By virtue of living in Bergen County, New Jersey, my family and I read The Record, known colloquially as The Bergen Record. I don’t follow the local news as much as I should, instead amusing myself with diversions like the crosswords and negative op-eds about Chris Christie. It was to my mild astonishment when I saw that The Record and columnist Mike Kelly, who has been with the newspaper since 1981 and who has appeared on various radio shows in the area, as well as NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Hardball with Chris Matthews, and CBS Evening News, had recently made national news on the count of their interviewee. That would be an unfortunately public figure and member of the Trump administration in the person of Kellyanne Conway. Kelly’s interview touched on a number of different topics, but on the heels of Donald Trump’s baseless allegations that Barack Obama and his administration had him wiretapped (remember, pieces on Breitbart do not count as actual news), and WikiLeaks’ subsequent revelations through the release of Agency documents that the CIA has outlined the use of instructions and tools to spy on individuals through vulnerabilities in Apple and Android smartphones, various messaging apps, and even Samsung smart TVs, one line of discussion that dominated headlines was the notion other devices could be used in surveillance of everyday Americans. Particularly microwaves. No, really—microwaves. According to Conway, monitoring could be done through “microwaves that turn into cameras,” and that “we know this is a fact of modern life.”
The Twitterverse and blogosphere alike were abuzz following these assertions by the Counselor to the President, heaping ridicule and microwave-oriented Photoshopped pictures upon her comments. To be fair, maybe Kellyanne Conway really does know something about the hidden capacity for state espionage buried deep within our General Electric appliances, and we’ll all have egg on our faces when it turns out she was right all along. Given her past loose association with the truth, however, and President Trump and his administration’s apparent war on facts, it is—how should I put this—not bloody likely. Recall that Conway herself is already synonymous with “alternative facts,” an abstract concept that is as ludicrous as it is dangerous with respect to how readily she and others within the President’s circle of trust are apt to deflect away from serious lines of inquiry by the press. These new claims are all the more troubling given how apparently flippant she is in this instance about matters of verifiability. “We know this is a fact of modern life.” Who is “we”? What evidence do you have that microwaves are being used in this way? As far as Kellyanne Conway seems to be concerned, the truth of what she said seems to be self-evident in the notion that this is the modern age and that it could happen, or that she’s banking on you having insufficient knowledge of the subject to disprove her. Either way, by the time you’re ready to challenge the veracity of what she says, Conway is already prepared to pivot to the next point.
Will Saletan, in a piece for Slate, explains the nature of her elusiveness when being interviewed, and why it’s effectively useless for members of the media to try to engage her on matters of fact or to get her to admit to an outright lie. From his article:
An interview with Conway is like a game of Crazy Eights with one rule change: Every card is crazy. No matter what you say, she’ll pick a word from your question and use it to change suits. Use the word “fact,” and she’ll ask, “Chuck, do you think it’s a fact or not that millions of people have lost their plans or health insurance?”
Ask her about Russian interference in the election and she’ll reply, as in [an] interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC: “A lot of people in the mainstream media interfered with our election by trying to help Hillary Clinton win.” Ask her about the intelligence on the Russian hack—“You don’t believe the intercepts?” asked CNN’s Chris Cuomo—and she’ll say, “Here’s what I don’t believe … that [this issue is] so darn important to you now.”
Tell her there’s “no evidence that there were millions of illegal votes,” (Stephanopoulos again) and she’ll fire back, “There’s also no evidence that a recount is going to change the results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.” You’ll never win this game because you’ll have to use words. She’ll pick the one she likes and throw out the rest.
Saletan’s advice, therefore, for members of the press is not to ask Kellyanne Conway about right and wrong, but to stick to “simple factual queries,” and to move on immediately when she begins to veer away from a yes-or-no answer. As he reasons, “There’s no point in getting apoplectic at Conway. She’s never going to break. If you think the only way to beat these people is to make them admit their lies, you’re the one who will lose.”
Let’s take this a step further, though. Will Saletan’s advice assumes a desire to or even a need to talk Ms. Conway. From The Record‘s perspective, Kellyanne Conway is more relevant than she would otherwise be because she lives in Alpine, NJ, probably the most affluent town in an already-well-to-do county in Bergen County, generally speaking. Here’s the thing, though: what did we learn as a result of this interview? Sure, the bit about microwaves generates clicks, and certainly, as much of a train-wreck in the making Donald Trump as POTUS seems to be, his tenure has been entertaining. All the same, the failure of the media to hold Trump and his lot accountable—because the latter have done their part to avoid the press, restrict its access, and undermine its credibility so as to make the job of the former near impossible—means more extreme measures must be taken so as not to further lose ground in the public eye in terms of respectability, at least not with respect to the viewers who still value the mainstream media as a viable source of information. With Conway in particular, if she is not going to provide useful material to viewers, it begs the follow-up question: why bother talking to her at all?
