“And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.” That is the key sentence which explains why it would be futile to impeach Trump.
Does any Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives really believe that enough Republican Senators would vote to convict Trump?
Bill Clinton was impeached because he committed a felony while he was the President. Yet, congressional Democrats didn’t think that his crime merited Clinton’s removal from office. So, why would Republican Senators treat Trump differently?
Whenever films are created about public figures, it can be easy to brush over the ugly details of their lives. This is especially true if the person is still living and has a say in how they’re depicted. It’s a breath of fresh air, then, when we’re allowed to see a story that isn’t whitewashed from beginning to end.
Described as a musical fantasy, Rocketman is a retrospective of Elton John’s upbringing, the discovery of his talents, rise to fame, and, most importantly, the mistakes he made. Throughout it all, the singer’s music is creatively woven into the story to make it feel more like a dream, and it’s a visceral experience throughout creating a beautiful, and mesmerizing, narrative.
The film covers the life of the pop star from his childhood in the 1950s to his fame as an adult in the 70s and 80s. It explores John’s proclivity toward music and learning the piano as a child, and going on to study in the Royal Academy of Music, and his time playing in a local pub and backing up touring artists with his band. Soon enough, Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) is introduced as John’s writing partner and lyricist, a partnership which has now lasted five decades. As Elton John’s star rises, so do the pressures of his newfound life. A considerable amount of the film focuses on the singer’s volatile personal and professional relationship with manager John Reid (Richard Madden).
What makes Rocketman incredibly special is its admission that the film is, ‘Based on a true fantasy.’ There are certainly some facts and people within the film that were changed or adjusted to fit the story being told, but much of what we see is true or similar to Elton John’s actual life.
Unlike another recent biopic featuring Freddie Mercury, played by Rami Malek, Rocketman doesn’t pretend to be what it isn’t. Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie masquerading as fact, drenched in fictionalized events, misplaced dates, obvious mistruths, and, overall, poor writing and plot development. The music of Queen, ultimately, takes a back seat as it tries to push a fictionalized account of Freddie Mercury, ignoring or brushing over many of the hard truths and discomforts of his life.
Rocketman dives head first into Elton John’s addictions to alcohol, cocaine, sex, spending, and hedonism. These activities and their consequences are on full display and rightfully earned the film its R rating.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
And, of course, as a musical fantasy, the music in Rocketman is superb and used so well in the film that it feels natural. While Bohemian Rhapsody simply showed Mercury and his band in the studio, trying to make music, and lip syncing, Rocketman weaves Elton John’s music into the story. The characters onscreen are singing, and they’re actually doing their own singing. At specific points, it is as if the characters are on a stage, moving from set to set, just as you would see with a live musical. These transitions, as the music plays and the songs are sung, are captivating.
Taron Egerton, in his interpretation of Elton John, gives a spectacular performance that clearly demonstrates his talent as an actor. With every feeling, obstacle, argument, and failure, Egerton is expressive in the way he moves and behaves. As a young and relatively new actor, with only a handful of films under his belt, Taron Egerton is somebody to watch as his career catapults into stardom.
Jamie Bell’s performance is complementary to Egerton’s, and they’re a good pair as their characters either work together or grow apart over two hours. Bell is always a pleasure to watch and gives consistent performances in whatever he does. Richard Madden, too, has found success in acting and he has been rumored to be the next James Bond after Daniel Craig. His role in The Bodyguard and here as Elton John’s manager may help him to achieve that.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
At the heart of Rocketman, with all of the music, choreography, and fun, is a story of struggle. As we see Elton John struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, sex addiction, and other vices, his pain is evident. But, this story is also one of hope. While Elton John comes to terms with who he is, his sexuality, and his passion for music, he will need to find a way to overcome what is destroying his life. The result is something beautiful and has to be seen to be appreciated.
Rocketman will surely go down as one of the most memorable and enjoyable films this year, and it will have rightfully earned any award recognition it receives. However, because it is so fresh on the heels of Bohemian Rhapsody, and Rami Malek’s success, there is some doubt as to how well Rocketman will be able to do.
Put simply, it may not get what it deserves in the end, even though it’s the better story, with better acting, music, and production value. That would be a shame, but only time will tell.
WASHINGTON — Once again, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is large and in charge. Once again, President Trump is frantic and rattled. Once again, a tough and powerful woman is driving an insecure man out of his mind.
