Ryan: Donald Trump and Fox News troll the media

Sean Ryan

President Trump couldn't personally make it to Houston for the 3rd Democratic Debate, so he paid $7,500 for a single-engine Cessna to fly in circles over Texas Southern University campus while pulling a banner that said, "Socialism will kill Houston's economy! Vote Trump 2020!"

For four hours, it chugged around up there. You could hear it everywhere. It was the soundtrack of the night.

You can just imagine Trump's face as he had the banner-plane idea. You can hear him putting in the order. You can see his list of demands. And at the very top, "I WANT THE LOUDEST PLANE YOU CAN FIND!!!"

*

Was that Bret Baier in the aisle, adjusting his reading glasses and thumbing at the strap of his comically small backpack as he crossed the blue-carpeted gymnasium? He looked like the human version of Wisconsin. He was saying something but all you could hear was the plane overhead.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Bret Baier, the stoic host of "Special Report with Bret Baier" on Fox News and the network's chief political anchor. He's underrated, if you ask me. Legacy. Old-school. He just delivers the news, which is what most people want. He talks the way anchors used to talk, with the American accent unique to news anchors even though he was born in New Jersey and raised in Georgia.

I had spent the last year-and-a-half on a series of in-depth profiles on some of the major countercultural figures of our time. People like Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Carol Swain. So my first impulse was to rush over to Baier and profile the guy. Nobody else would, after all. The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's. But they ought to. The man has a hell of a story.
He joined Fox News a year-and-a-half after it was founded, as the southeast correspondent in Atlanta. A few years later, on a Tuesday in September, nineteen terrorists hijacked four passenger airliners and crashed into America.

When the first plane hit, Fox producers told Baier to just get in his car and drive to New York City. They needed back-up reporters for the next day. When the second plane crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., they said, "Step on it, Baier."

He and his producer were an hour outside Atlanta when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. Still a good 8 hours away, but closer to D.C. than to New York City. So they re-routed to Arlington, Virginia, as fast as they could. Past a blur of fields full of indifferent cows. Past houses full of people who could hardly talk, people who couldn't describe what they were seeing and hearing, all the smoke and the blood and the office-supply confetti. Past towns that barely moved, gas stations with nobody in them, people sunken into a far-away stare.

Yet there was the sun, with only a few bangles of cloud every so often. America had been paralyzed but the earth kept trucking along, quiet and unbothered. It must have felt strange for Baier, to speed down empty highways — toward literal death and chaos — under a perfect sky, below cascading light and color.

Nature doesn't care if we make it out alive.

*

That day, Baier reported live from a Citgo station across the street from the Pentagon, rubble in heaps of flame behind him. It was like he'd fallen onto a different planet and was reporting back to home.

The next day arrived and it was so quiet everywhere. Nobody knew a damn thing. We could not believe our eyes. We all turned to reporters and anchors for answers. Most often, they blurted out whatever they could.

Something about Bret Baier gave audiences a much-needed boost. Reliable, sturdy. Like he said what had to be said and not a word extra.

Fox kept him in D.C., indefinitely. A friend helped him find an apartment. He never went back to Atlanta. Two weeks later, Fox News appointed him Pentagon correspondent, a position that saw him travel the world, including 13 trips to Afghanistan and 12 to Iraq.

Halfway through George W. Bush's second term, Baier became Fox News' White House correspondent.

Then, a year before he would earn his current position as anchor, Baier became a father. His son was born with holes in his heart — five congenital heart defects. Twelve days later, the boy underwent open-heart surgery. Baier and his wife waited in tiled rooms drenched with flowers and ESPN and drab ultraviolet light, surrounded by machines full of beeps and whirring and beeps and whirring.

Baier's son has since undergone two additional open-heart surgeries, nine angioplasties, and one stomach operation. In an interview with Parents Magazine, Baier said that his son's health problems have "given me perspective about my job, going through policy and politics in Washington, D.C., to see the bigger picture."

*Part of the reason I couldn't tell whether or not it was Baier is he's usually up on the main stage. For the 2012 election, he moderated five Republican debates, and co-anchored FNC's America's Election HQ alongside Megyn Kelly.

The 2016 election would propel him into a much larger role. He anchored three Republican debates, but this time he had to handle Donald Trump.

Baier knew Trump personally, from before the election. They'd played golf together. He described Trump as "a nice guy outside of his TV persona" and never thought Trump would actually make a run for the Presidency. Onstage, Trump was much different. And Baier had been tasked with maintaining control.

A devout Roman Catholic, he appreciates a nice glass of wine and a fine cut of steak. He likes a good joke, too. In January, 2019, Baier signed a multi-year deal with Fox News to continue "Special Report." A few weeks later, he and his family went to Montana for a ski trip. The weekend was wonderful. But they had to get back to New York because Baier was scheduled to appear on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" that Tuesday.

Imagine him, again in a car hurtling toward a fateful destination. How he squinted through the frost-pocked windshield and gripped the steering wheel. As he guided the white SUV along the two-lane road to the airport. The land looked haunted, barren, lifeless. Everywhere, the world was frozen white. Snow and ice blanketing the fields, gauze over the sky.

