Political designs: How Beto’s basic black and white and Ocasio-Cortez’s revolutionary look defined their candidacies

 

Good day Austin:

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who at the end of June won a Democratic primary for a congressional seat in New York City against one of the most powerful politicians in the city, soaring into the national political consciousness, have a few things in common.

Both project an upbeat, youthful vigor — or, more properly vigah, because O’Rourke is a virtual Kennedy and Ocasio-Cortez cut her political teeth working as an intern in U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy’s office while going to school at Boston University.

Of course Ocasio-Cortez is very young — at 28, a generation younger than the 45-year–old O’Rourke (she’s a Millennial, he’s Generation X).

Both also are masters of political virality, not to be mistaken for political virility, though maybe they are, these days, one and the same.

And both Ocasio-Cortez and O’Rourke have benefited from campaigns with very distinctive and effective graphic design that have gone a long way toward branding them in ways that complement their strengths.

From n+1 magazine on June 30:

The democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking victory in this week’s Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district has rightly provoked enthusiastic commentary and analysis. If she beats her Republican opponent in November, as seems assured, Ocasio-Cortez will be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Her grassroots campaign against the business-friendly incumbent Joe Crowley, who until Tuesday was a likely candidate for speaker of the House, sends a significant signal to the Democratic Party. Ocasio-Cortez’s election to Congress would be the clearest sign yet of the electoral viability of the left in the US.

Her campaign also marks a major step forward for graphic design in American politics. Rather than the tired repetition of white letters on blue backgrounds, white letters on red backgrounds, and American flag iconography, energetic diagonals cut across Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign materials in an unexpected yellow and purple. When paired with the instantly iconic photo of the candidate by Jesse Korman, the vibrancy of the system is infectious.

And from Didi Martinez at Politico on July 7:

One of the year’s most distinctive, break-the-mold campaign designs belongs to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the giant-killing New York progressive who recently pulled off the upset of the primary season by defeating veteran Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley.

Using purples and yellows and drawing inspiration from old United Farm Workers of America posters, Ocasio-Cortez’s logo and campaign signs are a dramatic departure from customary practice.

Scott Starrett, who oversaw the creation of Ocasio-Cortez’s posters — which embraced Spanish-inspired inverted exclamation marks to highlight her Puerto Rican heritage — said they could afford to take design risks as they reached for a “bold, revolutionary look” for the campaign.

 


From Aileen Kwun at Fast Company on June 29:

Opting for bold lettering and a flat design treatment that forgoes drop shadows, gradients, American flag motifs, and other visual cliches, the identity intentionally avoids pretentious signifiers to refreshing effect; one might even liken the energetic campaign visuals to a local poster bill. In place of red, white, and blue, Ocasio-Cortez’s color scheme draws upon purple–a symbolic blend of the two-party system’s red and blue, also used by Brand New Congress–and yellow, as its aesthetic complement.

Enlarged, all-caps text–set bilingually in English and Spanish, in equal weighting–frames Ocasio-Cortez’s countenance with similarly angular effect, and her name, proudly flouted with inverted exclamation marks and stars, is emphatically, unapologetically multicultural. It’s an outward display of Ocasio-Cortez’s roots as a third-generation, working-class Bronxite with Puerto Rican heritage.

(Campaign volunteers for Beto O’Rourke, left to right, Canan Yetmen, Debbie Cahoon and Bessie Tassoulas, prepare yard signs at a rally at Mount Sinai Baptist Church on Monday August 27, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

O’Rourke’s design went the other direction — no photo, no color, just BETO in black and white, in keeping with his stripped-down punk sensibility and perhaps also in subliminal homage to a particular Texas comfort zone – Whataburger.

As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Anna Tinsley wrote on Aug. 9:

What’s black and white and reminds some people of a tasty Texas treat?

Apparently it’s the campaign signs and logo being used by U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat embroiled in a battle with Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for the Senate.

Some are taking to social media to say those campaign messages remind them of the design on the Whataburger spicy ketchup container.

 

On Sunday, I wrote a story about following O’Rourke on a three-day swing through South Texas the previous weekend.

The last rally was in Brownsville, emceed by the local state Rep. Eddie Lucio III.

From the story:

Was O’Rourke getting a late start in the Rio Grande Valley?

“I don’t think so,” Lucio said. “You’ve got to peak at the right time. You’ve got to conserve your energy. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and I think he’s peaking and moving and gaining speed right when he needs to.”

But O’Rourke, 17 months into a relentless Senate campaign that has already taken him to all 254 Texas counties, is running the marathon as a sprint. Last weekend’s stops in Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville, drawing raucous crowds amid the campaign’s fecund fundraising and with poll after poll showing a competitive race — combined with his uncanny ability to draw national attention with viral video clips, most recently showing him skateboarding in a Brownsville Whataburger parking lot and another in which he explained his support for professional football players kneeling for the national anthem — suggested a campaign on a roll.

Following a candidate on the campaign trail is a time-honored way of reporting on politics. There were several other reporters following O’Rourke on his border swing.

It is, in fact, the next best thing to not being there if you are interested in what really matters — which is what’s going on on social media — Facebook, Twitter, likes, retweets, clicks, etc. The demands of the road can only distract from a disciplined attention to these coordinates.

Case in point, this viral tweet from Josh Billinson, the editor of the Independent Journal Review and a very talented tweeter, based in Washington, D.C., who I don’t believe was in Texas at all, but rather was, I assume, observing O’Rourke via his campaign’s  Facebook live stream of virtually everything he does on the road.

Up until Billinson’s tweet, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the skateboarding story, if that’s what this was.

I had asked O’Rourke about his newly acquired board as he clutched it at a gaggle with reporters between his Saturday evening rally in Brownsville and his dinner at a Brownsville Whataburger with some 32 El Pasoans who had come by bus to Brownsville with Veronica Escobar, the Democratic candidate to replace O’Rourke representing El Paso in Congress, to help rally support for their hometown hero.

O’Rourke was in a punk band — Foss — as a young man and I asked about his skateboarding background.

O’Rourke:

My dad bought me a skateboard when I was in the sixth grade for my birthday, so I must have turned 12.  I met the guy who sold my dad that skateboard. He now lives in San Antonio. So I skated in elementary and little bit in high school and then my kids have a skateboard and I’ll jump on that. They have a long board. This is the opposite of a long board but it’s got these nylon wheels, really good wheels.

Filling out the profile of a punk skateboarder, I asked O’Rourke if there was any graffiti he wanted to cop to. Beto would be a great tag, after all, and I’m sure the Cruz campaign is scouring freight trains and overpasses in and around El Paso for incriminating evidence.

O’Rourke: No, no, no, no, no.

I didn’t follow O’Rourke to the Whataburger that night because, while I heard the El Paso crew was headed there, I didn’t know he would be joining them — though I should have assumed he would be. And frankly, I had a Whataburger for dinner the previous evening while waiting to get a new tire in San Antonio to replace one of the two new tires I had purchased the previous day in Austin that went flat on my way from an afternoon O’Rourke rally in San Antonio, to one that evening in Laredo.

Worse still, in order to get the quarters needed to turn on the air to see if I could revive the flat tire at the gas station where I had pulled over about 20 minutes outside San Antonio,  I had to make a purchase, so I grabbed the first thing at hand, an orange package of Trident gum, though I don’t generally chew gum. But as the tire hissed air as quickly as I added it, and without a full-sized spare, I called AAA for a tow, sought comfort in my pack of orange Trident, and began chewing, quickly dislodging a crown.

I shoved the crown back where it belonged — where it remains to this day — got the tow to San Antonio, and while I waited for a new tire I repaired to a close-by Whataburger to do some research.

From Tinsley’s story on the resemblance between the Beto logo and the Whataburger spicy ketchup package:

Cruz’s campaign responded to the likeness.

“Unlike the spicy ketchup, when Texans unwrap the O’Rourke packaging, they are definitely not going to like what they see underneath,” Cruz campaign spokeswoman Emily Miller said. “He’s like a Triple Meat Whataburger liberal who is out of touch with Texas values.”

This was apparently not a good riposte.

https://twitter.com/MMove101/status/1027669546042372097

I confess in the my five-plus years in Texas I have only had a couple of Whataburgers, all via drive-through. The experience was fine but not life-altering, though I acknowledge and admire the fierce devotion of Texans to the chain. Like for HEB, only that one I actually live and feel.

In any case, unaccustomed to being inside a Whataburger, I looked around for the spicy ketchup package, and before I ordered my basic burger, I asked the guy at the counter how to secure a spicy ketchup in the Beto-like container. He looked at me as a bit of a security risk. I didn’t realize that a young woman would come around, when I received my order, with a condiment tray, like a cigarette girl in a 1940s nightclub.

Very classy.

 

The burger was pretty good. A single meat Whataburger was hefty. I doubted a triple-meat Whataburger was ever a good idea. And, at first glance, the resemblance between the ketchup package design and the Beto logo didn’t seem to me to be all that extraordinary.

