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Angry French People in the Road

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The costs of global wonderfulness have come home in France. In an effort to fight global warming, the French government has raised its hydrocarbon tax on gasoline by 2.9 cents/litre and on diesel by 6.5 cents/litre. Most French cars run on diesel, and the prices has gone up by about 23% in the past 12 months. The announcement of a further increase in taxes of 6.5 cents/litre on diesel and 2.9 cents/litre on gasoline, to take effect on the first of the coming year, touched off nationwide protests by citizens wearing yellow vests.

Yellow vest demonstrations blocking roads over increased hydrocarbon taxes in France. Picture from Reuters.

President Emmanuel Macron and other government leaders have promised not to back down on their efforts to discourage hydrocarbon consumption in France. In several foreign speeches, Macron provoked anger in France by criticizing the French people for being “not a reformable country.

Questions? We got ’em.

Why Is Diesel Being Punished Harder?

Older drivers may remember when diesel engines were being promoted in passenger cars as a better alternative to ordinary gasoline engines. That’s over now. The World Health Organization has classified diesel fuel as a dangerous carcinogen. Diesel exhaust contains nitrogen oxides and dioxides and particulate matter. Studies have traced thousands of premature deaths every year back to these pollutants.

Unfortunately, diesel engines were heavily promoted in Europe until 2012. Many citizens who bought diesel cars in good faith are now holding the bag.

Why Are the French Taking to the Streets?

This illustrates how different France is politically from Britain and the U.S. French people have to engage in civil unrest to get heard by their government. Earlier this year, French farmers blocked the ring road around Tolouse in anger over agricultural policy. Happens all the time.

The European dream in action is that bureaucrats decide what is best for everyone. People who are adversely affected by these decisions can then take out their frustrations on the elected politicians. No matter, because the new lot will defer to the bureaucrats, just like the previous bunch did. The politicians exist to give the people the illusion of democracy, while the bureaucrats really run the joint.

Now do you understand why the British want out of the EU?

Why Don’t We Hear about This on Cable News?

Why, indeed? It would seem like the U.S. news networks are desperate for content, since they have to find stories such as how Michelle Obama’s feelings are hurt because Melania Trump isn’t taking Michelle up on her offer of advice (That’s how it is in this country, Melania. We don’t let you be polite.).

So why do we have to go to the BBC to find out what’s going on in France? Are U.S. journalists not interested? Could it be because the story highlights the real costs of action to reduce global warming, in a way that would bring it home to ordinary people?

In the entire time I have heard global warming — it has been decades — I do not usually hear about any drives to find a substitute fuel that is cost-competitive with gasoline. I have been hearing about how “we” need to reduce our energy consumption, which means “we” need to reduce our standard of living. So here are French people confronted with the demand to reduce their standard of living to fight global warming, and they don’t seem to want to. I don’t blame them.

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Written by srojak

November 19, 2018 at 11:08 pm

A Problem Like John Brennan

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John Brennan has served in the Central Intelligence Agency for 25 years. He was station chief in Saudi Arabia and director of the National Counterterrorism Center. He left government service in 2005, but returned in 2009 to serve as Assistant to President Barack Obama for Homeland Security. In 2013, he was nominated and confirmed as CIA Director, in which office Brennan remained until the completion of Obama’s term as President. He is now a senior analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

Brennan has been openly critical of President Trump. This criticism reached a peak after Trump went to Helsinki to meet with Vladimir Putin. The  event included a private meeting with only translators in attendance. Trump and Putin also gave a joint press conference (transcript here). Trump’s tone toward Putin was much more respectful and less disparaging than his tone toward our long standing allies over the previous weeks. He had just called the European Union a “foe”, but he called Russia “a competitor.”

Intelligence analysts are sensitive to those sorts of shades of meaning, so Brennan would have picked right up on it. Or was there more to his reaction than that? Brennan issued this tweet on 16 July:

Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???
[https://twitter.com/JohnBrennan/status/1018885971104985093]

This apparently got Trump’s attention: A month later, Trump revoked Brennan’s security clearance.

