Jun 4, 2020

All the news that got buried this week.

All the news that got buried this week.

It was an eventful week on top of the demonstrations.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Today is a special edition where I take you through all the important news from the last few days that we haven’t gotten to cover because of the national unrest and COVID-19 coverage.

Mugshots released by Hennepin County jail of the four officers arrested for their involvement in George Floyd’s death (from left to right: J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin)


Speaking of crazy weeks, I want to give a shout-out to the people who help me produce this newsletter. Weeks like this one have been so bonkers that if I were truly alone I’m not sure I could get it all done. Cameron from Norman, Oklahoma, was the very first person to ever help me produce Tangle. He’s been doing research on the reader question for me for months and is always crucial to getting you answers.

Seth Moskowitz, working from San Luis Obispo, California, helps research the “A story that matters” and “Numbers” sections. He’s been finding some fantastic, important stories buried in the daily news buzz (by the way: you can follow Seth on Twitter here). Both Seth and Cameron have been flexing their degrees related to public policy or politics and their experience working in government to add another layer of expert research to the newsletter.

Magdalena Bokowa is my new social media manager and she has been killing it on Instagram with some beautiful images. Sean from Austin, Texas, has been copy editing the newsletter for the last month or two and has eagle eyes on par with the best editors I’ve ever had. And a shoutout to my dad, Bailey, who has also been copy editing the newsletter in the mornings (and occasionally adding his own unsolicited political musings, as dads will) since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Finally, thanks to you — all the readers. So many people have sent in fascinating articles, great tips from their local areas (especially during the protests!), expert opinions from their fields and awesome questions to drive the newsletter. One thing that’s incredible about Tangle as a publication is how so many brilliant people across the U.S. are regularly contributing to it. I’ve worked on a lot of projects in my journalism career, but I think the collective readership of Tangle makes it truly unique and valuable.

What we missed.

Every day, this newsletter is a chess game of cuts and rewrites, stories added and stories removed, all usually thrown into a flux moments before the newsletter goes out when a giant new story breaks. That leaves many important stories that get cut -- in a normal week. But this has been no normal week. With the singular story of civil unrest dominating the newsletter, I want to give you a recap on the stories we missed.

First, the George Floyd news we missed: Yesterday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison upgraded charges against Derek Chauvin, the officer who was filmed with his knee in Floyd’s neck, to second-degree murder charges. He also brought forward charges against the other three officers involved in the arrest for “aiding and abetting murder.”

New reports also came out this week that Floyd and Chauvin had actually worked together at a nightclub as security. This detail adds another layer to the story and has raised questions about whether Floyd and Chauvin knew each other, or if that history played into the police officers’ conduct during the arrest. Chauvin was the subject of 18 complaints against the Minneapolis police department. The head of the Minneapolis police union said Floyd had a “violent criminal history,” citing five years Floyd spent in prison on assault and robbery charges.

Last night, largely peaceful protests continued across the U.S. for the second night in a row. More than 10,000 people have been arrested, according to an AP tally, and the protests continued well into the night despite curfews across the country. I masked up and walked to a vigil for George Floyd in Brooklyn yesterday and was astounded to see how many people were there. Local, state and federal leaders spoke at the vigil, including Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).

By the way, I spent another day looking into the stories about bricks at protests. Some readers have sent in interesting photos and videos of “suspicious” and “fishy” activities they saw at protests. This story from BuzzFeed News was probably the best thing I read. It dug into several documented stories about the bricks showing up at protests, including round-ups from other news organizations. In almost every case, they were explained by the fact that protests were happening near construction sites. Several of the “viral videos” were showing bricks that were there before George Floyd’s death. Other reporting has come to similar conclusions.

In short: this is why social media is a hellscape of misinformation and why (I hope!) news sources like Tangle are worth reading. I make this next prediction with legitimate fear in my heart that forthcoming evidence could prove me wrong, but I feel comfortable saying right now there is a 99% chance the “cops placing bricks at protests” stories are complete B.S. What’s still worth exploring is if and where police are working as undercover agitators at these protests (something that has happened throughout U.S. history) and also the role “white anarchists” are playing in escalating violence at protests.

An Instagram video that went viral last night purports to show a young black woman returning a brick to a car full of white protesters who had handed the brick to a young black man. “This could get us killed,” she tells them. Videos like this are all over the internet, and they do seem to show a pattern of white protesters instigating destruction or violence at demonstrations led by black organizers.

