GOOFUS AND GALLANT! Gallant says liberal leaders dont get it. Goofus feels full-blown contempt: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2007
GALLANT ON DRUMMING CHRIS MATTHEWS: In response to our Tuesday post, Kevin Drum asked for comments about our view of modern presspolitics. (A name so big it would rock your world recently begged us to drop that word. But we think it captures the subjects essence.) We thought wed speak to at least one comment which several of Kevins readers made. Then, well ruminate a bit about Kevin—who we regard as a superlative analyst, though one who may have a hole in his strike zone. (Hall of Fame hitters have them.) Though were starting to think we should probably say very superlative analyst from now on.
Several commenters said were dumb for tracking Chris Matthews so much, since Chris has a fairly small audience. But Chris audience isnt the point; the point of Hardball (and of the Chris Matthews Show) is the access it gives us to the mind-set of a large chunk of the insider press corps. Chris may (or may not) affect many voters, but he does affect insider journalists; on his show, you get to see their various narratives as they take their shape. Its the closest youll come to being invited to those fatuous cocktail parties—the parties where this cohorts group dynamic produces the hopeless, gong-show narratives that drive our electoral process. Over the past dozen years, Chris has been exceptionally harmful to Big Major Dems, in large part because of the way he influences the younger journos who rank below him in the insider pecking order. In this journalistic cohort, narratives filter down from the top; people like Matthews and Russert assert them, and the lower orders agree to repeat them. Chris lies at the very heart of a large chunk of the insider press corps. If no voters ever watched his show, it would still be must-see bad TV.
Regarding Kevin, many commenters agreed that he has bit of a blind spot when it comes to the press. Because we admire him as an analyst, well take a guess as to why that is. (We dont know Kevin, though weve occasionally swapped e-mails. We consider ourselves big fans of his work—except for this one partial blind spot.)
Our guess? We often think we see a bit of ourselves in Kevin, although were somewhat older and clearly much wiser. By that, we mean this: Kevin strikes us as a very rational person. Judging from our own path through the world, well guess that such people may find it hard to come to terms with the raging inanity—and raging dishonesty—at the heart of much of our journalistic work. Well guess that Kevin grew up admiring these people (as we did); well guess it doesnt come naturally to him to see how fallen this group really is. In many ways, thats a compliment. As we said yesterday, its very hard for a rational person to grasp how this mainstream press corps really works. Weve done this daily for the last ten years; we still dont have the slightest idea what goes on inside their heads. We still cant find any purchase.
But yes, we think Kevin has a hole in his strike zone. (Hall of Fame hitters do.) Example? Just consider this second post, also from Tuesday. It immediately preceded Kevins post about our own incomparable work.
In this earlier post, Kevin expresses his current preferences in the Democratic race. His reactions to these hopefuls are similar to ours. (Though we think its unfortunate when he says he has never had the visceral hatred of Hillary that some people do. Why would he have had such a hatred? Because she murdered Vince Foster?) But though we share Kevins basic reactions, we noted something when we looked at this post. In assessing the chances of the three Dem front-runners, Kevin never says a single word about the attitude of the press corps, or about the way the mainstream press would likely cover their candidacies. Since its fairly clear that the press corps loathes Clinton and Edwards—but not Obama—we think thats a surprising omission. And thats exactly what we meant this week when we said that, after fifteen long years, our side still seem to be completely unable—or disinclined; or unwilling—to play this particular game.
We suggested that Kevin had a bit of a blind spot. And just like that, Whoop! There it is!
If youve watched Hardball in the past few weeks, youve seen a disturbing fury growing; at present, The Village seems to be gearing up for an auto-da-fe about Vile Miserable Clinton. Over the middle part of the year, Matthews and his merry band seemed to be trying to rein it in; but his contempt and loathing have been much more clear in recent weeks, and the presence of the loathsome Sally Bedell Smith seems to have all the Leading Raccoon knocking down new, larger garbage cans. Given events of the past fifteen years, we dont know why wed assess Democrats chances without attempting to factor this in. But in his assessment of the Major Dem Hopefuls, Kevin doesnt say a word about the role to be played by the press.
