News and drugs

The other day Scott Pelley got fired from his job as the anchor of the CBS Evening News. CBS has traditionally been thought of as the best and most important of the network news operations, the home of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and the news anchor position has been the most prestigious in the business for decades.  A shake-up at that spot has always been huge news in and of itself, and there was a lot of hand-wringing and speculation this time as well, although almost entirely within the industry.

pelley

But CBS Nightly News ratings trailed ABC and NBC, and news, like everything now, is a profit center. Pelley is out. His presentation of the day’s events wasn’t selling as well as the competitors’, even though the content was virtually identical.

There are two reasons why this doesn’t matter to me at all. The first is just my own taste, I suppose, and I probably shouldn’t even mention it, as it will surely anger those who disagree and it’s really not that important. But, as I’ve said before, that’s why Stewie is Generis, so here goes: Scott Pelley and Ted Baxter are virtually indistinguishable to me. They both simply read what’s put in front of them, quite obviously without any real understanding of it. And they both cultivate the silver-haired, square-jawed, steely look of authority and competence which masks any sign of who they might really be off-camera, as well as that phony “newsman’s voice”, meant to instill confidence in the truth and gravity of whatever they’re reading, however silly it may be.

baxter

The second reason Pelley’s firing doesn’t matter to me, and shouldn’t matter to anyone else either, is that network news itself no longer matters. It’s nothing but a re-hash of stuff that you already knew from the internet. It’s stale by the time they serve it to you. It might be 24 hours old or older and you’ve already determined whether you care about it.

There is no “journalism” involved – CBS is not “breaking” any stories with a network of far-flung correspondents and investigators. They are simply repeating what’s been on Twitter all day long, or even what CNN ran 10-12 hours earlier. And their standard is that if there are no spectacular images to go with the story, well, it’s just not news as far as they’re concerned.

And the really pathetic thing is they try to “tease” their stale stories to keep you tuned in through 3-4 minutes of ads: “You’ll be shocked at what President Trump tweeted last night at midnight – we’ll tell you after this…” No, I won’t be shocked. I saw it when he tweeted it 18 hours ago, and it didn’t shock me then. It wasn’t newsworthy at the time and it’s already been covered to death by everyone else all day long, including by the crack reporting staff at Get Off My Lawn.

So who’s watching these network “news” programs? Only people who don’t have the internet. In other words, only old people. And the proof is right there before your eyes. Those ads they want you to watch are virtually all drug advertisements and all for ailments that affect older people primarily.

There are a zillion new drugs you never heard of a couple of years ago that you are now bombarded with ads about during the newscast.   The drug companies know exactly who’s watching.

drug graph

I’d never heard of any of these drugs before, and now I can’t avoid them: Latuda (depression), Harvoni (hepatitis C), Rexulti (depression), Lyrica (nerve and muscle pain), Eliquis (stroke prevention), Xeljanz (rheumatoid arthritis), Viberzi (irritable bowel syndrome), Invokana (Type 2 Diabetes), Humira (arthritis), Jublia (toe fungus),  Xarelto (stroke prevention).

Maybe you’re taking one or more of these, or maybe you’re a medical professional who has known all about them for years, but that’s not my point. My point is that I have as many ailments as the next guy and the only way I’m aware of these drugs is from direct-to-consumer advertising.  My thesis is that most people have had the same experience.

Over $5 Billion dollars in drug ads were purchased last year and it’s been trending up for some time.

Following graph from this site:

drug spending

The A.M.A. has called for a ban on direct-to-consumer ad spending. The only two countries that allow direct-to-consumer drug advertising are the U.S. and New Zealand.

 

most advertised

16 drugs accounted for more than $100 million in advertising last year.

This report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (obviously created pre-Trump) says prescription drugs accounted for nearly 17 percent of total health care spending in 2015, up from about 7 percent in the 1990s, due in large part to rising prices for brand-name treatments.

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced a bill to eliminate the tax breaks that drug makers can take to offset their spending on ad campaigns. He said it was a “common sense measure to help cut down health care costs.”

On the other side of this fight is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. It’s the industry trade group and has rejected efforts to limit ads saying the ads are useful for informing patients about their treatment options and help them avoid health emergencies.

