Why aren’t we boycotting CNN?

I’ve been wondering that for a while, but the question has become more acute recently. CNN keeps bringing on that lying boob, Jeffrey Lord, or the Disney villainesque Kelly Ann Conway. Wolf Blitzer has been promoted above his level of competence, I suspect because of his name — he belongs in a Joseph Heller novel. Everyone’s eyes seem to light up with dollar signs every time Trump says something belligerently stupid, and the whole network’s reputation seems to rest on the orgiastic celebration of military violence. It’s just plain awful. CNN only survives on a tabloid-like fascination with evil and the fact that it’s not as much of a propaganda organ for the Republicans as is Fox News. “Not quite as bad as Fox News” is a hell of an endorsement.

If you’ve ever felt like cutting CNN some slack, though, you need to read this profile of Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, and the sick media culture he fosters.

We can blame our own home-grown media organizations, especially CNN, for the elevation of Trump. Forget the Russians — Jeff Zucker is the real traitor.

CNN was hardly the only news organization to provide saturation coverage of the Trump campaign. The media-measurement firm mediaQuant calculated that Trump received the equivalent of $5.8 billion in free media — known as “earned media,” as opposed to paid advertising — over the course of the election, $2.9 billion more than Hillary Clinton. Nor is CNN the only cable-news network that has benefited from Trump’s incarnation as a politician. MSNBC and Fox News each had a surge in ratings during the election that has shown no signs of slowing since then. Fox, the president’s preferred outlet, is coming off the best quarter in the history of 24-hour cable news. MSNBC, the network of the resistance, has been thriving, too, often even beating CNN during prime time.

But CNN was the first major news organization to give Trump’s campaign prolonged and sustained attention. He was a regular guest in the network’s studios from the earliest days of the Republican primaries, often at Zucker’s suggestion. (For a while, according to the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Trump referred to Zucker as his “personal booker.”) When Trump preferred not to appear in person, he frequently called in. Nor did CNN ever miss an opportunity to broadcast a Trump rally or speech, building the suspense with live footage of an empty lectern and breathless chyrons: “DONALD TRUMP EXPECTED TO SPEAK ANY MINUTE.” Kalev Leetaru, a data scientist, using information obtained from the TV News Archive, calculated that CNN mentioned Trump’s name nearly eight times more frequently than that of the second-place finisher, Ted Cruz, during the primaries.

He isn’t a news person at all. There’s nothing about journalistic standards in his approach. It’s not a news network, it’s a circus.

What Zucker is creating now is a new kind of must-see TV — produced almost entirely in CNN’s studios — an unending loop of dramatic moments, conflicts and confrontations. “I’ve always been interested in the news, but I’ve always been interested in what’s popular,” Zucker says. “I’ve always had a little bit of a populist take on things. Which I know is interesting when you talk about Donald Trump.”

Every circus needs its clowns, and Zucker has hired at least a dozen of them.

Lord made his CNN debut in July 2015. Two weeks later, CNN offered him a job as the network’s first pro-Trump contributor. (CNN said it was already considering Lord and that Trump’s suggestion had no effect on their decision to hire him.) Today, he is one of 12 Trump partisans on CNN’s payroll and perhaps the network’s most reliable, if mild-mannered, provocateur; he recently defended Trump’s tweet that Obama had orchestrated a “Nixon/Watergate” wiretapping plot against him, saying that the president was just speaking “Americanese.” The network sends a black town car four days a week to ferry him to Manhattan from Harrisburg and back, a three-hour drive each way.

Stop. Just stop. Turn off the entire media spectacle of 24 hour news. It’s a failure. It’s worse than a failure. It’s led us to think that entertainment (of the worst kind) is information, and has paved the road to complete corruption and ineptitude in our politics. I’d like to think that print journalism, at least, isn’t completely dead — note that I’m citing a NY Times article here — but even there the signs are on the wall. Just look at their op-ed pages, which consists largely of a parade of over-paid idiots, to see the same rot growing there.

