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THE THREE TENORS! Joe, Josh and Duncan were all quite upset–once they saw everyone else was: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2008

NEW OBSERVATIONS FROM PLANET KURTZ: Howard Kurtz was in the “spin room” after Friday’s debate. For unknown reasons, Kurtz was surprised when the pundit corps did what it typically does:

KURTZ (9/29/08): Obama may have won the insta-polls after Friday's debate here at the University of Mississippi, but the McCain team won the spin war, a post-game ritual that quickly seeps into the punditry enveloping such events. What was equally striking, inside the massive media tent, was that some of the journalists who profess to want an elevated debate on the issues–which is precisely what they got, courtesy of Jim Lehrer–seemed unusually interested in style points.

Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody asked Axelrod about the "body language," saying: "John McCain didn't make eye contact at all." Another reporter wondered whether McCain had been "patronizing" in dismissing Obama's lack of foreign-policy experience. A third asked whether McCain had hurled "insults" at his opponent.

Perhaps the debate's sober tone–lacking such memorable one-liners as "There you go again" or "You're no Jack Kennedy” –left the journalistic handicappers searching for a more personal way to score the session.

We don’t know why Kurtz says McCain won the spin war, and he doesn’t attempt to explain the statement. But Kurtz enters la-la land again as he voices surprise at the pundit corps’ focus on body lingo. After all, this same press corps obsessed over Bush’s glance at his watch–and jacked up the volume on Al Gore’s sighs, while worrying about his vile make-up. In short, this is what they normally do. Every human knows this.
By the way, note the sheer absurdity in Kurtz’s “analysis.” Why did pundits focus on McCain’s body language? Because there were no “memorable one-liners!” In short, they engaged in one type of inanity because they’d been deprived of another.

In our view, the focus on McCain’s eye contact was this silly gang’s latest inanity. (Below, we’ll watch three liberal pundits express their outrage by mid-day Saturday–having failed to mention this problem in their real-time comments.) But it’s even sillier when Kurtz is surprised to see pundits engage in such trivia. In this instance, pundits have engaged in less of this nonsense than they have sometimes done in the past. But as always, their concern about manners and body language have favored the candidate they largely prefer. Duh. This is how this simpering clan tries to tell the rubes how to vote. Kurtz, just in from the Planet Zarkon, doesn’t seem to know this.

That’s right, kids. Chris Matthews was troubled by McCain’s body language because he favors Obama. Howard Kurtz, just in from Zarkon, doesn’t know that either.

Postscript: Note the mandatory pander to Lehrer, who behaved so inappropriately in Bush and Gore’s first two debates. This is required of insider hacks. You’re required to say how great Lehrer was. It’s a precept of Hard Pundit Law.

Prejudice and pride: Meanwhile, how gruesome is the ongoing culture of the Insider Press Corps? This weekend, Maureen Dowd and Colbert King went out of their way to show you.

Start with Dowd, who rolled her eyes at Obama’s debate performance, even though every poll and focus group seems to suggest that he “won” the debate in the eyes of the voters. On Sunday, Dowd was blind to such information. Here’s how the Daft One began:

DOWD (9/28/08): The first debate seemed like the perfect moment for Barack Obama to re-enact the Code Red courtroom scene from “A Few Good Men,” to slide under John McCain’s skin and irritate until he goaded McCain into doing exactly what he really wanted to do: tell off the whippersnapper who’d never bled for his country.

It would have been easy for smarty-pants Obama to get in the face of the temperamental older guy, just as Tom Cruise did with Jack Nicholson, to push him into erupting into some version of that climactic speech, like, “Deep down, in places you don’t talk about at your fancy faculty club, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.”

It would be hard to describe how stupid that is. As many people already know, Cruise and Nicholson are Hollywood actors; the two men were actually reading a script when Cruise got all up in Nicholson’s face, causing the older man to erupt. It was “easy” for Cruise to make Jack go off because that’s what the script instructed. By way of contrast, Obama and McCain were in an unscripted debate; it would have been risky for Obama to “slide under McCain’s skin and irritate” him until he (perhaps) erupted. Movies work one way–real life works another. But Dowd doesn’t quite seem to know that.

