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Posterior Epistemology

Reporter Danny Pearl was beheaded on camera (pre-Facebook Live) by Khalid Sheik Mohammed for the "crime" of exercising his 1st amendment rights - the full report shows that those "rights" are not honored in Pakistan even though the country is a US ally.
Mohammed slashed Pearl's throat, killing him, but one of his accomplices failed to operate the video camera, which they had brought to capture the murder for propaganda purposes. Mohammed restaged the killing, this time decapitating Pearl, according to the report. He then dismembered Pearl's body, and it was buried on the compound. Guards washed the bloody floor and then prayed, foreheads to the ground, on the same surface where their prisoner had just been killed, the report said.
How did Mr. Pearl get into this unfortunate predicament? He was trying to figure out who was sponsoring Richard Reid the mad shoe bomber who tried to blow up a commercial jet on its way to America*. Why he wanted to learn this information is a question with no satisfactory answer but let's just say the editors of the WSJ agreed that their readership really, really, really needed to know the full truth on the "Shoe Bomber" matter it would seem that sending a Jewish-American Bureau Chief into the heart of Paki Al-Qaeda is a stupid choice to make these discoveries. The ensuing search for the facts didn't end well for DP and the only silver linings to the brutal murder of this journalist was the creation of the Daniel Pearl Foundation and the 183 times KSM was waterboarded by the spooks as payback leaving the "mastermind" a blabbering idiot shuffling around his GITMO cell.

At this years DPF Memorial Lecture Bret Stephens of the WSJ took the opportunity to address the topic of truth and trust in the age of Donald Trump and dug deep on the nefarious methods used by the Elvis from Queens to undermine the "central idea of journalism."
We honor the central idea of journalism — the conviction, as my old boss Peter Kann once said, “that facts are facts; that they are ascertainable through honest, open-minded and diligent reporting; that truth is attainable by laying fact upon fact, much like the construction of a cathedral; and that truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder.”
This opening statement brings to mind cathedrals like Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (formally Constantinople) and the unfortunate fact that "truth" - even Holly Wisdom - is historically framed ONLY "in the eye of the beholder" and this is as true for "cathedrals" constructed from "facts" published on paper and bits as it is for the real thing constructed by means of back breaking labor out of bricks and mortar. Not to put too fine a point on it but when I'm wrapping fish, cleaning crap off my shoe or starting a fire on a cold winter night I've never contemplated the proposition that I'm using a cathedral of "facts" to do it but that's "merely" due to my blindness so let's read on in hopes that the stick might be pulled from by eye.
And we honor the responsibility to separate truth from falsehood, which is never more important than when powerful people insist that falsehoods are truths, or that there is no such thing as truth to begin with.
So that’s the business we’re in: the business of journalism. Or, as the 45th president of the United States likes to call us, the “disgusting and corrupt media.”
Here we are confronted with 3 important and interrelated concepts:

