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Breathless Reporting… Signifying Nothing

Umm, folks, despite the copious news coverage, there’s absolutely nothing here:

Kushner was identified as a “very senior” transition official, who directed Flynn to contact foreign governments, including Russia, about a U.N. Security Council resolution last December.

And KT McFarland, who served as Flynn’s deputy national security adviser, was a “senior” transition official involved in discussions with Flynn about what to relay to Sergey Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., about the response to U.S. sanctions levied by the Obama administration.

The left-wing journalists of the mainstream media want people to feel as if the Trump administration is teetering on the edge of impeachable revelation, but if this is all they’ve got, they got nothin’.  Between the election and the inauguration, the Trump transition team began making contact with foreign officials in order to ensure that nothing happened for lack of knowledge about proximate policy changes with the new administration.  That isn’t scandalous; it’s exactly what Americans should want an incoming administration to do.

Not surprisingly, conservative writer Andrew McCarthy is much more informative, and his conclusion strikes me as exactly correct:

The ongoing Mueller probe is not a good-faith investigation of suspected espionage or other crime. It is the exploitation of the executive’s intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement powers in order to (a) criminalize Trump political policies with which the Obama administration disagreed and (b) frame Clinton’s electoral defeat as the product of a traitorous scheme rather than a rejection of Democratic-party priorities.

McCarthy is speaking in government/political terms.  If we bring the news media’s behavior into the mix, we should add something: (c) keep newspapers and TV news shows filled with a sense of scandal to make it more difficult for the Trump administration to accomplish anything and have Americans so longing for some relief from the noise by the next election that they’ll swing the election to journalists’ favored party.  A similar campaign ushered in Obama after Bush received similar treatment, so this isn’t even an innovative strategy.

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Hiding the Incompetence

Some more educational reporting from the Associated Press appearing in the Providence Journal, in this case having to do with the FBI’s failure to warn officials that Russian hackers were targeting them.  Most astonishing is how easily any reader who doesn’t follow the timeline could miss the fact that this all went on under the watchful eye of the Obama administration.

In fact, the only mention of the relevant president comes when the journalists allow somebody from his administration to offer a critical view, as if somebody else had done it:

“The expectation that the government is going to protect everyone and go back to everyone is false,” said Nicholas Eftimiades, a retired senior technical officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency who teaches homeland security at Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg and was himself among the targets.

But the government is supposed to try, said Michael Daniel, who served as President Barack Obama’s White House cybersecurity coordinator.

Unsurprisingly, the article also doesn’t miss the opportunity to make it seem as if President Trump is somehow responsible because he supposedly was the beneficiary of the hacking.

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When the Conspiracies Look Plausible

I’ve written (somewhere or other) about the curious dynamic whereby the popularization of the conspiracies-as-crazy theme has been to the benefit of those who would engage in conspiracies.  If people are trained to dismiss suspicion of the most audacious schemes as a pure conspiracy delusion of the observer, then audacious schemers can slide right through the noise.

An editorial in Investors Business Daily takes a step toward just such an observation on the matter of the Clinton campaign and Democrat National Committee’s involvement with Fusion GPS and (Dah Dumm!) the Russians:

More and more, it looks like a giant setup, intended to trap then-candidate Donald Trump into implicating himself in a plot to undermine the U.S. election. But it was Clinton and her bought-and-paid-for lackeys in the DNC who were in fact colluding with Russian officials.

Even putting aside a media bias that fosters disinclination to investigate scandals when the principals have a “D” after their names, one can understand a reluctance to believe that the real story is essentially the opposite than it has been reported for the past year, but an open mind seems justified.  Certainly, the intrigue of the story ought to make it a bigger deal than it’s been.

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Government and Media Focus Too Much on Unemployment Rate

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The Numbers Indicate We Spend Too Much Time Talking Hate Crime in RI

David Bernstein takes to Instapundit with the FBI’s findings that hate crimes increased by 5% in 2016, noting:

The increase isn’t good news, but between what certainly looks like an increase in hate crimes hoaxes and the greater attention paid by the media to real hate crimes, which encourages reporting, there may not be any real increase at all.

Digging into the data, I find hate crimes actually went down in Rhode Island:

2015 2016
Total 19 13
Aggravated assault 3
Simple assault 6 4
Robbery 1
Destruction/damage vandalism 10 7
Crimes against society 1

Following Bernstein, I’d suggest that this hardly illustrates a Trump-campaign boost in hate crimes, even though the president had an unexpectedly strong showing in Rhode Island.

More important, though, the minuscule size of these numbers — fewer than 20 incidents per year — has implications for the amount of time that Rhode Islanders should spend pondering public policy related to this issue.  Little wonder progressive Democrat Mayor of Providence Jorge Elorza has found very little by way of hate crime, even though his administration has essentially solicited reporting with its “little used” hotline.

In a contest of harm to Rhode Islanders, especially disadvantaged minorities, hate crimes don’t even compare with our state’s unhealthy tax and regulatory policies.