But let us pause here to consider Ocasio-Cortez’s eye-catching design and how, there but for a former Austinite’s search for an acceptable taco in New York City, it might never have come off the way it did.

From that n+1 piece:

We were curious about how such a complex and impressive visual schema emerged, so we sought out the designers responsible for it: Scott Starrett, cofounder of Tandem (along with Shaun Gillen), and Maria Arenas, lead designer on the campaign. (Tandem’s Carlos Dominguez also assisted the campaign.) We spoke by phone on Friday, June 29, three days after Ocasio Cortez’s victory.

—Rachel Ossip and Mark Krotov

MARK KROTOV I first saw your campaign poster months ago, in a storefront on Queens Boulevard, in Sunnyside. At first I wasn’t sure if I was even looking at a campaign poster, but whatever it was, I knew I’d never seen anything quite like it. That poster was the first I’d heard of Ocasio-Cortez, and she more or less had my vote right at that moment. I was trying to remember when it was that I had that first encounter, and it feels like a long time ago—long before the articles began to be written. How did the process of working with Ocasio-Cortez and her campaign begin?

SCOTT STARRETT We’ve known Sandy [Ocasio-Cortez] for some time. We started talking politics before she began her bid for Congress—we even lent her our GoPro when she went to Standing Rock. But the seed of the campaign identity came from the fact that our whole studio really loves Sandy. That was a big part of why the design turned out so well.

MARIA ARENAS We really knew Sandy well, and we knew we had her complete trust. She trusted us to represent the campaign authentically.

RACHEL OSSIP How did the identity for the campaign evolve?

SS We’re in a revolutionary moment, so we went straight to the history of grassroots, civil rights, and social justice movements in search of a common language we could participate in. One that Sandy could participate in and that she belongs in. The most inspiring figures to us were Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, the cofounders of the National Farmworkers Association. They had a positive, uplifting message about bringing power to the people. It resonated so deeply with who Sandy the person was, and who Sandy the candidate became, that it was a good fit.

We also researched revolutionary posters, union badges, et cetera. But the National Farmworkers Association inspired us a great deal. We looked to a lot of low-fidelity activist materials bred from necessity, and we knew we couldn’t have too much polish. We wanted the identity to have a populist look, in the sense that it was simple enough that it could have been cut out of construction paper or made by hand in some way. But it also had to have a modern bent, with a nod to the visual culture of subway posters.

I’ve worked in politics for years. I had my first political clients in Austin almost seven years ago. The cultural and visual language there is so different. Had we run Ocasio’s identity in Texas, I don’t think it would have resonated to the same extent. In the Bronx and Queens, people speak and understand a different visual language. So when they saw it—and when you yourself saw it, Mark—they and you recognized that it kind of spoke to the visual language of New York and New York street advertising. People are advertised to differently in the subways than they are in, say, the Midwest or Texas.

Aha. Austin. I spoke to Scott Starrett back in early July.

Starrett, 34, moved to Austin from Lawrence, Kansas, where he was the director of marketing for the University of Kansas Memorial Unions, when he was 27. He was hired by Katie Naranjo at GNI Communications where his clients included state Sen. Kirk Watson, Mayor Steve Adler and Hugh Fitzsimons, who finished out of the money in a three-way race against Jim Hogan and Kinky Friedman for the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner four years ago. Despite that fact that Starrett did this beautiful map of Texas for his campaign.

Fitzsimons campaign effectively ended the day he filed his paperwork to be on the ballot.

Starrett: It meant a lot to him, it was meaningful and he asked he go in alone to put his name on the ballot because it was sentimental. He put his name on the ballot as Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III. He came out and showed us that and we were all like, “What have you done to us?”

Starrett subsequently moved to New York and co-founded Tandem.

I asked him about his comment that he didn’t think the Ocasio-Cortez design would have worked in Texas.

STARRETT: New Yorkers “are exposed to so much in their visual culture that — I don’t want to use the word sophistication, because that’s condescending to you guys — but (in New York) you are bombarded by the different visual languages and meeting that visual culture halfway we found to be a really positive thing and it may have been too much for Texas, and that also sounds condescending.

The Ocasio-Cortez design, he said, “borders on sentimental and dramatic, right? Like the ethos is excessive on some level and Sandy’s a bombastic candidate. She’s a firebrand, so when you hear her talk, you instantly go, ‘Oh, Ok, the poster fits, so it works.'”

“It might have been a little high-falutin’ for Texas.”

 

Originally, he said, the campaign “wanted a ton of inspirational text packed on there and we tried and we tried and at first we said, `I don’t think it’s going to work, it just doesn’t work, it was overbearing.’ They said, `Make it work.'”

“Some campaigns force you to do things that won’t work,” he said. But, ultimately the Ocasio-Cortez campaign relented.

Why?

“Not only was Sandy our friend, but she trusted us and believed in us.”

And they came up with a selection of buttons that each emphasized an issue.

Starrett and his partner became friends with Sandy because of Starrett’s yearning for tacos like the ones he’d grown to love in Austin.

“Oh man, I miss all the tacos, but Pueblo Viejo, that was my taco lunch,” said Starrett of the taco truck in the parking lot next to the GNI office on Brushy Street (it’s since moved inside the North Door).

(Note that the Pueblo Viejo color palette is to the Ocasio-Cortez campaign what the Whataburger spicy ketchup black and white is to O’Rourke’s look.)

STARRETT: New York does not always have the best tacos. Our office is in Union Square. So I was roaming around looking for something to eat and this new restaurant had just opened. I think I walked in on the second day and, I said, `OK, this could work out. You know there’s a taco joint less than a block from our office. This is a good thing. I could see good things happening for us.

“It’s called Flats Fix. It’s attached to the Coffee Shop,” a Union Square institution known as a hangout for models, he said.

It turned out that the bartender/waitress at Flats Fix was Ocasio-Cortez.

As she explains in a clip from Knock Down the House — a documentary being made about four women candidates for Congress, including Ocasio-Crotez — “I started waitressing after the financial crisis because we were about to lose our house.”

STARRETT: We’re fairly down-to-earth people. Over time my business partner, Shaun Gillen, and I,  we gravitated solely toward lunching and having business meetings at Flats Fix.

We’re pretty much always talking business so we made friends with the staff and they could see we were up to something and so that, along with politics — everyone in New York was talking politics in 2016 leading up to the race — so we really hit it off being politically inclined folks and when Sandy went to Standing Rock and she went to Detroit (Flint), we let her borrow our office studio’s GoPro to help document her trip and then later, as things started heating up, she got me in touch with … and we started working for Brand New Congress and justice Democrats (both groups supporting Ocasio-Cortez’s candidacy) and then I let her borrow my car to drive upstate to attend endorsement meetings.

She calls us out on Twitter as her Day One Brothers. So we were there from the start just encouraging her, telling her we thought she had it in her, just encouraging her every step of the way.

She is fierce now in a way that I think has impressed and surprised all of us but she’s always been gregarious and intellectual and kind.

Starrett said she worked at Flats Fix until about 10 months ago. (Her image, working the bar, continued to adorn the Flats Fix website after her election, but is now gone.)

She apparently previously worked at the Coffee Shop, which had a different clientele but the same ownership.

“The owners are clearly not fans of her politics — they are wealthy and they want to keep as much of their wealth as they can,” said Starrett. And, indeed, since our conversation they announced they are closing the Coffee Shop, blaming increases in the minimum wage, though they are keeping Flats Fix open.

Before heading down to South Texas, I spoke with Tony Casas in El Paso who designed the Beto logo.

Casas is a partner and part owner of Stanton Street, a web design and development company and digital marketing firm founded and formerly owned by O’Rourke, who hired Casas as a junior designer in 2008. O’Rourke turned the firm over his wife, Amy, when he was elected to Congress, and she in turn sold it just before O’Rourke announced for the Senate to Casas and Brian Wancho, the president and CEO.

He really took a chance on me and I’m glad that it worked out,” Casas said of O’Rourke.

I told him what Starrett said about the Ocasio-Cortez campaign being too bold a look for Texas. I wondered whether the O’Rourke campaigns choice of black and white confirmed that assessment.

Casas said that what guided O’Rourke to like the spare black and white design was his punk sensibility.

“Beto was real big on black and white to begin with,” Casas said. “It goes back to his punk rock roots, which are very black and white.”

Cases who, at 36, is a decade younger than O’Rourke, also grew up in the El Paso punk scene, designing posters and flyers for groups appearing locally.

CASAS: A lot of his campaign is based off of transparency and honesty and being straightforward about who he is and no sham about that, and the black and white more appealed to that and I think he just identified more with the black and white than the color, and it was less about what Texas was going to think.

He didn’t want the smoke and mirrors that everybody else has. He wanted it to be as bold and straightforward as he possibly could.

“I am punk rock at heart too so I knew about his band,” Casas said.

Had he ever seen him perform?

