Friday, October 21, 2016

Unlike everyone at the Al Smith dinner, CNN doesn’t know difference between roast humor and inept insults

By Marc Jampole

It’s interesting how the various news media approach the task of holding up Donald Trump as if he were a boxer who the other fighter has to keep standing for two more rounds to complete the fix.

Setting a low bar for Trump, quoting Trump in stories on news developments without mentioning Hillary’s view, creating a double standard for Hillary, blaming her for mistakes also committed by her peers, ignoring the harmless contents of her emails, covering his rallies but not hers, not calling him on obvious lies—these are some of the many ways the mainstream news media has subtly helped the Republican candidate since the race began. One of the most frequently utilized techniques has been conflation, which in the 2016 presidential election consists of equating a minor fault of Hillary’s to a massive history of bad behavior by Trumpty-Dumpty.

CNN provided a seminal example of conflation in its coverage of the annual Al Smith Dinner, which supports charitable work by the New York Catholic Diocese and is typically attended by all the New York City movers and shakers. It’s a tradition to invite both presidential candidates to the dinner to give funny speeches that mildly roast themselves and their opponent.

This year, Donald Trump spoke first and he was heavily booed throughout the speech, and for good reason. After starting with a few excellent zingers, his remarks quickly devolved into insults, lies and accusations, none of which approached wit, satire or any other kind of humor.  His one success at self-deprecation really was a joke about his wife. Another time, his joke was to compare himself to Christ. You could see the uncomfortably ashen faces of the people sitting near the podium, aghast at Trump’s ugly transgressions against a convivial tradition.

By contrast, the audience loved what Hillary had to say. As everyone who watched on TV saw, she peppered her remarks with a number of self-deprecating jokes. She seemed to enjoy making fun of herself, the image the public has of her and even the false image of her created by lies that Republicans have spread about her for years. When she turned to Trump, her cracks were the essence of roast humor—always funny, and always hitting their mark, jokes that cut deep in the truth they revealed, but that always stayed on the side of humor. She delivered them with a good-natured warmth that made me think that she took time out from debate preparation to study the master of the roast, Dean Martin.

The audience loved it, applauding frequently. Some of the applause was at the humor, but sometimes it was because they agreed with the truth behind the humor. Her best moment was when she talked about the debates. “Sharing a stage with Donald Trump is like, well, nothing really comes to mind. Donald wanted me drug tested before last night's debate. I am so flattered that Donald thought I used some sort of performance enhancer. Now, actually, I did. It's called preparation.” After hearty laughter from the audience, Clinton did what every great comedian does: go for a topper. She said, “And looking back, I've had to listen to Donald for three full debates, and he says I don't have any stamina!” The audience roared.

How surprised was I then to wake up to CNN equating the performances at the dinner by the two candidates.They struggled to disguise the anger, bitterness and sheer open dislike that has pulsed through their recriminatory White House race, perhaps not surprisingly since he has threatened to throw her in jail and she says he's a threat to the republic.”  CNN hits the daily double with this sentence, two conflations in one: 1) The conflation of Clinton’s good-natured ribbing which the audience ate up like grandma’s cannoli with Trump’s boorish ill-humor that the audience widely booed. 2) The conflation of Trump’s false and unsubstantiated accusations against a woman who has withstood decades of investigations with Hillary’s legitimate concern about Trump’s refusal to say he’ll agree to the election results, a concern also voiced by virtually the entire mainstream news media and many if not most Republicans. The CNN coverage ignores the applause and minimizes the humor that distinguished Hillary’s appropriate remarks with Trump’s transgressions.

I understand the craven Jimmy Fallon sucking up to a former star of the network that writes his paychecks, but what does CNN have to gain by its inaccurate portrayal of what happened? What does it gain from ignoring what was obvious to all? That we cannot compare Donald Trump’s boorishness in any way with anyone else who has run for president, at least since World War I. My guess is that CNN’s editorial board is still hell bent in denying Hillary the landslide that will produce Democratic majorities in the Senate, and maybe even the House.

Most of the other mainstream media outlets, like NBC, the New York Times and National Public Radio focused their coverage much more on the boos given to Trump’s mean-spirited remarks than on the applause and laughs Hillary got. In this regard, their approach resembled how they portrayed the debates and the commander-in-chief forum. In all instances, they focused on Trump’s bad performance, mentioning that he fell for many traps Hillary set for him, but often forget to note that Hillary was superb in her own right.

Hillary and Trumpty-Dumpty have now gone mano a mano five times, and all five times Hillary has defeated her adversary with ease, all after defeating the far more competent and visionary Bernie Sanders. If it weren’t Hillary Clinton, if she weren’t a woman, if the mainstream news media didn’t list Republican, maybe they would realize that we are seeing the political equivalent of the 1998 Yankees or American Pharoah’s run to horse racing’s Triple Crown.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

3rd debate score: cool Clinton wins, Wallace wins, Trump stumbles, sniffs & commits sedition

By Marc Jampole

Newscasters and commentators who analyze the candidates’ performance and the public’s reaction immediately after presidential debates typically endeavor to express a unique point of view that gives a special insight to what just occurred. Each pundit wants to shine with something different or surprising to build her-his recognition and brand.

