Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Obama Doesn't Watch TV News. Good.

A shot of an apparently rare moment in the president’s day. (White House photo)

In the previous note I mentioned a strange little controversy over President Obama's comment, in a supposedly off-the-record session (which I attended), that he “doesn't watch TV” or “doesn’t watch cable news” and therefore wasn’t initially in sync with the sky-is-falling saturation coverage cable outlets had given to the shootings in San Bernardino.
The controversy was strange at one level because of the backfiring effect of “off the record” rules. As explained earlier, the main justification for off-the-record sessions is to reduce the risk that a single phrase will taken out of context — “I voted for the bill, before I voted against it” — and thus become a “gaffe.” This time, the single “I don’t watch TV” phrase leaked anyway, and the larger context, which obviously I heard at the interview, remains off the record. Let’s imagine, hypothetically, that the context could have involved Obama’s awareness of the jerky, crisis-to-crisis outlook conveyed by 24/7 news. In that case Obama’s no-TV comment might be part of a larger argument about how permanent-emergency coverage affects a society’s ability to figure out what to be afraid of, and how afraid to be. (For more in this vein, naturally I invite you to stroll back down memory lane to take a look atBreaking the News.) Hypothetically.
The larger strangeness was the miffed tone from much of the commentator class about the “no TV” admission. Who does this guy think he is? Talk about aloof! For the DC media culture, Obama’s comment carries an extra dose of status-offense, since “cable hits” are such an important part of modern journalistic branding and presence.
A reader from the West Coast tech world writes in with a reaction that parallels my own: That this supposed mis-step by Obama actually says something good about his understanding of his job. Over to the reader.
I am a life long Democrat from a pretty working class family.  We lived in [the San Fernando Valley] as children and my dad was a plumber.  I went to college, moved to San Jose in 1975 and enjoyed a very successful career in Silicon Valley, the fruits of which have allowed me to have an extended and comfortable retirement.  That is the background behind what I want to say next…
I never watch “cable news”.  Never.  Never.  Never.  That includes CNN, MSNBC and Fox.  The whole idea of “cable news" is toxic in my mind.  The first thing that I do when I get a new TV provider is to delete those channels from the list that I cycle thru when I do any channel surfing.
I also never watch most of the network news broadcasts and especially any of the Sunday morning chat shows.  I do watch the PBS News Hour, but only after recording it so that I can delete any segments where they have 2 people from opposite sides of some debate contradict each other.
Judging by the ratings that those channels get, I don’t think that I’m alone.  In my immediate circle of friends and family, I don’t know anyone who does watch that.  Neither my own kids, nor my step children have “cable TV” connections.  (That includes actual cables as well as satellite ones…)
“Cable news” is what we call in Silicon Valley a “push” technology.  I only use “pull” technology to get my information.  I have to do that to make up for the editorial control which disappeared from “cable news” long ago.  You have railed about the false equivalency problem at length, but that is only one of many sins of the modern “cable news” world.
Given all that, I am not shocked that Obama does not watch it either.  To me that is a sign of one reason I like him so much.
I have other things to say about the state of the Democratic Party, The Donald and more, but I don’t want to dilute this message.  Not watching “cable news” is not a bug, it’s a feature of a sane person.
I agree.
***
Or rather, I agree about the president — that I’m glad he’s not following these shows. I personally am exposed to more cable news than is healthy, often having it on as B-roll while I am doing other things. That’s partly habit (though I think I’ve broken the habit of turning a TV on when I walk into a hotel room) and partly because I feel that situational- awareness of the news environment is part of my job. On the other hand, my perma-resolution, to be re-upped once more for 2016, is to reduce screen time of all sorts in my life, and increase the time devoted to physical, printed reading matter and actual, living human beings. We’ll see.
Controlling how he spends his time and directs his attention is obviously a more consequential matter for a sitting president. For anyone in that job, the ability to make long-view judgments, which involves deliberately thinking beyond the chatter of the moment, is ultimately the most precious asset. Close behind in preciousness is developing a sense of which sources of info and advice are most reliable, and least likely to be distorted by personal vendettas, ideological preconceptions, hidden agendas, past positions, or any factor other than a desire to present a situation as clearly and fairly as possible. When we talk about presidents “learning” the job, we’re mainly talking about their deepening understanding of the kind of information and advice they need. Famous recent example: George W. Bush placing Dick Cheney and his perspectives at greater distance in the second term than in the first.
In short, the kind of information a president needs, and the kinds of people he needs to hear from, together are just about the opposite of how you’d choose a line-up for a “lively ” or “Breaking Now!” news show. The kind of follow-up questioning you need to pursue has no relationship to the “and we’ll leave it there” sign-off from each few-minute segment of TV discussion. The range of options you need to consider very rarely matches the pro-vs-con of the standard talk show. And so on.
It’s one thing to be aware, as any leader must, of what everyone else is hearing and reading — and, in the leaked comment, Obama was saying that he realized he had been caught off-guard. It’s something different to expect that a sitting president would allow permanent-emergency chatter to be part of his normal workday. I don’t want a president who will spend much of his or her day in front of the TV.
Lots of other interesting Chessmaster-v-Pawn accounts have come in, but as the reader is sticking to one issue in his email, I will do so in this note too.

