Too much scandal to handle

Brendan Nyhan on how the super-abundance of Trump scandals actually works in his favor:

These developments have struggled to gain traction amid the many competing stories about Mr. Trump and his presidential transition, including Tuesday night’s release of unverified allegations against the president-elect.

Scandals need time and space to develop. When the news cycle is congested, potential scandals are deprived of attention, causing the media to move on to other stories and the political opposition to anticipate that any criticisms will probably have little effect…

History shows that potential scandals can easily be crowded off the news agenda by other events. During the chaotic post-9/11 period, for instance, the focus on more important events kept Army Secretary Thomas White in office despite numerous questionable decisions. (The post-9/11 surge in news continued all the way through the invasion of Iraq in early 2003, helping to insulate George W. Bush from fallout over the collapse of the Enron corporation and other matters; Bush didn’t suffer a major scandal until Valerie Plame was outed as a C.I.A. officer that summer.)

Another example came during the summer of 2009, when the death of Michael Jackson helped push the furor over the affair of the South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, out of the news.

By contrast, relatively slow news periods may increase the likelihood of a scandal’s developing, as with the travel habits of former White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu in 1991, which became an issue in the months after the end of the first Persian Gulf war, and as with Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal in 2014…

In this sense, the continuing reality show that Mr. Trump creates may help protect him from deep damage by any particular scandal. As in the campaign, he makes so much news every day that few stories ever generate sustained controversy. Instead, public attention lurches from one story to the next, never quite focusing on any particular controversy. He may prefer it that way. [emphasis mine]

Also reminds me of my “cat piss” post I wrote back during the campaign:

As much as some journalists may be trying to keep from normalizing Trump’s absurdly abnormal behavior, honestly, the volume of it just makes it hard.  It is quite simply human nature to adapt to that to which you are always exposed.  Donald Trump is like a 20-year old cat that just keeps peeing all over the house.  After a while, you just don’t even smell it any more.  But if your neighbors come over all they can think is “damn, this house smells like cat piss.”  Or if you go away for a week you come back and think, “damn does my house stink.”  But day in, day out, you just get used to it.

Right now, Donald Trump is an old cat (or dog) peeing all over the house and our media is mostly just inured to it.

However you think about it, it’s sure not good.

Improving policing in two basic concepts

The DOJ just released a report on policing in Chicago.  It’s not good:

The Justice Department released a scathing 161-page report elaborating on how police officers in the country’s third-biggest city use force, “including deadly force, that is unreasonable” as well as unconstitutional.

This report is the culmination of a 13-month investigation into the Chicago Police Department, one launched amid a firestorm prompted by video footage of a white officer fatally shooting a black teenager.

Federal investigators excoriated the department and city officials alike for what they called “systemic deficiencies.” They said their inquiry found that the Chicago police force did not provide officers with proper guidance for using force, did not properly investigate improper uses of force and did not hold officers accountable for such incidents. Investigators also faulted the city’s methods of handling officer discipline, saying that process “lacks integrity.”

Vanita Gupta, head of the department’s Civil Rights Division, said that Chicago officers were found to have shot people who posed no immediate threat and shocked people with Tasers simply for not following verbal commands…

Gupta faulted the department for inadequate training, saying it used decades-old videos that provided guidance inconsistent with current law and even the department’s own policies. She also described Chicago’s accountability system as “broken,” with officers rarely being held accountable for their misdeeds. [emphases mine]

There you go.  Want better policing?  We need to train our officers better and we need to hold them accountable?  Alright, not exactly simple to implement, but what we actually need to do is pretty clear.

“Fake News”

Ugh, fake news was a real, if over-hyped, problem in this past election.  And fake news is not hard to define.  News stories basically intended to deceive with no bearing in reality, e.g., Hillary Clinton child sex ring in basement of pizza parlor.  It’s not difficult.  Every news story that is not accurate, or even includes false information is most definitely not fake news.  If Nancy Pelosi claims that she has evidence that Trump had a sexual relationship with Vladimir Putin, that’s news.  Even if Pelosi is lying 100% the fact that she is claiming it is news and is newsworthy.  It is in no meaningful sense “fake news.”  The claim, whether true or false, is the news.

Thus, really frustrating that Trump and conservatives are already trying to take over “fake news” to mean any news unflattering to Trump.

Anyway, using fake news as a hook, Amanda Taub had a pretty nice piece in the upshot that will not be new news to any of you as it is all about the power of partisan motivated reasoning.  Still, some good stuff:

To find out more about the consequences of that polarization, Mr. Westwood, along with Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford professor who studies political communication, embarked on a series of experiments. They found something quite shocking: Not only did party identity turn out to affect people’s behavior and decision making broadly, even on apolitical subjects, but according to their data it also had more influence on the way Americans behaved than race did.

That is a sea change in the role of partisanship in public life, Mr. Westwood said.

“Partisanship, for a long period of time, wasn’t viewed as part of who we are,” he said. “It wasn’t core to our identity. It was just an ancillary trait. But in the modern era we view party identity as something akin to gender, ethnicity or race — the core traits that we use to describe ourselves to others.”

That has made the personal political. “Politics has become so important that people select relationships on that basis,” Mr. Iyengar said. For instance, it has become quite rare for Democrats to marry Republicans, according to the same Westwood/Iyengar paper, which cited a finding in a 2009 survey of married couples that only 9 percent consisted of Democrat-Republican pairs. And it has become more rare for children to have a different party affiliation from their parents.

But it has also made the political personal. Today, political parties are no longer just the people who are supposed to govern the way you want. They are a team to support, and a tribe to feel a part of. And the public’s view of politics is becoming more and more zero-sum: It’s about helping their team win, and making sure the other team loses.

How partisan bias fuels fake news

Partisan tribalism makes people more inclined to seek out and believe stories that justify their pre-existing partisan biases, whether or not they are true.

“If I’m a rabid Trump voter and I don’t know much about public affairs, and I see something about some scandal about Hillary Clinton’s aides being involved in an assassination attempt, or that story about the pope endorsing Trump, then I’d be inclined to believe it,” Mr. Iyengar said. “This is reinforcing my beliefs about the value of a Trump candidacy.”

And Clinton voters, he said, would be similarly drawn to stories that deride Mr. Trump as a demagogue or a sexual predator. [emphasis mine]

Sharing those stories on social media is a way to show public support for one’s partisan team — roughly the equivalent of painting your face with team colors on game day.

“You want to show that you’re a good member of your tribe,” Mr. Westwood said. “You want to show others that Republicans are bad or Democrats are bad, and your tribe is good. Social media provides a unique opportunity to publicly declare to the world what your beliefs are and how willing you are to denigrate the opposition and reinforce your own political candidates.”

Lots of good stuff in here.  And both sides absolutely fall prey to this.  That said, there is a real, genuine asymmetry that Taub elides in this piece.  Go back to the bold section above.  Trump has admitted to being a sexual predator!!  No, he’s not a serial rapist, but that’s a fair term for somebody who liked to “grab ’em by the pussy” and who bragged about walking into changing rooms of naked pageant contestants.  Likewise, “demagogue” seems pretty fair for someone who traffics in racial and xenophobic fear while claiming”only I can fix it.”  These are real!  Sure, there is absolutely hyperbole in how liberals treat the stories about Trump, but absolutely an underlying truth.  As a rule, liberals are not falling prey to “fake news.”  Meanwhile, many of the stories about HRC and the examples cited here bear absolutely zero relation to reality.  So, yes, both sides engage in partisan motivated reasoning, but as in many things, it is a matter of degree, and degrees matter.

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