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a blog by Ann Althouse

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The media shoehorn old Trump news into the new Trump news.

They can't just report the news that Trump announced his 2024 candidacy last night. They have to weigh it down with the old news.

Examples: 

NBC News: "Trump, whose lies about the 2020 election inspired an insurrection, announces third White House bid."

The Washington Post: "Trump, who as president fomented an insurrection, says he is running again."

NPR: "Donald Trump, who tried to overturn Biden's legitimate election, launches 2024 bid.

"Neighbors described DePape as a homeless addict with a politics that was, until recently, left-wing, but of secondary importance to his psychotic and paranoid behavior."

"'What I know about the family is that they’re very radical activists,' said one of DePape’s neighbors, a woman who only gave her first name, Trish. 'They seem very left. They are all about the Black Lives Matter movement. Gay pride. But they’re very detached from reality. They have called the cops on several of the neighbors, including us, claiming that we are plotting against them. It’s really weird to see that they are willing to be so aggressive toward somebody else who is also a lefty.'.... Wrapped up in their own obsession with Trump Republicans, most journalists have missed the real story. David DePape is not a microcosm of the political psychosis gripping America in general. Rather, he’s a microcosm of the drug-induced psychosis gripping the West Coast in particular. Yesterday afternoon I visited the Berkeley house where DePape had lived with his former lover, Oxane 'Gypsy' Taub, 53, a charismatic Russian immigrant 11 years David’s senior. DePape appears to have fallen under the spell of Taub around 2003, when DePape was a quiet, video game-obsessed 21-year-old in Powell River, a town of 14,000 people that is a four-hour drive up the coast of British Columbia from Vancouver....."

Writes Michael Shellenberger in "Pelosi Attack Suspect Was A Psychotic Homeless Addict Estranged From His Pedophile Lover & Their Children/Berkeley resident David DePape was more in the grip of drug-induced psychosis than ideology-induced fanaticism" (Substack).

This is my second DePape post of the morning. For the Depape-is-a-righty perspective, go to the earlier post. I am utterly neutral on DePape. I don't need him to fit one narrative of the other. So I will continue to watch and post/comment when I think it might be helpful.

"While Trump’s Twitter feed provided near-hourly windows into the presidential id, Biden’s comments are projected to the public less often, but just as revealingly, through the donor gatherings..."

"... among the few events where he does not use a teleprompter. At a fundraiser Thursday in Brentwood, Calif.,... Biden veered into an unprompted discussion of technological changes that have fractured society and made discerning the truth all the more difficult. 'There are no editors anymore,' he said. 'The ability of newspapers to have much impact is de minimis.'"

From "Party gatherings give a window into Biden’s mind, from nukes to Pelosi/Democratic fundraisers provide rare unscripted moments when the president seems to muse aloud" by Matt Vise.

That's in The Washington Post, a newspaper, which would like to have an impact that is more than de minimis.

But it's always so transparent that its trying to help Biden, like here. It's presumed that "Biden's mind" is a place of substance, into which we are honored to peer. And his speech is not a muddled mess, but a clear representation of what's in that mind. We have "a window" as he "muses aloud." 

Is that ludicrous or horrible or am I being unfair to the old statesman? I'll turn away and amuse you with the etymology of the verb "muse." From the OED:

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French muser (12th cent.) probably < an unattested Old French noun *mus face (see muzzle n.1). Compare Old Occitan muzar to gape (12th cent.; Occitan musar), Catalan musar to dream away the time, Italian (archaic) musare to idle, loaf around (13th cent.), to gape, wonder (c1300), (of an animal) to hold the snout up, sniff about (15th cent.), post-classical Latin musare to stare, waste time (1311 in a British source). 
The widely divergent sense development in Old French apparently has its origin in the description of different facial expressions: the sense ‘to ponder, reflect’ (c1170; compare senses 1, 2) is perhaps originally descriptive of the contemplative look of a person deep in thought; the sense ‘to waste time, idle, loaf around’ (c1170, but probably earlier: compare musart absent-minded, foolish (1086)) is perhaps originally descriptive of a gaping, staring look; likewise the Anglo-Norman sense ‘to gape, stare, wonder, marvel’ (c1180; compare sense 3); and the spec. sense ‘to play the bagpipe’ (c1120; compare muse n.2) is perhaps originally descriptive of the puffed-up cheeks of the bagpiper.

I bet you weren't expecting bagpipes.

"King Charles... is shown lobbying Prime Minister John Major in a bizarre attempt to force his mother’s abdication."