At some anonymous intersection, Baier pumped the brakes, but the tires hit an ice patch, and the SUV spun loose. An oncoming car slammed into the driver's side, launching the vehicle into an embankment, wedged on its side. A man named Zach stopped his pickup truck and helped the family crawl free, and the Montana Highway Patrol rushed them to the hospital.

"Don't take anything for granted," Baier tweeted later. "Every day is a blessing and family is everything. It's always good to remind yourself of that before something does it for you."

Before every debate that he moderates, Baier spends 10 minutes alone, praying.

*

A Freedom of Information Act request in 2011 revealed that Fox News was actually right. That the Obama Administration really did hate them. And had intentionally excluded them from a press pool two years earlier. Then laughed about it.

The documents unearthed snarky emails between various high-ranking aides in the Obama Administration. In one, the Deputy White House communications director bemoaned Baier's reporting on the bias. "I'm putting some dead fish in the [Fox News] cubby — just cause Bret Baier is a lunatic." That same day, deputy press secretary Josh Earnest bragged in an email that "we've demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews."

The Trump administration pulled a similar stunt in July, 2018 by banning a CNN reporter from the press pool. Trump and Fox News had developed a beneficial relationship by then. And CNN was a lifelong competitor, a public enemy.
That night, Baier delivered an official statement, "This decision to bar a member of the press is retaliatory in nature and not indicative of an open and free press. We demand better. As a member of the White House press pool, Fox stands firmly with CNN on this issue of access."

Fox News rebuked Trump in solidarity with CNN. It was a heartening gesture between two seeming enemies. Fox News were standing up for truth, defending journalism, rejecting tyranny even though the ban would have benefitted them as a company.

Who knows how many books and dissertations and articles have been written about Fox News, usually in relation to bias, usually with a scathing tone. The conclusions differ wildly, yet each one claims certitude.

Generally, academics and journalists have taken a doomsday tone when talking about Fox News. Accusations of evil, fear-mongering, bigotry, hatred, misinformation, propaganda, racism, homophobia, and so on.

Despite these outcries, Fox News has consistently held its spot as the most-watched network in the country. Imagine how that makes its critics feel.

In an August 3, 2018 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Baier said, "the biggest problem is that the people who are most critical of Fox are usually people who have not watched Fox News."

Fox News is composed of two distinct departments. Punditry and straight news. Or "opinion news" and "descriptive news." Consistently, surveys of the public rate Fox News as both the least- and most-biased news network.
Last year, a survey found Fox News to be the second most-trusted television news brand in the country, after the BBC.

In a separate study, Democrats rated its bias score at (negative) -87, while Republicans placed it at (positive) +3. Which is like if, at a football game, one referee said "Touchdown," while the other referee said "Turnover, leading to Touchdown for the Defense." It can't be both, can it?

Public opinion may not be the best metric for understanding Fox News, especially in 2019.

Quantitative studies have offered clearer conclusions. In 2016, a content analysis used crowdsourcing and machine learning to examine over 800,000 news stories published over a year by 15 major outlets, from the New York Times to Fox News. They wanted to chart media bias.

What they discovered is that news outlets are far more similar than we believe. Much of the perceived bias is a matter of separating "opinion news" from "descriptive news." For conservatives, it's punditry. For those on the left, it's op-eds and long form investigative pieces, although the left tends to insist that they're not biased, that they are instead just more apt to tell the truth, even though research has disproven this belief.

The researchers found a much larger bias-divide in opinion news, whereas descriptive news was practically neutral. One of the researchers described Fox News' descriptive news as "guided by similar news values as more traditional, legacy media."

University of California Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote that "Fox News stands next to industry, state government, church, and the regular media as an extra pillar of political culture all its own."

Say what you want about Fox News, they play a crucial role in the so-called mainstream media. And, despite what Fox News will lead you to believe, they are definitely part of the mainstream. And they are by no means the innocent victim. And certainly not powerless. And they have all kinds of problems that I will not defend. But we'll talk about that in a later installment, the one about Kamala Harris at a gun control rally, advocating for propaganda.

*

After two months of political events, I suspected that different news networks have their own signifiers, like the distinct stripes and markings on various spiders.

Wall Street Journal reporters tended to carry old-timey notepads and interview any bystander they could find. Breitbart usually only sent one person, and he wandered around with his iPhone, recording every single thing. Politico, prim-suited men who could just as easily work on the stock market.

Most of the reporters dressed like that, in stagey business attire. Prim for a high school job fair. Meanwhile, the photographers, mostly men, looked like professional paintball players. The camera crews and technical staff were the only ones decked in tattoos and wearing sandals and generally not caring about the chaos all around them. On-camera talent were covered in makeup and shrink-wrapped into dresses or suits with chip-clips along the spine.

The Washington Post sent the classiest and most bored-looking people I have ever encountered. They never looked at their laptops as their fingers chopped at the keys, and you assumed they were pretending until you read their stories online. You could spot ABC because their camera crew wore faded red ABC hats. Associated Press looked like they had just come back from a battlefield assignment in Syria, and never donned the same press credentials as everyone else, preferring a tattered AP lanyard. And you always knew when someone was with the New York Times because they announced it to the entire room.

And Fox News? At democratic events, they usually hid. But not that day, in Houston, as Bret Baier walked up the aisle to a table a couple rows in front of me.

Most people arrived in the Media Filing Center several hours before the debate. Fox News got there just slightly after that, as everyone was wiggling in their seats and connecting their laptops to a shared outlet.

