Stephen Colbert

Bombshell Book, Op-Ed Turn DC into a Political Whodunit

More chaos wracked the Trump White House with a bombshell book by Bob Woodward, followed by an aftershock in the form of an anonymous op-ed published in the New York Times by someone only identified as a “senior official” in the administration. Trump’s reaction was reportedly volcanic and set off a desperate search for whodunit.

More chaos wracked the Trump White House with a bombshell book by Bob Woodward, followed by an aftershock in the form of an anonymous op-ed published in the New York Times by someone only identified as a “senior official” in the administration. Trump’s reaction was reportedly volcanic and set off a desperate search for whodunit.

Washington, DC has been a lot of things. Now it is the scene of a political whodunit.

Bob Woodward got the game going with his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which chronicles audacious and embarrassing incidents during the Trump presidency, based on anonymous sources with good memories and a few purloined documents.

As shockwaves from Woodward’s book began to reverberate, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed from a reputed “senior official” in the Trump administration who described the “resistance from within.”

News media sources, quoting anonymous administration sources, reported that President Trump’s reaction to the book and op-ed was “volcanic.” Trump called Woodward’s book “fiction” and a “joke.” He called the op-ed author a coward.

In was the perfect first act of a whodunit. The rest of the play presumably will center on finding some or all of Woodward’s sources and identifying who wrote the damning op-ed.

Trump demanded the Department of Justice, which seems to be his new “fixer” since his old fixer pleaded guilty to fraud, to conduct an investigation in the name of “national Security.” Presidential Press Secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed the op-ed as “gutless” and the Woodward book as bad journalism. According to Donald Trump Jr., the White House circle of trust just got a lot smaller.

Talk show hosts grilled talking heads for names or clues. Woodward was asked if he knew who wrote the NYT op-ed. “I don’t have any suspects,” he said. Stephen Colbert did an entire opening monologue speculating on the person Trump is “obsessed” with discovering.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Bob Woodward’s latest book – a tell-all about the Trump White House based on 100 “deep background” interviews – hit bookshelves today, even though its shrapnel already has been felt in pre-publication excerpts.  https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/9/11/17828300/bob-woodward-fear-trump-sources

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author Bob Woodward’s latest book – a tell-all about the Trump White House based on 100 “deep background” interviews – hit bookshelves today, even though its shrapnel already has been felt in pre-publication excerpts. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/9/11/17828300/bob-woodward-fear-trump-sources

A parade of Trump senior officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, released statements saying it wasn’t them. Pence even volunteered to take a lie detector test.

Trump supporters floated the idea the Times “concocted” the anonymous op-ed. Steve Bannon said the op-ed had multiple authors and represented a “soft coup.”

Chaos is no stranger to the Trump White House, and Woodward is not a stranger to harsh criticism of his coverage of previous presidents. Woodward isn’t the first – and probably not the last – to paint a picture of dysfunction and indulgence. Though, he might be the first to describe specific incidents in which aides spirited away documents from their boss before he could sign them to avoid even more chaos.

Efforts by the Trump team to downplay or deflect from the back-to-back bombshells may not be successful. As Anderson Cooper noted, “It’s not every day or every month or every year, or certainly every administration for that matter, that someone in the administration publishes a scathing criticism of the president of the United States. It’s not every day that someone in the administration claims that many officials in that administration are working to frustrate parts of the president’s agenda and his worse inclinations.”

It didn’t help that US intelligence sources revealed North Korea is expanding its nuclear weapons capability and that reports surfaced about US officials flirting with involvement in a potential coup to unseat Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Or former Clinton-era special prosecutor Ken Starr’s suggestion in an interview on NPR that Congress has another, cleaner weapon to express displeasure with a President – censure.

And all this on the heels of news that White House counsel Don McGahn gave 30 hours of sworn testimony to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, “sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Trump obstructed justice,” according to The New York Times.

Even memorials for 9/11 are unlikely to stop the inevitable blame game or interrupt the DC chase for whodunit. The hunt is already afoot.

Fake Candidate Raises Real Issue

Now that Stephen Colbert is coasting until he replaces David Letterman on late-night TV, you will have to settle for "Honest" Gil Fulbright, a fake Senate candidate in Kentucky.

On his campaign website, Fulbright gets right to the point: "My name is Gil Fulbright, and my promise to you is this: If elected, I’ll definitely sell you out to special interests and lobbyists, but I’ll sell you out to your face. I’ll drop the act and do whatever you pay me to do — as long as you can afford it."

Fulbright says Senator Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Grimes could spend $100 million in this year's election. "And Old Gil wants a piece of that action."

