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WILLING TO DO AND SAY SILLY THINGS! Tim always knew who the phonies were, Brokaw oddly explained: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18, 2008

A GENTLEMAN’S WORDS APPEAR: Chris Matthews’ comments from last Friday night now appear on this MSNBC transcript, which now includes the 8 PM hour. (We think the original transcript was lengthened, but we aren’t completely certain.) As we type, MSNBC’s 8 PM hour from Friday night is still absent from Nexis. We’ll discuss Matthews’ comments tomorrow.

THE HACKLEY SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS: It’s been a long time since Margaret Carlson broke out of her Clinton/Gore-hating mold. But on last night’s Hardball, she became the rare insider scribe willing to state the obvious. To her credit:

CARLSON (6/17/08): Al Gore’s made it a mainstream position. Almost everybody now acknowledges global warming, except for the president, who still thinks we need more studies. As a voting issue, Perry is probably right. In defense of Al Gore, has anybody been more enhanced by a loss? Not even Hillary Clinton. The temperament he showed–has anybody had a better second act, more suited to his gifts? He could have behaved any number of ways after the loss by the Supreme Court and he didn’t. He behaved well.

It’s amazing–that pundits still feel they must speak “in defense of Al Gore,” even after he won the Nobel Peace Prize, even after he changed the world’s discussion. And it’s amazing–that so few pundits have ever stooped to making the obvious observations Carlson made last night. By the way, why did Carlson feel she had to speak “in defense of Al Gore?” Perhaps because the pundit corps is run by morons like this:

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Yes. Let me go to John for an always interesting analysis by John Heilemann. John, Al Gore. He appears to us so irregularly. We notice how he gains weight, loses weight, has a beard. He ought to stick around more frequently so people don’t notice these things. He’s a big guy. He’s back. And he’s not really a politician, I wouldn’t say. Is he a plus?

The man belongs in an institution. Throughout the program, Matthew displayed his wonderful wit, referring to Gore as “the jowly green giant.” The gentleman’s “joke” was so moronic that it has been officially mis-transcribed. But yes–that really is what he said. He said it at least four times.

In what world do fools like this gain control of a nation’s discourse?

Then again, it wasn’t much better on Monday’s Countdown, where Keith-O asked hacktacular Richard Wolffe to discuss Gore’s endorsement of Obama. On what planet do nations go out of their way to import “journalists” like this?

OLBERMANN: All right. And, now, let’s talk about specifically this Al Gore endorsement. The timing. Apart from the June 16 of Gore`s own presidential run, is there a reason? Is there something specific as we wait for him to come out into the hall in Detroit?

WOLFFE: Well, as someone who was in Carthage, Tennessee, in June of 1999 when this happened, I mean, the contrast’s really striking here. When Al Gore announced, he had protesters. HIV/AIDS protesters disrupted the event. And his campaign had all of this turmoil for several months afterwards.

I think you’re looking at a different Al Gore, obviously, a different kind of campaign. And Al Gore always said he was going to wait until this race was pretty much decided, and it certainly is now. It’s not exactly a profile in courage.

“It’s not exactly a profile in courage!” Is it possible to be a bigger fool than this hacktacular Brit?

For the record, Keith-O didn’t do much better, making several snide remarks about Gore’s failure to endorse earlier. (“Al Gore endorses Barack Obama–really going out on a limb there!”) For ourselves, we would have been quite surprised if Gore had endorsed someone during the primaries. But that’s the way the modern hack works. First, he make unlikely predictions, based on his hacktacular dumbness. Then, he starts making snide remarks when his predictions fail.

At any rate, here’s the current MSNBC view of the world:

After winning the Nobel Peace Prize and changing the world’s discussion, the “Jowly Green Giant” endorsed Obama, though it wasn’t “exactly a profile in courage.” If technology didn’t let you see people this dumb, you wouldn’t believe they existed.

By the way, what’s the key fact from this profile of Olbermann? During the gentleman’s formative years, he attended the Hackley School.

Special report! Novels, all the way down!


