Never Choosing Sides

Reporters shouldn’t choose sides:

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has been suspended for two weeks, a source at CNN confirmed to POLITICO.

Earlier on Thursday Labott had tweeted about the House voting on a bill that would make it harder for Syrian refugees to enter the United States.

“House passes bill that could limit Syrian refugees. Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish,” she wrote, linking to a CNN article on the vote.

Several critics, including the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, said the tweet showed bias.

Yes it did, but then that wasn’t said on air, but then Tweets are public and she works for CNN so it might as well have been said on air – and CNN must know that a clear majority of Americans want us to stop letting in any Syrian refugees. A few of those who killed all those people in Paris might have slipped into France with the refugees fleeing for their lives from Syria, although that’s not certain. The mastermind of that operation, now dead, and all the other guys, were born and raised in France or Belgium, but perhaps it’s best to be safe not sorry.

That’s what the Republicans have been saying, and now thirty-one states say they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees, even though they cannot actually do that. The federal government, not each state, determines refugee status. Those are the rules, and once legally here, those folks can move from state to state like anyone else. Still, the executives at CNN must know the mood of the country, and know that their advertisers, who fund all they do, will walk if CNN offends a clear majority of Americans.

It’s best not to take sides. In fact, it’s necessary. If one side says the earth is flat and Elvis is alive and Obama was born in Kenya, report that. And report that the other side says that’s not true. And then report what each side says their evidence is, and what people on the street are saying about that, and what “important” people are saying too, and then leave it at that. The nation will eventually decide which side is full of crap, and then you can report that. But keep your opinions to yourself.

Oh, and in terms of those now fleeing for their lives from Syria, with nothing, never ever say the Republicans are big meanies, and ruining everything America ever stood for. Report that many are saying that, shrug, and then book a few guests who will say that the Republicans are the only ones keeping us safe and those other guys hate America. Then go home and drink heavily. You don’t matter.

There is, however, evidence that the CNN suspension was symbolic:

Some media watchers questioned the punishment (though others pointed out that with the Thanksgiving holiday next week Labott likely had time off anyway). Last year CNN anchor Carol Costello joked on air that audio of a brawl involving Bristol Palin was “the best minute and a half of audio we’ve ever come across.” Costello later apologized for the remarks but was not taken off the air.

That was minor. Elise Labott had to be taken off air. This was major. Bristol Palin wasn’t tearing the country apart. This issue is, as seen in this local news report from Virginia:

Spotsylvania’s Muslim community is well-established, having roots that date back 30 years, and Samer Shalaby was there to update members of it about plans for the construction of a new mosque. However, two unknown men arrived at the meeting and began shouting at the civil engineer, one of them yelling “this is evil!”

The other was more specific, informing Shalaby and his guests that “every one of you are terrorists. You can smile at me. I don’t care what you say – every Muslim is a terrorist.”

When some of those in attendance attempted to inform the man otherwise, they were told to “shut your mouth. I don’t want to hear your mouth. I will do everything that I can do to keep you from doing what you’re doing. It will happen. That will happen.”

Many in the meeting applauded the men’s violent outburst, with some telling WUSA9 that they’re concerned the new, larger mosque might be used to house Syrian refugees.

There are two ways to report this. These two were true patriots from far away who generously dropped by to set things right in this little town, or they were two racist bigots, and bullies, out to slap quite ordinary and harmless people around, because they could. Or you simply report this happened and leave it at that, or report that this also happened:

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy welcomed to his state Wednesday a family of Syrian refugees diverted from Indiana because of security concerns raised by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

“It is the right thing, the humane thing to do,” Malloy told reporters. “Quite frankly, if you believe in God, it’s the morally correct thing to do.”

The family of three fled from Syria to Jordan when their 5-year-old son was less than 1 and is the first family to be redirected after 26 governors objected this week to accepting Syrian refugees, according to the New York Times.

The status of a family of four that was supposed to arrive Dec. 10 in Indianapolis, where they have friends, is in limbo as Catholic Charities weighs how to respond to Pence’s request that the family be directed elsewhere.

“There’s still just a lot of information that we’re all waiting on,” said Heidi Smith, director of refugee services for Catholic Charities Indianapolis. “In the meantime, there are refugees that have no control of their lives and no place to go and nobody wants them. And we have to think about what it would be like to be in their shoes.”

