TOWOIT #291: Mere Allegations

February 12, 2018

Just minutes ago I left a train car in which a creep aggressively pressed his whole leg against mine, hip to ankle, even though he had a whole empty seat on the other side of him and even though I was struggling and squirming to get a little space between my leg and his — I inched my leg away to get away from that press of contact, and he smashed further into me. Three times. That’s not an accident.

This happens all the time. It happens to nearly every woman. It has happened to me many times. I don’t think I’ve ever ONCE commented on it before. But I am so sick of it. Don’t use your precious balls as an excuse to invade my personal space. I eventually heaved my bag a little so it kind of rammed into his elbow, and he finally moved over, but then he sort of settled himself so his hips and torso were turned toward me, opened his legs wider, and gave a little smirk. He got off at the same stop and stood RIGHT behind me on the escalator. I just wanted to kick him back down the escalator but the people behind him didn’t deserve that.

Anyway, just letting you know that’s the head space I’M in right now as I head into this recap of today’s 18-minute White House press briefing. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was creepy, robotic, and said things like “MERE allegations” and “the president thinks vic- EVERYONE- should get due process.” These people are so dumb they forget the rest of us have reading and listening comprehension. She read her exact script three times, word for word, so we really got it. We got it, Sarah. We got the over tones… we got the under tones. We got the syntax of how looking the other way and absolving abusers was the actual alpha and omega of your statement. When I hear “due process” out of her mouth all I hear is smug comfort taken in people being too afraid to come forward and closets full of unexamined rape kits.

I also wanted to share this tweet from Jay Rosen at NYU:

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It’s made me think. I have argued that the briefings ARE worthwhile because the questions matter as much as the answers in any administration, and MORE than the answers in THIS administration. Jay Rosen might be right though, and that’s uncomfortable.

Could reporters do a better job in there? Yes, absolutely. And do the red-meat MAGA crowd use Trump as a way to bludgeon liberals, and do they care more about that than they do about Trump himself? Yes, I really think so.

Still, I think it’s worth it to continue. Even though the reporters in the room skew left and right to varying degrees, most of them still show quite a bit of adherence to the basic principles of journalism. And those basic principles are in direct opposition to the way the Trump White House operates. And having that gap on display, on the record, in publicly available White House transcripts, and on TV — that still matters to me. I’d miss it if it were gone.

I wrote “I’ll miss it when it’s gone” first and then I changed it.

And then I told you that I did that.

I ran out of time and have to go into class now — I’ll update this with my usual haphazard annotation of reporters’ questions when I can.

 

TOWOIT #290: “How should women feel if they don’t have a photograph?”

February 8, 2018

Today Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah spoke to reporters about the Rob Porter scandal and took questions.

I thought it was very odd that Sarah Sanders wasn’t there on such an important day. Raj Shah had never done a briefing before (he did very well at it though). The White House said it was a pre-planned absence, but I think it’s strange.

Adding to the general sense of things being off, the briefing kept scooting later and later into the day. It was first planned for 1:00, then delayed until 2:30. Then, after the reporters had been sitting around for several minutes waiting, a voice came over the loud speaker (also odd-seeming), announcing that the briefing would now be at 3:15. Loud groans erupted.

John Roberts, Fox News TV ready, jumped up and talked to the cameraman while also talking on the phone to the studio. He decided to go out on the North Lawn to do his next on-camera segment before the briefing was scheduled to start. Then the 3:15 time period passed, 3:21, 3:24, 3:27…

At 3:37, Peter Alexander stood up on his little step-stool to do an on-camera with NBC. He could be heard saying, “They gave us the two-minute warning five minutes ago, so they are definitely struggling with something.” Then at the end of his piece he signed off to say, “…the White House Press Briefing, which is expected to start two hours and twenty minutes ago.” The room, which had gone quiet out of courtesy, erupted in laughter.

Then Jim Acosta with CNN went on air and the waiting reporters became even more the story. “The mood in the room —” he said, and then, gesturing around, “— what’s the mood?” and he was greeted with a mix of groans and whoops.

When Raj finally showed up, it was a relief to have him instead of Sarah, for the change. But you do wonder how someone decent-seeming, who you’ve barely had a chance to begin to despise, could debase himself by working for this White House. Raj broke with Trumpian tradition by saying repeatedly that everyone involved on the White House staff could have done some things differently and handled the Rob Porter situation better. Other than that, he was all over the place. It was a smudgy and squidgy spin job, delivered fairly calmly.

Oh, also, Raj Shah used the phrase “The President’s generals” today.

Here are the questions reporters asked Raj Shah.

Continue reading TOWOIT #290: “How should women feel if they don’t have a photograph?”

TOWOIT #287: WHPB?

February 5,  2018

Update (Feb. 6) — There was totally a press gaggle with Raj Shah on the plane on the way to Ohio, but the WH hadn’t got it up yet when I looked. And there was a WHPB today–a total shit show. More to follow.

