Part 6—The nightmares of Corporate County: On Thursday, October 5, 2000, did someone possibly make a phone call from The Houses of Nantucket County?
We’d guess that someone almost certainly did! The key to that judgment involves the peculiar presence of Rush Limbaugh on that day’s Hardball program.
Let’s recall what occurred:
On Tuesday, October 3, 2000, Candidate Bush and Candidate Gore staged their fateful first debate. We’re now entering our second war in Iraq because of what the “press corps” did in response to that event.
For all previous posts in this award-winning series, click here.
Immediately after that debate, a panel of MSNBC pundits said that Candidate Gore had blasted Candidate Bush.
Moderator Brian Williams kept trying to introduce ameliorating frameworks, but his panel wasn’t buying. Gore “dominated the debate,” Chris Matthews said. Everyone else agreed.
On Wednesday, October 4, 2000, Matthews went much farther. Speaking with the late Christopher Hitchens, he said that Gore had “cleaned Bush’s clock.” He basically said the rest of the nation’s pundits were lying when they refused to say so.
Matthews was light-years off-message. Starting in March 1999, he had relentlessly trashed Candidate Gore in the most venal, insulting and fact-challenged ways. We’ll have to assume that this hideous conduct pleased his corporate boss, Jack Welch, who was safely ensconced in The Houses of Nantucket County.
Now, Matthews was light-years off-message. He was insisting that Candidate Gore had cleaned Bush’s clock in their first debate.
We’ll guess that a phone call was made at that point. Limbaugh is the tip-off.
How strange! On Thursday, October 5, 2000, a very peculiar version of Hardball aired. For the entire first half of the program, Matthews’ sole guest was Rush Limbaugh.
In a Nexis search, we find no sign that Limbaugh had ever appeared on Hardball before that. Meanwhile, his highly unusual booking seemed to have blown up rather suddenly, like a storm off the southern Massachusetts coast.
The unusual booking hadn’t been announced on Hardball the day before, or in the days before that. Out of nowhere, there was Limbaugh, seeming to serve as a bit of a minder, helping Matthews understand that Bush had actually done quite well on October 3.
Below, you see truly repellent behavior, of the type Matthews had churned for the prior two years, starting with his massive flip in March 1999:
LIMBAUGH (10/5/00): Who does [Gore] remind you of? He's trying to look like Reagan. Now, all you Gore supporters out there, you've been told for 20 years what a low-down, dirty rotten skunk Ronald Reagan was. Here is your nominee doing his best to make you think that's who he is.The more familiar Matthews was back! Just like that, Matthews was picturing Gore getting “punched out” on a schoolyard, so offensive was the behavior he had praised for the prior two nights.
MATTHEWS: I'll tell you one thing—
LIMBAUGH: I would be offended if I were you.
MATTHEWS: He couldn't get through the schools I went to with that kind of face. He would have been punched out so early in life.
LIMBAUGH: Absolutely not, condescending and all that head bobbing and doing all this talking down to people. But Bush didn't attack. He answered a question from Jim Lehrer.
MATTHEWS: I know.
Why was Limbaugh on that program? We’ll have to guess that a phone call had come from The Houses of Nantucket County. That would explain an even stranger programming decision—the decision to rebroadcast a long chunk of Matthews’ interview with Limbaugh at 8 PM that night, as Brian Williams and his panel of pundits prepared to watch the vice presidential debate.
By normal standards, the re-airing of that interview was a crazy piece of programming. But it led to a blessed event:
All of a sudden, all the pundits, Matthews included, announced that they had been wrong on Tuesday night, when they tried to figure out why Bush had done so poorly. All the pundits now announced that Bush had actually outperformed Gore!
When this readjustment occurred, we’re going to guess there were smiles all around in The Houses of Nantucket County. And yes—these were such astounding events that we’ll have to assume they were caused by some sort of prime mover.
At this point, let’s be fair. Almost surely, Williams’ pundits would have found a way to backtrack on their initial assessment.
By Thursday, it was plain that Williams’ pundits had gotten out over their skis that Tuesday night. Led by Matthews’ poor impulse control, they had described what they’d actually seen! They failed to realize that pundit reaction would adhere to Hard Pundit Scripts.
By Thursday, the scripts were absolutely clear and everyone was voicing them. Candidate Bush had “exceeded expectations.”
Let Jonathan Alter say it:
ALTER (10/5/00): Well, you know, I called it for Bush. I just think that he had a very low standard to meet, and he met it.According to Alter, Candidate Bush had had “a very low standard to meet” that night. The Texan had met that “very low standard,” and therefore had won the debate!
Judged by any normal criterion, this was a puzzling assessment. Who had decided that Bush should be judged by this “very low standard?”
For a detailed answer to that question, see this post from 2006. But as of Thursday, October 5, 2000, the nation’s pundits were all working from the same scripts:
Candidate Gore may have won the debate “on points,” they said. But because Bush faced a “very low bar,” he had “exceeded expectations!” On that basis, Bush had either “held his own” or he’d actually won the debate!
These peculiar, tightly-scripted claims were being made all over the press corps. On Wednesday night, Matthews had aggressively derided these claims. Essentially, he said his fellow pundits weren’t being honest about that first debate.
(On CNN’s Inside Politics, Tucker Carlson and Margaret Carlson offered the same assessment. Because Tucker Carlson is a conservative, his assessment was striking. “It’s interesting,” he said on October 4. “I mean, there is this sense in which Bush is benefitting from something, and I’m not sure what it is...I think a lot of people—they don’t necessarily break down along ideological lines—believe that, you know, maybe Bush didn’t do as good a job as he might have. And yet, the coverage does not reflect that at all. It’s interesting.” The coverage does not reflect that at all! In fact, Bush was benefitting from the press corps’ two-year War Against Candidate Gore. The Carlsons were quite suggestive this day, but neither one was prepared to state that blindingly obvious point.)
