The Death Dance of the Mainstream Media

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Soledad O’Brien had to come back to CNN recently to verbally bitch-slap her former employer over their “shoddy” coverage of Donald Trump. Sadly, this seems to be a microcosm of mainstream news media’s woeful coverage of the 2016 election. (Image Credit: CNN)

A few days ago, NBC News aired a Commander-in-Chief Forum with presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump prominently featured, and to say it was not well received would be a bit of an understatement. To be fair, NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack—not to be confused with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck—singularly praised moderator Matt Lauer’s performance during this television special, and the presentation did garner some 15 million viewers. To be less fair, however, Lack’s lauding of Lauer’s handling of the forum may be singular in that he seems to be the only person who thought the whole shebang was capably handled. Members of the press, officials from past presidential administrations, pundits, and social media critics alike blasted Matt Lauer’s handling of the admittedly-limited thirty minutes devoted to interviewing both Clinton and Trump. Among the points of contention from the dissatisfied peanut gallery:

  • Lauer spent about a third of his time with Hillary Clinton talking about her ongoing E-mail scandal, while glossing over a number of arguably more important topics, such as national security.
  • Lauer did not fact-check Donald Trump when he made the claim that he never supported the Iraq War, even when most of the audience seemed to be aware he totally f**king did.
  • Lauer appeared to let Trump be, you know, himself and talk over the person asking him the questions, while frequently interrupting Clinton, inspiring allegations of sexism.
  • Lauer did not press Trump more strongly on stupid shit he said or has said in the past, such as the Republican Party nominee’s Tweet which evidently suggested it’s women’s fault by enlisting in the first place for getting sexually assaulted in the U.S. military, or his assertion that he knows more about ISIS than the actual American generals in charge of combat operations in the Middle East, or even his continued support for Vladimir Putin, a man who was instrumental in the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and who may or may not be behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee.
  • In other words, Lauer more critically interviewed Olympic swimmer and professional moron Ryan Lochte than he did a man who might actually become President of the United f**king States.

Perhaps it is no great wonder with public relations disasters such as the Commander-in-Chief Forum in mind to hear news such as this report back from June from Gallup that Americans’ confidence in newspapers has gone down 10% in the past decade from 30% to 20%, and that their faith in television news has likewise declined by 10% from 31% to 21%. It should be noted that other institutions asked about in this same survey have their own confidence problems, including churches/organized religion (down 11% to 41%), banks (down 22% to 27%), and Congress (down 10% to a mere 9%). Still, Americans’ distaste for and mistrust of the news media is real, something that neither bodes well for the success and continued survival of various news outlets, nor augurs particularly auspiciously for an informed public, at that. Seeing these statistics in a vacuum, it’s hard to tell, in chicken-egg fashion, whether flagging confidence in the mainstream media has fueled the downturn of newspapers and cable TV, whether public interest has waned in response to an inferior product already on the decline, or, like the ouroboros—the snake eating its own tail—these two trends exist not within a linear cause-effect relationship, but rather as part of a circular duality that feeds on itself. If the last case is indeed true to reality, this is doubly bad, for not only does this set of circumstances likely accelerate the process of disintegration, but if we are still thinking of serpents after the last metaphor, we are likely profoundly scared in an Indiana Jones-like way. DAMMIT! I HATE SNAKES, AND I HATE MSNBC!

On the subject of the decline of newspapers as a source of information, undoubtedly, the rise of television and later the Internet meant there was only so much consumer attention to go around, and online content and news providers have an added leg up on newspapers in being able to tailor advertising to individual users, which hurts print media’s ability to generate valuable ad revenue. From a cost perspective, too, newspapers fight a losing battle in trying to limit expenses in light of the burden of overhead, with clear disadvantages in the price of physical circulation, printing each edition, or even rewarding writers and other employees for their services. There are additional challenges faced by newspapers and all media for that matter, such as the fragmentation of the market to reflect niche interests, the social media requirement faced by businesses irrespective of industry, and the lingering economic effects of the Great Recession, to consider. All in all, it’s a potent brew of negative influences on newspapers’ ability to thrive today, and a number of publications serving major metropolitan areas have been forced to limit print circulation or fold altogether over the years.

