Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Media's Existential Crisis



January 11, 2017. The day not-my-President-elect Donald Trump had a Hollywood-worthy showdown with the media during his first press conference in five months. The only thing missing was the cheesy soundtrack from a Sergio Leone Spaghetti western. We'll give this one to Trump. The losers? CNN, its reporter Jim Acosta and the entire 4th estate. What happens next will determine whether the media survives the Trump era and continues to play a central role in American politics and daily life, or if it limps away a sad broken footnote in the most bizarre, divisive administration in history.

It's definitely time to sound the alarms, as we've entered unchartered territory. The media should be terrified, as its very existence is in grave danger. Trump and the press have raced right past whatever honeymoon normally exists and have stage-dived into the contentious, punitive phase of this dysfunctional relationship. And it's the American public who will suffer. Transparency, accountability and freedom itself are on the verge of extinction. The administration's utter disdain for the press has become the biggest threat to our democracy.

The confrontation with Acosta erupted when the reporter, after Trump accused CNN of being a "fake news" network, attempted to ask a question. He was summarily denigrated and dismissed by Trump who used his bully pulpit to be, well, an obnoxious, petulant, vindictive bully. 

Acosta sat frustrated and silenced. And his colleagues got the message: cross the big guy (with at least what he thinks is a slight) and he will berate you and likely have his press secretary threaten to throw you out, as Sean Spicer did to Acosta. It was tough to watch, and a harbinger of future Trump-era pressers. In a matter of seconds, America's free and open press didn't seem so free or open.   

The episode with Acosta was just the tip of the iceberg. As retribution for what it deems "unfair" coverage, the administration is considering making drastic, unprecedented changes to standard practice and protocol including ejecting the press from the West Wing; limiting or eliminating daily White House briefings and press conferences; denying credentials; ending the Saturday morning presidential radio address; and placing limitations on the press pool. It's also threatened to expand the nation's libel laws granting Trump greater punitive power against reporters and media outlets critical of him and the administration.

At this extremely critical juncture the media cannot allow itself to be marginalized, hampered and/or restricted. It must exert itself and regain control of the process, not be neutered into submission. The White House is the people's house, and whether he wishes to accept it or not, Trump works for the people. And since 320-million citizens cannot fit into the briefing room, the 49 reporters who represent them there must be free to challenge the president without fear of reprisal, threat of ejection, or being banned.

If one of their own gets "Acosta'd" again, perhaps all 49 White House reporters should get up and leave Trump and Spicer standing alone in the briefing room. I suspect that would make a strong point. And if the administration carries out its threatened changes and severely limits future media access, perhaps it should no longer cover Trump's bombastic tweets. Maybe it should also place a moratorium on appearances by Kellyann Conway and other surrogates who use the generous airtime afforded them to spread the administration's propaganda. 

To be sure, Trump needs the media more than it needs him. He's an attention-starved, self-aggrandizing showman, and without the media there is no show. And no one knows this more than Trump himself. Without the media the administration cannot spread its message, promote its agenda or tout its successes. No one's expecting a love affair between the press and the White House. But the American public has a right to know what's going on within the presidency at all times, and the administration should not hinder or obstruct that Constitutionally-protected access.

Friday, January 13, 2017

WTF Kind of Press Conference Was THAT!?



Donald Trump had not held a press conference since July 27, 2016. So it was with great anticipation and expectation that the not-my-President-Elect took to the podium Wednesday in Manhattan's Trump Tower lobby to finally answer reporters' questions pertaining to his business conflicts, tax returns, the economy, Obamacare, Russian hacks and Kompromat. We can add that last one to Kleptocracy and Emoluments as big new words we now have to know thanks to Trump.

Yes, there was Trump, his top advisors, the media, a mike, chairs and TV crews. But it was nothing like a traditional press conference. In fact, it was perhaps the most bizarre, chaotic, hostile presser in United States history. It was more like an end-of-term slugfest between a frustrated media and an exhausted, combative, unpopular president than the start of a new administration. If this is what a honeymoon looks like, no one should ever get married.

