The FOX News – MSNBC Taste Test : Part II
Last week I decided to live-blog the primetime hours of both FOXNews and MSNBC so that I could decide for myself if each is as much of a group of hacks as their opponents claim. So that I would be using the same day’s news content, I TIVO-ed all six shows on May 31 and later watched them all as I typed. The shows were: FOX’s O’Reilly Factor, Hannity and On the Record, and their MSNBC time-slot competitors The Ed Show, Rachel Maddow and The Last Word.
My live blogging of FOX appears here, along with a longer description of my thoughts behind the project. I will re-note here, however, these caveats:
1. As a live-blogging experience, you should know that what I was trying to capture was my experience as I watched each show, not a transcription of them.
2. Although I consider myself a principled pragmatist and distrust all political parties, I am not unbiased. As I said on Monday, I clearly have greater antipathy toward today’s movement conservatism than I do today’s progressive movement. (Though I do not, I should add, have more antipathy against conservatism than progressivism.)
Here then is the live-blogging of MSNBC. My conclusion and comparative analysis of both networks will follow on Monday.
8:00 – The Ed Show
Segment One: Mitt Romney Wants to Kill the Middle Class. Oh dear, we are off to a very disappointing start right out of the box. Host Ed Shultz is drawing comparisons about campaign spending and how this proves – I swear I am not making this up – that Mitt Romney has a secret plan to completely eliminate the middle class of America. Yes, you heard me right. Not a plan that might result in the elimination of a middles class, but that there is an actual Dr. Evil-like plan designed to make us a nation of homeless masses serving the 1%.
I don’t know how accurate his statistics are, but even I know that he’s comparing apples to Boehners (get it?). He is saying that McCain’s campaign in ’08 spent $350 million, and this year various right wing groups will be spending close to $1.8 billion if you include superpac money. My guess is $1.8 billion (if that is the real number, I am already distrusting what Ed tells me) is far more than what was spent 4 years ago, because that’s the way of things these days. But the comparison of all money to McCain campaign money seems too purposeful a slight of hand. Also, Ed believes I have extra reason to worry because $400 million of that comes from organizations that have “relationships” with the Koch Bros. In Ed’s world money that has ever touched a Koch is apparently Evil Money that – if you save enough of it – can be used to buy Evil Valuable Prizes from the Evil Green Stamp Store.
The primary argument, as best I can tell, is that billionaires are are giving money to Romney, and then something something something, and then there will be no middle class. I’d explain the logic to you, but I seriously don’t get it. Maybe watching Ed Schultz is like reading Balloon Juice, where you have to commit to reading it for a while to get the plethora of inside jokes if you want to know what the hell anyone’s talking about. Seriously, I have no fishing idea what this clown is talking about. Then to “prove” this is really Romney’s secret plan, he announces a quick poll from his viewers – we can either text in that we believe Romney is trying to eliminate a middle class, or that he is not. They’ll announce the results at the end of the show! I wonder what they’ll say!
Then a quick interview with filmmaker Robert Greenwald and ex-DNC congress critter Tom Perriello, who agree that not only will the billionaire Legion of Doom eliminate the middle class, they will (if Romney wins) make sure that only Republicans are allowed to win elections in the future, and they will do this by… and again, I have no idea. Because of something, something, “big money,” something.
Good lord, this show is really terrible. Hannity was a miserable and insufferable hack, but at least he wasn’t tin-foil-hat paranoid.
Segment Two: Wisconsin Recall. Huh. Ed notes that Walker is way ahead in all the polls except one that was released by one DNC pollster, which shows it a dead heat. Ed thinks that’s the one that’s probably accurate. Even so, Ed thinks that the amount of money being spent by Walker is the reason the he’s ahead – if he even is! – because as Ed says there really is no other explanation. I wonder if Ed has considered the factors that the guy hasn’t broken any laws and the exact same people just chose him over the guy they’re running again. I’m not a political professional, but it seems worth considering.
