Category: US politics

Social justice is a social disease

In a previous life, I worked at a Catholic college whose core values included social justice.

While that term was not always well defined, I’m pretty sure when it was determined to be a core value, the term didn’t mean what it has metastasized into now.

Heather Mac Donald:

Social-justice ideology is turning higher education into an engine of progressive political advocacy, according to a new report by the National Association of Scholars. Left-wing activists, masquerading as professors, are infiltrating traditional academic departments or creating new ones—departments such as “Solidarity and Social Justice”—to advance their cause. They are entering the highest rung of college administration, from which perch they require students to take social-justice courses, such as “Native Sexualities and Queer Discourse” or “Hip-hop Workshop,” and attend social-justice events—such as a Reparations, Repatriation, and Redress Symposium or a Power and Privilege Symposium—in order to graduate.

But social-justice education is merely a symptom of an even deeper perversion of academic values: the cult of race and gender victimology, otherwise known as “diversity.” The diversity cult is destroying the very foundations of our civilization. It is worth first exploring, however, why social-justice education is an oxymoron.

Why shouldn’t an academic aspire to correcting perceived social ills? The nineteenth-century American land-grant universities and the European research universities were founded, after all, on the premise that knowledge helps society progress. But social justice is a different beast entirely. When a university pursues social justice, it puts aside its traditional claim to authority: the disinterested search for knowledge. We accord universities enormous privileges. Their denizens are sheltered from the hurly-burly of the marketplace on the assumption that they will pursue truth wherever it will take them, unaffected by political or economic pressures. The definition of social justice, however, is deeply political, entailing a large number of contestable claims about the causes of socioeconomic inequality. Social-justice proponents believe that those claims are settled, and woe to anyone who challenges them on a college campus. There are, however, alternative explanations—besides oppression and illegitimate power—for ongoing inequalities, taboo though they may be in academia.

A social-justice agenda, therefore, is a political commitment, and politics is not disinterested. Indeed, it is often tribal. Such tribalism caricatures political opponents and whitewashes political leaders, ignoring facts along the way, as shown both by the frenzied hostility to Donald Trump on the left and by his elevation to status of wise statesman and paragon of truth-telling by his most enthusiastic supporters, including in the conservative intelligentsia.

In his 1918 lecture, “Science as a Vocation,” Max Weber criticized the conflation of intellectual work with political action: “Whenever the man of science introduces his personal value judgment, a full understanding of the facts ceases.” The primary task of a teacher, Weber said, is to help his students recognize what Weber called “inconvenient” facts—inconvenient, that is, to the students’ party opinions. And for every party opinion, Weber observed, some facts are extremely inconvenient. Our political understanding of the world is partial; we will emphasize certain aspects of reality that buttress our values and deemphasize other aspects that contradict those values. According to Weber, when an academic pronounces on how one should act, he becomes a prophet or demagogue, neither of whom belong on the academic platform.

Weber adduced another reason for abjuring politics in the classroom. Amusingly—an adverb that does not usually modify the great sociologist—it has been rendered completely irrelevant by twentieth-century education trends. A professor should not inflict his politics on his students, Weber said, because those students may not challenge his authority: “It is somewhat too convenient to demonstrate one’s courage in taking a stand where the audience and possible opponents are condemned to silence.” To which one can only respond: if only! Leave aside such student abuse of the adults in charge as the scourging of Nicholas Christakis at Yale, of Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State College, and of Allison Stanger at Middlebury College, among others. The goal of the ordinary classroom today is to get ignorant students babbling about whatever idle thoughts pass through their heads without showing any intellectual deference to their professor. The number of professors who deserve such deference, however, is by now depressingly low, thanks to the triumph of social-justice ideology.

Of course, many people on college campuses today are still “condemned to silence”—not out of any respect for faculty authority but because they disagree with the premises of victim politics. Conservative Harvard law students, a professor there recently told me, refrain from challenging the regnant dogmas in class, terrified that their remarks may end up on social media and thus jeopardize their careers. This unwillingness to air inconvenient facts—facts such as the connection between family breakdown and poverty—is precisely the shrinking of intellectual freedom against which Weber warned. And if a Harvard law student, occupying the closest position to riches, power, and prestige that a university can guarantee, nevertheless feels acutely vulnerable in his dissent from the orthodoxies, what is a lowly undergraduate or even post-doc to do?

How bad is academic politicization? It is overt and unapologetic. At a recent law school seminar on race and the law, the teacher proudly announced at the beginning of the class session: “We are training social-justice warriors here.” Had the professor said: “We are training justice warriors here,” there would have been no problem. Justice warriors seek to realize one of the great aspirations of Western history: to be ruled by neutral principles, rather than tribal partisanship.

In the courtroom, justice warriors pursue this rule of law through the adversarial process, in which both sides are given equal opportunity to advance facts and arguments in their defense. Social justice, however, is opposed to procedural justice. In a year of ever more strident victim rhetoric, one of the most disturbing auguries for the future was the protests at Harvard and Yale law schools against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Hundreds of students from our most influential legal academies marched under the #MeToo rallying cry: Believe Survivors, meaning: any self-professed victim of sexual assault is entitled to automatic belief before any evidence is presented to, and sifted by, a neutral tribunal.

A disproportionate number of these elite law students will end up as federal judges, including on the Supreme Court. If they carry their “Believe Survivors” commitment to the bench, due process is doomed. Many criminal law professors have given up teaching rape law, since female students claim to be traumatized by the very thought of a criminal defense in a rape case. Moot court has been similarly constrained; many law students are no longer willing to take on the role of advocate for even an imaginary political incorrect defendant. Harvard’s dean of students, meantime, fired law professor Ronald Sullivan from his job as an undergraduate dorm master this year because of Sullivan’s legal representation of accused sexual assailant Harvey Weinstein. Students and administrators alike deemed this representation an existential threat to the safety of female students in Sullivan’s dorm. We will pass over in silence the maudlin theatrics of such a claim. Its substance is a triumph for social justice, but it is a dagger in the heart of justice. For Harvard’s dean to declare that representing a politically unpopular client renders someone unfit to supervise students betrays the university’s educational mission, which should be to teach students the preciousness of such cultural legacies as the presumption of innocence.

Social-justice pedagogy is driven by one overwhelming reality: the seemingly intractable achievement gap between whites and Asians on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics on the other. Radical feminism, as well as gay and now trans advocacy, are also deeply intertwined with social-justice thinking on campus and off, as we have just seen. But race is the main impetus. Liberal whites are terrified that the achievement and behavior gaps will never close. So they have crafted a totalizing narrative about the racism that allegedly holds back black achievement.

The aforementioned race-and-the-law professor, after announcing the class’s social-justice commitments, added: “We engage in race talk here.” That was an understatement. “We talk about white fragility,” the professor explained. “What is the purpose of white fragility? What does it mean to live in a white culture, with white norms and a white power structure? What does it mean that we are in a culture dominated by white folks?”

A more pertinent question would be: What does any of this have to do with legal training? Living in a Western culture dominated by whites simply means that, if one is not white, one is in a minority; conversely, in Uganda, say, someone who is not black is in a minority. If being in a racial minority in a majority-white country is so inimical to one’s flourishing, plenty of places exist where a nonwhite person would be in the racial majority. Non-whites the world over are beating down the doors to get into Western countries, however, with no comparable corresponding traffic moving in the other direction. The very politicians and academics who in the morning denounce America’s lethal white supremacy in the afternoon demand that the country open its borders to every intending Third World immigrant, with no penalty for illegal entry. These two positions are contradictory: The U.S. cannot be at the same time the graveyard for nonwhite people and an essential beacon of freedom and life-preserving haven from oppression for these same people.

What are the “white norms” and “culture” that “race talk” seeks to deconstruct? Objectivity, a strong work ethic, individualism, a respect for the written word, perfectionism, and promptness, according to legions of diversity trainers and many humanities, social sciences, and even STEM faculty. Any act of self-discipline or deferred gratification that contributes to individual and generational success is now simply a manifestation of white supremacy. The New York Times recently singled out parents who had queued up hours early to visit a sought-after public school in New York City. “Why were white parents at the front of the line for the school tour?” asked the Times headline. The article answered: their white privilege, not their dedication to their children’s schooling.

The test for whether a norm is white and thus illegitimate is whether it has a disparate impact on blacks and Hispanics. Given the behavioral and academic skills gaps, every colorblind standard of achievement will have a disparate impact. The average black 12th-grader currently reads at the level of the average white eighth-grader. Math levels are similarly skewed. Truancy rates for black students are often four times as high as for white students. Inner-city teachers, if they are being honest, will describe the barely controlled anarchy in their classrooms—anarchy exacerbated by the phony conceit that school discipline is racist. In light of such disparities, it is absurd to attribute the absence of proportional representation in the STEM fields, say, to bias. And yet, STEM deans, faculty, and Silicon Valley tech firms claim that only implicit bias explains why 13 percent of engineering professors are not black. The solution to this lack of proportional representation is not greater effort on the part of students, according to social-justice and diversity proponents. Instead, it is watering down meritocratic standards. Professors are now taught about “inclusive grading” and how to assess writing without judging its quality, since such quality judgments maintain white language supremacy.

It is impossible to overstate how fierce and sweeping the attack on meritocracy is: every mainstream institution is either furiously revising its standards or finds itself in the crosshairs for failing to do so. STEM professional organizations decry traditional means of testing knowledge. Diverse students should be able to get credit for participation in a group project or for putting together a presentation for their family and friends on a scientific concept, say these STEM professionals. Faculty hiring criteria are also under pressure. A decade or so ago, the demand was to give credit toward tenure for editing an anthology. Substitutes for scholarship have only gotten more creative. At Bucknell University, a minority faculty member suggested that participating in an expletive-filled faculty list-serve discussion denouncing Amy Wax, an embattled University of Pennsylvania law professor, should count toward the “intellectual labor” of minority faculty and be included in the faculty merit review.

The most sweeping solution to the lack of racial diversity on the faculty is to get rid of departmental gatekeepers entirely, some of whom remain stubbornly wedded to traditional notions of accomplishment. The University of California at Davis has handed hiring decisions in several STEM fields over to a committee dominated by the university’s head diversity official and other bureaucrats. These bureaucrats have no idea how to assess scientific research. They are good, however, at diversity bean-counting.

