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ATTENTION MUST BE PAID! “Attention must be paid,” Carlson said. Is she the world’s biggest fraud? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2008

Transition continues: We continue our transition to the unreal world after our Thanksgiving sojourn. Let’s indulge! This week, we may do one or two additional posts about “Einstein near Carrboro”—though we also plan to finish our “back-to-school” series about public ed writing. This morning, we also offer one more post about the way we sports fan reason. And a post, alas, from that unreal world—the world of Margaret Carlson.

The way we sports fans continue to reason: Wow! One day later, the Post’s Michael Wilbon gives us an excellent look at what we called “the way we sports fans reason” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/1/08).

Let’s start with the problem we downplayed yesterday—the disinclination to consider real data in the course of rating the college football conferences. In today’s column, Wilbon starts by thundering about the greatness of the Big 12—the nation’s top circuit, he says:

WILBON (12/2/08): That conference—with its trio of one-loss teams, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech—just had its best season ever, maybe the best season any college football conference has had in 25 years. Three of the nation's top seven ranked teams come from the Big 12. The league is so deep Nebraska won eight games and isn't even in the Big 12's top five. They've had one spectacular game after another and been the absolute best thing about a memorable college football season.

You’re right: Wilbon doesn’t say the Big 12 is the strongest conference of the past quarter century, but the suggestion is floating around there—and he plainly implies that the circuit is simply fantastic this year. But his claims are a bit hard to square with actual facts on the ground. Just how good is Nebraska, for instance? (In fact, its 5-3 conference record ties it for fourth among Big 12 teams, with Missouri and Oklahoma State.) So good that it lost the only game it played against a team from another BCS conference; the Cornhuskers lost, at home, to Virginia Tech. (Virginia Tech also produced a 5-3 conference record, in the ACC.) But then, Big 12 teams didn’t distinguish themselves against other BCS teams generally. The amazing conference went 7-8 in its games against such teams this year.

Is the Big 12 amazingly deep? It’s hard to find confirmation of that judgment on the field. But so what? Wilbon seems quite sure of his (conventional) views about the strength of the conferences. As good sports writers tend to do, he asserts that the Big 12 and the SEC are this year’s two best circuits—and he calls the ACC an “overrated big-name conference.” But uh-oh! Here are the records these circuits compiled in games against teams from other BCS conferences:

Record against teams from other BCS conferences:
ACC: 13-8
Big 12: 7-8 (0-4 against the ACC)
SEC: 6-9 (3-6 against the ACC)

These records don’t involve enough games to produce definitive judgments—but it’s hard to share Wilbon’s certainty about the strength of these circuits. (ACC schools also beat Notre Dame twice.) On the field, the nation’s two top circuits somehow managed to go 3-10 against the weak ACC! (If memory serves, the ACC had the best record against other BCS circuits last year as well—although we thought the circuit had mostly favorable match-ups that year.)

Wilbon is also convinced that Texas got jobbed when the BCS ranked it behind Oklahoma. But people! The gentleman toys with his facts so much, we’d have to say he’s almost ready to move on to political journalism:

WILBON: Fortunately, not everybody who deals with college football is covered in shame. The Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters ranks Texas above Oklahoma, as does the Harris Poll of former coaches and players, and sportswriters and broadcasters. In other words, nearly every ranking conducted by actual human beings concluded, even if by the narrowest margins, that Texas is ahead of Oklahoma.

In fact, there are three major “rankings conducted by actual human beings”—the AP poll, the Harris poll, and the USA Today coaches’ poll. And uh-oh! The USA Today poll rates Oklahoma ahead of Texas (by one point)—so Wilbon simply omits it. In fact, two out of three human polls favor Texas (very narrowly). Wilbon’s readers are therefore told that “nearly every” human poll has so judged.

Is the Big 12 amazingly deep? There has been little indication of that on the field—and there’s little sign that the ACC is a second-rate circuit this year. But Wilbon insists on these judgments—then insists that his judgment is right concerning Texas/Oklahoma. To his credit, he doesn’t suggest a new system for picking a two-team championship game; he suggests an eight-team playoff instead. But we’re often struck by the impulse Wilbon seems to put on display in this column. In ranking the conferences this year, it doesn’t seem to occur to him that he ought to consider results on the ground. Is the ACC a powder-puff? Is the Big 12 amazingly deep? It’s pretty to think so—and Wilbon does. It’s the way we sports fans reason.

Attention must be paid: It’s the sheer arrogance that is so striking. Last night, Keith Olbermann was throwing sweet hay to the herd—sweet hay involving vile Sarah Palin, campaigning in Georgia for Saxby Chambliss. And Margaret Carlson knew just how to play it. We think this is quite amazing:

CARLSON (12/1/08): I now think Sarah Palin, like Bill Clinton and like Elvis, is never going away. She’s with us for a good long time. I think she’ll be opening supermarkets soon.

