TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2021
Community leaders choose war: Yesterday afternoon, we mentioned one of the pleasing scripts which have been widely deployed in Our Town.
The script has been recited in different ways. We provided a link to this iteration, as seen in the New York Times:
BROADWATER (2/13/21): Seven Republican senators voted on Saturday to convict former President Donald J. Trump in the most bipartisan vote for a presidential impeachment conviction in United States history. The margin still fell 10 votes short of the two-thirds needed to find him guilty.
Luke Broadwater's highlighted description is, of course, fundamentally accurate.
It's true! There had never been a Senate vote—not in all of American history!—in which so many members of the impeached president's party had voted for his conviction.
This stirring fact has been recited all through the streets of Our Town. Yesterday, we added a splash of context:
Before this past weekend, there had only been three such impeachment votes in all of American history! For that reason, the fact that Saturday's vote was the most bipartisan ever was perhaps not the world's most humongous deal.
Script may work in this way. A stirring claim will be repeated again and again, even if the stirring claim provides a bit more pleasure than insight—colloquially, a bit more heat than light.
Whatever! In fairness, the scripted claims in question were true—until 9:05 Eastern last night. At that time, a multimillionaire cable news host did what she constantly does.
Nancy Pelosi will be forming a commission to investigate the January 6 riot, she told her spellbound viewers. Then, the major star offered this:
UNIDENTIFIED CABLE NEWS STAR (2/15/21): That said, the record of what happened—particularly, the record of the president's personal culpability for what happened—is a public record already that, frankly, was very well developed by the the impeachment trial which which ended this weekend in the Senate in the most lopsided, most bipartisan impeachment vote against any president ever—a 57-43 vote to convict former president Donald Trump.
Within the industry, it's known as "the Gingrich Maneuver." Whenever these people say the word "frankly," onlookers should prepare to hear some type of misstatement.
In this case, the cable star had engaged in one of her standard embellishments. It's true that Saturday's vote was "the most bipartisan ever" (out of four)—but no, it wasn't "the most lopsided."
Unable to help herself, the star had inserted that second claim. Or maybe her staff threw it in.
As we noted yesterday, the first of our four presidential impeachments produced a much more "lopsided" vote in favor of conviction.
Way back in 1868, Andrew Johnson escaped conviction by the skin of his teeth. He escaped conviction by a single vote, not by the comfortable ten-vote margin Commander Trump enjoyed.
In Johnson's trial, 35 senators voted him "guilty," 19 voted "not guilty." Johnson was denounced as guilty by 65% of the vote, Trump by a mere 57.
Needless to say, none of this actually matters. This raises the question of why the cable star so reliably adds such embellishment to perfectly workable scripts.
We can't necessarily answer your question. For the record, one misstatement is rarely enough on this high-rated cable news show:
UNIDENTIFIED MAJOR STAR (continuing directly): Now, 57 votes out of 100 is a clear majority—and again, that's the largest vote ever against a president in an impeachment trial.
Exactly as the cable star said, there she went "again!"
Was Saturday's 57 guilty votes really "the largest vote ever?" If you don't adjust for the increased size of the Senate, well yes, it certainly is!
Also, President Lincoln's salary was shockingly small if you don't adjust for inflation.
This particular cable star loves to throw the inaccurate log on the fire. Within the business, this is known as "adding the fourth button," a locution which dates to Arianna Huffington's wonderfully comical embellishment during the long and angry press corps war against Candidate Gore's deeply troubling wardrobe selections—in this case, his troubling choice of suits.
The candidate's suit jackets had three buttons, not two; this troubled the children no end. Brian Williams complained about it for three months. The angry anchor joined Chris Matthews in insisting that the choice of the three-button jackets was some sort of nefarious secret signal to the nation's female voters.
(Yes. That's what they said.)
Along came Arianna, a perfectly decent and very bright person. Speaking on Geraldo Rivera's nightly MSNBC show, she comically offered this:
HUFFINGTON (11/9/99): Frankly, you know, what is fascinating is that the way he's now dressing makes a lot of people feel disconnected from him. And there was this marvelous story in one of the New Hampshire papers saying, “Nobody here—nobody here in Hanover, New Hampshire, wears tan suits with blue shirts.” You know, it's just—and buttons—all four buttons! You know, it's not just--it's just not the way most American males dress.
For a fuller chunk of this crackpot discussion, you can just click here. (In those days; Geraldo was a Clinton supporter, one of the only such people on cable. He show aired every weeknight.)
That entire discussion was a clownish, brain-damaged debacle. That said, the hopeful in question had worn no four-button suits.
Perhaps in an attempt to stand out among a gang of faithful script-readers, one extremely intelligent pundit had sewn a fourth button onto his deeply troubling suits. Within the industry, this comical comment has given a name to a whole set of such add-ons.
Arianna had improved on the prevailing (ridiculous) script. So did the major star, last night, with an utterly pointless, yet tribally pleasing, inaccurate add-on statement.
Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. Elite pundits gotta push script.
People are dead all over Iraq because the children spent the entire month of November 1999 launching attacks against that candidate's troubling wardrobe selections (his boots; his suits; his polo shirts; the puzzling number of buttons.) In fairness, it's amazingly safe to keep reciting preapproved pundit script.
Occasionally, a major star will come along to embellish the preapproved script. When it happened again last night, our youthful analysts screamed and yowled and flopped on the floor, as if in physical pain.
As noted, this massively over-praised cable star does this quite routinely. And no, this type of conduct doesn't matter, unless you're wondering why all those people are dead in Iraq—including all those American soldiers.
Last night, this silly child's silly embellishment didn't actually matter a whit. But from there, she moved directly to another script.
More accurately, she moved to a Storyline everyone is now reciting here in the streets of Our Town:
She told us how the 43 Republican senators had cast their "not guilty" votes in obvious bad faith. That may well be true, of course—but this treasured Storyline leads in an unhelpful direction.
Lawrence O'Donnell came on the air last night right after this unnamed star. As he started, he contradicted the stance he had adopted in recent weeks, in which he'd said there was a chance Trump could be convicted.
As we noted last week, Lawrence had expressed that view on several occasions. Last night, at 10:08 Eastern, Lawrence threw his previous stance down the memory hole:
O'DONNELL (2/15/21): The most that fair-minded evaluators of the evidence could have hoped for at the beginning of the Senate trial was a majority vote of guilty. Fifty-one votes for guilty would have been bipartisan, and it would have bene the highest number of guilty votes in the history of presidential impeachment trials.
Fifty-one votes would have been great! This flew in the face of what Lawrence had said all through the past two weeks. And by the way, it's true:
Fifty-one votes for guilty would have been the highest number ever. Here too, Lawrence was only able to make this pleasing claim by failing to adjust for the increase in the size of the Senate over the past 150 years.
So it goes when Our Town's cable nannies sew their buttons on. So it goes when these corporate stooges treat us like fools in Our Town.
In truth, we aren't gigantically bright in Our Town—and we're wired just like The Others. Last night, though, there was an unusual departure from form:
Lawrence O'Donnell spilled with praise for Mitch McConnell's speech.
Surprisingly, McConnell had offered a gift to Our Town. In our experience, only O'Donnell has seemed to see this. Everyone else has been spending their time attacking the bad man's motives.
In such ways, our tribal leaders have plumped for endless war. "This is the way our species is wired," disconsolate experts have said.
Tomorrow: What McConnell said