I don’t think Pelosi’s strategy of resisting a formal impeachment inquiry can last forever, but I have to admit it’s working. She looks like a responsible public servant trying her best to serve the public interest. He looks panicked, desperate, out of control and concerned only — as usual — with self-interest.
No one can possibly take at face value Trump’s little stunt Wednesday in which he stormed out of a White House meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership, ostensibly because Pelosi had earlier said he was engaged in “a cover-up.” For one thing, Democrats have been saying that for months. For another, Trump undoubtedly has been trying to cover up improper activity. There were the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal payoffs, there was the false explanation he dictated aboard Air Force One about the Trump Tower meeting … I could go on and on.
While the president was pitching his scripted fit, aides were already readying the Rose Garden for the brief and bizarre temper tantrum in which Trump vowed to hold his breath until he turns blue. Not literally, but close enough: He said he will refuse to work with Democrats as long as they are investigating him.
I wish him luck getting a budget passed, the debt ceiling raised or his U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement approved. None of that can possibly happen without the help of Pelosi and the Democratic majority in the House. If Trump was serious about what he said — always a dangerous assumption — he was pledging to refuse to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities.
Maybe Pelosi is right. Maybe Trump is trying to goad the House into impeaching him so that he can rouse his political base with claims of victimhood.
“The White House is just crying out for impeachment,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “That was what disappointed him yesterday because he didn’t see this rush to impeachment.”
I still have my doubts about that. I know Trump is confident that the GOP-controlled Senate, in the end, will never vote to remove him from office. But I have a hard time believing such a supremely narcissistic man wants to go down in history as one of only three presidents to be impeached by the House.
But that’s what he might get. At some point, I believe, Pelosi may have no choice.
For now, she can tell restive members of her caucus that her go-slow policy — leaving it to her committee chairmen to investigate Trump’s misdeeds and challenge his stonewalling — is bearing fruit. Already, two federal judges have issued strong rulings against Trump’s lame legal “theory” that Congress has no legitimate reason to do its constitutional duty. There is no reason to believe that appellate courts will take a different view.
This means that Trump’s accountants and bankers will likely have to turn over records that may include his tax returns. There is no telling how the president will react. Truth is to Trump like sunlight is to a vampire. For whatever reason, he acts as if thorough scrutiny of his finances is some kind of mortal threat.
Asked about impeachment, Pelosi insisted that the House is “not at that place.” But she downplayed the fact that many Democrats in the House, if not most, agree with renegade Republican Justin Amash of Michigan: Based on what we already know from the redacted Mueller report, Trump has committed impeachable offenses.
Much of the Democratic base agrees. We have a year and a half to go before the election, and I have trouble imagining how Pelosi and the House leadership can hold out that long.
Maybe a while longer, though. There’s something about Pelosi that seems to flummox Trump and throw him off his stride. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s a strong woman. Maybe it’s her competence, her ability to get things done. Maybe he’s just afraid of her.
Whatever the reason, it was Pelosi who looked and sounded presidential this week — and Trump who looked and sounded like a man who fears he’s being cornered. I question Pelosi’s view about the politics of impeachment, but she has earned more time to do things her way.
“I pray for the president of the United States,” Pelosi said. “I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.”
Amen to that.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group
WASHINGTON — It’s instructive that Alabama has handed the anti-abortion movement a great victory by passing the most restrictive ban in the country — and Republican politicians who regularly tout themselves as pro-life don’t like it.
Abortion is cast by its opponents as a “non-negotiable” question. Yet it turns out to be very negotiable and, indeed, a matter of “personal belief.”
Thus did House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., say he opposes the Alabama law because it “goes further than I believe” by failing to include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was right there with him. “Personally, I would have the exceptions,” McDaniel told CNN. “That’s my personal belief.”
Of course the Alabama abortion law is extreme. But you cannot fault the consistency of the Alabama legislators who supported it. If abortion is murder, it’s murder. I suppose you can have gradations on murder charges — first or second degree, say, or voluntary manslaughter — but that’s not the issue here. McCarthy and McDaniel can’t really think abortion is murder if they believe it’s OK some of the time.
Writing on the conservative website The Bulwark, Jonathan V. Last called the Alabama law “the most damaging development to the pro-life movement in decades.”
