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WHAT $5 MILLION BUYS YOU! Orly Taitz is a flat-out nut. But then again, so is Chris Matthews: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JUNE 10, 2010

What $5 million buys you: What does $5 million buy you in the cable job market?

It doesn’t buy you much. Below, you see Chris Matthews, late on Tuesday night, offering his thoughts about the likely victory of Orly Taitz. Taitz was seeking the Republican nomination for secretary of state of California.

Matthews’ comments occurred after 10 PM Eastern on Countdown’s live, election-night program. We were struck by Matthews’ cluelessness about the likely outcome of this race, and by his debut as an undisguised one-party man. First, we’ll offer the full exchange, then a series of thoughts:

MATTHEWS (6/8/10): Keith, we’ve got good news tonight.

OLBERMANN: Yes?

MATTHEWS: And that’s the probable nomination of Orly Taitz in California for secretary of state. This is a true malignancy on the Republican Party. She will bring down the other two candidates for high office out there. She’ll probably bring down Carly Fiorina, and may well bring down Meg Whitman because she is unacceptable to any reasonable voter.

She came to the United States from the former Soviet Union. She has this almost a tribalist attitude against the president which bears no connection to any facts that she has in hand. She simply wants to believe he’s not an American, and she is, and she’s going to make this guy pay for it.

It is tribalist, it’s malignant, and I believe if I were a Democratic office-holder out there or had anything to do with the party, with Jerry Brown’s campaign, I would tie her to them like a fencepost.

I would tie her up—I should say like a witch at the stake. This is a malignancy. There is no way to defend her as a candidate. No way. By the way, she’s the star of our upcoming documentary on the Tea Party crowd. She is really awful as a politician. I don’t know how they’re going to defend her.

OLBERMANN: It would be funny if her opponent in this primary were to then produce documents later on that showed that she was somehow ineligible to stand for election.

MATTHEWS: Well, the thing about it is—and it is ludicrous— she believes the president is an illegal immigrant. She believes the president should be thrown out of the country like some people believe Mexicans that come here should be thrown out of the country.

She really believes it. Well, at least she says she believes it. There’s something really in her attitude. I don’t know—a shrink will have to figure it out. Where did she come from? But she’s a recent, you know, she comes to America, it is a land of immigrants, and yet she will not treat the president as an American. Well, there it is. You have to just look at it. You get the message.

OLBERMANN: Let me move on to—

MATTHEWS: There’s something really crazy about this person, and I do think—I heard you earlier tonight, I think that’s wonderful news that she’s been included in the inner sanctum of the Republican ticket out there.

OLBERMANN: Yes.

MATTHEWS: She’s been attending their events.

OLBERMANN: Karl Rove did not get up and walk out. Let me ask you about Arkansas—

MATTHEWS: He should have.

OLBERMANN: We were told early in the day that even—

MATTHEWS: By the way, she’s fair game.

OLBERMANN: Apparently. Well, if she wasn’t before, she certainly is now. Let me turn over to Lincoln and Halter in Arkansas.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Poor Keith kept trying to change the subject. But his guest’s deep-sea gushing went on.

Taitz, of course, is a flat-out nut. But let’s review Matthews’ performance:

Brilliant analyst: We have no idea how Matthews got it into his head that Taitz would “probably” win nomination. As we said, Matthews was trailing this long, oily plume Tuesday night, after 10 PM Eastern. As it turned out, Taitz lost her race for the GOP nomination to Damon Dunn, who squeaked by with 74 percent of the vote! Taitz was massacred in this campaign (click here). Matthews seemed to think she’d been nominated.

Undisguised one-party man: With this peculiar performance, Matthews’ reinvention is complete. You will rarely see a cable host express a party preference as baldly as Matthews did this night. This gentleman spent the Clinton-Gore years (and several years thereafter) aggressively hunting both Clinton and Gore, in the most “malignant” ways possible. In this performance, he openly exulted in the notion that Taitz would “bring down the other two [Republican] candidates for high office” in California. The re-purposing of this big flaming cable nut finally seems complete.

Unable to get it straight: In the area of general competence, Matthews persists in the claim that birthers believe Obama “is an illegal immigrant” who “should be thrown out of the country.” That may be the way some people view this matter, of course; some people think there was no moon landing. But in the realm of mere reality, if Obama had been born to his mother while she was in Kenya, he would still be an American citizen—he just wouldn’t be eligible to run for president as the Constitution is normally understood. To this day, Matthews can’t seem to get this distinction straight. But then, he rarely does.