And here’s a very un-FOX-Bush like moment: Ed believes that Obama is a bit of a turncoat for not dropping everything to come and campaign for Walker. This rant goes on for quite a while. “Maybe I’m just a jockstrap!” he finally says, as if this would explain why he’s shouting at the president. This is not the exact word I’d use, but it’s pretty fishing close.
A quick interview with John Nichols from The Nation to talk about how Walker is evil. Also, really tangled logic to explain how all the polls that show Walker is way ahead somehow proves that it is a close race that he will most likely lose.
Which brings me to something that I’m starting to notice. In the FOX shows, they actually do have people on representing an opposing point of view. Mind you, they are terribly inept and picked entirely because they look like car-show models, but it’s something. So far the only people Ed has on his show are people that just tell him how awesome he is. It’s a little sad.
Segment Three: Birtherism. The segment starts out with a montage of various FOXNews personalities discussing birtherism and wondering aloud about the President’s birthplace. There is also film of ex-Rep and Senator hopeful Pete Hoekstra’s campaign pledge, made last week, to establish a federal office in charge of checking birth certificates of presidential candidates to help keep all the riff-raff out. This is followed by the hilarious interview of him saying that he does want to do this, but it has nothing to do with Obama! Really! Pinky swear! Pete hasn’t even heard of this birherism thing! It appears to all be a big coincidence/misunderstanding spurred on by something Mrs. Roper overheard Jack say to Janet and Crissy. Since I hear from conservatives that FOXNews and GOP politicians never, ever discusses the subject I confess I enjoy this segment. It’s like watching the Daily Show – if you had a cable converter box that eliminated even the tiniest moments of Jon Stewart, fart jokes or insightful commentary.
Ed, oddly, cries foul about how Republicans are forcing him to focus on Birtherism instead of important issues like how Mitt Romney wants to be allowed to hunt middle class people for sport in large, futuristic game parks. It must really be killing him, because he announces that we’ll be talking more about birtherism later in the show.
Segments Four, Five, and Six: More of the same. We’re back, and we’re still talking about birtherism – this time centered around the Trump-Romney fundraiser. The phrase “race-baiting” is used many, many times. Then we see another critique of FOXNews; this time we see clips of a clearly anti-Obama “news” piece done on FOX & Friends, which I have to say I had already seen in it’s entirety and which is truly awful. And yet something seems inherently sad about it being on Ed’s show, but I can’t put my finger on it. And lastly a story about a potential Michigan initiative that got enough signatures but is not being allowed on the November ballot because of the font size used. Odd that this last story, the only one of the evening that was vaguely coherent or actually interesting, was saved as the throw away end piece. (On the other hand, based on what I saw earlier in the show, I am not assuming what I heard from Ed was Gospel.)
And we’re out of Ed-Land. Thank God. My goodness, that was as painful to watch as Hannity. It fishing well better start improving with our next show, which is…
9:00: The Rachel Maddow Show
Segment One: Voter Fraud. Wow. Just, wow. This is really, really terrific. I was not expecting this at all at this point.
Rachel’s first segment starts off with two voter fraud cases: the first is Indiana Secretary of State, and the second Thaddeus McCotter, the US Rep for the wealthiest district in Michigan. In the case of the Indiana guy, the six felony convictions have already come down. In McCotter’s case, he’s still claiming innocent but it looks pretty bad. Due to Michigan election law he needed to submit a petition with 2000 signatures to get his name on the ballot even though he is the incumbent. It turns out he submitted 244, photocopied over and over, with dates cut and pasted and names rearranged in oder to make all the sheets look different. It was very, very ham handed, and as Maddow pointed out didn’t really serve anyone.
