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Print view: Three top pundits played ''Who's on first''--and captured the state of the culture
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CAPTURING A WEEK THAT WAS! Three top pundits played “Who’s on first”–and captured the state of the culture: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 30, 2010

It’s time for a whole lot of people to go: In Thursday’s New York Times, Jennifer Medina reported on New York State’s math and reading scores for 2010. How far did passing rates fall this year? Gaze on the state of the wreckage:

MEDINA (7/29/10): The falloff in passing rates occurred statewide. This year, 61 percent of state students were deemed passing, or at grade level, in math, compared with 86 percent last year. Students also performed dismally on the English tests, with 53 percent passing, down from 77 percent.

Say what? Last year, 86 percent of New York state’s students were “at grade level” in math. This year, only 61 percent were “at grade level?” It’s equally bad in reading (“English”).

How is that even possible?

Medina explains in her report—and no, students aren’t really doing worse in math this year. That said, our judgment would have to be this: In a rational world, it would be time for a whole lot of people to go, Medina perhaps among them.

We’ll postpone this topic until Monday, so vast was last night’s debacle on Hardball (see below). But go ahead—you can read Medina’s report yourself.

Is it time for Medina (and her editor) to go? And why would we even suggest that?

CAPTURING A WEEK THAT WAS (permalink): Pretty much everyone agrees that Shirley Sherrod is a good, decent person. For ourselves, we’ll throw in a very strong “admirable.” We strongly suggest that you review the part of her speech we posted on Tuesday, the part which deals with her family history from the 1960s. Just take in her mother’s life story! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/27/10.)

Pretty much everyone agrees about Sherrod. For that reason, we’ll start by saying we thought she was pretty much wrong in what she said, in the highlighted statements below, about Andrew Breitbart. Sherrod spoke with Anderson Cooper, three days after Breitbart’s “edited” video clip led to Sherrod’s dismissal:

COOPER (7/22/10): I want to ask you about the man who first posted this edited clip of you, Andrew Breitbart. He said today—and I'm quoting him—he said, quote: “If anybody reads the sainted, martyred Sherrod’s entire speech, this person has not gotten past black vs. white.” Do you think you have gotten past black vs. white?

SHERROD: I know I have gotten past black vs. white. He's probably the person who has never gotten past it and never attempted to get past it. So, he can't see—because he has never tried and because he hasn't, he can't see what I have done to get past it. And he's not interested in what I have done to get past it. I don't think he's interested in seeing anyone get past it, because I think he would like to get us stuck back in the times of slavery. That's where I think he would like to see all black people end up again. And that's why I think he's so vicious.

COOPER: You think—you think he's racist?

SHERROD: Yes, I do. And I think that's why he's so vicious against a black president, you know. He wouldn’t go after me. I don't think it was even the NAACP he was totally after. I think he was after a black president.

Is Breitbart racist? We have no idea, nor can we imagine how Sherrod could know. At which point, of course, some white pseudo-liberals, gripping their catechisms, will rise indignantly from their chairs, trembling with indignation and insisting: But black people can just tell!

This brand of hapless white pseudo-liberalism has never helped anyone much.

Is Breitbart racist? We have no idea. He strikes us as one of the nation’s biggest fools, a point he reinforced in the pitiful comment about Sherrod which Cooper quotes above. But has Breitbart been peddling all this crap because “he was after a black president?” Let’s ask that question a different way:

Would Breitbart be peddling any less crap if Hillary Clinton were in the White House? We know of no reason to think so. And we think it’s unwise to throw R-bombs around, unless you’re spectacularly sure in your judgment, and you have spectacular evidence. We think such conduct is unwise on the merits. And we think it tends to be bad politics—tends to hurt progressive interests—though there’s no real way to be sure.

Is it wise to throw R-bombs around? We liberals certainly love to do it! In the past week, Howard Dean has helped us learn how to call the roll. Newt Gingrich isn’t a racist, he said—and Chris Wallace certainly isn’t a racist. But “Fox News did something that is absolutely racist” in its handling of the Sherrod matter, he said—and one day later, he told us that “Fox News is racist in what they do.” Dean never explained who “Fox News” is (Did he mean Hannity? Why won’t he say?) and he didn’t answer a fairly obvious question: Since Gingrich pushes all the same pseudo-racial crap “Fox News” hotly pursues on the air, why is Fox “racist in what they do,” but Newt himself isn’t a racist?

We don’t know how Dean forms his racism judgments. Neither does anyone else.

As a general matter, we don’t think it’s smart to call the roll of the nation’s racists—to throw all those R-bombs around. On Fox News Sunday, Dean even seemed to say that “Fox News” has been deliberately “appealing to the Republican Party’s racist fringe.” In some way, that’s almost certainly true, just as it’s almost certainly true (in some way) that MSNBC appeals to a crackpot fringe on the left. But is it good politics to parade about, making such sweeping R-statements?

