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UNTEACHABLE PUNDITS! For us, the incident’s first “teachable moment” concerned Matthews, Page and Dyson: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 28, 2009

The real Jim Bunning would have: It takes a special kind of person to throw his no-hitters on the road, where they will hurt a whole city’s children. Jim Bunning, who won’t seek re-election, was always that kind of a man.

He threw his first no-hitter for the Tigers, in Fenway Park, against the Red Sox. The date was July 20, 1958—and we were right behind home plate. (Good neighbors make for free tickets.) Others applauded when Bunning was done. At ten years of age, we knew better.

That level of cruelty wasn’t enough to satisfy a man like Jim Bunning. In 1964, he tossed a no-hitter for the Phillies, in New York, against the Mets. This time, he hurt the children even more. This time, he pitched a perfect game! On Fathers Day, no less!

Jim Bunning never pitched a no-hitter at home, the way a decent person would. He always tried to inflict the most pain. His no-hitters came on the road.

Character shows at moments like that. Perhaps you remember the Superman episode featuring “Chuckles the clown.”

Chuckles was about to stage his annual show to raise money for the children. But an evil clown kidnaped Chuckles and tied him up, then went to the show dressed just like him. The fake Chuckles the clown put on a show. He then stole the children’s money.

By now, the real Chuckles the clown had escaped. He chased the fake Chuckles the clown across Metropolis rooftops. The two clowns looked just alike.

They wrestled for the children’s money near the edge of a roof. As Superman arrived on the scene, one clown pushed the other clown off—then fell off the roof himself. Superman could save only one—and he chose the clown who was pushed. It turned out to be the right one.

Lois Lane was puzzled. But Superman, she quickly asked. How did you know which clown to save? Superman didn’t miss a beat: “Lois, I knew the real Chuckles the clown could never push a man to his death.”

The real Jim Bunning damn straight could have! Maybe you had to be there.

(We rented and rewatched that Superman episode a few years ago. The clown in question wasn’t called Chuckles, as we had always thught, but we forget the real name. In 1967, several Harvard sophomores were surprised to learn how vividly they all recalled that one episode. Superman really hit on something essential that night.)

Tell them Willie boy is there: In yesterday’s Times, that headline was tough. What made them think this was fair?

Clown of ‘Morning Joe’ Gets a Show of His Own

What made them think that was fair? This morning, the Times performs a bit of make-up to the “clown” in question, Willie Geist. Darlings, you knew Alessandra would love “a good mix of straight news headlines and humorous asides.” That’s the way the lady describes MSNBC’s new Geist vehicle. Just click here.

The new show is puckishly called Way Too Early. You see, it airs at 5:30 AM. It’s devoted to everything pointless and vapid. Some wags are calling it “Way Too Willie.” What made them think that was fair?

UNTEACHABLE PUNDITS: For us, the first “teachable moment” occurred last Tuesday night. It involved our press corps, not race.

Chris Matthews had asked Clarence Page and Michael Eric Dyson to play a bit Hardball. They’d been booked to discuss the Gates/Crowley mess, which had hit the news the previous night. (The Washington Post and the New York Times had done full news reports that morning. So had the Boston papers.) Through some astonishing act of will, Chris avoided referring to Page as “Clarence Thomas,” as he has repeatedly done through the years.

For us, this first “teachable moment” was contained in this segment’s early exchanges. Everyone was chummy and deferential—and everyone was of course misinformed. We know Chris and Clarence a tiny tad; Chris is a horrible journalist/pundit, while Clarence tends in the other direction, sometimes admirably so. But what follows was an ugly, inexcusable, utterly predictable cable news pseudo-discussion. We would call it a teachable moment—about the values, habits and practices of America’s upper-end “press corps:”

MATTHEWS (7/21/09): Clarence Page is a friend of ours, always here, pal of mine going way back

PAGE: Way back.

