POSTSCRIPT: Did Andrew McCabe sell out to Trump?

TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2017

The Post's peculiar reporting:
On Wednesday evening, May 10, Rachel Maddow made an angry allegation about acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, her program's latest villain.

Back in February, Maddow angrily said, McCabe became part of "the Trump disinformation campaign!" We discussed this topic all last week.

Did McCabe really do that? If so, someone should tell Dianne Feinstein! On Sunday's Face the Nation, she recommended that McCabe become the FBI's permanent director. Apparently, Feinstein hasn't been watching the Maddow Show!

Full disclosure! In our view, Maddow's May 10 report was her latest weirdly researched, embellished "villain tale." During her twenty-minute performance, she offered exactly one journalistic source for her fiery claim about McCabe—an analysis piece in Time magazine whose author had simply seemed to accept the truthfulness of a set of accusation by Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, the nation's least famous truth-tellers.

Priebus and Spicer made their claims during the period when Donald J. Trump was thrashing about, trying to shoot down reports about possible collusion with Russia. Absent evidence, why should anyone have believed the claims by Priebus and Spicer?

Maddow never addressed that point during her May 10 report. Very few viewers would have realized that her attack on McCabe was based on claims by Priebus and Spicer, claims they made last February during a highly fraught time.

Maddow simply launched her attacks. In fairness, her diatribe was exciting.

As a postscript to last week's reports, we thought we'd note the peculiar way the Washington Post reported these accusations by Priebus and Spicer.

The paper's sole report on this topic appeared on Saturday, February 25. In the passage shown below, Miller and Entous reported the accusations by Priebus and "administration sources."

In the process, they simply seemed to accept the accuracy of these claims. No further evidence needed!
MILLER (2/25/17): The administration's push against the Russia coverage intensified Sunday [February 19] when White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said in television interviews that he had been authorized "by the top levels of the intelligence community" to denounce reports on Trump campaign contacts with Russia as false.

Priebus's denunciations ranged from calling the articles "overstated" to saying they were "complete garbage."

Administration officials said that Priebus's comments had been cleared by FBI Director James B. Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. In doing so, the FBI's leadership would appear to have been drawing a distinction between authorizing comments by a White House official and addressing the matter themselves.
"In doing so, the FBI's leadership would appear to have been drawing a distinction between authorizing comments by a White House official and addressing the matter themselves?"

In that statement, Miller and Entous seemed to assume that the administration's accusations were accurate. They offered no evidence in support of this assumption.

Later, they quoted former CIA director Michael Hayden casting doubt on what Priebus had said. But in that earlier passage, they seemed to accept the accuracy of the administration accounts.

It gets worse. On that same day, a Post editorial did the same thing. For unknown reasons, the editors even referred to the accusations by Priebus and Spicer as "the week's revelations."

In its own report on this topic, the New York Times didn't seem to accept the accuracy of the administration's claims in the way the Post did. Still, we'd have edited one part of the Times report to make this fact more clear.

Let's review:

Back in February, Priebus and Spicer delivered a set of accusations against McCabe and Comey both.

According to Priebus and Spicer, McCabe and Comey had both said that a New York Times report about collusion was inaccurate. For reason which went unexplained, the Washington Post seemed to accept these accusations as accurate.

At that time, Rachel Maddow did two reports which cast McCabe as the hero of the piece. (As we noted last week, those reports appeared on February 23 and 24.) On May 10, without explanation, she launched her attack on McCabe, apparently accepting the accuracy of what Priebus and Spicer had said.

Just like that, McCabe went from hero to goat! Priebus' attacks on Comey went completely unmentioned. Maddow's earlier reports, which cast McCabe as the hero of the piece, also went unmentioned. No explanations required!

Maddow often plays this way. In fairness, accusations of this type are exciting and tribally pleasing.

Beyond that, it's fun when she mugs and clowns! It helps Our Own Channel beat Fox!

Rachel Maddow is very good at giving us liberals our villains. Someone should tell Senator Feinstein about what Our Scholar has said.

Synopsis is all!

TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2017

Visiting King Lear again:
Upon our return to our sprawling campus, we found ourselves surrendering, once again, to curiosity concerning King Lear.

Once again, we found ourselves turning to the leading authority. At the start of their savantic report, our top unnamed sources said this:
King Lear is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare. It depicts the gradual descent into madness of the title character, after he disposes of his kingdom giving bequests to two of his three daughters based on their flattery of him, bringing tragic consequences for all.
Needless to say, "gradual descents into madness" are tragedies for all. Thank goodness that's not happening here, "based on their flattery"-wise!

