Media still "Say[ing] Anything"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Following Media Matters for America Managing Director Jamison Foser's January 19 column, the media have offered numerous additional examples in which they have exhibited a willingness to engage in baseless allegations, smears, and ridicule of former or prospective Democratic presidential candidates. For instance, on the January 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider called former Vice President Al Gore "[s]upposedly the most boring man in the world."

  • Media Matters has also noted the comments Juan Williams, National Public Radio senior correspondent and Fox News contributor, made on the January 21 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, during which he noted that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "comes from a father who was a Muslim," but adding, "given that we're at war with Muslim extremists, that presents a problem."
  • Media Matters documented the baseless assertion, originally published on the website InsightMag.com and echoed to a varying extent by other media outlets, that Obama "spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia" and that "researchers connected to" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) were responsible for disclosing the "details of Mr. Obama's Muslim past."

As Bob Somerby noted on his Daily Howler weblog, on the January 21 edition of The Chris Matthews Show:

  • Recalling host Chris Matthews' question asking whether Gore was in "fighting weight" to run for the presidency, New York Times columnist David Brooks stated that a potential Gore presidential campaign would be preceded by "a sharp increase in sales in Slim-Fast." Matthews later asked: "If we see a plummeting in the scales of Al Gore this summer -- a super Slim-Fast diet -- does that say this guy's getting back in there?" Fineman replied that it would be "front-page news." As Media Matters noted, on the December 21 edition of MSBNC's Hardball, Matthews said of Gore: "He's the Hindenburg."
  • Earlier in the show, echoing the criticism by CNN and The Wall Street Journal suggesting Democratic candidates were "unelectable," Fineman asserted that Clinton, Obama, and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) "are trying to prove as much what they're not as what they are." Fineman concluded that because Clinton is a woman and from New York, she has to prove "she can be tough on defense," "she's willing to drop the bombs," and "she's not abandoning the troops" -- presumably, things she is not.
  • Fineman also poked fun at Edwards' Southern accent and suggested there were no Southern white male liberals, stating, "And John Edwards is saying: 'Just because I'm a Southerner, because I'm a white male, because I say 'meal' when I'm saying those 'textile mill,' doesn't mean that I can't be the liberal in this race.' "
  • Fineman later described Clinton as a high school " 'Miss Perfect' ... having the whole thing wired." Matthews and Fineman agreed that Clinton would wear a "poodle skirt" in Fineman's high school allegory of the presidential race and there appeared on the screen a Photoshopped picture of Clinton in a poodle skirt. (In Fineman's column on the same subject, Gore was described as "that crazy Al Gore, who had been the ultimate goody-goody but who had grown a beard, made a film and dropped out to attend the School Without Walls.")

Somerby also noted the following exchange from the show:

CYNTHIA TUCKER (Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor): Where Hillary doesn't want to be is in a position that makes her seem purely calculating. It's true I think that she has -- she --

FINEMAN: It'll be too late. It'll be too late for that.

MATTHEWS: Haven't you just defined her?

In addition, in a January 23 article, Washington Post staff writer Anne E. Kornblut contrasted Clinton's "conviction" that she can be president with her "hedg[ing]" in her January 22 webcast -- produced in a "carefully controlled setting" -- about her favorite movie, "saying that, as a child, she had loved 'The Wizard of Oz,' discovered 'Casablanca' in college and law school, watching it so often that she memorized the lines," and then developed a "passion for ... 'Out of Africa.' " Kornblut also characterized Clinton's refusal, in an ABC News interview, to assert whether or not she would raise taxes as "equivocat[ing]," writing: "In an ABC News interview, she would not pledge not to raise taxes. But she also equivocated on whether the costs of the war in Iraq would require a tax increase."

From the January 21 edition of NBC's The Chris Matthews Show:

TUCKER: Where Hillary doesn't want to be is in a position that makes her seem purely calculating. It's true I think that she has -- she --

FINEMAN: It'll be too late. It'll be too late for that.

MATTHEWS: Haven't you just defined her?