I’m tempted to agree that there is probably more new information transmitted in these ads than in the alleged “news” that surrounds them, but that would be ignoring the difference between information and advocacy.

Nine out of ten of the biggest pharmaceutical companies actually spend more on advertising than on R&D, which should tell you something about the whole process. Note that Jublia, the toe-fungus treatment, costs about $600 a bottle but is proven to work in fewer than 20 percent of users, according to Consumer Reports.

Which side do you think the Trump administration will support? I don’t know but I can guess – as with all crime stories, you’ll find the bad guys if you  “follow the money”.

#FireKushner

kushner

As I write this, the hashtag #FireKushner is trending on Twitter. I have no idea what this actually means – for all I know,  the marketing department at Twitter has figured out that I want to hear this and they’re showing it only to me, because somehow someone will make some money if I see it.  The internet works in mysterious ways.

But something does seem to be happening out there. I’ve said many times that Trump has nothing to fear from the fact-based world as long as his “No Regerts” legions remain in their bizarre self-imposed hypnotic trance. And nothing will change for them until their beloved FoxNews changes something.

Every time I get a hopeful text or email from someone exclaiming that some incriminating piece of evidence has been uncovered that will finally sink the toxic tiny-handed man-baby, I tell them to wake me up when they see it on FoxNews.

But Roger Ailes died last week, and I can still hear someone singing “Ding dong the witch is dead” from the direction of Harvard Square every time I open a window. And Bill O’Reilly is gone, a casualty not so much of his horrible behavior, or of management’s desire to bring their organizational culture in line with the accepted norms of the rest of the world, but rather of the decline in advertising revenue he was bringing in.

And now Sean Hannity, the craziest of them all and the last of those who were there from the beginning,  has been given a “time out” for his reckless non-stop hawking of yet another fake Democrats-are-murderers conspiracy story, oblivious to the damage he was doing to the family of Seth Rich.

Those of us who pretend to understand how this works realized right away that the reason for this particular horror-show was to allow Hannity to avoid mentioning the unfolding Trump/Russia story for days at a time. That’s on page one of the Fox/Hannity play book. But, amazingly, FoxNews actually retracted the story, something they never do.

And as I mentioned yesterday, a FoxNews reporter was among the first to debunk Greg Gianforte’s slanderous fabrication that he strangled a Guardian Reporter because the guy had been aggressive with him. That’s a version that, in the past, FoxNews might have put out there and hammered on for a few days until the “Who can ever know the real truth” smoke-screen descended over it and neutralized the assault. But they didn’t.

And when I click on foxnews.com this morning, I’m surprised to see them featuring two stories that , on the surface, seem anti-Trump. The first was about John Boehner saying Trump’s administration has been a “complete disaster”, and the second is about how Jared Kushner tried to get a secret communications channel with Russia.

Mind you, I haven’t actually read either of these stories, or turned my TV to FoxNews – I’m a little afraid of what I’ll find out if I do. Maybe that Hillary Clinton impersonated Kushner and is the real culprit? Maybe that Boehner was actually quoting some “extreme left-wing” critic of Trump’s and went on to rebut the whole thing? Don’t know and don’t care.

The point is that something does seem to be happening out there. Maybe you can wake me up now.

“Not in our minds!”

Yesterday, Montana elected multimillionaire businessman Greg Gianforte to its one seat in the House of Representatives in a closely watched special election. Gianforte was hand-picked by the Republican party to run against Democrat Rob Quist, a folk-singer and musician, for the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke, who became President Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior.

Assault charges had been filed against Gianforte earlier for throwing a reporter from The Guardian to the ground and strangling him after the reporter asked him about the new Congressional Budget Office scoring of the latest Republican health care bill, which, if passed, would mean 23 million people would ultimately lose health care coverage.

As he grabbed the reporter, Ben Jacobs, by the throat, Gianforte screamed that he was “sick and tired of you guys … get the hell out of here.”

Gianforte has often been compared with Trump. “Greg thinks he’s Donald Trump,”one observer in Monatana said.  “He thinks he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.” Nancy Pelosi called him a wannabe Trump.

