Archive

Politics

File photo of Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News  in Pasadena

Last summer I recounted the time that Roger Ailes tried to get me fired from Nielsen, claiming I had leaked Fox Business News’ bad ratings to The New York Times.

But that wasn’t the first time I had run across Ailes and his modus operandi.  An earlier encounter was almost as revealing of the Ailes ideology of enemies, revenge and hate.

In the mid-1990s, I worked for a PR agency that did a lot of work for NBC, which came to us with those in the business called an “executive transition” assignment. Ailes, then the head of CNBC, had expressed his displeasure with the way things were going. Among other grievances, “America’s Talking,” the cable network he created for NBC, had been taken from his control and changed into MSNBC through a partnership with Microsoft.  He’d indicated that he planned to leave CNBC at some undetermined time in the future. But NBC didn’t want to wait until he jumped.  They were going to push first.

So we created a PR plan announcing that Ailes had resigned and that Bill Bolster, the head of NBC’s New York affiliate, was taking his place.  On January 7, 1996, NBC informed Ailes he was resigning that day, and the day after that we made the announcement.

As executive transitions go, this was pretty benign.  NBC said very nice things about Ailes, and the media played it as we wanted: that this was his decision, which was mostly true.

Ailes, of course, was quickly hired by Rupert Murdoch to create Fox News, a competing cable channel, proving that NBC had been right to force the issue when it did.

So everyone should have been happy, right?

Apparently not, because someone started planting negative stories about the new CNBC management in the New York tabloids — personally nasty stories about the new executives and how much everyone at CNBC hated them.  Whenever Ailes hired someone new away from the CNBC newsroom, this would be the occasion for another negative story. Reporters soon told us that Ailes’ PR guy was behind these stories.

There was really no strategic reason for this vindictive campaign against CNBC.  Ailes gained nothing from it other than revenge. The new Fox News was not going to be competing against a financial news network like CNBC.  It was just nastiness for its own sake.

Ailes went on to create the juggernaut of Fox News and changed American politics forever (it’s also worth mentioning that CNBC itself became an immensely more profitable asset after Ailes left).  You have to wonder, though, the extent to which Ailes’ rage powered his success — and whether it actually was a good thing for the political causes he supported.

The day Ailes died, Ross Douthart tweeted that there were two eras in conservative journalism: the William F Buckley era and the Roger Ailes era.   Buckley’s form of journalism was rooted in intelligent argument, wit, and sunniness.  The Buckley approach to politics reached its climax with the Reagan presidency.  Reagan was considered by his opponents to be an amiable dunce, but he was actually a man of ideas and a Buckley acolyte.

By contrast, Ailes began his career advising Richard Nixon and ended up as a consultant to Donald Trump.  What these three had in common was a burning resentment at real and perceived slights.  They passionately hated anyone who dissed them, starting with the political and media elites.

The Buckley era resulted in the most successful implementation of conservative ideas in a century. And the Ailes approach?  The New York Times’ Bret Stephens made a good point about Ailes and Fox: that they were really in the business of hating the Left, not in pushing conservative causes. Ailes-style candidates gave us one disgraced presidency that resulted in a huge expansion of government, and another presidency on its way to disgrace and the potential destruction of the Republican Party.  That’s some legacy.

Here’s the thing. Ailes was a genius to recognize there was a huge audience for a news network that was not dominated by the liberal elite.  For the Right, Fox news coverage actually was “fair and balanced,” for a change.

But a lot of conservatives can’t stand to watch Fox, with its nastiness, conspiracy theories, anti-intellectualism and endless grievances.  Liberals sometimes conflate conservatism with populism, but they are two entirely different things.  Fox’s goal was to generate huge ratings by stoking resentment, decidedly not a conservative approach.

So when Ailes launched his vengeful campaign against his successors at CNBC in 1996, none of us could understand why he couldn’t just move on.  Little did we know that he was in the process of constructing a network explicitly dedicated to not moving on – to being perpetually outraged.  And maybe it made business sense to keep his audience of older white men in a state of fury.  But let’s not pretend he was successfully making the country more conservative.

Advertisements

child-watching-tv

The events of November 8, 2016 delivered a severe psychological blow to many corners of American society, including the boardrooms of television executives.

