A Newsletter With An Eye On Political Media from The American Prospect
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CBS News Hires a Prevaricating Trumpoid
Because that’s the kind of thing that TV ‘news’ does.
The Washington Post reports that “CBS News’s decision to hire former Trump administration official Mick Mulvaney as a paid on-air contributor is drawing backlash within the company because of his history of bashing the press and promoting the former president’s fact-free claims.” CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani gave away at least part of the game in a staff meeting with the explanation: “Being able to make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms … A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.” The Post notes that CBS’s new journalist hire, Mulvaney, has insisted that media coverage of the growing coronavirus pandemic was meant to “bring down the president,” and defended a Trump administration decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine, among other egregious lies and attempts to undermine our system of laws and accountability.

The unnamed CBS producer who told the Post that “it makes no sense to hire a guy whose entire job was to lie to us on behalf of Trump” clearly needs to go back to TV journalism school. The people who run the network—any television network, and pretty much any news division of any television network—don’t care what the journalists who work for them think. Those journalists are paid the big bucks not to think—or, in most cases, even to report. Rather, their job is to radiate likable personalities on the air while, at the same time, to make the kind of “news” that can potentially go viral on social media. A lie is as good as the truth for these purposes.

CBS sought to elide the problem of having hired a professional liar by introducing Mulvaney to viewers only as “a former Office of Management and Budget director,” rather than telling them what they needed to know to judge his standards of honesty: that he was a long-term Trump appointee who rose to become his acting chief of staff. But the people who think of themselves as journalists at CBS—or any of our commercial television networks—can only lose their virginity so many times. The networks are going to keep booking and hiring liars, insurrectionists, and the people who are purposefully seeking to destroy our democracy because that’s the only way they know how to do their jobs. They need “access,” especially to those officials who will make “news” by saying mean things about their opponents. Obvious lies will be met with only the gentlest opposition, lest an anchor’s crucial “Q-rating”—that is, his or her measured likability quotient among the audience—take a dip due to overaggressiveness. What’s more, right-wingers watch TV news at least as much if not more than almost anyone else. (They also tend to own its advertisers.) One often hears people say that Trump’s presidential campaign “rewrote” the rules about how much lying, obvious racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, etc. a politician could get away with. That’s not quite true. He simply exploited the fault lines that had already been put in place. (See under: “Is Obama a Muslim?”) That’s why the former CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves—later forced out for allegations of “sexual misconduct”—was not spilling any secrets back in 2016 when, speaking of the Trump phenomenon, he explained, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” The same words could easily have been spoken about ABC, NBC, CNN, and, of course, Fox.

And speaking of both Fox and CBS, we note that Lara Logan, the employee of the former and alumna of the latter, recently reported that the “Rothschilds paid Darwin to invent evolution theory.” (It’s a wonder she managed to scoop Marjorie Taylor Greene on this news.)

Finally, if you suspected that American conservatives actually prefer lies to truth on their news broadcasts, well, yes, of course. But they also like money. It turns out if you pay them to accept the truth, they get a little better at it. That’s one conclusion from this study. The introduction of filthy lucre into the equation “improved accuracy and reduced partisan bias in belief in news headlines—especially for conservative participants.” Even so, “Replicating prior work, conservatives were substantially less accurate than liberals at discerning true from false headlines. Yet, this gap between liberals and conservatives closed by 60% when conservatives were motivated [by cash payments] to be accurate.”

