Why is reality turning into that AT&T wireless commercial with the guy talking to the first graders about speed and savings and change machines and ponies and werewolves? This was not a great day for old Crusader AXE of the Lost Causes – I got to go to the dentist and realized that I'm coming down with some sort of upper respiratory thing that made having a suction thing in my mouth and being tilted past 90 degrees was just a bad idea. The initial pair of safety glasses the hygienist handed me had a broken stem, so she covered my face with a cloth…so, a minor similarity to water boarding, and I have to say, I didn't like it all. Combination of PTSD induced claustrophobia plus breathing problems literally had me coming up for air. Which didn't help digest the news I'd been watching in the waiting room.
For some reason, most hospitals, doctors' offices, dentists and for all I know funeral directors in the High Desert of California set their waiting room TVs to Fox News. This normally ensures that I'll initially screen for high blood pressure anyway; this morning, the gang was discussing the no-longer secret war against the public's right to know what's going on, where a Fox reporter has not just been a person of interest due to their reporting but has in fact become a subject of an investigation, a suspect in a case of espionage. Lots of meaty issues here to digest – like, why am I agreeing about Fox News about anything? Possibly, because the panelists had gotten their talking points from people like Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, both of whom were referred to rather snarkily as "leftist writes" and in Greenwald's case "for a leftist publication." (Even the commies think we're getting screwed!)Or, possibly after five years of raving lunacy, they actually have something right and might be largely – if not completely – on the side of the angels. The Fox host actually quoted the old hacker-ism about "the truth wants to be free…" True, but so does a lot of absolute bullshit.
Let's look at what appears to have happened. The reporter, James Rosen solicited information concerning something or another about the North Korean nuclear capability from a State Department Contractor. Based on this, the Feds have charged the contractor, Stephen Kim, with espionage. Ok, if you pass on classified information, you're subject to punishment. Since the US doesn't have anything like an Official Secrets Act, the organization that publishes this information isn't guilty of any crime. Sure, the pointy-headed liberals have done betrayed the country and allowed our enemies to piss all over our shoes because "Freedom" …a song I've heard going back to the day the Pentagon Papers were released. The least the journalistic organization can expect to be charged with being irresponsible and un-American and disloyal and not supporting the troops and betraying the homeland and blah, blah, blah but possibly since the Alien and Sedition Acts, the press hasn't really been subject to government sanctions. What makes this case really troubling is that Rosen is being considered as a co-conspirator, and could be charged as well. After all, he "solicited" information from Kim and got it. No different than an al Qaeda operative getting the plans to a nuclear weapon from Bradley Manning or some other twit, right?
Ok. That means that Rosen is guilty of the crime of journalism. That's how journalists get information. They ask people they know questions. There are some similarities between effective espionage-intelligence and good reporting-journalism: you ask questions, there are follow-ups, the search for collaboration from multiple, unrelated sources, and on and on. ( I confess that while I may have committed some random acts of journalism over the years, I really can't consider myself a journalist. I'm a commentator, an analyst, a critic – but, it's really rare that I ask a human being a question and then write about it. Without actual journalists, I'd be writing largely about…well, I already write a lot about music, history, philosophy and literature. So, I'd have been writing about Montaigne's pet amontrolado or something.) If you don't solicit information from people who know and might actually tell the truth, all you'll be doing is repeating talking points provided by the flacks who are deciding what they want you to know.
Here's the deal – most people in power really don't want you to know a lot. Some are more obvious about it than others; some are better than others. Churchill famously wrote that in conflict truth "has a bodyguard of lies." Deception of the enemy is considered a laudable strategy by the journalists who uncover the deception. Unless it doesn't work…truth has the advantage of being messy and convoluted by these things called facts. Talking Points are not facts. They are Bullshit. They may contain some facts, but they direct the mind of the listener to certain things, and since conceal by misdirection. They are often irrelevant to the actual story; and as each side churns out this crap, the truth seeker – and despite the possibility of wearing a trench coat on TV, most journalists are primarily truth seekers at heart – may despair or may actually decide to go figure out what's real.
