USING OUR WORDS: Wisely declining to "call lies 'lies!'"


Part 4—Tales of tribal prejudgment:
We noticed an intriguing contretemps of a type in today's New York Times.

Atop hard-copy page A20, our eyes fell upon Linda Qiu's latest FACT CHECK. We spotted a disagreement of sorts between Qiu's first paragraph and the headline which topped her piece:
QIU (7/27/17): 7 Falsehoods at 3 Events In 1 Day

In just a few hours on Tuesday, President Trump made seven misleading statements: about Middle East politics, during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon; about veterans affairs reforms, in remarks to “American heroes”; and about jobs and health care, to supporters in Ohio. Here’s an assessment.
Uh-oh! The editor who wrote the headline advertised seven falsehoods. But in her text, Qiu had referred to seven "misleading statements."

Is a misleading statement a falsehood? Moses produced no tablet resolving this question, but in general we'd have to say no.

A communicator can thoroughly mislead an audience while making perfectly accurate statements. Generally speaking, words like "misleading" entered the language, long ago, to offer us an alternative to describing a statement as "false."

(Such distinctions are also widely observed in the world's several other languages, including the earlier languages out of which English emerged.)

Just for the record, what kinds of statements did Qiu actually cite? Were the statements misleading, or false?

That isn't our point of concern today. But she specifically describes one claim by Donald J. Trump as "false," another as a "stretch."

We'd say that Qiu may have stretched and misled a bit too, for example in her sixth boldfaced claim. In that sixth presentation, she also revived her wondrously confusing formulation in which "[l]egal permanent residents who haven’t worked in the United States for 10 years are not eligible for food assistance or Medicaid within the first five years of entering the country."

That statement is wonderfully confusing. Would you call it misleading? False?

Our language gives us many ways to describe statements which are false and/or misleading or otherwise somehow bogus. Before our week is through, we plan to visit immortal Austin, reviewing some of the ruminations in his masterful books (How to Do Things With Words; Sense and Sensibilia) and in some of his most famous lectures or essays (Three Ways of Spilling Ink; A Plea for Excuses).

In effect, Austin was Wittgenstein gifted with clarity, but that's not our topic today. Today, we want to review a recent statement which seemed to be blindingly obvious.

The statement drew applause from the world's brightest people at a recent high-end lecture. The estimable Masha Gessen delivered the statement as part of the Arthur Miller Lecture at the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival.

Her statement seemed to be blindingly obvious. Unable to restrain themselves, the crowd burst into applause:
GESSEN (5/7/17): ...we have to become guardians of our language. We have to keep it alive and working. That means being very intentional about using words.

That means, for example, calling lies "lies."

I am actually—

For background, see yesterday's report.

Gessen said we should call lies "lies." The audience burst into applause.

It should be said that Gessen was specifically prescribing what journalists, including reporters, should do. As she continued, she specifically scolded National Public Radio for failing, indeed for refusing as a general matter of policy, to call lies "lies."

Should reporters call lies "lies?" The answer may seem obvious, but let's reason by way of analogy.

Presumably, reporters should call bank robberies "bank robberies." But before they do, they should probably ascertain that a bank has actually been robbed.

If they aren't yet sure of that fact, there are ways to report their uncertainty. They can refer to an alleged, apparent or reported bank robbery, after which they can describe the state of the evidence.

In the matters Gessen was discussing, should NPR have described Donald J. Trump's misstatements and apparent misstatements as "lies?"

Some of the misstatements in question seemed to be truly remarkable howlers. But did that mean that news reporters at NPR should have described them as "lies?"

The network had explained its reticence on several occasions, not always with perfect clarity. As Gessen continued, she hurried past NPR's explanation, then issued several semi-howlers of her own:
GESSEN (continuing directly): The NPR argument is that the definition of "lie," their argument for not using the word "lie" when describing what Donald Trump does, is that the definition of "lie" involves intent. A lie is a statement made with the intention to deceive. And NPR does not have conclusive information on Trump's intent.

The problem is that the euphemism "misstatement" clearly connotes a lack of intent, as though Trump simply took an accidental wrong step.

And the thing is that words exist in time, right? The word "misstatement" suggests a singular occurrence, thereby eliding Trump's history of lying. The word "misstatement" as applied to Trump is actually a lie.

Again, the audience erupted in applause. But here on our own sprawling campus, we observed a different reaction:

Our youthful analysts were loudly wailing rattling the chains with which we help them resolve to stay seated, and fully attentive, at their spartan study carrels.

It should be noted that Gessen never quoted anything that had ever been said by anyone at NPR. As in her native Russia, so too here:

Our public discourse tends to die when major figures treat themselves to such unfortunate shortcuts.

That said, it it true as a general matter? As a general matter, does the word "misstatement" suggest that the misstatement in question was uttered in good faith, was just "an accidental wrong step?"

We have no idea why you'd say that. It's abundantly clear that NPR's Mary Louise Kelly was suggesting no such thing in the NPR report about Trump which launched a thousand semantic ships. But if a reporter is concerned about that possible connotation, she is of course free to say this:

She is free to refer to Donald J. Trump's "extreme misstatement, which flies in the face of apparently obvious photographic evidence."

In short, she can use her words!

How about that other claim? If someone refers to a "misstatement" by Trump, does that word "suggest a singular occurrence, thereby eliding Trump's history of lying?"

We don't know why you'd say that. If a reporter had that concern, she could simply say this:

She could refer to Donald J. Trump's "latest misstatement, one in a puzzling list of misstatements on this particular point."

Once again, she can use her words. There are many to choose from!

Gessen spoke to an audience of writers. Earlier, in an unfortunate moment, she'd made the ultimate tribal claim, saying that she and her fellow writers "invariably" act in good faith:
GESSEN: Now, we writers have often spent time, much of it in the late twentieth century, questioning the ability of words to reflect facts, and the existence of objective facts themselves.

There are those who have, whether with glee or with shame, observed a sort of relationship between those post-modern exercises and Trump’s post-truth, post-language ways. But I think this reflects a basic misunderstanding, or perhaps a willing conflation of intentions.

When writers and academics question the limits of language, it is invariably an exercise that grows from a desire to bring more light into the public sphere, to arrive at a shared reality that is more nuanced than it was yesterday. To focus ever more tightly on the shape, weight, and function of any thing that can be named, or to find names for things that have not, in the past, been observed.
Good grief! "When writers and academics question the limits of language, it is invariably an exercise that grows from a desire to bring more light into the public sphere?"

We writers "invariably" act in good faith, with good intentions? If we might borrow from Michael Corleone:

Who's being naive now, Kay? Simply put, we humans aren't like that.

Gessen told her audience of writers that they "invariably" act in good faith. This is the kind of tribal thinking which can betray the finest of minds and the best of souls, especially at a time like this, when tribal feeling runs high.

Should NPR have referred to Donald Trump's statements as "lies?" They had said they couldn't state, as a matter of fact, that the misstatements in question were lies. Gessen blew past this sensible analysis, then made some peculiar claims of her own.

For our money, old patterns should hold in this area. Reporters should be very reluctant about describing misstatements as "lies."

Meanwhile, in the case of Donald J. Trump, it seems to us there's an obvious basis for a special reluctance. When people seem to be mentally ill, do we normally say that they've lied?

Tomorrow: Regarding possible illness or dementia, Slate pair seem to observe two guilds' rules

We're pleased to give credit where credit is due!


Observing some splendid behavior:
We're pleased to give credit where credit is due regarding President Donald J. Trump's latest spectacular brainstorm.

The Washington Post has published this instant dispatch. We were pleased to see these reactions by major Republican solons:
DEBONIS AND O'KEEFE (7/26/17): Lawmakers in both parties slammed President Trump’s decision on Wednesday to bar transgender Americans from serving in the military, while many of his allies on Capitol Hill remained largely perplexed or silent.


Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.), a former Army officer,
said “it throws us off” when Trump issues surprise tweets that distract from other GOP priorities. “Based on what we’re doing in here this week, I don’t know what the connection is,” he said.

Capitol Hill’s most prominent Republican voice on national security matters, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), also criticized Trump’s announcement, calling it “unclear” and “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.”

McCain added, “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military—regardless of their gender identity.” He said there should be no change in policy until the Pentagon completes an ongoing review of the issue.

Other conservative senators offered criticism of the move. A spokeswoman for Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), an Army veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, said that the senator believes “Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity,” though the military should not fund gender-reassignment surgery.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a Trump ally on most issues, said he wanted “more information and clarity” on Trump’s policy. “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone,” he said, adding that transgender people “deserve the best we can do for them.”

And Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a senior member of an Appropriations subcommittee that sets Pentagon spending levels, said he expected Congress to call hearings exploring Trump’s policy change.

“You ought to treat everybody fairly and give everybody a chance to serve,” he told CNN.
We'll quote Woodrow Call from Lonesome Dove:

"Splendid behavior," he said.

For the historical source of the phrase: For the historical source of the phrase, why not just click here?

Why does Mark Johnson believe those things?


One last trip to the fair:
We want to make a final trip to the free health care clinic which was conducted at the Wise County Fairgrounds in rural southwestern Virginia.

More specifically, we want to ask you why Mark Johnson, age 56, believes the things he believes.

In Monday's New York Times,
Trip Gabriel published a valuable news report about the clinic, and about the suffering people who traveled hours to access its services. Let's start today with a person, a doctor, who plainly deserves our respect:
GABRIEL (7/26/17): Dr. Joseph F. Smiddy, 75, a lung specialist who has volunteered at every RAM clinic here since the first in 1999, said people’s health was getting worse, not better, as the regional economy shed well-paying jobs, primarily in coal, and diets and lifestyles deteriorated.

“We’re sicker here than in Central America,” said Dr. Smiddy, who has volunteered on charity health trips there. “In Central America, they’re eating beans and rice and walking everywhere. They’re not drinking Mountain Dew and eating candy. They’re not having an epidemic of obesity and diabetes and lung cancer.”

In a lead-lined truck he had modified to perform chest X-rays, Dr. Smiddy saw Sherman Devlin, 51, a heavyset former miner complaining of shortness of breath.

“I don’t have no income,” Mr. Devlin said, speaking with difficulty. “I’m a broke-down coal miner. I can’t do what I used to do.” Even though he received Medicaid, he said it did not cover much.
A significant point before moving on: Gabriel should have explained that comment about Medicaid.

That said, let's move on:

Dr. Smiddy is 75. Presumably, he doesn't have to volunteer for these clinics, nor did he have to volunteer for the service he provided in Central America. We'd have to say that Dr. Smiddy has earned the nation's respect.

Meanwhile, Devlin is 51. He's the kind of person our liberal tribe has long tended to disregard and demean. Do you remember the two weeks of dick jokes, back in 2009, from a certain unnamed cable host? How we laughed at all the "teabaggers"
before they started kicking our ascots at the ballot boxes!

This brings us to the question of Mark Johnson's beliefs. In this passage, Dr. Smiddy comments on the political beliefs of people in Virginia's depleted coal country:
GABRIEL: Dr. Smiddy grew up in Wise, a picturesque county seat on the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail. He said that the United Mine Workers of America had once operated one of the best hospitals in the state here, but that it had closed after mine owners drove out the union.

“The people of this area have been told by the politicians and President Trump that coal is coming back,” Dr. Smiddy said. “They believe that. They’ve been told that Obamacare is no good. They believe that. They believe that Trump’s going to bring them TrumpCare.”

“We all know when we take 32 million people out of the system”—an allusion to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of how many would lose coverage under one Republican plan—“that these people will be the first to go,” he said.

Mark Johnson, 56, a disabled truck driver from Coeburn who came to have 10 teeth pulled, said the president’s opponents had created distractions with charges about Russia. “They won’t leave him alone enough to do anything,” he said.
Dr. Smiddy grew up in Wise, the county seat of Wise County. He understands what happened to the local hospital after the bosses drove the union out.

He also seems to know what people in the area have been told, and what they believe. Mark Johnson, age 56, seems to provide an example.

Coeburn, Virginia is part of Wise County. Johnson seemed to tell Gabriel that Donald J. Trump's opponents are the ones who are causing the problems.

Our questions would be these:

Who told the people at that clinic that Obamacare is no good? Why did they believe them?

What kind of effort did liberals and progressives make to tell them that they were being misled? To tell them they've been misled about may things, for many years?

Presumably, the people to whom Dr. Smiddy refers have been misled by the usual suspects. Our closing questions would be these:

To what extent has our liberal contempt led them into Rush Limbaugh's hands, then into the hands of Fox? We refer to liberal contempt extending back a very large number of years.

Last fall, in Vox, Sarah Kliff wrote about middle-aged women in rural Kentucky with insurance under Obamacare who couldn't afford to go to the doctor. We liberals reacted with contempt and incomprehension.

Why do we behave that way? How long has this been going on? Is it possible that we are part of the problem here, along with the gruesome Donald J. Trump, lord of all he surveys?

USING OUR WORDS: On the importance of calling lies "lies!"


Part 3—Sometimes a less-than-great notion:
On January 21, 2017, the newly-inaugurated president, Donald J. Trump, journeyed south to CIA headquarters, where he made deathless remarks.

As sometimes happens, Trump seems to have made some inaccurate statements. In this part of a broadcast on NPR's Morning Edition program, national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly cited two such remarks:
KELLY (1/23/17): In that same speech out of the CIA this weekend, Trump also falsely inflated the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

In talking about the weather, he described that when he began to speak at his inauguration, the rain stopped immediately. And in fact, you could see water beating on the lapel of his coat.
Kelly offered no direct quotes from Trump concerning these peculiar topics. That said, his comments about the size of the crowd and the heaven-sent weather still rank among the strangest and most obvious misstatements he has uttered to date.

One might even say that they rank among his craziest statements to date, correspondence to reality-wise.

At this point, a problem arose. In her report, Kelly described an array of statements by Trump as "false," as "provably not true," and as "untrue claims." She compared what Trump had said to what you could see "in fact."

That said, Kelly didn't say that Donald J. Trump had "lied" in maiing these deathless remarks. Within days, NPR was under attack from portions of the liberal world, which had just started its noble resistance, twenty-five years too late.

On January 26,
NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen posted a column concerning the controversy. Jensen described the waves of complaints and summarized NPR policy:
JENSEN (1/26/17): This column will attempt to address the several hundred emails (and an untold number of social media posts) to my office and NPR's Audience Services department that were harshly critical of NPR's policy. I've included a representative sampling of listener letters below. They and others used words like "shocked," "appalled," "horrified," "cowardice," "sanctimonious," "timid" and "complicit." ...

The policy, in brief, is to largely avoid using the word "lie." As NPR's national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly said Wednesday, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a "lie" as "'a false statement made with intent to deceive.' Intent being the key word there—without the ability to peer into Donald Trump's head, I can't tell you what his intent was. I can tell you what he said and how that squares—or doesn't—with fact..."

Michael Oreskes, NPR's head of news, added this: "Our job as journalists is to report—to find facts, establish their authenticity and share them with everybody. And I think that when you use words like lie, it gets in the way of that."
Should Kelly have referred to Trump's statements as "lies?" For unknown reasons, she had looked up the word in a dictionary after the complaints rolled in.

On the basis of what Kelly found, she stood behind her original choice of words. She said she didn't feel she could say, as a matter of fact, that the groaners in question were lies.

In several venues, Oreskes had offered a second reason for "largely avoiding" the use of that word. In response, the emails poured in, using other evocative words like "appalled," "horrified" and "complicit."

Our language gives us many ways to express our horror and shock. It also gives us many ways to describe inaccurate statements.

We'll discuss the development of our English language before the week is through. For today, let's consider what happened last May, when Masha Gessen, a highly respected journalist who has actually walked the walk, weighed in on this perhaps underwhelming subject.

In our view, Gessen has earned the respect she's afforded. On May 7, she delivered the Arthur Miller Lecture at the 2017 PEN World Voice Festival.

(To watch the lecture, just click here. For a lightly edited version of Gessen's remarks, you can just click this.)

Gessen spoke to a liberalish audience known, at least among itself, for its obvious maximal brilliance. As she started, she discussed the ways the public discourse in her native Russia had been compromised, undermined, damaged, undone by the end of the Soviet era.

It's a very important topic. She then began suggesting that a similar process is underway here, driven, in large part, by the weird and constant groaning misstatements of ruler-for-life Donald Trump.

Gessen is a serious, admirable journalist. She was discussing a very serious topic. That doesn't mean that her judgments were sound, or even that she was fully prepared to discuss the materials at hand, especially perhaps at a time like this, when tribal feeling is high.

Doggone it! Gessen introduced the transcript of an interview Donald J. Trump had recently conducted with Julie Pace of the Associated Pace. As she did, it seemed fairly clear that she hadn't fully familiarized herself with the transcript in question.

(For background information, see last Thursday's report.)

Anyone can make a mistake! In this case, the big, admittedly brilliant crowd laughed and applauded as Gessen was making hers.