“I’m pretty sure I have, I know I’ve seen him on fliers,” Casas said. ” I did all the punk rock posters for bands after he was already out of the scene but I’m almost positive that I have (seen him) but I just don’t recall off-hand because it wasn’t as significant as it would become — who would ever have thought.”

Casas also designed the retro RFK Beto buttons in a more traditional red, white and blue.

CASAS: That was mine. A lot of people kept on making that comparison early that he looked a lot like Robert Kennedy and we were talking about it and I’m, “That’s an awesome statement for people to make the comparison.” I was, “we’re already working on some retro designs,  let’s play off that,” and we created those buttons and passed them out during the launch.

Casas said the punk palette is black, white and bright pink.

I asked where the pink was in O’Rourke’s campaign and he said Veronica Escobar, the Democrat running for Beto’s seat, was using it in her campaign, which is being designed by another El Paso outfit.

Having said all that, Casas’ original design for the Beto logo was in color, and that’s what he presented to O’Rourke and the campaign team. But, because it didn’t feel quite right to him, he had also prepared a black-and-white version that was not part of the presentation.

CASAS: They didn’t hate them but at the same they had the same feeling, they’re good but, uh, oh i don’t know. I said, “Let me show you one other thing. I made the same logo in black and white. Let me know what you guys think.” And the second I showed it to them, Beto was the first, “That’s it, that’s what I’m going for,” and everyone else was, “Yeah, that’s more or less what we wanted,” and then we tweaked it until we got it right.

His whole campaign has been, “This is me and this is what I’m doing, transparency and honesty and what  better way to do that than simple black-and-white signs saying Beto’s running for Senate.”

Prospective first-time voters at San Antonio rally.

 

Casas said it’s the black and white that most draws comparison to the Whataburger spicy ketchup package. That and the lines on either side of Spicy, on the ketchup lid, and For Senate on the Beto logo.

CASAS: At one time the lines from the E were extended all the way through to the end of the logo and that looked weird to me, so I cut the lines off and left them there, and then centered the “For Senate”, and then added the lines to the other side. so those lines are just the extension of the E and then when I did that it was, OK, it looks symmetrical, it looks a lot better like that.

When he showed the final version to O’Rourke, Casas said, “I was talking to people in the office and it hit me, you know this feels very Whataburger, but at the same time, the consensus was, that could work, you know, it’s OK. It’s not like we copied it, but I mean it could work. It’s Texas. People love Whataburger and I’m included, and one of the funniest things, the very first time I sat down to talk to Beto about the logo, I kid you not, the entire campaign was there (in the campaign office) eating Whataburgers, and I think back to that now, and it was a sign from the beginning.”

After he finished the final design, Casas said, “I didn’t want to look at it.”

CASAS: I knew this was potentially going to get national attention and I didn’t want to read the comments. I know what the comments are like on social media and I don’t want to be a part of it. I know how mean social media can be. Up until maybe the last week I have never felt proud of it, not because it wasn’t good but just because I was scared. Now that people are embracing him and embracing it and sticking up for a logo they had nothing to do with, it’s empowering. It feels great.

Not leaving well enough alone, I asked Casas the ultimate question — is Whataburger objectively good or just a home state favorite.

CASAS: I don’t know. Whataburger is always just a thing for us. My wife and I have been friends since we were 13 years old and her loyalties are always Whataburger. She says, “I like the taste more than anything.” She orders a plain Whataburger, no cheese, no nothing on it,  just a burger and bun and she says it has the best meat of anybody.

Either we were raised to like it or it’s plain good.

Indeed, Casas recalls how his father, who used to work at Wendy’s, would bring Whataburger home for the family.

Which brings us to the 1984 Democratic presidential campaign and the popular Wendy’s ad that Walter Mondale used to truly devastating effect against Gary Hart, when it appeared Hart had Mondale, who had seemed a prohibitive front-runner, on the ropes.

 

Four years later, New York Times political correspondent R.W. Apple wrote that, “Walter F. Mondale’s memorable ‘`Where’s the beef?” response to Gary Hart’s ‘new ideas’ …  may have enabled the former Vice President to wrest the Democratic presidential nomination from Mr. Hart in a very close race.”

Now, 34 years later, comes a Cruz spokesman suggesting that O’Rourke has too much beef, albeit of the liberal variety, with O’Rourke and company offering a playful reminder of the miscue by ordering triple meat Whataburgers in Brownsville after O’Rourke worked up an appetite with a block walk in Laredo, town halls in McAllen and Brownsville, and the quick skate seen ’round the world in the Whataburger parking lot.

I stayed at the same hotel that night as O’Rourke and the next morning saw him in the breakfast area.

I quickly recounted for him my conversation with Casas and my earlier conversation with Starrett about Ocasio-Cortez’s design.

I asked if he had met Ocasio-Cortez and he said he hadn’t. I said I thought she had been at the Father’s Day march he led on the immigration detention center in Tornillo to protest the separation of families at the border, but it turned out she was there a week later on the eve of her primary.

“I would love to meet her and I should probably  get her phone number and just reach out to her and talk to her,” O’Rourke said. “I am just really impressed, not just by her victory, but she is on the march. How old is she? 32? Is she that old?”

I asked about Casas and the decision to go back and white with the Beto logo.

“I just remember having a conversation with him — I don’t want flags, I don’t flames of liberty,” O’Rourke said.

“I don’t want the stuff you see all the time in logos. Just make it as plain as you can, and then I remember, he was showing us the color version and I said, `Just black and white… Beto.”

“It’s turned out well and I don’t know what we sold in t-shirts and what we’ve sold in yard signs and bumper stickers for 3 bucks. That’s actually been a big part of what we’ve raised, people wanting to buy that gear or the signs. So Tony did good.”

And, O’Rourke said of Casas, “He’s a skater, actually.”

“In his free time,” his company bio says, “Tony pops crook grinds, trey flips, and back tails at the local skateparks.”

With that, I checked out of the hotel and as I put my stuff in the car to follow O’Rourke’s pickup to the block walk, he rolled by me.

 

If you like Cruz-O’Rourke 2018, you’ll love Cruz-O’Rourke 2020.

Good day Austin:

I recently went to see a test screening at the University of Texas of Run Like the Devil, a documentary about the U.S. Senate race between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz, which will have its first screenings at the Austin Film Society Cinema on Sept. 6 and 7.

From director Steve Mims, who lectures at UT’s Department of Radio-Television-Film:

RUN LIKE THE DEVIL, the inside account of the increasingly tight Ted Cruz-Beto O’Rourke U.S. Senate contest will premiere in Austin, Texas on September 6 at the Austin Film Society Cinema and go on to tour the state with a dozen screenings. 

A non-partisan deep dive that goes beyond the political campaign, the film threads the stories of the candidates with those of their respective political parties during a historic period of national political tumult. Participants include O’Rourke, Cruz, Evan Smith (CEO, Texas Tribune), Mark McKinnon (political consultant), David Richards (Ann Richard’s ex-husband and redistricting litigator), Bob Moore (former editor, El Paso Times) and others.

Produced by Richelle Fatheree and directed by award-winning Austin-based director Steve Mims, the film is an attempt to get beyond partisanship and down to the stark choice the two candidates represent. “We had the cooperation of both campaigns and our mission was to lay it all out in an honest, clear, and entertaining way,” said Mims. “If you were writing a fictional campaign you couldn’t create two more different characters with more opposite positions. In that sense the movie really makes itself.”

After the Austin premiere the film screens through September and into October in cities including Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Lubbock, El Paso, Huntsville, Tyler, Nacogdoches, McAllen and Wichita Falls. More dates are being added.
______
Screenings (as of August 13, 2018)

Thursday, Sept. 6 AUSTIN / Austin Film Society / Austin Cinema / 7:00 pm
Friday, Sept. 7    AUSTIN / Austin Film Society / Austin Cinema / 6:30 pm
Sunday, Sept. 9 NACOGDOCHES / Liberty Hall / 4:30pm
Monday, Sept. 10 TYLER / Liberty Hall / 7:00pm 
Thursday, Sept. 13 HOUSTON / Museum of Fine Arts, Houston / 7:00 pm
Saturday, Sept. 15 EL PASO / El Paso Film Festival / 9:00 pm
Monday, Sept. 17 HUNTSVILLE / Old Town Theater / 7:00 pm
Saturday, Sept. 22 LUBBOCK / Flatland Film Festival 
Monday, Sept. 24 McALLEN / Cine El Rey Theater / 7:00 pm
Thursday, Oct. 11 WICHITA FALLS / Midwestern State University / 7:00 pm
Oct. 12-13 DALLAS / Dallas Video Festival DocuFest 
Sunday, Oct. 21 FORT WORTH / Sunday Cinema Series 

From Mia Galuppo at the Hollywood Reporter back in April:

Director David Modigliani (Crawford, Wounded: Battle Back Home) and his company Live Action Projects have announced a co-production with Crooked Media for a feature documentary that will follow Congressman Beto O’Rourke as he runs to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections. 

