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Daily Howler: Harlequins tumbled into the ring following Thursday's debate
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SOMERSAULTS FROM THE VW BUG! Harlequins tumbled into the ring following Thursday’s debate: // link // print // previous // next //

THE FINE ART OF KISSING UP TO A MODERATOR: Frankly, it makes us retch to see the way “career liberals” still play this game. Yesterday, Steve Benen was boo-hooing about the way Sarah Palin mistreated Gwen Ifill. (Steve’s headline: “The fine art of blowing off a moderator.”) It has rarely occurred to lads of this ilk to criticize Ifill herself, for letting herself get blown off that way—or, more primally, for exposing herself to massive criticism for moderating Thursday’s debate despite her forthcoming book. And yes, her book does give Gwen Ifill a significant stake in seeing Obama win. The lads would be screaming long and loud if the shoe were on some other foot.

Someone else should have handled Thursday’s debate—but Ifill power-blundered ahead. She then rolled over and thoroughly died as Palin “blew off” her questions. Did Ifill let Palin “blow her off” because she’d been pounded by so much conservative criticism? We don’t the slightest idea—and lads like Benen have little stomach for raising such obvious questions. On Friday, Emily Rooney seemed to raise that question, speaking to Howard Kurtz. But few of our fiery career liberal leaders went there. To our ear, Benen’s piece displayed the fine art of kissing up to a moderator.

Today, the lads are at it again. Benen is thrilled because Obama’s campaign will finally raise the Keating Five matter; Josh Marshall notes the same development. But neither lad asks an obvious question: Why has the mainstream press corps endlessly failed to raise this topic? They ducked the topic eight years ago, when the world’s greatest saint first sought the White House. And they’ve largely ducked the topic again during his current campaign. Neither Benen nor Marshall notes this problem—even though Benen understands that raising the issue may have a down-side for Obama:

BENEN (10/6/08): There is, of course, a chance that the criticisms of McCain for his role in this scandal may take the Obama campaign off its game. If McCain wants to attack Obama for his tenuous associations, there's a reasonable case to be made that Obama shouldn't wrestle the proverbial pig, and should instead stick to his message about the economy.

Damn straight. A fist-fight about who has bad character may not play well for Obama, who has been cruising of late.

It would be easier for Obama to stick to the high road if the mainstream press corps had done its job. But weak-willed fellows like Josh and Steve will simply never adopt this framework as they gaze at American politics. Josh has reinvented himself as a fool in the course of this year’s campaign—but even so, he routinely skips questions of mainstream press conduct. Steve is along for the ride.

Back to poor, abused Ifill. On yesterday’s Meet the Press, Tom Brokaw and his ship of Village fools helped her boo-hoo-hoo about Palin’s very bad conduct. (And about the ludicrous conduct of those who said she might have a conflict.) Brokaw played part of the tape from this weekend’s Saturday Night Live—the part which mocked Palin for “blowing off” Ifill. But wouldn’t you know it? He completely forgot to play the two parts of the SNL tape which mocked Ifill for hosting the debate in the first place, despite her conflict of interest! As always, Brokaw and his Village People displayed the fine art of kissing up to their own. And Josh and Steve have been boo-hoo-hooing on Ifill’s behalf along with rest of the gang.

Indeed, Benen posted that same segment from SNL as part of his own post. He too forgot to share the part of the tape which mocked Ifill. As we’ve noted, Ifill made her mark five years ago by rolling over and abjectly dying for her buddy, Condi Rice. It’s truly stunning when leading liberals carry water for hacks of this type.

Please remember the basic principle: Their side attacks the mainstream press. Your side asks them for jobs.

Fairbanks arrives: That said, we congratulate The New Republic’s Eve Fairbanks, who made her Washington Post debut with a suitably hackneyed piece in Sunday’s Outlook section. (Her piece does help you understand where Village politics is now heading.) A bit of background: All through 1999, The New Republic kept its trap shut while the Post kept savaging Candidate Gore. And wouldn’t you know it? At the end of that year, its editor (Chuck Lane) and its political reporter (Dana Milbank) accepted full-time jobs at the Post! Yesterday, Fairbanks arrived at the club, allowed to visit for a few hours. For years, we’ve tried to explain how this game is played. For that reason, it was quite a thrill when we saw Fairbanks arrive there.

SOMERSAULTS FROM THE VW BUG: Good God! Following Thursday night’s debate, a familiar array of Village clowns tumbled out of their Volkswagen bug. How do the various Villagers clown? Let us count just a few of the ways:

Pre-debate clowning: Your press corps loves to display its inanity—and its lack of preparation. On last Wednesday’s Hardball, Chris Matthews raised a very important question: Should Biden help Palin with her chair at the start of the debate? The addled fellow posed his “great question” to Michelle Bernard and Joan Walsh:

MATTHEWS (10/1/08): Here’s a great question. It’s not in the Brooks Brothers’ book of etiquette. I will ask you, Michelle, but here is the question: As they`re sitting down—it`s going to be a sit-down debate—and if she is having trouble with her chair—you know how people sit down, they have to pull them in?


MATTHEWS: If —does he dare reach over and help her? I have got to go to Joan with this one. Does he dare reach over, instinctively, or well-trained, or whatever, and help her with her chair from behind?

Matthews’ inanity was obvious, of course. (He’s paid $5 million per year.) Less obvious was his utterly typical lack of preparation. This debate was not a sit-down debate, unlike the last two VP debates. Matthews’ “great question” wasn’t simply inane. It was also completely irrelevant.

