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Daily Howler: MSNBC's Steve Adubato showed us the soul of the corps
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PUNDIT OF THE YEAR! MSNBC’s Steve Adubato showed us the soul of the corps: // link // print // previous // next //

HAPPY HO-HOS: We’re gone for a week. If there's a lumber-jack job there, we may not comeback

PUNDIT OF THE YEAR: Father Coughlin was dug from the ground, cleaned up a bit, then thrown out on the air to play Hardball. No, we haven’t added a word. All these words were actually said at the start of last night’s program:

MATTHEWS (12/20/07): Is Hillary Clinton trying to kill Obama in his crib? Are we watching a dark campaign carried out by surrogates to stop Barack before he catches fire? Let`s play Hardball!

Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews. The Hot Topic tonight: Is the Hillary Clinton campaign trying to obliterate Obama`s candidacy, not just beat it but strangle it in the crib before there`s any chance he catches on? That`s our Hot Topic tonight.


But first, the Hot Topic. More efforts today by the Clinton people to smother the Barack Obama campaign in its crib.

Can you spot the ranter’s key talking-point? The talking-point about trying to kill, strangle and smother a certain guy in his crib? But then, Matthews is an old American type, cleaned up a bit for modern cable. For months, his show has been pure propaganda—and last night, the ranting was easy. Indeed, he had been even more bizarre on Thursday’s Morning Joe, offering an uninterrupted, two-minute-plus rant about the Clinton Christmas commercial. (His theme: Hillary thinks she’s better than us!) But eight hours later, the ranting continued. After parading a string of troubling claims about the Clinton campaign’s troubling conduct, he prepared to bring on his first guests:

MATTHEWS: The picture is not pretty—but it could be very well be deadly. The goal is to smother the young senator in his crib. Whether it’s right or wrong is, as in much of politics, a matter of how you look at it.

Is it right or wrong to smother a young senator in his crib? According to this cable ranter, it’s a matter of how you look at it!

Yes, Matthews would just be a laughable clown—if he weren’t so influential within the “press corps.” And of course, some of the amusement would derive from his endless lack of knowledge. Last night, the ranter was extremely upset about the way Bob Kerrey mentioned Obama’s family background and personal history. Mark Green offered his opinion—Kerrey had probably meant no harm. Check the remarkable thing the ranter said in reacting to Green’s comment:

MATTHEWS: OK, I can give him that. If anybody would say—everybody knows Bob Kerrey. He’s a little bit light-hearted, to put it lightly. He might have well said—he might have said the guy’s middle name is Hussein. He might have brought up about the fact—talked about the fact that his mother and his grandmother were Islamic. But we’ve got a new poll out that says that 8 percent of the American people now believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Are they getting that idea from comments like Kerrey’s?

Say what? Kerrey might have talked about “the fact” that Obama’s mother and grandmother were Islamic? Kerrey hadn’t said that, of course; and surely, no one thinks that Obama’s beloved, Texas- and Kansas-bred mother had been “Islamic.” Except actually yes, one person thinks that—and he’s a major cable ranter! All these comments escaped his lips during last night’s Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Let’s take a look at Bob Kerrey`s apology today. "What I found myself getting into in Iowa"—this is former senator Bob Kerrey—"and it was my own fault, it was the wrong moment to do it, and it was insulting. I mean no disrespect at all." That’s when he talked about Barack Obama’s middle name being Hussein and the fact that his mother and maternal grandmother were Islamic, and are Islamic.

MATTHEWS: Just a minute, guys. I can keep count here. They went after him on our show last week on cocaine. They went after him on what he said in his kindergarten years. They went after him on having the middle name Hussein. They went after him on having Islamic parents and grandparents. What else is left to hit him on?

MATTHEWS: No, not his Muslim faith. Don`t fall for this. Eight percent of the American people believe he is Muslim. That is not true. His mother— [interrupted by guest]

Four separate times, Matthews voiced the bogus idea that Obama’s “mother and maternal grandmother” were “Islamic”—that he had “Islamic parents and grandparents” (plurals). As he did so, he kept complaining that the Clinton campaign is making people think that Obama’s a Muslim!

(Note on the obvious: There’s nothing wrong with being Muslim. Obama is a Christian.)