“Partisan polemics make for boring stories,” said Modigliani. “That’s why Crooked Media is the perfect co-producer for this project; it’s the home for entertaining, no-bullshit conversations about politics and we’re making an entertaining, no-bullshit film about this campaign.”

The Austin-based filmmaker and his team have been following O’Rourke since October 2017 and will continue shooting through election night of the much-anticipated midterms. Former Tribeca Film Festival head Nancy Schafer is producing, along with Michelle Modigliani, Rachel Ecklund and former SXSW programmer Rebecca Feferman.

The Crooked team went down to Texas to witness O’Rourke’s campaign firsthand. “It reminded me of being back in Iowa in 2007 with Barack Obama and the feeling of that campaign,” says Tommy Vietor, who co-founded Crooked Media with fellow, former Obama staffers Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett.  

“This race and how [O’Rourke] has run it tells a story about the way politics should be, the way it used to be. When candidates were accessible in media and town halls and answered questions,” says Vietor. “It is a story that can endure beyond this race and tell a bigger picture about American politics.”

Meanwhile, McClatchy is embedding with the O’Rourke campaign for a weekly video documentary series.

There is a reason for all this embedding with O’Rourke. He is the most open and accessible candidate I’ve encountered. Anyone watching his live stream of his campaign on Facebook is already virtually embedded with the campaign.

 

And, as Cruz notes in the trailer for Run Like the Devil, O’Rourke is the perfect media/filmmaker darling, while Cruz is, to put it in professional wrestling terms, the perfect heel.

While Run Like the Devil gives Cruz equal screen time, and bends over backwards to give him his due, it is still, ultimately, a film designed to help elect O’Rourke to the U.S. Senate.

O’Rourke’s appeal is not just his accessibility. He is also, along with Obama, the most gifted politician I’ve ever encountered.

I spent the day before Obama won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in March 2004 with Obama in Chicago and wrote a story the day after the election that began as follows:

CHICAGO _ Meet Barack Obama.

With his smashing victory in Tuesday’s primary to become the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, the 42-year-old state senator and University of Chicago law instructor stands poised to enter the national stage, and history. If elected — and the odds now favor him — he would be only the third black senator since Reconstruction.

“The moment he sets foot in the U.S. Senate he is going to be a national figure, not only national but international,” says U.S. Rep. Janice Schakowsky, an early supporter, whose district embodies the “lakefront liberals” —  mostly white and Jewish — who are part of Obama’s base.

Tall, fresh and elegant, Obama is certain to be an overnight sensation in national Democratic circles.

Meanwhile, Cruz is the most gifted Republican politician of his generation — a formulation that allows me to avoid comparing his skills to those of Trump, which are truly sui generis.

But for Donald Trump, Cruz might have succeeded in securing the Republican nomination and perhaps even the presidency in his first term in the U.S. Senate, an Obamian feat.

In other words, Senate campaigns rarely if ever feature two such talented candidates, in, with the backdrop of Texas politics, such a titanic setting.

It is a shame that it has to end, and so soon.

In less than three months, it will be over.

But it doesn’t have to end.

At the test screening of Run Like the Devil, one of the small audience in attendance told Mims that his film may prove of historic, archival importance because it is likely that either Cruz or O’Rourke will someday be president. (He said his money is on O’Rourke.)

I think he’s right about Cruz and/or O’Rourke, and, if so, this election is not just about who will represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, but also about which one of these two candidates is most likely to be his party’s nominee for president as early as 2020, with the possibility, however long the odds, that it could be both of them.

Stepping back, as Abby Livingston recently wrote in the Texas Tribune, O’Rourke remains a distinct long shot.

WASHINGTON — It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange matchup of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

But, as I’ve explained, I think this understates the stakes.

I would go further.

I think if O’Rourke comes within 5 points of Cruz he will be a lock for a place on the Democrat’s national ticket in 2020 — vice president would be a gimme, especially if the candidate for president is a woman — like Elizabeth Warren or Kirsten Gillibrand or, more likely, California’s Kamala Harris.

And if O’Rourke were to come within 2 or 3 points of Cruz, I think he would be the presumptive front-runner for his party’s presidential nomination.

Why? Because of his qualities as a candidate, and because his run against Cruz — to Democrats every inch as evil and despicable as Trump — has already made him a national hero to the party faithful, and because the prospect of a candidate like O’Rourke — a Spanish-speaking, border-dwelling, border-loving, Kennedyesque Texas liberal — who could actually put Texas in play, is impossible to resist.

And by, as Livingston puts it, “losing forward,” O’Rourke would be freed of any responsibility to serve in the U.S. Senate.

In victory, O’Rourke would, in order to run for president, have to do a very un-Beto-like thing and essentially abandon any pretense of using the Senate as anything but a platform from which to run for president, and on twice-as-fast timetable as Obama or Cruz.

In narrow defeat, O’Rourke could go straight from losing strong to Cruz to embarking on visits to all of America’s more than 3,000 counties.

From the USGS:

There are 3,141 counties and county equivalents in the 50 States and the District of Columbia. They are categorized as follows:

3,007 entities named “County”
16 Boroughs in Alaska
11 Census Areas in Alaska (for areas not organized into Boroughs by the State)
64 Parishes in Louisiana
42 Independent Cities (1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nevada, and the remainder in Virginia)
1 District – the Federal District or District of Columbia.

Am I crazy?

I spoke this week with J.D. Gins, a veteran Democratic operative and former executive director of the Travis County Democratic Party who is among the most sober observers of Texas Democratic politics even if, or maybe especially because he left politics in 2015, at least for now, to open a brewery and tap house in Taylor.

Gins said that if O’Rourke were to beat Cruz, the pressure on him to run for president would be irresistible, the thinking being that, “If he can carry Texas again, that’s a game changer,  it’s over.”

But even if O’Rourke were to come within 2 points, Gins said, there would still be enormous momentum for O’Rourke to go national.

But can you lose a bid for the U.S. Senate and immediately and successfully run for president?

Well, actually, yes you can. It happened after the last best Senate race in U.S. history back in 1858 — Lincoln vs. Douglas.

I recalled that campaign when I wrote about the likelihood that Cruz and O’Rourke will be debating five times.

The prospect of five debates in a U.S. Senate campaign anywhere, anytime is eye-catching. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated seven times in their 1858 Illinois U.S. Senate campaign. (Senators were chosen by legislatures then. Douglas, the incumbent, prevailed, but two years later, Lincoln was elected president.)

Even before this development, the contest between Cruz, 47, and O’Rourke, 45, was emerging as the most-watched Senate campaign in the country. According to the Federal Election Commission, O’Rourke and Cruz each have raised more than $23 million, more than any U.S. Senate candidates this cycle with the exception of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who appears likely to run for president in 2020, and U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who won a heated special election that was a singular focus of national attention late last year.

Of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Fergus M. Bordewich writes in the September 2008 issues of Smithsonian Magazine:

Although we regard the debates today as a head-to-head contest for votes, in fact neither Lincoln nor Douglas was on the ballot. U.S. senators were chosen by state legislatures, as they would be until 1913. That meant that the party holding the most seats in the state legislature could choose who to send to the Senate.

Even this was not as straightforward as it seemed. The sizes of districts varied wildly as a result of gerrymandering, in Illinois’ case by Democrats, who dominated state politics. In some Republican-leaning districts, for instance, it took almost twice as many votes to elect a legislator as in pro-Democratic districts.

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Still, the debates introduced Lincoln to a national audience and set the stage for his dark-horse run for the Republican presidential nomination two years later.

“Lincoln comes out of the debates a more prominent figure in Illinois and across the country,” says historian Matthew Pinsker. “The key question facing him before the debates was: Can he lead a party? Now he has the answer: He can. He now begins to see himself as a possible president.”

Douglas had won re-election to the Senate, but his political prospects had been fatally wounded. In 1860, he would fulfill his ambition of winning the Democratic nomination for president, but in the general election he would win only one state—Missouri.

Ah yes, that would be the ultimate Texas dream — a 2020 presidential race pitting Beto vs. Ted.

Cruz, who clearly still harbors presidential ambitions, is now loyal to Trump. There is no reason to believe Trump won’t be the nominee.

But with Trump there is no certainty that he will be the nominee. There is more than a passing chance that something will happen that will lead him to walk away, or have to walk away, from the job or re-election. and if that happens, Cruz, assuming he defeats O’Rourke, would be the clear frontrunner to succeed Trump.

None of the other rivals for the party’s nomination in 2016 proved his equal.

No other potential candidate has the same national network of donors and grassroots supporters.

And Cruz could put it together on a dime if an emergency situation requires a quick successor to Trump.

So, while Cruz-O’Rourke is not likely, it is not beyond the realm of the possible as long as Texas voters cooperate and re-elect Cruz, but by the slenderest of margins.

There is, of course, one big loser in this fantasy — Julián Castro — who, like his twin brother, Joaquín, passed on running for U.S. Senate or governor this year. Instead Julián Castro is exploring a run for president.

