Follow-up to this morning’s post re: Chris Matthews Show

This morning's post regarding the media's discussion of the U.S. attorneys scandal produced several revealing responses and some additional relevant evidence.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

There are several items to note as a result of various responses to my post this morning regarding the media’s discussion of the U.S. attorney scandal on The Chris Matthews Show:

(1) Steve Benen provides a transcript of this discussion for those unable (or understandably unwilling) to actually watch the You Tube clip (although, as Libby Spencer correctly correctly notes, “it’s not nearly as strong without the four minutes of incessant giggling going on among these ‘serious’ pundits”). Steve also adds some worthwhile thoughts of his own.

(2) In the Comments to the last post, Dan D documents that pre-election polls show that majorities of Americans favored as a “top priority” Congressional investigations into various claims of administration wrongdoing with regard to Iraq. That does somewhat undermine the media’s reflexive and baseless claim that “Americans don’t want investigations,” but I am almost certain there is even more specific polling evidence showing that Americans generally believe that a significant problem has been a lack of Congressional oversight over the administration. If you find that, please e-mail me.

The real point here is the extremely common practice of pundits — as exhibited by this clip — where they take their own personal opinion and, without a shred of evidence (and often directly contrary to available polling data), attribute their own views to what “Americans want.” I’ve written before about how manipulative and slothful that pundit technique is.



They spent all of 2006 insisting, for instance, that Democrats would be politically harmed if they opposed the President’s warrantless eavesdropping. Yet weeks before the election, Karl Rove engineered a vote in the House on whether to legalize that eavesdropping; Democrats overwhelmingly voted against it; Republicans tried to make that a central issue in their campaign (“Democrats don’t want to listen in when Osama calls”); and the Republicans were crushed. The notion that Americans would be upset if Democrats demanded that Bush comply with the law when eavesdropping was always fictitious, yet the media disseminated it continuously in order to warn Democrats not to pursue Bush’s lawbreaking (because the media didn’t care about illegal eavesdropping, so they baselessly attributed that indifference to what “Americans think”).

What is the basis for their claims here that Americans don’t want Congress to investigate alleged wrongdoing with regard to federal prosecutions and clear lies by the Attorney General? Why would pundits go on television and make such claims about what “Americans want” without the slightest empirical basis for those claims?

(3) I appreciate Ana Marie Cox’s willingness to criticize the statements in this video clip made by her own Managing Editor, Time‘s Richard Stengel, as well as her commitment to encourage him to respond. As I’ve said before, although I am not exactly a fan of the journalists on the Time blog (to put it generously), I commend them for being so responsive to, and interactive with, blogosphere criticisms. I think that’s worthy of some respect.

Even when journalists don’t agree with these critiques, or even when they are overtly hostile to them, it can only improve matters when they are accountable for what they say and when they hear and think about criticisms of this sort. National journalists, whether by choice or compulsion, are becoming far more responsive now to these critiques — from bloggers as well as commenters — and the resulting termination of the one-way reporting process which they have enjoyed for so long (they decree, we listen silently) will produce real benefits.

Having said that, I think Cox largely misses the point. Cox disagrees with Stengel’s objection to Rove’s compelled testimony principally on the ground that — contrary to what Stengel said — that event will actually be good, politically, for Democrats. According to Cox: “you know who’s probably going to look really bad if Rove testifies? Rove.”

That may or may not be true (I think it probably is), but it is entirely besides the point. The reason Democrats ought to compel Rove to testify under oath is not because it will benefit Democrats politically. The reason that’s necessary is because there are (as Cox herself has ably argued) extremely serious accusations of wrongdoing here that go to the heart of how our government functions, and Rove clearly played a role in those events. Moreover, the administration in this very case has demonstrated a propensity to lie about what occurred. And the administration is generally untrustworthy. After all, just last month, Dick Cheney’s top aide was convicted of four felony counts of perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice.

Under the circumstances, and given the stakes of this scandal, it would be a total abdication of the duty of Congressional oversight not to compel Rove’s testimony in a public forum and under rules where it is more difficult for him to lie. And that’s true regardless of whether it’s politically beneficial.

As even Michael Kinsley acknowledged when dismissing the importance of this matter: “the administration’s response to this controversy has been comically mendacious” and “the characteristic mendacity of the Bush administration is the pointless lie, uttered because telling the truth would be ever-so-slightly more trouble.” Does Stengel agree with that, and is he bothered by it at all? From his Matthews comments, it certainly doesn’t seem so.

UPDATE: This is what I was looking for. To Richard Stengel: please reconcile what you and your fellow panelists told the MSNBC audience regarding Americans’ opposition to investigations with the following actual evidence about what Americans believe (thank you to commenters sirmarcos and br):

First, a CNN poll from August 30-September 2, 2006:


That poll is here.

And then we have this USA Today poll, taken over the weekend (exactly when Stengel and his colleagues were warning Democrats that Americans would be angry if they pursued Karl Rove):

14. Do you think Congress should — or should not — investigate the involvement of White House officials in this matter?

Yes, should – 72%; No, should not – 21%

15. If Congress investigates these dismissals, in your view, should President Bush and his aides — [ROTATED: invoke "executive privilege" to protect the White House decision making process (or should they) drop the claim of executive privilege and answer all questions being investigated]?

Invoke executive privilege – 26%; Answer all questions – 68%

16. In this matter, do you think Congress should or should not issue subpoenas to force White House officials to testify under oath about this matter?

Yes, should – 68%; No, should not – 24%

Just compare those facts to the wild assertions made by Stengel and friends on MSNBC:

Mr. STENGEL: I am so uninterested in the Democrats wanting Karl Rove, because it is so bad for them. Because it shows business as usual, tit for tat, vengeance. That’s not what voters want to see.

Ms. BORGER: Mm-hmm.

MATTHEWS: So instead of like an issue like the war where you can say it’s bigger than all of us, its more important than politics, this is politics.

Mr. STENGEL: Yes, and it’s much less. It’s small bore politics.

O’DONNELL: The Democrats have to be very careful that they look like they’re not the party of investigation rather than legislation in trying to change things.

This is what I think is so notable here: I would never dream of coming to this blog and just start making assertions that “Americans believe X” or “Americans oppose Y” unless I had actual evidence to support those claims. That’s because I would not expect readers of this blog to view what I write as being credible if I just spewed assertions with no empirical basis like that. No credible blogger would do that. Why don’t pundits on MSNBC — including the Managing Editor of Time Magazine — recognize those same basic constraints?

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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