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DUMBING DEMOCRACY DOWN! Conservatives don’t want real debate, Joe said. Dennis Prager made him look like a genius:


PRAGER SPEAKS—AND SPEAKS; AND SPEAKS: How foolish did it get on Friday night’s Hardball? Late in the segment about his new book, Big Lies, Joe Conason tried to describe America’s political discourse. “My sense of the conservatives is that they don’t want a real debate,” Conason said. “They don’t seek a real debate within the pages of their newspapers, in their talk radio. You know, Rush Limbaugh doesn’t have liberal guests—” And at that point, the scribe was cut off—but not by Hardball host Chris Matthews. Instead, “conservative” pundit Dennis Prager interrupted Conason, as he did throughout the segment. What provoked this interruption? The brilliant Los Angeles talk-show host was deeply puzzled by something Joe said:

PRAGER: What newspapers? What newspapers? What—what newspapers?
Prager was shocked by Conason’s reference to conservative American newspapers. Joe asked Dennis to stop interrupting. But Prager demanded to be heard:
CONASON: Dennis, can I finish without you interrupting me? Can I finish once without you interrupting me?

PRAGER: You’ve spoken about four times as much as myself.

CONASON: No, I have not.

PRAGER: You have spoken four times without my interrupting. But, you made a point that I just—

CONASON: I have spoken four times without—How about if I could speak every time without you interrupting?

PRAGER: —want qualification on. What are the conservative newspapers?

“Joe, your turn. It’s your book,” Matthews said. But Prager just kept interrupting:
PRAGER: You made a point, and I would love to know what they are. That is all. I’ll let you finish.

CONASON: If you’re quiet—

PRAGER: You made a silly point. I want you to explain it. You said “conservative newspapers.” Name them, other than the Wall Street Journal.

A silly point! Prager apparently hasn’t heard of the Washington Times, the New York Post, the Boston Herald, the Daily Oklahoman. Obviously, such papers have every right to their viewpoint, but Prager—in dreamland—doesn’t know they exist. But he did know what he had to do—he had to keep interrupting Conason. And as he did, he helped prove the scribe’s claim: Many “conservatives” don’t want real debate. They want to voice their vacuous spin-points—and to shout down the views they don’t like.

Just how dumb was Prager’s performance? The pundit clowned from start to finish, making a joke of the segment. Most laughable was his response to Matthews’ opening question. Matthews posed a standard question: Why is talk radio so heavily conservative? Not wanting “to be snooty in any way,” Prager expressed his vainglory:

PRAGER: I think it is dominated because we do have better ideas. I believe that liberal thought is almost a contradiction in terms. I don’t mean to be snooty in any way, but I believe that liberalism is overwhelmingly felt, not thought through, and here’s just so much you can emote about compassion before people get bored. The thinking people tend to think in terms of the way in which we on talk radio do, and they therefore tune in more.
Not trying “to be snooty in any way,” Prager said that talk radio tilts to the right because “the thinking people” agree with conservatives! Maybe it’s possible to be dumber than that, but we’d hate to see such a vast project tried.

After all, why in the world would “thinking people” tune in to hear Dennis Prager? He hasn’t heard of the Washington Times, and he seemed determined to spend the rest of the segment showing off his utter foolishness. For example, as Conason tried to speak about bias in the media, Prager jumped in with a list of offenders. “What about the universities?” he interrupted. “What about the universities, or the American Bar Association, the American Library Association, American Nursing Association?” Sigh! Conason had to waste more time, explaining that the American Nursing Association isn’t a part of the media. But as we all know, the “thinking people” who tune to talk radio are endlessly gulled by such stupid distractions. It’s just too bad that Conason’s time had to be burned up this way.

Why would “thinking people” tune to Prager? Perhaps to see him jump to conclusions while being clueless about the facts. At one point, Conason described Ann Coulter’s red-carpet treatment on network TV when she published her liberal-bashing book, Slander. “The red carpet was rolled out for [her] to tell her side of the story,” he said. Interrupting for himself this time, Matthews lodged an erroneous complaint:

MATTHEWS: Yes. By the way, there’s something inaccurate in your book. There’s something inaccurate in your book, because you said that she was on my show, Hardball, eight times. I’d be surprised if she was on once.

CONASON: No, that’s what Nexis shows, Chris. You’ll have to correct it with them.

I’d be surprised if she was on once? The record is clear on this matter. When Slander was released in the spring of 2002, Coulter appeared on the Wednesday, June 26 Hardball to discuss the book with guest host Mike Barnicle. And six days later, the tough-talking author was back. At the top of the Tuesday, July 2 show, Matthews promo’ed her upcoming segment. “Ann Coulter returns to Hardball to defend her argument that liberals hate America,” he said. When the segment with Coulter began, here’s how Matthews introduced her:
MATTHEWS: The “Big Story” tonight on Hardball: Ann Coulter is coming back tonight and her new book is called Slander—Liberal Lies and the American Right. Ann joins us right now from L.A. Ann, thanks for joining us.
To all appearances, Matthews knew this was Coulter’s second appearance in support of her book. And in the weeks and months that followed, Coulter did regular guest spots on Hardball. She appeared on August 14, September 2, November 15, December 5, January 2, and January 16, always introduced as the author of Slander. Presumably, these comprise the eight appearances to which Conason’s book refers.