Descents into madness can have tragic consequences? Shakespeare, of course, who didn't exist, simple adored "fake news."

Yet to come: Eventually, we plan to record the way number-one Lear daughter Ivanka recently "quoted" Maya Angelou. But only if liberals are good!

FLYNN FACTS: And the lack of same!

TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2017

Part 1—The way the press corps functions:
Midway through last night's 7 o'clock hour, cable news went "all-Manchester all-the-time."

Before that happened, we were struck by several aspects of Erin Burnett's journalistic performance on CNN.

First, Burnett discussed the newest report from the Washington Post, a report which appears on this morning's front page.

The Post reports that Donald J. Trump "asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials."

Before events in Manchester took precedence, this report was destined to be the focus of last night's cable excitement.

Did Donald J. Trump really do the things described in the Post report? We were surprised to see Burnett treat the report as established fact. Whatever the facts may turn out to be, that wasn't the world's greatest journalism.

Soon after, we were surprised by Burnett's treatment of a new report concerning Michael Flynn. She seemed unfamiliar with a ludicrous claim Flynn first made last summer.

The ludicrous claim concerns the money Flynn was paid for a speaking engagement in Russia—a December 2015 engagement which is now quite famous. According to a congresional committee, Flynn received roughly $45,000 for the engagement. But by whom was he paid?

At least as early as last summer, Flynn was answering that question in a ridiculous way.

In a widely-discussed interview with Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News, Flynn offered an absurd explanation. He wasn't paid for the Russians, he said. He was paid by his speakers' bureau!
ISIKOFF (7/18/16): Were you paid for that event?

FLYNN: You’d have to ask my—the folks that I went over there on behalf of.

ISIKOFF: Well, I’m asking you. You’d know if you were paid.

FLYNN: Yeah, I mean I went over there as a speaking event. It was a speaking event. What difference does that make? Did somebody go "Oh, he’s paid by the Russians?"

ISIKOFF: Well, Donald Trump has made a lot of the fact that Hillary Clinton has taken money from Wall Street, Goldman Sachs.

FLYNN: I didn’t take any money from Russia, if that’s what you’re asking me.

ISIKOFF: Well then, who paid you?

FLYNN: My speakers’ bureau. Ask them.
He wasn't paid by the Russkies, Flynn said. He was paid by his speakers bureau! To watch that exchange, click here.

Periodically, that silly distinction has bubbled up over the past ten months. Yesterday, it seemed to bubble up again in a letter by Rep. Elijah Cummings—but Burnett seemed to think the silly distinction was new.

Burnett's apparent cluelessnes regarding this point struck us as unimpressive. That said, there's been a lot of journalistic heat surrounding Flynn's behavior on the international stage, not always a whole lot of journalistic light.

How competent have our news orgs been in their discussions of Flynn-in-the-world? Not gigantically competent! Consider something we read in Saturday's Washington Post.

The report concerned Flynn's work for Inovo BV, a Netherlands based lobbying firm. In this passage, two Post reporters described Ekim Alptekin, the founder of the firm:
BARRETT AND ZAPOTOSKY (5/20/17): A grand jury in Alexandria, Va., recently issued a subpoena for records related to Flynn's business, the Flynn Intel Group, which was paid more than $500,000 by a company owned by a Turkish American businessman close to top Turkish officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Flynn Intel Group was paid for research on Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who Turkey's current president believes was responsible for a coup attempt last summer. Flynn retroactively registered with the Justice Department in March as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests.
Alptekin wasn't named, but he was described as "a Turkish American businessman." Two weeks earlier, Matea Gold had described him the same way in this front-page report in the Post:
GOLD (5/5/17): [Flynn's] research was financed by a company owned by Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish American businessman close to top officials in Turkey, the documents show. Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accuses Gulen for fomenting a coup attempt last summer and wants him extradited from the United States.

Inovo, a Netherlands-based company owned by Alptekin, paid Flynn Intel Group $530,000 to activate an "investigative laboratory" made up of former top security and intelligence officials to research Gulen, according to documents Flynn filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Alptekin is "a Turkish American businessman," Gold also reported. That would be fine, except back in March and April, the Post was describing Alptekin as "a Turkish businessman," which isn't the same thing.

The New York Times has also toggled back and forth in its descriptions. Sometimes Alptekin has been "Turkish-American," sometimes he's been "Turkish."

