I’ve always has writer friends and some were not “just” beverage writers. Some were newspaper reporters. There were authors and poets and essayists and even guys who wrote greeting cards.
But, for the first time ever, I “met” and befriended a political reporter and investigative journalist – on Facebook, in that virtual way we “meet” people, nowadays – when David Sirota, a Colorado-based writer, analyst, and on-air commentator for CNBC, NPR, and several other channels and contributor to The Huffington Post, The Nation, and The American Prospect, somehow started following me on Twitter. David is a craft beer fan and I guess he read something of mine that he liked. At any rate, back then, he was working as a journalist and routinely rattling the cages of the rich and the nakedly manipulative, so I started reading him. He now operates a vital, unconquerable renegade investigative journalism network called “TMI”, a new, independent project that has already had a major impact on the Democratic campaign of Joe Biden. (To find out more, click here: https://sirota.substack.com/)
After a time, even before he signed in to work on the presidential campaign of senator Bernie Sanders, David was hounded by people whose parades he had rained on in his relentless digging into their pet politicians. He’s a Democrat – in fact, married to newly-minted Colorado state representative. Emily Sirota – and has never hidden that fact but he treats both parties as gaggles of sneaky children who are clumsily trying to hide the crumbs after they’ve raided Moms cookie jar. Which is, of course, exactly what both large and small groups of politicians always are.
After David signed on with Sanders, his Twitter feed became a daily, relentless, grinding cesspool of trolls and The Aggrieved, questioning his motives, his allegiances, his morals, and his IQ from all sides. Sirota bred trolls the way salmon hatcheries produce baby fry. Much of what they posted to his every tweet and even to those which just referred to him, was profane in ways that even make me, a near-legendary potty-mouth, blush a bit. (The examples I’ve posted here are VERY mild. Many of the more trollish responses bordered on mania or libel and were definitely too profane to inflict on you.)
I’ve been a writer for public consumption since 1968. Back before the internet – yes, there was such an American Dark Ages – newspaper and magazine writers got their feedback via snail mail. There was no such thing as dashing off a quick insult and posting it. There was plenty of time for The Disgruntled to calm down and decide that rebuttal was just too much bother. But some were Moved. I received this in the fall of 1979, in Greensboro, North Carolina, after writing a small opinion piece about a famous band which had played at our local coliseum the previous night. I still have the letter, somewhere in a box, but couldn’t find it to post here:
“You r a bad riter. You fucken suck.
That was not the first sort of mash note like that and it would not be the last. But, very early on, I learned not to go off like cheap fireworks and snap back. And, more importantly, a great writer pal of mine, back in DC, saw how these letters worked on me and said, “You are NOT allowed to be a pussy about this and get eat up. If you don’t want to be a writer, go ahead and cry. If you do, learn to read it, note it, file it, and say ‘Fuck it’.“
The stature of this person was such that I was forced to listen. (You would know his name if I gave it here.) But it took me literal years, almost a decade, before I learned to file it and move on.
I sent David maybe a dozen messages, telling him to ignore the haters and forget the trolls. He still struggles with it and his relief at being out of the maelstrom of daily Bernie Bashing is palpable, like a fat guy’s relief as he loosens his belt after a major run at a buffet.
Honestly, I don’t know which of us is better off: David, with his heart used as a piñata by anonymous dickheads but bravely enduring…or me, hunkered down in my Early-Onset Elderly Crustiness in semi-urban Tacoma and routinely blocking everyone who flips me even the tiniest portion of rhetorical feces. Maybe the fact that David suffers is evidence of his humanity and empathy. Maybe I routinely and deliberately disconnected that by effort of will and am the lesser for it. I dunno.
But I do know that watching David Sirota get bludgeoned like that, so mercilessly is, to me, tragic. And just plain wrong.
In our daily lives, we will encounter two classes of professions in which the practitioners routinely and nearly universally become convinced that they are Gods; maybe not actually THE God but some sort of deity, the questioning of which is effrontery on the order of pissing on the Pieta.
