NEW CONSENSUS! Russert and Williams stumbled aroundand a consensus emerged: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 16, 2008
WITH SUPPORTERS LIKE THESE: For the second straight day, the New York Times is musing about—well, why not let About New York columnist Jim Dwyer speak for himself? We wont highlight the ugliest highlights. But you can pick them out:
It must be great to be out on the trail—and then, to have your flagging spirits buoyed up by supporters like these! But this is now the second straight day that the Times has gone a million miles out of its way to invite us to muse about possible violence. And ODwyers an equal opportunity man. He found someone willing to ponder the murder of the other Big Dems:
Does Dwyer show bad judgment here—in a column he says is inspired by the memory of Dr. Kings death? Each person can judge that for himself. But this is now the second straight day the Times has published a piece on this subject (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/15/08)—and once again, Dwyer uses that speech by Michelle Obama to fuel the morbid musings. You know? The speech in which Michelle Obama didnt discuss this topic?
In yesterdays inexcusable news report, a fantasist named Shaila Dewan said that Michelle Obama had obliquely addressed the specter of violence in her speech; she had nimbly entwin[ed] references to violence with her more usual admonitions, Dewan hazily said. This morning, Dwyer spells it out even more clearly. Obama lightly twist[ed] the byways of this topic, he super-hazily says.
Dare we state what is merely obvious? By any normal standard of interpretation, Michelle Obama didnt raise the specter of violence in Sundays speech. Is it possible that the Times ghouls, kooks, nut-cakes and goblins could stop pretending that she did? Some of us can recall what its like to see our greatest leaders murdered. Or, as the folks at the New York Times nimbly twist what Michelle Obama said, are they just dishing their latest big helping of fun, entertainment and sport?
Boxed text accompanying Dwyers column: Barack Obama stirs memories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fate.
Photo caption accompanying Dwyers column: Barack Obama, on the campaign trail, has inspired both hope and fear. I hope you dont get a bullet, one supporter said.
Well voice our judgment: Revulsion. Disgust. Its really time they stopped this.
NEW CONSENSUS: The transcript hasnt been posted yet, and we wont bother transcribing ourselves. But by 9:22 last night, we were as peeved as the heckler who rose to complain about the endless racial questions being posed by Williams and Russert. The heckler was apparently led from the room, but his complaints struck us as well-founded. For ourselves, we had called a friend, just a minute before, to ask if she had ever seen such a set of inane, worthless questions.
But on and on the hapless pair went, praying they could ignite a new squabble. Everyone was asked to explain why theyd said the things they had said, and what they thought about everyone else. It was clear that no one wanted to play. But Jack Welchs Lost Boys just kept trying.
Eventually, even Russert and Williams tired of their dull, fruitless quest. Even they were forced to ask substantive questions. Today, a few quick reactions:
The first twenty minutes: Again, that first twenty-plus minutes were hard to take. At 9:22, a heckler asked the boys to shut up. Dare we hope it? Dare we hope that normal, decent people will challenge these tools more and more?
Other inane questions followed: That said, the love of the inane is never far from these boys empty heads. Around 10:35, Russert started in again, asking Clinton why an (unnamed) pollster had been quoted making a semi-racial statement in a newspaper. And that question about the ROTC! At TPM, Todd Gitlin reacts to this oddly off-the-wall query. But lets state the judgment which Gitlin implies: Russert seemed to be looking for an issue that might embarrass the Dems, even though the issue was wildly tangential—even though it has played no role in recent presidential-level debate. But then, dont we recall a similar question, about drivers licenses, the last time this pair hosted Dems in debate? More thoughts on this matter tomorrow.
A striking contrast: Russert and Williams werent great last night. But their performance was nothing like the blatant disgrace of October 30, when they staged a two-hour gang-bang of Clinton, changing the shape of the Dem campaign with their endless oppo research-style questions. In the aftermath of that debate, apologists lied about the pairs motives; front-runners always get treated that way, they said, although there has never been a presidential debate in which moderators behaved in anything like the manner of Russert and Williams. But then, its just as we have always told you; your press corps never you tells the truth about its own methods and motives. Indeed, after last evenings session, high comedy reigned on MSNBC as pundits puzzled long and hard: Why didnt Obama and Edwards go after Clinton, as they did on October 30? Surely, everyone knew one large part of the answer: In large part, they went after Clinton on October 30 because they were prompted to do so, by Russert and Williams, all through that evenings two-hour session. But last night, all the pundits feigned complete ignorance. Absolutely no one could figure why the dynamic had changed. (Transcript tomorrow. High comedy.)
A bit of comic relief: Around 9:30, Russert asked a type of question we always dislike: Name your greatest strength and weakness. (For unknown reasons, Josh Marshall called this a decent question. Kevin Drum called its two parts bogus and completely bogus, but he did find one redeeming quality.) Guess what, people? Candidates tend to be prepared for this stupid, tired old chestnut.
Meanwhile, a bit of comic relief. As weve told you, theres a standard humorous answer to Part 2 of that question: My greatest weakness? Im often too honest. Has anyone ever given that answer? Last night, Edwards came close.
A new consensus on Russert: For us, though, the most interesting part of last nights debate came in the reactions of several liberals. Josh Marshall batted Russert around, snarking hard at every turn. (On October 30, he managed to live-blog the whole debate without noting the fact that Russert and Williams were savaging one of the candidates.) And then, via Kevin Drum, we saw this comment by Matt Yglesias—and we were whisked to this new report about Russerts unbearable inanity.
As such, well say that its now official: After all these years, it isnt just Matthews—its now standard practice to mock Russert too. This should be a good thing—but something is missing. Tomorrow, well review that report.
HOWLER HISTORY—WORST QUESTIONS EVER: Russerts question about your greatest strength recalled two of the worst debate questions ever asked. They were posed by good-natured Tom Griffith, of Manchesters WMUR-TV, during Gore and Bradleys final New Hampshire debate. Why should moderators stay away from crap like this? Because this is where it can take us:
As if that wasnt gruesome enough, Griffith asked one more question:
Yes, that actually did occur. We really did not make that up.
In those days, of course, the insider press corps was trying to pick your nominee for you, just as Russert and Williams were doing back on October 30. And perhaps you can guess who Woodruff favored! Incredibly, this was her first question for Gore. This also ranks as one of the worst debate questions ever asked:
That question—which was really a speech, of course—may rank as the worst in history. Rattling off the things people say, Woodruff accused Gore of a long list of sins—reinventing himself, using evil consultants, running a mean-spirited campaign, and, of course, lying about saintly Bradley. He was willing to do almost anything to win. No specifics of any kind were offered—and he got sixty seconds to respond.
And oh, by the way: Senator Bradley had once stooped so low as to tug on John Havliceks jersey!
No softballs were tossed at Gore that night. Woodruff got tough with Bradley just once; she criticized him because, she said, he hadnt gone after Gore hard enough!
But then, the press corps had its favorite that year. They knew who the good and the bad people were. They just knew that Gore was a very bad man. Are we happy with how it turned out?