RESPECTFUL/OBEDIENT! Three pundits staged a rare discussion. They wont likely do it again: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 17, 2008
A GENTLEMANS WORDS DISAPPEAR: It begins to seem that Chris Matthews words have perhaps been disappeared. As we noted yesterday, Matthews offered an unusual recollection of his late colleague, Tim Russert, on Friday evenings Countdown. In particular, he recalled a conversation he had with Russert as the U.S. prepared for war with Iraq. It may be tricky to say this, Matthews said, knuckling to his lack of impulse control. And Ill say it.
Matthews statement was tricky that night because it wasnt a silly novel. Perhaps for that reason, it almost begins to seem that Matthews words have been officially disappeared.
Due to the miracle of the net, you can still watch what Matthews said, and we recommend that you do so. (Just click here. The comments about Iraq start about 1:10 in.) But the transcript of this 8 PM hour seems to have disappeared. Its absent at MSNBC.com (this transcript is from Friday afternoons coverage). Its also absent at Nexis. At Nexis, an MSNBC transcript is posted for Fridays 7 PM hour. The next hour doesnt appear.
Matthews comment was worth considering. Well let you know if it ever appears.
Under Jack Welch, NBC News became a news division without real precedent in modern history; to a remarkable degree, it became an ethnic news division.(Note: By long tradition, most American news orgs were ethnic in the sense that they were all-white.) How thoroughly ethnic did this news org become? When Bush and Gore debated in October 2000, MSNBC assembled a five-member panel to discuss the sessions:
Remarkably, all five were East Coast Irish Catholics! First guest commentator on the air each night? Tim Russert, East Coast Irish Catholic! (Tom Brokaw tagged along with Russert, presumably serving as chaperone.) Under Welch, East Coast Irish Catholics were put in place at the news divisions key spots. (We have no idea if this was done as part of some conscious plan.) Russert became moderator of Meet the Press; Matthews became king of NBC cable; and Williams was locked in place as Brokaws successor on Nightly News. Once his runs for public office ceased, Pat Buchanan (East Coast Irish Catholic) emerged as top cable pundit. Under Welch, Robert Wright (East Coast Irish Catholic) became president and CEO of NBC. And the network hired so many ODonnells, they were routinely said, by us, to have their own page in the companys phone book.
[Note for the nervous: We were raised East Coast Irish Catholic ourselves. Our grandmothers maiden name: Callahan. Location of service: Outside Boston.]
Everyone in the wider press world avoided noting this peculiar way of staffing a news division. Except USA Todays Peter Johnson, who offered this as part of an unusually frank profile of Russert:
In the 1990s, Russert bought a summer home on Nantucketjoining Welch and Wright on the island. Matthews bought a $4.4 million home there in 2003.
Is there actually something wrong with building a news division this way? Consider last nights discussion on Hardball. Producers had assembled a three-man panel to discuss Russert and his legacy:
All three were East Coast Irish Catholics! Indeed, in the course of a truly unusual (and enlightening) discussion, the gentlemen expressed their views of East Coast Irish Catholic culture. Answering Matthews opening question, Barnicle praised Our Kind:
In Barnicles portrait, Russert possessed remarkable traitsbecause he was Catholic, raised by the nuns. Indeed, you could see it every time he went on the air. The younger people are no longer like this.
Pat Buchanan largely agreed. He described the type of people created by Russerts upbringing:
Russert was unique, Buchanan said, because he came out of that working-class Catholic urban ethnic Buffalo neighborhood. But even as Pat called Tim unique, he almost seemed to be saying the opposite. Let us translate his (only slightly) less obvious meaning. According to Buchanan, Russert was unique because he was raised just like us. Russert was a great, unique manbecause he was one of We Irish.
Is there really something wrong with assembling a news division in the way Jack Welch did? We think the problem is already evident hereand we think it became a good deal more evident as this discussion proceeded.
In this discussion, you see three East Coast Irish Catholics starting with the religious piece. This is probably the one night well ever do it on Hardball, Matthews saidand let us translate that for you too. Almost surely, this was the one night on which these men will tell you, anywhere near this frankly, how they really see the world. Indeed, in the passages weve already quoted, a great deal has already been said.
What happens when youre raised as Russert was raised? Buchanan stated his view of the matter. I think it creates in you a certain type of individual, he said. And then, he said what type of individual he had in mind. If we remember who Buchanan was discussing, we think he made a striking assertion:
What happens when youre raised as We Irish were raised? According to Buchanan, you become a respectful person. You become obedient. And not only that: The Jesuits did imbue in you certain certitudes, beliefs of right and wrong. They were hammered into you.
But heres our question: Are those the traits you want to see in your nations leading journalists? And then too, were those really the traits of you saw in the work of Tim Russert? We had planned to postpone this discussion, but we think the ideas being blabbed all about are too important to be delayed. So how about it: Do you want an obedient, respectful news corps? A news division full of people who got their certitudes hammered into them during the early years of life? And is that really what Russert was like? We think these questions are especially relevant because of what Matthews said to Olbermann last Friday night.
It seems his words may have been disappeared. But in his comments to Olbermann, Matthews did describe an obedient man, a man who bought the company linethe patriotic lineat a time when his nation really needed a hard-headed type of analysis. There is much to ponder in last nights discussion; well continue with it tomorrow. But according to Buchanan, We Irish were raised to be respectfulobedient. And everybody seemed to agree: We Irish are better than the rest.
In such glimmers, you see the problem with building a news org in the way Jack Welch built his. And in such glimmers, you see the shape of NBC News appalling performance over the past sixteen years. Of course, sitting politely at their card tables, the boys and girls of the career liberal world would die before theyd tattle about this. Obedient as these boys and girls are, they may not be deeply inclined to spot the trait in big stars.
TOMORROWPART 2: We Irish make wonderful prosecutors, all three pundits said.