Just a quick note for everyone disturbed by basically everything that's happened over the past month or so. It's true that the polls have tightened a bit, but that's not the real story. Here's the latest from Pollster:

The real story is that we've had a Republican convention, a Democratic convention, and tons of news about email, foundations, pneumonia, Russia, bribery attempts, and more—and we're pretty much at the same place we were three months ago. On June 1st, Clinton led by 5.5 points. Today she leads by 4.9 points.

Obviously this could change, and neither side can afford complacency. But the big picture is pretty simple: Trump has been stuck at a maximum of 40-42 percent for the entire past year. It appears that there's a limit to how much support you can gin up with nothing but bluster and appeals to white resentment.

If you want to understand the relationship between Hillary Clinton and the press, yesterday pretty much gave it to you in a nutshell. The basic facts are these:

  • On Friday Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia.
  • On Sunday morning she left a 9/11 memorial early, with her staff claiming she was "overheated."
  • Later on Sunday Clinton's doctor released a note revealing the pneumonia.

The press is rightfully annoyed. She's a presidential candidate, and she should have disclosed the pneumonia diagnosis as soon as she got it. Those aren't the rules for ordinary people, but they are the rules for presidential candidates, and once again Clinton is trying to slide by them.

So why did Clinton's people try to hide her condition? That's pretty easy: After months of baseless health speculation by Donald Trump's rumor machine, she figured the press would go full National Enquirer over this. She didn't trust them to handle it in a normal, level-headed way.

So that's that. There's a gulf of distrust between Clinton and the media that appears unbridgeable. Clinton doesn't trust the press to treat her fairly, so she adopts a hyper-guarded attitude toward everything she does. The press doesn't trust her to honestly disclose anything, so they adopt a hyper-skeptical attitude toward everything she says. Rinse and repeat.

I guess this could change. But not anytime soon.

I have previously mocked the "tweetstorm" as a poor substitute for just writing a short blog post, but I have to admit that for some topics a tweetstorm is the perfect medium. David Fahrenthold demonstrates today:

Consider this my way of saying "Welcome to Monday!" Real blogging about real news will probably commence shortly.

Hillary Clinton Has Pneumonia

Hillary Clinton has contracted pneumonia and is taking antibiotics for it. I hope she gets better soon. In the meantime, though, the news is going to be grim. Expect all of the following:

  • Washington Post: This makes Clinton's health a genuine issue.
  • Charles Krauthammer: She should have told us hours earlier than she did. Is there nothing the Clintons won't lie about?
  • Vox: Here's a pneumonia explainer.
  • Wall Street Journal: Can Hillary keep up the pace on campaign trail?
  • Fox News All-Stars: William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia after 32 days in office.
  • Don Lemon: Is it possible Clinton actually has Ebola?
  • Time: New focus on Kaine as Clinton struggles with health.
  • @realDonaldTrump: Hillary tried to hide sickness. But I've been warning about her health for months. Need more transparency!
  • @KatrinaPierson: Doctors say it might actually be cystic fibrosis or lung cancer. Public deserves full medical workup.
  • @RogerJStoneJr: Hillary has Legionnaires' disease.
  • National Enquirer: Hillary Clinton given months to live by docs.
  • New York Times: Questions raised about Clinton diagnosis.
  • Facebook News: Trending topics: How long does Hillary have to live?
  • Politico: Will Clinton recover in time for debate?
  • Etc.

The real story, of course, is that she caught pneumonia. It's a common illness, and antibiotics should get rid of it pretty quickly. Even during a presidential campaign it's a fairly ordinary kind of story. But the talking heads need more than that to talk about. We need some kind of morality play. We need the "real questions this raises." We need analysis. We need daily updates, accompanied by slo-mo analysis of Clinton's latest walk to her car. So we'll get them. Sigh.

Here's How Donald Trump Remembers 9/11

How did you respond to 9/11? Did you mourn? Burn for revenge? Or were you like Donald Trump, musing about how the destruction of the World Trade Center might help your business?

Alan Marcus, who was working that day for WWOR as an on-air analyst, asked the real estate mogul to step into a role that seemed fanciful at the time....Trump didn’t talk about retribution or leap to conclusions about who was responsible. In fact, he avoided identifying potential enemies—any terrorist organization or Muslims in general.

....“40 Wall Street,” he said, referring to his 71-story building blocks away from the now-collapsed twin towers, “actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest—and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second-tallest. And now it’s the tallest.

Marcus chalked up the remark to “Donald being Donald....He is the brand manager of Trump, and he is going to tout that brand, and he does it reflexively,” he said. “Even on that day.”

Well, we all process grief in our own way. We shouldn't hold this against him. At least he used his wealth to help out 9/11 charities in the months after the attacks. Right?

In the aftermath of the 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center, Donald Trump, a billionaire son of New York City, did not make a single charitable donation to any of the not-for-profit groups that provided aid to survivors, rescue workers, or the families of cops and firemen who died trying to save others, Internal Revenue Service records show.

