PRETENDERS: The PBS NewsHour goes to the fair!


Part 2—The checking of boxes:
It was almost like the famous naming of parts!

Last night, we had checking of boxes. It happened as we watched the PBS NewsHour, which had sent Gwen to the fair.

In the program’s lengthy opening segments, Judy and Gwen and a two-pundit panel pretended to report the news from the Iowa State Fair, a highly familiar locale.

To watch the whole program, click this
. The Iowa segments start at the 9-minute mark.

Every four years, at precisely this time, our mainstream news orgs visit the fair—and their work is highly scripted. Last night, the analysts groaned as they watched the pretenders checking the same tired boxes.

At one point, they checked the familiar, mandated box in which we’re told that we’re all having fun. Last night, this occurred right after Gwen finished reporting, live and direct, from the fairgrounds.

Sure enough! Judy started the pundit segment with this:
WOODRUFF (8/17/15): Joining us this week are Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and reporter Tamara Keith of NPR.

So, go Gwen!

WALTER: Yes. So fun!
NewsHour viewers just want to have fun, or to be told that fun is occurring. Or at least, this powerful theory seems to prevail within the nation’s news orgs. No one pimps this mandated theme quite the way Rachel Maddow now does. But all pretenders seem to know that they’re expected to pimp it.

At any rate, the Iowa fair is lots of fun! Wearily, the analysts checked that box.

The analysts had sat down at six o’clock with their checklists in hand. Right out of the gate, Gwen had allowed them to check another box, for butter, fried food and pork:
IFILL: The Iowa State Fair is a colorful and chaotic celebration of all things corn, butter, pork and amusement, even in a nonelection year. But this weekend, the political yin and the yang of a crowded field all descended on Iowa at once and brought it into especially sharp focus.
For us, that “sharp focus” never materialized. But as Gwen continued, she showed footage of Candidate Clinton asking for her pork chop on a stick, and she later noted that Candidate Clinton had taken a “pork chop selfie.”

One problem—Ifill skipped the mandated mention of the fair’s butter cow. Perhaps that omission represents some sort of “NewsHour difference.”

Butter and pork chops—check! Then, the analysts waited. In short order, they were rewarded with the mandated reference to “President [Insert Name of Past Iowa Frontrunner Who Didn’t Even Win the Iowa Caucuses].”

Last night, it was NPR’s Keith who let them check that box. Incredibly, Keith sourced her tired old quip to Walter:
KEITH: You don’t know in the midst of [the state fair election season] whether it is the real deal or whether it’s just a summer fling. But you know, as Amy has said, ask President Michele Bachmann.
As Amy has said? Every mainstream pundit on earth has offered some form of that tired old quip, in which we chuckle about some early front-runner in Iowa who ended up dead in the state’s relative lack of water.

Just ask President Bachmann? Check! Groaning pitifully as they did, the analysts also rushed to check the box about “summer fling or romance.” Here’s a slightly longer chunk from the start of the pundit panel:
WOODRUFF: So, go Gwen!

WALTER: Yes. So fun!

WOODRUFF: She was there talking to Bernie Sanders in the middle, in the middle of the crowd.

But what do you make, Amy, of this notion? We’re talking about a summer political romance, that it’s going to fade by the time fall and especially winter rolls around and people actually go to vote for Sanders and Trump. But how do we know these two men don’t have staying power?

WALTER: Well, there is something to that. We don’t know that. But we can look back at history, and you see, you know, summer is for dating, and winter is for mating, okay, if we want to think of it in those ways.

WOODRUFF: O-o-o-o-kay.


KEITH: You know, that summer loving. You don’t know in the midst of it whether it’s the real deal or whether it’s just a summer fling. But, you know, as Amy has said, ask President Michele Bachmann.
Gack! Summer’s for dating and winter’s for mating! Or at least, so Walter said.

So not fun for the analysts! As they gagged and covered their mouths, they dutifully checked their boxes for “summer fling/loving/romance.”

