US versus Iran

Is Iran taking advantage of a chaotic transition to a Trump led White House? Is Trump diving into a snake pit that they are nowhere near prepared to assess properly? Both?

With Trump being so gung ho and super sensitive to being challenged, and without coming close to a fully staffed and well advised administration, the US is very vulnerable to being sucked into something that could be very difficult to extricate itself.

Diplomacy by Twitter continues (if you can call it diplomacy):

This is potentially very scary stuff.

As is this:Press Secretary Sean Spicer Falsely Accuses Iran of Attacking U.S. Navy Vessel, an Act of War

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Wednesday said he was  “officially putting Iran on notice” following the country’s ballistic missile test and an attack on a Saudi naval vessel by Houthi rebels in Yemen (the Houthis are tenuously aligned with Iran’s government but are distinct from it).

The White House press corps wanted to know what being put “on notice” entailed, and Spicer responded by claiming that Iran’s government took actions against a U.S. naval vessel, which would be an act of war. “I think General Flynn was really clear yesterday that Iran has violated the Joint Resolution, that Iran’s additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel are ones that we are very clear are not going to sit by and take,” he said. “I think that we will have further updates for you on those additional actions.”

Major Garrett of CBS News quietly corrected him, saying “a Saudi vessel,” and Spicer then responded almost inaudibly: “Sorry, thank you, yes a Saudi vessel. Yes, that’s right.” He did not in any way address his false claim that it was an Iranian attack, however.

Pentagon spokesman Christopher Sherwood confirmed to The Intercept that the attack was in fact conducted against a Saudi warship, and that the Pentagon suspects Houthi rebels. “It was a Saudi ship – it was actually a frigate” said Sherwood. “It was [conducted by] suspected Houthi rebels off the coast of Yemen.”

Fox News initially misreported that a U.S. ship was somehow the target — which is perhaps where some of the confusion in the White House originated.

Spicer is being informed by Fox News? Next thing he will start believing Breitbart – actually it could be Stephen Bannon pulling his strings anyway.

Inaccurate news, false news, false claims, tweeting from the hip, a very inexperienced and disorganised White House, countries in the Middle East with histories of escalating provocations.

What could go wrong?

Spicer makes amends

After his much criticised rant at media a couple of days ago White House press secretary Sean Spicer has done very contrasting media conference that has been widely praised as much better, repairing a lot of the damage done by his first attempt.

NY Times: Sean Spicer, Trump’s Press Secretary, Reboots His Relationship With the Press

The Trump White House sent a message to the media on Monday: Be nice.

At his first formal briefing on Monday, Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, told reporters here that his administration sometimes does “the right thing,” adding: “And it would be nice, once in a while, for someone just to report it straight up.”

It was an oddly plaintive appeal from an administration that tends to attack the press, not bemoan it. And it was a sharp contrast from Mr. Spicer’s appearance 48 hours prior, when he blasted the news media as “shameful,” made false claims about the attendance for Mr. Trump’s inaugural and prompted speculation that his relationship with the White House press corps had been irreparably damaged after a single day.

Those fears, at least, Mr. Spicer seemed to put to rest on Monday during a 90-minute briefing in which he was by turns calm, feisty and bantering, yet far from the hothead who appeared behind the lectern this weekend. He won praise from veteran press secretaries from both parties and some grudging acknowledgments from reporters that he had eased some of the tensions he prompted with his easily debunked assertions on Saturday.

“I want to make sure that we have a healthy relationship,” he told reporters, pledging “to be honest with the American people.”

Both a healthy relationship and being honest are important for US democracy, and important for the credibility of both President Trump and the media. Each side has a lot of improving to do.

Mr. Spicer added: “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

As I said, there’s room for improvement.

The lingering resentment from Saturday’s episode was evident in a blunt question from Jonathan Karl of ABC News. “Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium?” Mr. Karl asked.

“It is,” Mr. Spicer replied.

Spicer is likely to be reminded of this during his tenure, so is likely to try to avoid being caught out again.