Meanwhile, on the matter of television news networks, while recently the networks have enjoyed ratings coups owing to people tuning in to witness the shit-show that is the 2016 presidential election, on the long-term whole, as of May 2015, cable news has seen its overall median daily audience shrink 11% since 2008, according to Pew Research. Potentially outmoded statistics aside, many reason what happened to newspapers vis-à-vis cable news will repeat itself with the likes of CNN, FOX News and MSNBC relative to blogs and other online media. As Paul Farhi, writing for The Washington Post, outlines, prime-time cable news shows are heavily reliant on an aging audience, and face obvious competition from online news sources better served to meet the needs and desires of younger generations. Meaning that while the network that professes to offer “news” but really just utilizes fear-mongering, prejudices and unsubstantiated claims to gin up its viewers is enjoying a long-standing run atop the charts, even it might have trouble sooner than later. And not just because the GOP is a shell of its former self and has been co-opted by idiots and white supremacists.

Indeed, going forward, the traditional news media has its work cut out for it if it wants to stay afloat in a sea of competing interests. To this end, various media outlets need to generate clicks, ratings and subscriptions, and to do this, they have to find some hook with the consumer-user. How these news services achieve this end, and whether or not this will only guarantee them a worse fate in light of the public’s fragile confidence in them, is the multi-billion dollar question. Right now, as noted, the corporate media is riding high. After all, almost 15 million viewers tuned into NBC News’s Commander-in-Chief debacle—and that wasn’t even a debate! Whether or not the American people will actually turn out to vote in November is another story, but in the lead-up to the election, there certainly seems to be a great deal of interest in who stands to become our next President and what sort of damage he or she might inflict on the country should he or she win. At the end of the campaign season, though, and following the election and even inauguration, it almost seems inevitable there will be a drop-off in interest, and in the post-election hangover in which America will find itself after months of a tiresome primary/debate schedule, the traditional media may discover it has less clout and more competition than it might otherwise have considered.

From the swivel chair on which I’m sitting, news media has not done a good job of covering the 2016 presidential election cycle. Nor has it done a fair job, or even a “Needs Work” kind of job, as a child might see on his or her grade-school assignment. No, the mainstream media has done a piss-poor job of serving the public interest when it comes to the campaign season. (I perhaps would’ve referred to it as a “deplorable” job, but Hillary has ruined that word for the foreseeable future—and may have even done damage to her election bid with her “basket of deplorables” turn of phrase.) The powers-that-be behind today’s remaining major newspapers and big-name news networks would be apt to protest this characterization, and furthermore, would insist they are providing fair and balanced coverage that considers all viewpoints. While under most circumstances, objectivity in reporting is highly advisable, when the situation warrants a firmer hand in steering the discussion, particularly when representing all angles means to give a voice to elements whose arguments are little more than bigotry and deliberate misrepresentation of reality, the refusal of the news to intervene is a failure, and a seemingly cowardly one at that, or else it values ad revenue over integrity.

Former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien recently took her old employer to task over its lack of discretion in reporting on the U.S. presidential election. O’Brien’s takedown of CNN’s coverage, particularly in the network’s kowtowing to the more reprehensible voices on Donald Trump’s side of the fence, is to be commended for its directness as well as its consideration of the implications not only for the outcome election, but for the fate of CNN and television journalism itself. What most agree are the critical points of Soledad’s impassioned remarks:

On giving white supremacists a platform because they are Trump supporters/delegates…

“I’ve seen on-air, white supremacists being interviewed because they are Trump delegates. And they do a five minute segment, the first minute or so talking about what they believe as white supremacists. So you have normalized that. And then Donald Trump will say, ‘Hillary Clinton, she’s a bigot.’ And it’s covered, the journalist part comes in, ‘They trade barbs. He said she’s a bigot and she points out that he might be appealing to racists.’ It only becomes ‘he said, she said.’ When in actuality, the fact that Donald Trump said she’s a bigot without the long laundry list of evidence, which if you looked at Hillary Clinton’s speech, she actually did have a lot of really good factual evidence that we would all agree that are things that have happened and do exist. They are treated as if they are equal. That’s where journalists are failing: the contortions to try to make it seem fair.”

And on CNN and others building up Donald Trump for ratings…

“Hateful speech brings a really interested, angry audience. ‘This is genius! We should do this more often. What shall we do when this election is over? We’re going to have to think about ways to really rile people up, make them angry and divide them.’ Because that is something that cable news, frankly, and everybody can cover really well. So, I find it very frustrating. I believe he was over-covered at the beginning. Now, it is ‘he said, she said’ all the time. We have lost context. We actually don’t even cover the details of something. We just cover the back and forth of it. It’s funny to watch if it weren’t our own country and our own government actually operating.”

