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MILLER RATS ON THE GUILD! Why did Zeleny fawn to Paul Ryan? Matt Miller doesn’t quite say: // link // print // previous // next //

A newspaper falls from the sky: Yesterday morning, the Washington Post ran this news report at the top of its front page. The report, by Ashley Halsey III, concerned an airplane incident involving the first lady.

Was Michelle Obama ever in danger? Below, you see the news report’s first three paragraphs. According to the Post, Michelle Obama’s plane “came dangerously close” to a cargo jet, although it was “never in danger.”

Remember, this appeared right at the top of the Washington Post’s front page:

HALSEY (4/20/11): A White House plane carrying Michelle Obama came dangerously close to a 200-ton military cargo jet and had to abort its landing at Andrews Air Force Base on Monday as the result of an air traffic controller's mistake, according to federal officials familiar with the incident.

Ultimately, controllers at Andrews feared that the cargo jet was not moving quickly enough to clear the runway in time for the White House plane to land, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak for their agencies.

Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed Tuesday that the first lady was aboard the plane and said that "the aircraft were never in any danger."

We know, we know—we all make mistakes. Having said that, what’s your point?

O’Donnell knows all about race: It was pretty much “all Trump all the time” on last evening’s Hardball. As we told you yesterday, the program’s host likes it dumb—and he likes it very repetitive. Here’s how the birthkrieg started:

MATTHEWS (4/20/11): Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews, down in Washington.

Leading off tonight: Birther control. The Republicans are now divided into three groups, really. First come the birthers: Count Sarah Palin and of course count Donald Trump, lots of Tea Partiers and a growing number of Fox News hosts as part of that jamboree.

Then there’s the "have it both ways" crowd—Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal—where their stand depends on who they’re with at the time. And finally, there are the serious Republicans who don’t feel like a nut and worry that birtherism will take the whole party down.

Birther madness, our top story tonight.

As he closed his first segment, he teased the next: “Coming up: Let’s shine the klieg lights on the number one birther, Donald Trump…This guy is the Pied Piper, well, of the loony bunch.”

Chris has always liked it dumb, and it doesn’t exactly have to be accurate. Chris will ride this hobby-horse right to the end—and no, his work won’t be edifying.

In truth, the rise of birtherism gives us a chance to contemplate a very important, remarkable problem in our political culture. Here it is: In our current tribalized state, we the people will believe any fool thing about The Other Side. As Digby noted yesterday, we believed that Bill Clinton was a drug-runner—and we believed all that Whitewater crap. We believed that he and his wife were killers. (Jerry Falwell said so! And Matthews gave the ludicrous Gennifer Flowers a half hour to pimp this around.) We believed Gore was a delusional liar—that he was “today’s man-woman,” that he didn’t know who he was. After that, we believed the Swift Boat crap about Candidate Kerry.

Now, we the people are birthers. We believe that damn-foolishness too.

The birther episode has been quite edifying. As recently as a few years ago, we wouldn’t have believed that you could get so many people to believe so many ludicrous things. This is a terrible problem for our political culture, of course. And of course, Chris Matthews was working the other side of the room in the Clinton/Gore years. No one worked harder to help us believe all that damn-fool crap about them.

In those days, Chris was kissing the ring of Jack Welch, the man who made him quite rich.

Then too, there’s Lawrence O’Donnell. How many unfortunate things will we the people believe? Last night, O’Donnell also devoted several segments to Trump—and he dropped the race card around the whole thing. O’Donnell said he believes this:

O’DONNELL (4/21/11): [Trump’s] fake campaign will be over by May 16th, when NBC announces Trump’s position in next season’s prime time schedule.

In the meantime, he will continue, knowingly or not, to fan the flames of hatred in this country, hatred of an imagined foreign born president, a hatred that is born by many who simply hate that we have our first African-American president.

There is something very ugly in what Donald Trump is doing. And it is built on a base of racism and paranoia. I’m not saying Donald Trump is racist or paranoid. He doesn’t have to be to do the damage he is now doing to this country.

He just has to be vulgar enough to keep barking out the lies that the racist paranoid Obama-haters want to hear. And in doing that for them on major network television talk shows, he legitimizes their feelings, their hatreds, their racism.