Apparently overlooking the earlier campaign slogan "Honest Abe," Fulbright brands himself as "America's first honest politician." He admits to being in the race for the money and willing to toady to anyone with enough cash.

Defending Nate Silver and Math

As the November 6 election approached, a lot of commentators trained their fire at Nate Silver, a numbers guy who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times. Critics said Silver was crazy for projecting an 80 percent chance Barack Obama would win re-election.

Faux conservative commentator Stephen Colbert hosted Silver on his show and pooh-poohed his prediction that the election wasn't a "coin toss." Dylan Byers, media blogger at Politico, said Silver could become a "one-term celebrity."

Post-election, Paul Raeburn has blogged that critics who sniped at Silver seriously misunderstood what he does. Silver isn't a pollster. He is a statistician who uses polls and other data to model projected outcomes.

Raeburn says Silver's work should be compared to weather forecasters. They offer predictions based on probability, such as a 75 percent chance of rain. It's not the same as saying it will rain, just that there is a high likelihood it will rain.

For many people, from Karl Rove to New York Times columnist David Brooks to the New York Times public editor, it was illogical to predict such an overwhelming prospect of an Obama victory when most polls showed the popular vote as neck and neck.

However, Silver was modeling the probability of what would occur, not prophesying it. A Romney victory November 6 would not have gone against what he modeled; it merely would have demonstrated that Romney beat the odds.

Paul Ryan and the Wikipedia War

Paul Ryan's selection as Mitt Romney's running mate ignited a war on Wikipedia over whether it was relevant to note his high school voted him as the biggest brown noser. Photo by Gage Skidmore.The selection over the weekend of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's Republican running mate  touched off a wave of pro and con commentary. None was more pitched than a series of edits and counter-edits to Paul Ryan's Wikipedia page.

The focus of the Wikipedia Wars quickly zeroed in on a 1988 reference in Ryan's high school yearbook that listed him as the "Biggest Brown-Noser."

Ryan sympathizers swept in to scrub the reference as irrelevant, but the vigilant opposition countered and put back the brown-nose reference, declaring it was relevant. The battle waged on with hundreds of revisions, including mention that Ryan was prom king his senior year.

Actually, a spate of Wikipedia edits in a politician's profile has now become a semi-official perch to judge whether a vice presidential candidate's stock is rising or falling. 

Writing for The Atlantic, Megan Garber said reporters staked out the various Wikipedia pages of leading vice presidential candidates to see which one had the most editorial activity, a clue to who might get the nod. She noted that short-listers Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio and Ryan each had about the same amount of pre-announcement editing.

This was in sharp contrast, Garber said, to 2008 when Sarah Palin's Wikipedia page was edited 68 times the day before John McCain's surprise announcement of her as his running mate.

Political mischief-maker Stephen Colbert, perhaps miffed because he wasn't on anyone's short list, openly encouraged people to "go on Wikipedia and make as many edits as possible to your favorite VP contender." Wikipedia locked down the pages of the short-listers, which sucked the air out of Colbert's party.

Colbert: Seriously Funny

Faux news shows have become so prevalent that a lot of people actually depend on them for information, opinions and distortions. Conveniently, they also get a good laugh when they view shows such as The Colbert Report.

But as The New York Times Magazine noted in its weekend edition, Stephen Colbert is more than funny when it comes to pointing out the foibles of federal election laws; he is seriously funny.

Colbert, with the assistance of a former Federal Elections Commission chairman, has created what is known as a Super PAC and called it Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of "soft money" — money contributed directly by corporations or unions — to support or oppose candidates, as long as they don't coordinate with the benefitting campaigns. What coordination actually means isn't clearly spelled out.

Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow is more than a comedic parody, unlike Colbert's effort in the 2008 election to get on the ballot in South Carolina as a presidential candidate. His Super Pac is real. It has 170,000 names on its database, 30,000 of whom have contributed to the Super PAC. "This is 100 percent legal and at least 10 percent ethical," Colbert says.

The Super PAC has done such oddball things as stage a TV ad campaign in Iowa to cast caucus votes for Rick "Parry," a word play off the real name of real GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry.

Even stranger, Colbert's Super PAC pitched South Carolina Republicans on the idea of the naming rights of its primary election – "The Stephen Colbert Super PAC South Carolina Primary." Ha ha, you say. But South Carolina Republicans actually considered the $400,000 offer. The idea got sidetracked by a South Carolina court, but Democrats in the Palmetto State apparently considered a sweetened $500,000 proposal to appeal the rebuff to a higher court.