MAY LOOK LIKE PLUTOCRAT BIAS: Josh Marshall almost semi-flips!


Part 4—May look like tribal bias:
It was Wednesday night, October 28. The third Republican debate had ended ten minutes earlier.

The debate had been staged by CNBC. Under an unflattering headline, Josh Marshall explained how poorly the network's team had performed:
MARSHALL (10/28/15): Why is this debate so bad?

As everyone is already discussing, CNBC probably shouldn't be allowed to run a debate again.
Aside from the expertly prepared John Harwood, the moderators were bad and poorly—almost embarrassingly—prepared. There's also the CNBC bubble—which makes some of the questions seem odd even for a Republican debate. What about onerous personal helicopter regulation?
Everyone already knew it. CNBC probably shouldn't be allowed to run another debate!

Except for John Harwood, the two to five other moderators had been "almost embarrassingly bad," Marshall said. And not only that! Because of the network's bubble, some of the questions they asked had seemed odd, even for a Republican debate.

For our money, Marshall vastly over-praised Harwood's performance. Beyond that, we'd add an extremely basic complaint to his remarkably harsh indictment:

The moderators almost totally failed to challenge the utterly "crazy" budget plans the candidates had produced. Instead, they'd hopscotched around in grab-bag fashion, offering a crazy-quilt collection of the types of questions Marshall rejected as odd.

Within the next hour, Marshall offered two more posts about CNBC's epic fail. But how odd:

By 11:15 that night, the GOP was making complaints about the moderators. Marshall thought these complaints were odd, but he went into more detail about how bad their performance had been:
MARSHALL (10/28/15): RNC Chair Reince Priebus, who partnered with CNBC to put on this debate, is crapping on CNBC big time for putting on a terrible debate. I thought it was a terrible debate. But I was a little unclear why Priebus thought it was so terrible from a GOP perspective...

[A]s I reflect on the debate a bit more I think a big reason the debate was so weird was that so many of the questions were based on obscurantist and myopic CNBC nonsense—which is not only far-right and identified with great wealth but specifically owned by the bubble of Wall Street.
That led to a lot of odd questions—like Jim Cramer's saying why aren't GM execs going to jail, Santelli's wild questions or that question about fantasy football. Lots of people are into fantasy football. But whether it's betting and whether it should be regulated, that's a Wall Streeter question—in the same way huge amounts of the money that gets pushed through political betting sites comes off Wall Street. It's hard for Republicans to say this. But I think this is a significant reason why the debate seemed so odd. And it made it kind of odd to hear anti-liberal bias attacks on the moderators when they were asking questions like shouldn't the Fed be forced to take us back to the gold standard.

Let's not even get into perhaps the most comically poor debate prep we've ever seen in a national debate. Are these folks even journalists?
Or do they just spend all day talking about capital gains tax cuts?
In real time, Marshall really didn't think the moderators performed well.

He described "perhaps the most comically poor debate prep we've ever seen in a national debate." "Are these folks even journalists?" the CNBC-basher asked. That said, given the types of questions which had been asked, Marshall couldn't imagine how Priebus could be complaining about "liberal bias."

If Marshall was being sincere, he was revealing a hole in his ability to see the world as it is. To us, his analysis carries the scent of a destructive, age-old devil, tribal bias.

Was Priebus sincere in his complaints? We have no way of knowing; we'd assume he partially was. Starting with the first two questions from the expertly-prepared Harwood, the moderators had invited his attack with their ridiculous snark and the pointlessly derisive way they framed their scattershot questions.

This conduct was not journalistic, and it invited attack. No matter! Marshall, being a tribal player, couldn't seem to see what had just occurred. We think we can explain why that is:

To tribal players, derision and snark are always justified when aimed at The Others. This "tribal bias" may keep such players from seeing and understanding events which occur in their world.

At any rate, in real time, Marshall thought the moderators were awful. "Everyone is already discussing this," Marshall said as soon as the debate ended.

Everyone was already saying how bad the moderators had been! But then, the moderators came under attack from the chairman of The Others, and a predictable thing occurred. The liberal world began to claim that the moderators had done a good, "substantive" job! By this past Tuesday evening, even Marshall's tone about the CNBC debate had taken a turn.

"Whatever you can say about the CNBC debate, it was tight, with sharp exchanges and memorable moments," he wrote in Tuesday's night's review of the Fox Business Network debate. "There was very little of that tonight."

Twelve days after the CNBC debacle, Marshall was now describing a tight debate with sharp exchanges and memorable moments. Beyond that, he seemed to be describing martyrs when he discussed CNBC's moderators.

"Simply pressing the candidates to answer questions or noting when they're making demonstrably untrue claims made them liberal," Marshall now declared.

Alas! Marshall was misstating the nature of the complaints about the CNBC moderators. He was also misstating what they'd done. This sort of thing makes us liberals happy. It also makes us dumb.

Let's recall the early chronology of the CNBC debate:

Confronted with "crazy" budget plans which service the rich and threaten everyone else, the moderators had basically turned tail and run. As we noted yesterday, they started the debate with a couple of questions aimed at the ludicrous budget proposals of Candidates Trump and Carson. After seven unproductive minutes, they abandoned this topic, essentially for the rest of the night.

They moved ahead to the scattershot questions about which Marshall complained. But as they moved ahead, they continued along with their snark.

Their first two questions to Candidate Trump had been dripping in snark. These questions came from the expertly-prepared Harwood. His derisive language served as a gift to the candidate with the craziest plan of them all.

After budget-based questions for Carson and Kasich, the moderators abandoned this hugely important topic. They let the crazy plans escape, but continued along with their snark, as we'll detail tomorrow.

Just for today, can we talk?