Gessen was perhaps a bit unfair in her remarks about the Associated Press. From there, she quoted something Hannah Arendt once said about the way the world reveals itself to us limited individuals.

"Only in the freedom of our speaking with one another does the world, as that about which we speak, emerge in its objectivity and visibility from all sides," Arendt apparently said, part of a longer statement quoted by Gessen.

At this point, Gessen repeated one phrase from Arendt's remark. She then entered the fray concerning NPR:
GESSEN (5/7/17): “Only in the freedom of our speaking with one another.”

And to preserve that freedom, we have to become guardians of our language. We have to keep it alive and working. That means being very intentional about using words.

That means, for example, calling lies "lies."

I am actually—


I am addressing specifically National Public Radio, home to the word "misstatement," among others.

The NPR argument is that the definition of "lie," their argument for not using the word "lie" when describing what Donald Trump does, is that the definition of "lie" involves intent. A lie is a statement made with the intention to deceive. And NPR does not have conclusive information on Trump's intent.

The problem is that the euphemism "misstatement" clearly connotes a lack of intent, as though Trump simply took an accidental wrong step.

And the thing is that words exist in time, right? The word "misstatement" suggests a singular occurrence, thereby eliding Trump's history of lying. The word "misstatement" as applied to Trump is actually a lie.


It is actually a lie to think, or to claim, that there are neutral words. Words exist in time, words reflect a history, words reflect an understanding. And using words to lie destroys language.
Four months after Kelly's report, Gessen still felt that NPR was wrong, in a significant way. In the passage presented above, she made several claims about the way we need to protect our language, and through it our pubic discourse.

Gessen made these claims:

She said that, to keep our language alive, we need to call lies "lies."

She said that the term "misstatement" clearly implies that the person who made the misstatement did so in good faith.

She said the term "misstatement" suggests that only one misstatement has been made. She said the term "misstatement," applied to Trump, is itself a lie!

The audience applauded that statement. She then said there are no "neutral words," though we don't really know what she meant.

Gessen is an admirable figure. We won't vouch for her audience, limited individuals all.

That said, her statements that day made little real sense. Tomorrow, we'll issue a heartfelt plea to Gessen and others:

Gessen and others, please! Let's start using our words!

Tomorrow: "That means, for example, calling lies 'lies?' "

Who the Sam, Joe or Lauren Hill could disagree with that?

Did Sessions discuss "campaign-related matters" with Kislyak?

TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2017

Let's start with what Kushner has said:
Did Jeff Sessions get it on with his buddy, Sergey Kislyak, at the Mayflower Hotel?

Let's be more specific. We refer to the April 2016 event at which Candidate Donald J. Trump read a glorious foreign policy speech at the famous hotel.

(Full disclosure: Many of Trump's enemies have said it was the greatest such speech ever given.)

Kislyak was in attendance, presumably vacuuming canapes from the refreshment tables. Sessions was present as well.

According to last Saturday's Washington Post, Kislyak later "told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions" that day.

Was that an accurate statement on the part of the Post? In other words, did Kislyak actually say that to his superiors?

We can't answer that question. We think the Post did a miserable job sourcing its exciting claim in Saturday's news report. We don't know if Kislyak actually said that to his Russkie bosses. More importantly, we also don't know if some such discussion with Session really took place at the famous hotel.

Yesterday, we mentioned a problem with the Post report—the possibility that the Post got caught in a game of Telephone, as has happened before. To start to flesh out this possible problem, let's start with Jared Kushner's written statement about that same event at the Mayflower.

Kushner released his written statement prior to yesterday's meeting with Senate investigators. In this report from today's Washington Post, you see Kushner's account of his own experience at that same exciting event:
BARRET, RUCKER AND DEMIRJIAN (7/25/17): Kushner wrote that his first meeting with a Russian official was in April 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where Trump delivered a major foreign policy speech, the execution of which Kushner said he oversaw. Kushner wrote that he attended a reception to thank the event’s host, Dimitri Simes, publisher of the National Interest, a foreign policy magazine. Simes introduced Kushner to four ambassadors at the reception, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Kushner said.

“With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy,” he wrote. “The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election. Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.”
According to Kushner, he shook hands with the now-famous Russkie, then exchanged a handful of meaningless words.

Is that what actually happened? We have no way of knowing. But just for the sake of illustration, let's assume or imagine that Sessions also did something like that.

After that, let's imagine how Kislyak might have reported this perfunctory encounter back to his Russkie bosses. For purposes of illustration, we'll assume he was playing it straight.

Finally, let's imagine how Kislyak's report might have seemed after it had gone through two or three layers of "Telephone" on its way to the front page of the Washington Post.

We'll continue this rumination tomorrow. We won't be trying to tell you what actually happened, since we have no way of knowing.

Instead, we'll be trying to show you what could possibly be wrong with the work of the Washington Post. They've lost at "Telephone" before, as we'll remind you tomorrow.

Why those suffering people lack health care!

TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2017

One reason, via Drum:
As we noted yesterday, Trip Gabriel's report from that free health fair in southwestern Virginia is very much worth reading.

That part of Virginia is low-income coal country. People traveled long distances from other states to access the free health care. Gabriel's accounts of their medical needs is a savage indictment of our nation's failed health care arrangements.

As we mentioned yesterday, the peculiar data shown below lie behind this ugly story. If health care didn't cost so crazily much in this country, we presumably wouldn't have so much trouble seeing that everyone got it.

These numbers lie behind our savage health care dysfunction. They lie at the heart of every health care report you've read or seen this year. Oddly enough, you're virtually never permitted to see them:
Per capita spending, health care, 2015
United States: $9451
Canada: $4608
France: $4407
United Kingdom: $4003
Very few people attending that fair have ever seen those crazy data. Very few people of any description have ever seen a major liberal report and attempt to explain those data—explain where that crazy level of American health care spending comes from.

Why does a year of health care cost so much in this country? Today, Kevin Drum offers one explanation.

Drum has just finished Elisabeth Rosenthal's book, American Sickness. Right at the start of her book, on page 3, Rosenthal asks the key question:

"Where is all that money going?"

In this horrific passage at the start of his post, Drum provides part of the answer. This is one of the reasons why those suffering people at that health fair have been consigned to suffer:
DRUM (7/25/17): I finished reading Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness a few days ago, so the depradations of the American health care system are even fresher on my mind than usual right now. Unsurprisingly, one of the things she talks about is the surge in hospitals surreptitiously employing doctors who are out-of-network and therefore not covered by a patient’s insurance. The result is gigantic bills for people who thought—quite reasonably—that if they went to an in-network hospital they had nothing to worry about.

It turns out this scam is especially common in emergency rooms, precisely the place where patients are least likely to be thinking clearly.
Quite correctly, Drum uses the term "scam" to describe this form of medical looting. The other key word is "surreptitious."

As he continues, Drum quotes from a new report on this practice:
CRESWELL, ABELSON AND SANGER-KATZ (7/25/17): Early last year, executives at a small hospital an hour north of Spokane, Wash., started using a company called EmCare to staff and run their emergency room….Although the hospital had negotiated rates for its fees with many major health insurers, the EmCare physicians were not part of those networks and were sending high bills directly to the patients.

...“Fiona Scott Morton, a professor at the Yale School of Management and a co-author of the paper, described the strategy as a “kind of ambushing of patients.” A patient who goes to the emergency room can look for a hospital that takes her insurance, but she almost never gets to choose the doctor who treats her.

...When emergency room doctors work for a company that has not made a deal with an insurer, they are free to bill whatever they want, insurers say. “The more they bill, the more they get paid,” said Shara McClure, an executive with Blue Cross of Texas.
Creswell's 1900-word report appears on the front page of today's New York Times. Like yesterday's report by Gabriel, it will go almost completely undiscussed and unnoticed.

For a fuller picture of the scam, read the rest of Drum's post. As you do, remember this:

Drum's post explores only one of the scams which lie behind the suffering of the people Gabriel met at the fair. That said, you will never hear a word of any of this on your favorite "corporate liberal" TV shows.

Rachel will continue to give us the thrill of the hyperbolized tribal chase. She will fail to tell you a word about the suffering of those who aren't paid $10 million per year to please their corporate owners.

According to Nexis, Rosenthal hasn't appeared, not even once, on MSNBC or CNN. The Buddha was cosseted this same way—until he left the palace.

USING OUR WORDS: NPR reported "misstatements!"

TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2017

Part 2—We liberals insisted on "lies:"
Way back when, early last fall, presidential candidate Donald J. Trump authored one of his many moments.

It all began on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. Candidate Trump journeyed to Flint, where he delivered a heartfelt address to a reported 50 people in a local church.