The rest of the segment was about what she views as Republican overreaction to voter fraud it perceives on the part of Democrats. Reince Priebus is quoted as saying that in an election the GOP candidate must get 1 to 2 points more votes to make up for this fraud, which in the case of the upcoming election in WI for example means that he believes tens of thousands of Wisconsinites are committing voter fraud. Maddow reports that this mindset has led to 180 proposed voting restriction laws in the past two years, including (depending on the proposed legislation) refusing to let hundreds of thousands of voters without drivers licenses vote, not allowing early or absentee ballots, and purging current voters. The purging seems to be born of especially bad thinking. In Florida even voters that have since been able to prove that they are citizens and have a legal right to vote that have been purged accidentally are not being allowed, due to the poor wording of the legislation, to be reinstated into voter rolls.
I have to point out that at no time does Rachel mention “racism,” or point to dishonesty on the part of those passing these laws, or even bad intent. Instead, it is reported in such a way that suggests panic about a non-issue has led to draconian overreach that is negatively impacting real people. Even the fact that Florida’s purged voters tend to be overwhelmingly Democrats is not linked to a nefarious evil master plot to eliminate the middle class, a la Ed Schultz.
It is unlike anything I’ve yet to see in my cable-news marathon. Where is the race baiting? Where is the yelling about the other side? Where is the refusing to admit that the people you’re talking about might be coming from a place of wanting to do good, even if they did get carried away?
I don’t think Rachel Maddow really understand this whole cable news thing.
Segment Two: Spelling and Typos. Rachel notes Mitt Romney’s official iPhone app misspelled America (AMERCIA!), which is old news for bloggers. But rather than snark about it that way Ed or any of the people at FOX would have, she explains that stuff happens. She gives us a few other examples of typos in politics, including one I had never heard of before: the commemorative pens given to legislators signing the Clinton impeachment accidentally read Untied States of America. And then she talked about how often her own show and she herself misspell, or say words in the wrong order, or make other verbal mistakes. It is light and charming and warm. And if TV ratings are all about conflict Rachel Maddow must have the lowest rating in cable TV history.
I am starting to love this show. I now fear the inevitable shoe I know must drop before the hour is up.
Segment Three: Background in Business Amendment. Well, this isn’t Ed Schultz bad, but the this segment is a bit disappointing. Rachel notes both Donald Trump’s and Mitt Romney’s refusal to believe that Obama is qualified to be President for a variety of reasons. Mitt because he hasn’t spent enough time in business, and Donald because he hasn’t spent enough time being born in places that aren’t Kenya.
I find most of what she’s saying to be true, but obviously so: If the Romney campaign is so against the press talking about Birtherism, why did they publicly release a copy of his birth certificate to the press the morning of his Trump fundraiser? Why did he bring the subject up himself at the event? Yeah, yeah, I get all of that. I just don’t get why Rachel’s talking about it. And more than talking about it, Rachel actually seems angry. Which is weird looking after the past five hours, because even though everyone in CableNews Land gets angry, it’s a kind of obviously inauthentic play-angry. Rachel looks seriously ticked off.
The weakest of all I’ve seen of her so far, but still worlds ahead of everyone else.
Segment Four: It Sucks to be Bruce Braley. Wow. So here I am, not mashing segment four, five and six into one another because I’m so fishing bored I want to stick knitting needles into my eyes. This one’s a really interesting story on Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley.
Prior to 2010 Braley won his previous two elections by 29 points apiece, and was barely running a campaign because he was popular and his opponent was the kind of guy that runs against a guy that wins by 29 points every two years. But a month or two prior to the election, ads begin appearing on TV against Braley. And they run all the time – in fact they run an estimated $10 million worth of Iowa air time. But they are weird, weird attack ads. They link Braley to the then ubiquitous Ground Zero Mosque, and make weird connections between he and the alleged terrorist threat behind it. None of it is true; the mosque is not an issue he has spoken about or even cares about. And then other ads, equally inflammatory and bizarrely false start playing round the clock.
