An Open Mind: Trumping the Times

November 29, 2016


The question is not, does Donald Trump feel shame. We know he never has.

The question is, are the journalists who have covered this campaign capable of feeling it?

Todd Gitlin at Bill

We have plunged into an emergency, and one reason is that journalists who are supposed to supply a picture of the world failed to do so. Not the only reason, but one reason, which is enough to prompt serious rumination.

wrote last week about journalists searching their souls, trying to figure out what they did wrong in this appalling campaign. Like the rest of us — nobody deserves a free pass in an endangered world — they’re obliged to think deeply about what to do better. Is it too impossibly high-minded and do-goody to insist that their reason for being is to offer the American people what they need to know in order to better choose their course? If that is in fact their mission, they have failed abjectly.

Almost half of the voters have just chosen to be led by a profoundly disturbed ignoramus who refuses to understand he has obligations to Americans who are not members of his family. For journalists who persist in believing their leaders are chosen intelligently, the crisis is apparent and urgent. But the so-called learning curve is getting an appallingly sluggish start. Journalists who should know better are busy complaining about their lack of access to the bullshitter-in-chief, as if access were the golden road to truth and not, often at least, a shortcut over a cliff.

According to the conventions of journalism, access is fundamental. But access runs two ways. Access to “newsmakers” can be purchased with what is known in professional parlance as “beat sweeteners” — softball stories and non-threatening meetings that allow sources access to the journalists who cover them, and by extension, to the public. But these are not ordinary times. While journalists persist in playing by old rules, the president-elect has a different plan. Nor is Donald Trump an unknown quantity. By now it should be painfully evident how he rewards sycophants — with a slap across the face.

For evidence, reader, please peruse the transcript of Trump’s on-again, off-again, back-on again meeting in a New York Times conference room last week. Read the whole thing. It’s not that long. Then consider the Times headline the next day: “Trump, in Interview, Moderates Views but Defies Conventions.” The lede: “President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday tempered some of his most extreme campaign promises, dropping his vow to jail Hillary Clinton, expressing doubt about the value of torturing terrorism suspects and pledging to have an open mind about climate change.”

Nothing to worry about, then.


White House chief of staff may be “the second most powerful job in government,” according to James A. Baker III, who had the job under both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

So it matters that the man Trump named his chief of staff, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, embraces Trump’s hard-core climate denial.

Priebus appeared on the latest Fox News Sunday to explain Trump’s apparent “major flips on policy this week in an interview with the New York Times,” as host Chris Wallace put it — including the apostasy of possibly having “an open mind” about “pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.

Trump is appointing countless climate science deniers to key positions, which tells you vastly more about what he believes and what he’ll do than his latest semi-coherent ramblings. As I wrote last week, Trump’s repetition of the phrase “open mind” during his Times interview was meant to distract from his constant repetition of long-debunked denier talking points (and it worked).

Priebus confirmed Trump wasn’t being forthright with the Times, telling Wallace, “As far as this issue on climate change — the only thing he [Trump] was saying after being asked a few questions about it is, look, he’ll have an open mind about it but he has his default position, which most of it is a bunch of bunk, but he’ll have an open mind and listen to people.”

You can’t you have an “open mind” on climate if your default position is “most of it is a bunch of bunk.” What is there to “listen to” if you believe the decades of research by thousands of scientists embraced by every nation in the world is mostly bunk? That’s the definition of epistemic closure of the mind. No surprise, then, that FoxNews — a major promoter of denial — didn’t call Priebus out on this absurd statement.

