FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2003
FRIENDS MAKE THEIR FRIENDS BUY THIS BOOK: Eric Alterman paints quite a picture in his new book, What Liberal Media? How does our public discourse now work? Angry billionaires pay crackpot pundits to spread an array of silly, wild taleswhile mainstream pundits stand by and keep quiet. You do need to read and study this bookbut you need to make a friend do the same. More on Altermans book next week. Meanwhile, you now know your duty.
WHEN HARDBALL MET SALLY (PART 2): Chris Matthews had been a brilliant punditif you let Chris Matthews tell it. He knew that Bush won Bush-Gore Debate 3, he told Salons Joan Walsh (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/20/03). Wellthe people also knew that Bush won, because people liked him more, Matthews said. But the press corps showed its liberal bias when they all thought Gore won big. Even Bill Safire had joined the parade, the slick-talking Hardball host blathered. (For the text of Matthews interview, click here.)
As usual, Matthews was faking. The evening after the Bush-Gore debate, he had told a quite different tale. The next three days or four days will tell us who won this debate. We dont know yet, he said on CNBCs Business Center. And this was hardly an isolated comment. On the Today show, Matthews called the debate a draw; on his own Hardball, he said that well have to see which way it all works its way out in the next couple of days in the real head-to-head polling. And three days post-debate, with the polls inconclusive, he said, I think the debate had no impact. Did Matthews brilliantly know that Bush won? If so, he kept the news to himself.
But then, almost everything Matthews told Walsh was simply made out of whole cloth. Did Safire say that Gore won the debate? In fact, his column said something quite different. HES AN IMPRESSIVE DEBATER, BUT GORE ALIENATES VOTERS, the Safire headline said in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. GORE WON ON POINTS BUT LOST ON PERSONALITY, said the Safire head in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. What did Safire actually say? If the town hall meeting between Bush and Gore were a prizefight being scored on points, the judges would declare Al Gore the winner, he wrote. But like the sadly victorious King Pyrrhus, Gore won the third debate in a way that may cost him the election. In fact, Safire took a standard press line; yes, Gore knew more than Bush, and argued with greater clarity. But according to Safire, Gore displayed personality traits that would probably turn off the voters. Heres the kind of liberal bias Safire unveiled in his column:
SAFIRE: To the vast army of undecideds, this debate was conducted in body language. Gore bestrode the stage like a Colossus, expressing confidence in a John Wayne swagger, once almost butting his puffed-out chest against Bush in a Lazio-like space invasion.Groan! It was all about body language, Bill said, and Gore had lost that war.
For the record, many pundits said Debate 3 was Gores best effortindeed, Matthews himself states this view in his 2001 book, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/15/02). But Safire was hardly alone in complaining about Gores body language. In her instant review on ABC, for example, Cokie Roberts twice used the phrase cringe factor in talking about voters reaction to Gore. If this is the shape of liberal bias, conservative should hope that lib bias never stops.
So Matthews didnt say that Bush won, and Safire didnt praise Gores performance. And while some pundits said it was Gores best debate, Matthews says the same in his book. Meanwhile, Matthews was dissembling about one more pointthe publics reaction to the session. Matthews told Walsh that the public loved Bush. [T]he media [chose] Gore as the winner in that debate, while the people picked Bush, he said. But that is precisely what didnt happen. As weve seen, there was no appreciable swing in the polls post-debate; by Day 3, Matthews himself was specifically saying that the debate had no impact. And in real timeas Matthews knows full wellthe public said Gore was the winner. On October 18one night post-debateMatthews discussed the Gallup poll of people who watched the debate. By a margin of 46-44, Matthews reported, these viewers said that Gore had won. And this was true despite another fact, one which Matthews specifically notedmore Bush voters had watched the debate. In fact, 52 percent of the Gallup sample planned to vote for Bush, Matthews said. Only 43 percent planned to vote for Gore. But even this heavily Bush-friendly sample thought that Gore had won the debate. Did the people pick Bush, as Matthews told Walsh? Theres no evidence that they did, but saying so fit the talkers preferred tale. Matthews spun a pleasing tale of liberal biasa tale in which he reinvented every key fact he related.
Why does Matthews tell such stories? At THE HOWLER, we employ no psychiatrists. But as Walsh notes in the introduction to her piece, Matthews has made his millions in the past seven years by appealing to conservative viewers, and nothing pleases the talk-show right like cries of liberal bias. The talkers tale of Bush-Gore 3 paints himself as a swaggering heroand reinvents the way the press behaved and the way the public felt. But then, Matthews has behaved this way for yearsand has engaged in conduct that is far worse. It shouldnt come as any surprise to find Matthews spreading such blarney.
