Billy Bush’s Hot Mic Sex Joke, Teacher’s Free Speech Is Bad Lesson, GOP Cancels IRS, Hannity Cancels the Truth, Joe Rogan Rants Over Fake Tweet, and More. Plus Movies, TV, and Music.
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
When Journalism Met Sexism
Billy Bush Caught Making Crude Sex Joke About Kendall Jenner on Hot Mic (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: “More than six years after his career was derailed by his involvement in Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tapes, Extra anchor Billy Bush has been caught in another hot mic moment making crass and sexually demeaning remarks.
“In a video clip provided exclusively to The Daily Beast, Bush joked on-set during a taping of Extra about model Kendall Jenner’s Toy Story-inspired Halloween costume and her attractiveness in the outfit.
“‘Kendall goes as Jessie and, believe me, there were a lot of woodies,’ Bush said during the Oct. 31 taping, eliciting laughter from several production staffers in the room. (The Daily Beast is publishing only the audio of the incident in order to protect the anonymity of its source.)
“Bush made the objectifying comment while standing in front of a large wall screen plastered with images of female celebrities dressed in provocative Halloween garb. Featured at the center was Jenner, the second-youngest of the famed Kardashian/Jenner sisters, dressed up as Jessie, the free-spirited cowgirl from the immensely popular Pixar franchise.”
MY TAKE: There are two very important issues here. First: Is Bush’s comment worthy of condemnation? Second: Is the reporting by The Daily Beast journalistically fair? Both are important because they reflect the effect of advocacy journalism on artistic expression. In other words, when the media (of which I am a member) attacks someone for their behavior, it has a chilling effect on others’ behavior. That’s the point. When I call someone out for what I deem bad behavior, it’s because I want that behavior to stop—in them and others. Which is why we have to be careful to only point out behavior that is detrimental to society, not just personally offensive.
I’ll start with the second issue. I am a regular reader of The Daily Beast because I like the variety of issues they report on and the liveliness of their writing. But I’m going to disagree with their approach in this instance. The opening paragraph describes Bush’s words as “making crass and sexually demeaning remarks.” Later, the article states, “Bush made the objectifying comment…” and “off-color remarks.” Whether or not his comments were any of those things should be up to the reader to decide, not the writer. If the article had been labeled as “Opinion,” I would have accepted the characterization. But it wasn’t. So, I don’t.
I understand where the disapproval comes from and agree with the principles. The nasty problem they are addressing is that men have been using the “it's just a joke” excuse for years to justify sexist comments (the flirty innuendo) and sexual advances (the hand on the back). And when rebuffed, they accuse women of not having a sense of humor. It’s a frustrating and evil gaslighting ploy. It needs to be called out every time it occurs.
But this is not such a case. Jenner dressed to be sexually provocative, which is her brand. It’s how she makes money. Bush's comment was directed at the success of her attempt and not a slur to objectify or diminish her. Dressing provocatively is objectifying oneself because it defines the person mostly through their sexuality. Again, her prerogative.
Some have condemned Jenner for “ruining a children’s movie,” which also makes no sense. The Toy Story movies still exist and Jesse’s sweet and fierce character is not affected in the least by how a celebrity dresses for Halloween. If Chris Hemsworth wore nothing but a bedazzled Lakers jockstrap for Halloween, he would not have ruined basketball.
I agree we need to be vigilant in calling out misogynist comments and behavior, but we have to be equally vigilant in not being over-zealous in our definitions.
[NOTE: I have made similar comments about journalistic impartiality regarding all my favorite news sources—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, etc.—because I know accuracy matters to them. They care about getting it right, which is why I continue to read and subscribe to (hint, hint) them—and why I continue to read The Daily Beast. When I comment on Fox News’ massive bias, it’s as a warning because I know they don’t care about impartial journalism. Reminder: my newsletter is opinion-based, though I try to make a case for why I hold my opinions.]
Politics: Defund the Tax Police?
SUMMARY: “After House Speaker Kevin McCarthy finally won the gavel after midnight early Saturday morning, the California Republican delivered prepared remarks to his colleagues.
“‘I know the night is late,’ he declared from the dais, ‘but when we come back our very first bill will repeal the funding for 87,000 new IRS agents.’ GOP members, convinced that the discredited claim is true, roared in approval.
