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Print view: Stewart compared The One True Channel to Fox. It went to the cutting-room floor
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ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR! Stewart compared The One True Channel to Fox. It went to the cutting-room floor: // link // print // previous // next //

Krugman v. Hubbard/the issue is joined: How gruesome is the American discourse? We strongly recommend this piece by Salon’s Steve Kornacki, who explains why there could be an irrational backlash if Democrats oppose extending those tax cuts for the rich.

In his piece, Kornacki recalls the irrational, uninformed reaction to the marginal tax increases in Clinton’s 1993 budget. How gruesome is our American discourse? Our discourse is very disordered, to a degree that is rarely discussed.

That said, the issue has now been joined about the Bowles-Simpson tax proposals! In this morning’s New York Times, Glenn Hubbard offers the following assessment of those proposals. Most recently, Hubbard was chairman of the CEO under the second President Bush:

HUBBARD (11/16/10): What of the critics on the left and right? I understand the complaints of liberals. The proposal essentially claims that maintaining a broad welfare state is inconsistent with planning for a long-run fiscal trajectory that includes economic growth and social insurance. This idea is anathema to Democratic Congressional leaders. The proposal also lays bare the fallacy on the left that any lowering of marginal tax rates is necessarily “tax cuts for the rich.” The plan’s limits on tax deductions and cutbacks in the generosity of entitlement benefits for upper-income households render the plan a progressive reform.

As far as we know, no one has ever claimed that any lowering of marginal tax rates, in any plan, would necessarily constitute “tax cuts for the rich.” That said: According to Hubbard, the tax proposals of this plan represent “a progressive reform,” despite the lowering of the marginal tax rates. This claim seems to stand in stark contrast with the semi-provisional claim authored by Paul Krugman:

KRUGMAN (11/11/10): Actually, though, what the co-chairmen are proposing is a mixture of tax cuts and tax increases—tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class. They suggest eliminating tax breaks that, whatever you think of them, matter a lot to middle-class Americans—the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest—and using much of the revenue gained thereby, not to reduce the deficit, but to allow sharp reductions in both the top marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate.

It will take time to crunch the numbers here, but this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans.

As far as we know, no one has “crunched the numbers” yet. But Krugman and Hubbard offer contradictory assessments of the effect of the plan’s tax provisions. It’s fairly clear that Hubbard claims that “the rich” would end up paying more under this plan’s various provisions. Krugman says the opposite—big-time.

Given the way our discourse works, no sane assessment of this dispute will ever make its way to masses. Our discourse has been a joke for decades, as Kornacki notes.

Speaking of that broken discourse: Our discourse has been a joke for decades, as Kornacki notes. But this obvious fact rarely gets discussed, even among fiery liberals. Recently, Will Bunch seemed to say that this problem dates to 2002 or 2003. Yesterday, Steven Benen linked to Andrew Sullivan, who almost seems to think that this problem is an artifact of the past two years!

“It seems to me that the last year or so in America's political culture has represented the triumph of untruth,” Sully sadly mused. It was left to several of Benen’s commenters to note a rather obvious fact—Sully was deeply involved in that very triumph during the Clinton years! Among other Sullivan-caused disasters, it was Sully who published Betsy McCaughey, letting her mislead the nation about the Clinton health plan.

Her piece appeared in 1994. How time flies when you’re enabling the triumph of untruth!

Special report: When Stewart met Maddow!

PART ONE—ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR (permalink): Jon Stewart made news when he spoke to Rachel Maddow. Except, as it turned out, he didn’t.

Stewart spoke to Maddow for the full hour on the November 11 Maddow Show; he made news when he said that President Obama may even be a war criminal. Stewart said that as part of a longer exchange, which started with his claim that both sides, right and left, “have their way of shutting down debate.” With apologies, we post a fairly long chunk of what Stewart said, the better to provide context. (Throughout this show, the discussions were murky, and tended to ramble.) With apologies, we highlight the full section where Stewart made news—except, as it turned out, he didn’t:

STEWART (11/11/10): What I do believe is, both sides have their way of shutting down debate. And the news networks have allowed these two sides to become the fight in the country. And I think the fight in the country is corruption versus not corruption, extremists versus regular. Do you understand what I’m saying?