The social-justice diversity bureaucracy has constructed a perpetual-motion machine that guarantees it eternal life. Minority students who have been catapulted by racial preferences into schools for which they are not academically prepared frequently struggle in their classes. The cause of those struggles, according to the social-justice diversity bureaucracy, is not academic mismatch; it is the lack of a critical mass of other minority students and faculty to provide refuge from the school’s overwhelming bigotry. And so, the school admits more minority students to create such a critical mass. Rather than raising minority performance, however, this new influx of diverse students lowers it, since the school has had to dig deeper into the applicant pool. The academic struggles and alienation of minority students will increase, along with the demand for more diversity bureaucrats, more segregated safe spaces, more victimology courses, more mental health workers, more diverse faculty, more lowered standards, and of course, more diversity student admits. And the cycle will start all over again.

Due to the diversity imperative, medical schools admit black students with MCAT scores that would be automatically disqualifying if presented by a white or Asian student. Their academic performance is just what one would expect. Time to lower standards further. An oncology professor at an Ivy League medical school was berated by a supervisor for giving an exam in pharmacology that was too “fact-based.” A cancer patient presumably wants his doctor to know the facts about drug interactions, however.

This same process of de-norming is happening in law enforcement. Across the country, district attorneys are refusing to enforce misdemeanor laws and judges are releasing convicted felons early because virtually every criminal-justice practice has a disparate impact on blacks. That disparate impact is due not to criminal-justice racism, but to blacks’ exponentially higher crime rates. This ongoing push for decriminalization and deincarceration will result in more black lives being lost to violent street crime. The liberal elites seemingly don’t give a damn, however, since black street-crime victims are killed overwhelmingly by other blacks, not by racist cops or white supremacists.

The ultimate social-justice solution to the skills and behavior gap is to remove the competition entirely. From the moment children enter school, they are berated for their white heteronormative patriarchal privilege if they fall outside a favored victim group. Any success that they enjoy is not due to their own efforts, they are told; it is due, rather, to the unfair advantages of a system deliberately designed to handicap minorities. Teachers are now advised to ignore white male students, since asking or answering questions in class is another mark of male supremacy.

The pariahs are getting the message. A mother in Connecticut recently asked her son why he was not making more of an effort in college. He answered that doing so would be a function of white privilege. Such an answer can simply be an excuse for laziness. But the relentless attack on any achievement that is not proportionally distributed among different identity groups cannot help but dampen some students’ willingness to compete. Journalist George Packer recently wrote a controversial article in The Atlantic agonizing over the racial-justice crusade that has engulfed the New York City school system. Packer family politics are such that his fourth-grade son “sobbed inconsolably” when Trump was elected president, and Packer sympathizes with the broad goals of the school system’s racial-justice crusade. But even he worries about the fanatical levelling of academic excellence in the name of racial equity. Packer’s daughter proclaimed that she wishes she weren’t white so as not to have slavery on her conscience. One way to atone for being white is to stop conforming to allegedly white norms of accomplishment. Some alpha males will continue striving anyway, and certainly when it comes to college, admissions mania on the part of white elites has not abated yet. But over time, expect a subtle deflation of effort among those who have fully internalized social-justice guilt.

The only precedent for our current resentment-driven war on the West’s magnificent achievements is the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and that didn’t turn out well. The Cultural Revolution, however, was waged mostly by the less educated against the more educated. The oddest feature of today’s social-justice crusade is that it is being prosecuted by the elites against themselves. Every college presidentlaw firm managing partner, and Fortune 500 CEO would rather theatrically blame himself and his colleagues for phantom bigotry than speak honestly about the real causes of ongoing racial inequality: family breakdown and an underclass culture that mocks learning and the conformity to bourgeois values as acting “white.” Anti-racism has become the national religion, with the search for instances of racism to back up that religion becoming ever more desperate. Over the last year alone, ladies’ flatssweaterskeychains, and Adidas and Nike sneakers have been purged from the marketplace for their imaginary connection to racist symbols. Innocent schoolboys have been tarred as bigots by the national media, and a robust traffic in hate-crime hoaxes has thrived.

In fact, America is among the least racist countries on the planet. There is not a single mainstream institution not trying to hire and promote as many underrepresented minorities as possible. Conservative philanthropists and corporations spend billions each year on social-uplift programs to close the achievement gap. Taxpayer dollars are as liberally distributed from government coffers. We so take these efforts for granted that we don’t even see them; they have no effect on the dominant narrative about white indifference and exploitation.

We are in uncharted territory. How a civilization survives with so much contempt for itself is an open question. It is not wholly fanciful to see America’s drug-addicted malaise and rising mortality rates as a consequence, in part, of the nonstop denunciation of the white-male patriarchy. White identity politics is the inevitable result of this nonstop attack, and a logical one: if every other group celebrates its racial identity, why shouldn’t whites, if only as a matter of self-defense?

The claim that every feature of our world rests on racial oppression—the thesis not just of social-justice education, but of the entire Democratic presidential primary field and of the New York Times’ high school-destined 1619 project—undermines the moral legitimacy of our country. All accumulation of wealth is suspect; every technological breakthrough and business success becomes nothing more than rank exploitation.

Even Max Weber might not have foreseen where the politicization of education would land us. He would certainly have been astounded that the hard sciences are now worrying about microaggressions and heteronormativity. We are jeopardizing the creation of new knowledge. But the most important function of schooling is to pass on an inheritance, as Michael Oakeshott explained, and that function is now all but obliterated. Serious humanistic learning has been decimated. When I speak at college campuses, I ask students what their majors are and what their favorite classes have been. Their answers are profoundly depressing: a shallow stew of communications studies, psychology, presidential debate-scoring masking as political science, and syllabi featuring comic books and the young adult literature of dysfunction. The focus of student attention is relentlessly presentist.

Our cultural past is full of wonderful mysteries, however: how, for example, did Western literature evolve from Medieval romance to the realistic novel—the romance peopled by allegorical figures who roam Classical landscapes, the novel showing acute attention to individual character and the details of everyday life? What did such a change mean for how human beings think of themselves in the world? The evolution of form, whether in literature, art, or music, is a grand adventure story, whereby we trace the ever-changing reflection of human experience in the mirror of human imagination. The greatest sin of the social-justice and diversity crusade is to teach students to hate this cultural inheritance. The social-justice crusaders are stripping the future of everything that gives human life meaning: beauty, sublimity, and wit.

The shortest world war of all time

In case you ever wondered why Donald Trump does what he does, the Washington Times explains:

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — A hush fell over the crowd at the lunch counter Wednesday at Pee Dee’s Brunch and Bar as President Trump filled the overhead TV screen and responded to Iran’s missile strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq.

As Mr. Trump delivered the verdict that Iran “appeared to be standing down” and offered the Islamic regime an opening for negotiation and peace, there was a collective sigh of relief in the small restaurant, where customers conversed and argued like family.

“He called their bluff,” said Dan, 35, a warehouse manager and Trump voter in this hardscrabble Rust Belt town. He declined to give his last name.

Diane Woods, the restaurant owner who frequently voices strong dislike for Mr. Trump, said she was pleased that the president did not escalate the confrontation.

“Of course, I want the president to do great. It’s our country,” Ms. Woods, 55, said from behind the counter.

The president’s address to the nation mostly hit the right notes in this corner of Ohio, where Mr. Trumpin 2016 won over voters dissatisfied with politics as usual after the demise of the region’s steel mill economy. His address satisfied both Mr. Trump’s fans who want him to stand tough and provided comfort to Trump critics who feared he was rushing headlong into a Middle East war.

“You’ve got to have some balls. The Democrats have no balls,” chimed in Kirk Mobley, 65, a retired member of the Boilermakers union and former Democrat who switched parties because of Mr. Trumpand vowed never to go back.

Ms. Woods said she feared war after the U.S. drone strike last week that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and that prompted Iran’s retaliatory missile attack Tuesday, which did not kill any U.S. troops.

“That stuff scares me,” she said. “They should have been more strategic about it. … Why aren’t you killing Kim Jong-un and [Vladimir] Putin?”

Ms. Woods said there was still no chance that she would vote for Mr. Trump, regardless of who is the Democratic presidential nominee.

“We can’t let them have a nuclear bomb,” said Rita Wigal, 77, a retired electric company clerk who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and “absolutely” plans to vote for him again this year.

She was impressed by Mr. Trump’s declaration that the U.S. achieved energy independence that puts it in a stronger footing in the Middle East.

“That’s wonderful that we are oil self-sufficient,” she said.

Why people hate the media

I posted last week about the movie “Richard Jewell,” hated by the news media, and posted yesterday about CNN’s undisclosed settlement with a Covington, Ky., high school student who sued CNN for defamation.

With more than three decades (or parts of five decades) in this line of work, I know more than most where the media does its job less than adequately. And I think I’ve figured out why my line of work is below politicians and used car salesmen as portrayed the movie “Used Cars” in the public’s eye, not merely for things like this:

Proving how to be your own worst enemy is the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Bill Torpy:

In the newspaper business, they say nothing beats shoe leather reporting. That means getting out there on the scene. Knocking on doors. Pulling documents from the courthouse. Getting reluctant people in the know to talk.

A classic case of such shoe leather was my AJC colleague Bill Rankin’s four-minute-and-45-second walk in August 1996 from a row of pay phones in downtown Atlanta to Centennial Olympic Park. In that hike, Rankin traced the path from where a bomb threat was called in to 911 to the site of the deadly explosion that occurred in the early morning hours of July 27, 1996.

Rankin’s reporting, his five-block walk, and his basic understanding of physics — that a person can’t be in two places at once — ended with him writing a front-page story headlined, “Timing indicates Jewell didn’t make bomb threat.”

It was the first public break in the case that went Richard Jewell’s way. And it gave Jewell’s defense team an opening to fight back against federal authorities who were investigating the security guard as the possible Olympic Park bomber.

Jewell’s story is well known and tragic, a cautionary tale for both law enforcement and the media. Jewell was famously made infamous by this newspaper after we reported that he, the man who found the pipe-bomb-filled backpack at the crowded park, was being investigated as the one who planted it. The feds believed he fit “the profile of a lone bomber” and was a wannabe cop who longed to be a hero.

