Stephen Colbert interviews Anthony Scaramucci

I don’t know what Anthony Scaramucci was anticipating when he first booked this Late Show interview with Stephen Colbert, but I can’t imagine it was this. For nearly 15 minutes, Colbert relentlessly presses Scaramucci on questions he’s clearly uncomfortable to be answering, such as whether or not Steve Bannon is a white supremacist and what’s it really like working in this “dumpster fire” of an administration.

Colbert provides almost no quarter, even refusing an attempt by Scaramucci to turn Colbert into a “character witness.” It’s a stunning interview that puts to use intimidation tactics the likes of which The Mooch himself would probably have employed in a different situation.

Dismantling the social safety net

Chilling piece by Jamelle Bouie for Slate on what’s going on in our government right now:

It would be one thing if voters were clamoring for a return to pre–Great Society, or even pre–New Deal, America. But that’s just not the case. In the abstract, at least, Americans want more assistance—more help from the federal government. Even for lawmakers on the right, that popular desire should influence their approach to public policy, as it suggests ordinary people want government to deliver (or facilitate) improvements to their daily lives.

But it doesn’t. And this disregard for public opinion—along with its corresponding indifference to independent analysis—augurs something ominous for the country. The Republican governing coalition in Washington—elected by a minority of Americans—is showing its willingness to transform American society with little deliberation or consensus. It has become so polarized that it will use whatever power it has to push a maximalist agenda through Congress, its representatives tearing through any norms or procedures that stand in their way to slash public assistance to the bone, and then some. The goal, should they reach it, will be a populace left to fend for itself.

“If you’re Asian, you’re less than human and people can treat you like trash.”

Heartbreaking story from The Guardian about a Dyne Suh, who was turned away from an AirBNB for being Asian:

An Airbnb host who canceled a woman’s reservation using a racist remark has been ordered to pay $5,000 in damages for racial discrimination and take a course in Asian American studies.

Dyne Suh, a 26-year-old law clerk, had booked Tami Barker’s mountain cabin in Big Bear, California, for a skiing weekend with friends in February, but Barker canceled the reservation by text message minutes before they arrived,stating: “I wouldn’t rent it to u if u were the last person on earth” and “One word says it all. Asian” […]

When Suh said she’d complain to Airbnb about the racist remark, Barker replied, “It’s why we have Trump … and I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”

Another instance of how Trump’s careless rhetoric continues to embolden those who wish to use race to denigrate, discriminate, and separate.

Art is now resistance

Corey Stoll has written a great essay about what it was like to play Brutus in the Trump-themed Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar:

In this new world where art is willfully misinterpreted to score points and to distract, simply doing the work of an artist has become a political act. I’m thankful for all the beautiful defenses of our production written in the last few weeks. But the cliché is true: In politics, when you’re explaining, you’re losing. So if you’re making art, by all means question yourself and allow yourself to be influenced by critics of good faith. But don’t allow yourself to be gaslighted or sucked into a bad-faith argument. A play is not a tweet. It can’t be compressed and embedded and it definitely can’t be delivered apologetically. The very act of saying anything more nuanced than “us good, them bad” is under attack, and I’m proud to stand with artists who do. May we continue to stand behind our work, and, when interrupted, pick it right back up from “liberty and freedom.”

I think the lack of proper education in our country is the root of many of our ills. In particular, education equips us with the ability to grasp and interpret complex works of art, and take away lessons from them that continue to be relevant.

The ferocity of the right wing response against this Caesar production, which doesn’t take into account any of its over-arching messages, is simply another saddening sign of the death of nuance in our discourse.

Trevor Noah, on the shooting of Philando Castile

This week, the officer who shot Philando Castile was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter. Here are a few pieces of media that helped me understand and process this news.

Firstly, Radiolab has a two part podcast exploring why cops kill people in the line of duty and the aftermath of those officer-involved shootings. It’s a gut-wrenching listen, but worthwhile.

Shots Fired: Part 1

Shots Fired: Part 2

This podcast series was produced in partnership with the Tampa Bay Times, who’ve also produced a piece, “Why Cops Shoot,” that is a must-read.