PART 2–WILLING TO DO AND SAY SILLY THINGS: For ourselves, we have no doubt that Tim Russert–Tim Russert, the person–was as decent as his friends have all said. When journalists have remembered Russert this week, they have repeatedly stressed his personal kindness. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, James Carville asked and answered: “The question I'm most often asked about Tim is, Is he really a good guy as he looks like? And the truth is, he was a better guy...” We’re not huge fans of Mike Barnicle as a political analyst, but we have no doubt that he and Gwen Ifill spoke the truth in these detailed recollections:

BARNICLE (6/15/08): I can't begin to tell you the numbers of people who he knew who had a child who might be damaged in one way or another, and Tim would always call and ask to speak to that child, who–in the house, you know, "How are you doing? Julie, how are you doing?" or whoever it was. He had that touch. He just knew that–who needed to be lifted up, who needed to be helped, and he was the strongest man, he had the strongest, biggest heart.

IFILL: And children, who are excellent judges of character, really loved Tim.

Many people have said such things in recalling Tim Russert, the person.

But journalists haven’t restricted themselves to discussing Tim Russert, the person. They’ve also discussed Tim Russert, the journalist–and in those discussions, they’ve lapsed into the types of industry agitprop that drives so much of their public conduct. On occasion, they’ve also offered the types of discussion which provide a rare look at their actual world-views. On Monday night, for example, Chris Matthews began Hardball by saying the Hail Mary; he then staged a discussion of Irish Catholic culture to which we’ll return by the end of the week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/17/08). As we’ve told you through the years, major journalists almost never you tell the truth about their cohort’s practices, outlooks and values. When Matthews, Barnicle and Pat Buchanan shared their views of Irish Catholic culture, you were given a rare look inside their mental world–inside a rarely-discussed part of NBC News.

Journalists have also discussed Tim Russert, the well-known public legend. Everyone knows the Standard Stories about Tim’s life and career, and journalist were quick to recite these stories in these recent discussions. On Meet the Press, we were struck by one exchange between Betsy Fischer, Russert’s long-time producer, and Tom Brokaw, his long-time colleague and friend. In this exchange, Fischer continued to describe Tim’s personal decency. Brokaw, who seems like a decent person himself, quickly “explained” Russert’s conduct:

FISCHER: He would always–he always said this–he always said the best exercise for the human heart was to bend down and pick someone else up. And he not only picked us up, but he held us up every week, and that's the backbone of this show.

BROKAW: Well, Mike and I have talked about this a lot, because we've shared so many common roots. I think it's really testimony to his working-class background, and to this country–he would always say–if I can get through this–"What a great country this is.”

Why would Russert go out of his way to speak to children who were facing challenges? Fischer described Russert’s personal thinking–the thinking of a decent man. And just like that, Brokaw supplied the Standard Explanation for Russert’s personal decency. According to Brokaw, it was “really testimony to Russert’s working-class background” when he did such things.

It would be hard to overstate how noxious–how destructive–this familiar part of modern press piety has proven to be through the years.

Russert came from the working class! To various journalists–even those as sophisticated as Brokaw–this fact is constantly used to explain Russert’s decency, fairness, diligence, wisdom, inerrant handling of all human tasks. On Monday evening’s Hardball, Pat Buchanan offered a variant of the same theory:

BUCHANAN (6/16/08): He was unique, he was sui generis, because he came out of that working-class Catholic urban ethnic Buffalo neighborhood...

Tim was great because he grew up in that working-class Catholic neighborhood, Pat told Chris and Mike. In simpler words, Tim was great because he grew up like us! But then, Brokaw comes from a working-class background too; his praise of Russert’s decency can be read as a form of self-praise too. Go ahead–reread what he said about Russert’s decency in that exchange with Fischer. “Mike [Barnicle] and I have talked about this a lot,” he said, “because we've shared so many common roots.” In short, Tim’s decency was testimony to his working-class background–the same background I, Brokaw, came from.

Let’s say it again: Looking back on the past twenty years, it would be hard to overstate the damage done to the national interest by this self-pitying, self-glorying part of standard press corps thinking.

Brokaw’s explanation of Russert’s personal decency is, on its face, fairly silly, of course; decent (and indecent) people come from all kinds of backgrounds. (No FDRs need apply!) But Russert’s monumental working-class goodness is a foundational part of the well-known legend surrounding him in the press. For years now, journalists have said the silliest things in promotion of this Approved Standard Narrative. For example, here is Brokaw–apparently, a sensible man–speaking absolute perfect nonsense on Sunday’s Meet the Press:

BROKAW: Betsy Fischer, you've been Tim's producer and at his side for a long time. You began here as an intern.

