Archive for the ‘Contemporary Commentary’ Category

Leonard Lance, my congressman, is one of the Republicans deemed vulnerable in 2018, because Hillary carried the district in 2016 and a firestorm of anti-Trumpism has swept through social media singeing Lance.

Reality?  Don’t hold your breath.

Lance is a smart cookie and already is distancing himself gently from Trump.

But the big factor that will beat the Democrats is, of course, the Democrats.

Already, the Democratic candidates are jockeying around the usual suspects: Obamacare, choice, Trump and guns. Fine issues for a progressive and I’m sold on liberal moralizing. Gets me very time.

Only I’m not the guy the Dems need to sell.

They need to sell independent voters and soccer moms and while they may well turn out to vote against Trump in a general election, they won’t turn out for these issues to vote against a milque toast fella like Lance.

Unless, the Dems can tag Lance with a more serious issue.

And here is one way they might do that.

New Jersey hovers near last place in the amount of federal dollars returned compared to federal taxes paid.  For every dollar paid out in federal taxes, only about 60-cents returns, roughly, in the form of contracts, grants, military contracts and the like. Mississippi? More like $2 for every one dollar spent.

How could a responsible dollar and cents Republican like Lance allow this to happen?

Well, in reality, that might be a better question for the state’s Democrats who dominate the New Jersey congressional delegation.

But in the free for all that is American politics, it’s a mild reach to hang “Last Place Lance” around the good congressman’s neck.

And it’s a fair question for every taxpayer in the Seventh District to ask him in 2018:

Given your 10 year tenure in office, how do you account for a 40 % loss on every federal tax dollar spent?

And it’s a fair question to ask the voters: Why return a congressman to office who has such a dismal record of returns?  What stock do you keep in your portfolio that loses 40% year after year?

Define your candidate before he defines himself, we learned from Lee Atwater and Karl Rove.

Show that a fiscal conservative Republican is losing money for the voters and the Dems may just have a chance.

One wonders if Republicans and Democrats agree on one simple sane proposition — one should not shoot at congressmen during baseball practice — whether such logic might lead to another simple, sane proposition:  a Grand Bargain on guns.

The bargain is simple:

1.) Liberals vow to forget about gun bans and the empty dream of an Australian-like confiscation.

2.) Conservatives agree to practical gun owner requirements — similar to a driver’s license  for weapons.

Really don’t see a downside to this for either side.

Liberals have to know by now that the idea of a gun ban is a pipe dream.  Even if the votes are there, doing away with more than 300 million privately owned guns is impossible.  Amending the Constitution to modify the Second Amendment is as well.

The upside for liberals?

They are able to inject an element of responsibility, education and regulation into the system — and avoid getting sucker-punched in close races like Gore v. Bush.  In real terms, they give up very little — and may save lives through an imperfect but better system.

Conservatives should jump at the chance to assure that their national nightmare — “they’re coming to get our guns” — would be over at last. Guns would not be regulated.

Want a gun?  That’s fine.

You have complete freedom to own and fire a gun.  In the same manner you have complete freedom to own and drive a car.

You study, pass a test, get a license to drive a car.

Same for a gun.

The idea of a driver license for gun owners is not that far a reach for gun owners and conservatives.


Well, how many people do you hear complaining about how their right to drive has been infringed?

If it’s done fairly, gun owners have few problems with sane regulation.  Fact is a regulatory program  already exists for owners of legal machine guns, sawed off shotguns and silencers — so-called Class Three Weapons.

You get a higher level of review by the feds — and you generally have to check in with your local sheriff for his approval as well, even in Texas.

But there are thousands of owners of legal machine guns out there — and incredibly low rates of crime among Club Class Three members.  In large part, this is because they’ve been thoroughly screened.

So it’s at least worth a good discussion.







Scott Pelley, CBS News Anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent, is famously ripped. We know this from his muscle man shot appearance pumping iron with Hugh Jackman back in 2012.

Big biceps have done little for his journalistic weight class and his most recent venture makes one wonder whether he and his executive producers combined could move from the floor the brief cases that Morley Safer or Mike Wallace carried so ably into their 80’s.