Does this distinction matter? Given the charges and claims involved here, it probably pretty much could!

That said, we'd make a different basic point. Given the amount of attention paid to Flynn's work for Inovo BV, it's amazing that our biggest newspapers can't be bothered to establish even the simplest facts about the man for whom he worked.

Is Ekim Alptekin a Turkish citizen? Is he "Turkish American," a designation which seems to imply that he's an American citizen?

Might he be a dual citizen? Does anyone at these major newspapers know or care?

The Post and the Times have both toggled about between these dueling descriptions of Alptekin. Given the amount of focus directed on this matter, this is lazy, incompetent front-page pseudo-reporting as its ridiculous worst.

In fact, reporting on Flynn's work for Inovo has been riddled with incompetence and error. This extends beyond the work of the Post and the Times, extending up the slopes of Olympus to the aerie which houses Rachel Maddow, whose accounts of this much-beloved matter change on a daily basis.

In the next few day, we'll try to nail down a few basic facts about Flynn, Alptekin and Inovo, the Dutch-based form Alptekin founded and still runs. But our focus won't be on Flynn or Alptekin. As always, our principal focus will be on the work of the press, which is currently staging a chase.

A headlong chase is currently on; excitement fills the air. When such episodes occur, our journalists sometimes send their standards and skills on holiday. On partisan cable, you may get severely conned.

Flynn, who strikes us as a nut, has been widely ridiculed for his unreliable "Flynn facts." That said, the press corps has produced its own array of puzzling, murky "Flynn facts" as it has pretended to cover this high-profile topic.

Who the heck is Ekim Alptekin? As we attempt to fumble through the press corps' array of "Flynn facts," that will just be our initial question.

We'll end with the most exciting question of all. What is a "foreign agent?"

Tomorrow: Who is Ekim Alptekin?

We're on our way back to our sprawling campus!

MONDAY, MAY 22, 2017

In the meantime, do trees exist?:
Last Friday, we found Paul Krugman's column semi-discouraging. He ended the piece like this:
KRUGMAN (5/19/17): In a perverse way, we should count ourselves lucky that Trump is as terrible as he is. Think of what it has taken to get us to this point—his Twitter addiction, his bizarre loyalty to Flynn and affection for Putin, the raw exploitation of his office to enrich his family, the business dealings, whatever they were, he's evidently trying to cover up by refusing to release his taxes.

The point is that given the character of the Republican Party, we'd be well on the way to autocracy if the man in the White House had even slightly more self-control. Trump may have done himself in; but it can still happen here.
"Think of what it has taken to get us to this point," Krugman said. His chronology took us all the way back to maybe last week.

It has taken a lot more than Trumpistry and its discontents to get us to this point. For one example of what we mean, consider this timely news report from the next day's Times.

The Times was reporting a recent firestorm within the realm of academic philosophy. The firestorm surrounds a little-read paper about a touchy topic by Assistant Professor Tuvel.

The basic question raised by Tuvel was poorly explained by the Times. That said, our idealistic young analysts all howled in pain at this point:
SCHUESSLER (5/20/17): [U]nderneath the hyper-charged war of words lies a wonkier but no less significant battle over philosophical method.

''In terms of quality, it's a very normal paper,'' Justin Weinberg, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina and the editor of Daily Nous, a philosophy news website, said in an interview. ''But some people will say that's part of the problem.''

[...]

Ms. Tuvel's paper is squarely in the tradition of analytic philosophy, an approach that focuses on clarifying concepts and that relies on blunt logical analysis and sometimes outlandish-seeming hypotheticals and analogies. (Do justifications for eating meat also support cannibalism? Are unwanted fetuses akin to rapists?) But it's an approach, some of her detractors say, that is unsuited to the subject at hand.

''That's fine when you are looking at abstract metaphysical questions,'' like ''whether trees exist, or things that exist in the past exist in the present,'' said one of the signers of the open letter, Talia Mae Bettcher, a professor of philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles. ''But when you start philosophizing about racial oppression or trans oppression or other contemporary social issues, different methodologies need to be employed.''
According to Professor Bettcher, normal procedure is fine when you consider normal philosophical questions. But not for something like this!

Sad. According to Professor Bettcher, a normal philosophical question might go something like this:
Normal philosophical questions:
1) Do trees exist?
2) Do things that exist [sic] in the past exist in the present?
Maybe Professor Bettcher was kidding. More probably, she wasn't. Assistant Professor Tuvel's approach would be fine when examining questions like that!

