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CHRIS MATTHEWS KNOWS SOFTBALL! Jack Welch’s hirelings went after Clinton–and towel-snapped softballs to Rudy: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2007

TOMORROW—BOB NOVAK’S HOWLER HISTORY: It happened almost exactly eight years ago. Yep! Bob Novak was affecting the Democratic primary in that election cycle too! In that instance, Novak was pimping an RNC line extremely hard in the weeks before Gore and Bradley’s first debate. And omigod! By the weekend after this first debate, he got Al Hunt to adopt it! (This affected much subsequent punditry.) This, of course, was the famous debate where the press corps hissed and jeered Gore for the hour—then invented Group Tales about how bad he’d been. First they hissed and jeered for an hour—and then, the real misconduct began. And Novak was in it, up to his years. Tomorrow, for vacation use only, we bring you some rich HOWLER HISTORY.

WHO IS MICHAEL CROWLEY: Careful, Digby! The knowledge a person can gain from this show separates him or her from the rest of the species! In recent weeks, we get the impression that Digby has discovered the “fascination of the abomination” that accompanies the cable show Hardball—the cable program which allows normal people to get a sense of the moral depravity of others in their species. The program is run by an unvarnished nut; each evening, other “journalists” agree not to notice. They help him spread his ugly narratives, eager for the fame and advancement their spot on this program might bring.

Which brings us up to last night’s program, and the appearance of TNR’s Michael Crowley.

E-mails began flooding in yesterday afternoon, after Crowley’s comments led Chris Matthews to wax about the way Al Gore got what was due him during Campaign 2000. We’ll show you what Matthews said below; for right now, we focus on Crowley. The gentleman ought to know all about what happened to Gore during Campaign 2000; at the Boston Globe, Crowley co-wrote one of the most dishonest (and most influential) reports on Gore in the entire campaign. The piece, co-written with Walter Robinson, was one of the many scripted rants which warned the world what a liar Gore was. But how dishonest were Crowley and Robinson? So dishonest that they even pretended they couldn’t add two plus five!

In fairness, Robinson was the report’s lead writer; we’ll assume that young Crowley was along for the ride. But his name remains on this noxious piece—a report which stands as a testimonial to the press corps’ stunning dishonesty. Crowley’s recent report for The New Republic made us think you might want to revisit this history. His best-boy appearance on Hardball last night just makes the topic more relevant.

In real time, we did a four-part report on Robinson and Crowley’s piece, which appeared in the Globe on April 11, 2000. And omigod! Yesterday, looking back through our Part 1, we noticed our great clairvoyance: Even then, we warned you that such “news reports” might decide Campaign 2000! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/00.) If you want to know who Crowley is, we suggest that you read that four-part report—the report we posted back in real time. But let’s take a minute to tell you about the mysteries of two years plus five.

As noted, Robinson and his scrub-cheeked associate were engaged in a familiar mission; they were trying to convince the world that Gore was the world’s biggest liar. Almost all the familiar canards were included—but the lads had invented some new ones as well. Indeed, right at the start of their lengthy report, they listed a bunch of Gore’s troubling misstatements. This was alleged to be one of Gore’s statements. They offered a paraphrase, of course:

ROBINSON AND CROWLEY: After his army service, he spent seven years as a journalist...
If Gore had said that, it would have been a misstatement. In fact, after his army service, Gore spent five years as a journalist (not seven), at the Nashville Tennessean. A bit later on, the shameless lads returned to their claim about Gore:
ROBINSON AND CROWLEY: [S]tarting in 1994, Gore has added two years to his journalistic experience, upping the figures from the five years he once claimed to seven.
Huh! The boys had now said it two separate times! Gore has claimed seven years of journalistic experience, not five, the outraged pair of lads said.

Of course, Robinson and Crowley understood the facts involved in this consummate blather—and they knew that the Globe’s misused readers did not. Duh! Why had Gore sometimes referred to seven years of journalistic experience? Gore had spent two years as an army journalist—then five more years at the Tennessean. And his mathematical advisers had apparently told Gore that two years plus five years makes seven.