Dean said he goes on shows like Fox News Sunday because he want to reach the Fox audience. Tell the truth: Can you think of a dumber way to perform this task than by suggesting, in mid-stride, that the audience you’re trying to reach may be just a big gang of racists? Or is that even what he meant? And how can anyone know?

Is Breitbart racist? We have no idea, though Dean could probably tell us. We do regard Breitbart as one of our biggest fools—but then, Dean himself has floundered all week, which brings us to last night’s debacle on Hardball , a debacle which has been disappeared from the program’s video archives. As of 12 noon, you could watch the segment in question on YouTube. Just click here, though it may be gone by now.

For a quick overview of this latest debacle, we’ll link you to this post by Digby—a post which includes a chunk of the segment’s discussion. Warning, though! In the segment Digby posts, you get the impression that host Chris Matthews was grossly misinformed about the Breitbart video clip, and that he alone was at fault in the buffoonish discussion which unfolded. But in last night’s through-the-looking-glass chat, that wasn’t exactly the case. In the following segment, Matthews was actually right in his highlighted claim—though Joan Walsh, and the perpetually uninformed Dean, didn’t seem to understand what he was talking about.

Repeat: Matthews was actually right in the highlighted claims, although confusion was all around. Walsh and Dean were actually wrong. Go ahead—gaze on pure chaos:

WALSH (7/29/10): It’s a 43-minute tape, Chris. It walks through her whole racial history. He [Breitbart] clipped about two minutes where she seems to be saying, “I didn’t do the best for this white farmer because he was white.” And that’s where it ends. And then later, Chris, she goes on to tell this amazing story—

MATTHEWS: Oh, I thought that, in the tape that he did put out, that it did include that part in it. What he did to mis-characterize it was to suggest it was in current time, in her role as a federal official.

WALSH: No. No. He did two things—

MATTHEWS: .—was with the cooperative.

DEAN: He did that, too.

WALSH: He did that, too. There were two lies. But he absolutely clipped, or someone clipped, the tape before she could say the powerful message of redemption that Democrats, at least, believe in.

MATTHEWS: I am right! You’re wrong!


MATTHEWS: Do we have the tape here? We could show this. Because I believe—

WALSH: —he did two things.

DEAN: Yes, show the tape that was on Fox.

MATTHEWS: —his mis-characterization is the problem, where he said—no, where he said that this was something because he said this is what goes on in this administration and then suggested heavily that this was her point of view as a government official, an appointee of this administration.

DEAN: He did that, but he also clipped the tape, so—

MATTHEWS: No, it includes in the tape that she understood, that she changed.



WALSH: No, it doesn’t. Chris, really, you’ve got to trust me and the governor on this. [Chuckles.] He really didn’t, because she goes on at the end to say, I’ve learned that it’s about poor people. It`s not about black versus white always—

MATTHEWS: I think that’s in the tape!

WALSH: It’s in—

MATTHEWS: That’s in the tape!

WALSH: It’s not in the tape that Breitbart put out. It’s not.

MATTHEWS: Yes, it is! Yes, it is!

DEAN: No. It’s not. We promise.

WALSH: We promise.

But it is in the tape that Breitbart put out, though Walsh and Dean kept insisting it isn’t—promising Matthews, even! It’s a minor part of Breitbart’s video clip, but in the tape that Breitbart posted, Sherrod is shown saying that she came to realize it’s more about poor versus rich, less about black versus white. On Day One, alert bloggers cited this part of the clip. It was one of the elements in Breitbart’s tape which warned them against accepting the first, unflattering interpretation of Sherrod’s overall statement.

(Sherrod, on the Breitbart tape: “That’s when it was revealed to me that it`s about poor versus those who have. It’s not so much about white—it is about white and black, but it’s not— You know, it opened my eyes...” Breitbart even mentions this passage in his account of Sherrod’s speech. “Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help,” he wrote in his basic synopsis.).

This is what Matthews was talking about. It actually was in the original tape posted by Breitbart. It doesn’t mitigate Breitbart’s larger offense. But Dean and Walsh just kept insisting that no such thing was in the tape, helping create the massive confusion which made a joke of this segment. Dean and Walsh both “promised” Matthews that it just wasn’t there—but it was. (We never thought we’d see a dispute where Matthews was right on some fact.)

To be honest, this is a minor matter, but Dean and Walsh were basically wrong on this fact. More significantly, they showed no sign of understanding what Matthews was talking about—and they pretty much should have. No, it isn’t the end of the world, and Walsh was basically well-informed about the overall Breitbart matter. But this ludicrous segment—which has been disappeared from the Hardball site—captures the intellectual breakdown which dogs American political culture, and that of the liberal world.