This was seen most recently when 60 Minutes sought to do an investigative inquiry into the wreck of the SS El Faro, an American ship that was lost on October 1, 2015 in Hurricane Joaquin.

el faro
What they came up with instead was a light weight feature story with easy answers and an easy villain.

Had 60 Minutes spent sixty seconds reading online clips from the Jacksonville papers or the maritime press, they might have produced a meaningful investigative story — one that deals with a major American policy called the Jones Act, an ancient piece of legislation that keeps a rust bucket fleet of American ships at sea.

Or perhaps they knew all that — but just went for easy.

Pelley led the reporting on the story — and with a “hem” here and a “haw” there pretty much concluded that the late Captain Michael Davidson led the crew and officers to their death by charting the wrong course straight into Hurricane Joaquin.

The killer line — the cusp of the story — came when Pelley asked the NTSB investigator about Davidson leaving the bridge and going to the cabin.

“How unusual, in your experience, (is it) for a captain to be eight hours in his cabin going into a storm like this?” Pelley asked ominously.

The NTSB officials — on camera at least — did little to head off negative conclusions.

“It’s a difficult question to answer,” was the tentative reply. “This captain on this accident was convinced that they were on the better side of the storm already and that they were gonna beat the storm. But he was using the information he had, which was outdated, to make these decisions.”

But of course it’s the sound bite question that is the killer.  There is no soundbite answer to that question — so the issue raised by the soundbite question rules the rest of the story.

Actually, Davidson had some decent enough reasons to retire to his cabin and be confident that a sound and seaworthy ship could weather this storm. Key words — sound and seaworthy ship — that get no dramatic sound bite questions from Pelley.

It is hard to understand why not. The NTSB and Coast Guard hearings certainly have served up those questions and sketched out a voyage that cannot be explained in such simple terms as “captain error.” There is a heavy weight of evidence that suggests that the culture and company bore a great burden in this tragedy — evidence that Pelley and 60 Minutes simply ignore.

And there is clear evidence over the years that US maritime policy and the Jones Act play a heavy role and bear some responsibility for the tragedy.  There is convincing evidence that the El Faro was unseaworthy when she sailed.

Here’s a soundbite question Pelley did not choose to ask anyone:  Why did Davidson sail for a company, Tote Maritime, that kept a ship in service near twice the age at which most vessels are scrapped?scott pelley

Tote did this as a matter-of-fact affair because that is how the American Merchant Marine works under “the Jones Act.”  Tote is no better nor worse than other American ship lines in this matter and government policy actually encourages these unsafe and bad economic  practices. A good one-third of the American merchant marine fleet is composed of “over-age” ships.

And the Jones Act is a major policy issue in America — one raised frequently not by liberal progressive types like me but Ayn Rand Cato Institute think-tankers.  It’s real and obvious and –lord  save my liberal soul — legitimate.  You don’t have to scrap the Jones Act — just the unsafe ships that sail in its fleet.

The Jones Act requires all American-to-American port shipping be done with US crews and US ships.  The problem is:  American shipping companies can’t afford new ships.  So they keep very old ships in service and try to keep them patched up.

They can’t.  What they have is the equivalent of you driving a 1976 Oldsmobile with 300,000 miles on it — and swearing to God to your spouse and kids that it’s safe to drive to Chicago through a blizzard, don’t worry. It’s fine. Just fine.

That’s a great Chevy Chase “Vacation” movie, but the problem of course is that it’s not fine.  You can only fix what you see is wrong.  Gaskets, seals, rusted brackets not in plain view — all of these can give way even under close inspection.

And even if it is tip-top, your ’76 Olds does not have the safety features of a 2017 car — no airbags, disc brakes, collapsible crash-friendly frames.

And so it is with ships.

Three times the company asked to modify the ship to add containers up top — and three times the Coast Guard required that the ship be considered for major inspection and possible modernization first.    This might have included major inspections and repairs — and new automatically launching “Captain Phillips” type lifeboats.

The fourth time, the Coast Guard caved and let the company refit the ship — without a major inspection and without those new lifeboats. The refitting lowered the ship two feet when fully loaded — and at least one captain said the added containers on top made the ship lean even in still weather.

