Monday, November 1, 2010

Chris Matthews & Arianna Huffington's Moment of Zen

I hope Jon Stewart, when he finally returned to his home in New York yesterday, in between recovering from a week in the Nation’s Capital, an interview with the President, a highly successful Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and seeing his children off trick-or-treating on Hallowe’en night, that he had time to watch a special weekend edition of Chris Matthews’s Hardball on MSNBC yesterday evening.
I suppose, this being the last weekend before the Mid-Term elections on Tuesday, MSNBC had decided to forego its usual weekend prison fare for election coverage; and if Stewart had decided to enjoy a cup of joe (not Scarborough) with an hour of political television, he just may have found a real moment of zen for Monday’s edition of The Daily Show.

At one point in the program, Matthews decided to discuss the significance of Stewart’s rally from the previous day, in a roundtable discussion with Steve Kornacki of and Arianna Huffington.

According to the old proverb, things happen in threes, and Huffington certainly lived up to that one yesterday with three separate appearances on three different networks, for what reason, the God in which I don’t believe only knows. First, she was popped up opposite George Will on ABC’s This Week, talking about “the rally” in between preaching her usual sermon of late about how Obama doesn’t “get it” and can’t communicate and – oh – how we musn’t overestimate the significance of the Mid-Terms – all this from a political pundit, whose total experience of politics comes from her gay ex-husband’s two-year stint as an ueber-Rightwing Congressman from California, a crush on Newt Gingrich, which led her to campaign actively online for the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and the ability not onlyto transform herself, within a 24-hour timescale, from a rabidly neocon conservative to the voice of Progressive politics, but to be taken seriously as such by a news and information media whose apparent shortage of gray matter is all to obvious.

Then she appeared on Howard Kurz’s CNN program, to discuss – yes – the rally and, once again, how Obama just “isn’t getting it” and hasn’t got a clue, as evidenced by his performance on Stewart’s Daily Show on the previous Wednesday evening.

And now, here she was, at the end of the day, cropping up on Matthew’s show, without so much as having time to change her ensemble.

Appearing on Hard Ball is a new experience for Huffington. Two-and-a-half years ago, she was banned from appearing on all things NBC, by the late Tim Russert, who was a particular enemy. Russert’s wife, the writer Maureen Orth, had inadvertantly outed Huffington’s ex-husband, whilst writing a profile of the couple for The New Yorker in 1996, when Michael Huffington was challenging Diane Feinstein for the U S Senate.

Arianna, who’s pretty adept at bearing a grudge, never forgot; and when she started The Huffington Post, made sure that every Monday she had a special column marked “Russert Watch”, where she systematically and mercilessly dissected Russert’s performance during the previous day’s Meet the Press, in a highly personal diatribe.
At the beginning of 2008, Huffington published a book entitled Right is Wrong, in which she devoted an entire chapter, basically telling people what a shit Tim Russert was. It amounted to about forty pages of sensationalised character assassination.

When the book hit the shops and Huffington, huckster of her own personal brand that she is, took to the talk shows trying (again unsuccessfully) to get the book a slot on the New York Times’s bestseller’s list, Russert unceremoniously banned her from any NBC-related news and information program for the duration of his tenure as news chief. That ban meant Keith Olbermann having to cancel Huffington’s appearance on the morning of the evening she was due to appear.

Of course, Russert died shortly afterward, and the ban was lifted, by all of the MSNBC 24/7 pundits, save one: Chris Matthews. Out of respect for Russert, Matthews never asked Huffington to guest on his show … until very recently.

