Everybody's a critic

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On the roster: Everybody’s a critic - Mattis says Russia is a top threat - Trump twists Clapper olive branch - I’ll Tell You What: Ain’t no thing but a chicken wing - Science!

Media criticism is to politics as pornography is to sex: The subject matter is the same, but it’s not the real thing.

We are not talking about the narrow, important field of journalism dedicated to reporting on the media itself. That’s a vital, patriotic function in a self-regulating, free press.

But not everyone is Howie Kurtz.

Here, we are talking about the politicians and pundits who focus on the coverage of issues rather than issues themselves. Politically-minded Americans have been drawn down a deep, dark hole in debating the fight over BuzzFeed’s decision to publish salacious, unsubstantiated charges against President-elect Donald Trump.

This subject could hardly have been avoided, given the astonishing deviation from journalistic norms, but 10,000 hot takes later, and we don’t know anything we didn’t when someone at the website clicked the “approve” button.

As journalists, we are particularly given to discuss our own business. Every newsroom in America has probably witnessed some debate over BuzzFeed’s choice and Trump’s response. The future of the profession in an era of hacked documents, misinformation, social media bubbles and changing news consumption habits is an important one.

In fact, every American should hope that we can figure it out because, not to puff our professional feathers, the American experiment will not work without a free and ferocious press.

That’s not what Trump and other partisans are talking about, though. Liberals are angry that the NYT did not treat damaging stolen emails about Hillary Clinton with the same distain it did the Trump dirt. Trump, as we heard at his press conference Wednesday, does not approve of either BuzzFeed or any coverage, even responsibly rendered, of potential Russian efforts to blackmail or bribe him.

This is a triple-play for Trump. It discredits a damaging story, further harms the legitimacy of the reporters covering his presidency and is a banquet of red meat for his supporters.

As we discussed many times during the campaign, Trump was as much running against the press as he was Clinton. Many Republicans, subjected to decades of unanswered media bias, have a reflexive antipathy towards the press. Lots of Trump supporters probably cheered when their guy smacked down CNN reporter Jim Acosta and called his network “fake news,” just as there were probably cheers on the left when the new Obama administration unsuccessfully targeted Fox News eight years ago.

The co-dependent relationship between Trump and the political press has mostly worked to Trump’s advantage. Playing on the expectations of his supporters, Trump can find instances of media misconduct like BuzzFeed’s and swing his ax freely. He gets attention and the story is discredited.

In exchange, news outlets get traffic and viewers, but as Acosta found when he tried to ride a high horse over Trump in the press conference, not much in the way of respect.

That disrespect is intensified when journalists turn their coverage on each other.

While examining the role of the media was necessary in this case, very often the focus on the press itself is really more of a copout. Unwilling to defend controversial or even just complex decisions by their respective teams, politicos and pundits will often fall back on press criticism rather than confronting the issue at hand.

“What do you think of Sen. Claxon’s plan to turn the Commerce Department into an indoor waterpark?” asks the interviewer.

“Well, I think the treatment of his plan in the press has been very unfair and the despicable left-wing/right-wing media has been dishonest about it,” says the interviewee.

You don’t have to take an opinion about the plan or even know anything about the plan itself. Just take issue with the narrative and *poof* you’re off the hook.

The American news media has earned much of its current bad reputation and certainly, as we said earlier, self-policing and mutual accountability are crucial parts of maintaining a free press, and thereby, the republic.

That’s not the same as treating the journalists and news outlets for which they work as simply extensions of political parties. Some reporters really are hacks and some ostensibly disinterested outlets really are on the grind for a partisan purpose.

But the energy put into pounding the press is effort that isn’t being devoted to keeping the citizenry informed about what their leaders are doing. And that, in fact, is the whole idea.

“When we pass from the works of nature, in which all the delineations are perfectly accurate, and appear to be otherwise only from the imperfection of the eye which surveys them, to the institutions of man, in which the obscurity arises as well from the object itself as from the organ by which it is contemplated, we must perceive the necessity of moderating still further our expectations and hopes from the efforts of human sagacity.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 37

Smithsonian: “Anyone who has lived with a dog will find themselves occasionally cooing to their pup in slow-paced, high-pitched baby talk (OK, maybe most of the time). And a new study suggests that our canines respond to such dulcet tones—well, puppies do at least. The study, published this week in the Proceedings of Royal Society B, shows that the baby talk, also known as dog directed speech, gets a big response from puppies. Older dogs, however, aren’t super impressed, reports Virginia Morell at Science. The study’s researchers had 30 female volunteers look at photographs of dogs while reading standard dog directed phrases…The volunteers also read the doggie praise to a human…The puppies went wild when they heard the dog directed voices…When researchers played the same phrases using the women’s normal tone of voice, the puppies weren’t nearly as enthused.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

