April 12, 2018

Every once in a while, a TV "journalist" says something that makes me go into a slow burn. Today it was Kasie Hunt, in a Morning Joe discussion of Paul Ryan's decision to not run for reelection.

"I think the tragedy of this is watching Paul Ryan leave, after doing a pretty poor job of standing up for what's right against a president who does not follow the rule of law, and is trying to undermine our democracy -- and I urge everybody, read Madeline Albright's new book, 'Fascism,' " Mika Brzezinski said.

"Because as we've been saying for well over a year, this is how all this type of thing starts. I'm still concerned as to why Paul Ryan is leaving almost with his tail between his legs. What happened during his tenure as Speaker of the House, that made him incapable of standing up for what is right?"

"Mika, that's an interesting way of framing it. Partly because I think the sense behind the scenes is that they believe they're doing more privately than if he was out there publicly saying all of these things about the president and criticizing him, then he would be unable to help try and actually make a real difference behind the scenes," Kasie Hunt said.

Dear sweet Jesus. If she believes this, she's an idiot.

"I think in the context, I think in the context of what you mentioned about Madeleine Albright, history is going to be a harsh judge of that decision," she continued. "We'll have to see over time. but the reality is, Paul Ryan was a man without a country. He was you know, once the rising star in a Republican party that embraced his ideas. His young family when he was the vice presidential nominee. and then, the base of the party elected Donald Trump. and while yes, Ryan has forged a working relationship with President Trump, these two men could not be more fundamentally different from a values perspective."

She's a reporter. If I heard the old rumors about Paul Ryan's strip club days, why didn't she? Hence, the steam coming out of my ears over Kasie's next statement.

"If you think about it, Paul Ryan is leaving in part because of his family. He wants to spend some time with his young family. And there's truth in that. He is not, you know, somebody who is just saying that because there are other reasons, yes, there are obviously additional reasons why he might leave. That's a real thing for him."

Even Mika, no stranger to fan-girling, has had enough by this point.

"Kasie, everybody, everybody would love to spend more time with their family. but while he was not, while he was Speaker, the question is, why? Why? Every step of the way. and what exactly did they accomplish that was so worth it -- the tax cuts package?" she said.

"That's what Paul Ryan would say," Hunt said. "He would say tax cuts. This president is somebody who is cavorting with porn stars and Playboy bunnies and that is just not something that Paul Ryan understands at all.

"And at the end of the day, the frustrations and misery of doing that job as Speaker, where you are confronted with this day after day, he just decided it was too much. And you may be absolutely right that history will judge him harshly for that. The thing that privately people would say is that he believed he needed to be the ballast in the ship of state. and he's decided he doesn't want to do that any more."

So wonderful. So principled. (Excuse me, I'm feeling a little nauseated.)

One of the most important things you learn as a reporter is, "Don't believe anything a politician tells you." They may be telling you the truth, as they occasionally do, but you will do a much better job if skepticism is your default position.

Paul Ryan's gift -- genius, even -- is simulating sincerity. He fabricates narratives that lift his grifting to the level of nobility, and reporters eat it up with a spoon. Far too many reporters yesterday were lauding him -- instead of pointing out his steady efforts to erode the national safety net.

He is not a "wonk." His proposals did not stand up to even the most casual scrutiny -- but most reporters didn't bother. He wove these narratives. He used footnotes, it had to be true!

Once again, reporters choose labels over reality. Hurrah!

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