‘Narrative news’: The big gap between the media narrative and what is actually happening

‘Narrative news’: The big gap between the media narrative and what is actually happening
Sally Yates. (Image: Screen grab of PBS video, YouTube)

I don’t manage to listen to the Rush Limbaugh broadcast that much these days, but I did catch it Tuesday morning.  And what principally struck me was his point that the media are in charge of running the political left’s game right now.

The mainstream media are pushing a narrative.  But increasingly, there’s nothing behind it, and the actual elected officials – the Democrats – can’t force a non-existent reality.  There’s no there there, behind the media hype.  That’s why it evaporates in thin air at the end of each day.

Three “pieces” from the events and the narrative-push of Monday, 8 May, have brought that into focus for me.  Two of them center on the testimony to the Senate of James Clapper and Sally Yates.  The third is a downright weird article at Daily Beast, about self-appointed citizen “investigators” of the fabled “Trump ties to Russia” – which is one of those topics you pretty much have to encase entirely in scare quotes, because none of it is anything that really, you know, happened.

Senate theatrics

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Regarding the testimony of Clapper and Yates, I am indebted to other writers for parsing out some key points.  One is Joel B. Pollak at Breitbart.  He has an excellent piece today, logging chapter and verse on how thoroughly [score]Ted Cruz[/score] sliced and diced Sally Yates’s slickly produced comments on the supposed shortcomings of Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration enforcement.

Cruz started out by demonstrating that Yates didn’t even recognize the law under whose authority Trump wrote the order.  He showed – through the responses Yates herself gave – that she was making a partisan as opposed to a legal argument against Trump’s order.

And he clarified by that means exactly why Trump was right to fire her.  No president is required to retain in his executive departments bureaucrats who pose political objections to his policies, and proclaim that they will not enforce them.

Naturally, you heard none of that in the mainstream media coverage.  You heard instead Yates delivering her soundbites for the cameras, as if what she said was definitive.  Yet clearly, it is not.  Trump has reality on his side.  He was well within his rights to fire Yates, and he will never be substantively challenged on that, because there is no valid challenge.

Even more importantly, Trump wrote his immigration order under the explicit authority of established law.  One federal district court has upheld him on that.  The two that have not had to turn to extralegal arguments – which are very unlikely to stand up in the Supreme Court – to make their rulings.

No counter-arguments are presented in MSM coverage to help you understand that.  But it’s the only reality that we have.  The rest is just partisan amplification (by the media) of soundbites with false, wishful content.

The second case from the Yates and Clapper testimony is the innuendo campaign against Michael Flynn.  Once again, the testimony proved that there is nothing behind the innuendo.  Yates says she warned the Trump transition team that Flynn might be susceptible to blackmail by Russia.  But she declined to give any indication as to why.  Besides being ridiculous – it simply is not possible that at this remove from the transition period, it would be dangerous to give the Senate a hint – this line of testimony is increasingly disingenuous.

The editors of the Wall Street Journal point out that we know “a reason” why Yates might express such concern.  Except that it’s a silly non-reason; i.e., Flynn’s phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, which the Trump team has been aware all along Flynn engaged in – because they told him to.  It was part of his job.

Flynn misstated to the vice president whether he had addressed the issue of sanctions against Russia, in one of the phone calls, and that ended up getting him fired.  Vice President Pence got egg on his face vouching for Flynn based on those assurances, and that breach was one that Flynn and the inner staff apparently couldn’t repair.

But beyond that, there is nothing proven against Flynn.  In fact, what is proven is that someone from the Obama administration unmasked Flynn’s identity in the phone calls with Kislyak, and then broke the law by disclosing that information to the media.

The media have been flogging other, equally vaporous and unproven points about Flynn, because Yates’s testimony afforded an opportunity to flog them.  But Yates herself didn’t testify to any specific allegations against Flynn.

If you went by the media coverage, however, again, you would have heard only that Yates took it upon herself to warn Team Trump about Flynn.

If that’s the standard of evidence, we can indict the entire Obama administration right now, because I would certainly warn you about them, as partisan demagogues with questionable connections who don’t know how to administer the rule of law.  Many of you would do the same thing.

And, hey, many Democrats would warn the world about Trump’s officials, with pretty much the same reasons in mind – even if the right and left disagree on what actually constitutes demagoguery, questionable connections, and the rule of law.

Lack of a common language

That latter point is the most important one.  We don’t all mean the same thing anymore.  And the weird article at Daily Beast, which also appeared on Monday, really highlighted that for me.  I wasn’t sure why Daily Beast would publish such a thing, since it makes the supposed “Russia-Trump” issue look like the freakish obsession of the unhinged.

But perhaps the article was meant to appeal to the imagination of people who have no real concept of credibility, empiricism, standards of proof, or the rule of law.  Put another way, the article’s purpose seems to be selling the Trump-Russia theme to an emotion-driven audience as performance art.

The piece’s theme is that some hip dudes and dudettes out there in Citizen-land have taken it upon themselves to “investigate” “Trump-Russia ties.”  That’s pretty much it.  Some people are unofficially “investigating.”

