SIX ANGRY SCRIBES: Weve long said it: Tim Russerts session with Gore in July 2000 was the most disgraceful hour ever produced by a major broadcaster. In our view, the first half-hour of Sundays Meet the Press competed for that top honor.
Russert assembled a jury of six angry scribblers to conduct a wilding of Clinton. The Parson, Jon Meacham was on the scene; so were two of Russerts own tribe. (Maureen Dowd/Doris Kearns Goodwin.) Concerning the discussion of Clintons recent vile comment, lets just say this: Ruth Marcus was the only juror who took the pro-Clinton approach:
MARCUS (5/25/08): I would differ a little bit from some of the people around the table who thought this was intentional and raising a specter. I don't see the political advantage for Senator Clinton in having said what she said. The way I see it is if you take exhaustion, and you add a very heavy dose of self-pity, because she does believe that she is being elbowed out of the race. And even though the historical examples are, in fact, not true, that June is the regular month for having races decided in the Democratic primaryif you add the exhaustion and self-pity, you're going to get dumb remarks. I think this was a dumb remark.
Clinton wasnt intentionally raising a specter, Marcus said; she was just suffering from a very heavy dose of self-pity. In the context of Tims angry scribes, this was a sympathetic remark. Gwen Ifill then raised an objection to kind-hearted Marcus, failing to spot a small problem:
IFILL (continuing directly): But she said it in March to Time magazine.
MARCUS: But she said it in March to Time magazine. I think there was an element of self-pity going on then.
It could only be self-pity! And of course, as is the norm with lynch mobs like this, no one asked Ifill why her crowd had said nothing at all about Clintons remark back in March. Her remark is the worlds greatest outragenow. Back then, no one said squat.
But questions like that do not get raised when lawmen like Russert select hangin juries. The absurdity of his selection came clear a bit later, when the gang discussed Clintons bewildering claim that shes been the victim of sexism and misogyny during the current campaign.
Please understand: This discussion was run by NBC News, a news org which has had a few problems. This year alone, three of the networks top broadcasters have been forced to apologize, on the air, for weird remarks directed at Clinton, comments which tended to involve gender-trashing; one of the three was suspended. The first of the three, Chris Matthews, had been aggressively gender-trashing Clinton since the campaign began in early 2007. A fourth major player, Tucker Carlson, had become famous for his clownish remarks about Clintons connection to castration fears. And of course, the network had dumped another huge star, just last year, for his race- and gender-trashing of a bunch of impressive college women.
In short, everyone knows that Clinton has encountered gender-trashing from some big players. And this jury was meeting at NBC NewsGround Zero for this obvious problem. Youd think it would have been fairly easy to comprehend Clintons recent complaint about this matter. But not inside your Celebrity Press Corps! Heres the way the hangin judge introduced this puzzling new topic:
RUSSERT: Ruth Marcus suggested Hillary Clintonself-pity, angry. One of the things that she's been talking about over the last week or so is sexism. This is what she said to the Washington Post, Lois Romano.
Nothing too prejudicial about that introduction! Apparently, the ladys comments about sexism were part of her vast self-pty too! And then, the great man played tape of vile things Clinton has said. No wonder this jury was furious:
RUSSERT (continuing directly): This is what she said to the Washington Post, Lois Romano. And here is an audio recording:
CLINTON (audiotape): The manifestation of some of the sexism that has gone on in this campaign is somehow more respectable or at least more accepted, and I think there should be equal rejection of the sexism and the racism when and if it ever raises its ugly head. But it does seem as though the press, at least, is not as bothered by incredible vitriol that has been engendered by comments and reactions of people who are nothing but misogynists.
RUSSERT: Nothing but misogynists.
Thats right, ass-wipe! Nothing but misogynists! But clearly, Clinton had done violence to Hard Pundit Law. She had told the truth about some major journosand that sort of conduct is never permitted. And so, when the jury began its deliberations about the question of misogyny, no one seemed quite able to fathom what the Clintons have been talking about! After playing tape of a Bill Clinton statement, Timothy turned to Queen Maureen. Heres how the analysis started:
RUSSERT: Maureen Dowd, misogynist, gender bias. It seems as though the Clintons are beingtrying very hard to lay that out as a premise for Hillary Clintons difficulties in this primary contest.
DOWD: I think it's poppycock, really.
