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TOUGH ON EVERYBODY! Edsall and Matthews help us see how a decade has been disappeared: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2009

Someone’s on a spaceship with Ifill: Sung to the tune of, “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah.”

At first, the analysts jumped for joy. They’ve always loved Kevin Drum’s work—though he sometimes makes them tear their hair. And yesterday, Kevin said he would answer their question! Just click here:

DRUM (10/8/09): [DAILY HOWLER analysts] want to know why the media isn't a wee bit more interested in why the United States pays far more per person for medical care than other rich countries. Here's the rough answer:

Huzzah! Kevin was going to answer their question! Why do the media keep avoiding the world’s most remarkable state of affairs? Kevin was going to let us know “why the media isn’t more interested!”

But then, elation turned to despair! Kevin’s answer had nothing to do with the question he himself had just posed:

DRUM (continuing directly):

While the analysts love Kevin’s work, this is why he drives them mad. Do you see a single word that answers our actual question? Here’s our question: Why does the press corps keep refusing to discuss or explain our mammoth over-spending? Kevin said he would answer that question. Then, he answered something else. It’s not that what he said was wrong. It just didn’t speak to the question.

Might we go over this problem again, speaking extremely slowly?

The United States spends two to three times as much as comparable nations on health care. As any rational person can see, these OECD data—everyone cites them—define an astonishing state of affairs:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007
United States: $7290
France: $3601
Germany: $3588
United Kingdom: $2992
Italy: $2686
Spain: $2671
Japan: $2581 (2006)

We spend two to three times what those nations spend—and get equal or lesser health outcomes. And yet, the press corps never discusses this astonishing state of affairs!

Go ahead. Try to find a single world in Kevin’s post which explains the press corps’ disinterest.

Might we state what is blindingly obvious? Progressive impulses in this society are killed by the press corps’ silence. Most voters have little awareness of this massive over-spending. It’s hard for people to get angry about something that’s never discussed in the press. Let’s make it so simple that “career liberals” can follow: When Gwen Ifill refuses to discuss this astonishing state of affairs, she protects the corporate/big money interests which live off this vast over-spending.

She protects the doctors, the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies. And she keeps her viewers clueless.

Kevin presents an interesting outline of our over-spending. If the New York Times or the Washington Post did a week of front-page reports about this astounding situation, they could certainly work from his outline. But they show no sign of wanting to do that. We have asked—and asked; and asked again—why they show no interest.

OK! Enough with the subtle:

Presumably, the mainstream press is avoiding this topic because it seeks to serve the large corporate interests involved in that over-spending. (To offer an earlier example of the same conduct: That’s why the pundits corps savaged Candidate Gore in 2000 when he opposed Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security.) Or maybe explanation is more innocent: Maybe the mainstream press corps’ dull sensibilities don’t allow them to see a problem with that massive over-spending on health care.

But then, Kevin seems to share that sensibility. We pay as much as five times more per procedure, he says—and that is where his analysis rests. He fails to see the obvious question:

Why the f*ck do we do that? Why the f*ck are American citizens getting looted that way?

These blindingly obvious questions never arise in the mainstream press—or in the career liberal world, for that matter. In its silence, the mainstream press thus keeps the lid on progressive sentiment. The average American might even be angry if he/she understood the fact that he spends five times as much for procedures as other people do. But Gwen Ifill isn’t going to tell Americans that. And the outrage that lurks inside that factoid doesn’t seem to move Kevin either.

Why? Why do we spend twice as much for drugs? Why do we spend five times more for procedures? In a rational world, this remarkable state of affairs would lead to strings of front-page reports.

But you don’t live in a rational world. You live in the United States, a society which is owned by corporate interests—unlike the other societies in those OECD data.

That ownership is enabled by the dulled sensibilities found in the mainstream and career liberal worlds. Or are the Ifills knowingly in the bag to Washington’s big money interests? They seemed to play that role in the Clinton/Gore years—an era which has been disappeared.

Special report: Recovering history!

