Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 20, 2017
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
iHeartRadio app: Discovered "Gen X Radio" this week
BUT FIRST: The opening essay
Media consumption for the skeptical conservative
When I was in Washington, DC, as a graduating senior from high school, I was scheduled to meet with my senators and my representative. Due to a scheduling screwup, I was stuck in then-Senator Harkin's office at the time I was supposed to be meeting Senator Grassley on the steps of the Capitol. This was before everyone had cell phones, so it really stuck with me that Senator Grassley went to some extraordinary lengths to track me down and overstayed the scheduled time for our meeting just to make sure I got that picture.
I share that story to reinforce the point that the Senator works to represent a kind of decency that matters, well outside of partisanship and above and beyond any passing issues of the day. Of course, the Senator is well-known for being a strong conservative -- but he's an advocate for principles that aren't so narrowly political, too.
Senator Grassley issued an important statement yesterday:
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa made the following comment on reports that Federal Communications Commission security guards manhandled a news reporter who tried to ask questions of a commissioner at a public meeting. The commissioner reportedly apologized after the National Press Club and others expressed concern.
"The Federal Communications Commission needs to take a hard look at why this happened and make sure it doesn't happen again. As The Washington Post pointed out, it's standard operating procedure for reporters to ask questions of public officials after meetings and news conferences. It happens all day, every day. There's no good reason to put hands on a reporter who's doing his or her job."
This statement is important because we're experiencing a really hazardous phenomenon. Some of you may even be taking part. People who otherwise seem perfectly sane and reasonable are losing their minds about the news media.
A whole lot of this -- not all of it, but a whole lot -- has come from people who are trying to promote what they call a "conservative" agenda. Frankly, I think a lot of these hucksters who want you to hate "the media" are frauds. I think they lack an appreciation for real conservative principles and because they don't really understand how to analyze and comment on real-world events in a way that reflects a legitimate conservative philosophy, they just want to "burn it all down" and tell people to live in a bubble.
I think that's cheap, I think it undermines our national traditions, and worst of all, I think it hollows out the authentic arguments that could be winning over voters and citizens to policies that really would make our country better.
Yet I also understand that some conservatives may be reasonably skeptical of what they hear, see, and read in the news. Because, yes, sometimes reporters are biased and sometimes that bias influences their coverage.
Permit me to offer four suggestions for how a skeptical conservative can approach news media:
1. If you deeply distrust the major media institutions, find individual reporters in whom you can trust, and follow their work. Twitter makes this especially easy, but it's not the only way. Start with a few local reporters, then follow them as they rise through the ranks (Des Moines, it turns out, is a great market for ambitious reporters to use as a launchpad). You may be pleasantly surprised just how accessible many of them are -- especially if you send an email, a Facebook comment, or a tweet acknowledging when you think they've done a good job on a story. They're human beings, too. As you follow their work, you'll find out which other reporters they consider credible. Just for examples: I have personally met and would be willing to trust the work of Lee Powell at the Washington Post, Jonathan Martin at the New York Times, and Jennifer Jacobs at Bloomberg (previously a reporter here in Des Moines). On Twitter, they are @leepowellTV, @jmartNYT, and @JenniferJJacobs. I'm sure they make mistakes like all people do, but I have confidence that each of them is trying their best to understand the world and report on it fairly. And if they share stories by their colleagues, I'm inclined to give those reporters the benefit of the doubt as well.
2. Verify reporting on your own, or read through the source material that news outlets now routinely share online. A great example is the exhaustive work David Fahrenthold did to document his research into President Trump's claims about his charitable giving. See http://www.niemanlab.org/.../how-one-washington-post.../ for examples. What made his reporting so good was how transparent it was. He literally photographed his research notes and showed them to the world.
3. Reconsider the assumption that "the media" is liberal. It has been my observation that what often passes for a liberal bias is actually a mild bias in favor of government and other "non-profit" sources. Those two are different things, and they have different effects. But there is also a strong bias against those with political power. That's what makes it so interesting that the same reporter broke the Clinton email story and the current story about the Comey memos -- see https://twitter.com/BraddJaffy/status/864598857757446144 for verification. Neither story makes him a hero nor a villain, but they also illustrate that the reporter you loathe today may be the one you celebrate tomorrow -- it's not up to them to win your love. (By the way, if you'd like a longer exploration of the "liberal bias" question, I wrote an essay about it and would be happy to share it with you.)
4. Remember how peculiar it sounded when Hillary Clinton decried a "vast right-wing conspiracy" back in the 1990s? Consider that claims of a vast left-wing conspiracy sound equally paranoid.
Finally, permit me to plug the list I curate at https://twitter.com/briangongol/lists/newsies, consisting of hundreds of individual reporters, all sharing their stories on Twitter. If you're looking for a place to start following the work of individual journalists, all you have to do is click on the link.
