FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2020
Our human race all the way down: For our money, Susan Page didn't do a very good job moderating Wednesday's debate.
That shouldn't be all that surprising. It's hard to moderate a presidential or vice presidential debate, especially at a time like this.
Meanwhile, Page has always been a print journalist. She isn't experienced at the difficult task of conducting a real-time discussion with several competing players.
Page was cast in an unfamiliar role. That said, we don't think she did a real great job:
For starters, it didn't really make sense to divide the 90-minute session into nine different ten-minute segments. If a topic is worth discussing at all, there's little chance that it can be discussed, by two warring candidates, in the space of ten minutes.
(The debate commission agreed to that framework. That makes them a bit clueless too.)
Beyond that, we'd have to say that some of Page's segment-launching questions weren't well chosen. Below, you see the question with which she started her second ten-minute segment:
After directing this question to Pence, she posed the same question to Harris:
PAGE (10/7/20): Vice President Pence, there’ve been a lot of repercussions from this pandemic. In recent days, the President’s diagnosis of COVID-19 has underscored the importance of the job that you hold and that you are seeking. That’s our second [ten-minute] topic tonight. It’s the role of the Vice President.
One of you will make history on January 20th. You will be the Vice President to the oldest President the United States has ever had. Donald Trump will be 74 years old on inauguration day. Joe Biden will be 78 years old. That already has raised concerns among some voters, concerns that have been sharpened by President Trump’s hospitalization in recent days.
Vice President Pence, have you had a conversation or reached an agreement with President Trump about safeguards or procedures when it comes to the issue of presidential disability? And if not, do you think you should? You have two minutes without interruption.
No one was ever going to answer that question. Indeed, neither Pence nor Harris did.
In their non-response responses, neither candidate said a single word which responded to that question. You can confirm that statement by reviewing the transcript of the debate.
Neither candidate said a single word in direct response to that question. For her part, Page completely ignored their refusal to answer, just as she'd done when Pence refused to respond to her first basic question—a question to which Harris had responded in the most minimal way possible.
Page was an inexperienced moderator; we thought her inexperience showed. Then too, there's the haplessness, and perhaps the dishonesty, of the upper-end press corps in general.
Consider a post-debate debate which quickly broke out. The question at issue was this:
Did Candidate Pence get to speak more than Candidate Harris did? Last night, Lawrence O'Donnell started his "cable news" TV show by making that very claim:
O'DONNELL (10/8/20): Once again, a debate moderator lost control of the debate last night and allowed Mike Pence to interrupt and get more speaking time than Kamala Harris. Caroline Randall Williams will discuss how and why that happened at the end of this hour tonight.
Exciting! Lawrence repeated the claim throughout his TV show. It formed the basis of his closing segment—a segment which featured additional claims which struck us as deeply unfortunate but also as deeply instructive.
Let's start at the beginning. Was Lawrence's statement accurate? Did Pence get more speaking time more than Harris?
At least three different news orgs tried to answer that question. This is what they reported:
Speaking time for Pence and Harris:
CNN: Pence spoke for 36 minutes and 27 seconds; Harris spoke for 36 minutes and 24 seconds.
CBS News: Pence 38 minutes; Harris 35 minutes
USA Today: Harris 34:05; Pence 33:09
Out of that Rashomon, Lawrence emerged. He emerged with a storyline his viewers wanted to hear.
He stated his tribally pleasing claim at the start of his TV program. He made no attempt to quantify his tribally pleasing assertion.
He attached no numbers to his statement; he cited no source for his claim. And good God! At the start of his final segment, he offered this racialized amplification:
O'DONNELL: As I said last night during our debate coverage, were if not for Donald Trump, Mike Pence would be the rudest debater we have seen on the debate stage.
Karen Attiah, global opinions editor at the Washington Post, writes:
"The way Susan Page more aggressively tried to limit Harris’s time was all too familiar in how white women can also be complicit in silencing black women.
"Harris pushed back at both Page and Pence, and tenaciously fought to make her case for a Biden presidency. Harris made walking that tightrope look easy. But I wish black women didn’t have to work so hard. I yearn for an America where non-white women don’t have to battle for the bare minimum: to be allowed to speak."
At the end of his previous segment, Lawrence had played tape from Wednesday's debate while offering this assertion:
"The moderator gave more speaking time to Mike Pence."
Now, it wasn't just that Harris got cheated by the moderator. Now, this was just another example of what "white" women do!
At this point, Lawrence even dared to say Page's name, hiding behind Attiah's skirts in order to do so. After quoting Attiah this way, he introduced his guest:
O'DONNELL (continuing directly): Joining us now is Caroline Randall Williams. She is a writer in residence at Vanderbilt University...
