Boldly, the New York Times tackles the Klan!


From Oberlin on to Ole Miss: We aren’t thrilled by the New York Times’ general approach to issues of race.

In our view, the paper favors a grandstanding approach built around tired and blinkered self-glorying notions of upper-class Northern exceptionalism. On balance, last week’s reporting about Ole Miss seemed like a case in point.

On Sunday, February 16, two or three youthful lost souls committed a pitiful act on the campus of the University of Mississippi. Three days later, the Times’ Alan Blinder reported what had occurred:
BLINDER (2/19/14): The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday that it had joined the inquiry into an act of vandalism at the University of Mississippi, where a statue of the university's first black student was found with a noose and a flag with the Confederate battle emblem.

The university authorities have said they are seeking two men in the episode, which happened early Sunday on the main campus in Oxford. The university has more than 22,000 students on campuses statewide, 24 percent of whom are minorities.

A witness said the men screamed racial slurs as they defaced the statue of James Meredith, who was admitted in 1962 amid violence and after the intervention of the Kennedy administration.

''These individuals chose our university's most visible symbol of unity and educational accessibility to express their disagreement with our values,'' the university's chancellor, Daniel W. Jones, said in a statement. ''Their ideas have no place here, and our response will be an even greater commitment to promoting the values that are engraved on the statue -- courage, knowledge, opportunity and perseverance.''

The university's alumni association is offering a $25,000 reward to aid in the investigation, which the school characterized as ''rigorous.''
Some people are lost and still very dumb. That said:

Good for the FBI. Good for Chancellor Jones. Good for the alumni association.

Good for “the scores of students and employees,” black and white, who “staged a quickly planned vigil at the statue of Mr. Meredith.” Moving beyond the events of last week:

Good for Kimberly Dandridge, who was elected as the school’s first black female student body president in 2011. Good for Courtney Pearson, who was elected the first black homecoming queen in 2012.

(Pearson was a legacy. Her mother, father and stepmother all attended Ole Miss. Good for them as well, dating back to a tougher time. When Courtney Pearson became homecoming queen, the Dean of Students said he had known her father when they attended Ole Miss together.)

Moving farther back in time, good for Kimsey O’Neal Cooper, the first black student to be selected Miss Ole Miss, in 1989. And good for Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, for a fascinating portrait of modern-day Ole Miss in their 2011 book, the clumsily titled but fascinating Higher Education?

By most lights, Hacker earned his bones on race a long time ago with his aggressive book, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal. What’s his view of the modern Ole Miss?

“Of all the flagship universities we visited, we found the University of Mississippi the most appealing,” he and Dreifus wrote. These were some of the reasons:
HACKER/DREIFUS (page 219): Today, on campus, there’s a statue of James Meredith and Ole Miss is a university where reconciliation and civility are at the very heart of the educational mission. Much of this transformation is the work of Robert Khayat, a remarkable leader, who retired from the chancellorship in 2009. Khayat, himself a former footballer, raised academic standards, tripled the African American enrollment, and banned confederate flags from athletic events—a truly courageous step...

Ole Miss now has a Center for the Study of Southern Culture that focuses on the art, literature, music and food of the region, black and white. Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home, is an on-campus museum. Rita Bender, the wife of Mickey Schwerner, one of the civil rights workers murdered during the summer of 1964, gives a course in “restorative justice.” And did we see correctly at the football game? Was that really a black athlete escorting an extremely white homecoming princess across the field?

When Melissa Cole, a pre-med student in the Barksdale Honors College, first though about attending Ole Miss, her friends back home in Jackson asked, “Why would you want to go there?” She’s African-American. Once at Oxford, she got involved with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, which she described as having started much “dialogue of racial reconciliation, racial issues on campus, and how to come together. It’s not only black and white, but also international students who are having different experiences.” She believes, “Ole Miss has a lot to offer for anybody of any race.”
Good for Melissa Cole! We’re assuming she’s seeing clearly!

Did Hacker and Dreifus see Ole Miss correctly? We can’t answer that question. But you pretty much knew where the Times would end up with an event like this from last week! That said, even we had to chuckle at their second report on this incident.

We will return to this topic. We’ll also return to Oberlin, where the Times bravely battled the Klan less than a year ago.

The people Obama should speak to next!


Perhaps with O’Reilly’s assistance: Yesterday, President Obama announced an initiative designed to help black youth.

In the New York Times, Michael Shear quotes the president:
OBAMA (2/27/14): He called the challenge of ensuring success for young men of color a “moral issue for our country” as he ticked off the statistics: black boys who are more likely to be suspended from school, less likely to be able to read, and almost certain to encounter the criminal justice system as either a perpetrator or a victim.

“We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is,” Mr. Obama told an audience of business leaders, politicians, philanthropists, young black men from a Chicago support program, and Mr. Martin’s parents. “It’s like a cultural backdrop for us in movies, in television. We just assume, of course it’s going to be like that.”

“These statistics should break our hearts,” he added. “And they should compel us to act.”
At one point in his remarks, Obama semi-joked about the sweep of the program’s appeal as he cited two of his guests. “If I can persuade, you know, Sharpton and O’Reilly to be in the same meeting,” he said, “then it means that there are people of good faith who want to get some stuff done.”

Mr. O and Reverend Al were there, black and white together! But if Obama wants to encourage other folk to get off their keisters and care about this, he should speak to the pseudo-liberal stars found on The One True Channel.

As we’ve often noted, you have to shoot and kill black kids to get MSNBC to take interest. As a general matter, the channel focuses on the rights desired by people of their own class.

Those rights are important. But manifestly, MSNBC’s exalted hosts don’t give a fig about the interests of our “underclass” youth.

We’re so old that we can remember when the problems of “inner city schools” occupied a major place in the liberal playbook. Those days are long gone.

Are black boys “more likely to be suspended from school, less likely to be able to read?” When’s the last time you saw a discussion of low-income schools on MSNBC?

(A bit of advice: Start your search at “never.” You’ll be pretty close.)

MSNBC has made it clear—it doesn’t bother with black kids. Maybe Obama should take O’Reilly and have him yell at Rachel, Chris and Lawrence.

Let’s take an updated look at the record: Personally, we’re not gigantic fans of Diane Ravitch. But among liberals, she’s the current state of the art concerning low-income schools, and she knows about a wide range of public school issues.

In the last two years, according to Nexis, Ravitch has appeared on The Ed Show twice, in each case for an extremely short segment. She appeared on All In once, for a fairly short segment.

That’s the channel’s body of work over the past two years.

For what it’s worth, NBC News has been hopelessly devoted to “education reform” over the past five years or so. Who knows? MSNBC’s liberal stars may be bowing to the preferences of the corporate suits.

WHO IS RACHEL MADDOW: Under the Sharpie!


Part 4—An excellent lesson ignored: As late as last evening’s 10 o’clock hour, Lawrence was taking it seriously. He was treating the email exchange as if it was serious, straight.

We refer to the newly released email comments concerning that New Jersey rabbi. Concerning those now-famous remarks, Lawrence played it amazingly straight.

This is the way he opened last evening’s program. His monotone reading, and some errors that followed, suggest that he may not have been fully prepared:
O’DONNELL (2/27/14): The New Jersey legislature’s special committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal released previously redacted messages from David Wildstein today.

The messages include exchanges between Wildstein and Bridget Anne Kelly six days after Kelly sent the famous message, quote, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

In the newly unredacted exchange, David Wildstein sends a picture of a New Jersey rabbi with John Boehner to Kelly and Wildstein says, "He has officially pissed me off.” Kelly replies, “Clearly. We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?” Wildstein: “Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed.” Kelly: “Perfect.”

The Port Authority, of course, where Wildstein worked, controls all the New York area airports.
Please. By now, the entire world had recognized that no one ever contemplated delaying flights to Tel Aviv.

But Lawrence seemed to be playing it straight. Gravely, he told his viewers that the Port Authority does control all New York area airports.

A few minutes later, Lawrence returned to this problem. By now, he had the rabbi confused with somebody else. But he still seemed to be treating this as a disturbing business:
O’DONNELL: The rabbi who finds himself—to his surprise, apparently—in these e-mails has said today that he had no idea, he has no idea what that’s about. Somewhere, I have a quote from him. [Fumbling for material] No idea what it’s about and he says, I’ve never—he said, “David Wildstein made reference to me in newly released e-mails. He is a psychopath, I’ve never met him.”
Is David Wildstein a psychopath? Everything’s possible! On occasion, a few of the analysts have even inquired about Lawrence!

That said, it fell to Steve Kornacki to inform Lawrence that the “psychopath” diagnosis had actually come from a man named Cid Wilson, whose name had also turned up in the unredacted emails. Without directly correcting Lawrence, which isn't done, Kornacki performed another function—he moved the discussion toward the idea that Wildstein had simply been “rolling his eyes,” jesting a bit, concerning the rabbi.

“I didn’t take that exchange as being—I don’t think it reveals anything about the bridge operation,” Kornacki said of the comments concerning the rabbi, helping steer Lawrence, who seemed unprepared, back in a saner direction.

Lawrence may have been under-prepared. On Politics Nation, meanwhile, Michael Isikoff gave voice to a possibility we have pondered for weeks.

Everything is possible! Until the ongoing investigations develop real information about the lane closings, prepare for a new candidate:
ISIKOFF (2/27/14): At the end of the day, this seems to be more juvenile banter than anything else. There was not any effort to create problems, traffic jams in front of the rabbi’s house or delay flights from going to or from Israel. This was just sort of jocular talk. One can raise legitimately questions about whether people in authority, in the government ought to be talking this way in texts or emails.