There were seven or so in the pack of Fox News, all grinning. They all had white to-go sacks from Chick-fil-A. And the room got quieter, so Trump's plane got louder. It was a double trolling event.

As host of the debate, ABC would be providing dinner. This information was included in the credentials email that all of us had received. So nobody else had brought food with them. No need.

Even better, I was familiar enough with that part of Houston to know that there was not a Chick-fil-A anywhere close to us. Who knew where they'd gotten that Chick-fil-A, but odds are it wasn't warm. Who knew if there was even any food in the bags.

They had brought Chick-fil-A into a building full of national media during the third Democratic Presidential debate. The 2020 election was already full of outrage about plenty of things, and one of them was Chick-fil-A. To some folks, the red chicken logo might as well have been a swastika. That very week LGBT activists had vehemently — cartoonishly — protested the opening of several Chick-fil-A's throughout North America. Chicken sandwiches had become yet another flag on the tug-of-war rope in the Culture War of our country.

To be clear, the political left was anti-Chicken and the political right was pro-Chicken. The media tended to lean anti-Chicken, and frequently wrote about anti-Chicken causes, often scolding pro-Chicken voices, or ignoring the struggles of the pro-Chicken community only to deny any opinion on Chicken at all. That was the cowardly part, of you ask me, the pretending like they weren't activists.

The Democratic candidates definitely leaned anti-Chicken. Sometimes they took it so far that it upset moderate anti-Chicken advocates. Because was it really so bad to eat Chicken? Couldn't you be anti-Chicken but also enjoy Chicken occasionally? Why did everything have to be either "all Chicken all the time unless you hate freedom" or "no chicken ever unless you support hate"?

The fight had spread everywhere. Airports, stadiums, malls, campuses. All had served as battlegrounds for the anti-Chicken versus the pro-Chicken.

The previous President was anti-Chicken. In fact, he may well have enflamed the entire movement. During his tenure, there were nationwide protests that saw pro-Chicken advocates angrily and proudly eating Chicken while anti-Chicken advocates protested outside and occasionally engaged in homosexual affection, which was being threatened by Chicken, according to them.

Every time the pro-Chicken folks bit into a Chicken sandwich, it was like they were gnawing away at the anti-Chicken people themselves. Degrading their identity. Because, for them, it was about the identity.

But the current President, unabashedly proud of his pro-Chicken stance, once served Chicken at the White House to some winning sports team, and the anti-Chicken activists saw it as proof that Chicken and hate go together. And maybe Chicken would even lead to the impeachment of the President they hate, which would mean the Vice President would become the President, but he's one of the most pro-Chicken people in America, so they'd have to impeach him, too. And the Supreme Court, it was overrun with pro-Chicken types.

This election, the Democratic front-runners competed for the bolder plan. They would end Chicken in America once and for all. They would obliterate our evil President and his Chicken Supremacy. Their stump speeches relied on harsh criticisms of pro-Chicken voters, who pretended to find the whole anti-Chicken movement amusing but were secretly enraged by it. In fact, they were certain that the anti-Chicken movement had been systematically silencing them for years, and that they had to fight for their Chicken in order to keep everything that they valued, even all the not-Chicken.

The media and the democrats and Hollywood and academia — all hated the Chicken, because they hated the pro-Chicken people. If they had their way, no more Chicken, ever again. And no more pro-Chicken deplorables. And tonight the anti-Chicken politico-culture complex would prove it, with long rants which get confirmed by glowing articles, calculated takedowns about the merits of anti-Chicken and the evils of pro-Chicken.

Yet here was Fox News, with actual Chicken. And they were smiling. Maybe in part because the police who were guarding us all tended to be pro-Chicken. And this was Texas, after all, an incredibly pro-Chicken state. But there were 49 other states and 14 territories, and all of them were fighting for or against Chicken.

Some experts even said we were on the cusp of a Civil War.


New installments to this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. For live updates, check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

He may not be a super hero like he plays in the movies, but Chris Pratt is proving once again why he's a hero to so many. The silver screen protector of the universe announced on his Instagram page a contest that will benefit the Brain Treatment Foundation, who is a partner of Mercury One that does amazing work with veterans. The Brain Treatment Foundation specializes in helping combat veterans who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The contest asks fans to donate $10 to the foundation for a chance to win a trip to drop in on the Guardians of the Galaxy star on the set of his new film Tomorrow War.

Watch his video below to hear all the details.


Ryan: The Ascent of Kanye West

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Apollo, god of poetry, light, prophecy, dance. Star of Greek mythology, rivaled only by Zeus, his father. God of justice. God of purification, knowledge, healing. God of the Sun. But most of all, god of music. So they called him the Leader of the Muses.

And on a bright Sunday morning midway through November, at the tail end of a decade, Kanye West looked out at the congregation of Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, a 16,000-seater originally built for the Houston Rockets, and said, "Jesus has won the victory: Now the greatest artist God ever created is now working for him."

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Kanye's newest album, Jesus Is King, had been out for three weeks, and like every Kanye album, it was controversial, as adored as it was unaccepted.

Critics had shown a mostly tepid response, but nobody could tell if their disinterest was genuine, or if it was politically motivated.