O’Rourke now complicates Castro’s national prospects. The best scenario for Castro is that O’Rourke wins and refuses to consider being on a national ticket in 2020, which would make Texas appear ripe and make Castro the next-best-Texan to serve on a national ticket. Otherwise, from a purely selfish political perspective, the next best scenario for Castro would be if Cruz wins and O’Rourke takes a job teaching English literature at the University of Texas at El Paso, or better yet, his alma mater, Columbia University.

O’Rourke/Castro or Castro/O’Rourke 2020 would run up against the constitutional prohibition on electors voting for both a presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate from their own state.

But Castro could always pull a Cheney, who, like George W. Bush, called Texas home when Bush picked him to be his running mate, and register to vote in Wyoming.

 

 

How Big Tech’s war on Alex Jones left First Reading pockmarked with Orwellian dead zones

 

Good day Austin:

I’ve been in Austin five-and-a-half years. For the last couple of years I’ve had an obsessive interest in Alex Jones. This is important work, I tell myself.

But I know the way other people look at me.

I read the snide comments.

I have been formally recognized for my obsession.

I was named a Best of Austin by the Austin Chronicle last year, thanks to my coverage of Jones, but, as grateful as I was for the distinction, I knew that it was more in the nature of being humored than honored.

I went to the Best of Austin event, but before the actual program got underway, I got an email from Roger Stone, who had brokered the political marriage between Alex Jones and Donald Trump that, perhaps as much and probably more any Russian collusion, elected Donald Trump, and who has since become part of the InfoWars broadcast team.

The message from Roger:

Yo: I am in Austin – headed to – you guessed it. Russia House!

Give me a call.

I had introduced Roger to the Russian House the previous June – are you listening Mueller (oh, but you already knew that).

On Tango Tuesday  no less.

I split the Chronicle event when I got Roger’s message and headed to the Russian House. We had a drink and I took him to Licha’s Cantina where we had dinner on the porch.

Paul Manafort, Stone’s former partner at Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, had just been indicted by Robert Mueller. Stone said Manafort told him he wasn’t worried.

Stone, who also serves as the Daily Caller’s Men’s Fashion Editor, and compiles an annual Best and Worst Dressed List, noted that Manafort had spent an enormous amount of money on ill-fitting suits that he thought looked good on him.

The man, it seems, had more money than fashion sense.

Manafort didn’t make Stone’s 2017 list, though Steve Bannon, his successor at the helm of the Trump campaign, did rank as among the worst dressed: Not meant to be confrontational. In all seriousness: Lose the three button down shirts on top of each other.

It’s an eclectic bunch that included, among the best dressed, Mark McKinnon  (His trademarks are hats and scarfs, which he pulls off in almost any climate or setting with aplomb.)  and Anthony Scaramucci (During his short stint at the White House, he showed America how a well-built man of medium stature should properly tailor his suits.)

Among the worst dressed were Harvey Weinstein (For a slovenly and blobby man, he relies far too heavily on white dress shirts… is he trying to showcase his grease stains from the KFC bucket he downed in the limo before hitting the red carpet?), and Mark Zuckerberg ….

Mark Zuckerberg: All the money in the world and he still can’t dress. In 2017, we saw a lot more attempts to dress up his look, but it just has not worked. Zuckerberg at least looked confident in himself when schlepping around in t-shirts and hoodies — looking like the control-freak coder that he really is. When he puts on a suit, it is horribly tailored and looks like he got it off the rack at a red-dot sale. Instead of concocting new ways to censor Facebook users, Zuckerberg should swing by Saville Row. This is his first year on the WORST DRESSED list.

Ah yes, Mark Zuckerberg – the man who reminds you every day that someone you know is celebrating a birthday, even friends who have already died, and then has the ghastly Big Brother nerve to prepare anniversary albums with you and whoever – living or dead – recollecting the good times.

Which brings us back to Alex Jones.

A week ago Saturday Ted Cruz was at Erick Erickson’s Resurgent Gathering in Austin, where, in a gaggle with reporters, he expanded on his tweet criticizing Facebook’s suspending Alex Jones’ personal account.

From Cruz:

When I sent the tweet on Alex Jones it was striking how all – I did not see any liberals saying, “Like Cruz, I don’t like Jones either, but  I do believe in free speech and we shouldn’t be censoring speech we don’t agree with,” and it’s worrisome that the left, so much of the left, and for that matter, so many in the media – look there were reporters who took a lot of shots at me for that.

There used to be a time when reporters were big supporters of the First Amendment. And you know as the poem goes, ‘First they came for Alex Jones…

I stayed up most of that night Sunday night writing a First Reading about it.

While Cruz notes that he is rising to Jones’ defense even though he says Jones spread the story about Cruz’s father and Oswald, that canard, as I note, was more the handiwork of Trump and Stone (who insists it’s true.)

I predicted that Cruz could reap political rewards by standing with Jones amid a Big Tech crackdown on InfoWars:

Which will give Cruz more reason to press his, “I don’t like what Alex Jones says but I will fight to the death defending his right to say it,” which will be well good enough for Jones, who will tout Cruz’s stout defense of him against the Big Tech/Deep State to his legion of listeners who in 2016 proved they could help elect a president,and in 2018 could help re-elect a Texas senator.

I had to get that First Reading done by Monday morning so I could set off with my daughter, who was visiting from Brooklyn, on a one-week tour of such West Texas landmarks as Marfa, the McDonald Observatory, Big Bend, Boquillas del Carmen and the Chinati Hot Springs outside Ruidosa, all first-time visits for me and precaution in case my tenure at the Statesman should come to an abrupt end and I find  myself back where I came from with only my memories of Texas.

I had already devoted much of the previous two weeks to Alex Jones – one week preparing a story about all the defamation lawsuits being filed against Alex Jones, then a couple of days the next week covering efforts by Jones’ lawyers to dismiss two of those cases in Travis County District Court.

I was already being temperate in my Jones coverage – neglecting to be in the courtroom two other days that week when Kelly Jones, his ex-wife, pressed cases against him.

Enough. I had a yurt to pitch in Mara. (I know, it was already pitched.)

El Cosmico, Marfa

But, of course, Mark Zuckerberg knew of my plans, based on Facebook’s surreptitious but perfectly obvious surveillance of my searches and purchases, and still he plotted down to the final moment to ruin things for me and my daughter.

From Kevin Roose’s Aug. 10 story in the New York Times: Facebook banned InfoWars. Now what?

Late on Sunday, after returning to his hotel room on a trip away from home, Mark Zuckerberg made a decision he had hoped to avoid.

For weeks, the Facebook chief executive and his colleagues had debated what to do about Infowars, the notorious far-right news site, and Alex Jones, Infowars’ choleric founder, who became famous for his spittle-flecked rants and far-fetched conspiracies, including the idea that the Sandy Hook massacre was an elaborate hoax promoted by gun-control supporters.

Mr. Jones is just one Facebook user out of 2.2 billion, but he had become symbolic of tech platforms’ inconsistency and reluctance to engage in a misinformation war.The pressure on Facebook to do something about him had intensified after executives gave a series of vague and confusing answers to lawmakers and reporters about the company’s policies. Misinformation was allowed to stay on the platform, they said, but hate speech wasn’t. So users dug up and reported old Infowars posts, asking for their removal on the grounds that they glorified violence and contained dehumanizing language against Muslims, immigrants, and transgender people.

These posts clearly violated Facebook’s hate speech rules. And in a normal situation, a low-level content moderator might have reviewed them, found that they qualified, and taken them down.

But Mr. Jones was no typical internet crank. He has millions of followers, a popular video show, and the ear of President Trump — who once told the provocateur that his reputation was “amazing.” Banning such a prominent activist would lead to political blowback, no matter how justified the action was.

The situation was volatile enough that Mr. Zuckerberg got personally engaged, according to two people involved in Facebook’s handling of the accounts. He discussed Infowars at length with other executives, and mused privately about whether Mr. Jones — who once called Mr. Zuckerberg a “genetic-engineered psychopath” in a video — was purposefully trying to get kicked off the platform to gain attention, they said.

The pressure on Facebook to do something about him had intensified after executives gave a series of vague and confusing answers to lawmakers.

And there was the peer pressure.

Back to the New York Times story:

Late Sunday, Apple — which has often tried to stake out moral high ground on contentious debates — removed Infowars podcasts from iTunes. After seeing the news, Mr. Zuckerberg sent a note to his team confirming his own decision: the strikes against Infowars and Mr. Jones would count individually, and the pages would come down. The announcement arrived at 3 a.m. Pacific time.

In the days that followed, other platforms — YouTube, Pinterest, MailChimp, and more — said they, too, were banning Infowars. The notable exception was Twitter, which decided not to ban the site or Mr. Jones. The company’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, tweeted a veiled shot at the way his rivals handled the situation.

“We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short-term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories,” he said.

