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DEBACLE! Norville was clownishly unprepared. But then, so were Matthews and Olbermann: // link //

DEBORAH NORVILLE, COMPLETELY UNPREPARED: How bad was MSNBC Thursday night? Start with hapless Deborah Norville, devoting her program’s entire hour to the ongoing Swift boat wars.

Has any host ever been so unprepared to discuss so important a subject? She spoke first with Swift Boat loudmouth Steve Gardner, the nasty-talkin’ Kerry-accuser who “had no trouble shooting gooks..” Incredibly, this was Norville’s first question:

NORVILLE (8/26/04): Mr. Gardner, I want to start with you first. What do you specifically remember about that day in March of 1969?
“That day in March of 1969?” Presumably, Norville was referring to the Kerry Bronze Star event—the incident in which he pulled Jim Rassmann out of the water. But she gave no description of what she meant—and Gardner wasn’t present on that occasion, or on any of the other occasions when Kerry won his Purple Hearts and medals. Plainly, Norville didn’t know. Gardner began to inform her:
GARDNER (continuing directly): I wasn’t on the boat in March of 1969.
Say what? Norville was puzzled. Her clueless questions continued:
NORVILLE (continuing directly): You were a part of John Kerry's team, were you not?

GARDNER: I was a crew on the PCF-44 boat.

NORVILLE: And what do you remember about the day that has been so hotly debated in these ads? It was February. Forgive me.

Now she was talking about “the day” in February—which would have been the Silver Star incident. But Gardner wasn’t present for that event either! We almost felt sorry for the fabled gook-slayer as he tried to direct his hapless host:
GARDNER (continuing directly) Again, when you're talking—if you want to talk about Christmas in Cambodia, we've already proven John Kerry to be a liar about that. If you want to talk about the sampan incident that he was involved in, that he was a liar about that. And we've already proven that on his first Purple Heart, he lied.
Gardner tried to steer the conversation to incidents where he was physically present. But Norville still didn’t have the first clue. “Mr. Gardner,” she dumbly replied, “I’m trying to find out, were you on the Swift boat commanded by John Kerry? You were not?” And in that moment, we saw the shape of the non-existent American “press corps.” We saw how low the discourse can sink in the hands of these millionaire hacks.

Norville was throughly unprepared about every part of this story. She was unable to describe or distinguish the various incidents under dispute—incidents she was forced to describe in phrases like “the day that has been so hotly debated.” She didn’t know which events her guests had witnessed. Eight minutes in, she began to work from notes she had been provided, and was suddenly asking coherent questions about the Bronze Star event. But Norville’s coherence would be short-lived. For one example of her mammoth incomprehension, try to decipher her presentation concerning Kerry-defender William Rood, who she ineptly described as “the other Swift boat captain:”

NORVILLE: You’re familiar, all of you, with the editorial that was in the Chicago Tribune recently by William Rood, who was the other Swift boat captain. There were three. One died in combat. Two have come back. John Kerry is one, William Rood is the other. He’s never spoken publicly. And he said he did so in great part because he was concerned about the backlash to veterans. And there are two-and-a-half million Vietnam veterans in this country. And for many of them, as Mr. Rood expressed in his editorial, quote, “Their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us,” meaning the Swift boat veterans. “This is hurting crewmen who are not public figures and who deserve to be honored for what they did.”

Are men in Vietnam, men who served in Vietnam not owed an apology for all of this? Mr. Gardner, you’ve been a part of these ads. Do you worry that you've hurt your fellow veterans by bring up this very painful period in their lives?

Norville was utterly clueless again. Rood had complained that the Swift Boat Vet accounts “splashed doubt” on the other men present at disputed events. Norville seemed to think he had said that all Vietnam vets were being dishonored by the claims of the Swift Vets. But then, the pretty blonde host was completely clueless about every topic she tried to discuss. We don’t think we’ve ever seen a cable host so uninformed on so major a topic.

Which brings us right to the problem. To all appearances, Norville didn’t even know if Gardner had served on Kerry’s boat. Does anyone think she was prepared to discuss the gook-slayer’s nasty accusations—his claim that Kerry is a liar who didn’t deserve his various medals? Soon, Gardner was clowning hard about Christmas in Cambodia—and Norville was simply too clueless to respond (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/27/04). But alas! In her pretty blonde hands we have put the stewardship of an American White House election.

Norville is on the air because she’s good-looking. But she’s too lazy, too selfish and too clueless to prepare. Her performance this night was simply appalling. MSNBC should be deeply ashamed that they put this inept host on the air.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, COMPLETELY UNPREPARED: But then, MSNBC’s debacle was two hours old when Norville posed her first floundering questions. How appalling was the network’s performance on Thursday? Consider the thoroughly clueless work done by Hardball’s hapless host, Chris Matthews.

Matthews devoted the bulk of his show to one basic question—was Kerry under enemy fire when he pulled Jim Rassmann out of the drink? At the very start of the show, Matthews presented the issue:

MATTHEWS (8/26/04): Good evening—I'm Chris Matthews. A newly discovered Navy document discredits one of the biggest claims by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group contends that John Kerry was not under hostile fire when he rescued Jim Rassmann from the water. But a citation awarded to a radar man who was part of the same five-boat flotilla as John Kerry says that all five boats came under small arms and automatic weapons fire from the riverbanks. John Barry is the reporter who uncovered the document and broke the story for Newsweek.
Barry had unearthed the Bronze Star citation for radar man Robert Lambert, who served under Kerry-accuser Larry Thurlow. According to Barry (who was Matthews’ first guest), the citation says that Thurlow’s boat was under enemy fire that day. Thurlow, calling Kerry a liar, has of course just said the opposite. And according to Barry, Kerry couldn’t have been the source for the account on Lambert’s citation. “When you read the citations for Lambert and for Thurlow,” he told Matthews, “they talk in intimate detail of what was going on on Thurlow's launch. Now, Kerry can’t have known that because he was on another launch on other side of the river.” According to Barry, this official account of enemy fire almost surely didn’t come from John Kerry.

