Worst Debate Ever

I sat through the whole of the first Presidential Trump-Biden debate last night wondering why in hell I was doing it. Only the most masochistic political junkie would inflict such a thing on themselves, I concluded.

I think Jonathan Allen of NBC News has nailed the reason why it was so appalling: Trump may be the only person in the USA who is afraid of Democrat Joe Biden. Allen went on:

“Before their debate Tuesday night, he and his allies demanded that Biden submit to a drug test and let officials check the former vice president for an earpiece.
During the action, Trump absurdly accused Biden of wanting to abolish the suburbs, the cops and “the cows;” declined to denounce white supremacists; and insisted that the election is going to be rigged against him.
And after Trump aggressively failed to demonstrate presidential temperament — blustering, bullying and lying his way through the debate — his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, praised him for being in “control of the conversation.”
Trump’s words and actions are those of a candidate who knows he is losing and has no idea how to fix the problem.
The irony is that Biden was deeply vulnerable: after decades of experience at the highest levels, he’s still not a strong debater. He was noticeably apprehensive; he lacked the motivation and speed to brawl on stage; and he still didn’t have good answers for a host of questions about his record and platform.
But Trump couldn’t or wouldn’t stay focused on Biden’s actual positions. Instead, he ran against a dark caricature of the former vice president while the real version was standing right there smiling.”

I was tuned to the BBC coverage. Just after it finished, presenter Mike Embley called up Washington correspondent Katty Kay who, it can only be said, looked almost shell-shocked by what she had witnessed.  Her initial assessment, which I liked so much I paused the feed and went looking for a pen and paper, was: “It sounded you were being yelled at by all the men you’ve ever had an argument with.”

Three old white men shouting at each other. Hardly representative of the American people. It sets the bar very low for when Kamala Harris steps up for the VP debate next week. I’m sure she will nail it.

No time for both sides: journalists must take a stand

 

Pic: Unsplash

A click on one of Jason Kottke’s Quick Links took me first to this excoriating piece in The Atlantic, where James Fallows lays into the media coverage of Trump’s re-election campaign. It starts:

We’re seeing a huge error, and a potential tragedy, unfold in real time.
That’s a sentence that could apply to countless aspects of economic, medical, governmental, and environmental life at the moment. What I have in mind, though, is the almost unbelievable failure of much of the press to respond to the realities of the Trump age.
Many of our most influential editors and reporters are acting as if the rules that prevailed under previous American presidents are still in effect. But this president is different; the rules are different; and if it doesn’t adapt, fast, the press will stand as yet another institution that failed in a moment of crucial pressure.

Fallows is very critical of what he calls “both-sides-ism”, which he defines as most journalists’ discomfort with seeming to “take a side” in political disputes, and the contortions that result. Reporters are, he says, most at ease when they can quote first one side and then the other, seeming to be neutral between the two—or when they present a charge, and then the response. But this doesn’t work with a President or his representatives who simply lie in public statements dozens of times a day. Therefore, there is no reason to present Trump’s claims on equal footing with other information. Simply put, what he says is probably not true. And yet the instinct is so hard to resist, the impulse to add “some critics say …” is so powerful.

Then Fallows goes on:
We can’t be sure now which is more destructive: a president openly encouraging much of the public to mistrust the democratic process, or that same president openly welcoming foreign interference in the process. Both are steps toward authoritarianism and danger, and awareness of them should shape coverage every single day.

Fallows’s article also had a link to a piece by Dan Froomkin, an experienced journalist who has done 12 years before the mast at the Washington Post, (Stop headlining Trump’s loony disinformation about Covid-19) on a site I’d never seen before, Presswatchers.

Froomkin is unequivocal about the role of the campaigning journalist. His article lams into articles such as this one from AP, which started:
Openly contradicting the government’s top health experts, President Donald Trump predicted Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus could be ready as early as next month and in mass distribution soon after, undermining the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and calling him “confused” in projecting a longer time frame.

This approach, Froomkin says, takes no account of Trump’s latest obviously delusional fantasy: that every person in America will be able to get a vaccine “very soon”. It was highly reminiscent of his famous still-a-whopper-more-than-six-months-later that “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.”

Froomkin’s piece ends with a glorious paragraph which should appear in every handbook for the aspiring campaigning journalist for ever more:

I’ve written a lot about Trump’s response to the pandemic, and here is what has been clear all along: It’s an ongoing tragedy that he has no real plan to restore the country to health other than to peddle false hope, predict a quick end, adopt fake deadlines and shift the blame to others. The most urgent need is to test, test, and test even more, but Trump has never liked testing because the results “look bad”. The media has blown its coverage of the federal response by letting political reporters lead instead of health reporters. Political reporters pay way too much attention to whatever Trump says, such that whatever it is makes headlines. They let Trump set the agenda instead of letting knowledgeable people do it. Political reporters also give Trump way too much credit for trying, which he is not. They cover up for his incoherence, ignorance, cluelessness, gaslighting, and yes, just plain stupidity. They generally fail to properly exploit their rare access to him by confronting him with facts and piercing his bubble. They remain complacent in the face of a massive death toll, instead of relentlessly demanding more forceful action.

Great stuff.

A day at the cricket: the Lord’s Test, 1963

Wes Hall’s 40 yard run up, seen at the Oval in 1963. Pic: Audmanettv

Today is the last day of the cricketing summer. A summer so strange that not a single ball bowled in the first class game has been viewed by any paying spectator. However, it’s been great to have some free-to-view cricket back on BBC TV. First, highlights of all the test matches between England and West Indies/Pakistan. Then, live (!), two full T20 matches between England and Pakistan/Australia. And finally, more highlights of the 50-over series between England and Australia. Truly, you spoil us, Mr BBC Director-General.

