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BIG PIMPIN’! Too funny! Matthews couldn’t quite find the flaw with Father Eminem’s rant: // link // print // previous // next //

BIG PIMPIN’: We had to chuckle when Monica Davey downplayed Father Eminem’s rant. Honest to God, you just have to laugh when the New York Times plays a story like this:

DAVEY (6/2/08): For weeks, the members of Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of the city felt battered by the national spotlight that had accompanied the growing fame of their longtime member, Senator Barack Obama.

First came the endless television coverage of incendiary statements by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, their controversial former pastor. Then reports of a visiting Roman Catholic priest who had mocked Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. And finally on Sunday, a day after Mr. Obama announced that his family was leaving the church, satellite trucks idling again outside the 7:30 a.m. service.

Reports of a visiting Catholic priest? You’d think there were rumors going around what this unnamed man might have said. Davey’s piece concerned the “Battered Feeling at Obama’s Church” (headline) concerning the way the church has been treated in the national press. Many parishioners complained to Davey. Davey never asked anyone for his view of Pfleger’s recent conduct.

Was Davey pimping for Obama? We have no idea. But God almighty, how the New York Times clowned in this ludicrous news report about John McCain’s latest howler. McCain had made roughly his three millionth recent misstatement about the basic facts of the world. And here’s the way the Times’ Michael Luo started his news report on the subject. By our reckoning, you have to go to paragraph 8 before you even begin to learn that McCain made a groaning mistake. And when you do, the revelation is daintily handled. Truly, this work is just clownish:

LUO (5/31/08): A fierce debate erupted on Friday between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama over whether Mr. McCain misspoke at a town-hall-style meeting the previous day when he said that American troops in Iraq had been reduced to “pre-surge levels.”

Mr. McCain has been hammering Mr. Obama on his judgment on national security and his comprehension of the situation in Iraq, noting that the Democrat last visited Iraq two and a half years ago.

The Obama campaign pounced Friday on Mr. McCain’s statement on troop levels, arguing that the Republican candidate was the one who was out of touch with the facts in Iraq. In a conference call, Obama aides reviewed a series of what they said were gaffes Mr. McCain had made talking about the war.

At a news conference here on Friday, however, Mr. McCain asserted that he had not misspoken on Thursday.

The Obama campaign focused on what Mr. McCain said that day in Greenville, Wis., in response to a woman in the audience who pressed him on whether the conflict in Iraq was damaging the American economy.

Mr. McCain listened patiently to the woman and then pushed back vigorously, arguing that President Bush’s troop escalation was yielding results.

“I can tell you it is succeeding,” he said. “I can look you in the eye and tell you it is succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr City are quiet.”

Mr. McCain’s remarks, however, differ from the numbers available. There were 132,000 troops in Iraq before Mr. Bush dispatched an additional 21,500 combat troops early last year, including five Army brigades, making up what is commonly referred to as the surge. In addition, some 8,000 support forces were sent to Iraq as part of the buildup.

Truly, that’s astounding. As everyone knows, it was perfectly clear that McCain had misstated a basic fact. But Luo made you endure the labors of Hercules before he daintily dared to say that McCain’s statement “differs from the numbers available.” (Perhaps there are others numbers somewhere, and his statement agrees with them!) You have to read deep into this report before you start to learn the obvious: John McCain made a howling mistake. We’re not sure when we’ve seen a journalist work so hard to postpone the obvious.

Sorry, folks! Saint McCain made a mistake—and that fact was easy to state. Here’s how Michael Shear began his report in the Washington Post:

SHEAR (5/31/08): Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent Friday on the defensive from rival Sen. Bracak Obama (D-Ill.) after mistakenly saying the United States had drawn down its troops in Iraq to pre-buildup levels.

Duh! Shear stated the obvious fact right away. Luo made his first euphemistic admission in his paragraph 8.