Gitlin Again:

It was Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet who asked Trump about the “alt-right” (read: neo-Nazi) “Hail Trump” rally that had just taken place in Washington. “First of all,” Trump said, “I don’t want to energize [racists.] I’m not looking to energize them. I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group.” And now the whiplash again: “Then, again, I don’t know if it’s reporting or whatever.” What the last sentence appears to mean is that Trump reserves the right to withdraw his vague “disavowal” if he and his lying legions later maintain that the reporting of Nazi salutes, etc., was a distortion perpetrated by the “liberal media.” Trump added: “If they are energized I want to look into it and find out why.” This is supposed to be reassuring. The Timesmen and -women did nothing to break the spell. Among the follow-up questions they did not ask: “You’re not sure they’re energized? Have you heard of the hate crimes? When will you report to us on what your researchers turn up?”

Trump practices the dark art of the perfunctory reassurance and gets rewarded with passing grades: He “moderates” and is “tempered.” He teases one executive (“is he a tough boss?”) and compliments another (“very powerful man”). The article, as opposed to the transcript, gives the strongman an unearned gift: a veneer of coherence. Is this a moment to break into laughter or screaming or crying — this spectacle of bad cop Trump sending good cop Trump out to meet with journalists whom he has described as “sleaze,” and presto! emerging  as a moderate who solicits the good opinion of Thomas Friedman.

When journalists sit down at a table with a man so fundamentally ignorant, self-seeking, unscrupulous and unreliable, a man who, when he doesn’t lie, characteristically emits bullshit — the now academically canonized term for propositions whose truth or falsity he doesn’t know or care to know — is it not evident that they must gird themselves at the first sign of flattery, to realize that his mission is to play them, to keep them off-balance?

Here were his first words to the Times group: “Well, I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.” And then the lightning, bipolar pivot: “I think I’ve been treated very rough….”

“Failed” is one of Trump’s favorite adjectives for The Times. In his wholly amoral universe, “failed” is tantamount to “evil.”



28 Responses to “An Open Mind: Trumping the Times”

  1. Love Todd Gitlin.

    I think I’m still in shock. I can’t quite believe that the misogynistic, racist toad [with his party in the majority in BOTH houses] is going to be sworn in come January. I keep thinking that something will happen, has to happen, to save the country from the damn evil trolls [yes, I do mean ‘evil’].

    I am just disheartened.

    • Glen Bennett Says:

      How about a Jill Stein recount of the votes? We need to undermine Drumpf at every turn.

      • skeptictmac57 Says:

        Apparently, this is a futile effort. The recount only has till Dec. 19th to conclude, and it’s by hand, and hasn’t gotten underway. And even then, the results are probably going to be the same.
        It would be interesting if they actually turned up some legitimate problems though.

    • otter17 Says:

      I keep living my life thinking that there will be a lot of faithless electoral college electors that will vote on Dec. 19 against Trump. They are just keeping quiet until that day. I mean, part of the original founding reason for the electoral college was to override an emergency situation where the people are swayed to elect a candidate who embodied abject tyranny or incompetence. The electors have that wildcard choice to vote for the better nature of the nation, despite their voters. This seems like the election where the situation is apt, especially considering the significant margin in popular vote. Silly, but it puts a smile on my face thinking about what the Trump camp reaction would be. Then again, the country would probably see the full wrath of whatever Trump and supporters had in mind when they thought they were going to lose the election, probably worse.

      Silly, but gets me through the day.

      • @ otter17

        I, too, wish for the electors to have spines and vote their conscience. I mean, wouldn’t that be grand?!!

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Yes, a grand idea. But don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen. If you do decide to ignore my advice and hold your breath, be sure to pin a note to your chest telling people what to do with your body.

        • otter17 Says:

          It is a fun thought for a minute or two, but the likely future reality of maintaining some semblance of order in the country to make good on Paris Accord and fight against a climate denial EPA.

          It is possible the fight to stop AGW has needed a moment that awakens the motivation needed to fight adequately for the livelihood of today’s youth and beyond. This administration may be that moment.

  2. redskylite Says:

    It’s a bummer, a real slap in the face, almost unbelievable in the 21st century. Dr Jeff Masters urging support for the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund,, in a sad but necessary post. How long will he and the like even have a free voice I wonder.