At one point, he began trashing Candidate Clinton. The local minister interrupted, saying this: "Mr. Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we've done for Flint, not to give a political speech."

Trump accepted the minster's direction and pulled himself back in line.

The next morning, Candidate Trump appeared on Fox & Friends, perhaps the most god-awful program in the history of "cable news." During this appearance, he described his experience at the church, offering an account which was perhaps less than completely accurate.

At this point, National Public Radio stepped into the fray.

NPR's Scott Detrow had been in the church in Flint, serving as the press corps' pool reporter. In response to Trump's remarks on Fox & Friends, Detrow published this account of what had actually happened.

NPR published Detrow's report under this offensive headline:

"Trump Criticizes Flint Pastor—But Misstates Key Facts About Their Encounter"

What made the headline offensive? According to some in our liberal tents, NPR shouldn't have said that Trump had "misstated key facts." NPR should have said that Donald J. Trump had "lied."

Should Detrow, or Detrow's editors, have said that Trump had "lied?" Just for the record, Deytrow cited only two alleged misstatements by Trump, and one of the two involved a highly subjective matter of judgment.

(Did the minster really "seem nervous" at the start of the event?)

Regarding the second alleged misstatement, should NPR have said that Trump lied? In response to such assertions, NPR's public editor, Michael Oreskes, offered this instant defense of Detrow's report, and of NPR's headline.

Oreskes offered a somewhat limited case for eschewing the L-word in this instance. He didn't state the most obvious reason: in all likelihood, NPR didn't know whether Donald J. Trump had lied.

You can read Oreskes' short piece for yourself. For our money, the skill level displayed in the piece wasn't gigantically high.

A few months later, Donald J. Trump had been sworn in as president-for-life, lord of all he surveyed. Sure enough, this issue invaded NPR's tents again.

In this instance, Trump visited the CIA, where he made a short heartfelt address announcing his love for the intelligence community. On Wednesday morning, January 23, NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly discussed Trump's remarks and attendant issues on NPR's Morning Edition.

Kelly's interview with Steve Inskeep ran 869 words. She said that some of Trump's recent statements had been "false," even "provably not true."

Below, you see the bulk of the passage where these critiques were offered. Rather plainly, this was not a Trump-friendly report:
INSKEEP (1/23/17): NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly is in our studio. She's been speaking with members of the intelligence community, past and present.

Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, so he's not saying, "I'm making up with the intelligence agencies." He's saying, "I never had a problem with you to begin with."

KELLY: That's what he said. And that is false. President Trump is on record in statements, in tweets, in that news conference you just mentioned that he held as president-elect. And he is on the record ridiculing and attacking U.S. intelligence officials. So to suggest that the media made up this feud—

INSKEEP: His own statements.

KELLY: It's provably not true. In that same speech out of the CIA this weekend, Trump also falsely inflated the size of the crowd at his inauguration. In talking about the weather, he described that when he began to speak at his inauguration, the rain stopped immediately. And in fact, you could see water beating on the lapel of his coat.

Now, does it matter whether it rained or not?


KELLY: Who cares? But it does matter to the CIA veterans, who I was reaching out to this weekend. It rankles because he made these untrue claims and of where he made them, in the lobby of the CIA.

INSKEEP: And not just any lobby—there's a wall of stars behind him as he was speaking. And those stars represent something.

KELLY: They represent CIA officers who have died in the line of duty. And it's interesting. One of the former intelligence officers who I reached this weekend said there's the stars. And those are sacred if you work at CIA. But this person said, remember what's on the opposite wall, what Trump was looking at as he spoke.

And I have crossed that lobby, Steve, many times on my way to interview officials who work there. And carved in the marble on the opposite wall is this. It's a quotation from the Bible. And it reads, "and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
In our view, Kelly may have been ahead of her skies a bit in a few of her assessments. Example:

Trump may have attacked certain "U.S. intelligence officials." But did that mean that he was angry with "the intelligence agencies" in general?

Not necessarily, no. That said, when a chase is on, it can be easy for journalists to slip past such distinctions. We'd say Kelly was over her skies a tiny bit that day.

At any rate, and rather plainly, this was not a Trump-friendly report. Kelly had asserted all sorts of false statements by Trump. But once again, an NPR reporter had failed to use the word "lie."

When NPR listeners complained, Kelly returned for a second session in which she explained her decision.

On January 25, Kelly took part in a four-way discussion with Inskeep, Oreskes and host David Greene. What hadn't she said that Donald Trump lied? As part of her explanation, Kelly somewhat oddly said this:
KELLY (1/25/17): So this has prompted me to go actually look up the word "lie" in the Oxford English Dictionary. And here's the definition. I'll read it:

"A false statement made with intent to deceive."

"Intent" being the key word there. Without the ability to peer into Donald Trump's head, I can't tell you what his intent was. I can tell you what he said and how that squares—or doesn't—with facts, with publicly available facts.

INSKEEP: And leave you, leave the listener to make their own conclusions.

Mike Oreskes, how much discussion has there been about this word, lie?

ORESKES: There's been quite a bit. And of course, it began during the campaign. And we at NPR have decided not to use the word lie in most situations. And there's really two reasons...
Especially since she's a reporter, we agree with Kelly's decision. But did she really have to look up "lie" in the dictionary to know what the word has long meant? To understand the word's standard usage?

Perhaps that was just performance art, designed to suggest that NPR was making the fullest possible effort to puzzle out this dispute. Surely, though, everyone knows the general meaning of the word "lie." Everyone knows that a lie, as a general matter, is an intentional false statement—a false statement made by a person who knows his statement is false.

Not long ago, we would have assumed that everyone was familiar with this simple-minded concept. We would have assumed that everyone knew that many or most misstatements, untruths and/or falsehoods actually aren't lies.

We would have assumed that everyone knew something else. We would have assumed that everyone knew that many misstatements which really are lies can't be reliably identified as such by external parties, for example by reporters. Here's the way that age-old problem goes:

Person A's statement was "provably untrue." Was Person A lying when he said it? If you're Person B or Reporter C, there's every chance that you won't be able to say for sure.

We would have thought that everyone was familiar with these basic points. But this is a highly partisan time, and a tribal chase is on.

When times are tribal, our basic skills and understandings may tend to head out the window. We may forget, ignore or fail to consider the most basic things we know.

In the high feeling of the moment, we may step around the things we know in search of the judgment we long to render.

We live in such a time right now. Over here in our liberal tents, our basic skills often seem to be AWOL.

Early in May, Masha Gessen stepped into the ring with NPR. Gessen is an admirable figure, but her basic skills seemed to be missing in action this day.

Her audience was laughing and applauding. But we'd have to say that the admirable Gessen wasn't quite using her words.

Tomorrow: Gessen scolds NPR

Also over at Slate: Last Friday, a similar discussion occurred at Slate, in this new Trumpcast.

Are Trump's speeches a tissue of lies? Our tribe is strongly inclined to say so.

Other explanations are possible—explanations which ought to be deeply troubling. We long to use our L-word so much, it seems that we never quite go there.

Trip Gabriel does a real report!

MONDAY, JULY 24, 2017

Star scribe does the New York Times proud:
On cable news, tonight's exciting sugar high will come via Jared Kushner.

If you want to read a news report, we'll recommend Trip Gabriel's report in today's New York Times.

Over the weekend, Gabriel went to a free health fair in southwestern Virginia. We think you should read every word.

A question lingers behind that report. It's based on these disappeared data, the data you never are shown:
Per capita spending, health care, 2015
United States: $9451
Canada: $4608
France: $4407
United Kingdom: $4003
People are suffering behind those strange numbers. People are suffering behind the strange numbers you simply, by law, can't be shown.

Rachel and Lawrence won't show you those numbers. Why won't these great big stars do that?

Did Sessions talk to the Russian ambassador?

MONDAY, JULY 24, 2017

What Entous told Anderson Cooper:
Last Friday, cable news got its nightly sugar high from this exciting report in the Washington Post.

The next morning, the report appeared atop the front page of the Post. It struck us as underwhelming work, drifting toward dishonest.

According to the Post report, Jeff Sessions discussed campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in two encounters during the 2016 campaign. Well—the Post report didn't exactly make that assertion. The Post reported that Kislyak had said that to his superiors.

The Post report started like this:

ENTOUS, NAKASHIMA AND MILLER (7/22/17): Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions—then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump—were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies,
which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.
According to the Post report, Kislyak's communications with his superiors were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies. According to the Post report, he told his superiors that he had those discussions with Sessions, though his claims may not be true.