If we may quote Cosby, People! Come on! Thats what we were talking about!
These people have simply murdered our interests over the past fifteen years—going back, lets say, to the original New York Times Whitewater stories. (The stories examined by Gene Lyons in his never-mentioned, long-discarded Fools for Scandal.) People are dying all over the world because of what this cohort has done. But on the liberal web, we still refuse to discuss the role theyve played in deciding who gets to the White House—but it happened so long ago, we complain—and it doesnt seem to cross our minds to discuss the role theyre going to play in the next twelve months. We have no plans to challenge their work; as at this time four years ago, we have no strategies for self-defense. But this is not a parlor game; this is a life and death matter. And as we say this, that giant hole in the liberal webs strike zone is staring us right in the face.
We had a few other reactions to some of the comments by Kevins readers. We were disappointed to see people struggling with the concept of a plutocrat press corps. In our view, many commenters lacked an instinctive sense of why it matters that our press corps opinion leaders are corporate-picked multimillionaires. (In this press corps, multimillionaires script the stories; the little people, the climbers, recite them.) Why does this matter? As Margaret Carlson indirectly told Imus in October 2000, multimillionaires often dont give a sh*t about the things that affect average people. Guess what? As a general matter, your journalists dont care about average people—and they dont much care for people who do. Do we still not see the way this affected their trashing of Bill Clinton, Gore, Dean, Edwards? (Maureen Dowd was very upset when Deans wife wouldnt stop serving patients. Why, just what was wrong with that b*tch?)
Some of Kevins readers wonder why we are so disturbingly shrill about this. In some ways, it comes down to Goofus and Gallant. Through 2003, we were rather polite, like Gallant—but with this gang, it just didnt work. But then again, yelling at them, as Goofus would do, turns out to be pointless too. Our side refuse to play this game. A few more Drum comments tomorrow.
Special report: Welchs at war!
PART ONE—GOOFUS ON RUSSERTS MISSTATEMENTS: The most remarkable part of a remarkable evening occurred as we neared the debates first break. Two of Jack Welchs most famous Lost Boys had been banging away at Candidate Clinton for about forty minutes now—much as theyd done with Candidate Gore just eight years before. Well run through their full list of questions tomorrow, a list of questions thats truly remarkable. But heres the question one of Jack Welchs top hires asked as the first break drew near:
RUSSERT (10/30/07): Senator Clinton, elsewhere in the region, lets talk about Iraq. One of your military advisers, retired Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, while campaigning for you in New Hampshire, was recently quoted saying, quote, I dont oppose the war. I have never heard Senator Clinton say I oppose the war. Senator Clinton, do you oppose the war in Iraq?As it turns out, Russert was working extra hard to frame that insinuative question. Kennedys recent statement was made on October 6, and it was instantly disavowed, that same day, by Clinton and her campaign. (Spokesman Blake Zeff, in the October 7 New York Daily News: Sen. Clinton has made it repeatedly clear that she opposes the war and that if George Bush doesn't end it, she will, She has voted against funding for the war and has offered a clear plan for bringing our troops home.) But so what? Twenty-four days later, Russert could be found on stage, calling this a recent statement and pretending there was something troubling here—something slippery that needed to be resolved. (Fuller text about Kennedys statement below.) But then, several of Russerts questions were extremely disingenuous this night; if you want to be perfectly honest, in one or two he came close to lying. But this question was truly remarkable because of the follow-up questions it provoked. After Clinton gave her answer—Yes, she opposes the war in Iraq—Brian Williams followed up, asked this:
WILLIAMS (next question): Senator Obama, was Senator Clintons answer to the opposition of the Iraq war question consistent, in your view?We know, we know—that isnt quite English. But isnt it amazing? After Clinton answered the tortured question, Obama was asked to give her her grades! And then, of course, Little Johnny went too! Williams next follow-up question:
WILLIAMS (next question): Senator Edwards, same question.Thus enabled, Edwards stated his own high-minded views about Clintons consistency.