Yes, Robinson and Crowley knew these facts—but the Boston Globe’s misused readers did not. For some strange reason, the two boys never mentioned these facts in the course of their entire front-page report! The Boston Globe’s readers were left to wonder why Gore would claim seven years of experience, when the real figure seemed to be five. In such ways, journalists deceived the public for two solid years—and sent George W. Bush to the White House. Today, the blood of Iraq is caked in their hair when these fuzzy-cheeked hit-men play Hardball.

By the way, was Robinson and Crowley’s first statement true? Had Gore ever made this claim: “After his army service, he spent seven years as a journalist?” If Gore had ever made that claim, it would have been wrong—but we had no earthly idea when Gore was supposed to have said that. So we e-mailed Robinson, seeking examples. In Part 1 of that four-part report, we show you the two examples he sent us. And you can see the depths of dishonesty to which “journalists” like these boys will descend.

Go ahead! Read the entire four-part report; these inexcusable claims about Gore’s “seven years” were just the most absurd example of Robinson and Crowley’s desire to mislead you. Today, the blood of Iraq is on their hands; it forms a mist when these gruesome lads breathe. But your mainstream press corps has rewards for lads who play such games the right way. Last night, Crowley guest-starred on Hardball again—and Matthews was ranting about how crazy it is to think that Gore got a vile deal.

WHAT THEY DID LATER: In September 2000, Robinson invented the “Al Gore lied about the doggy pills” gong-show, thereby changing the shape of world history. Crowley played no part in that scam—but he was ready to toy with John Kerry. In June 2002, he wrote that ludicrous early profile for TNR, claiming to spot Kerry’s character problems (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/02). Readers! Kerry plays show tunes on the guitar! And: He enjoys wind-surfing!

In fairness, Crowley isn’t a stupid boy. He graduated from Yale, after all; he surely knows that two years plus five more years adds up to seven years in all. In fact, everyone knew it—except the Globe’s readers! By total accident, the Boston Globe’s readers were kept in the dark—and Crowley was slouching toward Hardball.

THE FRUITCAKE MONOLOGUES: “The prince punches! Obama goes boom-boom,” Matthews said, starting last night’s Hardball. (And no, we’re really not making that up.) Soon enough, this public crackpot was sharing his views about the coverage of Candidate Gore. We’ll leave the designations of (LAUGHTER) where they appear in the Nexis transcript:
MATTHEWS (11/19/07): Well, let me tell you, let me tell you, there’s two—Michael, there’s a big difference between what happened to Al Gore and what happened to Bob—John Kerry.

John Kerry got hit unfairly by the Swift Boat, attacking his service to his country. They conflated his opposition to the war when he came back, which we can all argue about, and his service to a country, his country, which is not really arguable. They trashed him.

But, in terms of Al Gore, he is the one who said he created the Internet. He’s the one who put out the word that he was the subject or the role model for Love Story, that he pointed the—the country’s attention to Love Canal. He stuck himself into that story.

And when Martin Peretz’s daughter wrote that piece in the Vanity Fair a couple months ago, I’m sorry. She didn’t make the case. Gore got himself in those problem areas—

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: —by vanity and showing off and trying to make himself cool. But John Kerry got unfair treatment. I think there’s a big difference, guys, big difference in how those two were treated.

CROWLEY: That may be so, but not—

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd.

CROWLEY: That’s not how most—many Democrats feel.

MATTHEWS: Well, why would you expect a partisan to think anything more than partisan? That’s what partisans do think.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Of course you think you were rooked.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Everybody that loses an election says they were rooked, OK?

CROWLEY: Sure.

MATTHEWS: And they blame it on the umpire.

CROWLEY: Right.

MATTHEWS: Keep it up. Thank you, Chuck Todd. Thank you, Mike Crowley.

CROWLEY: That’s the audience they’re speaking to. Thank you.
Poor Crowley! A familiar warm liquid was filling his shoes when it seemed that his host might be peeved with his statement. After all, what would mommy and daddy say if he lost his position on Hardball? “That may be so,” “sure” and “right,” he soon said. Why, he even remembered to say “please” and “thank you!” But there you see a red-faced talker’s view of the Campaign 2000 press coverage. And there you see the compliant Crowley, trying hard to assure his host that he never! ever! meant to imply that Candidate Gore got screwed in some manner. (In their five-month study of the coverage in the spring of 2000, Pew specifically cited Hardball as the place to hear the most Gore-trashing.)

