Part 4—Young scribe showered with praise: When pundits are forced to discuss their own conduct, they rarely try to say what they actually know or believe.
Instead, they throw the gorilla dust, attempting to obscure the behavior of their colleagues and friends. This helps explain what happened last week on two different Morning Joe programs.
Breaking the rules of pundit decorum, Mark Halperin offered a stinging portrait of the way the press covers Hillary Clinton.
You aren’t supposed to do such things. Halperin did it twice!
“She has a lot of positive attributes that are currently just being overwhelmed by all this negative coverage,” Halperin said on Tuesday, July 22. “And it’s going to keep going...The press loves to cover her hard.”
Three days later, Halperin extended his indictment. According to Halperin, Clinton “is destined to get horrible coverage if she runs for president.”
Pundits aren’t supposed to say such things about the work of the press! And so, on Tuesday morning’s program, other scribes swung into action.
No one really disputed the claim that Clinton gets negative coverage. Indeed, Mike Barnacle and Mika Brzezinski rather explicitly seemed to agree with this unpleasant assessment (for text, see below).
That’s when the gorilla dust started to fly! Morning Joe pundits feigned incomprehension as to why they include “a negative twist” in all their coverage of Hillary Clinton. The pundits seemed baffled by their own conduct!
Early on, though, Mika Brzezinski took a different tack.
How faux will the pseudo-discussions be when pundits pretend to assess their own conduct? As we noted yesterday, Brzezinski made an absurd suggestion as to how Clinton could have overcome the negative treatment of her speaking fees.
Brzezinski made an absurd suggestion. Let’s recall what she said:
BRZEZINSKI (7/22/14): Eugene and Julie—Eugene first.According to Mika, that’s what Clinton should have said about the monstrous fees she has been “raking in.”
I’m just wondering, because in retrospect there was one thing I thought about that actually made me feel really good about the amount of her speaking fees that she was raking in. I’m just wondering if she could have deflected positively, Eugene, and said something like, “Well, aren’t you, aren’t you happy for me as a woman? Aren’t you glad that a woman can command such unbelievable speaking fees? And what men can do that, by the way? We are in a new era and I am at the front of that line.”
What would be wrong with talking about the role of women in society, equal pay, and also women doing as well as men and sometimes outrageously well?
Can we talk? Clinton has a slight tin ear when it comes to such discussions. But even Clinton would never make a statement as absurd as the one Mika suggested.
To state the obvious, the pundit corps would massacre Clinton if she made such a statement. No sane person would be so dumb as to say what Mika suggested.
Mika’s idea was completely absurd. Rather than say so, Gene Robinson chose to obey the rules of upper-end pundit culture.
Indeed, Robinson went for the hat trick this day. Let's preview his steps:
First, he agreed with Mika’s absurd suggestion. Then, he introduced a “negative twist” of his own about Clinton.
He ended by feigning incomprehension about the press corps’ view of the Clintons. Robinson is thoroughly bright. This passage is thoroughly faux:
ROBINSON (continuing directly): I think that certainly would have been a better line than the one she’s taken, which is just to kind of be buffeted around by it and pretend that she’s not making all that money, which she is. You know, it is kind of ironic, the scrutiny of the Clintons’ personal finances. You know, they—she was born to not great wealth, but she was comfortable growing up, but not fantastically wealthy or anything. The Clintons have worked very hard and have made a lot of money and that’s supposed to be something I thought that people respected and admired. It’s the American way. Yet, they’re the Clintons. And you know, if you look up the phrase “lightning rod” in the dictionary, I suspect you see pictures of Bill and Hillary Clinton.What should Hillary Clinton have said about her speaking fees? In the way Barnacle later described, Robinson added a “negative note” in his response to Mika.
First, he pretended that Mika’s suggestion made good sense. But then, he added a bogus claim about what Clinton was saying.
As of July 22, it was absurd to say that Clinton was “pretend[ing] that she’s not making all that money, while she is.” But so what? Robinson added that “negative twist” as he deferred to Mika.
He then feigned incomprehension about the reasons for the Clintons’ negative coverage. They’re lightning rods, the pundit said, forgetting to say why he and his colleagues react to the Clintons that way.
Robinson had gone for the hat trick. It’s important that we grasp an essential point:
Robinson wasn’t being sincere when he offered that statement. He wasn’t saying the actual things he thinks, knows and believes.
He was keeping viewers in the dark about the conduct of his guild—and this was deliberate conduct. This is how pundits always behave on the rare occasions when they’re forced to pretend to discuss their own conduct.
These same discussions occurred in 1999, when Howard Kurtz asked two panels of pundits to explain the “harsh coverage and punditry” being dumped on Candidate Gore.
Then as now, no one disputed the claim that the “harsh coverage” was occurring. But the pundits were completely unable to explain the behavior of their colleagues and friends!
These pseudo-discussions are utterly faux. Consider what happened on Morning Joe when one of the insider pundits put Julie Pace on the spot.
Mike Barnacle is 70 years old. He has been a major insider since the dawn of time.
Julie Pace (Northwestern 2004) is maybe 31. She’s a youngish reporter for the AP. To judge from her many cable appearances, including on Fox, she’s very much on the way up.
