THE SPECTER OF FREE ASSOCIATION: In the past week, an important fact has been put on display; people can see and hear insults almost anywhere, if they really want to. (And many people—black, white and green—simply love being insulted.) In this mornings Washington Post, the latest outraged letter-writer shows what happens when people give free rein to their drive to interpret:
LETTER, WASHINGTON POST (1/15/08): According to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, it took a president, namely Lyndon B. Johnson, to accomplish an important goal of Martin Luther Kings namely passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Ms. Clinton fails to give King credit where credit is due. This, indeed, sounds more like a "fairy tale" to me. Yes, Johnson ultimately signed the Civil Rights Act, but King's rousing speeches, his organization of the 1955-56 bus boycott, and all of his nonviolent protests and arrests were obviously more than words. They laid the groundwork for a sea of civil rights change in America.
If it wasnt for King, Rosa Parks and numerous other civil rights activists from that era, the country and the president wouldnt have been so primed for legislative action.
Well admit it—an uncharitable rejoinder came to mind when we read this outraged letter. (Guess what, dumb-ass? Everyone knows that!) Beyond that, we feel compelled to mention a crucial fact: the letter-writer fails to say that King was murdered by a white man! But then, people like her always choose to understate the extent of white violence in our society.
[Or at least, they can be (stupidly) said to do so, if we (stupidly) allow ourselves we interpret in whatever way we might like.]
Yep! If interpretation is given free rein, anyone can be a bad person—and comments can mean whatever we like. In a rational world, wed rely on skillful professional journalists to rein in the natural drive to interpret. But we dont live in a world like that. As weve long noticed, major journalists have paraphrased freely in recent elections, reinventing remarks in ways they found pleasing. (Al Gore said he invented the Internet!) And this morning, the New York Times show the world, once again, how devoted the modern press corps is to the joys of interpretation—to a degree of interpretation that borders on free association.
Good God! Obamas Wife Invokes Dangers Of Campaign, says the headline on Shaila Dewans news report. Well admit it! Even after all these years, its still hard to believe that an editor would put this drek into print:
DEWAN (1/15/08): When Michelle Obama addressed an audience of African-American political and entertainment heavyweights here [in Atlanta] on Sunday, she obliquely addressed fears that her husband's presidential run might put him in danger.
Huh! Obama obliquely addressed the fear that her husband might be in danger. And what does oblique mean at the Times? How freely will the great paper interpret? Heres the passage where Dewan starts fleshing out her statement:
DEWAN (continuing directly): ''There are still voices, even within our own community, that focus on what might go wrong,'' Mrs. Obama said, nimbly entwining references to violence with her more usual admonitions that a history of racism and despair should not keep her husband, Senator Barack Obama, from office.
Readers, did you see the references to violence there? Remember—the references are oblique, and theyve been nimbly entwined! As Dewan continues, the ugly nonsense of her news report becomes more clear:
DEWAN (continuing directly): ''It's not just about fear, people,'' she continued during her remarks at the Trumpet Awards Foundation. ''It's also about love. I know people want to protect us and themselves from disappointment and failure, from the possibility of being let down again—not by us, but by the world as it is. A world that we fear might not be ready for a decent man like Barack.''
Incredibly, thats Dewans full quote from Michelle Obama (who seems like a decent and sensible person). Yep. When Obama talked about disappointment and failure, Dewan heard her raising the specter of violence! (See quote below.) As Dewan continues, she makes an unsurprising admission— not everyone heard what was said:
DEWAN (continuing directly): Interviews with black voters have found that some are reluctant to support Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, fearing that his success would make him a target. But critics have complained that raising the specter of violence is nothing more than an attempt to raise Senator Obama to mythic status.
Not everyone detected a double message in Mrs. Obama's remarks, but among those who did was Burnella Jackson-Ransom, who was married to Maynard Jackson Jr. when he became Atlanta's first black mayor.
''I know the feeling that my family and I had when we got threats,'' Mrs. Jackson-Ransom said, adding that she had heard conversations about the issue, but did not think it would affect how people choose a candidate.
Not everyone heard the reference to violence—most likely, because it just wasnt there. By the way: Did Jackson-Ransom think that Michelle Obama had somehow cited the specter of violence? Dewan implies this, but nothing in Jackson-Ransoms quoted statement supports this new thing Dewan heard.
