PERSON OF THE YEAR! Bill Wolff arrived from the world of sportsand gave us rubes pro wrestling: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2009
Coming in January: Next week, or the week after that, we will be starting a second site. We need a history of the Clinton/Gore years. At that site, well do our part.
But will he play in Peoria: New Years Eve can be a tough night. Where would we go tonight, were constantly asked. Our response: Why not jet in for the show at Peorias Jukebox Comedy Club, where the comics are always hilarious?
Tonight, the Jukebox presents a former civil engineer. But will he play in Peoria?
For ourselves, we recall our own first New Years Eve, in 1983, with Bill Maher, at the intimate Richmond Comedy Club. (It was Bills first New Years Eve outside New York. Here at THE HOWLER, we love Bill Maher. No one else can do what he does.) By now, tens of thousands swear they were there for the legendary event. Our own recollection? About half the 120 or so milled about till quite late, demanding their money back. And noit wasnt our fault!
New Years Eve can be a tough night. Why not a civil engineer? People! Cant we all get along on this one night of the year?
(Final point: Never drink and laugh.)
PERSON OF THE YEAR: THE DAILY HOWLER is forced to announce Bill Wolff as our media person of the year.
Not that theres anything right with it!
Wolff, of course, is in charge of prime-time programming at MSNBC, a well-known cable news channel. This year, the station introduced The Ed Show, a program whose host, Ed Schultz, expresses genuine progressive instincts. We dont always agree with Schultz, of course. But he comes from all the right places.
But primarily, this was the year when MSNBC went all progressive in prime time. In the fall of 2008, Wolff added The Rachel Maddow Show to the pre-existing Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Counting re-broadcasts, these programs fill seven hours of air time every weeknight. (Except on Fridays, when this channel hurries off, as fast as it can, to start its true crime weekend crock block.)
Seven hours of Keith and Rachel each night! Youd think this would be good news for progressivesfor progressive interests. Wed have to say it hasnt worked out that way. So it goes, perhaps, when we let GEand sports guys like Wolff define progressive politics.
Incredibly, Wolffs total background was in low-end cable sports (and humor) when he was hired to run prime-time news. Wed have to say this background has started to show in this channels devolving programming.
Olbermann has become a full-blown clown as this year has progressed. His sexual politics are as bad as any ever seen on cable; its stunning that liberals and progressives have accepted this for so many years. But his political cluelessnessand his desire to clownhave massively dragged down his program. When he isnt playing his well-worn tapes of Carrie Prejean prancing about in her swim wear, Olbermann has devolved into a familiar typethe loud and utterly pompous male anchor, Ted Baxter with a dollop of politics. Theres no way it serves progressive interests to have such a boor on the air.
How clueless does Olbermann often seem? Consider the preening, peculiar Special Comment in which he implored progressive viewers to refuse to buy health insurance under a proposed federal mandate. Swivelling from camera to camera as he pretended to be Murrow II, Olbermann lectured Obama about this part of proposed reform:
On and on and on it went. In fairness to Olbermann, there are huge problems with requiring people to buy health insurance which is vastly over-priceda problem Olbermann has done very little to examine in his year of Prejean-ogling. But how can health reform proceed in the absence of a mandate? To cite just one well-known example: Can insurance companies be required to disregard pre-existing conditions in the absence of a mandate? Wouldnt people just wait till they got sick before they bought their insurance? The question is obvious, but it didnt seem to occur to Olbermann, who swivelled, emoted, preened and clownedand, as usual, did next to nothing to illuminate the groaning problems with our proposed reform.
As far as we know, mandates are part of all national systems, whether these systems include insurance companies or not. (In this country, to cite one example, workers are mandated to pay into Medicare.) Swivelling about and fixing his hair, Olbermann-Baxter continued his lecture, this time instructing Harry Reid about some imaginary world:
Reid could just put single-payer in, for that matter! In all candor, it would be hard to be much more clueless than KO was in this passage.