A regular contributor to Hardball and a frequent guest is Howard Fineman, late of Newsweek and now of The Huffington Post. No sooner than Howard the Hack had claimed office space in HuffPo’s Soho headquarters, than there he was again on Chris’s late afternoon show, but this time, with Mommy in tow. My speculation is that Huffington threw her weight about with Howard and somehow fanagled a long-overdue invitation from Matthews (no less a hack than Howard, himself) to appear and to weigh in on current political affairs with her usual gravitas and imponderable knowledge (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

So last night, there they were, with Steve Kornacki, discussing Stewart’s rally, specifically that part which Matthews deemed to be the core message of the whole event, summed up in Stewart’s amusing, yet deadly serious, verbal editorial at the end of the affair: a polite, yet accurate invective against the one thing in America that’s aiding and abetting the polarization and gridlock stagnating the political perspective of the day: the 24/7 cable news media.

Immediately before Stewart gave his speech, his cohort, Stephen Colbert, made a rollcall of the guiltiest parties by showing the 24/7 cable networks’ biggest big mouths on the jumbotrons overhead. There, transmitted throughout the world, were open-mouthed images of Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Ed Schultz, Keith Olbermann … and Chris Matthews.

Was Matthews affected by this? To quote a well-known sage, “You betcha.” Nor was he pleased about it, and he was about to make some Americans squirm.

Matthews first allowed Huffington some self-publicity: she’d hired enough buses to transport 10,000 people from New York City to Washington for the event, for free. A friend of mine and her husband, who live on nearby Long Island, hitched a ride. There and back in a day, I gave her the benefit of a doubt for donating something at her expense that would enable cash-strapped people in difficult times to have a pleasant, if long, day out at what promised to be a fun event.

But when Huffington, in her bragging, started talking about people coming from as far away as Hawaii and California, of a man flying to New York City, just to ride down on the bus, I started wondering how hard up America really was – and this thought emanated from austerity Britain. Two hundred fifty thousand people attended that rally, from all over the United States. Hotels were fully booked as far away as Winchester and Culpeper, Virginia, to accommodate the pilgrims. Hotel rooms and transportation cost money, and I began to wonder if what my British husband always says is true: that hard-up America always equals middle class Britain.

Matthews’ opinion of the rally, which he attended for a couple of hours, was that, whilst it was a great success, it wasn’t political – not that it was ever intended to be, as Stewart repeatedly maintained. Kornacki, rightly, surmised that the rally was for a particular type of person – possibly the person who had voted for Obama in 2008 and still supported him, but who didn’t watch cable news. It was, Kornacki continued, a criticism of how the cable news industry had appropriated the whole of the responsible news media and turned it into a sick circus, intent on obsessing about the most trivial of aspects to the extent that it was no longer communicating responsibly with the people it was supposed to serve.

The news media is the means by which any Presidential Administration gets its message across to the electorate, and anyone with a modicum of common sense knows that this particular Administration has been ill-served by the 24/7 cable industry, and ill-served as much by MSNBC as by its own polar opposite, Fox News.

I thought Stewart’s speech the highlight of the entire event, and anyone watching The Daily Show regulary knows that Stewart’s bete noire is the cable news industry’s obsession with a trivial fact or word to the point that it elevates a triviality to something of such importance that it can destroy a person’s reputation forever.
In fact, Rachel Maddow did something similar in her show of October 18th, about the media adopting Republican narratives for the Mid-Terms. You can watch her brilliant assessment, via this link:-

This is very Stewartesque – showing how the Republican talking points which “define” these Mid-Terms – the growing deficit (not), the failed stimulus (not), Obamacare, anti-incumbent fervor and immigration – have been appropriated and pushed onto the public by not only Fox News, but also CNN and Maddow’s own employers, MSNBC.

Stewart’s meme was articulately expressed in his end-of-rally rant. He may have been preaching to the choir, but it behooved him to remind America that we were living in “hard times, not end times” as opposed to Glenn Beck’s frantic apocalyptic message; that we should be able to have animus – and animus con brio – without making enemies of our opponents. (That statement made me wonder, sadly, if Orrin Hatch feels a pang of loneliness for Ted Kennedy’s presence, looking across the aisle, but not daring to reach across it for fear of condemnation by the purists. It makes me wonder if Tom Corbyn remembers that his best friend, as a freshman Senator, was the lanky junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

Stewart alliteratively expressed our malaise, in somewhat Bushian terms, as being that the “27/7 politico pundit perpetual panic conflitonator isn’t the cause of our problems, but it makes the solving of them even harder.”