What shape was she in when she sailed?

Her sister ship provides a pretty good proxy.  The vents in the ship — pretty much identical in design, construction and length of service to the El Faro — were no longer water tight.  If the ship listed, these vents could scoop in water and send it into the holds. And thanks to the refitting, they now were two feet closer to the water line when the ship was loaded.

The  Coast Guard found so much wrong with the sister ship, that the company scrapped her, rather than make repairs, this past December.

And a special study of the El Faro, commissioned by the US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation, found that the El Faro would not pass many modern day stability tests if she were built to the same spec in 2017.

So what was Davidson to do in September 2015?

He had the reputation as a very cautious captain.  He would not let pilots — the guides to navigating hazardous inner waterways — take elevators to the bridge in case the power tripped off and stranded them when most needed.

And at one point, a few years ago, working with Crowley Maritime, he ordered two tug boats to escort his ship because he feared the vessel’s steering was off.  He told his wife he was fired by Crowley for that (Crowley says he resigned) and he had to start over at a new company as third mate.

As he set out to sea on the El Faro, he was uncertain of his future with the company.  He had been considered for new ships being built by Tote — but he’d also been turned down once, then interviewed again.  The word aboard the ship is that another officer — not on the last voyage of the El Faro — had backstabbed him with HR, claiming falsely that he was a “state room captain.”  True or not, the mood in the company and onboard the ship was clearly contentious with officers and crew uncertain of their future.

The culture seemed to some more “make no wrong move” than “make sure safety is first.” Everyone wanted a job on the new ships.  No one wanted to make waves.  Everyone knew what a rust bucket the El Faro was.  They scraped her decks and carted off the rust, one seaman testified.

Certainly, this was not a company where questioning captains seemed welcome, according to some testimony.  A short time earlier a Tote master — one who had been honored by the company for his service on board the El Faro carrying military equipment to the Iraq war — was dismissed.  Supposedly, he was let go after two seamen were busted on drug smuggling charges — charges that involved no other crew members or officers.  The captain — who is roundly considered a professional and straight shooter on maritime discussion boards — testified he felt he was fired because he had complained that Tote was not making timely repairs to serious flaws in the ship the captain had pointed out. (An arbitration panel cleared him of any wrong doing or fault.)

Given that, did Davidson have a choice in sailing that day if he wanted to keep his job?

Certainly, he did not have a real option to stay in port.  Generally, that’s not the right choice if a storm is coming — and if you do, special rules apply.  You need to hire tugs, for one thing, and Davidson knew how tug expense vouchers affected your career.

The route Davidson tracked was close to the hurricane but no track was safe in a storm that was perilous and unpredictable.  Was he to go north from Jacksonville? That’s where Joaquin was said to be heading.

Should he have ducked into the Old Bahama Passage?  Easier said than done:  barrier islands protect against waves, but not winds, and the Passage poses other threats of being run aground by high winds in narrow straits.

The ship and the captain were both veterans of Alaskan waters and treacherous seas.  The chief mate was a master in his own right — and agreed the course was good.  While it seems clear in retrospect that he might have picked an easier route, Davidson had every expectation of the ship remaining seaworthy.

And if the El Faro was overall a tentative affair, she had one thing going for her: speed.  She was fast. God she was fast. She was built to move at military speeds north of 20 knots  and Davidson asked for and got 20 knots from her — enough to beat the storm moving at six miles per hour and plow through Joaquin.  Thirty foot waves are big waves — they aren’t killer waves in Alaska or the Atlantic, if your ship is sound.

The El Faro was not. Downplayed by Pelley is that simple, basic fact. The ship was not seaworthy. Boats must float. That is a basic responsibility of the owner.  Davidson did not wreck her.  He did not run her aground, into an island or another ship.  The El Faro stopped floating.

She took on water — and the transcripts of the ship show the officers could never quite account for the large amounts of water that came in. The flooding was consistent with a large rupture in the hull — perhaps the vents that were so corroded and porous on the sister ship, the vents that were two feet closer to the water, thanks to the Coast Guard approved refitting.

