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What Happened: December 14, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: Congressional investigation of the Capitol Hill riots; A tornado in Kentucky; New York Times forced to correct distortions on Gaza

The Scroll
December 14, 2021

The Big Story

A number of Donald Trump associates, including multiple Fox News hosts, and his son Don Jr. texted Mark Meadows, then the White House chief of staff, on Jan. 6 as pro-Trump demonstrations in Washington, D.C., turned into riots at the Capitol building. They all urged him to have the president intervene by telling his supporters to go home. The texts were released by the January 6 House select committee and read aloud by Republican Rep. Liz Cheney during a committee hearing on Tuesday. “The president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham texted Meadows on Jan. 6. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.” In another text, Fox host Brian Kilmeade wrote to Meadows, “Please get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished.” The messages were handed over by Meadows, who had provided the committee with thousands of pages of documents before changing course and refusing to cooperate with the investigation. Committee members voted unanimously 9-0 Monday to recommend holding Meadows in contempt for his refusal. The House is expected to vote today on whether to refer those charges to the Department of Justice. Last week, on the same day he was scheduled to be deposed, Meadows filed a lawsuit against all nine members of the House committee, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), that aims to invalidate the subpoenas against him. “The executive privilege that Donald Trump has claimed is not mine to waive, it’s not Congress’ to waive, and that’s why we filed the lawsuit,” Meadows said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Monday night.

Today’s Back Pages: Why We Still Care About Princess Diana

The Rest

→ The Supreme Court on Monday rejected the challenge brought by healthcare workers seeking a religious exemption to New York State’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The state rule contains no provision for exempting people who say the rule conflicts with their religious faith. 

→U.S. customs officials belonging to a little-known unit called the Counter Network Division led investigations into as many as 20 American journalists in a secret operation called Whistle Pig. The nature of the clandestine investigations, revealed in a Yahoo News report published Saturday, remains something of a mystery. According to a border patrol agent who ran some of the investigations, they were connected to a White House-directed mission to look into forced labor activities in foreign countries. Whatever the reason for them, they allowed agents to access “the country’s most sensitive databases to obtain the travel records and financial and personal information of journalists, government officials, congressional members and their staff, NGO workers, and others.” The Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General had completed its own investigation of the unit’s activities and referred a number of government employees for possible charges, but that never led to any prosecutions.
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Wholesale prices in the United States rose by 9.6% in November compared to a year earlier, the highest number on record since the government started tracking the data 11 years ago and another indicator that inflation is not going to be a short-term problem.

→In Kentucky, where at least 74 people, 12 of them children, were killed when tornados ripped through the South and Midwest late Friday and into early Saturday, officials were continuing rescue efforts to find survivors on Tuesday. As of Tuesday morning, more than 24,000 people in the state were still without power.

→Afghanistan is approaching a humanitarian disaster, with millions of people facing starvation in the months ahead, multiple international bodies warn. For the two decades of U.S. occupation, Afghan society was kept afloat by direct payments from American taxpayers and international aid. But following the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover in August, the aid has dried up, leading to a 40% contraction in the country’s economy in a matter of months. When combined with U.S. sanctions that are aimed at punishing the government but end up impacting citizens as well, plus the worst drought conditions in decades, the economic crisis has put Afghanistan “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe that is preventable,” according to the United Nations representative to the country.

→A labor shortage in the healthcare field has led some of the largest hospitals in the United States to stop enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates for workers. With labor costs going up in the industry and thousands of workers having already quit rather than get vaccinated. “Mandates have been a factor constraining the supply of healthcare workers, according to hospital executives, public-health authorities, and nursing groups,” quoted in The Wall Street Journal.

→Sometimes the real story emerges only in the correction. The New York Times today offers one of those cases in its article-length correction for a Nov. 17 piece about a Palestinian professor named Refaat Alareer. The original article, written by the Times’ new Jerusalem bureau chief, Patrick Kingsley, carried the headline “In Gaza, a Contentious Palestinian Professor Calmly Teaches Israeli Poetry,” which conveyed the sentimental gist of the article. Alareer, a victim of Israel’s cruelty as well as a beleaguered Palestinian partisan, was also depicted as large-hearted and humane enough to see the common humanity in the art of his enemy. Such a beautiful sentiment—but there turned out to be a small problem: a large public record of the Mr. Alareer’s previous statements. It’s not just that he called Zionism and Nazism “two cheeks of the same dirty arse,” among dozens of other similar comments. The same poem he was quoted as calling “beautiful” in the presence of the Times reporter he previously described as “horrible” and “dangerous” in a video of his class from 2019.

