Part 1—Just for starters, cable star provides some comic relief: Last Friday evening, at 9 PM Eastern, an unnamed major "cable news" star started the broadcast of her hour-long, eponymous cable "news" program.
After a few brief news updates, she opened her program with a 14-minute segment which was a marvel of truthiness.
Although its contents would become darker, the segment began with a silly, pointless tale—a pointless story the cable star didn't quite seem to believe.
The cable star had started her program with brief updates about the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and about a collision at sea involving a U.S. Navy ship.
Then she launched her peculiar story. It was part of a 14-minute testament to the spread of truthiness Over Here, among Ridiculous Us.
To watch the full segment, just click here. Her story started like this:
MADDOW (6/16/17): Because it's Friday—if we're being honest, because it's a day that ends in Y in this era—there is a lot of news, including late-breaking news tonight, coming out of Washington as well.Odd! The cable star was going to start with a story which was only "sort of relevant" to the news of the day. She said she "needed" to tell us the story despite its limited relevance.
In terms of the Washington news tonight, I need to tell you a story that starts with Bill Clinton, who went to college at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Bill Clinton as a young man got there as an undergraduate in 1964. He graduated in 1968. And one of the stories about Bill Clinton's college career ends up being sort of relevant tonight to what we've just learned in Washington.
In fact, it wasn't just that the story was of (extremely) limited relevance. As would soon become clear, the major star didn't seem to believe the story she told. She said she'd heard it a million times, but she didn't quite seem to believe it.
Truthiness flooded her own sinking ship as she continued, like this:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Legend has it, legend has long had it, that at some time during Bill Clinton`s early college years, when he was at Georgetown, when he was a young man, maybe when he was about 19, so maybe when he was a freshman, young Bill Clinton went to a party in Massachusetts that was a beach party. And political legend has it that, at that beach party, he was swimming in the ocean and he basically got grabbed by a riptide and started to get pulled out to sea.Three times, she said this near-drowning story is "legend." Two times, she said the story is "possibly apocryphal."
And when that happened, another young man, another, you know, 19-ish year old man, a Harvard student, came to his rescue. And the man who came to Bill Clinton's rescue in that possibly apocryphal near-drowning story was a man named Fife Symington.
Fife Symington was a Harvard student at the time this supposedly happened. He also went on to be a very famous politician in his own right.
Fife Symington was a Republican. He ended up becoming governor of Arizona. Bill Clinton, of course, was a Democrat who ended up becoming governor of Arkansas and then president of the United States.
I have to tell you, I've heard the story a million times. I have always suspected that the 1960s beach party, riptide, Fife Symington/Bill Clinton rescue story might be wholly or at least in part apocryphal.
But I've heard it a million times, and it is one of the things that people talked about a lot, years later, in 2001, at the end of Bill Clinton's time in office, when he issued—Surprise!—a presidential pardon to Fife Symington, the guy who maybe saved him from drowning all those decades earlier.
At two different points, she said she's heard the story "a million times." And although she's heard it a million times, she seemed to say that she's never really believed it.
Beyond that, the story was only "sort of relevant" to the day's news, the cable star said. But she told us she "needed" to tell it, even though it may not be true, despite its minor relevance.
Viewers of this "cable news" show won't be surprised by this oddness. This particular cable star tends to spend large chunks of time telling pointless, decades-old stories about political figures.
Some U.S. officials say the star is just killing time as she tells these long, irrelevant stories. Other unnamed people allege that she does this to create a "brand," in which she's perceived as being highly knowledgeable about modern political history.
(Spoiler alert: She isn't.)
In this case, she told a "near-drowning story," a story she's never really believed. The story involves the supposed near-drowning of the 19-year-old Bill Clinton, and—"Surprise!"—one of the Clinton pardons.
At this point in the star's recitation, the relevance of this possibly apocryphal story wasn't apparent at all. As we'll see tomorrow, the story, even if true, bore exactly zero relevance to that day's news in Washington.
That said, the cable star threw herself into the story heart and soul. She even received an off-camera laugh from a sycophant as she started the pointless tale.
She's heard it a million times, she said, not once, but twice. It was widely discussed in 2001, she said.
The truthiness was all around us. A few of the problems are these:
In fact, this old story, while not non-existent, is extremely obscure. For ourselves, we couldn't remember ever having heard it as we watched the cable star make her series of shaky claims.