"It also depicts Charles bitterly arguing with Diana as their divorce looms, and romancing Camilla, now Queen Consort, including a dramatisation of the notorious ‘tampongate’ phone call. A production source said that media outrage over inaccuracies – and the lack of sensitivity in airing the series so close to the death of the Queen – is ‘spooking’ the broadcaster..... An entire plotline is, to this end, devoted to suggesting that [Prince Philip] pursued a scandalous extra-marital affair with Penelope Knatchbull, the Countess Mountbatten of Burma... Needless to say, there’s no credible evidence that such an exchange took place, or that Philip was anything other than a devoted husband to Her Majesty. Suggesting otherwise, so soon after both of their deaths, is at best distasteful and at worst downright cruel. Then there are episodes which appear to lend credibility to the barmy conspiracy theory that Princess Diana was murdered.... [Peter Morgan, the show's creator, has said] that Queen Elizabeth II was ‘of limited intelligence'... [and]  the Royal Family ‘survival organisms, like a mutating virus,’ [and] the Queen’s belief in Christianity was ‘deranged’ and the monarchy itself is ‘insane.’"

From "Netflix bosses 'are spooked by backlash over The Crown'/Show's creator Peter Morgan is 'increasingly uncomfortable' as producers are slammed over 'malicious' storylines in new series covering royal family's turbulent 1990s" (Daily Mail).

Judging from that article and the comments over there, I'd say people in Britain are disgusted by the prospect of a new season of "The Crown." Here in America, though, we love it. We understand fictionalization, and too bad if the people depicted are still alive. If they're rich enough, powerful enough, or evil enough, we're fine with using them in whatever interesting stories filmmakers want to spin out. 

We've seen movies about Dick Cheney and Mark Zuckerberg, for example. We watch these things and maybe discuss the truth/fiction ratio on the side if that's also entertaining. And quite aside from the art of film, the news itself is also something with a variable truth/fiction ratio. We've oriented ourselves to that mystery of human communication.

Freedom of speech breathes a murky atmosphere.

"YouTube really rewards straightforward, untrammeled, and unscripted discussion, and it's really what people expect on the platform."

Says Jordan Peterson, talking to Piers Morgan about how to conduct an inteview. He's distinguishing YouTube from "legacy TV." He's responding to Morgan, who has just acknowledged that Peterson is phenomenally successful on YouTube:

 

They're right about the constraints of television, but I want to show you this amazing segment of television from October 9, 1970, when the host, Dick Cavett — and guests Jeanne Moreau and Lee Marvin — kept almost entirely quiet for minutes on end while Truman Capote stumbled and mumbled his way to the most important question in the world:

Was Capote straightforward? He was untrammeled and unscripted! But straightforward may seem like the opposite of what he was. And yet, his struggle to find his point is real, and isn't that a form of straightforwardness? I don't think he's holding anything back, and I don't think he's using more words than he needs. He's just very, very needy.

"Biden, Storyteller in Chief, Spins Yarns That Often Unravel/President Biden has been unable to break himself of the habit of embellishing narratives to weave a political identity."

That's the headline at the NYT for something currently at Memeorandum with the headline "Biden's Folksiness Can Veer Into Folklore, or Falsehoods."

Perhaps that had been the front-page teaser at the Times. It's not on the front page at the moment. It went up yesterday, but there's only one newer headline with the name Biden on the front page — "Biden Administration Plan Could Lead to Employee Status for Gig Workers" — and that isn't about Biden, just his administration. 

There's an older headline still on the front page — "Joe Biden Knows How to Use Donald Trump." That extols Biden... but for what? What is Biden being given credit for here? The author is Ezra Klein, who goes on about how "startlingly few interviews and news conferences" Biden gives.

He doesn’t go for attention-grabbing stunts or high-engagement tweets. I am not always certain if this is strategy or necessity: It’s not obvious to me that the Biden team trusts him to turn one-on-one conversations and news conferences to his advantage....

In other words, you suspect Biden's people don't trust him to get through interviews. Is Klein trying to be funny? I don't think so. I think he's earnestly endeavoring to help Biden.

The theory of the piece is that Biden "knows how to use" Trump by hanging back and letting Trump go for all the attention. The idea is — as it's been throughout Trump's political career — that Trump will destroy himself. Keep hoping! I wish Trump would move on, but let's not effuse over Biden.

And this new article — "Biden, Storyteller in Chief, Spins Yarns That Often Unravel/President Biden has been unable to break himself of the habit of embellishing narratives to weave a political identity" — is just so blatantly soft-pedaled. Imagine the same kind of article about Trump. It would call him an outrageous liar.

For more than four decades, Mr. Biden has embraced storytelling as a way of connecting with his audience, often emphasizing the truth of his account by adding, “Not a joke!” in the middle of a story. But Mr. Biden’s folksiness can veer into folklore, with dates that don’t quite add up and details that are exaggerated or wrong, the factual edges shaved off to make them more powerful for audiences.

That's the first paragraph. The next 2 paragraphs tell us about how Trump is worse. 

