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Caveat lector

WHEN HARDBALL MET SALLY (PART 1)! Chris Matthews said that he knew all along. As usual, the talker was faking:


DON’T STEAL THIS BOOK: We got lucky last weekend in one major way. Eric Alterman’s book, What Liberal Media?, arrived here in the Saturday mail, one day ahead of the pile-driving snow. For that reason, we can now say it without hesitation: It’s your duty as citizens to buy this book, read it, then read it again. The book isn’t perfect—no book is—and we’ll limn it in more detail next week. But Alterman’s book must be bought and read. Please purchase—then study—this book.

WHEN HARDBALL MET SALLY: Do you want to know how badly Chris Matthews deceived Joan Walsh in last Friday’s Salon? We refer to the following part of the interview, where Matthews pimps his brilliant insights at the time of Bush-Gore Debate 3. (The ellipses appear in Salon’s text. Do they signal deletions? We aren’t really sure.):

WALSH: [I]s the media liberal?

MATTHEWS: Well, read the last chapter of my book…

WALSH: Give me the short version.

MATTHEWS: OK, quickly: Just look at who won the third debate between Bush and Gore. I knew Bush won, because people liked him more. People just didn’t like Gore. But all the journalists thought Gore won big, he cleaned the guy’s clock. Everybody was saying that, even Safire…

WALSH: But if Safire says it, then it isn’t a “liberal” point of view…

MATTHEWS: Well, OK, he’s a conservative, but he looks at a lot of things the way elite liberals look at them. The media elite thought Gore proved he knew so much, but the fact was, as they say, Gore knew a lot, but Bush knew enough. People liked Bush.

WALSH: But that doesn’t prove that the media is liberal.

MATTHEWS: Well, then why did the media choose Gore as the winner in that debate, while the people picked Bush?

WALSH: Because you’re right, they overvalued Gore’s being smart, his being quick, knowing details. But that’s not the same as saying the media picked Gore because they agreed with his liberal policies. I think it’s a cultural divide more than a political one—you can’t lump Safire in there and say it’s liberalism...

MATTHEWS: That’s why I can lump him in—it’s not political, you’re right, it’s culture. That’s why they all liked Gore more.

In this exchange, Matthews seems to say that the coverage of Bush-Gore Debate 3 shows you how liberal the media is. Matthews says he knew that Bush won the debate, but that the liberal media “chose Gore as the winner.” He cites William Safire as one example. And he makes another claim—“the people picked Bush” as the winner, he says. In his final statement, Matthews makes an utterly ludicrous claim He seems to say that the media “all liked Gore more” than Bush.

As usual, Matthews was making it up. Let’s take a look at the record.

Did Matthews “know Bush won” Debate 3 (held on 10/17/00)? If so, he kept the news to himself. Here he was the following evening, on CNBC’s Business Center:

RON INSANA (10/18/00): Chris Matthews talks to us tonight as he does just about every night as we approach Election Day…Do you think the debate last night changed anyone’s mind either in the [electoral] college or out there amongst average citizens?

MATTHEWS: Well, that’s a hard thing to figure right now, Ron, because clearly Gore outperformed Bush… [full text tomorrow]

That’s an odd way to say that Bush “won the debate.” Indeed, Matthews seemed unimpressed with Bush’s performance. He told Insana that Gore had been “over-aggressive,” then gave this review of Bush:
MATTHEWS: I also have to counter that with the fact that I thought that, that Governor Bush was lethargic last night, that he lost, he seemed to run out of gas about 45 minutes into the debate, as he did in the first debate. He seems to do better when he’s sitting down. He stays awake longer. I mean, there’s a real choice here between an over-aggressive guy and an under-aggressive, passive guy. And you have to decide which personality you like.
Which personality would voters like? Matthews told Insana that he didn’t know:
MATTHEWS: [T]here are voters and there are scorekeepers. The scorekeepers are saying Gore won last night. The voters, I think, may still be drawn to the personality of George W. Bush more than they are to Al Gore’s. The next three days or four days will tell us who won this debate. We don’t know yet.
“We don’t know” who won the debate, Matthews said. And he expressed this general view on other programs. Earlier, the talker had spoken with Matt Lauer on Today. And he’d called the debate a “draw:”
MATTHEWS (Today, 10/18/00): I think that people are going to see Gore as a Clinton guy, as a government man, as the incumbent, and they’re going to look at the other guy as not the most trained guy to be president, and probably not the perfect candidate. But they do want a change—and I think that’s what it’s about—do you want to hold the course or change? And I think it’s about 50-50, that’s why it was a draw last night. The American people are going to have to make the decision. And it’s about 10 percent of the people who are going to make that decision, including people like me, that haven’t made up their mind yet.
Did Matthews think that Bush had won? On that evening’s Hardball, he once again seemed to say that he didn’t know who had won the debate. After citing poll results from debate-watchers, he said this: “So likability is going for Bush; articulation is going for the vice president, Al Gore. We’ll have to see which way it all works its way out in the next couple of days in the real head-to-head polling.”