Alas! As every news consumer knows, we were watching the standard, scripted quadrennial presentation from the Iowa fair. The pretenders go through these motions every four years, pretending that they’re reporting the “news” about the “White House campaign.”

In fact, this is primarily an entertainment function. Last night, the segments from and about the Iowa fair took us through the first 22 minutes of the 54-minute NewsHour. But what we were getting was entertainment, with occasional hints of the actual news, which was actually this:

None of this hoopla can tell us a thing about who will win the Iowa caucuses! Indeed, the most chilling words in the Iowa segments were uttered by Gwen, right here:
IFILL: But are voters engaged or simply curious? Iowa voters have a long history of favoring insurgents and unknowns, at least early on. The Iowa caucuses next February are an important springboard to primary season, but there are no guarantees.
Good God! The Iowa caucuses won’t be held until next February—until February 9, 2016, to be exact. That’s much later than in recent cycles, when the caucuses were held on January 3 in both 2008 and 2012.

In 2012, the Iowa caucuses were held extremely early—on January 3, 2012. But land o’ Goshen! “President Michele Bachman,” who had ruled the previous summer’s state fair, ended up with only five percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses! And in this cycle, the wait for the caucuses will be five weeks longer.

For various reasons, little of this week’s buttery fun has any predictive value at all. And yet, pretenders inflict the quadrennial foolishness on their viewers in large, predictable doses.

Speaking of checklists, all the pretenders mention the fact that the Iowa caucuses can’t be predicted by anything at the previous summer's state fair. But because these enterprises are really entertainment vehicles, no one explains why that’s the case—and no one questions the massive waste of time our “news organizations” invest in this largely pointless spectacle.

Why are early polling results from Iowa especially useless? We’ll start with that topic tomorrow—though any “newshour” worth the name would have explored this embarrassing matter in a long opening chunk built around the quadrennial fun from the fair.

Last night, a group of pretenders went to the fair. They spent little time discussing Candidate Trump’s new plan, which he released last Saturday as he arrived at the fair.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the way the nation’s news orgs discuss such matters. The Times reports Trump’s plan today—or is that mainly pretending?

Tomorrow: Endless summer


  1. This show unfortunately has gone downhill since Jim Lehrer retired.

    1. Few mortals in any other profession are fawned over as Lehrer is. He has his ass kissed as few others do. Lehrer has Washington’s thinnest skin.

      Lehrer’s fatuous notions, along with his gruesome bad judgment and his blatant dishonesty.

      It’s time for this potted plant to go! In our view, he should have been gone a long time ago.

      Can someone possibly take away the NewsHour’s watering can?

    2. Search for "Jim Lehrer" in the TDH archives. You will get at least 10 pages of links to posts written by Somerby, none of which were in any sense laudatory of Lehrer's skills as a journalist. So naturally, David pops by his favorite progressive blog to mention how great Lehrer was. Fucking TROLL.

      Did the press fail to provide that “critical analysis” in the months before Iraq? Lehrer said the press had failed, then offered a novel explanation:
      LEHRER (continuing directly): I do. The word “occupation,” keep in mind, Chris, was never mentioned in the run-up to the war. It was “liberation.” This was a war of liberation, not a war of occupation. So as a consequence, those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation.
      MATTHEWS: Because?

      LEHRER: Because it just didn’t occur to us. We weren’t smart enough to do it. I agree. I think it was a dereliction of our—in retrospective.
      According to Lehrer, the nation’s scribes “weren’t smart enough” to foresee the problems of occupation. Soon, Lehrer expanded on his remarks. He gave an even more surprising explanation for the pre-war reporting:
      LEHRER: You touched on something else when you asked the question. Let’s say a group of journalists had gotten onto that. It would have been difficult to have had debates about that going in, when the president and the government of the—it’s not talking about “occupation.” They’re talking about—it would have been—it would have taken some—you’d have had to have gone against the grain.
      MATTHEWS: Right. You’d also have come off as kind of a pointy-head trying to figure out some obscure issue here.

      LEHRER: Exactly.