In addition, I found Trevor Noah’s commentary to be meaningful and moving. He’s the only person of color (not to mention the only millennial) doing a late night show right now, and he’s using his unique position to speak from a perspective that is impossible for anyone else.

Ijeoma Oluo interviews Rachel Dolezal for The Stranger

Ijeoma Oluo’s interview with Rachel Dolezal is worth reading in its entirety, but I was particularly moved by Oluo’s closing argument:

For a white woman who had grown up with only a few magazines of stylized images of blackness to imagine herself into a real-life black identity without any lived black experience, to turn herself into a black history professor without a history degree, to place herself at the forefront of local black society that she had adopted less than a decade earlier, all while seeming to claim to do it better and more authentically than any black person who would dare challenge her—well, it’s the ultimate “you can be anything” success story of white America. Another branch of manifest destiny. No wonder America couldn’t get enough of the Dolezal story.

Perhaps it really was that simple. I couldn’t escape Rachel Dolezal because I can’t escape white supremacy. And it is white supremacy that told an unhappy and outcast white woman that black identity was hers for the taking. It is white supremacy that told her that any black people who questioned her were obviously uneducated and unmotivated to rise to her level of wokeness. It is white supremacy that then elevated this display of privilege into the dominating conversation on black female identity in America. It is white supremacy that decided that it was worth a book deal, national news coverage, and yes—even this interview.

And with that, the anger that I had toward her began to melt away. Dolezal is simply a white woman who cannot help but center herself in all that she does—including her fight for racial justice. And if racial justice doesn’t center her, she will redefine race itself in order to make that happen. It is a bit extreme, but it is in no way new for white people to take what they want from other cultures in the name of love and respect, while distorting or discarding the remainder of that culture for their comfort. What else is National Geographic but a long history of this practice. Maybe now that I’ve seen the unoriginality of it all, even with my sister’s name that she has claimed as her own, she will haunt me no more and simply blend into the rest of white supremacy that I battle every day.

Thus, Oluo concludes that Dolezal is not a monster, but just another symptom of a society in which white cultural imperialism is a way of life.

I think often of our /Filmcast review of Get Out, which we recorded with Slate writer Aisha Harris. In the review, Harris discusses how the film weaponizes white womanhood in particular as presenting a threat to black people [SPOILERS for Get Out below]:

If we had to rank them, in the way this movie plays out, white womanhood is the top threat for black people. Just think about the fact that Allison Williams character Rose is the last of the family members to die. Throughout the movie there’s little sprinkles of dialogue and moments that set up Allison Williams’ character as exactly what  you think someone like her would think about herself.

“I’m a white woman so everyone must want me.” The fact that she’s luring all these black men, googling NCAA players. The fact that she teases his friend Rod, played by Lil Rel, about how he wants to fuck her, and is just very open about it…the idea that white womanhood is the pinnacle, the definition of beauty, the definition of everything that’s pure, and the way it plays with that, I think is just very ingenius.

I hadn’t viewed the film this way but Harris’s observation rang true to me, and I was reminded of it while reading Oluo’s interview.

See also: Our recent Gen Pop episode with Tiq Milan, who discusses why the concept of being transgender is qualitatively different than being transracial.

How the model minority myth is deployed

Andrew Sullivan had a piece for New York magazine yesterday that set my Twitter timeline on fire. In discussing United’s recent dragging of an innocent Asian man off a flight, Sullivan wrote this:

Do you know the real reason Dr. Dao was so brutally tackled and thrown off that United flight? It was all about white supremacy. I mean, what isn’t these days? That idea is from the New Republic. Yes, the cops “seemed” to be African-American, as the author concedes, so the white-versus-minority paradigm is a little off. Yes, this has happened before to many people with no discernible racial or gender pattern. Yes, there is an obvious alternative explanation: The seats from which passengers were forcibly removed were randomly assigned. New York published a similar piece, which argued that the incident was just another example of Trump’s border-and-immigration-enforcement policies toward suspected illegal immigrants of color. That no federal cops were involved and there is no actual evidence at all of police harassment of Asian-Americans is irrelevant — it’s all racism, all the time, everywhere in everything.