Thank you for joining us tonight. As I was watching this last night, and as I was watching the dynamic playing out on stage with two people interrupting Kamala Harris and making sure that Mike Pence got more speaking time, I just kept wondering, "What does Caroline think about what we're watching here?"
No one kisses (carefully-selected) keister quite the way Lawrence does. With that, he introduced Williams, a 33-year-old "author, poet and academic best known for the 2015 cookbook Soul Food Love, co-written with her mother, the author Alice Randall, and published by Random House."
Williams is a youngish poet. She's also writer in residence at a highly regarded major university.
She's also, rather plainly, Lawrence's latest amorata. (There's nothing wrong with that, until such time as there is.)
Williams' lack of experience as a political analyst matches Page's lack of experience as a debate moderator. That doesn't mean that her observations last night were wrong.
If you want to see what she proceeded to say, you can just click here. (MSNBC no longer produces transcripts of its TV shows.)
Concerning Lawrence, we'll offer this:
He'd now said that Page joined forces with Pence, "making sure that Mike Pence got more speaking times" than Harris.
That's an astonishing accusation. But as you can see, the plot succeeded. CNN toted it up:
Speaking time as result of Page-Pence conspiracy:
Pence: 36 minutes and 27 seconds
Harris: 36 minutes and 24 seconds
Where does Candidate Harris go to get her three seconds back? (Or whatever it actually was. There was no sign that Lawrence had any idea how long the two candidates spoke.)
By now, Lawrence had gone out of his way to frame this as a racial offense. He'd advanced the idea that this was just the sort of thing that "white" women commonly do.
In our view, this was amazingly ugly stuff. Much more to the point, it was spectacularly stupid, assuming that any part of this performance was actually done in good faith.
That said, Lawrence has played these games for a very long time. In our view, it's ugly, stupid stuff.
Given our nation's brutal racial history, there's no way to avoid the manifestations Lawrence ran with last night. Benighted ancestors willed us this. Cable stars move it along.
Concerning Attiah, we'll only say this:
At the ripe old age of 34, she's held a high position at the Washington Post for years. We have no idea what her competence may be in the realm of global affairs. She may be highly capable, though almost no one is.
On topics like the current topic, she has been relentlessly awful within the last year—and her awfulness helps establish several points:
Attiah and Williams are, at best, extremely mediocre political analysts. At 34 and 33, one holds a high position at the Washington Post. The other holds a cushy spot at a top university, and is now constantly featured on an MSNBC "cable news" TV show.
Their mediocrity, joined to their status, helps establish several points.
For one thing, it's hard to say that black women "have to battle for the bare minimum: to be allowed to speak" when these two writers are afforded prominent ways to offer deeply aggressive, unfounded claims about a person like Page.
This is the sort of stupid shit Donald J. Trump performs. Just for the record, cable is full of youngish black women being asked to do the same sorts of things.
A second obvious point is suggested by an episode like this:
People who are socially defined as "black" can be just as incompetent as the "white" people they've begun to replace at long last. They can even be as incompetent as the slightly disordered "white" TV stars who promote their claims on the air.
Lawrence's conduct was a disgrace. That said, he's been like this for decades now. By way of quick background:
Lawrence became a fiery feminist when fiery feminism became cool. He said nothing—nothing at all—during the long, destructive years when colleagues within NBC cable were sliming Hillary Clinton (and other liberal women) in overtly misogynistic ways.
Lawrence kept his pretty trap shut during those long, destructive years. Those awful years, and the silence of climbers like Lawrence, ended up putting Trump where he is.
Now, Lawrence preens and postures. He aggressively kisses Rachel's keister each night, thus perhaps extending his own career. He's even willing to pretend that he believes what he offered last night.
Williams seems like a very nice person. Last night, her performance struck as thought-free and irresponsible.
Lawrence is something else again. To wit:
It isn't clear that Candidate Harris spoke less than Pence at all. If she did, the difference in speaking time doesn't seem to have been vast—not that Lawrence showed any sign of having tried to figure this matter out.
That said, the notion that Page engaged in a plot comes to us from Trump-On-Steroids Land. The claim that her conduct was racially motivated—well. how low can a corporate hack go?
Lawrence has been like this for a very long time. Because he's old and set in his ways, the conduct will never stop.
In the end, though, this is human behavior. It's natural to the "white" and the "black," and to everyone else.
Because the players are all human, their behavior is tribal all the way down. It has nothing to so with "rational" assessment. Forget all the stuff you've been told!
It defines the long, steady "journalistic" decline which ended with Trump where he is. People like Lawrence and Brian and Chris have been selling you bullshit for decades. At one time, they worked for Jack Welch!