Throughout her column, Dowd ridiculed Obama’s dumb-ass performance; she showed no sign of knowing that voters seemed to think that “Obambi” had bested McCain. But then, Dowd showed up at Friday’s debate “wearing an Elvis T-shirt,” Kurtz reports. (Darlings! Elvis was born in Tupelo!) It would be hard to get dumber than Dowd. But the Times will continue to try.

But if Dowd was prejudice, King was pride in this astounding column in Saturday’s Post. We can’t remember when we’ve seen a major pundit express a cultural arrogance which is quite so moronic.

By now, everyone has noticed that Sarah Palin may not be up to the job she’s pursuing. (Thursday night will define the tale.) But King disdains Palin for other reasons–for example, because she went to several colleges, and because her embarrassing husband “doesn’t have a college degree at all.” (You’ll have to read King’s full discussion of this problem to drink in the depth of his arrogance.) And to all appearances, King disapproves of Palin because she’s married. Yes, he actually wrote this:

KING: Sarah Palin gets a gold star for being a hockey mom. I don't believe I know any hockey moms or at least any mothers who wittingly bear such a title.

But in my life and work, I've come to know and identify with single moms who successfully raise families. They are, in my book, the real deal; they deserve applause.

A “hockey mom” can’t be the real deal, this snooty imbecile sniffs. He then rolls his eyes at the Palins, at considerable length, for their unacceptable educational pedigree.

King does cite a few objections to Sarah Palin’s actual views and record. Meanwhile, his sub-text is his ongoing pique at Bill and Hillary Clinton. (The addled clan to which he belongs will never abandon this jihad.) But if Dowd was “prejudice” in Sunday’s piece, King had already pranced about as “pride.” Dowd mistreats this favorite book every four years. This weekend, though, playing charades, her silly clan acted its title.

THE THREE TENORS: Jim Rutenberg tried, but he couldn’t quite do it. In Sunday’s New York Times, he described the way the two campaigns were trying to generate silly, faux outrage following Friday night’s debate. Republicans were complaining, Rutenberg said, that Obama had to glance down to remember the name of a soldier who had been killed in Iraq. And Democrats were complaining that Vile McCain hadn’t gazed at Obama enough.

Sheer inanity, all the way down! (Evidence follows.) Try as he might, though, Rutenberg couldn’t make himself tell the whole truth about the way this foolishness works:

RUTENBERG (9/28/08): The [two campaigns’] positioning was in keeping with what is now a quadrennial rite, in which campaigns go full-bore to convince the news media, and ultimately the public, that their candidate won–or more than that, to argue that a debate spotlighted some sort of character or issue defect in their opponent. This often involves highlighting some supposedly fatal mistake by their opponent: Al Gore’s sighs in a 2000 debate, President George Bush’s peek at his wristwatch while debating Bill Clinton in 1992.

[two-paragraph deletion]

While such criticisms may seem, on first glance, trivial, they are the kind of issues–as the sighing Mr. Gore and the watch-checking Mr. Bush can attest–that can catch fire and influence public perception. They can also put a candidate off guard for the next debate.

A candidate’s peek at his wristwatch may seem trivial? Rutenberg couldn’t quite make himself say how inane this quadrennial rite really is. And in that last paragraph, he couldn’t quite make himself tell the full story about the way this nonsense works. Here’s what really happens: These issues “can catch fire [among Rutenberg’s colleagues] and influence public perception.” But then, it’s just as we’ve always told you: The press corps’ role in our public nonsense must always be disappeared.

The press corps clowned and played the fool when they complained about Bush’s watch–and about Gore’s make-up and sighs. But last Friday night, it was famous liberals who were playing the fool, inventing the latest bit of inanity. Last Friday night, leading liberals boo-hoo-hooed about McCain’s vile body language. McCain wouldn’t look at Obama, they said. Then they cried all over the land.

Well–some liberals boo-hooed about this on Friday night. Others cried about it on Saturday–having failed to mention the outrage in their real-time comments. That’s right! Once this blather had clunked into place, liberal leaders tried to pretend that they had been troubled by McCain’s conduct too. They ran to join the parade, having failed to be outraged on Friday.

In what follows, we’ll review the work of three major players who ran to get in line with this blather–having failed to say a word about McCain’s vile conduct in real time. We’ll start with Joe Klein–yes, he’s a liberal this year. But things will get worse from there.