He says he was quoting information supplied to him, and there’s no reason to doubt that, but there is good reason to question the motives and efficiency of those who provided him with ‘alternative facts’.

“Score one for Spicer,” wrote Howard Wolfson, a former press secretary to Hillary Clinton. “A big turnaround from the weekend.”

“I saluted Sean at that point,” Mr. Fleischer said in an interview. “This is a longstanding and, in my view, legitimate complaint about the coverage,” referring to what he called an anti-Republican bias in the mainstream press.

“Saturday, the ball was dropped,” he added, “and on Monday, Sean recovered the ball and scored.”

There’s hope yet for the presidency, if Trump can keep his massive ego in check – he repeated debunked claims today, trying to claim a popular majority – see next post Trump claims he won popular vote.

“Trump’s inauguration was the biggest, I swear”

Media capitulation.

To: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

From: Rex Huppke, formerly dishonest member of the disgusting media

Subject: I agree with everything you say

First off, I would like to applaud your courage in standing up to my media colleagues over the weekend to state definitively that photographs showing sparse attendance at President Donald Trump‘s inauguration didn’t show sparse attendance at President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Nearly every media outlet laughed at you on the fact-obsessed basis that you were lying through your teeth to protect a president whose ego is apparently too fragile to acknowledge weak turnout.

But I’m here to tell you, Mr. Spicer, that I believe you. And I’ll tell you why.

Your partner in truth-eradication, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, defended you Sunday by saying you were simply introducing “alternative facts.”

When “Meet the Press” anchor Chuck Todd had the temerity to tell Conway that alternative facts are “falsehoods,” she said: “I think we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.”

I, for one, value my relationship with you and Ms. Conway and don’t want that relationship rethought. So, unlike the many dishonest slobs in my profession, I gladly embrace alternative facts in all their nebulous wonder.

That’s why, Mr. Spicer, I truly believe everything you said about the inauguration. Everything and more.

Ok, it’s an ‘alternative capitulation’.

In conclusion…

…Mr. Spicer, I congratulate you for standing up for alternative facts, and I want you to know that you can count on me to report exactly what you say, verbatim, without ever doubting a word for any reason.

I was moved by the billions who gathered on the National Mall on Inauguration Day. And by the unicorns. And the stately dragons. And the obvious hugeness of all aspects of President Trump.

And I’m here to tell the American people just what you want them to hear, so they too can believe in unicorns. And dragons. In free casino chips and summer days in winter and all other forms of make-believe.

Because, if I’m getting my alternative facts straight, that appears to be exactly what you and Ms. Conway have in mind.

From Column: Trump’s inauguration was the biggest, I swear

Conway concedes ‘alternative facts’

I think it’s appropriate to quote a Time story on Donald Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, describing debunked claims by White House press secretary Sean Spicer as ‘alternative facts’.

Spicer on Saturday gave a five-minute statement to the press riddled with falsehoods and claimed photos showing clearly that the audience for Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration was significantly larger than Trump’s on Friday was an attempt by the media to “minimize enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Conway staunchly defended Spicer, and said his untrue statements were “alternative facts.” When asked by host Chuck Todd why Spicer used his first appearance in front of the press to proclaim falsehoods, Conway said Todd was being “overly dramatic” about the statement.

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving- Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that,” she said.

Pointing out the obvious:

Todd countered Conway: “Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”

In the interview Conway had already tried to divert and deny, and threaten the reporter, and she brings up the Martin Luther King story as an example of false news (and it is pointed out to her the reporter retracts and apologises as soon as he found out he was incorrect)

Chuck Todd: It does not excuse, and you did not answer the question, no you did not, you did not answer the question of why the President asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium, for the first time, and utter a falsehood. Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office on day one.

Kellyanne Conway: Don’t be so overly dramatic about it . You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving, Sean Spicer our press secretary gave alternative facts to that. But the point really is…


Chuck Todd: Alternative facts? Alternative facts, four of the five facts he uttered. The one thing he got right was Zeke Miller [the MLK bust reporter’s name]. Four of the five facts he uttered where just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts, they’re falsehoods.

