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FOR LACK OF A PRESS CORPS! Davey’s liberal use of soft soap continued a growing tradition: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2009

Why health reform is such a struggle: In one way, two recent polls about health care reform are just astoundingly bad. According to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, “45 percent of Americans favor the broad outlines of the proposals now moving in Congress, while 48 percent are opposed.” A new poll by CNN/Gallup has it even: 49-49.

That doesn’t mean that health reform won’t pass. Given the ludicrous state of American health care, it does reveal an unfortunate fact: In your country, there is nothing that even dimly resembles a progressive politics. Given the ludicrous state of the nation’s health care, it’s stunning to think that the liberal/Democratic Party world can’t produce better numbers than that.

That brings us to the latest non-correction correction on last night’s Maddow Show.

Rachel Maddow opened the show with an utterly pointless topic. She did an interview with Tamara Lowe, executive vice president of the Get Motivated Seminars Incorporated. Why was Maddow wasting viewers’ time on this topic? Here’s why:

George W. Bush is going to speak at two upcoming Get Motivated events. On Tuesday night, Maddow had devoted an entire segment to ridiculing this ludicrous notion. (To watch that segment, click here.) But on Wednesday night, she opened with Lowe—and soon took part in one of her program’s familiar non-correction corrections.

As Maddow opened, she offered this fawning treatment of the motivational program she had mocked just one night before. To watch the full segment, click here:

MADDOW (10/21/09): But we begin tonight with an exclusive guest who is head of what’s really become an American phenomenon and an American empire. Tamara Lowe and her husband Peter have been producing the Get Motivated Business Seminars for more than 25 years. These are huge events.

The Lowes travel the country with a rotating roster of A-list star speakers, including athletes and entertainers and politicians. They typically take out full-page ads, like this one, in local newspapers ahead of their events. The events are typically so large, they take place in arenas attended by anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000 people for a single event. In fact so many people attend these seminars that some local news outlets warn of, and later report on, massive traffic jams caused simply by the seminar being in a city for a specific day.

Get Motivated is a major organization. Millions of Americans have taken part in their seminars.

On Tuesday night, this organization was cause for scorn. By Wednesday night, it had become “an American phenomenon”—a “major organization” whose “huge events” feature “a rotating roster of A-list star speakers.”

Why the ginormous change in tone? Perhaps because of the non-correction correction which occurred as soon as Lowe opened her mouth. After a bit more fawning about Lowe’s greatness, this was Maddow’s first question:

MADDOW: What do you expect that President Bush will be speaking about? Do you expect that it will be a political speech?

LOWE: Usually, the former presidents who speak for us—and President Bush will be our sixth former U.S. president to speak at the Get Motivated Seminar—typically, they will share their experiences of their time in office and the things that they learned, the challenges that they faced.

Oops. On Tuesday, Maddow’s viewers got to laugh at how ridiculous and demeaning it was to think that Bush would take part in such an event. Last night, if you were listening carefully, you seemed to learn that Bush is the sixth straight former president to do so. (This takes us all the way back through Ford.) A bit later, Maddow endorsed what Lowe had said, referring to the way “you have had so many former presidents.”

Uh-oh! In fact, President Clinton has headlined at least one of Lowe’s events, in 2001. So, it would seem from our cursory research, has President Carter. But then, the organization’s web site, which Maddow said she had scanned at length on Tuesday, states that presidents Reagan and Bush 41 had also spoken at events. On Tuesday night, Maddow didn’t mention such facts when she helped us rollick about the remarkable fact that Bush 43 would do such an event.

Clinton and Carter have spoken too. You weren’t required to know that.

After Lowe was allowed to correct the record, Maddow proceeded rather weirdly. She asked a series of accusatory questions which she said were based on e-mails she had received from unnamed viewers. This is a very strange way to conduct journalistic research—and in this, the last of Maddow’s accusatory queries, she made no attempt to ask Lowe an obvious question:

MADDOW: A member of the military wrote to us...specifically talking about your motivational speech at an event she went to in California, and I’m just going to quote from the letter we received.

"It was heavy into religion. She informed us that we can`t be happy or healthy without Jesus. I was trapped there for roughly half an hour of preaching. I was mortified that I had been tricked into attending essentially a religious service and appalled that the military had unwittingly sanctioned the event for me and hundreds of others.

“I secured the Web page—I scoured the Web page that evening, wondering if my surprise was from lack of research. I found no mention of religion at all, which seems as subversive as promoting this to the military as a leadership forum by not mentioning faith-based or some other code word on the site. I assume their purpose is to grab an unsuspecting audience for religious indoctrination."

I, because of that— This is a member of the military who’s Jewish, who was upset about having been felt like they’re part of an evangelical event. Is there—is there a diversity of faith-based views that are portrayed? Or is it— or is—I know that you’re saying that it’s not a religious event. But is there diversity among speakers in faith?