Readers, do trees exist? As our academic elites have been pondering such questions, the society which hands them their sacks of money each month has spent the past thirty years slouching toward Trumplehem.

The intellectual/journalistic descent started long before Trump. As this headlong descent occurred, the professors were asking if trees exist.

Krugman wrote as if our current situation started with Trump. Increasingly, our long-time unquestioned MVP has been sliding toward the only dumbness large enough to match the dumbness of Trumpism itself. We refer to the disabling dumbness of Trump hate, which is the latest way we liberals, and our failed elites, have arranged to malfunction.

We're on our way back to our sprawling campus. Full services resume tomorrow. At some point, we expect to return to this topic, and to Jim Holt's book from 2012, one of that year's ten best.

Meanwhile, do trees exist? Three decades after Rush went national, the professors still aren't sure.

For that reason, they haven't moved on. Such roads have all led to Trump.

Just for the record: "Things that exist in the past?" We're assuming that wasn't a typo.

It happens during newspapers wars!

SATURDAY, MAY 20, 2017

And when a chase is on:
It's a fascinating time to be a press corps watcher.

Also, a time of frustration. A great deal of conduct is occurring all at once. We'll return to full services at the start of the week.

Today, we'll note a few trends:

1) A chase is on: Within the mainstream press, there's hasn't been such a uniform chase since the two years of Campaign 2000.

At that time, the mainstream press was chasing the vile Candidate Gore. Today, they're chasing Donald J. Trump.

In terms of the press corps' selection of targets, we note a slight imbalance.

2) Judgment may disappear: When the mainstream press corps stages a chase, all judgment disappears. Every claim will be credited and bruited, no matter how silly or far-fetched.

Next week, we'll review the way major figures and major news orgs ran with the Washington Post's thrilling report about the way the House majority leader said that Donald J. Trump was in the pay of the Russians. For today, we'll only say this:

Sad.

(Sad, but typical during a chase. During a chase, all negative-sounding reports are created equal. Normal journalistic practices can be completely ignored.)

3) A "newspaper war" is on: Many pundits are applauding the fact that a "newspaper war" is under way between the Post and the New York Times. In theory, a newspaper war can have beneficial results. In practice, such wars can also lead newspapers to run with exciting pseudo-reports whose contents have been vastly embellished or constitute sheer speculation.

At this time, there's an enormous amount of filler going around.

4) Reinstatement of Comey the God: At exciting times like these, group novels will be adopted, filled with clear-cut character portraits. At present, we invite you to note one major example: the rehabilitation of James B. Comey—Comey the God—as the latest iteration of a press corps perennial, The World's Most Upright Person.

In recent decades, The World's Most Upright Person has almost always been a Republican. "Judge Starr" got his start as The World's Most Upright Person; Paul Ryan is still widely cast in that role. People who get cast in this role almost always take advantage.

Truth to tell, James B. Comey probably isn't The World's Most Upright Person. (Very few people are.) That said, he's very good at selling the car, and he has a lot of friends. Beyond that, he's now being defined in opposition to Donald J. Trump, against whom a chase is on.

For this reason, his godlike status is being restored. This represents our modern "press corps" at its least impressive.

Summarizing, other people focus on Trump. Our focus here is on the press corps.

In itself, Donald J. Trump's apparent craziness tells us nothing about the press. The corps' behavior must speak for itself. Right now, a great deal of that behavior strikes us as underwhelming.

Coming next week: What is a "foreign agent?"

It happens during stampedes: Shortly before he was fired, did Comey ask Rod Rosenstein for additional resources for the FBI's Russia probe?

Not long ago, this "revelation" drove a banner headline atop the front page of the Washington Post. Over the next two days, the Post seemed to walk its revelation back.

Today, the Post says this, at the very end of a news report:
HORWITZ, DEMIRJIAN AND VIEBECK (5/20/17): Rosenstein also told the lawmakers that he is “not aware” of any request by the FBI for additional resources for the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“Moreover,” he said, “I consulted my staff and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, and none of them recalls such a request.”
The fact that Rosenstein said this doesn't prove that it's true. That said, the Post's initial "revelation" was based on third- and fourth-hand sources.

Did the Post ever know its "revelation" was true? Quite possibly not.

On the brighter side, the Post's "revelation" met that day's excitement quota. Cable pundits yakked about it for hours the night before.

This sort of thing occurs at times of newspaper wars, and when a great chase is on.