Thursday July 17, House votes to hold AG Barr and Commerce Secretary Ross in contempt of Congress over census citizenship question Vox
I'm no Judge Napolitano, who predicted the exact day a Trump underling was forced out. Judge Napolitano: Alex Acosta Will Be Gone By Friday. But I think Ross will be gone soon, and I want the media and congress to learn from all the previous firing and resignations and prepare to bust Ross in upcoming press conferences, interviews and congressional hearings.
Back in the olden days bloggers pointed out how the media failed to strategically and tactically deal with Bush's manipulation of the press in the run up to the war in Iraq. In that fine tradition I'm going to offer some advice to them AND to the congress members. These suggestions are ALSO for the politically aware and media-savvy people reading this.
The media and congress are so busy covering new atrocities they don't have time to see the patterns and use them to expose the White House's tricks and turn them back on them.
It has been observed and reported that Trump demands his underlings follow his protocol for denying, lying and attacking.
Charles M. Blow wrote a column about Labor Secretary Acosta's press conference on Wednesday July 10th. Trump Detests Apologetic Men On Friday, July 12th Acosta resigned.
A lot of people who wrote about the press conference said the same thing, "Acosta was doing it for an audience of one." meaning Donald Trump.
Blow correctly pointed out how Trump likes his underlings to respond to attacks.
In Trump’s orbit you must ape the behavior of the boss: strongly deny and strenuously deflect. And, if possible, personally attack the person making the accusation. That is the Trump way. That is what he has always done.
This is not just Blow's analysis, it's based on quotes from others who talked to Trump about it.
According to Bob Woodward last year, Trump talked about a “friend who had acknowledged some bad behavior toward women.” When counseling that friend on how to respond, Trump said, “You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women.” Trump continued: “If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead. That was a big mistake you made.”
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In Trump’s world, apologies and punishments are for the weak. They are for losers.
People in the media know that Trump coaches people who are caught in a bad situation to deny, deny, deny. The reporters and producers see it happen again and again when someone is pushed out. It doesn't take a time traveler like me to figure out that Trump is going to demand it from the next official under fire.
When a cabinet member uses the Trump method it can be used against both the cabinet member AND Trump.
Activist action: Contact your favorite member of the media who goes to D. C. press conferences and a member of the house oversight committee (List here) with a note: "Are you ready for Ross' resignation?" Send them a reminder of his conflicts of interest and ethical failures since he was confirmed as Secretary of Commerce. They can be used in addition to the new crimes he is accused of involving the census.
So here is some media analysis for folks at home to follow along:
The Trump denial method
I watched the entire Acosta press conference. He used multiple methods to stop or curtail certain lines of questioning. For example:
1) He attacked one small mistake in reporting to cast doubt on all reporting.
2) He talked about conversations that others could not challenge because they weren't public and couldn't be verified.
3) He offered excuses that were laughable and referenced actions taken by people who weren't there to challenge his characterizations of their actions.
Tips for media confronting non-apologetic men
1) Read the documents that are public. Court documents about Wilbur Ross' census case exist.
2) Talk to the experts BEFORE the PRESS CONFERENCE. and prep them with the likely answers that the ousted cabinet member will give.
Ross: "We just wanted to support the voting rights act!"
Congressperson: "BZZZZ WRONG! The evidence we have provided show Dr. Hofeller was motivated to recommend the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census to advantage Republicans by diminishing Hispanics’ political power.”
3) Prepare for their 2nd and 3rd level excuses. Create follow up questions that show the world just how ridiculous they are.
4) Bust Trump underlings in REAL TIME. This is a skill we mostly see from foreign press these days, but it is possible. Here is how to make it happen.
a) Work with OTHER reporters to ask follow ups that you can't ask.
b) Use Google during the press conference to find answers.
c) Bring documents that dispute comments made by the ousted cabinet member.
d) When the ousted cabinet member says, "I don't have the documents in front of me, I can't comment." say, "Okay, I'll email them to you and we can talk about them tomorrow. What time should I be there?"
These all seem obvious but there is a reason they don't usually happen. People who don't know how press conferences work might not appreciate how stacked the format can be against the media, especially when facing a well-trained politician and their staff. The media know how to bust press conferences, but the reward isn't always big enough to do it.
The press conference format works against getting to the real story for a couple of reasons. The presenter has prepared for combat, not the sharing of information. The presenter has their guard up and has created canned answers for tough and "gotchca" questions. Because of this, the media need to go to plan B:
Plan B: Set up one-on-one interviews with ousted cabinet members
Remember Trump's terrible Stephanopoulos interview? During one-on-one interviews Trump ignores the carefully crafted answers made for him.
Trump was supposed to tell Lester Holt he fired Comey, because "Comey did a bad job on the Clinton investigation." Instead he blurted out that he did it because of the Russia investigation. That comment helped solidify his true intent. Let's make more of these blurts happen!
