Epilogue—Matthews’ spawn: In the past week, we’ve reviewed an astonishing bit of conduct by Chris Matthews, a remarkable false accusation.
For yesterday's post, click here.
Matthews’ conduct occurred in May 1999; it could have gotten somebody killed. Our review triggers a basic question:
Fifteen years later, how can an unbalanced person like Matthews possibly be on the air?
It isn’t just the false accusation, which involved heinous misconduct. We also recalled the ridiculous way Matthews proceeded from there.
He consulted by phone with Gennifer Flowers, who swore by Kathleen Willey’s greatness. He interviewed “body language expert” Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, his personal version of Sybil the Soothsayer.
She told Matthews that his favorite accuser seemed to be telling the truth!
We recalled Matthews’ half hour session with Flowers that August, during which he praised her astonishing hotness as she rattled on about the Clintons’ various murders. We recalled his lunatic session with Dimitrius that November, in which the pair tried to discern the sexual meaning of Candidate Gore’s troubling three-button suits.
We briefly recalled the endless insults he aimed at Candidate Gore for the two years of Campaign 2000. We discussed the dozens of times he called Gore “the bathtub ring.” We spared you Matthews’ repeated statement that Gore “would lick the bathroom floor” in order to reach the White House.
(By mid-September 2000, Gore had shot into a ten-point lead over Bush; official Washington largely believed that the election was over. As a result, Matthews apologized on the air for the serial “bathroom floor” insult. As it turned out, his apology was premature. Later that month, his colleagues invented two new “lies” by Gore, whose lead in the polls disappeared.)
We could have gone on and on from there. There’s really no end to the gruesome misconduct by this unbalanced man through the years.
Even by Matthews’ own standards, his false accusation in May 1999 was as astonishing act of misconduct—and it could have gotten somebody killed. But Matthews’ conduct was astonishing all through 1999 and 2000. How was it possible that any of this ludicrous was accepted? How was it even remotely possible that a man of this low caliber could have remained on the air?
More strikingly, how is it possible that you’ve never read about this misconduct in the mainstream press? In the work of your favorite career liberals?
By normal journalistic standards, Matthews’ false accusation was an astonishing act. That said, such standards were long gone by the time of his false accusation. Let’s recall one part of the lonely column by Lars-Erik Nelson in response to Matthews’ misconduct:
NELSON (5/21/99): Hank Buchanan has an excuse. He is a manic depressive. Matthews has none...Talk-show TV was still a “new world” when Nelson wrote this lonely column. That said, Matthews was already “a screaming, manic TV opinion-monger who poses as a journalist.”
[Matthews] had never bothered to check his story before blurting it out, never bothered to call Shearer. In the new world of talk-show TV there is no need to be accurate, only to make money.
"The past year has been, I think, the worst year for American journalism since I entered the profession 44 years ago," David Halberstam writes in the preface to "Warped Speed," a Century Foundation study of current reporting standards. "The standards for verification, so critical to serious and fair reporting, have fallen dramatically."
Matthews is a central figure in this book, a screaming, manic TV opinion-monger who poses as a journalist...
Matthews is still a manic clown who poses as a journalist. But very few people other than Nelson batted an eye at his false accusation. Three months later, no press critic in the nation said a word about his ludicrous session with Flowers.
By now, “cable news” is known to be a cancer on the nation. Matthews is still a manic screamer. Rachel Maddow isn’t.
Maddow’s persona differs from that of her beloved colleague, but she plays similar games on the TV machine. Consider the slimy accusation/insinuation she floated this Wednesday, providing the latest scandal thrill to her partisan viewers.
In fairness, Wednesday’s program had it all from the scandal thrill perspective. She devoted her first two segments of the program to the Fort Lee matter. These segments totaled more than 26 minutes of broadcast time, about 60 percent of her program’s total.
Those segments had it all! We even thought we might have spotted one of Maddow’s trademark “smuggled corrections,” in which she changes her account of some matter without saying she’s done so.
Whatever! For today, let’s consider the slimy accusation she lodged. It isn’t as bad as what Matthews did in May 1999. But if you favor decent behavior and intelligent journalism, we’d have to say it came close.
For the record, Maddow’s scandal pimping is often extremely dumb. As we’ve noted, she isn’t obsessively honest. This was the latest example of these holes in her game.
Toward the end of Wednesday’s first segment, Maddow floated her latest insinuation/accusation against one of The Others. In the main, this latest pleasing insinuation was aimed at a Port Authority police officer, Chip Michaels.
All in all, Maddow’s accusation didn’t even make much sense. She pimped it all the same.