What supposed “bigot” Hillary Clinton believes at heart about the key voting demographics to which she panders, one can’t be sure, but Soledad O’Brien is right: at least she has not made attacks on minorities the cornerstone of her campaign the way Donald Trump has his. Furthermore, I’d argue she’s deadly accurate on what the media has done, by and large, to frame the ultimate showdown between Clinton and Trump. Make no mistake—a winner-take-all electoral competition between Hill and Don is exactly what print media and the major news networks wanted. The aggregate favorability rating of the Democratic Party and Republican Party nominee is an almost-historically low one, if not the lowest altogether, such that viewers and even the supporting casts related to each campaign themselves have strong feelings one way or another. Throw in the apparent belief of media outlets that their audiences are stupid, don’t care about “the issues,” and would rather see these party heads squabble than speak substantively on important subjects, and you’ve hit on, to a large extent, the news media’s approach to covering this election.

Indeed, the mainstream media is trying to dance precariously between two functions, and the discussion of whether or not their routine is a winning one is accordingly worthwhile. On the one hand, America’s major news outlets, like many concerned citizens, don’t have a death wish. Donald Trump, who hasn’t been good at very much in his 70 years—let’s be honest—would make an even worse President of the United States than the shady businessman the more informed among us know him to be. Hillary Clinton, by proxy, is made to look through headlines and clickable, shareable content that much stronger as a candidate on matters of policy, aside from her obviously superior experience after years in politics. On the other hand, however, said outlets really, really like the ratings and traffic the mere mention of Trump’s name generates, including that which derives from the man’s more, shall we say, outspoken supporters, and so, despite their better judgment, they all but waive their editorial discretion in the name of “fairness.” The result is that both candidates have not been pressed by the press as strongly as they could or perhaps should be questioned, and as a result, the detractors of both Clinton and Trump can claim the media is letting them off the hook. To a certain extent, they’re all right.


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Mr. Trump, where in the holy hell are your tax returns? (Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

If I were in Matt Lauer’s shoes, granted, I would be likely be a bit apprehensive about confronting the two biggest figures in American politics right now, and I would also have to balance the probing nature of journalistic intent with the direction of the NBC brass—you know, provided I wanted to remain employed. All this aside, if I were to have the opportunity to interview  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I would want to pose these types of questions:

HILLARY CLINTON

1) OK, we get ityou regret voting for the Iraq War. Now that you’ve adequately expressed your remorse for political purposes, what do we do about our continued entanglements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere abroad? What is our timetable for a meaningful reduction in military spending, or for that matter, a reduction in the number of American troops deployed in combat areas, if at all?

Dating back to the party primary season and even during the Democratic National Convention, Hillary caught a lot of flak from Bernie Sanders supporters and surrogates from her stances on the Iraq War and her perceived hawkishness. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton seems to be a bit right of center on the subject of the use of the military and spending to accomplish its goals, so these are worthwhile questions, especially for those who got behind the Sanders campaign and support more progressive aims of the Democratic Party. With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 just behind us and talk of “we will never forget,” it seems ironic to employ such verbiage when the U.S. still is invested heavily in Afghanistan and Iraq, and thus can’t forget a War on Terror still ongoing. More like “we will never get out,” if you ask me.

2) Unless you’re hard up for donations—and judging by your big-ticket fundraisers and speaking fees, you have plenty of cash at your disposal—why should the Clinton Foundation wait until after winning the election to stop accepting monies from corporations and foreign interests?

Hillary Clinton already has a bit of an optics problem regarding trustworthiness in light of her ongoing E-mail imbroglio, concerns about where monies are going after they reach the Hillary Victory Fund, and other scandals which may be somewhat trumped up by Republicans but otherwise do reflect legitimate character concerns. The Clinton Foundation, which has come under fire recently for insinuations it is emblematic of a pay-to-play paradigm which coincided with her affairs as head of the State Department and thus may have crossed ethical lines, and has been characterized by some vocal dissenters as more or less a money laundering operation, by these tokens, is not helping matters.

Among others, Robert Reich, who avidly supported Bernie Sanders until Clinton won the Democratic Party nomination, and now has put his influence behind Hillary because of his recognition of the danger of a Donald Trump presidency, recommends the Clinton Family divest itself of operational ties to its namesake charitable organization, in the interest of propriety and transparency. If Hillary Clinton and her campaign were smart, they wouldn’t wait to effect these changes, and certainly wouldn’t make them contingent on an election victory, but this a major-party presidential campaign we’re talking about here—sound judgment often falls by the wayside.

 3) Don’t you think it a bit douche-y to wear a $12,000 Giorgio Armani jacket and talk about income inequality?

