Today’s read: 8 minutes.
The border wall could be coming within the year and a question about press freedom.
Elon Musk successfully tested the “SpaceX Starhopper,” an early prototype for what he hopes will be a Mars-bound rocket that’s taller than the Statue of Liberty. The test went well, despite some local Texas residents getting warnings that the rocket may be so loud it would shatter the windows on their houses.
What D.C. is talking about.
Trump’s wall. On Tuesday night, The Washington Post dropped a bombshell story that Trump is telling his team to get new border fence up by any means necessary — even if it means “aggressively” seizing private land and disregarding environmental rules. He’s also “told subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the barriers built quickly.” President Trump, despite erecting no new border wall to this point in his presidency, has repeatedly assured his voters that 500 miles of wall will be built by November of 2020.
What Democrats are saying.
How much corruption will it take? Most Democrats are disgusted by the idea of the wall and they’re using this moment to draw attention to how Trump is handling immigration in general. Lots of Democrats have been pointing to Trump’s decision to redirect FEMA funds to border enforcement as hurricane season begins and a storm bears down on Puerto Rico. MSNBC host Chris Hayes said the WaPo story was “pretty unambiguously a crime/misdemeanor.” Others are calling it executive overreach and mulling legal action to slow the wall’s process or delay the contracts. Nancy Pelosi called it all “stunningly reckless.”
One Trump senior official offered this critical quote to The Washington Post that Democrats are sharing across Twitter: “They don’t care how much money is spent, whether landowners’ rights are violated, whether the environment is damaged, the law, the regs or even prudent business practices.”
What Republicans are saying.
Trump is fulfilling his promise. Senior administration officials haven’t batted down the story like you might expect. Instead, they’ve framed the floating of pardons as a joke and everything else as evidence that Trump is going to do what he can to get some 450 miles of the wall built. Republican members of Congress have mostly been silent on the story, but admin officials involved in immigration are using the attention to promote the wall. Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was sharing videos of renovated wall in Arizona last night. White House press secretary Hogan Gidley says “President Trump is fighting aggressively for the American people where other leaders in the past have rolled over, sold out, and done absolutely nothing.”
I’ll never understand it. Trump’s wall, in my opinion, is the most dastardly and obtuse of all his policy ideas. I’ve spent a lot of time reporting on the border and have travelled between Texas and Mexico since I was a young teenager. A border wall there requires stealing people’s land, disrupting huge swathes of environmentally protected land and has almost no payoff. Most of the people I’ve spoken to on the border do not want a wall, even if they are immigration restrictionists. Trump himself has admitted to lawmakers that “a wall or barrier is not the most effective mechanism to curb illegal immigration, recognizing it would accomplish less than a major expansion of U.S. enforcement powers and deportation authority.” But he’s obsessed with fulfilling the wall’s construction because he made a promise to his supporters. I respect the political instinct to actually pull through on a campaign promise, but it’s unfortunate the promise is to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on a project that requires forcing people off of their land to build a giant, ugly black fence in one of the most beautiful parts of the country that won’t even stop the illegal immigration it’s supposed to be stopping. The desert and the border are sacred places in my book. These funding dollars would be much better spent increasing enforcement, drones, tech, and fast-tracking asylum cases and immigration cases than on a “wall.” There are far better ways to solve the immigration problem and I’m just baffled this is where we are.
Your questions, answered.
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Q: What do you make of Trump saying he will dig up dirt on reporters?
- Tim, Kenton, OH
Tangle: I’m really glad you asked this question, as there are a lot of interesting stories happening related to press freedom right now. Funny enough, I’m finding myself taking contrarian positions on the issues and have been pretty disappointed at the responses of my colleagues.
For those of you who missed it, The New York Times published a story about how Trump allies are “targeting journalists” to discredit news organizations that publish critical news stories about the White House. Essentially, it’s Donald Trump Jr.’s good friend Arthur Schwartz — a well-known New York conservative and lawyer — digging up old tweets and other dirt on respected journalists. So far they’ve already brought home a big scalp in the form of New York Times editor Tom Wright-Piersanti, who had some now-deleted tweets seemingly mocking Jews. They also nabbed CNN photojournalist Mohammed Elshamy for tweets about “Jewish pigs,” which he resigned over.
The New York Times describes “hundreds” of dossiers that have been compiled by Trump’s team with potentially fireable material on journalists across the industry. As soon as the story broke, lots of reporters cried foul and called it an attack on press freedom. New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger added: “They are seeking to harass and embarrass anyone affiliated with the leading news organizations that are asking tough questions and bringing uncomfortable truths to light.”
