WAR WITHOUT END: Nicholas Kristof recently prayed that our nations long War on Brains might be ending. Obama is very bright, he said. He might have added that Obama inclines to reason more than to shouting.
But supporters of Obama sometimes seem disinclined to adopt their guys ways. Overstatement and raucous name-calling have been visible in some provinces in the two weeks since Obamas election. For ourselves, we think it would be a very bad thing if the liberal world raced right off to adopt the loud, dumb ways of the War on Brains era. And we thought we saw that impulse lurking in this post from Fridays TPM.
It all began with an e-mail from a TPM reader. He/she was upset with the line-upsthe preliminary line-upsfor the upcoming Sunday talk shows:
E-MAIL (11/14/08): Here is something progressives really need to address. On Sunday morning political shows, three Democrats are confirmed as guests: Carl Levin, Barney Frank, and Charlie Rangel. It's as if Democrats didn't just win huge electoral advances in the Presidential, House, and Senate elections. So we get the same thing we've had the past 8 yearsRepublican hegemony on Sunday. Kyl? Check. Gingrich? Check. Steele? Check. Jindal and Shelby? Check and check? Just look at The Page for the whole list. When is the "liberal media" going to give some of the oxygen to Democrats?
Again, the mailer was discussing preliminary line-ups, as posted on Friday afternoon; he didnt yet have the full Sunday line-ups. Meanwhile, since he was discussing the Sunday shows for November 16, one might have noted that Dems had gotten massive oxygen on the November 9 shows (details below). But heres the response Josh Marshall posted. We thought this was unwisethat it echoed an old, war-like era:
MARSHALL (11/14/08): This is unquestionably true. The bookers and producers of the Sunday shows are committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guests. No question about it. And this is going to be one part of the rewiring of Washington that will take longer and face more resistance than possibly any other. The big interests and institutions that go to Washington to buy influence are quickly reacting to the changing political complexion of the city. The TV bookers and opinion act like nothing's happened.
Again, Josh stated that view on Friday afternoon. He didnt know what the full Sunday line-ups would beand he ignored the massively Democratic line-ups of the previous Sunday. He didnt say how he knew that Sunday bookers are unquestionably committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guests. He simply stated this as a fact, thereby making his many readers just a bit less brainy.
Other progressives complained about Sundays bookings, even including Brother Boehlert, though some willing to wait to see what the line-ups actually were. Sundays bookings did tip toward Republican guests, though not to any massive degreenot to a degree that we think is worth discussing at this point. But we were most struck by the sweeping judgment Josh dished on such limited evidence. We think this represents an extension of that War on Brainsa war which cant be good for the country and wont likely be much good for Dems.
So how about it? Is it unquestionably true that bookers and producers of the Sunday shows are committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guests? Theyve had two Sundays to show this commitment. Is there really no question about it?
Lets start with last Sundays shows, which did tip toward Republican guests. But before we look at the full line-ups, we should speak to at least one of the e-mailers concerns.
Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) was booked on two shows for an obvious reason. The shows were discussing a possible Detroit bail-out; Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster such a package, and Shelby is a GOP leader on this matter. (Hes ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.) On Meet the Press, Shelby appeared with Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) in a classic Dem/Rep pairing; on Face the Nation, he was paired with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts). Unless the recent elections means that only Dems will be seen on these programs, it was perfectly clear why Shelby was bookedand in each case, he was matched with a Democrat. Similarly, Late Edition did a Dem/Rep segment about the bail-out, pairing Marsha Blackburn (R) with Charlie Rangel (D).
These were perfectly obvious bookings. Whatever may have been wrong with Sundays programs, the reason for Shelbys presence was obvious. The e-mailer likely didnt know thisand Josh didnt explain.
Beyond that, the programs did tilt toward Republicans, though not to an overpowering degree. Heres the five-show rundown for November 16:
Meet the Press started with the Dem/Rep segment pairing Levin and Shelby. It then devoted a segment to T. Boone Pickens energy proposals (this is Green is Universal week on NBC). It closed with a pundit panel.
Face the Nation did a Dem/Rep segment with Frank and Shelby, then did a shorter segment about GOP woes with the team of Jindal and Gingrich.
This Week did an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger (the current ranking non-Republican Republican), then did its pundit segment.
Fox News Sunday did a Dem/Rep segment with Byron Dorgan and Jon Kyl, then did a segment on GOP woes with the team of Pawlenty and Steele (and its panel).
Late Editions weekly marathon did tilt Republican. It opened with a segment with Commerce Secretary Gutierrez (unfortunately, Bush is still president). It then did a largely non-political segment with CNN founder Ted Turnerand it re-aired Wolf Blitzers mid-week interview with Sarah Palin. It then did a classic left/right segment pairing James Carville with Ed Rollins, followed by a Dem/Rep segment pairing Blackburn and Rangel. It closed with its pundit panel.
Were these shows wildly unbalanced? In our opinion, they were notand there is a tendency on some shows to book Republican or Democratic governors after their national conferences. But before we make such thunderous sounds about the Conspiracy of the Bookers, it might be worth noting the way these shows were booked on Sunday, November 9. On that day, the programs were overwhelmingly Democratic; this was completely appropriate, given the previous Tuesdays election. But on the basis of these two Sundays, its pretty silly to claim that bookers are committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guestsare act[ing] like nothing's happened.
What happened on Sunday, November 9? This is what occurred:
Meet the Press opened with a stand-alone segment with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. It then did a Dem/Rep segment (Clyburn/Martinez), then a pundit panel.
Face the Nation opened with a stand-alone segment with its only guestObama chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel. It followed with a pundit panel.
This Week featured only one guestRahm Emmanuel. Then, the usual pundits.
Fox News Sunday opened with a stand-alone segment with Obama aide John Podesta. It then featured two Republicans discussing the elections (Cantor/Pence), and its pundit panel.
Late Editions marathon was almost all-Dem/Obama. First, two long segments with Harry Reidthen, a segment with John Podesta. After a segment with Tony Blair, John King interviewed three African-Americans about the meaning of Obamas victory. All three were pro-Obama (Grant Hill, Touré, Mary Frances Berry). Only then, a segment with Schwarzenegger. After that, it was send in the pundits.
In short, the November 9 Sunday programs were massively Democratic. Absent explanation, its absurd to say, after just two weeks, that Sunday bookers are (unquestionably) committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guests. Media Matters has done some good empirical work about booking patterns in the past; it may turn out that the Sunday programs will tilt Republican as the weeks go forward. But no such pattern is visible yet. Its utterly silly to say otherwise.
Weve suffered through a long War on Brains; the era was characterized by wild overstatement, silly name-calling and utterly brainless working of refs. For ourselves, we hope Obamas win will start to change this part of our national culture. For ourselves, we think a Culture of Brains would only help Dem and progressive interests. But a fair few of Obamas supporters sometimes seem to prefer older ways.
When Bush prevailed: Due to the Florida recount, its hard to compare booking patterns when Bush prevailed after Campaign 2000. But for the record: On the Sunday after Bushs win in 2004, two diabolical Sunday bookers did include a Major Dem. He got a stand-alone segment on Meet the Pressand a Dem/Rep segment on This Week. He was newand he had big ears and a funny name. How weird! Barack Obama!
That same day, Late Edition presented three prominent Dems to explain what went wrong (Rendell, Koch, Brazile). It was much like the Republican panels this Sunday. There were no Rep pols on the program.