Wow! Why so? “If you want to end the abortion regime, you don’t get rid of it by outlawing abortion,” he explains. “There is a teaching effect to the law, but it’s not strong enough to support a law which does not have the consent of a large percentage of the citizenry. You get rid of abortion by moving public opinion. Which is hard. It’s incremental. It’s small steps.”
Pause on Last’s thought — you don’t get rid of abortion by outlawing it. But the entire thrust of the contemporary right-to life movement is to get rid of abortion by outlawing it. Even with the exemptions McCarthy favors, the Alabama law would still outlaw almost all abortions.
The dirty secret is that supposedly pro-life politicians support the exceptions because they poll well. But if your stand on abortion is based on a deep moral conviction, polling should have nothing to do with it.
Which is why I am among those — and I think there are a lot of us — who despise the way abortion is discussed in our politics. The issue has become a partisan cudgel, the subject of a lot of posturing involving self-interested calculation that rarely involves much respect for the ethical commitments of the opposing sides.
Whether the fetus is a human life from the moment of conception or a potential life, a human being is the result at the end of nine months of pregnancy. So it shouldn’t be hard for even the most pro-choice person to understand why those who oppose abortion believe as they do. At the same time, only women bear the physical burdens of pregnancy and society, as currently constituted, demands far more of mothers than fathers. So it should not be hard for even the most ardent pro-lifers to understand why women who advocate for abortion rights see control over their own reproduction as inextricably linked to gender equality.
But opponents of abortion must acknowledge this: (BEG ITAL)Making abortion illegal doesn’t stop abortion(END ITAL). It does, however, make abortions unsafe for women who have them. A study by the Guttmacher Institute found that there were 22.3 million abortions between 2010 and 2014 in countries where abortion is highly restricted — and 74% of those abortions were unsafe.
I share the right-to-life movement’s desire to reduce the number of abortions. But I also agree with the pro-choice movement that making abortion illegal or virtually impossible to obtain will only place women’s lives in jeopardy.
A better way forward would start by reducing the incidence of abortion through better family-planning programs. Even more important, we can give poor women who bring children into the world the help they need after giving birth.
The abortion rate is six times higher among poor women than affluent women. This is not because the rich have more moral qualms. The poor, unlike the wealthy, live with the fear that they will not be able to give their children the life they deserve. And we can honor the responsibilities mothers take on — in deeds not just words — by making the rules surrounding work more family-friendly.
The bottom line: If you truly want to defend the right to life, support women and lift up the poor.
E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group
Media scholars like ourselves have a term for how stories can effect us in these ways – “boundary expansion” – and every viewer experiences some level of this.
But some seem more drawn to these fictional characters and their fictional worlds than others.
In a recent study, we wanted to learn more about these types of people. Why do some become absorbed in the tumultuous relationships playing out before their eyes on the screen – holding their breath during every tense interaction – while others seem to have a tougher time connecting with the characters and the drama?
Interestingly, we found that your attachment style – or your ability to form close relationships in real life – can play a big role.
Why some struggle to form close relationships
According to attachment theory, your experiences with caregivers in childhood tend to influence how you relate to romantic partners later in life. If a caregiver is appropriately nurturing without being too overprotective, you’ll develop secure attachments as an adult.
But many who grow up with unreliable caregivers will go on to develop insecure attachments in adulthood. Psychologists have parsed insecure attachment styles into three types.
Then there are those who experience severe anxiety about close relationships and cope with their anxiety through avoidance. This is often called a fearful-avoidant attachment style, and these individuals still long for intimacy, but will often sabotage their relationships.
An imaginary refuge
We suspected that, in lieu of forming fulfilling real-life relationships, people with insecure attachment patterns might find refuge in the fictional worlds of television and film.
In the study, we administered a survey to 1,039 American adults. Some of the questions assessed their attachment anxiety (“I often worry that my partner doesn’t care as much about me as I do about them”) and avoidant tendencies (“I feel myself pulling away when partner’s get too close”).
We also looked at their proclivity to engage in boundary expansion, asking them to respond to statements like “When watching television and film, I experience what it’s like to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet.”
We found a consistent pattern. Those who possessed anxiety about their relationships could more easily engage with stories and were more likely to form imagined relationships with characters. They were better able to vicariously pursue unmet needs through the stories, were more likely to reflect on events from stories and were more likely to report that they had learned something about the real world from watching these stories.