I’ve been covering only the White House Press Briefing because it’s my particular interest and because it’s all I can handle with work and school exploding into more complexity than I was prepared for.

But what the heck, White House? The last briefing was on Monday, January 29. It was a VERY eventful week. The President hasn’t been out of the country. He also hasn’t been answering questions on “press avails” (when the press gets invited in to a room to briefly register that the President is indeed being the President, and then they are all herded back out again).

Is this fear of reporters’ questions? An acceleration of the slow death of the White House Press Briefing as an institution?

I checked the White House website to see whether there were any informal press gaggles that might have flown under the C-span radar. Nope. Nothing.

Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, here’s an oddly subversive-feeling set of tweets from Trey Yingst. Trey’s publication, OANN, is pretty right-leaning. It’s one of the newer, smaller conservative outlets that the Trump administration credentialed to be in the White House briefing room.

But something about these back-to-back tweets quoting the President verbatim saying something dictatorially buffoonish… and then citing verifiably true stock market numbers that aren’t fantastic… (the end of that sentence would something like “…doesn’t feel too blindly propagandic”)

Tweets by Trey Yingst. One quotes the president for saying the Dems were treasonous for not clapping for him. One says the Dow is down over 1000 points for the day.

And I did think it was sweet that Trey put his press corps colleagues in his Twitter header photo.

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L to R: Blake Burman (FOX Business), Major Garrett (CBS), John Roberts (FOX News), Peter Alexander (NBC), Jonathan Karl (ABC), Hallie Jackson (NBC), Jim Acosta (CNN), Eamon Javers (CNBC), and Trey Yingst (OANN)

TOWOIT #285: —and he screamed with caps, all caps—

January 29, 2018

Andrew McCabe is stepping down or being forced out (one or the other), a hollow SOTU is scheduled, black people should be grateful to Trump, reporters are getting a runaround on the sanctions deadline, and the nationalized 5G network is going over like a lead balloon.

Here are the questions the White House press corps asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the 14 minutes she allotted for Q&A.

Continue reading TOWOIT #285: —and he screamed with caps, all caps—

TOWOIT #283: Dead on Arrival

January 23, 2018

At the top of the January 23 briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the Graham-Durbin-Flake bipartisan compromise on immigration is “completely unacceptable” to the President, and would be dead on arrival.

Before the briefing starts in earnest, Gary Cohn (globalist cuck) and H.R. McMaster (earnest yeller) come to the podium to talk about Davos. The big message? The United States is open for business. Also, “The U.S. is pulling back from nothing.”

Highlights of questions asked to Cohn and McMaster:

Continue reading TOWOIT #283: Dead on Arrival

TOWOIT #281: Scripted Robot

January 17, 2018

(SHS said that Trump is not a scripted robot)

Today I’m recording WH reporter questions from yesterday AND today, but I can’t do the whole hour of the medical doctor from yesterday because that’s just too much, and a lot of it going around in circles. After yesterday’s briefing, one of the reporters could be heard saying “It felt like Josh Earnest was back.” Because Josh Earnest–Obama’s last press secretary–used to do long, patient back and forths with reporters, frequently drawing the briefing out past the hour mark. Of course, that’s not really fair, comparing Josh Earnest to Dr. Ronnie Excellent.

For her part, when Sarah H. Sanders took over yesterday she sounded much more like Sean Spicer than usual, with shades of Stephen Miller. Her voice is starting to pitch higher and she’s talking faster. There’s a strain to being the lying mouthpiece of racist idiocy.

Oh my gosh, I just went to whitehouse.gov to get the briefing transcripts and this is the splash page:

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*cough* Stormy Daniels *cough*

Questions they asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday:

Continue reading TOWOIT #281: Scripted Robot

TOWOIT #273: Do anything

December 13, 2017… Day 327

No briefing today, but April Ryan regaled Twitter with her inside juicy scoops about Omarosa drama.

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Yesterday with all the Alabama hoopla, I didn’t get a post up with yesterday’s White House Press Briefing questions.

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Here are the questions from yesterday. They elicited many lies from the podium.

