Part 1—Between a rock and two ferns: In 1980, the poet Billy Idol broke the world’s hearts with a sad tale of near-onanism:
When there's no one else in sightPoor Idol! We thought of the poet’s sad lament as we watched cable this weekend. In part, we refer to a tedious pair of segments we saw Steve Kornacki host.
In the crowded lonely night
Well I wait so long
For my love vibration
And I'm dancing with myself
Oh dancing with myself
Oh dancing with myself
Well there's nothing to lose
And there's nothing to prove
I'll be dancing with myself
On balance, we like the cut of Kornacki’s jib—but good God, this was tedious! As we watched, we thought about the way poor Idol had once danced with himself.
On Saturday morning’s Up, Kornacki led a housebroken panel of pundits through an endless discussion about the way Obama was criticized for guesting on the Internet comedy series, Between Two Ferns. His two segments ate 16 minutes of broadcast time.
It took twenty minutes off the clock, including a break for commercials.
The discussion was tedious, scripted, wholly predictable, poundingly dull. To our ear, it represents the way we in the liberal world are increasingly choosing to dance with, and talk to, ourselves.
No “others” need apply!
In its usual slacker way, MSNBC hasn’t managed to transcribe Kornacki’s segments yet. That said, MSNBC had now been flogging this relatively trivial criticism of Obama for five solid days.
As the world of “cable news” breaks down into tribal camps, each corporate channel must feed its tribe a steady dose of insult and disrespect from the other tribe. This particular insult to Obama seemed to be the biggest act of disrespect MSNBC could locate last week.
The channel pushed it again and again, sometimes in very dumb ways.
No one dumbed it down more than Rachel Maddow, who—let the word go forth from this time and place—has reached the point where she’s willing to overtly talk down to her viewers.
On Thursday evening—Day 3 of the outrage—Maddow opened one of her childish “Dysfunktion Junction” segments with this insult to Obama.
Pee Wee Herman couldn’t have dumbed it down more. This is the way she began:
MADDOW (3/13/14): Hoot hooooooot! Debunktion Junction, what’s my junction?Maddow played tape of Avila asking a question at Jay Carney’s daily press avail. Before and after she played the tape, she offered embellished versions of what Avila supposedly said.
What President Obama did this week, that was qualitatively unprecedented in terms of degrading the dignity of the White House. Is that true or is that false?
ABC News reporter Jim Avila at the White House press briefing this week was clearly making that claim.
AVILA (videotape): How much discussion was there at the White House about the dignity of the office, how much the dignity of the office might be lost? This is an interview like no other probably ever done by a president.
MADDOW: No other president has ever done anything like this. Why did President Obama decide to degrade the dignity of the office in this unprecedented way?
After her first embellished account, Maddow said that Avila “clearly made that claim.”
Maddow didn’t play tape of ABC’s actual news report about Obama’s appearance on Two Ferns, a news report which largely adopted the White House line about the event. Instead, she played tape of Avila asking a question at a presser.
She later declared that “ABC News” was “completely and totally wrong.”
Increasingly, this is the kind of low-IQ work we get from Our Own Rhodes Scholar. As Maddow denounced the top tribal insult, she also embellished a tweet by David Gergen, then clowned viewers with camouflaged pieces of tape:
MADDOW: David Gergen says it’s outrageous. Ike would never do a comedy show.Gergen didn’t say that Reagan and Ike “would never have done a comedy show.” Beyond that, here’s what Maddow didn’t tell you as she played short video clips of those presidents:
Behold, here is Ike doing a comedy show. President Eisenhower appearing on the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1955, on an episode on that also featured Abbot and Costello.
Ah, OK, maybe Ike did it, but surely Ronald Reagan would never do a comedy show. What was the phrase? He was always “carefully protecting the majesty of the office.” Reagan would never have done a comedy show.
Behold, here is Ronald Reagan doing a comedy show, as president taking part in comedy birthday specials for both George Burns and Bob Hope.
In the first bit of tape which quickly flashed by, Eisenhower was reading a formal statement at the start of the Colgate Comedy Hour’s salute to Armed Forces Week in 1955. (The rest of the program was broadcast “direct from March Air Force Base in Riverside, California.” To watch the whole program, click here.)
Also unmentioned: In the piece of videotape Maddow clipped next, Reagan was appearing with Hope at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. It was one of the three million programs Hope staged for the troops over the course of four decades.
(You can watch Reagan’s segment here. Reagan: “I would like to say, on behalf of your audience, nothing in the job I have has made me more proud than these young men and women in uniform.”)
We didn’t vote for Reagan; we weren’t fans of Hope. It’s also true that much of the criticism of Obama was the silly, pitifully scripted piddle which increasingly defines our national discourse.
(Much, though perhaps not all: On Wednesday night, Maddow’s “beloved colleague,” Chris Matthews, agreed with Kathleen Parker that the timing of Obama’s appearance on Two Ferns may have been unfortunate, coming as it did in the midst of an international crisis. On Thursday night, Matthews discussed the topic for the third straight night, climbing solidly back in line with his channel’s message.)
Most of the criticism of Obama was silly, inane, faux, bogus. It was right up there with the standard complaints about presidents playing too much golf—that particular bullroar started with Ike—or going on too many vacations, perhaps to the wrong locales.
Remember how Bush would take too many vacations and also play too much golf?
Much of the criticism was silly, faux, dumb. But so was that pitiful segment by Maddow. So, to a much lesser degree, was Kornacki’s effort.
Kornacki’s segments about Two Ferns were scripted, predictable, tired. Clearly, the liberal channel had gone in search of the latest insult to the tribe, the life blood of corporate cable “news” in this age of tribalized division.
That said, was this really the best we could do, several of the analysts asked. Kornacki’s segments went on and on. It was Day Five of the reaction to The Great Tribal Insult.
The analysts groaned, writhing in boredom. We thought of the way poor Billy Idol had once danced with himself.
Tomorrow: Jonathan Capehart guest hosts