Paragraph 4:

Mr. Biden’s fictions are nowhere near that scale. But they are emblematic of how the president, over nearly five decades in public life, has been unable to break himself of the habit of spinning embellished narratives, sometimes only loosely based on the facts, to weave together his political identity. And they provide political ammunition for Republicans eager to tar him as too feeble to run for re-election in two years....

So Trump is much worse, but in order to beat Trump in the next election, Democrats shouldn't want a candidate who makes it harder for them to make dishonesty a central issue. That's the point of the article, I'd say.

"If you accept the premise that the film business is the folly of the filthy rich, then the independent-film business must seem the folly of the stupidly rich."

Wrote Nikki Finke, in 2007, saying she doesn't "get all aflutter at the mere mention of the Park City film festival like some media, quoted in "Nikki Finke, Caustic Hollywood Chronicler, Is Dead at 68/At newspapers and then at Deadline, the website she founded, she served up the opposite of fluff entertainment journalism" (NYT).

Another quote: "I am a very old-school journalist. I believe you make the comfortable uncomfortable, and that’s the whole point of doing it."

She was evoking the old saying: "The job of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Evoking half of it anyway. She didn't seem interested in comforting anyone.

"Totenberg’s confounding book, subtitled 'A memoir on the power of friendships'... always comes back to friendships...."

"[A]s the pages go by, and Totenberg and her friends become more powerful, the theme becomes increasingly uncomfortable — and increasingly revealing.... [S]he seems to accept and share her insider friends’ worldviews. In this universe, it seems, we’re all on the same team. The jurists Totenberg spent her career covering, for instance, are invariably portrayed as thoughtful stewards of the Constitution, even when they err.... One theory about Ginsburg’s decision to stay on the court was that, sharp as she was, she lived in a bubble that left her unable to appreciate how mean and extreme politics had become. If so, the convivial vibe depicted by Totenberg didn’t do much to clear things up. In fact, Totenberg became part of the RBG hype machine. As the justice became an unlikely celebrity, she and Totenberg developed a sort of stage act, conducting public interviews before ticketed audiences. Totenberg would share questions in advance. The responses were more thoughtful that way, which it seems was really what the evenings were trying to show. With its odd, priestly culture, the court is particularly susceptible to this sort of veneration."

Totenberg's book is called "Dinners With Ruth."

"Could you imagine a congressional reporter doing a book called Dinners With Harry Reid, tracing shopping excursions and intimate family moments with the late majority leader, who died the year after Ginsburg?"

"For those seeking insights about any remorse Ginsburg might have felt about not retiring while a Democrat was safely serving as president, Totenberg offers little..."

"... possibly because Ginsburg was not always forthcoming with her; of a meeting the justice had with Barack Obama at which the president gently tried to raise the question of her retirement, Totenberg says, 'She never told me about it.' Nor does she report how Ginsburg responded to the news of Donald Trump’s election. But she does seem to speak with authority when she explains that Ginsburg had been eager to give 'the first female president the power to nominate her successor.' And at the time of the election, Totenberg points out, Ginsburg was not in a health crisis. 'It was a gamble, and she lost,' she writes. Rather than defending Ginsburg’s choice to remain in office, she emphasizes how valiantly Ginsburg fought to stay alive and keep working once Trump was elected....  In one indelible image, Totenberg knocks on the door of a hotel room to find Ginsburg, hair down, desperate for Totenberg to leave so she can continue her frantic search for a medicine to ease her stomach troubles...."

We could have lived without that "indelible image," but books must be written. 

IN THE COMMENTS: Some people are saying it's unethical for journalists to be friends with the subjects of their writing. But I said, "Read 'The Journalist and the Murderer,' about the journalist’s method of fake-befriending the subject. Isn’t that what we’re seeing here?"

Here's an excerpt from Janet Malcolm's "The Journalist and the Murderer," the best book I ever read about journalism:
Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction writing learns—when the article or book appears—his hard lesson. ...

The catastrophe suffered by the subject is no simple matter of an unflattering likeness or a misrepresentation of his views; what pains him, what rankles and sometimes drives him to extremes of vengefulness, is the deception that has been practiced on him. On reading the article or book in question, he has to face the fact that the journalist—who seemed so friendly and sympathetic, so keen to understand him fully, so remarkably attuned to his vision of things—never had the slightest intention of collaborating with him on his story but always intended to write a story of his own. The disparity between what seems to be the intention of an interview as it is taking place and what it actually turns out to have been in aid of always comes as a shock to the subject.
Well, it's not "always" a shock. If the subject has died, she is beyond shock, beyond outrage at the most atrocious betrayals. Just as Ruth Bader Ginsburg never knew that Trump would become President and Roe overruled, she did not know that the journalist who befriended her would hawk a book containing a first-person account of her with her hair down and frantically rooting around for drugs in a hotel room. 
"YouTube really rewards straightforward, untrammeled, and unscripted discussion, and it's really what people expect on the platform."

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