Hope that you had a relaxing Christmas, one that you will remember, and not because you bought a Lexus. Here at the Mansion of Wrong, the party is still underway. Our last guests will be leaving on January 2nd.
In reading the endless lists of the most important news stories of 2018, Wrongo felt that the major news story was Trump’s awesome amount of lying. Back in the dark ages, before GW Bush and Cheney, the idea of a president lying outright to the American people was cause for outrage. The liar’s poll numbers would drop immediately and all of the press would call out the transgression.
Now, when Donald Trump actually lies daily, telling whoppers that are stunning to behold, there is little outrage, and certainly none from the Right. This is exacerbated by the main stream media, many of whom report Trump’s lies as if they’re news stories, often without providing any context that tells the truth of the matter. They have become complicit in Trump’s dishonesty, and we all suffer as a result.
It’s Orwellian: Lies become truth, truth is devalued. We can’t be an informed people when the information we receive is often full of lies and distortions.
This is without question, the biggest story of 2018.
Next column, Wrongo will reprise his 2018 Wrong predictions, looking back on the year that was, scoring his successes and his prognostication failures.
Now, listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss perform “The Wexford Carol”, an ancient Irish carol. The great Canadian violinist, Natalie MacMaster joins them. This is from their 2008 album, “Songs of Joy & Peace”:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
In fall 2016, Mark Zuckerberg…was publicly declaring it a “crazy idea” that his company had played a role in deciding the election. But security experts at the company already knew otherwise.
They found signs as early as spring 2016 that Russian hackers were poking around the Facebook accounts of people linked to American presidential campaigns. Months later, they saw Russian-controlled accounts sharing information from hacked Democratic emails with reporters. Facebook accumulated evidence of Russian activity for over a year before executives opted to share what they knew with the public — and even their own board of directors.
The company feared Trump:
In 2015…presidential candidate Donald J. Trump called for a ban of Muslim immigrants…Facebook employees and outside critics called on the company to punish Mr. Trump. Mr. Zuckerberg considered it — asking subordinates whether Mr. Trump had violated the company’s rules and whether his account should be suspended or the post removed.
But…Mr. Zuckerberg…deferred to subordinates who warned that penalizing Mr. Trump would set off a damaging backlash among Republicans. Mr. Trump’s post remained up.
Most disturbing was FB’s disinformation and lobbying campaign:
Facebook hired Senator Mark Warner’s former chief of staff to lobby….Ms. Sandberg personally called Senator Amy Klobuchar to complain about her criticism. The company also deployed a public relations firm to push negative stories about its political critics and cast blame on companies like Google.
Those efforts included depicting the billionaire liberal donor George Soros as the force behind a broad anti-Facebook movement, and publishing stories praising Facebook and criticizing Google and Apple on a conservative news site.
But the lobbying and disinformation was dark and wrong. FB used a Republican opposition-research firm Definers Public Affairs, and its connections to the Anti-Defamation League to link the anti-FB movement to George Soros and claim that some criticism against FB was anti-Semitic.
A research document circulated by Definers claimed Soros was an “unacknowledged force” behind the widespread condemnation of Facebook.
A news site called NTK Network, an affiliate of Definers, also published articles that bashed Google and Apple for “unsavory business practices.”
The Times reports that while NTK Network did not obtain large audiences, its content was picked up by Breitbart.
FB also called on the Anti-Defamation League to flag a sign used to depict Zuckerberg as an octopus encompassing the globe as anti-Semitic.
There’s more. After The NYT, The Guardian and others published a joint investigation into how user information was used by Cambridge Analytica to profile American voters, Facebook executives tried to contain the damage. FB hired a new chief of lobbying to quell the bipartisan anger in Congress, Kevin Martin, a Bush administration veteran, and former FCC Chair.
Just before Sandberg’s Congressional testimony, Facebook’s lobbyists asked Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Intelligence Committee chair to limit questioning to the topic of election interference. It worked. Burr issued a stern warning to all committee members to stick to that topic.
There are three big picture take-aways from the Times article about Facebook.
First, nearly everyone in America hates the media, but without them, we wouldn’t know anything about these FB actions. We wouldn’t know that FB was willing to distribute disinformation to save its skin. So, let’s not give up on the media and journalism.
Second, America needs to learn from how Europe is fighting Google and Facebook on privacy and content, and do the same. They have created very specific rules and guidelines and have issued very expensive fines to these companies.
Third, why do these high-tech executives fail to see the big picture? Sandberg and Zuckerberg have had huge financial success, but their business is an ethical and moral failure.
