Part 2—It’s piddle all the way down: Last night may have been the worst night we’ve ever seen on cable.
On cable “news,” that it.
That’s really going some. Before we describe what made it so bad, let’s recall what Professor Chwe wrote in this week’s Sunday Review.
Chwe was describing an alleged crisis in science. He isn’t the first to describe the core problem. This was the start of his portrait:
CHWE (2/2/14): Science is in crisis, just when we need it most. Two years ago, C. Glenn Begley and Lee M. Ellis reported in Nature that they were able to replicate only six out of 53 “landmark” cancer studies. Scientists now worry that many published scientific results are simply not true...That represents a strong description of last evening’s work on cable news—and especially on the cable news channel which markets itself as progressive.
A major root of the crisis is selective use of data. Scientists, eager to make striking new claims, focus only on evidence that supports their preconceptions.
MSNBC’s hosts kept proving it all night long. The channel exists to serve a species of the “confirmation bias” Chwe goes on to discuss.
In the world of science Chwe is describing, it’s pretty much novels—or piddle—all the way down. Scientists can’t even confirm the published findings of landmark studies.
That’s the type of world we rubes were handed by “progressive” TV stars last night.
Every topic was wiped from view except the chase after Christie. As a brief palate cleanser, hosts pretended to be upset by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Nothing else was discussed. Rachel Maddow devoted her entire hour to one part of the Christie chase, then apologized for the fact that she hadn’t been able to tell us about another part of the chase.
All other topics disappeared, and the dissembling was general. In precisely the manner Chwe described, progressive hosts picked and chose their representations, “focusing only on evidence that supported their preconceptions.”
Much of the “evidence” they presented had basically been made up. Maddow was especially awful, but no one else was much better.
In our next post, we’ll sample a few of last night’s problems from the progressive channel. But as a marker of the way the dumbness and dishonesty have spread from the world of Fox News to the world of Matthews and Maddow, let’s review the latest screed from Salon’s Joan Walsh.
Walsh wasn’t discussing Chris Christie in yesterday’s screed at Salon. Instead, she was discussing Bill O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama.
Quickly, a bit of background:
On Super Bowl Sunday, 1992, Candidate Clinton and his wife engaged in a strange performance. Immediately after the game, they went on a special edition of 60 Minutes to discuss Gennifer Flowers’ claim that she had conducted a torrid, 12-year love affair with the candidate.
Tens of millions of American males came to the broadcast straight from a solid day of drinking. As we said at the time on the comedy stage:
Under these peculiar circumstances, if Clinton had said, “Yeah, I blanked her. So what?” a cheer would have gone up around the country which might well have registered on the Richter scale.
Clinton didn’t say that. By 1999, it was clear that Flowers’ claims had never made any earthly sense; Flowers herself was now reduced to going on Hardball and Hannity & Comes for extended, gong-show performances in which she listed the Clintons’ many murders while telling the nation that Hillary Clinton was the world’s most gigantic lesbo.
Despite these facts, people like Frank Rich said we now knew she had been telling the truth! The insanity of our modern discourse was illustrated by those judgments, and by the spectacle in which a candidate was asked to discuss his sex life right after the Super Bowl.
This holiday practice has held. By now, it is expected that presidents will engage in TV interviews as part of the Super Bowl experience—that they will serve as an opening act for the game.
The sheer absurdity of this phenomenon has perhaps even occurred to Walsh—to someone who is eager to “make striking new claims, focus[ing] only on evidence that supports her preconceptions.” That pitiful process, which Chwe describes, has elsewhere been called “propaganda.”
The culture of propaganda has spread from Fox News, swallowing up our own tribe. This is the way the ludicrous Walsh started yesterday’s screed:
WALSH (2/3/14): I want so much to believe Frank Rich is right when he declares that Fox News is dying, kept alive mostly by the sustaining life support of liberal outrage. The average age of Fox viewers is now 68, Rich notes (as opposed to 60 for MSNBC and CNN), making it more like “a retirement community” than a titan of the American political landscape. Rich almost had me convinced that if Fox boss Roger Ailes couldn’t drink the tears of liberals, he would die of thirst, and Fox would cease to matter.On our secular national holiday, did O’Reilly seem “like a patient who’d gotten a day pass from a sanitarium where delusional convalescents babble...until someone comes and puts them to bed?”
