THREE DAYS OF THE TURKEY: Christopher Matthews does it again!


Our own leading turkey takes flight:
With the gatekeepers gone, we're learning what we the people have presumably always been like.

When the major political parties were in the hands of elite gatekeepers, potential candidates like Candidate Trump weren't allowed into the mix.

Now, we pick our candidates almost wholly through primaries. With media gatekeepers gone as well, we're learning that there's a pretty good market for a hopeful like Trump.

Over here in our liberal tents, we can see the many misstatements of a person like Trump. We can't see the way we love our own brand of dissembling, most of which currently turns on matters of gender and race.

Over in the conservative tents, they can see this about us. They're told about it every day. Much of what they're being told is, alas, perfectly accurate.

There's something else we liberals can't see. We can't see how dumb we liberals have been for all these countless years.

We can see that The Others are dumb. We can't spot the trait in ourselves.

How dumb have we been for all these years? Last Friday night, the biggest turkey of them all took wing and flew again.

Chris Matthews was hosting a panel which included Eliana Johnson, Washington editor for the National Review. A bit of background on Johnson:

She graduated from Yale in 2006; she joined the National Review in 2012. In the interim, she spent three years as a segment producer for Sean Hannity at Fox.

Three years producing segments for Sean? Journalistically, that's a horrible background. Having offered that word of warning, let's return to last Friday's Hardball.

At one point, Matthews asked Johnson why so many conservatives say that Obama's a Muslim. The turkey was soon in the air.

As any Hannity droog would do, Johnson quickly recited the standard canard concerning Candidate Clinton. And good God! Matthews quickly affirmed and embellished Johnson's claim. He then tossed in an older canard concerning Candidate Gore!

With apologies, we haven't been able to compare the transcript of Friday's Hardball program to videotape. The tape of the horrible segment in question doesn't appear at the Hardball site.

That said, the transcript seems to provide a reasonably faithful version of the exchange, which we watched several times at the end of last week. What are we the people actually like? The exchange offers a taste of the journalistic inventions of the past twenty years.

We start with the canard about Candidate Clinton. Here's what happened when Matthews asked why Republican voters keep saying Obama's a Muslim:
MATTHEWS (11/20/15): Why do people keep saying that, Eliana? They do they keep telling pollsters that?

JOHNSON: Well, I have to say, I do think it's amusing that it's Hillary Clinton, it's the Clintons who first put this out there about Obama being a Muslim.

MATTHEWS: Why did she do it?

JOHNSON: I think because it's a pretty effective way, when you start to question whether somebody is American in their origin.


MATTHEWS: Do you think that's an American thing to do?

JOHNSON: No, I don't. I think it's an abominable campaign tactic. But I do think it's worth it to remember that it was, in 2007, the Clintons who did this.

MATTHEWS: I know. It's their original sin.

JOHNSON: The dirtiest campaign in the country.
We hate to spoil the party, but Clinton didn't "first put out there about Obama being a Muslim." By way of contrast, Candidate Trump spent several years broadcasting versions of this canard in every possible forum.

Despite this minor problem, Matthews didn't simply agree with Johnson's mandated canard. He actually added to her claim, calling this action-which-didn't-occur the Clintons' "original sin."

The Clintons' conduct was un-American, our number-one turkey intoned.

Surely, that would have been awful enough. But this particular corporate gobbler wasn't finished yet:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Jeanne, if you name it on this— I know it was Al Gore who used the Willie Horton—



MATTHEWS: We know that history.


MATTHEWS: Why is that funny? It's terrible.
Good God! After playing the old Clinton-called-Obama-a-Muslim card, Matthews even reached all the way back. He repeated the pitiful RNC claim that it was really Candidate Gore who invented the ugly, racialized mess concerning Willie Horton.

(In real time, no one pimped that line more than Hannity, though this was before Johnson's time. Last Friday, Chris helped the horrible Johnson out, reciting this old canard for her.)

Can we talk? In the realm of "cable news," Matthews is the original Trump. He was Trump before Donald Trump was a gleam in cable's eye.

At the time, Matthews was being made extremely rich by his corporate owner, conservative zillionaire Jack Welch. He played the Trump role for many years with his crazy Clinton/Gore-hating misstatements.

The liberal world just sat there and took it. E.J. Dionne? Lawrence O'Donnell? They both agreed not to notice. Today, they're on MSNBC!

