Daily Howler logo
RACHEL PUSHES BACK! When Rachel Maddow chose to fight back, the ditto-heads swung into action: // link // print // previous // next //

A remarkable news report: In the February 20 New York Post, Susan Edelman wrote this long report about “New York’s school testing con”—the recent statewide testing scandal which all polite journalists have agreed to ignore. (As best we can tell, the Washington Post has never even reported that this massive scandal occurred.)

Edelman’s report is much more direct than the mush-piece the New York Times published last fall. Just a guess: In such precincts—all through the “liberal” world—most good people know they must cover for Gotham’s billionaire mayor.

In the future, we plan to review Edelman’s report in detail. For today, just click here.

Novelizing Christie and Ryan/And a critique disappears: Again and again, the news is a novel—a novelized story journalistic elites agree to tell.

In Saturday’s Washington Post, Matt Miller described the rise of a hot new novel—and he advanced a novella himself.

The hot new novel Miller described involves Republican truth-tellers. The Washington press has agreed to pretend that Governor Christie is such a person, Miller noted. Miller described the way the corps “swooned” over Christie’s speech in DC last week. In that speech, Christie made blatantly obvious observations, like many others before him:

MILLER (2/26/11): Christie merely said that Social Security's retirement age would have to be raised and Medicare would need to be tweaked lest it bankrupt us—things that less sexy pols, such as Democrats Dick Durbin and Mark Warner, have noted without anyone fainting in admiration.

Huh! Durbin and Warner have said the same thing! (Along with a wide range of other pols.) But when Christie says it, he’s a “truth-teller.” Or so the Group Novel goes.

(As Miller notes, Christie didn’t say that higher taxes will be needed to bring future deficits under control—so where was his truth-telling there?)

According to Miller, a second novel is being crafted about Rep. Ryan. (Paul Krugman has often described this tale.) In this novel, Ryan is cast as a bold budget hawk. Miller said that’s nonsense too:

MILLER: Thanks to House budget chief Paul Ryan, it's possible to measure the size of this fraud. And it's colossal. As can never be said often enough, Ryan is absurdly hailed as a fiscal "conservative" for a "roadmap" that doesn't balance the budget until the 2060s and that adds an unthinkable $62 trillion to the national debt between now and then. How can this be the case when Ryan puts forward trims for Social Security and Medicare so "bold" that most Republicans wouldn't dream of supporting them? Because Ryan also pretends we can keep federal taxes at their recent historic levels of 19 percent of gross domestic product as the boomers age.

No can do. The math doesn't work. Ryan's endless red ink proves this.

Weird! Accepted Group Novels are being written about these well-known public figures. They’re being lionized as truth-tellers, budget hawks, even though they’re telling “half-truths, at best”—even though they’re involved in a “fraud.” But then, this is a very familiar process within the Washington press. Indeed: Back in December 1997, Miller loudly complained when his colleagues began to fashion a novel about Vice President Gore—a novel in which Gore was cast as a feckless liar, just like Bill Clinton. Miller noted how foolish this nascent claim was—but his colleagues kicked him down the stairs. (Click here, then search on “Miller.”)

They kept typing their novel for three more years. George Bush ended up in the White House.

(In March 2000, Post ombudsman E. R. Shipp devoted a column to this novel; she noted the dishonest way the Post was “typecasting” Gore. Her criticism was right on point—and her observation was thrown in the trash, just like Miller’s before it.)

In 1997, Miller noted the start of a punishing novel. Fourteen years later, he marvels at the rise of a new set of Standard Group Tales. But wouldn’t you know it! Even as Miller rolls his eyes at the new novel, he seems to contribute to a reigning novella!

Within the guild, it’s Hard Pundit Law; you must be kind to other made men. Here’s how Miller treated the one major journalist he felt forced to criticize:

MILLER: No can do. The math doesn't work. Ryan's endless red ink proves this. Yet the Ryan Ruse has been such a success that even the normally unblinkered Charles Krauthammer fell prey to it in his column Friday, citing Ryan as part of “a new generation of Republicans” who have looked at the debt and “are putting the question to the nation: Are we a serious people?” Sarah palin, too, has endorsed a plan that won’t balance the budget until her daughter Bristol is in her 70s!

Does Miller really believe that Charles is “normally unblinkered?” Forgive us if we wonder. But then too, Miller seemed to feel that guild regulations required him to say something nice about half-truth-telling Christie:

MILLER: Now, don't get me wrong. I find Christie's brash style refreshing. But we're so accustomed to political flimflam that, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan might have put it, we're defining truth-telling down. For Christie to be rhapsodized for saying we need to reform entitlements without adding that federal taxes will have to rise as America ages makes him a half-truth-teller at best.

And half-truths are all we have from the GOP so far.

Christie is telling a half-truth—“at best.” As Miller knows, this is the major way Big Pols deceive us rubes. Beyond that, Miller even seems to say that Christie’s involved in “political flimflam”—in a “fraud.” Yet Miller somehow found himself saying that he “finds Christie's brash style refreshing.”

Is that what Miller really thinks? Forgive us if we’re puzzled.

Shouldn’t a serious person be angry at someone who’s telling a half-truth “at best?” Who’s involved in “political flimflam”—a “fraud?” It isn’t permitted within the club! And just in case you doubt these things:

Go ahead—scan Miller’s column on line. The part about Charles has been wiped away. Somehow, the heresy got into print. On-line, it has been disappeared.