In true Trump style, Gianforte first made up some nonsense about how Jacobs had been aggressive with him, but that story was quickly debunked by witnesses. FoxNews, remarkably, was among the first news organizations to set the record straight. Their reporter, Alicia Acuna, was there and said,

To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.

Three of the largest newspapers in Montana had endorsed Gianforte, but retracted their endorsements after the incident. None endorsed Quist, however. Gianforte has a history of Trump-like interactions with the press. The Independent Record said in an editorial,

We are also sick and tired – of Gianforte’s incessant attacks on the free press. In the past, he has encouraged his supporters to boycott certain newspapers, singled out a reporter in a room to point out that he was outnumbered, and even made a joke out of the notion of choking a news writer, and these are not things we can continue to brush off.

They also said,

We do not want this to be construed as an endorsement for any of Gianforte’s opponents, however. And we encourage all voters to review the information available, listen to their conscience, and vote for the best candidate for Montana at the polls today.

This is what passes, in Republican circles, for “taking the high road”. Paul Ryan, always a leader on Republican expeditions up the high road, also suggested Gianforte should apologize. Of course, a large percentage of the votes had already been cast before the assault took place, and Ryan was well aware that the House seat in question would remain under his control.

So courageous, Paul!  And we just love that serious expression of moral authority and disdain for indecorous behavior that you cultivate just for occasions like this.

ryan

Some people, by which I mean yours truly, Stewie Generis, figured all this would just help Gianforte solidify his base and prove his bona fides as a warrior against America’s greatest enemy, the media, and also validate his ticket on the Trump-Train from Montana. If a Jew reporter from some liberal rag gets his hair a little mussed up, well, what can we say – ya gotta break some eggs if ya wanna make an omelette.

Anyway, with the win in hand, Gianforte was ready to move on from all this. At his victory rally, he said to a laughing crowd,  “I shouldn’t have treated that reporter that way. I made a mistake.”

“Not in our minds,” someone shouted back.

minds

 

 

 

“Not a big media press access person”

That’s how Rex Tillerson, your Secretary of State, describes himself.  He was explaining his decision not to allow a pool reporter to travel with him on his trip to Asia in March.

Tillerson claimed the decision not to allow more reporters had to do with a desire to save money, saying the plane “flies faster, allows me to be more efficient” with fewer people on it.

That’s just science – everyone knows that planes fly faster with fewer reporters on them.

True to form, Tillerson yesterday held a press conference in Riyadh that excluded the U.S. press. No worries, though – he later provided a transcript of  the questions and answers given to the Saudi press.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, oversaw the process and stood alongside Tillerson throughout. He wanted to make sure that the free and independent press that Saudi Arabia is famous for had, you know, total discretion to ask and print what they want. I think that’s in the First Amendment to the Saudi Constitution, but I’ll have to double-check that.

jubeir

Transparency. That’s what the Trump administration is all about.

suadigreat

 

 

 

Faster than facts

Outrage in our time of universal connectivity and instantaneous communication is a fire than starts itself, is fanned by self-interested and ill-informed bystanders, engulfs the news cycle, and incinerates truth.  By the time it emerges that some awful thing never actually happened, we’ve all moved on and the damage can’t be undone. You can’t un-fry the egg.

The other day, United Airlines allegedly told some teenage girls they couldn’t board their flight and had to change clothes, as the “leggings” or “yoga pants” they had on were inappropriate for travel. Another passenger waiting to board the flight overheard this, took to twitter, and, well, I’m sure you know the rest of the story, because you’re alive and have access to the internet (or else you’re reading this with some superpower that I need to get right now – these broadband fees are killing me).

ZOMG! How can this happen? Those poor teenage victims! That awful sexist corporate behemoth, always oppressing the righteous and free! Those old white men, at it again! Who are THEY to tell US? A boycott must be called and the Evil Empire that is United Airlines must be defeated!  #leggingsgate

OK, everybody – slow your roll. Turns out none of it happened. At least not the way the Internet Justice League understood it. There’s more to it than the uninformed impression of the First Tweeter, which spontaneously ignited the conflagration. There usually is.

