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Sunday Political Brunch: A Political Potluck – June 25, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – A lot of disjointed and seemingly unrelated things happened in the world of politics this past week. It’s a hodgepodge I call “political potluck.” Let's “brunch” on that this week.

“Fake News Facilitator” – President Trump went on Twitter to announce that he’s now officially under investigation. Then one of his lawyers – the well-known Jay Sekulow – went on several network talk shows to deny Mr. Trump was under investigation. Well, which is it? It can’t be both. In either case, does this mean President Trump is now his own source for “fake news?” I would say maybe!

“The Comey Tapes” – Trump has a way of playing the media, and he’s good at it. A few weeks back, after he hinted there might be recordings of conversations between him and then FBI Director James Comey, Trump said, “Oh, you're going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer.” I believed that you could take his answer two ways: 1) The media would be disappointed there were no tapes; or 2) there were tapes that supported Trump’s claims about Comey (which might disappoint media members who dislike Trump.) Either way, he made big headlines and perpetuated speculation about the existence of the tapes for two weeks.
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“Georgia on My Mind” – Like many of you, I have been following Georgia’s special Congressional election for weeks. It turned out to be the most expensive race for the House of Representatives in U.S. history. I consider it also the most over-hyped race ever. If I hear one more network commentator say, “It’s being viewed as a referendum on the Trump Presidency,” I will scream. One lone Congressional race is not a national bellwether. Yes, the Democrats fielded a very competitive, well-funded candidate; but he lost. There have now been four special elections since Trump took office, and Republicans won them all. However, these wins are not positive referendums for Trump’s policies either. Let's stop exaggerating the importance of what are predominantly local contests!

“Obamacare Repeal” – This agenda item is in trouble, and could be a big loss for President Trump and the Republican-led Congress. The House passed its repeal with two votes to spare. Let’s assume the Senate makes amendments that will help its bill regain a majority vote in the upper chamber. The biggest problem is that the House and Senate have two very different bills. Right now, it’s hard to fathom they can craft a single bill that will be acceptable to majorities in both chambers. To use a medical term, the Obamacare repeal is on “life support.”

“Spotting Trends” – There are 535 seats in the U.S. Congress. As mentioned above, four very distant and unique special elections in the House are hardly a prediction of anything. There’s no trend you can gauge. On the other hand, when five Republican members of the U.S. Senate say they can’t support the pending replacement of Obamacare, that’s a measurable trend. Why? Because you need 50 votes, plus the Vice President’s tie-breaker, to win. Right now, the GOP has only 47 votes for repeal. Do the math! As I always say, “Politics is as much about math, as it is about ideology.”

“Strange Bedfellows” – I am always amazed at how different factions can line up and work together, often creating a patchwork – if not successful - legislation. West Virginia finally passed a long-overdue state budget this week. The sides were odd. The Democratic Governor teamed with the Republicans who control the State Senate. On the other side, Senate Democrats joined the House Republicans (the big majority) and the House Democrats. It was far from a perfect budget. Everyone got something, but no one got everything they wanted. We’ll see whether it works; but, as always, politics can make for some strange bedfellows.

“Russia” – This week, we learned that the Obama Administration had evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin had direct knowledge of and ordered the cyberattacks on the U.S. electoral process, and also that some potentially retaliatory measures were put in place. While I know that the focus will continue to be on what, if anything, the Trump campaign knew and did about Russia's interference, I think there’s a bigger picture here. A foreign and unfriendly government tried to interfere with our election. Maybe it helped Republicans this time; maybe it will benefit Democrats next time; but we, as a nation, should be outraged. This should not be a partisan issue. It’s equal to enemy troops landing on our shore.

“North Korea” – One of the big questions of the week revolves around the death of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was tortured (and perhaps poisoned) at the hands of the North Korean government. How will the U.S. respond beyond the tough sanctions already in place against North Korea, a hostile nation which continues to test-launch potentially nuclear missiles? Forget the Obamacare repeal and the FBI investigation! This will be the real true test of the Trump Administration.

