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IN MEMORY OF A DREAM! We Americans can choose between Fab and Tide–and between two lines of blather: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 22, 2009

IN MEMORY OF A DREAM: On this holiday weekend, we’re supposed to remember Bloomingdales’ need to unload sheets and towels.

Instead, let’s memorialize the death of a dream. According to that dream, we liberals and progressives were better, finer, saner, brighter when it came to the public discourse.

We said this about ourselves for years. We liberals would never succeed at talk radio, we said—we’re just too smart, too honest, too decent. We were too inquisitive, too wonderfully nuanced to succeed at such a task.

Here at THE HOWLER, we never much believed that tale. That said, even we had to marvel last night at the two-hour block by Olbermann/Maddow. We’d have to say that every segment pretty much struck us as blather or nonsense. We don’t think we’ve ever thought that watching these programs before.

Over the past twenty years, your public discourse has been undermined by a sprawling warren of pseudo-conservative news orgs. These orgs produced reams of reliable nonsense.

Today, we seem to have two such empires. Our guess: This ain’t good for the world.

How silly did it get last night? Last night, it became official: For us progressives, the leading authority on foreign affairs is the guy who helped Colin Powell assemble that UN report! We’ll assume that Lawrence Wilkerson is a decent person who had an admirable military career. But he isn’t the brightest bulb on the tree. And Olbermann seemed to want to top him as they discussed their Dark Lord:

WILKERSON (5/21/09): So, he [Cheney] is frightened and he’s trying these very Orwellian tactics of using his own techniques and his own results, and accusing his opponents of having perpetrated these techniques and results.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

WILKERSON: It’s insanity.

OLBERMANN: Yes. Some psychologist could probably have a field day with the fact—

WILKERSON: A field day!

OLBERMANN: —as when, when he was talking about water-boarding, he suddenly had a coughing fit, as if he couldn’t—as if water had gone down the wrong way.

WILKERSON: Yes.

Set aside the talk of Orwellian insanity: Could “some psychologist” have a field day with Cheney’s coughing fit? Maybe some cable psychologist could! Or maybe some expert in body language! You know the kind of expert we mean—the kind you see on O’Reilly? At any rate, KeithO’s rumination was dumb beyond dumb—the kind of dumb which has ruled the pseudo-conservative world for several decades now. Now, our world is ruled that way too. It was dumb for two hours last night.

To be honest, Wilkerson just isn’t very sharp. It ain’t hard to see how he and Powell could have gotten conned in the course of preparing that UN presentation—although we think the idea that they got conned remains extremely unconvincing. (Powell had his own intelligence agency at State, the INR. It was one of the intelligence agencies which dissented about pre-war claims. For brief review, click here.) But by some puzzling aberration, Wilkerson has now become the go-to guy on matters like these—for us progressives, that is! Last night marked his third appearance on Maddow or Countdown in just the last eight nights.

(We’ll offer an hypothesis here—an hypothesis, not a prediction: At some point, a connection may seem to explain this oddity. The key word will be “book.”)

We thought Keith was dumb all the way last night—but then we got to Rachel. Is anything so dumb that she won’t relay it to us stupefied rubes? We strongly suggest you watch the way she sold us the following consummate nonsense. (To do so, click here.) Things are different now, she said. Law enforcement is back:

MADDOW (5/21/09): Back east, as they say on the west coast, the FBI says that a domestic terrorism plot has been thwarted. Back in the days of Bush and Cheney and their war on terror, mundane constitutional methods like surveillance with warrants and the use of informants, techniques like that were frequently eschewed in favor of [acting like cheerleader] War! On! Terror!

Well, this time, the FBI and NYPD arrested four men from Newburgh, New York, a little more than an hour north of New York City. It was what they called an “aspirational” domestic terror plot to bomb two synagogues in New York City—sorry, in the New York City borough of the Bronx, and to shoot a military plane out of the sky at the same time with a surface-to-air missile.

How did law enforcement officials bust the plot? They used law enforcement. Hey there! An FBI agent was informed of the men’s desire to attack American targets. That led to a year-long investigation and ultimately the arrest.

Authorities used undercover operations to gather intelligence from an informant about accused terrorists. The informant had gained the plotters’ trust and attended meetings where they planned the would-be attacks. The meetings were bugged with video and audio equipment for which the feds apparently had warrants.

Later, the FBI stealthily provided the would-be terrorists with dummy explosives, with which they would try to bomb the synagogues and fake surface-to-air missiles with which they thought they could shoot down that plane.

Then, using the evidence that they’d collected—remember evidence?—authorities stopped the attack before it happened and arrested the suspects, presumably with a solid case ready to be made against them in court.

No torture has been reported. No indefinite or prolonged detention appears to have occurred. A perfectly illegal plot, apparently perfectly foiled, apparently perfectly legally. That’s the way we do it these days. In the not so olden days, we would have just declared war on Newburgh, New York.

Are you kidding? In fact, busts of silly “aspirational” plots occurred routinely “in the days of Bush and Cheney.” How do we know that? Because Keith had reminded us, a half hour earlier! He was talking out loud to Cheney again, telling him he hadn’t saved anyone in the US from attacks. In the process, he recalled the aspirational plots which were foiled in the Bush-Cheney days. And uh-oh! When he did that, he lumped in this week’s silly bust:

OLBERMANN (5/21/09): You saved no one, sir! If the classified documents you seek released really did detail plots other than those manufactured by drowning men in order to get it to stop, or if they truly did know plans beyond the laughable ones you and President Bush have already revealed, hijackers without passports, targeting a building whose name Mr. Bush could not remember, clowns who thought they could destroy airports by dropping matches in fuel pipelines 30 miles away, men who planned to attack a military base dressed as pizza delivery boys, forgetting that every man there was armed—and today, the four would-be synagogue bombers, one of whom turns out to keep bottles of urine in his apartment, and is on schizophrenia medicine.

