The Miller likes false tales: Lets be clear: Laura Miller isnt a political writer. According to her bio at Salon, she is one of the sites co-founders and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review, where she wrote the Last Word column for two years. At Salon, she mainly writes about booksa very good thing to do.
(Admittedly, books can take too long. And they can be hard.)
Miller isnt a political writer. But we were intrigued by her take on the flap about Three Cups of Tea, especially by her attitude about the role played by false tales.
Three Cups of Tea has been a very big book. Its author, Greg Mortenson, has now been charged with lying and misuse of money. According to Miller, It's unfortunate that the Mortenson affair is being presented as a publishing scandal rather than a philanthropic one, because the case against the author (the lying) is less compelling than the case against the nonprofit director (the cheating).
Just to be clear, Mortenson is both the author and the nonprofit director in that construction.
Miller seems to believe that Mortenson has lied and that he has misused money. For ourselves, we express no view on either score. But given the political history of the past twenty years, we were struck by Millers thoughts about Mortensons alleged lying. She doesnt think its that big a deal. In this passage, she starts to explain:
MILLER (4/19/11): The evidence of Mortenson's financial improprieties is solid; just how much he may have lied about the recuperation and kidnapping stories in "Three Cups of Tea" is both murkier and a bit irrelevant. It's worth asking: Would it matter much whether either anecdote were true if Mortenson's charitable work were above reproach and impeccably conducted? Would we even be having this conversation if [Mortensons charity organization] weren't a hot mess?
"Three Cups of Tea" belongs to that category of inspirational nonfiction in which feel-good parables take precedence over strict truthfulness. Its object is to present a reassuring picture of the world as a place where all people are fundamentally the same underneath their cultural differences, where ordinary, well-meaning Americans can "make a difference" in the lives of poor Central Asians and fend off terrorism at the same time. Heartwarming anecdotes come with the territory and as with the happily-ever-after endings of romantic comedies, everyone tacitly agrees not to examine them too closely. "Three Cups of Tea" is a wonderful tool for eliciting donations for the very worthy cause of educating Afghan and Pakistani children, which is its purpose.
To Miller, its largely OK if Mortenson liedif he invented stories which never occurred. Its OK if Mortenson because his lies served a good cause. We find that notion a bit strange on its facepresumably, many political liars think their lies are serving good causesbut we were especially struck by the semi-fatuous nature of Millers rumination. According to Miller, Mortensons alleged lies were intended to present a reassuring picture of the world; they were intended to picture the world as a place where ordinary, well-meaning Americans can make a difference in the lives of poor Central Asians. To Miller, heartwarming anecdotes come with the territory. She seems to applaud the idea that non-fiction writing should ape the happily-ever-after endings of romantic comedies.
Does this picture even make sense on its own terms? In one alleged lie from his second book, Mortenson allegedly concocted a story in which he was kidnapped at gunpoint by the Taliban! In what way could such a heartwarming story further a reassuring picture in which all people are fundamentally the same? Would this story make ordinary Americans want to rush off to help Central Asians? But lets set aside the particulars of these alleged lies. As she continues, Miller enters a rather childish terrain:
MILLER (continuing directly): Comparisons to fabricating memoirists like James Frey are misguided. An artful account of the memoirist's own experiences is all that the memoir has to offer its readers; if it doesn't approximate the truth (at the very least as the author saw it), then it's in bad faith.
But what "Three Cups of Tea" provides is something else, a feeling of comradely motivation and a symbol of plucky American virtue in the person of Greg Mortenson. If he has to massage some facts into a better story in order to create sentimental enthusiasm for his cause, many of his fans are more than willing to give him that. Pointing out that a couple of these stories aren't true strikes them as self-serving nitpicking and pettifoggery that, above all, misses the big picture. "Greg is a man who has done more good for more people than anyone else I know," read one comment posted to an interview with Mortenson about the controversy at OutsideOnline. "Yes, he's fallible. But the work that CAI is doing literally transforms lives."
