NINE YEARS LATER: As bogus as the apology was, it was great to see Chris Matthews forced to apologize last night on the cable gong-show, Hardball. Before we take another step, lets congratulate Jamison Foser for this superlative piece , posted last Friday at Media Matters. (You should never miss Foser and Boehlert.) And lets congratulate David Brock for his later adaptation, which took the message far and wide. Other people played a role in forcing this crackpot to say he was sorry; we arent expert on who did what, and we dont mean to leave names out. But Fosers piece covered a whole lot of ground. Sadly, of course, Matthews didnt cover much ground in his truncated, bogus apology. You can read the full text here, once again at Media Matters. But lets be clear about what this Bunker-type didnt say as he boo-hoo-hooed last night.
Matthews has directed gender-based insults at Hillary Clinton throughout the past year. And, as well note in what comes below, he trashed a string of Big Dems in vicious and baldly dishonest ways, over the whole prior decade. Last night, our Poor Little Welch Boy boo-hoo-hooed, saying that he has a good heart—and pretending that people are mad at him because of one thing he said on one program. As usual, he just wasnt telling the truth. In fact, the dead of Iraq are in the ground because of his endless misconduct.
Last night, Chris boo-hoo-hooed about something he said on just one Morning Joe program. But readers, just compare his apology to the list of sins compiled by Foser. Sorry: When you make that striking comparison, you gaze on the soul of a public man who still refuses to be publicly honest. Boo hoo—I have a good heart, Matthews said. But actually, Matthews does not.
Again, it was a giant win for progressive interests when Matthews was forced to apologize. But lets make sure we grasp, in some small way, the sweep of this mans past misconduct.
Here at THE HOWLER, we first said that NBC should take Matthews off the air in early 1999, when his disgraceful conduct put journalist Cody Shearers life in danger. (Well review that conduct next week; it too had a sex/gender context.) But today, as Matthews is forced to apologize for his gender-based trashing of Clinton, liberals and Democrats should remember the years in which this blatant public nut-case trashed their earlier nominee—the nominee named Al Gore. Weve reviewed this astounding conduct in other posts (for one example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/14/07). But for two solid years, Matthews trashed this man-like object, the bath-tub ring—the man who would lick the floor to be president. He counted the buttons on Gores troubling suits—and he said the number of buttons (three) proved that Gore had a weird gender problem. To see how deranged this crackpot has been through the years, revisit this lunacy one more time, from November 1999:
MATTHEWS (11/12/99): You know, there's been a lot of talk about the new costuming of Al Gore. You know, he used to wear blue suits, like I do—or gray suits. Now he's wearing these new olive suits. [Gore had one such suit.] He's taking up something rather unconventional, the three-button male suit jacket. I always—my joke is, I'm Albert, I'll—I'll be your waiter tonight. I mean, I don't know anybody who buttons all three buttons, even if they have them. What could that possibly be saying to women voters, three buttons?
DIMITRIUS: Well, I—I think that—
MATTHEWS: Is there some hidden Freudian deal here or what? I don't know. I mean, Navy guys used to have buttons on their pants. I don't know what it means. Go ahead.
DIMITRIUS: No, I—I—I think actually that Al's probably read the—our second book that's about to come out that talks about the different colors, that, particularly males can wear in their suits. We talk about how olive green, dark green is, is much more approachable, whereas, your dark blue and your black—
MATTHEWS: Right. Is that why Peter Pan wore green?
DIMITRIUS: Could be. Could be.
MATTHEWS: How does my mind work that way?
Excellent question. For the record, the three-button male suit jacket was not unconventional in the fall of 1999—such jackets were completely conventional. This was just another chance for Matthews to make weird remarks about the Peter Pan who was wearing his buttons as Navy guys used to do (on their pants), to send weird signals to women. And yes, the gender-trashing of Gore was widespread on the cable gong-show Hardball that month, as Matthews and the rest of the press corps engaged in their two-year war on the candidate. On November 4 of that year, for example, Matthews had called Gore a man-woman; on November 5, he had said that Gore doesnt have his gender straight. (On November 3, Jane Wells, one of Matthews endless string of gruesome guests, had volunteered this helpful idea: I hope he won't start encouraging women to embrace their shadow sluts.) Nor was Matthews lying when he said that he always told his idiot Albert the waiter joke; in fact, he told this dim-witted joke five times in the month of November alone (November 2, 4, 10, 12, 24). And he kept telling his viagra joke—the one in which he said that Gore had conducted an assault on his masculinity (November 5) by hiring Naomi Wolf, who I call the political equivalent of viagra. But then, just three months before, Matthews had brought Gennifer Flowers onto his show for a half-hour segment; disgracefully, shed spent the bulk of the segment accusing Hillary Clinton of a long string of murders. By the next spring, when Pew released a startling study of the way Bush and Gore were being covered, Pew went out of its way to stress the amount of Gore-trashing it had encountered on Hardball. Want to see Matthews lying, in March 2000, about Gores role at the Buddhist temple? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/17/00 (prepare yourself—this is disgraceful). And yes—this is how the worlds history changed. This is how we ended up in Iraq.
