February 27, 2008

What if Republicans ran the Democratic debate?

**UPDATE**

TPM's Veracifier put together a great clip called "When Russert Attacks" that shows how absolutely goofy and over-the-top Russert was during the debate.

Watch it here.

Well, they did last night.

Aside from the performance of the candidates, the overwhelming thing that could be taken away from last night's Democratic debate was that moderators Tim Russert and Brian Williams were essentially representing the Republicans.

Nearly every single question were questions that took as their basis some Republican talking point or attack. And nearly every question was designed to benefit, not the voters, but the Republicans.

The only redeeming aspect of this was that it allowed the candidates to get used to responding too, and refuting, these often distorted or untrue assertions and assumptions, and presumably, dispell them or address them before they are allowed to gain wider currency.

For instance, Russert, in his annoying habit of trying to act intense and getting entirely too excited about his often stupid questions, practically demanded that Clinton release her joint tax returns filed with President Clinton.

Why did he say she had to do this? Because she'd made a loan to her campaign (which was repaid within 48 hours by donations) and therefore her finances were public business.

First of all, is there ONE Democrat anywhere in the country that gives a damn whether Hillary releases her and Bill's tax returns? If there's more than 5, I'd be surprised.

No, the only people who are chomping at the bit to get at these are .... Republicans, represented ably by Russert.

But Timmy wasn't done. Acting as though he were a lawyer who had just produced the smoking gun in a dramatic courtroom, he practically leaned over his desk in demanding that Hillary release the personal logs from her entire 8 years in the White House. These are logs which detail her daily activities.

When's the last time you heard one of your neighbors or maybe someone at a party remark about how they were troubled that Hillary hadn't released her personal schedules from her White House years nearly 8 years ago?

What? You haven't? Why, it must be very important, or Russert wouldn't waste time during the last debate on it, surely.

Well, he did, acting like a prosecutor and demanding that Clinton agree to release them in their entirety.

Is this to benefit the Democratic voters who are making this choice? Is this because this is an issue of concern for many voters?

HELL NO.

It's because the Republicans want to get their hands on these documents so bad they can taste it, in order to spend thousands of hours pouring over them doing opposition research... digging for anything they can suggest is dirty or rotten.

That's the ONLY people who want these records, and Russert, good boy that he is, dutifully spent a portion of the debate trying to pin down Clinton into giving the Republicans what they want.

And this from the party who gave us Dick Cheney, a man who to this day refuses to disclose who attended his Energy Policy meetings in the White House, and who demanded that his home in D.C. be erased from Google satellite images, the only location in the world that is erased from Google Earth.

And they don't seem to have had any problems with Bush/Cheney running by all accounts the most secretive administration in history. Guess it's only AFTER you're put in office that you can then refuse to share anything whatsoever with the public who put you there.


In another bizarre attempt at "gotcha" syle, Russert wasted a large chunk of time trying to tie Obama to Louis Farrakhan, the infamously anti-semitic Muslim leader.

In trying mightily to somehow portray Obama as buddy-buddy with this creep, Russert had to make the Republican fantasy that .... see if you can follow now... Farrakhan has expressed anti-semitic views in the past.... Farrakhan has said he's glad to see a black man running strongly for president, and he hopes Obama will win... and Obama's minister in Chicago had once said something flattering about Farrakhan.

See? Obama is anti-semitic. What a joke.

What do you have to believe to make this leap? That Obama should be ASSUMED to share Farrakhan's anti-semitic beliefs because he attended a church .... whose pastor once said something positive about .... Farrakhan.

So this is a fair question? Yet this is what lead Pumpkin-head to DEMAND that Obama denouce Farrakhan? Again, Russert starts out with the ASSUMPTION, presumed to be fact unless contradicted by Obama, that using this bizarre link, Obama must be anti-semitic and therefore requires that he denouce and repudiate Farrakhan and anti-semitism or else stand accused of it himself.

Again, is there ONE SINGLE Democrat in the world for whom this is a big problem? No. Is it a Republican angle that they hope to smear and attack Obama with? Yes.

The questions and lines of attack last night had every indication of having been handed down by Russert and Williams' corporate bosses, not in an attempt to provide informationa and insight to the voters who will make the choice, but to attack them with every possible issue they could to enable Republican efforts to make them look as bad as possible.

Russert seemed on the verge of hyper-ventilating when he asked one of his patented, and utterly stupid, hypotheticals. WHAT IF we announce a gradual withdrawal, and WHAT IF the Iraq government then says that we should just get the hell out completely and kicks us out, then WHAT IF al Queda starts... I don't know... building army bases or something? WHAT WILL YOU DO THEN?????!!!!!