Snark is not journalistic. Neither is derisive language in service to poorly framed, lazy questions with lack any real follow-up. This was the unhelpful approach the expert Harwood took.

Seven minutes—count em, seven!—were spent on those crazy budget plans. The next two questions, to Rubio and Bush, were non-substantive, but built around snark.

Fiorina was then asked to discuss Hewlett-Packard for about the ten millionth time. Those moderators had run out of gas. The debate had barely begun.

Marshall noticed the lousy questions which dominated the evening. He said the preparation was the worst he'd ever seen. He didn't mention the important questions which went unasked.

Marshall noticed the lousy questions; Priebus noticed the snark. And how odd! As soon as Priebus began to criticize the moderators, we liberals began to say they'd been great!

Tomorrow, we'll show you the comments we liberals made as we praised their manifest greatness. This is the way tribal players get dumb—and in the long run, dumbness doesn't help our tribe, our values or our interests.

In a point we'll explain tomorrow, this is also the way of Salem Village.

We've been reading the Stacy Schiff book. To our ear, Schiff's book seems to be all about us. It's also all about Priebus.

Tomorrow: "Substantive," Ezra said


  1. I don't think the snark was tribal. The moderators were demonstrably not representing the liberal tribe, so what tribe was their snark in service of? I think it was employed by the moderators in order to set a tone that would encourage debaters to snark upon each other, elicit more zingers and the kind of lively food-fight that would provide audience enjoyment. It was in service of entertainment. I think the moderators were trying to shake things up. Liberal snark would have sounded a bit different, in my opinion.

    1. There's something to this. But snark it certainly was. Snark in service of demonstrating their own supposed toughness, to my thinking.

    2. Dave the Guitar PlayerNovember 12, 2015 at 12:44 PM

      However, you must have noticed that the snark was used by the GOP to rail against the "liberal" media. So, whether you think the moderators were representing the liberal tribe or not, the liberals got blamed for it. I do agree that the moderators were actually only representing themselves in service of entertainment.

  2. Warning to casual readers of this blog: These comments are unmoderated. They are infested by one or more trolls who routinely take up space without contributing to discussion and/or attack the blog author in a variety of ways, rarely substantive. Such comments are not an indicator of the level of interest of other readers, the validity of the content posted nor of the esteem in which the blog author is held by others.

  3. Somerby Flips over Fox Moderators:

    Media Critic Bob Somerby rarely has good things to say about members of the mainstream press corps, including those on his own liberal side of the political spectrum. So imagine our surprise when he seemed postively effusive about the recent debate hosted by the FOX business channel and the crown jewel in the Rupert Murdoch print chain, the Wall Street Journal.

    "(M)oderator Neil Cavuto announced that the forum would have a clear focus:....For the most part, the moderators stuck to that statement of purpose....Last night, Fox Business and the WSJ managed to stick to their framework."

    Somerby, who has covered Presdiential debates going back to 2000 In his "Daily Howler" blog, found no bias to report in the FOX debate, compared to devoting almost a dozen posts to the CNBC debate in which he found dozens of examples of bias and sarcasm.

    1. The best thing Somerby had to say about the Fox debate was that it was focused.

    2. Dave the Guitar PlayerNovember 12, 2015 at 12:48 PM

      Why is it that you object to Bob saying something nice about Fox without expressing a single thing about the Fox debate that showed bias? I suspect that you are not being objective.

    3. Why is it you think there was anything in the comment by @12:00 that indicated he/she objected?

  4. No getting around it, this series is just amazingly boring.

  5. Huffington Post is running an article about what they call Hillary Clinton's plan to bail out coal interests complete with a picutre that makes her look like she is standing in front of a giant coal fired furnace.

    1. Here is what the HuffPo article says:

      "Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled a $30 billion plan Thursday that would protect coal miners' benefits and prepare their communities as the U.S. transitions to cleaner energy sources. While Clinton has embraced strong policies to combat climate change and ultimately voiced her opposition to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the Democratic front-runner’s new proposal makes clear she won’t forget about coal."

      The picture I saw has her standing at a podium in front of the League of Conservation Voters.

      I think you are another lying conservative.

    2. The picture you saw was different than the teaser I saw and the headline certainly said nothing about miners.

  6. Parts Unknown - May Look Like Old Crank Ranting: It was Thursday morning, October 29. The third Republican debate had ended the night before.

    The moderators, Bob said, were snarky/negative and uninformed and this allowed the candidates to make familiar charges about alleged liberal media bias.

    Bob Somerby himself chose three horrific episodes to focus upon.

    1) Becky Quick's exchange with Donald Trump over Trump's position and statements regarding H1B visas. (Comic said Somerby)

    2) Chris Christie's soliloquy on Social Security. (Horrific said Bob)

    3) Marco Rubio dropping the L Bomb on Hillary Clinton over Benghazi (such a horror story Somerby used it as his headline)

    In real time the moderators were typically uninformed snarks and this the candidates responded with typical charges of media bias.

    This was similar to what came before. When FOX hosted the first debate in August, the only post from Bob Somerby was about Carly Fiorina dropping a similar L bomb in the undercard debate. When CNN
    hosted the Republicans, Bob briefly chastised the moderators for not pressing the candiates but again chose to focus only one statement of Fiorina.

    Three debates. Three posts. Not one mention of taxes or budgets.

    Then, when the Republican Candidates and the RNC decided to make the conduct of the debate an issue even after the debate, Bob sprung to action.

    Now, two weeks after the third debate. Soemrby is not only still ranting about The CNBC debate, alone among Republican debates, he is accusing others who moved on of praising the CNBC debate, changing their analysis, or skipping topics he himself never chose to cover.

    1. You seem to be under the delusion that Somerby covers debates and not the mainstream media.

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