Last night, Matthews pretended to apologize for one stupid comment on one Morning Joe. But he had gender-trashed Clinton for the past year—and long before that, he had made war on Gore. Meanwhile, whats the most remarkable thing about all that earlier Democrat-trashing—about the endless trashing of Gore, the man who now holds the Nobel Peace Prize? Just this: Matthews repulsive trashing of Gore produced absolute silence from liberal entities. While this vile and vulgar man savaged the man who now hold the Peace Prize, your liberal journals—and your big liberal pundits—just sat and stared off into air. Why was Matthews was forced to boo-hoo last night? Simple! Because no one had lifted a finger to shut him up during a previous decade of lunacy.
Last nights forced apology was a large triumph. But by this time eight years ago, Matthews was a blatant public disgrace—and liberal journals and liberal pundits refused to acknowledge or notice. We mentioned that fact many times in the past—and the silence from these liberal journals continued. Though many liberals have spoken up in recent months about Matthews misconduct, lets take some time to remember the people who played no role in last evenings triumph—the people who, right to this very day, have kept their big, fat self-dealing traps shut tight about Darling Chris Matthews.
Read that compilation by Foser. Then, understand the following fact: To this day, in the face of that record, youve never seen a serious profile of Matthews by The Washington Monthly, by The American Prospect, by The New Republic, by Salon or The Nation. (Eric Alterman has done a few limited pieces. This isnt Altermans fault.) Right up to this very day, with liberal anger and consciousness rising, these utterly worthless liberal journals have kept refusing to speak about this mans gruesome conduct. Meanwhile, how much have you heard from the house-broken rising stars who blog at these great liberal journals? Were fairly sure you know the answers: Nothing, next-to-nothing, not much.
These liberal journals have still refused to speak. (Although Salon has been doing better.) Though the most likely reason seems fairly clear, you ought to be asking them why.
When on earth will these journals start telling their readers about loathsome Matthews?
Finally, lets name someone else—someone else who has endlessly failed to speak about Brother Matthews. Have you heard a single fucking word about any of this from E. J. Dionne? A single word from this high-placed man, in the course of ten fucking years? Go ahead: Just read that compilation by Foser, then ask yourself how that can be! And of course, it isnt just E.J. Have you ever heard a single word from Gene Robinson; from Mark Shields; from Richard Cohen; from Al Hunt? Have you heard a word from Kinsley? From Meacham? From Alter? What has in-group lackey Doris Kearns Goodwin ever found the stonage to offer? Have you ever heard a single fucking word from the worlds greatest liberal, Frank Rich? A single word from Bob Herbert? As all this trashing and lying transpired, did you hear even one person speak?
Go ahead—reread Fosers piece. Then ask this: When did people like Dionne plan to speak up about Matthews? How many decades would have gone by before these great liberal stars would have acted? Of course, E.J.s an occasional guest on Hardball—and Robinson appears on the show fairly often. But then, so does the silent Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the silent Nation. We hope the bump in circulation is worth the blood on this old journals hands.
Matthews work has been a disgrace for a decade—a disgrace which most good liberals sat still for. Because yes, the most astounding part of last nights apology is the year in which it occurred. It represents a political breakdown of stunning proportion—the fact that it took until 2008 for liberals to force this broken-souled Archie Bunker to shut his fat trap and step back from this conduct. And even now, you still get played by the boys and girls at your liberal journals. Why, theres no partisan animus to Russert, they cry. What on earth makes them want to say that? (More next week.)
One last point: Ever after the liberal world began to boil over about Matthews conduct, one progressive was being quoted about what a great man he is. Yep! There was Rachel Maddow last week, oddly cited by the AP, saying how great Matthews is. As we noted, Rachel was only paraphrased by the AP—but what she seemed to have said was quite startling. And so, we offer this invitation—an invitation to speak.
Rachel, its time to get off your keister. Whats your view of Matthews service? Please! Read that piece at Media Matters; then, flip through our own gruesome archives. We know a brilliant career awaits you in the Elysian fields you share with Jack Welchs best boys. But Rachel, its finally time to speak. A question arose in the course of ten years: What is your view of Chris Matthews?
Rachel, its time to get off your keister. Its way past time to speak.
