Friday, January 11, 2008

“I Meta On A Friday And My Heart Stood Still...”

They (The Candidates) do run, run, run, they do run, runnnnn...

Work's been “that thing John McCain's been asked how to stop” this past week so I've been a little bit pre-occupied. In so doing, there's been quite a bit I haven't had a chance to munch on in the past few li'l ol' days.

And sometimes it's better to step back for a minute and just let the chips fall and see where all the crumbs end up...until a handful of fresh chips is dropped to the floor of course.

Post the New Hampshire Primary and the lingering effects of the Iowa Caucus there are some particularly weighty stories that have emerged. Tales of tears, sexist pile-on blowback, wildly inaccurate polling, great speechifying and somnambulent droning abound have been covered in various degrees in various places here and about. But this post is about certain meta crumbs of the last few days Campaign '08 stories which I find fascinating to analyze and quite illuminating. With that, those aforementioned crumbs—which still have a touch of crunch and haven't yet gone stale....

Immediately after the Iowa Caucus you couldn't take a breath and not have your belly touch a pundit tossing flowers, dirt, and clumpy coffee grounds on the potential Presidential fortunes of Hillary Clinton. The New Hampshire primary results threw the Mantovani on in the middle of the “Hillary is Gone” disco dance party, and let it be said here—I'm kind of happy about that.

Whatever issues I may have with Ms. Clinton—and you'd better damn well believe I do, getting a chance to see Chris Matthews, Rush Limbaugh and William “No-fact-Checka!” Kristol looking as if they've just noshed on a nice feces sandwich is worth seeing a phoenix-like Hillary rise from the punditry ashes. The idea that Ms. Clinton, the national front-runner and New hampshire front-runner for seemingly an eternity would somehow be doornail dead with a loss in the Granite state on Tuesday was a.): woefully premature speculation on the part of number-crunchers and campaign junkies, and b.): an exposure of naked “hateration” and two-lessons-worth-of-Judo gamesmanship on the part of people who mean progressives no damn good.

The geeks and wonks who sit around and Warhammer out the battles of the campaign season for shits and giggles you can forgive. That's what they live for—the projection of life's greater battles onto the relative mundaneness of the campaign trail. That sort projects everything onto odd, mundane things that naturally boast little excitement. These guys I can easily cut some slack.

But it's the raw “haters” and game-players whose self-immolation over Clinton's “comeback” was the most telling. I'd like to say Rush Limbaugh embarrassed himself with his post-primary bleats about election fraud on the Clinton campaign's part—but to be embarrassed would mean that shame would have to be extant in him. So instead, I'll just say that he merely added more nuts and syrup to his towering sundae of stupid.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews though, comes off the absolute worst of anyone covering or opining during this ramping-up of the campaign season.

His clumsyfuck shilling for Rudy Giuliani has been well documented. Apparently he is driven by kindredness to pull for a fellow rude, hypocritical, northeast, anti-charismatic, lapsed Catholic blowhard to win the election. All fine and good as I'm relatively certain that the solder and welding robots at GM's Detroit Hamtramck plant are backing their brother in transistors Mitt Romney the same way the fossil and museum exhibit community are throwing every iota of their Carbon 14-ed hearts behind John McCain.

But Matthews' deep-seated personal issues came to the fore with his increasingly shrill sandbagging of Hillary Clinton of late. As a loyal “Villager” he can't help this—but as being the only one of them with a daily national TV show while simultaneously being the most objectivity tone-deaf and tantrum-prone, he especially un-distinguished himself with his recent antics. His creepy obsession with the Clintons and their sex life was already de riguer, but the moment he sensed an opportunity to effectively bury the Clintons—especially Hillary who he and the rest of the D.C. society set felt didn't do enough to punish her “NQOCD” husband—he slipped his pundit clown car into fifth gear and plunged downhill into Hateville. Now, he wasn't alone in his trek...but he was without a doubt the most gleeful.

Hillary herself wounded Matthews with a deft little bit of well-timed condescension that made him look simply awful—her reduction of Matthews to a knickered “Little Rascal” obsessed with the unattainable “Miss Crabtree” with the pat on the cheek and an almost sad “Oh, Christopher”, shown here.

In the end, Matthews' leading the sexist charge against a reeling Clinton turned out to be a typically fatal mistake—I believe it was Newt Gingrich who said of the Clintons after a bruising budget battle with the GOP, 'Never give him (them) the chance to appear assailed or the victim'. Not only did she appear to be the victim, but she was the victim—of a blood-in-the-water sensing press, and in more than a small way, she made them pay for their attacks, using the two things that have always kept a bit of wind at her back, namely a strong mobilization of her people at the organizational level, and the good will of a large chunk of the populace.

