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Daily Howler: Chris and Keith taught valuable lessons in keeping fake outrage alive
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KEEP OUTRAGE ALIVE! Chris and Keith taught valuable lessons in keeping fake outrage alive: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MAY 29, 2008

SIX ANGRY SCRIBES: We’ve long said it: Tim Russert’s 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 Sunday’s 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 Russert’s own tribe. (Maureen Dowd/Doris Kearns Goodwin.) Concerning the discussion of Clinton’s recent vile comment, let’s 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 primary—if you add the exhaustion and self-pity, you're going to get dumb remarks. I think this was a dumb remark.

Clinton wasn’t intentionally raising a specter, Marcus said; she was just suffering from “a very heavy dose of self-pity.” In the context of Tim’s 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 Clinton’s remark back in March. Her remark is the world’s greatest outrage—now. 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 Clinton’s bewildering claim that she’s 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 network’s 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 Clinton’s 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 News—Ground Zero for this obvious problem. You’d think it would have been fairly easy to comprehend Clinton’s recent complaint about this matter. But not inside your Celebrity Press Corps! Here’s the way the hangin’ judge introduced this puzzling new topic:

RUSSERT: Ruth Marcus suggested Hillary Clinton—self-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 lady’s 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.”

That’s right, ass-wipe! Nothing but misogynists! But clearly, Clinton had done violence to Hard Pundit Law. She had told the truth about some major journos—and 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. Here’s how the analysis started:

RUSSERT: Maureen Dowd, “misogynist,” “gender bias.” It seems as though the Clintons are being—trying very hard to lay that out as a premise for Hillary Clinton’s 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, it’s plain that these claims are accurate. (This isn’t about Obama.) But so what? In full accordance with Hard Pundit Law, no one at Saint Timothy’s table seemed to know what the Clintons could mean. In particular, no one voiced the world’s 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 away—instead 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 on—could go away.

Who knows? Maybe if hacks like Goodwin got off their keisters and told the truth, those resentments wouldn’t fester so much! But a few years back, Goodwin’s career was saved by the Imus gang—more broadly, by NBC’s Irish mafia. She always toes the company line. She reliably says what she should.

Russert assembled a jury of six angry scribes—and not one juror spoke for Clinton! He didn’t have Romano there—Romano, who had conducted the interview. He didn’t have Marie Cocco there—Cocco, who had written a biting piece about the misogyny for the Washington Post. Were Cocco or Romano invited? We don’t know. (We e-mailed Cocco; she hasn’t answered.) But surely, Russert could have located someone to assert the Clinton view. Instead, he had a jury of six—and 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 word—just 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 kind—as long as it's daytime and you're not behind him.

Or as long as they don’t 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 Sherburn—and of that mob—when we watched Russert’s work this past week.

Special report: The evil of banality!

PART 3—KEEP 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 they’re 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! Obama’s 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 attic—he says carefully it is a family story so if anybody checks he can excuse it as a legend—and 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, Krauthammer—mind-reading skillfully, as is expected—tortures a principled outrage, and an insight into Obama’s failed character. Somehow, he knows why Obama called this a “family story”—not 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 Obama’s error into a matter of principled outrage. “Auschwitz” is a terrible word, Krauthammer says. Apparently, Buchenwald isn’t.

Presto! Obama becomes a political panderer, a young Bill Clinton. His soul lays exposed because of the terrible thing he has said. “It’s not a big deal,” Krauthammer says—as he plainly acts like it is.

Most likely, Krauthammer has one thing right; most likely, Obama’s 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 Kennedy’s assassination did become such a major issue—an 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 offended—inventing principles she had broken. As Krauthammer created a “you can’t say Auschwitz” rule, Keith Olbermann came up with a rule about saying “assassination”—a 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 show—and he said the original interpretation of Clinton’s remark was basically bat-sh*t inane. Meredith asked him to share his views. Chris explained what Clinton hadn’t 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 said—thus 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 Clinton’s commnet occurred—and he went on to devote about half of that evening’s Hardball to assaults on Clinton’s 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 Clinton’s outrageous statement. Were they also outraged at Burton, who had pimped around the bogus reading? Sorry! Burton’s name didn’t 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 Salon’s 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, “I’m staying in this race in case something horrible happens and I`ll be there to win?” Do you really believe she meant that? I don’t. Nobody would say that.