Following up on my recent inquiries about just who are the anonymous funders behind the Jewish journal Sapir, edited by the right-wing/Israel-can-do-no-wrong New York Times pundit Bret Stephens, some recent sleuthing offers some clues. A fellow named Timothy Hentzel is an officer of Bison Asset Management, a Florida-based family fund belonging to the incredibly reclusive billionaire Andrew Shechtel and his family. Coincidentally, Hentzel is also the CFO of MFN Holdings, which owns the Maimonides Fund (located at 1350 Broadway, a proverbial stone’s throw from the Times offices). Maimonides, readers may recall, is the dark-money source that funds Sapir. This naturally leads one to wonder if Shechtel, as many have long suspected, is also the primary funder of MFN Holdings and therefore the Maimonides Fund, and therefore Sapir, and therefore Stephens. It’s not proof, of course, but it is as close as I can get. (The funding priorities of the Israeli government, the Mossad, and other organizations one might suspect are not available for public perusal.) As it happens, if you go to the “Who We Are” vertical on the Maimonides Fund’s website, you will find literally zero information about who they are. They also don’t respond all that quickly to journalistic inquiries. I recently sent them one about all this under their “contact us” vertical on the same site and received no response. Maybe someone reading this can do better. I am told that the fund, and Sapir, have far bigger plans for Stephens than have so far been revealed, and I intend to stay with this story even if New York Times ethics cops do not.
The U.S. economy in two questions: Who makes less than $15 an hour? And guess whose profits peaked above 15 percent in the second quarter of last year before settling at a mere 13.9 percent?
I am lucky enough to live in the greatest city in the world, and one of the attributes that makes it so is that it is set up for pedestrians. We New Yorkers are great walkers. I’ve lived here for nearly 30 years and never once felt the need to have a car in the city, especially now, with so many Citi Bikes and accompanying bike paths everywhere. Thing is, many of the people who do drive in the city prefer to menace the rest of us rather than stop for a yellow-turning-red light. This happens to me almost every day. What is maddening about it is that there’s an easy (and profitable) solution to the problem. Just place the same sort of cameras at busy intersections they have at tollbooths, and issue automatic tickets to red-light runners. All cities should do this. But no, my city cannot because the state legislature won’t allow it. I was at a fancy party Wednesday at Carnegie Hall for the relaunch of the right-wing, Israel-obsessed New York Sun newspaper website. The presence of our mayor, Eric Adams, had been promised. As he was just in Albany arguing for “home rule” on city schools, I hoped to ask him about fighting for this issue as well, as it has long been an obsession of mine. But I waited for an hour and 45 minutes, and he never showed. Anyway, here is a useful explanation of the problem and the stupidity of our anti-pedestrian policies, and I’m still asking …
Odds and Ends

Will Smith’s slaphappy performance at the Oscars notwithstanding, I thought the broadcast pretty awful, straight downhill after the admittedly pretty decent opening. And none of my favorites won except for Drive My Car in the international category. Both Penelope Cruz and Kristen Stewart were robbed for best actress. Drive My Car or Licorice Pizza should have won for best picture (since Parallel Mothers was not even nominated). As for the tribute to the Bond movies, well, here’s mine. And here are a few better tributes to The Godfather than the one the so-called “Academy” managed to produce. (But one thing I still don’t understand: Why do you “leave the gun” when you kill someone? It’s not just so you can carry the cannoli …)

Another thing I don’t understand, but didn’t have room for when I wrote about the miniseries recently: Why does John, not George, play lead on “Get Back”?

Speaking of the Beatles, I cannot resist posting this great song by “the Beatnix.” I find it immeasurably superior to the original. Then again, so, too, is this. Almost anything is. “Stairway,” I would argue, belongs in the Guinness Book of World Records in the category “Worst, most often played song of all time.”

Finally, I try not to let any March 26 pass without noting that it marks the first-ever gig of the mighty, mighty Allman Brothers Band. Here they are in 1971, and here is what remained of them on March 10, 2020, as I and 20,000 or so of their closest friends repeatedly wiped down our seats a million times and held our breath to experience their final (and ironically Allman-less) performance. There really is only one way out …
See you next week.
Eric Alterman is a CUNY Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College, an award-winning journalist, and the author of 11 books, most recently Lying in State: Why Presidents Lie—and Why Trump Is Worse (Basic, 2020). Previously, he wrote The Nation’s “Liberal Media” column for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @eric_alterman
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