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THE AGE OF TREASON! Reid may be treasonous, Welch’s Boy said. As usual, we libs sat and took it: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MAY 10, 2007

UNSTOPPABLE CONFUSION: Yesterday, we mentioned the way the national press corps flounders when it tries to report on abortion (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/07). In today’s New York Times, a time-line of Giuliani’s past statements provides a pathetic example. (Click here, see time-line on left.)

Just consider the paper’s account of what Giuliani said at last week’s Republican debate. Here is the time-line’s summary of his statements for the current month, May 2007:
NEW YORK TIMES (5/10/07): Asked during a debate whether he would be upset if the Supreme Court overturned the decision that legalized abortion, Mr. Giuliani said, "It would be O.K. to repeal." Asked if he supports the use of public funds for abortion, he said, "I don't." But during the debate, he said that while he hated abortion, "I would respect a woman's right to make a different choice.”
That highlighted excerpt is technically accurate. But here is the fuller exchange from Thursday’s debate:
MATTHEWS (5/3/07): Why do you support the use of public funds for abortion?

GIULIANI: I don't. I support the Hyde Amendment. I hate abortion. I wish people didn't have abortions.

MATTHEWS: So you're not for funding at all?

GIULIANI: I believe that the Hyde Amendment should remain the law. States should make their decision. Some states decide to do it, most states decide not to do it. And I think that's the appropriate way to have this decided.

MATTHEWS: Should New York—when you were mayor of New York, should they have been paying for, the state should have been paying for—

GIULIANI: That's a decision New York made a long time ago, and New York—

MATTHEWS: And where were you on that?

GIULIANI: I supported it in New York. But I think in other places, people can come to a different decision.
What has Giuliani said here? It’s somewhat hard to make out, in part because Matthews’ questions were imprecise, in part because Giuliani seemed to be shaping his answers. But he seems to have said the following:

First, he supports the Hyde Amendment. This severely restricts the use of federal funds for abortion, but doesn’t completely outlaw use of such funds. (Under the 30-year-old federal law, federal funds can be used for abortions in the case of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother.)

But Giuliani also seems to have said that he supports the right of the states to fund abortions. (“States should make their decision. Some states decide to do it, most states decide not to do it. And I think that's the appropriate way to have this decided.”) Again, this passage is somewhat unclear. But Giuliani had clearly supported the use of state funds in interviews and speeches in April (see below). Finally, at the end of his exchange with Matthews, Giuliani acknowledged that he himself had supported the use of New York state funds in the past, though he didn’t seem eager to volunteer this.

The problem here is the use of the amorphous phrase “public funds.” In abortion policy, there is the question of the use of federal funds—and the separate question of the use of state funds. Both are “public” funds, of course. But journalists create confusion—and sometimes do mischief—when they join these two separate questions under this one common rubric.

How bad is today’s Times report? In the time-line’s entry for April 2007, the Times includes this: “Asked if he supports the use of public funds for abortion, [Giuliani] said, ‘I don’t.’ ” But when did Giuliani say that? To whom? And what exactly was the question? Even in its on-line version, the paper pathetically fails to give a source for the statement, making it hard to check. And uh-oh! Giuliani was plainly saying, during April, that he did support the use of state funds. Here’s Marc Santora’s news report in the April 6 Times, for example:
SANTORA (4/6/07): The questions about abortion came after he again stated his support for public financing of abortion in an interview with CNN in Florida on Wednesday.

On Thursday, in response to reporters' questions, Mr. Giuliani expanded on why he supported public financing.

''The best way to handle funding is to follow the law,'' he said. ''Federal funds are used only in very limited cases for abortion, and it is left for a state-by-state decision. I have expressed previously that I am very comfortable with that.”

Mr. Giuliani's position puts him at odds with the other leading Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain of Arizona.
How hard is this to understand? Giuliani supports the Hyde Amendment, which severely limits the use of federal funds. But he is “comfortable” with the use of state funds if states decide to do that. This really isn’t hard to explain. You can explain it in two sentences. As a matter of fact, we just did.

