Opinion | Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort – 2/22/18 – by Brett Stephens – NYT

This is the text of a lecture delivered at the University of Michigan on Tuesday. The speech was sponsored by Wallace House.

“I’d like to express my appreciation for Lynette Clemetson and her team at Knight-Wallace for hosting me in Ann Arbor today. It’s a great honor. I think of Knight-Wallace as a citadel of American journalism. And, Lord knows, we need a few citadels, because journalism today is a profession under several sieges.

To name a few:

There is the economic siege, particularly the collapse of traditional revenue streams, which has undermined the ability of scores of news organizations to remain financially healthy and invest in the kind of in-depth investigative, enterprise, local and foreign reporting this country so desperately needs.

There is a cultural siege, as exemplified by the fact that a growing number of Americans seem to think that if something is reported in the so-called mainstream media, it is ipso facto untrue.”

David Lindsay:   “Excellent piece. I applaud it. I also recommended the two top comments, which reflect my concerns, as someone who wrote to the NYT complaining that Amy Chosick was on occassion unfair to Hillary Clinton, and appeared to hate her. Chosick has written a book, where she has admitted to her distaste for Hillary’s aloofness.

Lynn
New YorkFeb. 22
“Some readers, for example, still resent The Times for some of the unflattering coverage of Hillary Clinton throughout the campaign, as if the paper’s patriotic duty was to write fluff pieces about her in order to smooth her way to high office.”

No, we resent you for not doing what you so righteously claim to do. We resent you for not covering Hillary Clinton’s daily, substantive, issue-oriented responses to voters’ serious questions, and instead shallow email email email.

It even went so far that when your reporter, Amy Chozik, wrote about the book of policies Clinton and Kaine put together, all Chozik described were book sales.

The 2016 election was a perfect case study: a serious, policy-wonk candidate who devoted time to talk with a wide-range of stakeholders and to put together serious proposals to address a wide range of problems vs a candidate whose “policy” was to say “you’re really going to like it, believe me” or to claim “cheaper better” health care with no further details.

The serious policy proposals were ignored, the candidate who proposed them rejected as a poor politician, because details are boring and slogans are catchy.

And, after such shallow campaign reporting, you complain that readers aren’t interested in long-form journalism. We did not want “fluff”–which is what we got (and polls)–what we wanted was long-form journalism. The Times’ campaign coverage was sound-bites, personalities, and polls, and, of course, emails. Do better next time.

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Paul-A commented February 22
P
Paul-A
St. Lawrence, NYFeb. 22
Times Pick
While I don’t always agree with Stephens, he’s the most thoughtful of the conservative columnists at the NYTimes; and this piece demonstrates his insightfulness.

However, there’s an important issue that he glosses over in this column. He does note that Rightwing media like Fox, Limbaugh, Beck, the Hill, Breitbart, etc. stopped being “news” outlets a long time ago. But he’s implying that most media on the Left have been following suit, and are drifting almost as far over the edge. This is a false equivalence.

Does he really believe that even the most Lefty media (like MSNBC and Huffington Post) are becoming nearly as bad as Fox and Breitbart?

And he also fails to acknowledge the impact that time adds to the equation: Rightwing media became partisan propaganda 20+ years ago, and their brainwashing/poisoning of our political and journalism discourse has accumulated to be ingrained in 35% of our citizens. The Left’s drift leftward has only been a recent response, in order to try to save our country.

And he also omits discussion of putatively moderate/reasonable Rightwing media, such as the Wall Street Journal (where hs used to work). The WSJ is much more biased than the NYTimes, or even the Washington Post. Yet why didn’t he speak out against that drift when he wrote for them? Why didn’t he decry what Fox et al were doing to “conservative news” over the past decades?

Reasonable conservatives need to come to terms with their silent complicity in what has brought us here.

14 Replies347 Recommended

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‘Hush Money’ Now Playing Everywhere – Gail Collins and Brett Stephens – NYT

“Speaking of which, I know we’re in agreement about the gun issue, and nearly everybody was moved by the marches over the weekend. But I still do wonder why the country was so totally mobilized by what happened in Florida when the response to previous disasters — for God’s sake, grade-school kids in Newtown — was so comparatively muted.

Do you think it was because these survivors are older and so articulate? Or that having Trump in the White House made everyone more sensitive to moral issues? I even wondered if it was because this time it happened in a political barometer-state like Florida.Bret: All of the above, I suspect. The Parkland students have spoken out to magnificent effect, something the Newtown children were simply too young to do for themselves.

I also get the sense that the pace of these atrocities has accelerated. Before Parkland it was the church shooting in Sutherland Springs. Before that, the concertgoers in Las Vegas. Before that, the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise at the baseball field near Washington. Maybe, at some level of the national psyche, we understood that we we’re coming dangerously close to accepting these atrocities as an accepted fact of life. Defining deviancy down for the sake of Wayne LaPierre’s N.R.A.? No, thank you.

Gail: Whenever I feel depressed I remind myself that the N.R.A. is having its worst year ever.Bret: One of the paradoxes of the Trump presidency is that it has galvanized the country in all sorts of positive ways. From Charlottesville to l’Affaire Stormy, he has brought to the surface all sorts of ugliness that is simply unignorable. For instance, do you think the #MeToo movement would have taken hold the way it did if he weren’t in the White House?