Once she developed a list, the oil levels in the old steam plant shifted and killed the engine — a 40-year-old steam engine not present on any modern day ship.

From that point, the ship was lost but not necessarily the crew.  The vessel carried lifeboats after all, and any one who saw Captain Phillips knows how easy modern lifeboats are to use.

Only they did not have those modern lifeboats — required since the mid-1980’s.   They had gravity drop Lusitania – like lifeboats because they were not required to modernize the ship when they added the containers.  Gravity drop lifeboats don’t work when the ship is listing.

And so, the crew had only a slim chance at a survival suit escape. Or launching life rafts. One maritimer said the pictures of the El Faro seemed to show a desperate attempt to launch life rafts from lines tied to the railings.  None made it.

Was it Davidson’s fault?  It’s easy for Pelley and others to conclude that — or roundly imply it.  It makes for a good drama. It’s a short punchy feature story. What was this guy thinking?  Why did he go to bed and report that — as Pelley plucked from a 500-page manuscript — that he “slept like a baby”?

And yes, there is a point there.  But it’s unfair out of context.   Davidson, faced with several bad options, may have succumbed to honest mistakes in a very bad system that was bound to produce this sort of outcome someday for someone.

What his options were, I’m not sure.  A mariner I greatly respect said, “If you get gored by a bull, you ought not be complaining that I told you the bull was going left and the bull went right.  The question is: ‘Why were you in the ring?'”

It’s a nice metaphor. But the answer is easy:  Masters don’t get paid to stay out of the ring.  They get paid to assess and manage risk.

And in the American merchant marine, with its old ships and rust bucket culture, the risk is far greater than it seems.  It is systematically and institutionally ignored for one good reason.  Upton Sinclair pointed it out decades ago:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

And so it is with our merchant marine, the Jones Act and the rust bucket fleet.  It is difficult for a system to understand it is fundamentally flawed, when its existence depends on ignoring that flaw.

Many of these old ships are unsafe, far past their prime.  Yet the companies keep them and officers and crew sail them because they have no other choice if they want to keep working.

So it was in 1983 when the SS Marine Electric sank — and three men survived to testify about the unseaworthy old rust bucket. The resulting scandal reformed maritime safety for a few decades.

And 60 Minutes might have done that again with the El Faro.

Either Wallace and Safer would have seen the real story here and dead lifted this one with one big easy move.    They knew the leverage points of news. And they knew instinctively to heft the larger story with large policy implications.

Pelley, alas, is content to do feature stories.

The network news is not the enemy of the people, as some say.

It’s just hanging with Wolverine in the gym.

“60 Minutes” revisited the wreck of the SS El Faro tonight with an update of the maritime disaster.  That’s the good news.  A major news show on a major network is covering maritime safety.

Here’s the bad news: It got about one third of the story.  It missed the other two thirds because it really hasn’t been covering the investigation into the El Faro, just the sexier parts that involve deep underwater searches and Titanic-like underwater footage.

So the viewers of tonight’s 60 Minute episode are left with one conclusion:  Captain Michael Davidson, the master of the El Faro, messed up, steered too close to Hurricane Joaquin and went to bed too soon. The other officers tried to get him to change course but he would not.

That could be a valid reading of the transcript of the last hours of the El Faro.  I’ve heard knowledgeable maritime experts come to that conclusion.

I can’t with certainty because there are other readings of the tragedy  in a fuller context that place the disaster and Davidson in a different context.  Not mentioned by 60 Minutes — or the NTSB investigator who appeared on screen — is the fact that Davidson had a reputation as an extremely conservative and cautious captain who:

— Got fired by one company for hiring on tugboats to help steer one iffy-ship

— Feared he would be let go by the owner of the El Faro

Not mentioned is the fact that another master felt he was fired by the company because he reported safety violations.

Also missing from the 60 Minute report?  A major and obvious fact: This ship was forty years old — about twice the age at which most ships are scrapped.  Its sister ship was scrapped recently because ventilation shafts were so ruined they were no longer air tight.

Add to that the fact that the company that ran the El Faro also was convicted of the felony of price fixing — one of the worst anti-trust cases in US history — and you might wonder about the company’s character references.

