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Oh, That Maggie Haberman

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Remember the 2016 WikiLeaks dump of John Podesta emails? Here is an excerpt from one of them. The author of this email is Nick Merrill, traveling press secretary for Hillary Clinton.

Placing a Story

As discussed on our call, we are all in agreement that the time is right place a story with a friendly journalist in the coming days that positions us a little more transparently while achieving the above goals.

Who:

For something like this, especially in the absence of us teasing things out to others, we feel that it’s important to go with what is safe and what has worked in the past, and to a publication that will reach industry people for recruitment purposes.

We have has a very good relationship with Maggie Haberman of Politico over the last year. We have had her tee up stories for us before and have never been disappointed. While we should have a larger conversation in the near future about a broader strategy for reengaging the beat press that covers HRC, for this we think we can achieve our objective and do the most shaping by going to Maggie.

So there is the evidence.

Is the Evidence Accurate?

Please notice that I did not say credible. I would be interested if I were seeing any discussion where Merrill produced evidence that this mail was fabricated, or Haberman produced evidence rebutting the claim that she was reliably teeing up stories for the Clinton campaign. I would still be interested in seeing such challenges to the evidence.

But I am not seeing that.

Or Can We Be Distracted?

Instead, I have been watching a small PR campaign to defend Haberman over the course of the past year and a half. Perhaps the high point, if you will, of the effort was the episode of CNN’s Reliable Sources on 3 Sept 2017, in which Brian Stelter hosted a little father-daughter outing for Clyde and Maggie Haberman. Awww.

Evidently Stelter and his colleague, Dylan Bylers, got into Haberman’s doghouse in May 2016 for arguing over the narrative of the Trump campaign. Maybe this was a make-good? I have a day job, so I can’t stay current on what the cool kids in journalism are up to.

Another Target of Donald Trump

On 21 Apr 2018, Donald Trump issued this tweet:

The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will “flip.” They use…
[source: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/987679848284999680?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw]

Here is the piece co-written by Haberman that triggered this outburst. We know that Trump swings wild; this show has been going on for over two years now. It’s part of his “plain everyday folks” shtick, along with the bad grammar and misspellings. He’s convinced that his people love him for it, and nobody is going to tell him otherwise. He’s going to run this play until someone provides undisputable proof that it doesn’t work anymore.

I’m actually disappointed that he didn’t say, “The failing New York Times“, like he usually does when he tweets. He must be having an off day.

I had an accounting teacher who had started businesses. He said that starting a business was like hunting rabbits. You don’t aim at a rabbit, you just point the shotgun and shoot until you hit a rabbit. This is what Trump’s tweets remind me of. Point the shotgun and blast away.

On Reliable Sources today, Stelter saddled up his high horse in defense of Haberman, providing an almost point-by-point rebuttal of Trump’s rundown of Haberman. Countering Trump’s claim that Haberman is “a third rate reporter”, Stelter cited the Pulitzer Prize awarded to her. He showed this image of Haberman and Trump together in the Oval Office in rebuttal to his “who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with” statement.

But the part I am interested in is the claim of her being a flunky for Hillary Clinton, and Stelter left that unaddressed.

When discussing this matter with people I know, someone else called Haberman a hack. I can see why Trump takes the approach that he does; if you disagree with someone, you apparently have to establish that they have no redeeming qualities at all. I can’t explain why that is necessary; it just seems to be something that some people do. I can see why, when Trump tweets, he just loads up the shotgun and blasts away. It seems to find favor with other people, though not with me.

The Issue at Hand

I don’t want to impugn Haberman’s journalistic achievements. For my purposes, I am prepared to take other people’s word that she is an excellent investigator, a great co-worker and a loving mom.

What I want to discuss is whether or not she was known to the Hillary Clinton campaign as a reliable stooge who could be used to tee up news stories to advance their agenda.

In this article, Jack Shafer took the line that, “the Podesta emails give us all a strong sense of how the news sausage is made.” If that is true, there is value in knowing that. But it doesn’t excuse or justify the behavior. Shafer wrote:

I don’t engage in that sort of ass-kissery, but if ass-kissery fills his notebook and produces good copy, I’m willing to suspend judgment.

But now we have a big uproar over news bias and whether journalists can be trusted. If a journalist is in the tank for a presidential candidate, how can that journalist be trusted as an objective source? So there is more to the job than filling a notebook.