Special report: Rise of the ditto-heads!

PART 1—RACHEL PUSHES BACK (permalink): Last Thursday evening, February 24, Rachel Maddow began fighting back—fighting back against the cretins who had “slandered” her and her staff. (Maddow said these cretins had called her a “liar,” though no such thing had occurred.)

These cretins lurk beneath a bridge at the Politifact web site. Six days earlier, on February 18, the nervy site had dared to critique a bungled report by Maddow.

Things got ugly when Rachel pushed back. But first, a bit of background:

On Thursday evening, February 17, Maddow had opened her eponymous program with a report about the Wisconsin budget. (For the full transcript, click here.) As she spoke, the budget fight was in its third day; the protests by Wisconsin state workers were gaining the nation’s attention. But alas! Maddow’s report was deeply flawed—confusing and self-contradictory. As a courtesy, we’ll assume the bungled report was prepared by a Maddow Show staffer. But the ginormous bungling in the report should have left Maddow embarrassed.

No such luck—this is cable TV! Back to our basic narrative:

One day later, on February 18, Politifact posted its review of Maddow’s bungled report. In its headline, Politifact featured the following statement by Maddow:

“Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, the state is on track to have a budget surplus this year.”

Say what? Maddow had led her report with a rather puzzling statement. Indeed, the fuller opening of her report made Wisconsin’s budget problems sound like a day in the park:

MADDOW (2/17/11): Good evening, Lawrence. Thanks very much for that. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

I’m here to report that there is nothing wrong in the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is fine. Wisconsin is great, actually! Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year.

I am not kidding! I’m quoting their own version of the Congressional Budget Office, the state’s own nonpartisan “assess the state’s finances” agency.

Things were rosy in Wisconsin—or at least, so it seemed. “There is nothing wrong in the state of Wisconsin,” the millionaire broadcaster said. In her usual self-assured way, Maddow assured her viewers that “Wisconsin is great”—and that she wasn’t kidding.

The next day, Politifact featured that one statement in its headline, though its full report treated various aspects of Maddow’s presentation. Politifact scored that key statement “false.” At the end of its piece, the site gave the same rating to Maddow’s full “take” on the subject.

Time for a second bit of background, this time concerning Politifact:

Politifact is a fact-checking site operated by the St. Petersburg Times. It launched in the summer of 2007. In 2009, it received a Pulitzer Prize, though you can’t always go by that.

Politifact isn’t always right in its judgments; the last time we checked, no one is. In our view, the site labors under a bit of a conceptual strait-jacket. Politifact scores all statements on a scale defined by “true” and “false.” (Its standard categories include these: Barely true, half true, mostly true, false.) But in the real world, the most problematic public statements are almost never technically false; instead, they are grossly misleading. Professionals can thoroughly mislead the public without ever making any false statements. Indeed, Maddow would try to prove this point before this battle was done.

Politifact isn’t always right. That said, we’d give the site a grade of A-minus for its review of Maddow’s report. If we were grading both parties in this first exchange, these are the grades they’d receive:

From the Howler grade-book:
Original report by Maddow: D
Politifact review: A-minus

There were some flaws in Politifact’s work, but the flaws were minor. By way of contrast, Maddow’s report had been heavily bungled, as Politifact pretty much said.

Maddow had offered a bungled report. But as we noted in real time, this wasn’t hugely surprising (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/21/11). In the days before her report, a great deal of misinformation was floating around the liberal web concerning the Wisconsin budget. One day after Maddow’s report, several major liberal analysts began correcting their own mistakes; this included the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, a frequent guest on, and source for, MSNBC programs. (To review Klein’s second self-correction, click here.) To the extent that Maddow’s report ever made any sense, it seemed to follow the bungled narratives which had been widespread on the web. Those errors would soon start getting corrected—except on the Maddow program.

Maddow had fumbled—and Politifact challenged. So these wheels are supposed to turn. But last Thursday, February 24, Maddow aired a lengthy segment in which she rejected Politifact’s critique, while discussing a kitchen sink’s worth of unrelated, irrelevant issues.

This second, distraction-larded report was an utter embarrassment. The progressive world should be alarmed.

The progressive world should be concerned with work like this from Maddow. Her initial report was very weak; last Thursday’s attack on Politifact was an ungodly, semi-comical mess. Liberals and progressives should be disturbed when we get such work from our millionaire hosts—from the intellectual leaders the folks at GE have been nice enough to pick for us.

We should be concerned by the lack of competence—and, in last Thursday’s second report, by the apparent dishonesty.

Alas! No such concern was expressed in the wake of Maddow’s second report. Instead, the usual suspects began to swear that Rachel had gotten it wonderfully right—that Politifact had been defeated! So here’s a question for liberal history buffs: Remember when we used to laugh at the self-proclaimed “ditto-heads” found on the right? Alas! Now that our side has emerged from the woods, we seem to be breeding our own sorry gang of sycophantic hacks.

Maddow bungled her first report. Her second report was a good deal worse. But so what? The ditto-heads fell into line!

We’ll unpack this unfortunate nonsense in a four-part report.

Tomorrow—part 2: Maddow’s initial report