Yes, this is just a minor news report—but it appears in our most major paper. An editor waved this drek into print, reminding us how stupid we are, even at the very top of our discourse. And here again, we see what happens when we give ourselves free rein to interpret. Obvious statements of fact become insults. Double messages litter the air.
[Basic journalistic lesson: Dont report that someone said something—until theyve actually said it.]
MADDOW CLATTERS TO EARTH: Its amazing, but true: Russert and Williams will moderate another Democratic debate tonight. Their conduct the last time around was astounding. And Dems said, Lets do it again!
Yes, we know—this debate was scheduled months ago. But Russert and Williams showed their true colors many years in the past—and, for the most part, Dems still havent noticed. In the past few weeks, a growing consensus has started to form about the loathsome ways of Chris Matthews. But we still arent real clear about Russert and Williams. And so, Jack Welchs world-famous and hand-picked Lost Boys will be in charge of our discussion once again.
Once again, its sad but true: We Dems and libs have moved very slowly as we try to understand the modern press world. Which brings us back to Air Americas Rachel Maddow, who seemed to challenged Chris Matthews last week—then clattered back to earth. With a thud.
Maddow seemed to challenge Matthews last week for his loathsome, long-time, gender-based Clinton-trashing. Indeed, Matthews has been a nightmare for years, a loathsome, long-time Clinton/Gore-hater; by the time that maddow spoke, it almost seemed that libs and Dems had started to figure this out. But after Maddow got in Chris face Tuesday night, she seems to have rethought her position. On Saturday, the APs David Bauder wrote a piece about Matthews recent conduct. He interviewed Maddow—and reported the odd things she said:
BAUDER (1/12/08): Toward the end of his primary coverage on Tuesday, Matthews remarked that he would never underestimate Clinton again.
After a short night's sleep, Matthews appeared on Joe Scarborough's morning MSNBC show and said Clinton's appeal has always been about a mix of toughness and sympathy.
"Let's not forget, and I'll be brutal, the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a frontrunner, is that her husband messed around," he said.
Bam! That quote raced around the Internet and unleashed a fresh round of anger toward Matthews at a time emotions were already frayed.
Joy Behar went on the attack on "The View," saying it felt like men were piling on Clinton.
"I thought it was a patently ridiculous statement to make after having stated so emphatically the night before that he would never underestimate Hillary Clinton again, said Rachel Maddow, a liberal commentator and "Air America" talk show host who was on the MSNBC set that [Tuesday] night.
However, she also said Matthews is the best political analyst on television for his knowledge, quickness and ability to be critical while anchoring a broadcast.
"Chris is relatively impervious to criticism," she said. "I think Chris does what he wants."
Oh. Our. God. Last Tuesday night, Maddow seemed to tell the truth to Matthews—and she gained the acclaim of many Dems. But within a few days, she had walked it back. If Bauder is right, Maddow was soon calling Matthews the greatest TV star in the world.
Lets be fair: We dont have a transcript of what Maddow told Bauder. Were restricted to what he chose to quote—and the highlighted passage above is a paraphrase. But sadly, as long-time readers will know, weve seen this pattern a thousand times. Over the course of the past dozen years, this is how the liberal world has been kept barefoot and pregnant:
THE PATTERN: Career liberal unaccountably slips, telling the truth about the mainstream press corps.
After that, career liberal shuts up. Or career liberal walks it all back.
Maddow has a brilliant personal future—as long as she doesnt tell the truth about players like Matthews. You cant do cable, or Meet the Press, while telling the truth about Chris.
Last week, Maddow told the truth—and then, she seemed to walk it back. But this is exactly the way your interests have been played many times in the past. All around the world of career liberal new orgs, careful players have played it safe, refusing to tell the truth about Matthews—and about Russert, and about Williams, and about their gruesome Jack Welch-derived news org. The dead of Iraq are in the ground because these players played it this way when Matthews was savaging Gore.
Is Maddow the latest to play you this way? At this point, we cant really say. But Maddow has a lot of explaining to do. Last week, Maddow told the truth. And then, she said something quite different.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Ezra Klein told the truth just once—then he shut his fat trap. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/24/07. This has gone on a very long time. Enjoy tonights debate, everybody!