MADDOW: What’s—yes. But what’s the lefty way of shutting down [debate]? I mean, I—

STEWART: OK. You’ve said Bush is a war criminal. Now, that may be technically true. In my world, “war criminal” is Pol Pot. Or the Nuremberg trials. It’s not saying—

MADDOW: Or Harry Truman, but then you took that back.

STEWART: Yes. And I did for good reason, because I don’t think he was. And I think that—again, we have to define our terms. But I think that’s such an incendiary charge that when you put it in a conversation as, “Well, technically he is”—that may be right? But it feels like a conversation stopper, not a conversation starter.

The complaint was— In the clip reel [at Stewart’s “sanity” rally], we had a woman shouting as an example of dialogue that we were talking about not being helpful. A woman at a meeting shouting, “Bush is a war criminal.” That’s really where that came from, not from saying it in normal conversation.

MADDOW: Right.

STEWART: We were talking about tone there, not content necessarily. We were talking about standing up in the middle of a meeting and just shouting that.

MADDOW: Right.

STEWART: Now, that to me doesn’t seem like, “You may be technically correct.” I would be surprised if, you know, Barack Obama then wouldn’t fall under that rubric. He’s, he’s—extraordinary rendition still goes on. Or, you know, there are things that are going on at Bagram Air Force Base. You know, things are happening in the world that under that same definitions— Is it as clear-cut maybe as “Yeah, yeah, water-boarding? Sure, I did that! Happy to do it again.” Maybe not. But you know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt interned 120,000 Japanese-Americans. Is he a war criminal? If you say he’s a war criminal, is that kind of an incendiary thing and kind of a conversation ender? So I view it as something that is done for emotional impact, something that should be discussed, but discussed in a way that takes into context other presidents, what war really is, others that have been accused of war crimes, what they are.

Is George Bush Saddam Hussein? Saddam Hussein’s a war criminal, he’s got rape rooms. Now I know that Bush had the Lincoln Bedroom and some other rooms, but I don’t think he had rape rooms. Do you know what I mean?

My problem is, it’s become tribal. And if you have 24-hour networks that focus—their job is to highlight the conflict between two sides, where I don’t think that’s the main conflict in our society.

Jon Stewart made news in that highlighted segment—except, as it turned out, he didn’t. For whatever reason, that entire highlighted section got edited out of the program broadcast on MSNBC—and this program was built from a 49-minute interview in which almost everything Stewart said ended up on the air.

(To watch the full interview, click this. To watch the interview segments as they aired on November 11, just click here. Then keep clicking.)

Obama may be a war criminal too? That naughty statement might have made news—if it had gone on the air. Is there any particular reason why this rumination hit the cutting-room floor, unlike almost everything else Stewart said? We don’t know, but the following chunk also got dumped from the program. In the actual Maddow Show broadcast, Stewart’s comments were cut where the highlighting starts:

STEWART: We have a tendency to grant amnesty to people that we agree with and to overly demonize people we don’t. I do the same thing, I think everybody does. Bill Clinton, if he were a Republican, would be strung up by the ladies at NOW, by all the people that—he’d be strung up. But they like him. Clarence Thomas was accused of kind of the same thing, sexual harassment? Now, everybody jumps into, “But that was fabricated, the Clinton thing never happened and he did the thing—but the, but the thing— And Clarence Thomas, that really did happen, and they were so mean to that lady!” But it all comes from the perspective of defending your guy and defending your turf. And what I’m saying is, let’s stop just defending teammates.

Did Clinton and Thomas largely do the same thing? Did NOW give Clinton a pass, but go after Thomas? Those are matters of judgment. But as with the statement about Obama, these unflattering statements about Clinton and NOW got dumped from the program which aired—even though Stewart’s statement, “let’s stop just defending teammates,” represents one of the clearest statements of his overall view in the entire interview.

