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The Critical Mass

TV pundits are dicks

The TV was on this morning, and in an intellectually unguarded moment was tuned to the MSNBC coffee-klatsch nonsense called Morning Joe. I’ve changed the oil in my lawnmower engine more times than I’ve watched Morning Joe. So as luck would have it, this morning I saw the pundit Mark Halperin call the President of the United States, Barack Obama, a dick.

 As we all know, anyone can be a pundit, especially on TV. No-longer relevant rocker Ted Nugent is a pundit. The ill-informed Sarah Palin is a Fox News pundit. The thoroughly racist Pat Buchanan is a pundit. Even the deadpan actor Ben Stein – whose famous defense of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with raping a hotel maid was, “Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes?” – is a pundit. So pundits can be consistently wrong, illogical, ideology-driven and rude.  

Now, calling Obama a dick wasn’t a simple slip of the tongue.  Right before he did it, the Morning Joe staff was giggling like a junior high gym class over the fact that Halperin asked permission to use a nasty world to describe what he thought of Obama’s press conference the previous day.  Sure, said hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the show was on a seven-second delay.

The problem wasn’t that the show’s producer didn’t know how to work the seven-second delay button, as they all chortled after Morning Joe ‘s audience heard Halperin call the President of the United States a dick. Even if they had successfully bleeped out the comment, it would have been properly reported, to similar outrage. No, the real problem was how everyone reacted to it. They yukked it up. Made jokes of it. They even included a camera shot of the show’s producer, laughing and shrugging his shoulders and explaining how he’d hit the wrong button. The only one of the five people sitting around on the comfy couches during the segment who seemed uncomfortable with what had just happened – and even she seemed to be laughing a little – was Brzezinski.

When the group returned from a commercial break, slightly saner heads among the show’s executives appeared to have been heard. Halperin issued an apology that seemed genuine. The rest of the panel, particularly Scarborough, were still chuckling, displaying the same lack of judgment. Except Halperin. The smirk was gone. He looked as though he’d seen a ghost. He knew what was coming. Quite rightly, he was quickly suspended by the network.

So now we know: Pundits are dicks.

But why did Halperin think calling the president a name was OK? Why did most of the Morning Joe staff seem to agree? It’s not like Obama was suddenly Mel Gibson. Halperin was disagreeing with the president criticizing Congress for its lack of action on the debt issue. Here’s one of the points Obama made at Wednesday’s press conference:

We’ve got to get this done.  And if by the end of this week, we have not seen substantial progress, then I think members of Congress need to understand we are going to start having to cancel things and stay here until we get it done.  They’re in one week, they’re out one week.  And then they’re saying, Obama has got to step in.  You need to be here.  I’ve been here.  I’ve been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis.  You stay here.  Let’s get it done.

Millions of Americans cheered Obama’s comments. Perhaps Halperin thinks we’re all dicks, as well.

The Critical Mass

A Royal hangover

This morning, here is the first sentence I read on the front page of USA Today:

Hundreds killed, entire communities flattened, city blocks reduced to splinters and deadly destruction across a half-dozen states….

This sounds like the terrorist attack that we’ve been promised since 9/11. Terrorism, the reason our military budget has spiraled out of control, nearly half of what the rest the world spends on guns and tanks combined. But I read on, and I see that the American South is not under attack by terrorists this week. Once again, our Warriors on Terror watch from some distant part of the globe as American get wiped out by…

Nature’s fury, delivered in a few violent moments.

Our vast war commitments – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and places you’d never expect to be involved in all of this muddle – are having little effect on keeping us safe. Most of the results from the War on Terror seem to be from the work of the FBI, or police forces around the world. Meanwhile, our country is unable to defend itself from attacks that are claiming far more American lives, and destroying much more property, than any scimitar-waving, radical Islamic bearded boogeyman of the moment.

Let us concede that terrorists are a threat. But weather is a reality. Our inability to protect our citizens from weather is a proven fact. Our infrastructure is crumbling, to the point that levees were failing last week in Missouri, just a few years after New Orleans should have taught us how disastrous a prospect that can be. We can’t save our citizens from storms that our Doppler radar warn us are on the way. We can’t rescue people trapped on their rooftops as water rushes down their streets, sweeping away their lives in a torrent of rubble. A thunderstorm rolls through and our electricity goes away, as though we were a third-world country.

And I must confess, I didn’t know what a disaster these Wednesday-night storms were until I read about them Friday morning. How could I be so oblivious? Well, the media was busy covering the bombshell Barack Obama birth certificate story on Thursday. As our most-reliable news interpreter, comedian Jon Stewart, pointed out,  “I don’t want to nitpick, but wouldn’t the bombshell have been him not being from America? This one’s more of a non-shell.”

And I guess I missed the news about these storms because this week all of our newscasters are in London for the Royal Wedding. Except NBC’s Brian Williams. He turned around and left London when he heard about the news story back home. Good for him. And Stewart, choosing to peek in on The Royal Preparations from the safety of his New York City studio while MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough tells us – from a studio situated just a few thousand yards outside the church – what a cool thing Royal Weddings are.

Thanks, Joe. We’re drowning in chatter of no consequence, and waking up with a Royal hangover. The storms are coming from one direction, and we keep getting caught looking in the other.

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