THE REFUSAL TO FIGHT: What, our TV stars worry?

TUESDAY, MAY 21, 2013

Part 2—Why doesn’t Hayes want to fight: Liberals and Democrats ought to be angry about the Benghazi pseudo-scandal.

As part of that anger, they ought to be angry at the way their TV stars keep refusing to fight.

Right from the start, the attacks against Ambassador Susan Rice have illustrated a familiar theme of modern politics: It’s easy to generate bogus attacks against major Democrats.

The attacks on Rice are a perfect example of this familiar problem. Last September 16, she discussed the killing attack in Benghazi on four of the major Sunday programs. (On CNN, she wasn’t asked about Benghazi.)

Reaction was quick—and familiar. On Fox, bogus accounts were quickly offered of the various things Rice had said. Other statements by Rice disappeared, never to be heard again.

In a very familiar pattern, viewers of Fox were being misled about what Ambassador Rice had said. Rather quickly, this bogus narrative jumped to the mainstream press.

Our favorite TV stars kept quiet.

If you were watching MSNBC last fall, you barely knew Rice existed. From September 16 until the election, her name was never mentioned on the Rachel Maddow Show. Her name was mentioned only once on the Ed Show, in that instance by a guest. She was never mentioned at all on Lawrence’s useless Last Word.

Incredibly, it was left to Chris Matthews, of all people, to develop some actual information about the attacks on Rice. He did so on October 19 and 22, in interviews with a trio of major press figures.

In the latter session, Matthews interviewed David Ignatius. Here’s what Ignatius said:
MATTHEWS (10/22/13): David Ignatius, the first question was, was Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, when she went on Meet the Press on September 16, five days after the assault on our consulate that cost the life of Chris Stevens, was she speaking on the level with the best intel she had?

IGNATIUS: Amazingly enough, because she has been attacked so stridently for her comments, she was stating almost word for word the talking points the CIA had prepared the previous day, September 15.

I know that because I was given by a senior intelligence official a copy of those talking points, and they included the phrase that she got hammered for about the spontaneous inspiration for the Benghazi events being what had happened to Cairo.

That view was revised a little bit since then. But what’s amazing, a month after these events, is that our intelligence analysts still aren’t sure exactly what led to that attack on the compound in Benghazi. And if Mitt Romney tries to claim otherwise, he’s going against our most senior intelligence people.
“Amazingly,” Ignatius said, Rice had been stridently attacked, even though she had presented the CIA’s official account that day. That official account had even “included the phrase that she got hammered for about the spontaneous inspiration for the Benghazi events being what had happened to Cairo.”

And not only that! More than a month after Benghazi, “our intelligence analysts still aren’t sure exactly what led to that attack.” But so what? Despite these remarkable facts, Matthews and this channel’s other hosts kept ignoring the attacks on Rice. As they kept their heads in the sand, the attacks against Rice only grew.

(On one of the channel’s weekend shows, Chris Hayes actually parroted the Fox-invented story line about the deceptions. Hayes reversed himself one week later, on October 21.)

This past weekend, we saw where this kind of silence takes us. Seven months after speaking with Matthews, that same Ignatius wrote a grossly illogical column in Sunday’s Washington Post. Ignatius attacked various administration figures for their failure to produce a “detail rich” set of talking points for Rice, even though he started his column by saying that “officials were still basically clueless three days after the attack.”

No, that column didn’t make sense; just see our previous post. But in the months since Ignatius played Hardball, the world of Fox has continued to push its Benghazi line—and our liberal TV stars have remained politely silent.

This is the way career liberals have always behaved over the past twenty years.

To what extent have our TV stars refused to defend Susan Rice? To what extent have they refused to rebut ridiculous claims from the right about Benghazi? Consider MSNBC’s weekend programs on November 11 and 12, as this pseudo-scandal again began picking up steam. First, a bit of the background:

On Wednesday, November 8, a high-profile congressional hearing featured the peculiar claims of Gregory Hicks, the State Department’s number-two man in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack.

As he testified, Hicks was relentlessly snide about Rice. Dramatically, he even said that his “jaw dropped” when he watched her on those Sunday shows. Rice should have agreed with what the Libyan president said, this peculiar man strangely said.

Hicks’ assessment made little sense, but your liberal TV stars failed to say so, and the attacks against Rice were back. Two days later, a report by ABC’s Jonathan Karl showed that Obama spokesman Jay Carney had been less than truthful in some of his statements concerning the genesis of the now-famous talking points.

Karl made a groaning error in his report, but his error wasn’t yet known. Nor did the error, however gruesome, undermine the basic accuracy of his claim about Carney. (More on that later this week.)

Thanks to Hicks and thanks to Karl, the talking points bullroar was back with a vengeance. And sure enough! Over the weekend, two of MSNBC’s major hosts completely ignored the situation. Melissa Harris-Perry hosted four hours of programs that weekend; according to Nexis, she never mentioned Rice or Benghazi. Neither did Steve Kornacki, in his own four hours on the air.

By Tuesday night, Karl’s gruesome error had been revealed. On that evening’s All In, Hayes overstated the significance of this error, then offered this cri de coeur (this “cry from the heart”):
HAYES (5/14/13): Now, you might ask yourself, and in fact I am asking myself: Why am I talking about an e-mail about a talking point? No, I mean that seriously. Tell me, why am I on national television talking about this right now, about e-mails about talking points? Because believe me, I don’t want to be. I really don’t want to be.