Our question: Is there any person, in any profession, who knows fewer facts than Chris Matthews? It’s stunning to see this level of ignorance—until you see that the ignorance in question belongs to this particular ranter. Surely, no other newsman is so uninformed as to think that Obama’s “mother and maternal grandmother” were Muslims. But there was the big, dumb, red-faced nut-case repeating this nonsense all last night! And repeating his nastiest mantras, of course. Here’s the way he introduced his program’s final segment:

MATTHEWS: My conjecture here, which I opened the show with, was the Clintons believe they have to stop Obama early. They want sudden infant crib death, is what they want. They want this guy to die before Iowa. And they are unleashing everybody they`ve got, everybody that wants every meal ticket they`ve got, everybody that wants to be a cabinet member, a VP, a staffer. They`re all out there. Bob Kerrey, Vilsack, Billy Shaheen, Mark Penn, Phil Singer.

Everybody who has got a job in mind and they are willing to put the knife in this guy in the crib to get that job. Is that too strong a language, Joe Scarborough?

SCARBOROUGH: No, it is not, because if he wins Iowa, she walks toward the nomination.

Even Joe—who’s much, much brighter than this—agreed to play along. But then, so did Andrea Mitchell:

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Andrea, again, about the way this campaign has to be run...Is this an attempt to get a preliminary shot against this guy? Kill him early? Before Christmas?

MITCHELL: Knee-cap him, if you have to.

Routinely, Matthews is stunningly ignorant. But he does memorize well, of course—and he just hates those negative attacks!

On last night’s program, no one corrected him, at any time, about Obama’s mother. It’s hard Pundit Law on these cable shows—the host ranter is automatically right. Matthews made his remarkable statement four times—and no one said boo about it. But be sure you understand what you’re watching when you watch this nut-case play Hardball. It’s not polite to think of Coughlin, unbalanced ranter of a previous era. But on last night’s program, you saw the pure Matthews. A man who thrives on insult and attack—and a man who has rarely bothered to learn even the simplest facts.

Who on earth, except Chris Matthews, doesn’t know the arc of Obama’s life story? (People! He wrote a superlative, best-selling book about it!) Who on earth is so uninformed that he thinks Obama’s “mother and maternal grandmother” were “Islamic?” It would be stunning to see such ignorance—except from Matthews, where it’s so typical. This is a chimp who uses two tools—Insult and Narrative only.

Indeed, Matthews has long been stunningly ignorant, about the most basic matters. (By the way: When a talker doesn’t know even these basic facts, do you think he knows the history of the pointless kindergarten caper about which he has ranted for weeks?) In Campaign 04, Matthews actually supported John Kerry—plainly tried to defend him against the Swift Boat attacks. But as our archives show in gruesome detail, Matthews never bothered to learn the simplest facts about the incidents under dispute. He would try to argue with the Swift Boat guys—but his ignorance smothered him in the crib every single time

But Matthews, for all his clueless ranting, isn’t our Pundit of the Year. One of his cable stable-mates is. That would be hapless Steve Adubato, who posted a bizarre column this week in which—what else?—he savaged the Clintons. For unknown reasons, Adubato believes that Hillary Clinton has been “a major media darling” all year. And in the course of his own odd rant, he made a stunning comment:

ADUBATO (12/17/07): What's really ironic about Clinton's argument is that it has been the Clinton campaign that has been exceedingly secretive about disclosing the former First Lady's records when she was in the White House. Bill and Hillary want the media to focus on are only the positive aspects of her experience but won't say a word about such topics as "Travelgate;" "Whitewater;" exactly how Vince Foster died; missing billing records; or Hillary's role as architect of the failed effort for universal healthcare.

Does Bill Clinton really want more media scrutiny of these areas of Hillary's so called "experience?" I don't think so. I'm betting if we in the media focused more on these topics, Clinton would argue that the media was being unfair to Hilary [sic]. He would probably say the media was focusing on the "wrong" aspects of Hilary's [sic] experience.

Some day, Adubato will settle on just one spelling of Hillary Clinton’s first name. But surely, his ugly comment about Vince Foster help us see how our basic traditions and values are challenged by these strange ranting pundits.
Good God! In this column, Adubato—a bit less cleaned-up than Matthews is—gives us a fleeting look at the deep disturbance inside the hearts and minds of these important men. According to Adubato, Hillary Clinton “won't say a word about such topics as...exactly how Vince Foster died.” And with this deeply bizarre, ugly comment, we’re introduced to the weirdness inside the soul of these strange, ranting men. More specifically, we’re reintroduced to fourteen years of murder tales—to the dark, crackpot musings that lie behind the ranting of crackpots like Matthews.