At this point I’m more reliant on European news sources. It’s not that they’re necessarily better, but that at least they’re outside looking in at the chaos in America.

But tune out CNN. They’re tainted.


The CNN mindset:

But Trump has the spokesperson he deserves!

Charles Pierce thinks Sean Spicer deserves to be fired for this:

You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons, Spicer said in response to questions about the implications of Assad’s chemical attacks.

Then he made it worse.

Hitler was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing.

His own people. On Passover.

That is an epic gaffe. If it were a hook, it would only be used for landing whales, and would require the power of a Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C to hoist it. Decades from now, people will remember where they were on the day Sean Spicer made Melissa McCarthy utterly superfluous; McCarthy is weeping right now, defeated, knowing she could never invent something as ridiculous, oblivious, and insensitive as that comment. Spicer will go to his deathbed regretting dropping that turd from his mouth. It’s going to be in his obituary afterwards. The only person praising the Lord for that remark right now is the CEO of United Airlines.

Since the invention of the spokesperson, there have only been five spokespeople that were rated the most incompetent, the most dishonest. This one left them all behind.

So yes, if Trump were a rational man who valued competence, Spicer should be immediately fired.

But Trump is not that man.

Are all Republicans just hateful scoundrels who like to hurt people?

It sure seems that way. Minnesota has been thriving under Democratic leadership for the last several years, and we had a bit of moderate progressive legislation passed…but the Republicans got a majority in the last election, and are bound and determined to eradicate all the successes of the past. It’s as if they just don’t like people.

Progressive policies enacted in Minnesota’s largest cities in recent years are at risk from Republicans who control the state Legislature as they seek to block, undo or change local ordinances on everything from sick leave and the minimum wage to plastic bags and bike lanes.

Sick leave? Minimum wage? Bike lanes? They don’t like bike lanes?!?! They don’t have any kind of positive intent or agenda, so they’re just going to tear down what previous legislators accomplished. Their justification is also as racist as fuck.

“Clearly the cultural values of Minneapolis are drastically out of alignment with greater Minnesota, so there’s going to be conflicts,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, author of a bill that would block cities from passing their own labor rules.

Key words there: “greater Minnesota” is a phrase that refers to all of the state except for Minneapolis/St Paul. To put it in words more familiar to out-of-staters, he wants to block any support for the cultural values of those urban people, hint hint, nudge nudge.

He’s wrong, of course. There are a lot of us out here in “greater Minnesota” who have progressive values, and find these damned dumb regressive yokels to be an embarrassment.

We’ve got to work to kick these slugs out of office in the next election.

Our ‘liberal’ media at work

Krugman nails it:

One thing is certain: The media reaction to the Syria strike showed that many pundits and news organizations have learned nothing from past failures.

Mr. Trump may like to claim that the media are biased against him, but the truth is that they’ve bent over backward in his favor. They want to seem balanced, even when there is no balance; they have been desperate for excuses to ignore the dubious circumstances of his election and his erratic behavior in office, and start treating him as a normal president.

You may recall how, a month and a half ago, pundits eagerly declared that Mr. Trump “became the president of the United States today” because he managed to read a speech off a teleprompter without going off script. Then he started tweeting again.

One might have expected that experience to serve as a lesson. But no: The U.S. fired off some missiles, and once again Mr. Trump “became president.” Aside from everything else, think about the incentives this creates. The Trump administration now knows that it can always crowd out reporting about its scandals and failures by bombing someone.

Every time I think maybe the media are growing a spine and showing some appreciation of their responsibilities: they see the prospect of a war that will boost their ratings, and suddenly they’re orgasming over missiles. I’m looking at you, Fareed Zakaria and Brian Williams. Fuck you all. Get off the air.

Hysterical

Those darned humanities professors, teaching about literature and words and history and all that fuzzy stuff.

