Category Archives: Musings

Predictable Race a Media Conundrum

I used to love reading the news, now I can’t stand it. The national news media has become an absurd a parody of itself. In the latest freakout, the news media convinced millions of people that the special election to fill Georgia’s sixth congressional district was a crucial test for Donald Trump’s presidency. Republicans have held the district since 1979.

In a result that should have shocked no one, Republican Karen Handel, Georgia’s secretary of state, defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year old newcomer who doesn’t even live in the district. What is surprising is how well he did–48%. Unprecedented Democratic spending made this the most expensive House race in history. We were expected to believe this election was a referendum on President Trump and a Democratic victory would be devastating to Trump’s agenda. One “expert” even predicted (hopefully, I assume) rain would keep Handel’s voters away.

Look at this NPR headline:

“Karen Handel Hopes to Win Traditionally GOP House Seat”, as though she’s the underdog! In the wake of Handel’s victory, we’re told Democrats are “despondent” and the electoral loss was a “massive blow.” “When will they [Democrats] win?” CNN, based in Atlanta, Georgia, asked. “Democratic strategists and candidates are pondering what went wrong.”

Who decided this race would be an easy win for Democrats? Why was it even important to begin with? (Even if Ossoff won, Republicans would still have a 43-seat majority in the House)

In the end, voters voted business as usual. Frank Bruni at the New York Times at least gave an honest assessment when he wrote, “Democrats were swimming against the current in Georgia. The House seat that their sights were on had been safely in Republican hands for nearly four decades. Georgia’s Sixth District is purple only if you scrunch your eyes just so. If you un-scrunch them and look at it honestly, it’s red.”

The election was actually really close. In previous elections in that district, Republican candidates have won by a landslide. Ossoff is the first Democratic candidate in that district to win over 40% of the vote since 1974. Why isn’t that a news story? Suddenly there’s “nothing to see here” because events didn’t pan out as hoped.

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Unsolved Mysteries was Terrifying

This program is about unsolved mysteries. Whenever possible, the actual family members and police officials have participated in re-creating the events. What you are about to see is not a news broadcast.

From 1987 to 1997, Unsolved Mysteries was the scariest thing on television. My parents wouldn’t let me watch it as a kid, so I had to sneak over to a friend’s house after dinner on Wednesday evenings. The format was simple. Each episode featured interviews and reenactments about two or three mysteries involving missing persons, lost loves, unsolved murders, alternative history, and occasionally something supernatural. My favorite episodes featured ghost stories, of course, particularly Chicago’s Resurrection Mary.

It aired on NBC from 1987 to 1997 before being canceled due to declining popularity. CBS picked it up from 1997 to 1999, Lifetime from 2001 to 2002, and Spike TV from 2008 to 2010. None of these continuations had the raw, spine-tingling impact of the original. The show was interactive–featuring a tip line where viewers could call in with information on the cases. Sometimes these tips helped solve the mystery.

Robert Stack (1919-2003), from Los Angeles, California, hosted the show from 1987 until 2002, when he fell ill. Stack was a veteran actor of more than 40 feature films and numerous TV shows with a characteristically deep voice. Stack’s voice, together with the show’s theme music, were genuinely terrifying. To this day, there’s nothing like it on television. What happened? Actor Dennis Farina took over as host on Spike TV, but it just wasn’t the same.

Boomer’s Tap in Des Plaines, Illinois

Boomer’s Tap in Des Plaines, Illinois served as a neighborhood bar at 1000 E. Prairie Avenue for nearly a century, except during Prohibition. According to the Chicago Tribune, efforts to shut it down began after a customer was arrested in November 1999 for trying to sell cocaine to an undercover cop. The Baumhart family of Arlington Heights ran Boomer’s Tap for 50 years. I think it was torn down in early 2002. I passed it plenty of times when I was in high school, but it closed before I turned 21. Does anyone remember this place?

White House Spokesman Says Tweets are Official Statements

Well, this is awkward.

A day after arguing the national news media was crazy for treating President Donald Trump’s twitter feed with the same weight as official White House policy or executive orders, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer poured gasoline on the fire by saying: “The president is the president of the United States … they [tweets] are considered official statements of the president of the United States.”

The news media, of course, held a triumph. Not only did this validate CNN Editor-at-Large Chris Cillizza’s argument (et al.), but it fed into their narrative of a disorganized and rudderless White House because the statement was at odds with what other Trump advisors have said.

