I have written before about the trend toward disparaging pretty much any news source as fake in, as Firesign Theater called them, "These days of modern times."
But I confess I never realized our power. We all watched, open-mouthed in my case, the unfolding soap opera that is the office of the Attorney General in the Lone Star State. And since the articles of impeachment for Ken Paxton were voted on in the overwhelmingly Republican-led House of Representatives, I figured partisanship wasn't a factor here. Oh, what a guileless, wide-eyed babe in the woods I was.
Firstly, the partisanship is now within the party, as in the factions led by House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. And due to that rivalry, the fix was pretty much in. I'm not going to explain all that since one of my Outlaw colleagues, the redoubtable Jim Moore, did an exhaustive piece on it with all the nuances, including our mutual experiences with Dan Patrick in TV and in my case, on into radio. Check out Jim's piece on the whole sordid affair, including what might be for many of you, the first video of Paxton's mistress, Laura Olsen. Though I can't figure out why everyone keeps referring to the "alleged" mistress since Ken admitted it all to his staff. I do wonder if Paxton or Nate Paul bought her the Balenciaga purse she's carrying. Oh, what the hell, it's on Youtube anyway, so here she is...
Now, I knew Jim was, no doubt, going to write a thorough and historically referenced piece on this as the capital has been his beat for years. So, I, in a fit of dudgeon, just wrote a short post on Facebook...
"A shameful performance today in the Texas Senate. Arguably the most corrupt AG in the history of the state skated on all charges thanks to all but two Republicans in the chamber. And then, Dan Patrick, an example of the Peter Principle in action, used it for his personal feud with Speaker Dade Phelan with a spittle-flecked diatribe over the proceedings. Embarrassing."
I frankly, and here is the naive part, expected that most Texans felt that way since Ken Paxton is one of the least admired public officials in the state. A University of Texas Public Policy poll taken before the trial found that...
When asked, “do you think that Ken Paxton took actions while Attorney General that justify removing him from elected office?”, a plurality of registered voters in Texas, 47%, said yes, 18% said no, and 35% said they didn’t know or had no opinion.
I do the news for the other part of my living, and having reported these poll results, figured there were a lot of fellow travelers out there. And for the most part, the majority of the responses to my outburst were in agreement. But the internet is a curious beast. People I don't know jumped in to castigate me for the biased wuss that, well, I probably am, to be fair.
"Roger Gray is another Democrat "news" person."
"Your headline is so prejudiced. You call it a "Shameful performance" because our Attorney General was not found guilty? You think "Most corrupt AG" is not an obvious Leftist statement? Then you insult our Lt Governor. – You are totally disgusting."
"Maybe you should have showed some actual evidence instead of just stating your opinions." (This one was from a guy in the Philippines. How does that work?)
"You're a clown" (This one from a guy in Nigeria. What?)
I answered... "I certainly value the Nigerian opinion, but respectfully disagree. I am THE clown."
But this was my favorite...
- you ARE THE CLOWN. Plus, you're a Benedict Arnold.
- Roger Gray To whom?
- lololol you Benedict Arnold.
- Roger Gray No, me Rog. Who you?
And it didn't stop there.
"I guess you are Judge and Jury. Dade Phelan is a feckless man who should resign in shame."
Oh and that same guy said Phelan and I both belong in jail. But the initial negative response referencing my profession no doubt assumed that since I read the news, I vote a certain way. And the young woman who said that, lives across the state, so has never heard me. She just assumed. The Tarrant County Judge reached the same conclusion in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Here's how they reported it...
Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare said in a post on the social media site X, that we can blame “corrupt media sources” for the impeachment saga, which has exposed divisions within the state GOP party. “Here are two important lessons for Republicans,” wrote O’Hare, a Republican serving his first term as Tarrant County’s top official. “Republicans should NEVER, EVER buy, read, watch or consume anything from corrupt media sources. We all know who they are.” He continued with, “Republicans should NEVER, EVER repeat anything published by the corrupt media. They are simply untrustworthy.”
A commenter responded that Paxton, who was accused of corruption and abuse of office by the Texas House in May, “is an enormous embarrassment” and called Senate Republicans “cowards for putting politics over responsibility. ... There was a time when Republicans were willing to do what was right, sadly those days are gone.” O’Hare responded, “We’re pretty busy trying to stop leftists from telling little girls and boys they can change their sex, putting porn in school libraries and teaching kids that America is a terrible place.” The commenter reacted with, “Absolutely none of that is happening. You and your ilk are spending all your time building enormous mountains out of nothing to scare weak minded people into giving you money and power. Your only goal is power and how you get it is unimportant to you.” To which O’Hare wrote, “Now you’re simply being dishonest.”
