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FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2007

SHORTER BRIAN WILLIAMS: Now that we’ve spent fifteen minutes on Iraq, let’s finally move ahead to the bull-sh*t.

Guess what, readers? Brian Williams—paid millions of dollars a year—is troubled by John Edwards’ haircut!

Just thank God Al Gore wasn’t there or it would have been those damn polo shirts! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/02, to see how much clowning some guys will perform to prove they deserve to be anchors.

SCRIPT NEVER SLEEPS: Recalling the slogan from John McCain’s bus, some editor managed to conjure this headline:
WASHINGTON POST HEADLINE (4/27/07): Straight Talking Again
Omigod! Go ahead—laugh out loud! This sits atop David Broder’s new column; in it, Broder praises McCain for the new approach he thought he discerned in the solon’s announcement this week. In fact, that headline doesn’t quite capture the column; “Maverick Again” might be somewhat better. But Broder does end up saying this about our greatest known saint:
BRODER (4/27/07): That statement by itself will not appease those who think McCain has been wrong in supporting the war and who deplored his quick embrace of Bush after their bitter struggle for the 2000 nomination. The picture of McCain urging Bush's election at the Republican National Convention and at dozens of other rallies will not be easily erased.
But for John McCain, there must be at least some relief now in being able to speak his own mind—whatever the consequences. Candor, even belatedly, becomes him.
With this gang, truly, Script Never Sleeps. Does anyone else get credit for “candor”—for “straight talk”—if he’s judged to be candid on rare occasions? If he’s judged to be engaging in candor for political reasons—the judgment Broder makes in this column? (With anyone else, do we imply that something has kept him from “being able to speak his own mind?”) In Campaign 2000, when this script was invented, Broder and his dull-normal colleagues tortured logic and invented fake facts to prove that Candidate Gore was a liar. Simultaneously, they tortured logic and ignored endless facts to create this silly script about John.

But among this cohort, Script Never Sleeps! It lives for re-use on every occasion. Even now, they torture Gore’s world-acclaimed work on warming, imagining signs of exaggeration. (Links below.) But then, they’re slaves to that other script too. When McCain belatedly says what he allegedly thinks, “Straight Talking” hits the headlines again! Once again, the man’s driven by candor.

But as today, so it was back then. In April 2000, after McCain was defeated, he told the press corps that he had lied. He had lied when he said he believed that flying the confederate flag in South Carolina was an issue best left to that state. He hadn’t believed that, McCain now declared; in simplest language, he had been lying. So what did our pundit corps do? Of course! They wrote columns praising McCain for telling it straight—about his own admitted lying! When he copped to his month-old lie, that proved it: McCain’s a straight-talker again!

How did our discourse get in the hands of such an amazingly dull-witted group? We’ll guess the story below helps explain it. Sail away with us, one last time, to a certain rose-covered island, where a wealthy corporate owner raised a gang of ambitious, lost boys.

Special report: Gregory’s world!


BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Gregory’s world involves wealth and connection—although the press corps rarely tattles. Be sure to read each installment:
PART 1: At first, we were drawn to Gregory’s world by those Nantucket nuptials. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/24/07.

PART 2: Your press corps loves to talk about swag—except when the swag is its own. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/25/07.

PART 3: Gregory threw a baby shower. But why was Chertoff there? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/26/07.
And now, for our dramatic conclusion, involving the history of the world:

PART 4—A STRANGE REVERSAL: Sometimes, the gods take mercy and write the jokes for us. So it was, we’d say, when they sent Michael Chertoff to that baby shower—the one involving NBC’s David Gregory, a better than average TV broadcaster (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/26/07). Cinematically, does anyone seem more out of place at a baby shower than Chertoff, the hatchet-faced GOP hit-man? Our analysts breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness the baby hadn’t yet been born, they all said. He might have been scared half to death!

But then, the gods must have been joking when they sent Jack Welch’s gang of lost boys to live alongside the swells of Nantucket. It’s one of the funniest press stories we’ve ever seen (which of course explains why it’s never discussed). You have to chuckle a bit at the image, as the analysts perch in their offshore redoubt, bonding with their politically conservative, near-billionaire mentor/owner. And the tightness of the ethnic bond only heightens the humor. How exclusive was the club at Jack Welch’s network in the last years of his reign at GE? By the time of the 2000 Bush-Gore debates—the debates which changed this country’s history—this was the panel his cable channel assembled to comment on all the action:
Brian Williams, moderator (New Jersey)
Chris Matthews (Philadelphia)
Mike Barnicle (Worcester)
Peggy Noonan (New York)
Doris Kearns Goodwin (New York)
All five, East Coast Irish Catholics! And of course, as soon as NBC went off the air, they’d call in Tim Russert (Nantucket) to help them out, making a perfect six-out-of-six! Tom Brokaw, the network’s “diversity hire,” would come along to chaperone briefly and keep matters facially honest.