Watching Fox’s Bill O’Reilly interview President Obama before the Super Bowl last night, you could find evidence for Rich’s view. Obama seemed calm and sane, while O’Reilly appeared unmoored from reality, like a patient who’d gotten a day pass from a sanitarium where delusional convalescents babble about Benghazi and the IRS and the Obamacare website until someone comes and puts them to bed.
But I thought the sit-down mainly showed Fox’s enduring hold on the political culture, which it is giving up no time soon. Consider the spectacle of a buffoon like O’Reilly, who had flailed away in a marginal television career until Ailes matched his talent for bullying with the Fox audience’s appetite for same, getting to grill the world’s most powerful man on Super Bowl Sunday, which is for better or worse America’s secular national holiday.
That is a matter of judgment, of course. Though we’d say that Walsh pretty much seemed that way, as she flailed away at O’Reilly in a way which was guaranteed to make low-IQ hearts very glad.
To our eye, most of O’Reilly’s work in his session with Obama trended fairly strongly toward dumb, though a few of his questions didn’t. That would include his very first question. (“I want to get some things on the record, so let's begin with health care. October 1st, it rolls out. Immediately, there are problems with the computers. When did you know there were going to be problems with those computers?”)
To peruse the full transcript, click here.
In our view, O’Reilly’s questions trended toward dumb. But if you want to see the way the dumbness has spread to our tribe and captured our hearts, peruse this first attempt at analysis by Walsh:
WALSH: It’s easy to laugh off the O’Reilly interview. From the perspective of liberals, and we’re right about this, Obama cleaned O’Reilly’s clock, answering his every question with clarity and the occasional appropriate edge of impatience. This Benghazi exchange was my favorite, and kind of typical of the night:Here at the Howler, we’ve dug rivers defining the problem with the Fox News framing of Benghazi—which is also the mainstream framing of Benghazi, though a ridiculous hustler like Walsh will never tell you that.
“Your detractors believe that you did not tell the world it was a terror attack because your campaign didn’t want that out,” O’Reilly insisted. “That’s what they believe.”
“And they believe it because folks like you are telling them that,” Obama shot back. He said later, “These kinds of things keep on surfacing, in part because you and your TV station will promote them.”
(Just three weeks ago, the New York Times was still flatly misquoting Susan Rice on its front page, and otherwise misrepresenting what she said about Benghazi. Walsh didn’t complain about that, and she never will. Darlings! Career in the balance!)
The standard framework about Benghazi has been amazingly wrong. That said, Walsh is telling us, in that passage, about the clear, convincing way in which Obama responded to each of O’Reilly’s questions.
Alas! On its face, the example she then provides is a prime example of evasion! In the Q-and-A as she presents it, Obama fails to respond to O’Reilly’s question in a clear, substantive way!
Hopeless! “Obama cleaned O’Reilly’s clock,” Walsh writes, “answering his every question with clarity.” Saying it’s her favorite example, she then presents a Q-and-A in which Obama doesn’t answer with clarity!
That’s much like the world Chwe describes. It’s a world in which we simply present the claims we find pleasing, without the slightest regard for the quality of the evidence we bring to bear.
On balance, how well did Obama answer O’Reilly’s questions about Benghazi? On balance, we’d say he answered them poorly. But you don’t have to listen to us! Last night, Chris Matthews railed against the weakness of Obama’s responses on this topic.
After playing tape from the interview, he and Joy Reid said this:
MATTHEWS (2/3/14): This is my problem, Joy, with that interview, and the questioning from O’Reilly. I’m not a media critic. But the information is out there that Susan Rice told the truth. It was a spontaneous attack on our facility in Benghazi. It did come as a kind of a copycat to what was happening on all the airwaves in Cairo, which was, the attacks there were in response, apparently, to the video, the crazy right-wing video that came out of Los Angeles.Different people will differ about Obama’s response on that topic. For our money, Matthews still isn’t especially clear about what Susan Rice said.
So it was right! She got it right, Susan Rice. Why is the president not just blasting it back at the guy and saying, “O’Reilly, catch up?”
