The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The President’s Achy Breaky Heart

Making today’s click-through worthwhile: the strangely irrelevant controversy about the president’s health, a misleading headline about how corporate America is responding to tax reform, and the danger of giving 22-year-olds access to a wide audience without editors or wiser mentors.

An Odd National Debate About the President’s Non-Metaphorical Heart

The New York Times talks to cardiologists who contend that Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, a rear admiral and the White House physician, was way too optimistic in his assessment of the president’s health.

Cardiologists not associated with the White House said Wednesday that President Trump’s physical exam revealed serious heart concerns, including very high levels of so-called bad cholesterol, which raises the risk that Mr. Trump could have a heart attack while in office.

What exactly are we supposed to do with these disputing interpretations of the president’s health information?

Look, the thing about health, particularly cardiovascular health, is that you can fool yourself and you can try to fool others, but you can’t fool your own heart. Either the blood is getting to where it needs to go, or it isn’t. It doesn’t really matter much if the president and the White House are lying to us, because if they are lying, the truth will probably be revealed in a sudden and terrible way. Arterial blockages can’t be spun.

Those of us who aren’t Trump or on the White House medical staff don’t have any ability to influence the president’s decisions about this. Maybe Melania could persuade him to change his habits. Then again, Trump is 71 and he’s unlikely to change his behavior much. He’s probably going to keep eating McDonald’s, and his exercise will probably continue to be limited to golf. He has, arguably, one of the most stressful jobs in the world, a position that rapidly ages every man who has achieved it. If the president and the White House physician are not being honest about his risk for a heart attack . . . we will probably know sometime before Election Day 2020.

I hope the man lives to be 100, but there’s not much point in worrying about something you can’t control.

School Choice: The Most Popular Idea with the Least Reasonable Opposition

This morning the American Federation for Children and Beck Research, a respected Democratic polling firm, released their fourth annual National School Choice Poll. The survey of 1,100 likely November 2018 voters found that 86 percent of voters believe that publicly funded vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts should be available in some form.

The survey also found broad support for a federal tax-credit scholarship. Overall, 67 percent support a potential K-12 education tax-credit proposal; that breaks down to 55 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents, and 80 percent of Republicans.

Corporate America Isn’t Finished Responding to the Changes in the Tax Code

The headline is pretty disappointing: “Few large US companies say they’ll use tax savings to boost wages, CNBC survey finds.” But then you look a little deeper, and you realize that about 70 percent of the large companies CNBC contacted either didn’t respond or responded with “no comment.”

CNBC surveyed the largest 100 companies in America about how they were responding to the reduction in corporate tax rates. Half didn’t respond, and another 21 didn’t offer any specifics. Another 20 offered corporate variations of “we’re thinking about it,” or “we haven’t decided yet.”

Among those with detailed announcements:

AT&T last month said it plans to invest an additional $1 billion in the United States this year and pay a special $1,000 bonus to more than 200,000 AT&T U.S. employees.

Walmart will raise its starting minimum wage to $11 an hour and award worker bonuses of between $200 and $1,000, depending on years of service.

Comcast, the parent company of CNBC, said it will award a special $1,000 bonus to more than 100,000 workers.

Boeing last month announced plans to invest an additional $300 million as a result of the new tax law.

Wells Fargo said it will raise its minimum hourly pay rate to $15 and target $400 million in 2018 for philanthropic contributions.

Bank of America last month said U.S. employees making up to $150,000 per year — or about 145,000 workers — would get a one-time year-end bonus of $1,000.

PNC Financial said it would give a $1,000 bonus to about 47,500 workers.

U.S. Bancorp said it will pay a one-time, $1,000 bonus to nearly 60,000 employees; raise the minimum wage to $15 for all hourly employees; make a one-time, $150 million contribution to the U.S. Bank Foundation; and make enhancements to employees’ health-care offerings effective for the 2019 enrollment period.

Visa said it would raise the level of matching contributions to its employees’ 401k accounts, to 10 percent from the previous level of 6 percent.

It would be nice to see all 100 of the country’s biggest companies raise wages — and with labor in short supply, pretty soon they’re likely to need to do that regardless of the tax rate. But CNBC’s headline is much more pessimistic than accurate.

From the Mouths of Babe

To bring you up to speed, the site “babe.net” wrote the piece describing a woman’s uncomfortable evening with comedian Aziz Ansari that many felt didn’t quite rise to the level of sexual assault or sexual harassment, and HLN anchor Ashleigh Banfield tore into the article, contending that it harmed the #MeToo movement and accountability for sexual misconduct by blurring the line between unpleasant experiences and indisputable crimes.

