Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Beat the Press

Normally I’m reticent to point to an event as A Turning Point. It’s rare that you can look at an occurrence as it’s happening and know that, well, this could be the moment. We might well remember this moment a long time from now.

I thought I did, this week. I hope I did. My Future Self will read this post, several weeks or months from now, and either shake his Future Head sadly or jump up and down and wave his Future Arms and cry out, “Told you so!!”

But I think this could be The Moment.

 

One of my relatively few moments of Appointment TV is the half hour of media critique that Boston’s public television station, WGBH, puts up every Friday night. “Beat the Press” consists of the least compelling visual picture on television: five people ranged around a table, not moving much, and conversing.

While it’s not “great TV” in the same way that your average reality show is … thankfully! … it’s good and often great programming. Civil conversation and really smart analysis and commentary about current issues related directly to mass media and the press. On an episode a few weeks ago, there occurred about thirty seconds of crosstalk, and it was stunning for two reasons: first, the panelists are almost always courtly in their “oh, no, after you!” polite-chipmunk style of conversation … and second, the crosstalk was only because everybody was so excited to contribute to the discussion and everybody had a constructive point to contribute. I still wept for whoever was tasked with preparing the transcript of the episode … but there’s so much crosstalk on cable news television that is strictly people yelling at each other that this was refreshing, and worth a grin.

Anyway, last night was a rare moment: during one “Beat the Press” segment, I thought that all five panelists missed the point entirely. And I still like them anyway; but here’s the setup:

They were talking about the Short-Fingered Vulgarian [forevermore to be referred to here as SFV] who is now the presumptive Republican Party nominee (so the press is now obligated to cover him as a legitimate current event) – particularly his mid-week press conference, at which he went after the press in a way that got lots of attention.

The presser had been set up as a way for SFV to answer questions about his financial contributions to military veterans’ organizations. It became a rather stark preview of what life in an SFV presidential administration could be like for reporters: SFV rather freely insulted, belittled, and leveled veiled threats at, the assembled press – and a couple of reporters in particular.

Nearly in unison, last night, the “Beat the Press” panelists took their own shots at the media outlets which had covered the press conference. Their basic point was: shame on news operations for spending so much panicky air time on the mistreatment of their colleagues, when they should have been focusing on the issue that was the point of the press conference – whether SFV was telling the truth about when, how much, and in how timely a fashion he had contributed money to veterans’ organizations, as he had promised several months ago.

 

I love them dearly; but again, I think the “Beat the Press” folks – in their understandable zeal to applaud the actual investigative reporting, and in their reticence to endorse mass-media navel-gazing (“oh, how horribly the media is being treated!” the media themselves often say, accurately or not) – missed the point.

They were right to applaud the investigative journalism. But they were short-sighted when they consigned news outlets’ hand-wringing about the SFV’s calling one ABC reporter “a sleaze” and telling the political press to their faces that he considered them the “among the most dishonest people [he’d] ever met.”

If you take into account the tone of that press conference – surely the shape of things to come if reporters dare to do their jobs, during a dystopian SFV presidency, by investigating SFV and asking him anything other than softball questions about how great he is …

And if you take into account the marked increase in SFV’s testiness and willingness to almost gleefully mistreat the press, when they failed to roll over at his initial blasts, but instead kept after him and poked and prodded and actually, finally, FINALLY stood up to the guy …

And taking into account the openly hostile reactions that SFV has consistently elicits from his campaign-rally supporters, when he returns to his “look at the press over there, aren’t they awful?” refrain – as well as reporters’ wondering aloud if they’re placing themselves in harm’s way just by covering SFV’s rallies …

Well, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a world in which “Beat the Press” was not a clever TV program title but instead a directive from the Oval Office.

The Washington Post reported that during Tuesday’s press conference,

A reporter asked if Mr. Trump’s demeanor was an indication of what White House news conferences would be like if he were elected.

‘Yes, it is,’ he said. ‘It is going to be like this.’

This week, the New York Times wrote,

With five months to go before Election Day, Mr. Trump has already said he would ‘loosen’ libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. He has threatened to sic federal regulators on his critics. …

‘I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,’ Mr. Trump said in February. …

‘We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.’”