Has there ever been a debate like this? A debate where the moderators so plainly intended to spend the evening trashing the character of one of the candidates? The only comparison we could dimly offer was Judy Woodruffs gruesome performance in the final 2000 Gore-Bradley debate, where she worked so hard to express the outrage The Village felt against Big Liar Gore. (They hate Gore, Mickey Kaus wrote that week, surprised, having just arrived in New Hampshire.) As weve said, well run through all Tuesdays questions tomorrow—all the Clinton-sliming questions from this truly remarkable session. But have you ever seen a presidential debate where one candidate was essentially given two minders—where every word that came out of her mouth was immediately handed to her leading opponents for their inspection and review? In our view, it was embarrassing to see Edwards and Obama display the moral weakness required by such a cheap auto-da-fe. Only Richardson had the decency to say, out loud: I just wont go there.
But today, lets examine someone elses truthfulness; lets examine the truthfulness of Russert, Jack Welchs famous top hire. And when were done, lets ask a question about two of the brightest people found on the liberal web. Above, we played the Gallant role, politely expressing our views on key matters. In what follows, though, Goofus may emerge. Well hint at the outrage you might should possibly feel about the way your political interests have long been so badly (mis)treated.
Russert was rather slick all night, as has long been his wont. His July 2000 Meet the Press with Candidate Gore remains the most disgraceful hour weve ever seen a broadcaster offer. That same year, his gruesome work in the Clinton-Lazio debate was recalled by Media Matters, just yesterday. Yes, he was playing some slick/silly games with about recent statement by Kennedy. And yes, he let Clintons opponents play fast and loose with the truth (examples below). But at last, the gentleman couldnt help it; on such occasions, it feels good to lie. Well, lets scale back our language a bit: It feels good to play the voters for fools, knowing youll get a pass in the press—and, almost surely, on the web. Heres a question the man from Buffalo asked mid-way through Tuesdays witch-burning. As always, he was concerned about Clintons honesty. Just like Gore before her!
RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I want to clear something up which goes to the issue of credibility. You were asked at the AARP debate whether or not you would consider taxing, lifting the cap from $97,500, taxing that, raising more money for Social Security. You said, quote, Its a no. I asked you the same question in New Hampshire, and you said no.Poor Tim! With his inspiring Buffalo values—the ones he waxes about on Nantucket—he just wanted to clear something up, since it went to the issue of credibility. In fact, few words out of Russerts mouth didnt go to that issue this night—though it was his credibility, not Vile Clintons, we often found ourselves pondering.
At any rate, is it true? Does Clinton have one public position and one private position on the issue of Social Security? Russert just wanted to clear it up, since he was concerned about Clintons credibility. But surely, we werent the only ones who noticed the shakiness of his premise. We still cant offer you a transcript of Clintons remarks at that AARP debate (well probably be able to do so tomorrow). But as for Russerts account of Clintons statement at that last debate in New Hampshire—well, lets just say that its Russerts credibility that seems to be in some question here.
Were we the only ones who noticed? Were we the only ones who thought that Russert was misstating Clintons remarks? At that gruesome New Hampshire debate, Clinton didnt say no to raising the Social Security cap; she said she wouldnt endorse any option until a bipartisan commission was formed. Sorry, but Russert was being baldly disingenuous here (as always). Heres the question His Greatness had asked at that earlier debate:
RUSSERT (9/26/07): Senator Clinton, would you be in favor of saying to the American people? "I'm going to tax your income. I'm not going to cap at $97,500. Everyone, even if you're a millionaire, is going to pay Social Security tax on every cent they make.According to Russerts question this past Tuesday night, Clinton said no to this proposal. But heres what actually had transpired, though Russert had seemed to forget:
CLINTON (9/26/07, continuing directly): Well, Tim, let me tell you what I think about this because I know this is a particular concern of yours. But I want to make three points very briefly.Did Clinton say no to raising the cap? What she said was: Im going to move toward fiscal responsibility, then Im going to form a commission. At that time, you can look in the context of fiscal responsibility and of a bipartisan compromise what else might be done. Maybe you like that answer and maybe you dont; for our part, wed prefer to see Democratic candidates explaining that it isnt clear that anything needs to be done about this matter. (Though that may not be winning politics, given the insistence of people like Russert that were in a crisis.) But she didnt say no to raising the cap—unless you want to embellish a bit, so you can imply shes dishonest. And thats what Russert did this night, as hes done to Big Dems in the past.
