READER: It's been interesting to observe the virtual news blackout of Stephen Colbert's remarks at the Correspondent's dinner. Particularly since I seem to recall that when Don Imus went after Bill Clinton in a similar setting at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, it was major news.For the record, thats semi-right. The Imus performance was fairly big news, although it predated Lewinsky by several years. (We did an op-ed about this matter ourselves, for the Baltimore Sunday Sun.) But why was the Imus appearance big news? Apparently, we are now the only ones who remember how to look up a story. In real time, Kim Masters reported the full-blown flap in the Washington Post:
MASTER (3/23/96): It was a roast that turned into an inferno.Thats right, losers! The Imus performance became a news story because the press corps felt hed been rude to Bill Clinton. (That was also the general theme of our column.) Masters continued: One of Imus's lone defenders was Republican commentator Mary Matalin, who said the members of the audience at the dinner behaved as if they were sitting on sticks when they reacted with shock to the Imus onslaught.
Radio talk host Don Imus's raunchy performance at the Radio & Television Correspondents Association Dinner Thursday night has developed into a full-blown media flap. The committee that organized the event has issued a formal apology to the president and expressed its hope that he might attend another of their dinners someday. ABC's Cokie Roberts says she will never—repeat, never—be a guest on the Imus radio show again.
It wasnt hard to look that up. But all around the liberal web, readers are increasingly treated like rubes. It was good for business to let them think that the press corps had flip-flopped this time around! Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! It was fun to let liberal readers enjoy one more good solid cry.
For ourselves, we thought Colberts performance was weak and unfunny—largely because it was inappropriate. Yes, the Correspondents Dinner is a very tough gig; few performers do well there. But when you sign up to do that gig, youre signing up as an entertainer. Colbert didnt contract to give a speech, or to deliver a heart-felt harangue; he contracted to make people laugh. In our view, no, he wasnt funny—and he wasnt especially honest. (If you dont respect an audience enough to want to entertain them, then you dont have to take on the gig.) For these reasons, we thought Colberts performance was hard to watch. After that, it was time for bloggers to say this to readers: Hey, rubes!
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Dont want to make a misstatement yourself? Simple! Just quote someone else as he makes the misstatement! To see Bill Sammon pioneer this technique, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/30/99.
Special report—Punditry lost!
PART 2—ACHIEVING APOTHEOSIS: Few books can be as definingly awful as Joe Kleins new laughable Politics Lost (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/1/06). Yes, some parts of Kleins book are on-target; in fact, Dems should study certain parts of this book fairly hard. (The parts which feature disloyal consultants. More on that topic next week.) But overall, Politics Lost is an inane, tortured mess—a tribute to our daft Millionaire Pundit Culture. As noted, the book largely exists to promote a great theme: Dem White House hopefuls are fake, inauthentic. Republicans are straight-talking straight-shooters. Empty pundits—modern pundits like Klein—seem to live to promote that prime tale. And yes, this script will drive Campaign 08. Dems should start to prepare for that now. (Instead, of course, well waste our time mooning over Colbert.)
Yes, the nations empty millionaire pundits simply adore that great script. It dominated The Chris Matthews Show one week ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/25/06)—and there it was again, this past Sunday! The pundits began with a segment on Hillary Clinton (theres no other topic these dopes will discuss.) And Norah ODonnell—who once dared to dissent—jumped right up in the saddle. She echoed the brilliance of Cynthia Tucker, who learned, just last year, that poor people live in New Orleans:
MATTHEWS (4/30/06): What about the liberals? Are they all going to stick with her? You're talking like the—the sophisticated liberals don't like something about her. What is it they don't like about her?Its the script they all must memorize. Dems are inauthentic—insincere. But thats just one part of the Key Pundit Script. Part 2 came after the break, when the pundits discussed Saint McCain.
TUCKER: It—well, insincerity is, is one part of it.
HOWARD FINEMAN: They don't think she can win.
O'DONNELL: Cynthia—Cynthia is right. She does not have the sort of charm or authenticity.
Hillary Clinton was insincere—inauthentic. Now it was time to vouch for McCain. And Matthews knew how to shape the debate—how to keep a flip-flopping solon nicely and neatly authentic:
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Maverick no more. That was John McCain back in 2000 when he beat establishment favorite George W. Bush in New Hampshire. But in the end, the outsider failed to break through. Now as he prepares for 2008, McCain's going from outsider to the ultimate insider, cozying up to the very same establishment he once spurned. You might say he's following the Reagan model. Like McCain, Ronald Reagan rattled the powers-that-be in 1976 by challenging incumbent President Gerald Ford. Reagan lost, but he won the hearts of Republicans who gave a more restrained Reagan the nomination in 1980.Omigod! McCain has reversed himself in major ways—so how can we keep the man authentic? Deftly, Matthews gave the lead to his panel: You might say he's following the Reagan model. And suitably scripted, thats what the scribes did. Everything about McCain was authentic. Here was Tucker, the panels liberal, rushing to praise the sainted solon for his temper problem:
David [Brooks], can he do this thing again? Do the Reagan number?