  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Thank you, Sarah. The President said today that Senator Gillibrand would “do anything” for campaign contributions. Many, many people see this as a sexual innuendo. What is the President suggesting?
  • So you’re saying that this quote — “Senator Gillibrand would do anything” — is a reference to campaign contributions in Washington, the swamp? This has nothing to do with her being a female? What is he alleging would happen behind closed doors with her?
  • (Steve) Does the President want Roy Moore to be seated in the Senate if he wins tonight? And does he plan to call him tonight?
  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Sarah, does the President agree with his outside legal counsel that a special prosecutor should be appointed to look into the goings-on at the Department of Justice during the election campaign in 2016 since the revelation about Bruce Ohr, the former associate deputy attorney general?
  • So would he support the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into this?
  • (Dave Boyer, Washington Times) Thanks, Sarah. Congressional leaders are saying that they have no plans to re-impose sanctions on Iran by the deadline tomorrow that the President initiated back in October when he decertified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. Is the White House okay with this no-action? And, if so, where are the teeth in the President’s move to decertify them from compliance?
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill)  Thanks, Sarah. Senator Grassley said that he’s advised the White House to reconsider the nomination of Jeff McClure to the federal court in Texas and Brett Talley in Alabama. Has the President spoken to Senator Grassley about his concerns? And does the President plan to pull back those nominations?
  • (Matthew Nussbaum, Politico) Thanks, Sarah. Bashar al-Assad and Rodrigo Duterte have both recently have used the phrase “fake news” to dismiss damaging reports about their regimes. And a state official in Myanmar recently said that the Muslim minority, Rohingya, don’t exist and added it’s fake news. Is the White House concerned at all about authoritarian regimes adopting this phrase “fake news” to try to delegitimize the press? And does President Trump bear any responsibility for the popularization of this phrase among some world leaders?
  • But when you hear autocrats using the term “fake news” to describe events that reflect poorly on their regimes, that doesn’t cause concern here?
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC) Sarah, thank you. The President tweeted today that the accusations against him are “false, fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met. Fake news.” And yet, the reality is he’s pictured with a number of the women who have accused him of the misconduct. So do you concede that that part of his statement is not true?
  • So (inaudible) of all of his accusers? Because –
  • And, Sarah, members of Congress have called for an investigation into these accusations. Is President Trump as confident that they are not true? Would he support such an investigation?
  • And yet, this moment is an important moment, as well, Sarah. This is a moment that’s getting a lot of attention.
  • And yet, Sarah, this is something that is being discussed in businesses all across the country. There have been a number of people who have been fired over this. So why not allow this congressional investigation to go forward? And if the President, he’s confident in the accusations being involved –
  • (April Ryan American Urban Radio Networks) Is Gillibrand owed an apology for the misunderstanding of the President’s tweet this morning? Because many — including the Senator — thinks that it’s about sexual innuendos.

(Sarah says, “only if your mind is in the gutter” to April Ryan.)

  • No, it’s not. What he said was open, and it was not “mind in the gutter.”

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  • (Hunter Walker, Yahoo! News) Thank you, Sarah. Looking at this issue with the system, the President gave almost $8,000 to Senator Gillibrand over the years. His daughter also gave her $2,000. What specifically did they get for these contributions that she was offered?
  • So he is admitting that he bought access in a corrupt way?
  • (Mara Liasson, NPR News) So Kirsten Gillibrand called for him to resign, and he says over and over again that he’s a counterpuncher. So the next day, after she does that, he wakes up and you’re saying that he’s tweeting about the campaign finance system. Is that what you’re saying?

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  • And what kind of campaign finance reform does the President want?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thanks a lot, Sarah. You’re familiar with the President’s tweets. He tweets pretty often. In this particular –
  • Yeah, a little bit. In this particular case, his criticism of Senator Gillibrand was very personal. Why must he criticize in such personal terms? He called a sitting, elected U.S. senator a “lightweight.” Why go after her in such a personal manner?
  • (Trey Yingst, One America News Network) Thanks, Sarah. Two quick questions for you. One following up on John’s question from earlier about a second special counsel. Does the President have confidence in the FBI as it exists today?
  • And then a follow-up on foreign policy. Today, Bloomberg has an article out about the Trump administration encouraging Saudi Arabia to consider bids from U.S. companies as it relates to building nuclear reactors. Does the President see this as an opportunity to bring up human rights in Yemen during these talks with Saudi Arabia?
  • (Margaret Brennan, CBS News) Thank you. H.R. McMaster gave some really interesting remarks at a luncheon earlier today. And he spoke in really strong terms about China and Russia. He said they were “undermining the international order and stability” and “ignoring the sovereign rights of their neighbors and the rule of law.” He went on to talk about Russia, in particular. He didn’t use the words “election meddling,” but he talked about subversion, disinformation, propaganda, and basically pitting people against each other to try to create crisis of confidence. So what I wanted to know is: Does the President agree with all of General McMaster’s statements? And is that a foreshadowing of a national security strategy that will take a harder tack on Russia and China than the administration has so far?

Someone calls out as she leaves, “Could we please get the President out here, at the podium? Could we please see the President, Sarah?”

TOWOIT #271: Church and State

December 7, 2017… Day 322

This is not ok. This is so far beyond ok. This wasn’t just some off the cuff remark that Sarah Huckabee Sanders made on behalf of herself. It was her prepared remarks as part of her official statement from the White House. This is disgusting.

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Until she said the underlined part, I was just mildly annoyed that she was filling up precious questioning time with her moralizing, like this guy noted today:

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But I wasn’t mad. Not until she said to a captive room of reporters from diverse cultural backgrounds, there for their job, that the “savior” was the “greatest gift.” As a representative of the U.S. government. This is so wrong, I don’t even know where to begin. It didn’t so much offend me as it made me want to vomit.