“Or put another way, the first legislative priority for the new House Republican majority is to undermine law enforcement.
“…Right off the bat, as McCarthy has been told many times, the Democratic measure in question didn’t hire 87,000 IRS agents. It might seem outlandish to think Republicans are attacking a group of officials who do not actually exist.
“In reality, the IRS will be bolstered by new employees, but many of them will simply replace retiring workers, and many more will simply work in the building as IT technicians and folks who answer the phone. Repeating the lie about 87,000 new IRS agents doesn’t make it any less wrong.
“…[T]he very first thing House Republicans want to do with power is, in effect, help criminals by defunding law enforcement.”
MY TAKE: People have an unnatural fear of spiders. After all, we’re much bigger and can easily out run or kill them. Yet, something about their spindly legs and multiple eyes (eight of both!) evokes a gag reflex and a flight reaction. Same with the IRS. Even if you’ve been meticulous about paying taxes, there’s always the chance that an audit will find something you’ve missed. Especially with how complex our tax system is. Suddenly, you owe money and you feel like a criminal. That’s why the IRS is a natural bogeyman for Republicans to shove in the faces of Americans while then claiming they are protecting us from them.
But in reality, Republicans are doing massive damage. The bill to provide IRS funding showed that the government could collect more taxes by enforcing tax laws we already had than by raising taxes. That means that the Republican effort to hobble the IRS will inevitably result in having to raise taxes. Have we learned nothing since George H. W. Bush’s “Read my lips! No new taxes.”?
What makes this so disingenuous and smarmy is that hampering the IRS is the tithe the GOP pays to their Big Business donors and masters. It’s not middle-class Americans who will benefit, it’s those already making millions who want to save millions more. Criminals fear the IRS because it’s taxes that have sent so many of them to prison. Al Capone could murder dozens of people, but taxes put him behind bars. Of course, tax-dodgers don’t want to fund the IRS anymore than Trump wants to donate to the ACLU.
If Republicans truly wanted to provide tax relief, they’d rewrite the tax laws, not hamper the government in collecting what is legally owed. How does withholding funding benefit the average American? Isn’t this like defunding the police because they gave speeding tickets to the rich residents?
I bellyache about taxes on occasion, but I like the idea that I am contributing to schools, to roads, to hospitals, to helping those in need through my government. I don’t resent the government as much as I do the millionaires and billionaires manipulating the government so they can pay less, but then influencing conservative laws to counter the U.S. Constitution. They want to dictate who can marry whom, who gets to vote, who can control their own body—but on our dime. Donald Trump paid $0 in income tax in 2020. I’m not saying it was illegal, but it sure wasn’t in the spirit of love of country.
Education: The Judge Got It Wrong
SUMMARY: “A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a former teacher in Vancouver, Washington, concluding that his wearing a hat supporting Donald Trump to school was protected speech under the first amendment.
“…According to the Columbian newspaper, the first occasion was a staff-only cultural sensitivity and racial bias training.
“The principal of Wy’east middle school, Caroline Garret, allegedly told Dodge to use better judgment.
“Dodge said he was ‘verbally attacked’ by Garret and other school employees after bringing the hat again, and that retaliation amounted to a violation of his first amendment rights.
“In a ruling on December 29, the appeals panel concluded that the district failed to show evidence of a ‘tangible disruption’ to school operations necessary to outweigh the teacher’s first amendment rights.
“‘That some may not like the political message being conveyed is par for the course and cannot itself be a basis for finding disruption of a kind that outweighs the speaker’s first amendment rights,’ wrote the judge, Danielle J Forrest, a Trump appointee.”
MY TAKE: The judge made a huge mistake here because he didn’t understand how to define “tangible disruption” as it relates to education. Public school teachers should not be expressing personal views about political or social issues in school because of the undue influence they may have, which is contrary to the mandate of secondary education: teaching students how to think for themselves. Students do not usually have to opportunity to argue back against a teacher expressing personal political views because they fear for their grades. That is a “tangible disruption” in the education process. That is intellectual “grooming.”