Actually, neither statement cited by Russert went beyond the simple claim that Clinton had encountered sexism/misogyny/gender bias from some people in the press. And whatever you may think of the various Dem hopefuls, its plain that these claims are accurate. (This isnt about Obama.) But so what? In full accordance with Hard Pundit Law, no one at Saint Timothys table seemed to know what the Clintons could mean. In particular, no one voiced the worlds most obvious fact: All by itself, NBC News has produced a great deal of this conduct. Instead, the jurors took turns criticizing Clinton. Adding insult to injury, viewers were forced to absorb the platitudes of the bowl of mush, Doris Kearns Goodwin:
GOODWIN: You know, despair and sadness is understandable but resentments, when you let resentments fester, I think it poisons a part of you. And what you don't want women to take awayinstead of seeing her as a champion who actually did some great things for women, see her instead as a victim, it doesn't help the next women coming along. So I just wish those resentments could go oncould go away.
Who knows? Maybe if hacks like Goodwin got off their keisters and told the truth, those resentments wouldnt fester so much! But a few years back, Goodwins career was saved by the Imus gangmore broadly, by NBCs Irish mafia. She always toes the company line. She reliably says what she should.
Russert assembled a jury of six angry scribesand not one juror spoke for Clinton! He didnt have Romano thereRomano, who had conducted the interview. He didnt have Marie Cocco thereCocco, who had written a biting piece about the misogyny for the Washington Post. Were Cocco or Romano invited? We dont know. (We e-mailed Cocco; she hasnt answered.) But surely, Russert could have located someone to assert the Clinton view. Instead, he had a jury of sixand they all trashed Clinton for everything.
No one seemed to have any idea what the two Clintons were talking about. Matthews, Shuster, Olbermann, Carlson? Such names slipped all jurors minds.
FOR LACK OF A SHERBURN: Could Russert find no Colonel Sherburn? Here he is, in Huckleberry Finn, addressing a very brave lynch mob:
TWAIN (chapter 22): Just then Sherburn steps out on to the roof of his little front porch, with a double-barrel gun in his hand, and takes his stand, perfectly ca'm and deliberate, not saying a word. The racket stopped, and the wave sucked back.
Sherburn never said a wordjust stood there, looking down. The stillness was awful creepy and uncomfortable. Sherburn run his eye slow along the crowd; and wherever it struck the people tried a little to out-gaze him, but they couldn't; they dropped their eyes and looked sneaky. Then pretty soon Sherburn sort of laughed; not the pleasant kind, but the kind that makes you feel like when you are eating bread that's got sand in it.
Then he says, slow and scornful:
"The idea of you lynching anybody! It's amusing. The idea of you thinking you had pluck enough to lynch a man! Because you're brave enough to tar and feather poor friendless cast-out women that come along here, did that make you think you had grit enough to lay your hands on a man? Why, a man's safe in the hands of ten thousand of your kindas long as it's daytime and you're not behind him.
Or as long as they dont have the right to decide who says what on TV.
Sherburn goes on like this at some length, describing the ways of a hundred masked cowards. We thought of Sherburnand of that mobwhen we watched Russerts work this past week.
Special report: The evil of banality!
PART 3KEEP OUTRAGE ALIVE: You know how Shirts-and-Skins thinking can be! People can always find a way to take offense at something a Shirt (or a Skin) might say. If theyre slightly creative, they can even torture a principle from their displeasure. Just consider what happened last night. This is Charles Krauthammer, on Special Report, expressing his vast displeasure with the horrible thing Obama did! Obamas offense? Erroneously, he said his great-uncle helped liberate Auschwitz, when in reality he helped liberate Buchenwald:
KRAUTHAMMER (5/28/08): It does tell you a little bit that this is a man who wants to be commander in chief, and he's not really aware that Auschwitz was in Poland and the American army never entered Poland in the Second World War.
But there is a deeper issue here, and that is Auschwitz is a word that is terrible and awesome, and it is a word you don't invoke lightly. It is seared into the consciousness of Jewish people and, in fact, of the world.
And to use it to make a cheap political point about Obama's superior sensitivity about the mental health issues of veterans leading to a story about an uncle who supposedly spent six months in an attiche says carefully it is a family story so if anybody checks he can excuse it as a legendand a soldier who was allegedly in the Second World War, and you end that chain of reasoning with Auschwitz, I think is deeply unfortunate.
It's not a big deal, but it chips away at the pedestal that Obama has established for himself and which a lot of the press worships as a man who transcends the old politics of petty maneuvering and pandering. In fact, he's a great political panderer and maneuverer, but he does it with the elegance and skill of a young Clinton, and he gets away with it, and the press allows him to.
