Part 2—Ironically, so says Charles Blow: Within two days of last Wednesday's debate, we liberals had received the talking points we would proceed to recite.
According to our talking points, Candidate Carson had lied about his connection to a company named Mannatech.
How did we know that Carson had lied? Because PolitiFact said!
We had other points to recite. We knew the GOP was bellyaching about the moderators of the debate. Because we knew the GOP was wrong, we also found ourselves saying that CNBC's moderators had actually done a good job!
Plainly, that wasn't the case.
As of yesterday, we had one more point to recite. President Obama had offered a quip about standing up to Putin as opposed to Quintanilla, Harwood and Quick.
Obama's delivery is very good—much better than that of most liberals. But we were now empowered to recite that talking point too.
In our view, the moderators did a terrible job at last Wednesday's debate. Before them stood a collection of goons who were offering the craziest set of budget proposals in the republic's long history.
It got worse! The party's front-runner, that same Candidate Carson, had offered a shifting plan for Medicare he couldn't begin to explain. It had also become fairly clear that he had no earthly idea what the instrument known as the "debt limit" or "debt ceiling" is.
Unfortunately, the debt limit is a very important part of our current political warfare. Candidate Carson seems to have no idea what it is.
It wasn't just Candidate Carson! As the debate proceeded, other contenders were eager to offer budget proposals which seemed to have been assembled by teams of baboons. Meanwhile, the moderators were representing a major news org which focuses on business, economics and finance!
In even a slightly rational world, the moderators would have staged a bracing two-hour event, in which the candidates' incoherence came under sharp review. In our world, the moderators did no such thing, despite our team's pathetic attempts to pretend that they actually did.
Good God, our standards are low! As we've watched our tribe settle for our pitiful talking points, we've thought of Earl Butz's pathetic/sad joke from 1976 about the unambitious fellow who only wanted "loose shoes and a warm place to poop," among other alleged desirables.
Because the joke was obscene and racist, it got Butz fired from President Ford's cabinet. Thirty-nine years later, its spirit seems to capture the way our tribe is willing to settle for a pitiful few talking points, in which we agree to pretend that a bunch of corporate hacks from a corporate "news org" staged a sharp debate.
Manifestly, they didn't. But we're prepared to pretend they did, as long as we also get to say that Candidate Carson lied! All we seem to want is a pair of loose shoes and a chance to recite that claim.
Starting tomorrow, we'll look at the lazy, incompetent way CNBC's assembly of hacks failed to challenge the assortment of goons concerning their crazy budget proposals. When we see people like Drum and Klein defending the work of those corporate hacks, we know our republic's not long for this world.
For today, let's spend one more day on the claim that Candidate Carson lied. In the process, we may learn what "liberal bias" looks like, not without reason, to those in The Other Tribe.
Last Friday, Paul Krugman claimed that Carson lied; it was perhaps the only awful column Krugman has ever written. He also claimed that Carson's a "grifter," a designation he also dropped, without explanation, on Candidates Trump and Cruz.
Did Carson lie about Mannatech? The questioning of Carson on that topic was so brief and so imprecise—was so unskilled; was so unintelligent—that we definitely wouldn't say that.
But so what? This was one of our tribal points! On Monday morning, Charles Blow was still plowing this ground in that same New York Times.
Let's be fair! In Monday's column, Blow didn't say that Candidate Carson lied. He said Carson "wasn't completely honest" in his "answer" about Mannatech, which PolitiFact "ruled" to be false.
Carson wasn't completely honest? "Look who's talking," our analysts cried, after reviewing Blow's column.
Readers, can we talk? Assuming minimal competency, Blow's column didn't seem especially honest to us, especially since he had had five days to consider what he was claiming.
Blow's column was rather slippery. Does the New York Times still have editors? If so, it's hard to know why this column was permitted to run in the form that appeared.
Blow was working from tribal points. This meant the GOP candidates were disingenuous in their complaints about the moderators' alleged "gotcha questions" last Wednesday.
In the middle of his column, Blow wasted a lot of time reviewing the history of that rather vague term. But early on, Blow criticized Candidate Carson's statement[s] about Mannatech.
This is his full account:
BLOW (11/2/15): After being asked at last week’s debate about his ties to the shady nutritional supplement company Mannatech and saying “I didn’t have an involvement with them” and dismissing claims of a connection as “total propaganda,” Ben Carson called Thursday for an overhaul of Republican debate formats.In that passage, Blow quotes the way PolitiFact "ruled." He seemed to treat the ruling as gospel.
I think the question was a fair one, and I’m not alone. Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, said Thursday on CNN that the question wasn’t a gotcha one but an “absolutely” fair one.
