What He Just Said: The Brilliant Bob Somerby on the Madness of Maureen Dowd

March 30, 2009 9:46 est.

BS was the second guy I ever read on the tubes…-JT

Feel free to focus for five…you little freaks…


STILL DUMBING US DOWN! A former sports guy—and a former Rhodes Scholar—continue to dumb liberals down: // link // print // previous // next //

MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2009

Since we asked: On Friday, we asked a question (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/27/09): Now that the Washington Post had semi-corrected its bungled report about the weakling Obama Admin, would Rachel Maddow follow suit? Last Tuesday night, Maddow’s report had been even more wrong than the Post’s efforts had been.

Did Maddow correct? We’d have to say no. She did devote a lengthy segment to the topic in question—a segment we thought was quite remarkable for the ways it seemed to pretend that Maddow was brilliantly right all along. To see Friday’s segment, just click here (it runs more than seven minutes). We’ll discuss this topic later this week.

By the way, do you want to see Maddow’s original segment? It seems to have disappeared.

The emperor’s favorite columnist: Sadly for you and your whole family, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” may be Hans Christian Andersen’s most contemporary fable. Quite frequently, people simply can’t see lunacy, even as it stands before them—if the lunacy in question involves a famous authority figure.

We thought of Andersen when we read Maureen Dowd’s Sunday column. Dowd is the most famous columnist at our most influential newspaper—and she’s been visibly crazy for years. Yesterday, she seemed to be trying harder to make us see that. Read the whole column if you want. But you may glance away, reaching this:

DOWD (3/29/09): When I was little, growing up in a house that prominently displayed a blue-eyed Jesus and a blue-eyed J.F.K., I felt my brown eyes were far less attractive than my brothers’ blue ones.

I obsessed on it so much, cutting out a picture of a beautiful brown-eyed model and keeping it in my scrapbook, that my mother finally reassured me:

“You look at blue eyes. You look into brown eyes.”

Later, of course, there would be the thrill of Van Morrison serenading a “Brown-Eyed Girl.”

Before Barack Obama, when I interviewed the brown-eyed sons of immigrants who were thinking of running for president, Mario Cuomo and Colin Powell, they seemed torn about taking the big plunge, given how far they had come in relation to their dads.

I asked Governor Cuomo if he was leaving the field to “the privileged blue-eyed WASPs” like Bush senior and Dan Quayle who felt entitled and never worried about their worthiness.

Could that last statement possibly be accurate? In that passage, Dowd seems to be quoting herself. Could she possibly have posed that quoted question to Cuomo? For what it’s worth, there seems to be no record of any such occurrence. According to Nexis, yesterday constitutes the only time the quoted phrase has ever appeared in its archive. We obtained the same non-result from Google. “Privileged blue-eyed WASPs?” We’re a bit surprised, but yesterday seems to be the first time the phrase has ever been used.

Read the whole column if you wish. But as we’ve previously noted, Maureen Dowd has been visibly crazy for years. She was slightly nuts in 1997, when she and Frank Rich invented the claim that Al Gore said he inspired Love Story—the most significant, and most destructive, thing Dowd has ever done. (Unless you liked the past eight years.) She was getting worse by 1999 and 2000, when she kept picturing Candidate Gore worrying about his bald spot. (As you may know, the troubling fellow was “so feminized…he’s practically lactating.”) But Dowd has been visibly crazy for years, and yesterday’s column just makes this point clearer. She’s also the emperor’s best-known columnist, so people just can’t seem to see it.

Maureen Dowd is visibly nuts—and she’s also the most famous columnist at our country’s most influential newspaper. Could there be a more perfect symbol of the deep, bizarre fix your nation is in? A more perfect symbol of what you will inevitably get from a multimillionaire press corps?

By the way: Dowd drew inspiration for yesterday’s column from a slightly odd, but insignificant, news event. Only one or two American newspapers even seem to have mentioned it (though the AP did write one sentence about it). But the New York Post reported the event, in this dispatch—and it gave Dowd her inspiration. We’ve paid a terrible price for Dowd’s bizarre ways—and the famous scribe keeps going strong.

