for observation.

It wasn’t until much later in the day that the pneumonia diagnosis was released by the campaign. But, even that information doesn’t completely answer all questions. Clinton and her supporters have dismissed such questions about her health and her stamina as the stuff of conspiracy theorists for years. That cover story may have just gone up in smoke.

One of the under-… er … ah … underappreciated? undernoticed? underdiscussesd? … ―you know, skip underwhatnot; how about seemingly necessarily utterly ignored?―aspects of the 2016 cycle is the overturning of political norms in general. While we all marvel at Donald Trump’s political incontinence, it is easy enough to miss.

Steve Benen considered a question of transparency:

The criticisms of the campaign’s handling of this matter have merit. Clinton and her team learned of the pneumonia diagnosis on Friday, and rather than sharing that information, they kept it under wraps. Had the Democratic candidate not been seen struggling in New York yesterday, it’s hard to say when, if ever, the campaign would have disclosed the infection.

Indeed, keep in mind that Clinton travels with pool reporters who cover her every move in public. Journalists were understandably peeved yesterday when Clinton and her team left yesterday morning’s event yesterday, leaving these reporters behind without explanation.

Trump, however, is so secretive, he’s the first presidential nominee in recent memory not to travel with any pool reporters at all.

We must bear in mind that part of the reason it is understandable that the Clinton press corps―which, being the press, already loathes her generally out of habit after a quarter-century of hounding her for the sake of right-wing conspiracy theories―is peeved at being left behind without explanation is that, being the press, they are accustomed to being handed the story in easily regurgitated bites. But for actually being noticed, the campaign would not have disclosed the infection, and there is exactly nothing extraordinary about this, regardless of the press corps’ hissy fits.

Nigh on a quarter century after the national media’s hate affair with the Clinton family began, it’s weird to think that the Fourth Estate needs to report around what the rest of us can see quite clearly: Much of what we are to consider the strange way the Clintons deal with the press has to do with the press itself; the appearance of statements calculated to a strange, unreal for representing an average, line of best fit is just about the only way to navigate the not entirely arbitraryα obstacle course established by when and how the press decides what is or not its jobβ. In the end, it seems odd that the press should pretend to be peeved that Hillary Clinton’s political operation isn’t going out of their way to fawn over reporters.

We might, then, turn to an actual doctor, such as Jen Gunter, who summarized:

Mrs. Clinton felt faint. It was dealt with appropriately. It looked dramatic, but it’s ok.

And so is she.

The crude joke to express Mr. Faddis’ argument is that a blind man will, if he throws enough darts, eventually hit the bull’s eye. After a quarter century, it’s likely that someone might suggest something about someone else’s health, and that other happen to be ill. All told, Mr. Faddis’ credulity suggests he was as bad a CIA agent as he was a Republican congressional candidate.

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α That is to say, petulant, self-centered, and vicious.

β As the estimable Jim Lehrer once answered the question of fact-checking during an interview, “I would never do that. That’s not my function to do that.” Or, as Rob Corddry explained over a decade ago: “Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.”

Image note: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, June 14, 2015. (Detail of photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “Clinton camp ‘could have done better’ disclosing pneumonia”. msnbc. 12 September 2016.

Corddry Rob and Jon Stewart. “Kerry Controversy”. The Daily Show. 23 August 2004.

Cox Barrett, Liz. “Jim Lehrer on Billy Bob, Reports of Rain and Stenography As Journalism”. Columbia Journalism Review. 2 June 2006.

Faddis, Charles S. “Hillary: The pneumonia diagnosis doesn’t answer everything”. The Hill. 12 September 2016.

Gunter, Jen. “Yes, Hillary almost fainted: I’m a doctor and it’s really OK”. The Hill. 12 September 2016.

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A Note on Fact Checking, Equivocation, and the American Press

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

“Sometimes a lawmaker will wander on the floor of the House or Senate and begin speaking without any notes. That’s a big mistake, especially for someone like Sessions — who is chairman of the House Rules Committee and was speaking about the federal budget.”