Biggest hack in the pond: Is there a bigger hack in the pond than Joe Klein? At Swampland, you can read Klein’s “Next Day’s Thoughts” about Friday’s debate, posted just before noon on Saturday. Meanwhile, you can read his real-time reaction from Friday night, at the official Time magazine site. This first piece was posted late Friday night, shortly after the debate ended.

Uh-oh! Saturday, in his “Next Day’s Thoughts,” Klein substantially reinvented his view of Friday’s debate. Below, we show you what he said in Saturday’s follow-up post. And we show you what he meant:

What Klein said:

“As for me, the more I think about it, the more McCain's performance annoys me. He seemed condescending and small throughout.”

What Klein actually meant:

“As for me, the more I see what others have written, the more McCain's performance annoys me. He seemed condescending and small throughout.”

Interesting! By Saturday noon, Klein was saying that McCain “seemed condescending and small throughout.” Near the end, he boo-hooed a bit further:

KLEIN (9/27/08): In the end...I think that character dominates issues in these debates. And McCain's discomfort–the effort he spent trying to control his temper–and disdain for his opponent did not wear well. I'm not so sure people are going to want him glowering in their living rooms the next four years. We'll see how this plays out in the looser circumstances of the town hall debate, which comes next (after the Palin-Biden festivities next Thursday).

By the time of Saturday’s noon-time post, Klein was quite troubled by McCain’s conduct. McCain had shown disdain for Obama; he had seemed condescending and small throughout. And not only that! The effort he spent trying to control his temper hadn’t worn well either! Indeed, Klein wasn’t so sure that people would want him glowering in their living rooms for the next four years.

All of which is very odd, for an obvious reason. On Friday night, Klein posted a full-length review of the debate; in it, he forgot to mention any of this vile conduct. Go ahead–read his whole piece. He says nothing about McCain seeming small and condescending; he says nothing about the disdain for Obama. (He scored the debate “a narrow win for Obama.”) Near the end of his Friday night piece, in fact, Klein specifically discussed “style and perceptions of character.” And here’s what the big phony said in real time, before the Conventional Wisdom about McCain has swept the liberal web:

KLEIN (9/26/08): Ultimately, sadly, these debates are won, or lost, on style and perceptions of character–not substance. Those are matters of taste. We'll see if McCain seemed too old or Obama too young. Obama did speak in a stronger, firmer voice. He was clear, straightforward and not at all professorial. He looked directly into the camera; McCain rarely, if ever, did. But McCain put his experience–his frequent travels overseas–to good use in this debate, although his standard laugh lines like "Miss Congeniality" seemed to bomb.

Isn’t it interesting? During the debate, McCain seemed “condescending and small throughout.” He showed discomfort, disdain for Obama; his efforts to control his temper hadn’t worn well. In fact, McCain had been so unpleasant that Klein wasn’t sure people would want him “glowering” in their living rooms. But in his full review Friday night, Klein forgot to mention these things! Even when he specifically reviewed McCain’s “style,” these outrages went unmentioned.

In our view, it’s fairly obvious what happened here. And it seemed to happen around the liberal web, as liberal leaders played you for fools. What a gang of hacktacular hacks!

After Josh slept on it: Josh Marshall was also upset by McCain’s vile conduct–one he had a chance to learn that this was his cohort’s Official Approved Story. On Saturday afternoon, Josh reinvented his real-time reactions, just as Klein had done:

MARSHALL (9/27/08): HAVING SLEPT ON IT

In my initial reaction last night, I wrote that while I thought the debate was basically a draw, that amounted to a narrow win for Obama since foreign policy is supposed to be John McCain's forte. Now, after half a day, with more time to think about it and the benefit of seeing initial polling data and surveying other people's reactions, I'm only confirmed in that view.

In fact, I think it was a much bigger win for Obama than I was ready to figure last night. And there’s two basic reasons.

