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Wall Street Journal reporters are starting to rebel

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It’s encouraging that the Wall Street Journal’s own writers are demanding that the Murdoch family make “a clearer differentiation” between the newspaper’s news and opinion divisions, since the Journal’s embarrassing support of Trump has cast a shadow over the professional integrity of the reporters who work there.

It’s very sad; the Wall Street Journal has, or had, a well-deserved reputation for outstanding journalism. But, when the Murdochs made the decision to support Trump unconditionally, they flushed that reputation down the toilet. The extreme rightwing narrative peddled by the worst of the Journal’s op-ed columnists, such as Daniel Henninger and Kimberly Strassel, now have resulted in internal blowback unprecedented in the paper’s 131-year history.

More than 280 employees of the Journal sent a letter to management stating something I’ve been saying for years: the editorial page’s “lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources.” You can say that again. What is a newspaper, after all, if it has lost its readers’ trust? It becomes nothing but a press release for the politician it supports. Why would anyone be interested in paying for a press release for Trump? We can get that for free on Twitter.

There traditionally has been a sharp dividing line between editorial page coverage, or “op-eds,” and news coverage. The former represents the opinion of the writer. The latter is, or should be, based on an objective reporting of facts. Opinionating has no place in news coverage, while op-ed pieces should at least try to stay faithful to facts. Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal has wandered far afield on both fronts: their news coverage increasingly looks like puff pieces for Trump and hit pieces on Democrats, while the op-ed columns have become completely unhinged from factual reality.

The most egregious example of this—and, in fact, the last straw for the 280 Journal employees—was a Mike Pence opinion piece that denied the existence of a “second wave” of coronavirus in the U.S., and accused “the media” of contriving it. “Such panic is overblown,” the head of the administration’s coronavirus task force declared. It was such an obvious lie, so patently fake a claim, that no reputable newspaper ever should have allowed it to be printed; and yet the Wall Street Journal, which means the Murdoch family, did. It’s as if the paper allowed a flat-earther to declare that claims that the Earth is round are “fake news.”

We need news reporting now more than ever: real reporting, not made-up fantasies designed to protect a rogue, incompetent regime in power. This is why such newspapers as the New York Times and the Washington Post are so important to the survival of our democracy; that is also why Trump hates those two papers more than any others. It’s because they shine a light on his lies and the lies of his accomplices. Can you imagine if the Times and the Post should cease to exist? Who would tell us what’s really happening in the halls of power in Washington? Trump would have access to his big podium, and be able to spew all the fake news he wants, unchallenged by anyone else. It would be like Big Brother in 1984, when all the information available to the citizens was via the telescreens, which were run by the government. Information was tightly controlled and “massaged”; inconvenient facts were “vaporized”; history was rewritten, so that only the official version of reality was left.

That’s what Trump wants. It’s what Mike Pence and Bill Barr and the rest of the Republicans want. It’s what the Murdoch family wants: they’ve made a lot of money off Trump, and they have no intention of changing that. So they’ve sent word out to the entire staff of the Wall Street Journal: we will continue to allow Republican op-ed columnists to lie through their teeth on the editorial page, and we will continue to strongly “encourage” our reporters to ignore or minimize facts favorable to Democrats and puff up things favorable to Republicans. The Murdochs, however, didn’t reckon with one minor detail: the Wall Street Journal’s own reporters, who have had it up to here.


Trump’s troops

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Trump is claiming there’s a “silent majority” that will come to his rescue and get him re-elected in November. This mystery voting block, he asserts, is ashamed to admit publicly that they intend to vote for him. And given the extraordinarily horrendous job he’s done presiding over the presidency, if I were a Trump supporter I’d be ashamed to admit it, too. But could he be right? Are there enough secret pro-Trumpers out there to give him a second term?

