TOMORROW—BOB NOVAKS 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 Bradleys 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 hed 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 nights program, and the appearance of TNRs Michael Crowley.
E-mails began flooding in yesterday afternoon, after Crowleys comments led Chris Matthews to wax about the way Al Gore got what was due him during Campaign 2000. Well 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 couldnt add two plus five!
In fairness, Robinson was the reports lead writer; well 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. Crowleys 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 Crowleys 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 lets 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 worlds 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 Gores troubling misstatements. This was alleged to be one of Gores 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.
MATTHEWS (11/19/07): Well, let me tell you, let me tell you, theres two—Michael, theres a big difference between what happened to Al Gore and what happened to Bob—John Kerry.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 talkers 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.)
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. Hes the one who put out the word that he was the subject or the role model for Love Story, that he pointed the—the countrys attention to Love Canal. He stuck himself into that story.
And when Martin Peretzs daughter wrote that piece in the Vanity Fair a couple months ago, Im sorry. She didnt make the case. Gore got himself in those problem areas—
MATTHEWS: —by vanity and showing off and trying to make himself cool. But John Kerry got unfair treatment. I think theres 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: Thats not how most—many Democrats feel.
MATTHEWS: Well, why would you expect a partisan to think anything more than partisan? Thats what partisans do think.
MATTHEWS: Of course you think you were rooked.
MATTHEWS: Everybody that loses an election says they were rooked, OK?
MATTHEWS: And they blame it on the umpire.
MATTHEWS: Keep it up. Thank you, Chuck Todd. Thank you, Mike Crowley.
CROWLEY: Thats the audience theyre speaking to. Thank you.
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 Broders fuller context, it was clear that CNNs Wolf Blitzer was one of the showmen the Dean was upbraiding. But were Russert, Williams and Matthews included? Darlings! Stop asking! It just isnt done! Blitzer lies outside the circle. Larger men just cant be named!
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?Even before the thirty seconds was up, Matthews stopped Giulianis answer, engaging again in the towel-snapping that shows Rudys one of the boys.
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.
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 Johns 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?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.
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?
MATTHEWS: Okay, let's go to the police. How would you police the Internet culturally, Mr. Mayor?But then, the mayor also seemed a bit confused by the very first question Matthews asked:
GIULIANI: Pardon me?
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 cant really say that we blame him.) Well, I mean, the market is a wonderful thing, he began—and no, he didnt say a word which seemed responsive to Matthews questions. But no worry: Matthews soon broke in with his follow-up question—about Joe Torres future.
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.Ouch. For ourselves, we thought you might want to see the kinds of question Republicans get from Jack Welchs 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.
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 its 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.
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?