Matthews got this message, and it burnt him to the quick, but he was setting a subtle trap, and he was ready to spring.

This was not politics, he insisted. (Well, nobody – least of all, Stewart – said it was). But he demanded to know, exactly what positive aspect for the American political process did this rally signify? Stewart was criticizing the media, he harrumped. What was his alternative.

Well, pleb that I am, I could offer a humble alternative, by applying the law of supply and demand. We simply are bombarded with too much information and too much news. There is 24/7 cable news in the UK and on the Continent. We have BBC News 24 and Sky (which is Fox) and CNN International. No one watches these unless something monumentally catastrophic has happened or unless, simply, one misses the six o’clock news broadcast or the ten o’clock one. In short, no one watches news for entertainment, or infotainment as it’s known in the States.

A few years ago, Peter Sissons, a childhood friend of John Lennon’s and an esteemed news broadcaster with the BBC, retired. Upon his retirement, the Corporation asked him to write an exit essay to be published in the BBC’s in-house magazine. The esssay was an answer to a question of how the news industry had changed since Sissons started in the genre adn whther that change was for the better or the worse.

Sissons’s subject was the 24/7 news culture, which, he reckoned, was bad because it trivialised the news to such and extent that stories of no import on the national or international stage were elevated, wrongly, to levels of undue importance. This is what we see, and it’s certainly what Stewart sees, all the time; and nowhere does it occur more than with our President – whose every word is parced and every inch of body movement interpreted and analysed.

How many of us remember how better informed we were, and how, even the least educated of us, were able to form an opinion about an important newsworthy event, aided only by the 7pm news broadcast and the daily newspaper? Who remembers how the VietNamese war became universally unpopular?

But I digress.

Matthews wanted to know, from his panel of two, what Stewart meant and what his alternative to the malaise of 24/7 cable news was. He took umbrage, calling The Daily Show a candy moment as opposed to the cut-and-thrust argument of the 24/7 opinionators.

And this is when the fragrant Huffington wandered unwittingly into the trap big, bad Chris had set.

You can watch this for yourselves via this link- the fun begins right at the 6:22 mark:-

Huffington starts off by sweetly trilling an interpretation of what Stewart really meant. Keep in mind that Huffington has now “appropriated” Stewart, even if he hasn’t returned the appropriation, by virtue of the fact that her busing in 10,000 people to the event means somehow she now has a vested interest in The Daily Show, itself; but Jon Stewart is no Bill Maher, who’ll jump to Huffington’s call; and it’s mete to remember that Huffington is an opportunist. If Glenn Beck had agreed to blog regularly on Huffington Post when she cornered him at the Time dinner back in December 2009, and had he actually done so, you’d have found Huffington would have bused in 10,000 blue rinses, complete with tricorn hats, teabags, Zimmer frames and portable oxygen tanks for the Rally to Restor Honor on 8/28.

No, Huffington explained in her Zsa Zsa-meets-Orly voice, Stewart wanted “us, the media,” to take the magnifying glass used to emphasize the pejorative nature of every item reported and, instead, magnify the good about our society, the things we do that actually work, she finished.

Matthews cocked a cynical eye at that remark.

“Oh,” he caustically remarked. “Is that what you do at The Huffington Post then?”
Huffington was completely wrong-footed by that remark and affected not to understand its meaning.

Matthews obliged her misunderstanding by clarifying his intent. “Is that what you do all day at The Huffington Post?” he repeated. “You just report that there were no accidents on the road last night, and everybody slept nicely in their beds?”
Huffington, with that annoying botoxed smile engraved on her face, protested demurely. That isn’t what HuffPo does at all, she insisted, and she went on to tell about some cockamamie project where they recognise some ordinary person each day who does extraordinary things in these hard times. They even stick a cyber pin on a wall map to note where the extraordinary deeds are taking place.