Whenever I ponder that question, I have to remind myself of things I agree with Trump about. Take this recent business of him sending unidentified federal troops into Portland, where they round up protestors in unmarked cars and take them—where? Trump claims he’s doing it to protect federal property. That’s a ruse, of course. He’s doing it to appeal to the law-and-order part of his base. Democrats are pretty upset by this, and I am, too; people are calling Trump’s troops “the Gestapo,” and with good reason. But I have to admit, whenever there’s a riot in Oakland—and it happens here more than most other places—I get really pissed off at the protestors for trashing my city. And I complain to our mayor that she’s not doing enough to protect businesses and infrastructure that routinely get vandalized.

That is, I suppose, the law-and-order guy inside me. There have been times when I’ve gotten so mad at the protestors that, in my fantasies, I wanted troops—any troops—to come in, bust some heads, arrest the more violent of the protestors, and keep my city intact. I want, yes, vengeance. And it never came, which made seeing the plywooded storefronts, some never to re-open, all the more frustrating.

Well, now, Trump is the manifestation of my fantasy. He is sending troops in to keep downtown Portland from going up in smoke; he is arresting people. Now that I’m getting what I wanted (albeit in a different city), how does it make me feel?

Well, for one thing, it forces me to re-examine my emotional response to the riots, and to re-appraise my fantasy solution to them. That’s the funny thing about reality: it’s easy enough to live in a fantasy world of revenge, but when the fantasy turns real, you have to go to a deeper level in your analysis. So I’m confronted with a basic dichotomy: I do not like the violent protesters. (I need to add that I love and support the peaceful protestors, who are by far the majority.) I do want the violent ones to be stopped, and to be made to pay a price for their mindless violence. That’s what Trump’s troops are doing in Portland.

But I do not want federal troops deployed anywhere in America without the express invitation of local leaders, such as mayors and governors. And Trump’s troops have not been invited by them to Portland; on the contrary, Portland’s mayor and Oregon’s governor both have insisted that Trump’s troops leave immediately. So I have to choose sides. And the side I’m choosing is for Trump’s troops to get the hell out of Portland.

Sometimes you have to choose between two undesirable things. That’s just how life is. Both alternatives suck, but one sucks worse than the other. In this case, we cannot have a situation where mystery troops, uninvited by local law enforcement or political leaders, are sent unannounced by the President of the United States into an American city, where they round people up without warrants. I know too much of history, and particularly of how the Nazis rose to power and corrupted that power once they seized it, for me to accept it in my country. It’s simply too dangerous: a slippery slope. And given Trump’s obvious attraction toward authoritarianism, and his twice-asserted vow that he will ignore the results of elections, we just can’t let this Portland situation be repeated anywhere in the U.S.

I still want the violent protestors stopped. They accomplish precisely nothing, except to destroy the communities they claim to want to help. I think the majority of them are stupid, ignorant, psychologically damaged individuals who need therapy and in some cases jail time. Anyone caught deliberately destroying property during an otherwise peaceful demonstration should be hit with the hardest hammer of the law.

But by local jurisdictions, not federal troops! I wish these mayors would react more stringently to the violent protestors. But unless I can walk a mile in their shoes and understand what they’re up against and dealing with, I realize my complaining is just so much blah blah. What I’m saying is, I’d rather live with a shuttered Target store than with a rogue, criminal president sending “his” troops into my streets to round people up and haul them away in black cars. We’ve seen that kind of thing before, and it never, ever ends well.


Another Republican is infected

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The Governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, says he’s “shocked” to test positive for C-19. Although he’s currently asymptomatic, he plans to self-quarantine at home. Where did Kevin Stitt contract the virus? It’s impossible to say, of course. But we do know that Kevin Stitt went to trump’s Tulsa rally, on June 20, despite repeated warnings from health experts. And even though that rally was a dismal failure, with half the seats empty, 6,000 people, mostly maskless, crowded into that hot, steamy hall, spraying their nasal droplets with each Heil, easily spreading the coronavirus amongst themselves.