Do we have to think about what it would be like to be in their shoes? Ben Carson says we have to think about something else:

Ben Carson likened Syrian refugees fleeing the country’s bloody civil war and Islamic State violence to dogs on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters following a campaign stop in Mobile, Alabama, Carson stressed that the United States wants smart leaders who care about people, but noted there should always be a balance between safety and humanitarian concerns.

“For instance, you know, if there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way,” Carson said. “Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination.”

Continuing his analogy, the Republican presidential candidate said that screening refugees is like questioning how you protect your children, even though you love dogs and will call the Humane Society to take the dog away to reestablish a safe environment.

No one quite knew what he was saying, but they got the general idea. All Muslims are dogs, really, and some of them are rabid, unfortunately, but he likes dogs, generally.

ISIS will love this. The (sometimes) leading Republican candidate for president called Muslims dogs, even if he didn’t really, as this was just a badly-chosen metaphor. That won’t matter. They’ll loop a clip of this in all their new recruiting videos, but then Donald Trump opened his campaign by saying that Mexicans, at least the ones who sneak across our border, are rapists and murderers and drug dealers – some of them may be good people – he doesn’t know, really – but they are who they are. He has also assured Republicans, repeatedly, that he would get one hundred percent of the Hispanic vote, because they all love him. All the polling shows they hate his guts, but at least he didn’t call them dogs. Perhaps that counts for something.

These guys are a bit divisive, as the New Yorker’s John Cassidy notes here:

On Monday, Chris Christie, another struggling candidate, argued that the first priority was securing the homefront, which meant that the United States couldn’t risk allowing in any more Syrian refugees – not even young children who had lost their parents. “I don’t think orphans under five are being, you know, should be admitted into the United States at this point,” the New Jersey Governor told Hugh Hewitt, the conservative talk-show host.

For heartlessness, illiberalism, and irresponsibility, Christie’s statement seemed hard to beat. But Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, isn’t one to concede defeat easily. Speaking to Sean Hannity, of Fox News, on Tuesday, Trump said that, in order to forestall possible attacks on American soil, the federal government might have to close down mosques. “Nobody wants to say this, and nobody wants to shut down religious institutions,” Trump said. But, he continued, “There’s absolutely no choice. Some really bad things are happening, and they are happening fast.”

In an interview with Yahoo News, which was also carried out on Tuesday, Trump expanded on his ideas for preventing another terrorist attack on this side of the Atlantic. “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before.” he said. “And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule. And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Is that so? Here’s the full context of Trump’s interview with Yahoo’s Hunter Walker:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to – we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

Is that scary? Kevin Drum blames the reporter for that:

Donald Trump is still Donald Trump, trying to gain attention by saying obviously outrageous things. But his latest outrage looks a little contrived. …

It would be one thing if Trump floated the idea himself of warrantless searches and special IDs. It’s quite another if a reporter brings them up and Trump tap dances a little bit. Needless to say, in a better world Trump would have explicitly denounced all these ideas. Obviously we don’t live in that world. Still, the only thing Trump actually said here is that we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. The rest was just a reporter fishing for a headline.

So, don’t make too much of this:

To state the obvious: no, we don’t need to do anything that was “unthinkable” a year ago. As my colleague Miles Johnson notes, “Of the 745,000 refugees resettled in the US since the September 11 terrorist attacks, only two have been arrested on terrorism-related charges.” The American Muslim community has been instrumental in preventing jihadist violence in the US since 9/11, and to deliberately alienate them, as Trump and many other Republicans are proposing, is just about the most dangerous thing we could do.

We know how to fight dangerous people. We know how to fight terrorism. And we don’t have to shred the Constitution to do it. Instead of fishing for headlines and stoking the latest round of fatuous fearmongering from Republicans, maybe we’d be better served if reporters started asking them hard questions instead.

Cassidy isn’t so sure:

The Mexican government is sending us their criminals and murderers. Deport eleven million undocumented immigrants. Cut the tax rate to ten per cent or less for anyone earning under a hundred thousand dollars a year. Megyn Kelly is a lightweight. Ben Carson’s youthful anger problem can be compared to child molestation. Since so much of what Trump says is hot air, it’s tempting to dismiss all of it as mere rabble-rousing or showboating.

In this case, however, it’s surely time to call him out – and some people are already doing just that. Picking up on the Yahoo interview, the Raw Story ran an article headlined “Trump Crosses the Nazi Line: Maybe Muslims Should Wear Special ID Badges.” A headline at Jezebel referred to Trump as “A Literal Fascist.” On Twitter, the astronomer and author Phil Plait commented, “There comes a time when decent, thoughtful, responsible people point out that this is, in fact, what Hitler did.”

