Thursday, May 20, 2010

Goodbye to all that, Part One

This was going to be a single post but it got long enough that I've broken it into two.

At the top, I have to say this: I still think "Daily Howler" Bob Somerby's notion of "the script," an overall media concept of a story or a set of political developments into which all subsequent coverage must be made to fit, is one of the best tools for media analysis going. In fact, you could see the script in operation in the coverage of the primaries on Tuesday: Arlen Specter lost to someone to his left. A moderate conservative Democrat beat a more conservative Republican for the late John Murtha's House seat. Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff with a challenger to her left. All of these were described as based on local factors, individual issues, and the like. But Rand Paul winning that primary? Important demonstration of a national trend!

However - I also have to say that Bob Somerby is now finally and permanently out of my media-search orbit. I simply can no longer abide his greasily sanctimonious condescension toward anything and everyone not 100% Somerby. His post for May 12 was the last straw, or, more exactly, the last two straws.

Straw one (straw two will be the next post) was his attack on one of his now-favorite targets, Rachel Maddow, who, he has written, "must be the world’s biggest hustler." (Just for context, my view of Maddow is that she clearly is no radical but she is a solid liberal of the old school when "liberal" actually meant something.)

Maddow on her May 10 show had a segment about the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagen to the Supreme Court. First up was Glenn Greenwald, with what she called "the case against Kagen," followed by Lawrence Lessig with "the case for Kagen." It was the exchange with Lessig that blew away Somerby's always-fragile self-control:
This is how she closed Monday’s segment - kissing establishment keister, as always:

MADDOW (5/10/10): Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School, I have to tell you, the Supreme Court nomination process, in my view, has become a process where nominees try to prove how conservative they are, either small "C" or large "C," depending on who’s president.

Talking with you and Glenn tonight just makes me really wish that it was a big fight amongst liberals and centrists. I think it could be really, really interesting to get in to all this stuff in great detail. I really thank you for your time tonight.

LESSIG: I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Thanks.

Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! Maddow, a prime self-promoter, has never met a useful keister she wasn’t prepared to kiss, often loudly. ... Lessig had just filled viewers’ heads full of smack about Greenwald - and, to a lesser extent, about Kagan. Rachel thanked him for his brilliance, falling all over herself with praise for how “interesting” it had been.
(Emphasis in original.)

The sneering and hyperbole in that passage secure their own convictions on the charge of "choking on your own spleen." But consider how Somerby characterizes Maddow's closing: What he hell is he talking about? I saw the show, watched the video to check my recollection, and had to read Somerby's flailing rant twice before I realized what's going on: He is imagining - the word is chosen deliberately - that she's saying that what Lessig said was "really, really interesting." But it was clear to me then and clear to me now (and to, I expect, any other sentient English-speaking person who is not Bob Somerby) that she was saying that having the argument about the Kagen nomination be "a big fight amongst liberals and centrists" about her record to see if she's liberal enough is what "could be really, really interesting" - and a refreshing change from recent times. I find no rational way to interpret it the way Somerby did.

Then consider what Somerby didn't: Her exchange with Glenn Greenwald. (Somerby mentions just more or less in passing that Greenwald was on and that only to set the stage for the above quote.) Greenwald had as much air time as Lessig and had equal latitude to make his arguments.

And this is how Maddow closed her segment with him, quoted from the video of the show: columnist, former Constitutional lawyer himself, Glenn Greenwald, whose criticism early on of the potential, and now current, Elena Kagen nomination has been a real focus for people in terms of sorting out her record and what is worthy of discussion about it. Glenn, thank you very much, as always, for your insights; it's good to have you on the show.
If what she said about Lessig was "falling all over herself with praise," what new level of superlative would we have to invent to describe what she said about Greenwald?

One of Somerby's favorite slams is "clownish" - at times it seems like he can't get through a column without using the term or some variation of it. But quite frankly, he is the one who has become a clown.


JayV said...

I have read Daily Howler maybe three times. I know a lot of people swear by it, but I have never given much attention to that site.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

I haven't delved into this chapter in any detail, but overall, I heartily agree with Somerby's diagnosis of Maddow, who presides over one of the top franchises of "progressive" media with tribal, ham-handed humor and serves up (if I may appropriate Somerby's lingo) dishonest comfort food for us rubes.

She sometimes has a worthy guest or commentary, but her program is substantially an excellent place for lefties to get disinformed in self-satisfying ways.

I don't always agree with Somerby (for example, he's been far too generous about Obama and his health-care plan, partially by giving Krugman his proxy on it [something I gather he's slowly wising up from]), but he's plainly motivated more by honesty than by tribe and popularity, something I couldn't possibly say about Maddow without my fingers crossed behind my back.

Lotus said...

Nice to see comments.

Jay, I was a regular reader of DH for some time and it used to be on my list of media links. Nio more.