However, those who expressed avoidant tendencies seemed unable to engage with and reflect on stories on TV or in movies in the same way. It’s almost as if they shy away from feeling anything, emotionally, from what they watch – much in the same way they avoid intimacy in real life.
The most interesting results were for those who exhibited both anxious and avoidant attachment patterns. These people seemed to have the best ability to engage with the stories and feel something towards the characters.
We suspect this may be due to the fact that these fictional stories act as a safe space – a place to circumvent their anxiety without succumbing to their avoidant tendencies. After all, they must know, deep down, that none of it is real: There aren’t any demands for closeness being made and there’s no relationship to sabotage.
Our study shows that fictional stories can act as a refuge and create opportunities for personal growth.
We’re not saying that watching more television or movies will automatically improve your life or your relationships. But there’s something certainly to be said about the power stories can wield – and their ability to help those grappling with real-life attachment issues.
It’s often been said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s also been said that you can’t judge a book by its movie. If you’ve ever read a film analysis book by Rob Craig, you know his books deliver both in their content and their colorful cover designs. His analysis of forgotten films and underground cult directors is well researched and well written. Craig treats these often forgotten films and their directors with great respect. Craig never resorts to giving aggressive pot shots to any of the films he writes about, unlike some film critics and historians I won’t mention here.
In the introduction to his latest book – American International Pictures – A Comprehensive Filmography (McFarland 2019), (800-253-2187) Craig makes it clear that this book is meant as an analysis of AIP films and their television product, and not intended as a history of the company or a biography of the company’s founders – James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff. The Amazon link is here.
The sole purpose of this project, according to Craig, is to gather as comprehensive a listing of all film product that AIP was involved in marketing, which includes – all AIP theatrical releases, films and series released to television through AIP, and to chronicle all product released through one of AIP’s subsidiaries or satellite companies. The list of AIP’s satellite companies is quite long.
Also in the introduction, Craig mentions what he considers to be one of the most unique and interesting products offered by American International TV, which was a series of eight original productions by Texas cult filmmaker – Larry Buchanan. These productions were released under the “Azalea Pictures” banner in the 1960s. The films include – The Eye Creatures (1965), Zontar, The Thing From Venus (1966), Creature of Destruction (1967) and In The Year 2889 (1966) – all remakes of 1950s films. This is a topic which is no stranger to Craig, since he discussed the Azalea films at great length in his awesome book about director Larry Buchanan (The Films of Larry Buchanan – A Critical Examination – 2007 – McFarland ).
Many of my all time favorite low-budget films are discussed in Craig’s latest book, such as: A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Screaming Skull (1958), The Phantom Planet (1961), Planet of The Vampires (1965), The Pit & The Pendulum (1961), The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy (1959), and the Mexican import – Santa Claus (1959). It’s great to see Craig give a positive nod to Santa Claus. I was beginning to think that my co-blogger Doug Gibson and myself were the only two human beings on the planet to appreciate Santa Claus and all its bizarre charm.
Craig’s latest book reminds me a lot of Michael Weldon’s – The Encyclopedia of Film (1983 Ballantine), only Craig’s writing gets into much greater details of the films he discusses. One of his most interesting reviews in the book is for A Bucket of Blood (1959). This is one of his longest reviews.
Released Halloween 1959 and directed by Roger Corman, A Bucket of Blood is considered a horror comedy that comments on the then “beat culture/beat generation” of the 1950s. Craig mentions the film as being ahead of its time, since straight-forward horror films had played themselves out by the end of the 1950s. A Bucket of Blood brought a fresher point of view as a spoof and parody of horror films and beat culture while at the same time keeping a cynical tone.
Craig mentions that he views Little Shop of Horrors (1960), a film made by Corman shortly after A Bucket of Blood and one which has some similar plot points, as the far more superior of the two films. Although I’m a fan of both films, I’m not sure I agree with Craig’s analysis of Little Shop of Horrors as being a much better film. While it may be true that actor Dick Miller incoherently mumbles many of his lines in the film, portraying him as a doofus, as Craig points out, this does not detract from Miller’s character as a struggling coffee house worker and artist. In fact, in my view, it greatly adds to his lonely, shy, and backwards character that helps to reinforce the stereotype of the “struggling genius artist.” A Bucket of Blood and Little Shop of Horrors make great companion films.