At this point, we the liberals can actually see that Trump is making crazy, inaccurate, harmful misstatements. Because he's in the GOP, we're able to see it and say it.

We were too dumb and ineffective to ever react to Matthews. We still can't bring ourselves to understand the way our favorite liberal media stars have covered for his appalling conduct every step of the way.

Today, we watch Chris on our own One True Channel; we see our darling Rachel fawn about how much she loves and admires the man she calls her dear friend. He still says things like the ones shown above. We're too hopeless and soft to react.

Why does our tribe favor Matthews today? Because he gives us the R-bombs we deeply love—the R-bombs we seem to love more than life itself. We're inclined to ask nothing more from our "intellectual leaders."

Those R-bombs are our own tribe's version of Donald Trump's Syrian/Muslim slanders. They convince us that The Very Bad People can all be found Over There. In all of human history, tribal groups have rarely asked for much more.

("Moral equivalence," we liberals will cry. Like people who swallow Hannity-Johnson's guff, we liberals know three or four plays.)

We can see what They are doing. It's harder for us to see the truth about the multimillionaire corporate turkeys who have been assigned to Us down through these many destructive and deeply ridiculous years.

He knows from un-American: Matthews knows all about un-American.

In the wake of 9/11, he shared these thoughts about ex-candidate Gore with Don Imus, who was extremely influential at the time:

"He doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American, even."

Yes, he actually said it! He said it on Imus' radio show, which was still being simulcast on MSNBC at that time.

We liberals just sat there and took it. For the record, Christopher Matthews was still Donald Trump at that point in time.

Imus was in rare form that morning (November 2, 2001). For a fuller account of his thoughtful remarks, just click here, then scroll to The Daily Update.

We've accepted this crap every step of the way. Who in the name of creation are we to mock the gullible average voters in the other tribe?

THREE DAYS OF THE TURKEY: Candidate Clinton draws a pair!


Part 2—Pinocchio script never dies:
Watching Lawrence O'Donnell last night, we learned two possible facts.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne doesn't read the Washington Post. Neither does Lawrence O'Donnell!

How did we learn these possible facts? We learned them when Dionne and O'Donnell discussed Candidate Trump's endless stream of misstatements and apparent misstatements.

As you may know, Lawrence has always been a fan of shouting the forbidden term "lie." To see him doom Candidate Kerry's chances by doing this in 2004, you can just click here. For amusement purposes only!

(Lawrence managed to get himself suspended from MSNBC as an additional part of this process. Only part of his performance that night is included in that tape. We've never found a videotape of his two-segment meltdown, which liberals unwisely applauded at the time.)

For ourselves, we think the forbidden term "lie" remains journalistically tricky. It's also politically tricky. Calling some candidate's statement a "lie" allows his supporters to change the subject in several different ways.

Handed this opportunity, skilled supporters will quickly put the accuser on the defensive. The fact of the candidate's endless misstatements will often be wiped away.

Whatever! Dionne and O'Donnell were discussing Candidate Trump's endless misstatements and apparent misstatements. At one point, they suggested that the national press should start using that forbidden term, "lie," in its discussions of Trump.

[If MSNBC ever posts the transcript, you'll be able to access it here.]

Do these guys read the Washington Post? Just last week, the editors repeatedly dropped the L-bomb on Trump's head in a featured editorial. Neither pundit showed any sign of knowing that this had occurred.

(This morning, the New York Times drops an L-bomb on Trump too. Needless to say, the Times decided to upstage the Post, attacking Trump's "racist lies." For better or worse, the R-bomb gives readers another way to disregard what's being said.)

Personally, we think pitfalls still surround the accusation of "lying." That said, this campaign has featured a level of crazy misstatement and crazy apparent misstatement which has never been seen in recent White House campaigns.

Candidate Trump has been the leading player in this parade of crazy statements. The problem has been especially egregious in the last week or two. That's why we were especially struck by Sunday's Washington Post.

In our view, Sunday's Washington Post pretty much went for the hat trick. On the front page of Outlook, the Post featured an impassioned first-person account concerning police procedures and race—an impassioned first-person account which was journalistically egregious.

On the front page of the entire newspaper, the Post featured a screaming headline about the total amount of money Bill and Hillary Clinton have raised throughout the course of their political careers. In the Post's extremely lengthy report, money raised for charitable purposes was folded in with money raised for political campaigns. Has the fund-raising of any other candidate ever been handled this way?

