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Not Really a Gotcha on Charitable Giving

Something in this headline from Politico raises a meta question:

Even putting aside the distinction between the president’s budget and the private donations of one of his secretaries, anybody who’s vaguely familiar with political philosophy would see that the implied gotcha of this headline is bogus.  Giving one’s own money to a charity is not at all inconsistent with reducing the compulsory charity of taxpayer funding to the same group.  (Yes, it’s deliberate that “compulsory charity” is any oxymoron.)

So here’s the meta question:  Do the journalists who publish this sort of story not foresee this obvious response, indicating that they are reporting on subject matter without understanding how about half of their potential audience will see it, or are they framing stories mainly as an opposition party would, with the goal of hurting an elected official with whom they disagree?

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Shouldn’t Journalism Be Understated?

In some ways, this is a minor critique of promotion, but in other ways, it seems related to huge problems in our country these days.  WPRI’s Ted Nesi just retweeted the following, wherein CNN Executive Producer Katie Hinman promotes a story currently on her organization’s Web site.  Keep in mind that the linked story is about a single controversy with a single insurer in a single state:

Hinman is extrapolating from this one story — which is definitely newsworthy — to assert outrageous behavior by an entire industry.  One needn’t be a fan of that industry in order to think that’s irresponsible behavior from a news executive.

Most definitely, CNN should keep digging to find out whether Aetna’s behavior is even more scandalous, because unique, or the scandal is much bigger in scope, because universal.  Before doing that digging, though, CNN is just hoping that the story plays out in a particular way and trying to gain attention for a conclusion based on work that it hasn’t done.

If this is modern journalism, then that’s outrageous, explosive evidence of how news companies actually function.

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Needed After Portsmouth: A Clear Picture, Not a Narrative

I didn’t plan to take up the former student’s assault of a Portsmouth High School teacher again, but something missing from the Providence Journal coverage of the released police report really should be part of the public discussion.  Specifically, reporter Katie Mulvaney leaves out the following, from the report (which I saw in full earlier but now can’t find):

[The suspect] was banging on the doors and she opened the door to redirect him to the main office.

We still don’t have sufficient details to offer a fair opinion of blame.  If the teacher recognized the former student, for example, it might be difficult to fault her for letting her guard down.

That said, what we know from the police report is that the teacher made it possible for her assailant to enter the building, and the school resource officer trailed behind the incident until it was over.  Those are very important details to keep in mind as people proclaim their opinions on what should be done following this incident.

Adding new personnel and security measures would come at a cost, not only in the money that might go to more useful purposes, but also in the environment under which students live, affecting their sense of community and expectations of the world.  Meanwhile, no security system will be immune to human error.

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The Journalist-Government Revolving Door Spins Again

Sorry to those who think I’m being unfair, but I don’t see how this isn’t a problem for Rhode Island journalism and especially the Providence Journal:

Especially coming right on the heals of Kate Bramson’s jump to Senate Policy Director under Democrat President Dominick Ruggerio, Bogdan’s move to be the new $82,699 Deputy Communications Director for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo looks really, really bad.

I’ve had cause to point out too many times, in Tiverton, that letting your misbehaving employees gracefully retire (with all of their accumulated sick pay) sends a very strong signal to other employees that they can relax their standards.  Just so, all of these big promotions into government communications offices — or government offices of any kind — send the very strong signal to other journalists that they should be sure to keep their options open as they ask those proverbial tough questions of potential future employees.

If they were smart, Rhode Island news organizations would all initiate revolving door policies.  Of course, first they’d all have to admit the problem, and I’ve seen no sign of that.

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The Journalist-to-Government Revolving Door

Just out from the Rhode Island Senate is a press release announcing the hiring of Providence Journal reporter Kate Bramson as the chamber’s new $121,340 director of the Senate Policy Office:

Ms. Bramson was chosen from a field of 40 applicants. “Although many highly qualified individuals applied – and we are grateful to all of them – Kate was exceptional. My team and I were remarkably impressed with her deep knowledge on a wide range of issues. I have been interviewed by Kate in the past, and I always respected her thorough knowledge of the topic she was covering. My admiration grew through the interview process for this position. She is exceptionally well-versed in many areas, and particularly economic development. Kate offered the kind of analysis and insights that will serve the Senate well as we work to make our state a better place to live and work. She will be joining an outstanding staff in our Senate Policy Office.”

Every time a local journalist steps up to government (the direction it must be in pay, anyway), I’ve noted the dangerous precedent, and this is a big one.  Can people really trust journalists’ objectivity when being hired for highly contested and highly remunerated government jobs has become a regular part of their career path?

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Cover Up in the Scandal-Free Administration

Just because I think it’s important for somebody in Rhode Island to make this a topic of conversation, here’s Andrew McCarthy (no raving conspiracy theorist) detailing what appears to be a cover-up of Hillary Clinton’s private email usage, for the following reason:

From the first, these columns have argued that the whitewash of the Hillary Clinton–emails caper was President Barack Obama’s call — not the FBI’s, and not the Justice Department’s. (See, e.g., here, here, and here.) The decision was inevitable. Obama, using a pseudonymous email account, had repeatedly communicated with Secretary Clinton over her private, non-secure email account.

