Turn and face the strange ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Scarborough unfair (and untrue, not to mention biased ...):

This weekend, Jim Rutenberg wrote in The New York Times that "in the last couple of years ... MSNBC, long struggling for an identity and lagging, established itself as a liberal alternative to Fox News Channel in prime time."

This seems to be a point of wide agreement, but the next time someone makes that comparison, ask: when was the last time Fox News gleefully thrashed conservatives, just for laughs? Because we see MSNBC doing that from time to time, most recently on Friday.

Faithful readers surely remember the Times' John Tierney and his visit to Zabar's during the 2004 Republican National Convention, where he purported to be "looking for liberal New Yorkers who might be re-examining their consciences." Exactly why such shoppers should be "re-examining consciences," Tierney did not bother to say. (He also termed the city's Upper West Side "the neighborhood that has called itself 'the conscience of the nation,' " something that is clearly false, not to mention impossible, given that no neighborhood can call itself anything.) And dear readers, The New York Times was allegedly ground zero of the liberal media conspiracy. Four years later, MSNBC, which turns people apoplectic it is so outrageously, indefensibly liberal, sent its Morning Joe crew to Zabar's again -- dressing right-wing pundit Willie Geist in a McCain-Palin T-shirt to see if he could attract supporters. After this probing bit of journalism, Joe Scarborough, apparently a Tierney fan, concluded "I just hope some people on the Upper West Side will take a closer look at themselves."

For what? The same thing that rested in our consciences in 2004, apparently, that requires no explanation. There were no clues in the MSNBC segment -- every West Sider politely declined the offer to support McCain-Palin. They gave responses like "I don't hate you, but I wish you'd change your politics," and "you've got to go the East Side for this one," and "I do not. Thank you, though, for offering."

Since the piece was edited by MSNBC, this was apparently the worst these people could come up with. And yet stung by these verbal broadsides, these poor bubbies on the Morning Joe show where horrified. Mika Brzezinski, who I think is supposed to be the liberal one, said the video was "troubling." Mike Barnicle declared "that is an important cultural piece, and it proves why so many people are so right -- no pun intended -- to really loathe so many on the left. Those people are so close-minded." Scarborough piled on, noting "there's some really, really hostile people on the left who just think that they are intellectually superior." (Hey Mike, any plagiarists on those shopping lines?)

I really do struggle to match what's seen on the tape with the pundits' reactions; one is only left to assume that being liberal and saying so is a "troubling" sign of "close-mindedness" and "intellectual superiority." (Scarborough does narrow his criticism a bit, positing it was a unique New York problem. He believes that educated Obama voters in Nashville would be far more polite; unless they baked Geist a pie while declining to support McCain, I'm not sure how that could be. Also, the anchors don't ask the true inverse -- what do dedicated McCain-Palin voters have to say? Do they show signs of being close-minded? MSNBC could have picked anywhere -- say, Strongsville, Ohio, or Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Maybe next time.)

This exercise of venting deeply held animus toward liberals was free of any journalistic value by pundits with, let's say, questionable ownership of the intellectual high ground. This passes for the country's "liberal" news network, which is why I don't even watch the conservative one.

The report was also factually inaccurate. At the end of it, Scarborough tried to contrast these horrible Upper West Siders with residents of Nashville, whom he said would support McCain but in a nicer fashion. Well, fire the intern who allegedly does your research, bub. Nashville -- and Austin, by the way -- both went for Kerry and will go for Barack tomorrow. They are part of blue America, bub, and we have nothing for which to apologize, now that you and your right-wing friends are done screwing up our country.

What's more, I think it is implicitly anti-Semitic, though I don't think it's intentional. Think about it. All of the attacks leveled against liberal Upper West Siders can just as easily be labeled against Jews, who, as the old saying goes, "earn like Presbyterians but vote like Puerto Ricans." Zabar's, which, in addition to being the greatest supermarket on earth, is what we in my house affectionately call "Jew food." Who shops there? Everyone, but the majority of shoppers are Jewish Upper West Siders. Who lives on the Upper West Side? Well, largely Jews (and blacks, in the not-so-expensive parts). Who was interviewed by MSNBC? Well, not blacks ... I'd be willing to bet a healthy part of what I get paid here that if Morning Joe had asked these very same people whether Israel should be forced to give up its illegal settlements or end its expropriation of Jerusalem lands, they would have been just as unanimous in their rejection of the interviewer's questions. (And perhaps not so polite.) So what? What's wrong with strongly held views? Why is it illegitimate, somehow, to be a proud liberal any more than a proud Jew or a proud anything else? Shame on MSNBC for this stupid, narrow-minded and purposely divisive report. And Joe, maybe a Jew or two might be useful in your crew. After all, we do control the media ...