After all, for the past year, Kanye had once again managed to penetrate the epicenter of American society. The last two Presidents had literally shamed and cursed Kanye, but, still, who could've guessed he would befriend this one?

Photo by Caroline Ryan

The week after Kanye's Olsteen appearance, at the House impeachment hearings, as the entire country watched and listened, Congressmen and diplomats would mention longtime Kanye collaborator A$AP Rocky no less than five times, in casual reference to the Kardashians and the deal between Trump and Sweden, struck at the urging of Kanye West.

Meanwhile, Jesus is King became the ninth consecutive Kanye album to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 — a feat he shares with Eminem and The Beatles — and the sixth time in the 2010s alone. And, to be fair, his only studio album not to debut at number one was The College Dropout, his first, which went triple platinum and earned the third-most Grammy nominations in one night, winning Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song with "Jesus Walks."

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Jesus is King was also the first record ever to top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, Rap Albums, Christian Albums, and Gospel Albums simultaneously. All eleven tracks charted on the US Billboard 100, joining the other 96 Kanye songs to have landed on the Top 100.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

This album was different, and not just because of Kenny G. For the first time, Kanye was not a god or a self-destructive fallen angel. He was a father, a husband, a son, and, most important, a man full of belief, with his hands outstretched, surrounded by a choir.

"I remember sitting in the hospital at UCLA after having a breakdown," he told the congregation, "and there's documentations of me drawing a church and writing about starting a church in the middle of Calabasas."

That night, following an afternoon of ice-skating at the Galleria, Kanye returned to Lakewood Church and performed a concert. Imagine hearing a his electro-gospel opera in an arena designed, acoustically, for professional basketball games. Only better, because everything had been padded. With LSD graphics on the swirly blue carpet.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

When we experience art, it changes us.

So there I was, four rows from the stage, crying in front of FoxNews. Because Kanye had brought his Sunday Service choir with him, and they were singing "Ultralight Beam," one of the few perfect songs ever made, a song that played during my wedding ceremony, the song my daughter, God willing, will be born to, a song I have never once listened to without at least tearing up.

“Jesus Is King" A Sunday Service Experience at Lakewood Church with Kanye West youtu.be

"This is a God dream, this is a God dream. This is everything."

Kanye was the only person onstage dressed in his own clothing, a neatened blazer. The choir were draped in grey, like holy silhouettes.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

So who cares about FoxNews and their snotty reporters in their shoulder-padded blazers. The rest of us had drifted into the immediacy of it all. And I wasn't about to play stoic journalist here. I wasn't a reporter first and a human or an American later.

The choir zigzagged on the loft flanking the stage. Each of them had a headset microphone, like Garth Brooks.

God only knew how they sang so perfectly. How did they project their voices like that? More beautiful than anything we had ever heard, more beautiful than water.

After "Ultralight Beam," it was "Every Hour," the mesmeric opening track of Jesus Is King.

Sing every hour, Every minute, Every second, Sing each and every millisecond, We need you

Every Hour youtu.be

The performance felt all the more sacred because this was church, where people gathered to lose themselves, to sing as a chorus, to confront who they really are.

Across the street, one protestor stood hollering.

Meanwhile thousands of people waited at the entrance, giddy to get in. They would join us in no time. Soon, they would fill every seat in this church.

*

That morning, Kanye told Olsteen,

"It's like the devil stole all the good producers, all the good musicians, all the good artists, all the good designers, all the good business people and said, 'you gotta come over and work for me.' And now the trend, the shift, is going to change."

Jesus Is King was the result of a new cultural and artistic movement that more or less started with 2016's Life of Pablo, Kanye's closeted gospel album. Which was a surprising departure from 2013's Yeezus, with its tangled social commentary and fashionable solipsism. And that drum sound, the one every half-decent producer has spent the last six years failing to emulate.

The 2010's saw him grow more cerebral. He even teased a book of philosophy titled Break the Simulation.

Then, in 2018, he released Ye, the second of five albums in a Kanye-produced series, all recorded at his Wyoming studio. In keeping with the criticisms of hip-hop he voiced on "Ye vs. The People"

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Kanye eschewed many of the themes he'd embraced for so long, replacing them with meditations on mental illness, fatherhood, suicide, love, and addiction. The album's working title had been "LOVE EVERYONE."

On "I Thought About Killing You," he raps,

The most beautiful thoughts are always beside the darkest.

The title "Ye" is not just the diminutive of "Kanye."

As he said in an interview

I believe 'ye' is the most commonly used word in the Bible, and, in the Bible, it means 'you,' so it's [saying] "I'm you, I'm us, it's us." It went from being Kanye, which means the only one, to just ye – just being a reflection of our good, our bad, our confused, everything, that I'm just more of a reflection of who we are, just as beings.

Philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer wrote that

All individuality is a manifestation of universal life, and hence everyone carries a tiny bit of everyone else with him, so that divination is simulated by comparison with oneself.

In the months following the release of Ye, Kanye would live out this idea, and build his own movement, a reflection of who we are, then begin his church in Calabasas.

*

At 10:30 that morning, the three of us — Samantha Sullivan, my wife Caroline, and me —- strolled into the arena and claimed seats in the media section.

That place resembled the inside of an ant colony. We were three ants.

The service began with errorless music, then shifted into a quick, stirring message by Osteen, who always seemed to appear onstage from nowhere, privvy to the kind of big-money stage tricks you find at a Shania Twain concert.

