Donald Trump turns his news conference into a combination of SNL, halftime, and real-indie film

Donald Trump’s 80-minute news conference today seemed like an SNL spoof.  Or maybe a Netflix instant play “indie film” from Breitbart Studios with Milo Yiannopoulos as the director?

CNN’s has a running text at the top, and a text transcript.

Trump repeatedly went back into entertaining ad-libs justifying his own persona.  He would back into silly issues like Hillary Clinton’s being told debate questions in advance, like cheating on a test.  He got called down for claiming the greatest electoral victory since Ronald Reagan, even for a GOP president.

Trump repeatedly blamed the media for our relations with Russia, and joked about shooting at the spy ship off the US East Coast.  (What if it had an EMP scud?)   He joked about nuclear war once (like the last movement of Vaughn Williams’s Sixth Symphony).

At one point he said “We had a smooth rollout of the travel ban, but we had a bad court.”  Did he mean “thmooth”?   (Remember, Milo likes only real men.)

When asked about the new EO due next week, he sounded like he would need to make few changes to the existing one.  He did admit that some of the DACA adult kids were good people and ought to stay.

Trey Yingst of OANN asked a question about pre-election contacts with the Russians (about the middle of the transcript) and Trump retorted with his usual “fake news” mantra.

While all this was going on,  I was on Capitol Hill, in the Library of Congress, watching a screening of “Upstairs Inferno”, reviewed today on my “Media Commentary” blog.

But at lunch afterward at the Tortilla Coast, across 1st St SE from the Capitol South Metro, as people filed in from the news conferences, stunned that a president would turn a news conference into a comedy hour.   The so-called immigrant general strike today (“day without immigrants protest”) had no effect on this restaurant.

There is plenty of material surfacing, advocating that the GOP intervene and get Trump to resign (Pence is bad for gay rights), as if that had been the GOP plan all along.  And the Left is already talking about impeachment (as with Michael Moore’s Facebook demands).

I have covered the issues of concern to those who would like to help refugees and asylum seekers.  The latest information suggests that asylum seekers (who have applied properly) have due process rights while in the country.  Future EO’s might well tighten the vetting required and perception of what immigration officers should consider credible threats of persecution in home countries.  The Asylumist has an important post from November 2015 on that point.  One important question would be, if an asylum seeker loses a case, may he or she remain legally for a while?

(Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 11:30 PM EST)

Trump could crack down on journalists and bloggers in various ways, but even Obama has been more aggressive with classified info leaks


As the chances that Donald Trump comes from behind on the road and wins the presidency in extra innings (and holds off the courts in the bottom half of the inning) journalists and bloggers have to watch out.  One of the items pointed out by the New York Times as something Trump could do by Executive order is prosecute and jail journalists who publish leaked classified information.

Generally, the literature says that right now the government cannot enjoin publication of a leak, it could conceivably prosecute in some cases, probably under the idea of “mens rea”, that the writer is reckless and wants to inflict harm.  Well, harm to whom – the political establishment, or to real people or real troops in the field?

The obvious incidents that come up are, for example, the Pentagon Papers, unveiling the damaging secrets of the Vietnam War (which affected my life), then Wikileaks (centered around Chelsea Manning) and then Edward Snowden.

Trump could conceivably order many more prosecutions, or take other measures like putting people on the TSA No-fly list(which Laura Poitras had to deal with for a while)   .   In fact the Obama administration may have been more aggressive in a few cases than Bush was, and Hillary Clinton could prove more assertive on this issue than we expect.

Generally, mainstream journals take the side of journalists.  But the Huffington Post ran a piece in 2013 by David Schanzer that emphaszes the criminality of many leaks.  He also mentions amateur bloggers, who might feel incentivized to circulate a leak “because they can”.

But the “Law Fare Blog” discussion on freedom of the press and classified information, and an Atlantic article by Conor Friedersdorf, present a picture more favorable to journalists. Both (especially Atlantic) point out that cracking down on journalist won’t prevent a “criminally” inclined DOD (or NSA or CIA) contractor from leaking again.  The Atlantic article, referring to another piece on NPR, refers to the issue of possibly “licensing” journalists (Aug. 23) and having distinct tiers of journalism.  To a minor extent, we already have that – I can’t get “press credentials” easily to go to a White House briefing.  A professional blog posting on Reuters explains a couple of obscure cases where prosecution was pursued.

One aspect of this whole discussion is asymmetry.  In the age of ungated user-generated content, it’s more likely that an “amateur” really will “stumble” on major classified information.  This could particularly be the case with subjects like the location of hazardous waste or weapons components, or with known fugitives or terror suspects.   In the period after 9/11, on a few occasions, apparent “tips” were actually passed to me.  The most recent occurrence like this happened in the summer of 2005.  I did call law enforcement at least three times (and did not reveal what had been sent), and in 2005 I did have a 20-minute phone conversation with an FBI agent in Philadelphia over an email concerning OBL.  The “blessing in disguise” of social media (for security) is that amateurs may actually learn of threats that escape authorities because of more specific knowledge of monikers or clues buried in social media. ”See something, say something” matters.

On the other hand, some “in power” don’t like the idea that “amateurs” can magnify matters that don’t directly concern them (something I have called “gratuitous speech” on my legacy blogs).  This viewpoint could lead to pressures in the legal area to weaken downstream liability protections for providers (like Section 230), or to more occurrences of litigating even over people who provide mere hyperlinks (or embeds) to defamatory material first published by others.

Observers have expressed concern that Trump will try to undermine first amendment protections for speech normally legitimate –  under current standards, criticism (or “the Opinion Rule”) is not libel. But technically it is already illegal to republish material the speaker knows is legally classified, and probably it’s technically illegal even to link to it in a mere tweet.  But changing standards of defamation law may actually be harder to get past a conservative, Scalia-like court than it would be with our current SCOTUS.

Melania Trump spoke today about the “harshness” of Internet communication, especially in a world accessed by kids and teenagers, and she did say she wanted to address cyberbullying as potential first lady. That seems ironic given her husband’s sometimes crude behavior online. But Trump himself has been heard to say, people have become too dependent on the Internet and computers, they aren’t completely safe anymore.  That doesn’t sound good.  But he was critical of the US surrender of control of domain name registration to ICANN, on supposed deference to free speech.  If he gets elected, we’ll have to figure this out fast.


Update: Nov. 5

With Trump close in the polls, I want to reiterate what sounds like a call to do emergency shutdowns of some social media sites (or is it just specific accounts, which already happens), made in a hearing (at 1:10) in November 2015 after the Paris attacks (regardinf ISIS recruiting and maybe steganography, an idea that was circulated a lot after  9/11 and then forgotten). The ARS Technical story by Jon Brodkin refers to Joe Barton, and is called “To stop ISIS, let’s shut down websites and social media.”  I do get the “moral hazard” idea he is clumsily suggesting.

(Posted on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 at 2:15 PM EDT)