ALL ROADS LEAD TO BIAS: Worst night ever, plus Joan Walsh!


Part 2—It’s piddle all the way down: Last night may have been the worst night we’ve ever seen on cable.

On cable “news,” that it.

That’s really going some. Before we describe what made it so bad, let’s recall what Professor Chwe wrote in this week’s Sunday Review.

Chwe was describing an alleged crisis in science. He isn’t the first to describe the core problem. This was the start of his portrait:
CHWE (2/2/14): Science is in crisis, just when we need it most. Two years ago, C. Glenn Begley and Lee M. Ellis reported in Nature that they were able to replicate only six out of 53 “landmark” cancer studies. Scientists now worry that many published scientific results are simply not true...

A major root of the crisis is selective use of data. Scientists, eager to make striking new claims, focus only on evidence that supports their preconceptions.
That represents a strong description of last evening’s work on cable news—and especially on the cable news channel which markets itself as progressive.

MSNBC’s hosts kept proving it all night long. The channel exists to serve a species of the “confirmation bias” Chwe goes on to discuss.

In the world of science Chwe is describing, it’s pretty much novels—or piddle—all the way down. Scientists can’t even confirm the published findings of landmark studies.

That’s the type of world we rubes were handed by “progressive” TV stars last night.

Every topic was wiped from view except the chase after Christie. As a brief palate cleanser, hosts pretended to be upset by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Nothing else was discussed. Rachel Maddow devoted her entire hour to one part of the Christie chase, then apologized for the fact that she hadn’t been able to tell us about another part of the chase.

All other topics disappeared, and the dissembling was general. In precisely the manner Chwe described, progressive hosts picked and chose their representations, “focusing only on evidence that supported their preconceptions.”

Much of the “evidence” they presented had basically been made up. Maddow was especially awful, but no one else was much better.

In our next post, we’ll sample a few of last night’s problems from the progressive channel. But as a marker of the way the dumbness and dishonesty have spread from the world of Fox News to the world of Matthews and Maddow, let’s review the latest screed from Salon’s Joan Walsh.

Walsh wasn’t discussing Chris Christie in yesterday’s screed at Salon. Instead, she was discussing Bill O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama.

Quickly, a bit of background:

On Super Bowl Sunday, 1992, Candidate Clinton and his wife engaged in a strange performance. Immediately after the game, they went on a special edition of 60 Minutes to discuss Gennifer Flowers’ claim that she had conducted a torrid, 12-year love affair with the candidate.

Tens of millions of American males came to the broadcast straight from a solid day of drinking. As we said at the time on the comedy stage:

Under these peculiar circumstances, if Clinton had said, “Yeah, I blanked her. So what?” a cheer would have gone up around the country which might well have registered on the Richter scale.

Clinton didn’t say that. By 1999, it was clear that Flowers’ claims had never made any earthly sense; Flowers herself was now reduced to going on Hardball and Hannity & Comes for extended, gong-show performances in which she listed the Clintons’ many murders while telling the nation that Hillary Clinton was the world’s most gigantic lesbo.

Despite these facts, people like Frank Rich said we now knew she had been telling the truth! The insanity of our modern discourse was illustrated by those judgments, and by the spectacle in which a candidate was asked to discuss his sex life right after the Super Bowl.

This holiday practice has held. By now, it is expected that presidents will engage in TV interviews as part of the Super Bowl experience—that they will serve as an opening act for the game.

The sheer absurdity of this phenomenon has perhaps even occurred to Walsh—to someone who is eager to “make striking new claims, focus[ing] only on evidence that supports her preconceptions.” That pitiful process, which Chwe describes, has elsewhere been called “propaganda.”

The culture of propaganda has spread from Fox News, swallowing up our own tribe. This is the way the ludicrous Walsh started yesterday’s screed:
WALSH (2/3/14): I want so much to believe Frank Rich is right when he declares that Fox News is dying, kept alive mostly by the sustaining life support of liberal outrage. The average age of Fox viewers is now 68, Rich notes (as opposed to 60 for MSNBC and CNN), making it more like “a retirement community” than a titan of the American political landscape. Rich almost had me convinced that if Fox boss Roger Ailes couldn’t drink the tears of liberals, he would die of thirst, and Fox would cease to matter.

