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HOW TO SPIN SOCKS! Chris kept spinning Sandy’s socks. O’Reilly and York were more fair:

IF IT FEELS GOOD, WRITE IT: To see the shape of modern “journalism,” consider the opening of Maureen Dowd’s column. “The capital has plunged into satire,” Dowd writes. Then she herself performs a parody of good journalistic practice:
DOWD: There's the bizarre investigation of Sandy Burglar, as the respected former national security adviser has now been dubbed, pulling a Fawn Hall and smuggling stuff out of the National Archives in his fine washables.
Way back when, Fawn Hall did remove documents by stuffing them into her underclothing. But did Sandy Berger do this too? Dowd doesn’t have the slightest idea. But so what? Yawning at the discarded norms of her craft, Dowd asserts a damaging fact—a fact she can’t know to be true. Let’s be fair—Dowd is very upset this week because someone else gets to be Catwoman now. But she recites a current piece of spin—spin she can’t possibly know to be true—and shows us the hiss/spit/purr/meow ethic with which her sad tribe blights our age.

What happened when Berger left the National Archive with those docs? At present, nobody knows. It may be, as Berger says, that he took the documents inadvertently, absent-mindedly putting them into his briefcase. Or it may be that he took them on purpose. Meanwhile, why has the probe of Berger lingered, only to be leaked this week? At present, nobody knows that either. It may be that the Justice Department has been working the case with due diligence. Or it may be that Justice has dawdled so they could leak it at the right time. No one knows which things are true. But Dowd—Hiss! Spit!—gets to act otherwise.

Jounalists shouldn’t assert things they can’t know. But if you want to keep score this week, here’s how to tell if a scribe is pandering to RNC interests:

  1. Pandering scribes will talk about Berger stuffing documents into his socks.
  2. Failing that, they will talk about Berger stuffing things “in his clothes.”
  3. They will pretend they don’t know that Berger was dealing with copies, not originals.
  4. They will pretend they don’t know that Berger has given an explanation, saying the removal of the documents was inadvertent.
Joe Scarborough has played these cards all week. But last night, we watched two bigger names review this story. And guess what? The much reviled Mr. O, Bill O’Reilly, pointed out problems with GOP spin. But we saw Chris Matthews faking it hard, trying to restore the conservative audience he lost by opposing the war.

Yep, the repellent Matthews is back in form, playing it dumb to serve his own interests. Eventually, Americans may learn to turn their backs on the fakers and phonies who crowd cable screens. But last night, Chris gave a top-rate performance. Mr. O was, by contrast, rather fair.

MR. O BATTLES THE SPIN: O’Reilly did have some problems last night, especially in his “Talking Points Memo.” But if you watched him in two later segments, you saw him question basic elements of RNC spin about Berger. His first guest was National Review’s Byron York. When York seemed to imply that Berger was trying to steal all the copies of a “scathing report,” Mr. O brought down the hammer:

O’REILLY: OK, but—hey, Mr. York, here’s the deal. The original report remains in the hands of the government. All Berger had access to was copies. So him taking copies out of that room doesn't really matter because this government still has the original stuff. So he can't divert attention from it. He can't cover it up.
York, who was also basically fair, seemed to accept Bill’s statement. Mr. O summarized thusly:
O’REILLY: I want to stay away from the speculation. But even so, he's not going to cover up anything because the 9/11 Commission had access to all of the original documents. They were going to see what Berger saw, whether he took these copies out or not.
Obedient little RNC hacks know not to mention this fact. And Bill’s debunking wasn’t done. He did bring up that shaky “socks” imagery. But just that quickly, he semi-debunked it:
O’REILLY: Now the other thing is that in the New York Daily News—and I respect that paper, they carry my column; they're good reporters, aggressive—they say unnamed archive people saw Berger stuffing it in his underwear and socks. And my question in the “Talking Points” was well, if you saw that, you wouldn't get in today. You can't do that. It's against the law. Stop doing that. So that doesn't make too much sense.
Bill had been more coherent in his “Memo,” saying the sock-stuffing story didn’t make sense because staffers would have stopped Berger if they’d observed such conduct. That is, of course, a speculation itself. But Factor viewers saw two big hunks of RNC spin called into question. Alas! Viewers hadn’t been so lucky when Hardball’s spinning king hit the air.

CHRIS MATTHEWS—HOW TO SPIN SOCKS: O’Reilly’s program wasn’t perfect, but O’Reilly and York were both basically fair. At one point, for example, the conservative York volunteered this opinion:

YORK: I think the Republicans overreached quite a bit yesterday when they suggested this was somehow keyed into the Kerry campaign.
At Hardball, things were different. Let’s explain, in a way we normally avoid. Over the course of the past six years, Matthews has stopped his faking one time only; he did stand up on his two hind legs to express opposition to the war in Iraq. This produced some good cable journalism—but it hurt him with cable’s conservative audience. Now, Matthews is trying to win viewers back, as he again showed last night.

To open the show, Matthews interviewed John McCain. Here’s a taste of the way things went—with McCain, a Republican, defending Berger, a Democrat, against the serial insinuations of Matthews, a “journalist:”

MATTHEWS: What would be worse? He removed documents to destroy them and keep them from reaching public light as to the role the Clinton administration played or didn't play in fighting terrorism after the millennium incident back in—back in the—in the Clinton administration? Or that he simply took the documents to help make a case for the Kerry nomination, the Kerry presidency?