That strikes us as strikingly fatuous. But heres the larger problem:
Unfortunately, our national discourse has been driven by invented stories over the past twenty years. Some of these stories were invented to advance the greatness of certain pols (John McCain). Some of these stories were invented to demonize certain others (Bill Clinton, Al Gore). Many of these invented stories were constructed to feature symbols of plucky American virtue, thereby advancing good causes.
Do you like symbols of plucky? Various crackpot Clinton-accusers were endlessly hailed for their plucky virtues on endless cable programs. And lets be frank: If these crackpots and their various handlers had to massage some facts into a better story in order to create sentimental enthusiasm for his cause, many of their fans were more than willing to give them that! Example: Chris Matthews was more than willing to ignore the massaged facts of Kathleen Willey and Gennifer Flowers. After all, his darlings were loaded with plucky virtue! Their massaged facts created great stories! This created sentimental enthusiasm for their cause!
Good God. Our nation had been turned upside down by several decades of false tales. And yet, at the top of the liberal heap, we keep saying this: Bring them on! By the way: If Mortenson can make up stories to serve his good cause, doesnt everyone have to make up stories? Its a bit like steroid use: How can other good causes compete if they dont invent wild tales?
Basically, Miller likes these false stories, since they serve a very good cause. But how are they different from Donald Trumps tales if you dont like Barack Obama? How are they different from that Love Story talethe tale Dowd and Rich once dreamed up?
Eventually, is anything true? To answer that, just look around.
People have always loved stories. For example, Jesus explained things through stories; in the entire New Testament, you wont find a single graph. At bedtime, children say, Tell me a story. We doubt any parent has ever said this: Go brush your teeth and get into bed. Ill come and tell you some facts.
Several hundred years ago, Europeans announced a new age of reason. Truthfully, the basic concept pretty much never took hold.
RUN, TRUMP, RUN (permalink): Did you think you lived in rational, post-Enlightenment world?
Last night, Chris Matthews gave you a chance to rethink that idea. At the end of Hardball, he urged Donald Trump to stage a full run for the White House. He did this despite the weeks of ridicule he has dumped on Trumps head.
Why in the world would Matthews do that? Late in the hour, he teased his closing segment:
MATTHEWS (4/19/11): When we return, "Let Me Finish" with a challenge for Donald Trump. I think he set his own challenge. It`s fascinating the future he now faces politically. You are watching Hardball, only on MSNBC.
The Christopher was going to challenge The Donald! And sure enough! As he closed his program, the challenge was clear. Run, Trump, Run, he said:
MATTHEWS: So, whats it going to be? Will Trump risk the rough stuff or pull out before it gets serious? Whats he got in mind here?
Well, I dont know the answer. I dont know if Trump does.
What I know is hes taken this campaign of his to a new level. I dont like what he said about the president. Ive made that clear enough here and will keep on doing it. Our best investigative reporter has checked out the birth information. Its therethe original certificate, right where its supposed to be, in the state files in Honolulu.
But Trumps obviously taking this to a higher level. Hes proven the established Republican Party is no match for himat least in the short run.
So, whats he going to do with his early win? Is he going to invest what hes won and go for it, or walk away from the table?
Obviously, Im challenging him here. I think he would shake up an otherwise desultory Republican fight. I think theres something missing in the Republican field right now. Trump may have the historic role of simply proving it.
I think the Republicans may be on the verge of reliving that exciting convention they had in Philadelphia in the months right before World War II. They may well be on the verge of ignoring the usual set of candidates and picking someone they think actually could win. Then it was Wendell Willkie in 1940. He won the Republican nomination and ended up giving Franklin Roosevelt a great fight.
Next summer, it could belets be honestat this point, just about anyone. So, who is going to be the surprise presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 2012? Ask yourself: Is this a show Donald Trump would want to miss?
Thats Hardball for now. Thanks for being with us.
Lets be honest, Matthews said at one pointand its one of his rarest suggestions. But rather plainly, Matthews has now urged Donald Trump to stage a full run for the White House.
Astonishing, isnt it? Trump is a full-blown, balls-out buffoonthe rather obvious heir to Mark Twains touring tragedians. In just the past month, he has spread the ugliest kinds of garbage around the political world. Presumably, he has lied through his teeth in the process. He has made an utter fool of himself when asked to discuss real issues. (New example below.)