WALSH: Nobody would say that.

MADISON: Here’s what people are saying: They’re 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 saying”—and, of course, he quoted “people” making the ugliest possible claims. At this point, Walsh broke in. You know that Christopher never would have—Madison is too connected:

WALSH (continuing directly): Code words? Come on, Joe, you don’t 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 line—I mean—the 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, I’m sharing with you there was a visceral reaction and let`s get to the crux of our discussion. She’s not going to be the vice presidential nominee. She just ruined that opportunity. And this is the other factor. I’ll close there—and by other things, this. Again, there’s a pattern. There’s a pattern. I’ll tell you the other thing. If this pattern continues, she’s going to ruin the Democrat chances in November.

“What do you believe?” Joan asked. And even then, Madison still wouldn’t tell her! “Whether I believe it or not,” he said, this is what people are thinking.

Translation: No, Joe Madison doesn’t 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 night’s Hardball. As noted, Matthews doesn’t think that Clinton meant what the New York Post—and Bill Burton—said. But so what? Four days later, here’;s the way he opened Tuesday’s program:

MATTHEWS (5/27/08): Did Hillary Clinton get it right when she said her campaign has been no longer than her husband’s or Robert Kennedy’s, or did she just cause herself needless trouble?

Let`s play Hardball.

Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews—welcome to Hardball. Hillary Clinton’s comments on Friday about Robert Kennedy’s 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, we’ll debate the furor over Hillary Clinton`s reference to Robert Kennedy’s 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 slot—or is she the victim?

Wow! For someone who thought Clinton’s 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 vast—helping us see the way banality can turn into something that’s 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 mustn’t say the word “Auschwitz.” Olbermann had voiced a similar principle: How dare she say “assassination?” Yesterday, we implied that Keith-O can’t really believe this stuff; in doing so, we implied something we can’t really know. But here’s the way the outraged fellow started Friday night’s 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 Post’s 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 don’t. Nobody would say that.”) For the record, we don’t 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 mind—Keith-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. We’ll 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 Clinton’s 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 hatred—and gender hatred—and 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?


Senator—never 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 clear—you 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 president—or 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-O’s past use of this term.

Did we find Keith-O doing something wrong in the past? No, not really—unless you actually believe the high principles he poured out Friday night.

As noted, Keith-O didn’t get upset last March when Clinton made her first reference to Kennedy’s 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 Bergman’s 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 O’Reilly.

No. There’s nothing especially wrong with what we show you here—unless you believe the high-minded principle Keith-O was pimping last Friday. Here is Olbermann, early in March, casually evoking Clinton’s assassination:

OLBERMANN (3/3/08): First, our number two story, Countdown’s Worst Persons in the World.The bronze to Bill-O. First, he compares 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, O’Reilly 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 and then removed. Again, this is Bill O’Reilly, whose personal website had a post about assassinating Hillary Clinton.

Was something wrong with that? We’d say no. But then, we didn’t 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, O’Reilly’s 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 3—casually 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 and how it’s 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. There’s defamation. It’s 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.

Let’s 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 said—just as no one said boo about Clinton’s comment in March to Rick Stengel, the comment which had appeared on Time’s web site one day before Keith-O’s second invocation of Clinton’s “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 Clinton’s 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 later—and he did this even as he grossly mischaracterized what Clinton had actually said. “Do you really believe she meant that?” Matthews would say. “I don’t. Nobody would say that.” But somebody had raced onto NBC’s 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.

TOMORROW—PART 4: Can your culture survive?