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THIS IS YOUR (RHODES SCHOLAR’S) BRAIN ON BUGS! Rachel Maddow’s absurd report raises a troubling question: // link // print // previous // next //

Next post/next Monday: We’re off on a mission of national import; it takes us to a bunkered federal facility on the outskirts of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Correct federal management hangs in the balance. We’ll return to these pages on Monday.

POT KEEPS ATTACKING KETTLES: Sad to say, Maureen Dowd has been the most influential print journalist of the past twenty-five years. In Wednesday’s New York Times, she continued to rail against the fact that other women, new to the scene, are almost as dumb as she is.

“Making Ignorance Chic,” her headline said. But has anyone done more to make ignorance chic than Maureen Dowd herself?

In Wednesday’s column, Dowd continued to target the “Republican Mean Girls” of last Sunday’s column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/18/10). Amazingly, Dowd thinks she has reason to complain about the alleged dumbness of people like Sarah Palin.

Dumbly, Dowd contrasted Palin with Marilyn Monroe, just as she’d done with Monroe and Hillary Clinton eleven long years before. In this passage, she defines the difference between the bookish Monroe and the pitiful Palin:

DOWD (10/20/10): At least, unlike Paris Hilton and her ilk, the Dumb Blonde of ’50s cinema had a firm grasp on one thing: It was cool to be smart. She aspired to read good books and be friends with intellectuals, even going so far as to marry one. But now another famous beauty with glowing skin and a powerful current, Sarah Palin, has made ignorance fashionable.

You struggle to name Supreme Court cases, newspapers you read and even founding fathers you admire? No problem. You endorse a candidate for the Pennsylvania Senate seat who is the nominee in West Virginia? Oh, well.

At least you’re not one of those “spineless” elites with an Ivy League education, like President Obama, who can’t feel anything.

Dowd, who has made fatuity fashionable, strikes back when Palin invades her turf. She also strikes at Christine O’Donnell, and at Sharron Angle—and she gives Michele Bachmann a hit:

DOWD (continuing directly): It’s news to Christine O’Donnell that the Constitution guarantees separation of church and state. It’s news to Joe Miller, whose guards handcuffed a journalist, and to Carl Paladino, who threatened The New York Post’s Fred Dicker, that the First Amendment exists, even in Tea Party Land. Michele Bachmann calls Smoot-Hawley Hoot-Smalley.

Sharron Angle sank to new lows of obliviousness when she told a classroom of Hispanic kids in Las Vegas: “Some of you look a little more Asian to me.”

Angle was at least making an accurate point, though apropos of not very much—you can’t always tell from someone’s appearance what their ethnicity is. Dowd, the most oblivious of all press players, knew that this comment, assailed by all liberals, allowed her to prance about too. In the case of O’Donnell, the fumbling candidate explicitly spoke to Chris Coons at one point about “the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ ” (our emphasis), unsuccessfully trying to drive a type of point conservatives typically make.

Dowd, who’s dumb as a box of old shoes, betrayed no sign of knowing this. People like Dowd don’t waste their time understanding the shape of our discourse.

But then, Maureen Dowd is the dumbest box of rocks of the past twenty-five years. She has also been grossly influential in our degraded press culture. She has made many things fashionable: Inanity, insouciance, invented quotations, simpering novelized nonsense. You recall her reply when poor Joe Klein suggested that she “go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real.”

“You mean I should write about welfare reform?” Dowd replied, making sad languor tres chic. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/15/00.)

As western literature is to Homer, the dumbness of modern American discourse is all a footnote to Dowd. But Maureen Dowd simply can’t see her role in this great chain of being:

DOWD: In Marilyn’s America, there were aspirations. The studios tackled literary novels rather than one-liners like “He’s Just Not That Into You” and navel-gazing drivel like “Eat Pray Love.” Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” paired cartoon characters with famous composers. Even Bugs Bunny did Wagner.

But in Sarah’s America, we’ve refudiated all that.

End of column! Things were so much smarter then—before Maureen Dowd came along.