A few highlights:

-It was more like a bad concert with even worse opening acts. Before he spoke, Trump summoned his henchmen to grease the wheels and neuter his anxious audience. Incoming press secretary Sean Spicer issued antagonist denials of UrineGate (the latest alleged salacious Trump scandal) and a verbal thrashing to reporters. Vice president-elect Mike Pence stroked Trump's gargantuan ego by extolling the boss's virtues while citing the media's moral bankruptcy.

-Trump articulated his positions with the grammatical deft of an attention and praise-starved 10-year-old. Everything was characterized as either big, beautiful, tremendous, great or amazing yet totally lacking substance (not a new trait for Trump). He predicted reporters would be "very proud" of what he's going to do with Obamacare. Good boy, Donnie!

-Trump essentially told the media to 'fuck off.' He accused CNN of being a "fake news" network and denied one of it's reporters, Jim Acosta, the ability to ask a question. The two then got into an unprecedented front-row heated exchange, with Trump dismissing him as "rude." It was pure theater, but chilling nonetheless in terms of a free and open press (or lack thereof).

-Trump essentially said, (cue: Alec Baldwin) 'Don't worry, I'm not gonna have anything to do with my various businesses--my genius sons Eric and Don Jr will run them--and we're never gonna talk about them. So we're good now, right?'. And (cue: Penske file) we learned that if ya ever wanna look like you've got an elaborate divestiture plan, just have your attorney speak with a mound of very important-looking documents stacked next to her even though no one will ever get to see what's in them.

-Trump essentially said, 'There's no conflict of interest with my DC hotel. No one's gonna bribe me by staying there. But if they do, I'll just give the profits to taxpayers.' If you're waiting for a plan outlining who will monitor these transactions, figure out 'profitability,' be accountable for the process and how transparent this will all be to the public and Congress, don't hold your breath. You may die.

-Trump essentially said 'you should thank me for turning down a $2-billion deal from Damac Properties.' But more importantly, he wanted to remind us he still has the unconflicted right to do billion-dollar deals. And probably will.

-Trump lied the whole time. Example: he claimed that 96-million people are looking for work. It's actually 5.5-million according to factcheck.org. Or when he claimed he doesn't have any Russian debt, when by most journalistic accounts it's believed he owes upwards of $1-billion, much of it to foreign creditors including those in Russia. But we have no real insight into his debt, or anything else pertaining to his finances, because he won't release his tax returns. And about those returns...

-Trump essentially said 'you're never gonna see 'em because no one cares about them except you asshole reporters. And besides, ya know, there's the, um, audit....'

-Trump ducked, dodged and diverted every time a reporter managed to get a tough question out. It's back to blaming the media, most of whose asses he royally kissed in his opening remarks...but whom will surely, over time, get Acosta'd (what happens to a reporter when Trump decides to publicly denigrate him/her).   

-Trump, in refuting UrineGate, provided some moral clarity by sharing how he stresses to his team when traveling that...'it's ok to be sleazebags, just be careful in hotel rooms because there's cameras everywhere.' But most compelling is the 'proof' that Trump didn't have hookers pee all over his Moscow hotel room as alleged because he's a "germaphobe." But if it weren't for those damn germs! 

-We learned that, according to Trump, being liked by a brutal, murderous dictator like Russia's President Vladimir Putin is an "asset."

-We learned that God put Trump on Earth to be it's "greatest jobs producer" ever. Apparently God told him to just focus on America and fuck Mexico.

-We learned that after seven years of bashing Obamacare, Trump and Republicans have no idea what to do with it. Repeal and replace now? Repeal and replace later? Repeal and don't replace....and just screw all those angry old white folks who voted for us? Maybe they should text God and see what she thinks? 

-We learned that Trump's pressers will just be post-election versions of his campaign rallies, with paid staffers in the back cheering when he berates reporters.

-We learned that for the next four years, in this newly defined 'post-truth' era, the definition of "fake news" will be any news that's negative, regardless if it's true.

-Most important, we learned that there's only one Trump. There's no pivot Trump. No presidential Trump. Just the same old empty-suited bombastic bully oligarch who clearly doesn't give a shit what anyone, especially the media, thinks.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

An Open Letter to Donald Trump: WTF Happened to the Liberal You?