The arrogance is simply astounding—as is the lack of self-awareness. People like Carlson really seem to believe that they get to decide which pols are supposed to “go away.” Meanwhile, will Carlson herself ever do so? She’s been making “contributions” to the discourse since the days when she kept doing her mocking “impression” of the very lame, very laughable Candidate Gore. She did no such “impressions” of Bush. Are you happy with where that took us?

Today, Carlson seems to think that Palin should “go away.” And of course, the vile Bill Clinton should apparently “go away” too. (More below.)

It’s hard to find such arrogance anywhere else in the culture—or such gross dishonesty. In this recent post, Glenn Greenwald helped us see, once again, the way these people shed past skins, reinventing their views on the fly. Joe Klein is a master of this low pundit art. But then too, last night, here was Carlson:

OLBERMANN (continuing directly): This just occurred to me. What is the most grotesque event to be standing in front of and not paying attention to? What we’re seeing now—[Palin is] standing in front of Saxby Chambliss, who ran that campaign against Max Cleland six years ago. Or standing in front of a turkey-killing machine?

CARLSON: Both are killers. Talking about her son in her appearance and ignoring what happened to Max Cleland is a terrible disconnect. I don’t think enough attention can ever be paid to the ads that were run against Max Cleland. I’m waiting to hear if Chambliss apologizes for that some day.

OLBERMANN: Well, I hope you have some time.

CARLSON: An eternity, apparently.

Poor Carlson! Blithely declaring Chambliss a “killer,” the lady expressed her high-minded view about his conduct in Campaign 02. “I don’t think enough attention can ever be paid to the ads that were run against Max Cleland,” she high-mindedly said. And just like that, we fired the Dell! We were eager to recall the times Carlson has simply scalded Chambliss for those ads down through the years.

Surely, you know what we found. Brother Olbermann’s high-minded hack “do[es]n’t think enough attention can ever be paid to the ads that were run against Cleland.” Weirdly, though, she seems to have made little effort to call attention to Chambliss’ ads in the six years since he ran them! According to Nexis, Carlson said nothing about Chambliss’ ads in real time, during Campaign 02, when she was a weekly guest on Capital Gang and had a regular column in Time. (Headline from her 11/18/02 column: “Say Good Night, Bill.” It was time for Bill Clinton to go away—as it always seems to be in these crackpot preserves.) As a matter of fact, in the entire Nexis archive, we can find only one glancing comment from Carlson on this subject (text below). Carlson “do[es]n’t think enough attention can ever be paid to the ads against Cleland?” Weirdly, she has never quite gotten around to paying such attention herself!

But then, it’s hard to be more fake than Carlson—or less self-aware. Back to last evening’s amusements:

OLBERMANN (continuing directly): Whether or not [Palin] actually helps Chambliss get votes is not really of importance as long as she can draw the crowds and keep herself in the public eye. And it’s in The Lower 48. That’s the key to this from her viewpoint, correct?

CARLSON: Right. Now, you cannot keep her on the tundra now that she’s seen The Lower 48. She likes it here. And she gets, you know—she gets air-time. By the way, she did pull off crowds for him. We should see who did better, Ludacris—the actual Ludacris—or Ms. Slight Ludicrous.

Carlson, who would slaughter your granny to get some air-time, was playing the fool once again.

Was she herself “ludicrous?” You be the judge. But last night, Carlson was running us liberal rubes as a way to get her air time. It’s hard to be a bigger fake—or less self-aware.

The lady’s sole pronouncement: “I don’t think enough attention can ever be paid to the ads that were run against Max Cleland,” Carlson high-mindedly said last night. Sadly, though, Carlson has absent-mindedly forgotten to pay such attention herself! In the entire Nexis archive, this is the one instance we can find in which she semi-scolded Chambliss for the ads; this seems to be the lady’s sole pronouncement on this subject in more than six years. This exchange occurred on CNN on Wednesday night, November 3, 2002—one night after that year’s election:

MARK SHIELDS (11/3/02): Something at the national level, Margaret Carlson?

CARLSON: Well, Bush put a lot on the line by going out and campaigning as much as he did. And it may partly be, Bush is a likable guy. And when he's out there, the crowds respond. And that part of it worked.

And then, you know, Democrats were shy of saying too much about Iraq, because whenever they did, they would get an ad like Chambliss put on the air against Max Cleland, questioning his patriotism. So you had to go gingerly there.

So you go with the person that's actually saying something. And something beats nothing.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, something beats nothing?

For someone who feels as strongly as Carlson does, that strikes us as pretty weak tea. But this seems to be the only time she has scolded Chambliss about this.

But then, Carlson is one of the world’s biggest fakes. Last night, she was running us liberal rubes, earning her much-beloved time on the air. Ludicrous? You be the judge. In our view, it’s hard to find such bogus conduct anywhere else in the culture.