Gail: It’s a necessary stage in women’s progress — socially and economically — so we’d have gotten there anyway. But having the worst-possible male image in the White House probably propelled things forward faster.

I guess you could say he’s so bad he’s making us better.

David Lindsay: Yes. Here is one of many good comments:

R. Law is a trusted commenter Texas 2 hours ago
Gail, you say:

“But I still do wonder why the country was so totally mobilized by what happened in Florida when the response to previous disasters — for God’s sake, grade-school kids in Newtown — was so comparatively muted.”

Partly this was because Parkland had just been named the safest city in Florida, partly this was because the city is only a 1/2 hour drive from Mar-a-Loco (the southern asylum), but mostly, it’s because Broward County tax-payers support a school district that EDUCATES their kids – the schools require public speaking instruction from an early age and THIS year, the kids in high school were already debating gun control, as all aptly described by Dahlia Lithwick’s article:

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/02/the-student-activists-of-mar…

There’s really a wonderful story here of actual, comprehensive public education that deserves more focus, which raises standards in surrounding counties as it partly bleeds over into the way Miami-Dade’s schools are run by the superintendent that NYC unsuccessfully tried to lure as its Schools Chancellor.

Kudos to Broward County tax-payers, and to the educators who devised/implementedthe excellent curriculum to motivate future leaders to excel, producing such dynamic, well-spoken young leaders !”
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Fights Worth Having – by Brett Stephens – NYT

“For my money, the best op-ed published in The Times this week was Mona Charen’s Feb. 25 barn-burner, “I’m Glad I Got Booed at CPAC.” Charen is a movement conservative who worked for Nancy and Ronald Reagan and is a longtime contributor to National Review. One of her books is titled “Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help.” A Bernie Sanders progressive she is not.

But Charen is also a NeverTrumper who chose to speak her mind during a panel discussion on the #MeToo movement at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference. Asked by the moderator to discuss feminist hypocrisy, Charen reframed the question.

“I’m disappointed in people on our side,” she replied. “For being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party. Who are sitting in the White House. Who brag about their extramarital affairs. Who brag about mistreating women. And because he happens to have an ‘R’ after his name, we look the other way, we don’t complain.” “

On What Planet Is the F.B.I. Anti-Republican? – By GAIL COLLINS and BRET STEPHENS – NYT

Bret: Punxsutawney Phil might want to cover his ears for this one: Barring a market meltdown, Democratic chances of retaking one or both houses of Congress are slipping. Trump outplayed Chuck Schumer over the government shutdown, and he’s outplaying (or out-demagoguing) Democrats on immigration, too. For immigration restrictionists, showing charity toward the Dreamers is a relatively small price to pay for building a wall and fundamentally changing the rules of the game when it comes to who gets a shot at coming to this country. His State of the Union line that “Americans are dreamers, too” pretty much sums it up.

I could be wrong for all sorts of reasons, but I think Democrats need to stop playing to the most passionate quarters of their Trump-hating base and start targeting a different demographic: namely, the millions of people who voted for Obama in 2012 but went for Trump in 2016.

DL: Amen.

Democrats Are Walking Into a Trumpian Trap – by Brett Stephens – NYT

“Take a walk with me, dear reader, into the yard, down the street — anywhere, really, just so that we can step outside of our house of outrage. It’s a roomy house, with space for everyone from woke progressives to disillusioned conservatives. It’s a good house, filled with people united in a just and defiant cause. It’s a harmonious house, thrumming with the sound of people agreeing vigorously.

And lately, we’ve started to believe we’re … winning.

We breathed relief Tuesday night when Roy Moore went down to his well-earned political death, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker at the end of Batman. We roared when Robert Mueller extracted a guilty plea from a cooperative Michael Flynn, and the investigative noose seemed to tighten around Donald Trump’s neck. We cheered when Democrat Ralph Northam trounced Ed Gillespie after the Republican took the low road with anti-immigrant demagogy.

It’s all lining up. Democrats have an 11-point edge over Republicans in the generic congressional ballot. The president’s approval rating is barely scraping 37 percent. Nearly six in 10 Americans say the United States is on the “wrong track.” Isn’t revenge in 2018 starting to taste sweet — and 2020 even sweeter?

Don’t bet on it. Democrats are making the same mistakes Republicans made when they inhabited their own house of outrage, back in 1998.”

David Lindsay Jr.

Hamden, CT 

Mr Stephens, you have the mouth of Saruman. The top commentors are all better at historical recollection than you. They can dispell your ugly spells. Reading your dreadful, false comparisons, put a profound chill in me. But Charles Blow followed, with his hurricane wind Patronus, and the chill evaporated.

Mike Lancaster, PA 4 hours ago
Before we go back to 1998, let’s clear up a few things about the present.

The Russian government meddled in our elections. The deputy attorney general ordered the special counsel, not the “president’s opponents.” The counsel’s investigation is not a “political bet” — it was ordered to look into the election interference and the complex ties to the Trump campaign. The investigation is a worthwhile effort, regardless of whether democrats or republicans feel “vindicated” at the end.

