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VACATIONS DON’T WORK! Matthews, back from a long vacance, stuck his nose into Sheehan’s divorce: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17, 2005

VACATIONS DON’T WORK: Is it true? Do vacations really produce better judgment, as the president recently said? We had a hard time deducing the principle from Monday evening’s edition of Hardball, when recently-recreated, refreshed Chris Matthews clowned at the expense of Cindy Sheehan.

The trivia quotient was set on HIGH when Matthews spoke with Sheehan. Sheehan appeared with her sister, Deedee Miller, who has played no real public role in the story from Camp Sheehan. But after one question—one!—for his actual guest, Matthews found himself deeply distracted by—what else?—her sister’s t-shirt! The t-shirt bore the words “FED UP,” under which Miller had written “with Bush.” So the next three questions went to her, concerning her troubling chemise:

MATTHEWS (8/15/05): Let me ask you, your sister is joining us right now. Tell me about that t-shirt you`re wearing. Deedee Miller.

MILLER: It`s just a t-shirt I got in K-Mart that said, “Fed up.” And I just included “with Bush” on it.

MATTHEWS: Do you think that sends a partisan message that you`re a Democrat who doesn’t like the president, period?

MILLER: No. I think it sends a message that I`m fed up with the fact that he`s not giving us the answers that we would leak about why Casey died.

MATTHEWS: What do you think those answers might be, Deedee? Speculate a bit. Why do you think he took to us war?

MILLER: I don`t know. The answer to that changes daily. I would like for him to come out and answer that for us.

Questions 2 and 3 concerned the shirt. In Question 4, Matthews asked Miller to “speculate a bit” about Bush’s reason for war. And uh-oh! He didn’t much like Miller’s answer! Sheehan, his putative guest, was all but forgotten as Matthews proceeded to lecture her sister about how “serious” this whole thing is:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): If—this is serious business! The purpose of your vigil is to get an answer from the president. It is not to demonstrate against the war, right? It is to get an answer from the president.
It was hard to know why Chris was irate, but his characteristic weirdness—and his love of distraction—didn’t seem to have disappeared during his relaxing vacance. (And remember what we’ve always told you about his problems with liberal women.)

And sadly, when Matthews finally got back to Sheehan, his love of trivia continued to rule. He asked a few questions on matters of substance. Then, deeply bored, he said this:

MATTHEWS: Let me give you a statement that seems to show some division in your family. One of your relatives has given this statement to a conservative radio commentator for distribution.

Quote: "The Sheehan Family"—that`s your family—"lost our beloved Casey in the Iraq war and we have been silently, respectfully grieving. We do not agree with the political motivations and publicity tactics of Cindy Sheehan. She now appears to be promoting her own personal agenda and notoriety at the expense of her son`s good name and reputation. The rest of the Sheehan Family supports our troops, our country, and our president, silently, with prayer and respect. Sincerely, Casey Sheehan`s grandparents, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins."

So it seems like you have a division in your family.

Predictably, Chris couldn’t wait to start nosing around among the Sheehan in-laws. Soon, the witless one was asking Miller to “speculate a bit” again—this time, though, about the motives of her sister’s in-laws! You really can’t get too much dumber:
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Deedee a question. Why do you think the other side of the family has taken this position?

MILLER: I really honestly don`t know. We were shocked by it. It broke my heart. And I did send one of them an e-mail saying as much, that despite everything in our disagreements, we`re family and that this shouldn’t be happening right now. Again, I can`t say why they did it. But it was a shock. And it did break my heart.

MATTHEWS: Do you think they are simply partisan?

“Do you think the family was put up to this by a other partisan group on the right?” he asked next. And then, of course, the Grand Finale! It was on to questions about why Sheehan’s husband has filed for divorce. Finally, Matthews had his long nose where it always fits best—inside somebody else’s marriage.

Ten minutes later, Sheehan went live with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. And omigod! Cooper asked Sheehan substantive questions about her actual views on the war! But Matthews, fresh from weeks of vacance, was every bit as thrilled with trivia as he’d been when he departed. Surprise! Two weeks among Nantucket’s swells had left the great man no less addled.

THEN THERE WAS MITCHELL: And then, alas, there was Andrea Mitchell, guest hosting Sunday’s Meet the Press. Remember: “Trivia” is their true middle name. Here’s how Mitchell began her chat concerning New York’s Senate race:

MITCHELL (8/14/05): Let's also talk about another political battle which is Hillary Clinton's new opponent in New York. Let's take a look at what could be one of the most lively races—Jeanine Pirro, the county D.A. in Westchester County, who launched her campaign—and take a look at her launch. Here she is trying to describe and explain why she is running again Hillary Clinton. She had a page missing. Not exactly a great kickoff. E. J. [Dionne], is this a real threat to Mrs. Clinton?