Stitt insists he didn’t catch the virus at the Tulsa rally. He said “he was certain he did not contract the virus at the Tulsa event.” And he refuses to issue any kind of statewide mask order, unlike his fellow conservative Governor, Kay Ivey, who just did in Alabama.

Here’s what I tweeted Kevin Twitt, err, Stitt:

Listen, schmuck: You’re a trump slave. You went to trump’s Tulsa rally. You were warned. You chose to obey your Fuehrer instead of listening to the doctors. Now you’re infected. You deserve it.

It’s very hard not to feel schadenfreude whenever one of these science-denying, pathological trumpers gets the virus. Whether it’s an evangelical preacher, a Governor, or some MAGA freak in Podunk, I smile to myself when one of them is reported to be infected. I smile even more broadly when they actually get sick, and the sicker they get, the broader is my smile.

Yes, I was raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which says we should never take pleasure in the misfortune of others. The fact that I do is a burr to my conscience. But I manage to overcome that inconvenience. What is conscience, anyway, when it comes to dealing with trumpers? I started from a place of bipartisanship: “Can’t we all get along?” I was willing, at one point, to accept Republicans as “the other party,” whose views I might not have agreed with, but with whom I was willing to strike deals.

Not anymore. No deals. No compromises. Complete extinction: that’s my motto.

When did I get this uncompromising? If there was any one moment, it was in 2016, when McConnell killed the Merrick Garland nomination. That’s when I realized, “There can be no cooperation with these people. They’ve completely surrendered to the worst excesses of fascist thuggery.” And that was before trump became president, which has made the Republican Party so much worse. The Republican Party has become my implacable enemy, as it has for at least half of the American people. We (the Allies) fought World War II because it was “the good war.” Unlike World War I, which was a muddle nobody could figure out, the Second World War had a distinct enemy (the Axis powers) and a distinct ideological framework (freedom vs. dictatorship). This current struggle against the Republican Party (or the party of trump, as it is more accurately described) is “the good struggle” in American politics. All sides are not the same. There are moral distinctions. There is such a thing as evil, and it has to be resisted by people of decent moral fiber.

It’s very sad, but there it is. If any sitting Republican official had any sense of moral courage, or even a smidgeon of self-respect, he or she would have already quit the party. They might not necessarily have had to become Democrats, but they would not feel it was possible for them anymore to remain Republicans, as long as the monster in the White House remained in control of the party.

But while we’ve seen a handful of Republicans denounce their former party (don’t you love Steve Schmidt? I could listen to him all day), they’re in a tiny minority. The vast majority of Republicans have stood by trump for the last 3-1/2 years. He gets worse and worse every day, more insane, more dangerous, more sociopathic, more incompetent; and yet these Republicans celebrate him as though he were the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (which, bizarrely, some evangelicals reportedly believe he is).

What can you do with such people? Nothing. You can’t reason with them, any more than you can reason with a three-year old or a crack addict. Their minds are gone, destroyed by corrupt preachers and manipulated by a rightwing media that knows no bounds to its lies.

Look, masks save lives, and keep COVID-19 from spreading. This so-called “president” has chosen to politicize basic healthcare science, for the simple reason that his only goal is—not to protect the American people—but to get re-elected; and for that, he has to stir up resentment and fear among his base. He knows how to do it: he’s stoked those flames for years. It’s awful, it’s horrible, it’s disgusting, and History, who always writes the final chapter, will condemn trump and his acolytes as fiercely as she condemns Hitler and his Nazis. But we don’t have to wait for History’s verdict. We can snuff trump out this Election Day. Vote! And if you vote by mail, be sure to send your ballot in well in advance of Election Day.

When you’re down and depressed, think of the celebration we’ll have the minute Biden is declared the winner. The hoots and hollers and hurrahs! The Champagne corks popping! The high fives! And that sound of rustling paperwork? It’s the scores of subpoenas being prepared to serve on trump, on his family, on his supporters. They will have to answer, not only to History, but to the Courts.


