Mission Statement

This blog provides a regular critique of the editorial segments produced by Sinclair Broadcasting, which are "must-run" content on the dozens of Sinclair-owned stations across the country. The purpose is not to simply offer an opposing argument to positions taken by Boris Epshteyn and Mark Hyman, but rather to offer a critique of their manner of argumentation and its effect on the public sphere.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Epshteyn Again Says "The People" Said Something They Didn't

In his recent commentary on media coverage of Trump, Epshteyn phones in a rather lazy, boilerplate condemnation of the media that’s almost too predictable to need much commentary, but be that as it may, here we go . . .

When is the hyperventilation going to stop? Donald Trump is president. The American people have spoken. Will the left-wing media ever just accept that fact?

Obviously, the phrase “hyperventilation” is a loaded term, connoting hysterical, unthinking reaction.  More telling, however, is the phrase “The American people have spoken.”

Indeed they have, but the Founding Fathers, in their “wisdom” (a.k.a., their skepticism about the wisdom of “the people”) created a system in which “the people” don’t directly elect the president.  While usually a mere technicality, this has, in a few cases, led to the election of someone whose name was *not* spoken by the people.  Such was the case in 2016.  Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3,000,000 votes.

The people spoke.

They wanted Clinton.

They got Trump

Any argument based on the premise that the current president was chosen by majority rule is, from the start, based on a fallacy.

Of course, we have the phrase “left-wing media” thrown in, an empty epithet contradicted by the facts that mainstream media is owned by a small handful of gigantic corporations (whose interests will be, almost by definition, conservative in the small-c sense of the term) and the revelation that the media bent over backwards to cover Trump, providing him hundreds of millions of dollars of free airtime not granted to his Republican opponents in the primaries or Clinton in the general election campaign.  And, as noted in a previous post, content analyses of the coverage of the 2016 campaign showed that the media covered thedebunked “scandal” of the Clinton emails in a way they did not any of themyriad Trump scandals.

I hope so. I talked to you about ABC’s erroneous reporting. Well, reporters from the Washington Post, Bloomberg and CNN (a few times) have also fallen into the same trap of over-eagerness to “get” the president.

Unemployment is at a 16-year low, consumer confidence is at a 17-year high, ISIS has been driven out of Iraq, our country is about to have real tax reform for the first time since 1986. Those issues are woefully under reported.

Epshteyn provides no evidence of any of this.  Indeed, he cannot, given that these are all issues that have and are covered.  What he seems to be complaining about is that these issues are not covered in a way that gives glowing praise to Trump.  But, of course, objectively, the fact is that unemployment and consumer confidence have been trending upward for nine years now, and ISIS was driven out of Iraq by military intervention planned and initiated before Trump was elected, let alone took office.  As for tax “reform,” that has been covered widely.  And that’s the problem for Epshteyn.  The facts regarding the bill have made it more unpopular than many tax hikes. It isn’t that tax issues haven’t been covered; it’s that they haven’t been (inaccurately) framed in the way Epstheyn would like it to be.

If one scans most of the cable networks throughout any day and looks at the broadcast Sunday shows they instead see and hear the same old D.C. insiders, from both parties, spouting off about things like how many diet cokes the president drinks.

The "Diet Coke" line is telling.  Epshteyn refers to a damning piece in the New York Times that  shows the shallowness of Trump and his unwillingness to deal with actual facts--all the more damning because the sources of the information are people within the Trump administration itself.  It portrays an administration where people are afraid to bring up important issues because the president's ego might be bruised and/or he might get angry.  By choosing one trivial detail from the piece--the president's addiction to soft drinks--Epshteyn attempts to frame the critique of the president as superficial and unsubstantial.

The hostility has extended to the press briefing room. Recently, Brian Karem, White House reporter for Playboy and a CNN contributor, decided to yell at Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to be recognized, as if the Brady Press Briefing Room is a common bazaar. When Ms. Sanders did call on him, the reporter asked her if she had ever been sexually harassed. Are you kidding me? That is highly inappropriate sexism at its worst.

“Highly inappropriate sexism at its worst”?  As opposed to appropriate sexism? 

Obviously it’s an odd phrase, but the problems with it are deeper.  The question came in the context of discussing the eruption of allegations/admissions of harassment and assault, behavior that Sanders’s boss has admitted to on tape.  Yet, Sanders has promised that there will be witnesses that will refute all of the nearly two-dozen women who have accused the president of inappropriate behavior (there have not been any provided as of this writing).  Of course, Trump himself promised to sue  his accusers after the election, but has not. 