It’s easy to mock this reductionism, I know, but it reflects something a little deeper. Asian-Americans, like Jews, are indeed a problem for the “social-justice” brigade. I mean, how on earth have both ethnic groups done so well in such a profoundly racist society? How have bigoted white people allowed these minorities to do so well — even to the point of earning more, on average, than whites? Asian-Americans, for example, have been subject to some of the most brutal oppression, racial hatred, and open discrimination over the years. In the late 19th century, as most worked in hard labor, they were subject to lynchings and violence across the American West and laws that prohibited their employment. They were banned from immigrating to the U.S. in 1924. Japanese-American citizens were forced into internment camps during the Second World War, and subjected to hideous, racist propaganda after Pearl Harbor. Yet, today, Asian-Americans are among the most prosperous, well-educated, and successful ethnic groups in America. What gives? It couldn’t possibly be that they maintained solid two-parent family structures, had social networks that looked after one another, placed enormous emphasis on education and hard work, and thereby turned false, negative stereotypes into true, positive ones, could it? It couldn’t be that all whites are not racists or that the American dream still lives?

Sullivan has often made controversial statements about race, like when he repudiated Black Lives Matter, but now he’s bringing the status of Asians into this argument and my brothers and sisters just were not having it.

In response, journalist Jeff Guo issued the following tweetstorm:

It’s important to recognize when and how the myth of the model minority is deployed. It’s almost always used to disparage one minority group, and occasionally to turn minority groups against each other. We should be vigilant against it.

How fake news brings people together in pursuit of profit

Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko, writing for Buzzfeed, on how a liberal troll and some Macedonian spammers both ended up profiting from spreading fake news:

There is perhaps no better expression of the current economics of internet content than an American liberal troll and spammers from the Balkans and Caucasus making money from completely fake online news aimed at American conservatives. The troll says he’s exposing ignorance, while the spammers are stealing any content that drives traffic and ad impressions. Regardless of motivation, the clicks and dollars are the same — and they reinforce the reality that misinformation about American politics is now an international business opportunity.

BuzzFeed News analyzed 11 hoaxes published by The Resistance that received the highest engagement on Facebook in the past two weeks and found they were copied and reposted by 48 different websites. Of those sites, 16 were confirmed using domain registration records as being run from Macedonia, 4 originated in Georgia, 2 are from Kosovo, and 1 is Bulgarian. The remaining 20 sites whose provenance is unconfirmed use similar WordPress themes to those run from Macedonia, and often post their content in the same pro-Trump Facebook groups used by Macedonians to spread their content. BuzzFeed News emailed 19 owners of the sites but did not receive any response.

How to radicalize your Facebook feed

Ryan Broderick did an experiment for Buzzfeed where he created a fake account for the purposes of getting only right wing news. While his conclusions aren’t super revelatory, it is notable how quickly things in his feed devolve from official RNC posts to fake news and neo-nazi memes. I’m curious what the results would be for a left-wing version of this test.

For their part, Facebook has denounced Broderick’s research.

Other publications have done similar research. For instance, The Wall Street Journal has a “Blue Feed Red Feed” feature that allows you to see posts from different across the political spectrum.

Also worth checking out: Broderick and his colleague, Katie Notopolous, created a glossary of far-right and memes that will be helpful to anyone trying to understand this world.

Why Megan Phelps-Roper left the Westboro Baptist Church

In this TED Talk, Megan Phelps-Roper shares the moving story of how she saw the light via Twitter and left the abusive ways of the Westboro Baptist Church. She concludes with suggestions on how it’s possible to persuade even the most closed off mind.

Her story is one of hope — hope that we can find mutual understanding in an increasingly polarized world. It is something we need today.

See also: This November 2015 feature on Phelps-Roper in The New Yorker.