  1. Powerful people (who lie): While it's true that the president (for example) is a powerful person it must also be said that journalists like Bret Stephens are also powerful - not as powerful as POTUS but much more powerful than, say, Mr. White Chocholate Chas T. - and that were Mr. Stephens to stray from the path of righteousness his influence could be corrosive. This is especially true if other powerful journalists echoed errors reported in the WSJ and amplified these falsehoods masquerading as truth. Were these "bad bricks" of fact placed at the foundation of a narrative an entire wall of the paper "cathedral" risks structural instability.
  2. The business of journalism: As powerful as Mr. Stephens is he, like his fellow craftsmen, is just a laborer working on the cathedral otherwise known as the business of journalism. This business is infinitely more powerful (and expensive) than any one member of its workforce. For example, News Corp. paid $5 Billion in 2007 to acquire the Wall Street Journal from the family that owned it and it's worth asking weather that price made the Journal more prone to truth or falsehood and what exactly News Corp. thought they were getting for their money?
  3. Disgusting and corrupt media: When Rupert Murdoch drops $5B on a cathedral, er, newspaper it's not because of the great income the newspaper (a dying business) will generate for News Corp but rather because he wants an authoritative and respected institution to disseminate "his truth" among the disgusting and corrupt media. Which is the same reason Jeff Bezos will scoop up the Washington Post in 2013 for an embarrassingly low $250 Million or Carlos Slim will toss a couple hundred million bucks into the sinking New York Times. And that's just the papers which are cheap compared to the TV news outlets. No matter how Bret Stephens sees his nobel profession, the owners of these media empires see it exactly the same way Donald J Trump sees it and DJT knows that because he hangs out with and talks with the owners.
BTW, I'm just getting started and I wan't to say something at this point, before I go any further, that I think is very important to acknowledge. I have great respect and admiration for Bret Stephens. I have read his column for years and consider him to be one of the most astute and thoughtful commentators of any political stripe working in journalism. I'm a fan and have often taken his perspective into account when deliberating on a current event or geo-political problem. Now, onward...
Some of you may have noticed that we’re living through a period in which the executive branch of government is engaged in a systematic effort to create a climate of opinion against the news business.
And some of you also might have noticed that the "news business" has been engaged in a systemic effort to create a climate of opinion against the executive branch of government. Have you noticed that? Does the news business seem impartial or fair or "just the facts maam" with regards to the Trump administration. Are they building a cathedral or a keep?
The President routinely describes reporting he dislikes as FAKE NEWS. The Administration calls the press “the opposition party,” ridicules news organizations it doesn’t like as business failures, and calls for journalists to be fired. Mr. Trump has called for rewriting libel laws in order to more easily sue the press.
  1. While it's no doubt true that POTUS "dislikes" made up, inflammatory and dishonest news stories citing anonymous sources and filled with conjecture indistinguishable for fantasy it is not his personal feelings that spur him to label such stories "FAKE NEWS." These stories are called FAKE NEWS because they are FAKE NEWS and an honest reporter would come clean on the fact that much of DC press corp is just throwing it against the wall to see what sticks.
  2. That DC press corp and their brethren in NYC and LA despise Donald Trump - absolutely loath him and everything he represents. They hate Republicans generally - even the good GOPers like McCain and... well, there must be others - with a 90%+ Democrat/Independent affiliation in most polling. This is a "fact" that Bret Stephens should take into account when evaluating the "truth" of Trumps "opposition party" designation of the press.
  3. The New York Times is failing. As a business it's a failure. Period. That's why Carlos Slim had to bail them out last minute like and keep the Grey Lady gasping along.
  4. After the 2016 election journalist SHOULD be fired. In any other business heads would roll if the job had been done as poorly as big foot media did last year.
This isn’t unprecedented in U.S. history, though you might have to go back to the Administration of John Adams to see something quite like it. And so far the rhetorical salvos haven’t been matched by legal or regulatory action. Maybe they never will be.
How about FDR's assault on Father Coughlin or Nixon's plot to kill Jack Anderson? Do they count? Because you can't sue the press for libel a POTUS sometimes has no choice but to silence the blackguard through regulatory shenanigans or threat of assassination. Maybe loosening the libel laws is a better, more humane option.
Ideologically, the president is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favor of the media he likes — Breitbart News and the rest. Another way of making this point is to say that he’s trying to substitute news for propaganda, information for boosterism.