In our view, the Post's report was very shaky, in ways we noted on Saturday morning. Later that day, CNN posted its transcripts of Anderson Cooper's two-hour broadcast on Friday night.

Lead reporter Adam Entous appeared for the bulk or the whole of both hours with Cooper. In our view, the fuzziness of his report only grew more plain.

Did Sessions actually have those conversations with Kislyak? Even in its formal report, the Post explicitly offered a pair of caveats.

Kislyak could have been misleading his superiors, the Post explicitly said. Or he could have been spreading false information, in line with the Russkie attempts to create confusion and mistrust all through the American world.

Even after explicitly stating those possibilities, the Post still claimed certainty in the headlines it placed atop its report. This is what the headline says on-line today, even as we type:

"Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show"

The actual report claims less certainty. But so what? It was close enough for a front-page headline in the Washington Post, especially when a stampede is on!

Did Sessions have those discussions with Kislyak? We have no idea. That said, it seems to us that the Post's position is substantially worse than what we've discussed so far.

In our view, it isn't clear that the Post knows what was in those intercepted communications, assuming they even exist. Why do we say that? Let's run through the way this would have worked:

According to the Post report, U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted some communications. Presumably, this means there are tapes of Kislyak's conversations. (Entous seemed to say as much during Cooper's program, as you'll see below.)

People who heard those tapes would have first-hand knowledge of what Kislyak said. But uh-oh!

During Cooper's first hour,
he asked an obvious but very good question. He received got the explicit answer which, as we noted on Saturday, didn't appear in the Post's report:
COOPER (7/21/17): It is accurate to say you have not heard these intercepts?

ENTOUS: No, I have not heard these intercepts.

COOPER: Right, but you've talked to—

ENTOUS: We've talked to multiple current and former officials who described it, and I think we can all understand why we use anonymous sources.
As we noted on Saturday, the Post's report never explicitly said that the Post hadn't heard the intercepts. We think it should have done so.

You'll also note that, as Entous answers Cooper's question about his sources, his statements may perhaps seem a bit slippery or fuzzy. The Post talked to multiple current and former officials "who described it?"

If a chase were on with Entous as target, he'd get strung up, perhaps unjustly, for a slippery sideways non-answer answer of that type. At this point, he at least seems to have said that he has "multiple" sources (which could imaginably mean two). That said, Cooper never asked him how many sources he had, and he never said.

During Cooper's second hour, Cooper somehow managed to ask a second specific question. This time, the answer strikes us as rather strange:
COOPER: This is based on intercepts, U.S. intelligence intercepts.

ENTOUS: Correct.

COOPER: You haven't heard the intercepts. but you have spoken to people who have?

ENTOUS: Correct. I don't know if they listened to the intercepts or read intelligence reports that are based on those intercepts.
Say what?

Once again, Entous seems to say that he had more than one source. But in two hours on the air, Cooper never asked him how many sources he had, and Entous never said.

In our view, that was lousy work on Cooper's part. But beyond that, good God!

Adam Entous doesn't know if his source(s) heard the intercepts? He doesn't know if his source or sources heard the intercepts, or if they just read (second-hand) reports?

Cooper seemed surprised by that statement. But he never asked Entous why he doesn't know this basic fact about his source or sources.

(Dearest darlings, this is a courtesy within the guild. You simply don't ask a fellow guild member—a "CNN contributor," no less—an awkward questions like that.)

That said, Adam Entous doesn't know if his source or source heard the intercepts! Aside from the suggestion of journalistic incompetence, let's get clear on why this matters:

A person who heard the intercepts has first-hand information about what Kislyak said. A person who only read the intelligence report is starting out with second-hand information.

He is relying on someone else's account of what Kislyak said. That account may be perfectly accurate, of course. But then too, it may not be.

We're now back to a problem Entous has struggled with in the past—the problem of playing "Telephone." If his source or sources didn't hear the intercepts, then Entous is relying on his source's account of someone else's account of what Kislyak said.

By the time we read the Post's report, we are relying on Entous' account of his source's account of somebody else's account. Someone else's account of a conversation in which, according to the Post, Kislyak may be lying!

In other words, we Post readers are receiving fourth-hand information. We're receiving a fourth-hand account of a conversation in which, according to the Post, may have been a Russkie con.

Does it sound to you like Adam Entous had a "bombshell report?" We use that term because that's the way Cooper described the Post's exciting report at the start of Friday's 8 PM hour.

But uh-oh! In his bombshell report, Entous never said how many sources he had. In speaking to Cooper, it turned out that he didn't even know if his source, or sources, had heard the intercepts!

Then too, there was something else. Shortly after 8:30 Eastern, Cooper addressed the idea that Donald J. Trump may have leaked this material because he wants to get rid of Sessions.

Entous threw cold water on that idea. We thought his overall statement was striking. Here's why:

According to Entous, the Post had been sitting on this "bombshell report" for six or seven weeks. They's only decided to publish it now because they feared the New York Times might scoop them:
COOPER: You and I were talking during the break, and I just want to have everyone else hear what you said. Because I think it's important because there is—

I've seen it online, a lot of people sort of have a, I don't know if it's a conspiracy theory to grant the term, but the idea that perhaps given what President Trump said about his anger toward Attorney General Sessions and then the story breaks that it gives him a reason to get rid of Sessions.

You've actually been working on this story for quite some time.

ENTOUS: Yes, I mean, we had the initial story back in March, which was that Sessions had two encounters with Kislyak. And basically ever since then, we were trying to figure out what was the nature of those discussions, what were the contents of those communications, right?

And so we've been working on it for weeks, you know, before this,
and when the New York Times had that excellent interview with Trump in which Trump commented about Sessions in particularly, you know, talked about specifically how he didn't appreciate the way he answered the questions in the confirmation hearing, we realized that we may not have as much time as we thought and we should basically try to push the story out as soon as we could.

COOPER: May not have as much time because other reporters are going to be hunting it down?

ENTOUS: Correct, correct. Yes. It's a competitive environment and, you know, obviously something—sometimes we can work on stories for months and not worry about the competition. But when we saw The New York Times story, we realized, you know, we really need to finish up that.

COOPER: I don't want the program the areas (INAUDIBLE) too much but then, you know better than anybody what to say or not to say, but the information about what Kislyak said to his boss is, is that information you had had for—

ENTOUS: That's information we had since basically early June.



COOPER: So you've had it for a while.


COOPER: So for those who believe that this only fell into your lap 24 hours ago, that is not the case. This is something you've been working out.

ENTOUS: That's correct.
Again, Cooper seemed surprised. According to Entous, the Post had been sitting on this "bombshell report" (Cooper's term) since early June. They only published it now because they were afraid they might get scooped in the ongoing newspaper war.

Simply put, this means the Post never thought they had a "bombshell report" at all. They had been trying, for almost two months, "to figure out what was the nature of those discussions, what were the contents of those communications."

They knew their information was murky. Sensibly, they didn't want to publish until they had something more.

On Saturday, we inquired into the honesty of Adam Entous. Today, we're letting our question stand.

To this day, Entous has fudged the number of his sources for this murky report. As it turned out, he doesn't even know if his source or sources heard the intercepts.

Meanwhile, the Post had been sitting on its report for six or seven weeks before last week's excitement. That means it wasn't a bombshell at all. It seems to mean that it was a murky, poorly sourced, underdeveloped report.

Are you sure there actually were intercepts? Absent stronger information, we don't think you should feel sure.

At the present time, a chase is on. In truth, the chase is a stampede.

Sessions is one of its targets. Over here in our liberal tents, we very badly want him to be a liar. Meanwhile, "cable news" wants a sugar high every night, as do we cable news stooges.

If we want to be children our whole lives, we can maintain our true belief in the giants who are conducting the chase. If we want to be rational animals, we might consider starting a chase against the slippery people who parade around on cable TV, giving us our nightly excitement.

Does Entous know what he's talking about? We can't say we're sure that he does.

USING OUR WORDS: And other key skills!

MONDAY, JULY 24, 2017

Part 1—The world of Ridiculous Us:
Decades ago, Aristotle is widely said to have said it.

"Man [sic] is the rational animal," he is said to have said. Depending on what he actually meant, he may have been right in some way.

Years later, sacred Thoreau expressed a somewhat different view. "Men [sic] labor under a mistake," he unpleasantly said.

Wittgenstein might have tilted toward Thoreau a tiny tad. In his later work, he said that people are inclined to make certain types of mistakes, especially when "doing philosophy," though not exclusively so.

(According to Professor Horwich, the professors threw Wittgenstein under the bus so they could keep teaching their Kant course. This too would have been a mistake.)