So that’s where I’m at with all this.

  • (Kevin Corke, Fox News) Thank you, Sarah. I want to ask you about the possible government shutdown and the optimism that the President might have that he can avert a shutdown. And if I could follow up and ask about the California fires and the very latest the White House has on it.
  • On the fires, I’m sorry.
  • Yeah. Is the White House in coordination with the folks out in California in battling that wildfire? Is there more money to be made available, especially for the areas near Los Angeles, which are under siege right now by so many devastating fires?
  • (Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg News) Can you say a little bit about why John Bolton was here at the White House today? And also, on taxes, we’re a little confused on whether the White House would support a 22 percent corporate tax rate. You had the White House economist, Kevin Hassett, talking about — saying it would be okay and it wouldn’t undermine the economy. And then, a few hours later, the Legislative Affairs Director, Marc Short, said something about it needs to be 20. So can you say —
  • And on John Bolton?
  • (Jonathan Karl, ABC News) Sarah, Donald Trump, Jr. refused to talk about his conversations with the President, citing attorney-client privilege. Would the President release him from any such privilege and allow him to speak to the committee?
  • But can you explain to me how it could be attorney-client privilege when neither Donald Trump, Jr. nor President Trump are attorneys?
  • (Matthew Nussbaum, Politico) Thanks, Sarah. Senator Franken today, in announcing his resignation, said that he’s “aware that there is some irony in the fact that I’m leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.” What’s the White House response to that?
  • Can you say anything more broadly about the differences in the way the two parties are handling these accusations of sexual misconduct?
  • (Jon Decker, Fox Radio News) Thank you, Sarah. Have any of the President’s counterparts around the world contacted the President, contacted the White House to indicate that they too will follow the President’s lead in moving their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or acknowledging that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel?
  • Do you expect any? Do you expect that to happen? Do you expect that others will follow the President’s lead here?
  • (Jordan Fabian, The Hill) Thanks, Sarah. Last week, the President said that the U.S. would be imposing additional sanctions on North Korea today. Do you have an update on where that stands?
  • (Jennifer Wishon, Christian Broadcasting Network) Thanks, Sarah. What is the President’s reaction to some U.S. allies, particularly in Europe — notably in the United Kingdom — who had expressed opposition to this action recognizing Jerusalem? And also, does the fact that he kept his promise give him more credibility when negotiating in the Middle East?
  • (Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News) Thank you, Sarah. So, yesterday, you guys put out a statement under the President’s name, saying that he was directing other officials in the administration to reach out to Saudi Arabia and urge them to immediately allow the flow of humanitarian supplies into Yemen. I have two questions about that. The first is: Why isn’t the President himself working the phones? And the second is: Are there any consequences for Saudi Arabia if they don’t immediately allow this flow of goods?
  • Any consequences for Saudi if they don’t do this?
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Hallie asked on Monday when the President became aware that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI. You referred her to John Dowd, those questions. We’ve tried. John Dowd is not engaging on that. That’s a knowable fact in this building; it’s not a legal matter — not for their attorney to say. Can you just tell us when the President became aware of that?
  • Why is it a legal question for them not about something the President knew and when he knew it?
  • One other question, Sarah. One other question.
  • I think you want to take this one. It’s real simple; it’s very simple. Today, the U.N. Ambassador said it’s an open question whether the United States will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Is it an open question? Is that now in doubt?
  • So it is in doubt?
  • By whom?
  • And it’s all about security?
  • (Mara Liaison, NPR) I just have two government funding questions. First, does he want S-CHIP reauthorized?
  • Okay. The bipartisan leadership is coming up in a much different atmosphere than the last meeting where he tweeted about how he didn’t think a deal was possible because the Democrats were so bad on illegal immigrants pouring over the border. I’m wondering, has the President changed his mind about that? And also, specifically, what was he referring to since, in a government shutdown, ICE and the Border Patrol aren’t affected?
  • But do you think a deal can be reached with the Democrats?
  • (Josh Dawsey, Washington Post) On the Hill today, Chris Wray praised the FBI and said it was the finest law enforcement force in the world. The President said, you know, it’s “in tatters” and it’s at its worst place in history. Can you explain that discrepancy?
  • When he undermines —
  • When he undermines the FBI and says it’s in tatters, does the White House fear that that could create ramifications that people won’t trust law enforcement; that people will say —
  • — why should we interact with the FBI when it’s in tatters?
  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Sarah, thank you. Two quick ones about a government shutdown. Chuck Schumer, on the Senate floor, said today of the President: His party controls the Senate, the House, and the presidency — speaking of Republicans, rather. And he said a shutdown would fall on his shoulders. How is that not just a reflection — an accurate reflection — of the political realities that Republicans control Washington at this point?
  • nd you said you want a clear CR. At some point, though, DACA is going to have to be brought up, or potentially be brought up. Is the White House willing to mix, at one point, a DACA fix with government spending? And if so, when would that be the case?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax)  Yeah, thank you, Sarah. From that podium, Secretary Mnuchin and Gary Cohn both assured us that, when a final tax reform bill is passed, the alternate minimum tax would disappear immediately. Now, of course, recent statements by the President, as the conference is about to begin, indicate it might not completely disappear and not immediately, certainly. Is the administration still committed to ending the AMT right away?
  • (Charlie Spiering, Breitbart News) A lot of attention on sexual misconduct and harassment by members of Congress. Is the President confident that Congress and its leaders can police and investigate themselves on this issue?
  • (Hallie Jackson, NBC News) Thank you, Sarah. I just have one question, but I need to clarify something that you said from the podium here on taxes. You said, I think to Matt, on Tuesday, that as long as his taxes are under audit, he’s not going to release them. His 2016 taxes, to our knowledge, are not under audit, unless they are. Can you —
  • Will you get back to us on that? So my question to you, then, more broadly, is on this moment that we find ourselves in, frankly, of a national reckoning when it comes to sexual harassment. And so in, again, a broad 30,000-foot way, does the President believe that he has a credible role in leading this conversation? And can you speak to the specific steps this White House has taken to make sure the women who work here feel like they are in a comfortable environment to talk about these things?
  • A lot of workplaces are having sessions, they’re having seminars. Are you guys doing that here? Are you talking about, in recent days, what people in this work environment can do? Are you taking —
  • (Kristen Welker, NBC News) A follow-up: We’ve seen Democrats forcefully call for John Conyers’s resignation, and Al Franken’s resignation, which happened today. Do Republicans, and does this President, risk losing their moral authority on this issue — which is a huge issue right now — by endorsing a candidate like Roy Moore, which has now been backed by the RNC as well?
  • Why not call for him to drop out of the race, or a write-in candidate? Sarah, is the President failing to lead at this critical moment?
  • But just a quick follow. Is he failing to lead on this issue?
  • (Unknown man who trampled over Kristen’s attempt to follow up) Was the President’s proclamation on Jerusalem delayed because of concerns expressed by the Secretaries of Defense and State, about security they wanted to get — adequate security in place for U.S. embassies around the world?
  • (Steve Holland, Reuters) The Palestinians are under the impression that the President pulled out of the peace process yesterday based on the Jerusalem decision. How do you correct that? Did he do that?
  • (Someone named David) Sarah, thank you. Given the recent revelations that at least one prosecutor on Robert Mueller’s team was sending anti-Trump texts to another DOJ lawyer, and given the revelation that yet another one was congratulating Sally Yates for refusing to uphold and defend the President’s travel ban, Chairman Goodlatte, at the hearing this morning, said that even the appearance of impropriety would devastate the FBI’s reputation. So the question is: Does the White House believe that the fix was in that Robert Mueller’s probe was biased from the beginning?