Now, just because Sean Spicer said they are official statements, doesn’t make them so, but it certainly makes it difficult to argue otherwise. The weight of social media is not something that will be spelled out in black and white, it’ll be determined by the conversation we’re having now.

Personal social media accounts should not carry the same weight as social media accounts officially associated with a job or public office. It’s a dangerous road when we can’t separate the man from his position. This was the problem with those National Park Service employees tweeting against the administration. I have no problem with them doing so on their own time, on their own social media accounts, but not their work accounts.

It is illegal for Federal employees to engage in politics while at work, using government equipment, and in their official capacities. This is a little more ambiguous when it comes to the military, where you can be prosecuted for criticizing the president at any time. But, essentially, the idea is that citizens of the United States have a right to express their political opinions on their own time.

@realDonaldTrump is Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account. @POTUS is the official Twitter account of the President of the United States. Is there a difference? Yes! Or at least, there should be.

Are Trump’s Tweets Official Policies?

According to Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large, not only is there “no difference” between President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and official policy statements and executive orders, but Trump’s tweets are actually more important than official White House statements. No, this is not satire. An editor at CNN actually made this argument earlier today.

I’ve written before about CNN’s obsession over President Trump’s Twitter feed, but this takes it to a whole new level. I thought the cable TV network was just being lazy by constantly making news out of the president’s social media posts. Now I’m starting to believe they’ve actually lost their minds at the CNN Center in Atlanta. To quote the article:

On “New Day” Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka echoed that sentiment, insisting to host Chris Cuomo that “it’s social media, Chris, it’s social media. You know the difference, right?,” adding: “It’s not policy, it’s not an executive order. It’s social media. Please understand the difference.”

Here’s the thing: There is no difference. And, in fact, Trump’s tweets are actually more important than the more formal statements coming out of his White House because they represent something much closer to what he believes on nearly every issue.

Except there is a difference. One has the force of law, or at least creates policies and rules for federal employees to follow, the other does not.

TIME actually called out President Trump today for signing documents that had no official weight. In a press conference at the Oval Office, the president signed a “a decision memo and letter transmitting legislative principles to Congress” regarding privatization of the Air Traffic Control system. Like a tweet, neither document actually does anything.

But to illustrate their point, CNN actually references a Twitter account that creates counterfeit White House press statements using Trump’s Twitter feed. Thousands of people have already re-Tweeted those documents, and from browsing the comments, it looks like a fair number think they are officially coming from the White House.

If I were president, I wouldn’t use Twitter or any social media. I think it’s a terrible way to communicate with the public, especially for an elected official. But the U.S. president is not a king whose word automatically becomes law. Let’s get real. Tweets and social media posts are not meant to be official proclamations, and should not be taken as such by a legitimate news organization.

Hillary’s Data Debacle

As expected, Democratic Party data analysts are upset that Hillary Clinton threw them under the bus in a recent interview. At technology news website Recode’s Code Conference, she recalled:

“I’m now the nominee of the Democratic Party… I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party. It was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, non-existent, wrong.”

Her recollection was, of course, hyperbole. Data can’t simultaneously be poor, wrong, and nonexistent. Former DNC director of data science Andrew Therriault had a less generous way of describing it. In a deleted tweet, he called Hillary’s comments “f—ing bull—-.”

If the DNC’s data was so bad, why did it cause such a fuss in December 2015 when the DNC blocked Bernie Sanders’ campaign from accessing its voter file? If you recall, the DNC blocked access after a Sanders staffer was accused of accessing data gathered by the Clinton Campaign. At the time, the Sanders Campaign alleged being denied access to the voter database cost them “$600,000 in donations” every day. Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ campaign manager, called the data “the lifeblood of this campaign.”

“The DNC database is a goldmine of information about voters,” according to CNN. It was built during Barack Obama’s two successful presidential runs, not to mention numerous gubernatorial, congressional, and senatorial races.

A presidential campaign shouldn’t have to rely on its national party for support anyway. Partisan political organizations have declined in power and influence over the past few decades. Hillary was right when she said the DNC is on the verge of insolvency. This article in Fortune is from 2013, but with $18.1 million in debt at the time, I don’t see how their situation could have improved much in three years.

Hillary shouldn’t be burning bridges with the DNC and its data analysts if she hopes to continue to be influential in Democratic circles. No one likes to have their efforts disparaged, especially if they’ve been meeting or exceeding expectations. Graciously accepting defeat, and responsibility for that defeat, will win more friends in the long run.