Note the phrase, "we all know who they are." And that's where we are, and have been for several years. Now, in the midst of the Trump saga, and chastened by the Dominion Voting Machine lawsuit, even Fox News is not trustworthy enough for the more extreme folks out there.
I have contended for years that we are all more than who we vote for, if you'll excuse the sentence-ending preposition. I don't think that I'm unusual in having the usual mixed bag of opinions, positions on issues, beliefs and voting record. I was raised in the church. Well, OK, the Episcopal Church, but it technically counts. That aside, I am a believer. I take it seriously. I don't think the imprimatur of my faith should be given to unworthy people. I am appalled that it has.
Issues like gay marriage and abortion, as I have written before, produce a lot of sometimes conflicting feelings and responses for me. I have worked for exactly two political campaigns in my life, one Democratic and one Republican and I've voted for both. I said on the radio in Houston that Bill Clinton should do the honorable thing and resign. But I also think he was a good President. It's the ethics thing that is a sticking point. I admired President Obama, but wouldn't have had a problem with John McCain or Mitt Romney. All would have been perfectly fine Commanders in Chief. Well, the Palin thing might have been a sticking point.
So, the fatuous assumption that you know someone and their point of view simply by virtue of their profession, or their opinion on one subject in the news, is simply moronic. As I pointed out to one of my commenters, until the mid to late 90's, all our Texas political crooks were Democrats. And we had more than our share. Just ask former Attorney General Jim Mattox. No don't ask him. Firstly, he's dead and secondly, if you could, he'd just lie about it.
The problem as I see it, is we just don't talk. We shout. It's not a new or particularly creative observation, but worth reminding us all. I have friends who are in many ways, diametrically opposed to me on a number of things, and yet are good friends. We just know to avoid the stuff that is going to start something. We used to have that kind of sense. I figured it out young when I finally realized that talking about Vietnam with my Dad was not going to be productive. Even he eventually had enough though when a particularly admirable young man from our church was lost over there.
And of course, as I should have known, Facebook and Twitter, or whatever Musk is calling it this week, just make things worse. I suppose that I might have tempered my thoughts a bit if I had to sit down a write a letter to the editor. Just like the guy who called me a traitor to, I don't know, Ken Paxton I guess. But then again, I visited his Facebook page, and I'm not sure the distinction would have registered.
But politics today is about scaring us. Even if, in this case, it's scaring us about the guys in the other chamber who are in our same party. Forget Nixon and JFK standing at a podium and addressing the Berlin Wall, relations with China, or the arms race. Now we are told that the Democrats in Congress want your children to change gender and the Republicans on the Supreme Court want to outlaw interracial marriage again. The whole point is to scare the bejabbers out of you, and our sin in the press is simply reporting it.
When Marjorie Taylor Greene actually mouths the word "Secession," or paws it out in the dirt or however she did it, did anyone look beyond the appalling nature of it and point out that it was made illegal right after the Civil War? When politicians say flatly untrue things, things that a 10-second Google search could disprove, are we doing it? And are we doing it to their faces? I fear the problem with the press isn't our biases, but our tendencies. The outrageous comment will draw an audience and that's the whole point. The latest poll results, the simple human gaffe, or the internet lie will grab more eyeballs than a patient explanation. And depending on the subject, half the audience is already conditioned not to believe you. So we are at fault here, as well. And when we fail to clear the air, how can we expect politicians to? They have only one job anymore and that is to be re-elected.
I don't have an answer and this is probably a couple of decades too late anyway. As a matter of fact, maybe several. As I covered my first Presidential Convention back in 1992, which was in my hometown of Houston, the tone set during the Reagan years was clear. The press was set up in a tent outside the Astrodome, and nightly a group of Young Republicans would march through with a bass drum chanting, "TELL THE TRUTH! TELL THE TRUTH!" Now, this was the George H.W. Bush re-election convention, and best I could tell, everyone intended to.
An old friend, Eleanor Clift of Newsweek Magazine, ran into me in the tent and gave me a gift. It's a little shopworn, but still true.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.