MATTHEWS: Let's talk about big mistakes down the road. I keep hearing about this McCain temper. You know, I'm a journalist so I don't normally see those things. But, but do you—do you know if that might be a problem?It was a very odd moment. But, of course, you know the rules; it only showed that McCains a real person. (And that excuses McCains bizarre attack on Obama a few months ago.) The key to the, the McCain strategy is to be Ronald Reagan, Matthews said once again, near the end of the segment. And Reagan, of course, is the pundit corps Great Authentic. According to neatly-scripted Peter Beinart, Reagan proved that he was authentic when he fired a fancy consultant—after having rehired him, of course. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/1/06.)
TUCKER: Oh, absolutely. McCain may be more restrained, but I still think he's enough of a real person that he shows it when he gets angry. And he's just prone—
MATTHEWS: Like with Barack Obama a few weeks back.
TUCKER: Absolutely, to go off at odd moments. I was on the bus with him briefly [presumably in 2000], and he got angry at me because I said, You have a very conservative voting record. He said, No I do not!
MATTHEWS: And it's number three conservative, right? It's right up there.
TUCKER: It was—it was a very odd moment.
Almost surely, this script will frame the 08 Campaign; Dems and libs should start planning now. And at its heart, Joe Kleins book is a laughable effort to see how far this dumb theme can be pushed. As he reviews White House campaigns of the past forty years, every move that every Dem makes proves how fake he actually is—and nothing that any Republicans does can break the spell of his great authenticity. With some regularity, Klein contradicts himself from one page to the next, trying to cram lifes varied events into this dim-witted formula. Whats the source of Kleins great loathing of Dems? For ourselves, were inclined to see it as the drama of the empty pundit—as the natural loathing of the empty millionaire, of the man who reviews his worthless lifes work and sees that its all vain and empty. To adapt a few of the dumbest words in Politics Lost, there is something about [Joe Klein] that simply demands couchification. Picking up on Kleins implied challenge, well put the empty little fellow—and his waste-meat career—on the couch at some point next week.
But yes—every Dem hopeful has been a big fake, and every event on the planet has proved it. And if you know your Key Press Corps Scripts, you know one Dem must be Most Fake of All. It is, of course, the unhinged Al Gore (yes—Kleins word), described in Politics Lost as perhaps the apotheosis of political inauthenticity. Next week, well take you through the major themes of Kleins book—and well let you gaze at its dumb, empty core. But first, a look at Joe Kleins ethics. How does Klein make Gore so fake? How does Klein achieve apotheosis? Of course! Like his colleagues, he lies in your face. Nothing Gore says is quite fake enough, so Klein reinvents. Clips tomorrow.
TOMORROW—PART 3: The same old same-old from a millionaire pundit. Candidate Gore is amazingly fake—unless you review the real transcript.
FINEMAN DISSENTS: John McCain is following the Reagan model? Except as an attempt at positive framing, the comparison seems a bit tortured. In 1976, Reagans first campaign failed in the GOP primaries—but he won the hearts of conservatives. By contrast, McCain ran against the conservative base in 2000; where Reagan continued his conservative approach in 1980 (an approach for which the GOP was now ready), McCain is changing his stripes today. Whatever one thinks of McCains approach, its hard to see how hes following Reagan. But on Sundays Matthews Show, it fell to Howard Fineman to mention this fact, long after everyone else had admired the great saints authenticity. For the record, Fineman refers to the other problem with the Reagan analogy. But this seems to be the only passage in which a problem is noted:
FINEMAN: The other problem with the Reagan analogy is that Ronald Reagan had the hearts of the conservatives in '76, and then he was able to exploit that in 1980. John McCain has not had the hearts of conservatives, even though he has a conservative voting record. That's why George Allen does have a good chance. And I think George Allen and Romney are going to cut into McCain's standing by this time next year.Duh. Its hard to see why youd compare McCain to Reagan at this point—except to praise his great authenticity. And, of course, its against the rules for this group to accuse Saint McCain of a flip-flop. For example, heres the way the discussion continued after Tucker described McCains odd moment:
TUCKER (repeated from above): It was—it was a very odd moment.Please note what happens when pols change direction. When Dem hopefuls do it, it proves that theyre fake. But when Republican candidates do it, theyre very smart and very shrewd—its just a different kind of strategy, run by those very smart people. To see pundits applying this logic during Campaign 2000, see our links to past reporting from THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/26/06.