Such questions don't serve any purpose except to aid the right wing in trying to give them something to distort into the Dems being weak on defense (GE, the parent company of MSNBC and Russert and Williams' boss, is the country's largest defense contractor.)

Hypothetical questions such as that are simply unserious and have no bearing on reality. But Russert felt that reeling out this Republican scenario and then demanding that the candidates respond was the thing to do.

Thankfully, both Clinton and Obama refused to fall for such nonsense. Fred Thompson and all the other Republican candidates flatly refused to give any response AT ALL to any hypothetical questions during one of their previous debates.

When Clinton responded by pointing out that Russert asks a lot of hyptothetical questions, Russert shot back, "But this is reality!", to which Clinton calmly informed him, no, it wasn't, it was a hypthetical he'd made up. Apparently Russert can't distinguish between dramatic scenarios he makes up in his head and reality.


Russert/Williams/NBC clearly feels it's more important to ratings to try to increase dramatic conflict between the candidates throughout, typically using Russert's shaky practice of constantly putting up video of past statemtents designed to make it as uncomfortable as possible for the candidates. But they couldn't even get that right, running the wrong clips at the wrong times.

Good moderating isn't a game of "stump the candidate" or do whatever you can to provoke an awkward moment or goad candidates into getting angry. But you couldn't tell from watching these guys.

How does playing candidates engaging in political campaigning, trying to knock their opponents, then demanding that they respond help inform voters? It doesn't. It simply is fodder to try to create conflict.

It's to the Dems credit that they largely refused to take the bait.

If this election is the one where people reject the politics of the past, let's hope that somehow it can reject the media coverage of the past as well and somehow get networks to actually take the matter more seriously than viewing it as just another reality show for people's entertainment.

The idea that they're providing a public service seems to the the last thing on their minds.

This was billed as Clinton's last shot at making her case. Instead, what is likely the last of 20 debates among Democrats, ended with two Bozos acting like they were on a last desperate effort to provide Republicans with something to work with.

Thankfully it didn't work as hoped.

It was really an embarassing effort by Russert and Williams and resulted in less being revealed about the candidates than previous debates, leaving the candidates themselves to try to discuss real issues that are important to voters, rather than the distracting attempts to pin them on issues only of interest to those who want to deny either of them the White House.

**UPDATE**

I wrote the above only moments after getting done watching a recording of the debate, so it's a little nice to see that the blogosphere is full of people who observed the same thing, namely, how disgusting Russert's performance was.

This post at Crooks and Liars provides a video clip of perhaps Russert's worst moment among many during the debate... the positively frantic attempt to insinuate that Obama is somehow anti-semitic and not to be trusted.

It also provides links to several other posts decrying Russert's performance as a Republican shill, lazy and shallow journalist, and someone more out to inject himself into things than provide any illumination.

Of particular interest are the posts at Digby's Hullabaloo, Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo and Illinois' own Arch Pundit.

Thanks to a loyal reader for steering me to the C&L post.

8 Comments:

At 2/27/2008 2:33 PM, Blogger UMRBlog said...

TID,

As you know, I'm a staunch HRC supporter, but I was outraged at both the fact the "Minister F." question was asked and the disingenuous manner in which it was "justified". Obama had no choice but to answer it, as if it had been asked by a grownup but it was sleazy, slimy and another pitiful attempt by a form Cuomo aid to show he's really a neutral. Of course, his method of showing that is to overcorrect.

On the "daytimer" question, the process is, by law, multi-staged. The archivist has only released the datebooks within the last month. The next step is for the Clinton foundation to review and recommend or permit release to the public. That will probably take about two hours but it will require WJC, HRC, the datebooks and a lawyer to be in the same room (presumably in LR). I completely agree with everything you said but, on top of all that, it would be unreasonable to expect that non-delegable task to be completed while there are still primaries being contested.

I don't know if there were any winners last night but there was at least one loser, Russert.

Continued Success.

 
At 2/27/2008 3:04 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

UMR,
Glad it wasn't just me. I was thoroughly disgusted with the goofy line of questions by Russert, as well as his melodramatic act in asking them.

It's true of most of these hacks... they truly think THEY are the story, or sure hope the hell they'll be part of it. That's why they concoct these goofy tactics, to try to generate a "hot" moment that will get played over and over.

I recorded the debate and it's post-debate analysis and have just finished watching the after debate show.

You should have heard Timmy tap-dancing and contorting himself to justify his goofy questions. It was truly as if he somehow was already feeling a twinge of guilt and was protesting a bit too much.

During his convoluted justification of his question about Obama's stance on accepting public funding during the general election if he's the nominee, Russert actually characterized Obamas filling out a questionaire in which he indicated he'd try to get public financing (months and months ago) as Obama responding with, "an EMPHATIC yes." to this question.

How checking a check box is "emphatic", I'm not sure.

