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Print view: First, a governor got himself pranked. After that, the deluge
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PRANK CALL, PRANK TRANSCIPT/PRANKED NATION! First, a governor got himself pranked. After that, the deluge: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2011

Prank call, prank transcript/pranked nation: Just for a moment, step back from your views on the Wisconsin fight and consider the way we now conduct business. How do we discuss serious issues like the ones at the heart of this fight?

Yesterday, we got one part of our answer; we now discuss these serious issues through the medium of prank phone calls. A prankster called Governor Walker’s office, pretending to be billionaire David Koch, a major source of Republican funding. Governor Walker took the call and spoke for about twenty minutes.

The tape of the call was released by the Buffalo Beast, which had conducted the call. The Beast also posted a transcript.

How much can we learn about Walker from that call? We’ll offer our view below. But how apt! After Walker fell for the Beast’s prank call, a whole string of journalists fell for the group’s prank transcript! One of the first to get himself pranked was Jonathan Chait, a very smart policy analyst whose post at the New Republic now runs beneath this self-critical headline:

CHAIT (2/23/11): Scott Walker Talks To "David Koch" [Updated With Correction]

The liberal world has certainly been awash in self-correction! In this case, what did Chait feel forced to correct? Without listening to the actual tape, he had posted this chunk of transcript. Based on his link, he got this text from the Buffalo Beast:

WALKER: Oh yeah, but who watches that? I went on “Morning Joe” this morning. I like it because I just like being combative with those guys, but, uh. You know they’re off the deep end.

“KOCH:” Joe—Joe’s a good guy. He’s one of us.

WALKER: Yeah, he’s all right. He was fair to me…

“KOCH:” Beautiful; beautiful. You gotta love that Mika Brzezinski; she’s a real piece of ass.

WALKER: Oh yeah.

Good lord! Walker had affirmed Koch’s remark about Mika’s hot ass, engaging in the rough talk of real men! In his post, Chait had of course been appalled. But wouldn’t you know it? Chait had been pranked, much like Walker before him! At some later point, he crossed out the text we’ve posted in bold and offered this update/apology:

CHAIT: Update: This transcription of the call is totally misleading. Walker says "oh yeah" before the "piece of ass" comment, which is mumbled and Walker may not have heard. My apologies to Walker for accepting this transcription at face value. The conversation is interesting but that portion of it is not reliable.

First Walker got pranked—then Chait did too! Nor was Chait alone in this posture. That “totally misleading” chunk of transcript had quickly been posted all over the web—even at the august National Journal, whose august web site isn’t responding at present. Most strikingly, Greta Van Susteren even fell for the prank; last night, on her Fox News program, she actually interviewed Walker (on tape), chiding him for what he had said concerning Mika’s keister. After the taped interview ran, she offered her own live retraction:

VAN SUSTEREN (2/23/11): Now, Governor Scott Walker just told you about that bizarre prank call. We went back and listened carefully to the prank call, especially the part regarding the TV host Mika Brzezinski. Now, after listening and wanting to be fair to the governor, we're not so sure the governor even heard the comment about the TV host. But here's the tape. You listen yourself and you decide.

Duh! Chait’s update/apology plainly was right. Presumably, the Beast had hoped that Walker would follow its lead concerning Mika’s smokin’ hot ass. This would have produced some embarrassing tape. But alas! The attempt plainly failed.

We liberals have been self-correcting at a remarkable rate! In this case, even someone as smart as Chait was willing to post a transcript without checking the actual tape; it’s hard to believe, at this late date, that anyone is so trusting. (Posted transcripts are often wrong in various ways, even when there’s no motive.) Of course, in an increasingly tribalized world, tribal players leap to believe the very worst about The Other. In fact, Walker didn’t second that quip about Mika. But the world truly believed.

(Dylan: “Well, time passed and now it seems/Everybody’s havin’ them dreams.”)

What can we learn about Walker from that prank call? Not very much, we would say. Quick note: Except for old tapes on C-Span radio, none of us have ever heard Big Pols speak on the phone. We may not be especially skilled at interpreting such conversations. Just a quick guess: Major pols of both major parties will play along with the varied dumb comments offered by their biggest funders; we’ll guess that very few pols rush to confront their sponsors’ various flaws. We know, we know! Old Reagan/Bush-voters like Big Ed Schultz were urging you on last night; Big Ed is now paid to play the fool by saying dumb things on your side. But we heard very little on that tape beyond what Walker himself later said. In fact, we were surprised by what we heard. But we mainly heard that Walker believes in what he’s currently doing.

We also heard him repeatedly fail to second that prankster’s rough talk. Drat! Even though he thought he was speaking in private, he just kept refusing the bait.