The course is titled “The Wandering Uterus: Journeys through Gender, Race, and Medicine” and gets its name from one of the ancient “causes” of hysteria. The uterus was believed to wander around the body like an animal, hungry for semen. If it wandered the wrong direction and made its way to the throat there would be choking, coughing or loss of voice, if it got stuck in the the rib cage, there would be chest pain or shortness of breath, and so on. Most any symptom that belonged to a female body could be attributed to that wandering uterus. “Treatments,” including vaginal fumigations, bitter potions, balms, and pessaries made of wool, were used to bring that uterus back to its proper place. “Genital massage,” performed by a skilled physician or midwife, was often mentioned in medical writings. The triad of marriage, intercourse, and pregnancy was the ultimate treatment for the semen-hungry womb. The uterus was a troublemaker and was best sated when pregnant.

But that’s ancient history! No one could believe that after the Middle Ages!

It just got transmogrified in the 19th century.

It was believed that hysteria, also known as neurasthenia, could be set off by a plethora of bad habits including reading novels (which caused erotic fantasies), masturbation, and homosexual or bisexual tendencies resulting in any number of symptoms such as seductive behaviors, contractures, functional paralysis, irrationality, and general troublemaking of various kinds. There are pages and pages of medical writings outing hysterics as great liars who willingly deceive. The same old “treatments” were enlisted—genital massage by an approved provider, marriage and intercourse—but some new ones included ovariectomies and cauterization of the clitoris.

Oh, those Victorians! No one believes that kind of crap now.

This wasn’t just any fall semester. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate time to consider the history of hysteria than September 2016, the week following Hillary Clinton’s collapse from pneumonia at the 9/11 ceremonies, an event that tipped #HillarysHealth into a national obsession. Rudolph Giuliani said that she looked sick and encouraged people to google “Hillary Clinton illness.” Trump focused on her coughing or “hacking” as if the uterus were still making its perambulations up to the throat.

For many months, Hillary had been pathologized as the shrill shrew who was too loud and outspoken, on the one hand, and the weak sick one who didn’t have the strength or stamina to be president on the other. We discussed journalist Gail Collins’ assessment of the various levels of sexism afoot in the campaign. On the topic of Hillary’s health, Collins wrote, “this is nuts, but not necessarily sexist.” We, in the Wandering Uterus, wholeheartedly disagreed. But, back in September, we did not understand how deeply entrenched these sinister mythologies had already become.

But that was 2016! We know so much more now, in 2017!

Irony alert!

There is a Kentucky Coal Museum. And they’re working to switch their power source.

The museum is installing solar panels on its roof, part of a project aimed at lowering the energy costs of one of the city’s largest electric customers. It’s also a symbol of the state’s efforts to move away from coal as its primary energy source as more coal-fired power plants are replaced by natural gas. The state legislature recently lifted its decades-old ban on nuclear power.

The museum is built in the shell of the old company store, another relic of the benevolent tyranny of coal. I don’t understand why anyone looks fondly on an institution that was so oppressive and so destructive.

Another day, another war

Our weapon is piety and sanctimony. No, our two weapons are piety, sanctimony, and hypocrisy. Our three weapons are piety, sanctimony, hypocrisy, and a whole lot of bombs. Trump must have thought it was wonderful that he had an opportunity to wrap himself up in the flag and babble about god.

My fellow Americans, on Tuesday Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror. Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons. There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention, and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behaviour have all failed and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilise, threatening the United States and its allies. Tonight I call on all civilised nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed, and we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will in the end prevail. Good night and God bless America and the entire world. Thank you.

Assad is a vile piece of shit, I agree. Killing civilians, or anyone for that matter, with nerve gas is a crime against humanity, and something should be done…I just don’t know what, except that wrecking a country with a hail of missiles doesn’t seem to be a very practical way to protect “beautiful babies”. It’s also not just Trump — Obama seems to have killed a lot of civilians with drone strikes, and clearly both parties are blithe about murdering foreigners.

