Category Archives: Media

The First Female President

…and how the news media contribute to that NOT happening.

I have no idea who will be the first female president of the United States or when her election will finally happen.  What I do know is systemic sexism within the ranks of journalists and political pundits, including females, hampers that eventuality.

The most recent example was former Obama communications director Jennifer Palmieri’s appearance on “Morning Joe” during which she discussed her latest article in Vanity Fair, “The Spartan: Why Gretchen Whitmer Has What It Takes for a White House Run.”  Palmieri’s assessment included the Michigan governor’s demonstrated grace under pressure during the pandemic when faced with armed protests at the state capitol and threats to her personal health and safety.  And how local and national pundits underestimated her appeal when she ran for re-election in 2022.

Yet, right on cue, MSNBC regular guest John Heilemann asked Palmieri about voters’ perception of a woman as commander-in-chief.

As you know having been close to Hillary Clinton, the question of ready to be commander-in-chief, a question that she, a former secretary of state grappled with, thought was really important, knew that a woman would have to answer at a higher level of scrutiny than a man would, does any governor, much less a female governor have to answer that question any differently?  Is there any thinking going on in Gretchen Whitmer’s world how to overcome that challenge?

If Governor Whitmer had been at the table, I imagine she would have treated Heilemann to some good old time “womansplaining.”  She would have reminded him that she and every other governor, male or female, is a commander-in-chief with primary responsibility for their respective states’ National Guard.  They have mobilized forces in cases of civil unrest and natural disasters.  And at the president’s request, they send troops overseas to defend the nation’s security and interests.  And they perform the solemn duty of being there when fallen members of the Guard are brought home.

In Whitmer’s absence, no one on the “Morning Joe” set had the hands-on knowledge to make this argument.  Nor was this a one-off occurrence.  Consider the following IMDB tally of guest appearances on the program.

Washington Post writer Eugene Robinson (224 episodes)
John Heilemann (176 episodes)
Foreign relations expert Richard Hass (157 episodes)
Presidential historian John Meacham (151 episodes)
Branding guru Donny Deutsch (139 episodes)
Economist Steve Rattner (133 episodes)
Former Senator Claire McCaskill (80 episodes)
Retired admiral James Stavridis (76 episodes)

The first governor on the list is former Maine chief executive Angus King, although his 21 appearances came after he left the statehouse and was elected to the U.S. Senate.  You eventually reach former Virginia governor Mark Warner (now Senator) and former Vermont governor Howard Dean, each with 10 appearances.  The conversation is never about their years in Augusta, Richmond or Montpelier, respectively.

The first sitting governor is much farther down the listing, Maryland’s Wes Moore with eight bookings during which he can share his less than six months in office. Don’t get me wrong, Moore has a bright political future but his on-the-job training as governor is less than complete.  Eventually you get to New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, in office since 2019, with nine appearances.

Having served in state positions under three governors and as a policy director at the National Governors Association, I recognize my belief that governors make better presidents than legislators is biased and therefore tainted.  But it is not personal.  President of the United States is an executive job.  Success depends on organizational leadership and management skills, not oratory or crafting legislative language.  There is no better training ground than a governor’s office.  Although on a smaller scale, the daily responsibilities of any governor are much the same as a president’s.

Just ask Gretchen Whitmer.  She had to deal with armed protesters invading the Michigan statehouse in May 2020, eight months before the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.  And she activated the state’s National Guard on January 11, 2011 to deter similar confrontations ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration.  That is what a commander-in-chief does.  And you can learn how to do it better through experience commanding troops, not playing soldier at a military boarding school.

For what it’s worth.

Bill Buckley, Won’t You Please Come Home

The late William F. Buckley (1925-2008) was the voice of sane conservativism in America for decades and founder of The National Review.  Do not misunderstand what I mean by “sane.”  As late as the 1960s, Buckley opposed national civil rights legislation and continued to support racial segregation. In an April 2021 article about continued efforts to suppress black voting, Mississippi Free Press reporter Ashton Pittman reminded readers how little had changed since Buckley’s heyday.  In a 1957 National Review editorial. “Why the South Must Prevail,’ he justified the region’s right to impose Jim Crow laws.