And he’s right. But so far, only one editorial from Politico’s Jack Shafer has accurately summated my views: fine! Let them dig up inflammatory old tweets from journalists. Why should reporters be held to lower standards than members of the Trump administration or other people in the public eye who are constantly being burned for past comments? If a reporter has old anti-Semitic, racist or Islamophobic tweets, why shouldn’t they ever see the light of day? Of course, if someone were to dig through my old Facebook or Twitter posts, I’m sure they’d find some unsavory things. I was on the internet as a teenager at an age when I thought it was cool to call things “gay” or call people “faggots,” and I’ve written about my evolution and what it’s like looking back on who I was as a younger man. If someone were to use those posts against me, I’d address them, apologize and move on.
Yes, there is something dangerous about taking old tweets out of context, like Schwartz did with The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey (Dawsey once tweeted about “ragheads” in an effort to make fun of a conservative politician who had used the word that day in public, but nine years later the context of the news was lost). But there is nothing wrong with reporters getting the same treatment that journalists give to others, and we should all be responsible — in some way — for our deeds from the past.
Other press freedom stories caught my eye this week, too. First, April Ryan, perhaps the most well-known and well-respected black journalist in the country, was involved in an altercation with another reporter where her body guard took the man’s camera equipment then forcibly removed him from an event where Ryan was speaking. Ryan is known for asking critical and sharp questions of the White House, and I’m a big fan of her work. I even interviewed her once. But the incident is not a good look, and in an appearance on CNN with a friendly interviewer Ryan struggled to explain what happened and offered some very weak excuses for her body guard’s actions. Because she’s so well-liked in the media world, the incident didn’t get a lot of coverage at first, but opinion columnists from across the media landscape are now criticizing her roundly (as they should).
Then there was yesterday. News broke that Breitbart News reporter Joel Pollak, who I have admittedly had some testy exchanges with on Twitter and via email, was booted from a Beto O’Rourke event. Immediately, sympathy poured in for Pollak, even from reporters at more lefty news organizations. Again, I found myself on the opposite side of many of the reporters commenting on the issue.
Generally speaking, I don’t think any reporter should be removed from any event involving someone running for office, so long as they are handling themselves appropriately (i.e. not constantly interrupting a speaking event or performing acts of protest). But Breitbart News is not a legitimate news organization. As I noted on Twitter, the same day Pollak was removed from Beto’s event, Breitbart used its listserv to send out an email raising money for Ilhan Omar’s opponent in an upcoming Congressional race. Not only were they raising money for a conservative politician running against someone they report on, they were doing it by claiming Omar “hated America” and “hated you,” freedom-loving Americans. This is not the work of a news organization:
Does Breitbart have some real reporters on staff? Yes. Does it sometimes break news because of how closely it works with the White House? Yes. Is everything reported on Breitbart fake news? No. But I have a hard time working up sympathy for anyone representing Breitbart News when they act much more as a political operations chop shop for POTUS than an actual news organization. And it’s bizarre to see so many reporters treat them as the latter.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, announced he was resigning at the end of the year. It’s another Republican leaving Congress in what seems like a wave and could open the door for Stacey Abrams to run for Senate in Georgia after she lost a governor’s race last year. Sen. Isakson, well-regarded by colleagues and reporters alike, is stepping down as he battles Parkinson’s.
A story that matters.
Readers often ask about how the ugly underbelly of politics getting done in D.C. Look no further than this story from The New York Times, which lays out a bizarre tale of power politics involving Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (you might remember that name from when Inhofe famously threw a snowball on the floor of Congress to prove global warming didn’t exist). Sen. Inhofe owns a house on a lake in Oklahoma. The lake is known for great water sports because of its high water levels, but it also tends to flood lower-income parts of the community and native tribal land when big rains come in. Local leaders tried to address this flooding by asking a federal agency to lower the lake before big storms as part of a deal to re-up a license to use the lake for hydroelectric power. But Inhofe stepped in by adding an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that addressed the small-town lake and would hamstring the efforts of the local mayor. Despite having plenty of support from residents on the lake, Inhofe’s move is just the kind of D.C. insider politicking spiced with federal overreach that drives lots of Americans crazy. You can read more here.
Have a nice day.
A small academic publishing company is trying to revolutionize the textbook game by publishing academic books for no more than $40. If successful, Chemeketa Press could turn everything about getting books for college on its head. Most textbooks you need for class cost hundreds of dollars and go for just a fraction of that. The publisher says it’s already saved its customers $2.5 million since 2015. “No book should be $300 unless it is rare or out of print or signed by Charles Dickens,” managing editor Brian Mosher said. “There’s no morality behind it.” You can read more here.