FINEMAN: Well, now he would cut a spot saying, Cynthia Tucker says that I am a conservative, because that's how he's running...
MATTHEWS: That's very shrewd. But is that, Norah, a way—he's moving to the right is to pick fights? He wants to be a little distant from people like us, journalists.
O'DONNELL: Well, listen, he already tried the running-against-the-establishment thing. It didn't work. So now he has brought a lot of the, the good—
MATTHEWS: The Republican establishment.
O'DONNELL: Yeah, the Republican establishment, and tried to run as the independent. It didn't work. So that's why he has brought a lot of Bush's very smart people, his political director, his media director, all on his campaign, and they're going to run a different type of strategy.
Democrats are fake in all things. Republican hopefuls are deeply authentic. This is the most basic script of our Millionaire Pundits. And as well see in the next few weeks, Politics Lost is simply clownish as it forces this dim-witted theme onto all events of the past forty years. But then, our millionaire pundits are empty souls—and when they type the culmination of their lifes work, the deep, clawing emptiness shows.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: We remember the days when ODonnell would go on Hardball and get her Irish up a tad. Indeed, ODonnell was still talking back to power as late as October 28, 1999 (and getting openly ridiculed for it). To read a bit of that Hardball transcript, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/21/02 (scroll down to HOW INANE WAS IT.) For our money, though, ODonnell was ridiculed most aggressively on the 7/29/99 Hardball, in which Matthews and guest Joe Scarborough engaged in standard ridicule of Gore—the type of thing which went on for two years, putting George Bush in the White House. Being sane, you probably cant remember what happened back then. (The sane mind tends to deny such things.) Believe it or not, heres a taste of the non-stop nonsense which eventually sent the U.S. to Iraq:
MATTHEWS (7/29/99): Is Al Gore just incapable of putting, like, one foot in front of the other in this campaign? Hes a professional politician who acts like an amateur.Speaking from Cleveland, where Gore had spoken, Ohio pol Mary Boyle defended the veep. Heres what she got for her trouble:
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. Hes awful.
MATTHEWS [watching tape of Gore]: I dont get it! Did you ever see the movie Altered States? I mean, his face is, like, getting contorted in some of these
SCARBOROUGH: And there
MATTHEWS: Theres bubbles coming out of his forehead!
BOYLE: Listen, the vice president was in Cleveland today. I want to tell you just very briefly about it, because you probably would like covering the news.Mary Boyle never played Hardball again. ODonnell was also trashed this night when she tried to challenge some of this nonsense.
MATTHEWS: What mode was he in? Was he in, was he in the quiet mode, or that sort of Clutch Cargo craziness he gets into, or was he—
SCARBOROUGH: Did he scream?
BOYLE: No—no, but he was—
MATTHEWS: Or was he in the Altered States where the head starts to bubble? What state was he in today?
For the record, heres how another segment began on that remarkable Hardball program:
GORE (videotape): Some try to duck the issue of choice. Not me. American women must be able to make that decision for themselves. I will stand up for a woman's right to choose.He behaves like a windup Clutch Cargo cartoon character, Matthews said again, moments later. I wouldn't think that would appeal to the other gender. Just guessing.
MATTHEWS: Well, that's Vice President Al Gore in his spontaneous manner appealing, or pandering, to the women vote. Norah O'Donnell, is that going to work? Or why isn't it working, I should say?
O'DONNELL: Well, it's unexplainable why George W. Bush is leading Al Gore among women, the latest poll numbers and for several months have shown, because neither of them—and particularly George W. Bush has not been clear on all of the sorts of issues and in particular, abortion, although he's said he would not require a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees. But it's not entirely clear yet why—
MATTHEWS: Could it be—
O'DONNELL: It must, only—the only thing that you could attribute it to now is that it's not issues; it's a sense of personality.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well, could it be that, that George W. Bush seems like a spontaneous human male, rather than a, a, a windup robot—
MATTHEWS: —like that performance we just saw? That wasn't a human performance.
Amazing. But this went on for two solid years, as brave Career Liberals stared off into air. Dems need to discuss this remarkable, ongoing history as they plan for Campaign 08. Or, of course, we can sit around and treat our readers like fools.