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Daily Howler: On Hardball, Matthews raised a key point: Michael Moore's too goddam fat!
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THE FATSO FILES! On Hardball, Matthews raised a key point: Michael Moore’s too goddam fat! // link // print // previous // next //

THE PRESS CORPS’ JEALOUS GODS: This morning, Patrick Healy is busy spinning the latest Obama-Clinton dispute. (Where on earth does the Times find these people?) But then, we’ve marveled several times, just in the past week, at the way big journos present the big hopefuls. Modern journalists simply luvv familiar narratives about the candidates. And of course, they worship trivia.

Examples? Here’s how Shailagh Murray began her front-page profile of Biden’s advisers in Saturday’s Washington Post. How hard will they work to include their key narratives? Just try to follow the logic:
MURRAY (7/21/07): One might think that a politician whose career was nearly ruined by plagiarism would avoid other people's words at all cost.

Yet there stood Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. before a group of small-town retirees, riffing on Seamus Heaney's poetry: "We got a shot to making 'hope and history rhyme.' " Followed by Plato: "The penalty good people pay for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than themselves." And then bons mots from the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the poet Dylan Thomas and John F. Kennedy.

Watching impassively from the back of the room was Larry Rasky, a campaign aide who was present at a Democratic debate in Iowa 20 years ago when Biden famously left the impression that he was claiming British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock's life story as his own, and his presidential bid began to unravel.
Ah yes—the Biden “plagiarism” narrative! How hard was Murray willing to work to cram it into her front-page report? According to Murray, “one might think” that Biden would avoid quoting famous people out on the trail—since he failed to say he was quoting Kinnock back in 1987! And she’s right! One might think that—if one has recently come here from Mars, or if one is a Washington journalist! No one else would ever “think” such an utterly ludicrous thought. But so what? Thanks to this absurd bit of logic, Murray crammed the pleasing narrative right into paragraph one.

(In fairness, journos have it tough when they write about Biden. Only two narratives are available. In Murray’s profile, Joe Biden talks too goddamn much was postponed—until paragraph 4.)

In this manner, Murray bowed low to Narrative, her cohort’s great god. But out in Los Angeles, Richard Fausset was prostrate before a second god, Trivia. Believe it or not, here’s how he started a profile of Edwards, published that very same day:
FAUSSET (7/21/07): John Edwards, the second-try presidential candidate with the third-place campaign, walked on to Mariah Crenshaw's lawn this week, surrounded by a mini-circus of reporters and cameras.

The mannequin-perfect looks of 2004 were still there. So was that North Carolina accent—the one that is to ears what sweet pickles are to tongues.

"Nice to see yew," said the candidate, shaking Crenshaw's hand. "I'm lookin' forward to talkin'."
One “might think” that phonetic ridicule of southern speech had gone out of fashion a long time ago. But if one thinks that, one still doesn’t “get” the religion of America’s press corps.

They worship a trio of jealous gods—gods named Narrative, Trivia, Spin. This morning, Healy pays tribute to Spin in the Times. We may limn his offering tomorrow.

THE FATSO FILES: On reflection, we thought Chris Matthews’ hour with Michael Moore was worth a bit more attention.

Moore did the full hour on Monday’s Hardball—and Matthews was woefully under-prepared (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/24/07). For the most part, he let his young audience at the “Hardball Plaza” pose the questions to Moore; this produced a disjointed, uninformative hour about a remarkable film. But it isn’t like Matthews did no preparation. Near the end of the scattershot hour, he mentioned one potent critique of the film. Readers, Mike Huckabee has said that Moore is too fat!

With apologies, we offer the full exchange produced by Matthews’ deathless research. How pointless was this trivial side-trip? Before long, Matthews was sharing his (sex-obsessed) thoughts about apple fritters at Starbucks:
MATTHEWS (7/23/07): You have earned yourself an enemy. This is Huckabee, the former governor—Mike Huckabee. He’s running for president.

MOORE: He’s the guy that lost all that weight.

MATTHEWS: He’s decided to come after you. OK, here’s what he said: "Frankly"—don`t you love it when politicians say that? Like other times they`re not being frank, right?—"Frankly, Michael Moore is an example of why the health care system costs so much in this country. He clearly is one of the reasons that we have a very expensive system. I know that from my own personal experience”—he’s identifying with you—“said Huckabee, who lost more than 110 pounds and became an avid runner after he was diagnosed with diabetes.” Your response, sir?

MOORE: First of all, there’s nothing worse than a reformed smoker or Twinkie eater. They all become scolds, don’t they?