And on the credibility of Carson’s denial, PolitiFact ruled:
“As far as we can tell, Carson was not a paid employee or official endorser of the product. However, his claim suggests he has no ties to Mannatech whatsoever. In reality, he got paid to deliver speeches to Mannatech and appeared in promotional videos, and he consistently delivered glowing reviews of the nutritional supplements. As a world-renowned surgeon, Carson’s opinion on health issues carries weight, and Mannatech has used Carson’s endorsement to its advantage.
“We rate Carson’s claim False.”
In reality, he was quoting the work of a young journalist who's just one year out of college. The passage he quotes is greatly misleading, a fact he had several days to discover.
In what way is that passage misleading? Consider this:
“Carson's claim suggests he has no ties to Mannatech whatsoever. In reality, he got paid to deliver speeches to Mannatech and appeared in promotional videos, and he consistently delivered glowing reviews of the nutritional supplements."
At the debate, Carson directly stated, in his first brief answer, that he had delivered paid speeches for Mannatech. Reading Blow, you'd think this was some hidden fact PolitiFact caught Carson withholding, or even denying.
That is a highly misleading construction. Where was Charles Blow's editor when this was waved into print?
"In reality, he appeared in promotional videos?...Mannatech has used Carson's endorsement to its advantage?"
At the debate, Carson said he didn't know that Mannatech had been using his image in certain ways. In the sixty seconds he seemed to have budgeted for this potentially harmful discussion, moderator Carl Quintanilla didn't challenge the accuracy of that statement, and he didn't ask Carson about promotional videos.
"He consistently delivered glowing reviews of the nutritional supplements?"
Carson did the same thing right at the debate! "Do I take the product?" he said. "Yes. I think it's a good product."
(Mannatech wasn't told to stop selling its products. It was told not to make certain types of medical claims.)
At PolitiFact, a kid reporter seemed to get herself tangled in a semantic judgment. In her view, you have an "involvement" with a company when they pay you to make speeches.
Carson seemed to be saying something different. He seemed to be saying that he had no "involvement" or "relationship" with the company beyond the (thoroughly normal) practice of receiving pay for speeches. Below, you see the few tiny things Carson said on this topic before Quintanilla raced ahead, scattershot, toward this evening's next bungled topic:
CARSON (10/28/15): Well, that's easy to answer. I didn't have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda, and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda.Crackers, that was it! At this point, Quintanilla authored the world's most pitiful third question. The audience booed at this point, as well they might have:
I did a couple of speeches for them. I do speeches for other people. They were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of a relationship with them.
Do I take the product? Yes. I think it's a good product.
QUINTANILLA: To be fair, you were on the homepage of their website with the logo over your shoulder—
CARSON: If somebody put me on their homepage, they did it without my permission.
QUINTANILLA (continuing directly): Does that not speak to your vetting process or judgment in any way?For the full transcript, click here.
CARSON: No, it speaks to the fact that I don't know those—
See? They know.
QUINTANILLA: Apparently. We will take a break. We'll be back in Boulder in just a minute.
Crackers, please! Carson said a company had used his image without his permission. Turning to silliest gotcha mode, Quintanilla thought this might speak poorly of Carson's judgment!
What is the truth about Carson's history with Mannatech? We have no real idea. But then, we have a perfect excuse—we watched Quintanilla hurry through this potentially damaging topic on his way to commercial break.
Did Carson "lie" about his history with Mannatech? It's possible, but we have no idea why someone would say so based on this fleeting discussion. The discussion was much too brief, and was poorly handed. It did have a slight gotcha feel, perhaps through mere incompetence.
Actually, we think we do know why people rushed to say Carson lied! Looking for a warm place to poop, we liberals were grateful for the chance to recite that point.
Krugman took things one step further, saying that Carson's a "grifter." In fairness, Krugman knew these things because a college kid said!
Conservatives will look at the columns by Krugman and Blow and think they see liberal bias. In the case of Blow's column, they'll remember that Carson specifically cited his paid speeches when they see a plain suggestion that Carson hid this fact.
Conservative voters will see this as liberal bias. We see it as terrible journalism, performed by a columnist who routinely has his thumbs on the scale.
Looking at Quintanilla, we see something else. We see a corporate flyweight hurrying through a topic which needed substantially more time if he wanted to sift it fairly—a topic he didn't seem to have researched especially well.
This hurried treatment led to serious claims about Candidate Carson, and to the booing of Quintanilla. Last Friday, Krugman misstated the chronology of the booing to make his attacks work best.
Conservatives will attribute that "error" to liberal bias. It's hard to say they're wrong.
We think the booing was justified when Quintanilla asked that silly third question. But good lord! The liberal world should have been booing, extremely loudly, during the bulk of this hopelessly bungled debate.
Those moderators were simply awful, despite what Ezra and others have said. This is why we say that:
Those Republican candidates' budget plans are the craziest in American history. What explains Ezra's support for the trio of flyweights who utterly failed to examine that state of affairs?
Tomorrow: This is what haplessness looks like