In fairness, Olbermann was right in major ways as he swivelled and burned. The proposed reform does benefit the industry; it actually benefits many industries, though Olbermann may not quite understand that. (Olbermanns viewers dont likely understand that either, though they do know all about Levi Johnston.) But is there really no moral construct in which this reform can be supported? How about a moral construct in which millions of peopleincluding parents of childrenget subsidies to buy the insurance they could never afford before? (Some parents die from lack of insurance.) Subsidies which may be so large that these people will end up paying a price for insurance which is actually in line with world norms?
This plainly isnt a perfect solutionthough Olbermann did nothing this year to help his viewers understand the size of the looting which characterizes American health care. But:
If parents of children are kept from dying, does that make the propose arrangement more tolerable? Turning and burning and playing the fool, Olbermann didnt quite say. Then, he went on vacation again, leaving tapes of his dirty jokes to air each night this week, insulting the valuesand the intelligenceof any progressive viewer.
Maddow is better than Olbermann (especially on foreign affairs). But she isnt better by much. Her cluelessness about domestic politics is a constant revelation. This Monday night, to cite one example, Maddow delivered a Long Standard Screed (complete with misstatements) about Jim DeMint and the nomination of Errol Southers to head the TSA. Like the editorial board of the Washington Post, DeMint opposes unionization of TSA screeners; our own view would be different. But after a long, clueless screed about the matter, Maddow offered the following comment to her guest, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who Maddow thanked for interrupting your holiday in New Orleans and joining us. As usual, Maddow was completely mystified by some bone-simple politics:
Maddow is completely mystified by DeMints political posture. She would expect that there would be a political cost for this stance. Our question: Does Maddow know how badly Democrats were hurt by this issue back in 2002? How big the political cost was to Dems? Quite possibly not. In fact, Maddow is constantly stating her complete mystification over some bone-simple political matter. But then, Harris-Lacewell didnt have much to offer on this matter either. What does it mean? she asked:
There are arguments on both sides about unions!
At any rate, Harris-Lacewell also seemed utterly clueless about the possible shape of the politics hereand about the actual nature of DeMints position. What does it mean that you think we are safer if the people who work for us in airports are less well-paid, have fewer benefits, have less security? she clownishly asked. Our question: Shouldnt Harris-Lacewell be able to answer that question before appearing on progressive shows as an expert on this matter? Second question: Is that really her best explanation of what DeMints complaint is?
In fact, Bill Wolffs programs seem to exist to dumb young liberal viewers down, even as they get the heady experience of tribal solidarity. Increasingly, these are silly, clownish shows designed to run us rubes into the ground. Maddow may be the biggest culture snob who has ever appeared on cable TV. She rarely seems to have any idea about the political impulses which drive many American voters (often in unfortunate ways). She knows those impulse are very wrong; she just doesnt know what those impulses are. Given her stunning cultural condescension, theres little sign that shell ever find out.
Just a guess: Its very hard to build a winning progressive politics this way.
On Bill Wolffs programs, hosts mock, and misstate, the views of The Other. Its entertaining; it makes our tribe feel superior. But almost surely, progressive interests cant be served this way.
Big corporate interestsin Olbermanns phrase, the industryare thrilled when we rubes break up into tribes. Division and conquest is the time-honored way The Interests maintain control of rubes lives. Increasingly, Wolffs gruesome prime-time block is designed to drive these tribal divisions. We get to ogle Prejeanand we get laugh at her ding-battery. In the course of all this nonsense, were falsely told that were smart.
(To Olbermanns credit, it has been a while since he asked Janeane Garofalo to explain how the other tribes limbic brains work.)
GE grabbed Wolff from the world of low-end sports entertainment. He had no background in news at all! Increasingly, this orientation seems to show in the content of his prime-time programs. Bill Wolff arrived from the world of sportsand handed us rubes pro wrestling.
Almost surely, progressive interests cant flourish this way. Returns for the stockholders can.