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Daily Howler: Why are TV liberals inept? Lawrence O'Donnell's grisly performance taught us to follow the money
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CHURLS IN CHARGE (PART 4)! Why are TV liberals inept? Lawrence O’Donnell’s grisly performance taught us to follow the money: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2005

NEWSWEEK DELIVERS: We’ve continued to marvel here as liberals keep carrying water for Newsweek. Indeed, on last Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show, the magazine’s foppish Howard Fineman brought us right out of our old beanbag chairs! The group was discussing Bush’s opposition to the funding of stem cell research:
MATTHEWS (5/30/05): Let’s take a look at where the country stands on this. We’ve got a CBS poll at hand: 58 percent support medical research using embryonic stem cell research. 31 percent oppose it. If you just look at Republicans, half the Republicans polled—50 percent—support stem cell research. 39 percent oppose it. Howard, what’s that say?
Let’s make sure you understand the numbers that appeared on the screen. Even Republicans favor stem cell research, by an 11-point margin, the poll said. But Fineman is an experienced scribe. Fineman knew how to react:
FINEMAN (continuing directly): It tells you that the president’s in a dangerous position and if the Democrats want to demagogue it, they’re going to be able to.
If the Democrats want to demagogue it! According to this standard frame—it goes back to the days of Clinton and Gore—any position Democrats take is pre-defined as “demagoguery.” In this case, Democrats are said to be demagogues even if they hold a position with which most Republicans agree! But nonsense like this has become so standard that it occurred to no one to challenge Fineman’s statement. Fineman made no attempt to explain what he had said, and no one bothered to ask.

Special report—Churls in charge!

PART 4—FOLLOW THE MONEY: Why do “TV liberals” argue so poorly? Kevin Drum asked the question last week, admitting that it had him puzzled. No, Drum didn’t give specific examples, so it isn’t clear just what he meant. But let’s enjoy some HOWLER HISTORY! To see a fiery “TV liberal” give away the store at a critical moment, let’s watch fiery Lawrence O’Donnell on the McLaughlin Group. The date: October 6, 2000. It was three days after Bush and Gore’s first debate—and one month before the narrow election that sent George W. Bush to the White House and transformed all of American politics. But so what? As millionaire “TV liberals” so often did, O’Donnell was out there fighting the fight—on behalf of Bush. “Issue Two—Gore’s tall tales,” intoned the program’s High Foppist Host. And you guessed it! O’Donnell, a well-known “TV liberal,” was so eager to add to the list of Gore’s alleged lies that, when he finally got his turn, he journeyed back a year in time to revisit a phony example:

O’DONNELL (10/6/00): John, his most ridiculous and his most relevant untruths are his claims of legislative achievement. He told Time magazine last year that he enacted the Earned Income Tax Credit, which of course went into law before he was ever in Congress.
Except Gore plainly didn’t tell Time “that he enacted the Earned Income Tax Credit.” As the transcript of the interview plainly shows, Gore referred to “the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit,” for which he had made a major proposal during his time in the Senate. Gore’s Q-and-A with Karen Tumulty was published in the magazine’s 11/1/99 edition; his words were there for all to see. But so what? By November 1999, the Washington press corps was making merry inventing a stream of “untruths” by Gore, and this non-lie had quickly been added to the burgeoning list. Eleven months later—four weeks before the narrow election that led us to our present state—“TV liberal” Lawrence O’Donnell recited this press corps invention again. But then, O’Donnell—the fiery “TV liberal”—offered a whole lot of smack on this day. For example, when the group spent time mocking Gore’s troubling make-up, the ever-fiery “TV liberal” joined in the fun, letting us know what Rush said:
MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see his makeup?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw his makeup.

MCLAUGHLIN: I got a letter from someone who says he knows that Gore, who did not have his normal makeup artist, saying that we were going to use our staff, actually had some of his Hollywood friends provide him with a makeup artist, and that he was made up to look like Ronald Reagan.

O'DONNELL: Well, this is what Rush Limbaugh—

MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see that?

O'DONNELL: Rush Limbaugh has been saying this all week—that the look they're going for in the hair and in the makeup is Ronald Reagan.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's rouge on the cheeks and like a man-tan the rest of it. [Laughter]

MICHAEL BARONE: Well, I think maybe he's got Richard Nixon's makeup artist, John, from 40 years ago.