EPILOGUE—TOUGH ON EVERYBODY: In this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman writes about the decline in American education (largely, higher education). Early on, he describes a destructive 30-year era:

KRUGMAN (10/9/09): The rise of American education was, overwhelmingly, the rise of public education—and for the past 30 years our political scene has been dominated by the view that any and all government spending is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Education, as one of the largest components of public spending, has inevitably suffered.

That “past 30 years” has been a time of rising conservative/ corporate/ big money power inside Establishment Washington. For the most part, the “career liberal” world has played along with that rise in Big Money Power. Career liberals have been seeking big money’s salaries and sinecures—seats at its various tables.

Two results: Big newspapers refuse to explain where your health care spending is going. And the history of the Clinton/Gore era has largely been disappeared.

How thoroughly has that era disappeared? For a tragicomical example, consider Thomas Edsall’s groaning discussion of “liberal bias” at the Columbia Journalism Review.

For decades, Edsall was a political reporter at the Washington Post. “The mainstream press is liberal,” he writes in CJR. Needless to say, this statement will be repeated down through the years, all through the conservative world. But as Edsall groaningly “proves” his thesis, note the way the Clinton/Gore era disappears—the era in which “the mainstream press” waged war on three liberal Democrats.

First, one point of agreement with Edsall. Mainstream journalists often exhibit rank condescension toward white working-class voters. But does that make these journalists “liberal?” In fact, Edsall’s definition of what it means to be a liberal is groaningly hard to fathom. Here’s the paragraph in which he makes and defines his soon-to-be-deathless assertion:

EDSALL (10/8/09): The mainstream press is liberal. Once, before 1965, reporters were a mix of the working stiffs leavened by ne’er-do-well college grads unfit for corporate headquarters or divinity school. Since the civil rights and women’s movements, the culture wars and Watergate, the press corps at such institutions as The Washington Post, ABC-NBC-CBS News, the NYT, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, etc. is composed in large part of “new” or “creative” class members of the liberal elite—well-educated men and women who tend to favor abortion rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights. In the main, they find such figures as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Pat Robertson, or Jerry Falwell beneath contempt.

According to Edsall, members of the mainstream press “tend to favor abortion rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights.” That may be true (note the qualifier, “tend to”). But should such people be defined as “liberals?” In this definition, Edsall considers only the so-called “social issues”—not the controlling issues of wealth and power which have driven so much of the past thirty years. Weirdly enough, two paragraphs later, he says this about these “liberals:”

EDSALL: If reporters were the only ones allowed to vote, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry would have won the White House by landslide margins. More specifically, reporters and editors tend to be social liberals, not economic liberals. Their view of unions and the labor movement is wary and suspicious. They are far more interested in stories about hate crimes than in stories about the distribution of income.

According to Edsall, mainstream journalists are the types of people whose “view of unions and the labor movement is wary and suspicious.” They’re social liberals only, he says—not economic liberals.

By this definition, you could have supported Bush’s tax cuts and the war in Iraq—but if you were pro-choice, that meant that you were a liberal! There’s a term for analysis of this type. But we’re too polite to type it.

But then, the weirdness of Edsall’s analysis extends to that cheerful sentence about Dukakis, Gore and Kerry. According to Edsall, mainstream journalists overwhelmingly supported Gore for president. (And Dukakis, whom they often mocked.) At this point, the gruesome history of the Clinton/Gore era thoroughly disappears. Question: How detached from real life must an analyst be to type this truly remarkable sentence: “If reporters were the only ones allowed to vote, [Al Gore] would have won the White House by landslide margins.”

Truly, that statement is mind-boggling. But it helps you see how ruthlessly the Clinton/Gore era has been disappeared, all through our mainstream press culture. Indeed, that’s where the comedy of Edsall’s piece comes in. Just note the way Edsall describes the conduct of this “liberal” mainstream press corps in the thirty years cited in Krugman’s column:

EDSALL: The refusal of mainstream media executives to acknowledge the ideological leanings of their staffs has produced a dangerous form of media guilt in which the press leans over so far backward to avoid the charge of left bias that it ends up either neutered or leaning to the right. This happened at The Washington Post and was reflected in weak and sometimes fawning coverage, first of the opening years of the Reagan administration, and even more so during George W. Bush’s first term—when not only the lead-up to the Iraq invasion but key domestic initiatives went largely unexamined, with disastrous consequences.

