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ON LOAN FROM FOX! Fox has advanced a silly claim—but even the HuffPo has bought it: // link // print // previous // next //

Defining Bachmann down, Will edition: On October 15, the New York Times did a large, two-part, front-page profile of Republican “lightning rod” Michele Bachmann (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/20/09). According to the Times’ Monica Davey, Bachmann is “loathed” by many Democrats for her “outrageous claims” and her “reckless lies.” But a reader would have had a hard time understanding why, so thoroughly did Davey soften Bachmann’s various speeches and statements.

Davey defined Bachmann’s odd statements down. On Sunday, George Will continued the process in this Washington Post op-ed column.

(To this day, Will’s column is headlined thusly on-line: “Bachmann: the GOP’s petite pistol.”)

After a foolish opening narrative which turned Bachmann into a naïf-of-the-people, Will examined two—Count em, two!—of the lady’s statements. In this passage, Will admits that Bachmann can sometimes misspeak. But he defines her misspeaking down nobly:

WILL (10/27/09): After six years in the state Legislature, she ran for Congress and now, in her second term, has become such a burr under Democrats' saddles that recently the New York Times profiled her beneath a Page One headline: “GOP has a lightning-rod, and her name is not Palin.” She is, however, a petite pistol that occasionally goes off half-cocked.

For example, appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball" 18 days before last year's election, she made the mistake of taking Chris Matthews's bait and speculating about whether Barack Obama and some other Democrats have "anti-American" views. In the ensuing uproar—fueled by people who were not comparably scandalized when George W. Bush was sulfurously vilified—her opponent raised nearly $2 million and her lead shrank from 13 points to her winning margin of three.

Will seemed to acknowledge that the GOP’s “petite pistol” had “gone off half-cocked” on Hardball. But he defined Bachmann’s “mistake” down quite nobly, suggesting that she had been baited by Matthews—and that she’d simply taken his bait. If so, she took his bait again and again during the lengthy Hardball segment, in which she repeatedly said and suggested that Obama and various members of Congress hold views which are “very anti-American.” (Her words.)

Sadly, this was the only “mistake” Will would ascribe to Bachmann. As he continued, he said Bachmann has been criticized for “supposed excesses” which weren’t excessive at all:

WILL (continuing directly): Some of her supposed excesses are, however, not merely defensible, they are admirable. For example, her June 9 statement on the House floor in which she spoke of "gangster government" has been viewed on the Internet about 2 million times. She noted that, during the federal takeover of General Motors, a Democratic senator and one of her Democratic House colleagues each successfully intervened with GM to save a constituent's dealership from forced closure. One of her constituents, whose dealership had been in the family for 90 years, told her that the $15 million dealership had been rendered worthless overnight, and, Bachmann said, "GM is demanding that she hand over her customer list," probably to give it to surviving GM dealerships that once were competitors.

In her statement, Bachmann repeatedly called such politicization of the allocation of economic rewards "gangster government." And she repeatedly noted that the phrase was used by a respected political analyst, Michael Barone, principal co-author of the Almanac of American Politics, who coined it in connection with the mugging of GM bondholders in the politicized bankruptcy. Bachmann, like Barone, was accurate.

Whatever one thinks of this statement by Bachmann, it simply isn’t one of the speeches or statements for which she has been most heavily criticized. (We find no sign that Media Matters has ever critiqued this statement, for example.) Heroically, Will defended a straw man here—and he considered no other statements or speeches by Bachmann at all.

Was Bachmann’s Hardball appearance really her only “mistake?” What would Will say about her long, fantastical speech in which she said and implied that the House health reform bill would put “school sex clinics” in every school—“sex clinics” which would be run by Planned Parenthood, where 13-year-olds would get abortions without anyone telling their parents? (For the text, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/21/09.) Was Bachmann baited, or was this speech admirable? Davey soaped the speech way down. Will simply chose to avoid it.

Davey defined Bachmann’s statements way down, using soft soap to make them seem milder. Will came along and defined the problem down further. If you read both the Post and the Times, you have little idea what the fuss is about when it comes to Bachmann’s speeches and statements. Forget about whether they’re right or wrong: Why do some Democrats “loathe” Will’s “pistol?” Given the pitiful state of our “press corps,” elite news consumers can’t say.

Defining Carlson down too: As he closed, Will mentioned Bachmann’s long-standing personal tie to Fox’s Gretchen Carlson. Readers got to chuckle softly about that right-wing conspiracy crap:

WILL: When she was a teenager in Anoka, Minn., she was a nanny for a young girl named Gretchen Carlson. Today, Carlson, a Stanford honors graduate who studied at Oxford, is a host of "Fox & Friends," the morning show on—wouldn't you know—Fox News Channel. See how far ahead the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy plans?