Millions who have the vote do not care to exercise it; millions who have it do not know how to exercise it and do not care to learn. The great majority of the Negroes of the South who do not vote do not care to vote, and would not know for what to vote if they could.

This and other misguided and un-democratic positions remain a stain on an exceptional journalistic career.  What he never did was describe those who disagreed as Marxists, communists or “wannabe dictators.”  Nor did he encourage storming the Capitol as Congress debated and passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s.  In a 2004 Time Magazine interview, Buckley admitted he had been on the wrong side of history.

I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow. I was wrong. Federal intervention was necessary.

It is one thing to initially harbor wrong views and evolve.  It is another to be dishonest and unlawful.

I thought about Buckley when I saw the headline for an op-ed essay in this month’s issue of Politico Magazine by current National Review editor-in-chief Rich Lowry. In “A Trump Pardon Could Drain Poison from the System,” Lowry argues “sparing him jail time would ease our divided politics.”  Lowry is entitled to his opinion, but the case he makes is factually inaccurate and intellectually corrupt.  

Lowry admits, “…based on the evidence we have now, he appears to be caught dead to rights.”  He then immediately pivots to a major MAGA-world talking point.

At the same time, nothing good is going to come from the political and legal warfare inevitable with the prosecution by the U.S. government of the leader of the opposition party.

Does he deny two things can be true simultaneously?  Yes, he is the titular leader of the GOP, but he is also an alleged felon.  Excusing him based on his position falls into the same category of Judge Aileen Cannon’s roundly rebuked claim that as president Trump deserved special consideration.

He then compares a potential pardon to that issued by Gerald Ford to Richard Nixon. And even quotes Ford’s national address in which he explains that Watergate and the subsequent cover-up was:

…a tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.

Forget the fact Nixon resigned from the presidency.  Did not incite violence. Or what may be the most important factor, several presidential historians believe Ford’s pardon sent a message that contributed, in no small part, to Trump’s belief he had a hall pass to ignore and violate the law.  Remember, Nixon told David Frost, “When a president does it, that means that is is not illegal.”  Would he have uttered these words if he had spent a few years behind bars?

Lowry does not stop there.  His next argument.

The conventional wisdom is that our politics is over-heated…having a former president stand trial in a federal criminal case, and potentially spend the rest of his life in jail, is only going to make things more intense and the country more divided.

Of course, Lowry ignores the individual most responsible for turning up the thermostat.

He goes on with what Kellyanne Conway aptly describes as alternative facts.

The Trump prosecution comes against the backdrop of the years-long Russia investigation by the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller that cast a pall over Trump’s campaign and early presidency and that was based on gossamer thin, politically motivated information.

Is Bill Barr his ghostwriter?  Does he simply want to ignore the 140 documented contacts between Russian officials/agents and members of the Trump campaign?  Did he forget Robert Mueller was named special counsel by Trump’s own attorney general Jeff Sessions AFTER the election was over.  

He then picks up on another favorite MAGA talking point.    “It comes after Hillary Clinton got a prosecutorial pass over her “home brew” email set-up.”  Pass? Has he forgotten FBI director James Comey held a press conference, reopened the investigation and sent letters about it to Congress in violation of two FBI procedural standards: commenting on cases when the target is not charged and doing anything that could influence the outcome within 90 days of an election.  All while playing blind, deaf and dumb about the on-going Trump investigation prior to November 2016, which by he way, resulted in several convictions.

But his final argument is perhaps the most laughable.

We aren’t talking about a pardon clearing the way for another White House bid, but rather as a consolation prize for someone who is vastly diminished and looking at potentially losing his freedom, too.

