One of the things that drives me nuts about the Left is that, more often than not, we allow GOP operatives to run roughshod over us with their stupid, unsourced arguments and talking points. Back in January, Chuck Todd (not a liberal but a good example of the phenomena) got caught like a deer in the headlights against Kellyanne Conway and her "alternate facts," unable to responsibly debunk her lies. This also happens regularly on Bill Maher's show, where Republicans dominate his panel, causing him and his liberal guests to waste valuable time by getting sidetracked into addressing every one of their lies.
This weekend, Democrats and the Left got an object lesson in how NOT to do that, thanks to the indefatigable Joy Ann Reid, who, on her AM Joy broadcast on Sunday, shut down Republican columnist Jen Kerns' attempts to turn the panel into a discussion about the debunked Uranium One scandal.
The scandal, as Reid reminds us, was snuck into the book Clinton Cash, which was filled with innuendo and conspiracy theories to make people believe the Clintons were corrupt. The book was written by former Breitbart correspondent Peter Schweitzer and commissioned by Steve Bannon specifically to play to the media's Clinton Derangement Syndrome. The gambit worked, as respected publications like The New York Times published stories based on information from the notoriously error-riddled book and this past weekend, the Uranium One non-scandal found its way into the news again. Republican operatives littered the talk shows to distract the media from discussing Mueller's impending indictments in the Russia investigation.
Reid reminded her viewers of all this before introducing her panel, which consisted of three Democrats - ShareBlue's Eric Boehlert, the Washington Post's Katherine Rampell, and Mother Jones's Andy Kroll - and one Republican, the Washington Free Beacon's Jen Kerns. However, rather than address the entire panel right away, she aimed her sights on Kerns, previously the chairwoman of the California Republican Party. Knowing that this pivot from conservative talk show hosts and politicians was not mere coincidence, she grilled Kerns about it for at least five minutes before opening the discussion:
Reid: Were talking points issued by the RNC this week to Trump surrogates to, when asked about Russian collusion, shift the story to Uranium One?
Kerns: Not in those words. The RNC does put out its research pieces. I think the RNC research shop is quite good...Look, I think it’s important that the media is covering...not just the Fusion GPS issue but the Uranium one story…
Here, we have the first pivot. Reid desires a yes-or-no answer, and after getting it in the form of the not-quite-definitive "not in those words," she's faced with Kerns going right back to the talking points - seemingly undermining her initial claim that there were no talking points. Reid did not let Kerns speak for long, however, as she went right back to it:
Reid: So why does that matter? Here’s the thing about the Steele Dossier…some of the information in it is checked out. And if, in fact, that document contains relevant and valid info showing that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia or worked with Russian operatives in order to distort the results of the 2016 election, who cares whether the research was paid for by a Republican or a Democrat?
Kerns: Look, I put the onus on the Washington Free Beacon [the conservative source who first funded the Dossier] as well. Just because a conservative outlet paid for it doesn’t make it OK, and it also doesn’t let Democrats off the hook.
Reid: Off the hook for what?
Kerns: None of the information in the Trump Dossier has checked out –
Kerns pivots to debunking the Dossier, which has been a regular theme for conservative outlets this past week, like this article in The Federalist that uses a similar spin to Kerns'. The typical liberal strategy here might be to explain to her why the Dossier is factual, but that would only open her up to spreading more lies. Reid does not let Kerns or herself get sidetracked into this argument, redirecting the discussion back to the RNC's coordinated attempt to distract the public by bringing up Uranium One:
Reid: This is actually what I suspect that those RNC talking points suggest you do: when you get on a show like this, and we want to talk about Russiagate and these indictments, that you bring up Fusion GPS and you should bring up Uranium one. Is that something you were told to do?
Reid: Or was it something you were suggested you should do?
Kerns: No, absolutely not…
Reid: So let’s talk about what I think is the most relevant. There is a pending set of indictments that could come down, and arrests as early as tomorrow…what is your response? What do you make of that?