Starting with Newsweek’s Barry himself, Matthews spent the bulk of the program discussing this long-disputed event. Was Kerry under enemy fire? Matthews puzzled long and hard about how this matter can be resolved. But how thoroughly unprepared was the host? Consider the remarkable facts his Hardball viewers didn’t hear mentioned this night.

Matthews was discussing this topic on an auspicious occasion. Not only had Barry come forward with Lambert’s citation. That very morning, Lambert himself had come forward to say that there had been enemy fire! Lambert had been interviewed by his local Oregon newspaper; the profile had been published that morning (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/27/04). And Lambert—Thurlow’s radar man—said there had been enemy fire. As such, he became the third unaffiliated Swift boat crewman to offer this witness in just the past week. But Hardball viewers wouldn’t learn these facts, because Matthews—and his millionaire guests—were completely clueless about them. Lambert’s interview had burned up the web ever since being published that morning. But Matthews, unprepared, didn’t cite it. Equally clueless were his four guests. Along with Barry himself, Howard Fineman, Marie Cocco and Pat Buchanan all gazed off into air.

Question: Where in the world do producers go to find such uninformed experts? Again, it wasn’t just the statement by Lambert that went undiscussed this evening. The other reports went unmentioned too. Let’s make sure that we recall who these Bronze Star witnesses are:

  1. Wayne Langhofer, PCF-43. Reported by the Washington Post, 8/22/04.
  2. Jim Russell, PCF-43. Reported by the Associated Press, 8/23/04.
  3. Robert Lambert, PCF-51. Reported by the Mail Tribune, 8/26/04.
In the past week, all three men had come forward to say that there had been enemy fire that day. Matthews spent an hour on this question—and none of their statements were mentioned.

Of course , Matthews’ characteristic lack of knowledge would surface in many ways this evening. Try to believe that this exchange really occurred on this show:

MATTHEWS: When [the citation] says they came under small-arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks, why do you disbelieve that?

BUCHANAN: Because nobody was wounded. Nobody—where are the reports that Kerry's boat had to be repaired? Where are the wounds—I mean, where are the windows shot out on these boats with all that fire? Where are the bullet wounds on anybody? Nobody except the guy on the three boat.

What happened is, they exploded a mine under the 3 boat. All the other two boats on that side of the river fired for forty-five minutes [sic], everything they had. They thought they were ambushed. When they realized they weren't being fired on, they rushed to rescue their buddies. They ought to know whether they're being fired at.


BUCHANAN: As for Kerry, he took off up the river. Rassmann falls. Rassmann comes up. He hears all this firing going on. I understand him. Kerry comes back. Find out who wrote the reports.

MATTHEWS: Well, OK. The question is whether John Kerry could have written the reports based on not having seen the incident.

Let me ask you, Howard. I don't know whether they filed damage reports as well as casualty reports back in those days. I don't know if it's like renting a car, and whether you do get damage reports on your boats. Not to put this too ludicrously.

Incredible—simply incredible! Matthews “doesn’t know whether they filed damage reports?” The damage reports have been widely discussed. On Tuesday night, for example, Alan Colmes quoted a widely-cited report in the Los Angeles Times as he debated John O’Neill. O’Neill had just repeated one of his trademark lies, saying there were no bullet holes in the boats:
COLMES (8/24/04): Now, that's at variance with a number of reports that have come out. Let me show you what the Los Angeles Times reported. “A damage survey filed with the Navy report said that three of the five boats involved sustained 'battle damage,' and Thurlow's boat had 30 caliber bullet holes about super structure.” And other reports, damage reports and after action reports, similarly say that there was damage to those boats.
Duh! Michael Dobbs had reported the battle damage to Thurlow’s boat in Sunday’s Washington Post:
DOBBS (8/22/04): The report on “battle damage” to Thurlow's boat mentions "three 30 cal bullet holes about super structure." According to Thurlow, at least one of the bullet holes was the result of action the previous day, when he ran into another Vietcong ambush.
These damage reports have been widely discussed. But Matthews—a man who does no prep—was utterly clueless, as always.

How unprepared was Matthews this night? He couldn’t give the name of John O’Neill’s book. He had never heard of the damage reports. Most amazingly, he hadn’t heard about the three crewmen who had come forward to support Kerry’s story. And two hours later, Norville clowned harder. Do you see why we have told you, for years, that you no longer have a “press corps?” Question: How long will the American people put up with a “press corps” like this?

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOPELESSLY UNPREPARED: Incredibly, one host on MSNBC had heard about Lambert’s interview! That less-hapless host was Countdown’s Keith Olbermann. But Olbermann hadn’t heard about Langhofer and Russell. Here was the utterly hapless way he began his hapless program:

OLBERMANN (8/24/04): Good evening. This is Thursday, August 26, 68 days until the 2004 presidential election. But tonight, the key numbers may be 2 to 1 and 286. The latter is the number of votes in the electoral college currently within John Kerry's grasp, according to the polling done in the so-called purple states. Two to one? That now the number of witnesses at the Swift boat event who now support John Kerry's version of it, not Larry Thurlow's. And the new one is an anti-Kerry retired Naval chief petty officer.
Olbermann never explained that “two to one” construct—and he never mentioned Langhofer and Russell. Neither did Newsweek’s Daniel Klaidman, the expert guest who was brought on the show to help Keith make a hash of this topic. Norville, Matthews, Olbermann, all their guests? How long will the American people put up with their screaming misconduct?