Doctors and politicians.
Starting with the advent of crowd-sourced rating sites like Yelp and the old Citysearch and TripAdvisor, consumer reviews of doctors became popular and MOST doctors got their designer undies all in a twist. Many doctors instituted a form that new patients were required to sign, swearing that, no matter what happened in the course of their treatment, they would not write negative reviews in social media. Doctors felt that they should be immune from such marketplace considerations as those that all other people in for-profit businesses were subject to. My own Bellevue, Washington, clinic tried to get me to sign this release and offered me about a half-dozen inane reasons why I should. So, I refused, went to another clinic, found an excellent doctor, and wrote about my experience with the first clinic on Yelp.
You can probably guess what I said.
Doctors will say, straight-faced, that they cannot keep your appointed time slot and cannot guarantee results for even the most minor procedures, and are allowed to change or cancel your appointments, often without notice, and are not obligated to explain themselves on any of this. Why?
Because, as they will also tell you, “nothing is more important than your health“.
I’ve heard this a hundred times. And I played along for decades…until, in 2001, when my wife was injured in a motorcycle accident, when one of her doctors told me that I not only had the right but the obligation to run her medical care. Don’t let doctors keep her waiting. Demand explanations for all treatments and medications. Question everything. And refuse anything for which the rationale doesn’t make sense.
Doctors, he said, play upon the fears we all have of what we don’t know about our bodies. We are afraid to ask questions, for fear that we night find out things we don’t want to know. The magic phrase, “There is nothing more important than your health” had always worked and those who questioned that were regarded as “difficult patients“. Doctors are not immune to seeing questioning of their recommendations as criticism of them, personally; their knowledge their skills, their ability. Nobody enjoys criticism, Judye’s neurologist said, and doctors are particularly thin-skinned and many really do swallow that idea of themselves as miracle workers and cheaters of death and fate and their egos swell up and run amok.
Politicians? Ditto – with a bullet. Even those who squeak into office by scant percentage points often speak of their “mandate“, a term which has been beaten to death by application to every victory, no matter how equivocal. The higher the office, the more ego feeding, so that those in Congress and those who run for the presidency often see themselves as anointed by God, destined for greatness, and wholly convinced that whatever contradicts that narrative should be either disregarded, devalued, or buried.
I inform my doctors’ and dentists’ offices that I will wait twenty minutes past the time of my appointment. No exceptions. If I’m not seen – by the physician, NOT staffers – within that time, I will get up and leave and let my insurance company know not to pay any bills. The first time I said that, the nurse actually laughed. “Please let the doctor know,” I said as she left the room, chuckling. I waited exactly twenty minutes and left. Within ten minutes, my cell rang and the clinic’s director asked me what happened. I told her. She stammered and blustered and explained that doctors cannot be held to schedules.
“Then why do you have schedules,” I asked, “If you know they mean nothing?“
“Well,” she huffed, “Appointment times are guidelines, not guarantees! What’s more important than your health?“
“The child waiting at school because Mom is waiting on a doctor,” I replied, “The wedding that’s happening in one hour. The relative lying in a hospital, who is waiting anxiously on my visit. In my case, my store, into which I have poured all my effort and energy and passion, not to mention money, which is sitting there, locked up, because I’m waiting on a doctor. What you’re saying is that my time is not as important or valuable as yours.”
She rescheduled the appointment and I saw the doctor within four minutes.
And I posted the exact conversation on Facebook.
Doctors and politicians need to be cleaned up frequently, in the same way that a baby in diapers is – and for the same reason.
David Sirota performs that same function in his investigative journalism that reviewers on social media perform with doctors: a necessary dose of reality. David digs relentlessly, exposing those actions and statements by politicians that they have hoped nobody would remember or have actively tried to erase.
Nowadays, damage control is one of the primary functions of all political strategists; stomping out fires when some dumbass thing their candidate or legislator did twenty years ago comes to light.