Sadly, there was more: The famous columnist also offered these rambling thoughts. We barely know what to highlight:

DOWD: As the Who sang: “No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man behind blue eyes. No one knows what it’s like to be hated, to be fated to telling only lies.”

Every time Cheney looks into the camera with those ice-blue eyes and says President Obama is making us less safe, it sounds as if he’s secretly hoping we do get attacked just to prove his point that Obama is weak, even if he has to go up in smoke, too.
(When I double-checked the color of Cheney’s eyes, his daughter Liz Cheney jokingly e-mailed back, “Sorry, but that information is classified.”)

Before President Obama, whose brown eyes are opaque when you look into them, presidents have been more known for blue eyes. The ones with brown eyes, Richard Nixon and L.B.J., came a cropper.

Special note on the power of pluralization: “Every time Cheney looks into the camera…and says President Obama is making us less safe?” Unless we’re mistaken, Cheney has done this once, on CNN’s State of the Union. Beyond that, we’ll make a fairly safe guess, for the record:

Liz Cheney “jokingly” e-mailed Dowd—then hummed the Twilight Zone song.

Digby heard the hoo: Digby made an excellent catch with this post. (She’s tougher on Gregory than we would be, though we too were struck by the comment she cites.) This continues to flesh out a long, and comical, and undiscussed island story. More on this topic to come.

Special report: Still dumbing us down!

PART 1—COMFORT FOOD: How dumb can it sometimes get on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show? (For more than a decade, MSNBC has been the cable arm of General Electric’s “news division.”) As Maddow opened last Thursday night’s program, she gave you a rough idea:

MADDOW (3/26/09): Thank you, Keith. And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Yes, Governor Palin has re-emerged, as has RNC Chairman Michael Steele. Ana Marie Cox will be here to help us interpret.

There are also some amazing pictures from the emergency on the Missouri River and Red River in North Dakota—snow and ice and flooding and dynamite. Yes, we will have a live report from the banks of the Red River.

And the great state of New Mexico has a new official song. It’s our cocktail moment tonight and it is excellent!

All that is coming up and much more.

Maddow promised news about Sarah Palin—with help from Cox, a funny joke-writer who doubles as an utterly hapless analyst. There would also be amazing pictures—pictures involving dynamite. Beyond that, we’d share a “cocktail moment”—this time, about a state song.

All this was coming up—and more. So said Maddow as she opened Thursday’s program.

But first, Maddow introduced her program’s first topic—and it almost sounded serious. For ourselves, we wouldn’t mind Maddow’s incessant mugging and clowning so much if she did a better job with basic topics like this:

MADDOW (continuing directly): But first: If you open up your Politics 101 instructional manual to the chapter called “How to not fall for the oldest tricks in the book,” you will find there a line that reads, “When your opponent is baiting you to do something, at least consider not taking that bait.”

Today, with one hastily-called afternoon press conference, Republicans in Congress flunked that portion of Politics 101.

That was the introduction to Maddow’s latest, largely bungled piece of basic budget analysis. As is common on this program, the lengthy segment was high on snark—and rather low on real insight. That said, the segment was perhaps most striking for an apparent bit of dishonesty—for the way Maddow misstated what she had said on this topic just one week before. Maddow, you see, was snarking hard—and her misstatement helped drive the snark higher.

As with Olbermann, so with Maddow: It isn’t just that her “analyses” routinely amount to ideological, canned comfort food. Increasingly, she seems inclined to misstate basic facts as she dishes her rube-pleasing cant.

That opening segment from Thursday’s show involved Maddow’s policy work—and her ability to recall what she had said one week earlier. Those are areas we will discuss as the week progresses. For today, let’s return to that comfort food, the pleasing piffle we were promised at the start of Thursday’s program. In the emerging world of pseudo-liberal media, nothing seems to please us rubes more than snark and smirking aimed at Palin. Presumably, this explains why Maddow opened with that much-teased promise concerning Palin and Steele.