Was Luo pimping for Saint McCain? We can’t answer that question either. But one big journalist was pimping hard at the end of last week. On Friday’s Hardball, Chris Matthews was puzzling hard about what Father Pfleger had said. First, he played the (truncated) tape of Pfleger’s remarks, leaving out some of the highest mockery. Then he tried to puzzle out what the “fly in the ointment” had been.

This is consummate clownistry:

MATTHEWS (5/30/08): Let’s take a look right now at the latest pastor situation. Here’s Father Michael Pfleger taking on, in his own way, Hillary Clinton last Sunday, believe it or not. It took this long to surface at the famous, or infamous, Trinity United Church in Chicago, depending on your, well, views.

PFLEGER (videotape): Then out of nowhere came, “Hey, I’m Barack Obama!” She said, “Oh, damn, where did you come from? I’m white. I’m entitled. There’s a black man stealing my show!”

MATTHEWS: Well, you had to be there, hey, Chris [Cillizza]? The audience liked, obviously loved his take-off, his lampooning, his sending-up of Senator Clinton in her plight of recognizing all of a sudden a race she thought she would win, a guy coming out of nowhere. The flaw in the ointment? What was it? The fly in the ointment?

Will someone stick a fork in this man? According to Matthews, Pfleger’s presentation was a “take-off,” a “lampooning,” a “sending-up of Senator Clinton.” Perhaps for that reason, Chris couldn’t quite put his finger on the problem with Pfleger’s performance. He couldn’t quite find “the fly in the ointment.” So he asked poor Cillizza to help.

Matthews must be one of the biggest clowns in the history of our journalism. In this morning’s New York Times, Bob Herbert (no Obama-hater) was able to finger the fly in the ointment with a great deal of ease:

HERBERT (6/3/08): Within days, we had the astounding video of the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Catholic priest who put on a grotesque performance in the church that could hardly have been more racially offensive toward white people or more personally offensive toward Senator Clinton.

Huh! According to Herbert, it was “astounding video” of “a grotesque performance” which “could hardly have been more racially offensive.” But last Friday, Chris couldn’t quite put his finger on it. And in his response to Matthews’ question, Cillizza seemed quite dainty too:

CILLIZZA One, the theatrics of it. For a lot of people—again, we live in a YouTube world. For a lot of people, the theatrics of that, “I’m white, I’m entitled,” the fake crying. I think that may have made it a bigger deal.

Poor boys! Chris and Chris tiptoed all about, trying to spot what was wrong. Puzzling hard and scratching their heads, they thought it might be “the theatrics.”

Has anyone ever played the fool as long and as shamelessly as Matthews has? But just for the record, we’ll say to Dems what we said last week: For better or worse, that’s the way the world starts to look when the press corps starts taking your side.

HATES POLITICS, LOVES NARRATIVE: Richard Cohen isn’t happy with this year’s Democratic primary race. His column today seeks to explain his unhappiness.

Beyond that, we think his column shows something basic about current mainstream press culture. Typically, sports writers seem to like covering sports. But many of our biggest political writer seem to loathe covering politics.

On the surface, that’s an odd state of affairs. But to our ear, this loathing seems to run all through Cohen’s column. As he starts, he sees himself lying to famous people at a glittering party:

COHEN (6/3/08): Wherever I go—from glittering dinner party to glittering dinner party—the famous and powerful people I meet (for such is my life) tell me how lucky I am to be a journalist in this the greatest of all presidential contests. I tell them, for I am wont to please, that this campaign is indeed great when, as history will record, it is not. I have come to loathe the campaign.

Cohen has tongue in cheek in this passage. But then, he starts explaining why he loathes this campaign. In the process, we think he shows much of what is wrong with our modern upscale press cohort.

Why does Cohen hate this campaign? First, because he’s been forced to think about something he finds unpleasant:

COHEN (continuing directly): I loathe above all the resurgence of racism—or maybe it is merely my appreciation of the fact that it is wider and deeper than I thought. I am stunned by the numbers of people who have come out to vote against Barack Obama because he is black. I am even more stunned that many of these people have no compunction about telling a pollster they voted on account of race—one in five whites in Kentucky, for instance. Those voters didn't even know enough to lie, which is what, if you look at the numbers, others probably did in other states. Such honesty ought to be commendable. It is, instead, frightening.