How are we to interpret all this? Is there more to the issue than what the media is reporting? Well, natch. So we have to look at the man and the opinion he has circulated.

Did John Brennan Lie to Congress?

In 2014, while the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating CIA interrogation practices, someone at the CIA hacked the Senate Committee’s computer network. Brennan at first denied CIA involvement. After the CIA inspector general established that CIA officers had been involved in the hack, Brennan did the institutional backpedal:

A statement issued Thursday morning by a C.I.A. spokesman said that John O. Brennan, the agency’s director, had apologized to Ms. Feinstein and the committee’s ranking Republican, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and would set up an internal accountability board to review the issue. The statement said that the board, which will be led by a former Democratic senator, Evan Bayh of Indiana, could recommend “potential disciplinary measures” and “steps to address systemic issues.”
— Mark Mazzetti and Carl Hulse, “Inquiry by C.I.A Affirms It Spied on Senate Panel“, The New York Times, 31 Jul 2014.

According to some critics, this incident ought to have led to Brennan’s resignation and cost him his security clearance at that time.

After CIA officials searched the computer of a Senate staffer investigating torture, an outraged Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused Brennan’s CIA of provoking a “constitutional crisis” by thwarting Congress’ ability to perform its mandated right to oversee the executive-branch agency. Two other Democratic Senators called for Brennan’s resignation. Obama and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough aggressively defended Brennan, who eventually apologized to Feinstein.
— David Rohde, “The Politics of Espionage in the Obama-Brennan Era“, Reuters, 2 Nov 2016.

Why Don’t We Hear More about This?

Brennan appeared on Meet the Press on 19 Aug 2018. At no point in his interview did host Chuck Todd ask Brennan about his contentious relations with the Senate. In the panel discussion, Hugh Hewitt was the only person willing to go anywhere near the issue:

Admiral McRaven’s been on my show. I admire him immensely. He gave the best commencement speech in the history of commencement speeches. And everyone knows he’s a hero. Bill Webster’s another man that I greatly admire. Judge Webster let out that letter. I still question the letter because it ignores a lot of the 2014 problems with John Brennan. You know Mark Yudof called for his resignation for spying on Democratic staffers. Dianne Feinstein does not hold John Brennan in high regard. This is a controversial character, and the letter went much further than it ought to have gone. I would have held my bullets if I were McRaven. I would have waited for a different hill than John Brennan’s security clearance on which to die. And as a result I think especially when Brennan comes on this morning, and he’s a colleague of ours, right, at NBC News. But when he walked back treason, you don’t get to walk back treason.
— Meet the Press transcript.

There you have it in a nutshell. Hewitt recoginzes that Brennan works for NBC News. If Hewitt had said more than that, would he be disinvited from NBC? Will he be disinvited for even having said that much? Time will tell.

I don’t think Chuck Todd necessarily had to grill John Brennan and get hostile, but some discussion of his previous issues with congressional oversight is warranted. Brennan needs to address whether he thinks he is a force of nature with unique insight into how America ought to be governed.

Where Have We Heard of This Admiral McRaven Before?

If you’ve ever watched the documentary film Dirty Wars, there is a scene where Admiral William McRaven from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) comes out to a village in Afghanistan to sacrifice a sheep. McRaven is with some Afghan soldiers, and they sacrifice the sheep in a traditional Afghan ritual to atone for killing the wrong people.

JSOC conducted a raid in the night, believing they were attacking a Taliban gathering. Instead, according to the family, they were there to celebrate the birth of a baby. A local police chief who had received American training and three women were killed in the raid. It was later revealed that JSOC tried to cover up their mistake.

When you start digging into the world of spooks and black operations, you find threads that interconnect all over the place. Everyone knows each other. They stick together.