Watching Fox’s Bill O’Reilly interview President Obama before the Super Bowl last night, you could find evidence for Rich’s view. Obama seemed calm and sane, while O’Reilly appeared unmoored from reality, like a patient who’d gotten a day pass from a sanitarium where delusional convalescents babble about Benghazi and the IRS and the Obamacare website until someone comes and puts them to bed.

But I thought the sit-down mainly showed Fox’s enduring hold on the political culture, which it is giving up no time soon. Consider the spectacle of a buffoon like O’Reilly, who had flailed away in a marginal television career until Ailes matched his talent for bullying with the Fox audience’s appetite for same, getting to grill the world’s most powerful man on Super Bowl Sunday, which is for better or worse America’s secular national holiday.
On our secular national holiday, did O’Reilly seem “like a patient who’d gotten a day pass from a sanitarium where delusional convalescents babble...until someone comes and puts them to bed?”

That is a matter of judgment, of course. Though we’d say that Walsh pretty much seemed that way, as she flailed away at O’Reilly in a way which was guaranteed to make low-IQ hearts very glad.

To our eye, most of O’Reilly’s work in his session with Obama trended fairly strongly toward dumb, though a few of his questions didn’t. That would include his very first question. (“I want to get some things on the record, so let's begin with health care. October 1st, it rolls out. Immediately, there are problems with the computers. When did you know there were going to be problems with those computers?”)

To peruse the full transcript, click here.

In our view, O’Reilly’s questions trended toward dumb. But if you want to see the way the dumbness has spread to our tribe and captured our hearts, peruse this first attempt at analysis by Walsh:
WALSH: It’s easy to laugh off the O’Reilly interview. From the perspective of liberals, and we’re right about this, Obama cleaned O’Reilly’s clock, answering his every question with clarity and the occasional appropriate edge of impatience. This Benghazi exchange was my favorite, and kind of typical of the night:

“Your detractors believe that you did not tell the world it was a terror attack because your campaign didn’t want that out,” O’Reilly insisted. “That’s what they believe.”

“And they believe it because folks like you are telling them that,” Obama shot back. He said later, “These kinds of things keep on surfacing, in part because you and your TV station will promote them.”
Here at the Howler, we’ve dug rivers defining the problem with the Fox News framing of Benghazi—which is also the mainstream framing of Benghazi, though a ridiculous hustler like Walsh will never tell you that.

(Just three weeks ago, the New York Times was still flatly misquoting Susan Rice on its front page, and otherwise misrepresenting what she said about Benghazi. Walsh didn’t complain about that, and she never will. Darlings! Career in the balance!)

The standard framework about Benghazi has been amazingly wrong. That said, Walsh is telling us, in that passage, about the clear, convincing way in which Obama responded to each of O’Reilly’s questions.

Alas! On its face, the example she then provides is a prime example of evasion! In the Q-and-A as she presents it, Obama fails to respond to O’Reilly’s question in a clear, substantive way!

Hopeless! “Obama cleaned O’Reilly’s clock,” Walsh writes, “answering his every question with clarity.” Saying it’s her favorite example, she then presents a Q-and-A in which Obama doesn’t answer with clarity!

That’s much like the world Chwe describes. It’s a world in which we simply present the claims we find pleasing, without the slightest regard for the quality of the evidence we bring to bear.

On balance, how well did Obama answer O’Reilly’s questions about Benghazi? On balance, we’d say he answered them poorly. But you don’t have to listen to us! Last night, Chris Matthews railed against the weakness of Obama’s responses on this topic.

After playing tape from the interview, he and Joy Reid said this:
MATTHEWS (2/3/14): This is my problem, Joy, with that interview, and the questioning from O’Reilly. I’m not a media critic. But the information is out there that Susan Rice told the truth. It was a spontaneous attack on our facility in Benghazi. It did come as a kind of a copycat to what was happening on all the airwaves in Cairo, which was, the attacks there were in response, apparently, to the video, the crazy right-wing video that came out of Los Angeles.

So it was right! She got it right, Susan Rice. Why is the president not just blasting it back at the guy and saying, “O’Reilly, catch up?”

REID: You know what? That’s a good question as to the president’s response...
Different people will differ about Obama’s response on that topic. For our money, Matthews still isn’t especially clear about what Susan Rice said.

