Archive for May, 2017

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“Hey children, what’s that sound… ?”

May 20, 2017

jeffrey Lord

If you’re near your TV, it could be the unified sound of channels changing all over the country as the click, click, clicks, signal Jeffrey Lord is once again on CNN.

Why CNN continues to interview Jeffrey Lord is a mystery.  As soon as he comes on there’s no reason to continue watching as he is not only completely predictable but he adds nothing to the conversation of any substance, yet alone value.  His answers are lame and transparent, totally without merit. Certainly they must know that they are loosing their audience as soon as he appears.  It’s been widely reported to be the case.  Time and again, he just repeats the party line in the same manner as Sean Spicer and the many other flunkies that Trump trots out to deflect from his many transgressions.  But here’s the really sad part.  Lord gets paid to be a pundit by CNN, as well as being paid to be a surrogate for Trump.  Yes, that’s right he’s double dipping.  CNN are made to be fools, well maybe except Anderson Cooper, who yesterday confronted Lord when he said, “If the president took a dump on his desk, you would defend him.”  Truer words were never spoken.  Anderson is merely saying what the rest of us have been thinking, he just put it in more certain and colorful terms.

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Just What Is Fake News?

May 19, 2017

Fake news

 

Back in the late 60’s I was an undergraduate student at Syracuse University.  During the summers of those years I was employed at the Syracuse Herald Journal in the art department as a retouch artist.  My job was to provide visual clarity to otherwise fuzzy or tonally deficient photographs by retouching enhancements that better defined shapes and form so the image could be better understood.  One of my fellow artists in the department took this responsibility so seriously that he crossed a line, extending his role in an unauthorized way and was fired for it. When Senator James Buckley visited the paper one summer, he met with the publisher for a photo-op.  My friend painted a Mickey Mouse watch on the publisher and ban-the-bomb (peace symbol) cufflinks and a tie tack on Senator Buckley. This was not just retouching but editorializing.  As to the other departments of the newspaper, well, editorializing was a well established and pervasive approach to the news.

 

By its very nature, not all news can be reported.  There is not enough space nor time.  All news must be edited according to its worthiness, a criteria determined by the editor.  At the time, there were several common editing practices at the paper.  Chief among them was to only report those press releases provided by advertisers in the paper.  Ink would not be given to their competitors, no matter how newsworthy.  Editing in this manner produces a false sense of awareness that channels the unsuspecting reader along invisible paths to consensus around the singular views of the editor and the clients of the paper.  In that regard, it is fake news.  It is at best, half of the story. Today, this practice is best seen in use by legislators, beholding to lobbyists, wealthy donors and Super-Pacs who are widely regarded by them as their constituents.

 

Now the most outrageous form of fake news is fabrication, whether just an embellished mix of truth and falsehood or a complete and total creation. Back at the Herald Journal I was introduced to my first experience with this type of fake news by the editor at the city desk.  At the time, it was his practice to pen his own letters to the editor under fictitious names, allowing himself to pontificate in response on subjects of his choice and controlling both sides of the argument.  Clearly this was editorializing and while editorializing is not exactly news, it highlights an established practice that is in short supply today in the high stakes business environment of media coverage, called ratings.

 

Several business models have been developed to exploit ratings through different versions of fake news.  The FOX model is one of fabrication.  FOX repeatedly reports events incorrectly or with exaggerated embellishments that defy factual evidence.  This is not simply editorializing, which they are in no short supply of, but is actually false reporting and by the most exacting definition, fake news.

 

I don’t know with certainty that Donald Trump can be credited with inventing the phrase “Fake News,” but he is surely the Dr. Frankenstein who energized it to life.  It is understood in this context to mean a lie, but in all actuality he uses it to be any news that takes issue with his views or that reports negatively on his performance as President.

 

Today, anyone can generate fake news through social media, creating fabricated stories on Facebook and Twitter, for the purpose of manipulating public opinion. No single person does this better than Trump.  His daily tweets inflate the gullible and receptive minds of his core followers with propaganda so outrageous that it cannot withstand rational analysis, yet is perpetuated because it works.

 

But the all-time winner in the fake news category is Russia.  Through the use of bots and trolls they have managed to introduce thousands of fake news stories daily on vulnerable social media platforms, flooding social intercourse with diversions from important issues to unsubstantiated tales, dirty tricks and gossip, none of which can be proven to the contrary since they are devoid of factual content in the first place.  By creating a perception, they have formed a tangible reality and in this case, visibly changed the outcome of an election to favor the candidate that they secretly endorsed.