And now I’m also confused by the Trumpian incoherence, which doesn’t help.

You know Syria is one of the countries under a travel ban — and Trump campaigned on opposing immigration and banning those “beautiful babies” from entering the US.

The United States’ record on allowing those “beautiful little babies” of Syria — and their battle-scarred parents — to come here as refugees from the war zone has been abysmal. Over one roughly equivalent stretch of time last year, our next-door neighbors in Canada took in 25,000 Syrian refugees while America took a paltry 841. Hillary Clinton pledged to increase that number — not dramatically — and she was savaged on the campaign trail by Trump and his supporters. Trump, of course, announced a ban on accepting refugees as part of his sweeping — and struck down — travel ban.

It’s also the case that only a few years (months?) ago, Trump was howling in opposition to any military intervention in the region.

It also means that he has thrown away all the cards in his hand and seems to be asking for a new deal.

He was pals with Putin; throw that away, because Putin is an Assad ally and is now talking about beefing up Syria’s defenses.

One of the reasons Trump hadn’t leapt into action before was that the openly hated ISIS was also fighting against the Assad regime. We are now allied with ISIS, in this one thing!

This one is almost amusing: Pepe the Frog is most unhappy with Trump. Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, Gavin McInnes, Mike Cernovich, Charles Johnson, and Stefan Molyneux — among the most horrible awful people on the planet — are united in condemning the FAKE, GAY bombing. No word yet on Martin Shkreli’s opinion. I’m allied with these trolls, on this one thing? I’m feeling nauseated.

It’s total chaos!

And look at the flagrant embrace of god-talk in his last three sentences, the usual first resort of American politicians leaping into destruction. I don’t know what god he’s appealing to, but I’m beginning to suspect that it’s Arioch. Blood and souls! Blood and souls for Lord Arioch!

Was anyone burned at the stake? Probably not a witch trial, then

I’m never going to be a fan of a story of a hearing that is titled Eyewitness to a Title IX Witch Trial — it’s loaded with language that is prejudicial and ignores the facts, from the title onward. “Witch trial,” really? It’s the story of a philosophy professor, Peter Ludlow, who was accused of taking advantage of a student. The story states the facts quite clearly, but then goes on to assume the professor was innocent. Here’s what we absolutely know, because both sides agree to this account.

Ludlow and the student, whom I’ll call Eunice Cho, spent the evening going to gallery openings and bars, then ended up sleeping together, clothed, on top of the comforter, in a bed at his apartment. They agree that they didn’t have sex, but Cho would charge that Ludlow had forced her to drink liquor she didn’t want and had then groped her, both at a bar and at his apartment, which led to her trying to kill herself a few days later. Cho filed a Title IX complaint; then hired a lawyer and sued both Ludlow and the university for monetary damages. Ludlow countersued for defamation.

I’m going to say right there that Ludlow was in the wrong. Getting drunk with a student? Bringing her back to your home? Sharing a bed, even if sex didn’t happen? Damned poor judgment on Ludlow’s part. I cannot imagine ever doing anything like that — a student, at an event on my invitation, who was getting drunk…that’s where you stop the situation cold, not hours later when you’re both passed out in bed. This is an action by a professor that warrants discipline.

Then more problems are exposed.

When Cho’s lawsuits went public, a graduate student I’ll call Nola Hartley came forward. Ludlow and Hartley had had what was, at the time, a consensual three-month relationship some two years earlier. Hartley now charged that Ludlow had raped her on one occasion when she was asleep in his bed after drinking too much, though she didn’t actually remember it happening. (They had sex on another occasion, she acknowledged, but that was consensual.) Hartley had also decided, in retrospect, that the entire relationship with Ludlow had never been consensual. She was 25 at the time, well over the age of consent.