The millions out there who seethe with the madness that Donald Trump stokes watch him and say, “Hey, it’s not just me who thinks this; Donald Trump thinks this. And he’s a smarter guy than me, and I know he`s a smarter guy than me, because he says he`s smarter than me. He’s made a lot more money than me. And that proves he’s smarter than me.”

Those people who agree with what Trump is saying about the president’s birth aren’t going to be bothered by his grammatical mistakes. There are just going to feel validated in every bit of the hatred they feel for Barack Obama.

There are viewers of this program that wish I would never mention the name Donald Trump. They’ve had enough. So have I. I wish May 16th was coming tomorrow. But as long as Trump continues to try to influence our thinking about American politics and the presidency, I believe his lies must be fought.

Because Trump’s position in our culture now is sadly no longer simply a television entertainer who lies about nothing more important than how much money he has. When Donald Trump said, quote, "I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks," end quote, a black friend of mine e-mailed me saying, "One clue that you might not have a great relationship with the blacks is that you call them the blacks."

No, Trump is not just an entertainer any more. He is now a very dangerous man who must be stopped from doing the damage to this country he may or may not know that he’s doing. Donald Trump has become America`s front man for the legitimizing of hatred and racism.

Trump may be our biggest fool. But O’Donnell isn’t far behind.

In our book, O’Donnell has been a fool for a very long time now. In Campaign 2000, he too was pimping the lies about Gore; he kept it up right through October 2000, reciting howlers about Big Liar Gore from the McLaughlin’s Group’s “liberal” chair. In short, Matthews and O’Donnell once promoted the types of lies that have them so upset today. They have been paid to repurpose themselves—or maybe they’re just stupid.

Note the way O’Donnell played race and class cards in last night’s speech.

To O’Donnell, when people believe the birther nonsense, that seems to mean they’re racist. He forgets that they also believed all the crap about Clinton, Kerry and Gore. He even forgets that he himself believed that crap—or at least, that he pretended.

The history of the past twenty years shows that people will believe any fool thing, as long as it serves their tribal view. As one example, O’Donnell thrills us liberals with the race card—and we can’t wait to believe it.

Please note the way these boys play. O’Donnell gives a pass to Trump on the subject of race, explicitly saying that the great man himself may not be racist. “I’m not saying Donald Trump is racist,” O’Donnell grandly declared; this is the deference millionaires pay to those with even more money. But O’Donnell never grants such deference to the millions of average people who believe the damn-fool things Trump says. Nowhere does O’Donnell have the decency, or the intelligence, to say that many of those gullible people probably aren’t racist either. Were they racist when they believed the stupid crap O’Donnell pimped about Gore?

Do some people believe this shit because hate Obama’s race? Presumably, yes. But it’s very bad politics, and it’s dumb on the merits, to keep insisting that that’s all there is. Our problem is much, much broader than that. O’Donnell, playing us liberals for fools, will never tell us that.

Final point: Did you see Ed Schultz’s special broadcast about race—the show that got buried at noon on a Sunday? Many blacks were offended by that.

Leading white liberals didn’t say squat. Could it be that we’re racist?

Chris kept it up a long time: Yesterday, we reviewed a few of the ways Matthews trashed Candidate Gore during Campaign 2000. (He poured it on for twenty months.) Later, searching something on-line, we stumbled upon a performance he staged a bit later on, in June 2003 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/07).

Hillary Clinton had just published her autobiography, Living History. Charlie Rose invited two hyenas onto his show to laugh and make fun of the book.

By last year, Matthews had been repurposed to such an extent that he was hosting hour-long programs about the Clintons’ manifest greatness. Back then, he was still with the other side. This is the way this very bad person started his session with Charlie:

ROSE (6/9/03): Chris, tell me what you think of the book.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think the book is evidence of why the police always want to interview the suspects as quickly as possible. You don’t want to leave them a lot of time to rehearse their answers and in this case, you’re dealing with the Menendez Brothers of American politics, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and although each is in separate cells, politically speaking, they do communicate, obviously.

Matthews pimped that sort of thing for years, thus sending George Bush to the White House.