The New York Times has launched an ad campaign centered on the idea of the truth. If their reporter is selecting stories to benefit a presidential candidate, are we getting all the truth that is fit to print? Or are we getting a selected subset of truth that favors a particular viewpoint?

Maggie Haberman has some ‘splaining to do. So do other journalists who behave in a similar manner to her. They have to be accountable if we are ever going to come together as a nation, have one version of the truth and trust the media again.

 

 

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Written by srojak

April 22, 2018 at 6:03 pm

Whatever Happened to the New Overtime Rules?

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Back in 2016, President Barack Obama wielded his pen to sign a Presidential Memorandum (= executive order) to change the labor laws by which eligibility for overtime was determined. I described them in this essay.

Before the new rules went into effect, a group of plaintiffs went to federal district court and obtained a temporary injunction blocking the implementation. The lead plaintiff was the State of Nevada, whose finances were also affected by the change.

In August 2017, Judge Amos Mazzant made the temporary stay a permanent invalidation. The judge concluded that the intent of Congress was to apply eligibility for overtime based on duties, whereas the proposed rule change would change the basis to pay rate. Here is a more detailed summary of the ruling.

As I have previously discussed, I do not object to raising the pay threshold for overtime eligibility on principle. Employers should not be able to defeat the spirit of labor law through arbitrary reclassification of employees.

Nevertheless, I take the point that Judge Mazzant makes in his opinion:

As explored above, the plain meaning of the words in Section 213(a)(1) indicates Congress defined the EAP exemption with regard to duties. In other words, Congress intended for employees who perform “bona fide executive,  administrative, or professional capacity” duties to be exempt from overtime pay. Congress delegated authority to the Department to not only define and delimit the EAP exemption but also to stay consistent with Congress’s intent.

The judge was true to the intent of the Constitution that Congress, not the President, is vested with the authority to make law. What should have happened is the President should have gone back to Congress for a revision of the rules. He needed the assent of Congress to revise the law to raise the importance of pay rate and reduce the importance of job duties.

Obama had a deteriorating relationship with Congress. The reason is not material; I don’t want to play “who shot John.” The point is that if the President can’t get his initiative through Congress, then constitutionally, he doesn’t get to act. It matters not how noble he believes his purpose is.

I also consider it noteworthy how I have heard absolutely nothing about this issue in the media. I found about the planned revisions at work, in an email from Human Resources. Thereafter, I followed up on my own.

Journalists spend thousands of air minutes and column-inches every day rehashing how abnormal the current President and his administration are. Even if we accept their findings, they are no longer news. Today is day 426 of the Trump presidency. The man is over 70 years old, he’s not going to change and he’s not going to adapt to standards of behavior he doesn’t accept. Get over it.

The problem here is news selection, not fake news. The fact that journalists spend so much time at the circus and so little time on issues of real life importance is not trivial. We depend on journalists to find news for us, because we have day jobs. This is an issue that affects thousands of employers and millions of workers. It should not be crowded out by the latest executive tantrum.

Written by srojak

March 22, 2018 at 1:38 pm

It’s Not Your Soapbox, Margaret

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Yesterday on Face the Nation, Margaret Brennan was interviewing Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Here is the relevant excerpt from the transcript:

BRENNAN: Well, the CIA is looking at declassifying the details of exactly what her job was. They have not confirmed that she ran that black site, but why don’t you withhold your judgment on her until you see the details of her 33-year career?

SEN. PAUL: Because I think there’s ample information out there and it’s not disputed that she ran the black ops operation in Thailand, that she did oversee enhanced interrogation. In fact, her colleagues have said that she was an enthusiastic supporter of these enhanced interrogation or waterboarding or torture as most of us have come to believe it. There is also evidence that she signed a cable to destroy the evidence. There were videotapes which I’m sure were ghastly of the simulated drowning and these were destroyed with her support and advocacy when she returned home to Washington.

So I think there’s got to be plenty of good people at the CIA who weren’t involved with torture and really we, you know, we’re supposed to be the symbol of hope for the world and people who want freedom from totalitarianism. They want freedom from torture. They don’t want the freedom to torture–

BRENNAN: But that was–

SEN. PAUL: — so I think this sets a terrible, this sets a terrible example for the world.