Lets return to Russerts question this Tuesday. Did Clinton say something to Tod Bowman that contradicted her statement back in September? Were now reduced to relying on Nedra Pickler. But heres Picklers account of what Clinton told Bowman—the account which made poor Russert think that Clinton has two different positions:
PICKLER (10/11/07): Hillary Rodham Clinton has given a private clue on an issue she has refused to discuss publicly how to preserve Social Security in the long term.According to Pickler, Clinton said she would be willing to consider Edwards idea about raising the cap. But duh! Obviously, that would be one of the proposals coming before that bipartisan commission! Its absurd to think that this is a different position from what she said in Septembers debate. She said shed consider ideas when she formed that commission. This was one such idea.
Did Clinton say no to raising the cap? Actually, no—she didnt. But then, that statement by Kennedy wasnt real recent either—and Clinton had rejected it on the day it was made, more than three weeks before. So what explains the nagging embellishments lurking in the questions of Russert? If you still cant figure that out, youve been living on some distant planet. Russert was eager to push a line—Hillary Clinton has credibility problems. Gore was a liar, Kerry a flipper. Perhaps you can see pattern here.
For the record, Russerts concerns about credibility and consistency extended to no one but Clinton. In the nights second question, Russert invited Edwards to orate about Clintons troubling double-talk. As he ended, Edwards misstated a fact. And Russert was happy to let him:
EDWARDS: [S]he said in our last debate that she was against any changes on Social Security—benefits, retirement aid, or raising the cap on the Social Security tax. But apparently, its been reported that she said privately something different than that.Edwards is a very smart man, Russert a little bit less so. Obviously, Edwards knows that Clinton did not sa[y] in our last debate that she was against any changes on Social Security; well assume that Russert knows this too. But so what? The agenda this night was to slime Clintons character, as Gore and Kerry were slimed before her. So Edwards was allowed to misstate. Meanwhile, when Obama was challenged, just one time, about his own consistency, high comedy quickly transpired:
RUSSERT (10/30/07): Senator Obama, you said in May, that, quote, Everything is on the table when it comes to Social Security. You now have an ad up in Iowa which says that any benefit cuts are off and raising the retirement age are off. Why have you changed your mind?Too funny! In that instance, we did have a clear-cut change of position. Theres nothing wrong with that, of course—but when Obama was asked to explain his change, he uttered one unintelligible sentence, then went right back to bashing Clinton for her lack of straight talk. But did Russert, so filled with concerns about credibility, ask his question again in his follow-up? Of course not! After Obama finished waxing about Clintons convoluted answers—thereby failing to answer Russert himself—the Head Raccoon offered this follow-up:
OBAMA: Im not fearful, just as Joe [Biden] isnt, to have a debate about this with Rudy Giuliani because weve got the facts on our side. But weve got to be clear about those facts and not pretend that those facts dont exist.Good God, thats pathetic. Yes, millions of boomers are going to retire. But no, we dont have todo something about it; as everyone except right-wing spinners knows, that high level of future retirement has already been factored into the system! But dont expect Russert to challenge this claim; this is precisely the load of bull-sh*t he has endlessly funneled into the discourse, in past debates and on Meet the Press. On Tuesday night, Obama gave Russert a few minutes off, reciting his tired old bull-sh*t for him. And readers, go ahead—enjoy the high comedy! Clinton was tagged for being untruthful—because she wont say this!
Good God, what perfect inversion! What a broken, clown-shoe-wearing discourse Jack Welchs Lost Boys have helped craft.
Tomorrow, well look in more detail at the gang-bang Welchs Lost Boys assembled. But if youre a Democrat, well suggest that you notice something—and that you ask a question.
Heres what wed suggest you notice. In Campaign 2000, your partys nominee was a liar. Four years later, your partys nominee was a flipper. Now, your partys front-runner is being officially defined as evasive—and Russert is fucking around with elementary facts as he helps create that portrait. Russerts misstatement about Gore in July 2000 remains the worst weve ever seen. (And weve never see anyone else ever mention it! But this is how we libs play this game.) But this Tuesdays misstatements are of consequence too—and the pattern is wondrously obvious. (In his new book, Jonathan Chait describes this pattern quite nicely, going back to 1992. Well start with that excerpt tomorrow.)
