Interlude—Maddow's staff is great: We humans!
When we go on our moral stampedes, we tend to start hearing voices. We're sure we know what the voices are saying, especially if the voices belong to those in The Other Tribe.
Everything we think we hear supports our pre-approved tribal scripts. We tend to paraphrase with high confidence during our moral stampedes.
In our state of moral fervor, we also tend to swell with certainty about our all-around greatness. Here within our liberal tribe, where a stampede is occurring too late, one of our most prominent stars offered these peculiar remarks at the start of a segment this Wednesday night:
MADDOW (3/8/17): I've got the best staff, the best producers, the best researchers of anyone who works on any show on television. Better than any cable show on any network, better than any news show, period.We're sorry, but no; we didn't make that up. To watch that strangeness, click here.
I put up the staff for this show against anyone. And one of the hallmarks of how we do our work, one of the things that has evolved in our own culture as a show, is: You read to the end.
The headline might not be the most important thing! The 15th paragraph of whatever it is you're reading, that might not be the news right now, but it might be the lead story tomorrow night. So you better make sure you read it, and remember it, maybe make a file.
[Drums rim-shot on desk]
And because we are like that as a group, we end up as a staff sort of competing among ourselves for, like, "Who can name the date of the next state Senate special election, and in what state, and what is the partisan breakdown of that district?"
Or, "Who knows the partisan split of the Connecticut state legislature off the top of their head, both houses? Go!"
We're like that.
Tonight, we are going to deal you in on one of those stories about which we have a file. Can you identify on sight the person in this picture? Do not shout the answer if you happen to know...
Maddow proceeded to an underwhelming report about a person who plans to challenge Jason Chaffetz in next year's congressional election. For ourselves, we were struck by Maddow's profoundly peculiar account of her staff's obvious greatness.
What makes Maddow's staff so great? If we were able to follow her explanation, her staff is expected to read all the way to the end of a news report. They might even make a file! This "culture" explains their greatness!
We're sorry, but one of our liberal tribe's most prominent intellectual leaders really did deliver that speech. With apologies, we often think that no one in journalism resembles Donald Trump more than Rachel Maddow does. We think this is an important matter for liberals to contemplate.
(We also understand that that will never occur.)
In part, we were struck by Maddow's account of her staff's greatness because of her work this week. Now that it is precisely too late, Maddow has thrown herself into a deep dive concerning Trump-and-Russia.
Almost surely, that's an important topic. Working from long reports in Politico and The New Yorker, Maddow has been offering long segments whose story-telling, while captivating, often seems to escape the bounds of the texts from which she is working.
So it has gone the past two nights as she discusses Konstantin Kilimnik, "a Kiev-based operative with suspected ties to Russian intelligence who consulted regularly with Paul Manafort last year while Manafort was running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign."
We're quoting Ken Vogel's new report in Politico, a report Maddow has been adapting for her exciting tales over the past two night. As she has discussed Kilimnik and others this week, Maddow has been crafting tales as exciting as any told on The Americans. But she has frequently overstated or misstated her source material as she and her nonpareil staff have assembled these tales.
Will Kilimnik turn out to be important, or is he a nothingburger? Like Maddow, we can't tell you at this point. We hope a competent investigation will unfold somewhere, although that possibility is greatly lessened by our nation's current tribal divide.
We don't know if Kilimnik will turn out to be important. We do know that Maddow has frequently misstated her source material. We also know this:
If her staff read all the way to paragraph 24 in Vogel's new report, they could have made a file with the highlighted comment:
VOGEL (3/18/17): When Kilimnik traveled to the U.S. in late summer, he drew the attention of U.S. authorities, according to a Washington consultant with ties to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.Did Kilimnik play a role in the crafting of the GOP platform? After reading Vogel's report, we have no idea, in part because Vogel makes no such assertion.
And when Kilimnik returned to Ukraine after that trip, he suggested to Kiev political operatives that he played a role in a move by Trump’s representatives to dilute a proposed amendment to the GOP platform calling for the U.S. to provide “lethal defensive weapons” for Ukraine to defend itself against Russian incursion.
“He led me to believe that he was involved in the platform fight, but not necessarily through Paul [Manafort],” said a Kiev-based operative who travels in the same circles as Kilimnik. The operative added that Kilimnik could have been “just bullshitting like political consultants do.”
As for Maddow, she keeps putting her thumbs on the scale, overstating an array of claims in Vogel's two reports about Kilimnik. (Vogel's first report appeared last August.)
What Maddow didn't do, in two nights of discussing this matter, is mention that highlighted text, in which one of Vogel's sources say Kilimnik may have been “just bullshitting like political consultants do" when he (reportedly) "suggested that he played a role" in the platform change.