Irritating too was this quote from the NTSB investigator:

“This accident was unique in the fact that we didn’t have any survivors to interview that would enlighten us to the events and the situation that took place aboard the vessel as they approached the storm.”

Alas, not the case. The SS Poet.  The SS Marine Sulphur Queen.  All very old ships that sank with no survivors.  Check out the world shipping lanes.  A big one goes down once per month, often with no survivors.

I suppose I should say hats off to 60 Minutes for covering this.  And hats off to the NTSB for pursuing an investigation that recovered the “black box” recordings of the last words of the crew and officers.

So: hats off.  That’s all good.

But the shame here is that both seem to buy into what I call the “bang and hang” tradition of government maritime investigations.  They bang the captains then hang them.

Read the old NTSB and US Coast Guard Marine Boards of Investigation and you see an number of “human error” conclusions.  Probe those just a little bit more deeply and you see a pattern of very old ships sent out to sea decades after they ought to have been scrapped.

It’s a shame to see neither 60 Minutes nor the NTSB investigator raise an issue about the safety of a 40 year old ship and place the weight and responsibility on a man who cannot answer his critics.  It’s a shame to see one third of the issues presented and all the other arguments that exculpate Davidson ignored.





“Crossing the Bar” by Tennyson

Richard Wickboldt, one brother among four who sailed in the American merchant marine, died recently  in Michigan. His brother,  George, 24, died on the Marine Electric. Another Wickboldt son, Steven, was killed in 1982 in an explosion aboard the ship Golden Dolphin.
After George’s death, his parents, having lost two sons to the sea and having two sons still at sea,  asked Richard to leave the merchant marine, which he did, but as noted below answered an emergency call from SUNY in 2014 to man a training cruise.

My sincere sympathies to the Wickboldt family.

No obituary information is yet available, but here is Bill Halloran’s remembrance.

This from Bill Halloran
Class of 1982,

I have sad news to pass along. I received correspondence from the Wickboldt family that Richard Wickboldt, SUNY Maritime class of 1976, had suddenly passed away last weekend. Rich lived in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife and daughter. The family was in the process of planning for a service to be conducted in Ann Arbor MI this weekend. The family indicated that they will eventually arrange for another service in New York sometime in the future and they will let me know the details at that time. That is all I have to report at this time.

I recently went out to dinner with Richard, the night before his 40th class of 1976 reunion, on Thursday September 29th. All was well, he was busy with work, planning for his daughter’s college next year, and caring for his parents in NH with frequent visits.

My Memories of Richard Wickboldt
My name is William J. Halloran Jr.. I was George Wickboldt’s classmate at SUNY Maritime College from 1978-1982. I first met Richard Wickboldt way back in 1979 during our MUG SUNY Maritime College training cruise when he was the “much feared” Watch Engineer. I distinctly remember being in the lower engine room on watch with George.  Both of us were in our boiler coveralls, drenched in sweat, face to face, wavering from the intense heat and the roll of the ship. I asked George if the rumor was true……was “that guy”…. the Watch Engineer his brother?? George just stood there with a sort of a half smile & half grin and said “yeah”. For some reason, I then felt a bit safer minus the fear but still somewhat “on guard”. Richard had the reputation of being “the Sgt. Stryker type” of the engine room (as played by John Wayne – Sands of Iwo Jima). Richard was flunking some of the upper class men for their watch grades on cruise. Watch Engineer Wickboldt news stories among the cadets would spread like wild fire daily on the ship.

After a very long period of time, we crossed paths again, as shipmates for three months during the SUNY Maritime College Summer training cruise in 2014. On a very short notice (few days till departure) we both answered an emergency call from the school to fill MT slots on the ships billet. We reunited in the officers mess upon reporting on board for duty. We worked together training the cadets- Richard was an Engineering Training Instructor & I was the Watch Engineer. We were task masters of the engineering cadets keeping in step with the traditions of the school as we had known them to be. That was our reference point, plain & simple. The irony was that the modern day SUNY Maritime was not what it was back in our day, so we were in shock just as much as the cadets were from us. There were many twists and turns making the cruise very interesting, challenging and rewarding for the both of us. We both got along well like brothers who never were separated. Our minds thought alike in many aspects. Connected without the cord. For jokes, laughs, etc…everything. Rich’s mind was as sharp as ever pertaining to all things engine room. We shared together many sea stories, life experiences, opinions, we learned from each other……and from the cadets. We also met many different alumni, officers and ships staff whom added to the great training endeavor.