The entire place and all the Jumbo-Trons and all the people, it all had a cinematic presence.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

A preliminary giddiness spread through the room. Then, Kanye emerged, there on the stage, and the place erupted.

A man in a "Jesus is King" shirt danced around his seat.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Everyone took their seats, but one man standing in the crowd shouted affirmations. "Speak truth my brother," he shouted.

The man shouted several more times, then Kanye politely told the guy to hold off on the support because it wasn't helping, because Kanye needed relative quiet to capture and release his flow.

The ceiling glowed in skittish purple.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Kanye described the corrupting force of the media. A chill came over the room. Behind him, the unapologetic blue of Jesus Is King.

It was my first encounter with Joel Osteen, and I was surprised and somewhat baffled to find him likeable, based on everything I'd ever heard about the man.

Kanye said as much, that Osteen is nothing like the version of Osteen many people have broadcast.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Osteen laughed, "When you've got Kanye defending you, you've made it, man."

Rays of light danced through the arena. I'm talking Pink Floyd light show levels.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

With 21 Grammys, Kanye is tied with Jay-Z as the most decorated hip-hop artist of all time.

Osteen asked Kanye what he would say to his younger self, if he could go back in time.

"You know, it's nothing I can say to the younger Kanye through words," he said. "I could speak to the younger Kanye through music."

*

Osteen played the middle section of "God Is," arguably the focal point of the album.

And Kanye danced and rapped along with it. And the surreality of the situation was daunting. Was that really Kanye West up there? with Joel Osteen? dancing to his gospel song?

Six or seven years ago, I saw Kanye a mile away at the Toyota Center — coincidentally, the current home of the Houston Rockets — for his and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne tour. It was a much different experience than this.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

When Kanye finished, the media flooded out. As did a quarter of the people in the congregation. This bothered many of the regulars.

Security and ushers yanked big grey mop buckets from cabinets, and dispersed them down aisles, and money music played.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Then the time for prayer. Prayer leaders lined the walls and pews. And anyone could walk over to them and pray. Men and women clung to strangers, crying sometimes, hugging. Holding hands, whispering phrases.

*

One of the media coordinators pulled us out of the sermon, led us through passageways and elevators, past classrooms and security guards, through a black sheet, then behind a barricade.

This is where all the media had rushed off to like old folks trying to get the best seat for bingo.

Each news outlet was allowed one question.

After 15 minutes, the energy changed and you could tell they were near.

Then, Kim Kardashian-West was walking our way, holding her daughter's hand, followed by Kanye, who was followed by Osteen.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

"Nice tags," Kanye said, referring to my "GOOD" necklace.

Then:

Brief interview with Kanye West and Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church, Nov. 17 in Houston, TX www.youtube.com

Some of the outlets asked more than one question, but that was on them. They were the ones sinning in church.

*

As Kanye and Olsteen shuffled away, down the line of journalists, I said hello to a small crew from FoxNews as they packed their equipment.

"We're from TheBlaze," I said, smiling. To which they sneered and glanced at one another then got back to their conversation.
Samantha rolled her eyes and the three of us wandered around for an exit.

"Did we just get stiff-armed by Fox News?" Said one of us. "I didn't think they were allowed to look down on anybody."
"I've had that with people from Fox on several occasions," one of us replied.

"I mean, I thought I was doing them a favor a favor by acknowledging them. Nobody else does."

Then it happened again, a few minutes later, this time with someone we had worked with, someone who knew us.
You bet we were salty.

Bad as it felt to be judged like that, it was good to be underestimated. A relief. It meant we could perform without anyone caring or watching.

They had no idea who we were or what we were really doing. Good.

*

In November 2007, Kanye's mother died during a routine surgery. He and his mom, Dr. Donda West, had always been incredibly close. She raised him alone, after Kanye's father left, when Kanye was three.

A few months later, his engagement with Alexis Phifer abruptly ended.

He was 30 at the time.

Oddly, this tragic sequence of events would cause the birth of auto-tune in rap. Broken-hearted, Kanye wanted to sing. So he ran his voice through a vocoder.

Kanye's album 808s & Heartbreak, which like Jesus is King has no curse words, shoved music ahead at least two decades, into a world of synth-driven robotic R&B/Rap love songs belted out in janky auto-tune. That description doesn't sound ridiculous today. But that's only because Kanye eschewed the stale hip-hop of the early 2000s and reinvented the genre, something he has accomplished with every album.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Then, he went on tour. But he never took off any time following his mother's death. And, by the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, he'd fallen to what he calls his sunken place.

He and then-girlfriend Amber Rose brought a bottle of Hennessy with them to the award show. They took slugs in the limo. Then on the red carpet.

When Taylor Swift won the award for Best Female Video, Kanye stormed the podium, sunglasses on, and grabbed the microphone, said "Imma let you finish," then let everyone know the award should've gone to Beyoncé, for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)."

He was kicked out immediately. He tweeted, "Everybody wanna booooo me but I'm a fan of real pop culture... I'm not crazy y'all, I'm just real."

Followed by an apology. Then a few days later, during an appearance on debut episode of "The Jay Leno Show"

Leno asked Kanye, "What do you think [your mom] would have said about this?"