Everyone enjoyed a good solid laugh, and O’Donnell—the fiery “TV liberal”—made sure that everyone got to hear what Rush had been saying all week. But then, this was just one more part O’Donnell’s relentless performance this day. Earlier, the fiery liberal had expounded at length about the problems with Gore’s troubling tax plan. As we pick up, O’Donnell has already implied that Gore’s complaints about Bush’s cuts for the top one percent were insincere—“a classic stand-up:”
O'DONNELL: What's missing in the Gore plan is detail. What derives from it is an incredible level of complexity. For example, everybody out there thinks that college tuition will be tax deductible for everyone. It won't. It will be deductible only for filers in the $60,000 to $120,000 category; 100 percent deductible only $60,000 to $100,000 category. It is not deductible for anyone else below $60,000, because below $60,000 there's a tax credit available, which is a totally different provision. You can't—

MCLAUGHLIN: Now, Lawrence—

O'DONNELL: Go ahead.

MCLAUGHLIN: You're a single person. Do you get anything out of Gore's plan?

O'DONNELL: No. I don't qualify for anything because I'm over the income level that all these things are targeted for.

MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have—do you know working married couples with no children? Do they get anything out of the Gore plan?

O'DONNELL: It depends on their income level. If you're over $120,000, you won't get a single thing from the Gore plan.

MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think they get anything out of it.

Poor O’Donnell! Because he was “earning” more than 120K, he wouldn’t get a thing from Gore’s plan! And don’t worry! O’Donnell, a fiery “TV liberal,” was earning well more than that paltry sum, writing the fatuous Hollywood scripts that had turned him into a screaming fop—the classic “TV liberal.” Eventually, Eleanor Clift did jump in, complaining about the High Pundit Foppistry with which she found herself surrounded. But O’Donnell, a “TV liberal,” wouldn’t stop. He had one last bit of praise for Bush’s plan—the plan that would eventually earn him and his Millionaire Pundit Class beaucoup bucks:
MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Bush has said that if you comport to certain predesignated behavior patterns, then Gore's plan will work for you. But he, Bush, says, "I'm making this available for everybody's option. Not just those who've—

BARONE: John, John—

O'DONNELL: That's why rate cuts so attractive. Rate cuts work for everyone.

Translation: Rate cuts work for millionaires like me. But so it went as a “TV liberal” trashed Gore’s make-up and made-up lies. So it went as a “TV liberal” fought to put Bush in the White House.

Is this the kind of thing Drum has in mind when he complains about “TV liberals?” We’re not sure; the fiery fellow names no names, as is the familiar norm among the “career liberal writer” class. And of course, this is the first time you’ve ever seen anyone cite O’Donnell’s astonishing performance, because career liberal writers have made it their business for the past six years to pretend that all this never happened. They have no plan to let you know how those fiery “TV liberals” behaved during Campaign 2000. They have no plan to discuss the way the major newspapers took down Candidate Gore, and they have no plan to discuss the way they had gone after Clinton in the years that preceded. In individual cases, we can’t say why they’re so prim, so demure and so dainty. But the general reason for this is fairly clear, and we’ll lay it out once again down below.

But there you see the actual nature of today’s fiery “TV liberal.” Why did O’Donnell argue so poorly? The answer to that is fairly obvious—because he isn’t a “liberal” at all! He may have been a “liberal” at some point in the past, and he still says that he’s part of the fiery tribe, when he gets a snootful or three at those foppish high Hollywood parties. But O’Donnell sits at the right hand of Okrent—quite plainly, he’s one more millionaire fop, the breed of cat who is sent on TV to pretend to speak for the discarded interests of the American liberal. Indeed, across America, McLaughlin viewers were told that O’Donnell was speaking to them this day as a liberal. Five years later, Bush still sits in the White House; that in mind, perhaps you can see what a towering joke was made of your interests that day.

But then, O’Donnell is typical of the high class which now runs the press corps in Washington. By the fall of 1998, they were in head-long pursuit of Vile Clinton, as Sally Quinn incomparably described in a lengthy report in the Post. Quinn’s report returned to the news this week because of John Harris’ new book about Clinton; indeed, Atrios reprinted her full 11/2/98 piece (to read it, just click here.) For ourselves, we’ll strongly disagree with those who trash Quinn for writing this seminal report; in our view, this was one of the most important journalist works of the 1990s. With perfect accuracy, in full detail, Quinn reported the outrage of the foppish elite which powders its nose at high Washington parties. But early on, she made it clear—these people weren’t like thee and thine:

QUINN (11/2/98): With some exceptions, the Washington Establishment is outraged by the president's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The polls show that a majority of Americans do not share that outrage. Around the nation, people are disgusted but want to move on; in Washington, despite Clinton's gains with the budget and the Mideast peace talks, people want some formal acknowledgment that the president's behavior has been unacceptable. They want this, they say, not just for the sake of the community, but for the sake of the country and the presidency as well.

