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Alternative Facts Firehose Ranges From Critical to Trivial: VP Pence on Bannon’s Navy Record

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We are less than two weeks into the Trump Administration and if anyone says that they aren’t surprised by the pace, extent, and depth of corruption, incompetence, immorality, authoritarianism, and — well — outright Kakistocracy*, then they were even more pessimistic and terrified than most.  Trump and Team Trump and the GOP are doing and plotting serious damage every single day. From destroying health care to undermining our alliances to giving Russian aggression the green light to opening the door to worse pollution to maltreatment of refugees to attacking fundamental Constitutional rights to … just listing the outrages that have already occurred in less than two weeks in single bullets would take pages and pages.

We’re learning new vocabulary and new ways of “seeing” the world from the Trump-ista propaganda machine essentially hourly. One of the more prominent brandings: Kelly Anne Conway & #AlternativeFacts.

As occurred with Trump’s ego and the “YUGEST Inauguration crowd in history,” Team Trump will lie (and huff and puff) about the most idiotic things, which can be proven simply wrong, and then double down for the falsehood.  Some of these are serious and, well, some are simply inane.

Mike Pence’s News Hour appearance yesterday (which deserves multiple diatribes for the softball nature of the interview but that is another issue) provides a great example of trivial. When asked about Bannon, Pence begins:

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: But we value Steve Bannon’s input. Here’s an individual serving in a war, a captain in the United States Navy, a partner at Goldman Sachs, successful businessperson who brings a strong perspective into discussions.

UPDATE: 12 Feb 2017:  The PBS News Hour transcript is incorrect. Pence said ‘individual serving in uniform”.  Had heard the interview while it was broadcast & then relied on transcript rather than confirming specifics. Crossed-out, below, material reacting to the transcript error.

The first line is at least partially true. A more appropriate description might be “Bannon’s direction” rather than “input” but, well, we’ll take it.

The second sentence, however, has #AlternativeFacts in the first two phrases — this is a serious misrepresentation of Bannon’s Navy record.

  • War … What war?
    • Pence certainly implied (stated?) something serious in this: “serving in a war.”
    • At the most generous, this is exaggerated. Bannon served aboard ship in the Persian Gulf region during the hostage crisis with Iran. Certainly a period of serious tension and potential conflict, but no reasonable expert would say that this was “war” (a crisis and/or contingency operation/situation, yes, but not “serving in a war”).
    • Or perhaps Pence was simply stretching things by suggesting “Cold War” equals “serving in a war” — though, again, no reasonable security analyst would describe it that way.
    • Either way, this is at minimum an implicit insult to those who served in places like Afghanstan, Iraq, and elsewhere where they faced actual bullets flying at them.
  • Lieutenant NOT Captain
    • Pence states that Bannon left the Navy as a Captain. No, he left the Navy as a Lieutenant after seven years. A Captain is a senior rank — typically with >20 years of military service.
    • While Bannon, if he stayed in the service, might have achieved that rank — he did not.  Captain is not a rank that Bannon achieved nor should the VP claim that Bannon has that level of senior military rank/service to try to justify the unjustifiable actions of removing statutory members of the National Security Council (such as Secretary of Energy) while putting a conspiracy-theorist, (neo)Nazi enabler, political hack on the NSC.

Should we care

  • When the VP states #AlternativeFacts even about the ‘most’ minor of items?
  • That journalists aren’t prepared to challenge even such seemingly minimally relevant misstatements (another polite term for Alternative Facts)?

Well, yes …

  • This is pattern: whether small or large, truth and honest engagement are being given short shrift from across the Trump regime.
  • These seemingly small items are being used to justify unreasonable action: in this case that Bannon should be on the NSC.
  • Allowing the small lies enables larger ones — it helps normalize #AlternativeFacts in the public discourse.

Again, while there are far (FAR) more serious things go on literally every passing minute with and from the Trump regime, we should not be comfortable in allowing deceit to fly by unnoticed.


Some points:

  • While Pence misrepresented Bannon’s service, Bannon’s Navy service appears respectable and he seems likely to have gone to higher rank if he didn’t choose to leave the Navy to go to Wall Street. That is a legitimate career/personal choice and nothing to attack Bannon about.
  • Is Bannon is going around lying/exaggerating his military record? No evidence for that and thus this is about Pence sharing “Alternative Facts” either simply in error or as purposeful deceit.
  • Pretty easily dealt with by a short VP Pence office comment that “the VP misspoke” or such stating erroneous or otherwise. If the White House is interested in honest engagement with the America public, such a simple corrective should be simple to make — and would be a useful start to dealing with errors via correction rather than doubling down on them.
  • Hypocrisy angle: Just imagine the uproar if Joe Biden had been playing up/exaggerating the military experience of a White House staffer who was already a serious lightning rod. This would be 24/7 on (hypocrisy alert) Breitbart and Faux “News.”

In the commentary following the PBS transcript, some Trump-istas are asserting that “If the only criticism democrats have is concerning Bannon’s record in the Navy they really don’t have any meaningful opposition.” Okay, let’s go there. The “criticism” as to Bannon & the NSC includes:

  • Removing statutory members of the NSC from NSC against the law.
  • Reducing role of CJCS and DNI, who are critical voices.
  • Placing a political strategist at the table as a permanent member of NSC.
  • Bannon’s substantive track record of emphasizing alternative facts and promoting conspiracy theories, both of which are horrific attributes for someone at the table for life/death decisions of US National Security.
  • Legitimate questions — which merit far more serious investigations — as to Bannon’s Russia and other international relationships and ties.
  • There appears to be little likelihood that Bannon would have received a security clearance if he were someone low level going through the traditional (not truly “extreme”) security clearance process. Check the rule sets guiding investigators — at minimum, he would have been sent for adjudication with serious red flags creating doubt as to whether he would have been granted a clearance.

As to my perspective on Steve Bannon, Is Bannon Public Enemy #1?

PS:  Looking for good things to say about Trump? How about that we need to learn new words to understand / define our dystopian reality?  Vocabulary lesson: Kakistocracy: government by the worst of a society.

  • old_redneck

    Speaking of Bannon: This will keep you awake nights.

    http://www.rawstory.com/2017/02/revealed-steve-bannons-apocalyptic-worldview-about-civilizations-coming-trial-by-fire/

    “Bannon noted repeatedly on his radio show that ‘we’re at war’ with
    radical jihadis in places around the world,” Kaiser cites. “This is ‘a
    global existential war’ that likely will become ‘a major shooting war in
    the Middle East again.’ War with China may also be looming, he has
    said. This conviction is central to the Breitbart mission, he explained
    in November 2015: ‘Our big belief, one of our central organizing
    principles at the site, is that we’re at war.’”

  • BetsyP

    I don’t like to defend Mike Pence about calling Bannon a Captain rather than his actual rank of Lieutenant, but it really may have been an honest mistake and he should have been easily able to correct himself. Captain in the Army or Marines is the same rank as Lieutenant in the Navy. Pence may have gotten it mixed up because he never served in the military. If it wasn’t an honest mistake, then shame on Mike Pence.