Like Cohen, we’ve been struck by the answers voters have given to exit poll questions on race. As we’ve said, we’d like to see much more reporting about what those answers might mean. But Cohen betrays no such curiosity. Instead, he turns to the stock-in-trade of his cohort; he offers the most simplistic possible account of what those answers must mean. In fact, voters have not been asked, in exit polls, if they “came out to vote against Barack Obama because he is black” (though many voters may have done so). In Kentucky, voters were asked if “the race of the candidate” was “the single most important factor” in their decision, “one of several important factors,” or if it was “not an important factor.” In Kentucky, about twenty percent of whites said that race was a factor to some degree. (About twenty percent of blacks answered the same way.) But among these whites, about ten percent voted for Obama—and the bulk of these voters seem to have said that race was “a” factor, not “the.”

How many people “came out to vote against Barack Obama because he is black?” We don’t know, and neither does Cohen. But we would like to learn more about this. He announces that he hates this campaign because it has made him “appreciate a fact”—a fact that he can’t really define, a fact that he doesn’t like.

For the record, Cohen hasn’t considered this fact very carefully. As we’ve noted in the past, Cohen’s columns often seem to reflect about ten minutes of effort. Today, here’s his very next paragraph:

COHEN (continuing directly): I acknowledge that some people can find nonracial reasons to vote against Obama—his youth, his inexperience, his uber-liberalism and, of course, his willingness to abide his minister's admiration for a racist demagogue (Louis Farrakhan) until it was way, way too late. But for too many people, Obama is first and foremost a black man and is rejected for that reason alone. This is very sad.

Classic ten-minute reasoning! According to Cohen, voters may have voted against Obama because of “his willingness to abide his minister's admiration for a racist demagogue.” To Cohen, this is a “nonracial reason” for voting—but would it seem like a “nonracial reason” to some such voter in Kentucky? More specifically, if such a voter answered that exit poll, how would he have responded to the questions about race? We don’t have the slightest idea—and neither, of course, does Cohen. More generally, many voters may have considered “racial” aspects of Reverend Wright’s presentations—and may therefore have said that race was “a factor” in their vote. If so, did they “come out to vote against Barack Obama because he is black?” It seems that Cohen would answer no. And it seems he hasn’t spent much time considering such questions.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’d like to see those voters asked more questions about the basis on which they voted. By constrast, Cohen scolds them for telling pollsters the truth, and gives the most simple-minded (and pleasing) account of their answers. Richard Cohen is better than all those racists! There! That felt really good!

But Cohen loathes many things about this campaign. Let’s skip ahead to a striking example. He loathes what has happened to the press:

COHEN: I loathe what has happened to the press. I loathe the incessant blogging and commenting and talking and yapping and hype. I hate that Clinton's observation that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June ran on and on when everyone save some indigenous people in the Brazilian rain forest knew what she meant. I hate that for days these same outlets discussed the relevancy of whether John McCain could be constitutionally barred from the presidency because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone. This, too, is sad.

In fact, there was little discussion of the Canal Zone. But in this passage, Cohen says something that’s quite astounding about his own cohort, the press corps. In his view, “everyone knew” what Clinton meant when she made her comment about Robert Kennedy. And yet, journalists savagely trashed her anyway, for days on end, about an innocuous comment. For ourselves, we don’t think everyone knew what she meant (although we think her meaning was obvious); based on our e-mails, we know that many people simply couldn’t see what she meant. (Let’s be more clear: Couldn’t see what she had said). But it’s weird! In this passage, Cohen says that his cohort savaged Clinton over something they knew was innocuous. But he gives this astounding claim just one sentence—and he offers these highly conventional narratives about other things he loathes:

COHEN: I loathe also what Hillary Clinton has done to herself. The incessant exaggerations, the cheap shots, the flights into hallucinatory history—that sniper fire in Bosnia, for instance—have turned her into a caricature of what her caricaturists long claimed she already was. In this campaign, Clinton has managed to come across as a hungry hack, a Janus looking both forward and backward and seeming to stand for nothing except winning. This, too, is sad.