That said, one reason why Obama gave a weak response is because people like Matthews, Reid and Walsh (and Maddow) failed to push back in real time—failed to develop an accurate account of what Rice actually said.

Had they developed an accurate account of what Rice said, Obama could have drawn on it last night. Instead, they all ran off and hid in the woods. Rice died on the vine.

We thought Obama’s responses were weak regarding Benghazi. For the record, he started with a direct evasion of O’Reilly first question on this topic too.

But so what? In the world of confirmation bias, someone like Walsh will simply say the things her readers want to hear. Any “evidence” she offers will be taken as confirmation, even if her “evidence” flies in the face of her claim.

Walsh is completely hopeless. Equally hopeless is a world in which progressives can’t see that fact—in which we’ve become ditto-heads to overpaid leaders too.

As Walsh continued, she played dumb about a question O’Reilly read on behalf of a viewer. Last night, O’Reilly explained the background to the question for the rest of his Fox News viewers.

At Salon, we libs were left in the dark.

How bad is our own liberal confirmation bias becoming? By rule of law, Walsh had to toy with race before she was done with her screed. This is the pleasure she offered:
WALSH: I found the whole thing profoundly depressing. Maybe the worst part was when O’Reilly asked a viewer’s question: “Why do you feel it’s necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity?” O’Reilly presumably got lots of suggestions from viewers, and I’m sure many were uglier than that. But what does it mean that that’s the question he chose?

It means, again, that O’Reilly and Ailes and their viewers see this president as unqualified and ungrateful, an affirmative action baby who won’t thank us for all we’ve done for him and his cohort. The question was, of course, deeply condescending and borderline racist. Obama has been afforded “so much opportunity”? What about O’Reilly, who pretends he’s a working-class son of Levittown, Long Island, when he’s actually the kid of an accountant who grew up in Westbury and went to private high school and university?

This notion that an older generation of white people worked hard for everything they achieved, while a younger generation of folks like Barack Obama had their success handed to them, is a staple of the white backlash that Ailes has been channeling since he helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968....As we make the transition to a fully multiracial democracy, our leading cable news network is headed by a man who has spent his entire career channeling his own paranoia and resentment and weird racial ideas. Oh, and sexism.
By rule of law, the viewer’s question had to be ugly. By rule of law, it had to reveal an ugly racial strain.

By rule of law, that question had to mean that O’Reilly worked hard for his success while Obama was simply handed his.

The question didn’t say that, of course. It didn’t say anything like that. But, by rule of law, that’s what it had to mean. So it goes as we are handed to our own world of inanity and bias.

Anyone with an ounce of sense would know that isn’t the way O’Reilly would have framed that question’s meaning. As he answered, Obama beat O’Reilly to it:
O’REILLY (2/2/14): OK. I got a letter from Kathy LaMaster, Fresno, California. I said I would read one letter from the folks, all right?

OBAMA: All right.

O’REILLY: "Mr. President, why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success?"

OBAMA: I don't think we have to fundamentally transform the nation—

O’REILLY: But those are your words.

OBAMA: I think that what we have to do is make sure that here in America, if you work hard, you can get ahead. Bill, you and I benefitted from this incredible country of ours, in part, because there were good jobs out there that paid a good wage, because you had public schools that functioned well, that we could get scholarships if we didn't come from a wealthy family in order to go to college.

O’REILLY: Right.
The answer continued from there. In the course of the answer, the Messrs. O agreed that they each had benefitted, in the same ways, from the opportunities afforded by their incredible country.

That’s how the warriors framed the question. By rule of law, though, our hackish leader had to insist it was racial all the way down.

Last week, MSNBC conducted its latest firing, or at least it said it did. (No one was named. Absent confirmation, you can’t believe the things you’re told by the channel’s corporate suits.)

As usual, the latest firing concerned another boneheaded statement about the alleged racial hatred which rules The Other Tribe.

The brains of us liberals are being fried, much as the brains of conservatives have been fried in the past several decades. If we might borrow from Lord Russell, it’s now piddle all the way down, even over here among our own sad biased tribe.