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Partisan Descriptors

Maybe it’s just that Halloween is coming that I noticed this, but something in the word choice of Michelle Cottle’s commentary in The Atlantic on Alabama’s GOP primary struck me funny:

Alabama is usually such a happy place for Republicans. The state is not merely blood red; its conservatives thrill to the culture-war revanchism that the GOP has been peddling for decades.

I’m curious: Has anybody ever seen a similarly ghoulish metaphor used in passing for Democrat blue?  Maybe “suffocation blue”?

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Political Monday with John DePetro, No. 31: Sick Outs and What It Means to Be a Democrat

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, last week, the topics were the Warwick sick outs, my ethics complaint, Josh Miller’s view of the Democrats, Raimondo’s remorse for hurting journalists’ feelings.

Open post for full audio.

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AI, Social Media, and the Internet of Things

Of course, I’m inclined to come to this conclusion, but sometimes I have to remark how often I find traditional Christian prescriptions for society to be an obvious antidote to the bogeymen that haunt our near future.  Richard Fernandez has a brief essay on PJMedia noting that, even as our nation’s tech giants attempt to push their high-tech influence machines into every area of our lives, hostile nations like Russia are experimenting with ways to leverage the resulting access for their own benefit.  Here’s the key part, though:

The conventional wisdom is that Putin’s information ops were meant to benefit Trump. But the record shows the Kremlin backed both sides. An even more devastating strategy was to destroy political discourse — and freedom — itself. A network flooded with spurious messages (“fake news”) will tend to zero trust operating on the principle “never trust, always verify.” Eventually “micro-segmentation and granular perimeters” — the echo chambers and conspiracy circles so familiar today — will emerge and paralyze action. Foer writes how “the tide had turned so quickly. The biggest problem is that Facebook and Google are these giant feedback loops that give people what they want to hear. And when you use them in a world where your biases are being constantly confirmed, you become susceptible to fake news, propaganda, demagoguery.”

The answer is obvious:  Never close all of the windows through which you hear contrary opinions, no matter how much you think they’re just aggressive noise.  More fundamentally, that requires us to maintain a respect for our fellow human beings’ worth and a concern for their well being especially when they are in error.

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Media Bias Like Rock in the Late ’60s/Early ’70s

In the past couple days, I’ve skipped over a few articles that would have made for easy posts because, frankly, the bias of the American news media has become so egregious that it’s not even interesting to point out anymore.  Even relatively straight reporting on President Trump’s actions tends to be slathered with subjectivity meant to instruct readers not on what has happened or what some policy will do, but to signal how they’re supposed to feel about it.

One article on which I almost posted yesterday was Amy Goldstein’s Washington Post piece, appearing in a watered-down version in today’s Providence Journal, on President Trump’s Affordable Care Act executive orderOnline, the Projo disappeared the article and sent the link to an entirely different AP release.  Take a look at this paragraph as originally posted:

The White House and allies portray the president’s move to expand access to “association health plans” as wielding administrative powers to accomplish what congressional Republicans have failed to achieve: tearing down the law’s insurance marketplaces and letting some Americans buy skimpier coverage at lower prices. The order is Trump’s biggest step to carry out a broad but ill-defined directive he issued his first night in office for agencies to lessen ACA regulations from the Obama administration.

If this is an outlier in the mainstream coverage of President Trump, it isn’t by much.

This trend among journalists brings to mind the over-production of pop/rock music in the early ’70s.  The Beatles were famously unhappy with Phil Spector’s saturation of Let It Be with orchestration.  When George Harrison remastered All Things Must Past 15 years ago or so, the liner notes expressed his urge to “free the songs” from all of the layers of sound, and demos of the songs released with the Beatles Anthology albums give a wistful sense of what could have been.

In other words, the current style of reporting on the president as a sort of fad for adding layers of virtue-signaling editorial content to reporting.  Luckily there are (metaphorical) hard rock and folk trends running alongside the schlock if you know where to look.

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“Negotiations” Over Other People’s Money… Without Mentioning the Cost

I continue to be amazed at the use of the word, “negotiations,” in contexts like Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article:

Negotiations between the House and Senate, and labor and business groups, produced a new version of the sick leave bill, which emerged late Friday evening in the House Labor Committee and passed unanimously.

A priority for the General Assembly’s progressive caucus, the bill would guarantee Rhode Island workers up to three paid sick days in 2018, four sick days in 2019 and five days off per year from 2020 onward.

Who’s negotiating with whom over what?  People most of us didn’t elect are “negotiating” with people most of us don’t acknowledge as representing our “community” over costs that will be borne by everybody who operates a business in the state or has any dealings with anybody who operates a business in the state.

The unbelievable mindset — strike that: the all-too-believable mindset — that this is a “negotiation” is put over the top by the fact that nobody involved in the “negotiation” or in reporting on it is putting a cost on the result.  Anderson isn’t alone in this; Steph Machado does the same on WPRI.

If anybody wants a starting point, I looked into the matter (along with other pieces of legislation) last month for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and concluded that the cost of this program will be about $49 million per year.  Others are free to debate that number, but for the sake of our state, shouldn’t we take it as a warning sign that nobody is doing so?