In addition to the polls and surveys, this disconnect between the Washington Establishment and the rest of the country is evident on TV and radio talk shows and in interviews and conversations with more than 100 Washingtonians for this article. The din about the scandal has subsided in the news as politicians and journalists fan out across the country before tomorrow's elections. But in Washington, interest remains high. The reasons are varied, and they intertwine.

At THE HOWLER, we say it loud and proud: Thank God for Quinn’s essential piece, a brilliant portrait of the age! In great detail, Quinn recorded the way the Washington High Foppist Class had its knickers knotted over Clinton. As of late 1998, were opinion leaders of the Washington press corps actually driven by that famed “liberal bias?” Only a fool could sustain the claim after reading this detailed report. Four months later, by the way, Candidate Gore began to campaign—and this gang of Capitol Fops landed on him like a big ton of bricks, inventing a string of phony misstatements and mocking his make-up, his clothing, his demeanor and his manner, as a fiery “TV liberal” would still be doing some nineteen months after that. The Drums don’t like to bring this up, and they clearly don’t like to name High Names. But Quinn’s report makes something quite clear—the Washington press corps’ opinion leaders are not a bunch of fiery liberals. Neither, of course, are most “TV liberals.” Neither was simpering, dissembling O’Donnell on that fateful and memorable day.

Why do “TV liberals” argue so poorly? Let’s face it—most “TV liberals” aren’t liberals at all, although they may have been so in some earlier day, and although they are still more than happy to play the role on TV. Again and again, we see what they actually are—posers, with Millionaire Pundit Values. On their own, they wouldn’t enact Bush’s agenda, but they clearly don’t care if his tax plans go through; indeed, as O’Donnell made so clear, they’ve gained beaucoup bucks from it. And as Carlson told Imus on that memorable morning, even when they know what’s important, they prefer to gambol and play. “It’s fun to disprove Gore,” she said, explaining two years of disgraceful press coverage—coverage which put George Bush in the White House. “As sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us.” Amazingly, Drum still says he doesn’t know why “TV liberals” argue so poorly. We think that it’s been clear for years. But then, some people—remember O’Donnell—have reasons to misstate what’s clear.

Yes, even among fiery young liberals at fiery liberal publications, punches sometimes seem to get pulled in deference to High Foppist Values. Everyone knows it: Given the way today’s press corps works, fiery young liberals will be millionaires too—as long as they arrange not to blow it. So they pull their punches and lower their voices, depriving you of representation. They don’t speak up when Time pimps Coulter—or when the Times plays nasty with Krugman. That’s right—this week, it happened again! At Atrios, at Digby, over at Kos, you were allowed to see Okrent trashed—but career liberal writers were notably silent. At the New Republic, Jonathan Chait did trash the greatest of Manhattan’s fops—but elsewhere, almost no one spoke. (Not a word at Tapped, for example.) The bravest of the rest was Matt Ygelsias. He had the courage to link:

YGLESIAS (5/31/05): I've been reluctant for personal reasons to wade into Daniel Okrent's decision to use his final public editor column at The New York Times to launch an unsubstantiated attack on Paul Krugman's ethics, but I have to recommend Jonathan Chait’s skewering of Okrent's efforts to defend himself on this score.

For what it's worth, I think the whole concept of ombudsmen and public editors is deeply, deeply misguided...

He’s been reluctant for personal reasons! When we survey the work of today’s “career liberal,” we’d have to call that unfortunate phrase an answer for too many seasons.

TOMORROW—AN ASTONISHING SEQUEL: A fiery liberal takes Okrent’s side. Can’t you just hear him? Kiss kiss!

WHY LAWRENCE CAN’T READ: Regarding “the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit,” Gore said this to Tumulty: “That is something for which I have been the principal proponent for a long time.” (He was saying that his opponent, Bill Bradley, was a relative new-comer to the issue.) It’s hard to know how you could read that and think Gore was saying that “he enacted the Earned Income Tax Credit.” Why couldn’t Lawrence read? Perhaps he’d been listening to Rush too long. Or perhaps you were seeing un-repealed human nature. Why couldn’t Lawrence read? To repeat a famous old piece of advice, perhaps you should follow the money.