Still coming: A penalty and a fine


  1. We may be biased but we are right!!! Don't forget that.

    1. And what does being right have to do with the quest of Bob Quixote to free our nation from the ravages of the First Amendment in the hands of so many people of lower intellect than he?

  2. "That said, one reason why Obama gave a weak response is because people like Matthews, Reid and Walsh (and Maddow) failed to push back in real time—failed to develop an accurate account of what Rice actually said."

    And that notion is utterly stunning in its stupidity. No rebuttal necessary.

    1. No more stunning than BOB telling you what Obama "implied"in his State of the Union address about the wage gap, and why he chose to imply what he did not say.


    2. Yes, Bob says stunningly stupid things on a daily (howler) basis.

      But to blame Matthews, Reid, Walsh (and Maddow) for the president's allegedly "weak response" on Feb. 2 to a question about something his U.N. ambassador said on national TV in September really takes the prize.

    3. Anon @ 11:13

      How dare you challnge the great and powerful KZ!
      Let us explain why our preposterous BOBism has your almost but not quite equally preposterous BOBism beaten by a baboon's hair.

      In our example, BOB uses his acute mental faculties to get inside Obama's head, invent motive, emerge from said same head, and apply motive to the thing unsaid.

      In your example Bob excuses Obama for not having strength of word because the real leaders, the "overpaid leaders," have not guided his poor pathetic pandering politician self.

      Challenge us again and we shall have no choice but to present tales of BILL and the Baboon tail presented to him. We believe, based on intejection of G. Flowers in this thread about Walsh/O'Reilly (and that minor bit player Obama), it is fair game and on topic.

      Yours from intersnarky space,


    4. I must disagree vehemently and in the strongest possible terms our friend deadrat will soon correct.

      Your preposterous example is no dumber than Bob's insistence on a stupid, insane, drug-added, though legitimate, good-faith traffic study done with only the best intentions in mind.

      It is also no dumber than castigating the world's dumbest reporter for not pinning down precisely when Christie knew, and when he stopped knowing it.

      My example -- that the president of the United States must depend on the very people Bob loathes the most to properly respond to a situation that occurred as summer turned to fall -- is indeed the dumber of the two.

    5. We limp back to our planet resolved not to let our subjects know of this terrible humiliation at the hands of a human. We will, however, show off many of the baboons we captured and may even put some in our cabinet.


    6. Despair not. Should you return to your planet with tales of a nation whose leader has no idea what his ambassador said, and can only respond strongly if the vilest clowns inform him which said clowns perspire and shove cash into their baggy pants, you would no doubt be called "stupid, insane, drug-addled" if not, "unreliable."

    7. No one reads the dumb blog anyway.

    8. You chicken-shit "anonymouses" attacking Somerby for his statement about Rice have no idea whatsoever what Rice actually said on that Sunday. Besides the fact that you are too scared to choose a name -- or maybe you are just stupid -- you are thoroughly brainwashed.

    9. Unwad your panties, my friend. Nobody is attacking Somerby for his statement about Rice. I am instead enjoying my daily belly laugh, this time over the notion that Obama's "weak" response was the fault of "those damned kids" in the media.

      I am more certain than ever that if you knew what Rice said, so did the President of the United States.

      Besides, I am surprised Somerby wandered back to Benghazi. It flies in the fact of his "Scandal Culture" theory.

    10. Excuse me, it of course flies in the face of the Scandal Culture theory. It is indeed one of Somerby's "false facts." As was the IRS non-scandal.

  3. OMB (Your confirmation bias at work:)

    "Last week, MSNBC conducted its latest firing, or at least it said it did. (No one was named. Absent confirmation, you can’t believe the things you’re told by the channel’s corporate suits.) " BOB Today. This post.

    "If the traffic study line is proven to not be true, Chris Christie will say that he didn’t know.

    Presumably, his claim will be true. That’s what happens to Christie." BOB 12/18/13


    1. Will Bob ever address the allegedly boneheaded things that some alleged members of the alleged Other Tribe said about the Coca-Cola commercial?

      Or will there ever an allegation of racism that he will not dismiss out of hand?

    2. Anon @ 11:31

      There you go again. Not caring about black kids.

    3. Isn't Maddow supposed to be addressing the boneheaded things said about the Coca cola commercial? Did the media misreport those things? If so, that would put it into Somerby territory.