MATTHEWS: Chicago Tribune columnist. There still are newspapers! And Michael Eric Dyson is a professor at one of the great universities in the world, Georgetown, sir! Thank you.

DYSON: Thank you, my friend.

MATTHEWS: So, we don’t—we weren’t there.

PAGE: Right.

MATTHEWS: Let’s agree. None of us were there. But what do you think this is about, Clarence?

PAGE: None of this makes sense, first of all. We know Skip Gates. You know, 58 years old. He’s about 5 foot 7. He walks with a cane. He—like he put up a fight with the police?

MATTHEWS: He’s got a neighbor that doesn’t recognize him. She called in 911.

PAGE: Well, yes. Yes.

MATTHEWS: Got a cop in there saying there’s a burglary in progress.

PAGE: Right.

MATTHEWS: He shows up. Officer Crowley—I love the fact that everybody’s Irish. He shows up—

PAGE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: —and is told that the guy inside the house is a burglar. By the neighbor. So, it isn’t all his fault, by any means.

PAGE: This man is a superstar, not just in Cambridge.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I know.

PAGE: It must have been the only person in the neighborhood who didn’t know who it was. Unbelievable.

MATTHEWS: Clarence, you guys are—you’re academic [to Dyson], and you’re lettered [to Page]. You know what the guy is. The neighbor didn’t know who he was. The cop didn’t know who he was. What do you think happened? And what does it say about America? Does it say anything at all? Michael!

DYSON: Absolutely. First of all, your neighbor doesn’t know you. You don’t have to be famous. It’s just your neighbor.

MATTHEWS: Well, she’s the one that called 911!

DYSON: That’s my point. You don’t know the guy that lives next door to you?

MATTHEWS: She was profiling him!

(LAUGHTER)

DYSON: Yes. Yes. She saw his profile and called in: “Yes, this guy with the cane looks like he’s going to beat me down.” But the point is—

MATTHEWS: See, what I don’t understand is, she knew her neighbor was African-American. He had a certain look. She sees a guy with a certain look. She wasn’t profiling, or what—what was going on here?

That’s an ugly, disgraceful conversation. But Matthews, Page and Tyson will never apologize for the what they said and did that night. (In our view, it got worse from there.) Indeed, conversations like this have ruled your discourse at least since cable’s dawn.

(Let’s be clear: Neither Page nor Dyson is anything like the public disgrace that has long been Chris Matthews.)

Why was that a “teachable moment?” Because this moment was so typical of the way this group does business. By that time, we’d already done a bit of background reading about this unfortunate, newly-reported incident; for that reason, we already knew that the women who called the police was not Professor Gates’ neighbor. (For example, we had read this.) But to judge from their performance, none of these three men had done even modest preparation, and so they didn’t know that. To them, your public discourse isn’t important enough to rate a few moments of basic prep. Lords like these don’t stoop before handing comment to serfs.

As usual, none of these men had performed basic prep. Two problems resulted from this practice, which virtually defines their culture:

First, this conversation helped start the process by which the neighbor who wasn’t a neighbor began getting trashed as a racist. By Saturday, Colbert King was so eager to keep the punishment coming that he seemed to engage in a bit of Ceci Connollyism, insinuating that this person (whom he named) was a neighbor—although it seems he now knew that she wasn’t. But in this initial conversation, Matthews was quickly clowning, in an ugly way, accusing this woman of “profiling” Gates. That was ugly, nasty work. Tomorrow, we’ll help you remember more such conduct by Matthews—Joan’s and Rachel’s dear friend.

Matthews came close to getting an innocent person killed in 1999. He simply has no conscience.

The second problem involves your interests, not those of the neighbor-who-wasn’t. In this conversation, the over-paid poodles we still call a “press corps” disinformed you about this event.

Understand what happened that day. Compare us to Matthews, Page, Dyson.

