The Sammies honor Federal Employees of the Year. The Flammies and the Slammies … don’t. (More)

“A reminder of why we got into public service in the first place”

The featured photo shows Jean D. Moody-Williams, Dennis Wagner, and Paul McGann of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the winners of the 2016 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, who 2016’s Federal Employees of the Year:

Better known as the Sammies, the awards recognize the best of America’s public servants – people you’ve never heard of, who never expected you’d hear of them, but who work long hours for less pay than they could receive in the private sector, to make this a better country and to keep its citizens healthier, safer and more prosperous.

They tend – sorry folks – to be more than a bit nerdy and even more obsessive. The Sammies are Oscars for good government geeks.

Like Paul McGann, Jean D. Moody-Williams and Dennis Wagner at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the 2016 Federal Employees of the Year. They launched a program to decrease hospital-acquired infections and other conditions by 40 percent and to lower hospital readmissions by 20 percent, bringing together doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients to achieve systemic change. Over four years, their efforts resulted in an estimated 2.1 million fewer patients harmed, 87,000 lives saved and almost $20 billion in cost savings.

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus served on this year’s selection committee. She writes about 2016’s other award recipients, including:

Kirk Yeager, the bolo tie-wearing chief explosives scientist at the FBI and winner of the 2016 National Security and International Affairs Medal, who has been called into nearly every major bombing investigation in recent years, from Brussels to Boston to Times Square.

These are people for whom “good government” is a personal mission:

Two themes were particularly striking in listening to the honorees’ remarks at the awards ceremony Tuesday night. One was gratitude toward family for putting up with the late nights and missed events. As the FBI’s Yeager noted, “‘Hey, guess what, I’m going to Gaza tomorrow’ – that tries anyone’s patience.”

Another was the emphasis on the team over the individual. Achieving big change, whether in the public or private sector, is not an individual sport.

In an age when “cynicism sells,” as White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough noted at the ceremony, the awards serve as “a reminder of why we got into public service in the first place.”

We join Marcus in honoring their service.

“Does your source about the unemployment rate agree with my source?”

And then there are the Flammies, political flimflam artists and their media and institutional enablers. We’ll start the nominees with Janet Brown, the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates:

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Once the fact-checking door is open, “I’m not sure, what is the big fact, and what is a little fact?” She added, “Does your source about the unemployment rate agree with my source?”

So she thinks candidates should be free to bullshit, and her example was itself bullshit, as the Washington Monthly’s David Atkins explained:

Moreover, the example she gave is frankly bizarre. It’s one thing to dispute, say, models of economic growth or the efficacy of various foreign policy approaches. But the unemployment rate? That has a single reliable source: the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is literally the only legitimate source for unemployment numbers. There is a small debate within economic circles as to whether the BLS unemployment statistics appropriately reflect the reality of economic pain within the country, in terms of not counting people who stopped looking for work or potentially ignoring too many of the underemployed. Some people use a U6 model for unemployment rather than a U3 model. But the starting point for any reasonable discussion of the unemployment rate is the official BLS number.

If one candidate says that unemployment is at 5% and the other candidate says it’s much higher, it’s absolutely the job of a moderator to inform the public that the official BLS statistics support one candidate’s assertion. The candidate trying to claim an alternate reality should then be pressed to say why they disbelieve the BLS, proving either that they’re a conspiracy monger, or potentially that they have a sophisticated critique of the government’s economic model – which would certainly be an interesting and informative conversation, but one that can only happen in the context of a single, authoritative factual source acknowledged by both candidates.

Donald Trump hand-rolls his own unemployment figures, such as by comparing the number of young black men with jobs to the total population of young black men to concoct an unemployment rate of 41%. But Trump’s method counts full-time high school and college students as “unemployed.” Maybe he doesn’t think young black men should be allowed in high school or college.

Or maybe he’s just bullshitting, spewing a number that sounds plausible, because he doesn’t really care about the employment prospects of young black men. If he did, he might discuss the fact that black men without criminal records were less likely to receive call-backs on job interviews than white men with criminal records. That same study found employers were more likely to assume an applicant had a criminal record – and demand background checks and/or polygraphs – if the applicant was black.

Instead, Trump said “A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market.”

“Lester is not going to be a potted plant”

Finally we’ll offer the Slammies, journalists who slam the door on bullshit. NBC’s Lester Holt may earn a Slammie tonight:

With regards to fact-checking, “Lester is not going to be a potted plant,” one NBC staffer close to Holt said.

Another staffer seconded that sentiment.

This doesn’t mean Holt will interrupt every time he hears a lie. Officials at the Commission on Presidential Debates say the candidates should challenge each other.

But Holt will strive to avoid a repeat of NBC’s “Commander in Chief Forum” earlier this month, when Trump falsely said he opposed the invasion of Iraq and interviewer Matt Lauer let it slide.

The New York TimesNicholas Kristof is another Slammie nominee:

Traditionally, American reporters respond to a controversy by quoting people on each side and letting the public decide. Some of us have argued that this approach hasn’t worked in this election cycle, and that we in the media (particularly some in cable television) have enabled a charlatan by handing him the microphone and not adequately fact-checking what he says.

If a known con artist peddles a potion that he claims will make people lose 25 pounds and enjoy a better sex life, we don’t just quote the man and a critic; we find ways to signal to readers that he’s a fraud. Why should it be different when the con man runs for president?
Our job is not stenography, but truth-telling. As we move to the debates, let’s remember that to expose charlatans is not partisanship, but simply good journalism.

Since Chris Wallace thinks debate moderating is like “being a referee in a heavyweight championship fight,” I’ll offer a sports metaphor. Yes, the referee should stay out of the way and let the contenders duke it out. But the referee should also enforce the rules of boxing. If one candidate starts kicking, biting, or loaded his gloves with lead shot, the referee must step in, or it’s no longer a “boxing match.” It’s an “anything-goes cage brawl” – the sort of spectacle you might see in professional wrestling – and every bit as much a sham.

And when it comes to political debates, the rules include: you can’t pretend you never something that’s on the record (“I was totally against the war in Iraq”), you can’t conspiracy theories (“Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy”), and you can’t make up events that never happened (“I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering [as the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11]”). And if you roll your own unemployment rates, be prepared to defend them.

If the moderator can’t enforce those rules, then it’s no longer a “presidential candidates’ debate.” It’s a “political bullshitting session.”

So bring on the Slammies….


Photo Credit: Aaron Clamage


Good day and good nuts