→An NBC News crew working in Oakland, California, was robbed at gunpoint Saturday morning in the course of reporting a story in the city. That’s the third time in less than three weeks that a news crew has been robbed in the city. A former police officer, Kevin Nishita, was shot and killed on Nov. 24 during an attempted robbery while he was working as a security guard for a local TV news station.
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The Back Pages

backpages Ross Anderson on the Enduring Legacy of Princess Di and America’s Curious “Monarch-Envy.”

It’s been over 20 years since Princess Diana died—I had not yet been born when she passed—and yet the fascination with her, both tawdry and moralizing, endures. The Lady Di legacy has even passed on to a new generation of royals, including an American princess with her own operatically tortured relationship to the royal family whose fortune is what keeps her living the high life. This year alone, there has been a musical about Diana, a depiction of her on the premier Netflix show The Crown, and an Oscar-candidate film, Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart.

And yet the question remains: Who was Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales? Icon and victim, gold-digging user, or vain, childish starlet? It all depends on who you ask.

Among the many who care, the perception of Diana split into these two camps: A more traditionalist, monarchist crowd saw her as doe-eyed and trivial, a young woman wanting the fame of monarchy but without the inconvenient duties, and not liking when that wasn’t possible. The mass culture—or, at least, the establishment press—found the monarchy itself to be backward and repressive and just a bit weird and saw Diana as young, beautiful, and unjustly smeared. Calling her “The People’s Princess” was a good PR move, a way to both exult in royalty and palace gossip while ostensibly remaining above it by cheering for an “outsider.” Diana’s early death and the consequent mass hysteria of grief stamped this narrative into the presses; no newspaper would challenge it.

Christopher Hitchens, one of Diana’s few loud, persistent critics, noted before his own death that columnists who had, just weeks earlier, name-called the princess, venerated her once she died. Issues of Private Eye, Britain’s leading satirical magazine, were stripped from shelves to protect the suddenly delicate, weepy-eyed public as they “mourned” someone they didn’t know: Lady Di.

Lady Di, the unfairly maligned people’s princess, was a tabloid fantasy. It was the same Crown, after all, dipping into tax-payer pockets to buy Prince Charles a new wine-powered Aston Martin and Diana those expensive clothes she was so loved for.

Though America’s Founders made the brilliant, egalitarian decision for their new nation to have no official titles, it’s interesting how quickly American culture acquired monarch-envy. Disney made billions off princesses, royal events became a media frenzy, and a man who lives in a golden apartment, sits atop a golden toilet, and crowns young women as Ms. Universe would become president. Britain, in turn, would come to envy American celebrity—its beauty and sex and scandal and trashy, glamourous youth—and in Diana, they finally got the best of both, plus tragedy. Sexy, stylish, image-obsessed, and young and beautiful and utterly vapid; her fame was everything her husband and his family lacked.

Perhaps most interesting is how Meghan Markle and Harry, Diana’s youngest son, approximate a tribute band but play the hits even louder. Markle’s an actress rather than an aristocrat, and she’s legitimately American. They go for the corporate sponsorships, getting book deals and TV shows and a podcast, and then add in a bit of moral peacocking, tossing around accusations of bigotry. They feign an interest in being independent—that they don’t want any association with the Royal Family—but still don the Duchess of Sussex name, fight to keep the Sussex Royal branding, and make all their wealth through monetizing its name.

Harry, the former prince who once dressed as a Nazi for a costume party and was found naked in Vegas after a long night partying, now recasts himself as a man of social conscious. He says he warned Jack Dorsey, former CEO of Twitter, that the platform was facilitating “a coup” just one day before Jan. 6; and, in his new role as the chief impact officer of the mental health start-up BetterUp, he recommended that people should leave jobs that don’t bring them joy. Meanwhile, temporary princess and former Suits actress Markle is calling up senators and reportedly toying with the idea of running for office.

If not for the unique source of their wealth, they would be unremarkable among the blithering rich, and frankly, those who hate and obsess over Meghan and Harry are often as vapid as their targets, particularly if they work in the British tabloids. Like Harry’s mother, the sainted Diana, they are frivolous, wealthy people, who role-played as vultures but didn’t like what it entailed and now sell an image of justice and the “good.” What is most relevant is the public’s enduring fascination with these characters who seem to fill a role that we cannot live without.

​​Ross Anderson was a 2020 fellow at Tablet magazine and has written for Los Angeles Magazine, The Dispatch, and The American Conservative. Follow him at @ThatRossChap.

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Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel and Park MacDougald.

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