Dan Abrams on Lord of the Flies: The analysts came out of their chairs last week when Chris Matthews described Donald Trump.
Matthews offered his description on last Monday’s Maddow Show. As we noted this morning, this was the first thing he said:
MATTHEWS (6/15/15): Well, [Trump is] kind of a comic book figure. I mean, if you imagine in a Superman or better yet a Batman comic episode, he would be “Downtown Developer,” walking around with his trench coat, good-looking wife, lots of money, a flash. He’s a show-off.On Olympus, the gods roared with pleasure. To some extent, was Matthews describing himself?
He is the kind of guy, a sort of Sinatra of land development, where the average working guy, who doesn’t have much money, says this is how I’d behave if I were rich. I’d have big buildings named after me. I’d have a beautiful wife, I may have several wives. I would show off and talk about running for president even, I’d make fun of other people. I would be kind of a wise guy—a show-off. I can’t do better than that.
Matthews has been a major “cable news” star since the mid-1990s. During that period, he has sometimes showcased his beautiful wife, “my queen Kathleen.”
A few years ago, he was showing off and talking about running for the Senate from Pennsylvania. Like a certain person we don’t plan to name, he opted out of the race.
Over the years, Matthews has routinely “made fun of people,” often in repugnant ways. Remember when he said that Al Gore “doesn’t look American, even?” We do! He was talking to his brilliant friend, Don Imus, at the time. But that was very typical stuff for Matthews during the years when he worked for conservative owner Jack Welch, the man who made him rich.
Here’s a second basic point about Matthews’ conversation with Maddow. In a rather familiar move, the cable stars almost seemed to blame the public for their own guild’s silly behavior toward Trump.
By last Tuesday night, Maddow seemed to have learned that Trump doesn’t have especially good polling numbers among Republican voters. Despite such problems, he has always gotten tons of attention from the national press when he starts claiming that he might run for the White House.
At one point on Monday night, Maddow acknowledged that basic fact. Before long, though, Matthews executed a standard conflation, without complaint from his hostess:
MADDOW: When he was making noise about running in 2012, I’m sure you remember this, we were all part of it to some degree or not, you know? But the tons and tons of attention, not just on cable but from all the networks and tons of print media attention, everybody was talking about the possibility of him running and the way he was attacking President Obama.Maddow recalled the “tons of attention” Trump received from the press. By the time Matthews got through, he seamlessly seemed to be talking about the attitudes of the public.
MATTHEWS: You seem dismayed by the man’s media power. He’s got it. People pay big money to live in one of his towers. They’re paved with gold.
You know, they’re—they’re confections, but people do go for it, as they went for Sinatra. Sinatra had talent. This guy is a particular kind of talent. It’s called PR. He knows how to build himself up and it`s all part of this comic book image that people are taken with.
They don’t hate Donald Trump. People don’t. They find him entertaining.
This is a very standard conflation. The press corps routinely finds ways to blame the public for their own behavior.
As of last week, Brian Williams has been reassigned by NBC News. Starting in mid-August, the handsome anchor will cover “breaking news” for MSNBC.
On yesterday’s Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter interviewed Dan Abrams about the new assignment.
Today, Abrams is chief legal correspondent for ABC News. But he was general manager of MSNBC from June 2006 through October 2007. He hosted a legal show on the channel through August 2008. In September 2008, the Maddow Show went on the air in that time slot.
Abrams was at MSNBC during many days of confusion. Today, the channel is trying to revamp its mission. In that context, we thought the highlighted comment was intriguing:
ABRAMS (6/21/15): You know, I think this is the way to reestablish Brian Williams’ credibility. And that’s why, by the way, I think that he’s probably very grateful, in the sense that they are allowing him to restore his reputation.Given his scrapes at MSNBC, Abrams may not be an impartial observer. But presumably, his “Lord of the Flies” comment was meant to describe MSNBC during both the Olbermann and the Maddow years.
STELTER: Right. This is a big win for him.
ABRAMS: Huge win. They’re going to allow him to now get back into the news game, to be at the desk covering news, which he does really well. I mean, there are very few people who are as good as him in breaking news situations.
STELTER: That’s why I mentioned Charleston at the top. He could have been on MSNBC that night as all this information was spreading, helping people make sense of it.
ABRAMS: Yes. So I think it’s going to be a very—it will be a big win for MSNBC in that way.
Look, MSNBC is in the midst of a big transition. It has been “Lord of the Flies” over there for a number of years now, where the anchor with the best ratings basically runs the show. I think that Andy Lack is now moving in and saying, “OK, we’re going to start treating this like a news channel again.” And Brian Williams is the beginning of that.
In recent years, has the hapless liberal channel been letting Maddow “basically run the show”—basically do what she wants?
We have no idea! To our ear, there has always seemed to be a lack of journalistic supervision at the Maddow Show. To our eye, the situation has been getting worse of late—has been sliding out of control.
Maddow is good at selling herself. Even if Lord of the Flies breaks out, some liberals may not notice.