Wearing a political hat to school is announcing you are a lousy teacher. I would not want a teacher to wear a Black Lives Matter hat in school anymore than a Trump hat. I don’t want them standing in front of a class expressing their political or social opinions about anything. I want teachers to teach students how to check facts, apply logic, research sources, and then to use all that to form opinions which can be rationally defended and articulately expressed. Those are the tools for career success and being responsible citizens. Those are the tools for discovering who they are and what they believe in. Those are the tools for happiness.
Kareem’s Video Break
This trailer for Renfield is one of the funniest I’ve seen in a long time. All these scenes better be in the final film or I’m suing (that’s a callback to my article last week about suing studios for misleading trailers)!
Timing is everything—on the court and in life. This is the time to subscribe to keep my newsletter going.
They Called 911 for Help. Police and Prosecutors Used a New Junk Science to Decide They Were Liars. (ProPublica)
SUMMARY: “Tracy Harpster, a deputy police chief from suburban Dayton, Ohio, was hunting for praise. He had a business to promote: a miracle method to determine when 911 callers are actually guilty of the crimes they are reporting. ‘I know what a guilty father, mother or boyfriend sounds like,’ he once said.
“Harpster tells police and prosecutors around the country that they can do the same. Such linguistic detection is possible, he claims, if you know how to analyze callers’ speech patterns — their tone of voice, their pauses, their word choice, even their grammar. Stripped of its context, a misplaced word as innocuous as ‘hi’ or ‘please’ or ‘somebody’ can reveal a murderer on the phone.
“So far, researchers who have tried to corroborate Harpster’s claims have failed. The experts most familiar with his work warn that it shouldn’t be used to lock people up.
“Prosecutors know it’s junk science too. But that hasn’t stopped some from promoting his methods and even deploying 911 call analysis in court to win convictions.”
A 2020 FBI study found no merit in Harpster’s methods or claims.
MY TAKE: There are some government agencies that are fundamental to the public’s peace of mind. The 911 system may be the most significant. Second might be law enforcement. But once you read this article (my summary does not do the issue justice), your confidence in both institutions will be shaken. I’m still in shock.
Jury trials are our legal system’s greatest strength—and weakness. Theoretically, being judged by our peers means a greater probability of a fair trial. But juries can be easily manipulated. Eyewitness testimony carries great weight in trials, yet studies show that it is responsible for 52 percent of errors in wrongful convictions.
Now prosecutors have been given another weapon that some incompetent prosecutors eagerly used to wrongfully convict people. They didn’t bother to substantiate the “science,” just ran out and put innocent people in prison in order to raise their conviction rate and their careers. Shouldn’t that be against the law? Isn’t that a reckless disregard for public safety punishable by imprisonment? What next, a return to phrenology to decide guilt based on the shape of the skull?
Any prosecutor who used this to get a conviction should be, at the very least, immediately fired.
Kareem’s Short Takes
Sometimes a news item is important but doesn’t warrant a long analysis. When that happens, I’ll include them in this “Short Takes” section.
Joe Rogan apologizes for discussing doctored tweet on Spotify podcast (The Los Angeles Times)
SUMMARY: ICU doctor Natalia Solenkova has been deluged with hate messages, threats, and potential career damage after a fake tweet attributed to her was broadcast by Joe Rogan and other right-wing accounts. Despite Rogan later apologizing and pulling the segment, it had been viewed millions of times. The false tweet read: “I will never regret the vaccine. Even if it turns out I injected actual poison and have only days to live. My heart and is was [sic] in the right place. I got vaccinated out of love, while anti-vaxxers did everything out of hate. If I have to die because of my love for the world, then so be it. But I will never regret or apologize for it.”
MY TAKE: Rogan eventually did the right thing by apologizing and removing the segment, but the damage had already been done. More important, why was there no vetting by him or his staff before going on a rant about it? Right wing media is so thirsty for dirt against anyone they consider “woke” that they are easy targets for being led around by misinformation with no regard for, as Neil Young sang, “the damage done.”
In Testimony, Hannity and Other Fox Employees Said They Doubted Trump’s Fraud Claims (The New York Times)
SUMMARY: In a deposition under oath in Dominion Voting Systems $1.6 billion suit against Fox News, Sean Hannity admitted that when it came to accusations about voter fraud in the 2020 election by his guest, Trump attorney Sidney Powell, “I did not believe it for one second.”