Turns out the two “victims” of this oppression were not told anything at all by the gate agent. Their family overheard the gate agent telling someone else they couldn’t fly and assumed it applied to them.  Then yet another person took the non-existent cause of the outraged girls to the internet, and the rest is history.

OK, but what about that first oppressed leggings wearer, yearning to be free? Wasn’t she a victim? Isn’t  the outrage still justified?

No. She was a “nonrev”, flying free.  See, airline employees and their families can fly standby from anywhere to anywhere else for no cost. They are non-revenue travelers, or nonrevs. It’s really the only benefit worth having for a lot of those airline jobs, which are pretty awful and poorly paid when you get right down to it.

The only thing the nonrevs have to do for this valuable privilege is adhere to a well-understood and apparently reasonable dress code. Here is the full United Airlines code for nonrev travel.

– any attire that reveals a midriff

– attire that reveals any kind of undergarments

– attire that is designated as sleepwear, underwear or swim attire

– mini skirts

– shorts that are more than three inches above the knee when in a standing position

– form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants or dresses

– attire that has offensive and/or derogatory terminology or graphics

– attire that is excessively dirty or has holes/tears

– any attire that is provocative, inappropriately revealing or see-through

– bare feet

– beach type rubber flip-flops

The airline does this because the nonrevs are, in a way, representatives of the business and it’s thought they should look professional, or at least, not offensive to the average paying flyer. It’s bad enough when you’re crammed into that middle seat in Coach to find out someone is up there in First who hasn’t paid a thing. And if their demeanor, including their appearance, is somehow objectionable, well, you’re an unhappy flyer and we don’t want that.

Now, perhaps you want to keep your outrage going despite this new evidence, and get on United’s case for their neanderthal nonrev policy. Well that’s a subject for another blog, the title of which might be, “Do employers have the right to demand anything at all from employees?”, or, maybe, “Is the concept of vulgarity obsolete?”

Today’s point is that journalism is dead. Fact-checking is dead. We prefer the internet, where everyone’s verison of things is as good as anyone’s, and, best of all, it’s faster than facts.

 

Forgotten but not gone?

It’s only been a week, and yet it’s ancient history, completely irrelevant, and apparently totally forgotten. Believe it or not, it was just over a week ago that it was revealed that Jeff Sessions lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath during his January confirmation hearing for the job of Attorney General.

In answering Senator Franken’s question about whether Sessions had had any contact with Russia, Seesions said, “I did not have communications with the Russians.”  In fact, he had met twice with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

According to 18 U.S. Code § 1001, the crime of perjury requires four elements to be present: the statement must be under oath, material or significant, false, and the speaker must know it’s false.

Sessions committed perjury, the penalty for which is up to eight years in prison. Dozens of Democrats have gone on record saying that he should resign.

Nancy Pelosi said,

“Jeff Sessions lied under oath during his confirmation hearing before the Senate.  Under penalty of perjury, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee, ‘I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.’ We now know that statement is false.”

Al Franken said,

“He answered a question that he asked himself, which is, did I meet with any Russians? And he answered it falsely. He said no. I hadn’t. Listen, I’ve been cutting him a lot of slack. I’ve been refusing to say that he lied. I wanted to wait for this letter to come out. It’s hard to come to any other conclusion than he just perjured himself.”

It’s interesting to note that Sessions himself has very strong opinions about this part of the law. In 1999, he voted to impeach Bill Clinton for lying under oath about whether or not he’d had sex with Monica Lewinsky.

So, this is pretty serious stuff. Impeachable stuff if you’re a president. Resignation stuff if you’re the Attorney General. Prison-time stuff either way if you’re guilty. This isn’t going to go away any time soon, right?

Wrong. President Donald J. Trump waved his magic twitter over it and made the whole thing disappear in the blink of an eye.

All he had to do was tweet:

It only took a second, and the whole Sessions resignation question took a back seat for a day or two, and now has apparently gone away. In its place, the headlines and talking heads are all about various branches of government scrambling in a circus of powerlessness to get some accountability out of Trump for this new craziness. And guess what – in a few days even this will be set aside and placed in the attic toy box of old craziness to gather dust undisturbed.