That hit Kanyelike a punch to the jaw. He teared up, froze.

He publicly apologized to Swift. Several times.

But it did little to quell the blowback. Once again, it felt like the entire nation hated Kanye. Compounded by a hot-mic recording of Barack Obama — the country's first black President — calling Kanye a jackass.

So the embattled Kanye retreated to Hawaii to record a masterpiece, 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

*

"We are a Christian country," Kanye said at one point, to uproarious applause.

The vast majority of Americans, 90 percent, believe in a higher power.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

And America has the largest number of Christians in the world, with roughly 167,000,000, comprising 65-to-70 percent of the population. But that's down from 80 percent, as part of a downward trend over the last two decades.

The percent of Americans who attend a religious service of any kind — church, synagogue, or mosque — is even lower, less than half.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

One political scientist blamed the public's growing distrust in institutions. Another blamed conservatives. A writer from New York Magazine took it a step further.

Meanwhile, David French.

As always, the issue is far more nuanced than either side will admit.

Somehow, in the last twenty years, church and religion had become not just uncool, but slightly villainous.

All day, every time I looked around — at people singing, at people dancing, at people crying in joy or in the relief and recognition of their pain — I thought, "How could this ever be a bad thing?"

Photo by Caroline Ryan

I had spent my life going to concerts, had seen Kanye West numerous times, and this was something other than a concert, and unlike anything I'd seen from Kanye. It was also more than just religious or spiritual.

A family of strangers in a city of 6 million, in a world of 7-and-a-half billion, broadcast live, led by a man who fought off the devil in front of us for years. Who struggled with life just like we do, only we could nitpick through the one-way mirrors of our phones and our TVs.

But, now, he had been baptized in public.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

Some people were still negative about Kanye's recent faith, especially Christians. As Kanye raps on "Hands On"

What have you been hearin' from the Christians?
They'll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me

Consensus was, they couldn't believe him. As a Kanye fan since I was 13, I can tell you that he is genuine. It's really his only setting. Plus, his spiritual transformation has been building for quite some time.

*

By the time we returned to Lakewood that evening, the sky had turned dark blue, and frantic with airplanes.

The sidewalks around the arena overflowed with people. Police cars jutted out in crooked lines to block entrances or exits, the strobe of red-white-blue whirling onto pedestrians' faces.

Across the street, facing the giant arena, a man with a bullhorn ranted about the evils of sinful music.

Earlier that day, sheepish protestors had occupied the spot, holding red poster-sized letters that spelled out "I M P E A C H." There were only four of them, though, so they had to double up and share, and sometimes the "H" slanted down or the "I" slipped loose.

"Impeach Kanye?" one of us said, laughing.

"Kanye 2020," shouted someone.

The air was electric. People bounced when they stepped, or walked faster than normal, or turned oddly as they spoke like a third-year professor.

They sang along as they passed traffic-jam cars, most of which were blasting Kanye.

A chorus of police whistles and the usual rumble of semi-trucks passing on US-59. Just down the street, porn shops and strip clubs and a Ferrari dealership. Immediately Southwest, the Mahatma Ghandi District. West, the Galleria, home of the opulent Galleria mall, where Kanye and Kim and family gone ice-skating earlier.

Inside the arena, a different world, low-lit and glowing. A dreamscape of lambent crimsons and violets, a deeper, warmer, slower take on the lights atop the police cars outside. Globular squares of blue were arrayed along the ceiling.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

When the musicians emerged to their instruments, the arena was still half-empty. The show had already been delayed 40 minutes. The demand to get in was so ferocious that the security gate was jammed up like a glass Ketchup jar.

Then, like spirits, men and women drifted onstage in all-grey uniforms and matching hats that looked like they should say "VIETNAM VETERAN" but actually said "Sunday Service."

Every single member wore brand-new grey YEEZY Boosts.

From the start, the performance was cinematic, a sort of new-world opera sung by a chorus of young American muses with nose rings or gold chains or dreadlocks or pink hair.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

From the huddle, a young man rose, and began reciting a poem. It was the invocation of the muse.

Gadamer wrote that poetry "becomes a test of what is true, in that the poem awakens a secret life in words that had seemed to be used up and worn out, and tells us of ourselves"

*

After a whirling rendition of Carl Orff's "O Fortuna," the choir began "Ultralight Beam."

They let the song spread. It grew enormous.

The air swirled as the song widened.

Kanye waited out of view, then appeared without ceremony.

A collective gasp when people recognized the melody of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed." Which sounds like a dream already, with all that wilderness.

So it was even stranger when the song morphed into SWV's "Weak," a skating rink anthem written by Charlie Wilson of the GAP Band. A classic.

The choir were their own countervailing force. Yet they also connected us to the drama of the performance.
Looking back, I wish I could live in those moments forever.

*

Then came their cover of "Father Stretch My Hands" by Pastor T.L. Barrett And the Youth for Christ Choir.

Father Stretch My Hands www.youtube.com

Kanye has paid homage to Barrett's track on two different songs, from two different albums.

It was his prayer.

Pastor T.L. Barrett, a man who's lived an exciting and at times difficult life, only to become a Pentecostal preacher on Chicago's south side, and form a choir of 40 teenagers from his weekly choir practice.

If you dive into Barrett, you'll better understand what Kanye is doing.

