8 September 1999
Our current howler (part II): The story they like
Synopsis: Lock up the children! Tape and view later! A singing professor helped continue Hardballs FALN-flam.
Commentary by Professor Ken Jowitt, Chris Matthews, Tish Durkin, Howard Fineman
Hardball, CNBC, 9/8/99
Commentary by Geraldo Rivera, Juan Gonzalez
Rivera Live, CNBC, 9/8/99
Commentary by Michael Barone, Laura Ingraham
Watch It!, MSNBC, 9/8/99
Lock up the children! Tape and view later! The carnage continued
as a tabloid talker explored that clemency deal. A singing professor
had joined the scrum, and he critiqued the president's offer. Clinton has said the Puerto Rican nationalists would have to agree to renounce violence:
PROFESSOR JOWITT: It's amazing. If you look at this husband
and wife, it's extraordinary. He's adopted a Brenda Lee policy
toward terrorism! All you do is say [SINGING]: "I'm sorr-r-ry;
so sorr-r-ry; please ac-cept my a-pol-o-gy-y." [SPEAKING]
It's utterly extraordinary.
We'll admit it. We thought it was too.
But parents, if you have school kids at home, just keep them
away from this program. You don't want your kids to know, just
yet, the way our public discourse really works. Because the gong
show continued on Hardball last night, with the program
telling the story it likes. If your sixth grader wrote a report
this way, you'd pray that his "prof" would return it.
Last night, we compared the story Hardball told with
facts that emerged just an hour later, as Rivera Live assembled
a varied panel that was willing to get past preferred tales. Right
away, Geraldo mentioned those prominent people who have supported
the FALN deal:
RIVERA: Now whether or not you think that president's offer
is a travesty or not, I must tell you, folks, that most people
of Puerto Rican descent, including yours truly, agree with peace-makers
ranging from Jimmy Carter to Desmond Tutu, from Nelson Mandela
to New York's own Cardinal O'Connor, that the president was right
in trying to close this violent chapter in American history.
The news was slowly emerging. On Fox News Channel's Special
Report last night, viewers were told that O'Connor supported
the deal. But you still haven't heard it on Hardball. To
say that the conservative O'Connor supports the move kills the
program's favorite talethat only Senate politics could ever explain
the deal that the president offered.
But then, there's a lot you aren't hearing if you're still
playing Hardballand a lot that you're hearing that's wrong.
What sort of crimes did these individuals commit? Last night,
we heard two different stories:
RIVERA: I covered the awful bombing of Faunces Tavern back
in 1975. While absolutely sympathetic to the innocent people killed
and maimed in that and other cowardly acts, I point out again
that none of these separatists still behind bars were found guilty
of any violent acts.
But here's what you heard on Hardball:
MATTHEWS: Why did it take [Mrs. Clinton] three weeks to have
this realization...when she realized, "Oh my God. My
husband is letting killers free in my home, in the
state I want to call home?"
"Willie Horton," the helpful host pondered. "This
seems like a lot of that." (For a sample of other factual
problems, see our postscript below.)
And why were we hearing these errors on Hardball? Because
on Hardball, they novelize news. Unhelpful facts will be
spun or discarded, to help make a new, improved story. The preferred
story here is that President Clinton offered clemency to help
his wife's Senate campaign. And any fact that could support other
stories will quickly be hustled from view.
But sometimes unwanted facts turn up, with new cast members
making big errors. Last night, Howard Fineman brought up ol' reliable
Jonathan Pollard, saying other-groups-now-want-favors-from-Hillary.
It's become a nightly part of the story, recited robotically all
over the dial. But last night, newcomer Tish Durkin slipped up,
and an ugly new fact came to light:
DURKIN: Wait wait wait! Hello hello! That's an interesting
point. Because none other than Mayor Rudy Guiliani has had some
very generous things to say about Jonathan Pollard.
Darn it! Why did she have to say that? Now Fineman
had to say what he knew:
FINEMAN: Yes, he wants him released, I think. He wants him
Really! Guiliani wants to pardon Pollard! We hadn't heard that
fact mentioned all week! And just like that, we quickly saw why.
It led on to his brutal heresy:
DURKIN: In fairness to the first lady, ethnic political pandering
is not unknown to politics [in New York].
Tish Durkin has a lot to learn. On Hardballsinging
professors asideonly the First Family panders.
Compare and contrast: Last night, it was a tale of two
stories for anyone who watched both Hardball and Rivera
Live. On Rivera Live, we learned that the FALN members
were not being released in New York (as Matthews had said);
had committed their crimes and been imprisoned in Illinois and
Connecticut; were already in prison when bombings injured New
York City policemen; and had renounced violence in a letter to
a congressman more than two years ago (the delay in accepting
clemency had involved a dispute over other provisions of the
clemency). All of this was hard to square with what we'd been
hearing on Hardball. Meanwhile, does Michael Barone ever
get anything right? Here's an exchange from Rivera Live
about Puerto Rican public opinion:
RIVERA: Juan Gonzalez of the [New York] Daily News, am I correct
when I say that most people of Puerto Rican descent favor the
president's action and are baffled by the first lady's?
GONZALEZ: Overwhelmingly. I think every major Latino elected
official, Puerto Rica elected official, in New York held a press
conference supporting the president's action, virtually all the
leaders on the island. Among the 6.6 million Puerto Ricans here
and on Puerto Rico, virtually unanimous support for closing the
chapter in relations of Puerto Rico and the United States.
Which certainly seemed to square with the conduct of Puerto
Rican office-holders in New York. But we were a bit surprised
to hear this said, because Barone told us different on Hardball
last week. He was still on yesterday's Watch It!:
BARONE: I do not believe that most Puerto Ricans in New York
state or the United States generally are standing around saying,
"We want terrorists releasedone of the most important things
to us is that these terrorists be released." I think most
Puerto Ricans are law-abiding people and want the law to be carried
out, not to be flouted the way the Clintons propose to do it."
But then, Barone was still describing the individuals in question
as "terrorists who have killed innocent people," and
saying they haven't renounced violence.
Oh yeah. On Watch It!, Laura Ingraham said to this to
Barone: "The amazing thing is, Guiliani's strongest point,
as you know, Michael, is law enforcement." No one mentioned
that Guliani wants to pardon Pollard. That's the amazing thing
to us: they always know which key facts to leave out.
Tomorrow: Back-to-the-basics meets the budget. Can you
explain "lockbox," boys and girls?