Good Morning, everyone!
1 On the other hand, “Bite me!” I find myself feeling bad about a Facebook retort yesterday laying out an old friend, also a former Democratic official’s staff member, for taking a snide shot at my “bias” after my answer to a query about anti-Trump legal ethicist Richard Painter. Painter has been on the “remove Trump by any means possible” bandwagon since the 2016 election, and because he was an ethics advisor to the Bush White House, he has been a favorite go-to source for CNN and MSNBC while authoring bizarre op-eds that distort the Constitution. My response about Painter was that he has apparently been driven mad by the whole Trump experience, and is now in the process of wrecking a very fine reputation as his colleagues in the field, like me, roll their eyes and weep. (Painter is a Bush family loyalist, and the guessing is that he is following the lead of the two Georges, who hate Trump to pieces.) Yes, Richard was among the first to advocate Plan E, removing Trump because he is “unable” to do the job, so he’s especially hot right now.
I feel bad because I’m a nice guy, but I’ll be damned if I will put up with being called “biased” for correctly pointing out what is dishonest and wrong about the various plots to circumvent the election. It’s not a “bias” to believe that an entire party attempting to undermine an elected President is wrong, and that lawyers and ethicists who pander to that mob have slipped a professional cog. I sent my friend to this website to find any evidence that I am a Trump fan, other than being the apparently rare critic who will give the President credit when he deserves it, and who will defend him against fake news and dishonest accusations. I’m a passionate supporter of U.S. values, the system, our institutions, the Presidency itself and elections. That’s not bias. That’s called being an ethical citizen.
2. Signature significance for a weasel. Five days after his reported quotes in “Fire and Fury” including one accusing Don Jr. of “treason” caused President Trump to slam him on Twitter, former White House aide and Breitbart power Steve Bannon sent an “apology” to Axios, of all places. This is known as ” crawling back.” Bannon, while at the White House, leaked to reporters and played both ends against the middle to further his own agenda, and betrayed the President’s trust and confidence by aiding and abetting sleazy political gossip-monger Michael Wolff. Now, after Bannon’s split with Trump has obviously cost him support, influence and credibility, the man who chomped on the hand that fed him wants a do-over. Only the worst species of unethical and unprincipled weasel would try something like this. If he genuinely regretted the quotes, he would have immediately said that they misrepresent him, and repudiated them. Waiting five days makes it clear that Bannon was waiting to see how the episode was playing in the media and public to decide whether to stand by his own words or not. The short version of this is: “Integrity? What’s that?”
Moreover, the text of the “apology” shows that Bannon isn’t very bright. Why bother looking pathetic and weak if you aren’t even going to do it effectively? He doesn’t even apologize: he says that he regrets his “delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”
Ha! I bet he does. But this is a Level 10 apology on the Apology Scale:
An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.
3. Is expressing “regret” the same as an apology? Let’s look closely at which mainstream media outlets call Bannon’s statement an “apology.” Axios does. When President Obama was making his so-called “apology tour,” as it was dubbed by the Right, journalists rushed to his defense, arguing that saying in multiple nations that he “regretted” the policies of his predecessors and the past actions of the United States was not the same as apologizing for them.
4. Somewhere, Dan Rather is smiling...I’m putting this in the Warm-Up because, as you may have noticed, yesterday’s posts were dominated by “the resistance’s” Plan E and the news media’s dutiful assist by hyping “Fire and Fury.” Incredibly—yes, I’m an idiot: the degree to which the news media will abandon core journalism ethics if it means bringing Trump down still surprises me–there was little effort on the news shows yesterday to hide the fact that much of Wolff’s book is unreliable, and that the author admits it. Nonetheless, they reported on the salacious quotes and accounts, debated in panels whether it “proved” the President is disabled, and generally presented the book to the public as fact, not fiction.
How can journalists possibly justify this? It can’t be justified, but the news media’s anti-Trump bias has made them stupid and incompetent.
For example, CNN MEDIA ETHICIST—I have to place both hands over my head to prevent an explosion when I type that, which means I have to type with my nose—Brian Stelter tweeted,
Big picture point: Wolff’s errors are sloppy, but many Trump experts say the book “rings true” overall.
This, you will recall, was Dan Rather‘s rationale for presenting forged documents as evidence that George W. Bush had been AWOL in the Air National Guard, because “even if the documents are false, the underlying story is true.” To Jake Tapper‘s credit (although he still insisted on trying to grill White House aide Steve Miller about the book), he tweeted back to his CNN colleague,
“Having many errors but “ringing true” is not a journalistic standard.”
Correct, Jake! But why are you and the rest of your network still talking about a book of gossip and rumors?
Ann Althouse did an especially good job slamming the news media’s handling of “Fire and Fury,” writing in part,
“Read the book. See if you don’t feel like you are with me on that couch in the White House. And see if you don’t feel alarmed…”
So said Michael Wolff on “Meet the Press” today, after Chuck Todd confronted him about “a lot of little errors” — “One page had three in one. Some of them may be copy edits, small, factual errors. But it adds up. Why shouldn’t a reader be concerned about some of these mistakes?”
Wolff’s answer was just “I think a reader should read the book. The book speaks for itself” and that quote I put in the post title, which I thought was a very weird answer. Wolff wouldn’t defend the book and the method and care he used. He just insisted that people read the book. Questions about whether the book is true should be determined by readers simply feeling whether it’s true.
…It felt like a complete concession that the book was fiction. Because that is how fiction works. It isn’t reporting, but a different way of getting to the truth. If it feels true, it is true, for the purposes of the mental life of the reader. What’s out there in the real world is… oh, what is it? Is that “real world” you speak of anything at all? I’m here in my own head, where whatever is felt is.
Here’s Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine…
“…I do think… there are very significant journalistic critiques that you can throw at this book. But I also think the “it rings true” truth about this is absolutely valid.”
Ah ha ha ha ha. He’s buying the feel-the-truth-at-you/fiction-is-truth theory that sounded like bullshit when Wolff said it.
….Notice how much Wolff sounds like a novelist. Nothing wrong with being a novelist. But there is something wrong with reading a novel and not realizing it’s a novel. Remember, recently, the internet went wild talking about the New Yorker short story “Cat Person,” and it seemed rather obvious that a lot of people were just talking about it as if it were a blow-by-blow account of a real relationship? Come on, people! That’s incompetent reading. Fiction is different.
I have to interject here that I am having an increasingly difficult time not getting emotional about this. How dare the news media betray us ? The chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine is cheering on a book that he knows is substantially fiction because it “rings true”? On ABC yesterday, George Stephanopoulis hypothesized that the book is “50% true,” and then continued to lead a Trump-bashing round table discussion about its implications.
I can’t respect these people any more. I can’t trust them, and I can’t believe them.
Do read David Harsanyi‘s essay,, Don’t Let Wolff’s ‘Fire And Fury’ Normalize ‘Fake But Accurate.’
5. “But it would be wrong…” Wikileaks just released Wolff’s book on a pdf, free of charge. Yes, this is illegal. Yes, this is unethical. Yes, I’m tempted, because I don’t want to but a nickel in Michael Wolff’s pocket, but I’m often tempted to do unethical things. If you read the book this way, it is too close to stealing. Don’t do it.
But I do think there should be an investigation into whether the President colluded with Wikileaks to hurt book sales. After all, it “rings true.”