The Politically-Motivated Scold: “He’s a Liar”

Apparently one of the worst things you can call someone is a ‘liar.’ That accusation is thrown around repeatedly by President Trump’s critics and opponents. But it’s not only said of Trump. When Brent Kavanaugh wouldn’t confess to operating a gang rape fest in college, he was accused by many of lying despite no evidence backing the accusation.

Accusing someone of being a liar is a cheap way of attacking them. The accusation is taken as proof––no evidence needed. It is assumed the accusation must be true; it’s too serious to be levied on a whim.

Let’s look at the accusation that Donald Trump is an inveterate liar.

Differences of Opinon

A large number of the lies attributed to Donald Trump are differences in opinion, not fact. If he says his administration passed the largest tax cut in the country’s history, is it a lie if someone claims the numbers don’t back his claim? First, one has to establish that Trump is wrong; second that he knew he was wrong when he made the claim. But what if discrepancy between the fact checker’s calculation comes down to a difference in what is being measured? Changes in the tax code affect people differently depending on tax bracket. Thus, it’s easy to cherry pick numbers and accuse your opponent of lying about the facts. This technique of calling a difference of opinion a lie is politically motivated. It’s not designed to get at the “truth.” The goal is to skewer your opponent.

Hyperbole

The President uses hyperbole as a rhetorical devise. To some critics, his exagerations are lies, but it’s not that simple. If someone consciously exagerates to make a point, is that a lie or simply a means the speaker is using to get his point across? The speaker might admit he exagerated a point, assuming the listener is smart enough to distinguish between hyperbole and an intent to deceive.

When the president says his administration has accomplished more in two and a half years than any other president is that something that can be disproved? It can be challenged, but it’s a matter of opinion, not fact.

Can Someone Lie without Intent?

A core problem with accusing someone of lying the accuser should be able to prove that the accused knew his facts were wrong when he made the offending statement. Trump has been accused of having lied about the size of his inauguration crowd versus Obama’s, but can you prove he knew the facts and intentionally lied about it? What’s his obligation in terms of obtaining the facts? What if someone gave him the incorrect information? What is his obligation in terms of correcting an error? Doesn’t it depend on the issue. Since the size of a crowd has little bearing on anything of import, can it be held against Trump for not issuing an apology if indeed he was wrong?

Does Context Matter?

Does whether someone can be accused of lying depend on the context? If a reporter button-holes a politician with a question, does his answer demand the same level of accuracy as testimony in court or when submitting prepared remarks? President Trump likes to play games with the media. He says things to get their goat. One of the examples of how his opponents have tried to make him out to have colluded with Russia in 2016 was his remark that someone should ask the Russians if they know the whereabouts of the missing emails from Hillary’s server. Is it his fault that his tease was taken seriously and used as justification for his being investigated as a traitor?

The Problem That Comes from Accusing Someone of Lying

The danger of accusing someone of lying when you aren’t distinguishing between rhetoric and fact is that it provides a justification in the mind of those who buy the accusation to ignore evidence to the contrary. If you think someone lies all day long, you probably believe everything that person says is a lie. Then you stop listening and paying attention to what that person does, which in the end is the goal of the accuser. The accuser wants you to buy their lies and stop using your reasoning powers to make judgements based on facts. Sadly this technique seems to be working on a lot of people.

What journalists do: My thoughts

Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times Union, informs us “a journalist who just passes along what is said is a fancy stenographer, failing at the task of truth telling.” That in a nutshell describes where journalism has gone off the rails and why it’s audience represents only one segment of society.

When I was a cub reporter with the Oberlin College student newspaper, my first assignment was to cover a talk by the poet Stephen Spender. I was asked to take notes so that people not able to attend would get an accurate idea of what he said. I certainly was not expected to judge or evaluate Spender’s presentation.

Later I became a sports editor. The closest I came to “truth telling” was writing a headline that told readers the extent of the victory or defeat. The story itself was a recapitulation of the events of the game or match told without editorial input. Today sports stories rarely report on the game itself; instead they purport to tell us what the victory or defeat means, taking away our pleasure as fans coming to our own conclusions.

When it comes to politics, journalism today is agenda driven. What that means is that the newspaper’s point of view on all major topics is pre-determined. All a reporter needs to do is fill in the details that support the paper’s view. If that’s truth telling, my name is Bill Clinton.

If you need evidence, consider the revelations that discredit the New York Times from being an objective source of information on the issues of the day.

