Feb 5, 2020

Trump, Pelosi spar during unusual State of the Union address.

Trump, Pelosi spar during unusual State of the Union address.

Plus, the Iowa results trickle in.

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Today’s read: 7 minutes.

The latest from Iowa, the State of the Union address and some great numbers for President Trump.

President Trump turns away as Nancy Pelosi reaches out to shake hands. Screenshot: CNN

Iowa results.

Yesterday, around 5 p.m. EST, the Iowa Democratic party released partial results (about 62%) from across the state. By Wednesday morning, those results were up to 71%. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg were the clear winners, with Sanders winning the popular vote and Buttigieg winning the highest percentage of delegates. State and national party officials have long said whoever earns the most delegates should be the de facto victor in Iowa. It appears Sanders was the most popular first choice from reported caucuses across the state, but Buttigieg benefitted heavily from Biden and Klobuchar supporters who moved to back him in precincts where Biden or Klobuchar weren’t viable (while caucusing in Iowa, the supporters of candidates who don’t get 15% of the vote in a room are asked to move to their second choice). Candidates are still waiting anxiously for the remaining 29% of votes, which have the potential to change the victor given how tight the race is.

This video.

Someone captured the moment an Iowa voter realized that Mayor Pete Buttigieg was a gay man and had a husband.

What D.C. is talking about.

Last night, President Trump delivered his third State of the Union address, the final one of his first term in office. Trump spent the night touting his economic record, performing a bit of showmanship and painting the picture of an optimistic future for Americans. “In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We have totally rejected the downsizing,” he said. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back.” Shortly after entering the House chamber to deliver his address, though, the partisan moment we’re living in became readily apparent. When Trump approached the microphone, where House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence were sitting, he handed Pelosi a printout of his speech. As she reached forward to shake his hand, he turned away and rebuffed her. Then, when Pelosi introduced him, she skipped the traditional introduction (“I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States”) by simply saying, “Members of Congress, the President of the United States.” At the conclusion of his address, Pelosi stole the buzz by visibly organizing and tearing up the speech Trump had handed her.

What the left is saying.

It was another night of boasting, lies, and degradation of the office. Trump took the unprecedented step of honoring conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who recently announced he had lung cancer, with the Medal of Freedom inside the House chamber. Limbaugh has a long history of sexist and racist remarks and now joins the likes of Rosa Parks and Mother Theresa. Trump also lied about protecting pre-existing conditions and pretended the thriving economy was all his doing when he inherited a stable economy from Obama. Some members of Congress, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, skipped the State of the Union address so as not to “normalize” Trump. Others, like Sen. Chris Murphy, said afterward they wished they skipped it. While Pelosi dominated the coverage with the image of her ripping up Trump’s speech, lots of people on the left mocked everyone for pretending it was a big deal. The general sentiment from the far-left of the caucus is people like Pelosi have enabled Trump, and small petty acts like ripping up his speech receive widespread praise from establishment folks but do nothing to actually hurt or slow down Trump.

What the right is saying.

Trump is getting high marks. Aside from honoring Limbaugh in the House chamber, which did rub some folks the wrong way, Trump was receiving praise throughout the evening and Wednesday morning. He brought a soldier into the House chamber and reunited him with his wife. He awarded a young African-American girl from Philadelphia with an Opportunity Scholarship. He honored a conservative giant who is battling cancer. He lauded the Tuskegee Airmen and hosted them as his guests. He celebrated the trillion tree initiative to plant trees across the planet. He promised to protect pre-existing conditions, decried “late-term abortions” and promised to continue removing “illegal aliens.” He had a brilliant, genius mix of theater and politics that appealed to both his base and the moderate suburbs. And through it all, he was able to tout an economy that is humming, record unemployment rates for minorities and women, and a promise to increase funding for Alzheimer’s research. For all of that, how was he rewarded? Nancy Pelosi ripped up the State of the Union address containing the names of the Tuskegee Airmen, the reunited soldier, the young black girl, the great economic news, and the promise of the trillion tree initiative.

My take.

Thomas Jefferson used to read his State of the Union address, and that tradition held firm for some years. But it’s since become a spectacle and one I am not really crazy about. I would be perfectly happy if every State of the Union address was a written document for the rest of history. There were moments from last night that were perfectly emotional and touching, but it mostly left me feeling sad. I hope Limbaugh recovers from his diagnosis, and I have seen the ravages of cancer up close. But he is not deserving of the Medal of Freedom. He’s said and done some truly horrific things and I think it’s a shame he was honored the way he was. The partisanship is totally out of control, and the president is still acting a lot like a reality television star. I thought what Pelosi did was childish and stupid and I think it will backfire on her politically. But I can only laugh at the folks on the right who are clutching their pearls and pretending this was the most disgusting thing that’s ever happened in the history of politics. For all the things conservatives like about Trump, I simply can’t take anyone seriously who pretends to be offended by Pelosi ripping up those papers and then throws their support behind him. He has repeatedly spoken and acted in a more disrespectful way toward his political opponents than any president before him. And he’s never ever apologized for any of it. All told, the SOTU address is one of those political moments I’d rather not cover or discuss and wish it didn’t suck up so much oxygen. But, alas, the promise of this section in the newsletter is to tell you what people are talking about. Today, this is what they’re talking about.

