David Brooks Almost Fooled Me

I usually can’t abide David Brooks’s columns, but on the train home tonight, I got around to reading yesterday’s column. I was thinking “Wow! This is one of the best columns of his I’ve ever read! I haven’t gotten pissed off at his stupidity even once!”

Right up until the last paragraph:

Until these and other issues are addressed, the global markets will lack confidence in asset values. Bankers will cower, afraid to lend. America’s role as the global hub will be threatened. Europeans will drift toward nationalization. Neomercantilists will fill the vacuum.

This is the test. This is the problem that will consume the next president. Meanwhile, the two candidates for that office are talking about Bill Ayers and Charles Keating.

Indeed, he had me with him right up through his last sentence, and then he has to go and ruin it. The fact is, comparing Bill Ayres and Charles Keating as Brooks does is a false equivalency. One is a casual acquaintance of the candidate, while the other was the prime mover behind pushing the other candidate onto the national stage.

Worse still, if McCain weren’t talking about Ayers, Obama wouldn’t need to be pointing out McCain’s association with Keating as a way of showing how hypocritcal and dishonest McCain is.

This is what happens all the time among the elite punditocracy — they can’t seem to bring themselves to come out and state the obvious:

One candidate is a disaster, a dishonest and dishonorable man who has taken his campaign into the gutter. And that candidate is John McCain.

Second Presidential Debate

I saw the debate last night but haven’t read any blogosphere reaction. I did watch the PBS and MSNBC post mortems, and talked a bit about it with my roommate (who hasn’t watched the campaign terribly closely, though he’s pretty well-informed as a regular Daily Show/Colbert Report watcher).

  • What was with McCain standing up and wandering around all the time while Obama spoke? There was an enormous contrast between the demeanor of the two while the other party was speaking — Obama was completely relaxed and attentive to what McCain had to say. But while Obama spoke, McCain wandered around, and hardly ever sat down and just listened. I couldn’t help but think that McCain looked like one of the crazy old men you might see wandering about aimlessly in the background at a nursing home. I’m pretty sure I know why he didn’t sit down — he didn’t want to look shorter than Obama — but the end result was that he looked kinda crazy.
  • Obama didn’t take notes even once, so far as I noticed, yet he was completely in command of what he wanted to say and never missed an opportunity to respond to what McCain had said. Obama didn’t *need* notes, yet McCain appeared to.
  • I’m not sure if McCain lied less often or if I’m just getting used to, but I didn’t shout at the TV as often as I have in the first two debates.
  • Could Brokaw’s plan for 1-minute discussion have been any worse? He was asking substantive followups that required more than 1 minute between the candidates (or even 1 minute each), and if they went over, it was Brokaw’s own damned fault for asking what amounted to followup questions that simply required more time than he allowed them. It seemed rather churlish of him to ask such questions and then refuse them the time it took to answer — very seldom did either candidate filibuster in response to Brokaw’s followup questions.
  • Why in the hell would anyone think that Warren Buffet would want to be Secretary of the Treasury?

Otherwise, an uneventful debate. Obama looked more and more presidential and McCain looked more and more out of touch, just repeating the same old stuff.

Incompetent Reporting

Jamison Foser at Media Matters has an editorial about the lack of clarity in the way the media report on “disputes” between the campaigns. An example he doesn’t mention is last night’s ABC News (i.e., Friday, Oct. 3rd), where anchor Charlie Gibson discussed with George Stephanopolous various exchanges in the vice presidential debate. On the topic of “General McClellan” they played Palin’s remark, and they pointed out that it was a mistake in regard to the name of the general. But they said absolutely nothing about the fact that she was completely wrong in characterizing what McKiernan had actually said — Biden was right and Palin was wrong. But all they wanted to talk about was the fact that Biden’s facial expression indicated that *he* knew that she’d gotten the name wrong.

In other words, spend all your time on the simple slip of the tongue (which nobody really cares about at all), and completely ignore a case where the candidate, Palin, utters a bald-faced lie about what was very clearly stated by the general.


If Only I Were a Lesbian!

I’m right now listening to Rachel Maddow’s show on Air America, where she’s rebroadcasting her MSNBC show from the night before, and she’s chatting with Ana Marie Cox, who mentions the cringe-worthy Palin/Couric interview when she didn’t answer the question and just responds with silence. Cox refers to it as a “John Cage moment” and suggests it might be fun street theater to let the whole debate be like that.

What other political commentator anywhere on radio or TV would have people on who know who John Cage is?

I HEART RACHEL MADDOW! (and I’m also thinking from her appearances on Maddow’s MSNBC show that I kinda like Ana Marie Cox quite a bit, too — she’s certainly very entertaining and seems to have really good chemistry with Maddow).

It’s Blinky!

Sarah Palin sure does seem to like the turn of phrase “I didn’t span in the face of…” or “We can’t span when confronted with…”

From the interview transcript:

On the subject of experience (emphasis added):

GIBSON: Governor, let me start by asking you a question that I asked John McCain about you, and it is really the central question. Can you look the country in the eye and say “I have the experience and I have the ability to be not just vice president, but perhaps president of the United States of America?”