In defense of Gavin Newsom

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This was not the headline we wanted to wake up to today:

PULLING BACK

“Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday signaled a major retreat in the state’s two-month effort to recover from the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus,” the article began, outlining Newsom’s latest dire directives: shutting, or rather re-shutting down California restaurants, bars, movie theaters, museums, hair salons, wineries, and just about everything else.

And not just in a few counties with the worst infection rates, but in all 58 of California’s counties. That’s 40 million people, 12% of the entire U.S. population.

Maybe, given Murphy’s Law, we should have seen it coming. For a while, we Californians were very proud of ourselves. We were the first state in the country to shelter-in-place. Our COVID-19 numbers were incredibly low throughout the Spring. Massachusetts had far more cases than we did, even though our population is so much bigger. It looked as if California was setting the pace for the rest of America.

And then came July, and Boom!

Already, Gov. Newsom is starting to get the blame. After being the media’s Wunderkind for the past 1-1/2 years since his election, with positive ratings that would be the envy of any sitting governor, he’s now learning that the media that thrusteth up can also pulleth down. The Bay Area News Group, whose (conservative-leaning) newspapers cover the San Francisco Bay Area, ran a scathing editorial on Sunday (link not available) with a shocking allegation: “Gov. Gavin Newsom bears responsibility for the current surge of COVID-19 cases in California.” They accused him of re-opening the state too soon, and even compared him to Trump: “Like Trump, Newsom keeps trying to push responsibility down to the next-lower level of government.” It concluded that “Newsom’s leadership has fallen woefully short.”

This is grossly unfair. To begin with, science calls this the “novel” coronavirus for a reason: It’s brand new. It has never existed before, and scientists hardly knew anything about it. Figuring out a battle plan against an unknown biological agent is next to impossible; everyone has made mistakes.

Nobody knew, nobody could have known, exactly when to shut down, in which places, or for how long, or when to re-open: all at once, or regionally. This was a game with hundreds of moving parts. There’d been no rules, and, given the utter absence of national leadership, local officials, like Newsom, were left to their own devices. They did the best they could. It’s surely good to learn from the past, but to engage in pointless, partisan, polemical recriminations is not helpful.

Newsom, like all other officials, is trying to find the balance between keeping an embattled economy going, and stopping the spread of the disease. Both are imperatives, but, as we know, they clash. Everyone has struggled with this question. It can’t be easy. Cuomo gets a lot of credit in New York, but we don’t yet know if New York is really out of the woods. Everyone thought California was safe, until it wasn’t. New York might be in for a second surge. So it’s too early to be playing that particular blame game.

Besides, as Cal Matters, a non-profit, non-partisan news provider, points out, one of the main reasons for California’s second surge is because “many Californians haven’t been wearing masks and avoiding crowds.” That’s not Newsom’s fault. Southern Californians and inland, rural counties have been particularly disdainful of masking. Newsom’s messaging has been consistent to the point of relentless: Wear masks! Practice social distance! Don’t go out in crowds! True, Cal Matters says another reason for the resurgence is because of “confusing and mixed messaging.” And it’s true that trying to understand how the rules apply to every nail parlor and bar in 58 counties can be difficult; this, too, is something California and Newsom are learning to deal with. But where are the most “confusing and mixed” messages coming from? Trump. It must be very difficult, even for an articulate governor like Newsom, to make himself heard, no matter how loud or often he speaks, when the President of the United States is lying through his teeth, and his lies are repeated on every news show, every newspaper, and on social media.

We’re all miserable about this situation. Everybody’s looking for someone or something to blame. I understand that; it’s human nature. But let’s be intellectually coherent. Gavin Newsom has come as close to getting a handle on the virus, and in keeping the public informed, as any Governor in America. If he can’t wave a magic wand and make COVID-19 go away, it’s hardly his fault.


I’m getting weary. But “keep hope alive!”

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I get emotionally exhausted sometimes, keeping up with all this Trump nonsense and the impending election.