    Climate science and climate scientists in the United States are likely to be under unprecedented assault by powerful politicians in the coming four years. Climate-change-denying politicians are already in high positions in Congress, and soon we will have a president who has publicly denied climate change science. On Giving Tuesday, November 29, I urge you to make a tax-deductible donation to the nonprofit Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) to help protect the crucial research of climate scientists from political interference.

    Multiple climate scientists are currently involved in litigation in state and federal courts across the United States. Most noteworthy have been the cases brought by Lamar Smith (R-Texas), head of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and a major recipient of campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. According to Wikipedia, Smith’s House Science committee issued more subpoenas in his first three years than the committee had for its entire 54-year history; many of these subpoenas demanded the records and communications of scientists who published papers that Smith disapproved of. In one of his 2016 subpoenas, Smith called on court decisions defending the work of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s as valid legal precedent for his investigation—explicitly equating his investigation with the dark McCarthy era in our history when the government trampled on civil liberties.

  3. indy222 Says:

    I’m disheartened to see the big demonstrations that started right after the election seem to have turned to despair. The cabinet people look to make the Bush years look like Camelot. Even if we get rid of Trump after 4 years, the damage a full republican government can do during that time will take far longer to try and undo, if ever.


    • Glen Bennett Says:

      In history, previous megalomaniacs only had to deal with malleable nationalistic challenges. Climate change, (global warming), is not so malleable as populations and militarist and economic forces, particularly when the despot is stupid and does not even respect science. I’m thinking about wildfires in drought stricken areas or 100 year floods every other year. Drumpf will fail miserably due to ineptitude. Legitimate political opposition parties will clobber him if we ever have the next election. People get the government they deserve either by choosing it or failing to oppose it.

      • toby52 Says:

        A good article here on why you are right. Populists have taken power in democracies before, but only successfully retained it in places like Venezuela. Hugo Chavez even had his own chat show, like Trump and his tweets. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, a Italian Populist business-friendly type was eventually beaten by “ordinary decent politicians” on bread-and-butter issues, though not until after he left a trail of corruption and sexual scandals in the wake of his career as Prime Minister. Trump will catch a few bad breaks, and Democrats will catch a few good ones. Trump is basically a racist and fascist, but do not let that obscure the main issue – he intends to run an administration of crony capitalists and plutocrats. They will run riot with the public purse and public resources, while stiffing the poor of their entitlements.

  4. skeptictmac57 Says:

    Here’s something to ponder:
    Only about 50% of the registered voters voted in 2016 for Clinton/Trump combined .
    So roughly 25% for each candidate (Clinton had more but lets keep it simple).
    It’s no secret that neither candidate was very popular even within their respective parties (it was a hold your nose election), and exit polling showed that 6 out of 10 voters were not happy with their choices.
    So only 40% of Trump’s 25% of votes were actually ‘for’ him as opposed to against Clinton.
    Therefore only about 10% of voters actually wanted Trump in the White House.
    That is a disastrous blow to our democracy.

  5. dumboldguy Says:

    A terrific selection of comments from Gitlin and Climate Progress. Sounds like much of what has been appearing on the editorial pages and in the news articles of the WashPost, which is taking much longer to read lately because of that. (Great piece on Jared Kushner recently, if anyone is interested).

    The Post has not yet succumbed to the Trump bullshit and abrogated its responsibility to practice good journalism as the NYT appears to have done with the way they handled “open mind on climate change” and the “alt-right” questions.

    All the previous commenters have said things that I can only second—-I’ve had the same kinds of thoughts keeping me awake. “Still in shock—something will happen, has to happen, to save the country from the damn evil trolls—almost unbelievable in the 21st century—cabinet people look to make the Bush years look like Camelot—Climate change, (global warming), is not so malleable—Drumpf will fail miserably due to ineptitude (we hope)—-Therefore only about 10% of voters actually wanted Trump in the White House. That is a disastrous blow to our democracy”.

