Cooper goes 7 on 1: "These are the days of miracle and wonder," Paul Simon once alleged.
He advanced his claim in 1986. Times have changed since then.
At the dinner hour this past Tuesday night, Donald J. Trump directed James Comey to spend more time with his family. With that one act, we entered these current days—these days of excitement and scandal.
How vast was the excitement that night? So vast that conservative talker Hugh Hewitt may even have made a decent point in today's Washington Post.
Hewitt is in his early days as a columnist at the Post. He isn't especially troubled by Comey's dismissal. Instead, he makes some unflattering claims about the press corps' reactions to same:
HEWITT (5/11/17): There are, in fact, plenty of superb candidates [for the post of FBI Director] who would bring stature and independence to the job.That's the way the column ends, with those unflattering claims.
But first we have to endure a few days of over-the-top takes from the always overwrought mainstream media. This isn’t the “Saturday Night Massacre.” There are no tapes, no subpoenas for presidential documents, no resignations from the Justice Department, but instead recommendations from the Justice Department. It’s four months into an administration, not four years. In short, the overwrought media has toppled into hysteria again.
Ignore Hewitt's judgment about Trump's recent action. We focus on the press corps here, not on the politicians.
Try to focus on the press. In the current instance, does Hewitt possibly have a point about their recent reactions?
For ourselves, we're inclined to assume that the actions of Donald J. Trump will almost always look like the work of a badly disordered man. Comey has been a bit of a hot rolling mess, but Trump seems vastly disordered.
That said, what about the men and women of the mainstream press? How have they conducted themselves in the wake of Comey's dismissal? Is it fair to say they've been "overwrought?" Have they "toppled into hysteria?"
We may do several posts on that general topic in the next few days. For starters, let's briefly review the modern history of televised pundit excitement.
To some extent, it started on 60 Minutes, with James J. Kilpatrick (conservative) battling liberal Shana Alexander (liberal). If memory serves, they generated lots of excitement and heat, perhaps some occasional light.
That said, the format was one-against-one at the start. When cable arrived, that format was formalized on CNN's Crossfire:
One liberal host, one conservative host! So too with each show's pair of guests!
(We guested on the program once, in the "liberal" chair.)
Inevitably, the Fox News Channel produced a better idea. Yes, they had Hannity & Colmes for many years—a program which, at least in the formal sense, worked on a one-on-one basis.
(We even guested on that.)
But then, good God! In 2011, the Fox News Channel invented The Five. In an undisguised parody of "fair and balanced," the program featured five co-equal panelists—but four of the five were conservatives!
Only one of the five was a liberal! On Fox, the balance for a fair pundit fight was now set at four-against-one.
Because The Five was quite successful, MSNBC tried to copy its ways. They created an unsuccessful program, The Cycle, where the suitable ideological balance was set at three-against-one.
(Starting in 2013, Abbie Huntsman was the lone conservative. Today, she has massively dumbed herself down, thus qualifying for her current role as the young woman between the two guys on the weekend Fox & Friends. Good God, she plays it dumb there!)
How quaint our early pundit days seem—days when a fair food fight among TV pundits was defined as one-against-one. That said, we were struck by the ridiculous behavior on Anderson Cooper's CNN program this Tuesday night.
On this exciting occasion, Cooper's hugely excited, eight-member panel broke down seven to one.
Ken Cuccinelli was the lone conservative in the eight-member panel. We thought he argued his claims rather well—and his overall claims weren't cartoonish. Beyond that:
In sharp distinction to some other guests, he conducted himself with what is typically called "professionalism."
Some of Cooper's other pundits possibly maybe did not. Most strikingly, David Gregory's excitement kept leading him to direct visible scorn at Cuccinelli as he kept interrupting him.
Especially given Gregory's former status within the industry, his behavior was quite striking. We'd say he was dumbly, overtly rude. He may be the nicest guy in the world. His performance that night was childish, silly, embarrassing.
Others in The Seven did better—but did we mention their number? The Seven kept over-talking each other as they tried to shout down The One. Rather plainly, Cuccinelli seemed to have been cast in the role of Piggy.
As we watched Cooper's program that night, we were struck by the journalistic disorder. Rather plainly, we were watching the start of the current days of excitement and scandal.
Excitement can be very exciting. That said, it isn't a journalistic trait. It tends to produce a lot of heat and over-simplification. without producing real light.
Last night, other cable stars were excited, even on The One True Liberal Channel. In their excitement, they kept pretending they had answers to various questions—answers they didn't yet have.
They kept pretending they were dealing in facts—facts they hadn't established. They kept disappearing other facts—actual facts which would have made their stories less simplistic, less simple-minded.
They rushed to explain the Rosenstein matter. They didn't yet have the slightest idea what had gone on in this typically disordered production by Donald J. Trump.
The children were very excited last night; this can be lots of fun. They were excited about the claim that Comey was fired because he'd asked for more funding. They were excited by the claim that the number-two man at the FBI might be a big Commie too.
(Needless to say, that was Maddow. She seemed to be basing her central claim on something Reince Priebus once said!)
We heard a lot of exciting claims. We kept failing to hear the documentation—the evidence which would establish these claims. Elsewhere, people have been rushing to jump to conclusions. This is the way excited mobs tend to run through streets.
Conduct like this is very exciting. It's also bad journalistic practice.
This is the way our press corps works. While fascinating and comical, it's a tough game to watch.