So how about it—was it true? Had Palin and Steele somehow “re-emerged,” as Maddow said at the start of her program? You could imaginably make some such claim about Steele, who had just given what may have been the dumbest interview in political history. (In it, the floundering RNC chairman claimed that his seemingly endless string of mistakes are just part of a grand master plan.) The sheer stupidity of Steele’s remarks meant that they were—and weren’t—newsworthy. Yes, he’d said something amazingly dumb. But for that reason, it’s getting hard to believe that he’ll last very long at his post. (According to Nexis, no newspaper—not even one—reported Steele’s dumb but unimportant remarks.)

Steele had said something amazingly dumb. But Palin hadn’t “re-emerged,” though Maddow was saying she had. To what did Maddow refer? To this: On Thursday, the Alaska GOP had posted the video of a thoroughly meaningless speech Palin had given the previous week—the sort of unremarkable speech major pols give all the time. Palin said nothing remotely newsworthy in the course of the week-old speech. But uh-oh! At the end of the speech, she had told a joke, a joke about her youngest daughter, Piper. (For the full text, see below.) And uh-oh! Her joke involved the subject of prayer; for that reason, large chunks of our gong-show political culture were off to the races, smirking and snarking, as soon as the speech went on-line. A few (unnamed) McCain advisers agreed to get mad about one part of Palin’s joke (the set-up); soon, every hack in the pseudo-liberal world felt that he or she had to poke away at the deeply disturbing event. Maddow teased this pointless event all through Thursday night’s program (details below); in this way, she let viewers know that comfort food was coming, involving the mocking of Palin.

And good God! When Maddow and Cox finally discussed this nonsense, Maddow made an astounding remark:

COX (3/26/09): Sarah Palin, I’d have to say—I don’t think she is following any particular strategy. She seems to— And also, I didn’t know the Alaska—I know the Alaskan Republican Party was small. But is it true they meet at the bottom of a well?

[Muffled staff laughter]

I didn’t see the video, but from the way it sounded, it was really like, kind of lonely.

MADDOW: Yeaaahhh. We put subtitles on it so that you could tell. It was just—

COX: [Laughter]

MADDOW: That’s part of the amazing contrast here, just thinking about Democrats and Republicans in the country right now and who are the big recognizable, you know, household names. That you’ve got Barack Obama literally speaking in Farsi in Iran and in Spanish on Univision and doing—I think 3 million people vote for his online chat. And then you’ve got the Alaska Republican Party posting a handi-cam video of Sarah Palin complaining about the media.

COX: [Laughter]

MADDOW: And those are sort of the two biggest names in politics.

Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are “sort of the two biggest names in politics?” The statement is cosmically silly—though a visitor from Mars might think it was true after watching Maddow and Olbermann snark at the Alaskan each night.

No, Virginia! Barring miraculous transformation, Sarah Palin will never be president; she’s mocked each night as an empty-calorie form of liberal comfort food. In the process, of course, we libs get dumbed down. (By the way: Have you heard the latest about Blago’s funny hair?)

Had Governor Palin “re-emerged?” The statement was completely contrived—as was the absurd attempt, by Maddow and Cox, to plumb the meaning of Palin’s remarks. And no: Maddow’s viewers were never told that Palin was telling a joke when she made the comment the two were reviewing. In fairness, we have no idea if Maddow knew this. But if she knew, would she have tattled?

On Thursday night’s Maddow, you got endless snark about the fact that Palin had prayed (details below). You heard the world’s most absurd discussion about what her joke actually meant. You heard about that new state song, the one that provided that cocktail moment. And in the course of some silly snark about Republicans and the budget process, Maddow basically lied in your face about what she’d said just one week earlier.

But then again, on this same Thursday evening, Countdown may have been even worse.

Alas! MSNBC’s cable shows largely exist to serve certain types of canned comfort food, as they did all through the 1990s. There is one obvious differene, of course. In that decade, cynical, overpaid, corporate-picked hosts fed you endless manufactured crap about both Clintons, then Gore. Now, they feed you crap about Palin—and about Blagojevich’s hair. The targets have changed, but the process has not. You’re still inside a house of games, consuming that comfortable drivel.

