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IT’S THE STUPIDITY, STUPID! If we could wave a magic wand, we’d take the dumbness away: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 16, 2007

HUSKER HIATUS: We’re off to that great big U in Lincoln, where we’ll speak to some lucky duckies. And, responding to our non-negotiable demands, some botanists are going to take us out here. We’ll return to these precincts on Thursday.

DRUM GETS IT RIGHT: Three cheers for Kevin Drum, who gets it substantially right when he explains why he thinks Chris Matthews is “our most loathsome [male] media star.” Other male pundits may be worse, Drum suggests. But it’s Matthews who does the most damage:
DRUM (4/14/07): I figure that although the general phenomenon of right-wing spewing has done serious damage over the past couple of decades, individual wingnut frothers like O'Reilly and Limbaugh, for all their loathsomeness, have limited influence these days. They draw most of their viewers from the ranks of true believers, so their tirades probably change very few minds. Their audience already agrees with them.

But that's not true of my three choices. Matthews' audience is probably mostly liberal and centrist liberal, and he convinces them that liberal politics is an idiotic clown show.
For what it’s worth, O’Reilly isn’t an ideological “right-wing” “wing-nut” in the way some others are, although large parts of his work are astoundingly bad. (Other parts aren’t.) In a brief initial post on this subject, Drum said he doesn’t watch a huge amount of TV. His description of O’Reilly may reflect that embarrassing cultural deficit.

But readers should consider Kevin’s assessment of the role played by Matthews. Indeed, Drum’s post helps us see why it’s unwise for liberals to accept the notion that Fox (or other conservative orgs) have been the main problem confronting Dems in the past fifteen years. Yes, Fox does tons of horrible work; for one small example, the “all-star” discussion on Friday’s Special Report was truly a work for the ages. But Fox and other conservative orgs largely speak to the 30 percent; by themselves, they can’t tip the balance in American elections. The balance was tipped in the 1990s when the big mainstream organs—the Post and the Times—staged bizarre wars against Clinton and Gore. This history is abundantly clear, but the mainstream press corps keeps pretending this didn’t happen (as we saw again last week). They’re very happy to aim us at Fox, thereby deftly disappearing their own central, crucial misconduct.

For ourselves, we’re less concerned with Matthews’ effect on his audience than with his effect on his fellow insider scribes. On Hardball, we see the modern mainstream “press corps” constructing its endlessly silly group narratives. For those of us who don’t get invited to their cocktail soirees, this is as close as we’ll ever get to seeing this group’s script-writers in action. In the past fifteen years, this is where battles have been decided. These are the people who invented Whitewater—and these are the people who scripted that war against Gore, the one which sent Bush to the White House.

No one worked harder than Matthews to tell us what a fake Gore was. Today, he aims gender-based insults at Hillary Clinton—and transfers old hero tales to Fred Thompson. You just believe Thompson, this talker now says. Eight years ago, he was quite certain too; it was Bush who you’d want to drink beer with.

IT’S THE STUPIDITY, STUPID: While we’re at it, three cheers for Atrios for this comment concerning one part of the Imus matter:
ATRIOS (4/14/07): [F]orget racism, what strikes me about our media elite are how profoundly stupid they are.
Was the Imus show racist? That isn’t as simple a question as it may seem to those who have only read the show’s transcripts. For example, when Imus would aim insults at (with apologies) his “money-grubbing” Jewish bosses, you weren’t supposed to think that he actually meant it. (Although some listeners may not have realized.) He was engaging in old-world “insult humor;” indeed, on his final program, he said he did this type of “humor” because it’s the easiest, dumbest type out there. (No real doubt about that.) Yes, Imus and his players (especially Bernie) sometimes made their insults a bit too convincing. But no, it isn’t especially easy to assess the I-host’s inner life.

On the other hand, it’s easy to say this; Imus’s program was endlessly dumb. Indeed, if we could wave a magic wand and steal one arrow from the media’s quiver, we’d rob them of their relentless stupidity—the trait which Atrios highlights. (Case study: This brainless report from Sunday’s Style section about why Al Gore is so god-d*mn fat. They never stop this sort of thing—and yes, they’re very selective.) Most of the race- and gender-based insults would disappear under this regime. But so much else would disappear too! Let’s face it; if TV pundits weren’t allowed to be stupid, they’d pretty much have to go off the air. We’d start to return to an earlier age, in which voters were told what the candidates said and left to form their own judgments.

In our view, liberals, centrists and intelligent conservatives would be wise to focus on the stupidity. In truth, there isn’t a whole lot of blatant “racism” in our political discourse (though there’s some). But the stupidity is constant—and it’s widely accepted. (Listen up, people! Mars is warming!) In yesterday’s long Meet the Press session on Imus, this problem was never mentioned. Nor did anyone wonder if it’s OK to call major public figures “Satan” (never any real sign of joking there), or if it was OK to say that Gore is the world’s most evil person. Imus said that for years (no sign of joking). Then he’d wonder if the sunspots were driving global warming.

Stupidity has driven our discourse for years, making a joke of our national interests. It was all over Imus’ air. Only Frank Rich didn’t know this.