MONDAY, AUGUST 25, 2003
PRAGER SPEAKSAND SPEAKS; AND SPEAKS: How foolish did it get on Friday nights Hardball? Late in the segment about his new book, Big Lies, Joe Conason tried to describe Americas political discourse. My sense of the conservatives is that they dont want a real debate, Conason said. They dont seek a real debate within the pages of their newspapers, in their talk radio. You know, Rush Limbaugh doesnt have liberal guests And at that point, the scribe was cut offbut not by Hardball host Chris Matthews. Instead, conservative pundit Dennis Prager interrupted Conason, as he did throughout the segment. What provoked this interruption? The brilliant Los Angeles talk-show host was deeply puzzled by something Joe said:
PRAGER: What newspapers? What newspapers? Whatwhat newspapers?Prager was shocked by Conasons reference to conservative American newspapers. Joe asked Dennis to stop interrupting. But Prager demanded to be heard:
CONASON: Dennis, can I finish without you interrupting me? Can I finish once without you interrupting me?Joe, your turn. Its your book, Matthews said. But Prager just kept interrupting:
PRAGER: You made a point, and I would love to know what they are. That is all. Ill let you finish.A silly point! Prager apparently hasnt heard of the Washington Times, the New York Post, the Boston Herald, the Daily Oklahoman. Obviously, such papers have every right to their viewpoint, but Pragerin dreamlanddoesnt know they exist. But he did know what he had to dohe had to keep interrupting Conason. And as he did, he helped prove the scribes claim: Many conservatives dont want real debate. They want to voice their vacuous spin-pointsand to shout down the views they dont like.
Just how dumb was Pragers performance? The pundit clowned from start to finish, making a joke of the segment. Most laughable was his response to Matthews opening question. Matthews posed a standard question: Why is talk radio so heavily conservative? Not wanting to be snooty in any way, Prager expressed his vainglory:
PRAGER: I think it is dominated because we do have better ideas. I believe that liberal thought is almost a contradiction in terms. I dont mean to be snooty in any way, but I believe that liberalism is overwhelmingly felt, not thought through, and heres just so much you can emote about compassion before people get bored. The thinking people tend to think in terms of the way in which we on talk radio do, and they therefore tune in more.Not trying to be snooty in any way, Prager said that talk radio tilts to the right because the thinking people agree with conservatives! Maybe its possible to be dumber than that, but wed hate to see such a vast project tried.
After all, why in the world would thinking people tune in to hear Dennis Prager? He hasnt heard of the Washington Times, and he seemed determined to spend the rest of the segment showing off his utter foolishness. For example, as Conason tried to speak about bias in the media, Prager jumped in with a list of offenders. What about the universities? he interrupted. What about the universities, or the American Bar Association, the American Library Association, American Nursing Association? Sigh! Conason had to waste more time, explaining that the American Nursing Association isnt a part of the media. But as we all know, the thinking people who tune to talk radio are endlessly gulled by such stupid distractions. Its just too bad that Conasons time had to be burned up this way.
Why would thinking people tune to Prager? Perhaps to see him jump to conclusions while being clueless about the facts. At one point, Conason described Ann Coulters red-carpet treatment on network TV when she published her liberal-bashing book, Slander. The red carpet was rolled out for [her] to tell her side of the story, he said. Interrupting for himself this time, Matthews lodged an erroneous complaint:
MATTHEWS: Yes. By the way, theres something inaccurate in your book. Theres something inaccurate in your book, because you said that she was on my show, Hardball, eight times. Id be surprised if she was on once.Id be surprised if she was on once? The record is clear on this matter. When Slander was released in the spring of 2002, Coulter appeared on the Wednesday, June 26 Hardball to discuss the book with guest host Mike Barnicle. And six days later, the tough-talking author was back. At the top of the Tuesday, July 2 show, Matthews promoed her upcoming segment. Ann Coulter returns to Hardball to defend her argument that liberals hate America, he said. When the segment with Coulter began, heres how Matthews introduced her:
MATTHEWS: The Big Story tonight on Hardball: Ann Coulter is coming back tonight and her new book is called SlanderLiberal Lies and the American Right. Ann joins us right now from L.A. Ann, thanks for joining us.To all appearances, Matthews knew this was Coulters second appearance in support of her book. And in the weeks and months that followed, Coulter did regular guest spots on Hardball. She appeared on August 14, September 2, November 15, December 5, January 2, and January 16, always introduced as the author of Slander. Presumably, these comprise the eight appearances to which Conasons book refers.