So, the issue of whether the Trump administration has sympathies with those women, particularly in government, who have been victims of harassment is a valid one.  There is nothing “sexist” about the question.  It is direct and personal, and Sanders had the right to not talk about it, but to deride it as “sexist” is a shallow and lazy critique—one that is little more than the time-old playground retort, “I know you are, but what am I?”

Here is the bottom line: there is no problem with tough questioning and reporting on the president and his staff, but it is not the job of the media, however, to carry out continuous attacks on the White House.

Nor is it the job of the media to obsequiously praise the president (unless you happen to be Sinclair Broadcasting or Fox News).  Too often, mainstream media has played along with Trump in unspoken (and occasionally spoken) collusion—Trump’s theatrics and train-wreck persona deliver ratings, while the media provides continuous coverage.  As someone whose made a living (such as it is) as little more than a side-show carnival barker, Trump knows any publicity is good publicity, as much as he rails against “fake news.”  And the bottom line is this: Epshteyn knows this too. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Apparently Epshteyn Failed Basic Math: 65.8 million is more than 62.9 million.

Epstheyn’s recent laudatory comments for Trump’s decision torecognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel are among the only words of admiration this decision has garnered.  Indeed, other than a missile launch by North Korea, there is no other action taken by a world leader that has shown the power to bring together the rest of the world together in almost unanimous condemnation

The president was very vocal throughout the 2016 campaign in his promise to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the United States embassy to Jerusalem. The American people elected Donald Trump and his agenda to the presidency. Therefore, by fulfilling another campaign promise, the president is carrying out the will of his constituents. 
This is utterly at odds with the facts, and it’s important to note, since this is a rationale that is often invoked to defend Trump’s positions and even to suggest that the nearly two dozen separate accusations by women of improper behavior, including (by Trump’s own taped confession) sexual assault, are irrelevant.

Actually, it’s not at odds with the “facts”; it’s at odds with a fact…the fact: Trump lost the popular vote.

To the extent that the election was a referendum on any particular personal or policy matter, Trump lost by three million votes.

One can argue whether or not voters were voting in large part—or any part—on the candidates’ positions vis-à-vis the capital of Israel.  But if Epshteyn wants to suggest that the election was a determination of “the will of [the] constituents”, they were with her, not him. 

 That is just one reason for why the president’s action on Jerusalem  was correct.
Another is that this president is supporting a close and important international ally. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. It’s continued strength and survival are important to the United States not just symbolically but also in terms of America’s national security.
Further, the president is driving toward peace through strength. The president has been clear that he and his administration remain committed to peace in the Middle East.This decisive move shows that America and her allies are not going to back down to threats of violence.

The arguments against the president’s decision center on this concern that violence will be escalated.
Well, Jerusalem has not been recognized as the Israeli capital up until now and, sadly, there has been plenty of violence in Israel, the Middle East, America and the world as a whole.
This is a nearly-textbook case of fallacious, illogical reasoning: no recognition of Jerusalem at the same time as violence means that recognition of Jerusalem will mean less violence (or at least not more violence), not only in Israel, but the world.  It’s all the more breathtaking in its idiocy because Epshteyn doesn’t even pretend to have a rationale for suggesting that there is reason to suspect his thinking is sound.  Why will recognizing Jerusalem reduce violence?  Who knows?  Not, it seems, Epshteyn.
 Here is the bottom line: it is about time that the United States take bold and decisive actions in international affairs. The prospect of violence cannot make us, the only true superpower in the world, afraid to do the right thing. In this case, that right thing is recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of our close friend Israel.

Notice that Epshteyn has not provided a single actual reason for why Trump’s action is in any way “decisive” or will do anything to secure the Middle East.  Indeed, he has now seemingly turned on his own argument, saying that there might be a prospect of violence given this decision, but that it’s still “the right thing.”

The bottom line?  This is a tour-de-force in fallacious reasoning.  

Epshteyn Poisons the Well of the FBI

Epshteyn’s recent “Bottom Line” is a classic case of the “poisoning the well” tactic: if you don’t like facts, attack the source of the facts as somehow suspect, and perhaps you can get your audience to think the facts themselves aren’t what they are.

Fidelity, bravery, integrity. That is the motto of the FBI. These days it is that integrity which is being called into question.

Note the use of passive voice.  The FBI’s integrity is “being called into question.”  By whom?  By Epshteyn? It’s not clear.  By choosing the passive voice, Epshteyn avoids putting his own reputation where his mouth is while also implying that this integrity-questioning is “out there” in the public sphere in general, not that it is pointedly coming from specific parties who have something to gain from doing so.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Epshteyn Uses Loaded Language and Fallacious Reasoning to Defend the Indefensible

In his recent commentary on the GOP tax plan being rushed through Congress, Boris Epshteyn falls back on fallacious reasoning and loaded language to defend legislation that his unpopular with just about everyone except lobbyists.
We know they are necessary to fund the government, pay for our national defense and vital infrastructure. However, does anyone actually want to pay more taxes? If you listen to certain folks from the Democrat Party, and members of the media, you would think so.