One article by a columnist in the aforementioned Washington Post this week, which would fall under SFV’s description “purposely negative and horrible and false” in that it did not praise him to the high heavens, said:

…I suspect that many journalists are deciding that the way to cover Trump is just to do it as honestly and assiduously as possible, which would itself be something almost revolutionary. If the tone of his coverage up until now has been ‘Wow, is this election crazy or what!’ it could become much more serious — as it completely appropriate given that we’re choosing someone to hold the most powerful position on earth. …

[W]e’re beginning to see those corrections appear right in the body of stories: the reporter relays what Trump said, and notes immediately that it’s false.

Trump himself probably finds such treatment grossly unfair, since to him ‘unfair’ coverage is anything that doesn’t portray him in the most glowing terms. But it is perhaps ironic that after all this time of wondering how to cover this most unusual candidate, Trump has shown the press that the best way to do it is to cover him like every candidate should be covered.

That means not just planting a camera at his rallies and marveling at how nuts it all is, but doing to work to fully vet his background, correcting his lies as swiftly and surely as they can, exploring what a Trump presidency would actually mean, and generally doing their jobs without letting him intimidate them.”

 

May it be so.

For the sake of a free press … for the sake of a free Republic … dear Lord, may it be so.

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June 4, 2016 Posted by | celebrity, current events, Famous Persons, government, journalism, media, news, politics, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

By What Small Men

This is by no means an essay about politics. My political leanings have nothing to do with this. Nothing.

Today, the US Senate Intelligence Committee released a report detailing the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 torture program. Actually what the Committee released was a summary of its actual report. The summary was 528 pages long. The report itself is more than 6,000 pages long.

I’m trying to decide if I have six thousand pages’ worth of details in my whole life. Verbose as I may be.

Five years of investigation have yielded a report that condemns CIA personnel who ran the torture program during the George W. Bush presidential administration. (That program has been called the “enhanced interrogation program” by many; but in one of his columns (to be found at esquire.com/blogs/politics/) today, political writer Charlie Pierce wrote, “[a]nyone who still calls this ‘enhanced interrogation’ is an idiot and a coward and I have no time for them.” He’s right, and that phrase will not be used here, not that I’d planned on it.)

True, the CIA has a reputation for carrying out intelligence endeavors without checking in with any of the actual branches of American government; but it was specifically authorized to carry out this program by Justice Department lawyers David Addington and John Yoo, among others.

[T]he Justice Department drafted memos providing the brutal program with a veneer of legality,” said the Senate report. And by this time, many articles and books have been written which identify the people within the Bush administration who fully supported the various legal memoranda which were created to justify all this genuine awfulness, this inhuman activity to be carried out by humans against other humans.

On the one hand, during the Nuremburg trials after World War II, no quarter was given to Nazi personnel who claimed to be “merely following orders”. Sorry, said the prosecutors; that doesn’t cut it. That won’t get you off the hook. Perhaps we can’t know what kind of pressure was exerted upon Nazis who ranked anywhere below Hitler (it may have been difficult to just resign), or upon American intelligence personnel who were authorized to do this, this, and this to prisoners in order to interrogate them fully.

As Charlie Pierce also noted today, there are plenty of CIA agents who have been properly excoriated for what they actually did, but who may also be feeling thrown under the bus somewhat – at the very least because the people, the leaders, whose orders they were carrying out appear to have largely escaped the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ire, at least within their report. Many CIA personnel are done; meanwhile, their superiors of that time are still being interviewed on CNN, are still giving speeches, and astonishingly are still being asked for their opinions about what American foreign policy should be and how it should be carried out.

Great. Thanks to them, the United States of America has ceded the moral high ground in international relations for a good long while.

There are a number of writers, whose work I have read in the last 48 hours, who suggest that all this was not merely done “in our name” … which is bad enough … but that it was done by us, the United States of America, and we all bear responsibility.

Sorry, but I reject this idea. I didn’t authorize such miserable things, and you likely didn’t. My friends wouldn’t have, and I bet your friends wouldn’t have either. Most decently-adjusted people wouldn’t.

