Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

THE PUNDITS WHO WILL NOT BARK! Scarborough’s statement is blindingly obvious. But your pundit corps knows not to bark:


THE SCRIBE WHO DIDN’T BARK: Let’s revisit that remarkable moment on Monday evening’s Hardball (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/19/02). What made Joe Scarborough’s statement so striking? He did what your pundit corps knows it can’t do. He said what was blindingly obvious:

SCARBOROUGH: I think, in the 2000 election, I think [the media] were fairly brutal to Al Gore. I think they hit him hard on a lot of things like inventing the Internet and some of those other things, and I think there was a generalization they bought into that, if they had done that to a Republican candidate, I’d be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased.
Several points should be made about this landmark punditry.

First, as we noted yesterday, What Scarborough Said was baldly obvious as far back as April ’99. Here at THE HOWLER, we had described the unfolding War Against Gore since it began in mid-March. But amazingly, this is the first time we’ve ever seen this obvious point expressed on Hardball. Why is that? It’s a tribute to the pundit corps’ determination not to conduct its work in good faith. Your pundit corps simply will not tell you the things it doesn’t want you to know.

Consider, for example, Dee Dee Myers, the unlucky “liberal” paired with Scarborough when the congressman spoke. Even then, Myers didn’t say a word in response to Scarborough’s comment. But then, if Myers guested on Hardball for the next twenty years, you would never hear her make the point which Scarborough so easily voiced.

Why is that? We generally don’t express opinions about the motives of specific pundits. But in general, “liberal” pundits won’t make such statements because their careers as pundits hang in the balance. Experienced pundits know which facts they simply aren’t allowed to discuss. A Code of Silence drives your press corps, and that code is rigidly enforced on cable. Through the twenty-month run of Campaign 2000, Trashing Gore was Big Fun on Hardball. (It was also big business, of course.) Pundits who dissented from Approved Story Lines found that they didn’t come back. Others who spoke were soundly rebuked. In 1999, for example, Norah O’Donnell occasionally bucked the clown-like consensus on this program. Her host came down on her very hard—and she learned not to speak up again.

At any rate, Myers has guested on Hardball for years. She has never said what Scarborough did. And even when Scarborough stated the obvious, Myers sat silently by. We’ve said it before, and we say it again: Democrats need to understand the process which cost them the last election. “Good guy” pundits played a key role. Cowardly, craven, bought-off and scared, those pundits all knew not to bark.

MORE PUNDITS WHO DIDN’T BARK: What Scarborough said is blindingly plain. But somehow, Myers has never said it. Readers, don’t make any mistake: Your cable pundits put their careers ahead of the public interest every time. Their silence allowed the borking of Gore—and almost surely decided the last White House race. Democrats need to understand this deeply dysfunctional cohort.

After all, Myers wasn’t the only scribe avoiding What Scarborough Said. E. J. Dionne was too timid to say it. So were Mark Shields, Al Hunt, Jeff Greenfield, Margaret Carlson. Did Joe Klein ever state the obvious? And why didn’t you read such comments in the New Republic? As they say in those negative ads, call Peter Beinart and ask.

Who should have won in Campaign 2000? That was a judgment for voters to make. But from March 1999 right through the election, the press corps conducted a War Against Gore which almost surely decided the outcome. Chris Matthews, of course, was a leading foot soldier. And all his pundits knew not to bark—as did most other American pundits. On Hardball, Scarborough stated the obvious. Others still know not to speak.

HOWLER HISTORY—HOW TO PLAY PUNDIT: Were the media “fairly brutal” to Gore? Scarborough ought to know. On July 29, 1999, he made a guest appearance on Hardball. This was back in the good old days, when Matthews was workin’ hard for the man, a rugged general in the War Against Gore. By coincidence, this was one of the memorable evenings when the brave fellow put O’Donnell in her place. (He would be even ruder later on.)

What was the climate on cable TV? Here’s an example of the kind of discourse Chris was cranking out at the time. Also guesting this evening were Carl Cannon of National Journal; Meredith Berkman of the New York Post; and Mary Boyle, a former Dem senate candidate from Ohio:

MATTHEWS: Is Al Gore just incapable of putting, like, one foot in front of the other in this campaign? He’s a professional politician who acts like an amateur.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. He’s awful.

MATTHEWS: I don’t get it [WATCHING TAPE OF GORE]. Did you ever see the movie “Altered States?” I mean, his face is, like, getting contorted in some of these—


MATTHEWS: There’s bubbles coming out of his forehead!

Boyle—seeming to think she was on a news show—tried to discuss Gore’s appearance in Cleveland. She should have stayed home and baked cookies:
BOYLE: Listen, the vice president was in Cleveland today. I want to tell you just very briefly about it, because you probably would like covering the news.

MATTHEWS: What mode was he in? Was he in, was he in the quiet mode, or that sort of Clutch Cargo craziness he gets into, or was he——

SCARBOROUGH: Did he scream?

BOYLE: No—no, but he was—

MATTHEWS: Or was he in the “Altered States” where the head starts to bubble? What state was he in today?

Readers may find it hard to believe, but that is the astonishing tone which prevailed on cable at this point in the race. (Did you ever see Howard Kurtz discuss it?) And the evening’s nonsense wasn’t done. Scarborough offered more insights:
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, it feeds on itself that you talk about him being more wooden. When he tries to be loose—[Mary Boyle] says, “Al Gore was loose.” That’s when he’s at his worst. Remember the Olympics, when he was clapping like this. And you’re, like, “My, God, the guy can’t even clap.” Did they—what—did they—


SCARBOROUGH: I mean, he, he’s in trouble. And it feeds on itself and he looks more like a dork than he, than when he’s not trying.

The brilliant discussion went on and on. Finally, O’Donnell did what pundits mustn’t. She offered a contrary viewpoint:
O’DONNELL: I think it’s funny, as we sat at this table, you know, six months ago critiquing Bill Clinton for the things that people don’t like about him that—


O’DONNELL: Al Gore is, is just the opposite. He’s a good family man, has those same types of policies… And I think sometimes the media plays this, sort of, game where they choose favorites.

Really! Was it possible the media was somehow choosing favorites? O’Donnell had noted an obvious fact. Anyone with an ounce of sense knew that this had gone on for months. But Matthews’ guests knew how to play pundit. Everyone was appalled by O’Donnell’s odd statement. In particular, Cannon and Berkman played the fools, pretending to be completely puzzled by Gore’s ongoing problems in the polls. All around them, right in the studio, the War Against Gore was going on. That “brutal” campaign about invented the Internet had been underway for four months. But Cannon and Berkman couldn’t grasp why Gore might be down in the polls. So it went as your dissembling pundit corps pretended to critique the White House race.

On Monday, Scarborough stated the obvious. It was also obvious in July ’99. But on Hardball, all the pundits knew not to bark. Major pundits still know it today. Scarborough actually told the truth. Your “good guys” all know not to do it.