Tag Archives: Press

Ancient Chinese Historians and the White House Press Corps

This is a story that I learned from a well respected scholar of Chinese history and archaeology, K.C. Chang. He was, briefly, my graduate advisor. I am not a scholar of Chinese anything, and I can’t remember if this story had a textual source, but I have a vague feeling it was in a book introduction or review article written by Chang, and the subject matter was Chinese historiography. Historiography is the study of historical writing, in other words, the study of methods in history. When one studies Chinese historiography, one is often looking at very ancient texts, written by ancient Chinese historians. Apparently, “historian” was a job, not necessarily that different from “scribe” in some other ancient contexts, and during some times and in some places, the Chinese historian sat in the court of the Emperor.

Every now and then, I look for the original story, or some version of it, but I can never find it. It is a story with a lesson so important that it should be retold many times. I do not attest to its veracity, but I will stand by its meaning. Lacking a source to refer to, I hereby make up, er, reconstruct, a version of it so I can put it here in this blog post and refer to it later.

The story goes like this.

An Emperor was sitting court, and attended to by one historian and the historian’s assistants, and others. A man had been accused of a crime, and the Emperor was to decide his fate. Those arguing on behalf of the man clearly demonstrated that he had not committed the crime, and should be let go, but the Emperor had taken a dislike to this man, and ordered his immediate beheading. And so, he was beheaded.

The historian recorded this event, and included in the record, made right then and there, a phrase such as “The Emperor had the man wrongly beheaded.”

Made aware of this, the Emperor insisted that the historian, right then and there, “correct” the record to indicate that the Emperor was just in his decision. The historian pointed out that this was wrong, and he could not change the record.

The Emperor ordered the historian beheaded, and so he was, right then and there.

The first assistant historian then took over the job of historian, and recorded, “The Emperor had the man wrongly beheaded. Then, on seeing that the Historian recorded this accurately had that Historian beheaded.”

Becoming aware of this entry to the historical record, the Emperor insisted that the new historian “correct” the record to show that the Emperor was just. That historian refused, and under the order of the Emperor, was promptly beheaded.

The next assistant historian then took over, and recorded that the Emperor had wrongly ordered the beheading of a citizen, then, wrongly ordered the beheading of the historian that recorded that fact, then ordered the beheading of the historian that recorded that fact. This historian fully understood that he would now be beheaded as well.

But he was not. The Emperor saw that his own reputation was becoming more and more severely damaged, and he understood that a line of historians would form at his court to record this, because this was the role of historians at this time and place. The Emperor relented, went on with other business, and the third historian lived.

And this is why we know today of what that Emperor did.

Trump The tank Engine Goes Off The Rails

This is how we usher in a new era.

The observant will have noticed that over the last several days, during the closing six weeks of an intense campaign season, I posted as my Facebook banner an image representing each of the United States Presidents, starting with George Washington. There have been several interesting comments and observations made on these images. Special Thanks to Jim Crider, presidential historian, for his added insight on those Facebook posts.

This is the image that follows President Obama: Continue reading Trump The tank Engine Goes Off The Rails

Trump’s attack on the media as a microcosm of how it works in the White House

According to reporting by the Washington Post and others, Donald Trump has supported roughly the same policy regarding the press for perhaps his entire presidency. Since Trump has always hated the press, especially the New York Times, I’d argue that there has not been a change in his policy as far back as the first hints of his involvement with Russia, in the mid 1980s, or before.

Trump has on numerous occasions told his staff to ban specific reporters because he did not like the questions they asked. He told his followers to physically attack reporters during he campaign. He has wanted the press to bow down to him, and he’s wanted to harm the press in a variety of ways, all along.

However, it was only just a couple of days ago that a White House reporter was actually banned from an event, and it was only earlier today that Trump carried out his most extensive and violent Twitter attack on members of the press.

It may be that his rhetoric is set on high right now because the pressure is on. His closest long term confident, whom he abused in recent months, has turned on him and told what appears to be the truth about activities that have a good chance of landing Trump in prison at some point later on. The trial of his campaign manager is going to start in less than two days. And so on.

But the real difference between several months ago and now is the degree to which Trump’s staff is willing, now, to carry out his nefarious wishes, as opposed to then, when the refused to do so, or talked him out of it. This may be partly facilitated by the addition of Bill Shine to the communications staff.

Shine comes from Fox News. While at fox, he produced Hannity’s show. Also, Shine is the fifth person in his position, and I’m pretty sure that is a high rate of turnover for White House Communications Director. Since the beginning of the position (Her Klein was the first, serving in 1969 for Richard Nixon) the average say for a White House Communications Director (or staffer of similar though slightly varying name) is about 1.75 years. The position has changed hands six times since Trump has been president.

Trump is like a pressure cooker. His staff is like those little doohickeys that rattle around on the top of the pressure cooker.