But, you know, I think the significance is the mind-set. Look, it can even be in some bizarre way exculpatory for Bridget Kelly because she can say, “Look, we were clearly joking here, as we were in the earlier e-mail exchange about the traffic problem.”
It seems to us that Isikoff is slightly off base. As Al Sharpton quickly noted, there really were major traffic problems created in Fort Lee. So it wouldn’t seem that Kelly and Wildstein were simply joking about Fort Lee in the way they did about the airport.

But how about the following possibility, one of millions which will exist until an investigatory body develops some real information? How about the possibility that Kelly says something like this:
I always thought the plan for the “traffic study” sounded ridiculous. (I didn’t know there were any political motives involved, it that’s really the case.) I had told David several times that it would create ridiculous traffic problems if he proceeded with the plan. When I got the green light from my boss, Kevin O’Dowd, and was told to pass the word to David, I was simply snarking to him about the plan, in a way I had done many times.
Is that what happened? Probably not! But until investigators develop real information, all sorts of things could be true.

While we’re at it, we can also explain the joking about the rabbi. In a sometimes hysterical news report by the Bergen Record’s Shawn Boburg, the rabbi says that he is puzzled by the exchange:
BOBURG (2/28/14): Carlebach, a Middlesex County rabbi, said he was surprised and baffled when told about the passages. He said he has never spoken to Wildstein and had only exchanged pleasantries with Kelly at the State House in Trenton. He is a member of the state’s Homeland Security Interfaith Advisory Council and was a chaplain at the Republican National Convention in 2004 and 2008.

“I have totally no idea,” he said when asked why he might be the subject of the text messages between Wildstein and Kelly. “I don’t understand it....None of it makes any sense.”

He knows Kelly “from the State House” but said the extent of their conversations was “hello” and “good morning” greetings as they passed one another in the hallways. He saw Wildstein at Port Authority meetings but “never engaged him,” he said.
The rabbi says he’s puzzled; we know of no reason to doubt him. But based on that passage from Boburg’s report, why can’t this be what happened?
The day before the emails, Wildstein had been conversing with Kelly at the State House (or was perhaps lurking nearby, unobserved). The rabbi passed Kelly and exchanged pleasant greetings with her.

Wildstein had been flirting with Kelly in recent months, in ways which sometimes annoyed her. That day, he feigned annoyance about her exchange with the rabbi, a theme he continued in the joking emails.
Is that what happened? Probably not! But when Kelly jokingly said, “I think this qualifies as some sort of stalking,” could that have been what she meant?

Of course it could have been what she meant! Everything is possible until real facts are nailed down. And our imagined narrative has the virtue of making internal sense.

Until someone gives you real information, everything is possible! Unfortunately, you will typically hear a preferred subset of possibilities, depending on who you watch on TV.

Hosts will imagine some possibilities, keep you from pondering others.

This brings us to the way Rachel Maddow ended last evening’s first segment. But first, a quick overview of Maddow’s coverage last night.

Maddow did three segments last night on Fort Lee. They totaled 34 minutes of broadcast time, roughly three-fourths of her show.

Maddow spent only four minutes on the contents of the new, unredacted emails. For the most part, she presented impassioned, familiar reruns about the horrors of New Jersey politics, which she called “rotten,” a “sewer,” a “toxic mire,” a case of “perverted governance.”

There were no references to vermin or roaches or to subhuman mongrels. But at times, the peculiar, impassioned cable star seemed to be heading there.

The material was very familiar. Anyone who watches this show has been through these recitations before:

Maddow started with the corruption of former Trenton mayor Tony Mack. She then moved to the conflicts of interest bedeviling Port Authority chairman David Samson.

She had done the material about state senator Kevin O’Toole at some length on February 18. Last night, she did the O’Toole material again, treating it as new material derived from the de-redactions.

In one brief disclaimer concerning O’Toole, she managed to note that we “we had heard [this] before.”

Watching the show, then checking some claims, it occurred to us that virtually nothing Maddow did last night was fully kosher on a journalistic basis. Weird example:

Early on, she made a claim about Newark mayors which was flatly false. As she did, the screen behind her showed the accurate fact, which is still somewhat misleading.

We even got something resembling a “smuggled correction” of her groaner from last Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher, when she claimed that a police union head had been fired.

Did Maddow perform a smuggled correction last night? It happened during her second segment, an interview with the Wall Street Journal transportation reporter Ted Mann.

Mann referred to “Paul Nunziato, who is the head of the police union.” Here’s where things went from there:
MADDOW (2/27/14): And now, of course, Mr. Nunziato has stepped down from that role with the police department union.

MANN: Their position is that he has handed some day to day operations to a deputy. He’s not really going to elaborate on that but he hasn’t stepped down and that he’s continuing in that position. We’re not really clear what any of that means.
Gack! Maddow misstated again!

Truly, Maddow embellishes everything. Slowly, though, the truth began to emerge.

“We’re not clear what any of that means?” We know it means that Nunziato hasn’t been fired! Having said that, let’s review:

Last Friday night, appearing with Maher, Maddow said that Nunziato has been fired. That was of course untrue.

Last night, she softened her inaccurate claim. She said that Nunziato has stepped down from his role as union head.

That was also untrue! But in these ways, Maddow tends to walk back mistakes.

We know—you think we’re misconstruing this progression of groaners. But this really is the way this peculiar program works.

(Prediction: Before long, Maddow will stage one of her “Department of Corrections” dog-and-pony shows. She will beat her breast and praise her own honesty as she correct some minor, trivial error. Ditto-heads will swing into action, gushing about her astonishing honesty, about the way she makes it a point to correct and acknowledge mistakes. This is the peculiar way this peculiar TV program works.)

Last night was devoted to reruns. But after Maddow’s brief discussion of the unredacted emails, she drew a very good lesson from the whole affair.

We only wish that she could see the way this lesson applies to her own work, which has been extremely peculiar and extremely bad:
MADDOW (2/27/14): The big effect here of these redactions is that it may just be a lesson to all of us to never try to guess what might be under the black magic marker in redacted documents. I mean, in some ways that’s got to be the lesson here. You can’t see under the Sharpie. I mean, who would have ever guessed that under the redactions in the bridge scandal was a random picture of a rabbi with John Boehner?

You can’t know until you see it. But there’s so much that we don’t know here.
Indeed! Even now, there’s very little we actually know about the Fort Lee affair.

It’s very unclear what happened in this very strange incident, one of the strangest events of its type in the past many years. It’s hard to know how anyone could have thought that he could shut down traffic in a town which serves an entire region—could think that he could do such a thing for weeks without anybody noticing or forcing him to stop.

Maddow, who reasons like a child, has never been able to see the strangeness of the story she’s pretending to cover. And a second problem has dogged her work—she isn’t obsessively honest.

Maddow’s work on this topic has been astoundingly bad. We don’t refer to the amount of the coverage. We refer to the way she keeps trying to look under the Sharpie—the way she keeps trying to predetermine what actually happened here.

Especially when it comes to The Others, Maddow is always ready to pretend that she knows what’s under the Sharpie. She’s ready to leap to unpleasant conclusions about minor figures, based on the flimsiest possible evidence, just so long as her conclusions punish those she has deemed to be bad.

This is terrible conduct. Who the heck is Rachel Maddow and why does she do these things?

We still plan to put our shrinking cap on. But we won’t do so until Monday.

Tomorrow: Back to Stephen Hawking?

The Times [HEART] certain themes about race!


At long last, we learn about Oberlin: As we’ve often noted, the New York Times adores certain themes about race.

We don’t mean that as a compliment. In our view, the Times enjoys the fatuous stuff, especially if it lets them lord it over their lessers in the benighted South.

The great newspaper tends to be AWOL concerning more serious themes.

We were struck by the Times’ two reports about race at Ole Miss last week. In the process of musing about those reports, we even learned what happened at Oberlin last year, in the Klan sighting the Times ballyhooed, then dropped.

The Times never reported how that one turned out! Last weekend, we finally learned, or at least we came close. But first, consider the front-page report in the Times this Tuesday.

The headline stirred our soul, and suggested a serious problem.
This time, the Times was working the race beat way up North, Tanzina Vega reporting:
VEGA (2/25/14): Colorblind Notion Aside, Colleges Grapple With Racial Tension

A brochure for the University of Michigan features a vision of multicultural harmony, with a group of students from different racial backgrounds sitting on a verdant lawn, smiling and conversing.

The scene at the undergraduate library one night last week was quite different, as hundreds of students and faculty members gathered for a 12-hour “speak out” to address racial tensions brought to the fore by a party that had been planned for November and then canceled amid protests. The fraternity hosting the party, whose members are mostly Asian and white, had invited “rappers, twerkers, gangsters” and others “back to da hood again.”

Beyond the immediate provocation of the party, a sharp decline in black undergraduate enrollment—to 4.6 percent of the student body in 2013 from 6.2 percent in 2009—and a general feeling of isolation among black students on campus have prompted a new wave of student activism, including a social media campaign called “Being Black at the University of Michigan” (or, on Twitter, #BBUM). Members of the university’s Black Student Union have petitioned campus administrators to, among other things, increase enrollment of black students to 10 percent.

Similar episodes and tensions have unsettled colleges including Arizona State; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Mississippi; and Dartmouth.
Racial tension isn’t good, especially among younger people. On the brighter side, we were relieved to see that the Times had managed to work in Ole Miss.

Can anyone convince college students to stop throwing their brainless “back to da hood” parties? Possibly not.

That said, there’s always someone doing something stupid somewhere in this very large nation. And the Times is famous for front-page “trend stories” which don’t involve actual trends.

As Vega continued, we’ll have to say she didn’t seem to have an enormous number of racial incidents to discuss. That said, her report used Ann Arbor as its base, and she quoted a black student saying the feeling on campus was bad.

