Monday, January 8, 2018

Journalistic interviews and the question of who gets a microphone

Yesterday, Jake Tapper "interviewed" Stephen Miller on one of those pointless Sunday shows.  I regularly advise you not to watch those shows.  The Miller "interview" has gotten some attention because Tapper cut Miller off and ended the interview when Miller... acted like himself.  So... yay for Tapper?

No.  Jake Tapper screwed up.  By putting Stephen Miller on the air in the first place.

News should, ideally, inform.  There are two types of information that can be conveyed with an interview.  An interviewee can reveal new information directly-- information that was not previously available.  The second type of information is information that comes, not from the content of the words, but from the performance itself.  By demonstrating ignorance, lying crassly, or otherwise giving a poor performance, an interviewee can reveal him or herself to be unfit for some position.  Alternatively, an interviewee might even acquit him or herself well, and surprise everyone with a good showing.  Hey, it could happen.  The performance revelation is only newsworthy, though, if it is news.

What, then, about someone who is a known pathological liar and craven toady for his boss, who is an even worse pathological liar?  In other words, what about a waste of carbon, like Stephen Miller?  Seriously, that guy would make awesome mulch!  On the other hand, the probability that a true statement will escape his Trump-taint-tainted lips?  Epsilon.*

There are a variety of people serving in the Trump White House.  Some are horrified by what he is, and try to do what they can to mitigate the damage of a man clearly unfit for the job.  Others are thrilled to take advantage of any opportunity they can.  Does Stephen Miller actually think Trump is a "genius?"  No.  Miller is just an opportunistic and obsequious little shit, but one who enthusiastically does whatever is required.

But we, and more importantly, Jake Tapper should have known that before Miller was booked on that show.  That means there was nothing to be gained by handing Miller a microphone.  It was irresponsible to give Miller a microphone in the first place because the probability that he would do anything other than what he did was epsilon.  In principle, he might have gotten drunk before the show, and had an in-vino-veritas moment, but... what happened was to be expected.

This is true for Donald Trump and all of his spokespeople.  White House press briefings serve no purpose anymore because Sarah Huckabee Sanders does nothing but lie on Trump's behalf, and we know, before any briefing starts, that every word out of her mouth will be a lie.  So... why hold these things?  Why cover them?

Kellyanne Conway.  She of the "alternative facts."  Why does anyone ever give that fuckin' liar a microphone?  Alternative facts.  Seriously.  Alternative facts.  She really fucking said that.  Why are we listening to these people?

As a basic journalistic rule, there is some probability, p, representing the probability that you will say something true and informative.  If p is below some fixed level, p*, you shouldn't be interviewed because you are a waste of everyone's fucking time.  How high should p* be in order for you to be interviewed?  .75?  .8?  I don't know.  What is p for Stephen Miller or Kellyanne Conway or any Trump spokesperson, though?

Epsilon.  And that means they don't get a fuckin' microphone anymore.  They don't deserve my attention.  Or yours.  Or anyone's.  Once you tell that many lies, you don't deserve to have anyone listen to you.  So shut the fuck up.

And Jake, stop giving these assholes microphones.  Don't preen about taking their microphones away.  Just don't give them microphones in the first place.

*The mathematical designation for a probability arbitrarily close to zero.


  1. Oh, that's so cute.
    Pretending like you think there's anything about televised news that intersects with "journalism."

    It's a nice thought experiment.

    1. At what point in this post did I make any such claims? All I did was point out how hacks like Tapper fail at journalism by putting people like Miller on the air in the first place. I never called him a journalist. He failed at journalism by not applying the p* test.

    2. Well, the title, for one.

      Then the whole underlying logic of the whole piece presumes CNN is in the journalism business. It isn't. Did you hear about it? Did people watch it and share the clip afterwards?

      Then, CNN successfully promoted its brand of info-adjacent-tainment.

    3. The post does not "presume" that CNN is in the journalism business. The premise of the post is to point out how far CNN strays from journalism by putting people like Stephen Miller on the air. Yes, in order to do that, I have to use words like, "journalistic." I used it twice. First, in the title of the post, and second, while describing the p* rule. That is a total of once in the body of the post. At no point did I call Jake Tapper journalist, nor describe CNN as a journalistic organization. You are making false accusations against me, and I demand that you rescind them.

    4. That last comment may be the most accurate thing you've ever said.

    5. Well, I am a game theorist, you know...

    6. I was thinking that we could add that in as a wrinkle to game theory:
      -stupid doesn't know other people's payoffs
      -crazy doesn't know their own
      But, then I realized the solution to that one is simple:
      -assholes have a portion of their utility function that is simply negative values for other people's utility. Not that interesting.

    7. I think you just described "psychopath." Assholes are indifferent to others' payoffs. In other words, "rational" people. That's why game theorists are assholes. They live what they preach. I was simply referring to the intrinsic wrongness of game theory, though.

    8. I think we're now in a semantic fight over what the definition of an "asshole" is.

      I'd be OK with saying that the asshole and psychopath are somewhat similar. The scale would go from "rational" to "psycopath." One's position on the scale is simply the relative weight given to ones Own (O) payoffs vs the negative utility of others doing well (N). As O/U approaches 1, you're rational. As N/U approaches 1, you're a psycopath (and O+N=U; if one wanted to use O and 1-O as multipliers, that's a fine modification). Assholes have a function where N is not 0. Where the threshold of N for someone to be an asshole, I don't know.

      Now, we could bring in some notion of altruism, whereby N is actually "positive" (in quotes because my math so far has been treating N as a positive value for NEGATIVE utility, and I'm not wanting to police this for a blog comment) your utility translates somehow into part of my utility. So, the scale might then go from altruism (my utility function entirely consists of others' utility, with a positive relationship) to psycopathy (my utility function entirely consists of others' utility, with a negative relationship). Rationality is in the center, with a 0 multiplier. The question then reduces to what range of that scale (1 to -1) do we call "assholes."

      I think where we are is whether it is an open question of whether we include 0 in that range. Your game theorist answer suggests that 0 is in the range. I think I'm more comfortable with the range of A being (0,-1), whereas you're arguing either that the range is [0,-1) or that people perceive that to be the range.

      And, we might also wonder if the range of P (psychopath) is more than just [-1,-1]. I'd be open to other points as cutoffs, like maybe -0.5? So, I'd describe the range as follows:
      1 = insane altruist
      (1, 0) = good person
      0 = game theorist
      (0,-0.5) = asshole
      [-0.5,-1] = psychopath

      Now, I think the only task remaining is to declare that Trump is a stupid, crazy asshole. Which is an amazing utility function. That person has no fucking idea what's going on, but still lashes out, usually ineffectively.....

      Turns out we're kinda good at this stuff.

    9. I... think there's a paper in this. It won't get published, but there's a paper in this. I'm sticking with Asshole as 0, with Asshole=rational=game theorist, but at that point, we are arguing over definitions rather than math or concept. I like the idea of the range and weighting, though. Mathematically, that's easy. I can envision circumstances, though, where solving for equilibrium will be solving weird sets of simultaneous equations.

      Modeling Trump becomes modeling a game of imperfect information with someone who has the wrong priors and doesn't update according to Bayes rule. That latter part is where it will get messy.