Watching ball-by-ball coverage of Test matches was something I did all my life until the end of UK free-to-view transmission in 2005. That wonderful Ashes summer, with its series of close finishes, has rightly gone down in history. Over the previous four decades work would sometimes get in the way, of course, but there were always weekends. Plus I was sometimes able to filch the the odd day working from home. These occasions could be a bit dull but one Monday in 1984 I got lucky.  I spent the day correcting proofs on my living room table while at Lord’s, in the corner of the room, Gordon Greenidge was hitting 214 not out, as the West Indies got 344-1 in a run chase.

I’ve only ever been to a handful of Test matches, all at either Lord’s or the Oval, the last being in 1990 when I took my father to see England play India at the Oval. It was Sachin Tendulkar’s first tour, and we saw the young master fielding on the boundary just in front of us. My first visit was, however, 27 years before, to the famous Lord’s Test against the West Indies in 1963. A small group of boys were taken from my school, Thorpe House in Gerrards Cross, by the deputy head (and cricket coach) Mr Wood. His first name was Ken, but of course we never called him that. Test matches in those days lasted from Thursday to Tuesday, with a rest day on the Sunday, so I think that it must have been the Friday when we went. I really have very little memory of the day itself, but we must have travelled by train to Marylebone. I see from this report of the match that this was the day when England captain Ted Dexter hit 70 in an hour after lunch as England chased a first innings score of 301 by West Indies. I do remember watching from side on as Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith bowled with ferocious speed, and marvelling at the length of Hall’s run up, which must have been about 40 yards. (You get an idea of how long it was from the screen grab at the top of this piece, taken from the Oval test later in the summer.)

We were there on the second day, but in fact the Test match went on to a famous final day on the following Tuesday. I was spending my last term at Thorpe House as a boarder (even though we only lived half a mile from the school) so I watched the climax on TV in the boys’ common room there.

On the Monday, Colin Cowdrey had retired hurt with a broken arm, caused by a hit from Charlie Griffith. Then West Indies batted again, and were out for 229, so England were left needing 234. By the time the last hour started England needed 48 to win, with five wickets down. Brian Close and Fred Titmus were in. But then Titmus was out, soon followed by Fred Trueman. The score was 203 for 7 when David Allen arrived at the crease. After a few more big blows, Close was out, with England needing 15. The last fit man, Derek Shackleton came in. He and Allen could perhaps have scored them, but with hostile bowling from Griffith and Hall they could only prod the odd single.

Soon after this, the live TV coverage ended, as it was already past ten to six and the news bulletin due at 5.50 could not be delayed any longer. However, soon after the bulletin started, it came to an abrupt end (apparently under the orders of Sir Hugh Greene, then the BBC Director-General, who had been watching the cricket) and the cricket came back on again.

As the last over started England needed eight runs. They were surely batting for a draw. They got a couple of singles off the first three balls. Then Shackleton was run out on the fourth, but the batsmen had crossed. The nation held its breath as Cowdrey, arm in plaster, made his way to the non-striker’s end. However Allen blocked out the two remaining deliveries and the match was drawn.

Unsurprisingly there is a lot of material online about this match, as well as Arunabha Sengupta’s atmospheric piece referenced above, but written in 2018, which I freely admit I have relied on for this piece. Here is the full scorecard at ESPN Cricinfo and here, amazingly, is a 40 minute YouTube video of the highlights of both teams second innings. There is also a shorter YouTube video of Hall, Griffith and Sobers bowling on the same tour, at the Oval test.

What wasn’t so apparent at the time to a 13 year old boy was the cultural significance of this Test series, which West Indies won 3-1, with only one draw. Only two years before Frank Worrell had become the first black man to captain the West Indies cricket team for an entire series, and this was the first time this had occurred in a team touring England. As a batsman his powers were waning, perhaps not surprisingly as he turned 39 during the tour. He retired from international cricket at the end of the tour and, tragically, died of leukaemia less than four years later.

West Indies fans, probably at the Lord’s Test 1963. Pic: ESPNcricinfo

I do remember the crowd at Lord’s. There were areas of unreserved ‘free seats’ and people could also sit on the grass (you hired a cushion for, I think, a shilling). Large sections were taken up by West Indies fans, as can be seen in the picture above, taken from the Sengupta piece. I love the fact that they are all dressed in smart clothes, with their brief cases and handbags in front of them. This was the first home Test match series against the West Indies for six years, and many more immigrants from the Caribbean had arrived in that time. The sheer numbers of West Indies fans are in stark contrast to the numbers who turn up now to modern Test match series. This perhaps mirrors the declining importance of cricket in the Caribbean – a shame when you consider the heritage they have to build on.

The boisterous crowds have been driven away, says this article in The Cricketer, ‘by high ticket prices, the end of block-booking and overzealous ground regulations on instruments, food and the like.’ The article links to an academic project at University College London which is hoping to shed some light on this under-appreciated corner of British cricket history. Led by Professor Michael Collins, it is compiling a social history of the Windrush generation through cricket which will attempt to answer the eternal question of why, if cricket was so important to so many African-Caribbean people in Britain, has their participation declined so markedly over the last 30 years. Collins says: ‘For many West Indian immigrants to Britain, cricket was a bridge across back to the Caribbean. It was part of their Caribbean identity, but it was also very much part of their British identity.’

It will be an interesting read. I look forward to seeing a copy. Contact Michael Collins here.

1963 West Indies tour Wikipedia page