Cult on drugs, foreign language edition: Yesterday, the Cult of the Offhand Comment opened an international division.
How dumb was yesterdays screeching and wailing? For some perspective, consider what Richard Wolfe said on last evenings Countdown.
Question: Why had BPs chairman, a Swede, referred to the small people in his White House statement? Olbermann was suitably outraged, of course, thus giving us rubes a thrill up the leg. In reply, Wolffe explained how languages workthen played along with his host:
OLBERMANN (6/16/10): The BP spokesmanand we saw Mr. Hayward in the background going, Thank God it wasnt me who said that. The BP spokesman told the Associated Press this was a slip in translation, which is fascinating on its own rights because Mr. Svanberg was speaking English at the time. Then the only other phrase he could have been looking for was the little people. How is this playing in the gulf or in the White House at the moment?
WOLFFE: Well, rather differently, I suspect. You know, for the White House, having BP make this kind of mistake is probably quite useful. But, look, I can give some slack here to the Swedish guy. Im assured by native Swedish speakers that this translates in a way that isnt in any way derogatory.
What you cannot give any slack to is BP itself because why, given the sensitivities involved here, would you put someone who cannot speak English as a first language in the limelight? I mean, you have to be particularly inexpert and incompetent to announce a $20 billion fund on the same day that you make this kind of error. You know, the last company to make this kind of mistake was this big oil company that had a big environmental disaster and hired Dick Cheneys former spokesperson as their best communicator. And, of course, that was BP.
Can you believe how dumb Olbermanns statement was? In reply, Wolffe explained how second languages work. He then played along with his powerful host, saying you have to be particularly inexpert and incompetent to let a native Swedish speaker make your statement in such a circumstance.
Actually, you have to be particularly inexpert and dumb to screech, yell, bellow, cavort and wail when someone who isnt even an English speaker makes a slightly clumsy remark. But our pundits have selectively bellowed and wailed about offhand comments for decades now. If you dont have a goddamned thing to sayand most often, these losers dontthis is an easy way to create a pleasing story. And you never contradict your host! Wolffe pretty much said the whole thing was bunkthen skillfully played along.
These silly games are aimed at us rubesand pundits love to play them. When we looked at TPM this morning, a screeching tabloid headline complained about Chairman Svanbegs vile remark. Last evening, though, Josh had posted this, noting the possible language barrier issue. We note that Joshs post appeared about fifteen minutes after Wolffes appearance on Countdown.
This silly clatter represents the Cult of the Offhand Comment on steroids. Your nations discourse is astoundingly dumb. If you doubt that, just ponder this silly shrieking.
(Oh, sorry, we forgot! This is a case of playing hardballan instance of realpolitik.)
HERE ARE YOUR F*CKING SPECIFICS (permalink): The dumbness of Americas high pundit class has been a point of fascination here for lo, these many years.
(Almost as fascinating: The refusal of the wider world to adopt dumbness as a basic category of press critique. The analysts cheer when Jamison Foser goes there, as he frequently does. Most others seem reluctant to adopt this fundamental category. This reluctance is deeply destructive.)
That said, the dumbness which followed Obamas Tuesday night address was dumbness for the ages. On Countdown, Keith had that trademark look on his face; mouth left open, hurt look in his eyes, the outraged, abused, upset fellow declaimed and bellowed loudly. But you know the way your high culture works! Within five minutes, the intelligence of his panel-of-hacks had sunk to the ocean floor:
OLBERMANN (6/15/10): Im going to revise my remarks, Chris. I dont think he aimed low. I dont think he aimed at all about this! Its startling to have heard this, isnt it?
MATTHEWS: Well, I thoughtI thought a couple of things were surprising to me. Why does he continue to say that the secretary of energy has a Nobel Prize? I mean, its almost gotten ludicrous. We had Carol Browner do it again tonight. I know Ive mocked him for doing it, saying Id barf if he did it one more time. But its not important. This meritocracy is going too far.
Incredibly, thats all Keiths panel-of-hacks had left after just five minutes of chatter.