Sixteen women have accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct. Being outraged and calling on Trump to resign are reasonable, regardless of the challenges in removing him from office.

Nearly every day, our president attacks the free press, lies and appears to have little understanding of our branches of government, their importance or the policies he supports. Any effort to hold him accountable is worthwhile. regardless of how strong the economy is.

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sdavidc9 is a trusted commenter Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut 6 hours ago
The outrage at Clinton was largely invented. Aside from some bad sexual habits, he was a competent politician who managed to get things done in spite of a determined, resourceful, and unscrupulous opposition. Getting his political enemies to work with him, he got the deficit under control and established constraints to keep it that way, accomplishments that were immediately shredded by dubya.

The outrage at Trump does not need to be invented. He risks the planet’s future, shreds our alliances, rubs salt in our national divisions of gender and race, knows very little about issues or how government works and does not care to learn, establishes and feeds an alternate fact-free universe, shuts the government down in many areas by not staffing it with leaders, and pours the stimulus of deficit spending on an economy already running at full speed. He is a plutocrat and does not believe in most of our fundamental values.

Trump is not afraid of bankruptcy. He made it work for him, and he probably thinks he can make it work for the country if the economy falters.

The robust economy means that more people will have jobs, but large chunks of their income will go to health care, cable bills, and other costs that are not controlled by government or by real competition. The fruits of the robust economy are going to those at the top.

Trump supporters are not rationale economic men for whom growth and inflation rates are important.

Reply 646 Recommended

Kevin Rothstein is a trusted commenter Somewhere East of the GWB 6 hours ago
Well, Brett, you are correct, at least in theory.

But Trump is no Clinton.

And 1998 is not 2018.

And we all know what happened in the years following 1998.

So, maybe you are right, and maybe, if history does not repeat itself, it often rhymes.

But Clinton was very popular among the masses; Trump is not.

Clinton did not assault our senses on a daily basis; Trump belongs in an asylum.

The electorate is also different than in 1998, and subject to the inevitable attrition of my generation, who actually care what an arcane index is on a daily basis, and giving way to our children’s and grandchildren’s generation, who are just trying to get by.

So, we will soon see if greed “trumps” basic common decency once again; if irrational exuberance and short-term economic growth overrules common sense.

If we choose to forget the past, then we are doomed, and deserve our fate.

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We’re All Part of Trump’s Show – by Brett Stephens – NYT

“If you want to understand the ways in which Donald Trump’s presidency is systematically corrupting the American mind, I have a book recommendation for you. It’s about Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The book is Peter Pomerantsev’s “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible.” It was published in 2014, and it brilliantly tells the story of the (Soviet-born) British author’s sojourn as a producer for Russian TV. As the title suggests, at its heart it’s the tale of the substitution of reality with “reality,” of factual truth with interpretive possibility.

That’s also the central task of Donald Trump’s presidency.”

“This is why there’s a Colosseum in Rome, and why public spectacle, theater, cinema, TV and now the internet have always been handmaids of dictators. In Russia, it’s all about casting the president as a bare-chested action hero, pumping out anti-Western conspiracy theories and serving up remakes of Western sitcoms and reality shows.

“The new Kremlin,” Pomerantsev notes, “won’t make the same mistake the old Soviet Union did: It will never let TV become dull.” Authoritarian dominion requires effective methods of mass distraction.

Trump isn’t a dictator, and his influence over media that isn’t Fox or Breitbart is negligible. But Trump does control his Twitter feed, with its 43.6 million followers. And he exerts a deeper level of control simply through his ability to bait hostile media at will with his every seemingly nutty utterance.The benefits, for Trump, are threefold: a political opposition that is exhausting itself — and much of the public — with its perpetual state of moral apoplexy; a political base that thrills to his readiness to scandalize the bien pensant; and an effective means of distraction from his electoral, legislative and foreign policy failures.

In other words, the president is conducting a kind of meta-politics, the purpose of which is to erase ordinary standards of political judgment. The question is not “How am I doin’?” as the late New York City mayor Ed Koch used to ask. It is, gladiator-like, “Are you not entertained?” Even those of us most aghast at this administration must confess we are.”

es. I just wrote this morning, that Trump is diverting attention from his tax cut bait and switch, moving wealth from the middle class to the to 5%, with his ludicrous tweets and untruths.

Here is another comment in that vain.

chambolle

Bainbridge Island 8 hours ago

Indeed. And this week, while we are being kept thoroughly diverted and amused by the clown show that is all things Trump, the Roy Moore horror show and other cheap entertainment, the GOP will pull off a magic trick: stealing about $1.5 trillion in federal tax revenues and handing them over to the nation’s wealthiest individuals and entities – courtesy of the sick, the elderly, students and others who will be bled and have nothing to say in the matter.

Oh, by the way, does anyone remember that $1.5 trillion federal infrastructure restoration and improvement program touted by both parties during the 2016 campaigns? Shucks, I guess we can no longer afford that, either. Unless your name is Ponzi, you can’t spend the same $1.5 trillion twice.