That word of caution, which Vogel chose to include, would undercut the thrill of the tale. Even within Maddow's "long form," let-me-tell-you-an-endless-story narrative style, there has been no time, in the past two nights, for such a word of warning.
Maddow did find time on Wednesday night to tell you this about Kilimnik:
"He reportedly later told people that what he came to the United States for last summer, around the time of the Republican convention, was to get that language changed in the Republican Party platform on the issue of Russia."
There's no such claim in Vogel's report, from which Maddow was working. Last night, Maddow said this about Kilimnik:
"Politico reports that he's now under scrutiny by U.S. authorities, including the FBI."
If her staff read to paragraph 4 of Vogel's report, they would have found Politico saying something different:
"The FBI declined to comment on Kilimnik, while the State Department did not respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear whether either agency launched any kind of official inquiry into Kilimnik, nor is it clear whether the interest from the U.S. authorities is ongoing."
In paragraph 2, Vogel seems to say that Kilimnik "came under scrutiny" last year. The story got better when Maddow said the FBI is on his case right now, a point Vogel explicitly says isn't clear.
Last night, Maddow kept saying and implying that Kilimnik "is a GRU guy. He's a Russian intelligence guy." She tended to slide this description into the present tense. You might want to compare that exciting characterization to the material in Vogel's pair of reports.
Without question, Maddow's reports have been exciting. They've dealt with an important topic—with the possibility that Donald J. Trump, and/or his associates, have been involved in improper collusion with, and service to, Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Her reports have been exciting. They've also been full of misstatements, overstatements and omissions, with one silly editing trick. Indeed, Wednesday night's show featured the most comical "Maddow edit" we've seen yet. Here's how that edit went down:
Maddow played tape of CNN's Jim Acosta discussing something he said he'd been told by Trump associate J. D. Gordon. At the end of the tape, some wonderful clownistry occurs:
Acosta's lips keep moving, but the sound has been edited out.
Lip-reading is easy in this case; the muted words are "back in March." As students of the "Maddow edit," we'll offer a fairly obvious guess:
Those words were muted because the story sounds more incriminating once those words are gone. (Gordon's reported story has always sounded shaky because of those three words.)
In a normal "Maddow edit," a piece of videotape is awkwardly cut right in the middle of somebody's statement. The awkwardness of the edit signals that the viewer is maybe perhaps getting conned just a small tiny tad.
In this instance, Maddow's staff was clumsy. They eliminated the sound of Acosta's words, but retained the look of Acosta's lips. This is part of the way we all ended up in our current dangerous place.
(To watch this wonderful "Maddow edit," click here, move ahead to roughly 8:00. You're allowed to laugh.)
Maddow has been telling stories about a very important topic this week. We don't know how these matters will turn out. Indeed, we don't know if these matters will ever get resolved or clarified at all.
We do know this:
Now that it's monstrously too late, Maddow has gone on a bit of a moral stampede. With the help of her nonpareil staff, she's telling the stories we want to hear about those important topics.
She also says her staff is best. As part of the greatness of her work, she seems to feel entitled to lean on the scales just a tad.
By normal standards, such work would be viewed as "less than obsessively honest." If we assume good faith on the part of her staff, such work isn't hugely competent.
That said, this work is being done at a time of moral stampede. At times of stampede, people like Maddow, driven by fervor, tend to start taking interpretive liberties.
They'll tell you what various people plainly meant by the various things they said. At times like these, every interpretation will tend to please the tribe.
Maddow is doing this only now, now that it's too late. She and those who came before her spent long years asleep in the woods before this stampede began.
Uh-oh! In the years before Trump reached the White House, Maddow and her predecessors failed two major interpretive tests. These interpretive failures created the narratives which put Trump where he is.
Tomorrow, we'll run back through those interpretive failures, in which Maddow and her predecessors ran off and slept in the woods when they should have been serving the public. Now that it's too late, Maddow's fervor is thrilling our liberal world.
Maddow and her predecessors failed us badly in the past. To state the obvious, their laziness, and their endless self-dealing, are what brought Trump to power.
Now that it's too late, Maddow and her nonpareil staff are filled with moral fervor. It looks like they're doing good journalism. On Wednesday, she told us that, straight out.
We think you need a fuller sense of the way our devolving world works. We say that because people are dead all over the world, with many more people to follow.
The endless failures of our liberal world helped put Trump where he is. Our lizard brains say this can't be true. We're going to tell you that it is, although we'll be the first to acknowledge that you'll never believe it.
Tomorrow: Two major interpretive failures, back when it wasn't too late
Concerning misstatements and overstatements: There have been other such critters this week, concerning Kilimnik and others. Did you catch the foolishness Tuesday night about the foiled subpoena?
Are you well served by such "bullshitting?" Because these topics are so important, we're saying the answer is no.
The corporation is well served. Ratings are through the roof!