Sound a little naïve? Perhaps.

But beyond such lofty, American-history-class thoughts as “our representative government has failed us”, and “if we can only muster 30 percent turnout in an election, then we get the government we deserve”, and such … I can’t think of a single person that I know personally, in any of my spheres of life – family, personal, professional – who would consider any of the torture techniques of the Bush years as remotely okay, never mind actually participate in them.

I’m willing to bet that even some of the people who jump on the Internet and post genuinely awful comments in the comment sections … even some of the people who make chest-thumping noises about taking people they don’t agree with and doing horrible things to them just because they believe something different … even some of the Ted Nugents of the world … … if push came to shove, I’d still bet that the vast, vast, VAST majority of those people would still physically buckle if given the instruction to actually commit the acts that the Senate report detailed, themselves, with their own hands.

(I know, I know, there are all those intriguing science experiments wherein people were instructed to administer electric shocks to other people who gave wrong quiz answers and those shock-administering people’s behavior seemed to suggest that the veneer of civilization can be thin indeed. My delicate mind would prefer that those didn’t exist, this moment. And the book Lord of the Flies, as well.)

I’ve written previously in this space about empathy, or the lack thereof. There are those, assuredly, who do lack. But I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of American citizens still possess some … enough, at least, to recoil from orders like those that the CIA agents were given. I’d be willing to hope so, at least. Again, this probably brands me as naïve.

The people in the higher echelons of the Bush Administration – knowing that they wouldn’t ever have to be the ones to use their own hands in this effort – didn’t flinch. They figuratively pulled the trigger. According to a lot of articles and books that I’ve read in the past few years, they did so enthusiastically.

Which brings me to yesterday’s New York Times editorial page.

In it, there’s an op-ed piece (found at nytimes.com/2014/12/09/opinion/pardon-bush-and-those-who-tortured.html?_r=0) by Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union; an essay which makes a remarkable suggestion (for an ACLU leader; and for anyone who has been supportive of any effort to prosecute the bastards):

Before President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names.

But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.”

The way to establish this, Mr. Romero said, is indeed to pardon these people for authorizing and ordering the torture. After all, the only way anyone can merit a pardon … is if they’ve committed a crime, yes?

Clever, these natives.

I am hugely conflicted about this idea.

At first, I recoiled as much as Mr. Romero did. A pardon, to some, might imply exoneration … might suppose a lifting of guilt … and, in extreme interpretations, might even suggest forgiveness.

No. No, damn it.

The current President, whom I admire, and who upon his inauguration immediately instructed the CIA to knock off the torture … nonetheless feared political fallout too greatly to put into action the means of holding the proper people accountable for the policies they justified and the orders they gave. And now, for many (although not all) of these people, the statute of limitations has run out. That’s one of the things that I can not appreciate Mr. Obama for. Maybe there were backroom Beltway highest-levels-of-government so-secret-even-the-Prez-knows-little-of-them reasons why it was a fool’s errand to even think that such holding-accountable would ever happen. I’m not a conspiracy theorist; but my God, there are days …

He hasn’t – or, all right, we haven’t – even been able to properly try and convict the Addingtons and Yoos and Rumsfelds and Rices yet. A pardon could give them the idea that they’ve dodged the biggest bullet of their lives. Unless they don’t require that idea. Unless, as former Vice President Dick Cheney takes every possible televised opportunity to insist, they feel that if they had it to do all over again they’d not change a thing because it was justified and correct and right and so am I.

This interpretation of a pardon strikes me, at least, as unfair: because those who might be pardoned don’t deserve this peace of mind – not after what they put other people through. Not just the other people who were on the receiving end of the torture, but the other people who went to fight wars (utilizing intelligence, gathered from tortured prisoners, which has been shown to be inaccurate and useless and therefore actively unhelpful to them), and to die, and to leave behind families to grieve and never get their loved ones back (or just return physically and psychologically damaged) and wonder what in the hell it was any good for.