Does Lowry honestly believe, even after failing to regain the presidency, Trump will go away quietly?  Does he think TFG will be any less an agent of chaos?  Apparently not.  Someone like Lowry who claims a pardoned Donald Trump will lower the temperature is as much a threat to American democracy as the cult leader himself.


If you live within shouting distance of the Saint Bernard Cemetery in Sharon, Connecticut, the tremors you feel this morning are not earthquake related.  It is Bill Buckley banging his fists on the lid of his coffin and screaming, “Who gave this idiot Lowry the keys to my classic car?”

For what it’s worth.



The Economics of Cable News

Guy Kawasaki, a member of the team at Apple that launched Mac computers, is a much sought after expert when it comes to identifying the target market for a new product.  In his book The Art of the Start, he tells aspiring entrepreneurs, “Do not try to be everything to everybody.”  The most successful products are those that half the market loves and half the market hates.  He uses the example of the Scion B (pictured here).  Some people thought it was the coolest thing on the road.  Others thought it looked like a refrigerator on wheels.

There is one other economic truth which applies to almost every industry.  It is dominated by three to five major players until a disruptor challenges the status quo.  Over time, the historically dominant organizations get comfortable with their standing and focus on incremental increases in market share.  They are more interested in capturing an additional percent of the market than titillating their customers’ imagination.  That attitude opens the door for the next disruptor.  Think of Apple and the computer industry, Skype versus traditional telephony or Tesla when it comes to automobiles.

Ironically, CNN was once that disruptor. On June 1, 1980, Ted Turner opened the news network’s first broadcast followed by an in depth Daniel Schorr interview with President Jimmy Carter.  It changed the future of media news.  Sound bites on 30-minute nightly news programs gave way to unedited interviews and speeches.  Twenty-four hours of programming made room for documentaries and feature stories.

Super-Hair Q&A: Lynne RussellIn an homage to the past, CNN launched CNN2, later renamed “CNN Headline News.”  Each half-hour consisted of an updated recap of the top stories, much like each network’s nightly news including a “just the facts” anchor, the most recognizable being Lynne Russell.  Today, Headline News is a second-tier extension of its older sister channel.  There is still a “CNN Headline News,” except now it is called “BBC World News” on BBC America.

Which brings me to CNN’s precipitous ratings catastrophe.  Like many disruptors who become dominant players in their field, CNN has violated both economic success principles laid out above.  First, it is trying to be everything to everybody. Though most American voters are said to be in the middle of the liberal-conservative spectrum, their news preferences are not.  Liberals/Democrats gravitate towards MSNBC;  members of the current incarnation of the GOP to Fox News. CNN’s most recent example of aiming for the middle is its decision to give Donald Trump an hour of free air-time.  However, the network’s efforts to give voice to pro-Trump perspectives dates back to 2016 when CNN hired former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.  Followed by Trump Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores and former chief of staff to the Vice President Pence Marc Short.  What has this gotten CNN?  In August 2022, Trump assessed CNN’s attempt to lure conservative viewers.

It used to be a very important network. It used to be a very important platform, I think they’ve actually gotten worse.  I think it’s a whole big con job that they’re going to try to reach out and they’re going to try to get better. I think they’ve gotten worse.

Second, recent moves suggest CNN is more interested in stealing a ratings point here from MSNBC (luring away Capitol Hill correspondent and Way Too Early host Kasie Hunt) and another point there from Fox News (with the acquisition of Chris Wallace) than reasserting itself as the industry disruptor.  Even though it tried with the streaming service CNN+, which had a shorter shelf-life than unpasteurized milk.  Programming consisted of live news, original series and documentaries drawn from the library of parent company Warner Brothers Discovery.  It begged the question, “Which genius in the programming department thought viewers would pay an additional fee for streaming content when they were already paying for two 24/7 channels through cable subscriptions?”