Huh! After “seeing initial polling data and surveying other people's reactions,” Josh had rethought his outlook too. He gave “two basic reason” for this. His first reason didn’t really make sense, as you can see from reading his piece. But in his second “basic reason,” he, like Klein, suddenly found himself very upset by McCain’s rude conduct:

MARSHALL (9/27/08): Whether it was contempt or condescension or some sort of fear or inability to–in the most literal sense –face Obama, it made McCain look small and angry. I apologize that I can't link to them because I don't remember who wrote it. But as someone wrote after the debate, for that kind of attitude to have “worked” for McCain, Obama needed to come off as completely ignorant and unprepared. And I don't think even his harshest critics believe that is what happened. Roll it all together and Obama just seemed like a bigger person than McCain. And in a race in which the issue agenda and party identification already work strongly in Obama's favor, that's an advantage that is very hard for McCain to give up.

Just like Klein, Josh now found himself upset by McCain’s contempt or condescension–the contempt or condescension which had made McCain look small and angry. But how weird! In real time, Josh live-blogged the entire debate–and he completely forgot to mention these outrages as they were actually happening! His first mention of this troubling phenomenon came late in the debate, in response to an e-mail. This is what he wrote. Sorry–Josh’s archives have been down, so we can’t seem to recover a link:

MARSHALL (9/26/08): 10:26 PM. I haven't focused on this myself. But a number of readers are writing in to say that McCain has not looked at or made eye contact with Sen. Obama once this evening. Have you seen that?

“I haven't focused on this myself,” he reported. It isn’t clear that he’d even noticed. But so what? By the next day, Josh was very upset about this vile misconduct. It made McCain look small and angry, he wrote, long after the fact.

Radio daze: Then there was the young perfesser, who spent much of Friday afternoon trying to fly out of Philly. As a result, he didn’t get to watch the debate. On Saturday morning at 9, he posted this:

ATRIOS (9/27/08): Debate

Well, due to travel hell I was in a car during the debate. Caught some of it on the radio, though it's hard to make any judgments without seeing the visuals.

I understand McCain has a wee bit of a problem looking Obama in the eye? Pretty weird.

The perfesser had heard the Official Story about McCain’s vile conduct. But he hadn’t actually seen the debate; he had only heard some of it on the radio. “It's hard to make any judgments without seeing the visuals,” he said.

But fish gotta swim, and birds gotta fly–and hacks have to treat you like rubes. At 9:42, the perfesser posted a bit of snark about the radio bits he had heard, though he said nothing about the eye contact. But sure enough! But by 1:13 that afternoon, the perfesser was quite outraged too. “Condescension” made for a wonderful title. You’ll rarely see such perfect hackistry:

ATRIOS (9/27/08): Condescension

Visuals aside, what did come through loud and clear on the radio bits I heard was McCain's incredibly condescending attitude towards Obama. Not a mindreader, so I don't know what he really thinks/feels, but he sounded like he thought Obama was on par with dog shit.

How weird! As it turns out, Atrios had been struck, in real time, by McCain’s “incredibly condescending attitude towards Obama.” Indeed, McCain had “sounded like he thought Obama was on par with dog shit.” And yet, for some reason, the perfesser forgot to mention this in his original posts. He only got around to recording this judgment on Saturday afternoon.

To all appearances, this is the work of three perfect hacks–people filled with contempt and condescension toward you. Once the Official Story clunked into place, they ran to pretend that they had felt the Official Approved Reactions all along.

This is what mainstream journalists used to do; now, “liberal leaders” ape their conduct. By the way: Do you think the progressive/Dem world will ever develop a winning politics with leaders like this at the helm?

We’re seeing a pattern: As you may recall, Josh did much the same thing after the crucial October 30 Democratic debate. Midway through, he was gushing about Hillary Clinton’s performance. (“Here's the thing with Hillary. Not always inspiring answers. But, man, she never flubs an answer. Simply unflappable. Like a machine. And I mean that as a compliment.”) By 11:37 PM, he had started to get mildly in line with emerging clatter about her deeply troubling “driver’s license” answer. By the next day, though, he had begun to scramble. “It got a lot rougher [for Clinton] toward the end,” he wrote–although he hadn’t said a word about this problem in his live-blogging. “She does seem to be taking it [her position on the driver’s license matter] to an almost absurd length,” he now wrote–although he said nothing about her answer in real time. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/31/07, with links to Josh’s posts.

The mugging of Clinton had started in earnest; having failed to say the right things in real time, Josh was now scrambling to catch up with the pack. In our view, he played the same silly game this weekend. This time, though, he had plenty of company from other leaders who scrambled to get into line.