Rachel disappears: For unknown reasons, Brian Williams always refers to Newark the way he did on his cable news program this Monday.
As he introduced Newark's mayor, Williams described the city's ongoing water problem. Along the way, he repeated his standard, somewhat peculiar description of Newark:
WILLIAMS (9/9/19): As we've been covering for weeks here, thousands of people in Newark, New Jersey, remain without safe drinking water, as workers scramble to replace lead service lines. More on those in just a moment. The city, along with Essex County, announced a $120 million bond that is expected to greatly speed up this process.As Williams noted, he's been "covering" the water problem in Newark since the middle of August.
The estimates are that it will take two or three years to replace the 18,000 service lines. That means the pipes from the street into your house. In the meantime, many thousands of people still left to depend on bottled water.
We are so happy to have with us tonight the two-term mayor of the largest city and the most densely populated state in our union, Ras Baraka.
Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for coming in.
In our view, his performance has been strange. Let's start with something which may seem trivial—the way he persistently describes the city in question.
The first part of his description is true! Newark is indeed "the largest city" in New Jersey!
On the other hand, the fact that New Jersey is "the most densely populated state in our union" has absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand.
It's a completely irrelevant fact! But Williams always refers to Newark that way, for reasons which go unexplained.
The irrelevant reference may tend to heighten a viewer's sense of the size of the problem in Newark. At any rate, Williams' overall coverage of this matter has often seemed strangely political. It reminds us of the frequently clownish way Williams pimped GOP interests back in 1999 and 2000, during the Bush-Gore campaign, when he kept attacking one candidate's wardrobe and psychiatric state while swooning for Candidate Bush.
Back in mid-August, Williams staged a series of virtual heart attacks about this problem in Newark. As he did, he seemed to advance a fair amount of misinformation—a problem which continued on Monday night as he spoke with Mayor Baraka.
His August 22 interview with Democratic governor Phil Murphy struck us as remarkably hostile and partisan. We were impressed by Murphy's ability to keep from responding in kind.
On Monday night, Williams was much calmer, and much more civil, with Mayor Baraka. That said, we were struck by these remarks as Williams compared the coverage of Newark to the earlier coverage of water problems in Flint, Michigan:
WILLIAMS: A big difference with Flint, and I'll be candid, is, if you look at the landscape, Flint gave the left a big Republican target.That's what a lot of folks are wondering, Williams thoughtfully said.
WILLIAMS: In Newark, it's a field of blue. All you can see is blue, from the mayor to the governor to Senator Menendez. Oh, look, we got a U.S. senator who lives in Newark, who's a former mayor of Newark!
WILLIAMS: So a lot of folks wonder if this isn't a greater crisis than the incumbent Democrats are making it out to be.
Williams seems to be one of those people. Let's get clear on his meaning:
Governor Murphy is a Democrat. Mayor Baraka is a Democrat. So are both New Jersey senators—and one of those senators, Senator Booker, is a former Newark mayor who's currently running for president!
For those reasons, Williams wondered if Democrats might be sweeping this problem under the rug. Democrats went after Republican governor Rick Snyder hard when the problem was in Flint. Are Democrats taking a softer approach now that the focus is Newark?
It's a perfectly reasonable question, though Williams raised it rather quickly. The answer might even be yes!
That said, we were especially struck by what Williams said because of Rachel's performance.
Rachel Maddow went after Governor Snyder, and perhaps a Pulitzer prize, when the water problem was in Flint. She tried and tried, and tried and tried, to get the Republican governor thrown into jail. Her coverage went on and on and on, often with thumbs on various scales.
Now the problem is in Newark, and Rachel hasn't said the first freaking word about it. And yes, as best we can tell, we mean that statement literally:
We've gone through all the Maddow transcripts since August 1, and we can't find a single reference to Newark's water problem. If you watch only the Maddow Show, this problem doesn't exist.
She screamed and yelled about the water in Flint. Regarding the water in Newark, a partisan might be inclined to say that she has taken a dive.
Williams' coverage of Newark has been over the top and frequently incompetent. He has rarely seemed to be fully prepared, unless you mean fully prepared to rant, declaim and posture.
Maddow's pattern has been different. Did Brian have his colleague in mind when he made Monday's remarks?
We'll try to return to this topic some day to focus on Brian's factual bungles. He was especially foolish Monday night on the question of whether it's safe to bathe in Newark's water.
(Citing the EPA's official reports, Baraka said yes, it is. It just isn't safe to drink it, he said, noting that his pregnant wife and his mother and quite a few other relatives are dealing with this ongoing problem just like everyone else.)
That said, Williams has seemed remarkably partisan in his coverage of Newark. He's the opposite of his once impassioned colleague, whose fondness for telling children that they've been "poisoned" seems to have disappeared.
Brian and Rachel are two of our liberal tribe's current corporate sachems. Brian's coverage of Newark has struck us as overtly partisan. Rachel's silence has struck us as somewhat odd.
Corporate owners select these tribal stars for us. Being human, we liberals are strongly inclined to believe every word they tell us. This is an anthropological problem, according to the top future experts from whom we now take our cues.
And now, for a look at the record: It isn't hard to describe Newark's size. Its population stands at 282,000, but the water problem only affects part of the city.
Baraka seemed to say that 14,000 homes are involved in this ongoing problem. That seems to comport with earlier reporting in the New York Times.