Rose chuckled as his guest compared the former first lady to a police suspect. He laughed hard as Matthews went on to compared the Clintons to a pair of famous murderers. But then, this had been Matthews’ stock in trade for many years.

Is anyone dumber than we liberals are? To let a man like this switch sides and lecture us about the birthers—about the same people he fooled all those years? Is anyone dumber than we liberals are? Anyone found on the earth?

Josh and Joan and David play along, as they did during Campaign 2000. Why were they so quiet back then? Were they just being too tolerant?

MILLER RATS ON THE GUILD (permalink): On-line at the Washington Post, Matt Miller presents a truly superlative column concerning Republican opposition to raising the federal debt limit.

Miller recalls the famous scene from The Shining where we learn that the Jack Nicholson character is stark raving mad. Instead of writing an actual novel, he has been typing a single phrase over and over again. According to Miller, the GOP stance on raising the debt limit has left him equally crazed:

MILLER (4/20/11): Well, debt limit mania has driven me to a similar frenzied state. If my wife came across my manuscript it would read, “The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit. The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit.”

I thought about making this week’s column that one sentence printed over and over 30 times. It would have been the opinion page equivalent of a Dada-esque protest against the inanity of the debate—and a cry for every news outlet to focus on this simple, clarifying fact.

Miller nails this “inanity” very well. Under terms of the Ryan plan, debt will continue to rise for decades. For good or for ill, Ryan’s plan would require raising the limit again and again. And yet the GOP, from its leaders on down, rails against the very idea of raising the debt limit next month. “The Democrats’ plans are no better on the debt,” Miller writes. “But at least Democrats aren’t rattling markets by hypocritically holding the debt limit hostage while planning to add trillions in fresh debt themselves.”

Miller presents a clear exposition of the current foolishness. We think his column is truly superb—until he offers the following passage, in which he covers for the guild.

The GOP is behaving like fools. But uh-oh! Miller says he can’t understand why his press corps colleagues won’t say so! Except, as his excellent column continues, it’s fairly clear that he does understand. He understands very well:

MILLER: But there’s more to say. For the life of me I don’t understand why the press doesn’t shove this fact in front of every Republican who says the debt limit cannot be raised unless serious new spending cuts are put in place. The supposedly “courageous,” “visionary” Paul Ryan plan—which already contains everything Republicans can think of in terms of these spending cuts—would add more debt than we’ve ever seen over a 10-year period in American history. Yet Ryan and other House GOP leaders continue to make outrageous statements to the contrary.


It’s amazing how some memes, once established as conventional wisdom, are almost impossible to dislodge, however at odds they are with the facts. Griping about this to a Prominent Media Figure the other day, I suggested that maybe if I set myself on fire in Times Square while spouting the truth about Republican debt, the truth would break through.

“Maybe,” he said. “But then you’d be seen as the radical.”

Early in his column, Miller says he doesn’t understand why the press corps won’t criticize Republicans on this point. He doesn’t understand why they present Ryan as “courageous,” as “visionary.” And then, a mere six paragraphs later, Miller shows that he does understand! He says there’s a “meme,” a hunk of “conventional wisdom,” driving the press corps’ conduct. Miller doesn’t explain just what this “meme” is, nor does he explain how it got “established” as conventional wisdom. But presumably, he is referring to the Standard Press Novel in which Republican budget cutters like Ryan are inevitably said to be “courageous,” “bold” and “honest”—in which their contradictions and errors, no matter how severe, end up on the cutting-room floor.

These “memes” have been ruling much of our “journalism” for a good many years. To see this Standard Press Novel at work, just read through Jeff Zeleny’s “Political Memo” in today’s New York Times.

In this morning’s Political Memo, Zeleny goes on the road with the true honest Ryan—and the piece he creates is pure hackwork. Zeleny tramps though Wisconsin with modest pure Ryan, watching as constituents shower praise on his humble bowed head. (As the “memo” begins, one constituent begs Ryan to run for the White House. Modestly, Ryan blushes.) As he proceeds, Zeleny describes Ryan “draw[ing] applause when he explains that Medicare would not immediately end for older citizens;” he says the solon “received far more praise than grief” at his various town meetings. (Zeleny doesn’t mention the way Ryan was hooted down at one such meeting, though video of the incident has been all over the web.)