But weirdly, it does surprise Walsh. Like many mainstream pundits before her, Walsh rolls over and says next to nothing as a talker seems to lie in her face. And its hardly news that the Hardball host has reinvented his take on the Bush-Gore debates; in August, we described the total fakery about the debates which is found in Matthews book (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/15/02). Did a press corps spilling with liberal bias try to help Gore in those crucial debates? In real time, Matthews said the opposite. Most specifically, it was Matthews who said that Gore cleaned Bushs clock when he reviewed Bush-Gore Debate 1; in real time, Matthews went on the air and said that pundits had gone in the bag for George Bush. Heres what Matthews said on Hardball one night after Bush-Gore Debate 1:
MATTHEWS (10/4/00): I couldnt believe the number of people who chickened out last night. It was clear to meand Im no fan of either of these guys entirely, and I can certainly say that about the one who I thought won last night, thats Al GoreI thought he cleaned the other guys clock, and I said so last night. All four national polls agreed with that I dont understand why people are afraid to say so.Thats what Matthews said in real time. By the time he published his dissembling book, he said that Gore lost all three debates (with Debate 3 being Gores best performance). Now he invents one more pleasing taleand when he throws it in Walshs face, she takes it with barely a peep of protest. Indeed, Walsh seems to have no idea of the real history of Hardballs rank host. Noting that Matthews opposes Bush on Iraq, she asks him this sanitized question:
WALSH: [A]s we sit here and talk about whats facing the country under the Bush administrationthe rush to war, the threat of terrordo you ever regret the amount of time you spent on your show talking about impeachment, or how critical you were of Clinton?Was Walsh off the planet during Campaign 2000? (Almost the entire liberal pundit corps was.) Walsh wants to know if Matthews regrets his endless bashing of Clinton. But weirdly, she fails to mention the two solid years in which the hit-man went after Goreyears in which he did help elect the man whose war he now laments. Walsh shows no sign of knowing that Matthews bashed Gore even harder than Clintonand she seemed unprepared for the clowning that followed when Chris discussed George-n-Al.
What explains Walshs performance? Here at THE HOWLER, we employ no psychiatrists. But mainstream pundits have given wide berth to Matthews for years. Matthews is a powerful player in the Washington press corps, and during his years of egregious misconduct, pundits knew they should look away and pretend that they just didnt notice. These pundits would eat live worms in hell before theyd tell you the truth about Matthews. They care about their careers and their insider standingand the American interest can just go be damned. Chris Matthews is now a powerful player, expressing the outlook of the insider press corps. For that reason, pundits have constantly looked away, refusing to discuss his real conduct.
When Hardball met Sally, Joan Walsh played some softball. But then, pundits have played this game for years. Given your pundit corps low moral character, you shouldnt expect that to stop.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In his ironically-titled book, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think, Matthews completely reinvents his take on the 2000 debates. His retooling is simply astounding (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/15/02). But then, just how bad was this talkers performance during Campaign 2000 itself? To see his full-bore dissembling on one key topic (the Buddhist temple), see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/02. In fact, when Pews Project for Excellence studied the Bush/Gore coverage, they specifically noted the remarkable way Hardball was trashing Gores character. (The results of the study were also astounding; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/02.) But pundits knew they shouldnt notice what Matthews was doing; his rank misconduct went unmentioned, unexamined. Walsh now writes as if Hardball trashed Clinton during impeachment, then quickly found its way off the air. But then, this sort of thing has long been par for the course with Matthews. The talker seemed to lie in Walshs faceand Salon put his weird embroidery into print, with barely a word of comment.
THE POST: Mr. Bush must know how phony his [data] are. Any time a salesman has to resort to such deceptive tactics, the customer ought to be wary about what is being sold.Gee! Any chance that the customers should worry about the salesmans problem with the truth, or should wonder if the salesman even knows who he is? Of course, Bush has been making such phony presentations about his budget plans for years. When he made such presentations in the crucial Bush-Gore Debate 1, the liberal Post barely took notice.
Better late than never. But this mornings Post helps us see the sorry state of our liberal pundit corps. How is Richard Cohen preparing for war? By watching Joe Millionaire and Michael Jackson. Heres the crap the Post puts in print as we move toward a transforming war:
COHEN: In the hours I doggedly put in watching Joe Millionaire, Evan never mentioned a book, a movie, a newspaper or even a cartoon. He mostly walked simian-style through the French countryside, ruminating about a relationship he did not have with any of several women. They were all, though, perfectly paired, because apparently none of the women wondered what a hunk with $50 million would want with any of them. He could have done better with an escort service.So could Cohens readers. Meanwhile, in his previous column, Cohen had frittered his time on more triviathe behavior of those meaningless poets who got bounced from their White House appearance. Today, he frets about Evans emptiness. Look whos talking, we mordantly said.
Cohen shows the soul of our liberal press corps. But dont worry. The next time talk-show conservatives complain about bias, Cohen will be deftly transformed. Well hear of the fiercely liberal Richard Cohen, and stampeding Cattle will once again see that this is a man to be feared.