By Thursday morning, October 5, the pundit corps’ prevailing scripts were blindingly obvious. Inevitably, people like Barnicle, Goodwin, Noonan and Matthews would have looked for ways to scramble back in line with these uniform scripts.
That said, Limbaugh’s sudden appearance on Hardball strikes us as a fairly obvious “tell.” Even more peculiar was the re-airing of Matthews’ interview with Limbaugh in the hour before that evening’s VP debate.
Had a phone call come from Nantucket County? It’s hard to find another explanation for these extremely peculiar programming events.
Just for the record, that first debate between Bush and Gore changed the course of world history. Gore entered the debate ahead in the national polls. And good God! In all five overnight surveys, viewers said he had won the debate, by an average margin of ten points.
But how strange! The “press corps” went to work at that point. They battered Candidate Gore for his supposedly condescending behavior, which voters didn’t seem to have noticed during the actual debate. They invented new “lies” by Candidate Gore. They insisted that Candidate Bush had “exceeded expectations,” thus winning the debate!
Within a few days, Gore—the initial winner of the debate—had fallen behind in the national polls. He spent the remainder of the campaign pulling himself back to even.
Given President Bush’s disastrous conduct in office, this would seem to establish an obvious point. The press corps’ coverage of that first debate is perhaps the most consequential piece of press corps behavior in modern American history.
But how odd! To this day, you have never seen these astounding events reported, discussed or analyzed within the career press corps. You’ve never seen Matthews’ amazing flips discussed by other pundits.
Matthews’ current flip is ongoing. We refer to his flip about Hillary Clinton, whom he savaged as “Evita Person” and “Nurse Ratched” from 1999 right through Campaign 2008.
Today, Matthews is Hillary Clinton’s most sycophantic supporter. We’ve never seen anyone say a word about this remarkable flip which, of course, keeps Matthews in line with current corporate policy at MSNBC.
Matthews’ most significant flip is the one he engineered in March 1999. All through 1998, right into February 1999, he had vouched for the character of Al Gore, who he even described as his friend.
And then, just like that, Matthews suddenly flipped! For two straight years, he trashed Candidate Gore in the ugliest ways, a stance which put him in line with Nantucket’s own Jack Welch, his then-current corporate owner.
Admit it! You’ve never seen anyone in the “press corps” ask why that flip occurred! You’ve never seen it mentioned!
That was easily Matthews’ most consequential flip. But the greatest flip of all occurred on October 5, 2000.
That flip was astounding, comical, ludicrous, utterly heinous. We’re now in our second war in Iraq because of the concomitant conduct by the larger press corps.
All the press corps’ biggest players were involved in that heinous misconduct. In great detail, we’ve chronicled that heinous conduct for fifteen years—and you’ve never seen a single “journalist” refer to the work we’ve done or ask why that conduct occurred.
In his new incarnation, Matthews continues to rake in the millions. Horrifically, you can see the new batch of millionaires telling us how they adore him:
MADDOW (10/14/13): My beloved colleague and pal, Chris Matthews, has just published the best-timed book ever about the real legacy of Ronald Reagan’s approach to governance, specifically his contentious but civil working relationship with the legendary Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill.Her beloved colleague! A “progressive” can go no lower.
Joining us for an interview with the host of MSNBC’s Hardball, author of the new book Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, Mr. Chris Matthews. It is great to have you here tonight! Congratulations on the success of this book!
In fairness, Maddow may have been taking her script from her own corporate boss. He made these remarks one night later, Politico’s Patrick Gavin reporting:
GAVIN (10/16/13): If you take MSNBC President Phil Griffin at his word, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews is the cable network’s top employee.Beloved again! In those ridiculous comments, mixed with the history we have presented, you see the unvarnished, bone-deep corruption which is inevitable with multimillion-dollar corporate “journalism.”
“Everything he does, especially as he gets older and succeeds, is really impressive,” Griffin told a crowd at Washington, D.C.’s P.J. Clarke’s restaurant Tuesday night gathered to celebrate Matthews new book, “Tip and the Gipper: When politics worked.”
...“We call him a national treasure at MSNBC. If you’ve ever seen Chris at an airport, you know what that means. Everyone comes up to him.”
Griffin didn’t stop there with the praise.
“We asked everybody who’s on air at MSNBC to tell us what was the most impressive thing about your first day at MSNBC. By far the leading person to be talked about—by over a third of the persons—was joining a network with Chris Matthews. He’s beloved at MSNBC and around politics.”
In our current award-winning series, we’re exploring the obvious problems with any such “journalistic” system. What can go wrong when “journalists” try to reach The Houses of Journalist County?
How can things go wrong? Let us count the two ways:
The work of these journalists may get sappy and soft, as we’ll note in Week Four of this series. Their work will perhaps steer away from issues affecting the interests of plutocrats.
And uh-oh! When a broadcaster wants to reach The Houses of Journalist County, he may get a phone call from his boss on Nantucket.
Rush Limbaugh may suddenly be on his show, serving as his minder. Fourteen years later, he may find his country in its second war in Iraq.
On the brighter side, the “journalist” may also find himself ensconced in The Houses of Nantucket County! He may find that he is “beloved!”
At the very least, other “journalists” will be willing to say that on the air! At home, we liberals will gulp every word, just exactly as we did in the wars of Campaign 2000.
On October 5, 2000, did a phone call possibly come from The Houses of Nantucket County?
You can bet your sweet ascot it did! On the brighter side, nobody cares!
Coming in our award-winning Week Four: The Lifestyles of Journalist County!