Yesterday, Trump took some lumps from the military leaders closest to him. First, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he opposed use of the Insurrection Act and did not support Trump’s call to use active-duty military against civilians. Then, General Jim Mattis — Trump’s notoriously reticent former defense secretary and one of the most revered living military leaders — broke his silence and hammered the president with comments unlike anything I’ve ever seen (or am aware of) from a former defense secretary.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try,” Mattis said of his former boss. “Instead, he tries to divide us… We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”

Speaking of lumps, there is also some concerning polling for the president. FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics both have Trump underwater nationally. The former has him with a disapproval rating that crept up to 54% this week, the highest of any president at this point in his first term. The New York Times also reported that Trump’s internal polling has him “facing the bleakest outlook for his re-election bid so far,” with numbers in states like Ohio and Iowa floundering. He’s in a statistical tie with Joe Biden in Texas and Ohio, losing badly in Wisconsin and down four points in Arizona. Each of those would have seemed unthinkable six months ago.

As a result, for the first time ever, Biden became the favorite to win the 2020 election, according to Bovada’s betting odds. Dave Weigel summed it up with this tweet:

For what it’s worth: I personally think we’re too far out for this to mean much. The election has pivoted between issues several times in the last few months alone, and we still have five months until voters hit the polls in an election that will be marked by so many variables it’s hard to keep track of them: COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, voting during a pandemic, the economic recovery and a potential recession. That’s to say nothing of the usual lumps, gaffes, bruises and scandals of a typical campaign. And we haven’t even had a debate yet. Shoot, we don’t know who Joe Biden’s running mate is yet! It’s still very early.

Speaking of Joe Biden, The New York Times published a deep dive on Tara Reade this week — one that went largely unnoticed. The former Biden staffer is accusing Biden of sexual assault. The Times interviewed 100 friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors and reviewed court records. They came out with a story that frames Reade as having a “tumultuous” and “shambolic” life while highlighting several inconsistencies in her story — as well as documenting lies she told on her resume and a prominent #MeToo lawyer’s decision to drop her as a client. The story gives credence to Reade’s original claims of sexual harassment but casts serious doubts on her claims that she was sexually assaulted (Note from the article: “Professionals who counsel sexual-abuse victims say it is not uncommon for them to reveal what happened piecemeal, over time”).

There’s a great deal to unpack here and I’m not quite ready to do it yet.

By the way: it’s not all bad in Trump world. Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified yesterday and openly acknowledged the “significant errors” made in the FBI’s applications to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Rosenstein said the applications “appeared” to be justified based on the facts that were given to him. The Justice Department Inspector General found errors on 29 out of 29 randomized FBI applications for wiretap warrants, according to a report released Tuesday. One application had 65 errors. The report — and Rosenstein’s testimony — raise even more questions about the FBI’s investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign and the leadership of former director James Comey.

Oh, do you remember COVID-19? That’s still a thing! Yesterday, Mark from New York wrote in echoing a sentiment that has been prominent on the right as they watch the George Floyd protests: “When the right was encouraging protests and reopening several weeks ago, the left was scolding them for putting the country in jeopardy, killing grandma, and experimenting with human life. These arguments seem to have all disappeared. If they were true two weeks ago they should remain true now, even when the cause is more noble.”

It’s a fair criticism, and one gaining traction in conservative circles. Of course, as I pointed out to Mark, there’s plenty of hypocrisy on the right, too. Perhaps the most influential conservative voice on TV, Tucker Carlson, was imploring anti-lockdown protesters to defy government orders and reopen their restaurants in early May. Now, he’s lecturing the country about how obeying government orders is the only thing that keeps a civil society civil.

In short: the left is displaying some hypocrisy by abandoning the COVID-19 concern that led them to accuse many conservative business owners of wanting to kill people for reopening their businesses. The right is displaying some hypocrisy for pretending they weren’t encouraging civil disobedience against COVID-19 lockdowns just two weeks ago. Everyone seems to concede the left’s cause is “a little more noble,” as Mark said, but it’s a nice illustration of where all our hypocrisies are. Welcome to politics in America!