For further reading of Craig’s work, refer to his excellent book on director Ed Wood: Mad Genius – A Critical Study of The Films (McFarland 2009), Gutter Auteur – The Films of Andy Milligan (McFarland 2012) – and his equally awesome book on films of 1957 – It Came From 1957: A Critical Guide To The Year’s Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (McFarland 2013). Also refer to the above mentioned book on the films of Texas director Larry Buchanan. Happy reading.
WASHINGTON — It’s often said that when our founders wrote the Constitution, they had a leader like Donald Trump in mind when they included various safeguards for our liberties and against abuses of presidential power.
I think that gets it wrong. The founders could not have imagined a president like Trump.
They certainly never expected that a president would go on strike.
But that is what Trump did on Wednesday, throwing a tantrum at what was supposed to be a serious meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about a big infrastructure plan. Trump then barged out and told waiting reporters that unless the House stopped investigating him — i.e., gave up on its responsibilities to hold him accountable — Americans would just have to keep driving on crumbling roads, crossing shaky bridges and riding on inadequate public transit systems.
He took umbrage at Pelosi accusing him of a “cover-up” after a morning meeting with her Democratic caucus — even though the speaker’s comment was a logical response to Trump’s sweeping efforts to block the House from hearing witnesses and receiving documents that it has a right to request. That Pelosi is encouraging her caucus to hold back on impeachment inquiries was apparently lost on him.
Trump’s theatrics only hardened Pelosi’s view. After Trump’s stagey sulk, she told a gathering organized by the Center for American Progress: “The fact is, in plain sight in the public domain, this president is obstructing justice and he’s engaged in a cover-up — and that could be an impeachable offense.” She also told the group that she was praying for him and for our country.
She might usefully add our constitutional system to her prayerful petitioning, because there is one other thing our founders certainly didn’t have in mind: that extreme partisanship would so obliterate institutional patriotism that congressional Republicans would put the interests of a power-abusing president over the legitimate rights and prerogatives of the legislative branch of government. Democrats should not have to be fighting Trump’s imperiousness on their own.
But that is how it is, which means that a growing number of angry and frustrated House members are arguing that their colleagues should move quickly to impeachment hearings because doing so might strengthen their legal hand in prying out information to which they are entitled.
Again, I doubt that when the founders wrote the impeachment power into the Constitution, they expected it might be the only recourse left against a chief executive who is guided solely by an obsession with self-protection.
For all the talk of Democrats being divided on impeachment, my reporting suggests something different and more complicated. Virtually all members of their caucus are infuriated with Trump’s stonewalling and in search of stronger ways to push back against it. Large numbers see many of his actions — and not just those described in the Mueller report — as potentially impeachable, but they worry about what signal would be sent if the House impeached and the Senate acquitted.
At the same time, a very sizable group, particularly members from swing districts, wants everyone to know that if impeachment comes, it will be undertaken deliberately and not in haste.
“My responsibility is to deliver the evidence,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., who won a Republican-held seat in 2018, said in an interview. “I really want to make sure this is done correctly.”
Rep. David Price, D-N.C., who has spent three decades in the House, put the ambivalence many of his colleagues plainly. “Most of us think these are impeachable offenses,” he told me. “But it will be a failed impeachment in the Senate unless something changes on the Republican side. How much better is a failed impeachment than a relentless, serious set of investigations?” Which, of course, is why Trump is doing all he can to make such inquiries impossible.
For now, a majority of House Democrats seem inclined to support court efforts to uphold the various subpoenas and document requests before moving to impeachment. Giving Trump more time for Rose Garden and Twitter antics could also allow him to make the case for impeachment far better than Democrats ever could on their own.
And in blowing up the talks on infrastructure, Trump has already assuaged one of the worries swing-district Democrats — that they’d be blamed if Washington doesn’t act on big issues. Now, everyone will know that it’s Trump who has little interest in governing or compromising. He’s the one with the picket sign, grinding government to a halt to keep his secrets.
E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group
When, a decade ago, I first started documenting the heroic achievements and sacrifices of the men and women who served during World War II, the sad statistic was that approximately 1,000 members of the “Greatest Generation” were dying every day.
Today, due to the inexorable process of aging, less than half-a-million of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive and the number of those veterans leaving us every day is now at less than 350, yet each death is heart-rending.
There are other “subgroups” of World War II veterans whose numbers, to begin with, were small and of who even fewer are still with us.
