MONDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2002
POST MORTEM: Intriguing election analyses dot todays papers; we recommend Sebastian Mallabys piece in the Post. Are Democrats brain-dead, as some have asserted? Theres some truth to that claim, the scribe assertsbut Republicans are largely brain-dead too. For ourselves, wed stay away from the naughty language, and Mallaby fails to consider the role of the press in producing our brain-dead discourse. (More on that as the week progresses. Is there a single voter who understood the fight over Homeland Security, for example?) But Mallabys piece helps put the brakes on wild reactions to last weeks election. Did Republicans have a superior message? Read this piece before you throw down your papers and stampede away with the herd.
WHERE DOES SPIN COMES FROM? Did reaction to the Wellstone service tip Minnesotas Senate race? On Sunday, Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press said it apparently did:
STASSEN-BERGER: A new Pioneer Press poll shows Republicans swept to victory in Minnesotas top races Tuesday by doing what both major parties sought to do nationwide: winning vast amounts of independents votes.
Stassen-Berger quotes Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling, which conducted the survey. Youve got a situation where anywhere from one out of four to one out of five got on [Colemans] bandwagon after the memorial service, he said. Larry Sabato, tribune of insider media, also seemed to blame the service. The memorial was quite possibly the most serious mistake made by a political party in recent memory anywhere, he told Stassen-Berger. It offended Republicans, of course, but it also offended independents.
The poll also confirmed that a unique Minnesota eventthe controversial Paul Wellstone memorial that took on the tone of a Democratic rallywas the turning point that drove previously undecided voters to Republican Norm Coleman rather than Democrat Walter Mondale in the U.S. Senate race.
Its always hard to discern voters motives. But when it comes to our current spin culture, it isnt hard to see what happened in the wake of the Wellstone event. Indeed, the aftermath of the Wellstone service was a good example of that prevailing press culture, in which conservative spin quickly runs through the media, becoming conventional wisdom.
As we said in real time, we thought Rick Kahn showed poor judgment in his remarks at the service. But almost instantly, other began to show poor moralsconservative spinners, who immediately began to embellish, exaggerate, dissemble and lie about the Wellstone event. The next morning, Kellyann Conway falsely claimed that attendees were prompted to boo and jeer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/31/02). That night, Tucker Carlson falsely claimed that Republican speakers were shouted down at the service. And the scattered boos within the hall were quickly enlarged and embroidered. Dissembling freely on Hannity & Colmes, Peggy Noonan helped lay out the script:
COLMES: Nobody supported what happened to Trent Lott. I spoke out against it. It was untoward. It was uncivil. Nobody agrees that the booing of Trent Lott was proper the other night. Nobody.
In the Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell also pretended that the entire crowd had been booing (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/8/02), and he offered stupid, ugly rhetoric about Maoists and sinister totalitarians. He also repeated another misstatementthe claim that Senator Lott was forced to leave because of mistreatment by the crowd. Lotts office had said on Day One that it just wasnt sobut the dissembling went on, quite unchecked.
NOONAN: Alan, 20,000 people did it, and they defended it that night and all the next morning, and, when criticism finally came into such an address, the Democrats had to say, OK. Maybe it was a little bit wrong. Finally pushed to the wall, they did.
COLMES: NobodyI didnt hear anybody defend the booing of Trent Lott. Come on.
As everyone knowsexcept, of course, for our mainstream punditsthis is the way the Republican Party now gets its large herd to the polls.
Of course, our public life has always been dogged by dissemblers. But whats notable here is a troubling pattern, which has prevailed in our press corps for years. Many pundits shook their heads over the naughty behavior of Wellstones friend, Kahn. But did you see a single pundit call attention to the dissembling that began right after the service? And how many cable hosts savaged Newt Gingrich, who baldly dissembled about Mondale on Meet the Press before the memorial event even happened? Timid pundits ran to say that Dems misbehaved at the Wellstone event. But did anyone criticize Conway, Noonan, Caldwell or Carlson? How much ire was aimed at Gingrich? To anyone familiar with our recent spin culture, the question surely answers itself. Note: On Capital Gang, Mark Shields made Gingrichs dissembling his Outrage of the Week. But whose conduct was questioned more often last week? Kahns was, with Newt barely mentioned.