At this point in her piece, we tore our hair over the quality of standard old New York Times journalism, whatever the topic might be:
VEGA: Tyrell Collier, 21, the speaker of the Black Student Union, who is majoring in sociology and Afro-American and African studies, said racial tensions on campus had been mounting for months.

“There was a very tense climate brewing all semester, and I think the party was just the peak,” he said. Mr. Collier added that his group, which spearheaded the popular social media campaign, had received inquiries from other black student groups around the country looking to use similar tactics.
Collier is an important young person. (So is everyone else at Ann Arbor.) He said racial tensions on campus had been mounting for months, that the party was just the peak.

We’ll bite! Why had racial tensions been mounting? Why had the climate at Michigan been very tense?

If Vega asked these obvious questions, Collier’s answers didn’t make it into her front-page report. Later, a professor of science and engineering gave his explanation for “the recent spate of activism on diversity.” But Collier, who said the climate had been very tense, never got to say why!

In our view, that was a frustrating front-page report, right out of the New York Times can. Tomorrow, Mississippi and Oberlin.

What people continue to hear about Rice!


Where different Americas come from: Back in 2004, John Edwards ran for president talking about “the two Americas.”

Sociologically, his number seemed to be off, though that’s neither here nor there.

We saw Edwards give his “two Americas” speech at Manchester’s Palace Theater, on the day when Brother Franken got into the fight with the heckler. (We were there for that event too, a Howard Dean speech.) We were amazed by how bad Edwards was—memorized to the last gesture.

Today, we are splintering into at least several Americas. Edwards was talking about the rich and poor Americas. But how about the different Americas who watch different cable news channels?

Consider what people are still hearing on Fox about Susan Rice. Last weekend, Rice appeared on Meet the Press. On Tuesday night, Greta van Susteren started her program like this:
VAN SUSTEREN (2/24/14): Senator Lindsey Graham blasting the National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Twitter. Rice still sticking by the talking points she delivered on five different Sunday morning shows in the days right after the Benghazi attack when four Americans were murdered in that attack. But the Obama administration insisted it was all about a video.

Senator Lindsey Graham tweeting, “Susan Rice may be comfortable about the role she played in Benghazi debacle but no one else outside of President Obama's political inner circle is.”

Senator Graham joins us. Nice to see you, sir.

GRAHAM: What a very smart thing to have said, if I say so myself.
Just for the record, Van Susteren’s comments weren’t very smart. On Meet the Press, Rice noted that her presentation in September 2012 involved “information [that] turned out, in some respects, not to be 100 percent correct.” And of course, the Obama administration had never “insisted it was all about a video.”

Seventeen months later, that’s what people are still being told if they watch Greta on Fox. As the discussion continued, things didn’t get any better:
VAN SUSTEREN (continuing directly): What—what is going on with this? I mean, at least, I mean—

GRAHAM: Well, they're getting away with it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this was the most regrettable incident of the time she was there. Susan Rice acts like it’s still fine.
Does Susan Rice “act like it’s still fine?” It all depends on the meaning of what “it” is! In the comment Van Susteren cited, Clinton was talking about the killing attack in Benghazi itself.

On Meet the Press, Rice was asked about something else. She was asked if she had “any regrets” about what she said that day, not about the attacks.

This was already pretty poisonous. Here’s what Graham said:
GRAHAM (continuing directly): Well, from her point of view, her—her job was to turn the terrorist attack into a protest because there seven weeks from an election. All of the intelligence coming out of Libya, from the station chief, the CIA station chief said this was not—not a protest. Fox has done a marvelous job of detailing how people reported a terrorist attack, named who was involved, and this protest story was politically hatched out of the White House and why was Susan Rice picked? She was the U.N. Ambassador. She has absolutely no control over the conflict in Libya, she doesn't. You know, that's not her portfolio. I think they picked her and not Hillary because she would say anything.
Coming from a senator discussing a high-ranking official, that last highlighted statement is remarkably ugly stuff. Meanwhile, the first statement we’ve highlighted is simply false. Has Graham seen the official intelligence report from which Rice was working that day?

(Answer: Obviously, yes, he has. So of course has Van Susteren.)

Today, we have two, three, many Americas. In large part, it’s because of the bullshit being broadcast on Fox—bullshit which is now being matched to some extent by the bullshit on MSNBC or, God help us, over at Salon.

If you get your bullroar from Fox, this is what you heard about Rice as the pair continued:
VAN SUSTEREN (continuing directly): I think it's disturbing that, these years out, that she is still sticking to it.

GRAHAM: Very disturbing.

VAN SUSTEREN: Instead of, instead of saying, “You know, I made a mistake” or whatever, something, but still sticking to it and acting like we are so stupid that we still believe it, number one. And number two is that I—I don't, I'm always suspicious of someone who will never admit a mistake when backed into the corner with the facts.

GRAHAM: Well, number one, if she really believes what she said is still accurate, God help us all.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's scary.

GRAHAM: She said that the consulate was substantially, strongly, and significantly secured. Who in the world—that's with never mind the talking points, she was making things up. Al Qaeda has been diminished, they are on the run. There is no evidence of a terrorist attack. But what we think is, a protest was caused by a hateful video we had nothing to do with.
In effect, Rice did say, “I made a mistake.” As quoted above, she acknowledged on Meet the Press that part of her statement turned out to be inaccurate.

Meanwhile, for those who know how to read, Rice didn’t say that the killing attack was caused by the hateful video. And she didn’t say there was no evidence of a terrorist attack. Indeed, she told Bob Schieffer the killing attack may have been “al Qaeda itself.”

“I think they picked her and not Hillary because she would say anything?” That was an amazingly ugly thing for Graham to say about Rice. But we are splitting into a panoply Americas as people clown on our own cable station while people like this engage in this fraud on Fox.

Meanwhile, our big newspapers hide in the weeds. This should be on page one of the New York Times. But the mutts who work at that pseudo-newspaper are devoted to avoiding such topics.

One last point, and this is key:

If Timesmen tried to sort this out, there’s no chance they would know how. Those skills simply don’t exist among our pseudo-elite.

Full and complete disclosures: We’ve chatted with Greta on several occasions, including in Manchester that very same year, where she was nice enough to host a Hotline comedy event.

We sat backstage with our favorite pal, Will Durst. Greta said the people at Fox had been very nice, and that no one had ever told her to say X, Y or Z.

The first time we ever saw Greta was at the White House, at a cattle-call Christmas party in 1999 or 2000. Along with her husband, she was a major Democrat then, or at least that’s what everyone thought.

At some point, Fox News came calling. Or something!

The things some people will do to win! Republican senators may act this way. So may major cable news stars on various cable news channels.

WHO IS RACHEL MADDOW: What is truth?


Interlude—Recalling the chairman’s tale: Last evening, Chris Christie appeared for the “Ask the Governor” radio segment he performs on a regular basis with Eric Scott of New Jersey 101.5.

Treating the event as “late developing news,” Rachel Maddow devoted her program’s second segment to the things Christie said.

“New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie has just wrapped up a live radio interview in which he, somewhat against his will, nevertheless answered questions about the bridge lanes scandal,” Maddow said as she introduced the segment.

Therein lies a small tale.

On the Maddow program, Christie will inevitably be said to be answering questions “somewhat against his will,” even when he does so on a radio program he easily could have skipped. Such framing novelizes events in a way which pleases the tribe.

But then, much of Maddow’s work on Fort Lee has taken the form of a novel. If it weren’t for misstatements, speculations and overstatements, it sometimes seems that Maddow’s program would feature no statements at all.

Consider what happened after Maddow played tape of a few of Christie’s statements from the “Ask the Governor” program.

For the most part, Christie said things on the radio program he has said in the past. He was giving the same old answers to the same old questions.

(In our view, Eric Scott had a very bad night. He asked lazy, extremely familiar questions which virtually answered themselves.)

We certainly wouldn’t assume that Christie’s statements were true or forthcoming. But it can’t be shown that his statements were false, and they lacked almost any news value.

As examples of developing news, Christie’s statements were thin gruel. And uh-oh! As she began to report what he’d said, Maddow missed a rather large irony:
MADDOW (2/26/14): Governor Christie ended that exchange tonight by saying he does not want to speculate any more until they [his legal team] develop all the facts that need to be developed and review all the documents that need to be reviewed.

On that point, the governor’s legal team, and maybe even the governor himself, may want to keep a little bit of tomorrow open. Because we’re learning tonight that the New Jersey legislative panel that’s investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures is about to release some new documents.
During the interview, Christie told Scott that he didn’t want to speculate about what Bridget Kelly had done. A few of the analysts cheered.

Alas! Maddow’s show has run on speculation for weeks, often on extremely tenuous speculation. Often, her speculations have led to accusations or insinuations against named individuals, insinuations which were advanced on the flimsiest possible basis.

This is very bad journalism. As she reported Christie’s statement about the need to stop speculating, Maddow seemed to miss the relevance to her own miserable work.

As she continued, Maddow described an event which may take place today. As she did, it seemed to us that she was possibly overstating again:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Last month, [the legislative committee] released these super-redacted documents handed over to them from David Wildstein. That’s how we found out about “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” “Got it.” Before he turned over these documents, though, David Wildstein and/or his lawyer Sharpied out huge portions of texts and e-mails, making it hard to understand what the documents meant in most cases. And who was saying what to who?

We are learning tonight, breaking news, that David Wildstein has turned over the un-redacted names and e-mails to the panel that’s leading this investigation, and the un-redacted copies are expected to be released to the public early tomorrow.

Again, that is what we are expecting right now, but when it comes to this story and New Jersey, a pretty good rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected. So we shall see. Watch this space.
As she referred to “these super-redacted documents,” three pages of documents appeared on the screen behind her. And it was true! The three pages shown on the screen did bear large redactions.