Dear Mr. Trump:

I'm at a huge loss. Perhaps you can help me figure out the precise moment when you went from being a promiscuous, socially-liberal Manhattan playboy to a promiscuous uber-conservative Manhattan playboy. Or more importantly, why.

Did something happen in your life which gave rise to the born-again Trump? Was there a specific incident that made you stop believing in personal social freedoms and start subscribing to the moral standards of evangelicals? What exactly was this come-to-Jesus moment?

Sorry, but this sudden values-transfusion is a bit suspect. New Trump is such a stark contrast from old Trump. Here's a sampling of your liberal musings over the years:

-Regarding abortion: "I'm very pro-choice. I am pro-choice in every respect."
(1999)

-Regarding gun control: "I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I also support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun. With today's internet technology we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record." (2000)

-Regarding same-sex marriage: "These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They've been settled. And I'm -- I'm fine with that." (2015)

-Regarding transgenders and bathrooms: "There's a big move to create new bathrooms. First of all, I think that would be discriminatory in a certain way. It would be unbelievably expensive for businesses and for the country. Leave it the way it is." (2016)

-Regarding universal healthcare: "Everybody's got to be covered, this is an un-Republican thing I'm going to say, I'm going to take care of everybody....Who pays for it? The government's going to pay for it." (2015) 

-Regarding the war on drugs: "You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars." (1990)

-Regarding President Obama's economic stimulus: "I thought he did a terrific job...I thought he was strong and smart, and it looks like we have somebody that knows what he is doing finally in office, and he did inherit a tremendous problem. He really stepped into a mess...." (2009)

-Regarding the economy: "It just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans.... we've had some pretty bad disasters under the Republicans." (2004)

-Regarding immigration: "For people that have been here for years, that have been hard workers, have good jobs, are supporting a family, it's very, very tough to just say 'you have to leave, get out.' How do you throw someone out that's lived in this country for 20 years, you just can't throw everybody out." (2012)

-Regrading climate change: It's "scientifically irrefutable." (2009)

-Regarding his politics: "In many cases, I probably identify more as Democrat." (2004)

-Regarding the Republican Party: "I really believe Republicans are just too crazy...I mean, hey, I lived in New York City, Manhattan all my life, okay? So my views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa, perhaps." (1999)

-Regarding Hillary Clinton: "I know her and she'd make a good president or good vice president." (2008)

So, where'd that guy go? Is he still inside you, placed in hibernation during the election so you could appeal to the lowest common denominator of intolerance, bigotry and hatred in order to win? Will he resurface, perhaps when we liberals need him most, like when it's time to name your Supreme Court nominee?

To be honest, I'm really not buying the whole church-Trump thing. Just like hanging out with all those generals doesn't make you any tougher, sidling up to staunch conservatives like Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich and Jeff Sessions doesn't make you a right-winger. You better be careful, because I think Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell agree with me.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Goodbye Camelot, Hello Dystopia


I was 4-years-old when President John F. Kennnedy was assassinated. I remember arriving home with my mother. She was visibly distraught as she fidgeted with her keys, pausing to catch her breath while hastily explaining that the president's death was going to preempt my favorite tv show, The Little Rascals. I was of course too young to understand the magnitude of what was happening, and to appreciate the mythical ideal of Camelot that Jacqueline Kennedy created for the grieving nation in the days following her husband's horrific murder.
 
"There will be great presidents again," Jackie told journalist Theodore White, "but there will never be another Camelot." White, who'd given favorable treatment to JFK in his book The Making of the President, 1960, had been invited by the First Lady to the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis to write a feature for Life Magazine. In an extremely rare ceding of control, she demanded and was given final editing rights.

The legend of Camelot has lived on for the five decades since the assassination despite the truth that's emerged of the First Couple's less-than-idyllic life together. But Americans still cling to the legend, preferring to remember Jack and Jackie as having it all: beauty, charm, health and fairy tale happiness. America's royalty.