LOWE: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. We have featured all kinds of people on our program. Everybody from Rabbi Harold Kushner to—really, people from every kind of religious persuasion, Suze Orman, who is Jewish, but also has Eastern beliefs. And Mormons and Hindus, and you name it, have appeared at our events. We don’t just feature people from one persuasion, that’s the great thing about the Get Motivated Seminars, is it really features people who are at the apex of success from every—from every field, from every viewpoint, from every world view.

But was the e-mailer correct in the charge Maddow read on the air? Does Lowe inform participants that they “can’t be happy or healthy without Jesus?” Lowe kept shaking her head as this text was read—but Maddow didn’t ask her! And then, in the end, she turned to a typical trick she plays on people like Lowe:

MADDOW (continuing directly): Tamara Lowe, co-founder and executive vice president of Get Motivated Seminars. I’m sure this is an uncomfortable interview for you, an uncomfortable setting. I know that it was a big deal for you to join us tonight. I really, I’m thankful for your time.

LOWE: No, not at all. I’m very comfortable. I’m very happy to be on your show—big fan.

Lowe hadn’t shown the slightest sign of being uncomfortable during the interview. But Maddow likes to play this game with guests of whom she culturally disapproves. After failing to lay a glove on such people, she likes to pretend, with comments like this, that she has batted them all about town. Apparently, we’re supposed to believe that that’s what we have seen happen.

How does this relate to those health reform numbers? With all this silly nonsense, Maddow was handing us liberal comfort food, the enduring staple of her program. (Last night’s program was larded with the delicacy.) On Tuesday night, young progressives got to imagine that they are much smarter and morally better than the utterly silly people who stage these motivational events—the people to whom Maddow fawned one night later. At Hullabaloo, Tristero thought Maddow was mocking the people who attend these events (click here). That wasn’t our take on Tuesday’s segment, but many of Tristero’s commenters quickly stepped in to declare that such people actually are deeply stupid—and of course, much less moral than we liberals are.

On balance, of course, the people who attend these events are no dumber than us dumb-bunny liberals—we who can’t even convince the public of the need for health reform, despite the utterly ludicrous state of American health care. But we liberals have always enjoyed pretending that we’re better than average Joe rubes. This is pleasurable liberal sport. But it’s dumb on the merits—and it’s very bad politics.

Why are those polling numbers so bad, despite the ludicrous state of our health care? Because the liberal world is gigantically inept—even as we laugh at the values and the intelligence of average people. And alas! The people who attend those events are, in many cases, the people who hold those poll numbers down. On Maddow, you are often invited to laugh at those people—until Maddow has to go on the air with the latest non-correction correction.

Maddow failed to tell it straight Tuesday night. Every president has done these events, not just comical Bush. She failed to be forthright in setting the record straight on Wednesday evening. But the key problem here is the sheer waste of time involved in silly segments like these—and the noxious attitude these segments may breed in the ranks of young liberals. For decades, we liberal hayseeds have loved to laugh at the average American rubes. And we’re too dumb to see the way that connects to those bad polling numbers.

Given the ludicrous state of our heath care, those polling numbers are astoundingly bad. They stand as an indictment of our capabilities. To be honest, we liberals just aren’t all that bright—although we’ve always preferred to observe this trait in The Other.

Final note: Maddow sometimes does very good work. We think she does this sort of stuff a bit more.

Special report: The soft soap files!

Be sure to read each installment: Monica Davey broke out the soft soap. Be sure to read each installment:

PART 1: The New York Times broke out the soft soap for a front-page profile of Bachmann. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/20/09.

PART 2: Monica Davey refused to describe the weird things Bachmann has said. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/21/09.

And now, for our thrilling conclusion:

PART 3—FOR LACK OF A PRESS CORPS: Why do some people “loathe” Michele Bachmann? Why have Democrats accused the lady of “reckless lies,” “outrageous claims?” Truth to tell, New York Times never found out in Monica Davey’s profile.

Alas! Davey took out a tub of soft soap and softened Bachmann’s most unusual statements, speeches and interviews. What’s the big fuss about Michele Bachmann? Why are Democrats saying those things? By the time Davey got through with her profile, it was hard for a reader to say.

But then, this is now established practice in the dying enterprise once known as a “press corps.” The mainstream press corps routinely runs and hides from conservative figures like Bachmann. Presumably, news orgs don’t want the heat from the right that a more accurate profile might bring. But whatever the motive might be, it is now established practice to clean up the most unusual statements of such figures—the statements for which these people are “loved” by some, and “loathed” by others.