As Maddow played with her dolls that night, this is what she imagined:
On the first day of the lane closings, Michaels drove David Wildstein around to view the effects on traffic. With the use of a newly released text message, Maddow now suggested that Michaels was looking for ways to make traffic worse that morning.
“Yes, we’re going to stick it to Fort Lee. But how can we really stick it to Fort Lee?”
So said Maddow, suggesting that this may have been Michaels’ goal.
In the passage which follows, Maddow starts to outline the shape of the scheme she imagined. Michaels and Wildstein drive around together. Roughly an hour later, Michaels sends Wildstein a text:
MADDOW (2/19/14): “Yes, we’re going to stick it to Fort Lee. But how can we really stick it to Fort Lee?”Michaels and Wildstein have surveyed the state of the traffic. Now, Michaels sends Wildstein a text. Then he texts someone else.
Look at the timing here...It was 7:28 AM when David Wildstein said he was going to go take a ride with Chip and see how it looks. It’s roughly 7:30 in the morning.
Now he gets in the car with the Port Authority police lieutenant to go take a look at the traffic that has ensued from what he’s done. 7:30.
A little bit more than an hour later, it appears that that police officer, that Port Authority police lieutenant and David Wildstein are no longer together...We know that because there’s no reason for two people in a car together to text each other if they’re in the car together.
So we can assume that the ride-around has ended when that Port Authority police lieutenant sends another text, a follow-up text, to David Wildstein.
Playing the role of Nancy Drew, Maddow laid out more facts:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Remember they went on the ride-around at 7:30. At 8:46, the Port Authority police lieutenant, Chip, says, “I may have an idea to make this better.” That’s 8:46 AM.Exciting! At 8:46, Michaels texted Wildstein, saying this: “I may have an idea to make this better.” Forty-five minutes later, he sent a text to the Fort Lee police chief with a suggestion for dealing with the traffic problems.
Well, now, as of today, we know that 45 minutes after that, the same police lieutenant who’d been riding around with David Wildstein, who had an idea “to make this better,” sends another text message to the Fort Lee police chief, and that is him making a suggestion about how to deal with these traffic problems that were so bad this morning.
As of Wednesday, that text message to the Fort Lee police chief was new—it had just been released. Maddow’s slimy accusation would be based on its contents.
Please note—the email in question was sent by Michaels to the chief of police in Fort Lee. The fact that it went to the Fort Lee chief will help us see how unlikely Maddow’s new accusation seems to be.
As Maddow continued, she quoted Michaels’ message to the Fort Lee chief. After that, she blatantly misrepresented a news report in Wednesday’s Bergen Record.
This is unfortunate conduct by Maddow, conduct worthy of Matthews:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Quote, "Suggest we send westbound traffic from Hudson Terrace to Center Avenue entrance." So if you want to know where that is, he’s suggesting sending the traffic coming from Hudson Terrace to Center Avenue instead. Remember this whole area is gridlocked. The source of the gridlock is those access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.As anyone can see, this is a nasty insinuation about Michaels’ intentions that day. But the insinuation doesn’t make much sense—and it’s based on a blatant misrepresentation of what the Bergen Record reported.
Well, the Bergen Record reporting on that text message today—the Bergen Record is Bergen County, which is where physically this all happened, so they can report the actual local, on-the-ground truth of this stuff. In reporting on that message today, the Bergen Record notes that what that police officer was proposing [shouting] would have made everything way worse! It would have rerouted local traffic toward the closed lanes.
Quote, “That move would have forced traffic to pass the lane closures.” So that Port Authority police lieutenant says to David Wildstein, “Hey, I have an idea of how to make this better.” They’ve been driving around looking at how bad it is, because David Wildstein wants to see how bad he’s been able to make those traffic problems for Fort Lee.
They’ve been riding around looking at it. After he drops David Wildstein off, he goes, “Hey, I got an idea to make this better.” And less than an hour later, his idea is an idea to actually make this way worse for Fort Lee.
No, Virginia! In the news report in question, the Bergen Record didn’t say that Michaels’ suggestion would have made everything “way worse.”
Maddow used that thrilling phrase twice, but she herself had dreamed it up. It made her speculation more thrilling.
It just wasn’t accurate.
In the news report in question, the Bergen Record did report that the Fort Lee chief rejected Michaels' suggestion in a return text message. But the paper didn’t say that the suggestion would have made things “way worse,” or that the chief said that.
Maddow vastly embellished the Record’s report. That made her accusation sound better, but it wasn’t true.
Here’s why Maddow’s insinuation doesn’t even seem to make much sense:
Essentially, Maddow is suggesting the possibility that Michaels was proposing a Nixonian “rat fuck.” In the guise of trying to make things better, he was actually trying to make things “way worse.”