The Times article shows that they value power, their egos, and their money far more than whatever good the Facebook service can deliver.
Trump is the story in America. I would bet that ninety-eight percent of all Americans mention his name at least once a day. And when it’s come to that, when you focus on one man, I know Donald 40 years — I know the good side of Donald and I know the bad side of Donald — I think he would like to be a dictator. I think he would love to be able to just run things. So, he causes a lot of this. Then his fight with the media and fake news. I’ve been in the media a long time….And at all my years at CNN, in my years at Mutual Radio, I have never seen a conversation where a producer said to a host “pitch the story this way. Angle it that way. Don’t tell the truth.” Never saw it. Never saw it.
I know, you weren’t sure that Larry was still alive. He is, and he’s not wrong. Here are more of King’s quotes:
So when CNN started covering Trump — they were the first — they covered every speech he made and then they made Trump the story. But, they covered him as a character. They carried every speech he made. They carried him more than Fox News, at the beginning. And so they built the whole thing up and the Republicans had a lot of candidates and they all had weaknesses.
Larry has a point. We spend waay too much time talking about what Trump talks about. People haven’t been addicted like this to the news before, and it isn’t healthy for us as individuals or as a country.
Sure, it would be terrific if people knew all the facts about issues before they voted, but social media, the internet and cable news no longer trade in truth. They’re in it for the money, not for the news.
We can’t uncover the truth without serious digging.
Think about the Jim Acosta affair at Trump’s Thursday press conference. Acosta confronts Trump, Trump wants to move on, but Acosta doesn’t think they are done, and wants to follow up with another question. A young female intern tries to take the microphone away from Acosta without success, and the WH says Acosta laid hands on the intern, then sends out a video to shame Acosta.
But, the video was doctored, according to the WaPo:
And the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, defends releasing a doctored video.
Hold that thought. On Friday, Trump says that he doesn’t know Matt Whitaker, the guy he just appointed as Interim Attorney General. That sounds strange, no executive appoints a person that he/she doesn’t know. So, here are two quotes from Trump about Whitaker. They are both as uncomplicated as a statement can be:
The truth is that he clearly knew Matt Whitaker when he said he didn’t know him. The sad part for America is that he has no guilt, and no shame, when he contradicts himself on something knowable.
There is little truth from Trump, or in his administration, so why does the media cover him so slavishly?
Wrongo recommends that the Main Stream Media immediately reduce their coverage of Trump by 50%. By cutting it in half, two wonderful things will happen:
First, the country’s obsession with his lies will weaken. People’s stress levels will be reduced.
Second, it will drive Trump crazy. He will say even bigger whoppers to try and get America to reconnect, and mainline more Trumpiness.
Both outcomes would be completely acceptable to Wrongo.
Enough for today! Time for Wrongo to heed his own prescription. Let’s all take a few deep breaths, and relax. Poke around in the pantry, find your favorite coffee, and brew up a nice, fresh cup, just the way you like it.
Station yourself near a big, south-facing window, and take in the natural world. Here in the northeast, it’s raining for the third weekend in a row, so we’re staying inside once again.
Now, listen to “Spiegel im Spiegel for Cello and Piano”, written by the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt in 1978. Wikipedia says that since 2010, Pärt has been the most performed living composer in the world.
This is a beautiful, although minimalist piece. It is said that Keith Jarrett once said classical music showed him how to play fewer notes and make more music.
This piece proves Jarret’s point. It should calm you down, because it’s so pleasing to the ear:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
When Wrongo saw the headline in the NYT that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein suggested that he should secretly record President Trump to expose the chaos consuming the administration, he had difficulty believing it.
Several people described the episodes, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments.
So, no first-hand witnesses. Rosenstein disputed the NYT account:
The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect….I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.
Turns out, Wrongo’s skepticism about the NYT was well placed. According to Marcy Wheeler, (who you all should read): (emphasis by Wrongo)
Not a single one of these people…was actually a witness to the episodes. Indeed, by description, none of them have even read the memos memorializing the events directly, but have instead simply been briefed secondhand.
So, where did the information come from? Wheeler quotes Andrew McCabe’s attorney, Michael Bromwich, about how the NYT might have gotten the memos. They were turned over to the Mueller investigation, but:
A set of those memos remained at the F.B.I. at the time of his departure in late January 2018…
The insinuation is clear: Somebody wants to set off the President. Someone at the FBI took McCabe’s memos and read them to people who could then leak them to the NYT. This is the NYT using third-hand sources to start another Saturday Night Massacre. Maybe it’s worth noting here that McCabe was fired for unauthorized disclosures to the news media.