The story set off a media feeding frenzy that placed Jewell in a crucible where in the space of a few weeks, he went from unknown guy to modest hero to suspected villain to wronged man. He died in 2007 at age 44.

Now there’s a new movie, “Richard Jewell,” directed by Clint Eastwood that takes to task both the feds and the media. This newspaper in particular has been much criticized for breaking the story that the FBI was investigating Jewell, and for not revealing its sources. After 15 years in court, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution prevailed because it printed the truth, as ugly and as messy as it all was.

Eastwood’s movie has been disparaged by some for portraying AJC reporter Kathy Scruggs as a stop-at-nothing journalist who’ll even have sex with a source to get a story. The movie, however, does a great job of portraying Jewell as a salt-of-the-earth fellow who just wanted to do his job. It is wonderful to see him get his due.

The newspaper? We’re the bad guys who will roll over anyone for an exclusive. The movie is heavy-handed on that end, and I sort of get it. Movies based on the truth usually synthesize characters and invent scenes for dramatic effect. It’s playing to the cheap seats. Nuance and fact get in the way of a two-hour celluloid romp.

But the thing that’s really irksome (apart from the portrayal of Scruggs) is that the movie goes all out to stick to its cartoonish notion that this newspaper went all out to stick it to Jewell. Any sense that we can be fair, forget it. It doesn’t work with the script.

In the movie, it is defense attorney Watson Bryant who walks from the park to the phone booth, looks at his watch and says, “He couldn’t have done it,” realizing that Jewell would’ve had to make the nearly five-minute walk in one minute. It’s a turning point in the film that changes the momentum of the case in favor of Jewell.

One thing is true. It was a turning point for Jewell. But it was brought about by an AJC reporter, not a defense lawyer. I know, I know. We’re the bad guys in bed with the feds. It runs counter to Eastwood’s preconceived ideas to show the paper breaking stories that help prove Jewell’s innocence.
Here’s how it really went down. Rankin, who’s about as square a fellow as you’d ever want to meet, was assigned to the AJC’s ongoing coverage of the park bombing after the Olympics ended. He had wondered about the timing of the 911 call and the timing of when Jewell found the backpack. As Rankin started his assignment, he says he got a mailer from his pastor, Larry Burgess, who then headed Clairmont Hills Baptist Church. Burgess talked about how Jewell couldn’t have done anything like that.

“I’m always skeptical,” Rankin recalled. “But this was the first account from someone I know who had talked to him (Jewell). It had a profound effect.”

In fact, Jewell’s mother, Bobi, watched kids at Sunday school, including Rankin’s.

A couple of days into his stint, on Thursday, Aug. 8, authorities released documents saying the 911 call was made at 12:58 a.m. at a pay phone at Baker and Spring streets. “There is a bomb in Centennial Park, you have 30 minutes,” said the caller.

The pipe bombs in the knapsack exploded at 1:20 a.m.

So, Rankin needed the other piece of the puzzle: Where was Jewell at that time?

He knew that GBI Agent Tom Davis, who was stationed in the area, had said that Jewell pointed out the suspicious green knapsack near a sound tower during a concert.

Rankin was hoping Davis would talk. So on Friday, Aug. 9, he called. And called. And called. Rankin avoided the official channels — calling the GBI spokesman — because he figured he’d get brushed off with a “no comment.”

Finally, on the seventh or eighth call, Davis picked up.

“It was clear he knew exactly what I wanted. He knew how important it was,” Rankin recalled. “It was like he wanted to tell me. I suppose he knew Jewell didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Davis told Rankin he called the bomb squad right after Jewell pointed out the knapsack. “The log says that call was made at three minutes to 1,” Davis told him. That’s 12:57 a.m. Remember, the 911 call five blocks away came at 12:58 a.m.

Rankin asked Davis if he had waited several minutes before making the call. “No way,” the GBI agent said.

“I hung up the phone and said, ‘Holy crap,’” Rankin recalled.

He then did the walk from the phones to the park. It was a brisk walk on uncrowded streets, certainly far less jammed than they were during the night of the bombing.

Rankin’s story was a life preserver to a drowning man.

“The next morning the Jewell camp was thrilled. They finally had a truly positive news break,” according to a new book, “The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle,” written by former U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander and journalist Kevin Salwen.

According to the book, Jewell’s criminal defense lawyer Jack Martin (who was cut out of the movie) decided to “use the AJC story to create good theater and flip the narrative. On August 13, he summoned the media to the bomb site. Then, in a perfect made-for-TV moment, Martin led the journalists to the bank of pay phones outside the Days Inn, while dramatically timing the walk. …”

“News organizations finally had a galvanizing event that portrayed Jewell as the possible victim.”

I called Martin on Thursday. Rankin’s story “was the first big break for us,” he said. “That was the first definitive fact that would have reflected the investigators were onto the wrong man.”

Early on, investigators knew the timing meant that Jewell couldn’t have been at both places at once and that he wasn’t a “lone bomber.” They then trotted out a theory that he had an accomplice. But the tide had turned for Richard Jewell. The public started to believe he wasn’t the terrorist. A couple of months later, Alexander delivered a letter to Martin clearing Jewell of anything to do with the crime.

Years later, Eric Rudolph was arrested for a string of deadly bombings, including the one at Centennial Olympic Park. He is serving life imprisonment.

Rankin, who was taking care of his 100-year-old mom when I spoke with him, remains extremely proud of his Jewell story. He has been The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s lead legal affairs reporter for decades, writing 4,674 stories over 30 years. He takes on both prosecutors and defenders, not to mention judges, investigators and all others who play a part in this thing called justice. He tells it straight, and goes wherever the story leads. He once had to flee his home under guard after getting death threats from a prisoner’s family. It’s a tough business sometimes. But it’s in his DNA: His father was a longtime editor at the paper.

“This is a story where the pressure was intense,” Rankin said. “We didn’t want to get beat. But we wanted to be fair.”

He continued, “You don’t get to write stories like that very often.”

He’s so glad he did. Almost as glad as Richard Jewell’s team.

All of which might be persuasive were it not for this:

The newspaper congratulating itself is the same newspaper that turned Jewell into a terrorist by reporting that the FBI suspected Jewell was the bomber. That front page was posted on Torpy’s column, which makes you wonder if Torpy reads his own newspaper. The AJC also congratulated itself on winning a lawsuit, which means that the AJC accurately reported an inaccuracy that destroyed Jewell’s life. And neither winning a lawsuit nor Rankin’s later story eliminated that front page. Just as you can’t unring a bell, you can’t unreport something you reported that was wrong.

Atlanta Magazine:

When the Atlanta Journal broke the story late that following Tuesday afternoon, it set off an avalanche of attention. Under the hypothetical FBI scenario, Jewell had planted the knapsack and then rushed to a bank of pay phones a couple of blocks away from Centennial Olympic Park and placed a 911 call to warn police of the bomb. He then raced back to the light and sound tower, “discovered” the bomb and heroically moved people out of harm’s way.

The media quickly all but pronounced him guilty.

“Richard Jewell, 33, a former law enforcement officer, fits the profile of the lone bomber,” wrote Kathy Scruggs and Ron Martz in the second paragraph of a story in an “Extra” edition of The Atlanta Journal on July 30, 1996. “This profile generally includes a frustrated white man who is a former police officer, member of the military or police ‘wanna-be’ who seeks to become a hero.

“Jewell has become a celebrity in the wake of the bombing, making an appearance this morning at the reopened park with Katie Couric on the Today show. He also has approached newspapers, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, seeking publicity for his actions.”

NBC’s Tom Brokaw told viewers, “The speculation is that the FBI is close to ‘making the case,’ in their language. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case.” …

AJC columnist Dave Kindred, in his second column on Jewell in two days,compared the scene to the time law enforcement officers sought evidence against Wayne Williams, the man convicted of two murders in Atlanta’s missing children case when “federal agents came to this town to deal with another suspect who lived with his mother. Like this one, that suspect was drawn to the blue lights and sirens of police work. Like this one, he became famous in the aftermath of murder.”

Kindred later offered a spirited defense of his column, saying he was comparing scenes, not characters. «The column was a comparison of the media frenzy more than it was a comparison of Richard Jewell and Wayne Williams,” he says. “Also, I quoted a neighbor in the column, saying Jewell is a good fellow,and I said the FBI has done this before and come up empty.”

Meanwhile, Jewell’s past was quickly put under a microscope; Jewell was villainized and vilified. Even Jay Leno joked about him on The Tonight Show, calling him the “Una-doofus.”

Then, as the weeks passed with no arrest, a debate ignited within the journalistic community. Had everyone overreacted? Had the FBI used them to put pressure on their main suspect in the hope of breaking him into a confession? Should they have more vigorously challenged the FBI to produce evidence before trumpeting Jewell’s name and his past? Many thought the answers were all yes.

“I think the media’s performance has been downright embarrassing,” says Howard Kurtz, a media critic for The Washington Post. “Every news organization in the country has contributed to ruining this guy’s life without the faintest idea of whether he’s guilty or innocent.”

At particular issue was the original Atlanta Journal article printed in the “Extra” edition, with the big, bold headline on Page 1, FBI SUSPECTS ‘HERO’ GUARD MAY HAVE PLANTED BOMB. The article contained no attribution and quoted no sources, leaving the reader to wonder whether the claims came from a legitimate law enforcement official or from a proclamation of God.

“I find it appalling, quite frankly, at how quickly everybody leapt to finger this guy,” says David Shaw, the media writer at the Los Angeles Times. “To write about it in the context of a larger story about the explosion, down in the sixth or eighth paragraph —that’s one thing. But to bring out a special edition and start leading your newscast and putting out Page 1 stories on it — that’s over the top.”

Earl Casey, CNN’s domestic managing editor, defends the overall coverage. CNN quickly followed the AJC in naming Jewell as a suspect, and Casey says remembering the context of the event is important. A TWA jet had just crashed near Long Island, and a bomb was suspected. There was an extreme fear of terrorism at the Olympic Games. The international media was gathered in Atlanta. Then the bomb exploded in the park intended as the center of the Olympic celebration.

And by that point Jewell was already famous. “Had this been some anonymous bloke, would his name have emerged? Maybe not,” says Casey. “Maybe the stories that day would have read that law enforcement are considering a security guard without the identity. But I think it’s difficult for journalists at a distance or on the academic level to really make value judgments on this thing. They’re often right in theory,but when you get down to the application, something in that theory falls apart.”