I loathe what has happened to Bill Clinton.

Cohen loathes “what Hillary Clinton has done to herself.” He then offers an unflattering account of what she has done, in support of which he gives exactly one (hackneyed) example. And he doesn’t even bother to say what he means about her husband! (We’ll guess: Everyone is supposed to think about the Jesse Jackson remark.) But does Richard Cohen loathe what Obama may have done to himself? For example, does he loathe the way the Obama campaign pimped around the RFK story—even though “everyone save some indigenous people in the Brazilian rain forest knew what Clinton meant?” In this column, Cohen doesn’t loathe anything Obama has done—and he doesn’t mention the way Obama’s campaign pimped that item around. We’ll offer an obvious explanation for that latter omission: In all likelihood, Cohen doesn’t know that it happened. Nor does something else seem to enter his mind: If the uproar about RFK was fake, is it possible that the uproar about Jesse Jackson was fake as well? Is it possible that Hillary Clinton “has managed to come across as a hungry hack” because the press corps (and others) have been pimping a string of fake narratives, culminating with RFK? Thoughts like these don’t occur to Cohen. Instead, he gives one example of Hillary’s perfidy—none at all in the case of Wild Bill.

What “has happened to Bill Clinton?” Cohen absolutely loathes it. But he doesn’t even say what it is.

Cohen loathes a lot of things—but what does he seem to loathe most deeply? For us, his most striking passage is this: “I loathe what has happened to the press. I loathe the incessant blogging and commenting and talking and yapping and hype.” Forgive us if we see in that statement the essence of modern press culture. This press corps frequently betrays this instinct, this loathing for comment and talk—for debate, for exploration, for efforts to learn. What do they seem to love instead? They seem to love simple stories, hackneyed narratives, the simplest possible accounts of the world. (Whites in Kentucky “came out to vote against Obama because he is black!”) They hate it when people start talking too much. They hate it when answers to exit polls force them to think about something.

In short, these people hate knowledge, complexity; they hate the infernal need to explore. Let’s put it another way: They hate politics. It’s weird, yet the contrast constantly strikes us. Sports reporters love to talk about sports. Cohen hates talking about politics.

Instead, they love the simpler ways. They love the right to type simple narratives—the way they’ve always done things. They love to type ten-minute columns,. This leaves them time for glittering parties where they lie about what they believe.

Down through the years, Cohen has always seemed to love simple stories—the simple-minded, Official Group Narratives which let him type his ten-minute columns. (Colin Powell is so awesomely honest! Who could doubt his UN talk?) We think that deep-seated love is reflected in two ways in this column:

Confronted by exit poll answers on race, Cohen doesn’t want to learn more; he doesn’t wonder what real people really think. Instead, he offers the simplest possible explanation—and then, of course, he scolds those people who have been willing to answer truthfully! (Thus instructing them not to do so again.) This is classic Love of Narrative. Curiosity won’t kill this ten-minute cat. This cat gets mad when something new happens. And this cat always has a tired narrative.

More remarkable is that sentence about the Robert Kennedy comment. Stunning! According to Cohen, his cohort staged a vicious wilding last week. According to Cohen, all of them knew what Clinton meant—but they savagely trashed her anyway, pretending they didn’t understand. In that passage, Cohen describes astounding misconduct—but he barely seems to notice. He says he hates it—but he gives it one sentence. Quite literally, he grants it parity with that non-existent debate about the Canal Zone.

Richard Cohen hates this campaign. On the other hand, his cohort has staged wildings against Clinton/Gore/Clinton for the past sixteen years, and he still seems to take them in stride.