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Daily Howler: Obama may end the War on Brains. But how about his supporters?
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WAR WITHOUT END! Obama may end the War on Brains. But how about his supporters? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2008

WAR WITHOUT END: Nicholas Kristof recently prayed that our nation’s long “War on Brains” might be ending. Obama is very bright, he said. He might have added that Obama inclines to reason more than to shouting.

But supporters of Obama sometimes seem disinclined to adopt their guy’s ways. Overstatement and raucous name-calling have been visible in some provinces in the two weeks since Obama’s election. For ourselves, we think it would be a very bad thing if the liberal world raced right off to adopt the loud, dumb ways of the “War on Brains” era. And we thought we saw that impulse lurking in this post from Friday’s TPM.

It all began with an e-mail from a TPM reader. He/she was upset with the line-ups—the preliminary line-ups—for the upcoming Sunday talk shows:

E-MAIL (11/14/08): Here is something progressives really need to address. On Sunday morning political shows, three Democrats are confirmed as guests: Carl Levin, Barney Frank, and Charlie Rangel. It's as if Democrats didn't just win huge electoral advances in the Presidential, House, and Senate elections. So we get the same thing we've had the past 8 years—Republican hegemony on Sunday. Kyl? Check. Gingrich? Check. Steele? Check. Jindal and Shelby? Check and check? Just look at The Page for the whole list. When is the "liberal media" going to give some of the oxygen to Democrats?

Again, the mailer was discussing preliminary line-ups, as posted on Friday afternoon; he didn’t yet have the full Sunday line-ups. Meanwhile, since he was discussing the Sunday shows for November 16, one might have noted that Dems had gotten massive “oxygen” on the November 9 shows (details below). But here’s the response Josh Marshall posted. We thought this was unwise—that it echoed an old, war-like era:

MARSHALL (11/14/08): This is unquestionably true. The bookers and producers of the Sunday shows are committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guests. No question about it. And this is going to be one part of the rewiring of Washington that will take longer and face more resistance than possibly any other. The big interests and institutions that go to Washington to buy influence are quickly reacting to the changing political complexion of the city. The TV bookers and opinion act like nothing's happened.

Again, Josh stated that view on Friday afternoon. He didn’t know what the full Sunday line-ups would be—and he ignored the massively Democratic line-ups of the previous Sunday. He didn’t say how he knew that Sunday bookers are “unquestionably committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guests.” He simply stated this as a fact, thereby making his many readers just a bit less brainy.

Other progressives complained about Sunday’s bookings, even including Brother Boehlert, though some willing to wait to see what the line-ups actually were. Sunday’s bookings did tip toward Republican guests, though not to any massive degree—not to a degree that we think is worth discussing at this point. But we were most struck by the sweeping judgment Josh dished on such limited evidence. We think this represents an extension of that “War on Brains”—a war which can’t be good for the country and won’t likely be much good for Dems.

So how about it? Is it “unquestionably true” that “bookers and producers of the Sunday shows are committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guests?” They’ve had two Sundays to show this commitment. Is there really “no question about it?”

Let’s start with last Sunday’s shows, which did tip toward Republican guests. But before we look at the full line-ups, we should speak to at least one of the e-mailer’s concerns.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) was booked on two shows for an obvious reason. The shows were discussing a possible Detroit bail-out; Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster such a package, and Shelby is a GOP leader on this matter. (He’s ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.) On Meet the Press, Shelby appeared with Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) in a classic Dem/Rep pairing; on Face the Nation, he was paired with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts). Unless the recent elections means that only Dems will be seen on these programs, it was perfectly clear why Shelby was booked—and in each case, he was matched with a Democrat. Similarly, Late Edition did a Dem/Rep segment about the bail-out, pairing Marsha Blackburn (R) with Charlie Rangel (D).

These were perfectly obvious bookings. Whatever may have been wrong with Sunday’s programs, the reason for Shelby’s presence was obvious. The e-mailer likely didn’t know this—and Josh didn’t explain.