Obama said Auschwitz when he should have said Buchenwald. Out of that error, Krauthammermind-reading skillfully, as is expectedtortures a principled outrage, and an insight into Obamas failed character. Somehow, he knows why Obama called this a family storynot because it is such a story, but so he could wriggle out of the truth if anybody checks. He also feels that a presidential candidate should know that Auschwitz was in Poland and the American army never entered Poland in the Second World War. (Could Candidate McCain have passed that test? Are we really certain?) And of course, he finds it terrible that Obama has used the word Auschwitz; this point turns Obamas error into a matter of principled outrage. Auschwitz is a terrible word, Krauthammer says. Apparently, Buchenwald isnt.
Presto! Obama becomes a political panderer, a young Bill Clinton. His soul lays exposed because of the terrible thing he has said. Its not a big deal, Krauthammer saysas he plainly acts like it is.
Most likely, Krauthammer has one thing right; most likely, Obamas error will not be flogged by the wider press corps. But Clinton is helped by no such preference, and that explains how her citation of Robert Kennedys assassination did become such a major issuean insight into her depraved character. Indeed, even after major pundits agreed that her statement had at first been misread, they continued to pound away at her offenses, finding new ways to be offendedinventing principles she had broken. As Krauthammer created a you cant say Auschwitz rule, Keith Olbermann came up with a rule about saying assassinationa rule he himself seems to observe in the breach (details below). But to see the way these life-forms will cling to their manufactured cases of outrage, consider the way Chris Matthews played it throughout the day on Tuesday.
Tuesday morning, Matthews appeared on the Today showand he said the original interpretation of Clintons remark was basically bat-sh*t inane. Meredith asked him to share his views. Chris explained what Clinton hadnt meant:
MATTHEWS (5/27/08): Well, Jack Kennedy once said life is unfair, and I don't think that Hillary Clinton intended to invoke the assassination of Robert Kennedy as a reason to continue the campaign, as if something might happen in that sense. That's the way it's been played by her critics. I think, however, the context is very tough for her because of Senator Kennedy's medical condition, which everyone knows about right now and feels a lot about, and the fact that next Wednesday's the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. So much of this is Kennedy context. And the fact that the Kennedy family is so much behind Barack Obama, it's as if Ted Kennedy has passed the torch to a new generation, and that's Barack Obama. And so there is a conflict here that I don't think is going to rest easy.
I don't think that Hillary Clinton intended to invoke the assassination of Robert Kennedy as a reason to continue the campaign, he said. But it was precisely that interpretation which fueled this attack at its start. That's the way it's been played by her critics, Matthews said. Those critics, of course, included Bill Burton of the Obama campaign; when the New York Post offered that bat-sh*t reading, Burton sent it around to the press, complaining about what Clinton had saidthus touching off the torrent of outrage within the mainstream press. I don't think that Hillary Clinton intended to invoke the assassination of Robert Kennedy as a reason to continue the campaign, Matthews said. But then, he crafted a meandering welter of concerns about the context in which Clintons commnet occurredand he went on to devote about half of that evenings Hardball to assaults on Clintons vile character.
By the time Hardball aired that evening, few pundits were willing to say that Clinton intended to invoke the assassination of Robert Kennedy as a reason to continue the campaign. But so what? As is often the case in these episodes, they were happy to find other sources of outrage in Clintons outrageous statement. Were they also outraged at Burton, who had pimped around the bogus reading? Sorry! Burtons name didnt come up! But how slippery, how slick, how Clintonesque were these pundits willing to be as they kept the outrage going? Note how slick and slippery Joe Madison was when Matthews asked him an obvious question. Also present was Salons Joan Walsh, who performed with great brilliance this evening:
MATTHEWS (5/27/08): Do you believe that when she said what she said to the paper in South Dakota that she meant to say, Im staying in this race in case something horrible happens and I`ll be there to win? Do you really believe she meant that? I dont. Nobody would say that.
WALSH: Nobody would say that.
MADISON: Heres what people are saying: Theyre saying the Clintons are desperate. They may say anything. These may be code words. Now, the reality is
Madison was asked what he thought Clinton had meant. And as these cretins so often do, he responded by explaining what people are sayingand, of course, he quoted people making the ugliest possible claims. At this point, Walsh broke in. You know that Christopher never would haveMadison is too connected:
WALSH (continuing directly): Code words? Come on, Joe, you dont believe that. These were not code words.