For our money, Greg Sargent swallowed the outrage whole. In the “updates” to this post, he runs you through all the times Walker failed to challenge Koch’s bad manners. This is his first example:

SARGENT (2/23/11): Walker doesn't bat an eye when Koch describes the opposition as "Democrat bastards."

That’s right. And major Democrats “don’t bat an eye” when their big supporters spout on the phone. Big office-holders aren’t the Church Lady—though very smart people who are somewhat young have been scolding The Other for that.

How do we discuss big issues? Yesterday, we all got a lesson. The pranking was general over the web as the Beast played several tricks.

First, a governor got himself pranked. After that, the deluge!

Special report: How to respond to the Limbaughs!

PART 2—LORD MILBANK AND LADY ARUGULA (permalink): Last week, Rush Limbaugh was peddling his usual crap all around, talking his smack for millions of listeners. Yesterday, at the Washington Post, Lord Milbank began to fight back:

MILBANK (2/23/11): Rush Limbaugh thinks Michelle Obama is a big, fat idiot.

The broadcaster announced during his show Monday that the first lady "took the kids out to Vail on a ski vacation, and they were spotted eating, and they were feasting on ribs—ribs that were 1,575 calories per serving with 141 grams of fat."

Actually, the restaurant put the calorie count at 600, but Rush was determined to chew out Obama. "The problem is –and dare I say this?—it doesn't look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice," he said. "I'm trying to say that our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.”

Were Rush’s ripostes fair-and-balanced examples of good old political satire? Was he just looking for a way to discuss an actual issue? Before he finished his column, Milbank quoted several more of El Rushbo’s thoughtful pronouncements:

MILBANK: During Tuesday's broadcast, Limbaugh resumed commenting on the first lady's figure. "Some people are suggesting that my comments are below the belt," he said of the woman he has called "Moochelle" and "Michelle My Butt." Limbaugh continued: "Well, take a look at some pictures. Given where she wears her belts—she wears 'em high up there around the bust line—isn't just about everything about her below the belt, when you look at the fashion sense she has?”

In truth, it’s a whole new form of political satire when a major figure like Rush talks about a first lady’s “bust line”—when he explicitly takes his jokes “below the belt.” That said, Milbank’s analysis was itself a bit light; he quickly noted that Limbaugh himself is too fat to discuss such a topic. And sure enough! He quickly recalled his own inane thoughts concerning the first lady’s food:

MILBANK: Now, I'm not accustomed to defending Lady Arugula. When I ridiculed as elitist her acquisition of pricey (and certified-organic) Tuscan kale at a downtown Washington farmers' market, her spokeswoman informed me that I wasn't "invited back" to other first lady events.

But on this point, the first lady's detractors don't have a legitimate beef. She's never told people to cut out junk food; she's suggested they eat junk less often and exercise more.

Deftly dishing standard pay-back, Milbank gained revenge on “Lady Arugula,” recalling the day when her agents dared to criticize Milbank’s own nonsense. For the record, Milbank was referring to this inane column from September 2009. Opening paragraph: “Let's say you're preparing dinner and you realize with dismay that you don't have any certified organic Tuscan kale. What to do?”

Let’s get back to yesterday’s column, in which Milbank judged that Rush is too fat to say the same about Obama. Before he was done, Milbank engaged in standard “both sides do it” conduct, noting that Lady Arugula is criticized about her food choices from both the right and the left. (You’re right—this involved quite a stretch on Milbank’s part.) From that point, the finish line was near! He closed his column with a quip about Obama’s current “corpulent critic”—and another bit of fly-weight work was ready to run in the Post.

Limbaugh routinely plays the clown, on major and minor issues. Over the past three decades, he has had an enormous influence on the shape of our low-IQ discourse. During that same period, Maureen Dowd’s simpering, silly-girl playbook made her our most influential print journalist; her silly approach to the nation’s news has been copied all over the nation’s news rooms. But Limbaugh has been our most influential broadcaster. He has helped shape a world in which groaning factual misstatement is put in the service of hard, dumb, hyper-partisan politics—a world in which average people are misled, dumbed down, played for fools.

Milbank comes from the world of Dowd; her simpering ways were reflected as her acolyte’s barbs were aimed at Lady Arugula’s corpulent critic. Back in the day, Milbank spent his time complaining about the way Al Gore used too many confusing words and phrases in his speeches. (Example: “the marketplace of ideas.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/07.) Yesterday, he burned a column with silly quips about fat people’s figures.

The fatuous were chasing the vile when Lord Dowdinpanz penned his newest column. It made us think of the various things Michael Lind said.

Last week, at Salon, Lind wrote a very worthwhile column. We thought he was making some very good points—but we don’t think he made those points well.

Tomorrow—part 3: The good and the bad which Lind said