*

Ten seats from Kim Kardashian-West, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (TX) stared ahead in a neat grey suit, occasionally poking at his phone and blasting people on Twitter.

Which means there were at least two people in the building who have appeared on Saturday Night Live.

There were other politicians, including Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick. And even more at the earlier service. You could tell they were politicians the same you can tell a vegan burger from a real Whopper. Several times, Kanye held up his phone up and read the words from his newer songs.

Like "Selah," which built into "Hallelujah"s at the end, intoxicating and perfect, like being sucked into an undertow. Which led into "Follow God," a continuation of "Father I Stretch My Hands."

Kanye uses the image of stretched hands to express his own submission and the process that leads to his healing. As a reference to John 21:18

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.

But the song is also about Kanye's literal father, and an argument they had. Then, under it all, he adds a sample of "Can You Lose By Following God" by Whole Truth. He ended the song with his Kanye shriek, somewhat confusing and abrasive with a choir present.

Then — something I did not expect. The thumping bass of Cajmere's "Brighter Days (Underground Goodie Mix)."

And now this was cosmic gospel.

It felt like a rave. Have you been to a rave? It's people dancing, taking MDMA. That is what it felt like.

Flourishes like that were part of Kanye's genius. No other gospel performance would dare. You won't find that kind of diversity at any other hip-hop show, either. The acoustic instruments, the choir. Maybe during a set by electronic musicians like Moodyman or DJ Koze. But, no choir. Yet here Kanye was, at Joel Osteen's church, blasting classic techno.

Oddly enough, though, the most popular song of the night was "Closed on Sunday," Kanye's ode to Chic-Fil-A.

Everyone in the arena knew the words. So then there were two choirs, in a dialogue. I didn't think it was possible, but the collective harmony got even more intense and engulfing than it had all night. So much so that the house speakers started to peak in one corner of the arena.

Photo by Caroline Ryan

The Ancient Greeks were the first to use a chorus. In the 5th Century B.C., 50 actors would gather in the orchestra pit and sing in unison, commenting on the action of the play, describing scenes to the audience. They were a collective force. They represented one character, who was able to connect the audience to the characters and events onstage.

Kim Kardashian was front and center filming with her phone, as two of the West kids jumped around on the trippy blue carpet.

The performance was nearing its end, and suddenly Kanye was dressed like everybody else in the choir. Grey Yeezy kit and the Sunday Service hat. His transformation. From Kanye West to Pastor Ye, stretching hands.

Then, he was gone.
One by one, the choir began fluttering off the stage, to the Clark Sisters' "You Brought the Sunshine."

Half were gone, when I noticed the singer with braided hair crying. With every exhale, she collapsed her hands into the floor. Let them fall like tired flowers. Arrayed in fitful blue. She gasped. She heaved her shoulders like a wingspan. For a moment it was like she would actually take flight.

A security guard peered over the railing from above the stage. He looked like God.Symbolically, he was.

New installments of this series on the 2020 elections come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

Don't believe in time travel? Think it's just a wild conspiracy theory reserved for late night alien radio programs? Well, we have unearthed bombshell evidence that will blow you away and have you questioning everything!

A 120-year-old photo PROVES climate change activist teen Greta Thunberg is actually a time traveler warning all generations of the dangers of global warming.

Glenn did some exhaustive research and found several other photos and subjects in historical paintings. Check them out here and see if you are now a believer:

Warning Elvis fans

Ryan: Suction energy, pt. 1

Photo by Sean Ryan

After his speech at the Boone County fairgrounds, Joe Biden nodded and people engulfed him like he was their oxygen. Journalists shouted questions, photographers shoved people aside. Biden's bodyguards even drew closer. I found a good oak tree and hid out in the shade, 100 yards from the chaotic huddle.

Photo by Sean Ryan

They shoved closer and closer and closer, with a vacant urgency to their eyes. They had to get as close as possible. It was like some force of nature had taken control of everyone, and now their only goal was to merge their lifeforce with Biden's.

The frenzy of writhing arms and contorted bodies reminded me of Shark Week, when the hulking Great White breaks through the protective cage and how's the diver gonna make it out alive this time?

*

A need for convergence, often leading to upheaval.

Most of the Democratic candidates caused this effect. As did their opponent, to a far greater degree. Because he was the president, and he was Donald Trump, so, for the time being, he embodied this magnetism more fully than anyone else in the entire world.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Every time Trump entered a room or a building or a space of any kind, every person within a reasonable distance felt it. And they couldn't help but bob their head around, and arch up on their tiptoes, scouring till they saw him, and then all they could do was lean forward and wonder if it was actually him.

Some of the Democratic candidates had a stronger magnetism than others. Which meant the gravitational pull had laws that guided it. The term I started using for it was "suction energy."

It was something you could physically feel.

At the Iowa State Fair, Bernie Sanders' suction energy was so intense, so visceral that it reminded me of a hurricane.

Photo by Sean Ryan

People wanted to be as close to the man as possible. They wanted a picture. Proof that it happened—that they had actually seen someone that famous.

And they were perfectly right. And their reactions were understandable and lovely even, and altogether innocent. Encouraging. Because they were genuine.

Even journalists were susceptible to suction energy. In fact, they could spazz even harder. Unlike the public, they were there as workers.