But he then went on to snidely reason that if Obama was saying he was the candidate of hope and change, then in Russert's mind, that meant that he should be pressed on this issue and made to give a firm yes or no answer. (a favorite disingenous Russert trick is DEMANDING yes or no answers to nuanced questions that either don't require one or can't be answered yes or no.)

How does offering hope and change have anything to do with trying to pin him down on committing to accepting public financing in the general election campaign?

Again, this is of no interest to anyone but Republican stratigists who would LOVE to have Obama lock himself in to a commmittment to accept public financing.

Russert was simply attempting to do their bidding. There's really no other explanation. It's plain as day.

It truly seems as if these guys simply are clueless ... because they are... about what "normal" Americans care about. They're far more concerned with what their conservative bosses and owners think in order to preserve their multi-million dollar careers, their second homes on Nantucket, and their invitations to Georgetown dinner parties.

 
At 2/27/2008 3:18 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Oh... and I forgot what I'd intended to say.... and that is that these Clinton records are subject to the absolutely bizarre and wrong Bush edicts put into effect shortly after he was put in office.

These "rules" now put all past presidential records under HIS control.

Yes, that's not made up.

Under a new rule implemented by Bush, all presidential records from former administrations are subject to release only when both the president in question AND Bush agree to release them.

In other words, the Clintons could OK the release of information, but Bush could simply say no.

Or, conversely, as Bush has done on several occasions when it served his political purposes, he can OK releasing documents and trasnscripts of meetings held by Clinton without Clinton's consent.

It's always been the rule that all presidential records are open to the public something like 10 or 20 years after a president's term or they die... not sure which.

But now the current president can say no and prevent them from being released.

I'm not able to explain the exact details, but suffice it to say that Bush can prevent the release of his records (those that aren't shredded, or conveniently "lost" already) indefinitely and they can't be accessed until one of his heirs AND whoever the current president may be at that time, OK it.

Sorry for the lack of specifics, but the point is that Hillary Clinton doesn't control her own presidential records entirely.

And again, the main point here is that no one but Republican dirty-tricks specialists are even interested in such records.

Why Russert felt the need to press for them during precious debate time is telling.

No talk of the environment, no talk of inner-city poverty or crime, not much talk about education policy, no talk about the Palestinian problem, no talk about loose nukes, no talk about repairing crumbling infrastructure, and little to no discussion of the potentially dangerous situation in Serbia..... But Timmy found probably about 20 minutes of this time to try to badger Hillary about tax returns and White House logs, and Obama about public funding in the general.....

AND... with no mention of McCain's little problem with the law in this area either.

A few months ago when McCain's campaign was in the tank, he went to a bank to get a loan for his campaign. In order to secure it, he listed the promise of public funding.

In other words, he was saying that if his campaign looked like it was going nowhere, he'd apply for public funding, take those taxpayer funds, and use them to pay back the loan.

This is highly illegal, not to mention unethical.

But not a peep from Tim on this, just a relentless effort to try to trap Obama into committing to public financing so he'd be at a disadvantage in the general.

Curious indeed.

 
At 2/27/2008 3:51 PM, Blogger Saul said...

I agree on the HRC schedule question (does anyone doubt that she wasn't working hard?) and the McCarthyite demand that Obama publicly denounce Farrakhan (even after he has publicly denounced Farrakhan's offensive statements many times), but I disagree on the question of HRC's tax returns. I think that it should be a requirement for every politician to publicly release that data. The question is perfectly legitimate for those in public office--how much money do you have, and where did you get it? This is as important as data on campaign financing, as shown by the very possibility of HRC to loan money to her own campaign, or of other candidates to fund their own election efforts.

 
At 2/27/2008 5:39 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Just to be clear, I was not arguing that candidates tax returns should be off the table or that asking them to disclose them isn't legitimate.

But I do think that they're often used for nothing more than fodder for criticism, such as how much X gave to charity and which one, etc.

The financial disclosures required in the Congress are much less detailed, only requireing a politician to reveal his net worth and where that money is. It provides only the most general information, as opposed to tax returns. I'm certain that nearly everyone wouldn't want the contents of their tax returns made universally public, even if they had nothing to hide.

My point is that Russert's Perry Mason act in going after Clinton and acting like he'd just gotten her to admit to murder was ridiculous, especially when it was done at the same time a slew of much more pressing and important issues were not mentioned at all.

The issues of her tax returns and White House activity logs had no place whatsoeve in a debate setting. Those are issues best dealt with by the McCain campaign or reporters, not some goofy debate moderator desperate to generate some sort of "gotcha" moment.

As a matter of fact, I'm stunned that Timmy didn't demand that they both name Putin's successor in Russia. As it was he only asked who they thought it would be.