But so what? Yesterday morning, David Brooks gazed to the ledge. He said he wouldnt want to live in a country which didnt have people like Trump around. And twelve hours later, our biggest cable news buffoon took a similar route:
Run, Donald, Run, Matthews said.
In a rational world, last nights challenge couldnt have happened. Lets get clear why not:
First, you have Trumps massive buffoonism concerning public policy matters. Last night, Matthews devoted his lengthy opening segment to Trumps latest attempt to answer policy questions. Chris asked his long-time enabler, Joan Walsh, to help him batter The Donald.
Given videotape like this, the assignment wasnt real hard. Trump had spoken with NBCs Savannah Guthrie that morning. Gaze on the latest work of a flat balls-out buffoon:
GUTHRIE (4/19/11): Is there a right to privacy in the Constitution?
TRUMP: I guess there is. I guess there is.
GUTHRIE: So how does that
TRUMP: I mean, my Just out of curiosity, why do you ask that question?
GUTHRIE: Well, Im just wondering how that squares with your pro-life views.
TRUMP: Well, its a pretty strange way of getting to pro-life. I mean, its a very unique way of asking about pro-life. Why are you What does that have to do with privacy? How are you, how are you equating pro-life with privacy?
GUTHRIE: Well, you know about the Roe v. Wade decision.
TRUMP: Yes. Right. Sure.
To Trump, this was a very unique way of asking about abortion rights. Does Donald Trump know about Roe. v. Wade? As the great man put it himself: Yeah. Right. Sure.
Just a guess: Most Americans wouldnt know how the right to privacy connects to questions about abortion. But most Americans arent running for president. This big circus clown is.
At any rate, Matthews spent his entire first segment ridiculing Trumps policy ignorance and his ridiculous flip-flops. Then too, Matthews has spent the past many nights battering Trump for his birther campaign; just last night, he spent parts of three separate segments on this topic. Chris has never done a good enough job with this topic. But in recent weeks, he has been building his program around the foolishness of Trumps birtherism.
But so what? At the end of last nights show, Matthews urged Trump to stage a full run for the White House! The best he could manage about Trumps ugly lying was this (see above): I dont like what he said about the president. Ive made that clear enough here and will keep on doing it.
Why would Matthews urge The Donald to run? Hints of the answer ran all through last nights Hardball. But in the next hour, on the Cenk Uygur show, the answer came through loud and clear.
Uygur, who isnt like Matthews, opened his show with Trumps birtherism, just as Matthews had done. Eventually, Pat Buchanan drew the curtain back:
UYGUR (4/19/11): Pat, you are falling into the same trap. I mean, you are talking about, Is it a birth certificate, or a certificate of birth, when you know he was born in Honolulu. Everybody sane knows he was born in Honolulu. So why are you wasting your time on it and possibly costing yourself a general election?
BUCHANAN: Im wasting my time because you invited me on here to talk about the birther issue.
UYGUR: Thats what Im asking you, Pat! Is it a terrible idea for the Republicans to go down this road?
BUCHANAN: Hold it! Well, for heavens sakes, Republicans can take care of themselves.
But look, you know, let me just say Look, Cenk, the issue of the birthers Ive never raised it, I have never written a column on it, but I have been invited here hundreds of times to talk about the issue.
Now look. First, youve got the birthers who love the issue. Then youve got MSNBC loves the issue. And The Donald loves the issue. And everybody seems to be having a nice time.
During the full discussion, Bill Press misstated the facts on the long form matter, then blamed the explosion of this topic on Trump and other Republicans. But Buchanan seemed to draw back the curtain a tad. MSNBC loves the issue, he said. And everybody seems to be having a nice time.
According to Buchanan, he has never raised the issuebut the corporate channel keeps asking him to discuss it. Meanwhile, is it true? Is everyone having a nice time discussing Trumps birther bile? Youll note the Laughter that broke out when Buchanan made his first observation. And to our ears, a lot of pickin and grinnin occurred on Monday nights Hardball, when two of Matthews very best boys helped him discuss the topic.