For the analysts, this raised an age-old question: What is truth?

Were Maddow’s statements about the redactions true? Were they perhaps technically accurate but a bit misleading?

First, a bit of background: David Wildstein turned over roughly 900 pages of documents. The vast majority of those pages bore no redactions at all, as anyone can see by examining them on-line.

That doesn’t mean that Maddow’s statements were false. When she said that Wildstein’s redactions “ma[de] it hard to understand what the documents meant in most cases,” she may have meant to refer to the texts and emails which actually did bear redactions.

Still, an obvious tilt had been imparted to the story viewers were hearing. The analysts howled, recalling what Assemblyman Wisniewski had said.

Just last week, Maddow asked Assemblyman John Wisniewski about the un-redacted documents. According to Maddow, the pristine documents had “reportedly” been viewed by the special counsel working for Wisniewski’s legislative committee.

(For unknown reasons, Maddow failed to ask Wisniewski if he had seen the un-redacted documents. The following night, Brian Murphy told Maddow that Wisniewski had seen them.)

Whatever! Below, you see what Wisniewski told Maddow about the extent of Wildstein’s redactions, and about the intention behind them. This is our question:

Given what Wisniewski said, what would you have told the analysts concerning Maddow’s presentation last night?

For our previous report, click here:
MADDOW (2/18/14): Reid Schar, the special counsel [for the legislative committee], has reportedly now seen what’s beneath these redactions. Why has he seen them, and what does that mean about whether you’re going to see them and whether or not the public will?

WISNIEWSKI: It’s a process that counsel worked out with one another. We wanted to see them from that day. You showed the clip where [Wildstein’s lawyer] was first at the committee meeting and we wanted to see them. So Mr. Zegas, the attorney for Mr. Wildstein, has agreed to provide them to our counsel, who’s going to review them, and they’re going to come to an agreement on what can be included.

What we’re told preliminarily is the statement that Mr. Zegas made, that they were outside the time frame or outside the subject matter, it’s pretty much on the mark. There are a couple of pages that our counsel says that probably should be included. So we’re hoping to work that out and have them included with the record, and I hope to have more to say about that in the near future.

But it looks like, you know, there’s a very small subset, 40-some pages I think out of the 900, that really probably should be included, but others seem to be just outside the date range or talking about things that have nothing to do with the bridge.
Wisniewski was a bit unclear in his use of numbers. Should redactions be removed from “a couple of pages?” Or is it more like forty pages, out of the 900 pages Wildstein submitted?

That point was left unclear. But this morning, we ask you to think about the general drift of Wisniewski's statement, versus the tone of Maddow’s presentation last night.

The vast majority of Wildstein's submissions bore no redactions at all. And Wisniewski told Maddow that, at least “preliminarily,” the bulk of the redactions which did exist seemed to have been done in good faith, for appropriate reasons:

“What we’re told preliminarily is the statement that Mr. Zegas made, that they were outside the time frame or outside the subject matter, it’s pretty much on the mark.”

According to Wisniewski, “a very small subset” of the redactions “probably should be part of the record...But others seem to be just outside the date range or talking about things that have nothing to do with the bridge.”

Last week, Wisniewski seemed to let a lot of hot air out of the latest balloon. By last night, it seemed the air had been restored. The story got exciting again.

Parsing closely, there is no literal contradiction between the stories these two figures told. But Wisniewski seemed to give the strong impression that the redactions had largely been justified.

Last night, the matter sounded quite different. As Pilate first said, “What is truth?”

We had planned to do something different on this topic today. We had planned to review Maddow’s program from last Wednesday night, in which two segments about Fort Lee created a playbook of practices a journalists shouldn’t engage in.

Worst by far was the part of the show where Maddow seemed to accuse a Port Authority police officer of grievous, possibly criminal, conduct, on the basis of nothing at all. In a heinous bit of behavior, she had to embellish what two different people said to float her insinuation.

Maddow engaged in quite a bit more novelized work that night. Her work has become so non-journalistic, it’s hard to keep up with the various forms of novelistic bad practice.

Last Friday, she appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, where she invented a firing. Maher and another panelist criticized the extent of her coverage. They didn’t seem to see how much of her coverage has consisted of misstatement, overstatement, insinuation, snark, general bullshit and clowning, along with a tremendous amount of omission and the relentless failure to develop real information about a range of key topics.

As she invented her latest false fact, Maddow insisted that the lane closings really are worth covering. Plainly, that is true, as Maher kept saying.

That’s precisely the problem.

The lane closings may not be worth the amount of time they’ve received on Maddow’s show. But the closings involved very dangerous, very strange conduct—conduct which may have been criminal. They involve a major political figure, who should be dealt with toughly but journalistically—intelligently and fairly.

For all these reasons, the lane closings should be covered in careful, serious ways, in ways which make citizens smarter. Instead, Maddow has endlessly played the fool. No one got fired last Friday, alas, except inside Maddow’s head.

Her accusation two nights before involved some very bad conduct. But the misconduct belonged to Maddow, not to the policeman she dragged through the mud.

Tomorrow, we’ll put our shrinking cap on. Why does Maddow do this?

Tomorrow: What makes Maddow run?

Confusion by omission: What was Bill Baroni’s role in the Fort Lee lane closings?

We can’t answer that question, but Baroni was mentioned again last night. In this passage, we see one of the worst aspects of Maddow’s voluminous coverage:
MADDOW (2/26/14): You will remember that Bill Baroni resigned from the Port Authority in December as the Bridgegate scandal was slowly starting to build. Governor Christie announced that Bill Baroni was leaving the Port Authority. And at the time, he said that Mr. Baroni’s resignation had nothing to do with the bridge controversy at all.

The governor said at the time, quote, “This was nothing I had not planned already.”

Bill Baroni, you remember, gave what turned out to be false testimony about the bridge to the New Jersey state legislature. He testified that the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge were all the result of some traffic study, nothing at all to do with politics.

Well, the Port Authority subsequently clarified that there was no actual legitimate traffic study. The traffic study thing was a cover story to obscure whatever was really happening on that bridge for as yet unexplained apparently political reasons.
Maddow has devoted many hours to the Fort Lee story. In all that time, she has never described the panoply of events surrounding the so-called traffic study—events which made at least two major bridge officials believe that some sort of traffic study, or test, was actually going on.

This represents a tremendous withholding of information on Maddow’s part. In failing to tell her viewers that officials were led to believe that a traffic study was being conducted, Maddow has tilted the scales against Baroni and against several others.

When Baroni testified, did he believe that a traffic study had occurred? We don’t have the answer to that; someday, we may find out. Given the way Maddow has reported this topic, she doesn’t seem to want viewers to know that such a question exists.

Last night, you’ll note that Maddow didn’t say there was no traffic study. Instead, she said that someone said there was no “actual legitimate” study.

Such words used to be known, unfairly we think, as “Clintonesque.” On balance, her statement about what “the Port Authority subsequently clarified” was just a big pile of hash.

At the very least, Wildstein pretended to be conducting a study or test. Given the hours she has spent on this topic, Maddow’s failure to report the relevant facts can start to look quite a bit like a scam.

On a journalistic basis, Maddow should have been removed from this topic long ago. That leaves us with a basic question:

Who is Rachel Maddow?

Thomas Frank wants you to know how to talk!


We recommend a key word: Please ignore the silly headline on Thomas Frank’s new piece at Salon.

(At the new Salon, headline writers rarely care about what the article actually says. That’s how Paul Krugman gets snarked at in Frank’s headline, even though he isn’t mentioned in Frank’s actual column.)

Ignore the headline, but focus on Frank’s ideas. Frank says progressives have to learn how to talk about—well, we have to learn how to talk about our current condition, whatever we decide to say that condition is.

According to Frank, liberals don’t know how to talk about the condition which is frequently called “inequality.” He says that condition is discussed in the denatured language of professional academics.

We don’t know how to discuss what’s happening in a way that punches the gut.

At one point, people did know how to talk, Frank says. He offers “a famous passage from the Omaha Platform of the Populist Party,” which was written in 1892:

“The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of those, in turn, despise the republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.”

Thomas Frank knows how to talk. In a similar vein, we’ll recommend that progressives learn to employ a key word:

That key word is “looting.”

In the past, we’ve used that helpful, accurate word to discuss the way American health care works. Let’s face it: When you see data like these, average people are getting looted every day of the week:
Per person spending on health care, 2011
United States: $8508
Canada: $4522
Germany: $4495
France: $4118
Australia: $3800
United Kingdom: $3405
Japan: $3213
Spain: $3072
Italy: $3012
As compared to France, $4400 per person in health care spending was disappearing that year.

Back in 1892, “the fruits of the toil of millions were stolen.” Today, the average person is constantly looted in his or her spending on health care.

Frank complains about the dull writing “in the New York Times’ series on the subject, The Great Divide, which has run now for a little over a year.” We’ll admit it—the series has generated so little buzz that we didn’t know it exists.

He complains about the standard claim that inequality is “a complex, highly technical problem, with many confusing causes.”

Pshaw, Frank says. “Inequality happened because our leaders set out to make it happen.” He quotes clear direct language from Kevin Phillips in 1990 saying that this is the case.

Do you mind if we add one thought to Frank’s rumination? “Inequality” may be unexciting because of the way the professionals discuss it. That said, you’ll also note that it doesn’t get discussed a whole lot on the liberal “news” channel.

MSNBC tends to define progressive politics around the drive for middle and upper middle class rights. That’s an important part of progressive politics, but it can be pushed so hard that viewers don’t notice that large economic outrages are going undiscussed.

How often have you seen health care spending discussed on MSNBC? How often have you seen the channel’s hosts asking where all that looted health care money is going?