MADISON: Excuse me. Did I say I believed it? I said what people are saying.
WALSH: What do you believe?
MADISON: Wait a minute. Who`s doing the questioning here? You or Chris? the bottom lineI meanthe bottom line is I mean what I say and I say what I mean. That is, I said what people are saying. Whether I believe it or not, Im sharing with you there was a visceral reaction and let`s get to the crux of our discussion. Shes not going to be the vice presidential nominee. She just ruined that opportunity. And this is the other factor. Ill close thereand by other things, this. Again, theres a pattern. Theres a pattern. Ill tell you the other thing. If this pattern continues, shes going to ruin the Democrat chances in November.
What do you believe? Joan asked. And even then, Madison still wouldnt tell her! Whether I believe it or not, he said, this is what people are thinking.
Translation: No, Joe Madison doesnt believe that Clinton meant her statement in the way the New York Post said. But four days later, he was still brilliantly finding ways to repeat the ugliest claims being made. But then, variants of this conduct were observed all through Tuesday nights Hardball. As noted, Matthews doesnt think that Clinton meant what the New York Postand Bill Burtonsaid. But so what? Four days later, here;s the way he opened Tuesdays program:
MATTHEWS (5/27/08): Did Hillary Clinton get it right when she said her campaign has been no longer than her husbands or Robert Kennedys, or did she just cause herself needless trouble?
Let`s play Hardball.
Good evening. Im Chris Matthewswelcome to Hardball. Hillary Clintons comments on Friday about Robert Kennedys assassination continue to haunt her campaign. Questions surround her candidacy. Has she stayed in too long? Has she gone too far? Could her troubling comments now prove to be the last off-key note of the campaign? We have the latest and we`ll get you an update on this story in a moment.
And later, well debate the furor over Hillary Clinton`s reference to Robert Kennedys assassination. Will this story leave a scar? Does it have legs? What about people around the country? What are they saying? Should she apologize to Obama personally? Could this cost her the VP slotor is she the victim?
Wow! For someone who thought Clintons statement had been mischaracterized, Matthews was simply full of questions about her troubling comments. But this is the way this game is played by slimy people like Matthews, who are banal to the core of their being. In his case, he has played this way for over a decade. The consequences of his conduct have been vasthelping us see the way banality can turn into something thats evil.
On Tuesday night, Matthews and Madison (and several other guests) taught lessons in bad-faith scandal-pimping. But then, Keith Olbermann, like Krauthammer, had taught us a lesson on Friday night in the skill of hard-core scandal-mongering.
Krauthammer came up with a principled objection: You mustnt say the word Auschwitz. Olbermann had voiced a similar principle: How dare she say assassination? Yesterday, we implied that Keith-O cant really believe this stuff; in doing so, we implied something we cant really know. But heres the way the outraged fellow started Friday nights program:
OLBERMANN (5/23/08): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
At Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the first time, Senator Hillary Clinton actually invokes the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968 as a reason for her not to drop out of the race with Senator Obama.
CLINTON (videotape): My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.
As you can see, Olbermann gave the New York Posts account of what Clinton had said. This, of course, is the very account Matthews dismissed on Tuesday. (Do you really believe she meant that? I dont. Nobody would say that.) For the record, we dont know why Olbermann said that Clinton had invoked the assassination for the first time; during the program, it became clear that he knew this claim was inaccurate. But never mindKeith-O was in vast agony over the vile thing Clinton had done. His deeply troubled soul burned in the hottest of hells:
OLBERMANN (continuing directly): Why in the name of all that all of us hold dear, would anybody ever say anything like this? Can she in good conscious continue in the race for president after having said anything like this? Is her political career at an end?
Later, in an ugly and clownish Special Comment, Olbermann fleshed out his meaning. Well offer you a lengthy clip so you can see the truth for yourself. This great, great man was taking it hard. And he voiced a great principle:
OLBERMANN: Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on Senator Clintons assassination remark to the editorial board of the Argus Leader Newspaper of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Once again, it was this: asked if her continuing fight for the nomination against Senator Obama hurts the Democratic party, she replied, quote, "I don`t, because, again, I have been around long enough. You know, my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just don`t understand it. You know, there`s lots of speculation about why it is."
The comments were recorded and we showed them to you earlier and they are online as we speak.
She actually said those words.
Those words, Senator?
You actually invoked the nightmare of political assassination?
You actually invoked the specter of an inspirational leader, at the seeming moment of triumph for himself and a battered nation yearning to breathe free, silenced forever?