Theres nothing wrong with discussing this topic; in fact, we think its important. But why on earth did Matthews challenge Trump to run for the White House? Just a guess, but its an obvious guess: Trumpism is good for businessand its easy to discuss. Because Trump is such a massive buffoon, he lets Matthews stage the brainless discussions he has always revered.
During Campaign 2000, Matthews invented a big buffoon, presumably at the direction of his owner, Jack Welch. That big buffoon was Candidate Gore, who didnt know who he is and had hired a woman to help him be a man. That big buffoon didnt have his gender straight; he was this protean new person, this new todays man-woman, whatever the hell he's trying to become. For the alleged buffoon named Candidate Gore, Naomi Wolf was the political equivalent of viagra; Gore was wearing three-button suits as some sort of sexual signal to women. Gore was Bill Clintons bathtub ring, as Matthews said on at least forty Hardball programs. Candidate Gore would lick the bathroom floor to be president.
Matthews kept that up for two years. Joan Walsh, David Corn and Josh Marshall kept their traps shut tight as the jihad rolled on. During that two-year period, Matthews was also trashing Candidate Hillary Clinton in the vilest possible ways. At one point, he gave Gennifer Flowers a full half hour to discuss the Clintons murders.
Joan, Josh and David kept still.
In short, Matthews very much enjoys discussing buffoonish characters. They make his program stupid and easy; he can conduct the same discussions night after night after night. Starting in March 1999, he invented a major buffoon; now, he has one ready-made. And the other candidates are so boring! Here was this leading cultural criminal baring his soul last night:
MATTHEWS: Chris Cillizza, youre a numbers guy as well. Im just trying to figure here. Romney, I dontI think he is, like they said of Mondale years ago, they called him polenta, a boring Italian food.
I mean, Im serious. I think the whole excitement about Mr. Trump, and I know it could be quicksilver, I dont know, but it seems to be really a statement of these other guys bore them out of their trees. And they cant stand the idea of what theyre facing running up against an exciting candidate like Obama who is quick on his feet, whos very good in the news cycle, to put these stiffs up against him. And theyre saying weve got to at least try this guy, Trump, because maybe somebody else will come out of the woodwork if we talk Trump for three weeks.
Howard, we still live in a world wherecan we have a Wendell Willkie? Can weIm going to talk about it in the end of the show tonight. Is the Republican Party still wide open enough, at least in its heart, and hoping they can run a really good candidate against the president, who they really want to run against? Will they possibly break loose and go for a Christie or if not for Trump, somebody out besides these boring guys that they know have been running all their lives?
The other hopefuls are just so boring! Matthews pretended that he was discussing the thinking of major Republicans. But if youve watched our cable journalism down through the years, it would be hard to avoid the thought that he was discussing his own preference.
Almost surely, Matthews wants to talk about Trump because the regular candidates are too boring! (Even Palin has fizzled.) Simply put, big buffoons love other big buffoons; they enjoy discussing such people, and Trump is probably quite good for ratings. And so, we reached that puzzling moment, when Chris Matthews bared his own soul:
Run, Donald, Run, Matthews imploredhaving spent the past several weeks calling Trump a buffoon.
Do you live in a rational world? In just one day, David Brooks said he couldnt stand life itself if people like Trump werent around. Later, Matthews trashed Trump for the full hour, then implored him to run! In a rational world, these things couldnt happen but you live in a different place. Mark Twain drew a comical portrait of your world a great many years ago.
Tomorrow, well speak a bit more about the way Matthews has been discussing Trumpism. But for today, lets get clear on one point:
Over the past dozen years, no one has done more harm to progressive interests than Matthews has done. Joan Walsh, David Corn and Josh Marshall have enabled this buffoon every step of the way.
Heres how he closed that segment: Why does Matthews want Trump to run? This is the way he closed his segment with the twins Fineman/Cillizza:
MATTHEWS: You and I, us three guys could talk all night about this. Next to the cracker barrel, I mean it.
Chris Cillizza, thank you. Howard Fineman, thats why I like you both.
Its easy to talk about Donald Trump! Chris could keep it up all night! Just as it was easy and fun to talk about the bathtub ringto talk about todays man-woman, the invented buffoon who would lick the floor, who didnt know who he was.