Ross has a lot of experience successfully evading, dodging and denying his wrong doings. But even successful interviews can piss off Trump if he doesn't like the way the cabinet member handled it. If Trump sees any apology or acceptance of culpability, he will want to correct the record. That involves him revealing his true intent. He will either tweet it or spew it during a softball interview with Fox and Friends where he complains about his underling's answer.
Hot Tip: Set up ousted cabinet members interviews so Trump feels compelled to replace well-crafted answers with what he thinks the answer should be
Now let's say the media follow my advice and get one-on-one interviews with Wilbur Ross. Let's say their research opens up new lines of questions. Now Ross is testifying before congress, UNDER OATH. Whoo. Hooo!
Like the media, the Democrats in congress are busy holding hearings over new atrocities every day. They also don't have time to see the patterns and use them to expose the White House's tricks. I've watched lots of hearings, here are some suggestions to win:
Democratic Congresspeople: Use the theater of the hearings to your advantage
Congress Tip 1: Prepare for hostile witness testimony
Remember the Kavanaugh hearings? He came out of the gate filled with anger and belligerence. He denied and attacked. He was coached to do that. This worked for "the audience of one" And it worked on some of the people questioning him. They weren't prepared for his ridiculous answers and lame excuses. "I like beer!"
Trump's people are told to go into denial mode with ridiculous answers and easily disproved reasons. This is the time to use Trump denial mode against both the person testifying AND Trump.
Congress Tip 2: Prepare for lawyerly testimony
People testifying under oath before congress always prepare for lawyerly questions. They can't lie to them like the press, so they are more careful. We saw the hair splitting word choices during Harris's questioning of Barr. Everyone on the left liked that because Harris anticipated Barr's response and shut down his nonsense.
Congress Tip 3: Think like a casting director
Create questions that would lead a bad actor (who is a politician) into failing their audition for an audience of one.
Ask questions that will elicit answers that will enrage the audience of one. Such as an apology.
Ask questions that will elicit answers that will piss off Trump's base, but will make the left happy. Such as admitting to ANY wrongdoings before be forced to do so by hard evidence to the contrary.
Democratic apology experts sometimes tell clients to do admit some mistakes as a way to humanize you to the victim. But in Trump World you never admit to anything. Especially when you are guilty. You and your lawyers wait it out. If the lawyers can't figure out an angle to get you off, you might get a pardon from Trump!
Congress Tip 4: Develop open ended softball question that normal humans would answer rationally.
Then prepare for the crazy responses Trump expects to hear. We can figure out what they might use by reading the court filings of the DOJ on the census case. Some answers are so ridiculous that judges laugh at them. Like Judge Patricia Millett did in the face of William Consovoy, President Trump's lawyer.
Wilbur Ross will be coached to deny, deny deny on the census citizenship questions. Let a lawyer ask the legal process questions, but create conditions for a morality play.
Congress Tip 5: Bring up a story from Ross's past where he acted like a human, maybe even a human Democrat! (He WAS a Democrat until 2016! )
Bring up a time he apologized, showed integrity, empathy or compassion toward people of color or immigrants. For example, bring up the time in 2003 when Ross did something good for steel unions. In 2016 NPR reported he was "respected by organized labor."
Ross might think he is getting a life-line opportunity from the congressperson. But as Admiral Ackbar says, "It's a trap!"
But Spocko, why bother with all this set up about how he used to be a decent guy? Why not just crush him with all the evidence right off the bat? Because this makes better theater.
Many Democrats want to believe people are good and can be rehabilitated. That's one of the things that makes us better than them. However, if Ross is offered redemption and then doesn't take it, it will crush the NPR Democrats at home who still believe that there are good Republicans.
Redemption of humanity, offered by Democrats is a powerful lure. But it will be rejected by Republicans because they must follow Trump's script. For Democratic lawmakers who still want to believe they can "reach across the aisle" in the future, they now have permission to crush a Republican politician. Then can say with conviction:
"We gave him a chance. He blew it. Now he's going to jail."
What if Ross apologizes for his actions? That would be interesting. As Tom Petty sang, even the losers get lucky sometimes. But anything that pleases the left, like an apology, would destroy him in the eyes of Trump and his base who believe apologies are for losers.
The only people who would be pleased with an apology would be the corporate media. They would be quick to rehabilitate him, since they are hungering for any Republican to repudiate the President. Ross would be on the Chris Matthews show before you can say, "Tip and Ronnie having drinks."
I can't tell you if Wilbur Ross will be the next person to resign or be fired, that would break the Temporal Prime Directive, but history shows that ousted Trump underlings will deny, lie and make up crazy stories when talking to the media and testifying before congress.
The country is craving cathartic justice stories. This is our opportunity to punish people for their criminal actions and show everyone how morally repugnant Republicans are.
Busting ousted officials within the systems they think they own will be good theater and good for the country.