      MATTHEWS: Not good guys and bad guys.

      LEHRER: Negative. Negativism.

      Could “courage” be the word Lehrer sought? Did he want to say: “It would have taken some courage” for the nation’s press “to have gone against the grain” pre-Iraq? We were surprised to hear Lehrer say how “difficult” those debates would have been.

      WHILE LEHRER SLEPT: Let’s state the obvious. It’s absurd to say that “those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation” in the months before Iraq. Pundits may have chosen to ignore these concerns, but some reporters did report them. For example, here’s part of a front-page report by Vernon Loeb and Thomas Ricks in the 3/11/03 Washington Post. (It took us about twenty seconds to find it.) Headline: “Iraq’s Historic Factions May Severely Test a U.S. Occupying Force:”

      LOEB AND RICKS (pgh 1): The U.S. Army is bracing both for war in Iraq and a postwar occupation that could tie up two to three Army divisions in an open-ended mission that would strain the all-volunteer force and put soldiers in the midst of warring ethnic and religious factions, Army officers and other senior defense officials say.
      (2) While the officers believe a decade of peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Somalia, the Balkans and now Afghanistan makes the Army uniquely qualified for the job, they fear that bringing democracy and stability to Iraq may be an impossible task.
      The Doomsday Duo continued apace. “[T]he greatest source of concern among senior Army leaders is the uncertainty and complexity of the mission in postwar Iraq, which could require U.S. forces to protect Iraq's borders, referee clashes between ethnic and religious groups, ensure civilian security, provide humanitarian relief, secure possible chemical and biological weapons sites, and govern hundreds of towns and villages,” they wrote. Maybe if Lehrer had put down his novels and picked up the Post, problems with post-war occupation might have “occurred to” the scribe.

    3. Look at the Big Brain on mm

      I'm ecstatic at his choice of Howler archives served up from the doddering Somerby to discredit the codger Leher.

      "I took us about twenty seconds to find it" boasted Bob when trying to prove what a dishonest fellow Lehrer was about Iraq.

      It took half that to remember this gem from Somerby:

      "Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve never doubted that Saddam had WMDs. In fact, we’d be surprised if he didn’t. We think antiwar types set themselves up for a fall when they crow about the lack of quick discovery." 4/22/2003

    4. " prove what a dishonest fellow Lehrer..."

      I would say Somerby was going for "*lazy* Lehrer" more than dishonest Lehrer.

    5. Lehrer...liberal...lazy.

      Of course, mm, you think it dumb of me not to put my "L's" together. Big brainers always know exactly what Bob Somerby means to say.

      But some of us here in the combox never doubted that Lehrer was lazy. In fact, we'd be surprised anyone thinks it needs to be said. We think pro-Somerby types set themselves up for a fall when they crow about their discovery of such an obvious characteristic of basic liberal nature.

  2. Is there a bigger whiner on the internet than Bob Somerby? Even the "analysts" he imagines surround him on a daily basis are always crying.

    1. Gack! One problem—Somerby overlooks the NPR coverage of Bernie Sanders' big crowds. Perhaps that omission demonstrates some source of “Howler Unhappiness."

    2. "Is there a bigger whiner on the internet than Bob Somerby?"

      Plenty: His trolls.

    3. Sanders was not neglected. He is this year's Michelle Bachmann.

    4. I thought it interesting PBS said Sanders drew as much attention as Trump at the Iowa fair. And of course his crowds have been huge everywhere. I haven't noticed Bob mentioning that media coverage at all.

    5. He never mentions appropriate, professional coverage. He focuses on what is wrong, what needs improvement.

    6. The main difference is that Trump pays his crowds.

      Sanders may be attracting attention. but he showed yesterday that he doesn't understand basic women's issues. Ana Marie Cox had to explain to him that the press focuses much more on female candidates hair. He finally said that if that was true (!) it was wrong. Way too slow on the uptake. So, race isn't his only problem.