For the record, our increasingly clownish liberal news orgs have become impressively skilled at turning jokes into scandals. Last Thursday, The Huffington Post played the fool once again, in this cosmically foolish post about Senators Conrad and Grassley. In meetings of the Senate Budget Committee, the senators had now been joking for two solid days about the praise Conrad’s wife showered on Grassley as she introduced him before a speech. The joking continued in Thursday’s session. But here’s the utterly ludicrous headline atop the HuffPo’s post:

Senators Get Nasty: “You’re Good”… “Your Wife Said the Same Thing”

“Senators Get Nasty?” Actually, if progressives have a real complaint about this two-day jokeathon, it involves the fairly obvious close friendship between committee chairman Conrad, a Dem, and Grassley, a conservative Republican. The two men had joked and quipped for two days. But at HuffPo, a familiar type of gong-show commenced. You were given the thrill—and the comfort food—of hearing that Grassley got nasty.

You also got that much more dumb.

Tomorrow, we’ll help you see how utterly stupid that post really was—how thoroughly you can get played for fools at these game-playing sites. But let’s step back and see the big picture as we start this week’s report about liberal programs on cable:

You were played for fools all through the last decade; today, you’re being played again. The targets have changed, but the culture has not. This time, GE’s news gang is on your side. They’ve hired a former sports guy—and a former Rhodes Scholar—who, in routine and unfortunate ways, continue to dumb liberals down.

About that troubling joke: Palin gave a speech like any other speech, the kind pols give every day. (The Anchorage Daily News didn’t bother reporting the speech, for perfectly obvious reasons.) And by the way—most pols like to close with a laugh. As Palin closed, she started telling a story about her youngest daughter:

PALIN: Now, we need to encourage those who are bold enough to step into the leadership. We need to hear from our elders. And we need to acknowledge that there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors, especially our elders. We need to invite critical thought.

Governor Hammond used to say, “If you want good advice, you go to the very young and the very old.” And I’ve got one Piper story I’ve got to tell you. She’s full of stories. I’ve got to share this one with you, speaking of the very young and wisdom there.

It was the night of the vice presidential debate against Biden.

So, I`m getting ready to go out there on stage. And, before any big thing, I pray. And I ask for, you know, God`s wisdom, his strength, and everything else, and I dedicate it to God and ask him to lift me up.

Before you start to snark too much, Dr. King used to do the same thing. (We don’t.) At any rate, as Palin continued, her story turned into a joke:

PALIN (continuing directly): So, I`m looking around for somebody to pray with. I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra. Well, and the McCain campaign—love them, you know, there are a lot of people around me—but nobody that I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray with. So I’m looking around—

[Audience laughter]

Because they know I respect them. That doesn’t mean anything. There’s no one around—but Piper! So I grabbed Piper right before I go out there to talk to Biden, speak against him—whatever, debate Biden. I said, “Piper, come here, pray with me. Gosh, you know, I want to win this debate…So just pray that God gives me strength, that he speaks through me.”

She said: “Well. That’d be cheating!” [end of speech]

Big pols like to close with a laugh. Palin got a giant laugh (with an applause break), as you can hear on the tape. Just click here; this material starts around 3:45.

By the way: Before today, had you even heard that this story involves a joke?

Palin told a joke—and it got a big laugh. But Maddow, GE’s latest hire, brought the hapless Cox aboard and the giants “analyzed” what this episode meant—forgetting to tell you, as they did, that Palin had been telling a joke. As is typical on this network, Cox seemed to say she hadn’t even looked at the tape in question. She did know what Palin’s remarks meant.

Teasing the food: For the record, here are some of the ways this nonsense got teased during the Thursday night program:

MADDOW: Yes, Governor Palin has re-emerged, as has RNC Chairman Michael Steele. Ana Marie Cox will be here to help us interpret.

MADDOW: Later, Ana Marie Cox joins us to start designing our Palin/Steele 2012 tee-shirts. We are going to make a mint.

MADDOW: As a member of the media, I hereby seek to understand. As long as it means I get to watch a lot of Michael Steele and Sarah Palin all the time. Ana Marie Cox joins us shortly with popcorn.

MADDOW: The McCain campaign unable to meet the vice presidential nominee’s prayer needs. News.

We libs seem to love such comfort food. In the process, we get dumbed down.

Tomorrow—Part 2: Maddow and Olbermann tackle the issues.

Part 3: Their honesty.

Part 4: Mugging and clowning.

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