These emails must have involved some classified information, given the nature of consultations between presidents and secretaries of state, the broad outlines of Obama’s own executive order defining classified intelligence (see EO 13526, section 1.4), and the fact that the Obama administration adamantly refused to disclose the Clinton–Obama emails. If classified information was mishandled, it was necessarily mishandled on both ends of these email exchanges.

The last paragraph, though, is the key to explaining much of our country’s experience since the election:

All cleaned up: no indictment, meaning no prosecution, meaning no disclosure of Clinton–Obama emails. It all worked like a charm . . . except the part where Mrs. Clinton wins the presidency and the problem is never spoken of again.

When one thinks of all the people who just went along with the talking point that Obama’s administration was “largely scandal free” (right down to Rhode Island’s own Arlene Violet), one can only wonder whether they understood that they meant scandal as in “what the news media makes a big deal about” rather than behavior that ought to be scandalous.  The measure of the former isn’t very helpful, meaning mainly an ability to keep the press in your corner, by which measure just about every dictator presides over a scandal-free era.

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Twisting a GOP Tax Win

Maybe it’s a subtle thing, but the bias of an AP article by Linda Johnson, to which the Providence Journal gave the online headline, “Johnson & Johnson loses $10.7B after sweeping U.S. tax changes,” seems indicative of a larger issue:

Johnson & Johnson posted a rare quarterly loss, a whopping $10.71 billion, due to a $13.6 billion charge related to last month’s U.S. tax overhaul.

While the loss was expected and the company’s adjusted results beat Wall Street expectations, shares fell more than 4 percent, an unusually big swing for the health care giant.

On Tuesday, J&J reported a big jump in sales, but that was offset by sharply higher spending on production, marketing, administration and research, partly due to one-time charges.

All of this is true, but one must read the whole article — and even between the lines — to understand what happened.  Because of the corporate tax cut, J&J repatriated money the company had been holding oversees because high taxes made that option preferable, and in doing so, the company paid taxes.  This appears to be related to the boost in expenditures, because the corporation had an inflow of newly domestic money to invest in itself.

Far from being a negative consequence of the Republicans’ tax reform, this was an intended benefit and a win for President Trump and his party.  As for the loss in share prices, they appear to be largely (if not wholly) related to other question marks, like competition from generic drug makers.

The relentless negativity of the mainstream news media toward anything that can possibly be tied to President Trump makes it more difficult for Americans to get an accurate picture of what’s happening in the world.  Once upon a time, I didn’t understand that to be the purpose of journalism.

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AP Spins Christmas and Violence for Partisan Point

Let’s just say that I’m no prude when it comes to observing media bias, but this AP article by 

It was a subdued Christmas Eve in the historic birthplace of Jesus on Sunday, with spirits dampened by recent violence sparked by President Donald Trump’s recognition of nearby Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Crowds were thinner than previous years, with visitors deterred by clashes that have broken out in recent weeks between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces. Although there was no violence Sunday, Palestinian officials scaled back the celebrations in protest. Cool weather, and a rainy forecast, also weighed on the holiday cheer.

Reading the article, you’d almost think that the Palestinians are a majority Christian people.  You’d also think that they had no human agency and couldn’t help but react to the actions of an American president.

Pay particular attention to this quotation from the mayor of Bethlehem:

“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” he said.

Objectively stated, the story is this:  The government of a majority-Muslim city in which the mayor and deputy mayor are required to be Christian (one Roman Catholic and one Eastern Orthodox) restricted Christmas celebrations as a headline-capturing protest.  Reading further, one sees that their anger is mainly over their desire to claim Jerusalem uniquely as the capital of a Palestinian nation that could have been created years ago but for the intransigent of Palestinian leaders.  (The article, by the way, doesn’t mention that moving the embassy to Jerusalem has been a bipartisan promise that has somehow never been fulfilled, until now.)

In short, the AP journalists are merely passing along propaganda as news.  Shame on the Providence Journal for playing along.

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Beware the Expectation of Being Included or Exempted

In the wake of the two-day hate on the cessation of net neutrality, a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Mark Epstein puts a worthwhile spotlight on the communications duopoly enjoyed by net neutrality–backers Google and Facebook.  Basically, those two companies control 84% of all non-Chinese digital advertising and around 95% of all social media activity, and Google owns about 90% of searches.  This gives them the power to censor and to bully Web site owners into self-censorship.

They’re also shaping public discourse in the way some generally liberal mainstreamers don’t like:

Journalists also argue that tech companies are pushing media toward the lowest common denominator. Social media rewards clickbait—sensational headlines that confirm readers’ biases. Google and Facebook’s advertising duopoly bleeds traditional publishers of the revenue needed to produce high-quality news. At the same time, Google’s search engine is biased against subscription content, depleting another source of funding.

Yet, one gets the impression that supporters of old-guard media are perfectly happy to applaud censorship that they like, either because it harms their competition or affirms their biases.

Too many people with influence in our society want mainly to be included or exempted, and their political biases lead them to imagine that they will be.  That’s a mistake.

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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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