    7. I have seen more coverage of Bernie Sander's hair and The Donald's hair in this campaign.

      In fact, the place I have seen Hillary Clinton's hair mentioned the most this year is in the Howler Combox. Some disgruntled Anonymous complains every time she thinks somebody runs a photo with Hillary's hair looking bad. But that person obviously does understand that hair coverage is a more basic issue for women than the fact that those women who work full time report getting paid 22% less than men who work full time.

    8. They do talk about Sanders and Trump's hair, but they tried to generate a mini-scandal over the $600 Hillary paid for a haircut. Bet Sanders doesn't know women pay a lot more for such services.

      I wasn't complaining about photos with her hair looking bad -- she tends to avoid that. I object to them finding photos of her in mid-sentence or frowning and looking angry. They always post the worst expression they can find.

  3. Speaking of news judgement, Trump did release his immigration plan over the weekend. PBS actually did cover it on Monday's show. Bob Somerby waits until the end of the post to mention there was press coverage of a Trump plan and fails to even mention its topic. And he fails to mention that there was new coverage of the Clinton email controversy.

    Why? It seems like making fun of the news coverage of the fun in Iowa is more fun for Bob Somerby. But Land o' Goshen! Somerby is not having fun. He is serious. He is keeping a list of those who utter the phrase "The Donald."

    That said, telling you whether PBS covered the Butter cow is more important than press coverage of a proposed repeal of the citizenship provision of the 14th Amendment

  4. Like all of you, I can't wait for Bob to tell us why polls are meaningless at this point. In fact, the only use I have for polls is as a retrospective guide to measure how the press did in the War Against Gore. And even then you have to throw out the polls which don't show Gore coming from 10 points back, getting a 10 point lead then losing it all perfectly in sync with press events you can show fit the War as Bob tells it.

    But while we wait, there is this cautionary tale:

    The Democratic Race: Conditions Auspicious for Sen. Clinton to Win

    Gallup’s national presidential polling strongly points to Clinton winning the Democratic nomination. Barring something unusual or otherwise unexpected, she is well positioned for the Democratic primaries. Clinton that he has been in all year.

    No other announced or potential Democratic candidate has come close to threatening Clinton’s front-runner status since the campaign began.

    Consistent Run at the Top

    Clinton has led the Democratic pack in every Gallup Poll conducted. For most of this time, Clinton has led a double-digit margin.

    Gallup polling on Democratic nominations going back to the 1972 election shows that, by historical standards, a lead of even 20 points is large for Democratic candidates. The two candidates who held this distinction in the fall months before the election year (Gore in 1999 and Walter Mondale in 1983) eventually won the Democratic nomination.

    Importantly, two-thirds of Democrats who prefer Clinton for their party’s nomination say they are certain to vote for her in the primaries. candidates.

    Clinton ’s Support Runs Deep

    Clinton holds a commanding lead among nearly every major subgroup of potential Democratic primary voters. Some of her strongest showings are among women, nonwhites, those in lower-income households, those with less formal education, and Southerners.

    Clinton Is Broadly Popular Among Democrats

    Clinton enjoys high favorable ratings in the Democratic Party that extend well beyond the 40% to 50% of Democrats typically naming her as their top choice for the nomination. Eighty-two percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners have a favorable view of the former first lady, while only 16% have an unfavorable view of her.

    Democrats also rate Clinton as the candidate most likely to defeat the Republican in the general election -- a key perceptual advantage given that primary voters are trying to distinguish among candidates with largely similar issue positions.

    Source: Gallup October 2007

    1. Gee, I wonder what happened?

    2. It had to be suspicious if it stopped what was auspicious.

    3. Hill and Bill SupporterAugust 18, 2015 at 5:42 PM

      Or maybe it was somebody with a message that could draw big enthusiastic crowds.

      Not to be mean, but I think there was a term used in 2008 that may be applicable today. Likeable enough. Just not loved. Not that many really loved Bill either. They liked him.
      They like her. They still do. But there has never been a hard core Clinton wing of the Democratic Party based on loyalty to him/her personally or ideologically.