I’ve brought this up before, but I would have to ask HRC directly just to gauge her reaction. Follow-up question: why did you or anyone pay so much for something that looks so hideous?

4) Why exactly were aides of yours smashing devices with hammers? What reasonable explanation is there for this that does not involve wanting to hide or obscure information?

Like Tom Brady smashing his phone in the midst of the Deflategate controversy, this is pretty much a rhetorical question, but I’d like to see and hear her explain why so many Blackberries and iPads had to be obliterated. Though I will admit it was probably oddly pleasurable for the person or persons tasked with doing the destroying. But still.

5) At this point, what does it matter whether the DNC and your campaign were hacked by Russia, or by Guccifer 2.0 acting independently, or by aliens, as Susan Sarandon jokingly suggested? What does it matter, Mrs. Clinton?

OK, so getting hacked is obviously a concern for any organization, and thus society as a whole, as is the theoretical publication of private information of individuals pursuant to matters of privacy in various data leaks. Still, the Democrats seem a little eager to point to Russia and shout, “Look what they did!” when the content itself of the leaked messages is objectionable. Whether it’s intentional bias against the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign or the influence of money on leadership within the party or even in government as a whole, these connections give the public a clearer picture of the kinds of people and institutions with whom/which they are dealing, and how democracy continues to be constrained by party politics and corporate/individual wealth. To this end, the DNC Leaks et al. are a public service, even if the manner in which they were obtained is suspect. Confessedly, though, as much as I feel I’m making a valid point, I kind of just wanted to take a swipe at Hillary Clinton’s semi-infamous “What does it matter?” moment from the hearings of Benghazi. When Americans die, in a potentially avoidable way, and the public is misinformed as to whether or not the attack was terroristic in nature, it does matter. Perhaps not as much as to warrant the extent of the costly investigation into the events surrounding Benghazi to date, but it does.

DONALD TRUMP

1) Why won’t you release your tax returns?

I’ve also discussed this before, musing as to why Donald Trump so obstinately has refused to acquiesce on this count. Some suspect it is because of his supposed ties to Russian businesses (though the Clintons have profited in their own right from Russia, including through the sale of uranium), but I suspect, perhaps more benignly, that Trump wants either to conceal the likely situation that he pays little to no taxes through loopholes, or—even worse in his eyes—that he doesn’t have nearly as much money as he says he does. This may not sound terrible to you or I, but when your entire brand is built on the image of you as a successful entrepreneur able to afford a lavish lifestyle, losing this appearance of obscene wealth could be devastating to this myth. It would be like the storied emperor with no clothes—and I’m immediately sorry for any mental images you now own because of this comparison.

2) How do you explain the immense rent increase for the Trump campaign headquarters in Trump Tower in July after you started receiving considerable funding from donors and weren’t just “financing your own campaign?”

The Trump campaign has explained the nearly four-times spike in its rent expense at Trump Tower resulting from adding “two more levels to its existing space,” whatever that means. While there’s no proof of anything shady, that purchases leading to greater expenses are synchronous with the addition of benefactors, and that Trump stands to indirectly benefit from this arrangement, is enough to raise one or more eyebrows. The deflection that the Clinton camp pays more on rent doesn’t assuage potential culpability either. Saying you spent less than Hillary Clinton on rent is like saying you smoke less weed than Tommy Chong. It’s not exactly something to hang your hat on.

3) Do you care to comment on reports that a number of key staffers in your campaign left after not getting paid, or that you have a history of doing to this people in your personal and professional lives?

One thing the press has not discussed nearly enough regarding Donald Trump’s business dealings is that he has repeatedly screwed people out of money, and then has shielded himself behind the cloak of litigation or has relied upon the auspices of bankruptcy law to avoid having to pay all his bills. If Trump can’t pay his staffers as he should, why should we expect him to do what’s right for America’s finances, or for that matter, give him the keys to the country?

4) Would you like to personally apologize to Jersey City, and in particular, its Muslim population, for making claims about thousands of people cheering in the streets when the Towers fell, even though this has been thoroughly debunked?

OK, I gotta say this one’s for me. When even Crazy Rudy Giuliani disagreed with Trump’s steadfast assertion that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City were celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center, you knew the man was full of shit, and anyone else who sides with Trump on this issue is either full of shit too, or has spent too much time watching Fox News and has had the parts of their brain devoted to higher-order thinking and encoding of memory eaten away by the stupidity. I don’t care if you’re talking about Muslims, undocumented Mexican immigrants, or members of the Borg collective—if they’re from New Jersey, step the f**k off.

5) Seriously, though, release your f**king tax returns.

