TRIBAL FICTIONS: Rachel Maddow visits the past!


True belief informs her:
Through the miracle of On Demand, we watched last Tuesday night's Maddow Show after returning from Thanksgiving.

We were struck by the string of tribal pleasures provided in the opening segment. We'll return to one such pleasure tomorrow. First, though, let's consider Henry Petersen.

Maddow pounded Petersen pretty good during her opening segment, then in an interview session. Petersen was a ranking member of the Justice Department during the Nixon presidency, and Maddow is committed to the tribalized otherization of everything that moved during that ancient regime.

She won't stoop to talking about the children taken from their parents at the border this year. Instead, she offers podcasts about Spiro Agnew, humblebragging and posturing as she goes.

In such ways, she continues her project, which is well disguised, of convincing us that the world consists of a highly moral Us opposed by a deeply immoral Them. We "rationals" have always behaved this way as we've formed our wars.

Maddow is deeply invested in this form of true belief, which tends to be highly destructive. She's also extremely good at disguising this part of her inner world—that is, at "selling the car."

Why was Maddow talking about Henry Petersen last Tuesday night? At the influential legal web site Lawfare, Jim Baker and Sarah Grant had published a lengthy account of the way President Nixon tried to use access to Justice officials to learn about the progress of the Watergate investigation.

Until recently, Baker was general counsel at the FBI. What Nixon did in this matter was inappropriate, and it has obvious relevance to the current situation, in which Donald J. Trump has installed a fairly obvious stooge as acting Attorney General.

Petersen was one of the Justice officials from whom Nixon gleaned information. In their lengthy Lawfare report, Baker and Grant offered this general assessment of Petersen's role in this affair, in which Nixon was trying to gather information he basically shouldn't have had:
BAKER AND GRANT (11/19/18): Petersen is a figure of some reverence in the Justice Department as evidenced by the fact that the Criminal Division named one of its major awards after him. His close contacts with President Nixon over a pending investigation that—at that time—implicated the president’s own staff may raise eyebrows regarding Justice Department contacts with the White House on certain types of investigative matters.

In particular, we focused on the facts that the road map and related documents reveal regarding the nature and scope of the interactions between President Nixon and Petersen. This portrait is not complete. Watergate is a vast and complex topic, and we are not Watergate historians. Moreover, we do not purport to provide a comprehensive review of the Nixon-Petersen interactions nor how they may have impacted the investigation. Additional facts may be important to a complete understanding of this story.


Notably, it appears that Petersen genuinely did not understand fully President Nixon’s role in the Watergate affair at the time he consented to have the numerous interactions with the president that are outlined in the road map and related documents. A fair assessment of the role that Petersen played would require additional research and is beyond the scope of this post. So we make no effort to pass judgment on Petersen or his actions.
Baker and Grant specifically said that they weren't judging Petersen's actions. For ourselves, we, like Maddow, don't have the first freaking idea how to assess the actions of this man, who "is a figure of some reverence in the Justice Department."

That said, at times of tribal war, tribal true believers will stage true believing stampedes. Maddow is skilled at hiding her true belief, but it runs remarkably deep.

If you watch her lengthy introduction of this topic,
you will see her go perhaps a thousand miles beyond the agnosticism about Petersen's actions voiced by Baker and Grant. As we've told you for many years, Maddow secretly wants to see all the others in jail.

She loves to play the telephone tapes in which they tell their romantic partners that they love to touch their bodies. (Clownishly, she pretends to be embarrassed as she does this again and again.)

She's inclined to go through medicine chests to embarrass the people she knows to be vile. She likes to drag the children of her various targets in.

In our view, she had her thumbs on the scale rather hard as she introduced this topic last Tuesday night. By definition, Petersen had to be one of Them.

Along the way, Maddow said these things. The comic relief is highlighted at the end:
MADDOW (11/20/18): Well, now, as I mentioned, Jim Baker is here tonight. He'll be on the show in just a moment. And that's because has just done something for Lawfare that I think we should pay attention to. Mr. Baker is essentially resurfacing and sort of pointing a big red arrow at a very specific thing in American legal history, and it involves this man.


His name is Henry Petersen.