But for the big stars of your national “press corps,” this is a very complex matter—one they constantly bungle. There are only two kinds of funds involved—state and federal—but that makes this matter far too complex for them to handle. Routinely, they do what Matthews did last Thursday—they speak generically about “public funds,” thereby introducing an element of confusion into the discussion. The Times does the same thing in today’s time-line, producing an absurdly uninformative summary. But then, it’s much as we have told you; your “press corps” is almost unstoppably dumb. There is nothing so simple that they can explain it. Throw in their love of mischief and spin, and your discourse rolls downhill from there

Special report: Let’s play nut-ball!

BE SURE TO READ EACH INSTALLMENT: Let’s play nutball, Matthews said. Be sure to enjoy each installment:
PART 1: To their credit, the candidates laughed at Chris Matthews’ ludicrous question. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/7/07.

PART 2: NBC ran both debates. So why were the sessions so different? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/8/07.

PART 3: Kristol ridiculed Matthews’ work—and our analysts lustily cheered. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/07.
Today, we offer a thrilling conclusion—and worry about next year’s election.

PART 4—THE AGE OF TREASON: Our first two debates were so god-awful that even some stars in the press corps said so. Chris Matthews’ questions last Thursday night were just plain “stupid,” Bill Kristol said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/07). And the Washington Post complained about the lack of focused questioning in both debates, describing last Thursday’s gruesome session as an “attention-deficit-disorder-style debate.” This is rare for the Washington press corps, which normally avoids stating the obvious about the work of its Big Pundit Stars. By normal rules, you get to accuse them of “liberal bias.” But nothing else can be said.

How thoroughly does the Washington press corps tend to cover up for its own? Consider two Major Pundit reactions to last Thursday’s debate.

First, consider Gene Robinson’s column in Tuesday’s Washington Post. Robinson is now an MSNBC contributor, and a regular guest on Hardball. (He served on the network’s post-debate panels.) And so, good liberal that he is, he handed you this perfect bull-roar about Thursday’s debate:
ROBINSON (5/8/07): [Romney] looked great. The luck of the draw placed Romney right next to host Chris Matthews, which meant he got to go first on the round-robin questions; he took advantage, filibustering capably. And Romney has the best hair, by far, of any of the Republican candidates. It's John Edwards-level hair. Someone should check how much he pays for his haircuts.
It’s true; the luck of the draw did place Romney right there next to Matthews. But that didn’t mean the former governor had to go first on those “down the line” questions; he kept going first because Matthews was too dumb—or perhaps, too distracted by Arnold Schwarzenegger—to adjust the order of response on these tedious questions. Immediately after Thursday’s debate, candidates complained that this had given Romney an unfair advantage. But this happened because Matthews was asleep at the switch—not due to the “luck of the draw.”

Of course, you’ll never hear something like that from Robinson—or from most Big Pundits. Indeed, to see how far Big Scribes will go to avoid disrespecting great men in their cohort, consider David Gergen’s weird performance on CNN right after Thursday’s debate.

To his credit, Gergen knew the debate was a dud. But here was his first explanation, offered to Anderson Cooper:
GERGEN (5/3/07): The biggest surprise to me, Anderson, was how much this debate was mired in the past and how little it did to really grapple with the issues of the future. I mean, they really did not come to grips with Iraq and what to do about that and the future.

But just as importantly, you know, they spent more time on things like Terry Schiavo and what to do about "Scooter" Libby than they did about what are we going to do about the health care system that's in meltdown, what are we going to do about climate change, which are going to be some of the big, big issues on the desk of the next president.
As a general matter, we agree with that. But the candidates spoke about Schiavo and Libby because Matthews asked about them, not of their own volition. Similarly, the candidates didn’t speak about health care because they were never asked. Instead, they were asked about Bill Clinton’s troubling sex drives and about a muscular fellow named Arnold. Matthews asked a string of bizarre, inane questions—and failed to ask about most major issues. But Gergen chose to blame the hopefuls, not his colleague. Soon, he did it again:
GERGEN: The other question is, you know, if you're talking about whether you're going to have somebody fire a gay employee or not or whether you believe in abortion, that has so little to do with what with the responsibilities of the next president has to deal with. Why in the world are we getting wrapped up in questions like that when the next president has to deal with—we're trying to overhaul our schools so we can keep up with China and India. That's a more central question.