Trump is desperate to release documents that will discredit the Mueller investigation. His effort to declassify a raft of documents has been sidelined this week by his administration. Now, out of the blue comes this helpful accusation against Rosenstein. As Wrongo predicted here, the Trump administration has wanted to make a move to fire Rosenstein, and now they have their excuse.
Will we ever have another week like this one? Let’s hope we won’t. Wrongo senses that, we’ve finally achieved peak “SQUIRREL!!” It’s hard to imagine our attention being diverted as many times in one week as happened last week: Kavanaugh, Kaepernick, the Anonymous Op-Ed, Bob Woodward’s book, and the tech giants trying to explain to Senators, who barely understand their business, how they’ll fix the misuse of their platforms.
We start with Kavanaugh’s uncanny ability to pass through the Senate undetected:
Kaepernick’s Nike ad and the Anonymous article brought out the best in Trump’s supporters:
Trumpie misreads the chart:
Nike protest hurts a few people:
Robert Mueller finds best way to make The Donald quiet as a mouse:
White House staff meeting goes to a bad place:
Despite all the White House turmoil, Mike Pence has been real quiet lately:
(Wrongo is taking off for the rest of the week. So unless SHTF, the next post will be a Wake-Up Call on Tuesday after Labor Day. We all need a break, and late August is usually pretty slow as far as news goes. Try to enjoy the heat wave, or whatever your weather brings.)
The Daily Escape:
Detail from above the doors of Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, FR – 2008 photo by Wrongo. Strasbourg is one of Wrongo’s favorite European cities.
Remember the dog in the movie “Up” who was constantly distracted, yelling “Squirrel!”, all the time? That’s the media when Trump tweets.
When he was first elected, we had the daily squirrel. Now we’ve achieved hourly squirrel. The WaPo reports that:
Early on Tuesday morning, President Trump accused Google of rigging search results for “Trump News” against “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media,” and wondered, “Illegal?” Then, he promised that the situation would be “addressed.”
Google, naturally, denied Trump’s accusation. According to Google, the rankings are supposed “to promote original journalism, as well as to expose users to diverse perspectives.”
Google News results are ranked on a variety of factors, and the results are personalized to an extent. Many factors contribute to their results, including the “freshness” of content, and the extent to which it contains original reporting, as opposed to commentary on the news.
Wrongo’s experience with Google shows that they constantly down rank sites by changing their algorithms. Last year, there was a big dust-up when Google changed its algorithms to promote main stream media and demote independent outlets. “Deemed to be leftie” sites like the Wrongologist have taken traffic hits due to Google’s downgrading non-MSM sites in their search rankings.
But, Trump isn’t completely wrong.
Facebook has a partnership with the Atlantic Council to help FB work on deleting what they call “inauthentic content”. The Atlantic Council is a NATO-backed think tank. Its board includes people like Henry Kissinger, Michael Morrell, the former acting CIA Director, and Gen. Michael Hayden. It is funded by the UAE, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation, Chevron, and a long list of other corporations.
If you use Facebook, do you really want this cast of characters controlling what you see, or do not see? Do you trust them with creating your news feed?
But it could mean much more than that. No one is sure what methodology FB is using. And that could have serious First Amendment implications.
There is a lot here to argue about on both the right and the left. We’ve tumbled to the fact that in the US, companies can do much more than the government regarding censorship. Is this a strength or a weakness?
The First Amendment was originally an Anti-federalist addition to the Constitution designed to contain federal power, giving an equal chance to citizens to organize and publicize resistance to an autocratic regime.
It’s more worrisome that Facebook is working with the Atlantic Council to develop rules about what is false news than if the Atlantic Council was working with the US Government to do the same thing. Why? Because every four years, the government is subject to recall by voters.
The big question: Is the Atlantic Council/Facebook agreement a permitted form of private/government censorship? Is it a way to circumvent the First Amendment?
After all, these are private sector organizations. They can take any political perspective they want, just like FoxNews, and its parent, the News Corporation do every day. Since Citizens United, we call that the right of a corporation to Constitutionally-protected free speech.
One way to look at this is: If you don’t like Google because you think it’s “biased”, then don’t use it. And if Trump and his fellow travelers what a search engine that always places them first, why don’t they simply build one, and see if the “market” makes it a success?
At the end of the day, the important question is how to ensure that the public cannot be forced by both private as well as public interests to find and read information from only a short list of approved providers.
