From Afar Is No Longer Far Away

Yesterday, I acted against my better judgement and posted a political comment on Facebook. Yes, to my entire ‘friends minus acquaintances’ list. I couldn’t stop myself. I’d just read another example of the toxic effects our two party system has on our government and on us.

In digging up evidence and quotes for my FB post, however, I encountered two other revelations. One was about the media. The other, revealed just how easilty we give the media the power to influence our beliefs.

Here’s my original post + comments:

When I read articles about Congress, I come away realizing their ineptness comes down to the two party system. They spend more energy ‘us-vs-theming’ than they do understanding the laws they themselves craft and then pass. I’m so disheartened. Both parties are toxic. Friends, family, countrymen: quit buying into the hate speech of the parties. Registered republicans aren’t evil, neither are registered democrats. The parties use divide-and-conquer as a tactic to get their guys elected, and the media plays along, giving us stories that are half truths, and that reinforce our outrage. In the end, we are the ones who suffer. We feel hatred toward each other, and then elect ass hats. Do you notice your Facebook feed? I don’t know about you, but most of my friends and family don’t post anything political. They won’t even discuss politics with me on the phone. And that’s exactly what divide-and-conquer tactics are intended to achieve: People not talking about all this bullshit. Can we please stop? Can we start talking again and find common ground? Or am I just dreaming?

I was so fired up, I couldn’t stop there, so I added a few more comments:

Step 1: Become an unaffiliated voter. Don’t feed the parties. No donations, no registrations.

Step 2: Call for a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics. See if you like what the wolf-pac movement is doing. If you do, contact your state legislature and get involved.

Step 3: When digesting news, be aware of hearsay. Are you hearing an original source quote (in full), or are you hearing the opinion of a talking head (hearsay)? If you are inclined to believe the talking head, then go seek out the story from a few different news sources. Consider looking at an ideologically opposed news sources. You’ll triangulate in on the truth eventually. Yes it’s work. But if you’re going to give the media the power to influence you, you shouldn’t give it up for free.

Step 4: Focus on neutral news sources such as reuters or the associated press. They employ actual journalists who aspire to professional integrity, and they understand the difference between hearsay and facts. When you feel they may be spinning, then do what you did in step three. Seek out other news sources. Pay attention to integrity. Example: If you read an article on RT, be aware that it comes with a heavy dose of pro-Putin spin.

It was the Congressional pettiness that popped out as the theme of this story: The us-vs-theming, petulant blaming, and reckless brinksmanship. The mechanics were JASTA passage / veto / veto-override, but then followed by a mea-blame-a-you-a-culpa moment realizing, “oh shit what have we done?” My initial reaction was just what the modern day news outfits aim to achieve in their readers: Outrage. Good job Real Clear Politics.

Mitch McConnell seemed to be the one throwing the most blame around. From the RCP article:

McConnell agreed that it could be “worth further discussing” changes to the legislation, but he laid the blame on Obama and the White House for not engaging lawmakers sooner on the long-term ramifications: “I told the president the other day that this was an example of an issue we should have talked about much earlier.”

Well, that’s fine and all, but I wanted to see McConnell’s actual words, not take the RCP author’s interpretation of them as fact. To google!

My first search result was Huffington Post, “Senators Blame Obama For Not Helping Them Understand Their Own Bill.”  Yes – it’s a click bait title and I clicked. But it corroborated RCP, given the article. It appeared the GOP pushed through a bill that would compromise US sovereign immunity. That’s a big deal. Here’s what a boring Law journal reported back in April about the Obama administration’s position on JASTA. (Note: this quote is from April 2016. Huff Po cites it as coming from July 2016. Their case would have been stronger using the correct date. Remember, McConnell blamed Obama for not pointing out the flaws of their own bill early enough. I’d say 5 months ago seems a reasonable time to point out the flaws … which they did. As for Huff Po – was that just sloppy journalism? Could be – it’s pretty darned easy to get facts mixed up, I can attest to that. My memory tells me that my first whiff of this story came from Huff Po, but my search history tells me it was RCP. It’s easy to switch times around. This is why journalists need to be cool-headed and composed, detailed and serious. There’s a dearth of such journalist today. But I digress).

Two articles in, and I still didn’t have a full quote from McConnell. I continued my search.

Reuters. “”I do think it is worth further discussing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, acknowledging that there could be “potential consequences” of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, known as JASTA.”

LA Times Opinion Page. “But then McConnell shifted the blame, saying that he had told Obama that “this was an example of an issue that we should have talked about much earlier.”

POLITICO.  Bam. Got it (FINALLY!): Mitch McConnell quotes:

McConnell … call(ed) the battle over JASTA a “good example” of “failure to communicate early about the potential consequences” of a popular bill.

“I told the president the other day that this is an example of an issue that we should have talked about much earlier,” McConnell said Thursday. “It appears as if there may be some unintended ramifications of that and I do think it’s worth further discussing. But it was certainly not something that was going to be fixed this week.”

“Everybody was aware of who the potential beneficiaries were but no one had really focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships. And I think it was just a ball dropped,” McConnell said. “I hate to blame everything on him and I don’t, [but] it would have been helpful if we had a discussion about this much earlier than the last week.”

Cripes! This election season is crazy! Before this cycle, click-bait titles tended to reveal articles that proved the title to be disingenuous or mis-leading. The truth was usually less dramatic. But now, especially with the Trump stories, I’m finding the content of the article reveals something worse than what the title implied.

Why did the other news pieces omit this: McConnell said, “I hate to blame everything on (the president) and I don’t, it would have been helpful if we had a discussion about this much earlier than the last week.”

On the surface, perhaps, the editors judged this statement as weakening his blame-thrower. In fact, it’s the opposite.

What’s going on here? I think I get it. They’re writing stories where there’s NO nuance, NO reading between the lines, NO inferences to be made. No ‘reading the air‘ as they do in Japan. Our media writes stories for us to digest whole, with little to no mastication of thoughts.  If I’m reading this right, the editors believe that to Americans, McConnell’s weasel words would have muddled the message. In fact, his weasel words come across to me as an admission that he’s unfairly blaming Obama here. He full well knows, unlike Huff Po, that Obama has been discussing this problematic bill for the past 5 months.

My head is spinning.

So our elected officials are so pre-occupied with blaming the other side of the aisle, they can’t be bothered to understand the very laws they draft and pass.

And our media is so pre-occupied with page clicks, they dumb the message down for instant consumption. Oh there’s still bias, but they’re willing to sacrifice some measure of spin for a direct interpretation-free mainline message injection straight into your brain. No wonder we soak this stuff up.

I’m done for the day. This election cycle is disgusting. And I’ve only mentioned Trump in passing. Pfft.