Not really a question anymore, but then again, it shouldn’t be. If you have nothing to hide, you should have no problem complying. Shit, even Crooked Hillary obliged on this front. You don’t want to be worse than Hillary at something, do you, Donald?


Returning to the theme of journalistic accountability in the mainstream media and perceptions of bias, even before the events of this election cycle and the rise of online content/social media, a core group of outspoken Americans took to distrusting the “liberal media” and its leftist agenda. How dare they believe in concepts like gender and race equality? How come their “facts” don’t match what I know deep down in my gut? Why do they insist on telling me I’m wrong for hating gays and transgender people and telling them they can’t buy wedding cakes in our shops or pee in our bathrooms? TOO MUCH POLITICAL CORRECTNESS! TOO MANY BIG WORDS! AAAAAHHHH! This kind of mentality, I believe, has helped fuel the rise of the alt-right and eschewing of more reputable news sources for airheads such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and even conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Alex Jones. Which, though it may chagrin network executives and digital content managers, might not be a huge loss for the rest of the viewing population. Not for nothing, but the fewer trolls we have on Comments sections of major news providers’ sites criticizing “libtards” and demeaning them as a bunch of whiny, sissy babies, I feel, is a good thing.

However, in news media’s indiscriminate push for ratings and revenue, that liberals and conservatives alike can be alienated by CNN, or The New York Times, or even Huffington Post, suggests that corporate-owned media outlets, buoyed by short-term successes, may only be riding a road to ruin in the long term. For libertarians, progressives, skinny people, fat people, people who try to ford the river or caulk it and float it, there are umpteen options, and while not all of them are winners (many, indeed, are not), by appealing to a more provincial audience, they stand to draw away attention from the big players in the mass media market. Again, when survival is anything but assured, prominent networks and newspapers are justifiably desperate for the public’s consumption. Catering to a lower common denominator, however, or failing to curb those who pander to a more deleterious element, seriously risks undermining the public’s trust and guaranteeing that they won’t come back. After all, when trust is gone, what else is left worth keeping?

On Ryan Lochte, Non-Apology Apologies, and Whitesplaining

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“No one knows what it’s like/To be the bad man/To be the sad man/Behind blue eyes.” (Image retrieved from variety.com).

By most counts and accounts, the United States of America had a fine Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. According to the official medal count, the U.S. was head and shoulders above the other competing countries, garnering 51 more medals (121) overall than China, the next-best country on the list (70), and 19 more golds than Great Britain/the United Kingdom, besting them 46 to 27. And while, perhaps, Usain Bolt’s capturing three more gold medals and cementing his legacy as one of the all-time greats, as well as the host country winning gold in its two biggest sports—soccer and volleyball—were most significant on the world stage, a number of American athletes made their mark on the record books. Gymnast Simone Biles won five medals at the Games—four of them gold—vaulting high into the air, and of course, into our hearts. Swimmer Michael Phelps continued to add to his trophy case. Fellow swimmer Katie Ledecky proved dominant in her races, at one point breaking her own world record. In all, the United States was a force with which to be reckoned in basketball, swimming and track and field, and the women’s soccer team’s early exit at the hands of Sweden marked the only real big upset of the Olympics on the American side, unless you count Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross failing to win gold, and that was only really surprising considering Jennings had never lost at any Summer Games.

Unfortunately, it was not all sand, smiles and sunshine in Rio for Team USA, and despite the country’s relative dominance in the 2016 Olympics, the achievements of the whole have been at least somewhat overshadowed by the actions of one or more bad apples. In particular, the drunken late-night-into-early-morning antics of Ryan Lochte and other members of the U.S. men’s swim team have gotten a fair bit of play on social media and traditional news for the seeming strangeness of it all. It all started innocently enough—if that’s the word one would use about a purported crime—as a tale of Lochte and Co. being pulled over by men posing as police officers, only to have these men point a gun at Ryan’s head and rob them. After all, the story made sense. Rio de Janeiro is no stranger to crime and violence, and within the course of these very Olympics, at least one other athlete was legitimately held up at gunpoint, while reports surfaced of gunfire narrowly missing reporters. The tale weaved by these soused swimmers, owing to what we know of Rio and Brazil, sounded, early on, plausible.