TOWOIT #256: My Gal’s a Corker

October 24, 2017… Day 278

Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a press briefing today. She wore a pink blouse of a shinier, less structured fabric than usual. The neckline plunged a bit, showing some cleavage. I have not noticed her showing cleavage before and I do not like it when she opens herself up to sartorial criticism because then I feel honor-bound to defend her. I wondered if she felt self-conscious, or if maybe it had not seemed at home like the neckline plunged as much as it did indeed turn out to plunge.

Cleavage notwithstanding, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is like a giant damper pedal. Well, that’s not quite apt. But whereas Sean Spicer used to rattle and hum and spice things up by getting all zesty and testy, Sarah Sanders just takes all the energy and life in the room and absorbs it and keeps it. Everything falls quiet and slow. Just slow quiet lies in a deadened room.

Here are the questions they asked her today: 

Continue reading TOWOIT #256: My Gal’s a Corker

TOWOIT #223: Love and Trouble

August 31, 2017… Day 224

I got carried away and wrote three blog posts for one day.

4:45 am: Morning Edition makes me cry in the shower again

The radio takes on a different quality, early in the morning, when you’re alone and brewing coffee and it’s dark outside.

On NPR this morning, they ran a story about a reporter in Houston driving a woman named Angie back to the home she was evacuated from when the flood waters got near it. They ran into some water in the road that the reporter’s car couldn’t handle, but a Latino man in a big jacked-up truck came along and drove them the rest of the way. The Latino man talked about how in Houston during the flood, it has been everyone helping everyone—it hasn’t been about white, black and brown.

For a reason that I missed, the reporter and the other man went in to look around inside the house while Angie waited outside for them. They came back out and told her everything was dry. She’d been especially worried about her clothes, but they were fine. The water had come up to her doorstep but no further. The men had snapped pictures of the rooms to show her they were dry. As they drove away, the woman looked through the photos. She had a low, raspy voice and you heard her say—sort of to herself—“I know my house is junky, but…” and then she just trailed off.