You tend to get a diet of rights on MSNBC. In a Rolling Stone profile of Rachel Maddow, executive producer Bill Wolff discussed the kinds of segments that tend to please Maddow Show viewers:
WALLACE-WELL (6/27/12): While Maddow is on set, broadcasting the show, Wolff tends to stay upstairs in his office and monitor Twitter, to get a sense of how the show's fans are reacting. Maddow has built a base of admirers to the point where she now averages 1.2 million viewers a night, which is just over half of what Sean Hannity averages during the same time slot. Wolff believes that what her fans respond to most are not necessarily the biggest news stories of the day, but the moments when Maddow is defending rights: “voting rights, reproductive rights, women's rights, really any kind of rights.” Viewers like to see Maddow on the attack: "People want to see the home team winning." Oftentimes, the home team is all they want to see. "If there's a Republican, you'll see all these tweets," Wolff says. "Get that Republican off my screen!"
Rights are important, but so is income—and Republican voters are getting looted every day too. Is the cable news diet of topics one of the ways by which liberal viewers perhaps keep getting looted?

Plutocrats don’t care if you have rights; they want to get their hands on your money. We hear about rights, and we see our team winning.

Does this help the looting roll on?

The latest fact about Maureen Dowd’s clan!


Yes, this actually matters: Amazingly, this actually matters.

At the start of this morning’s column, Maureen Dowd offers the latest fascinating fact about her family background:
DOWD (2/26/14): I have long been opposed to gays marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue.

It isn’t because my father was a past national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which ran the parade for a century and started the rule that no gays need apply. Faith and begorrah, heaven knows I have nothing against gays. I have something against Irish parades.
Good God! Who knew?

Fir the record, we’ve always denounced parades too. That said, the highlighted passage should be filed under “amazing factoids.”

As we’ve often noted, there’s obviously nothing wrong with growing up East Coast Irish Catholic in the middle part of the last century. To the extent that we ourselves had a cultural niche, we grew up East Coast Irish Catholic in the middle part of the last century too.

(In the summer of 1960, right before we entered eighth grade, our family decamped to the Bay Area, which was a different world. Our mother and our aunt were puzzled. Why in the world were the priests so friendly, so kind, so pleasant?)

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with growing up East Coast Irish Catholic. But make no mistake—the mid-century culture within which Dowd was raised has played a major role in the journalism of the past few decades. That’s especially true of the anti-Clinton, anti-Gore journalism of the 1990s and Campaign 2000.

We know you think that can’t be true. In thinking that, you’re wrong.

As we’ve discussed in the past, the mainstream press corps of the 1990s had a very substantial East Coast Irish Catholic contingent. At NBC News, Jack Welch virtually built an entire news division out of sons and daughters of the old sod.

We’re going to say that it showed.

We Irish! No one screeched about Clinton’s sexual conduct more than We Irish did. Beyond that, we’re going to tell you that We Irish had problems with the southern-ness of Clinton and Gore as well.

We know, we know—you think that’s crazy. In thinking that, you’d be wrong.

The cultural norms of homes like Dowd’s were rampant in the anti-Clinton press corps. Is all political craziness local? The late Michael Kelly was one of the craziest anti-Clinton, anti-Gore voices—and he was a childhood friend of Dowd’s, right there in Washington, D.C. On occasion, Dowd likes to write about the connections in those days between her brothers and the Buchanan clan—Pat Buchanan, who denounced “Clinton and Clinton” at the 1992 convention.

The cultural norms of homes like Dowd’s drove much of that decade’s journalistic craziness. Then too, there was the Irish Catholic network assembled by Welch.

It’s amazing that the press has agreed not to discuss the comical and troubling way Welch assembled a news division almost wholly from the old sod. He recruited Tim Russert into the news business, put him atop Meet the press. He made Chris Matthews the face of NBC cable. Brian Williams rose under Welch to be Brokaw’s anointed successor.

Out on Nantucket, Russert and Matthews bought multimillion-dollar summer homes, part of the NBC Irish Catholic guild which summered on the island (text below). Bob Wright, Welch’s East Coast Irish Catholic CEO of NBC, summered on Nantucket too.

Welch built an Irish-Catholic news division. When Bush and Gore debated, this was the five-member pundit panel which discussed what occurred on NBC cable:

Brian Williams, moderator
Chris Matthews
Mike Barnicle
Doris Kearns Goodwin
Peggy Noonan

All five, East Coast Irish Catholics from the mid-part of the last century. First additional guest to opine? Russert! Who else?

Compute the probabilities of assembling a lineup like that by chance!

Obviously, there’s nothing “wrong” with hiring any of those people as pundits, although Matthews plainly went into the tank in the drive to send George Bush to the White House. That said, something was crazily wrong with pundit culture by the end of the Clinton-Gore years, including the two years of Campaign 2000. And the mid-century culture within which Dowd was raised played an extremely large part in the cockeyed pundit culture of that era.

Except for Joe Klein, everyone has agreed to ignore the fact that this cultural phenomenon ever occurred. We thought that biographical note by Dowd took this important bit of history to the next level.

Can Sallie Brady say this: The press corps never discusses such matters. That said, on one brief shining occasion, the Washingtonian’s Sallie Brady discussed the way the NBC gang would decamp to Nantucket to lounge among the swells:
BRADY (8/03): Russert is part of the Nantucket NBC crowd, one of the cliques that fuels the isle's social engine. It was Jack Welch, the story goes, the 20-year chairman and CEO of NBC's parent company, General Electric, who drew network folk to Nantucket.

Russert and his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, began summering on Nantucket in 1992. Russert has said he can go days without leaving his house except for a bike ride to get the newspapers. Then he'll sit in his rocking chair and watch the grass blow in the breeze.

Russert does make it back for Meet the Press, the show that made him and that helped finance the Nantucket hideaway he acquired in 1999. The sprawling gray-shingled house, with rooftop sundeck and cutting garden, lies down an unmarked dirt path through a secluded forest. Hanging over the portico, a wooden sign bearing the cottage's name says it all: SUNDAY MORNING.

Russert's boss, NBC CEO Bob Wright, is also on the scene. Add to the cocktail chatter the latest tidbits from the Oval Office, care of White House correspondent David Gregory, who was married on Nantucket and returns with his wife, Beth, for vacations; celeb updates from Access Hollywood host Pat O'Brien, who retreats here; and Washington gossip from News 4 anchor Barbara Harrison, and the only ones missing from the NBC lineup are Will and Grace.

Although Welch retired in 2001, he's still a power magnet. He holds court from a massive gray-shingled home festooned with window boxes, near Sankaty Head Golf Club. It was there that Welch once played Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, only to discover that two of the richest men in the world routinely bet only $1 a round.
Matthews arrived in 2004, purchasing a $4.4 million summer crib. (Russert’s “hideaway” was priced at $7 million.) Matthews “earned” that money trashing Candidate Gore for two solid years. Back then, Hillary too!

It was ugly, astonishing stuff. The careerists all agreed not to notice. Today, Matthews is hailed by Rachel Maddow as her “beloved colleague.” According to TV Guide, she hauls $7 million per year.

(Do you think that’s a good idea?)

We know—you think this can’t have mattered. In thinking that, you would be wrong, the victim of an undiscussed con.

WHO IS RACHEL MADDOW: Bill Maher objects!


Part 3—His guest’s latest howler: Last Friday, on Real Time with Bill Maher, something unusual happened:

Rachel Maddow’s journalism was challenged, from two different directions. At Mediaite, Josh Feldman offered a reasonably accurate summary of events:
FELDMAN (2/21/14): Bill Maher confronted Rachel Maddow on his show Friday night about MSNBC’s obsession with BridgeGate, following up on his blog post last week calling it MSNBC’s Benghazi, telling Maddow it’s just too much now and really needs to stop being a “top story” on almost every single show on the network.

Maddow responded, “I am totally obsessed with the Christie story, unapologetically.”
She pointed to the gleeful, fun way she covered the Rod Blagojevich scandal, but Maher shot back that it wasn’t covered with nearly the same kind of fervor that BridgeGate has. Maher acknowledged that it’s not the same thing as Benghazi, but the scandal has become MSNBC’s Benghazi. He said, “It’s not Watergate! He’s not the president!”

Maddow said, “When there are gonzo political corruption stories, you cover them.”
Maddow's fuller statement went like this: “Here’s the thing. I am totally obsessed with the Christie story, unapologetically, and will continue to be obsessed with it while amazing things in that story continue to happen.”

To watch this whole segment, click here.

In our view, “confronted” was too strong a word for the exchange between Maddow and Maher. But as he continued, Feldman noted that the National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke joined Maher in his challenge to Maddow.

Cooke accused MSNBC of trying to end Christie’s presidential hopes, something he said some conservatives also were doing. Throughout the segment, Cooke agreed that this was a genuine scandal.

(Full disclosure: Like most Americans, we normally ignore comments by Brits with more than one middle initial. In this case, correspondent Cooke made some sense.)

It’s unusual to see Maddow challenged on her journalism. Maddow is a highly talented seller-of-self, a useful skill you may not want to see in your leading journalists. Partly due to her songs-of-self, Maddow is widely regarded as a highly reliable, very bright, extremely well-motivated journalist.

On this occasion, Maher and Cooke challenged one basic aspect of Maddow’s work. In response, something rather common occurred:

Maddow uncorked her latest howler.

That wasn’t Maddow’s only reaction to the concern Maher voiced. According to Maher, Maddow has been devoting too much time and too much attention to the Fort Lee scandal. In her reaction to this claim, Maddow did these things:

She briefly pretended not to know what election Cooke could be talking about. (“Why would I be excited to clear Chris Christie from whatever race you mean?”)