It was not long, though, before the Lochtean narrative began to unravel. Just a few days after Ryan Lochte gave his account of the night’s events and the armed hostility which allegedly ensued, Fernando Veloso, Rio de Janeiro police chief, categorically denied the American swimmer’s claim, and furthermore, said this of him and his story: “We saw our city stained by a fantastical version.” Lochte initially told authorities the taxi the members of the swim team were pulled over, and then a gun was cocked and put to his head. That, evidently, didn’t happen, however, at least not in that way. The taxi instead stopped at a gas station upon the swimmers’ request so they could use the bathroom, whereupon they treated the facilities with the utmost respect. Kidding! They acted like drunk assholes, tearing up the joint! It is only then that a security guard brandished a gun, and witnesses say they saw the Americans give the guard money before leaving.

In fact, right down to the times of events supplied by both sides’ accounts of what happened, key details differ. Simon Romero, in an article for The New York Times, and with the help of Larry Buchanan and Josh Keller, in an interactive point-by-point comparison of Lochte’s version vs. the Rio police’s, outlines how materially inconsistent the two narratives are from one another. The four swimmers—Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, Jimmy Feigen and Ryan Lochte—said they had left Club France, a creation of the Rio Games to honor its namesake, at four in the morning, all intoxicated-like. According to Fernando Veloso and video camera evidence, however, it wasn’t until 5:50 AM that the four members of Team USA stumbled out of the joint. As noted earlier, Lochte’s telling of what happened next at the gas station paints a different picture than what the police insist and what surveillance shows. No gun was cocked and pointed at Ryan’s head, and as he casually failed to initially mention, the swimmers tore up the bathroom and urinated around the premises, though Lochte was adamant on both points that his account was accurate. Perhaps most telling of all, Ryan Lochte said in an interview on The TODAY Show that he and the other athletes were the victims, and that any inconsistencies in his recounting of that night could be attributed to “traumatic mischaracterization.” Once more, however, the videotape tells a different story, and footage of their return to the Olympic Village shows the men laughing and joking around. Seemingly odd behavior from a bunch of victims.

While Simon Romero, in authoring his article, acknowledges the idea that a weapon does appear in both versions of the events in question and that the swimmers do end up giving money in response to this implied—if ultimately moot—threat, and while, furthermore, Chief Veloso admits that it is possible this was an attempt at extortion by the security guards, who were moonlighting at the gas station while also working as prison guards, that Ryan Lochte apparently made up details to make he and the rest of the swim crew present look better (I’m sorry, Ryan, but the idea you would say “whatever” to a gun cocked and held to your head strains credulity), and that he seems inauthentic in his contrition, makes his non-apology apology all the more disappointing. Lochte spoke to Matt Lauer—because when you want hard-hitting journalism, you naturally turn to Matt Lauer—in a one-on-one interview to clarify and apologize for his actions and earlier statements. And though he professed he had “let his team down” and that he was taking “full responsibility” for his actions, his euphemistic language betrayed the notion that he didn’t truly, well, get it—that he acted like an asshole, he lied about it, and he left the other swimmers to try to clean up his mess. A few choice comments from his responses:

“I left details out, which—that’s why I’m in this mess—is I left certain things out. And I over-exaggerated some parts of the story.”

“Over-exaggerated?” I don’t even know if such a word exists, but that’s not the point. Even if you lied by omission, you still lied. Don’t say you exaggerated to try to blunt the impact.

“You know, it was still hours after the incident happened. I was still intoxicated. I was still under that influence. And I’m not making—me being intoxicated—an excuse. I’m not doing that at all. I mean, it was my fault. And I shouldn’t have said that.”

Actually, that’s exactly what it sounds like, Ryan. I get it—alcohol impairs judgment. Still, no one, ahem, held a gun to your head and forced you to drink that much, and while we’re dissecting your words, you weren’t intoxicated—you were drunk. You and/or your mates were hammered enough to trash a gas station bathroom and piss all over the place. And though they are in their twenties, and that might afford them some clemency in chalking their hijinks up to youthful exuberance, 32 years of age, while still not that old compared to many, is more than enough years to warrant better judgment on your part.

“It’s how you want to—it’s how you want to make look like. Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like, we don’t know. All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.”

This is where Ryan Lochte’s explanation begins to go off the rails, and where Lauer actually gets some points for pressing the Olympian on this issue. Robbery and extortion are two very different things, and as Matt Lauer highlights at one point, through someone translating so Lochte and Co. could understand, the Americans were made aware that they were paying money so that security didn’t call the police. In that respect, as Lauer insists, they were making a deal to avoid punishment, and weren’t “victims” being targeted, as calling it a “robbery” would suggest. In other words, they weren’t all that innocent.

“I was immature. And I made a stupid mistake. I’m human. I made a mistake. And I definitely learned from this. And I’m just really sorry.” 