PALIN: I do, Charlie, and on January 20, when John McCain and I are sworn in, if we are so privileged to be elected to serve this country, will be ready. I’m ready.

GIBSON: And you didn’t say to yourself, “Am I experienced enough? Am I ready? Do I know enough about international affairs? Do I — will I feel comfortable enough on the national stage to do this?”

PALIN: I didn’t hesitate, no.

GIBSON: Didn’t that take some hubris?

PALIN: I — I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can’t blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can’t blink.

So I didn’t blink then even when asked to run as his running mate.

From later in the interview, discussing intervention in Pakistan (the Obama question, emphasis added):

GIBSON: But, Governor, I’m asking you: We have the right, in your mind, to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government.

PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.

I propose that every time we mention Sarah Palin in blog posts, we deploy the lamented and underused span tag to highlight her strength in the face of adversity, her determination not to waver in the face of opposition, her fantastic pink internal energy that gives her the guts to say NO. Thus:

Sarah Palin is a liar.

UPDATE: George Saunders in the New Yorker is much funnier than I am.

Chris Matthews

I’ve never been a fan of Chris Matthews, who has always struck me as a blithering idiot, so I hardly ever see him. But tonight Rachel Maddow’s new show on MSNBC was pre-empted by coverage of the Public Service forum featuring McCain and Obama. In the coverage afterwards, I observed two things:

  1. Chris Matthews intensely dislikes Rachel Maddow. This seemed blatantly clear in the interaction between them (despite his false-sounding praise of her investigative skills). I don’t know if it is just jealousy over the new kid on the block, or garden-variety sexist resentment, but it certainly came through loud and clear to me.
  2. Chris Matthews is completely ignorant of the context of the modern movement to throw ROTC programs off campus. Back in the early 70s, yes, it was anti-war fervor that caused ROTC protests. But that ended in the Reagan era, with ROTC programs invited back to a lot of campuses that had thrown them out during the Vietnam War era. The present-day anti-ROTC protests have a completely different justification: the conflict between universities’ anti-discrimination policies and the military’s prohibition of gay soldiers. A university that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is going to look awfully inconsistent if it permits and supports a program that tacitly discriminates on that basis. But Chris Matthews doesn’t appear to know any of that.

Why is Chris Matthews still on TV?


The first two segments of last night’s Daily Show (before Newt Gingrich came on for his heavily-scripted appearance) have to be the best Jon Stewart has ever done. The completely over-the-top Larry Craig restroom segment went further than just about anything I’ve ever seen on Stewart’s show, and was just gut-busting hilarious from beginning to end. And then the Foghorn Leghorn/Droopy Dog segment, taking a long-time meme of the lefty blogosphere and illustrating it, was, again, just falling-on-the-floor laugh-out-loud hysterically funny. And to top it off with the flip-flops of Rove and O’Reilly and Palin was just too perfect. I’d read the transcripts of all those flip-flops, but somehow, seeing them in full was just rich beyond belief.

My roommate gets probably 99% of his political news from watching Stewart and Colbert. The fact is, this makes him better informed than the vast majority of the American people. Frankly, ridicule is the only reaction I can see that is logical when you look at the behavior of the Republicans Stewart is ridiculing.

The Power of the Media

Salon’s War Room has a listing today that refers to a Philadelphia Inquirer article on the subject of Bush’s “falling stature as commander-in-chief,” and the degree to which voters have shifted to the point where they even trust the lackluster John Kerry more than Bush (marginally, at least) on handling national security.

I can’t help but think “what took you so long?” for one, but then I ask “what has caused the change?” And I can only conclude that the public has shifted away from Bush only when the media has begun concentrating attention on opponents of Bush, as exemplified by the candidates in the Democratic nomination race.

But it’s not like there has been much of anything new raised by the candidates covered in the campaign coverage, to be honest. It’s just that the message of Bush’s failure as president is getting out to the public because the media is now reporting on positions other than just those the Bush administration approves, that is, the positions of people who believe the Bush administration to be an ongoing catastrophe for our country.

In the recent past, an opposition point of view was nowhere to be found in the major media outlets, but now, just because the national media are covering the Democratic candidates, the opposition message is getting play on nearly every newscast. And, shock of shocks, public opinion on Bush has shifted drastically away from the heights it climbed to after the capture of Saddam in December.

It takes so little, it seems to me, to make a huge difference, even in the face of hugely positive events for the administration. And it all comes down to the judgment of the news media about what is worthy of coverage and what is not.

For me, this is a terribly sobering thought, as such easy gains are far too easy to lose.

But more sobering still is the thought that this irresponsible pack of incompetent journalists who populate our national media have so much power to shape the course of public opinion.