Pathological Hatred

An unsigned editorial in Investor’s Business Daily recounted Brennan’s issues with Congress. The editorial went on to say:

Based on recent bizarrely angry comments, Brennan has a near pathological hatred of Trump. A growing pile of evidence suggests he co-ran a spying operation intended to smear Trump as a stooge of the Russians to help Hillary Clinton win the presidency.
— “Ex-CIA Chief Brennan’s Security Clearance Should Have Been Revoked Long Ago“, Investor’s Business Daily, 17 Aug 2018.

I looked up who is the guiding spirit behind IBD. There is nothing that stands out on their website. On Wikipedia, I read that IBD was founded by William O’Neil. So, absent any signature, I am attributing this editorial to O’Neil.

This, by the way, is why we do need journalists. We need someone to turn over every rock and uncover who writes editorials and doesn’t put his name to them. We need journalists to do the whole job, including providing the unsavory back story behind the latest person denouncing Donald Trump — or anyone else. But I digress.

Look, pathological hatred is in the eye of the beholder, especially when Donald Trump is involved. His statements, by themselves, are completely unreliable; one has to interpret them in the light of his actions. In that light, what we see is a small, self-absorbed king wannabee. He can dish out abuse but he can’t take it. The greatest limit of his menace is his total lack of impulse control. He would be much more dangerous if he ever learned to shut up and stop telegraphing his punches.

So how a person with these deficiencies, who went out of his way to alienate entire blocs of voters — most notably women and Hispanics — become President? By being the second least likable major party candidate on offer. By being open and honest about having lined his pockets, while his opponent claimed to do everything for “the people”. By offering an alternative to a party that thinks that, if you are successful, you owe reparations to everyone who is unsuccessful (Remember: “You didn’t build that”). We just had the spectacle of the Democratic Governor of New York promising, “We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great.” Like the Bourbon kings of France, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

So, for readers who supported Trump and continue to do so, I understand your pain and your hope. I share your dissatisfaction with Republicans who won’t challenge Progressive orthodoxy, who won’t fight to impose conservative definitions and norms, who just want to get along so they can go along.

However, I also understand people who despise Donald Trump for the persona he has created, for his contempt for existing protocols and ways of doing business. I have previously written that, “On 20 January 2017, the Executive branch of the US Government was taken over by a bad family business.” Everything I have seen in the past year has only reinforced that analysis.

And then there is Russia.

What Is Going on with Russia?

Clearly, Brennan doesn’t like how Trump is conducting himself with Russia. Well, what can we say about that? Spooks don’t get to make foreign policy. When they take over, we start having covert operations all over the place, and then they blow back on us. It doesn’t end well.

Brennan may believe that Trump has gone outside the normal control limits of policy decisions and into putting the interests of a foreign power over the interests of the United States. Even from where I sit, there is considerable justification for asking questions about that. However, I am not in a position to make the leap to accusing Trump of treason, because I don’t have the hard evidence to support such an accusation. It’s a very serious charge. Whether or not I could be sued, whether or not Trump could sic the IRS on me in retaliation, by my personal standards of journalism I am not at a point where I can justify publicly making an accusation of that magnitude.

Evidently, Brennan got past such a point in mid-July. So the question becomes: how did he get to that point? He had a security clearance; I don’t. But his having the access to information that he has complicates matters. If he knows something the rest of us don’t know relevant to Trump’s relationship to Russia, what can he do with that knowledge?

Security Clearances and Free Speech

Let’s take Donald Trump out of the equation for a while. Let’s say Brennan had some information that some random Senator was selling out to a foreign power. What could he do with that information? If he publicly accuses the Senator of treason, then it is incumbent upon him to support his claims. But if he is getting his information through secret channels, he can’t support his claims. Saying “I know this is treason, but if I told you how I know, I would have to kill you” is not helpful. If we were just to accept this reasoning, we would hand the spooks the keys to the country.