Well, if reporters can’t make value judgments, their bosses are supposed to. And didn’t in this case. (Which should also prove that reporters should be skeptical of law enforcement as well, yet they usually are unless they’re pushing their own agendas of blanket condemnations of law enforcement.)

Vanity Fair wrote about the movie’s script writer Billy Ray:

Marie Brenner, who wrote the Vanity Fair feature on which the film is based, hopes that Richard Jewell might impact audiences the way the story affected her in 1996. “Reporting what happened to Richard Jewell and his mother profoundly changed me as a reporter and caused me to rethink many of the assumptions and quick judgments we can all unwittingly make under deadline pressure without attempting to find out a larger truth that lurks behind breaking news,” Brenner told Vanity Fair. …

“This movie is about a hero whose life was completely destroyed by myths created by the FBI and the media, specifically the AJC,” Ray told Deadline. “The AJC hung Richard Jewell, in public…. They editorialized wildly and printed assumptions as facts. They compared him to noted mass murderer Wayne Williams. And this was after he had saved hundreds of lives. Now a movie comes along 23 years later, a perfect chance for the AJC to atone for what they did to Richard and to admit to their misdeeds. And what do they decide to do? They launch a distraction campaign. They deflect and distort…opting to challenge one assertion in the movie rather than accepting their own role in destroying the life of a good man. The movie isn’t about Kathy Scruggs; it’s about the heroism and hounding of Richard Jewell, and what rushed reporting can do to an innocent man. And by the way, I will stand by every word and assertion in the script.”

Said Brenner, “I was appalled by the reflexive snobberies and obliviousness of consequences that the AJC never addressed. The most important rule of reporting is never to reveal a suspect’s name without corroborating evidence. They had none—and neither did the FBI. I am sorry, but it is not enough to say, “law enforcement thinks.” And they didn’t even say that.” Citing the paper that reported there was no evidence against Jewell, Brenner said, “The New York Times and its editor Joe Lelyveld knew better.”

[Former AJC editor Mike] King acknowledged that the Richard Jewell case “was a turning point in a lot of newspaper discussions about where to draw the line when on identifying suspects. … And I think those are good lessons to share with a movie-going audience, that there are people who are the subject of newspaper stories and of government investigations who look as guilty as Richard appeared to look in those initial stories but who ultimately are totally innocent and whose reputations are dragged through the mud for all the wrong reasons.”

Well, congratulations to the news media who learned lessons. Jewell suffered a premature death as a result of this, but hey, sacrifices have to be made. (Apparently something got messed up when I got hired in this line of work since I have a conscience.)

And there’s this postscript that proves that part about maybe some in the media should be compared to weasels:

And even though the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is engaged in a full-blown battle with Warner Bros., King said that a group of his colleagues from the newspaper have plans to see the movie, covertly, on Saturday: “They don’t want to give Clint the benefit of movie ticket sales, so they’ve cut a deal with movie theaters to buy tickets for another movie.”

A media loss, which may be a public win

Jack Crowe:

CNN agreed Tuesday to settle a lawsuit brought by Covington Catholic High School student Nicholas Sandmann.

Sandmann sought $275 million from CNN over their coverage of the confrontation he and his classmates had with an elderly Native American man while visiting Washington, D.C. on a school trip in January of last year. The amount of the settlement was not made public during a hearing at the federal courthouse in Covington on Tuesday, according to a local Fox affiliate.

“CNN brought down the full force of its corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child,” reads the suit, which was filed in March.

Sandmann and his family still have lawsuits pending against NBC Universal and the Washington Post over their coverage of the incident. The Sandmann family sought a combined $800 million in damages from CNN, the Post, and NBC Universal.

“This case will be tried not one minute earlier or later than when it is ready,” Sandmann’s attorney Lin Wood said of the remaining lawsuits.

Numerous national media outlets painted Sandmann and his classmates as menacing — and in some cases, racist — after an edited video emerged of Sandmann smiling inches away from the face of Nathan Phillips, an elderly Native American man, while attending the March for Life on the National Mall. A more complete video of the encounter, which emerged later, showed that Phillips had approached the Covington Students and began drumming in their faces, prompting them to respond with school chants.

The lawsuit filed by Sandmann’s attorneys in the Eastern District of Kentucky identified 53 statements included in CNN’s coverage of the incident as defamatory. One such statement, included in a CNN opinion piece, accused the students of acting with “racist disrespect” towards Phillips. Meanwhile, Bakari Sellers, a CNN contributor, publicly mused about assaulting the 16-year-old Sandmann while HBO host Bill Maher called him a “little prick.”

CNN filed a motion to dismiss the suit in May on the grounds that accusations of racism are not actionable in defamation cases because the allegation can’t be proven true or false. They similarly argued they could not be held liable for uncorroborated claims that Sandmann and his classmates chanted “build the wall” during the encounter.

It is not defamatory to say the Covington students “expressed support for the President or that he echoed a signature slogan of a major political party,” CNN’s motion to dismiss states.

An investigation conducted by an outside firm contracted by the Diocese of Covington found “no evidence that the students performed a ‘Build the wall’ chant” and further found that Phillips’s account of the incident “contain some inconsistencies” that could not be explored because investigators were unable to reach him.

Phillips initially claimed that the boys approached him but later admitted that he walked into their group after a video emerged debunking his initial claim. According to his second account, Phillips was attempting to defuse a confrontation between the students and a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, who can be heard on video shouting racial and homophobic slurs at the boys.

Roger J. Foys, the bishop of Covington, celebrated the report as a vindication of the students.

“Our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening,” he said in a statement. “Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory.”

The settlement most likely won’t include a publicly reported monetary amount (because legally civil lawsuits settlements are a contract between the winner and the loser), nor will, I’m sure, it include an admission of guilt, fault or wrongdoing on CNN’s part. But the fact a settlement exists and is being reported indicates that the monetary amount is more than zero and that either CNN decided it was going to lose, or settled for some amount to make the lawsuit go away.

Maybe, though, it will give national media a reason to rethink, or think over more closely, its news coverage if they start not just getting sued, but losing, and regardless of what mealymouthed lawyers want you to believe, CNN obviously lost. The media is neither perfect nor infallible.

 

This is #fakenews

David Harsanyi:

Did you know that CNN has a reporter on the “disinformation” beat?

I’ll skip the cheap joke about his never having to leave the office, and note that the network is now grousing about the Christian conservative satire site the Babylon Bee, which has earned the ire of a number of liberals for making jokes at their expense.

The story drawing CNN’s outrage — “Democrats Call For Flags To Be Flown At Half-Mast To Grieve Death Of Soleimani” — is good satire. It slightly exaggerates the reaction many on the left have had to the killing of the Iranian mass murderer. Anyone who read the Washington Post’s headline calling Soleimani a “most revered military leader,” watched ABC’s Martha Raddatz offering adulatory treatment of the terrorist from Iran, or listened to Elizabeth Warren struggle to call him a murderer after her initial statement is in on the joke.

That some people believe the Babylon Bee piece is also a sign that it is good satire. How many Americans, after all, still believe that Sarah Palin, rather than Tina Fey, said, “I can see Russia from my house?” Satire relies on a level of plausibility. If the only brand of political humor permitted is vapid enough for even the dumbest or most humorless person to comprehend, we’re going to end up in a world with a lot more Andy Borowitzes.

CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan offers only three examples of gullible conservatives buying the satire — the Babylon Bee piece has over 500,000 shares on Facebook — but he’s alarmed that too many Americans have been hoodwinked. “To put this in perspective,” he writes, “this is the same number of engagements the top NY Times and CNN stories on Facebook had over the past week. A lot of people sharing this ‘satirical’ story on Facebook don’t know it is satire.”

There will always be chumps who fall for bogus news stories — in particular, bogus news stories that comport with their preconceived notions about the world. Yet media coverage of “disinformation” is a highly specialized concern. In 2006, more than half of Democrats still thought it likely, or somewhat likely, that George W. Bush had had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. I don’t remember panicky reporters signing up for the disinformation beat back then. Last I looked, 67 percent of Democrats believed it was “definitely true” or “probably true” that the Russkies had altered votes to get Donald Trump elected. Why no concern over this dangerous falsehood? Perhaps because the call is coming from inside the house.

You might recall the decade-long love affair with The Daily Show. If not, a recent piece in the Washington Post — headlined “Jon Stewart’s ‘Daily Show’ changed how we consume news. His political influence still endures” — is here to remind you that the show

made Stewart a household name, trusted implicitly by the left and respected, if grudgingly, by many on the right. Twenty years after he began hosting the satirical show that changed how we consume news, Stewart remains a uniquely influential figure in politics. The comedian doesn’t just fight the system — he understands how it works.

Years ago, a producer from The Daily Show called me to discuss the possibility of being interviewed about a book I’d written. In this case, the producer claimed to be supportive of my positions. One thing was certain, though: If The Daily Show disagreed with you, it was going to edit the interview to make you look like a simpering idiot. Why? Because Stewart’s satirical show, often funny, featured jokes almost exclusively mocking conservatives. The widely celebrated Colbert Report’s satirical conceit was to paint conservatives as cartoonishly irrational buffoons. Stewart was the most trusted source of political news for Millennials. How many young liberals  had their worldview formed by these “selectively edited” segments?

The Babylon Bee’s real crime, of course, is that it mocks all the wrong people. Many of the people it mocks, incidentally, are now part of a concerted effort to inhibit political speech — or to shame tech companies into inhibiting political speech. As always, a lot of this effort is nothing but cynical partisanship. But some of it taps into a longstanding anxiety about conservative susceptibility to deception. I mean, how else could these people possibly believe the dumb things they do — right?

“Having a disclaimer buried somewhere on your site that says it’s ‘satire’ seems like a good way to get around a lot of the changes Facebook has made to reduce the spread of clickbait and misinformation,” O’Sullivan notes. I’m certain there was a good reason that Juvenal didn’t slap a “THIS IS SATIRE” warning on his poems. Notifying people of impending satire is the most effective way to kill the mood.