Say what you will, when it comes to deflection, blame-shifting, and “Trumping” the outlandish with the preposterous and the preposterous with the apparently-insane, the man-baby knows what he’s doing. He’s the best.

Sometimes, you just have to shake your head and admit defeat.

Purge the saboteurs

It has now been pointed out by many that the President of the United States watches hours of FoxNews every day, and that his favorite show his “Fox and Friends”. He often responds in real time with tweets to things he sees on FoxNews. Sometimes this creates a weird kind of public conversation between the POTUS and the on-air personalities, e.g. this two-hour interaction recently.

He also checks the Breitbart web site often, though this is hardly necessary as his Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, is nearby to tell him what he needs to know about the site.   Trump regards everything on Breitbart as true and news, which has gotten him into trouble recently with the whole “Obama tapped my wires” thing. Read what Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor, has to say about Bannon’s time at Breitbart, including his turning the comment section into “a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”

All in all, it’s a real problem for America.  Trump does not trust or consult subject-matter experts, professional bureaucrats, or really anyone but a few close confidantes, and then only when what they say matches his worldview and mood. Whoever had his ear last before he picks up his twitter will have the most influence on what he says.

He is impulsive, given to conspiracy theories, and largely ignorant of world history and current events, apart from what he chooses to absorb from “the shows.” He doesn’t read, and it’s been speculated that, in fact, he cannot read above a fourth grade level. This shifts a huge responsibility to the outlets he trusts, as what they assert, or even speculate about, may quickly become the basis for Executive Orders and national policy. How has FoxNews responded to this new reality?

Recklessly.

The other day, Sean Hannity, referring to “deep state holdovers” from the Obama administration (i.e. anyone in a government job that might not have voted for Trump), said,

“It’s time for the Trump administration to begin to purge these saboteurs before it’s too late.”

Bill O’Reilly, referring to the recent cache of CIA documents released by Wikileaks and emphasizing that the leaks took place during the Obama administration, said,

“Treason is in the air”. 

And, almost immediately, the purge began.  I have no problem with any administration choosing their own people and firing, with cause, those who they have a legal right to fire. But I have a huge problem with the idea that anyone who ever worked in the Obama administration is, by definition,  actively trying to “sabotage” Trump, and is an enemy to be “purged”. This kind of intemperate language (and thought) is exactly what we don’t need in public discourse, particularly given the mercurial nature of our commander-in-chief.

Which brings me to the dilemma facing every citizen who understands that the man-baby is profoundly unfit and unqualified for the job he has won. Do we wish for the “success” of President Trump? And, if in some sense we do not, does that make us un-American?

I can say that I wish for the success of America.

I hope everyone who needs a  good job can get one, and can support themselves and their families.

I hope everyone gets the health care that a citizen of a rich, industrialized country deserves (and already  has in every other rich, industrialized country).

I hope everyone who wants an education can get one. I hope science can stand on its own without being politicized.

I hope we can avoid wars and, that if we are called upon to deploy our military somewhere, the cause makes sense and the objectives are clear. I hope there is a an exit strategy from any conflict, as well as a morning-after plan for those who will have to live with the consequences of our policies.

I hope we all recognize the importance of working towards cleaner air and water, developing renewable energy sources, and repairing the damage that has been done to the planet over the last century.

I hope that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms that have made our country unique, that civil discourse is restored, that dissent is tolerated or even valued, that no one needs to fear the consequences of speaking or thinking something different than those charged with running our government, and that the line between “leaders” and “rulers” remains clear and bright.

If these measures of success for America also define success for Trump, then I wish him all the success in the world.

I do not want to live in a kleptocracy, a one-party-state, or a country where loyalty to an individual is more important than loyalty to principles or country.

I do not want to live in a country where, if you are unlucky enough to have voted for the losing candidate, you will be purged as a saboteur or accused of treason. Those who use their powerful megaphone and deep pockets to distort and exaggerate and appeal to our worst instincts, and who have the audacity to do so during times of peace and prosperity, are the enemies of our American ideals and way of life.

Maybe it is Hannity and O’Reilly who should be purged.