Rich enjoyed very much being out to sea again. It was definitely his calling. That life style fit him well…..and he had missed it so much. His sea going career (1976-1983) occurred at the end of a great era for shipping-out in a much different world from the present day.

I’m glad I answered the telephone on the day I got the call from Conrad Youngren and the push from my wife “to go” on the 2014 training cruise. Initially I had replied no. Since the cruise; we had our lil’ reunions, kept in touch on the phone and exchanged email. We texted often.

In retrospect, the greatest gift for me is – I now know what the experience would have been like to have had an older brother by being Rich Wickboldt’s shipmate for the last two and a half years. And I will miss him as such.

See pages 5 & 7

Quietly over the weekend, under the twitter radar and cable news flash alerts, “Casey Anthony” attorney J. Cheney Mason has joined the plaintiff’s team in pressing a civil case against Donald Trump alleging he raped a 13-year old 20 years ago. 28c7c-caseylawyer28c7c-caseylawyer.jpg

Perhaps “celebrity” is what it will take to break the news media’s reluctance to report the case.   That reporting would be welcome because while the suit may stand or fail, one journalistic point is clear:

It needs to be reported -responsibly – by responsible news media. It is one of ten million facts swirling about this campaign — but it is a fact and deserves more than the informal “boycott” the major news media seem to have imposed.

To ignore it is to empower some bad trends:

  • Those who would hush up a discussion of sexual assaults and  think “rape” is an unmentionable word not to be discussed in public.
  • Those ill-intended trolls who bend and twist facts, left and right, to their own cause, in posts and tweets.

There are certain good rules in journalism regarding any civil suit.

One of them is: Never publish a story about someone threatening a suit.  It’s a cheap way to make cheap headlines.  It makes serious what may be trivial and gives heft to lightweights.

It’s a rule thrown out the door in the coverage of Donald Trump (850,000 hits on “Trump Threatens Suit”) and perhaps there is a special rule for Presidential candidates which does allow such license.  It is one of his trademarks of course.

But why would the news media not cover a suit properly filed against a presidential candidate?  Specifically, this one, which now includes two witnesses who say Trump raped a 13-year-old and a third witness corroborating  discussions of the incident?

There are a couple of factors to consider holding the story:

  • Rape is among the most serious crimes.
  • This happened 20-years ago.
  •  The news media and prosecutors have been wrong on rape accusations. Look at the Rolling Stone story.  Look at the Duke prosecutions.
  • This could be a campaign gimmick.

And sure, those are good questions before rushing into print.  But there also are countervailing journalist points for printing:

  •  Silence from victims is not new.  Coming forward against such a powerful and litigious figure takes courage — and sometimes years of therapy.
  • The news media consistently downplayed allegations against  Bill Cosby dating back to the 1970sand sloughed off coverage of “Jane Doe” civil actions against him.
  • We still have at least some semblance of a  “rape culture” that deep sixes rape kits, let’s college sports stars skate, and sweeps suits under the carpet.
  • Trump is no different than Clinton.  (Multiple news stories during the campaign about sexual abuse.)
  • Trump himself has made the suppression of women coming forth in such cases a major campaign issue.

Those are very large points.  There should be a good discussion around the news desk.

But the discussion needs to take place.

And then, the Associated Press and every other decent news outlet in this land should do a by-the-book bit of beat reporting.

The attorneys and the court system will sort it out.

The press does not need to censor the news.

It does not need to be a long story.  It does not need to be an expose.

Just print the facts.

We’ll figure it out from there.

But you need to do your job first, please.