Matthews though has decided to steal a page from The Kids In The Hall's hapless “Sid”—the Bruce McCullough character who willfully and maniacally runs into opponents outstretched fists in “fights”, and compound his bedshittery—even when confronted with his screw-ups by colleagues Tom Brokaw and Rachel Maddow—on whom I will speak more in just a bit.

I had been writing a post entitled “Transparency” about Matthews' agenda for the better part of a week, but I swear I just couldn't keep up with his adding fresh scoops and toppings to that Goddamn stupid sundae of his. The hyper-defensive twit decided to full-tilt fist-run again today when he proceeded to splutter about the women on ABC's “The View” razzing his dumb ass for his antics, like saying that Clinton's appeal is based largely on sympathy for being cheated on. Never mind the fact that her education and rep as a lawyer put her several leagues beyond his braying, idiotic ass in the smarts category, he defended his word droppings and then lit into the View ladies today on Joe Scarborough's replacement show for Imus on MSNBC (which will now and forever be dubbed “Minus In The Morning” by me—Video at Raw Story).

Matthews said it was Clinton's performance campaigning for New York Sen. Chuck Schumer in 1998, after revelations of her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky, that launched her own senate bid two years later. He said Walters and Behar -- whose name he either was unable to remember or refused to acknowledge -- had their facts wrong.

“Those are this historic facts, Barbara and the other woman, those are the historic facts. I know how you play to a crowd, I know how talk radio works, which is the way a lot of programs work, where you find something to argue about,” Matthews said.

“If Barbara Walters wants to debate history, and politics and what's happened in this country the last 50 years, if she wants to go on Jeopardy and see what she knows and what I know, I'll take her on,” Matthews promised. “If any of the women on that show want to take me on on historic political information ... let's talk political history. Let's talk facts, not opinions, facts, and I'll take them on.”

What's clear is that Matthews is wincing from obvious—and what I'm hearing is internal, as in intra-network— criticism by his peers in the business. The girls across the schoolyard are laughing about word getting out about his exposing his saggy nads during leg-ups in gym, and now he wants to have a fucking boy vs. girls decathlon to shut 'em up once and for all.

Sorry Chrissie, we'll all remember it...and the leg-up picture's goin' in the Goddamn yearbook. Ick.

Now for a little more meta: I learned something many years ago from an Emmy-winning TV director about stagecraft—particularly news stagecraft. In a two anchor set-up, he noted a situation called the “Ba-doomp-boomp” arrangement. When watching a two-anchor newscast from the viewer's eye, the left side of the screen—the first anchor you see is seated in what he called the “Ba-doomp” seat. That's the set-up guy, the lesser of the two anchors. The right-hand anchor is in the “Boomp” seat. He's the finisher, the last word and punctuator and tends to intro “tosses” to remotes, commercials and the ilk.

Pretty much since MSNBC started their big-time coverage this season, they've paired Matthews and Keith Olbermann as the co-anchors, seating Matthews in the “Ba-doomp” seat and Olbermann in the more prestigious “Boomp” spot. In watching the two work together, friction was pretty obvious to the discerning viewer. Matthews was sour and sullen much of the time—particularly when he and Olbermann would toss out their pop-culture bon mots to support statements. Matthews would cite “Leave It To Beaver's” Eddie Haskell as a reference—something lost on nearly every viewer under 40, while Olbermann would mention a current star like Viggo Mortensen or allude to ABC's popular “Desperate Housewives”, eliciting laughs from the crew as Matthews' mentions would stir only wheezes from the McCain/Brimley Postum-sippin' set. More than a few times Matthews sat with his jaw dropped open at some of Olbermann's easier-to-grasp mentions that keyed better into the situation they were applied to, and when he wasn't stumbling while trying to keep up, he just seemed pissy and out-of-sorts.

It didn't help that his boy Rudy's status as a contender was declining every damn time they showed a poll number, or that he was in the “Ba-doomp” seat, much to his chagrin, but there are other factors to be considered, and here's where we get all bitchy and “All About Eve”-ish with the whole newsroom backstage drama thang.

