April 30, 2018

My new best friend in my dreams, Sarah Kendzior, appeared on Velshi and Ruhle to discuss the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and criticism of Michelle Wolf's performance. Sarah doesn't really care too much about the dinner itself - but did care about something Wolf zeroed in on in her criticism: media complicity in the rise of Trump's autocratic rule.

Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle were quick to make sure she was aware of their regular efforts to call the Trump administration on its bullshit. Except, it really wasn't necessary.

RUHLE: Joining us now is Sarah -- I'm so sorry. Kendzior. Walk us through there. We were at the dinner, and you say that the dinner should have been done away with a long time ago.

KENDZIOR: Yeah, I don't think there's a need for it. I don't think the dinner is what's important. What's important are lies and what's important are liars in the White House, including the president and including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and those in the press who are more willing to abet those lies, to not call them out openly, to practice this sort of access journalism that does nothing but prop up this proto-autocratic administration, rather than deliver the truth and expose corruption to the American public.

RUHLE: Why aren't both true? Why aren't both true? So, for example, we don't have access to the White House. I have asked the White House for the last 305 days for an interview. They say no.

VELSHI: And yet what we do is we call them out on these very facts that you agree they should be called out on.

RUHLE: We call out their facts every single day, so why is that conflated to access journalism if we attend the White House Correspondent's Dinner, as does White House staff?

KENDZIOR: Who's conflating it? This isn't just about you two or any particular journalists. This is about institutional weaknesses in our administration -- I mean in our journalistic system that the government has exploited. I think this is a time that all journalists need to be reflective on what their role is, instead of defensive, and look at the broader threat. The one thing that all journalists do have in common is they are under threat by this administration, which targets individual journalists and which targets particular outlets, which targets the First Amendment itself. That's something that should unify journalists, not this kind of condemnation of what's happening to Michelle Wolf or any other comedian.


Still, though, Ali Velshi needed a little more reassurance. Sarah patted him on the back, but came back to strongly make her point that all journalists need to be galvanized by Trump's threats on the free press, rather than jockeying for access and settling for censorship.

VELSHI: Are you questioning the fact that journalists can't do their job if they attend this type of event? I see a lot of journalists every day. I think you're entirely right, it's not about us. There are a lot of journalists every day in America who really make a point of telling the truth and getting that truth out there to American consumers of news.

KENDZIOR: Yeah. And I think that's great. Keep doing that. It's the other ones that aren't doing that is the problem. Whether or not somebody attends the dinner is not really a critical issue for the American public. The problem is systemic, it goes much deeper. I don't care whether anybody attended the dinner, but I care whether they feel intimidated by this administration, whether they are being threatened. That they have the right to free speech and whether they're using that right. In a lot of countries, this is not a right they have, and Trump and his administration want to move us in that direction. They want to annihilate truth and censor, and most of all, they want to push journalists into practicing self-censorship. That's not something that you should not give into. You should not want to surrender that in advance.

RUHLE: I watch those White House press briefings every day, they're very contentious and tense. Do you think there's evidence on a day in and day out basis that you think the president is succeeding those efforts to undermine the press? Do you think he's successful?

KENDZIOR: I think he is with some people. I think there are willing collaborators. There are people more concerned about their career selling books, or maintaining that access that they're willing to act as sycophants and act as court stenographers. There are also journalists that are doing investigative, very hard-hitting work that's becoming more and more difficult under this administration. You know, the point of journalism is to serve the people, it's to inform the people, to educate them, not to protect the cruel and the powerful. So I encourage all the journalists who are willing to take a risk in what's become a politically heated environment and to continue doing that work. It's more necessary than ever.

I wish humans had a better sense of when it was appropriate to feel defensive. We have some evolving to do. It's just natural, when a group to which you belong is criticized, to become indignant, and rebut the point with examples of ways in which you don't fall into that criticized category. "Not all (fill-in-the-blanks) do that, though!" you protest!

That's right, friend. Not all. No one is saying "all." So, if it doesn't apply to you, keep it moving. If it does apply to you, consider the criticism.

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