As usual, the other hacks played monkey-do with this, their clans latest point. One night later, Rachel repeated this new piece of script with Dowdian snark and scorn:
MADDOW (6/16/10): We supposedly have an administration now that values science, right? Were all bragging about the fact that our Nobel Prize-winning energy secretary has a Nobel Prize. Do we mention he won a Nobel Prize? Hes Nobel Prize-winning! Were all bragging about the fact that he and his Nobel Prize are personally involved in calculating the flow rate at the oil pipe right now
Spawn of Dowd! And this morning, our highest Lady of Middle Inania recites this new pleasing point in her New York Times column. Our high pundit class is amazingly dumband they prefer to be dumb as a group.
Back to critiques of Obamas address. The next morning, Mike Barnicleone of the cultures leading know-nothingswas bellowing on Morning Joe, complaining that he hadnt heard enough specifics from Obama. For our money, though, what follows is perhaps the dumbest comment we saw. The morning after Obamas address, Robert Reich was upset at Salon:
REICH (6/16/10): The man who electrified the nation with his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 2004 put it to sleep tonight. President Obama's address to the nation from the Oval Office was, to be frank, vapid. If you watched with the sound off you might have thought he was giving a lecture on the history of the Interstate Highway System. He didn't have to be angry but he had at least to show passion and conviction. It is, after all, the worst environmental crisis in the history of the nation.
With the sound on, his words hung in the air with all the force of a fund-raiser for your local public access TV station. Everything seemed to be in the passive tense. He had authorized deepwater drilling because he "was assured" it was safe. But who assured him? How does he feel about being so brazenly misled? He said he wanted to "understand" why that was mistaken. Understand? He's the president of the United States and it was a major decision. Isn't he determined to find out how his advisors could have been so terribly wrong?
Tomorrow he's "informing" the president of BP of BP's financial obligations. "Informing" is what you do when you phone the newspaper to tell them it wasn't delivered today. Why not "directing" or "ordering?
That highlighted passage is stunningly dumb, but its a standard type of High Pundit analysis. (Predecessor: Diane Sawyer in June 1999, asking Gore why he said Bill Clintons affair was inexcusable. Why hadnt he said he was outraged? Moments later: Why do you choose the word disappointed instead of horrified? )
Presumably, theres plenty to criticize and/or critique about Obamas reaction to this ongoing disaster. There may be a great deal to criticize and/or critique about Obamas address. But is there any requirement that our high pundit class show even minimal intelligence as they perform these tasks? For decades, there has been no such constraint on this cohorts behavior. On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, this high class spilled from its Volkswagen bug, showing you what we mean.
Why did Obama say informing instead of ordering? For ourselves, we were struck by the promise implied by the word he did use. Given what he said Tuesday night, Obama would have looked pretty silly if no escrow account ensued the next day. That said, here are some of the fucking specifics the imbecile Barnicle wanted (taken from our hard-copy edition of todays New York Times):
CALMES (6/17/10): Four days of intense negotiations between the White House and BP lawyers allowed President Obama to announce Wednesday that the oil giant would create a $20 billion fund to pay damage claims to thousands of fishermen and others along the Gulf Coast.
The fund will be administered by Kenneth R. Feinberg, the lawyer and mediator who ran the fund for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks...
The institution of that fund strikes us as a very large news event. But the theater critics were still out in force! Last night, Reich appeared on Countdown, complaining that Obama should have waited until Wednesday to give his address.
Whatever you say, massah boss.
Go aheadwatch the tape of Tuesday nights segment on Countdown. You are watching very unintelligent people. One of them has a look on his face, a look he has virtually trademarked.
Meanwhile, what does $5 million per year buy you on the cable market? Five minutes into Tuesdays discussion, it bought us a threat that Matthews would barf if they mention that Nobel Prize again.
These are very unintelligent people. But when you pay $5 million per year, thats what youll get every time.
Vintage Matthews: Matthews told Keith that he had complained about all the Nobel Prize talk before. The big dumb nut wasnt kidding. In fact, Matthews has been complaining about the Nobel Prize talk surrounding Chu since June 3 of this year. But you know Matthews! One night earlier, he had been pimping the Nobel Prize talk himself!