Examples:

In July 2002, Ann Coulter published Slander, her first major best-seller. The book was larded with howling errors—unless you read the review of the book in the New York Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02). In that review, Janet Maslin simply counted up Coulter’s endless footnotes, then used their large number (780) as proof of the lady’s assiduous research. (Maslin: “A great deal of research supports Ms. Coulter’s wisecracks.”) For ourselves, we checked out the substance behind these footnotes. Alas. Coulter had misrepresented what her sources had said, again and again—and again. Earth to Maslin: The fact that a footnote accompanies a claim doesn’t mean that the claim is accurate—except when the mighty Times uses soft soap in discussing an oddball conservative.

In 2005, Coulter was back with her latest effort, Treason—and Time magazine published a fawning, two-week Valentine to her remarkable greatness (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/05). John Cloud was really seeing no evil. This was one of his silliest statements:

CLOUD (4/25/05): Coulter has a reputation for carelessness with facts, and if you Google the words "Ann Coulter lies," you will drown in results. But I didn't find many outright Coulter errors.

Many others did find those errors. Time hadn’t tried very hard.

Just last month, this soft-soap practice continued when Time put Glenn Beck on its cover. Here too, the magazine’s David von Drehle seemed to work very hard to spin down Beck’s groaning misstatements. Maybe he borrowed some of Davey’s soft soap! For Jamison Foser’s treatment of this soft-soap piece, click this. Anything sound familiar here? Von Drehle “omits Beck's most shocking and outrageous statements,” Foser correctly notes.

In short, Davey’s soft-soap treatment of Bachmann is very much par for the course. The reason for this is awkward but clear: Simply put, your nation lacks a mainstream press corps with journalistic values.

No, it wasn’t Davey’s job to say what she thought of Bachmann’s speeches and statements—for example, of the speech Bachmann made in the House, in which she seemed to say that the health reform bill would establish “school sex clinics” run by Planned Parenthood in which 13-year-old girls would be given abortions, with her parents none the wiser. It wasn’t really Davey’s job to say what she thought of this remarkable speech—but it was her job to describe it. (Many people “love” Bachmann for such speeches.) Alas! Davey avoided describing the sweep of the speech, leaving Times readers barefoot and clueless. She refused to describe the vast sweep of Bachmann’s assertions about those”sex clinics.” In the process, she spared herself from having to fact-check Bachmann’s remarkable claims.

In this, and in various other ways, she therefore refused to tell Times readers what the big fuss is about.

Let’s put it another way: Davey refused to be a journalist. Forget what Davey might think of Bachmann. She refused to describe the statements and speeches which have created the big major fuss around this controversial figure. And by the way: She also refused to quote major Democrats explaining why they “loathe” Bachmann—explaining why they have accused her of “outrageous claims,” “reckless lies.”

Surely, it wouldn’t have been very hard to find a major national Democrat willing to explain the problem as Democrats see it. Late in her profile, Davey did manage to quote two Minnesotans. They give us a fleeting look at the real problem with Bachmann, as many Dems would see it:

DAVEY (10/15/09): One of her Democratic opponents next year, Maureen Reed, said Ms. Bachmann ''injects fear and anger in people, and people don't solve problems well when they're fearful and angry.'' Ms. Reed said her goal was to ''dial down the fear, dial down the anger.''

Constance Carlson, a resident of Buffalo, seemed ready for such a change.

''I try to avoid listening to her,'' Ms. Carlson said of Ms. Bachmann. ''Some of her comments are just distracting, conspiracy-type stuff.''

“I'd much rather hear her say, 'I don't agree and here's my solution,' '' she added.

But others here say they wonder whether a Democrat really has a chance.

''She fits this district well,'' said King Banaian, a Bachmann supporter in St. Cloud. ''I think there are a lot of people who want straight talk and she appeals to them.” [end of profile]

What exactly did Reed mean when she said that Bachmann “instills fear and anger in people?” What did Carlson mean when she mentioned the “conspiracy-type stuff?” Due to Davey’s liberal use of soft soap, New York Times readers really had little way to know.

Indeed, Davey offered a companion “fact check” to her profile. But from the Democratic perspective, the problem isn’t Bachmann’s factual errors. It’s her encouragement of paranoiac reactions—her encouragement of conspiracy thinking. You do have to know that her facts are wrong. But the problem goes well beyond that.

A reader might have understood Reed and Carlson’s comments—if Davey had described Bachmann’s remarkable speech about those “school sex clinics.” But Davey didn’t describe that speech. Instead, she got out her tub of soft soap and scrubbed down what Bachmann had said. In this way, King Banaian—who thinks that Bachmann is providing “straight talk”—was protected from the need to make a fuller appraisal.

Did Bachmann provide “straight talk” in that speech? Or was she promoting “fear” and “conspiracy?” Sorry! New York Times readers can’t judge that question, because Monica Davey worked hard, on page one, to avoid what Bachmann had said.

It’s easier when news orgs play it this way; presumably, it saves them grief from the right. On the down side, it means that you don’t really have a press corps—haven’t had one for a very long time.