Interlude—A look at post-rational practice: Aristotle is said to have said that we, the so-called human beings, are the rational animal.
We’d call that a gross overstatement. How “rational” does the work of our nation’s “press corps” generally seem?
Were we observing the work of the rational animal when we watched the tapes from yesterday’s Morning Joe? In this early six-minute segment, Mika and Joe and the rest of the panel gasped about the vast sum Hillary Clinton was paid for her speech at The University at Buffalo last year.
They worked from the banner headline report in yesterday’s Washington Post. Less than three minutes in, Steve Schmidt had a complaint:
SCHMIDT (7/17/14): If this was a Republican candidate in the same position, this would be the dominant political headline. People would be shouting from the rooftops. It’s extraordinary.In fairness to Schmidt, he was partly citing the drop in Clinton’s approval ratings since leaving the State Department. That said:
In yesterday’s post, we noted the press corps’ almost total disinterest in the very large speaking fees Rudy Giuliani received before becoming a candidate in 2007. The Republican got large speaking fees too. The press corps didn’t care.
With regard to “shouting from the rooftops,” did we mention the banner headline in the Washington Post from which this panel was working? Large parts of the press corps are shouting quite loud—for example, this outraged Morning Joe panel!
Moments later, Chuck Todd said he agreed with Schmidt about “the political tone deafness” of Clinton’s behavior. His remarks strike us as very odd. In context, they’re hard to defend:
TODD: I’m with Steve. All of this book tour; all of these decisions to go out and basically make your post-presidential money before you run for—before you actually are president? Which is really what’s going [on]. Ex-presidents make money like this, not candidates before they run.From hearing that, would a viewer realize that the fee from Clinton’s speech was donated to a philanthropic organization? It certainly didn’t sound that way, and no one spoke up to offer that basic point of clarification. Viewers were simply left with the claim that Clinton was out there “making her post-presidential money” when she gave that speech.
Joe jumped in to agree with all points—and to gasp at the Clintons’ net worth:
SCARBOROUGH: And Chuck, you’re talking about all the money she’s making, ex-president money. As Steve pointed out, they are worth one hundred million dollars! Like, $275,000? That’s a ton of cash, unless you are worth $100 million. So why do it? Why not give the speech and then announce at the end of the speech, “I’m going to give this money back to SUNY-Buff for a scholarship fund for journalism, or for political science or for disadvantaged youth”—whatever! I don’t understand.Would viewers understand that the money in question did go into a philanthropic fund? It certainly didn’t sound that way, and no one stepped up to tell them.
Meanwhile, from his gasping about the money, would viewers understand that Scarborough’s salary is reported to be $5 million per year?
No one said anything that was flatly inaccurate during this segment. But this conversation was grossly misleading. It was dominated by the information everyone agreed to leave out.
Were viewers ever told that the money from Buffalo was donated to the Clinton Foundation? Yes they were, though the disclosure arrived in a cloud of gorilla dust.
Right at the start, Mika introduced the general topic to the panel. In the process, she performed an act of left-handed disclosure:
BRZEZINSKI: Chuck, also Steve Schmidt, I want to ask about the Hillary Clinton story that we were talking about. And this is about the Washington Post report that SUNY Buffalo paid her $275,000 for a speech in October of last year.At “first whiff,” Mika thought the story was “kind of shocking.” $275,000 for an hour speech!
The speech was under an hour, there were all sorts of other constraints in the contract. I think there’s another college that paid her $225,000—that’s UNLV.
Clinton has said that all of her college speaking fees go to the Clinton Foundation. But first, they go to the speakers bureau, in total.
What’s your take on that? First whiff of this story, it’s kind of shocking. $275,000 for an hour speech!
As we noted yesterday, Giuliani had been making speeches for $200,000 eight to ten years earlier. In that case, the press corps barely said boo.
Whatever! In that passage, you see the one place where viewers were told that the shocking fee in question went to the Clinton Foundation. But please remember what we have told you: When the guild had declared a jihad, ameliorating information must always arrive in a cloud of suspicion.
Brzezinski borrowed the slippery conduct by Philip Rucker which we discussed in yesterday's report. Clinton said that her college speaking fees go to the foundation, Mika said—failing to note that this arrangement was specified in the Buffalo contract.
“But first, they go to the speakers bureau, in total,” she rather strangely added.
That murky statement isn’t inaccurate. It just wraps the whole disclosure in twin clouds of distraction and suspicion.
Incredibly, that was the only time in the six-minute segment that the donation of the fee was ever mentioned. From this point on, everyone spoke as if the money in question was taken for personal use.
Rational animals, can we talk? Whatever this discussion was, it wasn’t “rational” conduct. And it certainly didn’t represent sound journalistic practice.
In fact, it was barely “journalism” at all—but so what? Gene Robinson made no attempt to clarify any part of this misleading discussion. But then, this is the way this guild has behaved for a very long time.
Tomorrow, we’re going to try to wrap up this week’s report. With apologies, it’s hard to get to all the ways the rational animals find themselves moved to perform.