We've recently been focusing on the reporting of Gareth Porter in Iraq, specifically on the Status of Forces Agreement. This is something that's been overlooked by the mainstream media, we've been saying -- but McClatchy's reporting deserves special mention and we should have done it before.

Leila Fadel, who is based in Baghdad, won a Polk Award last year for her reporting, and the full archive is here. She's been far ahead of the pack in chasing down the details of the SOFA, most recently here and here. We'll keep you updated on her reporting, as well.

Anyone ever see the wonderful "Studs and Bud" show on PBS? Those were the days. And there was real liquor in those glasses. It didn't pan out because Studs was already losing his hearing, which made it doubly ironic that he was, in many ways -- and together with Bill Moyers -- America's greatest listener. Anyway here's our friend Calvin "Bud" Trillin on Studs on Friday:

When I was the visiting author, Studs and I usually got into a taxi after the taping to go to lunch, and the driver almost invariably realized that he had one of Chicago's iconic figures in the back seat. There usually followed a conversation in which Studs, through his questions, displayed a remarkable familiarity with the driver's old neighborhood, whether the neighborhood was Back of the Yards or Nigeria. The almost instantaneous connection Studs made with the driver was always a reminder to me that this man, who had interviewed Leonard Bernstein and Bertrand Russell and Ralph Ellison and Zero Mostel and Margaret Mead, created his most enduring work by gathering the thoughts of ordinary people on their struggles and their daily labor and even their deaths. They shared those thoughts with him, I think, partly because they sensed that his curiosity and his generosity of spirit embraced everyone, without regard to rank or station. They recognized him as a monument to much more than simply restraint.

The rest is here.

George Zornick adds: McCain Suck-Up Watch, liberal MSNBC edition: MSNBC anchors presented "new" Arizona State University-Southwest poll numbers for New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada as evidence the race is "tightening" in those states. However, the poll was conducted over a period of 26 days and was concluded on October 17, two weeks before the results were released, and a newer poll contradicts the ASU-Southwest poll's conclusion in New Mexico. More here.

Say what you will about Mark Halperin, the guy follows politics 24/7. So there's really no excuse for this from his list of 100 possible Obama administration appointees:

Speechwriting director: Actor and writer Jon Favreau; former Gore speechwriter Jeff Nussbaum

Uh, Mark ...

A Closing Argument from the Bateman/Pierce (Free Soil and American Women Party) Ticket:

My fellow Americans, we are finally at the moment of decision. Just hours from now millions upon millions of you will make up your minds, march to the polls, and catapult myself and my running mate Pierce into the highest office in the land in one of the most unexpected upsets in all of American history. We thank you now, in advance, for this opportunity.

The fact that many, if not indeed most, of those who do so will be in an alcohol or other drug induced haze when you do so should not matter a whit. Indeed, historically speaking you will have been following in a great American tradition, which is why we are modifying our slogan for this last day of the campaign, from "Bateman/Pierce, Why the Hell Not?" to the more historically accurate "Bateman/Pierce, One Fifth=One Vote" and encourage you to come to our local "Get Out The Vote" stations, conveniently located in saloons everywhere. Indeed, if it was good enough for Washington, it's good enough for us, dangit.

But for those of you who, unexplainably, have decided to vote for one of those other "conventional" parties, all we can say is that we're sorry.

We're sorry that you don't see the wisdom behind our proposed invasion of Scotland, from our recently negotiated, completely new (and fully locally catered) bases in Ireland. We're sorry that you don't understand that in a truly free democracy, the VP should be able to use PayPal to auction off ambassadorships. We're sorry that you lack the vision to understand how our proposed tax plans would -- um, excuse me a second. (Pssst. Pierce. We effing forgot something here. WhaddoIdo?) Ah, yes. Ahh, we'll get back to you on that part. But the other parts of our platform are still rock solid. Indeed, not since this election has there been a party with as much vision (admittedly, much of it double) as ours.