A story that matters.

Today’s “story that matters” is courtesy of a Tangle reader who wrote in and asked that I read this Rolling Stone story on fracking. I’m glad I did. The reporting tells the story of several low-wage workers across the United States’ Rust Belt who work in the fracking industry. It shows how many of the men and women working in the industry are unaware of the radioactive brine they’re being exposed to while getting paid $16 an hour to carry it around in their trucks. All across the country, hundreds of thousands of workers are being unknowingly exposed to radioactive material while they participate in the highly controversial industry of fracking, which involves drilling deep into the earth to release gas by injecting water, chemicals and sand into layers of rock. The brine is the waste produced by this product. There are some obvious benefits to fracking, including America’s push toward energy independence, but this story is a jarring wake up call about the dangers of the industry. It’s worth your time. Click.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: You can ask questions, too. All you have to do is reply to a Tangle email and write in or tweet at Tangle News.

Q: In today’s edition of the NYT Daily, their editor during the 2016 election said that part of journalism is telling people what to think. What are your thoughts on that statement?

- Hafeez, Pittsburgh, PA

Tangle: First, I want to be clear about what Dean Banquet, the executive editor of The New York Times, said. He was discussing the Times’ coverage of Bernie Sanders in 2016 and how they framed him as a longshot candidate:

“I think the reader picks up The New York Times and says, Bernie Sanders, I’ve never heard of him. How should I think about him? And I think this captured that.”

I understand how you’re reading this statement. If a reader is looking at The New York Times and asking themselves how they should think about a candidate, then Banquet is de facto saying the Times’ job is to tell a reader how they’re thinking about a candidate. Given the other context of the interview (which I highly recommend, by the way), I don’t think that’s what Banquet believes.

But, to answer the question in the context of your framing, I think that’s a very bad way to think about journalism. I don’t think the job of journalism is to tell people what or how to think. I think the job of journalism is to give people an accurate, well-rounded, contextualized report of events. Journalism comes in many forms these days — written, audio, video, analysis, data, investigative, opinion, and so on. But I believe the obligation of journalism is to tell people a story of what happened. What Banquet also says in that interview is that the best story of racism he ever read did not ever use the word racism or describe someone as racist. Instead, the story (which was about Philadelphia, Mississippi), simply quoted racists. The journalist didn’t need to tell the reader someone was racist, he simply showed them with the data. That’s the power of journalism.

Relatedly, my goal with Tangle is not to tell people how to think. The issue with today’s media is not that reporters or journalists are necessarily liberal or conservative hacks (plenty are, plenty aren’t). It’s that the news is so driven by what readers or viewers want, and people usually don’t want to hear something that contradicts their worldview or challenges how they see something. As a consequence, so much of our news has the feel of partisanship. Even the news that is not so heavy-handed in being left or right can have bias based on story selection alone.

This newsletter is a response to that climate. My goal is to offer “both” sides, when really I just mean the best competing arguments. There are not two sides in America. There are many. I like to say that “if you believe there are two sides to a story, you’ve only asked two people.” I firmly believe that about our politics as well. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a reachable or objective truth. It just means that objective truth may be interpreted differently depending on who you are listening to. And I hope to capture those interpretations here and give readers the power to make informed decisions about the arguments they might encounter in the political world.

Banquet is a great editor and a very smart guy. I don’t think he believes it’s a reporter’s job to tell someone how to think, but I do believe he sees The New York Times — the paper of record — as a place where reporters have an obligation to draw lines in the sand about what’s true and what isn’t. That is a powerful and difficult mandate to see through.


  • 74.4%. The percentage of Americans who believe they will be better off in a year, the highest rating since 1977.
  • 59%. The percentage of Americans who say they are better off financially than they were a year ago, the highest level in the history of Gallup polling.
  • 11.5%. In the 12 Iowa counties that have now reported full results, the percentage turnout is down since the 2016 caucuses.
  • 82%. The percentage of independents who said they approved of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
  • 30%. The percentage of Democrats who said they approved of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
  • 10%. Trump’s spike in the Gallup approval rating since October, which is now at an all-time high for his presidency (49%).
  • 33.4%. Bernie Sanders’ chances of winning the Democratic primary, best of any Democrat, according to election betting odds.
  • 18.4%. Michael Bloomberg’s chances of winning the Democratic primary, second-best of any Democrat, according to election betting odds.
  • 56.2%. Donald Trump’s chances of winning re-election, according to election betting odds.

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Have a nice day.

Finland announced a new policy proposal today that will allow fathers as much paid leave time as mothers. The proposal was enacted by the country’s women-led, center-left government that was recently put into power. Paid paternity leave will now be seven months across the country, which is equal to maternity leave. It places Finland atop the globe as one of the most parent-friendly economies, especially in contrast to America, where some mothers and fathers don’t even get paternity leave. The “radical reform” was put into place to both improve gender equality and address Finland’s declining birth rate. “This enables better equality between parents and diversity among families,” the Minister of Health and Social Affairs said. Click.

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