By the way, even Fox News complained about the banning of a White House Press Corps reporter from an event.

Anyway, I’m sure everything else is like this. Trump is constantly being held back by those around him. I assume there are two reasons they do so.

1) They are not as bad as him and want to slow him down so he does less damage.

2) They are at least as bad as he is, but they are not, like Trump, quite as dumb as a brick, and they know that taking blatant action as he would want will cause too much trouble, and interfere with their evil agenda.

The question is, what is the ratio of Type 1 to Type 2 White House Staff?

Trump White House New Policy: Fire reporters the White House does not like

The policy of the Republican Trump White House is that if a reporter or commenter says something that the White House strongly disagrees with, the reporter or commenter should be fired.

It remains to be seen how the Trump White House will enforce this newly articulated policy.

The policy was provided as a response to a question about an African American reporter identifying Trump and the White House as being aligned with white supremacy, which is a widely held and well documented truth.

Cindy Boren at the Washington Post has more here.

Trump went full on dictator this morning

I’ve made the point several times now. We live in a constitutional democracy, but many of the first line (and last line) protections are not enforceable laws, but rather, agreements made among people who all want to live in and respect a constitutional democracy.

But if a large enough cadre of members of Congress, a gaggle of highly placed judges, or a President decide to act in a way that conflicts with those conventions, they can actually get away with quite a bit.

The US Congress is run by such a cadre, pretending to engage in a democracy but willing to break the non-enforceable laws whenever that suits them. Since the Congress is a key check on the President, this lets the President get away with whatever he wants. In this case, this means that the Congressional overisight of the Executive is non existent or hampered, faked, or even compliant with the Executive’s agenda. We are seeing that now with Congress attacking the investigators.

Over the last few months it has become apparent that the only powerful force, other than the people themselves (and they are powerful) putting a check on Trump is the press, and Trump has been acting to wear that down. Plus, women. The women were the first to march against Trump, and he’s going to put them down too.

And so, this morning’s tweets:

And, on a related and very disturbing parallel path, Trump is working on getting a list of Democrats, via voter data, in order to … do what?

This is what a dictatorship looks like, people. They are coming for you.

This is how a dictatorship works.

The press has had enough of being called liars by the liars. I’m not a big fan of MJ, but the very fact that MJ has quotable conversation about this is a change in how the world works.

Here’s another thing dictators do: Make up accolades. Trump created a fake TIME magazine cover and hung it in several of his golf clubs. It has him on the cover. That issue of TIME never happened. It is not just fake news, it is an entire fake news magazine. Details here.

Here it is. Interesting set of headlines:

Aaron Sorkin ate some bad sushi and we are all living in his hallucinogenic nightmare.

Its like this.

Only with Trump instead of Josh, and it is real life. Yet, less like real life.

Trump, remembering something about watergate, tweets:

and the Washington Post reports:

Trump suggests there may be ‘tapes’ of his private conversations with former FBI director

Trump experiences verbal diarrhea and says, “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”


Trump said he was thinking of Russia controversy when he decided to fire Comey

Trump’s press office is incompetent and the White House can’t keep its message straight, what with all those reporters asking all those questions, so Trump sarcastically tweets:


Trump threatens to cancel White House briefings

And those are just the examples I ran into this morning. This has been happening for months.

Donald Trump needs to learn this thing: When words come out of he president’s mouth, policy is created.

The press needs to learn this thing: When you play the run-up game with a moron like Trump, it makes you look like a bully at the beach kicking sand in someone’s face. Someone we all love to see getting sand kicked on him, sure, but still… you may want to get a different approach to dealing with this president’s random idea puking. Like, for example, always mention that no one takes him seriously.

Here, I’ll give you an example.

The Washington Post wrote:

Trump threatens to cancel White House briefings because it is ‘not possible’ for his staff to speak with ‘perfect accuracy’

President Trump threatened Friday morning to end White House press briefings, arguing that “it is not possible” for his staff to speak with “perfect accuracy” to the American public.

Trump’s comments come after his description of his decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey in an NBC News interview Thursday flatly contradicted the accounts provided earlier by White House officials, including Vice President Pence, exposing their explanations as misleading and in some cases false.

[Trump said he was thinking of Russia controversy when he decided to fire Comey]

In a pair of tweets sent Friday, Trump suggested he might do away with the daily press briefings at the White House and instead have his spokespeople communicate to the public only via “written responses.”

What WaPo should have written:

Trump bathroom tweets snide remarks about the American Press, threatens freedom

President Trump sarcastically tweeted from the White House Commode Friday morning to end White House press briefings, arguing that “it is not possible” for his “surrogates” to speak with “perfect accuracy” to the American public. Clearly, he doesn’t know what a “surrogate” is, because he’s really talking about his staff. Surrogates are different.