Not after the third debate, though.

For the first five minutes, flipping between the various news programs, one topic and one topic alone under discussion: Donald Trump’s explicit refusal to recognize the results of the election in advance. Never before in the history of the United States has a major party candidate been unwilling to endorse the voting and Electoral College totals. It shocked many. Some Republican analysts said it disqualified him from consideration as our next president. Everyone understood that Trump was undermining a basic principle of American democracy, a two century compact between the people and government: the peaceful transfer of power from one regime to the next. Technically, Trump was probably committing sedition, which Merriam-Webster’s defines as “conduct consisting of speaking, writing, or acting against an established government or seeking to overthrow it by unlawful means; resistance to lawful authority; conduct tending to treason but without an overt act.”

Wallace gave Trump a chance to change his mind, but the Donald dug in, eschewing reality in favor of his fantasy world in which the only way he ever loses is when he is cheated.

Speaking of Wallace, he did a fine job, certainly the best of any moderator this election cycle. He kept the candidates to the issues and kept them talking on point. He made sure both sides got their say and kept order between the two candidates. Although he said he would not fact check, he did correct Trump a time or two. He kept the audience under control. The only disruption I heard was a loud rumble of laughter and sniggers when Trumpty-Dumpty said “Nobody has more respect for women than me.”

After the debate, Trump surrogates tried to compare what Trumpty-Dumpty said to Al Gore not conceding until a month after the 2000 election. To their credit, every reporter and pundit understood that refusing to agree to the results because the election could be rigged weeks before the voting is far different from Gore waiting until the results in Florida had been confirmed, or in the case of the 2000 election, mandated by the Supreme Court. Once the Supreme Court ruled, Gore wasted no time in endorsing the election returns, even though it meant he lost despite a significant edge in the popular voting. And Gore never said the election was rigged or threatened not to abide by the vote in the Electoral College.

By the time Trump made his seditious statement not once but twice, he had already lost the debate on merit. As in the first two debates, he interrupted, he fidgeted with his mic, he tried to shout Hillary down and he lost control and got angry. The longer the debate went, the more incoherent his remarks became and the louder his constant sniffing became.  He resorted to insults, the worst of which was when he muttered, “Such a nasty woman.”

And Trump lied and lied and lied. He lied about the impact of illegal immigration. He lied about the relative strength of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenal. He lied about what occurs in late-term abortion. He lied about the situation in Syria. He lied about the State Department losing $6 billion. He made unfounded accusations against his opponent. The fact-checkers found many of his statements false, while confirming that Hillary has been the most truthful candidate of this election cycle.

When the history of the 2016 election is written, I’m fairly certain historians will focus on the Trump phenomenon, his insults of other candidates, his dust-up with a Gold Star family, his infamous tape in which he admits to sexually assaulting women and his refusal to pledge to honor election results. Many will forget how masterful Hillary has been in these debates. Hillary showed why she has never lost a presidential debate in her life—tied a time or two, but never lost.  Unlike the rambling Trumpty-Dumpty, Hillary spoke with extreme efficiency and precision. Her typical answer consisted of several parts: her stand, the facts to back the stand, why her opponent’s stand was inferior and a dig at Trump. Her formula: present the facts presidentially, then bait your opponent.  Trump didn’t always take the bait, but even when he didn’t, you could see him fuming and fidgeting. Clinton, by contrast, laughed off Trump’s insults and accusations. She kept her poise while successfully goading her opponent to lose his. She also had her share of clever moments, my favorite of which was when she contrasted what she was doing in each of the past four decades to what Trump was doing; e.g., in the ‘70s she worked on behalf of poor children, while Trump was being sued for discrimination in rental practices.

But most of all, Hillary was cool and Americans like their presidents cool.

By cool, I mean her demeanor and temperament, not her sense of style or her social position in high school (which is what Maureen Dowd would mean). Americans tend to select as president the candidate who seems most comfortable with her-his body and in her-his surroundings. They like the candidate who stays in control, as long as that control comes easily and is not the product of a visible internal struggle. They like smiles over frowns, friendly over angry. Cool over hot.

Eisenhower was cooler than Stevenson in temperament and demeanor. Kennedy was cooler than Nixon. Reagan was cooler than Carter. Bush I was cooler than Dukakis, but no one was ever as cool as Bill Clinton. Certainly not Bob Dole. Bush II was cooler than both Gore and Kerry. Obama was cooler than McCain and Romney.

And the calm and studied Hillary is a lot cooler than the strident and fumbling Donald Trump.