Part 2—Behavior looks like gossip: Bobby Vee, 18 years old, had a major problem.
Was his girl friend a devil or an angel? He said he loved her either way, but he couldn't make up his mind.
This week, we're asking a similar question about our upper-end press corps. Especially on the pundit end, is their product more like gossip? Or is it more like journalism?
Our question, therefore, takes this form: Gossip or journo? Are leading pundits more like gossips today, or are they more like journalists?
As for Vee, so too today; it's amazingly hard to be sure. We were especially struck by this recent Josh Marshall post, which reeked of small-minded gossip:
MARSHALL (7/25/18): As the news of “the tape” was breaking last night, I tuned in to Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox (don’t mention it) to see what Alan Dershowitz and the President’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani were saying about the new information. Below is a selection of clips that show the comical mix of nonsense and special pleading from these friends of the President.Giuliani seems like a friend of the president. He's also the president's lawyer.
Is Dershowitz a "friend of the president?" That's what this liberal thought leader was urging his tribal group to believe—and that's what gossip looks like.
In particular, that comment resembles the form of tribal gossip known as "killing the pig."
Is Alan Dershowitz a friend of Donald J. Trump? He has said, again and again, that he has spoken to Trump three times in his life, each time about matters involving Israel.
He has said, again and again, that he voted for Hillary Clinton and contributed to her campaign. But there was Marshall, telling us stooges that Dershowitz is a friend of Trump's.
Why would somebody do that? First, a brief digression:
Over the weekend, we watched the rebroadcast of this July 11 C-Span tape in which Dershowitz is interviewed by Josh Barro. The hour-long discussion concerned Dershowitz's new book, in which he argues that a president can only be impeached and removed from office if he has committed an actual crime.
We watched the rebroadcast over the weekend. We were very much struck by what we saw.
We aren't positioned to make ultimate judgments about most of the constitutional issues involved here. But in our view, Dershowitz is dazzling on the tape, and Barro is remarkably capable in the role of the interviewer/disputant.
How does this discussion compare to the typical discussion on cable? Imagine this:
Imagine seeing the Golden State Warriors in action, then watching a pick-up game at the local gym on the once-a-week Over-60 Seniors Night. On that tape, Dershowitz and Barro perform much like the NBA champs. Cable news presents endless discussions in which creaking participants display extremely little competence.
If you have an hour to spend, we recommend that C-Span tape. Right at the start, Dershowitz says this about his friend:
DERSHOWITZ (7/11/18): This [book] is not a brief for Donald Trump. In fact, if Donald Trump were to commit an impeachable offense, I'd be the first one calling for his impeachment...Two weeks later, Dershowitz was being snidely derided as a "friend of the president." Why would a liberal thought leader turned entrepeneur dumb down his readers like that?
Look, there are so many things this president did that I thoroughly disapprove of. I am against his immigration policy. I am against his separation of families. I am against his policies regarding abortion. I am against his tax policies.
I am against his health policies. And I am even against his opposition to women breast-feeding their children—the latest crazy thing this administration did is opposing an international policy.
So don't try to get me to defend Donald Trump, I'm not going to do that.
Again, we'd have to say that that's what gossip looks like, that that's what gossips do. Marshall was sending a signal to readers—don't listen to what this man says.
Please note what Marshall was doing. Rather than argue against particular views Dershowitz is presenting, he was advising readers that they shouldn't listen to him at all. Of course, given the way "cable news" works, that is now an easy task for the liberal viewer.
To what extent are we liberals being shielded from debate and divergent views? Consider what happened on cable last night:
If you watched The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, you saw Lawrence deliver a six-minute monologue, then introduce a reliable three-member panel—Jill Wine-Banks, Harry Litman, Neera Tanden.
By "reliable," we mean the obvious. Each guest was guaranteed to agree with everything Lawrence said.
Because three panelists had been assembled to kill ten minutes of discussion time, no one had to say a lot or assemble an actual argument. That said, the number of panelists ensured the program against any down time. And there was no doubt that everyone would agree with the various things Lawrence said.
One hour later, Brian Williams began his show the same way. On this occasion, one of Brian's panelists illustrated a basic rule of MSNBC programming—as long as a panelist agrees with the group, there's nothing he can say that's so dumb that it won't be permitted to stand.
Tomorrow, with transcripts available, we'll show you what one of Brian's panelists said. For today, let's focus on this point:
Last night, liberal viewers were being protected from discussion, debate and dissent. They were being comforted within a womb of tribal agreement. This pitiful practice has virtually come to define MSNBC's method.
Liberal viewers are shielded from dissent. Elsewhere, a wider range of views will still sometimes prevail:
Last night, we saw Litman expressing his strongly anti-Trump views at 10 PM with Lawrence. One hour later, at 11 PM, we saw the very same Harry Litman expressing the very same views—this time on the Fox News Channel while being interviewed by Shannon Bream in a thoroughly professional manner.
Most liberals probably don't know that our own "corporate liberal" channel has become the champion of restricted TribalThink. But that's the impulse Marshall was serving with his pitiful "gossip gang" comment.
Gossiping has always been a way to establish trust among an in group. It has always been a way of conspiring to kill the pig.
There was Marshall, behaving in the age-old way and helping to dumb his readers down. Did his remark seem more like gossip, or did it seem more like journalism?
If you watch that C-Span tape, with Dershowitz being challenged by Barro, you'll see a level of discussion which makes the typical cable show look like a first grade play. We aren't exposed to discussions like that on our "corporate liberal" channel. The owners have decided we want it only one way, and the hosts are giving that to us.
Marshall behaved in the age-old way, telling his readers to kill the pig. Was he behaving like a journo? We'd say it came closer to gossip.
Tomorrow: There's nothing too ridiculous within our tribal tents
For the record: As best we can tell from a Nexis search, Dershowitz has appeared on MSNBC nighttime programming twice in the past six months. (Daytime programming doesn't get transcribed.)
On April 17, he guested with Ari Melber on The Beat. On July 10, he appeared with Paul Butler on Hardball, producing a useful discussion.
In the main, to an astounding degree, MSNBC serves tapioca. You see the same people say the same things, night after night after night.