With the election of Donald Trump, the Times resolved to focus on the assumption that he stole the election with help from Russia. “We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well,” said Dean Baquet, the Times’ current executive editor. I would question that conclusion. There was no collusion, but the Times reportedly gained 600,000 digital subscriptions telling its readers daily for more than two years that the evidence was mounting. Mission accomplished.
Today, Baquet has decided to shift to another story: racism. His goal is to reframe the entire history of this country to make it a function of slavery. They want us to believe that the history of the United States of America began with the arrival of the first African slaves at Jamestown in 1619. Slavery taints all and cannot be erased. Not even reparations will satisfy.

It’s easy to see how this game plan accomplishes the Times’ current political agenda. It not only appeals to the descendants of slavery, but it enables the Times to undermine black support for President Trump, which could be a factor in the outcome of the 2020 election.

What should newspapers do?

In its long history on this continent, newspapers evolved from being a voice for owners to express their views on the issues of the day ala Ben Franklin to becoming a platform for political parties, which meant tarring opponents with whatever calumny was handy. In the early 20th century reformers sought to hold papers to a set of principles that included separating news stories from opinion. That was the prevailing ethic until Watergate—the expose of President Nixon’s involvement in trying to undermine George McGovern’s campaign by planting false evidence in a Democrat campaign office.

After that, the big newspapers got swelled heads, feeling their job was not just to report on, but once more to influence the outcome of the issues of the day. If that means reporters inserting their views in news stories, so be it. If that means having an agenda which all stories on a topic such as climate change or tariffs have to adhere to a set position, so be it.

Professional journalists should not just be stenographers, but neither should they couch a news story to follow a political agenda failing to report facts that conflict with those that support the company’s view.

Jill Abramson, Baquet’s predecessor at the Times, wrote a book, Merchants of Truth, in which she argued that newspapers are kowtowing to advertisers in the face of declining revenues. What has turned things around economically for some has fast news distribution via social media, using Twitter for example, to release partial stories ahead of print publication. The danger she sees is a lack of oversight and a rush to judgment. That is exacerbated when the paper has an admitted agenda.

In a democracy, readers ought to be given adequate information to make up their own minds. Newspapers should provide a balanced coverage of the issues, such that reporters tell us what people say on both sides of an issue without editorializing. If they want to express their own opinions on the issues, save it for their personal Twitter account. The arrogance of those who think they are in possession of the truth contributes to the public’s distrust of the media. Fox has it right: their job is to report; ours is to decide.

Wake Up People: Stop Fear Being Called a Racist

A self-defined Black caller to a national talk show today made a point I’ve been trying to make for a long time––namely, that the term racist has become bastardized to the point where it is meaningless. Still many people fear being called a racist, and as long as people act stupid to avoid that label, there are those who will bring it out and slap it on.

Race to start is an artificial category. It came into use centuries ago by those who wanted to oppress others on the basis of artificial distinctions, such as religion (used by Christians to define non-Christians as heathens), use of language (non-English speakers were considered inferior) and oh, yes, skin pigmentation. Over time, the effectiveness of that practice came to be diminished as overwhelming evidence showed that not all Jews are money-grubbers, not all Irish are drunkards, and not all people of African origins are incapable of higher learning.

That there are still a tiny number of idiots who buy into the notion that there are groups of people all of whom share certain negative physical traits is unfortunate, but their number is infesimal and they are powerless as a group.

Now, let’s examine why some people still throw the term racist around at their political enemies. First, they do it because the media will report it without questioning it the way they would question they would if someone accused a political opponent of being a satan worshiper. Second, it elevates the accusers in their own eyes, justifying their willingness to by-pass traditional rules for discourse on the floor of the House of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi), and to their willingness to make accusations without feeling obligated to provide evidence or answer questions explaining the basis of their charges (Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar).

The mainstream media plays a sad role in this spectacle. For instance, when President Trump criticized four female Congresswomen for their anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric, he was accused of being a racist even though he didn’t refer to the women’s race or even mention them by name.

On a side note, it’s interesting how it’s possible today to self-define yourself as a person of color. Rashida Tlaib comes from an Arab background. Arabs don’t normally define themselves as people of color, and what about Ocasio-Cortez? Her parents are from Puerto Rico, but does that make her a person of color? Is everyone with a Hispanic surname a person of color? Yet both claimed they were victims of Trump’s racism. Again, the media seems to fear being called a racist since they never challenge anything these women say––not matter how absurd.

The only way to put a stop to the irresponsible use of the term racist is to stop being afraid of being called one. That doesn’t mean you have to have been pure of thought throughout your entire life. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever have used the “N” word or had a momentary negative thought about a whole group of people on the basis of their religion, national origins or eating habits. You’re not a racist if you don’t believe that there are groups of people who share negative physical characteristics that justify their being treated as second-class citizens. Pure and simple.