McCain will lie in state in Arizona’s capitol. Then, he will lie in state in the Capitol Building rotunda in Washington. Two former presidents will give eulogies at his funeral. Wrongo mused with a relative about why John McCain is being treated so differently from most other politicians who die in office.
She said: “America has no heroes.”
John McCain was a senator. His own party never fully trusted him. Democrats never knew what to make of him. He was occasionally with them, but he was against them on everything else. He called himself a maverick; he was certainly a pain. Why are we celebrating McCain as an American hero?
We are at the confluence of two tides in our history. First, we lionize our soldiers. We thank them for their service, we call them warriors. McCain spent 5+ years in a POW prison. He was tortured, and survived. So he is a heroic face for a war that we lost, a war we are still conflicted about, 40 years later.
In our intervening wars, there are individual soldier-heroes, but few stand out to us. The wars grind on, and the stories of the war heroes of our current time are fuzzy. The soldiers serve multiple tours, or we hear that they are coping with terrible post-traumatic stress. We have few contemporary genuine military heroes.
Second, our politicians have long since ceased to be heroic. McCain served six terms in the US Senate. He was old school, and some this week are calling him the “last lion” of the Senate. That tells us that despite the longevity of several other politicians of McCain’s (and Wrongo’s) generation, those who remain are merely ordinary.
The media wants us to believe that every American politician who dies is a great American. They seem to think that if that ever breaks down, America may stop being Great. This quasi-religious veneration of politicians is unbecoming of us as a people. It has transformed the majority of public offices into ones that are attractive mostly to people who are unfit to hold them.
In today’s politics, we’re usually trying hard to avoid electing the greater fool among the terrible options available to us. Most of the time, we have done that. But here we are: Donald Trump can’t carry John McCain’s jock, but he’s our president. This is from John Pavlovitz:
As the funeral for Senator John McCain approaches, we find ourselves in yet another occasion of national consequence; one our supposed Commander-In-Chief is intentionally excluded from because he is beneath the dignity and capability the moment requires.
This moment plays itself out whenever there is a national tragedy, whenever compassion or decency or strength or goodness are required; whenever an adult leader would be called upon to actually lead us.
Unsurprisingly, these minimal efforts are a bridge too far for Donald Trump.
There’s something to be said for being able to display grace and compassion upon the untimely passing of your adversary. After all, you’ve outlived him.
Where will we find our heroes in the next few years? It seems almost certain they will not come from Congress or the White House.
McCain was far from the hero that we are portraying him to be, now that he’s gone. But it shouldn’t require something heroic from Trump or his advisors to do the right thing.
Our culture is on the skids, led by our small president and his party.
Let’s give the last words to Pavlovitz:
In the meantime, just as today, we’ll all have to work together to fill in the spectacular gaps in leadership and compassion and intelligence and dignity that used to be filled by our Presidents.
We simply don’t have one right now.
UPDATE: After the column above was written, the White House, facing a national outpouring of scorn, relented, and once again lowered flags on the WH grounds to half staff in honor of John McCain. Politicians on both sides, along with veterans’ groups, slammed President Trump as vindictive and petty.
The message was sent, and received by our small president.
Despite re-lowering the flag, and providing a military escort for McCain’s coffin, the point remains that Trump isn’t capable of compassion, or dignity. He’s not a leader.
Everyone in the media is talking about John Brennan, who lost his security clearance this week. On the Trump side of the ledger, Brennan is an enemy of the people. On the other side, he’s America’s hero for talking truth to power.
Wrongo won’t shed any tears for Brennan.
Let’s go back in time: When Barack Obama became president, he tried to make Brennan Director of the CIA. But even Democrats in Congress were opposed to that, because, while serving under GW Bush, Brennan enabled the rendition of terror suspects to countries where they could be tortured. So, Obama made him Deputy National Security Advisor, where he created and managed Obama’s “drone kill” list.
After Obama’s reelection, Brennan was named CIA director. In that role, he ordered the CIA to spy on the Senate Intelligence Committee that was at the time, investigating CIA torture. While under oath, he lied to Congress, denying it. When it was proven that the CIA did in fact spy on Congress, he had to apologize. At the time, a WaPo editorial said: Obama should fire John Brennan, but nobody remembers any of this today.
Brennan is a hot, steaming pile of CIA shit. But, since he recognized the threat that Trump represents, suddenly we should make him America’s sweetheart? Brennan will have a long career, now that Trump has elevated him to be his foil. We shouldn’t allow Brennan to be the face of the resistance to Trump. Brennan’s a corrupt and terribly flawed messenger.