Back to the future: In August 1999, Dowd spent a column comparing Monroe to the vile Hillary Clinton. (“Like Hillary, Marilyn's troubles are what keep her so compelling.” Click here.) Back then, Dowd at least had a clearer idea of the way she herself rolled.

“The celebrity-drenched culture that dawned in the glamorous aura of Marilyn Monroe, J.F.K. and Jackie has now reached nauseating new depths,” she admitted. “We're always wallowing in celebrity lifestyle and deathstyle.”

After that, she kept up the crap for eleven more years. Because she invested so much time in the process of dumbing a nation, we may perhaps understand Dowd’s pique when other mules kick in her stall.

THIS IS YOUR (RHODES SCHOLAR’S) BRAIN ON BUGS (permalink): Americans have suffered the bedbug’s return; in the east, we’ve seen the rise of the stink bug. Is it possible that some sort of bug is eating our American brains?

The American economy is falling apart—but, as an election approaches, the public debate concerns the following: College pranks at Baylor in the 1980s; a high school date with a dabbler in witchcraft; the fact that someone called someone a whore; a joke about being a bearded Marxist in a college newspaper.

Those bogus claims about Gore’s earth tones seem positively bright by comparison. Then too, there was the long segment which opened Monday’s Rachel Maddow Show. (For the full transcript, click here.)

Adjusting for former Rhodes Scholar status, this was one of the dumbest, phoniest presentations we’ve ever seen on cable. Result? Steve Benen leaped into action on Tuesday, praising it for its brilliance. (To read his post, click this.)

When this is the kind of work we liberals get from our former Rhodes Scholars—when we lap such nonsense up—the death of the west can’t be far away. Are insects devouring brain matter?

This very dumb segment was performed by Maddow, who gets sold to us as a former Rhodes Scholar. Some of the points she made in this segment made perfect sense. But we are referring to her repetitive claims about the work of “the Beltway media.” She voiced her thesis, for the first of many times, as she opened the segment:

MADDOW (10/18/10): Good evening, and thank you for being with us tonight. It is two weeks until the elections. And now, two weeks before the elections, it is finally becoming clear what is going to happen in those elections and why.

It had not been clear before because, over the past few weeks in particular, the media narrative about what’s going to happen in this year’s elections has turned into a Republican campaign ad. There has been no daylight over the last couple of weeks between how the Beltway media has been explaining what’s going to happen in politics and what conservative candidates say they want to happen in American politics.

In other words, the message that the Beltway media is using to explain what’s happening in the elections right now happens to be the exact same message that Republicans are using in their campaign ads.

Over and over, for the next sixteen minutes, Maddow kept saying that “the Beltway media” is promoting the GOP’s campaign messages—is “spinning the elections for them.” Here are just a few iterations of this repetitive claim:

MADDOW: We keep hearing from Republican candidates, and we keep hearing from the media that spin the elections for Republicans this year, we keep hearing how much concern about the deficit explains why Republican are going to pick up seats in this election. It’s the deficit! That’s what explains this election.

MADDOW: We have the most extreme slate of big government, criminalized-abortion candidates that has ever run for office, running for office this year. So, even though we keep hearing from Republican candidates and the media that is spinning the elections for them how much concern about big government explains why Republicans are going to pick up seats in these elections, that’s what explains the election, right? It’s big government?

MADDOW: So, we keep hearing from Republican candidates and from the media that is spinning the elections for them how much opposition to the stimulus explains why Republicans are going to pick up seats in these elections. That’s what explains the election, right? It`s the stimulus.

MADDOW: Obamacare, a classic example of liberal government overreach! Republicans will win this year because they opposed it! That’s the line from the media, and that’s the line from Republicans.

MADDOW: So even though we keep hearing from Republican candidates and the media that is spinning the elections for them how much opposition to Obamacare explains how Republicans are going to pick up seats in these elections, then how do you explain show-boat conservative candidates running on everything that health reform is doing for their state? They keep saying, “It’s Obamacare. That’s what explains this election.”

