Part 4—Chris’ new love affair: Thirteen years ago, E.R. Shipp explained the way this low-grade conduct works.
At the time, Shipp was serving as ombudsman for the Washington Post. In a column called Typecasting Candidates, she explained the way a person like Chris Matthews reacts when story starts to grow.
That headline was very important. In a short but sharply insightful column, Shipp explained the way the Post was “typecasting” the four leading White House contenders:
SHIPP (3/2/00): Typecasting CandidatesFor the record, Gore was also being cast as the world’s biggest liar. Beyond that, the negative typecasting of Bush was largely temporary. After that war hero/maverick left the race, the typecasting of Bush quickly swung to Plain-Spoken Bold Leader Who Says What He Really Thinks.
...[R]eaders react—sometimes in a nonpartisan way, more often not—to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama. Gore is the guy in search of an identity; Bradley is the Zen-like intellectual in search of a political strategy; McCain is the war hero who speaks off the cuff and is, thus, a "maverick"; and Bush is a lightweight with a famous name, and has the blessings of the party establishment and lots of money in his war chest. As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
Shipp’s description of the process holds to this very day. According to Shipp, people posing as political journalists were really “assigning roles” to various “actors” in an “unfolding drama.”
“As a result of this approach,” some of these candidates were “whipping boys,” Shipp correctly noted. “Others seem to get a free pass.”
Plainly, the process Shipp described isn’t real journalism. She was describing one part of the process we’ve long called novelization.
Alas! Shipp’s description played to radio silence from the career liberal world. E.J. Dionne didn’t say a word. Other “liberals” just kept pushing the typecast drama Shipp had correctly described.
This same approach has been playing out as the Fort Lee story grows. Nowhere has the process been more undisguised than on the pitiful cable show, Hardball.
The cable program’s beast-like host has been scripting a drama all this week about his latest beloved. Speaking with one of his many stooges, he made his approach explicit on Tuesday evening’s program.
Back in Shipp’s day, did the Washington Post assign typecast roles to the various actors in a political drama? That’s what Chris said he was doing:
MATTHEWS (1/14/14): OK. Let’s go to, let’s go to Alex Wagner, my colleague.“I think we got a great drama developing here,” Matthews said. He then began to define its shape, helping us see who we ought to be “rooting for:”
Alex, it seems to me that all great dramas involve personalities, faces we begin to recognize and know well. Certainly, Bridget Kelly is now one, fingered by the governor directly, called a liar four different ways in one big press conference.
She’s the bad one. She’s the betrayer. She’s the traitor. She’s the liar, phrases that are just amazing that you’d call into question about a person who’s been working with you. We`ve got lots of pictures showing them working hand in glove. She’s got the clipboard. She’s got the phone. She’s taking him around. They are working—all of a sudden, he doesn’t talk to her, doesn’t call her up, just announced that she’s a louse on television, not to be talked to, not to be trusted, not to be believed.
Somebody said the other day, and I thought it was pretty profound, what he’s doing is setting her up as a liar on the witness stand. He wants her—he assumes she’s going to come out against him. Better to lace her first, before she gets in the chair.
These are strong words. He could have said, “She could have come forward.” He could have called her in the office and said, “Why didn’t you tell me you were involved in this?” And besides all that, what we have from the e-mails is, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” That wasn’t the beginning of a conversation. That’s in the midst of a conversation. She had been talking to people in the governor’s office, all kinds of people—well you, know the story.
I think we got a great drama developing here. And I think, based on being today on The View with a lot of women in that audience, they’re rooting for her, not the big guy in Trenton.
WAGNER: Well, yes, I think you hit it, Chris...
Kelly is the loyal servant who’s being fingered by her boss. Christie is the bestial fellow who’s setting her up as a liar.
To state the obvious, Maathews’ description of the drama was loaded with speculation—and with insinuation. From that outline of the drama, you might think Christie called Kelly a liar over and over again in last week’s press conference.
You might think he called her a liar—and a betrayer, and a traitor, “phrases that are just amazing.” In fact, none of these words were used in Christie’s two-hour presser, in which he did say that Kelly lied to him about her role in Fort Lee.
That statement may be true, of course—it may be that Kelly did lie to Christie in some way. But Matthews was building a head of steam as he defined the outline of the exciting new “drama.”
As in 1999 and 2000, this is the way Matthews has been scripting his stooges—laying out the story line they’ll be asked to affirm. Can we talk? Matthews has always handled his staff much as Christie is said to have done!
Matthews’ scripting of Wagner wasn’t finished yet. Earlier that day, he had taken his outline of the drama to a wider audience.