The election’s impact on TV news, with its higher ratings and Twitter feuds, has been much discussed.  So has the effect of the new president on the increasingly politicized award show category and the re-energized late night segment.

TV critics have been eager to view scripted entertainment through the same political lens.  About “The Americans,” the FX show about Soviet spies operating in the U.S. in the 1980s, The New York Times wrote: “In the light of today’s headlines, this Cold War drama feels newly relevant.”

When “The Man in the High Castle,” an alternate reality show about a 1960s America occupied by Nazis, returned last December, Newsweek said: “Watching in the aftermath of the recent presidential election, on the precipice of Trump’s America, the series feels different.”

And Slate called the new season of “American Crime,” which is focused on an illegal immigrant from Mexico searching for his son in America, “a worthy, Trump-Era successor to ‘The Wire.’” Looking ahead, you can be sure that when “Veep” and “House of Cards” return, we’ll hear similar commentary about their relevance to our time.

Given how long it takes to conceive, write and produce a season of scripted television, it’s a sure bet that none of these shows was intended to be a commentary on Trump’s America.  This is especially true since these shows were mostly written when everyone in Hollywood expected Hillary Clinton to win.

Eventually there will be TV shows that actually do reflect the Trump presidency. That has always been the case.  The disputatious “All in the Family” seemed to embody the Nixon era, while “Dallas,” with its celebration of buccaneering capitalism, could only have been a massive hit during the Reagan presidency.  And “24,” which preyed upon America’s apocalyptic fear of terrorism, provides essential insight into the George W. Bush presidency.

When television finally does deliver a Trump-era show, I doubt it will be an overt political series, which we are already drowning in anyway.  Seriously, how many dramas, sitcoms, soap operas and satires about the White House can television sustain?  And besides, the conventional wisdom about the Trump administration seems to change weekly.  In just three months the Establishment’s view of the Trump presidency has gone from potentially dictatorial to inept to laughable.  Who knows what’s next?  Any show that attempts to deliver direct commentary about Trump runs the risk of quickly getting stale.

A smart television producer would instead wonder how a complete outsider like Trump got elected in the first place and try to figure out what’s in the mind of his supporters.  That would require a pivot away from the upper-middle class lifestyle that was the focus of so much television programming during the Obama years (think “Modern Family” and “black*ish.”)

In another words, a true Trump-era show would dramatize or satirize the lives of middle- and lower-middle-class Americans who are anxious about their status, culture and economic prospects.  This could be a 21st century “Rosanne” with an even more pointed edge. Or a police drama about an immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) squad operating at the border.

If showrunners can’t wrap their heads around what it would be like to be a Trump voter or ICE agent, they could still do a Trump-era show about anti-Trumpers.  This could depict the lives of refugees or undocumented immigrants trying to adjust in America.  There have been recent shows about immigrants (“Fresh Off the Boat” and “Jane the Virgin”) but the characters were (mostly) legal.   I don’t think there’s ever been a show about refugees or the undocumented (unless you count “American Crime,” which is more about the crime than immigration per se.)

It looks like the TV industry is getting the memo that it needs more cultural diversity in its programming.  Last November, ABC’s president of entertainment, Channing Dungey, said at the Content London conference, “With our dramas, we have a lot of shows that feature very well-to-do, well-educated people, who are driving very nice cars and living in extremely nice places.  There is definitely still room for that … but in recent history, we haven’t paid enough attention to some of the true realities of what life is like for everyday Americans in our dramas.”

If ABC and the other networks see a market opportunity among the 63 million Trump voters, then there’s a real potential for a wider variety of stories and perspectives.  And maybe our television entertainment would get even better — even if our politics doesn’t.

 

 

 

Trump press corps

I am not one for conspiracy theories but I’m beginning to wonder about what’s up with the feud between the Trump Administration and the press corps. They ostensibly hate each other but somehow this bickering redounds to the benefit of both of them.

TV news ratings surged during the 2016 political season, when the media gave the then-long shot candidate Trump billions of dollars in free publicity, and they haven’t abated much during the early days of his presidency. The print media seems to doing equally well, with the New York Times reporting a quarter million increase paid digital subscriptions last quarter.