BRENNAN: To be clear, though that was U.S. policy at that time. That wasn’t her individual policy, but just to quickly fact check you on something there, sir, the investigator who looked into some of what you’re talking about with those tapes, the CBS News senior security contributor, the former number two at the CIA, Mike Morell, did clear Haspel saying she didn’t order the destruction. Her superior, did she just drafted the cable. Does that change your view of her?

I have added emphasis to highly the critical point of the interview, where Brennan starts talking over Paul to make her own point. It does not really come through as clearly in the transcript as it does in the original video, which is linked to the transcript.

It is out of scope for this essay to consider the merits of the arguments the Senator is making. It is clear from his presentation that, even though “enhanced interrogation techniques” were legal and authorized at the time Haspel was involved in their conduct, Paul finds them immoral and challenges the morality of persons who were engaged in executing them. It is not my purpose to support or refute his position here.

The problem is that Brennan’s conduct of the interview strongly suggests that she has a position, which is to exonerate Haspel because her actions were legal at the time. That is a potentially valid argument, and as a citizen herself, she is entitled to her viewpoint. But we are not here to watch Margaret Brennan interview herself. The people of Kentucky elected Rand Paul to the Senate; who elected Margaret Brennan to anything?

As a citizen, what I want Brennan to do is to draw out and clarify her interviewee’s arguments in favor of his planned course of action. In this case, her interviewee is Sen. Paul and his planned course of action is to object to the confirmation of Gina Haspel.

Brennan could have asked Paul a question such as, “Why do you believe that, even though the actions in which we know Haspel to have been involved with were legal at the time, her participation in them disqualifies her from consideration for the position she has been nominated for?” Had she done this, and let him answer, she would have been doing good journalism.

Instead, in the part of the transcript I emphasized, she cut him off and inserted advocacy for her own point of view. Then she changed the subject so that she could have the last word. If she was running out of time for the segment, she should have said so and not taken the last word. He’s the person being interviewed; he gets the last word.

The earlier paragraph, in which Brennan asked Paul why he would not withhold his judgement until further information is made available, is also a questionable insertion of perspective. Senators are there to make judgments, not withhold them. Particularly where black operations are involved, withholding judgment until you have all the facts is just a license for people to withhold the facts. Paul is within his rights to basically say, “Here is my current position based on what I know; you persuade me to change it.”

I don’t mean to pick on Margaret Brennan. She didn’t do anything plenty of other journalists are not also doing. She is the person CBS has chosen to lead Face the Nation. I watch the show regularly and I want her to succeed; look what happened to Meet the Press after Tim Russert died. I just caught Brennan in flagrante delicto and I knew within a few days I would have a transcript.

But what this incident illustrates is part of the problem journalists have, and they have to fix it. You can’t take sides and then claim to just be reporting the facts. Furthermore, it is not enough to tell yourself and your friends you are not taking sides; you cannot give the appearance of taking sides.

I don’t agree with the claim that mainstream media is presenting fake news. This is a gross oversimplification, shallow and easy to refute. Journalists, editors and media executives know their credibility is on the line. They are rather vigilant about policing themselves in that regard. When The New York Times discovered that they had a problem with reporting done by Jayson Blair, they took action to clean up the mess and keep the initiative in tending their reputation.

The problem is that journalists fluidly flip back and forth over the line between advocacy and impartiality. As a citizen, I want to understand the positions of my elected representatives. There is really little difference between journalists inserting their own opinions and athletes, actors or musicians using their celebrity status to pontificate to the rest of us. They are citizens just like the rest of us. They just have more access. Having access does not confer expertise, nor does it gives you more votes than any other citizen.

This flipping back and forth impairs effective journalism, because people who disagree with your agenda start to distrust you. They start looking for you to insert your agenda, even where you really haven’t. They start preferring the most cynical interpretation of everything you say. They start discounting your reporting. This is already happening.

Journalists, being people, can’t avoid having their own viewpoints. They are not going to be robots and always report the facts without color of their own biases. However, in order for us to have effective journalism, those practicing it have to make an honest attempt to square this circle. It is difficult, but we are heading into increasingly rough weather. We haven’t even got to the difficult part yet.

Written by srojak

March 19, 2018 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Journalism Foul

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