Glenn Kessler

The American political discourse is a strange brew of curious and even counterintuitive histories. There are the politicians, as a general classification, and if everything that can be said about them has been, it still isn’t enough. Voters are viciously demanding, and often contradictory unto themselves, both generally as a classification and particularly as individuals. The press is a business proposition―not the Fourth Estate―that has discovered better profits pretending that all things are equal.

Perhaps we might recall John Kerry’s run for president in 2004. The former U.S. Senator and current Secretary of State encountered a familiar problem along the way, a group of right-wing scandalmongers that had dogged him with their complaints for decades. He did what he always did, what people in Massachusetts were accustomed to, which was try to ignore them.

In the end, that didn’t work, because the press didn’t just treat the Swiftboat controversy as a shiny object, but as a shiny new thing. The American mainstream press is a business proposition, not the Fourth Estate. Due diligence in American journalism is simply enough explained: If somebody says something about somebody else, ask that other person. If there is a history defining the original claim as false, that is not of any useful concern to the press.

For Kerry, the fix was essentially in. Addressing the fake scandal was to stoop; ignoring the fake scandal was bad politics. That these people were lying and always had been was not of any useful concern to the press, despite the dishonesty being apparent from the outset.

In the end, Kerry was vindicated when a Newsweek reporter tracked down the third person who received medals for his actions on the day in question, and even the official paperwork showed Larry Thurlow to be a liar. The press’ response? To complain about John Kerry.

Voters? Hell, most can’t even be bothered to read the state voters’ guides. They need the press to tell them what’s in it, except most years the press doesn’t bother, either.

The response over the years has become a specialized cottage industry within journalism: fact checking. And it needs to be a specialty, because, well, you know, even by allegedly respectable standards, facts have nothing to do with being a reporter.α

In the 2012 cycle, reporter Matt Appuzzo deliberately tanked a fact check, an act of journalistic activism the Associated Press defended as appropriate. And in a certain sense, one can argue it really was: The fact check would have been unkind to one candidate, which is a problem for a press in which equivocation is a professional standard, so poor Matt Apuzzo had no choice but to invoke irrelevant history in order to throw Romney a bone.

All of which leads us up to a consideration of “why lawmakers should not speak without notes”:

A 'pinnocchio', as awarded by Glenn Kessler, fact-checker for The Washington Post.Sometimes a lawmaker will wander on the floor of the House or Senate and begin speaking without any notes. That’s a big mistake, especially for someone like Sessions — who is chairman of the House Rules Committee and was speaking about the federal budget.

Kessler and the WaPo team awarded “four pinnocchios”, and advised that, “Senior lawmakers should not be uttering nonsense math on the House floor”. But this analysis falsely adheres to the notion of “all things being equal”, when in fact they are not.

(more…)

A Lingering Question

Detail of animation by Mark Fiore, 14 November 2014, via Daily Kos Comics.

“One of the most fascinating things about this election was comparing what people actually believe in versus what or who they actually voted for. Voting against your own interests seemed to be the dominant theme in this election. Happy with your Kentucky Kynect health exchange, brought to you by Obama’s Affordable Care Act? Then you’ll definitely want to vote for Mitch McConnell so he can keep trying to dismantle Obamacare bit by bit. Huh?”

Mark Fiore

To the one, the election is over and the People have spoken. In Iowa, intelligence and basic competence are anathema; in Kansas, voters objected to the prospect of fiscal solvency; Colorado voters decided it just wasn’t a year in which the human rights of women in their state have anything to do with anyone. Voters knew, going in, what they were asking for, and what they asked for is more gridlock, melodrama, and basic uselessness of government. So, yes, the election is over, and we need to get used to it. To the other, though, a couple brief points:

• It is difficult to not focus on that sense of amazement; this is difficult since people are expected to simply shut up and move on, but history will have a hard time explaining what happened in this year-six election. Perhaps some will point to Obama, and that only makes sense if people ignore actual facts or wonder yet again about the racism question; if this was a referendum on Obama and his policies, then it’s hard to comprehend why people who like what the ACA does would vote against it. Perhaps they believed the media narratives, which make sense unto themselves but only if the audience accounts specifically for the fact that actual facts are barred from that discourse. As Rob Corddry once joked in a role as a media correspondent, “Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.” Unfortunately, it’s not simply a joke; Jim Lehrer, a titan of television journalism, agreed that it was not his job, as a reporter, to separate fact from fiction. But that’s the thing: To the one, the election is over. To the other, though, explaining what happened in any justifiable historical context requires addressing the apparent paradoxes in the outcomes, so we will continue to see such bewilderment as cartoonist Mark Fiore expresses.