Kellyanne Conway: Chuck do you think it’s a fact or not that millions of people who have lost their plans or health insurance and their doctors under President Obama, do you think it’s a fact that everything we heard from these women yesterday happened on the watch of Barack Obama, he was president for eight years, Donald Trump’s been here for about eight hours, do you think it’s a fact that millions of women, 16.1 million as I stand here before you today are in poverty along with their kids, do you think it’s a fact that million don’t have health care, do you think it’s a fact that we spent billions of dollars on education in the last eight years only to have millions of kids stuck in schools that fail them every single day, these are the facts that I want the press core to cover, this is why I’m here at the White House to change awful numbers like that…

Diversion overdrive.

Chuck Todd: I understand this, what I don’t understand is that is not what yesterday was about.

Kellyanne Conway: Yes it is.

Chuck Todd: So you have not answered the question, you did not answer the question. You sent the press secretary out there to utter a falsehood on the smallest pettiest thing…

Kellyanne Conway: I don’t think anyone can prove the numbers…

Chuck Todd: …and I don’t understand why you did it.

Kellyanne Conway: …look I actually don’t think, maybe this is me as a pollster Chuck and you know data well, I don’t think you can prove those numbers one way or the other, there’s no way to really quantify crowds, we all know that. You can laugh at me all you want, but I’m very glad…

Chuck Todd:  I’m not laughing, I’m just befuddled.

Kellyanne Conway: Well but you are, and i think it’s actually pretty symbolic of the we’re treated by the press, the way that you just laughed at me is actually symbolic of the way, very representative of the way  we’re treated by the press. I’ll just ignore it. I’m bigger than that, I’m a kind and gracious person.

So she has turned herself into the victim with false claims she was being laughed at, and repeating the meme of the Trump team being the victim of bad treatment by the press.

That’s from Time (with video) Kellyanne Conway Defends White House’s Falsehoods as ‘Alternative Facts’

The way Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway have kicked off their representation of the Trump White House is not a good sign at all.

Their strategy seems to be to attack hard on trivial matters, then claim to be the victims.

Will this approach gain support, or shed support? Many like it, and many can see through it.

King bust, honesty bust

A lot has been made of a non story about the removal of a bust of Martin Luther King from the White House oval office after Donald Trump moved in.

It has been cited as an example of dishonest reporting and fake news, with some going as far as blaming ‘the media’, but it was far less than that.

It was one Time journalist (Zeke Miller) with one tweet (which he has deleted), and when his error was pointed out to him he corrected himself:

Trump’s press secretary:

That is an ongoing problem with instant reporting via social media.

Snopes reports:

For the record, the MLK bust dust-up never attained the status of a “big story” in the media. Zeke Miller corrected his error — via Twitter — within an hour of making it — via Twitter. There was never any published story to retract.

This didn’t stop Trump elevating it as a story in his CIA speech. Slate reports:

Trump then got specific and berated a Time magazine journalist by name for writing an inaccurate eport claiming Trump had removed the Martin Luther King Jr. bust from the Oval Office. “So Zeke from Time magazine writes the story,” Trump said. “But this is how dishonest the media is.” (The reporter has already publicly apologized.)

And then the president went on to brag about the number of times he has been on the cover of Time.

As far as I’m aware there was no story written by the Time reporter. It seems to have been Trump making up that story.

And this probably suits Trump. Hasn’t he just signed away Obamacare or something?  And didn’t he mention something about maybe going back to Iraq and taking their oil?:

From Foreign Policy:

At one point, Trump regurgitated parts of his stump speech about how the United States “should have kept the oil” after invading Iraq. “Maybe we’ll have another chance,” he added. Aside from being physically impossible to sequester billions of barrels of underground oil, that would constitute a breach of international law. U.S. troops are currently embedded with forces of the country that Trump suggested again invading.

Reaction on Fox News:

Krauthammer: “The point is that when you become the president of the United States, your words…they are incredibly important, you can say one sentence and the dollar will lose its value…”

Baier: “Well for example, when he said that [we] should have taken the oil from Iraq and maybe we’ll have another shot at it…I mean, if you’re Iraq, you’d raise your eyebrows.”