On the topic of coronavirus, Florida says its bars and clubs will be able to reopen tomorrow. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, once accused of risking Floridians’ lives, has had a remarkable turn of fortune politically — with columnists and TV hosts heaping praise on him for his COVID-19 response. But if you ask me, the jury is still out. Florida has seen a “statistically significant” uptick in pneumonia cases that are likely tied to coronavirus, and there are allegations the state is fudging its numbers. It’s likely that we won’t know the real cost of reopening as quickly as Florida did for another week or two (or a good time after that if the state is really hiding its true numbers).

In the meantime, COVID-19 cases spiked in Texas, Arizona and Oregon last week. Nationally, cases have plateaued and mostly continued to fall in hotspots that remained locked down, but states that expanded reopenings and testing saw positive cases jump. In Texas, the spike recorded appears to be an actual increase in new cases, not just an increase in testing (testing increased by 36% while cases increased by 51%).

Congress is also grappling with the economic toll of COVID-19. Democrats want to extend the supplemental $600 federal unemployment payment to American workers through January. Some Republicans say they should have never done it in the first place. Via Politico:

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) saidit might’ need to go back to the normal state unemployment benefits, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said the additional funds were a ‘terrible idea [that] never should have passed in the first place.’ Many Republicans think that the extra money simply makes it less enticing for Americans to go back to work — already a concern for people considering the dangers of being infected by coronavirus in the workplace.

Here’s some other stuff that happened: The Trump administration banned Chinese airlines from flying into the U.S. starting on June 16th. Rudy Giuliani had an absolutely insane interview on Piers Morgan’s show in Britain, including exchanges where Morgan told Giuliani he was “barking mad” (I love Brits!). Police officers cursed out reporters from the Associated Press in New York City and tried to stop them from filming protests.

At the end of last week, transcripts of former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s calls to a Russian diplomat were finally released. The left emphasized that the transcripts show the two sides did discuss Obama-era sanctions, something Flynn denied and lied to the FBI about, all while seeking to undermine the Obama administration. The right says the calls show the “innuendo” around Flynn grossly exaggerated what his calls were actually about.

The New York Times newsroom is in open revolt after the paper’s opinion section published an op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) calling for the president to “send in the troops” to U.S. cities, even as protests became subdued (Note: recent polling highlighted in Tangle suggests the majority of Americans support sending troops into U.S. cities to quell unrest).

Finally, this morning, the Labor Department released its latest statistics on unemployment: 1.9 million new unemployment claims came in last week. That’s the first time new claims have fallen below 2 million in a week since March 14th, which is good news. Still, before the pandemic, the most unemployment claims ever filed in a single week were 695,000 in October 1982. In other words: the best week we’ve had in two and a half months is still nearly three times as bad as the previous record.

Balls and Strikes.

Yesterday, I debuted my “balls and strikes” section, where I revisit past issues of Tangle and make a final determination on issues where “my take” was really ambiguous or undetermined. In the premier issue of this section, I wrote about hydroxychloroquine and how it was now clear the president was wrong to promote the drug and how several studies have shown it was ineffective. The WHO even stopped its trials of the drug as a treatment for COVID-19.

Well, color me shocked when I woke up this morning to find out that the validity of those studies was now being called into question. An investigation by The Guardian found that a tiny, U.S. based company provided data for multiple studies on COVID-19 and has failed to adequately explain its data or methodology. 120 scientists signed a letter criticizing the study, which was published in Lancet. The WSJ editorial board ran a front-page story blasting the studies today.

As a result, the WHO says it is resuming its trial of hydroxychloroquine. How’s that for a debut call? Woof. To be clear: there is still little to no evidence that hydroxychloroquine is an effective COVID-19 treatment. But I may have been too early to call my ball or strike on whether it was dangerous. You can read the WSJ op-ed hammering people like me here.


For free subscribers, Tangle hits your inbox Monday-Thursday. Paying subscribers get Friday editions a few times a month, which are typically more personal and take on a different format (like today’s newsletter!).

Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing a fully transcribed interview with Ryan Girdusky, a Trump supporter, national populist and author of “They're Not Listening: How The Elites Created the National Populist Revolution,” which comes out June 16th.

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Have a nice day.

Michael R. White, a Navy veteran, is on his way home to the United States after being held in Iran for nearly two years. White, a 48-year-old cancer survivor, was visiting Iran to see a woman he met on the internet when he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison on murky charges of insulting the country’s top leader. The U.S. and Swiss diplomats have been working furiously to get White home and released an Iranian scientist detained in the U.S. earlier this week in what many speculated was a prisoner swap. It turned out they were right. White’s mother announced today he was en route back to the U.S.

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