Gore Re-Gored During Washington Post’s Goring of Dean

?Huh, you might ask? Well, I’ve been arguing that what happened to Howard Dean is representative of the media’s habit of not reporting objectively, but in being lazy and reporting their interpretation of the story of a candidate, whether the facts support the story or not. Given the way Gore was treated in the 2000 campaign, I’ve come to call this “being Gored.” I didn’t come up with this first, and I’m not sure who did, but the idea was certainly suggested to me by Eric Boehlert’s mid-January assessment in Salon.com of the media treatment of Dean’s “anger problem.” It’s interesting to compare this column about Dean to one Boehlert wrote about Gore just after election day in 2000. Seems to me that what Dean experienced was exactly the same phenomenon.

What is interesting about all of this is what the Washington Post did with the question of Dean’s “gaffes” in a Jan. 23rd editorial. I only heard about this editorial as it was quoted by media whore Tim Russert in his lengthy Feb. 1st interview with Howard Dean on NBC’s Meet the Press. The transcript is available (for the relevant passage, search the transcript for the word “Quayle”), and from it, we find that Russert placed this question, depending on the words of the Washington Post editorial to do the heavy lifting:

MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post had a very interesting editorial and it tried to put it in context, and let me share it with you and our viewers and talk about it. “Defending the Rant: The speech has caused such big trouble for Mr. Dean because it so graphically evoked already-present worries about the candidate’s temperament. This is a common political phenomenon. Thus, Mr. Quayle’s misspelling of potato was a big deal”–”of underlying doubts doubts about the vice president’s intellect. President George”–Herbert Walker–”Bush’s supposed fascination with a supermarket scanner resonated because of the perception of the president as out of touch with ordinary folk. Likewise, the grief that Vice President”–”Gore took over his alleged boasts to have discovered pollution problems at Love Canal, invented the Internet”–”inspired a character in `Love Story’ was the product of his reputation for self- serving puffery. In each of these cases, the importance of an episode, real or imagined, was inflated because of the pre-existing political condition.”

Do you agree with that?

Where to begin? Dan Quayle’s spelling, George Bush the elder’s supermarket scanner, and Gore’s Internet, Love Story and Love Canal “fabrications” all contrasted with Dean’s “anger.”

They’re all there.

Every last one of them.

Any journalist interested in truth would see that the real conclusion from all of these is that political journalists are incompetent, since every one of these stories except for the Dan Quayle “potato” story is an clear misrepresentation of fact. The Bush scanner incident was created out of whole cloth by the New York Times, and everyone has long known that all three of the Gore stories are false (as well as all the others not mentioned here in this shorthand version of the “Gore is a liar” meme). But the Washington Post editorial board sees each of these little stories as having power only because they are emblematic of certain essential characteristics of each of the candidates involved. But surely, the problem is with these little stories themselves, since they are false (with the exception of the Quayle story), and the real issue is how journalists repeat such false and misrepresented stories. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear that the Washington Post has not mistaken the chicken for the egg, failing to consider that these stories may not be so much emblematic as they are transformative of existing images, that these fabrications have their power not because they are seen as particularly good representations of existing known truths, but because they are such good stories that they completely alter the story by becoming the only stories that get told.

The only valid conclusion from the examples cited in the editorial is that journalists who came up with the Dean anger stories are just as incompetent and untrustworthy as the ones who trafficked in these falsehoods about Gore and Bush senior.

But no, that’s never the lesson that journalists take away from these facts. It’s never their problem, but instead it’s the problem of the candidate.

How can the Howard Dean’s of the world ever succeed in revolutionizing our political system when the media outlets are all staffed by journalists who do not understand that their first responsibility is to truth?

The Disgraceful Tom Brokaw

I fully expected the media reports on last night’s Greenville, SC, debate to dwell on the disgraceful performance of Tom Brokaw as moderator. The very first question (and about half of them throughout the debate) included a misrepresentation (Dean didn’t fire Trippi, as Brokaw said). Other candidates who were forced to correct Brokaw on questions of fact and implication included Clark, Kucinich and Sharpton. Fortunately, all of the candidates were up to the challenge (though Brokaw mean-spiritedly held Sharpton to a higher standard than he held himself). But so far, other than Mike Malloy’s program last night, I haven’t heard or read a word about it.

The worst of it: what kind of professional journalist would repeatedly refer to the Islamic world as the “Nation of Islam?”

Again, as in the New Hampshire debate, Kerry got softball questions, mostly. But Dean never got any substantive questions at all. I’m rather upset about Dean’s decision to go negative — that more than anything indicates to me that Dean is done. But it was heartening to see the candidates not buckle under to the assumptions behind the skewed questions coming from Brokaw. It’s still an awfully good and interesting field of candidates. Except for Lieberman, of course. And kudos to Edwards for standing up for gay rights in a manner that provided the Republicans with some sound bites that they’ll definitely use against him — not only did he say the right things, he got the nuance. It’s clear to me that it’s an issue where Edwards was not pulling the points off of notecards, but an issue that is basic enough that he doesn’t really have to think about the answer to the question.