They spent so much of their time and energy on these kind of value questions that are sort of signals to conservatives. “I'm as conservative as you want and I'll be OK on this.” But they didn't give the country, I thought, and kind of hard understandings of where are they going in the wake of the Bush administration.
Agreed, as a general matter. But John Harris asked about the rights of gay employees (almost awakening Tommy Thompson), and Matthews kept asking about abortion (a central topic, in our view). The candidates “spent time and energy on these values questions” because these questions were raised by the hosts. Whatever you think of Gergen’s views, his complaints here should be directed at Matthews. But Big Major Pundits don’t dump on each other. Result? In an amazingly unfair bit of punditry, Gergen dumped on the hopefuls instead.

But then, there are many things about the press corps which the press corps doesn’t discuss. Amazingly, Kristol called Matthews’ questions “stupid,” and the Post said he suffered from ADD (without mentioning Matthews’ name, of course). But if you’re wondering what really drove these debates—if you wonder why they seemed so unbalanced, with Matthews fawning hard to Reps and Williams endlessly trashing the Dems—you had to go to Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who chose to discuss the sorts of things men like Robinson never discuss.

Why did these first two debate seem so unbalanced? Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve long discussed NBC’s “Lost Boys of the Sconset,” two of whom hosted these first two debates. They’re the hungry, questing. Ambitious lads who were purchased by GE’s Jack Welch, NBC’s near-billionaire owner—and a conservative Republican. Welch massively overpaid his Lost Boys, and even let them come to Nantucket—and they’ve been kicking the shit out of Big Major Dems ever since this relationship flourished. But what about the Politico gang—the gang which co-hosted last Thursday’s debate, which came to us straight from the Reagan Library? Last Saturday, Greenwald passed on the following nugget from Post gossip scribe Mary Ann Akers:
AKERS (5/4/07): And how did Politico, the start-up online news organization, score its coveted role in co-hosting the debate? Because Fred Ryan, the chief operating officer of Allbritton Communications Company, which owns Politico, also happens to be chairman of the board of the Reagan library...

After choosing his conglomerate's newest media gem to play host, Ryan went to [producer Tammy] Haddad to get Hardball's Matthews on board. He said the library wanted someone "they knew and trusted" and Matthews had "always been a reliable partner."
Not that there’s anything wrong with it! But please read Greenwald on Friday and Saturday (links below) to get the fuller picture about the Politico’s ownership. Yes, Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and NBC News was once owned by Jack Welch. But uh-oh! As it turns out, the Politico is “run by a former and current Reagan official and financed by a family with close ties to one of the world's most notorious right-wing dictators.” Are we surprised when strange news coverage comes from news orgs with these ownership patterns? We’d have to say the answer is no. And we’ll strongly suggest that you read the two posts Greenwald did about the Politico’s ownership. For last Friday’s post, click here. Again, click here for Saturday’s offering.

Short lesson: At some point (preferably today), liberals must learn to be concerned about news orgs other than Fox. In the past two weeks, Welch’s “Lost Boys” hosted two debates—one for Dems and one for Reps. And please recall the remarkable questions which opened those two debates:
BRIAN WILLIAMS, OPENING QUESTION (4/26/07): Senator Clinton, your party's leader in the United States Senate, Harry Reid, recently said the war in Iraq is lost. A letter to today's USA Today calls his comments "treasonous" and says if General Patton were alive today, Patton would wipe his boots with Senator Reid. Do you agree with the position of your leader in the Senate?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, OPENING QUESTION (5/3/07): In the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, just 22 percent believe this country is on the right track. Mayor Giuliani, how do we get back to Ronald Reagan's morning in America?
Quite amazing. As the Democratic debate began, General Patton was kicking Harry Reid’s ass—and Williams was raising the specter of “treasonous” conduct. But when the Republican debate kicked off, we’d have to say the mood was quite different. Fondly, we were asked to think about Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America.” Soon, Matthews was telling the world that the RNC chairman was—what else?—a “great patriot.”