When that recorded story ended, the reporter and the host talked briefly about how Angie was one of the lucky ones.

Although I was emotionally affected by the story, I thought “This is fine. It was a happy ending. I didn’t just see a video of a wet dog afraid to be rescued, or a senior citizen stranded in waist-deep water, or a baby floating in a storage tub. I’m fine.”

Then those tricky bastards at NPR played the first several bars of “The Water is Wide.”

The version they played was instrumental but unfortunately I knew the words. So then I was crying into my coffee, followed by crying in the shower. All the way to the bus stop, I was still humming the tune, thinking about Houston folks and sniffling.

If you don’t know that song, the verse I know goes like this:

The water is wide… I cannot cross over

Neither have I wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row, my love and I

 

6:25 am: Love and Trouble 

On the bus to work I read Claire Dederer’s Love and Trouble. I was on the chapter that’s a letter to Roman Polanski, telling him what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl. At one point she asks Polanski if he only sees holes everywhere. We have to point out, because people don’t get it automatically, that a girl is not an object. It’s devastating.

Dederer takes into account the idea that Roman Polanski was a tortured genius, that the 1970s were a weird time. She’s as generous as she can be, but you couldn’t read her paragraphs out loud without tasting piss in your mouth. All the feelings she packs into that chapter—they are what saturate everything now. Rape culture and misogyny are lain bare, retroactive, stinking everything up. It’s in the Oval Office. Every day Gallup tells you what percentage of your compatriots are cool with it, although it’s really more. 53% of white women voted for it. It’s stinking up the Democratic party too.

The founders of the start-up Witchsy invented a male co-founder (hilariously named Keith Mann) to correspond with people who were brushing them off. My social media feeds are full of women I know talking about how real it is — the disrespect, the brush-off, the battle to be recognized as a viable professional. It discouraged me more than usual. I’m turning 40 next year, and I want to take risks and move toward freelancing and my own creative projects. I want to Be Excellent. How clever will I have to be, and how bright will I have to burn, to compensate for my gathering invisibility, for my high voice, for my eyes welling up sometimes when I’m frustrated, for having a woman’s name and being a woman? Because I honestly don’t know if I’m up to that level of witchcraft. (It is worse for women who aren’t white like I am.)

When I was an ecology student 20 years ago, our professor’s wife—also an ecologist—told a group of us women students that the field was changing, turning female. We beamed—sounds great! She scowled. “Oh no, don’t get excited,” she said. “All that means is that ecology will be devalued, trashed, dismissed… and the pay will go down.”

At work, I’m on the outer administrative edges of a prolonged bureaucratic snafu involving a woman my boss is trying to bring onto our team from another team. I don’t know the details myself, but there’s been some thorniness that’s above my paygrade.

Today I wrote up a statement announcing that she would be joining us, and then I took it to her. I asked her if she thought it represented her well, if she was happy with the tone and the details provided. My boss was a little surprised that I’d done that since he’d signed off on it already. I said, without thinking, “I want her to feel a sense of control over her situation, and I want her to know we respect her.”

This has something to do with us being women. And something to do with Trump.

Everything is related and it’s exhausting.  

 

12:00 pm: One of the lucky ones 

At the White House Press Briefing today, the reporters returned again and again to just two themes: Are undocumented immigrants in Houston really going to be ok? Can their safety from ICE at shelters really be ensured? And what about the 800,000 young people in this country who are protected by DACA to study, live, and work in this country despite their immigration status? What is happening with DACA?

Fox News reported earlier in the day that Trump had already decided to kill DACA—something he’s been teasing and flirting with all week. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s stonewalling took on a new cruelty as she refused to confirm or deny or give any real answers. The repetition of the reporters’ questions was like bells tolling, in my mind. These were the humane questions. These were the urgent questions. These were the questions of conscience. This wasn’t grandstanding for TV. Don’t jerk people around about this. There’s no such thing as other people’s kids.

Tom Bossert from Homeland Security was at the briefing too. Tom often seems like a decent person in these situations, but he works for Trump so he’s made his bed. He took two Skype questions from Houston. These Skype questions—new with the Trump administration—have been a handy way to run down the clock on the reporters in the room. The Skype calls often feature cheesy, over-eager personalities from right-leaning outlets who praise Trump and then ask a pompous-sounding question that comes across as either extremely ideological or extremely pork barrel-ish.

Today it was two white guys from Houston, at separate outlets. They were both unshaven, haggard. The first guy was from Fox and he kind of leaned in and barked a question at the camera about the reservoir infrastructure and the army corps of engineers. His craggy head took up most of the screen when he leaned in, and he didn’t care. The second journalist seemed a bit shell-shocked that he had put himself on national television in bad greasy hat hair and a short-sleeved Under Armour shirt. His question was also about the immediate safety and survival for the people of Houston. Both those guys looked like they were sleeping at the station.