(As a regular reader of HuffPo, I had to stop and think about this; because – I must admit – I’d never noticed it. Then I realised it must be her “Game Changers” malarkey that she touts from time to time. That said, the oh-so-ordinary plebs who make mention never get the front page treatment. They simply aren’t celebrities, dahlink.)
Furthermore, she continued, Stewart is simply saying that when people say something about other people, it should be factually true – when you call someone a “Marxist”, make sure they are a Marxist. (This, more than anything, told me this intellectual lightweight of a parvenue has a first class degree in stating the bleeding obvious; it also laid her wide open for another Matthews trap, shortly to come – because Arianna, more than anyone, doesn’t let facts get in the way of her ad hominem).
Kornacki, at this point, feeling a bit forlorn on the fringes of the conversation, tried to interject that passionate political behaviour was nothing new, that ad hominem and partisanship had been part and parcel of the sainted Founding Fathers’ political diet; but Huffington interrupted him to show off her knowledge of Thomas Jefferson quotes, before Chris Matthews interrupted Madam, herself.

He thought Stewart’s venture was a fabulous rally, he declared with finality, preparing his flytrap. Indeed, he repeated, he thought it fabulous; but what he disdained, he continued, was that someone could come onto his show, attempting to explain Stewart’s critique as something that person practiced as a matter of course and purporting to be better than anyone else.

Matthews got it. Huffington didn’t.

“Who is saying they are better than anyone else, Chrees?” she asked, innocently.
“You are,” snapped Matthews, brusquely.

Matthews might be as much a political hack as Howard Fineman. He may have spent the best part of this first decade of the 21st Century with his nose lodged up Dubya Bush’s backside. He may have racist tendencies which surface from time to time, and he might be a company man, whose loyalty is to the Corporation which pays him a seven-figure salary. He might purport to be an ordinary guy, but have a summer home in Nantucket; but he knows a media whore when he sees one.

He remembers the part Huffington played in ratcheting up and deliberately misinforming the Left’s base (as ignorant in their own way as their counterparts on the Right) – during the healtcare debate and at other times. He remembers her call for Joe Biden to resign and lead a revolt against the President. He knows who refers to President Obama as “Nowhere Man.” And as much as he was responsible for discrediting the campaign of Hillary Clinton, he knows who not only conducted a viciously personal vendetta against her candidacy by means of her online aggregate, he also knows the part Huffington played in vociferously calling for Bill Clinton to be impeached.

If Chris Matthews is dirty cable politics, then Arianna Huffington is worse. Her unfounded dirt pollutes the cyber world, when she isn’t being asked by the cable and analogue networks to expound upon her so-called political expertise. She’s nurtured Breitbart and unleashed his type of journalism on the profession. Her silence during the Shirley Sherrod fiasco was deafening, as deafening as the disruptive message she’s currently preaching to the confused and conflicted element of the extreme Left, which she’s hoping to get through to the Middle Classes – that Obama isn’t “that into them” or their plight, all the while interspersed with the doctrine of trickledown being the only way.

Her trifecta of appearances this last Sunday before the Mid-Terms may have been to remind her ditzy political dittoes of her influence in subtly dissuading them from going to the voting booths at all, it certainly was for the promotion of her own brand and to remind everyone that she played a notable part in ensuring the success, singlehandedly, of Jon Stewart’s rally, thus enabling her to ride his coattails in hopes he’ll grace her site with a blog … but in her last appearance of the day, Madam was well and truly pwned.

To think of how much she’s tried to divide and disseminate the Democratic base, to the advantage of the Republicans she secretly still supports, it was divine karma to see that part of the news media, so heavily criticized by Jon Stewart, actually turn on itself and begin the cannibalistic feed.

Don’t forget to vote Democratic on Tuesday.

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