Instant post-debate bungling: High-ranking pundits are always eager to blunder after a debate. Last Thursday, Charlie Rose had assembled a gruesome gang. And sure enough! One pundit couldn’t wait to showcase her world-class hauteur—and her unerring instinct for error:

ROSE (10/2/08): Did either of them make any mistakes that you noticed?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I didn’t really see any gaffes, nor were there many Tina Fey moments for what might come on Saturday Night Live. The only one might be when she was asked what might trigger nuclear war, and she went into nuclear war, that’s the be-all, end-all, that’s bad, a lot of people gone. I can see them using that as a moment. But other than that, no, they both handled everything pretty well.

COKIE ROBERTS: He talked about the “Bosniaks.

GOODWIN: And there was McKiernan versus McClellan.

ROBERTS: If she said “Bosniak,” everybody would be making a big deal of it, you know.

Asked for mistakes, of which there were many, Goodwin turned to the question of “gaffes” and “Tina Few moments,” insisting that there had been few. And Cokie quickly rolled her eyes at the way Biden used the word “Bosniaks.” As you know, dopes like Cokie are always eager to showcase their superiority to the dim-witted hacks they’re forced to cover. In this case, she created a typical two-fer: She focused on a trivial matter—and got it completely wrong.

Unsurprisingly, “Bosniak” turned out to be the accurate term, as Media Matters had explained within three hours of the debate. But so what? In Saturday’s New York Times, the hapless Charles Blow was still ridiculing Biden for “that hysterical ‘Bosniac’ snafu”—and for “his unbelievable Home Depot story.”(We have no idea why Blow found’s Biden remark unbelievable. Politicians routinely visit spots like Home Depot to glad-hand and speak with constituents.) Again, Media Matters had fact-checked the “Bosniak” point within three hours of Thursday’s debate. But so what? Nothing keeps these high-priced dopes from getting their trivia wrong.

Got low expectations: As always, Villagers brandished subjective measuring sticks, letting us know which of the candidates had “exceeded expectations.” In the Post, Howard Kurtz asked a quadrennial question. Karen T capably answered:

KURTZ (10/4/08): How is it that one candidate gets to be judged by an artificial benchmark created by the very media "filter" that Palin criticized in the debate? That, says Time correspondent Karen Tumulty, explains the gap between the pundits and the people.

"People out there are watching and trying to imagine her as vice president and even president," Tumulty says. "With the media, we've been so obsessed with parsing and flyspecking these interviews the last few weeks. To compare her to a series of interviews in which she didn't do very well is not only a very low bar, it's not the way the rest of the country is looking at it.”

Tumulty answered capably—but nothing stops this conduct. The all-time historical example involves Bush and Gore’s first debate, in which pundits all over the country Said The Exact Same Thing: Gore may have done better “on points,” but because he exceeded expectations, Bush really won the debate. A few years ago, we posted a detailed treatment of this truly remarkable episode (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/06). If you’ve never read that post, we strongly rtecommend it. Compared to that outing, the boy and girls were quite restrained after last Thursday’s debate.

The Dean dozes: In the Post, David Broder said he can’t imagine why McCain’s campaign hasn’t used Palin more. Even from the Village Dean, this was truly astounding:

BRODER (10/5/08): In a session that was faster-paced and friendlier than the presidential debate, Palin and Biden smiled often at each other while exchanging glances and verbal blows. It was a reminder that politics can be fun—as well as informative.

But it created a mystery of its own. Why in the world has the McCain campaign kept Palin under wraps from her debut at the Republican National Convention until this debate? What were they afraid of?

Apparently, Broder alone, among living humans, missed Palin’s debacle with Katie Couric. But under time-honored Village laws, no event is ever complete without such reaction from Broder.

(By the way: To see Jim Fallows pretend that this sort of thing from Broder is rare, you know what to do—just click here, then prepare to gag. Unlike in Campaign 2000, Fallows is on your team this year. But within his professional cohort, he’s still kiss-kissing hard.)

We could point to other manifestations. On page one of Sunday’s Post, for example, Michael Dobbs typed the story the insider press corps will simply never stop typing. (As he did, he drew inferences about one hopeful’s character. In fact, a politician’s character can best be assessed by examining his conduct in office.) And Len Downie typed the latest blunderbuss tale about the Village’s goodness.

And omigod! On the same page with Downie, there was Fairbanks, in her debut. But then, the Village is a daft and daffy place. Career liberals will stomp you to get there.

Pepperidge Farm remembers: Our favorite Goodwin post-debate highlight comes from Campaign 2004. Because the Red Sox had been on TV, she hadn’t quite watched Bush and Kerry’s debate. But so what? The next day, she called Imus anyway—and recited a string of Republican points. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/15/04. We strongly recommend this post.

When it comes to Cokie, we’ll always have Bush’s 2000 tax plan. Four days after it was released (in December 1999), she still thought the campaign’s dollar figure referred to ten years, not to five. Politely, Stephanopoulos tried to cover up for her astounding mistake. But for our disillusioned analysts, the damage was already done. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/6/99.

And yes, you’re right! That was the same This Week when Cokie, George and Sam shook their heads about Gore’s “Pinocchio problem”—about Gore’s terrible Love Canal lie. As part of the fun, Bill Kristol misquoted Gore again, four days after Ceci Connolly’s misquotation had been corrected. But so what? No one—not Sam, not George, and surely not Cokie—corrected Kristol’s misquotation. In this way, these gruesome people put George Bush where he is.

A few weeks later, Lane and Milbank got the good news—they could come to work for the Post! Candidate Gore had been slandered by Ceci Connolly, again, without a word of complaint from The New Republic. But so what? Two career liberal writers had landed good jobs at the Post. And yes, this is the way your politics has worked in the past sixteen years.