All good liberals know to avoid this. On Sunday, for example, Ezra Klein politely discussed what makes Hillary Clinton so “polarizing.” He agreed to refer to the “Whitewater scandal” (Does anyone know what that “scandal” was?) and he agreed to forget the darker lunacies lying behind the past fifteen years of destructive Clinton/Gore-trashing. He kept his thoughts in the sensible realm—the realm where polite journalistic careers are born. And then, thank goodness! Up popped Adubato, to help us remember how deeply kooky the past fifteen years have actually been. He helped us recall the secret lunacy beneath the puzzling surface.

It was Limbaugh who jump-started the rumor, long ago, that Hillary Clinton helped kill Vince Foster—and broken-souled losers have clung to such fantasies down through all the years. In August 1999, for example, a certain red-faced cable ranter had Gennifer Flowers on his show, for a long and bizarre half-hour; she spent her half-hour telling the world about all the people both Clintons had murdered. The ranter said he head no idea that Flowers was going to mutter such things, and who knows—it’s possible he might have been telling the truth, clueless as he so typically is. But when we liberals keep agreeing to disappear this part of our history, we agree to look away from the insides of Big Pundit World’s tortured head. Let’s throw away that “polarizing” euphemism: Why do so many people hate Hillary Clinton? Adubato reminded us this week—and he mentioned “Whitewater” too!

What could Adubato possibly have meant by that statement about Foster? We have no earthly idea. Earlier this year, some of the inmates began to toy with the Foster story again, amusing themselves by meowing that Clinton hadn’t been kind enough to her friend in the last tragic months of his life. But surely, even a man like Adubato knows what sorts of ugly musing he triggers with such a cruel, ugly comment.

But that’s what makes Steve Adubato our Pundit of the Year? He did us all a service this week; he reminded us, in a mercifully obscure column, about what lies behind the rants of these deeply destructive men. (And yes: These are the men who savaged Gore—who sent George Bush to the White House.) Last night, you saw NBC’s king of cable showing off his love of a rant—and his utterly stunning ignorance. But readers! For showing us their tortured souls, we name Steve Adubato our Pundit of the Year.

Final note: Adubato wins our award—but Matthews is the one with influence. Has anyone ever been so uninformed? So red-faced? So deeply unbalanced?

THE PUNDITS’ TALES: Back in 1999, Matthews discovered Jennifer Donahue, who is now, for unknown reasons, Senior Adviser for Political Affairs at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Because she’s presentable and scripts rather well, Donahue is now dragged out every four years to recite the pundit corps’ standard lines about the New Hampshire primary. Last night, on CNN, she said this about the Clinton’s campaign and Obama:

DONAHUE (12/20/07): What Kerrey did the other day and what happened last week on the drug issue with Shaheen, and, moreover, with Mark Penn, who then kept repeating it over and over and over—they're playing the race card. This is not some small thing...This is the race card. They're attacking his race. And I think it's really above the pale. Voters here don't like it.

Note that comment about Shaheen, for later reference. But readers, Mark Penn “kept repeating it over and over and over?” In fact, Penn said the word “cocaine” one time—in an interview where he was asked repeated questions, all of them about the drug matter. But then, why shouldn’t Donahue improve the facts a tad? Here was Matthews, last Sunday:

MATTHEWS (12/16/07): Anyway, even after Hillary apologized to Obama, Clinton's top strategist, Mark Penn, raised drugs again when I had him on Hardball that same night this week.

Penn “raised drugs again?” In fact, Matthews asked Penn a series of questions—and every single one concerned drugs. But then, these people lie to improve their tales the way those around you take air.

By the way, we were surprised when Donahue seemed to diss Shaheen last night (see quote above)—seemed to include him in the vile racist conduct. We were surprised because we saw her on Hardball last Friday, seeming to say just the opposite:

DONAHUE (12/14/07): I don’t think Bill Shaheen, who I also know very well, meant to hurt her [Hillary Clinton]. And he stepped back quickly so that she would—he would get out of the story and she could continue her campaign.

MATTHEWS: Do you think Bill was an agent in that case? I don’t know Mr. Shaheen, I’ve met his wife. Was he an agent in this case or just an uninformed, out of the loop supporter?

DONAHUE: Bill is an old-school pol. He says what he thinks and says too much sometimes and he did that in this case. He wants a nominee who can win. He backed Kerry. The only way for him to get Kerry to win was to take the "whole truth" to Iowa. That was Bill`s idea. He was also the one who took the rope line away for Gore, got Gore to beat Bradley. Bill Shaheen is the fix-it man. It is really bad for Hillary Clinton that he is out of this race. But Bill Shaheen did not get put into a set-up on purpose. Bill Shaheen made a mistake.

