WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2002
THE SCRIBE WHO DIDNT BARK: Lets revisit that remarkable moment on Monday evenings Hardball (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/19/02). What made Joe Scarboroughs statement so striking? He did what your pundit corps knows it cant 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, Id 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 weve ever seen this obvious point expressed on Hardball. Why is that? Its 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 doesnt want you to know.
Consider, for example, Dee Dee Myers, the unlucky liberal paired with Scarborough when the congressman spoke. Even then, Myers didnt say a word in response to Scarboroughs 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 dont express opinions about the motives of specific pundits. But in general, liberal pundits wont make such statements because their careers as pundits hang in the balance. Experienced pundits know which facts they simply arent 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 didnt come back. Others who spoke were soundly rebuked. In 1999, for example, Norah ODonnell occasionally bucked the clown-like consensus on this program. Her host came down on her very hardand 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. Weve 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 DIDNT BARK: What Scarborough said is blindingly plain. But somehow, Myers has never said it. Readers, dont make any mistake: Your cable pundits put their careers ahead of the public interest every time. Their silence allowed the borking of Goreand almost surely decided the last White House race. Democrats need to understand this deeply dysfunctional cohort.
After all, Myers wasnt 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 didnt 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 barkas did most other American pundits. On Hardball, Scarborough stated the obvious. Others still know not to speak.
HOWLER HISTORYHOW 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 ODonnell in her place. (He would be even ruder later on.)
What was the climate on cable TV? Heres 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? Hes a professional politician who acts like an amateur.
Boyleseeming to think she was on a news showtried to discuss Gores appearance in Cleveland. She should have stayed home and baked cookies:
SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. Hes awful.
MATTHEWS: I dont 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
SCARBOROUGH: And there
MATTHEWS: Theres bubbles coming out of his forehead!
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.
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 evenings nonsense wasnt done. Scarborough offered more insights:
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: Nono, but he was
MATTHEWS: Or was he in the Altered States where the head starts to bubble? What state was he in today?
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. Thats when hes at his worst. Remember the Olympics, when he was clapping like this. And youre, like, My, God, the guy cant even clap. Did theywhatdid they
The brilliant discussion went on and on. Finally, ODonnell did what pundits mustnt. She offered a contrary viewpoint:
SCARBOROUGH: I mean, he, hes in trouble. And it feeds on itself and he looks more like a dork than he, than when hes not trying.
ODONNELL: I think its funny, as we sat at this table, you know, six months ago critiquing Bill Clinton for the things that people dont like about him that
Really! Was it possible the media was somehow choosing favorites? ODonnell 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 ODonnells odd statement. In particular, Cannon and Berkman played the fools, pretending to be completely puzzled by Gores 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 couldnt grasp why Gore might be down in the polls. So it went as your dissembling pundit corps pretended to critique the White House race.
ODONNELL: Al Gore is, is just the opposite. Hes 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.
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.