What should President Trump do about North Korea? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo Courtesy: CBS News

Sunday Political Brunch: Is the Press Too Depressing? -- June 18, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – There was another flurry of news coverage this week over the Russian-U.S. election connection (Hey! That’s not a bad turn of phrase!) This time it was Attorney General Jeff Sessions before Congress. It got me thinking about news coverage of various political scandals and investigations over the years and how it has changed. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Watergate Waterloo” – Watergate marked a new era in American journalism. The scandal was broken by The Washington Post, which was head and shoulders above other media coverage. A lot of the daily network television coverage was guided by what the Post did. Much of the other media mimicked the coverage. At key moments of the Watergate Congressional hearings, the networks would interrupt the daily game shows and soap operas, as they did these past two weeks. It was 1973, and there was no such thing as CNN or any 24-hour cable news outlet.

“Iran Contra Conundrum” – In 1986, the Iran-Contra investigation broke. Much like Watergate, so many questions focused on “Who knew what, and when?” But there were a couple of new players. Cable News Network carried a lot of the hearings live, as did another new face – CSPAN. The TV networks seemed to spend less time on this, and certainly less time breaking into paid programming and losing commercial revenue. CNN was finding its niche.

“Lewinsky Lamentations” – Fast forward 12 years to President Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Not only was CNN thriving, but Fox News Channel and MSNBC both launched in 1996 and were still trying to “find their sea legs.” The Clinton impeachment was a bonanza for all. CNN had clearly found during O.J. Simpson’s trial, that daytime legal coverage could be far better than any soap opera script. The salaciousness of the Clinton allegations, and the media’s willingness to chat about previously taboo television topics was groundbreaking.

“The Bias Battle” – On the heels of the Vietnam War coverage, many Americans felt there was a strong media bias against the military, conservatism, and Republicans (the last item odd, since most of that war had been overseen by Democratic Presidents and Democrats in Congress). Be that as it may, the accusations of media bias against Republicans was only exacerbated by Watergate. People argued that President Nixon had received the worst press coverage in U.S. history. I would disagree. Nixon was hit hard by the daily newspapers and the evening network news. But when CBS, ABC and NBC were done at 7 p.m., it was over. By contrast, Bill Clinton’s impeachment was covered 24/7 by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CSPAN, and endless talk radio, day and night. In terms of raw coverage hours, Watergate was a mere shadow by comparison.

“Tweeting Trump’s Troubles” – In 1998-99, I covered the entirety of the Clinton-Lewinsky mess in Washington, D.C. I did not think it was possible for any human being to get worse news coverage. It was relentless. At the time, email and the Internet were in their relative infancy. There was no such thing as social media as we know it today. Yes, there were Internet discussion boards and chat rooms, but that’s just a light rain shower compared to this social media hurricane of Facebook and Twitter, that exploded by 2008.

“Trump ‘Trumps’ Clinton” – By the time this is all over, President Trump will surpass Bill Clinton (and way surpass Richard Nixon) in terms of negative press coverage. Just the mere mention of Trump and Russia by some obscure social media poster (whether the content is true or not) will prompt hundreds of thousands of likes, comments, objections, memes, and the list goes on. Imagine if “going viral” had been a phenomenon during Watergate and the Clinton-Monica mess.

“For Better; or for Worse?” – I raise these issues because as journalism has evolved and expanded with new technologies, I worry about the declining quality of the industry and its product. We can now reach more people and faster, and solicit their input in real time. I consider these potential advantages, but also worrisome liabilities. Average people and reputable reporters are suddenly on something of an even playing fiel
d. The temptation is to publish first and verify second - to opine first and fact check later. Trust me. The pressure to “tweet” a lot in the news business these days is a real concern. When CNN launched, the phase “breaking news” came into the lexicon. The pressure was to “be first” with the news, and often accuracy was the first casualty. The fact that the President is a prolific tweeter only exacerbates the problem although I get that he wants the ability to fight back.

“Why All of This Matters” – This is my 40th year in radio and television. I love what I do, and want many more years on the air. But I am concerned about the eroding quality of what we do. Mark Twain famously said, “A lie gets halfway around the word, before the truth gets its shoes on!” I worry that speed leads to more mistakes, and a lack of balance and objectivity. We feel more inclined to ‘tweet” because that’s what the new “cool kids” of journalism are doing. Make no mistake; I love social media as a tool to supplement and promote good journalism. But it’s damn hard to give real, detailed, comprehensive coverage when you are handcuffed by a system that gives you just 140 characters.

What are your thoughts on the quality of news coverage given the pressures of social media? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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