Mar 26

Donald Trump, working the media.

Who would have thought that after his first two months as president in daily public combat with big media over everything he said and did, at the end of the day of what was reportedly his biggest political setback, President Donald Trump would make a couple of spontaneous, surprise phone calls to reporters at the two biggest newspaper outlets perpetuating what he labeled “fake news”, to chat about it?

My first thought was ‘seems like what Pope Francis has been doing since he was elected pope‘, in February 2013. Really. Early. And often. And to popular media. It’s a way to control the message, even though both leaders have media handlers.

President Trump had to have thrown the New York Times off their footing when he phoned them to talk about the failure to get the GOP health care reform bill to a vote on Friday. ‘He’s blaming Democrats’, the Times said in this story about the call.

The House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, was preparing to tell the public that the health care bill was being withdrawn — a byproduct, Mr. Trump said, of Democratic partisanship. The president predicted that Democrats would return to him to make a deal in roughly a year.

“Look, we got no Democratic votes. We got none, zero,” Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview he initiated with The New York Times.

“The good news is they now own health care. They now own Obamacare.”

Mr. Trump insisted that the Affordable Care Act would collapse in the next year, which would then force Democrats to come to the bargaining table for a new bill.

“The best thing that can happen is that we let the Democrats, that we let Obamacare continue, they’ll have increases from 50 to 100 percent,” he said. “And when it explodes, they’ll come to me to make a deal. And I’m open to that.”

To some degree, this had to have flummoxed Trump’s most hostile detractors.

“I’m not disappointed,” he insisted. “If I were, I wouldn’t be calling you.”

The Washington Post had a great attention-grabbing headline: ‘Hello Bob’: President Trump called my cellphone to say that the health-care bill was dead‘. Well known journalist Robert Acosta recounted the moment the call came in, and the exchange he had with the president when he answered it.

At first I thought it was a reader with a complaint since it was a blocked number.

Instead, it was the president calling from the Oval Office. His voice was even, his tone muted. He did not bury the lead.

“Hello, Bob,” Trump began. “So, we just pulled it.”

Trump was speaking, of course, of the Republican plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, a plan that had been languishing for days amid unrest throughout the party as the president and his allies courted members and pushed for a vote.

Before I could ask a question, Trump plunged into his explanation of the politics of deciding to call off a vote on a bill he had been touting.

The Democrats, he said, were to blame.

“We couldn’t get one Democratic vote, and we were a little bit shy, very little, but it was still a little bit shy, so we pulled it,” Trump said.

Trump said he would not put the bill on the floor in the coming weeks. He is willing to wait and watch the current law continue and, in his view, encounter problems. And he believes that Democrats will eventually want to work with him on some kind of legislative fix to Obamacare, although he did not say when that would be.

I’m trying to picture Bob Costa at that moment, and those cold calls from Pope Francis kept coming to mind.

In sports, an artful move can result in ‘wrong footing’ an opponent. It means a player is lunging right when the ball goes left, or vice versa. You are thrown off your game. I thought of that, too.

These calls had to have thrown off two of the major media outlets Trump and Press Secretary Sean Spicer and other surrogates have targeted for perpetuating “fake news”. They and their entertainment media have played that up, to the point when Saturday Night Live’s string of opening skits satirized White House spokesman Spicer among others, and then Spicer refers to it in his daily press briefings, sometimes playing it up and using lines from the SNL skit, other times fitting right into that caricature. To the point where one TV news roundtable participant said he didn’t know whether it was ‘art imitating life, or life imitating art imitating life, or what’.

Which raises the real consideration of what is news, really. And Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. The chapter titled ‘The Implosion of Meaning in the Media’ opens with this quote:

We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning.

Provocatively, he explores and analyzes basically what we’ve been seeing, experiencing and consuming in news media for decades.

What is news, and what is reality?

Politics right now seem to be operating more feverishly on perception becoming reality. Whether that played into President Trump’s calls to the Times and Washington Post, or to what degree it did, is hard to tell, he’s such a wild card.

But his call to Robert Costa at WaPo was certainly interesting. And lengthy. It’s a back and forth exchange on the politics of trying to get, or stop, health care reform done and who tried to stop it and what comes next, and later down the road, and what it would take to get anything done.

And then Trump said this:

“Well, look, you can say what you want,” Trump said. “But there are years of problems, great hatred and distrust, and, you know, I came into the middle of it.”

