Here We Go Again
I have taken a fair amount of grief for criticizing the campaign coverage on MSNBC over the past few months, most recently for what I saw as pretty obviously biased coverage on Super Tuesday. Up until recently the "illness" was mostly confined to Matthews, Carlson and Scarborough, particularly the first. But after Matthews was taken to the woodshed for his sexism in the period before New Hampshire and forced to apologize (for only one of the many, many disgustingly sexist comments he's made over the years) there was a noticeable shift among the whole crew over there. It was clear that they believed Matthews was being criticized for political purposes and circled the wagons when, in fact, it was a legitimate complaint in its own right, coming from far more average viewers out here in the hinterland than insiders or political operatives.
Here was the reaction from one of Matthews' colleagues:
SHUSTER: Just one comment about Chris Matthews. I've worked with him for five and a half years. I've been alongside him, on camera, off, good times and bad. Nobody is more gracious and has a bigger heart, and has contributed more in a positive way to our political discourse than Chris Matthews.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, let me say, let me say --
SHUSTER: And to see him have to go through this is absolutely infuriating, to see the way these groups used him for pure political gain is absolutely infuriating.
Yesterday, filling in for Tucker, David Shuster made a comment about Hillary "pimping out" Chelsea.
SHUSTER: There's just something a little bit unseemly to me that Chelsea's out there calling up celebrities, saying support my mom, and she's apparently also calling these super delegates.
PRESS: Hey, she's working for her mom. What's unseemly about that? During the last campaign, the Bush twins were out working for their dad. I think it's great, I think she's grown up in a political family—
PRESS: —she's got politics in her blood, she loves her mom, she thinks she'd make a great president [crosstalk]
SHUSTER: But doesn't it seem like Chelsea's sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way? [laughter]
I take him at his word that he didn't mean it in any literal sense. But what did he mean? Why on earth would anyone think it was "unseemly" for the 28 year old daughter of a presidential candidate to be "calling celebrities and superdelegates" on behalf of the campaign? What's wrong with that?
There are endless examples of grown kids working on their parents' campaigns in much more official capacities than that:
She was one of her father's top campaign aides and closest confidantes. In July 2003 she became the director of vice presidential operations for the Bush-Cheney 2004 Presidential re-election campaign.
In 2002 she was appointed to the newly created position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs...She left that post in 2003 to serve in her father's re-election campaign.
She actively campaigned with her father on his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2003 and 2004.
She started attending Harvard Law School in the fall of 2006.
On September 30, 2007, during a campaign stop with actor James Denton, Edwards stated that she sides with her mother in support of gay marriage. She is quoted as saying: "I'm on my mom's side with this, not my dad's. It's the word 'marriage' that he is hung up on."
What about the five strapping Romney boys who traveled all over Iowa in a bus serving their country? Here's an article about 23 year old Meghan McCain stumping for her Dad.
It is simply bizarre to call it "unseemly" when every candidate's family helps him or her out on the trail. Why in the world should Chelsea Clinton be singled out?
Shuster tepidly apologized this morning, but judging from the past, it will only serve to inflame the MSNBC crew even more and we'll soon be seeing even worse coverage of the campaign.
I do think it behooves all of us to be skeptical of news organizations that behave like adolescents, no matter where your political allegiances lie. As all of us remember I'm sure, teen-age hormones and mood swings are very unpredictable. That boy may love you today, but loyalty isn't his strong suit. Tomorrow, he will kiss and tell, turn his back and take up with another without a second thought. News organizations that behave this way are not good for our democracy. This isn't the homecoming game -- it's an election.
Update: There's something in the coffee over there:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well you know a lot of Republican talk show people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, I think authors, successful authors, I must say, like Ann Coulter, they wouldn't be so unhappy to have Hillary Clinton to beat up for four or eight years, especially four years. And Mr. DeLay would probably love to have Hillary to beat up for two years and then win back the house in '10. I mean I could see the strategy -- sometimes in bad weather you let the other team have the ball. You elect to kick rather than receive. Let them have the ball in the Ice Bowl. Let them try to move it past the second or third yard while you come down hard on them. The people like Bill Kristol out there, the neo-conservatives. Imagine Hillary Clinton as president for a couple of months with about a one-point advantage coming into office? They will crash around her, hitting her with everything they've got..
MATTHEWS: Rush Limbaugh will be in heaven. Sean Hannity will be in heaven. Their ratings'll go through the roof. Roger Ailes, he'll be on Neptune he'll be so happy! Because all they'll do every day is say how do we beat up Hillary Clinton today? Unless occasionally she starts a war, and then they'll give her a parade. They'll give her a parade every day she starts a war. But if she's not starting a war, they'll kill her.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I want to know how Chris really feels about this.
MATTHEWS: Come on, Mika, that's the weakest line. Come on, Mika, that is so weak and so below you, how I really feel. That is so yesterday.
BRZEZINSKI: It's so yesterday?!
MATTHEWS: I mean how I really feel. You know how you tell how I really feel, Mika? Listen. [protracted silence]. But you and I agree on so many things sub rosa. I don't know why we're arguing.
BRZEZINSKI: We're not arguing; go ahead Willie.
MATTHEWS: Some things, because in the brilliant light of day, I know we see things [similarly?]. But you're just trying to encourage me, aren't you? I know what you're doing.
BRZEZINSKI: I'm goading you.
Here's the thing. Aside from his freakish defensiveness, Matthews is right about the conservatives. They are falling back to regroup. But why does he point the whole thing at Clinton? Does he honestly think they won't do that to any Democratic president? Why wouldn't they?
Update II: Shuster has been suspended. At first, I wondered why that would be when Matthews has made thousands of comments that are even more egregious, as has Tucker Carlson. I think this may give a hint:
On Thursday, when Clinton spokesman Phillippe Reines contacted Shuster and told him the comment was offensive, the reporter e-mailed back that he was referring to the fact that Chelsea is making calls to convention superdelegates but refusing to talk to the press. Shuster did make that point on the air -- after his pimped out comment, which was not delivered as a joke.
Reines was incredulous at the lack of an apology, but Shuster stood his ground.
I'm guessing it took a lot of persuading to get Shuster to understand that his comment was out of bounds. Judging from Shuster's earlier comment, I think they have convinced themselves over at MSNBC that this is all a Clintonian plot and he felt his journalistic ethics were being challenged.
My suspicion is that the bigger questions about all this have been lost on the MSNBC crew as they circle their wagons and get more and more defensive. They've sublimated their own discomfort(shame?)with this discussion by making it into a political/journalistic turf battle, when in fact, it's something much more psychological/sociological.
Matthews is somewhat deranged on this subject, because he sees the entire political system through some sort of gender prism, so he's a special case, but the other offenders could be caught up in this out of a sort of collegian loyalty which has morphed into outright hostility toward people who are "making" them feel uncomfortable with their own behavior. It snowballs to the point where nobody knows what's true anymore.
They need to do some serious thinking over there about this problem.
Update II: Olbermann offered a straightforward apology on MSNBC's behalf tonight. Good for him.