Beyond that, the programs did tilt toward Republicans, though not to an overpowering degree. Here’s the five-show rundown for November 16:

Meet the Press started with the Dem/Rep segment pairing Levin and Shelby. It then devoted a segment to T. Boone Pickens’ energy proposals (this is “Green is Universal” week on NBC). It closed with a pundit panel.

Face the Nation did a Dem/Rep segment with Frank and Shelby, then did a shorter segment about GOP woes with the team of Jindal and Gingrich.

This Week did an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger (the current ranking non-Republican Republican), then did its pundit segment.

Fox News Sunday did a Dem/Rep segment with Byron Dorgan and Jon Kyl, then did a segment on GOP woes with the team of Pawlenty and Steele (and its panel).

Late Edition’s weekly marathon did tilt Republican. It opened with a segment with Commerce Secretary Gutierrez (unfortunately, Bush is still president). It then did a largely non-political segment with CNN founder Ted Turner—and it re-aired Wolf Blitzer’s mid-week interview with Sarah Palin. It then did a classic left/right segment pairing James Carville with Ed Rollins, followed by a Dem/Rep segment pairing Blackburn and Rangel. It closed with its pundit panel.

Were these shows wildly unbalanced? In our opinion, they were not—and there is a tendency on some shows to book Republican or Democratic governors after their national conferences. But before we make such thunderous sounds about the Conspiracy of the Bookers, it might be worth noting the way these shows were booked on Sunday, November 9. On that day, the programs were overwhelmingly Democratic; this was completely appropriate, given the previous Tuesday’s election. But on the basis of these two Sundays, it’s pretty silly to claim that bookers “are committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guests”—are “act[ing] like nothing's happened.”

What happened on Sunday, November 9? This is what occurred:

Meet the Press opened with a stand-alone segment with Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. It then did a Dem/Rep segment (Clyburn/Martinez), then a pundit panel.

Face the Nation opened with a stand-alone segment with its only guest—Obama chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel. It followed with a pundit panel.

This Week featured only one guest—Rahm Emmanuel. Then, the usual pundits.

Fox News Sunday opened with a stand-alone segment with Obama aide John Podesta. It then featured two Republicans discussing the elections (Cantor/Pence), and its pundit panel.

Late Edition’s marathon was almost all-Dem/Obama. First, two long segments with Harry Reid—then, a segment with John Podesta. After a segment with Tony Blair, John King interviewed three African-Americans about the meaning of Obama’s victory. All three were pro-Obama (Grant Hill, Touré, Mary Frances Berry). Only then, a segment with Schwarzenegger. After that, it was send in the pundits.

In short, the November 9 Sunday programs were massively Democratic. Absent explanation, it’s absurd to say, after just two weeks, that Sunday bookers “are (unquestionably) committed to the continuing dominance of conservative/Republican marquee guests.” Media Matters has done some good empirical work about booking patterns in the past; it may turn out that the Sunday programs will tilt Republican as the weeks go forward. But no such pattern is visible yet. It’s utterly silly to say otherwise.

We’ve suffered through a long “War on Brains;” the era was characterized by wild overstatement, silly name-calling and utterly brainless working of refs. For ourselves, we hope Obama’s win will start to change this part of our national culture. For ourselves, we think a Culture of Brains would only help Dem and progressive interests. But a fair few of Obama’s supporters sometimes seem to prefer older ways.

When Bush prevailed: Due to the Florida recount, it’s hard to compare booking patterns when Bush prevailed after Campaign 2000. But for the record: On the Sunday after Bush’s win in 2004, two diabolical Sunday bookers did include a Major Dem. He got a stand-alone segment on Meet the Press—and a Dem/Rep segment on This Week. He was new—and he had big ears and a funny name. How weird! “Barack Obama!”

That same day, Late Edition presented three prominent Dems to explain what went wrong (Rendell, Koch, Brazile). It was much like the Republican panels this Sunday. There were no Rep pols on the program.