The most dramatic finale to the football season in memory had even Mr. R. Emmett Tyrrell — a handball player and former member of the storied Indiana varsity aquatic team — glued to the television screen the other day, and it allowed him an occasion to report on the cultural background of this important sporting event.
However, the old fair-and-accurate obliges me to state that on a minor but not insignificant detail, he misreported. This was no sin; merely an illustration that in daily journalism, ya can’t say what ya don’t see, as old-timers used to say when calling for coffee and whiskey under the pretext the copy boy did whatever told. Mr. Tyrrell read Mr. Wlady Pleszczynski’s report, which went up on this page soon after the breathtaking win by the New England Patriots over the Atlanta Falcons, and zeroed in on his indefatigable, indispensable deputy’s emphasis on superior coaching and training.
This was not inaccurate. It was a correct report. But it was biased.
Mr. Tyrrell wanted the Patriots to win for political reasons, essentially: he knew President D. J. Trump favors them and for reasons of reportorial narrative, he wanted the president’s choice to be rewarded, because he wanted to make some kind of nebulous connection between sports management (coaching and training) and political success.
This is a free country and you can slant your reporting any way you want, and any half-assed news hack — or experienced ones like Messrs. Tyrrell and Pleszczynski and your correspondent — will tell you you have to start with a sense of where you want your story to end, and fit the body accordingly. Within the strict limitations of factual accuracy, of course. But that’s always a relative axiom since nobody has all the facts.
Perhaps had Mr. Tyrrell not been eager to get his theme and narrative across in a hurry, he would have double-checked his main source, in this case Mr. Pleszczynski. But why complicate things? He had his story and the source seemed to corroborate it.
What he would have told his young reporters, however, would have been, not: OK, kid, meet me at the saloon, we earned it; but: make another call. That’s right, call him again, and double check.
The double checking would have gone as follows:
“Ah, sorry to inconvenience you, sir, but just to be sure, your view, as a lifelong student of football, is that their remarkable win can be attributed to superior coaching and training?”
“That’s right, son.”
“Yes, thank you, but, if I may, you are known in sportswriting circles to be partial to the Boston team, in other words a fan. Were you absolutely convinced the Pats would win? Due to superior this and that?”
“There are no absolutes in sports, kid.”
“You allow as how they might have lost?”
“Why, of course, it’s a free country, let the better side win.”
“Well, did it occur to you that maybe, ah, for example deep in the third quarter, they were in trouble and might not pull it off, their record-breaking fifth Super Bowl win under Coach Belichick and Tom Brady?”
“Don’t editorialize your questions, kid. Let the source spill his own beans.”
“Yes, sir, but I mean, did you think the Falcons might win?”
“I entertained the possibility. That’s sports. And consider they are a younger, more physical team, that’s straight fact, not debatable.”
“Did you express the possibility Atlanta might hold its early lead?”
“It’s not impossible, but I don’t recall.”
“Did you express this lack of total fan faith to Mr. Tyrrell?”
“I’m sure he would know.”
“Did you not say, quote, ‘It’s over, I have to say,’ late in the first half?”
“Did I say what?”
“I have a transcription, sir.”
“You — why, you young whippersnapper, did you bug my phone?”
“No, sir. I have a reliable source, however.”
“A what? You got a leak? Who? “
“Well, you know, that’s not for me to say.”
“Good grief. What story are you working on next, kid?”
“Good. Very good. Go to it, boy. Tell it all.”
This is by way of background. Me, personally, I had a bet on the Patriots and, heheh, love those Pats, but personally I am a New York Giants fan, so it was strictly business. On the other hand, when the prez talked to Bill O’Reilly and made that unfortunate remark about “killers” on our side (they were talking about Vladimir Putin), what I immediately thought was, What would Jeane say?
Jeane Kirkpatrick, one of our best political thinkers, said of the Democratic nominating convention of 1984, which was held in San Francisco — she was a lifelong Truman Democrat — “The San Francisco Democrats… always blame America first.”
Jeane Kirkpatrick’s intuition was as quick as her intelligence was profound. She would have been appalled at a statement of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia, with regard to the way states pursue their perceived interests.
But is this what we heard?
Jeane Kirkpatrick would have been struck by the contradiction between the cynical idea of America that the president expressed, according to critics and editorialists, many if not most of them conservative veterans of the stop-Trump efforts of last year, and the America-First theme that D. J. has consistently championed.
Is it not conceivable that a large swathe of perfectly intelligent newspaper writers reported what they wanted to hear President Trump say, just as Mr. Tyrrell reported what Mr. Pleszczynski said in a way that confirmed what Mr. T. wanted to hear?
It happens to the best of them, and, face it, Donald Trump is not a man of ideas.
As such, he can be, often is, careless with words. He can also be deliberate with them, however, because he uses provocation and annoyance as tactical assets. Obviously, he errs like anyone else and in this case he may have miscalculated. No one except the anti-American left and the extreme isolationist right wants to hear America compared morally to Soviet Russia, which is rather what President Putin represents, as he grew up in the one and serves the other, seeing them together as a continuum of the Eternal Russia of Slavophile legend.
Mr. Trump appreciates nationalist legends, as do most conservatives; the thing that differentiates our society from theirs is that we rely on the American legend to reinforce what Lincoln called the mystic chords of memory, without erasing a historical narrative that we understand is best appreciated in all its contradictions, with all its blemishes. The Russians, like other societies in which tyranny not liberty is the motivating idea, tend to rely on their legend to excuse — and permit, even promote — all necessary injustice and brutality and crime by the ruling circles and their agents.
This is more or less what Jeane would have said, I think. I could be mistaken, but she would have despised the poor choice of words the president used to answer Mr. O’Reilly while allowing, until further evidence, that he might simply have been failing to distinguish between society at large and the holders of state power. There’s violence and killing everywhere, he meant, what’re ya gonna do about it?
The president blurred social and political lines, something that no high American official should do. Of course there are appalling, brutal realities in America, always have been. They merit criticism: and D. J. Trump has not failed to call attention to one of the current worst examples, the mayhem in urban neighborhoods caused by savage gangs. But — if this is what he had in mind — they should not be compared to the murderous use of state power.
President Trump is not a political man; on the contrary one of his themes is that we are, as a free republic, poorly served by political careerists. As such, his language is original, as are some of the notions he has on how to run his administration. We do not know if he will be more or less adept at dealing with tyrannous regimes that threaten us than have been his predecessors. We do know that high-minded presidents who favored the rhetoric of moral righteousness have had mixed results in this area: Reagan, whom Jeane Kirkpatrick advised, was successful; others were not.
So my thinking is, by all means report what you hear and say what you think it means, but keep in mind the wheel’s still in spin — in fact, it just started spinnin’.