WaPo: “Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Donald Trump’s pick to be the next U.S. defense secretary, placed Russia first among principal threats facing the United States, arguing for greater American support for European allies to counter what he said were Moscow’s attempts to ‘break’ the North Atlantic alliance. Mattis, a revered combat leader who made his name in the wars following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, cautioned that sustained cuts to military budgets and personnel meant the U.S. military is no longer strong enough to easily outmatch Russia and other adversaries. As the president-elect’s other cabinet picks come under intense questioning in their own confirmation hearings, the 66-year-old former officer encountered virtually no challenges from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to his suitability for the top Pentagon job. Shortly after the three-hour hearing ended, the committee voted 24-3 to waive a measure requiring defense secretaries to have been out of military service for seven years. Mattis retired in 2013. The full Senate and House must vote on that measure.”

Pompeo says Russia clearly behind cyberattacks - AP: “Donald Trump’s pick to run the CIA on Thursday sided with intelligence officials who have determined the Kremlin was behind election cyberattacks, and he took a tough stand against Russia, distancing himself from the president-elect, who wants to warm relations with Moscow. Rep. Mike Pompeo, a four-term conservative Kansas Republican, spoke at his confirmation hearing before the Senate intelligence committee amid a testy standoff between Trump and the spy community over Russian activities during the presidential election… ‘It’s pretty clear about what took place here about Russia involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy,’ Pompeo said. ‘I’m very clear-eyed about what that intelligence report says.’”

USA Today: “Donald Trump confirmed Thursday that the director of national intelligence contacted him to deny leaking a dossier containing a variety of allegations against the president-elect over his relationship to Russia. ‘James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated,’ Trump tweeted. ‘Made up, phony facts. Too bad!’ In a separate statement, Clapper said he expressed to Trump ‘my profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press, and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.’ Somewhat contrary to Trump, Clapper said the intelligence community has not characterized the reports: ‘The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.’”

USA Today: “After debating seven hours through the night, the Senate voted early Thursday to take the first real step toward repealing Obamacare — a top goal of congressional Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump. Senators voted 51-48 to approve a budget resolution that Republicans will use as a vehicle to speed through repeal of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. House leaders plan to take it up Friday. Senators began voting on 19 amendments to the resolution about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday before passing the budget measure about 1:30 a.m. Thursday.”

[Ben Carson is also on the Hill today for his confirmation hearing as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The main question being asked: how are you qualified to run an agency?]

On the heels of a wild and wooly press conference from President-elect Donald Trump, Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt break down what happened and talk about what will really matter going forward. Plus, from jellied beef tongue to gallons of oysters, presidential inaugurations have seen some pretty heroic gustation over the years. What would Dana and Chris serve up? LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE.

Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano says a recent FBI revelation that more than 300 of Hillary Clinton’s emails had fallen into the hands of foreign powers puts the criminal investigation of her failure to safeguard state secrets back on the table. “Should the new DOJ be compassionate toward Clinton because of her humiliating election loss and likely retirement from public life? Of course not. She should be prosecuted as would anyone else who let loose secrets to our enemies and then lied about it.” Read it here.

“I want to apologize to Ted for saying he should be killed on the Senate floor.” – Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in an interview with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on MSNBC responding to comments Graham made previously saying no one in the Senate would convict someone for killing Cruz on the Senate floor.

Conservatives press Trump on Supreme Court pick - The Hill

Trump to change Office of the First Lady to Office of the First Family - Fox News

Giuliani to work on cybersecurity for Trump administration - Boston Globe

Women’s inauguration protest march beset by infighting - National Review

No surprise: Schumer announces he won’t vote for Sessions’ confirmation - NYT

“Are you trying to be politically correct by your use of B.C.E. instead of BC in your Time Out segment of Wednesday, January 11? Is it possible that scientists have adopted the B.C.E./C.E. instead of the traditional and universally used BC/AD? I don't want to take unwarranted umbrage Chris.” – Geno Bokosky, Fountain Valley, Calif.