Id be surprised if she was on once? The Hardball host was up to old tricks, misstating the simplest facts. But Dennis Pragera thinking personwas certain that Matthews just had to be right. Obviously, he didnt know the facts of the case. But Prager interrupted again and again, demanding that Conason apologize:
CONASON: What I would appreciate right now, ChrisOn and on the clowning went. To state the obvious, Prager didnt have any idea who was right. But he kept interrupting, badgering, hectoringand soon, the time had been run off the clock and Conasons segment was over.
Obviously, there are any number of American conservatives who are both intelligent and polite. Last week, for example, Conason guested on Kudlow and Cramer, where he had a perfectly civilized discussion with conservative host Larry Kudlow (Cramer was on vacation). But American conservatism is increasingly dominated by its know-nothing, dumb-it-down, pseudo-con wingby loud, intemperate fumblers like Prager. Theyve never heard of the Washington Times. They think that nurses are part of the media. They demand apologies where they dont know the facts. My sense of the conservatives is that they dont want a real debate, Conason said at the start of the segment. Self-cast in the role of the consummate dumb-ass, Prager let us know he was right.
BOOK NOTES: In fairness, Conasons book could be more clear about Coulters Hardball appearances. Only two of her eight appearances were specifically devoted to discussing Slander; a reader of Big Lies might get the impression that all eight spots concerned the book. (Repeat: Coulter was introduced every time as the author of Slander.) But Matthews complaint was totally bogus. Why would Matthews pretend that Coulter never discussed her book on his show? Here at THE HOWLER, we dont have a clue. But pathological faking of basic facts has been Matthews pattern for almost a decade. Everyone knows itexcept Dennis Prager. Swamped with calls from his thinking people, Dennis Prager, major dumb-ass, hasnt heard.
TRANSCRIPT NOTES: Be careful if you read the transcript of Fridays Hardball. Prager did so much interrupting that the transcriber ended up in the weeds; several statements are misattributed, and a good deal of crosstalk was missed. (Prager never mentioned the Washington Timesthat statement was made by Conason.) Trust usour transcript segments are more accurate than the passages offered on-line. Our suggestion: If Prager will just shut his yap the next time, maybe the thinking people who work for this show will be able to record what is said.
US AGAINST THEM: My tribe is better than your tribe! Its the oldest, dumbest pre-human instinct, hard-wired into our weak little brains by millions of years of natural selection. And to this day, dumb-asses believe what Prager saidthey believe that thinking people agree with their views, and that people who disagree with their views are automatically irrational or devious. Its tribalism at its dumbestand it rules the world of the talk-show right, where the Limbaughs serve their credulous listeners frightening tales about The Liberals. Is my tribe good, and your tribe evil? Intelligent people know better. Just to cite one recent example, heres Conason himself in Big Lies:
CONASON (page 10): This book confronts the biggest lies deployed by conservatives against liberals It doesnt suggest a conspiracy against liberals, or argue that Democrats havent brought any of their problems on themselves. And it shouldnt be taken as a blanket indictment of Republicans or conservatives.And we shouldnt have to say this either, but human experience shows us that, in anything like a free society, intelligent people acting in good faith will differ in their views. Only dumb-asses think like Prager. But increasingly, dumb-asses rule the talk-show right. Fridays Hardball was a sad-sack example.
By the way, according to Hardballs crosstalk-plagued transcript, Conason spoke 717 words, Prager spoke 428. (Matthews: 711.) Hard to believe, but yes, its true: Prager produced all the nonsense which we have described while speaking less than 500 words! Surely, Pragers a virtuoso. But in this way, American discourse is deeply dumbed-down by the tribune of all thinking people.