 

The other model for fake news is much different at CNN.  It is not fake news as Trump defines it, but something equally sinister because they are unaware of their involvement in creating it. The CNN model is called “objectivity.”  Every anchor, every reporter at CNN goes far out of their way to avoid the perception of editorializing.  “Fair and balanced news” is their mantra, but there is nothing fair about reporting on unbalanced events in such a way as to make them appear to be balanced.  There’s a couple problems here.  First, by reporting an event in that way, it betrays their concern to keep the maximum viewership and ratings.  If you cut off any portion of your audience, you have limited your growth potential.  It’s the same problem that candidates face in moving from a primary to a general election.  They need to expand their base to win.

 

Unlike  FOX, CNN is very careful not to report fake news or to editorialize, but in the process have become timid and non-confrontational in their reportage, allowing the various persons interviewed to control the narrative.  No one answers questions directly anymore and spin reigns supreme.  To counteract this perception they have created endless panels of oppositional surrogates who often, while shouting over one another, create complete chaos, fomenting such confusion that it reflects badly on the media pundits who are tasked with representing the very positions that CNN shies away from in their reportage. It’s the same tactic Trump uses to claim plausible deniability.  “It’s not me.  I didn’t say that.  They said that.  I’m not accountable.”  This type of fake news undermines CNN’s credibility.  Rather they should take a braver approach and stand for something.  FOX’s position may be based on many falsehoods, but no one can misinterpret their position.  If the media is to make a difference in this democracy, they must represent a point of view that is based on the truth, not just report the facts.  In the days of the Vietnam war, CBS had a regular editorial segment with Eric Severied.  Editorials have always been a chief component of the news.  Credible print publications all still have an editorial section where they make their opinion known.  The absence of real editorializing on CNN, the absence of a clear point of view, does an enormous disservice to a nation struggling to find it’s identity in the new global environment.

 

The conservative right has Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilley, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck and others to trumpet their cause with layers of falsehoods and opinion, fake news to be sure.  But the progressive movement has an equally powerful version of fake news all it’s own, known as Comedy and it is no overstatement to say that there is no Right Wing equivalent of this strain of fake news.  More truth can be recognized in the comedy of SNL, Steven Colbert, John Stewart and Trevor Noah of the Daily Show, John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight”, Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal,” or Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Jimmy Fallon, Conan or Seth Meyers than in the surrogate approach used by CNN.  The trouble is that to have an effective reach their audience must stay up late, and to the many hard working middle class adults and retired senior citizens it’s way past their bedtime.  No, all the farmers riding in the comfort of their air-conditioned combines and tractors and the many retired seniors enclaved in their gated condos all tune their lunchtime radios to Rush.

 

Finally, there is a vast legal contribution to the perpetuation of fake news.  Everything is “alleged.”  It’s an alleged murder, or an alleged robbery. It’s alleged to possibly have happened but in this “cover-your-ass” legal mentality of broadcast news, being alleged means that it may not be true.  Meanwhile, in social media, nothing is alleged.  It’s all stated as fact.  How can mainstream media argue with social media using allegations as an argument or tippy-toe-ing around controversy without taking a position.  Even their visuals have to be carefully screened, now with a seemingly ever present de-focused ellipse over any face that may pose an issue for the legal team.

 

 

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Drinking at the Wedding

May 18, 2017

trump at wedding

Back in 1975, my wife Jan and I founded a modest retail photography business.  After struggling for the first year, Jan suggested that we offer wedding photography as a service.  Financially strapped, I reluctantly agreed.  It was the right decision in many ways.  It provided stability to our growing business and it stimulated a new creative process that would carry over into my documentary work later in life.

As was her practice, Jan always became good friends with the family of the bride, so much so that we were often invited to sit at the family’s table.  Eventually, the father of the bride would encourage us to relax and enjoy a drink with them.  I never did.  It was my policy to never be seen drinking as it might later give rise to complaints that I had not performed my job to the highest standards, especially if someone in the family felt that I had failed in some way.  It would create a legitimate objection that could not be denied.

What we must realize is that there are ethical business practices and then there are best practices. It would not have been unethical for me to have taken a drink, but it would have been unwise.  Certainly, we must expect that the leaders of our nation subscribe to best practices to avoid the potential for controversy, especially regarding national security, private conversations and intent. There are many things that we cannot or should not know.  We need to be confident that they are held in secrecy to protect our national security and not the personal security of any single individual or team of co-conspirators.

There are a great many lines that Trump has crossed in this regard.  Whether he is guilty or not of possible malevolent actions that violate his oath of office, he has nevertheless violated the trust of the American people by not following best practices.  Plainly put, he can never be trusted.  You cannot trust a single word he says.  You cannot trust him to do the right thing.  He cannot be trusted to be logical or to think clearly.  He cannot be trusted to consider all possibilities before shooting from the hip.  He cannot be trusted to seek advice before tweeting his outrageous remarks. He cannot be trusted to tell the truth.  He cannot be trusted to cultivate stable relationships with our most important allies. He cannot be trusted to remain calm and objective and most importantly, as he has already shown, he cannot be trusted with national secrets. The list could go on for many paragraphs, but you get my point.