Yeah, the Jews had to wear those little yellow Stars of David, but Trump was only spitballing solutions to the problem, so cut him a break, or don’t:

It is important to be careful with language, which Trump often isn’t. Walker’s account at Yahoo makes it clear that he was the one who brought up the possibility of registering American Muslims or making them carry special identification, and that Trump didn’t endorse these proposals. But Trump didn’t dismiss them, either, even after stories appeared attributing the ideas to him. And he did tell Walker that some measures previously considered “unthinkable” were going to be necessary, such as closing down mosques, and that “security is going to rule.”

To some extent, Trump may simply be seeking to maintain an edge over his GOP rivals in an atmosphere that is bordering on hysteria. … But there is a difference between playing politics and deliberately targeting an entire religious group.

But then Trump didn’t back off:

On Thursday night, Trump confirmed that if he were elected President, he would establish a database to track Muslims in the United States. “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely,” he told NBC News after appearing at a town-hall event in Iowa. Trump said that American Muslims would be legally obligated to sign up for the database and added, “It’s all about management. Our country has no management.” He also sought to link the proposed database to the debate about immigration, saying, “It would stop people coming in illegally.”

Cassidy doesn’t think so:

That’s more Trump bluster, of course. Forcing every Muslim in the country to register for some sort of database would do nothing to secure the borders or stanch the flow of undocumented migrants. It also wouldn’t prevent the possibility of some radicalized and disaffected American youths deciding to join the jihadi cause. Indeed, by stigmatizing an entire religious community, it would make such behavior more likely.

And now Cassidy is worried:

Trump must know that his proposals don’t make sense, but he’s pushing on regardless. He has moved from rabble-rousing to demagoguery, or something even uglier. And this time, sadly, we have no option but to take him seriously.

And Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:

Is Drum saying that Republicans won’t stoke fear unless reporters goad them? If he thinks that, he and I have been living in very different Americas, and not just since Friday’s attacks in Paris. Yes, ask Republicans hard questions – but in all likelihood they’ll just respond with the same poll-tested talking points. Then, two years from now, we could wake up with one of these people in the Oval Office executing plans to oppress innocent Americans in ways even Trump never dreamed of. (Back in 2000, we didn’t George W. Bush was going to do what he did, did we?)

So why not prod and provoke the sons-of-bitches? If they have a sense of decency and respect for American ideals, they’ll make short work of the questions. And if not, forewarned is forearmed.

Ask Donald Trump hard questions? Jessica Taylor reports that it’s not that easy:

Donald Trump continued to ratchet up his fiery rhetoric at a campaign event in Massachusetts Wednesday evening… Before the rally, Trump repeated a claim that President Obama wants to bring 250,000 Syrian refugees into the country, which he has followed up by asking if Obama is “insane.” The administration has a plan to bring in just 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. Fewer than 2,000 refugees have entered the country from Syria since 2012, as the screening process takes 18 to 24 months on average.

Trump argued that most Syrian refugees were “tough-looking cookies” and not women and children – even though the State Department says only 2 percent of Syrian refugees are men of fighting age – and he said their entry “could be the great Trojan horse of all time.”

He can say anything and, if good reporters don’t take sides, it will be reported without comment as to whether any of it is true, because we have to take him seriously now, or else:

He was interrupted sporadically by protesters who were in the crowd of 10,500, holding signs that read “Migrant Lives Matter” and “Immigrant Lives Matter,” according to the Washington Post.

But once reporters there tried to document the protesters being hauled away, they were stopped by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who yelled that the media had to stay in their “pen.”

When CNN reporter Noah Gray tried to move to film the protesters, Lewandowski turned to spokeswoman Hope Hicks and said, “Hey: Tell Noah, get back in the pen or he’s fucking blacklisted,” according to the Post.

Should CNN report that? Of course they should. That wouldn’t be taking sides. It happened. Trump’s folks were interfering with the free press trying to cover actual news – but then Fox News would report that CNN refused to play by the quite reasonable rules and was trying to make Trump look bad, because CNN is like that, as everyone knows. But CNN did suspend Elise Labott for that Tweet about the Statue of Liberty bowing its head in anguish. Does that count?

Everyone knows reporters drink heavily. This is why.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Never Choosing Sides

  1. Rick says:

    It’s occurred to me recently that Republicans — and specifically, presidential candidates — may need a brush-up course on how to make analogies. They keep coming up with analogies that don’t work.