Among them are the surviving members of the patriotic and intrepid Women AirForce Service Pilots, or “WASP.” Of the approximately 1,100 women who qualified to fly military aircraft of all types in support of the war effort, only approximately 300 were still alive in 2010. One of them was a beautiful lady I had the honor to get to know and to write about, Millie Dalrymple. Millie took her final flight in November 2012.
Part of an even smaller group of World War II heroes are the “Navajo Code Talkers.”
This was a group of brave Native Americans who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II using their ancient Navajo language as an unbreakable code to transmit secret messages, stymieing the enemy.
Approximately 450 Navajo code takers served our nation in the Pacific during World War II. There are less than a dozen of these brave men alive today, all of them in their 90s.
It is thus understandable that it becomes national news when “another one of the Code Talkers” leaves us.
In January of this year, Alfred K. Newman, one of the last of the Navajo Code Talkers, died in New Mexico at age 94.”
A week ago, the number of surviving Code Talkers went down to single digits with the death of Code Talker Fleming Begaye Sr. He was 97.
Task and Purpose:
Begay served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1943 to 1945, fighting in the Battle of Tarawa and the Batter of Tinian. He spent a year in a naval hospital recovering from war wounds, the statement said.
After the war he returned to the Navajo Nation and operated Begaye’s Corner, a trading post in Chinle.
Begaye (seated, below) and two other Code Talkers were honored at a ceremony at the White House in November 2017.
During the ceremony, Peter MacDonald, president of the surviving Navajo Code Talkers said:
Fleming Begaye is 97 years old, the oldest veteran of World War II. He survived the Battle of Tarawa. His landing craft was blown up and he literally had to swim to the beach to survive. Also, on Saipan, he also landed on Tinian where he got shot up real badly, survived one year in naval hospital.
While the Native American “code talkers” are generally associated with Navajo speakers, it is reported that “code talking” was pioneered by Choctaw Indians serving in the U.S. Army during World War I and that, in addition to the Navajo code talkers, Cherokee, Choctaw and Comanche soldiers were also used as code talkers during World War II.
Because the code talkers come from different groups, tribes, regions, and states, their passing is frequently noted as “one of the last of…” or even “the last of…”
Regardless, the death of each one of these men and women, whether a WASP, a Code Talker or a “just” a member of the Greatest Generation represents a sad loss and brings us closer to the day when there won’t be any more World War II veterans to mourn. So, let’s think of each one of these losses as “one of the last ones of…” to honor and to remember.
To read more about the Navajo Code Talkers, please click here.
Lead image: Navajo Code Talkers Marine Corps Cpl. Henry Bake, Jr. and Pfc. George H. Kirk use a portable radio near enemy lines to communicate with fellow Marines in December 1943. National Archives and Records Administration photo.
Bill O’Reilly, once the most powerful voice on cable-TV, has been largely absent from public view for two years following revelations that he paid some $50 million to settle sexual harassment lawsuits. Yet, O’Reilly’s signature – a segment he called “The Memo” – continues to have an unfortunate impact across the cable dial.
O’Reilly began his nightly Fox News Channel program with commentary, not news. His conservative “Memo” was delivered in compelling style, yielding high ratings for the show and power for its host.
In his wake, cable’s big three channels – FNC, CNN and MSNBC – have gradually allowed similar commentary segments to dominate their prime-time programs. Under a rock somewhere O’Reilly must be chuckling because attempts to copy his act are, for the most part, boring wastes of airtime.
For talented journalists such as CNN’s Don Lemon, the added burden of doing nightly commentary is an unfortunate example of the Peter Principle. As Lawrence J. Peter explained in his 1969 book, people tend to be promoted in business to their “level of incompetence.” Lemon is a skilled newsman and interviewer but as a pundit he’s miscast.
O’Reilly’s FNC replacement, the conservative Laura Ingraham, begins with commentary she labels “The Angle.” Sean Hannity’s show has long been laced with the host’s opinions but now, lest there be any misunderstanding his mission, Hannity brands his opening monologue the “Opening Monologue.”
Cable’s commentary overload is apparent at MSNBC, where Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell devote enormous amounts of time – and verbiage – to opining. Their skill and intellect are not in doubt, but the nightly professorial-style lectures they favor tend toward tedious.
The worst example of the trend happens on CNN when Chris Cuomo wraps up his show and introduces Don Lemon for a split-screen exchange of opinions. Then Cuomo launches into his own solo commentary, branded “The Argument.” At the top of the hour, it’s back to more split-screen opining between Cuomo and Lemon. For anyone still awake, Lemon then delivers his own lengthy commentary known as “Don’s Take.”