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Red Sox Bleacher Banner Was Anti-American

Sometimes it’s important to be accurate, and Ken Powtak’s failure to be so for an article from the AP is important to note:

A few fans seated above the Green Monster dropped down a sign denouncing racism during the fourth inning of Boston’s game against Oakland at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.

The sign — draped over the top middle of the 37-foot Monster — had a black background with white letters that read: “Racism is as American as Baseball.”

Sure, that message clearly carries the assumption that racism is bad, but what it does most of all is to denounce America as a racist country.  We shouldn’t let activists (in and out of the news media) muddy the waters.  One can be anti-racist and pro-America, but this sign doesn’t carry it off and shouldn’t be celebrated.

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Gorbea’s Inappropriate Press Release

Politics in America have taken on a strange tone in recent years, amped up by the election of Donald Trump as president.  This is particularly notable in discussions of election integrity, both in the notion that Russians interfered in our national election and in different views on the significance of voter fraud.

Today, Rhode Islander Ken Block presented findings of his voter roll review to the president’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.*  Among other things, in that presentation, Block highlights that “30.7% of 2016 votes in Rhode Island were cast by voters with no identifying information in voter registration database.”  He doesn’t allege that those voters are doing anything wrong, but does insist, “It is vitally important to know how many voters in each state cannot be identified by their data.”

In a press release that is clearly more of a political document than an informative one, Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea mischaracterizes this presentation in a strange way:

Today the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity met in New Hampshire. Part of their presentation included the erroneous claim that 30 percent of Rhode Island voters in 2016 are somehow illegitimate or not verified. …

In short, these voters are your friends, your family, and your neighbors. If you registered to vote in Rhode Island before 2002, these voters likely include you. Allowing unsubstantiated claims to influence our public policy can lead to real consequences and the exclusion of legitimate voters.

Gorbea is speaking out about claims that nobody is making and, in doing so, sidesteps the important question of whether Block’s findings are correct and a legitimate cause of concern.  Note, for illustration, that apart from mischaracterizing his claims, she unprofessionally declines to name Ken Block, attributing his statements to the commission, and attempts to make voters take this as an attack on them.

Obviously, folks are behaving with political motivation on both sides of these matters, but more and more, I find myself wishing that everybody involved, especially officials elected to do a job representing all of us, would let some opportunities for political jabs pass by in order to provide the public with a fair and reasonable understanding of what is actually going on.

* Memo to the editors of the Providence Journal: That is actually the proper name of the commission, as formed by the President of the United States.  Putting quotation marks around the whole title or (especially) just the “election integrity” part is unnecessary grammatically and inappropriate as journalistic practice, illustrating yet again your newspaper’s bias.

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Rhode Islanders’ Nostalgia

In the context of a general melancholy feeling among some about the closing of Benny’s, Ted Nesi expressed an interesting thought on Twitter:

It is amazing that the PawSox have had so little ability to capitalize on sentiment in a state as nostalgic as RI

That does seem curious, but on the other hand, people’s nostalgia for Benny’s didn’t lead them to forgo the conveniences and prices of Amazon or even other local retailers and shop there more often.

The reality is probably something more like this:  Only a segment of Rhode Islanders are actually all that nostalgic, or rather, all that nostalgic about a particular institution, and one would expect the sorts of people who participate in public life and news media (as producers or consumers) to be especially interested in local details.

That’s true everywhere, of course.  Perhaps what makes it seem more prominent in Rhode Island — apart from the state’s size and general quirkiness — is a social comfort with letting relatively small segments use government to impose their interests.  That is, whereas most people in Rhode Island (or anywhere else) will observe a departing institution and give it little more than the thought, “Huh; the world changes,” Rhode Island has a high proportion of people who feel like somebody ought to do something to make the world exactly as they want it (probably at public expense).

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With SPLC, “Hate” Should Have a Trademark Sign

The group of conservative organizations signing on to an open letter addressed, so to speak, to the news media are absolutely correct:

We are writing to you as individuals or as representatives of organizations who are deeply troubled by several recent examples of the media’s use of data from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC is a discredited, left-wing, political activist organization that seeks to silence its political opponents with a “hate group” label of its own invention and application that is not only false and defamatory, but that also endangers the lives of those targeted with it.

At this point, citing the SPLC as some sort of arbiter of “hate” is either lazy or malicious.  The group has inspired a good deal of hate, itself, including a 2012 attack on the Family Resource Council that left a security guard injured.  And now its list of political enemies may be insinuating itself as a guide for corporations to blacklist organizations, as with the Ruth Institute’s loss of online payment processing.

As Tyler O’Neil notes, the same net that puts the Ruth Institute on the SPLC’s list ought to ensnare the Catholic Church, as well, except that inclusion of the church would expose the SPLC’s list for what it really is.  It’s a ploy to label as bigots those who wish to promote a culturally conservative worldview through persuasion and good works and thereby prevent them from participating in American society.

Journalists should have no part on advancing that ploy… unless, of course, they’re just left-wing activists, themselves.

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