PORTRAIT OF A MASSIVELY PAID PUBLIC LIAR: Is anyone more dishonest than Matthews? Last nights boo-hooing ended like this—with this flagrant howler:
MATTHEWS (1/17/08): Finally, as if anyone doesn't know this: I love politics. I love politicians. I like and respect people with the guts to put their name, their very being out there for public approval so that they can lead our country. And that goes for Hillary and Barack and John and all the rest who are willing to fight to take on the toughest job in the world.
So, let's get on with the show. Whoa!
I love politicians, Matthews said, politely lying in your faces. I like and respect people with the guts to put their name, their very being out there for public approval so that they can lead our country.
Well, here at THE HOWLER, the analysts roared. Unlike the E. J. Dionnes of the world, they were prepared to remember the day when Matthews showed his love and respect by making this astounding statement. He spoke on the gruesome show Imus:
MATTHEWS (11/2/01): He doesnt look like one of us. He doesnt seem very American, even.
Good God! Disgracefully, that was Matthews speaking of Gore, five weeks after September 11. He showed his love and respect for pols in that way—and the liberal world stared off and said nothing. You see, that sort of thing was OK for year after year—A-OK, because liberals OKed it. To this day, that gruesome remark goes unmentioned by liberal journals.
Today, that same Gore holds the Nobel Peace Prize—and liberals have finally complained about Matthews. Well, some liberals have complained. Many other careful players will still be inclined to keep things quiet. Theyve played you for fools down through the years—and theyll play you a thousand times more.
ON A LIGHTER NOTE, IT NEVER STOPS: On a lighter note, it never stops at the New York Times. Yesterday, we commented on the papers constant low-grade work. This morning, this laughable passage appeared in this news report by Michael Cooper:
COOPER (1/18/08): Campaigning with Jack F. Kemp, the former quarterback, congressman, vice-presidential nominee in 1996 and proponent of supply-side economics, Mr. McCain called for cutting the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent...
And Mr. McCain proclaimed himself a believer in the notion that cutting taxes increases revenue for the government by spurring economic growth. ''Don't listen to this siren song about cutting taxes,'' Mr. McCain told supporters gathered here under a tent in a driving rain. ''Every time in history we have raised taxes it has cut revenues. And is there anybody here that needs to have their taxes increased?''
The campaign did not put a dollar figure on the cost of the tax cut. Asked later how he would pay for it, Mr. McCain said that he would start by eliminating pork-barrel spending.
Good God! Thats amazingly bad.
In truth, were fairly understanding about this sort of thing; we know its awkward when pols announce that they think the earth is flat. But thats pretty much what McCain is saying in that every time in history quote. And just for the record, McCain has been proclaiming himself a believer in th[is] notion at least since Meet the Press, last May. When it comes to taxes and tax cuts, McCain has been saying the earth is flat for at least the past eight months.
Journalists love to tell the world that Saint McCain takes all their questions. After all, hes such a straight-talking straight-shooting truth-teller, so authentic and comfortable in his own skin! That said, Cooper and his editors have had every chance to ask McCain about this up-is-down notion. Today, Cooper gives the saint his latest pass because he has chosen to do so.
In the third paragraph we quote above, McCain explains how hell pay for his tax cut—a tax cut he says will produce increased revenue. And Cooper agrees to look away! Up is down, our greatest saint said. And Cooper agreed not to notice.
Special feature: Philosophy Fridays!
AN EXCITING NEW FEATURE: After ten utterly pointless years, were tired of limning the little stuff. Lets take it to the next level, we said. Lets go where the blather is high-test!
And so, our first edition of Philosophy Fridays! Our analysts climbed the highest peaks, looking for primal misstatement. Stepping in the midst of a spat, we offer todays first edition: When Rational Animals Attack.
WHEN RATIONAL ANIMALS ATTACK: Omigod! We howled when we read this news report by Patricia Cohen in last Saturdays New York Times.
Two Philosophers Feud Over a Book Review, the articles promising headline proclaimed. And Cohens report paid off for us—although she chose to start her piece with a rather dubious statement:
COHEN (1/12/08): Over the ages, philosophy has offered valuable guidance on profound questions of truth, beauty and existence, yet still unresolved is the conundrum of how to respond to a bad book review.
Over the ages, philosophy has offered valuable guidance on profound questions of truth, beauty and existence? Really? That isnt the conclusion we drew from our incomparable career as a philosophy major, in which we learned (to simplify Wittgenstein just a tad) that western philosophy is largely comprised of statements which may be incoherent or meaningless. (By statements which couldnt be explained by their authors.) But lets ignore that notion for now. As she continued, Cohen described the current dispute, thereby engaging us further:
COHEN (continuing directly): This neglect no doubt has helped contribute to a feud between the prominent philosophers Colin McGinn and Ted Honderich...