How cable channels conduct themselves is more important than ever as the 2020 presidential campaign unfolds. Programs hosted by Brian Williams on MSNBC, Anderson Cooper on CNN, and Shepard Smith on FNC leave most commenting to guests, creating a more effective journalistic blend.
But too many cable hosts follow the opinion matrix. Part of the problem is due to the medium’s increased role in reinforcing opinions among viewers – often derided as an echo chamber. Those trusting Sean Hannity, for example, rely on regular doses of his personal views. The fact that he flogs the same points night after night hasn’t hurt his ratings – especially with his number one fan, Donald Trump.
Hannity has compared his program to a newspaper in which both hard news and commentary exist harmoniously. But the Fox host and many cable producers overlook the fact that no newspaper invites a single journalist to write both the top story on page one and also the day’s lead editorial.
Memo to Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon and the others: Refocus on what you do best and spend less time on the opinion page.
Justin Amash, a rare Republican congressman who refuses to genuflect at Donald Trump’s feet, has been taking heat lately for daring to speak his mind. But bless his heart, he couldn’t care less.
On Sunday, Trump called him “a loser.” (The “loser” won re-election last year by 10 points, bucking the blue wave.) House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy derided Amash as an attention junkie who has “never supported the president.” (Amash, since January, has voted with Trump 92 percent of the time.) And Trump mouthpiece Lou Dobbs said that Amash should be thrown out of the GOP’s conservative House Freedom Caucus. (Amash, who was elected in the 2010 tea party wave, co-founded the House Freedom Caucus.)
All this, because Amash had the temerity to actually read the entire Mueller report and to publicly state the obvious, that it “reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold of impeachment.”
Granted, Amash is a Republican outlier; the odds are approximately zero that he will inspire his willfully deaf and dumb colleagues to put country over party. Nevertheless, the Michigan congressman is a potential nightmare for Trump in 2020, writing on Twitter over the weekend that Trump “has engaged in impeachable conduct.”
“When loyalty to a political party or to an individual trumps loyalty to the Constitution, the Rule of Law – the foundation of liberty – crumbles,” Amash wrote. “America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome. Our Constitution is brilliant and awesome; it deserves a government to match it.”
After Trump and his toadies hurled their abuse, Amash didn’t cower like a scalded puppy. Instead, he doubled down, noting that Mueller’s investigation revealed “many crimes” and that obstruction of justice doesn’t require an underlying crime.
“They imply that ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ requires charges of a statutory crime or misdemeanor,” Amash wrote of Trump’s defenders. “In fact, ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ is not defined in the Constitution and does not require corresponding statutory charges. The context implies conduct that violates the public trust – and that view is echoed by the Framers of the Constitution and early American scholars.”
McCarthy, the GOP House leader, told Fox News on Sunday that Amash should be ignored because “he’s not a criminal attorney.” Nevertheless, Amash’s take on the Mueller report mirrors the view of 916 federal criminal attorneys – from Republican and Democratic administrations – who have signed a bipartisan letter stating that Trump’s actions would “result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice” were he not president.
“The Mueller report describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge: conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming,” the letter states.
But what’s arguably most noteworthy about Amash is his potential role as a spoiler in 2020. A committed small-government libertarian, he hasn’t ruled out challenging Trump by running for president on the Libertarian Party ticket. He could provide a home for conservatives who are sickened by Trump’s governmental corruption and protectionist nationalism.
Their numbers may be small, but here’s what matters: Amash is based in Michigan, a state that tilted to Trump in 2016 by a mere 10,704 votes out of 4.5 million cast. His statewide approval rating has reportedly dropped 18 points since he took office, and he can ill afford to lose those 16 electoral votes. If the Democrats were to nominate someone capable of carrying normally blue Michigan (i.e., virtually anyone), then Amash, as a third-party draw for disaffected conservatives, could clinch that win.
All of which explains why House Republicans are hesitant to oust Amash from their ranks, despite his defiant stance on impeachment. As Trump’s protectors, they recognize the political peril of banishment. And as Lyndon B. Johnson used to say, it’s always better to have a dog inside the tent peeing out, than outside the tent peeing in.
Copyright 2019 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Dick Polman is the national political columnist at WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.