    Let me set the stage for the first example:

    On Monday of this week, Obama was in Turkey for the G20 Summit, and during a press conference, he said this:

    “When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who is fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful, that’s not American, that’s not who we are”, Obama said during a G20 press conference, making a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the reckless rhetoric of GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, whose parents fled to the United States from Cuba.

    Later that same day, CNN’s Dana Bash got a chance to ask Cruz about this:

    “What would have happened if your father, who was trying to get from Cuba to the United States, and the political leaders said, ‘Nope, we don’t think so, because who knows? Maybe you could be somebody who could, you know, commit crimes against Americans,’” CNN’s Dana Bash asked the Texas senator during an interview on Monday, pointing out Cruz’s apparent hypocrisy.

    “See, that’s why it’s important to define what it is we’re fighting,” Cruz said. “If my father were part of a theocratic and political movement like radical Islamism that promotes murdering anyone who doesn’t share your extreme faith or forcibly converting them, then it would have made perfect sense,” Cruz said.

    Okay, there’s a problem with that, and it’s that nobody, repeat nobody, is claiming that even one of, much less all of, the 10,000 refugees we’re pledging to resettle here are radical Islamists, or belong to any group whatsoever that promotes murdering people who are not like them, yatta yatta. Refugees to this country have traditionally been, and will continue to be, subjected to an intense screening that takes up to two years — more than long enough to test the patience of any self-respecting terrorist who, I’m sure, could easily find a better way to sneak into the country, and probably one in which he wouldn’t be caught — which he would be, under our rigorous admissions process.

    A better analogy to the Syrians would be U.S. authorities putting Ted’s dad, Rafael, on a list of people going through a two-year process of applying for entry, and he wouldn’t be given the okay until it had been absolutely determined, beyond a doubt, that he would not present a danger to the country — such as being a member of some communist organization, or whatnot.

    As far as I know, Rafael Cruz never went through anything like that back in 1957, despite his (at least claim of having) fought for Fidel Castro, someone who was soon thereafter to become our enemy. How the guy got in so easily, since he was allegedly a rebel, fighting against our ally, is a mystery in itself. Maybe they should have screened him more carefully, as we now know he did bring a threat to the United States, if only indirectly.

    My second example is what Ben Carson said recently:

    “For instance, you know, if there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way,” Carson said. “Doesn’t mean that you hate all dogs by any stretch of the imagination.”

    Carson caught lots of criticism for comparing Syrians to dogs, which an insider-type politician with more experience would have seen coming.

    I think a better analogy would be this:

    “Let’s say you see five or six puppies running around your neighborhood. You’re probably not going to assume something bad about those puppies, such as that they have rabies or anything, and probably not gonna put your children out of the way. Instead of assuming the worst, you’ll probably try to figure out what you can do to protect them from getting hurt, have a vet give them vaccinations, and maybe then even try to find them homes.”

    Or, if you prefer, make that five or six kittens, which works just as well. I realize that’s not the point that President Brain Surgeon was trying to make, but I don’t care. At least my analogy actually works.

    And for my third example, there’s Donald Trump:

    Speaking to Sean Hannity, of Fox News, on Tuesday, Trump said that, in order to forestall possible attacks on American soil, the federal government might have to close down synagogues. “Nobody wants to say this, and nobody wants to shut down religious institutions,” Trump said. But, he continued, “There’s absolutely no choice. Some really bad things are happening, and they are happening fast.”

    Okay, to be fair, his statement wasn’t really an analogy, but only turned into one once I “improved” it.

    And yes, he actually said “mosques”, but can’t you almost hear him say “synagogues”? I guess Trump could argue that it’s all our Jews that are the problem, since all Muslims hate Jews and maybe that’s why they’re all trying to come here in the first place, just to kill our Jews! What, that doesn’t make sense? Okay, but does it make any less sense than anything else he says, such as saying we may have to keep a database of all Muslims and shut down their mosques?

    Although truthfully, it could just as easily have been Presbyterian churches, which have already proven themselves a danger to American society, since Presbyterianism is what seemingly brought us Donald Trump.

    And the truth is — and I know I would probably get into lots of trouble for saying this if anybody actually read the stuff I write — the truth is, when it comes to assessing real threats to our country, I actually fear a Trump presidency more than I fear an ISIS takeover, largely because a Trump takeover of this country seems a lot closer to ever happening.

    Go ahead, admit it! Don’t you, too?


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