Then I got thinking … maybe, just maybe the pardon really would do what President Obama has not: label these people, unequivocally, once and for all, as criminals. “An explicit pardon would lay down a marker, signaling to those considering torture in the future that they could be prosecuted,” wrote Mr. Romero.

And after all, the only way anyone can merit a pardon … is if they’ve committed a crime, yes?

The jury inside my head is still out.

But what makes me certain that at the end of this particular figurative day, the label of “criminal” needs to be assigned, and made to stick, is this:

Former President George W. Bush approved these measures. Captain goes down with the ship. Fish rots from the head. Name your aphorism; it’s all there.

Nations would be terrified if they knew by what small men they are in reality ruled.”  -Charles de Gaulle

Oh! …That’s a good one, too.

In his remarkable book, “Bush on the Couch”, professor of clinical psychology Dr. Justin A. Frank created a psychoanalyst’s profile of Mr. Bush, tracing his character from childhood through presidency. He utilized a startling amount of circumstantial evidence to identify and analyze Bush’s patterns of thought, action, and communication.

Two of Frank’s cited anecdotes stand out, to me:

First, this. In May 2000, New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof quoted Bush’s childhood friend Terry Throckmorton: “’We were terrible to animals,’ recalled Mr. Throckmorton, laughing. A dip behind the Bush home turned into a small lake after a good rain, and thousands of frogs would come out. ‘Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them,’ Mr. Throckmorton said. ‘Or we’d put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up.’”

As Baltimore Sun reporter Miriam Miedzian subsequently wrote in September 2000: “So when he was a kid, George W. enjoyed putting firecrackers into frogs, throwing them in the air, and then watching them blow up. Should this be cause for alarm? How relevant is a man’s childhood behavior to what he is like as an adult? And in this case, to what he would be like as president of the United States?” Dr. Frank lays out why he thinks it’s very relevant indeed.

And second, this. Dr. Frank references commentator Tucker Carlson’s interview with then-Texas Governor Bush about how his state’s Board of Pardons had arrived at the determination of the clemency plea of convicted murderer Karla Faye Tucker. During the interview, Bush alluded to a TV interview which Tucker had given to Larry King. Carlson wrote:

In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, ‘A number of protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Karla Faye Tucker.’

‘Did you meet with any of them?’ I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. “No, I didn’t meet with any of them,” he snaps, as though I’ve just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. “I didn’t meet with Larry King either when he came down for [the interview]. I watched his interview with [Karla Faye] Tucker, though. He asked her real difficult questions like, ‘What would you say to Governor Bush?’”

What was her answer?” I wonder.

‘Please,’” Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, “’don’t kill me.’”

I must look shocked — ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel — because he immediately stops smirking.”

The former President was interviewed this past Sunday on CNN, as news of the Senate torture report’s impending release was spreading. He said this:

We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf. These are patriots, and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”

Their contributions to this country, Mr. Bush, were both inhumane acts on a personal level and also disastrous acts on a foreign-policy level, on an international-relations level, and on a less-intellectually-driven, patriotic-music-laden “what this great nation stands for” level.

And since you (and your Administration colleagues) gave the orders, gave the okay, pulled the trigger … that means that those contributions are your contributions.

And if you think that this means that, via the commutative property, you are a patriot? …

I beg your pardon.

December 9, 2014 Posted by | books, civil rights, current events, Famous Persons, government, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Attitudes and Mannerisms

I read a New York Times article this afternoon that gave me pause. It also made me pleased that I wasn’t standing at that moment in a war zone, although I would have been pleased about that in any case.

It was about Blackwater, the company which was sub-contracted to provide protection to US government personnel at the beginning of our government’s foray into Iraq, eleven years ago. It was about an investigation into Blackwater’s activity in Iraq, specifically whether it had done some things badly, as well as whether it had done some bad things it shouldn’t have done at all, and on top of which whether the company’s personnel had taken a literal and metaphorical oath of loyalty to someone or some company that might put them into conflict with the people they were protecting.

And it was all very unnerving. In part, because guys holding automatic weapons can be unnerving even if they don’t actively mean to be. And guys holding automatic weapons who appear to be beholden to a company and not the government personnel they’re supposed to be protecting can be very unnerving.