The gravest contention O’Sullivan makes — and he’s not the only one — is that the Babylon Bee isn’t merely in the business of being a funny conservative site, but that it also exists to spread misinformation about Democrats. Where is his evidence? Did the Babylon Bee once put “satire” on all its headlines, and change that policy to circumvent Facebook’s ridiculous policing of speech?

What’s most annoying about all this situational and insincere freakout about the veracity of social-media news feeds is that the people who claim to be most concerned about it have done far more damage to the public’s trust than has any satirical site — not only by spreading half-truths and stoking political hysteria, but by undermining their reputation and leaving millions of Americans without any reliable mainstream news organizations to count on.

Candidate pot, meet president kettle

The Dubuque Telegraph Herald found a candidate for president (because that’s where they all are now):

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg told a crowd of 600 in Maquoketa on Monday that a cornerstone of his presidency would be not forgetting people in conservative areas, even those who don’t vote for him.

“You can’t love a country if you hate half of the people in it,” said the mayor of South Bend, Ind., during a town hall at Maquoketa Middle School.

He later added, “When the presidency is working well, you can look at the White House, look at the president, even if you wouldn’t vote for them, and feel the presidency is still working for you. Plus, wouldn’t it be nice to have a president who, when you turn on the television, your blood pressure goes down a little bit?”

What president in your lifetime would that have been, would-be president Pete? Bill Clinton? (Who resulted in George W. Bush.) Barack Obama? (Who resulted in Donald Trump.) Jimmy Carter? (Who resulted in Ronald Reagan, not that Buttigieg probably remembers either, since he was born in 1982.)

As for being the president of all, Buttigieg favors gun control, which is unconstitutional. Democrats don’t care about the constitution beyond abortion rights and (for now) the presidential impeachment provisions. Buttigieg supports Medicare for All, which should offend fiscal conservatives those who correctly believe that government should not be in charge of anyone’s health care. Buttigieg is also gay, which is an affront to those who believe what the Bible says about non-man/woman marital relationships, and in fact his entire campaign has been a big fat middle finger toward conservative Christians. But he’s going to be the president of everyone. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Buttigieg is not qualified to be president, and given his current position will never be qualified to be president. South Bend, Ind., is home of one of the world’s most famous universities, Notre Dame. Any politician with any ability at all would have made South Bend into the ultimate U.S. college town, drawing millennials in like flies to … well, you know. But South Bend is closer to the center of industrial blight than a college town, and Buttigieg has succeeded at nothing to improve South Bend. And he thinks he should be president.

 

TWTYTW 2019

The year having almost run out, it’s time again for That Was the Year That Was 2019, idea stolen from …

At the end of 2018 I wrote a predictions piece for Right Wisconsin. How accurate was I?

By the end of the year the incompetence of Tony Evers as an administrator will be revealed. The state Senate will reject Evers’ choice for tourism secretary and at least one other cabinet appointment.

Exit Brad Pfaff, briefly the secretary of agriculture, trade and consumer protection. Sara Meaney hasn’t been confirmed as secretary of tourism by the state Senate yet, and I predict she won’t be.

Conservative media will report numerous stories about turmoil in Evers’ administration as well as in the Department of Justice under the equally incompetent Attorney General Josh Kaul.

The Kaul stories haven’t come out, though he is as predictably left-wing as this state’s Democratic attorneys general have been. All Evers has is inability to get his appointees confirmed, violations of the Open Records Law, failure to deal with the news media as a public official should, and unconstitutional proposals. Other than that, Evers is doing a bang-up job.

Evers’ 2019–21 state budget will be declared “dead on arrival” by both Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald. Said dead budget will include a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase, as well as merging all state law enforcement (State Patrol, Capitol Police, etc.) under the DOJ. Evers will veto the 2019–21 budget the legislature passes, and the state media will spend the last half of the year reporting about the state budget crisis (which means the state will continue spending at 2017–19 levels. By the end of the year, the legislature and Evers will “compromise” on a 25-cent-a-gallon tax increase.

I was wrong about this prediction because I failed to predict how much Evers would cave in. It makes you think there is only one party, the Incumbent Party.

Evers’ administration will not bother to report that the cash surplus under Gov. Scott Walker has disappeared by the end of 2019.

The surplus isn’t gone — yet — but it’s not where it was.

By the end of the year President Donald Trump will have an “establishment” opponent for the GOP nomination, and 17 declared Democratic opponents.

I was two off. There were 15 candidates as of Dec. 3. Is Republican governor-turned-Libertarian-vice-presidential-candidate Bill Weld (who wasn’t much of a Libertarian) an establishment Republican now?

The Packers will hire Josh McDaniels as their coach.

Neither the Packers nor anyone else hired McDaniels.

Madison and Milwaukee will continue to suck.

No more comment needed there.

Despite Democrats’ wishes and predictions, the economy will not go into recession in 2019, though economic growth will slow, for which Trump will be blamed.

Got that one right.

Most of the ruminations about 2019 you read or will read are negative, though none will be as amusing as Dave Barry:

It was an extremely eventful year.

We are using “eventful” in the sense of “bad.”

It was a year so eventful that every time another asteroid whizzed past the Earth, barely avoiding a collision that would have destroyed human civilization, we were not 100 percent certain it was good news.

We could not keep up with all the eventfulness. Every day, we’d wake up to learn that some new shocking alleged thing had allegedly happened, and before we had time to think about it, the political-media complex, always in Outrage Condition Red, would explode in righteous fury, with Side A and Side B hurling increasingly nasty accusations at each other and devoting immense energy to thinking up ways to totally DESTROY the other side on Twitter, a medium that has the magical power to transform everything it touches, no matter how stupid it is, into something even stupider.

Predictably, Donald Trump was impeached. Also predictably, Trump will not be convicted by the Senate next year. Less predictably, reports One America News Network:

According to Democrat presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard, her party’s vote on impeachment may backfire in 2020. While taking to Twitter on Monday, the Hawaii lawmaker posted a video suggesting that the House impeachment push has increased the probability Republicans will flip seats red in 2020.

Gabbard was the only Democrat to vote “present” on both articles of impeachment against President Trump after citing her concerns with the partisanship throughout the probe.

In her most recent video, she said she is concerned Democrat’s efforts to impeach President Trump will lead to a Republican controlled House, Senate and White House after next year’s elections.

Gabbard added that beating President Trump isn’t the only goal for Democrats in 2020. She said they also need to come together as a party to work toward peace and equality.

The stock market was so impressed with Impeacharama that it was at record levels on and off throughout 2019, reaching another record on the last day of the year. This is important only because everyone should be a long-term investor and not hyperventilate about occasional bad days. It also indicates, even though there are better ways than the stock market to measure the economy (economic growth and U6 unemployment, to name two), that money seems unconcerned about Trump’s political adventures.

Trump’s greatest accomplishment of 2019 was driving his opponents they’re-coming-to-take-me-away-ha-ha crazy.

Rural Wisconsin isn’t going crazy, but rural Wisconsin can’t be happy with the Trump-led trade war, which hammered farmers at the same time that continuously wet weather hammered farmers. And yet I don’t see erosion of Trump support in rural areas, in large part because Democrats are too stupid to grasp why rural areas supported Trump in 2016.

Meanwhile, Empower Wisconsin was so impressed with Evers’ first year it named him Tool of the Year:

Tony Evers finished his 2018 campaign for governor by insisting that he did not plan to raise taxes if elected. 

Well, he was elected, and it took but a few weeks before he shot that pledge to hell. Even the folks at Politifact, ever generous about Evers’ trouble with the truth, gave the governor a “Full Flop.” 

He proposed $1 billion-plus in tax hikes in his budget plan — from gas tax increases to a proposal to do away with a successful manufacturing tax credit. 

In Evers’ first year in office, the Democrat pitched a mind-boggling number of far-left initiatives. He jumped on board the climate change alarmist train, pushed a costly Medicaid expansion plan, and his agencies have attempted to ratchet up regulation on business and property owners. 

Meanwhile, even the most apolitical state agencies, like the Department of Tourism, have become centers of the liberal social justice movement. 

The administration’s meddling in Taiwan tech giant Foxconn’s business could cost Wisconsin the most transformative economic development deal in state history. 

Evers issued more executive orders this year — 61 as of last week — than any other governor in Wisconsin history, according to a review by WisPolitics.com. Many of them create some committee or another. The governor and his defenders will tell you he has done so because the Republican-controlled Legislature refuses to work with him. He has done so because he knows Republicans and the people in the scores of districts that sent them to Madison would never go along with such a liberal agenda. 

Which brings us to the biggest myth going in Wisconsin politics, that Tony Evers is a nice-guy moderate who simply wants to do the work of the people. The nice guy charade must have disappeared after the governor called his Republican opponents “amoral” and “stupid” and “bastards.” But the silly caricature continues thanks to the positive paint of a pliant mainstream media. 

More than anything, Gov. Tony Evers has proven what many suspected during the campaign, that he is an empty vessel into which his far left ministers have poured radical policy ideas. 

In other words, Tony is a tool.

The news media, meanwhile, had quite a bad year, and 2020 will probably be worse. Big newspapers are getting almost as bad as public broadcasting in begging for money — in this case, subscriptions based on their excellent-in-their-own-minds news coverage. Like Democrats who can’t fathom why people might support Trump, the national news media can’t grasp why people might look at their incessant attacks on Trump and Republicans and conservatives generally and conclude they can spend their money better elsewhere. Journalists, who increasingly are not like normal people (as in not married, no kids, non-homeowner, non-gun owner, non-churchgoer) should learn some humility.

Because some people can’t count, you have probably read reflections about the end of the 2010s, even though 2020 is actually the last year of the decade of the 2010s. (Confused? When was Year Zero?) Here is one in graphic form, from Matt Ridley:

An opposing view comes from Rick Wilson:

History‘s greatest trick is that our innate human bias toward normalcy always lures us into complacency. You wake up in the morning and the coffee still tastes largely the same, the water runs, the lights come on. It feels almost ordinary. You walk the dogs, check the news, and while on some rare days it’s a 9/11, even the biggest moments in history are hard to see up close.

The idea of change coming in sharp, traumatic, explosive moments is largely an illusion. The signs are always there before the moments that make the history books and the “where were you when?” times.

The water comes to a boil slowly and the frog, or in America’s case 330 million frogs, don’t notice until it’s too late. And no, this is not an allusion to climate change.