My in-the-hall sources at 30 Rock have long noted grumpiness on Matthews behalf at the ascendancy of Olbermann at the network. It's pretty clear that Matthews is more in the “old boys” camp of Brokaw, Russert and that crowd—the rep-tied “Villager” circle jerk. Olbermann is outside of that circle, yet is the net's star property. That status is confirmed by his “Boomp” chair capacity and a report from TV Newser covering a piece on Olbermann in the newest issue of Men's Journal:

In the interview with Paul Tullis, one focus is Olbermann's habit of, "trashing people publicly, even his employers."

But he seems to be doing well for himself in the office now. Tullis cites a senior executive at MSNBC, who says “Keith runs MSNBC. It's been an amazing turnaround, because two years ago they were going to cancel him. Because of his success, he's in charge. Chris Matthews is infuriated by it.”


It also can't help that Matthews' recent book “Life's A Campaign”, in spite of a cheap half-hour segment on his show where he had his wife interview him (!) as a plug for the thing has tanked something awful in the marketplace. A publishing bigwig I talked to (I work in publishing) said that the only people buying Matthews' book are D.C. insiders who think he'll ask them something about it at a cocktail party and want tot be prepared. Said bigwig also said this:

“He couldn't give away free copies of it at a lopsided table convention.”

Al of this while Olbermann's “Special Comments” book Truth and Consequences is going to enter the NYT bestseller list just out of the top ten this weekend.

That's gotta hurt.

The numbers from Amazon are no better:

And in a final bit of mini-analysis, the Tucker Carlson death-watch gets a little more noticeable. I couldn't help but notice a definite shifting of things at MSNBC in the last ten days of the heavy primary coverage. If you watched you probably caught it too. On the primary nights, Rachel Maddow (who I still have a crush on, as does my stepson now) was featured as an in-studio guest on the panel discussionsNOT TUCKER. She sat there in the comfy, cozy studio with their big guns like Chris Cilizza and Howard Fineman and Pat Buchanan while Tucker was on the chilly-ass road as a stringer. On the night of the Iowa Caucus, he reported from New Hampshire, where nobody but three flinty old guys in Carhartt jackets were. It was the equivalent of a report on the Iditarod where an exciting, key stage just ended and you toss to the finish line for a report...where nobody fucking is. Maddow was in-studio, piquant and buffing her star as Tucky tried to unfreeze his smirk in the chill New England air. She easily topped him that night with an airtime ratio of 10-to-1.

Which is amazing as he's a network show host. Pretty damning.

In the days between Iowa and NH, they featured her even more on the big stage, showing up on all of the net's shows—save for his, and I couldn't help noticing in their promos for “Super Tuesday” coverage their usual wall of photos of correspondents featured Olbermann, Matthews, Mitchell, Shuster, O'Donnell, Scarborough, Lester Holt and even Dan Abrams...but no Tucky.

Come Tuesday night, there's Rachel again, resplendent in-studio and on for hours (including a zesty evisceration of Matthews) and on the road with a speech-stumbling John McCain was Tucker Carlson, effectively reduced to stringer status like the net's lesser lights Ron Mott, Ron Allen, Mike Taibbi and others who stand in the rain for on-scene “stand-ups”.

That's a serious bust-down in status—not to mention that his show was pre-empted on Tuesday for more pre-election coverage by... in-studio Olberman.

They wouldn't even let him do his miserable little show from the Straight Talk Express's toilet, where I'm guessing he was ensconced crying his puffy little eyes out.

Suffer the smarmy, two-left-footed little children.

If you had any doubt about the network's knowing where the weakest link (as Matthews ain't exactly iron-tough himself and is weak himself numbers-wise) link in their chain is, let that doubt be confirmed with their rather brusque curb-kickage of Carlson—a supposed “Village” insider for now ubiquitous presence of the fresh-faced Maddow.

His “glove” ain't good enough to carry his anemic bat on the bench any longer. He knows it—and it showed in his lifeless performances in his limited appearance time.

My original timetable for Tucky's waltz—no, that's a dance...he can't dance!— walk into the sunset was right about now. I'm still hearing it'll be very soon—Maddow MSNBC pilot or not.

Ohhhhhh, an overworked LowerManhattanite can hope, can't he?

P.S. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the readers and commenters who not only read, but enlivened and added so much to the posts “Pride and Palpitations” and “Forget It, He's Rolling” earlier in the week via the comment threads. The experiences and thoughts you shared truly made those posts that much more than they were when originally posted. Again, me and the rest of GNB's backstage folk cannot thank you enough for your interaction. You embodied community.