“You had an unpleasant date. And you didn’t leave. That is on you,” Banfield declared into the camera. “And all the gains that have been achieved on your behalf and mine are now being compromised by allegations that are reckless and hollow.”

Babe reporter Katie Way responded to Banfield and her producer in a scathing and personal manner via e-mail: “Ashleigh, someone who I am certain nobody under the age of 45 has heard of, I hope the 500 retweets on the single news write up made that burgundy lipstick, bad highlights, secondwave feminist has-been really relevant for a little while.”

She continued, “No woman my age would ever watch your network. I will remember this for the rest of my career — I’m 22 and so far, not too shabby! And I will laugh the day you fold. If you could let Ashleigh know I said this, and that she is no-holds-barred the reason, it’d be a real treat for me.”

The revelation that the author of the Ansari piece is 22 explains a little bit. As Sonny Bunch observed, “there’s a reason this story appeared in babe.net, rather than the New York Times or BuzzFeed or the Los Angeles Times or, yes, the Washington Post. One of the reasons is that, however Grace now thinks of the encounter, what happened isn’t sexual assault or anything close to it by most legal or common-sense standards.”

What is babe.net? It is a web site that “started in May 2016 as an experiment by a group of editors in our early twenties.” That’s less than two years ago, so it seems safe to assume that the Babe editorial chain of command doesn’t include anyone above, say, 25.

In other words, there wasn’t anyone around or above Way to ask, “Hey, what’s the news value in reporting on a comedian’s aggressive but not criminal behavior on a date?” or “Are you sure you want to defend your feminist credentials by mocking Banfield’s age, appearance, and makeup?”

Journalist Mark Harris observed, “I’m remembering the many personal and professional missteps I made as a 22- or 23-year-old, and am grateful that I had no access to a public platform from which to make them. One of the worst aspects of the changing paradigm for novice journalists is the loss of day-in-day-out mentors. There is no substitute for the education that gives you.”

Way back in my pre-National Review days, I worked for a tiny Washington-based wire service and each summer we would get a dozen or so interns — way more than we needed, and probably more than we could manage well. Sometimes we had great ones; I’ll never forget one young woman saying she had learned more in a few weeks of watching how I actually did my job than she had learned in a whole semester in her classes. I probably made news reporting look a lot more haphazard and desperately improvised than she had previously pictured.

But another year we had an intern who was terrible. She clearly was just fulfilling some sort of course requirement, and she communicated with every statement, action,  and gesture that she would prefer to be anywhere else but within our office, a converted B. Dalton bookstore off the J.W. Marriott lobby. She would disappear for long stretches without explanation, not come to work some days, and once I caught her reading adult material in the office. It was as if she was acting out like an angry teenager and daring someone to fire her. She probably overestimated everyone’s interest in disciplining her. I just wanted her to stay out of my way and get through the week without a paycheck that bounced.

I’m looking back and realizing, for all the flaws of my old workplace, we didn’t give the interns access to the system we used to send stories to our client newspapers. For all of the headaches this bad intern or any other one could create, we could at least be reasonably sure that she wouldn’t do something stupid or malicious that would end up in front of readers. (Considering how often the system would succumb to glitches, it was hard enough for us staffers to actually send our articles.)

The point is that there were layers and barriers between the young journalists and the readership, and those layers and barriers were there to protect both sides. If you give the typical 22-year-old unfettered access to the readership, at some point, they will likely write or say something they regret. Those layers and barriers still exist in most “legacy media” institutions, but they may not at a site that’s new and/or understaffed.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube — they are all great for giving anyone in the world a platform to communicate to the world. But once we removed the protective layers and barriers of editors, something bad was bound to happen. Eventually you get something like this guy Logan Paul going into a Japanese forest known for suicides, and showing viewers a victim and joking about it. Reaching a mass audience is no longer an effort that requires a group of people that is likely to include at least one person who will ask, “Is this a good idea?”

Thanks to social media, our “national conversation” now includes a lot of people who would have  previously been kept out by those layers and barriers. There are a lot of advantages to that, but it comes at a cost — juvenile name-calling, inane comparisons, and participants who miss the point by a wide margin.

ADDENDA: Peter Suderman with an unnerving metaphor: “Sometimes I feel like we are living in a season of Lost, where crazy plot threads would be dangled and then just fade away. Why did Stephen Paddock go on a shooting rampage? Does anyone care about Trump paying off a porn star to keep an affair quiet? Remember the aliens?”

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