Second, heres the question wed suggest that you ask. Why dont your brightest liberal leaders scream to high heavens about this?
Do you think that Russert was talking straight when he pimped that silly question about Kennedy? Do you think the great man was talking straight when he claimed that Clinton said no to raising the cap? Russert made other statements that may not have been accurate (example below). But if this is the standard were prepared to accept when our candidates go into debate, we might as well give up right now. There will never be another Democratic president. The next will be President Rudy.
Giuliani misstates as others breathe—and somehow, Jack Welchs Lost Boys never notice! By contrast, when Clinton fails to recite think-tank bullsh*t about the boomers coming retirement, Russert and Willliams stage an auto-da-fe in which she is trashed for her lack of honesty! But as Chait notes (while absolving the press corps, of course), this is the pattern that has obtained going all the way back to 1992! Its the law! Every Big Dem must have honesty problems. And Russert is always there to notice—while liberal leaders sit silent.
Do you have to be smart to notice these things? It isnt hard to notice the fact that Clinton actually didnt say no to raising the Social Security cap. And it isnt hard to see how tortured that question about Kennedys recent statement really was. And who could fail to see the goonishness when Clinton is tagged for Obamas old blather? And so we offer you a challenge: In the next few days, look to see if your brightest liberals challenge Russert on his performance. As a group, weve swallowed this endless horsesh*t for years—and surprise of surprises, it just keeps occurring! Our question: Will our brightest liberal leaders look away from this truth-tricking conduct again?
And heres where Goofus comes out to play. No one is smarter than Kevin and Josh. And trust us: Neither will speak up about this new matter. In our top section, we played Gallant, helping you think that Kevin may simply not get this pattern. (Which of course may be true.) But playing Goofus, we have to tell you—were filled with contempt for the way your leaders have failed to challenge this down through the years. Matthews and Russert have done this forever—and forever, we liberals have failed to complain. And now, well ask you another question: When you see your liberal leaders play Hardball, does it never cross your mind that their desire for career and entrepeneurial gain explains their disgraceful, long silence?
In the modern world, mainstream journalistic careers go through NBC. They go through Hardball—and of course, Meet the Press. When you see the endless liberal silence about the work of Russert/Williams/Matthews, does it never occur to you that you ought to be furious with the conduct—the morals—of your leaders? Well speak for ourselves when it comes to that point: When Goofus rises, were filled with contempt for the things they have done to your world.
People are dead because liberal leaders have refused, all these years, to get off their asses. Do we still not understand this? Is the silence still hard to make out?
In the end, this isnt about Clinton, or Edwards, or Gore or Obama. It isnt about Josh, or Kevin, or (self-edited) players of Hardball. Its about people dying around the world, and the looting of our system at home. Lets see! Gore was a liar, Kerry a flipper. Now, your front-runner is evasive—and Giuliani keeps getting pimped by Jack Welchs multimillionaire boys. (Last night, Matthews took his side against Biden.) After all these years, after all these cycles, are you still unable to see the pattern? Are you still unable to feel disgust when your leaders let this long crime go on?
TOMORROW—PART 2: Raccoon queries.
FULLER POST: Heres Celeste Katz, in the new York Daily News, reporting on that comment by Kennedy. Can you think of any reason to frame Russerts question the way he did—except the desire to make it seem that Clinton is being slick/slippery? But then, our Big Dem candidates have been played this way at least through the last three three cycles. We just sit there and take it:
KATZ (10/7/07): A top military supporter of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid says she doesn't "oppose" the Iraq war—and neither does Clinton.That shows why it can be dangerous to send a political amateur out on the stump. Oh no! Kennedy was looking for a much more sophisticated way to say it! But Clinton quickly rejected what Kennedy said. More than three weeks later, Russert knew something: Kennedys recent statement could be [pimped] as a marked break in the tightly scripted campaign helmed by Clinton. Since Russert hoped to pimp Clinton that way, this recent statement could help.