Can we talk? In her original post, Digby saw this chaos as being exclusively Matthews’ fault. In an update, she included this: “In fairness, Howard Dean sputtered foolishly and said that wasn't the clip he'd seen. Ayeyayay. This really is the stupid season.” For the record, Dean was actually right in that statement, which he made near the end of this segment: When Fox began airing the Breitbart tape, they shortened it further, eliminating the part of the tape to which Matthews referred. Eventually, Dean acknowledged that he had never seen the tape originally posted by Breitbart; he had only seen the tape as it aired on Fox. This helps explain why he had no f*cking idea what Matthews was talking about, although he appeared on three major TV programs this week to discuss this important matter.

Do our “leaders” ever prepare?

In a second update, Digby notes that “Matthews called Walsh back to the studio to re-do this story on his second broadcast, with Mark Vogel of Politico instead of Dean.” Just so we will all be clear: Matthews’ “second broadcast,” at 7 PM Eastern, is normally a straight rerun. Last evening, he stayed and completely redid his first segment (live), because the first segment at 5 PM had been such a debacle—a debacle in which it became fairly clear that none of the three parties present were fully well-informed. (The rest of the 5 PM program was simply re-aired at 7 PM, as is the normal procedure.)

In fairness, last evening’s debacle was a long, rambling version of “Who’s on first?” None of the three participants seemed to know what the others were talking about; this produced a long, confusing, utterly bungled pundit discussion. It’s also true that Walsh was right in most of the things she said about the Sherrod matter; she was plainly the clearest and best-informed of these three major players. But in the long segment we’ve posted above, Walsh and Dean both “promise” Matthews that something wasn’t in the Breitbart tape—when it actually was in the tape.

They didn’t know what Matthews was talking about—and they really should have.

In some ways, last night’s version of “Who’s on first” was just a huge misunderstanding. But it ended a ludicrous “week that was”—a week in which the shortcomings of the liberal world were put on display again and again, alongside those of the mainstream press corps. In our view, Dean embarrassed himself all week, going on three different TV shows to discuss an important story—a story he simply doesn’t seem to understand all that well. That said, in last night’s endless confusion, we encountered the fruits of the endless, ass-kissing relations between Matthews and the career liberal world.

Let’s be frank: Walsh has kissed this gentleman’s keister down through all these long years. Presumably, this has produced a business arrangement which is good for Salon—but it has also enabled the serial nonsense which characterizes this horrible program. Reviewing the transcript of last night’s program (through Nexis) and watching the tape (on YouTube), it isn’t entirely clear how confused Matthews actually was about the Breitbart tape—although he didn’t seem to understand what Walsh and Dean were saying, just as they didn’t understand him. But two nights ago, Matthews completely bungled the basic facts of the New Black Panther case (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/28/10). This is something he constantly does, in a wide array of cases.

It’s almost impossible to be as poorly informed as Matthews typically is. But in part, this garbage has continued down through the years because major career liberals—people like Walsh—haven’t complained about this program’s gruesome intellectual standards.

You have never read a serious profile of Matthews at Salon—and you never will. (Or at the Nation, or in the New Republic. Or at the Washington Monthly. Or in the American Progress.)

Walsh has kissed Hardball keister for years, as “career liberals” constantly do, advancing their personal interests. But what can explain Digby’s recent praise for Matthews’ new progressive brilliance? Because Digby’s archives don’t seem to be working, we can’t find this (fairly recent) post, but we’re fairly certain we didn’t imagine it. Our analysts screamed and cried and complained when even Digby began to praise the values of the re-purposed Matthews—who does tend to recite his corporate channel’s new liberal line at this time.

Digby’s commenters complained about Matthews last night—but quite a few complained about Walsh and Dean as well. Later in the tape, Dean and Matthews argue back and forth about what was on the Breitbart tape; it becomes abundantly clear that Dean should never should have gone on TV to discuss this topic at all. Your liberal leaders can be quite cavalier about preparation for such discussions. But so what! They can always fall back on those pleasing R-bombs! In our opinion, Dean (who we like) made a fool of himself on Fox News Sunday. But he tossed his R-bombs around, and so he was praised by Ed Schultz.

In this way, the liberal world gets dumber and dumber. We forget how to argue and win.

This has been a gruesome week. Its essence was captured by last evening’s segment. This debacle was basically “Who’s on first.” Three different players couldn’t decipher what the others were talking about. But all three should have been able to do so, had they been fully prepared.

Hardball played “Who’s on first” last night—and captured the state of our ludicrous culture. A long, bizarre pundit debacle unfolded. But then again, what else is new?