Archive

September 26th, 2016

Debate moderators shouldn't duck

    I don't envy Lester Holt. No matter what he does in the first presidential debate, he'll be denounced. But this certainty should be liberating. If you know the brickbats will come one way or the other, you might as well do the right thing.

     But is there a "right thing" that doesn't coincide with someone's political agenda? That is precisely the wrong question, since any choice he makes will be interpreted as favoring one candidate over the other. What should matter are the obligations of journalists in a democratic society.

    For debate moderators, both on Monday and in future encounters, three duties stand out. The first is to do all they can so viewers come away with an accurate sense of the facts. The second is to promote a real exchange of perspectives between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, not only on issues journalists deem to matter but also on what a president can realistically do to leave the country better off four years from now.

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My Debate Nightmare? A Duller Donald Trump

    There are predictions that Monday night’s presidential debate will “shatter records,” as one recent headline put it, drawing a Super Bowl-size audience of more than 100 million viewers.

    They will not be coming for a detailed back-and-forth on stop-and-frisk.

    “What makes this debate so interesting is him,” said Doug Sosnik, a Democratic strategist who was a senior aide in Bill Clinton’s White House. The “him” needs no clarification, but let’s be clear nonetheless: Donald Trump. A billionaire (or so we’re told) whose name gleams golden on glass towers across the land. A provocateur as much as a politician, with a résumé of Atlantic City casinos, World Wrestling Entertainment, the Miss Universe pageant and “The Apprentice.”

    “You have a reality-TV star who’s in a presidential debate,” Sosnik said. “There’s an element here of people going to the stock-car races to watch the accident.”

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The lone-wolf era is over

    It was no surprise that in the first hours after the New York and New Jersey bombing attacks, the culprit was widely suggested to be a "lone wolf." The term, used to describe an individual inspired by others but acting on his or her own, has become the counterterrorism metaphor-of-choice in the age of the Islamic State.

    It's time, however, to put the lone-wolf metaphor, and its associated counterterrorism analysis, out to pasture. According to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, we now live in a world where terrorism is "carried out by those who live among us in the homeland and self-radicalize, inspired by terrorist propaganda on the internet."

    But if that diagnosis isn't wrong, it is incomplete. The New York bomber may have been "self-radicalized," but it's very unlikely he was merely "inspired" by terrorist groups.

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The lessons of America's 'First Age of Terror'

    The bombing and attempted attacks in New York and New Jersey have further raised legitimate fears that the U.S. may be entering a dangerous era of homegrown terrorism. It's worth remembering how the country endured similar ordeals in the past.

    The most fraught period of bombings and other terrorist tactics occurred during the Gilded Age, when anarchists resorted to violence, aiming to destroy both capitalism and the state. The movement began in Europe, where the first generation of anarchists -- Peter Kropotkin, Johann Most, Errico Malatesta and others -- began implementing a program of "propaganda by deed."

    This was shorthand for revolutionary violence. Thanks to Alfred Nobel's invention of dynamite in 1864, a weapon was readily available, and the first generation of anarchists studied bomb-making with the same dedication they read esoteric tracts on political radicalism.

    The German anarchist Johann Most led the way, publishing information on bomb-making in his radical newspaper, Die Freiheit. These tips were then reproduced in a tidy little pamphlet, "The Science of Revolutionary Warfare," that was rapidly translated into English.

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More than usual is on the line in first presidential debate

    No heavyweight prize fight has been more anticipated than Monday night's televised square-off between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with NBC News anchor Lester Holt as moderator or, perhaps, referee separating them in the clinches.

    For all the expectations of a brawl raised by the obvious mutual dislike of the two nominees, both have been counseled to remain self-controlled in the heat of the 90-minute confrontation, in order to emerge as the more "presidential" or at least disciplined under fire.

    Democrat Clinton seems much more equipped, by sheer policy knowledge and temperament, to meet that test. But Republican Trump has demonstrated himself to be, as he boasts, a superior counterpuncher, having easily mowed down 16 primary opponents.