• The second point is simple enough: If you choose to complain of gridlock and other governmental silliness over the next couple years, and you voted for Republicans in the 2014 midterm, then you need to shut the hell up and stop complaining about getting what you wanted. It would be one thing to leave such blatant stupidity to itself, except it seems somewhat contagious. Consider a nearly unhinged proposition: In order for President Obama to show “leadership” satisfactory to these people, he must follow the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives. Think about that for a moment; Obama must show leadership by not leading, unless Republicans want to skip on tough votes, in which case Obama needs to show leadership, for which Republicans intend to either sue him in court or impeach him in Congress. When it comes to What American Voters Want, this actually seems like a newly-discovered valence of absurdity. It’s one thing to say the GOP is playing politics; it’s quite another to pretend that such idiotic shenannigans are not what our Republican neighbors want. So when our conservative neighbors lament government inefficiency, the appropriate response is to tell them to shut up and stop complaining about getting what they voted for.

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Fiore, Mark. “The screw you strategy”. Daily Kos Comics. 14 November 2014.

A Reminder: Beltway Scandal IRS Edition

Lois Lerner

Bearing in mind that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, or any number of other proverbs suggesting at once the merit of and annoyance caused by speaking out, and recalling that in normal cases the question is not so much liberal or conservative news media bias as it is a preference toward advert revenues, one might not be surprised, then, to learn how much of the bluster and noise coming from Congress is actually nothing more than hot, rancid vapor.

Or perhaps that is the wrong way to express it; even those who presume the national political discourse so broken as to hold themselves aloof generally also presuppose a tremendous amount of putrid hot air in the Beltway chatter.

Still, though, something seems amiss. It is one thing for pundits and bloggers to argue about the editorial points of a story, but the number of times some find themselves wondering about the alleged factual coverage is itself striking. Consider Steve Benen’s note on the Scandal of the Week:

It started with an Associated Press headline that wasn’t true: “Emails: IRS Official Sought Audit of GOP Senator.” From there, conservative and mainstream media outlets went berserk on Wednesday, reporting that former IRS official Lois Lerner tried to audit Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as part of some kind of partisan vendetta.

“Lerner Asked IRS to Audit Republican Senator,” one headline read. “Lerner Set IRS Sights on Sen. Grassley,” said another. A third abandoned subtlety altogether: “Lois Lerner’s Threats To Investigate Grassley Should Terrify You.”

All of this, it turns out, wasn’t true. The reality is unambiguous: “[Grassley] wasn’t ‘targeted’ at all. Instead, Lerner asked a colleague if it made sense to examine whether an outside group had made Grassley an inappropriate offer. Her colleague dismissed the idea, and that was the end of it.”

At least in theory, reporters, Republican officials, and conservative activists who ran with this story on Wednesday had a decision to make: they could either correct their mistake or pretend they hadn’t made the mistake.

Of course, this is the IRS “scandal,” which naturally led conservatives to choose Door #3: keep repeating the inaccuracy as if it were true.

But it is also important to remember that in reporting these merry tales of politics, it is not the journalists’ job to actually consider whether the facts they are reporting are true. As such, it is occasionally worth a moment to actually pause and sniff the excrement, tally up the morbid score, and figure out just where the political discourse actually is compared to reality.

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As the estimable Jim Lehrer once expressed, “I would never do that. That’s not my function to do that.” Or, as Rob Corddry explained nearly a decade ago: “Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.”

Benen, Steve. “Repeating a falsehood doesn’t make it true”. msnbc. 27 June 2014.

Cox Barrett, Liz. “Jim Lehrer on Billy Bob, Reports of Rain and Stenography As Journalism”. Columbia Journalism Review. 2 June 2006

Corddry Rob and Jon Stewart. “Kerry Controversy”. The Daily Show. 23 August 2004.