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Daily Howler: Digby saw two CNN stars display Millionaire Pundit Values
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WHAT DIGBY SAW! Digby saw two CNN stars display Millionaire Pundit Values: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8, 2009

The possible future of snide: In a recent column, Michael Kinsley imagined the possible future of news reporting. “Maybe the newspaper of the future will be more or less like the one of the past, only not on paper,” he wrote in the Post. “More likely it will be something more casual in tone, more opinionated.” Soon, the gentleman asked a good question: “Will you be able to get your news straight and not in an ideological fog?”

More casual in tone, more opinionated? We thought of this piece when we read today’s Post—more specifically, when we read the Post’s sports section.

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals played their second game of the season. Chico Harlan’s report on the game tops the first page of this morning’s sports section. And good God! What follows is the start of a very peculiar “news report:”

HARLAN (4/8/09): The Washington Nationals might not be this bad. Give them some time—maybe another day or two, maybe another series—and surely they will demonstrate the ability to fall behind by only a few runs, rather than a half-dozen. And maybe their starting pitchers can last four or five innings, rather than three. Surely sometime soon their steady third baseman will be throwing balls to the first baseman's chest, not his cleats, and right-hander Julián Tavárez—the sort of relief-pitching blanket you only throw atop a raging fire—won't be making his cameo before the stadium entrance lines clear.

Give the Nationals enough time, and they will return to the mean; debate all you want if that good fortune will also help them win with any regularity. After losing Tuesday night to the Marlins, 8-3, the 2009 Nationals have proven only an ability to turn an ugly season opener into an even uglier season-opening series. In front of 11,124 at Dolphin Stadium, the Nationals trailed 8-0 by the third inning. Starter Scott Olsen was bad against the middle of Florida's order and just as bad against its bottom. By the middle of the third inning, the Marlins (2-0)—already with two home runs this game, four the day prior—were on pace for more than 800 homers for the season.

At least Florida's Emilio Bonifacio didn't hit an inside-the-park home run [as he did in the previous game]. This time, he stopped at third.

Snaarrrk! The Nats have lost their first two games. But Chico Harlan is taking it hard—and giving us a worrying look at the possible future of snide.

Kinsley pretty much called his shot with regard to Harlan’s exertions. But we’ll be honest: We mainly thought of Rachel Maddow when we read his column on Monday. And good news! Maddow did a string of excellent segments on her eponymous program last night. Her program was extremely informative. For the most part, the host played things straight.

For ourselves, we still don’t like Maddow’s jokey, I’m-your-best-friend, grin-heavy style—although she’s exceptionally good at it. Because we assume that she will be very important, we think one comment she made last night does deserve preservation—and we’ll preserve it below. But Maddow presented a string of informative segments last night—with Paul Krugman about the economy; with Mark Danner about accountability for torture; with Chuck Schumer about a range of topics, including the vastly under-reported nature of the legislative procedure known as “reconciliation.” (Her session with Hilda Solis was a bit frustrating, mainly due to Solis’ failure to answer most questions she was asked.) Personally, we still don’t like Maddow’s joke-heavy style. But the mugging and clowning of recent weeks was largely missing from last evening’s program. Nor was Ana Marie Cox called in to pretend to discuss US politics.

Last week, we said we wouldn’t mind Maddow’s clowning so much, if the reporting and analysis were strong. Last night, the reporting and analysis were just that. And this is a very important matter: Given the way the rest of the media work, it’s very important for progressive journalists to develop a content-rich culture.

That said, Maddow said one thing we thought deserved preservation, if only because we find it odd. She was introducing a light segment—a bit of comic relief—about that old favorite, computer porn:

MADDOW (4/7/09): Now, a follow-up on a story that we covered when it first broke, because I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old and I think scientists watching dirty stuff on the inner tubes is hilarious. The story’s about scientists at the National Science Foundation—an independent U.S. government agency responsibility for reporting science and engineering.

We were intrigued by the highlighted comment, in part because it recalled the way Maddow balked when David Frum assumed she’d prefer a more “grown-up” discourse.

In our view, Maddow’s style is remarkably heavy on hidden self-congratulation. (Sorry—her “styley,” to use last night’s lingo.) This particular statement struck us as another example. But mainly, we were struck by the comment because we’ve puzzled, for several decades, about the ongoing juvenilization of humor, a pattern which has been apparent among the kids. (Think Adam Sandler. Then keep thinking.) Maddow is going to be very important. In particular, she’ll be very important discussing the news which affects the world’s people. And this is a serious matter.

This morning, Chico Harlan gave us a look at a possible (dystopic) future of snide. Maddow was recently drifting that way. She clowned and mugged and joked and snarked; she even took her cues from “mainstream” clowns like Al Kamen. Last night, she did a very strong program. Our question: Except among people who really are twelve, what’s so great about having the sense of humor traditionally displayed by that class?

One last point: When we endorse the virtue of 12-year-old humor, it’s a fairly straight shot to a world in which 50-year-old men are mocking young women on national TV every night.

At this point, it’s fairly clear that the “progressive” world has no sexual politics whatsoever. But Maddow presented an outstanding program last night. We hope our evolving culture of news will allow for many more like it, by various broadcasters. Given the way the rest of the media work, it’s very important for progressive journalists to develop a serious, content-rich culture. Yes, there’s always a place for jokes. But the jokes have to take second place.