After the older guy’s question, Tom Bossert signed off with him by saying, “—and I hope your house hasn’t been affected.” It sounded so inadequate. That was the end of that call, the guy was effectively hung up on right at that point, so who knows about his house. But the guy’s life is probably scrambled. And he’s one of the lucky ones.

State of the Union, at the Library

Since it was Obama’s last State of the Union address, I went to the downtown public library last night to watch it on the big screen with my fellow citizens. I live-tweeted the address by scribbling on a legal pad which I then jammed into my shoulder bag.

A cadaverous white man to my right has feet up on the seat in front of him and keeps muttering “You creep! You weren’t invited! No one wants you here!” Not sure who he is talking to.

When Obama comes in, the room claps heartily, and it’s fun to feel like we are there. Biden looks so proud of Obama.

It’s fun to see this just for Michelle’s yellow dress, Ruth Bader Ginsberg hugging Obama with her bird arms, Elena Kagen looking pretty when she smiles, and Sonia Sotomayor’s big dangling disc earrings.

The guy who was muttering about creeps sits up straight and takes his hat off when Obama appears on the screen. He seems ready to behave himself now.

Obama mentions the economic recovery and a beefy bearded white guy to my left says “Recovery? What recovery? Who recovered?” He sees me looking over at him and says “Did YOU recover??”

Obama says “…incredible things we can do together” and a man clutching a sleeping bag shouts “ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION!!!”

Titters in the room at Marco Rubio’s face. Not sure why, but I get it.

There are clapping types in the room, and non-clapping types. Possibly not an indication of actual relative affection for Obama.

Obama says “…longest stretch of job creation…” and someone behind me shouts “for THEM, not for US.”

People are floating in and out. The elderly, teenagers, homeless people. A lot of people seem to have luggage. The children’s librarian leans in the doorway, looking blonde and willowy as she gazes up at the screen — but this isn’t a very white crowd.

Paul Ryan and Joe Biden share some kind of moment as Obama says we can cut red tape.

Bernie Sanders appears on screen — whistles in the room!!

Huge applause line for the room: “Food-stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis.”

Comparing sputnik to climate change gets a chuckle from me and a couple of white guys who are that special brand of Seattle white collar, possibly may have just emerged from 3-day hike in the woods.

“Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley” — if only this were the sort of speech where Obama could really lift-off and take flight.

“Joe is in charge of Mission Control” — we can haz cancer cure?! Original muttering guy remains quiet and respectful.

Biggest laugh so far: the Joint Chiefs of Staff laboring stiffly to their feet as they simultaneously realize they’re going to have to stand up, even though they don’t feel like standing up.

Talking about terrorists now. “We have to take them out” gets a gospel-style “Oh yes” in the room.

Mad bearded white guy yells “Didn’t we CREATE Isis, Obama? We did!” I hate that he has a point.

Mad white guy says “Sorry you guys, sorry, sorry”

Everyone seems either bored or uncomfortable during this long middle east section. The person I’d identified as the heartiest clapper in the room has become involved with a package of goldfish crackers.

Still talking about ISIL, and mad white guys says “There’s a whole lot of coercion going on!” Slim regretful library employee pads up the aisle and gently asks him to be quiet.

Native American guy in safety orange wanders in and he and the mad white guy greet each other like old associates but don’t sit next to each other.

Mad white guy claps with great enthusiasm at the line about stopping Ebola in West Africa, as if to show that he’s cooperating now, and not just hate-watching, and also that stopping Ebola rules.

General coming and going continues. A skinny black kid in red track pants and gold chains saunters out as an old white guy in a giant sweatshirt and black watch cap wobbles in.

Obama’s talking about leadership and international order as another guy gets up and walks out, throwing a black-power fist in the air in case anyone’s watching.

Obama uses the Pope to bash Trump and says “We the people.” A black man with an afro shaped like a pompadour has laid his things out carefully on the table near where the children’s librarian leans. He is rearranging items from bag to bag, and because he’s right down in front of us, it feels like a performance.

In the room, a woman fans herself with a big gold Japanese fan. On the screen, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, looks small and gnomelike peering over Michele Obama’s shoulder.

Obama says something about people getting discouraged and thinking “the system is rigged” and the man directly behind me, who had been quiet the whole time, leaned forward and said calmly in a deep bass voice, “IT IS.”

The room comes back to life a bit and gives a big hearty clap for “Each of us is only here because somebody somewhere stood up for us.”

Obama wraps up by talking a lot about good and decency, but his optimistic words are falling flat in this crowd. Maybe it’s just more of a stump speech and he’ll be more inspiring again under different circumstances. Or maybe it’s just hard to be sanguine about things working out just fine when you’re in a crowd with a large homeless component.