*

Suction energy is an art, something you cultivate. But it's also a result of luck and reality. Some people will just never have an ounce of it.

Take, for instance, Jay Insleey, who was apparently a Democratic presidential candidate in the 2020 election. At some point in my travels, I wound up in the same place as him.

Maybe it was a couple times. A couple, two, three. I can't remember.

All I know is that I went to Clear Lake, Iowa for the Democratic Wing Ding, to see Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren and the 20 other candidates, and this guy Jay Insless ... sorry, I mean Inslee took the stage at some point. It's hard to say when exactly because, as I mentioned, he was impressively forgettable, like a human thumbtack.

Wing Ding featured Jay Insee?Photo by Sean Ryan

He was yammering about something, and, man, he looked and sounded like P.C. Principal, from South Park, and that was pretty funny.

I told my dad, and then we were both laughing. Then my dad did an imitation of P.C. Principal, and we were really hooting.
Then all I could think about was P.C. Principal. So I ducked out into the hall to watch a P.C. Principal clip compilation, and I laughed and laughed and nobody went "Shush!," because there were plenty of others like me.

Photo by Sean Ryan

And, boy, I laughed. I was actually a bit sad when the clip was over. I'd forgotten where I was, and when I caught a glimpse of the guy onstage, my sadness deepened into pity. The feeling you get when you realize that the amateur thinks he can beat the professional. When the replacements think they will know valor. When your dog thinks they're going to the park, but really it's the vet, and they wake up without balls.

Do we have an obligation, a moral imperative, to tell a Square when she's trying to shove into a Triangle hole? How much teeth-lettuce does a person lodge into their incisors before you are inclined to alert them?

Like, after this speech, that guy John Insley, would wander around the walkways of the Surf Ballroom, same as Kamala Harris and Andrew Yang, only he'd lack their glow.

Crowds flocking to Kamala HarrisPhoto by Sean Ryan

At one point, he'd clench his jaw into what must have been a smile, ready for any nearby journalists to sneak a candid photo or rush forward for a quote.

Photo by Sean Ryan

If any of the others noticed, they didn't let on. So here was this chubby kid in a costume knocking on the front door, and I know full well Halloween was weeks ago, but who's gonna feed the harmless lie if I don't?

Photo by Sean Ryan

Nobody, that's who.

So I groaned and shrugged and told my dad, "Let's give the tubby kid some Starburst."

"Wha?" he asked.

Then I asked would he get a picture of that candidate over there.

"Who," he replied. As in, "I can't see an important person over there, which one is running for president?"

In other words, Insleep had absolutely zero suction energy. To a near-magical extent.

Within a few weeks, he would announce the end of his campaign on The Rachel Maddow Show.

Yet there he was, somehow center stage, looking out at the packed Surf Ballroom, where, on February 2, 1959, Buddy Holly played his last show.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Buddy Holly, now there's a man with suction energy. So much suction energy that, when he died, music went with him.

*

When I saw Kamala during the week of the Iowa State Fair, she was at the height of her campaign, having climbed to second place, within nine points of Biden.

Everywhere I went, there was Harris, with her personalized KAMALA bus, and her chartered press pool, and her entourage of staff and fans and media.

Photo by Sean Ryan

On the first Saturday of the Fair, my dad and I wound up seeing Harris five times. Five times! In part because she could hustle. She wanted that job. But also because she understood power and optics.

Before her speech at Jasper Winery, (when she played savage 4D chess with Andrew Yang, she spoke to several hundred people packed into the atrium of Valley Southwoods Freshman High School in West Des Moines, her fourth rally of that day.

Photo by Sean Ryan

When she finished her speech, a horde surged straight for her, eighty or so.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Just a month earlier, The New Yorker had run a glowing profile on Harris. That was huge. As of the release of this story, Harris was the only 2020 presidential candidate that The New Yorker had featured.

Photo by Sean Ryan

At that point of the election, excitement for Harris was so intense that it seemed obvious she would get the nomination, or close to it. So I wrote five pieces about her.

But by the time I finished all five stories and added them to the publishing schedule, Harris had sunk 11 points to 4 percent, which put her in 8th place. In New Hampshire, the first state to hold primaries, she was polling at 1 percent. By comparison, Biden, Warren, and Sanders were locked at 19.

Now, the only headlines were about her foundering campaign and her dwindling cash and her downsized staff. In each case, the sentiment was the same, "Whatever happened to Kamala Harris?"

Which answer a question I posed in my first story. Would Harris "I got this one in the bag" attitude help her or ruin her? Turns out the ostentatious bus and the unnecessary press accommodations had been a premature move, and now she just seemed cocky.
Because suction energy can, and often does, vanish in an instant.

A Bernie can always become a Jay InslepInslee. Nobody is immune, no matter how powerful they appear. Look at Bill Cosby. Harvey Weistein. Both were godlike in their power. Both had a gravitational pull so intense that they raped women for decades and nobody did a thing. Cosby's suction energy was so intense that he collected honorary degrees like a vacuum collects dog hair. 70 of them. Then, off to prison to eat pudding in the dark.

By the time I saw Harris at the Democratic Debate in Houston, a month after she stormed Iowa, she'd begun transforming into Joe Biden, focused on all the wrong things, laughing at her own jokes, without realizing that nobody else was laughing.

New installments of this series on the 2020 elections come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com