If those documents contain anything of value, you would have leaked those already, as you leaked those revenge fantasies of the Library Tower and the JFK Bomber and the Ft. Dix Six.

Uh-oh! KO lumped the current bust in with all the earlier busts—the busts which occurred under Bush and Cheney! Half an hour later, Maddow announced that such earlier busts couldn’t have occurred.

What’s the point of this low-IQ blather?

But then, we thought every segment on Maddow was dumb or odd last night. (We hate to see a bright young guy like Chris Hayes getting dragged in.) Whatever one thinks of “prolonged detention,” her discussion of the topic struck us as notably blinkered. (For a wider-ranging discussion, click this.) Later, NPR’s Ari Shapiro reported that Alberto Gonzalez provided day-by-day approval of the interrogation techniques used against Abu Zubaydah. If true, this report is highly informative. But Maddow was just thoroughly baffled as to what this news might mean. She wondered why the White House counsel would have done such a thing, even before the OLC had prepared its famous memos. Why, Gonzalez wasn’t even attorney general yet, Maddow stressed at one point. “He wasn’t a law enforcement officer at all. He was White House counsel. He was just the president’s lawyer.” (Just the president’s lawyer!) As the segment ended, she still seemed bollixed by the conundrum: “We’re all left to figure out what it means that the White House Counsel’s office would think itself capable of authorizing this behavior.” Earth to Maddow, making an obvious guess: Alberto Gonzalez, the president’s lawyer, was relaying authorization from Bush! Shapiro quoted former White House aide Bradford Berenson, basically semi-explaining this. But as she closed, Maddow still feigned (we hope) incomprehension.

Later, we got to see the program continue a practice it has started this week—the invention of a cult of personality around its intrepid reporter, the daring Ana Marie Cox. On several nights, we’ve been asked to marvel at the tough questions Cox has been asking in White House briefings. Last night, we sat though tape of a fairly routine Q-and-A with Robert Gibbs, a session concerning “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” The clowning came at the end of the segment, with this absurd statement by Maddow:

COX (5/21/09): You know, part of me doesn’t even understand why this is an issue, so I have trouble articulating, like, what the problem is.

MADDOW: Air America’s national correspondent and contributing editor for Playboy magazine, Ana Marie Cox. I’m very much enjoying saying that! And this has been amazing to watch. I hope that nobody is giving you a hard time in the press briefing room for asking these questions, but you’re being very dogged and impressive.

COX: All right. Thank you, Rachel.

Oh sure! Reporters are routinely harassed by other reporters for inquiring about “Don’t ask, don’t tell!” Meanwhile, Maddow found Cox’s rather routine line of questioning “amazing to watch.” (These questions had occurred during “her latest battle with Robert Gibbs.”) Question: Is there any level of pandering piffle to which we aren’t prepared to stoop? In this sign-off, we rubes were told that our star reporter might get harassed for her fearless questions. Could Hannity fake any better?

There has been one bit of good news this week—the world is becoming a much better place. Yesterday, the “worst person in the world” was Glenn Beck, so designated because he said something trivially inaccurate about poor Barbara Walters. It was the worst act committed on earth! Meanwhile, Olbermann’s staff has so mis-edited the tape (for two nights) that a viewer can barely figure out what the pointless dispute is about. But these segments exist so Keith can play the fool for us rubes—so he can be more like Sean.

At one time, you had to go to Fox for this. Now, you have a choice.

In this morning’s Post, Michael Kinsley drifts back in time, remembering an earlier age for liberals. Presumably, he’s banging on Keith, although he’s too nice to name names.

Kinsley discusses “the blight of umbrage,” a blight found on Countdown more than on Maddow. He also discusses our “values and logic;” he mentions something liberals “ought to recognize.” But liberals do recognize the thing he cites. Our new gang of cable hacks don’t.

This weekend, we can choose between Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s—and between two streams of cable blather. We libs are too smart for this, we once said. Just look at us pseudo-libs now!

Wilkerson’s chutzpah: In our view, it takes a lot of guts to say something like this—if you happen to be the guy who assembled Powell’s UN presentation:

WILKERSON (5/21/09): Actually, the way we’ve stopped al Qaeda is with 200,000 American troops, five thousand of whom, almost, have died.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

WILKERSON: That’s the way we’ve stopped al Qaeda. And Dick Cheney doesn’t seem to have any appreciation. He’s got all kinds of appreciation for three thousand Americans who died in the Trade Center and elsewhere, but he’s got no appreciation apparently for these five thousand troops who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many more, probably, are going to die before this is over with. I find that appalling.

The troops who have died in Iraq went there, in some part, thanks to Powell’s presentation. Wilkerson helped him put the mess together. But then, some people have a lot of guts—and cable bookers adore them.

Within moments, Wilkerson was saying that Cheney’s recent conduct “borders on being treasonous in my view.” But that’s what he gets booked to say as he rehabs himself and Powell. We’re nowhere near as bad as Cheney, the gent is allowed to convey.

By the way: How did Wilkerson handle Olbermann’s questions about Powell’s UN super-bungle? Wouldn’t you know it? It happened again! Dude forgot to ask!

Who is Bill Wolff: More next week. Though yes, it’s already grown tedious.