TUCKER: She has -- but, she has spent a lot of time thinking about the war --

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

TUCKER: -- and a lot of what she says about it is very thoughtful and very respectable. On the other hand, I think she's cutting it too -- cutting the cloth too finely at the moment. This whole business of "Oh, we're just going to cut it off for the Iraqis" is very, very calculating. And the other thing she needs to bear in mind is that much of the country in the general election will also be against this war, so I don't think she wants to seem so far to the right that she doesn't seem to be a respectable opponent of the way the Bush administration has waged this war.

MATTHEWS: So tough. We've defined her problem right here.

FINEMAN: Yeah. The way I see it is that the top three are trying to prove as much what they're not as what they are. Hillary Clinton's trying to prove that even though she wrote the book, It Takes a Village, and even though she's a woman and even though she's from New York, she can be tough on defense, she's willing to drop the bombs, she's not abandoning the troops. OK.

Barack Obama's saying: "I'm an African-American man from Chicago, but I'm not a Jesse Jackson liberal. I'm not predictable in that way. I won't be defined in that way." And John Edwards is saying: "Just because I'm a Southerner, because I'm a white male, because I say 'meal' when I'm saying those 'textile mill,' doesn't mean that I can't be the liberal in this race."

[...]

MATTHEWS: And Howard, in your online column this week, you talked about Hillary in this high school social competition. Who's Hillary in this mix?

FINEMAN: Well, Hillary's "Miss Perfect." She's the one we all saw in high school, carrying all those multicolored binders down the hallways, filling out three-by-five cards about every student, having the whole thing wired --

MATTHEWS: And the poodle skirt.

FINEMAN: The poodle skirt.

[...]

TUCKER: The other thing is, you've got to figure, since I was being politically incorrect in the last segment -- I'll continue that -- that back in closed-door backrooms of Democratic politics, they've got to be a little nervous that the two leading candidates bound to suck up the most money are a woman, who carries a fair amount of baggage, and an inexperienced black man.

MATTHEWS: Long shots.

TUCKER: They'll be thinking, "You know, the Democrats, if they're not suicidal, we need a senior statesman with a decent shot at winning."

MATTHEWS: OK. We call that in the business a "default candidate." Somebody you go to after you've tried out all the new flavors, and right now, the guy who's auditioning for that role is John Edwards.

TUCKER: Right.

MATTHEWS: Are you all suggesting Edwards doesn't make that, if he isn't in the competition -- the three-way competition by this summer, Gore says, "That job" -- can I say it this way? -- "the white guy's job is available." Howard.

FINEMAN: Well, that's one way of putting it.

[...]

MATTHEWS: Well, we put it to the Matthews Meter: Can Al Gore win the Democratic nomination? The Meter is split with six voting yes, six voting no. David, you say: Can't do it.

BROOKS: Well, first of all, I think a black woman -- a black man and a white woman can do it, and I think there's a lot of evidence to support that, so I don't think the party needs him.

MATTHEWS: Win the general?

BROOKS: Yeah, can win the general, so I don't think the party needs to do that. Second, I've heard no evidence that Al Gore wants to run for office, and unless there's a sharp increase in sales in Slim-Fast --

MATTHEWS: That's what I say. That's what I say. Can a black man win the presidency? Can a woman win the presidency? Can a fat, white guy win the presidency? is the other question.

BROOKS: I'm not to talk, of course.

MATTHEWS: You're not overweight, not compared to him.

BROOKS: But -- and finally, you know, they've got stars running for office. They've got three real stars.

MATTHEWS: OK. If we see a plummeting in the scales of Al Gore this summer -- a super Slim-Fast diet -- does that say this guy's getting back in there?

FINEMAN: It'll -- it'll be front-page news. Al Gore buys a package of Slim-Fast. But, you know, I don't know --

MATTHEWS: Norah, what do you think? Are we going to watch the scales here to see how it's going?

From the January 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

MARY SNOW (CNN correspondent): From policy wonk to Hollywood's A-list?

GORE [video clip]: The Arctic is experiencing faster melting. If this were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet.

SNOW: Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was nominated for two Oscars: for Best Documentary Feature and Best Song.

SCHNEIDER: Al Gore is a movie star. Who would have thunk it? Supposedly the most boring man in the world, and he's up for two Oscars.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.