So we probably won’t be able to identify exactly when it happened, but sometime in this last decade, we lost the thread. Something actually broke. We fumbled away our continuity, our resilience, the uniquely American proposition that we’re bending the arc of history the right direction. We stopped believing in our almost magical national felicity for getting out of our own way and finally, stubbornly, doing the right thing.

The 2010s didn’t have a 9/11 moment. They didn’t have a Nixon resignation moment (all bets are off for the 2020s on that one, though). There was no hot global conflagration, no assassination attempt on a president, no Pearl Harbor, no Hurricane Katrina or Andrew.

Instead, we had a grinding series of more picayune, more insidious changes. Bit by bit, technology changed the culture. Bit by bit, the culture changed us.

As a result, this passing decade was marked by something darker, more divisive, more dangerous and ultimately more consequential. It was a time where all the small threads wove together into a kind of messy whole, and where a new era of bitterness and spite tore us apart in ways as surely as the 1960s cultural moment did.

Console yourself with this thought: As bad as 2019 was, 2020 will unquestionably be worse. It’s an election year.

As always, may your 2020 be better than your 2019. That’s a wish, not a prediction.

 

The impeachment follies

William A. Jacobson:

There is no indication that Mitch McConnell and his Republican majority in the Senate are going to let the impeachment trial turn into a wide-ranging free-for-all.

Democrats desperately want to try to rescue their woefully inadequate impeachment case by locating evidence outside the record on which impeachment was based. At the same time, some Republicans wish for the day they can get Joe Biden, Adam Schiff and other Democrats on the witness stand.

Nancy Pelosi is playing games by holding back the articles of impeachment, and there is a good argument that Republicans should not play her waiting game and should just call a trial and get it done with on the basis of the record from the House. Kimberley Strassel writes, Pelosi’s Rolling Impeachment:

And as long as the Senate doesn’t hold a trial, Democrats can add additional “crimes” to their case against the president. House lawyers this week argued in federal court that former White House counsel Don McGahn must be forced to testify to the House. They told the court the House may “recommend new articles of impeachment” if Mr. McGahn’s testimony included evidence that the president obstructed special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

How long will this charade go on? As long as Democrats can get away with it. Given their impeachment irregularities to date, it’s not hard to imagine Mrs. Pelosi sitting on her impeachment articles through next fall’s election campaign. That would deny Mr. Trump the ability to say he’d been acquitted, even as it assured a constant stream of negative, ever-evolving impeachment coverage.

The risk to Democrats is that the public loses tolerance for a cynical partisan ploy that makes a mockery of Congress’s constitutional duty. But Ms. Pelosi knows the press will dutifully peddle her “fairness” line, and at least for now she can use the delay to energize her base and further damage the president. If the public tide shifts, she can always change course.

Senate Republicans should schedule a trial immediately. Mr. McConnell has a majority to set the rules, and he has history, the Constitution and fairness on his side. Republicans also have a duty to spare the nation from the damaging precedent Mrs. Pelosi is setting. They can end the farce of endless, rolling, partisan impeachment.

But it’s still fun to think of Adam Schiff on the witness stand being grilled under oath on national TV about everything he has done with regard to Trump, including whether he or his staff leaked to the media and colluded with the so-called ‘whistleblower.’

It likewise would be fun to have Joe and Hunter Biden on the stand to demonstrate why it was in the national interest, not just Trump’s political interest, to seek an investigation as to what appears to be payola to Biden’s son in an attempt to influence the then-sitting Vice President.

So, playing along with this thought experiment, things could get really interesting if Biden, as he previously stated in early December, would refuse to honor a Senate trial subpoena:

Joe Biden is dismissing calls from President Trump and his allies that Biden testify during an impeachment trial in the Senate, saying any effort to compel his testimony should be viewed as part of a strategy to distract from the president’s conduct.

“No, I’m not going to let you take the eye off the ball here. Everybody knows what this is about,” the former vice president told NPR when asked whether he would cooperate with a subpoena. “This is a Trump gambit he plays. Whenever he’s in trouble he tries to find someone else to divert attention to.”

Asked a second time whether he would comply with a subpoena, Biden said: “No, I will not yield to what everybody is looking for here. And that is to take the eye off the ball.” He added, “No one has … one scintilla of evidence that I did anything other than do my job for America as well as anybody could have done it.”

Biden repeated that vow to defy a trial subpoena in an interview today with the Des Moines Register. Johnny Verhovek, an ABC News reporter who watched the interview, tweeted:

In @DMRegister ed board intv today @JoeBiden re-iterated that will not comply w/ a subpoena in Senate impeachment trail

“Correct. And the reason I wouldn’t is because it’s all designed to deal with Trump doing what he’s done his whole life, trying to take the focus off him.”

Asked if defying a subpoena puts him above the law, Biden said: “The grounds for them to call me would be overwhelmingly specious, but so, I don’t anticipate that happening anyway. But what it would do if I went — let’s say I voluntarily just said, let me go make my case…

Asked if defying a subpoena puts him above the law, Biden said: “The grounds for them to call me would be overwhelmingly specious, but so, I don’t anticipate that happening anyway. But what it would do if I went — let’s say I voluntarily just said, let me go make my case…

— Johnny Verhovek (@JTHVerhovek) December 27, 2019

Think about this. Biden is saying he will obstruct Congress by not complying with a subpoena. Isn’t that supposedly why Trump is being impeached?

And he’s doing so to gain political advantage in a presidential election, putting his own personal political interest ahead of the national interest.

This all sounds so familiar.

If the media and critics hate it …

T.R. Clancy:

Not every mainstream movie critic hates Clint Eastwood’s highly affecting Richard Jewell.  But the critics who hate it hate it an awful lot.

The story of how an out-of-control FBI and a “completely irresponsible press” ruined the life of the heroic security guard whose quick action saved many lives during the 1996 Centennial Park bombing is legitimately viewed as Eastwood’s take on what’s happening in America right now.  The irony that the movie was released the same week as the I.G. report exposing the FBI’s lawlessness in Crossfire Hurricane must be particularly galling for mainstream journos who staked their reputations on the Russia collusion hoax.

Just how timely Eastwood’s morality tale about government abuse may turn out to be is proved in the abysmal disconnect of NPR reviewer Chris Klimek’s question: “Why might he have chosen, at this perilous moment in our history, to make a movie that depicts not just the press but also the FBI as fundamentally corrupt and uninterested in the truth?”  Why, indeed.

The negative reviews of Jewell cite Olivia Wilde’s portrayal of Kathy Scruggs, the real-life Atlanta Journal-Constitution police-beat reporter who broke the story that the Feds were targeting Jewell.  In the movie, Scruggs trades sex for a tip from an FBI agent (played by Jon Hamm), who divulges that they suspect the good-old-boy security guard of planting the bomb just so he could play the hero by discovering it.  The film’s detractors say the idea that Scruggs would trade sex for a scoop is unimaginable.  Katie Walsh at The Morning Call fumes that “[screenwriter Billy] Ray and Eastwood lean into the ugly stereotype that female journalists are drunken floozies who get their tips through sex.”  Vox grumbles that the character was “written as an over-the-top bitch in heels.”

This isn’t altogether fair.  The person Olivia Wilde greatly admired and tried to capture was, at minimum, flamboyant.  In a 2003 Atlanta Magazine requiem written two years after the reporter’s death, former AJC colleague Doug Monroe recalled fondly how the “bigger-than-life” Scruggs “wore mini skirts and gaudy stockings …  smoked … drank … [c]ursed … flaunted her sexuality … dated cops[.]”  Another Atlanta workmate, who hated Wilde’s portrayal, also said Scruggs “knew the impression she made, and she used it when she hung out at police stations and made herself one of the guys — the pretty one — as she worked leads on crime stories.”  Her writer friend Robert Coram used her as his model for reporter Kitty O’Hara in the novel Atlanta Heat; the cops in the book say of Kitty, “You can tell how badly she needs a story by how short her skirt is that day.”  Scruggs thought that was hilarious.  Wilde’s own intuition about what another woman, ambitious and brazenly using her looks to get what she wants from men, might do may not be as inconceivable as Scruggs’s defenders insist.

Others charge that Eastwood made his picture too political.  Pittsburgh Magazine condemns the film outright as “nothing but the salty and hateful ranting of a bitter misanthrope.”  David Edelstein says Eastwood “twisted the story to suit his ends.”  Jewell is “so mired in conspiracy theories and boogeyman fantasies,” carps Adam Graham at The Detroit Newsthat it’s nothing but “an anti-authoritarian screed.”  A WaPo critic admits that Eastwood’s account of Jewell’s tragedy is scary, but, “coming as it does in 2019, its vilification of reporters and the feds is even scarier.”

On top of being anti-authoritarian (an even scarier thing, perhaps?), Graham thinks Jewell gets the nuts and bolts of journalism all wrong, a “tabloid fantasy gone unchecked, informed by the current administration’s views of the industry as the ‘enemy of the people,’ [leading] this supposedly fact-based account into the realm of fantasy land.”

This goes too far, especially considering that no one’s seriously challenging that the main elements of the plot are faithful to what happened.  Besides, if political bias in a movie is a fault, why didn’t Graham think so last December when he was reviewing the vitriolic attack on Dick Cheney — director Adam McKay’s Vice  — whose clear bias the critic found a positive feature?  “There’s no doubt,” Graham wrote, that “‘Vice’ is biased politically.  McKay was never out to make a fair and balanced film.  Instead it’s a story of power, and the way history unfolds slowly, often when no one is paying attention.”  The thing is, Richard Jewell is also a story of power.  Sam Rockwell, playing Jewell’s lawyer, says at one point his client’s being accused by “two of the most powerful forces in the world: the United States government and the media.”