(We were especially struck by this treatment because of the jihad the Post conducted in 2014 concerning Candidate Clinton's speaking fees. The relentless treatment was unlike anything the paper had ever done. The reporting was also, in various ways, perhaps a bit less than obsessively honest. Courteous as always, the nation's compliant career liberal journalists let this jihad pass.)

On a journalistic basis, we thought those featured front-page pieces were a pair of rather fat turkeys. But good God!

On page A4, its accustomed spot, the Post ran its weekly "Fact Checker" piece. As Trump's cascade of appalling statements continued, the Washington Post was concerned with this troubling factual question, as expressed in its hard-copy headline:

"Did Hillary Clinton try to join the Marines?"

Did Clinton try to join the Marines? Somewhere inside that pitiful org, some editor thought this was the number-one factual concern of the week!

"Did Clinton try to join the Marines!" In this all-important fact-check, Glenn Kessler reviews a somewhat murky story which Candidate Clinton seems to have told exactly twice in the twenty-two years since she arrived in Washington.

(To review the story, read Kessler's piece. We won't waste your time here.)

Clinton first told the story in 1994, her second year as first lady. Needless to say, this set off a cheeky, nosy "news report" in which the New York Times' pitiful Maureen Dowd examined the story's possible connection to the Clintons' pre-marital status in 1975.

(Dowd in 1994: “So, if she was talking to a Marine recruiter in 1975 before the marriage, was she briefly considering joining the few, the proud and the brave of the corps as an alternative to life with Mr. Clinton, who was already being widely touted as a sure thing for Arkansas Attorney General?” At the time, this pitiful obsessive was still a Times "reporter!")

Candidate Clinton told the story for the second time on November 10 of this year. Two days later, Kessler examined its accuracy in an on-line Fact Checker post.

When he did, he pitifully quoted the pitiful Dowd at inordinate length. (Also, Tony Kornheiser!) He then awarded Candidate Clinton two Pinocchios for the trivial ancient tale.

Should the watchdog have done that? According to Kessler's silly-bill rating regime, this is what a pair of Pinocchios means:
Two Pinocchios

Significant omissions and/or exaggerations.
Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people. (Similar to “half true.”)
Are there "significant omissions or exaggerations" in the story Clinton told? If so, we have no idea what they are. Neither does the inerrant Kessler, to judge from the text of his post.

To judge from the text of his post, Kessler has no earthly idea if Candidate Clinton's murky story is true, "half true" or false. She obviously left a lot of things out when she briefly told the story this month. But Kessler doesn't seem to know what the omissions are, or if they're significant in any way.

We'll also cite the lofty statement of purpose of the Fact Checker site. This is one of the site's "basic principles:"
Basic principles

We will focus our attention and resources on the issues that are most important
to voters. We cannot nitpick every detail of every speech.
The misstatements and apparent misstatements have been astonishing this year. Under the circumstances, should Kessler have focused his "attention and resources" on this minor, one-off story?

We'd be inclined to say no. But given his very fuzzy analysis, we have no idea where his pair of Pinocchios came from.

Whatever! Kessler posted his "fact-check" on November 12. There it sat, drawing little attention, perhaps suggesting that this apparently trivial matter was of little "importance to voters."

Ten days later, we got the bad news. The fuzzy fact-check did seem important to some editor at the Post!


As Kessler's fact-check sat on line, Trump continued his blizzard of bizarre and appalling apparent misstatements. But so what?

Based on Sunday's edition, some editor decided that Candidate Clinton's twice-told tale was the most important factual matter to which voters should be directed. And please remember: when we say "twice-told," we mean this story has been told exactly two times in the past twenty-two years!

We thought we saw a lot of turkeys in last Sunday's Washington Post. One of them was the weekly hard-copy Fact Checker piece, which advanced a treasured narrative about the endless lying of the Clintons and Gore.

It's a narrative Lawrence has done a lot to advance and E.J. has always run from. Last Sunday, it got its new boost in the Post.

Lawrence and E.J. will eat fine turkeys this week. The rewards for service to their guild can be wickedly great.

That said, do they even read the Washington Post? If they do, you can bet your life they won't criticize what it says.

The Post has loved this turkey for two decades. On Sunday, the paper embraced it again.

Tomorrow: Last Friday, our greatest historical turkey took off and flew again

THREE DAYS OF THE TURKEY: The Outlook section does it again!


Part 1—A fascinating read:
Two Sundays ago, on November 8, we thought the Washington Post's Outlook section had finally hit rock bottom.

