Hi there, here’s what you need to know for the week of January 13, 2023, in 10 minutes.


① The failed coup attempt in Brazil faded from American news headlines almost immediately, despite the apparent involvement of high-level Republican operatives here in the U.S.

② Meanwhile, our headlines became saturated with nonsense (gas stoves!) and false equivalencies (Biden had classified documents, too!)—things objectively less important to understanding the world, or the stakes of politics, than the existence of an international right-wing plot against democracy 

③ The explanation for the switcheroo stems from defects in mainstream media's professional culture; but also from the fact that one of our parties exploits those defects and the other doesn't

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On Sunday, January 8, a right-wing mob ransacked the Brazilian capital in an effort to depose the country’s newly inaugurated president, Lula da Silva. The failed coup drew obvious comparisons to the January 6, 2021, insurrection in the U.S., not least because the rioters justified their crimes with false claims that da Silva had stolen the election from the defeated right-wing authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro, and because they apparently believed sympathizers in the security services would help them achieve their goals. Furthermore, it was in January.

It’s true, at least as a theoretical matter, that Bolsonaro’s violent loyalists needed no special prodding to try again where Donald Trump’s mob failed. The Capitol siege played out on live television; it has been the subject of thorough criminal and congressional investigations; its successes and failures are well studied, and in any case assembling a huge crowd of people to overwhelm administrative buildings isn’t a particularly complicated endeavor.

Nevertheless it’s very likely that the organizers and funders of the attack in Brasilia worked directly with Trump-aligned, right-wing operatives in the United States. Bolsonaro and his family sought guidance from their American counterparts even after he lost the election, and those hired guns supplied the Bolsonaristas with the same steady stream of lies and agitprop that Trump used to convince thousands of his supporters to abet a seditious conspiracy.

Democratic Party leaders in America condemned the assault on Brazilian democracy in terms you’d expect after a coup attempt anywhere in the free world. President Biden announced he would receive Lula at the White House in early February. These gestures, perfunctory under the circumstances, stand out because they came only from one-half of the American government. Whether they’re complicit in or supportive of the failed coup, or merely unwilling to condemn failed coups that Trump and his henchmen back, Republicans couldn’t be bothered to join a united front of American opposition to an attempt to establish a right-wing dictatorship in the largest country in South America. 

And absent any effort to emphasize Republican moral support for the Bolsonaristas, or tease out explicit ties between GOP operatives and the riot itself, our political system and the major media that covers it moved on.


What have they moved on to? Well, a mishmash of stuff, some of which is defensible: The Coen Brothers-like travails of Republican Congressman George Santos; the Republican threat to force the United States into default on its debt—both stories that touch on the public interest. 

But it’s largely been a mix of this. 

and this...

These two stories aren’t equally frivolous, but they both mushroomed into media fixations because Republicans manipulated small truths to spread loud lies, and mainstream news leaders felt obligated to treat the lies credulously. 

The multiday firestorm over kitchen appliances stemmed from a single misleading article, which treated a regulatory effort to assess the health risks associated with gas stoves as synonymous with an internal debate over whether to ban them outright. 

Like the Bolsonaristas who didn’t strictly need instructions for trying to overthrow their government, Republicans in Congress didn’t strictly need talking points to know what to do when this story hit the wires. Condemn, condemn, condemn. Blame Democrats. Scream tyranny. There is no plan to ban gas stoves, but Republicans are still waving the gassy shirt over it, and will continue to pretend to believe there is, probably for years to come. 

The other story at least grazes against the public interest. That is, it didn’t become a news story by dint of error and propaganda, and it bears ongoing-if-not-so-breathless scrutiny. But it grew into a major news story, and now a special counsel investigation, via the same failed incentive that gave us EMAILS in 2016: The notion that the newsworthiness of anything should correlate to how angry one party (almost always the Republican Party) pretends to be about it. 