Good grief. He had a sexual relationship with a grad student in his department? This faculty member spells trouble all around. This author is also trouble. The fact that the accuser was over the age of consent says nothing about whether the relationship was consensual — when a woman turns 21 it does not mean she has suddenly agreed to everything. You can be 25, 50, or 80 and still refuse consent to sex.

A surprisingly large chunk of this story is also focused on a character witness who was brought in to testify about how wonderful and charming Ludlow is, sentiments the author clearly shares.

Wilson had known Ludlow for 15 years, she said, first as his student and then in two departments as a colleague, and spoke movingly about him as a mentor and a person. Being around him had been a sort of “effervescent philosophical situation” for Wilson and her then-boyfriend, also a philosopher, when they were all in the same department. When she and her boyfriend decided to get married, they chose Ludlow as the officiant “because he was the most erudite, witty, wonderful person that I knew.”

Yes? So? A psychopath can be witty and charming, that doesn’t mean they are innocent of ever committing any wickedness. I can well believe that Ludlow had a perfectly appropriate, reasonable professional relationship with this witness, and even that the witness had never heard a word of complaint about Ludlow — I’ve been in that same position where I’d been stunned to learn people I thought well of were perfidious scumbags in other relationships. It happens. It also actually supports the complaint by Hartley that she hadn’t been in a consensual relationship: she’d been snowed by a charismatic charmer, as Ludlow apparently is.

The story takes a weird turn with the author’s response to the witnesses testimony.

It probably sounds bizarre to say, given the circumstances, but it felt as if there was an erotic current in the room. It reminded me of my own student days, when the excitement of learning made me feel alive in such profoundly creative, intellectual, erotically messy ways — which were indistinguishable from one another, and no one thought it should be otherwise.

WTF? This is a hearing, which she already characterized as a witch trial, and now she’s talking about an “erotic current”? Jesus. I guarantee you the lawyers didn’t feel that way on either side, nor did the defendant who was trying to protect his career, nor would any of his accusers. This was a hearing, a terrible tedious committee meeting with significant consequences. It sounds like someone was enamored with Ludlow.

By the way, this was serious business. The hearing stretched over a month, with lawyers and peers reviewing the evidence. Here’s how it’s characterized:

It was the campus equivalent of a purification ritual, and purifying communities is no small-scale operation these days: In addition to the five-person faculty panel, there were three outside lawyers, at least two in-house lawyers, another lawyer hired by the university to advise the faculty panel, a rotating cast of staff and administrators, and a court reporter taking everything down on a little machine. Ludlow had his lawyer (and on one occasion, two).

How would the author prefer this be handled? The accusations were serious, the impact on the defendant substantial, and there was a massive investment in addressing them formally and seriously. It was not the kind of thing where it would be appropriate to flippantly dismiss either side — the young woman was distressed enough to have attempted suicide, the professor was at risk of losing his tenured position and his career. Damn right it was going to be handled with due attention to all the details. It was actually overkill in giving due process to a faculty member who had essentially admitted to gross impropriety with at least a couple of students, and the conclusion was essentially foregone once he’d admitted to the behavior, even if he does believe that he has sexual privileges with students because he’s erudite and scholarly. That’s not a “purification ritual”, that’s granting the professor full opportunity to justify his actions.

He lost, too. The author even admits, in a roundabout way, that he’s guilty.

Yes, Ludlow was guilty — though not of what the university charged him with. His crime was thinking that women over the age of consent have sexual agency, which has lately become a heretical view on campus, despite once being a crucial feminist position. Of course the community had to expel him. That’s what you do with heretics.

Goddamn. This is not about the age of consent. It’s not about a 60 year old man having having consensual relationships with younger women. It’s about a power differential, and how someone in a position of greater power can abuse it. He was not a heretic, just a professor who took advantage of students. That’s an already difficult situation, and he made it worse by stupidly getting a student drunk and traumatizing them.

He got a fair and perhaps even too deferential hearing, and his poorly thought-out behavior led to his own resignation.