Are we humans "the rational animal," or are we perhaps profitably viewed as a bunch of misfiring machines? The question occurred to us this morning as we started reading Olivia Nuzzi's portrait of Mika and Joe.

Nuzzi is 24. According to the leading authority, she "rose to prominence" in 2013 when she outed herself as a 20-year-old intern to Anthony Weiner, who had risen to prominence through a series of photo he sent of himself.

Nuzzi's lengthy profile of Joe and Mika appears in New York Magazine. It seems to be the cover piece for the current issue.

Because Mika and Joe are influential, the world could use a well-researched report on their behavior over the past ten years. Nuzzi's somewhat confusing first two paragraphs concern a pet rabbit which was bestowed as a birthday gift, complete with a rabbit-shaped birthday cake.

Those were paragraphs 1 and 2. In paragraph 3, we finally got to the hair:
NUZZI (7/24/17): At six-foot-three, or eight-foot-nine including the hair, Scarborough looks like Jimmy Neutron in his Lizard King phase or Tucker Carlson after someone put him through a taffy-pulling machine. No matter the shoe, he never wears socks, displaying a pair of glistening ankles at all times. Brzezinski is five-foot-six and the unusually even color of a vizsla puppy, her blinding hair a cross between Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s and Polly Pocket’s. Together, they achieve a kind of strange aesthetic perfection—the decorative figurines topping the bunny cake that is political media in Trump’s America.
In fairness, we ourselves have noticed the growing height of Joe's big pile of hair. It's also true that Nuzzi is journalistically witty, despite her tender years.

Still and all, Nuzzi's profile devotes a large amount of attention to "hair, long beautiful hair, Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waven," as the Broadway cast used to sing it. Sometimes when we machines misfire, we do so by being inane.

Last Wednesday, on the front page of Style, the Washington Post's Robin Givhan explained the meaning of Callista Gingrich's hair. As Nuzzi's profile continued, we got photos of Joe's massive hair with Mika's fingers running through it, and a comment from sidekick Willie Geist Jr. about the way Joe and Mika's hairstyles have changed down through the years.

(And even his own! “Other than the size of my and Joe’s hair and maybe Mika’s haircut, not much has changed” on the Morning Joe program in the past ten years, Geist is quoted saying.)

At its upper end, our political press corps spends a fair amount of time on hair. Major stars at the New York Times have focused on Mayor Giuliani's comb-over, then on Candidate Gore's bald spot. (Seven "bald spot" columns in all, including one on the final Sunday.) The press has obsessed on the cost of haircuts obtained by Bill Clinton and John Edwards.

In November 2011, the New York Times ran a full-length front-page profile of Mitt Romney's stylist. In the face of all this ridiculousness, the standard professors emerge to complain about the way the mainstream press corps plucks at the hair and clothing of female candidates alone. On what planet are these standard professors kept?

There's little question that Joe's pile of hair has been rising, apparently reflecting the lift of a driving dream. Because attention must be paid, Nuzzi's profile of Mika and Joe ends with this embarrassing passage:
NUZZI: Joe and Mika were engaged in the south of France in May, and she wears her large diamond solitaire, even though she said it gets in the way of caring for their petting zoo. “I’m not sure where we begin and the other ends. We’re just really connected,” she told me. Scarborough added, “You don’t know where I start, where she ends … We … she … understands me—” She cut him off: “Makes you better.”

“She does make me a lot better.” Including paying particular attention to the height of his hair, which she has her own stylist cut at the Carlyle Hotel and is often fixing herself with her fingers.

“You know,” Scarborough said, “it’s actually funny that Mika, she loves—stop that,” he laughed, as her hand disappeared into the mane.

“I’m just trying to get it to be tall.”

“She loves—she will grab it.”

“I suggest you don’t talk too long about this,” Brzezinski cautioned him.

“She’ll yank it up high and spray it. And I’m like, ‘What are you doing? It’s going straight up!’ ” He laughed. “It just keeps hitting you that it’s forever. It’s forever. It’s forever. And you do realize immediately what matters, what doesn’t matter. It makes you treat people around you differently, people that you love.”
Hair, brain-damaging hair!

With that, the profile ends. You the reader get to decide whose inanity you are observing. Joe and Mika's? Olivia Nuzzi's? That of the press as a whole?

In Nuzzi's closing paragraph, we readers are given some options. As we think about the way Joe and Mika treat the people that they love, we get to think about the way our journalists treat us, the consumers of these attempts at "news," the rubes Out Here in a failing land.

Given their level of influence, a serious profile of Joe and Mika could be important. That said, just consider:

You've never seen a serious profile of the past work of Maureen Dowd or Chris Matthews, influential players who shaped the way Candidate Clinton was viewed by the public last year.

Matthews and Dowd were influential back in the day. Joe and Mika are influential now. In even a slightly more rational world, you might expect to see a serious profile of the way they behaved toward Candidate Trump, and about the way they now behave toward President Trump.

Nuzzi's profile is interesting when she touches on the latter point. But her chronology from the campaign is wrong, and her research seems very slight. She doesn't attempt to describe, or explain, the fawning behavior this ridiculous pair directed at Candidate Trump until they flipped, early last year.

There is no sign that Nuzzi has done the laborious background work here. She hasn't reviewed the tapes which would record all the fawning behavior which helped put Candidate Trump on the political map.

On the brighter side, we do get wonderfully entertained with talk of that mile-high hair. This is a trade-off we've been accepting down through these many dumb years.

All this week, we're going to explore the basic skills, and the basic values, of the American press corps. We'll also be exploring the basic skills and values of us Over Here in our liberal tents—the basic skills of Ridiculous Us.

Tomorrow, we'll return to Masha Gessen's recent lecture at the PEN World Voices Festival. In particular, we'll look at one heartfelt plea, in which Gessen said that NPR should describe Donald Trump's lies as "lies."

Gessen is one of our brightest and best. As a journalist, she has actually walked the walk. In our view, she has earned our respect.

That said, her liberal audience burst into applause when she made a remarkably simple-minded plea. So it goes, given the level of basic skills attained by Ridiculous Us.

As our culture collapses around us, are we really rational animals, or are we perhaps more profitably seen as a gang of misfiring machines? Tomorrow, we'll turn to the basic plea made in Gessen's lecture. Eventually, we'll look in on Michael Oreskes, public editor at NPR, as he responded to complaints about the way NPR was using some of its words.

We'll review what Professor Rosen said about NPR's use of its words. Professor Rosen is fully sincere. But when it comes to using our words, is he man or machine?

We'll also review this new Trumpcast at Slate, in which Professor Nyhan and Virginia Heffernan talk about the ultimate meaning of Donald J. Trump's many peculiar lies. Before we're done, we'll think about the history of the English language itself, even recalling what Austin said about the origin of the many words we have at our disposal, available for our use.

We like to tell our 5-year-olds that they should "use their words." Within our so-called meritocracy, at this time of vast division, how skillfully do our journalists and professors seem to be using theirs?

Tomorrow: "Our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men [sic] have found worth drawing..."

Is Adam Entous an honest reporter?


Once again, with the obvious need to use our number words:
Again today, like yesterday, today we have counting of sources.

Once again, we have the need to use our number words!

Once again, our desire to use our number words originates on the front page of the glorious Washington Post. The news report to which we refer drove the excitement on cable last night. In hard copy editions today, it tops the Post's front page.

The news report starts as shown below. Again, we have counting of sources:
ENTOUS, NAKASHIMA AND MILLER (7/22/17): Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions—then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump—were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions—who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter—has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.
The full report runs 29 paragraphs in hard copy, 33 grafs on line. If you wonder how many sources Entous had, his text provides no information beyond what you see in those first four paragraphs.

Let's engage in the counting of sources! First, an obvious point:

This news report is an attack on the honesty of Jeff Sessions. The mainstream press is involved in a chase, and Sessions is one of their targets.

In this new report—it drove much cable excitement last night—Entous claims to be relaying information he garnered from sources. But he never uses his number words! He never explicitly says how many sources he had!

No doubt, this was an honest omission on the part of Entous and his anonymous editors. That said, let's try to count the Post's sources:

In paragraph 1, Entous says his report is based on alleged information allegedly gained from "current and former U.S. officials."

The word "officials" is plural. By any reckoning, this means that Entous is claiming at least two sources.

In paragraph 3, Entous describes one of these sources. According to Entous, one of his sources was a "U.S. official."

In that same paragraph, Entous describes a second source. According to Entous, he had a second source, who he describes as "a former official."

(Inferentially, this seems to be "a former U.S. official.")

