FROM BOTH SIDES NOW: Where it all began!


Part 1—Sean and Brent call in The Dumb: Friday night, on his eponymous cable TV show, Sean Hannity helped us remember where it all began.

Sean asked our old pal, Brent Bozell, to provide a bit of scripted weekly pleasure:
HANNITY (1/6/12): And welcome back to Hannity. Time for our media mash, our weekly round-up of all the ways the mainstream media tried to put its liberal spin on the news. And it should come as no surprise that this week, they devoted a lot of air time to attacking Senator Rick Santorum after his very impressive second-place finish in Iowa.

And joining me now to go through this week's material, none other than the president of the Media Research Center, the one and only Brent Bozell. Sir, how are you?

BOZELL: Good. How are you doing, Sean?
Sean didn’t say how he was doing—that’s how outraged the newsman was! Instead, he moved right ahead to a few of the ways the mainstream media had been “attacking Senator Rick Santorum after his very impressive second-place finish in Iowa.”

Hannity played tape from three broadcasters: Jake Tapper (ABC), Ann Curry (NBC) and John King (CNN). According to Sean, these were the ways the mainstream media had been "trying to put its liberal spin on the news:"
HANNITY: Let's start with the major networks. This is important. And we've got to see all of this in my view, through the prism that the media never vetted Obama. Here's Rick Santorum does well. Here are the attacks on Santorum:

TAPPER (videotape): His is an unapologetic and in-your-face conservatism. But Santorum argues this is part of his fight for the traditional American family.

TAPPER (videotape): But in order for Santorum to succeed, he really needs to expand beyond those base Republican voters.

CURRY (videotape): He's about to face the meat grinder of tough scrutiny for the first time. So is he going to have to change his conservative message as he's looking into North—looking into New Hampshire, which is a much less conservative state?

KING (videotape): A lot of Democrats were celebrating, if you will, Senator Santorum last night, saying, in their view, “You’re on the extreme right on many of these social issues.” And they think, for them, it's a good thing that these issues will be front and center.
Those were the “attacks on Santorum”—the worst attacks Sean could find!

Just how brutal were these attacks? On CNN, King had accurately reported what “a lot of Democrats” were saying. He had taken pains to make it clear that these were the statements of Democrats, rather than his own views. (“In their view,” “they think, for them.”)

Meanwhile, on the Today show, Curry had asked David Gregory a question—perhaps the most obvious question in the entire political world. This was the full Q-and-A which comprised NBC’s “attack:”
CURRY (1/5/12): Well, one of the candidates who perhaps has not faced as much attack as the others is Rick Santorum because he kind of escaped under the, under the radar [in Iowa] from it. But now, after a strong second-place showing in Iowa, he's about to face the meat grinder of tough scrutiny for the first time. So is he going to have to change his conservative message as he's looking into North—looking into New Hampshire, which is a much less conservative state, David?

GREGORY: Well, he's going to be under very intense scrutiny by the other candidates. We'll see what Mitt Romney does and how much of a threat he feels that Santorum really is.
At that point, Gregory started discussing Rick Perry. That was NBC’s complete “attack on Santorum.”

CNN reported what Dems had said. NBC said nothing at all. But people! What about Tapper’s attack? Was that the attack which had Sean steamed? You can watch the full ABC report from which Sean had pulled his outrageous quotes; to do so, just click here. But Tapper spoke with Diane Sawyer as he reported Santorum’s success in Iowa for World News Tonight. This is part of the larger context from which his outrageous statements had been drawn:
TAPPER (1/4/12): Good evening, Diane. Well, he shocked the political world yesterday in Iowa and now we'll find out if Senator Rick Santorum is able to take his scrappy act from Iowa on a national stage and it starts here, tonight, in New Hampshire.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum's shocker last night was largely due to months of tireless, uncelebrated campaigning, driving around the state with his daughter in an adviser's pickup truck.

SANTORUM (videotape): I'm the workaholic. Yeah, I tell them, you know, I don't— Sleep is overrated.


TAPPER: Richard John Rick Santorum was raised Catholic in a blue collar area. His grandfather a coal miner, his parents employees of the VA in West Virginia before moving to Butler County, Pennsylvania, when he was 7. Called "Rooster" in high school because neither the hairs on the back of his neck nor he himself would ever stand down, the young lawyer was elected to the US House in 1990, at the age of 32.

Brash, sometimes prickly, Santorum was an outspoken advocate for the conservative view on social issues and was swept into statewide office during the 1994 Republican revolution. His two Senate terms had moments of bipartisan accomplishment, including parts of the welfare reform bill. He became part of the Republican establishment. His is an unapologetic and in your face conservatism. But Santorum argues this is all part of his fight for the traditional American family. He himself has seven children. Their youngest is Isabella Maria.

SANTORUM (videotape): We don't take her out in crowds. She has a disability.

TAPPER: Santorum could get a boost from the withdrawal of congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Diane. They both appeal to Christian conservatives. But in order for Santorum to succeed, he really needs to expand beyond those base Republican voters. Diane?

SAWYER: All right, Jake. As you said, Santorum clearly plans to be the scrappy Everyman, taking on the Goliath.
As part of its attack, ABC even showed video of the scrappy Everyman with his disabled young daughter.

Last Friday night, Fox viewers were asked to get outraged about these “attacks on Santorum.” Other absurd complaints were thrashed before Bozell’s segment was done. This heavily scripted, dead-dog dumbness has ruled on the right for decades now. Conservative voters are endlessly told that they should be thoroughly outraged by outrageous conduct like this.

This is where it all began, the remarkable dumbing of our discourse—of our failing political culture. This week, we will suggest that you should perhaps be disturbed to see the way this sort of scripted dumbness is coming from both sides now.

Tomorrow: Did our side's spokesperson make more sense than Sean?

Our Friday with Brent: You’re right! Way back in late September 2000, we did an hour on Washington Journal with Brian Lamb and Brent Bozell. Our topic: “Media Coverage of the presidential campaign.”

We have never watched the tape. Thanks to the magic of C-Span’s video library, you can do so! Click here.


  1. Bob -- I watched the C-Span episode, and I think that your experience there shows just how difficult it is to conduct a rational, fact-based discussion in response to propaganda. Bozell came across as reasonable, and when you insisted on bringing up facts he simply disagreed with what you said. No one watching the show -- or perhaps only a very few -- would ever be able to track down the truth to come to the correct conclusion. Instead, viewers would be left to apply their confirmation bias. If you were inclined to view the media as unfairly liberal before watching the show, that's almost certainly the viewpoint you left with.

    I think that you correctly criticize the liberal/progressive/left-wing media for playing many of the same BS games as the "pseudo-conservatives," as you call them. If I'm trying to give the liberals the benefit of the doubt, my guess is that they're doing so out of frustration with how well the conservative approach has worked the past 40 years.

    Jonny Scrum-half

  2. Sooo cool to see you on TV, Mr. Bob Somerby! We need to see you on there more frequently, certainly more frequently than the likes of that Buckley-family hack L. Brent Bozell, and others like him. (Did you see that Pat Buchanan will no longer grace the sets of MSNBC's news programs? Why did it take them so long?)

    As Anonymous says, you really do offer reasonable, cogent arguments and present facts to back your arguments up, and to counter you, Bozell just disagrees, but without any facts to back it up. This has been going on all my adult life. It's so frustrating, and it's probably why, as Anonymous notes, liberals have taken to following the right-wing lead.
    It has worked for them, and keeps on working, especially away from these beautiful American east and west coasts of ours!