When a person gets a security clearance, his right of free speech is circumscribed. Obviously, he can’t divulge classified information, but there is more to it than that. He can’t make statements that insinuate possession of knowledge that he can’t divulge. He can’t act as if he has a basis for his public statements that are classified, whether or not he actually has such a basis. Because he can’t publicly provide support for his statements without breaching his commitment to keep secret information secret, he can’t make public statements that either depend on secret information or would depend on such information if it had existed.

The decision tree set up by Senator Richard Burr in his public statement of 16 Aug is appropriate:

Director Brennan’s recent statements purport to know as fact that the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power. If Director Brennan’s statement is based on intelligence he received while still leading the CIA, why didn’t he include it in the Intelligence Community Assessment released in 2017? If his statement is based on intelligence he has seen since leaving office, it constitutes an intelligence breach. If he has some other personal knowledge of or evidence of collusion, it should be disclosed to the Special Counsel, not The New York Times.

If, however, Director Brennan’s statement is purely political and based on conjecture, the president has full authority to revoke his security clearance as head of the Executive Branch.

So What Was Brennan Supposed to Have Done?

So let’s assume that Brennan’s motives are sincere. He watches the performance of Donald Trump on his 2018 Trashing American Foreign Relations tour of Europe. and he is completely fouled out. Assume he genuinely believes this man is a menace to American interests and is throwing the game. It’s not an unreasonable assumption.

As Burr stated, Brennan could go to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Perhaps Brennan already did this, but believed that he needed to do more.

He could also have gone to Congress. He was, after all, Director of the CIA. He knows people in Congress. Unfortunately, they also know him. He antagonized DiFi back in 2014. Rep. Devin Nunes does not appear to offer a promising avenue; he has been a vocal critic of the Mueller investigation. Did Brennan, through his earlier actions, burn his bridges in front of him?

The Call to Conscience

I found this exchange from Meet the Press to be illuminating, as it shows Brennan’s thinking:

CHUCK TODD: — if you were currently the head of the C.I.A. and the president revoked the security clearance of a former C.I.A. head, what would you do as sitting C.I.A. Director under that circumstance? And what advice would you give to Gina Haspel, the current head of the C.I.A.?

JOHN BRENNAN: Well, I admire and respect, Gina Haspel — and I want her to stay as C.I.A. Director because I think it’s important that the institution of the C.I.A. and the professionals be protected from this very, very abusive White House and Mr. Trump.

Brennan went on to describe this question as a matter of conscience, which I completely agree with. He later said, “I think that’s what a lot of these very senior officials are trying to reconcile in their own minds how much they can stay and be governors on Mr. Trump’s behavior and how much they cannot countenance at all.”

In the later round table discussion, NBC News reporter Carol Lee offered this analysis:

And then [Brennan] says when you asked him about what he would do as C.I.A. Director which was a great question, he didn’t really have an answer in the sense that he said, “Well, I’d have a private conversation with the president. And then, you know, based on whatever he said maybe I would go publicly.” And then he talks about individuals who work in the government needing to possibly resign if they reach that point of where they’ve crossed over from governing to enabling. But what is that distinction? And he didn’t make any of that clear.

Brennan can’t make the distinction clear. He made it clear that it is a matter of personal conscience. Maybe people in the press have already decided that the only morally valid option is to join the Resistance, but that doesn’t mean everybody in America has decided this.

We, the People, are all being confronted with a call to conscience. The decisions between good and bad are simple, even if they are not always easy. The really hard decisions are between bad this way and bad that way. That is the kind of decision with which we were confronted in 2016. It will happen again in 2018, and is very likely to recur in 2020.

John Brennan is a flawed individual who, I believe, wants to do the Right Thing. His opinion of the Right Thing appears to be colored by his prior perspective: what’s good for the CIA is good for America. Congress sees this and is understandably wary. He may have made mistakes in the past that circumscribe his available options now. His is a very human story. I hope that, someday, we get to hear it in full, the unvarnished truth of it.

Written by srojak

August 21, 2018 at 5:00 am

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.

 

 

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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