And guess what? Two days later, some changes had occurred in that head-to-head polling. Once again, Matthews appeared on Business Center. And Insana noted that two major polls had shifted toward Gore post-debate:

MATTHEWS (10/20/00): Well, you’ve got to decide which poll you’re going to believe…I think this race could be, could be moving towards Bush; it could be moving towards Gore. I think the debate had no impact. That’s my hunch.
“I knew Bush won,” Matthews told Walsh. As usual, he was making it up.

TOMORROW! PART 2! GRAND FINALE: Matthews was wrong about everything else. But Joan Walsh was just playing softball.

For the record, Matthews had no idea how the election was moving. Here was his insider tip on October 20, three days post-debate:

MATTHEWS (10/20/00): Thanks a lot, Ron. It’s good to be on. We’re in San Francisco right now.

INSANA: Oh, San Francisco. What’s the word out there?

MATTHEWS: …I’ve got to tell you, there is an argument being made. I talked to Gerry Parsky, who’s head of the Republican effort out here for Bush. I think that it’s possible in the next week we may see a surprising closing up of this election. There may be a race for the White House here in California, a state that most people assumed to be Democratic. It may well be an open seat, an open chance here for the Republicans.

Oops! Gore won California by 1.3 million votes (12 percent). Matthews had no idea how the race was moving—and he didn’t tell Insana, or anyone else, that George Bush had “won the debate.”

The Daily update

ALL BRAIN CELLS LEFT BEHIND: You really must read this stunning story by the NYT’s Sam Dillon. In it, Dillon reviews the way public schools will be judged as “failing” under the Bush Admin’s utterly brainless “No Child Left Behind” plan.

How will we pick out failing schools? Try to believe this buffoonery:

DILLON: The law says that every racial and demographic group in each school must score higher on standardized tests every year; if any group fails to advance for two consecutive years, a school is labeled “needing improvement.” A school that does not shed the label by improving students’ scores may have its principal and teachers replaced and face other sanctions, including closing.
That’s a stupid idea on its face, but this next part really does seal the deal:
DILLON: “[The law’s] formula will generate some staggering statistics, because it doesn’t distinguish between schools that fall short by just a little and those that miss the mark by a mile,” said Michael E. Ward, president of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the superintendent of schools in North Carolina, where officials estimate that at least 60 percent of schools will be designated under the law as needing improvement. “I support the legislation, but I don’t want it to collapse of its own negative weight.”
Even in the benighted world of public ed, it’s hard to believe that public officials can possibly be this stupid. As everyone knows, variation is normal in educational testing. If School A’s fifth graders are tested this week—then given an equivalent test next week—their group score may well be somewhat lower (or higher). That would not necessarily mean that any negative (or positive) instruction had intervened. Beyond that, School A may have a stronger group of fifth graders this year, and a weaker group of fifth graders next year. If next year’s score is lower than this year’s, it doesn’t mean that School A is providing weaker instruction.

Just how stupid is this law? “In recent weeks the top education officials of many states have complained that the federal regulations…will eventually lead to labeling a majority of America’s 90,000 public schools as failing,” Dillon writes. He describes Bush praising a school for its obvious excellence—with the school tagged as “failing” three months later. And please understand one further problem. Schools will cheat their keisters off to avoid this law’s reach. The law will fail to ID our troubled schools. But it will further compromise our public school testing.

Meanwhile, what’s the frightening part of this story? Public ed was supposed to be the area where Candidate Bush was quite sharp. According to all the relevant propaganda, he’d had all kinds of brilliant success in Texas, where he’d engaged in caring, hands-on work. But the same brilliant man who brought us this law will soon be leading us into a war. And foreign affairs, you may recall, is the area where Bush was judged weakest.

For a further report on the effects of this law, you know what to do. Just click here.