It can also be even more unnerving when other government people come to investigate them, to see if reports of them doing bad things are true … and the guy in charge of the guys holding the automatic weapons basically tells the investigators to scram, but not before telling them that he “could kill them at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it”.

Unnerving, comma, very very.

From the Times article:

The next day, the two men [Richter and Thomas, the government inspectors] met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.

Mr. Carroll said that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq, Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.

Mr. Carroll’s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine, Mr. Richter stated in his memo. “I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.

He added that he was especially alarmed because Mr. Carroll was Blackwater’s leader in Iraq, and organizations take on the attitudes and mannerisms of their leader.”

Great heavens. Sounds like dialogue from a movie scene – the sort of scene that features a frowning Benedict Cumberbatch using that low, even tone of voice, and having that slightly lowered head and those fixed eyes. (I have no idea why that analogy should come to me.)

I have observed this phenomenon, the effect of attitudes and mannerisms equal to or greater than that of mere words.

Not in any situations involving automatic weapons, you understand; no indeed. Rather, happily, I’ve observed the truth of that last sentence in far more positive ways than negative.

I’ve seen groups – musical ensembles and others – whose way of operating clearly drew encouragement and inspiration and direction from their leadership.

That can cut both ways.

You may read that last sentence in the context of a performing ensemble which makes sloppy-sounding music and in which not everyone wears all their uniform parts correctly, or at all – and its director looks and acts the part, as well.

Or you may read it in the context of one of the world’s elite soccer teams, which meets an upstart’s challenge, plays well, and wins an important single-elimination-round match – after which many of its coaches and players strive valiantly to console the losing team’s seemingly inconsolable, openly weeping star player.

The members of each of those groups may have tended toward those behaviors anyway, to start with … but, one would suspect, their coaches or teachers or leaders or mentors will have encouraged – indeed, modeled – them, consistently.

As my grandmother used to say, “It ain’t off the ground they licked it.”

I once heard a saying: technology isn’t good or bad – it’s what you do with it. It’s the direction toward which you take it. And in this case, as the great Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser has said, “you will move in the direction of your attitude – positive or negative”.

I take all this as a healthy reminder, as I head into the summer drum major clinic teaching season, that a teacher is on stage every moment (except, perhaps, after the students have been properly room-checked and lights are out and we’re all on our isolated staff floor and giggling like idiots at some silly joke because we’re a little tuckered out from the day’s exertions but we don’t want to go to bed yet ourselves even though we really, really, really should).

And a sizable majority of what we show the people in our organizations comes from what we do and how we do it – not so much from what we say, although how we say it matters too.

I’m thankful to have been brought up in organizations whose leadership took me in what I would consider a very positive direction.

Such as, but not limited to: the summer arts program that will celebrate its 45th anniversary at the end of this week, with a staff reunion that will doubtless feature a whole lot of people remembering a whole lot of accomplishments and friendship and fun. And there’s a reason why the atmosphere of the place, at the very least in the 1980s when I was a camper and then a counselor, was so supportive of our efforts and our camaraderie, and it wasn’t a mystical haze of good luck; it was Priscilla Dewey.

Such as, but not limited to: the college marching ensemble which – on its way to winning a Sudler Award and participating in Presidential inaugurations and national band competitions and a Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade – has turned out a great many of the finest people I know, as professionals and people, whether they’re my lifelong friends or people that I still admire from afar, having never actually met (and the kind of people who would gather to accomplish things like this). It wasn’t an accident; it was (in great measure) George Parks.

Such as, but not limited to: … … well hi Mom! And Dad. (And my grandmother, she of the Killer Quote.)

Because it could all tip the wrong way. Matters could become at least sloppy and at worst truly awful, unless we pay attention and work on pointing people the right way, consciously and attentively.

Take a deep breath … look around to see who needs your help … treat people well … and the curriculum may not take care of itself but it’ll have a much stronger foundation on which to stand.

And far less unnerving.

July 7, 2014 Posted by | CRCAP, current events, DMA, education, GNP, news, Starred Thoughts, teachers, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment