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?!

 

The Wall: Another Take

How does one explain the fact that prominent Democrat politicians not so long ago advocated the very same policies sought by the Trump administration with respect to the southern border and Central American migration crisis, but won’t back those policies as long as he is president?

Here are the facts:

When campaigning, Obama told migrants to leave their children at home. He also built the detention centers where children by law are kept separate from their parents when the parents are required to remain in custody. At one point, Pelosi and Schumer favored constructing a wall, knowing a partial wall has made southern California safer.

A wall makes sense to cut down on the dangerous and, as we saw recently, the often fatal efforts of people to cross into our country illegally. To oppose it is to advocate the idiotic position that there should be no borders and that anyone who wants to come here should be able to do so.

Having a policy of not screening would-be immigrants for health problems can’t be defended logically. Why do people who apply for the right to immigrate have to undergo medical tests when those who cross our southern border illegally do not? Do we really want to welcome those carrying contagious diseases? Do we really want to provide free health care to all of Central America?

What about dealing with criminal behavior by illegals above and beyond their coming into the country illegally? Why are Democrat politicians protecting people who commit serious crimes, as well as interfering with efforts to detain and deport them?

The answer to the above questions is simple. The Democrats would rather play politics, counting on the naiveté of the voting public. It is absurd to deny that an open border is an invitation to those who would smuggle guns and drugs into the country. It is absurd to give carte blanche to ‘coyotes’ who make false promises to would-be migrants and then abandon them in dangerous situations. It is absurd to allow those who kidnap the children of poor families to use as a ruse to get into the country.

Has the voting public considered the cost of having a million undocumented illegals enter the country each year? Have people looked at the cost of all those free programs from free health care to free higher education? Doesn’t playing compassionate savior mean tax money that should be helping American citizens attend college without having to take out loans won’t be available?

The problem comes back to the decision the Democrats made not to allow Trump to accomplish what he promised during his campaign. By labeling his motives racist they think they can pull the wool over the eyes of the voters, getting them to endorse policies that are harmful to the country and to many of them personally.

Here’s my question for you, dear reader. Even if Trump’s motives were impure––which I don’t believe­­­­­––is that sufficient reason to obstruct policies that are necessary, reasonable and rational? Is giving him a “victory” so unthinkable that the Democrats will continue to jeopardize the safety and well-being of our citizenry?

The migrants too are victims of the Democrats game. They suffer, not the politicians. Will their dreams be realized? It is unlikely. Some may land in communities where they can get off-the-books jobs mowing grass and harvesting fruit, but many will resort to crime––to prostitution, to drug and gun smuggling, and who knows what else in order to survive. That’s the reality.

Is the U.S. responsible for the conditions in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua? Marxists will say yes because they blame private property, free enterprise and the rule of law for all of the world’s problems. Is that where the Democrat Party wants to live? Hopefully, the American people will take a look at life under communism and “democratic” socialists countries before they endorse that solution. A better choice for the rest of the world––one that is working in many countries––is to adopt our system as a model.

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.

100 Swan Song Editorials

The American newspaper industry has responded to an appeal for 100 newspapers to write editorials on the same day attacking President Trump for being critical of the news media. This act is an admission of the extent to which the national media has lost power and credibility. It may just be their swan song––a last minute attempt to regain status and authority. My bet is that it will fail. It will fail to sway any members of the public who aren’t already Trump haters and it will fail to restore the national media’s position as the arbiter of right and wrong in America. That horse left the stable years ago and is not coming back.

Why do I claim the media has lost its power? First, you need to concede that once upon a time everyone counted on newspapers for national and local news. Even with the emergence of radio and TV, newspapers held their own, funded by advertising, as the primary source of not only in-depth coverage, but by reporting on a greater number of stories each day than the broadcast media.

The handwriting signaling the end of their monopoly came with cable TV. Now people could hear about breaking news immediately and didn’t have to wait for the morning or afternoon paper to learn about it.

P.S.: Yes, there were afternoon newspapers. In my hometown––population 20,000 there were morning and afternoon newspapers until well into the 1960s.

But the largest nail in the newspaper’s coffin was the arrival of the Internet. The Internet is cable TV on steroids. It not only enables people to learn about breaking news within seconds, but it offers both scope and depth of coverage from a variety of official and unofficial sources.

The newspaper industry responded slowly and poorly. Why? Because of the huge capital investment required to produce a daily newspaper. That’s why newspapers have shut down and some dailies now publish twice or once a week, and why all but a few major newspapers print many fewer pages than they did just a generation ago. Union domination of newsrooms also made it difficult for newspapers to adapt.

Newspapers found they had to compete by offering web versions. Some have been able to charge subscriptions; many find they lose more money doing so than offering free access and selling ads on those pages. Either way, newspaper websites are not the only source of news. Millions rely on other sources. Some of those are poorly vetted and over time followers figure that out and abandon those outlets.

But that’s just the structural story. The rest of the story is that what was once an industry where views varied widely from conservative to liberal, has on the national level, pushed aside the conservative outlook, and united to become not just the reporter of news, but the maker of news created on behalf of a liberal-left ideology.

Consider how papers like the New York Times and Washington Post transformed their editorial outlook of the CIA and FBI. In the 1960s, both papers were highly critical of those agencies, seeing them as emblematic of a nascent police state––above the law and accountable to no one. Today, however, those papers love those agencies because they did exactly what they were accused of doing in the 1960s. They took sides in a national presidential election, acting outside the law on behalf of one candidate to the detriment of the other candidate. Further, their illegal and unethical behavior continued after the election to the extent they tried to subvert the Trump administration. They created false evidence, suborned perjury and leaked classified information to the news media.

I don’t think I’m being naïve in suggesting that the national media today is different than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Yes, some media organizations in those days had greater access to power than others and they used their power on behalf of certain parties and candidates. The difference is that there was competition in those days. The fact that 100 newspapers today (out of 1200+) are willing to act in unison is testimony to the lack of competition for viewpoints and scope of coverage, which is why subscription numbers are down and editorial pages are not read by the majority of subscribers.

One hundred editorial writers will be claiming they are defending freedom of the press. This self-indulgent, holier than thou, attitude doesn’t fly with me. Mr. Trump’s criticisms focus on the reality that some media are out to get him, and he has that right. It’s called free speech.

The President’s criticisms have not resulted in any reporters being personally attacked, or newspaper offices being bombed or burned down. (The incident in Annapolis had nothing to do with national politics.)

The national media is mad, but they are not telling the truth about why they’re mad¬––which is that millions of Americans agree with the President. Long before 2016, millions came to view newspaper coverage as biased against them. They read stories that made the average American out to be deplorable, racist, misogynist, bigoted, and a despoiler of the environment. How many of you like being attacked on a daily basis without the chance to defend yourself?

Newspapers have not learned the lesson that they don’t represent the majority of Americans. Acts like 100 editorials attacking the President make that clear and will likely hasten the day when the number of dailies sinks below 1,000.

The Reality of Life in Rural America: Why People Voted for Donald Trump

I recently overheard a woman who I know is otherwise a decent person speak about people who voted for Donald Trump in bigoted terms. I didn’t speak up because it wouldn’t have been polite for me to interrupt the conversation, but it’s been on my mind that I owe some insights to people who don’t understand Trump supporters.

Liberals rarely understand why rural America is burdened today with the opioid crisis, high unemployment, failed marriages, single parent families, and other social maladies. If you have the time, pick up a copy of J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. If not, here’s a summary based on my own experience.

I grew up in a small city in upstate New York where after World War II the industry that had supported the local economy began to decline largely due to overseas competition. That pattern was repeated all across America. Post-WWII, economic forces drew millions into large cities, which combined with short-sighted social policies, left rural America under-resourced and increasingly impoverished.

Today, my former home town is a contradiction given it still has streets of large, well-built single family homes as well as neighborhoods dominated by unemployment, poverty and drug use. My generation took advantage of the opportunities offered by a growing economy. Few stayed in the city where they grew up after getting an education or a head-start via a career in the military.

Why do I say social policies made matters worse? Vance documents several, including the conditions underlying opioid use, but here’s a NYS example. In upstate New York, the public sector sucks so much money out of the economy that it’s extremely difficult to keep or attract businesses. As a result, many people who have skills and/or resources move out of state leaving behind people with greater needs and fewer resources. Further, much of the tax burden goes to support a state bureaucracy that underserves rural upstate. Take for example, the NYS Public Service Commission.

There is little or no competition for electricity, telephone, Internet, or TV services in rural upstate New York. This results in poor quality, over-priced services. Making matters worse residents tax dollars pay for bureaucrats who seem more favorably disposed towards the utilities than the customers.

Last year, when I opened my summer home, I discovered I had no phone service. It took two weeks to get service restored, requiring me to drive five miles into a small village to make repeated phone calls appealing for help.

When I called the Public Service Commission to complain, they took the information but never got back to me. It was a waste of effort. This year the pattern repeated with Internet.

It took three phone calls to restart my Internet service because the nice people who work for Frontier Communications are not given the tools needed to do their jobs. In one instance a customer service person had to use chat to find another customer service person who she hoped could do what needed to be done. Lack of competition means Frontier doesn’t have to modernize or be responsive to consumers.

Public sector salaries and pension benefits strap localities to the point where many municipalities are unable to afford basic services. High taxation further allows the Democrat Party in New York to bribe union workers to keep them in office year after year. New York City with its larger population dominates the State Legislature, which as a result underserves upstate.

Politically, rural America is underrepresented in many state legislatures and in Congress, resulting in the election of people who either lack an understanding of the problems of rural America or lack the political muscle to do much about the problems.

Donald Trump represented a solution for rural and small town Americans and he has rewarded rural America’s support by lowering federal taxes, by taking on the opioid crisis, by advocating for the return of manufacturing jobs, by shrinking the federal bureaucracy, by helping veterans, and by supporting local first responders.

People in rural America rationally put their needs above the liberal media’s focus on Trump’s personal story. They are likely to do so again in 2018.