Consider the case of CNN’s Jake Tapper, well-known to political junkies but relatively invisible to the vast American public – at least until he was the subject of a notorious Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Kellyanne Conway with a fatal attraction for being booked on his show. How many other political reporters have, like Tapper, seen their visibility soar since they started hooking horns with the Administration? Maybe someone like Rachel Maddow, whose All Trump All the Time diatribes have sent her ratings soaring?

For his part, Trump’s refusal to abide by the niceties of established presidential decorum has kept him front and center of the American consciousness almost every single day since January 20. Plus it makes him a big hero among that very sizable portion of the U.S. public that absolutely loathes the media.

I honestly don’t think news organizations understand the full extent to which conservatives despise them. If they did they wouldn’t wear it like a badge of honor or think they must be doing something right whenever conservatives complain. This antipathy predates Trump by thirty years and his willingness to endure media scorn is precisely what propelled him to power.

When Trump and the media go at it, they are like the codependent parents of a dysfunctional family and the rest of us are the innocent kids who wish they’d either stop fighting or just get divorced. It’s exhausting and there’s never a day off because whenever it starts to get normal, Trump will wake up on a Saturday morning and tweet something crazy, giving the media another excuse to go berserk when the rest of us would just like to take a nap.

The reason recent presidents have tried unconventional ways of communicating with the public is that traditional media have lost interest in being the main vehicle through which presidents get their message across. Two or three decades ago you could count on the president giving three or four major policy addresses a year, plus few annual primetime press conferences. These were all dutifully presented live on TV before huge audiences.

Then the networks, under competitive pressure from entertainment cable channels that had no intention of covering a presidential speech, decided there was no “news value” in primetime presidential addresses and dropped them altogether. Adieu primetime Oval Office speeches. What we got instead was the spectacle of the president of the United States appearing on Zack Galafanakis’s “Between Two Ferns,” Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee” and Mark Maron’s “WTF” podcast. It was a short step from that to Twitter.

To hear the media and the left tell it Trump’s attacks on the media are part of a secret plan to inaugurate American fascism. But what has he done besides name-calling? OK, it wasn’t nice to call them the “enemy of the people” or to blast them to their face in an impromptu press conference, but it was the Obama Administration that used the Espionage Act to go after whistle blowers who leaked to the press and who destroyed press privileges in the federal Fourth Circuit court with subpoenas against The New York Times reporter James Risen.

Oh sure, there is the incident in which White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer excluded The New York Times and CNN from a background briefing that was attended by Breitbart and The Washington Times. This has to be the most inconsequential inside baseball story in the young history of the Trump administration.

These small gatherings, called “gaggles,” involve a chosen few reporters who come into the press secretary’s office and get some background information. There is always a pool reporter present who reports back what was said so The New York Times and CNN were able to use that information to inform their readers and viewers of any news that transpired. And besides, remember when the Obama Administration tried to keep Fox News out of their briefings?

What GaggleGate boils down to is that Spicer was petty in not inviting some A-list reporters he didn’t like into his office and these reporters got their noses out of joint. For some reason this was national news.

Clearly there is no censorship or “chilling” of press freedom in this country. Trump gets pounded pretty good by the media every day, and I suspect he secretly likes it, being a practitioner of the “any news is good news” approach to publicity. The media doesn’t HAVE to go caterwauling every time Trump calls them a bad name, but if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to call attention to themselves either.

So Trump and the media are having a jolly old time slugging it out with us, the innocent public, caught in the middle. This was starting to get old even before the Inauguration but now that we’re two months into the Presidency, can we please dial it back and hear about something else that’s happening in the world?

whcd-red-carpet

If Donald Trump manages to accomplish one positive thing it might be to drive a stake through the heart of the White House Correspondents dinner — that star-studded, multi-platform orgy of preening and mutual ego-stroking that seems to serve no purpose other than to give the Washington elite a chance to show how powerful and well-connected they are.

The annual dinner probably sounded like a good way to establish closer relations between Calvin Coolidge and the men who covered him back in 1924, when Presidents started attending.  President Coolidge was a famously tight-lipped guy so an off-the-record night of roast beef, cigars and brandy at fancy hotel undoubtedly helped to loosen everyone up and give reporters a better understanding of the president’s thoughts.