This isn’t a new line of thinking either, with more qualified people than likely you and definitely I expressing similar viewpoints. As part of a recent CNN panel moderated by Don Lemon discussing these comments made by Kellyanne Conway on wiretapping and other possible methods of domestic surveillance, Carl Bernstein, well-known for his work as an investigative journalist during the Watergate scandal, noticeably grimaced before delivering these remarks:
You know, I suggest that it’s time we all stop taking Kellyanne Conway seriously—she’s not a serious person. It’s time for us to drop her from our news agenda, unless she very specifically has something to say that we know has been put out there by the President of the United States.
Lemon agreed, referring to these continued claims of wiretapping by the White House despite a complete lack of evidence and/or the refusal to definitively refute them as “nonsense” and “silly.” (Side note: if Don Lemon is referring to you as “silly,” you know you’ve got to be doing a pretty bad job.) But Bernstein wasn’t content to write off this matter completely, adopting a more serious tone. His response was as follows:
It’s not silly—it’s dangerous—the extent to which we take it seriously. We need to keep doing our reporting on the real stories, including what’s going on with the Russians, with Trump and the people around him. We continue to be destabilized by the Russians and what is going on. Putin has got our number here, and we need to be looking at all aspects of this including whether or not we have a President of the United States who is capable and responsible enough to deal with what is going on.
As noted, Conway’s comments make for good theatre, but Carl Bernstein is correct: they are a distraction. Russian interference in our affairs, including our elections, has been a hot topic of conversation ever since the DNC leaks, and WikiLeaks has long been suspected of having a benefactor in the Russian government of the kind of information that Julian Assange and Company have been able to disseminate across Internet channels. Even the timing of WikiLeaks’ latest release is fairly suspect, as valid or valuable as the information within may be. Max Boot, in an article appearing in Foreign Policy, speaks in rather damning terms to this effect, indicating from the very title that “WikiLeaks Has Joined the Trump Administration.”
Boot notes within the article that WikiLeaks has timed past releases for maximum effect, as with the DNC leaks, when revelations about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others within the Committee acting to effectively sandbag Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid despite their professed neutrality were intended to cast doubt about Hillary Clinton after having sewn up the Democratic Party nomination—and likely to deter fervent Sanders supporters from switching their support to the first female presidential nominee of a major party in U.S. history. The contents of WikiLeaks’ latest data dump puts the American intelligence community on the defensive, at a time when Donald Trump’s claims of wiretapping and his contentious relationship with the CIA and other federal agencies critical to our nation’s security are worthy of our scrutiny, if only for how unreasonable they are. The shell game that is Trump’s relationship to Russia and that of others around him just grows faster and faster as we go. Where it stops—no one knows.
Kellyanne Conway is a glaring example of someone given a platform when it can be argued that all of her exposure primarily benefits the administration she serves and does little for the populace she is supposed to serve. She is not the only one, however, and not the only glaring example, at that. Much as Conway will lie and obscure her way to defending the man who appointed her, others within the media sphere will continually apologize for President Trump—and it is members of the media who enable such behavior, if only to appear fair and balanced. Let’s go back to CNN for a moment, and discuss why in the hell, if a professed leader in cable news such as they is to deem itself a respectable news network, they would have someone like Jeffrey Lord among their ranks. Jeff Lord got a degree in Government from Franklin & Marshall College in 1973. Where? Exactly—I didn’t know this place exists either, much less know it is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Also, their mascot is the Diplomat, and Roy Scheider is a notable fellow alumnus. How do you like them apples? He also was apparently in the Ronald Reagan presidential administration from 1987 to 1988 as an associate political director—whatever that means.
Today, however, Jeffrey Lord is chiefly a political commentator and general annoyance on CNN and in various print and online publications. He also, more recently, has become a shameless defender of Donald Trump, and even wrote a book about the man entitled What America Needs: The Case for Trump. If that alone does not cast aspersions as to the soundness of his judgment, other controversial stances over the past few years have helped cement his reputation as being among the Piers Morgan ilk of ill-informed political douchebags (apparently, CNN has a penchant for hiring such wannabe click-bait). Jeff Lord once attacked the credibility of Shirley Sherrod, a former Department of Agriculture official, effectively over an issue of semantics about whether a relative of hers was “lynched” as opposed to beaten to death at the hands of a police officer. Lord also has compared Barack Obama when he was president to Mao Zedong and the Hitler Youth, has called on the Democratic Party and prominent figures within it to apologize for the party’s one-time support for slavery, and has defended his criticism of the Democratic Party on the basis that the KKK once supported them—hence, left-wingers today are apparently a bunch of bigots who “divide citizens by race.” The Democratic Party is not above criticism, and certainly, establishment bigwigs like Hillary Clinton are known for some egregious examples of pandering, but trying to vilify the Democrats of today for ties to the KKK and slavery is disingenuous, to say the least.