But the most remarkable fawning concerns the way the scribe adopts Ryan’s perspective about Obama’s impolite conduct. Brutish Obama has been very partisan; high-minded Ryan has been very noble. A long-standing “meme” is in effect as Zeleny produces this scutwork:

ZELENY (4/21/11): So far, the dueling arguments [by Obama and Ryan] are playing out on vastly different stages.

“He’s got the bully pulpit,” Mr. Ryan said, walking out of Clinton’s Village Hall on Tuesday afternoon. “But I think he’s bigger than this. I think he’s bigger than this moment, I think he’s bigger than his speech last week. I think he’ll come to realize that—at least that’s my hope.”

When the president delivered his rebuttal to the Republican plan last week in Washington, he invited Mr. Ryan to sit in the front row, where the congressman watched the president sharply criticize his proposal and outline the Democratic position. At the end, Mr. Ryan declared, “What we heard today was a political broadside from our campaigner-in-chief.”

Yet as he traveled this week through his district across southern Wisconsin, which Mr. Obama narrowly won in 2008, Mr. Ryan took a cooler approach and said both sides should try to seek more “mutual respect.”

“I’m trying not to get into some partisan bickering war with the president,” Mr. Ryan told an audience. “I don’t see what purpose it serves to do that.”

So noble! In that passage, Zeleny types the self-pitying tale Republicans have told for a week—a tale in which noble, well-intentioned, well-mannered Ryan was insulted by Obama. It’s public-spirited Ryan’s “hope” that Obama will drop all the partisan broadsides. Meanwhile, Zeleny agrees not to mention the heavy-handed partisan bombast Ryan included in his own budget plan, before Obama’s speech.

On Monday, Kevin Drum went through some of the partisan bombast found in Ryan’s plan, mocking the way poor noble Ryan has complained about Obama’s criticism. (To read Kevin post, click this.) According to the high-minded Ryan, Obama proposed a reckless spending spree in his previous budget plan. Earlier, Obama exploited acute economic hardship to enact unprecedented expansions of government power. In the energy sector, Obama has promoted a heavy-handed compliance culture, brimming with regulations and reckless spending. He has placed burdensome and ineffective regulations on businesses in the service of dubious goals. He has insisted on spending money the government does not have, committing this nation to a crushing burden of debt.

Goodness! As Kevin notes, there’s nothing “wrong” with such tough talk. (Though Ryan’s budget plan also “commits this nation to a [large] burden of debt.”) But there is something wrong when a prissy little nut-cake turns around and boo-hoo-hoos about the way that Very Bad Man made bad complaints about him. And there’s something very wrong when “journalists” won’t report that Ryan has done this, even as they quote him saying that we should avoid such terrible partisan bombast.

By normal standards, a journalist should note this contradiction. Zeleny, typing from deep in a bag, simply recites noble Ryan’s complaints. He fails to let readers enjoy the high comedy of Ryan’s rather plain double standard.

Alas! Zeleny’s working from a “meme,” from a bit of conventional wisdom. Beyond that, it’s just as Miller says: Once they’re established, such memes are almost impossible to dislodge, however at odds they are with the facts. Zeleny’s Ryan-friendly piece recalls the “Political Memos” of Elisabeth Bumiller during the 2004 campaign—“political memos” in which Bumiller would fawn to Candidate Bush’s winning personality and noble intentions.

These memes have been widespread for a long time. They have driven the portraits of an array of straight-talking, plain-spoken, well-intentioned Republicans—solons who stood in opposition to a long string of Democratic dissemblers. Although he says much more about this practice than his colleagues ever will, Miller surely knows much more about this than he is willing to say.

Miller goes much farther in his column than his colleagues tend to do. These “memes” have been driving our journalism for the past several decades; everyone in the press corps knows it. But E. J. Dionne has never been willing to tattle; for the most part, neither has anyone else. The guild doesn’t talk about the guild. People! It just isn’t done!

Why did Zeleny fawn to Ryan? I don’t understand it, Miller says.

Sorry—we don’t believe that. But the guild doesn’t rat on the guild.