    Clinton is the policy wonk ever prepared on the facts and tightly wound, to the point her likeability and trustworthiness are widely questioned. Trump, on the other hand, is the policy-deficient loose cannon given to bobbing and weaving on the facts, and often erupting with personal insult and invective.

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Trump to debate moderators: Don't even think about fact-checking me. My supporters are watching!

    This is a remarkable exchange from an interview with Donald Trump on Fox and Friends this morning:

    QUESTIONER: Lester Holt -- should he be a moderator, and just ask questions, or should he be a fact checker, where he asks a question, and if somebody says something that he thinks is wrong, that he's gonna try to correct the record? What would you like to see -- a moderator, or a fact checker?

    TRUMP: Well, I think he has to be a moderator. You're debating somebody, and if she makes a mistake, or if I make a mistake, we'll take each other on. But I certainly don't think you want Candy Crowley again.

    QUESTIONER: [Snickers knowingly.] She was wrong!

    TRUMP: I really don't think you want that. That was a very pivotal moment in that debate. And it really threw the debate off. And it was unfair. So I don't think you want that. No, I think you have to have somebody that just lets 'em argue it out.

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The Best News You Don’t Know

    The world is a mess, with billions of people locked in inescapable cycles of war, famine and poverty, with more children than ever perishing from hunger, disease and violence.

    That’s about the only thing Americans agree on; we’re polarized about all else. But several polls have found that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same over the last 20 years.

    Fortunately, the one point Americans agree on is dead wrong.

    As world leaders gather for the U.N. General Assembly this week, all the evidence suggests that we are at an inflection point for the ages. The number of people living in extreme poverty ($1.90 per person per day) has tumbled by half in two decades, and the number of small children dying has dropped by a similar proportion — that’s 6 million lives a year saved by vaccines, breast-feeding promotion, pneumonia medicine and diarrhea treatments!

    Historians may conclude that the most important thing going on in the world in the early 21st century was a stunning decline in human suffering.

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Donald Trump's most excellent tips for moderating a fair debate

    With a big debate coming up on Monday, there has been a lot of talk about how to moderate the discussion. Fortunately, Donald Trump's team has prepared the following list of suggestions so that the debate will be as Fair and Unbiased as possible.

    1) Be a moderator, not a fact-checker. One of those is a good, important person who will be safe in Donald Trump's America, and the other one is a mean little man who spends his whole life banging his head against his keyboard and sending out nonsensical pronouncements such as "Donald Trump has just earned FIVE WHOPPERS!"

    Who even knows what these units are supposed to mean? TRUTH-O-METER? PANTS ON FIRE? PINOCCHIOS? Are these truth ratings or novelty sandwiches? No wonder Americans no longer respect fact-checkers as an institution. They have given up trying to figure out if a Six-Alarm Whopper is a delicious burger or a horrible untruth. And Trump, for one, does not blame them!

    Trump lives in a post-fact world, and he wishes you would join him there. Too scrupulous an adherence to truth makes you no fun to be around.

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The Lying Game

    Here’s what we can be fairly sure will happen in Monday’s presidential debate: Donald Trump will lie repeatedly and grotesquely, on a variety of subjects. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton might say a couple of untrue things. Or she might not.

    Here’s what we don’t know: Will the moderators step in when Trump delivers one of his well-known, often reiterated falsehoods? If he claims, yet again, to have opposed the Iraq War from the beginning — which he didn’t — will he be called on it? If he claims to have renounced birtherism years ago, will the moderators note that he was still at it just a few months ago? (In fact, he already seems to be walking back his admission last week that President Barack Obama was indeed born in America.) If he says one more time that America is the world’s most highly taxed country — which it isn’t — will anyone other than Clinton say that it isn’t? And will media coverage after the debate convey the asymmetry of what went down?

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Scientists know climate change is a threat. Politicians need to realize it, too.

    The climate is changing in dangerous ways, and we are responsible for most of these changes. This is not a matter of conjecture or political opinion - it is the conclusion of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, based on solid evidence that mounts each year. Rising sea levels, extreme heat, increased incidence of floods and drought, ocean acidification and expansion of tropical diseases pose an unacceptable level of risk to our descendants. So do many other climate-related threats.

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