Not only is Lord feeding these “absurd” viewpoints, as fellow CNN commentator Van Jones referred to the last one in particular, and thereby giving credence to them due to his position of relative influence among cable news viewers, but other network personalities and guests must waste time pointing out the ridiculousness of his comments — time that could be better spent along the lines of what Carl Bernstein argues we should be discussing instead. This year alone, other political commentators have had to do all they could not to pull out their own hair trying to argue with Jeffrey Lord on points that really should be beyond debate by now. Robert Reich had, as Sarah K. Burris termed it, a “WTF moment” in reaction to Lord’s assertion that the intelligence community, specifically the CIA and NSA, were conspiring to try to bring down Donald Trump. A few weeks back, Bill Maher had Jeff Lord on his show, and had to shout “Don’t bullshit me!” to stop Lord from insisting that the Russians didn’t interfere in our election. Just the other day, meanwhile, Anderson Cooper was forced to “debate” with Lord on the subject of the Congressional Budget Office finding that some 24 million people stand to lose coverage with the passage of the American Health Care Act, the Republicans’ intended replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Jeff Lord pointed out that the CBO was off significantly in its initial estimate back in 2010 of how many people would be enrolled in a health insurance plan through the ACA by 2017, to which Cooper added context by highlighting the idea that the Office didn’t account for states opting out of the Medicare expansion. You know, because it was dumb of them to do so since it deprived their constituents of valuable federal funding, but these are politicians we’re talking about here, especially on the GOP side. To this Lord replied—and I wish I were making this up:
Right, but that’s my point, Anderson. We don’t know what the weather is going to be. It’s going to snow, but how much? I mean, we don’t know. We don’t trust weathermen, so why should we trust the CBO? Not that they’re not good people, but this is the problem perpetually in Washington.
Either Jeffrey Lord thinks weather is supremely easy to predict, forecasts of all makes and models are bullshit, or both, or possibly none of it all, but once again, Lord, like his idol Donald Trump, is seeking to undermine public confidence in government departments that contradict the President’s and the GOP’s regressive agenda, and in doing so, is using the inexact nature of statistical models as a means of diminishing math, science, and other subjects requiring sound professional judgment and a substantial degree of education. In other words, Jeff Lord is chumming the waters for the sharks watching at home and following on social media smelling blood in the water with the perception of Donald Trump’s win as a turning of the tide against the liberal elites who so long have been thumbing their noses at working-class America—or at least as they would have it. Not only is this dangerous for the mainstream media’s long-term survival, but as a subset of the cable news circuit, CNN itself is playing with fire by encouraging the “CNN is fake news” crowd and narrative. Down with the MSM! Down with Washington fat cats! Drain the swamp! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Doesn’t anyone else here see a problem for CNN with trotting out Jeffrey Lord—at the very least, a credibility problem?
Kellyanne Conway plays a game of Keep-Away that presents a danger in distracting us from what the rest of the Trump administration and the Republican Party are doing to destroy our country, not to mention making the media look very foolish in trying to make sense of her brand of crazy. Jeffrey Lord is an unflinching sycophant whose knee-jerk defenses of Donald Trump undoubtedly bolster the confidence of other Trump fanatics at home. Perhaps the most dangerous of these kinds of people we haven’t even discussed yet, however, and that they are as brazen as they are is likely a sign of the times and the political-social environment Trump has helped create here in the United States and abroad. I’m talking about unabashed white nationalists and racists, a group of which Representative Steve King, a political figure at the freaking federal level, is a part.
King, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 4th Congressional District in Iowa, recently made headlines when he re-Tweeted Geert Wilders, far-right Dutch politician and founder-leader of the Party for Freedom, which has essentially made exclusionary politics its raison d’être. The Iowa lawmaker added his own commentary—as if Wilders’ original content wasn’t bad enough—declaring that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The media and Democrats alike were quick to pounce on this apparent flagrant violation of American ideals of fraternity and diversity among people of different creeds, races, and walks of life, and even prominent Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Donald Trump via Sean Spicer made apparent attempts to distance themselves from King’s inflammatory remark.