Since then the dinner has metastasized into a bizarre marriage of the worst of the Oscars and Davos.  Calls to end the extravaganza have increased over the years and Samantha Bee, for one, has launched an alternative gala, which is being called “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”

And now Trump himself has said he won’t attend, which is not much of a surprise considering his feud with the press.  It would have been pretty hypocritical of all involved if he’d showed up and everyone had made light-hearted jokes about each other.

Back in the Reagan Administration, I attended one White House Correspondent’s dinner.  That was so long ago that the evening’s entertainment was a comedian that no one had ever heard of but who killed that night – Jay Leno.  This was also the notorious night that hooked the press corps on celebrity. I’m sure the Baltimore Star had no idea what they were unleashing when they invited Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, to sit at their table, but ever since then media outlets have competed to land the most talked-about guest.

fawn-hall

Until the Fawn Hall invitation, the informal rules for the dinner were pretty straight-forward.  Media organizations and lobbyists bought expensive tables and invited sources to sit with them.  These might be Senators and Representatives, White House staffers, agency press people – someone who had something to do with governing and who could be helpful to the media in their coverage of the government.

Fawn Hall changed all that because her appearance was so sensational. In 1987 she was Washington’s idea of a celebrity – in addition to being beautiful everyone at the dinner knew her through her televised testimony during the Iran-Contra hearings. She wasn’t at the dinner because she was a source but because she was a famous footnote to the biggest scandal of the 1980s.  All anybody could talk about that night was how the Baltimore Sun had snagged Fawn Hall and wasn’t that such a great idea to get someone who could lend some glamour to the occasion?

In the overall scheme of things, Fawn Hall was only a B Minus celebrity, but in the years to come, news organizations tried to one-up themselves with actual celebrities, including movie and TV stars, ranging from George Clooney and Steven Spielberg to Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan.  Vanity Fair started hosting an after-party and the cable news channels started to broadcast it live.

And now there’s a red carpet component: the idea that the White House Correspondents Dinner can justify having red carpet news coverage makes me want to puke.  Something else that revolts me is that people have started calling it the “Nerd Prom.”  Celebrities think that nerds are smart in addition to being antisocial so this is a self-deprecating way for them to imply there’s a hidden depth underneath all that glamour.

Aside from the red carpet, the main event at the dinner is the entertainment, in which, traditionally, the President makes self-deprecating jokes and the emcee, usually a comedian, makes snarky jokes about the President (if he’s a Republican) or snarky jokes about the President’s critics (if he’s a Democrat.)

President Obama was born for these events and his performances at the dinner were rapturously received.  Obama is smart, witty, and tied in with the cultural zeitgeist so his speeches and one-liners were snappier and funnier than the monologues of any late night hosts.  Last year, for example, Keegan-Michael Key for Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele” appeared as Luther, Obama’s anger translator, and “translated” Obama’s moderate comments into angry rants.  This of-the-moment humor, combined with the deft flattery of the White House press corps made Obama the undisputed star in a room full of Hollywood A-list actors.

There is no chance that President Trump could have hoped to match Obama’s performance.  He has no sense of humor, much less a self-deprecating sense of humor and the audience was unlikely to fall to their feet in supplication as they did to Obama.

Of course if Trump had wanted to play the inside Washington game he could have hired the best speechwriters and joke-smiths and shocked the world by offering an olive branch.  Nancy Reagan did exactly that when she performed a skit at the Gridiron Dinner singing “Second Hand Clothes,” which mocked her image as a clothes horse and White House China addict. By making fun of herself in front of the press she transformed from Marie Antoinette-like to a beloved Washington insider herself.

nancy-reagan-second-hand-clothing

Trump won’t play Nancy Reagan’s game.  He’s getting too much mileage out of his press feud and becoming their darling, no matter how temporarily, is not in his interest.  And that’s fine with me.  If the President is not at the dinner, it becomes exposed for what it is: not a nerd prom but a regular prom where the most popular and most beautiful people swagger and celebrate themselves. The White House press corps already think they’re pretty special, they don’t need a night to emphasize it.

meryl-streep-golden-globes

Remember those halcyon days when you could turn on a football game or awards show and not worry that you were going to be assaulted by someone’s inane political opinion?  Those were the days, way back in the early 2010’s.

We now live in a world where even a feel-good Budweiser ad can’t be shown during the Super Bowl without splitting the country in two over its purported political message.

As for the awards shows, they have become increasingly mouthy.  Even back in the Age of Obama, when award winners adored the president, they still found something to gripe about.  But now that Donald Trump is in the White House, Hollywood is melting down and the awards shows have become a major platform of dissent.

Meryl Streep, the industry’s grande dame, opened the floodgates with her anti-Trump tirade at the Golden Globes.   Then the SAG awards unleashed nearly a dozen speeches condemning the Administration.  The subsequent Director’s Guild Awards took it easy on the president – only five direct attacks.  As recently as last Saturday night, Streep doubled down at a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign and called Trump’s supporters “brown shirts,” a commonly used term for followers of Hitler. And then at the Grammys on Sunday, Busta Rhymes blasted “President Agent Orange.”

And into this environment comes the Academy Awards, the biggest stage of them all.  The Oscars show is usually the most-viewed non-football broadcast of the year.  It’s one of those special live events that keeps some people holding off on cord-cutting just a little while longer.

But while there is no official anti-Hollywood Oscar boycott in the works (not yet at least), there does seem to be considerable word-of-mouth chatter among Trump voters that this is the year to skip it.  I’m surprised by the number of people who have told me they won’t watch because of the politics.

This could be more than an idle threat.  In 2008, the left-leaning Jon Stewart delivered the least watched Oscar broadcast in history, drawing just 31.7 million viewers.  By 2015, the number of viewers had climbed back to 37.3 million but last year, in the middle of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, viewership fell back to 34.4 million.

Even if ABC and the Academy would like to see politics kept out of the ceremony, and they probably do, there’s no way for them to accomplish that.  For starters, there’s the case of the Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, whose film “The Salesman” is nominated for best foreign language film.  As a foreign national from one of the seven countries from which the Trump Administration suspended travel, Farhadi would have been prevented from coming to the U.S. if the travel pause hadn’t been suspended. He still might not attend in protest (and of course if the pause is reinstated by February 26, he will be officially shut out again).    Given that he is someone directly affected by a government policy, Farhardi becomes a potent symbol for Hollywood “resistance.”

Farhardi won the Oscar in 2012 for the excellent “A Separation” and would have been a favorite again this year, even without the martyred status.  Now, if there’s anything more certain than “La La Land” getting the best picture it’s an Oscar for “The Salesman” and a righteous speech by whomever is designated to accept on his behalf.

But if Farhardi has a legitimate reason to make a political statement, what’s the excuse from the fine folks who brought us “La La Land”?  If Ryan Gosling wins Best Actor is he going to mention that he’s an immigrant (albeit from Canada)?

“La La Land” is a lovely movie, but it’s a self-reverential paean to the movie-making industry itself and the fact that it is poised to win a slew of awards demonstrates what’s so aggravating about the political posturing at the Oscars.  After all, this is a movie about a white guy who wants to save Jazz from bastardizers like the African American bandleader played by John Legend.  Its hands aren’t exactly clean on the political correctness front.

The entertainment business is as brutally capitalistic as any industry in America, with a price tag applied to everything and executives who are as richly rewarded as you can get.  Male actors are routinely paid more than females.  By constantly portraying Muslims as terrorists Hollywood has done more to shape negative perceptions of Islam than any other institution in the country.  It doesn’t take much courage to stand up before a group of film colleagues and criticize Donald Trump.  It would take a lot more courage to criticize the industry itself.

Until now, conservative viewers have responded to the Oscars’ political speeches with bemused eye-rolling but in today’s hyper-politicized environment they might now be so forgiving.  We’ll know whether they voted with their eyeballs on February 27, when the ratings come out.

identity-politics

If you’re more upset when your Presidential candidate loses an election than when your home team loses the World Series or Super Bowl you need to rethink your priorities.  And I’m not kidding.

The outpouring of grief, the lamentations, the rending of garments by supporters of Hillary Clinton is beginning to get embarrassing.  Get a grip people.  Think how those poor Cleveland Indian fans felt when they lost to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.  They haven’t won a championship since 1948. The Democrats won the Presidency just four years ago, and they won the one before that too.  Seems a little greedy to want to win them all.

“Oh, but the Presidency is so much more important than a baseball championship!”  That’s baloney.  There once was a time when we had elections for the purpose of organizing the government and deciding which economic theory would predominate for a while.  Now the purpose of an election seems to be having your values reaffirmed by the rest of the electorate and showing that you’re a superior person (i.e., as in proving that you’re not “deplorable.”)

Every election is now portrayed in apocalyptic terms or as a turning point in U.S. history.  Every four years people swear they’ll move to Canada if the other side wins.  And yet life goes on regardless of who’s president.  Eight years ago Republicans thought the world would come to an end if Barack Obama was elected, and since then their net worth has doubled (if it was invested in the stock market).  And back in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected, Democrats said he’d definitely get us into a nuclear war and he ended up making the world safer than it had been since the 1940s.  At the same time, he never got close to dismantling the New Deal as Republicans hoped and Democrats feared.

Except for the case of angry former manufacturing workers who thought Trump would bring back their jobs, economic self-interest was strangely absent from the 2016 election.  Thomas Frank identified this phenomenon in his book, “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” when he argued that working class voters were seduced by social issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) into voting against their self-interest, which Frank believes lies with the Democrats.  But you might as well ask “What’s The Matter With Connecticut,” where wealthy voters routinely vote for high-tax candidates.  Or for that matter, what about the key members of the Obama Coalition – blacks, Latinos and millennials – all of whom fared worst these past eight years but kept Obama in office.  They sure weren’t voting for their own self-interest.

Whatsthematterwithkansas.jpg

Instead of voting to further our economic interests we’ve started to consider elections a expression of tribalism, retreating to our bubbles and only interacting with like-minded people.  And with the proliferation of niche TV channels, websites and podcasts, it’s possible to go through life never hearing a differing opinion.

In the old days you would self-identify first with your family, then country, local community, church, college, profession, social clubs, sports teams and only then with political party.  And politics was only something that came up every four years (or every two years if you were really into it.)  But in our hyper-individualized lives we’ve lost a sense of broader community – we don’t go to church, feel bonded to the place we live, feel pride in the company we work for.  What’s taken its place is sports fanaticism and, worse, full-time non-stop political partisanship.

But rooting for your party as intensely as you root for your sports team is perverse.  Some of us live and die by sports but in the end we know it doesn’t mean that much. We tie our identity to a team so we can be part of a higher cause, but one with no consequences.  No one’s going to die or lose his job (except the coach) if your team loses.  There’s an irrational purity to being a sports fan; you root and care and experience catharsis for its own sake.

Most important, if you are a half-way rational fan, you don’t think you’re morally superior to other fans. If you’re a Red Sox fan you might say you “hate” Yankees fans, but not because you think they are actual cretins.

red-sox-yankee-fan

No so in politics.  In our “all politics all the time” world, political partisans actually do think they’re morally superior to the other side.  Democrats think Republicans are racists, sexists, homophobes, greedy, religious fanatics.  Republicans believe that Democrats are either unproductive parasites with their hands out or elites trying to preserve their moral superiority through an ever-changing set of political correctness edicts.

Hillary Clinton’s unexpected loss has turned the left into a bunch of cry-babies.  They’re still acting like someone in the family died, coming up to one another in the street with tears in their eyes and quaking in their boots about what mean Donald is going to do to them.  And it’s been one long string of excuses.  First it was the James Comey letter. Then it was fake news and now it’s all because of Vladimir Putin.

And after arguing before the election that it was impossible to have a rigged election and lecturing Republicans on how they had to accept the results, Democrats pulled out the stops to overturn the vote.  First it was recounts, where Trump actually picked up votes, and then it was an unprecedented campaign to bully the electoral college electors to vote against the candidate they were pledged to.  But in the end, Hillary lost more electors than Trump did.

Rather than pinning the blame elsewhere, did Democrats ever stop to consider what a bad candidate Hillary Clinton was?  So convinced were they that identity politics would trump message or charisma, they cleared the way for her nomination.  An African American had won in 2008 and now it was a woman’s turn!  That she’d been such a bad candidate in 2008 and was now eight years older and all that much more exposed didn’t seem to matter.  Gotta get a woman! But in the end the voters cared so little about identity politics that she didn’t even carry white women voters.  The Democrats forgot that they win when they nominate charismatic fresh faces that no one’s ever heard of (Kennedy, Carter, Clinton and Obama) and lose when they nominate well-worn party hacks (Mondale, Gore, Kerry and Clinton).