The next day, we asked a major Arkansas-based, Clinton-watching journalist about the story. He said he couldn't remember having heard it either.
The story is very obscure. Was the story "one of the things that people talked about a lot, years later, in 2001, at the end of Bill Clinton's time in office, when he issued—Surprise!—[that] presidential pardon?"
That basically just isn't true. According to a search of the Nexis archives, the story wasn't mentioned in the Washington Post or the New York Times at the time of the Symington pardon.
In fact, according to that search, this possibly apocryphal tale has never been mentioned in the Washington Post at any time at all (for search terms, see below). It seems the story has been mentioned in the New York Times just once, in passing, in 2003, on one of the three thousand occasions when Symington hinted at a possible political comeback.
Forget the near-downing tale. In and of itself, the Symington pardon was barely discussed in 2001. Major turmoil did surround several other Clinton pardons. But perhaps for that reason, no one talked, or seemed to care, about the pardon of Symington for a set of alleged crimes he either did or didn't commit.
(A 1997 conviction had been overturned on appeal at the time of the 2001 pardon. The pardon meant the case couldn't be retried.)
Was Boudu saved from drowning when he was just 19? We don't know, and no one with an ounce of sense could possibly wonder or care. The cable star didn't even seem to know, despite the million times she said she has has heard the tale!
Trust us! As she continued with her story, then with her larger segment, the cable star's embellishments only grew. She proceeded, during the rest of her segment, to offer a slimy set of attacks on some political opponents, along with a set of bogus and/or selective claims about a range of topics.
Her work in this segment was especially faux even for increasingly ridiculous her. It showed how the cult of truthiness has been spreading Over Here, among the major corporate and journalistic figures we'll describe as "Ridiculous Us."
Already, though, in the text we've shown you, the star had provided some unintentional comic relief. We refer to a matter of pronunciation.
The major star said she's heard the story "a million times." She made that truthy claim two times as she told her pointless, truthy tale.
But how odd! Despite the very large number of times she's heard the tale, the cable start didn't know how to pronounce the name of her protagonist!
Alas! Fife Symington pronounces his last name in precisely the way you'd expect. He pronounces it as SY-mington, as did his more famous cousin, Missouri senator Stuart Symington, a Democratic presidential candidate in 1960.
Anyone familiar with modern politics would likely have heard this family name about a million times. But alas:
As she told her truthy tale, the major star kept referring to a fellow named "Fife SIMM-ington." In the part of the story we've shown you above, she had already mispronounced Symington's name five times, or her way to a world record ten.
She's heard the story a million times, she rather implausibly said. But in a bit of comic relief, she didn't know how to pronounce the protagonist's name! Our analysts groaned and stared into space. One of them called it a "tell."
More and more, day by day, this cable star is becoming increasingly truthy. In Friday's 14-minute segment, her truthiness was a stupidifying blend of the pointless, the false and the ugly, pimped along by the laughter of the corporate sycophant class.
In her full recitation of her pointless tale, she burned more than five minutes off her 14-minute segment. The American project is badly served when such Trumpist behavior is allowed to be aimed at its target, the floundering victim class we'll describe as "Ridiculous Us."
Tomorrow: What is truthiness? Plus, a model of same
Coming Wednesday: A truly ridiculous line-up!
Thursday: The Atlantic explores an older type of math
Conducting the search: It's hard to prove that a topic hasn't been discussed in some newspaper. In our search for the near-drowning story, we searched on the terms "Clinton AND Symington AND drown! OR riptide OR rowboat," along with variant spellings.
We added "rowboat" because, on the infrequent occasions when this story has been told, Symington has said he rescued Clinton through the use of a rowboat. Inevitably, the New York Times bungled this fact on the one occasion when it cited this pointless tale.
Simply put, it's what the Times does!
To see Symington pronounce his own name, you can just click here. (Warning! UFO discussion!)
To watch the rest of the world pronounce Symington's name, YouTube is wondrously there.
Before Friday night, had anyone ever referred to a man named Fife SIMM-ington? Apparently, the truthy-tilting cable star had heard it a million times!
This was a bit of comic relief. Tomorrow, we'll watch as her relentless truthiness grows darker. At some point, Ridiculous We will have to address this growing Trumpist behavior. Or are we just Fox after all?