All posts in Journalism

In response to Donald Trump’s apparent suggestion that someone kill Hillary Clinton to protect gun rights, Congressman Paul Ryan dismissed it as “a joke gone bad.”  Although trivializing another Trump appeal to violence probably isn’t a good thing, I think Ryan has put a button on the whole Trump phenomena.  The whole Trump campaign is a joke gone bad.

When Trump began his campaign with supporters he had to pay for at Trump Tower, there was every indication he had no intention of actually winning. He had no platform, no organization, had done no research, and hardly had any idea of the issues.

But that was OK.  For some years now, Republicans ran for president not to be president, but to sell books, increase their speaking fees, and if they’re incredibly successful, get a gig on Fox News.  Newt, Huckabee, the pizza guy, are all examples of this trend, and Sarah Palin is their shining example of national elections as a get-rich-quick scheme.

Trump’s TV show was falling in the ratings; he knew it wouldn’t last much longer.  His best shot was to get a show on Fox, and his best shot at doing that was making a splash by running for president.

Tragically, Trump has a history of failing upwards, making bigger mistakes the higher up the ladder he goes.  And this last one was a whopper — he actually became the nominee.  At first, it was great: he left a field of wanna-bes in his wake; he sucked up all the attention in the country; every night, thousands of strangers would cheer him.  This was primo heroin to an addict; life couldn’t be better; he was making Trump Great Again.

But then he needed to run a convention and then build and manage a real national campaign.  Both projects were beyond him. So he’s left with his same old racist act, saying outrageous things to get media attention, and watching his poll numbers slip away.  He won’t just lose, he’ll be humiliated, and then he’ll be assigned to the Republican dustbin.  No Fox News, no high speaking fees.  Just a joke gone bad.

There’s an interesting post an Alexander Stille in the New Yorker with some information from a recent poll in France:

Seven per cent of French people (according to the last C.N.C.D.H. report) acknowledge being “rather racist,” while another twenty-two per cent consider themselves “a little racist,” twenty-five per cent “not very racist,” and forty-four per cent described themselves as “not at all racist,” down by ten per cent.

I suppose it’s great that racist people have the self-knowledge to call themselves “rather racist.”  And the twenty-two percent who consider themselves “a little racist,” for all we know, could be liberals with a sense of realism and not a little guilt. (“C’mon, folks, we’re all prejudiced on some level.”)

The really intriguing group to me is the twenty-five percent who consider themselves “not very racist.”  Who, exactly, are they comparing themselves to?  “Sure I’m a racist.  But my next door neighbor, boy, is that guy really a racist!”  Of course, the next door neighbor is saying the same thing about him.

Like pregnancy, I don’t think that racism ultimately is a question of degree.  You either are or you aren’t.  Everything else is a detail.

What also impresses me is how up front the French are with their racism.  It seems that in America, everyone but the fringe will deny being a racist, even as they are saying something racist: “Well, you know, I’m no racist, but…”  Actually, I don’t know, and you are a racist.

I’m not sure which version I prefer — French or American — naked xenophobia or shallow self-delusion.


There’s a great article in the Times today about the real power behind the thrown of the NRA — the gun manufacturers themselves.  Based on testimony the gun makers gave around 2005, it’s remarkable how closely their beliefs parallel their economic self-interest.

…a review of the documents, which were obtained by The New York Times, show the industry’s leaders arguing, often with detachment and defiance, that their companies bear little responsibility, beyond what the law requires, for monitoring the distributors and dealers who sell their guns to the public.

The article reminds me of a classic Tom Lehrer song about a certain Nazi-turned-NASA scientist.

Once the rockets go up
who cares where they come down?
"That's not my department,"
says Werner von Braun.

Paranoia is the ultimate time saver.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was an Alex Jones fan.  He was a paranoid conspiracy believer who thought the world was run by the Jews. (Ah, if only…..)  Jones, our most famous paranoid conspiracy theorist,  is convinced that the Boston bombings were a conspiracy of the government, and not two moronic terminal narcissists.

Well, I suppose it’s good that Jones supports his readers.

A rational person might ask why there is so much irrationality, why the ridiculous is so easily believed.  My response is that we’re seeing a variant of Goebbels’ “Big Lie” — it’s easier to believe one big lie than a hundred little ones.  But why believe the Big Lie in the first place?

Even low information voters know that big, often scary changes are happening and it’s all beyond their control.  The conservative ideology many people grew up with — conservative socially and/or conservative politically — is failing all over the place.  It’s simply easier to believe the Big Lie than to question all your assumptions and come up with new conclusions.  People just don’t have the mental bandwidth, much less the will to do it.

It’s much easier to believe that Big Lie and feel reassured that you know “what’s really going on.”



Frontline aired an extraordinary documentary from Olly Lambert on the civil war in Syria. He managed to spend time on both sides of the same battle zone with both the Alawites/Syrian army and the Sunnis fighting against them.   He also wrote an article, “I Almost Died in Syria,” about his experience making the documentary, which you can find here. Lambert feels deeply conflicted when he goes into war zones:

The only true and abiding memory I have of the weeks and months spent in places like Helmand province in Afghanistan or a field hospital in Iraq is a vague and intangible sense of my split personality.  One part of me becomes the journalist thief, prowling in search of people and stories to turn into a film. And at the same time I’m something quite different but also connected:  a profoundly moved and thin-skinned witness to the awful extremes of human behavior.  Both sides need the other, but they pull in very different directions.

In a civil war like Syria’s, most of the victims are civilians, and as in most civil wars, civilian deaths are intentional.  Lambert has the traditional producer’s concerns of “getting the shot” while at the same time witnessing horrific suffering and carnage all around him. (If you see the doc, there are multiple scenes of bodies being pulled out of rubble.)

This had traditionally been called “bearing witness.”  It’s an important and honorable role, but that doesn’t seem to make Lambert feel any better.  Bearing witness all too quickly becomes survivors guilt.