They ads aren’t just underhanded, they fall into the potentially fraudulent and slanderous category. But no one can do anything about it as the election approaches, because there’s no one for the campaign or the Iowa election officials to deal with. The ads were payed for by the AmericanFutreFund, which is owned by the Center to Protect Patient Rights. Each exist as nothing but a PO box in Phoenix, AZ. So as to who decided to run these ads and why, who the hell knows? Braley goes on to win, but only by two points.
I have to say, of all the arguments against the Citizens United decision I have heard, none of them make the hairs on the back of neck stand up the way this story does. It is seriously creepy stuff.
Segment Six: Spelling Bee. A human interest story on the national spelling bee with a Sienfeldian Seltzer-Salsa discussion. One of the international participants was a boy from New Zealand, and the word given to him was the color taupe. Because of the problems inherent in accents, the boy kept pronouncing it tarp. The judge and the boy go back and forth a bit before they’re on the same page and he nails it.
And we’re done with the Rachel Maddow Show. And now, dare I hope for more of the same with…
10:00: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.
Segment One: Mitt Romney Is The Worst Person Ever. The show starts with a mind-numbingly long montage of pundits saying things about Mitt Romney, none of them very insightful. (What is it about pundits and their belief that pundits are so damn important?) Then Lawrence goes through a memo from the Obama campaign listing reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney. Lawrence reports these points as news, and neither offers a differing opinion nor does he mention a reason not to vote for Obama. Does Lawrence O’Donnell work for the White House?
There’s a lot of detail, but I’m not going to go into it. It’s late and I’m tired, and it’s basically all the same. Oh, there’s this, though: Sarah Palin was more noble for quitting early in AK than Mitt was for staying in MA even though he wanted to be president instead.
It’s really, really shameless.
Segment Two: Mitt Romney Hates Women. A long segment about how Mitt Romney wants to eliminate women’s right to vote or something. It’s done trying to use the title of the titillating on-line erotica best seller Fifty Shades of Gray, by forcing a clumsy Fifty Shades of Mitt narrative. It is amazingly ham-handed. Odd complaints that women are warming up to Mitt in the polls. Why can’t those silly women pay attention?
Segment Three: Barney Frank Out-of-the-Closet Anniversary. An interview with Barney Frank, one quarter of a century after Frank came out. But first a video of a church in Indiana that preaches against gays.
Not much to say about the interview, except that it’s classic Frank. I know that he’s a congress person that it’s popular to bang on, but I’ve always liked him. He seems unaffected in a way that appeals to me. Nothing revelatory, but nice. More Barney and less Lawrence is a good thing, turns out.
Segment Four: Newt Gingrich? Really?. Newt apparently said something stupid,and so… I’m sorry, why are we talking about Newt again? Didn’t we already throw Holy Water on him last Spring? Seriously, I have no idea what Lawrence is going on about. He just keeps going on and on in this smarmy voice, asking Newt to go away. Let him, Lawrence. Let him.
This seems like a good time to bring this up, because this segment is unbelievably dull and empty: Watching Lawrence O’Donnell makes me realize that there is a difference between being a talented and experienced terrible hack and just being a terrible hack. Say what you will about Bill O’Reilly, but he can keep me from falling asleep when he’s being a doofus. Lawrence O’Donnell is just so dull. So very, very, dull. I keep looking up from my laptop hoping that we’ll be in the commercial segments, but no. When’s your fishing last word? You named this damn show The Last Word, why in the name of all that is holy can’t you just fishing utter it? He’s still talking. Oh God, the humanity, he’s still talking. About Newt Gingrich. Stop it. Please. Stop. For the love of God, please stop talking.
Fuck it. I’m fast forwarding.
Segment Five: Kevin Bleyer Interview. Fish me raw. Up last is an interview with Daily Show writer Kevin Bleyer, who has just written a book. I’m excited to hear it except as Lawrence pointed out because the droning on and on about Gingrich went way over time they don’t really have time. AAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!
I HATE, I HATE, I HATE LAWRENCE O’DONNELL!!!!
And we’re done. With all six hours. Finally.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go drink all of the vodka in Oregon.