Trump is right: Bill Clinton’s sordid sexual history is fair game

Former president Bill Clinton in New York City on Dec. 9.

Donald Trump is crude and vulgar. He’s every “-ist” in the book: racist, sexist, narcissist, for starters. His dis about Hillary Clinton getting “schlonged” in the 2008 campaign and the accompanying tirade about her “disgusting” bathroom break were weird and juvenile. But he has a point about Clinton playing the “woman’s card,” and about the male behavior that’s more concerning: her husband’s.
Was there a sexist undertone to Trump’s “schlonged” comment? I guess, since we know which Democratic candidate does and doesn’t have one. Still, as sexism goes, this feels awfully mild.
“I think he has to answer for what he says, and I assume that others will make the larger point about his language,” Clinton told the Des Moines Register. “It’s not the first time he’s demonstrated a penchant for sexism.”
True, but Clinton’s attempt at outsourced outrage has the air of a basketball player flopping on the floor for the benefit of the ref. Nothing would make the Clinton campaign happier than some good old-fashioned male chauvinist piggery directed her way — all the better to rile up female voters who seem surprisingly nonchalant about the prospect of electing the first female president.
We’ve seen this playbook before. During her first Senate race in 2000, when Clinton’s Republican opponent, Rick Lazio, invaded her personal space in a debate. During the 2008 presidential campaign, when Clinton surrogates complained that male opponents were “piling on” the then-front-runner, and the campaign posted a video on its website called “The Politics of Pile On.”
Sure, that campaign featured ugly incidents, protesters yelling “iron my shirt” at the female candidate and that notorious Hillary nutcracker. There were moments in which Clinton’s male opponents demonstrated their cluelessness about how to run against a woman; recall then-Sen. Barack Obama’s “likable enough” moment and John Edwards’s ham-handedcomment on Clinton’s pink jacket. But it wasn’t misogyny that doomed Clinton back then.
And we’ve seen this tactic earlier this campaign, when Clinton allies tried to turn Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) observation about how “all the shouting in the world” would not solve the problem of gun violence into a sexist effort to quiet his opponent.
“Well, first of all, I’m not shouting,” Clinton responded. “It’s just when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”
Into this gender minefield lumbers Trump, characteristically unbound and deploying a weapon that none of Clinton’s Democratic opponents, past or present, has dared to mention. He played the Bill Card.
“Hillary Clinton has announced that she is letting her husband out to campaign but HE’S DEMONSTRATED A PENCHANT FOR SEXISM, so inappropriate!” Trump tweeted on Saturday.
He followed up the next day on “Fox and Friends Weekend,” accusing Clinton of playing the “woman’s card” and declaring her husband “fair game because his presidency was really considered to be very troubled, to put it mildly, because of all the things that she’s talking to me about.” Trump, typically delighted with himself, pointed out, “I turned her exact words against her.”
And again, Monday morning. “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!”
Well, Bill Clinton has a penchant for something. He had a successful presidency — with an ugly blot. “Sexism” isn’t the precise word for his predatory behavior toward women or his inexcusable relationship with a 22-year-old intern. Yet in the larger scheme of things, Bill Clinton’s conduct toward women is far worse than any of the offensive things that Trump has said.
Trump has smeared women because of their looks. Clinton has preyed on them, and in a workplace setting where he was by far the superior. That is uncomfortable for Clinton supporters but it is unavoidably true.
Which leads to the next question: What is the relevance of Bill Clinton’s conduct for Hillary Clinton’s campaign? Ordinarily, I would argue that the sins of the husband should not be visited on the wife. What Bill Clinton did counts against him, not her, and I would include in that her decision to stick with him. What happens inside a marriage is the couple’s business, and no one else’s, even when both halves crave the presidency.
But Hillary Clinton has made two moves that lead me, gulp, to agree with Trump on the “fair game” front. She is (smartly) using her husband as a campaign surrogate, and simultaneously (correctly) calling Trump sexist.
These moves open a dangerous door. It should surprise no one that Trump has barged right through it.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

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