If Michaels had sent some proposal to Wildstein, you could imagine such a scheme—although you’d still be engaged in rank speculation. But if he was proposing a rat fuck, why would he send his idea to the Fort Lee chief?
According to the standard account of this matter, Team Christie was working hard that day to avoid contact with Fort Lee authorities. When Michaels texted the Fort Lee chief, he stepped outside this stream.
Question: Why would Michaels want to send an absurd idea to the Fort Lee chief? Presumably, the Fort Lee chief would simply reject such a plan.
In this case, the chief did reject Michaels’ proposal. But if the proposal was a rat fuck, why would Michaels have sent it to him?
As Maddow continued, she offered her one disclaimer concerning Michaels’ intentions. But she went on to weave a thrilling tale about what might have occurred.
Warning! It isn’t just the Bergen Record! In what follows, Maddow mischaracterized what the police chief said too:
MADDOW (continuing directly): We don’t know if that was the police lieutenant’s intention. We know from the records released today that the Fort Lee police chief responded to the Port Authority policeman by essentially saying, “Are you crazy? That cannot happen, there’s already gridlock there.” [Chuckles]Maddow offered one brief disclaimer, then wove an elaborate speculation. As always, you have to watch the tape to appreciate the effect of her histrionics.
But was there an effort underway? Not just in designing the bridge shutdown ahead of time, but, once it was underway, to crank it down further and try to make it even worse for Fort Lee than it already was? When the kids weren’t getting to school, when the ambulances weren’t getting to people, when the police were not able to respond to people, when people were stuck for hours in what ought to be a minutes-long commute, was there an effort underway during the bridge shutdown to make it even worse because it wasn’t bad enough yet?
And did that effort extend beyond Chris Christie’s allies at the Port Authority, who were doing the whole thing, to also include a law enforcement agency? When that bridge was used as a weapon to try to hurt that town for reasons that still haven’t been explained. We have that newly today because Fort Lee just released this [big stack of documents] on top of the legislative committee releasing this [other big stack of documents]. It has been a really bad day for trees, but it has been a big day for this story.
Stay with us.
To watch the full segment, click here.
In that passage, Maddow offered her sole disclaimer concerning Michaels’ possible motives. But uh-oh! She quickly undermined her disclaimer with another embellishment.
Sorry! The police chief didn’t say, “Are you crazy?” in response to Michaels’ text message. He didn’t say that literally, and he didn’t say it “essentially.”
Maddow invented that colorful statement. Once again, she embellished what somebody said to make her tale more thrilling.
As she closed her program's opening segment, Maddow was engaged in a long speculation. The possibility she imagined was this:
Michaels was trying to make the traffic jams even worse that day. He was trying to make the situation even more dangerous.
Toward that end, he sent a text to the Fort Lee police chief designed to make things “way worse.” To state the obvious, Maddow was imagining some very ugly behavior.
Everything is possible! Michaels may be revealed as the head of al Qaeda by the time the Fort Lee probes are done. And Rachel may be the head of the mob! That is possible too!
That said, journalists aren’t supposed to play with dolls on the air, as this extremely willful person increasingly seems to be doing. Journalists aren’t supposed to drag people’s names through the mud on the basis of very slender speculations—in this case, a speculation which is supported by embellished accounts of a news report and a police chief’s statement.
Sorry, Rachel! The Fort Lee police chief didn’t say that Michaels’ proposal was “crazy.” And the Bergen Record didn’t say that it would have made matters “way worse.” Those embellishments came from Maddow, who was playing with dolls that night, just as her beloved colleague was doing when he almost got somebody killed.
Maddow’s thrilling speculation was extremely tenuous. It advanced an ugly suggestion on the basis of doctored evidence.
That’s a very bad thing to do. But willful cable TV stars rarely care about that.
Matthews didn’t give a rat’s ass when he almost got somebody killed. Maddow didn’t give a good goddamn when she took out her Chip Michaels doll and began telling us stories.
As is often the case, Maddow’s work this night wasn’t obsessively honest. Since Michaels’ proposal went to the chief of the Fort Lee police, it also tended toward dumb.
In fairness, she gave her viewers a new scandal thrill, as she tries to do each night. As she did, she made her viewers dumber—and she dragged someone’s name through some very deep mud on a very slender basis.
Decent people don’t do things like that. Rachel Maddow does this shit all the goddamn time.
All next week, we’ll ask a question: Who is Rachel Maddow? Whoever she is, she has grown to resemble her beloved colleague.
Matthews shouts, while Maddow snarks. Otherwise, what’s the difference?