See there? This “liberal” press corps extended fawning coverage to President Reagan—and to George W. Bush as well! Left unsaid is what this “liberal” press did to President Clinton—and to Candidate Gore.

In fact, the “fawning” to George W. Bush started well before he took office. Edsall seems to forget this now, perhaps because he himself was part of the process by which Candidate Gore got shredded. But let’s return to the work of Chris Matthews, who played the fool last Thursday night in discussing the new book, The Clinton Tapes, with its author, historian Taylor Branch. At one point, Matthews showered himself with self-praise, lying to Branch as he did:

MATTHEWS (10/1/09): OK. Here`s what I don’t understand. I, at the time— I have always been tough on Clinton. I’m tough on everybody. But I always thought the answer was not impeachment. It certainly wasn’t conviction. And some kind of resolution would have been fine with most people. Get it over with. Say something. Congress passes resolutions all the time, National Turnip Day. They could make National Bill Clinton Shouldn’t Have Done It Day. That should have been easy, and it would have all been over with.

“I’m tough on everybody,” Matthews said, lying in Branch’s face. The analysts roared and howled. Milk came out of one’s nose.

“I’m tough on everybody,” Matthews said—disappearing the actual history of the Clinton/Gore era.

How did Matthews really behave in that disappeared era? We thought of how tough he was on Gore and Bush in June 1999, when they kicked off their White House campaigns. Gore went second, making his formal announcement on June 16. The following Monday, Matthews discussed the candidate’s launch with Cokie Roberts.

It had now been more than four months since President Clinton’s impeachment trial ended. Still furious, Matthews found a memorable way to characterize Gore’s refusal to call for Clinton’s removal from office. (Instead, Gore had recommended a congressional resolution of censure, the very approach Matthews seemed to tell Branch that he himself had favored.) How did Matthews characterize Gore? Repeatedly, Matthews compared the vice president to French collaborators with the Nazis during World War II. Chatting with Roberts, Matthews raised this “very crude comparison” four separate times this night.

“To say ‘Nazis,’ you know,” Roberts said at one point, hoping to free herself from her host’s conduct. But her host, who’s tough on everybody, just kept bringing it on:

ROBERTS (6/21/99): The problem for [Gore] and for a lot of other Democrats is that throughout the whole last year, when there were places along the way where they could have spoken out and made a difference, they chose not to. Now what they will tell you is it's because they thought they were doing important work, that they—the work needed to be carried out, it was important for the country. And I think a lot of them actually believe that. But the—

MATTHEWS: I'm sure the French said the same thing under, under the Nazis.

ROBERTS: Well—

MATTHEWS: They probably said, “We had to keep the trains on time.”

ROBERTS: To say “Nazis,” you know, it—

MATTHEWS: “We had to teach the—we had to teach our kids. We had to keep the movies.” France had a great movie industry going during—the singers never stopped singing at Maxim's. Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier kept singing when the Nazis were running the country. There's lots of excuses for doing the wrong thing. Do you think it'll sell?

ROBERTS: Well, I—I—just depends on whether—how wrong people think it is. And, you know, you—you—you've been very strong on this, I've been pretty strong on this, but a lot of other people haven't been.

Today, Matthews lies in Branch’s face, seeming to say that he, Chris Matthews, favored a resolution condemning Clinton. But that is precisely what Gore had favored—Gore, who was like a French collaborator with the Nazis. Being “tough on everybody,” Matthews went on to tell Roberts that Gore was Clinton’s “bathtub ring,” part of the “bathtub yuk”—using an insulting phrase he would use all through the 2000 campaign. (There were seventeen months to go.) Clinton and Gore? They were like “what we used to call Siamese twins,” he thoughtfully mused.