    4. Well, "radio host" Glenn Beck has weighed in. So has Fox News' Todd Starnes, Fox News contributor Allen West and's Michael Patrick Leahy among other media types of the "Other" Tribe.

      But again, Bob is too busy parsing words at the center of all woe and despair -- MSNBC and the NYT -- to pay too much attention to the rest of the media.

    5. You didn't answer my question.

    6. Anonymous 12:18, do you think Maddow has time to talk about Coca Cola adverts when she is busy ignoring low income children?

    7. If Maddow has no time why do you think Somerby does when he does talk about low income children?

    8. Can somebody remind me of the last time Somerby wrote about low income children?

    9. Yes, I did answer your question, assuming it was the one about the media misreporting the Coke commercial. I even gave you examples, which would certainly put it well within the realm of media criticism, of which I am constantly reminded is the sole purpose of this blog.

      In true Bob fashion, you don't like the answer so you pretend it doesn't exist.

    10. Last time he talked about disaggregation of test scores. He also talked about preschool recently, which is largely aimed at low income kids.

    11. My question was about Maddow. Someone else stepped up, apparently.

    12. Anonymous 1:40 Somerby did not write about preschool recently. He wrote about three columns talking about preschool. He accused one columnist of talking about Christie and snarking about low income kids. Except the columnist in question never mentioned Christie but did say exactly what you said about preschool and low income kids.

    13. Nostradamus returns.

      Should Maddow especially, or even some other MSNBC host, address the boneheaded things said about the Coca-Cola commercial, he will immediately pounce with "There they go again, throwing around the R-word!"

      One can easily imagine him at this very moment, hunkering down in the tall weeds.

  4. Somerby lost me at "Quickly, a bit of background."

    There is no "bit" he won't chew on for hours.

    There is no "background" without ruminations from his past.

    Spare us the cud, bud.

    1. Somerby lost you before this blog post was written. You know you would have criticized him anyway, as long as he didn't kiss Democratic-pundit ass.

    2. Congratulations, Bob. Your waterboy for Christie act has brought back the Zimmerman Defense Team!

  5. To David inFebruary 3, 2014 at 2:01 PM, sorry but as the original complainer in the thread about generalizing from medical research to all scientific research, there seems to be a point missing.

    To generalize for dramatic effect and to the point of incorrectness, physics is all about protons and electrons and a few simple forces. And all protons are the same as are all electrons.

    Contrast that with the vast number of variables involved when animals - especially? human ones - are the subjects, no two of whom are identical, even "identical" twins. Teasing out what's going on with respect to, say a drug, is very nontrivial. There's no Proton/Electron Use committee making life miserable for research proposals. And of course effects of tests on animals can be long term, while individual protons and electrons don't need to be tracked for years.

    Continuing to limit the discussion to physics, important experiments can be and are tested in other labs (remember cold fusion?). And there's much less money involved to pressure for results.

    See Ben Goldacre's Bad Science web site for more:

    To be clear, I do not think that physicists are necessarily smarter, more dedicated, or more honest than medical researchers. The problems and pressures are simply very different.

    The matter is of some interest because Bob so rightly so often complains about inaccuracy in the media. When he commits it himself, he should be called on it. When he repeats a mistake that's easy to avoid, it becomes more relevant. All he needs to do is limit the scope of the claim.

    1. The point missing is that any discussion of scientific research was a rhetorical device meant to introduce the idea of confirmation bias into the day's post. While I agree with the substance of your comment, it is irrelevant. David in CA brings everything back to statistics because that is what he knows about. I doubt anyone disagrees that statistics should be done properly, but that isn't the main problem in scientific research and it is also irrelevant to confirmation bias in politics.

    2. Unfortunately, David in CA knows even less about statistics than he does about the cause he allegedly spent two days with Pete Seeger protesting.

  6. "Every topic was wiped from view except the chase after Christie. As a brief palate cleanser, hosts pretended to be upset by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Nothing else was discussed."

    Well, you just quoted Matthews on Benghazi/O'Reilly. And you even contradict yourself. If they discussed the death of Hoffman, then every topic was not wiped from view except the chase after Christie.

    Chris Hayes even did a segment to the rise in heroin use in America.