Reporters don’t have to read minds to know Republicans are pretending. They know through experience that Republican fixation on information security is entirely situational and unprincipled. They know that Republicans are lying openly about the facts at issue with the classified documents filed in Joe Biden’s vice presidential records. They know that the aim of the sensationalism is to create the perception that the Justice Department is holding Joe Biden and Donald Trump to different standards—or worse, that Biden is the real crook, and Trump the victim of a frame-up—and they know that perception is false. 

Not only is it false, it’s fully backward. The voluntary and cooperative conduct of Biden’s personal and White House lawyers throws Trump’s criminal offenses (stealing and hiding state secrets) into stark relief. And in fairness, most mainstream news outlets have made some effort to emphasize this distinction. 

But if there’s no apparent intentional wrongdoing here, no effort to conceal or stonewall, and no sense in which the Biden case should affect the disposition of the Trump case, why hyperventilate about it at all? Why reward Republican propaganda by characterizing the effect it has on the public as an “optics problem” for Democrats or Merrick Garland or whoever else. Nothing bad would happen if media outlets refused to succumb to manipulative tactics, and news consumers would be better informed. 

Simply treating the Biden records as a smaller and separate story would be a huge improvement, but it wouldn’t actually capture the full state of affairs. It’s not just that there’s no reason to pretend to believe liars when they’re pretending to believe something is scandalous; the very fact that they’re lying, to manipulate the press and mislead the public, is an important story in its own right.

Six years after setting the country on a course to ruin with its EMAILS obsession, we should doubt it’s a story the press will ever choose to tell. 


The national political press as constituted probably can’t be fixed. (If you don’t believe me, spend 15 years pleading for better with lengthy, carefully reasoned appeals, then circle back.) But its indefensible professional practices could in theory be exploited by both parties. 

Biden is ethically conflicted out of commenting at length—it would probably be a mistake for him to establish his innocence by way of contrast with Trump’s guilt. But his allies in Congress could be attack dogs here, surrogates who don’t just defend Biden or lambaste Trump, but build a case out of the GOP’s bad faith. Capture their dishonesty, and make them answer for it, before they ride it all the way to a baseless impeachment. Biden’s attorney general could have simply not appointed a special counsel, because one would only be merited if the false equivalence between the two cases were true. 

That would be making the best of a bad story. Better still: Regular, recurring efforts to seed helpful ones.

Democrats have been happy to talk at length about the GOP plan to defund the tax police. House Republicans voted this week to rescind the funds the last Congress allocated to the IRS to audit wealthy tax cheats. And it's worthy of Democrats to push back as they have. But I’d remind them that they finally have Donald Trump’s tax returns. He’s a poster child for the kind of tax cheat Republicans are trying to shield from the law. Democrats fought court battles for years to get their hands on them, only, seemingly, to file them away for a rainy day. The problem is it’s been pouring, constantly, for the better part of a decade.

After the midterms exposed the extent of public antipathy to the GOP’s fascist turn, I think examining GOP ties to the attempted coup in Brazil is probably a more promising line of inquiry (among many, many appealing options) and an easier way to pique the media’s curiosity. But they’d have to actually intend to examine it; and before examining it, they’d have to warn in dark tones that accountability is coming

Or they can spend the next two years promising not to ban gas stoves and standing by while Republicans in Congress help Trump get away with yet more crimes. The choice is theirs. The Senate is in recess until January 23. 

I interviewed Mondaire Jones about MAGA 3.0 and how the Democrats should conduct themselves in opposition. A great conversation with a talented guy.

One point Jones made was that Democrats should adopt framing from Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY), and refer to the GOP’s new pro-insurrection committee as “the Republican committee to obstruct justice.”

Kevin McCarthy lied about the existence of this addendum, which multiple Republican members claim to have seen, and should lose his job when it sees the light of day.

It’s gonna be a fun speakership, while it lasts.

The pee tape is real.

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