Again, is our relationship with Russia on the top of anyone's list of pressing issues? Where the hell did this come from?

Not that it's unimportant, but in the scheme of things, there are far more important and dire foreign policy issues to discuss.

Russert was at his worst last night, no doubt about it. But at least he likely got the pat on the head from his bosses that he was out for to begin with.

 
At 2/27/2008 7:06 PM, Blogger Saul said...

Did you ever see the Bill Moyers documentary "Buying the War" about the media's failure to question the Bushies on their claims about Iraq before the war? I think you can watch the whole thing here. Russert is interviewed in it, and he comes off looking like a clown--saying something to the effect that he wasn't really convinced by the claims advanced by Bush/Cheney, and he was just waiting for someone to call him and tell him what the real story was (as if it was beyond him that it was his duty as a reporter to go out and start asking questions and tracking down the truth himself). If he has any shame, he should have been humiliated by that show. Maybe his performance at the debate was his attempt redeem himself and show that he's a real reporter who asks the tough questions. Except he evidently can't distinguish real issues from fake ones. (Though I still think that the tax returns of politicians are fair game for public scrutiny).

Actually, it looks like the entire transcript of "Buying the War" is online here. You can find Russert's exact words by doing a text search. It's a very good documentary--I highly recommend it.

 
At 2/28/2008 12:48 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

UMR, thanks for pointing to that. I believe I saw it when it was originally aired, as I record Moyer's Journal every week.

His show two weeks ago was interesting, and a bit shocking, as well. It concerned some reporters from a local paper in Portland, OR, I believe, who did an incredible amount of research and work to actually compile a database of all the billions of dollars in earmarks, otherwise known as pork, hidden within the defense appropriations bill.

It was well hidden, to be sure. But these reporters managed to tease it out, mostly by scouring hundreds of congressional web sites. It seems they hide the pork in the official paperwork, using codes so dense no one can figure them out. But the trusty politicians can always be counted on to brag about the pork they got for their districts on their web pages, so that's how they were able to tease out just what was what.

Looking at just their local reps and senator, they found millions upon millions of waste, including huge contracts to provide hundreds of those sci-fi looking deals that attach to soldier's helmets and hang a little computer screen down over one eye.

And the contract was given to this local company AFTER the army determined they were junk and useless, and after the company had dumped thousands into the campaigns of the politicians, natch.

Another example was millions blown on a deal that a congressman got for a clothing manufacturer to provide undershirts for troops.

They sold tens of thousands to the military for a huge price.

But they were made of rayon or some synthetic material which, when exposed to high heat or flame, literally melted into a blob which then adhered to the skin and burned away the flesh of soldiers.

OOOOps. They got yanked from the field after causing many severe burns. But then they got another contract to sell the "new, improved" models that didn't burn and melt quite so badly.

Anyway, Moyer's shows are some of the best out there as far as uncovering the ugly truth about our current government and politics.

I'd recommend it to anyone. (as well as "Frontline".) if you really want to be shocked at the sheer scale and magnitude of out and out looting of this country.

 
At 2/28/2008 12:49 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Saul,

Thanks for pointing to that. I believe I saw it when it was originally aired, as I record Moyer's Journal every week.

His show two weeks ago was interesting, and a bit shocking, as well. It concerned some reporters from a local paper in Portland, OR, I believe, who did an incredible amount of research and work to actually compile a database of all the billions of dollars in earmarks, otherwise known as pork, hidden within the defense appropriations bill.

It was well hidden, to be sure. But these reporters managed to tease it out, mostly by scouring hundreds of congressional web sites. It seems they hide the pork in the official paperwork, using codes so dense no one can figure them out. But the trusty politicians can always be counted on to brag about the pork they got for their districts on their web pages, so that's how they were able to tease out just what was what.

Looking at just their local reps and senator, they found millions upon millions of waste, including huge contracts to provide hundreds of those sci-fi looking deals that attach to soldier's helmets and hang a little computer screen down over one eye.

And the contract was given to this local company AFTER the army determined they were junk and useless, and after the company had dumped thousands into the campaigns of the politicians, natch.

Another example was millions blown on a deal that a congressman got for a clothing manufacturer to provide undershirts for troops.

They sold tens of thousands to the military for a huge price.

But they were made of rayon or some synthetic material which, when exposed to high heat or flame, literally melted into a blob which then adhered to the skin and burned away the flesh of soldiers.

OOOOps. They got yanked from the field after causing many severe burns. But then they got another contract to sell the "new, improved" models that didn't burn and melt quite so badly.

Anyway, Moyer's shows are some of the best out there as far as uncovering the ugly truth about our current government and politics.

I'd recommend it to anyone. (as well as "Frontline".) if you really want to be shocked at the sheer scale and magnitude of out and out looting of this country.

 

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