Now, cut off from most of his audience, Mr. Jones will have to chart a new course. He has already stepped enthusiastically into a role as a free-speech martyr. (After the ban took effect, Infowars slapped a “censored” label on its videos and launched a “forbidden information” marketing campaign.) And conservatives — and even some free-speech advocates on the left — worried that social media companies may be entering a new, censorious era. Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican from Texas, paraphrased the famous Martin Niemöller poem about German accommodation of Nazism: “First, they came for Alex Jones.”

By Monday morning my obsessive interest had become the nation’s obsessive interest, but  my yurt beckoned.

So, a few hours late, my daughter and I embarked on our 1,647-mile journey, leaving behind Alex Jones and, for the first time since we’d met, my Macbook (at the Apple Store no less,  where it was to get a new battery and a better listening device, I suppose.).

As Sebastian Herrera and Nicole Cobler wrote Friday in the Statesman ,in the short-term at least, the crackdown on Jones resulted in a surge in his audience.

For once in his life, Jones seemed to be at the center of a genuine conspiracy against him, and whatever the ultimate financial cost, if there is one, for now and for some time to come Jones was in a kind of InfoWarrior Nirvana.

 

So, if this social media crackdown on Jones is not hurting Jones, who is it hurting?

Oh, I can answer that one: Me.

It’s not so much Facebook cutting off Jones that’s done me in. It’s YouTube.

For the last two years, I have written First Reading after First Reading about Jones, about his rising influence, about how he is to be taken, about what he represents, and an indispensable element has been posting YouTubes of various rants and interviews, along with screen shots and my transcriptions of the pertinent moments. But the YouTubes let the readers see it all for themselves.

And now, whether its my recent First Reading about Jones’ working (i.e. hectoring Bernie Sanders at LAX and the like) family vacation in Hawaii, or Roger Stone’s last tango in Austin, my hand-crafted blog is pockmarked with these ugly, dark Orwellian dead zones.

It is hideous. And hurtful.

What’s more, YouTube was the most effective way for me to keep up with what Jones was up to.

He’s on about three hours a day, or more. With YouTube I could return to the show, scroll through to get the good stuff, transcribe what I wanted and grab the most evocative screenshots.

But now, from my first experience with the new world order yesterday, it seems the only way to really follow what’s going on is to actually listen to it live. Yes, you can go back and listen to the radio show again, but a rant is only half a rant without the visual.

Maybe there is a way to do what I used to do without YouTube, but in the meantime, I simply can’t do as good a job of keeping track of what Jones is saying as I did when I earned that Best of Austin encomium.

As for the public good, I don’t know.

It is a mistake to simply conflate the defamation suits with the social media restrictions.

The lawsuits are built around the argument that Jones pretends to be a journalist on the air, but then retreats behind the legal argument that he is merely an opinionated blowhard protected by the First Amendment when he defames someone.

And I am not at all comfortable with Mark Zuckerberg in his footie pajamas making some unilateral, 3-in-the morning decision about what speech is permissible and what is not on his ubiquitous platform.

As Matt Taibi wrote in Rolling Stone, under the headline, Censorship Does Not End Well: How America learned to stop worrying and put Mark Zuckerberg in charge of everything

Jones is the media equivalent of a trench-coated stalker who jumps out from from behind a mailbox and starts whacking it in an intersection. His “speech” is on that level: less an idea than a gross physical provocation. InfoWars defines everything reporters are taught not to do.

Were I Alex Jones, I would think Alex Jones was a false-flag operation, cooked up to discredit the idea of a free press.

xxxxxx

Moreover, Jones probably does violate all of those platforms’ Terms of Service. I personally don’t believe his Sandy Hook rants — in which he accused grieving parents of being actors in an anti-gun conspiracy — are protected speech, at least not according to current libel and defamation law. Even some conservative speech activists seem to agree.

And yet: I didn’t celebrate when Jones was banned. Collectively, all these stories represent a revolutionary moment in media. Jones is an incidental player in a much larger narrative.

xxxxxxx

In about 10 minutes, someone will start arguing that Alex Jones is not so different from, say, millennial conservative Ben Shapiro, and demand his removal. That will be followed by calls from furious conservatives to wipe out the Torch Network or Anti-Fascist News, with Jacobin on the way.

We’ve already seen Facebook overcompensate when faced with complaints of anti-conservative bias. Assuming this continues, “community standards” will turn into a ceaseless parody of Cold War spy trades: one of ours for one of yours.

This is the nuance people are missing. It’s not that people like Jones shouldn’t be punished; it’s the means of punishment that has changed radically.

For more than half a century, we had an effective, if slow, litigation-based remedy for speech violations. The standards laid out in cases like New York Times v. Sullivan were designed to protect legitimate reporting while directly remunerating people harmed by bad speech. Sooner or later, people like Alex Jones would always crash under crippling settlements. Meanwhile, young reporters learned to steer clear of libel and defamation. Knowing exactly what we could and could not get away with empowered us to do our jobs, confident that the law had our backs.

If the line of defense had not been a judge and jury but a giant transnational corporation working with the state, journalists taking on banks or tech companies or the wrong politicians would have been playing intellectual Russian roulette. In my own career, I’d have thought twice before taking on a company like Goldman Sachs. Any reporter would.

Now the line is gone. Depending on the platform, one can be banned for “glorifying violence,” “sowing division,” “hateful conduct” or even “low quality,” with those terms defined by nameless, unaccountable executives, working with God Knows Whom.

These are difficult things to sort out and I don’t understand the workings of social media well enough to know exactly what I think about all this, and I may never.

In the middle of last week, my daughter and I went to the Lost Horse Saloon in Marfa, which was recognizable by its neon sign.

As I sat a small table with my daughter drinking a beer, two guys at the bar – they turned out to be brothers – were having a loud and lively conversation about Alex Jones. l couldn’t help myself. I listened intently, I looked over at them and then, when one of them noted my interest, I joined their conversation.

They enjoyed listening to Jones, but thought he could be destructive, even dangerous, and yet didn’t think any form of censorship was the way to go.

The  brothers brought up Jim Bakker, a natural enough association. Now selling huge buckets of food on TV to survivalists with his mesmerizing rap (and Trump love), Bakker is an Alex Jones forerunner

I used to watch Jim Bakker with his wife, Tammy Faye, before he went to prison.

The brothers, a lot younger than I am, watch the post-prison Jim Bakker and his new wife, Lori. (Here, courtesy Vic Berger. )

InfoWars ran on on-line poll yesterday.

As of this morning, Drudge was edging out Breitbart.

But, as of this morning, Drudge is still going strong.

There in the lower left was a link to InfoWars’ latest.

But leading the page was Roger Stone.

It links to a Daily Caller column by Stone: The Witch Hunt Continues.

Under his byline, Stone is identified as the Daily Caller’s Men’s Fashion Editor.

 

InfoWars depends on sales of its nutraceuticals, t-shirts and what-not.

Stone yet again yesterday was swearing by Brain Force Plus to get him through some very long days.

And yesterday Jones was, as usual, high on adversity.

This is bad folks. What’s the big event? We all know they are going to try to overthrow Trump. Economically, they’re trying to crash things, they admit it. They are trying to start big wars.

We’re living in an incredibly volatile time so I’m getting excited knowing I’m over the target. But at the same time I’ve got to think, they wouldn’t be pulling this unless they’ve got something big planned.

They wouldn’t be doing all this  all this unless they didn’t want us in the public square when they launch this big thing.

Ted Cruz defends Alex Jones’ free speech; praises Trump for having `permanently unmasked the media’

[cmg_anvato video=4455221 autoplay=”true”]

Alex Jones catches Ted Cruz in an elevator in Washington, D.C. after President Trump’s inauguration.

Good Monday Austin:

U.S. Ted Cruz spoke at Erick Erickson’s Resurgent Gathering in Austin on Saturday.

Early on in their conversation, Cruz was interrupted by a protester.

A protestor interrupts U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as he is escorted out of the Resurgent Gathering at the Capitol Sheraton, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

From my story in Sunday’s American-Statesman:

Holding up a cardboard sign with the words, “Cruz: Russian bootlicker,” a young man stood and shouted toward the podium, “You’re a coward, Ted. Fight the trade war. Stand up to Russia. Stand up for all Texans.”

As he was being hooted at by the audience and led out of the hall, the young man chanted, “Beto, Beto, Beto,” a reference to Cruz’s Senate campaign rival, Democrat O’Rourke of El Paso.

xxxxx

In his immediate response to the protester’s outburst Saturday, Cruz said, “What you saw there, it’s not about Russia. That young man, bless his heart, couldn’t tell you a thing about Russia — has no idea.”

“He’s just angry, and Russia’s the latest thing they’re screaming,” he said.“That anger, by the way, is dangerous.”

Then Cruz said something that I found troubling.

There’s a rage on the left and it’s being irresponsibly stoked. It’s being stoked by the media. I will say one of the greatest blessings of the Trump presidency is he has finally and I think permanently unmasked the media.