Twitter Thread of the Day: Anand Giridharadas on Kansas hate crime

I spend a lot of time on Twitter and I see tons of amazing dialogue and reflections. Twitter Thread of the Day is a feature on my blog where I’ll try to share one thread that was particularly interesting, smart, moving, or impactful for me. Go here to read previous editions. 

Today’s TTOTD comes from Anand Giridharadas, who writes about the shooting of Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani in Kansas. The attack seems like a clear example of a hate crime, fueled by the current political climate that’s awash in anti-immigrant sentiment. Giridharadas explains how this happened.

[Note: If you’re ever featured here and don’t want to be, feel free to get in touch with me via email at davechen(AT)davechen(DOT)net]

Ignoring Trump is impossible

Farhad Manjoo, writing for The New York Times, about his attempt to ignore any news related to President Trump for one week:

On most days, Mr. Trump is 90 percent of the news on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and probably yours, too. But he’s not 90 percent of what’s important in the world. During my break from Trump news, I found rich coverage veins that aren’t getting social play. ISIS is retreating across Iraq and Syria. Brazil seems on the verge of chaos. A large ice shelf in Antarctica is close to full break. Scientists may have discovered a new continent submerged under the ocean near Australia.

There’s a reason you aren’t seeing these stories splashed across the news. Unlike old-school media, today’s media works according to social feedback loops. Every story that shows any signs of life on Facebook or Twitter is copied endlessly by every outlet, becoming unavoidable.

Trump is inescapable in ways that previous presidents have not been. It is impossible to discuss pop culture or media without considering his influence. We touched a bit on this in the most recent episode of the Gen Pop podcast.

The only thing I disagree with Manjoo about is that this level of Trump news “isn’t sustainable.” It can certainly be sustained if media decisionmakers wish it. But per Manjoo’s concerns above, it’s probably not advisable.

“If it arouses an emotional response in you, double-check it.”

Great article by Deena Shanker at Bloomberg, talking with experts on how to avoid fake news:

“My biggest rule of thumb is if it arouses an emotional response in you, double-check it,” said Brooke Binkowksi, managing editor at Snopes, a website that specializes in debunking popular internet myths from both the left and the right. “They upset you because they’re meant to.”

When a story seems outrageous, such as a five-year-old Syrian refugee shown in handcuffs before deportation, it might not be true—or entirely true. That Syrian girl wasn’t in handcuffs, her father said after he had heard the reports, and they aren’t refugees. The photo shows detained Syrians trying to go on vacation who, despite their visas, were denied entry and had to return home. Binkowski and D.C. Vito, executive director of the Lamp, which teaches media literacy in New York, suggest searching for a second source, especially when a story is incendiary.

Twitter Thread of the Day: Zeynep Tufekci on “Liberal Outrage”

I spend a lot of time on Twitter and I see tons of amazing dialogue and reflections. Twitter Thread of the Day is a feature on my blog where I’ll try to share one thread that was particularly interesting, smart, moving, or impactful for me.

Today’s TTOTD comes from Zeynep Tufecki, a scholar whose work I’ve admired for quite awhile. In the wake of a conservative personality’s book getting canceled and his speaking invitation at CPAC getting rescinded, Tufecki tweeted some trenchant insights about the forces that are really responsible for this. It’s not liberal outrage.

[Note: If you’re ever featured here and don’t want to be, feel free to get in touch with me via email at davechen(AT)davechen(DOT)net]

What’s Amy Heckerling up to these days?

Here’s a wonderful profile of Clueless director Amy Heckerling by Lindsay Zoladz, that’s as much an exploration of Heckerling’s career as it is about double standards in Hollywood:

Female directors have and will continue to set foot in uncharted territory — how can they not, when so much of it is uncharted? — and every so often a triumphant milestone makes the news. Frozen made codirector Jennifer Lee both the first woman to helm a Walt Disney Animation Studios movie and the first woman to direct a film that earned over $1 billion in gross box office revenue. When Ava DuVernay signed on last spring to direct the forthcoming blockbuster A Wrinkle in Time, she became the first woman of color to direct a live-action movie with a budget over $100 million. With this summer’s Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins will the first woman to direct a DC Comics movie. These are monumental achievements, but they are underscored by the immense pressure on these films to succeed, to stand for something larger than themselves; an unfair truth of the industry is that the opportunities for all women to direct superhero films in the future will be determined by how much money Jenkins’s Wonder Woman makes. The Female Director in the 21st century has cleared so many bars, but she has not yet achieved a milestone that’s less glamorous but no less important to both creativity and equality: the right to fail.