The spat started in the summer, when Mr. McGinn, a British-born philosophy professor at the University of Miami, wrote a scathing review of Mr. Honderich's book ''On Consciousness'' in the July 2007 issue of The Philosophical Review, a quarterly journal edited by the faculty of the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University.
''This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad,'' Mr. McGinn wrote. ''It is painful to read, poorly thought out and uninformed.'' He called Mr. Honderich's efforts ''shoddy, inept and disastrous.''
In our view, of course, almost all philosophical writing—especially that which deals with the nature of consciousness—is painful to read, poorly thought out, shoddy, inept and disastrous. (For one modest example of what we mean, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/2/08.) For that reason, we felt ourselves instinctively drawn to McGinns side in the current dispute. But what is this current dispute all about? Cohen provides a boat-load of background info; Honderich once called McGinns girl friend plain, for example. (We found ourselves wondering if she was plain-spoken). Finally, though, Cohen took us to the nub of the current spat:
COHEN: On questions of philosophy, the two professors stand in opposing camps. Mr. Honderich argues that one's consciousness of external reality is ''in a sense constituted by that reality,'' a position he calls ''radical externalism.'' Mr. McGinn maintains that some philosophical questions—like the nature of consciousness—are beyond human understanding. This view of Mr. McGinn and others has been called the New Mysterianism, after a '60s rock band.
Say what? In this passage, we get a taste of what people might mean when they say that philosophical writing is inept and disastrous. What exactly might Honderich mean when he says that a persons consciousness of external reality is ''in a sense constituted by that reality? We dont have the slightest idea. Presumably, Cohen has no idea either; nor do any of her readers, unless theyve read Honderich themselves—in which case they might know what it means. If it means anything at all, that is—if Honderich can, in some sense, explain this amorphous statement.
Many times, philosophers cant. Or at least, thats what Wittgenstein semi-argued, if we might simplify matters a bit. At one point in the Philosophical Investigations (page 94, pgh 350), Wittgenstein distinguished between two types of statements—statements which share what he called surface grammar. Slightly simplified examples:
STATEMENT A: It is now three oclock in Los Angeles.
STATEMENT B: It is now three oclock on Mars.
Those statements share what he called surface grammar—but theyre vastly different at heart (in their depth grammar). If we may continue to simplify, Wittgenstein said that western philosophy (especially that which deals with mind and consciousness) is made up of Statement Bs masquerading as Statements As. These statements dont actually make any sense. But savants dont notice, because they sound like familiar, common-sensical statements—statements drawn from daily discourse.
Readers, is your consciousness of external reality in a sense constituted by that reality?Were not sure—is it three oclock on the moon? Once youve settled that second question, you might want to return to the first.
ONWARD TOWARD THE THINGS-IN-THEMSELVES: Omigod! McGinns original review was tougher than what weve told you so far. When the editors saw what he had written, they made him pull some punches:
COHEN: Just in case doubt about his position remained, Mr. McGinn added a note [to his published review]: ''The review that appears here is not as I originally wrote it. The editors asked me to 'soften the tone' of the original; I have done so, though against my better judgment.''
The editors asked McGinn to take out a parody of Mr. Honderich's writing style, Cohen later writes.
Does Honderichs style deserve parody? Lets turn toward the things-in-themselves! Amazon allows us to search inside a relevant book, Radical Externalism: Honderichs theory of consciousness discussed. Happily, the featured excerpt comes from Honderich himself. Heres a page-one sample:
HONDERICH: You are seeing this page. What does that fact come to? What is that state of affairs? The natural answer has a lot in it, about the page as a physical thing, whatever one of those is, and about your retinas and your visual cortex. It also has in it philosophy and science about the relation between a neural process and your consciousness.
So there is more to your seeing the page than your consciousness of it.
Is there some mistake in that remark? Some mistake in saying that your consciousness is only part of the story of your seeing the page? Well, we can decide to say that your being conscious of the page was all of the fact of your seeing the page as just understood, a fact with your visual cortex in it as a part. But that is a special usage, an extra-ordinary one. Our ordinary assumption is that your visual cortex was no part of your being conscious of whatever it is. That fact about you, that property of you or state of affairs with respect to you had no neurons in it.
Does that writing cry out for parody? In a sense—but not as such.
Make no mistake: A turgid style, by itself, doesnt mean an author is peddling blather. And in fairness, Honderich is careful to avoid overstating his case. In his opening paragraph, he says that what follows may not be a be a complete departure from the cranialism of most of the philosophy and science of consciousness. But it is a fundamental departure, he states.
Lets simplify again. A turgid style doesnt necessarily mean that an author is peddling Statement Bs. But if you assume that Honderich has to mean something, well invite you to return to your Wittgenstein. Asking what time it is on the moon, well invite you to stop and rethink.