And here is the answer. This chart, posted by Nate Silver, shows Google searches for political news around the low end of where they’ve been over the last nine years. I’ve talked with bloggers and web editors about the incredible traffic drop-off on websites. I’ve even heard cable news is experiencing something similar.

It is under these conditions that scandals explode. Political scientist Brendan Nyhan offers great analysis, writing "new scandals are likely to emerge when the president is unpopular among opposition party identifiers." Nyhan also found that media scandals are less likely to emerge as pressure from other news stories increases.

In other words, when there’s a lot going on in the news politically, scandals are unlikely; when there’s not a lot of political news, well, you get the point. And Nyhan adds, Obama is in his second term, which is when scandals are most likely to take place.

So there you have it. Republicans don’t like the president. There’s an empty news cycle. The president is in his second term. We’ve got the perfect storm. In fact, it is predetermined that reporting on an overblown scandal is what the media are going to be doing.
Poor Hayes! He didn’t want to be discussing e-mails and talking points! And sure enough! Instead of debunking the bogus claims which were sweeping the political world, he offered an intellectualized explanation of why the bogus claims existed! Complete with references to two of his favorite liberal intellectuals. (For the record, we like Nyhan and Silver too.)

Hayes is bright; we assume he’s sincere. But that presentation perfectly captures a major problem of the past twenty years.

Guess what, losers? Hayes should want to be talking about those e-mails and talking-points! He should have been eager to tackle this topic back in the fall, when he got himself thoroughly conned by all the scamming from Fox.

He should have been eager to tackle this subject because this represents the heart of our modern politics!

For nine solid months dating back to September, a set of bogus claims had been lodged against Rice, who had been cast in the role of Obama’s Official Demon. These bogus claims were repeated again and again and again, to the point where Rice’s career got thrown down the stairs.

Much more significantly, tens of millions of American voters were being grossly misled in the process. As of last week, this process had been going on for nine months.

This process of partisan fabrication has come to define our politics. But some voice inside Hayes’ head was telling him that he didn’t want to discuss those e-mails and talking-points! Indeed, in that same segment, he went on to discuss what President Reagan had done in Guatemala! In the 1980s!

At that point, the analysts lowered their heads and cried.

Why didn’t Hayes want to fight that night? We don’t have the slightest idea. Tomorrow, we’ll show you the nonsense which emerged the next night when Rachel discussed the talking-points with Michael Isikoff.

That said, this instinctive refusal to fight has been the norm among career liberals for the past twenty years. What keeps our tribe’s biggest TV performers from relishing the chance to fight back against the bullroar which defines our world?

We can’t answer that question for you, but the children simply refuse to fight. And when they finally try to fight, it seems they may not know how.

Tomorrow: Isikoff speaks


  1. Maybe this silence is motivated by a desire to hurt Hillary Clinton politically, on the part of liberal media and politicos? Rice may have been viewed as an extension of Clinton and perhaps there is a longstanding desire to ignore attacks on Clinton and her associates because hurting Clinton helps Obama in some way? Maybe it is a habit arising from the campaign that never was unlearned or maybe there is some genuine animosity toward her that leads to sabotaging the interests of liberals along with her political ambitions in 2016 (or whatever else she decides to do next)? I cannot see why else there would be this kind of uniform silence.

  2. Jonny Scrum-halfMay 21, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    I've noticed that the only place on TV that provides accurate and interesting criticism of the media is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Whenever I see him expose Republican talking points or various BS on Fox, I wonder why the regular news shows seem unable to make those same points. Oftentimes, it's as simple as contrasting a current argument with a series of video clips showing the hypocrisy and absurdity of that argument.

  3. Is fighting really the answer though? Rankin famously said that "you can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake." To fight back is to already buy the pre-supposition, that "this is an issue that matters". Another big distraction in the bread and circuses world. The "haves" continue to cart away truckloads of money from the wealth of nations. Engaging in THIS fight will throw a lot of dust into the air, and take attention away from other problems, other issues, like those truckloads of money.

    To make the case that this is a phony scandal ginned up by a bored press and a hostile opposition party also seems like, not a refusal to fight as much as it is "another way to fight". An effective way? Well, YMMV.

  4. I wish you'd correct the typo that says Gregory Hicks testified before the House on November 10, 2013 when I know you know it was May 10, 2013.

  5. "Engaging in THIS fight will throw a lot of dust into the air, and take attention away from other problems, other issues, like those truckloads of money."

    Right... Gotta ignore Benghazi, then we can focus like a laser on class war. Good prescription. WIN written all over it...

  6. Actually it is a good prescription. People are hurting, and they're uncertain. The problem of course is the Democratic Party and the corporate media don't have the stomach for anything of the sort, hell, they're on the altogether wrong side of the issue.

    It is correct unless addressed, the Benghazi "scandal", phoney as it is, will be corrosive.

  7. Hayes doesn't want to talk about this because there are so many real issues he'd rather be talking about, which he does a great job talking about--issues like drone strikes, Israel/Palestine, the economy, etc...

    I don't watch his new show regularly, but his two hour weekend shows were the smartest things on political television, with the exception of Bill Moyers. Here's something you don't get, Bob--not everyone is morally obligated to focus on exactly those issues you think most important. I agree that someone should be taking on the Republican and media BS about Benghazi, but it doesn't have to be Chris. I don't see you taking on the issues that Chris does handle fairly well. Is that supposed to be a moral failing in you?


    1. "Here's something you don't get, Bob--not everyone is morally obligated to focus on exactly those issues you think most important."

      Um, I think it's time to give this line of criticism a rest.