So Costa says he wanted to get some clarity before wrapping up the call. It”s easy to imagine how head spinning this was at that point.

As Trump tried to hang up the phone and get back to work, I asked him to reflect, if at all possible, on lessons learned. He’s a few months into his presidency, and he had to pull a bill that he had invested time and energy into passing.

What was on his mind?

“Just another day,” Trump said, flatly. “Just another day in paradise, okay?”

He paused.

“Take care.”

It’s all in how you take it.

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May 07

It stated the obvious.

But on Thursday, this story appeared on the cover of the New York Times, prominently, above the fold, with a photo to help illustrate the point. First of all, look at the photo and read the caption. That pretty much sums up the story. Which became much more difficult to access online the very day it appeared.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

A small number of very premature babies are surviving earlier outside the womb than doctors once thought possible, a new study has documented, raising questions about how aggressively they should be treated and posing implications for the debate about abortion.

Several things about that. The photo shows a thriving young girl who was born ‘very prematurely’, illustrating the full humanity of life at all stages. The opening sentence in the piece emphasizes “a small number of very premature babies”, planting the idea that these babies are “very premature’ (so what?), and that only a “small number” of the them survive outside the womb if delivered that early (so…we should disregard them?). Oh, and another thing downplayed in the lead. It was documented in “a new study”.

What was buried deeper in the Times story was that this study was produced by the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine.

There’s a lot to say about this report, a lot to unpack. But for now, the clear and delightful humanity of the little girl on the swing in the photo accompanying the story says it all. And the implications this has on the debate about abortion…no question. After the Gosnell trial there were enormous implications. Truth has a way of coming out in spite of efforts to suppress it.

Across America, states are introducing bans on abortion after 20 weeks. That’s a five month old baby. This New England Journal of Medicine study will certainly add information to that heated debate, which is nothing more than a radical, ideological drive in the first place.

How the abortion movement has sustained power and influence after these many years is the bigger story.

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Mar 05

For veteran journalists, this is always personal. Whether we were on any front lines, or were colleagues of those who were sent out, it’s our story. To me it transcends brash socio-political battles in popular media, though it’s tinged with that too. But that aside, the news of New York Times journalist Anthony Shadid’s death hit hard.

About a year ago (though it seems more recently) Anderson Cooper interviewed four New York Times journalists who had been kidnapped in Libya and against the odds, released and therefore able to tell the story. That story was so compelling, I worked it into talks I gave for months afterward. Especially the core message that they saved their lives by maintaining fundamental human dignity. Their captors ordered them to lie face down on the ground, and they refused, know it would be easier to shoot them in the back than having to face them. One said he knelt, but maintained eye contact with the captors, which made it harder to shoot him because looking a man in the eyes humanized him.

I cared about these jouranlists, as I did Sebastian Junger and Marie Colvin and other journalists in the line of fire to tell the story behind the story of what’s happening to people in war zones. I cared a lot when Tim Hetherington, Junger’s photographer on the documentary on Outpost ’Restrepo’, was killed in Libya.

Now, Anthony Shadid, one of the four journalists in that CNN interview. The New York Times reported his death last week. Over the weekend, they published what the photographer with him at the time recounted, from Shadid’s copious notes, and Tyler Hicks’ own account: A Correspondent’s Last Days.

What to say? If not for the work of journalists like these, we would have even less of an idea of what is really happening to people in repressive regimes around the world.

Rest in peace.

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Apr 07

Bishop Willliam Lori takes on the New York Times.

Stay with Just B16 for charity in truth.

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Apr 05

Jewish businessman Sam Miller first wrote an article smacking down media bias against the Catholic Church in June 2008. He originally wrote it for the Cleveland Diocese’s ‘Buckeye Bulletin’. It has suddenly started circulating again, and seems more timely now than ever.

I received it in pdf form in emails. Here’s a blog that ran it in 2008, and it’s interesting that the comments section generated activity then, and has picked up more now.

Maybe it’s easier for me to say because I am not Catholic, but I have had enough, more than enough, disgustingly enough.

During my entire life I’ve never seen a greater vindictive, more scurrilous, biased campaign against the Catholic Church as I have seen in the last 18 months, and the strangest thing is that it is in a country like the United States where there is supposed to be mutual respect and freedom for all religions.

He recalls that he has shared the pain of stigma in America with immigrant Catholics who were Irish, Italians, Poles, Latvians and Lithuanians, among others.