There is nothing "so-called" about the term "mainstream media" - it is the coin of Bret Stephens realm and the reason he is speaking at the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture instead of Steve Bannon or Milo Yiannopoulos. And I do not see Trumps criticisms as an effort at substitution but rather as a plea to MSM institutions to right their ship and fulfill their duty. Something they are not doing and have not been doing for a long time (30+ years). For example, the next riff Bret Stephens goes off on is Trumps claim that 3 million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election and he points out that no hard facts support that claim. That's a "fact" but it's also a fact that no one from either political party or any "watchdog" group in DC will take a hard look at voter fraud in US elections and if you DON'T believe there is a legitimate possibility that 2% of the 136 Million votes cast were possibly "illegal" then you just don't understand probability modeling and human nature. Who's lying - the guy who looks at financial statements and earnings projections all day, every day? or the D.C. hacks who game the system to keep their seat in congress for 20 or 30 years? The BS answer: "We are not a nation of logicians." Hahaha, I love it and that, as night follows day, leads us to Plato's Republic:
If some of you in this room are students of political philosophy, you know where this argument originates. This is a version of Thrasymachus’s argument in Plato’s Republic that justice is the advantage of the stronger and that injustice “if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice.”
Substitute the words “truth” and “falsehood” for “justice” and “injustice,” and there you have the Trumpian view of the world. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with.
Proving that even prize winning writers for the WSJ are not logicians but they are magicians:
Now, we could have some interesting conversations about why this is happening—and why it seems to be happening all of a sudden.
Pulling this one out of his, er, hat really did surprise me because the notion that politicians believe "truth is what you can get away with" is a mysterious phenomenon sprung on the press (and therefor the people) "all of a sudden" is breathtakingly disingenuous. One might even call it a lie. It's certainly been the modus operandi of the last 3 administrations and that covers almost 3 decades of "getting away with" a lot of truth. If this does, in fact, seem like a "sudden" turning to our talented journalists then we've uncovered a poorly formed "fact brick" in the cathedral wall. What follows is the reasoning for this sudden turn and as you might imagine the culprit is “dis-intermediating” technologies that bring a politicians in direct contact with their constituencies - no need for the newsroom. And that leads to a stunning transmogrification:
When Trump attacks the news media, he’s kicking a wounded animal.
From a majestic cathedral to a crippled cur in just a few paragraphs, but this wounding did not happen "all of a  sudden" but like almost all things it is the result of “defining deviancy down.”
You can point to all sorts of ways in which this redefinition of deviancy has also been the story of our politics over the past 30 years, a story with a fully bipartisan set of villains.
And here Bret Stephens has a point for it is inconceivable that Donald J Trump could be POTUS by the standards of 1950's or 1980's politics or that he could have run and won without the degradation of the office by Clinton, Bush and Obama. But Clinton was a cleaver hillbilly who was crooked and behaved poorly, Bush was a nepotism play unsuited for the job and Barack was a philosopher king hailing from (essentially) a foreign country. So why not Trump? Is Trump really the "crack-cocaine version" of Clampett?
If a public figure tells a whopping lie once in his life, it’ll haunt him into his grave. If he lies morning, noon and night, it will become almost impossible to remember any one particular lie. Outrage will fall victim to its own ubiquity. It’s the same truth contained in Stalin’s famous remark that the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic.
I don't see whoppers told by Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Dick Blumenthal, et al "haunting" these politicians. You don't have to be Stalin to see that some politicians get a pass, while others get crucified for essentially the same lie. So what's the difference? Who decides weather a lie will end a political career or get brushed under the rug and forgiven? The disgusting and corrupt media, that's who. And at this point Mr. Stephens begins to recount all the egregious, blown out of proportion, "scandalous" comments Trump made during his campaign and tries to make sense of the fact that the media could not use them to destroy him the way they have with so many politicians in the past. The culprit it appears is democracy: "Shameless rhetoric will always find a receptive audience with shameless people." Which leads to this scolding:
Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, called on Americans to summon “the better angels of our nature.” Donald Trump’s candidacy, and so far his presidency, has been Lincoln’s exhortation in reverse.
To this I can only say, yes, Lincoln did summon the angels and then mobilized them into an avenging army that killed over 500,000 people and decimated half the country for 70 years. If Trump is doing the opposite then maybe we should give him a little time and see what happens - maybe there will be less bloodshed. For Bret this anti-Lincoln is an "exhilarating" "daily extravaganza" "of dishonesty, insult and scandal" where "everything feels speeded up, more vivid, more intense and consequential" all leading to journalistic despondency:
But who cares? Since when in Washington has there been a presidential press conference like that? Since when has the denial of reality been taken to such a bald-faced extreme?
The people who care are journalists like Bret Stephens and the denial of reality is a two way street.