VLWC, I will simply repeat what I said: Maddow is a good liberal in the classic sense, someone who believes the government has a role to play in matters such as poverty, discrimination, etc., but is still supports the economic system and is "pro-US" on foreign policy.

She surely is no radical and I never suggested she is.

Bluntly, I think Somerby taking aim at her has less to do with anything she has actually said or done but with her popularity and his desire to maintain his "more liberal than thou" cred.

I do wonder, BTW, why you used a two-year old brief clip as a means of, I take it, criticizing her. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of things in the past couple of weeks that would work better.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

Hi, Larry.

Why do I reference a two-year-old clip? Because it was the last nail in the coffin of my ascribing any credibility to Maddow. It was and is an example of twisted and oh-so-easy tribalism, to join in the media's utterly fabricated "RFK-gate" wilding of Hillary Clinton. "Progressives" used to champion a media critique, now career "liberals" of Maddow's ilk are a big part of the problem, spewing utter lies without a hint of shame.

Around that time, I stopped listening to Air America and watching MSNBC, so I don't have first-hand experience of recent vintage of her lame humor, her kissing the ass of power, and her disinforming viewers.

Somerby's reportage on Maddow's sleazy "teabagger" riffs and other vacant comfort food suggests that I haven't been missing much. YMMV.

Somerby has, for years, been willing to (properly) bite the hand that feeds him, calling out the worse-than-worthless career "liberals" that pervade so-called left-of-center media. How that supports your theory that he's merely jealous of Maddow's popularity is beyond me.

Lotus said...

I said nothing about Somerby being "jealous." I said he targets her because she is a popular media figure among liberals and he is always concerned with proving he is a realer, truer, liberal than anyone else on the planet, most of who, in his opinion, have "low IQs" - which is a big part of the "greasily sanctimonious condescension" to which I object.

As for Maddow being guilty of "tribalism," I'm always a little taken aback when leftists are surprised when liberals act like liberals.

I find Maddow useful in the same sense and way I find a lot of other media sources useful. Some, of course, more useful than others - but most news outlets, even conservative ones, can be useful if you apply the correct filters.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

"As for Maddow being guilty of "tribalism," I'm always a little taken aback when leftists are surprised when liberals act like liberals."

What does this mean? Maddow has a blank check to be the dishonest, lame-humored opiate of the "progressive" masses?

Lotus said...

It means what it said: The reaction of "Omigod! She's acting like a liberal!" just makes me think "Well, what the hell did you expect?"

It also means that rants about her supposed "dishonesty," which by their nature contain accusations about motive as well as behavior, fail to impress me. I say yet again, she is a classic liberal and what she expresses flows from that. That can make her, given the particulars of a case, anything from insightful to bone-headedingly dense, but it does not make her "dishonest."

(Compare this with, for an obvious example, Fox, where, I believe, many of the news people - that is, the ones Fox labels as "news" rather than "opinion" - are consciously seeking to advance a political agenda. The difference between that and essentially but not consciously advancing such an agenda because of reporting arising from your own convictions may have more to do with philosophy than practical effect but it is nonetheless real and does speak directly to the question of honesty.)

It means, thirdly, that his attacks on Maddow are less substantive (about what she actually says) than personal (who, in his eyes, she is).

As a sidebar, before her it was Keith Olhermann and before him it was Chris Matthews - that pattern being part of the basis for my assertion that he is going after her because "she is a popular media figure among liberals." Whoever is in the ascendancy in that role at a given moment becomes a prime target. That is not by its nature an unfair undertaking - those at the top should get and should expect to get more critical attention than minor voices - but it should be openly acknowledged that the targets are chosen due to their popularity rather than the quality of their work. That's especially true when the critiques are to prove your own, supposedly superior, lib cred - which it what I maintain Somerby is doing.

As for "comfort food," that impresses me even less. Bob Somerby is comfort food, a constant harping on the same narrow point ("All those 'liberal' media people are clowns! And liberals are stupid!") that enables his readers to feel they have a much greater depth of understanding of media and events than the trusting rubes who read or watch those "clowns" but without actually providing any.

BTW, I don't get the "bite the hand that feeds him" bit. While his bio on his site is vague about it, the fact is he has never worked as an editor or a reporter. He has written some op-eds, but he has made his living as a teacher and a stand-up comedian. The media does not "feed" him.

I'll end with this: I do watch both KO and RM. I enjoy the shows and take from them what I find useful. (Even though I hit the mute whenever Ezra Klein comes on again.) The bottom line point is this: I will often enough come the the end of a RM show feeling pissed about some attack on civil liberties, some corporate malfeasance, or some government failure to protect the pubic interest. I come away from a Daily Howler entry feeling pissed about Bob Somerby and his over-the-top self-important screeds. There are those who think simple bile is a valuable contribution to public debate. I am not among them.

Last licks are yours if you want them.

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