I can understand being disgusted with Trump personally but the fear seems way out of proportion.  New Yorkers pride themselves on being tough but they are trembling at the incoming Administration.  Mike Pence can’t even go to a Broadway show without the cast pleading with him to tell Daddy to be nice to them.  This is the message, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda:  “We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights.”  Please, protect us!!!  Well, Trump has promised to beef up the police to protect us against crime; he’s promised a stronger military to protect against our foreign enemies; he’s promised to protect jobs against unfair trade.  I don’t think this is what Broadway stars mean by “protect.”  What are they so scared of? Really. What’s so frightening?  That the the incoming administration thinks differently that they do?  Maybe someone with a PhD in Liberal-ese can interpret but to me they seem most concerned that they’ll be treated like regular Americans instead of a separate group of diverse special-pleaders.

hamilton

Then there’s the fear that Trump will become a dictator.  Earlier this week Paul Krugman wrote a hysterical column “How Republics End,” which was then dutifully reposted all over Facebook.  Frankly, to my mind, democracy was more imperiled by Clinton, who would have expanded the reach and power of the federal government; we’re already at a stage when elections barely change anything and a massive government bureaucracy, abetted by an unelected Supreme Court routinely subverts the will of the people.

The fear of Trump overthrowing democracy seems based on the Hitler/Mussolini analogy.  But both Hitler and Mussolini were long-standing heads of their own parties who then put their own henchmen in power.  There is no Trump party. He’s a party of one.  There were no Trumpistas on the ballot.  He hijacked the Republican Party to be sure but that means he has to rely on regular conventional Republican Senators and Congressmen, many of whom did better than him at the ballot, to get anything done.  And even if Trump were to attempt a coup, does anyone really think that the military, starting with Defense Secretary James Mattis, would go along?  Besides, Trump is already 70 years old – I don’t think he will even seek reelection never mind try to become President for Life.

Here’s the thing about politics.  As a young pup I worked in Washington during the Reagan Administration and I can tell you that politics is not that important.  Certainly not important enough to fight about with your loved ones. Seriously, how stupid is it to ruin a Thanksgiving dinner arguing politics (and why is it always assumed that the “crazy” one at the table is the Fox-watching Crazy Uncle and not the MSNBC-watching Know-It-All-Aunt?)  I love politics and am happy to have an analytical discussion, but if you’re going to get emotional about it, or berate me at a Christmas party, I’d rather talk about sports.

Sometimes a President can make a real difference – I’m thinking about the Mount Rushmore Presidents plus FDR and Reagan.  But mostly Presidents can only nudge things along at the margins.  The real changes occur out there in the country.  We never had an election on whether we should wire all our computers together, create a new way of communicating, and undermine our entertainment, news, retail and services businesses, but we ended up with the Internet.  We never had an election to determine if we should invest in new technologies that would make our factories so efficient that we could get along without our workers, but it happened.  We didn’t vote on whether we should invent new ways of getting oil and natural gas from the ground and drive down the price of energy but some innovative engineers invented fracking anyway.  There was never a ballot initiative on whether doctors would prescribe a lot of opioids and create a heroin epidemic but it happened.  Most of the important things that happen in this country occur when the politicians are fighting about transgender bathrooms, whether convents should be required to offer birth control overage, or the War on Christmas.

Cheer up Democrats.  Thanks to human nature the party in power will eventually screw up or become tiresome to the electorate.  You’ll get your chance again in 2020 (unlike those poor Cleveland Indians fans who might die without ever seeing a World Series win).  If Trump is as bad as you think he is your chances will be pretty good, but only if you buck up, stop whining and honestly consider what it was about Trump that allowed him to win.  Not excuses like fake news and Russian hacking.  If you continue to think that Trump’s voters are racist, sexist and otherwise sub-human, you’re in for a long exile.

“Put not your faith in princes,” Psalm 146 warns.  Don’t fall in love with politicians unless they actually are extraordinary, which 99.99% are not.  Abraham Lincoln is not walking through that door.  Put your faith in LeBron James, Derek Jeter or Tom Brady instead.

fake-news-sites

It’s been six weeks since the election, but the media are still buzzing about “fake news” and debating the extent to which it caused Hillary Clinton to lose the presidency.   I know the journo-industrial complex likes nothing more than to talk about itself, but the ongoing press meltdown over the possibility that an unemployed blogger in Macedonia might have brought down their candidate is beginning to get a little ridiculous.