There is room for innovation in the cable news industry.  One of the most read pages in USA Today is “News from Around Our 50 States.”  A broadcast equivalent might not deserve its own cable channel, but an hour per day of the premier story in each state would be a breathe of fresh air.  “Morning Joe” has toyed with the idea in a minimal way.  It now offers a two-three minute segment of local news from the front pages of papers around the country.

Sadly, as we learned from Dominion Voting Machines’ short-circuited defamation trial against Fox News, it was never about presenting the news.  It was about keeping those people who loved you happy and giving those who did not more reason to hate you. Guy Kawasaki would call that good business sense.  Edward R. Morrow and Walter Cronkite would ask, “Yes, but at what cost?”


Media continue to struggle with coverage of (using Nicolle Wallace’s description) “a twice-impeached, disgraced, indicted ex-president” who will say anything in public (on television and at rallies) but has refused to testify under oath in court.  May I suggest there should be a mandatory follow-up question on every occasion during which Trump spouts his lies and conspiracy theories.  “Mr. Trump, if you honestly believe that, why have you never been willing to say it under oath in a judicial proceeding subject to penalties for perjury?”

For what it’s worth.

Why I Watch MSNBC

In this morning’s New York Times, former CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter writes about the faux invincibility of cable news headliners such as Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon.  He should know, having been ceremoniously dismissed by CNN in 2022.  He predicts both Fox News and CNN will survive the “Monday Morning Massacre” of two of their most recognizable anchors.

Reading an insider’s take on the shakeup at the two networks reminded me why MSNBC has won my allegiance when it comes to political punditry.  Or should I say three particular shows: Morning Joe, Deadline White House and The Beat.  What do these three programs have in common?  Not their Democratic or liberal bias since two of the three feature a former conservative Republican congressman (Joe Scarborough) and the communications director for George W. Bush (Nicolle Wallace).  Only one, The Beat’s Ari Melber, was active in Democratic politics.  He went back to school and earned his law degree at Cornell following John Kerry’s 2004 unsuccessful presidential bid during which Melber served as the campaign’s deputy political director in California.

What then do the three hosts have in common?  Pretty simple.  All have spent time in the arena.  When Joe Scarborough rants  House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is being held hostage by an extreme fringe of the Republican caucus, he know of what he speaks.  He was a member of the 40 renegade GOP members elected in 1984, dubbed “the New Federalists,” who held Newt Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker in their hands.  As soon as Gingrich lost favor with these outsiders, his fate was sealed.  When Scarborough explains how tough it was for Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to put together the coalition responsible for passing the Inflation Reduction Act last year, it rings true.  He had a seat at the table for similar negotiations.

Wallace is equally qualified to enumerate the number of times the Trump administration crashed through legal and ethical guardrails she faced as she carried out her West Wing responsibilities.  Just this week, during a discussion of the questionable ethics of Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, she shared her experience signing an annual financial disclosure statement which required the certification of the entries as true and accurate “under penalty of law.”  She asked, “Why shouldn’t every federal official, especially someone with such constitutional power and a lifetime appointment, be held to the same standard I was?”

Melber brings his years as a First Amendment lawyer and time in a public defenders office to his analysis of the legal questions and procedures du jour.  His continuing faith in the judiciary is the result of having practiced before judge after judge who put the law before personal considerations or ideologies. Even in those instances where a rogue judge makes headlines, as did U.S. district judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who would deny access to the FDA-approved drug mifepristone, Melber trusts the appeals process will rectify the situation.  When he critiques a judge it is not based on ideology, but as guardian of an institution in which he had a professional and personal stake.

Aspiring aviators do not take flying lessons from someone who has never occupied a pilot’s seat.  Cardiac patients facing a bypass do not trust a surgeon who only studied medicine but never held a scalpel.  Nor would any voter rely on a 67 year old Senator from South Carolina, a bachelor with no children, for guidance on women’s reproductive health care.  Oops, maybe that last one is not the best example.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have great respect for political reporters such as the Times Susanne Craig who deciphered years of Donald Trump’s tax return to prove this supposed “self-made billionaire” was anything but one.  Or ProPublica’s Joshua Kaplan who exposed the relationship between Justice Thomas and Harlan Crow.  However, if you want to understand how the sausage is made in Washington, D.C. or state capitals, ask those who have actually turned the crank on the meat grinder. And have the scars to prove it.