This jeremiad went on and on; we’ve posted only a few of Maddow’s assertions. Again and again, Maddow discussed the things we’ve been hearing “from Republican candidates and from the media that is spinning the elections for them.” Her repeated message was perfectly clear: “The Beltway media” are “spinning this year’s election for the GOP.” In various ways, “the Beltway media” are pushing the GOP’s lines.

According to Maddow, “the media narrative” about this year’s elections is “a Republican campaign ad.”

That is a very strong assertion of press corps misconduct. Maddow’s repeated statement of this claim went on for a full sixteen minutes, without commercial break. And during all that time, this famous Rhodes Scholar offered exactly two examples of this alleged conduct by “the Beltway media.” But uh-oh! Her two examples came from relatively obscure press organs—and each example involved a case of unobjectionable press conduct.

Are insects eating America’s brains? Remarkably, this is the way our Rhodes Scholars reason in this devolving climate!

So how about it? Is it true? Have “the Beltway media” been “spinning the election” for the GOP in recent weeks? The first of Maddow’s two examples of this alleged conduct right at the start of her segment. Forgive some repetition:

MADDOW: In other words, the messages that the Beltway media is using to explain what’s happening in the elections right now happen to be the exact same messages that Republicans are using in their campaign ads.

This may be one of those things that’s easier to show than say. So here’s just one example. Here is the spin as dictated to us by the punditocracy:

It’s the deficit! That’s what the elections are all about, the deficit! The reasons Republican are going to pick up seats in this election is because people are fed up with the deficit! That’s the media spin.

(Reading from news analysis piece in The Hill):

“The Republican Party’s focus on reducing the federal deficit may be resonating with independent voters who could swing the midterm elections."

You know, conveniently, here’s that exact same spin in a typical Republican campaign ad.

At this point, Maddow played footage of a Republican candidate saying, “Deficit spending is the number-one threat to our country. It is immoral to spend money we don’t have.”

Incredibly, that brief quotation from The Hill constitutes one of only two examples of the way “the Beltway media” are allegedly “spinning the elections for the GOP.” And yet, there’s nothing much wrong with the report in question. In that analysis piece (click here), Sean Miller discusses a recent poll sponsored by The Hill—a poll in which 52 percent of independent voters “cited debt reduction as a priority, compared with only 39 percent who said additional federal spending to create jobs is more important.” (Headline: “Independents prefer cutting the deficit to spending on jobs.”) On the basis of this stated preference, Miller says that the GOP’s focus on the deficit might help them win the congressional districts where the poll was conducted.

As a bit of election analysis, this is thoroughly common-place stuff—and The Hill, a Capitol Hill publication, hardly defines “the Beltway media.” And yet, this is one of only two examples of the vast plot by that Beltway media—the plot against which Maddow inveighed for sixteen minutes.

Maddow’s second example of media spinning was every bit as foolish. As her presentation continued, she described a second way “the Beltway media” are allegedly “spinning the election” for the GOP. In the process, she quoted the headline of an opinion column at the web site, Real Clear Politics:

MADDOW: But when we are not hearing that it’s the deficit, they’ve got another example—they’ve got another explanation for what’s happening. They’re telling us that maybe it’s not the deficit. Maybe it’s big government!

Big government is what explains what’s going to happen in these elections! The Republicans are poised to pick up seats in these elections because they represent a rejection of big government. That’s what we’re hearing from the media.

(Quoting headline from opinion column in Real Clear Politics:)

“As Views of Big Government Go, So Go Dems Out the Door.”

Conveniently, it’s not just what we’re hearing in the media. It’s also what we are hearing from the people who are trying to elect Republicans this year.

Maddow quoted the headline of this column—another piece in which the author cited polling data to explain why voters are tilting Republican. This time, the data came from a Gallup survey—but the analysis was perfectly sensible. This is true even if Maddow feels that GOP claims about big government are a bunch of piffle, a notion with which we’d agree.