    And the one that really keeps me awake:

    “Even if we get rid of Trump after 4 years, the damage a full republican government can do during that time will take far longer to try and undo, if ever”.

    We need to do some Rachel Carson inspired riffing on what kind of “spring”we are looking at in 2017 and future years—-they certainly won’t be silent. Although on second thought, it may be very quiet once the voices of real science, good journalism, honest politicians, and real democracy are silenced.

    • skeptictmac57 Says:

      Two things that might happen are: Trump commits an impeachable offense and gets the boot (I give this about even odds considering his record so far). Or, enough Republicans (who mainly didn’t want him in the first place) can find a spine, and a common cause to effectively block some of the more egregious actions that he will likely try (I give this a much smaller but more than zero chance).
      An act of God would be nice too…it might even convert me if it happened 😉

      • dumboldguy Says:

        That’s three things, and they all sound good to me, although I’m not sure I’d “convert” if “God” showed that he gave a rodent’s rear end about the human species and the planet by “acting”—–he could have kept this all from happening if he had been so inclined.

        • skeptictmac57 Says:

          But maybe Nietzsche was right, and God was dead up until the election of Trump caused him/her/it to roll over in the grave and wake up. So all the latest bad stuff was not God’s fault. Just the old bad stuff…but you know…forgive and forget…right?
          Come on God, where’s your trusty lightning bolt?

        • The most important issue, though, climate change, they’re all giddy over denying. Money does that to some people.

  6. […] Source: An Open Mind: Trumping the Times | Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

  7. otter17 Says:

    That New York Times transcript with the meeting with Trump was quite the bipolar ride.

    The man acts like a person you could possibly reason with one second, but then veers off into his campaign rally mode the other. He hasn’t changed since the campaign, it appears, since he had fleeting moments of semi-reasonable behavior back then as well.

    The climate change discussion was cringe-worthy. If Friedman and allegedly the Times cares about the subject and the facts so much, why don’t they grow some fortitude and challenge this guy directly when he makes easily debunked denial talking points?

    • otter17 Says:

      Ugh, and the joking about the golf courses… just sad considering the actually useful coastal infrastructure that people rely on for their survival.

      Hey Times, you don’t have to relate the subject to him in terms of his own interests. Sure, maybe that is what he might understand, but the normal folks out there that don’t go to international seaside golf courses want investigative journalism and would like it if you could gauge his response to effects of sea level rise that are actually important. It would be nice to know his thoughts on adaptation costs, human and monetary, for coastal cities, naval bases, ports, fisheries, and whole low-lying countries. Expose just a little deeper to see if that connection between sea level rise and his golf course also exists for economic basics of others. Has he even thought about it?

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Has he even thought about it?

        The short answer is NO. He has told us that he doesn’t read and doesn’t think much—-he relies on his “gut”, and that, as it is for all plutocrats and free-marketers, is nothing but simple greed and hunger for MORE—–“others” don’t enter his “thinking” unless they are like him and working towards the same goals.

        FLASH—-Sarah Palin, who had been mentioned as a candidate for Secretary of the Interior and Director of the National Park Service, is now being talked about for Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

    • Torsten Says:

      I perused the transcript. How depressing. The man’s head is empty.

  8. Lionel Smith Says:

    Greg Palast again on things that could have been wrong with the vote, tampering with machines being just one.

    I recall reading his earlier musings (must dig that out again) on the Bush election steal, both of them.

  9. andrewfez Says:

    I wrote last week about journalists searching their souls, trying to figure out what they did wrong in this appalling campaign.

    Trying to figure out?

    They spent the entire primary trying to ignore, oppose, and assassinate the character of the one guy that stood for what most Americans want: 1) universal healthcare; 2) transition to clean energy; 3) pull out of the middle east significantly and start reigning in the military-industrial-media-elite complex; 4) down with disastrous trade deals; 5) Money out of politics; etc.