REID: You know what? That’s a good question as to the president’s response...
That said, one reason why Obama gave a weak response is because people like Matthews, Reid and Walsh (and Maddow) failed to push back in real time—failed to develop an accurate account of what Rice actually said.
Had they developed an accurate account of what Rice said, Obama could have drawn on it last night. Instead, they all ran off and hid in the woods. Rice died on the vine.
We thought Obama’s responses were weak regarding Benghazi. For the record, he started with a direct evasion of O’Reilly first question on this topic too.
But so what? In the world of confirmation bias, someone like Walsh will simply say the things her readers want to hear. Any “evidence” she offers will be taken as confirmation, even if her “evidence” flies in the face of her claim.
Walsh is completely hopeless. Equally hopeless is a world in which progressives can’t see that fact—in which we’ve become ditto-heads to overpaid leaders too.
As Walsh continued, she played dumb about a question O’Reilly read on behalf of a viewer. Last night, O’Reilly explained the background to the question for the rest of his Fox News viewers.
At Salon, we libs were left in the dark.
How bad is our own liberal confirmation bias becoming? By rule of law, Walsh had to toy with race before she was done with her screed. This is the pleasure she offered:
WALSH: I found the whole thing profoundly depressing. Maybe the worst part was when O’Reilly asked a viewer’s question: “Why do you feel it’s necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity?” O’Reilly presumably got lots of suggestions from viewers, and I’m sure many were uglier than that. But what does it mean that that’s the question he chose?By rule of law, the viewer’s question had to be ugly. By rule of law, it had to reveal an ugly racial strain.
It means, again, that O’Reilly and Ailes and their viewers see this president as unqualified and ungrateful, an affirmative action baby who won’t thank us for all we’ve done for him and his cohort. The question was, of course, deeply condescending and borderline racist. Obama has been afforded “so much opportunity”? What about O’Reilly, who pretends he’s a working-class son of Levittown, Long Island, when he’s actually the kid of an accountant who grew up in Westbury and went to private high school and university?
This notion that an older generation of white people worked hard for everything they achieved, while a younger generation of folks like Barack Obama had their success handed to them, is a staple of the white backlash that Ailes has been channeling since he helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968....As we make the transition to a fully multiracial democracy, our leading cable news network is headed by a man who has spent his entire career channeling his own paranoia and resentment and weird racial ideas. Oh, and sexism.
By rule of law, that question had to mean that O’Reilly worked hard for his success while Obama was simply handed his.
The question didn’t say that, of course. It didn’t say anything like that. But, by rule of law, that’s what it had to mean. So it goes as we are handed to our own world of inanity and bias.
Anyone with an ounce of sense would know that isn’t the way O’Reilly would have framed that question’s meaning. As he answered, Obama beat O’Reilly to it:
O’REILLY (2/2/14): OK. I got a letter from Kathy LaMaster, Fresno, California. I said I would read one letter from the folks, all right?The answer continued from there. In the course of the answer, the Messrs. O agreed that they each had benefitted, in the same ways, from the opportunities afforded by their incredible country.
OBAMA: All right.
O’REILLY: "Mr. President, why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success?"
OBAMA: I don't think we have to fundamentally transform the nation—
O’REILLY: But those are your words.
OBAMA: I think that what we have to do is make sure that here in America, if you work hard, you can get ahead. Bill, you and I benefitted from this incredible country of ours, in part, because there were good jobs out there that paid a good wage, because you had public schools that functioned well, that we could get scholarships if we didn't come from a wealthy family in order to go to college.
That’s how the warriors framed the question. By rule of law, though, our hackish leader had to insist it was racial all the way down.
Last week, MSNBC conducted its latest firing, or at least it said it did. (No one was named. Absent confirmation, you can’t believe the things you’re told by the channel’s corporate suits.)
As usual, the latest firing concerned another boneheaded statement about the alleged racial hatred which rules The Other Tribe.
The brains of us liberals are being fried, much as the brains of conservatives have been fried in the past several decades. If we might borrow from Lord Russell, it’s now piddle all the way down, even over here among our own sad biased tribe.
Still coming: A penalty and a fine