In this part of his conversation with Wagner, he played tape of his appearance on that day’s The View. Once again, he helped viewers understand whose “side” they should be on—who they should be rooting for:
MATTHEWS: But as I just said, earlier today, I was on The View, a very popular show here in the—actually, an ABC show. And the audience certainly sound like they were on Bridget Kelly’s side.Based on the amount of applause we heard on the tape, we’d say reaction was mixed from the audience at The View.
Listen to this reaction from a lot of women who came to that program today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM THE VIEW)
MATTHEWS: My question is going to be answered when Bridget Kelly shows up in the witness booth and she’s under oath—
BARBARA WALTERS: She’s the aide—
MATTHEWS: And she’s been called a liar a number of times by the governor, who’s trying to destroy the jury pool by saying she’s a liar to start with. If I were her, I’d come back with everything I had against this guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go back—let me go back to Ted Mann and his story. Where are the likes of this story heading right now, to the witness box, to people under oath in Trenton? Where’s it going?
That said, Matthews engaged in lurid speculation about Christie’s motive—speculation Walters should have quickly identified as such. He also drove his new typecasting, in which the poor abused Kelly “has been called a liar a number of times.”
Did Kelly actually lie to Christie in some way? Like Matthews, we have no way of knowing. But even as he told the world that Christie was trying to destroy a jury, Matthews was trying to script the public about the way this drama—his word!—ought to be understood.
Matthews isn’t going to wait for the investigations—he already knows what occurred! Back in the day, he staged these pogroms year after year, against both Clintons and then against Candidate Gore, endlessly misstating facts as he worked to ensure the election of Bush.
This is the process Shipp described in March 2000. Her piece disappeared down the memory hole.
Career liberals knew they mustn’t discuss the drama being typecast around Gore. Dearest darlings, careers were at stake! Major liberals held their tongues about the process they all understood. Today, you see them performing as well-paid consultants on MSNBC.
Last night, the typecasting of the newest drama continued on Hardball. As Matthews spoke with two more stooges, his latest love affair started to deepen, perhaps revealing its essence:
MATTHEWS (1/15/14): Howard Fineman is editorial director of the Huffington Post and David Corn is Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones. Both are prized MSNBC political analysts.Once again, Matthews speaks as if he’s discussing a work of fiction, a drama. For decades, it has been clear that Matthews views these history-changing episodes as his cable toys.
Anyway, I’m fascinated by a couple things. I love personalities in politics. I love people that are on the stand, they get the 5 o’clock shadow, they’re scared to death, they don’t know what’s going to happen, but you want to know who’s telling the truth. It’s like the old quiz shows in the 60s. Who’s telling the truth?
I’m looking at Bridget Kelly. Maybe her name grabs me, the name Bridget Kelly—sounds like something out of a, I don’t know, a—a detective novel.
FINEMAN: Yeah. Raymond Chandler.
MATTHEWS: Raymond Chandler. Exactly, Raymond Chandler! And I was thinking, like, like The Maltese Falcon. There’s somebody really named Bridget Kelly! OK.
That said, his growing attraction to Kelly echoes love affairs from his past—his love affair with Gennifer Flowers, his affair with Kathleen Willey.
In this case, he finds himself “grabbed by” Kelly. He says it may have something to do with her name.
Last Friday, he may have been a bit less guarded about his growing attraction. As always, the stooges agreed:
MATTHEWS (1/10/14): I’m sympathizing. Maybe it’s my background, my Irish background. But I want to hear what Bridget Anne Kelly has to say.Don’t worry! The children have many happy weekends. They are being paid quite well to help Chris pimp these tales.
MATTHEWS: I don`t think she is the total villain in this piece.
MATTHEWS: And operating completely outside the framework she is working in. Who trained her? Who taught her? Who led her?
CORN: Yes, who led her to believe she could—
MATTHEWS: It’s like Scooter Libby in another case. He wasn’t working for Cheney? Are you kidding me?
MATTHEWS: He wasn’t robbing gas stations to pay for the family. He was working for the boss, like she was.
Anyway, thank you, David Corn. Thank you, Joy Reid. Thanks. Have a nice weekend, Joy.
REID: Happy weekend.
Let’s be clear—it doesn’t matter if Chris [HEART] Bridget because of his Irish background.
(You may think that can’t be it. Thinking that, you would be wrong.)
It doesn’t matter if love of the Irish is involved, as Chris said it might be. Whatever the reason for his clowning, Matthews is doing what he has always done when story starts to grow.
He has started to typecast a drama. It involves a misused younger woman and a powerful jury-fixing boss. Chris has no way to know what actually happened. But he doesn’t plan to wait around to find out.
Shipp described this process in 2000. All the stooges and all the stooges-in-waiting disappeared what she said.
Tomorrow: Two key lessons