You’re human—well, aren’t we all? Isn’t it a premature to say you’ve learned from this, that this chapter of your life is over? You haven’t had remotely enough time pass to demonstrate through your actions that you’ve truly learned anything. And you say you’re sorry, but I tend to believe you’re mostly sorry you got caught.

“It could [cost me a lot of money]. And that’s something that I’m going to have to live with. That’s something that I’m going to have to deal with. But I know what I did was wrong. And I know I learned my lesson. And all I can do now is better myself and making sure that this kind of stuff never happens again.”

You mean, it should. See, this is why I think Ryan Lochte is truly sorry: because this incident could cost him endorsement deals (in fact, it since already has), and perhaps worse yet, could cost him a place on the U.S. swim team. If Lochte were truly repentant for his actions, he wouldn’t care about what this means for his sponsorships or his quest for more medals, but would place the greatest priority on restoring the public’s faith in him and Team USA, because he deserves to be admonished. I’m not sure that I would want Lochte’s “shenanigans” to permanently damage his image; no one was apparently hurt or killed, and besides, who doesn’t love a good redemption story?

All the same, you’re concerned about your legacy as a role model to little kids? For whose sake? Yours or the kids’? How about you start by admitting you lied, and to refrain from lying going forward? How’s that for a start?


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“Not only is my argument better, Billy, but I wear plaid better too!” (Image retrieved from dailymail.co.uk.)

What must have been particularly galling to Brazilians—and viewers from other countries, including the United States— in watching the events of “Lochte-gate” unfold was the feeling that a spoiled white athlete had acted like an idiot and chose to cheaply try to further pile onto an “exotic” (used by white people when they can’t tell where you’re from) city and country feeling the effects of economic distress, political turmoil, poor infrastructure and violent crime. Worse yet, that members of the media were already looking to exonerate Ryan Lochte, or at least mitigate his level of culpability and responsibility, smacked of a certain degree of privilege. This tendency toward revisionism was brought to the forefront beautifully in a dialog between—you guessed it—two more NBC personalities. A rather salty Al Roker came out in a discussion on The TODAY Show about Lochte by stating the reality of the situation more baldly than an Olympic swimmer’s shorn body. As he put it, speaking to Billy Bush, “He lied. He lied to you, he lied to Matt Lauer, he lied to his mom. He left his teammates hanging while he skedaddled. There was no robbery, there was no pull-over. He lied.” When Bush tried to argue that Ryan Lochte lied about certain details, or that he embellished within his account, Roker quickly interceded, having none of Billy’s sugar-coating Lochte being a liar-liar-pants-on-fire. Or as freelance writer Alexander Hardy put it, “And now, back to Al Roker vs. White Nonsense.”

Though perhaps not an especially egregious example of it, Ryan Lochte’s—and by extension, Billy Bush’s—euphemisms for his drunkenness and lying, as well as his seeking to quickly move on from the controversy, are what some would refer to as “whitesplaining.” As Dictionary.com defines the larger “-splain” neologistic family, it refers to “a combining form extracted from mansplain, and meaning “to explain or comment on something in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner, from the perspective of the group one identifies with.” Thus, if we are whitesplaining Lochte’s antics, we would say he embellished, or over-exaggerated, or otherwise made a mistake. And, plus, he tearfully apologized. White people love when you do that.

I say Lochte-gate is perhaps not an especially egregious example of the phenomenon, because, again, besides a bathroom and the reputations of the swimmers involved getting superficially damaged, no one seems to have gotten physically hurt. It is therefore less serious as with the case of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, whose six-month jail month for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman was justified by the judge’s assertion it would “severely impact” his life—as if getting raped doesn’t impact one’s life. Or as in the now-infamous case of Ethan Couch, who killed four people while drinking and driving—while speeding and with a restricted license, no less—and then tried to claim “affluenza” (the inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege) as a defense. And then there are the “whitesplanations,” if you will, that try to defend or justify more systemic forms of discrimination, as in the support of police officers in more obvious cases of brutality (“they shouldn’t have been resisting”) or the rejection of affirmative action and similar practices on principle (“I don’t want an inferior choice forced on me”). As the persistence of the Donald Trump presidential campaign beyond rational belief illustrates, white people can splain away pretty much anything if you let them.