I’d be surprised if she was on once? The Hardball host was up to old tricks, misstating the simplest facts. But Dennis Prager—a “thinking person”—was certain that Matthews just had to be right. Obviously, he didn’t know the facts of the case. But Prager interrupted again and again, demanding that Conason apologize:

CONASON: What I would appreciate right now, Chris—

PRAGER: He’s telling you [laughter]—

CONASON: What I would appreciate right now, Chris—

PRAGER: He’s telling you how many times she was on your show!

CONASON: I’m telling you how many times Lexis-Nexis—

PRAGER: That’s not—that’s not credible.

CONASON: Dennis, I’m telling you how many times—

PRAGER: I understand, but he knows how many—I—I—I—

CONASON: Hey, Dennis. Can I speak?

PRAGER: Maybe, but you say you got—all you have to say is, “I got an erroneous figure. I’m sorry.”

CONASON: I am not going to say that.

PRAGER: You are defending against a guy who had it on her show! [sic]

On and on the clowning went. To state the obvious, Prager didn’t have any idea who was right. But he kept interrupting, badgering, hectoring—and soon, the time had been run off the clock and Conason’s segment was over.

Obviously, there are any number of American conservatives who are both intelligent and polite. Last week, for example, Conason guested on Kudlow and Cramer, where he had a perfectly civilized discussion with conservative host Larry Kudlow (Cramer was on vacation). But American conservatism is increasingly dominated by its know-nothing, dumb-it-down, pseudo-con wing—by loud, intemperate fumblers like Prager. They’ve never heard of the Washington Times. They think that nurses are part of the media. They demand apologies where they don’t know the facts. “My sense of the conservatives is that they don’t want a real debate,” Conason said at the start of the segment. Self-cast in the role of the consummate dumb-ass, Prager let us know he was right.

BOOK NOTES: In fairness, Conason’s book could be more clear about Coulter’s Hardball appearances. Only two of her eight appearances were specifically devoted to discussing Slander; a reader of Big Lies might get the impression that all eight spots concerned the book. (Repeat: Coulter was introduced every time as the author of Slander.) But Matthews’ complaint was totally bogus. Why would Matthews pretend that Coulter never discussed her book on his show? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But pathological faking of basic facts has been Matthews’ pattern for almost a decade. Everyone knows it—except Dennis Prager. Swamped with calls from his “thinking people,” Dennis Prager, major dumb-ass, hasn’t heard.

TRANSCRIPT NOTES: Be careful if you read the transcript of Friday’s Hardball.  Prager did so much interrupting that the transcriber ended up in the weeds; several statements are misattributed, and a good deal of “crosstalk” was missed. (Prager never mentioned the Washington Times—that statement was made by Conason.) Trust us—our transcript segments are more accurate than the passages offered on-line. Our suggestion: If Prager will just shut his yap the next time, maybe the thinking people who work for this show will be able to record what is said.

US AGAINST THEM: My tribe is better than your tribe! It’s the oldest, dumbest pre-human instinct, hard-wired into our weak little brains by millions of years of natural selection. And to this day, dumb-asses believe what Prager said—they believe that “thinking people” agree with their views, and that people who disagree with their views are automatically irrational or devious. It’s tribalism at its dumbest—and it rules the world of the talk-show right, where the Limbaughs serve their credulous listeners frightening tales about “The Liberals.” Is my tribe good, and your tribe evil? Intelligent people know better. Just to cite one recent example, here’s Conason himself in Big Lies:

CONASON (page 10): This book confronts the biggest lies deployed by conservatives against liberals…It doesn’t suggest a conspiracy against liberals, or argue that Democrats haven’t brought any of their problems on themselves. And it shouldn’t be taken as a blanket indictment of Republicans or conservatives.

That last point is of special importance to me…Although as a matter of literary convenience I frequently refer to conservatives and Republicans, I certainly don’t believe that every conservative or every Republican is responsible for the offenses discussed in these pages.

Unlike Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, I don’t believe that my political adversaries are uniformly “no good,” or un-American, or greedy, or bigoted, or stupid. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I know from personal experience that generosity, compassion and wisdom cross all partisan and ideological boundaries…

And we shouldn’t have to say this either, but human experience shows us that, in anything like a free society, intelligent people acting in good faith will differ in their views. Only dumb-asses think like Prager. But increasingly, dumb-asses rule the talk-show right. Friday’s Hardball was a sad-sack example.

By the way, according to Hardball’s crosstalk-plagued transcript, Conason spoke 717 words, Prager spoke 428. (Matthews: 711.) Hard to believe, but yes, it’s true: Prager produced all the nonsense which we have described while speaking less than 500 words! Surely, Prager’s a virtuoso. But in this way, American discourse is deeply dumbed-down by the tribune of all “thinking people.”