CHRIS MATTHEWS KNOWS SOFTBALL: Poor David Broder! In recent days, he finds himself longing for better debates! In Sunday’s column, he rolled his eyes at those worthless TV impresarios:
BRODER (11/18/07): That is revealing of the weakness of these debates as tools for helping voters decide which candidate to support. The TV impresarios are so eager for headlines they rarely pause to ask the candidates for evidence to support their opinions or assertions. It is bang-bang, but rarely because-and-here's-proof.
Darn those TV showmen! Given Broder’s fuller context, it was clear that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was one of the showmen the Dean was upbraiding. But were Russert, Williams and Matthews included? Darlings! Stop asking! It just isn’t done! Blitzer lies outside the circle. Larger men just can’t be named!

In truth, how sad is the shape of our public discourse? We thought you might want to see the kinds of questions asked of Republicans in a recent debate. More specifically, we all sat through the “Evening of Gotcha” when Russert and Williams, holding hands for courage, tried to wrestle the Democratic front-runner to the ground. But what kinds of question were asked by Chris Matthews at this same network’s previous Republican debate? When we examine that question, we see the outline of an agenda that seems to rule at this gruesome network. And we wonder why a great man like Broder hasn’t yet noticed this problem.

On October 30, Russert and Williams battered Clinton all evening. But uh-oh! Three weeks before, Chris Matthews co-hosted a Republican debate, a debate about economic issues. And here’s the second question this big fixer asked. It went to the Republican front-runner:
MATTHEWS (10/9/07): Just to test your forecasting ability, Mr. Mayor, will [Joe] Torre keep his job?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Everyone shared a good solid laugh as Matthews towel-snapped with his buddy about the fate of the Yankees’ skipper. A bit later, the host enjoyed another bit of bonhomie with the front-runner, this time after he had asked a typically inane question:
MATTHEWS: This is a 30-second answer. And the question is, are unions good for America? And please act like you're a member of a union and limit it to 30 seconds. (Laughter.) Okay?
[...]

MATTHEWS: Mayor?

GIULIANI: Sure, I think unions have made a positive contribution. My grandmother was an early member of the United Ladies Garment Workers Union, and I don't know that our family would have gotten out of poverty without that. So I have a great appreciation—

MATTHEWS: Can you sing that song, Mr. Mayor?

GIULIANI: However—pardon me?

MATTHEWS: Can you sing that song?

GIULIANI: Can I sing the song? You don't want me to—you don't want me to sing—

MATTHEWS (singing): “Work for the union label.”

GIULIANI: You do not want me to sing a song. Everybody will run out of this auditorium if I begin singing a song. I have a terrible voice.
Even before the thirty seconds was up, Matthews stopped Giuliani’s answer, engaging again in the towel-snapping that shows Rudy’s one of the boys.

But then, Matthews’ “questions” were soft—and inane—all through the tedious evening. He shared time with Maria Bartiromo, who managed to pose some halfway serious queries. But Matthews would prove himself all debate long. He showed no sign of preparation—and no desire to challenge the hopefuls. This “question” to Saint McCain, for example, could have been run as an ad:
MATTHEWS: Senator McCain, this is close to your heart. How would you catch bin Laden?
A few weeks later, Russert and Williams were tearing at Clinton—in at least three cases, by asking questions which have turned out to be factually bogus. By contrast, Matthews was vouching for Saint John’s good heart. But then, he had already lobbed this nostalgic softball at him:
MATTHEWS: Let me ask Senator McCain: You know, when a lot of us grew up in the late '50s and early '60s, a young guy could come out of high school, marry his girlfriend from school, get a job at a big industrial plant making planes or making subways and provide for a family with a middle-class income and his spouse wouldn't have to work. Will we ever go back to that world again?
But then, Matthews lobbed softballs all evening long. His question were often invitations to orate. Here was an early example:
MATTHEWS: Congressman Paul, I think you have questions and concerns about the bonanza in the hedge-fund industry. Do you?
Congressman Paul gave his speech on the subject—and Matthews was soon asking the following questions, in sequence. There was no follow-up to anything said in this tedious sequence:
MATTHEWS: Governor Huckabee, tell us about your Fair Tax. You're going to get rid of the IRS. You're going to have a, basically a consumer tax. Won't that discourage spending? The American economy seems to always be driven by people buying things maybe they can't even afford. If you put a tax on spending as opposed to income, won't that encourage people to hoard their money rather than spend it, and hurt the economy?