Background: On the June 2 Hardball, Matthews spoke with Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of Innocentive. Spradlin had been assembling ideas for dealing with the gulf disaster. As their segment ended, Matthews told Spradlin how he should get his companys ideas in front of the administration. Before long, he was recommending Chu, who won the Nobel Prize, after all:
MATTHEWS (6/2/10): OK. Let me ask you this. You are getting your ideas to the, the Coast Guard, to BP? Whats yourwhats your target of getting information? How are you getting your best and brightest ideas to the people making decisions?
SPRADLIN: So, this comes in two pieces. The first is, were busy right now scoring the best ideas. And were actually putting a set of independent analysts together to review the best ideas to come up with the very few that we think should actually go to the engineers on the ground, because we recognize theyre very busy. Theyre as busy as you could be. So we want to make sure we make the best use of their time. But I will say its difficult to get
MATTHEWS: Who are you getting it to, though? I just want to know, how are you getting it to the president and his people?
SPRADLIN: So, so, the second part of that that I was getting to is, its been very difficult to get BP to agree to review these solutions. Their suggestion overall is to send these things in through this Deepwater Horizon response Web site which is sort of, Your idea in 200 words or less. Ourour network are scientists, researchers. Theyre eminent authorities in their field, and they cant put their ideas in 200 words.
MATTHEWS: OK. Why dont you call the secretary of energy, the guy that won the Nobel Prize, Secretary Chu? Call him up, ask for his public affairs officer, and tell him you have got these ideas and you want them to go to the secretary. Just do it.
SPRADLIN: Well, I think theI think the first step there was today when they announced today that Steven Chu and a group of 200
SPRADLIN: 200 academics and scientists are coming together to actually review solutions and approaches. Our hope is to plug into that very quickly, because we have been
MATTHEWS: I think thats the smart move.
SPRADLIN: we have been collecting these solutions for a month now.
MATTHEWS: OK. I think the smart wayget to Chu, get on Chu. Hes the idea man.
Thank you so much, Dwayne Spradlin. Thanks for coming on. Maybe he will get the idea through this show. If Secretary Chus people are watching, call this fellow, Dwayne Spradlin.
SPRADLIN: Thank you very much.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
That was Matthews, on June 2, telling Spradlin that he should call the secretary of energy, the guy that won the Nobel Prize, Secretary Chu. The very next night, this dumbest nut in the whole nut jar began complaining about the way everyone refers to Chus Nobel Prize. It started with Chuck Todd, then spread out from there. There was plenty of LAUGHTER, of course:
MATTHEWS (6/3/10): One question I have for both of you gentlemenI`ll start with Chuckis, does the White House have an ongoing effort to try to find solutions independently of BP, Chuck?
TODD: Well, they do. They say that they are doing this, that they have this way thatId say Stephen Chuhis name is no longer Stephen Chu, the energy secretary, its Nobel Prize winner Stephen Chu, right?
Theyve made sure every time they mention his name, they throw in that hes
TODD: Nobel prize winner
MATTHEWS: Why do they do that? Why do they do that?
TODD: Well, I think it`s this attempt to say, Hey, look, we`re getting as many experts as we can to look at this, that they are trying to count on people outside of BP.
EUGENE ROBINSON: Heres oneheres one thing, Chris. You know, we have heard about Stephen Chus Nobel prize about a million times. Everybody from the administration mentions it all the time, as if, as if its part of a set of talking points. I think I personally would feel better if I saw a room in Houston full of, you know, the heir to Red Adair or something
ROBINSON: you know, these people who they dont give Nobel prizes for oil drilling. And so if, if you saw a room full of old hands at oil exploration, at wildcat oil drilling or something, undersea exploration, whatever, that image, I think, would go a long way.
There you see the birth of a talking-point. Ever since June 3, Matthews has bellowed, grumbled and wailed about the way they mention Chus Nobel Prize all the time. One night earlier, he had stressed Chus Nobel Prize himself.
Matthews is like a thing from the deepand hes Rachels friend and colleague. But this is what you always will get when you shell out that $5 million.