MATTHEWS: I agree with you—that attitude. Don’t preach, do! But he’s knocking you! He’s saying you’re overweight!

MOORE: He said I was overweight? [laughter]

MATTHEWS: I think that was the implication here. Isn’t that—to be honest, you talk about France, and I was just over there a while ago. I was over in Italy for the pope’s funeral. I have to tell you, one of the amazing things about continental Europe—the people all look great. Everybody is in good shape. Is it because they walk a lot? Is it because they don`t eat the junk we eat?

MOORE: You were there. You notice they smoke more than we do. They drink a lot.

MATTHEWS: Why do they look so good? Why are they so thin? I thought it was walking.

MOORE: Partly yes, it is that. I was halfway through making this film and I said to myself, “Look, Mike, there`s something hypocritical here about your making a health care and you’re not taking care of your own health.” So near the end of the film, I started going for a walk every day, started eating these things that are called fruits and vegetables. In three months, I lost 30 pounds. I read this book—this Pritikin book that’s a really good concept about how to eat food, and so now I’m on the good path. You’ve done —it looks like—the same thing.

MATTHEWS: I lost 30 something. Advice: When you go to Starbucks, don’t look in that counter. Just don’t even look. Can I have some black coffee, please? Don’t look at those apple fritters, 850 calories. It’s like sex for 10 minutes. It’s unbelievable. You don’t want to eat that stuff. You don’t want to eat it.

MOORE: If you want to avoid this broken health care system, one of the ways to do that is to take better care of yourself.

MATTHEWS: We’re hitting it all here! We’re doing it all here, health, politics, corruption! We’ll be right back with Michael Moore. And don`t forget the Hardball Ad Challenge! Upload your home-made political ad on our website, This is Hardball, only on MSNBC!
Only on MSNBC? Thank God for all such small favors!

How did Matthews fashion his hour about Sicko? During the hour, we never learned about the British health system. But we did find out what Matthews thinks about those Starbucks fritters.

But then, this is typical press corps work. Let’s get clear on what happened.

In the weeks since Sicko hit the screens, various people have offered reactions.

In the New York Times, Paul Krugman noted an astonishing fact: The Brits run a better health system ours—at only about 40 percent of the cost!

And oh yes—Huckabee said that Moore is just too goddamned fat!

Given the choice of those two critiques, which one did Matthews decide to bring up? Of course! He turned his show in the direction of trivia—and failed to raise the remarkable issue quantified in Krugman’s column. But then, we’ll guess that Matthews spent all of ten seconds preparing himself for this program.

Let’s say it again: Moore should never discuss health care without reciting that key fact from Krugman: The Brits spend only forty percent as much as we do (per person), but have a better health system! That is a deeply remarkable fact. Moore shouldn’t leave home without it.

But Matthews is the professional journalist—the guy who’s paid millions of dollars per year to keep us masterfully well-informed. As always, though, he frittered your time away when he spent the hour with Moore. But this will not change—will never change—as long as fatuous Nantucket swells are shaping your national discourse.

Postscript: Last night, Matthews spent his last fifteen minutes slobbering all over the Obama/Hot for Hill/Rudy girls. “You know, I did judge the Miss America contest this year,” he boasted to the gals at one point.

There was a religious element to these segments too. “We’re here with these gorgeous creatures of god,” the gentleman couldn’t help noting.

DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT CITING IT: What the heck—we’ll post it again! You should never discuss health care without reciting the fact we highlight below. (While we’re at it, here’s the most recent ranking of health care systems by the WHO.)
KRUGMAN (7/9/07): Now, every wealthy country except the United States already has some form of universal care. Citizens of these countries pay extra taxes as a result—but they make up for that through savings on insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. The overall cost of health care in countries with universal coverage is much lower than it is here.

Meanwhile, every available indicator says that in terms of quality, access to needed care and health outcomes, the U.S. health care system does worse, not better, than other advanced countries—even Britain, which spends only about 40 percent as much per person as we do.

Yes, Canadians wait longer than insured Americans for elective surgery. But over all, the average Canadian's access to health care is as good as that of the average insured American—and much better than that of uninsured Americans, many of whom never receive needed care at all.

And the French manage to provide arguably the best health care in the world, without significant waiting lists of any kind. There's a scene in ''Sicko'' in which expatriate Americans in Paris praise the French system. According to the hard data they're not romanticizing. It really is that good.
Matthews should have introduced that fact. Instead, he raised a different point: Huckabee says that you’re too fat! Michael Moore, what’s your response?