Hemingway: “Again though…people in America are wanting us to not just be careful about which wars we fight, but when we fight them, win them…That’s a message that goes over extremely well with people.”

Baier: “I get that, Mollie. But words matter. They do matter.”

Krauthammer: “Pondering the oil is a war crime.”

Video clip here.

Spiced up crowd sizes

Despite Donald Trump saying he would hit the ground running in his presidency, dealing with the important things, his first appearance was in front of a receptive (and self selected) CIA crowd where he blasted media as amongst the most dishonest human beings he knows, and blew his own trumpet. He is well known for his self praise.

Trump is known to be very keen on ratings, and has made claims about false reporting of crowd sizes at his inauguration.

His press secretary Sean Spicer called a special press conference, which turned out to be a little more than an attack on media while making more claims about crowd sizes. Claims that have been proven to be false, which is ironic given he blasted the media for false reporting.

Gezza reports:

Aljazeera 7am News. “Kellyanne Conway says Sean Spicer inaccurately described crowds.”

The Atlantic reports: Trump’s Press Secretary Falsely Claims: ‘Largest Audience Ever to Witness an Inauguration, Period’

In his first official White House briefing, Sean Spicer blasted journalists for “deliberately false reporting,” and made categorical claims about crowd-size at odds with the available evidence.

High irony.

In his first appearance in the White House briefing room since President Trump’s inauguration, Press Secretary Sean Spicer delivered an indignant statement Saturday night condemning the media’s coverage of the inauguration crowd size, and accusing the press of “deliberately false reporting.”

Standing next to a video screen that showed the crowd from President Trump’s vantage point, Spicer insisted that media outlets had “intentionally framed” their photographs to minimize its size. After attacking journalists for sharing unofficial crowd-size estimates—“no one had numbers,” he said—he proceeded to offer a categorical claim of his own. “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” he said, visibly outraged. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

But it was Spicer who was wrong.

Steve Doig, a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, has provided estimates of crowds at past inaugurals, and is well-versed in the challenges they present.

Based on the photographs available in the media showing the part of the crowd that was on the mall, he said, “the claim that this is the largest ever is ludicrous on its face.”

Spicer produced numbers that have been refuted.

The only numbers Spicer cited were ridership numbers from WMATA, the D.C. public-transit system. “We know that 420,000 people used D.C. Metro public transit yesterday, which compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama’s last inaugural,” he said.

But the figures Spicer offered were not consistent with those provided by WMATA officials, who told the Washington Post that 570,557 riders used the Metro system between its 4 a.m. opening and its midnight closure on Friday. That number falls short of both President Obama’s 2009 and 2013 inaugurations, which saw 1.1 million trips and 782,000 trips respectively.

And it was not just fewer in attendance.

Preliminary Nielsen figures also show that Trump’s inauguration received fewer average TV viewers in the United States than Obama’s first inauguration. The Los Angeles Times reported that 30.6 million viewers tuned in for Friday’s ceremonies, 19 percent below the 37.8 million viewers who watched in 2009.

Why does this matter?

It shows that Trump has carried an obsession with ratings (he recently tweeted that the new ‘Apprentice’ didn’t rate as well as when he ran it) into his presidency.

It shows that claims of ‘false news’ directed at media are not always correct, and in fact his press secretary appears to have presented false information and false claims.

And it shows that despite having a big and game changing agenda ego may be more important to Trump than communicating what he is going to do.

There also seems to be a deliberate strategy to divert public and media attention, perhaps in this case from the huge women’s march protests.

The media certainly need to up their game substantially, but as part of that they need to still hold the new president to account. If they are pressured into reporting more thoughtfully and accurately that will be a good thing.

And if Trump and Spicer divert and try to spin fake news they should be held to account on that.

I’ve just watched a number of video clips from Fox News, and there are very mixed reactions to Trump’s CIA speech and to Spicer’s attack. Some support Trump and criticise his critics, but others are very critical of Trump’s first weekend as PR president, including Fox’s political editor Chris Stirewalt.