She constructed the world’s largest straw man, then skillfully knocked it down. (“So you think that I’ve created the bridge story out of whole cloth in order to elect a Democrat in 2016?”)

She kept insisting that the scandal was well worth covering. This forced Maher and Cooke to keep saying that wasn’t their point.

When Cooke said the extent of the coverage “has been ridiculous,” she played the right-versus-left victim card. (“Thank you for saying it’s ridiculous. I take that almost as a compliment.”)

On the rare occasions when Maddow is challenged, she tends to play such cards. Eventually, she listed the factors which make the Fort Lee matter worth covering, which of course it is.

Presumably, these are some of “the amazing things [which] continue to happen:”
MADDOW (2/21/14): Thank you for saying it’s ridiculous. I take that almost as a compliment. I mean, it’s not like we’re not covering other things. But listen. First of all, his appointee to the Port Authority resigns. Then another appointee of his resigns. Then his deputy chief of staff gets fired. Then his campaign manager gets fired. Today, the head of the police union got fired...It’s an ongoing story, worth covering.
“It is worth covering,” the long-suffering Maher said again, not realizing that his guest had just uncorked her latest howler. (There’s no reason why he should have known.)

It’s true! Two of Christie’s appointees did resign, late last year. And on January 9 of this year, Christie did fire two top aides.

Those well-known facts are certainly true. But as Maddow spoke to Maher last Friday night, had “the head of the police union” been fired that very day?

Nothing resembling that had happened. To appearances, Maddow was misstating the contents of this report in that morning’s New York Times, a thinly-sourced report which went beyond anything which has been reported by any New Jersey newspaper.

The New York Times did not report that the head of the Port Authority police union got fired. The Times reported nothing like that. Meanwhile, nothing resembling that had occurred, unless you were listening to Maddow emit her latest howler.

Go ahead—read that thinly-sourced report, which may have overstated the facts. After that, reread what Maddow said.

Maddow’s howler capped a week of horrible work on her show. It was a week which spilled with misstatements, overstatements and promiscuous acts of accusation based on the slenderest threads.

Tomorrow, we’ll review the journalistic misdeeds from Maddow’s Wednesday and Thursday night programs, the programs which preceded her Friday night massacre of the police union head. For today, let’s note the most striking part of the criticism directed at Maddow on last Friday night’s program.

Here’s what we were most struck by as Maher and Cooke challenged Maddow’s work:

Maher and Cooke each criticized the extent of Maddow’s coverage. But neither complainant suggested that she had made any misstatements or journalistic mistakes.

There was nothing wrong with the content of her coverage. She was simply devoting too much time to the Fort Lee matter.

Indeed, less than one minute after Maddow issued her latest misstatement, Maher went out of his way to praise Maddow and her channel for the accuracy of their work. Horrified, the analysts covered their eyes as their Uncle Bill seemed to rattle a script:
MAHER (2/21/14): Again, I say this as a viewer, as somebody who loves these [MSNBC] shows. And every, I’m like, “OK, can I just flip through this and get to the part where they’re talking about something that matters?”

MADDOW: What did I lead my show with last night?

MAHER: Not [Fort Lee]! I’m saying the network, I’m not saying you. Also, I’d also like to quote myself, when we talked about this on Overtime? I said, “I hate false equivalency. MSNBC, one of the great things about it, is that they are scrupulous fact-checkers, whereas Fox News are scrupulous fact maker-uppers.”
Exactly 35 seconds after Maddow emitted her latest false fact, Maher praised her mighty network for its scrupulous fact-checking.

We’re long-time fans of Maher around here, for his superlative tone and superlative wit if not always for every one of his views. If Maddow had competent journalistic supervision, we might be fans of her work too.

That said, Maher was flirting with a script as he praised MSNBC, and by inference Maddow, for their wondrous fact-checking. This is one of the frameworks Maddow has worked hard to hang around her own head.

For years, we’ve been struck by the fact that Maddow just isn’t obsessively honest. We’ve also been struck by the skillful way she has created a narrative in which her devoted fans say precisely the opposite.

Maddow has largely built this myth through her “Department of Corrections” reports, in which she corrects her minor mistakes while lecturing us about her honesty—about her desire to correct her own errors, even when it hurts.

Can we talk? If Maddow hadn’t successfully sold herself as the liberal world’s “Little Prince,” as an incomparably fey and sincere ethereal being, cynics might possibly view her “Department of Corrections” series as a bit of a scam.

For today, we’ll only say this: No head of any relevant union got fired last Friday. Nothing like that actually happened. We can find no news report which asserted any such thing.

That claim became Maddow’s latest howler as she listed the “amazing things” that “continue to happen” in the Fort Lee story. And sure enough:

As of today, Maddow hasn’t corrected this error. Her ballyhooed Department of Corrections hasn’t been called into action.

For several years, we’ve been struck by the contrast between Maddow’s songs-of-self and her actual journalistic conduct. Last Friday, the analysts thought they saw this pattern play out once again.

Maddow had been emitting groaners all week, but neither Maher nor Cooke said a word about any of that. As we watched the tape of the show, we were struck by the way the modern pundit corps actually works. And we found ourselves asking that question again:

Who is Rachel Maddow?

Tomorrow: The week of living cluelessly

In the New Jersey press: As Maddow often notes, the New Jersey press is leading the way in covering the Fort Lee matter.

Did Paul Nunziato get fired last week? At the widely-praised Bergen Record, a single report included the paper’s one fleeting reference to the minor matter Maddow misstated.

No, the gentleman didn’t get fired. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

According to Nexis and the paper’s own web site, the Newark Star-Ledger hasn’t mentioned Nunziato in the past week at all.

On Real Time, the chief got fired! In the real world, not so much.

Dunn trial: First the journalist, then the professor!


Kristof agonistes: Nicholas Kristof stirred a bit of a mini-debate with his recent column about the absent professors, who ought to help out a bit more.

For our previous post, click here.

In the debate which Kristof stirred, Josh Marshall described his decision to leave the academy. We remembered what the old, extremely smart Marshall was like before he was kidnapped and replaced.

That said, we began having visions of Kristof in Hell when we read the latest piece at Salon by Professor Brittney Cooper.

Cooper’s piece concerns the Michael Dunn murder trial. More specifically, she pens some thoughts in academese about Creshuna Miles, one of two jurors who have been interviewed about the trial.

The problem here starts with a journalist. Miles was interviewed for CNN by Alina Machado, whose work was completely incompetent. As aired by Anderson Cooper, this is the way things started:
MACHADO (2/20/14): What did you think of Michael Dunn?

MILES: I honestly think he was a good guy. I think he's a good guy. I don't think he hates everybody. I don't think he walks around wanting to shoot everybody. I think that he made bad decisions.

MACHADO: You still think he's guilty of murder, though.

MILES: Yes. I really think he's guilty of murder, but not guilty as charged.

MACHADO: First degree. You don't think he's guilty of first degree?

MILES: I think he's guilty of second degree. I was convinced. I was honestly convinced that he was in self-defense until he chased the car down and started shooting it more. That's where my decision-making process comes, well, even if initially you didn't have an opportunity to take yourself out of the situation, to stop, running behind a car and shooting more, that's where you completely push your limits.
Say what? Already, Miles has said at least two things which seem perhaps contradictory:

She has said she thinks Dunn was guilty of second-degree murder, presumably in the case of Jordan Davis, the only person who died.

She has also said that she thinks Dunn was acting in self-defense “until he chased the car down and started shooting it more.” But self-defense is a defense against murder. For that reason, it’s hard to know why she says Dunn was guilty of murdering Davis, who was shot and killed in the first part of the incident, before Dunn shot at the fleeing car.

We can imagine a clarification of this. Machado didn’t seek one.

Miles also says that she thinks Dunn was “guilty of murder, but not guilty as charged.” We have no idea what that means.

Machado inquired about none of this. As aired by Cooper, this is the way the interview continued:
MACHADO (continuing directly): Which person, which witness made the biggest impact for you?

MILES: Actually Rhonda Rouer. You can tell she was nervous, she was shaking, she was trembling.
And so it went from there. Based upon the transcripts we’ve seen, Machado never attempted to clarify any of this instant confusion.

Did Miles even vote for a murder charge against Dunn? Based upon this bungled interview, we have no clear idea.

There’s one other part of the interview which ought to be noted. Near its end, the question of race was botched:
MACHADO: The protests [against the verdict], you mentioned to me when we were chatting on the phone, that you—that's the real reason why you came out here.

MILES: Yes. Because I just want everybody to understand that everybody is making this a white and black thing. And it's not. In our decision-making process nobody brought up, not one race. Never. It was never brought up.

MACHADO: If this case wasn't about race, then what was it about for you?

MILES: It was about justice.

MACHADO: Justice?

MILES: When I walked into it, I just wanted to bring justice to whoever it was. If it was Michael Dunn I wanted to bring justice to him. If it was Leland, Kevin, Tommy or Jordan, I wanted to bring justice to them.
What did Miles mean when she said “this” wasn’t “a white and black thing?”

Plainly, she seconded another juror who had already said that race wasn’t discussed during the deliberations. Beyond that, what did she mean by the statements we’ve posted?

The answer is quite unclear. On some other CNN shows, this additional brief exchange was aired, on a stand-alone basis:
MILES: I never once thought about, “Oh, this was a black kid, this was a white guy,” because that was—that wasn't the case.

MACHADO: So, the people who say here's another white guy who got away with shooting and killing a black kid, what would you tell them?

MILES: I would tell them that they really should knowledge themself on the law.
The connections there are quite unclear too. We’ve found no transcript where Machado tried to clarify Miles’ ideas about the possible role of race in the killing of Davis. Nor have we found any complete transcript of the interview.