Did Bill Shaheen make a stupid mistake, or was it part of a plan? Like the people you see on cable, we have no way of knowing. (In our view, it was a weird thing for him to do on purpose, since his wife is running for the senate and needs Obama voters.) But wouldn’t you know it? Last Friday, Donahue seemed completely sure that Shaheen, whom she knows very well, had simply made a stupid mistake. By last night, though, things had changed. He was part of a vile racist plot.

Did Donahue have a reason for changing her story? Could be. But it isn’t required.

Special report—Return of Kurtz!

PART 3—PUNDIT EVENT OF THE YEAR: No matter who you prefer for the White House, we thought Howard Kurtz wrote a pretty sharp piece in Wednesday’s Washington Post. But even Kurtz seemed to know which names he must, by law, disappear. In Wednesday’s piece, he described the run-up to that October 30 Dem debate—our choice for Pundit Event of the Year. He mentioned two pundits who egged Obama on—but he skipped past a big, major player:

KURTZ (12/19/07): When Obama was languishing in the polls for months, the media tended to fault him for not being aggressive enough against Clinton, rather than for specific positions or comments.

"The problem here may be that Obama remains reluctant to really go after Hillary's character—to portray her as unethical and dishonest on some fundamental level," the New Republic's Michael Crowley wrote. [Howard] Fineman suggested that Obama "attack more in sorrow than in anger" and "argue that Clinton is too polarizing, that she cannot win a general election."

In that passage, Kurtz cites advice two pundits gave Obama in the days before that crucial debate. But he didn’t mention a certain red-faced ranter—a guy who had been jumping up and down on Hardball for weeks, begging Obama to fight-fight-fight hard. Yes, Chris Matthews had been begging Obama to take the fight to the villainess Clinton. And when the big debate began, Matthews’ stable-mate, Tim Russert, gave him the chance:

RUSSERT (10/30/07): Senator Obama, we'll begin with you.

You gave an interview to the New York Times over the weekend pledging in it to be more aggressive, to be tougher in your campaign against your chief rival for the nomination, the leader among Democrats so far, Senator Clinton, who is here next to you tonight. To that end, Senator, you said that Senator Clinton was trying to sound Republican, trying to vote Republican on national security issues, and that was, quote, "bad for the country and ultimately bad for the Democrats." That is a strong charge, as you're aware.

Specifically, what are the issues where have differed, where you think she has sounded or voted like a Republican?

To his credit, Obama still didn’t much want to fight. “Well, first of all, I think some of this stuff gets over-hyped,” he replied. “In fact, I think this has been the most hyped fight since Rocky fought Apollo Creed...” (It was Matthews who had done the greatest part of the hyping.) After that, Obama proceeded to make a statement which didn’t quite answer Russert’s question. But he closed by saying that “what we need right now is honesty with the American people.” Not bad! Russert and his trophy wife, Brian Williams, were able to take things from there.

What followed was a truly remarkable event—a debate like none in presidential debate history. Russert and Williams kept pounding away throughout the two hours, begging Obama and Edwards (and, occasionally, the others) to whack at Clinton’s character. Almost halfway in, it had gotten so bad that Richardson said he wouldn’t play. So what? The pounding from Jack Welch’s Lost Boys just continued from there:

WILLIAMS: On that note, Tim Russert's going to take us into a segment on Social Security.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I want to clear something up, which goes to the issue of credibility.

And just like that, we got another tortured (and misleading) “question” designed to attack Clinton’s honesty.

We went through this remarkable event at the time it occurred. We’ll name it our Pundit Event of the Year, because this debate—and the subsequent Group Punditry—completely transformed the Democratic race. Who would be the best Dem nominee? We aren’t really sure about that. But in this event, two anchors begged Obama and Edwards to attack Clinton all night long—and they finally got lucky with the driver’s licenses, the last of their oppo research-driven questions.

We’d call this the year’s biggest Pundit Event—and everyone seems to know that it must be disappeared. On Tuesday, E. J. Dionne wrote an Odd Account which disappeared what really happened that night. And one day later, even Kurtz seemed to know that Matthews and Russert and Williams must disappear. Whoever you prefer for the Dem nomination, Kurtz wrote a pretty good piece this week, about the disparate treatment of Clinton. But you’ll search in vain for the most striking act in which the playing field got tilted.

Kurtz named a few names in his piece. But insider the world of The Village, some names are much more equal than others. Some names will never get cited. As Dionne and Kurtz reviewed Clinton’s recent slide, Matthews/Russert/Williams disappeared.