Do you remember when there used to be people who would get on TV and try to argue in a gravelly voice, “There’s no bias in media.” No one even says that any more. They don’t even try it. They are so foaming at the mouth, unhinged. I was with the president a few weeks back, I told him, I said, “Listen, I think you’re greatest friends ironically are the media because they’re so deranged about you, the American people turn on the TV, they see that and say, `If those nuts are that mad, you’ve got to be doing something right’.”

I don’t think this is healthy advice to give President Trump, especially coming from Cruz, who knows firsthand the hurt that Trump’s loose attachment to the truth can cause and how that loose attachment has long been at the core of Trump’s nature.

I understand the political necessity for Cruz to make his political peace with the president, even to become his staunch ally, but I think he would be doing himself, the country and even President Trump a service to not encourage the president’s pernicious presentation of the news media – i.e. Fake News, which is simply any reporting the president doesn’t like – as the enemy of the people.

And I think Ted Cruz is uniquely qualified to provide the president with advice that would be infinitely more useful to the  president – even if the president is unlikely to take the advice and even if offering the advice is unlikely to improve Cruz’s chances of being re-elected.

Then, in the wake of Facebook temporarily suspending Alex Jones’ personal Facebook account, and YouTube taking down his videos and Spotify taking down his podcasts, there was this.

I spent much of last week covering two defamation suits against Jones in Travis County District Court, and Jones, who thrives on adversity, heralded Cruz’s defense of his right to be heard.

In his conversation with Erickson, Cruz decried the ugly state of political discourse.

CRUZ:

It’s not healthy in our culture for these divisions to be as ugly, to be as nasty, to be as hateful as they were. Listen, all of us gathered together when  Obama was president, we disagree with what Obama was doing, but you know, I remember Trump’s inauguration, all the young people with hats and shirts that said, “not my president.”

As much as a I disagreed with Barack Obama, as much as I thought his policies were harmful, he was always my president, every day he served in office he was he president of the United States and I respect the office and the democratic process that elected him. And you see the fever pitch to impeach the president. Listen, as bad as I thought Obama was, I didn’t call for him to be impeached. I wanted him to be defeated in the ballot box.

CRUZ: You know when Trump went to Helsinki and did a press conference with Putin, now I think that press conference was a mistake, I don’t think he handled it well. I think we’ve seen good policies on Russia, I think the sanctions put in place have been a good thing. I think providing lethal weapons to Ukraine to stand up and resist the Russians have been a good thing, but I think that press conference was a mistake, I don’t think the American president ought to be apologizing for Russian aggression.

That being said, the Democratic response to it was thoroughly unhinged. It was most captured by John Brennan who began  bellowing that Trump committed treason. Now Brennan is not just a fly-by-night individual, he is the former head of the CIA,  Treason is a capital crime defined in the United States code and punishable by death. Now having a foolish press conference with the head of Russia is not treason and for the former Democratic officials ratcheting  it up to that rhetoric, listen it contributes to that environment, it is not good for our country, and I’ll tell you, on our part, we have a responsibility not to respond in kind, not to respond with the same anger and hatred back but to instead respond with reason, with facts.

After that, Cruz, typical for him, did a 26-minute gaggle, providing long and detailed answers that suggest that Cruz actually respects the press and its obligations and his obligations, and that perhaps, for the same reason that he has agreed to five debates with O’Rourke, he also out of ego, confidence, delight in intellectual sparring, and genuine commitment to the democratic process, enjoys and embraces these opportunities.

He was asked a question about his concerns with censorship on social media.

CRUZ: I have deep concerns about social media and Big Tech. We have a concentration of  power in a handful of giant tech companies that are controlling a vast proportion of political discourse in this country and these companies have a degree of power and an ability to censor that William Randolph Hearst at the height of yellow journalism could never have imagined.

They have the ability  if there is a speaker who is disfavored simply to silence the speaker, to shadow ban them. You might speak but  your words float off into oblivion and nobody hears them.

And what’s so pernicious about that is it’s invisible. You might never know you’re shadow-banned. You might just think no one seems to be responding to what you’re saying because no one is in fact hearing what you’re saying.

On the flip side, they have the ability to curate your feed so that every piece of news you hear is news they approve of. Every piece of news you  hear conforms with their political ideology.

A couple of months ago, Mark Zuckerberg testified  before the Senate and I engaged in pretty vigorous questioning with Mr. Zuckerberg. The first question I asked him was whether Facebook considers itself a neutral public fora. He didn’t really answer that question and I have asked numerous representatives of Facebook that question. They’ve given multiple and contradictory answers.

The reason that  question matters so much is under current federal law – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – Facebook and other social media companies, have an exemption from liability. And the predicate, the reasoning behind Congress passing that exemption, was that they were neutral public fora, that if someone says something slanderous or libelous that  it wasn’t fair for Facebook or the social media site to be liable for it because it was not their speech, it was whoever was posting.

And so there’s a special exemption from liability.

Well, my question to Zuckerberg was, are you in  fact a neutral public fora. If you are than the reason behind that immunity from liability under the CDA is still sound. If you’re not, if you’re in fact a First Amendment speaker, if you’re engaged in politics, if you’re espousing your views, you have a right to do that, everybody has a First Amendment right, but  you  don’t have an entitlement to a special immunity from liability.

If (Patrick) Svitek (who was part of the gaggle) writes something in the Texas Tribune that is libelous, he can be sued, he doesn’t have an immunity from liability. There’s no reason Facebook or Twitter should get a special immunity that Pat doesn’t get, and that  question is a question that’s got the tech companies very nervous because they like their immunity from liability but at the same time they have demonstrated a pattern of bias that is deeply concerning and one of the most maddening aspects of it is there are actually no clear and objective data.

So I went through a number of anecdotes, examples, where they had silenced conservatives.

Now look, reasoning  by anecdote is not the most reliable way to reason, it’s not the most satisfying way to reason, but  it’s the only choice we have because all of the data are controlled by Facebook and Twitter and Google and YouTube and it’s completely opaque, it’s not remotely transparent, so we don’t know how many people Twitter has shadow-banned, how many conservatives, how many liberals, how many Republicans, how many Democrats. We don’t know. We have no idea.

That lack of transparency is dangerous, particularly when combined with a heavy ideological skew to the left, and I think it poses a real threat to our democracy.

I followed up:

FR: Senator, substituting Alex Jones for Patrick Svitek in that example …

CRUZ: They are very similar.

FR: You  were critical of Facebook, saying, what made them the arbiter. (Alex Jones) has been in court this week defending himself against defamation suits and the argument (his lawyer is making) is he can’t be held liable because he’s not a journalist, what he presents as facts are merely his opinions and are protected. Is there a line there and does Facebook have any responsibility to police it?

CRUZ: Look Alex Jones, I don’t listen to his show. I don’t know what he says. I  do know that he has this odd fixation with spreading lies about my dad and accusing him of killing JFK and I would encourage him while he’s at it, he also buried Jimmy Hoffa in the backyard and is, in fact, Elvis.

Look those theories are nutty, they’re fringe and they’re nutty.

The reason I sent out the tweets I did defending someone whose defamed my own family, is I actually believe in the First Amendment. I believe in the First Amendment. It protects the right of people to be nutty. It protects the right of people to say things that are dumb.

And I think the right solution to bad speech, john Stuart Mill told us the solution to bad speech is more speech. Censorship is profoundly dangerous and it’s wrong. And if Facebook or anyone else thinks that what Alex Jones is saying is wrong, is nutty, the right way to respond to it is lay out, here’s why you’re wrong, to engage it on the merits. It’s not simply to say, we’re banning you from speaking and we, the Star Chamber – mind you, this is one company but it is a company that is the portal of communication for the vast majority of Americans. It is a company with power – by any measure the big tech companies today, they are bigger and control more market than Standard Oil did when the federal government broke them up under the anti-trust laws. They are bigger and have more power than AT&T had when the federal government broke them up under the antitrust laws.

Q – Are you proposing to break them up?

TC: I think it’s an issue that policymakers are looking at seriously. We have existing anti-trust laws that protect against monopolies, and part of the reason is monopolies’ history has shown they abuse their power, and in this instance, I have to say I watched a lot of the Twitter response when I sent out the tweet on Alex Jones. I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of Democrats attacking me. I was sad though to not see any liberals willing to make the same point. And for a long time I’ve wondered what’s happened to real liberals. There was a time not that long ago when liberals defended free speech.

By the way, free speech, the First Amendment is all about offensive speech, bad speech, stupid speech. One of the big First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court out of Skokie, Illinois, was the right  of the Nazis to march in protest. Now Nazis are vile, despicable idiots and bigots, which means I’m not remotely scared to have Nazis protest and speak. Now I think we should speak out and respond to them, that the answer to that kind of stupidity is to counter it with truth, but the Supreme Court rightly said that even Nazis have a right to speak.

When I sent the tweet on Alex Jones it was striking how all – I did not see any liberals saying, “Like Cruz, I don’t like Jones either, but  I do believe in free speech and we shouldn’t be censoring speech we don’t agree with,” and it’s worrisome that the left, so much of the left, and for that matter, so many in the media – look there were reporters who took a lot of shots at me for that.