In our view, Machado thoroughly bungled this interview. On CNN, people like Anderson Cooper just plowed ahead, pretending not to notice.

Then, along came the professor.

In our view, Professor Cooper is every bit as unhelpful as Journalist Machado was. This is the way she starts her piece at Salon:
COOPER (2/25/14): Last week, Creshuna Miles, Juror No. 8 in the Michael Dunn trial, gave an interview to CNN about the jury’s partial verdict. Although she believes that Michael Dunn is guilty of second-degree murder, a lesser charge for which the jury had the option to convict, she insisted that the case was “not about race,” that it never came up. Moreover, she believed Michael Dunn to be essentially “a good guy,” who made “bad choices.”

Startlingly, she also indicated that until Dunn ran down the street chasing Jordan’s three friends, she actually believed that Dunn acted in self-defense.
Cooper says Dunn’s statement about self-defense was “startling,” but she doesn’t specify why. She doesn’t seem to see that the statement may seem to contradict the claim that Dunn was guilty of murder.

She doesn't wonder what Miles meant when she said Dunn was “guilty of murder, but not guilty as charged.”

Whatever! After that first two paragraphs, Professor Cooper proceeds to drop a series of bombs on Miles’ 21-year-old head. This is the part of Cooper’s analysis which made us weep for Kristof:
COOPER: I’m not angry with Creshuna Miles. But I know her thinking, uninformed as it is, is dangerous. I know the justice system relies on the willing racial performativity of black people who are willing to discount the importance of race in matters such as these. Much like patriarchy requires the complicity and willing participation of women to continue, racism requires the complicity and willing, if unwitting, participation of black and people of color to continue.
“Performativity,” we mused. Is “performativity” a word?

In normal English, it isn’t a word; in academese, it is. According to the leading authority on the subject, performativity “is the process by which semiotic expression (in language or a symbol system) produces results or real consequences in extra-semiotic reality, including the result of constructing reality itself.”

And not only that! “In the frequently cited Butlerian vein of performativity, gestures and speech acts do not express an interior identity; they perform that very identity and even its assumed quality of interiority.” Summing up, then, performativity “reverses the idea that an identity is the source of more secondary actions (speech, gestures). Instead, it inquires into the construction of identities as they are caused by performative actions, behaviors, and gestures.”

Kristof wants the professors to help out more. We used to say things like that too.

Then, we read some work at the new Salon. We began reforming our view.

Just this once, we’ll almost praise Matthews!


Hardball goes all Downton Abbey: Just this once, we’re going to let you ask us to praise Chris Matthews.

We’re also going to ask you to see where bad narratives come from.

Last night, in his opening segment, Matthews continued to speak in defense of Susan Rice. Two reliable colleagues, Wagner and Corn, echoed whatever he said.

This defense is happening much too late, which helps explain where this political problem came from. Beyond that, Matthews still doesn’t know what Rice said on the Sunday programs two years ago that got her in so much trouble.

When Rice appeared on those Sunday shows, she said the Benghazi attack may have been done by “al Qaeda itself.” Matthews still doesn’t seem to know that. But just this once, we’re going to praise him for the fact that this defense is occurring at all.

And not only that:

Early in last night’s segment, Matthews noted a gruesome fact about the American discourse. This is what he said as he introduced the twin echoes:
MATTHEWS (2/24/14): Why do John McCain and Darrell Issa and the rest keep yelling “Benghazi?” Why do they like to how much they respect Hillary Clinton, especially her work as secretary of state, and then continue to accuse her of cover-up, going AWOL in the face of the enemy and God knows what else?


Alex Wagner is the host of Now, weekdays at 4 Eastern on MSNBC, and she’s joining us right now. And David Corn is Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones and an MSNBC political analyst.

David, it is relentless. It’s continuing through this hour. We’re getting it all day because of what happened yesterday on Meet the Press...
In a very rare occurrence, Matthews noted the blizzard of propaganda which has followed Rice’s appearance on last weekend’s Meet the Press. Indeed, even as Hardball was airing last night, Greta van Susteren was pounding away at this topic on Fox, displaying the problem which lies at the heart of the modern American discourse:

The two warring tribes have completely different sets of facts about this topic! And our biggest newspapers and biggest news broadcasts work extremely hard to avoid addressing this recurrent problem, which virtually defines the modern discourse.

Two shows aired at 7 o’clock, hosted by Matthews and van Susteren. The programs advanced completely different sets of facts about what happened at Benghazi, and about what Rice said and did when she appeared on the five Sunday programs on September 16, 2012.

(Matthews only seems to know that she appeared on Meet the Press that day. He shows no sign knowing what she said on Face the Nation.)

Matthews’ defense last night was spirited, but it was happening much too late. The bogus narratives about Rice gained traction in the fall of 2012, in part because of the silence of the MSNBC lambs.

As the disinformation took shape about Rice, the children ran off and hid in the woods. Quite literally, Rice’s name wasn’t even mentioned on Rachel Maddow’s show until after that November’s election, when Obama finally piped up in Rice’s defense. Lawrence and Ed didn’t mention Rice either. She was mentioned on Hardball just once.

Until Obama gave the word, the lambs remained extremely quiet. The poisonous narrative Matthews was combatting last night developed, unopposed, during that cowardly time.

One other point:

Last night, Matthews cited the “exhaustive report” which appeared in the New York Times late last December about the Benghazi attack. His echoes echoed his comments.

None of the tribunes noted this fact—even in that gigantic report, the Times continued to misparaphrase Rice in a way which kept complaints about her alive. The paper even flatly misquoted something Rice said on those Sunday programs.

Neither Matthews nor his echoes mentioned this problem with the “exhaustive” Times report. Darlings, they were discussing the New York Times! It simply isn’t done!

This poisonous narrative grew out of silence. Even now, so many months later, our cable stars don’t want to fight a full fight.

Dearest darlings, careers are at stake! In our own version of Downton Abbey, certain things simply aren’t done!

WHO IS RACHEL MADDOW: A sudden change!


Part 2—Christie disappears: At least to judge from the magazine profiles, Rachel Maddow isn’t like you and me.

Blinding sunsets seem to frame her life story’s major moments. She flings tomahawks on first dates. Working with the AR-15, she is either an astonishing shot or someone who fires off into the air.

For details, see yesterday's post.

Whatever you think of Maddow’s journalistic work—we think it has been increasingly shameful, which is why we’re doing this series—her skill at self-promotion seems to be endless. A skillful cocktail of humble-bragging mixed with piteous self-deprecation allows her to portray herself as a superior being whose helplessness means that we mere mortals must learn to love and protect her.

Maddow is a skillful self-promoter. She works her various themes much as the late Tim Russert once worked his humble Buffalo childhood. That said, we can’t say we always believe what we read in profiles of Maddow.

Do you believe everything you read? Way back when, in that profile in Newsweek, Julia Baird wrote this:
BAIRD (12/1/08): She says she is not an angry person—just emotional. “I get teary a lot,” she says cheerfully, pulling one of the handkerchiefs she carries with her at all times out of her pocket and pointing out the bubble pattern on it. She believes in ghosts and is “knock on wood” superstitious. She is also anxious, often lying awake worrying about America's need for improved infrastructure and national security.
Do you believe that Maddow believes in ghosts? More momentously, do you believe she “often lies awake worrying about America's need for improved infrastructure?”

That claim by Maddow was rather common in the first year or so of her show. It’s the type of claim in which Maddow seems to set herself apart from us mere mortals.

Does Maddow often lie awake worrying about infrastructure? We don’t know if the claim is true, or if we want the claim to be true. It goes to the question of Maddow’s psychological composition, a question we’ll find ourselves forced to address before this series is through.

As the news business spirals downward, it sometimes seems you can’t get a program on cable TV if you aren’t a visible nut. Is Maddow perhaps a bit of a nut? For our money, her work had become so bad, and so morally careless, that it’s time to ask that question.

That said:

We can’t say we always believe the things Maddow says about herself. Many times, these claims tilt toward the unintentionally comic. Consider the several years of claims concerning the TV set.

When Maddow emerged on the scene, it was perhaps her principle hook, her version of Russert’s Buffalo boyhood: Maddow was the TV host who didn’t own a TV set!

In a profile for her hometown San Francisco Chronicle, she explained the situation, just as it would be explained a million times after that:
GAROFOLI (9/11/08): Armed with self-deprecating humor and an impressive intellect, Maddow is the newest marquee commentator on a network that finds itself in the middle of controversy about blurring the line between political commentary and straight reporting...

Maddow won't touch the turmoil, saying she doesn't follow media issues. She might be the only TV talk show host who doesn't own a television—she hasn't since she left her folks' house to attend Stanford University.

“It's not like 'Oh, I am too righteous for television,’” Maddow said over lunch recently during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. She lives in western Massachusetts with her partner of nine years and maintains an apartment in New York, where her nightly (6 p.m. Pacific time) show is produced.

“I have a constitutional weakness in which I am very easily distracted by flashing lights.
If there is a TV on in the room, I can't have a conversation with you. I won't eat, I won't sleep, I'll just meld with my couch.”
Poor Rachel! Unlike you and me, she couldn’t own a TV set, due to a constitutional weakness; it seems she can’t control herself in the presence of flashing lights! This construct was quite routine in the first year or so of the Maddow profiles, with Maddow careful to explain that her choice doesn’t mean she’s “too righteous for television” or better than everyone else.

Had Maddow ever owned a TV? We’ll accept the somewhat peculiar claim that she never had.

But uh-oh! In the spring of 2009, her status suddenly changed! Do you believe her explanation of the way she came to buy her first-ever TV set?

This Q-and-A comes from an interview with Dossier magazine:
COLE (5/09): On a lighter note, people love to talk about the fact that you are on television and yet don't actually own a television.