The gripe that Jewell‘s reporters don’t behave like real journalists is nitpicking for the sake of finding fault.  Dramatic productions have rarely been judged by how closely they stick to absolute vérité.  At any rate, this isn’t a movie about how highly trained journalists report the news.  It’s about how veteran reporters, chastity intact or not, did report a false tip that was ultimately never attributed to any source, that the hero of the Olympic bombing matched the FBI’s profile of “the lone bomber.”  The AJC’s reckless headline, over Scruggs’s and Ron Martz’s byline, did boom, “FBI SUSPECTS ‘HERO’ GUARD’ MAY HAVE PLANTED BOMB.”  That article, stating bluntly that the profile “generally includes a frustrated white man who is a former police officer, member of the military or police ‘wanna-be’ who seeks to become a hero,” was the lit match that burned down Jewell’s life.  The New York Times later recounted how the AJC’s editors, “proud of the staff’s work, alerted The Associated Press and CNN.  These organizations alerted the world.”  Within 24 hours, the AJC ran five more headlines suggesting Jewell’s guilt, like, “Security Guard Had Reputation as Zealot,” and “Motive? Could Be Sociopath, Attention Seeker.”  Before long, Jewell’s mother had to see her favorite newscaster, Tom Brokaw, telling the country “[t]hey probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him[.]”  Months later, CNN’s Bill Press was still broadcasting lies, saying, “The guy was seen with a homemade bomb at his home a few days before.”

Richard Jewell isn’t a documentary on news-gathering procedure or a biography of Kathy Scruggs; it’s not even a biography of Richard Jewell.  It’s a parable of what happens when news organizations are willing to ditch their principles to become enablers of powerful people with police powers who’ve misplaced theirs, too.  Characters in parables are types, and in Eastwood’s parable, Scruggs represents the AJC and the news business at large, who, in her ambition, engages in something sordid and shameful.  Whether or not a particular Atlanta police reporter had sex with some cop in exchange for information avoids the point.  We’re living through a time when mainstream newsgatherers show up each day determined to avoid the point.  Richard Jewell succeeds in making it impossible not to see how the ruin of a heroic American’s life was the fault of a reckless press and unethical lawmen coming together in something sordid, shameful, even whorish.

Watch the movie, and you’ll want to wring the female reporter’s neck.  But for three years, Americans have watched a growing mountain of evidence that crooked politicians and high government officials connived to destroy a president and undo an election — evidence all brought to light without any assistance from the fourth estate, and in many cases in spite of their active resistance.  So acute is the self-deception of journalists about their abandonment of standards, just so they can abet scoundrels like James Comey and Adam Schiff, they’ve hardened into what they’re forever accusing unwoke America of being: impermeable to facts, evidence, or reason.  That’s why a parable is called for.  Nathan told a parable to make King David grasp the enormity of his sins.  Jesus insisted on speaking to the Pharisees in parables.  They were enraged, too, when they figured out that His parables were “speaking about them.”

Those critics hating on Richard Jewell say it’s because of its bias, its inaccuracies, and for being an intentional “hit piece” against one of their own.  Maybe.  Or are they provoked at realizing it’s “speaking about them”?  If so, then Eastwood succeeded.

More from Anthony d’Alessandro:

In his first comments addressing the controversy surrounding Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewellwhich has culminated in a threatened defamation lawsuit by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the film’s screenwriter Billy Ray assailed the newspaper for failing to own up to its role in destroying the life of the security guard who spotted a suspicious backpack under a bench at an outdoor concert in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics and helped move bystanders away before an explosion left two dead and more than 100 injured.

The newspaper, in turn, has criticized the film’s depiction of Kathy Scruggs — who broke the story with Ron Martz that the FBI was eyeing Jewell as its prime suspect — as a promiscuous crime reporter who essentially traded a sexual encounter with an FBI agent for the tip. The film asserts that tip, and pressure from Scruggs, led the newspaper to tear up its front page to run a story under the headline, “FBI Suspects ‘Hero’ Guard May Have Planted Bomb.” That created the media maelstrom that upended Jewell’s life, as depicted in the Eastwood-directed drama that Warner Bros opens Friday.

“This movie is about a hero whose life was completely destroyed by myths created by the FBI and the media, specifically the AJC,” Ray told Deadline. “The AJC hung Richard Jewell, in public.”

Several of the key characters in the film have died. That includes not only Jewell but Scruggs, who likely would have sued were she still alive. Olivia Wilde plays her as a steely and sexy reporter who wasn’t above flirting with sources to get tips. She’s seen in a bar with FBI agent Tom Shaw (played by Jon Hamm in an amalgamation of several law enforcement officers involved in the investigation). As the hand she has placed on his leg moves upward, the agent whispers the tip about Jewell in her ear. They next are seen leaving the bar together, presumably to complete what comes off as a quid pro quo transaction.“They editorialized wildly and printed assumptions as facts,” Ray said. “They compared him to noted mass murderer Wayne Williams. And this was after he had saved hundreds of lives. Now a movie comes along 23 years later, a perfect chance for the AJC to atone for what they did to Richard and to admit to their misdeeds. And what do they decide to do? They launch a distraction campaign. They deflect and distort. They focus solely on one single minute in a movie that’s 129 minutes long, opting to challenge one assertion in the movie rather than accepting their own role in destroying the life of a good man. The movie isn’t about Kathy Scruggs; it’s about the heroism and hounding of Richard Jewell, and what rushed reporting can do to an innocent man. And by the way, I will stand by every word and assertion in the script,” he added.

Ray isn’t inexperienced or shortsighted when it comes to the dance between truth and dramatic license that is present in every retelling of narrative historical story on the big screen; it’s an area into which he has submerged himself many times before. He received an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of Richard Phillip and Stephen Talty’s book A Captain’s Duty, which became another untold-hero story in Captain Phillips. He wrote and directed Shattered Glass, a drama about a hotshot journalist caught fabricating magazine articles, and Ray also adapted and right now is directing a star-studded miniseries adaptation of former FBI director James Comey’s bestselling memoir A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership for CBS Television Studios.

Since Richard Jewell‘s world premiere, current AJC editor-in-chief Kevin Riley – who wasn’t at the paper back then – has proactively challenged the depiction of Scruggs’ promiscuity and the AJC‘s hasty decision to blast a front-page headline that Jewell was being looked at as a suspect by the FBI, just days after he was hailed for heroism for reporting the suspicious backpack he found under a bench, and for helping to divert the crowd away from the blast range. Suddenly, he was considered the prime suspect based on a theory the FBI investigated that Jewell was a frustrated wannabe lawman who planted the bomb to make himself a hero and gain favorable attention. It was more a hunch than anything ground in theory, and there wasn’t a shred of real evidence to pin Jewell to the crime. Still, the newspaper technically was accurate in its reporting that the FBI was investigating Jewell.Ray based Richard Jewell on Marie Brenner’s February 1997 Vanity Fair article “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell.” Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen’s book Suspect: An Oympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle was also used as source material.

Deadline was hard-pressed to find specifics to verify that Scruggs traded a sexual favor for what initially seemed like the biggest story of her career, until it blew up on the newspaper when the FBI cleared Jewell and someone else, Eric Rudolph, confessed to the bombing. Deadline secured a deposition that Scruggs gave from May 23, 1997, when she was questioned by L. Lin Wood, Jewell’s libel and defamation attorney, who would later represent JonBenet Ramsay’s parents John and Patsy Ramsey and their son Burke in their battle against defamation claims against St. Martin’s Press, Time Inc., The Fox News Channel, American Media, Inc., StarThe Globe, Court TV and The New York Post.Riley said he objects primarily to what he called falsehoods about Scruggs, who isn’t around to defend her honor. “You can’t take someone who died and portray them as an immoral character,” Riley told Deadline. “No one ever said this happened (with Kathy); it’s a horrible trope that Hollywood seems to fall into about female journalists.”

The book Suspect details Scruggs’ questioning by Wood:

The reporter had never been sued or even deposed. Beforehand, she spent a full day and a half with Canfield and his team gearing up for the questioning; the lawyers girded her for Wood’s ultra-aggressive tactics. As one colleague at the paper put it: “Strap it on and tie it on tight, because he’s coming after you.”

The deposition began at 9:55 A.M., and Wood delivered as advertised. Within minutes, in a zigzag pattern to keep her off balance, he grilled Scruggs on topics ranging from profiling to libel to her personal life.

In the deposition examined by Deadline, Wood asked the following:

Wood: You have close ties to the Atlanta Police Department, don’t you?

Scruggs: I guess so, yes.

Wood: Have you ever had a social relationship or dated or had a boyfriend that works for the Atlanta Police Department?

Scruggs: Yes, I have.

Scruggs named the officer and said the relationship had run its course. Perhaps that was the kernel that empowered the dramatic license that became part of the scripted narrative? No one was saying, specifically.

While Scruggs’ counsel objects to the line of questioning, the reporter answers that the relationship “ended in ’93 or ’94” well before the Olympic bombing. Later on in the deposition (on pages 370-371), Wood questions Scruggs how her reputation would stack up if she was the focus of an investigation like Jewell had been. “I suspect there are quite a number of people that could call in and say quite a few seamy things about you,” Wood says in the deposition. Scruggs answers, “I am sure there are.”

Deadline reached Wood, who said he was never approached by anyone connected to the Eastwood film in their preparation. While he has not seen the movie, Wood said: “I do not recall any testimony or evidence that supports the specific storyline as you described it…I have no evidence to suggest that those rumors were true or that she ever engaged in any sexual act in exchange for information or tips, and I never made or asserted such a damning and unprovable claim,” said the attorney. “That is the full extent of my knowledge and it is based solely on sworn testimony — not rumor and not rank sensationalized speculation. I deal in facts. Hollywood is not so limited,” Wood added.

In a November 26 AJC piece, Scruggs family friend and attorney Edward Tolley exclaims “That is complete horse (expletive)” about the quid pro quo scene in the film. “If she’s being portrayed as some floozy, it’s just not true.”

In other testimony in the deposition, Scruggs discussed how the newspaper excised an allegation that Jewell allegedly said that if anything happens at the Olympics, he wants to be right in the middle of it, and that some FBI sources believed Jewell was a voice match to the anonymous call to police that a bomb was placed in the park and would explode in half an hour. Scruggs said the paper didn’t publish those assertions because they couldn’t get enough corroboration.

Wilde vouched for Ray’s research in the script and said she devoured everything she could get her hands on to inform her portrayal of Scruggs.

“She was incredibly successful as a cop reporter,” Wilde told Deadline last week. “She had a very close relationship with the cops and the FBI helping to tell their story, and yes, by all accounts she had relationships with different people in that field. But what I resented was this character being boiled down to one inferred scene and I don’t hear anyone complaining about Jon Hamm’s character as being inferred that he also had a relationship with a reporter. It feels unfair that Kathy has been minimized in this way.”