Once people stop being afraid of the term, those who love to use it will find their power diminished and they’ll move on to something else. Meat-eater perhaps?!

 

Elizabeth Warren wants to know where the family lore blank is on the presidential application form?

Writing in the May 17 Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan defended Elizabeth Warren against Donald Trump’s calling her Pocahontas by arguing that Warren was “merely repeating family lore.”

That is b.s. to put it mildly. You can’t tell me that Warren didn’t know that attaching “Native American” to her applications for graduate school, professorships and grant applications didn’t give her a step up over other candidates. “Female and Native American. Wow. We want one of those,” said the law school dean who hired her at Harvard.

She can’t say she didn’t know she was benefitting from that claim without appearing out of it. Identity has become a primary qualifier for academic positions for decades. She had to know that, which is why she referred to herself as Native American.

And for Sullivan to accept Warren’s excuse as legitimate and also to say “She does have some such ancestry, but not very much” is also disingenuous. The results of the DNA test she took “cannot show that she or any other person is ‘NativeAmerican’” according to Jennifer Raff writing in Forbes Magazine.

In other words, Trump is entirely justified for his calling Warren Pocahontas because that’s what you do to people who cheat. You call them out. Thank goodness that name is sticking because it reminds people that when she had an opportunity to cheat to advance her career Warren didn’t hesitate. Is that the kind of person we want as president?

More Thoughts on the Two-State Solution

Intro

Although I’ve touched on this subject before––See: https://pollakspolitics.com/2019/01/12/peace-should-not-be-the-goal-it-can-only-be-the-result/  I want to clarify the difference between what Israelis and Americans mean by the term “two-state solution.”

The Two-State Difference

At a recent presentation on the upcoming Israeli election (April 9, 2019), the speaker identified which Israeli political parties support a “two-state solution.” When you break it down, however, not all the parties mean the same thing by this term. Some include giving East Jerusalem to the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians; some do not. The parties’ views on how to handle the so-called settlements in the Arab areas also differ. That said, I am confident that most Americans––Jews and non-Jews alike––feel encouraged by this consensus, as the vast majority of people polled on this issue favor that path to peace.

The problem, which was not fully elucidated by the speaker, however, is that what most Americans mean by a “two-state solution” and what most Israelis mean is not identical.

Most Americans believe peace can only come to the Middle East if and when Israel gives up more territory to the Arabs. (They ignore how it turned out when Israel gave them Gaza, but that’s a story for another day.) Americans would shut down all of the “settlements,” give up East Jerusalem, and probably provide a direct road connecting Gaza and the West Bank territories. Most Israelis would reject all three of those “concessions.”

What Israelis Want

Peace to most Israelis can only arrive if the Arabs give up their desire to put an end to the state of Israel. How do Hamas and the PLO––the party that controls the Palestinian Authority––the organization that controls part of the West Bank differ in this regard?

Hamas is primarily a jihadist organization. Their motivation is religious. They would establish a califate along the lines of ISIS, which would rule out the presence of anyone who is not a Moslem.

Ilhan Omar, Rhasida Tlaib and other members of Congress who support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement claim Israel is an “apartheid” state. That is not true, but what would be true is that a state ruled by Hamas would be an apartheid state. Anyone who is not a Moslem would be required to convert or leave.

The PLO is an Arab nationalist organization primarily. There are Christian, Druze and other non-Moslem Arabs who live in the territory they control. These groups are not included in the governance or setting policy, but they are allowed to live there. The PLO might allow Jews to remain in a Palestinian state the encompassed the current land of Israel, but certainly not with any political power.

What Do Israelis Want?

Not only would most Israelis require the Arab residents of the Gaza and the West Bank to give up their goal of pushing them into the Mediterranean, they also want them to be disarmed. As long as the territory that would be included in an Arab state borders Israel, allowing the Arabs to have the ability to kill thousands with rockets and other weapons is a non-starter.

Why don’t most Americans understand the difference between their views and the views of the Israeli people? The answer is how the American media covers the Middle East. Take the recent “protests” of residents of Gaza. The protests consist of thousands approaching the barrier separating Israel and Gaza and trying to launch incendiary devises, such as burning tires and balloons containing inflammatory fluids, into Israel to cause death and destruction. The goal of the protests is to weaken the moral of the Israelis who live on the Eastern side of the barrier and eventually break down the barrier.

The West’s coverage focuses on the injuries and deaths of Palestinians who participate in these “protests.” They don’t discuss the injuries of Israelis or the damage caused by the protests, or the cost of having to deploy thousands of young Israeli soldiers on the border to prevent the barrier from being overcome. A perfect example was the article in the Washington Post that I commented on recently. Search my Facebook page to see the post.