    1. Philip Seymour Hoffman is not a "topic."

    2. Does "Anonymous" pretend to be a different person praising his own awesome posts?

  7. Somerby just pissed up the Obama loyalist, as usual. :-)

  8. Uh oh, the New York Times' Public Editor is criticizing his newspaper's handling of the Zernike story exaggerating the Christie scandal:

    1. A Perez: You are a thread late. Bobfans noted that yesterday.

      What they didn't note was that the mistake the public editor referred to was one which BOB missed entirely, electing himself to focus instead for about the tenth time on the changing nature of the relationship between Christie and Wildstein while attending high school.

      They also failed to note that BOB, like Zernike, made an equally boneheaded error on the same topic in his first post on the subject. He attributed the claims to Wildstein instead of Wildstein's attorney.

      But good try. We have never met you. We are sure we would like you and that you are a very nice person. You know, one could describe you paraphrasing BOB in his description of a panelist on Chris Hayes show recently. We will highlight the word changes so you don't have to go back and look for yourself.

      "Perez is the perfect Howler contributor. She is youngish and conventionally attractive; she seems to be Hispanic."

      Of course we may be wrong about your age, gender, and ethnicity. Anything is possible. We just don't know. We are certain about your looks, though.

      BTW, about your previous remark. Scientific studies have proven people don't "piss up" for long. Gravity. But, like climate change, that may be a hoax resulting from bias that inflicts our paralyzed, collapsing intellectual culture. IMHO.


    2. Ignore KZ? He/she/it is the only thing worth reading on this train wreck of a blog.

    3. Anon. @ 12:29

      We have noted before there are more than two genders on our planet, Doom. We appreciate your close reading as is reflected in your comment that we might not be a he or a she. However, quibblesome as this may make us seem, we must note that use of "it" reflects confirmation bias. "He/she/or whatever"
      would be a broad minded assessment of that which you just don't know.


    4. You are correct. "It" not only strongly implies "case closed" -- that there can be but three genders instead of more than two. "Whatever" still leaves the keenly discerning mind with all options still open, including a "legitimate" gender.

    5. Hmm, to ignore KZ or not. Tough call. Can we laugh at the outrageous bits from an entertaining writer without treating as amusing his near-schizophrenic ramblings that might be a cry for help?

      As KZ himself would say, "Anything is possible."

      And anyone who gets through the confused tangle of his longer amusing and self-amused comments might find that his criticism is cogent. Case in point: some of TDH's more obsessed screeds about Darlin' Rachel.

      But often not so much Consider this crowing (Is this word allowed in this context?) about TDH not distinguishing between Wildstein and his lawyer. Gotcha! Except that lawyers speak for their clients.

      Judge: How does your client plead, counselor?
      Lawyer: Not guilty, your honor.

      Are we allowed to say that the defendant pled not guilty? Or do we have to insist that the lawyer did so on his client's behalf?

      And I'm sure "crowing" is the proper term for all his excitement about TDH;s statement that "presumably" Christie will be vindicated about his lack of prior knowledge of the lane closings. Is this the full-throated defense of CC that have garnered all the complaints? Is this the plenary granting of the benefits of all doubts?

      It's just another TDH prediction. TDH believes that CC won't be tied to the planning of the scandal. Big deal. Even I presume that to be the case as much as I'd be thrilled to be wrong. Will TDH be proven as wrong as he was about Saddam's WMDs or will Darlin' Rachel be left with nothing but hype, all dressed up and breathlessly waiting but with nowhere to go?

      We don't know yet, but as TZ will never tire of telling you with his little joke, "Anything is possible."

    6. "Can we laugh at the outrageous bits from an entertaining writer without treating as amusing his near-schizophrenic ramblings that might be a cry for help?"

      Sure we can. That's why Bob has 20 or so readers per day.

  9. I think the commenters here have clearly proven that Bob is wrong about his core premises re.elite progressive media.

  10. Bob,
    Continues to criticize MSNBC, but does not criticize the propaganda machine
    Fox News. He is not liberal.

    1. And here we have the ur-complaint about this blog. This is the original sin. TDH isn't fair and balanced.

      Could it be that TDH assumes his audience is smart enough to figure out Faux News? If so, his commentariat ought to give him pause.

    2. Definition of "ur-complaint" = gibberish