Final thought: Could someone please “talk down” Chico Harlan? Today, he suggests a future of snide from which we will need release.

WHAT DIGBY SAW: We don’t always react to events the same way Digby does, but her sensibility is the one we most value on the web. (Along with those of Foser and Boehlert, of course.) We’re thankful she was watching CNN last Sunday when the press corps’ famous “Millionaire Pundit Values” were taken out for a good solid run.

Digby stumbled upon a discussion between two broadcasters (Ali Velshi/Thelma Gutierrez) on CNN’s Your Money show. If the subject involved here weren’t so unfortunate, their conversation would qualify as one of the all-time examples of unintentional press corps self-parody.

(For Digby’s first post on this subject, click here. For her second post, just click this. The tape of this segment can be seen at that second post—thanks to Crooks and Liars.)

The subject of this remarkable conversation actually was quite unfortunate. You see, CNN’s tyros were discussing Mildred Copeland, a California woman who’s waiting tables to get by—despite being 84 years old. You’d think that situation would melt the heart of almost any observer. But Velshi and Gutierrez were mainly struck by how lucky Copeland is—much more lucky than people like them, people stuck with gigantic mortgages.

You’d think that no one could be this tone-deaf. (Did we mention the effects of Millionaire Pundit Values?) Skillfully, Velshi and Gutierrez discerned the real meaning of Copeland’s situation:

VELSHI (4/5/09): That woman who you had in your story, the woman who had been [sic] a waitress; I almost wonder whether people who live close to the edge, but don't carry a lot of debt, are not as affected by this recession. They've sort of been living in that state for a while. There's not a lot of room that they've had to fall.

GUTIERREZ: Ali, you're absolutely right. I think that's the lesson here. You look at somebody like Mildred, she's 84-years-old. She's still waiting tables, but she's doing it to supplement her Social Security income. The most important thing here is that she has no mortgage. She doesn't have the monkey on her back that we all have.

VELSHI: Right.

GUTIERREZ: And so she doesn't have to worry. She feels like she'll be able to move through this crisis because she lives simply. She was able to pay off her house. And she doesn't have the big worry that so many people out there have, which is mortgage.

Because Copeland had been “living close to the edge a long while,” it wasn’t as bad for her, Velshi mused. And Gutierrez could see how right that was! The most important thing? It wasn’t the fact that Copeland has to do tiring work at age 84. The most important thing was the fact that Copeland has no mortgage payments! She doesn’t have a monkey on her back, the way CNN’s working stiffs do.

Could anybody top that for sheer nonsense? In a word, yes. These two did:

VELSHI (continuing directly): We hear a lot of people telling us about their grandparents, who experienced the recession or the Depression, and how they learned the value of a dollar. That might be the silver lining to this thing, that we're going to have a new generation of people who understand how to stretch their money, how to stay clear of as much debt as we've gotten ourselves into.

GUTIERREZ: Absolutely. And I think that's Mildred's point. She says you have to learn from this crisis. You have to take it into the future and learn to live within your means and make sure that you pay off that house, that you buy a house you can afford. She says that's really the way that she's able to sleep at night.

VELSHI: Thelma, you have a great way of taking these very, very complicated stories and finding people who can tell them for our audience.

Note to Gutierrez: It’s possible Copeland is “able to sleep at night” because she’s extremely tired.

We’re sure that Velshi and Gutierrez are perfectly decent people. But those Millionaire Pundit Values can really be silent killers. Could we make a suggestion for Velshi and Gutierrez? Stop referring to your deep elders as “Mildred.” Maybe then you’ll develop the sense it takes to sympathize with them a bit more.

Final point: Some of you are asking an excellent question. What on earth did Olbermann say when he honored Velshi and Gutierrez as “worst persons in the world?”

Rubes! When will you learn the rules of this game? Of course he didn’t honor these two. That segment is used to run us rubes! Ridiculous as these statements were, these statements weren’t rendered on Fox!

Howler history—observing those values: If we recall correctly, our understanding of Millionaire Pundit Values began to come into focus in October 1999, after the first Gore-Bradley debate. The solons had staged a very intelligent session—so much so that conservative Kate O’Beirne praised them for same on Capital Gang. (“Both were completely conversant on the issues, impressively so. Both sort of have a rationale for their presidency. I disagree with it, but they both have one,” O’Beirne gracefully said.)

In particular, the pair had discussed the future of health care. But millionaire pundits already have health care, as became quite apparent in their crackpot reactions to this debate. They were deeply troubled by Gore’s funny clothes; several complained when he dared to ask a young woman about her sick child. “It is hard to imagine that [Gore] thought to ingratiate himself with the nation's earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station,” the late Mary MrGrory snarked in the Post, in a truly disgraceful column. McGrory was a “liberal,” of course. In two separate columns about this debate, she made no attempt to discuss what had been said about health care. Each time, she snarked at Gore’s clothes. (In her second column, she snarked about “his distracting new suit, a three-button brown affair that caused much nostalgia for navy-blue serge.” Gore’s suit had three buttons, she said.)

They simply don’t care—and they don’t plan to start. Large salaries will do that to many people, even those who are perfectly decent. It’s why you should be keep watch on those to whom such swag gets paid.