First, “Democrat.” This is a long-standing cutesy label used by those who are criticizing the Democratic party.  It is not, as some have suggested, to include the word “rat” in the adjective.  Rather, it is a convoluted way to avoid using a word that has rhetorical resonance in American political discourse: democratic.  We take pride in our “democratic” institutions.  We believe in having a “democratic” government.  We hope that countries ruled by totalitarian regimes are replaced by a “democratic” system of rule by the people.

The word in its small-“d” variety carries quite a wallop in our political discourse—one much greater than small-“r” “republican.”   So, to avoid semiotic bleedover (i.e. the positive connotations of small-d “democratic” being associated with big-D “Democratic,” this grammatically suspect shell game is perpetrated on listeners.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Epshteyn's Slanted Take on DACA

Here’s Boris Epstheyn’s recent “Bottom Line” editorial on DACA, with some corrective commentary interspersed.

Looks like the big meeting at the White House will happen after all. Last week, the Democrat minority leaders of the House and the Senate attempted a public relations gambit when they turned down the president’s invitation to discuss pressing year-end items. The biggest key, funding the government beyond the deadline of December 8th.

Notice the use of the phrase “public relations gambit.” This frames the interaction as a game with “players”, “winners,” “losers”, etc. 

One could make the same point and maintain a degree of objectivity by simply saying that they “declined the meeting,” but that wouldn’t skew the perspective, which is Epshteyn’s goal.
The reason given for the Democrats not heading down to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was the president’s tweet expressing skepticism that a deal is possible which includes both government funding and a resolution on DACA. Now, they are willing to talk it out.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Bottom Line? Boris Pulls a Brian

Boris Epsheyn’s recent comment on Brian Ross’s recent misreporting in relation to the Michael Flynn plea, is, as is typical with “Bottom Lines,” not terribly original or thought out.  It’s a rehashing of the “fake news” trope favored by Trump and his supporters.

Epshteyn attempts to turn Ross into a synecdoche for the media in general, suggesting that Ross is emblematic of a hostility to the president endemic in the media.

Not surprisingly, Epsheyn himself distorts the facts, even has he chastises others for doing so.  He supports his assertion by noting that Ross had erroneously reported that the Aurora movie theater shooter was a member of the Tea Party.  This is to establish the point that Ross is vehemently anti-conservative.  However, one of the other (of several) times Ross got a story wrong was reporting that Saddam Hussein was behind anthrax attacks in the U.S. after 9/11.  That goes unmentioned, of course, because it doesn’t fit with the narrative Epshteyn is weaving.  (For the record, even the Bush administration, to their credit, tried to steer ABC right on this story—that’s how far out it was.)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Hot Air

The actual substance of Mark Hyman’s latest editorial is almost beside the point.  What stands out is the degree to which it shows the price audiences pay for the Sinclairization of their local news.

Hyman’s thesis is that two particular and obscure bits of legislation are the key to rebuilding Puerto Rico.  The evidence of this is not forthcoming, partly because there’s not a lot out there. The two regulations, as with most things regarding Puerto Rico, were put in place primarily out of economic concerns for the continental United States, not the people of Puerto Rico.  The effects of permanently getting rid of the Jones Act are unclear, and reinstating Section 936 (tax breaks for companies who do business in Puerto Rico) is actually opposed by some in Puerto Rico, who feel that it allows the island’s resources to be exploited by outsiders.

It’s nice that Hyman is bringing up Puerto Rico at all, although it would be better if he were advocating more meaningful steps that directly assisted the people themselves, such as (oh, I don’t know) treating the humanitarian crisis there in a way commensurate with similar catastrophes in the United states.  Or, for that matter, suggesting that it would be nice to have a president who understood that Puerto Ricans were, in fact, Americans.

But the larger issue is that roughly two minutes of a Sinclair “local” news broadcast could be taken up by a discussion of arcane shipping law.  Why?  Because Sinclair feels this is more important (both politically and economically) than allowing truly local voices to be heard. 

This wouldn’t mean ignoring issues like Puerto Rico.  Have a segment on local folks who have gone to Puerto Rico to help.  Talk about concrete ways viewers might be able to assist through donations.  Heck, have a segment on arcane shipping laws, but have it be something that is discussed because the journalistic voices of that community feel it’s relevant and of interest to them.

The colonization and exploitation of the public space that is local news airwaves by Sinclair impoverishes our discourse.  By giving empty corporate suits the luxury of bloviating about their pet hobby horses, the voices and views of their audience go unheeded.