Trump’s comments come after his nonsensical and random attempt at describing his decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey in an NBC News interview Thursday did not match, because it was nothing other than the random blathering of an ill man, entirely different lies provided earlier by somewhat more articulate but no more honest White House officials, including Vice President Pence. While one might normally assume that the President’s account of what happened in a conversation he was actually in would be the gold standard, and other comments by other White House personnel, if contradictory, would be incorrect, that is not an assumption we can make in the Trump White House.

[Trump also stupidly stated that he was thinking of Russia controversy when he decided to fire Comey, in a different and equally alarming squirt of verbal diarrhea.]

In a pair of tweets sent Friday, Trump sarcastically whined he might do away with the daily press briefings. Nobody gave a fuck.

That’s how to do it.

Why do newspapers still publish anti-evolution crank mail?

Bigfoot is not real, yet there are many believers.  And some of these believers write letters to the editors of local newspapers.

No one has ever been abducted by aliens.  Alien abductees certainly write letters to newspapers.   I knew a guy who could see and hear scenes from ancient times on the surfaces of some round rocks he found, and as his disease progressed, on the tiles in his bathroom.  I know he wrote letters to the editors because he cc’ed them to me!

Yet, we do not see these emails published in the newspapers. The newspapers weed them out.

Evolution is real.  Creationism is not.  Why are emails from creationists often published in respectable newspapers? There is a reason, and I’ll tell you what it is below. (Preview: It is your fault.)

Yes, yes, I get that creationism is part of certain religions, and therefore newspaper editors may feel obliged to print this material. But there are many other things that are part of various mainstream religions that we do not see in letters to the editors of modern newspapers.  Newspapers are not printing any rants about food taboos not being followed; or about people failing to take their hats off or put them on in the correct setting, or forgetting to cross themselves at the altar or eating fish on Thursday instead of Friday.  Few letters say anything overt about being saved by Jesus, and none that I know of say what I hear the street-corner soap-box preachers telling me as I walk by them.  These are all things that are part of religion but being part of religion does not get them on the editorial pages of modern newspapers.

OK, a quick caveat.  Yes, you do see crazy stuff in the letters to the editor section of newspapers, and perhaps you know of (and can point to) examples. But major cities have “local” newspapers that are supposed to be above all this. Minneapolis’ Star Tribune (“The Strib”) is one of those.  

Yet we saw this just the other day:

What is unobservable is a theory — no more

Within the species, evolution can be observed and scrutinized in the development of new life forms such as variants of corn and cattle. … However, evolutionists and creationists diverge where observation ends and ideology takes over.

… One does not actually see a life form generating the next level from conception to birth outside of its boundary that serves as an invisible wall.

But where it is unobservable, it may still be considered a construction of the mind — a theory. Political candidates who refer to creationism in less than a negative manner need not be demeaned.


In this case, the Strib ran this rant side by side with an “evolution is for real” letter written by Arnold Erickson of Mesa, Arizona. Nice. The two letters were debating the validity of a point made by Richard Dawkins concerning the lack of understanding of science by Michel Bachmann, Ron Paul and other political candidates running for the Republican nomination this election cycle.

The Strib has demonstrated that it subscribes to the policy of there being “two sides” to every story (even though this is not true) and they’ve demonstrated that they can’t find anyone in Minnesota who thinks evolution is real. Thanks for that, Star Tribune.

But enough complaining. It seems to me that it is quite possible to do something about this, and here’s where we see how this is all your fault, and that only you can fix it.

The logic is simple: Major, credible newspapers do not publish letters to the editor from those with delusions, poorly informed individuals, or plain old cranks who think they’ve seen bigfoot, were abducted by aliens, have proof that Jimmy Carter was seen in Fukushima’s nuclear power plant just before the meltdown or insist that rocks speak to them. Why, then, would they publish letters from people who deny basic science, including well established aspects of Evolutionary Biology as well as the firmly established findings of Climate Science?

They avoid the former because it would be embarrassing, they practice the latter because it brings in readership and so far has not brought sufficient ire to bear on the editorial staff. Because you haven’t told them that they are doing it wrong.

As a person with fingers and an internet connection (or equivalents) you can tell them how you feel about this. If you happen to subscribe to a newspaper that has published this sort of drek, you can tell them that their credibility is at risk and this causes you view renewal of your subscription as unlikely. This might be especially effective if you currently subscribe to your local newspaper via one of these new, experimental iPad or Smart Phone apps.

In this case, the offending newspaper is the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can send off a few emails and tell them what you think. I make it easy for you:

The letter in question, quoted in part above, is here. Right at the top of the page.

Here are some suggestions as to whom you might email:

Michael J. Klingensmith
Publisher and CEO

Nancy Barnes
Editor and Senior Vice President

Scott Gillespie

Jeff Griffing
Chief Revenue Officer, Advertising

Don’t just sit there. Take action!