Leave The Optics To The Opticians

In a way this is a sequel to what A wrote yesterday about the MSM and bias. I hope it’s more like Godfather Part II than Exorcist II: The Heretic. The political press is currently obsessed with something they call “optics.” It’s all about appearances and perception and has nothing to do with reality. There have been a series of stories about the fakakta email thing and the Clinton Foundation wherein the reporter admits that NOTHING illegal has been done but that it LOOKS bad. They call this skewed perception “optics.” Why? I’ll never know but they love saying it in op-eds as well as on the news page. I’m opposed to the invocation of “optics.”

The best thing I’ve seen about the “optics” obsession was written by Eric Boehlert of the National Memo:

Surveying the well-trampled ground of supposed conflicts of interest and insinuations that Clinton sold State Department access to donors, the Times announced a pressing “need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.”

As part of its declaration, the newspaper dutifully noted, “‘Pay-to-play’ charges by Donald Trump have not been proved.” But the Times, like so many other lecturing voices, was quite clear in claiming that the Clintons have to address concerns about optics even if that means shutting down their landmark global charity. That’s how important it now is for the do-good foundation to be spotless and pure: Optics trump humanitarianism.

Or, there’s no proof anybody did anything wrong, therefore drastic actions must be taken to fix the problem.

Instead of issuing pompous declarations about “optics” the political press corps should read one of my favorite books, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This quote sums up the madness the Clintons face in their dealings with the MSM, especially the New York Times:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.”

For 25 years, the MSM has applied a double standard to Bill and Hillary Clinton: they’re presumed guilty until proven innocent. Even if charges were baseless, they prattled on about “the possible appearance of impropriety” in the 1990’s and “optics” today. The only thing that’s changed is the terminology, which is pithier but remains pitiful. And I’m pithed off about it. The Clinton Rules are a political version of Heller’s Catch-22. Nothing the Clintons do will ever satisfy the Beltway commentariat. Catch-22.

When confronted with evidence that Republicans have deleted emails, used private email accounts for public business, or had private foundations that raised money while they were in office, the MSM turns a blind eye or accepts their assurances at face value. General Powell did both of the latter but was never called on them. Should he have been? In the interest of fairness, yes, but Powell is an insider, what Digby calls a “Villager. He’s also a Republican and we all know IOKIYAR.

Paul Krugman criticized his own paper in Monday’s column, which was about how the punditocracy grade Trump on a curve while subjecting HRC to the strictest scrutiny of anyone in public life. He compared this year’s coverage to how the media treated Al Gore in 2000:

Americans of a certain age who follow politics and policy closely still have vivid memories of the 2000 election — bad memories, and not just because the man who lost the popular vote somehow ended up in office. For the campaign leading up to that end game was nightmarish too.

You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration — an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.

Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore — whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate — as slippery and dishonest. Mr. Gore’s mendacity was supposedly demonstrated by trivial anecdotes, none significant, some of them simply false. No, he never claimed to have invented the internet. But the image stuck.

Trump has, of course, trumped W’s mendacity during the campaign, the latter occasionally told the truth. The Insult Comedian hasn’t even pretended to be a nice guy but he’s still getting the Gentleman’s C that Bush got in 2000. This double standard is still in effect 16 years later, and *all* the Clinton’s critics are graded on a curve by the NYT and the rest of the Beltway boys and girls. That’s right, Digby’s Villagers.

I spent part of the weekend tweet bombing the NYT over its refusal to cover the possible bribery of the Attorney General of Florida in the Trump University case. They won’t listen to me but I was pleased to see that the eminent political scientist Norm Ornstein was having a go at the Gray Lady. His exchange with Timesman Roger Cohen has been storified. I hope they listen to Stormin’ Norman but I doubt they will. It interrupts their “narrative.”

I don’t know how this will play out, but it’s time for the MSM to stop grading Trump on a curve and spend more time looking at his genuine scandals as opposed to recreating Whitewater and the pursuit of the President’s penis. It’s well past time for them to leave the optics to the opticians or the optometrists or the ophthalmologists or even the physicists. In any event, the word “optics” should be consigned to the dustbin of history along with “pivot.”

INSTANT UPDATE: Bob Cesca has a takedown of Krugman’s critics at Salon, one of whom is the dread Glenn Greenwald. This could be a sign that Salon is emerging from its Ha Ha Goodman phase.

3 thoughts on “Leave The Optics To The Opticians

  1. One more thing: as Newt Gingrich’s mom told Connie Chung twenty plus years ago, Newt, and a substantial number of wingers, consider HRC to be, well, a bitch. Combine the puke funnel with the disdain from the Sally Quinn/High Broderism/Villager establishment, and there’s quite an incentive to look for anything that might serve to knock her down if not out.

    I’ll never be a big fan of HRC because my preferences are more Sanders/Rainbow Coalition/DSA than DLC, but the anti-Clinton fury really is something and tells me more about them than about her (or Bill). Just my .0000002 cents worth, but I think it tends to veer personal in part because, at least until the lunatic teahadists asserted themselves, there were not a whole lot of substantive differences on a big picture level. But keep at it for decades, and there’s a certain Captain Ahab quality to it…which would almost be amusing if the stakes weren’t so high…

  2. I note in passing that the USA Freedom Girls, those adorable moppets who danced for Donald Trump at a rally in Pensacola, and who were scheduled to dance for him in Iowa, haven’t been paid and are now suing Mr. Trump. Sordid details (including the broken promises, non-payment for services, and extracted promise that they wouldn’t talk to the media about getting stiffed) here:


    I wonder how the optics for this work out for the popular media? Are the optics better or worse than being associated with a squeaky-clean charitable foundation that helps millions of people all over the world? Or is this just another case of “both sides” and I shouldn’t be worrying my pretty little head because the veteran reporters on the beat know what’s important?

    1. The media won’t even cover illegal donations from the Trump foundation to AG campaigns in FL, TX and NY for the purpose of heading off investigations into Trump Univ.

      No amount of stories about Trump’s “ethics” will deter the MRA/KKK army he’s got.

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