But then, this is just what you’d expect from news orgs with backgrounds like these. For a decade, Matthews has pandered to Big Major Reps the way other folk sleep and breathe. Meanwhile, Williams made a fool of himself during Campaign 2000 with his endless, heartfelt concerns about Gore’s deeply troubling polo shirts. Today, we’re luckier than we were then; today, we have a small but superlative group of on-line libs who are complaining about this kind of coverage. Foser and Boehlert and Sargent and Lemieux have begun to form a critical mass. And Greenwald is banging hard at Salon, as he showed in those two posts last week. (We hope he didn’t report to Sweden last week; as a reader helpfully told us, the Nobel Prize is awarded in Norway.)

But even as a critical mass has started to form on the liberal web, the well-behaved lads at career liberal journals pretty much know they must keep their mouths shut. Robinson won’t talk about Matthews—and these lads won’t go there either. Eight years after the War Against Gore, well-behaved career liberals still understand that they still must never discuss it. And the Huffington Post is still being run by someone who kicked the shit out of Gore all during that history-changing campaign. Most liberal voters have still never heard about the ways their interests have been dashed—about the ways their candidates have been dispatched. Which brings up back to that opening question—that atrocity voiced by Faire Williams.

Go ahead—look again at what that Welch-purchased glamour boy said. Look at the way he chose that fine word; let the word “treasonous” roll off your tongue. Nothing captures the broken state of our public discourse any better than the current promiscuous use of that easily-abused, famous word. In many ways, we have now entered The Age of Treason—an age when store-bought, millionaire boys will use that word in every context. If you pay them enough, that is. And their owners know to do that.

So there was Williams—Welch’s Best Boy—using that ugly, store-bought word, right there in his opening question! And then, if you will, consider this: We didn’t see a single person complain about that astonishing “question!” (Or about Williams’ second question, in which he played a cheap game of gotcha with Obama.) “Treasonous!” Here at THE HOWLER, we complained, griped, bitched, then complained again about Williams’ use of that startling word. But we didn’t see another soul complain about this astonishing “question.” Or about the endless loaded questions Williams dropped on the Dems’ heads that night. Remember this groaner, for Edwards?
WILLIAMS (4/26/07): Our most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicated a majority of Americans approved of last week's Supreme Court decision to make so-called partial birth or late-term abortions illegal.
Most of the people on this stage
put out statements and criticized the ruling. A lot of American families find this just a hideous topic for a discussion...
Really, could that “question” have been more absurd? As usual, we libs sat and took it.

But let’s get back to the question of Harry Reid’s “treason.” We liberals would have screamed and yelled if someone at Fox asked a question like that. But we still don’t seem to understand the actual forces confronting our candidates. Jack Welch’s Lost Boys know the rules, rules that have guided their work for a decade. And here’s the key rule, which is still in effect: They can say any damn thing you want—as long it’s said Democrats. That rule has stayed in place for a decade—because of our amazing liberal silence.

Starting in 1999, the Lost Boys staged a two-year War Against Gore—and liberals still won’t discuss it. And even now, when they picture Reid getting shit-kicked by Patton, we liberals just sit there and stare. Meanwhile, they have their hero tales about Big Major Reps, and they’re eager to put them in use. Fred Thompson is handsome and smart, they recently said. When he says things, you have to believe him!

They’re owned by Welch—and by Pinochet. But when they call our leaders the vilest names, we still just sit there and stare into space. (At least it wasn’t done by Fox! we exclaim.) Forget the polls which came out last week: This passivity leaves us deeply concerned about the outcome of next year’s election.

THURSDAY’S FUNNIEST MOMENT: As we wind down our coverage of Thursday’s debate, let’s recall its funniest moment. In a tribute to one more Famous Republican, Matthews asked if the candidates support Nancy Reagan’s call for “expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.” As he started his answer, a sainted solon displayed a familiar tendency:
MCCAIN (5/3/07): I want to thank Mrs. Reagan for the many kindnesses extended to me many—and my fellow prisoners of war—many years ago when we came home to this wonderful state.
As we’ve told you, McCain knows how to mention his POW service in every conceivable circumstance. During Campaign 2000, pundits loved to report these comments. But not without first reminding their readers: McCain hates to talk about this!