What happened in the wake of the Wellstone event? Republican spin-pointsfull of embellishmentswere quickly transformed into press corps CW. Outrage over Kahns address became a dominant talking-point of the late pre-election. And no oneno onechallenged the hype. It was turrible conduct when Kahn chose to preach. It was quite fine when Noonan dissembled.
Final notes: Minnesota Republican officialsincluding party chairman Ron Eibensteineractively promoted the inaccurate claim that the crowd had been prompted to boo. And, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Rush Limbaugh devoted his entire three-hour radio show to the discussion of the Wellstone event. But did you see any Washington pundit suggest that Eibensteiner was playing politics, or wonder about the things Rush may have said? Please. Todays Washington pundit steers clear of Rush. For these pampered, overpaid darlings, life is easiereasier by farwhen they pretend that he doesnt exist.
In Campaign 2000, spin-points from the RNC were routinely adopted by the press corps (for one minor but instructive example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02). It happened again with the Wellstone event. Its the norm now; its not an exception.
PANDER BEARS: Cable nets are always trying to attract those Angry Conservative Viewers. But has anyone ever pandered as hard as Jerry Nachman and Chris Matthews did? On last Thursdays Nachman, the pair staged a shameless panderfest that made us blush and avert our gaze. Here was the ludicrous opening exchange. Things only went downhill from here:
NACHMAN: You know, you and I work in the two hotbeds of media elitism. Youre in Washington and Im also in New York. Im just a few miles from Manhattan. You know the surprise that ran through both of these shops [about the election results]. And I always have this sense that the people we work for, when Republicans win, somehow think that the skinheads conducted a putsch and ran out of the mountains of Idaho. And Ive been trying for 10 or 15 years to teach them that, regardless of whos right and whos wrong, the people voting for these Republicans may not be them and their friends, but its their aunts and uncles and cousins. Its normal people who are voting for them. Why is that a hard story to sell?
In this exchange, Nachmans gruesome self-glorification is matched by Matthews rancid class-baiting. And just try to fathom the sheer stupidity of the factual assertions the fast-talker makes. Fed-up Minnesotans threw out the DFL in 1978? Somehow, those same fed-up Minnesotans elected Wellstone in his last two Senate elections! But when Matthews starts fawning, there is nothing so foolish that it wont become part of the stew. Nachman, of course, nodded dumbly.
MATTHEWS: Well, because, if you get up in the morning and read The New York Times and you go to Woody Allen movies, and you go over and get a latte at Starbucks, and you hang around the exact same people like yourself, and you dont have any cousins who are working class, and you certainly have no cousins who are members of the NRA, or anybody who lives outside of this sort of Steinbergian view of the universeremember those old great cartoons of looking westward and seeing New Jersey and Utah at roughly the same distance? That mentality is from the East Coast. Theres an equal kind of mentality from the other coast. They see the whole middle of the country as fly-over country, something you look down on whats wrong with, somebody who opens the window. Of course they dont know anything about Kansas City or anything aboutor any of these states.
For example, knowing anything about Minnesota would help, and knowing how that state is fed up with the Democratic Farmer Labor party, and threw them all out back in 78. If you didnt know that stuff, its because you havent paid any attention to itor the fact that Georgia, at least white Georgia, is incredibly conservative. You dont pay attention to those things, because you dont know anybody like that. And, by the way, a lot of those people dont want to know anybody like that. And thats why they dont.
The background to this fawn-a-thon is quite clear. Angry conservatives are prized by cable nets, and MSNBC needs viewers real bad. As they pander, kiss up, fake and fawn, Matthews and Nachman assume that such viewers wont understand that theyre being played. Who really talks down to these voters from fly-over country? Read the transcript; you wont have to wonder.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Who has ever saidof a man who won the popular vote for presidentthat he doesnt look like one of us. He doesnt seem very American? The astonishing Matthews has said it, thats who. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/14/02. But then, Chris has made such inexcusable comments for years, ignored by your sleep-walking pundits.