While Trump and Truth both contain 5 letters of the alphabet, they have never met:
A cartoon from the past reminds us that the priest pedophilia never ends:
After all, you can’t molest the unborn:
Who says Trump can’t unite America?
These two richly deserve being each other’s enemy:
Alex Jones was banned for posting “fake news”. Clay Jones, (no relation) the cartoonist who drew the above, asks how conservatives can say that private businesses like Facebook or Apple shouldn’t be able to deny Alex Jones from stating his opinions. But, conservatives also argue that the NFL must stop football players from kneeling during the National Anthem. Is holding both positions acceptable?
Just a few parallels:
As bad as Nixon was, he doesn’t hold a candle to Trump’s self-serving deceit!
First the gates, then the fort. What else protects Trump?
How will the Trumpets square these ideas with the “final frontier”?
Trump tries explaining how the fires in CA were caused:
Trump’s secret sanctions plan will bring Iran to its knees:
Nizina Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Melting ice formed a lake in 2000. 2018 photo by Nathaniel Wilder for Smithsonian Magazine
Should fake news be protected under the First Amendment? Should private companies be able to ban the toxic stuff that people like Alex Jones spew? Spew like his denial that the Newtown shootings happened, or his speculation that Brennan Gilmore, a former State Department official who attended last summer’s violent far-right rally in Charlottesville, VA was really with the CIA.
Earlier this week, Facebook, Google, Apple, Spotify and Pinterest, within hours of each other, banned Alex Jones and his Infowars web site. Does losing his place on these platforms abridge his freedom of speech?
When someone says that something we otherwise believe is fake, it stirs deep emotions. Consider the immunization scam when Andrew Wakefield published in the Lancetthat the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may predispose to autism in children. Although false medical science, it circulated widely, and was widely believed. Today, communities are at risk, because kids are not being vaccinated by their parents, and regional outbreaks of these diseases which were largely extinct, are occurring again. So, despite the best efforts by the medical community to educate parents that the MMR vaccine is safe, the fake news outran any efforts to contain the lie.
Each day 100 million+ stories hit the internet, so we can’t possibly vet even a fraction of them. Fake news will get through, and spread. In the midterm elections, and in the presidential election in 2020, technology will build on what was learned in the 2016 presidential campaign: (brackets by Wrongo)
Trump ran 5.9 million different versions of ads during the presidential campaign and rapidly tested them [and]…spread those that generated the most Facebook engagement…. Clinton ran 66,000 different kinds of ads in the same period.
The next iteration of the technology will bring each of the 156 million registered voters in the US a stream of personalized messages. That’s because nearly everyone has a social media presence, and their information and preferences will be shared by the platform companies with the campaigns.
People who have influence on social media utilize these new technologies extremely well. Alex Jones uses it well, and is on the toxic end of the fake news spectrum. And there’s Trump, master of the continuous Twitter falsehood. He turns the lie around, accusing his detractors of spreading fake news. With the GOP in power, there will not be any government crackdown on misinformation. Here’s why: the Daily Beast reports on a disturbing poll by Ipsos:
43% of self-identified Republicans said that they believed “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior”…..48% of them said they believed “the news media is the enemy of the American people”.
If you trust what Alex Jones says, fine. But now, your ability to amplify his toxic brand of fake news has been hampered by the platform companies throwing him off. Parsing what is considered free speech is a slippery slope, and we won’t know just how slippery it is, until we start sliding down.
Case law says we’re able to protest, saying whatever we want, within some limits. We used to do that in town squares. A big question is: Are Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter the town squares of today?
That’s a question that hasn’t yet been decided. It is why who gets to sit on the Supreme Court is so damn important, particularly if Republicans agree that the president should decide which news outlets are allowed to publish.
Democracy requires conflicting opinions. Anybody can build a platform, and appeal to a niche audience. Today, you can spew falsehoods, like Alex Jones or Trump, who do just that every day.
We live in an era of doublespeak. Automobiles that get higher mileage kill their drivers. Fires are raging in California because there’s not enough water. When the president is an unreliable source of information, fake news carries the same importance as real news. But, legal scholars remind us that:
false news doesn’t serve the public interest in the way that true speech does.
Should the platform companies be able to ban someone, or some messages, even if they do not reflect a clear and present danger? Maybe. Jones and his ilk have other outlets for their spew. And they can build others, and their followers will find them.
This is the beginning of a pushback against fake news, and it’s only the beginning of a revitalized free speech debate pitting the main stream media against those who spew fake news.
If you only want to look at kittens online, go for it. It shouldn’t be all that our Constitution allows, but, where should we draw the line?