Ray said he believes in the film’s premise, and argues that the newspaper didn’t consider enough what might happen to Jewell when its front-page story established him as the FBI’s prime suspect, at a time when the investigation was nascent and the bureau was still gathering leads. In her deposition, Scruggs said she did consider that as the paper was deciding whether to publish that first story she co-wrote Ron Martz.

To Ray, the newspaper chose to seize on the opportunity for a big scoop, for which Jewell paid a high price. Jewell died of serious complications relating to diabetes at age 44, and is depicted as having heart trouble as the stress of the FBI and media maelstrom mounted.

“In subsequent headlines they said his possible motivation was that he could be a sociopath. Then of course, they compared him to Wayne Williams. How was Richard going to get a fair trial in the court of public opinion if the only paper that mattered was destroying him?” he added.“They profiled Richard Jewell as a wannabe cop and lone bomber, but they did so in the “voice of God,” without quoting anyone — thereby stating their assumptions as facts,” Ray said.

While Scruggs did not reveal her source, Brenner in her Vanity Fair profile reported that the journalist “had allegedly gotten a tip from a close friend in the F.B.I., got a confirmation from someone in the Atlanta police.” In Brenner’s conversation with then-managing editor John Walter, he defended the paper’s voice-of-God, declarative-sentence style that included the statement that “Richard Jewell . . . fits the profile of the lone bomber.” Another editor told Brenner, “The whole story is voice-of-God. . . . Because we see this event taking place, the need to attribute it to sources — F.B.I. or law enforcement — is less than if there is no public acknowledgment.” Walter admitted to Brenner he had not seen any documentation that validated the existence of an actual lone-bomber profile theory used by the FBI.

“I believe the AJC’s current motivation is to protect itself from the harsh light that this is movie is shedding on their behavior. I think the paper is trying to sully our movie in an effort to spare itself a justified embarrassment. That’s journalistic cowardice,” Ray said. “What is so appalling is that this is corporate ass-covering disguised as an effort to protect Kathy Scruggs.”

Some detractors speculated that Eastwood’s conservative political views might have informed a negative depiction of media here. Ray is having none of that, and onstage last week at Deadline’s The Contenders New York event told the crowd how sacrosanct the director was about the words in his screenplay.

“Some will try to paint this movie as being anti-FBI or anti-media,” Ray told Deadline. “It’s neither. It’s about speaking truth to power. You have to stop thinking about the FBI and the media as institutions. The FBI and the media are groups of people who are stewards of institutions. And those people can have good or bad judgement, good or bad intentions. In this particular case, the FBI and the AJC, in their pursuit of truth, rushed to judgment and destroyed an innocent man who had saved lives. Richard then had to develop a whole new kind of courage so he could defend himself from them,” said Ray.

While Jewell settled libel lawsuits against major media outlets including CNN, NBC and the New York Post, the AJC continued to fight for itself and eventually won a summary judgment that was upheld on appeal. The newspaper maintained it was law enforcement that rushed to judgment about Jewell, and the paper served its obligation to report what law enforcement was doing. AJC’s Reilly maintains the newspaper did its job in reporting that Jewell was the lead suspect at that moment in 1996.

Bert Roughton was the editor on duty whom Scruggs phoned after a source informed her that investigators were looking into Jewell as a potential suspect. In September, after reading Ray’s script, he wrote in AJC the column “Drama shouldn’t recast this truth,” detailing that he’d “been in the newsroom for a few years by the time Kathy Scruggs arrived. Until then — 1986 — it had been a stodgy and drab, shirt-and-tie kind of place”; and that she was “an explosion of color, energy and expletives.” Roughton was upset by the depiction of his former colleague.

“Kathy was pretty, and she knew it,” Roughton wrote. “She had a raspy voice and wore short skirts and revealing tops. She used bawdy banter as a weapon. Even so, it would be wrong to reduce Kathy to a sex kitten with a notebook. She was so much more.”

The AJC set up a special newsroom during the 1996 Olympics. While Roughton as a reporter had covered Atlanta’s Olympics bid, he was appointed as editor during the Summer Games to oversee all non-sports stories. The team included police beat reporter Scruggs, who was covering security at the Olympics with Martz, reporting into Roughton.

“(In the deposition) they don’t make the leap from her social relationships to she had sex (with a source or sources). There’s no basis in the testimony that suggests that,” Roughton told Deadline.

What is whispered into Wilde’s ear by Hamm in the movie “was actually a long complicated conversation” from multiple sources that Scruggs pieced together from various pieces of intel,” Roughton said.

“We held the story for a day or so to do a pretty tough verification; there’s no way in the process that she managed to have sex with a source,” said Roughton, who worked closely with Scruggs for more than a year.

“She heard Richard was a suspect before she talked to a primary source. She alerted me that she was hearing something. She called me on the phone in an extremely profane way, much in the way she does in the movie. We knew that the FBI was looking into Richard Jewell because of the history he had at Piedmont College and his strange police career.” Roughton was referring to an early chapter depicted in the film, when Jewell is let go for pulling over students suspected of drinking and driving before they entered the college campus.

“When a reporter trades sexual favors for a story, their career is over. If I ever thought for one second that Kathy did anything inappropriate, I would have seen to it that she was fired in 24 hours,” Roughton said.

“To defame a dead woman and to accuse her of doing the worst thing in her profession is just cruel,”  the former editor added. “To convict her of the mortal sin of trading sex for a story, it’s the worst thing conceivable you can do to a journalist. It’s one thing to debate the journalist, but to destroy someone’s reputation eternally — because for the rest of time, this movie will be out.”

Countered Ray: “The only creative license taken in the movie is actually in the redeeming of Kathy Scruggs. In the end she realizes the error of her ways. She never publicly atoned for her reporting.”
The AJC’s position — we reported accurately who the FBI thought was its suspect, and who cares if we ruined Jewell’s life? — explains why people hate the news media.

Impeachments then and now

David Harsanyi:

[Tuesday] on MSNBC, Chris Hayes, repeating a talking point I’ve heard dozens of times during impeachment theater, argued that the “striking” difference between the Clinton and Trump impeachments was not only the willingness of Clinton to “show contrition,” but the willingness of his supporters to acknowledge that the president had done something wrong.

Boy, it must be nice to live in an alternative reality where your allies are always selfless and chaste and your opponents are perpetually plagued by narrow-mindedness and reactionary partisanship.

In the real world, of course, Bill Clinton, with help from the entire Democratic party, kept earnestly lying to anyone who would listen — the media, the American people, a grand jury — until physical evidence compelled him to admit what he had done. His subsequent “contrition,” as impeachment picked up steam, was a matter of political survival. The notion that Trump engaged in “bribery” is debatable. The notion that Clinton perjured himself is not.

If it hadn’t been for the Drudge Report bypassing the institutional media, in fact, Newsweek, still an influential magazine in 1998, would likely have sat on the Lewinsky story until after the Clinton presidency had ended. This was probably the first time that online alternative media exposed corrupt coverage, and it certainly wasn’t the last.

Then again, even after Drudge reported on Monica Lewinsky’s semen-stained blue dress, Clinton still lied about his affair to the country, famously saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” His wife, Hillary, who almost surely knew the truth, told Matt Lauer that a “vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president” was responsible for the charges.  Sounds familiar.

If it hadn’t been for Linda Tripp recording her calls, Lewinsky would doubtlessly have been smeared by the Clinton Janissaries like so many other women before her. These were the virtuous days before Donald Trump hit Washington, when the White House was running a “nuts or sluts” operation to protect the president, led by James Carville, who said that Clinton accuser Paula Jones was the kind of person you found “if you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park.”

Talk about projection.

It wasn’t until Tripp had handed Lewinsky’s blue dress to investigator Ken Starr, who then concluded that the president had lied during sworn testimony, that Clinton finally admitted to the affair. And really, what else was Clinton going to do? Argue that it was acceptable to lie under oath and carry on sexual relationships with 23-year-old interns in the White House — sometimes while your wife and daughter and world leaders mingled in the other rooms?

More significantly, what liberals such as Hayes ignore is that Clinton’s Starr-induced penitence was largely beside the point. Clinton wasn’t impeached for acting like a dog; he was impeached for perjuring himself and obstructing justice — on eleven very specific criminal actions — in a sexual-harassment case.

And any perfunctory willingness by his allies to admit wrongdoing was quickly overwhelmed by a Democratic party rallying around the notion that Clinton had actually been the victim of “Sexual McCarthyism,” a vacuous term that would be repeated endlessly on television by his supporters. Alan Dershowitz, then a Clinton defender, wrote an entire book titled “Sexual McCarthyism.”

Worse, the entire country was soon plunged into an insufferably stupid debate over whether being fellated by an intern in the Oval Office should even be considered a sexual encounter. John Conyers’s testimony defending Clinton’s perjury on these grounds on the House floor makes some of today’s defenses of Trump sound like the Catiline Orations.

Then again, Democrats largely offered the same arguments then that the GOP does today. “The Republican right wing in this country doesn’t like it when we say coup d’état,” said Representative José E. Serrano (D., N.Y.). “So I’ll make it easier for them. Golpe de estado. That’s Spanish for overthrowing a government.”

“Not all coups are accompanied by the sound of marching boots and rolling tanks,” said Representative Nita M. Lowey (D., N.Y.).

“I rise in strong opposition to this attempt at a bloodless coup d’état, this attempt to overturn two national elections,” explained Representative Eliot L. Engel (D., N.Y.).

“This partisan coup d’état will go down in infamy in the history of this nation,” Representative Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) said. And on and on it went in the House.

In the end, there would not be a single patriotic Democratic senator who was brave enough stand up for the American justice system, for women, or for decency. Every single one of them chose partisan interests over their country and the cult of Bill Clinton over the Constitution. (That’s how it’s done, right?)

Now, just as it’s debatable whether Trump’s Ukrainian call rises to the level of an impeachable offense, it was debatable whether Clinton’s actions warranted it (I tend to think not). There’s no debate, however, that Clinton had an affair with a subordinate in the White House and then lied about that affair under oath. His partisan allies did whatever they needed to save him, because the notion that rank partisanship was discovered in 2016 is nothing but revisionism.