You actually used the word "assassination" in the middle of a campaign with a loud undertone of racial hatredand gender hatredand political hatred?
You actually used the word "assassination" in a time when there is a fear, unspoken but vivid and terrible, that our again-troubled land and fractured political landscape might target a black man running for president?
Or a white man.
Or a white woman!
You actually used those words, in this America, Senator, while running against an African-American man against whom the death threats started the moment he declared his campaign?
You actually used those words, in this America, Senator, while running to break your "greatest glass ceiling" and claiming there are people who would do anything to stop you?
Senatornever mind the implications of using the word "assassination" in any connection to Senator Obama!
What about you?
You cannot say this!
As noted, Keith-O was taking it hard. And one main point seemed fairly clearyou must never say assassination in the middle of a campaign with a loud undertone of racial and gender hatred! In a time when there is a fear, unspoken but vivid and terrible, that our again-troubled land and fractured political landscape might target a black man running for presidentor a white woman! You cannot say this, the thespian said. And this: You actually used the word assassination, he thundered at Clinton, two separate times. You actually invoked the nightmare of political assassination? the great man said, dumbfounded.
Needless to say, this made us think that we might want to check Keith-Os past use of this term.
Did we find Keith-O doing something wrong in the past? No, not reallyunless you actually believe the high principles he poured out Friday night.
As noted, Keith-O didnt get upset last March when Clinton made her first reference to Kennedys death. As a matter of fact, Keith-O seemed to be kicking himself in his Special Comment for failing to speak up back then. (In retrospect, we failed her when we did not call her out, for that remark, dry and only disturbing, inside the pages of a magazine.) Why, the poor guy was writhing like the hero of one of Bergmans most tormented tales. But uh-oh! As it turned out, Keith-O had used a bad word himself, back in those days of early March! Yep! Keith-O had invoked the nightmare of political assassination too, while criticizing Bill OReilly.
No. Theres nothing especially wrong with what we show you hereunless you believe the high-minded principle Keith-O was pimping last Friday. Here is Olbermann, early in March, casually evoking Clintons assassination:
OLBERMANN (3/3/08): First, our number two story, Countdowns Worst Persons in the World.The bronze to Bill-O. First, he compares HuffingtonPost.com to the Nazis. Then when a family member of a holocaust victims writes to him, quote, the meaning of their deaths means more than a comparison to a meaningless blog, OReilly says he is wrong. Quote, there is no difference between Arianna Huffington and Joseph Goebbels, because a message of hate was posted about Nancy Reagan on HuffingtonPost.com and then removed. Again, this is Bill OReilly, whose personal website had a post about assassinating Hillary Clinton.
Was something wrong with that? Wed say no. But then, we didnt burst blood vessels last Friday night, mischaracterizing what Clinton had said and adumbrating a lofty, high principle about what was so wrong with her statement! Yes, OReillys attacks on the Huffington Post were over-the-top, crackpot, crazy. But whatever happened to all that fine talk about never invoking assassination? Keith-O casually did so on March 3casually mentioning an actual candidate, not someone who died in 1968. Four days later, he did it again!
OLBERMANN (3/7/08): The runner up, Bill-O. Doing his third segment about huffingtonpost.com and how its just like the Nazis. So far, none of his own guests have even agreed with him. There is paint from top to bottom on that site. Theres defamation. Its irresponsible that he traffics in that. Once again, the Frank Burns of news forgot to mention that last year his personal website featured posts about assassinating Hillary Clinton and/or staging an armed uprising if she can be elected.
Now he was invoking armed uprisings too! At least, that broke no rules.
Lets be clear: In our view, there was nothing especially wrong with that either. For that reason, no one said boo about what Keith-O had saidjust as no one said boo about Clintons comment in March to Rick Stengel, the comment which had appeared on Times web site one day before Keith-Os second invocation of Clintons assassination. No one said boo about what Keith-O said because there was nothing really wrong with it; but then, no one said boo about Clintons remark the day before for the exact same reason. But last Friday night, Keith-O was voicing a deeply felt principle, much as Krauthammer did five nights laterand he did this even as he grossly mischaracterized what Clinton had actually said. Do you really believe she meant that? Matthews would say. I dont. Nobody would say that. But somebody had raced onto NBCs air to claim that Hillary Clinton had said it, and the sheer banality of his reading shows us the way that banal minds can sometimes end up serving evil.
TOMORROWPART 4: Can your culture survive?