When doing research for a book about guns, I attended numerous training courses in Dallas and soon discovered a side of the NRA that is at complete odds with its public image.
Quietly, most of its instructors strongly stress the danger of relying on guns as a first line of defense, suggesting avoidance not confrontation, and warning about the consequence of even drawing a weapon.
Time after time, too, the instructors in private conversation would point to a class of users who seemed to habitually draw too early and fire too often.
Police, these very conservative folks said, receive poor training in real world firearm use, rely on their weapons too casually, have poor instruction in stages of engagement and a bad understanding of the post-shooting impacts on themselves and others.
I mean this not as any specific comment on recent events and the difficult decisions faced by officers..
But a lack of training penalizes everyone and serves no one. When conservative Texas gun instructors make that point, we all should be able to accept it. The standards of police engagement and gun use training needs to improve for their sake and ours.
It’s a shame this widely held view among NRA instructors I have encountered in multiple states in multiple courses  (and among many military veterans I know) is not more fully publicized. If the organization spoke out to reflect the balanced views of its own membership, we’d be in a better place.

It’s hard to say where the new Public Editor of The New York Times will take her column.  Friends who have worked with her say she is no one’s shill and knows how to play the critic’s fiddle with finesse.

But right now, it’s hard to quite discern the songs she is playing — except that some of them seem oddly “off” — as if she had one good ear and one tin ear.

There are a few cases in point but the big bogie is what she wrote about the doctrine of “False Equivalencies” the other day.

The problem I have with the column — which purports to tell “The Truth About False Balance” — is that she sets up a profoundly false definition of “false balance” — and says critics of false balance are idealogical not substantive.  They simply want the Times to stop saying bad things about Clinton because Trump is evil.

She then trots out some ideologue who says the Times should not run critical stories of Hillary because Trump is so bad.

Well, of course the Times can’t do that. But it’s also not the definition of ‘false equivalency.”

.Clear false balance is when someone says vaccinations cause leprosy and a reporter says other people say they don’t.  Or Smith is a commie but Smith denied it.

The more subtle and important version — which non-idealogical non-Clinton supporters like me can make fairly I think — is that The Times, terrified that it will be seen as a liberal mouthpiece, might overcompensate by flooding its columns with Clinton investigations.

It’s an understandable, perhaps even noble, fault and we’ve all seen this happen in the business even at the institutional management level.

But Spayd  dismisses the entire concept as authored by ideologues  — even though she says some reporters have done a bad job of covering Clinton.

Says Spayd:
“…some foundation stories revealed relatively little bad behavior, yet were written as if they did. That’s not good journalism. But I suspect the explanation lies less with making matchy-matchy comparisons of the two candidates’ records than with journalists losing perspective on a line of reporting they’re heavily invested in.”

So because it’s not “matchy-matchy” it’s okay?  Can’t there be larger forms of “balance” abroad in the land?

And most important: You’ve just told us New York Times reporters are apparently covering Clinton unfairly in at least some important instances?

It’s not something Spayd goes into.  Remarkably.

She just says what it isn’t. The Truth of False Equivalency is that it is a doctrine of ideologues who don’t Hillary covered at all. Nothing to view here, folks move on.

I don’t know how the damned house fell down, but it wasn’t those false equivalency termites. That’s the Truth.

But then why is the coverage skewed at times?

The less charitable explanations are that reporters actively dislike Clinton or want to win prizes. Or the reporters are just professionally incompetent. Of those, I’d say maybe “prizes” might be a factor.  I’ve known few journalists at this high level who actually hate the people they cover and none at this level are incompetent.

So I’d actually go with false balance as an explanation. We try to be fair. We tried too hard.
Denying that it exists — or treating it as a straw man cartoon issue — doesn’t help anyone.

As it turns out, I’m the kind one.

Says Slate:
New York Times Public Editor Liz Spayd Writes Disastrous Defense of False Equivalence

Let’s just say the first major performance was marred by off-tune logic.  And hope for better.




“Race-Splaining” (definition)

The act of a cable news-reader, politician, liberal or conservative activist, who says we need an open dialogue on race — and then in a self-confident and condescending manner makes broad statements and conclusions based on stereotypes of blacks and whites that reinforce previously held positions and biases and fans the flames of bias through inflammatory questions and statements.