MADDOW: Oh no, I got drunk last Thursday and ordered one on Amazon! (Laughs) Susan and I ordered takeout Chinese, and I made cocktails and then somehow it just happened. I mean, it wasn't like we were on some total bender or something—it was a weeknight—but I woke up the next morning, and there was the confirmation e-mail stating that we had indeed bought a $400 television. Of course, since we were drunk, we had it shipped to the wrong place, so now we have to get this giant box all the way to NYC from our place up in Massachusetts and figure out how to install it. Neither of us have had a TV in years and years. The last time I lived in a house with the TV was in 1990, when I moved out of my parents' house to go to college. Now there's a giant box with a TV sitting in Susan's art studio waiting for us.
In one way, it's a comically familiar story. Maddow got drunk one night and then, it just happened!

Do you believe that account of the way Maddow bought her first set? That she got drunk, then was surprised in the morning by the email confirming the purchase?

At the time, we couldn’t help wondering if Maddow was trying to explain away her purchase of such a marker of everydayness. One year later, Maddow’s partner, Susan Mikula, was still working this tired theme in an interview with People magazine:
PEOPLE (4/6/10): Rachel Maddow doesn't bring her work home with her.

The MSNBC host, 37, and her artist girlfriend Susan Mikula spend each weekend at their quaint home three hours north of New York in Western Massachusetts, and it doesn’t have cable—or even a television.

“We realized that the two of us have the TV Disease,” explains Mikula, 52. “Rachel can't have one because she'd watch it all the time!” Instead, they enjoy the solitude and home-cooked meals Mikula prepares.

Maddow does have a small TV in their tiny New York City apartment, but Mikula only uses it “so that I can watch her on Friday nights before I come pick her up.”
Mikula seems to be above watching TV too!

In several hundred ridiculous ways, perhaps by habit and not by intention, Maddow has crafted an extremely effective song of herself. We aren’t enormously inclined to believe the story about the way she purchased her first TV set. But then, we don’t exactly believe that Maddow believes in ghosts, or that she lies awake worrying about bridge failures.

On balance, of course, it wouldn’t matter if Maddow told a silly stretcher or three about her personal life. More troubling is she the way she misstates, stretches, speculates and invents about important public matters on her national TV “news” program. For our money, the most remarkable such example involves the time she made a misstatement on Meet the Press about the wage gap between men and women, then seemed to dissemble the next night about what she had said and done.

Plainly, Maddow made a mistake on Meet the Press. When we fact-checked the dispute which occurred on the show, it took us about three minutes to see where the problem lay.

It was obvious that Maddow had been wrong in what she said, but she never stopped insisting that she had been right all along. Thirty-six hours later, on her Monday night program, she declared that she had spent hours that day trying to determine why a Republican strategist had challenged her statement on Meet the Press.

In a long, defiant opening segment, Maddow insisted that she still didn’t know why her statement had been challenged. It’s extremely hard to believe that she was telling the truth that night.

(How celebrity works: Two months later, Rolling Stone published a fawning profile in which Benjamin Wallace-Wells embarrassingly took Maddow’s side in this incident, effusively praising her for her overpowering honesty. Translation: Once you reach a level of stardom, the hacks are going to circle the wagons. From this point on, you won’t be allowed to be wrong. The hacks are going to print the legend, which you yourself may have invented.)

That was merely one event. It happened two years ago. In recent weeks, Maddow has come in for criticism concerning her coverage of the Fort Lee lane closings. Even from Bill Maher!

Last Friday night, Maddow appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, where she acknowledged and defended her “obsession” with the case. In the back and forth which ensued, we got to see an intriguing fact about the nature of modern American discourse.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at those exchanges. Beyond that, we’ll look at some of Maddow’s recent work about Fort Lee, which we regard as hapless and irresponsible. But today, in closing, let’s note a striking fact:

A funny thing happened to Governor Christie over the past few days. Suddenly, he disappeared from the Maddow show.

Last Wednesday night, Maddow opened her program with a pair of gong show segments about the Fort Lee matter. The segments burned more than 26 minutes of broadcast time, roughly sixty percent of Maddow’s total program.

Last Thursday, Maddow did two more segments about Fort Lee, but this time they closed the program. And then, on Friday, as she chatted with Maher, a funny thing happened:

Steve Kornacki sat in as guest host on Maddow’s MSNBC show—and Christie’s name was never mentioned! Last night, with Maddow back in the chair, he went unmentioned again.

Why has Christie disappeared? We can’t answer that. But Maddow’s work last week was horrible, bad, irresponsible, dumb. As we watched, a question came to mind:

Who the heck is Rachel Maddow? How can a famous former Rhodes Scholar produce work that’s so dumb and so bad?

Tomorrow: Clueless, dumb, irresponsible, bad: Who is Rachel Maddow?

Chris Matthews bungles again about Rice!


A basic part of post-journalistic culture: Yesterday morning, Susan Rice appeared on Meet the Press for the first time since being left for dead in the wake of the Benghazi attack.

In this exchange, she stated her view about that appalling episode, in which the RNC invented a big pile of crap about what she had said and the liberal world ran off and hid:
GREGORY (2/23/14): When you were last here, Ambassador Rice, it was an eventful morning on the story of Benghazi and the horrible attack on our compound there. We haven’t seen you in a while. As you look back at your involvement in all of that, do you have any regrets?

RICE: David, no, because what I said to you that morning and what I did every day since was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided, which I explained to you was what we had at the moment—it could change; I commented that this was based on what we knew on that morning—was provided to me and my colleagues and indeed to Congress by the intelligence community and that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out in some respects not to be 100 percent correct. But the notion that somehow I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false, and I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.
Presumably, she meant that she didn’t intentionally mislead anyone. As it turns out, she seems to have been wrong in the claim that a spontaneous protest was going on before “extremists armed with heavy weapons” arrived and carried out the killing attack.

(Rice told a two-part story that day. Two parts is one part too many for American journalists. For life-forms like them, a two-part story is too complex to follow.)

When Rice appeared on those Sunday shows, she explained, again and again, that she was giving preliminary information, the best information that was available at the time. She mentioned that fact to Gregory again on yesterday’s program.

As we’ve noted, offering such disclaimers to American journalists is like speaking French to giraffes. They won’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

Rice’s disclaimers that day were voluminous, clear and direct. They also went over the heads of the press corps. Given the caliber of our journalists, her disclaimers were far too complex.

During yesterday’s panel segment, Chris Matthews and a panel of pundits displayed another trait of this utterly hapless guild. Simply put, our top pundits never get clear on even the most basic facts of even a high-profile case.

Bless his heart, Matthews tried! Truly, he has been repurposed.

Matthews tried to defend Susan Rice. But as he did, he repeated a basic part of the bogus GOP line, and the rest of the panel just nodded:
MATTHEWS: Can I defend former Ambassador Rice, now the NSE director? You know, when she was on the program with you—if you go back and look at the bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, basically on the main points, that it was a copycat situation, Benghazi, came out of what happened in Cairo, which itself probably came out of that crazy movie out of, that crazy video out of Los Angeles, that it did track. And the language used by her that day, which is “extremism” rather than “terrorism,” had come from the intelligence community. The refusal to mention al Qaeda in that context was directly a decision by Petraeus as DCI. And so it wasn’t that bad a performance.
Bless his heart, he tried! Chris has even memorized several points, although his presentation was rushed and hard to follow.

That said, please note the highlighted point. Chris was still repeating a GOP talking-point—a claim which was blatantly wrong back then and of course is still wrong today.

Did Rice “refuse to mention al Qaeda” that day? We’re sorry, but no, she didn’t, despite what the sainted crackpot McCain trained everyone to say.

On Face the Nation that day, Rice was directly asked if the attack was staged by al Qaeda. This is what she said:
SCHIEFFER (9/16/12): Do you agree or disagree with [the Libyan president] that al Qaeda had some part in this?

RICE: Well, we’ll have to find out that out. I mean, I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.
Did Rice “refuse to mention al Qaeda” that day? When Schieffer asked if al Qaeda played some role in the attack, she said the extremists who staged the killing attack might have been al Qaeda affiliates or even “al Qaeda itself!”

That’s what Rice actually said that day. But accurate facts play almost no role in the American discourse.

The GOP began pimping the claim that she had refused to mention al Qaeda. As Matthews made clear again yesterday, the bogus claim hardened, then turned to stone.

Seventeen months later, Matthews was still repeating this claim, even as he attempted to defend Rice! The following people didn’t correct him as he repeated the claim:

David Gregory, Judy Woodruff, David Brooks, Helene Cooper.

Any one of the panelists could have corrected the record. It would have been easy to jump right in and say this:
GREGORY, WOODRUFF, BROOKS OR COOPER: Well actually, Rice plainly said, on Face the Nation, that the attack might have been staged by al Qaeda affiliates or even by al Qaeda itself. She said we still had to determine that fact. But the claim that she said it wasn’t al Qaeda? That has always been false, although it’s been widely repeated by Republican politicians ever since that day.
It would have been easy to say that in real time. Yesterday, seventeen months later, the potted plants still sat there.

Correcting the record plays almost no role in the American discourse. The role of elementary facts had been thoroughly superseded by deference to Standard Scripts.

None of the people on Gregory’s panel engage in the journalistic practice of challenging establishment scripts. Yesterday, when Matthews tried, he repeated a basic misstatement, seventeen months later.

This is so basic a part of our journalistic culture that observers barely notice it any more. The liberal world rolls over and dies for this kind of thing, then cheers when a person like Rachel Maddow toys with elementary facts in ways which warm our pitiful cockles.

Bless his heart, Chris Matthews tried! As he did, he repeated an inaccurate piece of RNC spin for maybe the ten millionth time.