In just one month my Camelot will disappear. It is with profound sadness that I mourn the imminent departure of Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama. For eight years I've been awed and inspired by the President and First Lady. They've been exemplary role models, demonstrating grace, dignity, integrity, class, humility, compassion, empathy, diplomacy and respectability. They are the personification of decency and goodness, possessing a supremely intelligent world view and the highest moral and ethical standards. They are flawless and unassailable.

Now think about the First Family that will be taking the Obamas' place. Donald Trump has demonstrated behavior that's been characterized as sexist, racist, xenophobic and intellectually and morally bankrupt. He's an admitted sexual predator. A tax-evader. A draft-dodger. Someone who's attacked the disabled, veterans, war heroes and the Pope. And whose bromance with Vladimir Putin, and blind eye to Russian hacking of our election, is making Joe McCarthy turn over in his grave.

Trump's wife Melania is a former model who's posed for sexually-suggestive nude photos; who may have immigrated to the Unites States illegally; and who plagiarized a Michelle Obama speech.

His sons Eric and Donald Jr., when not killing large animals for sport, have perfected the art of coattail riding, and are currently at the center of a controversial pay-for-play fundraising scheme designed to sell unprecedented access to their president-elect father. They are also at the center of an extraordinary conflicts-of-interest shit storm given their plans to run daddy's business and serve among his closest advisors.  

And then there's Ivanka, who'll be moving to Washington, D.C. with her husband (Trump's de facto consigliere Jared Kushner) and three children, and who intends to continue running her own business empire while perched in her father's inner circle, blurring the ethical lines so much it's making our heads spin.

To be sure, the Trump administration will be like no other in history. We're going from a president who's worthy of being etched into Mt. Rushmore to one who could end up on a post office wall. Thanks to Trump and his kids we now understand Kleptocracy and the Emoluments Clause. We fear the First family's personal financial enrichment of the presidency and White House, and how it threatens our national security.

In just 28 days we'll be going from Camelot to Dystopia. So strap yourselves in kids, we're in for the most wild roller-coaster ride imaginable.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Another Open Letter to "Mr." Trump: WTF's With All the Tweeting!?


Full disclosure: I love your Tweets. I mean, I really, really love them. Please don't stop. In the sea of madness and sadness you've created by your victory I find them a delicious comedic oasis. And I actually think they're the paving on the road to impeachment. So don't listen to Kellyanne Conway or anyone else who's trying to silence your 140-character profundity. You're the boss, man, Tweet away!

But I have to ask yet again: what the fuck is wrong with you!? Hasn't Kellyanne told you you've won? That you don't have to keep fighting? That you don't have to keep counter-punching every puppy, child, woman, disabled person, beauty queen, Pope, or enemy-state every time your Kleenex-thin epidermis is punctured? You're like the worst, most vile internet troll, except you're not anonymous and you're about to become leader of the free world for fuck's sake!

I'm no psychologist, but your narcissistic personality disorder seems to be spiraling you into a pathological vortex of self-sabotage. You're an orange man-baby with digital diaper rash. Perhaps Melania can smear some Desitin all over your keypad. Alec Baldwin's impersonation of you, while genius, falls short of capturing your true essence. He should dress in a high school cheerleader's outfit, because you Tweet like a 16-year-old mean girl.

I'm embarrassed for you. Actually, I'm really embarrassed for your children and grandkids, because I suspect they're thinking, "Jeez, why does dad/grandpa have to be such a juvenile asshat who's likely to set America back 240 years and quite possibly destroy our world in the process?" And of course, this is a very disturbing contemplation for a bunch of nepo-phants who depend on your sexist, racist, self-serving, corrupt, Kleptocratic coattails for their very survival.

So what's with the Tweeting? Are you really this sensitive? Does your emotional world get so earthquakingly rocked every time someone, anyone, says something, anything, you don't like? Ya know what they say about a man with tiny hands: outsize sensitivity. I've seen 5-year-olds who handle criticism better than you.