On that Sunday morning, the weekly section presented a special "baby boomer" edition. We thought Outlook's dumbness that day was about as dumb as journalistic dumbness can get.

How dumb do journalists have to be in order to write—and then decide to publish!—the pair of silly screeds Outlook featured that morning? They have to be surpassingly dumb, or we thought that day.

(What kind of journalism are we talking about? This pitiful piece by Heather Havrilesky was one of Outlook's front-page features that day. Do we have to explain how dumb that piece was? If so, the problem may extend beyond the dumbness which now seems to rule at the Post.)

Maybe it's our imagination. But it seems to us that Outlook has been getting dumber and dumber since Adam Kushner, age 33, was put in charge of the high-profile weekly section last December.

Previously, Kushner had been in charge of the newspaper's aptly named "PostEverything" site. It could be our imagination, but it has seemed to us that he may have brought the point of view which lurks in that unintentionally comical name to the journalism of Outlook.

Yesterday morning, we thought Outlook's work got even worse from a journalistic standpoint. That said, we were appalled by work we found all through yesterday's Post, and in parts of yesterday's New York Times.

Is it our imagination, or are basic journalistic norms dying before our eyes? We're thinking of yesterday's weekly Fact Checker piece, which awarded two Pinocchios to Candidate Clinton even as the streets run red with Donald Trump's astounding serial misstatements.

We're also thinking of the journalistic values on display in the piece which headlined yesterday's Outlook section. For today, let's focus on the journalism of that remarkable piece.

Please note--we're talking about the journalism of the piece in question. In the end, we aren't attempting to assess the practice of the Santa Monica police department, which played a central role in the piece in question.

We aren't attempting to assess the values, views or beliefs of Fay Wells, the Santa Monica business executive who wrote the piece in question.

We aren't attempting to assess the values and motives of one of Wells' neighbors, about whom she makes some striking assertions. In the end, we're attempting to assess the journalism of Adam Kushner, the journalist who decided to publish Wells' piece in the form in which it appeared.

In our view, yesterday's Outlook piece is an astonishing read. That's especially true if you peruse the background material the Post ignored in presenting Wells' piece, which headlined yesterday's Outlook.

In our view, yesterday's piece helps us consider the basic conception of journalism which increasingly seems to obtain at newspapers like the Post. Such papers are taking us to a post-journalistic age—an age in which the work you read is narrative all the way down.

Question: did the Santa Monica police behave badly on the evening of September 6 in an incident involving Wells? In large part because of the Washington Post, we don't have the slightest idea how to answer that question.

Around 11 o'clock that evening, Wells called a locksmith to help her get into her apartment. (She had locked her keys inside.) A neighbor apparently thought a break-in was occurring, and he called police.

By all accounts, a total of 19 officers reported to the scene. It seems that at least two of the officers had their guns drawn when Wells came to her door to respond to their presence.

Was that an over-reaction? Was it bad policing? Outlook made no attempt to subject such questions to normal journalistic review. They simply published a long, agonized account by Wells—an impassioned account which, time and again, seem to misstate basic facts about what occurred that night.

Wells seems to remain extremely upset about what happened that night. There's no obvious reason why she shouldn't be. That said, it also isn't entirely clear that her various judgments are sensible or sound.

Wells remains extremely upset. That doesn't speak to our concern, the journalism practiced by the Washington Post.

In this case, what's wrong with the Post's journalism? Let's start with the paper's most heinous misconduct. In a lengthy, anguished piece to which it gave a very high platform, the Post let Wells make an endless array of statements and claims which seem extremely hard to reconcile with the facts.

As usual, these apparently fact-challenged statements help make the story more exciting. They make the story fit a familiar story line about a very important topic. Is there any other kind of "journalism" these days?

What sorts of claims in Wells' report seem hard to reconcile with the facts? Consider the claim that the police who responded to the neighbor's call refused to answer her questions or respond to her concerns that night.

This claim is made and implied, again and again, in the exciting and tribally pleasing report the Post chose to publish. We offer these examples:
WELLS (11/23/15): After the officers and dog exited my “cleared” apartment, I was allowed back inside to speak with some of them...

I had so many questions. Why hadn’t they announced themselves? Why had they pointed guns at me? Why had they refused to answer when I asked repeatedly what was going on? Was it protocol to send more than a dozen cops to a suspected burglary?
Why hadn’t anyone asked for my ID or accepted it, especially after I’d offered it? If I hadn’t heard the dog, would I have opened the door to a gun in my face? “Maybe,” they answered.