MATTHEWS: Congressman Hunter, do you agree with that, the idea of replacing the IRS, the income tax, a direct tax, with an indirect sales tax?

MATTHEWS: Senator Thompson, do you want to respond to that question or that comment by the congressman about Chinese trade?
Huckabee gave his Fair Tax speech, then Hunter and Thompson got to give speeches too. Everyone got to say what he wanted. By the way, that question to Huckabee actually counted as one of the best-researched questions Matthews would ask all night long. No, there was no follow-up; Huckabee got to say what he pleased. But this was one of the only times when Matthews even suggested that something could imaginably be wrong with a Republican outlook.

How inept was Matthews this night? Many of this daft man’s questions seemed to puzzle the contestants. Giuliani was plainly confused at the start of this oddball query, for instance:
MATTHEWS: Okay, let's go to the police. How would you police the Internet culturally, Mr. Mayor?

GIULIANI: Pardon me?
But then, the mayor also seemed a bit confused by the very first question Matthews asked:
MATTHEWS: Mayor Giuliani, the private equity firms are making billions of dollars. I guess it's a mystery to me—and you can explain it as a New Yorker, where— These billions of dollars, where were they before? And is there any downside to this amazing bonanza in the hedge fund and the private equity firms?
Amazingly, that was Matthews very first question—and Giuliani showed little sign of understanding what he was talking about. (We can’t really say that we blame him.) “Well, I mean, the market is a wonderful thing,” he began—and no, he didn’t say a word which seemed responsive to Matthews’ questions. But no worry: Matthews soon broke in with his “follow-up” question—about Joe Torre’s future.

That’s what occurred on October 9. Three weeks later, Russert and Matthews tore at Clinton all evening long, asking their factually-bogus gotchas. We have no idea why Russert has now done two straight Dem debates, with fawning Matthews fobbed off on Republicans. But the gentleman’s work was so gruesome this evening that the Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein, a financial reporter, sounded off in an on-line chat the next day. Remember, this had been billed as a debate on economic issues. It was Matthews’ groaning incompetence in that field to which the scribe seems to refer:
PEARLSTEIN (10/10/07): You get to a subject near and dear to my heart, which is the performance of the political press. And, frankly, it is clear that they, once again, have learned nothing from the past, learned nothing from the criticism that was leveled at them in the last two elections, learned nothing from the declining respect they get from their readers and viewers.

I found it fascinating that it only took Chris Matthews 43.8 minutes before his attention deficit disorder kicked in when it comes to business and economic issues, and suddenly changed the subject to Iran. That began a 10 to 15 minute diversion onto national security issues. And what it reminds us is that the people who do almost all of the campaign coverage don't know or understand much about the subject, don't care and therefore do a lousy job at it. Because they don't have the context, they can't really analyze the substantive proposals and answers, so they just give this perfunctory recitation of what the candidates say, which allows them to check off their responsibility but winds up boring the readers and allowing the candidates to get away with hoodwinking the public. They all like to think they are really tough, but in fact they are pussycats on policy because they don't understand it well enough. And it’s absolutely still true: all they really care about is the horse-race and, at debates, whether there were any "attacks" or "fireworks." This is the entire prism through which they look at the race.
Ouch. For ourselves, we thought you might want to see the kinds of question Republicans get from Jack Welch’s Lost Boys. Matthews seemed to be totally unprepared—for everything except towel-snapping. He clowned with Rudy; fawned to Saint John; and gave us yet another look at the broken-souled shape of his horrible news org. Six weeks later, no one has mentioned these softball questions. The truth is, no one will.

SO LITTLE TIME, SO MANY SOFTBALLS: How thoroughly worthless was Matthews this night? Remember, he only did part of the debate. But here was another piercing question:
MATTHEWS: Senator Brownback, who would be your top economic adviser, your ideal adviser for economics?
And of course, this zinger, for a good buddy:
MATTHEWS: Mayor Giuliani, would it be good for the country, for the voters of the country, to have a third-party option?
Plainly, Matthews had nothing to ask; he seemed to have done no research whatever. Three weeks later, Williams and Russert seemed to be oppo-researched to the gills. But NBC has played this way for years. When will the liberal world say so?