This is just one of Steve King’s boldly prejudicial claims of the last year or so, if not the last week. According to King’s prediction, as expressed to Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson and responding to Jorge Ramos’s suggestion that by 2044, whites, despite likely still being a majority in terms of political power and influence but, in terms of overall population numbers, would be a minority given current trends, “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.” Let this sink in for a moment—as mind-numbing as that may prove. There is so much wrong with this idea it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Rep. King seems literally unable to comprehend that this might happen—that whites are poised to become a “minority-majority” in the United States in a few decades’ time—and so he dismisses the very notion despite the proverbial writing on the wall. Second, he refers to them as “the blacks.” That’s like an older adult referring to the world’s preeminent search engine as “the Google.” It smacks of Jim Crow-era antiquated language. Lastly, the idea that African-Americans and Hispanics would fight because, you know, they’re predisposed to fighting and inciting violence, is wildly racist, not to mention wholly cynical. It has no basis in fact, and even if it did, you would think a politician would be loath to admit as much. And let’s not forget King’s questioning what other “subgroups” have done for Western civilization next to whites, which caused an immediate uproar from the MSNBC panel convened during the Republican National Convention and made it appear as if April Ryan was ready to slap some sense into him—something of which she would have been consummately justified in doing, by the by.
That these kinds of thoughts are coming from an elected official are somewhat astonishing, though not if we chart King’s past remarks and even relevant votes (King evidently was among those opposed to putting Harriet Tubman on the 20-dollar bill). Given his penchant for white nationalist xenophobia and concern for the preservation of white ethnic and cultural elements at the apparent expense of all others, it also is vaguely surprising Steve King—or, as I like to call him, Evil Ed Harris Look-Alike—manages to keep getting elected. Then again, he is from the state of Iowa, a state that is—shall we say—not as diverse as others. As Corky Siemaszko details for NBC News, Rep. King remains immensely popular among voters in his district, and has consistently fended off challenges to his post since first being elected to it way back in 2002. Much of this appeal is owed to his district being over 90% white, but if we’re going to give him credit for something, it’s that he’s also an effective public speaker and can connect with people on a personal level. Of course, he can also pander to the pro-gun, anti-abortion crowd, and play on the fears of a conservative, Republican-heavy electorate concerned about a shrinking working class, changes in the American landscape, and attacks from abroad, but many Iowans see him as a personable, relatable kind of guy. We see another Donald Trump, but his neighbors see, well, a neighbor.
His popularity at home notwithstanding, why EEHLA is allowed to spew his white supremacist garbage on national television is beyond me, as I fail to understand why The Record would opt to interview Kellyanne Conway and her nonsense, or CNN would dare keep Jeffrey “Andrew Jackson’s Secret Descendant” Lord on their payroll. OK—I get that media outlets feel the need to report on Steve King’s outrageous statements. He can and should be called out for his divisive rhetoric, despite his insistence that he is interested in bringing people together. Beyond that initial reporting, though, the story can end there, or if nothing else, can do without further inquiry of King. And yet, who was interviewing him in the aftermath of his babies comment but—you guessed it—CNN. On-air personality Chris Cuomo asked Rep. King to clarify his remarks, as if to intimate that he might want to apologize for seeming like a racist asshole, but King was unfazed.
Here’s the thing: I feel as if CNN should’ve known Steve King wasn’t going to walk back his comments, that they couldn’t in this instance try to claim moral superiority and make him squirm. On some level, I feel King believes he’s right, and by now, he’s obviously not worried about alienating his constituents back in Iowa, many of whom likely agree with him. The only way to “win,” so to speak, is not to play. Don’t have him on at all. Bringing this discussion back to its central point, this is a lesson I feel the network should have learned with Kellyanne Conway, and why Jeffrey Lord stands to be such a losing proposition for them. You want to be purveyors of truth and go after obvious bigots and liars like Steve King and Trump’s cronies. For those who see Conway and King and Lord and don’t dismiss what they say, though, you’re merely feeding the narratives these people want to believe.
Throughout the presidential campaign, there was no shortage of critics pointing out Donald Trump’s follies and factual inaccuracies. And look where it got him: the White House. The lack of appeal to reason or even morality, in the minds of many, should be enough to disqualify Trump and the other aforementioned individuals. But it obviously doesn’t for enough Americans, and organizations from CNN to the Democratic Party need to start understanding this evident sea change in American politics and tap into what Trump voters/Republican voters care about. Sure, they may not see eye-to-eye on a whole lot with this new audience, but these bastions of “fake news” and “liberal elitism” can at least facilitate a conversation with everyday people rather than putting a bunch of clowns on camera who play up the crazy just to satisfy vague ideas of “fairness” or to garner a greater share of ratings, or attacking these public figures without clearly communicating an identity for themselves and thereby undermining their own credibility.
For the media in particular, though, and to put it succinctly: stop enabling apologists, liars, and racists. You’re still losing by the mere fact of giving them a platform, and may only succeed in hastening your own demise as a result.