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FAWN-A-THON! The cable nets prize those angry viewers. Jerry Nachman knew just how to get them:


POST MORTEM: Intriguing election analyses dot today’s papers; we recommend Sebastian Mallaby’s piece in the Post. Are Democrats “brain-dead,” as some have asserted? There’s some truth to that claim, the scribe asserts—but Republicans are largely brain-dead too. For ourselves, we’d 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 Mallaby’s piece helps put the brakes on wild reactions to last week’s 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 Minnesota’s 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 Minnesota’s top races Tuesday by doing what both major parties sought to do nationwide: winning vast amounts of independents’ votes.
The poll also confirmed that a unique Minnesota event—the controversial Paul Wellstone memorial that took on the tone of a Democratic rally—was the turning point that drove previously undecided voters to Republican Norm Coleman rather than Democrat Walter Mondale in the U.S. Senate race.
Stassen-Berger quotes Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling, which conducted the survey. “You’ve got a situation where anywhere from one out of four to one out of five got on [Coleman’s] 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.”

It’s always hard to discern voters’ motives. But when it comes to our current spin culture, it isn’t 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 morals—conservative 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.

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: Nobody—I didn’t hear anybody defend the booing of Trent Lott. Come on.

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 misstatement—the claim that Senator Lott was forced to leave because of mistreatment by the crowd. Lott’s office had said on Day One that it just wasn’t so—but the dissembling went on, quite unchecked.

As everyone knows—except, of course, for our mainstream pundits—this 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 what’s 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 Wellstone’s 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 Gingrich’s dissembling his “Outrage of the Week.” But whose conduct was questioned more often last week? Kahn’s was, with Newt barely mentioned.

What happened in the wake of the Wellstone event? Republican spin-points—full of embellishments—were quickly transformed into press corps CW. Outrage over Kahn’s address became a dominant talking-point of the late pre-election. And no one—no one—challenged the hype. It was turrible conduct when Kahn chose to preach. It was quite fine when Noonan dissembled.

Final notes: Minnesota Republican officials—including party chairman Ron Eibensteiner—actively 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. Today’s Washington pundit steers clear of Rush. For these pampered, overpaid darlings, life is easier—easier by far—when they pretend that he doesn’t 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. It’s the norm now; it’s 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 Thursday’s 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. You’re in Washington and I’m also in New York. I’m 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 I’ve been trying for 10 or 15 years to teach them that, regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, the people voting for these Republicans may not be them and their friends, but it’s their aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s normal people who are voting for them. Why is that a hard story to sell?

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 don’t 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 universe—remember 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. There’s 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 what’s wrong with, somebody who opens the window. Of course they don’t know anything about Kansas City or anything about—or 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 didn’t know that stuff, it’s because you haven’t paid any attention to it—or the fact that Georgia, at least white Georgia, is incredibly conservative. You don’t pay attention to those things, because you don’t know anybody like that. And, by the way, a lot of those people don’t want to know anybody like that. And that’s why they don’t.

In this exchange, Nachman’s 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 won’t become part of the stew. Nachman, of course, nodded dumbly.

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 won’t understand that they’re being played. Who really talks down to these voters from “fly-over country?” Read the transcript; you won’t have to wonder.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Who has ever said—of a man who won the popular vote for president—that “he doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American?” The astonishing Matthews has said it, that’s who. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/14/02. But then, Chris has made such inexcusable comments for years, ignored by your sleep-walking pundits.