Which the flacks generally don't know and wouldn't understand anyway. Moral philosopher and bestselling authority on the topic of bullshit Harry Frankfurt describes it this way:
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
It's been a long time since Newman threatened Jerry with "when you control the mail, you control information." There are just too damned many ways for information to flow, and mail is almost irrelevant. Should be the same thing with talking points, only maybe more so. Instead, the explosion of talking points on any subject can be amazing – the story of the full court snake-mate-goat-rodeo of the talking points on Benghazi should make everyone stop for a second when they consider what some figure says at the podium with a prepared statement, or what they say when they keep repeating the same crap. Repetition may make some lunacy sound true, but doesn't make it true. The use of carefully scripted talking points basically stalled Susan Rice's career and wasted a lot of time. I'm not exactly sure why they chose her as the sacrificial lamb on this one; they may have done it because she was auditioning for Secretary of State or because she was perceived as a better teller of this crap than any other key State department figure because, well, she wasn't in the loop on this. The Ambassador to that Debating, Chowder and Marching Society in Manhattan is a key spokesperson on policy, but doesn't really know a lot about the nitty-gritty of policy anywhere, unless it's something hot and relevant to US relations with the world. Ambassador Rice could probably have talked off the cuff and very illuminatingly about a lot of things involving Libya, the anti-government forces, the problems facing the US in that part of the world, the economic issues and so on; the security arrangements at a single consulate wouldn't be in her wheelhouse. So, all she could say about what the tragedy was what she was told; unlike Colin Powell prepping for the UN on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, she trusted the people telling her things. She was wrong to do so. Powell knew he couldn't trust the CIA or the White House so he scrubbed, argued and demanded verification, and they still set him up. The folks who set up Susan Rice were probably of a different political party – or, maybe not, maybe they were bureaucratic drones doing what their masters told them or what they thought their masters wanted or worse, doing what they thought their masters should want –but the effect was the same. Unlike Powell, she never got a free pass from journalists, but she was a lot more vulnerable – she was parroting nonsense about something that had in fact happened, not about what might exist and what could happen if what might have existed actually did, but it didn't…
All press secretaries are purveyors of talking points. I doubt that anyone thinks that Dana Perino was ever consulted by anybody in the Bush administration about anything of substance beyond whether or not to have fries with the takeout burger she was picking for them over at the mess. Some are earnest like Scott Fletcher; some are arrogant like Ari Fleisher; some are glib like Robert Gibbs; some really should know better, like Jay Carney. Fletcher seems like the most honest of this gang – after leaving the White House, he went on the record about being lied to by the Rove and the Chenyites concerning the Valerie Plame debacle. Carney would be well advised to have a long talk with the man in the mirror tonight, and figure out if being the White House Press Secretary is worth the cost of his immortal soul. The exchange described in the HuffPo article makes it pretty clear that at the moment, the dark side is winning.
After addressing the IRS scandal, Carney was asked about Rosen. The press secretary echoed -- almost verbatim -- his comments from last week when asked about the AP scandal. He said the president was "a strong defender of the First Amendment and a firm believer in the needs of the press to obtain information." He added that the administration took leaks "very seriously because leaks can endanger the lives of men and women serving in uniform overseas." He pointed to the president's support for a federal shield law, legislation for which the administration asked Sen. Chuck Schumer to reintroduce last week.
Reporters tried to appeal to Carney's decades-long career in journalism, asking him how he could condone the Rosen investigation as a "former reporter." Carney refused to bite. When continuously pressed by CBS News' Major Garrett, he returned to his go-to response: "I cannot, of course, comment on a specific ongoing investigation."
I wish I had seen the presser, if only because we'd have an example of how to respond to nonsense disguised in a talking point as a principled response to the ongoing issues. I would have liked a follow-up question along the lines of "Jay, if this turns out to be true, will you resign?" Followed as he danced around, of course, with "Jay, why aren't you answering the question?" "Jay, I always respected your reporting – are you feeling conflicted here?" "Jay, need a moment?" "Jay, want to get a shower…" or, "Hey, Jay, let's get a beer and talk off the record!" That would be fun.