I'm here to say loud and clear that what Trump did in his presser was not a "denial of reality" or a "delegitimizing of the press" or unAmerican. He simply told them to clean up their act and start reporting the news honestly and with integrity because they play a vital role in our nation and they owe it to their audience. It's that simple. You want to write a bad story - fine, but make it honest and true.
To tell a lie is wrong. But to tell a lie with brass takes skill. Ultimately, Trump’s press conference will be judged not on some kind of Olympic point system, but on whether he “won”—which is to say, whether he brazened his way through it. And the answer to that is almost certainly yes.
I'm not saying that telling a lie with brass is easy and I suppose there is some kind of "skill" involved. "I did not have sex with that woman" or "if you like your health care you can keep it" are lies repeated with rhetorical panache and happily promoted by a disgusting and corrupt media. What is harder than telling a lie with brass? Answer: telling the truth with brass because telling the truth often times hurts peoples feelings. The reason Trumps press conference will be judged a WIN is not because he hired a Russian coach or bribed the Chinese judge to award him a 6.0 on his floor routine but because he told the truth - like it or not.

At this point the diagnosis of Trumpism is summed up
  1. "we normalize it"
  2. we discard "usual moral filters"
  3. "we adopt new metrics of judgment"
Who's to blame?
But let's add a fourth symptom, namely "our tendency to rationalize" and by "our" the journalist is not referring to himself but his fellow scribblers and We the People who, not being logicians, become “TrumpXplainers” and "ascribing pattern and meaning to the rune-stones of Trump’s mind." Answering questions like "How's he gonna get Mexico to pay for the wall?" or "Can he really take Iraq's oil?" or "doesn't he know that 'America First' is an isolationist and anti-Semitic meme from the 1930's?""Trump says X. What he really means is Y. And while you might not like it, he’s giving voice to the angers and anxieties of Z." And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, Z is the problem. Bret Stephens is angry at Trump but he's REALY ANGERY at Z and to make matters worse "you’re not allowed to question or criticize (Z), because anxiety and anger are their own justifications these days." What is a journalist to do?
Watching this process unfold has been particularly painful for me as a conservative columnist. I find myself in the awkward position of having recently become popular among some of my liberal peers—precisely because I haven’t changed my opinions about anything.
Not what I would call a testament to Peter Kann admonition “that facts are facts; that they are ascertainable through honest, open-minded and diligent reporting" because the FACT is that Donald Trump won the presidential election and that FACT alone should induce a reporter to change his mind about something - maybe many things. One might even call this obstinacy a form of "Trump Derangement Syndrome."
The most painful aspect of this has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune.
The species of illiberal politics is Stalinism and the "conservatives" that bend their moral compass to Trumps true north are nothing more than apparatchiks to the new order. Mussolini, PerĂ³n, Russian thaw, Bill Clinton - how quickly we forget or ignore the lessons of history. It's not like all of this wasn't said a gazillion times while Trump was running for office when he was called every name in the book and then some but lets say it all again now that he won because maybe no one read your weekly diatribe agains the Elvis from Queens between the dates of June 2015 and November 2016. Yeah, Trump is Hitler, we got it Bret. If you've said it once you've said it a thousand times. Get to the point.
So, then, to the subject that brings me here today: Maintaining intellectual integrity in the age of Trump.
After giving the obligatory log-roll to Danny Pearl our dirty dog stone carver serves up some Eric Blair - "To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” "This is the essence of intellectual integrity." It is in that spirit that I list a few facts for my many KOTCB blog readers to consider in formulating the truth:

  1. Trump won the election fair and square
  2. Trump ran the most substantive campaign since Regan
  3. Trumps voters knew exactly what they were getting and voted for him anyway
  4. Trump has been implementing the most "conservative" government in the past 80+ years
  5. Trump is winning

It would seem that facing up to those truth would require intellectual integrity - especially if you were a #NeverTrump pundit who staked your reputation on Trump losing to HRC. You'd have to eat a lot of blackbird heart to get over yourself and many journalists still have a long way to go.

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