As we watched the full interview, we were struck by one more deletion. As noted, very little was cut from the interview when it hit the TV machine thingy. We were sorry that the following passage was dumped, because it represented Stewart’s clearest expression of his view about the question which matters most on earth—the relative merits of MSNBC and Fox:

STEWART: My plea is not to silence MSNBC or even to silence Fox, but to not fight Fox with Fox. And you’re not Fox. But if I were to say they’re a cyclonic typhoon that is now covering half of Asia, every now and again on MSNBC you look over and go, “I think there’s a tropical depression forming in the gulf. Is there a tropical depression?” Do you understand what I’m saying?

“Do you understand what I’m saying?” Stewart asked—and it may be that the Maddow staff did! In that passage, Stewart expresses a rather clear view: Fox has unleashed a very bad storm on America’s discourse—but MSNBC, on a much smaller scale, may be following suit. Stewart even implied an heretical view: On that much lesser scale, MSNBC may even, to some extent, be “fighting Fox with Fox.”

For ourselves, we would be a bit less kind to the One True Liberal Channel. In our view, Fox is a gruesome news org (on balance); it tends to advance the pre-existing disinformation wars which started with people like Rush Limbaugh and with those who came before him. In our view, MSNBC is now chasing Fox rather hard, copying many of that channel’s techniques.

All too often, the channel is awful.

In the world of the tribal pseudo-liberal, this amounts to heresy, of course. Today’s pseudo-liberal worships Rachel in much the way the “ditto-heads” have always worshipped their glorious Rush. In comments, you can see them repeating her most absurd talking-points, thus defending her least admirable practices; to a slightly lesser extent, the same form of worship (and recitation of text) is also extended to Keith. And in this world, one piece of scripture has been widely recited in the wake of Stewart’s heretical “sanity rally:” We’re not as bad as Fox! In the wake of Stewart’s rally, this unimpressive self-defense was mounted at the One Liberal Channel. Soon, it was tied to a multi-syllabic and thus more convincing claim:

Jon Stewart has drawn a “false equivalence” between The One True Channel and Fox!

We’d have to say that charge is false, but True Believers will always make demons. Has Stewart claimed some sort of “equivalence” between MSNBC and Fox? Actually, no—not really. Speaking with Maddow, Stewart said that Fox was “a cyclonic typhoon that is now covering half of Asia.” By way of (rather stark) contrast, he said that, “every now and then,” MSNBC seems like “a tropical depression forming in the gulf.” In our view, Stewart was being a bit too polite, trying to let his host down easy. But when he offered this mild criticism, it disappeared from the actual program, helping defenders continue to claim that he’s offered a “false equivalence.”

Stewart’s tiny comparison of MSNBC to Fox was colorful; it even might have been quoted. For whatever reason, this tiny comparison went to the cutting-room floor. Ditto for that colorful cry: Don’t fight Fox with Fox!

Why did those three segments get cut? We have no idea; we don’t know if there was any “reason.” And by the way: Maddow doesn’t always “just defend teammates” and “overly demonize people she doesn’t agree with,” although that’s a fairly good description of the general way she conducts her program. It’s a fairly good description of the way she conducted last night’s show, for instance; on that program, she ripped a string of conservative targets, torturing an array of facts to drive a deeply unbalanced, and dumbly inaccurate, assault against Saint John McCain. But then, Maddow doesn’t strike us as especially honest—and she seems like a deeply True Believer, especially when it comes to True Belief in all matters involving herself.

During this interview, Stewart’s critiques were often murky; Maddow’s reactions were sometimes intriguingly clear. In essence, Stewart told Maddow that MSNBC may be a bit too tribal. More directly, he said that she shouldn’t have insulted all those “tea-baggers” in the extended way she did.

In our view, Maddow’s reaction to that one direct criticism was telling. Remember:

Rachel Maddow is always truthful. Like all True Believers, her judgment is sound—and her motives are always quite pure.

Tomorrow—part 2: Which part of “The Comedy Channel” doesn’t Jon’s friend understand?