And now your Tweeting is showing yet another YUGE insecurity, this one pertaining to the election. In the face of the findings of 17 U.S. national security agencies, your summary dismissal of a Russian hack has nothing to do with your creepy bromance with Vladimir Putin and everything to do with you desperately trying to defend the legitimacy of your victory. You got your ass handed to you by Hillary Clinton with a 3-million popular vote drubbing (the first major deficit of your administration), and you managed to snag a historically low 306 electoral votes with the likely help of election fraud, voter suppression and tampering by your BFF Vlad (in Trumpish this is referred to as a "massive landslide").

To be sure, something very fishy occurred in this election. We all know it, and you know it. You hit the big one alright, but you're forever a 'roided-up asterisk, just like Barry Bonds. And it's killing you. You hate the outcry that you didn't win fair and square. Unfortunately, you can legitimize yourself through Twitter rants. It only shows us just how threatened you really are by...the truth?

Friday, December 16, 2016

An Open Letter to "Mr." Trump: WTF Is Wrong With You!?


Dear Mr. Trump:
I refer to you as "Mr" because I do not recognize you as my president. Or anyone's president for that matter. You lost the popular vote by almost 3-million votes, more than any president in United States history. And with the likely help of Russian hacks, oppressive voter ID laws, other acts of voter suppression and election fraud, and an embarrassingly neutered media, you squeaked out a measly 306 electoral votes, placing you in the bottom fifth of all presidents ever.

But in true Trumpian fashion, you've boasted of a "massive landslide victory." Sorry, pal. The only "landslide" was Hillary Clinton's, as she received more votes than any president in history except for Barack Obama in 2008. One thing's for sure though: you were right about the election being "rigged." For you.

Now that we've gotten the niceties out of the way, let me ask the most obvious question: what the fuck is wrong with you!? Seriously, do you not give a shit about your legacy, if not for yourself, at least for your kids, grandkids and future generations of Trumps? If your goal is to beat James Buchanan as the worst president in history, well then Mazel Tov, as you're halfway there and you've still got five weeks till inauguration day!

Let's start with your cabinet picks. You were supposed to drain the swamp, not restock it with self-serving corporate billionaires and other uber-rich insiders and cronies. You've appointed a banana-republic-worthy gaggle of unqualified, inexperienced, intellectually un-curious sexists/misogynists, racists, stabbers (ok, just one knifer, Ben Carson), fake-news-spreaders and Russian sympathizers. And your alt-right white nationalist advisor Steve Bannon sits atop this basket of deplorables. This is your idea of populism!?

And what's with all the generals? You know, those guys you claim to be smarter than. Are you planning some kind of military coup? Besides, hanging around with generals doesn't make you any tougher. You could hang around real-men in uniform all you want and you're still a draft-dodging coward.

Now about that Russian hack. That you're summarily dismissing the validity of the findings of 17 national security agencies is shameful and treasonous. You should be saying, "Yes, a Russian hack into our election process, a cyber-attack, is a major threat to our Democracy and must be subject to a full bi-partisan investigation." Instead, you've disparaged our intelligence community. You blame President Obama. Or some 400-lb fat guy in his mother's basement. What kind of message does it send to our enemies that our President-elect attacks our national security experts while defending Vladimir Putin?

Next, the conflicts of interests are not just mind-numbingly unethical, but perhaps illegal and impeachable. You've refused to release your tax returns and have bailed on your big press conference this week to explain how you're going to separate yourself and your family from your business... leaving the American people with zero transparency for the first time in modern presidential history. Between your foreign investments and debt, and your domestic properties (DC hotel, for example), your conflicts are staggering. You're blatantly putting your personal financial interests before the safety and security of the nation. Oh, and because of you I now have to add the word "emoluments" to my vocabulary. 

Lastly, your utter disdain for America's free and open press is perhaps the biggest threat to our democracy of all. Your administration's hinted at making drastic, unprecedented changes to the media's access to information including limiting or eliminating daily White House briefings, the Saturday morning presidential address, press conferences and the press pool. You've also threatened to expand our libel laws which would allow you greater ability to sue reporters and media outlets who are critical of you and your administration.

This is what fascism smells like.