The Trump Admin Proposal

Whoever becomes Israel’s prime minister after next week’s election is going to have to deal with a proposal from the Trump administration that attempts to solve the conflict. I am highly skeptical that it will get anywhere. The PLO will reject it saving Israel from having to do so.

As I stated in my earlier article, peace comes through strength. Israel must hold firm against concessions until the Arabs accept the fact that Israel is there to stay. It would be nice of Americans supported that solution.

The Chorus of Media Critics Grows

Yes, Donald Trump has attacked CNN and other media for publishing ‘fake news,’ and yes, the mainstream media has responded with rightous indignation that anyone should question their integrity. But the question of the hour is whether people inside the media are listening as fellow insiders have started to join the chorus of critics?

The latest to question the media’s treatment of the president is Ted Koppel. Speaking in an interview with Marvin Kalb at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the former ABC anchor noted that the ‘liberal media’ has become part of ‘the resistance.’ “We are not the reservoir of objectivity that I think we were,” he stated.

Koppel also believes the New York Times is committed to making sure Trump is not re-elected.

Koppel’s comments echo those of former 60 Minutes correpondent Lara Logan who argued in an interview in February that the media has “abandoned our pretense, or at least the effort, to be objective.” She accused reporters of becoming political activists and even “propagandists.”

“You read one story or another and hear it and it’s all based on one anonymous administration official, former administration official,” Logan stated. “That’s not journalism. That’s horseshit. That’s absolute horseshit.”

Logan in turn echoed comments of former New York Times editor Jill Abramson whose book “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts” accused the New York Times and Washington Post of lowering editorial standards to compete for Internet traffic. She decried use of “somewhat misleading headlines to gain clickbait and scale audience” in an interview.

Abramson noted a study that “showed that the main reason all people––not just Trump supporters or conservatives or Republicans––give for lack of trust is perceived political bias.”

When asked how bias manifests itself at the Times, Abramson pointed to “tweets of reporters, which are very loaded. It manifests itself when those reporters go on MSNBC and CNN and appear on panels with partisans and the questions they are asked are very loaded.”

As a subscriber to the Washington Post, I find questionable references to Trump throughout the paper, including in book reviews and the Sports section as well as editorials posing a news stories. By questionable, I include claiming he said things he didn’t say or taking his comments out of context as well as ad hoc references that assume the readers agree with whatever criticism is being levied.

If insiders like Koppel are disturbed by this trend, isn’t it likely that average readers—not just conservatives like myself––notice that the media has taken on the role of an advocate rather than an impartial observer? That would help explain the continuing drop in newspaper circulation––a phenomenon that has been going on for several decades and may be exacerbated by the media’s apparent commitment to lead the “resistance.”

Instead of getting their backs up whenever the President attacks a media organization or an individual reporter, what would happen if the media in reporting that attack examined whether the President might have a point? Perhaps readers would start to trust the media a little more. And, what would happen if the media took the long view––i.e., what if they started thinking about the next six or ten presidential elections and whether they will still exist or will have gone underground as part of some sort of counter revolution that they had a role in creating? Something to think about.

The GOP is on Thin Ice in the House of Representatives

According to polls of 30 House seats conducted by Siena College between August 20 and September 26, the GOP is in trouble. Twenty-six of the thirty districts polled are currently held by Republicans. Two are open and two are held by Democrats. Yet Republicans have a solid lead in only 10 of the thirty races while Democrats lead by a wide margin in 8 seats—7 of which were or are held by Republicans. Twelve of the races were within 2 percent points and could go either way. Of course, something could happen between now and November 6th that would change voters’ minds, and polls conducted in late August or early September might have been taken before voters started paying attention to their local races.

What will it take for the GOP to hold the House?

Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker of the House, famously said ‘all politics is local.” In other words, many voters select their representatives on the basis of local, rather than national issues.

The Republican Party in 2018 must overcome this political rule in order to hold the House. They need to nationalize the election, getting Trump supporters to come out like they did two years ago to vote the party line. The only person who can accomplish that is Donald Trump. He must spend a lot of October making speeches in districts where Republican candidates are in trouble.

Will the Kavanaugh Fiasco Impact Control of Congress?

The Kavanaugh battle rages in the Senate, not the House, which means it is unlikely to impact voters choices for their district representative. It may influence Senate races, however. The Republicans need to retain control of the Senate in order to get more conservative judges appointed to district courts. There are over a hundred vacancies that are being held up. Unless the GOP increases it’s lead in the Senate, those vacancies may not be filled pending the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election.