    And the reason they did that is because they are part of the establishment elite who benefit from billions of dollars in political ads pouring into their networks. Jeff Bezos is a billionaire that owns the Washington Post. Rachel Maddow is a person that gets paid $30,000 per day. Do you think either one of these people want a top marginal tax rate of 90%, like it used to be before Reagan, which is what is needed to start rebalancing the system? Do you think Bill Maher wants all his income over 5 million dollars taxed at 50% and all income over 10 million taxed at 90%? And most of these news paper guys are buddy buddy with the Hillary and DNC people; they’re all part of the cocktail circuit in Washington and New York.

    All of these media guys hate Sanders, the one guy that would have licked Trump by 10+ points, more than they do Trump, or Cruz, or Rubio, because Sanders would actually try to change things, and not to their benefit. But they are under the impression that this is still politics as usual; that they can continue to control the half of the country that is poor and mad. They recently did an expose on the ‘new’ democrats for 2020: The entire article was about how much these Dems could suck up to their billionaire donors and raise money to campaign. What the journalists don’t get is people are sick, sick, sick of this corruption, and there they are painting it in a positive light; trying to normalize it.

    It’s Elizabeth Warren 2020 or 8 years of Trump. And these guys that are pretending to do some self reflection are already ignoring Warren – she didn’t even make their list of 2020 candidates.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Good thoughts, but you need to back up on “the one guy that would have licked Trump by 10+ points”. For a while during the campaign, some polls showed that as a possibility. Considering the way things went, it’s a stretch to say that Bernie wouldn’t have been Russia-hacked, media-attacked, and right-wing-monied to death by November. Do you really think that those “poor and mad” WHITE folks would have voted for Bernie when they could vote for the Orange Hitler?

      Speaking of the corruption of billionaire donors, etc., have you noticed that Trump is filling his cabinet with billionaires?

      • andrewfez Says:

        Hi Old Guy – Sorry I’ve been out shopping for a Prius Prime in all my ‘spare’ time as of late and haven’t been responding to email. I’m trying to get that federal tax refund for 2016 before the Trump Train destroys it, moving forward.

        Of the 46 some polls conducted over a 10 month period nebulous to the horse races, 27 feature Sanders beating Donnie-tiny-hands by a 10 or more point spread, 39 feature him winning beyond the margin of error, and only 3 feature him losing (just barely) by beyond the margin of error. Also 13 feature him winning at 15 or greater points, and 5 feature him winning at 20 or greater points. I interpret that as large amounts of Independent voters (which are becoming a significant group) overwhelmingly favoring Sanders; perhaps even some Republicans. Sanders upset Clinton in Michigan and in Wisconsin during the primary – states that ultimately went to Trump in the general election, full of angry white factory workers now working as Walmart greeters and the like. During the primary there was some criticism of Sanders doing well in ultra-white parts of the country coming from the pro-Hilary journalists, and during the general, Hilary’s strategy was to run severely rightward with one strategist saying that for every 1 factory worker they lose up north, they’ll gain 2 white middle class vote in suburban Pennsylvania (ie Republican votes). Further the teachers union in, I believe, WI were betrayed by Obama and felt abandoned by the Democratic Party.

        Yes all the billionaires coming in – particularly the Treasury Secretary means one thing – deregulate Wall St. more and then give huge bailouts to the banks again when the system crashes; rinse & repeat. We already have and overvalued stock market, real estate market and commercial real estate market. All we need is the cronies to start pushing some buttons to get the party started. I’m still trying to move back home but I worked a lot during the spring and summer so that put me behind schedule on all my carpentry and handyman projects I have to do to get my CA box ready to sell (before the market crashes again). I’ve found a place in the eastern part of WV, out in the country with 7 acres of prime gardening, solar harvesting, and orchard land, away from MTR, fracking, and flooding so hopefully it’s still around for a few more months by the time I roll into town.

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