No, there’s nothing automatically wrong with this arrangement, unless the network’s narrow casting begins to affect its punditry. After all, we grew up East Coast Irish Catholic too. All our aunts are East Coast Irish Catholic; so were our mother and grandmother. But truly, there was something surpassingly strange about this narrow assembly of types—and one TV writer, USA Today’s Peter Johnson, once wrote, rather cryptically, that Russert was said to “share a Catholic bond” with Welch and with NBC president Bob Wright, who also summered on Nantucket. What other “bonds” might have been forming between Welch and his gang—the Lost Boys of the Sconset? We’re not sure, but for the record, this network’s punditry was astoundingly bad in the election which ended up changing world history. A few months ago, we thought of Welch when we stumbled across a new part of this tale.

Go back to that first Bush-Gore debate—the one which Gore had seemed to win until the nation’s pundits got going. Let’s remember what Welch’s pundits said—before their strange reversal.

The debate occurred on Tuesday, October 3, 2000. But uh-oh! As we’ve long described, Welch’s gang behaved badly this evening. Matthews and Williams had savaged Gore throughout the twenty-month White House campaign; Barnicle had been little better, and Noonan—well, you know about that. But uh-oh! Gore beat Bush so blue this night that all the MSNBC pundits declared it! Even Noonan declared how badly Bush did—said how thoroughly he had been waxed. (“Well, Brian, I think Gore dominated from the get-go, to tell you the truth,” Noonan said. “He seemed to be a person of greater sophistication, greater stature, greater subtlety. He was in his zone.”) But then, all the pundits reacted this way. Matthews, on whom we’ll focus today, said that Gore had been “overpowering.” (His nugget: “Al Gore was effective in dominating the format, he dominated the time, and I have to say he dominated the debate.”) Barnicle saw it the same way too. (“One of them was much more dominant than the other—the vice president of the United States.”)

That was what the pundits said on the night of the actual debate.

The next night (Wednesday, October 4), Matthews hotly maintained this view, even as the nation’s pundits insisted that Bush had somehow “exceeded expectations” and therefore had “really won the debate” even though Gore “may have done better on points.” (To see this script recited all over the nation, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/06). On Day 2—on Wednesday, October 4—Matthews not only stuck to his stand, but he did an extremely unusual thing—he savaged his fellow pundits, the ones who were claiming that Bush “really won.” It just isn’t done, but Matthews did it—he said his colleagues were being dishonest. Here was his nugget from Hardball on Day 2 of this story:
MATTHEWS (10/4/00): I couldn’t believe the number of people who chickened out last night. It was clear to me—and I’m no fan of either of these guys entirely, and I can certainly say that about the one who I thought won last night, that’s Al Gore—I thought he cleaned the other guy’s clock, and I said so last night. All four national polls agreed with that…I don’t understand why people are afraid to say so.
A fifth and final national poll would soon make it five out of five. At any rate, Gore “cleaned Bush’s clock,” Matthews said. For reasons he couldn’t understand, other pundits “were afraid to say so.” Welch’s boy was way off-script. And it was now Day 2 of this tale.

(Remarkably, Tucker Carlson and Margaret Carlson expressed the same view on that day’s Inside Politics. “I was there, so I didn’t hear [the commentary] last night,” Margaret Carlson said, “and I was amazed to find out that our colleagues all said that it was a draw.” Tucker Carlson agreed. “There is this sense in which Bush is benefitting from something, and I’m not sure what it is,” he said. “I think a lot of people...believe that, you know, maybe Bush didn’t do as good a job as he might have. And yet, the coverage does not reflect that at all. It’s interesting.” Pundits weren’t saying what they actually thought, Tucker Carlson had said, quite remarkably.)

But readers, Tucker summers in Maine, so let’s get back to Matthews. Three years later, he would buy a $4.4 million home on Nantucket, bringing him closer to Welch, Wright and Russert. But this week, he may as well have been renting at Revere Beach, he was so far off-message. He had trashed Gore mercilessly since March 1999—spewing insults, inventing facts, and generally disgracing his noble profession. But this week, he had clearly strayed. Gore dominated Bush, he announced Tuesday night. And uh-oh! Gore had cleaned Bush’s clock, he once again told us on Wednesday.