Your words and actions are a constant attack on our freedoms and the progress we've made in  our 240 year history. You've taken those tiny little hands, whipped out your micro-dick, and are pissing all over the Oval Office and the U.S. Constitution. Shame on you. And Shame on everyone who voted for you.

So no, Mr. Trump, I will never refer to you as "President." You are not worthy of that title.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Media in the Trump Age: Why We Should be Terrified


Get ready America, we're about to enter unchartered waters in our 241-year history. Instead of a democracy with a free and open press, the United States in 36 days is going to more resemble a propaganda-driven fascist dictatorship. Goodbye facts and reality. Hello 'post-truth' era.

While America won't have state-run television, radio and newspapers per se, the overall messaging will be controlled by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump just the same. Trump and his Steve Bannon/KellyAnne Conway-led propaganda machine will twist, manipulate and conflate the truth so much like Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin and Baghdad Bob that it'll make your heads spin, believe me....believe me.

Forget the truth. That's so old-school. This is the Trump Age. The new administration will tell us what we want to hear or, more so, what it thinks we need to hear. No more, no less. And it won't matter whether the information will be rooted in reality or in Trump's alternate universe. Everything will be "great." Everything will be "successful." Everything will be the "biggest" and the "best." There will be no losses. No failures. No mistakes.

For the first time in U.S. history we will no longer be able to trust anything that comes out of the White House. Nothing. Not a single damn word. Oh how we'll long for the good old days of simple creative spin. Trump will be the most dishonest, disingenuous, duplicitous president ever. Our only hope for facts and the truth will be the media. But given how poorly the press did its job during the campaign in both vetting and challenging Trump and his endless lies, we should be gravely concerned.

In the Trump Age, fact-checkers are "liars." The media is "unbelievably dishonest." Journalists have been bullied and neutered. Trump's utter disdain for the media is palpable. It's a visceral hatred which stems in part by his confusion in thinking the Fourth Estate is merely an extension of his PR team. He lacks the respect and appreciation for a free and open press that is the bedrock of a democracy. Pathologically in perpetual search of acceptance and affirmation, Trump summarily rejects anything and anyone who fails to show him love. Challenge him, question him, show him no intrinsic loyalty and Trump the "counter-puncher" will pummel you. And therein explains his dysfunctional, hostile relationship with the press.

In Trump's administration the media will be mocked, excoriated and limited in its access to the White House and the president. It will be sued for libel. Trump, the master self-promoter, will be our primary source of information. It'll be Trump's truth and nothing else. He'll shield us from those pesky little reporters who conspire against him.

To be sure, the truth will be in scarce supply these next four years. A great example of that occurred Wednesday when Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, the union which represents workers at Indiana's Carrier plant, challenged Trump's claims about the much-hyped deal he made to save jobs from being outsourced to Mexico.

"He's lying his ass off," Jones said about Trump's claim of saving 1,100 jobs. "That's not just my feeling. The numbers prove he's lying his ass off. It's a damn shame when you come in and make a false statements like that." 

The result was a series of belligerent Tweets from Trump. Personal attacks about Jones' character and the performance of his union's workers. Courtesy of our first Twitter-Troll-in-Chief.

Consider for a second that we're about to inaugurate a president we cannot trust. Whose words mean nothing, whether he's speaking about the economy, foreign policy or military affairs. Imagine if when President Obama announced Osama bin Laden's killing we didn't believe it was true. Kind of like Trump's announcement this week that Japan's SoftBank will invest $50-billion in the U.S. and create 50,000 new jobs. No details. Just hype. And likely not true. That's our America in 36 days.

Trump hates the truth. Hates reality. Hates facts. He much prefers hyperbole and grandiosity. He's a self-aggrandizing showman. PT Barnum on steroids. But truth and facts matter. Especially in the Oval Office.

To quote the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts."

Donald Trump disagrees.

So will the media do its job in keeping the American public informed, countering Trump's propaganda machine? Will Congress serve in its oversight capacity and ensure our system of checks and balances, holding Trump accountable? Will voters demand the truth and punish Trump and Republicans if they don't get it?

Strap yourself in, because it's going to be a very, very bumpy ride...