Sirota ignores his own party affiliations and puts the Truth first. His wife probably gets a fair amount of blowback when David hammers on Joe Biden about his austerity plans or his old statements about cutting social security or his too-cozy relationship with the big Wall Street banks. The followers of the politicians like Biden that he jumps all over go flat-damned apoplectic. They accuse him of all sorts of trollery and lies and agenda-ridden savagery…but, having read what I believe to be every single word David Sirota wrote while working for Bernie Sanders, I could not find ONE instance when he indulged himself in a personal attack, resorted to name-calling or profanity. What set all these people aflame was FACTS, news reports, videotapes, excerpts from The Congressional Record, audio tapes, and direct quotes from interviews. ALL of which called into question the statements and motives and even, at times, the basic character of the people he wrote about.
And that is As It Should Be.
Sirota and those patients who give their feedback on doctors’ performance serve an absolutely vital purpose. They puncture the bloated facades of people trying to outrun their mistakes and misdeeds and force them to confront the reactions of their critics – and their advocates! – when the truth about their words and actions come back from their shallow graves. They allow voters to make informed choices, something which is not really fashionable, in this age of wholesale lying and whole-cloth fantasy but which is crucial to the survival of our democracy. And the real shame of it all is that while we all know and expect the anger and clap-back of right-wing delusionals and trolls about anything that exposes their anointed butt-boys’ closeted shenanigans, today’s Democrats – both moderate and progressive – are just as casually accepting as the conservatives of convenient fantasies in service of their own agendae and just as terrified of confronting inconvenient truths. Instead of displaying the sort of character and demand for the facts to which all of us Dems pay unceasing lip service, many of us shoot, stab, poison, disembowel, and blow up the messenger, crucifying legitimate journalists for doing what was so important to our American values that it was part of the very first article written into our new Constitution, when our new republic was a-birthing: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
David Sirota is hardly the only American journalist who is routinely pilloried for digging up skeletons that our elected officials thought they had buried but he is, after the Sanders campaign, one of the most visible. And, of relevance here, he’s the one in front of my face, every day. I often disagree with what David writes and, yes, do worry about what sort of ammo Biden’s past, HRC’s past, Nancy Pelosi’s back-room deals, and Andrew Cuomo’s slippery moral code might be handed to the far Right, to use to perpetuate the current atrocity festering within our government. But I do know that we already have a federal bureaucracy based on lies and fantasies and distortions and twisted truths. We see where this past three years had gotten us. If we are to elect honest people and they are to rule honorably, they CANNOT lie to us and we CANNOT shy away from holding them accountable for their actions.
The service that Sirota and those like him perform is as valuable a part of defending and preserving our American way of life as a ready military and a system of laws. And those who scream and simper and accuse Sirota of numberless outrages against the Democratic Party, Biden, Liz Warren, Pete Buttigieg, HRC, or any of their number belies a lack of confidence that their candidates can withstand scrutiny and criticism, cannot answer for their own actions and words, will be diminished in the eyes of the Right, who take their Democratic candidates pre-diminished and make not even the slightest effort to listen to anything smelling like reason or truth. Worst of all, the new edition of American centrist and liberal voters are every bit as prone as their conservative opposites to desperately insisting that their guy or gal is Perfect and without blemish, a childish and rather inexcusable fantasy that has never and will never withstand the light of day. EVERY single human being on this planet has some dark secret, some indiscretion, some crime or sin or peccadillo they drag around on the longest possible chain, hoping that distance equals anonymity. And politicians have far more of this baggage than we mere mortals. Escaping one’s past was never really possible, anyway, as long as human memory endured and is a literal joke, these days, in an age when everyone is packin’ camera phones and insta-posting to every social media platform they can find.
I tell David to use that block button and rid himself of the trolls and assholes because they contribute nothing to society. And those whose faith in their candidates cannot abide hearing the truth about them contribute even less. He shies away from going to those extremes and I suspect that makes him a better man than me. But those who screech and whine for his head should remember one very important, very relevant idea:
Karma Is A Bitch.