MY TAKE: That Hannity misrepresents the truth has been proven over and over. In this particular interview, he scolded Democrats because they didn’t listen to someone Powell considered a reliable whistleblower. Of course, he wasn’t, which is why even the Trump people ditched Powell shortly after her appearance. After the interview—the one that Hannity swore under oath he didn’t believe—he went on to tell his audience that voting machines were bad and called on Georgia governor Brian Kemp to take charge of his state’s compromised election. What would you call someone who knowingly lies about the integrity of our elections to millions, compromising democracy? A patriot?
SUMMARY: “A new study from AFI shows that women during Hollywood’s silent era represented a higher percentage of writers, directors and producers. The study comes at a time when recent data shows Hollywood has fewer female filmmakers and directors behind some of its biggest titles.”
MY TAKE: I have written many times over the years about the underrepresentation of women (and other marginalized groups) in the film industry. Every time I see another study that shows little or no progress, I feel discouraged. It seems like Hollywood is made up of Hodors from Game of Thrones, holding that door closed against new points of view. At the same time, I am encouraged to see the brilliant women who this year brought us Till, Women Talking, and She Said.
Lisa Rinna’s Exit From Real Housewives Could Be a Disaster (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: After years of lying, pot-stirring, and abominable behavior, Rinna is out.
MY TAKE: Reality TV rarely polices itself when bad behavior can mean good ratings. But with 52% of Americans watching reality TV each week, it is important that we draw some lines in recognizing the difference between entertainment and abuse. Her sustained attacks on Kathy Hilton turned even her fans against her. Some reality TV has devolved into contests of how low people will go to debase themselves and others for unearned fame. Rinna didn’t just go low, she hit bottom.
What to Watch
If you like sports, you should like reality competitions. They have all the same drama and exhibitions of elevated levels of skill. Some also have the added attraction of personal drama. This week I’m going to suggest three reality competition shows that are all very different but all very entertaining. What I like about reality competition shows is that we get to see people do amazing things under intense pressure. To them, what they are doing is as important as an NBA championship game and I appreciate that level of commitment.
The Challenge: Ride or Dies (MTV): After 38 seasons, this is still the best of them all. The challenges are a combination of physical and mental, some of which are pretty daunting. Yet, the strategies and manipulations they do while living together in the same house can be just as emotionally devastating. What makes this show rise above the rest are the various personalities that emerge. They are all fierce competitors and they think they are all good people, but the game inevitably leads to betrayal. How each person justifies stabbing friends in the back and dealing with being stabbed in the back is fascinating.
Tough As Nails (CBS): Host Phil Keoghan dons his three-day beard and flannel shirt to fit in with the welders, carpenters, and other blue-collar workers who compete by doing challenges that require skills from pipe-cutting to wall building and more. I get a real appreciation for what goes into building a concrete slab or wooden pavilion. And I love the drive and work ethic of these skilled men and women.
Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test (Fox): I didn’t expect to like this show because it seems a little contrived. A bunch of past-their-prime celebrities endure a grueling basic training-type competition for no money, no prize, no nothing. The eye-rolling part is when the ex-military staff talk about, well, anything. But the actual challenges are scary and I was surprised by how forthcoming some of the celebrities (particularly Jamie Lynn Spears and Beverley Mitchell) were about their own personal life struggles. NBA great Dwight Howard was quickly humbled when he went from rating himself as the top challenger to finding out he wasn’t as good as he thought. Two celebs (the predictable ones) eliminated themselves the first episode.
Music: A Voice that Unearths Buried Treasure
Sara Vaughan’s Voice Makes Me Misty
Frank Sinatra once said that Sara Vaughan was “so good now that when I listen to her I want to cut my wrists with a dull razor.” Someone else compared her voice to “dipping into a deep, mysterious well to scoop up a trove of buried riches.” Her incredible vocal range was the envy of many singers, but her her voice bobbed and weaved with such dizzying skill and grace that every song she sang was like hearing it for the first time.
What I like about this clip is how soft and demure she sounds as she explains she has a cold and we will need to bear with her as she performs. Then she belts out the first notes and your eyebrows stand on end. Once you hear her sing this, you’ll want to play it again. I did.