Part 2—Our own team's Wrong-Way Corrigan: With bowl season approaching, our thoughts sometimes turn to the famous exploits of Roy "Wrong Way" Riegels.
In the 1929 Rose Bowl, Riegels, an All-American, famously ran the wrong way in an attempt to give Georgia Tech a chance to compete with his own much more powerful Cal. In effect, he was tackled by his own team on the 1. In effect, his famous wrong-way run ended up giving Tech a safety.
Riegels is sometimes confused with the more famous Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan. Corrigan achieved his nickname in 1938 by flying from New York to Ireland when he was supposed to be flying to California.
This year, in the first week of July, we liberals found ourselves confronted with our own "wrong way" performer. We refer to Steve Kornacki's woeful performance in the immediate aftermath of James B. Comey's intrusion on the White House campaign.
On Tuesday morning, July 5, Comey held a press event at which he broke with standard protocols by denouncing Candidate Clinton. Two days later, on July 7, he appeared before the House House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where he continued to criticize Clinton for allegedly having been "extremely careless" in her email practices.
In ways which have been widely described, Comey—he's often called Comey the God—was breaking standard protocols and violating explicit Justice Department procedures. That said, Comey had long since been anointed as the latest unassailable Republican straight-shooter.
In the strange but unmistakable tradition of Starr, Freeh, Powell, McCain and Ryan, Comey's rectitude had long since been confirmed by one and all. In part for that reason, Comey was praised by a long string of Democrats when he appeared before that committee. On the Democratic side of the aisle, the great man's obvious rectitude was widely affirmed once again.
Into this peculiar mix wandered Wrong-Way Kornacki. Kornacki was guest-hosting on The Rachel Maddow Show that week. On this basis, he was condemned to read the drivel Maddow's staff would assemble each day.
Some of that drivel concerned Comey and Clinton. In fairness, though, it must be said that Kornacki adopted a prosecutorial air all his own as he conducted interviews about Comey's accusations.
Maddow's staff had done their usual work. Kornacki's strangely unbalanced approach went beyond the shaky platform they had provided.
Before we review Kornacki's performance, we ought to mention another event from that unfortunate week. On Wednesday afternoon, July 6, Fred Kaplan published a piece at Slate which challenged Director Comey's accusations.
According to Kaplan, Comey's claims were largely bunk. His piece appeared beneath these headlines:
The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal Was Totally OverblownIn his essay, Kaplan flayed the overwrought claims Comey had advanced the day before. Comey's claims were basically bunk, Kaplan basically said.
We learned nothing new from the investigation or James Comey’s statement.
In these ways, the stage was set for Kornacki's guest-host efforts this week. On July 5, the analysts groaned as soon as he opened his mouth.
He started in classic Maddow Show fashion. Presumably under direction of staff, he aired some pointless old videotape, then made an unfortunate statement. As one, the analysts howled:
KORNACKI (7/5/16): Investigation or witch-hunt? Innocent mistakes, or massive cover-up? Is the conduct actually bad, or does it just look bad? That was almost exactly 20 years ago. That's when the Senate concluded its investigation into President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton's Whitewater scandal.Oof! Just like that, Maddow's staff had Kornacki referring to "President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton's Whitewater scandal," a non-existent entity which has fueled right-wing political wars for more than twenty years.
"Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton's Whitewater scandal?" In a more competent world, it would be very strange to see a liberal host refer that way to this classic "fake news" event. In our world, that typifies the work you see on our own corporate news channel.
Can we talk? Like Maddow herself, Maddow's staff seems remarkably clueless about the politics of the Clinton/Gore era. That said, this first remark set the stage for the next three nights, during which Kornacki pursued Clinton's email behavior like a watermelon-shooting Son of Dan.
Kornacki would pursue this topic for three straight nights. His interview on this first night started off like this:
KORNACKI: Joining us for more on today's announcement is Carrie Johnson. She's the justice correspondent for National Public Radio. Carrie, thanks for joining us. Well, so, take us through—This would be Kornacki's most restrained performance of the week. That said, he was accepted Comey's presentations as fact, without expressing any doubts or asking any questions.
What jumps out at me here are some of these numbers. Eight chains of e-mails here involving top-secret information passed through this server. A couple dozen more with other forms of classified information. Hillary Clinton had been saying that no, that nothing marked classified had gone through this server. The FBI today though is saying that did happen.
Comey's numbers "jumped out at me," he quickly said; he didn't say a word about Comey's departure from protocols. Treating Whitewater like a real scandal, he reversed the actual history which might have guided him here. He failed to warn viewers about the way these scams have worked in the past.
The following day, Kaplan's piece appeared, then vanished down the liberal world's familiar memory hole. That evening, Kornacki interviewed Ellen Tauscher, a former congresswoman who also served as undersecretary of state under Clinton.
At this point, let's be fair. By now, Kornacki was working at a disadvantage. The Clinton campaign had made little attempt to respond to Comey's accusations. It's also true that Tauscher was a rather incompetent defense witness when she appeared this night.
That said, Kornacki continued to take Comey's accusations at face value. Kaplan's skeptical analysis of those claims went unmentioned this night.
Below, you see the way Tauscher was introduced. Despite Kaplan's debunking report, Kornacki kept referring to what the god had "revealed:"
KORNACKI (7/6/16): There's a lot to explain here...Please note the language of that first question to Tauscher. In Kornacki's mind, Comey hadn't advanced allegations, accusations, claims or judgments. To Kornacki, those facts and figures represented "specific revelations," what the god had "revealed."
Comey revealed yesterday that 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains contained classified information at the time they were sent or received. Clinton has also made the more specific claim that nothing she sent or received was marked as classified at the time. But, again, Comey revealed yesterday there were a small number of e-mails that did have classified markings on them. He added that even for those that didn't, quote, didn't know, quote, "participants who know or should know that the classified matter is—that the matter is classified are still obligated to protect it."
And there was also said, Comey saying that, quote, "hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account." He also said it's the FBI's assessment that those actors may have gained access to Hillary Clinton's account.
Now in response to those specific revelations and contradictions, we have heard nothing from Hillary Clinton or from her campaign. The question is, can they really just continue to say nothing about this? And if they do have to say something about this eventually, what are they going to say?
Joining us now is Ellen Tauscher...Let me start with, doesn't Hillary Clinton owe an answer to what James Comey said yesterday and what he revealed?
Kornacki interrupted and pounded Tauscher all through the interview. In our judgment, he would have been a bit over the top had he been guest-hosting on Fox. The following night, Rep. Gerald Connolly faced the same aggressive reaction when he appeared with Kornacki speaking on Clinton's behalf.
Fred Kaplan's skeptical piece at Slate wasn't mentioned by Kornacki on any of these programs. On the Rachel Maddow Show, Comey the God had "revealed" the facts. Kaplan had been disappeared.
On Friday, July 8, a crazy person in Dallas murdered a bunch of policemen. All other news coverage was wiped away by this event. By the end of the week, therefore, the Maddow Show had staged three nights of Comey-friendly work. This raised an important question:
What would happen when Maddow strapped on her big orange shoes and returned to her anchor desk?
Alas! The analysts all seemed to feel sure that Maddow would right the balance. They looked forward to watching her informative session with Kaplan.
They thought Kornacki's "wrong way" performance had been rather weird; in that, we judged them right. That said, would Maddow put up a fight against Comey's peculiar intrusion on the White House campaign?
"I want to be Bobby's girl," Marcie Blane had once memorably sung. We introduced them to the hit song, memorably told them to wait.
Tomorrow: Maddow ducks again