This prejudice against your religion and mine has never left this country and don’t ever forget it, and (sic) never will. Your people were called Papists, Waps, Guineas, frogs, fish eaters, ad infinitum…

There is a concentrated effort by the media today to totally denigrate in every way the Catholic Church in this country. You don’t find it this bad overseas at all. They have now blamed the disease of pedophilia on the Catholic Church, which is as irresponsible as blaming adultery on the institution of marriage. You and me have been living in a false paradise. Wake up and recognize that many people don’t like Catholics. What are these people trying to accomplish?

Good and incisive question.

Just what are these Kangaroo journalists trying to accomplish? Think about it. If you get the New York Times day’ ,after day; the Los Angeles Times day after day, our own paper day after day…looking at the record, some of these writers are apostates, Catholics or ex-Catholics who have been denied something they wanted from the Church and are on a mission of vengeance.

Why would newspapers carry on this vendetta on one of the most important institutions that we have today in the United States, namely the Catholic Church?

Miller cites figures on Catholic education, health systems, institutions that sesrve the public in far greater proportion than is ever credited. What gets cited….mainly by the discredited New York Times….is any example of misconduct they can dredge up. And because an institution like the Catholic Church stands so publicly for moral values, they are held to the interpretation of that standard by cultural arbiters of values that happen to move the goalposts and redefine what constitutes morality, without being held to account themselves for upholding standards.

Miller, the Jewish businessman, is despondent over the attacks on the Catholic Church.

I never thought in my life I would ever see these things.

Walk with your shoulders high and your head higher. Be a proud member of the most important non governmental agency today in the United States. Then remember what Jeremiah said: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” And be proud, speak up for your faith with pride and reverence and learn what your Church does for all other religions. Be proud that you’re a Catholic.

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Mar 30

The New York Times hasn’t been credible on so many big stories for such a long time now, they’ve generated a sort of cottage industry of journalism to correct the record in the wake of their irresponsible and tendentious reporting. Good news is…there are many solid journalists and scholars out there clarifying how many ways the Times gets a story wrong, as they are right now in their attacks on Pope Benedict.

Like Fr. Raymond de Souza.

The New York Times on March 25 accused Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, of intervening to prevent a priest, Fr. Lawrence Murphy, from facing penalties for cases of sexual abuse of minors.

The story is false. It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.

Yep. That’s not only clear, it’s provable. Which Times’ reporting is not. Fr. de Souza lists plenty of evidence, but prefaces it with noteworthy circumstances that should have discredited the story in the first place and kept it off the pages of the paper had any good editor done their due diligence. Or even a passing check on the framework within which this picture was painted by author Laurie Goodstein.

The New York Times story had two sources. First, lawyers who currently have a civil suit pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. One of the lawyers, Jeffrey Anderson, also has cases in the United States Supreme Court pending against the Holy See. He has a direct financial interest in the matter being reported.

The second source was Archbishop Rembert Weakland, retired archbishop of Milwaukee. He is the most discredited and disgraced bishop in the United States, widely known for mishandling sexual-abuse cases during his tenure, and guilty of using $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to pay hush money to a former homosexual lover who was blackmailing him…He is prima facie not a reliable source.

Already, enough to render the story barely even tabloid-worthy. But that’s very telling of the Times…

A demonstration took place in Rome on Friday, coinciding with the publication of the New York Times story. One might ask how American activists would happen to be in Rome distributing the very documents referred to that day in the New York Times. The appearance here is one of a coordinated campaign, rather than disinterested reporting.

It’s possible that bad sources could still provide the truth. But compromised sources scream out for greater scrutiny. Instead of greater scrutiny of the original story, however, news editors the world over simply parroted the New York Times piece. Which leads us the more fundamental problem: The story is not true, according to its own documentation.

This is what always gets me, the major media all reporting from the reporting of others, which all goes back to the first ones who pick up a story from…The New York Times. Nothing is sourced, nothing fact-checked, nothing questioned for authenticity. Research really isn’t that hard. It just sometimes produces facts that don’t match the narrative.

Do read on, there’s so much here. And in this clarification, de Souza documents the history of the relevant timeline in this scandal from materials available right there on the New York Times website. Proving that somebody covered themselves.

The Times “flatly got the story wrong,” he says. “Readers may want to speculate on why.”

Here are some ideas.

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