Part 1—How many did Maddow discuss: On the front page of today's New York Times, a fascinating news report adds a bit of context to a recent debate.
The report was written by Farah Stockman. It's her first report since leaving the Boston Globe for the Times.
(For better or worse, Stockman really knows how to kiss ascot. We refer to her recent column, "My love letter to Boston," which was published upon her departure from the land of the bean and the cod.)
Stockman's front-page news report concerns attitudes about the 1994 crime bill among younger and older black voters. As you may have heard, this 22-year-old bill is suddenly very hot.
Along the way, Stockman makes some interesting points about the crime rates which existed at the time of the bill, and especially about attitudes toward the bill among that era's black voters.
At one point, Stockman describes the reaction to a speech Bill Clinton gave at the Memphis church where Dr. King delivered his last sermon—Dr. King's last sermon before being killed.
In his 1993 speech, Clinton railed about the ugly effects crime rates were having on black youth at that time. "Black churchgoers gave him sustained applause and named him an honorary member of their congregation," Stockman writes.
At one point, she even writes this:
STOCKMAN (4/18/16): Ms. Brock’s comments underscore a sometimes overlooked reality in today’s re-examination of the crime bill: The legislation was broadly embraced by nonwhite voters, more enthusiastically even than by white voters. About 58 percent of nonwhites supported it in 1994, according to a Gallup poll, compared with 49 percent of white voters."Ms. Brock" is 53-year-old Caryl Brock, a social worker in the South Bronx, who described some of the horrors of the era. Later in Stockman's report, a young activist nails Bill Clinton as being "implicitly racist" for recent remarks in defense of the bill, which was apparently favored by nonwhites more than by whites.
This background material can't answer a wide range of questions about that bill. For starters, it can't tell us whether it was a good bill in all its particulars, or even on balance.
It can't inform us about the overall effects of the bill. It can't inform us about the effects of any particular part of the bill.
It can't inform us about the extent to which the bill added to the phenomenon known as "mass incarceration." It can't tell us whether Hillary Clinton should or shouldn't have used a certain term on one occasion in 1996, a term which was in widespread use at the time.
Stockman's report can't answer these questions. It does provide interesting information about a 22-year-old bill which is now extremely hot.
As you may have heard, New Yorkers will be voting tomorrow in that state's presidential primary. On the Democratic side, you've probably heard that there are two candidates—Candidates Clinton and Sanders.
Quite a few substantive issues have come into play as their race for the Democratic nomination has unfolded. The 1994 crime bill is hot, but quite a few other substantive topics are begging for clarification and elucidation at this particular time.
Which of the candidates has the better ideas about trade? Which of the candidates has the better plan for dealing with "big banks?"
Was Candidate Sanders right in his recent remarks about the Panama Papers? Was Candidate Clinton right in her remarks about guns?
Who has the better position on the $15 minimum wage? Who has the better ideas concerning "mass incarceration?"
By the way—what are the two candidates' dueling positions on these various issues? And while we're at it, let's ask this:
Which candidate has the better ideas about dealing with mass incarceration today? About dealing with crime moving forward? About dealing with police conduct?
(The debate about that now-famous bill follows a certain pattern. We hear a lot about what the candidates thought about crime in 1994. We hear amazingly little about what they've proposed moving forward.)
Finally, and most important:
How big a racist is Candidate Clinton, based on her loathsome remark from 1996? How big a racist is Candidate Sanders, based on his slightly more recent denigrations of Democratic voters in the Deep South?
Granted, each of the hopefuls is a master racist. But which of the two is the bigger racist? And how can the voters decide?
A wide array of substantive issues are involved in tomorrow's election. In the next few days, we'll ask a basic question:
To what extent did a certain major "cable news" star attempt to clarify or elucidate those substantive issues last week? How much did viewers learn about those issues from watching her "cable news" show?
The major star to whom we refer is MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Last week, she hosted her eponymous cable news show on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. On Monday night, guest host Steve Kornacki was forced to read the transcripts the cable star's staff had prepared.
If we're counting correctly, that means that the Maddow Show aired five times last week. Our question will be this:
If liberal viewers watched that program all five nights, how much did they learn about the substantive topics which are allegedly at the heart the Democratic race? How much did they learn about the substantive differences between Candidates Clinton and Sanders?
How much more do viewers know if they watched that show last week? More specifically, how much more do viewers know about those substantive issues?
Ever so quickly, let's offer a bit of background:
The major cable star in question was initially sold to us as Our Own Rhodes Scholar. We've always been told that she's very bright. At present, here network is running a major ad campaign to that precise effect.
The major cable star is also famously honest. For years, she helped us understand this fact through her DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS reports, which have largely ceased to exist, perhaps from sheer embarrassment at the preternatural phoniness they always involved.
The cable star is very smart; she's also obsessively honest. Given those facts, to what extent did she try to help viewers understand those substantive issues last week?
Warning! In our view, this won't be a pretty story. In our view, the major star almost seems devoted, at this point, to pandering to her viewers' baser tribal instincts. In this way, she almost seems to be playing the game like big cable stars on certain other networks.
To her credit, her ratings are up. That may tell a tale about Us.
Last week, the cable star helped her viewers learn to loathe The Others more fully. She wasn't always obsessively honest or even bright in the lessons in loathing she taught, but these lessons were tribally pleasing.
In the process, how much did her viewers learn about actual matters of substance? As New Yorkers make their way to the polls, we'll examine that question all week.
Tomorrow: Is everybody happy?