For what it’s worth.

The Fox in the Fox House

One of the most powerful tools when it comes to counter-intuitive thinking is challenging assumptions. This skill is particularly valuable when trying to explain the unexplainable. Case in point, Tucker Carlson’s use of cherry-picked Capitol security footage to claim January 6, 2021, was nothing more than a peaceful sightseeing tour.

Why would anyone, even Fox News, make such a claim?  Based on filings in the Dominion Voting Machine defamation case against Fox News, we know the network aired statements about the 2020 presidential election they knew to be false.  They feared their viewers would migrate to even more far-right programming on NewsMax and OAN.  Chairman Rupert Murdoch justified this behavior in his deposition.  “This is not red or blue, it’s green.” From a solely business perspective, Fox News executives made a logical but unethical choice.  Give the audience what they want instead of the truth.

In the midst of these revelations, Tucker Carlson appears to have doubled down.  The Fox News host made a Faustian deal with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to relitigate the January 6th insurrection using scenes of the the rare moments of calm as police escorted Trump’s foot soldiers out of the Capitol following the violent attack on the Nation’s recognizable symbol of democracy.  Towards what end?  Once again giving Fox News‘ MAGA audience exactly what they craved and building support for the disgraced, twice impeached ex-president?

Maybe, just maybe, there is another explanation for showing the selectively edited video.  On January 4, 2021, Carlson sent a text to network executives.  “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights.  I truly can’t wait.”  He punctuated his desire to move on by adding, “I hate him passionately…What he’s good at is destroying things.  He’s the undisputed world champion of that.  He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”

Why then would Carlson continue to espouse these “alternative facts?”  Consider this counter-intuitive possibility.  First, the post-1/6/2021 Trump rehabilitation project, led by McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene is exactly what Carlson did not want.  Just the opposite.  He wanted Trump off the airwaves.  Carlson knew he could not directly deliver that message for fear of losing 3.5 million views (nightly average).  Was this not the reason Fox News created the “nothing to see here” storyline in the first place?  Carlson needed a solution not unlike that proposed by Otter (Tim Matheson) in Animal House.  “I think this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.”

The “futile and stupid gesture” was airing a few clips of the rioters leaving the Capitol after they had lost the battle and then claiming it was the order of the day.  It had the exact impact Carlson hoped it would.

The broadcast generated rebukes from several GOP members of Congress, many who rarely if ever publicly criticized Trump.  Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell sided with the Capitol police chief.  In a half-hearted rebuke sans calling out Trump, McCarthy or Carlson by name, McConnell stated, “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”

NC Senator Tom Tillis called the January 6 whitewash “bullshit.”  SD Senator Mike Round said, “I was there.  I witnessed it.  It was violent.”  Texas Congressman Dan Crenshaw said, “If the message is then to try and convince people that nothing bad happened, then it’s just gonna make us look silly.”

Not to be outdone in what Bulwark editor-in-chief Charlie Sykes described as a “profile in half-courage,” former vice-president Mike Pence chose Saturday night’s media-free, unrecorded Gridiron Dinner to tell attendees what he really thought about January 6th.

President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election and his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.

Mission accomplished.  Without saying it himself, Carlson goaded several former Trump supporters to publicly declare the Mar-a-Lago Sultan of Shamelessness unfit to occupy the Oval Office ever again.  Whether this ploy brings Carlson and Fox News any closer to “being able to ignore Trump most nights” is yet to be determined.

Of course, whether this ruse was intentional and premeditated assumes Carlson is both smart and sly as a fox.  Another assumption that definitely needs to be challenged.

For what it’s worth.