Sadly, there you have it! In his remaining 29 paragraphs, Entous refers again and again, in plural form, to his sources. But he never gives us any reason to believe that his roster of sources extends beyond this rather meager list:
Roster of alleged sources:
"One U.S. official"
"A former official"
Is that it? Is that his full roster of sources? Nowhere in his lengthy report does Entous explicitly describe any additional source.

Let's use our number words! This would mean that Entous had "two" sources for the rather murky report which drove "cable news" last night.

That wouldn't be a large number of sources!

That wouldn't necessarily mean that the claims made by these sources were inaccurate, bogus or wrong. But is is true? Is this front-page report based on claims from only two sources?

Nowhere in his lengthy report does Entous use his number words to establish the number of sources on whom he is drawing. That strikes us as slippery journalistic behavior. That said, we're left with some additional questions and observations.

Quickly, let's rattle them off. We'll start with a question of language:

If Entous had just two sources, was it perhaps misleading to refer to them in this way:

"According to current and former U.S. officials."

Doesn't that make it sound like he is referring to plural current officials and plural former officials? Doesn't that description possibly make it sound like he's referring to a whole bunch of officials?

We'd have to say it does! It would have been easy for Entous to use his number words to make a precise statement, like this:

"According to one U.S. official and one former U.S. official."

Whatever the actual truth may be, it would have been amazingly easy for Entous to use his number words to tell us how many sources he had. Why didn't the brilliant reporter do that? Is it possible that Entous, and his anonymous editors, were being less than obsessively honest regarding these basic facts?

Here comes a second question:

How many of Entous' sources have read the transcripts of Kislyak's alleged intercepted communications, or have seen the intelligence reports relating to same?

Based upon those first four paragraphs, it seems that "a former official" has allegedly seen the intelligence in question. But how odd! We find no claim, in this whole report, that any other source has!

In paragraph 18, we read a slightly more specific account. In this passage, Entous explicitly says that one of his sources has read the intelligence reports:
ENTOUS: A former U.S. official who read the Kislyak reports said that the Russian ambassador reported speaking with Sessions about issues that were central to the campaign, including Trump’s positions on key policy matters of significance to Moscow.
A trusting reader may assume that we're now hearing about a second "former official" who has see the intelligence reports. But Entous makes no such explicit claim. It would have been easy to make that claim, but Entous never does.

Is this "former U.S. official" the same "former official" cited in paragraph 3? If so, Entous is relying on a single (anonymous) source to describe the intelligence in question.

That doesn't mean that his source's account is wrong. It does mean that Entous seems to be trying to keep us from knowing that he's relying on a single source.

Now for a very simple, very basic question:

Has the Washington Post actually seen the intelligence reports it is discussing?

Plainly, the answer seems to be no. We may have seen Entous say as much, when he was asked, on cable news last night. (Transcripts aren't posted yet.)

That said, Entous never explicitly states this fact in his lengthy front-page report. His full report runs 33 paragraphs. Apparently, he couldn't find room to establish this basic fact.

Assuming the Post hasn't seen the reports, we'd like to call your attention to paragraph 27. As we do, we'll ask one final question:

Is the highlighted passage shown below fully informative? At some point, should Entous have said something more?
ENTOUS: Kislyak was also a key figure in the departure of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to leave that job after The Post revealed that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak even while telling others in the Trump administration that he had not done so.

In that case, however, Flynn’s phone conversations with Kislyak were intercepted by U.S. intelligence, providing irrefutable evidence. The intelligence on Sessions, by contrast, is based on Kislyak’s accounts and not corroborated by other sources.
The highlighted statement is accurate. The intelligence reports in question are based on Kislyak's accounts of his alleged encounters with Sessions.

That said, the Post's report seems to be based on one former official's account of the intelligence reports, which in turn are based on Kislyak's account. The Post is looking through a glass rather darkly. In 33 paragraphs, Entousn ever states this basic fact in a clear, reporterly way.

We aren't in love with folk like Entous. Here's why:

It's very easy for major reporters to use their number words. When they fail to do so, you should possibly check your wallets. They seem to be maybe perhaps engaged in a bit of a con.

In the current instance, they may be engaged in a bit of a con because they're deeply involved in a chase. They're also involved in a newspaper war, with very large sums on the line.

The Washington Post is involved in a chase. In this case, in chasing Donald J. Trump, they are very likely chasing a guilty party.

That said, we've seen these slimy bastards conduct their chases before. A 25-year chase after Hillary Clinton extended through last fall's election. In 1999 and 2000, they engaged in all these games, and more, to further their headlong chase against Candidate Gore.

Candidate Bush ended up in the White House. He then started an ill-advised war which has changed the shape of the world. People are dead all over the world because slippery bastards like Adam Entous played these games in the past.

But now, because we hate his target, we liberals are cheering him on. We liberals! Although we claim to be enormously bright and brilliantly moral, we feed on extremely thin gruel.

Entous is a big grown boy. He needs to use his number words the way other children do.

In the spirit of that suggestion, let's engage in the counting of cons regarding today's report:
Today we have counting of cons:
1) Entous never tells us how many sources he has.
2) He never tells us how many sources have seen the alleged intelligence reports.
3) He never tells us if he himself has seen those alleged reports.
It seems to us that Adam Entous is working a bit of a con. It's easy to use our number words, but people like Entous, Nakashima and Miller just keep forgetting to do so.

People are dead all over the world because of these very forgetful children. At this site, we've spent 19 years chasing their impressively rich array of slippery cons.

They behave these ways when engaged in a chase. Today, a chase is on.

Coming Monday: Maddow's latest apparent exciting mistake (we're awaiting the transcripts)

Mental horizons of the Times!

FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2017

As always, we kid you not:
We'll admit to a sick fascination with the intellectual horizons of the New York Times—more specifically, with the intellectual horizons of the people who populate its inner circles.

Let's be fair! At least the Times didn't publish this piece, a thoughtful report by Robin Givhan about the meaning of Callista Gingrich's hair.

(Hard-copy headline: "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Her hair speaks volumes about mythic Washington.")

That piece appeared on the front page of Style, in Wednesday morning's Washington Post. If you're concerned about the cultural meaning of Gingrich's hair, we strongly recommend it. Also, if you're concerned about our nation's dying brain cells.

That wasn't the New York Times' work! On the other hand, this was the way yesterday's "Here to Help" feature started, on the reimagined page A3 of the brainiac Times:
Here to Help

The name of the game when it comes to cleaning the living room is tidying and straightening. Here are some tips for organizing the tasks involved, from the cleaning expert Jolie Kerr.
People, we kid you not. But then, remember the motto of page A3:
You are the dumbest people on Earth.
We at The Times want to serve you.
Kerr's expertise seems endless. In this, her initial tip, she seems to recommend removing dirty socks:
Remove that which does not belong
The nature of the living room being what it is, items that do not necessarily belong in the living room often make their way in there. Items such as dirty socks, wine glasses and even Krazy Glue eventually should be put in their rightful places (the hamper, dishwasher and tool box, respectively).
The insights advance from there. At one point, Kerr says this: "A quick pass of the feather duster over bookshelves and coffee tables will help get rid of dust with little fuss."

Who but the cleaning expert Kerr could have come up with that? Have we mentioned the fact that we wonder about the intellectual status of the people who populate this upper-end, Hamptons-tilting realm?

On this morning's page A3, the "Noteworthy Facts" have a gloomy feel. That said, we wondered about the first fact, which involves an important topic:
Of Interest
People awaiting bail account for 95 percent of the growth in the jail population from 2000 to 2014.
We noted the slippery nature of that particular type of statistic. In the particular case, that statistic could mean that the population awaiting bail rose by 19 people, out of a rise in the jail population of 20 people at all.

That's a slippery type of statistic, but the topic is very important. The source, it turned out, was this op-ed column by a pair of senators, Harris and Paul.

The column includes a lot of statistics. None of them are sourced or serviced by links.

Should the New York Times publish such columns without any sourcing or links? Actually, no, it shouldn't. We just burned about a half hour trying to Google the data.

Finally, we were struck by today's Spotlight feature on page A3. It involves "a wide-ranging TimesTalk" in which Carol Davenport interviewed Al Gore about his new climate film.

Gore cites some heartbreaking, horrible facts in this small tiny very small feature. Page A3 devoted more space to the tips about dirty socks.

That said, you may recall what the New York Times did when Gore's first climate film was released, the one which went on to win an Oscar. The brilliant liberal giant, Frank Rich, slagged the stupid ridiculous film from stem to stern.

He slagged the film in the New York Times. He slagged the film on MSNBC and national radio with his dimwitted buddy, Don Imus.