A parting note near the end, something to hold on to, something we can really feel good about as we head back out to our bus stops in the rain: Edith Childs’ glittering and substantial hat.

 

Postscript: Seriously considering going back next week to watch the big Seahawks game there.

 

 

 

 

A Reveal that Is Years in the Making Is like Old Light from a Dead Star

When Batgirl’s villainous impostor turned out to be (apparently) male last year, I wrote a review highlighting the queering of the villain, as did a lot of other comics commentators. The writers took to twitter saying they were sorry and had learned something from their mistake. The plot twist in the summer finale of Pretty Little Liars also queered the villain, and also employed a surprise gender reveal as a plot twist. Rather than apologize, the show’s writers have chosen to weave themselves little protective bowers out of their efforts and intentions. So let’s look at the result of those efforts and intentions and break the issue down.

Vanessa Ray as Cece Drake
Vanessa Ray as Cece Drake

The Problem

The problem is that in one fell swoop, Cece Drake is revealed to be both a transgender woman and the cruel, warped tormentor of the show’s protagonists for the last many seasons. This plays right into the hurtful trope that trans people are dangerous freaks who can’t be trusted. Also, the trans woman character is played by a cis-gender actress (denying both acting work and representation to trans people).

The Contrast

Pretty Little Liars has been pretty ridiculous and over-the-top in its murdery twists and turns, but at the heart of all that action, it’s been surprisingly, sweetly down to earth about the sexuality of LGBT youth. One of the main characters is a lesbian, and there have been bisexual characters, and unlabeled characters who sometimes do gay things, and characters previously thought of as straight who crop up in same-sex relationships without it seeming odd or noteworthy. The show has had a lot of social media influence and has brought us closer to a world where people don’t even have to come out of a closet, because sexual orientation will no longer be a thing that needs to be announced or declared, for anyone. So, this exploration of LGBT teen sexuality has been a sweet island of understated realism in a swirl of junior soap opera plot points. Not so, Cece Drake’s transgender status. Cece’s trans identity is smack in the middle of the high drama, treated as one of the things that probably wouldn’t happen, like leaving your four-year-old in an old-fashioned mental institution or accidentally burying your teenage daughter alive in your backyard.

Mitigating Factors

The writers clearly had some sense that they were playing with fire. Several things were done to assuage the “queering the villain” mis-step.

  • While Ali is covered in heavy paint and powder for the prom, Cece’s own femininity is downplayed—she is wearing minimal make-up, has her hair pulled back plainly, and is wearing an over-sized black hoodie. This isn’t the glitzy hyper-feminized stereotype of someone who was born physically male trying to pass as a woman (which also unhelpfully conflates transvestites with transgendered people).
  • Even though Cece has been the girls’ tormentor, she is often a sympathetic character in this reveal episode. She was severely misunderstood and mistreated at many early points in her childhood. We feel for her childhood self. We see how her father rejected her. We feel her pain at coming across her mother’s dead body, and we believe that she earnestly wanted to be part of her own family, however she could.
  • Cece’s deceit and misdeeds are in good company. Besides learning how terrible her father was/is, we also learn more about the deceptive actions of many other people in this episode: Sara, Bethany, Mona, and Agent Tanner are also cast in a more sinister light, and none of them is trans. And of course, it’s been long-established that the whole town is full of liars and murderers.

The Casting Dilemma

Cece Drake isn’t played by a trans actor, but that wouldn’t have served the need to surprise the audience. Until it is common for trans actors to play roles that include both trans and cis characters, it won’t make sense to cast them in a role of a secretly trans character. This is a Catch 22 that will hopefully come to an end as trans actors get more work of all kinds, and as writers use trans characters more broadly beyond plot twists and shock value.

Conclusion

Pretty Little Liars used a cheap, tired, harmful trope about trans people and no amount of softening or fancy footwork can make that untrue. You can lift the story out of the societal context and examine it from all sides, but at the end of the day, you can’t pretend the context doesn’t matter—the story doesn’t live in a vacuum.

This plot twist and reveal has been years in the making—the show is in its sixth season and has been wending its way toward this point from early on. In a way, this reveal is like light from a star that is only just now reaching us. Here on earth, in the U.S.A., the conversation about transsexuality has grown louder and wider by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. And the stories we see have a role to play. A turning point in my awareness was seeing Laverne Cox in the first season of Orange is the New Black, and then flaring up in anger at coworkers talking about how Chelsea Manning doesn’t deserve to have access to her hormones in prison. Caitlin Jenner seems to have been a turning point for my coworkers, who finally stopped saying rude things about trans people after Jenner’s ESPY acceptance speech. Some stories are ahead and dragging us along with them. Some stories–like Pretty Little Liars, at the moment–are coming along from behind. We take a step forward in building empathy, and then stumble backwards when we reinforce gross stereotypes. We can and should call out the laggards, but my hope is that we are all still staggering ahead on this together.