To hear the media talk, you’d think that fake news was something unleashed by their nemesis Mark Zuckerberg, who also always seems to be plotting their eventual demise.

But fake news has a long and disreputable history in American journalism.  The earliest newspapers were controlled by the Founding Fathers, who printed lies and half-truths about each other (go see “Hamilton” for the details). Fake news (“Remember the Maine!”) led to the Spanish-American War.

Journalism supposedly cleaned up its act in the 20th century, and has been posing as the great purveyor of neutral, nonpartisan, essential news reporting for decades.  But somehow, even in the pre-Internet world, this didn’t stop the spread of very dubious stories, such as the canard that FDR allowed the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor despite being tipped off ahead of time, or more recently, that Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster.  To say nothing about ongoing conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination. Compared to those stories, an alleged child sex ring in a pizza parlor is small potatoes.

And speaking of child sex rings, remember the media hysteria several decades ago about satanic sex rings in day-care centers, or the supposed outbreak of child kidnappings in the 1980s, both of which have since been disproved?  The mainstream media, especially television, were complicit in perpetuating that fake news.  And, again, that was before Facebook.

The mainstream media would probably dispute that their worst journalistic blunders should be classified as fake news because at least they were trying to uncover the truth, no matter how imperfectly. Actual fake news, as properly understood, is news made up out of whole cloth with no regard for the truth at all.

How then are we supposed to categorize the biggest journalistic blunder of 2015, Rolling Stone’s report about rape at a University of Virginia fraternity?   This was a huge national story that caused colleges across the country to crack down on fraternities. And then it turned out to have been made up out of, um, whole cloth.  If the Rolling Stone story wasn’t fake news, I don’t know what is — and yet there was President Obama himself appearing on the Rolling Stone cover immediately after the election, as if nothing had ever happened!

obama-rolling-stones

And let’s not forget NBC’s 1993 phony exploding GM truck story, supposedly demonstrating that GM trucks explode upon collision.  In that case NBC set off explosive miniature rockets beneath the truck just before the crash. Or what about ABC’s stories about the since-disproved Toyota “sudden acceleration” controversy? To make its coverage more dramatic, ABC spliced footage of a surging tachometer into a segment with ABC reporter Brian Ross driving a supposedly out-of-control car.

The media’s chief complaint about what they call fake news is that it’s spread on Facebook and Twitter with no editorial control to screen out the most egregiously inaccurate stories.  Of course it would be almost impossible for any social media platform to confirm what’s true or not true on social media, so Facebook recently announced that it would be flagging content that seemed dubious according to the judgment of mainstream fact-checkers.

Scapegoating Facebook as a purveyor of fake news is the kind of mind-meld media pile-on that occurs all too often.  Some call the media a “hive.” Others have talked about their “herd mentality.” Whatever metaphor you want to use from the animal kingdom, it’s clear they’re in a bubble — or maybe it’s an echo chamber.

You have to wonder if these reporters ever used Facebook for anything other than promoting their personal brand. The thing about Facebook is that it’s been full of fake news since day one.  The whole point of social media is to present a highly curated, idealized version of your life. Half of the heart-warming videos that people share about generous subway musicians or ball girls making amazing catches are eventually outed as fake.  Obvious satirical pieces are accepted as real.

But does that make any difference?  Studies have repeatedly shown that people don’t form their opinions after carefully weighing the facts.  Instead they form opinions and then believe the “facts” that back them up, while dismissing the ones that don’t. If there’s one voter in America who was planning to vote for Clinton but changed his mind and voted for Trump after reading on Facebook that he’d been endorsed by the Pope, I’d like to meet him.

Far more influential than a post on Facebook that takes about 30 seconds to read are the hours and hours that people spend watching cable news. It’s pretty rich for MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who’s told some serious whoppers of his own, to complain about fake news on a network that can make no serious claim to impartiality.   The news networks gave Donald Trump $2 billion in free publicity — but now they blame some Reddit-inspired posts for his election?  Give me a break.