Mentioning Carlson for no apparent reason, Will chuckles at the idea of a right-wing conspiracy. His column omits a related human-interest fact: When Bachmann defended “one of her constituents, whose dealership had been in the family for 90 years,” she was defending Carlson’s parents—further advancing the heated claims Carlson herself had made on Fox! The Anoka dealership which led to the “gangster government” speech was, in fact, Carlson GM. The business has been in Carlson’s family since 1919. For background, just click here.

No, it isn’t especially relevant. But the analysts chuckled at the selective way Will evoked Carlson’s greatness.

Special report: Opinion kills!

PART 1—ON LOAN FROM FOX: Sunday was a very dumb day on cable. Howard Kurtz, who plainly isn’t dumb, was especially dumb on Reliable Sources, entertaining a string of trivial topics which ended up in a long, tasteless discussion about the hot new sex scandal involving Steve Phillips.

Say what? Who is Steve Phillips, you ask. To which we say: Exactly! Phillips is a thoroughly minor media player—but he apparently got it on with an underling at ESPN, forgetting to tell his wife in the process. This allowed Howie and two fevered pals to waste a good chunk of valuable time talking about Hot Monkey Sex. Where did their fevered discussion end? “Let's be honest. The biggest reason this is in the news is because she's not real good looking,” one of Kurtz’s panelists said, at the end, referring to the unknown Phillips’ even less-known gal pal.

But so it goes in the endless wasteland described as cable “news.”

But the dumbest part of this program came first, when Kurtz and a Gang of Three discussed the recent White House complaints about Fox News. Guess what, people? Your press corps is deeply “conceptually challenged.” This point became clear, once again, when conservative pundit Amanda Carpenter held forth in defense of Fox:

KURTZ (10/25/09): Amanda, why shouldn't the Obama White House push back against what it sees as unfair coverage, just as the Bush White House did when it used to criticize MSNBC, occasionally the New York Times and others?

CARPENTER: I think every politician has the right to push back against what they perceived as being unfair. What they're doing, they're acting like they don't know the difference between the news page, and the editorial pages, the news programs and the editorial programs, at Fox News.
When you have Robert Gibbs saying, I think you should watch the 5:00 or 9:00 hour to see how biased they are. Those are clearly opinion shows.

KURTZ: Beck and Hannity, yes.

CARPENTER: They're acting like they don't know the difference. I think it's just convenient for them, because they need an enemy. There's no longer Bush. There's no longer Cheney. They tried it against Rush Limbaugh. Now they're trying to make it Fox News.

With no challenge from Kurtz whatsoever, Carpenter voiced the thoroughly standard, numb-nutted theory: It’s silly to complain about opinion programs.

News shows? Sure! You can gripe about them! But Glenn and Sean? That’s just opinion! The White House “is acting like they don’t know the difference,” Carpenter numb-nuttedly said. And just like that, HuffPo’s Nico Pitney jumped in to accept her distinction:

PITNEY (continuing directly): I think there's so much evidence that the news programming also has a slant. And it's not just a political. It's factual and not factual. You have a Fox News anchor saying that, falsely—and the facts are out there when he says it—that a gay Obama administration staffer is covering up statutory rape. That goes so far beyond the line. And it's not--it's not--it's about a war on the administration.

Pitney seemed to buy Carpenter’s theory. Rather than say her distinction was bunk, he seemingly rushed to advance it. Rather than challenge her numb-nut distinction, he said that Fox’s news programming has a slant too. To all appearances, he was upset about what had been said about that gay staffer because it was said by an anchor.

The conservative said it, the liberal bought it—and the host didn’t utter a word of challenge. But then, the first person who purchased this worthless theory was the program’s professor--our semi-buddy, Jane Hall. Hall has done some very good work through the years. But early on, at the top of the segment, she bought the claim too. And look where the claim started out!

KURTZ: Fox says that they have reporter who cover the news, and they have opinion guys, like O'Reilly and Hannity and Beck.

PITNEY: Occasionally, they slip up. And you have the senior vice president of programming say, in an interview, that Fox News is the voice of the opposition. I mean, they only--they parade as objective journalists. And some of them do good journalism. But, by and large, the network is a 24-hour campaign against the administration.

KURTZ: I want to come back to that point. Let me turn to Jane Hall. You were a Fox News contributor for 11 years. What do you make of the administration's argument that it's not really a news network?

HALL: I think you do have to differentiate between their commentators and their news. I don't think this is a good strategy for the Obama administration. I personally think they've made a point. Now move on. Put Obama on O'Reilly. Go on Chris Wallace' show. I think they look like whiners.

Uh-oh! In this early exchange, Kurtz attributed this distinction to Fox, where it got started a few weeks ago. And Hall said you do have to buy it.

It’s just opinion, Fox keeps saying. It doesn’t make sense to criticize that! This is an utterly silly claim. But all sectors of the press and pundit corps seem to keep on buying it. Your press corps is deeply conceptually challenged. As always, you pay the price.

This is an utterly silly claim. In the current dispute, it came from Fox. Their claim doesn’t make a lick of sense. Last Friday, our Rhodes Scholar bought it.

Tomorrow—Part 2: Rachel too.