DIONNE: I think that Ms. Pirro's challenge is not to have her entire campaign defined by the sentence, "Do you have page 10?" It was really a remarkable moment. Look, she's a lady—

MITCHELL: And her husband was nowhere in sight, of course. He is a convicted felon. Is this also going to be race where you've got two very accomplished women trying to keep their husbands off of the podium?

Of course, Pirro isn’t “Clinton’s opponent” just yet; she has to win New York’s GOP primary before she gains that distinction. But, having decided to pimp this topic prematurely, what did Mitchell want to discuss? First, she wanted to talk about the fact that a page was missing from Pirro’s kick-off statement. After that, she wanted to ask if this race would be all about the gals’ husbands—thereby doing her best to ensure that the answer to that would be “yes.”

Vacuous, addled, empty, inane? Matthews wondered about a troubling t-shirt—a t-shirt worn by his famous guest’s sister. And he stuck his long nose into Sheehan’s divorce, characteristically rubbing his thighs as he went. Meanwhile, Mitchell was dishing about the husband of someone who isn’t yet “Clinton’s opponent.” For the bulk of the past fifteen years, this addled addiction to total trivia was almost exclusively aimed at Big Dems. Now, in some circles, that tide may be turning. But the love of inanity lingers. But so it goes when millionaire fops are put at the head of our discourse.

BROKEN-HEARTED ANALYSTS: By the time we got them back in the van, a few of the analysts were almost in tears. For ourselves, we hadn’t expected to like Broken Flowers. But we hadn’t realized that it would be the type of film we most love to hate—the modern “people-hater.” Other recent examples of the genre? Election; About Schmidt; American Beauty. Last year, some tried to add Sideways to the list, but we resisted, instead seeing it as an example of the “male wet dream” film—the type of film in which the most vivacious and soulful of women fall hard for the shlubbiest men. (Of course, Broken Flowers provides that thrill too. At the outset, why in the world was Julie Delpy shacked with this most broken man?)

So yes, some of the analysts were upset by the time we got them back in the van. In fact, Broken Flowers neatly borrows from Schmidt, another film which recently caused their democratic instincts to boil. (They watched it again on DVD this past winter.) In each film, a catatonic main character hits the road, where he meets a range of average Americans. And surprise! Everyone he meets turns out to be even emptier (and more laughable) than he is! The audience gets to enjoy the fact that they aren’t as dumb as the average American. And of course, the principal message is clear—the brightest and finest of us all is surely the writer-director.

(Broken Flowers even joins About Schmidt in providing some of the most absurdly gratuitous full-frontal nudity in recent film. This time, it’s done to titillate; then, it was done to appall.)

But when did the analysts really lose heart? When they trooped to their desks and fired their Dells, puzzling at the critics’ reviews. OK, let’s be fair—over at the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano did call it pure crap. But elsewhere, the critics agreed to agree. Let’s face it—our analysts’ impressive sensibilities to the side, you still can’t go wrong with the nation’s film critics if you tell them they’re brighter by far.

Note: Our final paragraph was edited down, because we know one involved critic.

WE HAVE A WINNER: One e-mailer correctly psyched the thrill we got from that one performer—the one we thought had turned the page when we saw The Aristocrats (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/16/05):

E-MAIL: There were so many performances, brief performances, it's hard to remember them all. I may have laughed loudest at Sarah Silverman and the guy doing Judy Garland. Am I warm?
Was he warm? Readers, we had a winner! But why on earth did our e-mailer think we were talking up Mario Cantone?

AND YOU THOUGHT THEY GAVE TOO MANY GRAMMYS: We enjoyed the following paragraph (Manohla Dargis, New York Times) about Broken Flowers’ triumph at Cannes:

DARGIS (5/22/05): Paternity was a theme of more than one of this year's winning films, and of many that did not win. The jury, which included the Nobel Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison and the actors Javier Bardem and Salma Hayek, gave its Grand Prix, the festival's second-highest award, to Jim Jarmusch for ''Broken Flowers,'' a comically poignant portrait of a middle-aged Lothario (Bill Murray) searching for a son he did not know he had.
The “Grand Prix” is the second-highest award! But then again, when you order fries at Wendy’s, “medium” is the smallest size of all.