....In a December 2003 report detailing the “unprecedented outpouring of charitable support” following the 9/11 attacks, The Foundation Center noted that nearly 1300 foundations, corporations, and other institutional donors gave a total of $1.1 billion for recovery and relief efforts....But Trump, whose family first became wealthy renting apartments to the working class in Brooklyn and Queens, chose not to take part.

Hmmm. Well, at least he didn't take money meant to help small businesses recover from 9/11 and use it to refurbish one of his...oh, of course he did:

Donald Trump’s tale about why he took $150,000 in 9/11 money is as tall as the Downtown skyscraper [Trump Tower] he says he used in recovery efforts, according to government records.

Though the billionaire presidential candidate has repeatedly suggested he got that money for helping others out after the attacks, documents obtained by the Daily News show that Trump’s account was just a huge lie.

Records from the Empire State Development Corp., which administered the recovery program, show that Trump’s company asked for those funds for “rent loss,” “cleanup” and “repair” — not to recuperate money lost in helping people.

Trump claims the money was "probably" meant as reimbursement "for the fact that I allowed people, for many months, to stay in the building, use the building and store things in the building." It wasn't. As the Daily News says, his application says it was for cleanup and repair, even though he had earlier said that his building wasn't damaged. "It was not part of the program to give money away for the other ancillary stuff," says David Catalfamo, who helped run the program. "The way the program worked was to help businesses cover for uninsured losses. Businesses came forward with their losses and we covered part of them."

And how did Trump qualify as a "small business" in the first place, even though the Trump Organization employs thousands? Well, the particular entity that owned the building had fewer than 500 employees, so voila. Instant payday.

Some mourn. Some burn for revenge. Some help bury the dead. And then there are the ones who just cash in. That's no surprise. We usually don't think of them as presidential material, though.

Liz Spayd, the New York Times public editor, writes today about charges of "false equivalence." She basically blows it off:

As we enter the final sprint of an extraordinary presidential campaign, the use of this term is accelerating, and it typically is used to attack news outlets accused of unfairly equating a minor failing of Hillary Clinton’s to a major failing of Donald Trump’s.

....The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking. What the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates....I can’t help wondering about the ideological motives of those crying false balance, given that they are using the argument mostly in support of liberal causes and candidates.

Spayd is getting plenty of flak for this on social media, and I think it's partially deserved. There's no question that charges of false equivalence are often partisan, but her job should be to figure out if they're correct anyway. She doesn't even really try to do that.

At the same time, Spayd also makes a valuable point that gets too little attention. Some of the Times' reporting on the Clinton Foundation has been important, she says:

On the other hand, 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.

Yep. I frequently read stories that should have been spiked because they don't really say much of anything. The problem is that after spending days or weeks reporting something, no reporter wants to leave empty-handed. So they write something, even if it's little more than narrative or innuendo. Editors should be more aggressive about killing stuff like this.

There's an additional point that Spayd doesn't make: some stories naturally lend themselves to continual coverage, while others don't. The Clinton email story is an obvious example of the former. Donald Trump's tax returns are an example of the latter. These are probably equally important stories, but the email story gets dozens of front-page hits simply because new information drips out steadily. Trump's tax returns get only one or two because there's nothing new to report once Trump has made it clear he has no plans to release them.

So editors need to ask themselves if a story is getting overcovered solely because of the nature of the information drip, rather than because of its intrinsic importance. I may be partisan, as Spayd says, but I'd say that both the email story and the Clinton Foundation story have been overcovered for this reason. I don't quite know what the answer is—the whole point of news is to report stuff that's new, after all—but at the very least political editors should probably retain more perspective about how much attention to give to individual drips in long-running stories.

The latest WaPo/ABC News poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump 51-43 percent in a two-way race. That's good news for Clinton, but the rest of the poll is even better news. Asked who they believe will win, Clinton leads by a whopping 58-29 percent. Historically, this is a pretty predictive indicator. President Barack Obama's approval rating is up to 58 percent, which is good news for the candidate of the same party. Clinton also leads on all four questions about character and all five questions about issues.

But here's my favorite result. Although 43 percent of respondents say they support Trump, only 36 percent say he's qualified to serve. This means that 7 percent of the population plans to vote for him even though they think he's unqualified to be president. Boo yah!

Anyway, margin of error, question wording, blah blah blah. This probably doesn't really mean much. But it's amusing nonetheless.

Here Is the Latest Campaign Faux Controversy

I can't tell if this faux controversy is actually getting much attention, but I know my readers all want to stay up to date:

Donald Trump’s campaign sought an apology Saturday from his Democratic rival after Hillary Clinton took aim at the Republican’s supporters, suggesting that half of them are what she called “deplorables.”

....“To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?,” Mrs. Clinton told donors in New York City. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” The former secretary of state added that “some of those folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” The Trump campaign quickly punched back, saying that Mrs. Clinton had revealed “her true contempt for everyday Americans.”

