Thursday, June 15, 2017

PBS News Hour Runs Aground

First, I have to say I am a fan of the PBS News Hour, and have been  since it began 30 years ago, when they were still trying to fill time with "postcards" and it wasn't at all clear there was enough daily news to fill an entire hour. Eventually, they discovered there were stories out there which were not about politics, at least not directly, like the one they did last night about a new technology which takes carbon dioxide emitted when burning coal and sending it in a pipeline to oil drilling rigs, where it can be used to liquefy and extract oil in oil fields which would other wise be considered "dry." And there are the stories done by Paul Solman about economics and economic theory.
With the excursion into "long form" journalism, the New Hour can be a sort of TV New Yorker, exploring topics which do not make the front pages of the NY Times or the Washington Post.

Having said that, it must be recognized the New Hour's recent fixation of the "Russia Story" and Donald Trump's "obstruction of justice" appears as a pathetic exercise in wish fulfillment, to imagine  another Watergate story, where dogged journalists uncover a story which leads to the impeachment of the President.

Along the way, other weaknesses of the News Hour surface. The most glaring, recently, is the seat afforded George Terwilliger, who responds, authoritatively, that President Trump has every right to fire the FBI director for pursuing (or not pursuing) any investigation because the President is a "unitary executive."  To her credit, Judy Woodruff stopped him to ask him to explain this and he said the Constitution vests in the President all the executive branch and so he can fire anyone under his control for any reason whatsoever, including displeasing him by pursuing bothersome investigations. ("Will no one rid me of this bothersome priest?")

Having got that statement from Mr. Terwilliger neither Ms. Woodruff nor any of the milquetoast panelists assembled challenged Mr. Terwilliger on the "unitary executive" concept and so that stood as an uncontested truth.

I would have asked where that concept and phrase comes from.
I'm just a humble citizen, not a lawyer, but I've read the Constitution a few times and I went through it again and cannot find that phrase anywhere.
According to Professor Google, this is a concept which is, as you might expect, controversial. It derives from the very scanty description of the President in Article II, but nowhere does it say the President is a monarch, and nowhere does it say anything about firing an FBI director, because, in fact the Constitution never mentions the FBI.
Nor, for that matter does it mention cybersecurity, abortion, atomic bombs, television, microphones or any of a whole variety of things which arose after the 18th century and I have to conclude because none of this is in Constitution we are sort of making it up as we go along and we periodically say, "Well, it's God's will," or actually, not that, we say, "It's in the Constitution."

This problem the News Hour has, of allowing a bully to reign unchallenged is not new, but it's become more acute over the past few years, and especially since Gwen Ifill died. Ms. Ifill was always more capable of sticking her jaw out and getting in the face of a guest.

I'm all for inviting extreme opinions on the show--it affords an opportunity to unmask the monster. But if you are going to have the beast on, be sure you invite somebody who can pound that beast, and if you are worried about comity and decorum and a civilized debate, get out of the way and let them slug it out and all you should do is break them in the clinch and ring the bell.

Kris Koboch, the Kansas bully is the best recent example. There is a guy who deserves careful, patient questioning. If it takes 30 minutes, so be it. That's why you've got an hour.
Mr. Koboch, you say voter fraud is a major and widespread problem. On what do you base this claim? Mr. Koboch, do you consider any voter who votes against you or your candidate a fraudulent voter?
Follow this line of questioning  patiently (and have your intern Googling any reference he gives and expose that right then and there.)
Then:  Mr. Koboch, you have called for a Muslim registry. What problem would this solve? How is this different, in principle, from herding Japanese Americans into internment camps? Mr. Koboch, if you could write and sign into law a new immigration policy what would it say?  You have said the threat to our nation is greater from Hispanic immigration than from radical jihadists. Why?
And all like that.

But most of all, follow the story which  humble, unconnected citizens (like me ) really crave.
To wit:  Is it possible that the Russians, or anyone, could have stolen the election physically, by changing vote counts?

I'm not talking about Russian efforts to "influence" the election. Democracy is always at risk in the hands of  a credulous voting public. We all try to influence the election, every time. I see no more harm in Russians trying to influence the minds of voters than Republicans or Democrats trying to influence people. That's what democracy is. You still, in the end, have to convince people, and you have to find enough people who agree with you to vote for you.

But, if it is technically possible for someone to intercept votes, which are nowadays transformed into electrical bytes and sent down a series of sideroads and byways to a cyber superhighway and collected and tabulated SOMEWHERE, I'd like to know that.

If so, the big story has nothing to do with Comey or Sessions or the FBI.
The big story may be a twenty five year old woman named, improbably Reality Winner, sitting in an orange jumpsuit in prison somewhere for opening the door to this real story.

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