Rich white people may seek to deflect accusations of rape or murder on the count of their privilege—or, in the case of Trump and his supporters, will assume it of other groups—but it’s their pretense of superiority while trying to hide their wrongdoing that really gets one’s proverbial goat. Not that it exculpates him, of course, but Donald Trump seems to have made this maneuver into an art form. He states some wildly inaccurate theory or lies outright, which is clearly wrong and/or easily debunked, he doubles down on his assertion, and he begins to treat you as if you’re the asshole for bringing up the whole issue he had previously considered closed. In a similar vein, but arguably not nearly as well, Hillary Clinton has stubbornly tried to move past any culpability in her use of one or more private E-mail servers to access classified material while serving as Secretary of State, putting our national interests at risk. She has claimed to have sent over all relevant E-mails in the ongoing inquiry into her use of a private E-mail account. But that’s not true, as 15,000 new E-mails just found would hint at. She has insisted that E-mails weren’t listed as classified at the time they were sent and received, but FBI Director James Comey has refuted that assertion, and after being directly confronted with Comey’s testimony, she responded to the controversy by non-apology apologizing that she “short-circuited” in her response. What are you—a robot, Hillary? No, you didn’t short-circuit—you lied. Then, as a consummate politician would, she tried to shift the blame, alleging Colin Powell told her to use a private server. OMFG, HILLARY, NO, HE DIDN’T. STOP LYING. FOR ONCE, JUST STOP.

And yet, as extremely careless and negligent as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are with their handling of facts or even their own finances, if we’re once more concerned with trying to explain away violence and wanton destruction, let’s highlight the ultimate government-related recipient of a free pass in the U.S. military. There are any number of ways you can approach lack of accountability within the leadership of the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces—discrimination against gays, and an apparent epidemic of sexual assaults against women without superiors doing enough to address the problem, come to mind—but in terms of the slaughter of innocent people, that those with the requisite authority can order a drone or helicopter strike, resulting in massive unintended civilian casualties if a miscalculation or other snafu occurs, and justify it with no more than an “Oops!” is troubling indeed.

Just last month, an American air strike left at least 85 innocent Syrians dead, and while Pentagon officials promised it would investigate these deaths, seemingly no outward progress has been made on this particular front, and it is not as if this error in accuracy and judgment yielding the murder of non-targets is an isolated incident. On one hand, the actions of ISIS and other terror groups is reprehensible, but on the other hand, when we’re indiscriminately bombing the Middle East, killing random human beings without even having to look them in the eye when we destroy their families and villages, that makes us as a country only marginally better. “War on Terror,” huh? When your primary distinction between what you do and what jihadists do is that you don’t film people getting their heads chopped off, that’s a problem, and when the American people accept these “mistakes” or fail to demand more accountability from their leaders in Washington and from the media reporting on these matters, we are guilty by association.


When all comes down to brass tacks, what especially matters, as a subset of this perceived lack of culpability, is that consequences of real weight so frequently seem to be lacking. U.S. Olympic Committee Chief Executive Scott Blackmun has vowed the USOC will review the case of Ryan Lochte and his accompanying drunken swimmers, including potential ramifications, but any theoretical strong ban or fine is unlikely. Brock Turner was banned from both the Stanford and U.S. swim teams, but as discussed, he still got off relatively easy. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton apparently live in a world where there are no repercussions for violating ethical and moral standards, if not the law outright, and in which fabrications and lies are assumed as part of “politics as usual.” And speaking of these two vis-à-vis the U.S. military, noting the former’s self-indulgent tough-guy image he puts forth, and the latter’s much-talked-about hawkishness, does anyone really believe either of them will do much to curb defense spending? If you do, let me tell you about some lovely beachfront property in Idaho I have for someone like you.

What the above figures fail to appreciate is that we, the American people, are smarter and less forgetful than they think we are. Well, most of us are. I’ll confess that some of my peers and adults younger than I am do things that cause me to scratch my head sometimes—not to mention adults my parents’ age. Also, I can personally attest to the notion millennials are forgetful, at least in terms of short-term memory. By the same token, however, the Internet never forgets, so there’s that to fall back on, and moreover, millennials are also supposedly quite good at reading people for authenticity. So, Ryan Lochte et al., some quick notes, in closing: 1) if you’re going to lie, at least do a better job of it; 2) ditto for your non-apology apologies; 3) we understand when you’re using euphemisms to hide your lies, or “over-exaggerations” or “short circuits” or “uh-ohs” or whatever you call them; 4) for us non-Trump-supporters or those of us who are not Jamie Foxx, blaming it on alcohol or people of color only makes matters worse, and 5) when property gets destroyed, or people get bombed, killed, raped or run over, and your reputation suffers, you are not the victim, so stop acting like one or crying that you are. The American public deserves better than a blanket apology, and exploiting your money, power and/or privilege to obscure this idea doesn’t make you better for it. Sorry, but we’re not sorry for saying as much.