Kerns: I think the timing is awfully uncanny.
Kerns: The same few days Mueller is under fire, the Wall St. Journal editorial board is calling for him to resign or to be fired…
Kerns now denies that there were any Republican talking points telling her to do this, even though earlier in the interview, she praised the RNC "research pieces" that get sent out - once again, undermining her initial claim that the Party did not tell her to do this. Reid, who began this segment of her show with a montage of right-wingers like Sean Hannity and Sebastian Gorka performing this same pivot on the weekend talk shows, moves on, undeterred, to a yes-or-no round of questioning that finally brings Kerns right where she wants her:
Reid: We're not going to get sidetracked. I want to ask you a couple of fact-based questions. Who got the money when the Canadian company was sold to the Russian company?
Kerns: Uh…I presume the company.
Reid: Second question. Who approved the sale? When any…company who sells sensitive products, and by the way, the uranium mined in these mines is for nuclear power, not for nuclear bombs. But when that happens, there’s an organization called CFIUS, that approves it. Do you know what that stands for? What does it stand for?
Kerns: Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States.
Reid: How many people sit on that committee?
Kerns: Nine members.
Reid: How many have to approve this deal?
Kerns: All nine of them.
Reid: How many of them approved this deal?
Kerns: Nine of them.
Reid: Did Hillary Clinton sit personally on that deal?
Kerns: No, but she pushed for it…
Reid: No she did not...who is the person who donated to Hillary Clinton who is related to and had an investment in Uranium One...Did [Frank Guistra] own any assets of Uranium One during the time that Clinton was Secretary of State?
Kerns: I don’t know that.
Reid: He did not – he sold them.
Kerns: But here’s what I’d like to know –
Reid: He sold them years before. What you’re talking about is a deal that nine CFIUS members approved, none of which was Hillary Clinton, you have a donor who separately gave [her] donations at a time when she was not Secretary...the two things cross in the night, they have no relation to each other, the members of CFIUS have been very clear that Clinton had nothing to do with approving that deal. She would have had to strong-arm eight other people in order to get them to unanimously approve the deal, and ultimately the President...would have to have intervene if he saw any problem. The CFIUS people say now that if that deal came before them today, they would still approve it unanimously. There’s actually nothing about the deal that’s controversial. The only reason we’re still talking about it is, per your admission, which I think is very honest, the RNC would like us to be talking about this now.
What Kerns attempts in this interview, and what Democrats fall for time and time again, is "spreading," an illegal debating technique where you pose more questions than your opponent can answer, wrecking the continuity of the discussion and not providing direct answers to the initial question. It is what we see Donald Trump and his cronies do, and it is what Mitt Romney did in the first debate against Barack Obama. Many people fall for it as being sound strategy, but Reid does not. Without being sidetracked, by only asking yes-no questions about the scandal that Republican operatives do not address on the talk shows, she is able to prove that Kerns knows nothing of the topic she's talking about beyond what the Republican Party told her to say. After she's neutralized Kerns's voice, she opens up the discussion to the rest of the panel, who then dissect what they've just seen and explain why it's bad strategy.
Reid offers Democrats a primer for how we can win back Congress and the White House in 2018 and 2020. For much of 2016, we got stuck playing defense as the media wrote about fake scandals regarding the Clintons, and we felt we had to address every one of them lest Trump should get an advantage. In doing so, we let Trump get the advantage, because it made us look weak. I'm not saying we shouldn't defend ourselves against lies, but it's a waste of our time to assume they are all created equal. Reid knows this, which is why she doesn't bother addressing all of Kerns's complaints, and why she limits her response time, lest she draw attention away from her main questions about Republican spin techniques.
Now that Mueller has released his first indictments, we must expect the Republicans to become even more brutal with their spin than they are now, and we need to emulate ethical journalists like Joy Ann Reid in order to push back, tell them they don't know what they're talking about, and defend our rights as American citizens, rather than get sucked into debates that should not exist in the first place.
The whole masterful interview can be watched below:
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