After Robinson’s presentation, Barnacle put Pace on the spot. He agreed that he and his colleagues do in fact add a “negative note” whenever they discuss Clinton.
Surely, Barnacle must have some idea as to why this misconduct occurs. But instead of stating his view on the matter, he asked the much younger AP reporter to explain his own misbehavior.
Sure enough! When Barnacle put Pace on the spot, the young scribe knew what to do. In this passage, a young reporter who’s on the way up can be seen earning her stripes:
BARNACLE (continuing directly): Julie, I don’t want to put you on the spot. You know, you’re a reporter. And I don’t want to really put you on the spot...Barnacle completely agreed with Halperin’s stinging indictment. Then he threw to the much younger Pace and she explained it away!
But I’m wondering if you have any sense of why, or how, everything about Hillary Clinton, in terms of media coverage—that’s us! that’s you and me, it’s Mark, it’s Willie, it’s Mika—seems to have like a negative note contained in it.
BRZEZINSKI: Twist, yeah!
PACE: Well, I would say one thing first. When she was secretary of state, she actually did get quite favorable coverage. And her team has talked about this, how they enjoyed working with the State Department press corps, they felt like they were a serious group of reporters, they focused on policy.
You know, she is shifting from diplomatic press to political press, and those are different stories. They’re different reporters, and they’re just different story lines.
And I think that, in terms of the coverage of her wealth in particular, we have to remember that a lot of this goes back to the way that she responded to the questions. We all knew that the Clintons had a lot of money—that they were raking in big speaking fees. But it was the way that she approached the topic, the way that she tried to explain it to people, that started to draw a lot of the criticism.
Also, you know, this is politics. This is how politicians are covered. At this point on the Democratic side, she is the clear front-runner. On the Republican side, it’s a wider field. So as that field starts to narrow, I think you’re going to see similarly intense coverage of those candidates.
Pace began by saying that Clinton got favorable coverage when she was secretary of state. That may or may not be true, but the question concerns the way she’s being treated as a presumptive candidate.
Pace had an answer for that. The political press has “different stories. They’re different reporters, and they’re just different story lines.”
It’s not entirely clear what that means. But Barnacle had just finished saying that the political press, himself included, adds “a negative note” to all its coverage of Clinton.
Pace didn’t respond to that statement. But in regard to the treatment of Clinton’s wealth, Pace knew how to explain that away: Clinton had made them do it!
“A lot of this goes back to the way that she responded to the questions,” Pace said. “It was the way that she approached the topic, the way that she tried to explain it to people, that started to draw a lot of the criticism.”
Pace repeated Mika’s language about the way the Clintons are “raking in” big fees. She didn’t explain why questions about personal wealth were being asked in interviews concerning a book about the State Department.
Why were questions being asked about Clinton's wealth at all? Why have press reactions to Clinton’s one statement been so widespread and so extreme?
Clinton made us do it, Pace said. But Pace had one more thing to say about the way Clinton is being covered:
“This is politics,” she said. “This is how politicians are covered.”
In fact, we know of no politician who has ever been covered this way, especially when she wasn’t an actual candidate and no campaign was occurring. Consider a recent example:
In 2007, Rudy Giuliani was a declared presidential candidate. The campaign was fully underway. Giuliani was the runway front-runner in the Republican polls.
But how odd! The press corps paid almost no attention to Giuliani’s very large speaking fees, or to the plainly inaccurate things he had said about them. Plainly, this isn’t the way politicians were covered in that recent instance. (For links, see below.)
Julie Pace had given the press corps a clean bill of health! In effect, she disagreed with everything Mike and Mika had just finished saying.
Mike and Mika, two major insiders, had seemed to say that they and their kind add “a negative twist” whenever they discuss Clinton. Moments before, the baffled Robinson had seemed to provide an example.
Julie Pace washed their sins away! And if you review the videotape, you’ll hear the ironic applause from Mike and Mika as her statement ended.
You can hear their tone on the videotape. As Pace completed her whitewash, they offered ironic praise:
BRZEZINSKI (continuing directly): Well handled, Julie! All right, still ahead on Morning Joe—Their irony wasn’t cloaked or disguised. If you listen to the tape, you can hear the irony from the old pros as the youngster who’s on the way up earned her stripes this day.
BARNACLE: Good job! Yeah!
Mika is paid $2 million per year to stage these phony discussions. Needless to say, she is concerned about the large fees Hillary Clinton is raking!
In the case of Giuliani: Is this “how politicians are covered?” Pace’s whitewash to the side, we’d pretty much have to say no.
In 2007, this isn’t the way Candidate Giuliani was covered. He too had gained a lot of wealth from very large speaking fees. In his case, he had made overt misstatements about his speaking fees.
Unlike Clinton, he was a declared candidate in a race which was fully underway. He was way ahead in the GOP polls—and the press corps barely batted an eye about his speaking fees.
We covered this topic on July 17. To read that report, click here.
On July 22, Eric Boehlert went into a bit more detail at Media Matters. Our analysts love their Uncle Eric. To read his report, click this.
A few hours earlier, Pace had said that all politicians get covered this way. We’d say her statement was rather shaky—although, on the brighter side, she did earn her stripes that day.