One of them, the owner of a terminally chic noodle dive in Washington, D.C., is described to us as “a hidden hand in the Trump-Russia drama” – thus seeming to affirm through mindless repetition that there is such a drama.  This individual has looked extensively into Carter Page, although the utility of that is questionable, since Carter Page had virtually nothing to do with the Trump campaign organization (and can prove he was not in Prague at the only time anyone has reason to care about; i.e., the reference to him in the highly dubious “dossier” on Trump).

Regardless, Mr. Jeff Jetton is now an unnamed source for other people who are “investigating Trump-Russia” in an equally unofficial capacity.

The thing, apparently, is that Jetton is doing all this in such a cool way.  He wears stuff while he’s giving interviews:

“If you’re good at piecing things together, why don’t you just do some of this sh** yourself?” said Jetton, who spoke to The Daily Beast wearing an olive-drab Harley Davidson jacket with a #1 patch made out of an American flag on his right shoulder.

He wears stuff and rides stuff just in general.  As, like, a lifestyle.

He enjoys motorcycling and is on an extended days-long trip on the road now. He’s an investor in various trendy restaurants, living in Brooklyn but commuting to D.C. often. Hailing from Newport Beach, California, he looks like more of a hipster creative-industry type—scraggly facial hair, large, black-rim glasses—than a geopolitical investigator. Yet his non-work hours have become consumed with his hobby: the Russia-Trump issue.

He has at least one sage, insightful analogy to his credit.

“You know like in Jurassic Park where the velociraptors test the electric fences in different places? You’ve got to do that,” Jetton told The Daily Beast.

Sally Yates could take a cue from Jetton.  Do the velociraptor fence-testing thing, Slick.  Then we’ll talk.

But Jetton’s not the only one.  Consider Abby Hertz: what you might call an alt-restaurateur who is also entranced by “Trump-Russia.”

Abby Hertz founded LUST NYC, an erotic, eight-course dinner party in which food is served off naked bodies. She’s also deeply interested in any possible connections between Team Trump and Russia.

“Even my cousin in Indiana and her friends are obsessed with Trump/Russia. It’s better than Netflix, it’s a huge deal because our democracy was hijacked, and it opened up a very deep rabbit hole of corruption that already existed in a ‘sexy’ way that the public could delve into,” Hertz said. “It’s our first quasi-augmented reality political show… which is I guess what happens when you elect a reality-TV star.”

Her close attention to the activities of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia led her to notice that Jamali was going to be briefing some of the committee’s members, an event that had gone unnoticed by the press. Her tip to The Daily Beast led to further reporting, which revealed that the committee’s Republicans would be boycotting the briefing.

These sound like a bunch of people playing a sort of enhanced Pokémon Go, in which you run around – wearing stuff and riding stuff – imagining yourself participating in a big drama, and searching for clues.

Did I say they were entranced?  So did Daily Beast’s author, Tim Mak, basically:

These are ordinary men and women enraptured by the Russia scandal, captivated by a story with the potential intrigue of the JFK assassination and the ethical problems of the Watergate scandal, all mixed in with an interactive reality show.

“Enraptured by a scandal” is a far cry from “something actually happened and there’s evidence of it, enough to justify using the armed force of the state to change someone’s reality.”

But it is a starkly legitimate question whether these people understand that.  What will they do, when it becomes crystal clear that nothing did happen – no matter how many “connections” they think they’ve found – and the law gives them no way to justify some sort of torches-and-pitchforks moment, with a paroxysm of screeching theatrics and flames reaching to the heavens?

I prefer to think that these kids – whatever their ages – are a very small fringe.  That most people their age are more sensible (not to put too fine a point on it: are actually sane).

Tim Mak makes this hilarious comment at the end:

These examples of ordinary Americans contributing to the Russia investigation, without falling prey to conspiracy or CAPS-LOCK diatribes, suggests a productive way that citizens can contribute to the ongoing story.

I think I’d prefer the CAPS-LOCK diatribe, thank you.  The only thing the “citizen sleuths” here have shown is that they are freakishly suggestible and can be induced to go snoop on other people for light and transient reasons.  We used to call that stalking, and question the sanity of the individuals engaged in it.

The narrative attention to sartorial and grooming arrangements reminds me of nothing so much as being a young girl, and having friends who didn’t particularly dream of a guy they were going to wed, but rather of a dress they would walk down the aisle in.

There is no common language here, for doing public business.  It’s useless to tell the reality-based people that they have to adjust their thinking to the epistemic premises of the performance artists.  It’s useless because reality is going to win, regardless.  It buys no one anything to enter the mental world of these self-anointed citizen-sleuths.

I have to wonder if an article like this one is placed mainly to drum up interest in a flagging theme.  If the guys and gals in suits and sensible shoes aren’t fairing enough scandale, Trump-Russia-wise, the motorcycle riders and lust-table choreographers need to get into the act.  Maybe it will make the latter feel important for a while.  But it’s nutty, it’s surreal, and it’s no way to run a republic.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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