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HERE ARE YOUR F*CKING SPECIFICS! The dumbness which followed Obama’s address was dumbness for the ages. // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JUNE 17, 2010

Cult on drugs, foreign language edition: Yesterday, the Cult of the Offhand Comment opened an international division.

How dumb was yesterday’s screeching and wailing? For some perspective, consider what Richard Wolfe said on last evening’s Countdown.

Question: Why had BP’s 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 work—then played along with his host:

OLBERMANN (6/16/10): The BP spokesman—and we saw Mr. Hayward in the background going, “Thank God it wasn’t 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. I’m assured by native Swedish speakers that this translates in a way that isn’t 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 Cheney’s former spokesperson as their best communicator. And, of course, that was BP.

Can you believe how dumb Olbermann’s 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 isn’t 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 don’t have a goddamned thing to say—and most often, these losers don’t—this is an easy way to create a pleasing story. And you never contradict your host! Wolffe pretty much said the whole thing was bunk—then skillfully played along.

These silly games are aimed at us rubes—and pundits love to play them. When we looked at TPM this morning, a screeching tabloid headline complained about Chairman Svanbeg’s vile remark. Last evening, though, Josh had posted this, noting the possible “language barrier issue.” We note that Josh’s post appeared about fifteen minutes after Wolffe’s appearance on Countdown.

This silly clatter represents the Cult of the Offhand Comment on steroids. Your nation’s discourse is astoundingly dumb. If you doubt that, just ponder this silly shrieking.

(Oh, sorry, we forgot! This is a case of “playing hardball”—an instance of “realpolitik.”)

HERE ARE YOUR F*CKING SPECIFICS (permalink): The dumbness of America’s 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 Obama’s 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): I’m going to revise my remarks, Chris. I don’t think he aimed low. I don’t think he aimed at all about this! It’s startling to have heard this, isn’t it?

MATTHEWS: Well, I thought—I 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, it’s almost gotten ludicrous. We had Carol Browner do it again tonight. I know I’ve mocked him for doing it, saying I’d barf if he did it one more time. But it’s not important. This meritocracy is going too far.

Incredibly, that’s all Keith’s panel-of-hacks had left after just five minutes of chatter.

As usual, the other hacks played monkey-do with this, their clan’s 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? We’re all bragging about the fact that our Nobel Prize-winning energy secretary has a Nobel Prize. Do we mention he won a Nobel Prize? He’s Nobel Prize-winning! We’re 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 dumb—and they prefer to be dumb as a group.

Back to critiques of Obama’s address. The next morning, Mike Barnicle—one of the culture’s leading know-nothings—was bellowing on Morning Joe, complaining that he hadn’t heard enough “specifics” from Obama. For our money, though, what follows is perhaps the dumbest comment we saw. The morning after Obama’s 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 it’s a standard type of High Pundit “analysis.” (Predecessor: Diane Sawyer in June 1999, asking Gore why he said Bill Clinton’s affair was “inexcusable.” Why hadn’t he said he was “outraged?” Moments later: “Why do you choose the word ‘disappointed’ instead of ‘horrified?’ ”)

Presumably, there’s plenty to criticize and/or critique about Obama’s reaction to this ongoing disaster. There may be a great deal to criticize and/or critique about Obama’s 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 cohort’s 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 today’s 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 ahead—watch the tape of Tuesday night’s 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 Tuesday’s 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, that’s what you’ll get every time.

Vintage Matthews: Matthews told Keith that he had complained about all the “Nobel Prize” talk before. The big dumb nut wasn’t 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 company’s 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? What’s your—what’s 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, we’re busy right now scoring the best ideas. And we’re 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 they’re very busy. They’re as busy as you could be. So we want to make sure we make the best use of their time. But I will say it’s 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, it’s 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.” Our—our network are scientists, researchers. They’re eminent authorities in their field, and they can’t put their ideas in 200 words.

MATTHEWS: OK. Why don’t 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 the—I think the first step there was today when they announced today that Steven Chu and a group of 200—

MATTHEWS: Yes.

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 that’s the smart move.

SPRADLIN: —we have been collecting these solutions for a month now.

MATTHEWS: OK. I think the smart way—get to Chu, get on Chu. He’s the idea man.

Thank you so much, Dwayne Spradlin. Thanks for coming on. Maybe he will get the idea through this show. If Secretary Chu’s 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 Chu’s 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 gentlemen—I`ll start with Chuck—is, 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 that—I’d say Stephen Chu—his name is no longer Stephen Chu, the energy secretary, it’s “Nobel Prize winner Stephen Chu,” right?

(LAUGHTER)

They’ve made sure every time they mention his name, they throw in that he’s—

MATTHEWS: Why?

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: Here’s one—here’s one thing, Chris. You know, we have heard about Stephen Chu’s Nobel prize about a million times. Everybody from the administration mentions it all the time, as if, as if it’s 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—

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROBINSON: —you know, these people who— they don’t 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 Chu’s Nobel Prize all the time. One night earlier, he had stressed Chu’s Nobel Prize himself.

Matthews is like a thing from the deep—and he’s Rachel’s “friend and colleague.” But this is what you always will get when you shell out that $5 million.