It takes one to know one: Orly Taitz is a flat-out nut—but then again, so is Matthews. We were struck by how much of his Tuesday night rant could be applied to Matthews himself—more specifically, to his conduct during the Clinton-Gore years (and beyond). Taitz “will not treat the president as an American?” Shortly after 9/11, Matthews went on Imus and said that Gore doesn’t seem very American, even—doesn’t look like one of us. Is there “something really crazy” about Taitz? Is there “a malignancy” in her attitude? Will it take a shrink to figure it out? To all those questions, you might answer yes. But all these things are also true about Matthews’ performance toward Clinton and Gore, which persisted for many years. It was hard to avoid a simple thought as we watched this big cable nut Tuesday night: In this unusual cable rant, Matthews seemed to be describing himself.

What does $5 million buy you these days? In this case, it buys you a loud, screaming cable nut. Orly Taitz is a big nut too—but in fairness, she does it for free.

The Cult of the Single Sentence: In this morning’s New York Times, Jennifer Steinhauer offers a profile of Sharron Angle, who has won the GOP nomination to oppose Harry Reid in the Nevada senate race. We offer three cheers for Steinhauer’s work—for something she and her editors chose to omit from this piece.

Go ahead—read the full profile. You won’t read a single word about liquor, alcohol, beer, Prohibition. We think this shows good judgment on the part of the Times. It represents a defeat for the Cult of the Offhand Comment, the brainless cult which has ruled so much of our modern pseudo-journalism.

Why would a profile of Sharron Angle mention Prohibition? Because of a single sentence Angle apparently uttered in 2006—a murky remark which was seven words long. There doesn’t seem to be a tape of the interview in which Angle made her murky comment; there’s no way to judge her tone of voice, or even to verify that she was quoted accurately in the report of that session. But the dimmer bulbs in our political press corps have been having some good solid fun with that murky, four-year-old comment. Even his highest Lord Dowdinpants tales the bait in today’s Washington Post:

MILBANK (6/10/10): Only weeks ago, the Senate majority leader was a dead man walking, facing a seemingly inevitable defeat in his reelection battle in Nevada. But then came Tuesday's primary, and Republicans selected as their candidate Sharron Angle, a woman who, among other things, favors bringing more nuclear waste to Nevada, floated the idea of outlawing alcohol, and wants to abolish the Education Department, the Energy Department, the EPA, the United Nations and most of the IRS. She's not so keen on Social Security, Medicare or unemployment insurance, either.

Really? Angle “floated the idea of outlawing alcohol?” In all honesty, no—she really didn’t. But so what? Rachel Maddow has been clowning around with this same theme, and you’ll likely see more clowning around your cable dial as things proceed in Nevada. Unfortunately, this advances The Cult of the Offhand Comment and the low-IQ journalistic culture which lies behind that cult.

This culture increasingly rules our journalism, and our politics. This culture has been very damaging to Major Democrats in the years since its birth.

What did Angle say about alcohol in her one murky statement? You can click this link to see the published account of her one fleeting comment—an offhand remark whose meaning is unclear. But remember: In all of recorded human history, Angle has uttered no other statement on this topic—and it isn’t especially clear what she meant by this one remark. But the comment is fun to clown around with. Cable clowns will probably do so.

Angle favors privatizing Social Security and Medicare. Her views on other major topics are often quite striking. (Although we wouldn’t advise you to trust Dowdinpants’ accounts of such topics.) But in our clown-driven journalistic culture, the clowns may steer you over to this. No one gains anything real from such clowning—and a price in paid in the continuing drift of the journalistic culture.

The culture behind the Cult of the Offhand Comment has made our journalism dumb. It’s bad for America when that occurs—but it has been especially bad for a string of Big Major Democrats. When journalists are allowed to grab a single murky remark and interpret it in whatever manner they please, they are given massive power—the power to take our political discourse far off the rails. This power was endlessly used against Candidate Gore in Campaign 2000; every word which fell from his lips was interpreted in clownish ways. This power was then used against Candidate Kerry four years later. (He was for it before he was against it! The press corps’ loud clucking on this theme was extremely dumb.) It’s bad for the country when journalists are allowed to clown in such ways. But this power has been disproportionately used against Big Major Democrats.

Do you believe that Power will work, on balance, in support of Power? If so, this disproportion is what you’d expect when journalists are given the right to clown in such silly ways.

This morning, the New York Times chose to ignore that one lonely statement by Angle—that single, untaped, offhand remark from 2006. Angle explicit favors many proposals which strike at the heart of our modern policy consensus. When we clown around about “banning beer,” we are having some good solid fun, thus driving up our cable ratings and justifying our seven-figure salaries. But we are also making our politics dumber in the process.

In the past twenty years, this growing dumbness has been used to harm progressive interests. Just a guess: If we let the culture of dumbness flourish, the dumbness will tilt this way.