[Ed. note: First, I appreciate your umbrage restraint, Mr. Bokosky! I thought about changing the Atlantic’s use of “B.C.E.” in the same way that we change foreign currencies and measurements to American ones. In the end, I decided to let it stand, and I admit that I kind of regret it. The effort to remove the Christian connotation from our record of time has long struck me as one of the more pointless uses of academic effort. For goodness sakes, when we say that we operate on the Gregorian calendar, we are not saying that Pope Gregory XIII is our spiritual master. And certainly saying that today is Thursday reflects no submission to Norse thunder god Thor. Whether you believe Jesus of Nazareth to have been a notable rabbi, a highly influential philosopher, a political rabble rouser, a madman or God incarnate who came to earth to sacrifice Himself to save mankind, he was somebody. And on his life, the fulcrum of Western civilization in large part rests. Opponents of BC, “before Christ,” and AD “anno Domini,” Latin for “Year of the Lord,” might have a better argument to make if they wanted to start counting from a different event. But choosing the same fulcrum and then renaming it smacks of pure silliness and of a damaging kind. It takes nothing away from non-believers to acknowledge the historical life and influence of Jesus. No belief is required to understand that the world as we know it today was substantially shaped by the consequential life and death and, for some, resurrection of one Galilean peasant. Those who look to expunge that from the record deprive subsequent generations of a chance to see our history clearly. Henceforth, we shall correct the term in the works of others. The Bokosky Rule is born! ]

“You’ve probably already been told this many times, but the answer you gave to the trivia question on the podcast last week was correct – the first President to be inaugurated on Jan 20 was indeed FDR, in 1933.  It was not Eisenhower, as Dana said. FDR was my answer, too, and boy was I surprised when she said it was Ike! Sorry if this is the wrong venue for the podcast commentary, but I didn’t know where else to send it. Great commentary and podcast.  I look forward to them both.” – Danny Bass, Fort Worth, Texas

[Ed. note: It is absolutely the right venue! As I told Dana in this week’s episode, our podcast listeners are such wonderful people and I always have great interactions with them. Much like with the readers of this note, I find the appreciation sincere, the criticisms thoughtful and the good humor in great supply. We are a couple of very lucky people. And as for my recent trivia victimization at the hands of Ms. Perino, I will only say this: more to come…]

“Micturition, Chris? George Will will be jealous.” – Jack Dennis, Knoxville, Tenn.

[Ed. note: I doubt Mr. Will has ever had cause to be jealous of my scribblings! But I will tell you this: writing Wednesday’s note felt like I was carrying a Faberge egg through a demolition derby.]

“Re: 11 January report on Tillerson questioning. My opinion of Senator Rubio dropped considerably with his attempt to brand Putin a ‘war criminal.’ That was like asking the nominee to not just put one foot in his mouth but both of them.  Had Tillerson done so, Russia would undoubtedly reject his credibility as Secretary of State. Dumb stunt senator!” – Frank R. Durtschy, Ellsinore, Mo.

[Ed. note: There may have been a degree of showboating in Rubio’s dramatic constructions, but we also would remember that his concerns are almost certainly sincere. Rubio is hardly new to the issue of what he obviously sees as a significant threat from Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But was there showmanship? Certainly. As the question of whether or not it was “dumb” the question is whether it achieved the intended result. Tillerson did not take the bait and, ahem, diplomatically sidestepped the question, so no harm was done. Rubio got what he wanted: he was the focus of the story and his preferred issue was elevated. Very often in these hearings, the answers are less important than the questions, especially to the ones who are asking them…]

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WaPo: “Do baboons fart? What about salamanders? Millipedes? These questions sound like the sort Bart Simpson might have asked to derail science class. But real-life scientists are now taking to Twitter to provide answers. So far, they’ve created a hashtag — #DoesItFart — and a Google Spreadsheet that details the flatulence habits of more than 60 animals. … ‘Does it fart?’ is one of most frequent questions zoologists receive from kids, said Dani Rabaiotti of the Zoological Society of London. In fact, the whole #DoesItFart adventure started when her teenage brother asked if snakes ever experience flatulence. … Whereas most animals that fart have soft, fleshy derrières, millipedes have hard valves that probably act as silencers for their toots, said Angie Macias, a graduate student studying forest pathology at West Virginia University. What’s more, research has shown that the arthropods create quite a bit of methane in their intestines, and that gas has only one place to go — out the back.”

“[Rex Tillerson’s] critique of Obama was not that he was insufficiently demonstrative but that he didn't give defensive weapons or intelligence to actually help the Ukrainians defend themselves. That’s a pretty hardheaded approach.  So even though he wouldn't accede to demand that he go around denouncing Putin and Assad for war crimes, he seemed to be saying we are going to be tough.” – Charles Krauthamer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up