I'm sure this will be followed up on social media with lots of folks "fact checking" Clinton and showing that she's right. Let's take a look. Yep, here's one:

Typical Hillary shill. The Reuters poll he links to clearly shows that less than half of Trump's supporters are deplorable. At most it's 49 percent, and the average is only 43 percent. As usual, Hillary Clinton is spinning and exaggerating for her own benefit. No wonder Americans don't trust her. A tisket, a tasket, Hillary's in a basket.

OK, fine, that was lame. But hopefully everyone just skips this whole affair. It's one of those things that belongs in the category of stuff literally everyone knows but can't say out loud. Trump's outreach to the racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamaphobic community is pretty obvious and hardly needs any further evidence. Every campaign reporter in the country knows this. The question is, can they say it? Or will they just "report the controversy" and declare that it "casts a new shadow" over a "struggling campaign"? I guess we'll see.

UPDATE: Well, it's now on the front page of the LA Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. So I guess it's getting some traction. Is this just because it's a slow weekend news day? Or will it last? Come back Monday for your answer!

Friday Cat Blogging - 9 September 2016

Here is Hilbert minding his domain in the deep, dark undergrowth of our backyard. So majestic. So serene. So feline. King of the jungle indeed.

What do you think of Vladimir Putin? Personally, I think he's a thuggish autocrat, and the fact that Donald Trump seems to admire him is just one more nail in the coffin of Trump's obvious unsuitability to be elected dogcatcher, let alone president of the United States.

But criticism of Putin—and Trump's embrace of him—has recently become something of a lightning rod on the left, proving once again that there's nothing too trivial for lefties to fight over. Today, for example, Glenn Greenwald charged Democrats with hypocrisy over their newfound belligerence toward Russia. The current story among Trump-hating liberals, he says, is that:

Russia is a Grave Enemy of the U.S.; anyone who advocates better relations or less tension with Moscow is a likely sympathizer, stooge, or even agent of Putin; and any associations with the Kremlin render one’s loyalties suspect.

....Despite the fact that Russia has ceased long ago to be guided by anything resembling Communism, this linking of one’s political adversaries to the Kremlin is such a potent tactic in the U.S. because of decades of Cold War rhetoric about Moscow. Referring to Putin, Matt Lauer this week asked of Trump: “Do you want to be complimented by that former KGB officer.” Denouncing Trump’s praise of Putin, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel called the Russian President “a communist leader that’s a potential enemy!” Explaining why Trump’s comments about Russia are so remarkable, The New York Times contended that “Mr. Trump has made improved relations with the Kremlin a centerpiece of his candidacy” in “a fashion that would have been unheard-of for a Republican during or immediately after the Cold War.”

The whole thing is Greenwaldian in length, not even counting all the videos he wants you to watch, and you may or may not want to read the whole thing. The basic gist is that Obama took office promising to "reset" relations with Russia, and Democrats in general are usually in favor of relaxing tensions with global adversaries. But now that Trump is the one trying to relax tensions, Putin is once again a big, bad guy.

And, you know, fine. There's no question that presidential campaigns cause some measure of hypocrisy all around. But this is one of those things where context matters a lot. Obama really did try to cool relations with Russia, culminating in his successful passage of the New START treaty. But then Russia annexed Crimea and secretly invaded Ukraine. This naturally caused considerable nervousness among the Baltic states, who were worried the same thing might happen to them. All of NATO imposed sanctions on Russia over this, and Obama made it clear that NATO guarantees applied to the Baltics. As usual with Obama, his rhetoric remains relatively restrained, and he's continued to try to work with Russia here and there. But Putin has made it pretty clear that his interests and ours diverge considerably.

Then, of course, there's Putin himself, a guy who jails dissidents, muzzles the press, murders his political opponents, and has apparently tried to hack the DNC in order to interfere with American elections. All in all, there's pretty good reason to despise Putin personally and oppose him politically.

But Trump admires Putin because he's a "strong leader." He declined to support NATO guarantees of the Baltics. He wants to reorient NATO away from Russia entirely. He welcomed Russia's incursion into Syria, even though it was pretty clearly not intended to fight ISIS. He suggested that Putin's human rights record wasn't really anything to be worried about. He pretty clearly signaled that he doesn't care much about Russia's invasion of either Crimea or Ukraine. And as Will Jordan points out, this all makes a difference. Among Democrats and Independents, views of Putin haven't changed much. But among Republicans, Putin's approval ratings have shot up. There's not really any explanation for this aside from Trump's odd love affair with the guy.

Like Obama—and Greenwald—I'm happy to dispense with jingoism and adopt a generally calm approach toward Russia. But Trump has gone quite a ways beyond this, and it's perfectly fair to criticize him for it. I don't want a president who seems to think that Putin is his buddy. Or that Putin admires him. Or that we should casually toss aside treaty obligations. Putin would eat Trump for lunch, and I'd just as soon remain clearheaded about what a loathsome human being he is.