There! In Maddow’s sixteen minutes of exhortation, those were the only examples of the way “the Beltway media” are “spinning the election for the Republicans.” Maddow’s examples were two in number, and were quite inane; so, therefore, was her whole “argument.” And good grief! Maddow showed no sign of realizing that a more significant part of her presentation contradicted her thesis about the media. Early on, Maddow played tape of Chris Wallace—on Fox News Sunday!—battering Republican candidate Carly Fiorina about her claims regarding the deficit, with Fiorina ducking his pointed questions. After playing tape of part of the interview, Maddow summarized the encounter: “Mr. Wallace went on to ask her seven times in total what she would cut to offset the $4 trillion in lost revenue from extending all of the Bush tax cuts. Seven times he asked her before, in exasperation, he just quit.”

Quite correctly, Maddow offered this as evidence that Republican claims about deficit reduction are a bit of a joke. She didn’t seem to realize that her thesis about “the Beltway media” may be a bit of a joke as well, if even Fox is battering a major Republican candidate about her deficit claims.

Are insects eating American brains? This is now the kind of work we get from our Rhodes Scholars—with tribal hacks running as fast as they can to kiss the scholar’s ass.

This intellectual devolution been underway for a long time, of course. But American culture will not survive if we’re willing to “reason” this way.

Since Maddow herself brought Fox in the mix, a final point should be offered: Maddow’s performance was very much like the kind of dreck that gets served on Fox, on a nightly basis. On that much-maligned news channel, prime time hosts like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly simply assert, again and again, that the Beltway media are spinning things the Democrats’ way. They rarely feel the need to offer serious evidence for their sweeping claims; they seem to assume that their viewers won’t notice the lack of evidence, or will be too eager to swallow the message. On Monday, Maddow was playing this same sweet game for a different tribe. She treated 1.3 million liberal viewers like a gang of low-IQ rubes. (For Monday night’s cable news ratings, click here.)

Was Maddow treating her viewers like rubes? Or was she herself too undiscerning to see what was wrong with her “argument?” Have bugs been eating this broadcaster’s brains? Have they been eating the brains of her staff, whose dreck she is simply reading?

Whatever the answer to these questions might be, American culture is dying before our eyes as our public debates get dumber and dumber. On MSNBC, a bunch of hacks increasingly ape a dumbness formula which has been perfected by Fox. By now, Fox has mastered the art of Tribal Cable, and MSNBC keeps applying their lessons. Maddow’s screeching report on the press was one of the dumbest we’ve ever seen. And omigod! This was the work of a heavily-sold Rhodes Scholar!

The question, therefore, must be asked: Have insects been eating American brains? Did Monday’s report represent a Rhodes Scholar’s brain on bugs?

The New York Times follows Wallace: On Wednesday, the New York Times ran this long, front-page report about the emptiness of Republican claims about reducing the deficit. As such, the Times joined Chris Wallace and the Fox News Channel in advancing the Democratic line about the GOP’s posturing.

Fort the record, David Herszenhorn’s report was a piece of solid work—as was the pounding Wallace gave Fiorina, just three days before. But let’s see: Fox has batted Fiorina around—and the Times has followed suit, critiquing a range of Republican candidates. By way of contrast, Maddow’s “evidence” for her claim about “the Beltway media” involved an opinion column on a web site and a polling report by The Hill.

With evidence like that, Maddow’s argument never passed muster in the first place, except in the foolish mental world originally created by Fox. Was this a Rhodes Scholar’s brain on bugs? Or is such ridiculous work driven by the financial success which follows improved cable ratings?

Go ahead—punish yourself: Go ahead—punish yourself! Treat yourself to this full segment, which lasts just over 16 minutes. (To watch the full segment, click here.) Try not to gag at Maddow’s self-assurance, knowing how phony her thesis about “the Beltway media” actually is. And you might want to have some ear plugs handy. Maddow enjoys making lots of noise as she cons us rubes.

Let’s be clear: In our view, Maddow was right when she criticized Republican claims about reducing the deficit—but that’s a point which has been made by everyone and his crazy uncle. It’s her repeated claim about “the Beltway media” which teaches us an unfortunate lesson:

Bugs may be eating American brains! Or have those bugs, plus that million per year, just chewed out one more cable soul?