I spoke with two of the officers a little while longer, trying to wrap my mind around the magnitude and nature of their response. They wondered: Wouldn’t I want the same response if I’d been the one who called the cops? “Absolutely not,” I told them. I recounted my terror and told them how I imagined it all ending, particularly in light of the recent interactions between police and people of color. One officer admitted that it was complicated but added that people sometimes kill cops for no reason. I was momentarily speechless at this strange justification.

I got no clear answers from the police that night and am still struggling to get them...
We'll return to the "strange justification" which still seems to puzzle Wells. For now, let's consider the claim that Wells "got no clear answers from the police that night," even though she "spoke with two of the officers a little while longer."

In fact, Wells spoke with those officers for a full 47 minutes after the search of her apartment had been completed. They answered her questions again and again, and then again and again and again, over and over and over and over, for that length of time.

They answered endless questions, over and over, about the reasons for their procedures. And how helpful! On November 20, the Los Angeles Times posted a transcript of this endless discussion, along with the audiotape.

It's very hard to square that transcript and tape with a good many things the Post let Wells claim and state in her first-person account. Unless he's in thrall to the "PostEverything" ethos, it's hard to know why a young journalist like Kushner would publish such a misleading account about such a significant topic.

You can only see that by reading the transcript of that endless discussion. Meanwhile, let's return to that other statement by Wells:

"I spoke with two of the officers a little while longer, trying to wrap my mind around the magnitude and nature of their response...One officer admitted that it was complicated but added that people sometimes kill cops for no reason. I was momentarily speechless at this strange justification."

Three months later, Wells is still puzzled by that "strange justification," which the Post let her describe quite opaquely. She seems to be referring to the officers' statement that they approach such incidents in substantial numbers, and perhaps with some weapons drawn, because officers sometimes get shot and killed in such situations.

"Well, understand, my brother-in-law got killed in the line of duty entering a house," one of the sergeants told Wells at one point. We don't know if that's true. But three months later, Wells still seems to think that's a "strange justification" for the police procedures she found upsetting. Meanwhile, for unknown reasons, the Post let her present an absurdly murky account of what she was told about that.

It seems that Wells is still very upset by her experience that night. There's no obvious reasons why she shouldn't be.

But we aren't judging the conduct, views or reactions of Wells. We're judging the journalism of the Washington Post, an increasingly horrible "newspaper."

Did the Santa Monica police engage in bad procedures that night? We have no idea. But the Washington Post engaged in horrific journalism when it published that remarkable front-page Outlook piece in the way it did.

An amazing array of statement ands claims in that piece are hard to square with the documentary record. Beyond that, from its own headlines on down, the Post chose to present this event as a racial incident. It let Wells make racial claims about her neighbor and the police, accusing them of racist conduct in the absence of any obvious proof or indication.

Was Wells mistreated by the police that night? If so, was she mistreated because she's black?

The Post let her make that claim throughout her report. The claim made her report much more thrilling. It also fits a preferred narrative many Post readers may love.

That said, the paper never cited the statement by Jacqueline Seabrooks, the black woman who heads the Santa Monica police department. And all through the exciting report, Wells was allowed to make statements and claims which are very hard to reconcile with the facts.

In fairness, Seabrooks grew up in South Central; Wells went to Dartmouth and Duke, a point she shares in her piece. This may help us understand the way young Kushner, who went to Yale, interacts with the world from which he's extracting his lode.

Two weeks ago, we thought those pieces about the baby boomers were about as dumb as journalism could get. This latest work is utterly horrible in a different way.

Truly, it's a fascinating read—but only if you read the lengthy transcript which lets you evaluate the accuracy of the many exciting claims which are being advanced. Only then do you start to see the way the Wells piece is remarkable.

Remember—we aren't attempting to judge Wells' views about what happened that night. Despite her lofty background and high social standing, Fay Wells isn't a journalist.

We're trying to judge the journalism of the Washington Post, an increasingly horrible newspaper. Yesterday, from its front page forward, we thought the Post presented a variety of routes to a post-journalistic world.

Two weeks ago, we thought those ludicrous boomer pieces really took the cake. Yesterday, in line with the season, an even bigger journalistic turkey was given free range in the Post.

Tomorrow: Two Pinocchios, Kessler said

Wednesday: Even after all these years, he's still our biggest gobbler