Clean up after yourself
I was in West Des Moines when the strongest of the storms moved through around 4:00 on Wednesday afternoon. The rain was truly torrential -- visibility fell to less than 1/8th of a mile -- and the winds were enough to knock around lots of big, sturdy old trees.
But what really captures my attention about the event was just how quickly people set to work cleaning up. I saw a 2' diameter tree fall across a residential street -- and before the rain had even stopped, the homeowner was outside with a chain saw cutting it up and removing it from the roadway. I saw entire neighborhoods full of people pulling branches and fallen tree limbs out of their lawns and stacking them in the parkways. A neighbor of mine who lost a big tree was outside and, with the help of some family, breaking down the debris before the sun went down -- even though the power was out, rendering all electrical power tools useless.
I don't think the "clean up after yourself" mentality is exclusive to West Des Moines, or Iowa, or even to America. But I do think there's something to be said for the bootstrap mentality that goes along with the pride of ownership. When a branch falls from your own tree in your own yard, there's no need to wait for someone else to take action, and in a community where all of your neighbors are quick to start picking up after a storm, then there's a healthy sort of peer pressure to do the same.
We can't legislate pride of ownership into existence -- though we could certainly diminish it if we're not careful. When people are happy to own something, that gives them reason to take care of it. It's what makes private property such a cornerstone of functioning self-government.
"The sense of being self-reliant, of playing a role within the family, of owning one's own property, of paying one's way, are all part of the spiritual ballast which maintains responsible citizenship, and provides the solid foundation from which people look around to see what more they might do, for others and for themselves." - Margaret Thatcher
So: Good work, neighbors. You've made your fellow Iowans proud. Lots of you, taking care of your own property, cleaned up so quickly that you had yard waste already bagged and tagged, waiting for the refuse trucks to pick up on their regular routes this morning. This wasn't a victory for "red" voters or "blue" voters, but for community and for the pride of ownership that no laws can ever replace. You've done well.
Interview with Tim Miller
The Atlantic Monthly cover story "My Family's Slave" is positively riveting
Book review: The New Democrats
It's fairly routine to declare the death of one political party or the other. But if one is willing to step back and look at the big picture in Presidential politics, there have only been two Democratic Presidents since 1980: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Obama, in many ways, was an exception: He campaigned as an outsider in every way -- an outsider to Washington, an outsider to "politics as usual", and significantly, as an outsider to the Democratic Party. If one acknowledges Barack Obama less as a Democrat and more as a singular and exceptional candidate, then the only true Democrat to have won the White House in the course of 40 years was Bill Clinton. And Clinton won as a "New Democrat" -- breaking with classic left-leaning Democratic orthodoxy, and recasting "progressive" policy goals as things to be achieved via a "Third Way" in politics. "The New Democrats" captures the historical currents that led to the New Democrat movement, through the eyes of Al From, the founder and head of the Democratic Leadership Council. From's perspective -- that the Democratic Party needed to abandon identity politics and the narrow reshuffling of interest groups in order to win in 1992 -- ought to resonate strongly with anyone who wonders about the future of the Democratic Party today. From's inside story of the DLC and the Third Way agenda is an intriguing modern history of politics, and it's overflowing with warning signs for the Democratic Party in the post-Obama era. The fundamental math of America's electoral system will almost always produce a two-party system, so it's in the national interest that those two parties each produce good ideas and thoughtful leaders. When they don't, the nation suffers. If the reader can accept the premise that Barack Obama and his message of post-partisanship was likely to be a once-in-a-generation exception to the normal rules of Presidential politics, then one might conclude the book wondering why the DLC was closed in 2011.
Verdict: Worthwhile reading for students of both American political history and political strategy
Belt and Road
Unsorted and leftovers:
By the numbers
Mind your business
Quote of the Week
The week in technology
Your role in cyberwar
Contrary to popular opinion
Hyperbole is going to kill us all
21st Century conservatism
Curiosity, competence, and humility
Have a little empathy
Stop the deliberate ignorance
Tin Foil Hat Award
Yay Capitalism Prize
Capitalist solution of the week
- Podcast of this episode - segment 1 - A media guide for the skeptical conservative: What to do if you're worried about left-wing bias
- Podcast of this episode - segment 2 - Storm cleanup/Up by the boostraps: Iowans don't wait for others to do the job
- Podcast of this episode - segment 3 - Winning on principle: A conversation with Tim Miller
- Podcast of this episode - segment 5 - 300,000 refugee kids without their parents: A Des Moines-sized population of innocent migrants
- Podcast of this episode - segment 6 - Today's Democrats should revisit the New Democrats: The old "new way" should be the new "new way" again
- Podcast of this episode - segment 7 - Automation will hurt small towns the most: Iowa needs more cities big enough to sustain competitors in the same industry
- Podcast of this episode - segment 8 - The week ahead: Buckle up