But then we reached Day 3—October 5, 2000—and Matthews pulled a sudden reversal. And good lord, what a 180! For starters, the first half-hour of that afternoon’s Hardball was given over to a live interview with Rush Limbaugh, who hadn’t cared for Gore’s performance. And then, at 7, the debate panel gathered, preparing to cover that evening’s Cheney-Lieberman session. And then it happened! As they discussed Tuesday’s Bush-Gore event, the pundits offered a startling new account of what had actually happened.

Let’s consider Matthews and Barnicle. On October 3, both declared that Gore batted Bush all around. On October 4, Matthews said Gore had cleaned Bush’s clock—and he said his fellow pundits were simply refusing to say so. But now, it was Thursday, October 5—and Matthews had a whole new concept. Here it is: Yes, Gore seemed better in real time. But so what—it had been an illusion! As it turned out, Bush comes off better in the TV clips! And that’s what we’re looking at now!

It was a remarkable flip. Barnicle got to introduce it:
BARNICLE (10/5/00): One of the most fascinating things that has been said here this evening was actually said by Rush Limbaugh when he noted, accurately, that, you know, all of this offense that everyone takes that—supposedly, you know, attacks on people's character—I mean, Al Gore, the other evening when he said that—I mean, my God, it was so lame. And in retrospect, when you look at the TV clips that are shown in our technology today, when you see Bush and Gore matched up in the TV clips, Bush actually comes off better, I think, than Gore does when matched up in TV clips.
Huh! On October 3, Barnicle said that Gore had crushed. But now, in retrospect, thanks to technology, he was able to see that Bush actually comes off better than Gore when matched up in TV clips! And not only that—he could now see that Gore had been “so lame,” a point he’d somehow missed Tuesday night. And wouldn’t you know it? Brian and Peggy seemed to see the same thing! They’d experienced the same strange reversal:
WILLIAMS (continuing directly): It's a television age. You know? And that's a perfect point, really, in this TV age.

NOONAN: Yes, it is. Things get cut down to 12 seconds. And in fairness, people who are producers, who cut these things, they try to get the moment where a guy became vivid and said something. In Bush's case, when you cut his sometimes ragged thoughts into six seconds, you are getting the best of him and he really goes forward in those cuts, whereas Mr. Gore is a somewhat slower, perhaps in a way more—
Crosstalk stopped her from further embarrassment. But then Matthews spoke—and wouldn’t you know it? After two nights of swearing that Gore had crushed, he had a new outlook too:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Maybe the governor of Texas didn't know it was a live broadcast the other night. He was just putting together snippets for use later. I mean, I think you're so brilliant on that, Mike, because the fact is that we have seen a better-looking Bush since the debate than we saw in that the 90 minutes on air.

BARNICLE: Yes. Well, you know, when we just saw that clip just a few short minutes ago about Gore posing this famed offense that he took, it was a pose. It was clearly a set piece and he was going to say it. If George W. Bush had said to Al Gore at that moment, “I've always admired the way you and your wife have had this wonderful relationship,” Al Gore would then have gone into, “You've attacked my character.” It's an act! It's a pose!

MATTHEWS: You know what's interesting? Coming up next, looking ahead just a bit to the next battle, the two people we're talking about, is—Doris Kearns knows this, and anyone else who's watched, that there are a number of Al Gores. There is the Al Gore you meet and talk history with, the one you talk about your kids with, there is the stiff you meet, the cigar-store Indian who's occasionally available to you. You know, I bet he presents a new Al Gore next week: unlike the lecturing man at the podium, he'll come in as the friendly guy at the table. Don't you expect that?
Omigod! All the standard insults were back about stiff, fake/phony, two-faced Al Gore. It turned out that Gore had really been “lecturing” when he seemed to have “cleaned Bush’s clock.”

From that night forward at MSNBC, Al Gore lost that first debate. The ardent Matthews had turned on a dime. The pundits had thought that Gore won the debate. But after watching the 6-second clips, they could see it—Bush came off much better!

We were startled when we watched this laughable tape, just a couple of months ago. And we’ll admit it—a question instantly came to mind as we watched Matthews’ reversal. Would anyone bet the summer home that Jack Welch didn’t make a few phone calls that day? That he didn’t tell his lost, millionaire boys it was time to get back on their message?