I should probably not get so wrapped up in politics. It’s not good for my health. But that’s who I am: it’s how I was raised, to be passionate about politics, which after all is a blood sport. (It was the British Labor Party politician Aneurin Bevan, a member of the House of Commons during World War II, and a man Churchill loathed, who invented that metaphor.) But I can’t help myself; I waver between optimism (that there will be a Blue Wave this November) and fear (that there won’t, and Trump will be re-elected).

Sometimes I change my mind 40 times a day. Currently, I’m in one of the fear modes: he will be re-elected, and the reason why is this anti-cop and anti-monument phenomenon that’s sweeping the country. As committed as I am to doing everything in my power to defeat Trump (and all Republicans), I have to admit to increasing trepidation about what the Left is doing, and how they’re going about it.

The thing to remember is that most Americans like and respect cops. They know that the “thin blue line” is all that separates them from “the bad guys.” (Who ya gonna call when you’re accosted, a social worker?) They also know—now more than ever—that there are indeed some bad apples in the barrel, maybe a lot of bad apples, and that these rogue players need to be weeded out. They know that hiring practices have to be reformed. They know that the “code of silence” ultimately does not work to the benefit of cops, and they know that police unions all too often are roadblocks to reform.

At the same time, most Americans are in no mood to “defund the police.” Indeed, the phrase itself is offensive. If it doesn’t mean, literally, taking 100% of police department budgets away (and its backers insist that’s not what they mean), then the phrase is stupid. It ought to be discarded and replaced with something else: “reform police budgets” or something. The truth is, a massive number of Americans is repelled by all this talk of defunding, of ACAB (all cops are bastards), “kill the police,” and so on. That’s hate speech, as surely as using the n-word or calling a gay person a faggot. We’re seeing pro-cop demonstrations around the country, as citizens—not all of whom, I might remind you, are racists—rally to the cause of their local police departments. We’re also seeing–and I hate to say it–a growing fascism on the part of the Left, where people aren’t allowed to say how they really feel, out of fear of being picketed or attacked.

These same Americans are similarly concerned about the riots and looting that continue to plague American cities in the wake of the George Floyd murder. They don’t like seeing their shopping districts boarded up or, even worse, burned down. They don’t like seeing their CVS stores and Ace Hardwares and 7-Elevens looted. They don’t understand how robbing a food market has anything to do with civil rights, and when they hear that the same people who are demanding the removal of statues of Confederate generals just tore down a statue of Frederick Douglass, a Black man of immense historic importance in America, they’re positively baffled. It makes the protesters seem, not like patriotic idealists but more like insane children.

These are the emotions Trump is playing to, and when I’m in fearful moods like I am now, I have a sense that he might somehow get re-elected. I had the same sense in September and October of 2016, when all the polls said Hillary was going to be elected. A nagging voice inside me worried that something was happening in America, or certain parts of America—something that wasn’t being discerned by the pollsters. I worried so much that I was rushed to the hospital the day before election day: two stents were put into my chest. I awoke, in my hospital bed, to news of Trump’s victory, and wept silently into my pillow.

That same nagging voice is whispering to me now. Oh, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. How I wish I had the power to wave my hand and make Trump go away, make his felonious family go away, make McConnell and Nunes and Cruz and Graham and Kevin McCarthy and Jim Jordan and the rest of the cult disappear into the ash heap of history. How I wish I could make Biden win in a landslide, have the Democrats increase their majority in the House and take over the Senate with a veto-proof 60 seats! And how I wish that next year will be the start of payback, with trials and hearings and prison sentences for the worst of the Republicans, including Trump himself.

But I don’t have that power, and that’s what gnaws at me. Hopefully, my fears are just passing clouds, presaging sunnier days. Tomorrow, I might feel much better. But, like I said, this see-sawing is getting tiresome. Binge watching “Sex and the City” gets my mind temporarily off it, but I know that’s escapism. We have real problems in America, and sticking our heads in the sand so we don’t see them solves nothing. All I can do is persuade myself to be optimistic.


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