How did Matthews get on the Siamese twins? Roberts said that Gore “has definitely been joined at the hip to Bill Clinton.” Being tough on everyone, Matthews took it from there:

MATTHEWS (6/21/99): I just saw a movie up in Nantucket this weekend, Twin Falls, Idaho—it's gonna come out next year—about conjoined twins, what we used to call Siamese twins, and they get in this— The worst part of the movie, in terms of just watching is when—imagine Siamese twins fighting with each other. It's horrendous and you just want to crawl under the chair because it's fighting worse than a marital fight.

ROBERTS: I think I'll skip this one.

MATTHEWS: You, you— no, no, it's an amazing— It's about life. It's a very important movie about love and—and we—who we are on this planet.

Matthews went on to expound a bit more about Gore being like a conjoined twin; he then returned to the Nazis. But at least he’s tough on everyone! Everyone except Candidate Bush, whose kick-off tour he had discussed exactly one week before.

That Monday night, June 14, Bush was praised and fawned about as few candidates ever are. Republicans “may have touched the magic wand here,” a goggle-eyed Matthews told pundit guests. Bush was praised for his comic timing, which reminded Matthews of Jack Benny. The Texan was praised for his “plain talk” about utterly mundane policy matters. (“Amazing stuff!” Matthews exclaimed at one point. “That’s Martin Luther stuff! This is for real!”) Matthews aired parts of his own interview with Bush—a session he described as “my delightful back and forth with the candidate from Texas.” Eventually, he asked a question:

“Has anybody on Earth, unless the guy lands on the moon, ever gotten this kind of publicity?”

“Springsteen, yeah,” Howard Fineman replied. In this way, Fineman helped his corporate-owned host get tough on everybody. (Once again, this was the Hardball show of 6/14/99.)

In these two Monday night segments, we get a tiny glimpse of the way Edsall’s “liberal press” behaved in the Clinton/Gore era. When Matthews got tough on Candidate Gore, Gore was “bathtub yuk,” a conjoined twin—and a Nazi collaborator. When Matthews got tough on Candidate Bush, Bush was Jack Benny, Martin Luther and Springsteen—and the man who walked on the moon. Needless to say, Matthews and his colleagues had behaved this way toward Clinton for years before that. Last week, he seemed to tell Branch that he had favored a congressional resolution of disapproval. In fact, Gore had favored congressional censure. And Matthews had mauled him for that.

This colorful era is totally missing from Edsall’s CJR piece. He tells us the mainstream press is liberal—and disappears these years. The press corps fawned to Reagan, then to Bush 43. What came in between disappears.

But then, the thirty years described by Krugman have been a time of public madness in your devolving nation. During this time, “the rich came into our lives,” if we may borrow from Hemingway. Rising conservative/corporate/ big money power seized Washington—and purchased Edsall’s “liberal press.” In one specific transaction, Jack Welch seems to have purchased Matthews—and soon enough, Matthews, in his turn, purchased the “career liberal” world. They wanted a seat at Hardball’s table—a chance to share GE’s bounty. In return, they have always kept their pretty traps shut about Matthews’ astonishing conduct. (And Ceci’s. And Kit’s.) Your history has thus been disappeared. You have never read a real profile of Matthews’ actual conduct in any of your “liberal journals.” David Corn now sits on his show. He knows that Serious People in corporate Washington still simper about Clinton/Gore.

The week after next, we will launch a second site in which we will start to recover a bit of that era’s disappeared history. We’re also going to beg you for money. (Much more work of this type must be done. The American public has never been told about the way the rich took control of their lives.) A modern nation can’t function this way, throwing whole decades of history out. But as one might glean from Krugman’s piece, your nation is in massive trouble.

“[W]e need to wake up and realize that one of the keys to our nation’s historic success is now a wasting asset,” Krugman writes at the end of his piece. But there’s no sign that any such thing will occur. You live in a world in which career liberals can’t even bring themselves to react to those astonishing health spending data. In which career liberals happily agree to disappear entire decades.

Let’s put it a bit more simply: You live in an idiocracy. You live in a world where a man like Matthews feels free to go on TV and lie in the face of a man like Branch. Gore supported a resolution of censure. Matthews savaged Gore for it.

Thirty years on, corporate power owns your culture. Our view? When the Corns start resembling the Dowds, the apocalypse may well be near.