Blue Cities and Red States

David Graham at The Atlantic has a write-up on the increasing trend of blue cities in red states, and the resulting tension that can often arise:

Even the reddest states contain liberal cities: Half of the U.S. metro areas with the biggest recent population gains are in the South, and they are Democratic. Texas alone is home to four such cities; Clinton carried each of them. Increasingly, the most important political and cultural divisions are not between red and blue states but between red states and the blue cities within.

Nowhere has this tension been more dramatic than in North Carolina. The state made headlines last March when its GOP-dominated general assembly abruptly overturned a Charlotte ordinance banning discrimination against LGBT people (and stating, among other things, that transgender people could use the bathroom of their choice). Legislators didn’t just reverse Charlotte’s ordinance, though; the state law, HB2, also barred every city in the state from passing nondiscrimination regulations, and banned local minimum-wage laws, too.

SNL and the logic of interviewing Kellyanne Conway

SNL delivered a mixed bag of an episode with guest Alec Baldwin last night, but there were a couple sketches that really stood out. The first is the cold open with Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer, which continues to be a highlight. The second is this bit about Jake Tapper and Kellyanne Conway:

I was surprised the Conway/CNN kerfuffle had risen to the level of SNL parody, but it is an interesting one to me: CNN passed on having Kellyanne Conway on “State of the Union” last week, a fact that Conway disputed. Why? Because the journalistic value of interviewing Conway has become suspect.

Jay Rosen has been on the anti-Conway warpath for awhile, and he makes some pretty astute observations about how journalists should treat Conway. In an interview with Recode, Rosen lays out his reasoning:

I don’t think the people interviewing Kellyanne Conway know why they’re doing that, meaning that the journalistic logic of it is growing dimmer with every interview […]

The logic is, “This is a representative of the president. This is somebody who can speak for the Trump administration.” If we find that what Kellyanne Conway says is routinely or easily contradicted by Donald Trump, then that rationale disappears. Another reason to interview Kellyanne Conway is our viewers want to understand how the Trump world thinks. If what the end result of an interview with her is is more confusion about what the Trump world thinks, then that rationale evaporates.

 

Never doubt the power of SNL

The other day, Melissa McCarthy lampooned White House press secretary Sean Spicer in a devastating Saturday Night Live sketch. Over the weekend, Donald Trump was strangely silent about the episode on Twitter. Now, in a report from Politico, the fallout:

More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president’s eyes, according to sources close to him. And the unflattering send-up by a female comedian was not considered helpful for Spicer’s longevity in the grueling, high-profile job, where he has struggled to strike the right balance between representing an administration that considers the media the “opposition party,” and developing a functional relationship with the press.

“Trump doesn’t like his people to look weak,” added a top Trump donor.

Trump’s uncharacteristic Twitter silence over the weekend about the “Saturday Night Live” sketch was seen internally as a sign of how uncomfortable it made the White House feel. Sources said the caricature of Spicer by McCarthy struck a nerve and was upsetting to the press secretary and to his allies, who immediately saw how damaging it could be in Trumpworld.

Melissa McCarthy’s impression of Sean Spicer on SNL

McCarthy’s impression was funny, but I’m more curious about what impact this will have on our actual politics, and on the White House’s relationship with the media. In saner times, Tina Fey’s impression of Sarah Palin showed it could re-shape the popular perception of a vice presidential candidate from a major political party. That was before we had a president who actually seems to watch SNL somewhat regularly and complain about it on Twitter.

I appreciated Emily Nussbaum’s take on it:

It seems possible that Spicer, already a target of Trump’s occasional anger, may face some kind of reckoning for it.