High School Psychodrama
Watching the returns last night I was once again struck by the rank lack of professionalism and complete abdication of journalistic ethics on MSNBC. I noted in my early post last night that if you wanted to see what the early exit polls were saying all you had to do was watch that channel. It was clear that the numbers were very bad for Clinton and excellent for Obama. They could barely contain themselves with broad hints and winks and nods that Clinton was toast. The sheer joy on their faces was a sight to behold.
Gene Robinson showed up before the returns were in claiming that the night was a repudiation of Bill Clinton. Prior to the polls closing Mike Barnicle said that Massachusetts was a clear sign that Clinton had lost her edge. Olbermann, Matthews, O'Donnell, all of them, looked feverish and excited at the beginning of the coverage only to end up dull and uninspired. Although their preferred candidate in the end did very well last night, it wasn't the total rout they had been expecting ans so they were unhappily left spinning excuses and robotically reciting vote counts by the end of the night.
I think I understand what's happened. They have rallied around Matthews, their colleague and friend, who they feel was unfairly forced to apologize publicly after New Hampshire by the Clinton campaign. They said as much outright. And in their desire to stand by their pal, they have become obsessively anti-Clinton and pro-Obama, nearly to the point of parody. Craig Crawford of Congressional Quarterly puts it this way:
If I were Barack Obama I would tell my flaks in the news media to shut up in the final days before elections. The chattering crowd's frenzy for this man only raises expectations that he cannot meet.
As a result, what was otherwise not too shabby a night for Obama on Super Tuesday came across like a public relations defeat because so much more had been expected. Still, those who predicted a bigger night for Obama are invested in downplaying what actually happened, and will surely gin him up for the next contests.
Before Super Tuesday, gushing pundits predicted that the Kennedy family endorsements would, at a minimum, deliver Massachusetts. Didn’t happen. Feverish news reports of rising momentum for Obama led to hints that Obama could win New Jersey. Didn’t happen.
And, oh yeah, California’s returns were supposed to keep us up all night because the "force of nature" that is Obama had erased Clinton’s lead in the state. Oops, it turned out that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s lead was so substantial that the networks could call the state for her just after midnight.
The California surprise promoted a bit of mea culpa from former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, who has actually been a voice of reason as so many of his colleagues have lost their minds for Obama.
“Once again,” Brokaw said on MSNBC as Clinton’s early California win was announced, “in all of our conventional and collective wisdom, we were wrong.”
I have to agree that if I were the Obama campaign I'd start to wonder if these guys are hurting more than helping. (Virtually everyone hates them anyway, particularly Matthews, so it's hard to see that their cheerleading brings anyone in except villagers.)
And in case you think I'm wrong about this bias, here's a nice long piece on Matthews in this week's New York Observer:
Chris Matthews woke up on Super Tuesday at the Ritz Carlton on Central Park South. For breakfast, he tore into a bowl of Raisin Bran with skim milk, slurped down a cup of coffee (no cream, no sugar) and attacked a stack of newspapers. Moving from story to story, he scribbled notes directly onto the newsprint, circling important facts and figures and jotting down the occasional exclamation points. He particularly liked an article in the Daily News by Rich Cohen suggesting that Barack Obama should be president, and Hillary Clinton his chief of staff.
Mr. Matthews underlined the phrases “flag burning illegal,” and “her vote was politically motivated.” He tore out the article to review later that day.
In the meantime, he continued to ponder the big factors in the campaign. History. Courage. Change. Hope.
“I’ve been following politics since I was about 5,” said Mr. Matthews. “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament. This is surprising.”
“I really think there’s a Salieri-Mozart thing going on here,” said Mr. Matthews. “Salieri was the court composer who did everything right. He was impressive. Along comes Mozart. And everybody couldn’t get the music out of their heads. Hillary is really good at doing what she is supposed to do. She’s impressive. He’s inspirational. That’s the difference. One’s the court composer. And one is the genius. There’s something he does. I don’t know what. Oprah said it. It’s not that he’s black. It’s that he’s brilliant.”
Mr. Matthews offered another musical anecdote about the Clintons. This one taken from closer to home. “Remember Buster Poindexter?” said Mr. Matthews. “His big song was ‘Hot, Hot, Hot.’ Not a great piece of music but it was all right. So Poindexter goes to a society party, east side or something. A very hoity-toity woman says, ‘Do you do private affairs?’ ‘Well, yeah,’ he says. ‘How much will that be?’ He says: $5,000. She calls at 7 o’clock the next morning. She’s says, ‘Oh, last night I forgot to tell you that there will be no mixing with the guests.’ He said, ‘Okay, in that case it’ll only be $3,000.’”
Mr. Matthews grinned.
“That’s sort of my view of the Clintons,” he said. “It’s better to have less than to have more.”
Now, whether you are a Clinton or Obama supporter you should find his comments disturbing. He does not present himself as an Obama supporter honestly on the air. And when he's called on his biases and prejudices as he was after his blatant sexist jihad against Clinton for months leading up to New Hampshire, his friends circle the wagons and help him write a new script for his psychotic little drama on the air.
Chris Matthews personally deplored Bill Clinton when he was president, loathed Al Gore in 2000, hated John Kerry in 2004 and right now despises Hillary Clinton. And there are huge hints of what's to come if Obama does get the nomination, particularly if McCain, the man who Matthews has already said "deserves to be president" becomes the Republican nominee. He has the narrative already primed:
One idea in the notebook was something a congressman had told Mr. Matthews years earlier. The congressman had said that every so often in life, the galloping horse of history comes by and you have to make a decision. “You have to jump on that horse or you miss your turn,” Mr. Matthews had said. “The country is facing that. Do I want to jump on the horse, or not? It’s too tricky. It’s too scary. It’s moving too fast. I’m not ready.”
The galloping campaign, in Mr. Matthews’ estimation, was that of Senator Barack Obama. He had the momentum, was in the saddle, was holding the reigns. But had Mr. Obama become the avant-garde candidate? If so, he was in trouble. The middle-class workers would pull back in suspicion. Who was this Ivy League guy on his, um, high horse? They wouldn’t get on board. The galloping horse of history might pass them by.
Matthews sees himself as the voice of the working man, so this is his pivot point. Just wait. If Senator Obama wins the nomination, Chris and his cohort are going to turn on a dime. The Republicans will immediately begin to mau-mau them for their obvious bias and they will bend over backwards to "prove" they aren't in the tank for Obama.
These people are never going to be good for us, no matter how much short term satisfaction it gives us to see them being kind to one of our candidates. It will always be temporary. Never doubt it.