MCCAIN: He says that he took the documents in order to help facilitate his work with the 9/11 commission. I have the quaint idea that perhaps we ought to give someone the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

And that really is a “quaint idea” when Matthews starts chasing conservative viewers. As you’ll notice, the Hardball host forgot to list the explanation Berger had given—the explanation of inadvertence. But then, what would you expect from a guy who opened with a spin-driven question like this?
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that he's capable of stuffing materials in his socks, under his trousers, that sort of a thing, in a very, a very nefarious fashion?
Matthews spun those socks all night. Here he was later on, with Mara Rudman, a former Berger aide:
MATTHEWS: I'm going to ask you this. Wouldn't Sandy Berger, your old boss of four years, know that this is something that’s a no-no? It’s clear as hell you are allowed to look at these documents. You are not allowed to take notes out [of the Archives] unless you check them on the way out. And you certainly aren't allowed to grab the documents themselves and take them out the door. You believe that was an accident on his part?

RUDMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: He accidentally put documents that he was told not to take them out of the room, put them in his socks or whatever? What do you make of all this?

Remember: If you want to serve RNC spin, you’ll just keep bringing up those socks. Of course, Berger has said e accidentally put the documents in his briefcase. Only a clowning clown like Matthews would have him “accidentally” putting the docs in his socks. But then, Matthews clowned all evening long. At one point with Rudman, it got this stupid:
MATTHEWS: Well, let's start there. Do you think he would unconsciously put something in his pocket? Unconsciously? Because that seems to be his implication, unconsciously be taking notes that he knows he is only allowed to take and memorize or get cleared to get out of the room, unconsciously put them into his pocket. You believe he did that?
As Matthews knows, Berger has said that he inadvertently put the documents into his briefcase, but that he knowingly took the notes home (in his pockets). Matthews—engaging again in the kind of clowning which drove his coverage of Campaign 2000—pleasingly scrambled the stories together. And he deftly changed “inadvertent” to “unconscious,” creating a weird-sounding tale.

Over the past six years, Matthews has been one of the most dishonest players in American discourse. For about a year, the war in Iraq scared him straight—but lately, he’s back to his old-fashioned clowning. Read the transcript of last night’s show to see him pander to RNC spin. (Don’t miss his fawning session with Saxby Chambliss.) Men like Matthews want money and fame. They’ll clown on your interests to get them.

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE: There’s a happy ending to our story. A Nantucket denizen, whose name you would know, told us last month that Matthews has just bought a home on the island, too. He thus joins NBC’s “Nantucket elite,” the gang we limned for you last month (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/22/04). Of course that home was purchased by your abused interests. You made one more payment last night.

ONE OF THE STUPIDEST MEN ON CABLE: One of the dumbest men on cable is CNN’s worn-out old pundit, Jack Cafferty. Yesterday morning, Cafferty clowned about Berger’s socks, much like Huddy and Jerrick on Fox (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/21/04). Here’s the start of his worthless presentation:

HEIDI COLLINS (7/21/04): Jack Cafferty joining us now. Hi, Jack!

CAFFERTY: Good morning. I have a question. It's a rhetorical question, but coming up a good part of the night. Is it possible to “inadvertently” put things in your socks? I mean, I just—you know, it would seem to me if you put things in your socks, you would kind of be conscious about putting things in your socks.

BILL HEMMER: And there were others who were saying that's not the case, and that was a blown exaggeration.

CAFFERTY: No, I just—it was a rhetorical question. This has nothing to do with any of the news. It's just something that I was pondering in the middle of the night. I couldn't sleep.

“This has nothing to do with any of the news,” Cafferty said—and that would be a good description of much of the clowning now broadcast on cable. Soon, the empty old man returned to his clowning:
HEMMER: How'd you sleep, by the way—all right?

CAFFERTY: Well, I just couldn't get that question out of my mind. It just troubled me most of the night.

HEMMER: Stand by.

CAFFERTY: “Inadvertently.”

HEMMER: Back in a moment.

CAFFERTY: I tried to “inadvertently” put some stuff in my socks this morning—

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: —but I knew right away that I had put things in my socks. You know what I'm saying?

HEMMER: I’m with you, buddy.


Poor Hemmer! He just couldn’t make his old “buddy” shut up! In our society, of course, you can only be this dumb when you clown for six figures on cable.

POODLE TO THE POWERFUL: In the past week, Hardball viewers have been treated to more of Matthews’ fawning to Arnold Schwarzenegger. As we noted, Matthews pandered to Candidate Arnold throughout last summer’s recall election. In the past week, Matthews’ discussion of Arnold’s “girlie man” comments have taken him back to that sad, sorry posture. Specifically, Matthews wants viewers to know that he gets to pal around with Herr Arnold. Here he was Monday, impressing the rubes as he chatted with RNC head Ed Gillespie:

MATTHEWS (7/19/04): Now, what do you make of that “girlie men?” Is that OK, to call your opponents, your political opponents “girlie men?”

GILLESPIE: Well, obviously, it’s a trademark Schwarzenegger line from a movie, as I recall. I haven't seen all of his movies, but I think it was from his movies, or from a take-off, I guess, from Saturday Night Live. And a little humor in politics is fine, I think, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, he called me a girlie man one time. We were talking casually, and I said, you know, “Unlike you, Arnold—your Maria, your wife lets you smoke cigars in the house.” And I said, “My wife, Kathleen, will not let me smoke cigars. I got to go out on the porch.” And he said, “You're what we call in Austria a girlie man!”


GILLESPIE: Well, if—

MATTHEWS: Do you think he should apologize for this or laugh it off? That's what I want to know.

GILLESPIE: If that's the criterion, Chris, then I’m with you.

Key line: We were talking casually. We’ll bet that story plays well on Nantucket—after the squires take turns recalling how tough it was back in the neighborhood.