• When the news breaks, take a break from TV

    Rule #1 during events like those in Charlottesville: do NOT watch TV for more than a few minutes at a time.

    To keep up, occasionally click on your favorite “breaking news” website.

    Depending on your tastes, that could be Drudge, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Associated Press.

    Of course, once they start interpreting the story, they’ll spin it in their familiar ways.

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    The current news from Charlottesville can be summarized in less than two minutes, tops, and the networks have 24 hours to fill. They will fill them with high drama, idiotic confrontations, and conjectures, mixed with hard reporting and intelligent commentary. How wild can the conjectures get? When CNN was covering the missing Malaysia airliner, they asked experts if extraterrestrials were to blame.

    Intentionally or not, the cable channels heighten viewers’ anxiety with flashing alerts and breathless reporting, following by a sincere look, a bite of the lip, and a calm, “Our thoughts and prayers go out…” So do the thoughts and prayers of the extraterrestrials, I’m guessing. For more on that, tune to CNN.

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    To show you how briefly the real news can be summarized, here is what we know now (as of 6:15 pm, August 12):
    1. White supremacy and neo-Nazi marchers descended on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a public park.
    2. Counter-marchers also showed up to protest the white-supremacy types. We don’t know what kinds of groups were involved in the counter-protest.
    3. The two groups clashed violently, despite a large presence of local and state police.
    4. A car deliberately accelerated into the counter-marchers, killing one immediately and leaving about two dozen more injured.
      • The car sped away, but the driver was soon captured. His name, motivation, and organizational connections have not been disclosed.
    5. A helicopter crashed nearby but details on that are still sketchy. Two people were killed
    6. That makes three people dead (so far), according to Virginia police.
    7. Donald Trump strongly condemned the violence, urging all sides to respect each other and avoid further violence.
      • Virginia’s state officials and those from Charlottesville issued similar statements, adding that the white nationalists should “go home.”
    8. Significantly, Pres. Trump failed to single out the White nationalists in his condemnation of the violence.
      • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) immediately tweet a criticism of the President, urging Trump to condemn the white nationalists and neo-Nazis.

    That’s what we know so far. A newscaster could read it, with appropriate video playing in the background, in under two minutes.

    But they have hours to fill. Instead of filling it with serious and illuminating talk, they will fill it with repetition and, within a few hours, snarling political adversaries.

    Skip it and keep your blood pressure down.

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  • How Five Newspapers Headline Comey’s Testimony: Four are Fair, One is Not

    I have written a separate post summarizing Comey’s testimony: what he said, what he didn’t, what he implied, and what I think is significant about it.

    Comey’s testimony lacerated the president and laid the basis for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate obstruction of justice. That and self-justification were his main goals, and he succeeded.

    But Comey’s testimony was careful.

    Here are some fair representations of it.

    The best, I think, is the Wall Street Journal’s because it

    • Puts Comey’s accusation against Trump in the headline
    • Gives it the most prominent place on the front page without stretching it to World War III headline size
    • Makes clear that Comey is saying how he “felt.” The WSJ is not taking a hard-news stance that he is correct or incorrect in that interpretation

    The Chicago Tribune is fair, too. It gives the story more prominence (a perfectly reasonable decision) and puts the hard news in the subheader.

    The headline merely says what we all know: he testified.

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    Here are two more, equally fair and tough.

     

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    Now, the New York Times.

    The Times’ headline represents everything that is wrong with mainstream media.

    It is an editorial without saying so.

    Why? Because Comey did not testify that Trump tried to “sink” the inquiry.  He was more careful, more lawyers, more “touchy-feely” about what he “felt” (which, of course, is entirely subjective and so cannot be refuted).

    Comey did not say Trump tried to stop the inquiry.

    He didn’t say Trump ordered him to do anything.

    He didn’t report anything like obstruction of justice at the time, as he would have been required to do.

    What he testified was that he felt pressured.

    Comey may be exactly right–or not. We can make our own judgments, but we don’t know for sure.

    His testimony was a lawyerly self-defense, designed to help himself and get revenge on Trump.

    But he did not testify, under oath, that Trump “tried to sink” the investigation. That’s the NYT’s editorial spin.

    Their interpretation may be exactly right, but it belongs on the editorial pages.

    All the other stories above the fold are designed–and headlined–to reinforce the NYT’s editorial viewpoint.

    Their headline should be hard news, and it should be accurate.

    That would be a refreshing change.