FISCHER: Seventeen years ago.

BROKAW: Seventeen years ago. Tim always said that Big Russ watching in Buffalo was his best barometer. He knew who the phonies were.

FISCHER: He had his own focus group, he said.

BROKAW: Right, and Tim would get that reading at the end of a broadcast. He would call Big Russ and see how it went.

FISCHER: He would, and he called it the cheapest backyard focus group, and that was his needle, his compass...

If we believe what was said there, Tim Russert–the nation’s most important journalist–always “knew who the phonies were” because his one-man “focus group” in Buffalo would tell him. One prays this is just a silly tale. But Brokaw, bowing to press corps pieties, sat there and read it off straight. There wasn’t the slightest hint that Brokaw didn’t really believe this.

Brokaw was certainly right on one point; Russert did “always say” that silly thing about his focus-group father. In fact, Russert “always said” a lot of things about himself–about his life; about his upbringing; about his father; about his birth neighborhood; about his own modesty; about his career. The things he said were almost always self-flattering and, once he became the nation’s most powerful journalist, endless flunkies fell into line, eager to repeat his stories. How silly were they willing to be? Here was Gene Robinson, reinventing the world in yesterday’s Washington Post:

ROBINSON (6/14/08): Much has been made of Russert's "everyman" persona–the blue-collar kid from Buffalo who never lost sight of his roots. It's true that Russert didn't put on airs, but he never pretended to be a regular guy and I doubt many people saw him that way. In fact, he was the insider's insider, with connections and access–and also wealth and influence–that no one would remotely consider ordinary. If there is a Washington "bubble," Russert lived at its center.

That whole paragraph has arrived here from Mars, but on what planet is that highlighted statement even dimly accurate? We won’t tell you that Russert “put on airs” or “pretended,” but everyone thought of him as “a regular guy,” in large part because he worked so hard to promote such personal imagery. “Much has been made of Russert's ‘everyman’ persona?” That’s true; much was made by Russert himself of this famous persona. Tim “never forgot where he came from,” pundits have robotically said. But then, no one could forget where Russert came from; the big guy wouldn’t stop talking about it–typically, in well-crafted stories designed to reinforce the image of white working-class moral superiority. Buchanan basically stated the creed in the passage we’ve cited above, but it runs through an enormous part of the Russert legend. In the minds of his colleagues, these things were true: When Russert showed his personal decency, it was “really testimony to his working-class background.” When Russert seemed to be unique, it was “because he came out of that working-class Catholic urban ethnic Buffalo neighborhood.” On Sunday, we were even told–for the ten millionth time–that Russert knew who the phonies were because his working-class father would tell him. Did Brokaw believe such a ludicrous thing? One hardly dares ask.

Unfortunately, it became somewhat obvious, in Russert’s career, who he (and Big Russ?) thought “the phonies” might be. And we’ll take a horrible guess: With so many people pandering to him–repeating tales of his moral greatness–it may not have occurred to this decent man that his judgments might even be faulty.

We have no doubt that Tim Russert, the person, was as decent as his friends say. But how good was Russert’s judgment? Everyone’s judgment is faulty, of course. That’s why it isn’t a great idea when a gaggle of simpering flunkies agree to recite the self-flattering tales of the nation’s most powerful journalist. A journalist who just happened to have grown up exactly as they had, of course.

WORTH REPEATING: We think what follows is well worth repeating. What’s remembered here is not nothing:

BARNICLE: I can't begin to tell you the numbers of people who he knew who had a child who might be damaged in one way or another, and Tim would always call and ask to speak to that child, who–in the house, you know, "How are you doing? Julie, how are you doing?" or whoever it was. He had that touch. He just knew that–who needed to be lifted up, who needed to be helped, and he was the strongest man, he had the strongest, biggest heart.

IFILL: And children, who are excellent judges of character, really loved Tim.

According to Fischer, and she convinced us: “He always said the best exercise for the human heart was to bend down and pick someone else up.” We think it’s worth repeating these portraits of Russert, the personal man.

TOMORROW–PART 3: Everyone makes errors in judgment. Joe Klein and Chris Matthews discussed Tim’s.

FRIDAY–PART 4: Uh-oh! We Irish do make wonderful prosecutors, Chris, Mike and Patrick all said.