As Jim Baker puts it in this new piece, he says, quote, "The president, in short, was using a senior Justice Department official to gather intelligence about an ongoing criminal investigation in which he was personally implicated." Quote, "When the president sought information from Petersen, provided his views to Petersen on the various matters that they discussed and discussed Petersen's future, he was not merely exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution to supervise the executive branch and trying to get the facts necessary to do so. No. The president of the United States was also acting in this instance as a criminal co-conspirator, trying to obstruct lawful investigative activity of the Justice Department."

And that ultimately is the big hairy point here, right? I mean, Jim Baker, former general counsel of the FBI, after he lays out all of this history from the Watergate era, all of this information about contacts during the Watergate investigation between the president and a senior official at the Justice Department who was involved in supervising the investigation, who Nixon's pumping for information about the investigation, who he's trying to influence in terms of how the investigation is going, where does that all end up ultimately? What's the bottom line here? What`s the end of this story?

Well, for Henry Petersen, that Justice Department official, it ends with unsettling questions
about why he was so willing to provide all of that information about an ongoing open investigation to the White House that was being investigated. Those were hard questions for Henry Petersen at the time when some of this stuff was first exposed. Those are hard questions for Henry Petersen now. We can talk about that in more detail later on.
We can talk about it later on! You can read the full transcript here.

For Maddow, it wasn't enough to finger President Nixon. Moving light years beyond what Baker and Grant had said, it had to be Petersen too.

"Those were hard questions for Henry Petersen at the time," Maddow tribally said. Also, "Those are hard questions for Henry Petersen now."

That was the comic relief! You see, Petersen died in 1991. These are impossible questions for him to speak to now!

How weird does a person have to be to go on the air and say things like that? Benevolently, we allowed the analysts to chuckle softly as they watched Maddow extend her "performance of the Rachel figure" (an admiring Janet Malcolm) in this amusing way.

That said, that was just the comic relief. The intriguing part of the presentation involves the way Maddow leaped beyond the agnosticism expressed by Baker and Grant.

Sheepishly, Aristotle came to our sleeping quarters after we watched this program. He appeared to us in a manifestation some will compare to a dream.

"How rational are the animals now?" we gently yet thoughtfully asked.

The greatest logician before Kurt Godel skillfully cleared his throat. Pointing out that he wrote in Greek, he sheepishly said that hadn't quite been what he actually meant.

Tomorrow: Maddow's groaning misstatement (back to Don McGahn)

Still coming: Lemon explains


  1. "We were struck by the string of tribal pleasures provided in the opening segment."

    Bob, dear. If you perceive goebbelsian propaganda as pleasure, then you might be a lib-zombie. Or just a pervert. Not sure what's worse...

    1. Lib-zombie is MUCH worse. Pervert gets you on the Supreme Court.

    2. You're awfully hard on Ruth Ginsburg, dembot.

    3. Nice try. Conservatives go to war with the sexual predators they have, not the non-sexual predators they wish they had.

  2. Maddow's phony sheepishness about sexual matters is beyond dumb. How old is she?

    People really think she's cute?

  3. Maddow’s style, consisting of long 20-minute dissertations on often arcane or historical matters, like the Nixon White House, is hardly likely to inflame anyone’s tribal passions. But then, that’s because she hides it so well. So well that the only person whose passions are inflamed is Somerby.

    It’s still not clear how Maddow promoted a tribal fiction in this case. The case of ex-Nixon DOJ official Henry Petersen is hardly a linchpin in some tribal “us” vs “them” fiction. Whatever sin she supposedly committed here, she respectfully spoke to the writer of the piece she referenced (Baker) to allow him to provide his own first-hand account. Someone promoting tribal fictions is hardly likely to misrepresent her own guest’s views, and Baker is not in the employ of either Maddow or MSNBC. On the whole, she seems to be truthful, but what matters more to Somerby is his *belief* that she operates under the motives he ascribes to her, in which even speaking truth, whether about Nixon or Trump, is viewed as “tribalism.”

  4. “She loves to play the telephone tapes in which they tell their romantic partners that they love to touch their bodies. (Clownishly, she pretends to be embarrassed as she does this again and again.) “

    How many times did she actually play those tapes?

    By some form of “reasoning”, playing sex tapes that were newsworthy somehow disproves that Maddow was embarrassed by them.

    By that reasoning, I would be lying if I showed a newsworthy video of a horrific bombing with blood and guts and said that I was squeamish about blood and guts.

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  6. I was struck by the string of tribal pleasures in the opening segment

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