Sitting unpaid on our sprawling campus, we had done the basic reading about the Gates/Crowley matter, such as it then existed. In the course of that reading, we had learned that the caller wasn’t a neighbor. (Neither the Post nor the Times had said she was a neighbor that morning.) We already knew this—by 5 PM Eastern. But we were sitting here unpaid, as we’ve been for more than eleven years. Nor had we agreed to go on national TV to discuss this incident.

Matthews had decided to make this incident one of his program’s topics. But so what? He didn’t prepare—and indeed, he almost never does. Page and Dyson had agreed to come on national TV to discuss this event. But so what? They hadn’t done the prep work either. In fact, none of these three “lettered” souls had done the basic background reading. Result? They quickly took part in the trashing of that non-neighbor neighbor—and they disinformed you in the process.

The world won’t turn on the Gates/Crowley matter. (Although that caller’s world has apparently been rattled.) But history has turned on other discussions, conducted by men just like these, on this and other cable “news” shows. In fairness, very few pundits have harmed your interests as vastly as Matthews has. Matthews is Joan Walsh’s friend.

People like Matthews, Page and Dyson have done this sort of thing for years. In some of these cases, their pathological refusal to prepare—or to challenge Group Frameworks—has virtally destroyed the known world.

They have helped destroy your society’s interests as they’ve lazed their way along in this manner. These men refuse to prepare themselves before they flounce out onto the air to hand you their cohort’s latest Group Script. But so what? They persistently tell each other that they’re “lettered,” “academic.” Because they know who Professor Gates is, they find it “unbelievable” that someone else wouldn’t.

Many people, including President Obama, have suggested that this incident might become a “teachable moment” about race. That is extremely unlikely. These incidents never produce real discussions, for some of the reasons Jonathan Capehart described in Sunday’s Post (just click here).

Why do these murky incident produce bad discussions? Let us count a few of the ways:

Pre-existing frameworks rule these discussions. Pundits refuse to learn simple facts. Ninety percent of on-air time is devoted to a dim-witted, fruitless process, as the pundits attempt to determine, by some sort of introspection, what must have happened in the specific incident.

Very little time is left over to discuss real societal issues. On cable, the OJ case was really about running videotape of Nicole, not about discussing race of sexual violence. Please. Let’s get semi-real.

It has been stunning to see the way pre-existing frameworks have been forced onto the murky events of this latest unfortunate incident. In all candor, your big major pundits just aren’t very smart. It isn’t good for your society when they pretend to discuss serious topics.

Last night, another “teachable moment” occurred.

On CNN, the cable buffoons were pondering possible “teachable moments” last night. Lou Dobbs mused about where the “moment” might lie. And then, Keith Richburg, of the Washington Post, said this. We did not make it up:

RICHBURG (7/27/09): Let me just add one thing on—

DOBBS: Quickly if you will.

RICHBURG: Yes, it just seems that one thing is, Professor Gates and his neighbor should get to know each other.

JAMES TARANTO: But she was not a neighbor. She lived about seven miles away.

RICHBURG: Well, she worked— Yes, but she worked in an office 100 yards away.

By now, Richburg understood that the caller wasn’t a neighbor—but for reasons only these Martians can explain, such narratives must never die. When Taranto corrected him, Richburg advanced a new Mars-ready theory: You should make sure you get to know everyone who lives within 100 yards of your office. You should get to know everyone who works in a building 100 yards from your home.

(We can’t vouch for Richburg’s yardage.)

We’d call that a teachable moment—about a group of unteachable life-forms. Our teaching? Only on Mars do life-forms like these actually grow and thrive.

And yet, these strange people remain on the air, shaping America’s “public discussions.” Indeed, people like Matthews remain good friends of our liberal intellectual leaders.

Unteachable chaser of investors: What have they done with the real Josh Marshall? Yesterday, the fake Josh Marshall posted this. That “update” is deeply clueless—deeply moronic. The culture which produced that know-nothing post will never let your interests thrive.