Trump established his business empire based on worst practices and now he is doing the same for our nation.  Oh, you might agree that it could work, after all it worked for Attila the Hun, but is this the nation we want to be?  Can we claim to set the standard for democracy while cloaked in lies and deceit, spin and pushback, and daily newspeak like “alternative facts.”

When a man cannot stand on his own and take the credit or blame for his own actions, when he hides behind surrogates to deflect criticism and present alternative possibilities for bad decisions he has made, we must question his fitness to lead.  The mere fact that this is the way he has chosen to operate betrays his own understanding that he has made a serious misjudgment that he will not admit to.  This is a weak and flawed individual at best but he is a contagious disease that will afflict the whole body of our electorate if we cannot find the right antibiotic treatment.  It seems that truth alone is not enough.

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Preaching To The Choir

May 2, 2017

singing to the choir

Well it’s finally here, Day 100 and what a day it was.  Last night the Washington Correspondents dinner was held without the president attending.  Apparently, Donald, like most bullies, can dish it out but cannot take it. Rather than attending, he held a rally to feed more Pablum to his core supporters.

“I thought it would be easier.”  Really Donald?  Of course, you did.  It all seemed so simple back when all you had to do was say “jump” and your minions complied, but ah, this governing thing, well it just doesn’t work that way in a democracy, does it?

So, here we are at the end of your first 100 days and you are scrambling to find accomplishments you can list to fulfill the boastful claims and promises you made during the campaign. Yes, not so easy.

Meanwhile, the media has been scanning their list and finding it equally difficult to find an instance of promises kept.  There is, however, one item they report as the fulfillment of a promise, one they give you high marks on, but really let’s face it…  It was the one thing that was really, truly, extremely easy. You got to choose a Supreme Court justice.  Whoopee!  How hard could that have been?  Let’s see.  Well, first you get a list of viable conservative candidates from your advisors and then you pick one.  Yep, that’s about it.  After that, it’s up to the Senate to confirm and with a Republican majority that can change the rules at will to confirm your nominee, seems like it’s playing cards with a marked deck.  No, I don’t give you any credit for this.  It was a stolen honor that belonged to Obama and was handed to you on a silver platter by Mitch McConnell.  No, praising you for this act would be a mistake.

So, what have you really done?

First and most importantly, there has been no legislative action on any of your promises, not the Affordable Care Act, not immigration policy, not The Wall, not the economy, not taxes…NOTHING!  Zed, Zero, Squat, Zip!

Next, you appointed a bunch of your cronies to the cabinet, mostly a group of unqualified supporters and donors who will work to destroy the very departments they control by cutting programs and freeing up funds that can be used by you in other wasteful ways, like flying to Mar-a-Lago every weekend in Air Force One’s flying task force with a full complement security detail and parade of armored vehicles to get you to and from the airstrip.  In the meantime, you have filled only 22 positions of the 556 key positions needed to properly run the government, 470 of which have no nominee at all. Give yourself an “F” on that one, Donnie! You are completely clueless.  By the way, how’s your golf game doing these days?

And then there are your 30 executive orders.  The Muslim ban… dead in the womb.  The travel ban… twice killed at birth.  Cutting off funds to sanctuary cities…ditto.  These executive orders that you parade so proudly are just your toothless statements of intent, statements of a man used to working alone and getting his way, not of a man who can build a team and get things done. “F” again, Donald.

As for your commitments, well they seem to blow in the wind.  Consider your reversals on trade, China, Syria, and North Korea. Do you even own a map?

And in spite of all the praise you might get from your loyal supporters for your actions as Commander-in-Chief, the use of the Moab was not your decision, but your general’s.  You were completely ignorant regarding the mission and even the compass direction of the aircraft carrier and strike force “steaming to Korea.” Don’t you think it might even be the most basic duty of the Commander-in-chief to stay informed?  But those fifty-nine missiles unleashed on the Syrian airbase… ah yes, that was sweeter than the Mar-a-Lago chocolate cake you so blatantly bragged about while relating your bold decision, supposedly made spontaneously at the dinner table. There’s just something about the optics that makes me think of the famous Marie Antoinette quote, “Let them eat cake”…  wealthy rulers out of touch with reality.

And finally, in a move of desperation, you have unveiled your one-page tax plan, a bribe for support, designed to appear as the fulfillment of your promise of economic betterment for all Americans but really an enrichment of your own wealth in the extreme.  Surely, a reality check is needed.  This bullet point list of yours is just an unfulfilled idea, not unlike a campaign promise.  It’s not a substitute for legislation. It’s not a completed work. In my business, a legal line is drawn between ideas and completed works.  Anyone can have an idea.  Ideas cannot be copyrighted.  Only completed works can be copyrighted.  An author can own a work, claim all rights to it, but not an idea.  Come back when you have something to crow about, Donnie, we all have ideas. Do some real work.