THURSDAY, JANUARY 28, 2021
Elsewhere, incoherence: Last night, indefatigably, Lawrence tried it again.
In an earlier life, Lawrence was a high-level Senate staffer. He understands that body's arcane procedures. He understands its peculiar language.
Lawrence understands such matters. As our journalists keep proving this week, almost no one else does.
Right at the start of last night's show, Lawrence tried it again! He tried to explain Tuesday's Senate vote, in which 55 senators voted one way while 45 voted the other.
The vote has been regarded as very important, but what were the senators actually voting on? Like silly Sisyphus pushing his rock, Lawrence decided to try it again, right at the start of his program:
O'DONNELL (1/27/21): Well yesterday, the Senate voted to proceed to the impeachment trial of Donald Trump without first debating whether it is constitutional to have an impeachment trial of a president who has already left office.
That is actually what they voted on. They did not vote on whether to have a trial at all. It never came to that point in the voting, never got even close to that.
The Senate is going to have that debate about the constitutionality of impeaching a president after the president's left office, or having the impeachment trial. But yesterday, 55 senators, including five Republicans, voted to have that debate during the trial, not before the trial.
That's all that happened yesterday—the question of the timing of when to have that debate.
It has been reported as something bigger than that, but that's not what happened. It's simply about do we debate this now, or do we debate this later.
Lawrence simplified his remarks from Tuesday night as he tried it again. Specifically, he dropped his discussion about the Senate lingo in which a debate or discussion is said to have been "tabled."
To some extent, Lawrence dumbed his discussion down. But once again, he tried to explain what the Senate had actually voted on when it held that Tuesday vote.
According to Lawrence, the 45 were voting to debate the question of constitutionality right now, as opposed to later. Because the 55 voted the other way, that debate will now be held as part of the actual trial.
"It has been reported as something bigger than that," Lawrence said, "but that's not what happened."
Once again, Lawrence tried. As he continued, he even seemed to suggest that there still might be 17 Republican votes for conviction during the actual trial.
That strikes us as extremely unlikely. But Wednesday's vote doesn't rule it out.
Given his knowledge of Senate procedure and Senate lingo, Lawrence once again tried to explain what had been voted on. According to Lawrence, the Senate had voted to delay the debate about constitutionality—to make it part of the actual Senate trial.
"It has been reported as something bigger than that," Lawrence said. When he did, mordant chuckles were heard across the rolling landscape of our sprawling campus.
Tuesday's vote "has been reported as something bigger than that?" Indeed, the vote has been described as something bigger than that all over MSNBC, the corporate clubhouse from which Lawrence's broadcast airs on weekday nights.
It even happened last night! One hour after Lawrence offered his second explanation, the vote was "reported as something bigger than that" by Brian Williams.
Three minutes into his own program, Williams offered this account of Tuesday's Senate vote:
WILLIAMS (1/27/21): Yesterday, most Republican senators voted against moving ahead with the trial. A narrow majority voted to move forward...Minority leader Mitch McConnell remains publicly noncommittal on conviction although he did vote to toss out the House impeachment case.
"That's not what happened," Lawrence had said, exactly one hour earlier.
According to Williams, McConnell had voted "to toss out the case," but he still might vote for conviction! No, that doesn't quite seem to make sense. In fairness, his hair was perfect.
Early this morning, the vote was "reported as something bigger than that" by Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski. "Only five Republicans voted to move forward with the impeachment trial," Mika excitingly said at 6:54 A.M. Eastern.
Also, the vote is "reported as something bigger than that" all over this morning's New York Times and Washington Post, Our Town's most beloved newspapers.
We in Our Town are inclined to believe the things we read in those papers. But alas! Here's the way the vote is described in this morning New York Times, in a News Analysis piece by Fandos and Martin:
FANDOS AND MARTIN (1/28/21): Three times in recent weeks, as Republicans grappled with a deadly attack on the Capitol and their new minority status in Washington, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky carefully nudged open the door for his party to kick Donald J. Trump to the curb, only to find it slammed shut.
So his decision on Tuesday to join all but five Republican senators in voting to toss out the House’s impeachment case against Mr. Trump as unconstitutional seemed to be less a reversal than a recognition that the critical mass of his party was not ready to join him in cutting loose the former president...
Like Brian, Fandos and Martin said that McConnell (and the 44 others) had been "voting to toss out the House’s impeachment case against Mr. Trump."
Lawrence keeps explaining that no, "that's not what happened." Inevitably, though, that's what it says in the New York Times analysis piece, and in the only letter the Times chose to run on this topic today.
(The letter starts by referring to "the vote by Republican senators against holding an impeachment trial." To read it, just click here.)
Over at the Washington Post, we find at least three different attempts to explain what the senators voted on. All three accounts strike us as rather murky. All three tend to make Tuesday's vote sound like "something bigger" than Lawrence keeps saying it was.
McConnell voted to toss out the impeachment case, but he might still vote for conviction! Such puzzlements tend to go right down when they're offered on the corporate channel where the stars and the contributors both are among our own favorite friends.
That said, the incoherence of these accounts is nothing unusual. It's the modern-day journalistic norm, even over here in Our Town, where we denizens tend to feel that we actually are "the rational animal."
This incoherence has long been the reliable journalistic norm as our nation slides toward the sea. In the current instance, the only break from the norm is being offered by Lawrence:
It very unusual to see someone say that everyone else has it wrong! Dearest darlings, it just isn't done! It hasn't been done for decades.
For our money, it's very unlikely that Donald J. Trump will be convicted at his impeachment trial. For better or worse, that will leave the former commander "acquitted" and equipped with a new talking-point.
Some Republicans may vote to convict, but we'll guess that very few will. In part, that's because of the constant talk about finding ways to disqualify Trump from running in 2024, the peculiar part of the ongoing deal which never gets discussed.
We began planning this site in 1997. One trigger was the endless, incoherent debate about Newt Gingrich's Medicare proposal.
Was Gingrich proposing "cuts" to the Medicare program? Or was he simply "slowing the rate at which the program would grow?"
Night after night, then month after month, our upper-end scribes tried to puzzle it out. They kept debating the topic on Crossfire, creating gigantic amounts of confusion as they stumbled along.
No one could say what the truth really was. When it came to a search for the truth, that just wasn't one of their skills.
Our upper-end cadre just isn't real sharp. If we hope to stop our slide toward the sea, we need to acknowledge, and come to terms with, this very basic anthropological point.
Tomorrow: Biden cast as a liar
Still coming: What is truth in film?
Next week: At long last, truth in race