He said the film reminded him of one of those crummy instructional films they made you watch in high school. He didn't execute his 180 until Gore won the Nobel Prize, at which point he quickly began kissing ass.

Rich is plainly the world's dumbest person. But when he appears on the Maddow Show, he's still "the great Frank Rich." He remains a tribal hero Over Here in our liberal tents.

Our liberal world is extremely dumb. This is one of the ten million facts we liberals just can't seem to grasp.

We'd call it a highly noteworthy fact. Rather plainly, it helps explain how Donald J. Trump reached the Oval.

The Post should start using its number words!

FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2017

Today, we have counting of sources:
With apologies to Henry Reed, today we have counting of sources.

We refer to the front-page report in the Washington Post which drove cable news last night. Rather, it drove cable news after 9:15 Eastern, when the news report appeared on the Post web site.

Rachel explained how the posting had affected her personally. After that, she began to discuss what the Post report said.

This is now the established pattern in so-called cable news. Every night, something appears on the web site of the Post or the New York Times. After that, a gaggle of cable talkers offer instant analysis, usually in the form of undisguised speculation.

Last night, the news report by the Washington Post seized control of the apparent discourse. Today we have counting of sources.

Your assignment, if you should choose to accept it:

According to today's hard-copy headline in the Post, Donald J. Trump is "exploring [his] pardoning powers." Our question:

How many sources does the Post cite in this, the start of its front-page report?
LEONNIG, PARKER, HELDERMAN AND HAMILTON (7/21/17): Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

One adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.
Those are the four paragraphs which launched a thousand cable news ships. Once again, we ask our question:

In that passage, how many sources does the Post cite?

We note that the Washington Post never answers that question in an explicit way. By our count, the number could be as high as four:
Possible roster of sources
1) "one of those people" who are "familiar with the effort"
2) "a second person"
3) "one adviser"
4) "a close adviser"
That could be four different sources! On the other hand, the Post never uses its full assortment of words. The reporters never explicitly type this phrase, which would have been easy to render:

"according to four people familiar with the effort."

The reporters never write that! Having noted that fact, we ask some horrible questions:

How do we know that "one adviser" and "a close adviser" aren't the same person?

That would strike us as dishonest too! But how do we know that the Post is describing two different people there?

How do we know that the "close adviser" isn't that "second person?"

We agree with you; that would be highly misleading. But that doesn't answer our question.

By our own cynical count, the Post could be citing as few as two different sources here. Yes, that would be a bit dishonest. But we've been wondering about this sort of sourcing ever since November 1999, when the New Yorker published a long, amazingly scripted report about what a big giant mess the thoroughly pitiful Gore campaign was.

That same Gore campaign went on to win every Democratic primary, something which had never been done.

At any rate, in the New Yorker's report, a long string of (anonymous) people were lustily quoted, slagging dumb Candidate Gore. A reader got the clear impression that he was reading comments from a long string of different anonymous people.

That said, no number words were employed. Given the way the mainstream press coverage was already working, we wondered how many of the apparent sources might be the same person: [Name Withheld].

We don't know if the New Yorker played that game that day. We'll bet your grandmother's sprawling farm that, along the way, various journalists have.

Last night, cable exploded behind that Post report. The report launched a thousand analytical ships, most of which were speculations about Donald J. Trump's plan to pardon everyone in his family, not excluding himself.

Is Donald J. Trump hatching that plan? We have no doubt that he may be. But it seems to us that the Post report is a bit thin in its sourcing and its evidence. Did you notice that the third and fourth apparent sources seem to be pooh-poohing the claim at the heart of the Post's report?

The corporate gong-show called "cable news" now has an established rhythm. Cable stars wait for the latest "explosive" report to appear on-line. When it does, everyone starts to speculate, fulminate, recite and embellish.

That Post report was the trigger last night. We saw no one on cable news offer even a mild trigger warning!

It would have been easy to type the word "four." When will our biggest, most famous news orgs start using their number words?

THE RELIABLE ABSENCE OF BASIC SKILLS: Without any question, a clear mistake!

FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2017

Interlude—Following which, the fall:
Oof. Undeniably, without any question, Masha Gessen made a clear mistake.

This serves to remind us that everyone does. At any rate, Gessen's clear mistake came when she uttered these words:
GESSEN (5/7/17): And even the word "unintelligible," inserted by the journalist, means nothing, because how can something be unintelligible when uttered face to face in an interview?


Oof. As we noted yesterday, those words were part of Gessen's lecture to the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival. She was discussing the transcript of an AP interview with President Donald J. Trump.

In that remark, Gessen displayed an obvious lack of preparation with her source material. Also, a surprising lack of familiarity with the transcripts produced by news orgs, which routinely contain certain types of mistakes.

And that liberal audience! Good God!

Alas. Gessen's comment, which drew laughter and applause, was off base in several ways.

There is no reason to think that the journalist in question, Julie Pace, inserted the word "unintelligible" in the transcript of her interview with Donald J. Trump. We'll guess that was more likely done by unnamed AP editors.

(As Gessen continued, she referred to the journalist as a "he," again suggesting a lack of deep preparation. Pace is identified as the journalist in the AP document.)

Beyond that, the Associated Press, which prepared and published the transcript, had clearly and dutifully explained what the insertion of the word "unintelligible" was intended to mean.

The insertions didn't mean that Donald J. Trump's statements didn't make sense at those points. They simply meant that "the audio recording of the interview [was] unclear."

Oof! Gessen had made a clear mistake. Because her mistake aligned with audience preconceptions, the big, highly literate, very smart, highly learned and all-knowing audience proceeded to shower her with laughter and applause.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing occurs all the time within our liberal tents. You can't get us extremely bright liberals to acknowledge the obvious fact which follows, but this helps explain how Donald J. Trump ended up where he is.

Masha Gessen made a mistake, proving that everyone does. Basically, it was a mistake of preconception. Mistakes afflict us all.

That said, as Gessen continued, she made a succession of larger mistakes. These further mistakes raise a deeper issue:

They speak to the reliable absence of basic skills, especially during highly partisan tribal times.

Gessen is smarter than the average bear. During her journalistic career, she has also walked the walk.

She's highly regarded, and she should be. For that reason, her display of the absence of basic skills is especially worthy of note.

Gessen is one of our brightest and best. If her basic skills can be called into question, does our obviously brilliant, self-impressed tribe possess any such skills at all?

Your question is very important, but it's also quite hot here this week. Largely because the question's important, we're going to wait till Monday morning to finish this award-winning report.

We want to give you a good clear look at the reliable absence of basic skills within our admittedly brilliant tribe. Within the intellectual realm, does our self-impressed liberal tribe possess even the most basic skills?

(Wittgenstein might have leaned toward no. He would have had a decent point.)

What did Masha Gessen say next? How did her basic skills fail her?

On Monday, we'll make a suggestion for our tribe as we answer that basic question:

In the realm of basic intellect, it's time to start using our words.

Monday: Using our words

The BBC reports what their big stars are paid!


Why can't we have frog-marches here:
How weird is the New York Times? Consider this morning's news report concerning what the BBC pays its big famous stars.

Yesterday, the BBC published its "pay data" for the first time. In the New York Times report, Sewell Chan reports the salaries of some major news stars—but he reports the salaries in British pounds, making no real attempt to translate the salaries into dollars, which is what we use Over Here.

Would anyone but the New York Times be that arch, that clueless, that daft?

Briefly, let's be fair. Presumably, the Times adopted this approach because of their "take" on the data dump. Predictably, the Times was interested in possible "gender pay gap" implications of the BBC salaries, not in anything else.

Chan's reporting on that matter was rather unhelpful too. That said, we dream of the day when our big news orgs Over Here are forced to report the salaries they stuff in the pants of their own TV stars.

We dream of the day when annual salaries appear, by law, in flashing chyrons below the faces of our big cable stars. Once a month, we could even have "Frog-march Fridays."

The big stars would be paraded around, hands drawn back, big long signs recording their salaries draped around their necks. The way the BBC does!

Why would this be a good idea? As we've explained many times in the past, you can't have a middle-class democracy with a multimillionaire press corps. In part, here's why:

When journalists are paid $10 million per year, there's little chance that they will do sound journalistic work. When salaries go anywhere near that high, recipients know they're being paid in large part for their obedience.

They're paid to stick to the company line. Mugging and clowning and nightly dissembling take the place of real reporting and analysis. They work to please the target audience, not to perform real journalism.

Long ago, some scribes may have known what we needed; today's stars basically know what we want. "Frog-march Fridays" might help us rubes understand the shape of this transaction.