But I suppose you other non-visionary types should vote too. Indeed, it's sort of your civic duty. Too many have done too much for you to sit there on your butt tomorrow. Got busy important business meetings?

I don't care. Have important social plans that you don't want to give up because standing in long lines for hours at your polling place would mess with your schedule. I do not care. Cannot find a way to the polling place where you are allowed to cast your vote? I do not care.

Walk if you must.

A friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail with a little tagline at the bottom of it. It said, "A veteran is somebody who, at one point in their life, wrote a check made out, 'To the United States of America' for the amount of 'Everything, up to and including my life'."

That friends, is a heavy debt our nation has there. It is more than all the trillions of mere dollars we owe. It is, indeed, as close a thing to a sacred obligation as I believe we can come.

And so this is what I commend to you. When you go to vote, when you stand in those long lines, when you walk to your voting station, when you forgo the party to vote for your Party, when you admit that your business meeting will just have to be rescheduled because you must vote ... then you are paying down.

And when, someday, we hit 100 percent of the eligible voters actually pulling a lever and voting. Then on behalf of myself and the 24 million others like me, I will write you a receipt.

"To America. Debt Paid In Full."

You can write to LTC Bob at R_Bateman_LTC@Hotmail.com

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Paul Corrigan
Hometown: Lexington, MA

Doc --

America saw the passing of a great man today, Studs Terkel. Sad to see that Studs will miss the election of the junior senator from Illinois, but, he lived a long and fruitful life and those of us who were touched by him will carry on his legacy.

I wrote to you not long ago when Paul Newman died that Newman's death gave me hope that the great divide between the right and left in America might be bridged by people like Newman. I was pleased to see that the wingnuts on Free Republic had not a bad word to say about Newman, an open an unabashed leftist. Alas, when I jumped on their blog today I saw no such appreciation for Terkel. Something inside me assumed they would appreciate him for being the anti-elitist. No such luck.

Keep up the good work.

Name: Ken
Hometown: Hilo, Hawaii

Aloha Dr. Alterman,

Your blog makes my day and the letters from your readers give me faith in the citizens of our country. And while I know the world is full of bad guys, how come the press can't seem to label them when they find them? I came across this blatant example of media "equality" on MSNBC on Sunday with the title "Onslaught of dirty tricks as election day nears." The reporters did a nice job of summarizing many of the tricks, lies, and voter suppression efforts that Republicans are using again this year. But they only acknowledge this is a one party effort in an offhanded manner at the end of the article saying even Republicans have experienced this and listing a couple of fake websites for Guilani and Thompson in the primaries. Last time I looked it wasn't against the law to have a fake political website, but is sure is to engage in the rest of these tactics.

Name: Bob Thena
Hometown: Easton, PA

As Ken from Kansas noted Friday, it can be a real hardship to get to voting booth on time if you are working stiff. On the other hand, I find myself concerned by early voting for reasons I won't go into here.

What I would like to see is a national holiday on election day. After all, if the nation can have a national holiday for Christmas, it can certainly have one for what should be the most important act a citizen can do for the nation. It would promote turnout during non-presidential years and help focus peoples minds a bit. Hell ... it could be a great day for a party too.

George Zornick adds: Weekend voting, which they do in much of the world, would serve the same purpose and eliminate the need for a holiday. You could still party.

Name: Ed
Hometown: Boulder, CO

Professor,

As often as liberals complain about the "fact free hate spewing speech on talk radio" (Bob Wenning's comment on 10/31/08), what I don't understand is why they don't use the same tactic that worked on the celebrity tabloids -- libel (or slander) suits. If the National Enquirer can be forced into more honest reporting by the attack on its bottom line, surely it is worth trying on Limbaugh et al. Sure, Obama might not sue Corsi, even though the latter admitted malice rather publicly, but there's gotta be some people who aren't in the middle of a presidential campaign who could ...

Name: Jim Celer
Hometown: Omaha

I followed Mr. Israelson's advice and confessed to Charles Gibson. And it occurred to me that if the names of small donors are important, the names of people volunteering their time must be mad important! And they'd be easier to track down, too. Perhaps Mr. Gibson would be willing to host a 78 hour special on the thousands of volunteers for both parties. He could call it "Mysterious Droves -- Unfamous Participants in Democracy."

And what are they hiding with that mysterious Secret Ballot?

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