There used to be a time when reporters were big supporters of the First Amendment. And you know as the poem goes, ‘First they came for Alex Jones…

That doesn’t end well.

There is a reason I have picked someone who has been nasty to me. To illustrate this is not about defending someone I agree with, this is about a First Amendment principle that everyone has a right to speak and the people can sort out those who are making sense from those who are full of crap.

A few things here.

It is fine to say that you are defending Alex Jones’ right to say despicable things not because you agree with him but precisely because you don’t agree with him. Cruz was, in fact, victimized as he says he was by InfoWars.

But it is inconsistent to encourage President Trump in his war on the media when it was in fact Trump, and not Alex Jones, who most publicly said those despicable things about your father, which you denounced in no uncertain terms at the time. Furthermore, what Trump said about your father was a blip on the radar screen of Trump’s dabbling in fake news. His dissertation was the birther movement, which he carried for years based on even less evidence than that grainy photo of Lee Harvey Oswald and some guy purported to be Rafael Cruz in New Orleans and, contrary to Cruz’s assertion that Republicans like himself didn’t ever question whether Obama was “our president,” Trump successfully helped persuade a sizable chunk of Republicans that Obama was not a a bona fide American and was fraudulently elected.

In their approach to news, there is very little daylight at this point between the Alex Jones approach – his lawyer argued in court last week that Jones’ speech is protected because it is simply his opinion, even if it is sometimes “opinion masquerading as fact”- and the Donald Trump approach, and for Cruz to denounce Jones while defending his First Amendment rights, seems inconsistent with encouraging Trump’s Jones-like devotion to conspiracy theories – only in the president’s case there seems even less reason to believe he pursues them for anything but politically transactional reasons and the stakes are immensely higher.

I doubt that President Trump ever doubted that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii or ever thought, or cared, whether Rafael Cruz was involved with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Cruz’s JFK/Jimmy Hoffa/Elvis comment Saturday was verbatim what he said when the accusation about his father went national, not because of anything Alex Jones said or did, but because of what Donald Trump said and did on the day of the crucial Indiana primary that ended Cruz’s challenge to Trump.

From May 3, 2016, the day of the Indiana primary.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This morning, Donald Trump went on national television and attacked my father.

Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK. Now, let’s be clear. This is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is just kooky. And while I’m at it, I guess I should go ahead and admit, yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis, and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard.

You know, Donald’s source for this is “The National Enquirer.” “The National Enquirer” is tabloid trash. But it’s run by his good friend David Pecker, the CEO, who has endorsed Donald Trump. And so “The National Enquirer” has become his hit piece that he uses to smear anybody and everybody.

And this is not the first time Donald Trump has used David Pecker’s “National Enquirer” to go after my family. It was also “The National Enquirer” that went after my wife, Heidi, that just spread lies, blatant lies.

But I guess Donald was dismayed, because it was a couple of weeks ago “The Enquirer” wrote this idiotic story about JFK. And Donald was dismayed that the folks in the media weren’t repeating this latest idiocy, so he figured he would have to do it himself. He would have to go on national television and accuse my dad of that.

Listen, my father is has been my hero my whole life. My dad was imprisoned and tortured in Cuba. And when he came to America, he had nothing. He had $100 in his underwear. He washed dishes making 50 cents an hour. You know, he is exactly the kind of person Donald Trump looks down on.

I’m going to do something I haven’t done for the entire campaign. For those of you all who have traveled with me all across the country, I’m going to tell you what I really think of Donald Trump.

This man is a pathological liar. He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth. And in a pattern that I think is straight out of a psychology textbook, his response is to accuse everybody else of lying.

He accuses everybody on that debate stage of lying. And it’s simply a mindless yell. Whatever he does, he accuses everyone else of doing. The man cannot tell the truth, but he combines it with being a narcissist, a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.

Donald Trump is such a narcissist that Barack Obama looks at him and goes, dude, what’s your problem? Everything in Donald’s world is about Donald. And he combines being a pathological liar — and I say pathological because I actually think Donald, if you hooked him up to a lie detector test, he could say one thing in the morning, one thing at noon, and one thing in the evening, all contradictory, and he would pass the lie detector test each time.

Whatever lie he’s telling, at that minute, he believes it. But the man is utterly amoral.

And Trump didn’t let it rest.

The day after the Republican National Convention in July 2017, at which Cruz refused to endorse Trump, Trump revisited the  issue.

Is it true that Cruz didn’t deny that his father was involved in the Kennedy assassination?

Well, according to Politi-Opinion, err PolitiFact, no.

From Dylan Baddour at PolitiFact on July 22,2016:

Donald Trump, fresh off triumphantly accepting the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland, surprisingly revived an explosive unfounded tale related to someone with no chance of beating him in November.

The day after the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump said his vanquished Republican rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, had never denied that his father was in a 1963 photo with Lee Harvey Oswald, who went on to assassinate President John F. Kennedy that November.

At a rally, Trump initially told supporters he doesn’t want the backing of Cruz, whose convention speech two days earlier drew boos for not including a Trump endorsement; the Texan did offer congratulations. Next, Trump resurrected his unconfirmed claim about Oswald and Rafael Cruz, the senator’s father, possibly knowing one another.

Trump said: “All I did is point out the fact that on the cover of the National Enquirer there was a picture of him and crazy Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast. Now, Ted never denied that it was his father. Instead he said, ‘Donald Trump.’ I had nothing to do with it. This was a magazine that frankly, in many respects, should be very respected.”

In May 2016, PolitiFact found incorrect and ridiculous–Pants on Fire–Trump’s claim that Cruz’s father was with Oswald before Kennedy’s assassination.

There was no evidence the man next to Oswald in the black-and-white photo published in the Enquirer was the elder Cruz. Notably, facial recognition experts advised that no such match could be made; meantime, historians found no corroborating records. The Enquirer never said how it determined the man in the photo with Oswald was Rafael Cruz.

Could it still be that Sen. Cruz never denied his father was in the photo?

To our inquiry on this point, Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier pointed out a statement the Cruz campaign gave to the McClatchy News Service in April 2016 at the time the photo in question was printed on the Enquirer’s cover.  

The Cruz campaign’s communications director, Alice Stewart, said then: “The story is false; that is not Rafael in the picture,”according to the Miami Herald’s April 22, 2016 news story.

Stewart’s “not Rafael” declaration appears to have gotten play. We found it in stories or web posts on the McClatchy website and for the conservative web network The Blaze plus in the International Business Times, on the FactCheck.org fact-checking site and on sites for Yahoo! News, The Hill, Gawker, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Trump first cited the Enquirer article during a May 3, 2016, telephone interview with the Fox News program, Fox and Friends. Later that day, at an Indiana campaign event, Cruz spoke to reporters, saying: “This morning Donald Trump went on national television and attacked my father. Donald Trump alleges that my dad was involved in assassinating JFK. Let’s be clear, this is nuts. This is not a reasonable position, this is just kooky.”

Cruz said the Enquirer “just spread lies, blatant lies” and described the article as “this idiotic story about JFK.”

Also,  on May 3, 2016, Ben Jacobs, political reporter for the Guardian, tweeted a statement regarding the claim that Jacobs generally attributed to the Cruz campaign. It said: “It’s embarrassing that anyone would enable Trump to discuss this. It’s a garbage story and clearly Donald wants to talk about garbage.”

The same day, Rafael Cruz told ABC News in a TV interview that the links insinuated between him and Oswald were “ludicrous.”

“I was never in New Orleans at that time,” he said.

Our ruling

Trump said the day after the Republican convention that Cruz “never denied” his father was pictured with Oswald before Kennedy’s assassination.

This spring, Cruz called the National Enquirer story “lies.”  Earlier, a Cruz camp spokeswoman said outright the elder Cruz wasn’t in the published photo.

That’s far enough from “never denied,” it makes Trump’s claim incorrect and ridiculous. Pants on Fire!

PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

For what it’s worth, PolitiFact had also offered a negative judgment on the original claim linking Rafael Cruz and Lee Harvey Oswald.

Of course, that’s just PolitiFact’s opinion. It’s a circumstantial case built on reasonable assumptions.

But, to InfoWars, that’s fake news.

From October 26, 2017, via InfoWarrior/Alex Jones political guru/ Trump’s political brain, Roger Stone:

Of course, Cruz and Trump eventually reconciled, which Jones celebrated when he ran into Cruz in an elevator after the inauguration.

In the meantime, Big Tech continues its assault on Alex Jones.

Which will give Cruz more reason to press his, “I don’t like what Alex Jones says but I will fight to the death defending his right to say it,” which will be well good enough for Jones, who will tout Cruz’s stout defense of him against the Big Tech/Deep State to his legion of listeners who in 2016 proved they could help elect a president,and in 2018 could help re-elect a Texas senator.

 

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to supporters during the Resurgent Gathering at the Capitol Sheraton, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)